Category Archives: language

The Origin of One Fundamentalist Baptist Preacher

Well, I’m giving up! I was born and raised to be a preacher and I’m finally gonna just do! I’m “coming out of the closet,” borrowing a metaphor that Fr. Richard Rohr uses to describe one who finds the courage to “come out” of hiding and be true to his inner most self.  So I will “preach” here though not in any formal sense as my approach to life and to the Bible is literary, the metaphor now prominent in my approach to life

This “virus” has cursed me from earliest days of my life, and technically even before as my dear mother had promised me to the Lord if He would let her have a son, having “struck out” three times already with my three sisters. And one of my earliest memories was standing on a feather bed in what we called “the splinter room”, wobbling so as to accommodate the give and take of the mattress, holding a Gideon’s New Testament in my right hand, and “preaching to momma” as she was ironing.  I must have just started fumbling with language as the only words from the Bible that stuck in my imagination were seven words from the book of John, “John the Baptist…locust and wild honey.”  Mother was preoccupied with ironing for a family of six…later to be eight…and at first did not give me the attention that I desperately needed.  I can still feel the desperate need for mother to look at me, give me an “atta boy” of sorts as I stood there reciting the same five words repeatedly, bible out-stretched in my right hand like I’d seen the pastor do in church, and hungrily looking for her attention. She finally did, and I’m sure it was much more quickly than I remember; she paused as she finished ironing one of my shirts, looked at me, made eye contact, nodded approvingly, and then resumed her ironing. I must have just beamed in my heart for the experience is still vividly intense in my heart some 64 years later.  And yes, this anecdote reveals volumes about the heart machinations that I’ve wrestled with over my relationship with my mother.

This “virus” finally came to a head when I was sixteen years when I “announced my call to the ministry” and “surrendered to preach the gospel.” I had known this was my destiny, my calling, and at last I gave into the itch and began scratching it.  I took comfort in finally having an identity, knowing that I could dutifully “walk through life in the closed cab of occupation” (W. H. Auden) and no longer wrestle with the existential question, “Just who in the hell am I?” But two years later, though the itch was still there, I began to realize that all of that “scratching” was not assuaging the hunger in my heart, a deep-seated need for an identity grounded in something other than indoctrination. After doing a year’s time in a Baptist Cemetery…oops, I mean “seminary,” an experience that deeply troubled my soul. With great shame and humiliation, I renounced my call to preach, taking decades to understand how “shame and humiliation” is often the driving force of an identity that is only “performance art.”

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The “Father of Lies” is Subtle

The Gospel of John described Satan as, “the Father of Lies” and is incapable of telling the truth and has his origin in existentially primeval times.  Listen to what theologian Paul J. Griffiths wrote about human nature and the mortal tendency of lying:

The avoidance of the lie can only be realized when we are overwhelmed by the gift of God’s grace, because we have to recognize that we are habitual liars and can only cease to be so when we let go of the “ownership” of our speech and surrender to the language of confession, testimony to the beauty of God.

We are all “liars” in a sense as we see the world through a skewed vision which resists any revision.  Consequently, any information or feedback we receive from the world is filtered through our “skewing” apparatus and we interpret things in a way to suit our needs of maintaining existential equilibrium, even if that means holding onto ideas and notions that are inherently self-destructive and destructive of others.  This “skewing” does not mean we are bad people.  It just means we are human and echoes the observation o the Apostle Paul, that we “see through a glass darkly.”  And, to call this “lying” is a bit of an over statement I admit but it is human subterfuge than can lead to lying in most egregious sense.

But there is a tendency in my Christian tradition to accept a juicy morsel from the “Father of Lies” and assume that the Holy Spirit is guiding us so that all of our whims, our interpretations of the scripture….are absolutely true….”because God is leading me.”  This naive mind set overlooks historical events such as the Crusades when “the Lord” was leading Christians to convert others at the point of sword and even the German soldiers in World War 2 carried an inscription on their belt, “God is with us.”  It is naive to believe, “Oh, they were evil and we are not evil.  For God is leading us.”  But God can be “with us”…and I think he always is…and the presence of “the flesh” can still dictate how we utilize our faith and can lead us to believe, espouse, and do horrible things.

It takes a lot of work and spiritual toil over the year to grasp the wisdom of the Apostle Paul,  that, “I will to do good but evil is present with me” and that “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.”  Our faith is always susceptible to being guided by the whims of our ego though we will always be inclined to piously announce, “God is leading me.”  It would never do any harm when we feel “God is leading me” to introduce a dollop of the Shakespearean “pauser reason” and ask ourselves, “Oh.  Is that so?  Could I be merely satisfying some ego craving to be right and pious?”

 

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THE FOLLOWING IS A RELEVANT POST FROM ANOTHER OF MY BLOGS.

Scott M. Peck in 1983 wrote a book entitled, “People of the Lie” a description of evil gleaned from decades of clinical work.  He described how that some people are so captive to their reptilian brain that “lying” in socially acceptable fashion will not suffice for their heart’s machination and they become so consumed with dishonesty that evil consumes them, bringing great harm to others, including those who they purport to love the most.

The socially necessary “dishonesty” required to function in daily life in these instances has metastasized to the point they are no longer capable of being honest with themselves and therefore cannot be honest with those around them.  This phenomenon is illustrated with the witty often used, “How do you know he is lying? Answer, “Anytime he opens his mouth.”  These people are sociopathic and in many instances will commit such grievances to the social body that the only limit available is imprisonment where their characterological malady can be restrained.

But, this metastasized dishonesty can be socially tenable…or at least permissible…in cultic phenomena where a group of people will find a leader who offers an embodiment of their own penchant for dishonesty.  They will then create an organization or group in which their “group lie” cannot be questioned, and anyone who does question them or their leader is immediately dismissed with the cry of, “Fake news!  These people have created for themselves an insular world in which their premises will never be daunted by what others are saying to them or about them.  People in such an insular world are  existentially vulnerable to the point that the “house of cards” which is the core of their identity cannot withstand scrutiny.  When the drive of this insularity gets too intense all of the complexities and ambivalences that are permitted in an “open society” will have been so repressed and denied that a melt down is likely.  (See Rene Girard, “The Sacrificial Crisis.”  This internal “melt down” is often avoided by finding an enemy out there among the “them” and all of the flaws they hide within will be blamed on “them.”  In primitive societies this crescendoing pressure is often abated with a sacrificial victim, usually some wayfaring member of a nearby tribe will be apprehend and executed because of some contrived offense.  (The actual offense in this case is being an “other”, someone different than they are; for “otherness” is terrifying to any insular group.)  This “otherness” must be eliminated, or at least have a wall built to keep it out.

To summarize, the “lie” when it metastasizes to the point of creating a “People of the Lie” or even a “person of the lie” (aka,”pathological liar”) can bring great harm to everyone.  The only hope is that when those who have succumbed to obvious anti-social speech and deeds have firm limits set with them by the world in which they live.

 

Huffpo column, “All Christians are problematic, even you and I”

An Oregon chaplain and pastor, as well as columnist in Huffington Post, Brandi Miller, noted yesterday that, “All Christians are problematic, even you and I.”  In this column she addressed the issue that has been so conspicuous with the evangelical support of Trump—an unwillingness to admit any fault and to fiercely defend the champion of unwillingness-to-admit-fault, Trump himself.

The kernel of this problem is that many Christians, evangelical and otherwise, are mainly ideologues rather than followers of the teachings of Jesus.  Ideologues are in love with their thoughts more than that which these thoughts should refer to.  As epistemology teaches us, the word is not the thing but merely a token which points us toward the thing…in this case the “thing” being the person of Jesus.  This truth is so powerfully present in the Buddhist teaching, “the finger pointing to the moon is not the moon.”  This “finger” is but a pointer, as words should be, a phenomenon which is very important in spiritual teachings, most of which have this understanding buried in their tradition.  But this “burial” is difficult to grasp and thus wrestle with as most spiritually-minded people prefer the superficial, the “letter of the law,” as it offers quick and easy validation of their self-serving preconceptions and biases.  Awareness of this “burial” of Truth is impossible without understanding the wisdom offered by poet Adrienne Rich, “Until we can understand the assumptions in which we are drenched we cannot know ourselves.”

(The Brandi Miller column can be found in following link—https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/opinion-miller-problematic-christianity_us_5b4b7887e4b0bc69a788148e)

Does Sin Have Meaning Any Longer in our Culture?

I have some taint of the Trumpian arrogance in me so that it is hard to say, “I made a mistake.”  Yes, my “memory bank” failed me in yesterday’s post and the “relevant” poetry blurb at the very end was not the one I had in mind, a problem which I have now corrected.  I’m making this “confession” though facetiously just so any of you who are interested can return to yesterday’s post and sample a bit of the wisdom of Stanley Kunitz. However, admitting being mistaken is a very human flaw and I’m in recovery now from having been mired in that morass of self-loathing and infantile arrogance most of my life.  Richard Nixon when he resigned in 1973 did not really admit doing any wrong, declaring famously at one point in the debacle, “I’m not a crook.”  But when the impeachment proceeding reached a certain point of intensity, he did resign and with great humiliation walked to that waiting helicopter with his wife and continued his flight into political ignominy.  He was in great pain, greatly shamed and humiliated by what his words and behavior had led to, but under the pressure of the political structure that he was part of and respected to some degree, he accepted disgrace and meekly resigned, a tacit admission of wrong-doing.  Nixon had some inner sense of self-control that allowed him to not resort to the violent impulse that would explode in many people when they are shamed like he was.

There is something to say for a religious culture in which “confessing sins” is part of life.  Even though this “sin” matter goes deeply beneath the surface…and from time to time circumstances lead us to exploring the matter more intently, discovering that the real sin lies in the “thoughts and intents of the heart—it is helpful to have the surface level of the issue commonplace enough that we can readily admit shortcomings.  But occasionally people appear in our culture who have steeled their heart about even a cursory acknowledgement of sin or fault and they will brazenly refuse to admit wrong on even the most trivial matter.  And if one of these people happen to stumble into a position of power, they can wreak havoc on all who are within their sphere of influence.

 

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/

“Vive Le Difference” is Politically Relevant Today.

The following is a copy from another blog of mine which is very relevant to spirituality.  Religion, like politics, is always beset by the temptation of epistemic closure.  This is the tendency of human nature…always ego-ridden—to create a world and/or to affiliate with a world in which one’s premises are confirmed.

Difference matters to me.  I was raised in a conservative, American South culture with religion being the paramount dimension in my particular subculture.  But this upbringing in a rigid, highly structured atmosphere of “us vs. them” troubled me and in my early adulthood I began to acquire a more inclusive, less linear-thinking oriented approach to life.  Now, in the latter stages of my life, the issue of sameness vs. difference is a paramount concern of mine, especially given the political climate in my country and in the world.

Today I stumbled across a book in my library, “The Order of Things” by Michel Foucault, heavily marked up from my “youthful” enthusiasm of decades past.  In the quote which I will share, Foucault explores the relationship between “sympathy” (i.e. sameness”) vs. “antinomy” (difference) and the dialogic imperative of an interaction between these two complementary dimensions of the human soul.

Sympathy is an instance of the same so strong and so insistent that it will not rest content to be merely one of the forms of likeness; it has the dangerous power of assimilating, of rendering things identical to one another, of mingling them, of causing their individuality to disappear—and thus rendering them foreign to what they were before.  Sympathy transforms.  It alters, but in the direction of identity, so that if its power were not counter-balanced it would reduce the world to a point, to a homogeneous mass, to the featureless form of the same:  all its parts would hold together and communicate with one another without a break, with no distance between them, like those metal chains held suspended by sympathy to the attraction of a single magnet.

But then Foucault presents “antipathy” as the opposite life-force, equally necessary, which seeks to counter the otherwise stultifying power of the demand for sameness.  What he calls “antipathy” is merely a drive for difference, an innate desire to not be swallowed by the whole of sameness, a “whole” which would be merely a “black hole” without consideration of this “antipathy” or difference.  Foucault declares:

Sympathy is compensated by its twin, antipathy.  Antipathy maintains the isolation of things (i.e. the difference, the desire and demand for independence) and prevents their assimilation; it encloses every species within its impenetrable difference and its propensity to continue to being what it is.

This notion of continuing “to being what it is” is an essential dimension of identity, an ability to “hang onto” a core of what/who one is even when beset by the challenges of difference.  With maturity, i.e. “ego integrity,” one can hang onto a core of who one is even as he negotiates with difference, (i.e. “antipathy”) and knowing that he can survive…and even thrive…with the benefit of “difference” (i.e. something new) into its mindset.

And, my hero and soul-mate, W.H. Auden has a relevant note with which I conclude:

I wish you first a sense of theater.

Only those who learn illusion

And love it will go far.

Otherwise we spend our life

In confusion about who and what we really are.

A Fractured Faith Needs a Fractured Ego

An Irish couple responded to this morning’s post who blog under the title, “Fractured Faith.”  I could not pass that title up, though I’m not for sure yet what they have in mind with their title.  “Fractured faith” will be a theme I will explore as this blog continues to develop as I see faith having value only when it is “fractured,” as the crystalline, letter-of-the-law edifice is shredded by God’s employment of daily experiences that teach us to look at Holy Writ and spiritual tradition differently than the way in which we were taught.  This “fracturing” of our faith will parallel a “fracturing” of our self, of our identity, as we discover just how much our persona was itself just an edifice.  That is what Jesus told the religious establishment of his day, but they did not “take kindly” to his observations…to say the least.  For Jesus, like Shakespeare noted of religious people that often, “With devotions visage and pious action they sugar o’er the devil himself.”

Our certainties must be fractured.  At some point we need to, “live in the collapse what was believed in as most certain and therefore the fittest for renunciation.”  (T.S. Eliot) Translated into spiritual terms, this means that we must realize that our ego has inevitably taken our spiritual tradition and twisted it into a self-serving interpretation, not because we are, “bad” but because we are merely human.  We then realize that we, being human simply “have eyes to see, but see not, ears to hear but hear not.”  We can then begin to realize that at best we will see dimly and hear faintly and begin to lighten up on ourselves and even on others!  We can begin to accept some forgiveness for ourselves and even dare to offer it to others.  Well, maybe not “them”!  They surely deserve it!   Just kidding!!!

Spiritual Banter, i.e. “God-talk”

By using words like “faith” I am really misconstruing my intent. Words like faith can easily be part of what I call god-talk which amounts to chatter which I sometimes describe as, “gospel-eze.”  For example, I could go down to a church and banter about “God” and “the Holy Spirit” and “Grace” and “the Second Coming” and “the Lord’s Supper” and do so adroitly and readily find a place in a social context.  And, I find each of these terms of value but if I should do so as described I would be grossly out of line and disrespectful to the people of that church for my needs of a social context have already been met elsewhere.  And “banter” as offered above certainly has its place but the problem lies in it never becoming more than banter with no effort made to explore these and other words and concepts beneath the surface so that they have personal meaning.  In some contexts, the need for social connection and for maintenance of the social connection are so paramount that the verbiage must not only be the same but its meaning must remain the same disallowing any real personal meaning to take place.  For “personal” meaning occurs when words and concepts find application in that “foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart” which is never found when a rigidly scripted format is valued over personal experience.

Let me illustrate with a common spiritual notion like “sin.”  Sin is simple when it is kept on the superficial level of a judicial act that has occurred “in Adam,” as in the “Adamic fall,” or in the day-to-day misdeeds that we all make.  But sin is more of a challenging notion if we see it as a state of separation from our Source, a state which leaves us in the darkness, a darkness which Paul had in mind when he declared that at best we only, “see through a glass darkly.”  Understanding this heart-level dimension of sin then makes us aware of how our ego influences our interpretation of our day-to-day experiences, even our spirituality so that we become aware even of the self-serving nature of our spirituality itself.  This insight then makes grace, for example, even more meaningful as we can see God’s forgiveness as covering even that sin and allowing us to be a bit less spiritually arrogant than we had been before.