Sunday, February 28, 2010

Incarnation, Ambiguity and Love. For Matt and Sara

Paradox is easy. Ambiguity takes Love.

This past week, my new family in-law suffered the loss of their new baby whom they named Evvy (E v v y): "the Cleavers", our favorite kind of family, were smashed by a loaded Semi. It wasn't sudden though, they didn't recklessly step into the street. Sara and Matt, young parents of two, learned that all the Mystery that so effortlessly forms babies, (universes really, when you compare them in every way to their own Beginning Bang) failed to form Evvy's kidneys; Potter's Disease is the clinical taxonomy: what do you call it when no clinic, no matter its might, can veer some inevitable truck?

Matt and Sara, packing so much courage into such young lives, determined with their family, that Evvy would know nothing but Love and Celebration while she experienced her brief incarnation as a daughter, sister and niece. They succeeded. I know because at her funeral, Evvy's casket was dwarfed by her presence that remains so large within her family; she's probably in more family photos than my own boys are- and they've been around for a quarter century.

Paradox is easy- consciousness: is it quantum? dualistic? determined? free? soul? material? matter? energy? epiphenomena?

What is easily lost in the convenience of paradox, is ambiguity's torture.

For us who are called into Human Being, we live daily with something that no other species encounters: Ambiguity. I would argue that it's infinitely easier to collapse an ambiguity into simple contradictions and fight over which sides are superior; the more difficult road I would continue to argue, entails holding a contradictory tension until you can find a higher unifying logic- thus transforming such tension into the pleasure that can only come from paradox: reaching a paradox is climatic. Ambiguity is something else.

Of the three, the road less traveled is Ambiguity. Losing a child can't be packed away into contradiction or a paradox: the same qualities that let Human Being into the world of Awe, let us into the world of Terror- where sometimes trucks come from nowhere, and sometimes come from a long way off: either way we hear its rumble... it's just a matter of how long we have in listening to its rumble.

Contradiction only requires cunning; paradox requires deep thoughtfulness; Ambiguity demands all that we have. That's why it takes Love to live in it: That's why- of the three roads- it's the least traveled.

Love has the muscle to rise above Ambiguity's torture. Love can't exist in a vacuum though, it needs embodiment; and more, it can't exist within a body itself, it can only exist in the spaces between Bodies: between Evvy and her Mother's breast; her Father's fierce protection; her siblings' camaraderie; beyond these closest of confines stands her Wall of Love that is founded on her Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles and Cousins. It's Love that sees us into this world, and it's Love that sees us out. It's the road between, with its constant threat of ambiguity, that often scares us off it; soon we acclimate to fear and its myriad of expressions that stem from desperation instead of an inner fullness.

So in the end, there is in actuality, only one road. However, it's how we choose to walk it, that determines where the road will lead; it's destination is relative to what happens in the spaces between us. Hopefully, we can fill the spaces between us the way Sara and Matt filled the space around their daughter Evvy.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Why I Believe in a God that Doesn't Exist

Do I believe in God? Yes.
Can I define the nature of God? No.
Does God exist? No.
Do I believe in my computer? Yes.
Does my computer exist? Yes.

An odd group of questions wouldn't you say? As odd as this group is, working through these questions will actually help us make more sense of being human, spirituality, science and even our ideas of God. Since we've been considering the idea of faith, lets begin with my believing in the computer I'm writing this post on.

By now it should be obvious to you that I believe in my computer. If I didn't, I wouldn't be writing on it. Now, does my belief- or faith- in my computer, have anything to do with making it real or unreal? No- right? However, because this computer is thus far credible to me, I believe in it to a level where I'm willing to type my thoughts here and send them to you for your analysis; if I didn't believe, (or have faith) in my computer, I'd have to find another computer that demonstrated enough credibility, to garner the belief necessary to write on it.

What about my computer existing? Let me just say here that we're safe to infer the obvious. Besides, it's not late enough, and nor are we in a bar together.

So now I hope you're wondering how I can believe in God if I at the same time assert that God does not exist! And if we were indeed at that bar together, I'd answer with the best Bill Clinton I could muster, "well, it depends on what your definition of "exist" is." Refreshing myself with a sip, I'd go on to explain that the etymology of the word exist, gets at the idea of standing out from. (As a side note, and by way of explaining what I mean with out going down a path that deserves a hike, just not now- you could say that a huge herd of people try out for American Idol; only those that stand out in specific ways will get a chance to win: to stand out the most. The question for later, centers on asking if this standout contestant also exists more than the herd from which he exists- or stands out?)

Are you getting the picture? God does not exist because God does not stand out: any consideration of God's nature, has to begin with understanding that existence is a standing out, and as such, any "God" that stands out is not yet God, but just another existent thing. God that is any God at all, will be that from which existence stands out. In other words, that which God stands out from, is God. In the parlance of Christian language, any God that exists is an idol.

Oops, it looks like I just defined God. It looks that way but I don't think I did. All I pointed to was what God couldn't be- an idol. This is important to understand, because usually, when we've entered into faith through God, God becomes the ground of our world; here we're apt to take our ability to form nouns seriously: what are nouns? persons, places or things (or ideas); in other words, things that exist. And as I'm trying to show you, idols instead of God combined with certainty instead of faith, make for an explosive concoction in the making of our personal ground.

Earlier in past commentary, Stephen told of his working out the synthesizing of his Christian faith and his Science faith. We're building the ground to do that work; not only to solve dissonance, but to recognize that by doing so, we'll be closer to filling out the Human Being that is here to Exist.

Yes Virginia, there is a God who doesn't exist.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Physics and Sophistication

In my profile at right, I claimed that in my thinking, my concerns are both theoretical AND practical. Perhaps it's time for some practicality and watch faith in action.

What is more real, a gun or an idea? If a gun is so much more real, why do we often freak out when certain ideas of ours are somehow challenged- a freak out, which if you measured it by means of MRI and the like, would look exactly like one experienced, when someone points a loaded gun at you? Science, which is at heart physics, has made a comfortable world to live in. What I mean, is not only are we more comfortable in nature, in terms of houses, central heat, computers and etc., our worlds too, have become simpler as we've become accustomed to conceiving ourselves as objects in space bumping one another. Science has provided a framework in which guns and cameras are real, as well as assuring us, that the images a photographer captures on paper is not someone's soul...this is sophistication.

Yet, the most sophisticated organism to have ever existed, lives from something we call ideas- "things" which can't be seen directly by any means we would call empirical.

Physics, capital P, is a framework of understanding reality. It began with Newton and his laws of objects and motion, and the rest of science builds upon this mentality. Whether science is hard- chemistry, biology and physics (small p), or soft, psychology, sociology and economics- the mentality is built on the same logic of bodies interacting through law like motion with other bodies. This mentality easily makes sense of guns and bullets; this mentality has a difficult time making sense of ideas and meaning; this mentality is the ground of our shared world, which is our culture: which as world, doesn't exist like nature, where there, Physics can make perfect and accurate sense of things.

World is not nature: Most often, when you interact with people, do you do so on a basis that is World, or on a basis that is Nature? In world, ideas can be as real as guns because we're not just bodies acted on by forces; we are also bodies who share spaces with one another who respond to meaning. Remember how we talked about worlds needing world views to take the place of "a ground to walk on"? (Which in nature comes to us ready made?) This "soil" which we all must make and then use to form each of our individual ground, is comprised of stuff that is meaning-full to us. In this case, what kind of "Physics" do we have to understand the reality of Meaning, that will not just let meaning feel as real as any physical object, but let meaning be just as real on its own terms, instead of only being considered as something merely decorative to the physical?

I promised practical. Recount those times in your life when you've shared in the discussion of ideas. It could be a meeting at the office, on the street, in a church, at a coffee shop or a bar; maybe even at a "Tea Party." More likely than not, someone in such a meeting reacted like a stirred hornet's nest: this person just experienced a gun being pointed at him. He can no longer participate in the exploration of ideas, because the ideas from which he grounds himself are felt in jeopardy. All the fight and flight mechanisms that are there for us to employ in the face of threat are brought to bare in a conversation...where no guns are present.

So what is sophistication? And what can Physics even say about it?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Innocence and Experience

Who are you? When I ask my Golden Retriever, Sam, that question, the only answer I get from him is his typical smile and gleam that make him look like he's waking up to Christmas morning- for the eighth time today! Let's go back to you though: If you were to rewind what played out in your mind in the brief time it took you to read my account of Sam, what will you see? What ever its contents, you probably experienced something akin to a bb's impact of a windshield where its impact sets off a random crazing; each line zig-zagging you through holidays, pets, adjacent meanings and maybe even a new connection of insight. Unpacking your moment in this way, shows you that these moments exist like genes: unraveled, they're thousands of times bigger! Welcome to World; and like Dorothy you're not in Kansas any more.

That is to say, you don't just exist in environment any more. Put into the poetic language of Genesis and the Garden of Eden, my dog Sam still lives in the Garden: I don't. And neither do you. Sam inhabits a place of Innocence. Ours is the place of Experience.

So what is this place that we inhabit? Why have we thought of our place as a fallen one? Why is Experience so difficult compared to Innocence? What do these questions have to do with physics, quantum or otherwise? Why does the Canada Goose, though gliding along water- moments from ice, under grey skies bombarding it with sleet, make its existence of dunking its head for green bits, make life look so easy? Why can't we, no matter how hard we try, revert to the way-of-being exemplified by a simple goose? Why can't we, now that we have World, go back to Nature?

Composing thousands of years ago, before writing came into existence, the poets behind the Garden story, told of the gates which bar human kind from returning to the garden, as being guarded by God's servants with flaming swords. Re-entry, no matter how desolate we feel in our "expulsion", is for ever out of the question. In a very real way, when I pet Sam, I'm reaching through steel bars when I do so. He lives in a realm of Innocence; You and I live in the realm of Experience.

We can't let words like God and Evolution detract us from the real issue at hand: we live through World and we can't go back to living through Nature; that is, we can't go back to the life of Sam or Canada Geese. Like it or not, we are stuck in Experience, and any attempt out of it by way of escaping into Innocence is for ever barred.

If we are to understand what it is to ultimately be Human, we have to grasp what it is to live in Experience- through World and not Nature. You are not an object, you are a world: the bb's impact shows you that. This world-ness of our existence is full of implications that cannot be mastered or even understood by forms of measurement- the language of science. We have to employ the methods of the Poet as well.

So we haven't left our discussion of Faith; we are only bringing into the spotlight, the context of our Human Complexity to better understand how Faith fits into the life of Experience.

What are your thoughts so far?

Monday, February 22, 2010

FaithVI: Environment and World

So far, I've talked about faith dramatically in terms of high wires and Niagara Falls, and mundanely in terms of driving, and executing a beer run. In each case, I'm trying to show you that faith is uniquely human and stems from the genius involved in being human; a genius not of our own making, a genius not present in the Canada goose, a genius that forms the basis of human difficulty: having to live in a realm that technically, is not environmental, and is one of our own choosing.

For sake of discussion, I want to use word environment to designate specifically the realm in which an organism exchanges energy for the purpose of supporting its physicality. Here we can talk about organisms and ecosystems, whether they be grizzly's and Alaskan rivers, or bacteria and petri-dishes or our gut, analyzing the health of a system entails studying the interactions of bodies and environment and assessing their fitness. And because we humans share in having bodies that have to connect to environment, we our selves fall under such analysis. And under such analysis, one of the things we notice is that bodies have innate systems that orient them to the environment, one such system being sight and horizon lines.

Most of the living for Human Being though, doesn't transpire through environment it transpires through world. World, for sake of discussion, is different than environment; at its heart, there is no physicality to it. If I give you two apples, mathematically and environmentally speaking, I gave you two objects of nutrition. From the point of view of world, only you will know what this means; maybe for you, it's not about nutrition, or the number two. Maybe for you in this moment, it's about kindness which you haven't experienced in a long while; in this case you could say that I didn't give you two apples, what I actually gave you was a glass of cold water to alleviate something parched. So what was parched? If we employed a moisture meter would we be able to measure how parched you are?

Are you feeling the difference between world and environment? It's not that world and environment are separate- they're not. But just because they're not separate doesn't mean they're not different. A large part of living into our human complexity, is to understand what this difference entails for us humans.

Maybe the largest difference between world and environment, is that world doesn't come with ready made orientation systems like sight and horizon lines. Yet our need for orientation in world, is needed every bit as much as it is in environment. So what is the orientation system in world, where there are no horizon lines, no established up and down and infinity in all directions?

Well at the heart of it all, we need to recognize, that in place of any horizon lines providing perpendicularity, or gravity providing connection, we have world-views: a network of ideas about a reality that consists as both environment and world; a network of ideas in which we are willing to believe in, in order to orient our selves into a felt sense of place. Just because ideas lack the physicality of balls and ramps, or electrons and double slit experiments, doesn't make the idea less "tangible". Only those ideas that to us feel credible, can become the ideas we will come to believe and make into the ground of our world; such grounding can center on "brand name consuming", professional sub cultures, science sub-cultures, religious subcultures, and maybe even God (or not-God): No matter your ground- because it consists of ideas that you weave into your world-view, that you have to decide for yourself which to employ- your ground can ultimately be called your Faith.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Faith V: Quest, Question, and Beer.

"I believe in our innate capacity to believe; no other species seems to have this capacity." I could also write this sentence in another way to mean exactly the same thing: "I have faith in our innate capacity to believe; no other species seems to have this capacity." How are these two sentences synonymous?

I said in the last post that the words faith and believe are inexorably linked and this is how: faith is a noun form, and believe is a verb form of the same experience. So- do you believe your trip to the store will succeed? Of course- you wouldn't even get into the car if you didn't- you're an intelligent person after all. But watch this- I can write the exact same question which will only be different in aesthetics: "Do you have faith that your trip to the store will succeed?" (and then go on to state my belief in your intelligence).... At this point, you can see that this question of my belief- a past predicate, my believing- a gerund, and my faith- a noun, in the intelligence of you the reader, hinges on whether the proposition of you the reader being intelligent, is a credible one or not. (Believe me, the reality that you're intelligent is credible indeed! So I have faith in you.)

This inexorable link of faith and believe is seen more apparently when you begin with the original Greek words, which we translate into the modern words faith and believe: Pistis and Pistewo. When ever you are reading through a New Testament Text, and you come across our word faith, you are reading the underlying Greek noun, Pistis. And when you come across our word believe, you are reading the underlying Greek verb, Pistewo. At the heart of this word group, is living into, and I would add- living into through question.

No other species, I believe, is forced into living by question. The Canada goose certainly lives it's life through a quest, but these are quests of biology and environment; its satisfaction depends on its body remaining warm while gliding along November ponds and blithely dunking its head for bits. (You could probably sum up the life of our goose by Thermodynamics.)

To live through question is entirely different than living through quest. In fact, you could say that understanding such difference is imperative to understanding Human Being. The mundane task of driving to the store begins as a quest for something like beer, but is innately involved in question and faith. (I'm purposely talking about faith in such a mundane scale because, unless we can get a felt sense of it here at this scale, we won't be able interact with faith at ultimate scales without getting unwieldy).

So looking at faith in this mundane scale of a quest for beer, what are we to consider of it?

Well, faith is about living into; and because this happens through question besides biological quest, the idea of completing your beer run has to be credible to you. Faith requires credibility.
But, even though, completing a beer run may be sufficiently credible, until you actually get in the car and go, your faith will not be energized. Faith requires coherent action.

A crisis of faith is a symptom and not a cause: to try to whip up more faith is to only address symptoms. The underlying cause comes from needing to live into a world by way of question and not having a credible "vehicle" in which to make that trip: A person who feels their suffering as a lack of faith, is encountering an issue of credibility.

The question often posed in our context is, "whats the relationship of faith to reason?" as if they are two separate pathways, one being inferior. I hope you're beginning to see that reason is involved in faith but exists as a whole other genus or kind etc.; while you're driving the car you better be using the full faculty of reason. But it's faith that gets you into the car and onto the road with all the other cars, so you can fulfill your quest for some cold ones.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Faith IV: The Flexibility of Believing

I think in terms of commitment as well as in terms of faith or belief, all three are bludgeons when faced with the complexities that we try to negotiate with language. I'm more moved these days by story telling than by the reduction of experience to abstraction. In Physics, supposedly simple equations such as the T-shirtable Maxwell's or Einstein's field equations rest on essential wildernesses of experiment and theory, which Physicists know by anecdote and fable as much as from books and personal experience. I think it's the same with these supposedly simple words, which need all human experience to be known intimately. In the end, however, what we give transcends what we know and what we feel, our belief and our faith.

Peter Morgan.

...Theory shares the same Latin root from which we get the word theater (or theatre). Theories then are insights, and as such, aren't true or untrue, rather they let us see into a thing. A new theory doesn't necessarily replace another one, it lets us see differently.

David Bohm; my paraphrase.

I began this foray into faith in response to commentary developing over at 13.7 in the context of science and religion, where a scientist asked, how can he a man of reason, interact with someone like me, a man of "faith"? So I began this continuing exploration of faith by getting at where I think science gets the concept wrong. Here, I'd like to approach it from where I think Christians get it wrong, by comparing faith to certainty- all awhile keeping the admonitions of our two thinkers heading this post in mind.

To begin, let me say that faith is inexorably tied to believe. So what is believe about?

Imagine yourself at home. If you're a young person- pre-family, you have the munchies; if on the other hand, you're intra-family, you need milk; in either case you gotta get in the car and drive to the store. Such a trip is so practiced, driving requires little thought, and you never question returning home safely; i.e. you never bid fond farewells to your loved ones before embarking to the Quicky Mart.

But think about it- how can you know with certainty that you will return safely, until your safety is history? You can't. Do you believe that you'll return safely? well yes- if you didn't believe it you wouldn't go. I'm stating something simply, but don't let that fool you! Such simplicity is really quite complex as it relies on infrastructure, machinery, stability, practice, and trust in other drivers: and because certainty is an impossibility in situations such as this, we wear seat belts. This is a classic situation requiring our faculty of believing: Believing is an elegant way to live into circumstances where no amount of information can solve a total amount of ignorance or fixate a probability.

Let's compare this to certainty. Grammatically speaking, certainty is innately binary; you can be certain or uncertain. If you want to approach the driving scenario within the framework of certainty, then the consistent thing to do is to leave off your seat belt: why bother with any discomfort- go "commando" and feel free and easy because it's certain you'll return safely. The very basis of believing on the other hand, has its genesis in ignorance: whether the situation is driving to the store, entering into marriage, or picking a career, each situation comes with a boat load of ignorance that we have to live our lives into. In actuality, believing is a robust capacity for living with such innate ignorance.

When it comes to God, Christians often mistake believing for certainty. Because certainty requires a fixed knowledge set, any change to a knowledge set of God, equates to a change in their God; a sense of peril ensues which typically sets off a hornet's nest in the middle of any dialog about God. (Or scientific theory or anything else that stands for turf.)

When you approach God through believing though, you begin with an acknowledged ignorance: so your trust is built on something different than what garners certainty. And without the innate rigidity of certainty- which depends on my concept remaining true, regardless of new information- believing lets God be God regardless of my theology. Believing sets me up to participate with God instead of needing to control who God is.

So when Stephen thinks about God in other terms such as Beauty or Elegance, we are invited to experience God in other ways, because through our capacity of believing, our connection is about God rather than fixed concepts.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Faith P.III: Residency

Seeking faith is a dangerous pursuit. How much easier it is to wile away the hours in fashionable cynicism for example; all one needs to do is swirl a wine glass correctly, poise their nose in professional whiffing, and adroitly toss about aromatic taxonomy: alcohol is only but one ingredient in the making of our daily need for stupor.

You may be detecting a note of sarcasm here; hmm... so do I! It may surprise you though, when you hear me defend our need for "stupor." Indeed the tight rope on which we're asked to walk (just by fact of being human) stretches across an infinite cosmos- not just Niagara Falls-which in comparison, is hardly even a bathtub. No- my blade of sarcasm is wielded to those who would sell faith like a used car, or a magic tonic; equally so against those, who from fashioned luxury boxes, make sport of people in the arena trying to make the wine. In either case, what they share in common, is that they lead you to believe that they themselves are on the wire, when in reality, they are every bit at cliff side, as any other Niagara Falls tourist.

Understanding the true nature of faith is important- why? Because life on the wire is very different than life lived cliff side due to some lack of trust- a deep abiding trust in this something you can't see, yet you embody. Without this thing that I'm referring to as faith, your experience of life in the Cosmos will only be a partial one; perhaps like a marriage of convenience where a couple live satisfactorily as roommates while forgoing the pleasure of living as lovers.

Faith is complex: as is Human Being. I realize that by furthering our trapezing into a field of metaphors, I may be adding to the confusion, and this may be necessary to get to our clearing. For now, I hope you can see that the concept of faith involves something more than logic or epistemology or even religion. It has to do with the character of residence one experiences as they live, not only as an animal which is only asked to live in its environment, but as Human Being- who is asked to live in the Cosmos by this innate but strange ability to relate intimately with its vastness.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Getting Faith Right. Part Two.

It was the during the 70's, the decade of bell-bottoms and Disco, (wore those, avoided that) when the word faith became a euphemism for religion. The intention behind this cultural move grew out of recognizing that not all people involved in faith were involved in any particular religion; many people were just spiritual. It was a proper intention, but something germane to the concept of faith was lost; and something innate to being human, something so complex and rich, has become even more obscured in our time.

Because faith is such a complexity, it will require us to approach it with complexity- to look at it from different angles and different analogies; to bring our full intelligence and patience; to consider new possibilities of what it means to be religious, not on a basis of a religion, but on a basis of our being Human, which is something that exists"on top" of being mammalian.

I felt so much distress reading in the comment section under "Getting Faith Right Part One" in learning of Robert's friend. I felt so much excitement though in reading the thoughtfulness of Peter Morgan's and Robert's insights. It's insights such as these that allow us poke and prod at the concept of faith, and clear a path from an abstraction back to its underlying experience.

Let me end this post on a word about analogies that I learned from my professor Dr. George Gianoulus from whom I learned Greek and hermeneutics. He was adamant in saying that any attempt to interpret the Biblical text literally, can only be done if one first understands the text literarily. Which meant we had to become versed in figures of speech. When it came to analogies this was his advice: "Think of analogies like four legged tables of which one of its legs is short; trying to make it stable on all four legs will only lead to frustration- letting it be stable on the three legs however, lets the table work fine."

This advise will serve us well as we poke and prod together.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Robert's Friend And Our Human Notes

In the comment section under the previous post, I learned that Robert lost his friend; a friend who encountered suffering so acutely, that ending his life felt more viable than living.

Perhaps this would be an appropriate time for me to take a moment to clarify what this blog is about, and why I'm here writing and hoping to engender a dialog with you.

I have found the life of being human, utterly profound. For whatever reason, or however it came about, it seems that I've always been able to see through the "apparent" into what we might call, the True and Real: that level of reality that can't be reduced to algorithms or dogma, but which we try to approach with concepts like Beauty, Elegance, Love, Life and God. I'm not claiming any special intelligence or privilege to some secret knowledge (I don't have either); basically put- like you, I live with an inclination that shapes one's pursuits. While your's might be in the field of science or business or theater and the like- my inclination has pushed me toward comprehending the experience of being human beyond our immediate contexts of a culture: I seek to comprehend our being human in the context of the Cosmos itself.

I admitted to a lack of any special intelligence. Maybe if I had some, I could write more brilliantly and precisely toward the Profundity I so readily see. Or maybe the problem lies in the Profundity: there seems to be something innate to it that escapes- even squirts- out of any grasp that aims to "contain" or "bottle" it; Profundity eludes even the looser grasps of the statistical mechanics chemists use to navigate an environment at the quantum level.

The Profundity I see, begs us to leave the frameworks of physics and enter into, once again, the frameworks of the poetic: not to replace the physic but to take a place along side it.

Physics counts on the power to denote. Poetics on the other hand, rely on the power to connote. We need this power of connotation, not because we lack some aptitude, we need it because there are fields of reality that disappear or are distorted by the act denoting them. Often times, these are the things that exist beyond our grasp of formula- like Beauty. Like Human Being.

By chance, in joining a group of new acquaintances for some beers last year, I was seated across from a composer. I learned something interesting from him that I think fits here: he explained to me that were it not for something called "overtones," a note of C would sound the same regardless of the instrument; it's the properties of overtones that lets a denoted C sound like a violin.

What is the reality of Physic's concept of entanglement? I read Robert's report, not knowing either Robert or his friend; I've had to fight back tears as I encountered Profundity through Robert, who I only knew existed since this morning after reading his comment. And once more, though I don't know Robert's friend, I am convinced that his suffering could never be denoted; not even by himself. Our sufferings and our joys are encountered in the connotations- the overtones that make each of us sound so unique to each other.

In developing together, our sense of what it is to be religious then, we have to be committed to making a place for the Poetic: the Profundity accessible to human intelligence by way of Grace-instead of by ways which can be rendered by dogma, or any other attempt to reduce being human, to formulas that can only denote.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Getting Faith Right. Part One.

"I'm a Scientist! I don't rely on despair; I rely on knowledge!" - Does this sentence make any sense to you? Why not? It's because despair is a state of being; it's not about epistemology. Who would ever think about despair as a method for knowing? Yet the common "battle cry" of those who consider themselves hard minded is, "I'm a scientist! I don't rely on faith; I rely on knowledge! Faith, like despair, is a state of being. Again- how can a being state be considered a method for knowing?

Being states are complex and large; they involve mood and attitude and memory and experience and methods of knowing- like reason. Being states will condition our knowing, but they are not the methods themselves. Faith as such a complexity, is not specific to religion. And for that matter, is not specific to literature, economics, professional sports or even science. Faith is specific to any being who has an I-self, subject-object, past-future level of consciousness: in other words, faith is specific to human being, who on the basis of evolved biology, neo-cortex's and the like, act from a real capacity to be subjective. Compare this to the Canada goose; how much thought does a Canada goose put into being a Canada goose? How about you? Has your life been characterized by such biological automation? If you didn't believe in science, would you be a scientist? Or do you consider your act of becoming a scientist something as automatic as a Canada goose existing as a Canada goose?

You're comfortable with the concept believe, as in "I believe in the scientific method"; you can think of faith as a noun form of the verb form, believe. "I believe" is synonymous with the structure, "I have faith." "I have faith in the scientific method"; or on a bad day, you might say, "I despair of the scientific method."

Faith is a complex idea and warrants another viewing angle.

It's the time of Boltzmann and Darwin. The Niagara Falls were a summer vacation mecca where tight-rope walkers would stretch wires across chasms, and at 4:oo p.m., would perform their amazing feats of balance for tourists who would congregate along the fall's edges and watch a thrilling show (historically true). Imagine then, an acrobat having wowed the crowds on his wire, came shore side, grabbed a wheel barrow from his pile of props, rolled it up to you and asked, "do you believe that I can roll this across the falls without falling?" You reply "why yes fine sir! I do declare that you are the finest tight rope acrobat in all the world!" He says, "well then- hop in."

The acrobat could have also asked his question to you this way: "do you have the faith that I can roll"...and you would be faced with the same situation of having to decide how much faith you're willing to enter into, for the sake of a wheel barrow ride.

Faith can't make anything true or false, real or unreal. Kierkegaard talked about his leap of faith as a leap from a cliff into the abyss. The abyss is Mystery. And having known all the things around him that he could see, Kierkegaard was convinced that Life existed not in the constructs around him, but in the Abyss- and leaped for it. He saw his wheel barrow in Mystery.

Now- knowing how and where to find a wheel barrow is a different kind of question.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Fidelity and Nuclear Fear

I've never "known more" in my life than I did when I was in my early twenties and an evangelical, non-denominational, non-religious, unadulterated Christian. Luckily, how ever it came about, I strove to always be willing to let God be God; which caused me to learn that God doesn't always show up like "God". Which brings me to the point of this post: Fidelity. I didn't grow up churched. My attraction to Christ was something organic; his life gave form to my own felt experience of what life is all about. In college, I found the evangelical expression suiting my sense of fidelity and jumped in.

Let me just say something for the moment: we consider nuclear energy to be the most potent; and the nuclear bomb to be the most destructive. I would argue that even more powerful is Human Being. And one of the more powerful forces, even nuclear in nature is fidelity: as a "strong force" it's involved in the holding together of all the particular aspects that make up the "selves" we feel ourselves to be. So when we encounter something that looks to threaten our fidelity, the threat involves a loosening of a "something", that feels crucial to the holding our "nucleus" intact; and knowing what chain of events a disintegrating nucleus can begin, we work to ward off such triggering threats.

That said- as I got into my thirties, this is one thing I learned: The Christianity in which I trafficked valued fidelity with "God" and summed all the problems of the world, up to a lack of fidelity to "the truth". What they failed to realize however, was that they didn't have a corner on "truth" nor did they hold it on fidelity. I found plenty of non-Christian people who with "all their heart minds and souls" were seeking not just "the truth", but more importantly, a human presence in this world that could be called truly generative. Ironically, people who weren't part of Christianity, were acting in the way of Christ more than Christians themselves, who for the most part, were only interested in "treading water" while living in "this crappy place" until they could get to the "good place"- Heaven. I didn't see Christ in this Christianity: however, the fidelity that Christ exhibited, was the fidelity to which I aspired.

In the context of my experience in religion, I have raised the issue of fidelity and involved it metaphorically with the strong nuclear force. But the metaphor extends to other contexts- even science. I think the physicist, Peter Morgan wrote well about our difficulty of fidelity under the last post, and I'd like to quote a paragraph here:

"With the increased complexity of our varied allegiances, it is difficult to be part of different groups. The commitments required in some churches are surely incompatible with the commitments required in some Physics departments. If one has a passion for a number of things, finding mutually compatible groups in which to exercise all of them fully may be very difficult. It may require moving to a different country to find a place where varied ideas can be pursued together in ways that are more-or-less compatible."

What I see through Christ's insights, is that fidelity entails fidelity to Life more than fidelity to forms; and that the essence of "idolatry" is adhering to a form instead of Life: even if the form goes by the name of Christianity. I wonder- how much of our incompatibility stems from our fidelity to forms over and above fidelity to life?

If we are to remodel what it is to be religious, it must be a place where all inquiry is supported, and Trueness is prized more than "the truth" as we seek to understand our lives of being human in this Life.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

My inclination, has been to repel a religious sense of things; it's just felt too "religiony" for my taste. And yet, I have an experience with Life that I'm comfortable putting in a context of God, and I'm drawn intimately to Jesus' historical life. So a lot of my thinking over the last few years, was carried out under this idea: "If we could take Jesus' insights as well as other biblical insights, and remove them from a religious context, would they make even more sense?" For me, I saw "religion-icity" itself as a distorting factor: I recognized the elegance in life that can only emerge from complexity; I saw Jesus embodying that elegance; I saw so much of Christianity focused on maintaining a simplistic world view: Christianity made itself sure of a formula, but lost elegance.

But. It's not that easy. It turns out that we need context. Without some framework of some kind to give order to all the parts we encounter on a daily basis, we feel confused- if not lost.

I'm talking big-context here. We all belong to particular contexts in terms of families or professions or hobbies and the like. Still, we seek a framework that can give over-all context to our daily contexts. Science has fit a bill here. Because human life can be singly expressed in forms of the technological, Science is in a unique position to serve as big-context. Science isn't concerned with subjective experience and neither is the technological sense of life. In a "technological" world, business is something that centers on ideas of efficiency and machine metaphors; the idea that a business could be a place for us to create "soul" and meaningful lives feels new-age and soft to the "technocrat".

I think we're growing weary of life experienced so singly in the techno-consumer context, as well as recognizing that there's more to being human than meets the "scientific eye". There is something vitally important in our subjective experiencing that needs a proper voice again: a voice and place as credible as technology. To fit this bill, we need a concept as big as science and the only one that I can think of is the one of being religious: But we can't use it as is, we have to remodel it; our sense of being religious comes from developments that found their genesis in a whole other cosmology than what we know to exist today.

Over the next few posts, I'd like for us to develop this idea and see if we can find something useful.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Newton can get us to the moon, but can't make a world

Look around you, find something to focus on for a moment and come back to the page... when you did this, did you notice your eye balls? We usually don't. Notice the reading your doing right now, does the activity feel like its transpiring at your eye sockets or further back in your head? So let me ask you, we normally associate seeing with eyeballs, but in your experience, are you seeing with your eyes, or are you seeing by way of your thinking?

It was about fifteen years ago now when I came across a thinker whom I've grown fond of named James Hillman. Though rooted in the Jungian school of psychology, he's quite critical of his profession when ever it seeks to turn one's making of "psyche" -Greek for "soul"- into an administrative task rather than a living one. (No wonder I like him!) But anyway, I was reading him one evening and he said this: "we don't see with our eyes, we see with our ideas." Reading that line opened my eyes! "But wait a minute- your eyes were already opened. You can't read with your eyes closed!" I know- thats what I'm trying to get at. Hillman gave me a new idea about ideas and seeing; and I've looked at the world differently ever since!

Enter Newton- and why I'm writing under the matrix of complexity.

The ideas we see through, feel private to us. But in fact, they are part and parcel with the ideas that we develop publicly: we call this culture. And just as you didn't notice your eyeballs as you scanned about the room, you rarely notice the cultural ideas (your "eyes") as you make sense of the reality bubbling about us. In this case, I would offer that one of our foundational cultural ideas through which we expect reality to conform to, is the long held scientific idea that all things in the universe can explained by Newton's three laws of motion: the physics bound in the game of billiards- simple balls; simple bumps; simple geometry.

Scientists have been leaving the world of Newton for awhile as they recognize that the world is much more complex than a moon shot- even at the cellular level and below. In fact a growing branch of science refers to itself as the science of Complexity and was born from realizing things like the "butterfly effect", which point to patterns of cause and effect that can't be simply traced: it's a realization that reality is requiring us to see it differently.

The thing is, individuals are nimble, cultures are not. Changing our sense of culture based reality is hard work. But cultures aren't monoliths that happen as mountains do, they emerge from individuals -you and me and all of us- bunching up with ideas through which to see and make a world together.

Some fundamental questions we have to ask ourselves are, what is it that we want to see? what are we looking for? and what can we see? "We Are The World" is more than a title of a song to raise funds for places suffering destitution: it's a complex idea of human reality.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

My brief travelogue into complexity

By cultural standards you could say that I'm a weird man. Not in any creepy way- you'd think me quite congenial. "But there's a story arc; and that for anyone who's serious and adept, they should fit into it" you'd say, and wonder why I don't. Perhaps you'd think of me as a gad fly, a dilettante even, as you try to understand why such a congenial and decent fellow such as myself hasn't fulfilled the proper story of career and acquiring. Well, without feeling any offense from you- after all, culture is our invisible structure of reality, I would begin my answer to you, "it's complex..." and assure you that while I've been involved in different worlds of work, one thing that I have not been, is a dilettante.

Actually, I'm a serious man. At about the age of twenty, I came across a prayer offered by Solomon, who in a moment like finding a genie's lamp (but only getting one wish) didn't ask for wealth but instead asked for wisdom. For what ever reason, that prayer sucked me in. Totally. You see dilettantes don't seek wisdom, they flit from it. My moving from a work world to another didn't entail from flitting flights but from needing to raise my two sons as a single parent and making a world where I could not only tend to my job, but tend to them as well.

So with my one wish I asked for wisdom; thinking that like manna, it was going to simply rain down on me from heaven. Instead, what I got were questions and whiffs. Often times, the questions led me into intellectual thickets and bramble- deeper into the valley and away from the peaks; honest questions have a way of doing that. But what was so cool was that even in those times when the thickets tangle and the valley's shadow conspired to keep me in their grasp, there was always a whiff for me to catch, and following it led me into new clearings and new vistas. And, of course, we all know- that along with new vistas come new questions!

There isn't any one formula for wisdom to show up and I certainly haven't bottled it; it's only now that I can look back and see a pattern. If you were to ask me where I was going even five years ago I wouldn't have been able to say. Outwardly I would stammer off some ideas, but inwardly I was saying clearly, "I don't know, but I'm following this scent and somehow I trust it."

Following those whiffs led me into worlds; and worlds are comprised of their minds and their culture. This means that in my lifetime, I've thought in the minds of art, theology, engineering, sales and marketing, psychology, spirituality, and in the large categories of mind: Dad, Business, Science and Religion. My prayer for wisdom led me into a bunch of minds other than my own native one. As a young artist, I considered science and business as containers for people who were too flaccid for the creative venture: Having lived in these minds, I realized first hand how utterly creative these "foreigners" really are.

Here's the take away I want you to have from this brief travelogue of my aspiration for wisdom: Human Being is in its very essence, a complexity- an amazing, confusing amalgamation of needs and expressions that are physical and spiritual; we have a need to be uniquely individual as well as to easily fit in; we want a place to be strong and effective and a place to be weak and recuperate. As difficult as it may be, to be endowed with all this complexity that is the Human life, we have to fight our tendency to reduce our living to a formula; whether those formulas come from economics, science or even religion.

We've been living through a time of formulas. But life is deliciously complex. Our time, is calling us into wisdom.