On Christ’s Entry Into the World (A Poem)

IMG_0813(This is a poem I wrote a few years ago, but wanted to publish it here. I should add that a lot of it is poetic wording, such as the Trinity was not actually divided in the death of Christ. This refers to more of the existential outpouring of Christ’s death rather than any ontological consequences. Please keep that in mind while reading)

Look upon the lonely world and all its error
See how much it is fallen, so lost in despair
Some worship gods, objects made at their own hand
While others make pleasure their only demand
Look upon this fallen world and find it torn
Orphaned, murdered, alone, so depraved we kill the unborn
Some see God’s laws written down, meant to prevent this depravity
But in following this stringent code they place themselves in slavery
What hope do you have, O Sinner, in the mess in which you live?
In our fallen mess, could we dream of a God who could forgive?

It does not please God to see His creation groan
He is love, and displays His love in a way never before known
Our God we witness as He reveals He is Holy Trinity
The Father, Son, and Spirit in love from all eternity
A perfect union that cannot be undone
Distinguished in three, but being in one
The Son is God and is eternally begotten by the Father
But is one in being with God and not a wholly other
From the Father proceeds His Holy Spirit
Distinct but fully God, between them there is no split

This Holy and loving God looked upon the world
He saw the destruction into which it was hurled
In the Incarnation, the veil between God and man was torn
The I AM humbled, to a human mother He was born
Under the curse of sin His chose to live, but no sin was in Him
A perfect life He led, knowing His eventual end was so grim
The same One who had once said, “Where are you” to humanity
Now adorned Himself in their flesh, but with no pomp or vanity
He took compassion on His brothers, on His fallen children
He provided substance in a world that was spiritually barren

Ever-present that sin broke the relationship between His Father and men
He sought to create a relationship to be broken never again
He took the flogging of the Roman condemned
All for our rebellion, for Him to mend
But His pain was so much deeper than the cells of His skin
In His spirit is where He felt the brunt of our sin
Look upon the cross and see a divided Trinity
Father forsaking Son whom He had loved for all eternity
But even in this, the Father took pleasure in breaking His Son
As the spilt and forsaken blood of Christ meant our sin was undone

The Father did not leave the Son in the grave
The Spirit came and raised Christ out of the cave
In His victory all sinners took delight
As God spoke into the darkness once again, and there was light
Light for those trapped in despair and pain
Light for the hopeless to tell them their lives aren’t in vain
In His resurrection He opened the path for fellowship with God
A belief no pagan could fathom, a belief that to the Jew is odd
To be guilty before God, to be His enemy, we are the ones
But in Christ’s resurrection we are adopted as sons

Into the slum, the ghetto, and the shanty town
Rise up all ye hopeless, stand up those who are down
To the blind, look upon Christ all day long
To the deaf, listen to His beautiful song
To the lame, run with Him forever, from west to east
To the hungry, sit and rejoice with Him at His feast
To the weary and worn down, in Him find your rest
To the diseased and unwanted, collapse in His chest
For we are adopted by God and have not a bother
For in our troubles we can cry out, “Abba, Father!”

Are You a Free Spirit?

A question for you to dwell upon tonight: are you a free spirit? Nietzsche argued that the greatest human beings were free spirits—those rare individuals who transcend mankind, who break free from the shackles of value systems, who no longer follow the herd, who fully embrace what it is to be human (all too human), creating their own values and making their own meaning; rising above what their culture or religion has determined to be right and wrong or beautiful. Does this sound like the type of person you strive to be?

People often tell me that they desire freedom from the constraints of organized religion or from puritanical moral systems, which they believe bring about oppression and unnecessary limitations upon mankind. Some perceive that religion imposes overwhelming intellectual limitations—that is, they believe that religion stunts their intellectual growth or somehow disengages their rational faculties. They want the freedom to believe whatever they deem to be true. Others perceive that religion brings about suffocating ethical limitations—they want sexual liberation, they want to lie and cheat and steal from time to time without feeling guilty about it.

Perhaps the most common form of freedom that people speak about is the freedom to make meaning. Have you ever heard someone say, “life is what you make of it” or “my life has meaning because I make it meaningful”? Statements like these illustrate the type of freedom that I’m referring to. It’s the idea that we have the freedom to make meaning for our lives apart from any standard or universal meaning which applies to everyone. We see this in art as well. There’s no longer a standard for what qualifies as art—art is simply an expression of someone’s inner feelings or emotions. Thus, anything can be art. A jar of urine is art if you feel that it is and attribute to it some form of meaning. There is a real resistance among modern artists to placing any definition, label, or limitations on art. There is a desire for freedom—an unlimited freedom to express whatever one wants however one wants to express it (whether that be through urine in a jar or oil on canvas). There is also a tremendous resistance to the idea that beauty is objective—that something can truly be said to be beautiful. We want the freedom to make that determination for ourselves.

I wonder, however, if Nietzsche’s free spirit is truly free? I wonder if those of us who strive for this type of freedom are actually placing ourselves into bondage? What if, in our desire to be free spirits, we have actually enslaved ourselves to one of the most tyrannical and destructive dictators of all? The dictator to which I refer is of course self love. By self love I do not mean having a healthy self image (something we all should have); rather, I mean the placing of our pleasures and our needs as the very end of (i.e. the purpose of) our existence. When we direct our lives in accordance with our unbridled passions; when we make decisions solely based upon what is beneficial to our own wellbeing or to what brings us the most pleasure or satisfaction–this is self love. Self love is all about fulfilling any sexual urge or fantasy we might have, expressing ourselves in any way we want (without recourse to the good, the noble, or the beautiful), and about living life to feed the ego. The free spirit, in her desire to break free from values, from universals, from absolutes, ends up in bondage to her own arbitrary emotions; to her own ego. Rather than being a rational human being, the free spirit is more akin to a horse following a carrot on a stick—wherever the carrot goes the horse goes.

A free spirit, enslaved to self love, ultimately brings bondage and enslavement to others as well. In the eyes of the free spirit, people become simply a means to an end—objects to be used for personal gain. This happens whether the free spirit is aware of it or not. For example, you begin to think–perhaps only in your subconscious–of your girlfriend as a sex object; of course she is a person, but in practice she is nothing but a means to satiating whatever sexual desires you might have. She, in turn, is obligated to fulfill your sexual desires no matter how uncomfortable or dirty it might make her feel if she wants to keep you. You degrade her (maybe you don’t even think of it this way); you reduce her to a mere tool for masturbation and whether you realize it or not, she has become your slave. But, perhaps, she has enslaved you too. Perhaps she knows–even subconsciously–she can get something she wants out of you (money, power, respect, companionship . . .) if she gives you the sex that you want? In this case, you are ultimately her slave–not unlike the lab rat that won’t stop pressing the button which gives it sexual stimulation (to the exclusion of the button which dispenses food) and, in the end, dies of starvation.

St. Paul spoke of this type of self love in his second letter to Timothy:

“But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of stress. For men will be lovers of self,       lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, fierce, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (II Timothy 3:1-4)

This type of self love, which is the root of all sin, leaves us in bondage. We become slaves to sin–slaves to our unbridled passions, slaves to our ego, and slaves to each other. The freedom that we so long for turns out to be nothing but an illusion.

Freedom, true freedom, can only come through Christ. Jesus not only brings us forgiveness for the pain and suffering and oppression we bring into the world, but offers us an escape from the tyranny of self love. Jesus gives us the freedom to love what is truly beautiful and truly good–the Creator and sustainer of life Himself; and to love others who have been made in His image. This, in fact, is the essence of Christianity: to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27).

The follower of Christ, imaging God Himself, makes love the end or, the purpose, of his existence. By love I do not mean some fluffy sentimentality or warm sensation that one experiences in his stomach. I mean the act of sacrifice–of self giving. St. John said: “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16). Later he states: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:7-8). God is love, not in some abstract way, but his very nature is love. Within the blessed Trinity we see the existence of three persons, joined together by nature and eternally pouring out themselves, sharing themselves, submitting themselves to each other. We see true love. In the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ we see this love, this self-giving, spilling out into creation–we see the Divine Logos humbling Himself, giving of Himself, even unto death. We see true love.

The true free spirit is the one who embraces this love, who breaks free from the chains of self love and into the liberating arms of self-giving. So, the question remains: are you a free spirit?

Random Musings: The Nature of Beauty

1)  Does beauty truly exist?

2)  Perhaps beauty is merely a feeling; an inner subjective experience; my impression of a perception . . . an emotion.  Perhaps beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder.  If this is the case, it is false to believe anything truly is beautiful.  When I look at the sunrise and exclaim in awe, “how beautiful!” I am merely expressing a feeling—I am communicating something private.  For the sunrise is not beautiful in any objective, concrete, sense; it is just an object within space and time.  Like all objects, it has no intrinsic value, no purpose, no meaning, it conforms to no pattern.  I, the observer, give it meaning . . .

3)  If beauty is simply a subjective experience, a feeling, then to speak of beauty is no different than to speak of indigestion.  In effect, the expression, “how beautiful,” is functionally equivalent to the expression, “my stomach hurts.”

4)   How wretched life would be if beauty did not exist!  I look at my wife, an angel, the radiance of the sun instantiated in human form . . . yet, this isn’t real.  The beauty of my wife is nothing but maya—an illusion.  In reality she is the endless shifting of atoms, the constant flux of matter and energy; as am I.  To say that my wife is beautiful is really to say that one shifting batch of atoms (my wife) collided with another shifting batch of atoms (my eyes) creating a chemical response in my brain and producing a particular emotion.  Her beauty is but one euphoric chemical reaction—an animal instinct, a sexual desire.

5)  In a world devoid of intrinsic value, beauty is degraded—it becomes something base.

6)   But surely beauty must exist!  Surely the sunrise is more than the endless shifting of atoms; more than the sense of awe engendered by a brute biochemical response to perception.  Surely such reactions occur in the presence of great beauty—a beauty woven into the very fabric of reality.  A form . . . an idea . . . a logos . . .

The Church of the Rock and the Lack of Creative Vision in Churches

For the unacquainted, the “Church of the Rock” is a church in Canada that puts on a yearly Christian play to allegorize Easter. Of course, they’re a little different in that they take popular movies and television shows and use those as the settings. I was going to write about how this is just wrong both from a creative standpoint and a theological standpoint, but it ended up being a comment to them on their website. Thus, I decided to just reprint my comment here:

Well, the only act of “blasphemy” I see is comparing your plays to C.S. Lewis (who, by the way, wasn’t writing an allegory; “Pilgrim’s Progress” is an allegory, the Chronicles series is just Lewis creating a Socratic exercise, a “What if ____”, where the blank is filled by “…Jesus went into a world where animals ruled?”).

The problem with what you’re doing is that it does cheapen the Gospel; not because it’s entertainment, but because it’s not all that creative. You’re taking well-established characters and simply “tweaking” them. If nothing else, it’s similar to a copyright violation, not creation.

Being made in the image of God means that Christians are called to be creative, not copy-cats. This is why we respect men like C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the like; they created entire worlds. While it’s true that they borrowed from Greek and Norse mythology, they didn’t full on steal from Aesop’s Fables or from the mythological stories; they simply used the creatures in those stories and put them in a new world.

If you want to do a play on Easter about the Resurrection, then wonderful, good luck, blessings, and mazel tov. But at least be creative, be original, produce a work of art; don’t simply ape and copy from the world, put a Christian twist on it, and say, “Viola!” If you want to do a story about a super hero who dies and comes back from the dead, then make him original. While the super hero motif isn’t original, but what you do with that motif can be (just as paint colors and a canvass isn’t original, but what is done with them can be).

Furthermore, you seem to defend what you’re doing by saying, “It gets the unchurched into our building!” Maybe so, but so what? While entertainment isn’t wrong, when you try to get people to come to your church by entertaining them, or performing some type of venus fly trap for the unchurched, they’re eventually going to get bored. It’s why even great shows have to come to an end; at some point, you either jump the shark and lose your audience, or you have to bring the story to an end. Either way, entertaining your congregation as a means to build your congregation is self-defeating.

If you really want to attract the unchurched to your church, perhaps you could offer them something real. Entertainment isn’t wrong, but we should call it for what it is; a temporary vacation for the mind. This is necessary sometimes, especially in our world. But ultimately, it lacks proper substance (hence my previous point of people getting bored and entertainment running its course). If you really want to shock people, then serve them. If anyone has a problem with this, or is turned off by it, then it’s not up to us to trick them into wanting to come to church.

The problem with your approach is that it ignores the fundamental aspect of Christianity, the central tenet of our soteriology; we are to die to ourselves. When we try to attract people to church and keep them there by entertaining them or offering programs that make them happy, we’re not teaching them to die to themselves, we’re simply taking materialist narcissists and turning them into spiritual narcissists.

In the end, more churches should engage in drama, in paintings, in creative music; more churches should engage in the arts. God is creative and being in His image we too are called to be creative. But this creativity should, you know, actually be creative. Not to be crass, but simply to get my point across, taking famous movies and using their characters and plot-lines while changing a few aspects is what pornographers do; it shouldn’t be what Christians do. A pornographer looks at a movie title like “Men in Black” and thinks, “How can I make this about men who wear black suits and get women?” A Christian shouldn’t look at a movie title like “Men in Black” and think, “How can I make this about priests who bring people to Jesus?”

That’s not to say that you’re anything like a pornographer and I hope you didn’t take it that way. I’m simply underlining my point that simply changing a few things and adding a Christian theme isn’t creative, just as changing a few things and adding a sexual theme isn’t creative; it’s simply a bastardization of what art happened to be there.

Ultimately, what will win this world over isn’t Christians copying the world and sanctifying the art that we see. What will win this world over is Christians actually living like Christ; that is, helping those who need it. A church of 50 who volunteer to help the people in their neighborhood will speak more to the message of Christ than a church of 5,000 who puts on a play about Jack ‘Saviour.’ The world will not follow a man who is in love with his creativity, rather, the world will follow a man who is creative with his love.

The only thing I’ll add as a subscript that I didn’t add in the comment is that I really don’t mind Christians being artistic. There’s nothing wrong with Christians who want to write good songs (and they don’t even have to be about Jesus or Christian themes). I happen to write poetry and take pictures as a hobby (many of the pictures I’ve been using lately are pictures I’ve taken). Other Christians want to produce movies. There’s nothing wrong with this at all; “Christian art” shouldn’t be a genre. But we don’t do ourselves any favors when we ape the world or take someone else’s work and simply add Jesus to is. We cheapen the Gospel, cheapen the creativity of the person, and cheapen ourselves. Anytime we use “Christian” as an adjective, chances are we’re ruining something.