Kiln blog: Faith Does Not Compute

Teaser…

Here we take a short tour through the history of Western Christian theology. Our attention is focused on the business of fallen nature and human reason.

First, we have to understand that Hebrew Scriptures assume a wholly different anthropology from what is common in the West. On the one hand, both use figures of speech, but use them differently. In ancient Hebrew culture, human nature is divided up differently and associated with different parts of the body as mere symbolism. When it comes to understanding human behavior, it really didn’t matter whether the mind was literally rooted in the brain — there were too many other factors in human nature that affected how the brain worked. In other words, Hebrew culture downplayed the importance of intellect compared to the Western image of it.

Second, there was a radical difference in cosmology, too. While the particulars varied among the multiple Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) civilizations, of which Hebrew is one, there was a common thread of belief in a distinct and separate spirit realm that was invisible to the senses. We cannot overemphasize how radically different this is from the Western assumption that this universe is all there is. The Greeks had no trouble with the idea that deities and demons were invisible, but such beings were still confined to this universe. Greeks honestly believed that it was possible to find a physical entrance to both the homes of the gods and the abode of the dead.

So deeply does this stain Western thought that you can discern the influence in Western Christianity. Early in Church history we find the official church teaching that human reason is not fallen….

You can read the rest of this message here at Kiln of the Soul blog.

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Mystical Predictive Analysis

As I’ve often noted, Christian Mysticism isn’t a matter of content, but a way of approaching the question of religion. I dare say most of the Christian Mystics I’ve read do not at all believe in the doctrine of the Fall as I do. While I share their approach, particularly in making religion essentially personal, I don’t share their philosophical assumptions about human nature.

Along my personal journey, one of the influences that helped to shape my assumptions was Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy. While I’m ambivalent about the business of the Fourth Turning on which the linked article is based, I have to agree with some of Jim Quinn’s assessment of human nature at large. The primary reason I differ with him is that his analysis betrays his assumptions: that he is still a devoted fan of Western epistemology.

While it is variously labeled in the studies of Comparative Civilization, one of the key elements in how a civilization fares is the relative presence of altruism, particularly whether it extends outside the family, and how far it extends. It’s the interplay of pushy versus considerate. It’s not a question of being polite or even compassionate, but whether, and on what grounds, you’ll make room for people who are pushy. How pushy do we expect people to be and on what grounds? Where are the boundaries?

It shows up in all kinds of ways. For example, Americans and northern Europeans share a certain set of assumptions about driving automobiles. We make a big deal out of the recent rise in “road rage,” but in places like Russia, there has always been road rage. It’s not that Russians don’t show compassion to the victims of crashes; you’ll always see uninvolved people clustering around a wreck trying to help. But it’s the basic assumptions about what constitutes proper behavior while driving that causes them to have a higher rate of traffic collisions in the first place: They aren’t very forgiving and take umbrage much more quickly against very normal human mistakes.

Americans are often shocked at videos of how Russians drive. We share with northern Europeans this sense of good order in social conduct that generally extends to our driving habits. We have a different set of assumptions about what is normal for civilized behavior. Most Westerners further assume their assumptions are, or should be, the human default. Most critically, they assume it is rightly rule-based and universal, instead of protocol-based and contextual. The Bible assumes the latter. Quinn’s approach to the question of predicting human behavior at large assumes the former.

My brand of mysticism says that we are hard-wired for eastern feudalism, that it’s the form of social control God designed us for and what His revelation designed for us. Biblical social constraints rest entirely on that eastern feudal sense of what ought to be; it assumes an inescapable fallen nature. The whole system arises from God’s revelation of human instincts. The only solution offered begins with reaching outside this world, to the Maker and Master of all things. Any social structure that starts elsewhere inevitably fails. It assumes that all Creation is inherently personal in nature, that the universe is not the net result of impersonal forces.

Further, I believe that the particular kinds of human failure are predicted by such assumptions about human behavior. By the same token, I assert that Biblical assumptions about human nature focus on a wholly different value system in terms of what really matters in the first place. It’s a different set of morals entirely.

So while I acknowledge the statistical accuracy of Fourth Turning analysis, I reject the moral assumptions behind it. We are up against two major issues here. First is the Western epistemology that demands we measure and evaluate the results of moral choices in material terms. This is why the mechanics of economics are an obsession with both left and right moral arguments. Second, Western Christianity assumes this is how God operates. Western intellectual assumptions offer no room for self-doubt; they compel the worship of one’s own reason. Despite lip-service to the contrary, genuine humility is a sin in Western morality. Western assumptions insist it must be impersonal.

This is why we have Asimov propounding his “psychohistory” — it is founded on the arrogance of Western epistemology. It remains fiction because it cannot do the job; it fails before it starts. It ignores very real moral elements of human nature because they are rooted outside the material universe. Western epistemology assumes the universe is the limit of reality. I have to agree with the idea that free will manifests on the individual level, but fades into insignificance when the numbers scale upward. And I do agree with how people in power resent the implication that they are actually powerless on a wider scale. However, I don’t agree with the idea that numbers alone can explain the wars, and I wholly reject that something like psychohistory could possibly predict human behavior.

The Bible predicted human behavior-at-large a long time ago. If you can embrace that other epistemology and understand the mystical outlook underlying the prophetic assessment of humanity’s future, nothing you see now would surprise you. Indeed, it’s hard to avoid a prophetic mindset once you really understand the Bible from the perspective of those who wrote it. You’re going to see a lot of things coming before they arrive.

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Natural Chaos

Reading the news, do you get the feeling nobody really knows what’s going on?

You’re right; they don’t know. God alone really understands and He’s not telling too many folks about His larger plans. However, in accordance with His divine promises, He is most certainly still telling His people what they need to do for His glory.

Consider that for a moment. God has never been silent. However, there are conditions attached to His revelation. We’re talking about the Creator here, folks. Don’t bother asking if you aren’t already committed to obeying Him. He’s always been downright eager to reveal Himself, but you have to remember that you aren’t in a position to put up filters. Instead, you are obliged to seek ways to remove those filters.

He further promised that if we would merely make a good faith effort, He would always make sure we got it. He has designed us to process revelation in ways that make us able to live in this world with shalom. He has always filled in the gaps for those who were clueless but committed, so that progress was always available until we are able to secure the fullness of His promises. In effect, desiring His wisdom is His wisdom.

Take a look at the Old Testament. When did the Covenant People find themselves in chaos? It was whenever they ceased to desire revelation. Even worse was whenever they presumed their version of wisdom was binding on God. That’s a sure recipe for living in chaos.

So here we are in a the US and just about everyone is utterly certain they have God figured out. It’s a lot like we read in the prophecy of Malachi: It’s all nailed down and run by rote. People are performing the rituals and can’t be bothered to hear when God says those rituals mean nothing. Do you not see how even the most charismatic worship services are following a script? It’s all down to a fine science, and if it’s not working, it’s your fault. Don’t you dare criticize the system.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s secular or religious, because it’s all the same system nailed down by exactly the same structural rules. There is this huge unspoken assumption that it has to organized by certain types of rules, so that the variations are quite shallow. That’s because nobody is listening; everybody is advising God what He’s supposed to do.

It’s not working. You can see it in the confused reporting of the news. Everything comes across like some kind of PsyOp (military term: “psychological operation”). It’s like some big lie painted on the surface and underneath is a yet another sting operation. And yet, the confusion and chaos is actually out there, but you can’t get an honest account from very many sources. I can tell you that, where I live, it seems a lot of folks come across as bewildered under the surface. The world is going nuts and the sense of composure is fraying on more than just the edges.

But God says He’ll tell your heart what really matters. Stay hungry for a better vision, a deeper revelation. Always assume you don’t quite have it, yet always be brave in going on what you have. You don’t have to know what’s going on, only that the chaos is the natural result of people not seeking to know God in their hearts. All you really have to know is what God requires of You; He’s got everything else in His hands.

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Our Great Commission

And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20 NKJV)

Given what I say about my religion and sense of mission, how would I implement the Great Commission? We cannot run off into the world the way most religions have done that in the past. Nor is this quite the same world in which the First Century disciples of Jesus found themselves. That is, how we communicate the gospel message so as to make disciples and teach them what Jesus has commanded isn’t going to be exactly the same because their implementation matched a different world than ours.

Context is everything. The language we use comes within a cultural context, so that actions are part of the language. You can’t just isolate the act of speaking, as if it simply must be the same in every tongue and time and place in the universe. You have to translate it fully, not just some kind of mechanical word-for-word rendering. That’s just ink on paper; we need souls living that message as if Jesus were brought to life in every time and place.

First, we have to be in the right place; we have to plant roots in the ground where God covers us with His favor. And we stay there as long as it pleases Him. He’s the Creator who knows what should be growing where; it’s the same for whom is growing and bearing fruit.

Second, we each have to discover our own fruit. If we can discern with biochemistry how two identical trees in different ecosystems can offer varied nutrients, so we should understand that the parable of bearing fruit means we each play a small part in the broader spiritual nutrition of souls. No one of us is the sole influence in any other person’s redemption.

For myself, the biggest current mission is what you experience as my writing on the Internet. But I most certainly have been working here in the meat space of where I reside in Central Oklahoma. However, given the long legacy of pushy sales-pitch “evangelism” around these parts, I have to offer the gospel in a different means; I have to speak a different language into this context. So for now, I am plowing the ground, breaking up the hardened surface defense against a more vivid gospel message by simply living what I preach on this blog. I show the power of God’s revelation in terms of my shalom. They know it’s about Christian faith even if they don’t have a clue, and aren’t quite ready to hear the story behind it.

So for the time being, I’m waiting for something that will open their souls to the planting of seed. I’m plowing dry ground unless God makes it rain. Given the long season of drought, you can be sure that rain will come with terrifying storms. Gentle weather patterns can’t push past this massive high pressure dome of hot dry weather; it requires a very strong storm. Until the folks around me tribulate, they can’t hear the gospel message I bring. Some have suffered more than others, so everyone has their own unique level of readiness, and it takes time for God to move things in their lives until they are ready to receive. And even then, I know that there are few who will hear the divine call. Everybody is looking for something, but most people tend to think they’ve already got eternal stuff worked out. They have to be thrown into a place to question that. So in my faith and convictions, I know I’m in the right place, but the context is not complete.

Meanwhile, by the same faith, I also know that I am called to take this message elsewhere. I am gripped by a certainty that there are contexts that aren’t always tied to a physical place, contexts that are shaped by other factors of human existence. In those contexts people are already living in a condition that makes them question their certainties. Within those contexts is where my certainties shine brightest. I’ve done it before when I was serving in uniform with the US Army. The military service is a tribulational context wherever the military takes people.

There are other contexts that bear an inherent tribulation. Somewhere out there is another one for which I’m best fitted as missionary. Maybe it isn’t quite ready for me now, but I sense that it can’t be that far away in terms of time. In a prophetic sense, I believe that God is preparing me to take this gospel message to some folks who will, in turn, carry it wherever the winds of Heaven blow them on this earth. My evangelism in their lives will be just one more means of revelation that will prepare them for their own missionary calling.

This isn’t like the first few missions in the New Testament where the Apostles carried the message to people who weren’t moving around that much. I’ll do that, but I’ve been given a commission to discover other folks who are now, or ought to be, missionaries themselves. I’m supposed to be an influence in the souls of influential folks.

This is why I keep talking about some mission yet in front me on this path. There are some folks out there still chained by something that they don’t really belong to, but they need just one more key to open the lock. Or at least I’ll give them a key they need for some later final break into spiritual freedom. It doesn’t matter; I’m passing out keys to folks who are aware they need one. And they are people with missionary feet.

I have to be ready to make that message look like a key to them. This means a certain amount of flexibility, a sensitivity to how people see such things. It ranges all over the place. I might talk to one person about philosophy and epistemology, to another about cultural anthropology, to another about comparative civilization, to another about living in harmony with Creation, and with still yet others it will need to sound like just a slight variation on traditional mainstream Christian religion — whatever it takes.

What’s your mission? Let’s pray together about each other’s sense of where God is leading and how we each will carry out that Great Commission.

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Kiln blog: Set the Captives Free

Teaser…

The longer I look at it, the more I cannot imagine that my mission is pivotal in God’s work among humans.

Let me reiterate some things my regular readers already know. The gospel message is freedom. It’s the opposite of sectarianism. While a great many Christian denominations use terminology like that, what they mean is that there should be no sects other than their own. “Everyone should be free to do it our way. Who could want anything else?” The problem is that they keep religion a slave to reason. Thus, whatever “freedom” means, it has to pass through the filter of reason — and we all know that reason is the conscious cover story our minds offer for very unreasonable personal wishes.

It is utterly impossible for reason to fill in the blanks of ultimate moral purpose; reason must start from certain moral assumptions and those always rest on the individual’s personal collective mythology. Need we note again that said mythology is itself a moving target? It is simply not possible for any human to be objective. We are all born with an instinct to propagate our genes; most of us are born with a certain drive to propagate our personal mythology. But only a few of us are born with the talents to make either form of propagation happen on a wide scale (and those two talents are often found in the same person). These folks honestly believe: “My way is God’s way.” Thus is born a particular brand of religion that sweeps in larger numbers of people….

You can read the rest of this message by clicking this link to Kiln of the Soul blog.

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Dead or Alive

Why do you still live?

Yesterday was my gym workout at the park. It was excellent because I exceeded previous performances on everything. I even managed to sprint up a small but steep hill a few times; I’m trying to regain my previous short recovery time from things like wind-sprints.

When my beloved came home we went to a local eatery that someone recommended. They lied. It wasn’t particularly bad, just very generic and bland. That’s bad for a taco salad. It didn’t digest well, so I didn’t recover well from the workout. Since today was pretty cool on top of that, I just didn’t feel up to a long ride.

Besides, my beloved was hosting a baby shower, so it gave me an excuse to stay home and help her get the place cleaned up and move furniture around. Then I disappeared into my computer office and stayed out of the way while almost a dozen women did what they do at such gatherings. I watched a couple of documentaries on YouTube. I’m a big fan of geographical and historical stuff; it’s the only type of video I can tolerate for more than a few minutes.

Then they left and I helped to put everything back into our normal layout.

The military term “marking time” is a good metaphor for what I’m doing these days: marching in place and waiting for the next order to move. I’ve still got that rhythm going for some kind of mission.

I suppose no two of us would do it just the same, but I try to invest a little time each day in worship. For me that typically means turning on some worship music and humming or singing along. Just for fun, I’ve been working my baritone voice to hit bass notes I couldn’t reach before. Still, I do lose myself in some of the songs. That’s what worship is: losing yourself in something far bigger.

Do you suppose I’m just chasing a dream the will evaporate on the wind?

No one has to tell me that what I claim is coming has no basis in reason. Let’s remind ourselves that a conscienceless psychopath is often utterly rational. Some are more willing to tolerate upheaval than others, but their actions always make perfect sense to someone who can’t even grasp caring for another person. If this material existence is all there is, most psychopaths are better equipped to survive and prosper. Psychopaths exhibit choices that deny the existence of God and a conscience.

This not about me, but a desire to share something other people surely need. But more than that, it’s an overwhelming desire to please God. I wouldn’t care about others if it weren’t for the power of God in my convictions. He’s the One who built that fire of desire for a mission adventure. Without that, I wouldn’t likely bother with working out and trying to stay fit. I wouldn’t care about what kind of food is helping and what is hindering. I’d have gone nuts a long time ago.

I’d probably be dead by now.

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Kiln blog: Psalm 124

(Reposted in full due to brevity; original post.)

This is ascribed specifically to David. We should take notice how very much this is like a responsive song, heavy with Hebrew parallelism.

We have this basic confession: Were it not for Jehovah’s favor, there would be no Israel. Think just a moment about her history. How many times did the Patriarchs stand threatened by circumstances? And didn’t Israel face a very well-armed force trying to escape unarmed from several generations of slavery? And that generation that died in the wilderness? Remember those biting serpents, the droughts and lack of food? How many times should Israel as a nation have died by normal human reckoning? This sentiment is restated twice.

This sentiment is expressed in two ways. First, is the image of larger and better armed nations rising against them, described twice. Then the metaphor of an overwhelming flood is expressed three times. Make no mistake — this echoes the crossing of the Reed Sea and Jordan during flood stage.

The song then jumps into praise. God didn’t let them eat us alive. David compares this to a bird caught in a snare that escapes because the trap broke. It’s not that Israel was smart enough to stay out the traps, but that God kept breaking them free. Their salvation was in the “name of the Lord.” That’s a Hebrew turn of phrase that reminds us God operates as an eastern suzerain, and we are His vassals. This is all about His glory, His reputation. Let us remind everyone that this is our Creator.

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