Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?

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…All the King’s horses and all the King’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.

So I’ve stopped reading the Bible. I no longer pray (at least, not in the traditional hands-folded, knees-bent sort of way); haven’t for going on five years. I don’t, under any circumstances, insist that my interlocutors “praise Jesus,” although I may return a polite “You, too” when someone tells me to have a “blessed day,” simply because I’m fairly certain God hasn’t cornered the market on blessing people.

Which brings me to my point: I still want desperately to bless people. Not by proxy. Not by pointing to some undefined deity in the Great Unknown, thereby relieving myself of any real involvement in the matter. I want to bless them. Through my actions, with my words–a smile here, a wave there, a handful of pocket change, if the occasion warrants, whatever. And I want all this in the absence of religious belief (institutional religious belief, that is; everybody’s religious, but that’s an argument for a different day).

Cue cognitive dissonance…

Here’s the old chestnut: How do we explain our ability to distinguish between good and evil, or our desire to help others and avoid hurting them, if there is no Absolute Example, no Ultimate Source, in which to ground them?

Heck. I don’t know. Does it matter? Really? Or is it just one more of the pointless arguments in which we entangle ourselves, thereby obviating the question? I don’t know why I want others to be warm and well-fed, and I don’t really put too much time into thinking about it.

It seems that, to some, “good works” are not legitimate unless legitimized by particular base assumptions. I’ve heard Christians, for example, claim that unless we love “because He first loved us,” then we might as well quit the clanging and chuck our cymbals out the window. On the other hand, I’ve heard atheists suggest that Christian actions are so bedecked with “ulterior motives” that they must be suspect by their very nature. And the conversation, as it does so often anymore, breaks down again…

I leave you with the words of political scientist Robert Audi, from Political Commitment and Secular Reason (2000): “an extensive agreement in moral practice is compatible with absence of agreement or even sharp disagreement in moral theory.”

To my atheist friends: Is it really the “ulterior motive” that worries you when you see a Christian doing good? Or is it that it makes you wonder if the “God-folks” might actually have a leg to stand on?

To my Christian friends: Why are you so desperate to prove that non-Christian means non-moral? Is it perhaps that loving actions performed by non-believers hint that maybe Truth extends beyond the pages of Holy Scripture?

Would the real Jesus please stand up?

Lose Your Words

A gentleman reads widely in many books basically in order to augment his innate knowledge. Instead, you have taken to memorizing the words of the ancients, accumulating them in your breast, making this your task, depending on them for something to take hold of in conversation. You are far from knowing the intent of the sages in expounding the teachings. This is what is called counting the treasure of others all day long without having half a cent of your own.

– Ta-hui

I love words, but at the end of the day, that’s really all they are: words. Sounds to which we have assigned arbitrary meanings, and which consequently serve as ironclad cages for ideas, for understanding.

During my time in graduate school, I fiddled frequently with words. As an author, I continue to do so on a daily, even hourly basis. I string them together, like so many polysyllabic beads, to form chains of conceptual jewelry. I’m doing it right now. And they shine. They glimmer and glisten and sparkle. They dance uproariously by the light of my fevered imagination.

But what do they mean? More importantly, do they allow meaning to flourish, or do they kill it where it stands? Not my words, specifically; all words, on all the pages printed, scribed, or etched throughout history. What are these words that tie us down and capture us in our own intellectual mousetraps? Shuttlecocks, all, awaiting indecent aim and an unwary forehead.

Can I give them up? I love them so. They are my children, my brain-children, my intellectual offspring–can I walk away and leave them to starve in the cold? It is painful, excruciatingly painful, impossible. But I must. Words distract from experience, like the photographer who captures only images without ever seeing the world from which he takes them. They categorize, but they do not open our eyes; they define by murdering definition; they identify while obliterating identity.

What the donkey has kicked, the rooster cannot set right. And so I struggle with words. I must treat them as what they are: meaningless, the constructs of a feeble mind unable to deal with the magnitude of experience.

Words. Nothing but words.

Silence.

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Whitman v. Woods

I

I sing a song of my shelf
and everything upon it: faded photos,
equally faded memories, blurring the lines
between new friends and old enemies.
Somewhere, somehow, maybe then,
maybe now (maybe never), I must
quit myself of this tether holding me
back, gray against black, black against blue.
Me against you.211215_105067042918278_7462179_n

II

I sing a song of my shelf, with all its
broken toys, of youth with all its noise and
no sense of silence. Pilot at the ready, hands strong
and steady: life, with all its heady liquor, cannot
strengthen legs of wicker, marching to
a fading ticker. Beat by beat, stanza by stanza,
vignettes tucked away in a moldy credenza: This,
O poet, is your life. Rhyme is wife; rhythm lover;
extra-metrical affair, undercover.

III

If anyone asks,
I want to go out with the sunrise,
fitting beginning for a fitting end:
one light goes out as another lives
again. And when the dawn, curtains drawn,
shines forth once more, bar the windows,
lock the door. I’m gone to find another floor
to host my dance, to break my trance and show me
a good time. Not on your dime anymore;
just mine. Just fine.