Sunday, September 23, 2018

Who Do You Say That I Am?

Take a moment and try to remember your first conversation using words.  No, really pause and see if you can recall your very first conversation.  And by that, I mean when you knew that you were using language, logic, and your capacity to formulate organized thought with another person.  How long ago was that conversation?  Where did it happen?  Who was around when it happened? 

I think my first memory of a conversation was on March 7, 1970.  I was standing in the Mexican desert in the State of Oaxaca near the town of Mitla.  It was sometime between 11:38am CST and 11:41am CST.  I know that I was proudly proclaiming to anyone who was within earshot something to the effect of “my daddy has a telescope”.  I was about 4 years old.  The day before, I had a staring contest with a cactus that was about my size.  During that week, I had climbed the 75 meters up the Pyramid of the Sun in Teotihuacan.  It was during totality of a solar eclipse.  And some mix of all these exceptional experiences fuses in my mind the capacity to recall the artifact of a conversation with remarkable precision.  I remember that there were around 5 people to whom I addressed my comments.  I remember that one of them was a little Mexican girl about my age who was wearing a yellow and orange dress.  I remember a man who was crouched down looking at the pin hole shadow of the eclipse on a board laid out on the ground.  This memory is 48 years old.

Most scholars would suggest that the first record of the recollected (not witnessed) words of Jesus were written somewhere around 57AD.  The appearance of the story of Jesus’ conversation with his disciples recounted in Matthew 16:13-20 was probably originally written around 80-90AD.  Suggesting that anyone could “quote” a recollected conversation received through hearsay across 5 decades is beyond implausible.  Consider your own fallibility in the exercise above.  If you haven’t considered it, redo the exercise and see how memorable YOUR OWN MEMORIES are.  But let’s set that aside for a moment.  That’s not the point.  In Matthew, after a host of acts regarded as unexplained phenomenon by their witnesses, Jesus asks his disciples, “But who do you say that I am?”  In the story, this question arises in exasperation from his observation that people were trying to figure out who he was after he had fed 5,000 with 5 loaves of bread and 4,000 with 7 loaves of bread.  I’ve yet to hear anyone talk about the appetite of the 4,000 which required so much more bread!  And worse than that, his own disciples were thinking that they were in trouble for not packing a lunch on their boat trip.  For those of you who didn’t grow up with the eschatological obsessions that characterized my childhood, I’ll connect some dots.

According to the Gospels, Jesus spent his life living and explaining values that were an “ideal”.  He didn’t apply titles to his person or his actions.  He simply lived and tried to explain the philosophy behind the “how”.  It was his observers who insisted on titles.  “Messiah”, “Prophet”, “Healer”: all attributes suitable in a moment in the context of what had just transpired but none of them descriptors of his full essence.  And this irritated everybody – especially those in his closest circles.  “It’s hard to explain what you do,” one can imagine them protesting after their last conversation about the guy they were hanging out with.  Was he a carpenter?  Fisherman?  Seafarer?  Water-walker?  Vintner?  Sommelier?  Physician?  Prophet?  Friend?  Revolutionary?  Iconoclast?

The Second Commandment in the 10 Commandments is the prohibition of idols or graven images.  Language generally – and our obsession with classifier nouns specifically – represents the most insidious idolatry of our time.  A label on a person, a group, a movement, an institution and suddenly nuance is replaced with reflexive duality.  Our capacity to see metaphoric coherence in pluralistic expression diminishes with each passing “cause” or “outrage”.  With definition comes dissonance.  Few comedies have matched the comedy of idolatry itself.  Around 726, Emperor Leo III decreed that all images and icons should be removed from churches with all veneration of the same outlawed 4 years later.  Fifty years later (and with the lobbying of those who found veneration quite a profitable venture), the Second Council of Nicaea (or the Seventh Ecumenical Council) reinstated icons and veneration.  Somewhat ironically, Constantine V – who had outlawed veneration of images – had a carve out sanctioning the preservation of images of the emperor!  Funny how that pissed off the folks the Byzantine and Roman churches who saw themselves demoted in favor of the emperor who monopolized the iconography of the day.  On October 13, 787, the council specifically authorized the, “manufacture of sacred vessels, tapestries, vestments to be exhibited on the walls of churches, in homes, and in all conspicuous places, by the roadside and everywhere, to be revered by all who might see them.”  The business of propaganda justified the rejection of Second Commandment.  Oh, and in 1536, John Calvin found himself siding with Leo III and re-banned images in favor of, you guessed it, words.  And this father of the Protestant movement had the decency of burning at the stake those who would challenge his words.

What is it about nouns that leads to murderous obsession, flagrant inhumanity, ostracization, and all manner of destruction of the human family?  I find it amusing that the text in Matthew shares an eerie resemblance to another biblical text – Genesis 2:19.  “Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them.  And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.”  In our common myth, the FIRST thing we do on earth is name stuff!  Seriously?  To be human is to exert dominion by classification?  And when an ideal human is doing some amazing things showing humanity what is possible (against the carnage of the Roman occupation of Palestine), his followers insist on “naming” him at least as the story is told?  Seriously?  Isn’t it funny that the only term Jesus reportedly used to describe himself is “I am”?  That’s right, whether you think of him as divine, deific, inspirational or delusional, the only title embraced by him is the evidence of his being and doing.  Is a giraffe more “giraffe” or “tall spotted, furry, gangly quadruped leaf eater that looks pretty damn funny bending over to take a drink”?

Over the past 45 years, I’ve been plagued by well-meaning people who want to know “what” I am.  Countless branding experts have been brought in or offered their services to package me so that others can “get it”.  “When I look at your company’s website, I don’t “get it”,” I hear with monotonous regularity.  “Do you run and non-profit?”, I’m asked by those who see the work I’ve done in conflict-torn and marginalized communities.  “So you’re an investor,” conclude those who see the work I do in the capital markets.  “Are you a quant?” inquire people mystified by the fact that I developed the world’s leading large cap equity index.  “So you are a doctor?” concluded a group of people who recently saw me attend to the injured and one fatality that died in my hands at a car accident.  “So you’re a futurist,” concluded a friend who saw a video from 2006 in which I detailed the precise cause and consequence of the 2008 global financial crisis.  Speaker, futurist, doctor, polymath, healer, joker, idiot.  One recent commentator on my criticism of the hype around Tesla raged, “Who does this guy think he is?” before suggesting that I should be silenced with a gun.

What’s wrong with, “I am”?

I had an interesting experience in Indiana in the late 80s.  There was a high school athlete who was an exceptional quarterback setting records for yardage and touchdowns with nearly 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns in his senior year.  His success attracted the attention of a prominent university where he received a football scholarship.  As the football season was coming to a close, his success as a point guard in basketball pulled him between the snowy fields and the steamy gyms.  And with the playoffs in basketball bleeding into the baseball season, his role as star pitcher called his attention again.  Oh, and he was homecoming king, popular… and resented.  He was too good at too many things.  “You have to focus,” the university coached yelled at him after telling him not to play baseball for a State Championship team.  I watched as this great kid “focused”.  At university, he set records for career touchdowns, all-time total offense and slipped away from basketball and baseball.  In 1993 he was drafted to the NFL where he set the rookie record for attempts, completions and yards.  In each subsequent year, his performance diminished.  Seven years and 4 teams later, this all-around athlete retired.

Did he “need” to focus?  Did he have to “choose”?  Or was it us who couldn’t wrap our head around someone that was just skilled at everything he touched?  Was Rick a great quarterback?  Sure.  But wasn’t there something more?  Wasn’t it the case that he was a master of greatness?  He knew the value of persistence, valued excellence over mediocrity, embraced discipline and effort over entitlement.  And did we all lose the real impact of his genius by a world that made him conform to what we could productize?

History tells us that Joseph was a spoiled brat.  He was a favorite son and rocked some cool threads.  This pissed off his brothers who beat him, stripped him of his coat and sold him as a slave to Potiphar – a jailor in Egypt.  He worked hard, looked amazing and gained the favor and attention of his master (and unfortunately, his master’s wife).  After refusing her advances, she unleashed the venom of sexual harassment and Joseph wound up in prison on death row.  His ability to interpret dreams put him on pharaoh’s radar and he became the originator of history’s first recorded commodity exchange and reserve bank and in so doing, saved the Egyptian population – and his duplicitous family – from 7 years of famine.  What was he?  A brat?  A fashion icon?  A slave?  A general manager?  A fortune teller?  A politician?  A commodities trader?  A Central Banker?  A Governor?  No.  He was.  That’s it.  He just brought his excellent stewardship to each situation and, combined with his integrity and power of analytic discipline, put in motion the culture that once received a young woman on a donkey, a Palestinian carpenter, and their son when they were refugees from a Roman occupation near Bethlehem.  There’s no Jesus without Joseph.  And there’s no Joseph without all the “I ams” that came before them!

In the Ramayana, after proving his devotion to Rama in the epic battles and against the humiliation of the military generals, Hanuman is asked by Lord Rama, “How do you look upon me?”  Hanuman’s triangulated answer is instructive.

“From the perspective of my physical body, I am your faithful servant.

From the perspective of the soul, I am a spark within your eternal Light.

From the perspective of pure truth, you and I, my Lord, are one in the same.”

For those of you who are familiar with the ordinates of Integral Accounting, you will undoubtedly see in this answer the polarities of Alchemy, Eidos, and Gnosis.  From the perspective of matter and energy (commodity), my value is service.  From the standpoint of perception (custom & culture) my shared experience is propagation of light (technology).  And from the knowledge of truth, I have identity with everything in the universe (well-being).

So, who am I?  Well, here’s the paradox:  from which perspective are you asking the question?  Because the answer is that I understand matter and energy and align it to productive service.  I see things in the multi-dimensional contexts and create reproducible ways for others to engage and benefit from these perspectives.  And, thanks to the countless wisdoms to which I’ve been exposed, I finally know that I am.


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Thank you for your comment. I look forward to considering this in the expanding dialogue. Dave