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That's Life (and death)

All of us are thrown into the world — into our own historical moments and our own specific locations — through no choice of our own.  We do not arrive equipped to deal with this coming-into-being.  We simply were not, and then we were.
Then, before we have a chance to be anything different, we are broken.  Each of us in our own way — some through illness, some through abuse, some through being lied to and misled, some through abandonment, some through random chance and accident — but each and every one of us is broken.
So, first we come to be, then we come to be broken and — if we survive this breaking — we learn how to be in this experience of non-being.  We continue to live, but we now live life as those forever scarred by Death.  Sometimes, if we have the energy for it, we marvel at this.  How can so many with such deep scars continue to awaken every morning?  Is that a blessing or a curse?  Or are all of our blessings also curses?
Because the fact of the matter is that the world we live in is a giant bloody clusterfuck.  Nobody asked for this, and nobody asked to be here, but here we are and we’re all trying to find our way.  Nobody came equipped with a map or a code of conduct, so we all flail and grope and love and fuck each other over.  We give life to one another and we take it from one another, and half the time we’re not sure which it is we’re doing.
This is why we can never condemn others, no matter what they do.  For example, my experiences of this world (of this giant bloody clusterfuck) may have taught me to try and live peaceably, but the experiences of another may have taught that person to live violently.  Each of us in our own ways would then be doing our damnedest to live honestly in light of what we have known (and in light of the shitstorm into which we have been thrown).  So, while we can certainly respond more or less positively to the actions taken by other people, we are never in a place to judge a person as a person.  The truth is that nobody — not a single one of us — ever had a chance.  We’re all surviving and while I may think one person’s mode of survival is more admirable than another person’s mode, this does not mean I can condemn that other person for surviving in a different way.
All I can do is ask that we try to live honestly in light of this. Because that’s life, baby.  That’s life.

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  1. But is it? Why not believe that life is not this way – a bold claim, to be sure – because God has revealed (and he had to reveal – for it wasn’t obvious) that justice has (and will) been done, redemption has (and is) taken place, and the Spirit of life will make all things new?

    • Kim. I agree that life can be viewed differently. The world does not have to seen as “fucked up” and there are occasions when life is not a “shitstorm”.
      When you said God has revealed (and he had to reveal…) I hope you don’t believe that God being “he” is part of the revelation.
      Our views about the Justice of God, redemption and “Spirit” can also be re-viewed in light of postcolonial theologies that critique the way these categories have been co-opted by ideology. Something about the way we describe salvation and new creation is loaded with images that are being marketed by the logic of capitalism.

  2. Yesterday I watched the movie Magnolia together with my brother. I think it´s a good illustration of what you express in this post (it´s also the best movie I know). I do think, though, that it´s our obligation as followers of Jesus to at the same time rejoice over the seeds of the kingdom of God and the new way of life that Jesus has introduced among us. As the movie mentioned also illustrates, there ARE ruptures in the system and opportunities for love, repentance and reconciliation will sometimes come in our way as a gift from above.

  3. I probably look at people and their actions in a very similar way, at least enough that it gives me a little peace while all sorts of shit is flying around. However, I’ve also learned that if this view is taken too far, while then even those that choose to judge another person, well there is a reason for that, so who am I to judge their judging?
    Part of me though, is given hope, when I realize that in not judging/living violently we can make this clusterfuck a bit less fucked and actually spread this hope around a bit more like Jonas said, rupturing the system to make it a bit better, even though the system and those caught in it didn’t have a chance.

  4. Nathan. Well, I don´t believe we should put a lot of efforts into reforming the system, but I think some kind of exodus and freedom is possible while we await and speed up the coming of the crash.

  5. To judge someone certainly has a negative connotation in the commonly understood sense and also for the most part among Christians. It is seen as synonymous with condemnation and ultimately rejection and damnation. But its true biblical meaning is anything but that. It is, as Jurgen Moltmann said, something to look forward to as, “the sunrise of Christ’s liberating justice.”
    The judgment is about making things right (justice) removing all the dross and shit and making us free to be truly human. It makes things right not by reforming the wrongs or compensating for them but as an act of creation that makes all things new–they will have never happened. They will have happened only to the crucified One who alone is worthy to open the seals and experience all the shit that a godless universe can dish out.
    When the universe is finally God-full the slate will be wiped clean and a new history will be written where the only one to have any experience of the suffering and death that defines the hell on earth in the here and now will be the lambkin on the throne of YHWH pouring out his healing, transforming, life energy to all–as in no exceptions and not limited to homo sapiens. We will have no scars or memories of hell on earth because they will have only happened to Jesus the immolated lambkin and not to us.
    I look forward to being judged because the one who is the Judge is the crucified One.

  6. Not to derail the conversation but I’m curious if what Cleanslate said is a accurate representation of Moltmann’s theology “where the only one to have any experience of the suffering and death that defines the hell on earth in the here and now will be the lambkin on the throne of YHWH” is accurate? I’ve recently picked up Theology of Hope and The Way of Jesus Christ. If it is accurate it’s dissapointing.

    • Other than the one quote from Moltmann I make no claim that I am representing Moltmann’s theology in my post. However, his “The Crucified God, “The Coming of God,” and other works have been very influential in shaping my impressions of the depth and breadth of the Gospel.

  7. This post is so full of pathos that I am not sure any response with words would be appropriate. I found a piece of music, though, that compliments my experience as I re-read it. It is
    Estonian composer Arvo Part’s “Tabula Rasa.” If I knew how to post such things for your consideration I would. Of course, one never knows how seriously to take things in a blog, folks post provocative and polemical stuff all the time to spark discussion and interest. Still, regardless of any ‘authorial intention,’ your writing resonates deeply with me. The third track of Tabula Rasa begins with what might be church bells, they slightly lift the dark mood that has been established by tracks 1. And 2.. But soon a melancholy returns, as if the composer won’t let us off with easy answers, one is compelled to go deeper into the darkness. Track 4. begins with urgency, then a sustained silence that increases anxiety; Arvo’s strategic silences usually illicit tension rather than allowing for any respite. Track 1. begins and ends with long pauses that border the subtle elevation of simple polyphones in the center. By the middle of Track 4 one accepts that there is not going to be any joyful resolution afforded us, and by now the journey one has taken would not allow for any saccharine grace anyway; we would rather face a painful truth, or even harder, the possibility of no truth at all. Yet, the work ends inconclusively, there is sorrow (and perhaps a little pity), but tempered with some resolve; not hope, but our eyes are open, not cast down, not looking towards heaven, but straight ahead. “Tabula Rasa,” a ‘clean slate?’ no, I reckon it more an ironic lamentation with no assertion of innocence or guilt. There’s no Eden to return to because there was no Eden to begin with. But that also means there’s no lost paradise guarded by mercenary angels tasked with keeping us out. Thanks for the great post, obliged.
    (oh, and if you like the music of “Tabula Rasa” try reading Heideggers “Being and Time” accompanied by Arvo Part’s “Berlin Mass.”)

  8. hell ya dan. i’m feeling a bit dismal these days so your words are comforting for me in my sorrow. rural life in plain, wa post vancouver grad school is a swift kick in the head and nuts when i have a moment to reflect on this life we live or try to live. i’ll be calling you soon i hope. hope your number is still the same. dave.

  9. At the end of the 90’s I had the opportunity to live and work for a couple years with young people who were living on the streets in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Many of these youth lives were utterly destroyed and broken by the rejection, hopelessness and despair that they were facing. Many of them turned to drugs (mostly glue) in order to try and escape their pain and isolation. I was struck especially by the fact that many of them (kids as young as 7 or 8) would cut their arms with razor blades. Many of their arms were absolutely covered thick with scars from the bottom of their wrists right up to their shoulders. Most of them, including the girls didn’t have front teeth from getting into fights with the police and trying to survive on the streets. Alot of them were terminally sick and dying with TB. I think it’s impossible to fully convey the utter hopelessness of their situations. I was completely overwhelmed by how messed up and broken their lives were. At the same time I also learned alot from them. I learned things about hope, joy, faith, riendship, forgiveness, that have been stamped onto my heart. I saw many of them try to or actually rise over the poverty, isolation, and inner pain that haunted them. Some of them stole in the market places to survive, but many also worked shining shoes to earn a couple dollars a day. Some of the young men that shined shoes had children to provide for and a wife or girlfriend to take care of. I was also struch with how happy and playful they were and how they often smiled, joked around, and took joy in the simple things of life. I guess what I’m trying to say is that although many of us might view or say that their lives are a “giant bloody @#@@” many of them didn’t see it that way. They refused to give into despair. They refused to indulge in self pity, murmuring or complaining, even though they had ever reaseon to do so. They diddn’t ask to be born in the poorest country in SA, they didn’t ask(most of them) to come from Quecha or Aymara families from the Bolivian highlands and therefore faced discrimation from the White and Mestizo populations in Santa Cruz, they didn’t ask to be rejected by their families and society, to be cast away on the streets as human waste. Their level of faith and hope continues to challenge and encourage me today. I really think that Kierkegaard was on to something when he said that the greatest Either/or in life was “Faith or Despair.”

  10. Hi Dan,
    This whole post really resonated with me:
    “We give life to one another and we take it from one another, and half the time we’re not sure which it is we’re doing.”
    Geez man. So true. And it is so easy to do so much harm. When we don’t know somebody’s story, it is so easy to say things that are so hurtful.

  11. I’d like to offer a quote from Douglas Coupland’s “Life After God” that really touched me, and I think speaks to the pulse of this post…
    “And then I felt sad because I realized that once people are broken in certain ways, they can’t ever be fixed, and this is something nobody ever tells you when you are young and it never fails to surprise you as you grow older as you see the people in your life break one by one. You wonder when your turn is going to be, or if it’s already happened.”