Category Archives: religion and spirituality

Eyes to See…that Actually See!!!

Vision is subtle and frequently we “have eyes to see but see not” and, yes, ” ears to hear but hear not.”  And it is very challenging to realize that human nature subjects us to this limitation yet without meaning, necessarily, that we are a bad person.  But if we never let the wisdom of this quip from Jesus sink in it can lead to a lot of “bad” that will emanate from the resulting unexamined life.

Those of us who were raised in a Christian culture, especially the evangelical/fundamentalist wing of that culture, are steeped in this biblical wisdom from early in our life and are taught that when Jesus comes into our life we are then given the gift of perfect vision, led by the Holy Spirit that “will guide you into all truth.”  But this is usually intrinsically self-serving wisdom and fails to consider how our faith is influenced by enculturation and “enculturated wisdom”, regardless of how noble it is, is of the vein described by the Apostle Paul as “the wisdom of the world.”  Therefore, being steeped in the knowledge acquired very clearly, as our peer group has told us that we do, we can stand smugly in the comfort this knowledge provides us. It is disorienting to say the least to realize that our faith has been largely the result of enculturation and that our “vision” is more lacking than we ever imagined.  Understanding this teaching brings us to understand the wisdom of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13, “We see through a glass darkly.”  Yes, God is with us and leads us but he does so as we stumble through “darkly” vision and imperfect hearing.

Relevant to this subject, John Berger wrote a classic little book in 1972 entitled, “Ways of Seeing.”  When I discovered the book 25 years ago it grabbed me immediately even though it was written to artists by an art critic and I am far removed from either.  But at that time in my life I was very familiar with the ambiguity of life, including “ways of seeing” and readily grasped the wisdom from the eye of this art critic. Berger pointed out that seeing ultimately is not so much a deed as it is an experience as an evocation as we focus on an object and allow that object to evoke from the depths of our heart a meaningful experience.  Each of us have these interior depths though so often circumstances have confined us to the surface of life where we scurry about our three-score and ten without ever daring to venture into the deep places of the heart that hide the mystery of life.  Venturing there will force us to encounter the significance of the teaching the aforementioned teaching of Jesus that we “have eyes to see but see not, ears to hear but hear not.”

Here are the opening words of Berger’s brilliant book:

Seeing comes before words.  The child looks and recognizes before it can speak.  But there is also another sense in which seeing comes before words.  It is seeing which establishes our place in the surrounding world; we explain that world with words, but words can never undo the fact that we are surrounded by it.  The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled.  Each evening we see the sun set.  We know that the earth is turning away from it.  Yet the knowledge, the explanation, never quite fits the sight.

The following is a list of my blogs.  Please check the others out!

Literarylew.wordpress.com

anrrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com

Theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com

 

The Death Knell of Spiritual Echo Chambers.

My preoccupation with the subject of truth is mainly focused on spirituality which I see as the life blood of any culture.  If truth does not facilitate the expression of Truth then the very fabric of our individual and collective being is imperiled.  In the blog post from another venue which I will share below I introduce the irony of daring to think that one is speaking, or writing the Truth when in reality we never really know that we are, being confined to this world of form in which we only “see through a glass darkly.”

In this particular blog I often focus on what I call the “echo chamber” of dogmatic, unexamined spiritual tradition which we find so often in our churches. Though most spiritual traditions have value if their emphasis is too narrow they will succumb to the temptation of using their Holy Writ and tradition to obfuscate the Truth even to the point of destroying it.  At this point what often is a valid spiritual tradition becomes a parody of itself, the parody clear to all of those looking on but which is totally missed by those who are ensconced in it.  A tragic example of such a parody is the infamous Westboro Baptist Church.  And never forget the Muslim zealots of Isis.  They know the truth…in their estimation…to the point they feel free to use brutal violence to accomplish their evil purpose.  “There go I, and we, but by the Grace of God.”  The following is the narrative of another blog of mine about the irony of daring to “speak the truth” when our ego fights us tooth and toenail in our very effort:

This truth matter is really heavy on my heart recently primarily from the assault on “Truth” by the Trump administration.  In the past week I have explored truth’s subtlety, a subtlety that is so pronounced that I think it is something we can never grasp objectively but Some “thing” that peeks through our heart occasionally in spite of our deep-seated, unconscious effort to not let it happen.

But please note the irony I am demonstrating.  I will admit that at present moment I believe I am speaking…or writing…what is truthful otherwise I would not even bother to offer this verbal deed to the oblivion of the cyber world.  But what I say here, and in real time, is only a perspective of how I see the world and can never be thought of as “objective.”  Everything we do and say is only our “skewed” way of viewing the world but it is important that we put this “skewed view” on the table in daily exchange with other people, be it here in the cyber world and or in day-to-day life with people we encounter.  The dialogical engagement with other people is imperative so that we can avoid the temptation of speaking, thinking, and living in an echo chamber.

The echo chamber is lethal.  If we isolate ourselves within a safe cocoon of group-think we are signing our death certificate, so to speak, as the soul cannot thrive in the resulting abyss of “empty self-relatedness.”  This isolation, if not broken, will spell our doom individually and collectively without Divine intervention; for, in that self-imposed prison Shakespeare told us that we “feed even on the pith of life.”

Jacques Ellul and the Sin of Bibliolatry

Jacques Ellul is one of the most important figures in my Christian life.  A friend of mine gave me a copy of his book, “The Judgment of Jonah” in 1983 and I was immediately gripped by his passionate faith, filtered through a keenly analytical mind and heart.  He introduced me to the subject of bibliolatry, which is taking the bible as an end in itself rather than a means to an end, worshipping the Bible in some sense rather than the One about whom the Bible is speaking.

Ellul was a French philosopher, sociologist, and lay theologian who was described as a Christian “anarchist.”  This was because he was very much the iconoclast, approaching his faith with an intense analytical mind.  He looked beneath the surface and then put things on the table which were very challenging.  A primary focus of his was the “technological tyranny over humanity” that he witnessed during his life time in the mid to late 20th century.  This “technological tyranny” contributed to what I have described as the “thingification” of mankind in which even God has become a “thing among other things.”I have here a quote from Ellul from The Ethics of Freedom on the subject of bibliolatry which reflects the impact of this thingification of the heart in which even Holy Writ is interpreted in a self-serving fashion, it being only a “thing” which one can employ to suit my purposes:

…Thus obedience to the letter of scripture can be obedience to Satan if the text serves to bring about isolation and independence in relation to the one who has inspired it.  It can be a means of self-affirmation over against God in in repression of his truth and his will.  The biblical text, and obedience to it, do not guarantee anything.  They may be the best means of not hearing God speak.  (Ellul here points out that the Pharisees were) authentic believers, faithful adherents of scripture, and rich in good works and piety.  In reality everything depends on our attitude to the text of the scripture.  If I seize it, use it, and exploit it to my own ends...then I am obeying Satan under the cover of what the Bible says.

Ellul had profound understanding of how culture influences our faith and how that it presents the temptation of letting our faith become merely a product of our culture, regardless of intense passions that we might have about it.  The Christian faith, and faith of any spiritual tradition always face the temptation of taking themselves too seriously and then missing the point of their spiritual teachers.  Faith then becomes a mere bauble in our life, a note on our “resume,” and not a grounding in the Wholly Other which is the only place that offers firm footing in this mystery we call life.

If this seems impossible, it is!  But, there is hope and I will explain next time.

The following are three blogs that I offer.  Please check the other two out sometime!

 

https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/

https://literarylew.wordpress.com/

https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/

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/

E

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.