Seeking Tao, Flowing in The Way

“river” by manufz is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

 

Seeking The Tao, Flowing in The Way

By Jane Tawel

February 29, 2020

Seeking can never be static. The essence of seeking-ness means not so much the idea of constant change, but rather porousness. Like a sieve or sluice, our souls are best when there are many small openings in them. The way to seek is to move, flow, and be in a sort of “squiggly-lined” process. Searching is about newness, rebirth, creation; taking old and ancient things and realizing they are eternally refreshed and refreshing in the lives of new human beings. To seek is to hope to find, and find again, and seek again, and afterwards, find again, and then seek — in an ever widening circle of individual and shared lives.

The idea of seeking for truth or answers or help or morality, though, in a worldview of stasis is a modern-day tragedy. It is where many people go wrong when they say they seek their answers in a book. Many people in the world today, claim especially to seek ideas about living from a book called The Bible. But alas! a book is a static thing. Books are wonderful things, and to many of us, books are one of the most treasured belongings we have. But they are belongings. They are wonderful when we are in their “presence” but otherwise, they sit on shelves or in Kindles, and don’t do anything except miss the good old days when they were read as relevant, or long for a future when someone else will cuddle them back into life.

What is not static are the people the stories in the Bible are about. Stories about the past and human lives now passed, are not static if they are remembered or influential in even just one life of one living human being. What is never static in a book, or speech, or plaque, or any “dead” thing, is, what we might call The Truth or The Greatness of the Human Spirit. This is why writers who write truly about man’s search for meaning are said to have been moved to write by something we might call, the “Holy Spirit”. Holy in this case means something above the mundane, day to day human existence. Spirit in this case means something beyond animal or purely physical existence. Which brings us back to the idea of Seeking. To seek is to accept my own smallness in the Universe’s Vastness. To seek is to want to believe there is something More, perhaps Someone More. To seek is to never arrive, but to find great joy in The Journey. To seek, is the Universe’s great irony, because only in continually seeking that which is unknown or unknowable, can a person ever find wholeness.

In C.S. Lewis’ short compilation of lectures, entitled The Abolition of Man, he is both prescient and profound. He is prescient in the sense that Lewis foresees how the very idea of what it means to be human can be lost and destroyed if we give up on the belief that we have been created with inherent consciences and an eternal need to find meaning and purpose. The Abolition of Man is also profound, in that this well-known very Western, very Christian writer, Lewis, calls the right way to live not Christianity, not even what early Christians called their belief system when they called it simply The Way. Lewis calls right living by its Eastern Spiritual / Religion name — Tao.

There are many important reasons that C.S. Lewis chooses the term Tao to describe the right way humans should think and live, perhaps not least of all because his very own Christianity was a morphing of an Eastern religion called by its early adherents, Judaism. Today these belief -systems, what we may today call Christianity or Judaism or Islam, are all those who follow a book for their understanding of how to live, and so are often called “People of The Book”. However, the God that all of these religions claim as their own, simply says, that if anyone wants to live as He created them to live, to worship Him, or to belong to the worldview He taught Abraham, and Moses, and Jesus, then what that religion is to be called, according to this God, is “My People”. And the wonderful thing about belonging to something not called Christianity or Islam or even Buddhism or Taoism is that People are never, ever, ever static. This idea is inherent in the term Tao. Tao, like a chimera of light, is always flickering always just outside our limited vision. Living into and from within Tao means you accept the River is much bigger than you are and you have given up the need to step twice in the same part of that River. Tao means that God is the River and that She gives us the choice of whether we want to jump head first into that baptismal flow, not sure of where The River will take us; or we would rather sit in stasis on the shores, where we will more easily return to the dust from which we were created.

In The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis explains Tao beautifully (and better than I), and it is a book that everyone should read many times, along with almost everything else Lewis wrote. Although his books may be shelf-sitters, once read, and read again, Lewis words will leave his readers anything but the status-quo. But what I am mainly trying to unravel here, is Lewis’ idea of Tao as it relates specifically to the idea of seeking. Because that is what Tao is. The bottom line is that Tao is both ultimate Reason and ultimately beyond human reasoning. Tao is both the embrace of the minutiae of my day and the embrace of the sublime in the galaxies. Tao is both the acceptance of my mortality and the journey toward immortality. Tao is what I know in my very inner most part to be true and real, and that which I accept I will never know and can be unsure of is even real at all. Tao is The Way forward to Heaven, and the way back to The Garden. Tao is the essence of all life.

Lewis calls Tao, “the ultimate foundations of theoretical and practical reason”. In other words, living a certain way is actually the only way to live that is not lunacy. However, intelligent, reasonable, practical, scientific, or however, theologically correct or spiritual or moralistic a person claims to be, if he or she is not constantly aware that humanity is only “human” when it is seeking and flowing; that is, when a human being is walking along The Path of Enlightenment, seeking and journeying in The Way, or flowing back and forth in the current of Tao,  only then is one at all what humans should be, can be, must be, to thrive or even survive. One is perhaps not really even fully human without a sense of true Tao, and humanity will become more and more zombie like than what we were meant to be — the sons and daughters of “Holy Spirit”.

C.S. Lewis calls out and rings the alarm bells on America’s own current and particularly frightening brand of zombies, when he calls people who do not live according to virtue or The Way of Tao, “men without chests”. “We make men without chests and expect from them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst” (Lewis, 11). Try doing anything like walking or swimming without a chest and see how far you get. Without a core of true belief or what we might call “a soul”, a thing within us that creates virtuous action, a human being is like a zombie with a functioning mouth in its head, but with only a rotting, decaying heart where a chest used to be.

“A Quiet Path” by thatmushroom is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

 

Tao. It is defined as: “the unconditional and unknowable source and guiding principle of all reality as conceived by Taoists. It is the process of nature by which all things change and which is to be followed for a life of harmony” (Merriam Webster). So, while an understanding and commitment to Tao is important for anyone who wants to live well, it is an especially critical idea to embrace by anyone who wants to claim that a book is “God’s Holy Word”. If Tao is The Way, then “De” is the Spirit. This word De is interestingly similar to how we might use the term “De” in the phrase, “Imago Dei”, denoting “ Mirror Image in a Human of The Spirit-God”.

De is what some might call virtue or essence, but it is more that that. In studying a bit about this idea, I would maybe call De something like “good-soul” or “healthy-humanness” or “righteous-being-ness”. But all of these have the same problem. When I define something, I make it, at least for that moment, for that purpose, “definite”. I make it static. The thing about Tao and De, or The Way or the particular religion attributed to the Hebrews and Jesus, the Christ, is that they are all about movement. None are about forward “movements”, which is where religions and societies have often gone so very wrong, and why leaders like Jesus refused to be caught up in movements or what many would call “advancements”. Jesus knew that The Way is not progress but a yin and yang of past and present (“I come not to destroy The Law but to fulfill it” (Matt. 5:17). Lewis rightly points out that Jesus does not mean The Law as in the misunderstood rules that his own brand of religion had not only failed to follow but were now abusing to gain power and wealth. No, Jesus understood The Law to be what Lewis in many of his writings calls, The Natural Law or The Law of Nature or sometimes The Law of the Heart. In other words, there is a sort of set of rules that has existed within human beings since the beginning of our existence on earth and it is a set of rules about living well, living together, caring for the things that grow and live around us on the planet, and rules about being human that we go against to our own and to our species’ peril. The Law of Human Nature is as real as the Law of Gravity and just as destructive to disbelieve or to flagrantly test. (For more on this idea of what Lewis means by Natural Law, read the first chapters of Mere Christianity.)

True Tao is about ebb and flow. It is about constant movement, but not forward like a march, or passive like a sit-in. Living into The Way is about eyes wide open but it must also be about heart wide-open and hands-wide open. We must use our eyes, our senses, to seek in Nature and in other humans, that which is flowing, moving, changing “holy spirit”. We must read books, listen to podcasts, sit at the feet of rabbis or gurus, and meditate or pray in order to be taught and refreshed and to resume our active participation in The Way and to ourselves be “filled with holy spirit”. We must both participate in preparation for the journey and release ourselves from a static determining of where the journey will lead us. This is the yin and yang, the give and take, the less as more, and the last as the first and first as the last, of living as we were created to best live.

One intriguing passage on this idea of moving De or flowing Tao, is one that you won’t hear much from people who want their Bibles to stay static. In John 3:8, Jesus compares the De or Holy Spirit of God to a mercurial and uncontrollable wind, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” We are not meant to control God, nor people’s access to Him, and even if we think we are in control, or we fear losing control and so try to control others who do not believe as we do, we will find that where the Spirit Wind is blowing, one had better learn quickly how to stop being a stubborn stone and quickly, humbly become a kite or a sparrow.

Jesus came to show his disciples Tao, and in fact, he calls himself, as that uniquely human being who was Son of Man and Son of God, “The Tao”, or “The Way”. In John 14:6, Jesus proclaims his philosophy of how to live as that of becoming one with the spirit of “living, flowing water”. In John 7:38, The Christ says clearly that the Tao of God is never to be made stationary or static and that, “Whoever believes in me, rivers of flowing water will flow from within them.” Not only is Jesus here pointing out that the new life he offers is like flowing water but that there is a yin and yang heart within his followers, a heart that flows from and a heart that flows within.

And so, I humbly submit, that anything worthy, anything really real, anything that will not only stand the Test of Time but perhaps the Test of Eternity, must be understood to be beyond the comprehension or theorems of even the most intelligent geniuses among us, beyond even the kindest most loving among us, beyond the most spiritual or religious among us, and beyond even the most strong, wealthy, beautiful, or creative among us. If living into Tao was even beyond The Christ to completely understand and beyond even his great abilities to completely explain to those who would desire to live as he did, then it is certainly beyond me. The Good News is, we do not have to understand everything — because we never will. The Good News is The Way can be found by all who seek.

The problem with anyone’s explaining and understanding, including my own feeble morsels of thought here, is that in the first place, a word on a page (any page, even a Biblical page or Dali Lama page or a page out of the Koran) is static. At the same time, a word out of someone’s mouth, is like a breath — once out, it is gone into the atmosphere and cannot be retrieved. This is why we call particularly meaningless words, “hot air” because they dissipate without leaving a trace of useful meaning or intent behind. It is also why the post-recorded words of gurus and rabbis and Messiahs that were only given to others orally, can not ever capture the complete meaning, but only the deep intent of those words once spoken, not written. It is easy to be caught up at this point in something very like cynicism or that of the eccliesiast when he proclaims all things on earth, “vanities of vanity” and all that human beings have, are, or have ever done, worth nothing more than a “vapor or a breath”. If someone has reached this point in life, I doubt very much they are still reading, nor that they have any desire to live a better, fuller, more meaningful life. And yet, The Holy Spirit, can fan an ember into a fire with one powerful breath. And yet, those of us who do seek Tao, De, The Way, Meaning, Essence — we must reach out our hands to those who sit on the shore in their cynicism with their stuff, or to those who are treading and afraid to go further and deeper, and we must reach out our hands especially to those who are determined to swim upstream or who are drowning. Because we are not truly in The River of Life, The Tao, if we think we can enjoy it or go it alone. So if you are someone who needs a lifeboat or lifeline today, reach out, and a Hand or some hands will appear. And if you are someone who has reached a point in the River because a Hand or many hands have helped you, reach out, and give someone else a helping hand.

“San Francisco Bay Swimmers” by Buzz Hoffman is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

 

My own best and surest source of spiritual guidance has this to say about living in The Way, following the De, and practicing and believing in Tao:

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (The Tao of Jesus, the Jewish Messiah as set down in writing later in the book of Matthew, Chapter 7).

So, I ask myself (and perhaps you?):

· Am I content with floating down the wide, lazy river of life without meaningful purpose, lacking the virtues and good-soulness of De? Am I stuck on the shore, afraid to let the Current take me further from what I was? Is the wide gate of ever widening consumerism and self-centeredness what I believe to be best humanity has to offer? Am I willing to get wet, perhaps even to drown, for the joy of being fully in The River?

· Do I want to take, as Robert Frost might say, “the path less taken”? — knowing that I will be sometimes more alone, sometimes more unsure, but infinitely more alive to possibility, eternally curious to find what lies “in leaves no step has trodden black”; and faithfully, hopefully pursuing that which will “make all the difference”, today, and perhaps, even in eternity? Will I take Christ’s narrow path? Will I walk the tightrope of Tao?

· Am I aware of the ebb and flow of my own soul in this very moment? Can I allow the movement of the holy spirit that is alive in all things that are true to The Natural Law, the De, The Tao, to move within my own spirit and soul?

· Will I submit to a Power more strong than Reason that is alive in the Universe? Will I be consumed by a Love more real than any of my senses, more lasting than anything I have ever felt? Will I have faith in a Reality that is ever moving, but never changing?

· Will I seek, not in order to own, but in order to live more meaningfully? Will I journey not to succeed but to experience? Will I seek those things that one man described as so beyond, so “holy”, so true and right and spiritually human, that he calls them “things above meaning” (Colossians 3)? Will I seek a Tao that leads to that Reality beyond Reality, that is a fuller, deeper, real-er Life, and not live my life merely stockpiling stuff and ideas in order to fight the fears or numb my understanding of my inevitable death? Will I begin living the eternal life in the temporal confines of my body? Will I let today be enough and no more and to also be everything and always?

The Great Guru, Jesus, recommends that to find Tao, to live De, after so many centuries, is difficult, strange, almost counter-intuitive after so long of denying our intuitions of God-given virtue and wholeness. To live Tao, in this world, one must be “born again”. To be born again, daily, over and over again is to seek like a baby seeks. A baby reaches out her hands, not knowing what they will touch. A baby gazes at the world, smells the world, listens to the world, not caring to define what she sees, hears, or smells, but merely to experience it. Not everything a baby experiences is joyful or pleasant or happiness-inducing, but all that she experiences teaches her about the way human beings are meant to live. And there is nothing more true about all human beings ever born than that in the beginning, we all want to learn to live well. The only question that remains is: Do I still want to learn to live well? Or do I need to be born again?

My hope is that in any moment I can seek The Way, and that in this time granted to me today as gift, I will journey further in Tao. May I seek The Way without a static determination but rather with a hopeful joy in the journey.

The River of Life is something we are all born from, The Womb so to speak. But we do not all stay in that River. We have the free will to leave the River, and remain static on some foreign shore, foreign to the right way humans are meant to live. May I swim and float and rest and get help as needed, in the ever-flowing River of Life. I will be often buffeted, my flesh torn, afraid of the Thunder overhead and the lurking demons swimming below. And at other times I will find great, deep contentment, not in my accomplishments but in the sense that the River will hold me and that the River will never end. There will be times when I allow my soul the joy of peacefully floating in the holy spirit of True Universal Water, and there will be times I must swim hard against the current, battling my own lack of nerve or my own decaying virtue or rotting sensibilities. There are times that the virtues of the Water will seem faint or quaint, and I will need to fight my desire to vegetate and not meditate or activate. And there will be times when suddenly around the bend, I find an uncommon, unexpected fellow-swimmer, and we will help each other go further along and deeper in.

There will be many moments when I want to leave the River and build a nice little static mansion for myself on some passing and paltry kingdom’s shore. There will even be horribly selfish times that I myself help the Evil One dam up the River that wants to flow “from within” every human soul. There will be a lack of resources and many weaknesses that I wish I didn’t have, and I will mourn not being better prepared from my youth for the long, hard swim to reach the River’s End. I will survive by using the only words that are never static, the words:

If.

But.

How-ever.

Why.

For in “if” and the eternally unanswered “why”, there is the Tao, The Way. “If” — means there is an answering, “Then”. And to wonder “Why”, means there is a Someone who will one day answer “Because”. “However” means that I don’t need to know how I will get somewhere, I just need to take the next step. And the “buts” are the conditions that warn me, that there are other choices, “But” there is only One Way.

Seeking. Like becoming a baby again and again and again. To seek Tao is the only ever- fulfilling, ever-meaningful, ever-lasting journey. It is The Way, The Truth, and The Life.

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Ch-Ch-Ch-Changing to a Precise Center

Hi Friends, I hope you will take a bit of time to read my latest on Medium.com.  I have shared the friend link with you here, so you can access it without impacting how many other free stories you can read on Medium.  Just click on my name in the picture below.  This is a longer read about making small changes, including my change from wearing a cross to a Tree of Life necklace, and my changing-up my need to hang on to a hurtful past in order to have a more hopeful future.  Here’s to Hope that makes us hum and smile more.  Peace,  Jane

View at Medium.com

A Christmas Letter Replay from 2015

It seemed like a good time for me, and maybe you, if you are reading this, to re-post the very first Christmas season post I wrote for this blog.  Whatever you believe, this post is about being and being-ness and not doing and doing-ness.  I am personally practicing more, different, and various forms of centering and breathing, of embracing the Now, and accepting who I am and the paths I have taken, as well as trying to understand who other people “are”, not so much what they “do”.  I hope you might wrestle with me on some of the thoughts I posted in 2015 in light of all that has changed out there, and in me and maybe in you, in 2019.

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A Christmas Letter on Being-ness

by Jane Tawel

December 24, 2015

A Christmas Letter is about all the stuff one and one’s family has done in the past year. It’s an accounting of achievements and that is as it should be since that is what satisfies the recipients’ curiosity. There is a saying people toss around when they are telling one not to stress– “We’re not called human doings, we’re called human beings“. As I age, I am distilling into more and more myself, which is (I’m often told) — impassioned and weird.  So once again this season, I write my traditional odd and intense Christmas letter, not because that is what I do, but because that is what I am — odd and intense.

Sometimes you shouldn’t stake claim and insist on being what you naturally are — being is like writing– it is important to understand context and connotation. In writing as in life, know your context and if necessary dial down your weird and impassioned. I’m a bit spotty on successfully doing that, I admit.  But I am learning that it is often okay to accept one’s particular self. Each of us is created in a unique way to reflect the image of our Creator God.  I serve an odd and intense God — an impassioned God, a strange one-of-a-kind God, who unlike other gods did not tell us to worship Him for what He had done or would do, but told us to worship Him for what He is: “I Am”.

We “Beings” are the only created “Imago Dei” of that God — imago means “idealized concept” — which fittingly has nothing to do with “doing” but means “a better than in reality idea”. That’s what we will be again someday — our realized ideal self. Meantime, we work at it. This time of year we celebrate the fact that while we were formed from dust into God’s image, because we rejected that image, God chose to be created in our image–ad imaginem hominis. We were given the perfect Being to model — Jesus, the Christ. As the hymn goes: “Amazing love, how can it be that thou my God, should (be born) and die for me!”.

I get all my strange random thoughts out of my head in a blog where you can also find this letter (janetawel.wordpress.com).  I am reading a lot of C.S. Lewis. One cannot spend time with C.S. Lewis and not become at least a wee bit changed.  Lewis has such a high view of human beings –that is if humans choose to sacrifice completely the sense of self to the sense of imago dei– through relationship with the living God and in the manner of the Son of God. It is a fearful thing to ponder that one day we will become what we have always truly been judged to be, with no regard to what we have done. The bible calls it God’s view of the true heart of one’s soul.

We are easily confused and disoriented by the distorted mirrors reflecting what is truly “us”. There is none good but God and no goodness in us but our Godlikeness in Christ. One can live in a state of stunned awe reading a lot of the Bible and Lewis.

I learned more about reading and writing with my 15 Azusa Pacific University freshmen. One of the things you try to help students with is that when writing, stick to the same verb tense.  The other thing is that it is easier to write consistently in present tense than in past tense.  I think it is easier to LIVE consistently in present tense as well — easier than living in past achievements and problems or living in future dreams and worries. Occupare Momento!

With my “at least on paper grown-up”  kiddos, I am failing but trying to transition from “doing mom” to “being mom”.  This is the necessity if you want to be friends with your adult children — you will always “be” their mom, but you don’t “do” mom any more — at least I imagine you can’t until they become parents and then you can do “grand” mom. Being mom means you let them all be who they are becoming and you just be there for them.  Whatever you do, don’t let on that you are still doing stuff for them. Except doing the occasional bill paying for them. That’s ok. This morning the best part of still being mom, is being with all my chicks and my hubby under one roof — even if only for a short amount of time. They all keep asking me what I want for Christmas — isn’t it obvious? — just to BE– together. There is a great old Peter Seller’s movie called, “Being There”. Chauncey Gardiner keeps saying, “I like to watch.”  I “like to watch” my children and husband bloom and grow.  So, I am watching my family being: Hard workers. Risk takers. Creators. Friends. Students. Travelers. Dreamers.

Christmas is a time of traditions.  Traditions are not things one has merely done in the past but they become traditions because you keep doing them–in the present. We, as perhaps you, are in the midst of our many Christmas traditions, like fudge and cookie making, driving around to see the lights, singing carols, hiding gifts,  and snuggling  together watching Christmas movies. Our traditions are mostly about being present in the season.

Advent implores us to live fully in the present reality while anticipating the future reality. As Christians we lean our frail earthly weight into our calling to be “on earth as it is in heaven” – which will merely BE timeless present in God’s presence. Advent is about Christ with us, in us, and Christ to be. The church liturgy helps ground us in the present of Christ’s presence, not by having us think on what He did — “He was born”– but by celebrating what His Being continues to mean daily, in this very moment, in the present eternity of our souls –“He IS born.”  “He IS Risen”. “He IS coming again”. He Is I Am.

This Christmas perhaps we First World human beings, are more aware of our frailty and transitory state as the Evil One rears in his death throes of ugliness, unnaturalness, violence, and hatred. Today increasingly seems to gain better odds at being my last day. While Eternity becomes a more present longing, it is yet good to be thankful for another hour to be present here.

We spend a lot of time doing good things that care for the body and mind. But what of that which is our innermost being? How shall we live to be Souls rather than Bucket Lists? We are called to improve and to love this created world and God’s created people– as our skills and callings and dreams allow. But the soul can only be bettered by the One who created it, so that the true self can be made into that thing which is all that will eternally remain –Faith, Hope and Love.

The soul is our being-ness. It is only in being known by our Creator, by knowing our Creator, and by allowing that humbling, undeserved but delightful relationship to God to inform all our human BEING relationships, that we truly become who we are meant to BE–  Little Christs– poor imitations but striving imitators nonetheless, of Him of whom the angels sang, “Glory to Him in the Highest”. And by giving Christ glory, may peace on earth and good will be to all souls. Hoping that in the New Year that you and yours, may BE all that you are meant to be.

Jane — December 2015…. and……. Jane, December 2019.  Shalom.

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When God Goes High, I Must Go Low

When God Goes High, I Must Go Low

by Jane Tawel

November 20, 2019

 

 

Now. This. From J. Heinrich Arnold:

“God’s love is like water: it seeks the lowest place. Yet we cannot make ourselves humble and lowly in our own strength. We can see ourselves for what we are only in the light of God’s omnipotence, love, purity, and truth.”

And so I ask myself, “Jane, how low can you go”? How low must I go, to see myself as God sees me, lowly but somehow still, loved? Not loved for who I am, which is but a being made of dust and blown in the wind, but loved because of Who God Is. And the answer comes as a still, small voice: “Jane, you must get lower.”

 When God goes so High, I can go lower. I must go lower.

Remember playing  limbo with your friends?  It’s that game where you only win if you can bend over backwards and get down the lowest to the ground as you possibly can. That is how God says His Kingdom on earth is — the one who gets down to the lowest of the lows, the one who bends over backwards in order to move forwards, wins. In God’s upside-down Kingdom, the lowest of us will win.  The humblest becomes the most praised; the weakest becomes the strongest; the first becomes the last.

 

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How low does a human need to go, to truly understand how high above all things is The Lord God? We do not go low by suffering; all people suffer.  We do not go low by thinking that we are “servant-leaders”; we are called not to let the “right hand know what the left hand is doing”. We do not go low through “thoughts and prayers”; for “without love, we are but sounding gongs”, and as the Son of God asks, “Why do you call on me, ‘Lord, Lord’, but do not do as I do?”.

We are called to fear God; to fear the trials and temptations; to fear our failures as human beings. And to somehow, despite our great fear, and low nothingness, to “love the Lord God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength”. It is only when we fall upon the mercy of God, that He can lift us from the muck and mire.

And here is what I am incrementally discovering after all these years. The less I think of myself, the more pure gratitude I am suddenly surprised by. The more I die to my self-centered-ness, the more love I feel for being alive as myself. The lower I go, the closer God Is.

We awake to another day, another opportunity, and we play God’s Great Game of Limbo, while waiting in this current Time’s limbo. We can play lots of games in this life, you see them being played out daily by those sad fools who think they are winning. But God is clear that The Game of Life is won only by losing; that God is found, not by our hiding but by our seeking; and that hate is conquered only by loving others in the way God loves us.  We do not even “pass Go” if we are not caring for the Earth as if it were our own, when in fact it is Our Father’s.

We can only understand “how high, how wide, how deep Christ’s love is” by going as low as He did. We do it by loving those who drew the short straw, the lowest of the low in the world’s point of view, and by loving all those we come into contact with in the same way we want to be loved – with “God’s strength, love, purity, and truth”. We get down low and we get down and dirty.  We seek the level of God’s water.

And so we are called to pray not “dear god, bless me”; but “Dear God, we bless Your Name! Save us from our selves. Save us from Evil. Glorify Yourself. Show us Your compassion, on earth as it is All-Places Out There.”  And if you are at all like me, you will understand, when I simply pray, “Help!  Help!  Help us!  Help me! I can’t go lower without You. Help me.”

Note to self:  Today:  Must go lower. Must go lower. Must go lower.

Psalm 103:11-19

For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust.

As for man, his days are like grass;
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.
But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him,
and his righteousness to children’s children,
to those who keep his covenant
and remember to do his commandments.
The Lord has established his throne in the heavens,
and his kingdom rules over all.

 

Must. Go. Lower.

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Photo “ijsje, de poolvos en de stormvogel houden een ijsbergrally” by De Vleermuis is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

I’d Rather Be a Stone

I’d Rather Be a Stone than a Leaf

By Jane Tawel

November 16, 2019

 

Simon and Garfunkel have this great old song in which they preach to their listeners that they would “rather be a hammer than a nail” and they would “rather be a sparrow than a snail”.  Good sentiments, sort of along the lines of Ghandi’s ubiquitous “Be the Change” exhortation.  But you know, the problem is that most of us can only manage to fly like a bird for a very short time, and then we tire out. And being a hammer eventually just makes you an overbearing, hard-nosed, abuser of your power against all the little powerless nails. Being a hammer might be a Samson-like calling in the moment, but eventually all hammers hit too hard, just as much as the powers do who currently hold the hammers.  We dare not forget the ends of stories like those of Icarus and Samson.

 

 

I have learned all of this, mostly from literature and other forms of great writers’ artistic endeavors. Stories and poems and authors like Homer, Tolkien, Rowling, and the writers of what we call The Bible, contain what C.S. Lewis calls, True Myth. These stories about hammers, or powerful heroes, or sparrows, high fliers, often end tragically or at least badly for all the little nobodies – that is for the nails who get wacked by the heroes or the people below the high fliers, who get pooped on from those soaring above the fray.

 

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This is the truth that Orwell and Dickens meant to teach us when they wrote about power and revolutions against that power.  Charles Dickens wrote A Tale of Two Cities to help people understand that even a great cause, such as the French Revolutionaries had, will eventually fall by the way side when the weak become strongmen, and the powerless become power-hungry rulers. And I always loved to teach my students that Orwell was quite clear that Animal Farm  was not simply about Soviet Russia, but also about Fascist Spain and Capitalistic America, and well, about all of us, everywhere, always.   We have been warned—all humanistic, prideful power eventually is corrupted from within.  One only has to look to the powers that those who claim God’s favor, ie all religions, but perhaps today, especially what we call “Christianity”. We have only to see what those in the name of religion or God have stolen, dictated, grasped, and abused, and continue to grasp and abuse, to understand that humanity is always falling prey to either an immoral sense of entitled faith in someone else doing the moral, salvation bit, or  prey to a self-righteous sense of doing for God something that He refuses to do  miraculously for our own entitled sense of greed or benefit.

 

 

I  very often feel guilty and helpless and humiliated, that I am not out there hammering and soaring and fighting and shouting and pledging and contributing and warring and protesting and well, flying.  It has helped me to read great story-tellers, who believe that getting rid of one power to be replaced only with another power will forever condemn history to more greedy and power hungry rulers. If you  say you believe in Jesus, you should have no doubt that he believed this, even for himself, and he had the edge in being the Son of God, so….But we are not allowed to believe that we are to do nothing; that we were put on earth merely to save our own measly excuse for an individual soul and  hightail it to a “Heaven” somewhere out there without all the mess we’ve created here. We are supposed to believe that we were put in charge on this planet, of these beings, and plants, and animals, and volcanoes, and lakes, and rivers, and children. We are meant to believe that there is a way humans were meant to “do good” and “act rightly and righteously” and to make this planet and world and other communities of humans better, more the way we would all like it to be, and that is what Jesus meant by telling us our job was to make “God’s Kingdom real here on earth, like it is in other galaxies, and places we can’t even imagine, ie, the “Heavens- Out-there- Where God is”.

 

So we seek metaphors, and stories, and poetic allusions to figure out how we are supposed to do this thing called “living”. I struggle at my time of life with seeing myself as a soaring eagle or a powerful tool of politics or religion.  My nickname in my family is “Chicken” for good reason and I am definitely mechanically challenged at the best of times. Not sure any one wants me wielding a hammer, though I am prone to the occasional use of the metaphoric kind in conversation. The best metaphor I have recalled lately, for how I might make changes in the world as only one of the little people, a minor character in the plot, is the metaphor of the stone.

 

I think about that great line in Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” spoken by a man who suffers death for the sake of his wife and other women, who back then were considered property, and who are accused and condemned unjustly by the over-powerful, over-zealous self-proclaiming evangelical politicians of the time. These abusers of power in Miller’s story, much like the regimes of Orwell’s Animal Farm, or the monarchy of Dicken’s A Tale of Two Cities  are up against, hammers and sparrows, and doves who carry secret messages, etc, but in the end the righteous refusal to budge on an ethical, moral response to wrong, badness, and evil, usually comes through those who simply lay down their lives, like a stone in the road, refusing to be carried away by the justifications of those who will not see the Truth behind the lies of the corrupted. Much like many of America’s past and present abusers of power, such as the current configuration of those like President Trump and Senator McConnell and Franklin Graham’s oligarchical Administration, and the Red Scared three-headed beast once seen in the U. S. Judiciary and  FBI and Senator Joseph McCarthy  during that Make America Great Administration, and the “Evangelical” Protestant Witch hunting White Settlers in the Administration who populate Miller’s play. And so, knowing that he would be condoning evil and doing  wrong, by choosing the “lesser of two evils” and thereby, abusing his own power as a conservative, religious man who only wanted to save himself,  Giles Corey, submits to being unjustly charged as a traitor and not Christian-like and is put to death via capital punishment by the state and modern inquisition by the Church. The Puritans did this by the placing of large, heavy stones laid on a man until they had crushed his chest into his heart. As the weight of the stones placed on Giles Corey, one after another, seem too impossible for his body to survive, and the political and religious leaders think surely this man will give in to their way of thinking and behaving now; Corey tells the “Christian” executioners that no, not only will he not join them for any reason but that they must add, “More weight. Add more weight.”

 

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Add more stones.  Arthur Miller, the playwright, would later, be a Giles Corey character in real life, when he refused to tattle to the corrupt “Un-American Activities Committee”, who after all were only trying to “make America great”. Again.

 

Dickens writes about a Christ-like figure who is innocent but allows the state to kill him in order for someone else to live.  Orwell, however, has no such hero.  In Orwell’s dystopian worldview, the Christian leaders, in the character of a black raven, symbolizing death, flies off with his share of the goodies; and the politicians, one after the other, are revealed to be not just literally pigs, but archetypes whose greed devolves them from being animals to, you guessed it, game-playing, powerful, greedy, over-fed humans.

 

And again, and again, and again and on it goes. No wonder we can feel so helpless and hopeless, and that we keep trying to tell ourselves that either someone like Jesus, already did all the work for us, and that the world can go to hell because we personally will be “saved”,  if we only have a mindful acquiescence to some historical god’s reality; or that someone else, like a president or prime minister, or a Gates or Gandhi, will come along and be our world’s savior, and all we need to do is “pray” for them.

 

As for little old me, I do believe in the kind of Judeo-Christian worldview in which humans matter and that there is a God that cares about our world. I try to hang on to a belief that I find not just in stories from the Bible, but in the history books, and in Nature and even in other humans I meet now and then. I believe that Love matters most of all and that the small actions of small people matter. And that little actions done with love by little  people can not only change the world, but that somehow, they have a larger meaning in light of God’s Kingdom and in some as yet, unrealized idea of Eternity.

 

I do believe that there is judgement and reward, for what we say, think, feel, and especially what we do or do not do. It seems clear that the consequences of one’s own life, and well as the tides of time and history are ultimately determined by those dueling sins of omission and commission that tug us as individuals, sometimes confuse us as they pull us in different and seemingly contradictory directions.   I believe we all sense the truth, that in some way, we have messed up what is fair and good, and this is true whether we believe in a reckoning in a God-futured heaven, or the more easily apparent judgement that Jesus did rightly warn us of. Jesus did warn his fellow humans that there is an inherent judgement in life that is an ever present danger. This danger comes when any one, any people pass the point of no return on earth by “losing our souls, losing what this life was meant to reward us with as individual human beings,  and when we seek only to gain more and more for ourselves at any cost”.

Surely even the most foolish of us sometimes awakes in a terrified sweat to the recognition that we are becoming less human, less of what we want to be, more soul-less, and zombie-like. Surely even the most religious of us must stand aghast at what we have allowed to happen on our planetary home, as children kill other children, and farmers starve on what used to be their land, and the food we eat  to nourish us causes us deathly illnesses, and whole species of animals die out, and people wear gas masks to breath, and fires rage, and sea levels rise, and those who are supposed to unite us, divide us for their own gain.  Surely, even the most atheistic or immoral of us understand that there is something horribly, horribly wrong on our planet, in our species, in the inner most parts of who we are?

 

And like me, you may feel angry, depressed, frightened, sad, and helpless and hopeless. After all, what can you do? What can I do? What can we do?

 

 

It came as a consolation and a warning and a judgement and a prophetic goading to me, this past week to re-read the part of a story I was reading.  I will share great swathes of it with you here, but I encourage you to read the whole thing for yourself.  This is from C.S. Lewis’s Science Fiction Trilogy, and specifically from Perelandra.  In it, the character of Elwin Ransom, a human being, has gone to another planet which has just been created by God, who Lewis calls Maleldil. On this planet, there is a sort of new Garden of Eden set-up, and there this traveling spaceman, meets this planet’s archetypal “Eve” character.  Ransom also meets up with the only other fellow human, a man named, Weston, but who according to Lewis, has become an “Un-man”. Weston has allowed evil, “Satan” to take over his mind, body, and soul, but it happened incrementally over the course of time and Weston did it for all the right reasons, much like people today claim to do. The story’s conflict lies between these two humans, who have a different worldview of what God wants from us, although both claim the Bible and God as their source. They also have different ideas about what is the best way to make the planet of Perelandra and her inhabitants, “Great”.  Oh, it is truly relevant, is it not?  I encourage you to read the story.  But what may encourage you today, as it did me, is C.S. Lewis’ own wrestling with his conscious and the pleading voice coming through in the character of Elwin Ransom.  I have taken the liberty here and substituted Lewis’ name for God, “Maleldil” for the more earth-friendly one, “God”. Ransom is at a loss for how to stop the evil and “bad stuff” happening around him. He has tried and failed so far to save The Lady and the planet, and time seems to be running out. Now he is feeling helpless, and thinking dark thoughts in the darkness, thoughts and feelings much like mine at times. Perhaps much like yours.

 

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Why did no miracle come? Or rather, why no miracle on the right side? For the presence of the Enemy was in itself a kind of Miracle. Had Hell a prerogative to work wonders? Why did Heaven work none? Not for the first time he found himself questioning Divine Justice. He could not understand why God should remain absent when the Enemy was there in person… Suddenly and sharply, as if the solid darkness about him had spoken with articulate voice, he knew that God was not absent… had never been absent, that only some unconscious activity of his own had succeeded in ignoring it for the past few days…. But where is God’s representative?

The answer which came back to him, quick as a fencer’s or a tennis player’s riposte, out of the silence and the darkness, almost took his breath away.  “Anyway, what can I do? I’ve done all I can. I’ve talked till I’m sick of it. It’s not good, I tell you.”  He tried to persuade himself that he, Ransom could not possibly be God’s representative… And then—he wondered how it had escaped him till now—he was at least as much of a marvel as the Enemy’s.   He himself was the miracle.

 

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Yes, we too often forget it. My life itself is a miracle. But we must be careful, for like Ransom, many of us who believe this today, stop there.  Ransom tries to convince himself that this belief, this “faith” in God and in goodness and in his being in “God’s hand”, is enough.  He pats himself on the back that he really has done “his best” and that “God would see to the final issue”.  But Lewis, knows that really, honestly, this is not true-Truth, not even on a mythical planet.

 

 

Not one rag of all this evasion was left. Relentlessly, unmistakably, the Darkness pressed down upon him the knowledge that this picture of the situation was utterly false.  His journey was not a moral exercise, nor a sham fight. If the issue lay in God’s hands, Ransom and the Lady were those hands. The fate of a world really depended on how they behaved in the next few hours. They could, if they chose decline to save the innocence of this new race, and if they declined its innocence would not be saved.  It rested with no other creature in all time or all space.  This he saw clearly, though as yet he had no inkling of what he could do.

 

 

As Ransom realizes, we must realize that God cares through Us, not just for us. We are each, each day, standing alone on the precipice between the salvation of the world within and without and the death of all that is in both me and the planet, all that is Good and Right and Healthy. I am the only person right now who is utterly responsible for what happens in my own soul, in the souls of others, and on the planet. This is not the vanity of the powerful nor the hubris of the hero, this is the reality of what it means to be a created human being, created in the likeness of a God.  Ransom, however, can not accept this blithely, just  as I can not do, maybe as you  cannot do, and Lewis through his character, rebels and protests these thoughts.

 

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The voluble self protested, wildly, swiftly, like the propeller of a ship racing when it is out of the water.  The imprudence, the unfairness, the absurdity of it!  Did God want to lose worlds? What was the sense of so arranging things that anything really important should finally and absolutely depend on such a man of straw as himself? And at that moment he now could not help remembering that men were at war and awaking, like him, to the preposterous truth that all really depended on their actions; and far away in time Horatius stood on the bridge, and Eve herself stood looking upon the forbidden fruit and the Heaven of Heavens waited for her decision. He writhed and ground his teeth, but could not help seeing. Thus, and not otherwise, the world was made.  Either something or nothing must depend on individual choices.  And if something, who could set bounds to it?

A stone may determine the course of a river.  He was that stone at this horrible moment which had become the centre of the whole universe. The angels of all worlds, the sinless organisms of everlasting light, were silent in Deep Heaven to see what Elwin Ransom of Cambridge would do.

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And so each and every day – perhaps moment by moment– one must ask oneself:  Will I be a leaf, blown this way and that by life’s ebb and flow, to eventually be nothing more than the dust from which I grew?

 

Or will I be a stone?  A pebble in the shoe of the king, can irritate him into stopping and perhaps, in that way, the pebble will upend the powerful forces marching towards destruction.  A rock in the road, can cause the jeeps and tanks, to perhaps change direction, and in that way, change the direction of a war. All the little bits of gravel, can build each other up, and change the course of the mighty seas of history, damming the floods of greed, pride, and injustice, restoring the waters to their intended nourishment and life-giving abilities.   And one little pebble found in a righteous slingshot, can slay a Goliath.

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The Cornerstone of God’s Kingdom, proclaimed, that should we fail to be the stones of God, that God Himself could easily raise up actual clods made of dirt and minerals. Should I fail, God does not lack for hands and feet and wings and claws and trunks and even pebbles; for on Ransom’s Earth, on Lewis’ and my planet, a man once came to show us how to live. And this Son of Man, proclaimed that even “the rocks themselves can do our job of crying in praise, ‘Hosanna’!  Blessed is the one who does God’s work on earth, as it is done in all the Heavens and in all the Cosmos!”

 

If I have delayed in my life, ‘til now, skipping a rock on a lake, or dropping a pebble into a pool of deep water, I must delay no longer.  I can not know whether my little stone of an action will create far-reaching ripples, the consequences of which I shall not know until Judgement day; or if my little stone will sink to the bottom of our raging waters, and there, perhaps, small and still as a god’s voice, will change the course of the tide, at least perhaps for someone else.

 

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All I can know without doubt, with fear and even sometimes loathing, is that I must be the stone that God has created me to be. I must use the hands God gave me, the feet God entrusted to me, and the voice God expects me to use. And so, like a good stone, I cry, “Hosanna!  Good news!  God is with us.  And the Gospel is –We are the saviors. We are the ones that God created us to be as the makers and caretakers and workers for Love on our planet. We are the Christ.”

 

We are not called to be innocent bystanders, like dumb rocks by the wayside. Because bystanders, are not innocent, they are just dumb. We neither are called to be dumb as in stupid nor dumb as in silent.  I may be just a stone, but I am a stone that is resting on the Cornerstone, and that Cornerstone, called The Christ, Messiah, Risen Lord and King, has changed the whole course of Time and History. On Christ the solid rock, I stand. Or am crushed. My choice.

 

The next time you are out in the world, stoop down and pick up a little grey pebble. Is it not truly a miracle of creation? Each of us, too, can be that small little stone that is in Truth,  a miracle.

 

Will I be a leaf or a stone?  Daily, moment by moment, I choose. And though, I am not all that important in the great scheme of things, I am the only miracle I have today. But then again, I am the only miracle, I need today.

 

And in the end, after all, as Elwin Ransom realized, as C.S. Lewis, and George Orwell, and Charles Dickens realized, and perhaps as you have realized, accepting that I am the miracle God has sent is not only enough, it is everything. My being a small stone is everything. In fact,

The fate of the planet depends on it.

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All Photos from https://creativecommons.org/

Jesus, The Good Person– a Poem

Jesus, The Good Person

By Jane Tawel

November 7, 2019

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Let them eat cake,

Donuts or glazed,

Free and cheap

And the world’s in a haze

Of gluttonous pride;

Yet no earthly free ride,

As we take the cheap bread,

Re-crucify sacred head.

 

Oh, mañana,

Hosanna!

We’ll be judged by what manna

We give or receive

And what pride that we leave

Behind the closed door,

Of Love, evermore.

 

And while we cling tightly

To the stuff we have bought,

We’ve lost sacred power

To cheap prayers and rank thoughts.

Oh, God, help me see

What The Christ claimed to be.

Not some hook-up, or quick fix,

Not a shaman with cute tricks,

But a Man who lived justly,

And put others first,

A god-man who suffered

To quench others’ thirsts.

 

And I’m called to be like him,

And to take my own cross,

To walk the whole distance,

And count not the loss,

Of things that are temporal

And things that are lies,

To seek only the True Path,

And all evil, despise.

 

Jesus was a Good Person,

And He called-out the rest,

Of the fakers, world-shakers, the fat priests–all the “best”–

That the world has to offer to all we little folk,

And He calls to us ‘nobodies’, “Follow me, and Get Woke!”

 

The Way of the Christ is really quite hard,

And we can’t walk His walk, without getting quite scarred.

And some days to be sure it is really a bore,

But it’s truly the best way, to reach Heaven’s shore.

 

Yes, He was a Good Person, some say, even like  God,

And He loved us by not sparing Heaven’s firm rod.

We were once to be like that and rule Earth with great care,

Jesus waits in His Kingdom, to welcome us there.

 

“And where is this Kingdom?” one asks with great mirth.

Why, He told us, “It is for you to make it real here on earth”.

In Praise of Argument

In Praise of Unlike-able Argument

(Caption: You can disagree with me if you want.)

By Jane Tawel

October 2019

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Fight Light TC2 by jimbo0307 licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

 

A friend shared yet another article by yet another writer who claims we should not argue with each other. This writer is of the persuasion that it is not a likable trait and especially (and here he is wielding the reformulated but age-old weapon beloved by those of the Inquisition), that it is not very “Christian” to argue or disagree, especially in public forums. But no matter Christian or not, I think many people in my own country at least, and no matter their religion or lack thereof, think that it isn’t completely kosher to argue with each other. Of course, if you know me, you will know that I am always dumb enough to think I owe it to other people to jump into the ring. I really have to argue with people like this who make me feel bad for arguing with people like this. Especially when they want to play the moral tone card.

 

 

I have long wanted to make and sell t-shirts that read, “Jesus was not nice, but then neither is God.” Niceness, I’m afraid, isn’t really the point of a god or of a savior. Christianity, at least all too often over here under this flag, has turned God and his supposedly chosen people into self-serving cultists who hide behind tax-free shelters being nice to each other and anyone who agrees with them. Americans, especially, have met so little resistance to our own crusades and imperialisms that we have had no reason to listen to or debate with those from other countries. The United States has had no valuable practice in debating our desperate need to seriously rethink the beloved institutions and historical documents we have enshrined and idolized. And neither church nor state spokespersons understand why, Rodney King fashion, we all can’t just get along– as long as you agree with my point of view, that is.  Janis Joplin might rejoin that our freedom has become just another word for we don’t argue, so we can’t lose. But not losing, doesn’t mean we haven’t lost our way. Thinking we are being nice by not arguing won’t help us find our way, either.

 

 

Niceness is highly over-rated, unlike courtesy or kindness, or sacrifice in the name of love, all which seem to have become virtues we have put on the backburners, along with truthfulness, humility, and restfulness.

 

Ironically this latest article posted by my friend, was shared on social media and the article was about how we shouldn’t argue with people on social media.  Oh, Irony, how I love thee! But then irony seems to be too argumentative a viewpoint for some people today; people who would rather drift along without anyone arguing against hypocrisy, foolishness, wrongness, or the ubiquitous, “that’s just what I think”. The worst are often people like this author; those who claim the Bible says it or some famous person they quote said it, or an historically specific philosophy says it. The worst are those who use that gigantic, greatly misunderstood and little read collection of genres, which is The Bible, and who then make these bold arguments and stunt any dissent; and they do so by cutting and pasting some quip or commentary or verse taken out of the whole contextual mass, or by one of the later day additions to what some people think of as “The Word of God”. Not that you can’t do that, but if you do, please realize that by doing so, you are, in fact, actually inviting people to argue with you.

 

 

People like this author make their sweet-sounding, oh-so-rational and unemotional bullet points about how we should interact, or rather not interact, and that is usually by not arguing with people on social media. Then they get excited that people repost them on…. social media, where …no one can argue with them. Ha!  However, it is not just on Facebook or Twitter that we are unfriended for dissent; we are also strongly cautioned that we are never to debate and argue in the marketplace, or at home, or in the classroom, or in the halls of government, or at work, or at temple or sanctuary or mosque.  God help us! Personally, I would rather you give me instead, any day, the angry, prophetic, justice-seeking disagree-ers like Greta Thunberg; or the friendly, wrangling sages like Kathryn Schultz, who argue about the very basis of our thought processes and our foibles because of our fear of being wrong. Let me read the stories about those crazy old, raging prophets like Jeremiah or Isaiah. And I love to sit awhile meditating on the debates among friends like Frodo and Sam and Boromir and Gandalf, as they argue over which way to go and what to do on their journey of immeasurable importance. It is because the characters argue and discuss and point out to each other their different strengths and weaknesses, that we know that one of the deep truths that the author Tolkien is teaching us, is that though each of us must ultimately make his or her own way, the journey is more “Good” and much better if we all try our best to help each other. Even if they are wrong, it is good to have companions who will disagree with us on the way, and those who will try to shed a bit of dim light whenever they think we might trip and fall. When you have a Balrog on one side of you and orcs and trolls on the other side, then losing an argument is infinitely less important than making it safely across the bridge.

 

 

Don’t get me wrong, there are simply many ideas or statements or point of views that are not worth arguing over, and argument for argument’s sake may get the juices flowing in some people I know and love, but not in me. I have an uncle and a few friends who quite often strongly disagree with me and I with them; and we banter publicly when necessary and privately when possible, but we don’t unfriend each other. I absolutely hate any argument with my children, but I would hate even more, not loving them enough to speak my mind about something I fear could hurt or misdirect them. I love and trust these people because we can keep (sometimes) arguing with each other and we can still keep loving each other.

 

 

And as much as I really do hate conflict, I also want to be able to look at myself in the morning, knowing I tried my best with other people to make bridges, not walls. I don’t sleep well at night anyway, I may as well lie awake regurgitating someone’s arguments against my complacency or fuming over a point of view that I don’t understand, or trying to think about whether I have been wrong –maybe wrong yesterday, maybe wrong this past year, maybe wrong for most of my lifetime. Or I might wrestle with an argument and be even more justifiably and peacefully confident that I am even more right today than I was yesterday, because someone had the chutzpah to disagree with me. With that attitude, I may not like argument, but I don’t fear it. I may avoid it if possible, but I won’t avoid it if preferable.

 

If I have the time and need to say something, then I also have the time and need to listen to someone’s argument about what I said. I may as well try to learn something from someone, even if I continue to disagree. I would rather someone take me seriously enough to not like something I post or communicate and to argue with me, (unless they agree with me, of course, which is why most of us speak out, usually, right? — to gather the like-minded troops with our rallying cries.) I would rather share an exhausting volley of words, than I would like to take time to punch one more “like” button on one more picture of a cute pet. Although, I do really love those cute pet pictures.

 

 

Arguing with someone doesn’t have to mean I am shutting her out or putting down his ideas. No, actually, it is not imitation, but argument that is the greatest form of flattery. Argument means that I take you seriously and that you are worth thinking about. You are worth my time, not just to hit the “like” button, but to engage with, to converse with, to learn with. Arguments don’t have to mean I want to tear down someone, but rather I want to build something with someone. Just because we are now on opposite sides of a chasm or gulf, doesn’t mean we both can’t work together.  I am piling up stones on my side of the chasm or river, while you pile up stones on your side; and I hope that one day, we will meet in the middle on a completed bridge of  deeper understanding, and open communication, and real community.

 

 

Of course, everyone just wants everyone to be nice and to let the people we may call our “brothers and sisters”, or our “peeps”,  say whatever they want to say, post whatever they want to post, whether it is true or not, whether it is good for them, or us, or the planet or the church or the school or the workplace or the family — or not. And so, we don’t argue with them.  We also don’t argue, because we hate being wrong, and if we don’t allow other people to debate what we think, well, then, there is little to no chance we will ever be proven wrong. Staying silent seems nicer and safer.

 

 

And we let ourselves forget that silence means acceptance. Silence means you are letting someone else control your narrative. We forget that it isn’t only words that hurt, but wordlessness hurts as well. We forget how much it hurts when someone we care about gives us the “silent treatment”. We forget that one of the very worst things that other humans do to each other is to stay silent in the presence of great wrong. We forget that the thing we hate most about God, is His silence.

 

 

It is rather clever of this author, and so many like him, to take this stance against argument. It is, however, especially disingenuous to brook no argument if you are in a position of leadership, like those in pastoral or “Christian”-speakership roles, or like Senators or CEOs, or teachers or coaches or parents. These powerful people can speak out or write articles or post things about how we must avoid argument, and since no one can argue with them after reading or hearing it, they have by default won the argument  that they won’t let us participate in because we should not argue. Ha!

 

 

Brooking no debate, is of course, one major way especially in the current versions of Christianity and perhaps other religions as well, in which religious peoples have long erred and gone so very wrong. We have accepted the strange and unspiritual corporate structure and marketplace attitudes that have infected groups of human beings since the beginning of shared space and spiritual yearnings. We have become a group of sheepish followers who do not debate or struggle with truth or meaning. We accept the false doctrine that “church” or “community” or “education” is supposed to be made by having a man who stands in front of the rest of the congregation or a teacher who stands in front of a classroom, and who gets to say whatever he or she wants to say while no one else can ask questions or disagree or argue or “teach back”.

And this is where we have come as a country as well, this rotten acceptance that democracy means that with whatever power and freedom I have, I will do what I want to do and I think what I want to think and if you argue with me, you are not nice and I will not continue to discuss things with you or try to work out some solutions to the problems we share. Because like it or not, we all share the same problems on some level or other. Our problem is, we are told that we shouldn’t want to share the solutions.  And then, to feel safe from each other, and self-important, we end up creating and accepting a world with overly powerful leaders in the whole triumvirate of powers, the three- headed beast of state and church and marketplace, and we let these eventually Orwellian-styled rulers apocalyptically write our narrative because they do not have to be nice and they can no longer be argued with. That person who will encourage you not to be argumentative, is, after all, your pastor or priest or mullah, or CEO, or President, or Prime Minister, or owner, employer, or principal, coach, or mom.  And it is why, like that violently arguing prophet, Isaiah said, “all we like docile sheep have gone astray, and each of us has turned to our own way.”

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If we want to look at just one great human being who wasn’t nice and who argued with the best of his argumentative Jewish brethren and who ever since he lived, people have said you should imitate and follow, we could look at Jesus. If you actually read about Jesus, who supposedly all these churches have been set up to honor and follow, he and his followers were little to nothing at all like we tend to think of them today. It would be instructive to look at how much Jesus argued with people who supposedly believed in the same God He did, even just the bits noted in the slight records we have of Christ’s remembered life story. It would be wise to look further at Jesus as the brilliant rabbi, a debater in the temple, a teacher who listened and pushed back and lost as many arguments as the ones that he won. Even from a young age, when Jesus talked back to his parents, dismissing their viewpoint about him as their son, and when a young Jesus questioned his own teachers, he was a man who always wanted to learn more and grow more and open the door to debate to rich and poor, believers and unbelievers alike. Since oral communication with others was the primary way of learning and teaching, the greatest man and teacher and King who ever lived, did a lot of verbal sparring, open-ended debating and question-induced conversing and yes, Jesus did a lot of arguing. Arguing proves someone is listening.

 

 

It might also help some people, like this author, who look to a collection of books they call “The New Testament” and “The Old Testament”, to open-mindedly read what the people in those stories were really like. And I mean, not only Moses who argued with God, or Jacob who wrestled with Jehovah, or Leah who kept nagging God about things from her point of view; but the very people who claimed to know and follow Jesus when he lived here with us for awhile, as a human on our planet. It has been instructive for me to see the saint, Paul, as the irascible, argumentative commentator he really was; a man struggling with making sense of a new form of Judaism, and a worthy opponent who was not always right, but was always up for a good heated back and forth with the others in the ecclesia. This author I am ragging on today, happens to quote Saint Peter. Well, let’s not even go there. If we want to talk about someone, like the disciple Peter, who never waited a nanosecond to make sure he was right or knowledgeable or nice before he spoke out, and who argued with Jesus and the other disciples so much that it’s a wonder he was able to keep  silent when the rooster crowed three times. We are talking about a man, who was nonetheless, specially chosen by Jesus Christ to further the Gospel by continuing to argue with others and for his beliefs, even after Jesus was gone.  Jesus must have been howling with ironic laughter when he said, “By this hard-headed argumentative foolish Rocky of a pugilistic guy, I will further the future of my community of chosen ones.”

 

The current community of the saints was built on centuries of argument and debate, beginning with Jesus and slogging sloppily on through the wrangling of Peter, Paul, and Mary (who had lots of great “hits”, but not a theology nor seminary degree between them). The community of the saints has driven forward rather erratically but it is headed towards home only by the trial and error of argument and debate among those courageous enough to be wrong and loving enough to engage in discussions. The Good News that there is a way that we humans can know truth and love is because of writers, and prophets, and arguers of all sorts and stripes. It is because of people who dared to speak out, speak up, speak against, and speak to others, that the ideas of Jesus and his followers, and with some later-day help from Augustinian Confessions, Ninety-Five Theses arguing against a closed door, and even some wee hobbits and folks in Narnia, have thrived. It is because of people talking with each other, that the ideas that Jesus left us about how we should live are still with us, to argue about and to, first and foremost, seek and yearn after. And if you don’t believe in Jesus, look to your own best man or woman, and try to follow their arguments for engaging in meaningful dialogue with other human beings.

 

 

Instead of arguing for more understanding of the whole of anything, (which none of us can claim complete understanding of, nor can we through soundbites, bite-off all of the whole at once), most of us prefer to keep cutting and pasting ideas or philosophies or Scripture verses or newspaper items, or unrelated facts into manageable two-by-fours which we use to either whack the competing voices with or use to build a foundation for our individual towering house of cards that we have already decided to live alone in until it teeters down on us. We take the bits of ideas that we like and have secured safely, or so we think, into our warehouses of ideas, (gotten there ironically, only by the arguments of willingly or unwillingly hotly debated truths of people who have come before us), and we clip and glue small parts of the whole, taking some one single thing all out of the context of the entire arc of the whole story.

 

 

By telling others how to argue (or not), how to talk (or not), how to be (or not), we are not only losing the point of this planetary experiment, we are losing one of our best human qualities besides.  Especially for anyone who claims to believe in democratic communities or in a God, we must be willing to argue, for “Pete’s Sake” (pun intended). Because if you read the stories, or if you believe even a modicum of religious thought might be true, then you must accept that even God Himself, has some super good arguments on record, some of which He loses! A God who would create a human being, must have debated long and hard with Herself, before giving that creature free will. Who are we to not argue with that?

 

 

I personally hate conflict and argument, but I hate even more the strange place we, at least in my country, seem to have gotten to today. To encourage someone how to be like Jesus, is to inherently have debate about who He was. And please, can we let the record show that both Jesus and God even called people names. They name-called people! and it wasn’t usually funny, like it was with Peter.  Try having Jesus, in an argument, call you a “dog” or a “viper” and see how you feel. See if you still think Jesus is nice. See if you decide to take your feel-good Facebook posts and go home. Check out some of the adjectives God uses for us, “obstinate”, “arrogant”, “hard-hearted”; or God who in His many arguments with His children when He calls us “chaff”, “fools”, or “dust”. For a great story about God talking back to humans and arguing, check out His argument to the man Job in the book of that name, beginning with chapter thirty-eight and going on and on and on. And here’s the kicker,  at the end of this great myth, Job gets rewarded, unlike his friends, because he respected God enough to argue with God but never stopped worshipping or serving or loving God.

 

 

Of course, I do not recommend name calling as a persuasive technique unless you are perfect yourself , as Jesus was, or unless you are God. But today, considering how many small-minded men think they are God or The Chosen One, perhaps some of us “nice” people need to throw around a few names after all; names like “hypocrite” or “vipers” or “fools” or  “foxes” or “stiff-necked oxen”.   For those of us who hate to argue but do it anyway because we think it is the right, honorable, loving thing to do; please let the record show to those of us who want to be “good” or “loving”, that Jesus, the “goodest” and “lovingest” of all, was in an emotionally charged conflict so often,  that he had to literally flee from other people, even his family and friends, and escape somewhere alone to chill out and recuperate from the emotional and spiritual toil that his conversations took. As our mothers used to say, “choose your battles wisely” but as our fathers used to say, “tell that kid you will meet him on the playground after school because you respect him, and yourself, enough to fight him”.   If only people would spend more time competing with  ideas and throwing around words, than they did competing on sports fields and throwing around balls. If only we would spend more of our lives wielding honest discussion and loving passionate debate, than we do wielding remote controls and loving passionate fictitious soap operas, we might actually make a go of this thing called humanity.

 

 

I think that we have to keep trying to point people to the truth and to the best ideas and ways of thinking and living that we can. But I can’t assume that because I think it is the best idea, that there isn’t room for argument. We can’t be truly our best of either this or that by only posting, tweeting, writing, and gathering “likes”. We have to wrestle, even if we end up with bruises and sore brain muscles. We have to be willing to walk the narrow road of seekers rather than the wide avenue of controllers. As much as I prefer hiding my thoughts and keeping to myself, I write because I want to learn. I wrestle with you, because I wrestle with my own ideas and beliefs and feelings and choices. And I want to learn as much as I can, even from those I disagree with.

 

 

I would rather have to take down a whole lot of the weak, faulty, un-trued lines of rocks that I have built on my side of the gap between me and you, than I would to keep stacking up my ideas into a wall that no one can assail. I would rather you argue with me even if I get hurt, than I would to never reach the middle of a bridge between your side and mine. And I can only do that by looking over at what you see from your side of the chasm between what I think and what you think; and by together building something strong, and beautiful, and worthy of our humanity.

 

 

Because that is after all, why Jesus came to our planet to argue with us; he wanted to give us a shot at making ourselves better at being human together. Believing all that seems a rather foolish theory, I know, but I would still rather be a fool seeking God’s Kingdom, and to open my mouth and remove all doubt when I argue with you, than I would to wait in silence for whatever happens at the end. That is my Pascal’s wager in praise of argument.

 

 

People like this author that sent me into this multi-sided and rambling debate with myself (and maybe you), make “good points” that we all “want to agree with”; and so we erroneously neglect the true theme, the more devious purpose, and the bent  point of view of people like this. They want to wield their own power of communication without giving their audience that same power. They control the narrative. They control the “conversation”. So, while they encourage you to give up and be nice, or learn a bit more before you take a stand, they speak or write as nicely to you as all dictatorial bullies do and without themselves, giving up an inch of their stated “expertise” or power.  The opiate of the masses has long been, not religion, but the idea that we should all be nice little sheep who don’t argue with authority, whether that authority is your Pope, your President, or your BFF on Facebook.

 

 

I used to teach young people, you can’t control or craft how you write or debate something, until after you learn what it is you want to say and most importantly, why you need to communicate it.  You must write and speak freely, feelingly, unafraid of error, but also unafraid of others who may come along later and point out to you that you might be wrong. We need not only freedom to disagree, but also good conscience to listen to other people’s arguments, and to accept other people’s ways of arguing, even if they argue with passion or emotion or even with wrong facts. When did we start thinking that by listening, we had to agree? When did we start thinking that we learn best by sitting still and shutting up? Or that it is better to never risk being publicly wrong because then we never risk being publicly right?

 

 

If we continue to unlearn how to argue, and go on disconnecting from discussing, debating, arguing, sometimes fighting our ideas even heatedly, pigheadedly, foolishly; then how will any of us ever learn which of all the doors ahead that we can open are the best ones? Sometimes, while we are standing, looking up and down the roads one might take, we need a good friend to argue with us, about the different directions one might use on this path called life.

 

If we are unwilling to argue with each other about important things, belief-type things, planet-survival type things, love thy neighbor type things, then we will not  be remembered as smart, or wise or “Jesus-like” or likable beings on this planet. We will, if we somehow survive to be remembered by anyone at all, be remembered not as nice, but as lost.