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Archive for the ‘Faith and doubt’ Category

I set out to comment on this post by Thom Ingram, and realized instead that his writing had inspired more than just a comment. I’m not going to rehash his post; just read it for yourself because it’s a beautiful mindful struggle with the meaning of life.

I haven’t studied – or even read – multiple spiritual texts as Thom has – but I have this sense that in addition to the commonalities across texts that he mentions, there is also a shared thread of being fully present in the here and now; of living compassionately and empathetically towards myself and all others. And I think that is actually based on – and counterweight to – the commonalites he does bring up – that there is more than we know or sense, that we are more than we know or sense, that so much of what we think we are apprehending is not by a long shot the last word or the ultimate reality.

For me the idea of presence and humble empathy is often embodied in the squirrels I see out my window, just a representative for me of all the small and mindless little creatures living out their seemingly ultimately pointless little animal lives. I imagine what life is like in a squirrel’s mind. I empathize with this tiny furry rodent feeling warm sunlight and wintry winds on its body, its heart racing as it scurries illogically across the street in the paths of roaring automobiles, its simpleminded squirrelly chuckling laughter from a branch high in my backyard tree directed at my outraged terrier below. I think of it feeling hunger, cold, pain, and also delight, contentment, even rodent-level joy.

In the cosmic scheme of things, I am that squirrel. Except that my kind have tasted the fruit of the tree of knowledge, and there can be no unknowing, no returning to the simple thoughtless life of the squirrel. I – and you – live in a cosmos that is beyond even our most-exalted-of-all-species intellectual capacities, but we have this extra level of knowledge that as far as we know, no other animal possesses: we know we’re going to die, that no matter what, every one of us is housed in a body that is falling apart, destined for the dirt. And beyond that, our knowledge fails us**. It appears to be the last word on the reality of the human body, as far as we’ve been able to ascertain through the senses and mental capacities of these bodies.

So we turn to imagination, art, faith, drugs, anything mind-altering, to see if somehow we can transcend the painful reality of the knowledge we can’t unknow, this knowledge of the ultimate decay of all things. And sometimes we can, and do. But that transcendence never gives our intellect the words and ideas it needs to feel satiated.

Thom says in his post, “I want to be in this world. In the here and now. I want to be centered on this place. But it’s all an illusion.”

And that’s where I turn to my powers of squirrel empathy for a little help. Whether it is all an illusion or not, this is the world where I have found myself. It is the reality I know, and you are here too. You are, right? Because maybe if everything is an illusion, then all the people around me are an illusion too, and it doesn’t matter how I treat them or what becomes of them.

I wonder, is this why the Genesis account of the tree of knowledge treats the tree and its fruit as so dangerous? If I understand that the world I think I know to be real is merely a virtual reality created by my senses and fed into my mind, why not seek to rise above it all? Why not make myself a god, the god of my own life, the god of this reality? Why shouldn’t I pilfer the planet and its people for the things I want, since it’s all a sham and even that is ultimately all falling apart anyway?

But back to the squirrel. The humble life of the squirrel. Breathe in, breathe out. Sunshine. Wind. Fear, laughter, hunger, and joy. And then, the human, who asks why? Always why, always, but why, what for, where is all this going, what’s it all about?

I don’t think asking why is ever a problem on its own. Instead, I find it concerning when we stop asking why because we think we know it all and we’ve come up short, disappointed and disillusioned with all we know, and throw up our hands and sigh, who cares, it doesn’t matter anyway.

It’s a hard fight some days, and others it feels small, pointless and never-ending – but I keep trying to faithfully live like a humble squirrel and an inquisitive human. I don’t think the fruit of the tree of knowledge is only bitter poison. Maybe if you squeeze out the sweetest part of it, let it ferment and share it with your friends, it can bring you some joy too.

 

**Of course humans are intellectually much smarter than squirrels, making discovery upon discovery, building wizard-level technological masterpieces – but that to me is just a way more powerful version of the squirrel brain. I’m referring here to consciousness, a sense of me and my place in the world, and its most painful realization of death and decay, that we haven’t knowingly encountered in any other species.

 

Bonus material – here’s a song I wrote last year and the origin of this post’s title:

 

 

 

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Day 42 in my “Leaving Loveland” challenge.

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Tonight was our family’s last service with our church here in Colorado, Mustard Seed House Churches. We joined this community as it was forming in 2013, the year we moved here. It’s an ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) congregation with a unique model. Each time we meet, we gather around a table and share a meal. The larger church is made up of smaller house churches based in different areas around northern Colorado. Each week one house church meets in someone’s house, and once a month all of these churches meet together in Fort Collins at the USC Lutheran Campus Ministries’ chapel for a bigger dinner and worship service together.

Tonight our pastor Andy utilized a selfie stick to get everyone in this group photo, and we said some tearful goodbyes as our community gathered around and prayed a blessing over us.

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So while I was writing a song a week last year and devoting my blog pretty much exclusively to that effort, I was coming across an increasing pile of articles about the rise of artificial intelligence (AI), and why everyone should at least try to understand what’s going on and what may be coming down the pike.

Tim Urban at Wait But Why did some pretty substantial summing up in two posts – The AI Revolution: The Road to Superintelligence and The AI Revolution: Our Immortality or Extinction. This two-part series is a long read but worth it if you want to get some background and do some thinking on this topic.

Which might get you scared or excited at what could happen within your lifetime. I mean, immortality or extinction?! That’s kind of a big deal.

But then for some humanizing balance, I recommend Superintelligence: The Idea That Eats Smart People. Its author, Maciej Cegłowski, points out that those espousing AI’s potential to immortalize or annihilate our species are making some pretty bold assumptions about what intelligence ultimately is, and that some of this smells a bit megalomaniacal.

A story about computers taking over the universe (and then either saving or destroying humanity as we know it) captures our imagination more than a story about technocrats gradually sucking the soul out of human society by pushing for increased levels of surveillance and invasive technologies in their quest to prepare for the anticipated AI revolution.

Ceglowski’s article includes a quote I fell in love with: “If everybody contemplates the infinite instead of fixing the drains, many of us will die of cholera.” A search for the author of the quote, John Rich, turns up that he’s a country music singer/songwriter.

Superintelligence, I would like to believe, if and when it does arise, will not be supercerebral. It won’t just encompass the intelligence of computer geeks, but also musicians and plumbers and the infinite depth and breadth of being – of which we humans have only a limited understanding and a small share.

Which spins everything back around for me. Religious and spiritual traditions tell us that a superintelligence like that has already arisen – in what we call God or whatever other name has been given to the supreme being – and that this God brought all we know into being.

So ultimate being, superintelligence – do we project this back to before life began, or forward in time? Do we give rise to it, or did it give rise to us?

Or is this all my less-than-superintelligence asking all the wrong questions, thinking in a linear timeframe, boxed in by the laws of whatever computer simulation or created universe this is?

Thinking is fun!

 

 

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It’s the last day of another year, and here is my last song for #songaweek2016.

In the middle of writing it, I realized I was quoting from the Bible, the gospel of John, when Jesus is talking to his disciples about getting ready to say goodbye, and he leads up to something I hold as central to my faith – that his followers will be known by their love.

Here’s hoping that maybe in 2017, that can become a little more true.

It’s been an amazing year of songwriting, and I look forward to reflecting on it a bit in another post, as well as making a central list of all the songs and highlighting some of my favorites.

Here’s my song for week 52 of #songaweek2016. Oh, and PS – if you or someone you know might enjoy trying this challenge, check out #songaweek2017.

I go out into the night
I go out I go out like a light

In a little while
you will look for me
you will look for me
and I won’t be there

I go out into the night
I go out I go out like a light

In a stranger’s face
in your daughter’s voice
in the love you share
you’ll know me there

I go out into the night
I go out I go out like a light

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I wasn’t only thinking about Aleppo when I wrote this song. Christmas doggedly returns at the darkest time of the year, and sometimes it feels nearly impossible – or insincere, or inconsiderate – to celebrate when so many people are suffering.

But I think that tears of compassion and even deep personal suffering can coexist with tidings of comfort and joy. And the longer I live, the more that is what Christmas – and life in general – is about for me.

So let’s sing and celebrate – and mourn and grieve. Let’s be fully alive and unafraid this Christmas season. True “Christmas spirit” is not a mask that must pretend everything is okay in order to start the festivities, but a wholehearted embrace of the world and the people in it, just as I find them.

I’m not saying I know much about how to do this, or can even possibly begin to understand what so many people have experienced or are going through right now. But I do know that I’d rather practice listening and opening my heart to people – and risk making mistakes – than ignore and pretend – and shrink my world down to what feels manageable.

Once more, with feeling.

Here’s my song for week 50 of #songaweek2016:

it’s an old weathered song
at the darkest time of the year
merry christmas, merry christmas once more
we raise up a toast
and we try to drum up the cheer
merry christmas, merry christmas once more

while the bombs keep on dropping
and nobody’s stopping to cry

it’s a tired refrain
that keeps proclaiming peace and good will
merry christmas, merry christmas once more
and the stars keep their watch
and the snow lies cold and still
merry christmas, merry christmas once more

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This week in the Christian church season of Advent centers on love. I didn’t even think about that when I wrote this song for my dad’s birthday, which also happened to be this week (and for week 48 of #songaweek2016). But here we have it, an accidental tie-in:

The road you walk is a pulsing clock
Each day you live shapes the world
we are all making
These things are relative
and it’s love that moves them on

Keep the fires of faith hope and love alive
and follow the giver of dreams

The faith you keep needn’t fear the dark
Each word you choose shapes the silence
we are all breathing
These things are relative
and it’s love that holds them together

Keep the fires of faith hope and love alive
and follow the giver of dreams

Each moment we are standing
at a gracious convergence
of who we were and who we are and who we can be

The rocks you climb hardly feel you there
Each hand you hold will eventually
let go
These things are relative
and it’s love that outlives them all

Keep the fires of faith hope and love alive
and follow the giver of dreams

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Be the love you wish to feel in the world.

I believe in the infinite power of love, and I also believe that I can’t just wait around for love to rise and save the world. Love will always rise again. And I can be one of many who give it legs. Even when it’s hard to get out of bed in the morning. Especially then.

Here’s my song for week 47 of #songaweek2016. Apologies for its very rough draftiness. I wanted to finish early this past week so I could enjoy my parents’ visit for Thanksgiving (which I did!).

When the ugly words of angry men come screaming on the wind
Love’s gonna rise again
When the comfortable complacent ones keep keeping quiet
love’s gonna rise again
when you can barely believe it, keep singing anyway
love’s got to rise again
when you can’t really feel it, keep hanging on anyway
love’s got to rise again

love’s gonna rise
love’s gonna rise
love’s got to rise again
love’s gonna rise
love’s gonna rise
love’s got to rise again

out of the mud, out of the ruins
out of the rotten remains
love’s gonna rise again

when you lay her down into the ground and feel your heart stop
love’s gonna rise again
when days are dark and nights are long and cold sets in
love’s gonna rise again
when you can’t see the point, get out of bed anyway
love’s got to rise again
when all seems lost, keep reaching out anyway
love’s got to rise again

love’s gonna rise
love’s gonna rise
love’s got to rise again
love’s gonna rise
love’s gonna rise
love’s got to rise again

love paints the world in vibrant colors and sings in many voices
love’s gonna rise again

love’s gonna rise
love’s gonna rise
love’s got to rise again
love’s gonna rise
love’s gonna rise
love’s got to rise again

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