The Paradox of Risk

Posted: December 12, 2014 in Adventure, Spirituality
Tags: , , ,

don’t risk regret.

be cautious about conserving.

what is currency for if not spending?

what is life for if not living?

burying your heart to keep it safe will suffocate.

 

forsake the EZ-chair existence.

hypnotized by screens.

kept alive by an IV of soma.

enslaved by the opinions of strangers that can never make you happy.

a nonentity, a product of self-preservation.

 

your heart is throbbing?

your palms are sweating?

your head is whirling?

your breathing is shallow?

good that means you are alive.

 

the fear wells up.

don’t let it stop you.

convert it to exhilaration.

ride it like a wave to where you want to go.

take the plunge.

 

the ground is approaching your forehead at mach 2.

every cell in your body screams with terror of death.

just when you expect your brain to explode. . .

the cord tightens and yanks you up higher than you have ever been.

death is an illusion.

 

the river is wild, jump in anyways.

forsake the illusion that you are in control.

the current will take you where you need to go.

even if that is to the other shore.

you have to go there eventually anyways.

 

let go of what you can’t hold onto.

take hold of what you cannot lose.

if you try to save your, life you will lose it.

if you lose your life, you will save it.

love life enough to throw it away.

 

 

So, it’s been a little bit since I’ve posted anything in the travel department. My travel has mostly been limited to reading memoirs. I decided, however, that I’m going to take a trip over the holiday break. I’m heading down to the four corners area, which is Southern Utah, Southern Colorado, Northern Arizona, and Northern New Mexico. I’ve changed up my itinerary like 5,000 times already, but I’m pretty sure that I’m going to see Zion and Arches. Other options that I’m looking into are Grand Canyon, Sedona, Colorado City, Mesa Verde, Taos, and so on and so forth. My itinerary is also all over the place because I will probably drive down with a friend, but he doesn’t want to stay as long so things are getting muddled.

Anyways, I love the Southwest and I haven’t seen nearly enough of it, so I’m going to try to make a dent in it this winter. It may seem strange visiting in winter, camping out in 25 degree weather and such, but on the other hand, I’m looking forward to the solitude of the Parks. Going to National Parks in the Summer can be an absolute nightmare. For instance, I live about an hour from Glacier National Park, but I almost never go there because it’s like freaking Disney land, not my idea of a good wilderness experience. I don’t go into nature to see advertisements and wait in line.

Other new developments: I got a credit card and a cellphone today, which is relevant because it clashes with my travel philosophy a bit. I generally don’t like having safety nets and backup plans. I used to hitchhike with no money and I have been phoneless for about a year. But, I am taking my car with 240k miles on it down there, so I’d better have a way of getting it off the road if it breaks down. It’s not that car traveling is less “pure” than hitchhiking, it is just a completely different experience — there’s more control (which can be good or bad). Probably good in this case because it is too cold to hitchhike and I want to see certain parks. So I will be posting pictures and blogs probably around January 7th or so when I get back.

It is not good for people to be alone. Such were the words of God when He created Adam. Ever since the beginning it has been God’s design for humanity to live together with each other and with Him. This idea of relationship existed long before humanity did; after all, God didn’t create humanity because He was lonely and bored. God is three persons after all. God, in essence is a relational being; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit coexisting in a love relationship. Out of that happy family God wanted to further spread His love and goodness, so He created the cosmos and all therein, including us. Early on though, humans broke contact with God and became self-centered and idolatrous, rather than relationally oriented and in tune with God. The systematization of this self-centeredness and idolatry has created a corrupt world system that perpetuates loneliness, shame, inequality, greed, and dysfunction.

The aforementioned themes are central to much of Charles Dicken’s work. As someone who experienced the corrupt system first hand (debtors prisons and such), Dickens was greatly influenced to write about it. Any reader of Dickens may think I’m going to get into The Tale of Two Cities, for that does include a wonderful metaphor for the mission of Christ, but it was altogether intended and straightforward, so I’d rather not beat a dead horse. While these themes are present in much of Dicken’s work, I would like to focus on Oliver Twist, one of his most beloved and well-known novels. As with all of my literary metaphors, I will be giving a brief synopsis of the plot, so be forewarned of spoilers!

Oliver Twist is born into the world by a poor, unknown woman who expires shortly after his birth. Oliver  is raised in an inhumane orphanage and then transferred to a workhouse at age 9. The workhouse prides itself on overworking and underfeeding people in poverty. One day Oliver asks the server for more food, which led to a full-scale meltdown ending with Oliver in solitary confinement. The workhouse then tries to get rid of Oliver, seeing him as a trouble maker. The first man that tries to adopt him is a chimney keeper who is only interested in working Oliver to death and collecting to 5 pound adoption bonus. Oliver is briefly adopted by an undertaker, but is treated very poorly in his house and runs away.

Oliver makes his way towards London, slowly and excruciatingly. Just outside of London he meets the Artful Dodger, a precocious thief roughly the same age as Oliver. Oliver doesn’t know anything about the Dodger’s line of work, only that he has food and a place to stay in London. So Oliver follows the Dodger to London and stays at a house that is a den of young thieves run by a sinister old man named Fagin. They begin to groom Oliver to enter a life of crime, though he remains unaware of it until the day he goes to work with the Dodger and his accomplice, Charlie Bates. Oliver is shocked when he witnesses them pickpocket an old gentleman and takes off running. He is apprehended as the thief, with the whole town in pursuit, including the real thieves. He is brought to the magistrate but the old gentleman, Mr. Brownlow, accompanies him there and is convinced he is innocent. After more evidence, he is released into the care of Mr. Brownlow. When he arrives at Mr. Brownlow’s house, he is feverish and lays in bed several days to recover. During this time he encounters kindness that he has never experienced before. He was always seen as an unwanted nuisance and a troublemaker, usually for just responding as any normal human being would to unjust treatment.

When he recovers, he goes out on an errand for Mr. Brownlow but falls back into the hands of Fagin, who was frantic about getting Oliver back, fearing that he might snitch on his outfit. Fagin and his cronies lock Oliver up and then begin grooming him for a life of crime again. Fagin sends Oliver on a special robbery mission with Sikes, a cruel criminal, and Toby Crackit. Oliver is horrified when he learns the purpose of the mission but presses on under threats of death. Sikes puts him through a small opening in the house to unlock the doors for them. Oliver is intent upon alarming the house of the scheme but is shot first by an overzealous butler. Crackit and Sikes split, shortly leaving Oliver for dead. The next day Oliver stumbles to the house he had been at the night before and is brought in and nursed back to health. The Maylie family are kind to Oliver, like Mr. Brownlow, and show compassion to him after hearing his story. Oliver spends his time with the Maylies picking flowers in the countryside, taking walks, and overall having a wonderful, heavenly time. This is interrupted by the girl of the house, Rose Maylie, becoming deathly ill. She recovers to everyone’s relief.

Meanwhile, Oliver’s old overseers from the workhouse have a strange interview with a mysterious Mr. Monks who is interested in acquiring a locket that belonged to Oliver’s mother. After bribing the Bumbles (overseers) to get the locket, he throws it in a river. This meeting makes sense when Nancy, Sike’s significant other and an regretful apprentice of Fagin,  hears a conversation between Mr. Monks and Fagin. She learns that Monks is Oliver’s brother and the locket could prove Oliver’s identity, which would entitle him to an inheritance. Monks wanted to keep the inheritance for himself. Nancy related this conversation to Rose Maylie. In turn, Rose gave this news to Mr. Brownlow, who they came across in London. Brownlow and Rose meet Nancy again at midnight near a bridge to plan what to do. They decide that they will get Monks and wring the secret out of him of Oliver’s identity and force him to give him the inheritance. Nancy, however, was followed by one of Fagin’s new cronies, Noah Claypole. Noah hears the conversation and relates it to Fagin who informed Sikes. In a paroxysm of rage, Sikes kills Nancy when he gets home and then runs. Sikes flees town, tortured by his conscience, but decides to return to try to hide out then leave the country.

During Sikes flight, Brownlow is able to catch up with Monks. Brownlow threatens to turn him in if he will not disclose the identity of Oliver and set things straight with the inheritance. Monks agrees to his terms. Sikes is now hiding out in a squalid part of town with some old associates, but is soon discovered by an angry mob. Defiant to the end, Sikes tries to descend from the building on the backside via rope. He sees a vision of Nancy’s haunting eyes, trips and falls off the building, and accidentally hangs himself. Fagin is also apprehended and hung.

It is further revealed that Rose Maylie, is actually Oliver’s sister. Rose marries the love of her life, Oliver receives his inheritance and is adopted by Mr. Brownlow and lives happily ever after (that’s the short of it, the story is much more complex than a small synopsis can convey, read it if you haven’t!).

Oliver, like many of us, felt alone and worthless. He was alienated and rejected by everyone. The only people who wanted him, were harsh taskmasters seeking to wring every bit of work out of him that they could and deprive him of necessities. He fell into a wolf-pack like Buck from Call of the Wild. If it wouldn’t have been for the love and kindness of Mr. Brownlow and the Maylies, then he probably would’ve become a criminal too. The kindness of these people begin to make him feel loved and happy for once in his life. The idyllic setting of the Maylies’ country estate coupled with their filial love stands in stark contrast to the workhouse, Fagin’s den of thieves, or really any situation that Oliver has been in.  The contrast between corrupt, unloving society and blissful, beautiful families as well has probably never been captured by anyone as well as it was captured by Dickens (in my opinion).

I like to compare this contrast to the corrupt world system versus the family of God.  Mr. Brownlow recognized Oliver’s value while most the world rejected him, loved him while no one else would , and adopted him into his family. So too does God recognize our inherent value. Others may recognize our instrumental value, what they can get out of us, but God loves us because He is love. He invites us to leave the squalid inner-city of human existence and be adopted into His family and live at His paradaisal estate. He even makes that invitation to us when we aren’t as innocent and good as Oliver was. He sees the gold hidden in the muck, our potential and God-image, buried under the deception and brokenness.

Society assaulted Oliver’s self-worth through deception and his enemy (Monks) deprived him of his inheritance by keeping him in the dark about his identity . That’s a great picture of how our jacked up world treats us and how our enemy tries to break us down. “You’re not skinny enough”, ‘You’re too skinny”, “You’re not talented enough”, “you don’t have enough money” — the accusations go on and on. They are lies engineered to deprive us of our inheritance in God by forming a false identity. Our identity is not based upon peoples’ arbitrary standards nor even our failings. Our identity is first and foremost found in that we are people who have a God-image, who are loved by God, and are meant to live with God. When we act like wolves, bent only on self-preservation, we end up like Sikes or Fagin (Romans 6:23 The wages of sin is death more on that in my articles Lepers in Paradise and Moral Government: Jesus’ Political Party).

Furthermore, He wants to adopt us into His family. Until we are adopted by Him, our father figures will be people like Fagin, who tried to lead Oliver astray. Oftentimes people project their experiences with negative authority figures on God. I have certainly done that, thinking that God is a stingy task manager who wants to squeeze the work out of me. He is not even a fair employer, trying to earn His love and pay Him back for His gifts is absurd and insulting. God is a giver and a lover. The Bible says that all good gifts come from the Father of Lights. A father delights to provide for his children and prosper them; he does not expect to get paid back. Even great fathers cannot measure up to our heavenly daddy though. He invites us to His eternal family reunion, where the universe and His people are restored and reconciled to God. Far from the cold streets where scared, self-seeking wolves prowl seeking to fill their bellies at the expense of others, God invites us to His gloriously ecstatic cuddle-puddle, His divine love fest. There is no fear, insecurity, hatred, or hurting — only loving, giving, and celebrating.

20081109185923_funny-pictures-lonely-cat-wants-to-join-cuddle-puddle

photo credit to detroittechnohouse.com

photo credit to detroittechnohouse.com

This union with God establishes our identities in God, which nothing can change. It doesn’t matter what Fagin, workhouse masters, or anyone else says, we are loved and valuable. This identity and experience of love empowers us to love others without expecting anything in return when we are in tune spiritually. It is just so easy to revert to that idea that we have to earn our way with God and people.

The Christian lives by grace as Abba’s child, utterly rejecting the God who catches people by surprise in a moment of weakness—the God incapable of smiling at our awkward mistakes, the God who does not accept a seat at our human festivities, the God who says “You will pay for that,” the God incapable of understanding that children will always get dirty and be forgetful, the God always snooping around after sinners. At the same time, the child of the Father rejects the pastel-colored patsy God who promises never to rain on our parade.” -Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel (excellent book)

Romans 8:15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba (daddy in Hebrew), Father.”

1 John 4:18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

1 John 3:1 See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! . . .

One time when I was in Phoenix I was having a very Dionysian evening. I was an 18 year old kid far from home and thought I would say yes to life. Everything was new to me, from the 12 feet tall cacti, millions of people, to the 70 degree winters and 115 degree summers, might as well keep trying new things.  I was at a foam-party rave and was set on trying some ecstasy. I had decided this beforehand after I had researched it on erowid.org and liked the sound of it; after all I was a scientist of consciousness doing research not some hedonistic schmuck (or so I told myself). That night I really did feel like I needed it because I was being a party-pooper. I couldn’t get into it and was self-conscious and insecure. That was a common thing for me then, but it seemed especially so that night. I hung out in the corner looking sketchy and talking to other sketchy looking people. Eventually I found a guy who was selling and I bought a pill for $10, originally $15 but I only had $10. He let it go for cheaper because I agreed to help him sell it. I , unintentionally (thankfully) lost him after a couple minutes and then popped the pill in my mouth. After about 40 minutes without feeling anything, I was wondering if the guy sold me an aspirin or something.

Then it hit me. It was like a tidal wave of euphoria that instantly set me grinning ear to ear. I danced with foolish abandon in the chest deep foam, no insecurity or reservations. I hugged and high-fived strangers. I was in love with everyone and everyone was in love with me “This can’t be wrong,” I thought to myself. Earlier I would not dare ask someone to dance, but now I was asking everyone in sight, indifferent whether they said yes or no. When I was dancing with one girl, acting like I knew what I was doing, I thought to myself “Is this really happening?” It was a blur of bliss pierced by faint remembrances of strangers faces and strobe lights. I left the rave at about 2 A.M. to bike back the light rail, so I wouldn’t have to bike 15 miles back home. As I pedaled through the warm spring air, I felt a bit depressed. It all seemed so fake; none of those people cared about me, the happiness was meaningless, and it does nothing to actually solve life’s problems, mine or others. Of course, I felt guilty too, because there I was, a serious Christian high on ecstasy — burnt out on religion and needing real joy. I caught the light rail in time and talked to this guy who was stoned and drunk. He told me I reminded him of myself, being on ecstasy. He was very interested in how it was effecting me. He checked out my pupils, put his hand in my armpit to feel my sweat, and put his finger through my tank-top to feel my nipple. It sounds really weird now, but I didn’t give it a second thought at the time. He wasn’t a pervert or anything. I went back home and pondered my experiences (and enlarged pupils).

From that time forth, I was in love with ecstasy, though I never did it again. I wanted to do it several times and I daydreamed about it like a high school sweetheart. I thought of taking it, making it, and selling it. I forced myself not to, and it helped that I had to bike anywhere from 8 to 20 miles to get to raves, my conscience could not hold out that long on the way there.  It was also helpful that I was in a church that was very active about interacting with each other. That saved me. My faith was not very victorious at that point in my life, it just kept me from falling into an abyss.

I did, however, go to one rave after that and did fine without drugs. Interestingly enough it was a heaven themed rave and there was a guy dressed up like Jesus walking around. It was a sketchy warehouse in an industrial neighborhood in Phoenix full of weirdos with furry boots, angel wings, speedos, whatever you can think of, just my style (later the cops tried to shut it down — gah I miss the Phoenix rave scene and lovely Phoenix in general). Basically I went bonkers that night with little inhibitions and without taking any drugs. Some guy even tried to give me a beer because apparently I “look like I suck at life”. I was just like, “whatever, bro, I’m great at life.” The one girl I got the balls to ask to dance turned me down because she had a boyfriend. Nothing bothered me that night. I was vibing so hard that the next morning at my sign spinning job I was dancing on top of a power box to some hardstyle while spinning my real estate sign!I don’t know why I felt so free that night; I hadn’t experienced any spiritual or existential breakthrough really. It would be about another two years before I would have real spiritual breakthrough (the night now makes sense in retrospect — moar on that later).

After I finished my schooling in Phoenix (8 months or so at an audio engineering trade school), I moved to Los Angeles to do an internship at a post production facility. Los Angeles was a culture shock for me, I had been there before, but living there is a whole other thing. I drove down from Montana and when I actually got into the city I had to navigate 5 lane traffic and take a bajillion exits to get where I was going. The racial and ethnic diversity was astounding too; in Montana I grew up with whites and Indians, mostly whites though. In Phoenix I had seen plenty blacks and Mexicans. In LA I saw blacks, Mexicans, Arabs, East Asians, etc. I lived in Torrance, which is 90 percent Asian. My church was a Japanese church, so I mostly hung out with Asian people and the few black people that went to my church. I especially hung out a lot with the black guys. For 3 months I commuted 2 hours through downtown LA to North Hollywood. It was a bit crazy, but I got used to it. My internship was mostly running errands, cleaning, taking notes, and sitting around the studio eating their food. I did see a couple famous people though: I got Jeff Dunham his coffee (not starstruck because I don’t like his stuff) and the coolest was getting to sit in on a voice recording session for Scoobie Doo, though the voice of Scoobie and Velma were the only original voice actors. Unfortunately I didn’t rave at all in LA, but I needed to get my head on straight. The one rave I thought about going to, gave me tempting thoughts of taking E again. I regret missing Bassnectar though. I soon learned the Hollywood is not really my scene so I back to Helena, Montana.

It was now 2012, I was working night shifts at a TV station reading a lot and not doing much else. One of the books I picked up during this time was The Portable Nietzsche. Now, I don’t agree with Nietzsche’s major premises, but I do find him endlessly interesting and a kindred spirit. You may be wondering what on earth Nietzsche has to do with this, but it will make sense, just hang with me. I am by no means a Nietzshean scholar, but I have a feel for the major themes of his work and I will briefly touch on his ideas that are relevant to interpreting my experiences.

Nietzsche thought of Christianity as the religion of “no”. He conceived of it as the denial of all vital human desires and energies. Essentially he viewed it as the sublimation of slavish weakness in hopes of making the vital, powerful man equal with the weak, ignorant man by means of curbing the vital man’s life force with morality. He conceived of a religion or philosophy rather, inspired by the god Dionysus (hence the reference at the beginning). For Nietzsche, Dionysus symbolized a “yes” attitude towards life, a life affirming perspective that didn’t curb the vital man’s impulses and desires. He thought of this as a “gay science”, or a happy philosophy as opposed to the denial of life by Christianity. During my time in Phoenix, my spiritual life was  not a gay science, but a stoic drudgery full of guilt, shame, and depression. It was a religion of no. I was saying no to life, not only the bad but the good many times, throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I’m probably the type of person that convinced Nietzsche that Christianity is lame; I was burnt out on this boring religiousness and something in me was dying to engage with life, to dance with life — which led to me taking MDMA. While my career with drugs was short lived (I tried a few others), I still was not having the fulfillment I needed. However, I would soon experience the abundant life that Jesus talked about.

My cousin told me about the crazy things he had been seeing in his life and recommended that I check out YWAM (youth with a mission). So I got two weeks off of work and flew down to LA for a two week school called Circuit Riders. It was all about worshiping God and spreading His love and word. At first, I felt like a fish out of water. A bookish, introvert amid wild-eyed, shouting weirdos. I resented it when they tried to make me like that. I saw myself as a serious Christian but not some weird enthusiast. It was really awkward when we did preaching circles. Basically we circled up and were supposed to preach excitedly to the group. I mumbled weakly with my hands in my pockets, but they were supportive enough. I got less and less resistant as the program went on though. One day we were to partner up and pray through a bunch of stuff: depression, shame, unbelief, unforgiveness etc. It’s called repentance, but I think of it as spiritual detox. Anyways we did that and it was cool but I didn’t feel some crazy moment or anything.

Next we did an outreach in Burbank. I was timid and cynical about that too. As my partners talked excitedly to people about God, I inwardly cringed and thought about how they were probably scaring people off. I talked to a couple of people and it was okay, but nothing crazy and a bit awkward. I got over myself though when I saw that some of the guys had led several people to Christ and multiple people had been healed of injuries (maybe I’m the weirdo). My partners prayed for me to be baptized with the Holy Spirit, for those of you not fluent in Christianese that basically means to be filled and empowered with the Spirit of God. Again, nothing crazy happened but I accepted it by faith. My resistance was starting to soften. During our free day my roommate and I decided to do what is called a Treasure Hunt. Basically, it’s like Where’s Waldo in real life. You pray for people to find, and then you go out and find them and pray for them or talk to them or whatever. Without giving an extensive account, that day was one of the funnest days of my life. We found all the people we were supposed to find, I couldn’t deny it. The spiritual detox, the infilling of the spirit, and stepping out in faith paid off. I walked around Burbank that day like I was rolling hard. Ear to ear grin most of the day and lots of confidence. I felt ecstasy, not MDMA, real ecstasy. When I got back to the YWAM base I was still flying. I was just going around grinning telling people how I’d been set free from guilt, shame, and fear. For once, God felt really real. I laid in bed that night for hours thinking, “I can’t believe this is really real.”

If you haven’t caught the parallel between the experiences it is this: Christianity is the ultimate life affirming way of life. It is not about rules, regulations, and saying no to life and fun stuff. Sin is a killjoy. MDMA and other “fun” stuff would have kept me from really entering into life — distracting me from the true, eternal, transcendent joy. Unlike MDMA, when I was rolling with God I could say “this is really real and this is doing something to solve my problems and the world’s problems.” So I don’t say no to sin because Christianity is about ruining peoples’ fun like Nietzsche thought, I say no because it’s about maximizing peoples’ fun (not just in the moment but for the long run). I won’t lie and say I feel like I’m rolling balls all day every day. I have bad days; I’m human and sometimes I lose sight of spiritual things and get in a rut. Nonetheless, my life has totally changed. I have so much more joy and well-being and God has put me on my path as well. I now go to raves again without being tempted by drugs; I dance out of spiritual joy, enjoy the music, lights, interesting people, and when people ask me for drugs I point them to the one who can give them real joy (some people let me pray for them!). I think that the heaven themed rave I went to was very symbolic: Heaven is a party, love is the drug, and Jesus raves, hard.

Jesus saves because Jesus raves!

Jesus saves because Jesus raves!

I leave you with this gem of stoner theology : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-2O50k6U-0k Toke the Ghost, my friends.

A paper I wrote about raving and spirituality: http://pilgrimsmap.wordpress.com/2013/06/15/the-rave-and-the-promised-land/

Today I read an article on Vice that really caught my interest.

http://www.vice.com/read/henry-wismayer-boring-travellers-015

The article is about the narcissistic aspects of travelling; in other words, travelling primarily so that people think you are cultured, interesting, adventurous, exotic, etc. This is something that I have thought about a lot while traveling and blogging.Apparently this theme is well written about in travel lit, but I was fairly unaware of it except in myself.  I am ashamed to admit that I have noticed this tendency in myself to some degree. At times I more concerned about capturing a photograph than living the moment. I get a good photograph and think “this will be a nice profile picture, I wonder how many ‘likes’ I’ll get.” Now, I know that most of the time it isn’t my primary motivation; I didn’t post stories about hitchhiking till a year after the fact and hadn’t even planned on it at first — same deal with backpacking. Yet, as I have started to blog, I sometimes see this tendency creep up on me. In a way, I’m glad that I lost my film and camera in Alaska because there are parts of the journey that only exist in my memory.

I don’t think that it’s wrong to share travel memoirs, after all I enjoy reading the memoirs of other people. There is, however, a danger of this narcissism that is written about in the article. It is difficult for us humans to do anything with no thought of making ourselves look good. I think that it is just good to be aware of this tendency and try to avoid it. I don’t want to take pictures or go places for my blog, but I’ll share stories and pictures as they come out of my travels. I read an article about social media a while back and the writer left me with an interesting idea: “would you still do what you do if you were unable to share it with anyone?” That’s a cool idea. As I noted, there is nothing wrong with story telling; it’s part of the fun, but the best stories do not come out of attempts to generate stories but out of authentic life experiences. Some food for thought.

PS I posted this because I’m a narcissistic scumbag that wants you to think I’m super-sophisticated, authentic, and insightful.

PSS I posted that  PS because I’m a narcissistic scumbag that wants you to applaud my humble self-awareness.

PSS I posted that second PS because …. ok, you get the point!

Who is God or what is God? This question has mystified spiritual seekers since the dawn of time. According to David Barret of World Christian Encyclopedia, there are 19 major religions. That being said, many of those categories can be broken down into hundred if not thousand of sub-categories. There are 34,000 subdivisions of Christianity alone (as cited in religioustolerance.org). Hinduism has millions of gods and demigods in some sort of hierarchy, 33 million according to Huffington post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/gadadhara-pandit-dasa/the-33-million-demigods-o_b_1737207.html). This does not even include the ancient religions with their pantheons of gods. Given this fact I can empathize with people who throw up their hands and say “Well, I believe in some sort of higher power, but I don’t believe in any specific god.” It can be confusing. One of Jesus’ central missions was to reveal who God is.

In addressing a crowd in Athens, the apostle Paul said, “Men of Athens, I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown God. What you worship is unknown — this is what I’m going to proclaim to you.” (Acts 17:22-23). Our society is similar to Athens; people would describe themselves as spiritual instead of religious though. There are so many spiritual and religious ideas out there that it’s hard to know what’s what. According to the Bible this is because that when humans were alienated from God people began imaging who God was and making things up, this is called idolatry. God created man in His image, then man began imagining God in His own image. The various images of God are countless but there is a common element in almost all of them. There is a common feeling that all is not well between heaven and earth, a feeling that God (or the gods in some cases) is angry and needs to be placated. In the ancient world, and in some cultures today, animal and other physical sacrifices were common. The idea was that, we must do something to please God to turn away His anger or we must gain His favor  for things to go well for us. While some religions do not advocate physical sacrifices of any kind, sacrifice is still usually present. Think of medieval monks whipping themselves, people trying to serve God our of fear, or others dancing and chanting to please spirits. It’s the universal tendency to cringe under the what we see as the hostility of heaven.

The Jews in the Old Testament had a sacrificial system too.  I am convinced though that God set up that system more for the peoples’ sake than for His. I don’t think God needs animals to be killed for His pleasure. I believe that God set up this system to alleviate this cringing tendency in the people while he set up His plan for redemption in the background.  This cringing tendency was apparent in Adam and Eve’s attempts to hide their nakedness from God. God then “sacrificed” an animal to clothe their nakedness. Did God do this because He is such a prude that he couldn’t stand the sight of a naked person? I really doubt it. Then it was obviously for the sake of Adam and Eve, thus the precedent set for sacrifice was that it was for humans’ sake. The people needed to feel like they were connected to God and on good terms with Him. It was also a clever foreshadowing of God’s true plan of salvation. Listen to this passage:

Hebrews 9:13-14 The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. 14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death,[c] so that we may serve the living God!

The animal sacrifices made people ceremonially clean not morally clean, and verse 14 shows that the blood of Jesus was to cleanse our consciences, not placate an angry God.  The cross was the revelation of the forgiving nature of God, not a blood sacrifice that was required for God to forgive us. I don’t know about you, but I don’t need to kill a cat to forgive someone who has wronged me! On the cross Jesus said “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do (Luke 23:24)” This was before He died, how could God forgive them then if He needed Jesus to die first? What Jesus did for on the cross is effectively saying: “God is not angry at you! He is not against you. He forgives you (a revelation of forgiveness not a transaction of repayment). You do not need to sacrifice to please God, not with animals or good works. The whole sacrificial system points to Me. I’m the solution that the law and prophets wrote about, you cannot earn my love by your sacrifices of goats or good works, you cannot heal yourself by strict adherence to the law, stop your regimens of self-improvement and sacrifice and accept what I did for you because your attempts at being good enough to earn my love will only result in you condemning yourself and isolating yourself from Me.”

People who believe the cross was essentially an offering to please an offended God assert that God is no longer against us because of the payment made on the cross. They are right that God is not against us, but God, however, was never against us to begin with. The cross was to defeat the thing coming against us (sin, death, ignorance, the forces of darkness, corrupt world). That shows us the very opposite, that God is not against us but for us to such a degree that He came from heaven, put on meatsack, identified with us by experiencing human life, and was murdered horrendously by this corrupt world. That is a revelation of the greatest love. By human standards God should get even with us; He has every reason to. We have disobeyed His laws, hurt each other, and been indifferent to Him — the most glorious and deserving being in the universe. Most people would not treat a movie star, president, brilliant scientist, excellent artist, or otherwise beautiful person with contempt. Yet our kind murdered the most amazing person to live and in His dying breaths He said, “God, don’t hold it against them, they’re so blind and ignorant they don’t even realize what they’re doing.” This is a revelation of forgiveness that does not allow Christians to be bitter with a good conscience. Jesus clearly wasn’t the nice version of God begging the angry Father version of God to not be mean, for as the following verses show, He is of the exact same nature of Father God.

Matthew 11:27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

John 14:9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?

John 10:30 I and the Father are one.

Hebrews 1:3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,

Colossians 1:15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.

God can be known and He is not out to get you! He is not some Zeus figure up there with a lightening bolt in hand. Among the countless “gods”, Jesus shines as the unique and true one. Religion is all about what you can do to get to God or a spiritual state; meditate all day and maybe you’ll make the cut, say enough hail Marys, die in Jihad, or  chant om enough times and perhaps you’ll ascend out of this broken world. The Gospel, on the other hand, is about God coming down to us because we could never ascend to Him. While there are beneficial spiritual disciplines and good works God has for us, those flow out of a love relationship, they aren’t ways to get to God. Jesus said, “this is the work of God, to believe in the one He sent” (John 6:29).

Out of this revelation of who God is and what He has done for us, comes a love for God that inspires us to love for neighbors, self, and all creation. Out of this love comes righteousness and good works. This is why St. Augustine said, “Love God and do whatever”. Union with God is the essence of the spiritual life, not church, bible study, evangelism, feeding the poor, or asceticism. If you’re trying to ascend to heaven, please God, earn love, be good enough, or fix yourself by yourself then you’re engaged in a Sisyphean task. Rolling the giant stone of self-improvement, spiritual disciplines, and/or religious deeds is not necessary, because God rolled the stone out of the way of Jesus’ tomb. It’s done! Just believe in Him. I can’t prove that Jesus is God with clever logic, but ask Him to reveal Himself to you. Put your faith in Him as the solution, as your savior, as your lover, as your Lord and you will experience the power of living with Him in Him.

Ok, so this posting really isn’t about politics and religion. Well, it is, but not like you are thinking. The fact is that Jesus is not a democrat or republican. While both parties have certain good qualities and certain bad qualities, the Kingdom of God is perfect and Jesus said that His kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). In this world the term moral government is largely an oxymoron, the government is moral only when Jesus is King. By this I don’t mean humans trying to impose a theocracy by fining people for lying and drinking like some kind of Sharia law, but humans living in harmony with each other, God, and creation. This is a supernatural kingdom, not a political one.

The Jesus Party: standing for love, joy, peace, bliss, and justice since, well, forever. Vote 4 Jesus

The Jesus Party: standing for love, joy, peace, bliss, and justice since, well, forever. Vote 4 Jesus

As I noted in the previous article, many of the early Jews missed Jesus’ kingdom because they were looking for a political revolutionary. The fact is though that politics generally reflect public opinion, which is formed by the expression of individual character. Therefore, all sustainable change must come on an individual character level. Yes, some laws can and should be imposed, but trying to legislate spirituality leads to dictatorships, tyrant kings, and ugly religious wars (think of the crusades and 100 years war). Jesus establishes His kingdom through invitation, not force. Yet, there are consequences for rejecting His kingdom. This theme is crucial for understanding the nature of salvation.

This theme ties in directly with the article I wrote a week or two ago Lepers in Paradise (it’s almost the same theme from a different perspective [that post focused more on sickness than justice]) because the Kingdom of God and our participation in it (or lack thereof) is directly related to the realities of heaven, hell and judgment. The terms king and kingdom may have negative connotations for us because earthly kings have often been unjust.  A kingdom is a place where the King’s will is followed, the King is in charge. So the Kingdom of God is a place where God’s will is followed (as I said earlier humans living in harmony with each other, God, and creation). When the king is disobeyed, the disobedient are punished because the king is set on carrying out justice.

Right here is where the difference lies in human justice and divine justice. Human justice is about wreaking vengeance on the guilty party. Biblical justice is about establishing and maintaining a society in which evil, oppression, and hurt — injustice — do not exist. This is crucial to understanding the nature of hell.  Hell is not punitive, but restorative. I’m not saying that hell exists to restore those who go there (that’s debatable) but it is part of the restoration of humanity. Just as there cannot be a good daycare ran by pedophiles, a good neighborhood overrun with gangs, or a good government ran by crooks, there cannot be a heaven full of sinful people. Matthew 13:41-42 notes “The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

“Wait a minute, if it’s not about punishment, then why are the lawbreakers thrown in a furnace rather than just put in a prison?” one might ask. My answer is that the furnace is metaphorical for the suffering that is inherent when sinful people are alienated from God and must live together. The gnashing of teeth is not a reference of people grinding their teeth in pain, but an act of hatred and anger. All the other verses in the Bible convey this sense. Consider Job 16:9 “His anger has torn me and hunted me down,  He has gnashed at me with His teeth; my adversary glares at me.” or Psalms 35:16 “Like godless jesters at a feast, They gnashed at me with their teeth.” One more: Psalms 37:12 “The wicked plots against the righteous and gnashes at him with his teeth.”  These are just a few of the verses. The people in hell are like “the godless jesters at a feast” gnashing their teeth at God or the “the wicked” who “plot against the righteous and gnash at them with their teeth.”

It reminds me of a good citizen walking through a cell block and all the prisoners uttering threats and curses because they envy the freedom of the good citizen, yet they want nothing to do with living in a righteous society. The prisoner wants to eat his cake and have it too. The person in hell wants nothing to do with heavenly society, yet is miserable, gnashing his teeth. Hell is not some grotesque torture chamber out of Saw or The Divine Comedy. Jesus said, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.” Does anything in that statement sound like a God hell-bent on punishing? Did Jesus say, “Oh, Jerusalem, you vile murderers. I’m just licking my chops waiting for the day when I can torture you endlessly”? Not at all, and Jesus was talking to murderers, yet His desire is to restore and not tear down.

Therefore judgment and punishment can be seen as the natural results of rejecting God and His Kingdom and living in sin. God judges in the sense that a judge chooses whether a man is to be trusted to return to society, or whether that man is unsafe and needs to be confined.  The wrath of God can be understood as God’s passion to create a justice society and wrathfully removing anything (or anyone) from it that is unjust. God’s wrath is not like the wrath of a human that wants to “get even”. It must be interpreted through His love, this is obvious because the Bible says that God is love, not “God is wrath”. Love is more defining to God’s character than wrath, so therefore wrath is a part of His love. Think about it: would God be good if he had a flippant attitude towards rape, murder, and genocide? Of course not, His wrath is indicative of His love, and yet He wants to restore the murderer and rapist; He wants to gather them, but if they are not willing then they get what they choose.

God’s political party really is a party. The whole reason He judges is that he doesn’t want party poopers in heaven. They wouldn’t even enjoy it in their diseased state, they are more content to scream obscenities and fling feces from behind the prison bars than admit that they are wrong and follow God. That’s what it comes down to, wanting to be God. Humanistic philosophy is all about humans being the source of truth and goodness; well, they’re not. Human beings definitely have lots of inherent goodness, we are made in the image of God after all. Living apart from God, however, is akin to a fish out of water or a sunflower without the sun.This metaphor can be hard to understand because we often think we are good enough for heavenly society. Let me just state that God’s standards are higher than ours'; He is a bigger party animal. Heaven is also a place where one must know God to enjoy heaven, not merely be a fairly nice person by our society’s standards. I discuss this more extensively in Lepers in Paradise so I direct you there if you want to understand it more. (http://pilgrimsmap.wordpress.com/2014/11/14/what-the-hell-is-hell-anyways/).