Leaning Into Death: An Alternative Reading of Acts 2.42-47

buddha death

Preaching from Acts 2 this Eastertide, it dawned on me this familiar passage was saying something much simpler, yet more profound, than providing fodder for theological arguments between Pentecostals and, well, every other Christian.

The early portion of this chapter (tongues of fire, upper room, etc.), gets most of the attention in the chapter, and rightly so.  It’s bizarre, unusual, and produces a proclamation that had never happened before.

In Chapter 1, Jesus ascends into heaven and the disciples go to Jerusalem (to the Upper Room) to wait, for something unaware.  Chapter 2 continues the action answering the proverbial, “so what now?  If Jesus isn’t here, what happens and where are we going?”  The tongues of fire episode is the first part of the answer.

But the tongues of fire is the easiest part of the answer.

I mean, who doesn’t like a religious experience?  Plenty of people thrive on experience, feelings, euphoric highs that charge our life.  We have all been witness to the power of religious experience, perhaps even experiencing something religious ourselves.  The two fastest growing segments of Christianity in the world are the two that offer an experience, a doing, with God: Pentecostalism and Catholicism.

Ok, so you’re not religious and don’t like that analogy?  Do you like sex, the experience of sex?  Or is it better to think and talk about sex as opposed to having sex?

Do you enjoy the experience of cheering for your favorite sports team, cheering for your child, experiencing joy?  If you’d rather go to Disney World than talk about it, you prefer experience because participating in something powerful makes you feel.

Thus, we understand how powerful, and preferable, great experiences are.  You don’t have to be religious to appreciate that we humans LOVE to experience FEELINGS.

It is little wonder Acts 2 and an experience of the Holy Spirit gains the traction it does.  Its powerful, it’s refreshing, it’s renewing.

Yet, the early portion of Acts 2 is not the end game.  The end game begins when the experience of the first part of this chapter takes a form of life, a form of life in Acts 2.42-47 that is a daunting reminder/request.

Acts 2.42-47 is a troublesome text that offers a vignette of life in the early church while simultaneously making the rest of us nervous at the consequences.  It reads:

42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”

There’s just something about the implication that we should fellowship, commit ourselves to the teaching of the apostles, pray, break bread and praise God that seems like too much work.  And lest we get too comfortable, let’s not forget this idea of “holding all things in common and selling our possessions” in order to provide for those who have need that makes us spiritually wriggle and physically convulse.

While this list seems odd to us, it is not uncommon for Luke to give us these summary statements about life in the early church, brief portraitures of how they organized their communal living.  He does so in several places throughout Acts, such as chapters 4, 6 and 9.

In so doing, Luke is not only telling us how the early church lived, but he is gently nudging us to go and do likewise.

The trouble with these summaries, however, is that they are often lifted out of the chapters in which they occur.  These summaries, like Paul’s lists of “dos and don’ts” that keep people out of heaven, are summarily read and rehearsed with little regard to the stories preceding and following them.

While debates about religious experience and the political ideology of Acts 2 are intriguing, I have a different question: Why does this summary occur here, in this part of the Acts 2?  What larger narrative is at work behind this summary?  And why does the Lectionary ask us to read this text at this point in the Easter Season?

The problem with reading Acts chapter 2 is that it is read as two separate texts.  We have a 2.0 and a 2.1 version: a Pentecostal experience and a purview into life in the early church.  We preach an experience OR we preach a political obligation.  Rarely do we seek the coherence of this chapter.

Simply put, Acts 2.42-47 is impossible apart from Pentecost.  This is a way of life that cannot be lived apart from the Spirit.  The episodes of this chapter are episodes but they must remain a singular chapter, parts of a larger whole.  But let’s not stop there.

Acts 2.42-47 cannot happen apart from the Resurrection in Luke!  The Resurrection of Jesus in Luke, the Ascension of Jesus in Acts 1, and the Giving of the Spirit in Acts 2 are three stages of a singular event in which Jesus is glorified and given back to creation.

If Christ be not raised, then living in the kind of community discussed in Acts 2 is laughable.  If Christ be not ascended, then there is no giving of his presence to the Church.  If there is no giving of the Spirit, there are no tongues of fire, no empowered proclamation, and no Church.

Therefore Acts 2 is part of our Easter readings.  At first blush, one would surmise we should read Acts 2 during the season of Pentecost, but if we understand this larger movement we see that Acts 2 is not describing a Pentecostal community; it is describing an Easter community empowered through Pentecost.

It is because Jesus is raised, and the end of time marked by the outpouring of the Spirit, that those who believe on Jesus are compelled to live a life in which they sell their things, hold all things in common, break bread together, worship, and commit themselves to the apostles teaching.

Easter has empowered this early group of believers to not hold so tightly to life and empowered them to grasp more tightly to one another.

In a world without Easter, we cling to our life.  In a world with Easter, we grasp our death, and through death find life.

The early church knew how to grasp their death.  They understood it to such a degree that they lived their life toward death, leaning into it.  They leaned into to such a degree that they held loosely to all that was theirs and committed themselves to one another, anticipating that the end that had started in the Resurrection of Jesus, and been confirmed in the giving of the Holy Spirit, would overtake them all soon.

The early church took Joel 2.28 seriously,

“After this I will pour out My Spirit on all humanity; then your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your old men will have dreams, and your young men will see visions.”

Here is the kicker: only people who are convinced that in Jesus’ Resurrection the end has begun can live according to Acts 2.42-47.  Only people who have received tongues of fire to proclaim the ridiculous message that Jesus is raised and that we can share in his resurrection can live as Acts suggests.

Moving one step further, people who believe this, and have experienced the outpouring of the Spirit, can do no other than live as Acts 2 suggests because they understand they are living toward death, living toward the end that is God.  People who know the end is near have no time to be consumed with grasping to a life they will lose so they lose the life they have.  The Apostle Paul insinuated something similar when he proclaims, “I am crucified with Christ.”

In the debate between paradox or dialectic, in this instance, we side with paradox.

One may believe this end will come in the clouds with Christ, or believe it comes at the time of our own death, either way, we must lean in toward the end.  This is what the early church does and why Acts 2.42-47 is odd; it’s a way of life that doesn’t grasp life.

I call this a hermeneutic of loss, a hermeneutic grounded in the death of Jesus and the loss of the world.

As such, Acts 2.42-47 really functions as more of a reminder of what matters than a dictum to be followed.  The texts job isn’t to exacerbate our failings, but to remind us that this is how people live who live toward the end: People who believe the end is now in the Resurrection, Ascension and Coming Holy Spirit of Christ.  When we forget life is found in death, we live life for life-sake and when death comes we wish we’d lived toward death, because we will regret living as if the end wouldn’t happen.

But this reading shouldn’t come a surprise.

I have never known a hermeneutic of loss, or read scripture as texts toward death, until I lost my own father nearly 12 weeks ago.  After suddenly losing him, scripture has just as suddenly become a new land.  I see in it things hidden before; I feel in it things I never knew to feel.  Eerily, parts scripture make more sense now because it too was born out of a series of traumas that led to life in/through loss.

After my father’s death, all I wanted to do was do these things in Acts 2 with him.  I wanted to sit in his Sunday School class one more time, hearing the apostles teaching.  I wanted to eat with him again, break bread.  I wanted to fellowship more, visit his house after work.  I wanted to pray for him, with him, share in the simple pleasure of hearing him pray one more time before dinner.  I wanted to be thankful more, enjoy life more, not let the trivial things of life irritate me when I was around him.

When he died, he left behind all the things he loved and enjoyed.  His family, his hobbies, his business: it is all still here.  Yet, my father lived as one who never held too tightly to these things.  He left them behind, he knew he would, so he spent his days doing as much of Acts 2 as he could.  If you knew him, you lived Acts 2 with him as well.

Acts 2 reminds us that at the end of our days, either at the appearance of Christ in the Clouds, or in the face of death when it comes for us, we will not regret anything except that we had lived more like the picture given to us in Acts 2.42-47.

My suggestion?

Discover the resurrection of Jesus.  Discover death.  Lean into it.  Find life.  Find Freedom.

NO! You haven’t been here: The Singularity of Grieving Loss

master-a-grief

“Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent” – Ludwig Wittgenstein

Experiencing the death of a loved one is not fact to be stated, a proposition that is an absolute truth.  That a loved one has died IS a fact; that one has experienced the grief of the death is not a fact; it is a subjective experience unavailable to all people except the one in grief.

It is not an experience that is shared or something with which one can empathize.  It is unique, personal, and subjective because it is larger than the fact of its happening; it taps into the recesses of the human experience that cannot be harnessed by our words or shared.

One may have in fact lost a father, a husband, a child, a friend, but the proposition “I lost my husband too” is simply that; it is a statement of fact, not a statement of truth because truth lies in experiencing the fact that was stated.  Facts have no value.  They just are.  They do not denote a common experience; they denote an event.  Since facts have no value facts do not denote the meaning of life.  Real life, what we hold dear, what we care about, resides outside the facts.  Ludwig Wittgenstein beautifully portrays this when he writes:

“The sense of the world must lie outside the world. In the world, everything is as it is and happens as it does happen. In it there is no value — and if there were, it would be of no value. If there is a value which is of value, it must lie outside all happening and being-so. For all happening and being-so is accidental.  What makes it non-accidental cannot lie in the world, for otherwise this would again be accidental.  It must lie outside the world.” (Tractatus 6.4)

Just because a fact has happened to us does not imply that we then know what that fact means for another.

Take a sunset as an example.  We would agree that we can look at a sunset and see that it is beautiful, yet we would also agree that what makes it so is different for both of us.  My impression of beauty is not imputed upon you or vice versa.  The same could be said for joy or laughter.  We allow that individuals can experience the same emotion while experiencing it differently…yet when it comes to grief we think that because we have experienced grief that you must also experience it as me.

Of all the emotions that refuses similarity, grief refuses it the most yet it is the one we tend to harmonize and try to share.

Grief is the most complex yet we have made it the simplest by the way we relate to those in it.

This is impossible.  The truth of tragedy, beauty, grief or joy is they all transcend our ability to state them as facts and that is what makes them truthful; they are the stuff of real life because they transcend what can be thought, said or expressed.  All of these things refuse thought.  They refuse analogies whereby they can make sense.  They refuse a universal experience even though they are all experienced universally.

Thus, of most human experience it is impossible to speak, to describe, to bring under the submission of our ideas.  Wittgenstein held that a logical language can only deal with what is true, and unfortunately, what is true is precisely what evades language.

“Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent”

This weekend, a month ago, he was at my little girls birthday party, wearing Minnie Mouse ears and being the world’s greatest grandad.  Now, my father has been dead for 19 days.  For the first time in my life, I experienced a sudden rupture of the world; a reversal of what is normal into an alternative reality in which the tragic has defined the common place.  On Feb 27, around 5:30pm, I told my father “see ya later dad” for the final time as he left our office to go to a Karate Workout.

In the office that day we talked about what had to be done Tuesday if it didn’t rain, what the week would hold, and that I’d be able to help him with some things Wednesday.  We talked about family history briefly, talked about repairs being done, and he asked me if he should go workout given he had a sore rib.  We talked about mundane things.  Regular things.  We talked as if tomorrow was a given.

I was within minutes of leaving the office to do a monthly inventory at a store and someone stepped into my office and said “someone from Paul Huff called, they said your dad is having another episode.”

My father didn’t have “episodes.”  I had no idea what that meant but I needed to find out.

I made one call, then ran out of the office to my car and sped down Peerless Rd to the gym where my father was working out.  There, I encountered my 65 year old, 3rd degree black belt father, tied to a gurney, with a pulse and shallow breathing.  This situation did not feel right; it wasn’t good.  I was optimistic but my gut was beginning to sink knowing that the man I saw, my father, was on the edge of life…hanging on.

I grabbed my father’s bag from his instructor, threw it in my car and raced to the hospital to meet him there.  Along the way, I stopped for gas (I had been on “E” all day in town and didn’t need to run out now).  I called my wife, called my sister, tried calling my mother.  Panic had overtaken my body but I was hopeful…until the paramedic van took much longer to go to the hospital than it should have.  Finally, it appeared.  I followed it to the hospital, called my pastor as I parked, ran to the ER, and was immediately taken to Consultation Room 1.

My pastor arrived within minutes and was with me in the room when the ER Doctor comes into the room and says “Hi my name is (X).  This is not good.  I am not optimistic.  Your father is not responding to anything I am doing.  Can you tell me something about his medical history that may help me?”

Astounded at the breathtaking bluntness, I had nothing.  My dad took a small dose of cholesterol medication.  That was it.  I told him he was healthy, had a good recent physical, no known illnesses or disease.  The Dr. left the room.  I looked at my pastor and said “So, how many times have you gotten news that stark right out the gate?”  He shook his head, “nada.”  This doctor was not giving me any false hope.

About 10 minutes later, around 7:45, the Doc reentered the room, with long face and a low heart, he looked at me and said “I’m sorry, you father is gone.”  At that moment, my entire heart sank to the ground, my heart raged, my mind confused, I screamed and yelled.  I hit the wall, I fell against it and I sank to my knees as I wept for my father with a groaning and weeping I didn’t even know existed.  I hugged my pastor and I cried.  I squeezed him as hard as I could.  My mom had entered the hospital as I heard the news.  She heard me wail…and that is how she knew my dad was gone.

She entered the consultation room broken, weeping, herself in her hands.  We embraced and shook our heads in disbelief.  At 5:30 I talked to my dad.  At 7:45 he was gone.  Rupture.  Disruption.  Darkness.  Confusion.  Disbelief.  Pain.  Fear.  Loss.  Bottomless Sorrow.  What is this new world?

At 9pm we were escorted back to the room where my father lay. There, lying in a hospital bed and covered with his sheet up to his chest, was the man who only hours earlier had been with us.  Entering the room with me was my mother, sister and wife.  My pastor was also there, along with my dad’s brother and his family.

We spent 3 hours with my deceased father, not wanting to leave him.  We touched him, hugged him, we wept, we kissed him, we talked to him.  His body was still warm when we arrived but by midnight he was cold.  I walked around the room shaking my head, looking at the singularly most important man in my life, wondering how I would grieve him, how life would go on, what this new epoch would be.

How is it that MY DAD IS DEAD?!?  Death resisted, and resists, my thinking.

He was at work that morning, this Monday morning.  Everything was normal.  He said goodbye to me for the day.  I am not even sure I looked up to say goodbye, but I did look up to see him close the door behind him.  That was the last time I would see my father upright.

He went for a Karate workout.  He never came back.  That night my father died…and even as I type this I cannot believe I am typing this.

“Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent”

Grief.  Or as one of my friends described it “the bastard of sadness.”  How I wish I did not understand that definition.

I have been alive for 36 years.  I have lost people close to me, particularly my grandparents.  I was lucky enough to have all 4 of my grandparents well into adulthood.  They passed at the age of 75, 83, 87 and 89 respectively.  All of them were sick, some more than others.  Some we knew they would die, others it wasn’t a surprise but neither was it expected.  For all, I wept.  For all, with the blessing of my family, I eulogized them.  For all, I knew life also meant death and all of them had lived a full, long life.  I didn’t want to let them go, but I knew I had to.

None of their passings prepared me for this.  Not even one.

My father passing suddenly, unexpectedly, without warning and without any family history of cardiac arrest, is not the same for me as losing a grandparent I knew was sick or a father that had cancer whom we knew would die soon.  Here I am, trying to process losing my father a full 24 years before he lost his!  My dad was 63 when he buried his father…he had him his entire life.  I get to have my father half of mine.

I am trying to process going to karate one minute, dead the next.

I realize some people never had a father or some may have had a father for lesser years than me.  I am thankful I had him till he was 65 but I mourn he was taken too soon…and knowing I had him 36 years doesn’t change what happened or make my situation easier to compute or accept.

Now, overnight, I’m grieving my father while sitting in his desk, going to his church, running the business he started.  I am using his pens, reading his writing daily, using the folders and notebooks he organized…using his checkbooks with his last entries directly above mine!  I do not get to evacuate his presence and go back to my life because OUR LIVES ARE CONNECTED!  I don’t get to bury my dad in his town and then go back to mine.  I have to walk the same sidewalks he walked, talk to people he spoke to, tell people who call for him that he is dead, and use his emails to conduct business!

Most people don’t have to bury a father and then do what I do every day.

No, you may have lost a father but you don’t have to wake up and wear his shoes.

This is too much!

My father dying isn’t the same for me as attending my old father’s funeral, whom I knew was sick and would die, and with whom I had time to say my last peace, tell him I love him, tell him I’m sorry for ever being anything but grateful.  This is shock.  It is rupture.  It is confusion.  It is senseless.  It is morose.

Likewise, my mother was married to him for 38 years; She was 19.  Now, suddenly, she is without him.  Overnight, her house is silent in the morning and it is silent before bed.  The garbage doesn’t fill as fast.  The dishes are only hers and the laundry doesn’t have any of his clothes.  My mom did not lose a sick, aged man, who had been dying and whom she knew she would lose.  She experienced something totally different.

She lost her world in a single day and now she lives in another one without any warning.

When I think about what happened I cannot help but feel a sense of injustice, injustice that my dad took care of his body, was wary about what he put into it, had regular physicals and blood work, had Lifeway screenings, exercised and refrained from all dietary vices…yet still died without warning while people older, sicker, and in far worse shape avoid the Grim Reaper for some unknown reason.

It rains on the just and the unjust…and this isn’t just.

I don’t really know what people’s expectation of me or my family is.  When does the world expect me to be “fine?” When should I be happy again?  When is my mind free of my father’s constant memory?

I am not sure I know the answer, but if you expect me to be fine after just 3 weeks…I won’t be.  I am not fine.  This situation is not fine.  I will look fine and I will function, moment by moment, but inside I am thinking about my father…and missing him.  Seeing my 65-year-old father in that casket 10-15 years too soon is not fine!  I will tolerate it but I am not fine.

It will be a while before “I” and “fine” are one again…and spiritual platitudes do not make it easier.

I am not an expert at grief or loss.  If I am lucky, this will be the hardest loss I suffer.  I will die before my wife and kids, and my own mother will grow old and I will say goodbye to her in our time, with time and with notice.

I am no expert but I have observed something I feel compelled to share.

It is simple: you do not understand my loss.  You cannot relate and it is not the same as yours.  Likewise, I am also removed from your loss…for good or ill, bigger or smaller…you don’t understand mine and I don’t understand yours.  If yours was easier to deal with, great.  I am glad you had that blessing.  If mine is easier, than you are in my prayers…because this pit is its own special hell and I would hate to see where you are but I’ll acknowledge you’ve been to a place I haven’t.

This is blunt: you do not understand my loss.

Losing an old, sick father, is not the same as me losing a healthy father suddenly.  The slow rupture and loss you felt as you released emotional connection to a man you knew would die is not the same as my father being jerked out of my life, out of this world, and into another.

Just because you lost a dad, doesn’t mean you have any idea how the loss of mine feels.  Please don’t compare it…and please don’t tell me you understand…because you don’t.

Likewise, you don’t understand what my mother feels.  You may have lost a husband, and you may be a widow, but you didn’t talk to him at 5:30, hear him tell you he’ll see you at 7:30, and the next time you saw him was 9pm, in an ER bed, dead.  You losing your old husband isn’t the same.

For those of you who have experienced sudden, rupturing loss, you have an idea…and you know the depth of how bad it sucks…but even then, none of us can experience the grief of another nor should any of us impute our experience of grief onto another person.  I will not grieve as you, nor you as I, so please let’s save the nicety and be honest: we don’t understand how one another feels.

All we can do is be present…and stop with the impossible empathy and reminders that God has a plan because if killing humans is part of God’s plan and “timing,” then perhaps we should revisit whether a capricious God like that is worth our attention.  I digress.

Likewise, I do not understand what it is to lose my father when he was 40, after he dropped me off at school, only to find that later in the day he will commit suicide.  I do not get that pain.  I don’t understand that…but one of my friends does.  I lost a father, you lost a father, but none of us lost a father like that!  We don’t understand her loss even though we lost the same “person.”

You may understand what it means to lose a father, but you don’t understand what it means to lose one that left this world by his own actions.

My uncle lost a son at 20.  He said goodnight to him, hugged him, told him he loved him at 9pm.  6-7 hours later police knock on his door and tell him his son is dead.  He was killed in a car accident, ejected from the back of the rear window, thrown 200 feet, and DOA.  You may have lost a son…but did you lose him like that?

I pray I never lose a child like that…I don’t understand that kind of loss…and I never want to.  Many people have lost sons, and fathers, and wives and daughters…but each loss is unique.  Yet we seem to think that because we have lost that same “person” we understand what the grieving person is feeling.

Well, we don’t.  I never understood that quite like I understand it now so I am sorry if I ever told you “I understand” when I really had no idea.

We need to stop saying it because all it does it either belittle our own loss or it belittles the loss of the other; It does nothing to comfort the hurting person.  We can never feel the grief of the other.  We are always outside someone else’s experience.

I am not writing this to negate your loss or say my loss is greater than yours…but I do believe, and psychological research reinforces this, that certain types of loss are harder to adjust to and process than others.  Loss and grief is not universally experienced.  Your loss may be greater, or easier to process, but our losses are not the same.

Your experience is unavailable to me and mine is unavailable to you.

As for my loss, I do not expect anyone to understand even though people have told me they do because they “lost a father too.”  I don’t expect empathy because my individual experience is just that: individual.

I appreciate all the thoughts and prayers and texts, but the experience of grief via the death of a loved one is not universal.  It is singular and it is experienced singularly via the relationship we had to the departed.  You losing a father isn’t like me losing a father, or vice versa…and you losing a father or husband in old age isn’t like my mother losing a spouse.

I’m sorry we can’t feel for one another but the nature of feeling refuses its synonymy.

Honestly, I feel cheated and robbed by what happened.  My father’s death not only ended his life, but it will change and shape the direction of my life, my mom, my sister, and my kid’s life…all in a way that if it had happened in a decade from now wouldn’t have been the case.  Most of all, his untimely death doesn’t allow me to be a better son, speak power into his life, encourage him when I knew he needed it but was too busy to take the time.  While I will move past those regrets, I will get to live with them.

My grief is mine.  It is not ours.  The sooner we understand this the better humans we can be toward one another when we experience loss, and at some point, we will experience it for ourselves or we will share it with others.

Not all people will go through sudden loss.

Some of us will be lucky.  We will grow old, our parents will grow old, our children will grow old…and we will bury one another in appropriate seasons.  I pray that is what happens for you.  I pray you never feel what it means for a loved one to be instantly removed without warning.  I pray you wake up each day to a familiar world with familiar people.  I pray you get to let them go gently.  I pray you are that fortunate…and I pray I am that fortunate moving forward.

Some Deserts may be traveled with others but they are experienced alone.

“Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent”

 

 

 

 

We Are What We Do

There is an adage oft repeated by professors of history, theology and bible: form and content, form and content…are two sides of the same coin.

To a fledgling student of these disciplines this statement sounds strange, even awkward.  As people in cultures, we have preconceived ideas of the meaning of history, what we believe about God and the world, and whether we even care about the bible.  We are good on the content side; we have content.

But what about form?  How is content affected by form?

Many of us know what we believe but many of us fail to consider how what we believe is demonstrated in our lives, the latter being an expression of the former prior to any sort of verbal acknowledgment.

As philosopher Slavoj Zizek would like to remind us, we are not what we say…we are what we do.

There are many ways to answer that question but I want to answer it from a theological and ecclesiastical position, a classical confession that is nearly as old as the church.  Its dictum can be found in the Latin phrase “Lex Orandi (the way we worship), Lex Credendi (what we believe), Lex Vivendi (how we live).”

Translation? The way worship is reflective of our faith and so in turn is reflective of how we live.

Regarding religious communities this dictum is typically accurate.

For example, a church that has a strong theological conviction (lex credendi) to work for social justice will embody that conviction in their worship (lex orandi).  It will be a church that prays for social justice, that preaches sermons challenging its people to be inclusive in their ministry, and urges people to confront oppressive cultural structures that alienate others.  It will have an open table for all who wish to dine with Christ, a table that will not discriminate based on baptism, sexuality, gender, race, etc.  It will most likely be a diverse church, one that is urban centered where racial, ethnic and cultural differences are spanned by a common urban experience.  It will value community more than individuality.  Its confession and worship being intimately, and intentionally, linked.

Thus, its faith (credendi) is exhibited in its worship (orandi), which in theory should extend to the way its members participate in the world ethically, politically, economically, etc.

Another example might be the relationship of form and content in regard to the average Americans opinion, or convictions, regarding religion.  

Many Americans acknowledge a strong commitment to ideas such as God, even considering themselves religious.  When they are polled we see a fantastically religious group of people in the United States.  However, when we observe actual practices and probe further, we find that the form of their lives does not connect with the content of their confessions.

Recent studies show us that about ¼ of Americans attend a religious service once a month.  Dogma is on the decline, knowledge of sacred texts and traditions is waning, and acts of service seem to stem from humanitarian desires rather than theological conviction.  People are praying but their prayers do not seem to indicate a dependence on a transcendent personality given the prevalence of practical atheism, even among those within a religious community.

Admitting that the above is a general and broad description, it is clear that the form of many American lives is not connected to the content of their confession.  The form (orandi)  is disclosing the real content regardless of what they confess (credenda).

This is a troublesome reality for many Christians who have for so long believed that their confessions “save” them.

Catholics, for example, have believed that the liturgical act of Eucharist can supersede who they are because who they are is lost in an Augustinian abyss.  Imputed grace is the word of the day.  Yet, if the content of the kenotic Christ does not take root in the person than the form (orandi) is anemic, never fully connected to a confession (credendi). 

 To further complicate the issue for Catholics, it is as if there is an artificial separation between publics, one holy and one secular.  In the holy public of the church building confession and worship go hand in hand, yet in the secular public outside its walls lies a huge disconnect between confession and act.
Protestants have it no better.  

Protestants have placed such a heavy emphasis on confession that we have entire traditions of Christians who believe their words, or silent thoughts in their minds at an altar, carry eternal consequence.  With Luther as their theological grandparent, action is eschewed for confession, form becoming separated from content as the Letter of James was from Luther’s theological confession.  

We sincerely hope we can tell ourselves who we are without actually being that person…and all thanks to the generous theological idea of grace.

This should make us all wary.  

It doesn’t mean that our theological traditions, be they Catholic, Protestant or otherwise, are poor traditions, mistaken metanarratives of no use to us.  Rather, it is the opposite: these theological worlds exist in the delicate balance between form and content, their very survival and efficaciousness dependent on people able to live them out instead of betray them.

Jesus knew of this delicate balance and of participants in religious systems that seem to have forgotten the necessary relationship between form and content.  He said as much when he said

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.  You will know them by their fruits.  Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles are they? (Matthew 7. 15-16)

The philosophical issues that surround the relationship between form and content are literally endless.  Entire treatises and lectures have been written on the subject.  

Nuances aside, there is one thing that remains and it is a terrible thing to consider: Say what we will and think what we may, our lives may not be what we say and we may not be who we think.

I leave you with a poem.

The Human Abstract by William Blake

Pity would be no more,

If we did not make somebody Poor;

And Mercy no more could be.

 

If all were as happy as we;

 

And mutual fear brings peace;

Till the selfish loves increase.

 

Then Cruelty knits a snare,

And spreads his baits with care.

 

He sits down with holy fears.

 

And waters the ground with tears:

Then Humility takes its root

Underneath his foot.

 

Soon spreads the dismal shade

Of Mystery over his head;

And the Caterpillar and Fly

Feed on the Mystery.

 

And it bears the fruit of Deceit.

 

Ruddy and sweet to eat:

And the Raven his nest has made

In its thickest shade.

 

The Gods of the earth and sea,

Sought thro’ Nature to find this Tree

But their search was all in vain:

There grows one in the Human Brain

 

 

Thoughts From World 3

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A fool can offer words, a creator can offer worlds

An academic can show you a world, a dreamer invites you into it

Consumers of knowledge are everywhere, generators of knowledge are the rarity

Anyone can summarize the great thoughts of others, yet not simply anyone can have great thoughts

An English teacher can beat a word into submission, a wordsmith can heal its wounds

A protector of doctrine can outline a concept, a lover of the world asks the concept why

A Truth can be hard/concrete or it can be Truth

The beginning of truth is the end of knowledge

Prose can show you the road, only poetry can create it

History can give you a story, the future must give you a home

You can audition for the world or you can make the world watch your audition

God can be your cage or God can be gateway

If God is love than love is our ultimate concern

The letterbox is the world, what do we drop into it

We can use our imagination or we can die thinking we see

Why be busy learning the story of others when you can write the story yourself

Meaning can be learned…might it be better created

Pain cannot be written, it can only be felt

Silence has a voice heard in its speechlessness

Vision is not what you see it’s what happens when you close your eyes

Love is unspeakable; it is the language of her stare

It is not happiness to write, it is sadness to quiet it

Longfellow turned to words, why must you then turn to Law

Thoreau found himself in the woods, after he was lost

Poe saw beauty yet we confuse it with madness

Freud thought the unthinkable and we remain thoughtless

Lacan dared write the real and we confused it with his words

Jesus is the son of freedom and we have preached a gospel of sadness

Faith is never certain and certainty cannot be faith

If you fear nothing than for what do you live

 

 

 

 

 

Hillary Clinton, Prophet of the Anthropocene

Anthropocene_Era

Today, as I listened to Hillary Clinton on the radio, I heard something profoundly more troubling than rote populist verbiage or party line politics.  I heard her tout this statistic, and I paraphrase, “Our Economy is a 70% consumer economy; therefore, the more expendable income everyone has the better the economy can be for everyone.”

Of course this comment surfaced while she was waxing eloquently about black employment rates, the disproportionate pay of men to women, the lack of good paying jobs post the “great recession,” the role that employee unions play in securing benefits and pay for their members, etc.  It was a speech on the economy she gave while campaigning in North Carolina.

Besides the ideology she seemed to be dousing upon herself , the statistic she shared was abruptly disturbing.  So disturbing, in fact, that I listened to little else she was saying.  The statistic took me back to David Harvey’s text (see my previous analysis) The Enigma of Capital and Richard Heinberg’s text The End of Growth.

To provide a little context to this, earlier today I read about the bleaching of the world’s coral reefs.  It was shared by one of my more intellectual facebook friends who never fails to recommend a thoughtful read.  Thanks for the read Ashton.

I don’t know if you know this, but, we are apparently in one of the largest bleaching events in recorded history.   Bleaching is the means by which coral attempt to save themselves from rising water temperatures or other changes to their environment that threaten them.  To do so, they release the algae that grow on them and provide them with life. If conditions do not change, the algae is released and never returned.  The coral will die.

As best as scientists can tell, the bleaching is a result of rising water temperatures across the globe.  For ecosystems as fragile as coral reefs, even a half a degree rise in water temperatures can make a sizeable negative difference.  Coral reef bleaching is not new.  In fact, it has been around as long as coral have been around, presumably thousands to hundreds of thousands of years.  What is new is the scale we are witnessing and rapidity with which it is being repeated.

The culprit scientists are suggesting?  Carbon.  Our world, functioning as a greenhouse, is causing these temperature fluctuations and in return can also cause fragile ecosystems to become disequilibrialized and in return die.

What generates Carbon? Well, lots of our machines and manmade activity causes carbon.  The issue isn’t carbon per se; the issue is too much carbon.  Nature cannot adequately deal with the amounts we are now producing.   Yes, there have always been cow flatulence and forest fires and other natural phenomena that can cause carbon.  The issue is not that since cows cause carbon we should therefore kill cows or keep them from farting.

The issue is we are producing too much carbon for our existing carbon reducers (aka Forests) to handle and the over abundance is causing the world to heat slightly more than multiple ecosystems can sustain.  I really don’t understand how this is a conservative or a liberal issue but I do see how ideology can blind a person to the common sense of this.

This rise in ocean temperatures is one issue, nevermind the acidification of oceans and pollution that is causing changes we have yet to feel as land sharks.

Bleaching of coral reefs are not the only issue we have in the oceans.  Apparently, garbage can form islands the size of Texas and who really knows how bad or good all that garbage is for the oceans.  Just google “garbage island.”

Back to Hillary’s quote.  We live in a 70% consumer economy.  70%!  Do you realize how large that number is and what it means?

What it means is that the only way our economy can grow and the only way wealth can be grown, redistributed, whatever, is for the human race to make more things, buy more things, waste more things, dispose of more things, and deplete natural resources for more things.

There is no other way.  All matter has mass and takes up space…and the production of things to consume will follow this law as well.

As a consequence of all this “making” we will be producing a lot of carbon.  Machines make things.  Burning forests allows us to make things.  Creating toxic chemicals that cannot be absorbed into the earth is the result of making things.  Making things requires industry, especially if we are talking the scale that is 70% of the US economy and this not to mention what all this making would mean for the economic demands of the rest of the world.

A byproduct of all this making? Carbon.

The United States Gross Domestic Product last year was roughly 17.8 TRILLION dollars.  GDP is how we measure our economy and its health.  It is the measure of everything our country makes and sells, either at home or abroad.

GDP is also built on the assumption that infinite growth of 3% each year is “normal” and “healthy.”   Politicians, particularly those infatuated with Ronald Reagan, love to bandy this 3% around as if it’s as absolute as John 3:16.  Forecasts  for 2016 is a 2% growth rate OVER that 17.9 Trillion, so around 18.4 Trillion.  Astonishingly, the forecast of GDP by 2026 is a whopping 27.6 TRILLION GDP. Just take a look at these CBO projections for yourself. Wow.  Just wow.

There is nothing to scale that can sustain our global economy in a carbon free way and do so at such percentages.  The technology simply isn’t there.  In order for America to continue on this trend we will be making lots of things, running a lot of machines, creating a lot of waste, and in turn, having an even larger impact on the planet then than we do now.  To think we can just recycle everything as some infinite remainder that can be dealt with really means we do not understand what an infinite remainder is.

I know the naysayers: The planet has always changed.  Seasons come and go.  Etc.  Thanks for the anecdotal nursery rhymes Sean Hannity…

This is true, but it’s also equally true that this planet has never had as many people on it as it does today.  There has never been as much global activity as today.  It doesn’t mean we’re special or that we have to buy into some weird notion of manifest destiny.  It’s just a fact.  There is simply nothing analogous about our current global situation to the past…thus all analogies must fail.

They may, however, allow you sleep better at night.

Thus we come full circle with Hillary’s statement and the reality of a world where coral reefs are bleaching and garbage islands appear ex nihilo, both as a product of human activity and a planet changing faster than anyone can comprehend.

Welcome to the Anthropocene everyone. (If you don’t know what the Anthropocene is, this may help)

May we ask a few questions at this point?

What exactly is the consequence of putting all of our marbles in this economic model that requires we CONSUME in order to live?  What have we done to ourselves to place ourselves in such a tragic situation?  A situation that doesn’t seem to have many large scale answers OTHER THAN RUIN!  What happened to a time when people USED things for needs instead of consumed things out of desire?  And is this economic model, as taxing as it is on natural resources and the economic strophes it creates, not somehow also akin to what it means to say the world has fallen from grace?  Could it be that this unbridled desire that has “created wealth” is actually a wolf in sheep’s clothing?  Are we finally seeing the eclipse of Andrew Carnegie?

Yet for some sins, even forgiveness will not be enough.

We most certainly are not in Eden any longer…and in fact, a great irony has occurred.  We long for Eden, yet in order to get back to Eden we are seemingly hell bent on destroying it in the process as we quest for what Eden is supposed to look like.  We are so far removed from a sense of Edenic contentment that all our quests now are simply idols.

70%.

70% consumer economy.

I fear for the world my children and their children will inherit.  Those percentages at compounded rates and those rates compounded by population growth should cause us all to pause and consider our daily routines and contemplate what a 70% CONSUMER economy really means.

May God help us because I fear there is no turning back from this precipice especially if the world continues to lack the global will to change it.

 

 

 

 

Jokers to the Left of Me, Clowns to the Right: Bernie and Business Rhetoric

BigBusiness

There is one thing in particular that concerns me about the Bern Revolution: the carelessness of thought exhibited by many of its followers.  More exactly, the disregard for understanding the many facets of business that are currently being demonized, particularly with the rhetoric used by Bernie’s campaign.

All of a sudden, folks that have claimed to think with nuance (college students and self proclaimed enlightened folk) have lost all nuances and are drowning in Bernie’s talking points.  They are rehearsing the talking points of intelligent people, but the intelligent people that articulated these ideas never did so at the expense of nuance.  The masses have embraced catch phrases.

Just look at the news or language of protesters…even Facebook posts.  It is mimesis ad nauseum.

Some of the more popular phrases are:

“we are the 1%”

“profits over people”

“wall street and big business”

“Fighting for the middle class”

“common good”

“working wage”

I could go on.

Do the people using these phrases know what they mean or are these just talking points?  Easily rehearsed bible verses if you will?

In case you want to immediately object, or quit reading at this point, I must be like the Apostle Paul and remind you that I have a few liberal credentials, progressive credentials even.  This post is not written by some conservative lackey looking to uphold the status quo though I want to be honest about my own career which is in business and in vocational Christian ministry.  I hope such does not disqualify me from speaking.

By all accounts I am a moderate…in other words a “sell out” to many of you who might read this post.  I will not die on Adam Smith’s sword nor will I hoist Marx into the pantheon of economic Gods.  They are referent points, which at first blush, may seem to be in stark contrast, but in reality are only different teleologically.

In 2012 I attended LEFT Forum, the single largest gathering of Leftists on the planet for their annual conference in NYC.  I was surrounded by real life Leninists, Trotskyists and those who think Rosa Luxemburg is a saint.  These are folks who think Obama is a conservative.  What’s more?  I sat on a panel, presented a paper on a critique of capitalism, and that said paper was published in the Review and Expositor journal, Spring 2013 issue.  My paper’s title, “A Wesleyan Critique of the Leviathan of Capitalism.”  Yes, I used a historically evangelical figure to write a critique of capitalism, private property, liberal republicanism and I was even able to work in the doctrine of sanctification to boot.  What’s more?  For that same issue I wrote a book review on David Harvey’s excellent analysis of capital called The Enigma of Capital, which is a Marxist critique of the function of capital.  I am familiar with, have read, and sympathize with much of these critiques.  I find David Harvey refreshing and honest…though I am not sure he is any closer to the answers of our systemic problem than the next brilliant analyst.

On this very blog I have written on economics.  They aren’t exactly Ayn Rand’s type, though they don’t half-wittedly embrace Marx as the economic savior many claim him to be.  Just check me out HERE if you’d like to see some of my past analysis or search this blog under economics.  Or if you doubt my leftist theoretical credentials, THIS should clear that up (Lacan surfaces elsewhere on my blog as well)

My personal book shelves have more leftist economics and theory than I have books on Saint Paul and his letters, and I’m a minister!   On those shelves one will find Alain Badiou’s The Communist Hypothesis, William Cavanaugh’s Being Consumed, Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century, David Graeber’s monumental book Debt, and for some twisted levity Slavoj Zizek’s Living in the End Times to name a few.

To be even more stereo-typical, I have 2 degrees from liberal arts universities (a BA and an MDiv and I’m working on a DMin) so of course I am a Lib.  I have even voted democratic in elections past.

(My own continued research interests intersect around economics, faith and constructive political theology…flavored with Continental Philosophy, particularly phenomenology.  Currently, I am exploring ethongraphy as a tool that can help engage disbelief structures/secularity with the faith.  Not exactly fundie brain food.)

While these credentials do not mean I am a card-carrying Leftist, they do mean I have given thought to a range of ideas outside of the normative ones with which I was raised (conservative, republican, evangelical, religiously fundamentalist, pro-capitalism…the typical WASP).  Being exposed to lots of thought and passionate people on different perspectives has taught me that nuance is important and that a simple reduction of one movement or idea to a villianized phrase is not very helpful.  Likewise, Sean Hannity can get on the radio and use the word “intellectual dishonesty” or “socialist” or “besmirched” and he thinks he’s defining something.  All he’s doing is galvanizing a base.  He is not educating or informing anyone.  He’s just drawing a line in the sand.

For the record, I think Hannity is an idiot.

Back to Bern.

Bern’s supporters are passionate, mobilized, and they want to see change in America.  I have intelligent friends who are supporters of Bernie.  Some of his support is from rigorously thoughtful people that know history and contemporary politics quiet well.   The problem is that the rigor of thought and careful attention does not “trickle down” from the intelligent people to the masses.  The masses key in on these catch phrases the way Sean Hannity does and they end up saying things they do not even understand…just like Sean Hannity (sorry if that stings).

For example, I have seen interview after interview where random reporters ask supporters of Bernie to define democratic socialism.  They have been asked to define the difference between fascism, socialism and communism.  They have been asked to define capitalism.  They have been asked to denote the differences between theoretical taxation under a socialist or capitalist system.

Do you know how many folks have been able to answer with a modicum of intelligence?   Shockingly few.  With stuttering…many have no idea.

(To be fair, I think many conservative people would be equally ignorant of their most “valued” principles if they had to write a few paragraphs as well)

Many of my friends have answers to these questions.  Further, many people I know can articulate actual policy and contrast it with the current policy of Obama or past Republican governments.  Many Bern supporters are thoughtful BUT many many more are clueless as to what they are supporting.  They are supporting sound bites just like dense Republicans who have fallen for Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” sound bite.

The problem with sound bite politics is that it generalizes too much.  It tends to lump entire groups of people into the same category, when in fact, it has reduced all plurality of nuance to a oneness of the same.  Not only does it generalize too broadly but it categorizes just as broadly.

For example, when Bernie uses the phrase “Big Business” or “profits over people” he is thinking about BIG Business, like huge hedge funds and banks that literally run the globe via interest rates and pushing policy agendas (and we all know how important these big banks must be if even Washington DC had to go all in and bail them out during the Great Recession).  Bernie is talking about establishments that pay their CEO 200 times what the average hourly worker makes.  He is talking about multimillion dollar corporations who’s havoc spans the spectrum of ecological and financial excess.

Bernie is not talking about a family that might own 4 hardware stores.  But the masses do not know the difference.  Do the masses not hear the words “big business” and lump all business into this category, castigating business owners as if they are the vampires of the economy?  I am sure some don’t but far too many do.

This current climate has given way to a demonization of business and capital endeavors.  (for my Leftist friends, lets not forget even Lenin harnassed capitalism to pull Russia out of depression via the New Economic Policy in the 20’s…and he took flak from his own party for doing so).

While we should all be angry at the large banks that placed the entire economy at risk a few years ago, and the politicians that continue to empower them, and the FED who’s fiscal policies are in the business of creating bubble after bubble and fair trade deals that have made the West drunk on cheap Chinese imports…the American public has directed their hatred and political angst on the one thing they all deal with daily: a business.

Ironically, business is both the problem, and the solution, since all the funding for any utopia would start with business or the “rich” people who own the businesses.

Bernie is not an idiot.  He knows the economy needs business.  If anything, it needs business to pay for his programs and utopia.  He would not be so stupid as to confuse big business with ALL business, but many of his followers don’t know the difference.

The average person sees a Wal-Mart, a CitiBank, an ACE Hardware, a McDonalds, a Starbucks, a local tire company, or a mom and pop outdoor outfitter that sells experiences on the Ocoee River as one and the same.  These are businesses floating in cash, with lots of top heavy administration who are pillaging the labor of others to get rich.  These businesses can, should and need to do more for the average citizen (if you need a list of what businesses already pay for and their tax rates hit me up and I’ll gladly bore you) and if they don’t do it out of their own volition then the government will pass laws to confiscate it (see, that’s my anarcho-libertarianism coming through).

At least these are the assumptions that negate the particularities of the climates and markets in which a business operates.

Allow  me to offer this illustration as a means of delineating small and large businesses and why placing every business under a generic business category is misleading.

Wal-mart has huge buying power because of their size.  They can singlehandedly negotiate a price with Coca-Cola for its products.  If Coke wants exposure to Wal-Mart customers, then Wal-Mart can pretty much set that table.  So go into Walmart and you can buy a 2 liter Pepsi for $1.25.  Not bad.  However, go into a pizza joint and try to purchase a 2 Liter.  You’ll find the cost could be as high as a dollar or $1.50 more.  Why?

Well, of course, the pizza joint guy wants to rip you off!

Wrong.

Coke doesn’t sell its products at the same price to the smaller buyer as the larger buyer because the smaller buyer doesn’t have as much leverage to drive down the cost of the good.  Leverage meaning customer exposure and sales.  So the small retailer pays MORE than Wal-Mart even though Wal-Mart can actually afford to pay more for the product!  Thus the small guy has to sell it for more to make money and STAY in business.  Even more, its highly likely Wal-Mart can sell for less and make more profit than the guy that sells it for more at a smaller business.

Some people think that you pay more at a pizza place for a soda because of the “convenience” factor, but that’s wrong too.  Why would a pizza place not want to sell you three 2 liters products for $1.25 if it could make a profit?  It  would be dumb to jack a price up just to jack a price up and it wouldn’t be an optimal way to make use of customer traffic if a business could make more money selling 3 cokes rather than 1.

Does the average voter even understand or pause to think about these pricing idiosyncrasies or is everything reduced to “business is bad and wants to rip me off?”

Does the average voter understand that when Bernie says “profits over people” he isn’t discussing the owner of this singular pizza shop…or the family that operates 1 restaurant…but instead he refers to the large corporations that stand behind these franchises or even the large banks that make this small business family dream possible?  Perhaps we should get a list of the good and bad businesses so we can at least arbitrate those morally suspicious too large businesses from the small ones and the small ones from the medium size ones…that way the citizens of America know who to hate and who to encourage.

We need a list of the corporate and independent businesses, the small, medium and large that exist within these facets and we need to pass a law that requires all businesses to post, like a health department score, their type of business so that consumers can know who they are giving their money too and who to hate on Facebook.

We all like David, but Goliath be damned.

Or how about the types and sizes of business?  Are these considered when lighting the passions of the masses with the catch phrases “profits over people” and “big business?”

When Bernie says “business” which one is he talking about and is he being clear to his audience?

Perhaps you didn’t know but there are differences between BIG business, franchised businesses and small independent businesses (not to mention monopolies, trusts or corporations in general).

Franchised businesses can be BIG business but they need not be.

An owner of 1 McDonalds can be an owner of only 1 or an owner of 20.  And there is a difference.  Similarly, a McDonalds may not have an independent owner, it may be owned by the corporation.  Likewise, an owner of a Smoothie King can be an owner of 1 or 20, but you better believe the operating income of a single Smooth King is not in the same ballpark as the operating income of a single McDonalds.  Yet when the government or folks who “feel the Bern” want to enact legislation that businesses pay for…or the National Board of Labor Relations makes rules on salary pay…they do not consider the differences of these vastly different business models , revenue differentiations, their particular markets, or capital flow.

Laws are passed with sweeping generalities.

Votes are won with sweeping generalites.

In addition, franchised businesses, so long as they operate within their franchise agreements, are typically free to set their own operating particulars.  They can set benefit and pay structure, holiday and sick leave ( I know my progressive friends would like this mandated but to do so would require government support either via staffing or subsidization since not all businesses have excess labor from which to draw while folks take months off of work), as well as the way they organize their administrative tasks.

Thus, one franchise can offer lots of cool perks and another, even the same franchise just a different owner, can offer much less.  A franchise is part of a large business, but it isn’t; it’s typically run by a group of people or person who pays a fee to the Brand in order to operate under the Brands business model.   It has a connection to a large business but may not see any financial contributions, by way of profits, from the Brand itself.

Large Businesses, however, often dictate their markets.  They call the shots.  They ARE awash in cash and because of all the cash they can drive the business agenda and MAKE markets move.  (note to readers, all BIG or large business was once a small independent business).  These businesses usually employ hundreds to thousands of employees.  They have lots of capital to spread around if they have made good business decisions (good is a relative definition here since some might call this good a “bad” if it has been exploitative).  These are the big banks and international corporations that you hear about in the media.  The Occupy Movement was about protesting this category of business.  The “average Joe” cannot join this business as an owner.  There is no way to buy into them except via the stock market or if you’re a famous person for whom Starbucks will make an exception.  These businesses offer lots of perks to employees and have such a large work force they can afford the PTO and benefits lots of people earn from them.

Then, there are small independent businesses.  These are “start up” businesses without attachment to a corporate structure.  These businesses begin with an idea and attempt to bring it to the market.  It can be something small like Apple that began in a garage and becomes something much larger or it can be a beauty boutique opened by someone who wants to be their own boss, market the uniqueness of their salon and is willing to take the investment risk that operating a business would incur.

Some small business cost more than others.

In my hometown, I have witnessed multiple restaurants open up with original menus and marketing plans.  These businesses had to find inventory suppliers, determine wages, determine proper inventory usage, configure their books to meet state and federal regulations, develop a marketing plan, etc., all on their own.  There was no corporate entity to help them.  And they had to invest in equipment in order to bring their product to a customer’s table.  Obviously, this costs more than a beauty boutique, but they are both small independent business.

These three types of business are all different.  Each one requires unique particularities to sustain their business model.  Each one has different cash flow, capital costs, employee costs.

The take away is this: NOT ALL business is big business.  NOT ALL business has the same cash.  NOT ALL business owners are millionaires.  Many business owners make enough to pay their bills and provide a better life for their family than they would otherwise…yet they are still well below Obama’s tax increase on couples making $250,000 or more.  Yes, its a real life version of Ripley’s Believe It or Not!

Business as a category of understanding is much more diverse than this political season has insinuated.  So when Bernie invokes “business” and crowds chant mantras of hate against “business” are all of these even being considered?

Businesses know their market and operating strategies better than government and better than any politician or keyboard warrior.  When foreign elements attempt to lump all business together or create a large paradigm by which every TYPE of business must operate it  creates fissures in the system that may have unintended consequences.

Unfortunately, these consequences cannot be seen until they start to take effect.

When all business is reduced to the same by politicians without any qualification it galvanizes a misplaced hatred toward business in general and creates unrealistic expectations on just how much and in what way businesses can pay for utopian dreams and visions.

Unless, of course, the dream is to have a full confiscation of business at the government level…this may not be too far from the truth.  Not being a conspiracy theorist here…just saying.

This would also be another fantastic way to have a large ruling elitist political class while shrinking the middle class.

These are just a few examples of the things that typify the wide-spread misunderstanding among the masses. These nuances and contextualities extend much further than the price of a Coke or whether a business is independent or corporate, small, medium or large.

They extend to inventory, labor and government regulation.  It extends to intricacies within small, medium and large businesses.  All businesses are different because they inhabit different markets, operate with different philosophies and are at different levels of success or failure.

When politicians fail to teach their adherents the nuances across business climate (or at least tacitly acknowledge these nuances in speeches) they are creating false generalities in order to prop up a false perception that can include every business everywhere.   Further, when politicians tap into the willful ignorance of the masses their crime of misrepresenting business in general, and their exploitation of ignorant voters, is no less egregious than the business that exploits its workers for profit. 

Both are committing sin and both will profit from it…but only one can get voted into office.

This is the production of class warfare at the expense of the truth and its only solution is to change our culture from one of distraction to one of interaction.

So please, do the world a favor.  Turn off FOX NEWS, quit reading Politico as your only news source, don’t drink Chomsky’s kool-aid unless you know why its flavored and don’t believe capitalist fairy tales of infinite production.   And please, when you talk about business or anything else…know what you are talking about.

An uneducated opinion is like an ass…and we all know what comes from those.

 

 

 

Value Voting is Nonsense

value voters

Recently, the Atlantic published a column describing the transition of part of the American voting segment from value voters to voters of nostalgia.  Christians who used to vote based on a candidates position on abortion, gay rights, euthanasia, pro-family, etc., have forgotten those values and are now voting for their identity as Americans.

We have transitioned from being voters of values to voters of identity, voters who want someone to restore order to the chaos we see surrounding us.

America has lost it way!  Prayer is no longer in schools, apple pie is no longer piping fresh from the oven when dad gets home from work, and gasp, football has surpassed baseball as the nations favorite sport!

We need the good ole days when FDR created the New Deal, Ike gave us the interstate system and grew government spending to do so,  JFK nearly began a nuclear holocaust and Lyndon Johnson was creating the Great Society…not to mention air conditioning was a boon in the middle of the 20th century.

We long for the days when women had much lower social standing, fewer people were educated, gay rights was an oxymoron and your kid could get beat up on the play ground without consequence.

Yes!  Let’s make America Great again!

As large groups of people have coalesced around a bombastic candidate in Donald Trump, they have not found unity in his morality or social views.  In fact, they ignore them.  Instead, people have found unity in the awesomeness of days gone by.  The slogan, “Make America Great” indicates both the opinion that right now isn’t great and that in the distant past such greatness can provide a model for future greatness.

This is just as well.  It’s about time we vote what we really believe: voting for values is nonsense.

The Reagan Coalition had historically long legs.  But its step has finally reached its pinnacle and is now on the descent.

For nearly 30 years the Republican Party convinced voters that if they would vote Republican they would be casting their lot with a party that stands up for American Values, for Christian values.

Republicans vowed to protect unborn babies, pursue amendments to Constitutions preserving “traditional marriage,” and keep the war on drugs at a fever pitch.  Republicans would conserve the America of our grandparents and parents, and in turn, would preserve an America that we would recognize as we hand it off to our children.

All of this was nonsense.

It was religious populism garnering votes as the Republican and Democratic party made indistinguishable decisions.

Both parties spent a lot of money.  Both parties started wars and continued conflicts.  Both parties traded in public interest for their electoral interests.  Both parties spoke like Patriots while acting like bastards.

As the value voting mantra swept through our country and continued to foment political action in our churches, it continued to mean nothing while those who voted based on values felt as if they were really doing something.  In fact, they did nothing but cast their lot with people who would no more change a single “value” law then undo the results of the Civil War.

Libertarian voices tried to speak out and be heard.  Large constituencies of younger people, or disillusioned boomers, who tried to draw attention to economic policy or public policy were silenced because libertarian positions were too liberal.

How can you legalize marijuana?

What…you believe people should be able to do with their body parts what they want so long as it doesn’t infringe on your rights?

You don’t want prayer in schools…are you a pagan!?  Of course wanting prayer in schools is the Christian thing to want!

You don’t want to outlaw abortion?!  How can you even sleep at night?

These questions and more were, and are, frequently asked by values voters.

While many of us look around and have seen for decades that agreeing with George W. Bush on abortion had absolutely nothing to do with the way he governed the country, still a stubborn voting segment has thought voting by values would change something.

In similar fashion, even liberals who thought that agreeing with Bill Clinton on social policy would usher in an American utopia were sorely disappointed…and if you ask far left liberals about President Obama, they would say he, like Clinton, has pandered to the political class and not gone far enough to the Left to institute the sweeping change our country needs.

Obama ran on change and a new set of values, yet other than a token gay marriage decision by the Supreme Court, he has continued the policy of war, taxation, free trade, expansive oil discovery and government growth of his predecessor.

As with Republicans, so with Democrats: votes cast for similar values are just that, votes.  Sharing a value with a candidate does not mean they will administer the country as they should.

Republicans did not outlaw euthanasia.  They did not make abortion illegal.  They could not stop gay marriage from becoming law.  They cannot get prayer back in schools.

Sharing a professed value can make them your friend but it shouldn’t make them your candidate.

Democrats have not made good on their single payer intentions.  It took President Obama two terms to finally come around and support gay marriage.  The black community continues to have high crime and incarceration rates, while black youths are the single highest unemployed segment of our society, all under the first black president.

Democrats haven’t come good on their values either…why?

Because values DO NOT MATTER in politics.

This was recently illustrated when I watched John Kasich during a CNN town hall.  Someone asked about his approach to appointing a Supreme Court Justice.  His reply?  He did not want an activist judge but neither would he let his personal opinion about gay marriage influence his decision to appoint a judge who was pro gay marriage.  He said, “it’s the law of the land so we move on.”

In other words, he has his personal conviction, but in a secular politic it’s not a deal breaker because it is not the job of the state to uphold religious norms.  Political life and religious life don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

As for commerce, Kasich said, “I don’t understand why we can’t trade with someone who thinks differently than us.  Like the instance of the bakery and gay couple…In my opinion, its trade, sell them a cup cake and move on.  If you disagree then say a prayer for them, but in my opinion it shouldn’t prevent us from the political activity of commerce.” (my rough paraphrase)

Politics and values at the operative level do not go hand in hand, which is why, the value you need to share with a candidate is not their stance on gay marriage or gay cupcakes.

The value you need to share is their principle of governance.

What animates a person’s political philosophy?  How would they legislate and why?

Values come and go with time, but political principles remain.

This is why our Founding Fathers could have diverse opinions on religion, yet they were bound by a pursuit of liberty and freedom.  This is why Benjamin Franklin could be an agnostic and still unite in brotherhood with George Whitfield, even giving money to his ministry.  This is why Thomas Jefferson could be a Deist who did not believe any New Testament mythology, yet he shared a passion for liberty with Baptists and united with them in pursuing an American nation that would embody liberty (albeit one with its contextual limitations).

Christian values did not unite the Founders of our country.  Social values did not unite our Founders either.  Just ask South Carolina if they shared the same values as New York 200 years ago.

What united the country was a love for liberty, a principle.  This principle does not change even as social moors and interpretations of scripture do.  Either you believe in liberal republicanism or you don’t.  Either you agree with John Locke or you don’t, but such is not predicated on a “value” grounded in any “moral” concern.

Thus, I am glad The Donald has entered the world of politics because he has finally disclosed what so many of us have believed for so long: value voting is nonsense.

When you cast your vote today, consider not voting for someone who shares your morality, but perhaps, someone who shares your political vision for the country.

 

 

The Beauty of Love: Learning from Thomas Jay Oord

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As the events at Northwest Nazarene University continue to unravel in the coming weeks, I wanted to offer some positive words about my good friend Tom Oord, and perhaps introduce him to those who know the man of the books, but could also benefit from knowing the man behind them.

It was the year 2003 and I was a senior Religion major at Trevecca Nazarene University. I had worked hard, emerged from the cocoon of my theological raising, and spent the last 4 years of my life preparing for ministry. For my efforts, the Religion  Dept at TNU granted me the Systematic Theology Award for my graduating class. We had lots of smart folks in my class that year, folks whom I highly respect, so getting this award was a surprise even as it was an affirmation of how hard I had worked, how much I had read and the newly assimilated theology I was beginning to develop.

The award didn’t grant a person much, just bragging rights and a piece of paper with my theology professor’s signature (Dr. Henry Spaulding, now president of Mount Vernon Nazarene University). It also included a 25$ gift card to Cokesbury bookstore in downtown Nashville. My four years at TNU taught me to love books…making this 25$ almost as awesome as the award itself.

I’ll never forget the book I bought.

I perused the shelves and looked at all the textual options until I came across a book edited by a fellow Nazarene, a scholar with whom I had only began to become acquainted in my studies at TNU. The book was Tom Oord’s dual editorial with Bryan P. Stone, Thy Name and Nature is Love: Wesleyan and Process Theologies in Dialogue. This book absolutely peeked my interest. I had begun to really appreciate process theology at the time (at least as much as an undergrad religion major could) and was definitely interested in seeing how my Wesleyan roots might connect with this more progressive theological movement that placed a heavy emphasis on God’s relationship with creation, rather than God’s relationship above or in juxtaposition to it.

Tom’s article “A Process Wesleyan Theodicy: Freedom, Embodiment, and The Almighty God,” radically shaped the way I thought about Theodicy, a theme that was very important in his earlier work and continues to echo in his more direct explorations of Love. One could argue that this early essay is an issue that continues to motivate Tom as he continues to think about things like sin, death, evil, salvation and freedom in light of God’s name and nature of holy love.

As a young theology student I was really struggling with ideas central to the idea of God and our doctrine of such. One thing I came out of TNU clearly convinced of: classical theism and Greek Metaphysical theologies couched in the Bible didn’t make a lot of sense to me. I needed something more and I needed it to be more biblical and more Wesleyan.

Tom gave that to me.

He talked about how we as creatures are free and that God does not over-ride our freedom even to perform God’s will. He discussed the nature of evil and how God wishes to deal with evil through the almighty persuasion of human bodies to shape history and proclaim God’s goodness. The concept of “indirect bodily impact,” that God chooses to shape the world through us, not in spite of us, made a lot of sense methodologically and it was consistent with the ideas that God is holy, God is love, and we as creatures are free.

Most indicting in this essay is when Tom is busy being a great teacher and delineating differences of various theodicy’s employed in the church. Once he outlined multiple ways of talking about God’s absolute power in relation to conditional evil in the world, he gets to the crux of the matter. We can’t talk about God as being all-powerful in the traditional way of understanding that statement without God in some way being culpable for evil that God could otherwise prevent. If God is a God of perfect love, and that love is in some way intelligible, we must be able to speak in some way positively about that perfect love. He says it like this, “Because the God of accidental free-will theism fails to override or withdraw the freedom of such perpetrators, attributing perfect love to this God seems implausible.”

In other words, to have the power to prevent evil, and then not prevent it, makes one culpable for the action…and its hard to ascribe that sort of willful declension as loving.

He goes on to argue that God is not culpable for evil because God allows the world to be free and such freedom cannot be over-ridden by God. Thus God’s power must be understood in ways that are more relational and not coercive. This is where divine persuasion and love comes into the mix and Tom speaks of how scripture demonstrates to us God’s loving insistence to persuade humans to act, rather than coerce them to do. (a take that is also empirically verified in our daily lives)

This theodicy has proven indispensible to me as a Wesleyan thinker and pastor because it takes serious our Wesleyan insistence that God is love and God is relational…and that holiness is located in a relational holiness between God, world and others. Tom is simply trying to make theological and philosophical sense of how that might best work in a way that is methodologically responsible and also avoid creating a bastard theological hybrid between Wesleyanism and Calvinism, a marriage that never did make pretty babies.

In 2004, at the Wesleyan Theological Society’ meeting in Seattle, I met Tom Oord for the first time. I asked him some questions about this essay. He didn’t know me from Adam, but I remember the hospitality with which he engaged me and took me seriously. I followed that meeting up with emails and Tom always gave me thorough responses. He treated me as if I was one of his students, not the alum of a sister institution for which he had no time.

Since this first essay and meeting with Tom, I have learned that Tom is second to none in his support of young scholars in our tradition.

In 2009, I gave a paper at WTS in the science and theology section. Tom Oord was the head of that section and accepted my paper for presentation. Later in 2009, over some science and freedom discussions, Tom sent me a complimentary copy of his book Creation Made Free. The only caveat was he asked I write a review and get it published. I did so and that review appeared in the Review and Expositor: A Baptist Consortium Journal that same year. In 2011, I attended the Bible Tells Me So conference in Nampa, ID. After the conference, I noticed the intended publication from that conference did not include a particular essay that I found profoundly important on the relationship between the Academy and the Church. I wrote Tom. I don’t know what happened behind the scenes, but the essay was included in the final text. Later in 2011, I told Tom a fellow pastor and myself were going to read his text Defining Love. He sent me two copies, both signed, and even asked how the study went. In 2012, I asked Tom about proposing a paper on Arminius and Inter-religious Dialogue at the upcoming WTS in Nashville. I also wanted to get it published in the WTJ. After inquiring with Tom, he encouraged me to propose the paper, that it had a good chance of publication. In 2013, my first WTJ article appeared in the Spring 2013 Issue. And lastly, when I was applying to do Phd at Emory, Tom spent 45 minutes with me on the phone discussing a career in the academy.

Had it not been for Tom Oord, there is much I would not have learned from his multiple books, but there are also many chances I would not have been given in our tradition. Without his help, the doors of Wesleyan academia would probably have remained shut to me.

My seminary degree was done at a Bapstist institution. I have had multiple chances to publish in print and online, give papers and be a part of projects through my Baptist connections. I have had zero opportunity in my own tradition, except what has been granted by the hospitality of Tom Oord, the gifts he saw in me and the gift of his friendship. I never had him as a professor, but he has worked with me as if I was one of his students.

Our tradition needs teachers like Tom Oord.

We need scholars that provide us with a broad theological landscape and challenge us to think through our ideas not just with our existing ideas. We need scholars that will drop the proverbial Barthian Bomb on our theological playground and equip us with the tools to engage the world with responsible and mature reflection. We need teachers with whom we may not always agree, because in disagreeing, we may be given a stronger intellect if it leads to a more thorough discovery of the weaknesses of our position. We need folks like Tom Oord that aren’t content to just give us buzz words and pledge allegiance to the old guard, but really believe our theology of holy love is worth doing…but it must be done right and without trite. And lastly, we need scholars like Tom who will stand beside young scholars, encourage, equip and give them the opportunities they need to be the future teachers of the church…teachers who aren’t worried about the good ole boy Wesleyan or Nazarene club but sincerely want to shape the future through influencing young scholars.

I am thankful for the decade long history I have with Tom Oord. He has shaped me in ways he’ll never know…but I do know I am simply one among many to have been changed by his life and work.

I am thankful for the ministry and academics of Tom Oord. I am thankful for his friendship. And I am thankful for what is happening on NNU’s campus as some of the steps of recent days are being reconsidered. The truth is, despite everyone being worried about Tom’s future, the real future we should be worried about is ours. Administrations may think they are doing Tom a favor if they let him keep his post, but the reality is, We, our tradition, need Tom…perhaps even more than he needs us.

So Tom, thank you for who you are, what you stand for and all you do. Your efforts have not returned void.

It’s What YOU See

its-not-what-you-look-at-that-matters-its-what-you-see

Have you ever ran across one of those quotes, or sayings, that no matter how hard you rack your brain the simplicity of the statement gets lost on you?

Usually, I get lost when reading Hegel, Whitehead, or some other abstractly concrete thinker begging me to silence all the glowing screens and focus on the ENTIRE argument. I take no shame in admitting that on more than one occasion, I not only read, but I re-read, and do so loudly, to follow the argument and make damn sure I have understood every word, every sentence, every nuance that might be hidden beneath and on top of the words.

But sometimes, when I travail against my own inclination to cohort with academic prose and I succumb to the allure of imagination, I read fiction.

Fiction teaches me to see. It teaches me to create.

It’s not an argument; its an invitation to see something that no one else sees yet is seen by everyone. It invites us into a picture shrouded with ideas, worlds and ends that are somehow conjoined together by the illusory fiction that fiction is based on seeing what the words give us, rather than seeing what the words create in us…hence recasting our angle of vision into something not even the author could have foretold.

So I read and I am shaped. I see.

I am shaped by those fictive words and those non-fictive ones, in anticipation of something I know not what but inevitably lead me to seeing as I never have before, or will, thereafter.

The beauty in such seeing is that some passages, particularly ones that don’t require a ton of exegetical context literarily, fly off the pages at us and slap us with their simplicity. They teach us to see when we forget we had forgotten.

We grew up. We put aside child play. We lost our sight.

One such passage that now sits ornamentally on the desk I pretend to write at is by American literary icon and transcendentalist, Henry David Thoreau.

I’m not quite sure how it happened, but somehow I have managed to live my life without much Thoreau. This isn’t surprising. I have managed to live without much of a few things that I now find indispensable. I was 33 before I read a single word of him and this to my shame.

I am 33 now.

To the point, Thoreau is deserving of all the accolades that adorn his name, his books, his story. In his journals, he writes of seeing as only a transcendentalist can.

To risk the cliché I mention it here, the simple words that slapped me in the face, “It’s not what you look at that matters, it what YOU see.” [emphasis mine].

Thoreau’s work is full of this idea of sight, of seeing what others miss even though they are staring at the same damn thing. His work is full of a oneness of thought and rugged intellectualism that unities nature and nurture. His writing taps into that human originary desire to peel back the complexity of life and just…you know, be human in the world.

At first blush, a philosophical treatise made more sense to me than this quote. What does it mean? What romantic ideal is he describing and why does it matter?

I am always suspicious of these bleeding heart Utopian dreamers, like Thoreau, that push me to the edge and dare me to jump.

Yet, I need them.

Their logic is impervious to a logic that sees in this sentence what I see in prose, even poetic prose.

When I first read Thoreau, this quote, I think, “Of course it’s not what we look at that matters! It’s what we have been sociologically conditioned to see! We see only what our lenses allow us to see!”

Allow a simple American sports analogy.

It is common parlance for someone to say, as if to commend their sight, “I call it like I see it.” This once simple sports confession by umpires has now become common vernacular for “it is what it is” or “It is what I see” so to speak.

In other words, this trite saying presumes the one seeing is seeing correctly. In reality, who cares “if you call it like you see it,” especially if you’re an idiot and you saw it wrong! The fact that you’re relying on your own weak empirical vantage point doesn’t make your sight impeccable.

So when I, one trained in the humanities, read Thoreau and I see this, I think, “well, duh, of course it’s all about what you see…it’s never been about what you’re looking at.” From Plato’s cave to an Atlanta Braves baseball game, life is never about objectivity, it’s always about perception.

Then, something made its way into my life.

This quote now not only sits in the Journals of Henry David Thoreau, but it sets on my desk, encompassing a circular pewter encased magnifying glass. To remind me, “hey stupid, look here, remember this lesson.”

This small object careened into my life and it yelled at me.

Those words, “it’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what YOU see,” punched me in the stupid head that is supposedly filled with things that make me smart.

It careened not only into my life but was born during a moment in which it appeared that everything I have been working toward for nearly 15 years was finally coming to fruition. Yes, you did the math correctly. This would be a journey that started when I was 18.

Ubiquitously, this meteor of awakening fell into my lap only recently, a year past what has become a loss, and not a victory. I stared at this object, with these words, Walden rolling around in my brain, and my nihilist self thought, “what the hell does this even mean? What the hell is HDT even talking about?”

You see…I was dense. I admit it. It’s one of only 3 hamartias in my life. Being dense is prob 3rd on the rung.

So, I asked someone wiser than me. I was the Ethiopian Eunuch and I needed a Philip.

I asked, “what does this mean? How does this make sense? How I see obviously got me no where!”

And I have to admit. I am not prone to emotion. But the next few words that hit my ear were equivalent to the Blitzkrieg emotionally, precisely because I am dense, “it never mattered if you got in, what always matters is the way you see things because the way you see things is unlike anyone else.”

Ho.Ly. Shit.

Srs?!

I thought what I achieved mattered! I thought that my great ideas mattered! I thought the prestige of this next journey mattered! Nope. None of it. I was wrong.

None of that ever mattered…and as I stared at where I wanted to be a year ago, I finally learned (though I have hardly incarnated), it’s not what I was looking at that mattered. What mattered is what I saw when I opened my eyes, light flooded my body and I inhaled creativity each day…because no one did that, or does that, quite like me.

What always mattered was just…my seeing. What my sight beheld never mattered; it was always what I saw through my sight that mattered. That was the gift, even though I often berate the smallness of the gift, of my own human potentiality or possibility.

Of course, I have been taught how to see. I see because of many factors, most of which I did not choose. My Apologies to Arminius.

No one has quite had the same experiences I have had. No one has read the bizarre combination of texts and integrated that with the many people that have walked through life with me. No one is the unique mess that is my life. And my life is comprised of a ceiling that covers my world and shapes what I see when I stare at what is through the glass ceiling that hangs above us all.

And this is the lesson: The world is never what we look at…what we look at is only what we see in front of us. The real world is what we see in the world that we look at, and that position, is unique to us all, even when in our darkest moments we feel like the eternal night of the soul will never end.

Quit looking for the gift…the gift was already given and it’s what happens when you see the world and you give the gift of sight to others.

The Well is Dry

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The well is tapped dry.

I dropped a coin over the ledge, leaning my shoulders over the abyss as my arms held me in place.  I listened as the coin plummeted to the bottom of the world.  Then it happened.  It was swallowed by the darkness.  The darkness swallowed it whole, the hole that swallows all wholes; it never made a noise; it never reached its destination; the well was empty with the darkness that swallowed everything.

I cock my head to the left, pitch my ear to the right, and stare at the wooden frame erected over the well that is apparently dry and defunct of use.  The wooden slats are held neatly in place, hugging one another tightly as cob webs are strewn from the miniature trusses that hold this cap over the darkness in place.  There is a pitch that holds the wood together; its boards being aged on the right side of the moon, apparently preventing the shrinking that would have exposed this hole for what it is.  The wood is a dark mahogany, that has grown darker with age, or perhaps it has grown darker from the dark beneath it, just as the moon gets its light from the sun in front of it.  The wood has a precarious position, such as Nietzsche’s sparrow, suspended over this abyss, only it remains without wings and is instead supported by columns that themselves have not the task of sitting over a dried up vitality that is this hidden indentation.

I listen as the coin was swallowed, waiting for an echo, a clink, a subtle sound that might suggest something is alive in the this wholesh hole into which coins go to die.  My ears were attentive, and my hands held onto the wooden beams for support.  No vibration.  No wind.  No noise.  Nothing.  The wood refracts no sound.  It reflects no light.  There is no living water in this well…this well is filled with darkness.  This darkness beneath enveloped in a spacious cavernous pit saliently thrusting itself into the earth, as porous particles of light radiate into this sheet of nothing, a darkness that not even the light can overcome.  Isaiah and John sit speechless peering over the ledge…

Precariously this empty well is contained in its place.  It has stones walls that descend to its presumed bottom and rise up out of the ground, at a quaint 3 and a half feet.  The stones hug one another closely, placed by a master artisan.  The beauty of its construction is matched by the terror of its design.  These stones are impregnable.  They are wed at each joint.  Their rough edges and roundedly smooth surfaces buttress their neighbors in a fortress that contains the darkness of the dry well.

What was meant to provide structure and security, now contains madness and despair.  It contains coins that never return and water that has disappeared.  These stones hold back the nothingness of a creativity that is lost and a exuberance that has been pillaged by the salt of time.  The stones are cool to the touch, just as one’s hand can notice if one dips their arms and phalanges into the crisp presence of the dark plane contained therein.  The coolness is refreshing, but it is a revitalization that betrays our senses.  It is cool to the touch not because it has life but because nothing is there.  Even these stones mock this reality, as mossy edges now cover their surfaces to disguise the absence of dead water and an empty well, a well run dry.

As I sit crouched over toward this wall, inspecting these stones, staring back at this wooden ceiling and hearing nothing inside this cage of nihilistic absence, at once an act of art and now also an act of creational treason, my hand touches these stones.  My fingers, the same ones that grasped into the well disguised as subsisting life, now feel the timelessness of these weathered and empty stones.

These stones seem to mock me with their silence.  They stare at me with their faceless expressions; The moss a testament to my stupidity rather than my anemic profundity.  I sit here, bent over, elbows on my knees, staring at the dry ground around this now dry well, and I do what becomes instinctual.  Like a man so long ago, I write in this dirt beside this empty well.  I write what I do not know, but what must be written.  I stare at the instantaneous production of semiotics.  I stare at the ridges of the dirt made by the tip of my life.

I take both arms off my knees, lift myself up and in a flash of Humean conviction, I drop one more coin, just in case the first careened into oblivion by accident.  To my chagrin, accidents are for Gods, not men.  God’s make gardens and then repent.  Men make a mess and then find no repentance, just a coin that plummets into the well that was never supposed to run dry.

I back away from the well, pulling my head back from under the protective cover of this behemoth of silence, encased by the hands of men and rocks of earth that live to tell us we too shall become empty.  This well, a microcosmic disclosure of the death that is pending…of the death that sometimes kills what we never thought would die even as it still lives inside of us.

My mind cannot handle this dry well.  My hands cannot tolerate grasping nothing.  My body cannot withstand having no one to claim it, nothing to renew it.  As I back away, I crouch once again, and stare back at the ground, my feet having now blurred the writing that was written with words unspoken and a language not yet created.  I sit and stare…in silence…my hand leaning against the encasement of a well that won’t give back, despite the romantic appearance of it architecture.

My head bends down, leaning heavy from my shoulders, as if Atlas can no longer carry the weight.

Sometimes, as one kneels over such places, losing parts of our selves, the coins that once splashed in wells such as this, we stand impotent.  This well has run dry.  The saints used to say the only proper response to such reality is doxology: praise in the darkness.  Yet, such praise is often swallowed by the demons in this well, the apparitions of hopes gone awry.  I cannot sing doxology in this place, not beside this well.  I cannot lie to my soul or myself long enough to speak words over a well that simply steals my voice.

What can I do, as the dirt beneath my feet contains vestiges of words written only momentarily?  I can do nothing but be.  I sit, crouched, yet close enough to my own oblivion to lean my head against its walls, feelings its jagged terrain press upon my forehead.  I hold myself with both arms, leaning forward into nothing, only protected by these barriers of moss and compressed minerals.  I stare blankly at the feet of the well, feeling nothing but gravity pressing upon my frame.

What can I do?  I can do nothing…but weep.  Tears trickle down the arch of my nose, to the tip of my face, the furthermost point a tear can travel and still claim to be mine.  I stare at it as it hangs on this edge of my being, waiting to fall and perhaps water this now barren place.  I wonder as it leaves me, if it will be enough to water this earth, seep beneath this ground and penetrate this stone laden bunker, perhaps convince the darkness that it needn’t be so mean and empty.

Yet, as the second tear crosses the pores of my skin, and moves slowly across the ridges of the face by which people know who I am, I taste the reality that neither doxology nor even tears can erase this beautifully laden scar.