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Friday, February 3, 2017

Week 3: Pirouette, Day 16: Know, Know, Know

Week 3: Pirouette
Day 16: Know, Know, Know
Word for Mind Day: "Epistemology"
n. The study of knowledge, or a particular theory of knowledge.

"I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. I applied my mind to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under the heavens. What a heavy burden God has laid on mankind! I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind. What is crooked cannot be straightened; what is lacking cannot be counted. I said to myself, “Look, I have increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me; I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge.” Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind. For with much wisdom comes much sorrow;
the more knowledge, the more grief."
- Ecclesiastes 1:12-18
This is the third time I've sat down to type this post. Towards the end of my second draft the internet hung and would not save my entry. Reboot back to 1st draft. Meaningless. A chasing after the wind. I guess it's fitting though. I am writing about the way in which our grasp of truth is fleeting in the Information Age. We get Truth, version 2.0, and just as we get comfortable with it, there is a radical upgrade with multiple essential bug fixes and Truth 1.0 becomes obsolete. The information age has thrown these conceptual revolutions at us with such speed and frequency that if you are paying attention at all, you are bound to be skeptical of almost any new content. We have a sense that the news we get is being mediated by market forces, selling us some agenda, elevating some hidden sponsor's bottom line. My generation might be more comfortable with the label "misinformation age." Truth and authenticity are the rare exception. Sales is the norm.
The style in which we get our "truth" is also different these days. Cars and home goods are sold with Jungian archetypes and identity marketing rather than schematics or descriptions of product features. Advertisements will tell you more about how you will feel or who you will be after a purchase than what the merchandise actually does. Votes for public office correlate to media airtime, or are cast for aesthetic preferences of communication style rather than for viable political platforms or a clearly communicated social vision. Our dietary decisions are marketed as consumable lifestyle identities. We are packaged and branded by the marketers just as the products they hawk to us. They box us by flavor of our demographic, useful to them only as a consumable promise of transaction. If everything is a commodity, then truth is a commodity. Discernment is dead. We bow to our appetites and find our direction by following our erections. If the crassness of that assessment offends you, mission accomplished. We need a wake up call. Maybe that's why zombies are so popular in our media these days. We know we are thoughtless consumers hungry for something more genuinely human, and we are on the roam for some brains. When we find them, we chew them up and move on.
It's not just desire and commerce that blind us or, conversely, make us skeptical of truth claims. Truth has been struggling for a while. Philosophically there are at many factors that have crippled our sense of confidence in our capacity for knowledge. One is the way in which contextualization, recorded history, and globalization have made us aware of patterns of power in steering paradigms of knowledge. We can look back on history and see that the predominant beliefs of any given period were primarily shaped by the agenda of those with the greatest power and influence. In a culture in which the most educated tend to hold positions of greatest power, the philosophies that are taught at the highest level of the academy trickle down into public life. So while you may not have read, or even heard of Baudrillard, Derrida, Foucault, or Lyotard, somebody with influence in your life, whether the owner of your company, or the minds behind the media you consume, most certainly have. You are getting a postmodern worldview through the water. These philosophers were influenced by Heidegger, Husserl, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Wittgenstein... whom you are more likely to have heard of because they wrote over a century ago. The point is that philosophy trickles down and shapes our culture, and taken together, the culture of thinking that postmodern philosophy has created is generally skeptical, and primarily skeptical towards truth-claims that are made from a position of power.
When the Church held the power, its traditions and scriptures dictated the quest for truth. As its power was destabilized internally by the reformation, serious critiques of authority persisted, raising important questions about who gets to speak for God, the role of Scripture and tradition, and the place of hierarchies of leadership in deciding what is acceptable to believe. At the same historical moment, political and economic developments teamed with Rationalist philosophy, Empiricism, and Enlightenment ideas of scientific discovery to compete to fill the power vacuum with new paradigms for knowledge. The Protestant reformers' challenge to the power structures was distinctly more democratic than preceding alternatives, with its affirmation of direct access to truth for both the poor and the uninitiated. This cultural shift away from philosopher kings and priests as a kind of gatekeeper to ultimate truth to the rational individual as the locus of inquiry played a significant role in shaping the way in which knowledge was considered from that point forward.
Once knowledge was separated from a central authoritarian voice, new questions of epistemology had to be asked. After all, if knowledge is not something handed down by power, if it can only first be found in rational individuals, how can we know if they really know what they claim to know? Is sense perception reliable? Can we trust our experiments? Are the traditional rules of logic airtight? The epistemologies that have resulted have made us more aware of the limits of our knowledge.
The first of these theories of how we know has a long history, and often is attributed to Rene Descartes. It is called "Foundationalism". Have you ever heard the story of Descartes sitting by a stove questioning everything he believed until he could arrive at some unquestionable basic knowledge of truth on which he could rebuild? This is apparently what people did before Netflix. Descartes whittled away at his knowledge until he arrived at what he considered the foundational, self-evident thought, "Cogito Ergo Sum." "I think, therefore I am." Foundationalism seeks to build knowledge off of a referential point that does not need to be justified; a kind of raw knowledge. Critics have shown that these assumptions can also be challenged, and that they ignore the real possibility of deception and illusion in our fundamental perceptions of who we are and how our minds work.
A second popular epistemology is called "Coherentism", and it, like Foundationalism, is dependent on the discernment of a rational chain of beliefs which support each other. Where Foundationalism would seek to build from base "self-evident" justified beliefs upwards, Coherentism focuses on a web of relationships within knowledge. Within this theory, If our beliefs hang together without unresolved conflict or cognitive dissonance, they are more likely to be true. Coherentism assumes that a unified true reality exists with shared laws, and that thus, untrue beliefs within such a reality will not fit well with true beliefs. Justification of our beliefs then, is dependent upon their relationship to other true beliefs. Critics of Coherentism have pointed out that authors and filmmakers can create very coherent imaginary realities that in no way coincide with the world we actually live in. Coherentism doesn't have a way to prove that a harmonious network of beliefs necessarily attaches to true truth or real reality. You can have a coherent system that isn't true outside of its own self reference, so Coherentism can amount to circular reasoning.
Reliabilism is different from Foundationalism and Coherentism in that it does not base its method of justification on a chain of related beliefs deduced from each other, but focuses on the means by which a belief is received. Justification for belief is based on whether a method of inquiry reliably yields true beliefs. So if perception is reliable, beliefs based on perception are true. If reason is reliable, beliefs based on good use of reason are true, and so on. The problem is, all means of arriving at belief can be questioned, and Reliabilism tends to end up being a new form of foundationalism, just looking for some method to replace our former conceptions of "self-evident" beliefs.
"Infinitism" is a theory of knowledge that steps away a bit from the belief in a kind of hard and fast certitude that Foundationalism, Coherentism, and Reliabilism hoped for. Infinitism asserts that total certitude would require infinite knowledge, and thus our justification of beliefs must always be a matter of degree, and never a conclusive, total knowledge. That said, to whichever degree we can approach this infinite degree of knowledge by justifying our stages of justification, to that degree we can consider our knowledge justified. Confused yet? Let me say that another way: If you can offer a proof for the reliability of your method of proof, then you can have more confidence that your beliefs are justified. But Infinitism gives up hope for total confidence from the get go.
That's pretty much it. These are the primary epistemologies that get their day in court in the academy these days. This is an oversimplification of course, but generally I could say that nobody is totally confident that their knowledge is certain. Think of what this implies for the rest of our studies and sciences. We aren't sure that we know what we know. Now, clearly, there are theories that yield tangible results in the real world... our best science has yielded real, working technological advances, for example. But there was a time when this "progress" was more trusted as a viable way into a bright bold future. We have seen amazing medical advances and the ways in which our communications and transportation and food production and distribution have benefitted from scientific momentum are nothing short of astounding. But instead of peace and general flourishing of humanity that we naively expected from the age of technology and progress, we have effectively endangered the planet, isolated from each other, and killed more people in war than in the previous centuries combined. 60 million of those casualties in one war alone. This is part of the reason that science, Modernity, and Enlightenment era reason have joined the pile of grand narratives which prompt the skepticism of the philosophers. Add to this the market-driven nature of most contemporary scientific enterprise, and our current sense of "Knowledge" becomes just another power-driven story told by our Masters.
So why is any of this relevant for a devotional? Well, first because questions of knowledge and questions of faith are inextricable, and secondly because our overconfidence and imposition of our beliefs as Christians has just not won us any friends or even given us a way in which to dialogue with the social world we actually occupy. I'm not saying to replace your certainty with doubt, to throw off your assurance of salvation or to slip into agnostic oblivion. But I would suggest that we may have to begin to separate out what is genuinely Christian from what is actually just the straggling cultural leftovers of the values of the Enlightenment. Strict confidence has already proved false for the rest of the world, all the way down to something as straight forward as our observation of subatomic particles. We know that we can't even observe quantum particles without impacting their charge. (See the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle). We are newly aware of our own limitations as observers, and the ways in which the very act of observation will necessarily change what it is that we perceive.
So what are the values of the Enlightenment that we have imposed upon our life with God? First, we have believed that our beliefs are the most essential aspect of our spiritual experience. We emphasize the conversion of the mind over all other dimensions of our relationship to God and others. We are comfortable saying "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved," but uncomfortable with "Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes or Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven," or "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God." We refer to each other as "believers" or "unbelievers" as if these are the central aspects of Christian identity, while we greatly neglect teachings that were far more essential for Jesus: love of enemy, service to the poor and powerless, We spend our energies on apologetics and proofs, and assume that when Peter said, "Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that that is in you," he was talking about the Kalam Cosmological Argument or the Ontological Argument or some such apologetic manœuvre. I don't know anybody whose hope rests on those mental gymnastics. Our hope is far more experiential than that, and Jesus calls us into a lived out kingdom, not one of lip service. The kingdom of God is about power, not about words. "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father," says Jesus. We have emphasized knowing about God with a kind of intellectual assent, but not knowing God in such a way that we can respond to His desires. Because of this, we are busy trying to prove to people the kinds of things that they would see and feel and know more authentically if we would just give our attention to doing the Christian life rather than marketing it and trying to change minds with arguments.
Ultimately, the philosophers are showing us, there really isn't anybody with that sure of a grip on truth anyway. We find ourselves not being God after all, and I don't think that should really surprise us. We can more humbly work together with those around us to bring what is good, and beautiful, and yes, what is true, but we don't have to control it. We can live with open hearts and open hands and even open minds and still be true to Jesus.

Week 3: Pirouette, Day 15: You Spin Me Right Round

Week 3: Pirouette
Day 15: You Spin Me Right Round

Word for Voice Day: "Compunction": n. A feeling of uneasiness caused by remorse.

"Levi gave a large dinner at his home for Jesus. Everybody was there, tax men and other disreputable characters as guests at the dinner. The Pharisees and their religion scholars came to his disciples greatly offended. “What is he doing eating and drinking with crooks and ‘sinners’?”
Jesus heard about it and spoke up, “Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? I’m here inviting outsiders, not insiders—an invitation to a changed life, changed inside and out.” - Luke 5:29-32

This week I want to talk about what it means to change direction, to turn around or choose a different course. Traditionally, we call this "repentance". It's a good word, but it's also pretty loaded. It's a heavy word, and for me, a word that carries some encumbrance from misuse. We've all heard "turn or burn" kinds of preachers trying to play town sheriff, pointing out the sins of others to condemn. They use the word "repent" like it is a threat. But real "repentance" is an organic thing that we all do. We change our minds. We are persuaded. We decide that something we are doing isn't the best way to do it, so we try something else.

Both John the Baptist and Jesus said "Repent, for the Kingdom of God is near". If you can, try to flush that of all the fiery arrogance that's been attached to it in our modern church cultures. What does this mean if it isn't a bludgeon for the moral order? Jesus picked up this campaign slogan from John after John was arrested. Matthew 4 contextualizes this by prefacing it with a reference to Isaiah's prophecy that "People sitting out their lives in the dark saw a huge light; Sitting in that dark, dark country of death, they watched the sun come up." As soon as Jesus begins to call for repentance, the first stories we get are of the quick manner in which he convinced Simon, Andrew, James and John to change their vocations from fishing to human engagement. These are followed by stories of people hearing that God was establishing a new government, and subsequently being healed of physical, mental, and emotional problems. This repentance is looking like the kind of change we all want, a turn from pointlessness, difficulty, the rat race, suffering, and problems to a life of purpose and wholeness. Sign me up for that kind of "repentance".

Turning from the "dark country of death" towards the rising sun is not some solemn exercise of self-lashing asceticism. It's not even primarily a turning from, so much as a turning towards. While guilt might turn your head, it won't turn your body. Fear or duty might get you to run out of some ominous door, but they won't get you home. The kind of repentance we see in the Galillee fishing crew wasn't them leaving something bad, it was them walking towards something greater. I'm calling it a "pirouette". There's a bit of joy and pep in this thing! There's a twirl towards a beautiful dance partner.

Remorse is real. Don't get me wrong. There's stuff to regret. I have plenty of regrets. I can stand in front of a mirror and look at just about every part of my body and think of particular regrets to associate with each portion of my anatomy. This mouth spoke those hateful words, stayed shut when it should have spoke, it ate and ate and ate after this belly was already full. These eyes feasted on the exploitation of another person, they judged, they closed to this or that injustice, they stared. These ears didn't contain the secret they heard, they invited the lie for too long, they didn't listen or pay attention. This finger pointed, it touched without permission, it picked the scab. This nose was in the air. These hands that hit and gestured and took and clicked and touched and hid and built and destroyed and set ablaze and so much more. But what good is that mirror?

Jesus is the window into another way. He was that window for his disciples, for Paul, for the Early Fathers and sons and daughters. He was that for Ghandi and MLK Jr. He was that for me. God damn the mirror. It is the law. It produces nothing but death. God built it to show us the death that was in us, but he came to take it down too, because it goes beyond showing us and produces more death. He gave us a window instead. And a voice and a call. Come follow ME. Do you hear him? Do you hear him calling you to turn in a new, different direction? Don't be fooled by the enemy who will make you think that looking in the mirror is somehow turning away from yourself towards something new. But if you are looking in the mirror, use it to grow your hunger to look out the window. It's all it's good for.

Week 2: Submarine, Day 14: Power Transfer

Week 2: Submarine
Day 14: Power Transfer
Word for Ears Day:
"Investiture" n. the formal bestowal, confirmation, or presentation of rank, office, or a possessory or prescriptive right, usually involving the giving of insignia or an official title.

"You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.
Acts 10:37-38
"He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come."
2 Corinthians 1: 21-22
The social networks are likely to be awash this week with all the latest political vomit as the inauguration of President Trump transfers power from the left to the right, from one value system to another, from one regime to the next. Now, before you click away... this is NOT THAT POST. I'm as sick of it all as you are. We will keep talking about baptism. It's the last day of that theme for this week.
But.... Did you realize that baptism is politically radical? Baptism protests the power structure. Baptism is the outward display of God transferring power from the Ruler of this dark world to you. Baptism is your Inauguration Day! Baptism taps into a long Biblical tradition of royal ceremony. When a new king over Israel would be chosen, they would be anointed with oil as a sign of their appointment. The new king would stand there before his people for the first time with a soaking head. When religious people today talk about "anointing", they usually mean some kind of special spiritual gifting or equipping by God, but Biblically, the word "anoint" is used to speak of the investiture of kingly office. The link between traditional Hebrew anointing for royalty and the baptism of Jesus is very clear in the verse from Acts above. It's actually even more clear in the baptism story itself. The words of God affirming His son as the Spirit descends on Jesus are a quote from Psalm 2:7, a coronation psalm for the crowning of King David. The kingdom is shifting hands! There is a new inauguration! By combining the Genesis narrative (Doves and Water) and the anointing tradition, the gospels are showing that Jesus is both a new way to be human (a new Adam) and a new way to be royalty (a new David).
So what are we to make of this act of royal anointing then being distributed broadly to all the followers of Jesus? It's one thing for Jesus to be anointed as the new Messiah, the new Davidic King. At the time, that may have made some political sense. After all, the Herodian dynasty which had tried to promise a new era of Israelite nationhood was really stinking up the place and everybody was hoping for a new King to make it right. But when this Jesus's unique form of being anointed becomes the sign of all who would participate in His Kingdom, the implication is that he is sharing the role!
"Christening" is another word for the kind of anointing that was done to signify the chosen Hebrew King. "Christ" is not, therefore, Jesus's last name. His mom and dad weren't Mary and Joe Christ. "Christ" is a royal title. Jesus "the anointed". Jesus "the king". That's what we are saying when we say "Jesus Christ". And "Christian" means "little anointed." Or as Bob Eckblad has put it, "Annointling". In becoming both a new Adam and a new King David, God had redefined the scope of human authority, and in the process undermined all human pretension. Remember how Satan had tempted Jesus by showing him all the kingdoms of the world, saying, "All this is mine and I will give it to you if you just bow to me." Jesus, in perfect obedience to God, even to the point of self-sacrifice, had disarmed any authority Satan had, winning it all for himself. That wasn't mere spiritual authority, but the right to all earthly authority as well, whether it be political, organizational, familial, or otherwise. When Jesus then called all who followed him to be baptized, he was calling them into a new authority over themselves... not to Lord over others, but to have true autonomy and self-control and to be ambassadors of his Kingdom, spreading grace, truth and peace and this new found value of all humanity remade in the image of God. "All authority in Heaven and Earth have been given to me... therefore go and make disciples."
Think about the nuance here. Jesus is saying he has all cosmic and earthly authority, for which the Hebrew expectation would have been that he would then call on armies to go wipe out all the oppressive and evil forces in the world and expand the nation of Israel in the name of peace. Jesus doesn't call for the sword, though, and he speaks of a Kingdom that has no discernable borders or flag. It's a kingdom "within you". He recruits teachers. Rabbis. That's who makes disciples, after all. But go further and think of what kind of teachers he has called: Teachers who are sent with divine authority and identity as the anointed ones of God, speaking equally to kings and to prisoners, residents and foreigners (Matthew 10:16-20), but who don't see themselves as better than anybody else (Philippians 2:3) and aren't even supposed to think of themselves as teachers, or masters or Rabbis, or fathers, or mothers..."leaders".... but as equals with anybody they are sent to (Matthew 23:8-12, Galatians 3:28). And then there is this holy irony that while they reject these titles and positions for the sake of their one "Master", that master then tells them he doesn't think of them as servants, but as friends (John 15:15).
In light of the political agenda of Jesus, his broad distribution of power, and his elevation of his disciples to the status of "Christians" and Sons and Daughters of God, our fights and debates over politics and our fears over which earthly kingdom most approximates God's desires are not only laughable. They are idolatrous. The Kingdom of God will only be voted on within you. YOU have been inaugurated. What will you do with your term of office?

Week 2: Submarine, Day 13: Regular Showers

Week 2: Submarine
Day 13: Regular Showers
Word for Body Day:
"Emollient": adj. having the quality of softening or soothing the skin.

"After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God." 1Peter 3: 19-21
What an interesting picture Peter paints. The waters of judgment at the time of Noah were the waters of salvation for those in the ark. They buoyed the ark up above the threatening waves. But lest we miss the point and think that those who are saved are just the good guys in the boat, Peter points out that Jesus went on a kind of first stop post-resurrection mission trip to the imprisoned spirits of "those who were disobedient" and died in the flood. (see also Ephesians 4:8-9). So, Are the waters of baptism a promise that we will have a clear conscience toward God because we come out of them, like those aboard the ark in the deluge, in rare righteousness, or is it because these waters remind us that Jesus comes to give freedom to the majority, all of us who are justly incarcerated, spirits in bondage, drowned in our decisions? God reaches into the water and pulls out his drowned enemies, reviving them and calling them His friends. The pledge of the floodwaters is the reminder of a new creation that is coming. Peter is making it clear that this isn't just an external washing of the body, like a bath, but a total transformation, from death to life.
I don't know about you, but I don't really wake up until I take a shower. Over the years in various seasons of my life the shower has become a kind of prayer closet for me. Sometimes it was a kind of sensory reminder that God's great love and His compassions are "new every morning". With the sensation of the shower waters washing off the grime of sleep, I would think of God's grace giving me second, third, and thousandth chances, making me fresh again. But I don't think that quite gets at it. Peter says as much. God's work is more like a second Genesis than a legal transaction. This water is not cleaning, it is the water of birth. The pledge of a clear conscience toward God is being reborn, like new creation after the flood. I think the metaphor is important... Yes, there is the drama of guilt and pardon there, of being made clean, but this is a total renewal of identity, we are the image of the living God.
So now, in the shower I'm not thinking of these waters as cleansing, so much. I think of them as primordial waters. The waters of new creation. As I pray in the shower, I pray birth prayers, every day immersed. Every sleep a death. Every morning a rebirth from the waters. "You have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator..... Christ is all, and is in all." (Colossians 3:9-10) I am a son of God, and I'm new in him and he is new in me.
Action: One simple way that I have made some intentional sacred space of my shower from time to time is to take a clear plastic sleeve (like the kind that go in a three-ring binder) and stick it to the shower wall tiles with a little bit of moisture. The surface tension will usually hold it. They make suction cups with hooks if this doesn't work, or you can use strong double sided tape when the shower is dry. In that sleeve I rotate out various printed prayers or scriptures or question prompts for me to engage God with. My favorite of these activities has been to post the Lord's prayer in the shower, and to intentionally pray it line by line, putting each line into my own words and elaborating on it with God as I pray, like this:
Our Father......... "God, help me to understand what a good dad is by looking to you. Show me what it means that you are my Father, and remind me that I'm part of a family... it isn't all about me, that you are OUR Father...."
and on I go with wherever the Spirit leads that day.

Week 2: Submarine, Day 12: Throat Punch

Week 2: Submarine
Day 12: Throat Punch

A Word for Hands Day: 
"Hypervigilance" n. An enhanced state of sensory sensitivity accompanied by an exaggerated intensity of behaviors whose purpose is to detect threats.

“Shall I tell you the secret of the whole world? It is that we have only known the back of the world. We see everything from behind, and it looks brutal. That is not a tree, but the back of a tree. That is not a cloud, but the back of a cloud. Cannot you see that everything is stooping and hiding a face? If we could only get round in front--”
― G.K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.” -Hebrews 12:28-29

Dates and numbers don't do much for me. I have to come up with complicated mnemonic devices to remember my own kids' birthdays. My car has a keyless entry and I have to look at a note on my phone to remember what the number is. I even have to look up my own phone number in order to give it to people. While math comes fairly easy to me, my memory for particular numbers is nil. But there's one number that I'll never forget: 1-12-2010. And the time: 4:53. Every time I really SEE that date my eyes well up. That anniversary has more significance to me than my wedding day, the days my kids were born, our adoption "Gotcha" dates, the anniversaries of my brother's death, or my dad's death, because all the lives I have cherished and my memories of them were on the verge of casualty that day, all at once. So many lost their own beloved people.

On these Thursdays that I talk about service, the earthquake in Haiti is never far from my mind. For those of us who were there, I don't think it ever really can be. The strangest sights and sensations can prompt a recollection. When I see a sturdy table and think about how good it would be for crawling under before I think of what it would be like to sit at it for a shared meal. When I feel the wobble of a parking garage floor, or when bath water surges in displacement. There are those physiological triggers. There are also the moments when memories come back. Every time I see the brother of the man who used to bag my groceries at Caribbean Market. I see that lost face in this younger one who is doing the same job. Sometimes when I see a flat screen TV I think of my daughter, Keziah, dodging ours in the quake. Or when I hear a particular sound of stone grinding on stone, concrete block's unique screech, the hiss of steam, the sound of generators. Those are all tied to particulars of my earthquake experience.

It has taught me that so many carry trauma around in their bodies like a virus. The aftershocks of a big quake can last months. There were more than 50 above a 4.0 after the quake in 2010. Since the first was so devastating, each of those that followed would flood our bodies with adrenaline, and the cumulative effect of that recurring surge is that it rewires a person with a kind of hypervigilant spidey-sense of precaution and readiness to run, or hide. Fight or flight get moved to the front of the cue of your mental activity, like a well worn book that doesn't ever make it back into the shelves in the library, but is checked out straight from the return cart. For me, the triggers for my trauma response are noises and sensations that are fairly common. I'm not "back there" in the earthquake when I get those sensations, but I'm in the moments just before a new one, as if the ground is about to shift again.

How many people that we interact with everyday carry trauma around in their bodies? What kind of "spidey sense" did they learn to need? Are they prepared to be hit? To be shot at? To be used? To be ignored? To be treated like a robot? To be manipulated? We all have our twitches, and they make us do weird things. Self-protection from trauma works really well to save us from repeated trauma. That hypervigilance is a gift for survival. It is total crap for a situation that doesn't require survival though. This is a lot of where the "hurt people, hurt people" talk comes from. Fear is the enemy of love. Fear kills relationship.

What most people don't realize when they want to start helping the poor or hurting is that poverty, trauma, threat, and harm make people kind of suck. They hear Mother Theresa quotes about how she could see the face of Jesus in the eyes of the poor and they expect to enter service and have a beatific vision of rapturous enlightenment and radiant, oozing care flow out of them the next time they encounter a homeless person. Actually, whatever trauma created the kind of dysfunctional behavior that has made it hard for that person to escape poverty has probably also made them hard to be around. The "Last, the lost, and the least" aren't just some emblem, they are real people, usually with more trauma than you might know, and they can be real jerks! More often than not, the romanticized "outcast" is outcast for a reason. They aren't easy to be with! That's why it is so important to engage them with Mother Theresa's expectation of engaging with Jesus. Jesus, after all, told us that that IS who we serve when we serve. But let's be honest, He may have said that because he knew that if they were anybody else, we might want to punch them in the throat.

SO many people come to Haiti to serve with the only semiconscious acknowledgement that they'd like to be thanked for their service. That is not a fair expectation of people who have been crapped on for their whole lives, whose authority figures and role models have all exploited them, and who haven't been given the opportunity to go to school, or have a job where these kinds of behavioral expectations are shaped over a long time. The earthquake taught me that trauma can bring out irrational, ugly behavior, even in really awesome people. It did so in me. I remember many moments of yelling at my kids for doing things that in normal times would have brought me joy. I remember cutting off relationships with people that loved me and that I loved because I thought they might ask me about experiences that were too hard to talk about. A room could be a casual, fun social space, and people would be having a great time, and where before I would have been the life of the party, now the noise would stress me out and I'd just want to leave and be alone, or I'd get impatient with somebody I cared about. I was in the middle of "relaxation zone" for everybody else and having a fight or flight response. The more you can understand this trauma effect, the more you'll be able to chase after lost sheep and be careful enough to not send them further into the thicket. Each person is worth that pursuit. You are.

You probably already sense it in my writing, but I'm not very confident in the overconfident. There's no way I can communicate the decentering nature of an earthquake. When the ground you've trusted to stay in place for your whole life betrays your expectation and dances death into a cloud around you, it gives you a different sense of what you can trust. Look around you. Look at that phone in your hand. Look out the window. Do you realize how fast this can all change? Everything that can be shaken will be shaken. Whether it's shaken by you losing a job, an illness in the family, by faltering memory or old age, or by a decision you can't take back. It's amazing how things can dissolve. Your grip on your life, your theology, your perception. God so wants to be known that He can become a wild kind of terrorist, ripping off the front of the world so that you can see Him behind it. He will go through your wallet, rip up all of your pictures of him if they are the thing that keeps you from recognizing Him as He is now. And the kind of humility that really makes you capable of service comes from that kind of stripping down.

I'd like to tell you all kinds of things I have learned about serving the poor, the hurting, and the broken. I do have tips and insights and advice. I have experience and failure to draw from. But most of the best of what I know comes from the pain of becoming poor, hurting, and broken. The earthquake was a harsh schoolmaster. I learned that what I needed in order to serve well was not the addition of any training, knowledge, perspective, or information. All I needed was subtraction. I may have had growth and fruitfulness in mind. but what I needed was pruning. I came to clothe the cold, I needed to be stripped. To be able to see things as they were and not as I expected them to be. Like learning to draw.

Did you know that's the WHOLE trick to learning to draw? Getting rid of your expectations and learning to see what your eyes are actually seeing. One of the crucial moments in teaching somebody to draw is when you can convince them that their awareness of their many mistakes is exactly what is needed in order to draw well. Right in the moment that somebody feels like they see all the faults in their drawing, the moment that they feel hopeless because it sucks so bad...That moment when their mistakes inspire them to give up and say, "I can't draw", that acknowledgement of the difference between reality and what they have made, that is the moment that drawing well begins to happen. That's the moment that they are beginning to discern, to distrust their expectations and trust their perceptions. This is when they will begin to draw what they see, and see a whole lot more. Many people who first take up drawing have an almost spiritual experience of realizing they haven't really been looking at the world, but have just been walking around in it as if they had known and taken all it had to offer before. Those new eyes are like a gift of wonder, and they come in the humility of a confession of previous blindness. This is exactly where we must start to try to help the world.... by laying down our expectations of what real help looks like.
More on that next Thursday! And Next Wednesday, your first drawing class!

Action: As an act of service today, consider lending your ear to a good friend who has had trauma. Be humble and open, and tell them that you care and that you want their help in knowing how best to be there for them. Maybe you can say something like, "I know you've gone through a lot, but I don't know how I can serve you best or if you want me to do anything to show my care for you. If you do, what can I do that would help you feel seen and known and cared about?" Don't assume they need to tell their story. Don't assume they need a hug. Or ice cream. Or gifts. Or letters. Or your help. Ask them IF they need something while communicating your desire for them to know that you are genuinely available.

Now flip that around. Do you need to tell somebody that you need their help, their time, their listening ear, or something else to help you through your grief or trauma? Say something.

Week 2: Submarine, Day 11: Staying Dry in the Rain Room

Week 2: Submarine
Day 11: Staying dry in the Rain Room

A Word for Eyes Day: 
"Performative Architecture" n. Structural design that allows active engagement between artifacts and environments and their users and inhabitants.

"You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you;
I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you,
in a dry and parched land where there is no water."
Psalm 63:1

In the Curve Gallery of the Barbican arts centre in London, there's a 100 square meter space in a darkened room in which rain falls perpetually. Because of motion-sensing cameras and body mapping technology, no matter where you walk in the room, the rain won't fall on you. You might feel the humidity of the air, and the wash of white noise will encapsulate you no matter where you move, but raindrops won't land on you. The only way to get wet in this constant rain is if you run fast enough to fool the sensors.

There are a few videos of the Rain Room experience on the web to explore. This is a good one:

Imagine what it's like to walk through that room. What would you do? How would you move? Where would your imagination go? That's really the art of it. That's the exhibit: people watching. Even if it is just about watching yourself. This unique space invites unique behavior. One of the designers of the Rain Room, Florian Ortkrass, said, "All the things we do, they are kind of nonsense without someone else being there." There's something unintentionally profound in that statement, and there's something beautiful to me in how fascinated we can be with each other and with who we are as people.

Charlie Mackesy, one of my favorite fine artists, once commented on how he believes that people generally don't draw pictures without a kind of underlying purpose. He said of this reason for his art, "Jesus quietly introduced me to a journey into finding people really beautiful, which is how my art really began. Because I felt inside me he was going, 'Look. How beautiful is that guy sitting on that bench?' And I would have never noticed him before." The Rain room invites people to that kind of raw wonder of just enjoying who they are and enjoying the people around them with a stripped down kind of bare aesthetic ingestion of human nature. They stand and think about meaning, they run and try to get wet. They close their eyes and breathe. They lift their arms or twirl. They walk through with camera phones. They chat about memories of getting soaked in the rain. They look to see if the staff are around before stealing a kiss. People do people things, and it's great.

I want to say something about what the concept of this installation does to me, but I don't want to steal this moment from you. I want you to let that performative architecture speak to you what it needs to and for you to take it on its own terms. Maybe take a second and imagine yourself walking through this rain that doesn't get you wet. Before reading on, if you are comfortable sharing, comment below about the thoughts or feelings or memories that come up for you, or the way you imagine yourself interacting with the room. I'm curious to see your particular wonder, or quirkiness, or beauty.

When I think about the Rain Room, my mind goes first to silliness... I'd like to take a big bucket in there and shuttle it across the floor, sliding it as fast as I could to see what it could gather. I also imagine taking a big piece of foamcore board in and trying to fan water onto dry people from within my own rain bubble. I'm devious like that. But the more I really give it some thought, the experience of the Rain Room brings something more sacred to mind. That sight of rain falling around me, but not getting me wet makes me remember times of worship when I felt that everybody around me was connecting with God, but I wasn't. Maybe it's the image that I have posted here that makes me think of this, because it looks like a common posture of worship (if your church isn't too white or Baptist). Have you ever been there? In a big room where there weren't many dry eyes and you just weren't feeling a thing? What's worse is when you see people having some kind of authentic encounter, or at least some kind of emotional religious experience, and you don't just feel dry, you feel like, "This is all really freaking stupid." That's not a fun place to be. You can't just snap your fingers and connect. No matter where you go in the room, the rain doesn't fall on you. Sometimes I feel like an undercover atheist at church, and that's really the only place I remember feeling that way. Why?

If you've never had that experience, well, congratulations. I suspect you are genuinely more holy than me (which is my passive-agressive way of saying you are full of crap and I'm judging you through your web browser.) For the rest of us mortals, what are we to do? Well, first, let me suggest that there's no one-size-fits all way to connect with God, just as there is no homogenous way in which He blesses us with strengths and gifts, and there is probably not just one way to understand this dynamic. This isn't just true individually but corporately as well. At one time God thought his people needed to hear from a man carrying stone tablets, at another he would move nature to speak, and at another he thought they needed a naked performance artist prophet who ate meals cooked over dung and waged mock war on clay model villages. God can flex with the times, the styles, and the set of ears he has in front of him.

Once you think of the simple impact of cultural upbringing on a person's sensitivities, the need for diverse ways of engagement with God becomes pretty obvious. You wouldn't expect a French Trappist Monk who has spent decades cloistered in relative silence to come into an Evangelical American megachurch with lights, fog, frickin' laser beams, and giant Marshall stacks blasting guitar riffs into the masses to just start shouting "Hallelujah" and waving his arms and doing that weird hopping, arms-stretched out dance thingy that some white churchy people do. That doesn't mean that brother Pierre can't connect with God, or even that he isn't connecting with God in that particular moment. You wouldn't expect a kid from that same megachurch to feel moved by and connected to the tunes of Tibetan throat singers or to know how to dance to zydeco music either. Sometimes our feelings of spiritual disconnect in our faith communities have to do with the fact that maybe they aren't the cultural or musical environments that our hearts are at home with. We can forget that when everybody around us seems to be getting something while we are not. We can begin to think, "What's wrong with me?" or "What's wrong with them?" when we don't see the scenario from a broader perspective.

It's a good and vital thing to let your heart travel, to see God in people and places you've never acknowledged Him before and through expressions that are unfamiliar. Streeeeeeeetch! Think of it as a spiritual discipline that will grow your love and make you more fun to be around to a broader swath of humanity. If you've ever learned another language and used it in conversation, you know this well. The horizons of your love grow with the breadth of what you can enjoy and understand across cultures and traditions. What once seemed foreign and strange to you will become dear and familiar and give you new ways to imagine and engage with the world. In my experience, this keeps us young and humble at heart as well.

This said, It's totally o.k. and normal that your heart has a kind of home base for expression and connection, whether that is your culture or your location or the styles or sounds you like, or your language, or your boundaries. That's really unavoidable and the particularity of it makes you interesting and unique and really important to your tribe. But here's the thing: As soon as you make your place of worship so culturally homogenous that you feel like you really connect there all the time, you will limit its scope so that it culturally alienates others and makes genuine hospitality very difficult. This is as true of teaching styles, visual aesthetics, and fashion as it is of music. This is a big reason why church music is so often a kind of watered down, neutered fluff. We try to do something that everybody will like, and it becomes less honestly an expression of somebody from a genuine and particular place, perspective, and moment. The lowest-common denominator removes us from the stories that connect us to what is real down here in the dirt.

The oft-chosen alternative to watering everything down into a monoculture is to isolate worshipping communities along lines roughly aligned with which radio station their congregants have their car stereos tuned to and, secondly, which theological prejudices their pastor holds to. So we get Surfer church, or Sons of Anarchy church, or Soccer Mom church, or Adoption Advocacy church, or the Church of the Poor, or Cowboy Church, or the Ministry of Silly Walks, or Our Lady of Many Hearing Aids, or Tattoo Church or the church of whatever our cultural anchor point may be. These kind of monoculture churches are often intended as outreach ministries and the need they address is obvious, especially for people who feel that their subculture is not well enfolded by wider society. A Cowboy probably can put his guard down enough to receive from God in the safety of Cowboy Church. But exclusive subculture churches are a bit doomed from the beginning to be places that nurture resistance to cultural outsiders that Jesus would enfold, nurse narrow or arrogant ways of thinking, cut themselves off from the broad wisdom of Christ's body, and don't really equip people to live out their faith in the very diverse real world. What's more, if somebody on the inside of one of these churches has a change of cultural identity, they won't feel like they belong anymore. Now before you say "amen" to all this, ask yourself, how are most of our denominations all that different?

We are in a new time when our cultural identities are blurred by nature of our internet access, our phones, our global economy, and our many means of transportation. This may be another dynamic that adds to our sense of being alone in a crowd at church. Maybe we see something that others in the room just don't see. Maybe we have googled something from the pews and seen that the pastor hasn't given other perspectives a fair shake. Maybe our simple awareness that there ARE other perspectives and that our exposure is limited makes it hard for us to live in the moment, as we are becoming so enculturated with a vantage point that's above it all, critical, evaluative, external, and meta. I think the more you study theology, the more you engage cross-culturally, and the more broadly you listen, read, watch and consume media, the more likely you find yourself in this disconnect. I feel similarly about watching movies. Once you begin studying film you can't simply just get lost in a movie without analyzing why certain angles were chosen, why the kicker light was placed where it was, why whichever particular color grade was used, or why the actor were blocked as they were, or why this was a jump cut and not a dissolve. It's hard to get swept up in the story while you are dissecting the story teller.

We can't put the clock back on this. We can't cover our ears, put on blinders and pretend that we can't step outside of one perspective and see things from another in today's world where we can be steeped in multiple ideologies at once. That's not a bad thing. It may make us more discerning, ultimately. But it leaves the question, how and when do we just have an authentic encounter with God? Is there such thing as a "religious experience" that isn't mediated by some kind of culture, or person, or song, or heck, even this devotional? Well, if God is real, then yes. He's not contained in these perspectives any more than he can be contained in a statue or a temple or a church. And maybe he is the one hammering away at our icons, upending our images of Him because they have become idols. If you feel like you're losing your religion, and you can't feel any rain, maybe that is because you are totally immersed. Maybe you are being baptized. Maybe you are so far under water in his presence that you don't know you are wet. He shattered your idols and tossed you out there into the abyss where all there is is Him. Do you feel the energy of that silence, that slight turn before you rocket to the surface and out into the air again? I do. I'm praying that for our whole culture. That God will do this great iconoclastic work and be reborn in our minds and hearts and experiences. But we're going to have to let go of a lot, just like we always have.

Week 2: Submarine, Day 10: "I love it when you call me big pop-pa"

Week 2: Submarine
Day 10: "I love it when you call me big pop-pa"

Heart Day Word:
Ἀββᾶ: The Greek Biblical word used for "Papa"

The moment Jesus came up out of the baptismal waters, the skies opened up and he saw God’s Spirit—it looked like a dove—descending and landing on him. And along with the Spirit, a voice: “This is my Son, chosen and marked by my love, delight of my life.”
-Matthew 3:16-17 (the MSG)

His soaked hair is tossing glistening arcs back into the river, his eyes blinking away the excess as his hands rise to wipe them clear. All a nation's yesterdays are running off of him as the sun browns his skin through the magnifying lens of each droplet as they evaporate. On the buzzing, crowded Jordan banks a newborn baby cries from a young mother's hip before getting the boob. A rabble of riff-raff is out there squatting on rocks in various stages of putting dry clothes back on or shelling down into their swimming loin cloths for their turn to get clean. They are bad hombres. Deplorables. Nasty women. Disillusioned throngs, mocked by the arrogance of their leaders. They are people who turned off their tv's. People who are done with polished pastors and their building funds for mall-like temples and live-streaming satellite campuses that deliver something less interesting than the theaters are selling. They are people done with being pawns to power and media and coupons. Done with buying things they know made slaves of somebody. SO over it. The half-hopeful hordes just dropped their crap and went out to the desert. This hippie, Occupy Jerusalem nut job, John, will at least be more interesting than what's on Netflix. But when some of them go out into the water, in that vulnerable public moment, they aren't just saying, "I'm done with all that the world is today" They are saying something more personal, "I think I'm finally done with me."

These noises, and smells, and textures spice the moment. John's camel down shirt is stinking like a wet junk yard dog, his teary eyes staring into those of the man he has just dunked. John's are full of faith and expectation and confounded satisfaction, and something that says, "Dear God, please be who I think you are." An otherwise unnoticed fish risks a flashed nibble at a callous on the toe of the freshly immersed one then scurries off over rounded rocks webbed by undulating wisps of aquatic sunlight. The "Son of Man" as he will call himself, still dripping ripples into the world below him, looks vertically to see something like magical kinetic poetry, and he laughs: Of course, a dove! This is perfect! Oh, this is so good! Of course! YES!

What looks to be a common white pigeon has come flailing forward to tread air overhead. The Spirit hovering, flapping over the deep,uncertain currents of a brand new thing, born, like all babies, after the water broke. Of course a dove! Like the one that brought back a branch of the new beginning as the flood waters receded. But, he realizes, with the thwap-thwap of mysterious air on his shoulders and neck, this one is landing in a radically new port. This is NEW "New Creation". This one, he thinks to himself, is going to tell the sea-stranded that I AM their dry land.

Then, THAT VOICE. It just about pulls his heart up through the top of his head just as this pigeon of perplexing perception alights.


The sound warmly floods the canyon corridor, not booming, but close to every ear as if they were the newborn baby hearing their own Father's somehow previously familiar voice for the first time out in the world of air and fluctuating temperatures.

Critique had been a heavy cloud filling that Jordan valley. Justified critique: There's a lot to be pissed off about. At no moment is there more need for change than right before the bowl of Creation gets stirred by the finger of God. The groan and ache and fed-upness of a generation was so dense that even the rocks and trees were craning for a chance to be included in the revolution if the people wouldn't go with its flow. It had been labor up to this point. Preparation. Clearing a way for this moment, like painting the baby's room long before the birth. Only this mom had had so many stillbirths that it just felt easier for her to think of the pastel tone on the walls as primer for when they would finally just turn it into a craft room.

Somehow, subconsciously, everybody now hit by the sound of Fatherly affection that filled the valley had previously imagined that any change that might possibly come into this gloom would have to be a mounting, cathartic, angsty roar or a mass psychotic break with a march back into the city to depose the tyrants, slit the throats of their security forces, burn things down and tear shit up. This would be a birth through blood. But nobody had seen it coming. Not this water birth. Not the way that each one would lay down their angst, their swords, and own up to their own desperate sense of insufficiency and humbly admit that they needed a bath. That their hands and hearts were dirty too. Nobody had expected how that would be met with Divine affirmation and the declaration that God sees us, just as He saw that dripping man singled out by the Spirit. Sons. Daughters. His pride and joy.

And we had no idea what that warm, familiar voice would do to us from the inside out.

"What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it—we’re called children of God! That’s who we really are. But that’s also why the world doesn’t recognize us or take us seriously, because it has no idea who he is or what he’s up to."
1John 3:1

"This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we’re certainly going to go through the good times with him!"
Romans 8:15-17

"But when the time arrived that was set by God the Father, God sent his Son, born among us of a woman, born under the conditions of the law so that he might redeem those of us who have been kidnapped by the law. Thus we have been set free to experience our rightful heritage. You can tell for sure that you are now fully adopted as his own children because God sent the Spirit of his Son into our lives crying out, “Papa! Father!” Doesn’t that privilege of intimate conversation with God make it plain that you are not a slave, but a child? And if you are a child, you’re also an heir, with complete access to the inheritance."
Galatians 4:4-7

Photography from Mark Tipple's Underwater Project