The Road to Emmaus

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!

Luke 24:13-35

(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.

Why a Trinity is Essential. Part 2: Feeling, Believing, Knowing.

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.”

Feeling feelings

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.

Nearing 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.

Why a Trinity is Essential

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.

Matthew 18:20

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 into a 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.

Creation of Adam – Michelangelo       (public domain)

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.

The Last Supper – Leonardo Da Vinci (public domain)

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.

3 The Relativity of Stained Glass and Math: Epilogue

A History (and Future) of Disbelief

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.”

Proverbs 8:22‭-‬36 NIV

2 The Relativity of Stained Glass and Math PT 2 : Authors vs Authorities

If we are not fluent, we are illiterate.

The last post left us with the nearly helpless idea that when we are illiterate (which we mostly are), we must rely on authority to enlighten us. Simultaneously, we must also be weary of authority, because whether in science or religion, “absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

A major source of power comes from being fluent in an system in which others are not.

Our resolution was to become literate, so that we may not be reliant on authorities, but instead, authors in our own right. This can be a daunting task that goes in a few directions; we will follow what we can.

Christian Authorship Among Mixed Means

Unlike the meaning embedded in Medieval stained glass imagery, the equations of theoretical physics cannot be fully fleshed-out to us by reading aloud from the author/authority’s work. Although some see math as the truly catholic, ahem, universal language, the fact is that most are ignorant of its higher forms – calculus, non-Euclidean geometry, etc. For many, an advanced mathematical model is codified in a foreign language. Therefore, whether written or spoken, it may not be comprehended by one who is unlearned in such mathematics. In this case, fluency and literacy are one and the same.

Wait! Can’t something similar be said of Christianity? I would posit that one could be taught all the words in the New Testament, but not really know what it means to be  Christian – to inhabit the being of one who follows Christ – because the epistemology and the ontology of the Christian rest in praxis 👀👀👀. More plainly, the foundational truth of Christian-being can only be arrived at through action. I know many a Pauline disciple are shouting, “You just need faith to be Christian!” Sure, but how do we know one has faith? Through their actions. As the apostle James famously puts it, faith without works is dead. Or, as Deitrich Bonhoeffer puts it in chapter two of Discipleship, faith and obedience arise and act simultaneously; “Faith only becomes faith in the act of obedience.”

Of course, to know how to act like Christ, we must learn about Him. This is one place where the verbally illiterate has the advantage over the mathematically illiterate – the former can listen to the Bible being read in his/her language of fluency and begin to grasp its message. Conversely, advanced math is equally opaque whether spoken or written. (I will not address translation concerns here, instead only deal with interpretation, as translation is a type of interpretation.) Ultimately, and with reference to the first Pentacost after the resurrection (Acts 2:1-13) where the language barrier was miraculously dissolved in the dissemination of the Gospel, I believe that the Holy Spirit is expected to translate to the faithful reader/listener. I’m not sure the same can be said for calculus. Is there a holy spirit of calculus?

The fact remains: there are many different interpretations of every Bible verse. So, we should take a minute to examine hermeneutics – the task of interpreting.

Contemporary hermeneutics is often overlayed onto literary semiotics (the study of the basic elements of language/writing). Without getting stuck in the weeds too much, we will quickly look at the ideas of a philosopher from the 20th century, Roland Barthes.

One of Barthes’ most famous ideas is presented in his essay “The Death of the Author.” Jumping right to the punchline, Barthes asserts that every time a text is read, it is (re)authored by the reader. In his view, through the act of interpreting the meaning of a text, it is authored as much by the reader as its writer. The essay includes a criticism of dogmatic interpretation of texts, including the Bible. Barthes claims one of his purposes as being the liberation of the activity of interpretation, noting that to do so might be considered counter-theological because “to refuse to arrest¹ meaning is finally to refuse God…” The implications appear counter to religion, but can also be utilized in understanding the democratization of Biblical authority.

For Barthes, authorship (thus authority) is decentralized.

In arguing this, he accidentally gives proof to the Pentacostal activation of the text. As we read the Bible, we interpret it. Thus, it is revealed to us. When I say read, I mean READ the Bible – not just eyeballing the words, wondering if it’s been long enough since we’ve last checked our social media, or scanning for something that  we already know and that agrees with our agenda – I mean when we read-read; when we look up the words we don’t know, check the concordances, read and reread until we inhabit the words the way The Word desires to inhabit us. When we read this way, we can expect the Holy Spirit to reveal what the tongues on fire are saying to us. When we read on this level, in a sense, we are (re)+authoring the text. We are becoming an authority on it.

🛑S🛑T🛑O🛑P🛑

Here, we find ourselves in the greatest danger.

It is at this point, when we begin to feel like we are gaining authority on the Bible, we should take a step back and learn a lesson from Science.

Of all the stages of contemporary scientific endeavor, possibly the most critical phase for confirming a finding is peer review. Peer review means that when a new discovery is made, other scientists in the same field, with the same or higher credentials, check the work for soundness and validity.

Returning to our look at Christianity amongst the low literacy rates in the Middle Ages, we can see how important peer review is in keeping (Biblical) authority in check. Namely, when no one could put review the church, the church made it’s own rules of the Biblical texts.

In the centuries following Roman Emperor Constantine’s appropriation of Christianity, (making it the official religion of the western world,) the Church expanded greatly in every way. Across this time, we see a direct correlation between the church’s temporal distance from the resurrection of Christ, and the theologically-promoted physical distance between Heaven and Earth, as evinced by a change in the locus of authority. In this process, as the church became more powerful, the source of its authority shifted. This movement could be described as going from the Word of God to the word of Rome vis-a-vis the Papacy. More concisely, the Church’s authority transformed into power. We will now look at how early Christian peer-review was lost, and how that translated into power becoming centralized.

Authority vs. Power

The Epistles of the New Testament are letters written to churches, presumably passed between local congregations and read aloud to each. Based on my reading of the Epistles, when I think of the first and second century churches, they seem like places where people learned about Christ and how God had already forgiven their sins through Jesus’s death and resurrection. The Church’s mission seemed to be letting people know this good news and asking them to turn from their flesh-ly ways to build a more heavenly community of forgiveness here, on Earth, in preparation for the new Heaven and Earth to come.

It was the responsibility of the hearers to live out, in their communities, the gospel they heard described, therefore, taking part in the authorship of the good news to their community.  I would call this benevolent authoring, or as a noun, benevolent authority. Benevolent authoring has no relationship to literacy, because it’s goal is irrelevant to language, it’s aim is action.

Jesus, himself the Benevolent Authority, re+authored the Bible of his time by living out it’s truths. In His own words, He did not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it. He fulfilled it by putting all of its teaching into meaningful action. By contrast, the Pharisees lived by the Law, they did not live out the Law; they lived beside the Law, not through it; they may have best memorized and obeyed the Law, but did not know how to Live, because of the Law.

We are called to be Christ-like, to re+author the word daily, not only by reading it or memorizing it, not just by living in it, but also by living it out. Here’s a quick scriptural example from Matthew:

In Matthew 3:2 (ESV), we see John the Baptist preaching, “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” After His baptism by John, and testing in the wilderness, Jesus begins his ministry by preaching, “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17 ESV). Christ does such a good job of this that “the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.” (Matthew 7:28-29 ESV) It was as if Jesus had not simply read the Law and the Prophets, but written it himself! He subsequently “called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction” and instructed them to “proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” (Matthew 10:1 and 7 ESV).

“The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” It’s almost like John the Baptist wrote it, Jesus lived it, and the disciples copied it. But because of the way each participated in it, they all shared in its authorship. They each had authority.¹

This next point is crucially important:

To author a text is to give birth to it; to re+author a text it’s to give it new life. Jesus was the word made flesh –  the living word – he was the meaningful activation of the text. His murder was an attempt by power-seeking authorities to fix the meaning of the Word¹, but his resurrection was a radical re+authoring of the Word. Likewise, if we live out – re+author – Christ’s example, we will be re-born (born again), and share in His resurrection. This is a call to action, not to speaking. We are to re+author, not re-write.

To continually re+author the gospel in this way is to continually re-surrect (rise again) the Christ. In the same way Jesus brought Lazarus back to life, we are involved in the resurrection of Him when we live as he lived. But, we can only know how to live because Jesus first lived. This is how we keep the Kingdom of heaven at hand!

… … …

In contrast, I understand the Church of the Middle Ages as promoting a Heaven that was NOT at hand. The church acted like an earthly kingdom whose mission was to constantly remind people that they needed God’s forgiveness and let them know where and how to earn it. The responsibility of the people was to rid themselves of sin, and because the logic was that Heaven (and God and Jesus) was far away from Earth, the responsibility of the clergy was to act as intermediaries between man and God. In order to perpetuate its power, the Church had to regulate the maintenance of the salvation of its parishioners. In turn, in order to ensure one’s own salvation, the status quo of papal hegemony had to be maintained.

This positioning gave the papal hierarchy absolute power, including authority to interpret, to re-write the Law as they saw fit.  I call this power authoring. Power authoring has a direct relationship to literacy in that the powerful need those who are overpowered to be illiterate in the language of the Law so that the rules always work in the powerful’s favor. In contrast to the benevolence of re+authoring, power authoring is malevolent re-writing.

So, where does peer review come in for either of these situations?

In the early church, there were many disciples/apostles and followers who had first-hand encounters with Jesus. Therefore, the news being spread could always be fact-checked. I have heard contemporary apologists claim that the obligation to factual accuracy in the story of Jesus and His teaching was critical in the foundation and growth of the early church. So much so, that we can see evidence of this in the disputes between Paul, Peter, and others over theology in the Epistles.

Alternately, by the middle ages, the Bible, prayer, and liturgy were the only available re-sources for learning about Jesus. There were no verifiable first-hand encounters with Jesus. As discussed, Bibles were scarcely available, so instruction on how to pray, source material for liturgy – anything found in the Bible – was restricted to those who had access to a Bible and were fluent in it’s language. More often than not, the people in such position were also under the influence of power, and the Empire.

But toward the end of the Medieval Period, there was a rise in literacy. In fact, many would argue that literacy is one of the main things that ushered in its end.

Where did the end of the church’s power come from? Within.

Inside the Church was the humble, devout, monastic order. These copiers of the Biblical text were often highly literate. But, apparently, reading the same Book repeatedly was a little boring to some of them, and there began a bit of an underground book exchange. According to Stephen Greenblatt in The Swerve, the desired texts were often the old Greek classics, as well as other pagan or secular texts. These same texts were also sought after by the growing wealthy, literate class outside of the clergy.  Here we see the rise in the literacy (fluency) of ideas that were outside that “arrested meaning” found in the orthodox ideology which was sanctioned by (papal) authority.

By the turn of the 16th century, the ideas of the Ancient Greeks and Romans had worked their way back into the minds of the literate world. Paired with an ever growing and ever more apparent corruption within the church, the Humanist idea of individual agency likely helped open the mind (and heart) of Reformation hero, Martin Luther. His critical (re)reading of the Bible and his courageous peer review of Papal procedure led him to see – to re+authorize, if you will –  the Biblical truth that the relationship one has to God through faith in Christ is constitutional to salvation, not  payment of indulgences or other such works.

Already in full use by Luther’s time, the invention of the Guttenberg press also helped catapult literacy by lowering the production time and cost of printed materials, increasing their availability for private consumption.

I noted in the previous post that very few fully literate adults have the ability to read the Bible and fully comprehend it. Escaping the question of whether anyone fully understands it, I wholly believe that it was not meant to be understood in isolation, but that reading the text together in a group gets us closer to comprehension than any individual exegesis could. If this is true, then an increase in literate individuals could have strengthened, and been strengthened by, a kind of collective fluency.

Clearly though, Luther accelerated the democratization of literacy by translating the Bible from Latin to the common German language. The ‘Luther Bible’ more readily allowed the laity to read for themselves the promise of the gospel.

Quite literally, Luther’s re+authoring of the Bible helped suture the wound between the medieval church and the resurrection, in a sense narrowing the gap between Heaven and Earth. Once again, the Kingdom was near.

To be continued…

It seems to be our nature to want fixed, unchanging meaning; a God we could pinpoint would seem to help us grasp our present reality. But the Bible itself reminds us that life cannot be grasped, it is like smoke or vapor. To attempt to hold it is vanity. Its meaning always escapes,  we are told by the teacher in Ecclesiastes. Keeping this in mind, for a text, any text, to ‘live’ it must continually be read anew, re+authored. Like the spirit, or breath, of God hovering over Creation in Genesis, it should always posses a vaporous quality. To lock down the message leads to litigiousness, and to overemphasize the Law makes us miss the One who came to fulfill it.

Read the Bible. Study it. Read it with others. But don’t choke the Life out of it! Re+authorize the Word by faithfully acting on peer-reviewed understanding. Perhaps in this way, we can stay mindful that the Kingdom is, indeed, at hand.

1. According to Mark 1:14, “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

The Embarrassment of Christianity, Part 1

1. Holy(?) Communion

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!

YUMMY!!!

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 !

Psalms 150:1‭, ‬5‭-‬6 NLT

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

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.

Philippians 2:12

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?

Ecclesiastes 7:16

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

Thanks for stopping by!