Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Chasing Phantoms and Living in Reality: 4 of 3, The Congregational Response

You would think that an architect would be better at math than to be writing part four of a three part blog series, but here I go, lol. Supposedly, this is the post in which I talk about how God is calling me to respond to the things He’s been teachin’ me, discussed in the previous three posts. Having begun to learn not to be angry and judgemental toward myself, to be a bit more gentle and kind with myself (and others too, then), I’ve also begun…through my processing of exactly what’s going on in my relationship to the capitalist system that ruins my profession…not to DWELL on that as the god who so determines my thoughts, my emotions and my actions.

Of course the centerpiece of all this learnin’ stuff of late is the contents of the first post. The life of my heart is with God and His ways, rather than with my own desires. So, if my wonderful audience was hoping to find out whether I shall remain an architect…sorry. No decision. After having struggled with this for a week now, I think I’m just being called to baby steps. Simpler, smaller things. I don’t need to jump to conclusions. But maybe I should pay attention to just how much time and energy I’ve put into “capitalism.” No wonder its given me so much trouble; I’ve given it so much attention! If there comes a time in my life when a radical change of course is needed or appropriate…well, so be it…then. For now…I’m just learning what I’m learning.

That, however, does not change my honest admittance that there’s something whacky going on in our loose and foolish system in which “all things solid melt into air” (no I'm not a Marxist; its jut an ousiological observation). When God says (in Proverbs 14: 7-9): "Escape quickly from the company of fools; they're a waste of your time, a waste of your words. The wisdom of the wise keeps life on track; the foolishness of fools lands them in the ditch. The stupid ridicule right and wrong, but a moral life is a favored life.", He’s not necessarily calling me to a different profession. The same foolishness of capitalism exists in the church as out, believe it or not. No, what He’s calling me to is union with and trust in Him.

What He’s calling me to, then, is…when I feel devalued, manipulated and exploited by our empy and airy system, to call on Him, to go to Him. I was struck between the eyes recently from reading in 1st and 2nd Chronicales. When David and Samuel experience something painful, hurtful or fearful…they GO TO GOD. That’s the kind of intimacy and trust that they had established with Him. That’s amazing.

Although its not my habit, I actually did this once; so there is some precedent in my life to which I can turn. I had mentioned previously in this series that I get angry at those especially particular times when I come to realize that previously recognizedly ugly and stupid aspects of a building I’ve been working on (but that I did not design) have been DETERMINEDLY ugly and stupid by the “market.” This happened one day a couple of months ago during the course of a two hour conversation with one of the project managers in my office.

I asked why the owner of the firm didn’t do it in a more orderly and traditionally architectural way, which would leave a more powerful and meaingful impression upon the audience once the project is built. My project manager very cooly, consciously and straightfowardly answered that the designer of the building (the owner of my firm) had relized quite well that such alternatives existed, but had deferred to the power of the marked (and the will of the “client”) in his design of the building. I was so full of anger and fury that I began to loose control of my thoughts. I began to notice my mind go to the fantastic places to which it likes to go to make itself “feel better,” and I thought…”wait a second…this isn’t going to help…I should follow in the footsteps of David and Samuel.” So I did.

I prayed to God that I wasn’t sure exactly what all was going on in my soul, but that I was really f@#%ing pissed off at “the world” at that moment. I’ve learned that when it comes to the question of God’s direct and verbal answers to prayers, He usually responds to the really genuine ones. Well, that being a rather frank and genuine prayer from me, then, He responded: “My love is greater than your sin.” I was a bit flabberghasted and surprised at His response. But then, upon reflection, it made so much sense! God has a way of saying so much with so little. Basically, in one sentence he told me that the world’s trouble’s weren’t my fault, but that I also wasn’t so innocent as I might like to think, but that He loves me, redeemed me, and is in the process of saving me…and all the same stuff goes for the “world” at which I was so bitterly angry just a few moments prior.

The following then, to which I feel I’m being called…the way in which I feel I am being called to “respond” to the lessons discussed in the first three posts…applies both to my life, my prayer life, and to “the world” (Proverbs 10: 8-11):

”A wise heart takes orders; an empty head will come unglued.
Honesty lives confident and carefree, but Shifty is sure to be exposed.
An evasive eye is a sign of trouble ahead, but an open, face-to-face meeting results in peace.
The mouth of a good person is a deep, life-giving well, but the mouth of the wicked is a dark cave of abuse.”

"Escape quickly from the company of fools; they're a waste of your time, a waste of your words. The wisdom of the wise keeps life on track; the foolishness of fools lands them in the ditch. The stupid ridicule right and wrong, but a moral life is a favored life." (Proverbs 14: 7-9). This isn’t a call to run after some fantasy from the profession that so aggrevates me at times. Sheesh, I love it too!! It is a call, however, to take the simple steps, one at a time, in God’s direction. Proverbs 12: 8-11 "A person who talks sense is honored; airheads are held in contempt. The one who stays on the job has food on the table; the witless chase whims and fancies."

Someone recently referenced C.S. Lewis to me. Lewis said that every choice that you make is a step in the direction either of your freedom and salvation or of the mirey clay. This person referenced this thought of Lewis’ in the context of Revelatinos 7: 13-14: “Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, ‘Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?’ I said to him, ‘Sir, you know.’ And he said to me, ‘These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.’” They are the saints; they did their own scrubbing of Christ’s blood onto their own freakin’ robes! Christ is the pure white Lamb who does the bleedin', but we saints do the scrubbin’.

This discussion of my elbow grease, BTW came in light of a conversation about a warning dream that I had from God. The enemy will always be there trying to take over the most inner and sacred sanctuary chambers of my heart. When I am wronged by “the world,” he will always be trying to convince me that I AM WHAT’S WRONG. And when I am what’s wrong, the will always be there to help me convince myself that everything’s dandy and I’m more perfect and innocent than Jesus himself!

And in that same conversation with a pretty smart dude about this warning dream from God, this same smart fella’ helped me to discipher another dream, as well. This one doesn’t have a whole heck of a lot to do with anything that I WILL DO (so my “response” is sort of irrelevant here anyway…this being a post about “my response to what I’ve been learning”). I had a dream in which I was in the back seat of a car…a good and respected friend who has taught me much was driving on a road right next to the beach. It was a nice, peaceful and relaxing drive…until the ocean started to wash up over the road. The driver…always cool, calm and collected as he is, says, “Don’t worry, I got it under control.” Just then, he sees a road to turn down away from where the huge mass of water is approaching. As soon as we turn onto that road to avoid the water, however, we splash down into it. The car begins to sink, the windows begin to cover with water, and eventually the car is filling up with the now-clear water that had just a moment ago been a big beautiful blue body washing up over some bright luscious-green grass.

Needless to say, I awoke that morning a bit frightened. I didn’t freak out too much, though, because such dreams have become regular occurances lately. I’ve learned not to freak out. Usually God has something completely different in His own mind from what I have in mine at first, so I’ve learned to just shush and wait on Him in these instances. I might hate marketing, but I can still get something from His Word (Proverbs): 11: 23 - "Prudent people don't flaunt their knowledge; talkative fools broadcast their silliness." So I shushed, waited, and worked through life, until I had time to talk to my smart dream discipherer. Proverbs 14: 23 “Hard work always pays off; mere talk puts no bread on the table.”

Sure enough, my smart dream discipherer wasn’t afraid of my dream. This wasn’t a “warning dream,” but a “good dream.” The blue of the water represents prophetic revelation that occurs in the overwhelming presence of God. My dream reader says that I will eventually be a part of some ministry, or some activity of the Holy Spirit, in which I will be some sort of vehicle of Him and His Word (hence the “revelation”). My smart friend also says the dream means that I won’t necessarily even recognize this activity as that of God…to the degree that I’ll be freaked out and try to get away from it. But then it will just flood me all the more.

So…apparently…here I’ve been struggling for a week on how to wrap up my blog series with how God is calling me to “respond” to the Word that He’s been speaking into my heart…and I can’t even get away from it if I try! Further evidence that God has a sense of humor.

Proverbs 13: 14
"The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life,
so, no more drinking from death-tainted wells!"

Friday, June 08, 2007

Chasing Phantoms and Living in Reality: 3 of 3, The Loose and Empty Foolishness of the Market(ing)

So in the previous posts I explored where Proverbs refers to the abundant life of the heart as a morally good life, apparently meaning that we are made good and valuable. I also made brief mention of some contemporary, or semi-contemporary “phantom” notions of a full and abundant “heart” – according, at least, to the book of Proverbs. In the next post, I explored how true architecture appears to me as a phantom pursuit in the contemporary fieled of architectural (eerr, real estateual) play. If this is truly meant to be a series, then, I shall here explore the moral value, or lack thereof, of the contemporary architecutral field. This will, of course, also entail an exploration of the bigger field withinin which the architecural one is plotted out.

Proverbs 13: 7 says: "A pretentious, showy life is an empty life; a plain and simple life is a full life." If not vigilant here, we might think that by an "empty life," the teacher is simply referring to something like Proverbs 14:12-13 - "There's a way of life that looks harmless enough; look again—it leads straight to hell.Sure, those people appear to be having a good time, but all that laughter will end in heartbreak..." We might think that the wise teacher is here only referring to the typical transgressions of youthful inexperience and stupidity. We might also then think that the solutions to the problem are the virtues of wisdom and prudence, which often come with age.

But what if what the wise teacher really meant in speaking of the empty and showy life could be extended to the showy emptiness of our markety-driven economy – the previously referenced larger field that determines the field of architectural play - in which a scantily clad women are somehow meant to sell cars or soda, and whose very life depends on the false illusion of lack or emptiness? There is no longer a central source of power tempting the young to trnasgression, but the whole machine turns on the desire-driven consumption of everyone who plays the game, the game whose rules are set by the market’s system.

Cell phones and back-yard sprinklers, the kinds of "necessities" of contemporary life and the kinds of toys of wise old men of our day, weren't exactly "necessary" for the abundantly rich King Solomon. Proverbs 14: 6 - "Cynics look high and low for wisdom—and never find it; the open-minded find it right on their doorstep!" If in fact the “necessity” of back yard sprinkler systems and increasingly powerful and complex cell phones - again, the toys of the older boys - is illusory, then Proverbs 10: 18 becomes relevant: “Foolish dreamers live in a world of illusion; wise realists plant their feet on the ground.”

The market depends upon such objectss appearing as both desirable and necessary. A sexy woman may have nothing to do with cars or soda, but she makes them appear desirable. The sexy woman in the soda or car commercial give the soda and car a certain image in which the advertised image is made. And its not the "Image of God" in which Man is made; its a bit more of an "empty" "phantom" like image. So the system broadcasts the silliness of empty phantom images, and a do-it-all cellular phone or a back yard sprinkler system might have nothing to do with necessity or a full life, but the market depends on objects of consumption and fantasy appearing as both desirable and necessary.

Relevant to my friend’s asking me if “I’d say I’m a good architect,” too, is the fact that the market depends on our self image being dependent on its participation in the market’s game. If I own a house and can’t afford a sprinkler system in my back yard, then my penis must be smaller than my neighbor’s, who has a really nice sprinkler system inside of his fence. Oh, and what kind of businsess man am I if I have a two year old cell phone? As a conemporary business man, my cell phone even determines my ability to get clients. Not only my self image, but even my livelihood is wrapped up in my participation in the field of play that is determined by contemporary values and rules.

This picture of reality wouldn’t effect me if not for the contents of my previous post. I could simply choose to be prudent and not necessarily spend all that money for sprinkler systems or the newest and latest cell phones, but then two things happen. I loose the penis enlargement contest, and I don’t get clients. Well, I’m not a business man, supposedly, so the whole thing plays out differently for me individually. If I don’t play by the world’s rules, or even if I don’t want to play by the worlds rules, then I am simply viewed as a bad architect. Of course, then, this also effects my livelihood, just as the ownership of an anicent cell phone effects the livlihood of the contemporary business man.

In other words, then, the system perpetuates itself. The system is predicated on desire and the illusion of necessity. The life of the system is a matter of life and death, so to speak. The life of the system has gotten so powerful that folks who don’t live by the same values by which the system finds life are forced out of the game alltogether. As per my previous post: Lou Kahn died in great debt, W.G. and my professor can no longer publicly practice architecture in Charleson, S.C., and Daniel Libeskind’s quest for a public architecutre in NY in the wake of 9/11 turned out to be an utter failure.

I previously quoted the Teacher as saying, ““Foolish dreamers live in a world of illusion; wise realists plant their feet on the ground.” Here it comes across as simply an intellectual issue. But it is also a moral issue, because, as discussed previosly in this post, it is an issue of our self-image. In the first post, I discussed the moral goodness of the heart. Also, Proverbs discusses how true life comes out of that goodness. If, then, the market(ing) game of contemporary life and architecture is one that perpetuates both a life and a self-image of illusion and lack, then the foolish dreams of those who live in a world of illusion is also a moral issue.

I should be clear, though. I am not saying that free market economy, capitalism as I like to call it since I’m an architect, is morally bad “per se.” That would be absurd. And it would also leave me with an obvious choice as to whether or not I should stay in the game of contemporary architecture. If the contemporary market were morally bad, per se, then my choice would be obvious; I should leave “the world” of architecture for ministry, or to live as a hermit, or to live on some tropical island with a bunch of hippies.

The way I see it, though, is not that the system is bad “per se,” but that it has: a) like the image of man, been corrupted by sin, and b) simply gotten to big and powerful to leave room for anything else to exist. In terms of the consequences of (b), then, it’s a question of my own gifts that I have to offer to the world, and the world’s lack of desire to accept them. As I noted previously, I had previously tended to project the fault, blame or corruption in that instance onto myself…leaving me with a less than healthy self-image. Again, though, this series of posts is an exploratino of how maybe, just maybe, the problem isn’t so much with me as with the world. Maybe I should have the freedom and original goodness in my soul to actually be angry rather than “stuck.”

As it stands, though, I am still struggling with how to respond to the problem at hand, which I will explore in my next post. My three part series, then, has unexpectedly turned to four.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Chasing Phantoms and Living in Reality: 2 of 3, Vocation and Calling

As I hinted at in the intro to my previous post, I have up to this point in my life regarded the social machine by which our lives turn as pretty much nothing more than a slight of hand that strikes against me, against what I care about, and against any possibility for the world’s acceptance of the God-given gifts that I have to offer. When I refer to even the lack of any possibility for the world’s acceptance of my gifts, I think of a number of shining examples, of which my friends have probably already heard.

I am thinking of respected elders, father figures if you will, previous architects whom I respect as such (rather than as real estate agents with fancier aesthetic sounding titles), whose gifts were either unaccepted or accepted hesitantly and resentfully by the world. I’ll give three examples in chronological order. In 1974, Lou Kahn (click here) died 500,000 dollars in debt. Who knows how much that would be today. But the reason for such debt was that the market is predicated upon a certain central imporance placed upon “efficiency” (a mechanical term) that runs directly counter to the “creative” and/or poetic process of the artist’s working “in situ,” in which the maker doesn’t necessarily know what the end product will be as it comes forth.

There are counteless stories of annoyed contractors in Kahn’s wake who took him to be nothing but a bumbling fool after having him change aspects of the design in the middle of the building process. Interesting, “bumbling fool” is often how I feel the world looks at me, as confirmed by my now close friends’ descriptions of what they thought of me when they first met me. This series of blogs, however, is an exploration of how maybe there is something wrong not so much with me as with the world. A novel idea.

The next example is that both my professor and W.G. Clark, who worked together in Charleston, S.C. (click here to see an example of their working together in S.C.), are no longer practicing in Charleston. My professor is now obviously a professor, at VA Tech. And W.G. is now a professor at UVA primarily, but has also done a couple private residences in the Charlottesville area. No public works for either since being chased from Charleston by the social machine that is predicated upon and commands that everything remain status quo. Of course, the reason the social machine demands status quo is that it depends upon it. So a new work in downtown Charleston that doesn’t look like its from the colonial era, is of course totally out of place (click here to see what I mean). Anyone else see the irony there (newflash: we aren't in the colonial era anymore)?

The culmination of failed attempts at architecture of men who I respect occurred in the aftermath of 9/11. The link in the margins of my blog, which I have called “Is-Real vs. Real-Estate” explains the story quite well (click here for the story). I regard this as both the culmination of all possible failures and the paver of the path of all probable future failures for two reasons. The first is the obvious public theater of the project. The architect – Libeskind (not Childs) – is caught in the midst of forces bigger than he. What he designed is not what will get built. I think this reflects both the values of our society, and especially how those values run counter to my own, and the overwhelmingly totalizing claim that those values hold upon the governance of the world’s territories. The second reason is my respect for Daniel Libeskind. I believe that if anyone could have pulled off a truly public act of true architecture, it would have been Daniel Libeskind. But in my estimation, he failed miserably. But I can’t really say its his fault.

All in all, then, I have up to now, whether consciously or not, regarded “the world” as the reason for the large scab that appears on the front of my heart. The large scab every now and again opens to a gaping wound when something prompts me out of my numbness into a sudden place of care and passion. A small number of such events will be explored in the next post.

But it should be noted first that, among my many revelations recenly, I have realized that I carry around with me many deep underlying destructive emotions (discussed here). The marks of scabbed wounds. I’ve realized that they aren’t just things that show themselves at certain times or on certain days at work when certain of my architectural values are violated and I get “abundantly” angry (see the next post). Its more of something I carry around with me every day, even when I’m not working, since my work is such a big part of who I am. Especially since I’m a prophet, and I view my character or role largely in terms of what I speak forth into the world, so to speak, my ”vocation” or ”calling”.

The emotions…there is a general and underlying sadness in me at the loss of what seems like even the possibility for true architecutre – globally (witness Clark, my professor, and finally, Libeskind). There is a deeply underlying resentment and anger at the system and at those close to me who seem to be carried away into or by the system to find their value, place, image or identity in the world. These folks close to me, to a degree, determine what I do every day at work (my bosses). And that underlying anger only really manifests itself at certain times when I am confronted with very concrete situations at work - such as when certain stupid and ugly aspects of a building that I had noticed AS being stupid and ugly I come to realize as having been regulated or determined by the money-machine. These are the moments when I decide to care; that’s when I get angry. Otherwise its just like a light and constantly blowing breeze of apathy upon my soul.

To sum up, then, the current state of the world makes me feel like its impossible to fulfill my calling in life. Of course, then, how do I answer when a good friend of mine, although slightly naïve in regards to these issue it seems, asks me, “Would you say you’re a good architect”? For one, I have to ask her, “By whose standards?” For another, I then lament what seems like the impossiblity of the current field of architectural play preventing that question from ever even being answered. My test would occur on one possible filed of play, but the current field of architecture is on the other side of town.

Then, however, there are those times, like recently when someone spoke a Word of hope and coming justice into my soul, when a certain underlying hope and peace in my soul is manifested in my bodily state. These are the times when I believe that goodness, truth and justice not only will and do reign, but will ultimately happen. Of course, it seems, the hope and the anger are inseparably interwoven like some fabric whose pattern I don’t quite know exactly. The next post, then, will explore a bit more of exactly why it is that I’m angry and how I think Proverbs, along with what it is teaching me about the heart, might be calling me to respond.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Chasing Phantoms and Living in Reality: 1 of 3, The Life of the Heart

I recently realized that my heart isn’t necessarily in such great shape. Right now my Bible reading is in Proverbs, and it has occurred to me that the meaning of the term “heart” in that book isn’t exactly what we might expect as we approach the text. Such realizations, along with recent experiences and studies centered around my work (as an architect) have lead me to question my vocational calling. I have been lead to begin to regard my previous attitude of alienation and deep inner pain in regard to our contemporary economic system – which controls my industry, along with everything else - as less of a helpful and true attitude and more of my falling into a deep pit or a mean trick. This, then, serves as the first of a series of three posts to explore these recent goings on in my life and in my soul.

Proverbs 11: 19, 20 - "Take your stand with God's loyal community and live, or chase after phantoms of evil and die. God can't stand deceivers, but oh how he relishes integrity." Proverbs 13: 19 "Souls who follow their hearts thrive; fools bent on evil despise matters of soul."

Proverbs, I am just now suddenly realizing (fully, at least, I suppose), is a call to me for a moral backbone. Its also a call to freedom and abundance, the expansive living of the referenced moral uprightness. Proverbs 4: 23 - "Guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life."

To approach what is meant here by heart, interestingly, Proverbs 6: 16-19 says:
"Here are six things God hates,
and one more that he loathes with a passion:
eyes that are arrogant,
a tongue that lies,
hands that murder the innocent,
a heart that hatches evil plots,
feet that race down a wicked track,
a mouth that lies..."

For another example, Proverbs 7: 1-5
"Dear friend, do what I tell you; treasure my careful instructions.
Do what I say and you'll live well.
My teaching is as precious as your eyesight—guard it!
Write it out on the back of your hands;
etch it on the chambers of your heart.
Talk to Wisdom as to a sister.
Treat Insight as your companion.
They'll be with you to fend off the Temptress—
that smooth-talking, honey-tongued Seductress."

Here, when the wise teacher speaks of the life of the heart - which apparently we are to "follow after" - he is not talking about Hollywood phantoms of fame, celebrity and the perfect life of unending ease and pleasure, which doesn’t exist anyway. Nor is he talking about some American Romantic(ism) notion of "following your heart." Nor, even, is he talking about a bit of a differnet American dream of “liberty” and/or “freedom” that supposedly died in 1968. He's talking about the phantom idea that our desired good life actually arises from an immoral life of cheating, empty talk and general empty-headedness, such as irresonsible American Romantic notions, dreams of Hollywood ease, or other things to be explored in the coming posts.

What Proverbs is talking about, though, is the abundant life with a full heart. If that’s what he’s talking about, and if such a life is fulfilled in morality, then apparently our heart, in which even eternity is embedded, is made morally good.

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