Category Archives: New Testament

“Morning Joe” Castigates Conservative Christians

Joe Scarborough, a conservative ex-Republican who used to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives expressed his frustration with conservative Christians this morning.  Scarborough, now the host of “Morning Joe” on MSNBC, lamented that 69 per cent of conservative Christians still support Trump even with his continued egregious anti-Christian speech, attitude, and deeds.  Joe finished his soliloquy with, “Sounds to me like an effort to gain the whole world while losing your own soul.”

I do not think Joe meant to be taken literally; his point was not to say that these people are “going to hell” but that “soul” is missing in their life, including in their spiritual life.  This “69 per center club” lacks the “discerning spirit” spoken of by the Apostle Paul and pledged their loyalty to a man who promised power at the expense of their soul; this “discernment” would not have allowed a choice like this.  And, having made this choice, they demonstrate the Trumpian quality of being unable to admit they made a mistake as doing so would be to lose face, even their “Christian” face.

But criticism to “True Believers” (see Eric Hoffer) like this are immune to criticism; they attitude is, “my mind is made up, don’t confuse me with facts.”  They have a ready-made defense mechanism for anything that contradicts their view point once their mind is made up, “Fake News.”  One can see why they ally so fiercely behind Trump for he articulates the fears, anxieties, and desire for certainty of their own soul.

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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.”

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.

 

A Prayer About Humility

Religion often today reveals a very ugly dimension of the human heart, an intent to acquire power and domination rather than to bring reconciliation in this world.  Religion affords many opportunities for the ego to run amok, carefully hidden from any criticism because of its “spiritual” nature and the “fact” that “god is leading.”  But on this notion it has been helpful to remember the teachings of the Bible to, “Try the spirits, to see if they be of God” and also the admonishment of the Apostle Paul that we see only, “through a glass darkly.?”  The following poem by Louis Untermeyer reflects more humility, a desire to not prevail and dominate but actually to “lose,” to become, “losers” even though in our particular historical moments many persons of faith are finding appealing the clarion call of one who vehemently denouncers, “losers.”

PRAYER by Louis Untermeyer

God, though this life is but a wraith,
Although we know not what we use;

Although we grope with little faith,
God, give me the heart to fight and lose.

Ever insurgent let me be,

Make me more daring than devout;
From slick contentment keep me free

And fill me with a buoyant doubt.

Open my eyes to visions girt
With beauty, and with wonder lit,

But let me always see the dirt,
And all that spawn and die in it.

Open my ears to music, let

Me thrill with Spring’s first flutes and drums
But never let me dare forget

The bitter ballads of the slums.

From compromise and things half-done,
Keep me, with stern and stubborn pride;

But when at last the fight is won,
God, keep me still unsatisfied.

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.”

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)