Shiny and Beautiful

Sometimes, the things that are so close to us are so difficult to see.

At the most obvious concrete level, we can not, for example, see our own nose with out the aide of a mirror.  We can go cross eyed and perhaps see the very tip.  But no matter what kind of optical manipulations we engage in, we are not going to see the top part of our nose, the part between our eyes.  Consider this a metaphor.

It is so hard to see things that are too close to who we are.  So, today, I will begin with something maybe far away from where you are.

Imagine a ‘tween in the month of December.  She is desperate for the latest video game system.  She longs for it, pines after it, makes arrangements and combines the financial might of her family so that she might receive the game for Christmas.

Pop quiz: How does she feel about the game by January?

We already know how this story ends!  By January?  She is bored.  It did not deliver.

And perhaps it is a little closer to home if I think about technological gizmos that simplify our lives: the newest i-phone.  The fastest computer.  A microwave with a bunch of new settings…

We might want some or all of these things.  And truly, we know how it is going to end: we will get it.  We will have some fun with it for a little while.  But sooner than later… we are back to who we are.  We back to how we are.   Soon something else looks sparkly and fun.  And we set our sights on that.

The mind-blowing thing about this drama is how we know the way it is going to end, and yet we do it anyway.  It is hard to imagine that a person could reach adulthood with out realizing that as we seek out these sorts of things, inevitably they will disapoint.

Those things that we do not have take on a power and a beauty.  They shine!  We know that the power will go away.  We know that the beauty will fade.  We know that the shine will go out.  Because the power, the beauty, and the shine, they do not actually belong to the object at all.  They belong to us: they are things that we project onto the things we want.

I have just begun The Divine Magician by Peter Rollins.  He opens the book by connecting us to Adam and Eve.  He suggests that very act of making the fruit forbidden is what gives it at least some of it’s power.


To me, this is an interesting thing.   One of the implications of this idea is that materialism, greed, and disatisfaction are rooted in our failed attempt to find something that truly satisfies.  We all have a whole to fill.  It is so big that no physical thing in the world can plug it up.  And yet, we are knuckleheads.  So we try.  Over, and over, and over again.

Adam and Eve had the oppurtunity for relationship.  That would have filled them.  And also, it would have averted the whole mess.  If, when the snake had come to Adam and Eve, and it had begun to ask its questions and spread his lies, if they had engaged in relationship with their creator, if they had gone to God and asked him, perhaps it would have ended things differently.

But this is part of the point I am coming to realize.  If the power, the beauty, and the shine isn’t in the objects, if it comes from us, then the question becomes: where in us does it come from?  Why do we make the things we want so powerful?

I suspect that the answer is rooted in our hubris, our arrogance, our entitlement.  When we want something and then  we get it, we are acting out this drama of entitlement.  We are pushing foreward a narrative which is a pretty fun story to live.  That story could be titled, “I can have everything I want.”  The subtitle: “because I am God.”

There is a popular understanding (not incompatible with the scripture, but really fleshed out in the fictional works of Milton) that Satan fell because he wanted to be God; he did not want to submit.

And so we are not only re-enacting the garden of Eden in our every day life.  Perhaps Eden itself was a re-enactment of a story that goes back even farther in time.

On my own, there is no way to escape this.  I am selfish and petty and I keep going after things even though I know they won’t give me what I truly need.  Getting this things feeds some inner beast, some inner delusion that I can have whatever I want, that I even deserve it.   If I was left to my own devices, I would be doomed.


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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

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