Category Archives: religion and spirituality

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)

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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.

Richard Rohr Prophecies, Part 2

Christians are usually sincere and well-intentioned people until you get to any issues of ego, control, power, money, pleasure, and security.  Then they tend to be like everyone else.  We often give only a bogus version of the gospel, a fast-food religion, without any deep transformation of the self; and the result has been the spiritual disaster of Christian countries that tend to be so consumer-oriented, proud, warlike, racist, class conscious, and addictive as everybody else and often even more so, I’m afraid.  (Richard Rohr, posted in “Mindful Christianity” on Facebook.)

I do think that most Christians are “well-intentioned,” even those who I fiercely disagree with.  But speaking from what I have seen and from my own personal experience, the influence of human needs for, “ego (gratification), control, power, money, pleasure, and security” play a greater role in faith than it is comfortable to acknowledge.  Each of these needs can be subsumed under the rubric “ego” which is the Pauline “flesh” in modern terms.  As a result of this we turn out faith into an ego enterprise and even though our announced purpose with our faith is often very noble, the ego is at work getting its “pound of flesh” so that the effectiveness of our noble impulses is diminished…or even obliterated.  I quoted W. Ian Thomas recently who noted that often our spirituality can be merely a stage upon which the ego can strut itself, merely “a platform on which to display our carnal abilities.”

This is not to suggest that anyone’s motives are pure.  Many “noble pursuits” which I am here putting into question accomplish a lot of good.  If one waits until he is “pure” then he will have to wait until he has returned to Eternity!  But a willingness to look at our motives from time to time can help us identify the ego’s machinations and chip away at its tyranny.  However, this insight is painful as often we see just our foolish and self-promoting we have been and often that this has been our primary purpose.  The result can be disillusionment, and disillusionment can be gut-wrenchingly painful and often will lead us to distraction at the first sign of being threatened with it.

Rohr noted also that when we succumb to this ego-tyranny, “we become just like everyone else” as culture, i.e. “the world,” is built upon ego and this is necessary in a sense.  But when we have “become just like everyone else” we are driven by the same whims and fancies of self-gratification those pose the grievous situation we see in the world on this Christmas day.  But a caveat is in order. Being something other than “just like everyone else” is a perilous notion as many in my spiritual tradition, reading Paul’s admonishment to, “Come out from them and be ye separate” do so with foolishness, and sometimes pure insanity, and thus accomplishing “difference.”  But Rohr’s teachings, and those of the Apostle Paul, had to do with where our heart is rooted and the spiritual call in most all religions is to be rooted the Ineffable, not the ephemeral that keeps the world going. Often a specious spirituality will drive one to the extremes which present with us the Alabama spiritual lunacy.

Evangelical Christians Under Attack…by Themselves!!!

Evangelical Christians are under attack.  The “War on Christmas” is underway already.  But the irony is that the attack is from within, demonstrating the wisdom of Pogo, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”  Many of their ranks, and I think it actually is most of them, have pledged their troth to Trumpism, the figure head of which is Trump, and the rank-and-file are dug in so deep that they cannot escape…especially the illustrious “Evangelical Advisory Council” of sycophants that Trump has wrapped around himself.  They suspect, in the depths of their heart, that they have really screwed up in pledging their troth to a man who is the antitheses of Jesus but, being full of “christian” ego, they cannot admit that.  They, like Trump, cannot admit that they made a mistake.

Now, I don’t have a dog in this hunt.  Consciously.  Being an evangelical in recovery, I’m certainly grinding an ax to some degree.  But, I firmly believe in the value of religion…the word comes from “re” and “ligio” which combined mean to “tie together” what had become disjointed, which is present in the etymology of the word “ligament.” And there is value in the evangelical faith as it suffices for many, and even most people in this world.  We pointy-headed pseudo-intellectuals can dismiss them but we do so only out of an insidious arrogance.  Truth has many levels and some approach truth on a level that can easily appear “superficial” to we “pseudo-intellectuals.” But I think God’s wisdom was presented in the wisdom of a fundamentalist radio preacher of decades ago, J. Vernon McGee who said he wanted to “put the cookies on the lower shelf so even the kiddies could reach them.”  And I, being one of those “higher shelf” denizens, a “pseudo-intellectual” at best, can readily affirm the value of “the cookies” on any of the shelves.  For the value lies in the cookies!

But what has happened in evangelical circles is that the “luminaries” have become intoxicated with their prominence and are more interested in maintaining their position than exploring the value, the richness, of the “cookies” that Jesus…among others…presented to us.  They are those that a friend of mine, Charles Dewitt, had in mind in a poem decades ago when he described the clergy as, “You heroes of spiritual contraception who have long since despaired of rebirth.”  The clergy, when they become “professional” are always tempted to relish their position and seek to increase their prominence and maintain it at all costs.  This is not because they are bad people, but merely because they are people…or human, and the human ego has a deep-seated tendency to know nothing other than itself.

 

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/