Category Archives: General

The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party

A person so supremely able in logic, and with as great native perspicacity for human affairs, as Lewis Carroll, gives us no surprises by passing judgement that the human world is nonsensically absurd.

The antics of power are portrayed with strong comic objectivity right through the Alice books. How untamed emotional rages reign behind so much political and social performance, and are rationalised into a shape, packaged by due process, for the sake of our greater assurance as citizens that we rest ultimately in safe, solicitous-for-our-welfare hands.

Steadying announcements from government that ‘the better-off will be hit’ by the latest round of austerity tax hikes are reminiscent of Alice’s Mad Hatter logic. Alice cannot have ‘more tea’ since she ‘has not yet had any’; yet she is able to have more because she cannot have less than no tea.

This is the trickery with words and reasoning which are the staple of politics. Alice’s arguments at table expose the dislocations inherent between necessarily imprecise language and the hard facts of events. The politician knows these dislocations are always available for exploitation. They allow utterances to show plausible which have constructively misleading purpose. Politicians being adepts, seek to bury and hide the derelictions contained in their misleading constructs.

The people of power also have a weight of authority behind the pronouncements they make; a weight not so much bestowed or representative, but one surfacing among their milling electorates, out of a sense of absence of control, power, adequacy, cohesion, and sheer where-to-begin?

Importantly most people have instinctive inklings when they are asked to wield authority. Intuitively they understand they are at-a-loss, and see lucidly this chimera authority is not readily found in the catalogue of human affairs. Powerful men and women become shored up by this; the ordinary person’s sense of his/her lack-of-grasp for affairs, and by other natively understood insufficiencies.

Hence the absurd yet royal commands and directions from authorities; like the caterpillar, the queen, and the hatter; and hence Alice’s bewilderment and exasperation at their dyed-in-the-wool unrelenting flagrant stupidity

What better metaphor than The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party for all those boardroom and congressional debacles where are floated daily the times’ most wildly ambitious and inane ideas; by which prevail policies based on cosmetic, interested, exploitative short-term partisan wins, and in the face of sounder grounding in better judgement?

There is a ‘musical chairs’ conditional to this scene setting. The regular movements of the hatter’s watch move moderate panics in persons shifting positions for no sensible or clear understanding. Move round one place, for form alone, to no purpose. Participants’ characteristic behaviours, their exact identical absurdities are carried one place round likewise. Our eyes and ears tell us of merchant bankers sitting regulators over merchant banks; news executives heading enquiries into news broadcasts; a bank governor going from one national post to another; and the Administration shuffles its pack of playing cards dealing its members a new hand.

And buried among this absurdity that is authority is its singular thematic raison d’etre

The prevailing logic of our public life has always been, and continues to be, the settling of scores, repaying favours, scratching backs; in the name of good governance. Justice is always served cold. Today there is little pretence of principle in these affairs; since so many of us are so far disappointed in our governance as to be gladly ignorant about its health.

There is a sense among life’s vainest contenders that authority is available there for the taking; that the persons who grasp for it obtain it; because we the ordinary folk have little sufficient sense of how or where we might be headed, or of where we should like to be headed, as a society or as individuals.

There is, in place of these, the present pervasive phenomena of commercially-led ‘individualism’, by which we are courted and wooed and made much of for the sake of an encouragement to spend and buy. The thrust and appeal of most marketing, and much social activity, nowadays is to flatter the identity of persons, to massage the personal selfhood, to persuade one’s vanity to pay out. Products are positioned as objects for life-enhancement, as beat-your-neighbour objects, as keep-up-with-the-crowd objects, the next-advance-in-things object; and always and exactly closely-cut to suit you and your special personal/marketing needs. By these means we are all becoming individuals in an alike mould; a nice piece of Lewis Carroll logic.

For as long as we buy smart phones; HD items, streaming, do the social networks, jump to the cues and pass through the set-piece hoops, we can each feel ourselves special; a state of being well-deceived. Like so much provided down to us from the powerful, most is a bumbaste provender for the keeping of the herd; enabling its shepherd-wolves to fill their larders with plenty, store, and feasting.

The aggregation of authority gravitates to the persons whose passion is to take up the world in both hands; as a plaything of the gods. Earth to these is an object which is no object. It is a resource likewise for the taking, to be used, maybe use-up, to be flown, cruised, mined, administered, manufactured, sold, bought, purloined, and undermined, as there were no tomorrow; for we live now.

‘Enormity’ is the apposite descriptor. Not only of such grossness, audacity and magnitude, as of the total seven sins amalgamated; these qualities and more go into the time’s vicious bids to scoop-up mighty mountains and carry them vast sea journeys; to sculpt the same sea’s features into fantastic power-trophy leisure resorts, to erect buildings high and mighty, the statements of ostensible, brash, boastful concupiscent hungers, knock their heads on the stars.

These antics feed a sense of being in possession, of having hold of, of ownership and title to, for stamping a presence on, for staking one’s claim to and broadcasting one’s credo and name out loudly accompanied by a thousand brass instruments; adding up to a wholesale mighty delusion which proposes surety and permanence, importance, an extension and effulgence of selfhood.

This is our bedtime story fed by movie moguls and media giants, the arts in bed with commerce, to we, a placid, passive, ogling world; who see ourselves emulators-in-miniature, paying homage in plastic imitation, adoring by aspiration; or else perhaps appalled in repugnance and dismayed by futility. The story vends the mind-set of land-grabs and deforestations, of forced migrations and child/slave labour, share-hikes, trade-stings and of Stockmarket rush and fever. The virulence in turning the fast-buck

In reply we are asked by those who run us, their refrain, and catcall: How should do without them? We are told, benevolently, that here stand before us our benefactors, whom we owe; they who feed us, keep us, we ingrate dependants. Thank God for Goldman Sachs, and Chase Manhattan, for The Federal Reserve and Sir Mervyn King; bless Rio Tinto and Google: bless them, and give them thanks.

Moreover, we are advancing together as a society, as a world, and are all in this triumph together. So they say, yet we possess no clear idea of advancement. There is no presentiment that we have lost things in our embrace by advancement. Not only gone are many authentic ways of living, and whole disciplines and vocabularies of heritable skills, trades and works, jettisoned with multiple percipient ways of seeing and learning: all these registers of grounded contentment for living and for hoping; we have lost our way.

Never has there been a time when we were wholly on a right path. There have been times when we were on a rather less wrong path. The prevalent myth today is that there are no alternatives to the path we are treading. We have ‘The Triumph of the Market’; ‘The Victory of Democracy’ and ‘The End of History’. Even in today’s time of dire turmoil the answering refrain from the financial fortresses in London, New York, Zurich, and Frankfurt is solely, exclusively, we need ‘more of the same’, ‘more of the same’.

These are the voices of interest who have every vested incentive to say such; so as to retain the holds they hold.

To choose another way is not about people equally enjoying power, grabbing fame, wealth, and celebrity; spreading them nicely like butter. It is about a human need to have lives wherein we are grounded in a fully-realised authenticity, a life in abundance, one of non-commercial goods which gain extension exponentially as they are passed on; goods of fierce virtue and generous graciousness. Not lives rested on reckless flimsy fabrications; on invitations to treat offered by descendants of cattle-rustler robber-barons, who, travel with the rest of us, sailing down river in a world of Alice’s looking-glass.

Something More than Learning only?

Those of us who are most interested in words are those most acutely aware of the struggle for words. How words are able to get you to say things you didn’t want to; how they stubbornly resist your feelings and thoughts, and just will not allow themselves into your hands adequately when you are looking for expression.

A number of us write down our thoughts in neat phrases and manage to get along pretty well with such imprecision. People not concerned with close accuracy; and concerned only with getting enough precision to be understood in fairly straightforward terms.

A number of us use codified registers of language. Registers that denote whereabouts we belong, to whom we defer; those groups and outlooks with which we align, and even represent. The great Ben Jonson said: ‘Words make a man; speak let me see thee’.

Like handwriting experts who analyse script, there are persons able to show themselves pretty closely upon an examination of their use of language.

Gradations in stresses, and use of hyperbole, little deftnesses skipping over consequences, sleights of hand excluding difficulties: fierce protestation as sincere profession, smoothing, eliding, coalescing, leapfrogging, insisting, and demanding, are all dark hints at our fingertips.

Our reasons for the most part justify our feelings. We are each a knotted ball of fiery emotion; we are impossible for us to unravel. At best we can go only some way unwinding the tangle, and if we are not careful, we end up more confused and strung up than we were beforehand. But most of us don’t look too closely at the workings of our human hearts; and we go through life without much thought whether we have attempted fairness or have put a reasonable case.

We want mostly release for our feelings, our prejudices, our allegiances, our frustrations our expectations; and we are glad to let off steam and not be elegant, and we can be convincing if we show sufficient vigour.

Language then becomes a chattel, it carries loads and does chores for us; is no more than a useful tool for clearing our chest or for sticking it to someone.

We stand in danger here too of becoming the tools of language; like the smartass doing a flanker on us; a fast one we didn’t notice. There’s no-one more likely to perpetrate and to suffer this than an educated, but uncultivated person; a person versed in the use of words, who fails to discern or maybe to accept the critique that the world passes on her/him; the hammer of life experience beating on the subject about her/his way of life and choice-taking.

We can fool ourselves sometimes; marshalling language and emotion so valiantly that we lose sight of hard fact. And no matter how much we know, or how much one is on the lookout, none of us gets away and in the clear from this trap every time. Each of us has at some time tripped over her/his own tongue and/or keyboard, either in an attempt to fool others or else fooling oneself in the course of wrestling meaning into language.

It remains that unless we obtain a sense for this clarity of vision, which is issued by and derived from that conduit passing to us the wisdom that living our lives teaches, completion of our educations are likely to remain attenuated and our knowledge, even when immense, avail hardly at all. How a person is able to receive this life-wisdom, and how one person is less or more able to receive than another, is a Godly mystery. Maybe a few things about it can be said?

Is it an unreasonable paradox to say that cultivation in the self is accomplished accordingly as one’s self is abnegated? And is to say this, like suggesting that the more a person learns the more aware she/he becomes of how insufficient to her/himself she/he is? And are these two paradoxes making the same kind of statement, of a kind that ultimately denies the motto ‘Knowledge is Power’, and effectually assert its opposite, that ‘Knowledge is awareness of lack of Power’?

To progress in understanding, in a becoming towards cultivation, one must give up, perhaps, and in equal measure, a certain instance of one’s self? And this instance of self is perhaps the driver of much of our assertiveness and assurance; although its giving up is not a resulting in our greater timidity or uncertainty? Because to give up this instance of ourselves is healthful and of benefit to us because it is that part of ourselves which prevents us and of which we would gladly, once relinquished, have let go?

Or is this nonsense? I believe not.

I like to think that the prophet Micah was of this mind, who spoke of the Lord’s workings before us as ‘like a refiner’s fire’, and continued saying ‘who shall stand when he appeareth?’ Like age wears us away in our physical bodies, passing time in our minds wears away our selfhood’s resistance to acceptance, with all the ambiguity of that phrase.

Not a toleration only, which is not acceptance, but opening us up for something to enter into us, something provided by I can hardly say what, but which is undeniable, and, when one has been made well-prepared, irresistible.

And the opening up, and the acceptance and the loss, and the giving up, of self, are one undivided act of refining us being done by some truly powerful providential and unseeable hand which is only inferable; and inferable only by the results of its workings, but so strongly felt as present because its effects on us are so astonishing and abstruse.

We are left with what then? The rare silver? The dross having burnt off? Less yet more? Outwardly less; less time remaining, less presence for the world, less dealings within it, and less need for recognition arising out of it. But with having a more sure sense of a solid foundational grounding, of conviction there is vexation in accounting ephemeral particulars, plus greater coalescence of character and connectivity, within oneself and also with this something which rules all things so relentlessly.

And to delusion? Isn’t it just getting meanings wrong? Using language in ways that confuse meaning? Delusion is also perhaps to think that an obtrusive self matters? That this instance of self we are asked, taught, and required to shed matters, whose shedding is so gradual and so long time coming, and so reluctantly agreed to, as though too much too soon would be overmuch to sacrifice, too overpowering to contain; and by which we receive only in measure of our robustness to sustain. Like Moses bearing only sufficiently to see the Lord’s hinder parts pass by; and with some trepidation.

True to our natures we fight all the way against our encouragement towards our improvement. We give up willingly only what we understand we have no longer any use for. How such a dynamic might work unless there were a driver who stands outside us and engineers its workings; being the source and supply of this guiding kind of Grace, is hard to see.

Wealth is Death

Wealth is death; so many die
Before their appointed confrontation
Before them pageantry of person
Images title, aspiration

Becomes them captures up by homage
Control and influence becoming prison:
Bought out, bought into, sold up, dummied
Life balled and chained a mind-made shackle

Decided thrall towards concession
Declension, incident constraint
Rewards in irony as written,
In triplicate, is signed regret

Blind willed trajectory, thief, allure,
Birth wild careers, ensample draw
String tangle, puppeteer, dress, dance
Tie in, tie up, tie down, despair

Our animal bucks, blood overmasters,
Attempts but master’s resolution
Brought under, broken, saddled, quartered,
Beggars our dream was for ourselves

A wonder man whose undergoing
Before, ahead, inspirited
Invites on highways undeniable
All must regard, he broker is

Discovers paradox on beauty:
Who dump their luggage fare weighted down:
Forgoing sheer germane humanity
Released enjoyed enslaved profound

Upturn revalue eject immovable
Eyes, wall vision, keys, your store
Lay down day labour set it here before
Proofed, unassuming, gift and open door

Prognostications

The axiom, on which what I am to say rests, is a presupposition of a Divine law that allows the consequences of the actions of people to follow on in the natural world. Not to say such law causes consequences; not to say it directs consequences; only it allows these consequences to follow on, as Polonius says, ‘as night follows day’. And that we are able to perceive and determine these consequences to be arisen from natural causes.

The Psalmist of Psalm 81 at verse 12 carefully tells us that God said:

“So I let them follow their own stubborn desires, living according to their own ideas”.

But this is not going to be a treatise on religious matters, even though there are books and books to be written about how religious matters like the one Psalm 81 talks about are wholly relevant and truly salutary for us to know and to heed as 21st century citizens.

I want to demonstrate to you, by taking you step by step through the logic of the necessity, how personal social interactions in general will arrive at hard factual outcomes generally according to the intentional goodwill that accompanies them.

As a people we are very happy to accept the generally stated belief that ‘when a wildebeest on the equator sneezes; a polar bear at the pole catches a cold’.

We are happy to reason that when heavy rains fall in the mountains; then downstream their rivers will be in flood: and not at the same time, but a day or two after the rainfall.

These are two pretty happily acceptable prognostications on the way disease epidemics spread and on how weather has knock-on effects.

We transfer them to the field of human action when we make observations like say, our insurance premiums rise unacceptably when customers claim in large numbers; say after a widespread flood of their homes; or after a commonplace financial mistake or misdemeanour; or when a general consensus arises in people that one should claim for items and on occasions which might not be justified or justifiable for us to claim.

When we cannot justify our claim in honestly to ourselves; we are being dishonest to ourselves; and to the insurance company; and to the persons who also insure to enjoy protection in event of a crisis

No-one disputes this, or doubts these are the consequences. The difficulty is not in understanding the reasoning or acknowledging the dishonesty; the difficulty is establishing the lack of honesty as wrongful, blinded, unfair and importantly, harmful to the dishonest persons themselves.

But let us leave this part of the discussion, and go on to the people who suffered flooding and whom in turn actioned a spate of insurance claims. These persons are not dishonest; they need a payout to make their losses good. The weather is indeterminate and not subject to control or even to prediction with any degree of certainty.

Yet the afforested hillsides further up the mountainsides which had been strong and effective preventatives to sudden drainages of water into the rivers, and so preventative of flooding; these have in the course of the years been cleared away so that commercial growers can grow crops in their place.

This, you might argue, was done because of just lack of appropriate knowledge and general misunderstanding of consequences; and that no ill will or negligence lies behind it. That the commercial growers were in need of income and subsistence, and that they too have a right to reasonable lives and security.

Of course, this is correct. Although such knowledge of how rain water behaves is not restricted to any extent; and many indigenous peoples of the world and all advanced societies understand these things pretty well. Had the will been there, there is a case for saying the flooding could have been avoided. But let this pass.

The commercial growers are supplying the larger cities; supplying persons with generally more affluent lives; persons expectant of greater comforts and provision as ‘necessary to life’ than those levels of comfort expected by the run-of-the-mill commercial grower and his labourers.

There is then an inequality here; but didn’t Jesus say: “The poor you will always have with you”? I guess you are right, there is the authority of the Lord himself for saying that these things will happen.

Nonetheless, let the inequality pass as per how it affects the bread and butter on the tables of the persons in the houses in cities and on the hill slopes.

This inequality remains to be deal with though. It is, at the least indirectly, a major motivation for the persons on the hill slopes to grow what they grow; and for them to have cleared the forests so as to have been able to grow crops. This is not an ethical problem; but it has come about because of an imbalance of distribution of resources in the city as against the hill sides.

You might be a person who says: “Yes, an imbalance, but there are in fact imbalances. They occur, and they occur naturally. One country or people just happens to live in a place which is not as fertile or as rich in minerals as is another place. What should, what can, we, I, do?”’

The impartial observer says in reply to this point of view, ‘be careful; do not make your happy acceptance of such things your excuse for inaction, for uncaring, and for turning a blind eye.”

I work in the protection of copyrights. Lawful owners of property like creative writing or photo images find that another person has taken their work and used it to her/his benefit and I am asked to notify the offender and ask the offender to stop doing this.

When an offender refuses to stop, I write to the organisation which provides the virtual space to the offender for him to continue offending.

The interesting thing about this work is that once the provider of space has heard that the offender is offending, then in law, in criminal law, the provider of space is obliged to act to stop the offender; or else to become implicated in the offences of the offender.

Our laws then, recognise that when we become aware of a crime, we are obliged to do something to help prevent it; or else to be classed as an accomplice of the criminal.

In murder cases it is know as becoming an ‘accessory after the fact’. The person who brushes off the problems of imbalance of resources: is he/she in danger of being considered, because of a lack of concern to act ‘an accessory after the fact’?

But this looks like a veiled threat that is calling down some uncertain wrath that is to come on the clouds of heaven with legions of angels in train; but it is not that at all; because the melodrama is not needed for the upshot of this situation to be made apparent for persons merely brushing away the case of the needy.

Even were there no cataclysm; no apocalypse come raining down fire and brimstone from the heavens on persons who just live with the world and go with the flow; there is nonetheless loss and injury and danger and peril to them in their deciding to turn a blind eye; to live well and forget suffering.

Now, this is not a threat; nor is it wishful thinking; it’s not me putting my sense of outrage, my load on you, and fathering thoughts of vengeance on you; it’s not the moral high ground; it’s not the just desserts nor the impotent anger of an ineffectual Christian, who can’t stand up fight his corner, or cope with life ‘as it is’.

Truly, the person who acquiesces in the world as he finds it does disservice greatly to him/herself; there is no condemnation by anyone except the condemnation s/he has herself served upon herself

Sir Andrew Aguecheek tells us that he thinks that ‘life is about eating and drinking’, and we feel sorry for him, because that is the scope of his horizons. He is one of those persons, of Shakespeare’s creation, of whom Shakespeare had another of his characters say; ‘I could find it in my heart to beat him”.

So no condescension here: but no malicious joy in harming either I hope. Who is the victim? Whom the oppressor? “Is it I, Lord?”

If it is you, it is your acquiescence, your turning a blind eye, has left you with only one eye to see out of, has entrapped you in a thick jungle of further confrontation and compromise for the course of your life, which never would have arisen in the same difficult manifestations had you not just been casually honest and recognised the iniquity of the world ‘as it is”, and then disastrously for yourself, had decided not to allow that pain into your heart, so as to be able to feel.

Once you have recognised iniquity, and then have chosen as policy to pass it by on the other side of the road, then follows the opening of Pandora’s Box of woes on you. You are then dealing with duplicity in everyone you meet, in every transaction you make, in every breath you breathe and word you speak: you cannot escape from it.

Kurt Vonnegut said astonishingly wisely: “Don’t pretend with people, because you become the person you pretend to be”

And all this lives on you; lives in you; for good and for ill; and old age is the receptacle which collects and weighs it all, and is the burden on your shoulders. Many things we do and think when we are young because we do not think we will be old. And what is left then but despair and a person has no good he/she can approve in their lives?

It’s not fear of judgement or of punishment in a life to come; the despair is in the senselessness, the waste, the irredeemable passage of time, and the prospect of being able to cling to no shape, no meaning, no structure, in a life of confused futility almost ended.

One poet said: “After such knowledge: what forgiveness?”

Did someone say of me? “He knew; but he did nothing”

DEAD BIBLES

The only good Bible is a Dead One
Is the popular view in the commonplace channels
where a TV faithful stare on a queer
fish, fishing men out without rods, feeding sheep
shady sundaes of bleak pathologies
peddling a dying dream no longer valid

in a vale of tears where all things else
suck but success and combats of ambition
in shelter in shady harbours fed by good team ethics
here the seamy creatures winter dealing wealth in spades

whose bid for light lights up a fierce contention
tears legal wrangles; authors sharp betrayals;
whose education to the educative schools
brings there their Mammon moral worlds
bowed down to Baalim economic; truth
no longer looked-for, meaning harkened not to,

life with no pilot, Pilates all, all strapped
with stocks in barns stored up away before
their latter ends lead thither forth,
from mortal earthly sorrow:
packed aggregates of vain material large
the ballast in a nation, person, state
stands weighed here, founders wanting:

wail wicked West whose wild
incontinence indicted celebrated
as democracy spreads a paw, claws nether-half a world
tears out the innards, swallows the repast
then nip and tuck, the facial job quick done
hides from a household shame beneath a mask
and shadow play as benevolent intended
for charity’s encompassing compassion

far flung from home where charity begins
and ends, if it begun at all, where nature cries
prostrate, is sick is suffered to go on
almost as these crude annals of the poor
speak illnesses, sore plagues, contaminants of lands;
as such are paid off pittances much unhappily
a wrested succour forced with much complaining

why should the healthy rich support this caste
who never take that break that never shows
whose equal opportunity fares dined-on, eaten
scoffed: and show no self reliance, self respect?

these wholly other cattle in Sudan, and
feral fowl from burning Ethiopia
detritus on the earth feckless as sloth
face rather too much sun on horrid strands
infertile: ah! yes these folk should not till

infertile lands, and fertile get and spawn
large offspring burdening the private purse
of such who gender on this world addictive
big business booms, who whereas, wherein reap
what suits the most return, scarce little else
left lees to trickle message thus: ‘be thankful!’

this seamy species serves its busy trades,
whose bids for light lights most commensurably
fair palaces of balustrade profusions
unleash the strife, contentions, legal wrangles,
of sharp betrayal: money educates
our educative thrift enamoured schools
appropriating all the moral worth

suborning aggregating social bonds
true immaterial ballast of the state
the nation, person, understanding, weighed
it founders wanting

wail wicked West loose wild incontinence
this gala celebrated as democracy, each progress
calibrated scientifically; spread that paw,
claw a nether-half a world, next you disclaim
and nip and tuck, the facial job’s well done
that hides in indigent and age-old shame

Christ entertains no such unchartity:
attention to the man who takes no stand
on status, or degree, or place, condition; who
foresees beyond the venial masks of nip and tuck
into a place where weathering infamy
so many players make for seeming here
and nod, pour indolence on gracious God

what though his faithful faithful, sized to other shoes
who fail a worldly fit for better tasks
these walk in silent teaching under cope of Heaven
where saved are those who can be saved on bitter blood
and bread.

no scholars need be nor no almoner
the silly simple wisdom of this God is real
reality in truth, in fitness fitting; for we all
are sprung of Abel, Cain, or Father Abraham,
catched all the world, and no one turned away,
from open Heaven blithe; for living here
else also thence thereafter, on a Bible hope

maugre a passive common comprehension
that faith spells death as Bible-being dead
all innocents and madmen who aver it:

the stuff of TV mirth, and wrath, and scorning
is actual death itself, unliving, marking time,
where trains don’t show and railway lines rust, crumble
as crowded stations wait complaining times
are overdue and what’s the point of waiting
since no-one ever comes back anyway

thus this: a Bible worth its salt is one that’s dead
dead to empiric fumaroles of ire
that toils in wraps amid an anxious fatwa
enjoining on that gateway open where
new lives are bidden welcome
an everlasting journey at no charge
than venture fully human and entire
through death to resurrection and a better name
a fitter frame for life stayed on forgiving
for taking grace

these paradoxical imparities gift Bible verse
and chapter trust, confirm their Bible worth
in God, and in all lives, in spades, and in abundance
indeed in no-trumps even; to enlarge survival whole
your wonted hopes, and mending of your dreams

when we appear in prospect of love’s threshold,
with one step either forwards, backwards, and on oath

Episode #38: So why haven’t you converted to Eastern Orthodoxy yet?

More and more Christians are coming to love Eastern Orthodox theology–so why isn’t everyone converting? The [ad hoc] gang has been extremely friendly to Orthodoxy, but we have nonetheless remained unaffiliated. This week we ask Orthodox Christian and returning guest Gambleor to field some of our hard questions.

Subscribe to our YouTube channel for access to the full video of our show:
https://www.youtube.com/user/adhocpod

Or view this episode by itself:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AosqeL-oYGo

THE BIBLE THESAURUS OF THE CREDIT CRISIS

Money – The Serpent – a faculty that lives persons’ lives

Consumption – Forbidden Fruit – Old, once common, term for wasting away of the body

Consumer – Adam and Eve – one who is bought

Consumerism – A Theology of the Divinity of Wealth

Environment – The Groans of the Earth

Pollution – Knowledge of Good and Evil

Resources – The Garden in the East

Sustainability – Noah in the Ark

Production – The Tower of Babel

Productivity – The Sweat of the Brow

Growth Forecast – The Deluge

Wealth Creation – The Golden Calf

Conservation – A Fig Leaf

Revenue – Temple Tax

Profit – Egyptian Years of Plenty

Loss – Egyptian Lean Years

The Economy – The Promised Land – just making do

Economics – The Holy Grail – Arts of Simon Magus

Discount – Manna from Heaven – a thing thought preposterous

Savings – The Seven Fat Cows – money not spent in a Fire Sale

Credit – The Thirty Pieces of Silver – on presumption put faith in a thing

Debit – The Kiss of Betrayal – that which is taken away

Owe –- The Strait Gate – a loan now overdue

Debtor – Pharaoh’s Baker – a prisoner nabbed and tagged

Debt – The Mark of Cain – Reciprocation owed for goodwill

Demand – Let My People Go – A bill imperative – due for payment

Supply – The Living Water – provision

Interest – Every Hair Counted – Solicitous concern for welfare

Bank – An Altar in the High Places – to invest confidence

Premium – A Burnt Offering – the best

Share – Lion lying down with the Lamb – all things in common

Stocks – The Desert Wastes – Apparatus for pillorying

Dividend – The Temple Treasure – Mutual society distribution scheme

Investment – The Potter’s Field – A good loaned gladly in hope of increase

Loan – The Early Rain – property temporarily passed for use to another

Lend – A Ransom for Many – to pass property temporarily for use to another

Borrow – Jacob’s Ladder – to enjoy temporarily property for use from another

Earnings – Unto This Last – income the fruit of work done

Income – The Moneychangers – amounts accruing over a duration

Remuneration – The Writing on the Wall – income as a return

Bonus – The Extra Mile – award over and above what is due

Finance – A Graven Image – the means to pay

Financier – Assurbanipal – person with means

Futures – Laying up Treasure in Barns – anticipated materials yet to exist

Competition – He who shall be the Greatest among you – overreaching to overtop

Stockmarket – The Division of the Spoils – Battle of Credit with Competition

Stockbrokers –The Philistines upon Thee – Croupiers

Shareholders – A Divider among you – Whited Sepulchres

Inflation – A Thief in the Night – overmatched avarice

Cut – The Two-edged Sword – a slice of meat or share of loot

Penal Substitution and Isaiah 53

53:5 But he[was] wounded for our transgressions, he was] bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace[was] upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.

It looks pretty conclusive that the OT considers penal substitution as a viable means of redemption from sin.

But I don’t want to get into a does/doesn’t argument about penal substitution. I do want to write down some things about how I think I, and people in general, need psychologically, our psyches need, to accept penal substitution, for the relief and restoration there is in the emotional understanding that another has been made to carry our burden for sin.

It goes back to types. In the UK, and in the USA even more clearly, public and political catharsis is carried on generally and obviously, and with common approval, by the use of penal substitution. Sometimes someone will put up their hand and take the blame. More often a person, normally a person more or less in the thick of the current scandal or outrage, will be traduced and hung out to dry in the press and by media, and our sense of having aired the closet is thus satisfied.

Of course this is not Christian, nor is it suffered voluntary, nor even commendable; but for us the catharsis is very much the same, and it is routed through very much the same psychological highways as those that a person as a Christian might use so as to prefer to feel that Jesus bears his iniquities and his pains, suffers the penalty he should suffer, and bears away sin and its pain and blame for his sake and on his behalf.

This sense of penal substitution goes very deep in me myself, and in us all. The civil versions of course lack the gratitude and the admiration and the love and the astonishment that the Christian version that Jesus brought into the world inspires in lots of people. The civil versions are a sort of palming off of personal responsibility and pain and guilt; a pointing of the finger, and a ganging up on the disgraced or the vulnerable, or the person in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Even when the case is grave, and an ugly character like a vicious murderer is the sacrificial victim of the penalty; it is the full burden of others’ bile and spleen and of others’ own ugly brutal sides (that such a murderer is made to bear in public show trials by media and after the fact) that is our noxious reservoir of standing effluent that we happily offload into such a murderer’s lap.

This act is the mirror image, the sinister side of Christ’s penal substitution; whereas Christ’s deed done for us is its inverse, and as such his is the ultimate reality and the beautiful and the ideal and the marvelous.

Much of this inverse ugliness is present, ironically enough, in the Easter story as it is written in the gospels. The almost maniacal anger and rage of the High Priests; their bitter rending of Jesus’ garments; the spit in his face, the mockery and the almost uncontrolled, uncontrollable outburst of hatred and wrath made against him – it strikes a normal person reading about these things that the Pharisees and the Sanhedrin during that night protested too much, over and above anything Jesus could have said or done to deserve such a response. It’s as if indeed that here is that outlet, that opportunity, that release, which the pinched Pharisees have felt previously only a minute inkling of, the mere trace of a sense that they stand in direst need to get their demons out of them, conveniently to burden this man with their almost possessed wrath and ire.

But of course, in any and in all of us such wild uncontrolled rages fuel the fires they start, and the demons who have possession take possession even more so and with greater and securer hold thereafter. This nurtures the mirror image of humility, which like its antithesis is also endless.

So this madness of the Sanhedrin is part of the scorn and anger and despite and vilification that Jesus bore for us; as if, almost, the High Priests were the surrogates for us and did and spoke and hated wiser than they knew and in our names. As if they, the High Priests were the media and the common consensus we share and that we happily acquiesce in when we murder the murderer in our daily publications and on our TVs and in our hearts, as we relieve by living them out our own malignities upon him. This is all in the very same vein of irony as that which Caiaphas mines as he prophesies that ‘one man should die for the people’.

This brings us to the odd conclusion that the vile murderer is in fact a type of Christ, in so far as he bears the wrath and sickness of we who revile him; attacking him with all the intensity over and above that which is due to him as a vile felon. Our rage eats us up. And we would that the vile felon was eaten up likewise.

Anyone who lives with their family knows how anger and blame can and too often does circulate and reverberate and spread like contagion to eventually trouble the whole household, unless, until, someone sometime steps in and does due service, and pours the oil of love into the wounds and binds up the hurt ones.

Our society is likewise a family that has too few relatives willing to step in and do due service. Christ in the UK is not known so well as he could be, should, be; and so the source of all redemption and the balm for all our ills is cut off from the knowledge of too many here. Were he known more widely and understood better we should then route more of our civic troubles and daily strifes through him and so live better, and have more honourable public lives.

Nonetheless it is still the case that Jesus today, in concrete fact, is present in many, many places and presides at numbers of events; he is here in a major way so as to carry away the wrath and dark and madness of our lives and so quell the strifes in our societies – today still he is here and able to carry our sins away and to take our unrighteous wrath and hectic blame upon his righteous self and carry it for our sakes.

We have a hymn titled ‘Take it to the Lord in Prayer’; we have secular songs like ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’; we have the great and amazing Isaiah, who for only coining the phrase should be remembered for all time, regardless of whom he thought he was writing for:

‘With His Stripes We Are Healed’

A Thing of Beauty is a Joy Forever

‘Thou still unravished bride of quietness’, is the opening line of John Keats’ ‘Ode to a Grecian Urn’. The title I have used is another quote taken from Keats, from his poem called ‘Endymion’.

His idea of an unconsummated (unravished) still (‘remaining present’ and also ‘without movement’) virgin object wedded to peace and silence (‘bride of quietness’) is astounding to me because he discovered such insight so young.

Keats was 26 when he died, and it is supposed he was 23 or 24 when he wrote the ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’.

My subject is beauty and holiness – If you like, the Beauty of God.

I’m going to begin with art, and our experience of art. Not just painting and drawing, but, depending who you are, and your background and tastes, aesthetic experiences of most kinds.

But for me it’s particularly certain drawings and pictures, certain forms of drawing particularly; and very much so the written word.

I am hoping you can get at what I mean to say yourself by way of you relating it to the types of beauty that ‘do it for you’.

Let’s start with the written word; it’s easiest from me to write about and by lucky coincidence it is the medium in which God has spoken to us in revelation.

I don’t want to put off non-believing readers, so I hope my previous sentence didn’t sound too exclusive or certain for you to handle.

A saying from the Bible that is one of the most quoted, maybe over-exposed a little, but still astounding as a thought, is Jesus’,

‘Consider the lilies of the field, neither do they toil nor spin; yet I tell you Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these’

It is clear to me from this little snippet alone, taken from the small sum of words we have from Jesus’s mouth, that he was, I guess, susceptible in a high degree to the beauty of nature. Once again I am lucky because wild flowers are part of my own portfolio of aesthetic greats.

But it’s not just the subject of flowers, a lily of the field, but the wonderful way the thought is expressed, albeit as a translation from Greek into English. The Greek itself may be yet more fresh than the English I am quite willing to believe.

So it’s a happy combination of the subject (the lily) the thought (the comparison with the glory of Solomon) and the style (the beautiful King James Version prose) that unite to produce a portrait of Jesus speaking so real, so definite, so personal, so exact, that this saying had it alone come down to us would have indicated someone very, very special having thought and expressed it.

The whole combination is beautiful; and as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, we can adduce from the truism that Jesus himself was a very beautiful mind, soul, spirit, person. St Paul refers us to obtaining ‘the mind of Christ’ for ourselves, to grow day by day into the stature of the mind of Christ; and so to become beautiful after our Maker and Saviour.

This too is a beautiful idea, to be enabled by Grace to reach towards perfection in our day to day humdrum selves, by way of the love and sacrifice that was offered purposefully to us to obtain and enjoy, without coercion, without conditions imposed by decree, but from a revelation given that to grasp such a ‘last straw’ is to find peace, strength, joy, love and compassion, for oneself and towards others, to obtain and enjoy life, and receive life in abundance.

Where I am going is to claim for the whole gospels, and for much of the Old Testament and the New, that contain the Story of God’s gradual revelation of himself and his design for men and women and children, that they are beautiful, and tell a Story that is beautiful of itself, and as such are Artistic and Aesthetic Objects.

The language, the theme, the content, the expression, of much of the Story of God’s Design as it is told in the Bible are beautifully offered to us, as prose, as storytelling, as Salvation, as an offering we could not have hoped for otherwise, and in many more ways. All these aspects are aesthetic aspects.

Of course they are not only aesthetic aspects; indeed much of their beauty rests in their being tied, cemented, wedded, so forcefully to the terms of each of our individual existences; and to the existence of Creation itself. The technical literary terms to use to express this forceful connection with, (a word I don’t like using) ‘reality’; might be that the Bible has sincerity, authenticity, and verisimilitude. Everyone connects with it; even when they are against it.

The lines of John Keats, the words of Jesus, the narratives of the Creation and Salvation stories being beautiful in themselves also point in their subject matter towards beautiful things – Blake’s ‘heaven in a wild flower’ or Wordsworth’s ‘thoughts too deep for tears’ at him seeing ‘ the meanest flower that blows’ – and they all say something deep and half-hidden about the nature of beauty.

I’d like to suggest that the ‘stillness’ of the Grecian Urn; the ‘unravishedness’ of it, and the ‘quietness wedded’ to it are within us all three, and engendered within us by the contemplation of the lines of verse, prose, the drawing, whatever.. They are our responses to beauty – an acute awareness of a sense of permanence, of peace, and of partaking in full measure in the experience of being present.

At such times in our lives when the full holiness of beauty hits us foursquare on the forehead, we can say to ourselves, as Hamlet says to himself, ‘We know what we are; but we know not what we may be’.

Ours is the stillness, quietness, weddedness, of permanence, of partaking in eternity, of realising that eternity is present with, and within us, even though most of the remaining time in our lives we are almost oblivious of beauty’s existence and even hostile to the idea of it being here; since so much seems to go wrong in our lives or needs our bothersome and reluctant detailed attention. The necessities of getting and spending, of drinking and eating, and serving and being served, get in our ways.

Jesus’s lilies of the field appear to us so fresh and so stunning in our mind’s eye in great part because of the solemn and majestic picture of Solomon robed regally and stood in state that comes before us and that is just as quickly dismissively and instantly discarded by Jesus in praise of the ‘one (lily) greater who is here’.

Jesus is also saying a truth not acknowledge as often as it ought to be; that nature, the lilies, be they ever so insignificant and transient and ephemeral, take the palm, and that art (Solomon’s raiment) does not challenge nature and does not overcome nature for primacy in beauty, and holiness. It is indeed ‘the meanest flower that blows’ that is superior and has more of God in it than Ghiberti’s Baptistery doors, or Beethoven’s amazing ‘Hymn of Thanksgiving’.

That stillness we sense in the presence of severe beauty is for me a taste of Heaven, a sampler, a piece of evidence that Heaven is possible and even available around us. The absorption of our consciousness into the experience of beauty too is a foretaste of the possibilities for our rapture and bliss. It is an experience of the same denial of self, a sort of dismissal of and discarding of self, in the face of ‘a greater one’ being present, a sort of small scale likeness of that experience one imagines one will have when one stands before God and sees his incontestable glory.

The denial of self that Jesus preached and embodies is born in part out of the apprehension we have of his great personal inner beauty, and the beauty of his Way. The holiness of it all. It is no sweat to follow someone you admire to adoration.

You can find this kind of acknowledgement of the beauty of holiness in the Psalms again and again; when the singer sings of the beauty and delight of meditating God’s word in the nighttime on his bed.

With our sense of beauty, with our sense of holiness, comes a cleanness, a sense that what we behold is utterly pure and clean and free from stain, moral or physical. When we ourselves are sensible of having an uncleanness about us at a time when we are placed in the presence of refining beauty; we shrink away; even wince at ourselves, and feel unworthy. (‘For he is like a refiner’s fire, and who shall stand when he appeareth?’) Simon Peter has this experience when he pleads with the Lord; ‘Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man…’ when the great revelation that Jesus is Messiah suddenly has hit his inner awareness like a blow to the head, and he confesses his awe and shame before and in the face of pure love.

The title then, A Thing of Beauty is a Joy Forever, is Biblical and is religious. And John Keats perceived precociously another great truth which has been argued over for nearly two centuries, by this and that literary critic and by this and that academic aesthetician, who in their capacity as persons and spiritual beings might better acknowledge that there is no argument to be had. Keats writes to close his poem Ode to a Grecian Urn:

‘Beauty is Truth, and Truth Beauty,
That is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know’