A Prayer About Humility

Religion often today reveals a very ugly dimension of the human heart, an intent to acquire power and domination rather than to bring reconciliation in this world.  Religion affords many opportunities for the ego to run amok, carefully hidden from any criticism because of its “spiritual” nature and the “fact” that “god is leading.”  But on this notion it has been helpful to remember the teachings of the Bible to, “Try the spirits, to see if they be of God” and also the admonishment of the Apostle Paul that we see only, “through a glass darkly.?”  The following poem by Louis Untermeyer reflects more humility, a desire to not prevail and dominate but actually to “lose,” to become, “losers” even though in our particular historical moments many persons of faith are finding appealing the clarion call of one who vehemently denouncers, “losers.”

PRAYER by Louis Untermeyer

God, though this life is but a wraith,
Although we know not what we use;

Although we grope with little faith,
God, give me the heart to fight and lose.

Ever insurgent let me be,

Make me more daring than devout;
From slick contentment keep me free

And fill me with a buoyant doubt.

Open my eyes to visions girt
With beauty, and with wonder lit,

But let me always see the dirt,
And all that spawn and die in it.

Open my ears to music, let

Me thrill with Spring’s first flutes and drums
But never let me dare forget

The bitter ballads of the slums.

From compromise and things half-done,
Keep me, with stern and stubborn pride;

But when at last the fight is won,
God, keep me still unsatisfied.

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Does Sin Have Meaning Any Longer in our Culture?

I have some taint of the Trumpian arrogance in me so that it is hard to say, “I made a mistake.”  Yes, my “memory bank” failed me in yesterday’s post and the “relevant” poetry blurb at the very end was not the one I had in mind, a problem which I have now corrected.  I’m making this “confession” though facetiously just so any of you who are interested can return to yesterday’s post and sample a bit of the wisdom of Stanley Kunitz. However, admitting being mistaken is a very human flaw and I’m in recovery now from having been mired in that morass of self-loathing and infantile arrogance most of my life.  Richard Nixon when he resigned in 1973 did not really admit doing any wrong, declaring famously at one point in the debacle, “I’m not a crook.”  But when the impeachment proceeding reached a certain point of intensity, he did resign and with great humiliation walked to that waiting helicopter with his wife and continued his flight into political ignominy.  He was in great pain, greatly shamed and humiliated by what his words and behavior had led to, but under the pressure of the political structure that he was part of and respected to some degree, he accepted disgrace and meekly resigned, a tacit admission of wrong-doing.  Nixon had some inner sense of self-control that allowed him to not resort to the violent impulse that would explode in many people when they are shamed like he was.

There is something to say for a religious culture in which “confessing sins” is part of life.  Even though this “sin” matter goes deeply beneath the surface…and from time to time circumstances lead us to exploring the matter more intently, discovering that the real sin lies in the “thoughts and intents of the heart—it is helpful to have the surface level of the issue commonplace enough that we can readily admit shortcomings.  But occasionally people appear in our culture who have steeled their heart about even a cursory acknowledgement of sin or fault and they will brazenly refuse to admit wrong on even the most trivial matter.  And if one of these people happen to stumble into a position of power, they can wreak havoc on all who are within their sphere of influence.

 

Here is a list of my blogs.  I invite you to check out the other two sometime.

https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/

https://literarylew.wordpress.com/

https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/

“Vive Le Difference” is Politically Relevant Today.

The following is a copy from another blog of mine which is very relevant to spirituality.  Religion, like politics, is always beset by the temptation of epistemic closure.  This is the tendency of human nature…always ego-ridden—to create a world and/or to affiliate with a world in which one’s premises are confirmed.

Difference matters to me.  I was raised in a conservative, American South culture with religion being the paramount dimension in my particular subculture.  But this upbringing in a rigid, highly structured atmosphere of “us vs. them” troubled me and in my early adulthood I began to acquire a more inclusive, less linear-thinking oriented approach to life.  Now, in the latter stages of my life, the issue of sameness vs. difference is a paramount concern of mine, especially given the political climate in my country and in the world.

Today I stumbled across a book in my library, “The Order of Things” by Michel Foucault, heavily marked up from my “youthful” enthusiasm of decades past.  In the quote which I will share, Foucault explores the relationship between “sympathy” (i.e. sameness”) vs. “antinomy” (difference) and the dialogic imperative of an interaction between these two complementary dimensions of the human soul.

Sympathy is an instance of the same so strong and so insistent that it will not rest content to be merely one of the forms of likeness; it has the dangerous power of assimilating, of rendering things identical to one another, of mingling them, of causing their individuality to disappear—and thus rendering them foreign to what they were before.  Sympathy transforms.  It alters, but in the direction of identity, so that if its power were not counter-balanced it would reduce the world to a point, to a homogeneous mass, to the featureless form of the same:  all its parts would hold together and communicate with one another without a break, with no distance between them, like those metal chains held suspended by sympathy to the attraction of a single magnet.

But then Foucault presents “antipathy” as the opposite life-force, equally necessary, which seeks to counter the otherwise stultifying power of the demand for sameness.  What he calls “antipathy” is merely a drive for difference, an innate desire to not be swallowed by the whole of sameness, a “whole” which would be merely a “black hole” without consideration of this “antipathy” or difference.  Foucault declares:

Sympathy is compensated by its twin, antipathy.  Antipathy maintains the isolation of things (i.e. the difference, the desire and demand for independence) and prevents their assimilation; it encloses every species within its impenetrable difference and its propensity to continue to being what it is.

This notion of continuing “to being what it is” is an essential dimension of identity, an ability to “hang onto” a core of what/who one is even when beset by the challenges of difference.  With maturity, i.e. “ego integrity,” one can hang onto a core of who one is even as he negotiates with difference, (i.e. “antipathy”) and knowing that he can survive…and even thrive…with the benefit of “difference” (i.e. something new) into its mindset.

And, my hero and soul-mate, W.H. Auden has a relevant note with which I conclude:

I wish you first a sense of theater.

Only those who learn illusion

And love it will go far.

Otherwise we spend our life

In confusion about who and what we really are.

We Have Finally Killed God!

Nickel Boy Graphics

We Have Finally Killed God!

There are several questions that come to mind from this fairly simple comic panel such as “Is it even possible to kill God? And what does it even mean?” (For now, the definition I want to use for killing God is “removing the belief in God from minds and hearts.”)

But remembering that I want to be radically and savagely in search of knowing Real Life Jesus, My Companion In The Way, there’s one question that stands out before the others.

“Which is worse: killing God or warping the image of God?”

Before examining this question, it’s important to define “killing God.” The definition I want to use is “removing the belief in God from minds and hearts.” This is about killing or eliminating ideas and feelings, not about whether or not Jesus really is God and whether or not as God he could die on a cross. (Although these…

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Arrogance Lies at the Root of Lawlessness

The lawlessness that I wrote about yesterday boils down to arrogance.  It is arrogance that makes one think that he can live by, “the letter of the law” and it is arrogance that leads one to think he can disregard the law.  Trump is the perfect example of this arrogance, championing “the law” while simultaneously stomping on very basic civilities such as telling the truth!  And he can’t even respect simple laws of diplomacy, one of which is to not insult other dangerous psychopaths who are leading other countries.

Arrogance is one of the  root flaws of our species.  We are wired toward self-preservation and to organize into tribes with that same goal.  And “self-preservation” is a noble goal but not when it becomes paramount so that it is sought to the neglect of and even violence toward those who are different.  And this arrogance is now seen in large sections of the Christian faith who have done the bidding of Trump and now interpret their faith as a means of “hunkering down” in their own little safe enclave.  Even the teachings of Jesus can become a fortress when the “discerning spirit” is not employed, leading one to see the role of “the flesh” in his understanding of spiritual truth.

Trump is a black hole and thus a formidable spiritual presence in our world, albeit an abysmally dark “spiritual presence.”  Being the black hole, all those who so much as tippy-toe into his orbit become slaves to his seductive, unconscious enticement. The will-to-power is one of our most basic needs but can be catastrophic to self and others when not mitigated by the teachings of Christ who taught the power of powerlessness.

The “Lawlessness” in “The Letter of the Law” Mindset

Lawlessness was a common pulpit battle-cry in my conservative youth.  The word was often spit out, with great emphasis and passion, conveying just how contemptuous lawlessness was and that it was an indicator of how God-forsaken our country was becoming.  The New Testament word for lawlessness was, “anomia” with the root word “nomos” meaning a standard and the alpha privative (“a) conveying the absence of that quality.  And “lawlessness” is a problem in any culture as it reflects a break down of basic structures in the social body, leaving such qualities as decorum, civility, propriety, and the legal code being unattended.  But “lawlessness,” when focused merely on outward compliance with social and moral norms misses the point, as it is possible to adhere closely to a social and spiritual code even though deep in the heart there are unacknowledged character flaws which produced the people in the time of Jesus that he called, “hypocrites” or simply “actors.”

French sociologist Emile Durkheim (late 19th century) was one of the first to address the subject of “anomia” and he offered socio-cultural suggestions about the break down of “law-and-order” that often afflicts a culture.  But he noted two different, apparently antithetical dimensions to anomia, one being the overt disregard for social norms and the other being an obsessive focus on the social norms, the latter being a legalistic, “letter-of-the-law” approach to commonplace rules of social decorum and civility.  In other words, too little “law” could produce social unrest but also heavy-handed emphasis of social, civil, and moral codes could lead to the same.  To summarize Durkheim’s observation, social chaos could be brought about by laxity or disregard for the law but likewise hyper-emphasis on “the law” could lead to similar problems.

A relevant word here is “judgement” in the since of interpreting and enforcing the laws, a key feature of “judgement” being discretion.  For example, I often think of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan women at the well who was accused of adultery.  The “letter-of-the-law” required that Jesus should lead the charge in stoning the woman to death which would have had the added benefit of improving his standing with the religious establishment of the day (i.e., the Pharisees) who so famously emphasized the importance of literal compliance with the rules, especially regarding morality.  But Jesus defied the “law” and forgave the woman and told her to, “go and sin no more.”  Jesus recognized that the law always demands “interpretation,” that is discretion, and that strict and obsessive compliance with the law would eventually lead to the complication that Durkheim would note.

It is interesting…and very revealing…that in contemporary times the fiercest defenders of “law-and-order” and   of “human decency, decorum, and social civility” have found as their spokesman Trump who is the embodiment of indecency, social impropriety, and egregious dishonesty.  They have found the perfect embodiment of the hidden dimensions of their heart, a man who is the very antithesis of everything that Jesus stood for.  They proclaim that they are champions of moral, ethical, and legal propriety, yet they have empowered a man who demonstrates in his daily life the lack of all human decency and basic kindness.  They have given power and continued support to a man who demonstrates that he feels he is above the law.  Two relevant anecdotes from his past are his repeated public statements revealing his sexual interest in his own daughter and his brazen decision to walk in to the dressing room of a teen-age beauty contest and “size up” young girls in various stages of undress.  And more recently he has exceeded the power of his office and is blatantly attempting to influence other branches of the government because of his attitude, “Who is gonna stop me?”  He is fulfilling his dark prophecy that he could stand in the streets of Manhattan and shoot someonethe and he would not lose support.

Recently the Trump administration deported a man who had lived her for 32 years, was a respected and productive citizen, and the father of several young children.  Yes, he had “broken” the law in that he had not legally immigrated.  And, therefore in the mindset of Trump and his minions, “the law is the law” and must be obeyed.  “Ship him back to Mexico!”  Case closed, and those involved in the decision can sleep easily that night knowing that they, “obeyed the law.”  But the teachings of Jesus suggest there is a higher law in which one can, relying on the depths of his heart and its judgement, “forgive” this person and, metaphorically at least tell him, “Go and sin no more.”  But the moral and ethical ambiguity of life is not permitted by these spiritually immature people who assiduously rely on, “the letter-of-law” and are spared any anguish in their heart about what was the “right” thing to do.  It is much easier if you can determine what is “right” and “wrong” by relying on a rule book.  Just ask the rank-and-file Isis warrior who is never troubled by any lame-ass, wimpy thingy like, “moral ambiguity.”  Spiritual discernment, i.e. “discretion,” involves soul-searching and this existential process is related to what the Apostle Paul described as the Holy Spirit searching, “the thots and intents of the heart”

Christianity is being, “weighed in the balances and found wanting,” which is a necessary development in mature religions that see the value of self-criticism.  But like Trump, some Christians cannot handle any feedback which does not fit their carefully crafted, self-serving image and cling even more desperately to their dogma. The criticism actually encourages them as it strikes a naïve belief in their heart that they are being, “persecuted for His sake.”

The Trumpian Black Hole Claims Another Soul!

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the current press secretary for the White House, is not a bad person.  Raised in the household of an Arkansas Baptist preacher, her faith remains very central to her life and unfortunately she is subjected to daily internal torture as she has signed onto the job of daily spinning the President in a favorable light, of “turning a sow’s ear into a silk purse.”  However, good…and especially innocent people…can allow themselves to be sucked into the orbit of very bad people and then find themselves increasingly in the spot of defending a man who is the antithesis of Christian values.  But, she continues to stay in the position and, I’m sure, daily reassures herself with some Christian bromide such as God having put her in a difficult spot to help this God-ordained President to “make America Again.”  But the problem is the premise—that God has chosen Trump, not realizing that just because one thinks something does not make it so, regardless of how he/she wants it to be.  She has hitched her wagon to a train-wreck and can only attempt to spin the ongoing tragedy in a favorable light rather than humbly acknowledge, “Oops, I made a mistake.”  She, like many of the Trump supporters are demonstrating the same character flaw of Trump—an inability to admit having made a mistake.  And this weakness of character cannot be covered up with the lame and self-serving excuse, “God is leading.”

The most egregious example of her blatant disregard for basic human and Christian value is her stance toward a staff person who made light of Senator McCain who appears to be on his death bed.    But, instead of firing the individual or offering an apology herself, Sanders’ response was to be furious merely over the fact that this horrible “verbal tic” of the GOP mind-set was leaked to the public.  Anyone who has flirted with the Trumpian black hole…or jumped head first into it…cannot escape demonstrating gross errors of judgement like this as warped judgement is a key element of their job description.  Trump demands total loyalty, almost like a dark god of some sorts, and one must always spin everything he does and says in a way to not offend him.  He is a “vengeful” god and will “destroy” anyone who does not go along with his game plan.

My concern here is the common Christian deceit that just because one is serious with his/her faith, he/she can make a horrible mistake and lamely cover up it up with faith in God.  This does not diminish the validity of their faith, only demonstrating what the Apostle Paul admitted, “I will to do good, but evil is present with me.”  This deep-seated character flaw is related to a tradition in some Christian circles to focus on “the evil that is out there” and not recognize that the real evil that needs attention is always in one’s own heart.  From experience I can attest it is much easier to see the evil “out there” than to own it in the depths of one’s own heart, a realization which does not end the conflict but opens one to an internal struggle that has always been there and always will.  Failure to understand this spiritual malady lies at the root of evangelical Christianity’s current steadfast commitment to Trump.