Sunday, December 16, 2007
"Immediately, the boy's father exclaimed, 'I do believe; help me in my unbelief!'" (Mk 9.24 NIV)
I am laying in my chilly uninsulated room in the barrios of Mexico. The glow of the small propane heater, set next to my bed, creates lingering shadows upon the darkened walls. I am reflecting on the happenings of the day, thankful that it is ending in the same way it began: I am pleading with God. I am asking him for hope, encouragement, strength, wisdom…joy. I believe that somewhere between His grace and my complete unworthiness He has given me grace to be free; freedom to be His son with no qualms or questions. Though all of my being cannot accept this reality, I choose to believe it. I choose to believe for I have no other hope.
One shadow, dances off the wall reminding me of the vehicle I drove into a ditch this morning causing me to be at the whim of angry neighbors and a vacationing Youthworks! staff. Another, flickers with the event of community contacts standing me up even after I drove a half hour to meet them with presents and baked goods. Still another, displays the bleak hopelessness of the Woman's shelter I visited, and it tells of the ever growing helplessness I feel when I think upon the dim futures of the children I played with. Still another, reminds me of the stuck valve on the propane tank I assumed was shut and began loosening in our living room. The tank, after a frantic run outside by one of the Youthworks! staff, thankfully spewed the deadly fumes into the air instead of toward the stove someone was using. And still another, reminds me of the team tensions and frustrations between our very eclectic group and our aggravating recent interactions with the community. And one more reminds me…and still one more relates…and yet another tells me…
These dancing shadows creep ever closer to my flickering light, swaying and moving with a sultry toxic message – as of venom yet sweet as chocolate. There I lay, cradled close to the last security of the dimming light, ever aware of the advancing dark, and pray:
"I choose to believe! Overcome the black night of this unbelief!"
Saturday, December 15, 2007
The steam of the nearly boiling water warms the otherwise frigid kitchen of the small church Salon de Sociale. In the background is the ruckus of rowdy Mexican youth and the leaders that are working tirelessly to keep them entertained as they offer a relevant message of Christ. I have been commissioned to cook for this overnight event. It is nearly ten, and I can't help but worry that the children are getting anxious to eat -though truly, this may be the best meal some of them will have all week; a spread of feasts for a crew of peasants. I subtly remind myself that eating in Mexican culture generally happens later, but I still cannot shake the nagging of my brain.
My thoughts dwell on the youth here and the frustration one of the leaders confessed to me; the realities of in-depth inner-city ministry had met this visionary minister face to face. He has been wrestling with some real and weighty issues in his work: How does one overcome the street life and show the great joys of the love of Christ? How does one stop the cycles of poverty so that a group of youth can see that there is more to life, namely the love of Christ, than drugs, violence, and an eclectically active sex life? How does one show the love of Christ in a place that teaches their children to lay Him on the wayside? How does one keep hope when every effort seems to end in disappointment?
I am reminded of a time of worship recently when the leaders, having pleaded with the youth to stay and worship, lifted their praises to Christ; hopeful; prayerful; alone. In the middle of one of the songs, the youth boisterously flooded the room returning and paying no attention to the meaningful praises of God, and the leaders continued to sing even amongst the obnoxious distraction. In that moment, my mind's eye dreamt and saw a time when these children, by the faithful and exhausting efforts of these young leaders, might someday bow their entire being at the throne of Christ, thankful for the life they have been given; worshipful for the mere chance to do so; reverent of His mighty power and love. I saw them – beautiful. I realized that these rough city kids had returned because they found no other like it anywhere else. They needed this place of safety and hope. Could they have found an even more "relevant" place to be in the druglord's house? definitely. But they would not have found the hope and Christ-like love offered here.
As my mind revels in the idea that one day the praises of this youth would ascend like the pungent altar incense of old, the rising steam from the boiling water reminds me of the task at hand. I thank God for His goodness and ask Him for encouragement in this desperate place for those that are faithful. I stir the pot and chuckle. We may not live like kings here, but tonight we're all sure as hell gonna eat like one.
Monday, December 03, 2007
I try to hide my shivering from the others who had come more well prepared than I have. The pastor has leant me a jacket displaying the allowed and appropriate colors, but it does little to fight the biting chill created by the shade of the building we are forced to stand in. As we make our way inside the penitentiary, things become very real and very sobering. All along the way, Mexican police officers garbed fully in modern war armor and SWAT gear stand guard with their fingers taut against the triggers of their M-16 rifles. Drug dogs run the line sniffing out any who might try to breach the borders and parameters of this guarded community. With me the pastor, the mother whose son we were to visit, and the pastor's assistant. We heave the weighted load of food and supplies for the young man to eat, bathe, and do laundry on to the inspection counter, and the undying love of this mother hits me for the first time. Without her, this man would starve. Without her, this man would die.
As we enter numerous inspection lines, and give our lives and identities basically to the whims of the Mexican prison system, I can't help but lean my entire being on the hope that God would safe guard me – that the sayings of Psalms 121:8, displayed proudly on one of the walls of our apartment, promising He would secure my path for eternity, would not fail me now. I am helpless to all but trust in Christ.
Once through these seemingly unending security checkpoints, and with my visitor card tucked safely inside my clenched and white knuckled fist, I proceed into the courtyard. In Mexico, there is no separation of inmate to visitor. Once one is in the gate, he is directly in the prison community. As we walk past starving and begging addicts, gangsters, and swindlers (who apparently were not as lucky to have caring family on the outside), and made our way to the young man's cell, It becomes strikingly obvious that, for some, prison might be the better option. For, inside these walls is a small community; inside these walls is a virtual paragon of commerce; inside these walls, men are free to sell, trade, and barter without all the hassles of having to worry about needing shelter or providing for family. That is to say, they are free to do so if they are given the proper provision which all are not. We reach the young man's cell, which is not unlike some of the two person dorm rooms of my university, where he has just risen and his cellmate slumbers continually never showing his face. His mother hands him the package of supplies which his shame permits him to take. I see a mother's heart breaking.
He walks us to the courtyard where we buy some coffee and cookies from one of the inmates there, and watch some of the men cook their breakfast on the gas stoves provided. We talk of various things. We converse about the recent riots inside and some of the horrors of death and violence the young man had seen, we spoke of the differences he has noticed in serving time in the States and serving time in Mexico, but most of all we spoke of God's undying love for him – we spoke of the liberty that Christ can offer.
We leave, and I am overwhelmed. My whole being, everything in me and of me, desires to scream and yell and pray as loudly as I possibly can for this young man:
Father! Show him the freedom these walls cannot contain!
Father! Show him the freedom these walls cannot contain!
Father! Show him the freedom these walls cannot contain!
Monday, November 12, 2007
Follow me here…In the mountains of Colorado, one might find himself, in the early morning hours, staring at a bird in the branches of a pine tree, and that bird might be singing a frail yet powerful song as the breaking rays of the day's first light rush past illuminating the small creature. He might then realize that it is neither the pine tree, nor the sun, nor even the bird in itself that creates this magnificence, but rather it is the way in which all work together in their mere being to reflect and shine out the glory of God; they exist; they dwell; they are. Their mere identity in creation makes them.
As I sit in the community building of the site 2 church here in Juarez, my mind is captured by the captivating scene which I can only relate to that of a singing bird. For a brief second, I find myself watching the members of this church, and I am astounded at their liveliness – their realness. For but a moment, a haze is lifted from my tired brain, and I have awakened to life with renewed clarity on the vibrancy of God’s humanity through the interplay of these people. It is as if I am watching a grandiose painting coming to life; as if beauty itself is being manifested from a picture; as if I could dwell, in the purest sense, within the manifestation of the most wondrous imagination. In my panoramic and continuous view, I see – I think – the very face of the church. In one corner sits Maggie, a smiling elderly lady. She is quietly singing an awe-inspiring Spanish hymn to herself. Another older man, Antonio, just stands around reflecting the wisdom of his years as well as the true nature of his gruff exterior marked by the frailty of years. Pastor Jorge buzzes to and fro playing with the kids and laughing with the people. One member grills tacos to enjoy. The kids are playing and teasing each other. There is an abundance of joyful conversation. People are living together. God is manifesting himself. The church is being revealed.
This forces me to necessarily think on the times when, in my own church at home, we too had an aura of truth and beauty around us, and I found the more I thought of it, the more I believed it to be similar moments as these. We weren't the church when we were trying to put together relevant worship services, when we sang the latest song, when we had new and swank art shows, nor when we took up any sort of post-modern rhetoric. All these things positively played into the way we worked out our identity, but it was in those times when we shared our hurts, reveled in one another's beauty, struggled with one another's flaws, when we ate together, sang together, and lived together that we most became the bride of Christ.
As the singing lark – perched steadily upon a low pine branch – whistles its endemic and coercive tune, arguing in its mere existence the presence of the almighty, so too do the people of God supplant any temple or dogmatic worship, and by doing so, reflect in their community and existence the true nature of a loving deity.
Monday, October 29, 2007
At one point I feel the familiar tug at my shirt, which I generally find pointless since I usually in turn try to scare Whitney further, and I turn expecting to see her. However, as I turn I notice, amidst the noise and flashing lights, that it is actually not Whitney but rather a Mexican girl with whom I have no association. With wide eyes, her white knuckles cling to my shirt, and she whispers:
"No, Senor, No Senor, No Senor!"
A little shocked, I chuckle to myself and think, "Hey! Do what you gotta do"
Truth be told, most of the jargon, not unlike the "Hell Houses" in the US, hurt my heart as we entered different rooms of "Scare Tactic Christianity," but I was not here to judge or govern but merely to support and encourage. Hopefully, God was with us that night as we sought to encourage our ministry partners and friends.
Monday, October 22, 2007
Having recently found a great enjoyment in tea, I drank fast the now lukewarm beverage as I anticipated the coffee I would soon be enjoying from the gas station on the way to Jenny's (She runs the comedor – or soup kitchen at Youthworks Site 1 – it is our responsibility to pick her up every Wednesday morning to help bring the food across for the people). The line on the border bridge is relatively short this morning. I am listening to a sermon by a good friend of mine, Jeff Cook, as he traverses through the Pauline doctrine of Philippians. I have my hands tucked deep in my hoodie pockets, and all the windows are rolled up tight; the mornings have become increasingly cold. I inch ever more closely to the border. I pull out my passport, and go over what I am going to say to the border guard in my mind. Finally, I make it to the front and the guard waves me forward. We go through the typical exchange – "What are you doing in Mexico?" – "What are you bring into the States" – etc. However, there is something different in his eyes; there is something shifty; there is distrust.
The guard asks me to step out of the van and open the side and back doors. As I do so, he mumbles something that I cannot understand, and I, having been prodded to respond in Spanish while learning in the last week, unhesitatingly reply, "¿Que?" This, of course, is not the right response to an officer who already seemingly thinks you are trying to put something over on him. He steps back, he becomes very stern, and he begins to look me up and down. I pause and wait for his response.
Then, the question…
"When was Paris Hilton here?"
"You know, Paris Hilton. She was here not too long ago with her kids, huh? When was that?"
"I-I don't know man! WHAT?"
Realizing that I was not a Mexican national, that I was not trying to trick him with anything, and that I apparently did not keep up with the doings of one snobbish Ms. Hilton, his embarrassment was evident.
All that said, sometimes border crossing is ridiculous…and I am glad I finally got my passport.
Monday, October 15, 2007
"Woe to you Teachers of the Law and Pharisees…"
Woe to you Teachers of the Law and Pharisees for not wielding the law in order to be more fully human and less a slave; woe to you for allowing Israel to become more man's than God's; Woe to you for forgetting.
The small girl pushes the chair with all her might. For a few minutes, I am hardly aware of the activity because it seems to mold into the background of what else is going on. The prolonged activity seems to be very strenuous, and the few times that I do notice the girl, she seems to be exhausted with the work though her determination is evident. The metal legs scrape ever fervently across the concrete floor, hitting every bump and squealing the whole time. Finally, she reaches her destination. There is a small table in the corner of the room, and she bangs the back of the chair hard against it. She ascends to the seat of the chair, upon its back, and finally to the table top. Suddenly my full attention is enraptured in the intent of this small girl. Her eyes bounce around the room as if the bewilderment of her accomplishment had overwhelmed her, her face brightens as a glass of champaigne spilling overtop, and she begins to do something marvelous. She jumps. It happens only about three or four times, and never mind whether she was actually supposed to be up there or not. She jumps…she simply jumps, and for a brief moment the whole room seems to stand still (if I had been outside, I might even venture to say the whole world) that this girl's contagious laugh might echo out into the roaming desert and to the hearts of humanity. Then she climbs down and goes on with her toddler day.
The Spirit taps at my heart. "Don't forget to be human – Don't forget to be mine!"
Sunday, October 07, 2007
"'I do not EXIST!' We faithfully insist.
While watching sink the heavy ship of everything we knew.
If ever you come near I'll hold up high a mirror.
Lord, I could never show you anything as beautiful as you"*
The bright orange paint runs ever slowly down my side, and the shock of the falling bucket continues to prod my racing heart. I take a moment to peer out into the freshly painted rooms, newly brightened with color and vibrancy, and I try to wipe the ever increasing stain on my clothes from the spilled paint. It has been a full day's work. I nod to my Mexican counterpart, both of us sweaty and beaten from the incessant hours of painting, and I bid he and the rest of the crew farewell (or whatever happens to be spill from my broken Spanish).
As I leave the orphanage, and the grand hospitality of the couple that ran it, I breathe the dusty Mexican air and remember that it was I who only hours before dreaded the day and the time spent with the beautiful people of God. I think on all those who had generously and graciously struggled through the language barrier with me through out the day, and upon the various beaming children that had been at the building heading to and from school on Juarez' half day schedule. I remember that I walked into this great day fearing my interaction with these people and doubting my decision to be at this particular ministry and ultimately my entire purpose for being in Juarez this year.
I climb tiredly into the rustic and typical Youthworks! vehicle feeling every tired and satisfied muscle. I drive home aware of each moment, each mile, each turn of the wheel, and my soul is bemused by the simple and yet overtly stunning sunset. I listen to the ever faint but steady beat of my heart as it rhythmically sings a lofty tune –
I watch the sinking heavy ship of everything I ever knew
If ever you come near
I'll hold up high a mirror.
Lord, I could never show you anything as beautiful as you!
Sunday, September 30, 2007
So we have a community contact over for dinner the other night. It was a fantastic time! She brought her two children over while her husband was at work, we made her dinner, and she (being a baker) made us brownies. However, there is one moment of the night that is most memorable. Over the joyous laughter of the interns, the children, Youthworks! staff, community members, and the sizzle of grilling chicken I was cooking on the stove, came a distinct and familiar sound. It was a snap. The snap of a mouse trap, in fact. The Interns have become very acquainted with the sound since we moved in. It has been a constant battle to keep the rodents out of our food and off our counters, and to that point, and currently, we had been winning with various glue and snapping traps. I am usually the only one excited over the death of the creatures whom I have humorously dubbed "El Mickey Diablo" or "Mickey de los Muertos".
So, naturally I turn to take account of my victory, but am dismayed to see that it is not a rodent I have caught. No, it is a child. There at my feet in our small apartment, is a young toddler with a torturing grimace upon his face and a mouse trap dangling from his four fingers. And then…the scream. It was the kind of scream that has to build first. It takes time to develop its full intensity, which is probably why none of us thought much of the snap at first.
Well, the lad is okay. Mousetraps aren't actually all that powerful, but they do sting – believe me. Needless to say it has been an encouraging, eventful, and sometimes crazy week of community interaction, and (hopefully) we will remember to set the mousetraps off before we have kids over again.
Sunday, September 23, 2007
Morning breaks on the dry desert surrounding of the small hill on which our block house is situated, and the air feels thick as my body breathes in the dusty air which mingles with the smoke from a trash pit two blocks over. As I stand on the porch, which is set just off the side of the apartment, sip softly the cup of coffee I have prepared to shake the last moments of sleep from my brain, and look at the impoverished ragtag neighborhood just below, a small black cat leaps, almost alights, atop what is left of a standing wall overlooking this small valley. His tiny frame is accentuated by the sheen glow of his fur as it soaks up the dawn's first gleaming rays. Immediately my thoughts are taken back to the women's shelter we had visited the day previous, and I remembered the small child that spun in ecstasy on the floor. I also remembered the mother whose daughter had been abducted only a few days before and the mother in Mexico city being treated for the wounds she had suffered after being sexually assaulted on her way to work. In this moment, I see the cat and the child interwoven. One gives glory to God in her youthful revelry, and the other does so merely by displaying dumbfounding beauty in creation. All of this is in strict opposition to poverty, degradation, injustice, and need. I finish the last sips of my coffee, breathe deep the tainted air one final time, I turn to go inside, and I pray for wisdom. I ask that I might know how to be the child dancing in the face of oppression; be that perfect creature of beauty in a disjunct and decrepit environment; bring joy to this seemingly dark place.
Saturday, September 08, 2007
From fury, one returns to fury; angst to angst; hell to hell. The siege of rage entreats upon my soul.
Often, when I need to clear my head of ridiculous human drama, I go running. So I did. It was dusk. I chose a road that was guaranteed to deliver solitude. The dust rose to my face filling my lungs with brown mucousy mud. Around me the echoing belching of canines burned louder than the music from my headset, and I was troublingly aware of their presence and the fact that they were uncontained. Many, territorially, kept steady on the invisible line in which they drew between myself and them; a warning only. Soon, I came upon one who, like a crack of luminous thunder, came suddenly close to me appearing from no where. Drawing his territorial line with the path of his racing legs, I thought no more of it as I passed to the farther side of the road. In the next stride, as my heel went up, I felt it smash hard against something in the upward motion. It was the dog. Upon this realization, I had no more than an instant’s time in which to process before I felt the sharp sting of the dog’s teeth as it sank hard and deep into the flesh of my leg and was gone. Bleeding, and with a desire to chase and murder the creature, I had no choice but to run the several mile trek back before treating the injury.
From fury, one returns to fury; angst to angst; hell to hell. The siege of rage entreats upon my soul.
“Get inside! Get inside!” I yell to the seventy plus people, that I am somehow in charge of, running to find protection from the pounding wind. I look back to see the caravan of white vans swaying methodically – melodically- to the erupting chaos of the coming tornado which is rising around them. I stand in the portico of the emergency wing of the hospital, tense, fervent, and soaking. I can feel the rain, as if a rush of river, flowing and dripping off my arms and limbs. I am overwhelmed by the duty that forces me to be here, and I am confused by the calling that gives me the authority over these people. Why send a ragamuffin to lead the infantry? Why, when you need a general, do you choose a beggar? Why was I here? What was God’s purpose?
Here, for a brief instant, the glorified Christ entreats my mind, shining and beautiful. I can see him in a garden – he is in a garden near Gethsemane, and he stands amidst creation vindicated. My emotions play a fickle tune akin to a dirge of mourning, for I realize that I am nothing, and I stand as a prime example of unmitigated and unceasing failure, unworthiness, and morose need. What purpose is there in Him fighting for a world born with a noose upon its neck? Why in the hell would He die to bring peace to an unfaithful line of children? Yet, here I am, I realize, sitting at the metaphorical transcendent table on which the Eucharist is served; I am here with the great multitude of siblings, quibbling, sneering, fighting but also loving, respecting, and enjoying each other; each breathing deep the air of the father’s house; each sitting accepted as a beloved heir; each embodying an identity of child – of accepted. A son never earns his title – he is born that way. No, a son only ever moves in a necessary way to fulfill his IDENTITY as a son, and in the process, he moves to fulfill a commission to become a father; he is ever fulfilled as a part of the whole, the family, and yet ever becoming fulfilled within the whole. And So, there stands Christ in this instant – glorified, deified – calling me to lay down that ideology that would be legalistic and strictly kharmaic, and he beckons me to rise, as the son that I am, to stand with Him in the new Eden; dwell in being; be a part of new creation; to live.
I am brought back to the moment, and the wind continues to rush and sway. The hordes of people run to make it in to safety, and I usher the last, and excruciatingly slow, man into the building. I turn to view the last of the scene. The trees swaying, dancing, move a little faster and a little more intensely for a second, and then suddenly, a line of them near the end of the parking lot flip back and fly forward in the force of the wind, cracking like a whip. Nature’s fury, this time a tornado, has come calling for a visit, and the rush thunders like a troupe of elephants racing toward some archaic battle front, and the trees bend and crack as they are forced to lay down in the immense power of nature; chaos. I enter safety with the wind and wild behind me, and I move toward the people which God has given me to lead and manage; I move toward my identity; I move toward my being.
The echoing silence of the prairie grass dancing along the plain melds my soul into a confused mix of euphoria and anxiousness as the height of danger is intermingled with the sheer exhilaration of trust, faith, and adventure. My breath is harsh as I struggle to maintain some sort of weekly exercise which, this night, takes the form a jog around the Pine Ridge housing facility. My mind sways as it fights the burning and incessant call of my body for sleep – it is only my determination, or perhaps stubbornness, that keeps me out in this tar black night. Inside rest the little heads of all those whose burden is mine to bear for the summer – those who, unbeknownst to them have become my tiyospate…my family. The night is clear and the stars beam down infinitely. In the distance, I can hear the unceasing cry of one howling rez dog. Soon, another echoes his cry, and within seconds there is a howling chorus filling the once still air; animal; demonic. Time after time, I remind myself of the words of Paul when he says we will be mastered by nothing, and I entreat upon the Lord to keep me safe from the prowling pack moving through the untamed grass merely a few feet beyond. Besides, to flee would be death.
As I round a corner fighting the fear that would forsake my sanity, I am met with the stark outline of a strange figure. In the dark stands a person. For a moment, I envision the burning fury of a demon crazed mad man plagued with alcoholism, meth, and rage – my personal homicide. This, however, is not the case. I realize that it is actually a small child here playing in the dead of night. He shines a laser pointer on my chest, and, wondering his intent, I pause to see his movement. No doubt imitating something he had seen on television or that which had been modeled for him in his home, he points two fingers at me and makes a strange noise. “Bang, Bang” he shouts, “Head Shot!!!” My slaughter is a joyful game for him. His laughter fills my soul with dread, and as he passes into the light I can see no hope for him, no light of his own which might give peace and justice to his lost innocence.
My time in the night is over, and my safe harbor beckons. As I head inside, extreme sadness overtakes my heart because I know that the only refuge from the horrors of home for this child is the dim styngant arms of night.
Sunday, June 03, 2007
In light of this, one sees that scientificity dominates the psyche as the myth and metaphor slowly slips into oblivion, and the nexus of knowledge becomes only one more appendage of the ever increasing size of the human subject. This is not necessarily an epistemological function but also a mark toward the human desire of omniscience. As the plane of shadow decreases, that which is unknown to humanity, knowledge reigns as the safeguard against the wrathful hand of transcendence, but, as Baudrillard notes, we are no longer necessarily the creators of “integral reality” but also its byproducts – the circularity of such an existence streams directly to the forefront. It is here that one is reminded of a world Adorno paints when he says, “[r]egressive listeners behave like children. Again and again and with stubborn malice, they demand the one dish they have once been served [,]” and one sees the onset of a macabre reality in thinking which is best characterized as a closed system and protrudes a matrices of synthetic thought (290).
And as the Leviathan, a transcendental paradigm, flounders under the harpoon point of the post-enlightenment subject, one begins to see the correlation between the two. The human subject simply replaces the mystical seat of divine and becomes himself that to which praise is due, but too readily is this shift taken. As the subject inputs into his “integral reality” so is he shaped by its output which forces a technological eternal return. But what does this say about human thought today? It relates that transcendence has become a vulgar word, that nihilistic tendencies are masked as a veiled truth tricking the agnostic masses to buy-in to the conspiracy of an orderly and appropriated objectivity, and reveals the way in which human fear of the unknown creates a mental void in which such topics as “the soul” are ardently dismissed as scientific heresy. The cryptic grip of post-Freudian and Nietzschean thought have reduced the human subject to a mere apparatus of conceptual processes and have ignored the possibility of a basic function of the primal subject, a transcendent force of conceptual cognition – that which lies just behind the line of the objective. How does one seek refuge from an “integral reality”? Progress the noumenal. Seek the transcendent. Let off the synthetic Mosaic veil covering the fascia to see the true noumenal and primal glorification just behind.
This is the paradigm in which one primitive hunter finds himself as he stares into the cold eye of a defeated monster of mythology, that hideous Leviathan, only to realize that the flicker in its eye is not drawn out but merely resting, and that its breath has not ceased but simply slowed for a moment. Soon its bulging muscles and whipping tail shall gather strength again to over throw its predator; it will rise with ever more hideous vitality and primal ferocity. The Leviathan, that transcendent creature of incredulity, shall shake free tight ropes and harnesses that tie him down as if they were but mere spindle strings, and he will once again make his way to his proper place – the unending sea and the unforaged wilderness. The Leviathan will reclaim his grounds in the darkened wild and in men’s dreams; he will dwell in the unknown and free men once more to wonder.
It is in the midst of all this that a formal complaint should be set forth. These fundamental restrictions in the progression of thought walk hand in hand with philosophical development in epistemological history. That is to say, in the most obvious and general sense, that one can glean from the progression of thought the sense of a grand narrative. The supremacy of an “integral reality” forces one to reflect on the way in which the human psyche and philosophical inquiry has seemingly progressed from a state of high transcendental efficacy to a one that is almost devoid completely of it. It is clear, in the progression of human thought, that there are movements away from high transcendental paradigms. This occurs broadly, in a progression: from the mythical, to Platonic thinking, to the Christian thinkers, eventually to the Cartesian Cogito, to the Enlightenment, and presently into an “integral reality.” Thus the complaint: the anthropical nature of a post-enlightenment teleology should in no way lead to the conclusion that teleology itself is dead; though humanity has seemingly “evolved” from a status of lofty and incorrigible transcendental chains, the current interim epistemological king, Scientificity, has masqueraded a type of intellectual libertarianism, the idea which tells the world it actually exists apart from a contingent reality and is explainable within itself, and has caused the negligence of the possibility of any transcendental element in human thinking. On this Baudrillard says, “[i]f, in the past, the world reached toward transcendence, and if, in the process, it fell into other hinterworlds, it has today fallen into reality” (Fringes 25). It is not that humanity has knocked the feet out from under a teleological or even transcendental reality, but the abstraction of Christian thought and the subtraction of a transcendental paradigm have merely replaced the teleological function of service to the will of God.
So, it is that humanity’s purpose, in the post-enlightenment age, is to no longer serve God, but it is to serve the self – High Humanism. The subject has taken up not only the seat of discourse but also the seat of deity. The humanist glorification of the subjective creative ability has left the mind to its own egotism causing itself to become the teleological center of its existence. While Nietzschean thought screams that God is dead and leaves the door wide open for an ebb and flow chaos of a world devoid of transcendent power, the effects can only be seen as a call for permissible appropriation of human deification. In that sense, science and the ability of philosophy to subtract god from a “given” equation of truth has not necessarily executed Him, but rather God, in the post-enlightenment human psyche, is truly alive and well; God cannot be extracted from the human thought process – only His attributes may be shifted. One might say that God is dead, but what that truly means is that the human is now God.
This example leads to another that lies hidden with the semantic carceration of the subject. The sign, being stripped of all power in its natural objectivity, begins to show the way in which the nexus of semantic imprisonment, the prison of concept in which the mind is held, gives way to the immense pressures of a matrix of totality – an all encompassing linguistic mapping of the sign. As the sign breathes its last gurgling breath, so too do the doors of the semantic prison clang shut revealing something even more horrific – a closed system. The appropriation of the sign points directly to the appropriation of concept, for “[t]he apparatuses, relations and practices of production thus issue, as a certain moment (the moment of “production/circulation”) in the form of symbolic vehicles constituted within the rules of ‘language’” which must necessarily include a specific moment in which the concept within language itself is appropriated as a “symbolic vehicle;” the sign no longer projects from a natural relation with the objective manifold, but it is treated rather as a byproduct of a systemic ideology (Hall 128). If this is the case then the seeming eternal return of the sign in an “integral reality” actually shows the integration, appropriation, and eventual manipulation of the concept itself, for “[…]the universe becomes a universe of fact, a positive universe, a universe ‘as is’, which no longer even has any need to be true. As factual as a ready-made” (Fringes 25). The subject cannot help but be bound by linguistic and conceptual chains, but it is an even greater atrocity that such an imprisonment actually becomes the source of its own binding. It is no longer that “[t]he meaning(s) of a text will also be constructed differently depending on the discourses (knowledges, prejudices, resistances) brought to bear on the text by the reader” (Morley 171). Nor is it the case that the subject merely dwells among the concepts, but, in post-enlightenment thinking, the mind manufactures them, he distributes them, and he patches them together to create his own monster.
The death of the sign seems a most obvious point to begin when seeking the process by which the transcendental is lost. The semantic incarceration of the subject (meaning the way in which cognition of the world is necessarily bound by its use of language to make sense of it – humanity created the means by which it knows the world) lends only to the realization of a continual discourse of subject versus object as the two stand opposed to each other. The former must appropriate the latter, but as these signs become more fully integrated into the subjective cognition, they return as synthetic; humanity appropriates and then re-appropriates the sign as a cognitive function so that it no longer mirrors a "reasoning entrapped in representation" but vice-versa (Ellis 193). That is to say that naturally, as the sign moves through the discursive apparatus of the mind, one notices a one to one ratio between the actual phenomena and the subject that interprets it. However, as the sign is appropriated, changed, synthesized, remodeled, and tweeked to perfection, it becomes the case that the normal function of the sign apparatus is no longer a dominant case because "[…] if objects exist outside of us, we can know absolutely nothing of their objective reality. For things are given to us only through our representation. To believe that these representations and sensations are determined by external objects is a further representation" (World 39). In fact, it reveals that the sign may be no more, in the technological age, than an extension of the subjective which seems even more plausible when one remembers that "objectivity can be conceived without a subject; not so subjectivity without an object" (Adorno 502). Humanity has created a synthetic version of the natural sign sequence. On this, it might be suggested, linguistically, that the sequence of the sign originates with the rise of conceptual thinking – man must conceptually discourse that to which he comes in contact and which would be the interaction with the objective world. However, the subjective appropriation of the sign, moving beyond its culturally discursive function, causes an internal use of the sign. That is to say that the notion of an "integral reality" assumes an ideological system that is not arranged by nature but is synthetic and manmade thus revealing that "[d]istance is obliterated, both external distance from the real world and the internal distance specific to the sign" while also showing "a pornographic materialization of everything" – the death of the unknown (Baudrillard 69). So, the employment of a sign discourse is also synthetically enacted or, in other words, within the confines of the ideological system, but what is more striking is the way in which this points to a third synthetic element which is the teleological nature of the ideological system. An modern thinker does not necessarily lay down a teleological system by chasing evidential knowledge, but he recreates it by these means; the appropriation of the sign into an "integral reality" reveals the rise of a new teleological system.
The land shakes, and darkness rules. The thunderous breath of the Leviathan steams from its oversized nostrils as it rampages through the wilderness, through the darkness, amid the unknown. The leaves and shrubbery shake, and the stark glint of flickering torches fight the rush of air that blows passed them as they are carried at a sprinter's pace in hot pursuit of the mythical creature. Tonight, it will die. Tonight, man will dine on his own self-discovery. The creature is circled, entrenched, captured, and slain. Each man in turn looks deep into the eye of that which, until this very instance, was mystery –myth . This night security subsumes, this night the babes breath will coo in the ease of its safe-keeping, but more than this, man, the tribe, humanity, will be ever more assured that he is the truth –it is he to which all succumbs.
But what is gained by this high humanism? Is humanity ever endowed with greatness in the absence of the beasts that roam the unknown? And what place does God, the soul, or even the subject have when all bows to the reasoning power of human cognition? These complaints of the neglect of the transcendental become ever increasingly problematic when one sees that the human psyche has not necessarily killed God, but he has replaced Him with himself. So, the human subject becomes the all to end all and lights everything with the torches of the technological age. As Baudrillard has suggested, humanity has entered a period of "Integral Reality" in which the out stretch of the human subject seeks to appropriate and transgress that which separates it from the objective, creating a discourse suited and tailored to itself and creating a world that merely projects from the mind; it is a reciprocal relationship where both continually create and influence the other. This is where one might suggest that God has been slain by the bloody hand of post-enlightenment, but this is not the case. Rather, what has been slain is the transcendental or unknown aspect of human existence. The Leviathan, that which constitutes the dark and transcendent aspect of what it means to be human, lies open and dead to a humanity that depends only on that which can be manifested and manipulated in a carceral nexus of technology. What can this possibly mean? Here, it is most significant to see the processes by which the transcendental is lost.
Adorno, Theodore W. "On the Fetish Character in Music and Regression of
Eike Gebhardt. Continuum:
---. "Subject and Object." The
Arato and Eike Gebhardt. Continuum:
Baudrillard, Jean. "The Murder of the Sign." The Intelligence of Evil or The
---"On the Fringes of the Real." The Intelligence of Evil or The Lucidity
---. "On the World and its Profound Illusories." The Intelligence of Evil or The
Ellis, John. "Ideology and subjectivity." Culture, Media, Language. Ed. Suart
hall, Dorothy Hobson, Andrew Lowe, and Paul Willis.
Dorothy Hobson, Andrew Lowe, and Paul Willis.
Morley, David. "Texts, readers, subjects" Culture, Media, Language. Ed. Suart
hall, Dorothy Hobson, Andrew Lowe, and Paul Willis.
Wednesday, January 03, 2007
One final way that an aesthetic ideal is presented in Ecclesiast thought comes by view of beauty. Again turning to the philosophy of William Morris, beauty is the semblance of an ideal life. That is to say that expression, whether in deed or in artifice, must be an unhindered action which Morris relates when he says:
I demand a free and unfettered animal life for man first of all: I demand the utter extinction of asceticism. If we feel the least degradation in being amorous, or merry, or hungry, or sleepy, we are so far bad animals, and therefore miserable men (Society 177).
Here beauty is manifested through expression as an immediate function of the subjective self. So, Morris makes a connection to man as an animal so that there might be a heightened view of instinctual and fleshly urges thus promoting the idea of expression, not merely in art, but also in the procurement and progression of life in general. So, in this way expression becomes the path to a higher state of being.
Similarly, the Ecclesiast relates, "Do not be over-righteous and do not be over-wise. Why should you destroy yourself? Do not be over-wicked and do not be a fool. Why destroy yourself before your time?" (REB Ecc 7.16). Besides an obvious contrast to the Platonic stance of a high value of wisdom and knowledge, the Ecclesiast brings to light a similar idea to Morris in that the individual must not seek to over extend himself in the realm of legality, but the true essence of life comes in the free and unhindered life. While perhaps not going so far as to make extinct all asceticism, as Morris does, the author of "Ecclesiastes" most certainly presents a notion of being able to adhere to the demands of the animal side of human nature. So, the legalistic nature of Mosaic tradition becomes, not negated, but appropriated to a new stance on the independence of the individual subjectivity. Asceticism as far as it is related to guilt becomes obsolete, and it makes room for the animalistic and instinctual side of human nature.
Comparably, chapter nine promotes this sort of strike at legalism when it says:
[…] the righteous and the wise and whatever they do are under God's control; but whether they will earn love or hatred they have no way of knowing. Everything that confronts them, everything is futile, since one and the same fate comes to all, just and unjust alike, good and bad, ritually clean and unclean, to the one who offers sacrifice and to the one who does not. The good and the sinner fare alike […] (REB Ecc 9.1-2).
Here legality is struck in order to more appropriately digest the suppressed nature of the exiled nation, and it presents a notion of an apathetic social outlook. This then reverts back to Morris' strike at asceticism by revealing the truly helpless nature of the Israelites. It promotes the idea that the loss of control should be followed by the ineffectual nature of power seeking. That is to say that by noting a strike at legality, the Ecclesiast presents a means by which the Hebraic community is not uninvolved in the tenets of life, but they are untroubled by adverse circumstance; the Jewish community is powerless to change their circumstances and so should stop trying and find meaning in what they are. Other passages, namely chapter eight verse fourteen and chapter eleven verse four, recognize this same theme of striking legality, and this may again be tied to the ancient thoughts of Parmenides.
While the changing nature of the status of the Israelites may be characterized by the hope of future glory, already related to Heraclitian philosophy, the universe yet remains an unchanging constant for it is an extension or creation of the unchanging nature of God so that man has little effect on the outcome of His will. Relating back to Morris then, this ancient philosophy notes a way in which the community members are simply untroubled as they adopt their human nature as a normative function of reality and relent to the Parimedean thought of the unchanging nature of God. The Israelites are free to adopt their new mode of life in exile and yet cling to the tradition that up until that time had expressly required their sovereign independence.
No more do the words of Morris ring clear than when the Ecclesiast says:
Go, then, eat your food and enjoy it, and drink your wine with a cheerful heart; for God has already accepted what you have done. Always be dressed in white, and never fail to anoint your head. Enjoy life with a woman you love all the days of your allotted span here under the sun. Futile as they are; for that is your lot while you live and labour here under the sun. Whatever task lies to your hand, do it with might; because in Sheol [Hades], for which you are bound, there is neither doing nor thinking[…] (REB Ecc 9.7-10).
For, here the unfettered life is given in full proportion so that the highest value in life "is first the unconstrained life, and next simple and natural life. First you must be free; and next you must learn to take pleasure in all the details of life" (Society 178). So beauty, in all areas of life, is the main staple of it even in adversity, even in tragedy, even in toil, even in labor, and even in the midst of failure; beauty is the manifest way of life being lived for the sake of living. The Ecclesiast aesthetic frees the Jewish people to be who they are as they are, and it frees them from the social constraints and guilt associated with their failed monarchy and suppression under foreign leaders; Ecclesiastes screams in to the human psyche (and indeed unto us) to not be hindered by the imperfect nature of its soul and surrounding darkened world, but it calls it to find beauty in the midst of spiritual failure, solace in the wake of guilt, and reassurance in shadow of imperfection.
Morris, William. "The Beauty of Life." On Art and Socialism. Ed. Norman
---. "The Society of the Future." On Art and Socialism. Ed. Norman
Mueller. Rev. ed.
Ruskin, John. "Modern Painters, IV: Of the Turnerian
Picturesque." Selected Writings.
Suggs, M. Jack, ed. "Ecclesiastes."
Katherine Doob Sackenfield, and James R. Mueller. Rev. ed.
Tuesday, January 02, 2007
A second means by which an Aesthetic mindset is presented in the ancient philosophy of the Ecclesiast is by contrasting it with John Ruskin's notion of the "Noble Picturesque" which is an aesthetic object that gains its value through "its expression, namely, of suffering, of poverty, or decay, nobly endured by unpretending strength of heart" (Ruskin 85). In seeing that John Ruskin's idea of that which is the "Noble Picturesque" necessarily accepts and finds its value in its flawed nature, one can make the parallel to the Israelite nation in the notion that the community itself must acquire the ideals of a "Noble Picturesque." So, in light of a post exilic lifestyle, the Ecclesiast philosophy not only gives permission for the community to proceed in their oppressed lifestyle, but it also sets up a noble ideal so that the community actually finds value in its diminished nature. This allows the broken community to maintain integrity even in the midst of struggle and against their monarchic ideal.
On this the Ecclesiast once again borrows Heraclitian thought when he says, "All streams run to the sea, yet the sea never overflows; back to the place from which the streams ran they return to run again" (REB Ecc 1.7). So while the heightened value of the flowing river for Heraclites is its changing nature, the Ecclesiast shifts this thought to maintain that change is only an intermediary state which anticipates the return of the past; the Ecclesiast gives rise to acceptance of circumstance while maintaining the hope of a future return to glory, and parallels the "Noble Picturesque" through the acceptance of flaw as the means of value. In this way, the Israelite community is able to find its identity in its struggle and is thus able to reconcile itself to the sin that, by the Judaic tradition, allowed the downfall of its monarchy.
So, while the "Noble Picturesque" obtains its nobility through its savagery, through its necessarily diminished nature, or by its flawed essence, so too does the Israelite nation parallel this aesthetic quality by the embodiment and propagation of its flawed nature which is further seen in a return to chapter four when the author notes, "Better one hand full, along with peace of mind, than two full, along with toil" (REB Ecc 4.6). Here, again, the author allows for the nature of the present state of being to become the means by which the community accepts its place, and while it does not neglect the hope of a future glory, it leans toward circumstance as an almost teleological function so that the nature of existence of the Israelites is the function of who they are. By this then, struggle and flaw become the ideal. As a teleological function, the flaw of the present must be the ideal as a progression toward the future glory, and thus an aesthetic ideal is born out by a parallel to the "Noble Picturesque."
Monday, January 01, 2007
Emerging during the high point of ancient philosophy and borrowing the famous thoughts of other Hellenistic philosophers, "Ecclesiastes" presents a starkly contrasting view to the a sundry collection of ancient philosophies. While traditionally associated with a grim out look on the uncertain nature of life, the book of Ecclesiastes actually presents an example of ancient philosophy that promotes an aesthetic outlook on life as it seeks to reconcile the grim nature of Israelite political reality with the liberation of a joyful life of a free expression. An aesthetic ideal can be seen in "Ecclesiastes" through an examination of social circumstances, by noting parallels to John Ruskin's idea of the "Noble Picturesque," and by an appeal to the search for beauty in life.
One way to see the book of "Ecclesiastes" as an ancient appeal to an Aesthetic mindset is to see the social aspects of the Jewish community of the day. Having an original composition of sometime around the third century
It is here that one might look to chapter four as the mainstay and call toward a Marxian notion of power. As the author proceeds there is a strict sense of a parallel to a sort of class struggle. While not expressly in the bourgeois sense as with the rise of capitalism, what chapter four presents is the notion of an oppressive ruling group opposing the lower class. So, when the text says, "Power was on the side of their oppressors, and there was no one to afford comfort[,]" it intrinsically creates a sense in which the Jewish community is experiencing such oppression at the hands of the dominant ruling society (REB Ecc 4.1). The once powerful and independent nation is now at the whims and fancies of their oppressors.
This becomes important in chapter five when the author mentions that God, in terms of their oppressors, "has watch over them all" (REB Ecc 5.8). Here what develops is the notion that, though suppressed and in the hands of the enemy, the Jewish God still maintains the authority over his subjects. In this way, God appropriates the role of the panoptic gaze in the Foucaultian sense so that God becomes the all seeing eye of all humanity's action. This striking development presumably extracts the notion of a collective responsibility to the Jewish deity, and replaces it with an independent and individual nature of faith; by placing God in the role of the panoptic gaze, the author of "Ecclesiastes" creates the means by which judgment is no longer based on the deeds of the Jewish community but on the individual self. This becomes more striking when one returns to chapter three and begins to contrast it with previous ancient philosophers such as Parmenides and Heraclites, and here the famous "for everything its season" passage takes on new meaning as it embraces the Heraclitian ideal of changeability especially in light of the Jewish exile to Babylon. The exile becomes necessary and inevitable which then allows the community to rightly assume a new identity as exiled members and calls for permissible acceptance of circumstance. So too, when the chapter later goes on to say about God's power that "there is no adding to it, no taking away[,]" the deity necessarily assumes the function and embodiment of Parmenides' philosophy of the unchangeable nature of the world so that appropriation of both philosophies allows the nation to function as they must without losing the power of their deity (REB Ecc 3.14).
In all of this, the aesthetic ideal emerges as one focuses on the newly acquired relationship between the individual and the Jewish deity. The adoption of a Heraclitian type philosophy of change allows the community to step beyond a communal look at a relationship with God and into one in which the individual affects the way the two interact. For the Ecclesiast, this relationship is manifested in the familiar progressions of human activity. So while the universe is unchangeable through the nature of the deity, by the acquisition of Parmenides' thought, the individual becomes more sanctified merely by being human; every action has its place; every detail has its setting; every individual is liberated to be the human that they are. One might here bring in the aesthetic ponderings of William Morris when he says, "Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful" (Beauty 53). In this way, what is beautiful for Morris becomes the necessary outpouring of the subjective individual so that, in the noumenal sense, the mind must take action on the evaluation of beauty, and in such liberate itself from any sort of overt and dominant cultural ideology that might strike at the genuinity of such an evaluation. One might postulate that the same liberty is found in the exercise of the individual subjective of the Ecclesiast philosophy because it allows for the individual to assess for himself the means by which any and all action is within its right "season" so that a relationship with God comes not only by usefulness or reverence for Him but also by gaining beautiful aspects. Here the Aristotelian thoughts on the high value of moderation is implied since excess might cancel out the appropriation of beauty and negate reverence for God; the Ecclesiast does not promote hedonism, but he merely makes human nature and endurance of circumstance permissible.