07.29.11

Part 2 of the thread

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:41 pm by Administrator

my pastor raised the question of how i envision the identity of the “non-elect”, if i can so surely identify the elect within the intention of God. are the “non-elect” actually “real”? my question to him was two-fold: what is real, and in what way are the elect actually real? if reality subsists in the solidity of individual and discrete human consciousness, then is it possible that none of us are in fact real? i summarize the thread below. succinctly, i wonder if the eternal fate of the elect is to become unified with God-consciousness, while that of the non-elect is to persist as discrete identities (themselves)—able to interact with and in a sense enjoy God, though perpetually as “the other”.

———————————————-

me:

to follow up on where we left things last night, i feel that your
objection to my vision of heaven has less to do with scriptural
precedent than it has to do with your innately modern objection to the
deconstruction of “identity”.

i know that you are focused on personal identity as “singular” and
subsisting in the differentiation between “creator” and “created
things”. but for every metaphor you provide from scripture, i can
also point to metaphors which seem to project unity of consciousness:
the vine and the branches; the head and the body; the building built
upon Christ the cornerstone. in all of these metaphors, God presents
Himself not as one who is distinct from His people but rather as one
who demonstrates His form through His people. for us as well, i
believe it to be arbitrary to adhere to the belief that our
persistence in the afterlife will be defined by self-contained
individual consciousness, as we currently experience it. as i
mentioned last night, Paul seeks to establish a case for identity that
transcends individual consciousness; he himself peers into his soul
and states with joy that he no longer lives but Christ lives in him.
if Heaven is connectedness to God, then where do you draw the line
between connection and unity?

i believe it unnecessary to insist that your identity must be
constituted from your singular sense of consciousness. as an infant
and a toddler identify themselves primarily through relationships, i
think it is quite possible that we in heaven will be released from the
narcissistic, static sense of self, which we inherited as a result of
the Fall. there is no scriptural mandate to configure “the spiritual
body” as anything other than what is contingent upon the identity of
God. to see pantheism at the root of my paradigm is to suggest that
the authority of God is derived from our intrinsic alienation from
Him. nothing, i believe, could be farther from God’s vision for His
people…

Pastor:

As I said last night, you very well could be right. It’s just that I personally don’t see the kind of integration that you apparently do. For example, as I have spoken multiple times about the translation of the phrase “spiritual body” especially in 1 Corinthians 15, the phrase is not meant to mean spiritual, as opposed to physical, rather, opposed to earthly. The Greek word used is that of physical body, but one born of the Spirit of God. So, according to Paul, in the resurrection we are to have physical bodies, but born of the spirit. The historical interpretation of the doctrine of resurrection has consistently rendered it with this understanding- from the very beginning of the Church. I do not doubt that our narcissism and selfish identity will be sanctified in glory, but the notion that there will no longer be a self is highly dubitable from my understanding of Scriptural testimony and church history. For example, how do you read all the texts having to do rewards and reprimands during Judgment? We also have scenes of heaven (certainly using metaphor) yet there seems to be individuation- there are elders, heavenly beings, etc. Names are written in the book of Life. It’s not a huge point of contention for me. I don’t think that we served well by staking too much claim to knowledge of the beyond. Whatever it is, it touches the eternal, that which none in the finite can know or comprehend fully, so I acknowledge that I don’t have any comprehensive knowledge in that area.

07.27.11

Arminius and Calvin: Notes from a Conversation

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:33 pm by Administrator

my pastor has begun a month on doctrinal teachings, and the first week’s discussion focused on the classic tension between “predestination” and “free will”. my pastor declared himself a Wesleyan Arminian and elaborated a case for this theological stance. since the sermon, we’ve exchanged 3 length emails each on the subject. below, i’ve briefly excerpted the thread.

——————————————————

Me:

I’ve thought a great deal about the discussions we had yesterday, and I find myself ultimately struck by one profound irony: as a result of my journey at our church, i have become more of a Calvinist than i was before….

beyond realizing that i have embraced the truths of “TULIP” doctrine, i realize that my deepening commitment to community—and my coincident rejection of self-oriented mystical spirituality—is attributable both to your ministry and to my rediscovery of Calvinist doctrine. specifically, regarding the latter, i’ve come to see that our church is not the place built upon the will and experience of its members; rather, it is the community that perseveres despite all conflicts and struggles because it was foreordained and powerfully called to be “a people”. we (as the broader, transcendent church) belong to God and to one another because we are viewed by Him as a tribe unlike all other tribes; God is deliberate in calling us because He is determined to have us, despite what we are and to the exclusion of all others. will, in all its theoretical forms, has become a shadow of a reality to me.

Pastor:

there are two main philosophical, theological issues that have continually plagued even Calvin, let alone Calvinism: the presence of evil, and the question of agency. Now, the Judeo-Christian tradition has always had problems addressing theodicy; yet, Calvinism (despite their protestations) makes God the author, sustainer, propagator of evil—each, every, and all evil. I can’t find a SINGLE convincing argument to the contrary. Calvin called it a “mystery,” yet, I am not sure if that is where the true mystery must be placed. I also wonder if Calvinism is true, in what sense do human beings have any genuine agency (moral, spiritual)….

But, the bottom line is this. If you find yourself aligning more with Calvinism, and it helps you to love God and others more (remember 1 Tim 1:5!), then I celebrate it. I, however, could not see myself aligning our church with Calvinism no matter how many Reformed people come. They may vote me out of office, and get a new Reformed pastor and that would be fine for me, but I wouldn’t do it.

Me:

Regarding the presence of evil…the distinguishing characteristic of human beings in the created order is not meant to be “will” but rather the experience of grace. it is for this reason that God’s principal joy in human beings is not their ability to turn from evil (repentance); rather, the New Testament proves that repentance is good because it is a prelude to the ultimate good: rebirth of identity, through the transforming reception of grace.

as the human reception of grace is predicated upon the self-awareness of fallenness, the evil that we exhibit and experience is foundational to God’s design for us as a people….

Regarding moral agency… must we have the ability to reject God in order to worship Him? When I reject God, must I not take personal responsibility for that? These are in fact two distinct questions to me. I say yes to the latter, while I do not necessarily believe the former. This is because I do not believe that my “choice” or “will” determines my response to God; rather it is my receipt of grace (involuntary and compelled) which reflects my response to God. Yet, I do take personal responsibility for evil because I understand that it is critical to my experience of grace that my fallen identity be revealed and put to death. Thus, I look at the manifestations of my sinful nature not as the conscious and willing rejection of God but rather as the troubling but very necessary reminder of my ongoing need for grace. I’m taking personal responsibility for my fallenness insofar as I’m continually investing myself in the God-given identity.

Pastor:

I found it curious that you referred to Paul’s writings-particularly on the “two natures.” The plain sense reading of them tells you that he views the condition of regenerate humanity as having two natures (see Col 3:5 and following), and that we are to mortify (”put to death”) our old/earthly nature. And in that discussion, it seems clear to me that Paul assumes that we are responsible for choosing which nature to satisfy/propagate and which to mortify. There is not a battle of “wills” but a battle of OUR will- which one we gratify is up to us (though certainly, the Spirit woos us always). The notion of God predestined us to sin, only then to be given grace, and yet it was still our responsibility- is way too difficult for me to understand. It seems like an inconsistency that I cannot make consistent logically…

Paul teaches that there are consequences for failing to CHOOSE. Look, according to Christian theology, after we get married, we are no longer two, but one (right?). That’s our new identity in our covenant of marriage, yet, each day, each moment, we choose to remain faithful to that covenant. We have an obligation to maintain fidelity….

Finally, nearly all that you have responded with are cases of moral/internal struggle. When we get down to the specifics of truly heinous acts done by human beings- we do not have to get into a litany, we just need to read the newspapers and read our history books- there has always been great difficulty in responding with the idea that God ordained and authored these things. Here, our Jewish brethren can give us great insight. Throughout their theological and intellectual history (as a reflection and response to their own, at times, tragic history), they have consistently maintained that though God is ultimately Sovereign and in control, there is GREAT evil in the world, and YET, God is not the PROPAGATOR of that evil. That’s been a consistent struggle for them, yet, they have maintained that struggle, never giving in to the idea that God “willed” it. “God is light ; in him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).

Me:

God did precipitate human suffering and evil, ultimately out of love for the saints that would emerge from this suffering and evil. though pained and even at points regretful, He has chosen to take responsibility for what He has done by sharing in our experience of death; this death is not a guilt offering but rather a demonstration of total, joyful ownership of the suffering humanity that He has created—and a sign of His commitment to enduring with His people to the last. thus, God’s attitude toward mankind is one characterized by an overriding passion for His people—a passion for which He is willing to subject creation and even Himself to utter frustration.

i feel that if our definition of God’s goodness hinges on His distance from the injustices we perceive, then we will spend our lives compulsively trying to absolve Him of responsibility for our misfortunes. but the God I see in scripture is intimately involved in our misfortunes, even willing them; He is a God who has rejoiced in the massacre of peoples, the ransoming of nations for Israel, the slaying of the proud, and the extinction of the idolatrous. the God that I see in my life is one who has disciplined me harshly, even compelling me toward failure of the hardest kinds. but the reason that He is good in these things is because in hindsight i can see through these demonstrations His commitment to preserve those that He loves. i call Him the God “who takes the death out of my life”. even
as He wills that i suffer and struggle against Him, He wills that i recognize the rebellious nature within myself, so that i might worship as i witness my nature transformed.

Pastor:

TULIP looks good from the “inside.” It doesn’t so much from the “outside.” That’s why I have found that even among self-designated Reformed individuals, they feel a discomfort in the 5 points of Calvinism. Some even describe themselves as “TUIP Calvinists, or “4 and one half point Calvinists.” The fact remains that many “practitioners” of evangelism and pastorate ministry in the Reformed tradition have been at odds with the “thinkers” of the Reformed tradition. Tim Keller and Charles Spurgeon have faced a great deal of criticism for their “open” ministries and preaching. Lastly, as I did in our Q and A, there is in fact an example from history of a society that was culturally “hyper-Calvinistic”- The Puritans. One would be hard pressed to find a more paranoid (in terms of their own salvation), a more works-righteousness orientation, a more judgmental society than they….

Much of the problem of Calvinism is that it purports to know not only the Sovereign God, but also His Sovereign plan! And I think that’s a problem. Why is it that God will NEVER reveal the LAST day? Not even to Jesus! It’s because human beings wouldn’t do well with that knowledge. What if a whole bunch of people started predicting certain end dates, and say one of those dates was in fact the day that Jesus returns. Would it be wise to construct our lives around that person’s prediction?-even if in the end, he or she would be correct? No. The Apostle Paul worked out his salvation with “fear and trembling.” The path to get rid of tension sometimes can lead us down bad places.

07.25.11

the blue people

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:00 pm by Administrator

we’re the ones who didn’t cry
like the rest of your people

and while they carried on,
with processions and sacrifices,

beneath banners and flags
spelled by moments of prophecy,

we were the ones they called
unfaithful and cowardly.

i wonder when you will speak
to us, your thirteenth tribe,

the ones on the outside
uninvited to the communion

and remind us of why
we still believe

07.22.11

rhythms

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:25 pm by Administrator

for nine days over the past couple weeks, my wife and son were out of town. four years ago, i would have been elated by their departure. but over the past two years, this sort of separation has become almost intolerable for me; within a day, i might find myself struggling with intense loneliness and demoralization. to prepare myself for their latest trip, i assigned myself a few ambitious tasks, which i started hitting out the minute that they left.

i assembled a crib and set up the nursery. i emptied out every closet and desk drawer in the house and logically rearranged everything, which completely opened up two closets while generating about eighty pounds of waste. i assembled a den table, found it defective, disassembled it, and repacked it. i completely reorganized the garage, rearranged the kitchen pantry, and packed away about fifty pounds of photos, personal correspondence, and other odds and ends. in the process of all this labor, i strained my neck (it felt like whiplash), but after about twenty hours of dedicated labor over five days, i got it all done.

not only this, but i also found myself more energetic and focused at work and at church. i took my time with things. i cleaned out my office, caught up on emails, stayed late, and talked with people. i stayed late after church to help clean up. i felt no need to go home. in fact, i deliberately avoided going home, to avoid the silence that awaited me there.

in short, i was a machine. day bled into night, the weekdays were undifferentiable from the weekends, and i lost track of my usual rhythms. there were no wasted moments. i rested when i needed to, and i went out when i felt like it.

in the midst of this torrent of self-directed activity, i noticed some interesting things about myself. i needed less sleep. i didn’t need coffee for energy. when i did take a cup of coffee, on a saturday morning without any food, i experienced overwhelming euphoria, as if i’d never had coffee before in my life. i was transformed. the guy with predictable highs and lows over the usual drudgery of a 7-day routine totally disappeared; the man who replaced him was purposeful and energetic.

i was relieved of course when my wife and son got back in last night. but i experienced something unexpected too; i felt a noticeable let-down. the energy and purpose evaporated. i felt myself descend back into a passive, almost fatalistic state of mind. i didn’t realize until this morning that in fact this malaise is my natural state of living. when i’m with my wife and son, living the endless repetition of predictable 7-day cycles, i am reactive, as opposed to creative. in some ways, i am waiting for life to happen to me; and i get bored when the exceeding familiarity of my routines begins to wear me down.

i think that i’m scared of what having a second child will do to me, because more than ever before i think i will be forced to be a man of routines. i will lapse back into a life of constantly reacting to needs—a crying infant, a tired wife, a hungry child, a bill to be paid, a chore to be performed. when i’m out of control and constantly on the defensive, i stop owning my life; i cede control of my life to the elements. i stop caring about what my life looks or feels like. this past week, by cleaning out my house and inventorizing my life, i took ownership of it again. i realized what was out of place. i became interested in it all again; and being interested in my life gave me vigor.

i’m coming to realize that in many ways i lost myself when i got married, and i lost myself even more when i had a child. this is not necessarily a good thing, even though i often rationalize it as such. i’m no less selfish than i was; i’m just selfish in different ways. the question to me is not whether i can regain the passion i once had as a younger man; rather, the question i struggle with is whether the new man i’m becoming will realize a new passion. i want to believe that i’m trading in wonderment to gain a passion for building. but then, the building i have in mind doesn’t happen simply by becoming a spouse, a parent, and a leader. building is creative. it requires intention, it requires passion, and it requires self-awareness. for better or worse, my journey is forcing me to struggle with the way in which i’m changing; it is forcing me to question whether my adaptation to responsibility has in fact been maladaptation.

i wish that i could forget the names for things: the names of days, the names of stages, the names of feelings. rhythms come out of these things; we recognize them as such because we name them as recurring realities. i don’t want my experience with my second child to be anything like my experience with the first. i want to be new; i want to rediscover myself and my life. i want to quit the old reality. i want to be alive. nine days away from my wife and child exposed me for the zombie i have become, trapped as i have been in this life of troubling, ceaseless, and meaningless routines. i want to tear down this prison of a life. i want to take the rubble that remains and rebuild a home that i can live in

07.16.11

outside

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:57 pm by Administrator

after years of speculation, i’m coming to suspect
that there’s really something to it
but it takes a little care.

you have to see it from an angle
like colors in mist,
or dust dancing in light.

your angle, my angle
it’s the same: it takes
a little nakedness.

God gave them clothes
so that they could live with themselves.
for us, it’s the undressing–

and the smell of it, half earth
and musk and whatever else
resides on flesh, or comes of it;

the bareness, and the moment
of fear that we step through,
just a shade of a spirit.

there’s something to it, trust me.
run outside in the middle of the night,
forget the concretion you pretended.

flesh was meant to change,
and to subject us, the ones inside,
to its own autumnal contemplations.

inside, you persist, it’s what you need
to know. inside, it’s what you need
to remember.

up until the very moment you have nothing
you have something. find it,
outside.

07.13.11

mulholland drive

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:14 pm by Administrator

i recently saw mulholland drive for the first time, which raised for me a simple question: with a deliberately nebulous work, does the audience need to know that the writer fully understands his own creation?

i’m not the kind to get hung up on loose ends and confusing plots. with art as with life, it’s up to the audience to detach from preconceptions and follow along inasmuch as following is possible. oftentimes, actions don’t have clear motives, and consequences don’t stem from clear actions. we feel compelled to this level of certitude in life, which is why we create religions, philosophies, and laws; but art of the obscurantist variety often helps to elucidate our machinations. the artist can legitimately argue that the process—and not the inevitable discovery—is the real core of the spiritual journey.

that being said, i wonder if nebulous art can only be legitimized by its audience when they are convinced that the artist has all logical answers pertaining to the creation. for instance, early fans of Piet Mondrian had to ascribe something more to his art than rectangles of color; there was context for what appeared to be very basic, and within that context they could understand how he was deepening self-expression in innovative ways. one can watch Mulholland Drive and come away without any sense of linear plot (as i did) and still be untroubled by this because there is reasonable assurance in the robustness of Lynch’s movie universe.

we are framed in the present by a familiarity with the subconscious (early 20th century) and with the tool of deconstructionism (late 20th century), within which we have learned to accept and even enjoy certain aesthetic constructs derived from intentional disorganization. but i wonder if, in our adaptation to this post-modern milieu, we have merely stopped trusting certitude; i wonder if we have also given up looking for universal meaning.

admittedly, i am a product of this culture, of this generation, and of this philosophy. certitude breeds arrogance; i can agree with this. but nevertheless i seek counterculture that is not predicated simply on obfuscation. eventually, our collective subconscious has to express itself in patent symbols and resonant words, simple things that have the power not only to jar individuals but also to unite them. our grandparents had emblems and flags; our parents had flowers and symbols of world peace; but we, the generation of decided uncertainty, have nothing. our art is Mulholland Drive; it’s circular, but in fact the circle is broken, and the journey is uncertain because our artists are allergic to certitude.

what is left? a return to romanticism? i think that while in fashion we may repeat ourselves, in philosophy and art we tend not to return to anything familiar. this is a frightening age; and i wonder if our search for truth is eliminating the truth as an option, or even as a comfort

07.09.11

the interview

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:09 am by Administrator

among the many fascinating things i’m learning from a mentor in HR is the art of the interview.

today i sat down with a candidate for a critical position we’ve been trying to fill, and as usual it was a last-minute appointment on my schedule that i had to cram into my lunch hour. i was very tempted to cut right to the chase with the sorts of black/white questions that seem to have highest immediate yield: what are you looking for in this position, what do you have to bring to this position, et cetera and so on and so forth. but the words of my mentor were ringing in my mind, and so i forced myself to slow down and reorient myself. an interview, after all, is not about simply extricating data; it is about predicting a fit between the candidate and the role that she is interviewing for. both things must be kept in mind; both things are worth knowing as fullly as possible. and so, i began my interview the way all such interviews begin: with grade school.

our “quick little interview” as it was billed to me ended up going for an hour and a half. it made me late for my first two afternoon patients, and i went without lunch, but that’s what it took for me to get to that crucial point of sufficient understanding. building upon the same set of repetitive questions, applied systematically to successive stages of life experience, i created a mental picture of the candidate’s tendencies, patterns of decision-making, and values. at the end, i knew that this picture was fairly accurate, because when i tested this assessment with a philosophical question of my own design, her response was precisely what i had predicted.

it was then that i realized the power of rigor—and why Brad Smart gets paid $50,000 to make a single assessment of a single man for a single position. when there’s so much on the line, and all of it rides on an individual’s personality and capabilities, you must be able to predict what this person will do with the situation you give him.

and thus i am faced with an irony of a kind. even as i’m growing more proficient at assessing others, i find myself more frustrated than ever by my inability to really understand myself. with every passing year, i am more and more surprised (and dismayed) by what i am. i have a system for judging others; but i have no means of turning my eyes inward, for real self-understanding.

i am, for instance, grieved by my persisting inability to experience durable happiness. i’ve previously chalked this up to clinical depression, but i no longer believe this to be true. i’m just a poor fit in my society. it is rare for me to experience a satisfying sense of connection with other people. even when i have “intimacy” with others, i fail to come away transformed by it. for lack of a better word, i am finding myself less and less compelled by the experiences of other people. and for this reason, i struggle continually with a pervading sense of boredom. when i’m very busy or very involved in my work, i feel it less intensely; but it is always there. the world is not interesting enough for me; and deep down i long to reinvent my society—or to explore other worlds.

i’ve tried to remedy this. i’ve tried medication; i’ve tried meditation. i’ve gambled, gamed, and pushed myself to the edge. i’ve looked for thrill, and here and there i’ve found it. i’ve invested myself in my marriage, and i’ve poured myself into church, community, and art. but in every area, there is a space that opens, and there is something missing. on the other side of the moral boundary, i might have turned into a compulsive gambler or a womanizer by now, but deep down i have resolved that shame is worse than boredom. i have settled into a life bounded by fears of various kinds, and though it is my nature to fling myself against those boundaries, i have decided that life is defined by those boundaries. death, for instance, is senseless to me, but as a boundary, it delimits life, lending meaning to something that is otherwise meaningless.

to know myself, i have asked myself the usual questions. what are my patterns? what characterizes my relationships? what do i do when i experience failure, or success? in what situations do i truly feel alive? when i interview myself, i feel that i’m facing the most elusive man i have ever known. he gives me abstract answers, and he avoids eye contact. i ask for specifics and results, and he gaves me vague impressions and projections. i ask him what he wants, and he talks about how he cannot distinguish between want, self-deception, self-contrivance, and simple diversion any longer. i realize when i look at this man that he is not trying to be evasive; he is simply not present. he is a man halfway between worlds, or he is one who has grown weary of sanity. i will never get a straight answer out of him. and i believe that he, for his part, will never believe that a straight answer is a true one.

i have interviewed poorly for life. perhaps this is why i have not been granted a fuller one. but i loathe to relegate life to the realm of subjective experience. God, after all, does not grant happiness. He grants identity; and happiness is what we manufacture out of this identity. God has granted me an identity of dark facets, obscured even to myself. i hope, as i have always hoped, that when a test of sufficient force has cut down my facade, then something of a hard jewel will emerge, not merely revealed in the light but able to focus it in pleasurable ways. but for now, i understand that i have been given a secret name, and a secret self, and try as i might, i continue to be opaque, closeted from view. i experience feelings like one producing sweat in the still of night; i lie awake, imagining that i must also be breathing

07.05.11

The idiosyncrasies of the people

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:08 pm by Administrator

it never fails to surprise me how little i know myself. i surprise myself all the time. for instance, my wife’s family got together for 3 days at a small beach house in newport for the july 4th weekend. i was enjoying myself sufficiently for about 2.9 of those days. and then, quite suddenly, i had a sudden and powerful impulse to go home. i’d already planned on leaving before dinner on Monday, but my sense of urgency in the moment was very striking. and when family members tried to detain me a bit longer (”you have to just try this soup”, or “maybe i want to catch a ride with you”), i panicked and ran. i bolted out the back door, sprinted to my car, and literally burned rubber on my way out the parking lot. one moment, i’d been happily kicking back in a crowded 4-room apartment with a beer and fifteen other people. the next moment, i was almost sick to my stomach with a need to beat the post-fireworks traffic.

i didn’t realize until i hit open highway how much i’d really wanted space and time to myself all along.

i still feel, say, and do things that strike me as immature or unexplainably impulsive all the time. but as time goes on, i’m beginning to realize how these moments are really rooted in what i am. they’re only as baffling as i’m unwilling to understand how i’m built. i do need my own space, for at least an hour day. i do need to go out every week, preferably to try something new, because i need ongoing inspiration in order to feel engaged in life. i have to exercise often and very hard, because i can’t shut off my constant rumination and processing any other way. left unchecked, that ceaseless thinking starts to break down my body and my mind.

i have rhythms like this, idiosyncratic and fastidious, and no matter how structured my environments are, i need to work these rhythms into my life space. my capacity to adapt is limited by the absolute necessity of these rhythms. i often like to think of myself as one who can produce or contribute in any number of arenas, but in fact this is not true. i’m a difficult piece to fit into just about any community. i rely so much on God to put me in the right place and with the right people, because left to my own devices, i generally fall prey to the isolating tendencies that also make me critical and hypersensitive.

i realized that God has not shaped me over these past few years by altering my rhythms. in fact, he has done the opposite: he has made my spiritual and psychological needs more intense and more apparent to me. He has made me more conscious of situations in which i do not “fit”; and conversely, the situations in which i have come to fit nicely have become significantly more valuable to me. i appreciate it that much more now when i’m feeling connection with groups of people, whether socially or at work. to me, it attests to divine intentionality. it heightens my sense of mission for the communities that do connect me to others.

i find that the men of God in scripture have a few interesting qualities that seem to commonly define them. they have identities rooted in peoplehood; they experience humiliation and failure which tests their identities; and the testing of their identities inspires them to migrate, whether geographically or across sociocultural boundaries. for these men, the testing that drives each of them through this stereotyped journey is derived from troubling idiosyncrasies—qualities that we would think of as unusual and even disadvantageous. for Abraham, it was barrenness—and perhaps profound, enduring sorrow about the lack of a child. for Jacob, it was jealous ambition for his older brother’s entitlements. for Joseph, it was the shameless dreams of personal greatness that separated him from his siblings. for Moses, it was a suppressed identity and a murderous passion for justice. for Paul, it was fanatical zeal for the Law. these qualities rooted these men in a certain concept of community, and these same traits set these men up for humiliation of a spectacular variety. but the intensity of these idiosyncratic qualities was not snuffed out by their failures; rather, it was redirected down surprising and fruitful paths designated solely by God.

i wonder if we are not people implanted with a powerful impetus, one which is meant to drive us toward redemption via personal extinction. instead of bewailing our impulses and energies, and instead of striving toward equanimity and peaceability, i wonder if we should more often make it our goal to see the purpose in how our idiosyncrasies inform the journey that God has designed for us. for many years, i’ve tried to make myself one who is consummately tolerant, but it is in fact my narcissistic tendencies that i must credit for driving me into the sorts of quandaries and humiliations that have shaped my emerging concept of the church. i still press for perfection of a certain aesthetic and theoretical kind, but increasingly i see that longing driving me into community and to broader ends, rather than alienating me as it once did.

perhaps there are qualities that are morally “wrong” in a man, but with time i’m having trouble identifying them. i find myself often meditating on the idea that much of what we observe in one another is neither right nor wrong; it just “is”. the questions of morality and meaning are not about the righteousness of our tendencies; they are about what these tendencies compel us to create with one another.

07.01.11

notes to self: life stages

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:25 pm by Administrator

lately i’ve begun to think more critically about how our culture structures and presents life stages, through the lens of Western modernity. i might speculate that a “dominant paradigm” might look something like this, from one perspective:

0-18: Pre-adulthood
CHARACTERISTICS: prohibited from full-time employment; mandatory financial dependency; mandatory classroom education
OBJECTIVES: ability to integrate into basic legal, logistical, and cultural infrastructures

19-30: Extended adolescence/Early adulthood
CHARACTERISTICS: geographical and social mobility; diverse living arrangements; optional advanced schooling
OBJECTIVES: identification of one’s social niche, financial self-sufficiency

30-55: Adulthood
CHARACTERISTICS: gravitation toward contractual living arrangements (i.e. marriage, civil union); focus on career development
OBJECTIVES: long-term productivity, evidenced by material contributions to society and to one’s nuclear family

56-70: Advanced Adulthood
CHARACTERISTICS: mid-life crisis, shift in career goals, focus on legacy
OBJECTIVES: transition away from career, preparation for financially self-sufficient retirement

71-death: Senescence
CHARACTERISTICS: diverse living arrangements, increasing reliance on healthcare and pension systems, restricted social mobility
OBJECTIVES: prolongation of life, maintenance of physical self-sufficiency

key words that i incorporated into my sense of society’s overarching prerogatives are “self-sufficiency” and “mobility”. what separates these stages are the extent of one’s social/financial dependency and one’s capacity to move between sociocultural enclaves. i think the synthesis reflects my belief that American society is not merely individualistic but also consumed with personal productivity. in my scheme, the peak of one’s life occurs in adulthood, at the maximal convergence of one’s abilities and physical capabilities. the stages that transpire over “late adulthood” and beyond comprise a nebulous denouement, mainly because American society views the post-career life as generally unproductive, if not reducible to a steady descent into both social and physical death.

part of my deep angst and protest is derived from a long-standing and profound unease with life structures such as this, which i feel have been presented to me as a justification for the institutionalization i have subjected myself to. i’ve previously written about how i feel phase-delayed, if not phase-less. more fundamentally though, i’m wondering if self-sufficiency and social mobility increasingly don’t capture the essence of the life stages that i am embarking on.

i might offer a different view, perhaps a bit Freudian in its emphasis on sexualization’s role in identification:

0-12: Childhood
CHARACTERISTICS: pre-pubescent, focused on hierarchical relationships
OBJECTIVES: ability to integrate into basic legal, logistical, and cultural infrastructures

12-25: Adolescence
CHARACTERISTICS: early sexualization; focused on peer relationships, attraction, and influence
OBJECTIVES: establishing a primitive sense of social identity by conforming to and also resisting norms of sexual behavior

26-40: Late Adolescence
CHARACTERISTICS: adaptive sexualization; focused on conquest and ownership
OBJECTIVES: deriving more concrete definitions for social standing and responsibility based on incipient concepts of social identity

41-65: Adulthood
CHARACTERISTICS: sublimated sexuality, as evidenced by reinforcement of community structures or conscious revision of social structures
OBJECTIVES: refining one’s core values and beliefs through praxis and analysis

66-onwards: Advanced Adulthood
CHARACTERISTICS: transcendent sexuality, enacted through depersonalization
OBJECTIVES: passing on the core values and beliefs that are confirmed; preparing one’s people for the times ahead

i really believe that with regard to self-reflection and social transformation, Western societies have things upside-down. we rely on our adolescents and young adults to critique the structures we have built. while this is necessary, this sort of discourse should rightly be initiated by those in advanced adulthood. yet, because we marginalize the elderly, we lose our greatest asset in our efforts to reveal our spirituality through our social evolution. our self-critique, derived as it is from the basic sexual energies of our youth, is fixated on disruption and conquest rather than on construction and progression. we create a society that is perpetually begging to be revolutionized or destroyed. we create a society in which the old men cannot dream, as they were meant to dream.