Charlottesville: love needs to be combined with universal truth

When I was a teenager there was a book floating around in Christian circles about situational ethics with the title “It All Depends.”

I still remember the title because I think even in my youthful state I could not understand a philosophy that  seemed to have no hard and fast rules.  In my memory I have falsely added the intensifier “really to “all depends”, probably because my mind mocks the philosophy of situational ethics.

In short, this system of thought states that what is moral is decided not by law, but through a consideration of  the entire circumstances at hand. The ultimate goal is to respond in love.

In principle this idea of doing the “loving” thing sounds good to me. I have grown a lot since my teen years and know that not everything is cut and dried or is as it seems.

In the recent days of political upheaval in the US. there have been calls for loving each other by our president and even sports stars like Lebron James.  I see nothing wrong with that idea. As a believer in Jesus I see it as totally biblical. I even thought of it myself in trying to determine how we should respond to each other in the midst of all the chaos in our country.

But love is such an abstract idea. To have any foundation, it also needs to be combined with truth.  Pastor John Piper says that truth and love support each other. “Truth aims at love” and “love aims at truth,” he writes.

As I noted in my last post, truth in American society seems to have been thrown out the window. We live in a nation in which emotion and personal beliefs rule the day.

Piper writes,”Truth shapes how we show love.” If we attempt to show love based only on how we feel and believe, the consequences  may not truly be loving.

Because truth has been dispensed with, we are being governed in our decision making today but a gutted situational ethics.  People just do what they seem to think is right.

We’ve seen the extremes of this with white supremacists marching in Charlottesville, Virginia. Identity politics has reached even the majority. What has been deemed abominable in the last part of the 20th century, i.e., the putting down of people based on their color, is rising again.

On some college campuses the previously put upon African-American minority is also calling for a return to the bad old days of segregation, albeit for different reasons then those which motivated Jim Crow laws. These students just want to feel safe.

Both of these extremes are motivated by personal beliefs and emotion. A dose of truth serum is needed in the mix if we are to show true love. Piper writes that “truth shapes love.”

I am informed about the nature of truth by one of the foundations of Western civilization: The Ten Commandments. They are pretty straightforward. It’s difficult to quibble with “honor your father and mother” and “you shall not murder.”

I think I am on the right track here in my pursuit of genuine love. Piper tells me that John, a disciple of Jesus, wrote that we show God’s love when we keep His commands.

“So John tells us some truth will help us know if our acts are loving,” writes Piper. “One truth test of love is if we are keeping the commandments of God towards people.”

Even so, it is hard to apply such commands in our own relationships in today’s times. It helps to get some insight from people who have thought deeply about the meaning of these truths.

Currently a place I am finding such wisdom is in a book called “To Be a Christian.” Its a catechism produced by the Anglican Church.

In one section is provides some practical advice on how to keep the Ten Commandments and some ways we can violate them.

For example, it expands on the command to honor your father and mother by stating a principle that we should honor the aged and submit to our teachers, pastors and directors. The catechism also calls for respecting tradition and civil authorities.

I haven’t seen much respect given towards civil authorities in the news this week. In fact, what I have seen in the media is rioting, destruction of property and the killing of police officers.

Jesus expanded on the truth of what it means to murder. He said we break this commandment when we are angry with others. The catechism does say that there is a place for proper anger, but that for the most part that our anger is motivated by things that are not right.

If there is one adjective that can be used to describe a lot of Americans today, it is the term “angry.”

I would maintain that the only way we are ever going to love one another and thus heal our nation is by returning to God and His universal truth.  Relying solely on situation ethics, sentiment, feelings, personal opinions and some undefined concept of love is not cutting it.

 

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America is a post truth society in turmoil

 

In my post “The muddled mess of truth today”, I discussed how news site editors like to twist headlines to convey a point of view.  These kinds of banners are not hard to find. Just open up a news feed.

Before me right now is the headline “Amidst Trump Turmoil, Pence carves his own identity.”  Looks benign enough, right? The US Vice President is becoming his own man in the midst of our president’s own mess.

Well, not so fast. The editor has already asked us to take for granted that the current president is encompassed by all kinds of  horrible commotion by their use of the term “turmoil.” It’s a loaded word full of negativity. Who wants turmoil?

In my view, this idea that Trump’s administration is in “turmoil” is a matter of perception and open to debate. I have some questions.

I wonder if President Trump sees himself as surrounded by turmoil.  What does he think about it if he does? Who or what is causing the turmoil?

The answers produced from those questions are also a matter of one’s point of view. Some think our president creates turmoil out of his own alleged incompetence and vulgarity. Others think he also creates chaos because he thrives on it and works better in such an atmosphere.

Mr. Trump’s supporters think that there is no turmoil in the president’s White House. They believe that the media or the president’s opponents have fabricated this as a story.

Those of Mr. Trump’s advocates who do see tension around him also believe the media is at fault. They say that the media is actually creating the disorder to bring the president down.

It’s really difficult in today’s media to get at the truth amidst all the click bait. The owners and editors of news organizations seem to have other agendas they want to follow which triumph over truth. Their goals appear to be more financial and political in nature.

The media is not the only institution where something besides the truth is emphasized. If the purveyors of communication have contributed to the tumult in our society because of their departure from the road to truth, so has the justice system.

Like the media, the American judicial system also has other priorities which supersede discerning the truth. This includes taking the human element out of the equation and emphasizing rules. In an article comparing the American system of justice to the European one, Ellis Washington writes, “Under the Anglo-American/common law system of jurisprudence, especially over the past 100 years, rules trump the truth.”

Washington notes that in the last half century that the US Supreme Court “made up out of whole cloth” criminal defenses which emphasize procedure over the rule of law.  In other words, ‘rules’ rule over  a principle meant to provide fair and equal justice to everyone.

For example, some of SCOTUS’s rulings  developed into something we see all the time on the ubiquitous cop shows on TV: the reading of Miranda Rights. (“You have the right to remain silent, etc. etc.”). We all know what happens if a police officer blows it and doesn’t read a perp their rights.

Washington says such cases “have thoroughly perverted the rule of law and the original intent of the Constitution’s framers, plunging American law, culture and society into our present state of chaos.” Judges are handicapped by rules imposed from above. Criminals go free when rules are broken. Police are tempted to perjure themselves if they break a rule in their arrest.

Washington thinks the Continental System is much better because it gives judges a freer hand. It allows them to be more involved in the cases before them and better arrive at the truth.

Following the Continental System, he says, would be better “because the law’s primary purpose should not be to legalistically follow a case-driven, judge-centered template, not the rules of evidence, not politics, liberalism, conservatism, feminism, humanism, secularism, positivism, pragmatism or any other ‘ism’… but justice, equality under law and veritas – truth.”

Sadly, in today’s America “isms” do tend to run the show in the courtroom.  Judges are more known for their political views then who they are as human beings. Conservatives, for example, think of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals as a bastion of left wing thought. The progressive believes Supreme Court justice Atonin Scalia was a reactionary. Who today focuses on the judge’s ability to arrive at the truth? They instead zero in on their politics.

That we live in a society devoid of truth is evidenced by a term such as ‘post-truth’ receiving the Oxford Dictionary Word of the Year Award for 2016. It is a word which Oxford defines as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

There are people who think the Western concept of the rule of law is strong and able to withstand the assault on it described above. British attorney Tamas Lukasi is not worried about the effect of a post-truth world on our legal system. He stresses the soundness of Western law:

“Lawyers are often seen as a greedy and unethical profession; and law as bureaucratic red-tape. To deny this perception would itself be a post-truth posture. Though I happen to have a better opinion of lawyers and the law, who cares about opinions? It is rather facts that should matter. And the fact is facts matter in law and they matter a lot.”

“I am quite confident,” he writes,” that until the deeply rooted rules on legal argument, evidence and standard of proof stand strong, the legal process cannot be else but immune to post-truth. The rule of law has survived much turmoil.”

Despite the convoluted sentence, I presume Lukasi means in context that our Western judicial system will triumph. (He seems to mean “while” the rules stand strong, not “until.” Blame HIS editor.)

I’m not so sure our judicial system is winning. The current situation in it, the media, and other Western institutions is as confusing as Lukasi’s statement.  This is I believe is due to the inability of our thought leaders to even arrive at basic truths. They even have trouble, as I mentioned in my last post, in defining what truth is or even deciding what their own buzz words mean.

For example, the American Bar Association (ABA) admits that the term “rule of law” is difficult to define. The best it can come up with is that it is “an ideal that we strive to achieve but sometimes fail to live up to” and that “institutions and procedures have contributed to the definition of what makes up the rule of law and what is necessary to achieve it.”

The ABA seems to have written an expanded definition without forming a simple one. Let me help. Here’s a formula for  a simple definition by John Swales.

T=G + D1 + D2 etc. or Thing equals General class plus distinguishing characteristics

As I mentioned, there is the even more important attempt to define the concept of “truth”.  A website called DifferenceBetween.net struggles to differentiate between the terms “fact” and “truth.” They note how dictionaries discuss how similar the terms are. In comparing the two, the site calls ‘truth” the “true state of a certain matter.” I was always told by my teachers not to include the term in my definition.

Further (and what is worse), these folks say “truth” is “what a person has come to believe” and that facts are more permanent and more constant than truths are.

DifferenceBetween.net’s kind of definition of truth is at the heart of the problem in today’s world. Truth appears to be relative to modern mankind. There are no universal truths. “Truth” is something we believe. It may be reality. It may not be. It really all depends on what we “believe.”

The consequence of the muddled mess created by inability of our institutions to define truth is that our society is in a state of confusion

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The muddled mess of truth today: introductory thoughts

Lately, I’ve noticed that news organizations configure their headlines in such a way that only half truths or even falsehoods are told. Here’s an example

Woman to be deported after traffic violation

The story is accompanied by a picture of the lady and her children.

This limited information evokes an emotional reaction of how unfair it is for this poor lady to be thrown out of the country because of such a trivial incident.

Only after you go beyond the headline and read the details of the story do you get a clear picture of the facts.

This woman has been living in the United States illegally for two decades. She was found out when she was stopped by police and ticketed for operating a vehicle without a driver’s license.

Commenters on this story note that the woman brought this situation on herself by entering the country illegally in the first place and then staying for so long.

Illegal immigration is of course a hot button issue in the US.  There are extremists on both sides.

Some believe that all those who have broken the law by coming here should be sent back to where they came from. This would include “dreamers”, the children who came here before the age of 16 and probably had little say in the matter.

Others think that we should just have open borders. Anyone who wants to live and work in our nation should have the right to do so, they say.

Based on my training in journalism school in ancient times, I would have reported this story with the 5 W’s and H. Just the facts, ma’am. Give ’em who, what, when, where, why and how.

Editors don’t function that way in today’s society, however. What used to be suitable  only for the editorial page is passed off as headline news.

The result is that America is inundated with propaganda.

One of the reasons this is happening is that how we perceive truth is changing.

We used to be a culture based on a Judeo-Christian world view. Thus, the generation after World War 2, for example, tended to see things through that lens.

Nowadays,  young Americans talk about presenting “my truth.” I take this to mean that what they are going to tell me is not the “truth” per se, but their own view of reality.

In  modern America, the state of truth is similar to the condition of my favorite major league baseball team. Baseball writer Ken Rosenthal recently called my Baltimore Orioles a “muddled mess.” I would maintain that truth in the US is in the same shape as my beloved Os.

What is occurring in the media today is that reporters are now giving us SOME facts, and then interpreting them with “their” truth. It used to be that the reader was supposed to do the interpreting.

I can’t philosophize about this phenomenon. I’m not a philosopher. I’m trained in journalism, linguistics and to some extent in practical theology. So I can only look at the problem through those grids.

In terms of language, my observation is that people can’t even get their terms straight. For example, slurs with fully charged political electrons are freely being thrown around like darts, especially in social media forums such as Facebook and Twitter.

In the immigration debate, the left likes to accuse the right of being  “fascists”, “bigots”, “racists” and “Nazis”. The right tosses out equally inflammatory terms toward progressives. Insults such as “loon”, “nut job” and “bomb thrower” come to mind.

From my perspective, it would be appropriate in some cases to question who is actually the fascist or the loon.

I know that questions about truth are not new. Neither are discussions over the meaning of certain vocabulary words.

Even popular culture contains the story of  Pontius Pilate asking Jesus, “What is truth?”.

As a student of the Bible, I like to go a little deeper than what a film at Easter might tell me. I want to know the context, i.e. the whole story

In context, Jesus is being examined before Pilate before he was to be delivered up to be executed by Roman soldiers.  The trumped up charge made by the chief priests of Israel at the time was that Jesus was a rebel trying to overthrow the Roman government. The Jewish leaders, who had a stake in trashing Jesus, claimed that he wanted to be a king. Here’s the text from John 18:

“Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me; what have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingship is not from the world.” Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth.”

The last statement by Jesus prompted Pilate’s question about truth. The excerpt reveals that  Pilate not only did not understand truth, but that he also had no idea what Jesus meant about being a king.

The effects of such miscommunication can be devastating, especially when a politician with authority is involved. Pilate ended up bowing to popular demand and having Jesus nailed to a cross.

In future posts, I will discuss the effects of this kind of confused thinking on our society. But first, I will try to ascertain exactly what we mean when we discuss the term “truth” and how it is related to other words we currently like to bandy about.

I also hope to propose some solutions that could help us work through the murk and gain a clearer picture of reality.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Grace from an unlikely place: the IRS

I have a friend who has been getting threatening letters from the Internal Revenue Service.

This person owes several thousand dollars in back taxes going back years. They thought they had made an agreement with the IRS to forestall collections because they are in a situation where they can’t afford to pay anything to them.

However, my friend decided to make inroads in their debt and set up a payment plan.  Unfortunately, when they made a payment it triggered the renewal of the billing from the IRS. When my friend missed a payment, they began to receive notices that their property might be seized.

Given that they don’t have any property, this wasn’t that terrible to them, but they were concerned that whatever paltry funds they had in their bank account would be seized.  So a phone call to the IRS was made to work something out.

My friend told me that initially the IRS agent’s behavior was what he expected. He was a strong-voiced male who was aggressive and somewhat condescending. The agent even said to my friend that no matter what his story was, it wouldn’t change the state of his debt. There appeared to be no hope of reasoning with the man.

Then my friend got a word in edgewise and was able to tell the agent that he was sick and unable to work. The man’s tone changed right then and there.

His voice became soft and he said that it was a simple matter.  The agent said he would arrange to put my friend in a category for people who are unable to pay. He said this would end the foreboding notices from the IRS.

My friend told me that tears began to stream down their face. They have had a large number  of setbacks and they realized in that moment how this IRS bill had pushed them to the edge. It was all too overwhelming. When the IRS agent released them from the impact of their debt, it was as if a huge burden was removed from their shoulders.

My friend told the IRS agent, “You are a good man.” The conversation ended with both persons relaying good wishes to each other.

It occurred to me after I heard this account that my friend’s conversation with this IRS fellow was similar to our contacts with God.  We approach Him with fear and apprehension, hoping that we might receive mercy but expecting to get whacked. Then after we tell God all about our problems, He surprisingly  comforts  and helps us. We experience His grace.

We Americans would really rather not deal with the IRS because we see the agency as kind of a Gestapo, waiting to pounce on us and ruin our lives.  The truth is that there are policies and people in this government department that actually are there to give us aid when we need it. The same holds true in a lot of other organizations we normally perceive as threatening.

I understand I have the same misconceptions about God that I do about these entities. I look at my life and view God’s track record with me and think, “Why should I go to Him with my problems?  He’ll just require things of me or take away my freedom.” This kind of attitude doesn’t lead to trust, which is something that God DOES want.

My sourcebook on God, the Bible, says He IS worthy of being trusted. However, I tend to blame Him for what in many cases are self-inflicted wounds, so I won’t give Him the trust He deserves.

I have heard it said that we get our ideas about who God is from our parents. God IS called Father in the Scriptures, so this makes sense. Sadly, while our own Dads may have good qualities, they tend to also carry human weaknesses as well.  Their sins give us a false impression of our Heavenly Father.

But God the Father ISN’T like our earthly fathers. He’s perfect in his love and in His other characteristics. He doesn’t make mistakes. So I CAN trust Him.

As one of my bosses once used to ask when his staff screwed up, “WHAT can we learn from this?”

What I learn from my friend’s narrative and my own experience is that things are not always as they seem.  Government agents aren’t all storm troopers. God is NOT an ogre.

My friend told me that after he got off the phone with the IRS that a story from the Bible came to mind. It’s a parable Jesus told about an unforgiving servant.

Jesus said that there was a king that decided to sell a servant and his family into slavery after the man could not pay a huge debt. After imploring the king to have patience with him, the king had  compassion and forgave the man his debt.

However, the servant who had received mercy went right out and harassed a subordinate of his for a small sum he was owed. When the man cried out for aid, the wicked servant had the poor sap tossed in prison.

When the king found out about his own servant’s actions, he delivered the ungrateful knave over to “tormentors” until he could pay.

Jesus had an application at the end of his parable. He said, “So my heavenly Father will also do to you, if you don’t each forgive your brother from your hearts for his misdeeds.”

My friend is determined to pay forward the grace shown to him by the government. In his own attitude and actions he wants to be a person of mercy and forgiveness.

We all have to live with each other in the midst of the strife of this world. How much easier it would be if we could show the same kind of grace to each other that  the IRS showed to my friend.

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Writing as therapy and spiritual healing

I’ve always loved writing. It is probably what I do best and I enjoy it.

Talking about it, teaching it, and doing it has always been fun for me. This summer It has become something more. Writing has become therapy and a source of guidance for me.

I owe a lot of that to the work of Julia Cameron, whose book “The Right to Write” has been accompanying me to Starbucks for weeks.  It contains over 40 small chapters of teaching and exercises.

Cameron begins each chapter with an “invitation”, in which she describes her own personal experiences related to writing and life. Then she provides what she calls an “initiation tool” to use to apply her thoughts.

Three of Cameron’s ideas have been of particular help to me. One has been her effort to convince her readers that writing is not some great task reserved for only the elite and talented.  This teaching literally has given me the right to write.  Because of this I have felt unchained in terms of getting thoughts on paper.

Once she freed me from my intellectual prison, Cameron gave me a couple of practical devices to unleash my own ruminations. Her Morning Pages (sometimes “mourning pages) are three pages of handwritten writing first thing before the day starts. This is “stream of consciousness” writing. Night Notes are the posing of questions right before bed for up to ten minutes.

The beauty of any teaching is that you can make it your own. I have tried to stick to Julia’s dictums despite my weaknesses. I am not a morning person and find it difficult to get going. I have found others struggle with this exercise for the same reason.

As a result, I find I don’t get these pages done every day, or that I do them later on in the morning. This would probably be fine with Cameron.  She says that Morning Pages are “not high art” and that “there is no wrong way to do Morning Pages.”

This morning I struggled to get through three pages. I found myself drawing regular and irregular shapes on the lines in my composition books just to get through. Even this strategy was helpful because it reminded me that one of the best ways to get something done well is to think outside of the box.

With Night Notes the writer is supposed to sleep on the questions and allow the subconscious to provide answers. Because I actually forgot this feature I have been answering the questions as I pose them before sleeping. Again, I have come upon some beneficial ideas although I “broke the rules.”

What I have found is that these tools have helped me to clear the deck in my mind. A lot of the baggage is done away with. One effect of this is my thinking becomes more focused. Another is that my emotions are stabilized because I have vented them on the page.

Cameron has offered to me in organized form the wisdom of the greats. For example, Bob Dylan uses similar thinking and methods as hers to get his ideas down. He was asked by interviewer Paul Zollo how he got thoughts out of his mind. He replied,

Well, first of all, there’s two kinds of thoughts in your mind: there’s good thoughts and evil thoughts. Both come through your mind. Some people are more loaded down with one than another. Nevertheless, they come through. And you have to be able to sort them out, if you want to be a songwriter, if you want to be a good song singer. You must get rid of all that baggage. You ought to be able to sort out those thoughts, because they don’t mean anything, they’re just pulling you around, too. It’s important to get rid of all them thoughts.”

When the mind is clean of garbage and issues come into clearer focus by getting them onto the page, movement can be made. Dylan says once the baggage is gotten rid of, “then you can do something from some kind of surveillance of the situation. You have some kind of place where you can see but it can’t affect you. Where you can bring something to the matter, besides just take, take, take, take, take.”

Getting rid of the mud of the mind allows God to enter into our thinking. In my post about Dylan’s divine inspiration, I noted how his lyrics were influenced by the divine. I also explained that Cameron makes no bones about the benefits of listening to spiritual sources as we write.

While her writings about this are more eclectic in terms of who or what to access than I personally would prefer, I have gained by not throwing the baby out with the bath water. Applying her axioms in the context of my own beliefs about God and truth have been quite profitable.

As a Christian I seek to learn what God wants of me through reading the Bible and through prayer. Thus, I try to ask questions of Him, tell Him my own desires, and listen for His answer.

Further, I use my own God-given brain combined with what seems to be God’s leading to make decisions.  Before you claim that this is all “pie in the sky bye and bye”, I must explain how I believe the process works.

I see God’s leading as working more like a GPS device than a road map.  20th century pastor J. Vernon McGee said that God does not hand out road maps. In fact, he decried false piety in which people claimed to have a direct pipeline to the Almighty.

I recently listened  to a sermon by McGee about the story Ruth, the great grandmother of King David, from whose line Jesus would come, and how she decided to support herself and her mother-in-law Naomi when they were poor. Ruth decided to glean grain from local fields. Gleaning was a practice allowed in Israel in ancient times as a means to support the needy.

One day she came to two fields from which to glean grain. One was owned by Boaz, who was a distant relative of Naomi. Ruth had come to Israel with her when her husband, Naomi’s son, died. She did this as a step of faith and out of a willingness to follow the God of Naomi’s people.

McGee said that Ruth did not have a vision or a dream from God. He explained that she reasoned on the spot to go into the field of Boaz based on the situation before her. One thing led to another and she married Boaz, and thus became a distant grandmother of Jesus.

“God’s leading-yes,” said McGee. “But He’s leading a heart that’s willing to be led, and going step by step by faith.” Ruth was such a person.

Thus, the writing tools taught by Cameron and used by expert artists such as Bob Dylan have helped me to seek God and His leading as Ruth did.  As I write I believe He leads me step-by-step to great truths and informs decisions that have to be made.

What I have learned has given me great peace. It has also produced spiritual healing. I can live one day at a time, trusting God to communicate with me, not necessarily in spectacular ways, but through normal means of grace like the Bible and prayer, and though practical tasks such as writing, a practice I love anyway.

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The Divine Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan has always been a bit of an enigma.

Like a lot of artists, he has “periods” where fans can identify certain emphases in his music and lyricism. For example, in the 60s he was thought of as a generational prophet. Then there was the “Christian” period of the late 70s and early 80s during which believers bought albums such as “Slow Train Coming.”

However, Ben Sisario of the New York Times has written of how Dylan resists study.

“Over the decades he has frustrated many an interviewer who wanted to penetrate his mind and method,” he says.

‘Dylan has never been at all revealing about those kinds of issues,’ the music critic and author Anthony DeCurtis said in an interview.

‘He has always been dismissive,’ Mr. DeCurtis said. ‘He has certainly said things that have minimized his lyrics in the attempt to fend off or downplay any attempt to see him as a prophet.’ So he’ll say, “Oh, I just wrote what came to my mind.”

Whatever kind of offhand thing you could say to try to deflate someone who is trying to inflate your lyrics with meaning.”

A 1991 interview with Paul Zollo further illustrates Dylan’s reluctance to be pigeonholed. He asked Zollo,”Songwriting? What do I know about Songwriting?” Though Dylan said this with laughter, the grain of truth, i.e., he is just your average Joe,  is there.

Despite his reticence to be acknowledged, Zollo points out one of the reasons Dylan is a landmark artist.  He says,“He broke all the rules of songwriting without abandoning the craft and care that holds songs together.”

I would admire Dylan without this desire for excellence with language.  But for this writer, an English teacher by trade, Dylan’s care for his use of the written word makes me revere him even more. Zollo compares the beauty of his poetry to Shakespeare, Byron, as well as modern greats.

Even though Dylan’s reference for his writings is hard to determine, Zollo’s piece hints at it.  He writes, “There’s an unmistakable elegance in Dylan’s words, an almost biblical beauty that has sustained in his songs throughout the years.”

The artist once known as Robert Zimmerman influenced the soul of other musicians in this regard. According to Zollo, John Lennon was inspired by the depth of Dylan’s music to write songs that concerned life and the soul and not just  “empty pop songs”.

Dylan’s approach to his vocation is not of the secular, lunch bucket, 9 to 5 variety. It has a more spiritual bent. He told Zollo that His songwriting has “never really been seriously a profession…It’s been more confessional than professional.”

Bishop Robert Barron, a Catholic prelate based in Los Angeles, is stronger in his assessment of the supernatural aspects of Dylan’s work.

“You have to read him as a spiritual poet,” says Barron. “You can read him politically. You can read him as a cultural commentator. All that is right, but I think ultimately the best way to read him is as a spiritual teacher.”

Barron notes that Dylan is like most artists in that they will be elusive in terms of explaining the meaning of their lyrics. “But I think you can see patterns in any great artist,” he says. “You see them clearly in Bob Dylan.”

“You know in the 80s he became explicitly biblical, explicitly Christian. But all throughout his career, from beginning to right now, the Bible has been the dominant influence.”

Dylan’s epoch song “Blowing in the Wind” exemplifies this effect of Scripture on his work. The hit tells the listener that the answers to our most abiding questions come only through the intervention of God, according to the bishop.

God’s influence on Bob Dylan is nothing new. Author Julia Cameron explains that channeling spiritual information has been a means of creating great works for hundreds of years. In her book “The Right to Write”, she quotes some other noted artists (past and present) who attribute their genius to God.

“Although we rarely talk about it in these terms, writing is a means of prayer,” she says. “It connects us to the invisible world. It gives us a gate or conduit for the other world to talk to us whether we call it the subconscious, the unconscious, the superconscious, the imagination or the Muse.”

While we may not seek to contact God as we write, as we actually engage in the process of putting ideas down we come into contact with the divine.

Cameron says, “Writing gives us a place to welcome more than the rational. It opens the door to inspiration.

“We are an open channel.”

One critic on the public forum Quora calls Cameron’s work “creepy”, presumably because of  her spiritual approach to writing.  In “The Right to Write” she addresses those who feel that her thoughts about inspiration are too “New Age” or “airy-fairy”.

“Channeling? Julia, that word is so…

“I know. I know and I do not care because the word is artistically accurate,” she responds.

The author as a channel of the thoughts of God has an impact on how we go about writing. It also has  some surprise consequences on the lives of those who are willing to accept this concept of divine inspiration at face value and apply it to their work.

I will explain these effects in a future post.

 

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Filed under Bob Dylan, language, religion, Songs, spirituality, Uncategorized, writing

Home?

An advertisement I heard today on the radio says that home is where our story begins. But what if I don’t have one? Where does my story begin?

I do not feel at home in this world. I agree with my grandmother’s sentiments about life on this mortal coil. According to my brother, she did not fight a terrible case of pneumonia and died because she felt the world was a bad place.

In the last few years I have returned to houses I lived in before.  Two of these visits caused me great angst. There was just too much pain associated with those places.

One was in the neighborhood where I grew up. I had made trips to this house before, but this time I passed the area by because a dark spirit came upon me.  I sensed the times where things in our family were not so great and a deep pall came over me.

Another journey I took last week was to the house where my own family and I lived over a decade ago. The surrounding hills and climate were just as appealing to me as ever. I really wanted to stay back then, but due to some reverses we had to leave. The years since have seen some very tough times.

Though I have a roof over my head in my current town, and have been there for almost two years now, it doesn’t feel like home. It’s just a place to hang out and sleep. This could be because I have not furnished it. I live in kind of a Spartan and minimalist fashion. But I think there is something more to my feeling of being adrift.

It has to do with what I construe as “home”. There are tons of songs about home which inform me of its nature. Bards have sung about home forever. Christian composer Chris Tomlin wrote lyrics which I think echo my grandmother’s idea:

This world is not what it was meant to be
All this pain, all this suffering
There’s a better place
Waiting for me
In Heaven

But I’m not in heaven. Like all of us I have to go on with life.  Is there some place called “home” on this planet? I think not.

One characteristic of home in this world is explained well by American Idol winner Phillip Phillips, who popularized another song about it.

Hold on to me as we go
As we roll down this unfamiliar road
And although this wave, wave is stringing us along

Just know you’re not alone
‘Cause I’m gonna make this place your home

These lyrics tell me that in this life home is an unknown. This is because the future is also an unknown.

You never know where “home” will be. Many times I felt I would be in one place and I ended up in another. Some of these places I would have never dreamt of ever living.

Such uncertainty can cause fear, as Phillips notes:

Settle down, it’ll all be clear
Don’t pay no mind to the demons
They fill you with fear
The trouble—it might drag you down
If you get lost, you can always be found

As I have traveled down these unfriendly highways, I HAVE been filled with fear, which I know has come from evil, and trouble HAS dragged me down. In fact, there are times I feel like Humpty Dumpty. During those moments I believe no force on this planet can put me back together again.

Danny Gokey expresses how I feel at those times:

You’re shattered
Like you’ve never been before
The life you knew
In a thousand pieces on the floor
And words fall short in times like these
When this world drives you to your knees
You think you’re never gonna get back
To the you that used to be

Gokey advises me that the only thing to do when I get to this place in life is to willfully get up off the floor of my current “home”, lock up and move on to the next location in my journey.

Tell your heart to beat again
Close your eyes and breathe it in
Let the shadows fall away
Step into the light of grace
Yesterday’s a closing door
You don’t live there anymore
Say goodbye to where you’ve been
And tell your heart to beat again

Furthermore, he tells of moving toward a new start in our trek here on Earth.

Beginning
Just let that word wash over you
It’s alright now
Love’s healing hands have pulled you through

So get back up, take step one
Leave the darkness, feel the sun
‘Cause your story’s far from over
And your journey’s just begun

These poets talk in vague terms of a Someone who is helping me along in my current walk here on Earth.  Who is the “me” who says to follow him or the person who will find me in Phillips lyrics? Love is a broad concept, not a person, so who is the one Gokey says will pull me through my troubles.

To me, the One helping me and loving me as I limp through this world is none other than God.

A well-known song from 55 years ago by Jim Reeves guides  me in deciphering why I feel restless and ill at ease in the present reality.

This world is not my home I’m just a passing through
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore
Oh lord you know I have no friend like you
If heaven’s not my home then lord what will I do
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore

What gives me hope is meeting  my friend Jesus at the end of life and being comforted by Him face to face. Tomlin speaks of the encounter I can expect once I depart from here.

I’m goin’ home
Where the streets are golden
Every chain is broken
Oh I wanna go
Oh I wanna go
Home
Where every fear is gone
I’m in your open arms
Where I belong
Home

Lay down my burdens, I lay down my past
I run to Jesus, no turning back
Thank God Almighty, I’ll be free at last
In Heaven
In Heaven

Heaven is my real home. Thus, my story begins there once I reach it. My story is is intertwined with His Story.  All that is happening to me in this life is just a prequel.

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Filed under Christianity, Home, religion, Songs, Uncategorized