All posts by literarylew

I am a retired mental health counselor in El Prado, NM near Taos.I have a lovely wife, Claire, and our only children are two lovely dachshunds, Elsa and Ludwig. I have a BA in history/psychology (double major) from Henderson State University and a M. Ed. in counseling from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. I have a passion for literature, religion, philosophy....and, in general, the liberal arts.

Believing in Our Belief to Avoid Faith

Oswald Chambers is one author from my evangelical Christian youth who has survived the test of time and still has my admiration and respect. His devotional book, “My Utmost for His Highest,” is still one of my most valued spiritual books, presenting the Christian faith in a meaningful fashion and not as a dogmatic treatise. But a couple of years ago I discovered “The Collected Works of Oswald Chambers” in one volume and have found there even more treasures, some of them confirming spiritual truths that I had already discovered on my own.

For example, he warned against “believing in one’s belief.” Specifically, he noted that the need for certainty can disrupt the opportunity for faith, declaring, “All certainty brings death to something. When we have a certain belief, we kill God in our lives, because we do not believe Him, we believe our beliefs about Him and do what Job’s friends did–bring God and human life to the standard of our beliefs and not to the standard of God.” Chambers understood that God could not be apprehended with reason, though reason is definitely needed in the whole of life including spirituality. This is because God cannot be “apprehended” at all as He is the “Wholly Other” who can be received only in the simple child-like acceptance of the gift we have been given in Christ, unconditionally. It is not because we believe right, or do right, or are right. It is because what God has done in Christ.

But believing in our belief is easier and keeps the matter under our control. It is the sin of solipsism, a egotistical smugness in which one indulges his own feelings and desires, one of which is the need for control. Simply by adhering to a creed, following a simple verbal formula, we can “know,” with our mind, that we are Christians and embark on a journey of “thinking we are Christians” rather than “being” one. It is similar to Ta Nehesi Coates, in his book, “Between the World and Me,” chiding Caucasians as people who “think they are white” and assuming the prerogatives of that vein of thought.

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The following list includes two other blogs of mine that are available.

https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/
https://literarylew.wordpress.com/
https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/

“Figgering Out” This Religious Thingy

This religion thingy.  Wow!  It still has me baffled.  But not really, as the bafflement is only my ego flirting with the awe of standing naked before the Ultimate.  I’ve always wanted to “figger this thing out” and now I’ve resigned to my ignorance which I think is what Jesus, and other spiritual teachers were trying to teach us.  The need to “figger this thing out” is what happened when we opted to take a bite out of that apple, an action which was necessary if this human experience was to unfold.  Our heart pines for the unconscious “memory” of Eden, which Shakespeare captured when he had Macbeth say, “My dull brain is racked by things forgotten.”

The “figgering it out” has brought us all of the luxury of modernity.  It has brought us to the verge of solving so many of the world’s ills except for the most pernicious one, the darkness of our collective heart.  Having imbibed of the “knowledge of good and evil,” that is distinction drawing or bifurcating reality, we have been able to carve up this beautiful world to accomplish great ends but we are then left with a heart which is determined to continue carving up our world into categories of “us” and “them.”  It is that obsession which threatens to be our destruction, a “self” destruction.  Yes, “We have met the enemy and he is us” as Pogo told us in a cartoon strip.

“Figgering it out” is good.  But it is even better when we realize that this impulse, though having a certain nobility, can become toxic when we can’t give it a rest and realize that life is a profound and beautiful mystery which ultimately we cannot “figger” out.

Poet e e cummings summed it up when he wrote:

when god decided to invent
everything he took one
breath bigger than a circustent
and everything began

when man determined to destroy
himself he picked the was
of shall and finding only why
smashed it into because 

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Thoughts About Affirmation of Faith

I’ve had some discomfort with the title of my last post here, “An Affirmation of Faith.”  That just sounds way to Christian for me as “Christian” has is a word that has become sullied in our culture for some time, a process that probably started in world culture when Constantine appropriated it for political purposes in A.D. 313.  I increasingly like to think of myself as a follower of the teachings of Jesus and not so much a Christian.  It is true that those who knew me in my youth probably would not even think I am a Christian anyway and that is okay too as no longer is my faith for the purpose of social approbation, to fulfill a need to belong.

Any faith tradition comes to us from our culture and usually it is to some degree manufactured or “canned” which is the only way it can be when reduced to tradition, including language and ritual.  It is human nature to take this “canned” spirituality and never open the can, allowing the hidden truth to penetrate into the heart and lead to meaningful experience.  It is way too scary to do this. “Opening the can” of spiritual truth parallels the process of opening the heart. The two go hand in hand.  And finding the courage to open the heart, which in a sense is finding one’s heart for the first time, can take decades if not most of one’s life.  And it is not anything one can learn from books, or seminars, or graduate school, and certainly not seminary.  It is something that circumstances of life, including studies, coupled with the “thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to,” brings one face to face with our human frailty.  Spiritual tradition, when still locked up in the can of tradition, will keep us from this human frailty and often even allow us the pose of “spiritual” but leave us empty inside.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve had some discomfort with the title of my last post here, “An Affirmation of Faith.”  That just sounds way to Christian for me as “Christian” has is a word that has become sullied in our culture for some time, a process that probably started in world culture when Constantine appropriated it for political purposes in A.D. 313.  I increasingly like to think of myself as a follower of the teachings of Jesus and not so much a Christian.  It is true that those who knew me in my youth probably would not even think I am a Christian anyway and that is okay too as no longer is my faith for the purpose of social approbation, to fulfill a need to belong.

 

Any faith tradition comes to us from our culture and usually it is to some degree manufactured or “canned” which is the only way it can be when reduced to tradition, including language and ritual.  It is human nature to take this “canned” spirituality and never open the can, allowing the hidden truth to penetrate into the heart and lead to meaningful experience.  It is way too scary to do this. “Opening the can” of spiritual truth parallels the process of opening the heart. The two go hand in hand.  And finding the courage to open the heart, which in a sense is finding one’s heart for the first time, can take decades if not most of one’s life.  And it is not anything one can learn from books, or seminars, or graduate school, and certainly not seminary.  It is something that circumstances of life, including studies, coupled with the “thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to,” brings one face to face with our human frailty.  Spiritual tradition, when still locked up in the can of tradition, will keep us from this human frailty and often even allow us the pose of “spiritual” but leave us empty inside.

 

 

I’ve had some discomfort with the title of my last post here, “An Affirmation of Faith.”  That just sounds way to Christian for me as “Christian” has is a word that has become sullied in our culture for some time, a process that probably started in world culture when Constantine appropriated it for political purposes in A.D. 313.  I increasingly like to think of myself as a follower of the teachings of Jesus and not so much a Christian.  It is true that those who knew me in my youth probably would not even think I am a Christian anyway and that is okay too as no longer is my faith for the purpose of social approbation, to fulfill a need to belong.

 

Any faith tradition comes to us from our culture and usually it is to some degree manufactured or “canned” which is the only way it can be when reduced to tradition, including language and ritual.  It is human nature to take this “canned” spirituality and never open the can, allowing the hidden truth to penetrate into the heart and lead to meaningful experience.  It is way too scary to do this. “Opening the can” of spiritual truth parallels the process of opening the heart. The two go hand in hand.  And finding the courage to open the heart, which in a sense is finding one’s heart for the first time, can take decades if not most of one’s life.  And it is not anything one can learn from books, or seminars, or graduate school, and certainly not seminary.  It is something that circumstances of life, including studies, coupled with the “thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to,” brings one face to face with our human frailty.  Spiritual tradition, when still locked up in the can of tradition, will keep us from this human frailty and often even allow us the pose of “spiritual” but leave us empty inside.

 

 

I’ve had some discomfort with the title of my last post here, “An Affirmation of Faith.”  That just sounds way to Christian for me as “Christian” has is a word that has become sullied in our culture for some time, a process that probably started in world culture when Constantine appropriated it for political purposes in A.D. 313.  I increasingly like to think of myself as a follower of the teachings of Jesus and not so much a Christian.  It is true that those who knew me in my youth probably would not even think I am a Christian anyway and that is okay too as no longer is my faith for the purpose of social approbation, to fulfill a need to belong.

 

Any faith tradition comes to us from our culture and usually it is to some degree manufactured or “canned” which is the only way it can be when reduced to tradition, including language and ritual.  It is human nature to take this “canned” spirituality and never open the can, allowing the hidden truth to penetrate into the heart and lead to meaningful experience.  It is way too scary to do this. “Opening the can” of spiritual truth parallels the process of opening the heart. The two go hand in hand.  And finding the courage to open the heart, which in a sense is finding one’s heart for the first time, can take decades if not most of one’s life.  And it is not anything one can learn from books, or seminars, or graduate school, and certainly not seminary.  It is something that circumstances of life, including studies, coupled with the “thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to,” brings one face to face with our human frailty.  Spiritual tradition, when still locked up in the can of tradition, will keep us from this human frailty and often even allow us the pose of “spiritual” but leave us empty inside.

 

 

I’ve had some discomfort with the title of my last post here, “An Affirmation of Faith.”  That just sounds way to Christian for me as “Christian” has is a word that has become sullied in our culture for some time, a process that probably started in world culture when Constantine appropriated it for political purposes in A.D. 313.  I increasingly like to think of myself as a follower of the teachings of Jesus and not so much a Christian.  It is true that those who knew me in my youth probably would not even think I am a Christian anyway and that is okay too as no longer is my faith for the purpose of social approbation, to fulfill a need to belong.

 

Any faith tradition comes to us from our culture and usually it is to some degree manufactured or “canned” which is the only way it can be when reduced to tradition, including language and ritual.  It is human nature to take this “canned” spirituality and never open the can, allowing the hidden truth to penetrate into the heart and lead to meaningful experience.  It is way too scary to do this. “Opening the can” of spiritual truth parallels the process of opening the heart. The two go hand in hand.  And finding the courage to open the heart, which in a sense is finding one’s heart for the first time, can take decades if not most of one’s life.  And it is not anything one can learn from books, or seminars, or graduate school, and certainly not seminary.  It is something that circumstances of life, including studies, coupled with the “thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to,” brings one face to face with our human frailty.  Spiritual tradition, when still locked up in the can of tradition, will keep us from this human frailty and often even allow us the pose of “spiritual” but leave us empty inside.

I’ve had some discomfort with the title of my last post here, “An Affirmation of Faith.”  That just sounds way to Christian for me as “Christian” has is a word that has become sullied in our culture for some time, a process that probably started in world culture when Constantine appropriated it for political purposes in A.D. 313.  I increasingly like to think of myself as a follower of the teachings of Jesus and not so much a Christian.  It is true that those who knew me in my youth probably would not even think I am a Christian anyway and that is okay too as no longer is my faith for the purpose of social approbation, to fulfill a need to belong.

 

Any faith tradition comes to us from our culture and usually it is to some degree manufactured or “canned” which is the only way it can be when reduced to tradition, including language and ritual.  It is human nature to take this “canned” spirituality and never open the can, allowing the hidden truth to penetrate into the heart and lead to meaningful experience.  It is way too scary to do this. “Opening the can” of spiritual truth parallels the process of opening the heart. The two go hand in hand.  And finding the courage to open the heart, which in a sense is finding one’s heart for the first time, can take decades if not most of one’s life.  And it is not anything one can learn from books, or seminars, or graduate school, and certainly not seminary.  It is something that circumstances of life, including studies, coupled with the “thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to,” brings one face to face with our human frailty.  Spiritual tradition, when still locked up in the can of tradition, will keep us from this human frailty and often even allow us the pose of “spiritual” but leave us empty inside.

 

I’ve had some discomfort with the title of my last post here, “An Affirmation of Faith.”  That just sounds way to Christian for me as “Christian” has is a word that has become sullied in our culture for some time, a process that probably started in world culture when Constantine appropriated it for political purposes in A.D. 313.  I increasingly like to think of myself as a follower of the teachings of Jesus and not so much a Christian.  It is true that those who knew me in my youth probably would not even think I am a Christian anyway and that is okay too as no longer is my faith for the purpose of social approbation, to fulfill a need to belong.

 

Any faith tradition comes to us from our culture and usually it is to some degree manufactured or “canned” which is the only way it can be when reduced to tradition, including language and ritual.  It is human nature to take this “canned” spirituality and never open the can, allowing the hidden truth to penetrate into the heart and lead to meaningful experience.  It is way too scary to do this. “Opening the can” of spiritual truth parallels the process of opening the heart. The two go hand in hand.  And finding the courage to open the heart, which in a sense is finding one’s heart for the first time, can take decades if not most of one’s life.  And it is not anything one can learn from books, or seminars, or graduate school, and certainly not seminary.  It is something that circumstances of life, including studies, coupled with the “thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to,” brings one face to face with our human frailty.  Spiritual tradition, when still locked up in the can of tradition, will keep us from this human frailty and often even allow us the pose of “spiritual” but leave us empty inside.

An Affirmation of Faith

Increasingly I am emboldened in my faith, finding the courage to allow this experience to extend deeper into my heart and into the whole of my life.  As I do so I feel empowered to speak and write from my heart, realizing that if you speak from any other source you are merely using what Carl Jung called “directed thinking.”  Directed thinking was his term for thinking which is designed to mesh with a social and cultural context, a type of thinking which is very important, but not if it disallows a more genuine, authentic vein of thought.

Often as I “hold forth” here I experience a tinge of guilt as I am approaching faith in a way that is contrary to the way I was taught in my youth, contrary to “the faith once delivered unto the saints.”  But this guilt is a core issue and reflects the residual enslavement to the “guilting into” religion that I was subjected to as a child.  That “guilting into” dimension of faith is not as bad as it sounds as it is merely part of enculturation and a part that can be discarded as we grow up, allowing a more genuine experience.

Another dimension of angst I experience is, “What will they think?”  There are family members and people from my youth who probably have ventured into this literary venture of mine from time to time and they will certainly lament, “Oh, he certainly has ‘departed from the faith once delivered unto the saints’ or perhaps, ‘He went out from us because he was not of us.’”  There is residual guilt for having ventured from the beaten path at this late point in my life.  But, as Jesus put it, “What shall a man profit if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul” which is what happens if we obsessively trek onward on that “beaten” path and never allow authenticity to flow from our lives.  It is the fear that Henry David Thoreau had when he “went to the woods” and there sought to delve into the marrow of life and not come to the end of his life and realize that what he had lived was not life at all.

Still another critical concern I have is the residual notion, “If I’m right, they are wrong.”  In the linear thinking that I was enculturated into, right and wrong are clear and distinct categories so that the vein of spirituality that I share here must mean that those who I have “left behind” don’t have it right.  In that same vein of thinking it would mean that “I’m saved” and “they aren’t” unless they believe as I do.  That is certainly true if one is enslaved to linear thought but not in the least if one has found freedom from that prison.  I now see the Christian story as an expression of cosmic truth, a story of love and grace that has been written into the hearts of mankind from eons past which found one beautiful expression in the person of Jesus Christ.  His story shows us that His Grace is a gift and is not dependent on our “believing right” or even “behaving right” but merely an unconditional absolution for perceived guilt and shame.

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Two other blogs of mine are listed here which I invite you to check out:

https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/

https://literarylew.wordpress.com/

https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/

A Prophetic Word from A Literary Critic

This is the best “sermon” I’ve read yet about Trump and his minions. Rebecca Solnit spares no punches and delivers a prophetic word, not just about Trump, but about our whole culture. As they say, “Read it and weep.” And weeping is in order as this is a very sad moment in our history and could get even sadder at any moment. My use of words like “sermon” and “prophetic” bely my rage at the church culture of my origins. Yes, “me doeth protest too much.”  A poet friend of mine in Arkansas once described a culture-bound clergy in these terms, “Ye heroes of spiritual contraception who have long-since despaired of rebirth.”

I still think that “truth” can be found in spiritual traditions but very often spiritual traditions ossify and become merely “well-worn words and ready phrases that build walls against the wilderness.” That leaves it to artists, writers, and even comedians to “speak truth to power” and Ms. Solnit here “knocks it out of the park.”

Here is the link to Solnit’s Essay — http://lithub.com/rebecca-solnit-the-loneliness-of-donald-trump/

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Two other blogs of mine are listed here which I invited you to check out:

https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/

https://literarylew.wordpress.com/

https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/

Bad Faith: A Smug Zone of Certainty

Vice-President Mike Pence yesterday described Christians as being “most persecuted.”  Well, persecution of those who live out of an authentic inner core, such as Jesus Christ illustrated, are apt to be persecuted.  Yes.  But then in the Christian culture there is a tradition of taking delight in the feeling of persecution when these feelings stem primarily if not only from unacknowledged, unconscious issues that meaningful faith in Jesus Christ would allow one to explore.  This hypocritical stance of being “persecuted for His sake” fulfills the ego’s need for pseudo humility, permitting one to bask in a smug self-loathing that is taken for some perverted sense of righteousness.

I certainly can see why Pence feels his version the Christian faith is today being persecuted.  This is because “reality” is exposing their duplicity as daily their political “champion”, a man they declare the Lord has “raised up” to lead this nation, is demonstrating the antithesis of everything Jesus Christ stood for.  But Pence and other Christian luminaries stand behind Trump, will not challenge his egregious dishonesty, and continue to drag the name of Jesus in the mud of their shallow, ego-enslaved faith.  By use of the term “reality” I mean that the Christian faith of Pence and his ilk is an insular world which has the primary purpose of providing a “wall” between themselves and the rest of the world, i.e. “reality.”  No wonder they find the notion of “build that wall” so appealing and are supporting Trump’s insistence on building walls literally, and metaphorically.  This “insularity” is being threatened and they are frightened by “reality.”

But let me introduce another term for this “reality.”  I like to think of it as the Spirit of God that is speaking to them, trying to show them how their faith has been immature and having the primary function of maintaining their disconnection from the world.  Yes, in a sense, God has “raised Trump up” but not for the purpose they have in mind but to let them stare at what lurks in their collective heart, which now they can’t deny…but do!  Christian faith, or faith in any spiritual tradition, is designed to facilitate participation in this world, meaningful participation, and this is not possible when one’s identity is a smug certainty of separateness from this world.  And the Christian faith, and any faith, is easily co-opted into a smug zone of certainty from which great harm will be done, regardless of how noble their announced intention or how noble the spiritual teacher they purport to worship might be.

This intervention of “reality,” i.e. “The Spirit of God,” extends to the whole of our culture.  Trump, and Trumpism, gives us an opportunity to recognize the avarice and smugness that capitalism has gifted us with.  And, staring our ugliness in the face is good for the soul, though not pleasant.  I think the Universe, i.e. “God,” is just telling us, “Welcome to the world.”  And if we can embrace the ugliness of our heart that is now being presented to us, the profound Beauty that is with us and in us can shine forth more radiantly.  As Rilke noted, “The heart has its beastly little treasures.”

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Two other blogs of mine are listed here which I invited you to check out:

https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/

https://literarylew.wordpress.com/

https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/

Truth as a Dynamic Dimension of Life

Blogging has introduced me to many new friends with interesting and provocative points of view.  This has corresponded with many real-time friends that I have also discovered since my move to Taos, New Mexico three years ago. Adventures into the unknown, via internet or geographical change, always poses the risk that some of our viewpoints will be challenged and we will then have the chance to enlarge our worldview.

I want to share here a blog that I recently came across whose view of life as a dynamic process is something I am learning to understand and experience now that I’m in retirement.  The blog is “godcomesby.wordpress.com” and the author is a Montana counselor-educator, Rita Sommers-Flanagan.  I’m going to share a brief summary of what she is attempting with blogging as it reveals very eloquently her grasp of the subtlety of this mystery we call life:

There are two things you should know. First, these writings are true. They’re so true, they make me sick on a regular basis. In fact, I’m a little nauseated right now. That’s how this kind of truth works. I’m not talking about the fragile, expedient reality we cling to as temporary beings. I’m talking about truths that make your mind fall open and your heart break. Truths that untether you from the nice even surfaces you’ve grown accustomed to and threaten your existence as you’ve known it. These truths come from dreams you don’t remember.

 Second, we are not alone, ever. I can’t explain this, but at the subatomic level, you aren’t alone, you aren’t even you, and we’ve known each other for a long, long time. This explains why you might feel dizzy, exhilarated, sad, frightened, and a little crazy if you let the truth of seep in. I understand. What I recommend is small doses, shy glances, formal handshakes, and laughter. Maybe work up to a daydream with the door open. You can’t imagine how dangerous and necessary this is. Courage, dear ones. Everything that is true is contradictory, indefensible, and utterly holy.

I’ve known for decades that truth wasn’t the static system of dogma that my culture gave me in my youth.  And since that realization began to dawn on me in the early 1980’s, it has steadily eaten away at my soul and facilitated an awakening that can best be described as rebirth…or, I might even use the term, “being born again.”  I appreciate this blogger’s grasp of the complexity of Truth, a complexity stemming only from the insistence of our ego to make the simplicity of life into something it can control.  In her words, “I’m not talking about the fragile, expedient reality we cling to as temporary beings. I’m talking about truths that make your mind fall open and your heart break. Truths that untether you from the nice even surfaces you’ve grown accustomed to and threaten your existence as you’ve known it.”

I was taught that Jesus was, “The way, the truth, and the life.”  I still believe that, very firmly, but now my understanding is totally different as I see beyond the “letter of the law” and interpret Him and his teachings in personal terms.  I no longer look on the surface of things, because my life is no longer a surface phenomenon, my experience is no longer only a cognitive grasp of my life.  Spiritual wisdom must be approached with an open mind…and an open heart…or we will not be open to the layers of meaning that lie there.  And our willingness to venture into that region will require an understanding, and experience, of the “layers of meaning” to our very identity.  We will have to come to appreciate the value of the bumper sticker wisdom, “Don’t believe everything you think.” Believing “everything you think” will not allow the “discerning Spirit” that the Apostle Paul spoke of to ferret out the egotism present in pet theories about life, about God, and about ourselves.

Note also that Truth, when approached as a dynamic quality like she suggested, will not emphasize the differences in life…though they will be present…but will emphasize the commonality of all things and all people.  Though separate and distinct, we have simultaneously a unity with all things though this will make no “sense” to the rational mind.  The rational mind, unable and unwilling to see beyond itself, will prefer to comfort zone of linear thinking which will offer the sweet nectar of certainty. But the spiritual dimension of life, that which underlies and under girds the whole of life, is nothing that “sense” can wrap its head around, try as we may.

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Two other blogs of mine are listed here which I invited you to check out:

https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/

https://literarylew.wordpress.com/

https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/