Hiatus for the Summer

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Looking on to the hot air balloons lifting over the Cappadocian Valley

Looking on to the hot air balloons lifting over the Cappadocian Valley and wondering about the next story.

Dear Readers,

When I took a course to learn how to create a blog (this betrays my age and low technical ability), it was with eight others my age or older. Only the instructor was under 30, and happily told us how she, on her own, created her wonderful and well read blog (and it is). At the first class, she asked each person to describe the kind of blog they hoped to write. Everyone else in the class spoke cheerfully about their’s being either a travel, food, or fashion blog…

… when it came to me – the only male and second youngest in the room – I tried to describe what I was after in “More Enigma.” The instructor paused, and innocently asked, “who would read that?”

It is a good question, and I often wonder why you would grace this post.

My answer was, “probably five others on earth who think like me.” Or rather – since many do not “think like me” – I might say: “others who think – because they like to think as I like to think.” This desire to “think” came out of the realization that there was little actual thoughtful dialogue in places like Facebook or in the comment section of news articles. I decried the low-level discussion and diatribe that tend to erupt in response to “join the conversation” (a most ironic invitation which gives the illusion that serial monologues and insults pass for real “conversation”).

Anyways, I admit, my articles are often overly philosophical, filled with minutiae and dendritic pathways along a circuitous route. Each article aims to speak to the enigma of our worth, the enigma of God’s work in the world, and the enigmatic current that undercuts dogmatic world-views in a time when moderns find it increasingly more difficult to follow a train of thought longer than a seven-second soundbite. Minutiae get’s lost in marketing and yelling past each other. It’s difficult to carry on a conversation when the art of dialogue (you know: actually listening to someone else’s point of view for understanding, and responding respectfully with yours) is eroding before our eyes.

All this to say that I will be taking a hiatus from writing More Enigma during this very busy summer in order to attend to family matters and other writing projects. It is not because there is little to say; it is because there is so much to say, and I will not have the capacity this summer to give the time I need to write in “More Enigma than Dogma.”

Calvin_and_Hobbes_Original

I am reminded of cartoonist, Bill Watterson who’s Calvin and Hobbe’s cartoons were a massive hit in its day. Watterson celebrated the longer cartoons of his youth like Pogo. He delighted in dealing with deeper subjects and creative perspectives that demanded more of him than the joke-a-day single panel comic. He noted that there may be some artists who might be able to churn out a cartoon by noon in time for an afternoon golf game, while he might take an entire day, or days to finish a creation from concept through writing to completed artwork.

Far be it from me to compare my articles to Watterson’s brilliant cartoons whose title, Calvin and Hobbes, gave allusion itself to theologians and philosophers… but my blog, as you already know, isn’t a flash of travel, food, or fashion photos. There’s nothing wrong with those; it’s just not what I am interested in.

It takes me hours of research, weeks of preparation, many internal debates, several conversations with others, and numerous edits (while still managing to miss the typos and grammar mistakes) till I post something that I can reasonably defend. All the while never knowing who will read and respond.

“I’ll be Back!”

Nevertheless, I expect to be back soon enough. In the meantime, may I direct you to my “Prayer Blog” – entitled “Curriculum of the Spiritual Life.” There you will find short posts of “Poems, Prayers, & Proverbs that speak to what it means to be a living curriculum of the Christian Life.”

Grace and peace to you.

Rusty

Time and Timelessness: “How to be bored”

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looking out the window - working on the creative life

When was the last time you let yourself be bored? Not in a “the repeat of this home renovation TV show is really boooorrrring” way, but in an “I’m just going to sit here and stare out the window” way? Sometimes our lives are so busy, it feels like there’s no space for daydreaming, or for the kind of thinking that’s not focused on a task.

This is how Nora Young introduced her radio show, Spark. In her interview with Eva Hoffman, they discussed her new book with the tongue-in-cheek title: How to be Bored. Hoffman argues that our constant level of activity has real consequences:

We can become very disoriented as we move from one activity to another. We become emotionally depleted, paradoxically. We begin to experience not more but less. We begin to lose our ability to savour experience, to make sense of it, to experience our experience.

We need time for reflection, for introspection, for the cultivation of self-knowledge. Without that time, we can lose sight of what our preferences are, what our desires are, but also what our values are. The time we need for this self-knowledge is different from our everyday scheduled time, or the quick hits of our digital lives. It is a time for musing… for dipping into our memories, for connecting our memories to our present situation.

In my series on Time and Timelessness, I have wanted to re-aquaint ourselves with the natural and necessary desire to imagine, to reflect, and to be creative. I was fortunate enough in my childhood I suppose, to have long stretches of unencumbered time to explore, hike, play, and get lost in thought and geography. Thus when I began my own spiritual journey with Jesus, all this lent itself to what Christians call “quiet times”, “devotional times”, or little “sabbaths” in order to be alone with God, to listen to Him, to journal, and to pray.

So it was with interest that I heard about Hoffman’s re-encouragement for this age to learn How to Be Bored. This book “explores the importance we place on success, high level function, effectiveness and alertness in today’s competitive society. In a world where it is almost impossible to be idle, she draws upon lessons from history, literature and psychotherapy to help us embrace boredom and find meaning in doing nothing – to appreciate real reflection and enjoy the richness of our inner and external lives.” (Panmacmillan).

Since I lived in a home with five other siblings, there was no space for being alone in a full house. When I came to faith in Christ, naturally I was drawn to seek Him; my first quiet time found me perched on the roof of the old garage/chicken pen in the backyard. There I would read the scriptures and talk with God in the most primitive, child-like way imaginable. No one showed me this; it was – I came to know – His own beckoning me into the marvellous boredom of being in His presence.

Though I do not discern any overt spirituality in Ms. Hoffman’s encouragement, let me encourage you to be still with the One who is still with you, remembering what an ancient worshipper intoned,

Be Still and Know that I am God

This is so much more enigma than dogma.

Integration and Disintegration

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speckyboy.com

speckyboy.com

What does it profit a man to gain the whole earth and forfeit his own soul?

Jesus is speaking more to “a diagnosis than a destination,” commented Dallas Willard. “For the ruined soul, the will, mind, and body are already disintegrated and disconnected from God.”

What does it mean to be Integrated?

“Our world has replaced the word soul with the word self,” John Ortberg writes, “and they are not the same thing.”  Psychologist Martin Seligman theorizes that a society that has replaced faith, and community with a tiny little unit (the self) “cannot bear the weight of meaning.” Ortberg concludes, “ironically, the more obsessed we are with our selves, the more we neglect our souls.”  If you read “Suicide is Painless,” you get a sense of the soul coming apart in a vacuous outer space – the void of meaninglessness.

We are creatures whose souls seek meaning, connection, and integration. Integrity is a deep “soul word.”  The soul seeks to integrate our will and mind and body into being an integral person. “Beyond that, the soul seeks to connect us with other people, with creation, and with God Himself – who made us to be rooted in Him…”  Your soul is what integrates your will/intentions, your mind/thoughts/feelings, and your body/body language/actions into a single, integrated whole.

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pinterest.com “The blizzard of the soul has crossed the threshold, and it has overturned the soul.” Leonard Cohen

We might say that the whole life is foundational to the holy life – for to be holy is to be integrated into God’s life and will. In contrast, an unhealthy soul is one that is experiencing disintegration. We might call an unholy life one that is disintegrated and disconnected from the Life who is God.

What it means to be Whole ~ What it means to be Holy

In an interview with Mother Teresa, a journalist asked how was it that she was “so holy.”  Her response was not to feign false modesty, but to say,

You have to be holy in the position you are in, and I have to be holy in the position that God has placed me. So it is nothing extraordinary to be holy. Holiness is not a luxury of the few. Holiness is a simple duty for you and me. We have been created for that.

This was not the answer the journalist was expecting, and neither was he expecting the interview to turn around on to himself. Mother Teresa’s bold answer revealed how she understood holiness as something for which we have been created – created to be whole – to be integrated into God – and this says more about God than it says about any performance we might manage.

The Bible uses the word soul as a synonym for the word person, and it is my desire to decipher the mystery of our worth as persons to the One who made us for Himself. Now, you know what I’m going to say…

May you find wholeness and integration in Jesus Christ – the lover and redeemer of our souls.

“Suicide is Painless?”

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Mash theme song

Through early morning fog I see
Visions of the things to be
The pains that are withheld for me
I realize and I can see…
[REFRAIN]:
That suicide is painless
It brings on many changes
And I can take or leave it if I please.
I try to find a way to make
All our little joys relate
Without that ever-present hate
But now I know that it’s too late, and…
[REFRAIN]
The game of life is hard to play
I’m gonna lose it anyway
The losing card I’ll someday lay
So this is all I have to say.
[REFRAIN]
The only way to win is cheat
And lay it down before I’m beat
And to another give my seat
For that’s the only painless feat…

Song by Johnny Mandel, lyrics by Mike Altman,
for the 1969 movie, and TV series, MASH.

The Stupidest Song Ever Written

The opening musical score to the most wildly popular sit-com in television history, MASH, is what Mike Altman asked Johnny Mandel to create as “the stupidest song ever written.”

Is it ever. Or is it? We live in interesting times when the bedrock of ethics appear to be eroding under the currents of post-modern individualism and unspoken hopelessness. In the absence of hopefulness is a void that has no substance.

Suicide Defining the Zeitgeist?

Suicide is in the news and is defining the zeitgeist like never before (these are recent news items):

U.S. Suicide Rate has surged to its highest level in almost three decades.

* Child Suicide Is a Crisis In Canada.  Factors listed were: Substance abuse; Bullying; Sexual abuse; and Lack of awareness about mental health support.

* Now that the Canadian government has introduced Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide legislation, the group “Living with Dignity” made this submission.  Advokatelife.com created this response to the topic of Physician Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia.

Elderly men have the highest suicide rate in Canada: 31/100,000 is triple the number of suicides among people of all ages (2013). (For more information see the Canadian Coalition for Seniors, Mental Health.)

* Graeme Bayliss is managing editor of the Walrus Magazine, and is also clinically depressed. He wrote: Canada’s Assisted-Suicide Law Fails the Mentally Ill. This prompted Anna Maria Tremonti to have “an open uncomfortable conversation on mental health, suicide and doctor-assisted death.”

Canadian First Nation community is in crisis amid ‘almost nightly’ suicide attempts:

“A community of 2,000 has seen more than 100 attempts in seven months. After suicide attempts began to be a daily reality in the small Canadian community of Attawapiskat First Nation, leaders said they had little choice but to declare a state of emergency.”

More than 20,000 housewives have been killing themselves in India every year since 1997, the earliest year for which information was compiled by India’s National Crime Records Bureau. Yet the high number of homemakers killing themselves doesn’t make front page news.

Ask the “survivors” of suicide – the families and friends – “how painless was the suicide of loved ones?” It is folly to suggest suicide is painless.

Why do we want to kill ourselves?

As I wrote in Euthanasia and Physician Assisted Suicide in Canada, one of the reasons we want to kill ourselves is to resist the possibility of suffering.

No one wants to suffer. The irony is that the health care that has prolonged life beyond unassisted limits is now being called upon to assist those who want to end their lives prematurely.

Often people have not thought beyond the point of suffering in general, and their own suffering in particular.  Then comes along the very articulate and successful Graeme Bayliss who is chronically depressed, and who insists that the new legislation lets down people like him! One can only imagine the meaningless dystopia unleashed on the mentally ill – were his ethic adopted.

Meanwhile not all is as it seems in the Netherlands – often used as “the example” of physician assisted suicide.  Holland is being forced to deal with the open season they have encouraged on the aging and vulnerable. The dirty little secret is some do not return alive from their visit to the hospital. Canadians tend to be overly hopeful that all the checks and balances will safeguard them, but evidence is mounting to the contrary.

There are other contributing factors to suicide, especially among First Nations Peoples who are over-represented in Canadian Suicide statistics. Poverty, alienation, and the long hangover from the Residential School cultural genocide among other factors, have their ongoing tentacles into crisis visited upon tragedy.

What kind of “life” is our society advocating as it makes death so much more accessible?

I am reminded of that old proverb:

Where there is no vision, the people perish.

And the people are perishing. There is no vision for life – for real life. Or is it a diminished hope, as the false notion of dying with dignity (sic) has eclipsed what it means to live with dignity?

Living with Dignity means to live in relationship – to live without loneliness and alienation – to live with shared sufferings and joys. It is interesting that the number one prevention factor that the Canadian Mental Health Association suggests for how Parents can nurture their children’s mental health is: “build strong caring relationships with your child” (note: Huffington Post video at the bottom of this link).

It is an irony of modernity that we live in a society that has been increasingly dismantling the integrity of “the family,” making it more difficult for parents to raise their own children, and who have to work against the social engineering of a culture that somehow does not foster the “building of strong caring relationships with one’s child.” Is it any wonder that a society that does not appear to understand what it means to foster and build strong families also seems less able to foster in children what it means to live with dignity? Thus we live in times when some can so easily mistake the next best thing as dying with dignity (sic).

Dignity is a big idea: here is some of the Declaration of Living with Dignity:

We believe that a human being possesses an inherent and inviolable dignity nothing can destroy.

We believe that a civilized and humane society carries the responsibility of protecting all of its citizens, beginning with those who are weakest and most vulnerable.

We believe that everyone should have access to compassionate care at the end of life, and we therefore reject euthanasia and assisted suicide as well as disproportionate treatment of patients.

We aim to promote the protection of the lives and inalienable dignity of persons made vulnerable by illness or age, by ensuring them compassionate support.

We call upon our fellow citizens to mobilize and pressure the governing bodies to improve existing palliative care, to ensure that all… citizens end their lives naturally, surrounded by attention and affection.

The dignity of persons is a big idea, and it stands as a rock in the river against which the currents of modernity erode. Dignity speaks to personhood, worth, and being found in relationship.

As I wrote in “Being as Communion“:

What it means to be a person is a profound mystery… It is not merely about one’s personal struggle to be a unique individual by stringing together accomplishments and experiences in a feeble attempt to reduce personhood to a resume. Personhood is found in relation with the One who made us for Himself.

“In this life you will have trouble”

Jesus says you will suffer in this short life. This is mere fact. The solution to suffering is not to prematurely end one’s life – for that would be to die as egocentrically as one lived. You are in relationship, and you belong to the One who made you for Himself.  This is more enigma…

In the Age of Superheroes…

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screanrant.com

screenrant.com

In the age of super heroes, one can’t swing a mythical hammer without hitting a movie variant made to prop up modernity’s wish to be, well, more super than it is.  Moviepilot.com reports:

Now that we have Marvel’s lineup of superhero movies, and DC’s…, as well as Fox and Sony’s upcoming films, we know every superhero movie that will come out in the next 6 years. There are 31 of them. In. Six. Years.

Is it me, or do you sense the film industry can’t seem to keep their movie plots secret or unique (both Marvel’s and DC’s recent movies featured a kind of civil-war among the “heroes”).  Or are they merely capturing the zeitgeist of modernity’s inner (super) civil conflict?

Whatever it is, we want things super-sized in more ways than one.

Enter a New Super-Villain

Fit for super-heroes, or those imagining themselves to be super in bed, recent news reports express “huge concern” that super-gonorrhea has spread widely across England. “The new superbug prompted a national alert last year when it emerged [that] one of the main treatments had become useless against it. Public Health England acknowledges measures to contain the outbreak have been of “limited success”. Doctors fear the sexually transmitted infection, which can cause infertility, could soon become untreatable.”

Armed and Dangerous: If you see this SuperBug – do not approach!

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CAVALLINI JAMES/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

Super-Blame?

Uh… I think we now what causes the spread of this super-STI, but I am fascinated with how the Huffington Post reported: “social media is to blame for the outbreak of STI’s in Alberta.” (To be fair, this is not the only media to report news like this):

Anonymous hook-ups arranged on social media are the major reason for a dramatic spike in sexually transmitted infections in the province.

Cases of gonorrhea last year were up 80 percent from 2014 and are the highest since the late 1980s.

The number of cases of infectious syphilis doubled in 2015 from 2014.

Dr. Karen Grimsrud, chief medical officer of health, says social media tools are helping people communicate quickly to arrange anonymous sexual encounters.

For some reason we want to blame some one – so social media is made to be the super-villain when we find it too difficult to accept responsibility for our own bodies. But does social media somehow act on its own consciousness to propagate this super-virus? Cynically, one reader of the story wrote:

“Or, you know, you could maybe use a condom and not have sex with EVERY PERSON YOU GO ON A DATE WITH!”

I know this is no laughing matter; I know there’s more to it than just practicing so-called safe sex (a modern-day oxymoron if ever one existed), and excercising self-control over rampant promiscuity. It’s not a laughing matter – it’s a crying shame that for many, no longer will it be just a matter of wanting sex with whomever, whenever, or whatever.

Super-Storm Scenario

The emergence of a dangerous superbug was creating a ‘perfect storm scenario.’ (Health Officials express concern over the ineffectiveness of antibiotics that have been over-prescribed for unsuitable illnesses).

Modernity suggests that what consenting adults do behind closed doors ought not to concern anyone else… until their actions lead to a global breakdown of effective antibiotics. Oh well.

Super-Wisdom for the Ages

So while the medical profession act as a kind of “STI-firefighter” – reacting to an emergency that can be easily prevented – this generation appears to be too quick to forget prudence learned over the ages. Some might find the ancient wisdom (below) a quaint and restricting artifact of another era. I wonder if this generation will eventually admit that modernity’s new super-disease is doing the fencing-in of people with their cooperation.

To introduce you to a different paradigm, here’s some super-wisdom from the Proverbs for those who can understand what it means to “drink from your own rain barrel:”

Do you know the saying, “Drink from your own rain barrel, draw water from your own spring-fed well”?

It’s true. Otherwise, you may one day come home and find your barrel empty and your well polluted.

Your spring water is for you and you only,
not to be passed around among strangers.
Bless your fresh-flowing fountain! Enjoy the wife you married as a young man! Lovely as an angel, beautiful as a rose—don’t ever quit taking delight in her body.

Never take her love for granted!

Why would you trade enduring intimacies for cheap thrills with a whore? for dalliance with a promiscuous stranger?

Mark well that God doesn’t miss a move you make; he’s aware of every step you take. The shadow of your sin will overtake you; you’ll find yourself stumbling all over yourself in the dark. Death is the reward of an undisciplined life; your foolish decisions trap you in a dead end.

If you mistake this as being moralistic, please re-read, and read between the lines. The Super-Enigma in all this is your dignity. Who would’ve thought?

Pets are People Too?

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Pets_Are_people_too

“Americans own almost as many dogs per household as have children, and actually own more cats per household than have children… More than 3 million pets are adopted annually in America—more than twenty times the number of children adopted each year” (Doug Ponder, of Re-source.org).

acthuup.com

acthuup.com

“There has been a meteoric rise in niche pet services like pet daycares, pet TV channels, pet costumes, pet clothing lines, pet fashion shows, pet dating services, and so forth.

The amount of money [spent] each year on our pets (61 billion dollars) is enough to feed, clothe, and educate more than 150 million children in poverty-stricken nations [of the developing world].”

While it is getting easier to enact legislation to euthanize humans, organizations like PETA and other animal rights activists continue to press for legislation that makes it harder to euthanize animals (I will not unbraid the Gordian Knot of human/animal ethics here).

What is happening?

In Canada, animal rights activists are fighting for an “Animal charter of rights and freedoms” that would recognize animals as persons in the court in order to “guarantee rights and freedoms that make life worth living.”

Take the case of activists arguing before a New York judge to rule on whether chimps are ‘persons’. The two chimps in question are being used as research subjects at a state university in New York. The activists hope a judge will rule the chimps be freed, allowing them to be taken to an animal sanctuary in Florida. Leaving aside for a moment the ethics of animal research, it is ironic that there is growing traction to accept pets are people, in a time when unborn humans are not – therefore making it easy to eliminate what is so un-euphamistically referred to as a “clump of cells.”

“There is a reason why we are valuing children (and all human beings) less and less, while valuing other things (like animals) more and more,” says Doug Ponder. What has happened is a shift – “a change in how we have to think about the value or worth of someone or something. In the current way of thinking, most people tend to estimate value or worth based on what a person or thing can “do for them.” In other words, instead of valuing something for what it is, we value it only for what it does—especially what it does for me. But when we begin to think of people in the same terms, we run into all sorts of problems. What if someone doesn’t benefit you? What if their existence is a nuisance to you? What if that person is loved by you? What if you are the unloved person?”

Ethics for Animal Welfare

Among the ironies of our time is the fact that we arrive at our modern day sensibilities for the welfare of animals by tracing its roots in the 200 year old evangelical movement of which William Wilberforce was a part.

Amazing Grace,” a film biography of William Wilberforce, anti-slavery crusader and co-founder of the world’s oldest anti-cruelty society, captures Wilberforce’s deep devotion to animals and his determination to end the cruelty and suffering imposed upon them in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

For two decades, William Wilberforce (1759-1833) led the struggle in the English Parliament to abolish slavery, and it was his principal concern as a politician and a reformer. But he did not limit his vision of a better world solely to his fellow human beings. Wilberforce was also a founding figure of the animal protection movement, helping to found the first society for the prevention of cruelty to animals and providing essential support for the first modern laws on the subject.”

The Mystery of having Value

For animals to have value, we need not ascribe to them “person” status; we need only ascribe to Biblical values for the care of creation. After all, people who are actual persons are struggling to be valued; why would it surprise us that animals lack dignity in this cruel world?

To value animals as if they are persons is a symptom of our massive identity confusion. As image-bearers of the Creator God, human kind is not endowed with limitless and unaccountable power over creation – instead we are authorized with a profoundly humbling responsibility to care and “keep” the ecosystem in which we find ourselves. And more: we are to decipher the mystery of our worth – so that we would contribute to our neighbours being able to imagine theirs. A world confused about personal value, and locked in narcissistic pursuits is not capable of such a thing.

What it means to be a Person is more Enigma than dogma

I Can (try to) Understand

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If we truly understood each other – if we’d do the work of gaining understanding – we’d put ourselves in the best position to be able to solve any issues we come to.  At least this has been my working hypothesis. With this in mind, I have set out on a different goal when I’m in an argument or debate: I want to understand the other person’s point of view, their premises, and how they got there.

When we are understood – it feels like a great gift; a huge relief. “It is a luxury to be understood,” said Ralph Waldo Emerson. So much of understanding another person is connected to the work of understanding ourselves. Thus it is with typical psychiatric insight that Karl Jung said,

Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.

A long and sumptuous read

My wife and I took a long and sumptuous read through Paul Tournier’s 1962 classic, “To Understand Each Other” (noted in an earlier post). We took several months to go through it’s 60 pages, simply reading a section at a time, discussing, debating, arguing, and even coming to more understanding.

The ‘I cannot understand’ really means ‘I can’t understand that my [spouse] is different from me, that he thinks, feels, and acts in a quite different manner that I.’

So [the spouse] feels judged, condemned, criticized. All of us fear this, for no one is satisfied with oneself. We are especially sensitive to blame for shortcomings which we ourselves find stupid, and which we have never been able to correct in spite of our sincerest efforts.

“Lord! Grant that I may seek more to Understand than to be Understood.”

St. Francis of Assisi

As long as we are preoccupied with ourselves being understood, we are in danger of remaining miserable, overcome with self-pity, demanding, and bitter. But with the desire to understand, “comes an awakening that can transform our relationships,” says Tournier.

As soon as person feels understood, they open up, and lower their defences to be able to make themselves understood.

But How?!?

Yes, the “how” question is inevitable. We want skills, steps, and procedures. Yes, I know. I know this first hand, and I also know this is not the first step toward understanding. As Tournier states in the beginning of his book:

To achieve understanding – we need to want it.

And he poetically ends his book with:

The key to understanding, the secret of living… is a discovery, a conversion, and not simply an acquisition of new knowledge.

I suppose you want Answers

You want answers about the “how” – as if this too, is merely achieved by the acquisition of new knowledge. But the person you care for the most, the person you love and who loves you, just wants you to start in the direction of wanting to understand.

Put down your skillful debating weapons, relinquish your grip on your arguments, and take all the time needed to understand the person in front of you.

For fear of repeating myself, I love Jesus’ response to the woman caught and brought to him to judge in John 8.  I love his silence, his listening, his economy of words, and I love his understanding. I love how he enters her world, though she was thrust into his. We might want more to have been said, but the encounter on its own bewilders us out of a propositional-debating posture. Jesus listening to us, is the first insight we need to be able to listen to another.

Of course, this is more…

More Enigma: An Explanation

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The featured image of “Dios es amor” on a mouldy blue brick wall was taken years ago when a friend and I went to visit men recovering in an alcohol & drug treatment centre in the Dominican Republic. While many go to this island for a vacation destination – I sat in a small courtyard on a plastic chair in a circle sharing our coming-alive stories. The image of the little “God is love” caught my attention in the humid heat and among the sad stories of human detritus. God is love; but how can that be known in the depths of addiction?

There, the men were just beginning to recover and come alive to the revelation of their worth as persons, while I was just starting to put into words the nature of my own spiritual journey – the journey of coming to know my worth to the One who made me for Himself.  And as I rejoice to repeat: this says so much more about the One who loves me than it says about me – the one who is loved.

More Parabolic than Implacable?

Along the way I have been thinking about all the sundry and varied ways God speaks and has spoken to me; the mysteries and secrets; the things that don’t add up – and the beauty of things that are greater than the sum of their parts.

The awe beckoned from beauty compels me to the mystery. I follow a person who primes me with puzzles. I marvel, without putting too fine a point on it, that Jesus came telling parables. One scholar writes:

The importance of the parables can hardly be overestimated. They comprise a substantial part of the recorded preaching of Jesus. The parables are generally regarded by scholars as among the… authentic words of Jesus. Moreover, all of the great themes of Jesus’ preaching are struck in the parables.

When Jesus was alone, those who were around asked Him about the parables. He answered with a reference to Isaiah 6:

“To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables; in order that:

‘they may indeed look, but not perceive,
and may indeed listen, but not understand;
so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.’ ” (NRSV, Mark 4:10-12)

Jesus’ explanation seems harsh and out of character,” writes Boucher. “Was He deliberately trying to hide the truth by speaking in parables? Were the mysteries of the kingdom of God to be known only by the disciples? Both experts and lay persons are puzzled, and many different explanations have been proposed.

Jesus’ reference to Isaiah 6:9-10 connects us to a people so lost in sin that they (we?) resented hearing God’s Word and deliberately turned away. Barclay explains it this way:

When Isaiah spoke he spoke half in irony and half in despair and altogether in love. He was thinking, “God sent me to bring his truth to this people; and for all the good I am doing I might as well have been sent to shut their minds to it. I might as well be speaking to a brick wall. You would think that God had shut their minds to it.”

So Jesus spoke his parables; he meant them to flash into men’s minds and to illuminate the truth of God. But in so many eyes he saw a dull incomprehension. He saw so many people blinded by prejudice, deafened by wishful thinking, too lazy to think. He turned to his disciples and he said to them: “Do you remember what Isaiah once said? He said that when he came with God’s message to God’s people Israel in his day they were so dully un-understanding that you would have thought that God had shut instead of opening their minds; I feel like that to-day.” When Jesus said this, he did not say it in anger, or irritation, or bitterness, or exasperation. He said it with the wistful longing of frustrated love, the poignant sorrow of a man who had a tremendous gift to give which people were too blind to take.

If we read this, hearing not a tone of bitter exasperation, but a tone of regretful love, it will sound quite different. It will tell us not of a God who deliberately blinded men and hid his truth, but of men who were so dully uncomprehending that it seemed no use even for God to try to penetrate the iron curtain of their lazy incomprehension. God save us from hearing his truth like that! (Barclay, commentary on Mark 4:1-12)

More Latitudinarian than Luditian?

By nature, a parable invites the listener to contemplate; to think deeper, higher – with a wider latitude than getting simple answers supplied at that back of the book (or in the book at all).

We are left to figure things out… or not.  To seek and find… or not.  God doesn’t appear to be troubled if we ignore Him, but is completely present to those who seek Him.  We can be sure that Jesus wants us freed from a deadening approach to revelation. “You diligently search the scriptures,” Jesus says to experts of the law, “because you think in them you possess eternal life – but these are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” (John 5:39, 40)

The point of the word, the book, the search is to find the person of Jesus.  “Finding” is a loaded term, isn’t it?  I would not want to give the impression that finding means fully understanding; it is more like finding someone who has been waiting to be found – someone wanting to find you finding Him. In fact, in the end, we will marvel if we found anything other than the One who finds us and knows us profoundly.

More Liminal than Final

Over time, searching the solid doctrines that were helpful “Sunday School” answers to complex questions moulted off like a dead chrysalis of a butterfly. That is not to say they were wrong, or bad. It is to say, in my clumsy way, there is so much more to the spiritual life in Christ that can be known in mere dogma, though dogma seems to act as a cocoon for the incubation of thought & life.

Butterfly out of cocoon

Iambutterflyproject.com

Take the mystery of God-as-Communion.  The Trinity is a wonderful doctrine that I would describe as the doodling of theologians on the artwork (the face?) of the living God. But we start somewhere to explore the nature of this Three-In-One God. As I said in What Language Shall I Borrow, we have to create a language to attempt to simply get our hands on the in-apprehensibleness of the Triune One.

More Enigma than Dogma

But you see, this is what draws me to the mystery.  It draws a ribbon in space, as Annie Dillard writes, “a ribbon whose end unravels in memory while its beginning unfurls as surprise.” It invites us to the grand terrain of a great expanse, and I wonder when the journey ends. It remains more… you know what.

I welcome your revelations along the spiritual journey.

Being as Communion

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Rublev's Trinity inviting us to Communion

Rublev’s Icon: The Trinity inviting us to Communion

Respect for man’s “personal identity” is perhaps the most important ideal of our time.

Thus begins the chapter, Personhood and Being in John D. Zilioulas‘ excellent book, Being as Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church. It resonates with a theme to which I have been writing: our identity is best found in, and most profoundly defined by the One who made us for Himself. In Q in an Age of Discovery, I wrote:

The point I am trying to make in discussions around identity is that we are probably all “Q” in the age of discovery – in that we are questioning what we are and who we are. It might be said that this is one of the essential journeys of what it means to be human.

Personhood, Zilioulas takes delight in uncovering, is best understood in relation – for we are created in God’s image; God’s being is communion, and He invites us into this hyper-relationality of the Trinity (Triune communion).

God is Love

Zilioulas notes that when the Apostle John writes, “God is Love” (I John 4:16), we recognize that God is person and not merely a philosophical idea. Love is not a property of God, “it is constitutive of His nature – it is that which makes God what He is, the one God.” God is Love – naturally implies subject, object, and reciprocation. In other words, love is not treated as a philosophical idea or ideal, but as the substance of relationship, and it makes no sense outside of this relationally.

Love is the supreme ontological predicate. Love as God’s mode of existence “hypostasizes” (personalizes) God, [it] constitutes His being.

What it means to be a Person:

What it means for us to be a person is rooted entirely in what it means for God to be a person; for we inherit – or we obtain the spiritual genetic material of personhood from the Triune God who Himself is Person – that is to say – Person in Relation – or – Being as Communion.

Death for a person means ceasing to love and to be loved, ceasing to be unique and unrepeatable, whereas life for the person means the survival of the uniqueness of its hypostasis (concrete personhood), which is affirmed and maintained by love…

The mystery of the person… consists in the fact that love can endow something with uniqueness, with absolute identity and name. It is precisely this which is revealed by the term “eternal life,” which for this very reason signifies that the person is able to raise up to personal value and live… as part of a loving relationship.

(For more on the mystery of the Trinity see: What Language Shall I Borrow)

It is no wonder then that Augustine would understand this so early on in Christian thought:

Quia amasti me, fecisti me amabilem.”

“In loving me, you made me lovable.

It is a powerful and beautiful summary of all that is best in Christian spirituality, and it is the experience of all those who come to God in Christ: the experience that His love is redemptive; that we become lovable both in the sense of being able to love, and be able to be loved.

Person In Relation

Professor James M. Houston has had a lot to say about the confusion between what it means to “be a person” versus what it means “to be an individual.” He notes that Carl Rogers could only describe the process of becoming a self-creating “individual,” but that he had “no grounds to differentiate the ‘person’ from the ‘individual.’ In fact the ‘therapeutic self,’ argues Christopher Lasch, ends up as ‘the minimal self’ in a culture of survivalism” (The Mentored Life: From Individualism to Personhood, p. 113ff).

Houston notes that “professionalism and specialization are forms of abstraction that tend toward the reduction of the “personal” to being merely an “individual.” He notes how Jean-Francios Lyotard “explores the inhumanity of the institutions of modernity, as well as the ways in which the soul is held hostage within oneself by self-possessiveness… What Lyotard is calling ‘in-human’ is being ‘the individual,’ the inwardness of self-enclosure” (from Lyotard’s essay: The Inhuman: Reflections on Time).

Thus Houston states:

When philosophers define ‘the person’ as an ethical issue, they are distinguishing what is a human being from either a fetus or some other material concept. The human person remains unresolved as a questionable issue, scientifically inaccessible, and indefinable. The human can only be a question mark. It is only in the theological analogy drawn between persons – human and divine – that theological anthropology begins to make sense as defining us a persons-in-relation-with-God.

Zizioulas affirms this when he summarizes:

To be and to be in relation becomes identitical. For someone or something to be, two things are simultaneously needed: being itself (hypostasis) and being in relation (i.e. being a person).

What it means to be a person is a profound mystery.

It is not merely about one’s personal struggle to be a unique individual by stringing together accomplishments and experiences in a feeble attempt to reduce personhood to a resume. Personhood is found in relation with the One who made us for Himself.

In the words of Jesus, He is the gate through which we come in and go out to a wider wonder world.

This is more enigma than dogma.

Euthanasia and Physician Assisted Suicide in Canada

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mlkLast year I reported about the alarming assault on the Freedom of Conscience in Canada as it relates to laws potentially forcing Physicians of conscience to refer, prescribe, or perform assisted suicide. I know that I have a minority opinion among Canadians with whom I would say – have not had the open and thorough debate around the values and safeguards on this topic.

When I talk with people about Euthanasia and Physician Assisted Suicide, the number one issue that comes up is the “cruelty” of letting a person suffer.  Aside from this being an unfair hyperbole (no one is “let to suffer”; suffering is part of the human experience and we try to mitigate it) – it speaks particularly to our fear of the possibility of agonizing suffering in the late stages (or any stage?) of our own life.

I get it: no one wants to suffer. The irony is that the health care that has prolonged life beyond unassisted limits is now being called upon to assist those who want to end their lives prematurely.

Usually people have not thought beyond the point of suffering in general, and their own suffering in particular.

What else is there to consider?

Lots.

In some jurisdictions there is debate about if the chronically depressed would qualify for this medical attention (sic); if not, why not? If so, what would the parameters be around this? There has already been discussion about people who do not even want to face the possibility of suffering, and therefore want to “pre-empt” their suffering by prematurely ending their lives.

In deed, we live in a time where we do not understand suffering, and we rail against the possibility that such a thing still exists in modernity.  A society that has lost a theology of suffering does not appear to have grounds for an ontology of suffering either.

Add to this that we are also a society that has been largely silent to the disease of loneliness and isolation among the aged and mentally ill. We live in what James Houston calls “the continent of loneliness” – – this cultural moment where we are alienated from each other and from the One who made us for Himself.

Are there Safeguards on the Bill to Legalize Euthanasia and Physician Assisted Suicide?

Meanwhile the federal government is getting ready to introduce a bill to legalize euthanasia and physician assisted suicide in Canada without really working through these considerations:

  • adequate safeguards for vulnerable Canadians – especially those with mental health challenges
  • clear conscience protection for health-care workers and institutions
  • protection of children and those under 18 from Physician Assisted Suicide.

By taking two minutes of your time, you encourage the initiative of MP Harold Albrecht who wants to raise these issues in the parliamentary debates that will take place before a law is voted.

https://petitions.parl.gc.ca/en/Petition/Details?Petition=e-263

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For more, see “Infringement on Freedoms of Conscience.”

Or see the Christian Medical and Dental Society response to Euthanasia and Physician Assisted Suicide.

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A Personal Note:

My wife and I have invested the last seven years caring for her parents in our home as we have watched them both diminish physically and mentally. My father-in-law’s constant suffering is part of the daily conversation, along with their increasing desire for our presence and care. Physical suffering and loneliness are qualities we work to mitigate.

I write this to prevent anyone from thinking I am speaking merely intellectually on a topic about which I am untouched. I am touched daily with suffering, and I reflectively consider the place of suffering and community across the arc of our short lives.

Some of what I get in push back is:

“Why should I be allowed to prevent a person from euthanasia if he/she wants to end their suffering?”

My answer is twofold:

  • By the mere act of debating this topic openly, I am not preventing a person from euthanasia. If we as a society recognize the issues and concerns that would cause us (not me) to prevent, or to put significant safeguards on this act, then that is up to us. I would ask in contrast: why should you/society be allowed to force any physician to refer, prescribe, or perform an act against their conscience?
  • Suffering ought to arouse compassionate engagement, not execution. I understand the handy motto of “dying with dignity,” but this is a shortcut from a discussion that never happens: the place of suffering, loneliness, and alienation in our society.

Life is more enigma than dogma; it is a “nauseous journey over a fearful abyss;” and it belongs to the One who made us for Himself.

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