Stony Soil; of Love and Listlessness

4 02 2012

Alda is the nicest little old lady I know, and, honestly, I have trouble even calling her a little old lady, even though she is little, and she is, technically, old.  She’s got the liveliness of someone years younger.  One day, while we were in the kitchen chatting, she told my wife and I that though she had loved her late husband for many years, she never was really in love with him.  They treated each other lovingly, but the emotional appeal wasn’t really there.  She told us that she wanted to remarry, to have a chance to be deeply in love with someone.  She said she wanted a marriage like ours.  Now, my wife and I have been married for years; we are definitely not newlyweds, but I would certainly say that we are still very much in love.  It’s really just a matter of emotion.

Some couples are just married and some are just married.  Either they’re just married, as in recently married, or they’re just married, as in not living life to the fullest, content with just being married.  It’s a rotten stereotype, and it’s not always true.  While I’ll grant that the happiest married couples are generally the ones who still have rice in their hair, marriage really does get an unfair treatment.

First comes the infatuation, then the disillusionment, and then comes the “mature” love, which essentially boils down to treating each other fairly and raising kids together, without all of that emotional impetus that got them together in the first place.  In other words, marriage has a nasty habit of turning into something more like a business agreement.  It’s a convenient way to have a warm body in bed, and it’s a stable arrangement for rearing children.  It would seem that romance was nothing but a bait-and-switch trick of the hippocampus.  Does marriage always follow this course?

You see, I have to ask, because the relationship of the church to Christ is that of a bride.  The nature of a marriage parallels our relationship with our savior.  Consequently, Christians often go through the same stages in their pursuit of the faith that many couples endure over their years as spouses.  Jesus likened faith to a farmer casting seed around his land.  Some of the seed landed on the path and never took root.  Some landed on the stony soil and sprouted quickly but never took deep enough root to survive.  Some seed grew among thorns and got choked out by the weeds.  Then, there was the successful seed.  In the application to marriage, the seed that lands on the path is the unrequited love.  You courted her, but she was not interested.  You flirted with him, and he moved on to greener pastures.  Likewise, God courts some of us, and he is shunned outright.  The love is never reciprocated.

Then, there is the seed that lands among the thorns.  You fell in love.  You married and raised a family.  Then, the effort of raising kids, maintaining two incomes, maintaining outside relationships, maintaining the house, etc. all worked toward alienating you from the one you married.  The weeds, the distractions, grew between you, and you found yourself married to a stranger.  Similarly, the act of being a Christian and doing Christian things, coupled with all of the other distractions of life can add up to finding yourself a stranger to God.  You find that you’re still going through the motions, but that romance, the initial emotion that drew you into a relationship to begin with, is gone.

And then…there are the stony marriages.  The infatuation is there.  The feeling is intense, but it goes no deeper than a feeling.  After the initial thrill wears off, there’s no substance to hold the marriage together.  It withers and dies.  This is, really, the three-step marriage cycle most commonly described by the psychologists.  Just because you found a way to get along and keep the marriage going, doesn’t make it a success.  The romance is dead.  You love, but you’re no longer in love.  The common belief is that this is truly mature love.  This is correct.  It is mature love, but that doesn’t make it ideal love.  The common parallel to spiritual life can be found among charismatics.  The charismatic church is, by far, the best at evangelizing, at bringing unbelievers into the fold.  The non-charismatic or even anti-charismatic church seems more largely composed of those who either grew up in that kind of church or switched over from a more charismatic church after becoming disillusioned.  Their view of the charismatic faith is that such faith is shallow, lacking in substance, development, commitment and wisdom.  Very often, they’re absolutely correct.  Charismatic faith is saturated with feeling and emotion, and it is very often not backed up by anything more substantive.  The seed fell on the stony soil and sprouted rapidly, but it never found any depth.  They fall in love, and then they get bored or fall out of love.  Then, very often, they leave.

Contrary to the anti-charismatic opinion, though, the emotional appeal of charisma is not a weakness.  That’s actually the strength of it.  The weakness is the lack of depth.  The seed was not faulty because it sprouted quickly.  The seed was faulty because it never gained any depth.  Charismatics are not to be faulted for their emotional drive.  The lack of emotion is the weakness of the other side.  We ought not to curse the stem for the lack of roots, when the stem is the only thing going right.  Similarly, disappointed and cynical failures at romance ought not to criticize the young lovers for being  infatuated.  The young lovers are the ones who really have a good thing going.  There’s really no reason to aim for unfeeling marriage.  The real fault of young love is that it often does not have the depth to remain in the beautiful and glorious state that it’s already in.  Emotional love is the goal, the thing to be aimed for.  It is not the error of the immature.  Falling out of that state is the error of the immature.

The real aim of a successful marriage is to sprout that romance and grow it, keeping it alive and well by developing the depth necessary to weather good and bad days, the ups and the downs in life, and yet never cease to be in love, not just loving.  The aim is to be permanently infatuated.  After all, some seed does fall on the fertile soil.  It sprouts up like the seed among thorns and the seed among stones, but the difference is that it stays that way.  The other two don’t.  The former charismatic looks back on the emotional thrill ride of that former life as an empty shell.  He thinks he is wiser, and he’s right.  He is wiser, but he lost the romance in the process.  His marriage to the faith is still loving, but he is no longer in love.  He went through all of the stages of marriage, from infatuation, through disillusionment, to “maturity.”  But he is now a cynic.  Those three stages are the phases of the stony soil faith.  He won’t pray for healing.  Why?  Because he no longer believes.  He won’t seek out prophecy, because he no longer believes.  It’s in the Bible, quite clearly, but he still rejects it, and he rejects it on the basis of being a Bible-only believer, ironically.

The former charismatic says she was not saved because of the charismatic church, but in spite of it.  That’s like saying she didn’t get married because she fell in love, but in spite of it.  This is patently false.  She could blame the charismatic church for not giving her the tools to become strong in the faith, but she could never claim that the passion and excitement of faith, of real mountain-moving faith, repelled her from that faith.  We all come to Christ by falling in love.

It’s not common, especially these days, to find an old married couple, still holding hands and casting adoring sidelong glances at each other after half a century of marriage.  It’s not common, but it happens.  I wish it would happen to us all.


Repairing to Mr. Coffee

7 07 2011

I tell people that I repaired the church’s coffee maker, and their usual response is a look of confusion and the question, “Why not just buy a new one?”  I find this line of thinking mildly irritating.  Half a century ago, people actually tried to repair things when possible.  But a coffee maker?  The repair is usually so easy and cheap, if not free, that I cannot conceive of dumping Mr. Coffee into the waste bin too readily.  The driving force behind the continual growth of your local landfill rests in the fact that a coffee maker’s replacement is very cheap and easy.  For a few bucks, you can have a new one.  For some labor, you can have a dirty and well-used one.  Which do you choose?  It’s not a hard choice, really.  You toss that cheap foreign-made contraption into the trash receptacle and go for a new one.  When a thing is cheap, you don’t fix it.  Instead, you get rid of it.  When it is easily replaced, you don’t look for reasons to keep it.

Now, I say all of this, because Mr. Coffee could just as easily be a real person, not just an appliance with a personal name.  When relationships are cheap, we don’t invest any effort into getting them on their feet again when things go sour.  If a person is easily replaced, then that’s exactly what we do with them when they offend us.  It just happens that this is exactly where our society is heading.  We have these devices that act like social condoms, in that they allow us to interact with each other without getting anything infectious rubbed off on ourselves.  We know them as Facebook, which protects us from actually having to face people.  We know them as texting, because we can’t bear the pressure of having to talk to each other.  Oh, yes, and there’s the weblog (blog), which, in some cases, is the only way to even get through to some people, such as yourself.  The numbers of ways in which we can communicate with other people has skyrocketed just within the last decade or two.  Most of these ways would seem to bring people together, but they do, in fact, relieve us of the onerous burden of having to look into a person’s face and see a reaction when we speak our minds.  In this age, we are connected with more people than ever before.  In this age, we foster shallower relationships than ever before.  The two go together to some extent.  In truth, anyone who maintains a great number of friendships isn’t going to have the time or emotional energy to have a deep relationship with all of them.  In fact, more relationships usually translates to fewer deep relationships, with those few even being shallower than otherwise.  More than that, though, we’ve added barriers to prevent depth, for the sake of our comfort.

I was cruising at a high point on a Los Angeles freeway today with a coworker whom I believe to be a eugenicist.  I can’t nail him down on the subject, because he also happens to be a postmodernist, which means that he can wriggle out of any tight argument by changing what he claims to be on any given day.  I gestured at the broad urban skyline, with that sprawling metropolis before us, and I told him that, taken as a whole, humanity seems quite expendable.  With billions of people on this globe, each one seems easily replaced.  Taken individually, though, it becomes a very different matter.  Name any person you know, and that person becomes absolutely irreplaceable.  He tried to convince me that people are exactly like ants.  I agreed with him, for the sake of argument, that the society was very much like a colony of ants working together.  However, when you take a single ant and compare it with any single human, there’s really no comparison.  If the entire city of Los Angeles were wiped from the face of the earth, I doubt that many people would mourn greatly for the loss of this place.  What they would regret is the loss of individuals.  A city is nothing.  A person, even, would be nothing, except for the fact that there can never be a replacement for the specific people that you know.

Social proximity makes all of the difference.  If Mr. Coffee is just the stage name of some guy who advertises percolators, then his death might make the news, even make people pause for a couple of seconds, but few people will cry over it.  No one would be devastated by it.  However, if Mr. Coffee happens to be your father, then things are going to get messy really fast.  A new spokesman can easily be found.  A new father can never replace the old one, not by a long shot.  Social proximity determines replaceability, which determines how quick we are to discard a relationship, or even a person’s life, when that relationship or person falls into the category of things we would call broken.  On a lighter level, it means that in this age we do nothing to fix broken relationships.  If a friend doesn’t please us anymore, then we simply “unfriend” that person and move on.  New and exciting relationships are always waiting for us, just a click away.  People are disposable.  Friendships are more unlikely than ever to get fixed, when broken.

On a darker level, people who do not suit us are also quite replaceable in a physical sense, and that’s where things get really hairy.  We’ve seen it before, in the Nazi holocaust.  The next holocaust is a little bit closer, because society is a little more loosely connected.  The value of a human drops when no one gets close enough to know the individual as a unique and irreplaceable item.  As we more easily drop the inconvenient relationships from our lives, we more easily drop the inconvenient people from life on earth.  The next holocaust will be welcomed by people who don’t care much for the anthill, because, when it really comes down to it, they never really invested the time and trouble to know the ants.  When Mr. Coffee is so easily replaced by another cheap appliance or person (depending on what he is), he is more frequently buried in a landfill/cemetery, rather than spared.

Ah, but that’s the next holocaust.  The holocaust that’s going on today also follows the same principle.  If it’s still unseen in the womb, then killing it is just an abortion.  If it has left the womb and we can see it, then killing the thing is murder, deserving of harsh punishment.  The reason is simply that once we have seen it and done some face time, it ceases to be merely a baby and begins quite swiftly to become a Johnny or a Jennifer.  To see and interact personally is to develop a relationship.  The closer we get, the more human it becomes, until it seems less like the member of a species and becomes, rather, its own species entirely.  A pack of wild dogs is just a menace, but your dog, Rover, is a family member.

The further apart we drift, the closer we get to killing each other.

Every good Christian wants a deep and abiding relationship with God.  Simply put, we want to be something better than just another unit of this anthill.  We want to be something irreplaceable to the one who made us.  The fact is, we always were, and we always will be.  We already have that kind of significance to our omniscient creator.  The only variable is in whether or not we seek to reciprocate that relationship.  The less we know and appreciate God, the quicker we are to kill him.  In this is the key to our own salvation, for we cannot ever really kill God.  The more shallow the relationship, the more likely we are to put him out of our lives when convenience doesn’t suit.  We attempt to kill God by removing him from our world, and those who try generally succeed.  Such is Hell.

So, here I am, waiting for that KSD301 thermostat, so I can finally fix the church’s other coffee maker.  Hopefully, I can resist the urge to make a several-gallon pot of coffee, just for myself, simply because I can.  The next time someone asks me why I bother, I’m going to say that I really love my coffee, but I’m going to explain that I believe in fixing things when reasonably possible, rather than discarding them.  In an age where even people are swiftly becoming disposable, I find myself reacting to this trend by doing little things to repair rather than replace.

The Murder of Kairos, and the Illusion of Time

17 01 2011

“The illusion of time” is a concept making its way across the internet, stated mostly by people who don’t really know what is meant by it, much less who started it.  So we’ll get out with the basics of the matter firstly.

Hawking, that great master of intellect, who has yet to think of anything useful, made the assertion that time is an illusion, meaning not that time doesn’t exist, but that our travel through time is just a product of our brain function.  He would say that time exists, but that we do not travel through it, and it is non-linear.  More to the point, he has embraced the first dimension of time and rejected the second.

To be fair, our travel through time, the fact that we pass along the time line seems to suggest that we exist at different places in time at different times.  Now, it is 3:00, but soon I will be at 3:01.  Hawking would argue that we exist both at 3:00 and 3:01 at the same time, if that isn’t a self-contradiction.  To a degree, he’s right, that I exist at both of those times.  Historically speaking, I do.  The fact of the matter, though, is that I can only be at one of those times at any given time.  He calls it an illusion.  I call it a profound truth, missed by a celebrated intellectual.

The idea of two-dimensional time is not a new one.  The ancient Greeks called these two forms of time Kairos and Chronos.  As a way of remembering them, they are personified as mythical beings.  Chronos is what we would know as the traditional time line, like what might be marked on a calendar.  Kairos is the second dimension of time, that instantaneous moment at which we exist right now.  Kairos is represented as a winged man with the back of his head shaved.  He runs by, and we attempt to grab him by his hair.  Once he is past, even slightly, we have nothing to hold on to.  Kairos is the symbol of our journey through time.  We see each infinitely small span of time for an infinitely small span of time.  We can only just barely utilize it, and only but for an instant.

In a previous post, which also references an even earlier post, Here and Now…, I go into a more detailed explanation of what is meant by a second dimension to time.  In a nutshell, there is an important distinction between saying that I exist in the future, as in, I will exist in the future, versus saying that I exist in the future as in saying that I am there right now.  There are two different ways to be in the future.  So long as I’m still alive by then, then I exist in that time.  That’s different than saying that I’m there right now.  In terms of Chronos, I am in the future.  In terms of Kairos, I am not in the future.  Hawking has taken upon himself the role of executioner, and he wishes to murder Kairos.  The real question is why.

Modern science, a strategy that attempts to fully understand the physical world as a means of deliberately overlooking the spiritual, by its very nature rejects the most obvious thing of all, which is human experience.  Descartes, who often is seen as a forefather of empiricism, ironically determined that experience was the original premise.  “I think, therefore I am,” is not so much relevant to the nature of my thoughts, as it is the fact that I had one.  It is therefore with a great deal of sarcasm that I observe the self-proclaimed defenders of empiricism abolishing the only thing I really know for certain, the obvious fact that I am experiencing something, even if it is an illusion.

Kairos was targeted for murder for the simple reason that Kairos is spiritual, whereas Chronos is strictly physical.  Chronos is safe, and useful for various physical tasks that can be calculated through standard math.  No one really questions the existence of Chronos.  Kairos, the perception that we are traveling through time, is threatening, because it means we are at different places in time at different times.  Where I am now in time is a constantly changing location, and it makes absolutely no sense from a strictly physical worldview, such as modernism.  It means that not only is there a secondary time, by which we judge our progression through the more conventional physical time, but it means that there is something that exists beyond the physical, riding the physical world like a wave.  If there is Kairos, then there is spirit.  If there is spirit, then there might reasonably be an afterlife.  If so, then there might be no escape, neither from troubles, from judgment nor from God.

Hawking is on a rampage to kill God once and for all.  To do so, he must effectively kill the human spirit and all things beyond his reductionist atheistic worldview.  He intends to murder God, Kairos, and even his own spirit.  In the end, he might escape God, lose Kairos and spiritually die in that afterlife for which he is destined, which is to say that he might largely succeed.

I, for one, am inclined to think that, were it not for greater minds than Hawking, he would not have enough technology to make him anything more than a drooling cripple.  His whole life is propped up by the inventions of “lesser” minds, people who actually conceived of something practical and true.  Hawking is nothing but a story teller.  He overawes people by speaking a language that they don’t understand, to convey ideas that they cannot disprove.  But the fact is that there is a limitless supply of fantastic ideas that cannot be disproved.  We tend, all too often, to put the burden of proof on the negative assertion, rather than the positive.  I can say that the entire universe is contained within a huge eggshell, too massive to be seen.  It goes against intuition, but it would be hard to disprove, because it could always be just out of sight.  To say that time is an illusion is also counter-intuitive, and it also cannot be disproved, because no matter what I say I observe, my observations could be nothing but a product of that illusion.  The burden of proof should always be on the positive assertion.  Until we know for certain that Hawking is right, we assume he is wrong.

And he has a lot to be wrong about.  His whole life is a string of fantasies about things that are far out of reach, but the underlying theme behind it all is his drive to kill God.  When we know what motivates a man, we ought to mistrust any reasoning of his that furthers that motivation.  Just because he implies that Kairos doesn’t exist doesn’t make it true.  It only means that greater minds are dead and unable to defend themselves.

Lawless One; a permanent nightmare

18 10 2010


Our star, Larry Lawson, had a rousing morning slapping his girlfriend to her senses.  She was still moaning over that fetus he pushed her to abort.  Zooming down the parkway, he considered that he might stop by the bar after work and see if he could pick up a new hottie, maybe a Latino chic.  That would suit him nicely.  Who knows, he might get lucky, today.  A light turned red, and he breezed through it unscathed, only to be stopped dead by a stale red with heavy cross-traffic a hundred yards later.  A black kid with an iPod stuck in his ears strutted in front of him, earning a honk and a few nasty words.  Larry thought to teach him a lesson for prolonging his red light with a crosswalk signal.  The kid would probably think of this day whenever he considered white people, in general.  He probably hated white men, already.  Larry had the vague recollection of having honked at this kid before.  Across the intersection stood a billboard photo of some guy in a white cowboy hat holding a telephone, with the words, “In trouble with the law?  Call Jesse!”  He chuckled to himself and made a mental note of the number.  The traffic going straight got a green, but Larry couldn’t waste time for the red left arrow, so he pulled an illegal U-turn and slid into the underground parking lot of his glass-walled high-rise office building.  He did a quick glance into the rearview mirror for cops and mumbled, “Sorry Jesse, maybe next time.”

Out of the car, he hopped into the elevator and waited for it to take him to the top floor, where a coffeepot and a corner desk had his name on them.  Some sappy song played over the speaker while he waited; it may have been called Shooting Stars.

“Like shooting stars we shine and then fade,
Breaking the promises we made, what about the promises?
What about the promises we made?  What about our plans for forever?”

Without thinking about it, he hummed along and counted the floors on the display above the door.  He couldn’t get out fast enough.  He put on his best attitude, taking the long way to the coffee maker, past the desk of that hot new intern.  He tried not to huff when she wasn’t there.  At his desk, he barely had the computer fired up when the guy in the cubicle next to him rolled around the cubicle partition and asked him, “Yo, Larry, you forgot to get a chain of custody receipt for yesterday’s Picasso delivery.”

Larry gave an over-the-shoulder smirk at him and said, “I didn’t forget.”

“Then where is it?” the pest insisted.

“I’ll get it to you.  I’ll get it to you.  Just wait a minute.  I just got here,” Larry snapped,  “Don’t rush me.” As soon as the neighbor wheeled back out of sight, he brought up a blank form on the computer and hit the “print” button.  Strolling as casually as possible to the printer, he snatched the document and slipped into a nearby vacant cubicle.  A few forged signatures and falsified dates written in, and he was on his way back to his desk via the aisle next to the file cabinets.  He learned long ago not to make the falsifications at his desk.  The new guy was too sharp; he’d see Larry strolling back from the printer with a fresh document and pause in his own cubicle for a moment, only to appear with the requested document, which was only too obvious.  Justifying the action was easy.  The delivery had been made, and that’s what really mattered.  This was just a lot of red tape, and besides it was a mistake, after all.  Granted, everyone would like to do things right the first time, but that’s no reason to take heat for a stupid piece of paper, or so Larry figured.  So long as the customer never complained of non-delivery, the document was never scrutinized.

All this was so much fuss over dry paint.  Larry figured Picasso to have created almost nineteen hundred paintings in his lifetime.  Of those, he had personally sold over twenty-five hundred, courtesy of a man on Thirteenth Street, named Joe Guiles.  Old Joe was one of those artists who sold art by the pound.  Larry loved his abstract works.  The need to follow reality set rules that made realistic artwork difficult to forge.  Bad art was bad, whether it looked like the original or not.  Abstract art was the sort of thing that could never be bad art, because it never actually had to look like something real.  It was essentially lawless.  The consumer eye couldn’t tell a Guiles from a Picasso, but it could certainly tell it from a Rembrandt.  No Picasso fan could look at one of his works and identify it as a forgery by its poor quality.  That’s because it was all bad.  Without having the real thing to hold up next to it, no one could notice the difference.  With the advance of the Giclee printer, a downloaded work could be printed on canvass to look like a genuine double of the original.  Granted, there were certain risks.  He had to be careful not to sell any of the showcased works, or anything too famous.  The best bet was always something that Picasso never attempted, yet should have.  These were the “lesser-known works.”  That’s where Joe’s talent really shined.

Well, it wasn’t too hard to rationalize, really.  A painting was as good as the owner’s enjoyment of it.  It didn’t really matter who made it or how it was made, so long as it had the certain visual appeal that the consumer was looking for.  I mean, it’s either worth hanging on a wall, or it isn’t.  In the end, it’s just an image.  If the consumer wanted that image, then that’s what the consumer got.  In return, Larry only asked for mass-produced artwork of dead presidents on rag paper.  That should be fair enough.

The phone on his desk rang.  It was Joe.  He answered it, “Larry Lawson, superstar.”

Joe replied that one of his works was ready, and then he disconnected.

Larry stood, passed the bad document over the shoulder of his coworker and disappeared around a corner.  He had been in the office less than twenty minutes, and already he was headed for the elevator and freedom.  Stopping by the receptionist’s desk, he asked the lady to tell his boss that he was on his way to do a pick-up.  She replied that the boss was not coming in today.  This had “good day” written all over it.  He counted the steps to the elevator, waited for the doors to shut, and then he did his best rendition of a football goal line victory dance.  That stop at the bar would be coming earlier than he had planned.  The elevator car dropped a level and opened to a pretty little clerk that he had gotten to know a month earlier.  As soon as she saw him, she made an awkward nod of the head, mumbled, “Sorry, mistake,” and hurried away.  He made a mental note to study that case.  Clearly, something went wrong with that one.  Maybe he had pursued her a little to aggressively.

The doors closed and the elevator car continued on its way.  “Shooting Stars,” played softly over the speaker.  “Come on, people, we just played that one,” he muttered.  Two lines later, he realized that the words were different.  This one wasn’t about shooting stars, like the kind one might watch on a hot August night.  This one was about shooting stars, as in celebrities and with a gun.  He shifted uncomfortably.  “Odd, that one,” he said to the wall.  His cell phone rang.  It was the jerk from the cubicle next to his.

“Larry,” whined the jerk, “This receipt is a complete forgery!  What the heck are you doing, trying to pawn this junk off on me?”

“Just file it,” Larry answered, “you know no one’s going to look at it, anyway.”

“Larry, I looked at it!  Now we’re both involved.  This isn’t just your butt that’s going to get fried.  I never asked for this.  It’s illegal, you know!” the twiggy coworker cried.

“Laws were made to be broken,” Larry returned, “Get a grip.  You’re not going to get arrested for possession of a fake receipt.”  He snapped his phone shut and continued waiting.  This was taking too long.  He looked at the display above the door, and it showed that he was ascending, instead of descending.  “Drat!” he shouted.  Actually, that wasn’t quite the word he used.  The numbers kept going up.  Then, he was back to his own level, which was on the highest floor.  Then he was on the floor above it.  The numbers rearranged themselves into a little face, just a line for a mouth and two dots for eyes.  “What the…?!”

“So, you don’t like laws, do you?” the little face said, and he heard it through the speakers in place of the music.  The face screwed itself up into various Chinese characters.  Then the display went blank and the doors opened, revealing the roof and all of the workings one might find on top of a high-rise office building.

“This is nuts,” he said with a shiver, “Elevators don’t go clear to the roof.  This can’t be happening.”  But the unnaturally dark and smoky sky drew him outside and toward the parapet.  Looking down, he saw that the whole city was on fire, making him think for a split second that it had caused his elevator to rise to the top, but that would still be impossible.  The elevator still doesn’t reach the roof, even if it malfunctions.  A huge billow of smoke rose in the distance, forming what vaguely looked like an angry face, which turned and dissipated a second later.  A moment after that, the roiling smoke formed another face, which rotated and obliterated.  It was only the sort of thing one sees in clouds, when one looks up and makes believe that the thing is shaped like something familiar, even when it clearly looks dissimilar.  Yet, face after face arose and disappeared.  “What is going on, here?” he wondered aloud.

“At the moment, you’re hallucinating, but that could all change in a few minutes,” said a voice behind him.

He turned toward the speaker and saw a man in a leather jacket, leather pants and leather boots.  In fact, it would appear that every thing he wore required the shedding of blood.  “What’s going on?  What’s happening,” Larry asked.

“This day has been waiting for you for thousands of years, and you have only just now stepped into it,” replied the stranger, “But I wanted to give you a moment longer before you met your destiny.  The world burns like incense to appease the nostrils of a holy God, but one can burn swine meat forever without ever producing a pleasing aroma.  Really,  I don’t think we need more of that.  I like to think that there’s a chance to reconcile you with the law you hate.”

Larry tried to give him a look that said, “You’ve got to be kidding,” that looked more like a terrified, “Man, I sure hope this is just a joke.”  He looked back at the rising smoke, which seemed to look back at him.  “So what are you saying?”

“You need Jesus Christ to pay the penalty for your breaking of the law,” the man in leather said.

“Yeah, whatever.  Jesus overthrew the law,” Larry replied.

“No, you overthrew the law.  Jesus fulfilled it.  He loved the law enough to die, rather than break it.  He loved you enough to die, rather than break you.  Something had to break.  It was you against the law, and….”

“That’s nice,” Larry interrupted, “but I’ve got an elevator to catch,” and he headed back to the entrance.

“Are you really in such a hurry to go down there?” asked the stranger.

Larry stepped inside the elevator, turned, and gave the button for the parking garage a resolute push.  There’s something about insanity that makes people compensate by attempting to be extra sane.  They stand a little taller.  They walk stiffly and talk about anything normal, if they can.  They find themselves looking for any symbol of normalcy to which they can cling, even striding with ineffective slowness from an onrush of doom.  For Larry, this meant resetting himself to the last moment before things went haywire, which meant standing in an elevator and pushing the button for the parking garage with the determination of one who actually expected it to go there.  When the doors closed and his stomach rose into his throat from the descent of the car, he hoped life was as normal as it now looked, but four seconds later, when he became weightless and floated about the interior, he realized with horror that he was better-off on the roof, with the freak, where at least he was free and not trapped in a box.  The display above the door showed the little face again, and he heard its voice through the speakers.

“You know, Larry, I know you think of yourself as a minor outlaw, but I happen to know that you love laws,” said the voice in a synthetic sort of way.  Larry was too busy floating about the cabin to venture a response, so it continued, “Take the law of gravity, for instance.  You love that law.  You like being able to use those little stilts you call legs to pry yourself away from the ground and move from place to place across the surface of a dirt ball.  You love knowing that every day, God happens to follow that law faithfully.  Or, take the laws of time and space, even.  You like, or better yet, are tremendously excited to know that your elevator will get to where it’s going in a timely manner.  You like to be able to cross a room in a matter of seconds, rather than decades.  In fact, it would kill you to know that you might not even get there in your lifetime.”

“Oh, dear God,” Larry mumbled, not reverently.

“Yes, both dear and God, in fact,” said the voice.  “Aren’t you glad God obeys his laws?  Don’t you wish you had obeyed yours?  Oh, but then there’s the Master Law, and this one you love the best.  It’s the law that makes all other laws possible.  It’s the law of consistency.  It’s so universal and so important that most people don’t even know it exists.  You wake up every morning, go to work, come home and go to bed.”

“I do not love that law,” Larry groaned.

“Oh, but you do,” argued the voice.  “You don’t like not knowing if, perhaps, you might wake up one day and find that you are a chicken, strapped to the back of a flying purple pig, singing We Are The World a hundred times really fast.  For instance, you don’t like floating about, trapped inside an elevator that talks nonsense to you.”

Larry resisted the urge to puke, and said, cautiously, “You’re right.  I definitely do not like this.”

“Ah, but fortunately for you God is very good at following his laws,” the thing said.

“Then why isn’t he?!” Larry roared.

“Ah, but he is!” the elevator cheered, “You may think that you are floating, but it only seems like that because your entire world is falling with you.  Your coworkers are falling with you.  Your elevator car is falling with you…and it still only takes four and a half seconds to hit the ground!  Even the laws of time and space are obeyed.  Did you know, Larry, that the terrified mind of a human fires signals so fast that he perceives that time comes to a standstill?”

“That’s great!  That’s just fantastic, you stupid, little, whatever you are!  What about consistency?  What about your freaking Master Law?!” Larry screamed.

“It’s about to be taken from you,” said the elevator, flatly.  “The Master is about to be taken from you, and there’s really no way to have the Master Law without the Master, now is there?  I mean, that wouldn’t make any sense, now would it?

“You mean, I’m going to be stuck in this nightmare?!” Larry panicked.

The elevator was silent for a moment.  Then it replied, “Yes, but this is all taking too long.  We are nearly out of time.”

All at once, the elevator groaned softly, and Larry was flung at the floor, where he stopped, mid-air, spread-eagle, with his nose an inch from the ground, hovering.  He brought his arms and legs down, and he carefully stood to his feet.  The moment the doors opened, he rushed outside, into the parking garage, and for a moment life seemed to have returned to normal.  A short distance away was a small one-person restroom, used mostly by the security guards and the incontinent.  Into this he rushed, either to vomit or to splash water on his face, whichever he could manage best.  It was one of those cold, ugly places, with a steel mirror and a steel toilet and a push-button washbasin.  He got one splash of water to his face before he began to doubt his own reflection.  It didn’t look right.  He worried that the nightmare might be returning.  It was his face, alright, and it even imitated his movements, but somehow it felt like the image of someone else.  The man in the mirror looked like the sort of jackass a person loves to hate, bearing a sneer best removed with a tightly-clenched fist.  Then, he could contain himself no longer.  He fell to his knees before the toilet and spilled his breakfast, which appeared to be a diet of worms.  In between retches he could still feel them wriggling in his throat, which made him retch all the more.  Gripping the bowl with both hands, he felt himself surrender to the panic.  There was no end to the worms within.  That’s when he noticed his hands.  They were covered in worms, too.  In fact, they were so covered that he could not see his hands.  He swiped at them vigorously, knocking them in large clumps into the toilet, taking off whole fingers and then an arm, into the bowl.  That’s when he realized that the worms were not on his arms.  The worms were his arms.  He pushed himself to his feet and examined his body, a seething mass of worms in the general shape of a man.  His right arm flopped detached over the edge of the bowl, spreading in an array of nematodes, until it no longer resembled an arm.

Larry had one thread of sanity left, and with it he barged out of the restroom, up the ramp and out onto the street.  He was going to wake up or die trying.  The street outside was packed with pedestrians, marching routinely to work.  He pushed through them rudely, not knowing where he was going, or why.  He overheard their conversations with each other, normal and unrelated to him, but his mind picked out one word from one person and one word from another, fitting it nicely together into a sentence that was never spoken by a single individual.

“Hurry…call…on…Christ!…now,” said no one and everyone.

Larry stopped at the street corner and looked each way.  It was an alley, crossing with the main boulevard.  The alley had nothing but two old trash cans, a cat, and a homeless bum, who was striding purposefully toward him.  Everyone else was walking or driving along the boulevard.  In the moment that he recognized the bum as the man from the roof, he looked up at the street sign and saw that he was at the crossing of Hell Avenue and Heaven Alley.  “Oh, very funny!  Oh, yeah, this is all just one big hilarious joke, isn’t it?!” he yelled at the stranger.  The people on the street stopped in their tracks and stared.  Even the cars slowed to watch the madman.  Everyone was waiting to see what he would do next.  He was about to say something more, when he heard the whistle of a train.  It was the Seven-Ten, and for once it was right on time.  He knew what he had to do.  He turned up the boulevard and ran madly for the tracks.  The stranger broke into a dead run after him, trying to stop him.  Up ahead, he saw the tracks.  To his left, he saw the coming of the Los Angeles Westbound.  Larry was determined to meet the LAW head-on.  Someone or something was going to break.  With his legs spread, he stood and faced the oncoming diesel engine.  To his left, the stranger kept coming, with a look of horror on his face and his hand upraised in warning.

“Larry!” yelled the man in leather, “You can’t wake up from this kind of nightmare!”  But Larry turned toward the engine and ignored him.  The stranger slowed to a stop when the futility of his effort became evident.  The words barely squeaked from his throat, “Not again.  Oh, for pity’s sake, not again.”

The impact was so thunderous that everybody thought a bomb had gone off.  The doors and large pieces of the elevator car blew out into the cars parked opposite, rebounding with a clatter, a tremendous racket and a billow of dust.  A dozen car alarms sounded, honking in protest like frightened donkeys.  The entire office building came alive with workers buzzing about, trying desperately to know what was going on.

The event was summed up in a news article the next day, that the elevator in a downtown office building had become detached from its pulley mechanism and fallen all the way from the top floor to its resounding demise far below, killing one person in the process.

A clerk from the top floor minus one considered that she barely missed getting on that elevator seconds before the disaster.  Strangely, she was saved by her disdain of the victim, which, incidentally, made the victim harder to disdain.  Had he not been on that elevator, she felt that the victim would have been her, instead.  Somewhere on the top floor, the victim’s coworker made a callous remark that he probably hit the ground and kept going, straight to Hell.  Both were wrong in their own way.  The reason she did not die was simply because it was not her time to die.  He did not go straight to Hell, exactly.  Somewhere along the way life took an unexpected detour, before continuing on into the permanent nightmare.

But it is not for others to know the full story of a man.  His interaction with God is known only to him and God.  He can’t tell, and God won’t.


Some say that the genre of Christian horror is a self-contradictory and impossible concept.  In truth, those who see the world falling headlong into a permanent nightmare are audience of the ultimate horror story.

Everyone a Pastor

13 10 2010

Following a man has always been easier than following God.  Even so, he is still only a man.  If we closely emulate his strengths, then we may closely emulate his faults.  But, choose whom we will to follow, our leader never goes to Hell on our behalf.  He goes there for himself, and we go to our own fate.

Following a man has always been so much easier than taking responsibility for our own faith, that we have an innate tendency to venerate our spiritual leaders, as though they were anything better than just another lost soul.  He is but one man among peers.  We sent him off to get his education.  He returned to impart his wisdom to us.  If he taught us for an hour every Sunday, then we sat through fifty-two hours of sermons per year and five-hundred-twenty hours each decade.  By our early thirties, we would have listened to 15,600 solid hours of preaching.  If there were anything left for him to teach us that he had not already discussed, then we ought to dismiss him for his negligence.  We ought, by all rights, to have learned enough to be our own preachers.

Can you say “amen” to that?

To borrow the cliché, our man of the cloth is all too often more cloth than man.  He looks good in the pulpit, but his character tends to be shallow.  It is his fault for expecting to be the shepherd of his flock.  Only Christ is the shepherd.  It is our fault for putting him on a pedestal, as though the platform were raised for his honor, and not merely so that we could see him better.  We should call no man “father” except our Father in Heaven.  A pastor is a peer among equals.

When a layman commits adultery against his wife, we condemn him, but we are not shaken.  When a pastor does such a thing, our church splits, some leave that church, and some leave all church, entirely.  When a pastor falls, we are shaken.  Yet, a pastor is just a theologically educated member of the congregation.  But, so are we.

He distances himself from his people.  He needs that air of infallibility.  If he related to us as one of us, then we might see his faults.  We hold him in such a critical esteem, that his would be the first faults we found, even before our own.  Yet, he is only a man, and he is only human.  Considering the pressure, considering the lack of moral support, and considering the lack of mentoring, one might conclude that the pastor lives an act.  He must, even if he is sincere.  He lives the best that he can, and he hides the rest, or he loses his job.  Such is the fact of the matter.  In this, there grows a weakness.  Quite possibly the shakiest faith in the church is the one that stands behind the pulpit.  The weakest in the group stands to be the backbone.

The disparity between the pastor and the laity is a two-part problem.  Firstly, the pastor has no pastor.  The second problem is like the first, that the congregation has no congregation.  We do not work on Sunday, but the pastor might only work on Sunday.  We turn to him for guidance, but he has no one.  He does not sit in church every Sunday and listen to anyone’s sermon.  He is alone.  God is his only guidance.  Even so, God should be our guidance, also.  He is called to speak the truth, but so are we.  He is called to reach the lost, but we are, also.  We are pastors to a lost world, but we act like spectators.  Our message is as bad as our worship, being nothing but lip service, and only a lip service within the walls of the church building, at that.

We are the preachers who do not preach.  He is the laity that does not listen.  We have led him through his fear for our approval.  We have failed to follow, because we have not emulated him to the world.  We watch him like a television.  We sing a few songs.  We chat a little, and then we go home.

We are only peers among pastors.  No man is above us.  No one is beneath us.  We are all responsible for working out our own faith, with the fear and trembling of a man tottering above the flames of Hell.  Only one man has paid the price for us, and he isn’t the pastor.  Only I am responsible for finding my salvation.  We are in this together.  We are judged separately.

Every single one of us has some insight that you lack.  Every single one of us needs support that only you can give.  We are all pastors.  We are all laity.  We were all lost.  We are all found.

A Dangerously Weak god

16 09 2010

A coworker named Albert  attempted to explain to me that another coworker named Tuan thought he was far better than anyone else at the lab.  When confronted with what were perceived to be his shortcomings, Tuan reacted by insisting that he was the very best among us.  In fact, he might have had us believe that he was near perfect.

“He doesn’t really think that,” I told my other coworker, “He’s just insecure.”

“No, he’s not insecure,” replied Albert, “He thinks we’re all down here.” He indicated an arbitrary position with his hand, palm-downward, “And he thinks he’s way up here,” he said, raising his hand above his head.  “When I tried to correct him, he got defensive and argued with me.”

“Secure people don’t get defensive,” I replied.

It’s true, though.  Confident people can take harsh criticism in stride.  It may bother them, but they don’t lose confidence in who they are and where they stand.  It is with this in mind that I note how, with a Koran in one hand and a cigarette lighter in the other, I can make the entire Muslim world jump with every flick of my thumb.  With a pencil and a wild imagination I can draw a face and call it “Mohamed,” earning myself a death sentence.  But all of this zealotry runs amok when we put it to the magnifying glass.

I understand that offenses against Muslim icons are an offense against Muslims.  Insults to my mother are offensive to me, and insults against my God are all the more so.  In a sense, everything that I hold dear and close is part of what I call home.  In a beehive, the queen bee is home.  To the mockingbird, the nest is home.  We naturally fight to protect our home.  However, against these physical things, there lies a real threat of harm.  The bees fight for the queen, because she could really be killed.  The bird fights for the nest, because the young might really be devoured.

On the other hand, fighting to protect one’s god is like fighting to rescue a wooden idol from a burning building.  When a person finds himself filling the role of a self-appointed guardian of his own god, then he ought to reconsider what this thing really is.  I might ask, exactly how fragile is this Allah, that he cannot defend his own honor?  Why does any supreme being need mere mortals to run to his rescue?  It’s like the idol-makers at Ephesus fighting to protect their trade from the teachings of Paul and Barnabas.  That Muslims feel any need to fight for their god is all we need to see their insecurity.  No one dies in defense of the invincible.

They have every reason to feel insecure, though.  The whole Muslim world is economically, militarily, socially and technologically weaker than the industrialized Western nations.  If Allah were strong, then he would have lifted them above the infidels in all respects, for this god is not known for its modesty.  All the worse, though, that Allah is immodest, for weakness is never an act of voluntary meekness, as it is with Jesus.

Our God humbled himself and became a human so that he might be mocked, torn apart and murdered.  In light of this, one might threaten the burning of thousands of Bibles and never come close to the desecration that Christianity suffered.  Yet, this desecration was part of our theology.  Humiliation is central to our faith.  No derision proves our God too weak to respond, and no lack of faith or weakness of character would keep us from defending him.  We don’t need to defend him, and he is not weak.  It is through our persecution that we are proven strong.

Allah takes nothing in stride, and neither do his followers.  He proves his might through violence, which, ironically, is all the proof of his weakness.  Those who look to him for deliverance have become his protectors.  It’s the grandest of all role-reversals.  The loyal adherents have become the gods and made their god as weak as a newborn babe.

You can burn my Bible.  It’s just a stack of papers with ink scribbles on them.  Only the ideas contained within are holy.  The book is just a book.  Even the ideas don’t exist within the pages of a book.  Ideas can only exist within a mind.  A book never read is a book without meaning.  In this case, the book was read, and the meaning, which is the only thing holy about it, was stored within the soul of the one who read it.  The only thing holy about the Christian holy book lies hidden within the hearts of the Christians who believe in it.  There, no match can burn, nor any heretic desecrate it.  We have nothing to fear.  The real Bible cannot be burned.  That which can be burned is not the Word of God.

It is the weakness of Allah that causes the infidels to die.  A polytheistic god that was hardly more than a myth was built up to parade in the place of God, himself.  Such a vainglory was but a house of cards, and the effort to protect that house is more than the world can bear.  If Allah were stronger, then his followers would not have to fight so hard to protect him.  So far, though, he has managed to make a solitary prophet snort and gag while uttering proverbs.  His people have done the rest.  We are the victims of a dangerously weak god.

Carte Blanche Philosophy

5 09 2010

Bed and breakfast inns are a hobby of mine.  With most things in life, I think like a middle class citizen: I look to buy things that give me the most for what I pay.  Lower class mentality looks for the cheapest options.  Middle class seeks value, and upper class simply seeks out the best things.  When it comes to lodging, I tend to break out of my middle class mentality and splurge a little.  We all have something like that.  For my grandmother, it was perfume.   For some people it’s a nice car.  For me its a nice inn.

In a lovely coastal town there sat a lovely little inn, famous for having been there almost as long as the town.  The inn, over-all, was first-rate, with heated towel racks, an oak-paneled lobby with a small library of books, complete with armchairs that squeaked like some ancient thing from a bygone era.  In the morning, we found our way to the parlor, where we were to be served the second B of our B & B.  Usually, the host might ask us for the specific way in which we preferred to have a meal prepared, or else we might be served whatever the host had already prepared.  Usually, that’s what happens in these places.  Surprisingly, this host entered the parlor, clasped her hands together and asked us, without preface, what we would like for breakfast.  My first thought was how amazing it was that we might be served whatever we asked for.  My next thought was that, despite my experience with a variety of delicious offerings at other places, I could not, for the life of me, recall the names of those exotic dishes.  The following thought was that, even if I could remember what they were called, it was highly unlikely that the man in the kitchen could possibly serve up a single plate of any of them at a moment’s notice, even if he were the world’s most renown chef.  Therefore, I must assume that while the menu was theoretically limitless, there still had to be some practical limits to what could actually be prepared.  When I asked what could be made, the answer revealed to me that very little was really on the menu at all.  I ended up eating french toast for breakfast each day.  The paucity of options was disguised by the open-ended question.

In a typical restaurant, we might have the luxury of choosing from a list of repasts.  In a very small establishment, like a B & B, the customers are so few that the proprietor cannot afford to avail an entire list of options.  Instead, we typically get the single option handed to us on a menu the size of a business card, which is often mounted in a special holder near the middle of the table.  Now, the first menu appears, at the outset, to be the better of the two.  We are offered, first and foremost, the luxury of choice.  Unfortunately, what this means is that the odds are not so good that we might happen to choose the best item on the list.  We must resign ourselves to an inferior dish, perhaps.  When the menu consists of a single option, the onus is on the host to choose the best meal possible, and the necessary ingredients, however exotic, may be supplied in advance, with no fear of them going to waste.  The single-item menu is like the best item on the multi-item menu, with the added benefit that it can consist of expensive perishables, being that they don’t have to sit around and wait for someone to ask for them.

Now, the blank menu, at first, seems to be the biggest menu of all.  One would think it was limitless.  That’s the art of its disguise.  In truth, though, while it sets no limits on what can be ordered, it still doesn’t really offer anything.  If a larger menu almost guarantees that we won’t order the best thing, then a limitless menu makes one wonder if we might order anything good.  This is the paradox of a boundary.  Sometimes, a fare without limit is a fare with no offering.

In the most liberal of worldviews, we find philosophies with no moral restrictions.  We might marry anyone, or anything.  We might keep a vow or break it.  We might lie, cheat or steal, or we might abstain from such things.  We might eat, drink and be merry, or we might inject, snort, smoke and blow our minds.  We could vandalize a wall, a website or our own bodies.  We could talk like the devil, live like Hell and still expect a Heaven on Earth.  The complete rejection of religion is the rejection of boundaries.  It is a man who knocks down the walls of his house, because he finds the space too confining, only to discover that he is now homeless.

A world without God and a world without religion is a world at your feet.  You can do anything that your heart desires, and then you can die.  You can populate the Earth, build empires, amass wealth, attain celebrity and struggle to carve out your little Avalon.  You can have anything and everything, except for the only thing that you really need.  The blank menu offers everything and nothing at the same time.  It has no limits, which is easy, because it has nothing to offer.

For, without God, there can be no purpose.  Without him, there can be no meaning at all in life.  In fact, there can’t even be meaning to the idea of meaning.

When the house is on fire, you can run any way you like, but the only way that matters is the way out.  You can have it all, because it all has your destiny, which is the destiny of death.

When the atheist says that your purpose is whatever you make it, what he really says is that there is no purpose.  When the postmodernist says that all ideologies are equally good, what he’s really saying is that they’re all equally worthless.  When the host says you can have whatever you want to eat, what she really means is that she has nothing much to offer.  The best menu is the one that has only one option on it.  We give you the best thing we know, and we stake everything, our reputation, our lives, upon it.  You can take it, or you can refuse it, but there’s only one best way.

That way is Jesus, the Christ, who paid for our sins that we might be saved.  You can take it or leave it, but I’ll not offer a list of choices, nor will I lie and tell you that you can have whatever you want.