Archive for June, 2007

A pagan’s prayer

Maynard Keenan of Tool and A Perfect Circle is, in my mind, one of the best lyricists today. He always has a real point to make and, even though I don’t always square with him on those points, I respect that he seems to have thought through what he’s saying, and consistently aims at bettering the world through his music. These lyrics are from the song “Gravity” – the last song off of APC’s Thirteenth Step album. Enjoy.

“Gravity”

Lost again
Broken and weary
Unable to find my way
Tail in hand
Dizzy and clearly unable to
Just let this go

I am surrendering to gravity and the unknown
Catch me
Heal me
Lift me back up to the sun
I choose to live

I fell again
Like a baby, unable to stand on my own.
Tail in hand,
Dizzy and clearly unable to just let this go

High and surrendering to the gravity and the unknown
Catch me
Heal me
Lift me back up to the sun
I choose to live. I choose to live. I choose to live.

Catch me
Heal me
Lift me back up to the sun
Help me survive the bottom

Calm these hands
Before they snare another pill
And drive another nail
Down another needy hole
Please release me

I am surrendering to the gravity and the unknown
Catch me
Heal me
Lift me back up to the sun
I choose to live, I choose to live

So often I wonder to whom such songs are sung.

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Being "childish"

It is a great mistake to think of every trait that a child has as a childish trait, and to then take the opposite of that trait and consider it an adult trait, and to then strive for it. This is because many of the traits children possess aren’t just specific to children, but are traits natural in all humans. Often times we adopt this mentality and think of the emotional honesty, strong curiosity, love of play, and simplicity of children as “childish” traits that will be easily extinguished by the passage of time, and replaced by the more “grown up” traits of emotional guardedness, aversion to inquisitiveness, disdain for play/devotion to labor, and complexity of life. When we find those “childish” traits peskily persisting in ourselves or others we react with embarassment, annoyance, or anger and move to stomp them out, opting for their “adult” opposites. This leaves us constantly grasping – striving to conform to an unrealistic, unattainable, and inhuman picture of the mature person. We should see the move toward maturity and adulthood as the process of becoming more human, not more austere, complex, boring, etc. This is exactly the nature of maturity in every other usage of the word – the movement toward being a more perfect instance of whatever you are. A caterpillar matures into what it is meant to be all along, and this requires change, but not one so drastic as we see it, where we become the exact opposite of all that we were. In many ways children are more human than adults. Jesus hit on this, remember?

Spend time thinking on the way children behave. Which traits, if adopted, would bring us closer to being human, Christlike, real?

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Populated Images

There’s a distinction in philosophy between two types of seeing. The two types are properly called “seeing that” and “seeing as”. It’s a tricky one for me to understand sometimes, but I think I have it right here, and if not then this is a new distinction that I’m making and I should be made famous for it. “Seeing that” is seeing the bare, uninterpreted elements of a situation – for instance, a woman noticing that there happens to be a red smeared stain on the collar of her husband’s shirt. “Seeing as” is moving from the bare, material elements of a situation to an interpretation of those elements – in this situation the woman interprets that red stain as a living symbol of the infidelity of her husband, confirmation that her thighs are too fat (as she had suspected) rendering her unattractive, the sign of the impending doom of her marriage, family, and whole life, etc.

Now we see the world in these two ways all the time. Our eyes report the world to us in a series of dry, vacuous shapes and colors, and our minds are left to fill those images with meaning. This process somehow instantly transforms the image of a person’s body into “jim” (which could trigger fear and anxiety if jim is our abusive stepfather, or joy if jim is a long lost friend, though either way, jim is the same visual image).

The practical consideration I want to bring up here is that this process of “seeing as” has a pretty drastic impact on the way we live. Seeing as is our mind impregnating every image with some value (or de-valuing), and often times we get it wrong. Seeing as is the bridge between our worldview and our world.

Martin Luther said that the man knocking on the brothel door is searching for God. Ecclesiastes says that God has set eternity in our heart. Such statements correct a common misconception that the Christian makes about the world – the mistake of thinking that unspiritual people aren’t concerned with God. They are. Every person has a natural desire to find, and continually enjoy The Great Thing. Everyone feels that desire, no matter what, and our value systems play a role here. [A value system, here, means a sort of list in your mind of everything, and how valuable it is to you; everyone has one]. The world tries to guide us in developing this system. It constantly sells us things as “the big thing you need”, The Great Thing that you’ve been looking for. Most often, that’s sex or food or something.

Buying into a false value system ultimately will construe our view and EXPERIENCE of reality, since our value system determines how we see things. The normal UAB frat-boy value system will likely see sex as The Great Thing that sits at the top, and will thus cause him to see women as (“see as”) mere opportunities for getting that great thing he needs. The glutton’s value system seats food at the top (seeing it as the great thing he needs), and so he constantly thinks he craves it, but it never satisfies. We always feel this need for some great thing, and we can see how this need, coupled with a false, worldly idea of what that great, all-satidfying thing is, can lead to the total devastation of a life; a life consumed by constant chasing after something that will never satisfy, fueled by the false notion that that thing is truly great, that that thing really corresponds to the Great Need we all have.

Value System —“seeing as” implants meaning into the images—–> Populated Images / Interpreted World

So we are left, when we adopt a false value sytem, seeing the world in a very (literally) insane way. The frat boy sees every passing girl as a lost chance at the truly blessed life, and every approaching girl as an opportunity to be had, porn becomes a near approximation of blessedness, and women are emptied of their persons to be filled with a value that is only god’s.

Many girls seem to fall as equal victims. Being beautiful is often seen as the blessed life, The Great Thing. Every glance in the mirror is somewhere between devestating or exulting (probably the former). Magazines, to the women in our culture, aren’t seen as giving mere advice on how to reduce the physical mass and surface are of the tissue surrounding the femur; they peddle promises of being beautiful, lovable, worthwhile.

Thank God that he has built in these categories of terrible things, bad things, neutral things, good things, great things, and The Great Thing that make us squirm at encountering true evil and constantly thirst for true greaness in our lives, otherwise we would be hopeless, for we would never search, and even if we were shown God himself, we would walk away without a care. So, armed with knowledge of the world, ourselves, and God, let us ask “I am seeing this, but what am I seeing it as? And, what should I see it as?” So much pain, frustration, false hope, and fear are generated there when instead we should often times see light, life, joy, Christlike sorrow, or hope.

“Consider it all joy then whenever you face trials of any kind” – James “saw as” a bit differently than most. God bless.

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Mary Poppins Syndrome (Part I)

I’ve talked this thought through with a few friends probably a dozen times, but this is the place where it all congeals, so here is a (hopefully) brief overview of a psycho-cultural phenomenon that I have not-so-lovingly dubbed the Mary Poppins Syndrome. The Mary Poppins Syndrome is probably one of the most ubiquitous psychoses in history, and is certainly the predominant insanities in the west. To understand just what goes on in the mind of a victim of MPS, it will help to understand its name.

In 1964, Warner Brothers dished out the film, which was initially a total flop, but eventually gained massive popularity with young crowds because of its fantastic and congenial tone. Under a literary analysis, the movie, to me, turns out to be pretty unique. One uniqueness is that, unlike most movies (even most children’s movies), as far as I remember, the children face no real conflict, save for the excessive frugality and emotional unavailability of their father, there is no interesting tragedy or antagony going on in the film. The children are, at worst, bored and feeling a little distanced from their father, and certainly a bit confused by their asymmetrical family unit (though it’s not all that asymmetrical since Mary functions as a mother figure). Either way, the plight of the protagonists is certainly not the element of the film that grips the viewer. What endears the viewer to the story seems to be the totally unexplained, vertigo-inducing surrealism of the film that pops up when Mary, using whatever mysterious, reality-warping powers she has, pulls off the incredible, or transports the characters to a (to me, hellish) world of cartoonery where the characters react with euphoric delight instead of the mind-fracturing horror that any normal person would react to.

Needless to say, I don’t at all find the film endearing, or interesting as anything other than an instance of egregous art, and a paradigm for understanding the effect modern film has on us. It’s this second point that is important to me so, before I spell out just what I think is going on with MPS, I will foreshadow it with a simple consideration: following the release of the film, there was a significant increace in hospital visits involving children attempting to fly off their rooftops using umbrellas, a’ la Mary Poppins.

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A thought on sorrow, jealousy, despair, and other emotions.

It occurred to me tonight that I (and I assume other people as well, lest I be a total anomaly) am often plagued with despair that centers on my not having something that I want or feel that I need very badly. That despair will be exacerbated in the event that I encounter someone who has that thing that I do not have. I say I despair over this, instead of saying I sorrow over this, because I think the difference between those two is that someone sorrows and can still hope for better or work toward alleviating the problem, but, when a person sees no hope of ever getting out of where they are, that is not merely sorrow, but despair.

Again, I imagine that I am not alone in ocassionally feeling this, so if you and I find common ground in this experience, you might well find this thought helpful. It occurred to me about four and a half minutes ago, and I’m almost ashamed to be proud of it because it’s one of those things that you think of and then go “how did I MISS that?!”, one of those things that isn’t really a revelation, because you’ve known it all along, but is an epiphany because you may have never made the connection between it and some other important thing. Here it is:

Not every desire you have is a good desire.

Most every self-conscious person would readily admit that. Actually this realization is absolutely essential for self-betterment. Our desires are the singluar causes for all of our choices, so apart from admitting that our desires aren’t always good, we have no reason to think our choices will ever be bad, or that we should be better people (or even can be better people).

But think about the fact that at least some of our desires are not legitimate, sensible, or morally good. Think about it in relation to jealousy or despair. Every negative emotion is rooted in a percieved sense of loss. Every negative emotion is a loss-emotion in some respect, either based on some actual loss (say of money or a loved one), or a loss of something that was anticipated with gladness (like when a child is told they are going to take a trip to a theme park, but their parents back out at the last minute), or some other (possibly illusory) loss.

Sorrow occurs in almost every case when there is loss. Sometimes the sorrow makes room for hope as we build toward healing, or some actual solution to the problem, and other times the sorrow turns into despair – when we fail to see a way out of the bad. Despair then either eats us alive and kills our souls, is repressed and covered over with smiles and turns us into mannequines, or is simply accepted and makes us apathetic since we feel like we can’t do anything.

What if, though, there is another solution hidden in the above realization? Our way of life is historically rooted in the satanic concept called the American Dream, which says we should be assertive, and self-made – taking life by the horns and making the world conform to our desires. This sort of mindset makes ample room for despair when we encounter a situation that we have little control over and is unpleasant to us.

But what if we foisted the idea that we should always get our way? We have a great reason to do that – if we believe that what we want isn’t always what is good, then we SHOULDN’T always get what we want. It would actually be best if we got what we hate, fear, or find unpleasant in those situations where what we want is evil, unwise, or illegitimate. In these situations it is useless, – or worse – evil for us to try to seek after what we want. In significant situations where we find ourselves displesed we should then ask what thwarted desire lies behind our displeasure, and whether that desire is legit, wise, and good. It has been a REAL surprise to find the dark, twisted, stunningly evil desires that lurk around in the shadows of my soul.

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