Friday, February 1, 2008

Contented Nihilism?

So, we live in a Post-Modern, Post-Christian age. The Church has tried to respond to this reality in many and various ways. Some have tried to embrace it, maintaining that "Post-Moderns" are at least open to spirituality, if not tradition. Others have determined to "ride it out", planting their feet firmly in tradition and reassuring themselves by the timeless promises of Christ to those who persevere. While others, still, try to ignore or deny our Post-Modern culture.

While I was never in favor of embracing the Post-Modern philosophy and/or worldview, I once thought that the Church could take advantage of the seeming openness of Post-Moderns to spirituality. I don't think that any longer. While we cannot ignore or deny the Post-Modern worldview, we can neither embrace it. It's like the cliche that I'm now infamous for saying in my congregation: "If you dance with the devil, pretty soon he's going to take the lead."

What I observe today is a sort of contented nihilism. People, young people especially, seem to not really believe in any sort of existence after death -- and they're content, happy, with that. There's no concern, no despair, just..... nothing. It seems to me that eastern philosophy has finally impregnated western culture and given birth. This is Star Wars Buddhism at its worst. The following are lyrics from a song I actually enjoy very much which capture this contented nihilism of which I'm writing:

Death Cab for Cutie
"I Will Follow You Into the Dark"

Love of mine some day you will die
But I'll be close behind
I'll follow you into the dark

No blinding light or tunnels to gates of white
Just our hands clasped so tight
Waiting for the hint of a spark
If heaven and hell decide
That they both are satisfied
Illuminate the no's on their vacancy signs

If there's no one beside you
When your soul embarks
Then I'll follow you into the dark

This sweet sounding little song expresses a sentiment of jaded hopelessness -- at the best, purgatory; at the worst, kind of a melancholy death wish akin to many Romantic Period British poets. It seems that non-existence is preferable, for many Post-Moderns, to any kind of religious, spiritual belief in an after-life. Perhaps non-existence is preferable to existence, now!

The same band, on the same album, expresses this sentiment: "Love is watching someone die." Now, to be fair, that lyric is from a song called "What Sarah said", and it's really quite a nice, meaningful song about a man who is dying and appreciates the love that his wife shows him by waiting, watching, and ministering to him as he dies. At the end of the song he laments "Who's going to watch you die?", because he will be gone. But even with that poignant sentiment, there's no sense of a life after death of any kind, not the least a Christian understanding of eternal life.

I'm not optimistic about the potential to reach Post-Modern youth. To use Marx's phrase today, Post-Modernism is the "opiate of the masses". Our youth are on philosophical drugs. They are so thoroughly saturated by and under the influence of this Neo-Relativism that, not only are they incapable of seeing the truth, they don't care to see it or even believe that there is such a thing. God help them. Only He can.

A Singular Gift

The picture is of my, now departed, Lucy. I loved that cat. She had such a personality. Now, my other siamese, Maddie, is near the end of her run. So, here I am thinking about death. And life. And love. And why. And... . Anyway, when Lucy died, three years ago, I wrote the following prose-poem. Again, it is deeply personal, so I beg your pardon and ask that you oblige me, or, simply, don't read it if you are repulsed by such sentimentality. But, I think that this poem succinctly confesses my understanding of man's relationship with the animal world, and with nature in general, that is why I share it with you.

A Singular Gift

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth’.” Genesis 1:27-28

Lucy, you were, and are, a precious gift of God.
You were preparation for a child when I was childless.
You were a reflection, a dim, but true, shadow of unconditional love and child-like faith.
God gave you to me, a gift, to love and to care for; you gave back to me, a gift, His love.
Your simple trust, innocence, and contentment are, for me, a symbol of the faith that God desires: simple, unencumbered, prepared to receive, content.

Nothing made you happier than to be with me, to knead your paws upon my middle.
Your eyes would close in blissful contentment and your purr would rumble from the depths of your happy heart.
You were gentle, loving, and gregarious beyond expectation of your breed.
You were a friend and a companion honest and true.

You did not withhold yourself from me, and, for six years, I did not withhold from you.
When the children came, you took a diminished place, as was proper and necessary.
Yet, in the quiet times, you were always ready to share time with me when I would share it with you.

Temptation to mourn the brevity of your life arises, naturally – but, what could that mean?
The time we had was the time that was given, and there is no other.
You were a gift, a singular gift – not even the most important gift – but a gift, nonetheless.
I thank my Father for you – for the time, and now, for the memories.
And I hope, that, in some unknown way, I was a gift of God to you.
I will remember you with tearful joy.
I love you, my Lu.

War and Canon for M.L.E.

The following is a prose-poem I wrote when my father died almost twenty years past. I was nineteen. He is buried in the town of his birth, Ada, Minnesota, in the northwest corner of the state, just east of the border with North Dakota, the Red River Valley. My father used to repeat a number of humorous cliches, one of which was "What do you know about war? You never fired a cannon." This is a deeply personal poem, but I share it with any who care to read it because I am intrigued by my young, naive, theological thoughts, blended, as they were, with philosophy, and even pagan ideas. I was trying to work those things out. I guess I still am. Anyway, maybe you'll find it interesting too.

War & Canon for M. L. E.

I don't know much about war and
I've never fired a cannon, but
I know what it is to be 19 and
to lose a man I did not realize that
I was just beginning to want to know.

Often required is just such a shot straight
between the eyes to wake the dead;
it is a most unoriginal theme, after all, death
giving rise to life.
It took your death to begin my life;
I did not want it to happen, yet I have benefited.
Shall I be thankful?

Where is my family? Scattered south, west;
You have made your home in Northern Ground.
I would not pretense nor blaspheme that
your voice is heard in the whispering of wild rice;
but what is it that sombers my soul driving
north highway nine?
For, now I am drawn.
To my father, yes, but to my father's land.
I find no physical footing upon where I stand;
I am drawn to a spiritual footing in this Northern Land.

Mother is fine. She has found second love and another
in her.
Second love, less not than first, nevertheless, second.
Happy, now, and complete.
Your children struggle. Yet, this is good.
Your firstborn is successful, a wonderful mother with
two marvelous children.
I know not her struggle, yet, she grows and learns,
possible not without struggle.
Your second lives struggle and struggle has lived her.
At times it seems she has not been dealt a fair hand
in life; she does not complain or ask for pity,
she is strong.
I am your youngest, the one who knew you least.
I struggle mostly with myself.
Childhood was pleasant and without incident;
highschool was not as bad as it might have seemed.
But I was dead.
God shot me straight between the eyes and woke me up!
You died, and now I live.
Am I thankful?
I thank God that His mysterious will is done.
Thank you.

What have you taught me; to be a lover and not
a fighter? I am neither.
Yet, I do love, and passionately. Patience, gentleness;
thine virtues, now mine. Thank you.
I have neither your work nor your strength yet,
I have my mind because of your work
and your strength.
I have your will, now, to love God;
His gift to us both.
Yet, still, I know little about war and
I've never fired a cannon.