Untitled

by John Ellis

We’re one day closer to Putin launching his nukes. While it may not necessarily be inevitable, it’s probably inevitable. That’s a bold claim – a thuddingly dramatic opening sentence, I know – but if you haven’t heard, Putin has begun a “partial military mobilization.” The word “partial” is revealing but will go over many heads. That’s not their fault, nor is it your fault if that’s you, that is. Understanding the intricacies of post-Soviet Russia is not something that’s required to be able to score highly on the SAT. In a nutshell, Russia can’t sustain a military mobilization because their infrastructure won’t allow for it. In the late 90s and into the early 00s, decisions were made, if not forced by economic realities, that Russia’s military goals would be largely confined to ensuring an impressive missile systems and stockpile (read: nukes) and maintaining a strategic force designed for special foreign engagements. They’ve only really managed (been able to afford) one of those. Guess which one.

Russia has a vast horde of people it can conscript, but what to do with them after the fact is likely an insurmountable obstacle. To be sure, historically one of Russia’s primary military tactics has been a bloody attrition that sees the deliberate sacrifice of millions of Russians as worth preserving the Motherland (they haven’t won a lot of wars outside of Russia but have fun invading Russia). Nowadays, modern warfare is even less forgiving to that approach. Training, arming, housing, mobilizing, maintaining supply lines, etc. are all far out of reach of Russia’s military infrastructure. For their part, the Soviet Union placed economic viability much farther down the list of priorities and military prowess at the very tip-top of that list, to their ultimate demise, of course.[1] The Reds believed that a large, shiny military apparatus was more desirable than bread for the people. Post-Soviet Russia, though, was forced, whether ex-KGB officers angling for power liked it or not, to reorder priorities. So, in 2022, that really leaves only nukes on the table as Putin, lusting after Ukraine, doubles down on his desire to rebuild Mother Russia and further the reach of his autocracy. And I’m not the only one saying it. Putin said it, too.

So, yeah, probably inevitable.

What happens afterwards – the West’s response and then the East’s response to the West’s response – is what’s up in the air. Whatever it is, whatever happens, it likely ain’t good. History tells us that humanity’s most consistent talent and passion are chaos and destruction.

I know, I know. Chaos and destruction are what happens over there, wherever “there” is in your view, and not here. Yeah, sure. But how much have you contemplated why “here we are now, entertain us” is in our cultural lexicon? A whole bunch? Or not at all? Do you even Nirvana?

The moderates, better tagged as the sophisticated – those who “do Nirvana” but have never fully embraced the pop-culture created Gen X ethos of cynicism – believe me to be a Chicken Little. That or a hyperbolic court jester. What they miss, though, among other things, is that while the Gen X ethos of cynicism was created by marketers, even a stopped clock is right twice a day. And if that’s not clear, the marketers are the stopped clock, not me. The court jester, by the way, according to Shakespeare, sees what others can’t. Just saying.

Look, it’s not entirely your fault (or their fault). I blame the myopia on the lull. We’ve had it good. Most of us. Most of us reading (and writing) this, that is.

Our lives are easy. Easier than we deserve. We’ve not earned our privilege nor our wealth nor our external existential security (I can’t speak to your internal existential security because I can’t see your heart – are you honest and brave enough to see your heart?). The lull. The lulls. An argument can be made that there has been more than one, although they’ve been awfully close together, separated by things like a pesky pandemic. Except.

Except …

The lulls? Those good times? Well, and seemingly contradicting myself, there really aren’t any lulls. I know it feels like a lull – an island of privilege – while reading this on your fancy device in the “safety” and comfort of your luxurious McMansion. The pandemic was a speedbump that we’re on the other side of. In hindsight, it was decoration for our Instagram and something to feel sorry for ourselves about – “Can you believe we lasted soooo many months having to wear a mask and not being able to eat inside at our favorite restaurant?”. Now, your biggest worry is wondering whether you should have refinanced your McMansion before the Feds began hiking interest rates, or something like that. The pretense of a lull, its false front, is all most of us known. But it’s only a lull for some of us. And even then, it amounts to little more than a distraction from our inward chaos.

The world is full of chaos, destruction, and monsters. We’re the privileged few who only have to face up to that external reality on occasion. In fact, dare I say, we’re much closer to being the monsters feeding that chaos than not. And when that chaos does invade our privileged fortress of time and circumstances, we’re at a loss. Coping is the de rigueur of our therapeutic age; facing the truth – physical and emotional/existential truth – is not. We’ve managed to engineer almost all the rough edges of life away. And so, we take it as a personal insult when the chaos of the real interrupts. Unfortunately – or fortunately, depending on your perspective, I guess – those seemingly rare occasions of chaos are likely going to morph into a full-time reality for us. The end is nigh, as the sign says.

The end of what, though?

The end of the lull?

I don’t know about that. The lull is a mirage. You can’t end something that never really existed. Here’s what I do know: Yeats was wrong. There’s never been a center. There should’ve been, but she whored herself out to Constantine some seventeen-hundred years ago.  

But you can’t see it, can you? The story you’ve embraced won’t allow for it. “Equilibrium has existed and can exist again if we take the lessons taught us by history and deal with the threat to that equilibrium correctly,” you likely believe. “The center – that stabilizing force that’s the glue that keeps the crap together – is real, it’s just cracking,” is the story you comfort yourself with.

That’s the story we’re all told in the West. “Chaos, get thee behind me for I am thy master,” is one of the most important lines in that story. Except as the Underground Man profoundly mutters, “man is so partial to systems and abstract deductions that in order to justify his logic he is prepared to distort the truth intentionally.” It’s a lie, that “most important line” that tells us we are chaos’ master. That lie is vital, though. Anything that threatens our salvation in the here and now, however we define that salvation and however that salvation looks in praxis, demands to be distorted beyond recognition to the point of denial. It can’t be otherwise. To be clear, and contradicting many, our epistemic mastery of the world isn’t what’s at stake. Cries of an epistemological crisis are misplaced albeit cute. Our vision of which “truths” sold on the marketplace of ideologies conform to the good life defines our epistemic mastery of the world. That vision is what’s at stake; epistemology is just the emperor’s clothes. And it’s not a chicken and egg thing. It’s a crashing, chaotic pick-up-sticks kind of thing. We could see the chaos if we weren’t so dazzled by whichever fiction/vision we’ve embraced. Speaking of fiction, that reminds me.

Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum is a literary double entendre, serving as a satirical yet subtle warning wink for those readers who navigate the book with the hermeneutic of smugness that is packaged with a “knowledge” that the book’s joke is on those who believe that writers like Dan Brown should be taken seriously. You know, “I thank God that I’m not like those rubes who swallow hook-line-and-sinker comical conspiracy theories.” If that reflects your main takeaway from Foucault’s Pendulum, the real joke is actually on you – is you. When I first read the novel, that was my main and only takeaway. Speck, meet log.

I first read Foucault’s Pendulum in 2006, the same year that the film adaptation of Brown’s The Da Vinci Code was released in theaters. A movie that got nearly everyone’s collective panties in a twist. The Roman Catholic Church wanted the filmmakers to provide a disclaimer making sure that audiences knew it was a work of fiction. Several Muslim countries banned the movie outright, while other countries, under pressure from a variety of religious groups, required severe cuts and edits before the film was allowed to be shown within their artificially constructed borders. Boycotts were amassed the world over, including in the United States, but the movie was a massive success, proving once again that the only thing boycotts tend to accomplish is to serve as free marketing. Far too many people took that stupid book and even stupider movie seriously. Back to my point, though, the handwringing among evangelicals in this country became the inciting incident that led me to Umberto Eco’s book, published fifteen years before Dan Brown’s book.

During a conversation that was equal parts disdain and mirth about the folly that was the reaction to The Da Vinci Code exhibited by people we knew (and people we didn’t know), a friend asked, “Have you read Foucault’s Pendulum?”

I had not. Had never even heard of it. At that point in my life, I didn’t know enough to confuse Foucault with Foucault, nor to see that other double entendre in Eco’s marvelous book.

My smug disdain for those who took The Da Vinci Code seriously was carried into my reading of Foucault’s Pendulum, meaning I missed the main point: Casaubon is the smug reader, he’s not a stand-in for those whom the smug reader is rolling his or her eyes at. The epistemology of coherentism is a dangerous trap for all of us, no matter how sophisticated we may believe ourselves to be. Even the hardest of hardened skeptics aren’t immune to a good story (that immunity is an ontological impossibility). There’s a decent chance that we’ll all end up hiding in the Musee des Arts et Metiers if our hubris isn’t kept in check. I keep telling you, and everyone I meet, chaos is coming.

Anyway. I need to learn how to type accent marks, but that literally has nothing to do with any of this. Again, anyway.    

Smug disdain is hard to let go of. Case in point, earlier this week or last week, depending on how long it takes me to finish writing this article, after plunging into the comically dark rabbit hole that is Lance Wallnau’s neo-fascism coursing through his Seven Mountains of Society and his entire program of Christian nationalist conspiratorial nonsense, I found myself responding with less charity (and humility) than I should. I mean, and in fairness, it’s hard to be charitable to a collective of conspiracies woven together into a tightly coherent whole that is serving to help create an even deeper, darkly dangerous syncretism within evangelicalism which, in turn, is waylaying more and more people I know and love. The eschatological sifting floor is going to be waist deep in tares, I’m afraid. But smugness isn’t a fruit of the Spirit, no matter how much I may wish otherwise.

Smugness doesn’t help make disciples.

My response to Wallnau wasn’t just smugness, though. Increasingly, I find myself further ensconced into a fatalistic resignation (in case you haven’t already figured that out). Is there such thing as Christian nihilism? Probably not, but I’m doing my darndest to invent it. You see, the game of epistemological narrative pick-up-sticks is ever expanding before me at such a rate as to be overwhelmingly daunting, not to mention that no one is asking me to play (except maybe four people, that I know of). Even if I confidently knew where to begin, and if asked, my assumption is that the amount of other epistemic narrative sticks dislodged by my first move would bring the game to a crashing halt. Satan, thy name is coherentism.

Hubris is my middle name, though, so, here I go: I love good stories; paradoxically, I hate good stories. You (all of you) love stories, too, which is why I’m writing this. Not that I’m crafting a good story; I’m not. I’m … ooofff, if I have to explain it, I’ve failed.

Of late, I’ve been contemplating the controlling nature of narrative myths. How insidious they are in their role in urning the crackling bricks that are laid into the walls of the respective tottering towers that we’re self-blinded into viewing as Crystal Cathedrals. The greatest blindness, though, is revealed by our failure to recognize that even the Crystal Cathedral is a deceitful shrine to the wrong god. Sure, it’s shiny. Sure, it’s spacious. Sure, it’s equipped with the latest smart technology. It’s still a mirage. It’s not real because it won’t last. The real is eternal. The only Real.

The real is hard to find because it depends on listening to the Real. Here, I’ll prove it.

Of late, I’ve been studying The Whiskey Rebellion. Unlike the political and social intricacies of post-Soviet Russia, you know about The Whiskey Rebellion. Or do you? If you’re like me, the event, which was incredibly important in the history of the United States of America, was reduced to a fill-in-the-blank question on a test. The date. The place. The “main reason” for the clash. George Washington. All that you know, but none of that tells the true story. What you likely are unaware of is how it was the inevitable clash between once fragile allies in the revolt against Britain in the sacred year of 1776 who by 1787 had turned bitter foes. Winners write history, we all know that, but we read history anyway, convincing ourselves that we’ve gained access to the truth.

Looking closely at those once fragile allies turned enemies and their competing ideologies and objectives reveals some uncomfortable layers in the true story of this country’s founding that challenges the prevailing myths. Cogs in a machine aren’t supposed to be sentient.

And so, the Whiskey Rebellion has been consigned to a place in history that adds to the myth of George Washington and the aura of greatness which birthed this nation. In reality, it was a well-laid trap by Alexander Hamilton to further his objective of turning the new country into an economic machine that fed the already well-fed. Crushing the not-so-well fed was part of his plan all along.  

Does it matter, though? Do you care? How can you care? No matter what side of the political “aisle” you find yourself on, the previous paragraphs challenge the story you’ve accepted. It calls into question the validity of your “lull” because it lays bare that the lull is soma. Turns out, Karl Marx had some good points, after all.

The stories we’ve been fed, the stories we crave, to be blunt, are not real. There is precious little about the past and us that is real. It’s almost all in service to the lull. Our love of The Diary of Anne Frank is evidence if you don’t feel like taking the time to jump down the historical rabbit hole of the Whiskey Rebellion during your free time (if you do, I recommend starting with the other revolt in 1776 – a radical one that upended the PA General Assembly and that removed John Dickinson’s stranglehold on PA politics allowing, in turn, for the signing of the Declaration of Independence). Don’t worry; I’ll circle back to the Whiskey Rebellion when it’s time to talk about democratic mobs.

So, as Ken Burns does, Ken Burns has released a new documentary on PBS. It’s about the Holocaust. More specifically, it’s about the United States’ response (or lack thereof) to the Holocaust.

It’s good. No, that’s incorrect; it’s beyond good. It’s terrible because it rewrites all our stories just a little, importantly so. Enough to shake the lull. Your lull. And also your lull. (I’m not sure if Democrats or Republicans are reading this, so I want to make sure I address everyone.) And my lull. That’s terrible because it confronts us with an aspect of the real that we don’t want to see. We’re worse than we imagined. Our neighbors are worse than we believed. Those whom we’ve placed our hopes in, well, they’re leading us to hell. Literally. This place, all of it, groans under the oppression of rebellion. Who do you think is leading the rebellion? The trees? The frogs? The cockroaches? The massive thunderstorms that blow my deck chairs into the pool? No. We are. You. Me. Your sweet next-door neighbor who baked you an apple pie but hurls racist invectives in unison with Tucker Carlson and Donald Trump. We’re the chaos. This is why we need the Real and not the lull. Surrender the lull and follow the Real.

However, we lie to ourselves because we believe that we would’ve stood up to the Third Reich if we’d been a German citizen in the 1930s. The lie is necessary to believe the lull exists and that we deserve it. We believe that we would’ve denounced Jim Crow. We believe that we wouldn’t have owned slaves. We’re mostly good at heart, we stubbornly demand. Anne Frank clung to the belief that most people were good at heart, too. And she, too, was wrong.

In Burns’ documentary, Eva (Geiringer) Schloss, a childhood friend of Anne Frank, is featured. Her mother, Elfriede Geiringer, married Otto Frank, Anne’s father, after the Holocaust. In the documentary’s third episode, the final episode, Eva, commenting on the oft repeated line from Anne’s diary in which she confesses, “In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart,” reflected on how her friend wouldn’t have agreed with that sentiment after her experiences in Auschwitz. You can’t go through the death camps and believe that. You shouldn’t be able to learn about the death camps and believe that.

Eva put into words a truth I’ve long felt. As important as Anne Frank’s diary is, especially as a historical artifact, it’s misleading. Worse, it allows us to bleed our lull into one of the most – if not the most – tragic moments in human history. This isn’t the diary’s fault; it’s our fault. It allows us to view the Holocaust through the eyes of a naïve thirteen-year-old girl who lacked the appropriate perspective to deserve being crowned as the spokesperson for such a horrendous moment in history. Anne Frank’s diary gives us an excuse to interact with the Holocaust without actually interacting with the Holocaust because, as Eva (Geiringer) Schloss pointed out, that naïve, precocious, tragic, wonderful little girl had yet to truly interact with the all the horrors that lay before her. By the time she did, her pen and paper had already been ripped from her.

Our lull allows us to use Anne Frank. To abuse her, once again. Because, you see, we would’ve been lockstep with the SS in 1939, or 1937 or 1942 or 1935 … you get the point. We wouldn’t have hidden Anne Frank and her family. We would’ve sold them out at the first opportunity for a flashier arm band and some extra food rations. Her diary allows us to convince ourselves that we occupy a different place in the story. But we’re not Bonhoeffer. At best, we’re Pope Pius XI. More likely, we’re Gerhard Kittel. And that story that we’ve miscast ourselves in? It’s a story that contorts everything. We need to stop lying to ourselves. We need to stop buying the deceitful story our “side” sells us. We need to see ourselves for who we truly are.

In 2001, a movie titled Max was released that explored the friendship between a young Hitler and an art dealer. It stars John Cusack. To be honest, I’ve never seen it. I remember it, though, because of the fury it created at the time. Many people were upset because they felt it was wrong to humanize Adolf Hitler. The Jewish Anti-Defamation League, though, came to the film’s defense. They argued that the anger directed towards the movie is exactly the reason why movies like that should exist. We like to believe that Adolf Hitler was an outlier; that he’s far away from us. However, we need to be confronted with the fact that he was man, like me. Pretending otherwise, in order to protect a larger narrative that allows us our lull, is what will allow future Hitlers to arise.

We all have a controlling narrative that we have a felt-need to defend.

About those “stories”, and this is my larger point, hurling slings and arrows at the “other side” for their obvious wrongness is a convenient way to avoid confronting the myopic hubris of our side. Even in our best moments when we genuinely long for temporal salvation for us and for others, even during our most noble of actions, we are strutting the stage of an absurdist play. But my point is running ahead of my “story”. Back to the Whiskey Rebellion.

During the 1790s, Americans drank a lot of alcohol. To continue to pay the interest on the war debt the Treasury Dept had purchased from the colonies-now-states, Alexander Hamilton needed to raise money. A direct tax on the people was a political cyanide pill. On the other hand, an excise was a way to tax the people while seemingly taxing businesses – businesses pass the tax onto the customers via higher prices. However, Hamilton needed an excise that served two primary functions: raise money to pay the interest on the national debt (mostly owed to wealthy Americans made even wealthier by Hamilton’s scheming going way back to 1776) and help continue to funnel the mass of the fledging country’s wealth to a select minority. You see, Alexander Hamilton and his mentor Robert Morris believed with David Hume that the best way to grow a country’s GDP was to concentrate the wealth in the hands of a few who would be able to invest it in ways that promoted continued infrastructure growth. George Washington believed that, too, by the way. Very Ayn Randian, if you ask me. Deplorable. Also, paradoxically, if you ask me, it worked. But not without severe consequences – different aspects of the same story that are ignored respectively by both sides of the aisle today. And in that is my point, if you’re willing to see it. It worked, but at what cost? Try squaring the facts with the ethics. You can’t, unless you believe some people deserve more while others deserve less. This is why the myth (controlling narrative) of meritocracy was invented.

Anyway, after studying the industry, Hamilton concluded that a tax on whiskey was the best way to achieve both objectives. You see, at the time, the country was divided largely between east and west, not north and south. The bulk of the industry and wealth was east of the ridge of mountains located a few hundred miles west of the Atlantic Ocean – you know, the Appalachian Mountains. For farmers west of those mountains, transporting their grain to the lucrative eastern markets was not profitable. The cost of transportation ate up the profits. Turning that grain, be it corn or rye, into whiskey, cut down transportation costs and increased the wholesale price on their product.

Most of the distilleries in the west were small, independent outfits. The distilleries in the east? Well, you can probably guess.

So, Alexander Hamilton (and this part got left out of the musical)[2], after having studied the distillation process, developed a tax based on the amount of whiskey different sized stills could produce. For example, and stealing the work of the historian William Hogeland, “[Hamilton] wanted to get 9 cents per gallon produced. To set the rate of the flat, still-capacity tax, he observed that 100 gallons of rye or corn wash yielded about 12 gallons of spirit, and 100-gallon still, running at full capacity, produced about 180 gallons a month. Assuming a four-month distilling season, or 720 gallons, collecting 9 cents per gallon came to a little over $60 per year. If you had a 100-gallon still, that’s what you’d pay. Stills with lower capacities paid proportionally lower rates.”[3]

A couple of things to note:

Hamilton knew that the small independent stills in the west were rarely in operation throughout the entirety of the four-month distilling season. Yet they were still taxed as if their still produced the amount of whiskey it would’ve produced running – and running optimally – the entire season. They were taxed on whiskey they didn’t produce. In turn, this created an advantage for the big guys back east. They, the big outfits back east, paid tax on what they produced, not what they could’ve produced if they didn’t have to run a farm, too, for example. Another consequence was that this forced the distillers in the west to raise their prices to pay off the extra taxes they were required to pay. The big guys in the east? Well, they could afford to drop their prices long enough to run their western “competitors” out of the market. To top it off, the US army, obeying a Hamilton directive, contracted with the large distillers to provide the troops with whiskey (I told you Americans back then loved alcohol).

Add in the registration fees that many in the west couldn’t even afford to begin with combined with the fines for failing to register your still and western Americans, especially in Western PA, began to believe, for some strange reason, that Alexander Hamilton was using his Treasury Dept. to do them dirty. So, they did what all good Americans do when they’re told to do something they don’t want to do. They rebelled.

They begin tarring and feathering the federal agents sent to collect all those fees, fines, and taxes owed Alexander Hamilton …. I mean, owed the federal government. They burned down the houses and businesses of collaborators (including those who rented a room to a federal agent). They raped some of the wives and daughters of those suspected of collaboration. Inspired by the life and words of a man named Herman Husband (look up the North Carolina regulators), a ground swell in Western PA quickly became a movement to remove themselves from the oppressive thumb of the United States of America and form their own country. Taxation without representation was floated as a reason why. Sound familiar? It does to me, but I’m not sure why. And if you find yourself thinking, “but they did have representation,” you’re confusing your 21st century definition of democracy with what the Founders actually invented. You also sound like England’s Parliament in 1776.

And this brings us, after skipping a bunch of pertinent stuff, to be sure, to the part of the Whiskey Rebellion you likely know: President (General) George Washington became the first and last (so far) sitting president to lead troops into battle. Well, battle is likely the wrong word. While shots – many shots – had been fired during the buildup to this great confrontation between the federal army and the revolutionaries of Western PA, the “great confrontation” was resolved without a shot being fired. Hamilton got his way and his vision for the United States continued (don’t let the fact that Jefferson later repealed the whiskey tax trick you into buying a different, more comfortable story that serves your lull) The poor distillers in the west? Machines need well-oiled cogs.[4]

Even though my sentiments likely show, there were no good guys in 1794. There rarely is. More importantly, the story that we’ve long shared – the lie, to be honest – that there is nobility in our story is unraveling. For generations, we Americans have touted our collective nobility while telling ourselves that the bad parts are mostly anomalous and that our nobility has risen to each challenge and prevailed to continue furthering the pluralistic, democratic dream of our noble yet flawed founders. I hate to be the one to tell you, but nobility is a myth. As is that shared story. Whether we want to accept it or not, the Whiskey Rebellion is the norm in America’s history, not the anomaly. Slavery is the norm, not democracy. The Founders never wanted democracy. With a few exceptions (and even those are questionable), democracy has always been the enemy of this country’s trajectory. Natural rights have always been a smokescreen to help mask the oppression. The lull that has been created allows us to believe whatever we need to believe. This country wasn’t founded as a Christian nation because there’s no such thing, no matter what the Founder’s may have said or not said. Likewise, this country was never an experiment in pluralism. The Founders left that for the French. Because as wrong as they were, the Founders were correct that democratic mobs always devolve into chaos. Because the chaos is in us. That’s why they crushed the democratic mob in Western PA; they knew (and were correct) that one of the main differences between their rebellion in 1776 and the rebellion in 1794 was that one was a rebellion of the elites who intended to keep their fingers on the buttons of control (anachronistic, I know) and the other a democratic mob that wouldn’t be able to be controlled and would burn the entire thing down. I mean, the mob came really close to burning Pittsburgh to the ground even though Pittsburgh was on their team.

Some five-thousand words later, and I’ve finally arrived at my thesis: The shared story that has sustained us is no more. Nobility, even as a myth, can no longer exist. All that’s left is power and greed. The end is nigh.

If a center existed at all, it was in the form of a narrative myth. This deserves more than a swift acknowledgement, but it needs to be noted that even with our shared narrative myth, many were left out in the cold. Looking inward allowed (allows) us to not see those left out. But we shared a controlling narrative, nonetheless. Of late, it’s become popular (and lucrative) to wax eloquent on the growing divide. Most miss the mark, though.

Most begin with the premise that a halcyon foundation exists and that repairing the fracture involves some means of returning to that touchstone. If only we could remember what we have in common and how our common goals deeply align, is the thought process. This is thrust into conversations about small sets and large sets. The state of the evangelical church. The state of the family. The state of the Republican party. The state of the Democrat party. The state of the states. The state of the world. If only the Russian people would see how Putin is working at odds with our collectively shared controlling narrative of world progress, becomes the hope. We want the Russian people to do what we assumed we would’ve done if we’d lived in Germany in 1939: recognize the good and then do the good. But we’re not good and our goals are not good.

In turn, this premise creates the illusion that the fracture isn’t what’s real. We’re connected because we’re humans – image bearers, in Christian worldview speak. But image bearing isn’t an ontological condition; it’s vocational and we’ve perverted that vocation to serve self. We believe we’ve conquered the chaos. Even if we’ve done it in God’s name, we still believe that we’ve done it. Look at me, I’m just like God and I’ve earned my lull, demonstrated by my desire and efforts to extend that lull to those not as privileged as I am. Except the chaos is what’s real, not the lull. And the only way to defeat the real is to surrender to the Real.

The Bible’s story is simple. Theologians like to complicate it, though, to justify their book deals and jobs in seminaries.

God created everything that’s not God. I don’t care how you think He did it nor how long you believe He took to do it, because we’re probably all wrong, I just care that you submit to that truth. In doing so – in creating everything – God created story. A narrative. And that Story begins with our first father and mother living in God’s blessed place and tasked with doing God’s blessed work. When God calls thing good at the beginning, He’s saying “equilibrium”; things are working how He intended. Sadly, though, Adam and Eve failed, and things stopped working as God intended. The real was no longer equilibrium; the real is now chaos.

Wrapping our brains around the paradoxes of God’s sovereignty and humanity’s fall and the subsequent Curse is not our job; it’s so far above our paygrade as to be out-of-bounds for us, I believe. The problem of evil is not our problem to solve because even if we figured out the puzzle, the problem would remain. Not to mention that if we did manage to see the puzzle put together, our finite brains wouldn’t be able to handle the infiniteness of it. Mercifully, God tells us all we need to know (all we can handle to know): His plan to solve the problem.

To be clear, simple stories, at least the good ones, often contain complicated subplots, interwoven themes, and unexpected trajectories in the rising action. I’m thinking of Hamlet, Crime and Punishment, and the BBC series now streaming on Amazon Prime The Outlaws. My point? Maybe theologians have their place after all.

Skipping over the complicated bits and sticking with the Protagonist’s main through-line-of-action, the Old Testament reveals in wonderful ways our need for an unexpected savior. A Savior. By the time Jesus enters the scene, we realize that he’s the one we’ve been waiting for but without realizing it. Jesus is the second Adam, the Real Adam. And he does what the first Adam could not do. He fixes the brokenness by being the true Son of God. He’s fulfilling the Creation Mandate because he’s the only one who can. He’s populating the coming New Creation because he’s the only one who can. He’s building the City around the Garden. Those who want to become adopted sons and daughters of God and, on that final Day, enjoy God’s blessings in God’s place can do so only through Jesus. Union with Christ is the primary application of God’s Story.

In my theological circles, a lot is made of the already/not yet dichotomy of the Christian life in the here and now. Unfortunately, too much of the not yet is allowed, if not downright forced, to bleed into the already. Our lull encourages us to do so. The definitions of flourishing fed us by the lull are assumed to be our birthright. In so doing, we fail to appreciate the very explicit words of Jesus and his apostles about what to expect while we wait for the not yet. Chaos reigns around us. And apart from Christ’s Spirit, chaos reigns in our heart. The belief that we can push the chaos back in the here and now is a lie. Wars and rumors of war, earthquakes, famines, pandemics, mass murderers (including those of us who are mass murderers in our heart), adulterers (including those of us who are adulterers in our heart), oppression, sickness, poverty, abuse, contempt directed at God’s children, persecution endured by followers of Jesus are the norm we’re told to expect. Cling to the hope that is within you, we’re encouraged. Our hope isn’t out there. It’s not in the lull. It’s not in our ability to affect change because that change is as much of a mirage as the lull we worship.

People confuse the objective of Kingdom ethics with that of kingdom ethics. Kingdom ethics do not build the Kingdom; only King Jesus can do that. Kingdom ethics reveal the Kingdom to an unbelieving kingdom and call people to the Father. Unfortunately, lusting after the lull, professed followers of King Jesus attempt to usurp our role. We can build the Kingdom, we believe, not realizing that whatever we do build, it’s simply part of the never-ending construction and reconstruction of the Tower of Babel.

Over a year ago, I wrote a four-part series about eschatological despair (you can read those articles here, here, here, and here). It’s not that hope is the antithesis of the Kingdom; it’s that the type of hope, and where it’s largely placed, among professing Christians is the antithesis of the Kingdom. Living eschatologically should produce despair, but a despair that causes us to cling to the Real hope that is within us and then act as a prophetic voice within the nations about that hope. Our job is to be a faithful witness to the Resurrection. That’s it.   

Start over, brothers and sisters in Christ. Deconstruct your worldview. All of us are far more vastly shaped and controlled by contra-biblical narratives than we realize. Avoid the trap of anthropocentric ethics that pretend to protect and preserve the lull, however the lull looks in the narrative you’ve embraced.

If the world doesn’t hate us, whether they’re republicans or democrats, we’re doing something wrong. Most of us are doing something wrong.

Soli Deo Gloria


[1] By the mid-80s, the KGB saw the handwriting on the wall and pivoted from focusing on squashing dissent to managing and protecting whatever financial assets the Soviet Union held overseas. This little historical nugget goes a long way to explaining how a mid-level KGB officer and his fellow KGB thugs ended up running Russia and becoming billionaires.

[2] Having gone back and rewatched the Cabinet rap battle between Jefferson and Hamilton, the musical does hint at it. Although, to peel back whatever subtexts Lin-Miranda Manuel included requires a deeper understanding of early American history than most of us possess.

[3] William Hogeland, The Whiskey Rebellion: George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and the Frontier Rebels Who Challenged America’s Newfound Sovereignty (New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2006), 69.

[4] Over the next few years, much smaller revolts dotted the western half of the country, especially in Kentucky.

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