Grass Economy

Spring’s breeze gently stirs the stillness, carrying in her breath the cologne of freshly cut grass, barely grown to maturity, yet already cut down in youth. I lie here tranquil, my skin catching now and then the seeds of the disintegrating dandelions. In this moment I lie in the shadow of Eternity, a shadow I cannot grasp or touch and yet I am always in her cool darkness. I taste the unchanging Forever, yet Forever passes me by for I am composed of the here and now.

This, the tingling touch of the everlasting, juxtaposed with the components of which I am made: flesh passing to dust, breath passing to vapour, mountain passing to sand. I perceive the eternal sky above; yet, like the breeze that rinses through my hair, I will soon be gone, and she will watch, unmoved. My flesh, like the sheaves beneath, will be cut down in adolescence, and she will remain. Empires will rise and fall, and the wind comes and it goes; all the while, eternity taunts the hearts of men.

I pass through her sand timer, somehow imaging that there is something more on the outside of the glass jar, something more than the collapse of the days as they fall away. Yet all the while, I am all too wary that this is all slipping from me. We look up, out of that habitat, while the grains tumble down, taking with them youth, breath, life. There must be more, yet I am on the inside and she is on the outside, and I am powerless to escape the decay of time.

These moments ravage me. My fingers try to grasp at the wind, yet in futility, for flesh cannot hold breath. We are fickle creatures, are we not? We know this, that we cannot hold what we have, for we cannot hold on to vapour. Yet we play with eating and drinking and spending and sex and life and lust and romance like there will be no tomorrow to take it from us. We hope as if we are not on the tether. We look to the future like we do not know that there is an end to a length of string.

Is there hope, when every time I reach out all falls away?

Will you console me, Eternity? Or will you only tempt me, temptress? I am a caitiff living in a young man’s body, I am an old man wanting a coward’s ticket out.

Or could there be freedom in the madness? Can I embrace you, elusive Forever? Would you dwell with me, let me stay here in your shadow, until you take me from the sand timer?  Would you teach me to tread lightly, knowing that it will all be taken, and that one day, you will make it right?

Would you teach me to love with all my heart, for love will be the only currency to survive your economy? Would you help me to give all I have, for all of it is only borrowed?

Would you give me contentment, when this breath ceases to fill my lungs?

And would you hold my hand as I face Death, knowing that when I pass his gate, that is when I will experience Life in her fullness?

Ideals in Delirium

It appears to me that in the modernity and fashion of our glorious twenty-first century, most people talk about ethics as if they’re an emotivist. Emotivism, broadly speaking, is the theory that ethical and value statements are merely expressions of attitudes or feelings towards a certain moral opinion; there are no foundations to morality above a mere shouting match of opinions. To say of justice, “Justice is good,” and of injustice, “Injustice is bad,” is simply to say, “hurrah” to justice, and “boo” to injustice, no more, no less.

It plays out like this: any talk of objective ideals is meaningless in our discussions. Everyone has a view about what is good, and what is good for that person is, on the whole, respected as equally good as what anyone else prefers. It is an old dilemma: “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25b). As Doestoevsky writes, if one rejects God, then “all things are permitted.”

To me, this smacks of moral laziness. Our ethical discussions seem to me to revolve around how far we can justify neglecting issues of justice, of altruism, and of benevolence, before it gets embarrassing. How far we can throw out the rules to serve our own ends before we need to look the other way.  When morality as a system of ideals is rejected as having any objective base, the law boils down to one single rule: “What seems good for me, is good for me to do.” And they all did what was right in their own eyes.

In response, some of them resorted to legalism. If modern morality has been tainted by the dismissal of morality itself, then the moralists must needs take up the letter of the law in defence, to reclaim it. But this results in action without heart, intention without motive, virtue without heroism, goodness without love. Legalism promises an answer to cultural relativism but hangs herself in the noose of apathy.

So, the subjectivists and the emotivists strike out against the Bible-bashing, scripture wielding fanatics who push that law of works down their throats, without a hint of sugar to sweeten it. And so our ethics collapses into the vicious cycle of debate, law and nihilism. Without God, no reason for ethics. With no eternity, no obligation to others. For the lazy ethicist, subjectivism feels like a field day in how to excuse yourself from the love-thy-neighbour or look-outside-yourself way of doing life.

But is all lost? All is not lost. Amidst the shouting match, there are the idealists. Those, who in seeing a world in the entropy of social chaos, of moral negligence, start to notice certain self-evident truths. Those who recognise that the “world of me” is not the world in her entirety. The dreamers and the activists. Can we prove that these ideals exist? Not by the feelingless, failing systems of philosophy and morality. The skeptics and the morally lazy will see the idealists as fanatical loons, dreamers without reason or believers without basis.

But, can we show that, with idealism in our minds, the world starts to change? Yes, that is clear. Idealism, pragmatically speaking, shows us quite clearly that the world moves to a new rhythm when the mind is set to something greater than oneself. Ideals mean sacrifice, and maybe that’s why the skeptic will keep her skeptic’s heart, and the legalist will keep his nose in the lawbook. But our eyes would be set too low and our hearts too heavy to count ourselves among their ranks.

Because, the “world of me” is far too small a fish-tank to contain hearts made for higher things. Ideals mean sacrifice for the universal good of others, yes – but they mean this also: freedom, freedom from the law, and transcendence from selfishness and meaninglessness.

The sit-on-your-ass ethicist might be able to philosophically justify why, without ideals, there is no merit nor rational explanation for why it is better to feed the hungry or care for the widow or mother the orphan. But there he will sit, getting nothing higher in life than a few citations in some academic journals and a payslip through the door.

But for the idealist? There is truth in life. And with truth, risk. With goodness, sin, and with virtue, vice. A life of spirit, not works. Above the squalor of a world permeated by indifferent voices, we can set our eyes to a “holy mountain, beautiful in elevation…the joy of all the earth” (Ps. 48:1b,2a).

The idealist may never know, via the rigorous grounds of the empiricist or the rationalist, that they’ve hit the right ideas or lived for the right ideals in every circumstance. Yet, in every instance, I’d rather live corum deo, knowing that I might have fallen flat totally, than have never lived for anything at all.

“But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.” Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

Clocks in Syria

The apathy of Time leads by the hand these children
Of a fatherless generation, making of boys, men,
Children of a war we thought wouldn’t last –

But as the shells fell the clocks dropped, shattered,
Their hands stopped still, grabbing from us things that mattered,
As their young years ebb away, silent, no ticking marks
The cycle of day to day, dark to dark.

This, our Syria, makes the screens, gone the next day
When a child shoots a man, taken up from his play,
Execution’s a day job with orange jumpsuits, while
Our eyes grow weary of this new killing style.

These things
Come and go
Go and come
Come back tomorrow for the next round of
Humanity’s depravity.

Mountain Sound

I’m climbing this mountain without a map,
Looking for clarity through mist and cloud,
Lost, alone, are you absent God?
Won’t you speak your will aloud?

And yet by some power still I stand,
As each day brings the summit nearer –
But am I to sit and wait just to hear you?
Won’t you speak your will the clearer?

Though you’re silent I know you’re there,
Your presence wraps around me when there is no voice,
Climbing this mountain I’ll not despair.
Climbing this mountain, I’ve made my choice.

One day soon I’ll see your face.
But for now, just steady this heart,
From the fear of falling, without your grace,
For, Daddy, I know the clouds will part.

Don’t Worry, Dear

“Mummy, who’s that man with the scraggly beard,

Standing beneath the granite arch?”

Him, dear? Oh, no one special,

Let’s just keep walking on.

 

“Mummy, who’s that man with the bloodshot eyes,

And the ripped green sleeping bag?”

Him, dear? Oh, he’s just a little tired,

Sleepy from a long shopping trip.

 

“Mummy, who’s that man with the gruff slurred voice,

And his face all bruised and cut?”

Him, dear? He’s just been playing a bit too rough,

Playing with his friends.

 

“Mummy, who’s that man shouting at us,

Why does he want our coins?”

Him, dear? Walk swiftly on, come quick –

We haven’t got many coins, we best be home,

We’ve already spent too much.

 

“Mummy, isn’t it funny, all those men we saw,

They seemed so very sad.

Do you think they have mummies like you,

With a house like this, and a dad?”

 

Dear, try not to think so hard,

Those men are behind us now.

They’re out there, and we’re inside,

So warm yourself by this fire.

 

And those men, out there, live on,

Colder night by Winter’s night.

The End of the Affair

If I committed my mind to learn about some great figure or celebrity, I might take up in my hand a book about their life, a biography attesting to who they are. I could search the length and breadth of their social media profiles to have some insight into their personality. With a hundred other tools, I could acquire enough data about said person to call myself an expert, a biographer, a testament to their life. A true fan through-and-through.

Yet to gather that type of detailed intelligence about a person, however well-researched and thorough, still negates the fact that I don’t know said person. One minute of conversation with a man would tell me more about him than a lifetime’s laborious study. To have knowledge of her is not to know her. In every case, the amount I know about someone still consigns them to an “it” in my mind; a mere object of study, a facet of amusement. They would never be a “you,” a friend, an accomplice, a lover – never a real person.

I could even make it seem to my friends, by my intimate knowledge and some magnificent mirage of a relationship, that I indeed did know that person – no-one else would know. But telling everyone I had an imaginary relationship, however real I could affirm it in another’s mind, still doesn’t make it any more than that – an imaginary relationship.

And so it is with God.

And this terrifies me.

For in one moment of encounter, the Maker confronts me with this catechism:

Do you know me?

And I am lost for words. I could tell you a hundred things of what God is like. Years of Bible reading and study has left in my mind detailed answers to a plethora of scholar’s questions. I could point you to books of reference, academic accounts, and the like.

But do you know me?

My mind swirls with that knowledge. If you asked anyone who knew me, “Does he know God?”, they’d probably give you an affirmative “Yes.” Maybe I’m good at being a fake. Maybe I’ve been pulling of a fete of impostery. Maybe I’ve been living on the outside. Maybe the answer my closest observers would give you isn’t the truth of the matter.

A man in an affair never tells his wife where he’s going, what he’s doing. The adulterer’s life is most successfully lived in secrecy. Living the life of the actor, pulling the strings here and there to hide from onlooking eyes the duplicity of his existence. Unfaithfulness masked by the cleverly construed lies of a professional cheater.

What if, I ask, the Michael I show the world is painstakingly construed around that adulterer’s mask? On the outside, looking as if he has it all together, the man that serves, the man that looks like he’s after God’s own heart.

But what if, in this moment, I stood before my Maker? Would he see the same Michael that the world sees, that my friends see? Or would he see the Michael that knows about him from the books he’s read and the study he’s committed to, but not in a true relationship? What if he looked me in the eyes, and saw an adulterer staring back at him?

Would I stand before the God of the Universe, for him to say, “I never knew you?”

And so it was that he confronted me, one simple  I need to end the affair. I need to stop cheating on my heart’s Lover by playing this imitation game. The imitation game is played by cheats – men who proclaim to know in their minds, to put on their masks, but have only knowledge. I need to be faithful. Faithfulness comes in that moment where I give up my prideful, arrogant fakery for simple integrity and humility.

So it is I confess this affair – cheating on my Lover, just to look to the world like I had it all together, to look like the good guy, to the people around me, to indulge in the pleasure of approval. When I stand before God, the approval I worked so hard for in this world won’t matter one single, tiny bit. With eternity ahead, and the fleeting moment of my short life behind, what gain will it be to me for living the falsehood of a fake existence?

In ending this affair, I find the one thing that ever mattered and will ever matter when my short stint at existence has played itself out. The collision of my heart with a loving Father as I choose faithfulness to him over my mistress, the world.

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Jim Elliot

Oppression Grammar

The “poor.” The “hungry.” The “oppressed.” Bywords in society bandied about in our culture to denote faceless and nameless figures who live in statistics; not, seemingly, as human beings, but graphs and numbers, in the emotive lines of politician’s speeches, in our small talk. Words such as these – words that paint pictures of whole groups of people – “lost,” “homeless,” “beggar,” “prostitutes,” “slaves,” the “old.” Each has become a pivot point for emotive conversation, yet seldom ever regards the individual faces, the men and women, who these terms represent.

Take the word “prostitutes” for example. Any number of stereotyped images and emotive sentiments are kicked up by the thought. A word loaded to provoke polar emotions. Yet hardly ever do we stop to consider the stories, the individual stories, of the girls and women who become prostitutes. Militant feelings are produced when we make the assumption that these girls are always free to choose what they want to do with their bodies. For so many, this is not the case. Young girls fallen prey to human traffickers and forced to sell away their flesh are the mainstay of brothels the world over. Some are sold by their parents to pay off family debts. Slaves in every conventional definition of the word. For many, there is no concept of “freedom.” Most will never be freed.

And each of these women has a face. A story to tell. A song to sing. This is something our statistical figures and sweeping statements fail to shed truth on. The way we even use our language often drives into thoughts of benign apathy.

You see, it is not as clear as we think when we talk about “the prostitutes,” for the sake of example. For every single case of prostitution, their is a girl’s individual story to be told. When we talk about the group as a whole, either grotesquely or in seriousness, often negative feelings and militant responses are provoked, and careless and insulting stereotypes are fired into the air, never to return. Such stereotypes do injustice to the thousands of victims, each with a face and family, who are enslaved by greedy men for the “commodity” that their bodies can provide.

The “prostitute” stereotypes we might imagine do injustice to the twelve year old Cambodian girl forced to “service” up to thirty men a day, coveted for her youth. It does injustice to the Romanian woman abducted from her country, under the false hope of employment, to be forced into the sex trade.

Our language is loaded, and we hold the gun. A gun which fires bullets of dangerous stereotypes, emotive warheads, and oppressive verses. When we enter into conversation, we need to hold in our hearts, not just in our mouths, those who cannot nor are not seen by our own eyes, yet exist as human beings nevertheless. In a culture that casts judgement like a match into a dry forest, we need to step above the wildfire.

No human being deserves to live only as a statistic, or some ill-defined label.

We need to rise above the rhetoric, and, with one voice, say “no human being, like me, deserves to live like this.” We need to stop whitewashing over whole segments of humanity with our general words and our misrepresenting categories. And then, we need to go and be part of the change.

For we are no different to the girls forced to become sex slaves. At our core, we are no different to the man living on the street, living without a home. No different to every child living in hunger across the world. Circumstances do not define a person, don’t change the fact that each of us is human.