lenten reflections: revisiting “imputation”

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:10 am by Administrator

today’s sermon at my church today squarely focused on the mechanism of atonement as accomplished by Christ’s sacrifice. specifically, this was a sermon about penal substitution—the “imputation” of sin to Christ, by which Christ “became sin” and in so doing bore the fullness of God’s wrath for mankind’s sins in the past, present, and future.

imputation remains the single most difficult theological issue i wrestle with. it is harder for me than election and predestination. the consequences of election and predestination have to be contextualized within a proper understanding of heaven and hell; and thus any discussion of the former can be modulated by interpretations of the latter. but there are no nuances regarding the matter of the imputation of sin to Christ. if one accepts this doctrine, one accepts a certain set of beliefs about the nature of God and His idea of justice—a picture of God that is not only problematic but also terrifying. i reject imputation, both imputed sin and imputed righteousness, because i do not believe that this doctrine is biblical or true, however much i do believe in the atoning power of Christ’s sacrifice.

and here is where i draw what is for me a very important line. one can believe in “Anselmian” (orthodox) atonement without believing in the doctrine of imputation; the former does not necessitate the latter. this is where i want to position myself.

over the past few years of my spiritual journey, i have felt God leading me in various ways to recognize how he has endeavored to “take responsibility” for the afflictions of mankind. God does not perceive the Fall of man from a distance, as something which unfortunately transpired beyond His control or influence. rather, God has grieved the Fall as an intimate participant in man’s creation and demise. and God has not been driven to connect with mankind time and time again throughout history simply out of pity. no, rather the whole of scripture demonstrates God as one deeply invested in the redemption of mankind, as a creator who recognizes that the fate of man is the truest reflection of His nature. if God’s people were to fall inescapably into destruction, then this would demonstrate the tragic failure not only of creation but also of God Himself.

thus, we see the Lord compelled again and again to a painful searching for His people, as demonstrated through the anguished words of the prophets and priests, even in the times before Israel. when God could have destroyed humanity time and time again, he relented to human intercessors in poignant moments that reveal much about His nature. of these intercessory moments, the one i find most remarkable is that of Moses on Sinai. here is an incredibly remarkable moment, when Moses comes terrifyingly close to stating the unthinkable: that by destroying His people, God might be doing something evil. Moses words his plea in such a way as to suggest that such a judgment of God might be unjustified, but to me the real implication of his words is undeniable. after all, it is not the opinion of the Egyptians that God fears; it is the opinion of His chosen man Moses that God honors. this is what makes Moses credible as an intercessor for his people; God’s favor for Moses is such that He is willing to submit himself to the judgment of Moses.

to clarify, i am not speaking of judgment in the sense of final judgment, or all-encompassing moral judgment. i am speaking of judgment as “defining perception”. the Lord wishes to be adored and loved, and He submits Himself to those that He honors, understanding that in this position of vulnerability, their perception of Him will be valuable to Him.

let’s understand here that when Moses successfully intercedes for the Israelites, he does not accomplish this by convincing God that the Israelites are not a cruel, stiff-necked, and wicked people. rather, Moses successfully intercedes by convincing God that Moses is an inextricable part of his people; if God destroys the people, He will destroy his relationship with Moses as well. in this way, Moses stands in a gap; beyond simply forcing reconciliation, Moses becomes the means of that reconciliation.

here is where i believe Moses, in his position vis a vis God, heralded the purpose of Christ. Moses did not have to sacrifice himself to prove his absolute commitment to the Israelites in the face of God’s wrath against them. but Christ, as the ultimate credible intercessor in his equality with God, took upon Himself the task of being the intercessor not just for a certain people in a certain time but for all people and for all time. His statement to God the Father was as bold as that of Moses: that to reject His people would be reprehensible of God, and that such an abandonment would cost God His own son—His very self, no less. Christ’s presentation on the cross was not for man; it was a declaration to God the Father that Christ would be man and would share the fate of man. and if the Father wished to favor His son, He would have to demonstrate this by favoring every person that Christ took to Himself. the cross did not represent God’s forgiveness of humanity’s sins; the cross demonstrates the manner in which Christ compelled God’s forgiveness, as humanity’s intercessor.

those who hold to the “Orthodox” idea of penal substitution claim that God has an unquenchable wrath regarding man’s depravity that is necessarily the consequence of His moral perfection, and they claim that this wrath was satisfied by God’s sacrifice of His own son on the cross. when challenged on this claim, they refuse a defense, instead pointing to Paul’s comment about how the Gospel is “foolishness” to man. but the matter at stake here is not a matter of foolishness or logic. the matter at stake is here is how we can possibly assume God to be one who is capable of consummate self-deceit. how is it that God who knows all things can trick Himself into believing that a perfect man can be evil? how is it possible for God to “impute” the wrongs of others to the life of one who has done no wrong? there is no precedent for this in the Old Testament scripture. even in the practice of sin offerings and sacrifices, there is no basis for believing in a material displacement of personal sin or shame. it is far more reasonable to assert that God is precisely incapable of imputation because He is inescapably just; He cannot allow one to wrongly take the blame for other wrongdoers.

we are left with one obvious truth, when it comes to Christ the intercessor. in intercession, the intercessor does not succeed by discrediting himself in the eyes of the accuser; rather, it is precisely his righteousness that grants him leverage over the mind of the accuser.

and here is where two statements by Christ on the cross very much prove the truth of this argument. across the Gospel books, we lend Christ’s words a broad and pervasive meaning, except when it comes to his issuances upon the cross. when Christ pleads with God to forgive those who have inflicted Him “because they know not what they do”, we too often dismiss these words as fleeting gestures of absolution. but why shouldn’t His last words reflect something essential about Christ’s perception of the world? i think that Christ believed that the sin of the world, even in its cruelest manifestations, was forgivable on account of mankind’s great ignorance. Christ did not view mankind as a people for whom forgiveness was veritably impossible outside of God’s self-deceit or delusion. rather, Christ urged God the Father to see humanity as forgivable in the way that Christ saw them as forgivable, even as he anguished upon the cross.

and we come to Christ’s words “eloi eloi sabachtani” (why Oh Lord have you forsaken me?) again, i feel that we look at these words and fail to understand the real significance of what Christ is saying here. Christ was not abandoned by God because He had somehow become evil to God; rather, by affixing Himself to humanity and refusing to be spared of their fate, Christ chose to face death as one that might be abandoned by God, apart from divine forgiveness. Christ is not merely “acting out” or expressing a pain of separation; to assume this is to trivialize Christ’s mission. in these poignant words, Christ is outright rebuking God for considering any alternative to the merciful forgiveness of His people. in these words, Christ does exactly what Moses does on Sinai; he contends with God, as an intercessor. He does this with great authority because He understands that God the Father submits Himself to the judgment of God the Son. if God will not abide with His people, then God cannot live with Himself. this is what Christ contends, in His final moments of suffering upon the cross.

lastly, i want to wrestle a bit with the metaphor of Christ as the sacrificial lamb, a metaphor which again illuminates the nature of Christ’s role in His act of self-sacrifice. a few years ago, i combed through everything in Leviticus and Deuteronomy to identify rituals of lamb sacrifice, and there are no particularly notable rituals of guilt offering requiring a lamb. on the other hand, there is one salient ritual involving the blood sacrifice of the lamb which is decidedly not a sin offering—and that is the Passover sacrifice. i believe that the lamb metaphor is critical to examine because Christ as the passover sacrifice illuminates the nature of His sacrifice not as a guilt offering but rather as a means by which the covenant people are spared a destructive fate. in being “passed over”, those marked by the blood of the Lamb have not necessarily received an imputed righteousness—but no less powerfully, they have been marked as God’s own people, thus qualifying them for not only mercy but also sonship and an inheritance in God’s kingdom.

i don’t have time for a longer discussion on how Christ’s death and resurrection actually effect the transformation of believers, but it suffices to say that NT Wright expounds this matter fairly well. double imputation is not necessary to understanding the sanctifying journey we embark on, that process by which we veer toward the holiness and blamelessness for which we were intended.


ukraine, and self-determination

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:29 pm by Administrator

as usual, i don’t get it when it comes to American foreign policy. we’re going to condone the secession of southern Sudan and encourage revolutionary takeovers in libya, egypt, and syria, but when it comes to the possible secession of Crimea as decided by popular referendum, we’re suddenly going to call this a breach of international law?

sure, the referendum was probably rigged. but the fact is that the current Ukrainian government is in disarray, and there was no democratic process behind the ascendance of the current regime. it can be viewed as an illegitimate government in the eyes of the people. moreover, the Crimeans are predominantly Russian by ethnicity, and they stand to lose the most from a hostile takeover by pro-European elements. a move toward secession in such circumstances is not only logical; it seems absolutely necessary to their natural interests.

i understand the EU’s concerns about the secession, as their economic partnership with the Ukraine stands to suffer from a Crimean secession. but the United States’ position on this is questionable, if not hypocritical. as of late, America has not been in the business of opposing “the will of the people”. in fact, it has acted liberally on this notion to support at least three major revolutionary uprisings in the past two years, including the current Ukrainian governmental coup. why the United States is selectively unwilling to “discern” the will of the Crimean people is baffling and can only be explained by its equally inexplicable hostility toward the Russian Republic.

are we not finished with the Cold War? when exactly did Russia become our nemesis again? they are participating in the global market economy, traditionally a marker of alignment with the U.S. and while Russia has been supportive of the loathsome Assad regime in Syria, this has not necessarily been a fatal factor in U.S.-Russian relations. after all, it’s fairly obvious that the United States has come to understand Assad as the lesser of many evils in civil war-torn Syria. i just can’t see a single arena or issue around which the U.S. and Russia must define themselves as intractable foes. but here we are again… put Snowden, Syria, Pussy Riot, and Putin’s personality together, and you have the makings of an enemy in the eyes of the American media. and now we’re going to get all tense about a Ukrainian region that Americans care nothing about whatsoever.

it’s a dick-fight. it’s stupid, and it makes no sense in these days and times. let Crimea secede. the EU will still get a better trade partner in the Ukraine than they’ve ever had before. and Obama needs to get his head out of his ass before he makes yet another major foreign policy debacle. economic sanctions and bold rhetoric are going to look really bad a year from now, when Russia still has Crimea and the global economy begs for detente. this is the time for Obama to look the other way, and let history do its inevitable work in all the necessary ways


the intriguing wes anderson

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:29 pm by Administrator

first, i’ll say a few words about “The Grand Budapest Hotel”, and then i’ll close with my assessment of anderson’s occasionally fascinating career.

“The Grand Budapest Hotel”, like “Moonrise Kingdom”, utterly entranced its reviewers, who were all hypnotically compelled toward the repeated use of terms like “charming”, “sweetly sentimental”, and “stylish” in their lavish accolades. as with “Moonrise Kingdom”, i was a bit baffled by the stir surrounding Hotel. it was occasionally funny, and it did have a nicely poignant conclusion. otherwise, it was simply another rough sketch by wes anderson, however glossy the finish.

the best that can be said about “Grand Budapest” is that it is interesting in its peculiar take on the transmission of childhood memories. its deliberate theatricality is often distracting (even for one well-accustomed to wes anderson) but ultimately justifiable, in light of what it reflects about treasured recollections. like poetry, a wes anderson film typically meanders around a variety of idiosyncratic or impossible characters before arriving at a deliberately mundane climax, leaving you in the end with a complex impression rather than any specific revelation. the trouble with “Hotel” is that it is too absorbed in its theatrics to allow its viewers any distinctly defining experience of its central characters. i myself can’t recall any particular moment that connected me to the characters, their feelings, or their stories. and i don’t know why Anderson was so fixated on maintaining a certain superfluity about the whole thing. the movie seems farcical, but it pretends at more than farce. in the end, it’s simply burlesque.

i would say that this is not necessarily an indictment of the film. it’s possible that it is precisely the kind of whimsical exploration that wes anderson wanted to create at this point in his career. whether it’s among his “best” (as some reviewers strongly suggest) is an interesting question, because it depends on what wes anderson is looking to accomplish through his cinematic work. is he trying to redefine parody or pastiche? is he trying to disrupt the usual conventions of postmodern storytelling? then wes anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is a great success, however tedious it will be to the average viewer. but if he is trying to engage his viewers at the level of imagination—wonder, no less—then this film is just another in a long line of near (or not so near) misses since “The Royal Tenenbaums”.

i think wes anderson is a genius, and i rate “Rushmore” as one of my top ten movies of all time. there just isn’t a single thing about it i would change. and when i look at the compendium of anderson’s work, i wonder if “Rushmore” was the one story he had to tell—the story of his memorable, off-kilter private school childhood. while Royal and Bottle Rocket were plainly entertaining, Rushmore was a complete work: a universe of interesting, powerfully connected, and weirdly compelling characters, living life on their own terms. anderson hasn’t come close to regaining that form. i look at “moonrise kingdom” as his most overt attempt to access some of his original inspirations, but the outcome is so plastic that i wonder if he’s simply outgrown the fascination that was once the core of his creative sense. anderson’s career reminds me a bit of kazuo ishiguro’s interview in which he implied that an artist’s prime is before his 40s; it is hard for an artist to maintain his edge when he has been active for very long.

perhaps the artist i am most reminded of when i think of wes anderson is john irving. both anderson and irving love private schools for boys; it’s where they discovered themselves. both of them have produced art that illuminates the inherent childishness of adult society, but their irony is consistently light and humorous rather than sardonic. and both anderson and irving produced their greatest works (i.e. Rushmore and Owen Meaney) early in their careers; they’ve both struggled to remain relevant ever since.

perhaps even the greatest of our artists have just one thing in themselves to share with the world. the lucky ones can find a few different ways to share that thing. the unlucky ones try to outdo themselves, only to find that no one can truly reinvent who he is. “The Grand Budapest” is not original; but there is an element of truth in it—a small element that i still love. it’s that moment when the old man looks back on his life, and the old writer looks back on himself meeting the old man looking back on his life, and the young aspiring writer looks back on the old writer looking back on his younger self looking back on the old man who was once young. in other words, it’s the moment at the conclusion of Rushmore, when the curtain closes on everyone in their painful and sweet lives, dancing together in that strange dance that is the very rhythm of our quirky and mysterious existence


Breaking Bad—or rather, Breaking Everything

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:54 pm by Administrator

i just finished season 4 of Breaking Bad, and i think i at last understand the essence of the show. it’s taken me this long because the series has been idiosyncratic and uneven, however entertaining. after season 1, i thought this would be a story about Walter White’s descent into darkness. after season 3, i thought that this would be a story about how Walter White compels everyone around him to descend into darkness. but after season 4, i recognize that this story is not at all about good and evil, or about any grander moral issue regarding Walter’s journey.

Breaking Bad is about understanding the hypocrisy of our rule-based society by forcibly deconstructing it. the character of Walter White is Vince Gilligan’s social “wrecking ball”. Walter isn’t really a person; he’s a device used to punch holes in the social fabric, so as to expose what lies beneath the arbitrary rules and laws of seemingly orderly society.

i’m not sure that this is what Vince Gilligan intended, because this is not where the show seemed to be going with Walter White in its first two or three seasons. the complexity and humanity of Walter White seemed to be the focus of the show from the outset, and in fact some of the more interesting episodes explored the irony of Walter White—specifically the irony of an orderly, scientific man unwittingly spawning chaos through his every action. in fact, it was a weakness of the early seasons that Walter’s internal conflicts were often over-dramatized, if not frankly comical. but late in season 3, and almost unexpectedly, Walter stops functioning as a real human being. he becomes a plot device. he becomes an instrument of relentless and far-reaching destruction, intended simply to expose the failed logic of every niche of his society.

at this point in the show, the character of Walter White has singlehandedly dismantled a large-scale organized crime ring, undermined a DEA investigation, deceived all of his close friends and family, and successfully gotten away with direct or indirect participation in nine murders. it’s ludicrous. and if you look at the way in which Walter did these things, the outcome is that much more unbelievable. but i’ve been willing to suspend unbelief, as have most viewers, because i recognize that Walter White is not the point of this show. Walter White is simply a device employed to mock the internal logic of men like Hank (a brilliant DEA agent who cannot sniff out a drug kingpin in his own family), Gustavo Fring (a seemingly invincible criminal genius who cannot prevent his entire operation from being dismantled by an innocuous, terminally ill, middle-aged schoolteacher), and Mike Ehrmantraut (a career policeman and investigator who is somehow repeatedly unable to predict the next move of an ingenuous and awkward everyday citizen).

yes, Breaking Bad shamelessly dwells in the bizarre. in this respect, it somewhat resembles “The Wire”, though “The Wire” takes itself far more seriously. what both shows share in common is an almost heavy-handed approach toward disrupting moral conventions in the interests of irony—socially critical, self-mocking irony. it’s postmodern, it is fun, and it’s also nauseatingly familiar. it’s the reason why i can’t rate the show among my favorites of all time.

“The Sopranos” will always rate head and shoulders over “Breaking Bad” and its sundry peers for a variety of reasons—and for one reason in particular. “The Sopranos” did not have to sacrifice the authenticity of its lead character in order to complete its narrative arc. Tony Soprano, as much as he exposes disorder and hypocrisy in his universe, consistently seeks to maintain an internal sense of order, and thus he coheres as a human presence. though therapy fails, and though his relationships constantly veer toward failure, Tony Soprano never stops demonstrating that most human of all human qualities—the spiritual necessity of self-justification. to the end, Soprano maintains his sense of moral justification in spite of all the cruelties of his life, and it’s because of this that we are able to connect and reconnect with the character of Tony Soprano. this basis of relationship does not exist with Walter White; he is unjustifiable because he is obviously chaotic, and his moments of introspection are simply not credible. as such, he is not real, and thus he cannot function as a frame of reference for the viewer.

i have enjoyed Breaking Bad, and i look forward to season 5, but i’m willing to concede that there is probably no point to this show outside of the destruction of everything and everyone in Walter’s life. how a show this good can be reduced to a point that trivial is, in my opinion, the show’s greatest irony, in the end


ender’s game

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:40 pm by Administrator

i finally got around to watching “Ender’s Game”, the movie adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s legendary sci-fi novel. it was not what i expected it to be.

from the reviews, i expected ender’s game to be a streamlined action flick empty of the disturbing ruminations that distinguish the story. in fact, the script embraced the philosophical quandaries of the book, to such a degree that the movie actually doesn’t succeed as a science fiction thriller. i was a bit taken aback by this. it made me wonder if the producers and directors, as committed to the story as they wanted to be, shouldn’t have set out to create a two or three-part movie production. as it stands, cramming enough detail in two hours to lay out sufficient context for Ender’s crisis of conscience is impossible. and i think the fan base would have been committed enough to follow a sequel.

in a theoretical multi-movie enterprise, the first movie could have focused entirely on Battle School, specifically on the rise of Ender and the evolution of his child society. the movie i saw last night attempted to link Ender’s experience of being bullied to his ambivalence about the Formics; this isn’t rooted in the actual story, nor does it logically make any sense. there is more than enough substance related to the Battle School experiences of Ender (and Bean for that matter) to create a first-part movie focused on leadership, power, and the inherent evils of competition.

the second movie then could have developed Ender as the ambivalent warrior, a child manipulated by adults and unwittingly honed to be an instrument of mass genocide. Ben Kingsley could have been a terrific, nuanced, and absorbing Mazer Rackham; but given the extreme pressures imposed by the condensed script, he barely survives as a functional foil to Ender. there was so much more to plumb from the second half of the Ender’s Game book, and the movie attempted to vault into that exploration as quickly as possible, with fairly disappointing consequences.

a third movie theoretically could have been dedicated to the subsequent political upheavals on Earth and in space, the weirdly compelling backdrop of Card’s universe. deftly done, this third sequel could have established a trilogy unlike anything previously developed—something transcendent even. i imagine that’s what Card would have liked, but i may be wrong.


Recap and Synthesis

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:04 pm by Administrator

Prior interests, which i’m moving away from:

1. Gay rights: i’m losing interest in the topic of gay rights, now that it’s fairly clear what direction American culture and politics are taking on this matter.

2. Theology of Community: now that i’m actually living out my theology of faith community, i’m finding the matter less interesting to me, philosophically speaking.

3. Obama: he was more interesting to me when the “jury was out” on him, so to speak. i understand him well enough now that i don’t think my opinion on his failed presidency will shift significantly, moving forward.

4. Overseas war: as with my thoughts on Obama, i’ve arrived at a judgment about America’s foreign policy, particularly when it comes to combat. i’m as post-national as i’ve ever been. thinking of myself as American is not a point of pride for me; it’s mostly to contextualize my personal journey.

Current interests:

1. Organizational excellence: through my experiences with the Baldrige criteria, healthcare reform, and physician coaching, i’m beginning to develop a true interest in org excellence. my interest isn’t so much in process improvement and change acceleration as much as it is in understanding what org excellence reflects about individual self-perception—and specifically about spiritual self-awareness. when we strive for “excellence”, what in fact are we creating and undermining through the processes and forms that we develop?

2. Protest: always a latent interest of mine since my college studies, i’m finding myself more and more interested in expressing protest through art.

3. The psychology of Christian praxis: here is where i think i will someday make my mark on a field of knowledge, however insignificant that mark may be. i believe denominationalism and variations in faith practice are derived not from discrete revelations but rather from basic variations in human psychology. i think that even one’s “personal experience of God” is something that can be predicted from psychological analysis. to this point, certain approaches and styles have been privileged by American Evangelicals, and i think that the power of psychology could be to reveal the hegemonic nature of this culturally rooted and inherently biased privilege.

4. The umami feeling: i really believe that there is more to this idea of the “umami feeling”—the unique experience of the Blue Vacillator. i want to explore this further, mostly to help refine my self-understanding. is the point of my daily thought processes to manage my emotions? or should my thoughts serve to hone and focus my emotional energies, so as to bring them to climax and consummation?


the umami feeling

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:39 am by Administrator

on my recent visit to boston, andrew asked me why i blog. after all, i don’t seem to care about who reads my website. and additionally, my entries tend to be long-winded, theoretical, and, practically speaking, fairly boring.

i’ve been thinking about that question, and i think the answer i gave him wasn’t precise. i have an answer for it now, and the answer is this: i experience a feeling for which there are no words, and it is a craving that finds satisfaction only in artistic expression. and because it is a feeling that is not easily classified, i call it the umami of feelings; it requires its own category of experience.

in my entire life, i have discovered myself in frighteningly accurate self-reflection only twice—and both times through systematic self-assessment tools. the first tool was the Birkman Method. the second tool was the Love Style assessment, based on attachment theory but structured by Milan and Kay Yerkovich. the Birkman defines one through an analysis of personal needs, interpersonal style, interests, and stress behavior. the Love Style defines one according to his basic approach to intimacy, an imprint rooted in one’s childhood history of psychological injury. from what i understand of the two approaches, they describe types that do not evolve—though in both models, one can learn to compensate for his predispositions.

i am a Birkman blue—meaning i am people-oriented and preferably indirect in my interaction with my environment—and a Vacillator—meaning that i am consumed with a constant craving for intense emotional connection, as a result of a childhood dominated by the violent mood swings of my parents. my Birkman analysis predicted a natural career fit for me in multiple artistic fields, including musical and literary professions. a medical career was one of my five poorest career fits. when i look at my Vacillator tendencies, i understand why i chose a medical career despite my natural leanings; a medical career offered me the opportunity to connect with people in crisis, which promised to satisfy my craving for intense, healing connection with other people. my first choice of medical career was psychiatry, unsurprisingly. i was dissuaded of this idea by my father. i was prompted toward a career in HIV by my “other” father, a God i’ve perceived as no less mercurial, temperamental, and severe than my earthly dad.

if i might speculate, the artists of the world across time have disproportionately fallen into one of the twenty Birkman-Love Style combinations, and that happens to be mine. Birkman Blues are stimulated by people, and their relationships with people drive them toward a contemplation of the patterns, pathologies, and principles that inflict other people. Blue Vacillators experience this contemplation as something personal, passionate, and even overpowering. their obsessions drive them toward a relentless search for a more perfect romance, a more consuming thrill, a more compelling beauty. they are perpetually unsatisfied—but this unsatisfaction is not a sadness akin to what others experience as sadness. their unsatisfaction is a particular kind of desire that they understand to be impossible. it is a feeling that drives them toward the repeated and dramatic catharsis of utter self-divulgence, consummated in the communal manifestations that we experience as art.

when i read myself in the words of Adrienne Rich, i am not identifying her as one who shares my beliefs, principles, or ideas. no, it is even more fundamental than this. i see Adrienne Rich as one who experiences the world as i do. for a Blue Vacillator, this kind of resonance is more powerful and compelling than any other kind of shared experience, whether it be religious, political, or racial. Blue Vacillators are consummately lonely people, because they are rare, and because their experience of society isolates and alienates them, and because inevitably they cry out for the destruction and reconstruction of their worlds, even as they clamor for a community of their own kind of people. Blue Vacillators always seek out a tribe of their own kind; and they are invariably stimulated, frustrated, and ultimately ruined by other Blue Vacillators.

but back to this feeling of feelings, which drives Blue Vacillators toward restless creation, artistic achievement, and political protest. this umami feeling is not a happy or sad feeling. it is like the agony before sexual climax; it demands a consummation in utter ecstasy—an impossible ecstasy. Blue Vacillators constantly live on the cusp of a spiritual orgasm, but because they cannot break through to harmonization, their existence is difficult to label. it is not equal parts pleasure and pain; it is not a taste both bitter and sweet. the years of loneliness and alienation transmute the sensation into something that is neither pleasure nor pain; it is a taste for which there are no words. it is flaming desperation in one sense; it is contemplative paralysis on the other. it is the umami feeling.

i am beginning to understand that it makes less and less sense for me to describe the struggle that i experience as depression, or sadness, or a desire for a better job. everything comes difficult to me; and on the other hand, everything is of unique beauty and character to me. because of my innate temperament, and because of the traumas i experienced as a child, i became a member of a tribe destined to roam the world inescapably at odds with it. our poetry indicts this world; our music brings it to its knees; our words provoke, confuse, and terrorize our peers. we look at those of other tribes and think of them as cretins and fools; and they look at us, the suicidal, dramatic, and nomadic, and they pity us, if they do not grudgingly admire us. they pity us for our pain. but it is not pain. and i have to understand it as such. this that i feel, it is not sadness or pain. it is the shape of my spirit.

it is the mark of my kind.


lent, rich, and endings

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:47 pm by Administrator

the scriptural basis for today’s sermon was the story of the two criminals, hung with Christ at the crucifixion. my pastor emphasized that the robber who sought mercy from Christ demonstrated an unsurpassed faith. i think i was also struck by another thing: that no man in all of scripture received a more direct promise of salvation.

i am struck by the idea that the robber who believed in Christ did not, like the other criminal, see Christ’s power (or evident lack of it) as the true demonstration of His godliness. rather, the robber saw goodness—irreproachable and total goodness—as the mark of Christ’s authority in the kingdom of God. even in the agonizing moments before his death, the robber was compelled by this goodness.

i wonder if we are not all one criminal or the other, in the end. and the Christ we receive is not the God of infinite power but rather the helpless man sharing our plight, and the question we must answer for ourselves is whether or not the goodness of God is enough to compel us to share His fate. Christ presented Himself to both men in the most humiliated version of Himself, as a helpless man about to die alongside of them. and yet, even in this awful state, He was beautiful enough to inspire one man to faith, even while the other man abandoned himself to misery.

Lent reminds me that Christ asks me not to be impressed by signs and wonders but rather by the godliness consummated in His goodness. Christ calls upon me to fall in love with the character of God—and to be so overcome by His goodness that we see it as the evidence of a power yet to be revealed.

i bought another book of essays and poems by Adrienne Rich, and i meditate on her words late into my evenings. her language is so vital because she speaks my language. and by that i mean that she speaks directly to the heart of that pained, repressed postmodern person at odds with the mechanistic, capitalistic society that oppresses us all. even as Rich deftly acknowledges her politicized lexicon, she argues again and again for an idea that transcends the political. her point is simple and beautiful: that poetry has a place even in a society as self-assured as our own. and when i read the alienation and sorrow behind her poignant words, i feel something as powerful as when i read the stories of the old saints in the Bible. i recognize Adrienne Rich, as dead and gone as she is, as one of my own—my people.

in the midst of this depression, i see my life as epochs and recurring motifs, all of it troublesome and tiresome in its relentless repetition. it goes beyond simply a craving for what is new. i recognize that work will always frustrate me and drive me to despair. my patients will not stop dragging me into the wanton cruelty of their lives. beyond this, their sufferings and pains will continue to imbue my world with a certain kind of clinging darkness. and even beyond this, i will see echoes of their misery in the images and stories that are reflected everywhere, in electronic signals and voices, in insidious ideas posted and framed along the roads and passages of my journeys. i build a life around their version of the world. my work weeks begin with a fury, and against the colossus of their drug addiction, depression, psychosis, manipulation, prostitution, and fraud, i cast myself dozens of times a day, like a man driven to ram his head against brick and stone again and again and again. i imagine endings to my pain; i think of my life transpiring between the end of one work week and the beginning of the next. i imagine new jobs and new miseries, and i imagine the end of my working days, the end of my usefulness to society, and the end of my physical life. everything is chaptered; everything is epochs; everything is ending, and all the new beginnings are vain promises, just trivial and mundane variations upon an inescapable theme.

but i think this thing and wonder if it can free me, that there are no endings. and of beginnings, there is just one, that being the life that began in me. all the places through which i sojourn are not real, at least not real in the way i make them real. they are experiential, and they are meant not to be absorbed or understood but rather momentarily pondered, like art that occasionally penetrates to the locked-in and unrevealed inner self. there are no endings, because endings are imagined, when in fact the substance of my belief suggests only the one journey. deaths, resolutions, and resurrections—these are the things i concede to the postscript, the unseen sequitur, and these are the things that i summon only when necessary, and through the poetic word.

there are no endings. not to the living, not to the writing, not to the suffering, not to the work and the agony of work and the change inflicted by all things human and ugly. it is continuous, it is unceasing, and it leaves no room for judgment or despair. and because nothing ends, nothing at all, the only thing left to me is to imagine the eternal, and to spend my days assuming wakefulness until it is taken from me