My Search for Meaning:

September 3, 2012

Pete’s Personal Philosophy Paper

Here is the conclusion of the matter:  Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.  For God will bring every deed into judgment; including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.   -Solomon (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)

Ever since I began to think for myself, I’ve been searching for some kind of meaning in life. Coming from a modest but comfortable background, I was never spoiled by material things, but I never really knew what true poverty was either. Life was often mundane, so I found myself escaping through imagination and comics and later through horror and suspense novels. My parents had taken me to church when I was a child, but as soon as I was allowed to, I stopped attending, rejecting what I considered to be a dead religion. I never stopped believing in God, even in one who was good, but I felt that each person must find their own way to Him. In high school, I rebelled against most forms of authority and became involved in drugs. I was heavily influenced by music and poetry, and I continued to search for meaning through these new outlets. Jim Morrison, of the Doors, led me to William Blake and Fredrick Nietzsche and I eventually found Fyodor Dostoevsky. I began to see life as absurd and meaningless; however, I felt that it was our responsibility to give it some kind of meaning; I felt we all had a piece of God in us that called us to find our place in the world. Thus, I began to look for mine.

Around this time a very good friend of mine stopped getting stoned with me. He said that it was all about meeting Jesus. I laughed about it at first, but we continued to be friends and I saw that he really was different; he had acquired some inner peace that I couldn’t relate to. We had many deep talks and debates, and I began to read the Bible again to search for answers. It wasn’t too long before I no longer had the need to self-medicate. I found my own inner peace with Jesus. I discovered that Christianity is dead when it is seen as a religion, but that when you discover the Creator of the universe wants to have a relationship with you, it opens up an entire life of possibility, of adventure, of love, and of meaning. My relationship with Jesus is what determines how I view human nature.

I believe that everyone is conceived in a state of conflict. We are all made in the image of God: We have a desire for purpose; we want to be good; we want to love and to be loved. Yet, we all also possess a sin nature that we are conceived with: We are all selfish; we are all about pleasure, even at the expense of others; we deny responsibility and pass the blame along to someone else. These two aspects of human nature, what the Bible calls the spirit and the flesh, are constantly at war with each other. Which one wins out on a daily basis is determined by individual choice. At any given moment in life, we respond to our environment either through that God-like part of man, or we respond in selfishness and self-preservation.

Our choices are the result of both nature and nurture. I believe we are born with the personality tools and talents to fulfill a genuine need the world has. We have purpose, we even have some kind of destiny, but we also have the free will to deny our purpose. When we seek to fulfill that purpose, when we put the world’s, or others’, needs before our own, we are responding in the spirit. When we choose to only serve our own means, we are responding in the flesh. Even though we are born with this purpose, our environment is usually what teaches us what to do with it. Many people are born into hostile situations in which survival becomes their highest priority; others are born into healthy families that live and teach selflessness and purpose. So, we are born with gifts and talents and leanings toward certain beliefs, but our environment shapes how we decide to use what we are “given.” Environment doesn’t, however, have to determine who we are. We still can choose to be good (or bad). One of my favorite lines is from a children’s movie called The Iron Giant. A large robot falls from the sky, but has lost its memory. It is, at first, benign, and it befriends a boy. However, the robot was designed for warfare, and when it is attacked, instinct kicks in, and the robot begins to destroy everything in its path. The boy is able to get its attention and at a very emotional moment he states plainly: “You don’t have to be a gun. You can choose who you want to be.” The robot begins to fight his natural instinct of war, and ends up sacrificing himself to save the community (1999). In the same way, we have the responsibility to follow the spirit (selfless nature) rather than the flesh (selfish nature) no matter what environment we are shaped by. There are multiple examples of persons who have overcome adversity to become heroes and others born into all the comfort and support one could ever need who live at the expense of others. The choice to “do the right thing” is a daily struggle for all people.

Metaphorically speaking, we are all three people in one. There is our selfish and base nature that seeks only pleasure. There is the godlike selfless part of us that seeks to fulfill our purpose through serving others. And there is the person existing in the here and now caught between the two. Every time we make a choice out of selfishness, we move closer to our base instincts, yet pleasure is only momentary and can never be fully satisfied; therefore, if we seek to fulfill life through pleasure we will never find peace. Every time we make a selfless choice, we move closer to the spirit and fulfillment; true fulfillment is found in giving and having a purpose that meets the needs of others. However, no one can be good all the time, and often the attempt to be a good person can lead some to feel guilty when they make mistakes, or some will justify their bad choices and become judgmental of others; either way, they are in a state of dissatisfaction. It is impossible for a human to exist in a constant state of fulfillment. The closest we can get is a simple satisfaction while we all experience the highs and lows of existence. The key to consistent satisfaction is accepting that we have the potential to sometimes go to the highest level of goodness, yet we are also faced with the truth, that under the right (maybe wrong is a better word) circumstances we are no better than the worst of criminals. We need to always strive to be our best, but always be aware of our weaknesses so we can avoid them. We need to live in the moment, and decide for the here and now what choice we will make. The more we practice making good choices, the easier they become and we find a greater sense of fulfillment. The more we practice making bad choices, the easier they become, and we find ourselves never filled, never satisfied.

It is my personal belief that there is only one way to find true peace between the flesh and the spirit, and that is through the forgiveness of Jesus Christ. Believing in the power of his self-sacrifice for humanity enables us to live under grace, so when we do choose to be selfish and serve the flesh, we can be easily forgiven, and quickly move back into living for our purpose in life. Believing in the power of Christ’s self-raising from the dead gives one the advantage of receiving the Holy Spirit of God which empowers the human spirit to deny flesh and make the right choices. A nonbeliever can live righteously and practice good choices and find some times of fulfillment on earth, but as stated earlier, none of us can be fully good. Only God can be good. Without Jesus, we can’t reach our full potential in this life, and we won’t make it to everlasting peace in the next life.

I can’t pinpoint one psychological theory that supports my view of human nature on its own, but there are a variety of characteristics from a few that can easily be integrated together to form a solid base for me to work from. Of the theories I’ve studied, Adlerian Theory was the first one that really appealed to me as something truthful. I fully agree that the conscious is far more important than what is going on in the unconscious. I believe that exploring the unconscious can be a useful tool, even a doorway, into understanding what a person’s issues may be, but it is in a present state of consciousness that we live and deal with our issues, and that should be where we find practical solutions to cope and find healing.  I also agree that what we do with what we are born with is central to getting better. We do not have to be defined by our past. Additionally, I believe that all behavior is goal oriented, but we may not be fully aware of what our goals are, or the best way to achieve those goals. I think Adler’s theory of our need for significance and social connection is probably his most important contribution. I believe the two are dependent on each other. When we master a skill that is needed in society we feel valued and important. That leads to self-confidence, and others respect us for our abilities and for who we are, so we develop a social network we belong to which gives us a sense of meaning.

The search for meaning has been such a large part of my personal journey, there is no way I can ignore Existential Therapy. Much of my favorite literature was written by existentialists, but most of the literature focuses on the absurdity of life and states that life is essentially meaningless. It was very refreshing to find that Victor Frankl used the same ideas in his work to help people find meaning. I love his statement: “Man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked…by life” (1963). This puts the responsibility on us to find our meaning, to find our purpose. We can look into the past to see what brought us to this point, and we can consider where we want to be in the future, but ultimately it is the right here and right now that we are exist in, and we need to be the ones who put meaning into this very moment: Carpe Diem.

Showing someone they need to find meaning in life is relatively simple. Most people already consciously year for meaning. Finding out how one individually fits into the great scheme of things can be a bit more complicated. Because so many of us live in a state of selfishness, there are many of us walking around damaged and unable to take risks. How can people find their place or purpose in life and additionally find the confidence to take the risks needed to achieve mastery and social connection? The answer may be found in combining Rogerian and Reality Therapy. The need for genuineness and empathy is essential for any real relationship; since all people have a need to become socially connected, we must find someone who is an example of a genuine, caring and understanding person. He must be a safe and trustworthy person. This is the most difficult in life, isn’t it? I have personally found these relationships in the church through Jesus. It is important to realize, that no human is perfect and able to be fully trusted, but we must learn to both accept grace and forgiveness and offer grace and forgiveness in our relationships with others. It is only through a relationship with Jesus (the only man who was and is perfect) and following his teachings that I have been able to do so.

It isn’t until an individual learns to trust, that he will be able to truly find meaning. This is when the techniques of Reality Therapy come into play. Each individual needs to focus on current behaviors and learn to see the consequences of those behaviors. This most often occurs through open and honest relationships with those we can trust. The next step is for the individual to understand that his behavior is chosen, and therefore, he can choose to behave in a way that will more effectively reach his goals of finding meaning. It must be emphasized that we can control our thoughts, and our thoughts lead to our actions and feelings. I believe the most important part of Reality Therapy, however, is making a plan. Once we see a need for change, we can be at our most vulnerable, and that is the time we need someone to help us step up to make the changes. However, it must be a plan that the individual takes ownership of. If others are over involved, the individual is not really taking responsibility for his life. Once he finds small successes in a few areas he will begin to develop a new pattern of thinking, and begin to make good choices on his own that build purpose and contribution to the world.

Although I often fail at my attempts to make good choices, I try to live my life by the values I have been taught by Christ through his Word and through the leading of the Holy Spirit. Once I gave my life to Jesus, I set forth on a path of self-discovery through the renewal of my thinking. As I began to deny my desires to put myself before others, and I sought to love my neighbor as I love myself (Matthew 22:39), I was able to see how the gifts and talents I possessed could fill needs in our world. Once I stepped out and took risks to help others, I began to develop stronger relationships and now have many concentric circles of friends and family that I can trust in and rely on when the randomness and seeming meaninglessness of life can drag me down. I am always striving to do my best, but it has been a long arduous journey and many of my choices have not always been positive. When I do fall into selfishness, I rely on God’s mercy, and I get up and continue on my way. Life is a refining process. The Bible states that “we move from glory to glory, and little by little the veil is removed from our faces” (2 Corinthians 3:18). In other words, when we make the choice to live righteously, by God’s grace we are able to become better people and gain more understanding of our purpose in life through our ever-increasing knowledge of our Father and Creator.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”   -Jesus Christ (The Gospel of John 3:16-21)

Peter L Richardson
10/16/2007

References:

Brothers, Warner. (1999). The Iron Giant. Burbank: Time Warner Company.
Christ, Jesus. (~30). The Gospels of Matthew and John. Judea: The Holy Bible.
Frankl, Victor. (1959). Man’s Search for Meaning. Boston: Washington Square Press.
Paul, The Apostle. (~55). The Second Epistle of Corinthians. Some Roman Jail: The Holy Bible.
Solomon, King. (~930 BC). Ecclesiastes. Israel. The Holy Bible.

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“Religion can be the enemy of God. It’s often what happens when God, like Elvis, has left the building. A list of instructions where there once was conviction; dogma where once people just did it; a congregation led by a man where once they were led by the Holy Spirit. Discipline replacing discipleship.”  -Bono

Americans like big things, and we like them to come easy and convenient. 7-Eleven’s Super Big Gulp just keeps getting bigger and bigger! Pretty soon, they’ll come in keg-size. At the same time, we want all of our news wrapped up in 3 minute sound-bites; just enough to keep us informed, but not enough to force us to think. We want our sitcoms and dramas polished up in a half hour to an hour, just enough to tug the heart, but not enough to move us to change. And if it’s not on the internet, why read anything at all? If I can’t hold it in the palm of my hand; it simply isn’t worth my time. Why work for anything when it’s all handed to me? This culture of apathy and entitlement is the result of a corrupt form of the American Dream, and just as Americans have grown increasingly fat and lazy in caring for our minds and bodies, we have allowed this corruption to seep into our spiritual lives as well. While a few superstars with large followings existed in American Christianity the last half of the 20th Century, the new millennium brought on the advent of the mega-church. Churches with 1,000+ members have popped up all over the country while their leaders boast of the number of souls that are saved and contribute tithes to the ministry, but just as the super-mega-Big Gulp is full of empty calories and has no nutritional value, most of these churches produce little in the way of true converts because they are focused on numbers and membership rather than on crafting real discipleship for their members. In fact, many modern American churches preach little of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in effort to “tickle men’s ears” and become “more seeker friendly.” What does this say of the God we worship if we have to sugarcoat who he is just to get people interested?  Jesus himself said that we would be outcasts in the world, and we would have a cross to bear. How many hypocrites exist in the church because they haven’t really met Jesus yet? How many sincere people have fallen from their “faith” because they were promised a party, and when hard times hit, they had no guidance in how to use their faith to walk through? Jesus doesn’t promise us freedom from trials in this world; in fact, he openly tells us that in this world we will have trouble, but he adds, “cheer up! I have defeated the world” (John 16:33, CEV).

Make no mistake: If you align yourself with Christ; your faith will be challenged. From the beginning of this age God Almighty has had an enemy, a rebel angel, whose only real way of hurting Him is to hurt the ones He loves, mankind. Since Satan can’t fight God and win, he has set out to spread his seeds of lies, corruption and rebellion among us. Satan knew that God’s righteous justice would force him to condemn us in our sinful state. Just as he separated himself from God, his desire is to tempt every human being to rebel against God and so be separated with him in Hell. The Apostle Paul tells us, “We are not fighting humans. We are fighting against forces and authorities and against rulers of darkness and powers in the spiritual world” (Ephesians 6:12, CEV). We humans, however, do have a choice on whose side we will fight. Stepping out of the battle is not an option. If you choose not to fight, you will get run down and flattened by Satan. The worst part is, you probably won’t even recognize it, he is such a fine manipulator and perverter of the truth, that he can make many people think they are on the side of good when they are actually being selfish. Yet, little by little, the selfish nature increases, and eventually these people end up empty and unfulfilled. The Apostle James states, “We are tempted by our own desires that drag us off and trap us. Our desires make us sin, and when sin is finished with us, it leaves us dead” (James 1-14-15, CEV). It seems like a losing battle, and if we stand alone, it is. Think of a tug of war. I once volunteered at a camp that had competitions between the different groups of kids. One was the tug of war. Each group would line up on the rope and struggle to pull it to their side. What if all the teen counselors competed against the campers? They might last a little while, but it won’t be long before they would be dragged away to their enemy’s side. It is like this with Satan’s temptations and our effort to pull away in our own strength. He knows our weaknesses and he plays against them.

So what’s the point? If it’s this hard to follow God, then why bother? Because he has promised and provided a way out, and that way is Jesus. We are born into sin, and that sin requires that God punish us in his righteous justice; however, Jesus took our punishment on the cross, and after dying for us, resurrected himself and gave us access to eternal life. Jesus says, “A thief comes only to rob, kill and destroy. I have come that they may have life, and have it in its fullest” (John 10:10, CEV). However, Jesus did not promise to just pull us from our troubles. What he has done, is promise to walk alongside us in them. Think of the tug of war again. We are like a young child camper, Satan is like a rebellious bratty teenager; we are getting the tarp beat out of us, until Jesus, a world class body builder, shows up and grabs the rope with us. It is a paradox in that he doesn’t take us out of the fight, but he handles the fight for us. Without him, we are lost. With him, we can do anything he allows us and calls us to do. But he expects us to fight, first defensively, and when we have learned skill in battle with the enemy, he sends us on the offensive. Why doesn’t Jesus just take us out of our troubles? Because, we would never learn to grow otherwise; we would spend the rest of eternity ignorant and trapped in our sinful mindset. We would be virtually useless for advancing the Kingdom of Heaven on earth and bringing others into a saving knowledge of Christ. Think about a child whose mother always gets him out of trouble; he never pays the consequences of his negative actions. What kind of adult will this young man become? A lazy drain on society at best, a criminal at worst, unless he comes to his senses when the bruises of life begin to beat him down. This is the mentality of American society, and the essence of our apathy and entitlement. We have had too many generations that have fed off the prosperity of the hard working Americans of the past, but not having experienced the opportunity to work for their own achievement, they become dependant on hand outs. The Apostle Paul teaches us, “We also gave you the rule that if you don’t work, you don’t eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10, CEV), but Jesus also encourages us, “This yoke is easy to bear, and this burden is light” (Matthew 11:30, CEV). The work that Lord requires of us is simple. He expects us to begin a relationship with him, and to walk with him on a journey that will challenge us and develop our characters into strong and faithful servants and soldiers in the heavenly realms, so we can eventually go out into our call of adventure he has planned for us since the beginning of time. But we must make the choice to take that journey. We cannot save ourselves, our salvation is in faith in Christ alone, and our strength for the journey only comes from believing and trusting him. We must trust him in order to be able to follow him into battle. A Christianity that is only two hours a week just won’t cut it, but there are some practical things we can do to put our faith into action.  

The first thing you need to do is to pray. You cannot have a relationship with someone unless there is active communication between the two of you. God always hears us and answers us in his time; however, hearing him often takes time and practice. How do we learn to do what he wants? How do we learn to recognize his character and voice when he speaks to us in the quiet of our souls? Read the Bible. The Bible is called God’s Word; it is his message to humans to teach us how to live in peace and joy because he loves us. However, understanding some parts of the Bible can be very difficult for new believers. What do we do when we don’t understand it, or when we are having a hard time following it? Find a mentor. This is where true discipleship comes in. Every Christian needs someone stronger in the faith, or at least equal to them, someone to lean on when struggles hit them as they surely will. You need someone who can answer your questions, you need someone to hold you accountable when you are struggling with sin, you need someone to help you with practical things like moving, you need friends to hang out with that will build you up and encourage you instead of dragging you down. How can you find these people? You need to find a healthy church to fellowship in. Unfortunately, there are many churches that have watered down the gospel at best, and corrupted it into something false at worst, but you must find fellowship. There are no Lone Ranger Christians. You will eventually get shot down. You must trust that God is good and he will bring you to a good fellowship at some point on your journey. You job is simply to keep walking it out with him. Christianity is a religion based on relationship, first to God, then to our brothers and sisters in the faith, and finally to the lost: those to whom we are called to be witnesses of the love and peace that our God offers to those willing to submit and take up their crosses in the training grounds of life.  

 Peter L Richardson

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever…I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you…Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.”  The Gospel of John 6:51-56

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  The Gospel of John 1:1

A while back my son woke up earlier than usual and he caught me reading my Bible in the early hours of the morning.

“Dad, I know the Bible is important, but why do you read it everyday?” he asked. “I mean, seriously, you should have a pretty good idea of what’s in it by now!”

I was glad he asked, but he took me off guard and I found myself giving him a knee jerk answer that was more religious doctrine than truth, “Well, son,” I began, “the Bible itself teaches us to. In the Old Testament, God says that ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ The Bible is God’s Word, so we literally need it to survive spiritually, just like our physical bodies need food on a regular basis to survive.”

“But why everyday?”  He replied, “Don’t you learn enough from church every week?”

“It’s like this,” I said, “church is more like a weekend feast or party. We can go more than a day without food, but we are weaker without it. It is the same thing with what God teaches in his Word. If we only fill up once a week, we lose strength throughout the week. We need a daily reminder of the right way to live, and the more you read, the better you’ll be able to understand Sunday sermons, or witness to friends who are seeking or challenging your faith, and even to judge false teachings. When Jesus told us to pray for ‘daily bread,’ I think he meant more than just food.”

“Oh,” he pondered for a moment, “Well, speaking of food, I’m pretty hungry, can I get some pancakes?”

And that was the end of that conversation. I’m not saying I told him anything wrong, but I stopped short of the genuine reason why I read my Bible everyday, and why it’s the first thing I do after I get out of bed. 

Many people see the Bible only as a book of rules to live by, full of stories about people who are just examples of what we should or shouldn’t live like. They consider the Bible to be a blueprint of how you are supposed to live your life: If you just follow these rules then you should get good results and end up generally happy. I agree to an extent, but if you stop there, it really doesn’t matter what religion you follow. If your goal with Christianity is simply to live a good life and follow the rules the best you can, then you really don’t know what the Bible teaches, and your faith is stagnant, dead and useless.

Consider this. Think about a historical figure you admire and respect for whatever reason. He could be a fierce warrior, she could be a gallant queen, or maybe a simple person of good character who was in the right place at the right time and changed the course of history. Many of these people have written their thoughts down and published them; many witnesses of their time have written their testimony of when they met so and so. The more we admire a person, the more we seek to read about them and want to get to know them. The Bible, at its simplest level, is a document about a Triune God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is His proof of existence. It is His thoughts about philosophy, psychology, government, love, and life in general. It tells the story of how he interacted with the world in the 6,000 or so years of history it covers. In it, this God claims to be Creator, and he tells us how he expects us to act and teaches us things about faith and forgiveness. How is this book proof he exists? How do you know Julius Caesar existed? Or Plato? Or Homer? The further we go back the less reliable the witness, right? But let’s take this analogy a bit further. Let’s say one day an ancient library is uncovered, and someone finds letters from your favorite historical figure. Amazingly, these letters are addressed to you! How could this person know about you before you were born? This is what the Bible is in addition to a Rule Book, or a collection of stories and poems; it is a letter from the God of the Universe to you. It is a letter He has written to all of his children. He wants you to know who you are and what your heritage is. He wants you to discover what the meaning of life is and what your individual purpose in all of it is. You may ask, aren’t these letters still just rules to live by? What makes them so personal?

Consider this. Think about a woman who loses her husband in war. What do you think her greatest treasure will be? It will be his love letters to her, the things he left behind that reminds her of the bond and connection they once shared, and even still share. Jesus gives us the metaphor that he is the groom and the church is his bride. It is a classic love story of the knight in shining armor riding on a white horse to save the damsel in distress from the evil dragon, except in this case the dragon thought he killed the knight. But our Savior is not just a great man who died for his beliefs or a cause that was greater than him. No, our Savior’s death was the cause he came to fulfill, because he was the only one worthy to take it on, and the only one who could defeat the very death he allowed himself to endure. Our Savior has risen from the grave and is alive and well and longing for the day he can be reconnected with the bride he loves so deeply. When you open your heart to it, the Bible is a collection of love letters God has written to humanity, to his children. When you study the words of God, it is like studying the desires and thoughts and words of your lover. A man in love will do anything to please his woman; he knows what kind of flowers she likes, he knows the way she takes her coffee, he knows her pet peeves and seeks to avoid them. It just the same with God. He already knows us with an intimacy to the core; he longs for us to know him. The more we read his Word, the more we learn of him. Just like a woman falls deeper in love with a man who proves to know her, and seeks to please her, when we actually follow God’s word and trust him and seek to live righteously, it brings us to a deeper intimacy with him. But this is still not the deepest level the Bible offers us. Letters are good, but without experiencing the man behind the letters, you can’t really get to know him. You can’t have true intimacy with a book. There is more God’s Word has to offer.

Consider this. The Bible is more like instant messaging than letters from a distance. The Bible is the Living Word of God. Hebrews 4:12 says “For the Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” This means that we can interact with scripture: we can question it, seek deeper understanding, and ask for greater wisdom. How is this possible? You cannot talk to a book. But this very book teaches us that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  The Gospels teach that Jesus Christ is the very Word of God that spoke creation into existence, that raised Lazarus from the dead, and raised himself up, and yes, that inspired the prophets, priests, poets and apostles that physically wrote down the books of the Bible. Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17).

When you read the Bible, you are actually interacting with a Person. It is a two-way conversation. The words you read are coming straight from the Lord; they are his thoughts, desires and hopes he longs to share with you. And your response is instantly known by him. If you scoff at him, he will draw back, not in fear, but out of respect for your individuality and free choice to do so. You will not be privy to deeper revelation. If you seek to follow his advice, he will strengthen your spirit and resolve; if you seek more revelation he will quietly speak to you. When you sit with the Word of God open, and read the words on the page, you are literally sitting with God. It is a relationship as much as the one you have with your wife, your kids, and your best friend. You can speak to God just the same. Consider when you spend time with others; does everything you say have to be a request? Don’t you tell your wife things about yourself that no one else knows, simply to share your heart with her? Don’t you ever sit quietly with your kids, or better yet, play with them, and there need not be words, just the sharing of experience? Don’t you ever just joke around with your best friend, just for the fun of it? God longs for you to share yourself with him and for you to let him inside of you. Sometimes reading the Word will result in more wisdom and maybe even inspire a teaching or word for someone else. Sometimes we will get comfort in tragedy; a word of encouragement can literally feel like a hug from God. Sometimes he will give us direction for a certain circumstance or situation. Sometimes, and more often than not, it’s just a simple conversation that can be full of joy and laughter; it is about spending time with each other and getting to know one another. As Creator, He knows all humans beings inside and out, but he does not force us to know him; he gives us free will. The depth of intimacy between you and God Almighty depends on your desire to know him. He calls us to seek for him. He created us to long for truth, and only he can provide that truth, because he is the Truth. The revelation of the great mystery of the ages is simple: God loves you and wants you to love him back. Now the response to that should radically change your life, but the Truth itself is simple to grasp. That is why many men and women who consider themselves wise by the world’s standards never find him, they can’t accept a Truth so plain, and likewise, why many more simple men and women have discovered the profound mystery of life, and sleep in peace at night.

This why Christianity has been called: “a relationship, not a religion.” Instead of just following a group of rules and doctrines that have been passed down over the centuries, a true Christian has a genuine interactive relationship with his God. The Bible is a key part of that relationship. It is through the Bible that we learn the language and character of the Holy Spirit. Jesus says, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me” (John 10:27).This takes time, but just as with any other relationship, the more time you spend with a person, the more intimately you know his/her mannerisms, patterns of speech, type of character, etc. Having knowledge of the Bible will guard you from being deceived by other voices disguising themselves as God (or some form of wisdom), including your own.

This begs the question, “What about those people who don’t have access to a Bible?” Obviously, they will lack wisdom and intimate knowledge of their Creator, but they can still have a relationship with God. The Word frequently says that creation declares the glory of God, and the Apostle Paul makes the argument in Romans that the combination of nature’s splendor and the moral law of right and wrong that is written in everyman’s heart (in other words, his conscience), reveals the existence of God, and they should seek to know him through him that revelation. It is a mystery we cannot understand in our current fallen state (at least the understanding has not been revealed to me), but God says “If you seek for me, you will find me” (Deuteronomy 4:29 & Jeremiah 29:13), and Jesus later says “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, no man comes to the Father but by me” (John 14:6). Throughout the ages, men have longed to know truth; what they are really seeking is Jesus. I believe Truth-Seekers who are not yet Christians are closer to God than many in the church who claim to know him. The Bible says, ergo God says, “If you seek for me you will find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” For the seeker who is honest and genuine, God will make the path to the Truth, to Jesus, clear in some way.

Additionally the question must be asked, “What about the thousands of people who claim the mark of Christ but don’t really seek to know him?” Their Bibles and Christian paraphernalia are on display for all to see, but a close inspection reveals a thick layer of dust. Those who just consider the Bible to be a book of rules and guidelines and nothing more can fall on either side of the narrow path. Either the rule of law becomes so strong for them they loose all compassion for others, or they, in their lack of knowledge of God’s character for want of relationship, pick and choose what rules and doctrines aught and aught not to be followed. They refuse to admit sin and repent of it; therefore, they try to manipulate the Word to fit their human perception, rather than let the Word renew their mind and bring them closer to the divine. As the Apostle Paul says, “These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom…but they lack any value…” (Colossians 2:22-23). These men and women who come to church week after week and honor God with their lips but not their hearts are in for a shock at the end of this age. Unless they change course, they are destined to hear from our Lord, “Get away from me, I never knew you” (Matthew 7:23). To put it in human terms, it is like the parent who makes no effort to know his child and suddenly is shocked when she ends up pregnant or in jail; it is the husband and wife who sleep side by side night after night, but never locked together in love, and one is shocked when the other suddenly leaves or is caught cheating. With no communion, there can be no intimacy. With no intimacy, there can be no real relationship. With no relationship, there is no salvation. 

So the simple answer I wish I gave my son is this: “I read the Bible everyday because I want to start my day spending time with my Creator and Savior; I love being taught by my Heavenly Father, and I long for personal intimacy with the Lover of my Soul. It is not a task; it is a joy and an honor. I am pleased to be with him, and it is time well spent.”

Peter L Richardson
8/11/10
*This one’s dedicated to Angie, a fellow lover of God’s Word.

For skeptics and doubters that the Bible has any validity at all, both historical and spiritual, check out the 8/15/10 teaching, “How can the Bible be trusted,” from Pastor Dan Betters of Stone’s Throw Church:

http://ax.itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/stones-throw-church-audio/id379274171

http://www.stonesthrowchurch.com

Come.  And be my Baby
Maya Angelou

The highway is full of big cars going nowhere fast
And folks is smoking anything that’ll burn
Some people wrap their lives around a cocktail glass
And you sit wondering
where you’re going to turn.
I got it.
Come.  And be my baby.

Some prophets say the world is gonna end tomorrow
But others say we’ve got a week or two
The paper is full of every kind of blooming horror
And you sit wondering
what you’re gonna do.
I got it.
Come.  And be my baby.

Close Reading On, “Come.  And be my Baby,”  by Maya Angelou.

At first glance this is a pretty simple poem. Two stanzas, each with a simple abab rhyme scheme, and each with a closing statement that can be found in thousands of songs. The style is written in the vernacular and contains clichés that are easily understood by a common people. I don’t know much about Maya Angelou except that she is African American and that she likes children or monsters or maybe both (she was often on Sesame Street when my boys were young enough to watch it). Although not nearly as strong as other works by Black Poets I’ve read, this poem has a bit of an ebonic feel to it. It is certainly in familiar style with the Blues. Take the repetition of the last two lines in each stanza coinciding with the dark and lonely content of the work and we have got the Blues. I can hear the old man with his guitar wailing; “Oh, life is hard, life is bad, so come on and be my baby. Oh, the world is hard, the world is bad, so come on and be my baby…” However, all this is only surface appeal. A closer look reveals much more action taking place in all these common clichés.

“Come.  And be my Baby.” Though the phrase is common enough, the punctuation is unusual and warns us we are being invited in a work that is more then just a simple love poem. In the first line we are presented with a highway “full of big cars that are going nowhere fast.” Life is full of action, full of commotion, and full of big cars. The poem starts off with people racing for bigger and better things, chasing after greed, but where are they going? Nowhere fast. The idea of living simply to gain leads to a life of futility and unfulfillment. So, we end up with “folks … smoking anything that’ll burn.” The image of people getting high. Unfulfilled people reach out to find happiness and comfort artificially and they end up burning their lives away, destroying themselves. And yet, “Some people wrap their lives around a cocktail glass.” When a person is wrapped up in something the impression is that they are consumed by it. What is literally wrapped around the cocktail glass is the hand. The alcoholic drink represents addiction. This life is so futile that people are consumed by their addictions and they grasp them and cling to them to try again to fill their need for comfort. “And you sit wondering/ where you’re going to turn.” The last line of this thought is the first time the reader is addressed. We are spoken to as if we are confused and lost, not knowing what we can rely on and as if we are looking for answers. “I got it.” And the poet offers us a solution to our troubles. She tells us to “Come.” Then she invites us to be her baby. What we have now is the image of two people looking for meaning and not finding fulfillment in greed, artificial happiness, or addiction. They therefore can only cling to each other and find comfort in one another.

But then the second stanza opens up in the midst of the apocalypse and full of doom: “Some prophets say the world is gonna end tomorrow.” We can cling to each other all we want, but what if the world ends? Where does that leave us? “But others say we’ve got a week or two.” Maybe there is a little time, maybe we have a little hope, but still “The paper is full of every kind of blooming horror.” If these lines don’t represent the end of all things, they at least show us the uncertainty of life and the chaos that ensues in the world. However, this time when we, the readers, are addressed, we are not simply looking for a place to turn to, we are wondering what we’re “gonna do.” This time we are given the power to take an action, to do something about all this futility and chaos. “I got it.” And the poet offers us the very same solution; “Come.  And be my baby.” But this time these words have more depth and power, perhaps caused by our invitation to do something. This time there is a greater sense of love, the idea that when we are able to love one another, to cling to each other and support our fellow man, we can have hope against the chaos of the world and give meaning to life. And if there is a unifying force of love that can bind us together, can we not take that idea one step further in this poem?

“I got it.” I’ve got a solution:  “Come.”  The period after “come” makes the statement a command. The double space between this statement and the next phrase, “And be my baby,” creates a pause that puts more emphasis on both statements. We are forced to reflect on them, there is the sense that there is more going on in this poem than just a call for lonely people to take comfort in each other. In fact, I think there is an element of the Divine here. Throughout the Bible, in the Old Testament, God constantly appeals to his people to “Come.” Come and know me and my goodness, come and buy silver and gold from me (metaphors for spiritual wealth), come to me and find forgiveness. In the New Testament, Jesus consistently makes the same appeal, “Come to me you who are weary, thirsty, etc.” and he opens up the call to all mankind. “Come.  And be my baby.” The people of God in the Bible are also repeatedly spoken of metaphorically as his bride, even with language that is often passionate and sometimes explicit. Perhaps, underneath the seeming simplicity of the Blues in this poem is a call from the Divine. Perhaps the poet herself becomes a prophetess speaking hope, rather than doom. Perhaps through Maya Angelou God himself is declaring:

“Without me, life is meaningless, without me, the world is chaos, but ‘I got it.’ I’ve got a solution: ‘Come.  And be my baby.’ Come away from your futile greed, your artificial high and addiction; come away from the pain, the fear, and the horror. ‘Come.  And be my baby.’”

Peter L Richardson
9/12/2002

The Gospel According to Jake and Elwood Blues

Elwood: It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark, and we’re wearing sunglasses.
Jake: Hit it.

The Blues Brothers is one of those movies my friends and I would quote to each other whenever the situation called for it. It is one of the few movies that I still watch repeatedly and never get bored. I even own the two hour and twenty eight minute collectors edition which includes all the less important scenes that never should have gotten cut in the first place. The Blues Brothers was revolutionary with its car chases and car crashes, and it broke new ground as a modern musical, and through the music it revealed a cross section of black and white culture in a time when it was still not popular to do so. Because of the Blues Brothers I discovered the roots of the rock-n-roll I so dearly loved, and I gained a respect and love of black music and black culture that I might not have found otherwise. Since I’ve become a Christian, however, I found my love for The Blues Brothers suspect in many situations. You see, it does have the dreaded ‘R’ rating because it contains multiple uses of the “F” word. But even when I would urge some friends to watch it with me while it was edited for television—so they could experience the joy I knew—some refused claiming it was sacrilegious. I do not want to be one who tempts my brother to sin, so I’ve chosen to keep my love for this film on the down low. However, thirty years after its release, the Catholic Church has finally put their stamp of approval on the film. It seems that The Blues Brothers is finally being recognized for its spiritual value. I grew up on the Blues Brothers. My cousin and I used to dress up like Jake and Elwood and imitate their singing and dancing (unfortunately, some of those dance moves still unexpectedly come out of me today!). The Blues Brothers helped shape my love of music, my understanding of comedy, and, yes, my theology and my faith. When you follow the movie beyond its comedic value, what you have is a classic prodigal son tale of redemption including all the warts and bruises and miracles and lessons from trying to follow God’s plan.

Curtis Blues: Boys, you got to learn not to talk to nuns that way.

We need to start at the beginning. The movie starts with Jake getting an early release from jail for good behavior. Elwood picks up Jake and makes him visit “the Penguin” to fulfill a promise Jake made to her. The Penguin is the nun who ran the orphanage the two grew up in. Jake at first refuses, but Elwood reasons that you can’t lie to a nun. Their visit to her is hilariously disastrous as she tells them the orphanage needs $5,000 to stay open. Jake offers to help and she refuses money gained by criminal means, so he ends up cursing. She pulls out the yardstick and the more she hits them the more they curse until they fall down the stairs outside her office and land at the feet of Curtis Blues. Curtis (played by Cab Calloway) is the janitor and handy man at the orphanage and often becomes the only family for the kids, tucking them into bed and singing them old blues songs. The contrast between Curtis and the Penguin allows for great comedic effect, but even as the characters are foils of one another, they also can represent the dual nature of God. God is Justice and Mercy working together. God’s Justice brought the Law that causes us to realize our need for repentance, but it his Mercy inspired by Love that causes Him to forgive us and allows us access to Him and to love him in return. After Jake and Elwood speak to Curtis, they desire to find a legit way to help the orphanage but feel helpless.

Reverend Cleophus James: And now, people… And now, people… When I woke up this mornin’, I heard a distubin’ sound. I said When I woke up this mornin’, I heard a disturbin’ sound! What I heard was the jingle-jangle of a thousand lost souls! I’m talkin’ ’bout the souls of mortal men and women, departed from this life. Wait a minute! Those lost angry souls roamin’ unseen on the earth, seekin’ to find life they’ll not find, because it’s too late! Tooooo late, yeah! Too late for they’ll never see again the life they choose not to follow. Alright! Alright! Don’t be lost when your time comes! For the day of the Lord cometh as a thief in the night!

Curtis agrees with the Penguin; the boys need “a little churchin’ up.” He encourages them to slide on over to the church of Reverend Cleophus James (played by James Brown). When I was a child I was awestruck at this service. My mom drug me to a church where all I really knew was that I couldn’t make a sound or even put my head down and fall asleep, but this service was wild. It was like a party! I dare to say that while God’s holiness often provokes a deep silence and reverence in our souls, I think that the rejoicing in heaven is much more like the service we see in this movie than what is usually found in the services of most Traditional-Western churches. As a child I thought this service must be extremely exaggerated for the movie; I was pleasantly surprised the first time I had the opportunity to visit a Black Church on Booth St, a run down part of Elkton, MD, and discovered that the service led by James Brown was not so far from reality.

Reverend Cleophus James: DO YOU SEE THE LIGHT?
Jake: THE BAND!

It is at this church that Jake receives his vision and revelation from God: “The band.” It’s simple, they just need to put their old band back together and they’ll be able to raise the money for the orphanage. There is much we can learn from this. Jake is easily one of the most offensive and selfish persons in the movie, yet God chooses to speak to him and reveal his plan. Is this any different from the Apostle Paul? Did not God have a plan to use him while he was approving of the death of Stephen and later dragging more “followers of the Way” to their deaths? We should not despise those around us, no matter who they are; we need to be aware that God uses the foolish things of the world to confound the wise. Look all through scripture and you will see that God prefers to use the underdog to get his work done. As the movie progresses we discover the childlike faith that both Jake and Elwood have. There is much resistance keeping them from their goal, but they literally plow through every obstacle with the security that God is on their side and the expectation that he will get them through. Each time they are met with resistance, whether it’s a reluctant band member (or his wife played by Aretha Franklin) or the cops or a redneck-country-western band or the Nazis, their reply is always the famous line: “they’re not gonna catch us, we’re on a mission from God.” Would that Christians today had the faith of Jake and Elwood Blues! Imagine what God could accomplish through his children if we could only walk into the journey he’s called each of us to with confidence in his power and trusting in the security in his love! What a wonderful world that would be.

Willie ‘Too Big’ Hall: You’ll never get Matt ‘Guitar’ Murphy and Mr. Fabulous out of them high-payin’ gigs.
Jake: Oh yeah? Well me and the Lord, we have an understanding.

It turns out that putting the band (all the members are played by professional musicians) back together is not so easy. Jake has been in jail for three years, and most of them have pretty much gone their separate ways. After much work, manipulation and grace, they manage to get the full band back and get their manager to book a show that will make enough money to save the orphanage—if they can fill the concert hall. Despite wrecking havoc throughout the greater Chicago area, they somehow avoid arrest and get enough support to help advertise, and the show is sold out. This teaches that when God is on your side, he will enable you to reach your goal, because it’s His goal. Jake and Elwood had set out to save the orphanage they grew up in; it’s clear in the scriptures that God has a special place in his heart for orphans. When you are confident you are walking in his will, you can trust God to come through for you. God will surround you with people who will support your vision, sometimes without even realizing what they are supporting. Of course, I wouldn’t recommend going about it the way Jake and Elwood did, but then we wouldn’t have half as many laughs in the movie if they had been a bit more conservative.

Jake: First you traded the Cadillac in for a microphone. Then you lied to me about the band. And now you’re gonna put me right back in the joint!
Elwood: They’re not gonna catch us. We’re on a mission from God.

They managed to do such a good job advertising the show, that in addition to their fans, all their enemies showed up as well, including the country-western band, the Nazis and the entire local police department. They were surrounded, and it looked unlikely they would make it out the door, but “if God is for us, who can be against us?” Their job was not finished; they still needed to get the money to the Cook County Property Assessment Office in Chicago. King David often speaks in the Psalms of being surrounded by his enemies on every side, yet trusting in God to save him. Not only did they find a way out, but the man who showed it to them happened to be a record producer who hooked them up with enough money to save the orphanage, pay the band all the money they owed them, and pay off all their debt to Ray’s Music Exchange (the owner played by Ray Charles). This supports the principle that when we are obedient to God, he will do exceedingly and abundantly more than we can ask or imagine. The only thing left to do was to get the money to Chicago before the deadline. This is brings us to the Bluesmobile.

Elwood: It’s got a cop motor, a 440 cubic inch plant, it’s got cop tires, cop suspensions, cop shocks. It’s a model made before catalytic converters so it’ll run good on regular gas. What do you say; is it the new Bluesmobile or what?
Jake: Fix the cigarette lighter.

The Bluesmobile has mythology all to its own. The original one was a Cadillac, but while Jake was in jail, Elwood traded it for a microphone. He was able to pick up an old Dodge police car at an auction to replace it. When Jake protests that his own brother picks him up from jail in a police car, Elwood convinces him that the car is worthy of the title of Bluesmobile by jumping an opening drawbridge. The movie progresses and the car is able to perform greater and greater feats as the police, the country-western band, and the Nazis close in on them. One of the scenes that got cut from the movie implies that the car draws its power from Elwood parking it illegally in a high voltage area near his apartment. However, the end of the famous Police Car Chase Finale (which held the record of most wrecked cars in a movie for a very long time) implies that the power was actually coming from a higher source. The truth is that when we have faith, God will come through for us with miracles. The amazing feats of the Bluesmobile teach us that when human nature fails us, the supernatural will kick in and God will provide us with what it takes to get the job done. However, sometimes he will provide only what we actually need. Once Jake and Elwood made it to the Assessment Office, the car literally fell into a heap as they exited it. This shows that even when we are struggling to survive, God will “hold together” whatever objects or circumstances we need as long as we actually need them. When the Israelites wandered the desert for forty years, the scripture says none of their possessions wore out. True story: after my divorce, I took a risk and followed God’s lead to go back to college and get my teaching degree. Needless to say with two kids to help support, I was poor, and my car, a 1983 Chevy Nova (not the cool Novas, this year’s model was an imitation Honda) got progressively worse during that time but somehow puttered along. When I finally got my first paycheck as a teacher, I was ready to take on car payments, and as I pulled into a used car lot that advertised they would take any trade-in, no matter how bad, the Nova broke down. On that same lot was the exact car I was looking for in great condition and with an affordable price; it was even in my favorite color: a 1997 Forrest Green Jeep Cherokee. Being such a fan of the Blues Brothers, the irony was not lost on me. God does have a sense of humor.

The Cast and Crew: Everybody on the whole cell block / Was dancin’ to the Jailhouse rock!

God loves to laugh, and he is full of joy and love and peace, but he is also holy and righteous, and despite his grace and mercy, like a good father, he allows us to pay the consequences of our actions when we continually act in ways that displease him. I think if it wasn’t for the end of the movie, the sacrilegious argument could be justified. However, after Jake and Elwood pay the $5000 property tax for the orphanage, they end up in jail; they pay the consequences for their careless and foolish actions throughout the film. This doesn’t contradict God’s mercy and grace. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for us gave us access to God with a renewed relationship, but his resurrection gave us the ability to receive the Holy Spirit who gives us a greater power to walk away from sin and into a greater trust in God. We have to make daily choices to follow God and do the right thing. Where Jake and Elwood went wrong on their renewed walk with God was they felt they needed to manipulate certain situations to accomplish their goal. They weren’t mature enough to trust that if they consistently did the right thing, God would still come through in his way and his time. Though most Christians don’t commit offenses nearly as bad as the Blues Brothers did, how often do we get impatient with God and take matters into our own hands only to screw things up in the long run. For the sake of grace and for the sake of accomplishing his will on Earth, God will put up with our foolishness for a time, but unless we get back on track, we will pay the consequences. The more we make right choices, the easier they become, but if God didn’t allow us to suffer the consequences of bad choices; we would never learn how to live righteously. The reality is that even when we are following the Lord’s will, if we screw up and sin in the midst of it, we still have to pay the consequences, but it is for our own good.

Elwood: We certainly hope you all enjoy the show. And remember, people, that no matter who you are and what you do to live, thrive and survive, there’re still some things that makes us all the same. You. Me. Them. Everybody. Everybody…Everybody Needs Somebody to Love…

God is not above using vulgarity to reach people who would never step foot in a church, or even to get his own children’s attention. If you think that statement is sacrilegious, go read Ezekiel 16 and 23 (and most of our modern English translations are translated in the nicest possible way). C.L. Lewis said, “Suppose the image is vulgar. If it gets across to the unbeliever what the unbeliever desperately needs to know, the vulgarity must be endured.” I am by no way advocating that Christians should feel the freedom to use foul language or even make viewing films that clearly contain vulgarity in them a regular part of their lives, but I do believe that the majority of the Church spends so much time fearing the vulgarity of the world that they become closed off to what God could be doing through them to bring truth and light into the darkness of the world. A common Church doctrine tells us that we are to “be in the world, but not of it.” We are not of the world because we follow a higher law of love that Jesus has placed in our hearts, but it is that that law of love that should be causing us to “go out into the world and make disciples of all men.” When I watch The Blues Brothers on television with all the cursing edited out, it is just as funny. There is no reason why Christians shouldn’t be making art that is both as appealing and humerous as The Blues Brothers and also speaks as much truth as it does. John Landis and Dan Akroyd were the principle writers of the movie. I don’t know what kind of faith either of them have. One of them must have at least grown up Catholic, but much of their other work implies the faith didn’t stick. In the very first sermon to the “unchurched” after Jesus’ ascension into heaven, the Apostle Peter quotes the Prophet Joel, “In those days I will pour out my spirit on all flesh” (Acts 2:14-41). Many interpret this passage to mean that the gospel is for all the peoples and nations of the earth, and while I certainly agree with that truth, I believe the Lord also means something deeper. I believe he often prophetically inspires unbelievers to speak his truth, so that those who refuse to listen to those in the church can have a chance to wonder about a God in heaven and maybe even begin to talk to him and connect with the longing of their souls. John Calvin said, “All truth is from God; and consequently, if wicked men have said anything that is true and just, we ought not reject it; for it has come from God.” When Christians reject all art that comes from the world, we are losing opportunities to water the seed of truth that was planted by that art. God once spoke truth through Balaam’s ass, why wouldn’t he take the opportunity to speak through John Landis, Dan Akroyd, and John Belushi in the same way?

The Blues Brothers Band: I got everything I need, almost. I got everything I need, almost. But I don’t got you, and you’re the thing I need the most.

Peter L Richardson
7/1/2010

This Be The Verse
     -by Philip Larkin

They f*@k you up, your mum and dad
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were f*@ked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.

Philip Larkin titles his poem with a declaration, with an epiphany that is almost a command: “This Be The Verse”! Straight away he seems to be declaring to us; “I’ve got it! This is it! This is the poem of poems: The meaning of life!” For what is the use of poetry, if it is not to discover life, the search of who we are and what it all means to be here, to be in existence. According to the Romantic Poets, poetry is the essence of life, it is what binds the universe together; poetry is the center. All things revolve around poetry and seen through her eyes there is a greater revelation in understanding our existence. It has been common knowledge since at least Shakespeare’s time that poetry is eternal, transcending all time, and Larkin’s use of classical English in the title takes us back to the Renaissance Period. It is as if Larkin is crying out to us to take this poem serious, that we are about to be let in on a secret that rivals even the revelations handed down by the classical poets of old! So what is this declaration of life?

“They f*@k you up, your mum and dad.” What? Is that it?! That I have issues because of my parents? Well that is nothing new, that’s not a deep revelation. Perhaps he hasn’t made his point yet. “They may not mean to but they do. / They fill you with the faults they had / And add some extra just for you.”

What is this first stanza saying? Our parents bring us into existence, and all they seem to be capable of doing is screwing us up. Even if they try to give us a good life, try to teach us to live good and be happy, they can’t. They can only pass down the faults they have and even add some extra ones to those. So not only do you inherit your parents’ bad qualities, the fact that they are screwed up will affect you in such a way that you have new bad qualities become a part of you. There is no escaping it. But here’s the good news, if you want to call it that; it’s not your fault! All those bad things you do, every mistake you’ve ever made, every complaint anyone has ever made about you, don’t fret, now you can just pass the blame back onto your parents. Think of the implications, if your problems exist because your parents f*@ked you up, then really you are not responsible for anything. If you are not responsible for your actions, then why bother; just do what you want, regardless of the consequences. It’s not your fault you’re the way you are, so why should you have any personal responsibility to change yourself?

Wait. What about this second stanza. Maybe there are more answers there: “But they were f*@ked up in their turn / By fools in old style hats and coats, / Who half the time were soppy-stern / And half at one another’s throats.” So… then, it’s not our parents’ fault. So whose is it? Oh, their parents! But wait, if our grandparents f*@ked up our parents who f*@ked us up, because they were f*@ked up in their turn, then it stands to reason, that our grandparents got f*@ked up by their parents and so on and so forth. So then, what Larkin is saying is that we are all a bunch of drunks who are always fighting amongst ourselves. And that each generation just hands down their depravity to the next with each new generation receiving a few more evils added on. There is no one good, no, not even one. What a downward spiral! I had no idea my life was so bad. There must be some way out of this!

According to Larkin, sadly, no. “Man hands on misery to man. / It deepens like a coastal shelf.” We are trapped. There is no way out. We are in prison, confined by our very existence. The world around us is a prison, we are held captive by our very thoughts, because of our inability to break free from them, they control us, not the other way around. Passed down from generation to generation our faults, our curses deepen like a coastal shelf, and no matter how beautiful we may think our reality is, it is only death grown onto death. We are slaves to it, death is in our veins, and our minds are trapped in depravity. What a wretched man I am! Who will save me from this body of death?

Larkin’s advice? “Get out as early as you can, / And don’t have any kids yourself.” Cease all existence. Oh, that’s nice, how pleasant. Since we are all slaves to these faults, to a depraved existence, then it’s true, we should all die. Just give up, because there is no way out. No hope of anything because we are all looking to f*@k every one because we are all f*@ked up ourselves. What Be The Verse? What is the meaning of life that this poem has to offer us? Nothing. This is the meaning of life, Larkin declares, that there is none, we just exist in pain and misery heading in no direction at all.

Larkin attempts to deconstruct the myth of the family in this poem. He rejects the idea that a father and a mother have anything positive to offer their children. He in essence destroys the nuclear family and ultimately deconstructs society and the status of humanity altogether.  But by doing so he creates his own myth of nihilism and apathy. The ideology of a family is supposed to be a safe place for human beings to grow up and mature in. Mum and Dad have some kids, love them, and try to teach them to how to get along in the world. In essence, how to be good subjects. Unfortunately, Mum and Dad themselves are not always good subjects, so we have someone like Larkin come along and try to dispel the myth of good parenting.

Yet in his attempt to break away from this ideological state apparatus*, as Althusser would call it, Larkin only creates his own. A new reality (a new myth), where good subjects know better then to bring a child into such an evil world. Since they will not likely, themselves, cease to exist at this point these good subjects allow themselves to become freed from the responsibility of growing and maturing into better people. Why? Because it’s not their fault they are f*@ked up, it’s their parents’ fault. Hence they immediately re-enter the ideological state apparatus they tried to break free from and become once again, bad subjects.

The idea that “it’s not my fault” is just as much a myth as that every family produces perfect subjects is. Perhaps we can’t break free from our world, the idea of reality that has been handed to us, but the truth remains that we have the freedom to make choices that shape the reality around us, for good or for worse. We have the responsibility to make choices that will not only benefit us, but those around us. We especially have the responsibility to make choices that will benefit our children.

Larkin’s title may also present us with a double meaning. It could also represent unrefined, vernacular speech indicating the speaker of the poem is ignorant and doesn’t know any better. For centuries poetry was held in high regard and even came to represent the meaning of life. Likewise, the nuclear family had been understood to be what binds society together, the center of our structure of reality. High poetic language could become mistaken for ignorant speech in the title. The high call of the family, Larkin may be saying in the body of the poem, is unattainable because of the ignorance of “your mum and dad.” But rather then take responsibility to be healed from the issues caused by his parents, Larkin makes the mistake of trying to remove himself from something that is too much a part of him. Instead of looking for solutions to change the problem he’s exposed, Larkin chooses to remain in misery, when he could have chosen to hand down joy to man. “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of the sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace…” Romans 8:5-6.

Peter L Richardson
11/5/2002

*Ideological state apparatuses

Because Louis Althusser held that our desires, choices, intentions, preferences, judgements and so forth are the consequences of social practices, he believed it necessary to conceive of how society makes the individual in its own image. Within capitalist societies, the human individual is generally regarded as a subject endowed with the property of being a self-conscious ‘responsible’ agent. For Althusser, however, a person’s capacity for perceiving himself in this way is not innately given. Rather, it is acquired within the structure of established social practices, which impose on individuals the role (forme) of a subject. Social practices both determine the characteristics of the individual and give him an idea of the range of properties he can have, and of the limits of each individual. Althusser argues that many of our roles and activities are given to us by social practice: for example, the production of steelworkers is a part of economic practice, while the production of lawyers is part of politico-legal practice. However, other characteristics of individuals, such as their beliefs about the good life or their metaphysical reflections on the nature of the self, do not easily fit into these categories. In Althusser’s view, our values, desires and preferences are inculcated in us by ideological practice, the sphere which has the defining property of constituting individuals as subjects. Ideological practice consists of an assortment of institutions called Ideological State Apparatuses (ISAs), which include the family, the media, religious organizations and, most importantly, the education system, as well as the received ideas they propagate. There is, however, no single ISA that produces in us the belief that we are self-conscious agents. Instead, we derive this belief in the course of learning what it is to be a daughter, a schoolchild, black, a steelworker, a councilor, and so forth.

from:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_Althusser

Why God Preferred an Adulterer and Murderer to a Man who was Impatient and Lacking Trust

Saul Attacking David, by Guercino, 1646

Saul Attacking David, by Guercino, 1646

“Your faith was strong but you needed proof
 You saw her bathing on the roof
 Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
 She tied you to a kitchen chair
 She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
 And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah”
     -from “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen

“Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands; Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands” 1 Samuel 18:7. Right from the beginning of his story, David is already more popular than Saul.  He has gone down in history as the good king, while Saul spent the last years of his life wrecking his reputation. However, when you examine their lives and their performance as Kings, Saul can arguably be considered the better of the two. While he sought to take David’s life many times, it was clear David would be the next king, and it was not unusual for a king of that time to seek to protect his throne. Saul certainly sinned against God, but his sins did not bring civil war and plague against Israel like David’s did. So how is it that he received such a bad reputation, while David became honored as the ideal king? The idea of good and evil in the Bible is always grounded on a spiritual plane. In fact, the only true battleground of this war is the soul of every man and woman; therefore, it is my opinion that there really are no good guys or bad guys in the Book of Samuel. Jesus himself confronted a follower of his and declared, “There is no one good, but God” Matthew 19:17. What marks a man as righteous in God’s eyes is simply faith in Him. The Book of Genesis testifies this concerning Abraham; “[He] believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness” Genesis 15:6. It is faith in God that leads to obedience to Him.

Saul was ultimately rejected as king because he was disobedient to God. He did not kill King Agog of the Ammonites, as he was commanded to, and he did not wait for the Prophet Samuel to make sacrifices. Both actions show Saul taking matters into his own hands, as if he knew better than God. Yet even with his lack of trust, I think that Saul’s greatest sin was his unrepentant attitude. When he was confronted by Samuel, he couldn’t understand what he did that was so bad, and he tried to justify his actions. Unrepentance breeds more sin and pride and, unchecked, eventually leads to total separation from God. This separation left Saul wide open for “evil spirits” to torment him. Meanwhile, God began to raise up David in popularity and Saul realized the inevitable outcome. His separation from God and the torment of evil spirits left him unable to think clearly, and he became insanely jealous of David and obsessed over killing him. Evil had, in a sense, won the battle of Saul’s soul. However, before he rejected God, Saul was used mightily. It was Saul who unified the twelve tribes, and he began the campaign against the Philistines that brought safety to many Israelites who previously lived in uncertainty during the time of the Judges. He was even blessed to have the gift of prophesying from the Lord! Saul was a good guy who ended his life in a bad way.  

David is praised as the good king, the correction of a mistake. But God doesn’t make mistakes. When Saul saw red for David, he fled for his life and spent many years as refugee wandering in wilderness areas. Many other refugees and outcasts followed him, and David learned how to be a leader. More importantly, though, was that in this time David learned to be totally dependant on God. He had no choice; he was taught humility before the Lord and he developed into a leader that would remain totally submitted to God. When it came to matters of the kingdom, David always sought the Lord. However, as good as David was, when he became king, pride still seized his heart and caused him to sin. Saul’s sins were acts of foolishness often made in the heat of emotion; he almost seemed confused whenever he was confronted by Samuel of his sin. David’s sins were thoroughly plotted acts made in the coldness of his heart.

David already had a few wives when he became king. After he got the power, his lust became greater than his faithfulness to God. He decided he could have any woman he wanted. When God allowed his married lover, Bathsheba, to become pregnant, David was faced with another test, but this time he failed miserably. He feared for his reputation more than he feared God, and he abused his power as king to try to cover up his sin before his subjects. Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, was off fighting in a war for his God, his country and his king. David brought him home hoping he would sleep with his wife, and that everyone would just think the child was Uriah’s. The problem was Uriah refused to sleep in the comfort of his own bed and in the arms of his wife while his fellow soldiers were forced to sleep in tents in the midst of a war. When David realized this plan wouldn’t work, he sent Uriah back into the war and gave his commanding officer orders to put Uriah on the front lines and basically leave him stranded there. To all of Israel, David would simply look like a man who fell for the mourning widow while he attempted to comfort her.  

If sins are measured, David’s look far greater to me than Saul’s. However, the main difference between David and Saul is that when the Lord confronted David through the Prophet Nathan, David’s heart broke and he immediately repented. As punishment, God caused Bathsheba’s child to become ill and die as an infant. In the presence of the whole kingdom, David wallowed in anguish before the Lord as he appealed for the life of his child. He had been disobedient to God, but he admitted his guilt, and he fell submissive before God once again. David dealt with many consequences of this sin for years to come, but God gave David assurance of his forgiveness and restoration when Bathsheba became pregnant again. She bore David’s youngest child, Solomon, who inherited the kingdom and became known as the wisest man of his time. Unfortunately, Solomon also inherited some of David’s weaknesses as well. But in the end, David went to his grave with his heart right before his God. Despite the trouble this incident brought to his kingdom, David’s actions afterwards revealed a genuine trust and submission before God. In fact, later the author of 1 Kings credits David as doing what was right in the eyes of the Lord, and not failing to keep his commandments—except for the case of Uriah (15:5). There are no good guys or bad guys in this world. Only the potential to do good or to do evil, to serve God or to serve our own pleasures at the expense of others. In this age, we will often fall from grace and cause harm to ourselves and others, but when we trust in the forgiveness of God through Jesus, it is his love for us that causes us to want to be obedient to him and to live a life that pleases him.

Peter L Richardson
4/28/97

For a better take on this subject see Charles Stanley’s “Serving the Purpose of God,” his May 23, 2010 sermon, which can be found at: http://www.intouch.org/site/c.cnKBIPNuEoG/b.4943223/k.492B/In_Touch_Ministries__Video_Archives.htm

Psalm 51 (New International Version)
For the director of music. A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.

1 Have mercy on me, O God,
     according to your unfailing love;
     according to your great compassion
     blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash away all my iniquity
     and cleanse me from my sin.

3 For I know my transgressions,
     and my sin is always before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
     and done what is evil in your sight,
     so that you are proved right when you speak
     and justified when you judge.
5 Surely I was sinful at birth,
     sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
6 Surely you desire truth in the inner parts;
     you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.

7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
     wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
     let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins
     and blot out all my iniquity.

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
     and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
     or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
     and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
     and sinners will turn back to you.
14 Save me from bloodguilt, O God,
     the God who saves me,
     and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
15 O Lord, open my lips,
     and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
     you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
     a broken and contrite heart,
     O God, you will not despise.

18 In your good pleasure make Zion prosper;
     build up the walls of Jerusalem.
19 Then there will be righteous sacrifices,
     whole burnt offerings to delight you;
     then bulls will be offered on your altar.