The New Tongues?

For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit. But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort.

I Corinthians 14:2-3 (NIV)

The “gift of tongues” is often a controversial topic in church circles. There are some churches that welcome the “gift” while others firmly teach that the “gift” no longer has a place in the modern corporate worship experience. I’ve never had the urge to blurt something in a language I’ve never learned, but have been around people who are quite thrilled to utter mumbo jumbo. I’m okay calling it mumbo jumbo, because the people I’ve heard have said that to speak in tongues, you just make up noises to praise God. A few of these people have actually told me that people are only truly saved if they speak in tongues. Forgive me for sounding skeptical, but there is so much screwed up theology that is suggested in these assertions that I refuse to give them any credit. Isn’t my salvation between me and God anyways? I’m pretty sure Jesus never said, “Believe in me and you will know a language that no other human can understand. Speak that language, and you will be saved.” The great irony here is that Jesus taught to believe in him and speak the language of love. People may not understand why they are being loved, or how to receive that love, but the language itself is clear.

I don’t want to rant to the point of losing my intent on writing about tongues in the first place. The thought struck me several weeks ago that there is a correlation between the intent of tongues and literature, especially poetry.

All poetics and schools aside, poetry is one of the core expressions of humanity. It was the first literature, the first drama. How many young writers turn to poetry when they are simply trying to find meaning in their experiences? I wonder if poetry is a (the?) lingual connection between man’s spirit and God’s.

If you read the full chapter of I Corinthians 14, you’ll notice that the use of tongues in corporate worship is only permissible when the words are interpreted. Otherwise, the words don’t mean anything for the greater congregation. Paul asserts that worshipers prophecy, or tell about their experiences and what God is doing in their lives, rather then speak in tongues and be selfish about the experience.

Could literature, or poetry for that matter, be the new tongues?

Looking at this chapter (I Corinthians 14) through a poetic lens, one could say that language is between man and God, but experience holds meaning between humans. Have you ever written a poem that held great power to you, only to have a reader say, “Huh?” With poetry, we have the intersection of “tongues” and “prophecy”, or of personal language and experience.

How often do we hold on to those inaccessible poems (outside of T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland), those poems/stories that hold no meaning for the reader? I certainly don’t.

And how often do we have an opinion about a poem, and then, through the course of conversation (interpretation), our views are either solidified or broadened? I don’t think literature demands critics, but the understanding and overall joy can be maximized with insight outside my own.

___

the jibberish
of intersecting
my mind’s eye
and ear and tongue
sifts like fine dirt
through a sluice box

Mosaic: A Poem

Mosaic

by Joel E. Jacobson

I am a wine glass,
melted down
gently blown
and etched
into a limited
edition of one.
Fill me
with the most
expensive wine
and throw me
against the wall.
Break me into
expensive dust
because I can’t
see God anyways.

I am a wall,
framed in
insulated
dry-walled
textured
to look new,
pleasing
to the eye
complementary
to the art
hanging from
drilled holes
and plastic
anchors.
Plant
a sledge
hammer
in the middle
of my chest.
Rip down
my facade
bare my bones.
The builder
must have been
mistaken
in putting me here.

When God is dead
to me, your cupped hands
bear me, a mosaic
of dust and shards
and nails soaked
in red wine, they
hold me
until I can stand,
until your hands
are full of holes.

___

“Mosaic” is part 8 of the Story tellers project.

Ambiguity, Universalism, and the Character of God

Last week (or was it two weeks ago?) I wrote about ambiguity and poetry. I’ve been thinking about it again with all of the flap over Rob Bell’s latest book. A few points before I get to my own. The book hasn’t even been released yet, so nobody has read the whole thing, making the backlash premature. As people, we like to lash out about/against something without knowing the whole story. I don’t know anything specific about the book, and my comments will be on the video found in the link above. I’m not a huge fan of Rob Bell, as I find the theology in some of his videos a little questionable, and his books simply don’t hold my attention. However, he says something in the promo video (again, linked above) that has me thinking (a loose paraphrase):

God promises to send us to hell, and Jesus came to save us from God. If God was really a loving God, why would he have to save us from himself, and how could he choose to send anyone to hell to burn for eternity?

I disagree with the way Bell says a couple of these things, and I’m not sure if it’s an issue of semantics or deeper theological issues. In Genesis, God gave Adam and Eve a choice and a verdict–eat from any tree except the tree of knowledge of good and evil. If you eat from the tree, you will die. Some people don’t like or accept a God who would make such an ultimatum, but it’s a fact of life that we have to make decisions every moment of the day and each decision has a consequence. Death means separation from God, which leads to suffering and torment, thus hell.  So is it God choosing to send people to hell or is God allowing people to make their own choices, and thus deal with the appropriate consequences. (I know, the argument is much more complicated, right and wrong must be explored, morality must be evaluated, etc. I’m just trying to lay a little groundwork.)

I have personally gone round and round about the character of God, love, and hell. I often ask the question of whether or not a loving God would send somebody to hell, but I’m learning that maybe that’s a backwards way of looking it. As Timothy Keller discusses in his book Reason for God,  is God “sending” somebody who is completely set on rejecting God to hell, or is that person just continuing on the path of the self?

Either way, God’s Biblical character seems to embody ambiguity. God gets angry in the Old Testament and wipes out everybody but Noah. He gets disgusted and destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. Moses seems to change God’s mind when God is ready to wipe out the Israelites. God establishes the old testament law and then honors people like David and Solomon–two guys that lived very “worldly” at various points in their lives. There are stories in the Bible of wrath and love. How do those coexist?

I know many people who don’t care for such “contradictions”,  and conclude that a contradictory God cannot/should not exist or does not deserve praise. Why is it that we (humans? Americans?) refuse to believe in something (or attack outright) we don’t fully understand? Are we so focused on science that equal opposites just cancel each other out, resulting in nothing? Can ambiguity in poetry be a microcosm for an ambiguous God? Is it the ambiguity of God or the hypocrisy of “the religious” that drives people away?

More Imaginal…

A while back I posted about the Christian Imaginal. Since that blog, I came across a striking idea in A.W. Tozer’s The Pursuit of God. Tozer believes that God is the original creator, and nothing is capable of creating without the voice of God. This is a shattering statement for me to process due the fact that I’m raised in the American tradition of human rights and the value of the individual. We are brought up to believe that we, the individual, are most central in the advancing of knowledge, technology, creativity, and politics.  But if that Imaginal sensation is truly the voice of God, what are the consequences of such a truth?

Tozer asserts that only God can create, and Satan can only twist or manipulate. He draws this conclusion from Colossians 1:16-17, where Paul writes, “For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Tozer takes the idea of “all things” and applies it to all things. Some may say that Paul is writing in past tense, making the verse irrelevant by today’s standards. But, if God is outside of time then past, present, and future are all the same and we can infer that by God (specifically Christ in the context of the verse) all things are created by him and for him. Such an assertion can lead us into an argument of free-will–if God is just sitting around creating stuff through his little puppets then we really aren’t creating anyways. So what does it mean then?

There is a connection between creator and created. We create for a variety of reasons, but those drawn to be artists find fulfillment in creating art (except Kenneth Goldsmith, who looks to find un-fulfillment and boredom). We like our work (hopefully, eventually). When I create a poem, that poem in turn creates an image, emotion, experience, opinion, moment for somebody else. That poem is not my puppet, it is my creation, standing on its own speaking to others. That poem reveals something about me (an opinion, a mediation, a struggle, a story, a frustration, an experience, etc.) to those who read it. I cannot remove myself from the creation of that poem (again, this is heresy for the post-avante crowd). This creation process is a microcosm for the God/human artist relationship.

So what if the Imaginal is the voice of God, the original creative inspiration? That would mean that every being that creates is not only imitating God (as I’ve stated in other blogs) but acknowledging him as well. Not only does this heighten the value of creativity, but it confirms that the Imaginal is our connection to the core of everything under (above and around) the sun. This would suggest more than just having a glimpse of an unseen, spiritual existence.

A greater purpose for Poetry

When I was a child, my parents often wondered where I came from. Hmm. But really, how does a poet rise from two scientists–my father had a PhD in Geophysics and my mom double majored in math and chemistry. My brother? History (his educational focus, not the state of existence).  So even I can ask the question: where did I come from?

Joking aside, I really do like science…physics anyways. I don’t get chemistry and don’t care for biology (outside of evolution and creationism). I took calculus based physics in college. Yup, I was in way over my head. I like literature more than science, but there are aspects that grab my attention. I’m actually going to be studying optics for my capstone project in grad school. But there is a disconnect between science and poetry. This blog goes deeper into the problem than I care to, but here’s a quote:

One of the great dichotomies that Carl Jung drew in his book on personality types (which is retained in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) is that between feeling and thinking. Feelers are interested in human relationships, while thinkers are more interested in the objective world. Feelers are more interested in the humanities, while thinkers are more interested in the sciences.

And why can’t the two connect? Emerson saw a connection between humanity, nature, and God and labeled it the Oversoul. I think the Oversoul can be taken out of the equation, with God unifying man and nature through origin. In terms of origins, I do believe that humans were purposefully created, but I also believe the Big Bang set things into motion.  This is a tricky spot to be in: evolutionists accuse me of having bad science and some creationists accuse me of having bad faith. I don’t think I have either.

I believe in God–not a distant entity that can’t be bothered by the goings on of the planet Earth, but rather one that cares deeply about us and desires to see us choosing love above all us–and I believe that he has given us things to reveal himself, science and literature being two of them. Literature, over time, has recorded our attempts to find what’s missing, to fill a void, to achieve joy, to rise above an oppressive culture, etc. With literature, especially poetry, we have the physicalization of the spiritual, the realization of the idea, the imitation (and actuality) of creation. I also believe that God gave us science to reveal himself. From the greatness of our expansive universe to the information inscribed on a strand of DNA, I can’t accept that it just happened randomly, or even by chance. But this stance on science isn’t really popular with the Christian community. The Bible says the the world was created in 6 days, end of story. A sermon I heard at church last year presented this idea: God made things in six days–God could make an old rock look like a new rock–a three second old rock still looks like a rock!

Amen. Or not quite (I’ve gone round and round with my pastor on this, and we civilly disagree, so it’s not like I’m trying to call him out on this). Scientifically, a three-second rock is probably still glowing lava, cooling in ocean mists (oops, didn’t mean to get too poetic!). My question is, if God gave us science to reveal himself, why would he lie? I don’t believe that God has set out to trick us, so what’s the answer?

I think back to Galileo and Newton, who were coming up with really cool ideas…like the earth not being the center of the universe. These guys were persecuted by the church. Oops. Who has egg on their face on that one? I don’t mean to be anti-establishment, but the church was guilty of bad science.

What does this have to do with poetry? I think that all to often contemporary science doesn’t allow room for the supernatural, the mystical, the unprovable. I think religions often times don’t allow for evidence, questioning, and theorizing (i.e. the scientific method…I may have gotten things out of order, but hey, I’m a poet).

I assert that poetry is the unification of the two (I hope this isn’t too single-minded of me–poetry can do much more than this), taking the unseen, the supernatural, the mystical, and making it physical, taking the physical, the proven, and the tested and making it mystical and mysterious, all with the purpose of revealing the Creator.

[Edit]

I just found this quote on the top 10 reasons to attend a poetry reading:

Poetry is simultaneously emotional, intellectual, and spiritual.