signs and wonders, part 3

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:34 pm by Administrator

do not ask me to do what would impress you, God said. tell me what your people need, and i will give to it them.

“who are my people?” i thought to myself. “how can i know what they need, if i am not sure of who they are?” so i meditated on this, for a while.

i said this to God: my people are a young people. they have not experienced much of the Spirit, nor have they seen signs and wonders. but they are ready and willing to know you, El Shaddai the God Almighty. they need your simple command to take what has been promised to them, and they will obey.

i say, command us God to obey you wholeheartedly, and to be a people that bring you great pleasure. if you command us to be alive, then we will live. if you command us to be great among other peoples, then we will be great for the glory of God. make us what you yearn for us to be, and we will be found in that yearning, for all time.


signs and wonders, part 2

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:22 pm by Administrator

why is it that God tantalizes us with stories of His awesome power, and then He lets us stew in this postmodern wasteland? why does He permit us ambition and desire, but only He Himself calls the shots on the eras and times for His great revelations? why do we pray for the improbable, when all He has shown us is the probable? it makes me angry, because i feel that the only place for me in His universe is a passive place. i know not where or when He will show up, and as such there is barely any footing for a real relationship. even in my own life, God has spoken to me when He feels like it. and there are those terrible terrible long stretches when i seem to hear nothing from him—nothing at all.

i feel angry at the helplessness! why can’t we know the times and places for miracles? why can’t we count on God in any real way for any real thing? why must we constantly make excuses for His silence and invisibility, to others and even to ourselves? is not so much of our religion a grand exercise in self-comfort, as we despair in the loneliness that comes before death?

it seems that every time i feel i need something from God–really need it–i get angry in my prayers. there is an anger at the possibility that God will not answer the prayer the way i need it to be answered. there is an anger at the unknowing and helplessness that i am placed in. there is an anger about the dynamic of power that puts me in a place of total ignorance, regarding what God wishes to do in my life and on my behalf.

anger for me is the flip side of desire. at this point, i cannot content myself with the probable—a communal prayer lifted, a transient joy at experiencing unity in spirit, a gradual but crushing denouement as we find our prayers either unanswered or answered in the most circuitous of manners. and yet i know this irony: that God Himself authors the probable, such that it is probable.

i clamor for the improbable. and the prayer for the improbable provokes my doubt, and my doubt provokes my self-loathing, and my self-loathing provokes me to reject God. i recognize that this is my process; this is how i ask for something that i know i do not deserve, despite how desperately i desire it.

i think that i liken myself to the hemorrhaging woman. in moments like this, i do not think of God as one who will comfort or even recognize me. i have to take life from Him, the insignificant man that i am. and so i fight through the crowd, and i see Him pass me by, totally unaware of my presence. i tear through that last shred of space separating me from Him, and i grab hold of just the corner of His robe. i think to myself, “if i can just hold onto a piece of Him, even if He knows me not, then i will have life.” and i hold onto that corner of the robe, and i refuse to let go of it, even if it will tear the clothing from His body, because His favor is the breath that i breathe, and i cannot live without it.

i am like Jacob, who would not release his hold on the angel. i am like the bleeding woman. i am like David, praying the desperate prayer for the child destined to die. i cannot be helpless and passive in the face of my desire. God has to give this to me; i will not be contented with anything less. the thing i want is for Him to be manifest in miracles, in the here and now, for our people. and though we are insignificant and small, i have to believe that God will pass by, just close enough, that we can seize onto Him, even if it costs us everything

signs and wonders

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:27 am by Administrator

over the years, i have been uncomfortable and unwilling to participate in prayers for miracles. it’s had nothing to do with desire, per se. i’ve wanted so badly for friends and family members to experience miraculous deliverance from various ailments and struggles, and i’ve prayed earnest, heartfelt prayers for these things. but deep down, i never felt resonance with the Spirit in these prayers. and in these situations, i never ended up experiencing the outcome that i prayed for.

i prayed those prayers because i was asked by others to pray those prayers. i never felt a personal prompting or motivation to pray for these things, even as much as i personally desired for the healings and miraculous works. my resistance had nothing to do with whether i believed God could do these things; rather, i think that in these situations my intuition told me that God had no intention to enact the requested miracles.

one example i recall is when a friend of mine was dying of a rare neurological disorder. he was young and newly married. it was nothing less than a tragedy. one of his friends called upon us to pray earnestly for a miraculous healing. he exhorted us ferociously, and in his impassioned plea i could sense the belief beneath the emotion: that God would deliver our friend if we truly and deeply desired this. in other words, the power and passion of our prayers had the ability to influence God in His decision regarding the life of our friend.

i prayed for my friend, out of grief but also out of obligation. inside, i struggled terribly. and the more i prayed, the angrier i got. it was not anger against anything or anyone in particular. it was anger about my friend’s coma and his suffering family. it was anger at his friend, for forcing me to do something i did not believe in. it was anger at God, for allowing such suffering. while outwardly i prayed for my friend’s miraculous awakening from coma, inside i began to wish a seditious wish: that my friend would die quickly and without pain. and when he did finally pass away, after many months of momentary hopes and false signs of recovery, i was relieved.

after he died, i vowed never again to pray for a miracle—unless i felt prompted to that prayer, by the Spirit working through my intuition.

for years, i have reflected on that time. did we have a right to claim influence over God’s deliberations? did we have the right to ask for a specific sign of His faithfulness to us? did it displease God to be perceived as an on-call miracle-worker?

but my conclusion is this: God is never displeased when we pray for the deliverance of our people. though He wishes to be understood as something greater than the sum of his miraculous works, He does not disparage those who seek Him out for His power. when He withholds Himself from delivering a miraculous sign, it is not necessarily because He finds something lacking in the desire or the attitude of the one who prays for it. it’s because God’s principal desire is for the redemption of the created order; it is because He strongly desires justice, healing, and restoration of the most profound and enduring kind. everything God does and does not do is purposeful in compelling this redemption. this redemptive process is not constructed from a whim; rather, it demands God’s total commitment, to the point of His consumption. Christ Himself, though He wished for deliverance from His earthly fate, recognized that this redemptive process required of Him an obedience to the point of death; and thus even Christ was restrained from personal desire, in the interests of true love.

when a sign is manifest, it’s a purposeful thing. when God does something which defies the rules of the nature He created, it is a purposeful thing. and the purpose is not our gladness. the purpose is for the restoration of everything that has been corrupted by sin. the purpose is for the justice, peace, and salvation that we also crave when we share the mind of God.

here is the thing i have been challenged to remember, time and time again. for every good thing i desire, God has greater desire. for every tragedy i mourn, God wrestles with a deeper grief. and for every life lost, the only one who knows that life in every intimate detail is the God who created him; His brokenness at our deaths cannot be described. when it comes to desire, there is no surpassing of God; and when He is impressed with our passion, it is only because our passion resonates with His even greater passion.

in this truth, i believe, is the reason why every now and then God does call us to participate in a divine work that is unusual. because when God does something that is both broadly purposeful and imminently desirable, He wants us to share in that experience as fully as possible. He compels us to anticipate such a thing; He commands us to prepare ourselves for this thing. He demands of us a fasting, a desiring—a prayer no less—because He wishes us to share that rare moment of profound pleasure with Him. when we are called to pray for miracles, it is because God has committed Himself to that work, and it is because God requires us, His people, to be fully invested in it, as our act of worship.

my church is anticipating something of a sign. no one has asked me to pray for a miracle. but i feel anxious about it. and beyond anxiety, i feel that a certain yearning within me, long suppressed, is awakening around this promise of a miracle. the more i pray about it, the less i wrestle with the question of what God will or will not do, and the more i feel called to prepare myself for an incredible blessing. i do not pray for the purpose of hastening the miracle, or for the purpose of convincing God to do what i hope He will do. i pray, i realize, because i believe that the miracle is already upon us, and i pray because i want to experience the pleasure of it wholeheartedly. it is not often that we are given an open door to something that is so obviously delightful. but my intuition tells me a door has been opened, and i find myself in prayer so intently and deeply because i know that it is time for me to go through it


hannah arendt, national grieving, and imagining utopia

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:30 pm by Administrator

i watched the movie hannah arendt last night. it was one of those rare experiences for me in which i felt gripped not by the plot or the characters of the movie but rather by the ideas presented through its narrative. specifically, i was compelled by Arendt’s assessment of Eichmann and the way in which her ideas alienated her from others. the narrative could have done much more to probe into the roots of Arendt’s psychology and motivations, but perhaps it was deliberately restrained in this regard. in any case, the movie was to me about the life of a philosopher, rather than an exploration of evil.

something that resonated very powerfully with me was Arendt’s need to understand Eichmann apart from what was projected onto him by his victims. her insistence on his “banality” strikes me as vital. it was a logical strand that enabled her to do something more than indict the man; it was a lens that empowered her to comment on the universal truths about social evils. Arendt was not interested in evil as a human quality; she was interested in evil as an emergent phenomenon of human interaction. by judging Eichmann to be “unthinking” rather than malicious, she echoed the anxieties of many of her contemporaries, who shared her dissatisfaction with the simple explanation of Nazism as an aberration of ideology. her approach suggested that a holocaust does not require exceptional men in exceptional times; and as such, her paradigm drives us to consider the universal elements of human psychology that could lead us again to contribute to genocidal destruction.

i am struck by the idea that Arendt’s great thoughts were the product of profound grieving, both personal and on a national scale. it was grieving that sharpened the mind and made it relentless; it was grieving that called for thinking and rethinking of the familiar; it was grieving that drove a pursuit of a principle, beyond a mere judgment of the conscience. grieving is a powerful thing. grieving creates nations. grieving cries out for hope, in the form of an ideal, and in the structure of a utopia.

watching Hannah Arendt made me question how and why it is that we as Americans do not agitate for a utopia. it is as if we buried all discussion of a more perfect world along with the remnants of communism, as if all of it could be properly dismissed as foolish variations on a commonly vain ideal. but that’s the easy explanation. i think the more interesting explanation for our lack of utopian imagination resides in our national aversion to grieving. in postmodern industrial society, we are intentionally subjective in our rewriting of history. we relinquish responsibility for past evils. we are consciously diverse in our identities and experiences, and thus we lack a coherent idea of our origins. and thus, without a common sense of shared experience, we are incapable of engaging in communal grieving. without that spiritual nexus, we generate no impetus toward an imagined future for ourselves as a people. with nothing in our past to grieve, we have no place for prophetic hope in our common discourse.

i think of it as an American thing to reject any idea of communal grieving, but perhaps it is a global thing in our postmodern universe. we align primarily in our common ambitions or immediate interests. we accept the minimum of shared beliefs necessary to maintaining a common narrative of progress, and this narrative enables social order, even as it lends to us a transcendent sense of purpose. our national spirituality then is defined by our lack of true failure, our endless capacity to build from past experiences, and our fundamental optimism about the short-term future. our individual spiritualities are inferred from this meta-narrative. we are a people who do not look for tragedy in our histories; we are a people who do not imagine too deeply our potentialities.

i wonder if it is impossible for us to seriously contemplate the possibility of a better world within a philosophical paradigm that restrains us from any far-reaching imagination. have we become too pragmatic, too rational, to dream of utopia any longer? has American rationalism come to this, that the world as a whole will veer on this axis toward blithe, self-obsessed secularism that defines any and all developments as evidence of inevitable progress?

i continue to believe that man’s greatest quality is his imagination, and the purpose of his imagination is transcendent longing, and his principal longings are two-fold: immortality and perfection. that our society, in its pursuit of immortality, has suppressed the individual’s capacity to imagine perfection is the terrific irony of our times. at heart, we are a stunted people, who are conditioned to forget our unease, to consume a delusion of progress, and to believe, against all reason, that we are not repeating the terrible evils of the societies that came before us


biological, psychological, or spiritual

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:09 pm by Administrator

this morning, i was recognized at a company meeting for some of my achievements of the past year. the award that i received reflected a lot of hard work, both mine and my team’s. i ought to have felt very happy about the recognition, but when i sat down with the plaque in my hands, i found that my feelings were curiously muted. what i realized as i sat there was that i did not really feel happy at all. i felt nothing.

this is not an unusual experience for me. i often feel a disconnect between my anticipated feelings about something and my actual reactions. my anticipated feelings are invariably stronger than what i actually experience. the stark contrast leads me through a very predictable train of questions. is this moment or achievement actually meaningful to me? is there anything in my life that is meaningful to me? what would it take for me to experience real happiness right now? am i in fact depressed?

here are the conclusions that i am often left with, in the end. first, i naturally tend toward boredom. second, boredom kills my spirit. third, i often try to cure my boredom by fantasizing about falling in love with something or someone. fourth, i seek infatuation as the cure to my boredom because i am an interpersonal emotional thrill seeker.

i must constantly be on my guard against emotional indiscretions with women. but avoiding an affair is just one aspect of what i struggle with. there is within me this deep penchant for ecstatic connection—the experience of finding myself in others—that continually drives me toward intense relationship and even heated competition with others. i like to encounter people at the level of their most powerful passions. correspondingly, one of my great frustrations is that i have an extraordinarily difficult time maintaining the level of mental stimulation necessary to my well-being. i get bored of things easily, especially if they are routine and unchallenging. i am constantly seeking the new.

there is a part of me that believes this thing i struggle with is biological in nature. anhedonia is a diagnostic criterion for major depression, and i suffer from it regularly, sometimes to a pervasive and nearly disabling degree. for a year of my life, i was on an SSRI, and at first i believed i’d found a cure to my perpetual restlessness. my nervous tics completely evaporated. i no longer enjoyed alcohol, and i found pornography uninteresting. more fundamentally, i lost the ability to ruminate; one thought did not lead inexorably to a deeper and darker thought. ultimately, it was this latter change that made me realize what the medication was doing to me. it was curing my anhedonia by eliminating desire. in fact, that year on zoloft proved to be the most depressing year of my life, and it took me months to recover from the effects of the SSRI after i discontinued it.

there is another part of me that believes that this obsession with thrill is a psychological issue. in Yerkovich’s model of attachment theory, i am one with vacillator tendencies—addicted to emotional intensity as a result of chronic childhood fears of abandonment. this approach helped me considerably in addressing deep-seated issues in my relational dynamics with my wife, and it helped us to heal as a couple after our crisis two years ago. the main insight i derived from “How We Love” was the idea that my idea of intimate connection is not universal; and i must learn to appreciate love not as an absolute but rather as something that exists relative to the characteristics of its giver.

but the psychological approach to my anhedonia has its limitations. principal among them is the fact that my penchant for stimulation is not equivalent to my craving for love and acceptance. even when i feel appreciated, validated, and truly cherished, i nevertheless wrestle with an emotional impetus that exists outside of that context. i certainly wish to be understood and loved; but beyond this, i seek adventure of a very specific kind, and in the absence of that thrill, i am unfulfilled.

beyond the biological and psychological explanations (which i’ve found largely unsatisfying), there is that catch-all of religion—that “spiritual” universe within which anything difficult, irrational, or inescapably complex can be easily (if not oversimplistically) explained. desire itself, in this paradigm, is often sinful. it can lead to the worship of self and the rejection of God worship. lend a Confucian element to the exercise of Christian practice as we often do, and one can conclude that a principal Christian virtue is the ability to be satisfied in what one has been given.

i read Christianity differently. the essence of Christian spirituality to me is the revealed desire for God, evidenced in its utter insatiability outside of the experience of God. embattled as i have been within my practice of faith, i have found this to be true: that my craving for intense emotionality has in most ways driven me toward a deeper exploration of God and His church community. for all the ways in which it has exposed me to temptations of certain kinds, it has been my unique contribution to spiritual community, such that i tend to foster spiritual community characterized by transparency, personal vulnerability, and mutual understanding.

i’ve been frustrated by the fact that i’ve been unable to consistently experience the satisfaction of my emotional cravings within my faith practice. this does occasionally lead me to a place of doubt, and more often than not it tends to influence my sense of theology. i wonder to myself, does God wish for me an unfillable hole, a perpetual unease? is God’s purpose served by my chronic dissatisfaction? or is my continually unsatisfied craving for emotional connection meant to be the means by which my life is deconstructed or even rebuilt?

i do not know whether i aim to feel satisfied or whether i aim to discover the experience that could lead to my satisfaction. i think that i quest more for the latter than the former. and because i have not personally discovered what it is in the world that can fulfill my ecstatic craving, i persist in the experience of alienation—a constant negotiation of self within a strange world, a continual fear of sinking into my internal abyss. i am happiest when i am in the moment; i am most hopeless when i see the terrible topography of the time ahead, with its well-worn roads and its predictable turns. and always, i wish to fall in love. i fall in love with whatever i can fall in love with, simply to escape futility. nearly forty years of living have not changed me in this desire. rather, forty years have taught me that it is best if that love is socially acceptable; and beyond that, it is best if the object of my love is good, if not beatific and perfect in all of its ways


dialogue with God (continued)

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:02 pm by Administrator

i ended up bringing some of the thoughts from my last entry on this matter to my small group discussion, this past weekend. most of the members admitted that they experience two-way dialogue or conversation with God very rarely (if ever).

i’m struck by the fact that i’ve frequently heard of Heaven as the sort of place where people will be in intimate communion with God, characterized by direct interaction, constant interaction, and unity almost to the point of self-dissolution. it’s such a contrast to the earthly reality of sparse communication with God. in fact, i find this contrast troubling, and the more i think about it, the more i wonder whether this contrast in fact illuminates the great fallacy of our idealized heavenly reality. is Heaven really a place where we’ll be engaged in constant, direct conversation with God, to our eternal pleasure?

there are some aspects of scripture that make me doubt this. Eden, for instance. why would God find something wrong in Adam’s aloneness if in fact God and Adam were consummately engaged? i think God made Eve for Adam because Adam and God were not consummately engaged, as either peers, friends, or lovers. later in Genesis, in the episode of sin preceding the Fall, Adam and Eve interacted with the serpent very much in the absence of God’s immediate presence. all of this suggests to me that constant, intimate communion with God is not what God had in mind for the first man. as God’s enjoyment resided in His meditation on all that He created (Adam included), Adam’s pleasure was to be in his particular role among created things—and not specifically in a mystical communion with the person of God.

in my last entry on this subject, i alluded to the experience of King David, a man who was uniquely favored by God. David, whose life and whose kingdom in many respects represented the very height of God’s people, never appeared to experience the immediacy of God’s presence in the manner experienced by the prophets who preceded and followed him. though events of his life were undoubtedly inspired by God, David’s reign was not marked by the sorts of signs and wonders witnessed by the contemporaries of Moses and Elijah. David himself never heard directly from God except through human intermediaries, including Samuel and the prophet Nathan. David’s pleasure was in the triumph of Israel over her enemies; his great delight was seeing the Ark of the Covenant brought into the city of Jerusalem. his pleasure, like that of Adam, was in his role among God’s created order.

i’ve written so frequently and so passionately about heaven as the Nirvana experience—self-loss and self-dissolution as a result of utter unity with God. it’s an idea of union that connotes a return to nakedness, a consummation of desire no less ecstatic than the sexual experience. but when i think of what God deliberately fostered with the saints, and when i think of the manner in which Christ did ministry, i am reminded that God did not create man to be mystical. for that, God has His angels. no, for man God had a much different and very specific design. what God intended for man was the experience of rule; and what God wished man to reflect about Him was a caring for and a devotion to the created order—stewardship and shepherding, no less.

when i consider this, i recognize that the silence and the waiting on God that believers now experience may not actually be particularly different from what Adam experienced of God in the Garden of Eden. the difference is that Adam was fully satisfied in what God had given Him to do, while we of the fallen order are incapable of discovering any real kind of spiritual satisfaction in what has been given to us, whether in our land, our possessions, or our people. God wishes for us not an insatiable hunger for transcendent perfection but rather a simple desire for the redemption of the created order that we were meant to govern. this is why the saints who really knew the heart of God did not demonstrate their love for Him by isolating themselves in continual retreat and prayer. those who truly knew and loved God demonstrated this by devoting themselves to the needs of God’s people.

all of this leads me to reconsider a theological matter that i have long struggled with, that being the matter of ongoing revelation within the church. for many years, i’ve argued with many Reformed Presbyterians (Won Ho chief among them) that there is no logical reason to assert that mystical revelation no longer has a central place in God’s ongoing relationship with His church. being one who has experienced God in mystical ways, i have long believed that new revelations ought to be anticipated as part of the ordinary experience of contemporary believers. i question that belief now. i wonder if it does not displease God when every passing generation expects of him a dog and pony show. “give us signs and wonders!” we exclaim. “speak to us in your voice, and we will listen!” when beneath these entreaties, what we struggle with most is the idea that God has already made clear what He desires for us—a life of obedience and devotion to community that many of us consider pedestrian, if not frankly boring.

God has spoken to me in various ways, but i recognize that perhaps it isn’t God’s real wish to “commune” with me in private conversation. i’m beginning to recognize that God doesn’t wish for me to spend the rest of my eternal life simply sitting across from Him, lost in His infinite gaze, completely absent of all awareness of other things. God wishes me to be beside Him, looking upon the things that He looks upon, seeing things His way, and delighting in the things that delight Him. He wishes me to rule with Him, and to devote myself to the people, and to delight in the fruit of a created order that ultimately gives glory to God through its life and prosperity.



Posted in Uncategorized at 7:21 pm by Administrator

right now i’m reading anabel hernandez’s “Narcoland”, an investigative journalist’s expose on the intimate connections between Mexican cartels, the Mexican government, and the CIA. thus far, it strikes me as dense and succinct in its rendering of troves of data gleaned from various interviews and assembled public records. but it’s also confusing in its bizarre narrative structure, as it meanders through dozens of characters while hopping back and forth over decades of history. amidst this veritable minefield of information, there’s no clear line of logic that emerges. it’s almost too frenetic to be decipherable to anyone except for those who’ve been closely following the Mexican news for the past five to seven years.

but i get the main point. the cartels are not simply an inevitable reality in Mexico. they were propped up by political leaders (both American and Mexican), and they continue to survive due to ongoing assistance from Mexico’s government. there is a symbiotic relationship between the cartels and Mexico’s top political leadership, such that one cannot be undermined without the destruction of the other.

based on hernandez’s view of the situation, it might seem logical to label the Mexican drug war a matter of political corruption. but here and there, her narrative suggests a more nuanced understanding of the crisis’s origins. more than “political corruption” per se, a fundamental factor in the evolution of Mexico’s drug infrastructure has been a legitimization of the “illegal drug trade”. from the poor poppy farmer all the way up to the presidente on the CIA payroll, there probably isn’t a Mexican involved who believes that marijuana, meth, and heroin are actually evil things. and that’s because the American consumer believes that marijuana, meth, and heroin are good—so good that American people will buy it up limitlessly, the CIA will facilitate its delivery into this country, and the American government will protect those (specifically Mexican government officials) who are directly involved in its production and export.

the discussion of legalizing drugs has advanced so rapidly in American society over recent years because we’re beginning to own up to our basic belief that illegal drugs are actually good. now, this belief doesn’t mean that we believe that these recreational drugs are actually “good for us”; we acknowledge that they are addictive, they are socially destructive, and in some cases they cause direct harm to the body. moreover, we decry the violence and murder that surround the drug trade. nevertheless, we are circling around the idea that our persistent and consistent consumption of these recreational drugs does not simply represent a gross deviation from normal human behavior. rather, our consumption of drugs necessarily exposes our underlying belief—however unconscious—that recreational drugs are good. as such, we have commodified these drugs, despite our “best” intentions, and we have created networks in other nations capable of consummating this overt process of commodification. lifting the legal restraints on this naturally capitalistic process is the last step in the evolution of our social organism in this one arena.

i don’t know what to make of all of this. on the one hand, i can see the obvious hypocrisy and futility of our purported “war on drugs”, which is blatantly at odds with our drug-loving culture. on the other hand, i see the consequences of drug abuse and addiction every day, to the degree that i would never consider using these drugs myself even if they were legalized. what strikes me most poignantly about many of my patients is that sobriety is not pleasurable for them; it is the lesser of evils. and when they are tempted again to recognize the goodness of the substances they once loved, they must remind themselves that sobriety is a greater good, even if it is painful.

i think that the discourse is driving me to consider another path to the future: renewed research on synthetic drugs. capitalism has accelerated drug culture and drug addiction; and perhaps capitalism is the way to grow beyond it. if there is proper incentive for the development of addiction-preventing medications and newer, safer recreational substances, we might be able to escape the terrible ravage of meth and heroin, simply by graduating from those substances. i would argue that it’s in our DNA to relentlessly press toward a panacea like Huxley’s soma—a consummate happiness drug, with no lasting consequences.

but perhaps i’m getting ahead of myself. it is enough at this point to consider that our society is now at a crossroads in the moral consideration of recreational drugs. as ugly and depraved as it might seem, what we all unconsciously crave is the global Hamsterdam. we must face this and recognize that this is what we are. we have to wrestle with this, and figure out how to move on with the consequences


dialogue with God

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:36 pm by Administrator

i think the single thing that most separates God believers from one another is in how they “hear” God. i’m going to make a bold statement here: one’s manner of “hearing” God impacts his faith practice far more than other factors including one’s culture, ideological beliefs, or theological leanings.

i think all people have a predominant mode of God-hearing. some people predominantly hear God through an inner voice of conscience. others claim to hear God as an audible voice. others hear God as a mental echo or interpretation of written words and ideas. still others predominantly hear God as inferences from conversations with other people. i think that people tend to privilege their own particular mode of hearing, though many will privately wish that they can hear God as an audible voice.

i’ve found that people tend to migrate to churches where their mode of God-listening is both actively practiced and appreciated. Reformed Presbyterians absolutely love churches where God-hearing is mostly practiced through deliberation and meditation on written words (predominantly drawn from Scripture, though also from catechisms and other compositions). Pentecostals love churches were God-hearing is a sensory experience. Monks and mystics will gravitate to situations where God-hearing is not particularly a relational experience. worship style and even theology flow from one’s mode of God-hearing, though the relationship between these aspects is certainly bidirectional.

here’s another bold statement that i happen to believe. if people actually believed that God could be experienced as an audibly vocal, singularly spiritual presence, then everyone would embrace this as the preferred (if not exclusive) form of God-hearing. the reason that Reformed Presbyterians don’t go to Pentecostal churches isn’t primarily because the two camps have important theological differences. i think the main reason is that the Presbyterians don’t really believe in the Pentecostals’ form of God-hearing; they think it’s warped, fake, and self-conjured. and i think that the main reason Pentecostals don’t go to traditional Presbyterian worship services doesn’t have anything to do with the five articles of Calvinist faith; they just don’t believe that Presbyterians are actively listening to God, in their particular mode of worship.

now, to the real heart of the matter. i think that the primary determinant of one’s mode of God-hearing is psychological. some people are psychologically built to seek out and to experience extrasensory phenomena, while the psychology of others does not validate or permit this form of experience. likewise, some people are psychologically built to experience inspiration from encountering texts or visual art, and the rumination that flows directly from their reading can powerfully inform their perception of the universe. others simply cannot see anything in a sentence except its syntax.

to some degree, there can be crossover between these camps, and different forms of experience can be learnt to some degree. but in this aspect of psychology, i think that people are mostly determined. that’s why in every generation you’ll always have a predictable spectrum of believers with regard to their self-reported experience of God. it has nothing to do with the quality or depth of faith; it has everything to do with basic psychology.

given this context, i don’t think that God personally privileges any particular form of God-hearing. while it’s impossible to infer from the poetry of Scripture the exact manners in which God communicated with his various prophets, priests, and kings, i think it’s fairly obvious that He employed varying modes of communications with His various advocates. He literally fed his written word to Jeremiah; He spoke to Ezekiel in expansive visions; He walked with Abraham as an apparition; He interacted with Moses in solitary “mountaintop” moments; and He spoke to David through human intermediaries. the one thing that all of these men had in common is that they experienced dialogue with God in discrete episodes. while ongoing constant dialogue with God might have been theoretically possible in the lives of all of these men, that is not how dialogue with God is ever described. even in the Psalms of David, in which David demonstrates a persistent state of meditation and yearning for God, there is evidence that God chooses not to respond “real-time” to David’s appeals. David waits on God. while there are punctuated moments of divine dialogue, there are certainly intervals (and even long intervals) of silent, angst-ridden waiting.

one thing i have learned in my faith journey is that there is no sense in judging the quality of one’s relationship with God by one’s mode of God-hearing. people who audibly “hear” God still stumble and fall down. people who primarily experience God by reading the Bible are no less apt to give themselves over to the Lord, in total obedience. i’ve learned that what separates the mature believer from the immature believer is not in the mode of God-hearing but rather in the way that the believer experiences the silence of waiting. every believer wishes to hear God immediately and in specifics; but the immature believer actually expects to hear God immediately and in specifics. the mature believer knows that he will hear God’s response in God’s time and in God’s way. the mature believer is willing to wait forty years to know God’s plan for deliverance; he’s willing to wait forty years for God to deliver on His promise of a pregnancy; he’s willing to take the silence not as a sign of abandonment but rather as a test of his faith.

do i hear God every day? the easy answer is yes. the honest answer is probably no. i could read the scripture every waking hour of every day, and i don’t really think God would choose to speak to me through every sentence or chapter. but every now and then, i take a walk or a run, or i feel the need to retreat into a corner, and i am confronted by God in the unique language He uses with me. i treasure those moments. i would go as far as to say those are the moments that i live for. but they don’t happen very often. and, with time, i’ve come to understand that i’m simply not entitled to having those moments whenever i want them. there is a certain fellowship with the saints that i can and should have with any frequency i can handle; but dialogue with God is a privilege, not a right, and it happens in His way and in His time.

i am in a time of my life where i’m intensely craving that sort of experience with God, and i feel i haven’t had it in a long, long time. but i’m willing to wait for it. moreover, i believe that He has plans to speak to me in that special way, whether through scripture or through intuition or through a voice in my mind. i feel great anticipation for that moment, and from day to day i try to prepare myself for it. it’s like being in a long-distance relationship with a woman i am deeply in love with, whose comings and goings i cannot predict, but whose passion for me is undeniable. i long for her touch. i wait for her return. i have learned, with time, to see my life as the waiting between these moments, and to see my future as the hope of her staying with me someday, never again to leave


the music

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:14 pm by Administrator

it was cold, as i remember it.
we crammed into a car, in late afternoon
and the sun was already sallow,
its thready life just a shimmer
beyond a thicket of black branches.

we turned on the radio and then pushed
in a tape, while we talked heatedly
into a fog of our own breath.
out the speakers came a punchy bass drum,
an echoing synth, and then our voices.

it was always a bad mix, and it sounded worse
in the car. i would be momentarily despondent
until we put in another tape or turned up the radio.
we were tearing down the road, and the heat
kicked in, and we couldn’t see out the windshield

and then over a din of crowd noise we’d huddle
over cheap Chinese food and outdo one another
with cracks about stupid things we’d done
with sketchy women. i’d feel vaguely sick
and restless. we made no plans.

later, we’d drive that creaking car into town
and end up past midnight at the club,
where they’d shake us down for drugs and knives
and i’d be buzzing from the beer we’d just swallowed
and that biting bitterness of winter at our backs.

we’d fall into a crowd, under a cloud of smoke
down there where the sound was so thick
you had to keep moving so it wouldn’t pull you under.
music, it was so full of bending and curving,
a swimming that bottled up the ears and broke something

inside. i was so happy and i never said anything,
not to anyone. at four in the morning i’d make it home
coated in the smell of sweat, pot, and cigarettes,
wafting like my ears were stuffed with cotton,
my brain clamoring with echoes—and that ringing.

and then sometime the next day, around noon
the sun would be up, pretending it had never wigged out.
everyone else was out working or doing things.
still deaf, i’d pull out a piece of paper and sit at the table;
that’s when i would write