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.

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 and non-pragmatic 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.)

Provisional value (call it love if you are so reminded) is good if steady. Pragmatic value, especially if from a parent, but even if from 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 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 pretty much the 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. The same is true in reverse – you are only provisional in the lives of others. Now there remains a slight possibility that you may also receive 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 if you are one of the lucky ones.

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 – that is inherent value.

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”

The Nearby Fire

It was then I entered
The moment I couldn’t
See myself

I had thrown myself
Into the nearby fire
Along with my shoes
And my expectations on life
As it should be

Some things are born to burn
Just as beauty
Sometimes singes
The skin

So in the crackle of
The nearby fire
Is a call to die
to what is dead
And a hope to live

How To Defeat Loneliness

In Four… Five Easy Points (okay, Five and a half)

As as elder of AC3, I get to participate in guiding and planning the direction of our annual church retreat – Vision Cast. This year, one of the key concepts we wish to focus on is community. It also ended up becoming the focus topic for our study group – Lion Tracks – and without my apparent input even (funny how that happens). So over the last couple of months I’ve been doing some reading and thinking on community. I have been sampling ideas from both Christian and “other” writers in an attempt to work from a broad pool of ideas for my own study and edification.


One of the key problems in our world, I’ve discovered, is loneliness. In the last 20-30 years, the number of people in our society who feel they have someone they can turn to and trust to be a friend in difficult times has plummeted by a shocking percentage. We have more superficial connections to others than we ever had, but the consequence seems to be a decrease significant connections. Loneliness, the books say, is a killer. One author said it’s ability to shorten our life spans here on earth was roughly equivalent to smoking half a pack of cigarettes a day! Others claim loneliness may soon be the Next Great Epidemic.

Loneliness must be defeated.

Around here at AC3, we certainly have an increasing emphasis on compassion ministries – feeding the hungry, taking in the lost children, helping people get back on their feet. I would like to see us collectively take on a compassion ministry to defeat Loneliness.

It’s not a requirement for salvation, you know, to help those who are in need, but rather, it is merely the result of receiving the love of God – so great is the incoming flood, it must over-run the banks and spill out into our world. I believe this. I also believe that we are, at the same time, captives in the foreign land of our culture and just as susceptable to loneliness as the one estranged from God.

I myself have always felt like a misfit. I learned early on to believe I didn’t belong despite any evidence to the contrary. I know also that I am not alone in feeling alone. If you were to ask me, however, if I suffered from loneliness – I would be just a bit offended and insist that I was most certainly not lonely. We are complicated creatures it seems. I would probably be able to say “I am hungry and need some food”, but never would you catch me saying “I am lonely and need a friend”. No way. Some people might, but my impression is that number is very small.

So how do we defeat loneliness? Since we rarely admit our own loneliness, and dare not confront the loneliness in another, it seems so much easier to just ignore the whole ugly plight. Am I right?

Well, while I don’t have a certifiable foolproof answer for you – I have discovered some possible hints.

First of all, we need to assume the need exists in everyone. We know everyone needs things like air, food and water – and certainly some have more resources than others – but we can easily assume everyone has the need for others as well. Also – the actual degree of need for community and trustful friendship is likely to vary from person to person, but no one is an island – some somebody once said.

Secondly… you would do well to assume that you yourself are included in the “everyone” of point one – and that you do in fact need a trusted circle of friendship – even if you don’t feel it. Perhaps it is especially true when you don’t feel it. It is almost a hunger in reverse sometimes – a hunger that causes you to starve yourself to death. The greater our loneliness, sometimes, the greater the pull towards isolation from others. I don’t know why this is, but it seems to be a common experience. Again, we are complicated creatures…

Thirdly… do not try, whatever you do, to make direct eye contact with loneliness. You have to sort of just watch it out of the corner of your eye – especially your own loneliness. The best way to defeat your own loneliness is to go attack it in others. Even then, however, you must deploy a strategy – you cannot just walk up to someone and say “I’m going to fix your loneliness for you!”. Chances are quite good that you would get the same reaction from them that you would get from me – and you will not walk away unscathed…

Fourthly… (and even I am begining to wonder how many points I have here…) Be wary of trying to “get in” to some or another circle of community. C.S. Lewis delivered a lecture on this dangers of trying to gain acceptance into the “inner ring” of some clik or circle. He warned that this desire to be accepted in a popular group is liable to make a scoundrel out of you – his words, not mine. Besides, he says, the very charm that entices you while are on the outside of that coveted group, vanishes the instant you are on the “inside”. This forces you to go looking for another circle to charm you.

His advice is quite clear…
Find something you enjoy doing.
Do it often.
Invite others to enjoy with you.

We attack loneliness most effectively, and most enjoyable, through shared interests and shared values. Don’t wait for someone else to build the right environment for you – build your own and share it.

I guess I have two more points to raise, and they are closely related so maybe we will just say Fifthly…
This point I discovered early on in my Christian training… and that is a truth about sin. Once I accepted that I was one who committed this thing called sin, I soon realized that if the gospel was for me, then surely it was for everyone, then it followed quite plainly that everyone sinned. That meant that getting close to anyone was going to be risky. More than risky… it seemed I was guaranteed to “get some on me” if I was doing community the right way. I became confident that I would be hurt by the sin of others, and I would have to find a way to deal with that appropriately. Walking away from community was just not going to be an option. Obviously, if some person has intent to maliciously victimize me in one way or another, it is reasonable that I should distance myself from that person. But just because someone is not intent on hurting me, or even truly intends to be a close trustworthy friend, does not mean I won’t get bumped and bruised by them occasionally.

Bob Marley once said “The truth is everyone is going to hurt you. You just gotta find the ones that are worth it.”

And that raises the other half of this point… who is “worth it”?
Our primary shared value is the love of Christ… don’t forget that, whatever you do. You must learn to see this thing in forwards and in reverse. I share life with others who love Christ and seek to follow Him. I also share life with others who are loved by Christ and are being sought by Him. Value and worth come from no other source – I promise you this is truth – even if I am struggling to communicate it fully. Our culture values wealth and good skin and strong manners and a hundred other things. You are being trained, perhaps unknowingly, by our culture to value the things it values – because that is what culture ultimately does. Beware of cementing your approach to evaluating other people based on anything other than the love of Christ.

So here is a hasty summary for you…
If you are going to defeat loneliness in yourself, you are going to have to first defeat it in others. If you would do that, you must see them as your Christ sees them. Destroy anothers loneliness and your own will surely flee the battlefield – tail between it’s legs-like.

To The Pure

NeuroScience has some teachings called “mirror neurons” – and it goes like this. Our brains have the capability to imagine ourselves inside another (and well.. there are also stories about how the capability got there… but it don’t much matter to how we understand it and deploy it today). They say it is one of the key advantages the human race had over other stronger and faster predators – we could anticipate the actions of other beings by way of our imagination.

Wikipedia says:
“A mirror neuron is a neuron that fires both when an animal acts and when the animal observes the same action performed by another. Thus, the neuron “mirrors” the behavior of the other, as though the observer were itself acting.”


Incredibly useful for learning stuff, wouldn’t you say? It is how we develop still – through observation and mimicry, the baby walks and talks. Toddlers play house with mommy dolls and daddy dolls – imitating the behaviors they see – sometimes to the chagrin of their parents.

Jesus said this: “To the pure, all things are pure”. I have thought a lot about this simple, almost off-handed, statement over the years. I suspect he was commenting on our imaginations – and the power thereof to influence our spiritual life. When we deploy our mirror neurons and “see from inside” another – we are not actually entering their experience or motivations, we are only imagining we do. We observe past behavior and project it onto the future. And often it is our own past behavior we project onto others.

Take a moment and notice the things about other people that really tend to annoy you or piss you off. Chances are – if the science is correct – that those behaviors are yours as well. You may suppress them – in fact it may be the ones we suppress the most within ourselves which irk us the most when they come out in others. This psychological tendency is related to Jesus’ statment about the pure as well.

“To the pure, all things are pure” also implies it’s converse – to the sullied, all things are sullied. When we “see from inside” another and find the villianous, it is – at least in part – our own past behavior we are projecting on the other.

Our imaginations are far more powerful, and influencial in our daily lives than we like to give them credit for. We often want to push imagination back to our childhood when our favorite thing to do was watch Mr. Rodgers Neighborhood and Sesame Street. But in our everyday world, we are deploying our imaginations to solve problems, to communicate with others, to plan the future, to design that better gadget. Our imaginations belong to us – and they are stamped with our own enduring identity.

A good and proper post would wrap this thought up with some sort of application, but I think I will leave this open for further discussion. What do you think the applications are of these words – “To the pure, all things are pure.”

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.
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. I am still working to fully understand exactly why this is so… for now we may have to assume that there is certain 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.
“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-fulfillment) 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.” “

Although few people chew on the existentialists any longer (and I have only nibbled), most have apparently concluded, instinctively perhaps, that the 3rd option (invent our own meaning) 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 authority over the worth of me? If I do, what is the likelihood that I will under-value or over-value it? And really, where will the parameters for these assessments actually be coming 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.

…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:


In Mark 12, some of the Pharisees and Herodians sought to catch Jesus in his words. They asked him… “Is it right to pay tax to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn’t we?”

Jesus said – essentially – “My-my – we think we are crafty today don’t we?”
“Bring me a coin.” and he held it up for all to see.
“Who’s image is on the coin?”
“Caesar’s,” they replied.
 Then Jesus said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”

The story ends here… but let us assume that perhaps one of the proud religious folk said: “And what is God’s?” What would Jesus hold up for all to see in response? Where would Jesus find God’s image to display?

Knowing Stuff


Suppose you were to google the following phrase:



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.



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?