Who Wants to Live Forever?

One of the things I love about the rock group Queen is that they had this crazy way of going back and forth, between the profound and the absurd.  Sometimes, they would sing about “Big Bottomed Girls” or “I Want to Ride my Bicycle.”  Other times, they would work up this profound crescendo around bravery– even bravado– in the face of certain death, like in “The Show Must Go On.”  My favorite, though, is when they found the sublime firmly rooted in the ridiculous: when they mixed them up, like some sort-of smoothie for the mind, made of equal parts silliness and profundity.  Consider, for example, “Bohemian Rhapsody.”  The title evokes these high brow ideas and concepts.  Where a lesser song would have a guitar solo, this thing has some sort-of operatic break.  And yet, their is an awareness that is just a just a pop song, at the same time.

More to the point of the things I am thinking about today: “Who Wants to Live Forever?”  This was on the soundtrack to that masterpiece of science fiction cheesiness, “Highlander.”  Highlander is a lot like the band itself: an exquisite balance of pop culture and something so much deeper than pop culture.  It’s an interesting song to be located in a movie about characters who don’t age.  In some sense, they do live forever.  The movie is about their quest for a different kind-of eternity.  Somehow, they all know that they have to fight each other.  When their is only one of them left, that immortal will receive “The Prize.”

highlander

I remember the first time I saw the movie.  I assumed “The Prize” would be some sort-of set of extra super powers.  I don’t know if this is connected to my own silly presuppositions or if the idea is planted in the movie.  I don’t know if this is points to the assumptions I carry around, or the assumptions the screen writers do.  But it doesn’t much matter.

I am thinking today, about living forever.

We Christians spend a lot of time thinking about that.  We wonder what our lives in the afterlife will be like.  We get so focused on the externals: mansions and feasts and all kinds of things that sound great.

I think that would all be great for a year, or a hundred years, or a thousand.  But if it is only about the outside of me that is getting transformed…  Then my heaven?  It would eventually become my own personal hell.  I don’t know about you, but me?  I am kind-of a mess.

No matter how much my circumstances get better, there is a time that I forget how far I come, and I begin to take greatness for granted.  No matter how much my relationships improve, there comes a time when I stop appreciating people.

In short, if you gave me the easy, obvious heaven, if you just extended my life indefinitely, I would be like those guys in Highlander.  I would be a mess.  Not aging, being nearly impossible to kill, having the resources of a fortune at my fingertips: none of it would mean anything.

Who wants to Live Forever?  That suddenly becomes a pretty interesting question.

The lyrics of the song imply that we ought to go after love.  And there is something to that.  (Sometimes we make an idol out of our relationships, especially our romantic ones.  That’s not what I am talking about.  Bare with me.)

When we are at our best, perhaps deeply in love…  Time stops meaning anything.  We also have these moments, I think, when we are doing the things we are great at.  For me, when I am my very best writing.  Or I lose myself in the middle of the nature.  Or I am teaching somebody, maybe something we have been working on for a while, and their eyes light up and they finally get it.

Joseph Campbell told his students to follow their bliss.  I think we know we are following our bliss when time just slips away.  It loses meaning.

When we talk about this kind of idea, we often point out the promise that the kingdom of heaven is already here.  Today, I read something that really struck me.  There is this lawyer, who approaches Jesus.  The lawyer says, “What do I need to do to inherit eternal life.”  Jesus’ answer is the parable of the good samirtain.  His answer?  Love on people, recklessly, unhesitatingly, uncompromsingly.

I think that the lawyer was asking about just extending out his days.  Jesus answer wasn’t a formula for how to get to this eternity.  It pointed the lawyer to the other type of eternity, the other way of conquering time.  I think he was inviting the lawyer to sample eternity right here and now.

If we want to hold onto the idea of a loving God, we almost have to believe in both kinds of eternity.  If he extended time out forever?  Well?  So what?  That’s a little bit like going to a crappy restaurant.  They bring out crapy food.  To make up for the first crappy meal they served, they offer you a lifetime of crappy meals.  More of something crappy does not make it un-crappy.

But on the other hand… if we just get these little tastes of losing ourselves.  If those little droplets of eternities, those two minute, or two hour experiences are the best that there is…  It’s all been a cruel joke, a tease.

The idea that I could spend an eternity in that wonderful state where I have lost all the worst parts of myself?  That is a pretty cool thing.

Seeing Her Again.

Sometimes, I think society views most of our emotions in the same way it views defecating. Sure, we can recognize that everybody poops. Similarly, we are allowed to have emotions. But we’d better not go too far in exploring them, discussing them, admitting to them. It is just… unseemly.
There is a positive to this. Wallowing is really not helpful.
But neither is denial.

I have been writing about my moms death, recently. I have been writing about it because it is on my mind and on my heart. I have been writing about it because I think it’s not good, how we want to just sweep everything under the rug. I have been writing about it because I guess maybe I am looking for some sympathy. But I am also looking to validate somebody out there. Society wants to give us a statuate of limations on our grief. But we deserve better than that.

I miss her.

She’s been gone for about 3 weeks now.
I have gone a lot longer than this with out seeing her. Some times, I have gone longer than this with out even talking to her.
But it’s funny and sad. When we know that somebody is there. Available. Reachable. Sometimes, that’s what we need. We don’t need to contact them. We just need to know that we could, if we wanted to.
I believe I will see her again.
She will be healthier and stronger than she’s been in years. And so will I. We will be at our best. Better than we will ever be in this world.
I have to work at reminding myself about this. Maybe it’s the not-knowing when this will be. Maybe it’s immaturity– some day, these short years I spend in this world will be such a tiny little preview of the eternity I will be living in.
In short, it helps some, to know that I will see her again.
But it doesn’t make it all the way better, to know this. It still hurts. I still miss her.
I guess what I can do is live in this hurt, some. Learn from it. Grow through it. I think that’s why we are here, in this broken world. To learn and grow.
I wish it were easier, sometimes.

The Mystery of the White Stone

Has there ever been a time in your life that you’ve just been so quietly breaking?  For whatever (probably stupid) reason you can’t express what’s going on inside.  But there is this hurt, someplace deep.  It doesn’t go away.  It burns.  Perhaps it’s a time of lonliness.

Sometimes if just one person noticed, it would be so much better.  Sometimes, if the right person came with just the right words, it would be a weight lifted.  A light shined in our darkest places.

Even if our actual circumstances aren’t changed, sometimes, if somebody just new what to say… if somebody just new who we really are… it would mean so much.

“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.”

That’s written in the book of Revelations.  Chapter 2.  Verse 17.

For my money, Revelations is the most gloriously mystery-filled books in the bible.  Yet, more than any book in the bible, it has been subjected to these attempts to categorize it, analyze it.  Somewhere along the way somebody decided it would be a good idea to simply explain all the mystery away.  I suspect that we’ll get back to the entire book at some point.  But for now, I’m going to reprint those verses above in the hopes that it will encourage you (and me!) to read this verse again, and drink it in.

“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.”

This portion of the book of Revelations is one which follows a pretty specific formula.  John is sharing a series of letters which are directed to churches around him.  In each letter, Jesus praises some things about the church and criticizes others.  Jesus proclaims some truths about himself in each of these letters, and then he makes some promises about what his kingdom will be like.

It took me a while to wrap my brain on why I feel so moved, so giddy almost, about the end of that verse.  What’s so special about that last sentence:  (Will you read it with me a third time?)

I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it

After some prayerful reflection, I’ve begun to be able to put into words some of the things that this verse means to me.

Jesus co-exxisted with God the father at the beginning of time.  Along with The Holy Spirit, they sculpted the dance of electrons around the nuclei of atoms.  They fashioned the laws of physics and the very nature of reality.

They built up stars in the same way we might roll a snake out of play-do.  They formed the angels and watched them dance around the throne.  They invented the concept of a living thing and they made this plan a reality.

They have painted the sunsets and choreagraphed the motions of planets and stars.  They sculpted the mountains.  They filled the oceans.  All of it.  From things unimaginably huge through things unimaginably tiny.

They entered into human history with this scandalous plan to bridge the gap between us and them.  Jesus took on the punishment for sin that was meant for us.  Empires have built up and then crumpled while they watched.  Countless billions of people have been born and died.

And yet Jesus might know me more intimately than anyone ever has?  Jesus, the author of creation might consider me worthy?

Imagine that: Perhaps it will be the first time we meet him after this life is through.  Perhaps it is the very first thing to happen to us.

I have this idea that he will smile as he walks across the room that we will find ourselves in.  The stone, milky-colored, is perhaps the size of our palm.  I suspect that it will be turned over.  We will know that it has some precious word just for us.  But the anticipation will build as he crosses the room, and presents it to us.

The word on that stone will be the word that we needed to hear in our darkest hour.  It will be our new name.  This name will be a thing between ourselves and Jesus.  Could there be anything more intimate than that?  A private thing between us and our maker, an affirmation… Jesus love for us is not only endless and infinite, but also unique.  Just as that name on that stone will not be the name of any other person in all of creation, Jesus love for you is also unique, in all of creation.  There is no other person anywhere that he loves the same way he loves you.

The demons thought names could be used like a sword.  They sought to wield this sword and found it could not pierce Jesus.  The fact that they knew Jesus name means nothing.

Yet Jesus knows that our true name will mean everything.  I think in some sense, those stones are already waiting.  There is a stone already in heaven and it has a name on it that we don’t know, but when we hear it, we will know it is just exactly right.

Dear “The Truth”

Dear “The Truth”

As you know, you recently placed this comment in one of my posts:

“There is no God, but good plan. Just be, you know, nice. By the way, you stop existing after death, there is no soul either.

Sorry for the spoiler!

And yes, I do know.”

I realize that it’s unlikely that you ever make it back here to my blog.  But I figured I’d give it a try.

I want you to know that I feel bad for you, but I actually find the whole thing a little bit funny.

It seems like maybe you are having some trouble figuring out just who you are and what you want to be.

I agree with you, that it’s a good idea to be nice.   But I’m wondering how your comment models that behavior… being nice.  It seems like if you truly believe it’s nice to share the truth with people, and if you believe that the truth is that there is no God, then you’d try and spend a little more time being persuasive about it.  Your message doesn’t really give me much in the way of reasons to think that you might be on to something. 

Further, it seems like telling me that I’ve got a good plan must be intended as sarcasm.  And to be honest, it strikes me as rather bitter sarcasm at that.  It certainly seems strange after the whole “be nice” thing.

It was nice of you to apologize for the spoiler, but the truth is,  I think maybe you and are watching different movies.   My “movie” has an ending I’m quite excited about.

Usually, it’s we religious folks who get blamed for being pushy and irrational.  And sometimes, this blame is quite deserved.

But this is a case where you wandered into my blog and decided to share some opinions that really didn’t have much to do with the post at all.  Of course, if I’d had a major issue with your comment I would have simply deleted it.  I want to be clear on this point: it’s o.k. with me if you did that.  But I’d like to ask you, “The Truth”  How would you have felt if I wandered onto a blog sharing atheistic beliefs where the post made a quite specific point, and my comment was just sort-of a vague sharing of basic Christianity?

Part of the reason that I posted this is that I do hope that you’ll come back and I wanted to give you a natural place to do it.  (I have written some other posts that would be more logical places to debate theism versus atheism… but it’d probably be pushy for me to suggest that you ought to hunt around on my blog for them.)  I’m not afraid of disagreeing with people.  Maybe we can learn something from each other.

You’ve given me a little bit to work with in that brief couple sentences you left.  So I’ll pose a few questions for you:

#1) If there is in fact no God, does “the truth” even matter?  As limitied and finite beings, will we ever even arrive at it and recognize it for what it is if something greater than wiser than us isn’t helping us along?

#2) Is there any real reason to being nice if there is no God?  I can see why appearing to be nice might be beneficial sometimes, but when the chips are down and the lights are off, why should we be nice at all in a world without God?

#3) If in fact there is no soul, how would you account for the differences between what is detectable by science and what is observed from within our personality?  More specifically: Science might be able to trace a certain synapses firing with certain brain activity… But there’s no good reason to think that we’ll ever be able to analyze those synaptic firings in such a way that we’re finding out what someones thoughts are simply by looking at the biological artifacts. 

#4) If there is no soul, how do you account for the existence of so many constructs which aren’t related for biological survival?  I have no problem with the Neodarwinian account of how we phyiscally evolved, but do you seriously hold to the evolutionary accounts of how art, altruistic love, religious impulses, the universality of conscience and taboos against muder, nudity, and incest?  And if you do hold to the evolutionary accounts, whose do you hold to?  And how do you explain the neodarwinism has had a fairly easy time explaining physical structures but can’t arrive at the most fundamental agreements in explaining how these cultural constructs arrive.

I realize that this debate has been going on for milenia.  But each of these was a can of worms that you opened in some part in your response.  I hope that you (or someone like minded) will try and explain how you see these things.

Not Me at those Harps

Not me:

at those harps

sporting a stylish halo

walking on cotton ball clouds.

Beyond conflict,

Receiving everything I want

even before I ask for it:

Not in my heaven.

I used to only know what it wasn’t.

But the gift

of the last

few weeks

has been a taste of what it will be.

I was nearly wrung dry:

I hope you will permit me to torture that metaphor

and clarify:

the towel

of my soul

was just

barely

damp.

In moments of peace

there was solace

in the fact

that I’d done some good.

But I needed peace

to find that peace,

a thorny dilemna.

And then there was the ocean

not waiting for me

except that it was

waiting for me.

What deep hidden part of me

does the white noise rhythm of the waves

awaken? Why does the salt

carried on the breeze

remind me who I am?

And in the middle

of the rest and the peace

we held a war council

to recover one of our own:

But even this brings a deeper peace

than the surface battles we fight:

I am reminded of who is by my side.

And the capping moment

that next time

A legacy reawakened

through its own force of will?

How could you know

that my own grandmother

stored up her change

for me way back then?

A handful of metal and lint and miscelania…

through the banks alchemy metamorphed…

and then changed again:

Whatever I wanted,

stuff simultaneously

worthless and priceless…

And so my heart tells me it will be like this

In the Great Then:

Rest and battle, trials and the continuance of all the good things…

But there is something more!

I will not play a harp but I will hear it

maybe we will hear it

maybe this is the Great Difference:

Our acts, all of them, will be the

voices, the strings, the harmony.

It turns out there is a truth hiding in that simple-scary vision of Heaven

We will hear it in some new way:

Earthly music will turn out to be only a castrated echo

of this thing our actions themselves will proclaim:

Holy is the Lamb Holy is the Lamb Holy is the Lamb.

Not Me at those Harps

Not me:

at those harps

sporting a stylish halo

walking on cotton ball clouds.

Beyond conflict,

Receiving everything I want

even before I ask for it:

Not in my heaven.

I used to only know what it wasn’t.

But the gift

of the last

few weeks

has been a taste of what it will be.

I was nearly wrung dry:

I hope you will permit me to torture that metaphor

and clarify:

the towel

of my soul

was just

barely

damp.

In moments of peace

there was solace

in the fact

that I’d done some good.

But I needed peace

to find that peace,

a thorny dilemna.

And then there was the ocean

not waiting for me

except that it was

waiting for me.

What deep hidden part of me

does the white noise rhythm of the waves

awaken? Why does the salt

carried on the breeze

remind me who I am?

And in the middle

of the rest and the peace

we held a war council

to recover one of our own:

But even this brings a deeper peace

than the surface battles we fight:

I am reminded of who is by my side.

And the capping moment

that next time

A legacy reawakened

through its own force of will?

How could you know

that my own grandmother

stored up her change

for me way back then?

A handful of metal and lint and miscelania…

through the banks alchemy metamorphed…

and then changed again:

Whatever I wanted,

stuff simultaneously

worthless and priceless…

And so my heart tells me it will be like this

In the Great Then:

Rest and battle, trials and the continuance of all the good things…

But there is something more!

I will not play a harp but I will hear it

maybe we will hear it

maybe this is the Great Difference:

Our acts, all of them, will be the

voices, the strings, the harmony.

It turns out there is a truth hiding in that simple-scary vision of Heaven

We will hear it in some new way:

Earthly music will turn out to be only a castrated echo

of this thing our actions themselves will proclaim:

Holy is the Lamb Holy is the Lamb Holy is the Lamb.

The White Stone

I would not have imaginedthat something so light could be so heavy

that a thing so small could be so tremendous

I bare this white stone.

A gift.

I run my finger along the backside of the thing.

Smooth.

It is milk-colored

An irregular oval and yet it is a perfect.

A whole bored through the center,

threaded with a leather strap.

I know the way of this place in the way we know things in dreams.

it is a perfect knowing.

I will wear this around my neck forever.

And so I wait to look because I am afraid.

Could what I know really be true?

Is fear now just phantom pain in a shed limb?

I do not trust what I know although I know.

It seems to good to be true.

That is why I am afraid, still afraid.

I know and yet I do not know what is on the front of the thing

I know it is a glyph, a symbol, a sumnation.

Of who and what I am and am made of.

No facades here, a God’s eye-view.

His view. Perfect. and as deep as the deepest that there is.

It will stand for a word in Adam’s language.

My True Name.

I will recognize it.

I am afraid I will recognize it.

That is why I wait.

I feel the sympathetic hush of anticipation.

I slip it over my head.

It is a reassuring wieght upon me.

And I look down.

It is who I always prayed I am.