Friday, February 15, 2008

Cheerios in the Knees


Unbridled freedom is really only suited to a dreamworld. It may be something that a child wants, but restraint of some sort is always applied to truly human behavior. That is to be expected, even welcomed. For it is precisely the application of restraint or limitation which makes us human (“a little lower than the angels, and crowned with glory and honor”). Limitations are the means by which we are humanized. Otherwise we are in danger of growing into pint-sized primitive gods (i.e., tyrants) — that is the great fear of Genesis One.

Limitation and self-awareness are the two things the human couple must acquire before leaving the idyllic life in the Garden at Eden. These are essential to their effective life as part of the earth. Without limitation and awareness they will be like unformed gods — loose cannons with no effective constitutional restraints.

As long as the G_d doesn't care about anything beyond himself, he doesn't have to adapt. But as soon as she wants relationship, she has to learn how to do it. Awareness and acceptance of limitation is the means.

One of the many biblical storylines misrepresented by the orthodox is this great one about how the God-Who-Seeks-Us learns to accept the limitations which are essential to relationship. The same limitations which apply to human life, the G_d accepts for himself because she too wants relationship. The G_d’s Sacrifice is the same as that required of Adam and Eve and Jesus of Nazareth.

Limitation is not the end of joyful human life; it is not something to be discarded or bemoaned. It is the essential means by which we grow and develop. There are no exceptions to this rule — it applies even to the G_d because it is a reflection of the G_d's own nature (i.e., the Way Things Are). Limitation doesn't just come from the outside; it moves out from within. (“I will write my Law in their hearts.”)

That is what makes Yahweh a great god and worthy of worship. He is not Perfect, and does not claim to be. He is in fact by nature opposed to the abstraction embedded in the notion of Perfection. He is Real, instead. Her name is “I AM”, not John Calvin or Tom Delay. I don’t know exactly how this works out in practice, but it seems to me that the essential business of religious people lies in trying to figure it out. A religion which constantly rejects the lessons of experience is always missing the point regardless of how brilliant it may be.

So, I am going to start from this possibility — creative life arises out of noting , accepting, and using limits. Growing-up is learning how to deal with them. Pushing limits is heroic and admirable, but so is learning how to live within the edges.


The edges may be moving, changing — just like the rest of life. Expecting to find even a limitation the same today as it was yesterday is preposterous. That is why Laws and Creeds don’t work in the long run — they just can’t keep up with change. A religion of Absolutes is doomed in application. What is the point in maintaining a belief system which in order to withstand the test of use requires a falsified view of reality?

Our science teaches us a few things about living with uncertainty — it’s a lot easier once you give up the illusion of Absolute Truth. There is really nothing to be said about Transcendent Being for it is by definition outside the knowable world –– such life is present only in a place like the Garden or Heaven down by the river. If we go there, we are dead.

Yahweh does not wish to stay in the Garden. He won’t stay dead. That is why he is known as Immanuel —“G_d with us”. While pushing the couple out of the Garden results in travail for them, it is not in fact a punishment if you believe that life in this world is something worth having. Calling the Expulsion from the Garden punishment is to take the child’s point of view as definitive. Their trauma in the World is only a mirror of the G_d’s own experience of living; it’s not something special to humans.

Yahweh may be a sky god, but our earth is, of course, part of the sky universe. Separating Sky from Earth is a false distinction in the 21st century. A revisioning of the G_d in our life story will require special attention to this, I think. The old Earth based religions of Europe could not withstand the power of the Christian Sky-god religion and there is no point in trying to go back to a failed vision. What we need is a vision of the G_d which corresponds to the world we experience, and an interpretation of this known world that reflects our growing understanding of the G_d. In our world sky and earth are one; neither is more or less natural than the other. What would a transcendent experience be in an all natural universe?

The G_d changes and lives in a changing world. Such a god also embraces limits (“I have come to put an ax to the tree.”), because it is limits which make possible a perceivable world, and, so, a world about which it is possible to reflect and communicate.

Word & Image

Yahweh is the god of word and image. They are the means by which he describes and experiences. He uses both in his efforts to create, deal with his need for change, and explore the edges of his current limits. Language is his means of connecting, ordering, and extending relationships. (In the overpowering experience of the G_d’s Spirit at Pentecost everyone understands everyone else’s language.)

His connection with the creative word is established immediately in Genesis One. John’s Gospel story treats him from the point of view of Greek ‘Word’ images. The G_d uses the written word in his first Commandments and it is by means of the word that he stays connected to his creatures in and out of the Garden.

He uses breath (the means by which his word is delivered) to bring his clay male/female figures to life in the second Genesis creation story.

Both word and image are connected, then, by this breathing which is called the Spirit of God. The Spirit must, then, be a rhythm (among other things). The rhythm of life is the breathing of G_d.

In today’s music world rhythm-based music is proclaimed by traditionalists to be distinctly different from melody-based music. This is the false result of peculiar either/or thinking. Poetry is rhythm based melody. Suppose G_d breaths to a rock-and-roll beat as well as to the drone of Gregorian chant?

It definitely muddies the water when you start using this both/and way of combining ideas and experiences. But isn’t that the way we really experience things in this century? It is a gift to be simple in the midst of complexity, and, it seems to me, that a proper understanding of the G_d will reflect that gift. We are looking for the ‘elegant solution’. And we are seeking it, not by ruling out things, but by drawing them in.

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