I am now blogging at a new blog: erdman31.com

If you post comments here at Theos Project, please know that I will respond and engage your thoughts in a timely manner.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The System of Seduction

I enjoyed a wonderful time in northern Michigan these last several days. I was able to spend five days and five nights of solitary camping amongst the Michigan dunes along Lake Michigan. It was a refreshing experience. (Refreshing, as in, imagine me in a commercial, hot and thirsty, guzzling down a Coke. I exhale, deeply satisfied. Aaaaaaahhhhh. Can’t beat the real thing.)

In any event.

I read Slavoj Zizek’s The Fragile Absolute while I was enjoying the sun, wind, and air of the great outdoors. In this book, Zizek makes several interesting remarks that intersect with some of our recent discussions on The System. In these posts, we have been considering the intersection between economics, politics, spirituality, culture, and the general health of humanity.

Zizek has much to say on such issues.

For those not familiar with Zizek, his interests are philosophy, psychoanalysis, Marxism, culture, and film….amongst other things…..he is intimately familiar with the works of Jacques Lacan, an important but difficult philosophy and psychoanalytical theorist.

So, by analyzing Zizek, we are introducing a bit of psychoanalytic theory to our critique of The System.

One of the things that we have discussed is that The System exists to create discontentment. I am speaking here as an American: we have all of our basic needs provided for us (e.g., we actually waste/throw away about half of our food), so in order for our economy to continue to expand, we must be always buying. As such, advertising keeps us in a constant state of discontent: we (the consumers) must always be “needing” something new. There is a need to not just provide a needed good or service, but our economy is now invested in creating the need itself for that good or service.

Although a Marxist, Zizek says, “‘Actually existing Socialism’ failed because it was ultimately a subspecies of capitalism, an ideological attempt to ‘have one’s cake and eat it’, to break out of capitalism while retaining its key ingredient.” (p. 19)

This particular brand of socialism failed because it was actually a “subspecies” of capitalism, but left out the “key ingredient” of capitalism. What is this “key ingredient”? It is the gap between the object of desire itself and its cause.

“There is always a gap between the object of desire itself and its cause.” (21) This is a Lacanian move. Zizek gives an example.

“Henry Krips evokes the lovely example of the chaperone in seduction: the chaperone is an ugly elderly lady who is officially the obstacle to the direct goal-object (the woman the suitor is courting); but precisely as such, she is the key intermediary moment that effectively makes the beloved woman desirable—without her, the whole economy of seduction would collapse.” (20)

There is a gap between the object of desire (the woman) and the cause, the chaperone (the obstacle). This is the gap in which the motivation for seduction operates. The fact that the object of desire is blocked fuels the desire to possess/seduce the object. It is because the object is blocked that seduction can take place. Seduction operates in this gap.

Think Eve.

Think forbidden fruit.

The serpent’s “seduction” took place in the gap between the prohibition (“do not eat of the fruit”) and the desire to eat of it. Without the prohibition there is no seduction.

Without the chaperone there is no seduction, there is no gap.

In contrast to seduction is true love: “In love, the object is not deprived of its cause; it is, rather, that the very distance between object and cause collapses. This, precisely, is what distinguishes love from desire: in desire, as we have just seen, cause is distinct from object; while in love, the two inexplicably coincide--I magically love the beloved on for itself, finding in it the very point from which I find it worthy of love.” (21)

Zizek then immediately relates this back to Marx.

“What if his [Marx] mistake was also to assume that the object of desire (unconstrained expanding productivity) would remain even when it was deprived of the cause that propels it (surplus-value)?” (21)

What is “surplus-value”?

Simply put, for Marx, surplus-value is profit, interest, or rent income. Capitalism (again, simplifying) depends on the motive of profit as the cause of “unconstrained expanding productivity.”

Who was it that, when asked how much money was enough answered, “just another dollar more”? Rockefeller?

This quote, interestingly enough, is really not about greed, per se. It is a brilliantly succinct expression of what motivates capitalism: the desire for surplus-value, i.e., profit.

Zizek talks about the objet petit a (a Lacan term). The objet petit a is the unattainable object of desire. As unattainable, it keeps us in a state of something like eternal desire. It is perpetual discontentedness. “The nearer you get to it, the more it eludes your grasp (or the more you possess it, the greater the lack).” (24)

Zizek next turns his attention to Coca-cola to demonstrate objet petit a. Coke, “the mysterious and elusive X we are all after in our compulsive consumption of merchandise.” (22)

In the next post, we will continue our discussion of the system of seduction by looking further at Zizek’s analysis of how Coca-cola relates to the objet petit a (and to The System as a whole).

In the meantime, “have a Coke!”

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Out to the woods

I am heading up to northern Michigan, Manistee National Forest, this weekend for a few days of solitary camping.....leaving now, back on Tuesday.

Friday, June 19, 2009

New Worlds: The Call of the Pilgrim

No really. The inner voice that’s telling you it wants six million dollars and a nice vacation villa in Tuscany – how do you know it’s really your true self, and not just another imposter taking his turn at the microphone? Besides, aren’t you a little suspicious that everyone’s true self wants pretty much the same things: chronic happiness, lots of money, good weather, universal admiration? Maybe everyone’s gone too deep. Maybe we’re all delving somewhere down below unique individuality into the universal subconscious, where everything is pure narcissism, will to power, and the longing for fabulousness. p. 34 of John Doyle’s novel The Stations

What is it that draws a pilgrim away from the gravity, the force that pulls everyone toward the same things, the same thoughts, the same ideas, the same life?

In our prior pilgrimage post, Conceived in the Restless, we saw that for the pilgrim, something stirs. It’s like the split personality of the main character in the film Fight Club: there is a violent break in the norm, Tyler is breaking through. It’s not just a purely “inner” compulsion. It’s more than just an urge to extract one’s self from all of humanity, take up residence in the nearest cave, and hang a sign at the front that says, “Local hermit, do not disturb.” No, there’s something in the air, there’s something that’s not right in the general atmosphere…..and it leaves the would-be pilgrim with deep frustration.

A pilgrim is conceived in the restless.

Ultimately, the task at hand is not to define pilgrim, or even to say “this is what a pilgrim looks like.”

“For me the pilgrimage constituted an assembly of various ideas and practices: the pieces could be taken apart, bundled with others extracted from apparently unrelated sources, then reconfigured in strange and unpredictable ways. For me the Salon’s signpost always pointed toward the unthought and the untried. No permanent trails would be laid down, because no one would come along behind to follow the pioneers. Each installation of the Salon sat at the crossroads of an infinite number of possible pathways, all leading into the unknown. The same point on a map can be the beginning of one journey and the end of another. Novices and journeymen require different gear, and the Salon would be outfitter to them all. Still, the Salon could never hope to fulfill itself. Of the road there are no masters.” Prop. Stephen Hanley, p. 100

In this series of posts, we just want to stir things up a bit. We want to explore the idea of pilgrimage but also let the idea of pilgrimage explore us. “Deep calls to deep.”

While exploring “pilgrimage” (and letting “pilgrimage” explore us), we are simultaneously engaging in a bit of exegesis. The text is John Doyle’s novel The Stations. In The Stations, Prop. (short for Proprietor) Stephen Hanley stirs things up. He’s the Prop. at the Salon. The Salon is about exploring “the unthought and the untried.” What it is will never be clear and should never be clear. What it is not is a bit easier. Despite the fact that the Salon seems to be going about the business of self-discovery and self-exploration, the Salon is not therapeutic. It is not self-improvement: “The people who walk through the Salon’s doors have been raised on self-improvement, so they’re ready to aim themselves toward other ends if someone plausible teaches them how.” p. 7

How does a pilgrim break free of the pull of gravity?

Or, why does a pilgrim break free?

What is this pull of gravity?

Nietzsche talked about the “herd” instinct. He criticized democracy as being an institution that silenced the voices of the few and muted the insights of the gifted. This put the state on the slow and senseless path of the herd.

Kierkegaard talks about “the crowd.”

“There is a view of life which holds that where the crowd is, the truth is also, that it is a need in truth itself, that it must have the crowd on its side. There is another view of life; which holds that wherever the crowd is, there is untruth, so that, for a moment to carry the matter out to its farthest conclusion, even if every individual possessed the truth in private, yet if they came together into a crowd (so that ‘the crowd’ received any decisive, voting, noisy, audible importance), untruth would at once be let in.

“The crowd is untruth. Therefore was Christ crucified, because he, even though he addressed himself to all, would not have to do with the crowd…would not found a party, or allow balloting, but would be what he was, the truth….. For to win a crowd is not so great a trick; one only needs some talent, a certain dose of untruth and a little acquaintance with the human passions.

“And to honor every individual human being, unconditionally every human being, that is the truth and fear of God and love of ‘the neighbor’; but ethico-religiously viewed, to recognize ‘the crowd’ as the court of last resort in relation to ‘the truth,’ that is to deny God and cannot possibly be to love ‘the neighbor.’ And ‘the neighbor’ is the absolutely true expression for human equality; if everyone in truth loved the neighbor as himself, then would perfect human equality be unconditionally attained….But never have I read in the Holy Scriptures this command: You shall love the crowd….It is clear that to love the neighbor is self-denial, that to love the crowd or to act as if one loved it, to make it the court of last resort for ‘the truth’, that is the way to truly gain power, the way to all sorts of temporal and worldly advantage - yet it is untruth; for the crowd is untruth.” (from The Crowd is Untruth)

Martin Heidegger brings together the thoughts of Nietzsche and Kierkegaard in his philosophy. There are original thinkers and artists who can somehow see beyond their world. They can envision new worlds, or appreciate new worlds.

Heidegger talks a good deal about “worlds.”

Terrence Malick is a Heideggerian philosopher turned filmmaker. In his filmmaking, Malick often explores “worlds.” This is particularly the case in his recent work, The New World (2005, with Colin Farrell, Q'Orianka Kilcher, Christopher Plummer, Christian Bale). This stunning film shows the collision of two worlds at Jamestown: European conquerors and the native American peoples.

We cannot reduce pilgrimage to the drive for adventure.

The New World captures the Imperialistic drive of the Europeans. They arrive to explore new possibilities for humanity—their humanity, on their terms, for the sake of their religion, and without any regard for the native peoples. They will transplant their familiar, European world into the new American world, with a few upgrades. Call in Europe 2.0.

In the midst of this collision of cultures, the film creates two characters who rethink. One is a pilgrim, she is the Pocahontas character (unnamed in the film). She loves her people and her way of life, but she also loves John Smith, and she risks alienation by reaching out to the white Jamestown settlement. She is expelled from her people, held hostage by the whites, and abandoned by her love, John Smith.

A pilgrimage doesn’t always have a happy ending.

Smith is on the verge of pilgrimage. But he chooses adventure over the life of a pilgrim. He resigns his love for Pocahontas and her people to the world of “dream.” He takes on a commission from England to explore, to look for the West Indies. Malick, in his filmmaking genius, shows us that in looking for a new geographical space, Smith abandons the infinite spiritual possibilities that were opened before him if he would have explored the “world” of the native Americans. The world of the natives is more than just the land, it is a particular approach to the land. It is not just about transplanting humanity, it is a change of perception about being human.

Smith misses it. Deep calls to deep. But no one answers back.

A pilgrim answers the call and explores the new worlds--the new ideas, new perceptions, new possibilities.

“Entering an alternate reality is like going to a foreign country. You can visit as a tourist, always staying at the big American hotel chains, buffered from the foreignness of everything that surrounds you. You can march in as a conqueror, forcibly replacing the strange with the familiar. You can be a chameleon, at home anywhere, indistinguishable from the habitat. Or you can be a traveler. You equip yourself for transport, then wait to see what happens. Use the things you find around you to assemble a rudimentary shelter. Experiment with ways of distinguishing food from poison. Allow yourself to become a gill-breather. Experience moods that have no names. You become nonexistent; you become your own double.” p. 73 of The Stations

A pilgrim equips herself as a traveler, goes to the new worlds, and experiences “moods that have no names.”

How do we describe this force that draws us to “sameness”?

“On just about any dimension you can think of, humans tend to clump together. Go farther and farther away from the center and you see fewer and fewer people. It’s hard not to see evidence of some sort of force at work, pulling everybody toward the center. Maybe the force emanates from a particular point in the world, like gravity, pulling people in. Maybe it’s a force that’s embedded within individuals, impelling them to move toward each other.” p. 47

The force. It’s like gravity.

And then there are “the outliers.”

“But what about the outliers, the people who resist the pull to the center? Do the outliers lack the normalizing force within themselves? Do they try to huddle with the masses, only to find themselves drifting away? Do they float effortlessly above the pull of gravity? Or do they exert a counterforce that drives them out of orbit? Maybe the outliers are already moving toward what’s destined to become the new center of gravity, and the rest of us will eventually find ourselves being drawn toward them. For good or for ill.” p. 47

That’s a very Heideggerian thought: the outlier envisions new worlds, explores new worlds, and eventually their imagination and vision becomes the new center of gravity.

Let’s talk more about this.

What is it that is moving through the pilgrim?

The pilgrim is conceived in the restless. Gradually (or perhaps all at once!), the pilgrim begins to realize that something is moving through her. Or, as we have previously discussed, she is latching on to something outside of herself; it’s outside and inside. Inside out.

Doyle describes it simply, as difference.

When Stephen Hanley decides to become the Prop of the Salon, there are plenty of friends to question the point of pursuing difference.

“Among our friends the opinion was consistent: Why would anyone want to pursue difference as a goal? Happiness, yes, or at least relief from suffering. Adjustment, success, serenity, self-discovery, even self-discovery of prior lifetimes (‘Regression Therapy’ took up half a page in my progressive town’s yellow pages) – these were the things people looked for from a therapist. People wanted their lives to be better than they were, preferably better than other people’s lives too. They didn’t just want to ‘get different.’ No one would come to the Salon.” p. 39

So no one would come to the Salon. That’s the prediction. And it was true. No one came. So, he went back to the way the original Prop did things: just wait on difference.

“Of course my friends were right. No one came. No one called about the ads I placed in the local paper. No one attended the free discussion groups. So I stopped advertising, stopped reaching out. I decided to do it Prop Adamowicz’s way. The ratty sign by the doorbell stayed, and so did I. I didn’t replace the sign until a long time later, when the tape wouldn’t stick to it any more and half the words had become illegible.” p. 39

In Doyle’s novel, “difference” is what is moving around and through the pilgrim. The herd huddles together, people use “the crowd” as their measure of truth, and no one seems to be interested in venturing beyond the “world” of the familiar. The force of gravity pulls at the masses of humanity. But the pilgrim, conceived in the restless, must somehow begin to understand what difference means.

The philosopher Jaques Derrida created a term, diffĂ©rance. This term is a play on words, it combines “deferring” with “difference.” Try as we might, things just won’t stick. Words, ideology, definition, laws, and roles. They are never fixed in any absolute position. Things are always being deferred and differentiated.

DiffĂ©rance is the nameless name of this open-ended, uncontainable, generalizable play of traces.” Nutshell p. 105

This is something undefinable, and yet it is more than being different for the sake of being different. It is the calling out of something new, the voice that said to Abraham, “Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you.” Deep calls to deep. The unknown stretches out endlessly on the horizon of possibility.

Difference is the voice that cannot speak. It calls the pilgrim to new worlds.

“Perhaps Yahweh’s great concern is the preservation of differences. Humans from gods. Humans from animals. Kin from non-kin. Men from women. Perhaps, finally, individual from individual. We’re all naked and afraid. We want to merge into something that will protect us. To become one flesh. Even if it means losing the very thing that makes each of us unique.” p. 125 of The Stations

Monday, June 15, 2009

The System and Food, Inc.

....the film is about food, and how our food has become less healthy, and about the high cost of this low-cost food. But it goes beyond that. It’s about the concentration of power, it’s about the relationship of these powerful corporations to government...

Food, Inc.

Has anyone had the opportunity to see this documentary yet?

Anyone planning on it?

It isn't playing anywhere near my area.

A link to the trailer:

Interesting lines:

Grocery stores are selling "the idea of a tomato."

"There is this deliberate veil, this curtain, that's dropped between us and where our food is coming from."


There is a good article at Salon.com on this film.

Here are a few snippets from the interview with the director, Robert Kenner:

Q: You didn't come to this project with any particular knowledge about the industrial production of food, isn't that right?

A: Yeah, I came in as a filmmaker. I was looking to figure out how our food gets to our plate. On one hand, I think it's kind of a miracle. We spend less of our paycheck on this food than any point in history, and I think that’s a great thing. But at the same time, this inexpensive food is coming to us at a high cost. I thought that would be an interesting subject for an investigation on this food. I didn't realize when I started it that ultimately agribusiness does not want us to look behind the veil to see where our food comes from. I think I could have been making a film about nuclear terrorism and have gotten greater access.

Q: We’re talking about mainly the large producers of beef, poultry and pork. Companies like Perdue and Tyson and Smithfield, and of course Monsanto, the chemical manufacturer. One of the things this movie is really about is the tremendous amount of power they have over our food supply.

A: Well, really the film is about food, and how our food has become less healthy, and about the high cost of this low-cost food. But it goes beyond that. It’s about the concentration of power, it’s about the relationship of these powerful corporations to government, and the lack of transparency in the system. And it could probably be about a number of other subjects, but what makes it all the more powerful is that you have to eat this stuff.

Q: You told me earlier that some foodies and environmentalists are disappointed with the film, because they say it's stuff they already know. But you're aiming at a wider and more general audience here, aren't you?

A: I'm really trying to reach out and bring as many people into this movement, which is an incredibly expanding, fast-growing movement. You don’t have to be a Democrat or a Republican to not want to eat meat with fecal matter on it. We all want to feed our children healthy food. So it's not about ideology at that point. There are some right-wing religious groups who are very active on the matters of food. It's an issue that can unite people. At the same time, we're up against very powerful corporations, and we've grown to love very cheap food. It’s wonderful how little it costs, but we’re starting to see the real damage it does.

And later...

Kenner: Ultimately these corporations are scared of us. And ultimately, if there’s a movement, the government wants to follow us. So there are a number of empowering points that we try to make, even though it’s a difficult subject. I think if people see it, they’ll feel empowered. But sometimes people are scared and don't want to know where our food comes from.


I am not yet finished blogging about The System. What I started to do in that series of posts was to explore the relationship of power structures (governments, corporations), our economic choices, and our spiritual well-being. Frankly, beginning to think about it was overwhelming; but at the same time, exploring this important relationships has opened many avenues of spiritual exploration.

When I use the term "spiritual," I don't just mean some vague, Christian notion of the soul, rather, I am referring to the interconnectedness and interdependency of all things. So, to speak of "spirituality" does not simply mean our private, "inner" experiences, but the way in which our "inner" is connected with the "outer," almost to the point of not even being a distinction. As such, for me the idea of "spirituality" is something that one can discuss even if one is an atheist or materialist.

In my post, The System, I said defined "the System" as disconnect:

The system defines us as economic units. We define ourselves as economic units. Everything is mediated by money. And this leads me to my primary contention in this post: the system defines itself as disconnect. I have used the term “the system,” and now I am defining it strictly in terms of the disconnect. Or more to the point, the system is self-defined as disconnectedness. This is the level that is most basic to its core, to its being....

The rule is disconnect. The system’s survival is at steak. A content, connected society isn’t interested in economic expansion as its highest priority. A discontent, disconnected, and disposable culture will continue to work harder and buy more. This is good for the economy and feeds the system.

Naturally, then, for me it is intriguing to analyze the disconnect that exists between ourselves and the land. The system is so disconnected that we are even disconnected from our food (and water). I don't think I'm overstating this case by saying that such a state of affairs is terrifying. To (loosely) quote Derrik Jensen: If the system is in complete control of a person's food and water, that person will fight to the death to protect the system.

Our very survival depends on maintaining the system, because where else would we get our food?

There is certainly hope, though. If people begin to make careful food choices by growing their own food, shopping at local Farmer's Markets, or partnering with local growers via CSA's, then each economic choice can work against the system of disconnect. It requires a very new orientation. Making major shifts in where we purchase food requires more time and energy. Eating out less is less convenient. But time is something we don't have.....and we don't have time because the system keeps families working two jobs, or workers doing overtime to make ends meet, or young yuppies working the 60 or 80 hours they need to climb the corporate ladder.....so, we don't have time to think about food. We just buy the stuff on the grocery shelves, or make a run to McDonald's or Subway.....it's the system....it's the disconnect.

Each dollar we spend on food either confirms and empowers the system of disconnect, abuse, and fragmentation, or it connects us closer with the earth and with each other. Food has always been a political issue, and a means of control and manipulation by the system.

As such, each dollar we spend can translate into our own personal anarchy against the prevailing powers. Each dollar can be a personal revolt.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Conceived in the Restless

Two hundred years ago, poets and sages sought a back way out of the modern world through the wreckage of the Middle Ages. With the Postmodern Pilgrimage the medieval was revived again.
--p. 100 of John Doyle's The Stations

The Salon.

The Salon Postisme is an idea, was an idea; it was a vision and a dream. It was an opportunity to escape the reality of the mundane and trivial. The Salon became something different, entirely. In the end, it became an institution and a corporate entity. But in the beginning? In the beginning it was a portal into another dimension, a dimension of deeper humanness, consciousness. Something deeper, yes, but also an escape from the pull and the gravity of the deep.

John Doyle’s (aka ktismatics) novel The Stations is a discussion of pilgrimage. The Salon is the vision for the pilgrim. The Salon begins as a ratty sign on a door. There are no lights, no advertising media, no marketing, no distribution channels. Just a sign on a door. Stephen Hanley walks through the door. Something is restless. Something is unsettled. It isn’t just “an inner longing.” There’s something in the air, a mood, a collective sense. The sense that even though everything is efficient, secure, and “all is well with the world,” there is still an unrest in the atmosphere.

It is this unrest that moves the pilgrim. And yet before the pilgrim is moved, there is a connection with the unrest. The pilgrim senses something about the world that disturbs her sleep.

Stephen Hanley walks through the door and is handed the baton, he is the new Proprietor of The Salon, or you can just call him “Prop.” No training. Just the vision. Just ambiguity. There’s something that is not right with the world, something in the mood of the world. There will be pilgrims, those who begin to explore difference in a world of homogeneity and same-ness. That’s what Prop is here for, that’s what he wants to do:

“My job as I saw it was to enter into the client’s real strangeness; to have the client guide me into other ways of seeing, into exotic regions of the soul that we could then explore together. What I really wanted, of course, was to become the client. I didn’t want to pull them out into my normalcy; I wanted to climb with them into their madness. I guess I’m just a romantic at heart.” p. 30

Prop is ready to climb into the madness. Their madness, their strangeness. Something is breaking through.

The film (1999) Fight Club opens with the line: “People are always asking me if I know Tyler Durden.” The character speaking is the main character, but he remains nameless through the film. So, some of us call him “Jack.” And Tyler Durden? Tyler Durden is Jack, Jack’s subconscious breaking through. At the beginning of the film we only see Jack’s life. It’s a pathetic life. It’s mundane and trivial. “This is your life, and it’s ending one minute at a time,” says Jack to himself as he boards another plane for another business trip for another corporate gig so that he can feed his slavery to “the Ikea nesting instinct.” “What diamond set defines me as a person?”

A pilgrim finds something, connects to something. There is a mood.

Jack can’t sleep. Something is restless. Ironically, it is insomnia that begins his awakening.

“How often had someone come to me wanting to stop being something, to stop doing something? They wanted to get away from their jobs, from their friends and families, from the world, from themselves. The Salon Postisme offered a way out….People often come to the Salon equipped with a sophisticated ambivalence, an ironic self-awareness, and a vague general disdain that masks an intense and personal frustration with the way life was turning out." p. 7

The pilgrim is finding something deeper within, but in another more real sense, they are not going deeper within the self but rather connecting with something in the world. It’s vague and indefinable. It seems to manifest itself as “an intense and personal frustration” with the way life is panning out. And somehow, conventional remedies don’t work.

The first instinct is to run, to get away. The first instinct isn’t always the best instinct…..of course, it isn’t always the worst move, either…..But it’s hard to put a finger on just what a pilgrim feels when the overwhelming sense is that “this world is not my home.”

The frustration grapples to latch onto something, call it “sophisticated ambivalence,” or “ironic self-awareness,” or “a vague general disdain.” These are the “masks” that express that which cannot be defined, that which should not be defined.

But this is the beginning of pilgrimage.

This is where it is conceived, where the possibility of new life begins.

The pilgrim has not yet taken her first steps. She has not even yet been formed in the womb.

There are any number of possibilities.

But this is the beginning.

[This post follows the prior post and begins our exploration of pilgrimage]

Sunday, June 07, 2009


Vulnerability can be truly transformative when it is combined with courage and strength: the courage and strength to accept that one's vulnerability might be rejected, ignored, or taken advantage of. But we must also have the courage and strength to go deeper into intimacy if our vulnerability is reciprocated.

Friday, June 05, 2009

From homeless to pilgrim

Last March I posted Spiritually Homeless, an honest reflection of my spiritual journey in and then out of organized religion. I didn't feel I had a place to lay my head, no "home church" or anything similar. But I embraced this reality and in the post from March, I reflected on how being spiritually homeless can truly be a positive and life-giving experience.

For one thing, Jesus was homeless.

I put the post up on my Facebook Notes. (You can try this link to get to it.) The result was more than a hundred comments: various questions, comments, and mostly support and appreciation for a sincere approach to the issue of church. It's no secret that many people are having a more and more difficult time connecting with organized religion in a meaningful and life-giving way.

In the process of all the feedback and discussion, I had an insightful observation made to me by Tamie: You are not spiritually homeless, you are a spiritual pilgrim.


So simple.

And yet so true.

For a time period, after I exited the institutional church, I felt lost and homeless: scrambling on the streets to find a meal, take shelter for the night, and scrape up a little money for booze every once in a while.

It was survival mode.

And it was necessary.

And it was good.

"Homeless" is a derogatory term for many. But again, Jesus was homeless. And this sense of being homeless is still important for me. To feel too much like we are at home in the system of the world means that we will never challenge the system, never bring reform, and never be personally transformed into something more noble and beautiful.

Nonetheless, I feel like "pilgrim" is a better description of my current journey. It still carries with it a sense of restlessness and discontent with the status quo: this world is not my home, this system is not my identity. And yet there is a sense of purpose and calling to travel, to make a difference, to challenge the system.

Drumroll, please.......

In some of the upcoming posts, I will try to unravel what a pilgrim looks like in these days and in this system. Together we will dialog about the pilgrim metaphor. In conjunction with this dialog, I will be engaging John Doyle's unpublished novel The Stations. (John is a frequent commentator here at Theos Project, his blog and tag name are Ktismatics.) I have been interested in posting on this novel for quite sometime, but I've been holding off, with the sense that there was more in store for posting on The Stations than just straight exegesis.

The Stations tells the story of a movement of "Salons" that sweep across the nation and the world. These Salons are new approaches to being human that investigate new perceptions that human beings might have of themselves that "portal" them into alternative realities and spiritualities. It is an ambiguous and imaginative novel that stirs up some of the thoughts and questions of pilgrimage.

I would like to combine personal experiences, reflections, and an exegesis of The Salon, mix them together and see what we get.

I think we can generate some energy around the topic of what it might look like to explore this curious sense of displacement that seems inherent for those seeking to live a deeper life of faith, spirituality, or just humanness....to embrace the ambiguity and danger of homelessness while proceeding forward with a pilgrim's sense of calling.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Love and Divine Union: Summary Thoughts

Ephesians 3:14-19 (my translation):
For this reason I bow my knee before the father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, in order that he might give to you according to the riches of his glory/divinity (doxes), empowering you to be strong through his spirit in the inside person (eso anthropon), Christ living in you (katoikeo) through faith in your hearts, being firmly rooted and firmly established in love (agape), in order that you might be able to fully understand with all the saints what is the width and length and height and depth, to know the surpassing knowledge (gnosis) of the love (agape) of Christ, in order that you might be filled to all the fullness of God.

In the previous post, I wrote down a few, brief exegetical notes on the above passage. In this post, I have a few summary observations.

Summary Thoughts
The idea here in this passage of participating with God and sharing of the divinity is fascinating to me. I believe that God is essentially and most fundamentally mystery, because God "dwells in unapproachable light.” God transcends in mystery. However, the New Testament does not hesitate to open the possibility of humanity sharing in the divine nature. And, in fact, this is the heart of the Gospel. As Athanasius famously said, "God became man so that man might become God.” (On the Incarnation, 54:3) In the Gospel, the greatest gift that God gives is God's self.

This union with the divine is connected here with love. Through contemplation of love, one can begin to contemplate being “filled with all the fullness of God.”


I am also intrigued by Paul’s language of the “inside person.” Early in the prayer, Paul speaks of the existential awareness of ourselves. Divine union and divine love penetrate to the “inside person,” to the self. It is this self that can realize the “surpassing” knowledge of love (v. 19).

What does it mean to discover this divine union and love?

Personally I have no answer to this question. And perhaps there is no answer, per se. Perhaps the question of divine union and divine love is a question that takes a lifetime to unpackage and reflect on.....to contemplate and to live. The point of divine union and love, I think, is the direction in which it points us. It is interesting that when it comes to mystical issues of experiencing the fullness of divine union and divine love, it seems as though we are given the direction but not the map. We are pointed in way but not shown how to walk. The process of walking seems to be our gift: to discover for ourselves how to discover union with God and the surpassing knowledge of love.

I think, though, that grace must be most basic. Often we cannot embrace the divine or understand love because something in us does not believe we deserve the "fullness" of the divine. Or we build up internal defense mechanisms to cope in the grace-less-ness of the day-to-day world, and we reach a point where we close our hearts to grace, failing to open to the gift that God gives us of God's own self and of the vast dimensions of Her love.

Grace is that openness to receive the love and the divine, the openness to be "filled to all the fullness of God."

I also appreciate in these verses how Paul opens with a deep sense of inclusivism: the whole family of the cosmic universe derives its name from God. God's desire, as expressed in chapter 1 verse 10 of this same book of Ephesians, is to bring all together under Christ. Whether Paul truly believes in an eschatological universalism is certainly not clear, but what is clear is that universalism is the goal and ideal: that the Gospel is fundamentally about reconciliation and restoration.