Thursday, April 26, 2007

Visionary dreaming

God hates visionary dreaming.

- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, "Life Together"

And nearly everyone who hears me quote this statement hates it!

Aren't we supposed to have "vision?" Well, not of our own hearts (Jeremiah 23:16). And God-given vision - what God makes us see - is mostly where we actually are, and precisely how it isn't where we belong (1 John 1:5-10). Our pride wants to be fed, and visionary dreaming feeds it. God wants to starve and kill our pride, and hard truth does that. Why so? Because pride before stumbling, and a haughty spirit before a fall, but before honor is humility, and God wants to steer us away from stimbling and falling and into a place of honor. So why fight him on this?

Bonhoeffer learned that visionary dreaming makes life together impossible, because we love our visions and dreams at the expense of one another, and at the expense of God's vision, which is the truth we need to know about ourselves. And because eye has not seen, ear has not heard, and it has not entered into the heart of man what God has prepared for us, our visions and dreams blind us to the truly good things God does have for us.

What really was wrong with the false prophets in Jeremiah's day was not that they got things wrong. What they got wrong is that they loved their own dreams rather than the living God. To pleasure themselves with their own big ideas seemed better to them than feeding on the truth. Being deceived was just the consequence of their choosing sweet lies over truth. They didn't receive the love of the truth because they didn't know that the sweetest lies are bitter in the end, and the hardest truth gives delight and comfort that those who reject truth will never know.

Visionary dreaming is what we do to hide from the knowledge of the weakness and blindness we despise in ourselves. It's how Laodiceans convince themselves that we are rich and in need of nothing because of the wonderful things we see, the way we keep from realizing that we are poor, blind, naked, and wretched so that God can enrich us, open our eyes, clothe us, and dignify us.

God hates visionary dreaming, but he loves truth in the inward parts (Psalm 51:6). It will do us good to come to feel that way too.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Seeing straight from the bottom up

We have for once learned to see the great events of world history from below, from the perspective of the outcast, the suspects, the maltreated, the powerless, the oppressed, the reviled, in short, from the perspective of those who suffer. Mere waiting and looking on is not Christian behavior. Christians are called to compassion and action.

- Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Would that this "we" included us! Well, where did Bonhoeffer and his companions learn this? Certainly from Jesus, who declared in Matthew 25 that he comes to us in the naked, the hungry, the thirsty, the imprisoned. If we don't see him there, hear him there, serve him there, we miss him altogether. And in that case, we will not see things as they are. This is our window to reality.

If the Bible is right, the top-down view must be wrong, the view of those who know in the world, because they look from on high, and not from below, as Jesus does. No wonder it's hard for a rich man to get into the kingdom of heaven. He can't even see it, because he looks at everything from the wrong vantage point.

George Orwell made the same point in Down and Out in Paris and London. It's from the bottom up that you know a city, how it really works. As Abraham Heschel said in The Prophets, the people of this world see Ahab's ivory palace and see beauty; the prophets see oppression and iniquity. You see what things in the world truly are when you look up from below, just as you see some important things about the car which the seller may not remember to tell you when you crawl underneath and look up.

So with all the other problems when we want the place of honor and the praise of men, grabbing the place of honor sentences us to stupidity and hallucination. Let's take the Bible's advice to seek the Lord where he may be found, the place of worldly dishonor, where the world always consigns truth - God the outcast, with all the other outcasts (Hebrews 13:10-15).


Thursday, April 19, 2007

Conversation on Virginia Tech massacre

A conversation with my company's HR rep puts this event in perspective:

Announcement from company EAP, company HR rep, and me.

Good Afternoon,
In light of the recent shootings at Virginia Tech, United Behavioral Health has posted a Special Alert on the website that links to articles and resources that can help members and their families cope with trauma resulting from this and similar types of violence. Also, the Stress and Anxiety center which is one of the Life Stages Help Center on the homepage has additional articles, links to interactive programs on liveandworkwell as well as other outside resources and websites.

In view of how much more destructive to us it is to do wrong than to suffer wrong, and considering that we as a people are paying $2 billion a week to inflict several of these incidents every single day on the people of Iraq, I don’t even understand the narcissism that makes this one incident such a big deal while the other hundreds of thousands of corpses don’t even matter.

I guess I’ve had lots of practice learning to “cope” these past 4 years!

Hi Peter,

Thanks for your feedback.

I noticed your comment at the end of your email, and was wondering if there was anything I or the EAP could do to assist you. Since I will be in the office today and tomorrow, please let me know if you would like to meet with me to discuss.

Thanks for the offer, but I think that to be pained by the callousness approved of all around me is health. I’m reminded of those German women the Israeli journalist Amira Hass tells of who impassively watched like cows, and unpained, as her parents were being led away to Bergen-Belsen. I find it better to feel much pain every day than to be like that. Others choose otherwise, and to paraphrase Robert Frost, that makes all the difference.

I am reminded by this latest incident that when you don’t hide from the pain of others as Americans do from what they do to others around the world, that refusal to be callous makes the pains inflicted on us hurt less. Put another way, protecting ourselves from psychic pain by hiding from the pains of others – especially those we have a hand in inflicting - makes us suffer far more when something touches our own skins. I don’t see too many around me that have even begun to consider this truth, and I don’t expect much help from anyone who has not begun to do so. The credentials some look for are degrees in psychology and such like. The credentials I look for in those who would help me are evidences of such wisdom.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Bonhoeffer on self-denial, service, and identity

Back to our regular programming, at least for the moment.

The church is the church only when it exists for others. The church must share in the secular problems of ordinary human life, not by dominating but by helping and serving.

- Dietrich Bonhoeffer

This statement has nothing to do with "unselfishness" - that abominable word never mentioned in the Bible, and with good reason. Bonhoeffer is just truly reporting the requirements for life, just as biological life requires certain items like air, food, and water. The alternative to this life of service is futility and death. Our identity is to live this way; otherwise we perish. Like Jesus, we do the will of God because to do so is our food, and for no other reason, or we won't do it at all.

None of this has anything to do with being nice, virtuous, or superior in any way. That's not the business of the Christian life. Our aim is simply to have life, which is found in the will of God alone.

Like anything else, we can counterfeit this. In one place Paul writes that he has made himself the slave of all, but elsewhere he says that if he were the servant of men, he would not be the servant of Christ.

Was he contradicting himself? We need to think about this. Abused people often learn to make nice on everyone and let themselves be walked on as a means of survival, but this is not service to God but the alternative. Thus, to paraphrase Paul in 2 Corinthians 7, the service of the world is death.

The service God calls us to is to do, like Jesus, what we see our Father doing. We have to see God serving people, and the first one we need to see being served is ourselves. If God does not serve us, we have no part in him, as Jesus tells us in John 13, and so we will be unable to serve anyone else in truth. The service we attempt in that case will always be tainted with slavery, sucking up, manipulation, spiritual pride, or some noxious mixture of these. If we don't learn to let God be our servant, we die and become a fountain of death to others.

Jesus comes to us as one who serves, and in him we see the Father, the Servant of all. As we permit him to wash us, we can become servants as his imitators, participating in his life, and with rivers of living water coming from our bellies like the temple in Ezekiel 47.

This afternoon, I felt the urgent necessity of going up to see my friends. On the way, I found a kid whose car had died in the middle of the main drag. I had to give him the bad news that it was probably his fuel pump and that he would have to have it towed away, but I did get to help him push it into a parking lot while he waited for his brother so he wouldn't get hit or at least have a conversation with the Chino cops. That turned out to be the whole purpose of my trip. God wanted to take care of this kid, even though he will probably never know that it was the unseen God, not really me, that served him. We need to become like that. It's a great life - living with God instead of chasing the empty praise of men - and the only alternative to defiance, rebellion, sucking up, flaunting our virtue, and all sorts of other painful futility.


Monday, April 09, 2007

Jewish Voice for Peace convention, April 28-29

It's in Oakland, starting Saturday evening April 28th and all day Sunday the 29th. I signed up and I expect to be there. for details, the online brochure, and to pay your money. Ah yes, that's one of the details.

This is a plug.

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Saturday, April 07, 2007

Attwood, lawyer

Well, this isn't as funny as my movie career.

One of my sons was certified as imminently suicidal, which he wasn't, because he was depressed and on homeschooling by the district, and he still wasn't doing his schoolwork, so they wanted him drugged. They didn't like his refusal and mine to go there. They got San Bernardino County DCFS to check him out, and DCFS found nothing there and closed the case. Eventually, they pretended on March 27th to be doing a psychological evaluation but really had decided ahead of time to certify him as imminently suicidal - whatever the case may be, which he wasn't - so that they could slam him into a mental hospital for three days as a 5150, even though he had not been suicidal since back in February due to being unable to handle school pressure. From this experience we were to learn our place and be subdued to their will, ours and that of his psychologist be damned, whom they never consulted.

Since we are still negotiating my claim for injuries with the district, and how to work out all of that, and will in due time be speaking with the hospital and attending psychiatrist about malpractice and false imprisonment, this is not the moment to say a great deal more in this place. I have learned that the district office is not happy with the actions of their servants, and they are working with us so that we can devise a plan that will work for my son. I don't think we'll have to come to blows with the district in a courtroom.

But I have been a very busy boy, definitely playing lawyer, and that explains my long absence. I will write further about lessons learned later on, but for some of that we'll have to wait until everything is settled.

We did receive notice on the 27th, the day they dragged my son away, that the Administrative Law Judge ruled in our favor in the case in which I was Authorized Representative on the 14th. Los Angeles County DCFS will have to cough up the money they did my friends out of by intentionally delaying the house inspection to cause them to lose their Yoakum money.