Category Archives: Jesus Christ

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/

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/

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/

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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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

God and the Imagination

When I was very young my family lived in the sticks of Arkansas and had no running water.  During the summer we would take a bath in a galvanized-tin “bathtub” on the front porch since we had no neighbors nearby.  One day when a long dry spell in the weather was breaking and it was beginning to sprinkle, a sister of mine who had a more active imagination than I did innocently noted,“God is pouring his bath water out.”  Neither of us took this literally but the image has always stuck in my mind.  And I’ve always regretted not having become pompous at that time for I would have reminded her that God does not get dirty and does not need to take a bath.  Furthermore, I would have dismissed the notion that Jesus walked around heaven with a baby sheep under one arm and a lightning bolt under the other.

Human imagination is a very important dimension of our heart and is critical in our religious experience.  Without it we are left with sterile cognitive images of our Source and it reveals just how sterile and barren our heart is for the “heart” is more than a bunch of ideas floating around in our head. And I find it very interesting currently how that many Christians who deny the “imaginary” nature of their Friend have now voted with great passion for someone who has, and is expressing the part of their imagination than they have never acknowledged.  For, imagination does include unsavory “stuff” and it is our fear of this forbidden material that deters us from utilizing the “mind’s eye.”  In Donald Trump all Americans need to consider, “Out of the abundance of our heart our mouth now speaketh,” to paraphrase Jesus.

Poet John Masefield wrote a sonnet that reveals so much about the role imagination has in our ideological formulations of God:

How many ways, how many different times
The tiger mind has clutched at what it sought,
Only to prove supposed virtues crimes,
The imagined godhead but a form of thought.
How many restless brains have wrought and schemed,
Padding their cage, or built, or brought to law,
Made in outlasting brass the something dreamed,
Only to prove itself the things held in awe.