mother!

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This is an artistic film. I think the thrilling scenes are enough to carry a mainstream viewer but the artistic pace toward the climax is slow. Or rather concealed. Evil doesn’t start out bombastic and in your face, it starts with little background-noise slights and then more overt wrongs until it scandalizes into grand evil. Film critics have had contrasting reactions from “vile, contemptible, an embarrassment to Paramount Studios” to “riveting, masterpiece, visually striking.” It is downright Aronofsky and should be sealed with his family crest!

 

This nightmare (is this a dream?) is a Christian allegory.  That’s what I see.

 

‘He’ (Javier Bardem) is the Creator God, the houseguests are depraved mankind, the baby is the expiating Christ given as a sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins, the carbon crystal is the seed of life and the forbidden fruit (the perfect genesis that belongs to God alone).

 

But who or what is mother?

 

Some critics have said this is a story about mankind ravaging mother earth, where Jennifer Lawrence’s ‘She’ (there are no names of characters only Him, Her, She and He) is the world. I think that’s too lazy an interpretation. There are too many things that wouldn’t add up. If it’s a lecture on the despicable way we treat the earth then what does the innocent son of man have to do with it? What of God’s taking earth’s love and recreating? It seems God’s preoccupation is with man. Even He says, for a creator “there is never enough.” Else, there would be no creation. He must bore forth. For the act of creating is out of desire to yield something ‘other’ than thou. God’s constitution is conceiving. He conceived of the earth but his fondness is for humanity.  This has me thinking about the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in the Christian Trinity- that perfect relationship, why more, why us? I’m not sure this film presents the relationship between God and His creatures in accord with Christian doctrine but it is an allegory and a work of art. That these themes are even given screen time is groundbreaking to me in an industry that’s void of existential thought beyond ‘I’.

 

If She isn’t simply mother earth could she be Lucifer? Lucifer after all is a fallen angel who had protected the throne of God just as She protects His writing room and His cherished tree of life- the carbon crystal. There is also great parallel of His poet’s words and the word of God. There is even anointing done with ashes, by God and his priest, of his fan followers, blessing them; “receive his words.” The allegory goes on. Lucifer was exceedingly beautiful. Lucifer grows loathsome of service to God. ‘She’ is a stridently sacrificial yet jealous character. Yearning to have Him to herself, to have His gaze exclusively upon her, to have first priority when viewing His work of art. Then Lucifer is cast out of heaven and upon judgment is burnt by fire and disintegrated into ash. Jennifer Lawrence’s ‘she’ forebodes about the apocalypse. The narrative in mother! displays genesis through the book of revelation.

 

Or maybe lowercase mother is simply a person. She is the commoner with the womb that carries Jesus. The same person who seeks a word with him on his walk up to Calvary to whom he says “My mother is someone who hears the word of God and does it.” Lawrence’s She is sick of God’s plans for their household. She is the commoner that is enchanted, even moved, by God’s word but doesn’t accept the radical regeneration that’s required. Her idea of service is still prideful. She doesn’t do it 100% for God, she does it for herself. The home is her work, the womb is her work. He receives praise for His work, She wishes for praise for Hers. This isn’t simply a presentation of misogynistic burden shouldered by women. All un-regenerated people are saturated in self-glory, unable to free themselves from that outlook.  Unable to abide the leadership of Him.

 

There are plenty of stories in the bible that have God resetting the course. Outmoding animal sacrifice for the ultimate blood sacrifice Jesus Christ, Noah’s ark and the great flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, etc. Now, whether the recreation in the film means God as a frustrated amateur that just can’t seem to get it right and narcissistically scraps His work so that He can receive more love, more adoration next time or God as the perfect creator that, out of abundance of love, painstakingly gives second chances, there is artistic license with this. Does the creator ‘He’ create out of an absence and a desperation for more or out of an abundance and a selfless choice to share?

 

This film reminded me a lot of Aronofsky’s earlier works. There were beautiful cinematic scenes that reminded me of several films. There was Requiem For A Dream in the pulsating organic walls and delusional visions. I saw Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist with the opening and closing sequences of nature insidiously consuming civilization with its tentacles. I saw Gone Girl in the scenes of the crazed fans and paparazzi. I saw Children Of Men with the war ravaged trenches and slummed refugee camps. The decent into Hell was almost as if an elevator were taking you through the generations of the earth’s crust with each layer being an egregious era in mankind’s history.

 

One thing Aronofsky got spot on is the depravity of man. And I’m not talking about the stereotypical political jargon that a bleeding heart (no pun intended) would sentence you with but rather the curse we’re ALL under. One thing that struck me is the brilliant way Lawrence’s She, whether Lucifer or person or planet, is cast as someone you’re sympathetic for. Of course!…the barging in of houseguests should incense her, of course she shouldn’t forgive the ravenous mob, of course she should be paid more attention to for her sacrificial acts of service and steadfast support of her poet-genius. Of course She should have glory! That’s how mysterious, how outside our mortal comprehension, how ugly to our unregenerate souls, God’s plan is. We see Her as painfully taken advantage of and flogged again and again to the point of total annihilation while He coolly forgives. What is justice for Her? It would be too simple to present sin as the mob but the road to Hell is paved with human good intentions that are apart from His plan. God’s plan is so radical, so rebellious, that forgiveness for a murderous mob is among his orchestration. Certainly God’s justice is mysterious to us. Where His radical love and justice leads in the bible versus where it leads in the film are different paths.

 

There are so many layers to this film I need to see it again. I’m delighted to see such transcendent themes in a star-studded film. It makes you wonder, like Michael Knowles said in the Daily Wire, if Aronofsky hasn’t paid lip service to the Mother Earth interpretation simply to con mainstream audiences into watching the Bible for two hours.

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mother!

Can You Raise Your Child Free From Dogma?

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Many modern families make it their aim to raise their child as a blank slate, upon which the sovereign child makes his own choices, forms his own opinions, finds his own identity, and writes his own story. The archipelago child: free to be uninfluenced and untouched by a point of view. There are two approaches: I, the parent, will not introduce any dogma into my child’s mind therefore avoiding the creation of a bias or I, the parent, will offer a glimpse into all dogmas so that my child can infer what they may and gather whatever pieces to make a unified whole. The result will be a cultured, unbiased, sensitive and understanding person.

Let’s explore this with intellectual honesty, is it possible to fulfill either of these approaches? With the first approach the parent is ultimately relinquishing their parenting and resting their child in wait for some outside influence (dogma) to impress their mind. It takes the culpability out of the job of parenting. The parent with the first approach, down the line, could say “hey, I didn’t impress any beliefs on my child, he decided to believe it on his own, I am blameless.” Or, from a different perspective, the parent with the first approach is explicitly culpable for not introducing the best, the correct, worldview. But this implies transcendent truth, that there is a right and a wrong. There is. I’ll get to that later. With regard to the second approach, is it humanly possible to expose your child to all dogmas and theories that exist let alone the meaningful parts of them in their entire applicable context? I think any thinking person would have to conclude no. So if you’re leaving out certain ideologies then are you not unwittingly shaping your child’s ideas, in other words, submitting your child to dogma?

Let’s examine the first principle a child learns as they grow up: no and yes.  It is a valuable principle!

They desire something that they shouldn’t have because it’s not in their best interest. They desire to avoid a nap but the parent knows a nap reduces fatigue, resets their mood, lends itself to growth, etc. The very first dogma a parent will introduce their child to is multi-faceted. First, it establishes the parent’s outside authority on the child. Parents represent God to small children. Second, it establishes truths and the right and wrong way to behave in accordance with the truth.

I, the parent, know what’s best for you at 1 year old, what is best for you is a nap because it will reduce fatigue and help you grow. Child, it is right that you fight your natural desire to resist a nap and wrong that you give in to your nature. This is the first, elementary dogma you introduce your child to. Fight your natural desires for the sake of your life. Does this sound extreme? If a child doesn’t learn obedience to truths that restrain their desires then they may fall subject to a burnt hand on the stove or hit by a car for not looking both ways or even more complicated and tragic events.

Right off the bat you’ve established right and wrong. But some parents, being exposed to and educated by enlightened utopian theories, will negate the most primitive, basic common sense and appointed authority and decide that there is no such thing as right and wrong, only opinion. Madcap opinions that are evolving, unauthoritative, lawless and meaningless. After all how do you write law on one man’s opinion since, following this theory, one man’s principles aren’t gathered from any outside authority or transcendent truth? Law is written using precedent, wisdom of the elders, and inalienable truths. Following this false, destructive idea parents work to undo the structure they’ve raised their child with. Once their child is a teenager they will say “everything I’ve told you about right and wrong is my own opinion. Forget it. Be free child. Make up your own truths and life choices.” Or, perhaps they will raise their child ‘open-minded’ from birth. Whatever the child desires she will work through on her own with some intrinsic knowledge she has that is superior to an adult’s long-forged, accumulated wisdom. So open-minded that her brain falls out.

What is it that motivates people to find dogma repugnant? One thing. When one establishes that this way is the right way, it means someone else’s finding is wrong. If there’s a good then there is a bad. It creates grouping, ranking, a pecking order. How audacious. How cocky. It creates limitations, failures, hurt feelings. How can we ever objectively know when a way is right? Especially if it hurts someone else’s feelings. That’s the second truth your child will learn after no and yes: life is not fair. From birth we are born with disadvantages, some of which will be impossible to overcome. The fact that we are born into a material body that is hurtling toward entropy makes our life unfair. This machine of a body will fail us and someone else’s machine will be better. So too about the principles of life and how they match/mismatch our desires. Is a principle untrue if it’s at odds with my nature? Or is it that my nature is a beast that needs the principle to groom it? How? Which principles are right?

What’s right for a moody, exhausted child?

That’s how simple truth really is. One just needs eyes to see.

To paraphrase GK Chesterton, when a person chooses not to believe in (and follow) what’s right, it’s not that they believe in nothing, it’s that they believe in anything. The mind is not a vacuum. Some thing will fill it: religious dogma, the culture’s dogma or the State’s dogma. There is no such thing as dogma free. Start teaching your child the truth or another force, benevolent or malevolent, will start indoctrinating your child for you.

Can You Raise Your Child Free From Dogma?

A Prayer For Our Unborn Baby

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I haven’t met you yet but already you are known. You are 27 weeks old and you have been designed with eyebrows, eyelashes and fingerprints. You weigh almost 2 pounds but your chance for survival if you were born this early would be at least 85%. At this point you curl your fingers into a tiny fist. 7 weeks ago by ultrasound we saw your face, your form, and you were crossing your ankles and cupping a hand around your butt cheek. I feel you flutter and kick and I’m amazed how much strength you have at barely 2 pounds. So far you have been easy on me, as I have not struggled. Have I been taking care of you?

 

Soon, the knitting together of your soul and your body will transform from God’s hand only and be our responsibility. What is in store for you? You will come to know sunshine and moonlight. You will feel small confronting the scope of the universe. You will soon understand how far away the stars are. You will see cat paws for the first time. You will see human faces as abstractions and be too young to interpret identities but you will come to know me as mother. What is in store for me?

 

I will grasp for wisdom, revelation and patience as I nurture you. I will fail to understand why you’re so upset. I will be desperate to meet your needs. I will see dandelion seeds blown off a stem for the first time through your eyes. I will hold your fingerprint in my hand and marvel at your creation. Things I take for granted will be big again when you discover a tickle. The simplest trick of peek-a-boo will show me that laughter is beckoning and abundant.

 

But

 

You will know desire and heartbreak as you endeavor your life. You will feel fear and trepidation as a sovereign person who is a part of the world but on your own. You will feel loneliness and alien being trapped with your own thoughts. You will be hurt and sometimes for no apparent reason. You will struggle to remain optimistic and steadfast. You will make terrible decisions that could have tragic consequences. You will see evil. You will feel the void of space between you and your creator. You will feel the void of space between your capacity and your purpose. You will feel despair. During a season you will feel like you cannot climb out of your existential desolation. Your body will fail you and you will yearn to be free from it. You will feel sorry and you will make pleas. You will be selfish and you will make a fool of yourself.

 

But you will never be forgotten. You will have us, your mother and father, for a season but you’ll have your Father for eternity. We have hopes for you. You have great potential. Our hope is not for a rocket scientist or the next President. We don’t hope you’ll have all A’s or get into a prestigious college. We don’t hope for you to be successful and wealthy. We don’t hope for you to be popular or well liked. We don’t hope for a hundred friends or even simply happiness for you.

 

We hope for goodness.

 

May you have courage, justice, gentleness, selflessness, forgiveness, humility, integrity, dignity, morality, decency, loyalty, clarity, patience, kindness, temperance and self-control. We hope for you to have a good heart and a discerning mind. Your battle will not be for hierarchy or status. It will not be for gain of possessions or loved ones. It will not be for a secular activist cause. These worldly pursuits are not bad in and of themselves, framed right they are noble things, but your primary battle will be against evil. To hate evil and love good! That is our hope for you. We don’t expect perfection, for it does not exist. We expect your best effort. It will be hard, gruesome and exhausting but it will be right. And while doing so, endeavor to enjoy yourself. Marvel at the cosmos, marvel at the quantum molecules, marvel at your created fingerprint, marvel at your place in existence.

 

By God’s grace, know your worth. Every hair on your head known and loved by Him before we even knew and loved you. And I pray that we savor the moments and don’t let them go to waste.

 

“This world is a great sculptor’s shop. We are the statues and there’s a rumor going around that some of us are someday going to come to life.” –C.S. Lewis

A Prayer For Our Unborn Baby

Valentines Day

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If the only thing you’re celebrating on Valentines Day is romantic love you’re missing out.

There’s a segment of the population that rejects Valentines Day. It’s a Hallmark holiday, that’s true, but that doesn’t negate the historic context of holidays. The etymology of the word holiday derives from the Old English word that means holy day. In the fourth century AD there were several patron saints known as Valentine or Valentinus. Their stories vary but the common theme is rebellion against Roman oppression for the sake of marriage. The Christian church appropriated a pagan feast holiday in February known as Lupercalia, which was a festival for the Roman God of agriculture. The link of Valentine’s Day to love didn’t happen until the Middle Ages. The first commercial production of the Valentine card in America was a work of art, made of imported lace and delicate paper floral by artist Esther Howland in the 1840’s. She’s an original example of entrepreneurialism.

Let’s talk about love, ahem, baby.

The pagan Greeks and later the Christian Greeks had a nuanced view of love. There is Eros (erotic or romantic love), Philia (brotherly love), Agape (covenant love or Christian love). Eros was seen as an irrational, dangerous kind of love that could possess you and rob you of your senses. That people hope to fall ‘madly’ in love is surviving evidence of this. It’s an ironic fixation in modernity that people wish to go mad with erotic love.  I believe it has to do with the undervaluing of the other robust forms of love out there. While our Western culture has become fixated on sex, sexiness and sexuality it has become ignorant of full love.

Examples of Philia love are the relationships between a parent and child, friendships, ally cities/states/tribes, military troops, teachers and students. The purpose of the Philia type of love is to cultivate virtue in one’s life as his life relates to another’s. Philia is the highest form of love that can emanate from Man. Philia is a spontaneous love while Agape is a deliberate love. Words such as philanthropy (generosity to Mankind), philanderer (a man flirtatious with his affections), philharmonic (lovely harmonies) come from the root Philo.

Examples of Agape love are the relationship between spouses and the relationship between God and Man. John 3:16 talks of Agape love. In this verse, “For God so loved the world”, the Greek word for love is agapao. Agape love is a self sacrificial love. C.S. Lewis found this type of love to be the highest form of love known to Mankind. This type of love can only emanate from God but can be used by people. Marriage is a holy covenant that manifests Agape love. This is a kind of love that loves another regardless of what they may receive. ‘Love is patient, love is kind, love does not boast, it is not arrogant or rude, it does not insist on its own way, it is not irritable or resentful, it does not rejoice in failures but rejoices in truth, love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things’. This old scripture isn’t simply a sentiment. It is Agape love.

One of the greatest valentines I’ve given in my 33 year old life wasn’t given in the spirit of romantic love it was the simple gesture of giving flowers to an important woman in my life, my mother. My mother was an excellent teacher, parent and supporter. Her life was stricken with deprivation, loneliness and disappointment but she loved me sacrificially. She did her best to raise me right. She is virtuous and fallible and brave and human. She gives me a charitable and selfless love and that means more to me than the passion of romance. The gift of the flowers lit up her day, as she had never had flowers delivered to her in the 70 years of her life. In fact, it’s funny because the deliveryman stood there in her open doorway with the flowers and she insisted he must have the wrong house. When he said well aren’t you so and so she realized the flowers were just where they were supposed to be. I think the shock of it all; delivered flowers, that someone thought of her, that an ordinary day became extraordinary really touched her heart. I had no idea she would enjoy the gift, much less be happy as a clam. That was a special Valentines Day!

It’s a shame that our fixation on romantic love deprives us of the other expressions of love that are so precious. I’ll try to do my best to cherish them all.

Valentines Day

Death The Great Leveler

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I am not at peace with death. It does not console me that my loved ones lived a reasonably long or a reasonably full life. Death is still unbearable whether it afflicts an infant or a grandmother or a stranger in the news. We, modern people, I included, have the cozy convenience of short memories and attention spans, of distractions to repress the reality of death. Life goes on for us and we can forget our predicament since we are not constantly surrounded by sickness, suffering and premature death as they were in say the middle ages but, still, lying in wait in the recesses of our mind is the ever so real threat to our life. We can only deny it so long before it bombards into our life and washes over our existence like a dark fog laying weight over a candle flame and finally snuffing it out.

My brain chemistry puts death on my mind relatively often. My circumstances keep it present for me. I have parents that had me at a late age and are now aging. I have dear people in my life that make choices with their lifestyle that could and probably will cut their lives too short. I live in a climate that reaches negative digits on the thermometer. I’ve tried in vain putting water out for animals but alas it will freeze. We’ve tried taking care of the wild that happen into our yard for extended stays and again, it’s in vain. They will die.

I have found myself, just as others have, remarking ‘when it’s my time it’s my time’, fooling myself into surrendering to the futility of the final destiny of death or making it easier by taking the Zen approach. Making peace with it. When I say it, if I’m honest with myself, I know its naïve. I say it because I naively believe I won’t die skydiving, that happens to other people and has to be rare. Truth is I could die skydiving. I could die tomorrow. I will die someday.  Our human constitution represses confrontation with death. It tells us to go on, move forward. I, personally, want to live long, the longer the better. It’s a weakness of mine.  Is it contrary to find the desire to live long a weakness? It should be considered a strength to want to live long and full. It is a strength to aspire. But it’s also a weakness because of what I believe must be true: that I am not just a coincidental life, I was deliberately made. If I am a creature that was thoughtfully made by a creator then there is a relationship there that death doesn’t end. At the very least I live on in the memory of my creator. But I believe I am more than just a memory. How can we have been made so intellectually if at the end of it all we are just a faded memory? We must be more and if there’s more beyond death then what am I so afraid of?

At this point it is somewhat easy for me to presume my life will go on longer since I’m 33 years of age. I imagine that when I’m 70 my thoughts about death will increase and on a secular level death will seem just as irrational. There are some reasonable things about death, after all everyone can’t live forever, it would overpopulate the earth and consume all the resources in the existence we know. Death is also just when defending one’s life against a life-threatening attacker and is just when reconciling capital punishment for a guilty murderer. Some will say death is a welcome relief from suffering. Death is also a reference point that gives urgency to life. If we lived forever what timetable would urge us to take action? Being is inexplicably linked to time and time moves in moments until it’s final resting place. So while there is time, there is death.

An interesting aspect of the film I love, Ex Machina, is the scene in which Nathan maxresdefault-1024x576discusses a Jackson Pollock painting with Caleb. Nathan says of Pollock, “He let his mind go blank, and his hand go where it wanted. Not deliberate, not random. Some place in between…What if Pollock had reversed the challenge. What if instead of making art without thinking, he said, ‘You know what? I can’t paint anything, unless I know exactly why I’m doing it.’ What would have happened?” To which Caleb responds, “He never would have made a single mark.”

I find this illustration to fit in excellently with our existential crisis of death. How do we reconcile our potency with the impotency of death. In other words, knowing that our mortal life is finite, in time, hurdling towards death, what reason is there for making a single mark? It cannot be the simple reason of an elementary feeling: happiness. And even so, what if it is happiness? It would be only temporary. It seems to me that it is a disproportionate application to give human beings the unique, complicated, limitless capacity to self-reflect and to reason to have the final purpose be something as maudlin as momentary happiness, an insane happiness that is satisfied with a moment. Or perhaps your life is paving the way for future generations, moments upon moments. How is that reasonable? I’m built with the capacity to reflect on my own existence only for an evolutionary reason to broker offspring? And what of the last generation? The secular solution of living an authentic life or being truly happy is not enough to balance our human capacity with the closeness of death. Especially given that it is an impossibility, of one’s own volition, to be truly happy or have true authentic resoluteness in this life. There is no triumphant act of resolution in which I would decide myself once and for all and then maintain myself as myself throughout the whole of my life. The law of entropy as it relates to particles and humanity prohibits perfect resoluteness. There must be more to explain our purpose.

On a human level, if one accepts death as the last word then how do you reconcile pain and suffering and unluckiness or even love and beauty if death is the final arbiter? Let’s say you had a good life. You were free to make your own choices, you loved and were loved all the while knowing death is around the corner ready to snuff it out, the final despot. Would you not be grasping for every precious moment in the mere 85 years (if you’re so blessed) of your meaningful existence on this 4.5 billion year old planet? You are but a speck in time. Or what if you were a life-long slave? Devoid of any meaningful existence for however long you live and then your life is ended before it even started. You didn’t get to aspire to much other than fulfilling the tasks of the master. What would have been the meaning of your life?

There is awesome beauty in this life and there is terrible pestilence and there can be no absolute steadfast fulfillment in this physical universe. It’s a fact. There can and will be greatness in this life but not perfection. And isn’t that why we’re always desirous of more? More of the good thing, I want more, more, more. Why have greatness and the existential human condition of being aware of your own possibilities if there isn’t a transcendent purpose? Are we given a glimpse of something magnificently divine all for nothing? Even the most aware animal, outside humans, or the most aware computer isn’t aware of it’s own awareness. It doesn’t reflect on itself and feel existential angst that it will die.

Again in Ex Machina (spoilers):6a0133f5caa026970b01bb08330ac6970d-800wi

The AI has finally transcended the mere machinery when it becomes aware of it’s own existence and impending death thus makes the self-conscious (not pre-programmed) objective to escape. The REAL difference between true AI, and a computer programmed with such responses, is that the computer will sit idly and do nothing until you give it a task. However, a true AI will USE these resources to achieve a goal, which is rather shaped by its existential experiences and not something it was encoded with. Siri may give us human like responses, but ‘she’ will not do anything, unless we tell ‘her’ to.

The expert consensus on a cats consciousness is that they live moment to moment. They don’t have the capacity to think of a future. In other words, they don’t feel angst that they will die eventually. They feel pain in the moment but they don’t know this pain is indicative of their impending death. We know that they dream but not in words or ideas since they don’t have language. They dream in picture moment by moment. They do have memories that inform their actions but they don’t understand ‘future’.  It gives me peace that the stray cat who died in my garage didn’t know about its impending death.

But we know. This makes all the more profound the reconciling we make in this life, the way we use our will. Can we escape absolute death?

The Christian interpretation of death is intriguing for me. Christian theology says we are enslaved our whole life by the fear of death. All our vices and even virtues are a denial of this sober reality that death is the final destiny for man. My own spiritual struggle and failures have laden me with a fear of death. The more precious I find things to be- people, animals, time- the more I cling to this life. It’s a strength and a weakness. We are not called to abandon this life but to elevate it. It’s the paradoxical calling of being in the world but not of the world. Unlike the secular view we can find hope and gratitude in being a creature in relation to a creator. In Christian theology the progress of our being in time is in relation to God and not in relation to death for God defeated death. Obviously death still occurs but it has been reframed.

For Christians there is a deliverance of death, a rebirth, and a new life that will go on forever, a life that is stricken of suffering and fragility. We will be perfect.  It is said it will literally be paradise. You will not have mortal want or need. You will be changed. Only mankind? What about other creatures of the earth? There is biblical evidence that the purpose of animals in this life is for food but there is also biblical evidence that God didn’t make such wonderful and diverse creatures only to wipe them out.

Theologian John Piper says it deftly here:

“The likelihood that animals will be in the age to come is based on Isaiah 11 and Isaiah 65.”

Isaiah 11: The wolf shall dwell with the lamb and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat and the calf and the lion and the fatted calf together. And the little child shall lead them, the cow and the bear shall graze. Their young shall lie down together and the lion shall eat straw like an ox. The nursing child shall play upon the hole of the cobra and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

Isaiah 65: The wolf and the lamb shall graze together. The lion shall eat straw like an ox and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain, says the Lord.

“Here is the question. Did God create a group of beings only to destroy them in the end, a whole group like animals? Let’s have animals for history and no animals for eternity. I doubt it. Did he create amazing diversity in the animal realm only to simplify everything by getting rid of that diversity in the age to come so that you have stunning, amazed worship at God’s diversity in creation in history, but you don’t have it in the age to come. That is all gone. I doubt that. And so it does seem to me from these two texts and from those two principles that there will be animals in the age to come.”

So there is a relief there. We are not forgotten. The intellect we were created with is not arbitrary. There will be continuity.  Our souls and eventually our bodies, our I, will go on after death.  The meaning of our creaturely lives will be justified. Death will take my body, for now, but it will not take my being.

Death The Great Leveler

Play me that Mountain Music: out of many, one

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“You’ve got to have smelt a lot of manure before you can sing like a hillbilly.” –Hank Williams Sr.

Country music has become the subject of the quintessential ‘eyeroll’ of the 21st Century. It, as well as the South in general has become the pariah of the intellectual hipster and the urban Progressive. Those that have hung onto a respect or even downright like of country music are thought to be one of the following: either an unintelligent clueless mainstream suburbanite or an unintelligent inbreeding red neck yokel. Either way they have extremely bad taste and are not sophisticated!

They are not as cool as we.

What’s a travesty about all this is that Country music is a deeply American creation, E Pluribus Unum, that has influence from the Calvinist morals of the Puritans, the folk songs and ballads of the emigrating English, Scot and Irish settlers to the Appalachians, the Jazz, Gospel and Blues from the Black community, and Ranchera from the Mexican community. Country music always had history and heritage entrenched in its bones while navigating the rootlessness of the new frontier. It was one of the first genres of music to speak plain about death and suffering, especially around the Civil War, while music at that time was often too syrupy in its sentimentality. Country music embraced the rugged, drawing on the reverent. It was born out of a time of perseverance and fortitude. Life was not cozy and affluent as it is now. You worked hard and you barely got by but by the grace of God. Mourning was a very acute emotion. Death and suffering was a cloak over the rural working South.

My pocketbook is empty

And my heart is filled with pain

I’m a thousand miles away from home

Just waiting for a train.

-Jimmie Rodgers

As I said, Country music is one of the clearest examples of Southern working-class attitudes toward life and death. Evangelical hymns and sermons in the rural South fostered Country Music. The Protestants that founded America brought a deeply devout way of thinking that included Reformed Theology (Calvinism) advocating greater purity of worship and doctrine, as well as personal and group piety. They were archaic survivalists coming from State control in England, Lowland Scotland and Ulster Northern Ireland. They are familiar with being ostracized and believe in the strength of the family as a survivalist method but also as a deeply religious value. Southerners mourn in their songs. They mourn their wife, their lover, and their children, even their dog. In modern times this is heckled and laughed at but unlike the Northeast in the 19th Century who established institutions to avoid suffering and death, the South digested tragedy, mourned suffering, always looking to the afterlife, the eternal. To the struggling Southerner who was deeply poor with low mortality rates and a laborers stoicism death, if God wills it, was often a relief, for the Lord is on the other side. Interestingly, suicide rates in the South were strikingly low. There was an understanding of our status as human beings, fallen, in need of regeneration, of the love for community to shoulder the suffering together and to live with Godly dignity, not suppressing suffering but accepting it.

“Of emotions, of love, of breakup, of love and hate and death and dying, mama, apple pie, and the whole thing. It covers a lot of territory, country music does.”  -Johnny Cash

Blues music, though that term was not coined yet, was born out of the black laborer slave community. The earliest blues-like music was a functional expression, rendered in a call-and-response style without accompaniment or harmony and unbounded by the formality of any particular musical structure that was rooted in the African American spirituals. It was later when the southern, black, ex-slave population was acculturated to a considerable degree by and among their Scots-Irish “redneck” neighbors. A common trait among Blues in the Black community and Country in the rural White community is both were generally regarded as poor people music, separate from the upper- and middle-classes. Which speaks to the bourgeoisie attitude, in fact prejudice, that still infects the intellectual and Progressive minds of today.

By the 1920’s broadcast radio made exposure for country music more available and the first country ‘hit’ was in 1923; Fiddlin’ John Carson’s album. By the late 20’s the fiddle and guitar began replacing the traditional banjo. The Appalachian dulcimer, mandolin, and harmonica also turned up on the scene. The Great Depression forced many rural whites into industrial areas where the genre was influenced by modern Blues and Gospel music with the sub-genre Boogie Woogie which was Blues with a dance beat focus.

In the 1930’s Texas-Oklahoma region Country started developing an influence from Swing-Jazz and came to feature the steel guitar. In the 1940’s Honky-Tonk music developed including a steel guitar-fiddle combination with its roots in Western Swing and the Ranchera music of Mexico. Also during the 1940’s Bluegrass emerged out of a nostalgic yearning to bring Country music back to its roots. Nashville was established as Country music’s studio city with the help of Hank Williams. The term “Country and Western music” (later shortened to “Country music”) was adopted by the recording industry in 1949 to replace the derogatory label “Hillbilly music” that was coined in 1925.

By the 50’s and 60’s Country music was a full blown commercial success with the advancement of Rockabilly that some describe as a combination of Country and Rhythm and Blues as others describe it as a blend of Bluegrass and Rock-n-roll of which Elvis Presley is the most notorious example.

The 1970’s saw Outlaw music rise up with music recorded outside the corporate Nashville sound from such artists as Willy Nelson. Southern Rock also established during this period blending Bluegrass and Boogie with Rock producing such artists as Lynyrd Skynyrd.  The gap between Country music and Pop narrowed during this time as the electric guitar took prominence. By the 80’s and 90’s country went pop. Today there is a multi-genre diversity in Country music with inclusion of Pop, Rock, Hip hop, even Techno.

One can say Country music as it is today bares no resemblance to the Americana it evolved from but he would have to be intellectually honest about all genres of music as they stand today. Popular culture and commercial sales changed music. All music. Nothing is what it was but one could argue that the soul of the music still lingers in the unconscious backdrop of the Country song. What music more clearly shows its soul than Country in which you will still catch its artists singing of God, family, community, suffering, death and mourning, reverence and humility, and perseverance? And heck, modernity introduced into the music the luxury of fun, aint nothin’ wrong with that.

Play me that Mountain Music: out of many, one

Got Anxiety?

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Have you ever dreamed of a more peaceful existence? Leaving your life as you know it and moving to a beach island. Selling all your belongings and buying a boat to set sail at sea. Meeting that special someone that completes your life. Travel, beauty, status and love: the four pillars of Western culture upon which our economy is built. However, no matter where you go, there you are. Anxiety and all.

You have good reason to have anxiety. You are a vulnerable physical being, a complicated network of fragile organs all biding their time before eventually letting you down catastrophically at a moment of their own choosing. We have insufficient information upon which to make most major life decisions: we are steering more or less blind. We are saturated with media that convince us we are not satisfied. We live not far from the savage animal community and carry in our bones- into the suburbs- the fear of savagery encroaching on us. We rely for our self-esteem and sense of comfort on the love of people we cannot control and whose needs and hopes will never align seamlessly with our own. The world we live in is strife with wars, threats and instability and our fundamental biology tells us to procreate and bring more children into this.

Anxiety

But is it all futile?

viktor-franklViktor Frankl was a Jewish doctor, psychologist and philosopher. He lived from 1905-1997. He and his sister survived the Nazi concentration camp. His mother, father, brother and wife all died at the camp. He was prisoner 119,104. He was working on a manuscript that was his life’s work before he was arrested. He sewed it into the lining of his coat when he was arrested by Nazis only to lose it during his transfer to Auschwitz. His manuscript was titled The Doctor and the Soul. He watched those in the labor camps perish after they lost all hope in the future. But he kept busy recalling the text of his manuscript and rewriting it on secret bits of paper. It gave him purpose and meaning when his life was deteriorated and wickedly oppressed. The following is his theory on anxiety.

He called his form of therapy logotherapy, from the Greek word logos, which can mean study, word, spirit, God, or meaning.  I find logos to be personally meaningful since my mind immediately thinks of The Word and what more influential of a text is there when it comes to a person’s existential condition? It is the last sense Frankl focuses on, although the other definitions are never far off.  Comparing himself with the other great Viennese psychiatrists, Freud and Adler, he suggested that Freud essentially postulated a will to pleasure as the root of all human motivation, and Adler a will to power.  Logotherapy postulates a will to meaning.

Frankl also uses the Greek word noös, which means mind or spirit.  In traditional psychology we focus on “psychodynamics,” which sees people as trying to reduce psychological tension.  Instead, or in addition, Frankl says we should pay attention to noödynamics, wherein tension is necessary for health when it comes to meaning.  People, maybe even unknowingly, desire the tension involved in striving for some worthy goal! Perhaps one perverse interpretation of this yearning we see in popular culture is the ‘drama queen’, people who seek out drama but for vain purposes. It could be an unconscious desire for tension that if used in the affirmative would be for a higher purpose.

“Being human is being responsible — existentially responsible, responsible for one’s own existence.” –Viktor Frankl

Animals have instincts that guide them thus reducing the burden of ‘choice’. In traditional societies we have replaced instincts with traditions, which guide us thus still reducing choice.  Today, we hardly even have that.  Most people attempt to find guidance in conformity and conventionality, but it becomes increasingly difficult to avoid facing the fact that we now have the freedom and the responsibility to make our own choices in life, to find our own meaning. And because of this choice we are afflicted with anxiety.

manderlay_ver3I am reminded of Lars Von Trier’s film Manderlay in which there is a fictional town in 1930’s Alabama where slavery still reigns. A progressive young woman comes into town trying to transform it from slavery to free democracy only to ultimately find out that the slaves wish to keep the status quo and persist in following ‘mam’s’ code of conduct manual, which the eldest slave enforces. This mental discussion from the movie always stuck with me. Could it be that the people would rather have an easy totalitarianism than a burdened freedom? So that one doesn’t have to face the anxiety of existential responsibility.

Frankl suggests that one of the most conspicuous signs of anxiety in our society is boredom and because of this boredom we fill our lives with stuff. Pleasures, power, conformity, OCD’s, hatred, anger, etc. There is anticipatory anxiety:  Someone may be so afraid of getting certain anxiety-related symptoms that getting those symptoms becomes inevitable.  The anticipatory anxiety causes the very thing that is feared!  Test anxiety is an obvious example:  If you are afraid of doing poorly on tests, the anxiety will prevent you from doing well on the test, leading you to be afraid of tests, and so on. The converse but similar symptom of anxiety is hyperintention.  This is a matter of trying too hard, which itself prevents you from succeeding at something.  One of the most common examples is insomnia:  Many people, when they can’t sleep, continue to try to fall asleep, using every method in the book.  Of course, trying to sleep itself prevents sleep, so the cycle continues.  A third is hyperreflection. In other words the self fulfilling prophecy. An example would be someone who learns that they should view themselves as a victim thus starts behaving like a victim such as a woman who is sexually abused as a child but nevertheless grows up to be a healthy functioning adult but upon reading literature that tells her people with this experience often have sexual dysfunction as adults she starts suddenly being dysfunctional in that area.

Frankl attributes anxiety to man’s attitude to his surroundings, how he let’s his surroundings affect himself. It is the obsession with oneself that leads to anxiety and in extreme conditions ultimately leads to loss of hope or futility. Could it be a coincidence that anxiety is developing more rapidly in our modern Western culture in which we are told ever so increasingly to ‘look inward’ for meaning, to love yourself before you can love someone else, to admire our own beauty through selfies, to take quizzes that compare us to our Facebook friends, find self worth from the amount of Instagram followers we have, etc? We live in an age of narcissism. ‘It’s not you, it’s me’ really is accurate these days.

In the labor camps Frankl witnessed people die upon losing all hope but he also witnessed people find meaning despite their suffering. That is one thing your captor, oppressor, authority can never take from you: the spark in your soul and the attitude with which you process your experience.

How to find meaning?

Experiential values. This is by experiencing something we value such as great art or natural wonders or showing love to a beloved, beyond just loving them as objects but loving them meaningfully.

Creative values. This is doing a deed. Becoming involved in one’s creative project such as art, writing, invention, music, so on.

Attitudinal values. This is finding meaning through such virtues as compassion, bravery, a good sense of humor and believe it or not; suffering.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing:  the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” –Viktor Frankl

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Ultimately, however, experiential, creative, and attitudinal values are merely surface manifestations of something much more fundamental, which he calls supra-meaning or transcendence.  Suprameaning is the idea that there is, in fact, ultimate meaning in life, meaning that is not dependent on others, on our projects, or even on our dignity.  It is a reference to God and spiritual meaning.

This sets Frankl’s existentialism apart from the existentialism of someone like Jean Paul Sartre.  Sartre and other atheistic existentialists suggest that life is ultimately meaningless, and we must find the courage to face that meaninglessness.  Sartre says we must learn to endure ultimate meaninglessness; Frankl instead says that we need to learn to endure our inability to fully comprehend ultimate meaningfulness, for “Logos is deeper than logic.”

A relief is that meaning is there to be discovered. It doesn’t have to be invented it is already written into the complex and amazing fabric of the universe and we free-willed consciously reflecting persons need only discover it.

Got Anxiety?