Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Spiritual Reality

Romans 8:

1 There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who don't walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus made me free from the law of sin and of death. 3 For what the law couldn't do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God did, sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 that the ordinance of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6 For the mind of the flesh is death, but the mind of the Spirit is life and peace; 7 because the mind of the flesh is hostile toward God, for it is not subject to God's law, neither indeed can it be. 8 Those who are in the flesh can't please God.

Thinking like a preacher, I see "You choose which law to live by. You'll always live by a law. The law of fleshly desires, which wants a pound of flesh from everyone who has hurt you, which wants you to be responsible for yourself because there is no God, which demands responsibility of and from others (among other things that we naturally want) -- or the law of the Spirit, which trusts in God, which listens, which does not believe in a strict accounting, at least not one up to humans to understand. To see things as though there is no God is to rebel against God, against the law of the Spirit. It is to reject God."

Thinking like a philosopher, I see a kind of approach to reality here. We think things have natures. Some people don't like that. They say that things have no natures. Nature: A thing has its attributes, its way it is. Anti-nature: Or it doesn't -- we can throw away the strict accounting -- anything goes (at least on some level).

We are tempted to see reality as impersonal. The modernists (nature and nothing but nature) and the postmodernists (anti-nature mixed with nature) both think reality is impersonal. But what if reality is personal? What would that look like? Things might still have natures, but be more like words, spoken with the breath of a person. Or there might be a reality other than nature.

Buddhism may be attractive to some as a way to soften the word "is". "Non-dual" could be a way to soften "is". DBT treats borderline people who have black and white thinking by borrowing from Buddhism's way of softening "is". Buddhism softens anxiety by softening "is".

We might see a softening of "is" in "seeing things in a Spiritual way rather than natural way". Things really are a certain way. But the way in which they are is partially unknown to us, is known by God instead. And in order to know something, it's known against the backdrop of our relationships with God. For something to be, it must be by the will of God, according to the legitimacy of God. So for something to really be itself requires that God exist -- and, according to a different logic, it follows that we trust him. And so "is" remains as true and even clear as ever, but a bigger fact -- not really a fact, but a person -- sets it in a different context, allowing us to bear it.

We get wrapped up in our interpretations of what we see. But God has an interpretation of things, which we can hear from him, and by aligning ourselves with him. The Spirit is life and peace.

If reality is fundamentally personal (which is pointed to by Descartes' cogito ergo sum), then we relate to reality, instead of figuring it out, controlling it, possessing it, taking it for granted, denying it, or ignoring it. But the greater personal reality is God, and it's in the context of trust and loyalty toward him that we can rightly approach what is, and thus come to know the truth.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020


Matthew 17:

1 After six days, Jesus took with him Peter, James, and John his brother, and brought them up into a high mountain by themselves. 2 He was changed (transfigured) before them. His face shone like the sun, and his garments became as white as the light. 3 Behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them talking with him.

4 Peter answered and said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you want, let's make three tents here: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah."

5 While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them. Behold, a voice came out of the cloud, saying, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him."

6 When the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces, and were very afraid. 7 Jesus came and touched them and said, "Get up, and don't be afraid." 8 Lifting up their eyes, they saw no one, except Jesus alone.

9 As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, "Don't tell anyone what you saw, until the Son of Man has risen from the dead."

Obviously what happened here was an event of power. The disciples already knew that Jesus was a man of power -- they might have felt, if not consciously thought, that he was a god. In this event, he is revealed as God, but perhaps more importantly, as a true servant of God. God validates his son.

To those who see through the eyes of power, the Transfiguration separates disciples from Jesus. The disciples will never have Jesus' power. They are subject to the absolute power of his glory. But if you see how the point of the Transfiguration is for God to validate his son, then you see how the disciples are kin to Jesus. If they obeyed God as sons, as Jesus did, God could say of each of them "Behold my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him."

Bible Readings (introduction)

Today I start posting "bible readings". All the Bible passages come from the World English Bible.

Do people have time to think? Maybe some do. These readings tend to be short but you can get more out of them if you think about them.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Substitutes for Desire

You can work toward something as a substitute for desiring it. For instance, I think it would be easier for me to write a love poem or even to win someone's heart than to desire them romantically. I could do those things as substitutes for romantic love, and they might be perceived as romantic love, and do some of the work of romantic love, but I would have no such love.

So it can be with holiness. We work toward holiness; worry that we aren't working toward it (a substitute for working toward it); worry that by working toward it, we're bad people for being so ambitious (another substitute); worry that we'll never really be holy (yet another); labor in our minds over it -- but what we could be doing instead is desiring it.

"How should I trust?"

Pouring your heart out to God and asking what you need of him is good because it is a form of trust. But sometimes doing those things is not trusting, on a deeper level. You pour out your heart rather than listening, or you ask what you need or want instead of trusting that he will provide.

So you can ask, "God, how should I trust you in this situation?"

Father and Daughter

She grew up in her father's house. Her father had a corporation and she went to parties. She was beautiful and desirable.

One day, she asked her father for her inheritance. He said, "OK, but you only get half of what you ordinarily would have." She thought, fair's fair.

She went out into the world and associated with all kinds of people. She gave parties and sent her family photos.

But at some point, she fell in with a band of Christians. Soon, she was baptized, and gave all her money away, following Jesus.

But that life didn't suit her. She started to think it was only a phase. "Maybe I could get a job in my father's corporation," she thought. So she put on a long-sleeved T-shirt to cover her cross tattoo and took the bus, another, another bus back to her father's door.

He answered the door and said, "I'm not your father. God's your father." And he shut the door in her face.

Father and Son

He grew up with no father, only the address of where his father lived, and he was always trying to find a father. He knew that it would be unreasonable to expect his father to care for him, since he had abandoned him at birth and moved very far away. But he always hoped to find a father, and then forgot that hope and found himself offering himself up as a son to father-figure after father-figure, abusive men and men with no use for him.

Finally, with his mind and body broken, he thought, "Maybe I should go see my birth father." So he got to the door and his birth father let him in and they talked. And he wanted to stay the night, but his father said, "I'm not your father, son. You have to go. God is your father."

Tuesday, November 26, 2019


One of the things they don't tell you is that while appearances do matter (affecting how you relate to yourself, how others relate to you), what also matters is strength, stamina, strength of mind as well as body. If you are a beautiful person, do you have the strength to deliver on your beauty? Or will your stamina give out? -- you'll snap at someone you were gentle toward.

So virtue involves the building-up of wealth, while somehow not compromising a spirit of poverty. This presents a puzzle for which there is at least one answer I can think of -- how can these two aims be reconciled?

Mental Health

Everything we experience is spoken to us by God. God does not like all the things he has to say (reality is not the way he would most like it to be). But, like Job, we can see that God gives and takes away, gives blessings and takes them away, gives afflictions and takes them away. What Job really wanted and got in the end, apart from blessings and relief from affliction, was God himself.

God speaks to us our experience. So mental illness is an expression of dysfunction in an aspect of our relationship with God. Likewise the effort and process of rehabilitating mental health (or "habilitating" what was never there) is a process of restoring or discovering an aspect of good relationship with God.

A smooth and trusting experience of the moment, repeated over the long term, is the goal of much mental health-seeking. To an extent, this pursuit can be a school for learning to trust God. But there is more to God than just the provider of smooth and trusting experience, just as there is more to a mother than her milk.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Fear of What?

"The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge" (source).

Or is it "the fear of death is the beginning of knowledge"? A lot of our criteria for why we should consider real what we do consider real boil down to "if you don't abide by these criteria consistently, you will be at greatest risk of physical death in the long run."

Or is it "the fear of shame" or "the fear of a particular human's opinion, or group of humans' opinions"? As opposed to the fear of the LORD's opinion.

Is fearlessness the beginning of knowledge? Or the full growth of it? There is a certain kind of fearlessness which comes from not caring. Experience is most real when there is fear, for a certain meaning of "real". Wealth enables us to not live in reality.

Knowledge has different flavors, different tonalities and physical expressions, depending on whether it is begun by the fear of death, the fear of shame, the fear of people's opinions, or whatever else, or the fear of the LORD.


Some old notes on "flavors":

Ethical Flavors

An ethical dilemma: do the right thing now vs. trust the less immediate thing which is better in the long run. Probably everyone leans on both the former and the latter, in other words, balancing deontology (the former) and consequentialism (the latter).

But which right things do we do now? Which less immediate things which are better in the long run?

Ethics has a structure (virtue, deontology, consequentialism) and a flavor. (Virtue ethics: Be the kind of person who does (which?) right thing now and trusts the (which?) less immediate thing which is better in the long run.)

With belief in God, your heart needs to be right, and you believe, trust, know that everything will be right in the long run, every dark part of a person will be exposed to truth, the timeline is long enough to do the right thing in the long run.

Without belief in God, you do what feels moral now, or not, and you don't expect justice or truth to win, you might not have a firm belief in or even a concept of justice or truth, everything is uncertain, you need to make tradeoffs, your heart doesn't need to be right if you get results, the timeline is uncertain and may not be long enough to do the right thing in the long run.

That's more virtue-ethical (in that the flavor of trust or non-trust in God affects the kind of person you are in approaching deontology or consequentialism).

A question you could ask: "What would be a really theistic thing to do right now? Or to trust in the long run?"

Without belief in God, it doesn't make as much sense to go against societal norms. Maybe the norm just is moral.

Holiness (being set apart, especially for, or to God) is an ethical flavor. Trust is an ethical flavor.

Social relativism (it's important to index yourself to your society) is a set of ethical flavors (one for each society). "Human well-being" (the concept) is decided on by humans. Related: human relativism (it's important to index yourself to what humans want).

Flavors in Capitalism and Democracy

Liberalism's two children (capitalism and democracy) both forms of "democracy", broadly/literally taken. Capitalism is about the will of the people: the consumers and those who lead the consumers. Same with democracy: the will of the voters and those who lead the voters.

Both capitalism and democracy are self-regulating competitive systems. We might want a cooperative self-regulating economy. Then we might also want a cooperative self-regulating political system. Society has a structure (or structures) and a flavor (or flavors), in parallel with ethical flavors, above.

Monday, November 4, 2019

While He is Near

"Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near."

If you want to develop a discipline, get up at 5 AM every morning and do it.

If you want to develop a habit, taste, or delight, catch yourself at a receptive moment and reward it.

If you want to meet a friend in person, you have to do it when they're in town.

You listen to a friend out of discipline and delight, but it is better when there is delight.

You speak to your friend when you do, and say what you say -- that is how he comes to know you. You are not in control of your relationship with God.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Knowing Others Better

It's dangerous to think that you know someone better than they know themselves.

First, it's dangerous if you're wrong. You may see certain aspects of a person clearly, but it's unlikely that you have all the data. So you can possess a distorted view of someone which is very compelling to you. Then, you reflect that view back to them, directly or indirectly.

But also, it's dangerous if you're right. You have a lot of power if you understand someone better than they understand themselves. You'll know better how to defeat them in arguments. You'll approach them with a settled confidence about who they are which they can't contradict -- after all, you're the one with a better command of the facts of who they are. You set yourself up as the trustworthy, wise one, and the wise are those whose decision-making has legitimacy, and thus social power.

When in possession of this power, you can put the other person in a dependent state, setting their horizons within the bounds of your vision. This can prevent them from being the person that God wants them to be.


Which is better, to know someone accurately, or to share the same reality as them? People who share the same reality can be friends. So you make the choice (or life makes it for you): to see things your way (to see the facts) or to share a journey with someone else.

If you know someone better than they do, you don't need to listen to them anymore. Speech is how we create reality, how we express ourselves.