The Crucifixion of Relation

Sometimes fiction is helpful for making sense of things. Sometimes we feel the need to put our lives into geometrical shapes. Sometimes I feel that need, at least.

This week, I put myself into the triangle of human relations. I have always hated being around people, but as I age, the necessity of dealing with them grows evidently from a physical necessity to a spiritual one. This hermit crab has gotten too big for his shell, so to speak, and must now crawl around asking for a new one.

Let’s say there are three ways of relating to people. The first deals primarily with knowledge: speaking to people, observing them, learning from them, thinking about them, and so forth. The second deals with service (or virtue): serving them, leading them, sacrificing for them. The third and final point is about ritual (or joy): playing games, telling stories, shenanigans that will lead to good stories, hosting parties, and so forth.

It’s important to realize that these don’t just apply to the realm of personal friendship, the triangle also applies to ministry: teaching, missions, and liturgy, respectively. They’re just different scales of community.

I’m interested in how the angles interact. Acting out of joy and virtue results in acts of generosity and hospitality; this side deals in the medium of gifts. Acts between joy and knowledge use the medium of jokes and stories. And acts between knowledge and virtue involve counseling and wisdom.

Why am I talking about this? I find myself critically ill-equipped to manifest any of these things in another person’s life.

Do you feel like you are better at being hospitable or telling jokes, or are you good at both, or neither? Do you feel like it’s important to be able to do these things to be a blessing to people? Should someone try to fulfill all of these offices in some way, or just focus on a single way of expressing love to other people? Is it wrong of me to describe all of these things in terms of ability? (These aren’t rhetorical questions. Let me know.)

I’ve often thought about things like this in relation to me and God, but not really other people. I’ve recently thought about what I ought to do with my life, in the context of this triangle, as becoming a learned person (knowledge & the academy), or a shepherd (service & the ministry), or a bard/poet (ritual & the arts). But now, being convicted that my life has to involve more characters than just myself, I find myself coming up short. My pockets are empty. How am I suppose to talk to another person? How am I suppose to serve them, or create with them?

triangulationships 1

Love means giving a gift to someone, perhaps even of yourself.

Here I am, standing out in the cold, late to the white elephant party, wearing nothing but a big red ribbon and feeling very sad.

Change of Mind

What Does It Mean to “Change Your Mind”?

I change my mind a lot, but I guess my excuse is that I “see all the possibilities”. If I was being flippant about the “failed” decision, I wouldn’t have to swallow my pride so often and so hard. It hurts to fully dedicate myself to a future vision, to lean in—and then to step away. But this is just self-rationalization. The real question worth asking is, “What does that phrase change of mind actually mean? Do you exchange one mind for another? Where does the other mind go? Is it like moving a file to the trash bin and letting it sit there, or do you fully delete it? How does our Corpse Processing System (CPS) let go of unwanted information? Is there a transmission of heat? Or do our eyes light up for a second or two? Or what happens?” I think the answer for me is that I exchange one CPS completely for another. A new body, entirely. This sounds like something you might read on the back of an “As Seen on TV” body wash. A new body, entirely.

Point being: I tend to make decisions using everything I got, pushing my entire being into the living space of one possibility. And when I have worn that space for awhile, I discover that it is uncomfortable here, here, here. And then I move out of that old space (entirely) and tabernacle in a new space (entirely). Now that we know this, I want to figure out: Is this good?

On Re-Arranging the Furniture in a Living Space ((Feng Shui!) I think)

On the one hand, I see a lot of value in making full-body decisions like this. Of course this is probably like the guy who gets drunk one night and says the next day, “There is a huge social benefit to drinking.” So take this for what it’s worth. But whenever I have lived in a bedroom or a garage or an apartment or a house, I always go through cycle and cycle of rearranging the furniture. I put the bed there, in that corner. I slightly tilt the desk. I change the place where I do my work. I organize the books on the shelf by color, then by size. And I change, change until some set-up clicks and I keep it that way. It might be weeks, or months. But in that time, I comment on how much better that new set-up is, I argue for it, defend it. I see why it is a good choice, the best choice. And then maybe a few months in, I see something. A way that the set-up isn’t actually working. The bookshelves there are getting in the way of the sunlight coming through the windows—whatever. I change it and maybe I revert it to the original set-up, finally satisfied that it is best possibility.

Or I try something new. And that new arrangement is “the one”, the perfect arrangement. It is the arrangement that allows me to see how all the past arrangements weren’t working, weren’t cutting it. There might be a brief moment of cognitive dissonance where I remember all of the good arguments for the past arrangements. But they don’t convince me anymore; it’s not like they are bad arguments, only that the arguments appeal to different matters. And it is not like these different matters aren’t valuable, but that the newest arrangement appeals to matters of more value.

Now that I have explained the way that I re-arrange the furniture in my living space, let all of the ramifications of this wash over you. “Oh my gosh! The same could be true for worldviews, beliefs!” Yes, exactly. That’s why I brought it up.

Thanks, Adam. Adam: “Everyone blames me for everything! You’re the one that’s dumb: I’m just the one that made you that way.”

When I am planning for the future, I have an expectation that the thing is actually going to happen. I really enter into it. And I have very good reasons for that thing. But my experience is that it doesn’t happen and it proves to me that I am not living in the physical world, but in my mental theory of what might happen. The imaginary template goes over the surface of what I experience.

Grasping for a good thing is fine. As my theology professor revealed to me, when Adam and Eve wanted to eat of the tree, they wanted a good thing. It looked good because it was good. But I need to learn how to go through the process of learning to understand my present condition, so that thing is not only a relief once it happens, but a realm of existence that is more meaningful and full of understanding. It is not about going through something difficult to get to an easy place. The difficulty is my failure. The narrative is going from a small place to a larger place. And the rings of calamity and intrigue that shape my present condition will only repeat themselves in larger and more dramatic forms.

As my pastor once taught me, this is what happens in the book of Revelation. The destruction of the world starts out small and brings the world through cycle and cycle more eaten land, until the final day when all of death is swallowed up in death. Things become so disastrous that the high cliffs of smoky waves that are the prayers of the saints crash onto the shores of my present condition and break me free altogether from this cycle of repeating seasons, ending in an eternal youth previously seen in each yearly tilting of the sun.

So in asking the question, “Why do I do this to myself?” I think the answer is that I am like my father, Adam. This means that yes, I am wishy-washy and I easily change my mind and that I am a coward and prone to flights of fancy, forsaking the responsibilities that are currently in my life. I can imagine the way things could be better–to a fault. So I guess this is a confessional post.

lolkindofmyliferitenow

We swing our arms

like oars as we wade into the sunken

temple of our future selves, the stones

our hands carved out from the mountains

we saw as children; that range now a deep

and walled ditch in the ground filled

with a lake of memories and the laughing

faces of friends who wanted us to stay,

but refused to go with us,

and now we wait someday for the drop-off

as we push our bodies forward, when our feet

will lose the bottom and our hands will wave

above us like slow shadowy sails as we sink

and we’ll tell ourselves we had to keep going,

but all we’ll find’s what we left behind.

Freedom from Conviction

Mr. Grey nervously takes the long dim train that snakes through the underbelly of his great grey city. He is nervous because he might be late for his job. Just in time, he makes it to his floor. Breathless, he finds his cubicle and sits down at his desk, facing the fuzzy grey wall in front of him. He nervously taps his feet, joining the nervous patter that echoes throughout all the cubicles around him. The sweat now beading his forehead comes not from his rush to work, but the costernation at the task ahead. Mr. Grey is a professional, 9-5 worrier. He worries about his life goals. He worries about his children’s behavior at school. He worries about the intrusive thoughts he sometimes gets when he’s taking the train home alone. He worries that he’s not developing enough skills or working hard enough to get ahead in life. But he doesn’t just worry for himself: he worries for the sake of the whole world. He’s worrying about your life goals and your behavior, too. Due to his efforts, and the efforts of those around him, all the worrying of the world is taken care of. Thank you for your contribution, but this is paid for: we don’t need any volunteers.

I used to think that worry was a temptation relegated solely to the province of older women, their sweet foreheads crinkled and wrinkled, their hands wringing, their precious hearts all tangled up by mundane fears. I, on the other hand, was a young man, concerned with the deep matters of reality and being. My worry was dedicated to things of staggering gravity, that I would be a young man who cultivated the right virtues and disciplines, that I would be a noble soul, that I would be in the right place at the right time, that my loves would be perfectly ordered. I was convicted not by anything specific, but rather by the meta-conviction that I ought to have more and stronger convictions. I craved to be compelled, but I felt nothing other than wanting to want.

In order to gain a skill or to grow in an art, you have to have a sort of obsession with it. Affection is not enough; you must be committed to its perfect incarnation in detail. I wanted desperately to be obsessed with something, so that I would never leave it, never forget it, neglect it, squander it, abandon it like I have done day after day for so many other potential realities, ideas, and projects. By doing so, I might create something that pleased myself and God. Likewise, we must be obsessed with God, possessed by the Spirit, so that anything we do, physically or mentally, is done for him, in him. But what is it that we are to do? What was that one specific choice I ought to have made on November 16th of last year, or June 8th of the year before that, or every second of every day as the paths of decision converge and then scatter? What is the specific thing that I ought to be doing right now, to prepare myself for the great and glorious deeds in years to come? What habit must I have?

What am I doing with my life? Should I be doing this for the rest of my life? What am I working towards? Why do I hate this? Shouldn’t I love this?

Somehow, I confused a fixation on God with a fixation on demanding that he give me knowledge; knowledge about who I was, where I was going, what I wanted. Knowledge that he was not interested in giving me, as became clear. I was lost in my conviction, derided by desire: why would God not want me to know what is to come, so that I might know what I ought to be doing? But in truth I knew what I was supposed to be doing: working humbly, worshiping constantly, serving faithfully. Not wanting to do that, I cast myself at mystery hoping that it would save me from my low position of humble responsibility. And I was denied, and therefore I was confused.

Wasn’t I doing the right thing? Why did I feel so awful?

Conviction, purpose, desire, discipline, practice, perfection, and knowledge are all good things, and all things that I lack. In grasping for them I broke my arms, because I wanted to take greedily rather than to receive, grateful.

Do you know your desires?

God gives to us the desires of our heart. I don’t know what I desire, and so my hope is that he will give me desire itself… and targets at which to aim.

Michael Thomas Jones

The Universe is a Spherical Temple

If the universe is an orb then it is both finite and infinitely traversable. Because we believe that God is infinite and singular in all his qualities, we must conclude that his creation is finite. We cannot at the same time conceive of a universe that has boundary. And since the only shape which we can conceive of and view in nature that is both boundless and finite is an orb, we can easily conclude that the universe is literally an orb. An orb model is consistent with the general theory of relativity.

The universe is divided into three things: matter, space, and the imperceptible presence of God which governs all of the finite creation by means of his extended natures. And we seek to describe and emulate these natures of God which sustain the universe using our own invented languages.

Are we to conclude that what we describe as the force of gravity is something outside God and set apart from him, or a force that comes from God himself only stretched and embedded in a creation that stands apart from him, grateful for his motivating personality? Like the nature of God, these invented languages of man seem to be both extensions of our personality and found tools which exist outside of us. But are we going to describe these invented languages or know what they are by discovering their purpose?

They are the places in which God and men are supposed to commune. At the crossroads of all invented mortal practices like mathematics and philosophy, man is seeking to come into the court of God himself which is Creation.

Not only has Creation been the temple of God since the beginning and the place where man communes with God, the revelation of Christ makes it evident that it is our pollution of this holy space that has obscured its purpose. It is only in our malfunctioning sinful state that this obvious reality which is so deeply embedded into everything we perceive goes apparently rogue whenever we start looking around for evidence of it.

It is like we are walking around in our back garden straining our eyes and our hearts looking for God. We figure he is hiding his shame from us; how deeply sorry he is for the evil in the world he brought about. But we are incredibly dull people. The sunlight that is blinding us while we traipse around in the back garden is God himself pushing heavily on us and we chop through the tall grass that is God himself growing up around us, cursing the ground for growing grass in our way. And God has been yelling at us in the sunlight and grass to remember him because he alone will save us from this polluted temple.

We are buying and selling in his temple and drawing the crowds to our booths and all the while complaining that no one has bothered washing the floors. We need to take our shoes off, because everywhere we stand is holy ground. And it is not that he is incapable or unwilling to clean the floors, but that his intention for the space is etched in the floors themselves. And he has told us to wait for when the temple is completely cleansed—and in the meantime to take our shoes off and take down our booths in anticipation. We complain and say, “It’s no use. Taking my shoes off won’t make this place any cleaner—and while I might take down my booth, the buying and selling will not stop.”

But seeing that we have made a mess, he has told us that he will clean it. And seeing that we made the mess, he has told us to stop making one so that when he comes to finish his work we will not have to face the embarrassment of still tracking mud on the floors when he comes to cleanse his temple. He is asking us not to embarrass ourselves in front of him. And that is not some future reality, but a present one. God has been in his temple the entire time and the respect he is asking us to show is only part of that slow revelation of our dullness.

We think he is the visitor who never showed his face. But, we are the guests who have come into his house and mistaken it for our own. And we see no sign of him, because his floors and walls are caked in our own mud. And God’s flesh still holds up the house.

Caleb Joseph Warner