Category Archives: religion and spirituality

Franklin Graham Asks, “Who Hath Bewitched You?” to Trump Critics.

Franklin Graham chided evangelical Christians who are pointing out the hypocrisy of Vice-President Mike Pence for his support of Trump, asking, “What are these people smoking? This reminds me of Paul’s words, ‘You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?'”

But I would turn the Apostle Paul’s quote on Graham and other evangelical Christians whose heart is “seared with a hot iron” for passionately supporting a president who has publicly expressed having the “hots” for his own daughter, uttered the word “cunt” on a national tv broadcast, been recorded saying he enjoyed the power of “grabbing women by the pussy,” has dismissed impoverished countries as “shit-hole countries,” lies about things there is no need to lie about, and publicly reassures the country about the size of his penis.  Does this not appear a bit “foolish” as if Graham has been “bewitched” and perhaps his conscience has been “seared with a hot iron”?  Trump had people like him in mind when he told us, “I could shoot someone in the streets of Manhattan and I would not lose my support.”

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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.”

Baptism by a Fire Hose!!!

Congregants sing and dance during a fire hose baptism hosted by the United House of Prayer in Newport News, Virginia on September 1, 2013.A friend just sent me this image, knowing my Southern roots, and I just loved it!!  But it provoked a facetious vein in my heart as I grew up in a Southern culture where baptism was a big issue—is only baptism by immersion acceptable or is baptism by sprinkling adequate.  Well, let me assure you that in my little fundamentalist Christian corner of the world it was immersion as there was no biblical mention of any “lame-ass” (my embellishment) thing like sprinkling.  If you didn’t get dunked, it didn’t count!  For, “where in the Bible was there any mention of ‘sprinkling’?”  To make matters worse, “fire hose” baptism????”  Now Jesus never heard of a hose, much less a fire hose.  Back then, the damn house just burned down…unless a lot of men could catch it early and just piss the flame out.  So the notion of a fire hose baptism just rankles me on so many levels!!!

One other facetious note.  When in my teens, my pastor told me of one older member of the church who didn’t like the idea of a baptistry in the church.  The “baptistry” is a tank of sorts in which the baptism takes place, as opposed to the local river.  This gentleman, and I remember him well and he was such a good old soul, told the pastor, “Well, if the water ain’t running, it don’t count” to which my pastor responded, “Well, I’ll just pull plug and let it be draining.”  See entire photographic essay below.

http://lenscratch.com/2019/03/southbound-photographs-of-and-about-the-new-south-day-3/

Where is the Evangelical Council to the President These Days????

Where is the Evangelical Council to the President?  We used to hear from them, or about them, quite frequently.  But they have suddenly gone strangely silent.  I’ve googled for wisdom and support of Trump from luminaries like Jerry Falwell, Jr., Franklin Graham, and Robert Jeffress and cannot find even a peep from them.  What’s up?

I strongly suspect they realize they have dug themselves into a deep pit, a veritable black hole, and cannot escape without humbly admitting, “We made a mistake.”  But they have bitten of the same poison pill that Trump swallowed early in his life and cannot humbly admit, “I was wrong.”  For they have a tremendous ego investment in their persona as a “Purveyor of the Truth of Jesus,” but are not able to realize they can be that and simultaneously be egregiously full of an ego that demands aggrandizement just as much as does Trump.  AND, I speak from experience, as I started out on a path of seeking a similarly specious identity but was miraculously rescued by the Grace of God which leaves me now but a mere “small clod of cholesterol in the mainstream of life.”  And, I’m humbly “proud” of this lowly station. It takes all the pressure off.

I must emphasize that these men…and women…do as I do, echo the words of the Psalmist, “My soul followeth hard after Thee, O Lord.”  And I do not doubt their sincerity, nor do I doubt the efficacy of their faith in Jesus Christ.  But I do challenge them on something I’ve had to wrestle with, this “passion” for “Thee, O Lord” can easily be an ego endeavor as it will afford one an opportunity to ensconce himself in a position of power in Christian culture.  But this immediately flies in the face of a fundamental teaching of Jesus—that power is found in powerlessness and the appeal to the power of ego-gratification is intoxicating as, ahem, “hell.”

Jeff Sessions and His “Religious Liberty Task Force.”

Attorney Jeff Sessions has proposed a, “religious liberty task force.” This makes me think of the war on Christmas, the annual non-sense that some Christians trot out to enhance their sense of piety and alienation. Many evangelical Christians fail to have the self-reflection necessary to realize that they are the source of the, “war on Christmas,” that they are the ones who need to be the focus of any, “religious liberty task force.”  But they are so obsessed with their piety that self-reflectiveness would be a catastrophe, as it would create a, “splinter in the brain” that Emily Dickinson referred to.

I write here in a confessional mode, from personal experience.  I was mired in this “mindless” piety and not willing to initiate the process of, “working out my own salvation with fear and trembling” that the Apostle Paul recommended.  This “fear and trembling” is very much akin to the aforementioned, “splinter in the brain” which is necessary for life to break through the encrusted hypocrisy of an unexamined life.  Fortunately, the good Lord was merciful to me and has meted out this “splintering” over the course of four decades as He knew I could not handle it otherwise.  He knew, graciously, that my hypocrisy was a necessary evil with which I could cover my fragile ego (i.e. “ass”) long enough to muster up enough ego integrity to handle the sting of all those splinters.,

It is painful to wallow in disillusionment.  Someone said that, “Reality is a veil that we spin to hide the void,” and when that veil begins to be pierced by the “thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir too,” disillusionment is inevitable.  Then we lament with T.S. Eliot, “Oh the shame of motives late revealed, and the awareness of things ill done, and done to others harm which once we took for exercise of virtue.”  This always brings to my mind King Lear on the heath of his former kingdom, “pelted by this pitiless storm,” bereft of his family and political power, finding himself naked, noting re roving animals nearby:

Poor naked wretches, whereso’er you are,
That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,
How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,
Your loop’d and window’d raggedness, defend you
From seasons such as these? O, I have ta’en
Too little care of this! Take physic, pomp;
Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel,
That thou mayst shake the superflux to them,
And show the heavens more just.

Lear was naked, buck naked, stripped of the superficies of his existence and understanding that in essence he had never been anything more than these, “poor, bare forked creatures.”  Religion is a fine cover-up for this nakedness but according to spiritual teachers, such as Jesus, it is only in this nakedness that we can find redemption.

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)

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.