Disembodied Knowledge

What follows is a first draft section of my upcoming book: “Truth & Knowledge: A New Biblical Paradigm for Christian Education.” This header will be removed as the draft is finalized. Feedback is welcome – leave a comment!

The problem of Being described in the previous section only emerged as philosophy turned inward upon itself seeking to discover its own truth rather than to discover something outside of itself. In doing this, it lost its power to point the individual toward a better way of being, and confused the individual with endless questions about whether there was even such a question. This emphasis took at least one intermediary step between the Greek philosophers, who sought out how to live lives of virtue and those enlightenment philosophers who gave up on the quest altogether. This intermediary step was probably the end result that Socrates feared would happen if ideas were captured in books instead of people. Truth became a disembodied concept that could be poured from the mouth using words that belonged to another into the listening ear of anyone who could be attracted to its sound. Similar to the sophists who began to use rhetoric for the sake of rhetoric and fame, the philosophers (known for their love of wisdom), began to use philosophy for the sake of philosophy rather than for the sake of truth. It was possible to demonstrate a way of life that completely contradicted the creed one claimed to hold sacred.

The Medieval Church bears much blame for the walking contradiction that it became in the dark ages of history, but this is due less to an inaccurate collection of truth, than to an acceptance of its disembodiment. To chop off the head of someone who disagrees with your opinion about the nature of God is to prove knowledge of something other than the nature of God. Words and religious practice are meaningless if they do not spring from the proper source. “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1). “Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice and to listen than the fat of Rams” (1 Samuel 15:22). It is the double-minded man who is unstable in all his ways that should not expect to receive wisdom from God even when he asks for it (James 1:6). “How long,” asked Elijah “will you go limping between two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him, but if Baal, then follow him” (1 Kings 18:22). Holiness requires a full commitment to one way of being. A house divided against itself cannot stand (Mark 3:25).

If it is possible to think of knowledge as a collection of information rather than as an intimate acquaintance, then it is possible to claim knowledge without putting forth a single shred of effort. Think of all the college graduates who have certified knowledge in everything under the sun except what they really know. As any student can tell you, the true knowledge of college is the art of getting by or getting laid. Those who truly attempt to seek a state of knowledge in anything other subject are too often stifled by a process that provokes more frustration than learning. (This is, of course, too much of a generalization, but its reality is far too apparent to ignore). My objective in such a harsh critique is not to blame the faculty, among whom I count myself, but to ask how we found ourselves in such a dire situation where those who want to learn and those who want to teach face such an impossible challenge.

In the first place, a majority of people are not even aware of the possibility of knowledge, and if they have heard of the concept and desire to find it, they begin with the wrong approach: collecting the data that is so readily accessible. Drowning in facts is perhaps the commonest way to stifle the flame of a young seeker. Too much information too fast is impossible to relate to. Instruction that focuses on this end of the process will tend toward one of two directions: pride in the person’s ability to remember and pretend to embody, or shame in the apparent inability to measure up. Thus, churches and schools are filled with those who pretend knowledge and fear lest the light of wisdom and truth should shine upon their broken and empty hearts. These have looked to the fig leaves of the surrounding world to cover their nakedness as they hide from that which could bring them life (Genesis 3:7-8). Unfortunately, the easier option is pretending there is no problem at all and making the claim that knowledge cannot be found, does not exist, or is of a different nature than a relationship between the knower and the known.

Thus, the separation of humanity from its source of Being leaves two options: to claim that Being doesn’t matter/doesn’t exist, or to seek to rediscover the connection between ourselves and that which is. For the ancient Hebrews, this looked like a pursuit of wise living in accordance with the commandments of God.

Leviticus 18:4-5

You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the LORD your God. You shall therefore keep my statues and my rules; if a person does them he shall live by them: I am the LORD.

For the Greek philosophers, this looked like the practice of a virtuous life. The pursuit of virtue could guide the person seeking to live in the way of wisdom. The pursuit of virtue is a predefined pathway of restoring that connection. In this way, religion offered the same solution as philosophy. The love of wisdom is not a pretense of knowledge, but rather an attempt to find life. For virtue is only apparent in its demonstration. One does not consider a person generous until something is given. The beginning of the process of transformation is the humble recognition that one is not virtuous – as long as I think myself to be a wise person, I will have no incentive to acquire wisdom. Aristotle supposes that one must be trained in virtue because it is not a natural practice for the human person. By nature, we seek to conform the world we encounter to ourselves rather to respond to what the sages have discovered is true. We would rather settle for what is easy than to work for what is worthwhile, and the transition from one choice to the other is what requires education.

In part, this reflects the Biblical view in which humanity was given the commission to have dominion over the earth (Genesis 1:28). This does not appear to have changed throughout the biblical narrative. Rather, Paul says that “creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God” (Romans 8:19). The blessing given to Noah repeated the blessing given to Adam, except it added a note that the fear and dread of mankind would be on all of the creatures (Genesis 9:2). If by nature of his identity as one bearing the image of God, Adam was supposed to rule, the men who stepped off the ark were so far removed from this image (in spite of being saved) that all the creatures lived in dread. Even today, it is only with careful attention and great amount of time that humans and the creatures we consider tame can form the bond of relationship that it seems they must desire. Thus, it is by nature that we seek to rule, but unless we learn to find our identity in the image of God rather than in our own image, the result of our rule will not be a restoration of peace. I believe it was to address this problem that Aristotle proposed that training in virtue was necessary.

To All My Single Friends: Why Wait?

A long reflection from Valentine’s Day and introduction to some bigger concepts that inform my upcoming book on Christianity and sexuality: “The Choice”

Inevitably, I have once again spent too much time thinking about the ideas in my head and not enough time writing them down to match the expectations of the public audience for a blog post on love that emerges 7-12 days before February 14. Today the Valentine’s Day holiday season is  over and non-single people no longer feel the obligation of casting sympathetic glances at anyone who does not appear laden with gifts of pink hearts and chocolate – (This year my good friends set me up with a literal date…I think it was probably organic)! Yet, the struggle exacerbated by this holiday will last the rest of the year for some Christian young adults who find themselves outside the context of a relationship with someone special. In light of the occasion, I wanted to share something I have been learning, which strikes at the heart of the identity crisis experienced by so many unmarried individuals at least one day out of the year.

In order for a relationship to succeed, the individuals involved must learn the art of submission. Submission is a touchy concept within relationships and marriage, but I believe this is the result of misunderstanding its nature. When approached from the perspective of honour and identity, submission becomes a tool of empowerment by which singleness and marriage both acquire tremendous value.

In the world of Christendom, marriage is looked upon as a holy sacrament, a demonstration of Christ and the church, the subject of political debate, or worst of all the inevitable conclusion of a heart connection between two people. The issue is not that marriage is bad for relationships, but that for many people it has become a destination to reach, not necessarily a journey to be started. The difference is similar to a mistake that is made when people view ‘salvation’ as a single event rather than a life-long process of transformation.

In my opinion, marriage is a relational process that is recognised and supported by a public proclamation of commitment to its ongoing development. To mistake the public declaration for the thing itself is to rob marriage of its full potential. It is like assuming that a person has been saved because they said some magical phrase or prayer. The ceremony and the prayer were never meant to be the destination, they are simply the celebration or recognition that a journey is in progress and has reached a certain (rather undefined) point. Unless a person has taken the time to pursue the relationship that these recognise, the formalities become laughable. After all, a contract is only as good as the people who commit to it.

Within the marriage ‘contract’, two people commit to letting another person define the context in which they will live their lives. In the relationship between Christ and the church a similar mystery takes place in which each becomes the context through which the other is fully expressed. As the unity grows, the range of expression also grows. On the other hand, without Christ, church becomes meaningless; without husband, wife is a pointless term.

Certainly the way in which each partner of the relationship expresses and responds to the other will vary, but the choice remains the same: to make someone else the context in which one will ever more fully disclose and express his or her identity. Unfortunately, for many people the disclosure of identity or the proactive limitation of individuality are terrifying thoughts. Marriage is supposed to add something, not take something away – and certainly it does. The depth of relationship that can be achieved within this context can be incredibly empowering. It is beautiful and unique, but not the epitome of goodness. In fact, unless the partners are willing to learn the art of submission, they will not discover the power that exists within this relationship.

Those who are not voluntarily limited in their expression of identity by the context of marriage can find a similar level of satisfaction and empowerment when they learn to make others the context of their self-expression. What is lacking in depth is made up for in variety. Marriage and singleness each have their own sweet reward for learning the art of actively submitting one’s life to the benefit of others.

In my understanding, this submission is not a passive affair in which one individual is dominated by another, but rather an active choice to invest oneself fully into another without expecting a particular outcome. Such an investment inevitably results in a heightened level of relationship in which one shares in the joy, success, sorrow, and failure of the other. Therefore it is very important to wisely choose where this investment is made. At the same time, though, we must remember that the very existence of such a relationship is rewarding in itself regardless of the outcome.

Sadly, there are some who believe that unless this investment results in a marriage, it has been wasted. If they see no potential for a long-term commitment, they will not make any kind of investment. They will only choose to submit their life to the context of another person if they can expect to receive something back. One reason that so many people find themselves in this scenario is that they have been hurt when their past expenditures of time and energy into another person have not paid out in the way they expected. Or perhaps they chose to submit themselves to the context of a person that was harmful for them.

The issues is not that the person chose to invest in a relationship, but that they expected the relationship to supply them with some sense of identity. Even within a marriage, the husband or wife can not provide the other with a complete sense of identity. Relationships are a context for the expression of identity, not the source of it. Both individuals must let themselves be defined by something greater which can supply purpose and meaning to their lives, which they can invest in the pursuit of a more dynamic relationship. Without this external input, it is possible to see relationships in which individuals begin to make demands of each other rather than giving of themselves to each other. These reflect the sad case of the planet earth which is under the dominion of a people who do not understand who they are and ask of the earth to give them of itself to provide them with a sense of identity. The earth has no choice but to submit and this has often caused it harm. So it is with people who enter relationships without knowing who they are and needing their partner to provide them with a sense of identity.

It is therefore impossible for a single or a married person to experience the deep satisfaction of submission without first learning what it means to submit one’s life to the context of perfect love. For example, this past week I met a wise old woman who has spent the past several years of her life caring for a husband who died, a mother who also died, and now caring for the elderly in nursing homes who have nothing to give back. Where does she get the energy to continue pouring herself into the lives of these people? If she required some kind of validating response from those she invested her life in (submitted to by making them the context of her self-expression), her situation would be tragic. However because her first submission is to a being that also makes her the context of His expression, she is constantly filled with more love to give.

Within the created order, the man receives his identity from God, but requires woman to the be context of its expression. As a part of the man, woman also receives her identity from God, but requires man to provide the context of her expression. No human being is complete without someone else to provide the context for the expression of our humanity. We were not made to be alone. Marriage is a mysterious context in which the level of trust engenders a more full expression of oneself. But why wait until this season of life to begin experiencing the joy of submitting your life into the context of another?

Who can become the context in which you express the person that God has made you to be? Where can you invest the gifts that he has given you? If you do not have a wife or a significant other, the answer may prove to be less obvious. However, it is no less important. As we learn to submit ourselves to God by making Him the context of our lives, He will  give us the opportunity to give what we have to others without expecting anything in return. Though the decision of where we invest our lives is crucial, the reward of this investment is not in the result but in the giving itself.

Thus, the conclusion that I have come to is that neither marriage nor singleness is a perfected state, but simply a setting in which to experience the joy of making others the context by which I express the nature of God that is within me. Relationships are not about receiving, but about sharing what I have to give with others. I cannot do this in any other way besides through the unique characteristics, interests, and skills that God has given me. Furthermore, I cannot share these things freely unless I am certain that I will be rewarded, which is why I must first learn to submit to God (or make Him the context of my life).

As I test the waters, I am beginning to discover that is truly more blessed to give than to receive. On the other hand, it is foolish to begin taking my identity from what I can give to someone else. I will never be everything that they need. The beauty of relationship is in the limitation of my self-expression to the context of other people. Because it is a limitation, the choice of where I choose to do this is incredibly important. It is possible to submit my life to investing in other people just because I need somewhere to do it…and this is not always a good thing! To all the amazing women that I know, please take this is a plea to not compromise your potential by making a man without character and wisdom the sole context in which you express your identity. Let yourselves be defined by love (i.e. submit to God) and choose to share the amazing person He has made you with others in ways that add value and empower you to be great!

And finally, men, it’s time to stop pretending we don’t want to grow up and embrace the privilege and responsibility of maturity. This appeal is not to let go of the qualities that are uniquely us, but to develop these and to maximise their potential in our lives by learning how to submit them to the context of the people that are around us. It means choosing to take control of the direction our lives are going and wrestle, fight, pray, and shape them into something we can be proud of. This means learning to overcome our selfish tendencies by making others into the context of our self-expression.

Why wait until a marriage ceremony says that this is what is supposed to happen? Enjoy the benefits, the blessing, the joy, the pain, and the amazing experience of learning to submit your life to love (God) and then to express this in the context of deepening relationships with those around you. It is within this context (not marriage, not singleness, but submission) that the individual transcends the limitations of fear and selfishness to become the transforming power of love in the world. You don’t need a marriage relationship to begin. The best time to start is now!

***

More related articles and posts will be coming out as I complete the first draft of a book exploring identity and relationships in the context of sexuality and the church. Some of these will provide more detailed biblical and logical support for the broad topical overview supplied here. Learn more about my upcoming book, “The Choice” here. http://charlesheyworth.com/publications/love-lust-power/ Please let me know what you think. Agree? Disagree? Have something to add? Need clarification? Let me know and you can be a part of bringing hope and restoration to at least one small part of our world. Courage, friends!

Proverbs 30:1-2 The Average Guy

:1, 2 The sayings of Agur son of Jakeh—an inspired utterance. This man’s utterance to Ithiel:
“I am weary, God,
    but I can prevail.
Surely I am only a brute, not a man;
    I do not have human understanding…”
 
Who was this man whose speech Solomon considered to be inspired? The inspiration of God was on his lips in an utterance made to another unknown man. This speech was given a whole chapter in the book of Proverbs – written by the wisest man who ever lived in order to train his sons to be princes and leaders of a nation.
What did Solomon see in this man, Agur, that he believed was worth including in his book? I think Solomon realised that Agur had figured out something he hadn’t. Despite all his wisdom, excess of luxury and experience of every good thing a person may desire, Solomon still ended up in the deep depression spoken of in Ecclesiastes. Apart from the Song of Songs, Solomon did not seem to be the kind of man who was overflowing with meaning and with purpose. As a king, he knew what to do. As a man, I think he did not know who he was.
Agur, on the other hand, seemed to have a clear sense of awareness and contentment about his identity. He opens his speech with a statement of how he feels and what he believes despite this feeling. Then he proceeds to establish the reasons for this. He is in many ways Solomon’s alter ego and in contrast to the sage spends much of his time explaining what he does not understand. He sums up his ignorance in verse 2, by saying, “surely, I am too stupid to be a man” (KJV). Yet, Agur still seemed to know who he was. Perhaps he was not able to measure up to others’ expectations of intellect, but he was content. Despite his challenges, his opening words demonstrate confidence and a spirit that are enviable.
Despite the weariness of his life, he believes he can prevail at whatever challenge comes his way. This is a normal, average guy who has figured out the stupidity of the rat race and is content to wonder at what he does not understand. At the same time, he is blessed with a friend who will listen to his utterance and a strong faith in God that permeates this speech/prayer. This is a man who knows and appreciates the opportunity of life. He is not driven by the mad quest to discover what he doesn’t know or be someone other than who he is. Rather, he seeks only to be the best man that he can be in the context of a life unmarked by poverty or riches. He recognises that his power of choice enables him to overcome even the most difficult circumstances and he knows that despite his weariness, he can prevail.
What do you think? Leave a comment
Here’s a link to a reddit post I found interesting…it provides a unique perspective on the benefits of being average – or at least not super smart.

Colors of Desire

In silence, my heart is changed. My mind ceases to run and begins to consider another way. Amid the dreams of greatness, a dream of quietness begins to grow. Or that I had never seen before. 
Why have I assumed that only one direction may be called the right and every other less? Perhaps the many were the right and very few the less.

What if I make the choice to be a person less than everything defined by life as greatness I could be?

Is that not what my heart has begun to wonder?

There is a blessing and a freedom in poverty that is unknown to those of wealth privilege and responsibility.

Where the endless pursuit of security destroys the blessings that it might secure.

A less admired, yet not more lovely life could be the one unknown by man or king. Whose simple existence none could bear save few that fall within the silent square. 

Where the living by right of life find joy and pleasure. Simply to be. Pursue the joy of food, of fire, of drink. Perhaps of laughter, the reward of friendship, and skill, the reward of practice.

Is it that I long to feel the earth beneath my feet and hear the sound of water or the air running through the trees? Not knowing what tomorrow may bring. The adventure for survival, the search for something beautiful, moments of peace, the sweat of work.

Here in this imagined place, I am one with what I am made of. My spirit loosed from the chains of civilization, the bondage to society, the slavery to survival.

Yet lost in time the great rewards of love of sacrifice that can only be wrought when one must live a life among others of this world. Perhaps it is not the pursuit of such rewards, but the careful crafting of such nature as could win them should fate blow their need my way. Simple care to be the best in this moment of time, to take what I can from what I am given. To dreaming given only as to a dream, never living where I must only wonder.

How do I take and find the way between these many varied colors of desire? The simple life, the one of fame, the love and responsibility with the joys of friendship, the deep beauty of solitude. That which is unrecognized does not have less value. Perhaps my light could run another way, uncelebrated, effective, beautiful, and well loved by one. If ever by more, only of their choice, no greater value bestowed on that already found worth living. Alone.