Monday, June 10, 2013
What makes the news is another form of story that represents our society's priorities. What is most horrible about a crime, most wonderful about a success story for us is how personal choice is affected. The holding captive women against their will for years by a controlling man. The teen mother choosing to rise above and by determination becoming a CEO.
When it comes to the children's choices, good parents will do right by their child by doing their very best to maximize the choices given to the child. “I had no choice,” the parent might say, “but I want to make sure my child does.”
Whether to have a child or not at all we of course want to be a choice. “Every child a wanted child” is a slogan of those who value personal choice, as it proclaims the value of choosing to have a child rather than merely accepting the way of nature and the body in conception and childbirth. The choice of “Family Planning” has such a positive connotation that even those who would have us submit a little more to the ways of nature would use the term “Natural Family Planning” in discussing it.
Several problems are evident with our society’s over-emphasis on personal Choice, an unhealthy extreme in the complexity that is human life and human society. The first is the inherent contradiction in the message itself. For the message reflects two myths that are both destructive
generally and mutually exclusive and therefore anxiety producing: the myth that one’s individual choice is always what is best, and the myth wherein what is best is that the individual find her true self.
The first myth is what we have been talking about thus far: that personal choice must come first before societal benefit, social or religious obligations, or moral questions. That somehow any other way makes takes away one’s personhood. Now certainly there are many cases where one’s individuality, creativity, and choices are inappropriately suppressed, and it does limit one dramatically. The oppressive subjugation of persons by individual, class, religion, sex, etc has
examples as long as history itself. We are not arguing that this is not a problem of epic proportions. But the solution proposed is an extreme overreaction that may throw out the person altogether. For a person is such only in the midst of relationship. Relationship to other persons, society, nature, God, ideas, and many other things. By himself alone, what is that man but a shade and a figment and a theory? “No man is an island.” To say that one’s choices are not influenced, limited, and subjected in countless ways, and are completely free and from the individual alone is absolutely absurd. The most that can be achieved from propagating this idea is that one’s individual choice becomes “free” from possibly a particular influence in a particular way. In fact, that “freedom,” by not acknowledging the myriad of other influences upon our choices, may not be freedom at all. Especially if the influence so discarded was based on reality, and was beneficial to the individual, the family, the society, or other things that are in relationship to the individual.
The second myth is strangely and constantly mixing with the first myth in our society, but like oil and water they cannot combine. In this second myth, there is a secret and typically unknown inner core to the individual human, and she is not at rest until she discovers it and then acts on it. Great pains must sometimes be taken to find this “true self” and then to be “true to one’s self.” Perhaps she may need to “come out” of the oppressive closet of sexual repression to find her true Lesbian self. Perhaps she was kept in a dead end monotonous job where her true self was found in writing or dancing. Or the bearing of children killed off her true self which was to be a world traveler.
Again, the truth is not to be found in denying that there is something wonderful and creative inside of the individual waiting to be discovered and celebrated. In fact, there are many facets and springs and untapped potentials in what are our wonderfully complex and beautiful selves. This myth actually can lead to the suppression of the self in its wonderful complexity by limiting it to that one “true” inner thing that should define it. It is a myth that denies the whole person to honor the part. Typically, this is once again an attack on the established relationships, an overreaction to what can be limiting and repressive. So the man leaves his family, does not talk to them for years, so that he can find and give expression to that one area of his life that they found unacceptable, and he invests all of his life there, stunting his growth in relationship and severing ties meant to protect him and nurture him.
The oil and water part of this whole thing is that according to this myth, one cannot choose one’s inner self. One must discover it. Once discovered, it must be honored. So true freedom of choice is gone. One is encouraged to give full reign to this inner light and guide which is seen as the only true divine. At the same time, the myth of personal choice says that one’s freedom is what must be honored above all else. So even inner constraints must be overthrown in its
name. What if one chooses against one’s inner self? How can one be restricted by this inner light and still be truly free? Thus the endless stress of the modern, at constant odds with himself in his choices and his being. In the name of freedom she becomes a slave. In the name of choice he loses even the ability to think about choices at all.
Perhaps we should question these assumptions, these extremes. Perhaps we need to look back, find the balancing factors that we have laid aside in our frenzy for individual liberty and freedom of choice.
Posted by Paul Bunge at 6:01 AM
Monday, April 1, 2013
“They, then, are but abandoned and ungrateful wretches, in deep and fast bondage to that malign spirit, who complain and murmur that men are rescued by the name of Christ from the hellish thralldom of these unclean spirits, and from a participation in their punishment, and are brought out of the night of pestilential ungodliness into the light of most healthful piety. Only such men could murmur that the masses flock to the churches and their chaste acts of worship, where a seemly separation of the sexes is observed; where they learn how they may so spend this earthly life, as to merit a blessed eternity hereafter; where Holy Scripture and instruction in righteousness are proclaimed from a raised platform in presence of all, that both they who do the word may hear to their salvation, and they who do it not may hear to judgment. And though some enter who scoff at such precepts, all their petulance is either quenched by a sudden change, or is restrained through fear or shame. For no filthy and wicked action is there set forth to be gazed at or to be imitated but either the precepts of the true God are recommended, His miracles narrated, His gifts praised, or His benefits implored.”
-Augustine, The City of God
-Augustine, The City of God
Here is Augustine, referring to those who criticize and malign the Christians and their God. Blaming them for bringing the anger of the gods, the dissolution of society, and all sorts of other evils. In great detail, he points out that their accusations are baseless, and truly illogical from start to finish. In the end, the only explanation that makes sense is that those who are criticizing them are in bondage to the demons that they worship.
So it is today. And like Augustine, we must go to great pains to argue and persuade. To plead and teach and show the truth. But in the end we need to realize, as he did, that our detractors are caught in a trap. They are in bondage to something greater than themselves, and beyond their control. The way to break this bondage is the word of God. Spoken, taught, and lived out in the lives of Christians in the world. In a world that criticizes, the Christian when hit leaks out truth and light. In a world that laughs, the Christian becomes Christ to them, for it is Christ who was mocked first. And in a world that takes even the life from the man or woman of God, it is blood mixed with the blood of Christ, the very drink that will sustain the seeker in his journey to the kingdom.
Saturday, March 9, 2013
An allegory regarding the finding of both spiritual and scientific realities.
By Paul Bunge
There is a house. It is the house into which we are all born. One of the first things we realize, growing up in this house, is the amazing view out of the large windows. Beautiful and engaging views of the world outside wait for us whenever we venture up to one of these windows for a look. The yard, the streets, the other houses, all are so interesting, each in its own way. Animals, plants, sky, activity, other people; the full and rich stuff of the world. One really could not ask for a better view than from our house.
For some of us, myself for one, we are introduced early on to something very important and very special. We are told and then shown that there is another place in the house from which we can see outside. It is called the attic. We are shown the steps up to the attic and then we are taken up there, for our little legs are too small to make the trip on our own. For several visits, it is difficult to see out of the windows there at all. They are too high up for us to peer out of. Sometimes there is a fog. Not being able to see gets frustrating for someone so young, not having the patience needed. But then, one day, we can and do see out. Oh what a wonder! What a joy. What we thought was only yards and roads, is actually a whole town, with miles of buildings, people, cars, and activity. Off in the distance we spy sky scrapers. And look over there, there are not only trees, but a forest! With animals of all kinds! How we love to come to the attic now! Hours we could spend up there, gazing out at the new wonders. In fact, sometimes our parents must bring us back down, or we would miss dinner. “Don’t forget the real world” some might say. But as a child of course we know: one window is no less real than the other. And we are confused that those who would show us the attic would be so quick to discount what we see from up there.
Older we get. And one day we learn there is yet another part of the house that we did not know of before. Or perhaps we heard it mentioned quietly, or perhaps disparagingly from those who warned us never to go down there. An odd door that seems rather new, not matching the age and pattern of the rest of the house. It was locked up tight for some of us. For my family, this door was never locked, though the latch was high up and I could not reach it. My parents themselves brought me down to the basement. And I saw nothing really. It seemed dark to me. If there were windows, they were much too high for me to make anything of. But I appreciated that they had brought me down, not kept it a mystery for me. Though it was dark, it was not nearly as frightening, knowing what was behind that odd door, if not what was out the window.
Later, we are old enough to go anywhere in the house at any time. Various friends and others encourage us to spend time in the attic, or the basement. Or just to stay on the ground floor.
Often it is teachers from school who encourage us to go back to the basement. To stay there long enough to let our eyes adjust to the darkness. To bring a chair, and strain to see out of the slit-like windows that basements often have, near the ceiling, with no way to open them for air. We inch up to get a better view. Then at last we see. Through the glass another new and strange world appears. A world of crawling insects making tunnels that we see along the glass. Of roots of the grass and other plants, snaking through the soil sucking up water and nutrients from this crumbly black and brown material called dirt. And we see, that all of the wonders that we knew from childhood, are really made up of this kind of smallish bits of things, much rougher and darker than we thought. Another wonderful and amazing reality!
We have friends who would advise staying in the basement as much as possible. Here is the real, they argue, the dark and rough truth of the world. But again, this seems odd. Of course it is real, looking out on the world. Just as real as looking out all of the other windows in the house. It is not the house that makes the real, it is not the glass that causes truth. The truth comes in and we see it. That it comes in different ways at different windows is wonderful but not surprising.
Some of us start to spend more time in the basement. We train in it, make it our way of life. We find teachers, and they find us. Those who would help us, to better navigate these dark passageways. Help to manage the dirt and the damp. We appreciate them, love them for the wonders they show us. And the livelihood we find in researching and conveying the truths that we discover bring us comfort and status. Even help us to improve the other parts of the house, and our view out of their windows.
As we grow, we find more and more people in the house. Our family enlarges in some way, to include so many. And some are not doing well at all. It seems to be that they are limited, stuck even. Some spend perhaps too much time in the attic. They refuse to go to the basement at all, and often try to lock the door to prevent others from going down there. Even looking out the window of the main floor seems to make them nervous. They can only speak of what they see from up the “glorious steps.” And sometimes it seems that what matters more to them is the door, the steps, their chair in the attic, rather than actually looking out at the window. We wonder that if they would leave these things aside and resume their looking, their discovering, that their lives would be much more glorious, and they wouldn’t require a special name for the steps and the chair.
But there are others who love the attic for what they see. They don’t go up just for the fancy chair or the title. And they share what they find with others, such that they inspire many to run up the stairs and look for themselves. They bring a freshness and a life to the whole house.
Some of those who spend most of their time in the basement seem rather pale and unhealthy looking. As if they just hadn’t gotten enough sunlight, or perhaps had forgotten to eat. Some are perpetually sarcastic, despising and ridiculing anything that is not discovered or explained by those in the basement. When someone describes a deer bounding by with its young, they refuse to look. Scoffing, they say: “and tomorrow it shall be a rotting corpse,” and move on to describe maggots they have seen and categorized from dead mice analysis, all from the basement window. It starts to bother us sometimes, especially as we know these people, and love them as those who have shown us the mysteries of the basement. And we are sad.
We are not sure when it was that the war itself started. Could it be that at one time they were not at odds, and now they were? Or perhaps they always were and we had not seen it. Perhaps they were simply new to the house or to each other and found themselves incompatible now only because it was their first interaction. In any case, what strange lines were drawn and what strange behaviors were occurring in the house. And what names these warring factions now took. The pale basement people called themselves “scientists.” The attic people rallied behind the name “believers.”
As the believers tell it, it was the scientists who struck first and locked the door to the attic, by trickery and lies. The scientists deny this completely but accuse the believers of locking up their favorite door, spreading rumors about their methods, and even spray-painting the windows so that for a time no one could look out. And the situation only becomes worse: repeated locking of doors and then the breaking of locks. Noise and confusion everywhere. New discoveries bringing ridiculed, shame instead of joy and fellowship.
Children have it the worst. Though everyone agrees that they should not be exposed to the violent arguments, the scientists stop allowing their children access to the attic. And the believers take the same approach, with severe restrictions to the basement for their children.
Are we the odd ones, those of us who see this war as ridiculous and harmful? Those who want to get rid of the locks and encourage all to enjoy the full range of our house’s windows? Those who find it narrow-minded to never leave the basement, and disconnected to stay exclusively in the attic? Those believers who love science, those scientists who seek spiritual truths? And what of that great majority of people who comfortably spend most of their time on the main floor, and should not be hindered on their journeys either up or down? How does all of this bickering help them?
We have a wonderful house. It has three floors. Each floor has windows, from which we can look and see and learn and wonder and share. Let us help each other and not hinder each other. Let us encourage each other and not criticize each other. Come on, let’s go look out a window!
Monday, November 19, 2012
What is finished, and what defines finished? When no one is annoyed anymore if you stop working on it? If someone gives you a certificate of completion? And what does it mean when you are finished when your whole life to that point has been in the making? One would have a hard time using that finished product, what if it lost its finish?
Saturday, November 17, 2012
Monday, October 29, 2012
Friday, August 31, 2012
“Watch and Pray that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.”
- Matt 26:41
This is what Jesus told his disciples after their Passover meal, full of rich food and plenty of wine. When they had gone out of the city of Jerusalem and into the hilly woods where they usually slept when they were visiting this city. For Jesus’ followers, it was the end of a happy evening, a time to retire to bed. They were already nodding off when he spoke. To Jesus, it was his last few hours of freedom, he knew to be followed by horrible terrors and then death. He asked them to watch with him, stay awake with him while he struggled in prayer. He wanted their company, their support.
“Watch and Pray” is the command of God. We the people of God are like the disciples: not really interested in either one. After a good meal, and more than a little wine (holy meal, holy wine, given to us by the Lord himself), basically we just want to rest in a blissful sleep.
The reality is, despite our happy feelings and desire for rest, this world is not our home and in fact disaster is coming like a freight train without breaks. With us resting in the middle of the tracks. And so Christ calls: “watch and pray.”
It is natural to sleep. Mentally healthy. Attractive. Balanced. It would only make sense to watch and pray if there were something more. Something more than is seen, is measured, is known. Only then would it be not only reasonable, but in fact necessary.
Jesus does not advocate neurosis. He is not saying to us that our goal is nervousness and irritability. Religious efforts often seem this way, and in fact often are. For our own efforts at seeking God, separated from us by too great a distance for our own abilities to overcome, can only be an agitated and pointless scratching. A swinging at the air and a speaking to shadows.
Jesus is our only hope in this matter. Of all people, he alone had no wasted words, no lost actions. What he said had authority (and has authority). When he spoke, the lame walked, the blind saw, the dead were raised.
And what Jesus said to his followers and to us, he said that we might know him. Know the person of Christ. Know him in complete salvation, a knowledge beyond knowledge.
The rest of the story is that every one of the disciples fell asleep. And that more than once. Their watching, their praying was obviously inadequate. They did not save Jesus from death. And they did not resist the temptation to disown him one by one. And yet Jesus, the one forsaken by all, in the power of God and not of man, rose from the dead. Showed himself completely able to do all of the work needed to save all of us. And in the fulfillment of his task, Jesus in his mercy used his disciples. Before, during, and after his death and resurrection he allowed them to be part of his glorious work. Despite and even through their failures. It was as if that was exactly where he wanted them, at the end of themselves that they might look up and see him. They thought they were assistants, but their work was ultimately to become witnesses.
Rest in this. Accept it. Know that Jesus can save you. Know Jesus calls you also. Calls you to follow him. Calls you to listen to his words. Calls you to be in community with others who are also following him. And calls you too to watch. And to pray. And most of all calls you to witness what God is doing.