Monday, September 30, 2013

Life and Work

I had a very intriguing article that came across my desk at work.  One co-worker was looking at commencement speeches a couple of months ago and saw this one from a Wall Street Journal article from 2008.  He then gave a print out to another co-worker.  I saw it lying on his desk and gave it a look.  What I found was a man who understood his failures under the law, but he had no answers to fix it or heal it.  He had no hope.  The speaker was a well-known liberal author and columnist named David Foster Wallace.  He made this speech in 2005 to Kenyon University.  As you read some outtakes from it, keep in mind that Mr. Wallace committed suicide by hanging himself three years later.

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”


This was the beginning of his speech to the college graduates.  The illustration paints the picture of a set of young na├»ve fish.  This will be tied up better at the end of his speech.


…The fact is that in the day-to-day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have life-or death importance. (Yes I had to look banal platitudes up.  It means: a trite remark or mundane occurrences.)  …Everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe…We rarely talk about this sort of natural, basic self-centeredness, because it is so socially repulsive, but it’s pretty much the same for all of us, deep down.  It is our default setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth.

…if you want to operate on your default-setting—then you, like me, will not consider the possibilities that aren’t pointless and annoying, but if you’ve really learned how to think, how to pay attention, then you will know you have other options.  It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, loud, slow, consumer-hell-type situation as not only meaningful but sacred, on fire with the same force that lit the stars—compassion, love, the sub-surface unity of all things….You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t.  You get to decide what to worship….

In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism.  There is no such thing as not worshipping.  Everybody worships.  The only choice we get is what we worship.  And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of God or spiritual thing to worship is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.  If you worship money and things—if they are where you tap real meaning in life—then you will never have enough.  It’s the truth.  Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you.

The insidious thing about these forms of worship is that they are unconscious.  They are default-settings.  They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day,

This is a huge realization for this guy.  He is touching on what Christians know is true because of Sin that started in the Garden of Eden.  The lie that Satan brought is that we can be our own god.

The next section I am going to share shows Mr. Wallace trying to figure out what needs to be done to alter this Default Setting or find freedom from it.


It’s a matter of my choosing to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of my natural, hard-wired default-setting, which is to be deeply and literally self-centered, and to see and interpret everything through this lens of SELF.

…It is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive instead of getting hypnotized by the constant monologue inside your own head…a much deeper, more serious idea:  “Learning how to Think” really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think…It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always shoot themselves in the head…(we are) supposed to be about:  How to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable, adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default-setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone, day in and day out…(It is really important to find freedom from it)…The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able to truly care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.


I think that everything this man is saying is true.  He, by God’s Just and Holy sovereignty, never found the answer.  He never got the Gospel.  The Gospel of God’s grace in Jesus is the only way to find Freedom from this natural default sinful setting in us.  Knowing that the Holy One loves you and gave Himself up for you when you were still a sinner, let’s you know that you have everything you need from Him who is the true “center of the universe.”  Looking through life from the lens of the gospel instead of the lens of self will allow you that freedom that Mr. Wallace yearned for, so that you can truly care about others and sacrifice for them.  You’ve been given ALL that you need by grace, so you can now give everything for others, to His glory.  This is so radical from our natural state that we have to preach it to ourselves all the time and every day.  Mr. Wallace talked about this being something you can find from within to alter the setting or you can choose to do the work to free yourself from it.  This is a self-salvation project that will fail in the end.  You cannot find an “inner Christ”.  It has to come from outside of you.  We find it, by grace, at the foot of the Cross of Jesus.  Our little idols we create in our hearts are little ways to find comfort from the sin inside of us.  We look elsewhere even after we become Christians.  This is why it is so important to be in the Word and hearing God speak through scripture.  Mr. Wallace also talks about “learning how to think”.  This also makes sense to me.  The gospel gives us a renewed mind, a new way of looking at our life and a compassion for other fellow sinners in need of grace.

I think that this article caught my eye first because the title was David Foster Wallace on Life and Work.  These are questions that the gospel answers.  Then when digging deeper, I see the “default-setting” statement.  That is a phrase I have seen in Christian written articles like this one by Tullian Tchividjian:

We've all become pretty adept at establishing these rules and standards that we find personally achievable. Legalism therefore provides us with a way to avoid acknowledging our deficiencies and our inabilities. That's enough right there to make it attractive to us. But it's also appealing to us in how it puffs us up, giving us the illusion … that we can do it—we can generate our own meaning, our own purpose, our own security, and all our other inmost needs. It's what Michael Horton pinpoints as "the default setting of the human heart: the religion of self-salvation."

It's all so attractive because it's all about us. Legalism feeds our natural pride. While abiding by our self-established standards and rules, we think pretty highly of ourselves …. And what's especially fine about being in charge of our situation (though we wouldn't admit it) is that it's a way to avoid Jesus.


Don’t avoid Jesus.  He is there.  He is our Lord.  He is the answer to what is making us ache, worry, be angry, and fight against.  Go to Him, take His yoke that is easy, and find freedom.

This is my pitch for the day!
NY Yankees closer, Mariano Rivera, delivers a cutter in 2013, his final MLB season.

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