She was shocked. "You actually believe that people are inherently evil?!"

I said, "Yes."

I should have said, "You are shocked only because you don't really know evil. You believe evil is rapists and murderers, Hitler and terrorists and the other bad men on TV. You don't know evil because you haven't found it in yourself. You've probably heard rumors in your soul, seen in hints in your body. Easy enough for most to ignore, rationalize, relativize, speculate on environmental causes, to never need to believe you were broken from the start. But you were and you are."

"To say i believe we are inherently evil doesn't capture the character of the concept. We're broken, from the start, all of us. And the whole world is broken with us, by us."

"Tell me you can see that. We're not what we ought to be, what we could be, what we should be. This whole world is not actually whole. It's corrupted, like us, with us, by us. We live in the constant tension between what is and what should be. The seed of Adam carries the seed of evil, the persistent rebellion against the way things were meant to be, even as we have not forgotten, not wholly, not truly what it is, who it is we rebelled against."

"If you want to know what's wrong with the world, you needn't look any further than yourself. It's right there, an evil so pervasive we are as ignorant of it as we are of the air we breathe. We only notice when a particular aspect of it concentrates somewhere or precipitates little mustachioed Hitlers to ruin our day. Or maybe, when we stop to think and observe carefully. But so many people never do. They don't want to know, don't want to find it inside themselves."

But i just said, "Yes."  I wish she had asked me why.


Sailing the Sea of Culture

Cultures press upon us all. The collective weight of a thousand trends. The memes, the stories, the passions swirl about us, and no one is immune, nor should we be. We are living, relational, communal beings, it does not behoove us to be indifferent as Gibraltar. But neither are we to be flotsam upon the tide. We are to be both ships and shapers, to navigate by the fixed heavens at one time and pressing even the waters back from our shores at another. We are to constrain the sea with the levees of reality and set steady courses by the light of truth. Ground yourself in reality. Gird yourself with truth. Be alive, reactive and adaptive to your environment, but never slave to it. Find guidance from the eternal amidst the fashionable; never allow the latter to adjudicate the former.

You wish to be progressive? Excellent! But never forget that progress cannot be measured without a fixed goal. The doctrines of relativism countermand those of progress and cannot even hint at proselytism without hypocrisy. Truth will be what truth is, quite oblivious to our sophisms.

You wish to be loving? This is the highest aim! But never confuse blind tolerance for love. Love is not blind and will tolerate self-destruction no more than attack. Love will discipline what mere tolerance must abide.

You long for justice? As do i! We will surely find it at the junction of love and truth, a crossroads i believe we selfish creatures can reach by God's grace alone.

And if you do, if you act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with the Truth, be assured that the winds of fashion and waves of politics will buffet you, chastise you. The tide of culture will rise upon your walls, and you will feel the pervasive, persistent pressure of peers pushing and pulling at your principals and precepts. Who can hold back the sea alone? Bind yourself to a community of others and together anchor in those harbors old and sure, together navigate the uncharted with diligent study, together shape for yourselves an identity, a story even, that is alive, both rooted and active. Know together whence you have come and whither you will go, or else who will be able to distinguish you from a lifeless branch drifting aimlessly about the sea?

So, be different from your culture and even from the "march of history", but at the bidding of truth and love, not reflexively nor stubbornly. Neither be merely "true to yourself", for you owe yourself no credit for your creation and are in no sense the arbiter of reality. Be true to truth. Be different from lies. And on both counts, expect and accept the opposition you will oft find from both others and your own self. Your internal resistance will oft be the greater challenge. Be at peace with the inescapability of conflict and failure; never cease your efforts to avoid and ameliorate them without compromising either truth or love.

With man, this is impossible. With God, all things are possible.


Getting The Units Wrong

I got into an internet debate today. Yeah, i know, it's mostly a waste of time. But i did enjoy the process of sharpening my own thoughts. At one point, the opponent rephrased my words "follow Jesus" into "follow the Bible 100%". Some who agreed with me accepted the rephrasing and ran with it. It bugged me immediately, but it took a while for me to articulate why.  Here's what i concluded:

We don't follow an "it"; we don't measure salvation in percentages. We are called not to comply with a rulebook, but to follow a divine Person, revealed in creation, history, community and, yes, scripture. These scriptures were given in pieces over time to differing cultures and situations, and they are a true story far, far more than they are a factual textbook or rulebook. To speak of percentages implies a measurable equivalence between any one part and another, something you might get with a dictionary, but never with a story, never with religious texts. All parts matter, but by no means in equal measure. So when we emphasize that we follow Jesus, the Son of God, revealed in all of the Bible, it is because saying something mathematic like "follow the Bible 100%" utterly fails to describe the lifelong (and then some) process of interpreting everything contextually (big picture always trumps cherry-picked text), culturally (in light of people to whom it was given), literally (in proper "literature" sense, as many genres are found in the Bible), and relationally (it was never given to be interpreted in isolation). It is pharisaical to try and handle the Bible (or any story) like a series of manageable numbers/facts/rules, and i'm sure you're aware of what Jesus thought of the Pharisees. 
Anyone handling theology or scripture MUST maintain a sense of humility and accept a certain degree of mystery, because every idea you grasp of an infinite, creator God is, by definition, simplified or wrong in some way in order for it to fit into your finite, created head. Any other approach to God inescapably means you've a priori concluded that either your own understanding is infinite or else God is finite/non-existent.

Yeah, i'm pretty happy with this coming out, regardless of the likely fruitless outcome of the debate.  Gosh, are internet debates even worthy of the word "debate"? Probably not.


Leonard, The Lonely Astronaut

The best science fiction stories are never actually about science of any kind; they are about the human condition.  They are about truly human characters and challenges that just happen to use space travel and the like to tell the story in a unique and sometimes more powerful way.  Science fiction has served many novels and films well in this way.  This year, it provides the backdrop for what is probably the best album of 2012, even though there's still over three months left in the year.

When i first heard Andrew Osenga was creating an album called "Leonard, The Lonely Astronaut", i laughed.  It sounds silly, right?  He was going to do a Kickstarter project to finance it, and if the project hit a high enough goal, he would build a spaceship and spacesuit and record the album within.  It was strange and silly, but i liked his Letters to the Editor concept albums well enough that i figured, why not give him the chance?

I am so very glad i did.  The project not only met all of its funding goals, but surpassed all hopes and expectations.  By being a Kickstarter for the project, i was able to get this album many months before its wide release date.  I would guess conservatively that i have listened to it 60 to 80 times since then.  My twenty speculative dollars helped create a kick-ass album whose one paragraph review goes like this:

The production is great, the music is varied and beautiful, and the songwriting is absolutely stellar.  I don't just mean that the lyrics of the individual songs are well-written; the album as a whole, as a unit is superbly crafted.  Osenga has written some great songs here and there, enough to get my attention, but i had no idea he was capable of something as musically and lyrically impressive as this.

The story behind the songs is that of Leonard Belle a man in the future whose wife dies in a car accident while they are finalizing their divorce.  Leonard decides to get away from it all, signing up for a solo trip on a space freighter at relativistic speeds.  This means many months alone in the deep of space while 100 years passes on Earth.  Literally leaving behind everyone and everything he knew forever, with nothing to do but play his music and face his issues for months.  If you consider this backstory, the lyrics are intense and profound.  But even if you don't, they are still full of depth, beauty, and challenge.

At the start of summer, i left a burned copy of Leonard in a car my sister-in-law borrowed for a few weeks.  When she returned the car, she exclaimed, "What was that CD in you left in the car? I could not stop listening to it!"  I know the feeling.

One last thing, i asked that sister, my wife, and daughter what their favorite songs were and read several early reviews by other people.  No one agrees.  Favorite tracks include: Tower of Babel, Firstborn Son, Ever and Always, It Was Not Good For Man To Be Alone, Beat of My Heart, We Never Said Goodbye, and Out of Time.  That's 8 of the 12 full tracks (not counting the two beautiful, but brief instrumental tracks).  Lately, i've gotta say that Shooting Star has really been growing on me.  I think that makes 9 out of 12 favorites by different reviewers now.  That diversity either means the whole album is terrible or the whole album is fantastic.  Trust me, it's the latter.

You can, and should, buy Leonard here, as it provides the artists their best return on your purchase.


On Heresy

Capital ‘T’ Truth longs for ardent missionaries, not angry guards. If it were otherwise, He would have given a great commission more like: “Therefore stay and vigorously argue about theology with all nations, antagonizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and forcing them to obey everything you are convinced I have commanded of them.”

Truth is crucial, theology is import, orthodoxy and tradition are of immense value.   Arguing is as often worthless as worthwhile, divisiveness is terrible, and fear-mongering is seriously obnoxious.

There are two kinds of fools, one who says "i know better than orthodox tradition" and the other who says "i know orthodox tradition better".


faith is a verb

the life i hold here is fragile;
the eternal you give, robust.
the dreams i have may shatter;
the plans you make will not.

the strength i have is waning;
your glory burns ever hot.
the love i offer is fickle;
your love does never stop.

my motives are truly little;
your passions, grand as the stars.
the reasons i give are lowly;
none can measure the height of your thoughts.

yet daily you descend, quite willing,
to empty yourself in my hands.
and always you rush to forgive me,
for the wounds i inflict once again.

there is mystery here that defies me.
there is hope for a promised land.
there is love striving always to free me.
Lord, grant faith, though i don't understand.


risk required

if i took a step toward that
i would have to be a brave man
real life doesn't come that easy
if i left behind a fear like this
i believe i'd be a glad man
but would they look at me the same

stepping out on that limb
is not just going to happen
risk is always required

safety is not security
surviving is not reviving
when your soul is slowly dying

requires risk to love for real
requires faith to get something better
requires change to beat the weather
whether you like it or not

lay down that fear
relax that grip
empty your hand if you want
to get a new hold on life

hold on to that neighbor
give more to that stranger
even die for your friends
there's still nothing higher

like it or not
there is risk required