Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Individual Christian

"Christendom has done away with Christianity without being quite aware of it."
-Soren Kierkegaard.
Christianity is harmed by the incessant attempts to yolk it with "us, them, we" or any personal pronoun other than "I".
It invariably leads not to closer brotherhood among believers, but to sectarianism, pride and judgment.
As an individual, a Christian is more likely than most to be humble, peaceful and understanding.
As a collective, or as a demographic, we can tend to be proud (of our Christianity), hostile (to anyone or thing perceived to be hostile to us as Christians) and judgmental (to anyone who does not hold our values).
As the individual Christian, we have a better sense of who we are in relation to world, and to God himself.
As "Christendom", we tend to find safety in numbers, establish insular subcultures, and hide behind our own theologians and teachers.
Christians lose something of the peculiar shame of the Cross when Christianity becomes accepted, respectable, a movement or even, God forbid, official.
We become quite at home in the world, and even begin to claim portions of it as our own. And become quite defensive and even combative when we feel that holy ground is being invaded.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Boredom is perhaps the environment of hell.
It is similar to Chaos, because it is the state of an unfocused mind.
It is the inverse of the excitement of countless possibilities. It is the despairing certainty that every one of those potentialities will end in disappointment.
Every child has known the horror of boredom, as well as they have known the exasperation of an adult who scolds them for being ungrateful, as any adult would be profess to be profoundly grateful for a moment's peace in which boredom might be a welcome change to busyness.
This is hogwash on the part of the adult; partly because busyness is the unconsciously agreed upon crowning virtue of adulthood and would never be so easily traded for a mess of potted boredom, and partly because even in an adult's "leisure" time, he would be terrified to encounter boredom as he did as a child: that ennui, that dissatisfaction with all things and no remedy for it, not entertainment, nor opiate, nor sleep, nor sex, nor any other stimulation that a grown-up engages in when his mind has reached the end of that ultimate high, the Validation of Work.
Boredom is not quite merely the absence of stimulation, it is a tangible thing: a paralyzing banality that leaves a mind stricken and sometimes in search of renewal in the strangeness of the new and unfamiliar and even unappealing.
If we were created with purpose, there can be few pains equitable to purposelessness.
A child avoids this void in any number of ways, almost all of which are more honest than the ways adults avoid it. The dishonesty of adults in their frantic attempts to escape from boredom is motivated by guilt. An aimless child may be scolded, but an aimless adult is judged, and pitied.
Equating boredom with damnation may seem hyperbolic, but only if you have forgotten what boredom is, and think of it as free time when no one expects anything of you.
It is the opposite of freedom.
It is the state of mind so bereft of the excitement of possibility that it imprisons itself. And self imprisonment is the most hopeless of all jails.
Kierkegaard said Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom, thus pointing out the silver lining back of the cloud of the Unknown.
The bleakness of Boredom's cloud is the certainty that a distant star has exploded somewhere in the universe that will at last drag every ounce of meaning across it's event horizon.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Greatest Fear

Like the white tail of a fleeing doe is caught in the corner of a headlight beam, there is a fear, at odd intervals, that crosses my mind, almost gone before I recognize it.
"What if I, in spite of everything and of all people, should become an atheist?"
It's an old dread, the Fear of No God, the Realization of Nothing, that first stole over me in a Christian bookstore at the age of 17.
I had recently come to know God, important to note since prior to that introduction, my greatest fear was that He DID exist.
I must be unwittingly bound to consider the worst. In everyday matters, I rarely deal in worst case scenarios, because that extreme perpetually beats on the walls of my lowest mental dungeon. Consciously, it's warden makes no admission of those muted howls.
But the fear of nothing had it's humble beginnings in my earliest remembered nightmares, which featured exceedingly common sights, such as the the fabric of my blanket, in sudden and inexplicable dream like fashion, growing very, very large. Awakened by my own screams, I could never explain why non threatening, inanimate objects became sinister when enlarged. It was much later when I realized that it was not the size of the objects, but it's implication to MY size. Which was, obviously, that I was really very small and growing smaller (as in the dream I always was frightened awake while the thing was yet growing) and, if left alone, I would surely fade at last into nothing.
In Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday, the protagonist, Gabriel Syme, faces a similar fear when meeting Sunday, a God type.
"The form it took was a childish and yet hateful fancy. As he walked across the inner room towards the balcony, the large face of Sunday grew larger and larger; and Syme was gripped with a fear that when he was quite close the face would be too big to be possible, and that he would scream aloud. He remembered that as a child he would not look at the mask of Memnon in the British Museum, because it was a face, and so large."
The fear of a man who does not know God is that God's greatness will diminish himself and that the self opposed to God will never cease shrinking.
My young nightmares are troubling because I was so young and still under the protection of Adamic innocence. Syme was a grown man and thus seemingly responsible for his unfamiliarity with God. But Syme was also a fictional character, representative of the yet innocently ignorant child: a child under God's protection is not the same as one who has eaten of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and been bought back.
But with the fear of diminution, of irrelevance, there is something in common with the choice not to believe in something greater than the self.
Nietzsche speaks: "God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. Yet his shadow still looks. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives; who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves?"
Nietzsche was as terrifyingly honest as an atheist may be, grappling with the stygian fear of causeless effect, of meaningless existence. Yet, as honest as an atheist may be, he still does not recognize how deep the abyss is that stares into his soul, for though he says that "Hope, in reality, is the greatest of all evils because it prolongs the torments of man.", he also insists that although "To live is to suffer," still, "to survive is to find meaning in the suffering."
Hope, then, is evil because it is false and yet meaning is still attainable. Such a titanically irreconcilable statement is understandable when you begin to understand that there is no such creature as a living nihilist. True nihilists are far more rare than Scotsmen of the same fidelity, for all true nihilists are dead, and by their own hand.
It is my personal belief that your greatest fear must stand as the gainsaying of your chosen purpose.  Therefore, I believe that nihilists must somehow find comfort in utter meaninglessness, and be really terrified by meaning and purpose.
Now that I know God, and am found in Him, the fear that He does not exist is also the fear that the self I surrendered to Him will also cease to exist. In that fearful fancy, some dim and distant star is imploded which will quickly drag every ounce of meaning across it's event horizon.
C.S. Lewis imagined that Hell is a very confined space. In The Great Divorce, an inhabitant of Heaven explains the geography of Hell. "All Hell is smaller than one pebble of your earthly world: but it is smaller than one atom of this world, the Real World."
As small as it is, it continues to shrink; a very intuitive speculation, corresponding conversely with Hubble's Law. Listen to the visitor from Hell's objection and the citizen of Heaven's response
"It seems large enough when you are in it, sir."
"And yet all loneliness, angers, hatreds, envies, and itchings that it contains, if rolled into one single experience and put into the scale against the least moment of the joy that is felt by the least in Heaven, would have no weight that could be registered at all. Bad cannot succeed even in being bad as truly as good is good. If all Hell's miseries together entered the consciousness of yon wee yellow bird on the bough there, they would be swallowed up without trace, as if one drop of ink had been dropped into that Great Ocean to which your terrestrial Pacific is only a molecule'"
Consider then the horror of being trapped in oneself, in one's Hell, the fate of continuing to shrink, but never to cease.
That is the fear that I face, that love has not yet cast out.
Logically, if God does not exist, the fear of Hell should disappear along with it. And yet, the fear persists.
Cessation, I fear, is the greatest myth of them all.

"He had turned his eyes so as to see suddenly the great face of Sunday, which wore a strange smile. "Have you," he cried in a dreadful voice, "have you ever suffered?" As he gazed, the great face grew to an awful size, grew larger than the colossal mask of Memnon, which had made him scream as a child. It grew larger and larger, filling the whole sky; then everything went black. Only in the blackness it entirely destroyed his brain he seemed to hear a distant voice saying a commonplace text that he had heard somewhere, "Can ye drink of the cup that I drink of?"

Thursday, May 25, 2017

A Plain Account Of Myself

The Christian heroism (and perhaps it is rarely to be seen) is to venture wholly to be oneself, as an individual man, this definite individual man, alone before the face of God, alone in this tremendous exertion and this tremendous responsibility...

Soren Kierkegaard
Preface to Sickness Unto Death

A good part of my contemplative beard stroking has had to do with the objectivity of truth. In an age where the sides in moral disputes are often picked according to one's political affiliations and favorite decades, the lines drawn up hard based upon whether you prefer the 1950's (or any era prior to that) or the dizzying contemporaneity of the last second, it seems that so much of what we say we believe is either rooted merely in the discomfort with change or the impatience with inertia.
Conservatism being more often the champion of what is supposed to be Christian values (indeed, the two designations have become almost an inseperable demographical duo), it has leaned hard on the objectivity of truth; as have I.
It has been and is still important to me to have a fixed point of reference, without which one must wander with the predictable aimlessness of a snowflake in search of the ground on a very windy day.
With it, one may, probably will, still wander but at least knows it came from above and is headed for below.
I have often taken issue with American christian conservatism, partly for being intractable, nationalistic, xenophobic, authoritarian and partly for being too much like the moral relativists they claim to oppose, especially when justification is needed for a compromise.
But as it is presumed that I as a Christian must hold more in common with conservatism than liberalism, in the popularly slightly erroneous definition of the terms, I accept that presumption for a jumping off point.
There is such a thing as absolute truth that is objectively true. God, in fact, stands as the Absolute Objective Truth. God has many attributes, but all of them are shot completely through with a truth that ultimately cannot be adjusted, not to say that it will be completely attained. In fact, it won't, thus the scriptural apologetic His ways are past our finding out.
In hoisting the banner of objective truth, it may be supposed that I would find subjective truth to be the gospel of the Adversary. What is supposed, however, is not completely accurate.
I have referred to a fixed point of reference.
The importance of this monolith is found not only in the fact that it doesn't move, but also in the fact that due to its immobility, by it we know where we are. I may be on one side, you on the other, coloring our perception of course, but more importantly for my purposes here, casting each one of us in a unique relationship to it.
I have also referred to snowflakes. Quite apart from the current perjorative sense in which it's generally meant, I would like to take from this comparison the one-in-an-existence distinction that snowflakes enjoy.
Every last one is distinctive, bearing the signature of divine design.
As do we.
Bearing these distinctions in mind should make us appreciate the unique position in which every one of us stands in relation to the absolute.
There are several aphorisms that apply: Be your own man, Think for yourself, Don't be a follower.
My aim in life is this: To take all responsibility for myself upon myself.
No Christian would dispute that at the final Judgement, there will be no one to advocate for you before God, unless of course, you have chosen to be represented by Christ, which will entail holding nothing back from your Lawyer. In exchange for His representation, He asks that you stand in integrity before Him, so that He may plead your case unabashed to His Father.
You must give an account of yourself.
To do so, you must shoulder an enormous responsibility.
Think and believe for yourself, recognizing what a grave concern it is, while recognizing that not thinking and believing for yourself is a terminal mistake.
Here is where I begin to differ from conservatism. It's in the term itself. Taken literally, it is to "conserve" what is reckoned to be good and beneficial to​ society. The "good and the beneficial" is often, almost always, in fact, embedded in tradition, in creeds, and in the wisdom inherited from the previous generations.
But, the problem anyone faces when conserving is the problem of stagnation ​and rot. Wisdom can't really be inherited. Wisdom is subject to a 90+% inheritance tax. It does not transfer from parent to child. Customs, ideals and traditions are tax free and even times accrue interest.
Wisdom is manna from Heaven, and we all remember what happened when proactive Israelites tried to conserve leftovers.
There is also a sense in which conservation can contribute to the laziness and irresponsibility of consecutive generations. There is a good comparison to be drawn here between trust fund babies and second, third, fourth and so on generations of a movement. A loving parent will have to fight the temptation to cushion the life of the child. A loving parent knows that wisdom is self-activated. Telling your progeny to do this, and not do that, to avoid mistakes and heartache is as natural, and helpful as a passenger who knows where the destination is telling the driver what turns to make. It will get you there once, but if the driver has not driven it himself, looking for landmarks and orientating himself, he will likely never find it again.
Much has been said by more learned and familiar men than I about Rene Descartes, with some vanguards of Western Christianity even declaring that the delicate philosopher introduced a virus into that institution.
But there is a courage in what he did that I can't help but admire. He burned down the suppositional structure of epistemology and sifted through the ashes until he found the indestructible grain of existence.
A man must have belief, before all.
Belief in something precedes all logic, as a foundation underlies a structure.
That belief itself must be personally attained and attested.
How easy it would be, even under the most severe and technically legalistic system, to lay the responsibilities for oneself upon another. Slavery is a comfort to those who fear anxiety as the dizziness of freedom, to paraphrase Kierkegaard.
Freedom is euphoria only if a man chooses to be free. If a man is lazy, freedom is a burden far more ponderous than chains.
"Free thinking" has often been derided as irresponsible and gratuitous. It has been maligned as a way for a heretic or a fool to justify his heresy or his foolishness. And, it often is.
But truth shows her paradoxical colors here, as in all things worthwhile. "Free thinking" can be a way astray, but it is the ONLY way to the Truth.

Saturday, April 22, 2017


I'm going to make a suggestion to potential readers that I really hope you will take seriously. If you are a person who has a generally positive outlook on life, a person who doesn't have to try to find the good in things, a person who sees life as good with a few hiccups, I would suggest you not read this. There are a couple of reasons. The first is that you may entirely misunderstand me and begin regarding me as a malcontent. The second is that it will likely be a waste of time for you.  In suggesting that you pass on this one, I am not suggesting that you are wrong, or naive. In fact, it could be that you have life figured out while I'm still hopelessly befuddled. You can read this first sentence, and then see what I mean, and decide for yourself whether to continue.

"To think unimpeded and remain optimistic is not possible. Let a man face facts as they really are, and pessimism is the only logical conclusion."
"Once grief touches a man he is full of reaction, he says spiteful things because he is hurt, but in the end grief leads a man to the right point of view: that the basis of things is tragic."
Oswald Chambers

I offer this scenario. Someone, be it a KGB agent in a gulag, a confused kid in a high school in Columbine, or a run of the mill militant atheist, places a gun to my head and says "Renounce your faith in Jesus Christ or die now." I would not hesitate. If there were no reasoning with the threat, or possibility of disarming him, I would say "Absolutely not. If that is the way of things with no third choice, then kindly be swift and spatter brain matter on yon wall."
But suppose the threatener asks a second question, specifically "Why? Why do you choose to die instead of renounce your faith in Jesus Christ?"
I would answer, quite simply, "Because God sent his Son to die to save me from my sin and the penalty of it."
Supposing again, for the sake of my point, that the agent of death poses a third question. Perhaps he's genuinely curious, or perhaps he's a sadist, denying my pathetic request to do his deed quickly.
"Let me ask you this. You say you choose to die within the confines of the two choices I have given you because God sent his Son as an act of Mercy to save you from your sin and the penalty of it. I would ask you, as the holder of the gun, if you could lay aside (as Chambers and the author of Ecclesiastes did) that one event. That one cataclysm that you did not, in fact, witness for yourself, and only believe happened, I ask you to disregard as I ask this third question. I ask you, in your experience as a human, with the things that you have learned, the experiences you have had, the sights that you've seen, the unpleasantness you've suffered, the things you have seen those you love and the world at large go through, in this context alone, would you say that God is kind? Would you say that He is gentle? Would you say, as the Scriptures say, that He is tender?"
My answer would once again be quickly forthcoming "What are you, crazy? Of COURSE not. If I must base my answer on my experiential observational life, I tell you that God is less kind gentle and tender than  yourself with a loaded gun at my head."

(Optimist, if you're still reading, you were warned.)

After all, what have I observed? I was born causing great pain to my mother. My memories of childhood are depressed and lonely. I married a woman who underwent horrific childhood trauma and still suffers from it today. I have a chronic disease and a stressful means of paying my bills. But enough about me. Every day, children are abused, the weak are exploited and tortured, sickness and disease ravages millions, famine is rampant, demigods rain terror and death down from the skies and erupt it from the earth. Sickness of the mind tortures many, leading to lives of quiet desperation, loud desperation, and suicide.
"What is crooked cannot be straightened, and what is lacking cannot be counted....and in much wisdom there is much grief, and increasing knowledge results in increasing pain."

Chambers says that the root of things is tragic, the ecclesiastical preacher says that life itself is vanity.
More and more, the question becomes not why would I choose to die, but why would I choose to live?

As I grow older, there is an excerpt from a children's book that becomes sadder, more relevant, and paradoxically more hopeful.
Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy are shipped off to the English countryside to escape the incessant German bombing of London, while Mom stays behind in the danger zone and Dad fights in the War. In the expansive manor, there sits a wardrobe which temperamentally allows access to a magical world the inhabitants call Narnia. After some time in Narnia, the children are given to understand the way things stand. Narnia is under the control of an evil tyrant. But there are a faithful few who eagerly anticipate deliverance from a person named Aslan, who will depose the tyrant and restore the land. So far, so good. But then it is somewhat casually mentioned that "Aslan" is, in fact, a lion.
Susan voices an immediate concern that must be on all of their minds, with the possible exception of the childlike and credulous Lucy.
"Is he quite safe?"
The startled Beaver's response is the lifeblood of my middle aged faith.
If I may paraphrase, "Safe?! .....................Are you quite mad? What did I just say? I told you, He. Is. A. Lion! Of COURSE he isn't safe!!!!"
A lion is a man eating beast, a cunning hunter, a savage and mercurial killer.
What Beaver has just told them has terrifying implications.
Implications such as: this "Savior" could fasten his massive jaws around your throat and end your existence. He could tear you limb from limb and eat your flesh while you still breathe. He could toy with you endlessly, allowing bursts of false hope, only to dash them with his corralling roar.
More to the point, given the difference in perception between a human, a Narnian and this Lion, even his benevolence will likely be inscrutable. His offer of life will seem sadistic and controlling. His very nature will be to us savage, brutal, manipulative, narcissistic and unpredictable. His very helping paws have claws in them. His voice issues from between fangs.
So, at this point, I imagine Peter and Susan are thinking, "Yeah, no. The land is under siege by  a cruel dictator and you're telling us our only hope is a killing machine. We can just go back to the lamp post, walk through the wardrobe and be done with it. Oh, wait. England is about to be overrun by the enemy. Well, this is just bloody fantastic.
Lion or Hitler? Maybe we should just flip a coin!"
Of course, you know what Beaver says next.
His next sentence is quite possibly the most contradictory statement possible given his previous utterance of "He's a LION, course he isn't SAFE!"
But.................................. He's good."
He's good?!
Yes, He's good. To my finite understanding, He is beyond finding out. He is a cosmic sadist, a cold and distant ultimatum, an Entity that knows me intimately and yet allows cruel things to happen to me.
To my faith, He is goodness that is so beyond my comprehension of goodness, kindness that outstrips the kindest human I've ever known, gentleness and tenderness that would make the most awestruck, devoted mother a faithless, abusive caretaker.
Though He slay me, I will hope in Him.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Something I'm working on

Kenny had always wondered if he would wake up if someone broke into the house at night.
Or during the day.
He never considered the housebreaker might sit down at the edge of his bed and gently shake him awake.
His first thought was that he was sick and someone was here to help him. That was why he didn't reach for the Springfield XD 9 mm that hung on a nail above the nightstand.
He couldn't remember how, or if, his last trip had ended.
Was he in the hospital?
No. His blue acrylic throw with the huge horse was wound tightly around his hips and the familiar blue nightlight glowed from the bathroom.
His first impression of the man seated on the edge of his bed was of a caretaker with a bedside manner, perched lightly so as not to disturb the patient, perhaps to take a temperature, or administer medicine; very calm and reassuring. 
Kenny lay still, his eyes half open, waiting for the dream to end, or the memory to come back...
It started to seem odd that the man remained silent, his gaze narrow and expectant, his left hand on his left thigh, his right on his right hip.
Seconds passed, and clarity began to dissipate the confusion in Kenny's sleep numbed mind, but with the clarity came a different level of confusion, and with that confusing clarity came fear.
As the last bit of sleep paralysis faded from his mind like breath from glass, the alarm must have flashed in his gray eyes.
For before his triceps could even begin to tighten to lift himself to a less compromising position, the housebreaker shook his head slightly, just a barely perceptible twist: a warning.
But it was too late. Kenny's reflexes had reached his brain, and the recently awakened organ was not fast enough on the turnaround. He couldn't stop it any more than he could open his eyes while sneezing. The man moved. It didn't seem as if his movement was sufficient to cause the shocking impact in Kenny's throat, but Kenny's arms flailed to his throat. His mouth opened in a simultaneous attempt at gagging and screaming, but he could do neither.
He lay flat on his back again, mouth opening and closing. Finally, air rasped through his larynx in a shocking groan He retched, dry heaving, then bile filled his mouth. The convulsions brought no response from the housebreaker. Kenny rolled slowly to his side, and raw, burning bile dripped from his mouth. He gagged and spit again. He stayed on his side, his mind stumbling through a list of very limited options.
He rolled his eyes upward. The Springfield was gone. He was in no position to use his feet to kick. The blue horse blanket was tangled around his legs.
The man let him lay that way for some time.
Kenny finally rolled onto his back.
The man spoke.
"Kenny, you are about to die."
Kenny exploded into a useless flurry of arms and legs but stopped when he found the barrel of a revolver somehow inserted into his mouth.
As Kenny fought to control his instincts, the man removed the barrel and placed it firmly on his lip just under his nose.
He continued, "There is absolutely nothing you can do to prevent it. Every man dies, mot never see it coming. But you will. And it is a gift."
Tears fled from Kenny's eyes, sobs surged against clenched teeth.
"I'll give you a minute to accept it. Don't struggle or you wont know the exact instant. You won't be ready..."
Kenny lay still, his mind exploding in supernovas of desperate confusion. There was nothing rational to do, so his mind began to consider the irrational. The man shook his head. "Don't. Please. For your own sake"
Kenny's mouth opened, silent sobs escaping, shaking his body.
The man nodded. "That's it. Accept it. And I'll tell you why."
He slowly reached in to his left pocket and withdrew a pocket watch. Opening it, he laid it on the night stand, with the clock face facing them.
"Look at the watch."
Kenny looked. It was a simple brass case with a Roman numeral dial There was an inscription on the upper side. # 35 33 34.
Then, the man reached into his shirt pocket and took out a curling wallet size photo. With a slightly tremulous hand, he held it inches from Kenny's face.
Recognition was instantaneous, and Kenny was fighting for his life again. His left arm lashed out and was blocked but he used the opposing force to shove himself to the other side of the bed, rolling off the side, and scrambling to his feet, fighting loose of the blanket. He crashed into the bathroom doorjamb, Legs churning, he pulled himself upright and lunged toward the doorway that led out into the living area, but the bed slammed into his shins, pinning him against the wall next to the closet.
The man stared across the bed, the revolver held low but steady in his right, the photo still in his left. He shook it slightly, urging Kenny to look at it again.
"You are about to die, Kenny. There is absolutely nothing you can do to change that. I just want to give you a chance to die the right way. When you're ready. Are you going to accept it, or do I just shoot you now?:
The look in the man's eyes was surreal. Concern was evident, even poignant. It was as if he simply had no choice, and was being as considerate as possible.
Kenny said nothing, and didn't move.
The man laid the photo face up on the bed between them. With the gun still held steady, he bent and retrieved the watch where it had landed on the floor. He laid it beside the photo.
"When the second hand reaches 12, you'll have exactly 5 minutes. During that 5 minutes, I want you to think about what is going to be happening when that second hand is on the other side of 12 after the five minutes is up."
Kenny stared, uncomprehending.
"Don't say anything. Don't talk. It will distract you from your thinking. Think about whether you believe in life after death. You have five minutes, starting............now."
Kenny spent the first 30 seconds still considering a method of escape. Once again, the man seemed possessed of a preternatural knowledge of his thoughts.
"I'm telling you, Kenny, that you will die. Any attempt to escape will only cut your life shorter."
Kenny began to sob again. The man fell silent.
Thoughts of hellfire as long rejected as thoughts of hearing the ocean roar in a seashell, he frantically tried to focus on. It hadn't seemed likely for such a long time, but.....now, he was being forced to consider a practical impossibility. Could there exist the smallest chance that seconds after the bullet crashed into his brain, he would still exist, that his mind, his........soul, yes, soul would still be alive, would be.....somewhere.
Kenny was not a proud man, not even stubborn really, and he began to accept the idea quickly. But then, he wondered frantically, would he just be dead if he refused to accept the enormous possibility? If he accepted it, there might be a reward, but if he refused, mightn't he just be dead? Cease to exist?
You could live forever, but you could only die once. If there were hellfire, wouldn't he just be burned alive and then be dead?
Now he looked at the clock. Three minutes had passed.
This wasn't fair. No one could answer the biggest question of their lives in five minutes with a gun pointed at their head.
The man spoke again, softly. "If you're right, then you will simply die and never feel anything again. But, if you're wrong......"
The new wrinkle threw a fevered desperation into Kenny's tortured mind. Only seconds longer did his wagering continue, before he threw over any idea that did not encourage him to play it as safe as possible. He began to beg, aloud, for his soul's destiny. Swearing, sweating, shaking, sobbing, he promised the Man Upstairs that he wassins, his freaking sins, his, anything he did that God didn't like, and that if he were to live, he would never do anything again that God didn't like. He would pray all the time and read the Bible through and go to church and- "OH GOD I SWEAR IT!!! I SWEAR ON THE BIBLE, ON MY MAMA'S GRAVE, ON MY LIFE, I SWEAR!!

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Letter From Kappus

If you've read Rilke's famous letters to Kappus, a year or so ago, my cousin Blake Hunt messaged me and suggested a writing exercise for both of us: a hypothetical letter FROM Kappus to Rilke, in particular the letter preceding Rilke's most well known sixth letter to Kappus.
The first letter you'll read is Rilke's actual sixth letter and then you'll read what I imagine prompted Rilke to write his stunning sixth letter.

"To Franz Xaver Kappus
Rome, December 23, 1903 

My dear Mr. Kappus, 
you should not be without a greeting from me when Christmas and if you, in the midst of the feast, your loneliness heavier wear than usual. But if you then realize that it is big, so you can look at its ; For what (so you ask yourself) would be a solitude that would not be great; there is only a solitude, and which is large and is not easy to wear, and there are almost all the hours because it would like to exchange it for any more banal and cheap commonality against the appearance of a low compliance with the second best, With the most unworthy... But perhaps these are just the hours when loneliness grows; For their growth is painful as the growth of the boys, and sad as the beginning of spring. But that must not make you mad. What is necessary is only this: solitude, great inner solitude. Walking in and not meeting anyone for a long time - that must be achieved. Being lonely as a child was lonely as the grownups wandered around with things that seemed important and great because the big ones looked so busy and because they did not understand anything about their actions. 
And if one day one realizes that their occupations are pathetic, their occupations are frozen, and are no longer connected with life, then why not look more like a child than upon a foreigner, out of the depths of their own world, Own loneliness, which is work itself and rank and profession? Why would a child want to exchange wise, non-understanding, against defenses and contempt, since non-understanding is aloneness, defense and contempt, but participation in what one wants to divorce with these means. 
Think, dear Lord, of the world that you carry within yourself, and call this thinking as you please; It may be a reminder of one's own childhood or longing for one's own future, but be attentive to what is rising in you, and set it above all that you observe. Your inner life is worthy of all your love, you have to work somehow and not lose too much time and too much courage to clarify your attitude to the people. Who says you have one at all? 
I know your profession is hard and full of contradiction to you, and I foresaw your complaint and knew that it would come. Now it has come, I can not soothe you, I can only advise you to survive, if not all professions are so full of claims, full of enmity towards the individual, so to speak, with the hatred of those who are dumb and grumpy The sober duty. The state in which you must now live is no more burdened with conventions, prejudices, and errors than all the other classes, and if there are some who show greater freedom, there is no one who is far in himself And spacious and related to the great things that make up real life. Only the individual who is lonely is placed as a thing under the deep laws, and when one goes out into the morning that raises, or looks out into the evening, which is full event, and when he feels what is happening, So all the standings fall from him, as from a dead man, even though he stands in the midst of pure life. What you, dear Mr. Kappus, should now learn as an officer, you would have felt the same in each of the existing occupations, and even if you had been looking for easy and independent contact with society alone, Have been spared. 
It is so everywhere; But that is no reason for fear or sadness; If there is no common ground between people and you, try to be close to the things you will not leave; Nor are there the nights, nor the winds that go through the trees, and over many lands; Nor among the things and among the beasts are all the events of which you are allowed to participate; And the children are still as you were as a child, so sad and happy, -and if you think of your childhood, then live again among them, among the solitary children, and the adults are nothing, and have their dignity No value."

My imaginary letter from Kappus

The book was returned to me, in a state that suggests it was serving as a riser for some large, animated child clad in exceedingly coarse cloth. As to your sentiments regarding the Italian mail service, I can testify to a similar level of Austrian inefficiency. In Verne's wildest conjuring, might not he have created a method of correspondence that did not rely upon disinterested mortals.
This new station of mine makes a mockery of the romance of the soldier. The idea that there can be anything poetic about the life of a soldier is either proof of the skill of certain writers and bards or of the willingness of so many readers and hearers to be so misled. The routine is destructive to the very ambition that led me to seek out this particular vocation in hopes it would be favorable to finding myself while it attended my material needs. The shock of the unfamiliarity that was at first so invigorating has dulled now that I discover how quickly everything becomes contemptuously familiar. I have at least though realized some success in my quest to quiet my mind. But I am finding even that quietness discomforting.

For I am finding the solitude you value so highly a burden. I realized sometime last week that I was thinking of solitude as an end in itself, despite my best intentions. It's very difficult not to romanticize solitude, in the brooding light of the lonely surface of the deep before the Spirit of God began to trouble it. And perhaps that is more appropriate than I realize. For I am finding solitude anything but an end. It is instead the most restless place I've ever been, a void very like the one which languished for untold eons before God Himself, in all His arbitrariness, chose to disturb the hateful placidity at a time of His own inscrutable choosing. I can recognize the value of this existence only as a forge, the minutes falling like the hammer, sleep as the cooling sand pit.Although I see nothing taking shape, (indeed, my mind feels like less of a useful tool all the time, my soul seems at times to be molten) and my faith in your faith and even my doleful conviction that hardship must be useful, if only as a foil for ease, is being beaten out, day after day, with no sign of being re-forged. I fear this lonely crucible of time will find out in me a worthless piece of ore, a slab of slag with a fatal flaw, and that I shall be cast aside or at last beaten into nothing, a final shower of sparks that flies up and fades down and leaves the smith with empty tongs.

This disappointment is all the more bitter, as I have always intuited that if I could escape once more to the starkness of childhood, where everything fell easily into it's category, where even exceptions reinforced the rule. I accepted things with an assurance I am sickened to now suspect as mere complete credulity-the emptiness that gnaws like acute hunger at the realization that home was an illusion .God was more than just a given. I swear that he spoke to my child's mind. I swear it by all that I know to be true. But I have lost him. I have lost him to a confusing melee of facts. I know that if God exists, he cannot be the simple God Always On My Side that I felt as a child. That God has too much against him, too many inconsistencies blindingly obvious to the powers of observation that he ostensibly gave me, and he is far too weak to stand to be crucified by the logic with which he constructed my mind. Is memory so false, or do humans simply cease one mode of existence before passing into another. (Does a larvae really die instead of transforming?)

I can tell you that not a single foundational stone of my childhood is unmoved. Nothing is the same. I have sought that singleness of purpose, even trying to forget myself. I know that I am an exceptionally self aware person, and have no reason to doubt the charitable when they say that the key to happiness is self forgot. I have tried to believe that the increasing awareness of the world around me and my exact relation to everyone in it was, in reality, itself an illusion. That manhood had brought a sort of fever to my soul, clouding vision and populating the world with things that weren't really there.

But in the dark silence, the solitude is only loneliness. The spectres of doubt refuse to dissolve, and I am accompanied, always, by what I hope is fear of the darkness but dread is nothing.