David Foster Wallace, witness of truth

I am kind of on a David Foster Wallace dig. One thing is for sure, as of last night, is that I will never eat a lobster again.

I have to admit that I have not read very much by Wallace. I have listened to videos, watched the movie, read quotes and am just now reading his book ‘Consider the Lobster.’

Something has through the years drawn me to DFW. Perhaps, it is his willingness to be honest, his genius, his brokenness and his struggle to live with all of it. David Foster Wallace was a human being, who was gifted with the opportunity to live out of what I call holy poverty. I believe holy poverty is quite simply our true human being design that is breathing, listening, asking, looking and moving at the most basic level. It is the level, shall we say, that is closest to our dirt selves.

It is not easy to live as a human being. It’s even harder to live as we (creatures) are naturally designed to be vulnerable, sensitive, fragile, weak, needy, transparent, desperate and dependent on someone other than ourselves to become our best selves. I believe the someone we must look to is Truth and Love. Likewise, I believe that Truth and Love is Jesus Christ the God-man, and it is He who showed us how to live on earth in holy poverty and it is He who flows through people living in holy poverty in very human bodies, and in very ordinary human lives.

It seems these great witness of truths have often times suffered extreme loneliness and depression, because they did not have the relationships they desperately needed to live as The Bible says “Naked and Unashamed.” I have discovered it is near impossible to live how we are naturally designed without being in healthy relationships and living in a community of men and women who are also living out of their own holy poverty. Unfortunately, I believe David Foster Wallace felt and knew that truth as well.

Even with his life ending so tragically, I guess what keeps drawing me to DFW is the opportunity to listen to his experience, strength and hope. In drawing near to him, I can see a man who had the courage and the willingness to be honest about his thoughts and feelings, to ask questions, to go deeper than tinkering in a superficial consumer lifestyle that has caught so many of us, his willingness to search for truth, his willingness to look at the curated world and call it for what it is-an illusion/delusion, and his willingness to keep being a human being- no matter how painful and challenging it was for him to live in a world that constantly clawed at him.

If there is one thing that I am learning, then it is that no one with real wisdom offers formulas, solutions, easy answers or has the nerve to package it and sell it as the path of enlightenment. Witnesses of truth are the truth, they tell the truth and they encourage you with the encouragement that they have been encouraged by. Most of all, they seem to encourage you to keep being holy poverty and to keep living in holy poverty even when it feels incredibly hard and lonely.

When I read people like David Foster Wallace, I hear an invitation to Come and See truth. I believe it is the very truth that we desperately need to change the crisis that exist in ourselves…the epidemics of loneliness, apathy, boredom, anxiety, addiction, suicide and diet-related disease and sickness.

It seems like the wisest people keep saying the same thing…”Practice Resurrection, Look to be a helper, work toward redeeming what’s wrong, love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

But what does all this mean?

From what I can gather, it means doing the basic things to remember who you are and how you are naturally designed to be healthy, whole, holy, a healer and a human being. It means having faith in Truth and Love, receiving Truth and Love, being Truth and Love, giving Truth and Love and living out Truth and Love. It means breathing, listening, asking, looking and moving to nourish your spiritual, emotional, mental, physical and relational health with things that are good, excellent and true. It means living in the world in all its messiness and in all your humanness and journeying with other human beings in all their messiness and humanness and feeding, clothing, caring for them, listening to them and helping them. It means being Truth and Love in the most basic ways, where you live, work, worship and play- hopefully that means in your communities.

This probably won’t make sense to most, because most people are too busy looking for the magic pill, program, product, expert, guru, religion, hack, tip, information and formula that helps them avoid doing the basic things that communicate truth and love physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually and relationally. I know this is true, because of the epidemics of disease, sickness, breakdown, apathy, confusion, ignorance and destruction that exists in us.

Yes, it is ironic that we live in 2020 with more information, technology, convenience, wealth, gurus, experts, opinions, advice, professionals and programs than we have ever had and we are eating ourselves to death, amusing ourselves to death and we cannot self-regulate. Why don’t we have more peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control with sermons, Bibles, self-help books, meditation apps, workouts, diets, preachers, teachers, counselors and coaches at our fingertips? Seems ironic. Seriously, I could do this all day. I could pick apart our consumer lifestyles and all our beliefs and opinions, and especially political beliefs and opinions and show how all of us contradict ourselves…but will it help?

Maybe we need a little of that. Maybe that would help us to get off our modern day pedestals, called platforms, and instead of staring at our phone with blank faces, we could look at ourselves in the mirror. We might could start to look closely at our fears, guilt, shame and pain, and tell the truth about our addictions, and how they are a reaction to a bored, purposeless, unimaginative and unloving consumer lifestyle that has provided “comfort and security” but nothing else.

I don’t know but when I listen to David Foster Wallace, I hear hope. I hear what Vincent Van Gogh called Wee Moed, which means courage in woe. He reminds me of so many other amazing human beings who lived and loved with all their spirit, heart, mind and body in holy poverty. So, look closely my friends, David Foster Wallace was a human being who wrestled with truth, confronted his own hypocrisy and lived as Jesus did.

I will say it to the day that I die, that the most loving thing we can do is to be places of holy poverty for others. David Foster Wallace was that and he still is that for us. I pray that you make time to listen for Truth and Love to speak to you through the poor in spirit. It might surprise you who “those people” might be. Rest In Peace David Foster Wallace, thank you for being a witness to truth.

“Irony and cynicism were just what the U.S. hypocrisy of the fifties and sixties called for. That’s what made the early postmodernists great artists. The great thing about irony is that it splits things apart, gets up above them so we can see the flaws and hypocrisies and duplicates. The virtuous always triumph? Ward Cleaver is the prototypical fifties father? “Sure.” Sarcasm, parody, absurdism and irony are great ways to strip off stuff’s mask and show the unpleasant reality behind it. The problem is that once the rules of art are debunked, and once the unpleasant realities the irony diagnoses are revealed and diagnosed, “then” what do we do? Irony’s useful for debunking illusions, but most of the illusion-debunking in the U.S. has now been done and redone. Once everybody knows that equality of opportunity is bunk and Mike Brady’s bunk and Just Say No is bunk, now what do we do? All we seem to want to do is keep ridiculing the stuff. Postmodern irony and cynicism’s become an end in itself, a measure of hip sophistication and literary savvy. Few artists dare to try to talk about ways of working toward redeeming what’s wrong, because they’ll look sentimental and naive to all the weary ironists. Irony’s gone from liberating to enslaving. There’s some great essay somewhere that has a line about irony being the song of the prisoner who’s come to love his cage.”
David Foster Wallace

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