Category Archives: religion and spirituality

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/

Thoughts About Affirmation of Faith

I’ve had some discomfort with the title of my last post here, “An Affirmation of Faith.”  That just sounds way to Christian for me as “Christian” has is a word that has become sullied in our culture for some time, a process that probably started in world culture when Constantine appropriated it for political purposes in A.D. 313.  I increasingly like to think of myself as a follower of the teachings of Jesus and not so much a Christian.  It is true that those who knew me in my youth probably would not even think I am a Christian anyway and that is okay too as no longer is my faith for the purpose of social approbation, to fulfill a need to belong.

Any faith tradition comes to us from our culture and usually it is to some degree manufactured or “canned” which is the only way it can be when reduced to tradition, including language and ritual.  It is human nature to take this “canned” spirituality and never open the can, allowing the hidden truth to penetrate into the heart and lead to meaningful experience.  It is way too scary to do this. “Opening the can” of spiritual truth parallels the process of opening the heart. The two go hand in hand.  And finding the courage to open the heart, which in a sense is finding one’s heart for the first time, can take decades if not most of one’s life.  And it is not anything one can learn from books, or seminars, or graduate school, and certainly not seminary.  It is something that circumstances of life, including studies, coupled with the “thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to,” brings one face to face with our human frailty.  Spiritual tradition, when still locked up in the can of tradition, will keep us from this human frailty and often even allow us the pose of “spiritual” but leave us empty inside.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve had some discomfort with the title of my last post here, “An Affirmation of Faith.”  That just sounds way to Christian for me as “Christian” has is a word that has become sullied in our culture for some time, a process that probably started in world culture when Constantine appropriated it for political purposes in A.D. 313.  I increasingly like to think of myself as a follower of the teachings of Jesus and not so much a Christian.  It is true that those who knew me in my youth probably would not even think I am a Christian anyway and that is okay too as no longer is my faith for the purpose of social approbation, to fulfill a need to belong.

 

Any faith tradition comes to us from our culture and usually it is to some degree manufactured or “canned” which is the only way it can be when reduced to tradition, including language and ritual.  It is human nature to take this “canned” spirituality and never open the can, allowing the hidden truth to penetrate into the heart and lead to meaningful experience.  It is way too scary to do this. “Opening the can” of spiritual truth parallels the process of opening the heart. The two go hand in hand.  And finding the courage to open the heart, which in a sense is finding one’s heart for the first time, can take decades if not most of one’s life.  And it is not anything one can learn from books, or seminars, or graduate school, and certainly not seminary.  It is something that circumstances of life, including studies, coupled with the “thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to,” brings one face to face with our human frailty.  Spiritual tradition, when still locked up in the can of tradition, will keep us from this human frailty and often even allow us the pose of “spiritual” but leave us empty inside.

 

 

I’ve had some discomfort with the title of my last post here, “An Affirmation of Faith.”  That just sounds way to Christian for me as “Christian” has is a word that has become sullied in our culture for some time, a process that probably started in world culture when Constantine appropriated it for political purposes in A.D. 313.  I increasingly like to think of myself as a follower of the teachings of Jesus and not so much a Christian.  It is true that those who knew me in my youth probably would not even think I am a Christian anyway and that is okay too as no longer is my faith for the purpose of social approbation, to fulfill a need to belong.

 

Any faith tradition comes to us from our culture and usually it is to some degree manufactured or “canned” which is the only way it can be when reduced to tradition, including language and ritual.  It is human nature to take this “canned” spirituality and never open the can, allowing the hidden truth to penetrate into the heart and lead to meaningful experience.  It is way too scary to do this. “Opening the can” of spiritual truth parallels the process of opening the heart. The two go hand in hand.  And finding the courage to open the heart, which in a sense is finding one’s heart for the first time, can take decades if not most of one’s life.  And it is not anything one can learn from books, or seminars, or graduate school, and certainly not seminary.  It is something that circumstances of life, including studies, coupled with the “thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to,” brings one face to face with our human frailty.  Spiritual tradition, when still locked up in the can of tradition, will keep us from this human frailty and often even allow us the pose of “spiritual” but leave us empty inside.

 

 

I’ve had some discomfort with the title of my last post here, “An Affirmation of Faith.”  That just sounds way to Christian for me as “Christian” has is a word that has become sullied in our culture for some time, a process that probably started in world culture when Constantine appropriated it for political purposes in A.D. 313.  I increasingly like to think of myself as a follower of the teachings of Jesus and not so much a Christian.  It is true that those who knew me in my youth probably would not even think I am a Christian anyway and that is okay too as no longer is my faith for the purpose of social approbation, to fulfill a need to belong.

 

Any faith tradition comes to us from our culture and usually it is to some degree manufactured or “canned” which is the only way it can be when reduced to tradition, including language and ritual.  It is human nature to take this “canned” spirituality and never open the can, allowing the hidden truth to penetrate into the heart and lead to meaningful experience.  It is way too scary to do this. “Opening the can” of spiritual truth parallels the process of opening the heart. The two go hand in hand.  And finding the courage to open the heart, which in a sense is finding one’s heart for the first time, can take decades if not most of one’s life.  And it is not anything one can learn from books, or seminars, or graduate school, and certainly not seminary.  It is something that circumstances of life, including studies, coupled with the “thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to,” brings one face to face with our human frailty.  Spiritual tradition, when still locked up in the can of tradition, will keep us from this human frailty and often even allow us the pose of “spiritual” but leave us empty inside.

 

 

I’ve had some discomfort with the title of my last post here, “An Affirmation of Faith.”  That just sounds way to Christian for me as “Christian” has is a word that has become sullied in our culture for some time, a process that probably started in world culture when Constantine appropriated it for political purposes in A.D. 313.  I increasingly like to think of myself as a follower of the teachings of Jesus and not so much a Christian.  It is true that those who knew me in my youth probably would not even think I am a Christian anyway and that is okay too as no longer is my faith for the purpose of social approbation, to fulfill a need to belong.

 

Any faith tradition comes to us from our culture and usually it is to some degree manufactured or “canned” which is the only way it can be when reduced to tradition, including language and ritual.  It is human nature to take this “canned” spirituality and never open the can, allowing the hidden truth to penetrate into the heart and lead to meaningful experience.  It is way too scary to do this. “Opening the can” of spiritual truth parallels the process of opening the heart. The two go hand in hand.  And finding the courage to open the heart, which in a sense is finding one’s heart for the first time, can take decades if not most of one’s life.  And it is not anything one can learn from books, or seminars, or graduate school, and certainly not seminary.  It is something that circumstances of life, including studies, coupled with the “thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to,” brings one face to face with our human frailty.  Spiritual tradition, when still locked up in the can of tradition, will keep us from this human frailty and often even allow us the pose of “spiritual” but leave us empty inside.

I’ve had some discomfort with the title of my last post here, “An Affirmation of Faith.”  That just sounds way to Christian for me as “Christian” has is a word that has become sullied in our culture for some time, a process that probably started in world culture when Constantine appropriated it for political purposes in A.D. 313.  I increasingly like to think of myself as a follower of the teachings of Jesus and not so much a Christian.  It is true that those who knew me in my youth probably would not even think I am a Christian anyway and that is okay too as no longer is my faith for the purpose of social approbation, to fulfill a need to belong.

 

Any faith tradition comes to us from our culture and usually it is to some degree manufactured or “canned” which is the only way it can be when reduced to tradition, including language and ritual.  It is human nature to take this “canned” spirituality and never open the can, allowing the hidden truth to penetrate into the heart and lead to meaningful experience.  It is way too scary to do this. “Opening the can” of spiritual truth parallels the process of opening the heart. The two go hand in hand.  And finding the courage to open the heart, which in a sense is finding one’s heart for the first time, can take decades if not most of one’s life.  And it is not anything one can learn from books, or seminars, or graduate school, and certainly not seminary.  It is something that circumstances of life, including studies, coupled with the “thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to,” brings one face to face with our human frailty.  Spiritual tradition, when still locked up in the can of tradition, will keep us from this human frailty and often even allow us the pose of “spiritual” but leave us empty inside.

 

I’ve had some discomfort with the title of my last post here, “An Affirmation of Faith.”  That just sounds way to Christian for me as “Christian” has is a word that has become sullied in our culture for some time, a process that probably started in world culture when Constantine appropriated it for political purposes in A.D. 313.  I increasingly like to think of myself as a follower of the teachings of Jesus and not so much a Christian.  It is true that those who knew me in my youth probably would not even think I am a Christian anyway and that is okay too as no longer is my faith for the purpose of social approbation, to fulfill a need to belong.

 

Any faith tradition comes to us from our culture and usually it is to some degree manufactured or “canned” which is the only way it can be when reduced to tradition, including language and ritual.  It is human nature to take this “canned” spirituality and never open the can, allowing the hidden truth to penetrate into the heart and lead to meaningful experience.  It is way too scary to do this. “Opening the can” of spiritual truth parallels the process of opening the heart. The two go hand in hand.  And finding the courage to open the heart, which in a sense is finding one’s heart for the first time, can take decades if not most of one’s life.  And it is not anything one can learn from books, or seminars, or graduate school, and certainly not seminary.  It is something that circumstances of life, including studies, coupled with the “thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to,” brings one face to face with our human frailty.  Spiritual tradition, when still locked up in the can of tradition, will keep us from this human frailty and often even allow us the pose of “spiritual” but leave us empty inside.

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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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.

Thoughts on the Christian’s “Imaginary Friend”

I want to focus a bit more on what Bill Maher calls my “imaginary friend” Jesus.  And let me emphasize, I love Bill Maher and think he is doing part of the prophetic function for our culture that the Christian church does not have the courage to do for itself.

Imagination is the human faculty that is often lacking in our experience of religion for it involves involvement of the body, connection with the body, which my experience in the Christian tradition discouraged.  This is very much related to the Christian tradition of self-abnegation which usually focused more on denying the body’s appetites while allowing the appetites of the ego to run amok.

There is more to this relationship between imagination and cognition than I fully understand.  Imagination involves “free play” between subject and object so that “life” can be given to cognitive images that our culture has given us.  This “life” can be invigorating to these images and free them from the bondage of the “letter of the law” and make possibly a meaningful interpretation of dogma, not merely a sterile recitation of dead facts.  For example, the sound “Jesus” can cease referring to a mere concept and can become a symbol and therefore capable of evoking an internal, subjective experience which is the “Christ child” within us all.  But for this evocation to even be possible, there must be a heart that is subject to evocation.  Shakespeare described this heart as one which is made of “penetrable stuff” and not one that is still “bronzed o’er” with the sterile dogma with which one has been enculturated.  But a heart made of this “penetrable stuff” is scary and it is much easier to just mindlessly carry on with one’s routine life, comfortably ensconced in the Christian version of “well-worn words and ready phrases that build comfortable walls against the silence.” (Conrad Aiken) For, it is in the silence that the primordial word is found which is what Thomas Keating had in mind with this pithy observation, “God’s primary language is silence, everything else is a poor translation.”

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/posts/anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com

https://wordpress.com/posts/theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com

https://wordpress.com/posts/literarylew.wordpress.com

Imagination is Needed in Religion

A blogging friend of mine from Australia keeps me informed about many interesting spiritual things in the culture of her country.  She sent me a Lent essay from noted Catholic priest and Benedictine Monk, Laurence Freeman, from which I clipped introductory thoughts re Shakespeare:

Shakespeare didn’t waste his energy inventing stories. The plots of his plays were already on his bookshelves. He had only to read them and by the power of his creative imagination to utterly transform them, lifting old tales and soap operas into the realm of timeless and unforgettable reflections of nature and the infinite, interactive shades of human character. In one scene he can show how a number of personalities respond differently to the same events

It is very interesting to note that it was Shakespeare’s imagination that is responsible for leaving us such a treasure trove of literary/spiritual wisdom.  He took stories from his day and employed that vivid imagination of his to transform them into literary master pieces which have so deeply enriched the life of many, certainly including this bloke from the sticks of Arkansas.

He and other marvelous writers have helped awaken and energize my imagination since I “discovered” literature, and the power of metaphor three decades ago.  My imagination had lain dormant since my very early years, possibly even early months, as I think being born into a linear thinking world stymies the imagination long before we learn to talk.  And in recent years I have begun to use this imagination in my approach to the Bible and the Christian tradition, discovering that comedian Bill Maher is not wrong, Jesus is “our imaginary friend” in some very important way.  Or at least He should be.  If we don’t find the courage to employ our imagination in approaching faith, our spiritual experience will be confined to a very rigid interpretation from the cultural dictates of our early years.  This will inevitably mean we re confined to “the letter of the law.”  By using the imagination we bring a “personal” dimension to our interpretation to religion, “personal” in the sense of an interpretation that is influenced from that rich domain of our heart, that domain that is usually “crusted o’er” by habits of thought as Shakespeare noted in Hamlet.  The “spirit” that is employed with this imaginative hermeneutical enterprise can begin to flow when our faith is no longer the “canned variety” but one that is the result of dogma being invigorated by this deep-seated “spirit”, a phenomenon described by W. H. Auden as what happens when “flesh and mind are delivered from mistrust.”  I like to describe this as a work of God’s Spirit which might be described as the “enfleshment” of the Word, to use Christian terminology.

But a discourse like this is always fraught with the peril of having lapsed into Christian jargon.  Words like “Bible” and “God” and “Spirit” and “enfleshment” usually mean something totally removed from human experience.  That is not how I use them.  Approaching Holy Writ as literature, and thus capable of being spirit infused, is about human experience and I think that is what the teachings of Jesus were about.

The Crisis in Modern Faith

My Christian faith has really matured in the past year.  Specifically, I have no faith in the Christian tradition but I do firmly believe that there was a man named Jesus who walked the face of this earth some 2100 years ago and he left behind teachings that I find of great value.  I do not know how much of the story of Jesus that we have in the Bible is valid but I firmly believe that there was some young man who was attuned with what I still call “the Spirit of God” and his story is a story of redemption.  There is so much to explore here.  So much to “cuss and discuss,” and yes I’m familiar with all the debate about the “historical Jesus,” and don’t find that vein of thought threatening to my faith.  But I firmly believe, in the midst of all my doubts, that there is a wisdom in the teachings of this man that we call Jesus though allowing this wisdom to filter through our ego-ridden mind requires a lot of work.

But then there is the conflict between his teachings and my experience in church and what I observe in the “performance art” of modern Christianity.  And I think that the whole of life is performance art in some sort and that is necessary.  But sometimes the performance art that is our life gains such primacy that we totally disregard the other dimensions of life which I like to call “spiritual.”  The whole of the performance art that is our life, our identity itself is often called our persona.  When this persona becomes the whole of who we know ourselves to be, and if we live our whole life ensconced in this “pretend-me” that famous question of Jesus becomes relevant, “What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul.”  For one who makes this mistake has lived his life on the surface and never done the “soul work” that would allow his soul, his inner-most essence, to find expression.  He will live his life as “The Hollow Man” that T.S. Eliot made famous in a poem.  And, emphatically I state, “This does not mean that losing his soul means he will burn for eternity in hell.”  In some sense, never having escaped the fantasy of his superficial reality, he has spent his life there.

Jean Paul Sartre described “bad faith” as one of such naivety that it perpetuated great darkness even while sincerely assuming to be promoting Truth.  Just because we are sure of our faith tradition, and of our practice, does not mean that the ego is not in control and if so ugliness will abound.  But then if the ego is in control, its primary objective will always be keeping one from awareness of its tyranny.