Friday, February 18, 2011

RE:imagine - Your Destiny Redefined - Searching For God Knows What

Searching for God knows what   
The extent of the search 
The collective imagination of our day is filled with the stories of those who have done elaborate or extreme things to find the next level for them. The Beatles all travelled to India to study under a Yogi, and behind them was a long trail of young people who hitchhiked across the world. They are not alone. Winston Churchill chased after glory by reporting for the English newspapers as a war correspondent in the wars and revolutions of his day as a young man. Still others have had the search thrust upon them. J.R.R. Tolkien, and many thousands of other young men in his day, was thrust into the first World War in the British Army. What he saw caused him to search to understand the depths of the depravity and heroism in men. People of all stripes and religions make pilgrimages of one type or another. Some go to great extremes to show their faith and devotion, doing such things as fasting and praying for days, weeks, even months at a time. Others go to holy sights and perform rituals that involve ritual suffering and self mutilation, called asceticism. Some seek to escape the trials and temptations of life and escape to caves and monasteries. The Stylites, a monastic movement from the fifth and sixth centuries, lived on the top of pillars several stories tall. Simeon, the most well-known of them, was visited by many great leaders and was known for his spiritual insight and wisdom.  People from all over the surrounding area would come to seek the advice and prayers of this great spiritual leader. We are all seeking something. Today the bizarro world lives of people are fodder for hundreds of hours of television programs. From becoming a finalist on American Idol, to being a subject of a show on teenage pregnant moms, many are seeking their "fifteen minutes of fame." By the way, they call this "reality TV." 
Something to live and die for
But is fame or fortune enough to satisfy the longing of our souls for a meaningful life? Philosophers have pondered the question "What is the good life?" for thousands of years. While they have not all agreed on what the good life is, they all have agreed a priori that the question itself is worthy of serious thought and consideration. From the Humanist Manifesto (the quest for the good life is still the central task for mankind) to the Westminster Confession (The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever) there have been countless affirmations of this desire to know the who, what, and why of life. The real desire is to name the things for which we will live, and even die. Do we have a life purpose so grand and compelling that we would not only live for it, but would also be willing to die for it if need be?  
Open mindedness and the search
Socrates stated that "the unexamined life is not worth living." While there are those who are bold and nihilistic enough to deny this statement, most of us in the West would agree to it. It is not unusual to see a bumper sticker on the car in front of yours that says "Question Authority." Here in the U.S. we pride ourselves on our independent thought and attitude, and look to our Founding Fathers as examples of great men worthy to emulate because of their strong stance against the tyranny of Britain's King George. We are forever stretching the bounds of the Manifest Destiny into areas never even conceived in the minds of the early pioneers of our nation. 
One value that is much vaunted today is that of open-mindedness. Just what do we mean when we say we are open-minded? The positive sense is that of a person who is willing to consider new ideas, alternatives, or concepts. On the other hand there is the person who is "so open-minded that their brain is in danger of falling out when they reach down to pick up a pencil off of the floor." A certain intellectual flexibility is necessary when considering a search as daunting as meaning and purpose in the universe. In fact it is absolutely necessary. Rigidity in thought, lack of intellectual curiosity, and plain, old-fashioned laziness are road blocks we must overcome before we attempt the journey towards a deeper understanding of our place in history, life, the universe, and everything. 
The God question – one, many, or none?
Is there a God? Are there many gods? Or, is the answer simply that there is no God to be found at all? According to multiple polls over the last few years, most of us believe in a God of some stripe. The number ranges between 90 to 95 percent of us who believe. Interestingly, 1 in 5 people even those claiming to be atheists, say they pray on a daily basis. So even amongst those who don't believe in God, there is still a desire for a spiritual meaning and experience of the transcendent side of life. There is, of course, no shortage of material and good books on this subject, ranging from ancient texts and scriptures to scientific studies. 
  The general ideas associated with gods, or a god, or no god at all, give us a few choices. First there is the ancient concept of many gods. Still remaining of this idea in the world is the religion of the Hindus. There are lots of gods in this religious stream. There are small ones and big ones, tall ones and short ones. Gods for every activity and every person even. The one aspect of this system that still has a lasting benefit for us is that there is at least an acknowledgment of the spiritual side of life. In our very secularized and materialistic world, this one aspect of the many-gods take on things is that there is a very acute awareness of deep need for some sort of spiritual approach to life. A belief in one God was first proposed by the Patriarchs of the Old Testament. Later on, the Platonists would join in the the chorus of those who saw that there must be one God that ruled all of the other so-called gods. In fact, Plato's thoughts still inhabit much of what is Christian in the West, particularly the dualism between the physical and the ephemeral and spiritual. 
There are many different types of atheism as well. The main difference being concepts of being and conscience, etc. From a strict materialistic mindset, to a more or less scientific form of Pantheism, the idea of atheism as a simple answer to the god question is not as fixed a concept as generally thought. And then there is the not-really-sure-about-it position known in our age as agnosticism. I was an agnostic for quite a long period of my life, something I am not proud of. 
  If you were hoping I would sort this all out for you, I apologize. You see, the truth is that the Bible itself does not answer this question directly. In fact, it just supposes the existence of God from the beginning. "In the beginning, God..." Get it? And here's a politically incorrect fact; the Bible says that those that don't believe in God are fools! Psalm 14 says "The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.”" So here is the Bible basically saying that those who deny God's existence are foolish and somehow deliberate in this. And in case you think maybe that was just the New Testament, take a look at 
Romans 1:18-23:  "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools,  and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things."
Like I said, not real politically correct. Imagine going on Bill Maher's show or showing up at a college faculty meeting and telling them that they are fools. The only person I know who can honestly speak in this way and not be mean is God. When He is telling you that you are a knucklehead, He is doing it for your greatest and highest good. Not that you are a knucklehead. I was speaking of me. I am the one who was convinced of my hardcore hard heartedness long ago and continuing to this day. Humility is something that we all need in the approach to the deep waters of theology and philosophy. It is also a great help on a journey of the soul.       
Searching to find, or searching to search?
  I make no apologies for being a great fan of writer, speaker, sociologist and true prophet to the modern church Os Guinness. It seems that every time I read or come across his speeches, I have an epiphany of some level or another. Years ago he wrote a great book for seekers on the way, not just Christian seekers, but all who would really be open to a journey and deep search for the truth. In his book Long Journey Home: Your Search For The Meaning Of Life, Guinness shares his great experience of having spoken with literally thousands of seekers over the years. He sees this journey for the meaning of life as having four distinct phases: Questions, answers, testing and re-evaluation, and commitment. We'll look at each of these in turn.  
  I am a also a fan of great questions. I like to just let a question take me to whatever end it may, being careful to check my conclusions with truth and experience. The bigger the question, the more it interests me. Perhaps you have had some experience with this as well. Often a life experience will lead to a search for understanding of that situation. I once had a friend betray me in such a way as to cause me to consider seriously the idea of what it would take to remove him from planet earth. It was a situation in which a major trust was violated and it caused me great distress. But the real distress for me was that, although my friend had really hurt me, I was more moved to understand why a person would do something so deliberately heinous in the first place, and especially to a close friend. Perhaps you are in or have been in a similar situation. Serious sickness, financial distress, divorce, or the death of a close friend or loved one can cause a major crisis of belief that causes us to rethink the very basis of our core understanding of things as they are. And so we begin to ask questions. Of course, you could just be intellectually curious in the first place.

Often we begin to ask questions of our peers, friends, family or mentors and those we respect. Following this, we begin to read and test the waters of experience, seeking to gain a deeper understanding of our dilemma. When we have finally exhausted the well of questions, we see an answer here and there that may fill the void left from the intellectual search brought on by the crises we have been through. So, tentatively at first, we begin to trust certain answers as acceptable to our mind and heart. I remember in my college days reading about various religions and philosophies and trying them on for a while to see if they were able to answer my curiosities. One by one they would all fall by the wayside, until I had reached a conclusion that I felt reflected the best of intellectual pursuit and consistency with things as I saw them in reality. 
Testing or Re-evaluation
At some time one must begin to actually live out a set of beliefs as best as possible. To quote the rock band Rush from their song "Freewill," "If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice." But the next important thing is to test, weigh and prove your choice. This is where the great gift of doubt comes in. Doubt is a tool you use to check and re-check your decision to act or think in a certain manner that is consistent and positive. Many have had a great fear and dread of doubt, but it is the greatest gift to those who would truly seek out what Francis Schaeffer called "true Truth." This is a long process that could be life long. This process of letting the fires of life and thought come to your mind and heart brings a strength and settledness to your soul. And if you will let the testing come where it may and not back away when the challenge comes, you will become a man or woman of excellence. Don't ever be afraid to take another look at your core beliefs and values, and always have an attitude towards allowing the brilliance and light to come that is the enlightenment that comes through the honest effort.  
  Having finally reached a place of wisdom and conviction about your philosophy of life,  the final thing to do is live according to the light that it provides. This is when the light you have seen begins to become a fire inside of you that fuels a passion for life and living. God, the universe, and everything in it are well able to present you with challenges that will require this commitment. Solomon, the writer of the book of Ecclesiastes wrote: " But if a man lives many years and rejoices in them all, yet let him remember the days of darkness, for they will be many. All that is coming is vanity." (Ecclesiastes 11:8) This is the final and ultimate thing to understand in your life, that there will be many days to come where you will not be alive to make a difference. Today is your day to make your mark while you are able. Remember, though, that a commitment to a worldview or philosophy of life is not and end to a process but rather a beginning of one, a life lived with meaning and purpose. 

Monday, January 31, 2011

RE:Imagine - Your Destiny Redefined part 1

The Search for True Significance

We look up and ask questions – it’s in our nature

Ever since man first looked up in wonder at the skies we have been curious. It seems to be almost a required attribute of the creature called human. After enough years we begin to seek more sophisticated and satisfying answers to these longings. We seek those closest to us, our elders, parents, teachers, and pepper them with the whys and hows of our existence. As soon as a child is able to speak this desire to have understanding is evident. In the lyrics to the Bobby Timmons jazz piece "Dat Dere" the child is continually asking wonderfully absurd questions:

"Hey mama, what's that there?
And what's that doing there?
Hey mama, up here! Mama, hey look at that over there!
And what's that doing there?
And where're they going there?
And mummy can I have that big elephant over there?"

It seems this childish curiosity gets it's answers, but this only leads to the inevitable next question. The looks of befuddled, bedraggled parents all over the globe attest to the power of this stage of a child's life to exhaust, annoy, and occasionally, to delight.

     - We look outward at others and compare ourselves to them
Next, of course, is the inevitable step of looking to external factors and to compare ourselves to others. You're tall, I'm not. You're different in a hundred ways to me. In children, of course, this is not usually a problem. Remember the stories of black and white children playing together happily in the playground of South Africa during apartheid. They had no idea they were so different until their parents informed them. Of course, our comparisons grow up as we do. They become more subtle, more damning, more condemning and secret.    

We seek for achievement to distinguish ourselves

And so, we seek to be known for something good, unique, powerful, so we can look good on our own comparison meter. It starts in the school yard, where we realize we are taller, or smarter, or gifted differently from the other kids. We appreciate ourselves because we are the ones who are good at math, or sports, or singing. And as the years go by the comparisons get more elaborate with spelling bees, science projects, sports team championship, and all of the other myriad ways we acknowledge achievement. Of course, a wall full of trophies from Jr. High don't guarantee a successful, fulfilling life, do they? One of the most humorous moments in the movie Napoleon Dynamite was the scene of Uncle Rico video taping himself throwing a football and fantasizing about going back in time to win state. It's funny, but in a pathetic way. And the reason it's funny is it is all too true of us all. We all relate to Rico and his sad fantasy. We want to be special, significant. We all desire to be champions or beauty queens of some kind, admired by adoring crowds. When this desire is turned into an adult desire for success many of us find a challenge worthy of our greatest attention. We exchange the trophies, awards and crowns for houses, cars and status. But within all of this is the very real desire to be significant. 

We seek to love and be loved

As we grow older our attentions turn to the possibilities of reaching some fulfillment in relationships with others, in friendship, marriage or dating relationships. This is by far one of the most rewarding and worthy things to pursue in a life lived well. Much has been said and written about the importance of a strong family and the benefits it accrues to the individual and society. Looking at the lives of great men and women of history confirms that those that have a solid, affectionate and nurturing family ultimately become the great leaders of society and the world. 
     But not all of us had such an atmosphere to grow up in. Most of us, truth be told, were in a less than perfect family. Even this desire of one member of a family to have an ideal family has been the ruin of a family. Think of the families where the appearance of this ideal for the public has become more important than the actual people in the family. We have all heard of the senator or business leader whose family was out of control and even violent in private. And while most of us don't experience this level of dysfunction, we would probably all agree that this is an area of great pain for many people. 
     Then we seek fulfillment through another in relationship. The volumes that are printed on a daily basis about all of the various relationships between actors, singers and 'reality tv' stars are a testament to the importance attached to this in our day. Why else would a person buy a copy of multiple gossip magazines every month? And of course the answer is to feel better about themselves. They look at the Hollywood couples and say either, "Man, my life is great compared to this mess," or they dream of their perfect royal wedding to Prince Perfect. And so while they are fantasizing and comparing they are also desiring something better and higher for themselves. 
     This desire to be loved and to love finds it's  most common attempt to be fulfilled in the riches and ditches of romantic relationship and marriage. From the beauty of the Biblical narrative in the Song of Solomon to Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet to Titanic we have made much of the ideal of love and romance in our Western culture, and rightly so it seems. For even the most tawdry and illicit relationship has at least one moment of bliss and excitement that points to something greater still. Something that seems to say, "Keep seeking."      
We seek experiences of all kinds

For many the search for meaning and significance leads to a kind of eclecticism of experience. Thrill seekers, chill seekers, and adrenaline junkies of all types go for the style of life best described in our day as the Just Do It mindset. Some go into the mystical and spiritual areas of life and develop deep, spiritual lives, seeking the highest and the best humanity can achieve. Others  develop their experience orientation around health and fitness, or sports. Of course, there are the extremes of the extremes that lead to destructive lifestyles and even sickness and death. Stories of drug addiction and sexual exploits gone wrong and leading to the ditch of disease and debauchery, and the exploitation of young people in cults are all too common stories we know of in our own lives or someone we know. Experience is valuable, but in itself is no answer to the true call of the wild in our souls. 

We seek achievement through our children or others

And if all of these previous things seem to have passed us by, we can put the responsibility of our significance onto someone else in our lives, whether a spouse or a son or daughter, small group of people or those we work with or that work for us. I always get the picture of the parent yelling at the kid when they are not playing well at the little league game or soccer tournament. "Eyes on the ball, Danny, dog gone it! That kid, I swear." This is followed by silence in the car on the way home and an hour of throwing strikes or free throws before dinner. This is a destructive pattern that is all too common in our competitive society where there is no place for losers. First place or no place. Nobody ever remembers the second place runner up, they say. The worst place I have ever seen this kind of behavior was not at the ball field or concert hall, or a business, but in church. Kids told that they are the next "Apostle So-and-So with a call to reach the Nations" without being given the tools and training and nurture necessary to really fill those kind of shoes. It's hard enough to be a teenager or young person these days, much less to be responsible for the whole world. Even if they are the next great generation, they need to see it before they can be it. Parents and elders are responsible to model greatness, and not just push it upon young people without a commitment to help them when it gets hard. Placing the responsibility for our personal significance and worth is a destructive habit if not done right. However, when a true vision is presented and made available, and healthy mentoring and modeling are present, then this is not abuse, it is passing on a multi-generational legacy, which is something so rare in these days of extreme fatherlessness as to be almost apocryphal. 

We are wired for significance – the image of God

What could possibly be the source of all this energy, all this desire, all this frenzied search for a place of purpose and significance? The image of God. E. Stanley Jones, the Methodist evangelist and friend of Mahatma Ghandi so eloquently put it:  

"Three writers, all important and prominent - John, Paul and the author of Hebrews -all say in varying terminology that man and nature and the whole universe were made by Christ and for Christ, that a destiny is therefore written into the structure of new things, and that structure and that destiny is a Christian destiny. Whom he did "predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son" (Rom. 8:29). We are destined by our makeup to be made into his image. When we work in his way we work well; when we work in some other way we work our own ruin.
     Can anything more important and more consequential be said about human nature and human destiny? If so, I do not know of it, nor have I heard of it. It sounds too good to be true, but it is too good not to be true."

According to the original Owner's Manual for human beings, the Bible, it is clearly stated that God deliberately made us in the same class of beings as himself, able to understand right from wrong, able to communicate and express thoughts, able to be creative in many facets, and able to express love and be loved. God is the one who gave us His desire to express ourselves in actions of creativity, love, and passion. He is the one that one that said "Go ahead, whatever you think of to do, go for it. Fill the whole Earth with the signs and evidences of the image of God in man. Fill the earth with art, music, families, nations, and swimming pools. Write code, write novels, write constitutions, and live according to this constant divine push to live, love, and show forth the fruits of your brilliant mind , heart and soul. And everywhere you do this you are showing forth the Glory of God, as well as the ingenuity of man.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

JavaJazzJesus on Blogger!

JavaJazzJesus - Monday, January 14, 2008

Welcome to JavaJazzJesus, the place that seriously considers the absurdities of life in the megaplex of modern thought. The place where it’s okay to to ask the simple questions and get an overly complex answer. The place where it’s okay to ask the complex questions and get an an overly simplistic answer...or no flippin’ answer at all.

Well, because asking questions is better than answering them anyway, right?
Right? Because every real answer I ever got led me to more questions......

For example, in the question WWJD?(what would Jesus drive?), the obvious answer is: a white mustang. (see Rev. 19:11-16)

Or, let’s try this eternal question; WWBFD?(What would Barney Fife do?) Having eaten Aunt Bee’s prize apple pie just before the county fair, would he:               
.a)Try to find Andy to help him figure out what to do

.b)Try to ask a hypothetical question of Thelma Lou over the phone to get a feminine slant on the problem, or would he

.c)Accidently lock himself in the holding cell while trying to find his lost bullet and while also trying to help Otis the town drunk.

These and many other important questions will be pondered at JavaJazzJesus