Past Wisdom

I think our country frequently fails to listen to wisdom from our past. Or perhaps we forget about it. More often than not, I fear we have become too illiterate to know it existed.

I stumbled onto this quote from Benjamin Franklin today:

“Those who would give a little liberty for a little security deserve neither and will lose both.”

Hmmm…now what could America learn from this?

Jesus? Jesus, Anyone?

You already know I’m not a huge fan or religion. I’m particularly disdained, however, at the fact that religion can now be confused with pedophilia.

Friday, prosecutors in the Warren Jeffs polygamy case urged jury members to uphold the sanctity of the purity of a girl who, at age 14, was allegedly forced, against her better judgment, to marry her cousin and submit to his sexual advances.

I can’t even describe to you how disgusting that is. First of all, she was 14. Modern psychology tells us that, as a rule, individuals of that age are not prepared for the emotional ramifications resulting from an act of sexual intercourse…even assuming that they are physically ready, which I find myself doubting. Secondly, to compound the issue further, she was his cousin! West Virginia jokes aside, I was under the understanding that both incest and pedophilia were illegal. Those are some of those comforting laws that come with living in a civilized culture.

Last night, however, on Anderson Cooper 360, attorneys could be viewed arguing (you can catch it on the podcast) that Jeffs was protected from legal charges in encouraging this unholy union by stating that this fell under his freedom of religion, and that it is his faith (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) that is under attack here, not him.

I nearly screamed in pain.

If there’s anything I disagree with less than religion, its the legal system (I think Shakespeare may have a had a point). But when our perverted system can actually formulate a response to protect someone who’s religion and status as a “prophet” have resulted, even if indirectly, in the incestuous rape of a little girl, and God knows what other sexual atrocities? Like I said: disgusting.

This is what happens, however, when not only the system goes horribly awry, but so does religion. Religion has replaced true spirituality in our culture. Anyone can claim that they are a a descendant of Jesus, like Jeffs has, and proceed to build a church (I use the word loosely) that will adhere to their every opinionated and twisted demand.

All that is required by anyone interested in spiritual pursuits is a cursory examination of the Scriptural accounts of Jesus’ life to discover that He finds these things abhorrent. You’ll also find, if you read a bit further, that He wasn’t a huge fan of religion as typically practiced, and it is that religion that has led us to this. At some point, the postmodern relativism of our twisted view of the Christ (and those who claim to be His prophets while obviously speaking out of sync with Him) must fall under scrutiny, and be held up against a standard of truth.

So what is that truth?

If you questioned Elissa Wall, the girl in question in the Jeffs case, I bet that she might say something to the effect of how she shouldn’t have been subjected to sex by her cousin when she was 14 years old. The epistemology may be subject to debate, but I imagine she would hold that fact to be truth.

It only becomes distorted when we do what the legal system does, and analyze it too far.



Contemplating Beauty

I woke up early a few days ago, and stood on our balcony for a while. It’s one of those places that make it easy for me to meditate and focus when I’m there…easy for me to see God. That morning I was actually there early enough (not necessarily happy to be awake that early, but…may as well make the best of it, right?) to see the pink tint start to come into the sky during daybreak. I had a chance to watch the pink overtake the dark, turn everything to blue, and become the morning.

It was beautiful.

I can’t think of what my life would be like if I didn’t make the time to meditate on things like that. Karen and I were talking a few days ago about how I’ve become more interested in quiet reflection as I’ve moved into my 30’s. Not like I’m old or anything, but it is a transition that has taken place.

I’ve found that I need to appreciate beauty.

Dostoyevsky said “beauty will save the world.” My first instinct was that that’s a pretty sweeping statement. But the more I find myself fixed on God after I’ve spent time thinking about beauty, the more I wonder if perhaps he wasn’t right, if even in an indirect, abstract sort of way.

In any case, I am a better person because of that sunrise. A couple of years ago, I remember sitting in a restaurant on Clearwater Beach outside of Tampa, Florida, and watching the sun set. The effect was even more pronounced then.

Will beauty save the world?

I don’t know. But it has at least changed mine for the better. I’m glad I’ve taken the time to see it.

Oops, I Did It Again…

As much as I’m opposed to sensationalist media, I’ve found myself scanning the stories of Britney Spears’ apparently horrendous performance at the VMA’s a few days ago. Typically, I don’t even pause when I see this particular individual’s name in the headlines. But, she has grabbed my attention in the recent past, so…blame it on that, or on well-written headlines by CNN, but I can’t help but shake my head today.

Not, however, for the same reason that you might immediately think.

Yesterday’s somewhat more merciful attack to the criticism about Britney’s body was the one that really drew me into reading. Apparently, the entertainment industry seems to think she was too fat to wear the little black…thing…that she performed in at the VMA’s. Their comments about her physical condition strike me, as they struck this commentator, as unmerited. Honestly, I’ve never heard quality music associated with Spears, so the allegations that her performance sucked didn’t surprise me. But slamming someone’s weight?

I guess what struck me when I read this this morning was a feeling of pity. I already feel pity for Spears, because I can see past the goddess-of-entertainment status that she holds and see that she is a human being underneath all of that. If one of my friends had been through a divorce, was having a crisis with children that she suddenly realized she wasn’t ready to raise, and had to enter substance abuse treatment, I would be doing anything I could to help her. Instead of having pity on Spears, however, we enjoy watching her twitch under the microscope of popular entertainment culture, assuming that we, as spectators to her life, have the right to critique her as though she were a character from a novel.

When I looked at the photos from the VMA performance, I wasn’t drawn by the paunch that she was accused of displaying. Instead, I felt as though I was privy to her broken-ness. My heart breaks at the fact that she feels as though she must place her body, once promised to her husband, on display in order to gain affirmation and applause from those who worship her.

Artists were never meant to be placed on pedestals as though they are deities. Our entertainment culture is one of idolization that doesn’t reward the artistry: it rapes the life of the artist. Every singer, writer, or painter dreams of success in the sense that they want their work to be seen, read, or heard. Instead, we’ve turned it into something corporate. Instead, gifted artists must also place their bodies on display in racy photo shoots or risque performances in order to achieve blockbuster success.

Spears has made her choices, many of which were negative choices, and she must live with those. However, she is, in some sense, a victim as well, because she has been taken advantage of by the machine we put in place to idolize artists and athletes, all because we want to fill our need to have something to worship.

So, we worshipped Spears, and then cast her aside into entertainment hell, because that is the way “the industry” works. Then, her once loyal “fans” sit back in judgment because they feel justified, as though they are given that right by this despicable little culture that we’ve created.

I didn’t laugh at Britney Spears.

In fact, I almost cried, instead.



Words In A Void

Douglas has linked to and began interesting discussion into what modern Believers read. While I almost always disagree with what my friend says, or at least with the spirit in which he says it, this is something that bothers me a great deal, as well.

I can’t stand to walk into a Christian bookstore. In fact, I despise them like a plague, and wish they didn’t exist. Part of my allergic spiritual reaction is in the fact that I don’t believe in a distinction between sacred and secular (there shouldn’t be bookstores and Christian bookstores, there should just be bookstores…this concept of creating our own Believer’s pop culture is a Falwellian nightmare). Mostly, however, the only thing sold at these “Christian bookstores” that is worth reading are the Scriptures. 98% of everything else on their shelves is crap.

That’s the nicest word I can find for it, actually. Many Evangelicals don’t seem to want to think, so they find themselves content with Lucado-like fluff that is composed of a lot of terrifically constructed church-speak and absolutely no substance. Other Evangelicals find that they love to gain more knowledge (what does Scripture say about it “puffing up?”), and so they gorge intellectually on theology and apologetics and philosophy, begin believing that they are the focus of what our faith is about, and then let it divide and form a cancerous hatred and denominational divisions.

Somewhere in between are the rest of modern Believers, who are content to read “devotionals” instead of Scripture. Hmmm…that seems inverted, don’t you think?

I believe that there are writers who are Christians who generate beautiful (typically the beauty is in the subtlety, but most modern Believers can’t think deeply enough to find it) explorations of our faith in both nonfiction and fiction. I post links to worthwhile reads in my sidebar…please, if you find others, leave comments. I also find beautiful truth is (gasp) writers who don’t profess our faith, or openly deny it. After all, all truth is God’s truth.

Unfortunately, however, most of it is by people who want to earn a living writing garbage that they know they can sell by focusing on a Christian market.

When did Christ become a market, exactly?

And when did our intellectual and artistic diet become one of junk food?

I’ve found that meditating on Scripture or poetry in the morning centers me on God, while reading cheap correlations like Lucado’s or Nehemiah’s or Chamber’s “devotionals” fill me with empty calories, leaving me hungry within the hour. What if our standards for evaluation became higher? What if we raised the bar? What if it became about reading something on Monday that took us until Thursday to unpack and apply to our lives? What if it were quality instead of quantity? What if we read the Scriptures instead of reading about the Scriptures?

That, I suppose, would require publishers to be about the integrity of the work instead of money. And, since that won’t happen, it was a nice thought.

I suppose we’ll just have to keep fighting the machine.