Category Archives: evangelical Christianity

Power vs. Powerlessness in Christianity

One of my favorite hymns from my Baptist youth included the refrain about Jesus, “He could have called ten thousand angels/To destroy the world and set him free/He could have called then thousand angels/But He died alone for you and me.”

This moving hymn still has value for me today, conveying the essential message of Jesus as lying in his demonstration of the power in powerlessness.   In modern day terms, given his dilemma as his crucifixion approached and given the abysmal circumstance he saw in the world, he could have decided to just “kick ass” and call down a horde of angels…so to speak…and righted the wrongs that he so astutely observed.  But he offered us the poignant and vivid lesson that the only meaningful way to address the wrongs in the world is not to wield power in response to power but to find that our power lies in powerlessness.  This has been demonstrated so graphically in our lifetime with the passive resistance of Martin Luther King in the United States and Nelson Mandela in South Africa.

The powerless I am speaking of here does not mean wimpishness.  The powerless refers to a hidden power that lies in attitude more than military and/or political might, seeing the wisdom of “beating our swords into ploughshares” and attacking the subtle systemic power grid that has created and maintains the oppression in the status quo. One easily overlooked expression at these two approaches toward power was seen in the recent confirmation hearing of Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court nomination.  Christine Blasey-Ford, who accused Kavanaugh of sexual abuse when they were teenagers, offered in her testimony a carefully worded and measured response to the questions she faced, demonstrating an effort at being as careful and honest as she could be.  Following her, after a “half-time” in which certainly the “head coach” had intervened, Kavanaugh responded with fire and fury which included many instances of out right refusal to answer questions or deflecting from answering them.

Many Christians have adopted the Kavanaugh and Trumpian style of power, feeling that “might makes right” and demonstrating their feeling that their “spirituality” is weak and ineffective, requiring the reinforcement of political and legislative power. They fail to recognize the wisdom in the bromide, “You can legislate morality.”  Ancient Chinese wisdom told us that legislation becomes necessary when the internal moral code has broken down.  The more this internal code has been broken down, the greater the need for legislation and the greater will be the ferocity with which it is sought.  This is beautifully illustrated in the 38th chapter of the Tao te Ching by Lao Tzu, Stephen Mitchell translation:

The Master doesn’t try to be powerful;
thus he is truly powerful.
The ordinary man keeps reaching for power;
thus he never has enough.

The Master does nothing,
yet he leaves nothing undone.
The ordinary man is always doing things,
yet many more are left to be done.

The kind man does something,
yet something remains undone.
The just man does something,
and leaves many things to be done.
The moral man does something,
and when no one responds
he rolls up his sleeves and uses force.

When the Tao is lost, there is goodness.
When goodness is lost, there is morality.
When morality is lost, there is ritual.
Ritual is the husk of true faith,
the beginning of chaos.

Therefore the Master concerns himself
with the depths and not the surface,
with the fruit and not the flower.
He has no will of his own.
He dwells in reality,
and lets all illusions go.

 

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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/

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Jeff Sessions and His “Religious Liberty Task Force.”

Attorney Jeff Sessions has proposed a, “religious liberty task force.” This makes me think of the war on Christmas, the annual non-sense that some Christians trot out to enhance their sense of piety and alienation. Many evangelical Christians fail to have the self-reflection necessary to realize that they are the source of the, “war on Christmas,” that they are the ones who need to be the focus of any, “religious liberty task force.”  But they are so obsessed with their piety that self-reflectiveness would be a catastrophe, as it would create a, “splinter in the brain” that Emily Dickinson referred to.

I write here in a confessional mode, from personal experience.  I was mired in this “mindless” piety and not willing to initiate the process of, “working out my own salvation with fear and trembling” that the Apostle Paul recommended.  This “fear and trembling” is very much akin to the aforementioned, “splinter in the brain” which is necessary for life to break through the encrusted hypocrisy of an unexamined life.  Fortunately, the good Lord was merciful to me and has meted out this “splintering” over the course of four decades as He knew I could not handle it otherwise.  He knew, graciously, that my hypocrisy was a necessary evil with which I could cover my fragile ego (i.e. “ass”) long enough to muster up enough ego integrity to handle the sting of all those splinters.,

It is painful to wallow in disillusionment.  Someone said that, “Reality is a veil that we spin to hide the void,” and when that veil begins to be pierced by the “thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir too,” disillusionment is inevitable.  Then we lament with T.S. Eliot, “Oh the shame of motives late revealed, and the awareness of things ill done, and done to others harm which once we took for exercise of virtue.”  This always brings to my mind King Lear on the heath of his former kingdom, “pelted by this pitiless storm,” bereft of his family and political power, finding himself naked, noting re roving animals nearby:

Poor naked wretches, whereso’er you are,
That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,
How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,
Your loop’d and window’d raggedness, defend you
From seasons such as these? O, I have ta’en
Too little care of this! Take physic, pomp;
Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel,
That thou mayst shake the superflux to them,
And show the heavens more just.

Lear was naked, buck naked, stripped of the superficies of his existence and understanding that in essence he had never been anything more than these, “poor, bare forked creatures.”  Religion is a fine cover-up for this nakedness but according to spiritual teachers, such as Jesus, it is only in this nakedness that we can find redemption.

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.”

Ego’s Pernicious Role in Spirituality

Trump has put one of his disciples in the limelight again, asking Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas to speak at the opening of the new embassy in Jerusalem.  But Jeffress is catching some flack for having assured everyone that Muslims and Jews are definitely going to hell.  I certainly believe all religious traditions are flawed, especially those who feel they aren’t and assume they can make pronouncements from on high about other religious traditions.  But I think it would behoove Mr. Jeffress and his ilk…and this “ilk” is present in all religious traditions…to pay an equal amount of attention to the “beam” that is in their own eye as opposed to the “mote” in the other person’s.

But this is a gut-level issue with spirituality.  Those of us with that neurological “god-spot” in a constant state of, “over-heated” tend to take ourselves too seriously and become intoxicated with the sweet nectar of certainty.  And, speaking from experience, it is so utterly delightful to be able to stand in the pulpit and make pronouncements from “on high” knowing that God is speaking through you.  How do you know that?  Well.  Well…well, you just know!  But what you do not know is that this certainty that empowers you at that moment is merely a false bravado based on profound insecurity, reflecting a kind of “whistling in the dark,” ersatz spirituality that will have to be addressed by decades of ministration by, “the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.”

Ego is an inherent dimension of all human enterprises, including that deemed so noble as to merit the label, “Divine.”  But when ego has succeeded in accomplishing its goal in the spiritual realm, it will produce someone like Mr. Jeffress who will be brazenly arrogant and obtuse without even the slightest awareness of it.  No wonder he is a disciple of Trump with the role in the administration of helping to “christianize” the president, making him more viable with the base of the Republican Party.

“Specious Faith Has Its Good Side!!!

The speciousness of the Christian faith is being exposed in my country, particularly that of the Evangelicals; but, the hypocrisy is relevant to all Christians and all believers of any stripe.  The “luminaries” of the Evangelical Christians are conspicuously displaying this speciousness as they “dig in at the heels” in their support of Trump, not able to simply acknowledge, “Oops, I made a mistake!”  This is because the specious veneer of their faith does not permit erring, their faith’s ego dimension…present in all expressions of faith…not being permitted into their consciousness.

But “speciousness” in faith provides an heart-level “faith opportunity.”  Realizing that hypocrisy has been present in religiosity to some degree, at least, allows us one to simply acknowledge what the Apostle Paul called, “the flesh,” and swallow pride while recognizing, “Oops, I only ‘see through a glass darkly’ and was not aware of the extent of this ‘darkliness.’”  This is what Jesus recognized in the religious establishment of the day and really pissed them off when he called them, “hypocrites,” a word meaning that they were mere actors, merely practicing spiritual, “performance art.”

Humankind are merely mortals.  And being simply mortal, we can’t help but take ourselves too seriously, assuming that we are more noble than we actually are.  But occasionally the Cosmos, i.e. “God,” intervenes and “Trumps” us to show us just how shallow and insincere we are.  The resulting disillusionment is so painful that usually our ego will merely resort to “industrial strength” armament and we will “hunker down” and cling to our charade.

The hypocrisy I’ve addressed here with reference to the Christian tradition applies to all “belief systems,” especially those who are so sure they are not ensconced in any, “belief system.”  Atheism, for example, is but one of the many havens for that some escape to just to avoid the flimsy grasp we have on this precious gift called, life.  The alternative would be the intrinsically human experience of vulnerability.

Franklin Graham: “We Have a Sin Problem.”

But Mr. Graham just betrayed the legacy of his more humble father, Rev. Billy Graham, by revealing how he thinks this does not apply to him.  Being interviewed this morning, re our political impasse, he intoned, “Our country has a sin problem” and then elucidated for a moment, pointing his finger at the Democrats.  But then the interviewer posed the question, “Does Donald Trump have a sin problem?”  He then stumbled, and then equivocated with the commonplace from Evangelical Christian, “Well, he is not perfect but he is….” and in so many words…i.e. my words, metaphorically speaking…”make America great again.”   He knows that words like “sinner” would offend his new spiritual leader, Trump. Furthermore, it appears obvious to me that Mr. Graham, and many evangelicals, do not feel the “sin problem” applies to them.  They piously announce, “Jesus has forgiven me of my sins and His Spirit now leads me.”   I would never quarrel with the notion that Jesus has forgiven them, not even that the Spirit of God is with them.  But what they don’t realize is that this “forgiveness” does not take away what the Apostle Paul called, “the flesh,” and this ego component of the heart is really quick to take our spiritual aspirations and twist them to fit our own unacknowledged, self-serving ends and prevent us from ever admitting this.  This phenomenon of the heart is why Trump, and hordes of the GOP…and 80% of the evangelical base that supports Trump…cannot admit any wrong.  The, “Spirit of God,” is with us all and always wants to lead us but our unwillingness to acknowledge a core fault prevents that Holy leadership from having more influence.  Speaking from experience, it is delightful and even intoxicating to, “Know that I’m right,” but now I am understanding and experiencing just how self-deluding this can be.  We are never “right” but there is a “Rightness” that graces the whole of life and seeks to find expression when we can humble accept the label, “sinner,” and realize that it means we are separated from our Source and always reduced to, “seeing through a glass darkly.”  It never, though, means we are a “worthless piece of shit,” nor are the Haitians and Africans.

Why is Stormy Daniels Not More of a Big Story????

The answer is that Trump has introduced a pivotal change in our definition of reality.  He demonstrated even before announcing his campaign last year, that he was the antithesis of our core values, i.e. “Christian values,”…and yet a significant portion of the Christian population lined up behind him and are even now “dug in at the heels” in support of him.  He has made the unacceptable totally acceptable, i.e. use of words like, “cunt,” “pussy,” and now “shit-hole,” and yet those which are the most die-hard “Christians,” (extremist fundamentalists) still fiercely pledge their loyalty to him. Stormy Daniels is much less a breach of Christian virtue than was revealed in Trump’s numerous video recordings of amorous intentions toward his daughter; yet, fundamentalist Christians hardly batted an eye at the allegation, declaring that, “the Lord has raised him up,” and proffered lame excuse like, “Well, the Lord often uses broken vessels,” or, “Who am I to judge?”

It is apparent to most of us that the moral fabric of our country is in jeopardy but many of those of the “spiritual cut” are so ensconced in their self-serving ideology…though it may be “christian,”…that they cannot acknowledge what is going on.  That is because their faith is so specious, a point I make with the recognition that their “salvation” is not dependent on their faith but the object of their faith.  Their only “sin” is failing to recognize that their very grasp of the world is “specious,”…as is mine and yours…and that in the person of Jesus Christ they have been forgiven of that and all of their sins.  But, the hardest part of the deal is that of the Pharisees, recognizing that, “Uh oh.  I got it wrong.”  According to how I read the New Testament, we are not “saved” by virtue of “having it right,” but having acknowledged that we intrinsically, “have it wrong.”  This is merely the result of, “seeing through a glass darkly.”

(See story re Stormy Daniels—http://www.cnn.com/2018/01/19/politics/stormy-daniels-analysis/index.html)