Spiders on LSD. And Me.

I heard that some scientists gave spiders LSD. While this sounds like the beginning to a promising joke, I don’t have a punchline, really. To the best of my knowledge it is true. As the story goes, the spiders constructed these amazing webs that completely lost track of the big picture, got hung up in the details, and made something rather useless.
A google image search turned up the photo below. (Do you ever just hope somebody takes a look at your search history and wonders about you? Seriously, the terms “web from spider on lsd” will now turn up on a history of my web searches. That is kind of awesome.)
Now, I don’t have any of the gory details. I don’t remember the source of this information, so God knows if it’s even true. (But if you saw it on Google Images… It must be true, right?) But that’s not really important.
The important thing is sometimes I worry that maybe I have a little more in common with a spider than I care to admit. In my last blog post, I set out aiming to explore how missing a part of the pattern that plays out over and over has these real and terrible consequences for our view of what humanity is. I got pretty quickly all caught up in “frozen” and “fractals” and some other stuff.
At the end of that post, I promised I would get back to the topic I intended to hit. And, well, I am about 250 words into this post… and … well, I still haven’t got there, yet.
Thanks for baring with me. Let me get to the point.
We Christians, we spend a lot of time and energy telling people how bad they are.
I think I should probably say, at this point, that there is something terrible in us. We do awful things. We are broken and desperately in need of being fixed. But there is a universe between being bad and being broken. And there is a universe between doing bad stuff and being bad.
I realize that last sentence makes me sound kind of like a weeny. I can live with the idea that I sound like a weeny. In fact, if saying that makes me a weeny, then don’t let me be a … non-weeny?
I am not trying to down play our ability to do evil. We are– all of us– capable of terrible, terrible things.
I get it that lefties like myself, at their worst, can talk and act as though the world is rated g, and nobody should be held accountable. I know that progressive Christians can seem like they are denying the profound things that happen when Eve and Adam fell from the garden.
(Do you see what my little progressive self did there? I said ‘Eve and Adam’, with her name first. I bet you maybe tripped up on it, because we get used to saying the man’s name first. :) )
I am not setting out to deny the importance of sin.
I am setting out to contextualize it, though.
The fall didn’t happen first. Even the word, “the fall” implies that you had somewhere to fall to. Before the fall you had to be higher up, or you could not have fallen at all. The fall is an incredibly important thing to happen to us. But the fall is not the first thing that had ever happened to us.
Humanity did not begin in evil.
It began with God’s image.
God breathed life into us. He made us in his image. In some deeply important way, we are a reflection of Him. If we are a mirror, we have become cracked and flawed and tarnished. But we are still a mirror. A mirror that can be reclaimed, recleaned, reshined.
Sin is not the first word and it is not the last. It is something that occurs now, in this terrible middle. You and I are redeemable. We are able to be rescued. God has decided it is worth a terrible cost to Him to do so. I think if we really internalized this, everything could change.

Glory. Fall. Restoration. Repeat.

You. You are terrible. No good. Worthless. But hey, I can make everything perfect for you.
Does that make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside? Yeah. I kind-of thought it wouldn’t. Sadly, if you had to boil down the “good” news of my faith, it would seem like it would end up being something incredibly close to those words.
I don’t think this is the product of malice. Rather, it’s about skipping some steps.
We are operate as though the story begins in suckiness and ends in victory. Part of the reason that this is a tempting picture to buy into is that they are both steps in a process that repeats itself in all kinds of ways. But the thing is this: they are not the only steps.
Turning the process into a 2 step thing robs the picture of context. As a result, it is distorted.
I think what happens can be accurately boiled down to 4 steps. The 4 steps are Glory, Fall, Restoration, and Repetition. If you thought that only fall and restoration happened, you might want to rename them. You could fairly call them suckiness and victory, if you thought that they were the only steps in the process.
Perhaps you are asking “What process?” or simply, “Jeff, what in the crap are you talking about?” I am going to answer those questions by blessing you with an ear worm.
Let it Go.
You know, the song from Frozen? It was endlessly on tween lips not all that long ago. I am going to bet that it is bouncing around the inside of your skull now, as you read this. You are welcome.
Anyway, there is a great line in that song. No, I am not thinking about the endlessly repeated refrain/title. I risk my credibility as a poet when I tell you that I actually kind of love this turn of phrase, but anyway, there is a line: “My soul is spiraling in frozen fractals all around.”
In honesty, a part of the reason I love this line is probably a bit of snobiness. I am pretty sure that 95% of the people who sing this song have absolutely no idea what this word phrase means.
(Bare with me here, I promise I will be back to the main idea.)
A somewhat simplified explanation of what the term ‘fractal’ means is that it is an image that repeats at all sorts of different levels. Whatever the recurring picture is, you see it in tiny and huge ways… the larger images is might up of the smaller ones, but even the smaller ones are just tiny versions of the larger image.pfractal_star_04
I suspect the line in the song refers to the idea that a huge mound of snow looks like a tiny piece of snow, and further, that if you look at a single image of a snow flake you see little icecicle-like structures. If it turns out that I have this wrong, the basic thing I want to grab on to is the idea of a fractal.
The idea of a fractal is important. Because (thanks for your patience. Back to the main idea, now.) the 4-part pattern: Glory, fall, restoration, repeat… this is a fractal.
Once I would have called a motif. But a motif implies that there are a series of stories, all on the same level, that incorporate this idea. It’s more accurate to call this a fractal because it occurs on all kinds of scales.
Over and over, it occurs as an anecdote, a short(ish) story. Consider the beginning of humanity: Adam and Eve are born in glory. They are built from God’s image, they walk on God’s garden. They fall from this place of communion with God. But God does not leave. There is a part of that image and relationship that is rebuilt within their own lives. God takes care of them, even outside the garden. Their is a restoration. Unfortunately, the whole thing is repeated, though. Cain had the possibility of walking this close with God. In a fit of jealousy he murders Able, falling…
Another anecdote: David, in glory, is called by God to lead Isreal. He falls various times, perhaps most notably as he commits adultery. But he repents, restoring this relationship.
Sometimes, this occurs on the level of entire book(s) of the bible, not just a handful of chapters. Joseph experiences a kind-of glory. He rises to the second most powerful position in Egypt, the most powerful country in the world. He creates a family reunion and helps his brothers to see the errors of his ways. But Joseph, and his brothers, their descendents fall into slavery. And Moses leads the hundreds of thousands of them out of Egypt. They are headed for a restoration in the land promised to them.
This occurs on an inter-book level, too. Consider the whole of what we Christians refer to as the New Testament. The glory of the chosen land has fallen away. The land promised to Moses’ people has become occupied. The people chosen as God’s special people have waited for saviors promised to them, and it had to feel as though this waiting was all in vain.
Those people promised turn out to be one person. He comes and sets them free in a manner much more important and fundamental than politics, geography, and ritual.
This level is similar to the largest way that the bible can be seen. But there is a subtle difference. The whole bible, not just several books or a whole testament also fits this pattern. Because Adam and Eve did not find a restoration that was equal to what God had lost.
That restoration only came about through Jesus. And this is where scripture breaks from the fractal. Because all the ways that restorations lead to glory, and all the ways that glories lead to falls… They break, here, at the end. The restoration is forever, the record finally stops skipping. We move into the destiny we had been intended for, way back in the garden.
When I began writing this, I alluded to the idea that this view has some important impacts on how we view humanity and how we express the good news of Jesus birth, death, and resseruction. I find that I have rambled longer than I intended, though, so I am going to leave that for next time.

Ask forgiveness. Accept it. Move on.

It’s funny how different books offer us different things at different times. A year(ish) ago I began reading “The Practice of the Presence of God” written in the 17th century by a French Monk. When I read it, I thought, ‘What’s the fuss all about?’ At the time, it just didn’t grab me.
I came back to it, started over. And I would almost think that it was a different book. Pretty awesome stuff. Basic. Simple. And I never would have figured it out on my own.
A thing that’s come up, over and over in the book, is how the author– Brother Lawrence– will come to God when he feels that he hasn’t done something well. Equal attention is paid to the idea that he asks for forgiveness and then he lets it go.
These seem like equally important things. And the second part– letting it go– is so hard to do, some times.
If I were to be honest… I think maybe I suspect that sometimes I hold onto my sorry and disappointment in myself because it’s easier. It’s easier than imagining that God would be so full of love that he would forgive me for the same stupid thing I have done, over and over.
It’s easier than continuing on with whatever I was doing, however I was moving. Taking a little diversion into a pity party can be so fulfilling. I can feel righteousness and pious with out having to be rightgous. Acts of self-hate are just as destructive as other-hate. I am as much a child of God as others, and hating myself is just as disobedient as hating others.
Ironically, even in this, I could get hung up on that same treadmill of despair. I could side step the work of being connected with God by getting hung up on the ways I have messed it up before.
As I write this, I am listening to Gungor sing about how God is engaged in the work of constant creation, about how Jesus makes all things new. I am thinking about new wine and old wineskins. Perhaps that is part of the thing: when we replay those old scripts of self-depreciation, when we put ourselves back on that same old track of self-doubt and self-flagellation, we are denying God the chance to make something new in us, we are denying God the chance to make something new with us.

Lost In Translation Version 4: Call it The Director’s Commentary

“The scope of what happened.
With artificial strawberry is salvation.
and antibiotics
And the blood is the aesthetics of luck.”

I do not know what those words mean.
But they come at me with urgency from Google Translate,
As I flipped, back and forth
between English and French, English and Latin, English and Khmer…

The words made sense when it all began.
But they picked up these little errors along the way.
The problem is that we don’t randomly happen toward meaning.
There are so many more ways for a thing to go wrong than right.

Until we are left with artificial strawberry as a kind-of salvation.
Until we are left with antibiotics.
Until our blood itself is the aesthetics of luck.

Whatever that all means.
Until it comes to this.

There is some deja-vu here:
the words, they made sense when it all began…
until it comes to this.

Built for the Truth

You know what’s always bugged me? That guy in The Matrix. The first one. The one who betrays all his friends so that he can back into The Matrix.
There is a lot that bugs me about him. I don’t like the way he sells out his friends for his own selfish needs. But there is something else that bugs me even more: I can’t come up with a logical reason why he shouldn’t want to get back into The Matrix.
A thought experiment: What if he didn’t have to betray his friends? Or shift the focus a little bit. Earlier in the movie, Morpheus offers Neo his choice of two different pills. One of the pills would pluck him out of the world he had always known, the matrix. The other would allow him to see the world as it is.
Why do we admire Neo for stepping out into the truth?
Sometimes, being disconnected from reality, in the long term, leads to suffering. I don’t think this really explains it, though. Our desire for truth isn’t conditional. We don’t generally say “I want to know the truth if my ignorance is going to end up hurting me in the end.” We basically say, “I want the truth.”
Even the fact that we fight so hard to maintain our delusions doesn’t really detract from this. The question I am thinking about isn’t “Who would we actually be like: Neo or the guy who goes back into the matrix.” The question is “Who would we want to be like: Neo or the guy who betrays them?” Even if he hadn’t betrayed them, I think we admire and want to imitate Neo in the little things and in the big things.
Many ethical systems want to claim that we are seeking amusement, pleasure, satisfaction. They claim that the good is in what ever maximizes these. The bad is in whatever diminishes them.
While we do so many things to feel some version of warm & fuzziness inside, it seems like there is a more basic drive to who we are. It seems like we know that our desire for truth should come first. At our best, we act on this.
This is why we hope we would hang out with Neo in the real world, and not enter into the matrix. This is why we ask the hard questions. This is why we watch movies like “Hotel Rwanda” and “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.” This is why we might choose to not shop at Wal Mart or boycott Coffee that was not purchased at a liveable wage. This is why we value those friends who have the wisdom and courage to tell us what we need to hear, not what we want to hear.
I believe that we humans are weak and broken. I believe that we are not the center of the universe. I believe that we owe something to the being that created us.
Even if a thorough understanding of our nature didn’t carry other benefits, I believe we are hard-wired to seek out truth ahead of nearly everything else. Even if there were no other benefits, until we find this relationship, we would still be left looking, and seeking, knowing that there is something more.

Lost In Translation Version 2: Monoglot Remix

On that Summer day,
with scabby knees, shirtless and tanned brown.
I pitched the wiffle ball.
Close as I was,
close enough that my not yet ten coordination could find the strike zone,

It bulleted back at me,
wiffling, Jabberwocky-like
through the suburban street
too fast. It dropped me. Like a rock.

Translated into French and back again:
In summer day
with scabby knees, brown and tanned naked torso.
I launched the wiffle ball.
Close as I was,
close enough that my coordination was not yet ten find the strike zone,

He chips to me,
wiffling, Jabberwocky-like
   through the suburban street
too fast. He dropped me. As a rock.

My words:
Some years later.
The camp counselor instigated a game
of telephone.

I think she wanted us to learn about the power of words.
The malicious destruction of gossip.
The way that words come with a radioactivity, a half-life.
They are dying, like us, the moment that they are born.

Transated into French, back to English, then to Latin and back into English again:
After a few years.
Camp counselor incited a game

I think we must learn it.
Malicious rumors destruction.
Radioactivity pitches when liberated middle of life.
Die, so that we, in the time they were born.

My words:
Going on grown, now.
It takes me a while.
To get past the idea that the professor
Has the most enormous eyebrows that I have ever seen.

When I get past thinking about Edward Scissorhands.
Weed whackers.
I hear his words.
At least, I think I do.

Socrates, he wasn’t talking about virtues.
Like eating all of your vegetables.
It would have been better.
He says.
If we had translated that word as excellence.

Translated into French, back into English, into Latin, back into English, and then into Greek and back again:
Now grown up and done.
I need some time.
La, a doctor has a reason
A great eyebrows 1’ve ever.

For when you think of the expenses of the one’ve Edward Scissorhands.
Whackers weeds.
1 heard.
At least one can imagine.

But Socrates is not speaking of the virtue.
Like to eat all the vegetables.
How much better it would have been.
If the word translated as excellence.

My words:
An adult. Now. Or atleast, that’s the rumor.
I keep thinking somebody is going to figure me out.
I stand in front of the photocopy machine.

I am copying a copy of a copy of a copy.
I notice how it picks up these imperfections.
As time goes by. It does not lose them.

I think about how this generation.
It will not know so much about imperfect copies.
I used to make tapes of tapes of audio tapes.
It would pick up these squawk garble hisses
across the generations. Like me.

Translated into French, back into English, into Latin, back into English, into Greek, back into English, into Khmer and back again:
An adult. Now. Or atleast, that’s the rumor.
I keep thinking somebody is going to figure me out.
I stand in front of the photocopy machine.

I am copying a copy of a copy of a copy.
I notice how it picks up these imperfections.
As time goes by. It does not lose them.

I think about how this generation.
It will not know so much about imperfect copies.
I used to make tapes of tapes of audio tapes.
It would pick up these squawk garble hisses
across the generations. Like me.

My words:
enjambment, as it happens.
Is not the state of strawberry slathered toast.
And Sting,
he sang about the aesthetics of chance.

I bring a meaning to these things here.
It is not what I wanted to say.
The final translations:
The scope of what happened.
With artificial strawberry is salvation.
and antibiotics
And the blood is the aesthetics of luck.

This will bring about the location: it is here.
This is not what it means.