Archive for February, 2014

Fooled By Appearance

February 23, 2014
What is behind the mask is always more important.

What is behind the mask is always more important.

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but it is God’s power to us who are being saved. (1 Corinthians 1:18 HCSB)

So what is real wisdom? Paul claims there is a contrast between the truth of the cross what the religious and logicians think. Where is the line drawn and why? What makes heaven’s wisdom so different from the conventional earth-bound variety? And, anyway, didn’t God make it all, so what’s the fuss?

This will be my key verse for the next while. Studying Ecclesiastes set me on a path for about a year to deconstruct reality and reassemble it into a Christ-centered truth. Since 1 Corinthians 1 & 2 speaks directly to this point I want to focus on the book to see how Paul expands on it. He spends nearly 2 chapters dealing with the contrast between human wisdom and God’s. I need to refocus my own heart on heaven’s wisdom because while I see the contrast and understand the difference, my understanding of Jesus took a beating. I recognize in myself many preconceptions born of unsubstantiated or supported traditions lurking in the corners of my psyche which needed to be brought out into the light and put into perspective.
I’m sure many people would be scared for me. Admitting to doubt and frustration with the gospel’s wisdom seems to be blasphemy in certain circles of Christian thought. To me, however, doubt is the beginning of searching for truth and wisdom. Before we can turn to Christ as the Light we have to doubt our own understanding of what we believe to be light. Far too often that which we believe illuminates our path turns out to be darkness reflecting enough light to fool us, disguising the dangers. Quite frankly I don’t doubt the gospels or scripture just some of our interpretations of it.
Too often I have been fooled by the polished arguments of those in authority with a seemingly endless knowledge of truth. What I found behind the stage, pulpit, books, memorized scripture and authoritative stance made me doubt their conclusions because they didn’t practice the very things they preached so hard. I’m not cynical merely aware that if an ethic or teaching is not practicable to those who preach it, there’s either something wrong with them or their understanding of the teaching.
Since I believe no one on earth is infallible or complete in their grasp of God, the natural thing to do for me is to hesitate to swallow what anyone wants to feed me without first examining it. I also don’t doubt an ethic just because those who teach it are hypocritical (the Greek word for an actor is hypocrite) about practicing it only in the public eye. I know my own struggles with righteousness due to my sinful nature and therefore also refuse to condemn anyone who finds it difficult to practice it.
But I believe there is light for those who want it while also recognizing our inability to handle or understand what we see. I can’t remember where I read this next thought, but I believe it came from C. S. Lewis: A person who has lived all their lives in the dark caves and confusing tunnels underground will not be able to handle or grasp the light in its fullness when they finally find the way to the surface. Our eyes grow accustomed to the light as we walk toward it yet still the full force of the sun will take some getting used to before one can live on the surface under the open sky. Sadly, because of the brilliance and power of the light from the sun (Son) most of us will remain in the cave to varying degrees–the mouth of it where there is shade; back a few feet so all we get is a glimpse of what is available; or as far back as we can and still see a speck of light.
So there are some issues and preconceptions I want to address in the coming study within myself and the world around me. By no means do I intend or ever even declare that I’m outside the cave and living fully in the light. I wouldn’t really know how to measure where I am positionally and refuse to waste my time attempting to know what only God could reveal. What I can tell you is I see a light in front of me and I am continuing to walk, stumble, crawl, or run as I have energy, but in no way do I think I’ve reached the mouth of my cave. And since I know human nature pretty well by now, I doubt anyone reading this has reached it either. I expect some to be further ahead in their journey, some just a few feet in front, some even with me, and others behind. Whatever! Hopefully, my journey will help someone in the process. Let’s see if we can step a little closer to the light of heaven together.

Destiny Looks A Lot Like…

February 11, 2014

Knowing truth is one thing; understanding it is something else completely.

Let me expand on that statement a bit.

From the perspective of the gospel I know I am a sinner saved by grace right? I have past sins which destroyed relationships, hurt my forward movement, affect the now, and might affect the future. Just because this is true does not mean I cannot move in the direction I choose or continue to pursue life, love and happiness. Wisdom declares time and consideration a person’s friend.

A person who advises anyone from a fear of failure, a critical spirit, condescension, or some form of repressive behavior will hold a slant on life which cannot be completely trusted. This doesn’t mean we can’t listen to their advice or mine nuggets of experiential wisdom from what they say. For if we pay attention, discernment will guide us to take in what is helpful and reject what is harmful. Wisdom looks not only at the losses which might occur from a choice but also weighs the benefits and assesses the risks of success.

On the other hand, focusing on the positive truth to the exclusion of the negative truth is a mistake. We cannot grow if we refuse to deal with how our mistakes and failures affect us or what we can learn from them. Some people who want us only to look at our successes when telling our story; but a life is also defined by loss and failure in many ways because what we do in response to those two things defines who we are and will become.

In other words, our “destiny” looks a lot like the potential held in our personalities, abilities and goals. Now if we choose to include Christ into that mix, then we add onto our “destiny” constant refinement to the aforementioned characteristics. The more I know about the “who” of me the better decisions I will make spiritually, physically, socially and in every other way I relate to the world. Yet knowledge in and of itself without wisdom lacks the ability to squeeze the potential out of these raw “talents”.

A perspective which conforms to reality also recognizes the variables in life and the opportunities vary for everyone depending on their environment, culture, education, family dynamic and personality. Solomon deals with this concept beautifully:

Again I saw under the sun that the race is not to the swift, or the battle to the strong, or bread to the wise, or riches to the discerning, or favor to the skillful; rather, time and chance happen to all of them. For man certainly does not know his time: like fish caught in a cruel net or like birds caught in a trap, so people are trapped in an evil time as it suddenly falls on them. (Ecclesiastes 9:11, 12 HCSB)

So we see his teaching about doing our best with all our might and investment is tempered with a reality on the other side of his argument for industry and happiness.

Look at what the editor/commentators say about Solomon:

In addition to the Teacher being a wise man, he constantly taught the people knowledge; he weighed, explored, and arranged many proverbs. The Teacher sought to find delightful sayings and write words of truth accurately. (Ecclesiastes 12:9, 10 HCSB)

He searched out wisdom not only for the pleasure of it but also without regard to the source. If you read the beginning in the book of Proverbs, you’ll see Solomon’s approach was collecting from many different sources not just his own religion. Now read his story to see what happened to him in the final tally. It wasn’t his search of wisdom which sidetracked him. Knowledge alone did no good. Some theologians have taken Ecclesiastes to be his swan song or evidence of repentance. I’m not going to argue for or against that conclusion because I find of a lack of evidence either way too problematic to conclude anything about him. What I will say is that nothing is guaranteed.

Solomon held the highest position a person can have yet squandered it for the purpose of treaties in the form of wives from other nations and cultural diversity within his own uniquely fixed part of the world. The compromises he made to accommodate his foreign wives by building temples and shrines for them in which to worship stole his heart away from the very God who blessed him with such a position in the first place. His ecumenical stance wasn’t necessarily wrong as a diplomacy method but it was for the unique place he inhabited as God’s ambassador in the world.

We all compromise to one degree or another with the world around us–it’s not only how we continue to function but a must for navigating the confusion we call “life”. There are, however, a few compromises none of us can afford. One is what Solomon got caught up in–not only allowing for & tolerating other religions in the world around him but letting them build shrines and temples where only his faith belonged. And I’m not talking about just the physical buildings because eventually he began to take part in the ceremonies and rites of these other religions. His reasoning probably started out as research, then fascination, and ended with buying into them.

I’m open to America’s diversity, where every religion, creed, ethic and opinion should be respected and left alone. What I’m not open to is anything but the one I have chosen to rule my life being present in the inner sanctum of my heart. That said, I have compromised the vision for my life by allowing others to persuade me to theirs. Not that this is wrong if I find I want a version of what they offer, but it is if I know in my heart their vision or goals for me don’t fit who I am or what I want for my now or future.

For some time now I’ve realized I made decisions based on the fears and desires of those of my inner circle for my life which were wrong for my own goals. The end results have been devastating for I now have a big hole to dig out of without much help from those who influenced me. Don’t get me wrong, the decision to compromise was mine alone but when we attempt to put a square peg into round hole by clipping the corners it still leaves gaps. The gaps are glaringly apparent so that even those who helped us “round off” the edges of our square look helplessly on the mess with chagrin. That is, of course, unless the round hole is big enough to accommodate the square’s corners, then clipping isn’t necessary but the gaps remain.

To be fair it goes the other way as well. A circle might fit into a square more comfortably than the other way around but there will always be gaps.
In Solomon’s case it wasn’t even a question of fitting in but a full blown apostasy on his part. Taking the very blessing God gave him he used it to extract God from his life. He reformed his allegiance to include other gods and paid the price. This book might be his way of saying “don’t do what I did” but none of the records which speak of his life say he turned back to God. Solomon squandered his calling in favor of the temporary and paid the price.

After years of searching out what it means to have a “calling” as Christian I’ve come to the conclusion the mystery is all man made. What we term as a “calling” caries connotations of specific personal or career choices we must make and if we don’t make them, we have failed God. Which, in the end, just becomes another way to sin and feel defeated. Instead of thinking of a career or personal map the writers of the Bible put our calling in the form of an ethic for life.

Yes Paul makes a distinction by saying some are called to be apostles, teachers, pastors, etc., but these weren’t career choices rather he saw them as gifts with which to serve others. Not all the apostles were missionaries like him, in fact some rarely travelled at all. Not all the teachers were paid staff or supported by the church; not all of the elders were pastors. We serve a function within the place we find ourselves not as a career but it must grow out of who we are.

I am a musician. I love touring, traveling, playing and singing live, the whole recording process and I could go on. I don’t like dealing with paper work or office management stuff. I’m pretty good at the big picture and methods by which the day to day stuff can be done efficiently yet not the one to accomplish it with the same efficiency. Artists in general, by nature, are distracted people. They live in a world of ideas, ideals, pictures, language, thought and reaction to the immediate and grande world around them.

I’ve listened to the more organized people in my world tell me how to get the chaos of my filing system under control. I’m now laughing–not in derision but sympathy for them. Telling someone like me to be organized like an accountant or office manager is like telling an office manager or said accountant to write a song or paint a picture like the improve artist. Sure there are overlaps but this isn’t the time to discuss them. We are speaking of contrasting reality here not just what is possible for these poler opposites. There will always be combinations of traits just as there will always be a myriad of ways to live. What I’m saying is we wouldn’t have an Einstein if he weren’t distracted by math and obsessed with the abstract. The guy sometimes went out of the house without pants but that’s part of his charm not a detriment to his intelligence.

What all this comes down to is value. Utilitarian thinking is healthy only in so far as it applies to the purpose of an object, project or person in a job situation. When it begins to be the sole reason we do or value anything and anyone its own purpose gets thwarted and perverted. An artist who can’t be bothered to tie his or her shoes but creates incredibly beautiful art of one kind or another gives humanity part of its characteristic diversity. I would also say part of the charm of humanity’s collective personality grows out of the quirks, idiosyncrasies, perceived weaknesses, not just its gifts or functions.

The next time you look at a tree think of it in a collective form–as a bio-mechanical machine first, then as a beautiful work of art. See the grass as a safeguard against erosion as well as a waving sea of green beneath which life happens as much as it does above. Solomon’s perspective in Ecclesiastes isn’t negative but an acknowledgement of both sides. In theology understanding a book takes seeing it from the perspective of the author (if that info is available), the era or time it was written, and who the audience is expected to be. The other factor theologians look for is repetitious phrases or words. Once we understand the context within these parameters we can begin interpreting the actual message.

The most repeated phrase besides everything is futile is a variation of I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and enjoy the good life. (Ecclesiastes 3:12 HCSB). While I haven’t counted the times he says this, I do know he says it quite a bit. Recognizing that we can expect bad stuff to happen prepares us to deal with whatever comes, right? Taking the time to enjoy life come what may in whatever way we can makes more sense when we know it is made up of both.

Our happiness, in other words, should never be dependent on the times we live in, the family or community we find ourselves born into, or the specific situation we face at any given time. We can still smell the flowers in our sadness, still love the people we value and definitely give whatever we find to do everything we have in us.

The Teacher

February 7, 2014
I built this door which leads into a recording studio.  To enter here means one is destined to enter the building.

 I built this door which leads into a recording studio. To enter here means one is destined to enter the building.

In addition to the Teacher being a wise man, he constantly taught the people knowledge; he weighed, explored, and arranged many proverbs. The Teacher sought to find delightful sayings and write words of truth accurately. The sayings of the wise are like goads, and those from masters of collections are like firmly embedded nails. The sayings are given by one Shepherd. But beyond these, my son, be warned: there is no end to the making of many books, and much study wearies the body. (Ecclesiastes 12:9-12 HCSB)

Knowing truth is one thing; understanding it is something else completely.

The first time I read Ecclesiastes I felt I had finally arrived home intellectually. I can’t explain it any other way because up until then my logic followed whatever my church defined as truth. Solomon however points to a reality which happens, not just what is hoped for in some distant future. It seemed to me that he sounded determined not to sugarcoat reality. I really needed this mechanism to cope with my own life at the time–and since.

At first I objected to the word “futility”, which in the King James is translated “vanity” and in another earlier version, “meaningless”. As a Christian the mere suggestion Solomon might be speaking truth left me confused and not a little anxious to explain it away. Thank God for wise friends and family, they gave me insight enough to get me through my own crisis of faith later on. The gist of this wisdom being: our Bible gives progressive revelations in place of just simply spelling out everything from the beginning. Now that Christ has come we know our present and future regain their value, although much of what we think is valuable will burn. So the believer in Solomon’s era saw death as the end of all their efforts which made these futile or meaningless in the grand scheme. The believer in Christ receives a promise that everything we do in the now affects the rewards in the future, yes, but also creates the atmosphere of heaven on earth.

Of course, our hope doesn’t mean or equal comfortable houses with secure incomes because no one in the early church even considered that part of the promise. Only through our modern interpretation where greed disguised as righteous claim on the promises of blessing and covetousness disguised as desiring all God has for us do we come to the conclusion God will give us that kind of comfort this side of glorification. If all the apostles save one died a martyr’s death while proclaiming the rewards of living for God, then our conclusion must include their end. When Paul speaks of having everything we need for life and godliness, he’s not talking about wealth. For if he was speaking of the American dream, 2 Corinthians 11 wouldn’t declare his trials as well as blessings.

Being able to look at that which sucks rotten lemons or celebrate the beauty around me and just identify it as such helps a great deal. I have fallen in love with truth–no matter the source. The caveat of my love for truth is that I don’t always know what that truth means or how to connect the dots (the various truths which exist). I see so much which leaves me confused, stressed out and generally lost to any kind of gasp on the purpose of much of what I see that I confess to letting go of worrying about stuff I can’t explain or solve.

Solomon helped me sort out a lot of the unknowns as well as the unknowable from the arena of reason. And I don’t use the word “reason” to signify the why of things or to point to definitive answers or anything but the method by which we arrive at our conclusions. Most of us have never even discovered the information in front of us, whether from lack of attention or being too preoccupied, in order sort fact from fiction to get at the truth. Nor do I believe humanity has the wisdom to discern the purpose or meaning behind most of the truths we think we have figured out to date.