Monthly Archives: February 2015

Pink Floyd and Refracting Light: The Tension of Worldly Ego and Kingdom Unity

As I continue working through Georg A Reisch’s Pink Floyd and Philosophy, I find numerous themes relevant to the Kingdom of God as an emerging – already-but-not-yet – reality. That is, there are components of the Kingdom that have been and are being realized in the here-and-now while its culmination rests entirely in the future return of Christ.

One such theme is highlighted in the eighth chapter, “Roger Waters: Artist of the Absurd,” by Deena Weinstein, a professor of Sociology at DePaul. Weinstein analyzes Waters’ lyrical contemplations of the tension between the human desire for connection (i.e., unity) and the draw of autonomy. Water’s, in alignment with the Albert Camus’ existential frustrations, presuming an atheistic point of view, is reduced to only voicing the frustrations of that tension. That is, he is reduced to an absurd view of life (and therefore of expression) given the futility of trying to overcome a seemingly perfect balance between these two realities: those of alienation and ego.

Water’s ultimate futility is likely captured most succinctly in the bewildering and morale crippling fade at the end of “Time” (Dark Side of the Moon):

Every year is getting shorter never seem to find the time.
Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines
Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English* way
The time is gone, the song is over,
Thought I’d something more to say.

[Author: I would have to substitute “fallen human” here.]

Any real value to Water’s reflections are now made void, trailing off into the mind-numbing loss of coherency. Finding and offering no answers, there is nothing for this lost soul, still alone in trying to make connections while simultaneously clinging to individual personal identity, to wrap his mind around as a truly unifying factor in human experience. He is frustrated by his aloneness (“It is not good for the man to be alone.”) while creating the very walls of his own isolating and alienating prison. Unfortunately, having never seen over the walls, he does not realize that there is any reality outside them.

He is, so to speak, blinded by his own ego and will, simultaneously unwilling and, therefore unable, to trust in anything outside himself and his own ability to perceive truth (reality). This is the ultimate act of hubris because it disallows epistemic humility. Perhaps the artist would be better served to step back long enough to realize his frustration is not with externalities but with his own capacity which is far too limited to grasp “everything under the sun” in its completeness. On the other hand, I believe Water’s is honestly wrestling with his own internal discontinuities (which Weinstein points out) but still cannot see the necessity of making himself vulnerable to overcome the hurdles he cannot see over. He needs an external answer (God) but wrestles on, seeking the closing line to the last verse that still eludes him, his “something more to say,” for his own sake as much as for the listener.

Here then I would address the significance of his dilemma for the Church and, therefore, the mission of God (the mission Dei) and the advancement of the Kingdom of God. It is the very same blindness of the artist that cripples the Church in its pursuit of serving God. It is the blinding power of ego that voices belief yet continues to live (act) in unbelief.

This is the impact of Adam’s sin. Not that God could not have spontaneously changed Adam to “fix” his failure. He easily could have. What God did do however was to put Adam out of the Garden and curse the ground to harden the task of Adam’s existence. It would seem Adam, finding himself outside of God’s intimate grace (though still the recipient of his life-giving and sustaining grace), would have immediately humbled himself to re-enter the security, the shalom, of that former intimacy.

What Adam did, however, and everyone since (except Jesus), was to allow his circumstances to drown out the call of God to humble himself. Adam became autonomous and self-reliant. His sweat and toil were the products of his own desire to be like God outpacing the blessing of being with God. Adam chose disunity with the divine in hopes of making himself divine. In the aftermath of his sin (his disunifying choice and action), God chose to let Adam’s race experience that disunity in the hopes that the despair of autonomy (attempting to fulfill oneself and the inner re-calling to communion with the divine) would drive them to seek God’s fellowship once again. But that fellowship demands releasing one’s autonomy.

The disunity of the Church is a function of this same fear of vulnerability. We tend to trust our own theological evaluations and valuations of a long litany of doctrines more than we can bring ourselves to trust others. Our mistake lies in wanting to put our trust in the evaluations and valuations of others (and ourselves) before we place our trust in God. This is not unlike the dysfunctions of marriages. As the bride of Christ, we refuse to release ourselves entirely to the groom. We distrust because our ego disallows trusting God’s goodness to the point of overcoming the fear of vulnerability. “What if,” we ask subconsciously, God (my Groom) cannot fulfill all that I desire? What if God is not sufficient to meet all my needs?

This distrust then is misdirected to our peers who also suffer the same malady. Sadly, to even admit the malady makes us vulnerable and exacerbates our fear of being abused. Our wariness is directly a function of our lack of faith because, knowing history, we fear reliving it in our own experience.

Storm Thorgerson, heading the Hipgnosis graphic art group, was the creative mind behind several Pink Floyd album covers. The prism cover of Dark Side of the Moon is likely the most famous. The human desire for unity, represented by the singularity of white light, gives way to the spectrum of disunity in the refraction of that light into the bands of rainbow colors. The point behind the cover art is that autonomy leads to alienation in the recognition that we are different one from the next – red and green are forever opposites and cannot abide with one another.

Sadly, we tend to focus on how to overcome the refraction while remaining unwilling to make ourselves vulnerable to “being absorbed” into the unity in fear of losing our personal identity and the ability to fulfill ourselves by our own definition. If anything, our unity in Christ celebrates the fact that all those colors, all the uniqueness of individual identity, are present within the singularity and are what, in communion with the divine, ultimately reflect what is pure and holy – the perfect light, the fulfillment of God’s desire that all of God’s people be of one mind and Spirit.

The Bible consistently calls for us to humble ourselves before God. And we believe we do. But similar to the intertwining reality of loving God specifically by loving others as the fulfillment of “all the Law and prophets,” our humility before God must also entail recognizing our own limitations and ego in making ourselves vulnerable to others. There is no small risk involved in following Christ and more often than not that includes real world risks in our daily life.

In embracing those risks, we exercise faith, trusting God for outcomes above what we might expect of others or contrive in our own thinking and doing. God asks for us to “count the costs” which is nothing short of wholesale abandonment to self. But he also promises, as Kenneth Cain Kinghorn’s book title suggests, to make us fully human (Christ Can Make You Fully Human, Abingdon, 1979), the perfect fulfillment of self.

Faith, especially walked out in the community of the universal Church, in unity of Spirit and the calling to glorify God, risks looking absurd to an absurd world. But faith leads to a revelation of God’s glory both through and within us, and faith comes only by the sacrifice of the ego.

The true beauty of the pure Light is revealed imperfectly in the rainbow of refraction. There is much deeper beauty, a place of spiritual, emotional, even of temporal, shalom, within the singularity. Contemplatives and theologians through the ages have touched on it though no one has completely or adequately described it. St. Thomas Aquinas is attributed with stating:  “Everything that I have written seems like straw to me compared to those things that I have seen and have been revealed to me.”

As Aquinas’ intimacy with and knowledge of God increased, he simply reached a point of being at a loss for words, even recognizing the inadequacy of all the words that had come before. His ego was crushed in the winepress of God’s refining love. Aquinas could see the beauty of the rainbow as a reflection of God’s image but now could see how the subtle alienations of the spectrum fell so far short of the purity and unity of the true Light.

Aquinas had nothing more to say but, unlike Roger Waters, his was a silence of stupefaction in the presence of God rather than hitting the limiting walls of his own construction. Life is not absurd. It only seems so to an ego rejecting the reality of God. Perhaps that is why Scripture tells us “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm14:1). To the proud fool, all is absurd. To the humble, all becomes Light.

 

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Pink Floyd and the Kingdom of God

Okay, I will admit that this essay has little to do with any direct connection between Pink Floyd and the Kingdom of God. However, sometimes the random rabbit trails we follow end up awakening some interesting thoughts.

I recently acquired a copy of Pink Floyd and Philosophy: Careful with that Axiom, Eugene! (Open Court Publishing, 2007), edited by George a Reisch, a graduate instructor at Northwestern University. The fourth essay in the book, “Pigs Training Dogs to Exploit Sheep: Animals as a Beast Fable Dystopia,” was written by Patrick Croskery, an Associate Professor in the Department of Religion & Philosophy at Ohio Northern University. This is some heady stuff!

Croskery draws parallels and discusses the similarities between Pink Floyd’s Animals and George Orwell’s 1984. As a Christian, endowed with the Holy Spirit, I cannot help but to “hear” God’s voice in relation to the subjects before me and reflecting on God’s take, so to speak, on those subjects.

What jumped out at me most was Croskery’s succinct capture of the three dominant forces at work in human culture: government, the marketplace, and community. He makes an excellent point that (what I consider) the “powers and principalities” within societies are always in tension. The government polices human behavior. The marketplace provides for human material well being. The community dictates moral direction.

Unfortunately, as Croskery points out, only the government and the marketplace have well-ordered power structures in place to exercise their will. The community, unless riled to strong unified action, like governmental overthrows or large-scale boycotts, gets pushed around a lot by the entrenched directors of the other two institutions for their own advantage. Communal moral authority tends to degrade as it slowly succumbs to the seemingly indomitable corruption of the power drive and elitism of government and the greed that too often fosters bottom line thinking at all (human) costs in business.

What struck me was that these three institutional structures emanate from the community of the Trinity, which predicates both governance and provision on communal moral authority. That community is founded in love, the essence of both Spirit (philosophic personality as inward, guiding motivation) and divine character (manifest behavioral personality as outward, action orientation). As 1 John 4:8 says: God is love.

Thus we can see the corrupting effect of sin in that social mores are subsumed (pushed away from divine order) and culture (and therefore all overarching institutions) suffers separation from God’s will, ways, and plan, driven by the overt entrenchment of human self-determination and self-interest.

As we participate in bringing God’s Kingdom, on earth as it is in heaven, we must first take on the mind of Christ, that is, to accept and then act on a guiding philosophy of altruistic being. God does not relish material sacrifices for their own sake. He wants all people to function from a heart of justice which entails willing sacrifice as a manifestation of divine character (Proverbs 21:3; see also my essay “On Justice and Righteousness – mishpat & tsadaq” at http://wp.me/p1Z8Bv-3L).

Consider if government was not the realm of “halls of power” but truly administered as if the elected were “public servants,” serving the good of as many people as possible while risking their own displacement in the next election due to making decisions unpopular with power brokers from other social quarters. Or imagine business owners (even absentee stockholders) demanding and ensuring all workers received a living wage, compassion in discipline, and facilitation for re-training and finding new opportunities before layoffs occurred. Both sets of actors would need to see “the other” as more deserving of consideration than their own well-being, or at least in league with it. It would take overcoming risk aversion as an act of faith, trusting that God is faithful and that righteousness precedes prosperity, and accepting whatever form of reward (and outcome) God dictates.

The central problem is that such a system has never been adequately demonstrated nor have enough hearts been transformed by seeing such a model at work. Words are powerful for proclamation but deeds speak much more loudly. If the claims we make do not align with our own behavior, how can we justify our faith to any unbeliever? How can we portray the Kingdom of God as more attractive than the world as it is if our behavior endorses the current structures and distributions of wealth and power?

It is clear that Jesus suffered not just for our individual salvation but for the redemption of the world. That includes the reformation of meta-institutions toward reconciling human life with God’s heart and created order. George Orwell critiqued the emergent oligarchy of socialism after the Bolshevik revolution. Pink Floyd critiqued the same types of rule in the marketplace (“Welcome to the Machine”) that endorse riding  the “gravy train” and in Western educational systems (“Another Brick in the Wall”) that program students toward conformity that will keep the current governmental and economic structures in place.

The Church, as a single community, needs to critique both of these, but better by example than simply decrying the sins of the world in the public square. God’s mission in the world is to turn the existing power structures upside down such that public morality (a function of community) leads government and business rather than succumbing to them. Christians should be intentional in seeking influential roles in both institutions to re-order them toward the original order of creation (see Howard A. Snyder’s Salvation Means Creation Healed. Snyder’s book has a strong emphasis on environmental redemption but is clear that the doctrine justifying that focus is universal as it applies to every aspect of human life and experience, including the redemption of institutional roles).

This means Christian business leaders will need to take large risks in light of prevailing business philosophies, perhaps even running the risk of losing their businesses. But money is not the primary focus of business in God’s creation. The division of labor and exchange are anticipated in Eve’s introduction as helpmate, a co-worker, in the Garden of Eden. The self-interested drive for profit (i.e., toward self-preservation in distrust of God’s provision) was not on the horizon until after Adam’s Fall from grace.

This also means that elected and appointed officials will need to do “what is right,” pursuing an universal morality, applicable to all without demanding a theocratic (or otherwise overtly ideological) agenda (though “what is right” is guided by theological and ideological considerations). Such a pursuit is obviously a slippery slope given innumerable public views, ranging from the extremes of varied fundamental religious cults (whether Christian, Muslim, or otherwise) to the guilt-driven political correctness of godless humanism. But Christ suffered willingly for us all and made no promise that our ministry to the world would be any easier.

Outside the Garden, every man since Adam, save One, has operated to varying degrees as if he is alone in the universe. But Christ established his Kingdom on earth in his teaching ministry (by proclamation, Word) and obedience to the Cross (demonstration, deed). We are called to do likewise. Unfortunately, just as Jesus was tempted in the desert, Christians in positions of influence are faced with a myriad of temptations, most especially that of being conformed to the world in the form of pragmatism. To submit to practicality as the final answer in decision-making is having no faith in the character, promises, and leading of God. In both governance and business, Christians need to be adventurous and fearless risk takers, trusting God before others and even before our own assessment of surrounding circumstances.

Pink Floyd’s songwriters, especially Roger Waters, wrestled deeply with the major issues of the human condition – evil, alienation and isolation, power and greed, etc. The angst at the heart of the driving melodies and lyrics have been popularized as much by the sense of identification of listeners with the writers as the beauty of the music itself. Pink Floyd stands out as a strong representative of all the poetic philosophers who have emerged through the music industry of the last half century. Waters et al sadly offer no answers to the questions that so vex them. But they give new and very popular voice to a lost and dying world seeking, though ignorant of it, the Kingdom of God and the shalom it affords to all.

 

 

 

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