This Easter, the “Road to Emmaus” story from Luke chapter 24 hit me a little different. It’s the story of two disciples who unknowingly encounter the resurrected Christ. Something about the way my pastor read it, or the translation he used made me hear it in a whole new light.
With those feelings in mind, I decided to write my own “translation” of the verses. It’s a method I’ve used a bit in critical and creative writing in the past. I pretty much take a pre-existing text and change a few words to alter the whole meaning. Here though, I’ve altered much of the “original” (the NIV is an original text, right?) But my hope is not to alter the original narrative’s message, but to change it just enough to make it easier to imagine ourselves in such a scenario.
If you put my version next to the original, you’ll find the most glaring change is that I’ve replaced the physically resurrected Christ with a participatory/relational Holy Spirit – because today we often don’t realize we’re encountering Christ when we commune with others; it’s a reminder that when ‘two or more are gathered’ there is an opportunity to encounter Him.
I think the changes point toward one of the ways we can experience the resurrected Christ today, which promotes personal resurrection in this lifetime. Enjoy!
(13) Now that same day, two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven or eight miles from Jerusalem. (14) They were in a deep discussion about all the things that had happened in the past week. (15-16) As they got more and more in depth in the conversation, in a sense trying to find God’s purpose in their recent experience, they, without knowing, had created a miniature two-person church. As the Holy Spirit filled them, becoming a companion in their journey together, (17) their primary question became clear: “What are we really talking about here?” As the reality of their situation became more apparent, it stopped them in their tracks. (18) One of them, Cleopas, finally said it aloud. As he did, it was almost as if he were accusing his partner, but deep down he knew it was a rhetorical question, and meant just as much for him as the other: “Are you the only one in Jerusalem that doesn’t understand the gravity of what all this means?” (19) “All what means?” asked the other, a little confused because he was sure they were on the same page just seconds earlier. (19) Before he could continue, they both said, “About Jesus of Nazareth,” in unison. The other proceeded, recounting the events, “He was a prophet for sure. He was powerful in word and deed – before God and ALL the people. (20) But the heads of the religion we grew up with and our government, handed him over to their government knowing they would destroy him. And sure enough, they killed him in the most humiliating and disrespectful way possible.” (21) The other continued, morose, “But we had hoped that He was the One. The One who would return things to the way they were meant to be. The way they were created to be. What’s more, it’s starting to seem like a long time since all this happened – too long for anything miraculous to happen now.” But as the other continued, his voice quickened, more excited but still perplexed, as if in the deepest of thought – sensing their being on the brink of an ‘ah-ha’ moment, (22)”In addition, some of the women told us things that were too good to be true. They went to the gravesite this morning (23) but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels who said He was alive! (24) [As faithful as these women were, we needed to know for ourselves.] Some of our companions investigated. The gravesite was just as the women said, but our friends did not see the angels – or Jesus.”
(25) Suddenly, the the Truth struck them both like a bolt of lightening: “How foolish have we been?!?! So stupid to not see that this is what was in all the scriptures we were raised on?!? Did not the Messiah have to suffer all these things before we would recognize Him as such. Only then would He be glorified?!?” (27) They connected all the dots (jots and tittles), beginning with Moses and sweeping through the whole Old Testament, seeing how it all pointed to Jesus as the Christ.
(28) Lost in conversation, they were seemingly instantly at their physical destination, but the Holy Spirit was pushing them further spiritually. (29) They were not ready, and suppressed the Spirit, saying, “We have almost got this worked out. We essentially understand. We need to stop here.” So Christ met them were they were. (30) As they sat to eat, they gave thanks for their food, remembering what Christ commanded them. The Spirit continued to move amongst them, and it began to dawn on them that everything they had was given to them: their loss, their journey, their food, their community, their communion. (31) Then their eyes were fully opened; God was with them the whole time. In their fellowship,Christ was resurrected. But just as they began to name it, it escaped them. (32) They laughed, asking each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while we talked, as if He were there with us on the road, revealing God’s self to us through the Scriptures?”
(33) They got up and returned at once to their larger community. There, they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together (34) and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” 35 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Christ was recognized by them when He broke their bread.
For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.
Matthew 18:20 (NIV)
In looking at Creation, we developed an understanding that it is meaningless, if not impossible, for any less than three things to exist if anything is to exist at all. To put it another way, there can never be only one single thing, nor two; the bare minimum number of things needed to constitute existence is at least three. From this logic we asserted that a trinity, The Trinity, is essential.
To expound on the idea, we will proceed through three modes of sensing. The point is not so much to create an epistemology, psychology, or cosmology, but a way of making sense of relationships – relationships with others, within ourselves, and to The Trinity. We will examine the line of communication through three “levels” of sensing. First, ‘feeling,’ then we’ll grow an increasingly complex geometry as we build through “believing” and into “knowing.”
Touch is the most basic interface between two objects, therefore feeling as a sense is the ground floor of consciousness. In the last post, we imagined two people deprived of all senses except touch. We noted that in order to be conscious of one another, they have to physically touch. Our point was that to be conscious of an other, there must be some kind of connection between the one and the other. We described the interaction that connected the two entities as a line. The form of a line acted analogously to consciousness, and from there, we went on to say that consciousness is an ontological imperative.
We pick up there to now ask: what if only one person gets to have senses, and the other is deprived of all? Where does that then leave consciousness? If one entity is a rock and the other a person, when they touch the person clearly feels the rock, but what about the rock? What if both entities are rocks? Here, we’ll begin to also introduce subject/object relations to help define our levels of consciousness.
In our model, “feeling” does not necessarily concern itself with consciousness as humans experience it. In fact, as we’ll explain below, humans never really experience anything less than (and possibly never more than) belief. Feeling, the product of an act of touch, only deals with physical proximity and physical response as a formal consciousness. The surface is the location of touch, thus the locus of feeling. Therefore, feeling is a completely objective experience. That last statement seems completely counterintuitive, but it’s very intentional in this scheme. A few examples will possibly drive home the point.
Imagine a small rock sitting on top of another rock of similar size. To say the rocks are conscious of each other can only make sense by pointing to the fact that they do not dissolve into each other. (From the human perspective) their consciousness is synonymous with their physical property of being solid; both objects ‘feel’ solid to each other. An obvious, yet important point to make is that we do not know what a rock feels, only what it feels like. Our inability to have any interaction with a rock other than touch, is the core of what I mean by the term feeling.
Okay, that’s still a bit abstract, but hold the idea of the two rocks in your mind as we process this next, human, example. Imagine any of a million movie scenes: two people meet at a bar and are mutually attracted to one another. They share a few drinks and some light conversation, maybe some dancing, all driven by their immediate “feeling” of attraction to each other. Regardless of how the movie ends, if they spend the night together, when the morning dawns there is an awkwardness that comes from the realization of their mutual objectivity. While the characters naturally assume their individual subjectivities, each one’s objectivity is illuminated by the realization that the immediately preceding activities were purely surface driven. Each person’s actions were propelled by his or her feelings. A one night stand, especially a first night stand, is as meaningful as two rocks. (Of course, the romantic ideal necessitates that the fictional characters ultimately do develop a deeper relationship, regain their subjectivities, and the initial surface treatment was just a serendipitous act of fate… but that’s another conversation.)
The point here is that feelings are physical; the apostle Paul would use the word “flesh”. Feelings may be materially factual, but they are meaning-less. They are physical realities we cannot naturally avoid, but feelings only report quanta, not qualia. Rocks are solid – that’s a quantitative fact. But to know what solid means, we must switch to describing quality; for example, something solid is hard.
A quick Biblical example can be seen in what is often used apologetically for the physical resurrection of Jesus. Only a solid physical object, such as a human body which could not pass through stone, would need said stone rolled from the entrance of a sealed tomb in order to egress. A spiritual, non-physical being would not need the stone moved in order to leave…
The fact that feelings are purely physical means that we must keep them in check with higher order consciousness, a cross-referencing that we will call ‘belief’. But one last thing about feeling. Every feeling we are conscious of is the result of thousands of interactions, thus technically ‘beliefs’ in our model. Still, as we will see below, we cannot simply accept any singular feeling (physical sense or emotion) as truth. This is counter to a popular misconception in contemporary culture, which tells us that it is right(eous) to do what feels right. The problem here is that we often mistake what feels right, with what feels good, and often simply what we can feel. To be morally righteous, or even ethically or simply logically “right,” we must discern what we feel through the lens of what we believe.
To illuminate this, we’ll look at phenomena that problematize feeling while propelling us into the higher forms of consciousness.
Believing in Ghosts
Phantom pain is a phenomenon wherein someone who is missing a limb – an arm or leg, foot, or hand, etc. – continues to sense the missing appendage, often in the form of physical pain. We’re not talking about pain at the stump. Holding onto the example of a missing hand, we’re talking about pain in a hand on an arm that ends at the elbow – feeling pain in a hand that doesn’t exist. It’s as if the hand part of the brain is telling it’s carrier, “I hurt,” but the eyes part of the brain is saying “You don’t exist!” This paradox of feeling urges us toward the next level of consciousness: belief.
Contrary to a type of scientism that begets a type of materialism which rejects a metaphysics and claims that the only truth we can ever know is the material world, I believe that we can only know more than the physical world. I think we cannot simply feel any thing in a purely sensual way, nor truly fully know any thing in its entirety. Instead, we spend our days believing, or rejecting, the overwhelming majority of our experience.
In a previous post, I claimed that to break down the physical world would only result in smaller physical matter. By contrast, to arrive at a metaphysics, the material world must be added to itself. For the materialist, the problem with metaphysics is that it overtly indulges in belief structures. In our model, a metaphysics and belief are required for even approaching the knowing of truth.
If feeling can be described as a line, then belief would be a plane. A line is the joining of two points; a plane is the intersection of two lines. The simplest plane can be formed by three points: two points that each form a line with a third, shared point. But to solidify the plane, the first two points must also be joined, forming a third side and defining the area within a triangular plane. Just as two joined points create a one-dimensional infinity, three joined points produce a two-dimensional field (comprising not only infinite points, but also an infinite possibility of lines.)
To make this more concrete, let’s jump back to the example of phantom limb syndrome. The afflicted person feels pain. It is a real feeling. The feeling is a fact. But it is not the truth. If our person also has the sense of sight, she must resolve the inconsistent facts presented by two different feelings – feeling #1 of pain in her hand, and feeling #2 of seeing no hand. Here we see the triangulation between the brain feeling pain in a hand, the eyes seeing no hand, and the spatial location of the hand in question. Amongst this field lies an infinity of possibilities about the hand. Let’s name a few: 1) there is no hand, the person is suffering phantom limb syndrome. 2) There is a hand, the person is suffering a negative visual hallucination. 3) The person is dreaming. 4) The hand is unknowingly wearing an invisibility glove. We could go on, but we have gone far enough to promote our point. Somewhere within the plane of possibilities, the subject must rest on a belief about the hand. In common terms, beliefs are subjective facts are objective – we will hold to this distinction. (To quickly look back at our movie-based example of humans relations, the two individuals must form a relationship that is believed to be meaningful in order to regain their subjectivity.)
At this point, it’s good to remember this is only a model, a simplified analogy. But it gives us a ground for understanding our perception as it relates to knowledge. In the example of the missing hand, in personal relationships, and in all difficult-to-understand realities, we urgently want to move toward the final level of consciousness: knowing.
If a feeling is a line, and a belief is a plane, then knowledge is a space. Even at it’s simplest, conscious knowledge is exponentially more complex than feeling or belief. Geometrically, the simplest space we can create would be a tetrahedron: a four sided polyhedron whose four faces are each a triangle. While, itself being named by only four points, it comprises six lines defined by four intersecting planes. Our sets now include six linear infinities, four planar infinities, and one volumetric infinity. The trick here is that any point, line, or plane perceived within this space is still only a feeling or belief. To possess knowledge, to know the truth, the entirety of the form must be perceived.
But, as an individual, to perceive the entirety of a 3-dimensional form is impossible. Perception happens in the now. The entirety of a line segment may be perceived, as may any complexity of 2-dimensional shape. But at any moment, from any singular perspective, some part of a 3-dimensional shape will be hidden.
“Yes, but one may just move around the object and therefore take in its entirety,” one may object. This is only partially true. Whatever part of the object is obscured must be conceived, not perceived. The conception is derived from past experience or future-looking conjecture. And now we realize that our sense of knowing has slipped right through our hands like vapor.
How? Simply put, but hard to explain, there is no empirical, provable way to confirm the reliability of the past (or future). As unlikely as it seems to common rationality, any moment could be the first moment, with all history preloaded into this moment – similar to how fully-grown fictional characters magically appear in scene one of a movie. The characters have no real history, but their pasts actually unfold as an aspect of the film’s future. The actuality of the past is, well, an act of faith. Likewise, history as a predictor of the future is not guaranteed. I would never bet that the sun won’t rise tomorrow, but even if I did, there’s no guarantee you or I will be here to collect on the wager.
Faith presumes a coherence through time.
Back to our discussion of knowledge: the entirety of a form can only be conceived, not perceived. And to conceive of it is to have faith in its continuity through time. In order to resolve the belief about the phantom hand, a faith in the validity of the hand’s history and its future must be held. In order for the physical relationship of two people to be confirmed, for “the two [to] become one flesh, so they are no longer two but one flesh,” a lifetime of faithfulness must be adhered to.
Here, we run into the most peculiar result, though perhaps maybe it should have been expected. In order to fully experience a 3-dimensional form, we must also experience time. We have backed ourselves into a corner known to Einstein as the space-time continuum. Translated into the discussion at hand, namely how can we know something, to know a thing’s form in its entirety we must experience it through time. More precisely, we must believe it through time; we must feel it in many different yet relatable ways, through time. Ultimately, the longer we experience it, the more solidly it grounds itself as truth. Further, a shared history that is agreed upon by multiple subjects increases the appearance of validity.
In the previous post, we postulated a monad of sorts that necessitated a trinity as the essence of being and existence. We associated that primary, creative necessity with the Triune God known in the Christian Faith as The Trinity. In this post, we postulated a model for conscious (human) being and existence whose particulate structures are meaningless unless combined; once combined, unreliable unless taken as a whole; yet to be taken whole, only conceivable if taken by faith. Finally, for the individual to have knowledge of the Truth, to be right(eous), one must have a mutually subjective relationship with the Trinity; a Faithful Communion must be employed. In a way, it could be said that humans take part in a new creation by being in communion with the Trinity.
It is as if the image of a necessarily Triune God, is necessarily triune itself.
This is the beginning of a multi-part discussion. I hesitate to post it so early in the blog/podcast’s existence, but it is one of the main lenses that bent my light back into alignment with The Light. I began to develop it about 10 years ago, and it’s still not complete. It’s a super complex analogy in my head, but I’ll try to make it simpler out loud. I begin here on a long arc toward distinguishing between truth, belief , and feeling, in hopes of relinquishing relativism while promoting something akin to relational Christian theology.
Where two or three gather in my name, there also I will be with them.
Let me just start off by saying that this one is going to be a doozy. It’s probably best to read this as creative writing. We’re going to explore creation from a pseudo-scientific-semi-mathematical perspective, then cram it down, no, expand it up to the Christian ideology. This is not apologetics or Big Bang vs Intelligent Design… But don’t let me over-explain it before I explain it. So, let’s go…
A Pointless Beginning
If we look at the Big Bang, the beginning premise is that at some point long ago, everything in our universe was crammed into a single point, which even my 8 year old knows was smaller than the period at the end of this sentence. This is where we will begin; I want to first explore the idea of a ‘point’.
A mathematical point is single location on a line or grid that can be described as a number or set of numbers, respectively. The issue here is that a point’s existence is reliant on a structure larger than it also existing. There must be a line or grid on which the number is defined.
Jumping back to the Big Bang, if the entire universe is contained within a point, on what grid could that point be defined? If the grid was held within that single point, we begin to run into a paradox, if not a full on contradiction. Without a grid, there would not really be a number to assign such a point. And who would be there to give it such a number? If the whole universe is contained in that point, there could be nothing outside of it to observe it. We’re beginning to get at the problem of a singularity of space-time, but before we go further or introduce an external observer, let’s unpack this a little more.
As I suggested in the previous post, I do not understand numbers as constituting a physical reality, only a linguistic sign. To abuse Jaques Derrida’s term differance, a sign can only exist meaningfully in relation to the traces left on it by all the other signs that are absent. Oversimplified: a word only has meaning because of all the other words that it is not. I include all this mumbo-jumbo to say that a singular entity cannot exist, or at best is meaningless by itself.
If, indeed, the universe ever was condensed intoa single point, it did not exist at that point.
As far as I understand though, the Big Bang universe was not ever truly a single point, only a very small, very densely packed “pre-thing” or “non-thing.”
… … …
What about Biblical creation? Was it creatio ex nihilo, ‘creation out of nothing’? Did it, could it, have started from a single point? Was God alone before he created? Was there a God before Creation?
Let’s start by looking at Creation via language. First, we’ll look at Genesis 1, where God spoke everything into existence. Oops, Genesis doesn’t tell us how God created the universe, it just says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” While we assume this means the universe as we know it, it could be that there was already a universe of chaotic ‘stuff’ and God ‘created’ by assembling the chaos into the ordered cosmos we now know. This is how we (who are made in God’s image) create – we take raw materials and order them, shape them, into nameable (and usable) things. Maybe the ‘image’ in which we are created is to be creative. Is not one of the first commands to have dominion over the earth?
Our dominion in not over ‘nothing’, and we don’t create from ‘nothing’. Did God ever rule over ‘nothing’; did He ever create from nothing?
Biblically, it seems clear that there was at least a spiritual host, over which God reigned, before our creation: “let *us* make man in *our* image.” But if God (and possibly a heavenly host) created this universe, what was there before, in the beginning-beginning?
In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
John 1:1 ESV
Okay. Now we have at least 2 entities in the beginning: ‘The Word’ (presumably Jesus in some form?) and ‘God’ (the Father?). We’ll assume this “beginning” is The Beginning, before universal creation, because John goes further to say, “All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made.” (John 1:3 ESV)
Noowwww, we’re starting to get somewhere. And at the same time, we’re getting back on track toward answering the question, “is a trinity is necessary?” We have found two entities, and if we simply add to the Father and Son of John 1:1 the Holy Spirit of Genesis 1:2 (“[…]and the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters,”) we have our Trinity existing at, or more precisely, before the beginning of creation.
But this is basic Trinitarian theology, so why did I introduce all the stuff about geometry and linguistics? To prime us for seeing that a trinity, and by a short leap, The Trinity, is logically necessary for existence in general.
Going back to examine our first point: If a single point can not exist alone, what would allow it to exist?
Let’s visualize this real quick. Imagine there is one single point, and next to it, another single point. Now, what does “next to it” mean when we are talking about singular points? “Next to it” is meaningless because we still have not defined a a space in which these points exist. But to add an entire space is going too far, too fast too furious. (Lucretius the Epicurean suggested a precreation universe filled with ‘atoms’ that where in what we may describe as a zero entropy state: they were evenly distributed and not interacting. Only after one of them swerved and touched another did they begin to pile up, initiating creation.)
Let’s look at that primary interaction. We can relate the two points to each other in a simple way: when the two points touch, they create a line. According to Wolfram “A line is a straight one-dimensional figure having no thickness and extending infinitely in both directions […] uniquely determined by two points.” Not only do the two points determine the line, but the line is the medium between the two points. Here, we do not have space or even a grid; we can’t even define distance or time yet. We don’t really even have a line, only a line segment. But what we do have is a primary infinity – the line between the two points, no matter how apparently small, can in theory be divided and subdivided infinitely. We now have three entities – two points and a line – that act as a single unit but contain the infinite.
(We have twisted Spinoza. For him, what is most Primary (Descartes’ ‘Substance’) is not infinite in number, but infinite in essence. Further, in our model, because of the immediate emergence of three at once, I am tempted to argue that essence, existence, and being co-emerge simultaneously; that only because of our viewing angle do we perceive anyone of the qualities to be primary.)
Now we have a working metaphor for our un-mathematical ‘proof’: in order for any one thing to exist, at least three definable things must exist – the thing itself, a thing to which it can relate, and the relationship between them. And as soon as these three things exist, an infinity of possibilities exists. Specifically, the infinite lies in the relationship -the line- between the two points. We could imagine the existence of any number of beings before the creation of our universe, but we cannot imagine any existence with less than three.
(That may be the most overly complicated love story ever.)
Seriously, it’s a pretty abstract idea to follow. Let’s imagine a more concrete scenario to get the picture. Imagine being alone in a room, completely blindfolded and wearing really good noise-cancelling headphones: you can sense nothing but your own body. If someone else came into the room under the same restraints, you may each think you were alone in the room. The only way to discover each other would be to physically touch. It would be as if the other person didn’t exist until there was a connection, a communication.
Now there are many downfalls to our example, but it gets the point across. Two (or more) entities must touch/interact/communicate in some way in order to exist with each other. Even if we admit that existence is possible without connection (see Lucretius’s pre-creation state), when we take seriously the idea of differance we can stand firm on the idea that there is no meaning shared between two entities that do not interact. In my opinion, it is the touch, the interaction, the shared communion if you will, that is the foundation of existence and meaning.
At this point, we become tempted to play the analogy game: one point could be God the Father, the other could be The Son, and the line between them the Holy Spirit. I like the analogy this way because it gives God and Jesus subjectivity, while the Spirit is the way they connect. But just as easily, this trinity could be ‘creator’, created, and their interplay. I also really like the idea of two subjects and a consciousness that emerges between them. Still more, the naming of any set of three may be appropriate, but the reality that a trinity is necessary allows for a trinity to be found in all relationships. We can, therefore, say that the existence of the form of the trinity is omnipresent.
Ultimately, it would be a mistake to place God or Christ or the Holy Spirit at any fixed point, as this leads us to idolatry. At the same time, a line seems too simplistic to me, and therefore I only use it as a simplified model for what I imagine to be perpetually moving, multi-layered, multi-dimensional fields of existence; maybe something like a multi-dimensional Venn diagram.
The illustration I’m proposing is a dialectical ontology of the divine. Returning to the analogy of the line, it is only by traversing the line, by moving between individual points along the path of the unity, that can we have meaningfully experience, whether of the Divine, the resurrected Christ, or simply the other. When we stop the movement of any point, we objectify it’s being, effectively killing it. All living beings continually emerge in their subjectivity by remaining fluid. As a most concrete analogy, our blood must pump throughout our bodies in order for us to stay alive.
Likewise, the “mystery” of God is not that we can never know Him, but that our experience of God is not static – it cannot be contained in a single nameable time, person, place, or thing. Recall the story of Moses and the burning bush: the fire did not consume the bush, it gave it meaning! As a side note, I have heard Hebrew scholars say that the name Yahweh tells Moses is better translated as “I will be who I will be,” as opposed to “I am who I am.” “Will be” denotes active becoming while “am” signifies only present-ness. I take them together to get, “I am and I will be.” I’m thinking ‘alpha an omega’ language here; with the point being that God, Jesus, and the Spirit are not present only in the beginning and end, but everywhere in between as well. The Trinity is present with us along a line-like path. We walk “the straight and narrow” to be in communion with God.
As Johnny Cash put it, “I walk the line.”
I will spend the next few posts building on this idea by developing a model of existence that shifts between three modes of sensing: feeling, believing, and knowing.
Can literacy go too far? What happens when a system gets too large? What does this have to do with Singularity?
In the last post, we looked at how fluent literacy can lead to a type of authoritative rebirth that we called re+authoring. We discussed the end of the Dark Ages and the beginning of the a Renaissance. (The word, “renaissance,” literally means rebirth.) Marking this historic transition was the restoration of various types of literacy.
Since then, in the Western world, there has been a general increase in literacy. Paired with the ideas of the Enlightenment, naturalism and the birth of modern science, over time myriad doubts about the accuracy and viability of the Bible began to spring up, both from inside and outside the Church. (Speaking of Christianity after the Reformation, I feel like I should say “the Churches,” plural, but it just comes out awkwardly.)
Not only do we get skepticism and relativism from thinkers such as Hume and Kant, but we also get dog-piled by the loss of traditional authority in Kant, Hegel, Marx, and Nietzsche. In this same time frame, a budding new middle class was thirsty for status of any kind. This meant that ideas could spread rapidly by attaching the knowledge and understanding of such philosophies to aristocrat-like intellectual status. Further, the (semi-)dismantling of the feudal system gave many, if not most, some sense of hope for upward social mobility. As the traditional pairing of education and wealth persisted, each socially lower class reached upward, not just in the capitalist sense, but also “intellectually,” getting drunk on the trickle down of a more and more watered-down version of the newest ideas. In sequence, as a result of the spread of secular philosophy, we see a deterioration of the authority of the Church and Christian religion.
I could be wrong, but I think that each of these philosophers distanced themselves from Christianity in one way or another for the sheer fact that Christianity was failing to deliver on the goals and ideals put forth in the Gospel. I don’t think it was an impatience with the eschatological, but with the failure of the Church to exhibit, practically, the lessons of the Sermon on the Mount (among others). It’s as if these thinkers sought to scaffold the morality and metaphysics of Christianity without the mythology. For example, Nietzsche’s “Death of God” is as much a critique of the absence of activated belief and the lack of morality that logically follows, as it is a denial of an actual Being. (Tangentially, what purpose would an ubermensch serve if everyday Christians practiced the Golden Rule?)
The Two Barriers
…But I digress. When a young literate, but perhaps only semi-fluent, person who has not had their needs met by the Church reads or hears a phrase such as “God is dead,” it rings true without needing to inspect the details that lead to such a conclusion. These details were readily available to the one passing down such ideas, and because the messenger is inherently more fluent than the receiver, he/she is capable of choosing whether to re+author or re-write the text as he/she passes it down. To put it another way, the teacher always knows more than the student, therefore the teacher has the power to skew the lesson to his/her motives. This power dynamic can create a barrier to true fluency.
There seems to always be at least 2 barriers to fluent literacy: getting the illiterate literate, and finding benevolent authority for those who remain illiterate regardless of efforts to educate.
The remedy to the first issue, getting the illiterate literate, seems to be a no-brainier – education… … … But I’m just gonna leave that alone for now because of the mess that the American education system is. Maybe this isn’t even a barrier in other countries…
The second issue, which is really, ‘how do we govern the ignorant,” is even stickier. (Does a statement such as that provoke a fight in the comments section?) My original wording has my answer built in: the perpetually illiterate need a benevolent authority to guide them. The problem remains: where to find this ‘benevolent authority.’
The simple, Christian answer is, as always, Jesus! But because He is no longer physically present, finding a human proxy is quite the tall task. While no human is purely good or completely evil, the continuum of theologies developed from the mixture of re+authoring and re-writing the Gospel has divided Christianity into hundreds of denominations. The overlap and disagreement between any two could be both miniscule and infinite. Nowadays, to speak of the authority of the church could mean something different for almost everyone who speaks of it.
None the less, Christianity at least has a model for benevolent authority in its Christ. How about secularism?
How Science Will Fail.
Contemporary Science has as it’s biggest strength it’s biggest weakness: decentralization. Looking at the way that the Reformation took absolute (corrupting) power from the centralized Catholic Church’s hands, the decentralized nature of Science prevents such a circumstance from occurring in the first place. At the same time, the overwhelming project of science demands multiple authorities, each so specialized in increasingly siloed disciplines, that to make generalized practical statements, much less a coherent cosmology, is nearly impossible. Further, the limited resources for research grants has introduced capitalistic competition to the field, along with all its trappings and temptations.
All that aside, the literacy issue poses the largest threat to science as a cosmological competitor to religion. As Galileo would have it, mathematics is the language of science, and many of us do not have the ability to become literate enough in math on the scale necessary for full scientific understanding. Likewise, because of specialization, scientists from one discipline may be (are probably) only partially literate in another. A zoologist probably doesn’t fully grasp subatomic physics, and vice versa. To understand all of science, one must only understand the basics of most of it – any truly universal cosmology faces the challenge of not being an inch deep and a mile wide. So far, the solution to this problem has been to forgo a unified theory, and allow each discipline to be it’s own authority, because they seem to overlap decently. This potentially creates another problem: who gets to be the authority where disciplines overlap? What happens when two disciplines that should overlap don’t? What happens when the links in the chain of authors doesn’t hold together?
Mathematics is like a big building with many apartments. We have at least Arithmetic and Analysis, Algebra and Topology – and we have Geometry and Probability-Theory. Very often the tenants of these different apartments seem not to understand each other.
Paul Lorenzen, “Constructive and Axiomatic Method.” Protophysics of Time: Constructive Foundation and History of Time Measurement (Boston Studies in the Philosophy and History of Science Book 30)
Although the quote is about math, it also highlights the current problem of macro and quantum physics. The scientists understand each other, but their equations don’t – the equations that work for large objects don’t work for small objects. Currently, all attempts to create a Unified Theory have resorted to a sort of metaphysics (ahem, I’m looking at you, multi-verse). Interestingly, most people don’t recognize it as a metaphysics because the language is advanced mathematics, which is not easily comprehended. And when it get translated to literature, something gets lost in translation.
While there are numerous important and critical scientists in every field, the names we all know – Arthur Eddington, Stephen Hawking, Brian Greene, Neil deGrasse Tyson, etc. – are mainly popular because of their ability to translate such math into the language of the laity. They have become the apparent authority not only for their scientific achievement, but because they are so fluent in their language that they can translate/re+author, it into another. These authors give their subject new life; in their re+authoring, their subjects are reborn.
But up to what level can we trust these authorities? If we do not, cannot, read the language of their ideological foundation, what is to stop them from misusing the trust and power we give them? Could the limited number of them precipitate into a scientific oligarchy? Can the peer review process prevent a conspiracy toward malevolent authorship?
Just as the overreach of papal power was prevented from within the church, science might just take care of itself.
The Cyborg Reformation
If human-machine integration is to truly take place – if the augmentation of humans with computers is to reach it’s full potential – then one day, our brains will be bio-digitally synchronized with the complete catalogue of scientific information.
But will we be able to glean meaning from it? Will there be any meaning left- or just information?
Just as verbal literacy led to widespread critical viewing of the Biblical text, will universal mathematical literacy promote cynicism toward the lack of a unified Science? Will there be a unified science by then? Is unification and/or computational singularity an eschatological dream?
Let’s examine the problem of cyborgism – augmentation of computers into the human animal – for just a moment. When humans have a supercomputer in/with/as their brain, everyone should be fluent enough in mathematics to translate the various math equations that explain the big bang, or Higgs Bozon Particles, or gravity, etc. Once fluent, what if we can all easily deconstruct the construct of physics, what if we can all find the inconsistencies that derail any unification theory? What if we find out the multi-verse was all just a mathematical metaphor, equational poetry for the actual physical world? What if it’s just a “play on numbers” that tricks our logic into following a valid syllogism based on false premises? What if we recognize that the numbers still don’t add up to our conscious experience?
Will the same system that created the technology create a technology that undermines that system?
You may recognize these proposed questions as slight variations of the criticism of Christianity (or any religion.) The analogy only works if one accepts math as an actual language, just as Hebrew, Greek, Latin or English are. Many people, especially mathematicians and scientists, believe that math is more than a language; they see it as the essence of reality. Some believe that we can break down the physical world to a point where only numbers would remain. To an extent, many believe that underneath everything, there is (only) math.
I disagree. I don’t believe there is an “underneath.” More precisely, I think the physical world is the underneath. Not necessarily in a fully Platonic way, but in that if physical matter is broken down, I think one will only find more physical matter. I believe that only when physical matter is added together do we get something more.
The physical must be added to in order to get a metaphysics!
‘Meta’ + ‘physics’ literally means “after the physical.” One must have a “protophysics” to be under or before the physical. But before we get too deep into a discussion about if Math is a first principle, or whether the chicken or the egg came first, let us just look at what makes a chicken come from an egg, and what makes a viable egg come from a chicken…
Here, unfortunately and for many reasons, I must leave you with a cliffhanger. First off, I’m not sure how to wrap this up quickly and neatly, if at all. Second, this is a good place to launch into a much larger discussion of emergence.
The next posts will begin a sort of typological cosmology that I am still working out. It will try to explain how singularity is synonymous with non-being, while at the same time claiming that a trinity (the Trinity) is the bare minimum for existence – an existence that goes from zero to infinity instantly. For now, a respite…
“The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works, before his deeds of old; I was formed long ages ago, at the very beginning, when the world came to be. When there were no watery depths, I was given birth, when there were no springs overflowing with water; before the mountains were settled in place, before the hills, I was given birth, before he made the world or its fields or any of the dust of the earth. I was there when he set the heavens in place, when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep, when he established the clouds above and fixed securely the fountains of the deep, when he gave the sea its boundary so the waters would not overstep his command, and when he marked out the foundations of the earth. Then I was constantly at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind. “Now then, my children, listen to me; blessed are those who keep my ways. Listen to my instruction and be wise; do not disregard it. Blessed are those who listen to me, watching daily at my doors, waiting at my doorway. For those who find me find life and receive favor from the Lord . But those who fail to find me harm themselves; all who hate me love death.”
In the beginning was the Probability, and the Probability was greater than zero, and the Probability was One. All things were created through Probability, and outside this Probability, Zero has been created. Life was in that Probability, and that life was the light of homo sapiens. That light shines in the darkness, yet the darkness did not overcome it.
Literacy rates during the Medieval Period in Europe are, apparently, hard to gauge. We’re talking about the Middle Ages, roughly AD1000 to 1400 give or take 100 years, so there is a decent amount of change, and large swaths of peoples and cultures to account for, so the numbers are fuzzy at best. Depending on where you look and how you define literacy, the numbers could be lower than 5%, and restricted mainly to nobility and clergy. But with a more liberal definition, say, being able to make out enough Latin, French, or “English” to equate to a contemporary 3rd grader, numbers could look closer to 40%, but maybe up to 90%. (Source). For comparison, literacy in the United States of America today is between 80 to 99%. (Source)
Okay, maybe not the best sources, but the numbers line up with the general consensus of what I’ve been taught all my life. [And, if I think it’s true, and I can find at least one place online that agrees, it must be #FACTS! 👀]
So, what do all these boring, made-up statistics have to do with stained glass or math? Let’s start with the glass.
Stained Glass Liturgy
The technology of stained glass developed into a high art form in the Middle Ages. Artists used a variety of techniques to create the beautiful windows of colored-glass that filled the facades of Gothic cathedrals. These windows were designed to depict symbolism from, and illustrations of, biblical narratives that helped relate the Christian Story to a mostly illiterate parish. Of course, if the pictures were all the parishioners had, the story would have been quite incomplete.
The textual, literary narrative that preceded the images, was needed to guide the subsequent interpretation of the images. More than simple illustrations though, when backlit by the flicker of sunlight, the images brought to life the stories and characters the churchgoers learned and heard about in the lectionary. The iconography not only sparked the imagination, but also helped inform ideology.
What church-goers learned was a story about an (in my understanding, the) ultimate truth. A truth that was reinforced by every authority they knew, reiterated from birth and passed down through the generations. Religion, as such, was the basis for all understanding – everything from man to Heaven, everything in between, and their origins. In the Middle Ages, the ultimate authority on that truth would have been the Papal hierarchy of the Catholic Church. And this hierarchy was intimately tied to a lineage of authority – and more specifically, a lineage of literate authors.
Here, I’ll take a minute to define what I mean by literacy: fluency in reading (and writing) that allows for comprehension. By comprehension, I mean the ability to read information well enough to interpret it. And by interpret, I mean the ability to “put it another way,” to create an analogy between the actual information (words) presented and others ways of understanding the same idea. I’m not necessarily positing a full-on hermeneutics, but something close.
That ‘something close’ is what I’m getting at with the words ‘fluency’ and ‘comprehension.’ Even if one is able to sound out all the words of a text, if it takes him/her so long to do so that by the time they get to the last words of a sentence or paragraph, that they forget the first words, it will be impossible to comprehend the full meaning of the sentence, verse, section, or chapter, much less a whole book. By that definition, my assumption is that the large majority of medieval lay persons were illiterate. But to be generous, we will assume a semi-literate population.
With this in mind, few 3rd graders have the ability to read the Bible with a fluency that allows for full comprehension. (Let’s be honest, few fully literate adults, including myself, actually read or comprehend the Bible on their own.😂😳😒)
Even if comprehension wasn’t an issue, having access to an actual Bible (or any book) to read was uncommon in the Middle Ages. In fact, books were a rare commodity in general, and essentially a luxury item similar to a nice piece of furniture. The sheer lack of books, including Bibles, almost guarantees that few people had enough practice reading to possess such a skill as reading well.
This is where the stained glass comes in. If the gap between the layperson and clergy was as wide as it appears to have been, a visual aid was sure to help with memory and comprehension – that’s why, nowadays, all presentations have PowerPoints, right? … RIGHT?!?!
The above equation models the Big Bang… wait maybe it’s the equation below this paragraph… Maybe both of them – one of them… Oh! I don’t know. They mean something about the expansion of the universe… … … I think… I mean, that’s what Google told me when I searched “mathematical equation for the Big Bang.”
(I know what you are thinking, “Which big bang?” – OUR Big Bang!) Anyways, you get the picture. Unless something has gone terribly right, no one who reads this blog post will have any clue what these cryptic arrangements of letters and symbols actually mean. We might be able to name some of the variables, symbols or letters. Maybe some of the more mathematically/scientifically inclined could parse a little of it. But most of us, not so much. Let’s try this one:
Many more people can understand the simpler math of Isaac Newton’s physics (which is interesting, as his equations describe the world we more readily perceive – large objects in motion.) Still, many fully functioning adults cannot read or understand any of them.
Ultimately, very few people in the population at large understand the language of mathematics. To be generous, I’ll say we are, as a society, semi-literate in Math (thus Science).
We are, at best, semi-literate in the language of our dominant ideology.
Essentially everything we, as common folk, know of science, especially physics (even more so theoretical physics) is told to us through analogy and metaphor by an authority. This means we are only getting part of the picture when we watch YouTube videos about block holes, wormholes, string theory, or time travel. Ask anyone who really knows the math and they will tell you that even the best verbal analogies and computer generated visualizations do not accurately mimic the mathematics. It is only with a deep fluency in the language of math that we can accurately understand the descriptions and predictions that science makes about our world.
Math, such as the above examples, is the basis for all of the science that gives us all of our understanding of all existence, from quarks to multiverses, everything in between, and their origins. It is no coincidence that similar math and science make our mobile phones work. (Link1 and Link2 give us a glimpse into how.)
You are probably looking at your phone right this instant. Now, think about what you are actually looking at.
A piece of glass with light shining through it.
When illuminated, the light emitting diodes composing the images on your screen bring to life the forces and theories screen-watchers learn and hear about in their free time (because they didn’t care at school). The imagery not only sparks the imagination, but also informs ideology.
What screen-watchers learn is a story about an ultimate truth. A truth that has been reinforced by almost every authority they have known, reiterated from birth and passed down through the generations. The ultimate authority on that truth has been the academic hierarchy of the sciences. And this hierarchy is intimately tied to a lineage of authority – and more specifically, a lineage of authors of mathematical models.
Your phone is kind of like a portable stained glass window; instead of colored glass backlit by the sun, it’s clear glass with colored light shining through. But just like a Medieval cathedral window, it is a visual plane where a semi-literate people look to fill the gap in their knowledge.
Authors vs Authorities
When we are illiterate, we must rely on authority to enlighten us. At the same time, we must always be weary of authority, because “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Authority misusing it’s power is nothing new, it happens in every religion and in the sciences, too. Therefore, we must become literate so that we may not be reliant on authorities, but authors in our own right.
I will continue to build the case for self-authorship in the next post, as well as continue to compare and contrast our relationship to the authorities in science and religion.
If you were offended by one critique or the other, it is simply illustrating your epistemological bias. Unless you are an authority, or at least literate, you are at risk of being played by an authority.
In part 1, I set up a brutal question: is the way that we do Communion in church treacherous?
In terms of how we display our devotion to Christ, we examined being embarrassed versus being exuberant (I think the kids call it “being extra”). We hinted that, while the ritual of Communion, when done in a circle setting, should be orderly, our hearts should be bursting with joy and eager for more.
I think the directive is bigger, not just about Communion, but about the whole Christian experience. In this essay and in the actual, lived Christian experience, Communion is a proxy for the whole lot.
I can’t help but hear Paul say ‘circumcision’ every time I say Communion, and as I flesh out this essay, the anachronistic analogy gets stronger. For the Old Testament Jew, to be circumcised was to be set apart as God’s chosen. For Paul, belonging to God is a matter of the heart, symbolized by Baptism and Communion. The feelings and desires we are examining here start in the heart and work their way to the surface, or as Paul would say it, the flesh. The truth of the matter is that only being circumcised or only being baptized or only taking Communion is not enough. There must be something more going on.
The last blog also left us with a set of rhetorical questions that give shape to this point, and whose answer is in the affirmative.
In speaking of Holy Communion: 1) Are we not, symbolically at the very least, partaking of a meal that gives us Life like no other meal can? 2) Is it not an eternal ration that should be ingested with both reverence and eagerness? 3) And shouldn’t we desire to go back for seconds, thirds, and so on, until we are filled or until we are refused?
If we go back for more, when we go back, we will not be refused; we will be filled to overflowing! Show me a place in the Bible where someone who seeks God (or Jesus) is refused. It doesn’t happen! Ultimately, in fact, through Jesus, God does just the opposite by offering acceptance to ALL people (Galatians 3:26-29).
So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
God may say “No” to requests, He may delay our timeline, and He may bring justice (judgement), but God’s people are not refused. Check the full context of any place where this assertion seems false, and you’ll find one truth: God does not refuse his people. They – we – refuse God!
We are the ones who refuse.
If you don’t mind my punk, we are the ‘refused party program’! But unlike the band, Refused, we are not refusing bourgeois ideology and capitalist structures. We are refusing to fully accept, to enjoy, God’s gifts. Or, possibly worse, we take part in the Gifts meagerly, almost as if we’re embarrassed to take them. Why? Some feel as if we don’t deserve them (which is debatable), some feel as if they were not meant for us (which is constitutionally false), and too often, we refuse to accept what God shares with us because we want to get it for ourselves. (Is this not the plot of Genesis 3? Man and woman refuse to obey God’s wisdom, and choose to take the fruit of knowledge for themselves…)
In everyday life, it’s really not so simple, though. I can’t believe anyone would refuse God’s gift without some external coaxing. Back to our topic, I don’t think anyone intentionally chooses to be embarrassed or anxious or ashamed. I don’t think anyone wants to feel those things. I do think that some of those feelings are unavoidable, even natural – hereditary. For example, I am naturally shy. Not too bad, but definitely more so than naturally confident. I would choose the opposite if I could. Similarly, Science shows that anxiety is natural in all of us; a little keeps us from being too cavalier. Unfortunately, for some it is paralyzingly, and nobody would choose to have a panic attack!
But the embarrassment and anxiety that we are looking at is not the natural kind, it is the type that is synonymous with shame. And shame is not a natural state. (Read that again, and believe it!) We aren’t born ashamed. We are born in the same state that Adam and Eve we’re created: we don’t even know we are naked until somebody tells us. We are not created to be ashamed, we are created in God’s image!
Shame, then, must be a product of something else. But if it is antecedent, what precedes it? And why do we refuse?
In the wake of our existence, in our parades and in our dances;
Touch, see and behold the wisdom of the party program
Essential in our lifetime and irresistible in our touch
The great spirits proclaim that
Capitalism is indeed organized crime and we are all the victims
Lyrics to Refused Party Program by Refused
As emphasized before, we do not refuse the ways of our world. To the contrary, we actively or tacitly accept them. The ideology of the capitalist meritocratic model demands thatwe earn what we get. We are sold told that a gift is nice, but one can only truly be proud of what one earns. [By definition, wages are earned, gifts are not.] As we will see below, to labor is imperative and one does deserve one’s wages, but our society wrongly tells us that we must be able to buy, or at least perpetually rent, our status. In fact, to be reliant on the gifts of others is shameful. And for the proud person, an ‘undeserved’ gift will be refused. According to Tim Keller, “Anxiety is always a refusal to see how much God loves you.”
When pride comes, then comes disgrace [shame], but with humility comes wisdom.
Why do we refuse God’s gift? The easy answer is ‘pride’. Anybody could tell you that. We could find a million examples in the Bible to support such a claim: Adam and Eve’s pride to want to know the things God knows; Cain’s (hurt) pride over God’s reaction to his offering; Jonah’s self-righteousness toward the Ninevites. Peter’s pride – at the Last Supper, saying he’d die with Christ; in the garden, when he physically defends Him; during the trial, when he actually denies Him…
Pride precedes shame in each of these cases. We can easily find infinite analogies to each of these examples in our daily lives, but it is this last example that I find the sneakiest, because it is the hardest to admit relation to. Peter’s denial of Christ came as an act of self-preservation. In his attempt (his working) to avoid the wrath of public opinion – an onslaught of negative Tweets – Peter’s pride manifested three times as denial. Then, exhausted, it’s final exhibition is shown as pride’s inverse – embarrassment, shame.
Remember, Peter accepted the bread and the cup at the Last Supper. He did so only partially though, because he could not accept the gift that came along with it: Christ’s dying on the cross. When he had no choice but to accept it, (because it was about to happen,) he refused a gift Paul would later identify – to suffer with, or as, Christ. And this may be the hardest gift to accept, even for those of us willing to accept His death as a gift.
Our death is a whole-nother situation.
Shame vs. Death
In The Passion of the Christ, the scene in which Peter denies Jesus is depicted as being in the streets of Jerusalem, with a bustling mob following the impending punishment of The Christ. The accusation of Peter’s affiliation with the condemned Jesus piles anxious-bewilderment onto his prematurely saddened state. In his anxiety if being associated with Jesus, Peter panics as if he has been exposed, and this, attempts to hide his identity. Not knowing how to respond or what to do, he tries to save himself. Jesus told him what was going to happen. He laid out the whole thing. Yet, Peter, in a lapse of faith brought on by trial, tried to save himself.
Unfortunately today, we can all relate. Social media and 24-hour ‘news’ cycles bombard us with so many conflicting opinions that every five minutes somebody is telling us that we are, in some new way, naked – exposed. There is something about being on Facebook and Twitter that allows its users to expose the truth about other users. 🙄Hard sarcasm🙄 And that truth is always the same truth: that anyone who disagrees with the post’s author is wearing the emperor’s new clothes (wantonly accepting a lie that ultimately leaves us exposed as a fool.)
This constant deluge of judgment is anxiety producing. It can easily have us feeling like Peter amongst the mob. Fortunately, (for Americans,) we probably won’t face literal death for our (Christian) beliefs, especially ones we *only* post online. We may experience any point on a continuum of figurative deaths, such as the loss of friendship or relationship with family members. Or we may only lose “friends” or “followers,” “likes” and “retweets.” While the former loses affect our IRL lives and the latter interactions may be virtual, all of our resultant feelings are real; I’m talking about stepping on a Lego real. The fact is: it can be very hard to remain steady when our beliefs are constantly challenged, and some aspect of our identity is on the line.
So, what can we do?
A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?
Matthew 20:1-16 gives us the parable of the laborers. I hope to give a good synopsis, but you should read the whole thing to really get the full feel for it. Essentially, day laborers are hired to work a vineyard at different times throughout the day; one group is hired first thing in the morning, then another at 9am, then noon, 3pm, and finally 5pm. At the end of the day, they all get paid the same amount. Jesus states that the moral is that in the Kingdom of Heaven, the “last will be first and the first will be last.” We will tease out some of the nuances, though.
Do you play fantasy football? Me neither. Do you remember picking teams for kickball in elementary school? 👀 A similar dynamic is at play when one selects laborers – simply put, those who are most fit for the job are chosen first. Treating the parable as an accurate reflection of real life, there is likely a reason that the workers picked up later in the day were not selected earlier. Just like in sports, there is a bit of shame in being picked last.
According to Abdu Murray, in the book he co-authored with Ravi Zacharias called Seeing Jesus from the East, in the region where Jesus lived and taught, to not have work would have been shameful for a man. Normally, the men not picked by 9am (and definitely noon,) these men would likely have not gotten any work that day. If they never received work, they may have had to lie about it when they got home in order to save face. It’s easy to imagine the workers in this story refusing to return home early for fear of being shamed.
But we can also imagine a humility, a humbleness, that made them stay. Fitting with the outcome of the parable, I think the workers lingered in the parking lot of Jerusalem’s Home Depot out of sheer Hope. I think that there is some honor in the men who continued to wait. They could have gone out to beg, steal, or maybe just go get drunk – they could have believed pride’s lie and given into temptation of self-preservation. Instead, they showed humility in their perseverance, and when the time came to work, they accepted it like a gift.
At the end of the day, all the workers were rewarded the same, but I imagine that, to the ones whom were picked last, the reward carried also the scent of a gift. Jesus includes in his parable the jealousy of those who felt they had dinner more to earn their wages (and felt like they deserved more.) Recall, in the same way that Mary loved much because she was forgiven much, the late-hired workers probably loved much because they were gifted much.
To our eyes, not everyone is gifted the same way, the same amount, or at the same time. Not everyone is a preacher, or a missionary, or whatever. Not everyone can sing, and not everyone is comfortable raising their hands while they sing. Not everyone responds emotionally. Some respond intellectually. Some physically.
*********But the Bible does tell us that everyone has a gift the gift of God’s love. We also have God given gifts, our talents (if you don’t know what yours is, ask someone you trust, they may see things you don’t).
We should be comfortable with our gifts, and comfortable sharing them. At the same time, embarrassment can cause us to waste our gift. But to waste our gift is a greater shame! That would be the real thing to be embarrassed by! Don’t forget, the Bible teaches us that everyone who can work, should work.
We cannot allow shame, guilt, anxiety, or embarrassment to cause us to refuse to put our gifts into action. Not only will we rewarded for our labor, but we will find out that the ability to labor is the result of a gift! Only by accepting the gift from The True Master, can we put in any worthwhile work. And it is never too late to start laboring!
Perhaps, the laborers who did not go home were only kidding themselves that they would get work… until they received work! Similarly, you may have to “fake it until you make it” to find your gift. If you do, fake the talent, the skill, or the confidence, not the Love for the gift. Paul warns us that doing things that look like Church without Love is being onlya clanging cymbal.Our worship should make noise, not be noise.
The Table is Set
Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.
The offer is always already on the table. The bread and the cup sit and wait. We only have to accept it. There is no way to earn it or be good enough for it – in fact that’s what makes something a gift.
Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.
A gift is given, a reward is earned. Either can be refused, but only one, a reward, can be demanded. A gift is always undeserved, but there is always a greater reason that it is given. Perhaps it is this imbalance that imparts a fragment of embarrassment in the reception of a truly great gift. Again, we should look to children for the proper way to accept a good gift. I think it suffices to say that a child never says, “you shouldn’t have,” or “I can’t accept this.”
Never the less, at some point, we learn to refuse gifts, and be embarrassed by accepting them. And the greater the gift, the greater the embarrassment. But, as Christians, this embarrassment is an embarrassment of riches. And as Christians, this is the only embarrassment we are left with!
In Christ, our only embarrassment is an embarrassment of riches!!!
I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.
One Sunday I was watching a church service on TV with my family. We don’t usually do this, but there were a lot of firsts this year, to say the least. Anyways, they were going to do communion after the service, so my seven-year-old daughter, who apparently loves communion, ran into the kitchen, got a slice of white bread and a small cup of apple juice, because “we didn’t have any grape juice.” #okbaptist. She and her brother tore the bread into pieces and began to take Communion by intinction (dipping the bread in the juice). I joined them as reverently as possible, in my pajamas.
Then, my kids kept going. They kept taking of the elements. Tear, dip, eat. Tear, dip, eat. They gushed over how delicious it was, like they were hosts on The Food Network eating tapas at a Michelin Star restaurant. When they finished off the bread, my daughter went back to the kitchen and got more, and they resumed. After two pieces of bread-dipped-in-apple-juice each, I made them stop.
If you’ve ever taken Communion in a church, any church, you know this is NOT how it works! You get a tiny piece of bread (or that weird wafer thing) and a sip of wine – or grape juice.
But just stop and think for one second, consider the meaning behind Holy Communion, and maybe we can learn something from how my kids were being.
2. The First Communion
The Last Supper was a supper, not a food and wine tasting. It’s highly unlikely that everyone ate one tiny piece of bread dipped in a few milliliters of wine. I’d guess everyone ate a meal’s worth of food. From my readings of the event, reported in each of the Gospels, I imagine that there was only one, maybe two people who didn’t eat a normal portion. Maybe Jesus picked at his food, having a lot of his mind. But Luke reports that Jesus said to the disciples, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” (Luke 22:15 NIV) In my experience, an eager person eats much.
Conversely, Judas sat there already guilty, having already agreed to betray his Lord. He was probably a little antsy, anxious. Almost surely, Judas mainly pushed his food around his plate. (When the disciples ask Jesus who would betray Him, Jesus answered, “That is the one for whom I shall dip the morsel and give it to him.” So when He had dipped the morsel, He took and gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. (John 13:26 NASB).
Revisit that verse again: Judas ate a ‘morsel’ of bread dipped in wine at the first communion. What did everyone else eat? … …
I think Jesus ate well. I think Judas felt a little embarrassed for Him because, perhaps, no disciple saw more clearly the almost ironic truthfulness of the things Jesus was saying – predicting – that evening at the table.
3. Communion: The Prequel
Let’s look at a different dinner party – the first anointing of Jesus, also found in all four Gospels. ( Matthew 26:6–13; Mark 14:3–9; Luke 7:36–50; and John 12: 1-8) Although the details vary from book to book, the point I am going to make fits them all.
In this narrative, there is a gathering of people for dinner. A woman, a known sinner, Mary (possibly, as many traditions believe, Magdalene) breaks open a bottle of very expensive perfume and anoints Jesus’s feet with it. She is rebuked by the Disciples (Judas, of course, is named but others take part as well). Immediately, they get counter-rebuked by Jesus. He points out that she is doing a good thing and declares that “wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” (Which turns out to be true, even 2000 years later!)
Many sermons on this event focus on the value of the oil/perfume, thus the value of our sacrifice and service in Christ (for others). Most focus of the idea that “her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” Those are great and important lessons. But I want to take a different view in order to develop another point.
Instead, I want you to think about that lady with the tiny nose who sits three pews in front of you at church. (You try to make sure it’s at least three rows.) Or the ‘bro’ who walks past your cubicle 50 times a day. “What do they have in common?” you ask. You can smell her perfume/his cologne from a mile away – and you can’t stand it!!! ‘They must put on a whole bottle!’ you think to yourself. You are literally embarrassed for them.
Imagine when Mary poured out A PINT! of fragrant oil on Christ’s feet, it smelled up the whole room!!!
And you know that your sense of smell is tied to your sense of taste? Yeah, so as the smell of the oil saturated the room, the wine that you “can’t believe is less than $20” and the food that you “have to get the recipe for” ended up tasting just like that perfume!
The whole party was ruined, and Judas wasn’t having any of it! I bet he was embarrassed for her.
4. The 2 1/2 Kinds of Embarrassment
When you’re embarrassed by someone, it is a bad thing. You want to be as unlike that person as possible. Teenagers are embarrassed by their parents. When you are embarrassed for someone, there is a sense of empathy in the contrast. You want the other person to be more like you. Parents are often embarrassed for their children. But these are really two sides of the same coin – in neither instance does the embarrassed want to be like the embarrasser. The exception is the ‘half’ in our two-and-a-half types of embarrassment. This is the case of feigned embarrassment, which is brought on by jealousy, and is almost always couched as being embarrassed for the other. The reason being that it is an egotistical replacement of you-wanting-to-be-like-them with you-wanting-them-to-be-like-you.
I think Judas was jealous of Mary.
Let’s take some time develop this:
Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heaven! […]
Praise him with a clash of cymbals; praise him with loud clanging cymbals. Let everything that breathes sing praises to the Lord ! Praise the Lord !
Like I mentioned earlier, I’ve been watching a lot more church on TV and YouTube since this whole covid-19/stay-home thing started. And I have recently come to enjoy Steven Furtick and the messages he delivers from Elevation Church. In some ways, he’s like the pastor at Highland Community Church (in Columbus, Georgia,) where I am a member. They sing with their hands up and their eyes closed They yell out the emphatic parts of their sermons. They (attempt to) look you in the eye when they preach.
They are both like clanging cymbals; they are like a poured out pint of perfume. Their energy invades my personal space and makes me uneasy. Their zeal for the Lord and the gospel threatens my senses. If the ritual of Communion is a stand-in for our- for my – interactions with God through Jesus, their aroma saturates my food and drink.
Honestly, sometimes, I’m embarrassed for them.
Maybe I’m a little jealous.
5. The Embarrassment of a Christian.
My son used to always say he was “embarrassed” at the wrong time; he would literally use the term incorrectly. When we were teaching him to swim, he said he couldn’t do it by himself because he was embarrassed. When he started to learn to ride a bike, he wanted to keep his training wheels because he was embarrassed without them. When he said he felt “embarrassed,” he meant he felt anxiety. When he was”embarrassed,” what he really meant was that he was afraid.
I can relate.
I have felt different types of embarrassment throughout my Christian experience. Upon returning to the faith in my 30s, I felt it for changing who (I thought) I was and what (I though) I believed. Even now, because many of my political convictions don’t quite line up, I am a little embarrassed that, although the church that I attend is non-denominational, it is a member of the Southern Baptist Convention. I never saw that coming! And I NEVER thought I would earnestly watch, much less enjoy, a megachurch service on TV. But I thoroughly enjoy Elevation Church as well as Passion Church and others. For one reason or another, these things give me anxiety and/or are difficult for me to admit. There are plenty of other examples I could give, but you get the picture.
These things cause me to feel embarrassed, both privately and publicly. So, what it the source of this embarrassment? I think it’s easy to say that publicly, there’s a fear of being judged and/or stereotyped. But what about privately?
There are parts of me that still live in the past. Or more precisely, parts of me from the past that are still living today. There is the 18 year old too-cool-for-it self; the twenty-four-year-old-who-knows-everything; and the 30-something who is over-it-all. Those versions of me are still watching me and judging me. They are embarrassed by me. But there are also the future versions of myself that judge me. The 50 year old me who can’t believe how complicated I make things, or the 65 year old me who lovingly pities me for ever having felt this way – “bless your heart” comes to mind. They are embarrassed for me.
It’s like there is a society of Me. There seems to be a process involving a group of Me’s from the past conferring with a group of Me’s from the future, voting on how I feel now. As I look to scripture for ways of being, I find Philippians 3:13 – I forget what is behind and reach forward to what is ahead. And Romans 1:16 [Therefore] I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes…
The two types of embarrassment we’re taking about can be seen as part of a subject-object relationship. When a supposed subject realizes his or her objectivity, they become embarrassed by the situation. But when an object is given subjectivity (receives empathy), the giver of subjectivity is embarrassed for the other. The former expresses how we come to understand our sinful nature, the latter illustrates the functioning of salvation. (I’ll need to develop this more, but for now…)
6. Full stop – Recap
I started with an anecdote about my children gloriously feasting on homemade Communion elements, and contrasted their behavior with the more sparse and somber ritual that happens in most churches; which I compared to speculation about whether Judas could stomach more than a morsel of bread at Christ’s last Passover meal… Then, I laid out how we should not be ashamed of the gospel, but instead be like clanging cymbals or strong perfume, feeling free in sharing it with everyone.
Am I suggesting that the way we do Communion in church is treacherous?
No. Well, not exactly.
On one hand, we would rightfully be embarrassed for someone who ate a lot of bread (not to mention drinking too much wine) at a church Communion. That’s just not how it’s done.
On the other hand, shouldn’t we, as the Church mimicking the Last Supper, be embarrassed by the posture in which we consume it? (Key word: consume.) Wouldn’t our future “New-Heaven-and-Earth”-selves be embarrassed for us, having a gracious pity that wishes we would enjoy the Eucharist as if we were eating at a five-star restaurant? Are we not, symbolically at the very least, eating and drinking of a meal that we believe gives us Life like no other can? Is it not an eternal ration that should be ingested (as opposed to simply consumed) with both reverence and eagerness? And shouldn’t we, like children, desire to go back for seconds, thirds, and so on, until we are filled; or until we are refused?
… … …
In one sense, we will never be refused. <–and that’s where week pick up in the next episode, as we dive deeper into navigating embarrassment.
P.S. 16 times in Leviticus, is an aroma is described as being pleasing to the Lord, and various other times in the Old Testament. Likewise, in The New Testament (Ephesians 5:2) it says “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:2)…
Hi, thanks for checking out A Critical Image. I find it extremely important, critical if you will, to examine our world and ourselves with a critical, yet open, eye, mind, and heart. As a Christian, I believe we all are all images of God; made in His image to carry out His will here on Earth, as it is in Heaven. I see the Bible as offering a Divine critique of humanity, which gives us an opportunity to be transformed by that criticism and conformed to the perfect image, Jesus. I am a critical image, and so are you.
I’m not a preacher. I don’t have a PhD. I’m not a philiosopher.
I do have an MFA and BFA in visual art, and a BS in Psychology, and I have taught at the college level. I think I have some interesting things to say, and I hope you’ll agree.
I do feel compelled to do this. As weird as it sounds, even to my own mind, I feel called to do this. It’s embarrassing for me to say that. I can’t say exactly why it’s embarrassing, but it is. Maybe because I don’t feel worthy or capable, maybe because I’m being too open and honest for my own comfort level. (I will spend the first installment working through this.)
Honestly, I don’t feel adequate to be doing this, but I do believe God is adequate in all things.
But I do feel called, and I want to obey.
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed–not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence–continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.
I’ve struggled with this verse ever since I first really noticed it. I struggled because I don’t really understand it, but think I’ve experienced it- as I’m experiencing it now. Although God, through Jesus, has my salvation fully worked out, I am, in a sense, working out my understanding of salvation here in front of you. Further, the “your” in “your salvation” is plural (in the original Greek), so I’m hoping for others to join; with constructive criticism and dialogue in the comments, or maybe others contributing to primary content; working out our salvation together.
As I turn a critical eye to my beliefs, I possess fear – fear of failure (whatever that would mean), fear of misrepresenting the Good News, fear of not knowing enough. When I get the feeling that I have to do this despite the fear, I tremble.
I try to take some comfort knowing that there really is no pressure. I can’t save myself or anyone else, and the Gospel doesn’t necessarily need me in order for it to be true, good, or fruitful.
Recently, I have been coming to the realization that not everyone thinks like I do; not that they don’t agree with me, but that they have different thought patterns, cares, and abilities. I like to think that I am above average, but as a (partially) self-realized-Gen-X-Millenial-cusp (a Xennial, if you will,) I know that we are all above average (Advanced Australopithecus was average.)
[Average, median, mean, mode – something like that! Did I mention I have weird sense of humor? I’ll try to keep it at bay, maybe.] Seriously though, I am doing this because I like it. I love it. I like to think about these things. It fulfills me. Without downplaying the effort I’m putting into this project and the seriousness with which I Believe, ultimately I am having fun. I get joy from seeking Truth, or maybe more accurately, rummaging around in it.
I believe truth is a framework in which one may exist, not just a code to which one must adhere. For example, an infinitude of songs may be played on the framework of a guitar, and each instance (song) edifies the validity of the instrument. For the guitar player of any level, playing is a serious, yet enjoyable display from which the player and listener can learn and gain appreciation. In a similar way, I am playing in, and enjoying, God’s creation. I believe that as a Christian I exist in the framework of Truth.
I know that I won’t always be correct, and sometimes I might be flat out wrong. I would love corrections, feedback, and discussion to help foster personal growth for myself and anyone willing to engage, regardless of their beliefs. In challenging myself, I hope to challenge others, both believers and skeptics.
… Present your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to the Lord, this is your spiritual worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
Romans 12:2 New King James Version
In the end, I am doing this as a form of Worship – glorifying God through the enjoyment of Life. This is an attempt to use what I understand my gifts to be in His service, and I would love for you to join me. I will try to take this advice from the writer of Ecclesiastes:
Do not be overrighteous, neither be overwise— why destroy yourself?
I’ll leave you with this, from Paul’s letter to the Philippians, to which I relate.
My goal is to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, […] Not that I have already reached the goal or am already fully mature, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus. Brothers [and Sisters], I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus. […] In any case, we should live up to whatever truth we have attained.
Philippians 3:10, 12-14 and 16, Holman Christian Standard Bible