Friday, March 30, 2007


Masturing the Ergs

This is a topic I was going to leave alone. I'm not in the habit of poking sleeping tigers with sharp sticks, but too many ideas have come together for me to ignore it.

Layla started it for me, asking about sin and nature. She got it from Robert, who wrote a carefully inoffensive treatise that was hailed as being daring. Neither said anything new but still, sexuality is part of human experience and perhaps these little steps will add up to some new understanding. A few comments came their way and then died out. Not surprising, that.

So, that was one item. Add to that the book "West of Jesus," which purports to be about surfing and belief but turns out to be a long wanderingdithyramb around the subject of ecstatic experience. The thesis is that surfers morethan any other athletes get into "the Zone" where time slows down and every move is perfect. Why would that be? I hadn't thought about it that much, but as I read one answer came clear, even before the author got around to saying it: surfers have to interact with something that is always changing from second to second. No wave is like another, and the wave you catch now isn't the wave you'll be riding in a few seconds. What you have to do is manage a thousand inconstant factors just to keep your footing, and the conscious mind isn't fast enough to keep up. The conscious mind is pushed to the back seat and other parts of the mind take over.

It all reminded me of something. When I'm making a sand sculpture the sun somehow goes from east to west in about 23 minutes. There are days when I can do no wrong, just reaching out to carve away sand that doesn't need to be there. That hasn't happened for a while, though.

Western society has turned life into engineering, and Christians have followed this model. Even self-described "mystics" have codified and defined the mystical experience. Preachers constantly remind people not to turn their walk with Jesus into a search for religious experience. Nuts and bolts, folks. Engineering. Every question has a linear and step-by-step answer. Logic. Five hundred years back this attitude would have been incomprehensible. Every pin had at least one angel dancing on its head.

Is it any wonder Christians turn to masturbation? It's already illicit and shameful, so you can't be driven any lower. It's also private so any potential degradation won't show. People seem to need ecstatic experience, and here it is. You don't even need any fancy tools. It's quick, too, so you can soon get up and go about the rest of your life. The only reason people look down on it is that it's free. As soon as someone figures out a way to commercialize it, it'll become OK. Oh, and it also makes you feel good, which in our culture is the biggest sin of all. Especially Christians. We're supposed to worship suffering, and doing something purely for physical pleasure is proof that one is on Hell's doorstep.

In my usual way I think it's pretty simple. It hurts no one. If married people have a sexual outlet, why not an analogous operation for singles?

The last thread came to mind this morning. Where'd the pleasure go? Now that I'm a real follower of Jesus I'm supposed to be serious or else God will get pissed off and close the door. That would be intolerable, but life itself isn't all that tolerable and hasn't been. Even sand sculpture has been turned into a rationally justified act of artistic creation, and I avoid the ecstatic parts of the process by keeping a tight rational check on what I'm doing. Still, there are moments.

The tool touches the sand and tells me much. This is a good block of sand. I take away an extra inch of the lowest part, to make the top hang out more and accentuate the windblown look I want. Such overhangs have become routine in my sculptures, but this one is nicely shaped. More could have been done but the wind is just too much. As I walk away north my hair is blown straight back by the wind that coats my glasses with salt.

One can learn a lot about life from playing "Myst" and its follow-on games. If you're walking along, exploring, and find no way through, the chances are you've overlooked
the real exit. It's clear to me that most of modern Christianity doesn't work. I think we're missing the ecstatic part. Prayer is described at labor, to be scheduled. God is kept at a distance, replaced by rote performance of what others tell us are good works. I think it's time for each of us, including me, to ask God what He really

In any hairy situation the first thing to do is keep the wheels down, or the head up. When you're up to your armpits in alligators it really is hard to remember you intended to drain the swamp, but this is a situation analogous to surfing. Too many factors to track rationally. We followers of Jesus have a lot to learn, and some things are both harder and more important than others. It takes time, especially for those of us raised in a rational, time-limited, world, to appreciate the subtle sureness of God's guidance.

I'm not advocating turning life into a search for pleasure and ecstatic experience. I do advocate accepting such things when they show up. If prayer turns intoecstasy , why not enjoy it? Of course, you can't tell anyone else about it because they will lecture you on the dangers. Oh, yes, we should always seek the lowest common denominator, as no one judges people as a Christian can. The simple principle is that a life devoid of pleasure isn't... very pleasant. Tends to turn people bitter. Pleasure is one of God'sleavenings.

I think this may be what people mean when they talk about being barbarians invading the world. Barbarians live in the moment. It's another of those incongruities: well-dressed, well-behaved people sitting calmly in church listening to someone espouse barbarian ideas. If one of them actually started acting like a barbarian they'd be escorted from the premises, where they'd end up out in the rain with Jesus doing ecstatic dance.

This post is at least as much about my own limitations and frustrations as anything else. I have hedged myself about with boundaries I dare not overstep, and God keeps suggesting that I walk beyond. He knows all about transgressing other people's rules, and he also knows all about being raised inside a deadly religious system. He can guide me out. I wish there were a church or group of people I could trust to help me with this, but the whole process feels too fragile so I don't talk about it. I tend to knock things down all by myself, and don't need help.

I'm really tired of pressing the pleasure out of life. It's hard work, too. Uses energy that could be better used for... pleasure. I used to do things for pleasure, low-key activities that could be justified in other ways. Bicycling was for fitness, sculpture was for design exercise, making tools was for support of the sculpture, talking with people was to learn. I'd ignore the feelings of pleasure these engendered, and that left just one place, one activity for pleasure. You guessed it. Sanity requires pleasure, I think, wherever it comes from.

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