Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Why "The Golden Ass"

Recently, I have had a friend of mine from my small group visit my blog and not read the post she had come to read, because she assumed my blog was not by a Christian author. In other words, she assumed the author could not have been me, lol. Another friend of mine also recently gave me a hard time about it in jest and later asked me what the title was about. So, I figure I'll take this opportunity to explain, for those who either don't catch the more public references that I intend to make with the title or to maybe explain some of my more private references latent in the title of my blog.

So, first of all, there is a famous Roman novel called "Metamorphoses," to which Augustine refers using the name of my blog (in other words, Augustine calls the novel "The Golden Ass"). Wikipedia summarizes the plot as follows:

"The plot revolves around the protagonist's curiosity (curiositas) and insatiable desire to see and practice magic. While trying to perform a spell to transform into a bird, he is accidentally transformed into an ass. This leads to a long journey, literal and metaphorical, filled with in-set tales. He finally finds salvation through the intervention of the goddess Isis, whose cult he joins."

The "salvation" referenced there by wikipedia corresponds, in the actual story, to Luscus'- Luscius being the protagonist of the story - being returned to human form. The amazon link to the book refers to the series of events that lead to Luscius' return to human form as "trials and humiliations." That reminds me of Christ's plan for humanity and his church, as revealed in both his death and resurrection and in his scriptures.

As my choice for a title to my blog might indicate, then, I find the basic plot line of that Roman novel to be quite autobiographical. I have always been a very curious person, as others in my life have noted from time to time. This curiosity has lead me to some fruitful pursuits as well as some that might have been, with more foresight, considered to be less than fruitful, just as they turned out to be, lol. It should be noted that this blog received it's name while I was still an Architect. My favorite architect took the name "Le Corbusier," which was a french word for a shadowy bird that flies overhead with a view of everything from above (actually a crow, I think). That high-flying view of things could be said to characterize the end and shape of the pursuits that arose from my extreme curiosity. For those who know the Architectural work of Le Corbusier, that high-flying view of things could also be said to shape how I thought of Architecture and what I considered architecture to be, as well.

Of course, as my blog photo indicates, that aspect of the story in which Lucius ends up being turned into an ass rather than the intended beautiful bird with a god-like view from above is also autobiographical, lol. On my way to becoming human again, I have also experienced numerous "trials and humiliations." Two big ones I could easily and quickly mention are my failure as an architect (especially in light of my grandiose ideas of myself as an architect prior to said failure) and my failure in my first job as a nurse, which was one of those instances in life of having something taken away from you that you thought you were supposed to have.

Also, genuinely speaking, a big aspect or direction of my spiritual life has been God's gently, peacefully, and lovingly asking me to correct of those parts of myself that are or have been - and please forgive the potential vulgarity here - ass-like. The protagonist of the story being turned into an ass, then has the double meaning. For one, I am, quite clearly, apparently am not the planner of my own life. On top of that, my stubborn efforts to transform myself into the planner of my life are generally met with appropriately comedic or tragic results, depending on how you want to look at them. The other side of the coin of meaning of the image of an ass being an image of ME is that, quite simply, I can tend to be an ass. As my blog's "about me" indicates, it is only by the grace and power of God that I am ever not an ass, really.

The title of my blog is also a brief nod to one of my favorite stories in the bible. In that story, an animal who is known for its astonishing stubbornness is used by God to correct an apparently even more stubborn prophet. And, yes, my reason for that story being a favorite of mine is also autobiographical. Who knew God could speak through an ass!? Wait, is the ass the animal or the stubborn prophet? Lol.

Speaking of prophets, the "golden" portion of my blog title is a nod to my great propensity towards idolatry. Just as it is only by the grace of God that I am not an ass, it is only by the power and love (well, and grace) of God that I am not always and constantly building my life into a golden calf. And, that great love and grace is precisely why my blog's "about me" makes reference to God's valuing me as gold. He didn't die for me for nothing. The streets of the eschatological end of all things are said to be paved with gold for a reason.

The portion of the plot line of "Golden Ass" novel in which Lucius "finally finds salvation through the intervention of the goddess Isis, whose cult he joins" also has autobiographical value for me. Although I have no ties to Isis in particular, my studies of mythology and mysticism have certainly influenced me greatly in the past. They also, probably, tend to influence me a bit still today. What do I mean by that? Well, it is a long story that probably has both positive and negative contributions to my life, but I could just depict the highlights here. On the negative side, I have had to learn that the word of God is simple and, at least in some way or some level (and probably in the most important way and at the most important level), has a basic meaning that is powerfully applicable to all, regardless of one's initiation into the mysteries of the universe. In passing, I would like to note that I do not mean to say that (a lot of) scripture has a "plain and obvious meaning" with an "objective truth." I take those things to be "figments of the Enlightenment imagination," as N.T. Wright put it. Speaking of the Enlightenment, then, leads me into what I still take to be mysticism's positive influence on my life and thinking.

My study of and immersion into mysticism was both a reaction against the Enlightenment's cup from which I was forced to drink throughout all of my grade school years and also, to a degree, the sway back to the other side of the pivot point as part of the balancing act of the tightrope walker who was me. In other words, I mean to say that I was reacting against Enlightenment objectification and reductionism as I went into my studies of mysticism, and what remains with me from those mystical studies still, to a degree, serves as part of a way to positively re-orient my being away from who an allegiance to Enlightenment Liberalism would tell me to be. All that said, there is a lot from my studies of mysticism to which I am no longer attached or which I view as having little to no role in the narrative of the scriptures by and in which they call us to live.

On a completely different note, in the choosing of the title of my blog, I was aware that some Christian brothers and sisters might be offended. I should note, then, that, generally speaking, I don't go around using the word "ass" out loud with my mouth. I do that because of Paul's exhortation to not offend your brother or sister for the sake of unity, irregardless of whether or not the offense is valid or correctly characterized as offensive. With that said, I like the idea that the written form of the word might engender conversation about what a curse really is.

Of course, one of the ten commandments is, "You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain." I think of that as connected to the question of what a curse is, because of what Deuteronomy 28-30 spells out as the blessings and curses connected to obedience and disobedience of God's commands. Also, Ephesians 4: 29 says: "Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear." Colossians 3: 8 says this: "But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth." Also, in speaking of the wicked and arrogant, Psalm 10: 7 says, "His mouth is filled with cursing and deceit and oppression;/ under his tongue are mischief and iniquity." The common theme I see here is God's concern for edification of others, in both word and deed. I get the picture of the tongue having great power for good or for evil.

As James 3: 9-10 say, "With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so." I get the image of a witch or a voodoo practitioner pronouncing a curse over someone. The intention is for harm to come to that person, for that person's life to come to destruction and ruin. We all have such power, as we are all made in the image of God. James is saying that this power ought not to most properly be used to build the Kingdom of God, which is one of life, justice, and harmony. The body that lives in the Kingdom of God and by His rule is one of strength and soundness. The kingdom of God is not filled with vanity, anger, wrath, malice, slander, obscenity, arrogance, wickedness, deceit, and oppression. And, the tongue of the citizen of the Kingdom of God, although it has the power to have a role in what appears or disappears in the world, does not use that power to bring about oppression and destruction. In short, the tongue can pronounce death and destruction, or the tongue can speak the grammar of life and edification. One is to curse, the other is to bless.

With that as the picture, then, I do not think of curses as a list of words that, by rule, should not be used, regardless of the meaning, context, or circumstances. Some of those "four letter words" - well, in this case, the word in question is "ass" and is a three letter word, but you get the point - that we tend to abstract from actual reality are, I think, often or generally filled with vulgarity and obscenity that give color to the outlined content of the language spoken by the hearer, which may not be intended for cursing and destruction. That vulgarity and obscenity is often, then, I think not the color of life, harmony, and edification. In other words, my hearing of the F word doesn't make me think of God's blessing and command over humanity to multiply and fill the earth so that He can dwell in the midst of the speaker of said F word. The F word, instead, makes me think of a crass vulgarization of the act that leads to such filling and multiplication. Said vulgarization may imply pleasure, fun, and maybe even a shadow of power, but I have a hard time reconciling it with love. In other words, who is (generally speaking) being blessed by the F word? (not God)

That said, I don't tend to equate the word "ass" with the F word. I have a hard time thinking of a circumstance or context in which the F word would not be obscene or vulgar, or even filled with malice and anger. As I hope I demonstrated in the above paragraphs, however, the word "ass" can be used rather easily in a way that, I don't think, is filled with any of that. In fact, I would venture to at least hope that the use of the term "ass" in the above paragraphs, and in the title of my blog post, paints the world a different color other than that of the vulgar and crass. And, I would hope that it's use here is filled with quite the opposite of anger, malice, and bitterness.

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