Monday, February 16, 2015

Shadow Puppetry

  So, sometimes if the pastor at Kirk asks me to, I will conduct a Sunday school class. Off and on over the years; classes for mid-high people, or occasionally for adults have been fun to do. When asked afterward, "How did it go?" my response is usually along the lines of understatement. "Well, no knife fights broke out!", is the typical answer. I ordinarily tell people at the beginning of the session something along these lines; "If this entirely collapses, and we are all just sitting around, staring at the walls wondering what to do next, we could always turn off the lights. We will go find a small lamp to put on this side of the room, so to cast finger shadows up on the wall. We could make "elephants" or "giraffes" with our hands, and the brain-wave would be to guess which animal is up there on the wall...". I (of course) have never actually done such, but since the idea for today's crazy pants essay is shadow puppetry, it kinda reminded me of my own low-ball estimate of what might someday happen in church on Sunday mornings. It also reminds this guy of C.S. Lewis.
  Having semi-forgotten that the movie about him was entitled "Shadow Lands", the link is that the guy was very impressed with Plato. Although it is a squishy non-specific type of "fact", there is an element to his writing which corresponds to "shadow". I never did very well "get" Plato's shadow illustration. The premise that those living in a cave, viewing shadows on the wall; were somehow being convinced that the shadows in fact; were the reality, has never much appealed to me. It seems clumsy.
  Lewis, running with that ball, tends toward an "intensity" of reality. The Narnia books posit a "realer", a "larger" world(s) ahead. In typical British fashion, the inside is larger than the outside. Think of an onion. As you peel off layers, the thing gets. . . larger? But not only a physio-spatial range is being discussed. He appears to be saying that a "harder and brighter" world, a thoroughly "realer-ness" comes into play, up ahead of us. The net result in his prose, is that the "is-ness" we are participating in just now, we shall one day look back upon so to view "this then" as a shadowy or mainly insubstantial thing. I hope I am being fair to the guy?
  Supposing that I am being fair in this estimate of Lewis's ontology, I have never been very interested in that kind of stuff. I prefer to assume that reality qua "is"; is not a slope gradient. Our problem with the Almighty has never been (to my knowledge), being held culpable before the bar of His justice on grounds of being charged with having a sketchy or flimsy existence. What would be the other option to "existing" anyhow? All entities are creatures of His. Our being, our "is-ness" is, was, and shall ever be a gift-derivative of His Being. What He is holding against the race has never been "insufficient real-ness", but rather rebellion and high treason! So, the short version of my disagreement with the platonic analysis is that the covenantal aspect of "Ethic" (or lack thereof!) as being addressed here, is what has gone wrong with human-kind. The Transcendental aspects of His Being/Existence, and the correlative creaturely aspects of our existence are moot to that dispute! Our basic error then, is, and remains our absurd "forgetfulness" (suppression actually) of His solitary positional supremacy. And not only that; let's not forget the rotten nature required of us to do so. He (and He alone) Was, Is, and ever Shall Be. He is not holding creation "against" us! The issue is that we fail (on purpose) to acknowledge His sole position as the morally Right-One. Saving, He is correcting the matter. It is after all, Law which is being written anew in human hearts. A restoration of the righteous-ethical, is precisely what has "gone missing" in us. This deficit is what changes from this-then, to that coming-then; not our being becoming more "is-ish".
  All that said, there is yet room in my thinking to accommodate the premise of "shadow". As an example, I was talking with my Sis on the phone recently. We were discussing a weird radio program which is on the AM band in the middle of the night. George Noory hosts "Coast to Coast", and all of those bizarre stories you recall from supermarket tabloids have a radio home. Are you curious about Bigfoot? Would you care to hear some "psychic" predictions? Hey, has anybody spotted a UFO anywhere? The type of material here leans heavily to the new age, and thus to the occult, it is wildly speculative (beware planet Nibiru!). I enjoy listening occasionally; if for no other reason than to use the opportunity to really listen as best as I am able, to people violently disagreeing with my own ideas. I often ask myself; "Why would anyone want to believe such stuff anyhow?". The short version for today's essay is "shadows". These, we operate as hand puppets, which are both "like" and unlike, "something". View then a (controllable) 2-d depiction of a 3-d actuality, a shadow!
  Shadows of the real act for us as "stand-ins", for another and more substantial "is". We do it all the time. As an example of a typical puppet, as Sis and I were talking; we covered UFOs. My basic premise on UFOs is that the observed phenomena (lights in the sky) has the popular interpretation of "visitors" from some other planet, traveling here by star-ship. Apparently, these guys traveled jillions of miles in order to come play peek-a-boo, and hide and seek with a gang of savages? It might be a bit like you in a row boat traveling to Australia, so that you can practice hiding behind bushes; such that the koala bears only sometimes notice you. Where is the margin here? Who wins? Who is financing these little jaunts anyhow?
  Picture a race "coming down from heaven". Uh, those guys would be demons, those ex-person-wrecks who were forcibly pitched out of heaven. Twisted in hatred, lost in deceit and murder; they are screamingly butt ugly! They would have an excellent reason "to practice playing hide and seek", heavy on the hide portion of the game! The testimony of scripture on demons is not socially acceptable, since it is "religious". The reality of the situation is too horrid for us to contemplate, so we deal with fear by substitution. A demon infested prison planet? Way too harsh, way too judgemental, so it is buffered, it is modulated "down" such that the premise of "a race coming down" is both kept, and distorted. It is become shadow, with the guts removed; only the outline is preserved. The outline of "a race coming down" is kept as a sock puppet version of a much worse reality. We normally forget that we are the ones operating the sock.
  So, shadow functions for us as a "shallow" 2-d representation of a "harsh" 3-d reality. The shadow is real enough in and of itself, but who cares about that? In my opinion, Plato "missed" just here. To view shadow rather than the object, in order understand objects; is a very Platonic idea, and entirely irrelevant. Thus, I infer, "higher" reality murders relevance. My point in all this, is to assert that; to make such a mistake in thinking is a willful dereliction, a purposeful obfuscation, never "an honest mistake". We are the ones operating the puppets, and we do so for reasons. True enough, we might well have also "forgotten" that we are doing so. So what again?
  This is what, there is an entire class of shadow information, most all of it of the forbidden "religious" nature. We were correct to class the information as new age and other "dark" perspectives. Consider for instance, the ever popular conspiracy theory market. Why do ideas like a cabal of mainly unidentifiable (invisible) "somebodies" manipulating events "behind the scenes" have such a purchase upon popular thinking? Or what of the "sinister-g.m.o." versus organic food dispute? See, a "something" we historically put in us; we now find to be killing us, versus a "something-else-wholesome" we are to commence putting in us keeping alive? But un-named evil forces don't want you to eat good food! Hey, how about the "great need for education"? There is something "we do not know" which remaining ignorant of, will gravely harm! Let's not skip the fear mongering over a "rogue power, with the power to incinerate from above" (launch a nuke), which "could be"? Shadow is used as an outline of the feared thing, it is a cloak by which we reduce, so to manage fear. Keeping the outline of a lessor; while forgetting it's actual target, it is difficult to recall that I am the one over here with the sock!
  I do recall several of these outlines as a boy, being palmed off as "concerns". They were not active fears mind you. They didn't even really qualify as worries; but we were to be "concerned" nonetheless. Do you recall the dreaded malthusian die-back coming? Or what of our using up all of the world's oil? Do you remember the killing of environment by pollution of air, land and sea? The entire cold war era of  somebody one day pushing the button? These and others were all at one time, taking up valuable brain space in my skull. And all of them appeared to be such huge (future) problems that only "all-of-us-together", could possibly deal with them. Therefore I infer that we prefer to approach the feared-thing as a group? Thus, we fear being alone? Possessing no puppet for that particular fear; we strongly prefer not to discuss it! Meanwhile, it is considered "bad form" to ask; "Which problems ever, have been solved by "all-of-us-together" anyhow? Just where or when has such group action ever worked?".
  The shadow which I have personally (and most frequently) preferred operating, depicts a "coming collapse". Details in the cranium remain slender, but whether we consider the collapse as an economic (the viability of the dollar), social (the death of the constitution), or some other end to our "national way of life"; the results in me are much the same. Like highness leading to irrelevance, the sock puppet of collapse yields inaction. I never end up ever really "doing anything" about the brain junk. It just sort of simmers "back there" somewhere in my thought. Yes indeed, there certainly does appear to me, to be a "threat to our way of life", located vaguely "ahead of us" (in time), in which "everything changes". Yet, note something odd. Nothing in me ever changes! The hazy-fuzzy imprecise "threat" creates a helpless do nothing attitude over in me-land. The shadow puppet threat just might be dodged if only we all stood together, or if we all protested in the streets, or perhaps if we all wrote our congressman. . .or some darned thing. The we-all proviso is what builds zero output. Shadow, as a means for us to manage fear, ends up generating emotional racket and motivational sludge. Worse, the inertial apathy in us tends, over time; to minimize both the actual threat, and our sock version of it!
  The actual threat remains, and the threat is real. Take for example my brain noise on an impending threat to "our way of life". That part is actual. And not to be overly hysterical about it; He is coming! Lewis has a great line to the effect; "When the author of the play steps onstage, the show is over". Him armed for war; at the head of a horde of holy and fierce champions, signals far more than an end to the American dream! The puny calamity I had in mind of a mere world-wide bankruptcy is a 2-d depiction of "something else".
  I don't know much about angels, but one of them whacked 180,000 bad guys. . . singlehandedly overnight? These cats are the ones who pitched the enemy-race out of "the above place" originally. On this go-round, they are coming (with Him!) to finish them off. He is coming, and they come-with to judge, to war, to shatter, and to burn not only the world, but as far as I can tell, reality itself!? Clearly, an end to all "ways of life"! So for instance to remain ignorant here (recall the education scare shadow) of this does indeed harm one's "future prospects"! Remember the malthusian fretting over a big "die back"? A slender hint, a whispered clue of the real devastation coming, can only mislead, as long as the shadow is treated as the only reality. The recurring "oil crisis" warns that our go-power will not last forever! Ya think? Our very power to live and breathe is actually what He is endangering. Oil is a shadow. Do you see my point? I hope I am being clear here, because it is just in this type of perspective, that (I believe) the N.T. gospel is presented. Background threat, plus foreground offer is the package.
  Contrary to this, nowadays, one hears plenty (too much actually) about how very strongly the one True God "desires a relationship" with us. Why? What's in it for Him anyhow? Where is the margin here? Are we to infer; "Apparently, the Chap is Almighty. . . lonely? Is it that he is so desperate for companions that we sociopathic liars are His only hope for conversation?". Of course not! And to be as charitable here to other believers as I am able; they appear to be saying instead that He is just so loving a Person, that He could do no other! But, it is just here that I suspect another stand-in shadow of our making. The entire salvific motion from Him to us, is nowadays presented as a "love affair",  and as shadow, the outline of love remains, but the center disappears! We've lost a dimension somewhere, and not noticed the difference.
  Really, it sounds as if I'm splitting hairs here, doesn't it? What is wrong after all with saying that God loves us? And, in my opinion, it is context, not content. It is a dimensional "flatness", an evident "irrelevance", which (motivationally speaking) makes it difficult to hold the interest of hearers which is being discussed here.
  For instance, suicide, as a way to die, is generally bad advice. Heroic death on the other hand, may well appear to be suicidal (to some) but there yet remains a dimensional, a relevant difference. Generally speaking, a depressed and manic man with a hand gun is an unwholesome development. Yet, a soldier leaping atop a hand grenade, in order to shelter companions with his own torso; is an entirely different kind, a "deeper" story. A stressed out woman with a hand full of pills, and booze, may not end well, but a Mom rushing back into a fire; to find her child is an alternate-kind, a "fuller" exit. We love heroes, and wish strongly we had "the stuff" of heroism, it would make our death, and so our lives more "meaningful". To posit the Cross as but a token of love, misses the Hero!
  He with His body and blood has become the only torso available, which could become the wall to shelter behind. . . in that day. The offer of the Cross is not some slender and nice thoughts about a floating; static and merely available love. It is the cry of the boatswain aboard the Titanic; "One lifeboat remains!".
  The Cross was never intended as some type of abstract statement concerning a dis-interested love. The relevant feature is the dire and impending threat, to which it, the Cross remains sole remedy. It is the life ring thrown to the drowning. Back in Noah's day, flooding is what caused drowning. In that hour, the ark of the living was the only safe place. The waters came, devastating rains from above appeared as judgement. On this go round, it is a flood of fire we're talking! But the motif of judgement remains uniform. The life ring in this case (even if stout asbestos) will not do the job. Even the very elements themselves shall be burnt up! Further, in Noah's time, it was not some puny life-ring, but an enclosed environ. The only safe place, that sealed up boat with the new head of the race as pilot, is the idea. Our idea here then, He (the true New Head of the race) is sheltering us. . .from Him! He, in Person is; upon the Cross, what the ark then was. This is what the Cross is, the only safe place from the Actual Threat. . . He Himself!
   The margin here, the gain is "glory"! He didn't morally "have to" do anything at all to defend His enemies. The relevance of the Cross is the Hero upon it. At the very minimum, He must have had to (by His own character) do justice; and He shall. But to go above and beyond, to extend oneself far beyond mere obligation, so to free us human traitors, forms the song of our praise. He is "glorified" by such as the likes of us! Real love helps us recall the danger, the risk, and the cost that the Mom, the soldier, the fireman pay, so that the other may live.
  We end up saying things like; "We give You thanks indeed oh Holy One, for this; Your fierce and undying love! You went way, way above and beyond the call of duty to build for us the boat which survives that day's storm-flood of fire! We thank You for the Cross! At that hellish tree, You have taught us to fear The Name, so to live". Fearing then no man, and no corrupt government, nor any economic crisis, we greet environmental disaster or social collapse. We, with Your aid; have come to dread no crisis, no devil of hell, nor his slaves, neither his future! We, freed by Him above; fear God alone! Nowadays and ever after, we the freedmen, us the rescued from fire and flood; are grateful from the heart!
   The actuality of the threat, that third dimension of fear, being freely acknowledged as legitimate and reasonable is what grants to us the meaningful, and relevant faith once delivered. To shrink the dire warning in the name of politeness, to depict the actual 3-d terror as a manageable 2-d shadow reveals not love, but cowardice. It was this very fearfulness in me which caused the problem, all that irrelevant inaction in the first place!
  It ain't "progress" to run away from fears. Rather, in Him, we are taught to run toward the object of dread. . . He Himself! And so, we come to laugh at lessor fears, so to gladly embrace them. We are being instructed thereby upon "how to love". Progress, means getting closer to the real goal. But since He is the goal, running away can never be the correct answer. We turn around and run to . . . The Dreaded One! And He frees us from all lessor fears.
  Now that my friend; is progress!

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