Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Image You See May Be Holding You Captive

This semester I am taking a philosophy class called Introduction to Philosophical Ideas. The teacher gets up in our faces, literally and in the manner that he will not allow us to simply drop an idea in without any thought. He is an interesting professor, who favors talking in person over all our modern sophisticated ways of talking to each other which enable us to do everything but actually get to know someone. He doesn't use email; I don't think he even has a computer; maybe that's a good thing.

In our last philosophy class (or at least it was my last class when I began writing this) we were discussing Plato's analogy of the cave. If you haven't read it before, I would recommend it, but otherwise it will be a little hard to shortly summarize the idea of it. Anyway, the analogy begins with prisoners tightly chained so that they cannot turn their heads, and so that their eyes are facing a wall on which the light from a fire behind them projects images of objects also behind them like shadow puppets. Now, my professor suggested an idea on this, which I happen to like; it was that what these prisoners are seeing are merely shadows of man-made art and not even of real things. They are in a way a kind of entertainment. Today they might be comparable with television, or what I suspect Arcade Fire calls the "Black Mirror." (I've put the song over to the left if you're interested).

It is the shiny screen which runs images in front of us-- a black mirror which shows us merely a shadow. It reflects back nothing of us, "vanities or dreams", but entrances us with something akin to sorcery "the spell is never broken", captivating us to eagerly wait in front of the black mirror wanting to know where the "bombs will fall," forgetting that they are falling on someone just like us only in a different place. The black mirror sort of numbs us to that fact; other's horrors become our entertainment and insulate us from the "nightmare" outside. And we gaze at a "pale reflection," moonshine, of what really is. We are victimized by what we see.

These images in the cave are something like the Matrix, as is our own world we're held captive, but we don't know of anything else what is real, and we don't care so long as it seems to be magic, so long long as it ends with the prestige. We don't care what the real cost of keeping us amused is. Escape, the red pill, requires some act like Elvis shooting his television set. Then there can be a desire for truth greater than the images shadows, the knowledge that there is more to the cave than we first thought.

We can be led out of the cave by the One who descended into our shadow realm of hollow men because he made a way out. He was the only one truly real in a world of hollow men-- substance among shades. He threatened our perception of the world, our values, and our idea of what was significant with such objectionably honest words that we killed him. Fortunately for us all, it's hard to kill what is truly alive.

Now, resurrected, we've been led out of the cave and now can see a world of light superior to our previous fascination with shadows. We see the real things and see promise of the heavenly things, but like in the analogy of the cave, we are called to return to the cave so as to show the others that there is a way out. Keeping ourselves turned to heaven we are to tell ourselves not yet, not yet, while we return into the cave. We are meant to live our lives both with a vertical orientation, looking forward to what lies ahead in the next world, but also with a horizontal orientation, recognizing that there are others around us who are hurting. Having seen the light we are meant to reflect it back to those who haven't seen it. I think this idea is evident even in the nature of light and color itself. Something appears white because when it is hit with white light it reflects all the colors of the spectrum back. So we should also reflect back the light that we see, living in lighthouses, and we should beware of becoming black mirrors ourselves, because black is black because when it is hit with white light it absorbs all of the colors of the spectrum and reflects none of them back. Let us not be black holes sucking in every bit of light into ourselves. "Light a candle for the kids. Don't keep it hid."

Friday, February 15, 2008

Unexpected Moments of Beauty

Wednesday night we got an unexpected snowfall of about two inches that quickly blanketed the grounds of Wake in white. It was a simple reminder of the simple beauty that even something like snow can have. I'm not sure why (it could have been the thought that we could potentially have classes the next day) but I felt a strange joy and wonder at the snow, which other students seemed to have felt as well. For a period of time we became like kids again-- in that part of us which has never quite died-- and we played in the snow. For a time, we put our time on hold-- our homework and plans were put aside-- to enjoy the snow. We have lost this kind of spontaneous merriment, especially as we have grown older.

But the snow was a reminder that the mystery, beauty, and joy in the world are not dead but very much alive.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

It's a Journey

I read this quote today, and it put to words what I am feeling right now and what I think it means to be aspiring followers of Christ.

"My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone" -- Thomas Merton

Friday, February 8, 2008

I Suppose This Is What You Call the Apocalyptic

After philosophy class today, I went to the Pit, the cafeteria oncampus, for lunch. The food was actually pretty good today, which was surprising enough, but not the reason why I'm writing. Anyway, I was going to get some more food and I noticed that there was a guy wearing a t-shirt which read, "Kill Your TV." I believe I grinned to myself and possibly nodded in silent agreement with him, as I walked by. The words refreshed a certain story about Elvis in my mind, mentioned in the Gospel According to America by David Dark.

" There is a tale, possibly apocryphal, of a bemused Elvis Presly sitting in front of his televisions reading the Bible. On completely Corinthians 13, it is reported that Elvis had a moment of clarity, reached for a gun and began shooting the bright, electrical images making their way into his home. There's something very compelling about this scene. It's as if the man whom many would call King stepped past all that had been and would be made of his personality and all the dark stratagems of Colonel Tom Parker to render a decision. Though it has a sadness and frailty to it, the seemingly powerless gesture nevertheless delivers a bold, authoritative judgement, not without a certain dignity. With Bible in hand, Elvis compares the love that has overcome death to the brain ray that is television and all the mass hypnosis of entertainment industry it represents (inseparable so it is from the phenomenon called Elvis) and finds it wanting, deserving of, in fact, immediate execution. The King has spoken."