Category Archives: New Testament

When I Was a Child, I Spake as a Child….

God is an elusive construct.  Simply stated, this is because he is no “thing” and thus cannot be constructed.  Here, I am about to venture into a territory verboten in the faith tradition I was born into, philosophy.  And, I remember so vividly how higher learning in general, and especially philosophy, was totally dismissed. And, I understand that philosophy can be off-putting as it appears to have no end…and technically it doesn’t.  But the word philosophy merely means the love of knowledge and those who scoff at the subject usually do so because they “love” the little puddle of knowledge they live in and are not willing to broaden its parameters a bit.  Philosophy intrinsically “broadens” the parameters of knowledge, though it does not have to be endless.

God is just a word and we first heard it in the context of the “little puddle” that we lived in.  It was just a sound, “G-o-d” which initially was a simple part of the verbal cacophony we were discovering and trying to make sense of.  In time this word was distinguished from that medley and found to have meaning that in my case was very significant.  And it took me decades to realize and appreciate the degree to which “the little puddle” that I was born into shaped the meaning that had accrued to that simple sound, “g-o-d.”

But as an adult I have acquired some ability to discern the subtleties of this term…or at least the presence of these subtleties.  This corresponds with the ongoing maturity process which has allowed me to discover the myriad subtleties that constitute my own heart, a realization without which I would be unable to recognize subtleties in others, including in the term, “g-o-d.”

God is now an adventure as He is no longer an abstraction to me, but some “thing” (which is no “thing”) that is woven into my very being.  The exploration of the notion of God now involves the exploration of my heart, including those dimensions long hidden beneath the ideological constructions that I’ve had of Him…and of myself.

Remember Donovan, a 1960’s rock star?  One line from a ditty of his was, “First there is mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is.”  Indulge this cryptic and obscure point, but, “First there was a god, then there was no god, then (now) there is.”  I had to lose “god” to find Him just as I had to lose myself to find myself.  This loss of ego, actually an ongoing process, allows me to approach God…and the whole of life…with more humility than I had when I was ensconced in that “little puddle.”

The Value of Hypocrisy, i.e. “Making Nice”

The hypocrisy I’ve written about the past couple of days can be approached with the notion of “making nice.”  And “making nice,” including “making Christian nice” has its place as common civility, decorum, and respect for others is part of the social contract.  Without these “niceties” the hum-drum of daily life will be disrupted with people saying and doing what they feel as opposed to what the social contract calls for.

The issue is when people become adults and even elderly adults and have not known anything but perfunctory nice, a guilt ridden “making nice.”  At some point of maturity we need to delve a bit beneath the surface of our very necessary persona and entertain that dimension of that heart that we have kept hidden.  This hidden dimension, the Apostle Paul called it, “the flesh,” requires a daily recognition that “there is none good, no not one” and that any good that we have done, are doing, and will do is only by the Grace of God.

Speaking personally now, I have been very “good” most of my life, so “good” that early in my life you would have probably wanted to just beat me with a stick if you had crossed paths with me!  I am glad that I had that perfunctory, guilt ridden goodness to proffer for it kept me from a lot of ugliness and, in spite of myself, brought goodness to the table occasionally, I hope!!!  But anything Good that I have offered, and offer today and hopefully in the future will lie in the tenor of my life and not in any specific thing I have done or said.  Character is woven into the very fabric of our being and is something that happens in spite of us rather than because of any conscious intent.  This is not to dismiss “conscious intent” but to recognize that there is something underway (perhaps “Someone” underway) that we know not of; that is, we “know” not of as in “wrap our heads around” it.  This leaves us in the quandary of life, swirling in its Mystery, described decades ago by W. Ian Thomas as, “The Mystery of Godliness.”  We find ourselves with the dilemma of “seeing through a glass darkly” when our ego is intent on “seeing through a glass clearly” or even seeing without the interference of any glass.  This dilemma requires faith, “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

The Hypocrisy Temptation of Faith

A little known quip from Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount was, “Thank God I’m not a Christian!”  Well, indulge my imagination anyway!!!  This notion comes from something Carl Jung said in his heyday, “Thank God I’m not a Jungian.”  Jung knew that some of his devotees were a bit over the top and turning him into a cultic figure.  He recognized that his teachings for some were becoming mere clinical dogma, missing his true emphasis was a focus on the machinations of the heart.

There is nothing wrong with “being a Christian.”  The problem arises when it becomes an identity such as, “I am a Republican, or Democrat, or feminist, or wine connoisseur.”  These ego emphases are fine, being appropriate amusements or detractions, but not so fine if they become obsessions.  When they deteriorate into the obsessive domain, they can become deadly and therefore dangerous to the individual and all those he comes into contact with.

One’s Christian faith, or any other faith tradition, can become an obsession and therefore a function of the ego designed to hide the dimensions of the heart that faith should allow to surface.  Here I speak from experience, my faith having been for nearly all of my life mere prop designed to cover up my inner emptiness.  And faith is a good cover up, if you can “do a good job of it,’ that is succeed in the performance art of faith; it can give one a persona which will play very well with others who practice the same performance art.  Jesus called the performance artists of his day hypocrites, or “actors”, and had harsh things to say about them.

There is nothing wrong with being a hypocrite.  We are all actors to some degree and seeing this allows us the freedom and humility to own our short-comings when they stare us In the face.  As the Bible notes, “There is none good, no not one.”  But it sure helps if we can find the humility to accept our duplicity, insincerity, and hollowness and therefore find a “forgiveness” which is more than some abstract ethereal legal transaction.

“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.

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.