Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Wednesday, May 21st, 2008

To pick-up my story...

So that night in Danny McDowell’s apartment I made a fateful decision, one that has influenced my life ever since. In traditional Christian language I choose to “take up my cross and follow Jesus.” “No one after putting his hand to the plow ever looks back.” “What would it profit a man if he gained the whole world but lost his soul?” Jesus would be my leader. I would follow him wherever he would lead me. I still feel that way today. But what a long, strange trip it has been.

Of course the way I understand this decision and these injunction has changed over the years but it still remains a governing principle in my life. In a way choosing to follow Jesus has been kind of like growing up Catholic. Even when in denial and fighting it every step of the way you can’t get away from it. It seems to always be there, impinging and influencing everything I think ether as reaction or submission.

So, I still follow Jesus today and I am a practicing Catholic too, albeit a skeptical follower and believer. Can’t quite imagine being anything else. It seems that I will be like this till I die, unless the Catholics kick me out first for views such as all abortions aren’t wrong, women should be priests, and homosexuals should be provided the grace of the sacrament of marriage. Then I might be an Anglo-catholic. But the discussion of this comes later. But that evening in Danny’s apartment I made a choice and I haven’t quite been able to turn back from it since.

When I made the decision to follow Jesus I was a typical early 70s post-hippie hippie and Jesus freak. Prior to giving my life to Christ I smoked pot and hashish, ate peyote, and drop acid. By the time I made my radical commitment to Christ I had already quit dropping acid because of an aversion to synthetic chemical highs under the influence of natural health concerns ala J. I. Rodale and Prevention Magazine. With the commitment to Jesus I gave up all altered states of mind. Not so much because they were sinful but they were a distraction. As John Denver would sing a few years later, “sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy.” I wanted to look for those natural highs of love and joy in the moment through the giving of myself to God, loving others, and living wholesomely with the earth and her natural gifts.

I was a young, hopeful, idealistic, high school kid with little life experience but lots of ide3as how the world should be. I need to back a little farther and reimagine who I was and what I thought before this militant commitment to Jesus in 1971. What did I bring to this new conversion and conversation with Jesus? This is necessary in understanding where I took my new faith in Jesus. It will illuminate how I avoided some things, modified others, and eventually ended up where I am now.

The outdoors was my childhood element. Field and Stream, Sports Afield, National Geographic, and Boys Life magazines, the novels My Side of the Mountain by Jean George and The Pond by Robert Murphy, and, of course, my Boy Scout Handbook are the earliest reading that I remember. Later would be Walden by Thoreau, some Emerson, Bradford Angiers and the first Whole Earth Catalog in 1968. I was 14 when it came out. I discovered Wendell Berry and Manifesto: The Mad Farmers Liberation Front in the pages of The Whole Earth Catalog.

Through Junior High and High School I spent much of my time riding my bike with my buddies out to Three Ponds, our name for a series of three ponds about four or five miles from my suburban home in Southeast Wichita and other rural places to fish, camp, hunt, and just hang out. These places were far enough to be “out in the country” in the late 1960s and early 70s. And, of course, in High School we started driving and wandering further afield.

A couple books central to my early thinking that I am rereading: Pro-existence (1974) by Udo Middelmann and Idols of Our Time (1981) by Bob Goudzwaard.

Pro-existence by Middelmann was important in helping me think about material reality, creativity, and work in the world of spiritual thinking I inhabited. Some ripe quotes: “Only in creative activity do we externalize the identity we have as [humans] made in the image of God. This then is the true basis of work.” “[Humans] act rather than react, and [we] can be creative and act beyond the immediate reality.” “When the job is more important than the humanity of the worker, our society is sick.” “More people are looking for entertainment instead of creating entertainment for themselves. We should seek refreshment through playing, imagining, telling stories, digging in the garden, even cleaning [house].”

Idols of Our Time by Bob Goudzwaard was helpful to me in thinking about political and social questions and in helping to sever the presumed “natural” ties between current polities and the ideologies that support them and to envision other possibilities. Goudzwaard challenges the assumptions or, in his language, the ideologies created around concepts such as progress, revolution, nation, material prosperity, and guaranteed security. He argues that ideas can all to easily become idolatries in which we become like them and use them to justify corrupting habits of mind and practice where the end justifies the means and the “job becomes more important than the worker.”

A few quotes: “[M]any nations and groups of people today are possessed by the goal of guaranteed security. Their obsession gives them the impulse to use every means at their disposal and to create new strategies for reaching their all-encompassing end.” This was published in 1981 and likely written during the climate that resulted in the election of Ronald Reagan in the U.S. that year. Our experience during the reign of Bush II only emphasizes the prescient nature of this comment as well as the persistent and pernicious nature of this idolatry. And on the idolatry of progress: “The very progress which we first applauded has now become a problem. It seems that economic progress stimulates inflation, risky energy development, higher accumulation of toxic wastes, ... deforestation, and an unbelievable arms race.” “Yet in no way do the ominous signs of our situation necessitate fatalism or doomsday thinking. ... How can we take the first step? ... Our step will ... be characterized by the word enough, not the words more and more. The words of Isaiah [nations will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks] challenge us with a threefold appeal today. ... reduce defense spending, to channel the unclaimed monies into the poorest nations, and to build an economy of care, an economy of enough.”

Albert Hofmann, the Father of LSD, Dies at 102 Reports the NYT. Albert Hofmann, the “mystic chemist,” synthesized the compound lysergic acid diethylamide in 1938 but didn’t discover its mind-altering properties until five years later, when he accidentally ingested the substance. One article I read suggested he inadvertently got the compound on his fingers. Hofmann remained a spiritual seeker all his life. Much later he ingested Ecstasy and reportedly said, “Ah, at last something I can take with my wife.”

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