3.31.2009

shattering geocentrism


Wilco - "War on War"








I think a lot about identity. I have written about it before on here a good bit. Issues with identity cause, I believe, more destruction than any other issue. I might go as far as to say that identity issues cause all the other issues. Problems with identity are catalysts for every other anthropogenic problem in existence.

That is how seriously I think about identity.

Let's start here:
Everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe - the realest, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely think about this sort of natural, basic self-centeredness because it's so socially repulsive, but it's pretty much the same for all of us. It is our default setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth. Think about it: there is no experience you have had that you are not the absolute center of. The world as you experience it is there in front of YOU or behind YOU, to the left or right of YOU, on YOUR television or YOUR monitor, and so on. Other peoples' thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real. --David Foster Wallace in his May 21, 2005 commencement address at Kenyon College
When I do actually think about it, it's true - I cannot sense anything without filtering it through my nerves, muscles, synapses, and brain waves. But does that have to encourage conceit? Can I be my own Copernicus, igniting a heliocentric fire within my being?

YES. But it isn't easy. "It's a matter of my choosing to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of my natural, hard-wired default setting which is to be deeply and literally self-centered and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self." --David Foster Wallace

Now, what Wallace didn't say in his address, and I assume because he didn't know, is that it takes an identity crisis. It takes a force so strong, that is seems to rip apart time and space, but it does the trick. Just pray for it. Pray for a crisis, something that will take you to a place of brokenness - where you can see clearly all the rotten fruit that you produce on your own:
It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on. --Galatians 5: 19-21 (The Message)
A friend of mine recently expressed to me a disagreement she has with her roommate. Because of the disagreement, their friendship is suffering - conversations are strained, if not forced. And so far, her method of dealing with the situation is to ignore and avoid. Until something happens to settle the disagreement, she is avoiding the topic. But she feels conviction - she told me she feels like the man who has a log in his eye in Jesus' parable in Luke 6. This is the kind of conviction that we feel when we see our own rotten fruit.

"As harsh as some of Jesus' words are, they are also beautiful and comforting. No more worrying about what an audience thinks, no more trying to elbow our way to the top. We have Him instead, a God who redeems our identity for us, giving us His righteousness." --Donald Miller in Searching For God Knows What

That is why being the center of our own universe takes so much work. We have to look just right, like the right music, go to the right coffee shop, like the right people, drive the right car, have the right brand of men's body spray, have a facebook, don't have a facebook, have a facebook, don't have a facebook. It takes so much work because we aren't supposed to be the center! Christ calls us to be Copernicus. We are to put Him, the Son, at the center. Everything revolves around Him.

I'll finish this with another longer section out of Miller's Searching For God Knows What.
This kind of life (one where you aren't the center) could take place only within a relationship with God, the One who takes care of our needs, the One who really has the power to tell us who we are, if we would only trust in Him.

Imagine how much a man's life would be changed if he trusted that he was loved by God? He could interact with the poor and not show partiality, he could love his wife easily and not expect her to redeem him, he would be slow to anger because redemption was no longer at stake, he could be wise and giving with his money because money no longer represented points, he could give up on formulaic religion, knowing that checking stuff off a spiritual to-do list was a worthless pursuit, he would have confidence and the ability to laugh at himself, and he could love people without expecting anything in return. It would be quite beautiful, really.

Do you know what King David did one time when he was worshiping God? He took off all his clothes and danced around in the street. Everybody was watching him and he didn't care. His poor wife was completely embarrassed, but David didn't worry, he didn't care what anybody thought about him; he just took off his clothes before God and danced.

Don't get me wrong, I have no intention of taking off my clothes on Sunday morning at church. I bring this up only to say there is a certain freedom in getting our feelings of redemption from God and not other people. This is what we have always wanted, isn't it? And it isn't the American dream at all, it is the human dream, the deepest desire of our hearts.

I would imagine, then, that the repentance we are called to is about choosing one audience over another. Jesus says many times in the gospel that He knows the heart of man, and the heart of man does not have the power to give glory. I think Jesus is saying, Look, you guys are running around like monkeys trying to get people to clap, but people are fallen, they are separated from God, so they have no idea what is good or bad, worthy to be judged or set free, beautiful or ugly to begin with. Why not get your glory from God? Why not accept your feelings of redemption because of His pleasure in you, not the fickle and empty favor of man? And only then will you know who you are, and only then will you have true, uninhibited relationships with others.
OR, as Jeff Tweedy puts it so sweetly, so simply on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, "You have to learn how to die if you wanna be alive."

4 comments:

Audrey said...

Ben, first of all, that was beautiful. You put things so well, even the quotes that fit so well together. Thanks for that. And, I've never heard The Message version of the Bible. It's so modern, but it's really different and refreshing and gives me a new perspective on how it relates to us today: especially this part:
"frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness...paranoid loneliness... all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants...an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives...the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community."
WOW. Right on. Sad. It makes it seem more angry, which maybe what Paul sounded more like some of the time.
Anyway, thanks again, I agree 100% and yet continue to do the opposite. Only God. God only.

max. said...

That was beautiful. Agreed. We're talking about his in person.

jamesthesealion said...

Awesome, Ben. I would argue that we are actually hard-wired for God to be our center. That is the way he created us. Or perhaps it's that we now have the ABILITY to return to our original wiring after getting to know Jesus. "old self dying... putting on new self..." When we let ourselves become so enraptured that we can't take our eyes off of Him, we'll find that our surroundings, and our selves change without us even noticing.

benjamin said...

yea buddy. i don't think I articulated it very well, but that is kind of what i meant. I think mr. wallace is onto something, but he is coming from a very secular perspective. when i admitted that it seems true that we are self-centered, i meant only in the physical sense, that we do have to filter everything through our own brain, senses, etc. but, then again, maybe that doesn't even have to be true.

but yes, the issue here is that we are not hard-wired to be conceited, selfish, our own identity. that is why it is so much work when we try to make it that way. and nothing ever comes to fruition when we cultivate out of that centricity.