Duplicity

So, I’ve started writing a novel . . .

How I Killed Nietzsche & Became the New Übermensch

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The congregation raved about his eloquent homilies, his intellect, his moral fortitude, his perfect family . . . I remember their words as if it were yesterday:  “Just look at how well he manages his household. His children are so perfectly behaved!”

“Oh what a blessing it must be to have a minister for a father!”

“That man is a prophet.  You hear me boy?  A genuine prophet!”

How pathetic and blind they were.  They couldn’t see through his disguise, they couldn’t feel the truth as I did when he went into a rage.  My father, the great prophet . . . the great lie.  Let me tell you about his righteousness.

At church he could maintain the facade, he could preach about the judgement and fire of a holy God, he could pat the children on their heads and smile, he could quote you an encouraging scripture, he could…

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The Pain, Embarrassment, and Bitterness of the Past

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I started this blog in 2008–back when I was a young, arrogant, over-zealous, Evangelical Fundamentalist.  A far cry from the slightly older, arrogant, over-zealous, Catholic I am today.

When I survey my early writings, I feel a pain in my stomach, a sense of embarrassment, and, even a touch of bitterness.  How could I have been so naive; so careless; so proud; so callous?  As I read through the old diatribes–with all their passion and bravado–I am tempted to delete them all; to erase my past completely; to start anew.  But something holds me back.

I remember the words allegedly spoken by Abraham Lincoln in response to an artist who attempted to disguise his imperfections: “Paint my picture, warts and all.”

There is a real temptation to disguise our imperfections and failures; to hide the mistakes from our past; to live a non-authentic life.  But, at its core, this temptation to maintain an air of perfection and respectability is a manifestation of pride.  We don’t want people to realize we’re fallible, that we make mistakes, and that we often make bad decisions because we don’t want people to realize what we truly are: temporary, limited, finite, dust.

Pride is, as the Church Father’s often said, a pernicious form of self-love and stands as the root of all sin.  It cares nothing for others and, therefore, builds itself on an illusion.  The illusion that what matters most in life is our own subjective experience, our individuality.  This illusion, however, is a foundation of sand that will crumble upon the high tide.  As a wise man once said, “all come from dust, and to dust all return” (Eccl. 3:20).

For we are not mere individuals but, in virtue of our person-hood (i.e., our very existence as distinct beings), stand in a reciprocal relation to the external world; and especially to other rational agencies.  Therefore, how we treat others, how we relate to the world around us, truly matters.  We are a community of beings–not isolated free-floating substances.  To live in harmony means we must truly care about the other; our self-love, thus, must be transformed to self-giving.  This is to live an authentic life; to be a person and not a mere individual.

This is why the Bible never hides the imperfections, embarrassments, and utter failures of its protagonists.  They are presented authentically, warts and all, so that we might learn the futility of living a life built upon self-love.

I have, thus, concluded not to delete the blog post’s of my past.  Should someone ever care to read them (and I feel deep sympathy for anyone who does) they will learn that I am a man with deep imperfections; a man often given to self-love.  They might also learn, I pray, that I am a man who desires to change; to grow in my love  and live a life directed towards others.  I, like Honest Abe, desire to be authentic.

So, here stands my blog, warts and all.

An Ecclesiastical Experience . . .

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As most of you already know, my family and I recently joined the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church!  I come from a devout Protestant family: my father has been a pastor for over thirty years, my sister is a missionary in Southeast Asia, and I, too, pastored for several years.  As you can imagine, our decision to join the Church was not easy.  Our journey was filled with years of angst, hours upon hours of discussion and introspection, mountains of books, and, intensive prayer.  While all of these activities played a role in our conversion it was our first hand experience of the Church that had the most lasting impact on us.  The great Russian philosopher Pavel Florensky once said, “Only by relying on immediate experience can one survey the spiritual treasures of the Church and come to see their value.”  This was certainly true in our case.

I still remember the first night my wife Rosie and I secretly attended vespers at an Eastern church near my parents house.  Up to that point, we had only rationalized about “the Church.”  We had loads of objective information, from piles of books,  rattling around our heads–but no subjective experience.  We were like blind beggars crying out on the side of the road–our first encounter with eastern liturgy was like the miracle of experiencing sight for the first time.

One day I will share the whole story with you; until then, please enjoy these beautiful photos.  Perhaps they will give you a taste of the beauty and richness of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church; perhaps they will stir your soul and fill you with an intense desire to experience ecclesiality for yourself . . .

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Lost, Lonely, Confused, and Loving It: A Condemnation of Western Society’s Indifference

What Gives Life Meaning?

We are, all of us, searching for water in a dry and desolate land; stumbling in the dark; groping for something stable to support us and give us direction . . . and that’s the way we like it.   Deep down, hidden beneath a host of questions and doubts, we realize we are lost and don’t want to be found.  We are hedonist’s at heart, and lazy ones to boot: we’d much rather watch pornography than discover Truth.  We are too selfish and controlling to even want Truth; because Truth is outside of our direct control.  Truth is not something we can create, or tame, or manipulate; it’s too restrictive and limiting and, thus, untenable.  It works against our inner narcissist.  Hence, we rest, quite contently – with only the slightest and most obligatory hint of angst – in the void of cynicism and doubt.

Sure, we pay lip service to the notion of Truth . . . but do we really desire it?  Years ago I met with a group of teenagers who fancied themselves Atheists and Agnostics.  I led discussions on a variety of philosophical and theological problems at a local coffee shop.  I remember asking one of the students, who attended regularly, what she thought the goal of our discussions was?  Her response was revealing:  “well . . . mainly to have fun, you know, talking about different ideas.”  Like so many in our culture, she wasn’t thirsty for knowledge; she was indifferent; she just wanted to have fun.  As many of religion’s “cultured despisers” did in the time of St. Gregory of Nazianzus:

“Who should listen to discussions of theology?  Those for whom it is a serious undertaking, not just another subject like any other for entertaining small-talk, after the races, the theater, songs, food, and sex:  for there are people who count chatter on theology and clever deployment of arguments as one of their amusements.”

The majority of young people I talk to have this attitude.  They are like the Athenians who, “spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing” (Acts 17: 21).  Discussions about God, morality, meaning, or value are just “small-talk” – an amusing pastime, like baseball.  There’s no substance to their questions and no deep desire to find answers.  More often than not, their “intellectual” struggles – which prevent them from accepting objective truth – are merely a facade maintained to justify elicit sex and drug use.  For others, the questions are asked in an effort to appear sophisticated or edgy.  Very few young people thirst for knowledge and actually want to find an answer to the question of value.

Put bluntly, our culture has lost its desire for meaning and replaced it with an insatiable lust for “reality” TV and Starbucks Frappuccino’s.  This is why the New Atheists will acknowledge the universe is utterly meaningless, that life has no intrinsic value, and that morality is rooted in the blind, ruthless, unintentional, irrational, laws of evolution (which is really just another way of saying, there is no morality) . . . and then shrug.  “Well, I like my life” they say; or, “life has meaning when we give it meaning.”  And what, precisely, is the meaning we ascribe to life?  Ultimately, in the West (and especially in the United States), life’s meaning can generally be classified in one of the the following three categories: (1) our elation over the new Star Wars film directed by J. J Abrams, (2) our intense love for shopping, and (3) our constant and unbridled desire for orgasm.  This is why we look at people in third world countries and wonder, “how can they stand to live that way?”  It is also the reason we can’t understand why the majority of people in third world countries have a deep faith in God and a firm belief in the supernatural.

It’s only in the face of tragedy that we Westerners are forced out of our drunken stupor . . . and, even then, only for a little while.  In the face of intense evil and hardship the reality of our fate often begins to sink in; the reality that we are weak, fragile, finite, temporary, shifting shadows.  In the midst of pain and suffering we are reminded of the absurdity and futility of our existence.  When we realize that our fate is no different than that of the irrational beast or the unconscious rock, we then start to consider the question of meaning more seriously.  When our dignity has been violated and we are standing on the edge of a cliff, we then find ourselves asking the same haunting question that William Shakespeare posed in one of his most famous monologues:

“To be, or not to be — that is the question: whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune / Or to take arms against a sea of troubles / And by opposing end them / To die, to sleep no more, and by a sleep to say we end the heartache, and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.”

To exist or not to exist?  Have you actually considered this question?  Have you ever taken time to meditate on how utterly futile human existence is?  Or is Albert Camus just cool, hip and trendy?  Is it just fun to quote Nietzsche, to feel intellectual, and have a good laugh–or have you actually absorbed the implications of Nietzsche’s thought?  Have you, not just thought it, but felt it in your heart and soul?  It’s easy to shrug off the purposelessness of reality when you’re busy trying to look and sound cool . . . and trying to get laid.  It’s not so easy when your dignity and value has been utterly trampled on and life seems hopeless and unbearable.

Everything you think gives your life meaning becomes mere dust blowing in the wind when you have been violated or when life hangs in the balance.  Your cars, your computers, your video games, your films, your music, your beer, your pornography, your books, your drugs, your sexuality, your pets, your wealth, your sports, your technology, your scientific advancements, your successes, all fade into nothing when you are the girl who has been raped or you are the child sold into sex slavery, or you are the one lying in the hospital bed dying of cancer, or starving to death while living in a trash heap.  Suddenly, words like meaning, purpose, value, and eternity take on new life.  Suddenly trite answers like, “you give your life meaning” feel stupid and hopeless.  Especially when you understand that, if the nihilists are correct, there is no meaning, purpose, value, or eternity for the individual.

You’ll only want Truth when you realize that all of the things you think give your life meaning have no meaning at all apart from Him.  When you internalize the fact that we are completely helpless – slaves – in a world that is, at rock bottom, irrational, uncaring, and unintentional, you’ll finally be in a position to hunger and thirst for the Truth.  In that moment you will understand why Truth says,“I am the bread of life.  He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst” (John 6:35).