Tag Archives: People

My all time favorite poem

Hopkins is comparing our lives to a journey, as we wander through a dark marsh, each carrying our own lantern. As we walk, we meet others along the way, and there is friendship. But then they walk ahead of us, and we lose them:

SOMETIMES a lantern moves along the night,
That interests our eyes. And who goes there?
I think; where from and bound, I wonder, where,
With, all down darkness wide, his wading light?

Men go by me whom either beauty bright
In mould or mind or what not else makes rare:
They rain against our much-thick and marsh air
Rich beams, till death or distance buys them quite.

Death or distance soon consumes them: wind
What most I may eye after, be in at the end
I cannot, and out of sight is out of mind.

Christ minds: Christ’s interest, what to avow or amend
There, éyes them, heart wánts, care haúnts, foot fóllows kínd,
Their ránsom, théir rescue, ánd first, fást, last friénd.

The point of all love is the good of the other person. For them to be fully and beautifully their true self, in all their quirks and dearness, a kind of consummation of their true being, in the heart of God. It is not about us and them, it is about them and God. So it is OK that we lose people on this earth. They are not meant for us. They are meant for God. He will keep all the promises we broke, and He will fulfill all that is lost. They shall be happy in God, truly and fully themself, with joy and holiness. That is all that matters.


“People value religion on the basis of cost, and they don’t value the cheapest ones the most. Religions that ask nothing get nothing. You’ve got a choice: you can be a church or a country club. If you’re going to be a church, you’d better offer religion on Sunday. If you’re not, you’d better build a golf course, because you’re not going to get away with being a country club with no golf course. That’s what happened to the Episcopalians, Methodists, Congregationalists, Unitarians and, indeed, to some sectors of Catholicism.”

This guy isn’t even a Christian, but he is completely right about that.

Read more at  www.jknirp.com/stark.htm


Ultimately, religion can either be

(1) used to ‘prove yourself’ (e.g. show you are a Holy/Nice/Correct/Authentic Person)


(2) to abandon yourself before the Face of Goodness (in God, in other people, etc).

Everything ends up being one of these two ways. Of course in this life, it is a constant struggle that goes on throughout our lives. But we will end up becoming more or less like one of these ways.

And religion that is a tool to use to prove yourself…eventually becomes a horribly ugly thing….it degenerates into legalism, or petty judgementalness, or self-righteousness (both the old-fashioned variety and the hip ‘meta’ kind…there’s no difference really).

In the end, we have a choice to take faith into our hands, as something to control and manipulate as we see fit, in order to justify ourselves or make ourselves look good. It ends with the studied ‘niceness’/or/’holiness’/or/’authenticity’ that is glancing at itself in the periphery vision, managing to mention to other people all the good they do….But all of it is a sham, revealed in the moment when they are annoyed at those who are better, just because; or when they delight in the painful failures of those who are worse, so that it can judge and feel righteous in comparison.

(e.g. the old-fashioned legalist getting smug satisfaction in insisting on reminding everyone of someone else’s out-of-wedlock  pregnancy AND the hip do-gooder that takes great satisfaction in talking about how much they nobly care for those pathetic wretches that other people always allegedly despise, with scant concern for the dignity/actual happiness of the aforementioned)

You know that jarring moment, when someone has petty malice (in some ways, the most ugly kind of hate–more so than ‘graver’ passionate rages)…and this petty malice is directed at some decent soul for no other reason than that they are good/holy/kind….because they are worried it will make themselves look shabby in comparison…

And so they are before the face of all that is good, decent, and beautiful…and they hate it! That is the most dreadful blindness of all. If that is not hell, I don’t know what is. And it is within all of us…there is only one way to escape it.

That other choice is to abandon ourselves to Goodness, both in ourselves and in other people and in the universe and beyond the universe (= God). Then we shall find ourselves at last, complete. Blissfully adoring Goodness in others–marvelling at their belovedness, so absorbed that we will forget ourselves in the moment of it. And catch ourselves, and laugh, and it doesn’t matter, and there is great joy.

Someday we will be purified, and then…of course you would suffer for them, and give up your own things, even give up your life, and sacrifice…and it isn’t because you are trying to ‘prove’ that you are a nice person….but because they are a thousand times worth it.  It would be a great honour.

In the end, there are only two choices:

Control religion—or abandon yourself to Goodness.

Construct yourself into the prison of your own peculiar  self-righteousness—or lose yourself, and be deified.

Falling in Love

You know that first falling-in-love-ness….not the romantic attractions of desire and flattered ego….I’m talking about the other part.

The absolute, dizzying wonder at their very existence. Their very personality with all its quirks, their character with all its decency/kindness/goodness, the workings of their mind, their personhood, their being itself…

The glory of their very being.

And you are lost in wonder at it, at the bigness of the whole beautiful universe that their existence has opened up to you.

And you feel like you are falling off a cliff–

—-that weightlessness of free fall, the wind rushing up!

This doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with our sexual nature. It is an adoration of the soul, one can feel for anyone. Friendship has alot of it. Perhaps more so than sexual love, because with friendship, it has the potential to be unconstrained and free, a forgetting of self and undemanding in a way that sexual love just cannot be.


Now to reveal my sappy corniness….I think one of the best moments in film that captured it was a montage in How to Train Your Dragon, of Hiccup and Toothless getting to know eachother. It is wordless, and you see them getting to know eachother as the sun rises. Go watch the film for that. This is the soundtrack to that scene (the scene starts at the 2 minute mark)

God is beautiful, and People are too

Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent?
Who may live on your holy mountain?

 The one whose walk is blameless,
who does what is righteous,
 who speaks the truth from his heart;
 whose tongue utters no slander,
who does no wrong to a neighbor,
  and casts no slur on others;
 who despises a vile person
but honors those who fear the Lord;
who keeps an oath even when it hurts,
    and does not change his mind;
 who lends money to the poor without interest;
who does not accept a bribe against the innocent.

Whoever does these things
will never be shaken.

All faiths lead to God…

I’ve been listening to Son of Hamas audiobook, and got to thinking…

Hassan Yousef (one of the seven founders of Hamas) was as “Christian” as St Francis. In his heart–he knew deeply and practiced all that was holy, kind, merciful, just, good, humble. In a word: selfless love and honest integrity. He is a devout Muslim.

“Walk towards God and He will run toward you.” I read that in 2002, on an introduce-the-highschool-class display case in a Chicago suburb. It was the favorite quote of a beaming girl in a headscarf, the only one in the whole class to bravely identify herself as Muslim, in the post 9-11 tensions. Walk towards God and He will run toward you!

He does come. He doesn’t only answer his favorite clan, or those with the correct theology. He does not desert any of His children who look up, calling to Him. He comes. So the postmodernists who say all religions lead to God, are on to something. We all turn, in our various ways, to a Higher Power who is Goodness and Love. And He comes to us, for He is gracious.

But Hassan Yousef couldn’t condemn terrorism. He couldn’t stand up to  Islamic men of a different kind of religious fanaticism, one of killing (and torture and paranoid sexual fantasy– the same as sixteenth-century european witch trials). Like tolerant westerners, he too could say that personally couldn’t stomach the killing–but he couldn’t judge/condemn/rebuke those who did. He had no theological backing.

And that is why doctrine matters too. The heart can learn all from God, by just yearning towards him in a selfless life. But the mind must be given words, words of truth, to fight the violent perversions of faith and twisted men.

Because those violent perversion of faith eat humankind. They destroy the sacred (ripping and stomping upon Torah scrolls, cutting the throat of child after child, meting out ‘justice’ by rape, burning to death non-virginal teenage girls, ripping an infant limb from limb, etc.).

Nowadays we call it ‘genocide’….at a conference on genocide studies at Penn, I heard a woman describe how genociders typically attack what she termed “life-force symbols”, that is (1) the aged of the community (its history), (2) the young of the community (its future), (2) their sexuality (gang rape, or force them to act out with eachother in aberrant ways, etc), (4) their spirituality (ripping Torah scrolls, smashing gravestones, urinating on Bibles, sexualizing religious sanctuaries, etc). And yes, I had to flee in the middle of the presentation when she started citing examples.

But it struck me: it was all a desecration of the Holy, a defilement of the Sacred. Grandmothers, babies, sex, sanctuaries — reverently approached in their fitting place — those are the dearest and most beautiful things in this world. The things that give meaning to everything else in life, and are hence life itself. The Sacred.

And for every rapacious thug-horde that have defiled those things in sheer greed of conquest, there are also those who have done the same for twisted ideologies, some of them claiming to be faiths serving God. It is sickening to see how religious faith can be twisted to such perverse postures — but then, so can sexual and familial love (for example, incest). Of course it is the most beautiful things that can be twisted into the most horrible things.

So yes and no. All faiths — when reaching out to the Higher Power through goodness and love — do lead to God. But we need doctrine and truth too, to defend the sacred — specifically, the doctrine of the Incarnate Christ, who became flesh like us, deifying every human being (who thus must be treated as such), who demands perfect holiness of us and yet bled on a cross to fulfill it, who charges us to forgive every sin, who calls us all to follow him and abandon everything, and who says “whatever you do to the least of these–you do to me.” Who makes Holy what was defiled, who gives life to the world.

Some reflections on things realized the hard way

Religious Fervor =/=  Love for God

Religious enthusiasm, fervor, passion for God and His truth and beauty….all these things are still not love.

Spiritual experiences, feeling the heart of Christ, weeping in bliss and vowing to give him everything…

Is as much love as Romantic Infatuation in man/woman relationships is.

It’s not. Oh yes, it is absolutely genuine, and sincere….but it isn’t love, because it is merely a feeling. And while the feeling lasts–all the selflessness is still absolutely selfish. Because, at that point, to give up yourself for them, to suffer for them, feels good. You feel wonderful.

There is nothing wrong with either, but if that is all it is, it is nothing. Love is when all that emotion is converted into a way of living, a course of deliberate actions, where one sacrifices and suffers for others’ good. Even when it doesn’t feel good anymore, and all the bliss and passion is gone. You do it anyway–and not for your own self-congratulatory admiration either. But for them, for their good. Love for a person is doing what is best for them, regardless of your own suffering/reputation. Love for God is doing what is best for everyone else on this earth, (“whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me”) regardless of your own suffering/reputation.

It is easy to be bedazzled by religious fervor. Of course it is real, and genuine. It is falling in love with God. And like falling in love with a beautiful person–it takes no effort and no real sacrifice at first (there are sacrifices, but the intoxicating joy makes it easy).

Love is the next step. Love is keeping your word, staying steadfast, being honest with yourself, giving up the self in the little things. It is knowing you are not a hero, but a common footsoldier. It is mundane, it is difficult, and it is not romantic. But only here, in this place, is the romance of the first phase transformed into something tangible, something real, a beauty that is not based on lies. Here is the wave function collapsed, here is the moment when history is ‘rewritten’ if you will…when that glorious prologue will either be made either into a noble epic or a bad joke.

Same Cry

600s BC Palestine:

Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit. Be appalled, oh heavens, at this. Be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD. For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves–broken cisterns that can hold no water.

1300’s AD Italy:

Oh human race, born to fly upwards….why at so little wind do you fall?!!!??

1800’s  AD England:

Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By & by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you wíll weep & know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow’s springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What héart héard of, ghóst guéssed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

Moral relativism creates judgmental contempt

If we don’t want to be ‘judgmental’, we need an unbendable moral law. I’m serious. Moral Relativism is what breeds judgmental scorn.


Here’s an example: As an undergrad Freshman at a big party school, I was surprised to notice those most willing to heap scorn and contempt on so-called ‘sluts’ were those who…weren’t exactly practicing chastity themselves. Oh SHE’S a bad girl (and I’m not) because for her, it wasn’t the weekend, it was before 5pm, she wasn’t drunk enough, that was someone you knew from your hall OR I knew him for three months and she knew him for two, etc…… There are so many odd little rules in the Campus Hookup Culture to define what is contemptuously trashy from what is fun-loving and normal on the partying/dating scene. It’s in the media too—look at the scornful way Ms Simpson in The King’s Speech or the loose neighbor in Just Like Heaven are portrayed—so contemptuously BECAUSE there is no moral law in our modern cinema, and we must somehow feel why they are the ‘bad’ girls….


Moral Relativism, or any subjective moral code, eliminates God as Judge and Law-giver, by putting EVERYONE into the judgment seat of God. Is it any surprise that judgmental scorn increases? When you have the unbendable moral law of God, you don’t need to maintain it with your own subjective emotions. You don’t need to despise anyone or get angry at anyone. Because it is just true. There’s a calmness when one is not the creator of the law. That is a sin. She sinned. It was wrong. Well, we all sin, and it is still wrong. But we are still made in the image of God. Repent, go on with life.


It is those who have nothing fixed and sure, where everything is a slipping, relative standard (where morality is merely grading on a curve)…that one needs to despise others. To feel the ‘eww, icky’ to even explain why something is not acceptable. So they have to work up the feeling. Insecurity breeds hysterical contempt. Because, how else can you hold onto your sense of right/wrong? It’s all feelings and relative (e.g. grading on a curve), so to hold onto any moral sense (or one’s own self-worth as ‘above average’ in the percentiles of humanity), one must be full of Disgust/Shock/Contempt/Indignation…. after all, in moral relativism…how else do you define anything? You can’t calmly rest on a standard not of your own making. You have to make it yourself—and that, with emotion.



So the modern relativist’ cries out in outrage, indignation, contempt and scorn: That is ‘not nice’, ‘hateful’, ‘bigotted’, ‘unacceptable’, ‘inappropriate’…..



Because When you no longer believe in Law of God with right/wrong/sin/guilt/redemption….all you are left with IS moral outrage and contempt. There is only shame. There is no place left for forgiveness, for certitude, for help from pain…and we are left on a darkling plain, while ignorant armies clash by night.


So our society stands on Matthew Arnold’s Dover Beach a century after he raised this cry:


The Sea of Faith

Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore

Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.

But now I only hear

Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,

Retreating, to the breath

Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear

And naked shingles of the world.



Ah, love, let us be true

To one another! for the world, which seems

To lie before us like a land of dreams,

So various, so beautiful, so new,

Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,

Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;

And we are here as on a darkling plain

Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,

Where ignorant armies clash by night.


Desperate love hasn’t been the only response. Desperate contempt too.