Monday, October 24, 2011

The Zeitgeist Knows

By Benjamin Wolaver

Mvery age has a Zeitgeist. For those of you who failed to learn the least bit of German (an 'awful language' as Mark Twain famously judged it), Zeitgeist translates to 'The Spirit of the Age'. 

There are many ways to think of a Zeitgeist. It can be a mood, a way of thinking, a collection of overriding "values" (in the abominable terminology of Nietzsche), or for the more spiritually minded, a powerful unseen force that moves society ala Professor Moriarty. Having more than a little of the poet in me, I like the latter idea.

One of the perks of being the Zeitgeist is that your favorite "set" gets to be the proverbial cream of the crop. It's one of those realities that G.K. Chesterton called 'too big to be seen'. In an age of moral relativism, the moral relativists get to relate by being relevant. In an age of chivalry, the knights ride stallions, save maidens, and string up villeins. In an age of reason, the rationalists get to pen treatises and watch them hit the bestseller list. Zeitgeists are always nepotistic.

But the greatest power of the Zeitgeist is the ability to make someone the embodiment of its vision - to forge a legend. Consider the Zeitgeist of early America: Manifest Destiny, the myth of the West, the shining virtue of the common man, free enterprise, self-education, oratorical magic, a miraculous road from poverty to greatness - all this and more was a prophecy of the life of Abraham Lincoln. The image of a lean, honest workman, axe in hand, book under arm, fueled by the fire of moral conviction to rise from poverty and become the leader of the People; this is as much a vision of that Zeitgeist as it is a vision of the life of Abraham Lincoln.

(Don't try to analyze the enigma. The questions raised are impossible to answer. All that remains is the mysterious reality: the Zeitgeist called forth, and the Legend emerged like Lazarus.)

There are many walking Zeitgeists. Mahatma Gandhi incarnated the post-colonial dream of the noble Third World victim, wiser for having left Western materialism and religion behind him. Like many living Zeitgeists, he died for the sins of his people.

In this he was merely following in the footsteps of others: Julius Caesar, the ambitious Roman pierced by the blade of Brutus; King Arthur, a noble soul slain by his barbarian b… er, illegitimate son; Sir Philip Sidney, the Renaissance poet quick with his wit, impossible in his love, and untimely in his end, or Honest Abe, killed by an tragedian's bullet. The Zeitgeist does not only call forth the Legend; it also calls forth the Bane. It is wise enough to know that the One does not exist without the Other (If Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had known this, he would not have created the killer of his greatest creation, Mr. Holmes, and so completed the Sherlock Legend).

The current Zeitgeist always tells us that his lightning never strikes twice. There will never be another Martin Luther King Jr. any more than there will be another Lincoln or King Arthur. Like the Dread Pirate Roberts, it keeps up the profile until another Zeitgeist comes along with another Legend waiting to emerge from Stage Left.

None of this undermines the greatness of these men or the miracle of their achievements. No doubt each one deserves his place in the history books. But let us never be deceived by the reigning Zeitgeist into believing that the greatest heroes are his heroes. After all, the real unsung heroes are never sung about.

 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Math and The Almighty

By Benjamin Wolaver

Mome time ago, I read a book called Hurtling Toward Oblivion.  Written by a Christian futurist, it made the argument that the end of the world was close at hand.  The reason?  Exponential growth.  Through simple math, this futurist demonstrated that the modern age was an age of exponential growth in every area of life - food, technology, population, globalization, as well as cataclysmic energy and weaponry.  

One page showed a graph of world production from the Dark Ages to the Industrial Revolution.  The line was close to flat.  After 1900, however, not only did the graph climb, it bolted in an almost vertical ascent..  The conclusion was inescapable: the end of the world was inevitable since sooner or later evil would gain the cataclysmic power to end life as we know it.  The exponential growth of human power would prove too much for morality to handle.  Put simply, one day humanity would awaken to the iBomb.  

The book was a thought provoking read, particularly since its entire case rested on the idea of exponential growth.  Exponential growth is, to say the least, a spectacular mathematical reality.  For those of you don't know what exponential growth is, I'll throw you the American Heritage definition:

The growth of a system in which the amount being added to the system is proportional to the amount already present: the bigger the system is, the greater the increase.

Yeah, that lost me too.  I like the tale of the Persian king better.  One day a courtier brought the king a gorgeous chessboard.  Asked what he wanted in return, the courtier gave a simple answer: one grain of rice on the first square of the chessboard, then two on the second, three on the third, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.  By the time the king reached the 21st square, he needed over a million grains of rice.  At the 41st square, he need a trillion.  The final squares were more than all the rice in the world.  

That's what exponential growth boils down to (I'm here all week).  It means that something times itself unlocks a power that can dwarf anything in the universe.  Seen in this way, exponential math gives us a powerful lens into the nature of God.

When Moses asked God for His Name on Sinai, God responded with the name Yahweh: My Name is I Am.  By giving Moses that name, God was saying that He was the Self Referential Fact at the basis of all reality.  Mathematically speaking, he was saying that his Substance was times Himself.  Like the formula for exponential growth, God is only proportional to Himself.  Because God is infinite and eternal, that translates to Infinite Power times Itself in an exponential curve.  

Mathematically that's like saying "to Infinity and Beyond!" ala Buzz Lightyear.  A more stately version came from the lips of scholar, Albert Bartlett: "The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function."  But while we can't wrap our mind around the sheer power and glory of what an Infinite God is times Himself, it does give a whole new meaning to the name, "The Almighty".  God is so mighty that even the word "all" does not grasp the scope of his greatness and power.  And while our world may be hurtling toward oblivion due to the exponential growth of evil, even exponential evil cannot hope to compete with what happens when Infinite Goodness and Infinite Power are multiplied exponentially to infinity and beyond.  

Or as Newton might have put it:  Yahweh X Yahweh = Power Beyond Comprehension

 

Friday, October 07, 2011

Faster Than The Speed of Light

By Alex Wolaver

Many months ago, the Hadron Collider was turned on for the first time.  Spanning miles beneath the Swiss Alps, it was designed to explode particles at the sub-atomic level in order find ever deeper layers of reality. Some feared that it would inadvertently create a black hole or rip through spacetime itself.  Well, now it would appear that it has indeed blown a huge black hole in the very heart of modern physics.  

Pulitzer prize winning columnist, Charles Krauthammer, explains the seismic discovery in his latest work: 

    "“We don’t allow faster-than-light neutrinos in here,” says the bartender.

    A neutrino walks into a bar.

    — Joke circulating on the Internet

     The world as we know it is on the brink of disintegration, on the verge of dissolution. No, I’m not talking about the collapse of the euro, of international finance, of the Western economies, of the democratic future, of the unipolar moment, of the American dream, of French banks, of Greece as a going concern, of Europe as an idea, of Pax Americana — the sinews of a postwar world that feels today to be unraveling.

I am talking about something far more important. Which is why it made only the back pages of your newspaper, if it made it at all. Scientists at CERN, the European high-energy physics consortium, have announced the discovery of a particle that can travel faster than light."

Read the rest here.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Progress

By Alex Wolaver

(An Odyssey inspired by The Pilgrim's Progress and the Knights of the Old West)


As I walked through the wilderness of this world

A Drifter alone from the lost land of Ur

I searched for a town far away in The West

A place Pilgrims called Progress

 

I followed the sound of the old mission bells

"O Padre, I pray, won't you show me the trail?

The desert is dusty and I must confess

I can't seem to make Progress."

 

"Go down to the river

wash clean in the flood

have faith in the Giver

repent before the sun goes down

the way ahead is to turn around 

to Progress."

 

My vision grew clear as I counted the cost

A pilgrim progressing, I took up my cross

The outlaws were gunning to put me to rest

But still I moved on to Progress

 

I passed through the crowds of the Vanity Fair

Escaped from the pit of the Giant Despair

I walked through the Vale of the Shadow of Death

Still so far away from Progress

 

I drank from the river

Washed clean in the flood

Gave thanks to the Giver

And headed out as the sun went down

I had to reach the hallowed ground of Progress

 

It was Good Will that found me and gave me his Youth

That ol' tracker Watchful led straight to the Truth

And Greatheart beside me stood strong through the Test

To faithfully guide to Progress

 

My spirit grew strong with the passing of years,

And as my eyes faded, my sight became clear.

Ahead flowed the Water of Life and of Death

Beyond stood the Home of Progress

 

I crossed through the River

Washed clean in the flood

I bowed to the Giver

Who led me through the Holy Quest

Made a place where I can rest

In The Kingdom of The Blessed

In Progress

 

Written by Benjamin Wolaver, Robin Wolaver, and Alex Wolaver


Wednesday, October 05, 2011

The Phantom Tollbooth Reviews ManAlive Volume 1

By Alex Wolaver

he Phantom Tollbooth has posted a great review of ManAlive: Volume 1! Here's an excerpt:

Question: take seven artists who have honed their craft for years in the Annie Moses Band's Fine Arts Summer Academy, add the clean, sure-handed production skills of Alex Wolaver and the musical support of several members of the aforementioned Annie Moses Band, and what do you get? Answer: an almost hour-long cornucopia of original songs ranging from the jazzy pop of "Between the Moonlight and the Morning," sung by Kaley Lunsford, to the light country sounds of "What A Man's Gotta' Do," featuring David Riley Donica, to the Les Miz/Prince of Egypt vocal delivery of Joshua Carswell on "Ancient Paths," to the clear, elegant pop phrasing of Berklee Bowers on the worshipful "You Love Me," to the outright CCM-pop of her sister Alex's "Sneakers."

Click on over to read the rest!

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

The Tree of Life (Part 2)

By Benjamin Wolaver

(To read part 1 of this series, click here)

he writer of Hebrews once penned, 'By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death, and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.'    

In looking into the language of Life (which is a way of thinking and speaking about reality drawn from the paradigm of the Tree of Life), it is important to realize that the relationship between our words and the objects we are speaking about has changed.  This passage from Hebrews showcases a new way of thinking about words. Here, Enoch is said to have been "translated" into heaven through faith.   

Now, "translated" is a word that refers to words.  To translate something means to find a meeting point between two totally different vocabularies, a common idea or principle.  However, in this passage, it is clear that what is being "translated" is not an idea; it is a person, namely Enoch.

So the level of this "translation" is not between mere words, it is between things themselves.  Here, words and things are one.  Notice also what is being discussed in this Scripture.  The subject is Enoch's passing and the astonishing fact that it was not a passing.  Enoch kept on living; he never died. And this occurred, the writer says, because he pleased God through his faith. 

So what we are speaking of is Eternal Life itself, in fact, the Immortality that Adam and Eve spurned when they chose to partake of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and not Life itself (remember we are speaking of the Two Trees of Eden).  In the language of Life, words and realities are unified.  

Continue reading "The Tree of Life (Part 2)" »

Monday, September 26, 2011

Music Video: “Sneakers” by Alex & Berklee Bowers

By Alex Wolaver

Here's a fun music video to the song “Sneakers”, written by Alex Bowers (now Sasser), and performed by Alex and her sister Berklee (soon to be Wolaver). Directed by yours truly (Alex Wolaver).

Sunday, September 25, 2011

To Be Known

By Alex Wolaver

I remember memorizing Psalm 1 when I was a child. My siblings and I memorized the NIV translation, made memorable by my younger brother's pronunciation of "wicked" as "witted", not to mention his yellow l's (Byessed is the man...) and wayward r's (the way of the Wighteous). It ends, “For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.”

Recently I’ve been lured by the appeal of the old King James Bible, and today, upon reading the Authorized Version of this Psalm of David, discovered an intriguing nuance in the language of the KJV, which greatly clarifies the meaning of the Psalm’s end. Where the NIV translates that the LORD “watches over” the way of the righteous, the King James states, “The LORD knoweth the way of the righteous.”

There's a big difference between “knoweth” and “watches over.” Where the latter connotes a concern and care, somewhat distant, while to “know” suggests a certain intimacy of knowledge and understanding. The Way of the Righteous is a place God dwells, something he knows — not just something he watches over, like left-over potato casserole in the oven.

And now read the phrase that follows: “But the way of the ungodly will perish.” What a contrast is now drawn. To say the LORD “watches over” the righteous way, but the wicked way will perish, seems like two statements of merely tangential connection. But to state that the LORD “knoweth the way of the righteous” stands as a contrast to what follows — the righteous will not perish because they are known. The way of the ungodly will perish simply because it is unknown to God, and what is unknown to him who knows all cannot exist.

We pray to be counted among the righteous — those who are known by Him. For is it not the dream of every son of Adam to be truly known, and so truly loved? And when this true knowledge comes to us, when we “know, even as we are fully known,” we will see him face to face. We will be known by, and know fully, our Righteousness.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Road Well Traveled

By Alex Wolaver

(A Cautionary Tale)

Two roads diverged, within a wood
A hallowed wood, and where I stood
Upon the right, a narrow gate,
A road ascended, steep and straight

But looming on my left, there lay
A thoroughfare, a well-worn way
And, keen to see beyond the bend
The twisted trail I did descend

And I decided…

I will take the road well traveled,
Stroll along this lane of gravel
Shift and slide from side to side
The wayward way is wide. 

And wider still the road became
The trees recede, the forest fades
A vast expanse I would explore,
But quothe the Raven, ”Nevermore!”

The Sun, ashamed, has turned to shade
A darkness not of night invades
But far ahead, a fiery glow
What could it be? I'd like to know

And so I go…

Along the winding road well traveled
Heedless of the Judge's gavel
I've left Redemption far behind
Too curious to find the destination

Of the gaping road well traveled
While my spirit comes unravelled
Shadows haunt my withered soul
Fear has taken hold.

Now at the end of life I say
”If only I’d taken the other way“
But I took the path of least resistance
And that has made all the difference. 

Monday, October 04, 2010

Gnostic Nonsense

By Benjamin Wolaver

he more things change, the more they stay the same,” the French proverb goes. Until I was an English student, I never quite realized how true that saying is.

It all started when I read an essay on Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.  For those of you who don't know, Heart of Darkness is about a sailor named Marlow who goes in search of a diabolically brilliant man named Kurtz. On the way, he has a series of insights into the heart of humanity and the nature of existence… except that he doesn't have any insights and knows nothing.  And that’s Heart of Darkness in a nutshell.

But to return to my own tale. The premise of the essay was that Conrad’s story was steeped in Gnosticism, an ancient system of heretical beliefs that wasn’t much of a system at all. But as the essayist explained, there were a few key beliefs that many Gnostics had in common. Some of them were contained in an ancient book of the Gnostics whose name I can't remember, which is fitting, since the book was all about forgetfulness.

The book told the story of a god who came down in human form to bring the eternal Flame of Knowledge (gnosis) to mankind. As he descended through the fog and mists that surrounded Earth, he began to forget his divinity and mission until, at last, he himself became a ruinous specimen of humanity.  Knowing this might happen, another god goes after him, descending through the same fog of forgetfulness, but resisting its sleepy seductions. Ultimately he finds his brother god and reminds him of his true self.  Together, they escape the material world. Throughout the story runs the imagery of shards of light, little pieces of the Divine Spark that must be gathered and restored for humanity to be freed from the bondage of fleshly existence.  This, with a few minor changes, was recognizably the plot of Heart of Darkness.

Sounds like a thrilling read, right? Yeah, that’s what I thought too. In fact, I wondered how such a slow narrative ever became the basis for a religion, especially one that has threatened Christianity since its beginning. I mean, really, which is greater Gospel? The God who creates, fights for his creation, dies for his creation, and then resurrects in spectacular power to defeat his enemies? Or the "gods" who forget who they are and then wander back to the Disembodied Zone of Light? Surely Gnosticism, if it were around today, would be relegated to the theologies of fringe cults like Scientology or Mormonism, right?

Well, that's what I thought, until I sat down and watched the series finale of Lost. My jaw dropped. There it was, the Gnostic legend writ large!

As many of you might know, Lost is about a group of impossibly beautiful and hygienic plane-crash survivors trapped on an island. It turns out that they are living in a dream world. They keep on remembering people and moments they’ve forgotten. At the center of the Island on which they’re trapped is a spark of divine fire that they must preserve. Every human, apparently, has a piece of this spark. A villainous smoke god tempts them with materialistic pleasures of loved ones and riches. To defeat him, the castaways must remember their love for one another and walk into the Disembodied Zone of Light. “Walk to the Light, Jack! Walk to the Light!

As the credits rolled, I shook my head. Apparently Gnosticism was more widespread than I thought. Then again, most viewers had probably missed the Gnostic overtones. For them, Lost taught the profound message that Life is about reconnecting with the person you made out with on an island. Surely Lost’s Gnosticism would be the exception to the rule.

Wrong! Apparently, I hadn't counted on a small indie film called Inception. Now if Lost was Gnosticism for Wendy’s fans, Inception is Gnosticism for the Starbucks crowd (of which, I confess, I am a member).

Inception is a fascinating film, brilliantly told. Apparently, dreams can be crafted by people to steal ideas. This is difficult work, but it's nothing compared to the hellish complexity of planting an idea in someone's mind (thus the title). So begins a long journey through three dream worlds, each one “deeper” than the last, until our protagonist and resident cool guy, Cobb, is lost in “limbo” where he must help the goodhearted and ruthless businessman, Saito, to remember his true self and the real world.

Together, they “kill” each other (eliminating their “material” selves) and wake up in the real world. Through all this, they “help” a young businessman “remember” something he never knew: that his father wanted him to “be his own man”. Their mortal enemy is Cobb’s sensual wife, Mal, who represents sheer animal nature and selfishness. As the final scene unfolds, Inception suddenly ends, leaving us questioning whether the whole film was a dream.

If Lost was about reconnecting with your island love, Inception raises a more evangelical Gnostic perspective: maybe our material world isn't real at all. Maybe we have forgotten who we really are.  Maybe we're all divine super-humans after all.

As I emerged from the movie theater, dozens of cultural references began to click into place. Gnosticism seemed to be everywhere. Ever heard of The Secret? “Remember who you are!” cried Mufasa’s spirit to Simba in The Lion King (he was lost in a lush valley of material pleasures, you see). If even Disney wasn't safe, what was? (Okay, maybe that's not such a shocker after all…)

So after realizing that a little known Eastern philosophy has overrun Western civilization, I am determined to remind you all of the truth. Society is full of messages that reinforce a worldly way of thinking. Our materialistic culture can make you forget the important things. Don't forget who you were meant to be. You have to seek true knowledge. You have to walk toward the Ligh… wait a minute