Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Balancing Checks and Checking Balances

The ironic sublimity of our founding fathers’ words juxtaposed against the reality of their actions in regards to minorities and women is a stark example of the need for a full incorporation of the very principle they themselves devised in having “checks and balances” built into America’s governing model (Tindall & Shi, 2007, p. 182).  Having so recently thrown off the British imperialistic tyranny, and having desired to avoid the abuses of power resident in the few, our white founding fathers fell right into something else they feared: “the tyranny of the majority” (Tindall & Shi, p. 180).  Not a majority of numbers measured against all women, African Americans, Chinese, and Indians, but a majority of might by pedigree and learning that—although initially unavoidable—was not fair in the long run when all the wrongs of subjugation could have been righted.  Like speaking words of affirmation before corresponding habits are formed so our nation had to speak well before it performed well.  Before any habit takes, there are many intervening starts and stops—intermittent periods of vacillation—before another war solidified the hearts and immortalized the words about the equality of all men.  Only when acknowledgement is made that the words written in blood are the words of all mankind—to include women and men of all colors—do the words begin to blazon and crystallize.
Our founding fathers understood sinful human nature, and to prevent the corrosive effects of too much power falling into too few hands, they crafted a government that would prevent this from happening.  Starting with the fundamental fact of sin as the foundation, they erected a governmental philosophy that never lost sight of this fact.  The only problem was that they too shared in sinful human nature.  These “checks and balances” ingeniously ensured the division of “sovereignty within the government” (p.184).  This revolutionary idea of “vesting ultimate authority in the people” was about finding a way to exist around a still needful central power to rally people (p.184).  The compromises that had to be made created a healthy tension between the two predominant yet opposing ideologies of Federalism and Republicanism.  There was a definite need to centralize certain functions of the newborn government after the mold of the Federalist mind; likewise there was a need for democracy to grow outward after the mold of the Republican mind.  There were strengths and weaknesses inherent in both ideologies; by absorbing the best of both, the compound ideology that emerged was stronger than either separate ideology could have ever developed into by itself.
Despite the omission of “charity to all” that was a later addendum to our country—that took Lincoln and a civil war to accomplish—our founding fathers were best suited to originate the revolutionary idea of self-governance.  They were the superior minds of their day—in no small part because of the education they were able to obtain by being white and male.  This is not to say they were inherently smarter than women or those of color, but they were, for wrong or right reasons, the educated, and thus, the serviceable minds of their day.  The government they built had learned the lessons about the abuses of power and by establishing a government that lay upon more than a few white men’s shoulders they inadvertently laid the foundation for transferring it to all shoulders in the future. 

By the time Andrew Jackson came into power in 1828, our independent spirit began to fully democratize our governmental conventions, but as Jackson once said: “Equality of talents, or education, or of wealth cannot be produced by human institutions” (p. 278).   Though human institutions could not produce equalities, they certainly could produce inequalities, however, and women and minorities were perpetually kept subjugated and voiceless.  Into the void that their silent voices created is today’s sound; like a Joel’s army of unprecedented impact, so minorities are mounting the loudest and shrillest war cries.  Where will the balancing checks and the checking balances take us?
Ultimately, how does one ensure the ideal of freedom for every person?  Anarchy would certainly cause the strong to dominate, or even eradicate, the weak.  Manmade governments, no matter how democratized, has historically still oppressed some.  Having established our country upon the knowledge of the intrinsically sinful human heart, however, has been the key that has made a yet fluid framework stand erect.  Individual liberty can only be expressed within the context of society and one’s inalienable rights are never so inalienable or so autonomous as to allow their expression outside the confines of societal norms.  In other words, as I pursue my own freedom I must be careful not to infringe upon my brother’s freedom; any freedom that does has simply become license.

Our government, “of the people, by the people, for the people” that “shall not perish from the earth” (excerpts from Lincoln’s Gettysburg address) will indeed perish if we do not overcome—in some measure—prejudicial and sinful views.  Social reform is of no consequence if the heart remains defiant; prejudicial eyes look out from turbid hearts, and an unclean mainspring knows no freedom.   We cannot be fooled by racial and gender equality measures that have been enacted to strengthen our union (however good they may or may not be); it is sin in the heart of mankind that topples nations, and it will topple America too if she continues to remain foolish and unrepentant before God.  It is useless to “check and balance” those who refuse to fundamentally acknowledge inherent sinfulness; what is there to repent from or to be checked and balanced over to when we obtusely and stubbornly refuse to be corrected?  Ultimately, God calls these uncorrected “stupid.”  Indeed, “he who hates reproof is stupid” (Proverbs 12:1, partial, New American Standard Bible).

Unfortunately, America is now characteristically stupid, even epitomizing a generation of those who might refuse correction of any sort on any manner at all times; they are like the Chaldeans of old who ran as a horde of faces evilly bent on exacting the consensus of their own natural thought (those whose authority originates only from their narrow and dogmatic selves).  They are those who Isaiah characterized as would ultimately lie down in torment, those who thought to be enlightened and inspired entirely by the natural spark or light of life they are born with.  They are the unregenerated, the unconverted; those which remain stupid even after sufficient instruction has been given to warrant a change of mind—a repentance—and the now expansive and Christian worldview by which to properly orient one’s self to the right perspective. 
Tindall, G.B. &  Shi, D.E. (2007).  America, a narrative history.  New York: W.W.
Norton and Co.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Critique of Matthew Arnold's Poem: "Dover Beach"

A sad but outstanding poet named Matthew Arnold, writing in the Romantic era (the 1800’s), wrote a poem called "Dover Beach."  His overwhelming sadness and waning faith—that he might never know joy—is not a sentiment I share with him (in any resignation-way); but so close to his deep and dark sentiments have I been at times in the past that I can relate to his words.  I have faith, however, that God will save me (to the uttermost); that I have--and will continue--to overcome the bottomless pit of sorrow with a ceilingless sky of joy.  Notwithstanding this hope and optimism of mine, let us plumb the depths of the deep meaning of Arnold’s words; let us too enter his baptism of sorrow so as to fulfill all righteousness.  His poem and my analysis of it follow:

Dover Beach

The sea is calm tonight,
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of
England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.
Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the
Aegean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.
The Sea of Faith
once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams, C
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

My Literary Analysis of Matthew Arnold’s poem: Dover Beach.

The sense of resignation to a melancholy mood that Arnold conveys in Dover Beach, juxtaposed beside the once promising “Sea of Faith,” is the message of disillusionment.  When the “light gleams and is gone” off the distant “French coast,” from the speaker’s perspective, a certain hope is lost.  He cannot see that the churning “pebbles” that “bring the eternal note of sadness in” will ever cease; the “turbid ebb and flow of human misery” that even “Sophocles” heard many years previous “on the Aegean” is still resonating in the speaker’s ears upon the shore of a “distant northern sea,” and suggests that sorrow was, and is, a perpetual and irredeemable human experience.  Having abandoned any hope of finding true happiness in the world alone, he turns to his companion; only with her beside him –and their corporate perspective (through a shared window) –can he deem that “sweet is the night air!”   His imploring words: “let us be true to one another!” is a desperate attempt to find some thread of comfort within their love, because his faith has failed to find comfort elsewhere.

The poem opens with a simple and serene observation about the calm sea off the “cliffs of England” that casts a “glimmering and vast” shadow or picture against the rather quiet evening’s waters.  Even after the light is extinguished at the “French coast,” his motherland of England still loomed large and hopeful in contrast.  He brings his companion to the window in hope of assuaging his heart against the onslaught of what he must have intuitively begun to realize –his faith was faltering.  I suppose that the quiet bliss they were expecting to enjoy to the full was interrupted by the “tremulous cadence” of the somewhat violent wave action that makes sand out of pebbles.  This disturbance, on such a quiet evening with his companion by his side, shocked him into considering the erosion of faith he was feeling internally.  He uses water here to represent emotional states; it was relatively calm at the outset –and off the shore –but the violent margin where sea and land clash disturbs his tranquility and makes him unhappy.  The “turbid ebb and flow” which was about the Aegean Sea in Sophocles time ought to have become –with the advance of time, place and refinement –less murky within the cool and clear “northern sea.”  The testing of faith ought not to be the removal of faith, but the speaker here first focuses upon the inevitability of sorrow; he reminds himself of how Sophocles before him had intimated the same inevitability that humankind cannot avoid suffering –thus sorrow.  Light and certainty begin to wane as the realization that sorrow never ends; he begins to be haunted by the ominous and “eternal notes” of the pebbles that sing dirges with a “grating roar.”

Now he begins to consider the once “full” and all encompassing “Sea of Faith.”  The Victorian age backdrop upon which Arnold penned this poem was a time of great uncertainty that aroused skepticism about many preconceived ideas.  The Enlightenment exposed both good and bad things within the human mind and experience, and was the immediate precursor to this timeframe.  The “bright girdle furled” evokes a strong emotional image that seems to suggest a midriff made tight and sturdy by the seal of faith; a solid emotional seat clothed with restraint.  Before the “naked shingles” were exposed and began to turn opaque under the “moon-blanched” beams, they were bright and translucent through the medium of the water.  The emotions that had once oiled the pain of constant refinement had retreated like waves from the shoreline, and the consequent exposure made suffering and sorrow unbearable.  The “breath of the night wind” only exacerbating the “withdrawing roar” of the once covering waters seems to be about how a withering skepticism of the unrestrained intellect dries the bones and removes all the fat form the meat of joy.  “Down the vast edges drear” is likened to this same attrition.  The once “sweet…night air” that had yet the promise of sweet days ahead has deceived the speaker; he slowly awakens to the realization that the once great and formidable “cliffs of England” that stood sentry was in peril of  toppling into the deceptive but “tranquil bay” by the slow but insidious effects of  the gentle but persistent nighttime winds.  Fragile joy was systematically being stripped by the quiet yet unrelenting scrutiny of unbridled scientific and intellectual inquiry. 

The speaker’s overweening fears, magnified by what his keen observation suggested, widened the scope of his search to “the world, which seems…like a land of dreams.”  The promise, “so various, so beautiful, so new” of what the world seemed to suggest had now become an illusion.  The speaker had awakened to the realization that nothing upon the “darkling plain” of earth can bring joy, comfort, enlightenment, security, or love; the poem had started by characterizing the plain as “moon-blanched,” and even the magnificent white cliffs of Dover, glimmering upon the “Sea of Faith,” had made promises that were now evaporating.  In light of this external hopelessness, he seeks an internal hopefulness with his companion.  He asks that his companion not be beguiled by the false promises of this world; he insists that they cling to one another faithfully.  His conclusion that hope and comfort can only be found in the arms of his companion is then contrasted by the futility of clashing armies in the night.  His idea seems to be that the “confused alarms” are attributable to the “ignorant armies” misinterpreting the proper ground upon which a conflict is waged.  A “land of dreams” should not become a world of nightmares, but many cannot see the direction one must go to find a peaceful and encouraging hope.  Only within the limited sphere of a relationship is there an unlimited sphere of hope for joy, peace and love.  According to the speaker, a restoration of the faith that had been eclipsed by an improper orientation of heart is realized only within the arms of a lover.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

My Testimony and a Prescription for Success

I was raised a Catholic by a mama’s boy with little religious imagination and by his wife—my mother—an ethnic and social Jew only (who morphed along in a chameleon-like fashion to be in compliance with the dominant religious bent of my dad—as articulated strongest by his Irish Catholic mother).  My religious roots were thus most solidified in my dad’s mom, our granny “B,” as she affectionately became known to us grandchildren.  Deeply religious and ethnically Irish, she practiced her religion with a determination, dedication, and fervor that was only sometimes overbearing.   She married a strong and hard-working German immigrant, and together they raised their six children in a rigid and staunchly Catholic way.  My dad, being the youngest of the six, was both doted upon by his mother and older sisters and preyed upon by a domineering dad who bullied and indelibly subjugated my dad to the narrow and singular view of his own twisted thinking.  I would later bear the brunt of my father’s cowardice and weaknesses he repressed concerning his dysfunctional relationship with his father.
To me, my parents seemed programmed like robots; they did many things right, efficient, but mechanically.  Having come of age in the sterile 1950s, both my parents were reflexively compliant.   Both born during the years of our Great Depression and raised by poor and hard working immigrants, they obeyed the social norms taught them without questioning.  I, however, was raised in the rebellious atmosphere of the 1960’s; I was filled with introspection, questions, complaints, etc.   A visceral “WHY?” question about the meaning of life was formed at the very center of my being even before I could hardly know of anything else to think of; I could never understand servile compliance and questions without answers.  Both my parents were and are intelligent people, but so narrow and superficial in their thinking scope, that their lives never help answer anything ultimate or transcendent; in fact, their lives are part of what is behind much of the burning pain behind my question “why.”  Nevertheless, once I became a teenager—having altogether dismissed my mother as being able to potentially answer any questions about life—my alcoholic father, Catholicism, Plato, Aristotle, and all the other great thinkers I had read (and I had read tons of heady stuff)—were summarily, and in order, dismissed, each in turn, as I turned the pages of their writings, actions or merits.  Because I was young, and to eat, drink and be merry held out at least a shallow but pleasurable hope, true nihilism had not yet been reached. 
I guess some of my parent’s ways must have reached me because only a servile compliance bent could have kept me in High School until graduation day in June, 1979; I was out the door of my parent’s home, hearts, and away from their arbitrary and nonsensical rules the very next day.  I traveled south to Virginia Beach, Virginia, rented a room not three blocks from the ocean, got a job as a maintenance man’s assistance at one of the many beautiful motels dotting the beach, and proceeded—like the prodigal son—to carry out the eat, drink, and be merry lifestyle.  Before I could hardly taste or digest this large and lethal bite of the apple, however, God arrested me in my tracks.
My parents brought me up in the Catholic faith, and I had seasons of religious longings (sometimes contemplating becoming a priest); I deduced that God existed, and concluded he must be real.  But until he interjected himself  into my story (as he was about to soon) he was more like a mirage and a hope than a tangible reality; once having come, however, I never again doubted—not only his existence—but his benevolent existence.  Nevertheless, like young Samuel of old, before he knew God and his voice, he had no reference point; if Eli had not intervened and instructed him, Samuel might never have discerned the word of the Lord.  Either way, for me, my ancient door had its seal broken, and the crypt that held me in darkness and death became overwhelmed with the light of Christ as he swiftly entered in and thoroughly transformed my habitation.  But I am getting a little bit ahead of myself, because before God came inside, the devil nearly did.
One evening, after my maintenance man assistance duties were done, I was invited by one of the night desk clerks, who lived in one of the motel rooms as some sort of compensation for his work, into his room for some drinks and partying with both him and his girlfriend.  As the night wore on and we began to converse more and more freely, his girlfriend began to speak of transcendental meditation, astral projection, Edgar Cayce, and other pseudo-spiritual new age philosophies and phenomenon.  For the first time in my young life “I felt something;” I knew it was real, spiritually real, but not necessarily righteous.  There was something ominous and sinister about it, but the realness of it, the power behind it was compelling and it began to woo me.  It was in this state of contemplation—while drinking plenty of beer one warm summer evening out on the porch of my beach home—that I wandered off to the street to greet a new roommate who had just finished walking his dog.   The combination of liquid courage and the spooky dark powers of persuasion met at my core and freshly evoked that visceral “why?” which yet haunted my mind and soul; my ancient door began to creak open, and I was ready to invite whatever seemed real and powerful within.  In this vulnerable and vacant state—and space at the very core of my being—the devil attempted to squeeze; he kicked his hoof and tried to knock the spiritual wind out of me.  But this simple guy, this new roommate, with his little dog, preached a message about Jesus Christ that provoked me to the core.  Just when the door of opportunity was about to degenerate into the gate of hell, a gracious God sent his witness and allowed me to “feel” a different spiritual atmosphere (as a contrast to the “ominous and sinister” counterpart atmosphere I was feeling).  Before the devil could steal my heart and soul, before he finished kicking my ancient door in, Jesus Christ came in such power and conviction as to sweep away the devil’s refuge of lies.
I remember putting those unfinished beers aside, laying on my face and praying from my knees, weeping days and nights on end as his glory washed over me again and again.  The heavy, even metallic-like “WHY?” that was embedded at the core of my person was miraculously dislodged and dissolved, especially after God himself took me to the Scriptures for the first time.  Many are instructed (and I have instructed many new converts likewise) to read the gospel of John, but God delighted my soul and answered much when he guided me first to the book of Ecclesiastes.  My parents were right to fear God and obey his commandments, and Solomon ended his torture and his most magnificent book concluding likewise; but the increasing knowledge that brings increasing pain he spoke of, is for some of us (those like me), a necessary increase of all that comes with it.  I was a mentally tortured soul from childhood into early adulthood and even through most of my middle years; on December 28th past (2010), however, I achieved my fiftieth year upon this earth.  This year of my jubilee—I believe—is going to be one of the best years of my life, released from many chains, weights, sins, etc.  God promised me that if I bore the yoke in my youth, that my mature days would be brighter and brighter until my departure; by the Spirit of the Lord, he recently reminded me of this promise and affirmed to me that I had done my part (and would therefore be rewarded).
I was a sexual as well as an experience virgin when the Lord so graciously saved me way back in that summer of 1979.  Though I had begun to embark upon a wanton and wasted life, God came and redirected me before too much damage could occur.  The wine, women, and song that I had purposed to live for were immediately replaced with a passion for Jesus Christ.  For three years, I served the Lord with passion and dedication born of love; then he broke my heart by withdrawing from me (at least in a manifest presence way I had grown accustomed to).  However, he lulled me to sleep with a lullaby as he faded away: the softening melody accompanying Lamentations 3:22-23 (then he instructed me from verses 24-38).  I was called to be a prophet, but I needed much tempering; I was called to be wise and discerning, but I needed much aging.  The Lord told me: “It is good for a man that he should bear the yoke in his youth;” then he departed and left me in the wilderness (Lamentations 3:27, NASB).  I would like to say that I passed all of my tests quickly and excellently, but the truth is that I rarely got anything right.  In fact, I was perpetually wrong in both attitude and point; I came to feel (genuinely)—like the Apostle Paul—to be the chiefest of all sinners.  As I studied to show myself approved unto God—a workman who need not be ashamed—the darker and darker I saw myself, but the lighter and lighter God began to shine in contradistinction.
In conclusion, the Lord has been faithful to me throughout the years of my life.  He never left me, nor forsook me; but he did correct me, established me, and made me into a genuine man of God.  It has only been in the last few years of my life that I have—almost miraculously—evolved into a teacher; the black and white and harsh view of the prophet has mollified with age and wisdom.  I know it is the Lord’s doing, because I refuse to take anything on of my own volition; plus, I cannot get Scriptural statements like: “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment” out of my head (James 3:1, NASB).  James went on to explain that “we all stumble in many ways;” James had also said that sweet and bitter waters ought not to flow through the same spigot, but alas!—Oh wretched man that I am!  I am profoundly amazed at God’s handiwork with me; I was wrong for so long that the days when God began to demonstrate his corrective work in me, I could hardly be convinced.  I remember sitting in a home church meeting where the prophetic word was rich one evening and having a visceral-from-the-gut thought that had not even entered my brain yet.  With the innocence of a child, a thought flashed through my being that said: “I must be too difficult for God.”  I cannot explain it, except to say it somehow was not my grownup head speaking, but the scared little child inside me—at my pit.  Well, a prophetess sitting beside me simply turned and said exactly: “You are not too difficult for God.”  Needless to say, of all the prophetic words I have ever received in my life, none was—to me—more precious than this exact and penetrating word.  Of course, theologically, I knew better than to think I could be too much for an Almighty God, but to have one’s person reassured to the core goes way beyond something theologically ascertained.  Yes, I am loved by God theologically, but even more so—really. 
For the bulk of my adult years I have had the habit of daily rising and reading/studying the Scriptures for approximately 2-3 hours in the early mornings before I went to work or started my day.  Ever since I was saved (July 1979) I have had an enormous hunger for God’s Word; I do my part, and pray God does his by sending the Holy Spirit to illuminate its contents and unfold its meaning.  Of course, I am constantly praying and seeking his face above everything else, but the reading and studying functions take up most of the time while I am thus engaged each morning.  I cannot begin to adequately express the magnitude in which this has impacted my life.  Because it took years of reading/studying, weeping and praying to change me, and specifically to heal my faithlessness, I would sometimes get impatient, worldly, and temporarily lose motivation; I would consequently depart from these habits and exercises and devotion to wander out into the world and wilderness.  I was extremely faithful to these types of demands as a disciple when my heart was alive and doing well, but, unfortunately, I would, like a dog returning to its vomit, occasionally rebel and wantonly divorce myself from the love of God and his embrace.  I played the harlot for as long as several years straight on a few occasions, and whored about for a month or two on other occasions, but eventually God wrought a miracle for me of Biblical proportions.
The primary reason I love the Scriptures lies in their applicability.  God has a way of telling us sweeping stories of various characters, some like us, and some not, but all human enough and real enough to relate to on certain levels; and truth be told, the depth of those levels might go further than we imagine when God decides to teach us things about these characters from his Holy Word.  Gomer, the harlot in the book of Hosea, is one of these characters; as I was poring over the incredible details of her story I became increasingly moved and wet with tears.  I know that she is me; God is not exaggerating when he identified Israel with her, nor is he exaggerating when he does the same with me.  My nature is unstable, like water; I am unfaithful to the core.  It is a deep and tremendously sorrowful revelation, this revelation that I am an intrinsically faithless individual; “without faith it is impossible to please Him” and the combination of knowing this and being powerless to change it only compounded the sadness which overwhelmed me (Hebrews 11:6, partial, NASB).  But something wonderful happened as I read about Gomer those many years ago; God began to be tender towards her, and I came to believe he might also become tender towards me.  When I read: “I will heal their faithlessness; I will love them freely,” referring to the Nation of Israel as represented by Gomer, a hope began to spring eternal that God would do the same for me—that he was going to fix and restore me someday (Hosea 14:4, partial, Amplified Bible).  Sure enough, God is faithful (even when we are not) and the day came when he healed my faithlessness.  My Christian track record had been sketchy at best; I’d serve him for a season or two, then fall away.  When I was a young man and a baby Christian, however, God promised to heal that unfaithful way in me; it took years of wandering and perpetual failure and constant sorrow, but the day came when he whispered into my spirit a reminder of his promise to me those many years ago.  It has been about five years now since God healed me of a wandering and wanton heart; though I am still capable of waffling a bit, I am essentially centered—no derailing or walking away now.

When I was young in the Lord, motivated to please him in every way, undisciplined, youthful, full of superfluous energies, and idealism, I came to a conclusion about how to best serve God.  I knew I had to discipline myself and regiment certain duties whereby I might fit all of my charges within the scope of my responsibilities and within a prescribed timetable.  I concluded that all of my Christian duty fell neatly under four basic categories: prayer, Bible reading/study, witnessing/evangelism, and fellowship with other believers.  If I gave the proper attention to each of these things, I concluded, I would be able to walk with the Lord unashamed.  Thus I began to formulate a daily schedule around the responsibility I was placing upon myself to perform certain tasks that each category suggested.  Scripture commands us to pray without ceasing, thus I spread many pockets of time throughout the day and night in which to pray.  I adjusted the outline many different times throughout the years because of work schedules and life changes, but essentially and mostly, it became my habit to rise at 5AM for coffee and prayer.  At 6AM I began to read/study/meditate upon the Scriptures (I usually did this till 8AM).  If I performed these two aspects well, I came to realize that I did not have to formalize periods of time to witness/evangelize and fellowship; because they naturally flow from a lively Christianity (that prayer and Bible study ensures) they were getting accomplished without being formally scheduled.  Thus, I kept it simple and I grew tremendously during the many years I adhered to this schedule and these disciplines.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Holistic Nature of Truth

I have enjoyed much of Entwistle’s views expressed in his text: Integrative Approaches to Psychology and Christianity; I think we share a relatively similar worldview that sees all truth as an intrinsic integrated reality whole.  However, his “Allies As Subjects of One Sovereign” model—the best and most accurate of all the models he proposes in his book—does not quite capture the degree to which I believe everything is interrelated, integrated, and ultimately altogether consubstantiated.   In practice and definition, psychology and theology are different, and as such, can be classified no closer than allies within the human mind; nevertheless, reality and God are greater than what the human mind can comprehend and articulate, and insufficient practice and ill-defined schools of thought even go so far as to make psychology and theology antagonistic towards each other.  In my opinion, the premise that leads no closer than an allies relationship between the disciplines, and promotes the idea that they might also be foes, is the actual problem.  Psychology (the study of the soul) and theology (the study of God and the destiny of the soul) are more alike in practice and definition than they are different.
I further understand Entwistle’s use of the two books idea to conceptualize and define his views about the two different ways in which God reveals truth to people (the Bible and Creation), but I think it is also a fundamentally flawed and artificial distinction that separates holistic truth from its constituent parts and therefore clouds instead of clarifies.   He said: “If we are to be faithful readers of the two books of God, and if we are to seek to understand them in a holistic fashion, we must then develop some guidelines about how we should proceed” (Entwistle, 2004, p. 252).  Nevertheless, he shackles himself from the outset by seeking guidelines for an already faulty premise; his presumption that God wrote truth out in two books destroys the holistic nature of truth before it is even defined.   Truth cannot be confined by two books (but it is confined in one—the Bible) and any honest believer and seeker of truth will know how to proceed; God has interwoven himself through his Holy Spirit within the soul of the believer and is leading this soul into all truth.  There is no special or general revelation; the carnal mind has been replaced by the mind of Christ, and any truth, whether gleaned directly from the Scriptures or by observing his created works, is special and will automatically be measured by any thinking man, whether directly or under the auspices of any specific discipline to test its validity.  The embodiment of all truth is Jesus Christ; Christ in the soul (mind, will, and emotional seat) is the only true enlightenment.  A true Christian (a mature one) knows all things, but is unknown (misunderstood) by others.
The key to all the “ologies,” and specifically epistemology, cosmology, and philosophical anthropology is a Biblical understanding of an Almighty God who lives in and outside the Christian in a way that he does not live in the unbeliever.  Because the fall of mankind so mangled his image and distorted his true nature, philosophical anthropology cannot but yield a false characterization of just what man is; Watchmen Nee believed (and I do too) that man—before the fall—used his entire brain, had an aura force emanating from his being, and was capable of doing things that would seem supernatural (but was nothing more than the natural expression of an unfallen soul exercising powers beyond our comprehension).  So different is man today—so fallen from his original design—that some theologians even came to believe that mankind could never accept the free gift of eternal life except they be supernaturally overwhelmed by an irresistible grace; this theological construction became necessary because of a previous yet erroneous theological construction erected earlier about mankind’s condition which they termed: total depravity.  Mankind, according to this five-point Calvinistic and extreme view, was entirely unable to receive healing by accepting (by one’s freewill) the gift of life contained within the gospel message.  Others, of course, have erred in the other direction, and have thought mankind more capable than he actually is; mankind’s depravity and mangled state of being are impervious to his strength and ingenuity but not to his desperate call to God for help.   
Man was never to be known apart from God; made in the image of God, made married to God (designed attached to him)—never an entity without God.  When man sinned he divorced God and separated himself from his lifeline; in Christ, man’s spirit remarries God and is reattached to this lifeline and re-imprinted with the image of God.  This new creation is inserted within an old creation shell in seed form and made to grow and ultimately mature.  How impossible is the study of the human soul without this theological understanding?  Redemption is a material transaction that biologically redefines humankind.   A study of the soul (psychology) cannot be properly studied without understanding this revelation first; the Queen of the Sciences needs to retake her place and once again inform psychology (and many other disciplines as well) if a proper, proportionate, standard and universal truth—an objective truth—is to reorient and clarify this disoriented and clouded generation.
The very idea of integration could only have been the fractured and broken—altogether disfigured and splintered—brainchild of this superficial era.  More is known about a lot less deeply than ever before, and the splintered knowledge that they are attempting to integrate has never been separated except in their ignorant heads.  A whole generation of ADHD people has projected their fractured understanding of many things upon all of learning, yet their subjective reality is delusional and as dysfunctional as their souls.   Truth is intrinsically holistic; it does not need our help or explanation to become more so.  It stands sentry through all the ages in the person of Christ; he is the glass through which every strand of truth resolutely clarifies itself in juxtaposition to him.  The illimited outline of God alone must define every creature’s domain because all our scientific and mathematical genius has been unable to count the promised sand and stars; but Christ has embodied and subsumed it—been measured—and found to be the definition of a new kind of mankind.   “Until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts” (1 Peter 1:19, partial, NASB) may you and I remain humble enough to draw from him alone, “and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2: 2-3, partial, NASB) let us be content and assured we have figured it all out (or rather we have all been figured out by him).
Entwistle, D. N.  (2004).  Integrative Approaches to Psychology and Christianity.
  Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers.

Saturday, November 10, 2012


Isaac, the promised son, finally arrives long after it is naturally possible.  Certainly prefiguring the ultimate son of promise, Isaac, whose name means “laughter,” seems at odds with the meaning surrounding Jesus Christ, who was characterized as a man of sorrow.  Indeed, the actual meaning of the name Jesus, “Lord of Salvation” and Christ, “The Anointed One” suggest hope and joy of the most tremendous and enduring kind.  The good news is often maligned by unbelievers simply because they cannot imagine it to be as good as purported; viewing everything from their narrow perspective, they dismiss as superfluous, everything that seems incredible to them.  Sarai and Abram both initially laughed at the prospect of having a child in their old age when once God spoke it to them; but “…He who sits in the heavens laughs…” last (Psalm 2:4, partial).  Laughter, however, comes in different forms: Abraham’s laughter was not rebuked except it seems to have prompted God to require that the promised child be named after it; Sarah’s laughter was rebuked by God and intimated to Abraham that it had been rebuked.  According to Oswald Chambers (p. 884):
Abraham’s laughter had in it no intermixture of wrong.  Laughter and weeping are the two intensest forms of human emotion, and these profound wells of human emotion are to be consecrated to God.  The devil is never said to laugh.  Laughter that is not laughter of the heart right with God, a child heart, is terrible; the laughter of sin is as the crackling of burning thorns.  Whenever the angels come to this earth they come bursting with a joy which instantly has to be stayed (cf. Luke 2:13).  The earth is like a sick chamber, and when God sends His angels here He has to say –“Now be quiet; they are so sick with sin that they cannot understand hilarity.”
And hilarity really is the touchstone here; its visceral display often says more than a sea of words.  It reveals exactly what we believe and is very hard to feign.  What and when we laugh, the kind of laugh, and how often we laugh is personality specific; it says volumes about us and what we believe.  A happy-go-lucky soul has a faith that all is well; whether that faith is misguided, or not, is a different matter.  Conversely, a dour or morose individual –one that hardly ever laughs –must have a faith that all is not well with themselves, at least, and with the world and beyond, at most.  Evil sardonic laughing seems to have a mixture of natural joy and wrong intent.  Any way you look at it, laughter is very telling and extremely complex.  I love G.K. Chesterton’s observation about Jesus Christ and the absence of laughter in the Gospel records; he ended his book Orthodoxy with these lines:   
Joy, which was the small publicity of the pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian.  And as I close this chaotic volume I open again the strange small book from which all Christianity came; and I am again haunted by a kind of confirmation.  The tremendous figure which fills the Gospels towers in this respect, as in every other, above all the thinkers who ever thought themselves tall.  His pathos was natural, almost casual.  The Stoics, ancient and modern, were proud of concealing their tears.  He never concealed His tears; He showed them plainly on His open face at any daily sight, such as the far sight of His native city.  Yet He concealed something.  Solemn supermen and imperial diplomatists are proud of restraining their anger.  He never restrained His anger.  He flung furniture down the front steps of the Temple, and asked men how they expected to escape the damnation of Hell.  Yet He restrained something.  I say it with reverence; there was in that shattering personality a thread that must be called shyness.  There was something that He hid from all men when He went up a mountain to pray.  There was something that He covered constantly by abrupt silence or impetuous isolation.  There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon on our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth (Chesterton, p. 160).
It seems that Chambers and Chesterton both agree; Scripture bears it out as well: and as Cowper once said, “Behind a frowning providence, He hides a smiling face.”  Just as mercy triumphs over judgment, so hilarity (laughter) will triumph over sorrow and tears.  “Indeed, if a man should live many years, let him rejoice in them all, and let him remember the days of darkness, for they shall be many” (Ecclesiastes 11:8, partial, emphasis mine).  And it is these days of darkness that must not permeate our souls and deceive us; the foundation of our joy –with its consequential peals of laughter –must be made in heaven (but can be realized on earth if we only will).  Yet, mirth or joy, expressed in thunderous laughter was absent in the record of our Lord; I imagine it was too much for even our Lord, clothed in human flesh, to express joy unspeakable until He had accomplished His grueling and hurtful mission upon the cross and beyond.  Remember, “He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted” (Isaiah 53:3-4).  Still, it was “…for the joy set before Him…” that He “…endured the cross…” being not shortsighted, but seeing beyond the veil of earth’s canopy (Hebrews 12:2, parts).  When the apostle Paul told us to rejoice always –and again (he said) rejoice –it is because we are already seated in heavenly places and ought to –at least in some measure –be enjoying our tearless faces now.  Indeed, even secular opinion agrees with the sacred proverb which declared: “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine” (Proverbs 17:22, partial); as Robert R. Provine wrote in his article “Laughter:” 
Clearly, laughter is a powerful and pervasive part of our lives - an important component of that biobehavioral bedrock of our species known as human nature. Laughter's significance has been recognized at various times and in various ways by such scientific and philosophical dignitaries as Aristotle, Kant, Darwin, Bergson and Freud. Yet aside from a general appreciation that laughter is good for us -"the best medicine" - and is somehow associated with humor, we know little about laughter itself.
But, as (Chambers, p. 884) said, it is assuredly only “Whenever the veil is lifted [that] there is laughter and joy.  These are the characteristics that belong to God and to God’s order of things; somberness and oppression and depression, are the characteristics of all that does not belong to God.” Somberness, oppression/depression and sadness are essentially lies; a foreign and false reality that was never meant to hold permanent sway over us.  A repentance not to be repented of is a repentance that ceases to look back in perpetual sorrow; we must not allow ourselves overmuch sorrow –it is only good as a spur to good works, not as a constant reminder of past indiscretions and sin.  We foolishly allow too much space for these ungodly characteristics; their illegal existence will surely lead to doubt, and eventually, flagrant unbelief.  All doubt, however, is to be eradicated; and the rising day-star within us assures us that all doubt will go in due course.
All doubt, however, is not alike.  Doubt that is adhered to even when evidence to the contrary has been repeatedly presented is a lethal kind of doubt –without any foundation; not only does God condemn it, but He will condemn and ultimately damn all those who persist doubting in this fashion.  Incredulity, however, is doubt born not out of perpetual and convincing proofs, but out of imagination overload.  Incredulity is hard to overcome and somewhat hard to distinguish between the other doubt that God condemns; actually, it is nothing more than elevated doubt, but I would suggest, a legal doubt that God obligates Himself to prove.  The Lord’s statement to the multitudes that followed Him that they would not believe unless they saw signs and wonders was not entirely an indictment; He knew their capacity for both the credible and the incredible, and was under obligation to accommodate their nature in accordance with the limitations of their capacities.  When God declares to any soul that they are without excuse, it is because He has made it plain to them; persistent doubt in this light is of the damnable kind and will be forever groundless.
Isaac’s birth is recorded sequentially after the devastating horror of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and after Abraham’s initial encounter with Abimelech.  After Isaac is circumcised and weaned, Abraham holds a great feast.  This feast must have evoked tremendous jealousy in Ishmael; he begins to take on a mocking disposition that quickly leads to his and his mother Hagar’s removal from the home.  “But what does the Scripture say?  ‘Cast out the bondwomen and her son (Galatians 4:30, partial).”  Immediately after this removal of flesh, however, Abraham makes a covenant of flesh with Abimelech.  Either way, Abraham is not compromising with flesh; he removes what he can and lays out ground rules for what he cannot.  Likewise, we are to remove that which exacerbates the deeds of the flesh but discipline the natural appetites.  Then, having ordered our household, we commence walking in the spirit which consequently mortifies the deeds of the flesh and transfigures our conversation of life.  Now the life is ready to be forever imprinted, forever sealed up within the makeup of its being; faith must be tried by fire to solidify it and eliminate all the dross of doubt and deception.
“Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham…” by requiring that he give up the very thing he had been given (Genesis 22:1, partial).  Even Job declared: “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away (Job 1: 21, partial).” Before we accuse God of being an Indian giver, however, it would do us well to see the “outcome of the Lord’s dealings” with his people. “You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord's dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful (James 5:11, partial).”  God, likewise, is looking for an opportunity to express this compassion to Abraham.  Knowing what He had placed within Abraham, God orchestrated a scenario and circumstances in which to draw it out.  Indeed, “The very nature of faith is that it must be tried; faith untried is only ideally real, not actually real.  Faith is not rational, therefore it cannot be worked out on the basis of logical reason; it can only be worked out on the implicit line by living obedience.  God proves Abraham’s faith by placing him in the most extreme crisis possible, because faith must prove itself by the inward concession of its dearest objects, and in this way be purified from all traditional and fanciful ideas and misconceptions (p. 899).”  In other words, only God knew the extent and actuality of the promise that Isaac represented to Abraham; the test he was commissioned to perform caused him to stretch the promise outside the confines of Abraham’s mind and imagination.  God’s gift to Abraham through this trial was to enlarge his vision to see beyond the seemingly immeasurable quantity of earthly dust and heavenly stars into the actual immeasurable riches found only in Christ.  “Faith according to the Bible is confidence in God when He is inscrutable and apparently contradictory in His providences (p. 901).”  Abraham, however, did not demur or consult with flesh and blood; he passes this rigorous test easily because his faith is not fixed upon principle but upon God alone.  “Abraham was there to obey God, no matter to what he went contrary.  Abraham was not a pledged devotee of his own convictions, or he would have slain his son and said the voice of the angel was the voice of the devil.  There is always the point of giving up convictions and traditional beliefs.  If I will remain true to God, He will lead me straight through the ordeal into the inner chamber of a better knowledge of God (p. 903).”
Not much is said and made of Isaac in the first forty years of his life outside of those early years that culminated in the sacrifice he nearly became.  After the death of his mother, however, Abraham goes about securing a wife for him; he sends his servant back to Ur of the Chaldeans to seek a wife for Isaac from among his relatives.  Isaac, himself, could never return nor ever leave the Promised Land; his name is never changed like that of his father’s, or later, of his son Jacob’s.  He is a constant, a centerpiece, representing the moral compass between God and man; he represents Christ that is the lone and only perfect center of mediation between God and man.  There is no back or forward, no regress or progress here; increments off center are completely off center and any rectitude is an absolute rectitude or it is not rectitude at all.  There is no budging the snapshot of Isaac’s life; everything is done and provided for him.   He represents the passive side of faith that originates nothing but is content to do only that which he sees and hears his father do.  Watchman Nee (p. 91) said it like this:
Not only do we have to know God as the Father, but we have to know Christ as the Son.  What is the meaning of God as the Son?  It means that everything is received and nothing is initiated by Him.  In Abraham we see God’s purpose.  In Isaac we see God’s power.  In Abraham we see the standard which God requires of His people.  In Isaac we see the life which enables God’s people to reach that standard.  Many Christians have one basic problem: They only see God’s purpose but do not see God’s provisions.  They see God’s standard but do not see God’s life.  They see God’s demands, but do not see the power that meets these demands.  This is why we have to consider Isaac as well as Abraham.
The story of Abraham’s servant diligently seeking to fulfill his master’s command in finding a wife for Isaac is poignant, heartwarming and amazingly selfless considering that he was once considered by Abraham to be the one to inherit his fortune.  On one hand, Eliezer of Damascus is treated with great respect even though he symbolically represents a slave in the house that can never inherit the promises of a son.  On the other hand, he is like a Christian that arises from the harsh constraint of servitude and command to the voluntary restraint of service and the gentle demands of admiration and love.  At some point in the past it may have even been supposed that he would “…share in the inheritance among brothers,” and he emerges with a perfect heart; he has undoubtedly accepted the idea of everything going to Isaac alone (Proverbs 17:2, partial).  Chambers (p. 909) insightfully said this about what Eliezer represents:
Eliezer in many respects stands as a picture of a disciple of the Lord; the whole moulding of his life is his devotion to another, not to a sense of right or duty, but to his master (cf. John 13:13-14).  We know very little about devotion to Jesus Christ.  We know about to right and to duty, but none of that is saintly, it is pure natural.  My sense of duty and of right can never be God’s.  If I can state what my duty is, I have become my god in that particular.  There is only One Who knows what my duty is as a Christian, and that is God.
Indeed, this portrayal of Eliezer is one of a devotion to a man and not a cause.  He has learned from the faith of his master Abraham; he operates with wisdom and humility ever leaning upon God and fate rather than his own mind. 
Isaac is now forty years old (40 is the number of trials and testings); destined to birth the nation of Israel, a spiritual house, and the seedbed of all those stars and grains of sand promised to his father Abraham.  Along comes Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel, the son of Nahor (Abraham’s brother) to wed Isaac; a division, however, is destined to occur within her, a separation made between spirit and flesh.  Rebekah means “to clog or tie up, esp. at the fetlock; fettering (by beauty);” Bethuel means “virgin of God or separated of God;” Nahor means “to snort, to breathe hard through the nose.”  Spiritual Israel, which begins to be realized in the fourth generation from Nahor, is significant; it is in the fourth generation removed that enough separation has occurred to bring about a spiritual walk with God.  The snorting of Nahor is symbolically a last breath of natural life—and this gives birth to a virgin or separated son who gives birth to a beautiful daughter that derives her beauty from this separation; she in turn captivates Isaac with her spiritual beauty and becomes the womb of another and final separation: removing Jacob from Esau.  “Now Isaac had come from going to Beer-lahai-roi (Genesis 24:62, partial);” this is the name of a well of water, which is representative of us, and, more specifically, our spiritual eye.  Beer-lahai-roi means “a well of the living One who sees me.”  While Isaac is praying and meditating Rebekah materializes before him displacing a void that the death of his mother created.  He had drunk from the knowledge that God sees Him, and then ruminated upon all the implications of such knowledge; it is while thus engaged in the Lord’s work that his wife is sent to him.  Though she is the vehicle or method of delivery from which every subsequent promise shall arise and be fulfilled, he does not seek after her directly.  It may be true that those that find a wife find a good thing and find favor from the Lord (as the Proverbist said), but a headlong pursuit after even good things is not seeking God.  Since a woman is the glory of a man, and it is not becoming or right to seek out one’s own glory, a search for a wife must always be an incidental search.  A wife is a precious gift from God, and a glory that God no doubt wants a healthy man to enjoy; however, any gift, no matter how precious, can never eclipse the Giver.  Only the wife found while seeking God’s face brings favor; she can never be more than an incidental and secondary glory to the purposeful and primary glory of Christ.  
When Isaac was commanded by God to not return to Egypt during a time of famine in the land, he settled in Gerar (an oxymoron, because Gerar means “sojourn” or “to be a stranger”).  In other words, settle while in a state of exile or pilgrimage, viz., occupy till I come.  Isaac’s first attempt to obey God’s word about remaining in Gerar resulted in digging a well at Esek, which means “contention.”  Then he ups and tries again at Sitnah, which means “enmity.”  Is warring and enemies our lot?  Will we ever reach pay-dirt?  Will we ever win?  Oh, up and try just one more time!  And Isaac does; at Rehoboth, which means “plenty of room.”  Indeed, “…At last the Lord has made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land (Genesis 26:22, part).”  But, even after this, he ups and removes one more time to Beersheba, which means “well of the oath.”   It is from here that God speaks to Isaac –reaffirming the words he spoke to his father Abraham; likewise, His mandate for us is really only a reaffirmation of what He spoke to our forefathers.
“Now Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac” (Genesis 25:5).