Crying Over Spilt Rilke [Re-Blog]


Paul Burkhart:

Ran across this quote and post. They are both so good. I am all the more persuaded I need to open up the copy of Letters that I have sitting on my shelf right now. It gets cut off in the excerpt above, but here’s the whole Rilke quote:

You are so young, so before all beginning, and I want to beg you, as much as I can, dear sir, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.

Originally posted on The Narratician:

“You are so young, so before all beginning, and I want to beg you, as much as I can, dear sir, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” – Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

Rilke1

Courtesy of Knud Odde

I recently came across a used copy of Letters to a Young Poet, which I’ve been meaning to read for a long time now. As I was leafing through it in the book store, I…

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Visions of Arcadia: the most terrifying art exhibit I’ve ever seen


This weekend I had the privilege of seeing the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s new exhibit Gauguin, Cézanne, Matisse: Visions of Arcadia. The exhibit showcases works exploring the idea of “Arcadia“: an idyll pastoral world envisaged in Virgil’s first major poetic work Eclogues where nymphs and fauns dwell alongside Bacchus and Pan; where human dwellers exist in peace, rest, and joy in the natural world.

(To put it simply: you can usually recognize Arcadian themes at work in a piece of art when it has naked people hanging out in nature–usually around rivers.)

This image of Arcadia, having been explored in art epochs in the past, overtook art once more right as modern art was being born, right around the turn of the 20th century. In fact, the exhibit subtly makes the argument that this image of a rural, paradisal ideal is an essential element in modern art’s development. The modernists’ dilemma–the tensions between longing and reality, finding and losing, permanence and transience, human and mythic–all find their embodiment in this Arcadian world.

The exhibit begins with excerpts from Virgil’s poetic treatment of this theme, set beside works that visualized his words. These run along one wall. On the opposing wall of this introductory hallway, there are excerpts from Stéphane Mallarmé’s modernist treatment of Arcadia, L’Apres-midi d’un Faune, accompanied by pen-and-ink drawings from Matisse that visualize his words.

The exhibit is great, but very theoretical. It works subtly and on nuance. It’s not just a bunch of pretty things thrown into a room. Instead it is a thesis–an argument–in visual form. It watches a theme develop from myth to poetry to visual art (and then from Renaissance to modern) and explores how they are all connected and converse with one another. It’s really like no other exhibit to which I’ve ever been. If you get the chance, see it.

But that’s not why I’m writing today.
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a Jesuit Priest on Evolution. Enjoy.

Quote


Is evolution a theory, a system or a hypothesis? It is much more: it is a general condition to which all theories, all hypotheses, as systems must bow and which they must satisfy henceforth if they are to be thinkable and true. Evolution is a light illuminating all facts, a curve that all lines must follow… There is an absolute direction of growth, to which both our duty and our happiness demand that we should conform. It is human function to complete cosmic evolution…. Christ is realized in evolution.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Jesuit Priest and trained paleontologist in “The Phenomenon of Man“, ca. 1930s

I’ll be writing more about this in my Advent reflection on Monday. [Read reflection 1]

On Darwinism vs. Design (a response to the Richmond Center for Christian Study) {pt.2}


Yesterday, I posted the first part of a reply to Chris Daniel, Executive Director of the Richmond Center for Christian Study, who wrote an article titled The Origin of Life: Darwinism vs. Design. Here is part 2.

Chris, you are right to attack Darwinism as a philosophy or worldview; just like it is also appropriate to attack humanism, hedonism, racism, sexism, bibliolatry, and “systematic theology-ism”. Any system that builds its existence and definition around a created thing rather than the Person of God Himself ought to be attacked and shown to be the inadequate system it is.

But just because those “isms” above shouldn’t define our worldviews, it does’t mean that there isn’t truth and goodness even in the the things they are tempted to define themselves by: humanity has worth, pleasure is good, races are beautiful, genders are different, the Bible is the primary revelation of God (we are not a people of the Book, but a people of the Word that is testified to by the Book), and systematic theology can be helpful as we interpret and apply the Scriptures.

And Darwinism as a philosophy is an improper elevation of a seemingly true process.

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Pain, Sickness, & the Goodness of God (by Jen Justice) [Guest Post]


Okay, for those that haven’t been keeping up with this. I wrote a post about meeting God in an illness I was facing. Steve Wolf left a comment taking issue with joyfully finding this sickness within God’s Providence. I wrote a response to him. He wrote a response to me. I then sent my final reply to Him. He sent his final reply. Now, an old friend of mine, Jen Justice, who is both one of the most faithful women of God I know and someone who has faced many medical issues in her life wishes to give a few words to Steve. I knew her in Richmond and she now lives in Atlanta with her husband Josh. She is a woman full of both wisdom and grace and this response from her to Steve exemplifies this well. Also be sure to read her article on humility she wrote for my old web magazine Reform & Revive. Here’s Jen:

Steve-

First, I just want to let you know that no one is mad at you for healing people. I also believe in the gift of healing and praise God whenever He heals someone. I continue to ask Him to heal me, and I’m grateful whenever a brother or sister prays for my healing, as well.

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“David Bazan: an Example for Christians After All?” – Patrol Magazine


bazanI’m having blogging withdrawal.  So sorry.  I’m still trying to find my rhythm with the new job.  I have several articles I’ve slowly been working on and others that I was working on, only to have the “moment” pass before they were done.  This is particularly true of some political articles I’ve been thinking through.  Just when I get an idea for a political article, the proper time passes before I’m actually able to get the thing written and published.  So once again, sorry.

But, I’m not slacking on my writing for Patrol Magazine.  Here’s the new article:

David Bazan: An Example for Christians After All?

As I said last week, I am the new Thursday blogger for the site.  My first article went up last week, and it was on Christopher Hitchens’ brother, Peter Hitchens.  This week’s article concerns a David Bazan show I went to early this week and some things this show taught me concerning my own spirituality.  So read and feel free to comment!

Open Mic: A Theology of Transgenderism? (pt.iii)


[art by Patrick Benbow]

As I said in a previous post in this series (Part 1, Part 2), this problem of how the Church must address Trangenderism will be an increasing problem as time goes on. This is mainly because of how the whole idea of gender identity has changed in the past 100 years. It is only in light of Freud that we use our sexuality as an “identity”. And it’s only after the Enlightenment that living in light of one’s natural identity is seen as the highest ideal. Now, Christianity agrees with the Enlightenment on this point, but with a caveat. A very, very important caveat that should shape this entire discussion, especially as it pertains to how we actually counsel and interact with transgendered individuals.

The caveat is this: as made clear above, humanity is the image-bearer of God. We are called to reflect and live in light of that Image. It’s what we’ve been designed and intentioned for, but because of disobedience and a sense of entitled, deserved autonomy, we refuse to live in line with that image. When we do this, we are actually going against how humanity was truly designed to live. We are, in effect, acting less human, not more. Therefore, in conversion, we are granted our resurrected humanity, established and purchased for us by the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Being joined to him as our representative for true humanity, we find our truest, most truly human identity in him, not in our sexuality, not in our gender. In Christ there is neither slave nor free, Jew nor Gentile, male nor female, gay nor straight. There is only Christ.

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just a little reminder of my life . . .


I was updating my Author page on this site tonight, and I was reminded once more of this quote that struck me so powerfully by poet Joe Weil.  It’s from a great interview posted on Patrol Magazine a while back.  I wrote about it when I originally first found it almost exactly a year ago.  It’s incredible and describes the nature and substance of my faith like no other set of words I have encountered before or since–coarse language and all.  I hope it speaks to you as well:

“I once described faith as something I got on my shoe and can’t kick or wash off. I’m stuck with it. My poems are the trespasses and blasphemies of a malpracticing Christian, one who can’t stop ogling an attractive leg, or wanting to be first, who is venial, foolish, seldom at peace, horny and lonely, and so far from the kingdom of God that his whole life becomes the theme of that distance, someone knowing he is in deep shit. It’s the perfect place to be, where you can’t fool yourself into thinking you’re on the right track… The only thing I have to offer God is my sins. I am interested in mercy when it appears in places where you would never expect it. I am interested in love that shovels shit against the tide. I am interested in grace… It is better to be annihilated and crushed by God, if you are in love with God, then it is to have no relationship at all. Better God smite you then merely be absent. God does not ‘tolerate’ me. God loves me.”

How do these words strike you?

Writing in Hope & Angst (a Lament, a Praise)


Okay, now for a personal post. I usually don’t do these, but some encouragement/wisdom from others might help. I don’t know what exactly has been the cause, but the past few weeks have seen my desire to write and effect change rise to a level I’ve previously never known, only to be brought low by information on every side.

If I had to guess, I think my increase in desire and confidence to write has been inflamed by several fronts. First, intellectually, I’ve been experiencing a clarity and creativity of thought concerning books I’ve been wanting to write. Books that have been rolling around in my mind for about a year finally have some shape, structure, and direction. Also, I’ve been feeling more confident in my ability to think and subsequently express those thoughts in writing. This little slavery and atheism series I’ve been doing has been giving me a chance to flex some muscles I didn’t know were there. This has led to lots of affirmation and encouragement from others concerning my writing prospects. This has put writing in the front and center of my mind.

But, anxieties and insecurities ensue, both from within and without . . .

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What is Faith? (a call to Atheism)


art by Amy Roberts

art by Amy Roberts (see bottom for link)

My good friend Monica sent me an email with a link to this New York Times blog that had a little weekend competition:

define “Faith”

The post gave the Bible’s definition of faith, a few quotes from others on what faith is and then told other “co-vocabularists” to offer their definitions (the pithier the better).

In a display ad absurdem and ad nauseam of the make-up of NYTimes readers, the vast majority of “definitions” are atheistic rants about how faith is just believing things that are so plainly and clearly not true.  It’s the opiate of the masses.  It’s the crutch that helps weak-minded people get through life.  So on and so forth.

I understand the sentiment.  I do.  And I also see why they think that.  It was just comical seeing post after post after post of people that were so clearly speaking from such bitterness, hurt, and pain that went well beyond “calm, collected reason”.  Even the atheist puts some level of faith in things, even though they feel like this faith is justified by their logical deductions.  Faith isn’t a bad word.  It doesn’t have to be religious at all.  My mac dictionary’s first definition for it is “complete trust or confidence in someone or something.”  The second definition is the religious one!  But in spite of this, that word, for some reason, touches such a deep nerve within those hostile to Christianity that they must do more than simply display a disagreement with a prevailing notion.  It’s not good enough being a-theistic, they must be anti-theistic.

And that, I find, is very interesting.  It implies that atheism is more than a lack of belief.  It can’t stay at that merely reasoned philosophical place.  It is at its core a most outward expression of the rebellion of the heart, and the antagonism of that rebellion must and will come out.

Don’t get me wrong, I love atheists! I do!  But it looks like Atheism is becoming the new radical fundamentalism of the urban United States.  Now I know how absurd all us Christians probably looked for the past 50+ years with all of our political activism, ad hominem attacks on dissenters, made-up “culture wars” to agitate our base, over-excessive vitriol against “opponents” of our system, a circling of the wagons to maintain a false sense of security for “us” and ease of insult towards “them”, and a childish fanatical assent to a few tired (fundamental) tenets with a few tired (apologetic) defenses made by a few tired (hyperbolic, caricatured) leaders that are already irrelevant.

I guess its Atheism’s turn to take the wheel.  Try not to mess up the country in the same ways we did.  Neither you guys nor us have history on our side when it comes to our particular systems reigning supreme.  Things just don’t seem to go well.  Have fun.

As far as my contribution to the discussion?  Here was the little definition I gave:

FAITH: trusting that another has accomplished on your behalf what you ought to have done but can’t.

Grace and peace.

and Faith.

[more artwork by Amy Roberts can be found here]

Philosophy & Theology {II} | “Christian” Existentialism [2]


A couple of days ago, I laid out some reasons why “Christian” Existentialism was not the end-all-be-all philosophical orientation for the Christian. But, as I explained in my first post in this series, Philosophy is not the enemy of theology. Rather, it can help us understand other finer points of theology by giving us new categories to think in. So, I proceeded to give three ways that Existentialism can inform our theology. The first way was that it helps us see sin in regard to our personal orientation to God. This post continues with two more ways:

Secondly, a big discussion in Existentialism the relationship between our “existence” and our “essence”.  I pointed out in the previous post that when god was asked by Moses “what’s your essence?” God answered “I exist”. This is the way it is with God. His nature and being are equated with His existence. He simply “is”. The big question concerning these two things in Existentialism is “which comes first?”. Classic Existentialism holds that our existence comes first and our essence is formed and shaped by our existence. This brings up some problems for the Christian. The Bible talks about our essences being known by God before we ever existed, but it also says that there’s something of our essence that is corrupt at its core. When God “knows” us before we exist, does he know our corrupted selves? Does God create us depraved? The Bible seems fairly clear in its representation of the nature of God that He doesn’t create and form our essences as corrupt, so it look likes the question is a bit more complicated than just “which comes first”.

Best I can figure, it looks like both essence and existence have narrative frameworks and are seen as whole things that are shaped through eternity past and future. In short, the story goes like this: God knows and forms our essence-1 (S1), which is pure and good in his sight. He then creates the world of existence-1 (X1) which is made good but then falls and gives way to a different realm of existence, existence-2 (X2).  At the moment this essence-1 enters into existence-1 (X1), it comes into the fallen world and becomes essence-2 (S2) which is corrupt. Christians, then, at conversion are changed at the very level of their essence such that they then become pure in essence (essence-3) living in a corrupt existence (existence-1 still). The rest of the life of the Christian is a slow work by God and others to bring more and more of this Christian’s life and existence in line with their now pure essence-3 (s3), to prepare them for existence-3 (X3). Existence-3 is when this created world/realm within which we exist is restored and glorified and finally our pure essences-3 are able to live in freedom and peace in pure existence-2 in glorified eternity.  Here’s what it looks like graphically:

__________

screen-capture

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Lastly, there is a very important service that Existentialism lends to the spirituality of the Christian life. In Existentialism, there is a loss of the objectivity of knowledge. All we know is our existence, and that is a very small sphere of knowledge indeed. What this tenet of the philosophy does is create a very strong sense of angst. Existentialists carry the reputation for being very depressed people, seeing as they can know nothing more than (1) they exist, and (2) they can’t know more than that. We can be sure of no other knowledge. This makes you feel very small in a world of chaos that you can do nothing to change. This sort of worldview should make people very despairing, and it has for people such as Samuel Beckett and Albert Camus. But for others, like Jean-Paul Sarte and Soren Kierkegaard, Existentialism seemed to create a humble sobriety that actually allowed these men to enjoy life in a way many Christians could learn to do.

The Christian life is angst. It’s messy. It’s sloppy. That’s why it’s lived by faith - i.e. “trust”. Reality is such that we will be forced to have to trust our Creator to save us, because there really are no objective grounds (that we can know) upon which His salvation is based. This is because God knows He is the greatest of all things and our tendency is to drift from Him. It’s His love that makes us need to draw near. But, when we do, it shows us even more where we fall short and we cry out to God more. He draws even nearer and we are able to experience that One for whom our soul was made. Faith is not neat. Faith is not tidy. Faith is not naive. Faith is not imbecilic. Faith is having the courage to admit your finitude and inadequacy in order to be joined to and in communion with the Joy of joys, Peace of peaces, King of kings, and Lord of lords.

As one friend put it: “I will not resolve to embody that kind of [naive] faith ever again. So, I will read Scripture, asking God to communicate to me what in me is broken, what is unreconciled, what needs restoration, liberation, salvation. And I will sit at the foot of the cross, in the pain of who I am. And I will ask God for reconciliation, restoration, liberation, salvation. On the other side of it all, I will trust Christ more deeply. This is sanctification. This is working out my salvation in fear and trembling. And then, hopefully I will have caught my breath, and it will all begin again.”

Existentialism helps us recapture the “fear and trembling” part of working out our salvation (hence the title of Kierkegaard’s famous work).

I’ll end with perhaps my favorite set of quotes I have ever read. These have had such a profound impact on me and so reflect how I understand these things to be. These words are from the poet Joe Weil in an interview with Patrol Magazine. I leave you with these words that could have been written by the most quintessential existentialist:

“I once described faith as something I got on my shoe and can’t kick or wash off. I’m stuck with it. My poems are the trespasses and blasphemies of a malpracticing Christian, one who can’t stop ogling an attractive leg, or wanting to be first, who is venial, foolish, seldom at peace, horny and lonely, and so far from the kingdom of God that his whole life becomes the theme of that distance, someone knowing he is in deep shit. It’s the perfect place to be, where you can’t fool yourself into thinking you’re on the right track…The only thing I have to offer God is my sins. I am interested in mercy when it appears in places where you would never expect it. I am interested in love that shovels shit against the tide. I am interested in grace…It is better to be annihilated and crushed by God, if you are in love with God, then it is to have no relationship at all. Better God smite you then merely be absent. God does not ‘tolerate’ me. God loves me.”