a (n unproofred) love story.Read More
Ah, smell that? It's the sweet smell of backlash.
I've heard it for months already, honestly, which is interesting, considering the topic of today's discussion is a rather new addition to the cinematic repertoire of our world's theaters. By "rather new," I mean it opened to the masses this weekend.
I've debated how I want this to be, whether it should be a film review or a critique of Christian culture; praising or bitter or benign. Perhaps it will develop as I write.
Spoiler: I am a Christian, and I loved Darren Aronofsky's Noah.Read More
In the palm of our hands fit the pinnacle of tech innovation - because it can do everything, and it has built into it the potential to expand indefinitely. More memory and more processing and more potential emerge with each successive jump. We used to read tales of intelligent technology and be terrified by them, and now we dang near murder each other on days once reserved or thanks for the smallest, most powerful versions of it to stick in our pocketsRead More
It's the age of talented people, which has an unfortunate byproduct: it's also the age of people who think that they belong in the age of talented people. This is the era of "you are wonderful and significant because you're you and you are an individual," but it's also the era of "we deserve the greatest" and "we deserve it now." These mentalities are hardly compatible. I here wish to address these things, because they've been weighing heavily on my spirit lately.Read More
But we need to tell boys that it's okay to not want to jump off of the cliff, for the measure of your manhood is not the amount of craziness you get involved in, but the degree to which you remain true to yourself when everyone else has leapt.Read More
I think we have it backwards: I shouldn't implore men to quit treating women like items to be bought or sold or used. I will offer something far more simple: treat yourself as more than an object.Read More
I began to get frustrated when I saw other people's pride (be it in the form of vanity, obsessive self-promotion, "selfies," or whatever) and I never realized that I was getting frustrated because it reminded me of myself and my own obsessive self-promotion. My chasing after beautiful words not because they're beautiful but because they made me look good. My "intellectual" selfies.Read More
This is long and ashamedly rambly. I was just in quite a rambly mood today, I'm afraid. Please read it all, for I have several times and am not yet dead, but know that I won't be offended if you turn it off halfway. Not everyone can handle the burden of truth being poured onto them.** **That was purposely arrogant and inflammatory. I'm trying to catch your attention by being humorously cocky and reproachable right off the get-go. If that didn't work, here's some wisdom from Doctor Who, which should interest every single one of you:
"Have you ever seen monsters?" "Oh yes." "Are you scared of them?" "No. They're scared of me." - The Eleventh Doctor
Doctor Who and Introduction
It is without shame that I tell you I am veritably enthralled by the long-running BBC Television show Doctor Who. I cannot pretend to be a Who-hipster, for I was not alive when it started, nor can I say that I've been a member of the Whovian society for any long period of time. Quite the opposite, in fact: it has been only a few short months. But in these few short months, I have found myself doing very little besides reading profusely, writing (I figure now, while I have the time, means, and motivation, is when I should write that book), and watching the Doctor save the universe in countless situations infinitely more creative than my feeble mind could contrive, and in the meantime highlight the beauty of humanity and their intense dependence on something bigger than themselves.
In the section quoted above, a little boy caught in the middle of a crisis involving your run-of-the-mill otherworldy Who beasties is talking with the Doctor. He senses the threat and accurately gauges the immediacy of the situation, but asks, in a moment of seeking reassurance, about the Doctor's history of dealing with similar things. The Doctor, famous for having dashed alien hopes of universe-domination, foiled plans of genocide, and saved his numerous companions' lives time and again, responds with confidence and appropriate swagger, then characteristically smirks in the face of evil.
Confidence is praised nowadays; misplaced or inappropriate confidence is arrogance and foolishness. We see both in the lives of athletes, in the style of movie stars, in the words of introverted twenty-somethings on blogs on the internet. We are quick to call it "arrogance" in other people, but just as quick to call it "confidence" in ourselves. We are quick to think ourselves unworthy of either, and quick to overcompensate.
Perhaps it is that our mirrors are rather cloudy and dishonest. Perhaps it is our eyes. Whatever the case, one thing is certain: I see a whole lot of loathing and so little efforts for improvement; I see a whole lot arrogance and so little preparation.
What This Is Not, and What This Is
I am not thinking today about image or self-confidence along those lines, necessarily, though those thoughts do come to mind. It deserves a whole spot of its own and is quite pressing, I'm afraid, though today is not the day for it. This is not about the back-end, or how you look at yourself in light of who you truly are, for that is only the second half of the problem. This is not about vanity or even necessarily physical things
What I am addressing is what I see when I look at the majority of my generation. I see a group of people content to be what the generation before them handed down, who can honestly say that apathy is a virtue. Who socially network rather than figure themselves out. I see a generation with access to more information and knowledge than any that has come before them, yet more ignorant than any about how to use it. I see boys seeing domination as strength and girls seeing beauty as worth. I see people who think doing something worthwhile means doing something worth Instagramming; I see people for whom thoughts are merely Tweets. I see an age of humanity defined by what somebody else has said rather than what they have worked for.
And I see so few confronting it. Too many of us see "comfortable" as a good thing. So many think that because their faith is not shaken, it is sound.
We have lost all concept of self, because we have plenty of things to distract from it... and they are sneaky things, at that: the conception that you are what your Facebook says you are or that who you are is defined by your job. Instead of asking ourselves, "who am I?" we post pictures of ourselves and say, "this is who I am."
There is a discrepancy there, and it is extremely bothersome.
The Swelling Hurricane
I dropped a sentence a second ago as sort of preparation for where this was headed, as a gust to store up some energy in these sails. I'll say it again here: So many think that because their faith is not shaken, it is sound. I spent a good deal of time in the Philosophy and Religion department at UTC (since I studied Philosophy) and noticed a particularly fascinating trend: that the grand majority of people involved in it were vehemently atheistic, both professors and students alike.
What happened is they started asking questions and seeking answers anywhere they could find them. And when they couldn't find them easily or the conventional answers of their small Baptist churches just wouldn't cut it anymore, they conceded defeat to the overwhelming pangs of despair. They looked at one group of people claiming Absolute Truth and saw a completely different group halfway across the world and 8 million people big claiming a completely different Absolute Truth and decided everyone was wrong. Or they succumbed to the problem of evil: If one of two contraries is infinite, the other is destroyed. God is infinite goodness; if there were God, there would be no evil. There is evil; so, therefore, there is no God.
The arguments against God are powerful and persuasive, indeed like monsters in the closet of an 8 year old are when it's dark and he's trying to sleep. But they're embedded everywhere, and we're trained not to fight them. We yell at characters in poorly written horror movies when they decide to go towards the creaking under the stairs or the moaning from the attic. We're embedded with a fear of evil and the desire to run when it's scary.
To keep a consistent theme, though: The Doctor tells us, "Never run when you're scared." (Rule 7)
There is a storm in the air, horesemen afoot, and the battle for belief is raging.
And we who believe are not winning.
The War Without a Winner (or, apparently, a study in alliteration)
Sam Harris wrote in his book Letter to a Christian Nation that it is religion, belief, "god" that has poisoned our world, incited wars, dumbed the people, and placated a mass of people to the point of wasting their lives chasing invisible friends and waiting on some future judgment that will never come. Christopher Hitchens calls belief irrational and destructive. Richard Dawkins calls God an unnecessary invention by people incapable of handling reality.
And more believers are believing them every day. The armies are being stacked in their favor, because believers are being convinced by faulty rhetoric that Christ and Reason cannot exist together. That metaphysics and God are equivalent, and that they have a place in haughty classroom discussion and nowhere else. But the thing is that the opposition is using recycled arguments to attack Faith, and Faith is using recycled arguments to respond. We're stuck in a loop with one side crying, "you're ugly!" and the other sticking their fingers in their ears shouting back, "la la la, I can't hear you!"
We've both become dull and insulting: the attackers of Faith have betrayed their god of Reason and the believers their God of Truth.
Here is the bottom line. Christians have become comfortable with their churches and their ideas that God is a exactly the thing that they imagine, so when something comes along and challenges the toy box they keep in their prayer rooms, they panic.
There is a fallacy in the study of logic called the Straw Man. It's basically as you would imagine: to "attack a straw man" is to create the illusion of having refuted a proposition by replacing it with a superficially similar yet unequivalent proposition (the "straw man"), and refuting it, without ever having actually refuted the original position. Unbelief attacks Christianity based upon the constraints it has put upon it. Based upon what Christians have made it. It attacks tradition rather than Truth, because Truth is contested only by fools.
Jesus said that His purpose on Earth was to bear witness to Truth, which is why the Jesus we have constructed that exists to ease pain and hug people crumbles under attack. Straw men have no backbone, no substance, and burn easily when touched with fire.
But Christians are doing little to counter it. Instead of arming ourselves, learning the things of God rather the things we've constructed of God, and worshipping Jesus as Truth, we trust in the easy thing - which is also the easy thing to attack, and the easy thing to lose faith in. With a faith in the same Straw Man that is easy to attack comes all of the terrible things we write eloquently to fight: we succumb to vanity and pornography and insecurity and fear and addiction the thought that our dirty pasts are insurmountable and we're not rescued by our god because he's warding off crows from crops. Misrepresentations of God are being attacked because misrepresentations of God are being followed.
So what are those of us who wish to counter unbelief to do? We must figure out what we stand for and then stand for it. We cannot be told answers, we must search them out. We can't be handed faith, we must work it out for ourselves with fear and trembling. We can't forget that something obtainable can be taken away, so we must grasp it ever tighter when the threat of its removal comes upon us.
We must stand with the confidence that we lack, because monsters won't shy from uncertainty. Confidence comes through preparation, and somebody who tells you that God will give it to you just because you asked for it is lying to you. God will do His part - He's told you that.
But the ability to fight a war doesn't come from lying in bed. We must take up arms and learn to use them, study the opposition's tactics to be able to counter them, and face the beasties in our closets atop their black horses and say, "I'm not afraid of you because I know you. You can't say something to dissuade me because I know what you will say. You can't take away my God because He gave you the Reason you think refutes Him."
Salvation is not through works - do not think that I'm trying to say anything of the sort. But it is true that the children of God will be known by their fruit. Take a step back and look at yourself. All aspects of it. Look at who you are at school, at home, on the internet, and tell me what is being glorified: you, your Straw Man, or God? It's one of the three, I promise.
Who do you carry that torch for, my young man, Do you believe in anything? Do you carry it around just to burn things down?
Words are only painted fire; a look is the fire itself.
"You haven't a real appreciation of Newspeak, Winston," he said almost sadly. "Even when you write it you're still thinking in Oldspeak. I've read some of those pieces that you write in the Times occasionally. They're good enough, but they're translations. In your heart you'd prefer to stick to Oldspeak, with all its vagueness and its useless shades of meaning. You don't grasp the beauty of the destruction of words."
-Syme in George Orwell's 1984
What Words Are
I have an extraordinary interest in words, which makes it nigh impossible to enjoy things like news reports, political speeches, song lyrics, small-talk, and the vast majority of church sermons.
A word is the most potent poison known to mankind: it can disintegrate a man from the inside without so much as a mark on the skin to prove it was ever there. A word is the sharpest dagger that a human can wield: capable of backstabbing, dark-alley threatening, and trust evaporating; useful for flashing at oncoming threats and baring before impending fights. A word is the hottest fire to alight the torches of men: it can roast our enemies, warm cold hearts, light up cavernous rhetoric, and signal for help to anyone who will listen.
Yet we toss them around as if they were gumdrops.
Glance up at the top of this post at the quote from Brand New's song "The Archers Bows Have Broken" and notice what Jesse Lacey is saying: he conjures the image of a young man in possession of a fire, a weapon, if you will, capable of both harm and good, and asks "What are you doing with it? Do you just enjoy burning things down?" We don't let people drive who would be dangerous and destructive behind the wheel to those around them, yet we hand ill-suited politicians and celebrities and news agencies and filmmakers and religious leaders microphones and free passes into our homes without so much as bracing ourselves for collision.
We also forget that the same weapons that are used for attack are used to parry - we would rather cry in outrage than raise our well-prepared guard to block. We're an army upset that the other side has weapons rather than an army that trains to use our own.
Fall Out Boy puts it: "I am an arms dealer fitting you with weapons in the form of words." We sing from our childhood: "Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me." We read that the Word of God is: "sharper than any two-edged sword piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart." Aldous Huxley writes in Brave New World: “Words can be like X-rays if you use them properly -- they’ll go through anything. You read and you’re pierced.”
They're weapons. And yet we toss them like snakes on Sand Mountain and cry in bitterness when they bite.
Why Words are Dangerous
I mentioned that "Sticks and stones" little ditty above. It has always been a strange little saying to me, because honestly, sticks and stones hurt less and for a far shorter time than words do. Bruises heal, scars fade, broken bones are set again, but one mention of inadequacy haunts a man for a lifetime. One mention of "ugly" outweighs thirty mentions of "beautiful."
A brief lesson in something that interests me:
Take the word "tree." Write it, read it, speak it, think it. T-R-E-E.
We have learned that this arrangement of letters, when positioned next to each other, signifies some object "out there" in the real world. In semiotics-talk, the compilation of letters is called the sign and the object being pointed to the signified. Nothing about the tall, organic structure wrapped with bark, sitting atop a spider's web of roots and topped with slowly changing colored appendages is represented by the sign "tree." The word doesn't look like what we think of trees as looking like. It doesn't sound on our tongues how trees sound in nature. It doesn't smell of tree or taste of tree or feel of tree, yet we still link the two terms together because that is how wonderful brains are.
So words are more than weapons, they are (more innocuously or dangerously, I'm not sure yet) signs. It's not the word that holds any power. In fact, this is the part where I dismantle what I said before: words hold no power.
But they are capable of such destruction because of what they are. Signs are intensely more dangerous because they point to something inside of us that begs recognition in order to be effective. You can block physical pain, so I hear, after years of practice or repeated intense encounters with it. But the very act of comprehending words is enough of a crack in the toughest armor to let the flood in. They bridge physical stuff (sound waves, vibrating lips, facial expressions) and spiritual stuff (what keeps you awake at night in cold sweats counting revolutions of ceiling fans contrasted against an off-white stucco ceiling wondering exactly what they meant by "thunderously incompetent").
To reference the second quote above: It is not the word fire which burns, it is the thing that the word "fire" points to. But the word, after a good long time burning your hand in flames, would surely bring up some painful memories.
**Ignore this paragraph if you feel it is too off topic. I won't make it long. I think that it is a fun thing anyway (and I must work some understanding of God into all of this. That's the reason I write these blamed things anyway.) We humans are nothing but words, I think. Sure, we can punch one another and go to war and whatnot, which are quite physical acts, but I believe that we are not but signs to a higher signified. It's in the very beginning of the Bible - even the people who read it and get bored with it get to this part: "Let us make man in our image." Remember it? That word "image" is more appropriately "icon," which is nothing but a pointer. A sign. We were created with some kind of significance that points to the thing being signified. We were created to be little word-vessels that, when other vessels see us walking about and interacting with one another, they say, "God." But I won't ramble about this. Feel free to ask and I'd love to explain my thoughts on it :)
Why I Will Endorse Them Anyway
This is easy: I will endorse words because words are some of the most beautiful things we possess, and that is not just the English nerd in me speaking. Words accomplish more than we would ever give them credit for because a great number of people who are quite skilled at using them are also colossal, raging imbeciles and give things like "rhetoric" and "persuasion" dirty connotations. Words communicate to the soul, they pass instruction, they call attention to things not in the room and which have never before been seen: "It's around the corner about two feet down underneath a green box." or "The picture I'm talking about is the one where she is in the flannel shirt in her back yard and she leans towards whoever was taking the picture with this smile that fills you from the inside and makes you want to miss somebody."
Words are powerful little things not because of what they are, but because of what they represent. They can tear down governments and stop wars before they happen and tell somebody that they are loved. They connect the stuff of the brain and the soul with the stuff of the world, making it so that when I have a thought, I can share it with you. They can let you see me, and not just how I look, but who I am.
Of course, they can trick you too, or be as empty and vapid as the wind. You've heard it: "actions speak louder than words," and apparently a picture is worth a thousand of them. I wrote a short poem about them not too long ago which tries to address this - because things like words can't be captured simply with prose about them. They're half spirit anyway.
Syme and the champions of Newspeak (The Ministry's brutal shorthand) in 1984 lambast what they call "Oldspeak," which is simply English as you're reading it now, with its "vagueness and shades of meaning." It encourages thoughtcrime (crimes against the government that are thought, not acted upon) because they are precisely what enable it, and by ridding the language of all traces of words related to thoughtcrime, it could be eliminated altogether. Think of it: harboring something so deep-seeded and crucial to let out but not having the language to do so.
Silencing is the highest form of imprisonment, for it muzzles the soul; verbal is the hardest abuse to forget, for our spirit heals slower than our body.* Take away my liberty, that's one thing - but take away my voice and I am suffocated.
Verse yourself with the attributes and capabilities of words and suddenly slogging through political drivel and consumer culture is cake. The vast majority of preaching nowadays is exposed. Literature comes alive and bad literature becomes appalling. Interactions become more meaningful because you begin to abhor small-talk and flippant remarks and useless brandishings of what can be beautiful things now made profane.
Develop your voice or you waste it and you disrespect people who have sacrificed to give it to you. Build one another up, because the same tools that rip apart walls can construct sanctuaries. If you can, speak for the voiceless, stick up for the innocents imprisoned, and combat slavery wherever you find it, even if all you know how to do is yell loud enough to gather a crowd.
Share your heart with fire and it will be heard.
*I am not saying these things as an expert in any way on abuse or imprisonment or the atrocities of human against human unnecessary violence. I am drawing only from what I have been told and from my own experience, which is, thank God, extraordinarily limited. Being shoved in lockers and pygmy traps and eating pre-licked french fries and being called "freak" and other silly hardships hardly compare with the scope of what people have put other people through. My point is not that you forget the violence, it's the insistence that you are worthless that's harder to shake than it is for the skin to heal.
Camp ended yesterday. I thought I was going to be prepared for that moment all summer long: when we shut the gate on the cage containing all of the stuff we used this year and drive back jubilant that we all survived and kept the sickness banging at the doors to our bodies at bay with Emergen-C and sheer willpower. The ride back was, instead, silent and strange. After all, how do you end something like this?
This summer, I've: Played music in front of 3,500+ students and their leaders. Taught Bible Study to 167 hurting kids for a week at a time. Built 214 yards of wooden fencing. Hung 3 pavilions worth of fascia board. Dug 4 8x8 drain trenches. Moved a middle school out of one building into a brand new one, which we cleaned and painted. Door-to-door mowed an entire neighborhood. Seen 30 camp staffers who couldn't be more different literally become family. Walked 3 boys and 2 girls to the feet if my Savior so that they may glimpse for the first time just how inadequate they are and just how adequate He is. I've seen the shivers of sinners' first realization of the stakes of it all. I've watched the options being weighed - the recognition that life change isn't something that comes with no cost, and the laugher and pure, inescapable joy after the decision had been made when they realize that the cost is absolutely worth it. Lived for 2 months straight in a state of pure exhaustion, so that every morning was a battle to get up and do it again - and learned what it means to say "Christ is my strength." Escaped from my academic, heady mindset and experienced the world and God in ways books just can't grasp.
And I just don't know exactly how to handle the end of something like this. Don't get me wrong - I cannot WAIT to get home. I have missed my city, my family, my friends, those who, because you carry them in your heart, you carry home with you. But I don't know how to leave this either.
Let me briefly talk about something that has changed (or is in the process of changing) inside of me. On the first day of each week, after everybody has registered and we break from the first worship set of the session, all of the students follow their track leaders to a room for 2 an a half hours of ministry track and evangelism training. It's awkward, of course, because nobody knows the other people in the room, but it is the most crucial part of the week, because it sets the rest of it up for success or failure. We did the activity, right? I gave 6 kids notecards and stuck them on one side of the room and moved everybody else to the other side. On each notecard I had written two things: on the front, something that others see about them, and on the back, something they know about themselves. The holders of the cards only knew what was written on the back, so I made then wonder what exactly was on the front as the rest of the group walked by them and scoffed. All one boy knew is that he had an abusive father and that everybody who read the front of his card wanted to punch him in the face. Another only knew she had parents that didn't take care of her and everyone walking by told her to just go take a bath, already. After the non-card holders finished walking by the card holders, I made everyone tell them what was written on the front of the cards. "You shove kids in lockers," they tell one boy. "My father beats me when I get home," he says.
"You look an smell like you haven't bathed in a week." "My home was destroyed and my family was killed in the Tornadoes last year and I've been living on the street," comes the answer.
"You never go to church." "My parents persecute Christians."
And so on. I make a point that we don't know what's written on the back of these people's cards, and that no matter how gross or maddening the front is, each of these people needed love. Then we move on. But I couldn't move on.
My heart has been broken lately for the broken. Rage has been kindled against injustice in every form. Sex trafficking, domestic abuse, movie theater massacres, these Westboro nutjobs who just won't go away, date-rapists, preachers bent only on making money, elitist, introverted writers/musicians who hang out in Nashville coffeeshops and pretend they have their crap figured out and that the rest of humanity can just burn... I've wanted to bleed them slow that sell humans as slaves, to break the knees of every father who beats his children, to make cowards behind masks who tear-gas and open fire in rooms full of innocent people beg to be spared. We live in an age that celebrates vigilante justice because we CRAVE justice and we see so few fighting for it. But I was confronted this summer with the realization that I serve a King who IS justice. Who tells me, "vengeance and recompense are mine." Who commands me to love those people I hate - for that is my role, and I have to trust that men who molest little girls will get theirs as He sees fit.
It was like this: if a twelve year old who bullies children smaller than he is needs love more than he would ever admit, how much more to the most despicable of creatures need it? Also: who am I to judge what the back of anybody's card says? Who am I to assume that any action done by another man is anything but some semblance of a cry for love and understanding and a plea for a shoulder to cry on or a voice to say, "I know, man, but there's another way?"
If my enemies are the enemies of justice, what am I to do with my King's reminder that I am supposed to love them? Or: what if early Christians felt the way I have felt against Saul, who murdered their own kind in the coldest of blood?
As a philosopher (not in the pretentious way, merely as a lover of wisdom), I love engaging in discussion about justice. What it means, how it looks, etc. But as one who is sick of roundabout reasoning and the disappearance of definition upon its examination, I have learned this summer that the only way to escape this endless cycle if heady talk an conflict and unreadable consensus is through love. An the only way to have this kind of love is through the knowledge of an relationship with the God who calls Himself love.
Imagine with me a world who saw Christians not as this Westboro nonsense or as Fox News enthusiasts or as terrible tippers or as high-horse riding, Bible face-punchers or as picketers or as condemners of "sinners" or as all of the things my people have been (deservingly) labeled, but as people who stood together and loved the unlovable (think of how difficult that is) and prayed for mass-murderers and rapists and wife beaters and forgave anybody who slaps us or those we love in the face. What if we left the judgment and justice to the One who separates wheat from chaff, goats from lambs, and treated everybody as not beyond redemption, as WE have been treated?
Imagine what that kind of body could accomplish for their King.
I have been thinking in aphorisms lately. It is slightly annoying and I am still not great at them yet, but they are very fun for provoking thought. I would love to hear your contributions. Continued from last post:
26. The Horrible of Mondays is unknown to the Sun illuminating them.
27. The comfort of Paradox comes with the realization that some things have solutions.
28. Give a man a pen and he will most likely lose it. Teach a man to pen and he will dream as big as the sky.
29. The most dangerous thing for human "productivity" is the sparkle in their eye when they talk of things they love.
30. The Philosophy of busywork: it is the means, not the end, which is valuable.
31. American Education: learning is best measured by receipts.
32. What if we handed out paint brushes as often and as freely as we do prescription drugs?
33. A life of regret: airtight backup plans padding forsaken dreams.
34. What has been seen cannot be unseen, only denied.
35. The more I learn, the more I realize that most of what I have learned is invalid.