Chutes & Ladders

When a person claims a belief in atheism for themselves and then proceeds to revile or lambast the beliefs of others as “bad” or “wrong” – they are not acting like an atheist – they are acting like a religious zealot with their own expression of religion. Consistent atheism is grim as rot. It has binned the context for all interesting questions – save one. It has also tossed the context for judging the accuracy of any transcendental claim and often refuses to judge its own because, like I said… grim as rot. The only interesting question the consistent atheist has left is that quote from Hamlet “to be or not to be”.

Just because someone tells me they are an atheist does not mean I think them a rapist or a serial killer. It does mean that I think they have the forsaken the context by which to judge the evil of rape or murder. All the consistent atheist can offer is an appeal to personal preference. I understand that the atheist does not wish to be raped or murdered – I share that personal preference. But the atheist has no context by which to argue that I *should* share their personal preference. Just because a person does not wish to be murdered, does not imply that they do not wish to murder another. Sure, sometimes these fall in sync, but the very definition of “serial killer” suggests they prefer to be alive in order to kill. Now I know many atheists appeal to the “good of civilization” as the standard by which to judge the actions or inactions of another – but if the system has ditched the context for “evil” – it has also ditched the context for “good”.

There are many economies we might engage in. The most fundamental – the most base economy is pleasure and pain. For the most part is it in our nature to seek pleasure and avoid pain – although this can get twisted up. “Good” is another economy altogether. We might relate it to pleasure but there is a key distinction. Pleasure is immediate, sublunary, mundane even. Good is transcendental. While pleasure (or pain) may certainly lead to transcendent experience – it is not dependent upon it. Using “Good” as an economy, on the other hand, is dependent upon crossing over to a realm where perfect good is apparent and in free supply. Plato suggested that we only see shadows of goodness – but the fact that we see shadows means there is a light being cast, and an obstacle blocking a clear and apparent view. He suggested the idea of ultimate good – a thing we could not fully grasp and yet the shadows we cling to make no sense without it. He took the idea too far perhaps – suggesting that because we have the idea of a “chair” that there must be a transcendent chair beyond our reach. Like I said… a fridge too far.

But we deal in the economies of the transcendents all the time. When we fight for justice we appeal to a concept for which we only have shadows – the true ideal in its full bloom is hidden from us and yet we feel we have enough of a grasp to implement it or demand it. Anytime someone talks about their “rights” they are appealing to a transcendent. We have no real rights except those which power over us are willing to give. If the powers (government, boss, teacher, etc) refuse us a right we desire (like maybe the right to live, or freedom, or the pursuit of happiness) then the immediate response is to appeal to the transcendent – the “perfect” ideal of right.

An atheist, by definition, rejects the very notion of the transcendent. Any atheists which continue to appeal to transcendents are either ignorant or lazy or lying. It is my conviction that that the atheistic conviction requires what I call “small thinking”. Many religious people are guilty of “small thinking” as well. What I mean by “small thinking” is the inability or the refusal to allow anything they cannot comprehend. Toss the concept of a personal being with power to design and create matter and structure and law – and you have to toss a shit-ton of other stuff along with it. I support a persons freedom to think however they like – but I also support the freedom to call small ideas into question.

Someone made up Chutes & Ladders. If you don’t know, it is a game. A board game to be more precise. By calling it a “board game” I imply it has the context of a board with spaces on it and rules which determine how one can and cannot move among the spaces. If there was no board – the rules would be meaningless. Likewise, without the rules the board and its spaces would have no significance. Someone also made up Monopoly – also a board game, with spaces and rules for how to move among them. Monopoly and Chutes & Ladders have different spaces and different rules but they share the same context – they are both games.

Most things are games really. Logic is a game. It has a board with spaces and rules for how to move among them. Within the context of logic, you can move correctly or incorrectly. Logic is not The Theory of Everything – meaning not everything that is fits into the context of the game of logic. Economies are likewise a game of sorts – we can play but only if we remain in context of the spaces and rules. Nothing says we have to play – as Hamlet suggested… To be or not to be – that is the question.

When someone, theist or atheist, ignores the rules for how to move about the spaces they are playing incorrectly – they are being inconsistent. Like the evangelical pastor who rails against homosexuals Sunday after Sunday and then is caught engaged with another naked man – it is hypocrisy. You might even say it is like using the rules of Chutes & Ladders when the board open before you is Monopoly. There is nothing that says the person *must* be consistent with the games rules they have chosen to play – nothing really to enforce the rules enough to prevent them from being broken – only the indication after the fact. An atheist that says theism (or theists) are “bad” or “wrong” is just as inconsistent (whether they know it or not) as the gay anti-homosexual.

The theist believes there is a designer and a rule-maker. Most theists (though surely not all) cling to the idea that the designer and rule-maker is “good” in an ultimate sort of way – and that it is from that good that we can play in economies of goodness such as justice and fairness and compassion. This does not enforce that they play accordingly however – the rules can be broken by cheaters. The atheist claims there is no such designer or rule-maker. This does not prevent them from playing accordingly. They can still follow the rules of goodness. The difference is… the theist can say “hey, we are not playing the game according to the rules” in order words – there are things which are which should not be. The atheist can only say “hey, we are not playing the game according to my personal preferences”. The atheist does not have a transcendent source of rules available to them which allow them to appeal to a transcendent “good” by which to judge the play of others (or even themselves) and therefore trying to call a thing “bad”, like rape or murder, requires that they borrow rules from someone else’s game board.

At bottom – I think the truth is that most all of us are neither theist nor atheist – I suspect the truth is that we are at heart, “metheists”. That is to say – we perceive ourselves the rule-makers and the arbiters of those rules. This is why pleasure and pain is in fact the primary economy. Metheism does not preclude us from having empathy or compassion for another – but neither does it require it (or enforce it). It does not outlaw the golden rule, but neither is it philosophically committed to it. Metheism is the corruption that makes theistic religions toxic. It is what leads governing leaders to abuse or take advantage of those in their care. Metheism says “I will play with whatever board, and whichever rules, suits my whims in the moment”. The atheists board game is extremely difficult and complex and contradicts the very ethos of humanity. Theism is also a very difficult board game – it also rubs hard against the grain of humanities prevailing tendencies. Metheism, however, is the goldilocks porridge.

But is what is what should be?

Be Strong, Be Strengthened Warrior

Ah men and their addictions…
Porn gets much of the spotlight in the christian culture these days, followed by either drugs or alcohol or a soupy-swampy cocktail of both. What we don’t hear much about it seems is violence addiction. “What’s that?” you say? Exactly my point…

Movies and TV series force feed us violence at unprecedented levels these days. I know Game of Thrones has had all kinds of controversy within the church because they blatantly show some boobies – but the level of violent display goes all the way to eleven. If you watched it (and I’m not saying you should or shouldn’t have) consider the feeling you felt when that hated character of Joffrey got what was coming to him. The feeling of elation at the violent death of a character you have been led to despise – it is a toxic formula for your heart. The worse a bad guy is in a movie, the more you look forward to the spectacular death that awaits them. Sure this has a word to us about justice, and who can fault anyone for upholding a thing like that, but it also generates a blood frenzy within our hearts that does not belong alongside the mind of the one following after Christ.

Just as porn takes a healthy masculine desire (sex) and twists it into a thing pernicious, so does extreme consumer violence take a healthy masculine impulse and buckles it into abuse and cruelty and bloodlust. That impulse is warriorship.

“Protecting yourself is self-defense. Protecting others is warriorship.”
I rather like this simple definition of warrior. Yes it implies physical confrontation, but it surely goes beyond that. As warrior, you are committed with protecting the people you love, whether family or community or perhaps even an ideal you hold as beneficial to your loved ones and theirs. In this world you will have trouble, and there is a time for both peace and for war. Days will come, and may be upon you in a tick, when you must take up your sword and enter the struggle.

Why is our pastor such a great teacher? Because he is a warrior about it. He teaches to strengthen you and protect you. He, as a spiritual leader, is committed to seeing you grow and thrive because you have much to contend with and fearsome enemies at your doorstep. These enemies are not savages with curved swords. These adversaries look like complacency and consumerism and self-absorption. They may be a simple disgust with the Good or a disregard of the Beautiful, or disdain toward the Truth.

A warrior is one who is actively engaged in the battle. I would suppose it is possible to be a warrior and a pacifist at the same time, but certainly it is not possible to be a warrior and a spectator at the same time. I know there are many warriors among us here at AC3 – please allow me now to call you forth as our champions to stand with us and for us.

Quoting one of my teachers – as I like to do:
“The true warrior is not merely a superb fighting machine.He needs to confront and overcome much more than mere opponents. He must triumph over adversities, philosophical stumbling blocks, spiritual trials, emotional crises, social and cosmic injustice, his own weakness and possibly the devil himself.” ~David Carradine

If you were to visit my house and peruse my movie collection, I’m confident that you would be quite impressed with the kung fu section. (we can discuss my own violence addiction later…) I’ve been watching kung fu movies my entire life. As a kid in Hawaii, I often spent my Saturday afternoons in front of the tv. I was not watching Scooby-Doo or Gilligan’s Island like the rest of the kids… no, I was watching Kung Fu Theater – Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Gordon Liu and all the rest. My favorite part of any kung fu movie is the training scene. This happens shortly after the protagonist’s master has been murdered by the evil bastard warlord and justice must be fulfilled at any cost. Our hero then goes into a season of training… beating his body to make it strong and capable. The fight of his life, and possibly his death, awaits him.

Watch this for a taste (really, I mean it, spend 3 min and actually watch it):

“Kung fu lives in everything we do. It lives in how we put on a jacket, in how we take off a jacket. It lives in how we treat people. Everything is kung fu.”

In China, the word Kung Fu refers to any practice that requires discipline, patience, energy, and an extended period of time to complete. It is not specifically a style of fighting even though that is how we use the words here in the states. In its original meaning, kung fu can refer to any skill achieved through hard work, tireless study and relentless practice – the grueling training scenes to strengthen the mind and the body are a great example, but the idea can be applied easily to how you live today.

Kung fu lives in how you show up at your day job, in how you treat your wife and children, in how you study the scriptures and apply the wisdom God gives you. It lives in how greet a brother, in how you serve a sister, in how you teach the young and revere the aging. Kung fu lives in how you respect and love and fight to protect.

Kung fu results in honor and a code – every true warrior has a code. The one without a code is brute beast and no man. There are things worth fighting for and people worth protecting. The code of the warrior rightly assigns value to these and sets the price of protecting them. This is not a thing that can be stolen from another nor passively received – the strength of the warrior must be developed through training and resilience.

Now, we are in a series about biblical masculinity, but I want to make it clear that women also have an instinct to warriorhood. It doesn’t always involve swinging battle axes on bloody battle fields (though in some stories it rightly does – think Joan of Arc). The female warrior protects and nurtures. The female warrior has moved beyond petty competitions and fights the good fight so that her children and her tribe may be harbored in the safety of her strength.

Whether man or woman, the Word speaks the same call to you:

Be strong in the Lord for the fight
Train fiercely for the conflicts that lie ahead
Stand firm before the destroyer and protect those that would be his prey
Watch for attacks from the left or the right, ahead or behind, within or without
Be strengthened by every encounter for your adversary will be relentless

I will leave you with another training scene (real life stuff here) – not because I want you to develop the Infamous Iron Palm Technique but rather I desire to inspire you to train up the Force of Iron Faith. The battle of your life is still before you but LORD is with you mighty warrior (Judges 6:12)

How Did Darwin Lose His Taste For Poetry?

So we all know Charles Darwin is accredited with blowing up the world – or perhaps something like it. I might guess that millions refer to Darwin to prove a point or prop up a pivoting opinion or justify a dissension and yet have never actually read Origin of a Species beyond the few highly quotable bits. When I consider all the controversy, and all the opposing thinkers who have taken to argue with the dead man Darwin, I realize I have had little to offer – and – that I don’t really much care about the fact.

There is one thing I might hold up as a bit of damning evidence against the great Darwin – and it is nothing strictly to do with faith vs science – but more along the lines of art vs science, or perhaps better stated, science to the exclusion of art… I once a while back read the quote:

“But now for many years I cannot endure to read a line of poetry” ~Charles Darwin
« The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin – Day 27 of 188

I have no need to prove the thinking of Darwin “wrong”… but must question what sort of thinking would lead a human to lose their taste for the things which exemplify their very humanity? More importantly, how might I protect myself from such thinking?

Further in said letter, Darwin notes:
“My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of facts, but why this should have caused the atrophy of that part of the brain alone, on which the higher tastes depend, I cannot conceive.”

I personally find this utterly tragic. It suggests we can poison our minds with our thinking activities (or thinking idleness even?). For Darwin, he spent countless hours “grinding” on facts and it killed the “higher” capabilities of art – poetry, music, imagery (although there is a small note in Darwins letter that made me smile about still enjoying the novelic viewing of a pretty woman – so porn wins :).

I have no intention to say science is bad. It would seem today that any question about the use of science immediately makes one anti-science. That is not the case here at all. We equate truth and facts as synonymous, but there are many vehicles to discover truth besides empirical fact. Every story ever written is attempting to display some truth through events and persons which likely were invented. For example, I get a lot of truth from Dr Seuss although I don’t get a lot of facts. It would seem a pursuit of truth which restricts attention away from anything other than cold hard fact does not result in a healthy mind or a happy life.

I am not questioning science, but rather scientism – the belief that there is no truth outside of the empirical method, and worse… that there is nothing of any value apart from cold hard fact. Science is good for the mind like kale is good for the body – but what would happen to your body if you determined nothing but kale was actually food? I think Darwin is expressing regret, not for his science, but for his scientism. Not even for his love of scientific pursuit, but for usage of scientific thinking to the exclusion of any other kind of thinking – other kinds of truth seeking. Maybe I am putting words in Darwin’s mouth with this, but how would you understand him when he says that his pursuit of facts caused the “atrophy of that part of the brain on which the higher tastes depend” and in his reflection, “a loss of happiness”?

To re-state a thing – Darwin is accredited with immense influence on the thinking of human society. Since he himself laments the outcomes of his work on his own mind – how can the above influence be called “good”? Shakespeare also had immense influence on the thinking of human society – above and beyond what can be measured even – but he did so through art rather than science. Some would say ole Billy boy was a hack and a thief – perhaps it is so, but perhaps it is also a sign of his mind being steeped in humanity. He often carried the ugliness that is found in human society – the pettiness and brokenness and madness – and somehow put his finger on the beauty that resides with the shambles. Science has no such finger. Science, it would seem, when taken to an extreme breaks that finger. Grinding on facts makes a powdery dust of beauty and goodness and truth in the human experience, or at least it did for Darwin.

If I were to offer any criticism of Darwin at all – it would be simply to agree with his own reflective findings in this letter:
“…if I had to live my life again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week; for perhaps the parts of my brain now atrophied would thus have been kept active through use. The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature.”

made a confession

I made a confession
it took some doing
I shaped it just so
as though I had honest hands
and painful years
of mastery in the craft of it

I planed its nether edge
and inlaid its surface facing corners
I padded its shadows with velvet
then I ripped it back out
see there some soft strands of it
lay scattered still
on my makeshift workbench

It wasn’t quite finished
I could not quite hinge the lid just so
so I skewed it further
the imperfect now perfect
by intention of imperfection

I carried it out into the way
I handed it to a lady I could barely see
with three of her four fingers she accepted it
as if she had expected me

contemporarily incompetent

I am contemporarily incompetent.

I am not in control and I cannot fix this blasted thing.

I am surprised that the theory of evolution hasn’t wiped me from the face of this planet because I am not the fittest.

I suffer from a serious lack of bling – not to mention having zero glitter and less than zero gloss.

I’m not larger than your average and I don’t last all night – and I like it when my spam lies to me.

I believe the gym is for toddlers to bounce around and play with toys and so I haven’t been to one since I was very young.

I am lonely and I get very depressed when my dog doesn’t rush to meet me at the door – even he must not like me anymore…

I’ve got problems that I suspect a sharper mind could figure out and resolve, but I can’t seem to find one anywhere.

I’m a flake and I rarely follow through with what I say I’m going to do – I’m certain people have nicknamed me blah-blah-blah.

I sin. I try to hide the fact. My confession amounts to brushing my teeth and combing my hair and dumping some talc in my shorts.

God, in Christ Jesus, loves me with an eternal love and calls me his own – go figure!

The question of evil


The question of evil…For centuries we have been perplexed by it.
If God created everything, did God create evil?
Does evil thwart God’s plans, or even co-exist with Him in an opposing category?

Evil is more than a propositional truth… more than a philosophical difficulty…

it is my name.

I am the heckler at the wake
the stench in the culture club closet
I am the screaming arm of the junkie
the spread legs of the whore
the silent dagger in the victims back
I crave after the slightest pleasure
I delight at the sight of the pain of others
I eat garbage I spit blood
I am the sunken artery in the heart of religion
Deceiver slanderer murderer adulturer
I am the bad guy who gets it in the worst way at the end of the movie
while the audience cheers over my spillt guts
I am the representative of every horror ever inflicted by mankind on mankind.

Now ask me what it is that I will

I was created by a holy and glorious God
but my name is now “Ichabod”
I was designed for intimacy with the Father Almighty
but now I am called “Outcast”
My existential purpose was to praise the Most High
but now I am garbed with the name “Unclean”
The smallest green leaf directs and demands my worship
but now I go by “Idolator”
Every ray of sunlight
every drop of rain
every molecule of oxygen take the witness stand against me
and call my name “Scoffer”

Now call upon me to exercise any power for good – to love, obey, abide
Do you not mock me?
…further condemn me?

But give me a new name
and by that name call me
ahh sweet love
ahh blessed hope

Where is your proof!?

You speak as if you invented rationality… I might bet you didn’t. I might even bet you don’t know who did, yet you are trusting in it as if it was of some sort of value to your life. By demanding proof, you are presuming the rationality required to receive proof. The funny thing is that having rationality is the proof you demand. Unless you have a reason to believe reason operates in the universe, it best be abandoned or it will be abused.
Truth has been sufficiently relativized… Goodness has been sufficiently trivialized… Beauty has been sufficiently functionalized… These are your proofs – scrub the vandalism away and see they have been here all along.

Provisional Value

I must start at me. As Descarte found – Cogito Ergo Sum – I think therefore I am. Everything can be doubted, but the best evidence I have is my experience. I must find my first footing at the point of my own existence.

Either I have value inherently, innately, or I ultimately have none at all. I can also have value provisionally or via pragmatism, but both of these are fickle and/or fleeting and I will fail to thrive unless I perceive an inherent value to my existence.

What do I mean by “provisional value”? Provisional is a way of saying something is temporary, for a specific interim, not intended for long term or permanent usage. Provisional value is a temporary way in which can perceive our lives as valuable and worthy of existence. Family is our primary source of provisional value – at least it should be (and here I must wince for my own failings). A parent must value their child for who and what they are – because they exist – not conditionally or pragmatically. This provisional valuing must carry the child – at the very least – until they can gain the strength and wisdom to live from inherent value. (ideally, the parents value of their children will never fade from sight as long as they live – but lets face facts – it aint that way so often – and most likely because the parents are trying to gain provisional value from their children rather than having the strength and wisdom that comes from inherent value themselves. Vicious cycle that.)

And what do I mean by “pragmatic value”? Simply put… if you are useful and practically valuable in the life of another – if you “do well”, then and only then you are valuable and worthy of existence – at least until you don’t. In slightly different words… If you perform well and are a benefit to the bottom line of others, you are worthy and have value – upon the condition that you continue to do good. Provisional value (call it love if you are so reminded) is helpful if steady and reliable and (most importantly) unconditional. Pragmatic value, on the other hand – especially if from someone you believe loves you (a parent, a spouse) or even friends, co-workers, authorities, your adoring public… will eventually crush you like an empty soda-pop can unless you are filled and strengthened by either provisional or inherent value. Both inherent and provisional value provide meaning and significance (which we all hunger for more than we will ever admit ) and will allow the stress of pragmatic value to press hard from without. If pragmatic value engages upon a life empty of either inherent or provisional value, it will never create the meaning and significance we seek – it just aint that kinda value – it will only create pressure to the point of hopeless collapse.

Provisional value can take the place of inherent value but pragmatic value never can. Anytime someone says to you “I love you” and actually means precisely that, you receive provisional value. But I am sorry to say that this is more rare that it sounds. Often when people say “I love you”, what they actually mean is “I love the way you make me feel” which is a pretty durn good definition of pragmatic value. This cannot substitute for inherent value and will never provide the meaning and significance we hunger for.

Now here is where I’m likely to lose many of you…
You will never receive inherent value from another human person (nor even from yourself – especially never from your self). Others only have the strength to grant you provisional or pragmatic value because they themselves are only provisional in your life. (Perhaps this is one reason why losing a loved one can be so traumatic to our well-being?) The same is true in reverse – you are only provisional in the lives of others. (Side thought: Now there remains a slight possibility that you may also receive real provisional value from your doggy – in fact I suspect that is the very reason they are here – but your cat? fuget about it.)

If you are of the mind to reject the idea that you exist as a person for the purpose of relationship with the One who created you from eternity (by which I mean God) you are only ever going to be able to receive pragmatic value with a smattering of provisional value.

Value, defined in short, is the state of being desired. If another human desires you because of your looks or your money or the stuff you give them – that is pragmatic value. If another human loves you unconditionally and desires you simply because you exist – regardless of your mood or manners or mistakes – that is provisional value. If that Person is your very Creator, saying He loves you because you exist, and verily loves you from outside the bounds of time and space – that is inherent value. That is the kind of value which allows the human creature to truly thrive.

Now… a lot of “religious” people have not understood this about God and have never gained the wisdom required to experientially receive inherent value from God. They have assumed mistakenly that God’s love is strictly pragmatic – that He will only love you if you behave in certain ways and provide certain benefits to Him (as if He needed anything of the sort from us…). This is fatal to inherent value. The best advice I can give anyone considering a godward life is to delay your “good works” for a time, as long as is needed, and just experience the love of God as fully as you are able. Anything you do “for God” which is not motivated by love is worthless anyhow, and you will never be able to give to God what you have not first received from Him – so be loved before you try to be anything else. Here is inherent value – here is meaning and significance and forgiveness and relationship and love beyond the favor of fickle friends.

how often do we question everything

You must not start from a place of pragmatism.
You have life. You have value.
Because you have life you have value. Inherently.
If one cannot agree, they should not have what they do not value.
I should not have that which I do not value.
But the question is, how to value my life appropriately.

Only from a place of personhood can I extend value outward.
I cannot skip trusting that I have significance apart from and often despite the value I perceive others to assign me.
From there, you take that valuable thing you are, your growing perceptions, your skills and giftings, your very own art of living life day by day, and you enrich the reality around you.
but you cannot skip trusting

I know it can be scary, but how often do we question everything – I wonder.
What am I?
Not Who as we so often do
but What?

“A machine.” someone says
“A Machine!” says someone else

But we built machines, and someday perhaps the machines will rule over us, but only because we asked it of them

We are indeed like machines – but of the several possible reasons why, I suppose that it is because we made them to be like us,
to help us, to replace us by replacing lots of the energy we expend.

Nothing wrong with this I suppose, except why do we expend energy?
If we are machines ourselves, then whose energy expediiture are we replacing – some’s version of god

I do not think we are machines – only like them because we made them like us.
Whatever we are…
We consume Energry. Like a machine, work needs fuel. A heart still beating needs to consume.
We consume other life. Even on a strict dandelion diet, a thing living no longer is because our need for energy resources

But why are we consuming and spending so much energy? Is this not where we must ask about the meaning of life.
Work needs fuel. But work to what end? Question every response you consider.

Consider pain and pleasure. These are often found driving the energy burn. But they polarize more quickly than blend
and so they rule
with confusion

“You have no authority except that which has been given you, and I ain’t giving you any.”
Just a side bar thought from earlier…

Back to resources – our world and all it’s problems are likely to apex at the end like at the beginning
We war and fight and hustle to gain the upper head on the resources thing. More money, more stuff,
and so on
but why?

It could be that the why is so hard to find that no one really knows.
It could be that everyone knows, or knew, and has dropped it, or has had it knocked out of their young hands

I don’t know. I like to think of life as a story run amok
What if life really is just some giant fairy tale being told to children?
Some say, like I do at times, that the whole thing went sideways once other tellers were introduced.
Sorta the too many cooks in the kitchen sorta thing

“Tell me a story?” And the way we reply is to live our lives the way we do day in and day out.
We tell stories about other peoples lives because why?
We have this experience of free will (whether or not “free” is the right word idk) but we do influence whatever this thing we call reality is.

This might explain why so much drama, and so much laughter, and so much struggle and so much suffering. What’s a story without all that and more?

Good Story

ScreenShot572Every word is a story.
Every word has within itself the substance of story, and often many stories.
The word cat is not the cat it represents, and the actual cat is not a word or a story except that I must use words and story to tell you of an actual cat. “Cat” signifies, indicates, portrays and represents the actual cat but El Gato has full existence apart from any word used to refer to it.

Words are simple symbols – language itself is a word about words, and metaphor a word describing is some small way how we humans make sense and discover meaning and assign value. Sentences and paragraphs are more complex than words, but are nonetheless made of entirely of words and are therefore also story.

Out “there” are facts. As soon as a “fact” enters into a human mind, it is no longer a fact, it is only a symbol for a fact – just as the actual cat is not ever the word cat. We do not have facts in our brains, we have stories about facts, representations of things we believe to be actual and true. The vast majority of us trust our brains to provide truth to us yet no one has really solved the “brain in the vat” conundrum – it remains a possible fact. Few actually believe they are a brain in a vat and yet none can offer any solid evidence to disprove the assertion when it gets made every 3rd new moon. If we were a brain in a vat, there is no reason why we should every discover it was so and no method to prove it is not so.

All we have are our experiences. Every bit of experience, every brush of soft against skin and every bouncing of sunlight across the eye, is a story now that I try to recount it to you. Every experience is a memory only a moment later and no longer exists except in a story. Everything you have ever heard and seen and felt and believed and agonized over and fumed at and wept with – all of it amounts to a story about you. This story acts like a railway around the bend of your future – it influences you powerfully to react and respond and prepare in fairly specific ways – and yet it is a story.

You can also think of an equation as a story – every moment you are alive, there are additions and subtractions and divisions which ever expand the equation which is your existence. Who and what you are at this very moment is the sum on the other side of the = sign. Next you may add a fraction of a whole number, or multiply the whole thing by 23 – the equation grows and “Who I Am” is subject to change with every moment of experience appended to the equation.

Stand along side a small lake.
Pick up a stone.
Throw the stone into the lake.
Ask what just happened.
It is surely imperceptible, but we know, if only by faith, that the level of the lake was raised by your action. Your presence on this earth may sometimes feel just as imperceptible, but we know, if only by faith, that one individuals story is now not only included but indispensable to the overall grand story of Life.

We refer to our stories as “true” – and I believe that most all of them are in some way, even those which recount a fable or a dream or a rumor. Dr. Seuss’ stories contains an unfathomable many buckets of truth, and yet neither a Sneech nor a Lorax ever tangled with my actual cat.

“Good” stories almost always have a bad guy – and sometimes the very worst bad guy makes for the very best story. It is rarely the reverse, and even when the bad guy wins in the end of the story, it is questionable just how much bad he actually was.

All art is storytelling. Music, imagery, poetry, dance and anything else you may wander across that qualifies to be called by the word “art” is itself a symbol of human experience. It may not be beautiful in every beholders eye, but I sense that that was the hope filling the creator-artist as they art’d. To experience Beauty is respond to a representation of shared meaning, shared value, shared Life. It can almost be recursive – experiencing beauty will often drive us to create beauty in order to experience beauty.

It is hard to use the word “fact” in the same sentence as the word “beauty” – like nailing jello to a wall some might say – they are very different kinds of story. This suggests that perhaps fact is only a small part of the human experience, and if this is so, it explains our behavior far less … than we would like to confess … while walking in public … with our clothing wrapped and tied around us. Beauty and Goodness and Truth, while far from unreasonable, are not exactly the product of logic or rationality (two other stories some of us adorn ourselves with regularly if only because they are the fashion of the day. The colors of logic and rationality go together like shades of purple but clash horribly with the orange of a new day’s hope.) and this parenthetical notion really becomes the point i have to make…

All we have are stories. They are like clothing to us, protective, comfortable, fashionable, silly and expressive at times, marketing material at others. Before goth even became a thing I used to wear all black all the time. Black shorts in summer, black jeans in winter. Always a black concert t-shirt with some metal band’s logo. I was telling my story with the clothes I wore. I still do. My clothing choices, and the pictures on my walls, and the books in my library, and the car that I drive and the places that I visit and the friends I call friends – all tell a story about who I am, what I value, where I find meaning. It’s all very subtle of course.

Story is all I have. But let me tell you another’s story. I heard it from a friend of a friend – neither of whom I will ever meet – about a man I’ve never met. This was told to me as a “true” story, but it is not my own direct experience. There was a man who was becoming a famous golfer. Perhaps he was not as good as Tiger Woods, but as the story goes, he was getting there. Then he went to war (presumably not by his own choice in those days) and ended up a Prisoner of War in some small box of shit and piss and torment. Twelve years he survived the tiny spaces of hell. The first thing he did when released was to hit the 18 holes. You might expect that his golfing skill was diminished – and it was – but only a little, far far less than anyone might rationally expect. The reason why he was still able to out-golf most people after twelve years in a P.O.W. camp was that golfing was the story he told himself about himself every day in captivity. He played his favorite golf course in his mind every single day, imagining the movement of his muscles and bones, visualizing the terrain, the swinging club, the flying ball. The story of practice was nearly as effective as actual practice. This has a lot to tell us about the whole mind-body connection, which I find fascinating, but my point here is obviously about something else.

“If life is a game”, someone said, “let’s play”. Realize that story is all you have, and then feel the freedom the realization provides – you are in large part the story you are telling yourself about yourself. You are likely also the story other people tell about you – those close to you, those who raised you to believe story in the first place, even those who dislike you have a story about you which you can choose to believe and follow. If your life is but a story, you can allow others tell it for you, or you can tell it yourself. Be careful though because “I’m going to tell my own damn story!” is someone else’s story. Remember that the non-conformist is conforming to non-conformity. Let that sink in a while… Letting others tell your story is not a bad thing – it can be good and beautiful and even truthful. If there are people who love you, their story about you likely has great value. There are also people who would use you, twist you to their own ends – I will suggest that you edit their version of your story into the dustbin before you believe it like a fool.

Allow me to make you mindful of the fact that you have stories about the people around you, those close to you, and those far away, those which smell very much like you, and those which trigger your natural xenophobia – and your story about them is not without consequence. A story about your brother or your sister which is really a story about hatred is going to be followed through to the end of the story – as all stories eventually will reach their own logical end. Remember that the characters in the movies which are the most proficient at contempt, die by the hatred of another. The bomber terrorists get their spectacular end in a fiery explosion, and the poisoner dies in a grotesque struggle against their own weapon of choice. “Live by the sword, die by the sword” is a story we are all (overly-) familiar with. It is a come-around-go-around kinda world, and sometimes its a very short trip around. You not only get to make choices about the story you tell and follow about yourself, you get the same choice with everyone around you. Love is going tell Good Story – perhaps not free of bad shit happening – but it will be about goodness on it’s way to it’s own logical end.

It also stands to reason that the greater the love someone has for you, the better their story of you is going to be. It may only be some aunt or uncle in a far away country writing letters to you, telling you how much they love you even though you were a baby last time you saw them. If their love is genuine, the story which accompanies it should have great value to you – follow it, keep that story wrapped around you to protect you, to comfort you, and to share it with others.

“If life is a story,” I am saying “tell it, and tell it from love”