I. Remind Us, O Holy One! Remind us of the memories we forget. Remind us to prize the moments that pass us by, that we might remember the present as if it has already passed us. May the sweetness of memory accompany our present experience. Reveal to us how it all fits together, the flying thoughts of every madman and madwoman. We drive ourselves mad, we do not own enough cages.
Lord, remind me that my mind is a temple, not the storage room of an alchemist. May you build up the walls of my wooden mind, so that I can overlay them with gold and decorate them with images of palm trees and lilies. This temple is not a clean white room, sterilized of humanity. This temple smells like sweat and incense and burning flesh. This temple is luminescent, glowing with human treasures. Fill your temple, my mind, with things that you treasure.
And bless me when I go out to fight to expand the borders of my mind, to plunder the Greeks and Japanese. Give me more allies than just dead Brits.
II. The High Court of Theology
I am regularly tried by the High Court of Theology for heresy and the pursuit of shadows. Here is a concise list of past accusations:
The greatest accusation - and, I must confess, crime - is the separation of my face and the region behind my face. These two regions are not in communication. I have not yet learned how to transpose the hope I have to my face. As a result, I do not offer hope to those who need it, because the doors to the temple are heavy. And, I ask myself, what place do I have to offer hope and to have the pride to assume I have it?
Can we have charity without first acknowledging that we possess something of value?
Lord, open the doors!
III. A Theologically Reasonable Question
From a place of ignorance, I ask, “Why deny evolution on the grounds of theology?” Many Christians do this very thing, without any consideration for the vast ramifications of an aligned understanding of evolution. Evolution is a scientific theory which is only philosophically applicable under the context of certain worlds. Most Christians deny evolution on the grounds of theology, because they are unwilling to separate it from the context of a secular world. If we were honest, we would be more willing to reverse the process. What if we separated the theory of evolution from its secular context and put it into a Christian context? Under that context, could we still deny it on the grounds of theology?
Before denying it on the grounds of theology, we would have to treat it as an isolated scientific theory. We would have to prove whether it is consistent with Creation. Many Christians think it is not consistent with Creation, but that is because the secular world is not consistent with Creation. When Christians deny evolution, they are merely denying the secular world. Therefore, we cannot even begin to deny evolution on the basis of scientific observation until we have put it in the context of Christendom. In order to be intellectually honest, Christian scientists must go into the lab knowing how the theory of evolution could exist alongside Christian theology, even as a possibility. With this in mind, the Christian scientists is not an atheist in his work, but a believer. As a believer, he can then honestly appraise the validity of the theory of evolution on the basis of scientific observation. And after this honest appraisal, he could only deny it on the grounds of theology after it has been proven to be inconsistent with Creation
Unfortunately, we have made it a fool’s errand to deny evolution on the basis of scientific observation. The standard is set to treat evolution as a world, specifically tied to secularism.
Secular and Christian worlds seem to both agree that evolution is its own world, not a theory. Mistake! It might seem to establish certain expectations and possibilities for Creation, but only according to its context. We think it might be possible to separate it from both the secular and Christian world, that it can stand on its own with appendage extensions. In this fictitious state, which world would it stand most in defiance against?
It would seem to stand in defiance to secularism, because secularism apart from evolution would glorify man in all his imperfections. The world of evolution would treat man as one point on the graph of evolutionary progress.
It would seem to stand in defiance to the Word of God, because the Word of God establishes that man is made in the image of God. The world of evolution would treat man as one point on the graph of evolutionary progress.
But, evolution is not a world. It is a theory that further defines - like a developing photograph (ah, maybe a painting formed within the confines of a certain frame! No, we do not want to confuse our metaphors) - any theological ideas it is paired with. The fictitious “world” of evolution I described earlier has the same exact ramifications on secularism and the Word of God. This “world” is clearly a theory, because its thesis is the same in both contexts; man is progressing in some form of glory.
Ask yourself, is this thesis more consistent with the Christian belief of man made in the image of God, or the secular belief that man is glorious by his very nature?
Christian theology establishes that man does not exist apart from God, but in relation to Him. God made man good, but good so that he could progress into greater glory, the glory of perfection. And what do we believe to be the glory of perfection? Do we not believe that it is a constant growth towards the likeness of God?
Man was made to become more like God.
And how does God assure this growth in man?
He does so through death.
And what is necessary for both Redemption and evolution?
Death, which leads to Resurrection.
In the context of Christian theology, evolution is consistent. It requires the creation of man in the image of God, the creational principle that progress is perfection, and the requirement of death for Resurrection.
What do we believe to be the image of God? Do we believe that it is the form of a human? Or, is it the obvious distinction man has from all other creatures, defined by his free will and his ability to both reason and unreason?
Perhaps this seems counter-intuitive to evolution, but I have faith that it is the latter. If the image of God is found in the physical form of a human, evolution would assert that man began in a different form. Problem! If the image of God is found in the uniqueness of the creature man, then a distinct process used to assure this distinction is consistent with that belief. Man is still distinct from the rest of Creation, because Creation does not grow in understanding like man.
Ask others - not yourself, now - if evolution really is inconsistent with Christian theology, the queen of all other studies.
Now, to a more thorough discussion of frames.
IV. Where Do We Place Our Enigmas?
Well, what do you want to call it? Do you want to call it a worldview, a system, a grid, a pair of glasses, a belief, what?
Let us call it a painting. It is not something we ourselves painted, but rather the image that appeared when we chose our frames.
We spent all last week - our entire lives - shopping for frames at Hobby Lobby. We were in that aisle at the back of the store, with our index fingers under our chins and humming, darting our eyes from price tag to price tag. Should it be large and plastic, small and factory-ornate, long and wooden, what?
When we finally chose a frame, we brought it to the cash register, and gave the female employee with turquoise earrings 15.97 exactly. We keep pennies and dimes in our back pocketses.
We brought the frame home, banged some nails into the drywall, and hung it. From the opposite side of the room - we only last hours - we observed it in silence like it had something to say. We observed it like we sometimes observe our pet goldfish, Worldly-Pleasure-Bubbles.
And suddenly at the fourth watch, colors burst from the center of the empty frame. They ricocheted off one side and then to the other and then to another, weaving an image like the spider behind our toilet, Images-of-Temptation.
At this point, our stories divide.
You have your painting.
And I have mine.
And what frames did we buy, what beliefs did we adopt? No matter what frames we purchased - however different they might be - there are two similarities. We divide, but you are conquered if we do not perceive the same world. Here is why.
One, all paintings are of the world.
Two, frames exists and the world does not exist without it. Under here, I will clarify.
I am not saying that the world cannot exist without our beliefs.
I am saying that we cannot exist without our beliefs - thereby -
I am saying that we cannot see if we do not believe something.
I am saying, therefore, that we see different things, but our sight,
I am saying, is determined by our beliefs. Some of us see but,
I am saying, do not perceive. And the less perceptive therefore,
I am saying, do not perceive that all frames include the same sort,
I am saying, of assumption. The assumption of reason and a sort,
I am saying, of Divinity. We may disagree on the source of Divinity,
I am saying, but for me the source of Divinity is the Greatest Enigma,
Since all paintings are of the world and some are different, some paintings are off (not including the one dangling lightbulb of reason you left on). Some paintings are obscured, inaccurate, oblique, rotten transmogrified shellfish juice. All frames capture a painting of the world, but only some capture an accurate painting of the world. The world looks only one way, no matter how vast its scope. Hobby Lobby stood on the edge of the Darkened Cosmos with a shotgun in hand, and fired its thousand frames. Was the frame that captured you a fatal shot?
Please step away from the tracks for a moment, this train of metaphor is going to de-rail. Here is a more stable metaphor.
The world is like a Renaissance painting. It is not Jackson Pollock, it is not Mark Rothko. It is classical. It could be Pre-Raphaelite. Yes, actually, I would not mind that at all.
The world is like a Pre-Raphaelite painting. It is full of colors, characters, plots, suspenses, mysteries, references, and the distant suspicion that it is being watched.
The world has lots of women and has no use for ugly women. If a woman is foolish, her beauty is seductive. If a woman is wise, her beauty is seductive. In the world, all women are seductive and for this reason, they never pull back their hair and are obsessed with flowers and chivalry.
And there is only one thing in the world that preserves the existence of all seductive women.
Without shadow, the painting is undone. Colors morph, characters translucify, plots lighten, suspenses unravel, mysteries break the silence, references explain themselves, and you appear standing in the art gallery in your Victorian dress with your sunbrella, shrieking at any darkness behind you. Without shadow, no painting exists.
And we both very well know that you have a painting hanging above your oversized leather couch, don’t we?
Every painting has shadows; it must. The question, therefore, is not whether there are shadows, but instead where the shadows lie. Do they lie underneath the horse of a seductive woman? Do they lie behind a tree on a sunny day?
Or, did you purchase a frame that captured some troublesome absurdities? What I am asking is, why is your sun a moon? Why is the horse upside down?
We divided a long time ago. We divided at the point when you bought the frame of Giggles-the-Clown. He believes in absurdism and Sheol has him under a copyright. Shadows cannot float like that.
All paintings contain shadows. Some paintings make consistent use of their shadows. The shadows lie where they ought. In the case of all paintings, there ought to be a shadow underneath the horse.
All paintings, I am saying, require an I AM, an enigma. Some, however, have enigmas where there ought to be clarity. I AM ought to be above human comprehension, He ought to absorb all questions, He ought to exist. Without Him, we put enigmas in places that ought to be quite clear. Where He lies is where the shadows ought to be and by these shadows we see the light that emanates from Him to create the form of Creation.
Without Him, we are forced to simultaneously keep the shadows in our own reason and yet claim that our reason is the only light on.
V. An Encounter
It was the first time I traveled alone. I was in an airport I had never been in and my phone was almost out of power. The carpet was installed in the 80’s. It was dark blue and tiny brown and red little dots were sprinkled over it like sawdust at an arcade.
Near the highest virtue is self-forgetfulness, but it is difficult to pretend that you are not thinking of yourself sometimes. As someone who is fair, sometimes my face gets unusually red. This is not the result of me being embarrassed, or overheated, or angry, or laughing, or holding an odd body position for a long time - although it could be. No, sometimes I am red-faced because.
In that airport terminal, I felt acutely aware of every strangers’ eyes. There were so many eyes and they all seemed to follow me.
My parents renovated an old farmhouse called the “Bliss Homestead.” They moved because Bliss Road had heavy traffic and they could not keep their bedroom window open at night. Ironic.
I do not know where the picture came from or where it is now - Mom, do you know? - but in the stairway hung a full black painting of some nineteenth century matriarch. The only thing visible was her face and her eyes.
O, her eyes!
The eyes of all the strangers in that airport followed me like the eyes of that dead matriarch. They made me an uncomfortable five-year old again, going to bed early and alone.
Of course, it was not that bad because I got Burger King. When they called my name - Joshua - I grabbed the bag and went to sit next to a long line of slot machines.
It was an airport in Las Vegas.
I sat cross-legged on a pile of sawdust, took the double whopper out of the bag, the large fries, the ketchup packets, the brown napkins, folded the bag into a place-setting, and neatly placed everything like I was sitting down to have dinner with myself.
At this point, my face was back to a healthy pale, but the row of middle-aged Indian men sitting in front of me like a tribunal turned my thoughts back to myself.
How did strangers see me? How would I see myself if I was a stranger to myself? I entered into a dialog with myself about the sinfulness or virtue of praying over my meal. What would these Indians think? Did I fit some stereotype for them; the wealthy Christian American? Would I pray over the meal because I was commanded to, or because I wanted to appear right before men? Well, if they saw me negatively - I mean, I had my top button buttoned - then praying would not make me look any better.
I told myself, stop this careful thinking!, bowed my head, and prayed. I prayed for a long time, not because I was being thorough, but because I kept thinking things that were not part of my prayer. I thought about what sort of people come to Las Vegas, if they come specifically to the airport for the slot machines, who uses the slot machines, what sort of country I live in that allows such multiculturalism, etc.
And then I thought, my goodness, they must think I have a healthy prayer life. If I was an American glutton, I would not pray too quickly, but I would pray quickly. I would not pray too quickly, because the only way to make a private prayer appear honest is to wait an extra two seconds. But, I would pray quickly, because God asks a lot of questions.
I stopped praying, sweating a little and red-faced, and looked up to see, leaning on one of the slot machines, a nun. I did not know there were nun anymore.
I waited for my face to go back to normal and unwrapped my double whopper. Just before my first bite, I asked her if she knows Latin.
She was a short Latino woman with eyes dark and affectionate like coffee in the morning. Her round face turned into a dimpled smile and she knelt down, her hair falling over her face. I twisted off my ring and handed it to her. She took it like my younger sister might take a LEGO minifigure I like - a knight in full armor, perhaps.
She turned it around in her hand as I chewed like a cow, watching her squint her eyes and, finally, put on her reading glasses.
I swallowed too early so I took a sip of the oversized cup of Dr. Pepper and then asked, “Do you know what it says?” She shook her head a little. “It says, praise God, serve others, discipline self. And inscribed on the inside it says, holiness, humility, love.”
“Oh!” She said, handing the ring back to me, “That is wonderful!”
“Yeah, my dad gave it to me for my high school graduation.”
I felt my face turning red again, not knowing where else to take the conversation, if it was that. I thought about it as I took another bite.
“You know,” I said, with food in my mouth, “I have a great respect for Catholicism. I am a Protestant, but I think that Protestants and Catholics are really part of the same Church.” What else was I supposed to talk about? This was the first nun I ever talked to; the conversation had to go deep and quickly, too. Our plane was leaving in forty minutes and there was little chance we would sit next to each other.
“Yes.” She said. “So...do you speak Latin?”
“Me?” I said. “Oh, not that much. I really don’t know Latin very well, even though I studied it for over ten years. We focused mostly on translation.”
“What kind of nun are you - like, I mean - what order?”
“I am a Franciscan…"
Somehow, from there, we circled back to talking about Latin and she mentioned that she prays in Latin. She told me that she it allows her to think carefully about what she says to God. It is also more beautiful. She asked me if I agreed and, of course, I nodded my head even though I never tried praying in Latin.
Our conversation stopped there, but I did not stop noticing her. In my mind, I compared her spirituality to the spirituality of the two Buddhist monks boarding the plane. What did she think of them; are they kindred souls of monasticism or enemies? I thought of the mu koans that Zen monks have to understand. I thought, ultimately, of the ignorance and emptiness in their pursuit of unity with nature.
This nun, she pursued unity with God Himself.
She told me her name, but I forgot.
VI. The Blessed - We Are the Fools
The basic existence function is the practice of a skill. Only the peculiar and rare are afforded the privilege of trimming and discussing truth into abstraction. The craftsman - the unintelligensed (they are bless ehd) - are there to remind us all that truth does not need either. The truth exists like a cube of sugar. Those who have the privilege to trim it with their teeth may taste its sweetness, but they increasingly understand less of it until the Great Epiphany, Death. Intelligence is a hobby, a skill. Not everyone is called to curse themselves with knowledge that they must not only cultivate but preserve from corruption. To those who can receive it, ought. Our basic existence function is the practice of a skill.
VII. Another Encounter
“Hey man, what’s your name? Full name, first and last name.” Smoking, musk, tie-die hoodie and healed acne face. Late twenties, probably. Shaking and nervous like he just killed the cat he brought into his house three weeks ago.
“Yeah, and last.”
“Caleb Warner.” I was going to reserve this information.
He then smiled, like “bro” and tapped me on the heart with the tips of his fingers. He walked behind me and said to my back, “Yah man, just don’t do that.” I turned around to see him karate chop his own neck. I imagined a photo-negative of myself three days ago as an executioner, standing over his disembodied head.
“I’m human still, are you still human?” He asked.
“Yeah, I’m still human.”
“Yeah, I’m not. Just don’t...don’t do that again.”
I walked away concerned, but hopeful that he has never known me and never will.
VIII. To Those Who Want To Do Everything
If we all perform different functions as one body, then when we study one detail of Creation as individuals, we study everything as one body. Do not be afraid to have a precise direction in life, as if you might miss out.
A specified study is not a separate study from others. It is merely one door into the same room of truth. As writing is to cooking is to astronomy, so mathematics is to music. You may study one and enter in, or try and study them all at a basic level, propelled by curiosity.
Whoever studies them all does not enter the room, but stays studying the door. These individuals are not necessarily as interested in getting into the room as they are in finding out how to.
Take up your door-frame, and walk.
IX. A Few Observations
Blowing your nose sounds like an espresso machine.
No one ever eats the bread for breakfast. You might as well get whole grain.
Never defend something you have done without reason. If you said something and you do not know why, when someone attacks it, their offense is more founded than your defense.
Some things do not need to be defended.
The way to a man’s heart is through his arteries.
If everyone stopped thinking I was trying to do something, I would finally be free to try.
X. The Purpose
Thank you for exploring these memories with me. We will let some of them float away, but feel free to use some of them to lay on top of each other, the stones of the left wall for the temple of your mind.