Good versus evil is a prominent theme in literature and art. From the earliest myths to the latest blockbuster, from Greece to Hollywood, this theme continues to captivate us. Myths and stories have power in that they express the feelings and desires in our minds and give meaningful narratives to events of our lives. So why is this theme of good versus evil so ubiquitous and moving? I think it’s because we all perceive the conflicts in life and the greater conflict we are caught up in.While there are many great stories that display this theme, I think Lord of the Rings is the best one. This story is wonderful allegory of Jesus’ work, but just as London’s allegory (previous post) was unintended, this one probably was too. J.R.R. Tolkien was a Christian, but not a fan of allegory. The work was probably inspired, both consciously and unconsciously, by his faith, but it’s no Pilgrim’s Progress. I am going to describe the plot throughout this article, so if you haven’t read the books or seen the movies, this is your SPOILER ALERT.

Middle Earth is on the brink of collapse and destruction. Most of the Hobbits go about their business unaware of the coming war and desolation. The enemy is unseen and all seems well in the Shire. The enemy is working behind the scenes though, he has already corrupted and enslaved countless victims and is preparing to take his corruption, slavery, and murder to a new level. The joy and peace of Middle Earth is at stake. This enemy wields his power through a ring that manipulates and enslaves all who wear it, until that is destroyed he will stay in power. This ring is his essence and source of authority. This ring, as you probably know, can only be destroyed in the fires of Mt. Doom in the land of Mordor. Surely a Navy Seal or a Green Beret is the choice for this gig, but no, a mere hobbit is assigned the task. True, he is surrounded by the equivalent of a modern special forces team, but ultimately two hobbits set out on their own. After the ring is destroyed, Sauron’s power and authority crumbles and his minions are scattered. That is the plot in a nutshell, a very small nutshell.

lotr

Like Frodo, Jesus came on a quest to defeat evil. The militaristic aspect of His mission, also called Christus Victor, is central to understanding why He came and died for us; it is one of the most vivid colours in the Kaleidoscope (refer to the article Kaleidoscopic Theology if you are scratching your head). The conquering motif of Jesus is so important, that the Jews actually expected the messiah to come on a literal military and political campaign. Jesus, however, was like Frodo in that he didn’t appear to be much of a hero. The Bible tell us that He was born a poor carpenter’s son in an obscure village and was no pretty boy. He didn’t have a special forces team on his side either, but his team was special alright. . .a group consisting of coarse fisherman, corrupt businessmen, and spiritual ignoramuses. Far from the Leonidas type expected, Jesus came serving the needy, bearing insults, loving the broken, and being brutally murdered in a way that seemed like defeat. God, a lover of irony and paradox, used this seeming defeat to accomplish healing and restoration of humanity.

Jesus left the paradise of heaven to enter this jacked up world, much like a Frodo left the Shire to enter Mordor. Jesus visited a place called Gehenna that actually reminds me of Mordor. Gehenna is one of the New Testament words that is translated into hell, and it is a picture of hell. It was a maggoty garbage dump outside of Jerusalem that was continuously smouldering and stinking, not to mention that it was a former place of pagan sacrifices. Such is the world that Sauron wanted to create, such is the world that satan aims at creating, and is fairly successful. Jesus enters this smouldering dump to dethrone the corrupt ruler of this world, satan.  This was apparent in his time of earthly ministry. He taught people the way of the Kingdom of God as opposed to false ways promoted by the enemy, he healed people of diseases (many of which were noted to be caused by evil spirits, but not all of them), and he cast evil spirits out of people. Acts 10:38 tells us that “he went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil.”His authority and power is greater than the enemy’s authority and power. He delegated this power and authority to his squadron of misfits and sent them out to imitate His work.

The cross and resurrection was his ultimate goal though. As Mt. Doom swallowed up the ring and its power, so did Christ swallow up and destroy  the power of sin and death. Prior to the cross, humanity was subject to death and corruption. In Jesus death, death lost its power and in His resurrection all humanity will resurrect. Somehow the power of sin was destroyed here too (Colossians 2:11 In him you are circumcised . . . cutting away the sinful nature [my paraphrase]) and (Ezekiel 36:26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you. I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh) . This is mystical thing that is hard to understand. In Christ’s incarnation (joining himself to human nature and identifying with humanity) we are included in His death and resurrection. Colossians 2:12      elaborates on this: “having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised with Him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised Him from the dead.

All of humanity was mystically represented in the cross. The work of the cross is not just something that is activated upon accepting Christ as savior and lord. People who reject Christ were included in that they were represented in the power of the resurrection.  The idea that humans are naturally immortal and that the spirit outlives the body is a Platonic idea that distorts the meaning of the resurrection.  Prior to the resurrection of Christ, human were mortal, body and spirit.  Every person has eternal life because of what Christ has done, the quality of that life will be determined by our response to Christ (see my article Lepers in Paradise). Now that the power of sin and death are crushed, the revelation of the way has been made known, and reconciliation with God is possible, it is each individual’s choice which path (s)he will choose. That is the plot in a nutshell, a very small nutshell.

This theme may seem foreign because he spiritual warfare aspect of the Christian life is often overlooked in the Western world where it is common for Christians to view Christianity philosophically and dogmatically and for skeptics to deny the spiritual realm. Christians acknowledge the spiritual realm but practically don’t believe in it. In some churches people might cringe if spirits and angels are mentioned. The Bible talks about them continually though and says that they affect the world we live in. Jesus said that satan, the thief, came only to steal, and destroy (John 10:10). St. Paul mentioned that he is not ignorant of the devil’s schemes and neither should we (2 Corinthians 2:11). St. Peter said that the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). These are just a few Bible references, there are many more. No, the devil is not a guy in red pajamas with a pitchfork, he is a cunning evil spirit. No, the forces of darkness are not responsible for every evil thing that happens, but they are responsible for a lot more than we give them credit for.

If you read my article on Portland, then you know how my personal temptation at that time was exacerbated by the influence of an evil spirit. Let me give you a couple more personal examples. In 2012 I was at a YWAM (Youth With a Mission) program in Los Angeles where I was experiencing incredible spiritual breakthrough. This is where I was getting free from personal issues and learning to hear God’s voice and operate in the supernatural. I remember one day I had a thought that went something like this, “Yeah, this is all cool, but it’s not going to last once I get back to real life.” After that, a guy I hardly knew came up to me and said “Hey man, I feel like the enemy is trying to discourage you and tell you that this is not going to last, but that’s a lie.” This revealed to me how much of life is a spiritual battle, especially on the mental level. When I was a kid of about 11 or 12, I used to have chairs move about my house at night and lights flip on and off. Once I stopped reading my Bible, this ended; it was a scare tactic. Don’t be deceived, there are forces of darkness that influence much of what goes on in this world and much of what goes on in our own minds.

I realize that all this talk about spiritual warfare might sound bonkers, but reality is much bigger than we give it credit for. Scientists are exploring the possibilities of parallel universes and dimensions. Some who refuse in God but cannot deny intelligent design go as far to say that aliens planted the building blocks of life. The same people who would scoff at spirit beings from another dimension would accept aliens from another dimension. It’s not a matter of reason, as much as a matter of popular ideas in our culture. Take the ideas of spirits out of the context of medieval superstition and look at them in the context of our incredibly complex and largely unknown universe.

Jesus came to throw down these forces of darkness . I’m not entirely sure how this worked, but I believe it has something to do with the fact that God gave humans authority over creation and when we sinned we gave authority to “the dark side”. When Christ destroyed the power of sin and death, he destroyed the enemy’s power just as Frodo destroyed Sauron’s power when he destroyed the ring. The ring is certainly a picture of the controlling power of sin. The scene in which Smeagol finally gets the ring and gazes up in delight ends with him falling in the fire. He smiles at that ring till his very last breath, oblivious of what it is doing to him. Jesus shattered the authority of the enemy and has charged us to continue in His holy warfare (spiritual)with His delegated power and authority, until the Return of the King.

Unlike most real wars, this war is wholly just. We are fighting to enlighten and set free our fellow humans and see the darkness flee. It is not about a power trip but about a passion for paradise. It reminds me of the scenes in the Two Towers when Merry is trying to convince Pippin and the Ents to go to war. Then the Ents see the devastation that has been wreaked on their homeland. Pippin protests that they should just go back to the Shire. Merry’s response is “Don’t you see Pip, if we don’t fight there won’t be a Shire, the woods of Buckland will burn . . .etc”.  This is shown again in a scene when Galadriel shows Frodo what will happen if he neglects his task: the Shire would be overrun with evil, slavery, and death.

This battle cannot be neglected because it is universal; it is impossible to neglect it and prosper because humans were meant to live with one another in harmony and the fate of one affects the fate of all. One might say, “I can’t worry about his fate.” Well, he’s the doctor, or the farmer, or someone you need (not to mention he has inherent value as a human being). There is no peace without justice and righteousness. Burying our heads in the sand does not solve a problem, but postpones it. We all have a battle to fight, a part to play. Maybe that is raising awareness about sex trafficking, advocating for the rights of the needy, or sharing the message of Christ; whatever it is,  we all must be a part of something bigger than ourselves. As Merry exhorted the Ents “You are a part of this world!”  Merry didn’t mobilize the Ents because he wanted stories written about him and a self-esteem boost, but because he loved the Shire and it’s inhabitants. Let us be warriors of love.

Towards the end of the Return of King, Frodo and Sam  are sitting on Mount Doom, expecting their death after having destroyed the ring. Sam begins reminiscing about the Shire and its beauty to comfort themselves and to reflect on what they accomplished. Because of them the Shire wouldn’t be a flaming wasteland, but would be a place of strawberries and cream (or milk and honey), grassy meadows, and chirping birds. Yet this was not without sacrifice, they expected to die. Yet, on the brink of death they are rescued and reunited with their friends. Aragorn takes his place as the true king and the hobbits return to the  Shire, no longer under the shadow of death and evil. Let us also join in such a worthy war until Jesus takes His rightful place as King and calls us back home.

1 John 3:8  “he came to destroy the works of the devil.”

Colossians 2:15  he “disarmed rulers and authorities (spiritual ones) put them to shame by triumphing over him” (parentheses mine).

Hebrew 2:14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death–that is, the devil.

White Fang and The Call of the Wild are amazing metaphors of the human condition and the transformative power of love. Though it seems that London himself was an atheist, he inadvertently wrote one of the greatest metaphors of salvation. Furthermore, this metaphor was  given through a story about dogs and wolves, which is delightfully fitting considering that Jesus often described people as wolves (it will make sense soon).  In setting the stage for the story, London describes human behavior  and experiences accounting for both inherited and environmental factors. He not only shows that we have the capacity for both good and evil, but that our experiences in this world shape us. Sometimes in this world we are shaped poorly and need to be reshaped. This only love can do.

(Spoiler Warning: I give the summary of  White Fang as briefly as I can without leaving out key details. If you don’t want to know the ending before reading it STOP NOW.)

White Fang is a half-breed of dog and wolf who was raised in the wild. White Fang slowly develops and learns his wolfish instincts of hunting and killing. In addition to coming into contact with his instincts, he learns the law “eat or be eaten.’ He learned it by watching his mother kill and eat. His mother and he find themselves in an Indian camp and it is revealed that his mother was one of the Indians’ former dogs who ran away to live with wolves. Now she and White Fang came back to live with the Indians. In this camp, White Fang is first exposed to humans. He comes to think of them as gods when he sees them because of their “superior intelligence and brute strength”. They are fairly cruel gods, who dish out violent beatings for disobedience. White Fang also becomes an outcast in the camp’s society of dogs. He soon learns to fight well enough to beat every dog in the camp. He becomes a cruel, angry killing machine. White Fang’s owner, Gray Beaver, takes White Fang to Fort Yukon to do business for a while. In Fort Yukon, Gray Beaver ends up selling White Fang to a cruel man named Beauty Smith.

Smith beats, teases, and torments White Fang endlessly to groom him as an obedient fighting machine. White Fang is soon consumed by hate, not just for Beauty, but for anything and everything. This is exactly what Beauty wanted so he could put White Fang in dog fights and earn money by placing bets on him. White Fang vents his hatred by killing countless dogs. One day White Fang meets his match in a fight with a bulldog. The bulldog bites Fang on the neck and clamps down. White Fang tries to get free but can’t and his time is running out. When Beauty realizes that he is on the verge of losing the match, he steps into the ring and begins beating Fang. A stranger stops by and seeing this, knocks Beauty down. With much effort this man, Weedon Scott, is able to break the bulldogs grip. He then buys, or rather forces Beauty to sell him White Fang.

When Scott brings White Fang home, he is very doubtful that he can be tamed. White Fang killed one of their dogs already. Scott lets White Fang off of the leash and tries to approach him with kindness. Matt, Scott’s friend, advises him to take a club as he approaches Fang to keep him in line, but Scott will have none of it. As Scott is approaching, White Fang is expecting a beating because he killed his dog and beatings are just what humans do. He tenses up and snarls, but allows Scott to come close because he has no club. When Scott reaches down to pet White Fang, Fang bites him in the hand. Matt is now chomping at the bit to shoot White Fang, but Scott convinces him otherwise. The next day Scott returns to White Fang, who was still expecting a beating. Scott sat near him and gently talked to him. Never before had any one talked to White Fang like this. Scott eventually gets Fang to eat from his hand. White Fang begins to have feelings he had never had before; as he is shown kindness a void inside him begins to fill. Slowly, but surely, White Fang begins to warm up to Scott.

London describes the start of this new life, “It was the beginning of the end for White Fang — the ending of the old life and the reign of hate. A new and incomprehensibly fairer life was dawning. It required much thinking and endless patience on the part of Weedon Scott to accomplish this. And on the part of White Fang it required nothing less than a revolution. He had to ignore the urges and promptings of instinct and reason, defy experience, and give the lie to life itself.” White Fang, “The fighting wolf, fierce and implacable, unloving and unlovable” now had to unlearn all of his instincts and feelings. The “unloving and unlovable” one was now experiencing love: “It manifested itself to him as a void in his being — a hungry, aching, yearning void that clamored to be filled. It was a pain and an unrest; and it received easement only by the touch of the new god’s presence.” While the other master White Fang had were gods by virtue of superior intelligence and brutality, Scott was “a love god, a warm and radiant god, in whose light White Fang’s nature expanded as a flower expands under the sun.”

Eventually Scott decided to move to California and he wondered if he could take an animal like White Fang with him. He eventually does take White Fang with him. White Fang has to learn to get along with other dogs, other people, and not kill chickens (among other things). While his transformation is a process, Fang gets to the point of living in harmony in California when at first he couldn’t even safely be approached. This transformation is so beautiful that I wish I could write more on it, but I fear I’ve already written too much (you’ll just have to read it for yourself).

White Fang’s experience of life is very similar to the human experience. Like White Fang, we have negative instincts that we are born with. Instincts of self-preservation, will to power, and self-glorification. The first two instincts are shared by White Fang and greatly determined his behavior. Furthermore, these instincts are reinforced when we begin to participate in the broken world system. Like White Fang, we learn that we must “eat or be eaten”, hence the phrase “dog-eat-dog world”. Sometimes we run about to get our needs met, even if it means hurting others because others will hurt us to get their needs met first. People bite us and thrash us, so we bite back and can grow hardened and cruel like White Fang. The world looks bleak and ugly. All that changes when we meet the “love-master”.

Used to being judged, rejected, and looked down upon, when God first approaches us we snarl at him as White Fang did to Scott. We expect to be hurt again. With gentle words, God gently assures of His love and good intentions; like Scott, he comes without club in hand, but nourishment and love. As we warm up to Him, feelings and abilities we didn’t know we had start to manifest. Our yearnings and hearts are filled. Under this Love-God our “nature expands like a flower under the sun.” Yet there is so much to learn. We were so used to being independent and fierce. We provided for ourselves because we felt like that was the only way to survive this harsh wilderness of a world. Surrendering the fear based instincts of self-preservation that have been wired into our brains will take time. Our perceptions have to be altered, like White Fang “we have to give the lie to life itself” (or rather our interpretations of how life is apart from God). When White Fang goes to live at Scott’s estate in California, that is a picture of us learning to live in harmony in community (and ultimately heaven). There are many unfamiliar rules that we must learn. Just as White Fang must learn not to attack people who seem hostile, we too must learn to love people who seem hostile or even are — for they too are wounded and deceived. White Fang didn’t need to kill his master’s chickens for food because his master took care of him. We too need not do wrong to get ahead, but trust that the Love-God will take care of us.

Do you see now why Jesus refers to lost humanity as wolves? Ignorant of the God who loves us and wants to take care of us, we try to be independent and take care of ourselves. We were never meant to be independent though, but follow Jesus as sheep follow a shepherd. Apart from God we are sheep in wolves’ clothing; our attempts at independence and self-preservation will fail in this life or the next. This self-preservation is ironically the very thing that destroys us; as Jesus said, “He desires to save his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will save it.”Heaven is not a place of self-preservation, fear, or wolfishness (see previous post for more on the after life). We try all kinds of things –food, money, sex, drugs, fame, self-improvement, accomplishments — to fill our ravenous appetites, but it is in vain. The “hungry, aching, yearning void” can only be filled by the “Love God.” If you have never met the Love-God, lay down your pride and illusions of control, let go of your fear and self-preservation, and be reunited with the only One who can satisfy your soul and take care of you. (and read White Fang and Call of the Wild if you haven’t! This post does not do justice to it.)

 

 

Frozen (Sweden)

Posted: November 16, 2014 in Uncategorized

pilgrimsmap:

I love this story, living vicariously now ;)

Originally posted on Storytime with John:

Sweden – Karesuando ~ 2013

“Live a little” – what does that phrase conjure up in your mind? For me it used to be something I would attribute to getting out, and doing things, experiencing, you know…living. I thought it was usually coupled with things that are a little reckless, or less than mature – for example; perhaps you may think it is a bad idea to have another ten drinks when you have work the next day, “live a little!” your moronic friend will cry…and you do it. Or maybe someone suggests you go on holiday with them, but you really think it is best for you to make the rent payments you owe – “live a little!” says the friend with no money-worries, and therefore no understanding of what you are going through. AND YOU STILL DO IT.

Well sometimes you do, it feels good to throw…

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I think one of the main objections people have about Christianity is the idea Hell. We get this idea that God is out to get us — that He wants to torture us for eternity. Well, that’s not really what hell is about. Many modern teachers have tried to delete the idea of hell from Christianity, but it’s there in the scriptures. Hell is real, but it’s incredibly misunderstood. Let me address the question, How can a loving God send people to Hell forever?, by asking a question myself.

Do actions have consequences? The answer is, of course, yes. I’m not talking about getting punished by the state for doing something wrong, that idea of punishment is the very idea I’m trying to dispel. If a person jumps off a cliff, the law of gravity is going to make sure he breaks something or dies. If a person becomes addicted to heroin, a whole host of negative consequences are going to follow. If a person has cancer and neglects treating it, then it will kill her. You are probably starting to see where I am going. Sin is a disease. Like a cancer, it will kill us. Romans 6:23 states “The wages of sin is death.” Romans 8:6 notes ” The mind set on the flesh (sinfulness) is death, but the life set on the Spirit is life and peace.” Like heroin, it will deceive us into thinking that we’re enjoying ourselves until we realize just what it is doing to us. In this sense, hell is, to a large degree, a self-made reality. Yes, it is a place, but the conditions of the people in that place are more representative of its nature than the conditions of the place. Hell is not some torture chamber out of a Saw movie for goodness’ sake; God is not a demented sadist.

If a person has a disease, then no matter where she is, she will be miserable. Most of us think as Hawaii as a paradise, but I doubt the lepers who lived there in the leper colony would think so. Such is the nature of Hell: Paradise at their fingertips (or lack thereof) but they choose not to be healed, so they sit there rotting in the leper colony (hell). The analogy breaks down at the point of rejecting healing; real life lepers would probably choose healing, but spiritual lepers do not choose healing, because spiritual leprosy darkens the mind and will so that they cannot even perceive the disease.  So if God brought a sin-sick person to heaven, she would be miserable nonetheless. If a leper went  outside of the leper colony, he would still be miserable.

Just what is this spiritual sickness of sin? Heaven is a place where God’s principles are carried out. A prideful person could not enjoy it because he would hate the egalitarianism. A non-repentant drug user could not enjoy heaven because there are no drugs there except the love of God. Sin-sick people are not happy in God’s presence or kingdom. They would be the party poopers in heaven, complaining about the lack of booze or the losers that are there. God merely gives them what they want in their blindness — this becomes its own punishment. They are unenlightened; they are so blinded by the deceitfulness of sin, that they cannot enjoy the superior pleasures of being in relationship with God and living in perfect harmony with His creatures and creation.

Perhaps you are not a heroin addict, but pride, bitterness, lust, and self-centeredness are all diseases too. These diseases don’t only cause actions that hurt the individual doing them, but they ripple out to affect all humanity. There cannot a society of joy, peace, and love with the presence of sin.   So God quarantines these people in Hell, as I noted above, they wouldn’t like heaven anyways. Hell is like an asylum for the existentially and spiritually insane who refuse to take their medicine. This begs the question: well Who can qualify for heaven? Who is enlightened enough to see through the mirage of sin and grasp the higher reality? Who is not going to ruin anyone’s time? Not me and not you.  God has higher standards than us, for us; essentially, He is a bigger party animal. You and I will settle for mediocrity. “Well, we’re all human and imperfect, but let’s just keep the Hitlers and pedophiles out of heaven and it will be cool.” God is not content with that though: heaven will be a place of ecstasy, bliss, rapture, perfect peace, and perfect love;  not a place of pride, meanness, insecurity, fear, anger,  sadness, or idolatry. No way in heaven. Galatians 5:20 says ” the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, sensuality, impurity, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, division, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the Kingdom of God.” It is almost like Karma but a little bit different: if one is an ass in his earthly life, well he’s not going to reincarnate as an ass in the King James sense of the word, but he will still be an ass in the afterlife and asses cannot appreciate heaven and ruin it for everyone else. So therefore they are quarantined in a place full of other asses, and that is Hell (The term “ass” is quite simplistic obviously, it’s more of a matter of being sin-sick, distant from God, etc I just can’t ever avoid a pun). Only Jesus can take away our bad karma (speaking metaphorically, Karma is not a biblical idea), heal us of our sinfulness, and cleanse our beings.

Before you write me off as an archaic religionist for using a word such as idolatry earlier, let me explain what it means. Idolatry basically means worship of another god that isn’t God. That doesn’t essentially mean dancing in front of a wood carving in a loin cloth rather than going to a nice suburban American church. Christian worship is not defined as religious rituals to please God as much as enjoying God for who He is. You worship what you enjoy. Druggies worship drugs (have you ever been around hardcore stoners? Almost all they talk about it weed). For some, women are their goddesses. Still, others bow down to the stock market. Bringing it back to the example I used earlier, a non-repentant substance abuser will not enjoy heaven, a place where God is worshiped (enjoyed), because he worships drugs instead. The essence of the disease of sin is worshiping false gods and being estranged from the true God.

Now let’s talk about false deities. To enjoy (worship) something you must know it and experience it. In the case of God, to enjoy Him you must know stuff about Him and have experienced Him. Think of a romantic relationship, a man praises his wife because he knows her; he knows things that are true about her and enjoys them. He can’t truly praise his wife if the praise is based on a lie. If a guy is all cuddled up with his wife and while praising her calls her the name of his ex-girlfriend, it’s not going to go well. It was either an honest mistake, or he is fantasizing about another woman, which is relationally dysfunctional. If we are to have a functional relationship about God, we cannot think He is someone or something else. Going to heaven thinking God is someone else than He is, is like going into a marriage with wrong expectations of your spouse because you idolize your own imaginary thoughts about her rather than her actual self, which can lead to divorce (hell in the analogy) or a miserable marriage (what it would be like to be in Heaven and not enjoy God). So to be in relationship with God and worship/enjoy Him, we cannot think He is Allah, Krishna, Shiva, Zeus, sex, drugs, or techno. Worshiping idols is to insult the worthiness of God and invest our joy in something that is not worthy and cannot satisfy us. That’s why it’s a big deal.

Jesus did die for our sins. Not to take our punishment, but to heal us of our sinfulness, enlighten us about who God is and what the spiritual path is, show us His love, overcome the forces of darkness, and reconcile us to Him among other things. Saying all of this is not to downplay the seriousness of hell, it’s going to be terrible, but to accurately portray it and what it says about God’s character.

These ideas are not just postmodern inventions, but are rooted deeply in church history. The Eastern Orthodox church goes as far to say that everyone goes to heaven but some people are miserable there because they are still diseased so it is Hell to them (remember the analogy of lepers in Hawaii).

C.S. Lewis wrote “The doors of Hell are locked from the inside.” That is what it comes down to. God is love, he doesn’t throw people into a torture chamber out of rage. In seeking the greatest good for all, he consigns some to a prison called hell, which is really what those people chose. God said to them, “Thy will be done” (another Lewis quote [I highly recommend reading The Great Divorce if you want more info on this topic]).

What do kaleidoscopes of all things have to do with theology? At first glance they may seem opposite. Kaleidoscopes are psychedelic, colourful, and fun; theology might bring up thoughts of a dusty old tome full of depressing and boring facts. It shouldn’t be that way though. The reason that theology can have negative connotations is that many theologians, especially in the Western world, have made it seem like a giant, boring legal contract between an angry God and His people who He is always on the verge of throwing in Hell for any infraction of the fine print of this contract. Another negative trend has been the attempt to try to understand every mystery in the Bible and resolve every paradox. Perhaps they weren’t meant to be grasped in a complete, cut-and-dried fashion as much as they were meant to be perceived sufficiently, experienced, and reveled in.

Think of a kaleidoscope, a pattern of shapes and colours occurring in a non-linear format. Consider each shape and colour as an aspect, theme, truth, or motif of the gospel. As there are patterns and structures in kaleidoscopes, there are also patterns and structures to the message of the Bible; the gospel is not the grab-bag spirituality of our age that pretends to make no truth or morality claims and offers wishy-washy spiritual principles. Yet the pattern is above the human attempts to organize it in a rationalistic manner. There is the story of God as the righteous judge, the loving father, the enlightening spirit, the great physician, the conquering king, and the pursuing lover. Obviously these are metaphors that shine light on the mystery of the gospel, but they don’t mesh at all points. If God was a literal father, a literal doctor, and a literal lover that would make him an incestuous physician with a very inappropriate relationship with his clients.

These analogies and metaphors used to teach spiritual truth  sometimes clash because they are not straightforward  statements but pictures that gives us glimpses at  truths too sublime for words alone. Analogies are always used to demonstrate some aspects of a mysterious thing, not to describe it exhaustively. It is easy to make the mistake of applying all aspects of an analogy to the thing it is trying to describe, which defeats the purpose of the analogy, because it would then become the thing it is trying to describe. When multiple analogies are stretched, the conclusions can seem contradictory and there are disagreements about which analogy is authoritative and which is subject (ie is God first and foremost to be understood as a father or first and foremost to be understood as a judge? or both? Or certain aspects of each one?) We should not try to contain God in a box based upon the limits of our understanding, but  accept all the metaphors, paradoxes, and mysteries as one mystical whole. Kaleidoscopic theology contains all the aspects of the gospel and looks at them in awe and wonder.

Consider the paradox of free will and sovereignty; we have free will, yet God is in control, how does that work?  Or the trinity: how can God be both 3 and 1? The incarnation of Christ may be the biggest mystery of all. God being joined with a human through a miraculous conception. Let’s not be too fast to  break out the Venn diagram or put God in a petri dish. We proponents of Kaleidoscopic theology certainly wrestle  to approximate the truth, but ultimately we say “I don’t know man, but it’s pretty freaking cool”. So called intellectuals may scoff at this way of thinking, but  Jesus said “You have hidden these things from the wise and learned and revealed them to little children.” St. Paul also said ” The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.” Clearly reason and intellect can only take use so far in understanding spiritual realities.

In his article on Kaleidoscopic theology (In the Book Nature of the Atonement: 4 Views), Joel Green noted, ” A close reading of the New Testament supports two indisputable and intimately linked claims about the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. The first is that Jesus’ demise at the hands of Roman justice, represented theologically in the motto ‘Christ Crucified’, is the means of comprehending the eternal purpose of God, as this is known in Israel’s scriptures.  The second is that the significance of Jesus’ death is woven so tightly into the fabric of God’s purpose that we may never exhaust the many ways of articulating its meaning for our salvation.” These many ways are the various patterns and colours of the kaleidoscope. Green continues, ” So limited is the ground on which we walk and so infinite the mystery of God’s saving work that we need many interpretive images, many tones [or colours], many voices” Some have taken one of these interpretive images and declared that it was the only or central way to understand the life and death of Jesus. These images are called atonement theories, and while there are ones I favor more than others. I am more dedicated to the mystery that is Christ (who is the Truth), than to a theological system of my interpretation. God is the kaleidoscope that I cannot grasp, I approximate his truth as best as I can, but at the end of the day I enjoy the show. I cannot connect all the dots honestly and it is time that we in the Western church learn to appreciate mystery.

I also like the idea of a prism as an analogy of the gospel message; the white light beam is the “eternal purpose of God” or the saving act of Jesus Christ and it goes through the prism of language and culture to reveal its many beautiful layers. You see, the gospel is not the depressing legal contract between humans and an angry God. God was never against you and the gospel is anything but boring and depressing. That is why kaleidoscope is such a fitting word to describe the gospel and God himself. The one who created lights, music, puffins, stars, raspberries, and colours is anything but boring. Evangelist Todd Bentley described a time when he saw a vision of Jesus as a kaleidoscope (The Reality of the Supernatural World).So join me as I write more mind expanding articles to explore the meaning of the Gospel and the person of God; it’ll be a trip!

Cosmic Christ by Alex Grey. A nice representation, though I would change the images in the gaps to represent aspects of Jesus' ministry, character, and personality.

Cosmic Christ by Alex Grey. A nice representation, though I would change the images in the gaps to represent aspects of Jesus’ ministry, character, and personality.

I don't know who made it, but it's on Nicholas Eastman's Twitter.

I don’t know who made it, but it’s on Nicholas Eastman’s Twitter.

Transitioning back to a routine, college life has been hard. Yeah, I said I was tired of the road, but I got tired of school pretty fast too, but I’m learning to readjust and CHOOSE to be content. This is my last year of school (thank God) so I should probably just finish strong (even though I turned in an app to work in Deadhorse). I have had some mini adventures since I’ve gotten back though. Hiking has been a priority since winter is imminent and will soon lock up my beautiful Mission mountains. I have done a couple day hikes and one over nighter to Summit Lake. I’m rocking an external frame pack with much less space now, so that’s been a bit different; I like it though. It challenges to find more space saving techniques; I brought corn meal and sunflower seeds for food, very compact and still filling. Getting to the gas station to put $3 in my tank because I buy new (used) backpacks has also been an adventure.

Post Creek off of McDonald Lake Trails, one of my favorite spots

Post Creek off of McDonald Lake Trails, one of my favorite spots

Frog Lake

Frog Lake

Cliffs by Summit Lake

Cliffs by Summit Lake

I also am still volunteering with the youth ministry at my church, which is cool. Trying to reach out to my community is also something that I do. In fact, the other day that led to another mini-adventure. I felt led to go inside McDonalds, so I did. I went in there and figured if it was nothing, then I would just write and drink some coffee. As soon as I went in I saw a guy with a big pack hunched over an atlas, he was obviously traveling. I asked him where he was from and he said Eugene, OR. I sat with him and we talked about our travels. He had just come from across the country and is writing a book. Him being a writer gave us a lot to talk about too — we talked about Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Dosteoyevsky, all kinds of books. We ended up talking for like 2 hours about travel, God, philosophy, drugs, and all kinds of things. He told me he wanted to be a preacher when he was growing up but now is a nihilist. I don’t believe in Nihilists so I tried to convince him he wasn’t one lol. After our talk, I took him up to the Mission Mountains to camp and told him I would pick him up in the morning and show him around. In the morning we got some food and then drove up to Glacier National Park, about an hour North of Polson, and looked around a bit. The main road is mostly closed unfortunately, but he got a brief look anyways.

After we went to Glacier, we drove down to Missoula. We got coffee with some of my friends, got some pizza and beer, and then went down to a Halloween Rave at Lolo Hot Springs. The rave was really low key, it probably had 50 people throughout the whole night. I was also feeling really mellow. I bit the bullet and bought some tickets though and even got a bit of a discount (which was still over priced). I went dressed up as a rabbi, which amused me. One time while I was dancing in my holy garb with some glowsticks, I just looked at the moment objectively and thought “This is so damn goofy!” All these creatures dressed up funny moving to vibrations in the air — life is weird when you think about it. My dancing didn’t last long though, I was just super mellow and only about 50% of the DJ sets were things that I liked enough to move to. This rave contrasted sharply to the Halloween rave I went to last year.

Last year I went to Disco Bloodbath with a Jim Carrey mask as my costume. That event had probably 1,200 people over the course of the night, a bigger sound system, and a bigger variety of music. I went to that rave set on sharing the love of God with people. I was intimidated at first, and then forgot about it and just enjoyed the music and danced out my spiritual joy which just made it natural to talk to people. People would come up to me asking for Molly and I would pray for them instead. It just felt natural to love on people, hug strangers (willing strangers mind you), tell people that they are awesome and Jesus loves them, etc. I was just kind of bonkers last year. This year I was mellow. Yeah, I thought I would probably talk to some people about God and stuff, and I continued to think about it, but I just felt really at peace, almost like a Nirvana type state. It wasn’t really a state of not desiring though as much as an unshakeable peace and contentment. Most of the time I was just sitting by the fire, tapping my toe to the music, and people watching. I usually have a sense of urgency with telling people about God, but then I felt like “yeah, these people need God, but God has it under control”. It didn’t feel like apathy of fear, just peace. As Julian of Norwich said, “All shall be will, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” I can’t really explain fully this state I was in, but I hope to expand upon it more in another article.

Which leads me to my next point: my blog will probably be comprised of mini-adventures like this and more spiritual articles since I’m not on the road for the time being. I might do some snowshoeing and snow camping though. So hopefully you will find that interesting or inspiring or something. If not, wait till next summer/fall. My plan is to go to Northern California for the summer after I graduate. I want to go down Pacific Coast Highway, go to San Francisco, Humboldt County, Eureka, Sequoia, the redwoods, and Yosemite. I’m hoping to do some rock climbing, hiking of course, and some ministry. I think I might try to WOOF my way through Cali rather than get a park job (ie work at organic farms for room and board http://www.wwoof.net/). I’m also thinking about volunteering at a YWAM (Youth With a Mission) base or two. After California, I will probably try to relocate to Portland and start figuring out what I’m actually going to do with my degree. So stay tuned!

On first thought, you might not think that monasticism has anything in common with adventure; after all, on one hand it’s guys in robes chanting and on the other it’s navigating uncharted rivers and the like. Nonetheless, I have noticed many parallels, here are a few.

1.) THE SIMPLE LIFE

 Life on the road or in the back country is simple. One does not have a full schedule, countless social obligations, or distracting luxuries and technologies. The food is also simple: one learns to live off oatmeal and noodles, cherishing the occasional treats. It is very freeing and puts things into perspective.

Like travelers and adventurers, Monks are known for their simple ways of life. They don’t really have iPhones, gourmet food, designer products, cars, big houses, or crazy schedules. They often sleep on uncomfortable beds in small rooms, eat simple food, and spend much time in silence and contemplation. This leads away from a sense of entitlement, instead of demanding the daily mocha, a monk will cherish the smallest luxury with detachment. This also helps keep them aware and conscious: instead of rushing about with a constant stream of erratic thoughts and overpowering stimuli, the monk has a simple awareness and a perpetual consciousness of God. The straw bed in the dim cell of a monk is not too different from the sleeping pad in the tent of a backpacker.

2.) SELF-DISCIPLINE

Friedrich Nietzsche believed the morality and spiritual disciplines of Christianity were born of what he termed “negative will to power”. For Nietzsche, the need to exert power was the primary human drive. He thought that Christianity was the religion of people who could not or would not exert power in the traditional sense, so they denied themselves pleasures and underwent hardship to exercise their will to power. Now, I disagree with Nietzsche that the basis of spiritual discipline and morality is will to power; I believe that it is living our lives how God meant us to live them (in harmony with Him, each other, and creation) but he is on to something. We all want to be great, successful, and competent; in other words, will to power is a major human drive (just not the primary one in my opinion). Will to power is therefore present in any arena of human activity: fasting, backpacking, weight lifting, prayer, overcoming temptation, rock climbing, etc.

The exertion of the mystic may be inward or existential exertion, but it is exertion nonetheless. It is interesting to note that monks and spiritual warriors have traditionally been referred to as athletes. This connection is also made by St. Paul in the Bible “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable trophy, but we an imperishable prize. Therefore, I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

Paul wasn’t saying this because he was a masochist or because he thought that pleasure is wrong, but because he is a spirit-builder. Just a body builders must tear muscles to have them rebuilt stronger and deny themselves certain foods and things, so must spirit builders stretch and exert their spiritual muscles and deny themselves things that will hinder their spiritual life. Self-actualization (fulfilling one’s calling, utilizing one’s gifts, and being devoted to a purpose greater than one’s self) is more pleasurable than self-indulgence. Happiness is not eating Cheetohs on a couch watching movies about other peoples’ interesting lives; true happiness involves meaning and purpose, which cannot be achieved apart from sacrifice, discipline, and self-denial. The results of that discipline are sweet though: I may not always enjoy working out, but I never regret it when I’m standing on a peak overlooking a beautiful mountain lake after a strenuous hike. I never regret saying no to sin when I’m standing in awe of what God has done in my life. In the book of Hebrews (12:11), Paul adds “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”

Don’t misunderstand me: self-discipline is NOT the essence of spiritual life. The point of God’s grace and Jesus dying was that we CAN’T do it ourselves. Union with God is the essence of spiritual life. Any attempt of self-discipline alone to bring us to perfection and empowerment will lead to beating ourselves up or hating ourselves. The Eastern Orthodox Church has a word that describes the spiritual life: synergy- God and man working together. Jesus said, “Come to me all who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). He didn’t say I will give you a bunch of stuff to do. Yes, He has adventures, battles, and work for us, but not burnout.

3.) Uncertainty

Adventures usually always contain some element of uncertainty. While exploring mountain ranges, one never knows what is over the next ridge. While hitchhiking, one never knows where he will end up next. This unpredictability keeps life interesting. So it is with spirituality. Unfortunately, many people view Christianity just a set of routines: read bible, say prescribed words, go to church, follow rules, etc. It was not meant to be that way though. If you read any of my hitchhiking journeys, you probably picked up on the spiritual nature of adventures. I never know what’s going to happen when I let the Spirit lead, but it’s always pretty cool! I meet people I’m supposed to meet and end up in random places. In the book of Acts (in the Bible) there are several accounts of the Spirit of God leading the apostles to different areas for meaningful purposes. They usually didn’t know what they were in for.  Not only is walking with God an adventure, but so is knowing Him. Just when I think I have him pinned down a new paradox about his nature comes up or a deeper understanding about His character. These discoveries usually lead to more questions, which lead to more discoveries, which lead to more questions, ad infinitum. The being of God is an ocean that cannot be fully explored even in eternity.

4.) Awe and Wonder

Most of the time when I’m going somewhere, I’m looking for beauty. While the journey is valuable in itself, I long to see peaceful lakes, majestic mountains, bubbling streams, strange plants and animals, and mind blowing skies. The spiritual life is also full of wonder. As I noted in the following point, God is an ocean to be explored, full of hidden treasure. Sometimes I will get a revelation of His majesty that is too sublime for words and the closest experiences I can compare it to are times in nature. I remember one time when I was in Mexico on a mission trip and we were singing songs about the Lord to the Lord on the edge of the Copper Canyon (which is bigger than the Grand Canyon) at night during a lightning storm. In that moment the majesty of God was reflected so much in the natural scene. So not only do encounters with God remind me of nature, more importantly perhaps, encounters with nature remind me of God. Walking by softly bubbling streams on a mossy forest floor, surrounded by massive cedars has moved my heart so much to think of peace, innocence, paradise, and the state in which we humans were meant to live.