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I’m spending the winter here in the ash
house on the edge of the crinkly sea.
Darling I don’t usually say darling but I
want you to have everything behind my
eyes. In the darkness your dark flashlight
points out the room’s troubles. I’ll never
have the really important ideas: I see
only by the light of my skin.
Post Moxie by Julia Story

My name is Paul Lowder, and I have been involved with Athentikos and the I Am Art initiative since the summer of 2014. I jumped aboard for several reasons:

  1. I was going nowhere in Los Angeles,
  2. I needed a positive, creative outlet, and
  3. I wanted to see the world.

To be plainly honest, my desires to travel to Guatemala and to help run an art camp for at-risk youth grew from a selfish desire. This isn’t to say that volunteering and service are not close to my heart. They are. And they were, in many regards, responsible for getting me involved with Athentikos. But I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I wanted to go because I wanted to go.
Athentikos’ mission, broadly put, is authenticity. I would like to be authentic with you about who I am, what I believe, and how I am going to be involved.
Who?
You know my name. I am 26 years old. I am a father and a husband. I studied Religion and the Arts (Writing) at Belmont University from 2008 to 2013. Yes, it took me 5 years to finish. I wish it had taken me longer. I’m not sure I’ve figured out how to operate in the real world yet. But if I’ve figured anything out, it’s that no one else has any real clue as to what is going on out here. I cannot decide if that is comforting or discouraging–depends on the day.
What?
Athentikos is a non-profit organization that operates from a Christian worldview. My worldview is less grounded, and I hesitate to identify with any sort of religious title. I know how picky some people can be about other people’s identification, so I want to speak plainly and honestly about all of this.
I grew up in a Christian household and in the Church. I lived that life honestly and fully because it was the life set in front of me. I prayed the prayer. I prayed it again. I went to Christian athletic camps. I was baptized. I met with a small group every other Sunday from 7th grade until I graduated high school. I played in the youth group band. You get the idea. It wasn’t until I attended my Christian university that I began my departure (some would say descent) from the faith I was born into.
Now, I don’t want to make myself seem virtuous, enlightened, or anything like that. I don’t want to preach that this path is necessary for everyone or that I found a more real truth. I can only say that it was what I needed to do. The first step to self-discovery (in my case anyway) was complete abandonment.

“…if someone rejects religion in the name of the moral function of the human spirit, […] in the name of the cognitive function of the human spirit, […] in the name of the aesthetic function of the human spirit, he rejects religion in the name of religion. You cannot reject religion with ultimate seriousness, because ultimate seriousness, or the state of being ultimately concerned, is itself religion.”
Theology of CulturePaul Tillich

Isn’t it our parents’ wish for us to go out into the world and make our faith our own? Are we not taught to follow our heart? I believe we are. In doing this I stopped identify as a Christian. To this day, I remain with this un-identification. Yet I still find myself ultimately concerned with trying to live a compassionate life.
Some might be wondering; If you’re not a Christian, then what are you? A Buddhist? How do you coexist and help Athentikos in their mission that is largely Christian? How can we trust you?
No. I am not a Buddhist. Neither am I an Atheist. Or an Agnostic. Unfortunately, the answer to those questions are not going to be satisfying. They won’t resolve cleanly and nicely like a Hollywood movie or a best-selling novel. I believe life is far more complex and that language–despite being incredibly complex–is wholly inadequate for matters such as this. But in order to answer the question, I will say this:
My views on God are apophatic, which is just a fancy, theological/philosophical term meaning that I believe God is ineffable, which is just another fancy word for unspeakable and unsayable. In other words, Jehovah’s Witnesses rub me the wrong way. Ludwig Wittgenstein said it beautifully at the conclusion of his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus,

“Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.”

Some people tend to be troubled by this. Not all people, but some. Human beings like for things to be identified, for things to be delineated and organized. I am not exempt from this. I’m peculiar like the rest of us. My room is messy, but my food must be orderly on my plate. My clothes are often dirty and disheveled, but I am sure to keep my napkins folded symmetrically before, during, and after I use them. But the human condition, as I see it, is far more complex than simply checking a box that says “Christian” or “Muslim” or “Buddhist” or “Atheist.” I find great contentment and fulfillment in leaving that box unchecked.

“…Truth needs no label: it is neither Buddhist, Christian, Hindu nor Moslem. It is not the monopoly of anybody. Sectarian labels are a hinderance to the independent understanding of Truth, and they produce harmful prejudices in men’s minds.”
What the Buddha Taught

I enjoy quoting other people. I’m sure this is obvious by now, and like the Athentikos team, I love stories of all shapes and sizes. Walker Percy has a novel called The Moviegoer where the main character Binx Bolling is often pondering about God and questions about the universe. During an imaginary conversation, Binx is asked if he believes in God:

“I hesitate to answer, since all other Americans have settled the matter for themselves and to give such an answer would amount to setting myself a goal which everyone else has reached–and therefore raising a question in which no one has the slightest interest. Who wants to be dead last among one hundred and eighty million Americans? For, as everyone knows, the polls report that 98% of Americans believe in God and the remaining 2% are atheists and agnostics–which leaves not a single percentage point for a seeker.”

Throughout the novel, Binx is constantly challenged to define himself in relation to friends, family, sweet-hearts, and colleagues despite his urge to remain vague and open to possibility.

“What is the nature of the search? you ask. Really it is very simple; at least for a fellow like me. So simple that it is easily overlooked. The search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life.”

What I desire more than anything else, is to live a fulfilled, compassionate life. This, I believe, is incredibly Christian. It’s also incredibly Buddhist and, believe it or not, Atheistic. It is through this compassion and a sense of what Tillich calls ultimate concern that I am able to coexist within Athentikos and their mission.
Despite everything I’ve said about religion and Christianity, I do not hate it nor do I think that those who believe it are fools with their heads in the sand. Sure, there are Christians who have forgotten compassion just as there are Buddhists who have forgotten. There are bad Atheists and good ones. And amongst all of them, there are some people who transcend social identities and come down to earth. That’s a funny picture, isn’t it? Transcend to come down. Transcend the self in order to truly come down to earth and be a compassionate servant to others. I would describe Scott and Amelia Moore in this way, and I long to help Athentikos grow and spread.
Now What?
This summer I am reading a few books about the old desert fathers and mothers. Specifically, I am going through Henri Nouwen’s The Way of the Heart: The Spirituality of the Desert Fathers and Mothers in preparation for the upcoming I Am Art camp in Guatemala. The book is incredibly short, but packed with wisdom (as it is with many of Nouwen’s works). It is split into three main parts: Solitude, Silence, and Prayer. These three attributes of the spiritual life intrigue me. They are difficult to obtain in this modern world, but I believe it’s possible and worth working toward. I am also reading Soul Making: The Desert Way of Spirituality by Alan Jones and Theology of Culture by Paul Tillich.
Aside from simply reading these texts, I plan on putting together a few written responses in the context of the Athentikos trips this fall.
Finally, if anything I’ve said has sparked some interest or at the very least a feeling, feel free to contact me directly at this address – plowder@athentikos.com

“Though it may alienate your family,
And blur the lines of your identity,
Let go of what you know,
And honor what exists.
Son, that’s what bearing witness is.
Daughter, that’s what bearing witness is.”
Bearing Witness by David Bazan

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