Is Life Hevel?

In the last Sunday of 2018, I was given the opportunity to preach at LakeRidge, which is where I work. I felt the inspiration to tackle a big topic in under 30 minutes. That topic was the meaning of life in the book of Ecclesiastes, focusing on chapter 1. You’re thinking to yourself that is crazy, and someone who is truly a novice should not be tackling such a large complex topic. You speak the truth, but I like tackling and communicating difficult things. Overall, when I listen back to my sermon; I don’t give myself a passing grade, but I still have much to learn about communicating.

I thought it best to make my sermon more dialogical, less monological. Now, a sermon is by nature a monologue. Most of my training is to get up and present my ideas, sources, etc. Thus, you can imagine that doing something like that is truly difficult, which is why I don’t think I did bad, but I didn’t do well either (if I was grading myself). Another way to think about it, I didn’t hit it out of the park, but I do think I had a good double. Also, I am my biggest critic.

As I prepared to preach this sermon and this book, I was confronted by the book’s construction and how the author(s) went about making the point. The main point of Ecclesiastes is to deconstruct all the way we find meaning and purpose apart from God. The author does this by launching a thought experiment for the reader to engage in and reflect alongside the author. So, I felt that my normal academic and rigorous way of constructing my arguments, etc. was useless because I would be forcing the text to do something in which it was not designed to do. The book is constructed as a monologue, yet also a dialogue. It is as if we are flies on the wall to this person’s conversation.

As I have been stating above, the book of Ecclesiastes is a thought experiment done in a conversation over life’s meaning. Qohelet, the one who is speaking for much of Ecclesiastes, states that life is hevel. Thus, this word hevel is what takes center stage throughout the book to find something that isn’t hevel. The book can be seen as defining the word. Throughout the book, hevel is then pictured in two distinct ways: 1) temporary and fleeting, like smoke, and 2) engima or paradox, like knowing whether someone will love you or hate you.

My brother, Joel, and his wife, Cre, offered a helpful note for me to remember to not get too heady, but to deliver content that could be manageable for a large audience. I have been known to go over the heads of everyone, and I’m trying to correct that. (Note: this is not meant to sound pretentious as it is to remember that epistemically we are all at different places, so we must communicate in a way that brings much of an audience along in the reasoning and verbalization. In other words, I’m still learning how to bring people along in a journey.)

Principles of Future Philosophy — Ludwig Feuerbach (1/5/19)

Credit: Wikipedia— Ludwig Andreas von Feuerbach 

The Eminent Muse For Philosophy

Ludwig Feuerbach continues his journey from theology to philosophy through the anthropocentric lens that confronts Hegel’s methodology and the intellectual status quo. Feuerbach promulgates a new kind of embodied philosophy that stays silent toward abstraction. Yet, this argument can only be seen as fodder for producing new philosophies from future readers. 

What one finds within the argumentation and conclusions of Feuerbach is the nascent thoughts for greatly influencing some of the masters of suspicion (Freud, Marx, and Nietzsche) and Western European existentialists (Heidegger, Jaspers, Buber, Sarte). Its deconstructive angle is important for the philosopher, theologian, or public intellectual that needs to clear away assumptions in order to feel a kind of “new wind” take them into producing knowledge. Nevertheless, Feuerbach’s anthropocentric angle is at best a pill for idealism, at worst a mudding of the waters on the question of what is a human being. On the other hand, the best thing one can take from Ludwig is a sense of true grappling with the psychology of human experience and the sociological framework for human experience. 

Feuerbach attacks Hegel’s totalizing philosophy that much of academia still wrestles with, not Kant. However, Ludwig never reaches the production of principles for this future philosophy, only paradoxically proving the difficult task of casting off the chains of intellectual history and embeddedness. The audience of such literature would be most helpful for most seminary students, particularly in regards to Feuerbach’s acceptance of skepticism and adherence towards the finitude of human capacity for full knowledge. Dubious though it may sound, Feuerbach is not to be feared, nor radically embraced. Feuerbach punts on much of what could solidify or explicate his point. 

Thomas Wartenberg properly stresses Ludwig Feuerbach’s brilliance and the necessity for being read towards the end of his introduction. “In [Feuerbach’s] work, there are deep and stimulating reflections on the nature of human existence, but reflections that one feels impelled to push further, to develop in different directions. Being the stimulus to original philosophical reflection is, after all, one of the most important roles that a philosopher can play, and it is a role for which Ludwig Feuerbach is still eminently suited.”

The One About A Squirrel

Photo by Evan McDougall on Unsplash
Note: For the next year, I plan to write a short story every day. Some may be 
palatable, even enjoyable(?). Others may be horrendous. If you like them, like them or share them. If you don’t, well it is whatever. I’m doing it as a challenge someone gave me. I’m calling these my fivers. I try and write them without stopping in five minutes, little to no editing after the time limit. Each story or post will come from a different prompt I am given. These are just exercises for me to be in the process of writing.

 

I grew up in small, rural America. Some people have called my area the rust belt; others have called it the snow belt. I called it home. In the sleepy towns of NW PA, there was a small private Christian school that I attended for most of my life from Kindergarten through 11th grade. The elementary wing of French Creek Valley Christian School had these decently giant windows to allow for natural light, as well as a good distraction for most of my classmates while some teacher went on about time, times tables, writing cursive, or the rudimentary knowledge of grammar. Grammar was the time that I would space out in the day, but I didn’t do it in a way that made the teacher genuinely suspect that I wasn’t listening.

One day, I don’t know for how long, but I blatantly watched two squirrels play with each other in the most jovial and playful manner. I don’t remember what drew me in; it might have been the changing of the weather. It was May! May in Pennsylvania was my favorite time of the year, and I found these two squirrel-mates living in a manner that made me envy them. While I heard this teacher go on about adjectives, nouns, verbs, and adverbs, my mind was analyzing what I was watching. Plato made the statement that a student’s formal, lecturing education should happen later on in life while as a youth they should learn the control of self through body and mind training. Education was to turn the light of our eyes to the goodness within us, thinks Plato. Well, chubby little Phil wanted to be jovial and lounge in the sun while I played. I kept hearing my teacher sound like the parents’ from the cartoon strip Peanuts.

As the squirrels played, they seemed to drift farther and farther from me. I watched them intensely, using anything I could to get a good eye on their bonding time. It was somehow a chance to escape the confines of my education to live a child’s dream — to simply be within the world. The next thing I knew my escape was immediately interrupted by the teacher calling out my name. “Philip! What are you doing?” As I heard the teacher, my mind reinstated the necessity to be a drone. However, I was more than halfway out of my seat, leaning more than half of my body sideways to watch the squirrels. Seeking to catch my balance, I spoke the truth. I wasn’t paying attention teacher. I cared more about the squirrels than this grammar lesson.

As I recentered upon the lesson, my mind couldn’t help but go back to the squirrels. Squirrels are funny creatures! Yet, they are fascinating in a peculiar way. I learned something valuable that day that I more recently realized in my adult life. Jovial and playfulness come to us in the moments of sheer non-expectation. Those squirrels did not happen to plan it; no, instead, they found themselves raptured into it. We become overwhelmed by chance to do something many of dream about: to find joy within the most serious of times.

How dare these squirrels to interrupt teaching of grammar for some nutty fun and comradery. But TRULY, it was the opposite! How dare we intrude into the scared moment of joy, innocence, and profound connectedness with a quibbling triffle about constucted rules to communicate through a medium other than oral language.  A bit of pleasure within the fabric of life isn’t found by the removal of things. Friend, joy is located in the midst of life. Connectedness is found within doing, not planning. Playfulness cannot be prepared or forced; instead, it becomes playful from the busy. There is much to say, but squirrels, small creatures of God’s creation, taught me that at a young age. I’m still learning it.

I’m Not Sure…

Speeches are interesting. We never actually have one that is a home run, everyone is sitting there applauding and lauding you with the brilliance of your speech. Back in September, I got the chance to give the best man speech at my buddy’s wedding. For weeks, I ruminated on so many things to say about the couple, him, her, etc. I think I watched 5-8 hours of YouTube videos of best man speeches. I was disappointed and amazed by the words people use and the way people go about doing these talks. I did not want to be another statistic. Nor did I want to give one of those purely emotional speeches. I tried to carve out a statement that was unique to the kind of person I am, and I thought would be particularly meaningful to the couple, individually and together.

I think it went okay, but I’m not giving you the written speech. I study philosophy and theology. I believe words have weight. I believe words are actions and actions are words. I hope some people know that when I make a statement when I’m not trying to be humorous, I don’t make it flippantly. The words carry along with it time coupled with reason and in-depth consideration. I look for my words to be impactful, thoughtful. At least, what I have stated is the hoped-for goal. I mess up, more than I want to admit.

Anyway, as I searched for the words within me to proclaim to the people and the couple, I realized something. Most wedding addresses are the couple and the person running down memory lane. I had to find my niche. So, I would charge the couple with a hope I have for them while doing the unique observations and jokes about the couple. As someone who reads a reasonable amount, I turned to my trusted books.

Poets. Philosophers. Theologians. Scripture. Comics (not out of the ordinary for me). Movies. Short Stories. It all fell flat. Nevertheless, I think I wrote the script for this three to four minutes speech twelve to fifteen times. You laugh, but it wasn’t the same talk. I had six different addresses. None of them worked for me. YET! I came across one of my favorite books. One of the twelve books I read every year: C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves. Additionally, I turned to the dumb ox, Thomas Aquinas, and Elenore Stump, a philosopher par excellence.

The significant quote that focused my attention on crafting the speech was by Lewis. Lewis states that love and loving necessarily means a vulnerability for brokenness, pain, and conflict that can launch into deeper intimacy. Or, if we merely want safety, then we have begun to creep into a coffin that suffocates risk and being known by another.

“There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket-safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.” —C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

I wrapped my mind around those first two sentences that “there is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable.” Most of the time weddings are whimsical, fancy, and a picture of pure love. Everyone mentions that marriage will be hard! Yet, we rarely hear a speech that encourages the couple to admit to not just dig into the difficulty but to be indeed present and see the other —to commune with the lover. Thus, I wanted to bring that reality of what they were doing before God, family, and friends into that moment. So, I hoped for the couple that they would find new ways to express vulnerability to and with the other because this is part and parcel of marriage or love, via Lewis.

Next, this vulnerability needs something else. I couldn’t put my finger on it. So, I randomly began to read Thomas Aquinas. Odd that I would go to a celibate monk. He has something within his Summa (Q20) that captures what I sought for the couple. However, I needed help teasing it out that is why Elenore Stump helped me. I turned to my notes for a presentation she did at Fuller’s Analytic Theology Seminars on Love. Summarized, to love someone is to desire or will the good of the beloved and union with the beloved. Thus, for love to happen, it requires shared attention where the lover perceives the beloved aright and vice versa. Or, it means that each seeks to view the other honestly. Thus, I encouraged the couple to find anew shared attention for the beloved.

So, there we go. I found the words through Lewis, Aquinas, and Stump. I encouraged vulnerability and shared attention. NOW! What is the point of this story of the condensed version of the immediate craziness of my mind? Well, I’ll do my best to make it quick.

As a Christian, I find it difficult to be vulnerable with God and have this shared attention, which I think happens through prayer. But, I could make that thought a post in of itself. I want to take to the horizontal angle, even though I readily wish to stick to the vertical (me and God or you and God).

So, I don’t think I’m the only one when I say it takes a lot to be vulnerable and be attentive to another. Loving our neighbor, whether that be wife/husband, family, friends, community, etc., is hard and takes time. It isn’t safe. It isn’t scary either! The love poured out for us in Jesus Christ calls in us to bring out a quality love over quantity to our neighbor. Only God can give the quantity and quality love that each human heart needs. We are tasked with loving our neighbor where we are at with what we are given. We are to love our neighbor with a quality that points to the love of Christ. That kind of quality is an investment in the person. We are by nature very contingent beings. Thus, an investment of time is an expression of that vulnerability. While it takes patience and a lot to gain shared attention.

The point of my speech for you is to ask yourself how do you seek to love, in particular as a Christian to mirror the love of God found in Jesus Christ being a witness. Have you asked yourself how you attempt to invest in your neighbor and indeed perceive them as God’s creature? Have you asked yourself that question? Consequently, not everyone is asked by God to be Mother Teresa, D.L. Moody, or Jim Elliot and many others. Instead, we are asked to love faithfully in the smallness of our lives because the ripples of the small faithful love ring as the Kingdom bells coming nearer. Read 2 or 3 John. Read the OT prophets, cf. Micah 6:8. You’ll see my point.

Last, my guess, if you’re like me, is that you don’t do a great job at loving your neighbor. Nevertheless, you and I cannot let that be the end of it. “I just do a pitiful job, c’est la vie.” No! God forbid! But, we need to start again wherever we are at with our neighbor. As a Christian, the good news of the Gospel is that you daily get the chance to participate in God’s love for you, for me, and for the world. I’d say that good news, and it is worth being perseverant, even when you fail.

 

I could be wrong, but, for now, it makes sense to me.
“It is our best work that God wants, not the dregs of our exhaustion. I think he must prefer quality to quantity.”
— George MacDonald

Own Appeal

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“I never asked to be born, and death’s no question. The sun’s still shining off the same old lessons. Then why does life feel like an educated guess and my thoughts are like meals, I’m a sucker for the seconds. Impressions got a lot of us stressing, but how we are perceived is more about a reflection.”

Some provocative words from this rapper show how steeped a song can become with philosophy. Honestly, the song is more than just a cool beat and some dope lyrics that make you wanna rhyming with the guy. Oddisee shows a bit of his mind, while trying to promote something more than himself. I applaud the guy for his lyrical genius in the song and most of his other ones too. So, as a night-cap, I wanted to introduce you to a song, but I wanted to show you that within music there lies a whole other world that most of us are unaware of: the world of ideas, philosophies, and experiences.