Category Archives: God’s love

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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Faith in the Guts!!!

After a long hiatus, I’m cranking-up this blog once again, inspired by several “hits” by an old blogging friend and inspiration, “Nickle-boy Graphics.”  I’m still perplexed by why I’m “wasting” my time with this blog but realize that otherwise I’d be “wasting” it in some other fashion; for, to the ego’s mind it is always a “waste” in some fashion as we do not “know” what we are doing and why we are doing it.  Oh, we think we do and contrive fancy explanations of why it is so important, but, if we pause for a moment and look into our hearts find that ultimately it is a mystery.  And this “Mystery” has driven me the whole of my life and I’m increasingly comfortable in applying the term “God” to it and just to proceed with an exploration of what this “experience” has been and is in my life.  The quotation marks are necessary…here at least…as words are always ephemeral and do not mean what they initially bring to mind.  Their value, their “meaning” lies beneath the surface and is resurrected only by exploration into the depths of the heart, into that “foul rag-and-bone shot of the heart,” where most of us never venture.  This verbal superficiality is necessary in a lot of life, most of which is merely “performance art,” but when it comes to spirituality living only on the surface of words and ritual will leave us ensconced in the “letter-of-the-law” and often quite comfortable in dwelling there.

There is a sense in which life is a roll of the dice, a crap shoot, or as T.S. Eliot put it, an offering, “of our deeds to oblivion.”  We never know with complete assurance what we are doing and the quest for “certainty,” always carries the poison that can lead to the spiritual vulgarity of Isis.  It brings to my mind the moderation of uncertainty illustrated by the plea of one believer in Jesus in the Gospel of Mark, “Lord I believe, help thou my unbelief.”

So, “What’s it all about?” as the famous Dionne Warwick song asked to, “Alfie?”  We’re here.  What we do, how we use our time matters.  The significance of our deeds is beyond the grasp of our conscious mind and most of us can rest assured that at best we will end up only as the “significant soil” that Eliot spoke of in one of his poems, that “soil” which contributed to the well-being of someone who did become “significant.”  Even if we don’t become significant, we can rest assured that we will have significance nevertheless as we can live our life with purpose, with respect to mother earth, family and friends, with the utmost conviction that there is “method” to what often looks like “madness” in our life and in the whole of life.  Yes, Shakespeare described life as, “A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing” but the body of his work suggests that he was not as cynical as that suggests.  Yes, the ugliness, the “idiocy” is abysmal at times, but in those moments we have to humble ourselves and hope and pray that yes, “There is a Divinity that doeth shape our ends, rough hew them how we may.”  We never know what value our “insignificant” little gestures might have in the life of other people and in the human endeavor.  You think the inventor of the zipper or of the bread-tie knew the importance of what they had done?

I am speaking of faith here, but not a simple ideological faith which is antithetical to a heart-level faith which can help bring meaning into our world.  Simple, mindless regurgitation of dogma, regardless of how noble it may be, is only a defense mechanism and a way of avoiding the truth that lies beneath the surface of the “letter-of-the-law.”

Donald Trump and God’s Love

Donald Trump almost daily displays to the world a deep-seated need to be loved.  The media brings this to our attention often, and late-night comedians often make light of his childish efforts to win this love.  If he was merely a child on the actual playground, or some bloke in the neighborhood, most of us would recognize this neediness and try to offer validation when we could.  Teachers, monitoring the playground would soon refer him to counseling knowing that this deep-seated need for love needed attention “now” rather than in adulthood. But, of course Trump is cavorting about on the adult playground that we all cavort about on and his childish need for love cannot get the respect that it would deserve if we were still on a literal playground.  Mature “limits” need to be set by his “family” (the Republican Party) but they appear to have the same deep-seated existential insecurity and cannot say “no” to their errant child.

Love is a subtle thing.  In my clinical work, it was often a core issue though always presented as some behavioral problem the unconscious intent of which was to get the validation (i.e. “love”) that was missing in early childhood.  In my 20 years of practice, it became apparent that the more a child had to demand love from others, the more it belied the lack of it in the depths of his/her heart.  I learned to note to myself, “This student did not learn to perceive himself/herself as lovable in early childhood, learning that performance of some sort was needed instead.”  And, the more we have to “perform” for love the more we convey to the world our intrinsic self-perception of being unlovable.  For some, this “performance” will mean seeking attention or power often in the form of bullying others.  Others will seek it in compliance with the expectations of others.  But with either approach, or any approach between those two extremes, the individual will be announcing to the world, “I am not loved.  I am unlovable.”

The Christian tradition often poses a problem relevant to this issue.  In its over emphasis of the transcendence of God and the attending need to “submit” to this all-powerful external source of approbation, the immanent dimension of God is dismissed completely.  The task for this and all spiritual traditions is to address this contradiction and at some point hopefully arrive at the conclusion, “Oh, I’m okay as is!   Oh, that what is meant by God’s forgiveness!  That is what Grace means!”  But this requires interior work and cannot be found in a passive stance toward the spiritual endeavor.  The significance of “working out our own salvation with fear and trembling” is usually overlooked and we cognitively assent to a distant, disembodied God forgiving us which means that the interior guilt and shame remains and keeps us enslaved to this alienated deity and our alienated self.

Poet William Wordsworth understood this and summarized it so beautifully in this section his “Preludes”:

Dust as we are, the immortal spirit grows
Like harmony in music; there is a dark
Inscrutable workmanship that reconciles
Discordant elements, makes them cling together
In one society. How strange, that all
The terrors, pains, and early miseries,
Regrets, vexations, lassitudes interfused
Within my mind, should e’er have borne a part,
And that a needful part, in making up
The calm existence that is mine when I
Am worthy of myself! Praise to the end!

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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/posts/anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com

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

https://wordpress.com/posts/literarylew