Value: some further thoughts …

When I first saw this picture with the quote – “The Meaning of Life is to Give Life Meaning.” – I thought I totally agreed with it! But after further thought I find there is a problem.
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Can you identify the problem? Do you see what it is implying? It is
saying that life has no meaning inherently, or innately. It’s like saying
the function of a spoon is to give spoons a function- it’s really just a
bit of nonsense isn’t it?

I’m not going to proclaim that I have figured out the meaning
of life for you. It remains a possibility that you and I will always
understand such a thing differently. But I would like to maybe
try to agree on some things about the idea of the meaning of life – if at
all possible.

Primarily, that meaning and value (or meaning and worth) are inter-
related. Sometimes I can become desperate to understand and be able to explain why this is so… for now we may have to assume that there is certain a connection between worth and meaning, and as a result I’d like to ask which comes first? Do we have value because we live meaningful lives? Or are our lives meaningful because we have worth and value? And… if value is the horse and meaning the cart, who is the evaluator, the appraiser ? Do I get to decide my own value? What qualifies me for the role? Do you get to decide my value? (I’m going to say no…) How are we going to decide the value of anything?

A more basic question… What is of worth?
I keep throwing the word “arbitrary” around in my head, with overtones of disdain, because I have realized that if the only way to answer this question is with personal whim or random choice, then Camus was all too correct about the “Absurd”.

We largely spend much of our lives safeguarding our eyes away from the void – the “formless chaos of the world” which became the obsession of the existentialists. Only three options came out of all of that brain power colliding against the void…
Discover meaning through a leap of faith, by placing our hope in something/someone beyond this world.
Conclude that life is meaningless and not worth living.
Accept we live in a world devoid of innate meaning or purpose and simply invent our own – arbitrarily.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Absurdism
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Existentialism
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noble_lie
In a remarkable address to the American Academy for the Advancement of Science in 1991, Dr. L. D. Rue, confronted with the predicament of modern man, boldly advocated that we deceive ourselves by means of some “Noble Lie” into thinking that we and the universe still have value. Claiming that “The lesson of the past two centuries is that intellectual and moral relativism is profoundly the case,” Dr. Rue muses that the consequence of such a realization is that one’s quest for personal wholeness (or self-fulillment) and the quest for social coherence become independent from one another. This is because on the view of relativism the search for self-fulfillment becomes radically privatized: each person chooses his own set of values and meaning. “http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-absurdity-of-life-without-god

Although few people chew on the existentialists any longer (and I have only nibbled), most have apparently concluded, instinctively perhaps, that the 3rd option is valid. But is it?

When we ask such a question as “What is of worth?” we automatically assume ourselves to be the best authority over the answer – the judge – the “arbiter” and never really ask what gives us that authority. If we want to assess the value of a diamond ring, very few of us will assume the authority to perform that assessment – and we will be careful not to consult a shyster who would undervalue the ring in order to take advantage of us. But when it is our very own lives we have sitting under evaluation, we will hand the job over to nearly anyone – and sometimes everyone.

Shall I assume myself to be the most qualified arbiter of the worth of me? If I do, what is the likelihood that I will under-value or over-value it? And really, where will these assessments actually come from?

To go back to the diamond ring analogy, I assume that value is determined based on things like shape, weight, clarity, color, etc – and these attributes probably lead to greater or lesser value based on things like market availability and rarity of existence. A very small and very common type of diamond may in fact be very beautiful, but that alone will not determine its value in the market.

I myself may in fact be very beautiful, but that alone will not determine my value in the marketplace of society. No, things like money and power and sex are the primary attributes used to evaluate people in this market and if I presume to “set my own value” or “make my own meaning” I will likely only be judging against the attributes valued by the culture I find myself in.

I started reading James V. Schall the other day (On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs) and he very simply wrapped up the reason why I have found myself slightly obsessed with the idea of beauty over the last year or so…

He says:

…when we know a beautiful thing, including a beautiful human thing, something worthy in itself, we reach beyond ourselves; indeed, we are called beyond ourselves.

I’d like to notice things from this quote:

–we can know beauty
–beauty calls us to behold the beyond

–beauty is defined here as something with inherent value

The first point caused me to think through the many many occurrences of beauty which have struck me personally. Often it arrives through music, and poetry, and imagery. Story is also a huge source of beauty if you listen for it – and this is where an clear example of knowing beauty rang for me.

Jean Valjean (aka 24601) was arrested for stealing bread to feed his sisters children. He was imprisoned as a thief for nearly twenty years.  A church takes him in when he is released, but Jean Valjean can only see himself as a thief after twenty years. In the middle of the night he robs the church of several silver articles and makes a run for it – but the law catches him, returns him to the church, and throws him down before the bishop to face charges.

Here is the moment where I always tear up in this story… the bishop turns and grabs two silver candlesticks from a table and says here Jean Valjean – you forgot these. If you know the gospel, the imagery of these candlesticks will likely bring you to weep for beauty as well.

Allow me to remind you of the quote we are working from:
…when we know a beautiful thing, including a beautiful human thing, something worthy in itself, we reach beyond ourselves; indeed, we are called beyond ourselves.

The transcendence point is important and key as well, and I have a lot more I would like to wonder about this idea. Beauty and Goodness and Truth are often called the “Trancendentals”, not because they have anything to do with yoga or transcendental meditation, but because they call us to see beyond our selves, to behold that which is not readily visible to everyone. Plato put forth the idea that in heaven there is a Perfect Beauty, and here on earth we have shadows of that Perfect Beauty to remind us, to draw us, to instruct and strengthen us. There is Perfect Goodness in heaven, but here we have shadows and reminders. There is a Perfect Truth, but here we see through a glass dimly. In short, these are holy attributes of God made visible to us – if only in part.

Again:
…when we know a beautiful thing, including a beautiful human thing, something worthy in itself, we reach beyond ourselves; indeed, we are called beyond ourselves.

What struck me most in reading this at the time was the definition of beauty made – “something worthy in itself”.

This is the reason why I am working on writing a book about value… I am convinced that so much of life can be understood, and enhanced, by understanding how we place value, and how we actually should. I know you have likely heard me call pragmatism a prime evil of our day (and if not, you have now) and this is why. Pragmatism allows nothing to be Good or Beautiful or Truthful in and of itself. If nothing has inherent worth – I have no real worth, I only have opinions of others and the games I play with myself.

(Side note: by “inherent” I mean “existing in something as a permanent, essential characteristic or attribute”)

So who is going to be the arbiter of my worth, of my value? Shall I look to my parents? My boss? My spouse? My kids? My neighbor? My therapist? My subscription to People Magazine? My fanciful yet fearful specter of “They”? Who shall I elect to be my judge?

Paul helps me out in 1 Corinthians 4:
But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For my conscience is clear, but that does not vindicate me. It is the Lord who judges me.

Keller (in his book The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness) summarizes this passage:
Paul cares very little if he is judged by the Corinthians or by any human court. And then he goes one step further: he will not even judge himself. It is as if he says, ‘I don’t care what you think – but I don’t care what I think. I have a very low opinion of your opinion of me – but I have a very low opinion of my opinion of me.’

Browsing through several translations…
It is the Lord who judges me.
It is the Lord who examines me.
But He that judgeth me is the Lord.
My only true judge is God himself.
My only commendation is from God.
The Master makes that judgment.

All this talk about judgment dregs up some bad feelings I know (condemnation largely) but I think we can understand this passage as a pre-requisite answer to our initial question – “What has worth?” Only the Maker is qualified to assess the true value of what He has made. He created me with inherent attributes that others cannot see – that even I fail to see often. And asking Him to make that evaluation requires that we make that leap into the void rather than despairing at its boundary or attempting to fill it with random junk.

But never mind all of my words, Madonna says it much better:
‘My drive in life comes from a fear of being mediocre. That is always pushing me. I push past one spell of it and discover myself as a special human being but then I feel I am still mediocre and uninteresting unless I do something else. Because even though I have become somebody, I still have to prove that I am somebody. My struggle has never ended and I guess it never will.’

Madonna is clearly trying to fill a void rather than just leaping into it. Lesson learned.

 

Follow-up thoughts:

What value has beauty had in your life?

Remember a time you could have “wept for beauty”

How might beauty, goodness, and truth replace the marketplace of culture as the method for evaluating ourselves and other people.

 

 

Knowing Stuff

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Suppose you were to google the following phrase:

 

DEFINE SCIENCE

sci·ence
noun: science
knowledge about or study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.
from Latin scientia, from scire ‘know.’

In other words… knowing stuff about stuff.

Science is a powerful process of knowing as long as the stuff it is trying to know is part of the physical and material world. Science as a method is feeble and often even useless in arenas that cannot be physically observed and experimented on. This feebleness, I suspect, leads many people who practice science to make an assumption that there is nothing that cannot be observed and experimented on. I challenge you to wonder why.

Science can tell you a lot about stuff that can be observed, but be careful when it tries to tell you about stuff that cannot be observed (mainly because – that is not actually “Science” proper talking at that point). From the very moment that a “scientist” claims knowledge about stuff that cannot be ascertained through observation and experiment he or she has become a philosopher and science has become mere “scientism”. You need to be on your guard and recognize the difference because we are swimming in a world of scientism today.

We all know through our own direct observation that the night sky is littered with tiny dots of light. For many years people made up stories to explain those dots of light because they could not actually observe more than what could be seen with the human eye. Eventually we invented ways of enhancing the human eye with telescopes (and later with space crafts believe it or not) and we learned that those tiny dots of light are actually other suns like our sun – only very far away. To illustrate…

That led to questions like “how far away?” and “how long does it take light to travel from there to here?”

Now don’t ask me how we figured this one out… but somehow we observed that light in our little pocket of the universe travels at 671 million miles per hour. If you superman or something and could fly at the speed of light, you would be able to circle the Earth’s equator about 7.5 times in just one second! We did some math and came up with a unit of length called a “light year” – which is about 6 trillion miles.

So here we have a star we have called Alpha Centauri which is about 4 and a half light years away – that is 27 trillion miles. And over here we have us.

  • ________________________________________________ *

What is the stuff we actually know?
We know we see the light of a star that we named Alpha Centauri.
We know that in our laboratory light travels in a straight line at 6 trillion miles in a year.

What do we not know about this scenario?
We assume that light traveled in a straight line between Alpha Centauri and Earth – it is a reasonable assumption because as far as we can observe here, light always travels in a straight line. But… we cannot know if there are circumstances outside of our observation which are capable of altering the path of light. And actually… we know that we can alter the path of light with a simple tool called a mirror. We do not know if there are any “mirrors” between Earth and Alpha Centauri – but we assume there are not.

We also assume that the light we see traveled at a consistent speed of 671 million mph since it left Alpha Centauri. We don’t know if there are any circumstances outside of our observation which can alter the speed of light.

We don’t even know if Alpha Centauri even still exists! If we assume the light we see travelled straight and at a consistent speed, it left Alpha Centuri over 4 years ago! Just last week it could have exploded or got sucked into a black hole, or who knows what happens to stars…

Alexander Pope the 18th century satirical poet is misquoted as saying:
“a little knowledge is a dangerous thing”.

He actually said “a little learning is a dangerous thing”, I will borrow the misquote here simply because it fits and I think it is still true. I feel obliged to connect this thought with Francis Bacon’s thought – “Knowledge is Power”. We do get a sense of power from the stuff that we know and we really do not like to admit it when we don’t know something because it tends to make us feel feeble and weak – but it also makes us foolish when we assume to know stuff we don’t know, or cannot know.

Confucius said: “To know what you know and what you do not know, that is true knowledge.”

Lao Tzu said: “Those who have knowledge, don’t predict. Those who predict, don’t have knowledge.”

Another poet said this:
“Where is the Life we have lost in living? Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?” T. S. Eliot will sure make you think won’t he?

I personally have learned a lot from poets and philosophers, and I even desire to one day be counted among their company myself… but I have learned even more important stuff from the bible – primarily not to place my trust in the knowledge of poets and philosophers – or even my own knowledge.

Here is something I know… If I have to carry water many miles, I am going to verify that the bucket does not have any holes in it before starting off.

Even the smartest human alive does not have the capability of full knowledge, or of uncorrupted knowledge. We know a lot about a lot of stuff but that is still very little knowledge and therefore dangerous because we tend to “assume over” the many things we don’t know.

God gives us the very gift of knowledge out of His own infinite store of knowledge. Psalm 19 tells us that creation reveals its Creator’s knowledge: “Night after night the skies display knowledge.” The vastness of God’s knowledge and creative power are on display continually and are clearly seen in what He has created, as Paul reminds us in Romans 1.
Not only is God’s knowledge infinite, but it is uncorrupted and absolute: Romans 11 says “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!”. When God came to earth in the Person of Jesus, He became the very embodiment of knowledge: “. . . Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge”.

Human knowledge, apart from God, is always flawed. It is vastly incomplete and easily corrupted. The Bible also refers to it as worthless when it isn’t tempered by love. Have you ever told a “science person” that their knowledge needs to be tempered by love?  No? Honestly I haven’t either because I don’t think they would understand.

The knowledge we possess tends to make us proud. “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” Paul says. Therefore, the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, without seeking God, is foolishness. In Ecclesiastes the Preacher says “Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom . . . but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind. For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; and the more knowledge, the more grief”.

Paul urges us to “Turn away from the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed and in so doing have wandered away from faith”. Human knowledge that is opposed to God’s knowledge is no knowledge at all; rather, it is foolishness. That bucket has holes in it.

For the Christian, knowledge is a relationship. For example, when the Bible says that “Adam knew Eve”, it means (now don’t blush…) that he had physical union with her. Spiritual relationships are also described this way. Jesus used the word “know” to refer to His saving relationship with those who follow Him: “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me”. It is all too easy to discount this entirely simply by becoming offended by being referred to as a sheep. But in the context of knowledge, it fits perfectly with what I am trying to say. Sheep are not all that bright – especially when domesticated – and they need a shepherd with the knowledge to keep them safe from wolves and knowledge of the landscape to keep them fed. It is knowledge that keeps the wolves hungry and the sheep fed. (As to the point about being domesticated, I think there is a huge case to be made that we are actively being domesticated by the world we live in – and not in a good way. This only increases our desperate need of a knowledgeable Shepherd.)

Christ also told His disciples, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free”. By contrast, Jesus said to the unbelieving Jews, “You do not know my Father”(however “religious” they may have seemed). Therefore, to know Christ is to have a relationship with Him, to love and be loved by Him. Increasing in the knowledge of God is something all Christians are to experience as we “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ”.

This kind of knowledge does not fit into a test tube (although it may be safe to say that true growth as a Christian is something that is observable – if you have eyes to see it.) Science proper does not have any method for ascertaining this kind of knowledge and would be wise to simply admit the fact but that does not stop Scientism from making many foolish assumptions about its existence.

 

Stingy

ScreenShot003Me: I wonder why trees bear fruit?
Science: Trees bear fruit to produce seeds
Me: So why produce seeds?
Science: Seeds produce more fruit
Me: So propagation is the reason for propagation?
Science: Yes
Me: Propagation is not a reason for propagation… That is like saying blue is the reason for blue… which makes no sense.
Science: Could I interest you in some how since I cannot give you a solid why?
Me: Not right now… thanks
The One that Is: I can help you with why…
Me: Please do!?!
The One that Is: I made the fruit for my pleasure.
Me: Oh… I didn’t realize you ate solid food
The One that Is: Being spirit I have a different kind of food
Me: Well that stands to reason… what is it?
The One that Is: Fruit brings you pleasure, and your pleasure is spiritual food for me – my pleasure.
Me: Oh… I kinda thought you were against the whole “pleasure” thing… you know, sin and stuff
The One that Is: Your pleasure is not sin when you share it with me. It is only when you get stingy with it that it causes problems.
Me: What kind of problems?
The One that Is: Pain primarily.
Me: Oh? Whose pain?
The One that Is: We can share pain as well as pleasure… I’d like you to know. But you don’t often get stingy with your pain – you tend to always share that. It is only your pleasure that you get stingy with.
Me: Oh… I didn’t realize…
The One that Is: Few do…
Me: I’ve always been confused about this stuff. Obviously pleasure feels good and pain feels bad… but I’ve always kinda thought you felt different, like pleasure was bad and pain was good.
The One that Is: You have been confused. Pain is only good to the extent that it prevents you from hurting yourself more severely… beyond that purpose, it sucks and I don’t like it a bit. Pleasure is only bad when you horde it all for yourself and refuse to share it with me. See I not only created the fruit for my pleasure, but more importantly I created you for my pleasure, and the more pleasure you experience and share, the greater my pleasure.
Me: Well duh! That straightens things out for me.

Descartes: off his rocker?

Rene Descartes famously said: I think therefore I am (or as originally written in French – je pense, donc je suis), (or as the latin would have it – Cogito ergo sum).

All My Relations

All My Relations

From Wikipedia: “Descartes asserted that the very act of doubting one’s own existence served—at minimum—as proof of the reality of one’s own mind; there must be a thinking entity—in this case the self—for there to be a thought.”

Perhaps he was not completely off his rocker, but it occurred to me on a nature walk recently that thought does not and cannot exist in a vacuum. It only exists in relation to other thoughts. Perhaps I would even make the leap to say that, verily, “to exist” is to be in relationship with existence.

Gregory Bateson – the anthropologist and epistemologist (although he thought of himself primarily as a naturalist) – suggested that everything is what it is because of what it is in relation to everything else. Knowledge is a web of connected endpoints – the idea that any strand of that web can stand alone is unimaginable. And you cannot grasp the meaning of any one body of knowledge without perceiving it’s connected endpoints with other bodies of knowledge.

Consider what we know about how “knowledge” gets represented in our own brains. You have all these neuron cells connecting via synapses in web-like fashion to other neuron cells with electro-chemical signaling. “Each neuron may be connected to up to 10,000 other neurons, passing signals to each other via as many as 1,000 trillion synaptic connections, equivalent by some estimates to a computer with a 1 trillion bit per second processor.”

I will take it a step further and talk about people and places and things. These all exist in relationship to other people, animals, places and things – and only so. The Lakota people say – “Mitákuye Oyás’iŋ” – “The phrase translates in English as “we are all related,” or “all my relations.” It is a prayer of oneness and harmony with all forms of life: other people, animals, birds, insects, trees and plants, and even rocks, rivers, mountains and valleys”. They saw the essential interconnectedness of existence, and made it a prayer – I think that is beautiful.

Ubuntu – an idea from the Southern African region is understood in a philosophical sense to mean “the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity”. Or to put in someone else’s words – “A person is a person through other people”

More from Michael Onyebuchi Eze:
“ ‘A person is a person through other people‘ strikes an affirmation of one’s humanity through recognition of an ‘other’ in his or her uniqueness and difference. It is a demand for a creative intersubjective formation in which the ‘other’ becomes a mirror (but only a mirror) for my subjectivity. This idealism suggests to us that humanity is not embedded in my person solely as an individual; my humanity is co-substantively bestowed upon the other and me. Humanity is a quality we owe to each other. We create each other and need to sustain this otherness creation. And if we belong to each other, we participate in our creations: we are because you are, and since you are, definitely I am. The ‘I am’ is not a rigid subject, but a dynamic self-constitution dependent on this otherness creation of relation and distance”

I know… hunh?!? I will need to read thru that a few more times… but I think I get the jist at least.

The Hawaiian Kahunas (basically tribal medicine men, or shamans) saw their role in the tribe as repairing the broken connections that lead to sickness, strife, and other general unpleasantness’. They understood that health was synonymous with strong relationship (with others, with self, with earth). Serge Kahili King says this: “I define [a Hawaiian] shaman as a healer of relationships: between mind and body, between people, between people and circumstances, between humans and nature, and between matter and spirit.”

Now what strikes me is that, when I attempt to grasp the meaning of myself or of any other creature, place or thing, I recognize that first – there are many-many relationships – a gigantic web of connected endpoints, and second – that I am powerless to perceive each and every relationship that is an essential part of my existence. This too is beautiful, but in a frightening way. If my very existence is defined basically by a thousand trillion connections to the rest of existence, then my perception of my own existence is infinitesimal.

Given this I can make some assumptions (or rather, I am forced to make many-many assumptions).

–I can assume all of the unperceived relationships do not actually exist.
–I can assume they do exist but do not have any real bearing or importance on anything or anyone – myself included.
–I can assume they do exist and do in fact have significance beyond my ability to perceive or comprehend.

Which of these assumptions will I select to guide me?

This line of thought is not completed here… but if you have read this far I will suggest you carry the preceding question with you for a while. Visit the dressing room with each of the options and try them on for a day or two. Which will you ultimately select to guide you?

 

Morality? Yeah, I don’t really like to talk about it.

ScreenShot508Morality, the more it has become a thing, the more it has become meaningless. The more meaningless it becomes the less it’s worth talking about. Let’s talk instead about the things that are important to you, the things you find precious, the things you value above other things. Ultimately we would get to a morality that can be defined and practiced starting this way, but if we start with morality as if it were the bar to meet, we will get stuck in a sort of slough of despond. Morality will become an end in itself when it is not really even a thing you can place value on.

I don’t litter. I don’t not litter because the sign over there says “Do Not Litter”. I don’t not litter because I have “morality”. I find the environment I live in to be important, precious even, and because I value it I don’t trash it. But I see something more valuable than the environment.

I once dated a girl for a few weeks. After several dates we discovered that we got along great, found each other interesting and all the other things that go into a relationship. The last date found us at McDonalds for a chocolate shake and a walk around a nearby park. And then it happened… she finished her drink and proceeded to toss the McDonalds cup into the bushes… she was a litterbug! And so I broke it off.

See it became obvious that we did not value the same things. It was not just the nature park that I value, it was also (and more importantly) the poor slob who had to come along behind us and pick up her trash. A person I will never see or meet or have anything to do with was ranked down into a lower caste with less value by the act of littering. Absurd? How would you feel if you were the poor slob?

If morality is really just the result of rightly valuing, how do we rightly value another person? It is common to assign value with a refrain of “What have you done for me lately?”. If someone is in a position to benefit us, we would tend to rank them higher than someone that can give nothing. And theoretical person who can give us nothing (that is, the person we will never meet) is even more lowly.

“But isn’t this the way it should work? Survival of the Fittest and Competitive Exclusion and blah blah blah?!?” Well the comment implies a standard behavior by which to judge – which is nearly also synonymous with “morals”. But the unguided process of blind matter has no morality. If there is no innate morality, we have to provide one in order to keep using words like “should” and “ought”. So this means that we have only our own behavior by which to judge our behavior. We have only our own preferences by which to judge the value of another life (be they person plant or animal). Any one of us seems to have the right to say “To hell with your preferences”.

Or we can assign value to a person based on the categories of “right” and “wrong”. But still, we can only get the categories from a pre-defined morality. We tend to get hasty with our judgements as well – like a 5-year old boy who’s told that he has to clean his room before he goes outside to play. There are only two toy boxes and so everything gets tossed into one or the other. Judgements are made quickly and never really examined after the fact.

But suppose there is a method of assigning value that transcends personal preference, pragmatism and judgmentalism? Suppose I could say with full impunity that the theoretical person I will never met has a real value – one inherent to their existence? Because they have life, they have value. Just because I will never come face to face with them does not mean I can treat them like shit.

And more… Suppose I do devalue another human – since we share an inherent worth I am also devaluing myself. This is ultimately why porn is bad for us. By viewing another person as nothing more than an object we degrade them, and when we degrade another human we degrade ourselves. And it doesn’t have to be something as blatant as porn – littering accomplishes a similar objectifying degradation of another person which whips us with its tail even as it strikes another. Basic self-respect becomes harder and harder to come by from there, and short of that, all kinds of pitfalls in behavior.

Plato made the assumption of perfect forms. He described the things we experience in life as imperfect copies or degraded images of a Perfect that existed outside of time and space. We experience beauty here only as a pointer to a perfect beauty. The same with goodness and truth. We see through a glass dimly, but the imperfect experience is evidence of the perfect’s existence. Here we can find a way to assign value to another that is not dependent on preference, pragmatism or judgmentalism. We can find the beauty in that person plant or animal and allow it to remind us of the Perfect Beauty. We must remember a strict comparison with Perfect Beauty is beyond our reach but if we can find a resemblance in our neighbor, our spouse, in strangers and even enemies, we can value them apart from the small thinking our culture is trapped in.

We can look for goodness, and allow it to remind us of Perfect Goodness. Remember that good and bad are not independent entities. Badness is only goodness gone sour, twisted out of form – it has no foundation of its own. And so even badness can be a street sign pointing us to Perfect Goodness and therefore a method of evaluation.

I’m still working through this thought so there may be refinements in the future. Until then, wonder for yourself about the things you value, and the ways you assign that value.

Bones and Stones and Birdyhouseys

birdhouse

I see this all the time… There seems to always be some language personifying the non-personal in the rhetoric of Science (capital S intended ironically). Have you wondered why this occurs?

Crick spelled Nature with a capital N, Sagan spelled “C”osmos. Even Dawkins, although he identifies this behavior as the very start of religion in our world, does this (subtlety) in some of his writings. Certainly they each would not actually say there is a “person” behind or encompassing the material universe, yet the personifying language seems to naturally flow out for some reason.

Science does not actually ever “do” anything… people do things with science. Evolution does not ever “decide” anything, people have will and make personal choices with it – a strictly material universe has no such thing by definition as I understand “strictly material”. Evolution is an idea that only has existence in the mind of people, but people personify it (and if I can go so far…) worship it.

I’ve been working on an analogy for this – if I may share?

I have a toolbox. In the tool box I have a hammer and some nails. I look in my toolbox and I get the inspiration to build a bird house, and so I do using the hammer and nails. I might say my inspiration came out of the toolbox, but really only the hammer and nails did. I perhaps used the tools twice – first (maybe) for inspiration, and second to build – but only the second use came out of a physical material universe – and would not have at all without the first “use”.

Now suppose I see birds feeding from my bird house and I get an inspiration to draw a picture of them. I look in my toolbox for something to use. No paint or color-markers so I grab a nail and start scratching a picture of the bird onto a rock. It’s not the best birdy picture you ever did see, but I was able to follow the inspirations calling with the tools at hand. I begin to wonder where that calling actually comes from – where did the inspiration to build and draw originate? I find myself lost in my fascination and I write a poem in my head about the inspiration. I like my poem in my head and decide to share it. I remember using the nail (which was intended for holding wood together) to draw a picture so I try using it also to make words on bones.

I accidentally drop one of the bones onto another and my ears delight me with the sound they make.  I intentionally reproduce that sound over and over, and I also hit the rock (you know, the one with the birdy picture) until a rhythm develops and I now have a song played on bones (upon which is found a poem of the wonder of building a birdhouse) and stones (upon which is a beautiful birdy picture). Do rocks and bones give birth to delight by themselves, or is there an unknown at play here?

This all started with a hammer and some nails. But they themselves, by themselves, did nothing. Inspiration came from somewhere – no one knows exactly where from still – and a person (namely “I” – which is a curious thing and somehow different from rocks and birds) used them in a blend with my own creativity (whatever that is).

Science is a tool in a toolbox – it is not a bird, bone or stone. Nor is science the actual inspiration that compels us to build things with science. Evolution is a picture drawn of a bird with a somewhat crude misuse of the science tool but it kinda works – although it lacks the color of the real thing.

Philosophy is another tool. It can write poems of wonder and stretch our experience beyond the confines of science where certainty gets lost, but it is still only a tool. Using the science tool *as* a philosophical tool is a crude misuse which often results in silliness such as spelling cosmos with a capital “C”. This is also how science proper morphs into Scientism and usurps a position of authority in our lives it does not deserve.

If I may suggest… personifying the non-personal is really just a natural response to a mysterious call – and I suspect, that same calling of inspiration that sparks birdhouses, pictures, poems and music. It is a call to worship.

We were made to worship, you and I. We disagree at times (okay…, most of the time) about what is worthy of our worship. We can all tell stories of worshiping the wrong things in our lives yet still not really know the right thing. We worship hammers and nails. We worship birds and birdhouses, bones with etched poems and stones with birdy pictures. Some of us go so far as to worship the inspiration itself, but even that may be falling short of the true worth. It is where the inspiration comes from – that mystery we cannot touch (or draw, or spell correctly) – that unknown source of what is known – that is what we are actually trying to worship with everything we do. That is where the calling is coming from.

 

 

 

 

beyond that door

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There is nothing beyond that door.

I am unable to open it…
I am unable to validate the whispers some hear… from beyond it
I am unable to verify empirically so… and so now…  hear my loud lack of belief
There is no evidence to say that something great lies beyond it
Never-you-mind that there is no evidence
to say there is not… something… great… beyond it
I will not be caught under any burden of proof… any
It looks like a door to many… imaginative… fools
but my imagination says it looks only like a wall with useless handles
I am no fool

so says I

 

Reflecting

This dust is a well-polished accuser against me
If I lived in the wind I might have less to show but more of a story to tell
like a carved mountain, that which creates my scars should be powerful and real – I wish it were real – but I fear it is but weak shadowy sketches

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What I need is a hat that tells the mirror something different today
Or perhaps some shoes that will refuse to repeat the blind-mans path
Or maybe all I really need is the next line of the blurred poem that is in my guts and growling

What I want is an instinct, an inborn pull, an unquestionable drive
What I want is like howling sex between two coyotes that paints color and passion and life
around the walls of the burrow that keeps

The edges fray as I grunt under the weight of professional expectations
To play among the moments seems a far-off illusion – “a thing committed to the childish”
But it’s the years that are calling me to question – the years that beckon me to unsuppress some song within

Graveside

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I practiced the moment there.
I closed my eyes and traced my fathers name with my finger tips
I took a handful of the fresh dirt there and rubbed it into my palms.
I felt my origin – my destination in my hands
Begotten by my father in his twenty-fourth year
I pulled the small stones from the dirt – grains – of time, of life
Counting 61 I lined the marker with these stones – the years of my father in symbol
Counting 14 more – setting them off by themselves
I wondered – those unspent years – what might they have been consumed with
He feared, desperately feared- I think – nothing more than the last 14+ were consumed by
I wrote the moment

75 little grains
Consumed by… Burning down
Consumed by searching
for happiness, for meaning, for relief
to be wanted – loved
Searching
for significance – in work, in marriage, in fatherhood
to be important to someone – needed – loved
Years consumed with a dream – a longing
unspoken – perhaps unidentified
Lost
Time consumed by time itself

I realized – I myself – I have been searching
What for?
This is nonsense – damned nonsense as one once said
I already have everything I would ever need to search for
I am loved
I have meaning – purpose – significance
I know the answers now – being and existence are no longer utter mystery
I have life with an uppercase ‘el’ – not merely a lower case one
So why the searching?
An addictive behaviour I suspect. Damaging behaviour – I now recognize.
I will not pretend I am lost any longer – I am not
I will not wander lost in a fog of my own making

I gather the 75 little stones in my hand
These are my years now
Covered in mud I see them vaguely
They balance with my soul in some strange way
I wash them with water – as my years have been redeemed
My spent years cleansed – my unspent set aside – sanctified
What Christ wouldn’t give to hold in His hands
My seventy-five little grains

 

James

Date of Birth: April 1942

Date of Death: May 2004

Lived: 22660 days

Changing my Ways

There is a story about Alexander the Great that goes as follows:
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One night, during a campaign, struggling to sleep, Alexander left his tent to walk around the camp. As he made his way through, he came across a soldier asleep on guard duty – the penalty for which was instant death.
As Alexander approached, the waking soldier recognized him, immediately fearing for his life.
“Do you know what the penalty is for falling asleep on guard duty?” asked the general.
“Yes sir,” responded the soldier in a shaky voice.
“Soldier, what’s your name?”
“Alexander, sir.”
Repeating the question, Alexander the Great said, “What is your name?”
“My name is Alexander, sir.”
Again, more loudly this time, the general demanded, “What is your name?”
“My name is Alexander, sir,” the soldier meekly answered.
Looking the young man straight in the eye, Alexander the Great said, “Soldier, either change your ways or change your name.”

I suppose this story returns to mind often because at some point I experienced some conviction and some motivation by it, and some days I really need some more of that stuff, you know what I mean? I seem to fall asleep while on guard too often, distraction (and perhaps a wee-bit-o’ laziness) takes command of my ways.

I have a goal of writing. Not the great american novel thing, but I have a lot of ideas I wish to deepen through essay and poetry. Some days I feel like a attacking that goal like a monster soldier swinging a battle-axe, but then I end up instead, poking at it with a drink umbrella – oh well…

So maybe here, facing Alexander the Great as I am, I should change both my ways and my name. We live up or down to the identity we have for ourselves, the story we tell about “me”. So perhaps a new story is in order, one that is neither a sword swinging maniac, nor a barstool warmer. It must still be me, but also someone to become.

So meet if you will, S.E. Roon – poet, essayist, trail-walker, wonder-junkie.