Category Archives: evangelical Christianity

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/

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/

Unadulterated Axe Grinding!!!

I grind an axe too much in this venue and in my other blogs.  I have attempted to moderate that ego impulse and feel that often I make improvement.  But, this time, I will offer unadulterated axe-grinding.

I am infuriated with the Evangelical Christian support of Donald Trump which has led to this House of Representatives vote to repeal Obamacare.  Oh, I knew it was likely to happen and on some level I kind of hoped they’d just go ahead and get it done so their path to self-destruction could take the next step.  But I’m still enraged.  But, being cursed with the self-reflection that is missing in most of evangelical Christianity, and in most religions, I can’t help but ask the question, “Now what is this angry response about?”

And I know.  I am so infuriated that I’ve spent most of my 65 years…and I’m only allotted “three score and ten”…ensconced in the bullshit that is now being demonstrated by these adherents to the “letter of the law.”  And, guess who I have to blame?  Oh, I could blame “them” but I’m honest enough to own the blame and recognize and own my own lack of courage which meant that I sheepishly followed the dictates of the “letter of the law” that I was given in my youth.  I didn’t have to.  The Spirit of God was always there, offering the opportunity to escape into the Spirit of the law, but I found it too frightening as such a venture would have challenged the very fabric of my being.  And, having done so, I daily live in this “challenge” and in a weak moment I pine for those days when the demon of “certainty” was mine.  It is gut-wrenchingly painful to let one’s persona, especially the Christian dimension thereof, be challenged but it is only when we accept this intrusion of the Spirit of God that we recognize what Jesus had in mind when he told us that unless a grain of corn fall into the ground, and disintegrate into rotten-ness, the inner essence of the grain could not be resurrected into life.  To make it even worse, this “resurrected life” is not one of spiritual greatness and valor….that an ego quest of mine in past years…but an acknowledgement and experience of my human-ness, my “being.”  And, as Otto Brown told us decades ago, “To be, is to be vulnerable.”

So, what’s the point?  Hmm.  Not for sure.  But here I affirm again what Shakespeare realized, “There is a Divinity that doeth shape our ends, rough hew them how we may.”  We are living through madness, but then that is the story of human civilization.  And the Christian tradition is wallowing in madness…because we are mere humans after all…and there are persons in this tradition who recognize this and are acting as “the voice crying in the wilderness.”  Truth will “out” in the end but “Truth” is so painful to false truth that each of us is born into, including…maybe especially so…those of us that are born into a spiritual tradition that takes itself too seriously.

There is an ugliness that is besetting the whole world.  Just look at France, Turkey, and India.  The same dark spirit is overwhelming this “Christian” nation and doing so with the help of Christians who are the unwitting agents of the attack.  I take comfort in the realization that my role, so meager in the estimation of the ego demands of my childhood, is to remember the wisdom of the Apostle Paul and focus on working “out my own salvation, with fear and trembling.”

Evangelical Insularity and Duplicity

A writer for Christianity Today, Katelyn Beaty, has written an op-ed for the New York Times that addresses the insularity in evangelical Christianity that has been a focus of mine.  They have put their energy into the culture wars and in so doing missed the essential thrust of the Gospels, opting for the sweet nectar of vicarious power and legitimation rather than grasping the basic teaching of Jesus that power lay in powerlessness and legitimation is a gift from Him, based not in the least on anything we do or know.  Their fierce support of Trump, and now Bill O’Reilly, in the face of overwhelming evidence of their moral turpitude reveals their willingness to overlook anything to know that they, and their way of viewing the world, is “right.”

Beaty quotes a grandson of Billy Graham, Boz Tchividjian, who recognizes this insularity of his evangelical compatriots, noting they are willing to overlook even sexual abuse at times, that they respond to abuse with their primary concern being “institutional self-protection” which is explained as necessary to protect “the name of Christ.”  Mr. Tchividjian has at least some grasp of something most evangelicals are not willing to consider, that Jesus Christ is often largely a foil for the purpose of accomplishing their very self-serving ends.  This is because they can’t acknowledge the “performance art” dimension of their faith because it would be too painful to suffer the disillusionment, though if they did so they could learn that any good they accomplish in their life, including in the name of Jesus, will be done in spite of them and not because of them.  But when the ego predominates in faith, their ministry or Christian practice will be superficial, another demonstration of the wisdom of Shakespeare, “With devotions visage and pious action they sugar o’er the devil himself.”

With Trump in particular, these evangelicals have prostituted themselves to a man who continues daily to demonstrate in word and deed everything that Jesus opposed.  And they have very lame explanations like, “Well, he is just a baby Christian” or “Who am I to judge” or “Who am I to cast stones?”  In Trump they have unwittingly found a voice for the unconscious dimensions of their heart, that region where the Grace of God, that is definitely present in their life, would like to work if they would only acknowledge the need of it.  But acknowledgement of the need of it would be an affront to their Christian persona and would require admitting they made a mistake.  But like their president, they can’t admit making a gut-level, existential mistake…though admitted he can’t admit making any mistake!  Oh, they can confess to being a sinner all day long.  That is easy.  That is what they’ve been taught to do.  But cognitive understanding of sin, and confessing of “knowledge” of sins, does not address the deep-seated avarice, greed, and egotism that lurks in all hearts, regardless of how pious we might think that we are.  To see, understand, and experience this is to begin to process of becoming human and that is what God wants of us.  That is the “incarnation” that Jesus illustrated for us.

(Link to NYT op-ed cited abo e—https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/02/opinion/bill-oreilly-shielded-by-christians.html?ref=opinion&_r=0)

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There are two other blogs listed below which you might wish to check out.

https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/

https://literarylew.wordpress.com/

https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/

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The Spiritual Darkness in Our Politics

The Republican Party is pretty sure it now has a plan to replace Obamacare that will please the contentious part of their party and might get approval of the House of Representatives.  They are determined to fulfill their vow to “repeal and replace” Obamacare regardless of the cost.  I almost wish they could succeed just so they could “get a life” and focus on the mundane concern of addressing the needs of our country!  If their concern was other than some emotional petty vindictiveness toward President Obama…they still can’t get past the color of his skin…they could have taken the approach, “Hey, there are problems with Obamacare.  Let’s address these problems, resolve them, and get on with our life.”  But, that would never suffice for them as they have to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, regardless of the cost of the effort and the impact on the American public.  This is what happens when ideologues dominate in a legislative body, they obsess with “ideas” rather than any actual “intent” that the ideas reflect.  This is, of course, a normal stage in the development of a child, to take the “word” for the “thing,” but most of us mature and begin to see that there are others present in our world.  AND, when adults are thinking and behaving like this, there is a “spiritual” issue on the table, meaning there are conflicts raging beneath the surface that are not being addressed. And, addressing these conflicts by bringing them to the light of the day is painful, so painful that most individuals as well as groups opt to not do so.  It is much easier to just continue to seethe in the depths of their heart and take their rage out on someone or some other group.  And, if you are driven by racism and other primitive demons, the task is made easier as you can take it out on a black former President.  They are overlooking that President Obama has a life, and though he will be disappointed with what they are doing, he is not going to take it personally which is what they want.  They hate that man, not realizing that hatred is devastating to those who harbor it as well as to anyone around them.  But, lacking any self-awareness, they are missing this truth.

Where is Today’s Church?

The Los Angeles Times yesterday published a scathing editorial of Donald Trump, pinpointing his gross character flaws which are glaringly influencing his ability to lead this country.  But, just where in hell is the church today when “speaking truth to power” needs to apparent from all corners of the political spectrum?  I realize that some churches are “speaking truth to power” on this matter but nevertheless the church today does not represent any spiritual presence in our culture that would assume any responsibility on matters like this.  I fear they are too busy self-pleasuring themselves with the gospel variety of the “well-worn and ready phrases that build comfortable walls against the wilderness” that is called “reality.”  Religion is severely flawed in that it is practiced by humans and therefore becomes a servant to the human need to protect our religious/ecclesiastical status quo rather than brazenly announcing, so to speak, “Our emperor has no clothes on!”  This is even more of a challenge to evangelicals who so brazenly backed, and continued to back this immoral and unethical man as if they should fail to do so now they would have to admit making a mistake.  And they share that character flaw of their President, the inability to acknowledge the human tendency to make mistakes in every dimension of our life.  I do think that the teachings of Jesus assured us that it was alright to be “merely” human, which includes really screwing up often, a malady for which he has offered to forgive us.  But the disillusionment of acknowledgement that we have screwed up, even in reference to our spirituality, is really painful.  ‘Tis much easier to just shout our “holy” bromides a little louder and condemn those that disagree with us.

Here is a link to the LA Times editorial, the first of three they will offer this week: (http://www.latimes.com/projects/la-ed-our-dishonest-president/)

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ADDENDUM—This is one of three blogs that I now have up and running.  Please check the other two out sometime.  The three are:

https://wordpress.com/stats/day/literarylew.wordpress.com

https://wordpress.com/posts/anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com

https://wordpress.com/posts/theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com

In my youth a Sunday afternoon religious radio broadcast I listened to would start with a musical refrain of “Back to the Bible,” and proceed to reason why that our country needed to return to the Bible as a way of following the call of Jeremiah to “turn from our wicked way” and bring “healing to our land.” Even today, though no longer steeped in a fundamentalist faith, I still see the value of a call for returning to spiritual values as a way of “amending our ways” and thus healing our land.  And, I greatly value the Bible today though I am no longer slavishly dependent on a culturally instilled way of interpreting it.

In my country, the United States of America, I think we are witnessing a classic example of a divided soul, a divided psyche, in which a healing is needed.  When this happens with an individual, descent into mental illness is a serious risk and I think anyone looking at our wonderful country from outside of our blissful myopia would say, “Hey, those guys are going nuts!”  And, I could offer a poignant example of why they could make this point but I don’t want to wallow in Trumpism at this moment.

The word religion stems from “re” and “ligio,” the “ligio” having the same root as ligament, that part of our body that ties our muscles together.  Religion refers to our deep-seated need to wrestle with the meaninglessness and absurdity of life and find a coherent world view that allows us to remain connected to the human endeavor.  But the key to this effort is to finding a “meaningful” world view  that facilitates relationship, i.e. “connection,” and does not promote that contrary impulse of the ego to foster separateness and disconnection, creating insularity.  And the clarion call of “Back to the Bible” I found so appealing in my youth revealed a noble human and Divine impulse but at that time in my development it meant only a desire to “make the world just like me and use the name/image of Jesus Christ to accomplish this.”  For at that point, I wasn’t mature enough to see beyond myself; and to make it worse I lived in a culture in which cultural myopia was a staple of one’s spiritual diet.

Even with these roots in fundamentalist Christianity, which is evangelicalism on steroids, I still have great appreciation in biblical faith though I find this faith much more meaningful with the broader perspective that life has afforded me.  But I am deeply grieved currently to see how a “simple” human being like Steve Bannon could seduce evangelicals into voting for a man of similar darkness to his own.  And now I know that some of them are beginning to sense they were duped and have deep regrets, sentiments which are very challenging to the notion that “the Lord was leading them” to vote for Trump, even with his egregious moral, ethical, and spiritual flaws.  This brings to them the same challenge that Trump himself has, “Can I admit making a big mistake?” or, in Trump’s case, “Can I admit to making any mistake?”

The mistaken premise that evangelicals live under is that if God is leading you then you could never err as God never gives bad advice. But the mistaken part of that premise was the unquestioned assumption that ego was not involved in interpretations of God’s will and that self-serving interpretations could easily be tempting because of what the Apostle Paul called, “the flesh.”   But in evangelical culture, the bromide, “God said it, I believe it, and that settles it” makes any interpretation of motive verboten.  It is this assumption of objectivity in which faith gets “de-humanized” that Shakespeare recognized when he said, “To err is human, to forgive is Divine.”  If we are unwilling to become human and recognize, and experience, the phenomena of “err-ing,” then the Divine Grace of God is denied any chance of being experienced.  We can “know” and “understand” it very well; but “knowledge” is such a ready and convenient way of avoiding experience.

This is related to the “de-humanization” effect of all extremist ideologies, faiths, and political viewpoints as disembodied ideas afford one the opportunity to invest in the idea rather than the experience that the idea points to. These viewpoints are not seen as “view” points which is the only thing possible for a mere “human.” But for those who have usurped deity, and taken as absolute facts what is merely a perspective, suddenly realizing they are wrong (or at least not as objective as they had thought) is frightening and even crushing.  This “god-complex” fails to appreciate what the meaning of the Christian story of God’s forgiveness in the Person of Jesus Christ was.  This beautiful image was an attempt to convey to mankind that we are accepted “as is” with no caveat.  And the crucifixion dimension of the story was God’s way of saying, “Hey, it will be painful.  Disillusionment is gut-wrenching.  I’m going to give you a graphic picture in terms that you can understand of just how painful it is.”  But most people opt to interpret the gospel, or the teachings of any spiritual tradition, on a superficial, literal level and not allow its meaning to seep down into the heart where Grace can become something other than a noble idea.  For this to happen, those raised the in Christian culture often need to realize they were “guilted” into their religion as is usually the case with religion.  But if the religion can escape the self-serving temptation of literalism and cultural enslavement, it can facilitate a dynamic relationship with its teachings, allowing greater meaning upon reaching maturity.  The teachings which children were guilted into accepting for the simple solace of belonging to the herd can then open-up into a rich spiritual heritage, empowering them to live a more authentic life and escape the drudgery and despair of being a simple doctrinal marionette.  However, it is much simpler to keep things on the surface, clinging desperately to a literal view and experience of life, knowing in some subtle manner the wisdom of Shakespeare, that it is less painful to “cling to these ills that we have than fly to others that we know not of.”  For letting go of the bondage of guilt leaves us with the “giddiness of freedom” (i.e., anxiety) and the burden of responsibility.