Category Archives: religion & spirituality

Our Denial System Challenged by Lao Tzu and David Whyte

Thirty spokes are made one by holes in a hub,
By vacancies joining them for a wheel’s use;
The use of clay in moulding pitchers
Comes from the hollow of its absence;
Doors, windows, in a house,
Are used for their emptiness:
Thus we are helped by what is not
To use what is.

I want to write again about this little ditty, written in the 6th century B.C. by Lao Tzu that “moved in like a bitch” (to use a Trumpism) on my soul and has mesmerized me ever since. I was in my thirties and know that I must have been bewildered by this verse as it totally had no place the very literal mind of mine that predominated back in my innocence. Increasingly I have “grokked” this wisdom the past decade realizing the importance of recognizing that there is an “absent” dimension of life which is very present even in its “absence.” Actually, it is the only thing that “is,” but then it “is” not nor “is” it a thing. If you understand this, then “Bless you” and if you don’t, I encourage you to flash the sign of the cross to your computer screen and run away screaming! For understanding this will cost you everything you have and even deny you the ego-satisfaction of thinking you are any better off than those who do not get it.
It is so daunting to realize that one has spent his life denying reality, has lived his life in a trance designed to keep himself out of touch with himself, with the world, and with God. In some way I know this is the “hell” that I used to preach against though I now realize the “hell” I saw threatening others had already gnawed deeply into my own soul. The denial system that we acquire with birth and upbringing is very important, but it is so very important that at some point we find the grace and humility to own our dishonesty with ourselves, with others, and with God. And this is really no big deal as it merely means we have a chance to accept our human-ness, a dimension of which is our mortality, which civilization, composed of comforting “fig-leaves” is designed to hide. Poet David Whyte wrote in “Consolations,” that we are in denial of the grace that lies just beyond the horizon of our view of the world, described by Conrad Aiken as, “the small bright circle of consciousness.” And Whyte avowed that to be in denial is to find oneself with a lot of company, noting then that “denial is the crossroads between perception and readiness, to deny denial is to invite powers into our lives we have not yet readied ourselves to meet.”

Here is a list of my blogs. I invite you to check out the other two sometime.
https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/
https://literarylew.wordpress.com/
https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/

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Christianity as its Own Worst Enemy

Evangelical Christianity is its own worst enemy.  Feeling their faith is being threatened, they have hitched their wagon to a man who can even be thought of as an “anti-christ” of sorts as he is the opposite of anything that Jesus taught.  These Christians feeling of socio-economic powerlessness has pushed them into seeking political power and they found a spokesman in Donald J. Trump.  But faith, certainly including the Christian faith, is not something that can be threatened if its focal point is the personal dimension of spirituality, not the ideological.  This phenomenon of the Christian teachings is termed the “Personhood” of Christ which, if kept from being itself merely another cold, sterile idea, can lead to an internal, “personal” experience not dependent upon ideology and dogma.  Obsession with ideology and dogma keeps any experience of anything from taking place.

But the ego, termed “the flesh” by the Apostle Paul, is always ready to co-opt our spiritual impulses and accomplishes this purpose by turning the teachings of any spiritual teacher into dogma. The ego’s inroad into many people’s spirituality is through the intellect, particularly in the West where the rational is overly emphasized to the neglect of the affective domain.  The ego is delighted with a cognitive-based faith system as it finds the human mind easy prey upon which to work its dark, self-serving magic. When the dogmatic emphasis predominates, everything about the spirituality is kept in the mind and “worship” consists of some version of a repetition compulsion with words and ritual, usually including guilt-ridden do-goodism.  When this spiritual edifice is threatened the ego instructs the individual, and the group, to merely rely more feverishly on this repetition compulsion.  This addictive behavior is desperate as with all addictions the point is to keep one away from recognizing one’s inner emptiness which, according to the teachings of Jesus, is where “fullness” is found.

God does not reside in ideas or “Christian” behavior though both are necessary components of spirituality if they are seen merely as a means to an end and not an end in themselves.  The ego’s domain of ritual and ideas is the Pauline “letter of the law” and the Apostle emphatically declared that the “letter of the law killeth.”  And when this situation predominates in a culture, it is the seed-bed of atheism as many times, quite ironically, it is only the atheists that see through the Christian charade.

Here is a list of my blogs.  I invite you to check out the other two sometime.

https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/

https://literarylew.wordpress.com/

https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/

The Republican Soul is in Jeopardy and the Whole Country is Imperiled

Trump has taken his war on words…and reality…to another level now that he is feeling the pressure from the investigation of Robert Mueller.  When his denials of Russian “collusion” and “obstruction of justice” were beginning to appear beyond the pale of foolishness, just yesterday they took a new approach explaining that the office of the Presidency meant that Trump was beyond any guilt of “collusion” or “obstruction of justice.”  If the criticism of being ugly is beginning to sink through one’s thick skull, it is convenient to merely convince oneself…and close friends…”Oh, no!  This is beautiful!”

And here Trump has introduced a new feature into the frenzy of the Republican soul—if something happens that does not fit your desires, just deny it or redefine the terms!  And he has demonstrated that hordes of the party base will go along with him and the rest of the party will tag along because without that base…and increasingly without Trump…they have no identity at all.  Trump has single-handedly captured the Republican soul as his own abysmal spiritual emptiness offered them a validation.  “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh,” said Jesus, and Republicans have now found their mouth piece and are getting accustomed to it.

In the Trumpian world there is no Real, only the “real” that many of us see as beautiful and extremely important but having value only as an expression of “the Real.”  A shift of perspective introducing one to the illimitable mystery of life, wherein lies life’s essential beauty, threatens the commonplace real that rules their world where it could give it enhanced meaning. Driven by his profound existential insecurity, fear, and loneliness, Trump is driven to find validation only in the “real” world of the ephemeral and totally neglect the interior world, his “heart”, which, unattended, will always atrophy even to the point of spiritual death.  When that inner emptiness, present with us all, is neglected, it becomes a veritable black hole which will suck into its hungry maw anything that tarries on its periphery for even a moment. Witness Reince Priebus, Kelly Anne Conway, and Sarah Huckabee Sanders, naming but a few.  And now our entire country is in the orbit this vortex…hopefully only on its outskirts, but even that is a dangerous position to be in.

This is a spiritual crisis; and by “spiritual” I’m not talking about “spirituality” of popular vernacular but of an experience that is always underway beneath the surface, hidden beneath the rational veneer made manifest with our words and deeds.  How ironic that evangelical Christian support of this darkness is unfazed with the steady disclosure of the Trumpian “Heart of Darkness,” refusing the efficacy of the Jesus that they believe in which could empower them to suffer through the necessary disillusionment.

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Here is a list of my blogs.  I invite you to check out the other two sometime.

https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/

https://literarylew.wordpress.com/

https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/

 

The Dark “Divinity” of Donald Trump

Axios reported this morning that the Trump administration is now arguing that the President cannot be guilty of obstruction of justice because the constitution declares he is the chief law enforcement officer of the land.  Early in the Trumpian onslaught against our country last year, I began to liken him unto a god of sorts, a “dark” god who had a chthonic grip on a significant portion of the American population.  This was best illustrated in his brazen declaration that he could shoot someone in the streets of Manhattan and not lose support. Trump and his handlers are very astute in grasping when he pushes the limits and immediately huddle together and discuss, “Now, how do we justify this?”  Simple denial has worked faithfully for him as the base of his party believes everything he says and the rest of the party marches lamely in tow as they too have succumbed to the intoxicating siren song of power.  The Republican Party has created a monster which many of them realize they cannot control but they cannot admit this because, like Trump, they cannot admit having made a mistake.

But this phenomenon is an expression of not just the Republican Party but of the American psyche.  If we find the humility we will have to acknowledge that our nation has been, as the prophet Daniel put it, “weighed in the balances and found wanting.”  Our inherent arrogance and smugness is now egregiously apparent for all to see and many can respond only with a lame, “Oh, that is not true.  That is fake news.”  One historical example is in the Manifest Destiny theme in American history when we were consumed with the belief that God had brought us to this new world, had created us as a nation, and then given us the “manifest” task of carrying our “truth, justice, and the American way” westward to the Pacific Ocean.  This “divine” mandate meant that the Native Americans were merely an obstacle and could be slaughtered in the interest of our goal being accomplished.  “God is leading us,” we said, and how can one argue with God?

The attitude that was present then, and did bring these United States to the world stage, is now having the dark, daemonic dimension of that Manifest Destiny impulse exposed.  Our task now is having the humility to let “self-awareness” dawn upon us, “self-awareness” being merely the light of day which any tribe always resists experiencing.  This cultural blindness is not exclusive to our tribe by any means.  It is present with all individuals and all cultures but now we are in the position where we could humbly acknowledge this human frailty and grow from the experience.  But, as Auden told us, “When truth met him, and held out her hand, we clung in panic to our tall belief and shrank away like an ill-treated child.” And it is very interesting to note that significant numbers of Christians in our country…especially evangelicals…adamantly remain ensconced in their arrogance as they too, just like Trump, cannot admit that they made a mistake.

(The following is a link to the Axios article— https://www.axios.com/exclusive-trump-lawyer-claims-the-president-cannot-obstruct-justice-2514742663.html)

“The Wisdom of Pogo” from Marianne Williamson

Until we have met the monsters in ourselves, we keep trying to slay them in the outer world.  And we find that we cannot.  For all darkness in the world stems from darkness in the heart.  And it is there that we must do our work.  Marianne Williamson

This is still another version of the famous wisdom of Pogo, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”  Williamson, a teacher of The Course in Miracles and a political/social activist, presents spirituality in her books and speeches as something that begins in the depths of one’s own being and has value only to the degree that one realizes any value to the world that comes from this spirituality is dependent upon this realization.  Furthermore, value to the world will come from this spirituality as the result of continued focus on one’s own soul as in, “It’s me, it’s me, it’s me O Lord, standing in the need of prayer.”

But the rush of spiritual impulse usually gets co-opted almost immediately by the ego and the “convert” begins to focus on getting others to believe like he does, to have the same experience as he does, and thus the spiritual impetus is immediately short-circuited.  One dimension of this problem is that culture usually influences us to think of religion in social terms and the ego immediately begins to utilize this passion to help the individual find a place in a spiritual context, i.e. church, for example.  What the Apostle Paul termed “the flesh” takes over and this spiritual dynamic percolating in the soul loses its primary focus–the “working out of your salvation, with fear and trembling.”

Alabama: Politics and Moral Rectitude

Alabama’s Governor Kay Ivey has demonstrated the mind set of many conservative Republicans in announcing her support of controversial Senate candidate Roy Moore.  Though she “has no reason to doubt” the numerous women who report his inappropriate sexual advances on them, some in their youth, she declares that she will put her Republican Party loyalty first.

I do not think she lacks in intelligence nor moral rectitude.  She is like most of us she is a rational human being and she puts her faith in her rational ability more than any other dimension of her experience.  One could even say that she has no experience that is not over-ridden by rationality and therein lies the problem…in my estimation!  For, we are not rational beings in the depths of our heart, which is to say, in our unconscious depths, which is why we are so susceptible to the prevailing winds in our culture and ripe for manipulation by political and religious leaders. This is because most political and religious leaders have their positions because of their ability to be in tune with the “prevailing winds” of their milieu and to have climbed to a position of influence.

This Alabama morass illustrates the profound political and socio-cultural impasse in my country and each side tends to demonize the other.  Speaking as a Progressive, yes, I think there are “deplorables” amongst the Conservatives as Hillary Clinton alleged last year but they are a real minority and I happen to know there are extremist “nut-jobs” among my ranks.  But there are many Conservatives whose rational thinking is of the Kay Ivey variety and though I passionately disagree, and feel there are moral and spiritual issues that need to be addressed, that does not mean she is stupid or is a bad human being.  And there are “moral and spiritual issues that need to be addressed” by the whole of this country, starting with yours truly!

Trumpism is Devouring Alabama

Trumpism has found another avatar, this one in Alabama, a mini-avatar in the person of Judge Roy Moore.  And Moore, fulfilling his job-description, inspires his devotees to merely double-down in their support of him as his moral, ethical, and legal character become more exposed as fraudulent.  Just as with Trump, Moore has evangelical Christians as an important element of his support base and they are demonstrating their historic skill at “doubling down” in the face of his non-sense.

But my favorite “doubling-downer” currently is Jerry Falwell, Jr. the increasingly infamous president of Liberty Baptist University.  After consistently voicing support for Trump, even in the face of opposition from students, faculty, and alumni, he has boldly stated that the believes Moore over the women who are accusing him of sexual improprieties in their youth.  But Falwell has no choice.  He has put himself out on a limb and cannot back down; for backing down, admitting that his judgment about Trump was in error, would be to admit making a mistake which is the characterological flaw that he shares with Trump.  Falwell is here demonstrating one subtle but fatal flaw of any faith tradition, the temptation to take one’s “belief” too seriously, not realizing that there should be a distinction between one’s belief and the “object” of one’s belief.  But believers of the Falwell variety actually have only belief in their belief for they have been indoctrinated into a version of their faith which emphasizes cognition over experience.  In this mode of spiritual experience, faith consists merely of a creed, a medley of “well-worn words and ready phrases that build comfortable walls against the wilderness” (Conrad Aiken) of a messy reality that they wish to escape from.  These are the “letter-of-the-law” believers that the Apostle Paul warned us against.

I must issue a caveat here.  I don’t think Falwell is a bad man nor is in insincere.  And the Jesus that he voices belief in was, and is, a cosmic demonstration… i.e. “Word”… of forgiveness to any and all of us regardless of what we think, say, or do.  But this Divine Grace does not leave us without the consequences of our behavior–consequences to ourselves, to those around us, and even to the whole world.