UNDISCOVERED GENIUS

A commentary on the history, contexts, and meanings of the word "genius."

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

For Whom It Is Prepared

For Whom It Is Prepared

This sermon started out to explore the question of "Who is chosen to sit at the right hand of Christ Jesus in Heaven?" But it has developed into a deeper discussion of predestination versus free will.

First the pertinent scriptures:

Matthew 20:20-23
 
20Then came to him the mother of Zebedees children with her sons, worshipping him, and desiring a certain thing of him.
 21And he said unto her, What wilt thou? She saith unto him, Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom.
 22But Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They say unto him, We are able.
 23And he saith unto them, Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with: but to sit on my right hand, and on my left, is not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my Father.


The following passage from Mark does not mention the MOTHER, but it is pretty well understood that it was a Jewish mother looking out for the best interests of her sons that initiated this exchange:

Mark 10:35-40
 
35And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, come unto him, saying, Master, we would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall desire.
 36And he said unto them, What would ye that I should do for you?
 37They said unto him, Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left hand, in thy glory.
 38But Jesus said unto them, Ye know not what ye ask: can ye drink of the cup that I drink of? and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?
 39And they said unto him, We can. And Jesus said unto them, Ye shall indeed drink of the cup that I drink of; and with the baptism that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized:
 40But to sit on my right hand and on my left hand is not mine to give; but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared.


I am interested in the problem posed by the idea that "many are called but few are chosen" (a subject for a later sermon to be sure), so the secretive statement that honors in heaven will be dispensed to those for whom those honors are prepared (the implication is, "prepared in advance"), is very alluring to me. I began searching for commentaries on this subject, but they all led back to the larger problem of predestination. The "Foundation of the World" seemed to be a Big Bang as far as predestination is concerned. Constant reference is made to this point in time (the beginning of time) when all things were foreseen:

Matthew  25:34
"Then the King will say to those on His right, 'Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.'"


John   17:24
"Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world."


Ephesians 1:4
"According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:"

2nd Timothy 1:9
"Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began,"


James   2:5
"Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?"


Luke   12:32
"Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom."


These scriptures clearly speak of a divine foreknowledge of people and events in advance of the great cosmic clock of time initially ticking its weary way into the private vastness of eternity and evoking material existence.

Many people have fanatically believed in the doctrine of predestination and have composed one dogmatic monograph after another in support of it.

In the 1662 edition of the Book of Common Prayer, Article XVII reads as follows:
"Of Predestination and Election.
PREDESTINATION to Life is the everlasting purpose of God, whereby (before the foundations of the world were laid) he hath constantly decreed by his counsel secret to us, to deliver from curse and damnation those whom he hath chosen in Christ out of mankind, and to bring them by Christ to everlasting salvation, as vessels made to honour. Wherefore, they which be endued with so excellent a benefit of God, be called according to God's purpose by his Spirit working in due season: they through Grace obey the calling: they be justified freely: they be made sons of God by adoption: they be made like the image of his only-begotten Son Jesus Christ: they walk religiously in good works, and at length, by God's mercy, they attain to everlasting felicity.

As the godly consideration of Predestination, and our Election in Christ, is full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort to godly persons, and such as feel in themselves the working of the Spirit of Christ, mortifying the works of the flesh, and their earthly members, and drawing up their mind to high and heavenly things, as well because it doth greatly establish and confirm their faith of eternal Salvation to be enjoyed through Christ, as because it doth fervently kindle their love towards God: So for curious and carnal persons, lacking the Spirit of Christ, to have continually before their eyes the sentence of God's Predestination, is a most dangerous downfall, whereby the Devil doth thrust them either into desperation, or into wretchlessness of most unclean living, no less perilous than desperation.

Furthermore, we must receive God's promises in such wise, as they be generally set forth to us in Holy Scripture: and, in our doings, that Will of God is to be followed. which [sic] we have expressly declared unto us in the Word of God."


Predestined for Free Will © 2004  by David Bennett is a lengthy article, crammed full of pro and con arguments from the earliest Christian writers up to the present day. It is clear what Bennett's opinion is at the outset, and his conclusions, if there are any, are tantalizingly predestined (ha ha) in the title, although I can find no real resolution of the problem beyond the fundamentalist penchant for sidestepping the issue. Nevertheless the background provided in this article is useful:

"WHAT IS PREDESTINATION?
Predestination is doctrine which teaches that God predetermined who would go to heaven and who would spend eternity in hell. Furthermore, it teaches that each person has absolutely no choice in accepting or rejecting salvation through Christ. Every move you make and everything that happens to you, good or bad, was predetermined by God.  If you reject Christ it is because you never had a chance or option to believe.

Those who espouse predestination claim that if we have the free will to accept God’s salvation then we have earned our way into heaven.
Therefore we’re not saved by grace but by our own merit-- we caused our own salvation, not God. . . .

WHAT IS FREE WILL?
Free will teaches that when presented with the facts of God’s plan for salvation that every individual person has a choice to make, to either accept or reject God’s gift of salvation. God desires that every person accept His gift. What was predestined was God’s plan for salvation through Jesus for those who accept it. Therefore if you accept that Jesus died for your sins and you have made Him Lord of your life then you are a part of the predetermined plan. . . .

Consider what Calvinist Loraine Boettner has to say about the early church leaders. Boettner, author of The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination acknowledges that the early church fathers did not ascribe to the doctrine of predestination:

“It may occasion some surprise to discover that the doctrine of Predestination was not made a matter of special study until near the end of the fourth century....They of course taught that salvation was through Christ; yet they assumed that man had full power to accept or reject the gospel. Some of their writings contain passages in which the sovereignty of God is recognized; yet along side of those are others which teach the absolute freedom of the human will. Since they could not reconcile the two they would have denied the doctrine of Predestination...They taught a kind of synergism in which there was a co-operation between grace and free will...”

Free will acknowledges that God is active in our lives and that He does intervene and cause certain things to happen as evidenced by the prophecies in the scriptures. Other things that happen to us are a result of choices we make. While yet other events happen because of sin that is in the world, we can’t control the events, we can control how we react to them. Free will teaches that because God is sovereign and active in our lives He can use any event for our benefit, even those events He does not directly cause to occur. . . .

Gift: The Bible calls salvation a gift. A gift without acceptance is not a gift.  If you force a gift on the receiver it is no longer a gift. In business law to have a legally binding contract or a legal transaction you have to have an offer and an acceptance. Another element to a legally binding
transaction you must also have consideration, that is, something of value or a price has to be given. In the case of our salvation, Jesus paid the price.

• But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! --Romans 5:15
• For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.  --Romans 6:23
• For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- Ephesians 2:8
• There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words-- John 12:48
• Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. --James 1:21 . . . .
WHY DID JESUS NEED TO DIE?
Jesus did not die a painless, quick, clean, and honorable death. In taking on the sins of the world Jesus in fact suffered a very painful, lengthy, bloody and ignoble death. If God was going to predestine some to be saved and not others, why set up a scenario where Jesus had to die a horrible death on the cross for the sins of the whole world? Why not just create perfect obedient people in the first place without the capability or opportunity to sin? The reason is simple. Jesus died because God created us with free will. Jesus did not die for sins God created and predestined us to have, He died for the sins we willingly commit."


The article concludes by simply rejecting the idea of predestination outright, and introducing the power of God's love as a panacea for all difficult concepts. We have here powerful arguments in affirming salvation through grace, but we still don't get any explanation for the NUMEROUS biblical passages referring to foreordination from the foundation of the world.

A much more broadminded and helpful article appears in good ol' Wikipedia:

Free Will
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
"A simplified taxonomy of the most important philosophical positions regarding free will.

Free will is the apparent ability of agents to make choices free from certain kinds of constraints. Historically, the constraint of dominant concern has been the metaphysical constraint of determinism. The opposing positions within that debate are metaphysical libertarianism, the claim that determinism is false and thus that free will exists (or is at least possible); and hard determinism, the claim that determinism is true and thus that free will does not exist.
Both of these positions, which agree that causal determination is the relevant factor in the question of free will, are classed as incompatibilists. Those who deny that determinism is relevant are classified as compatibilists, and offer various alternative explanations of what constraints are relevant, such as physical constraints (e.g. chains or imprisonment), social constraints (e.g. threat of punishment or censure), or psychological constraints (e.g. compulsions or phobias).
The principle of free will has religious, ethical, and scientific implications. For example, in the religious realm, free will implies that individual will and choices can coexist with an omnipotent divinity. . . . .

Metaphysical libertarianism
Metaphysical libertarianism is one philosophical view point under that of incompatibilism. Libertarianism holds onto a concept of free will that requires the individual to be able to take more than one possible course of action under a given set of circumstances.

Accounts of libertarianism subdivide into non-physical theories and physical or naturalistic theories. Non-physical theories hold that a non-physical mind overrides physical causality, so that physical events in the brain that lead to the performance of actions do not have an entirely physical explanation. This approach is allied to mind-body dualism in philosophy. According to this view, the world is not considered to be closed under physics: extraphysical factors can influence decision-making. As a matter of free belief, an extra-physical will may be decided to exist. Depending on the way the decision turns out, such views may or may not accept an independent soul said to make decisions and override physical causality.
Explanations of libertarianism that do not involve dispensing with physicalism require physical indeterminism, such as probabilistic subatomic particle behavior – theory unknown to many of the early writers on free will. Physical determinism, under the assumption of physicalism, implies there is only one possible future and is therefore not compatible with libertarian free will. Some libertarian explanations involve invoking panpsychism, the theory that a quality of mind is associated with all particles, and pervades the entire universe, in both animate and inanimate entities. Other approaches do not require free will to be a fundamental constituent of the universe; ordinary randomness is appealed to as supplying the "elbow room" believed to be necessary by libertarians.
Free volition is regarded as a particular kind of complex, high-level process with an element of indeterminism. An example of this kind of approach has been developed by Robert Kane, where he hypothesises that,
"In each case, the indeterminism is functioning as a hindrance or obstacle to her realizing one of her purposes—a hindrance or obstacle in the form of resistance within her will which has to be overcome by effort".


Although at the time C. S. Lewis wrote Miracles, (and physical indeterminism was only in the initial stages of acceptance), he stated the logical possibility that if the physical world was proved to be indeterministic this would provide an entry (interaction) point into the traditionally viewed closed system, where a scientifically described physically probable/improbable event could be philosophically described as an action of a non-physical entity on physical reality. . . .

Rudolf Steiner, wrote The Philosophy of Freedom, which focuses on the problem of free will. Steiner (1861–1925) initially divides this into the two aspects of freedom: freedom of thought and freedom of action. He argues that inner freedom is achieved when we bridge the gap between our sensory impressions, which reflect the outer appearance of the world, and our thoughts, which give us access to the inner nature of the world. Acknowledging the many influences on our choice, he points to the impact of our becoming aware of just these determinants. Outer freedom is attained by permeating our deeds with moral imagination. Steiner aims to show that these two aspects of inner and outer freedom are integral to one another, and that true freedom is only achieved when they are united. . . .

Physics
Early scientific thought often portrayed the universe as deterministic, and some thinkers claimed that the simple process of gathering sufficient information would allow them to predict future events with perfect accuracy. Modern science, on the other hand, is a mixture of deterministic and stochastic theories. Quantum mechanics predicts events only in terms of probabilities, casting doubt on whether the universe is deterministic at all. Current physical theories cannot resolve the question of whether determinism is true of the world, being very far from a potential Theory of Everything, and open to many different interpretations. . . .

In Hindu philosophy
The six orthodox (astika) schools of thought in Hindu philosophy do not agree with each other entirely on the question of free will. For the Samkhya, for instance, matter is without any freedom, and soul lacks any ability to control the unfolding of matter. The only real freedom (kaivalya) consists in realizing the ultimate separateness of matter and self. . . . A quotation from Swami Vivekananda, a Vedantist, offers a good example of the worry about free will in the Hindu tradition.

"Therefore we see at once that there cannot be any such thing as free-will; the very words are a contradiction, because will is what we know, and everything that we know is within our universe, and everything within our universe is moulded by conditions of time, space and causality. ... To acquire freedom we have to get beyond the limitations of this universe; it cannot be found here."

. . . .

In Islam the theological issue is not usually how to reconcile free will with God's foreknowledge, but with God's jabr, or divine commanding power. al-Ash'ari developed an "acquisition" or "dual-agency" form of compatibilism, in which human free will and divine jabr were both asserted, and which became a cornerstone of the dominant Ash'ari position. . . .

Free will, according to Islamic doctrine is the main factor for man's accountability in his/her actions throughout life. All actions taken by man's free will are said to be counted on the Day of Judgement because they are his/her own and not God's.

The philosopher Søren Kierkegaard claimed that divine omnipotence cannot be separated from divine goodness. As a truly omnipotent and good being, God could create beings with true freedom over God. Furthermore, God would voluntarily do so because "the greatest good ... which can be done for a being, greater than anything else that one can do for it, is to be truly free.""


I get a kick out the fact that even Wikipedia turns to C.S. Lewis for insight into problems of Christian dogmatics. Here is my collection of quotes for the day:

In The Problem of Pain, Lewis writes,
"I am going to submit that not even Omnipotence could create a society of free souls without at the same time creating a relatively independent and ‘inexorable’ Nature.... The freedom of a creature must mean freedom to choose: and choice implies the existence of things to choose between."


In Mere Christianity, Lewis said,
"Free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.... The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they must be free.” . . .

The business of becoming a son of God, of being turned from a created thing into a begotten thing, of passing over from the temporary biological life into timeless ‘spiritual’ life, has been done for us. Humanity is already ‘saved’ in principle. We individuals have to appropriate that salvation. But the really tough work — the bit we could not have done for ourselves — has been done for us."


"The bit we could not have done for ourselves"--hmm--is THIS our elusive predestination? Are we spiritual beings caught in a transient twilight zone between physical and spiritual realities, all powerful in our imitation of Christ, but still just a LITTLE BIT LOWER THAN THE ANGELS? Angels, indeed, are described as lower than Man precisely because they have no free will. Are the priorities of this declension a little skewed? Do we really have to indulge in relative ranking when we look eternity in the face?

In Out of the Silent Planet Lewis's hero, Dr. Ransom is said to observe that,
"Predestination and [human] freedom were apparently identical. He could no longer see any meaning in the many arguments he had heard on this subject."


One more quote from Mere Christianity:
"If that were true, if God foresaw our acts, it would be very hard to understand how we could be free not to do them. But suppose God is outside and above the Time- line. In that case, what we call ‘tomorrow’ is visible to Him in just the same way as we call ‘today.’ He does not remember you doing things yesterday; He simply sees you doing them, because, though you have lost yesterday, He has not. He does not ‘foresee’ you doing things tomorrow; He simply sees you doing them: because, though tomorrow is not yet there for you, it is for Him... In a sense, He does not know your action till you have done it: but then the moment at which you have done it is already ‘Now’ for Him."


1st Peter 1:20 is a deep little scripture that contributes to this discussion. Here are some varied versions and comments:

1st Peter 1:20
"For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you."


1st Peter 1:20  (Amplified Bible - Lockman)
"It is true that He was chosen and foreordained (destined and foreknown for it) before the foundation of the world, but He was brought out to public view (made manifest) in these last days (at the end of the times) for the sake of you."


Below are two elucidating comments on 1st Peter 1:20 taken from the Institute for Creation Research website:

"1st Peter 1:20
1:20 foreordained. “Foreordained” (Greek proginosko) is the verb form of the noun (prognosis) better translated as “foreknowledge” in I Peter 1:2. Just as God foreknew that Christ would become the Savior, because the triune God had so ordained, so He also foreknew those who would be saved by Him.

1st Peter 1:20
1:20 foundation of the world. Before God ever created the world, in the mind of God, Christ had been sacrificed, and the names of the redeemed were known)."


These two quotes pretty much sum up my take on the subject: before time began, all that was to be, already was--time just made it stop happening all at once. Therefore, how could God NOT KNOW all that was to be? This idea does not contradict free will because the essence of the spiritual journey of all the soon-to-be-manifest beings was, at the creation of time, still a potentiality--TO THEM. Their choices were yet to be made. The fact that God knows what we are going to do doesn't mean that WE know. We are still choosing all the time. Furthermore, if we puny creatures of material illusion learn to step out of time maybe we can even change the past and the future in one fell miraculous swoop. Are there any other miracles in the Bible that negate this possibility? If faith in miracles is the last resort of the squamous mind, why not faith in this?

Gopi Krishna on Grace versus Pre-Determinism says: 
" ...There is a class of scholars who, though themselves intensely religious and God-fearing, refrain from the inquiry on the plea that the sacramental and the holy should always remain beyond the touch of reason, and that the ways of God and the prophets are not amenable to intellectual investigation.  Such an attitude of mind is not one of submission but of antagonism to the laws of God, for if He had decreed that reason should not meddle in the affairs of faith, then religion would have remained confined to the spirit alone and never encroached upon the province of the flesh.  But since every prophet and inspired sage tried to regulate the behavior of the body so as to make mortal life in harmony with spiritual laws, this constitutes an invitation, even a command, to the intellect, which is a part of the body, to aid in making this harmony not only possible but also fruitful.  For a number of reasons the modern intellect has shown an apathy toward the investigation of the phenomenon of religion which is completely at variance with the zeal evinced by it in other directions.  The upshot has been that many infantile beliefs, dogmas, and practices still continue to obsess the mind of a large proportion of the human race, which is not only incommensurate with their intellectual stature, but also positively dangerous for their survival.  The fact that a few intellectuals here and there put forward what appear to be rational interpretations of the religious idea and belief in defense of faith, does not serve to change the general atmosphere of doubt toward the expression of what is one of the fundamental urges of the human mind."


The intellect's will to meet the mental challenge of the Predestination/FreeWill dichotomy is ultimately an expression merely of one more vanity of the ego in search of a rational justification for itself; but will is everything, and, although we know we can never fully understand it with our puny physical brains, to throw in the towel on this point is to deny the material mind a vital point of intersection with a transcendent mind state which may provide us with an entry point into the infinite. We are talking about infinity here. In the infinity of timelessness why must we conclude that there is only ONE possible sequence of Time when it finally manifests? Why not Time manifest again and again, one sequence in an infinite sequence of sequences? God not only exists outside of Time, but the scope of Time itself must also be contained in the Mind of God, an environment of infinite dimensions. As the Sequential Mind steps into infinity, who is to say there is not more than one possibility? Perhaps Free Will is the entry of the Sequential Mind into the infinite Mind by stepping out of the material, outside of time. Perhaps our lives are played out an infinite number of times with all possibilities manifested at some sequential point or other.

William Blake wrote:

"Infinity is in love with the forms of time."


Indeed, as the Christ Consciousness plays over an infinite landscape of possibilities, the choice of one moment or another may coexist with all other choices, resulting in ABSOLUTE FREEDOM for the chooser, and ABSOLUTE INDETERMINACY for the chosen. It is thought by many that the whole point of physical incarnation is to refine the spiritual qualities of the soul. Thus, if the character of the soul is the active participant in this vast cosmic drama, every separate manifestation of time might constitute a new opportunity for the soul to choose, as the soul confronts every new situation AS IF it were the first time. The idea of parallel universes is firmly established in contemporary physics; perhaps free will is stepping outside time to choose the actions of a me in one universe offer another; I'm willing to accept the possibility of many acts of myself, but as to the me of me, the spirit of me, I think, like God, there can be only one.


 In Perelandra, Lewis describes the temptation of that planet's Eve. In this scenario, the hero, Ransom, is sent to intervene between the weakening Eve and merciless Satan:

"In vain did his mind hark back, time after time, to the book of Genesis, asking "What would have happened?" But to this the Darkness gave him no answer. Patiently and inexorably it brought him back to the here and the now, and to the growing certainty of what was here and now demanded. Almost he felt that the words "would have happened" were meaningless --mere invitations to wander in what the Lady would have called an "alongside world" which had no reality. Only the actual was real: and every actual situation was new. Here in Perelandra the temptation would be stopped by Ransom, or it would not be stopped at all. The Voice-- for it was almost with a Voice that he was now contending-- seemed to create around this alternative an infinite vacancy. This chapter, this page, this very sentence, in the cosmic story was utterly and eternally itself; no other passage that had occurred or ever would occur could be substituted for it."


We cannot, in this plane of existence, hope to achieve an ultimate realization of this quandary, to make an ultimate peace with this paradox; but we can exercise our free will to make choices beyond our ability to understand them, take responsibility for the present moment, illusory though it may be, and meet our Maker in His proper dwelling place, and make His Home our Home. As to claiming a place that He has prepared for us, at His right hand, or elsewhere, He has told us that in His house there are many mansions. I'm sure that wherever mine is situated, in the vast hierarchy of the divine architecture, it is a groovy place, and I, for one, can't wait to move in.

Let us pray: Father take our lives and let them be ever more consecrated, Lord, to Thee. Give us the strength to do what we ought to do in every moment here and now, and the patience to await true understanding of your inscrutable ways later on. Amen.

Glennallen, AK
Sept 18, 2011

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Vow of Poverty

Vow of Poverty

Today's sermon is a sort of combination "Confession" cum "Apologia". The general theme is "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God," but you will quickly ascertain that I am using myself as an example of the rich man who "went away sorrowful" although I hope that by the end you will see that my sorrow is my joy.

Now, to begin.
I am a professional failure. I mean that in two senses of the construction:
1. I am a failure in the professional world, that is the world of reputed, money-making wise men (whose identity will be clarified later in a quote from Nietzsche), and
2. I have made failure an avocation, a commitment to a philosophical and value system in which money is very much a side issue; that is to say, I have chosen worldly failure as a path whose value I "profess" to be ethically superior (for me) to that other path that would have garnered me riches and reputation on earth.

One wonders about the idea of "choice" in the fate that has unfolded before me, because I have the definite impression that if I had truly had any choice in the matter I would have "chosen" to be famous, influential, and financially well-off. True, I did make conscious choices, each of which contributed to sustaining my state of poverty and anonymity, but when I stand back to take in the big picture, the grand design of my life seems to have been plotted out by hands other than my own. When I see the people I care about (and feel responsible for) suffering because I am incapable of supplying their earthly needs, I feel guilty for making those "choices", but, then again, there is something in me, some kind of self-love, that always "chose" to put the salvation of my own soul ahead of theirs. This calls to mind the end of the Mahabarata, (the long story of warring families that comprises the cornerstone of the Hindu Bible, so to speak), wherein the king of the victorious family, Yudhishthira, rejects heaven in order to join his family members in Hell. A classy choice, to be sure, but I just couldn't do it, I couldn't make that huge of a sacrifice; and although I have my regrets, it is really pretty easy to forgive myself because I feel, in this regard, the calling of fate was way beyond my power to choose or not to choose. (Anyway, after Yudhishthira chose Hell, it was then revealed that they were really in heaven, that this illusion had been one final test for him. Whew!)

Anyway, it just goes to show that every choice we make impacts all those around us, and choosing the path of poverty definitely had deep repercussions in my life and the in the lives of my loved ones. It is very easy to attach negative connotations to many of those repercussions, to wonder if I did the right thing; and so I turn to Holy Writ to seek justification and comfort.

The pertinent scriptures are these:

Mark 10:21-22
 21Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.
 22And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions. . .
25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.


Luke 18:18-23
 
18And a certain ruler asked him, saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?
 19And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God.
 20Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother.
 21And he said, All these have I kept from my youth up.
 22Now when Jesus heard these things, he said unto him, Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.
 23And when he heard this, he was very sorrowful: for he was very rich.


Matt 19:24
And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.


There is some controversy over this expression, "the eye of a needle".
The traditional interpretation says that when Jesus was speaking of a camel going through the eye of a needle He was speaking of a gate in the wall to Jerusalem where only by getting on its knees could a camel go through it.

The writer on the The Straight Dope website disagrees. He clearly has an axe to grind, and his "Gospels for Dummies" style is kind of off-putting, but he has a point worth presenting:

"First, the text itself. According to Matthew, a certain rich young guy comes to Jesus and asks what one thing he has to do to have eternal life. Jesus says it's fairly simple: keep the commandments. The young man asks which particular commandments and Jesus says the ones about not murdering, stealing, lying, or committing adultery; honoring your mother and father and loving your neighbor as much as you love yourself --those commandments. The kid persists and says that he has *always* done those things, even when he was a child; there must be something else he needs to do. Jesus says, "Okay, I'll tell you what: if you want to be perfect, go sell what you have, give the proceeds to the poor and you come follow me." This is thought to be a suggestion that the rich young man was kidding himself if he thought he had kept the law perfectly. Odds are, like most of us, he loved himself a little bit better than he loved his neighbor.
ANYway, the kid hears that and goes away sadly "for he had great possessions." (Matthew 19:22) Then Jesus utters the famous line (Matthew 19:24) about how hard it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.
Next, the history and archaeology. The notion your Baptist friend has picked up apparently comes from a single ninth-century commentary which asserts that in first-century Jerusalem there was a gate called the Needle's Eye which a camel could only get through on its knees. (Sort of like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: "only the penitent man will pass...") A cute allegory, but there's no archaeological or historical evidence for the existence of such a gate."


[Sidebar:
Considering that Jerusalem has been conquered, destroyed and rebuilt numerous times since the 9th century, this factoid is neither surprising nor compelling; such a gate may certainly have existed in Jesus's time and then ceased to exist before proper "archaeological evidence" could be compiled. Also, as we shall see in a moment, Jerusalem was not even the original location of the needle's eye, nor the main inspiration for the expression. This is an example of how committed people are to bending facts to support their own agenda--but never mind--going on:]


"There's a good brief discussion in the article on "kamelos" in Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. 3, pp. 592-594 (one of the standard works on New Testament language.) TDNT, and other commentators with an interest in history, point out that there are several parallels in later rabbinic language about the impossibility of getting an elephant through the eye of a needle: it's a way of describing something which is so impossible that it's grotesque."


[Sidebar:
This is the author's main point, "it's a way of describing something which is so impossible that it's grotesque," and it is a perfectly valid point, except for the fact that such figures of speech often have their basis in fact. I feel a little petty arguing about this fine distinction, but, as you will see, in a moment, there is one aspect of the needle's eye, the real physical, not the figurative, needle's eye, that is of no trivial significance.]


"So the "Gate of the Needle's Eye" notion has no firm historical basis. It looks like a way of getting around the plain (but inconvenient) meaning of the text.
Setting the text in the whole New Testament context, wealth is consistently presented as a *problem*. I suspect the modern notion owes less to the Bible than to the Puritan theory that success in economic life was a sign of God's blessing.
Now, the theology. The message was viewed by the disciples as pretty bleak. In 19:25 -- just after Jesus uses the comparison -- the disciples respond "Then who can be saved?" "By human power, it is impossible," says Jesus. Then adds hope: "With God, *anything* is possible." Even the salvation of the rich. As a miracle."


Hooray! God can squeeze a rich man through the eye of a needle, just like Santa Claus can come down the chimney. Thus the miraculous justifies the spiritual reality! Blah, blah, blah. I swear these fundamentalists and their commitment to miracles as their own excuse for being really pisses me off. It's as though these people take a perverse pleasure in believing in things that demand faith; it's a passive aggressive, superior, elitist posturing that seems to point to the Bible as a Disneyland of special effects, whose inexplicability somehow makes them true. I have said before, that miracles are my stock-in-trade, a part of my daily routine, so I am not nearly as impressed by the miraculous events in the Bible as I am by the eternal realities, to which the Bible points a patient, steadfast finger--realities above and beyond the world in which miracles are unusual.

This quote about the eye of a needle is taken from a website conveniently entitled: The Eye of a Needle.

"...the eye of the needle, a small door fixed in a gate and opened after dark. To pass through, the camel must be unloaded. Hence the difficulty of the rich man. He must be unloaded, and hence the proverb, common in the East. In Palestine the "camel"; in the Babylonian Talmud it is the elephant".


This is the point I am driving at. The image of a camel going through the eye of a needle need not necessarily refer to some grotesquely impossible magic trick, but merely to the necessity of UNLOADING our worldly goods. Remember the Zen story I recently quoted from the age-of-the-sage.org website:

 
"A University Professor went to see Nan-in, a Zen Master, to find out more about Zen.
  As their meeting continued Nan-in was pouring Tea and continued to pour even though the cup was overflowing.
  The Professor cried. "Enough! No more will go in!"
  Nan-in replied "Like this cup you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?""


As usual, the admonition of Jesus to His disciples is expressed in language that is both elevated, and poetic, yet of composed of extremely down-to-earth imagery. In order to enter the Kingdom of God we must UNLOAD. We don't need a MIRACLE from God to shrink us down to size, we need to get shut of our worldly attachment OURSELVES; we must perform an act of will OURSELVES; we must UNLOAD OUR OWN CAMEL.

This is why I was willing to quibble with the previous website author's leaning to the miraculous interpretation of this text: because people often use FAITH as an excuse for not taking responsibility for their own opinions. To me, Jesus' instruction to give away all you have is of practical import; he does not refer to the needle's eye to inspire wonder, but rather to plant the image in His disciples' minds of the mundane ACT of unloading the junk off their camels' back that keep them from getting through the gate. True, faith is involved, but this seems to me to be much more an issue of discipline, rather than faith--perhaps it describes some common ground where faith and discipline meet. People like to face a problem, then throw up their hands and give up trying to solve it, and turn to FAITH for their answers. Thus, whatever their peer group has determined, as a matter of policy, to be true becomes, not an article of mental laziness, but FAITH. Jesus has offered His help, but he NEVER said, "Take up thy cross and put it on MY back." Jesus says, "Take up THY cross and follow Me." Your cross is uniquely yours, and must not be mistaken for some idealized, or, rather, conventionalized communal cross. Conventional opinion is constantly confused with faith. Balderdash--that is not faith, that is weakness, for which the reward in heaven will be slight.


From New Advent: The moral doctrine of poverty, we read:

"Jesus Christ did not condemn the possession of worldly goods, or even of great wealth; for He himself had rich friends. Patristic tradition condemns the opponents of private property; the texts on which such persons rely, when taken in connexion with their context and the historical circumstances, are capable of a natural explanation which does not at all support their contention (cf. Vermeersch, "Quæst. de justitia", n. 210). Nevertheless it is true that Christ constantly pointed out the danger of riches, which, He says, are the thorns that choke up the good seed of the word (Matthew 13:22). Because of His poverty as well as of His constant journeying, necessitated by persecution, He could say: "The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air nests: but the son of man hath not where to lay his head" (Matthew 8:20), and to the young man who came to ask Him what he should do that he might have life everlasting, He gave the counsel, "If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast, and give to the poor" (Matthew 19:16-21). The renunciation of worldly possessions has long been a part of the practice of Christian asceticism; the Christian community of Jerusalem in their first fervour sold their goods "and divided them to all, according as every one had need" (Acts 2:45), and those who embraced the state of perfection understood from the first that they must choose poverty."


Indeed, "Jesus Christ did not condemn the possession of worldly goods, or even of great wealth; for He himself had rich friends." The question is who is in charge--do you possess your possessions, or do they possess you? Spirit demands freedom from ALL earthly attachments not only "stuff" like cars, and houses, and VCRs, but more ephemeral "stuff" like reputation, position, social standing, etc. Wealth is assessed in terms of many different kinds of currency, and the wealth of fame can just as condemning as wealth of dollars.

In this quote from C.S. Lewis we hear:
"In the midst of a world of light and love, of song and feast and dance, [Lucifer] could find nothing to think of more interesting than his own prestige."


We have spoken many times of the dangers of a too-compressed ego-definition. Clearly, Satan is the paradigmatic ego-maniac of all eternity, a black hole of ego definition that blocks out the light of God's love to all those who join with him in joyless self-involvement; and every time we indulge in ego-centric thoughts or behaviors, we are aligning ourselves with his demonic camp.

Anything that binds you to the physical dimension limits your potential for spiritual advancement. If you let your "stuff" take possession of you, you become like Marley's ghost, earth-bound, heavy, and imprisoned. You become IDENTIFIED with your "stuff" and lose your true self in its carnal bonds. And, obviously, the more "stuff" you have, the longer it will take to unload.

--in Lewis's The Voyage of the 'Dawn Treader' we read:

"Sleeping on a dragon's hoard with greedy, dragonish thoughts in his heart, he had become a dragon himself."


On a different note, in A Preface to Paradise Lost, C.S. Lewis says:

"It is by human avarice or human stupidity, not by the churlishness of nature, that we have poverty and overwork."


Here we have a redefinition of the word "poverty." To Lewis, poverty is not a physical condition, but an ATTITUDE, and a STUPID ATTITUDE at that. Only the small-minded man need come to the conclusion that the absence of STUFF in his life is necessarily a bad thing. Thus, poverty is much more a state of mind than a physical condition. Or, if we think of our CAPACITY to POSSESS ANYTHING as limited by the size of the camel's back, perhaps Jesus is saying that we can only load SO MUCH on our camel, and if we have the camel loaded with spiritual treasures, there is simply no room left for worldly treasures. Perhaps a rich man has simply chosen the wrong "stuff" to load up his camel with.

--in The Problem of Pain Lewis points out that:

"He who surrenders himself without reservation to the temporal claims of a nation, or a party, or a class is rendering to Caesar that which, of all things, most emphatically belongs to God: himself..."


and:

"Heaven offers nothing that a mercenary soul can desire."


This quote is from Barack Obama:

“Focusing your life solely on making a buck shows a certain poverty of ambition. It asks too little of yourself. Because it’s only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you realize your true potential.”


The question is whether this is an earthly realization or a heavenly realization.

From Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra:

"It was ever in the desert that the truthful have dwelt, the free spirits, as masters of the desert; but in the cities dwell the well-fed, famous wise men--the beasts of burden. For, as asses, they always pull the people's cart."


I rejoiced when I read that because it helped affirm my impoverished self as a cool dude. I have long thought of myself as a voice crying in the wilderness, and it felt good to have that image validated. Nietzsche's "well-fed, famous wise men" are referred to sarcastically; they are figures mentioned in a previous long section of the book, about men the world upholds as wise, who they are really only pompous. These "wise men" pull the people's cart; they serve the low visions and aspirations of common men who have no loftier goals than to think themselves better than their neighbors. Now, much of Nietzsche's writing is, quite frankly, sour grapes--clearly not ALL great men are without acceptance by the world--and yet the desert must ever be the dwelling place of true greatness because it will always remain inaccessible to the common man. The great man who is also successful has merely brought his desert to the city with him.

What follows is a piece I wrote when I first created my freemantlemusic.com website:
Escape from Success

"The Freemantle Music Conservatory just presented another baroque music concert
on June 13. The presentation was an artistic success; all the performances were solid technically, and very listenable by any standard. I played two concerti, the Bach Am Violin Concerto, and the Telemann Viola Concerto in G. I was once again asked the question that I have been asked many times since I came here, "What the heck is a musician of your level doing in this tiny, insignificant, backwater town?" It is a question I stopped asking myself years ago, but it is one that deserves an answer, because it is basic to what I am about, and what I am trying to do with my life.
One of the hardest lessons I have learned in life is that success depends not on what you can do, but who you do it for. In other words, success is only possible in the big city where all the main cultural venues are situated, and where, for better or worse, all the best people are forced to live. It took many years, but I eventually decided it was more important to me to live my everyday life in a place that was sane and safe. I'm sure my Asperger's condition has a lot to do with it, because I have never been comfortable with people in social situations; an over-populated environment was always a constant reminder of my inadequacy as a person, and an agonizing stress which, with age, became more and more unbearable. I had to choose between success before the footlights and a walk in the woods in my back yard. It was that simple.

I began my musical life in Chicago where I played with the Chicago Youth Symphony, and heard many top international classical music stars; my high school class boasted at least ten students who went on to major professional careers--my best friend, not one bit more gifted than I, is now recognized as an important American composer. After four years at the University of Illinois, where I studied with some of the world's most well-known composers and teachers, I went to Los Angeles.
In L.A. I worked with another group of front-line musicians, including David Raksin, the composer of the jazz standard, Laura, one of the most recorded songs in history; Raksin was taking me under his wing and recommending me for low-budget film music gigs, which, if I had followed through, would have given me a solid foot in the door of the film music business. After getting my M.A. in music composition from UCLA, I turned my back on an assistantship offered to me, an opportunity that would have permanently ensconced me in the sheltering arms of academia, for the balmy beaches of Santa Cruz, a place, which was, compared to L.A., a haven of calm. In Santa Cruz, once again I rose to the top of the heap, and was pretty well-known as a composer, conductor, and performer; I played with and wrote for some of the top musicians in San Jose and San Francisco.
And, although I enjoyed the notoriety and the recognition, not of the public but of these few famous people who respected me and considered me one of their own, I was still not satisfied with the world I lived in--a world of smog, traffic, noise, and psychic pollution; eventually I couldn't even walk to the beach anymore without being assailed by an army of skateboards and flying frisbies. When a high-speed police chase ended in a smashed car right in front of my house, just yards away from where my infant son was playing on the porch, I knew I had to escape further into the backwoods, and further away from success. I went to the Northwest, Pullman, Washington, and began another chapter in my flight from fame.
I admit that there is an element of arrogance involved in my escapist behavior. I was a child of the 60s, a long-haired hippy, and it was easy for me to reject all the established values of the 50s, including social respectability, and material acquisition. I placed a higher value on my freedom than on acceptance. My Asperger's condition already had condemned me to an outcast state, and the social rejection I suffered at the hands of insensitive, judgmental people colored all my ambitions--I felt there was no hope, so why try. I also realized that my gifts were extraordinary and that, for better or worse, I was ever so slightly ahead of my time. As my compositional accomplishments developed, it became clear to me that my work was beyond the ken of most of the people in bureaucratic positions who might have helped me if they wanted to. I didn't even enter composition competitions, which is the way many composers make their reputations, because I was sure that my music, outside the mainstream, would not be accepted.
Shortly after I moved to the Pacific Northwest, I stumbled into several activities that renewed my interest in success. Through my connection with the Spokane Symphony (I got a job playing section viola) I had a piece for piano and strings played by Stephan Koszinski, a pianist and conductor who has achieved some national fame. I met and collaborated with Portland composer Jackie T. Gabel, on several performances of my music, in exchange for my performance of his piece Hellenic Triptych for viola and electronics; Gabel also included a set of piano pieces of mine on a CD put out by his recording company, North Pacific Music. But most importantly, I hired on at Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston Idaho as adjunct faculty. I taught there for eight years, establishing several community ensembles, including the college/community orchestra. By the end of my stay there I was doing much more teaching than either of the so-called full-time faculty, and had people traveling more than a hundred miles to study with me and play in my groups.
Unfortunately, when I dropped out of the Spokane Symphony, my opportunities in that town dried up, and my success at LCSC inspired me to do the singlemost stupid thing of my career--I left town to get a doctorate. I figured that if I could do so well teaching adjunct, I might as well get an advanced degree and get a REAL job. Little did I know that my Asperger's personality would condemn me once again to disappointment and failure. I distinguished myself in many ways at the University, and got many job interviews on the basis of my adjunct teaching experience, but when the smoke cleared, nobody would hire me for a permanent position and I wound up back in Pullman without even an adjunct appointment to show for my pains.

Alaska blew into my life on the winds of fate, and here I sit an anomaly of the Chugach Mountains. Here, I experienced the worst personal disaster of my entire life, but I also found myself a home. Many people have advised me to go to Fairbanks or Anchorage, as if that represented a move to the big city, but I remind them that I have already been to the big city--that's why I'm here.
Since leaving the Copper River School District I have begun several outreach activities, the most significant one being this website. But, in 2007, I also sent out e-mails to music teachers all over the state, and the result was a lovely performance of a piece I wrote for the Fairbanks Flutists, Dorli McWayne's flute choir, Aurora; this was the first quasi-professional performance of my music I had had in over five years. Through an odd stroke of luck I got connected to another flute choir director, Gail Edwards, and she played Aurora, in San Francisco in 2009, and again at a national flute conference in 2010. I also entered a few composition competitions; I received an Honorable Mention from an international flute composition competition in San Jose, and won a prize from the National Marimba League, resulting in my first and only publication. It seems that the world is catching up to me, and my musical style might actually be entering the mainstream at long last. I have always thought it would be possible to make it in the big city via long distance, and connections are now being forged with big city musical entities that appear to be hungry for what I have to offer. This after I had given up all hope. Go figure.
But let's face it, most of you out there in Mooseland couldn't care less about the struggles of a composer trying to carve out his niche in the temple of fame--you care about what he is doing for you and your kids. It is the most startling surprise of my life that I became a teacher and not an ivory tower recluse like my afore-mentioned best friend. That my highest ambition these days is to create performing musical organizations in Glennallen, Valdez, and Anchorage is astonishing beyond reason. And yet, it makes so much sense: I have always thought it was the man who made the music, not the music that made the man; and my sense of responsibility to distribute my gifts where they are most needed is the moral center from which the humanity of my music springs. Therefore, it is not for my career that I remain here, but for you, and you make me more myself. This can only result in better music. And if I never achieve the reputation of my peers in the big city, I know that in the daily activities of my life I am justified, and in heaven my reward will be great."


Thus, my vow of poverty, my PROFESSED FAILURE, has given me a sense of well-being; it has affirmed my best self as a SERVANT of God, and my camel's burden of mundane goods is light, while spiritual treasures crowd my world and point me toward heavenly immortality instead of a temporal reputation which, at the most, might stake a claim for me in the temple of fame worth mere minutes, or hours, or years by anybody's reckoning. Years, in a landscape of eternity--what a crummy deal! I thank God for sparing me the temptations associated with worldly success, because I have always thought of myself as weak; if God had not intervened and denied me the recognition I no doubt deserve, in one sense anyway, I might have traded my integrity for money, and that would have yielded a life of self-loathing instead of self-exaltation. If God knows my worth, what greater reputation do I need?

As to my physical necessities, I seem to be hobbling along okay--my family is not starving, and they all seem to be doing something worthwhile with their lives. I which I could have given them more, but perhaps that would have packed more "stuff" onto THEIR camels. I think that Jesus and the Saints habitually provide their workers in the field with JUST ENOUGH, and just enough, for me, is enough.

Let us pray: Jesus, thank You for all You have given us, and for all You have NOT given us. We commend ourselves to Your protection, and accept our daily bread in humble gratitude. Amen.