Thursday, February 24, 2011


Jesus walked this lonesome valley
He had to walk it by himself
Oh, nobody else could walk it for him
He had to walk it by himself

Sometimes when I'm under a lot of stress, I desperately want someone to notice and rescue me. Not just anyone, though. Some person I am particularly fond of. But then when I finally do get that person's attention, and they're all concerned and kind, just like I had hoped, it turns out not to be the solution I was looking for. And then I feel very lonely, indeed.

After reaching that point of despair ("Oh God, no one can help me, after all! I'm doomed!") other defense mechanisms set in. Most notably, drowsiness. At such times, I can sleep 10, 12, even 14 hours per day.

I hate wasting so much of the day, but sleep can have such a wonderful, mysterious restorative power. I sometimes find in dreams the most intense and ineffable beauty. I have caught glimpses of heaven which leave me upon waking in a peculiarly vulnerable state. One might call them dreams from which one truly awakens--dreams that open one's eyes to the radiant glory of reality which is so often hidden.

I like to think of Abraham, sleeping as God cuts the covenant with him. And Adam, snoring away while God creates the woman from his side. And the disciples, asleep during the crucial hour in Gethsemane. Someone recently said (I forget who), in the Jewish reckoning, where the day begins at sundown, about the first thing you do each day is go to sleep. God is at work whilst we slumber and sleep.

All that being said, however, I think maybe next time I feel like sleeping 14 hrs. straight I will try to wake myself up with some sort of caffeine. You know, that never occurred to me until just now ...

Friday, February 11, 2011

Florence: first impressions

We arrived in Florence yesterday (that's me and my mother, for those who aren't aware). The only other countries I've visited before are Canada (which is pretty much like the U.S. but with funny road signs) and Mexico. Coming back from a month in Guadalajara, I was so shocked in the hours after getting off the plane by how grey and colorless everything looked. I don't know about all of Mexico, but at least the parts I've been to, they sure like bright colors. Well. Getting off the plane in Florence, I had a similar feeling: "Oh my gosh, this place is even more drab and colorless than the U.S.!"

We arrived at our B&B utterly exhausted, of course, but it was 4pm (not a good time for a nap) so I went for a walk to familiarize myself with the neighborhood. Holy freakin' cow. There are incredible, and I mean, included-in-Gardner's-friggin'-Art Through the Ages-famous statues and buildings everywhere. The Duomo is unbelievable. Gazing at it, I understood the term "Wonders of the World." Photos do it no justice whatsoever. I wish I was a painter so I could capture the--the--I don't even know how to describe it. Maybe I will write a poem about it or something.

But anyway, getting back to the colorlessness: I have blogged before about my theory that the eye/brain in some sense has to choose between processing color and processing contrast. That would be why the great old black and white movies are ruined by colorization: it detracts from the subtlties of contrast between light and darkness. And so I thought, perhaps that is why Florence is so drab: it's all about statues and edifices whose beauty is in the complexity and subtlety of form and shape. If there was more color, you wouldn't see the shadows as clearly, so you wouldn't see the shape as well.

The Duomo, though. Oh my God, the Duomo. It has color--quiet colors--light green and pink marble. Again, I am at a loss for words to decribe the astounding beauty of that magnificent structure. Anyway, those were some first impressions. I will probably write more later ...

Friday, February 4, 2011

Evangelical at Heart

These days I find myself moving between the world of Fuller, where most of the people I know are firmly on the conservative end of the spectrum, and Immanuel Pres., a more progressive community where I’m doing an internship. It was a bit disorienting at first. Sometimes I don’t know which group I love more—evangelicals or liberals. Other times I don’t know whom I find more frustrating. I don’t strongly identify myself with either camp, but I think in this post my true colors come out.

Someone at my “liberal church” said that he has felt closer to God reading Eckhart Tolle's A New Earth than reading the Bible. That definitely set off the heresy alarm, my first thought being, “Eckhart Tolle! OH NO! I must do anything I can to keep this man from slipping into a horrid abyss of wrong-headed thinking!” Not that I know much about Eckhart Tolle—but in spite of my own longings for a mystic communion with God, I am very wary of that path, as it is well known that mystics tend away from orthodoxy.

I guess I really am evangelical at heart: I see the Bible as the necessary anchor and foundation of theology because it holds objective truth. And if subjective experience is leading someone away from the truth as revealed in scripture, I would have to label that subjective experience as demonic, not divine.

The problem with mysticism is that if you’re not careful (and I think you can be—as Thomas Aquinas[!]—but if you’re not) it becomes merely a journey inward, where there is no way of correcting one’s own biases and blind spots. I think it is no coincidence that this guy who likes Tolle so much also was complaining just before about how he disagrees with Immanuel’s focus on social justice issues. He would rather the church focused on God, and the Bible, and improving oneself. Perhaps if he was spending more time reading the Bible and less with Eckhart Tolle, he would see that social justice is very near to the heart of the gospel message.

When people just believe whatever “feels right,” whatever they find “inspiring,” whatever gives them a subjective experience of closeness to God, they cease to be honest seekers of the truth. Truth is objective. Objective reality has the ability to challenge us, to confront us, to show us when we are wrong.

As soon as the mystic blasphemously declares, “I and the Father are one,” she can no longer encounter God as Other. When the mystic proclaims himself divine, he loses the ability to learn from God, to hear God’s voice as distinct from his own. Thinking he is perfect jus t as he is, he cannot repent of the evil that still exists within him. Feeling that all of the universe is as it should be, she sees no reason to fight against injustice.

The Bible is in some ways hard to understand precisely because it is a witness to the objective facts of God’s intervention in history. Because of the historical nature of revelation, we have in scripture a source of objective truth. That is why we need to trust in scripture before our own feelings, so that we can remain open to being transformed by a God whose ways are higher than our ways.

P.S. A note on Eckhart Tolle:
As I said, I don’t know much about him, but I tried looking him up online to see what I could learn. His website is nothing but an advertisement. I am extremely skeptical about the “enlightenment” of any person who refuses to share their supposedly wonderful teachings for free and instead uses their renown to make money.