Category Archives: religion & spirituality

“Figgering Out” This Religious Thingy

This religion thingy.  Wow!  It still has me baffled.  But not really, as the bafflement is only my ego flirting with the awe of standing naked before the Ultimate.  I’ve always wanted to “figger this thing out” and now I’ve resigned to my ignorance which I think is what Jesus, and other spiritual teachers were trying to teach us.  The need to “figger this thing out” is what happened when we opted to take a bite out of that apple, an action which was necessary if this human experience was to unfold.  Our heart pines for the unconscious “memory” of Eden, which Shakespeare captured when he had Macbeth say, “My dull brain is racked by things forgotten.”

The “figgering it out” has brought us all of the luxury of modernity.  It has brought us to the verge of solving so many of the world’s ills except for the most pernicious one, the darkness of our collective heart.  Having imbibed of the “knowledge of good and evil,” that is distinction drawing or bifurcating reality, we have been able to carve up this beautiful world to accomplish great ends but we are then left with a heart which is determined to continue carving up our world into categories of “us” and “them.”  It is that obsession which threatens to be our destruction, a “self” destruction.  Yes, “We have met the enemy and he is us” as Pogo told us in a cartoon strip.

“Figgering it out” is good.  But it is even better when we realize that this impulse, though having a certain nobility, can become toxic when we can’t give it a rest and realize that life is a profound and beautiful mystery which ultimately we cannot “figger” out.

Poet e e cummings summed it up when he wrote:

when god decided to invent
everything he took one
breath bigger than a circustent
and everything began

when man determined to destroy
himself he picked the was
of shall and finding only why
smashed it into because 

***************************

An Affirmation of Faith

Increasingly I am emboldened in my faith, finding the courage to allow this experience to extend deeper into my heart and into the whole of my life.  As I do so I feel empowered to speak and write from my heart, realizing that if you speak from any other source you are merely using what Carl Jung called “directed thinking.”  Directed thinking was his term for thinking which is designed to mesh with a social and cultural context, a type of thinking which is very important, but not if it disallows a more genuine, authentic vein of thought.

Often as I “hold forth” here I experience a tinge of guilt as I am approaching faith in a way that is contrary to the way I was taught in my youth, contrary to “the faith once delivered unto the saints.”  But this guilt is a core issue and reflects the residual enslavement to the “guilting into” religion that I was subjected to as a child.  That “guilting into” dimension of faith is not as bad as it sounds as it is merely part of enculturation and a part that can be discarded as we grow up, allowing a more genuine experience.

Another dimension of angst I experience is, “What will they think?”  There are family members and people from my youth who probably have ventured into this literary venture of mine from time to time and they will certainly lament, “Oh, he certainly has ‘departed from the faith once delivered unto the saints’ or perhaps, ‘He went out from us because he was not of us.’”  There is residual guilt for having ventured from the beaten path at this late point in my life.  But, as Jesus put it, “What shall a man profit if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul” which is what happens if we obsessively trek onward on that “beaten” path and never allow authenticity to flow from our lives.  It is the fear that Henry David Thoreau had when he “went to the woods” and there sought to delve into the marrow of life and not come to the end of his life and realize that what he had lived was not life at all.

Still another critical concern I have is the residual notion, “If I’m right, they are wrong.”  In the linear thinking that I was enculturated into, right and wrong are clear and distinct categories so that the vein of spirituality that I share here must mean that those who I have “left behind” don’t have it right.  In that same vein of thinking it would mean that “I’m saved” and “they aren’t” unless they believe as I do.  That is certainly true if one is enslaved to linear thought but not in the least if one has found freedom from that prison.  I now see the Christian story as an expression of cosmic truth, a story of love and grace that has been written into the hearts of mankind from eons past which found one beautiful expression in the person of Jesus Christ.  His story shows us that His Grace is a gift and is not dependent on our “believing right” or even “behaving right” but merely an unconditional absolution for perceived guilt and shame.

*******************

 

Two other blogs of mine are listed here which I invite you to check out:

https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/

https://literarylew.wordpress.com/

https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/

A Prophetic Word from A Literary Critic

This is the best “sermon” I’ve read yet about Trump and his minions. Rebecca Solnit spares no punches and delivers a prophetic word, not just about Trump, but about our whole culture. As they say, “Read it and weep.” And weeping is in order as this is a very sad moment in our history and could get even sadder at any moment. My use of words like “sermon” and “prophetic” bely my rage at the church culture of my origins. Yes, “me doeth protest too much.”  A poet friend of mine in Arkansas once described a culture-bound clergy in these terms, “Ye heroes of spiritual contraception who have long-since despaired of rebirth.”

I still think that “truth” can be found in spiritual traditions but very often spiritual traditions ossify and become merely “well-worn words and ready phrases that build walls against the wilderness.” That leaves it to artists, writers, and even comedians to “speak truth to power” and Ms. Solnit here “knocks it out of the park.”

Here is the link to Solnit’s Essay — http://lithub.com/rebecca-solnit-the-loneliness-of-donald-trump/

******************************

Two other blogs of mine are listed here which I invited you to check out:

https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/

https://literarylew.wordpress.com/

https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/

Materialism and Religion

In a recent post, I referred to something that scientists have taught us, that physical life is not simply as it appears to be at its root is a profound mystery that cannot be reduced to rational, including “scientific” explanation.  Life is not “material” as our culture insists, but “immaterial.” Quantum physics teaches us that physical life is mostly empty space and that only our god-given neurological endowment allows us to construct the time and space continuum which gives us this thing we call reality.  Our brain endows us with the capacity to objectify subjective experience which makes possible the creation of an “object-world” which eventually evolves into a consensually-validated reality.  This does not devalue life as we know it; it merely gives it meaning as it introduces us to the realization that there is another dimension to life that we cannot grasp with our conscious mind.

And religion was given to us to attempt to address this mystery of existence and therefore endow life with meaning.  In our primitive past words like “god” had meaning when they were related to the depths of the heart but in time the word became taken as the “thing-in-itself”, taken as that “Wholly Other” dimension of life that cannot be captured with any word but can only be “pointed to” with words.  Our word “Holy” comes from the term “Wholly Other” which refers to that dimension of life which is so profound that one poet has described it as that before which we can only, “glory, bow, and tremble.”  This is the frightening, and Holy, experience of a liminal moment when the core of our being experiences its vulnerability and the distinction between “inside” and “outside” is unclear for a moment.  Liminality is what German philosopher Eric Voeglin and Jewish theologian Martin Buber termed the “in-between” and modern day spiritual teacher Deepak Chopra simply, but beautifully termed, “the gap.”  Buber said that it is only here that we can make connection with other people, a connection that is not routine given its profundity, merely a gift between two people who have found the courage to climb out of their egoistic prison and proffer a “hand that reaches across the abyss” hoping that it will be received by the other, i.e. the “Other.”   Buber called this an “I-Thou” moment because of its profound reverence and Holiness

Our modern “material” culture which is intrinsically bound by linear thinking cannot conceive of spirituality in this sense.  Spirituality bound by culture cannot escape itself so that this “Holiness” can be encountered occasionally…and it can only be encountered “occasionally,” as noted by the wisdom of T.S. Eliot, “Humankind cannot bear very much of reality.” Instead, reality offers a steady diet of dogma and sterile tradition to which the linear-thinking mind can rigidly adhere to and convince itself of its “godliness.”  This is what Jesus recognized in the religious establishment of his day when he so unceremoniously called them “hypocrites” or actors.  Culture-bound faith is performance art.  And that would not be so bad as life is performance art and therefore faith must be also most of the time perfunctory compliance with ritual and tradition.  But the problem arises when the “performance art” dimension of faith is mistaken for the whole of it and the heart-level dimension which would make it meaningful is not taught, and is even discouraged.   This style of faith, bound by the “letter of the law” or tradition, is culture-bound and will always be amenable to cultural influences and will find it difficult or impossible to question the prevailing values of “the tribe.”

Here are the other blogs that I have on the table.  Check’em out!

The Finger Pointing to the Moon is not the Moon!!!

I recently posted on one of my other blogs about a favorite subject of mine, a closed-referential system also called epistemic closure or confirmation bias.  I focus on this issue because it is personally relevant given my youth in a very close-minded community and religious culture.  And my knowledge about this matter is so personal that without a doubt I am revealing that my “escape” from the close-mindedness is not complete and probably never will be.  In fact, it is impossible to cease to think outside of a context and that context is always larger than one is aware of.  We do not have an “objective” existence and if we ever accomplish that stance we will have become God and personally, I’ve already told friends that if I ever give evidence that I think I have accomplished that, “Just come and shoot me!”  I often like to use the term “god-complex” for those who are so rigid in their belief system that the uncertainty necessary for faith is not permitted to visit them.

My focus for the moment is the way in which religious thought can become self-contained so that it is self-referential, leading always to group-think and the aforementioned epistemic closure.  In a spiritual context like this “god-talk” is nothing but idle chatter even though the “chatting” might be done with great solemnity and fervor.  The “god-talk” I have in mind can be thought of as social grooming, amounting to nothing more than “car-talk” or banter about the local sports team.  Social grooming is very important and even has value in a religious setting though not when it is an end in itself. “God-talk” might be thought of in the spiritual context I come from as the exchange of common-place notions like, “Jesus Saves” or “Praise the Lord” or “Isn’t God wonderful” or “Hallelujah” and all of these terms have value.  But their value has meaning only when they are used in a group dialogue in which they are explored in terms of personal experience and not as mere grist for a social mill.  When reduced to this grist, they have the value only of “sounding brass and tinkling cymbal.”

The core issue here is epistemological, the word is not the thing or as the Buddhists put it, “The finger pointing to the moon is not the moon.”   But our culture has misled us, teaching us that “the word is the thing,” that it is the “thing in itself” and not the pointer that the Buddhists would have us learn.  This view of the world gives us the impression that the world is one dimensional, that there is no immaterial dimension to life, and that our everyone is empowered to claim objectivity.  But the problem with this “objectivity” is that it encourages everyone to claim the right to this objectivity which puts on our table at this present moment two diametrically opposing views of how the world should be seen.  One view is conservative and at its root is a firm belief that “the way things are” is valid and need to be maintained, that “walls” need to be built around it to keep out the ever-encroaching peril of the other view.  This other view, the liberal view, does not see reality as static but as a dynamic flow that permits us to have only a viewpoint, not an objective grasp of “the way things are.”

The “immaterial” dimension of life, i.e. the “spiritual”, could humble each of these perspectives and permit the finding of common ground.  The conservative and the liberal energy is necessary in any political body but when each side is dug in at the heels conflict cannot be resolved and catastrophe can take place.  But by using the term “spiritual” I have just opened a can of worms as the word means something which is not spiritual in the least but a means of social control and even tyranny.

TO BE CONTINUED

******************************************************

https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/

https://literarylew.wordpress.com/

https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/

The Spiritual Darkness in Our Politics

The Republican Party is pretty sure it now has a plan to replace Obamacare that will please the contentious part of their party and might get approval of the House of Representatives.  They are determined to fulfill their vow to “repeal and replace” Obamacare regardless of the cost.  I almost wish they could succeed just so they could “get a life” and focus on the mundane concern of addressing the needs of our country!  If their concern was other than some emotional petty vindictiveness toward President Obama…they still can’t get past the color of his skin…they could have taken the approach, “Hey, there are problems with Obamacare.  Let’s address these problems, resolve them, and get on with our life.”  But, that would never suffice for them as they have to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, regardless of the cost of the effort and the impact on the American public.  This is what happens when ideologues dominate in a legislative body, they obsess with “ideas” rather than any actual “intent” that the ideas reflect.  This is, of course, a normal stage in the development of a child, to take the “word” for the “thing,” but most of us mature and begin to see that there are others present in our world.  AND, when adults are thinking and behaving like this, there is a “spiritual” issue on the table, meaning there are conflicts raging beneath the surface that are not being addressed. And, addressing these conflicts by bringing them to the light of the day is painful, so painful that most individuals as well as groups opt to not do so.  It is much easier to just continue to seethe in the depths of their heart and take their rage out on someone or some other group.  And, if you are driven by racism and other primitive demons, the task is made easier as you can take it out on a black former President.  They are overlooking that President Obama has a life, and though he will be disappointed with what they are doing, he is not going to take it personally which is what they want.  They hate that man, not realizing that hatred is devastating to those who harbor it as well as to anyone around them.  But, lacking any self-awareness, they are missing this truth.

Truth in our Modern “Fact-free” Zone

Truth is not a thing!  Truth is not an object that you stumble across one day as you amble along your life’s pathway, a bright and shiny object which you immediately recognize as “The Truth.”  Now it is true that walking along this path you might stumble upon a spiritual tradition, a thing or object, which is intriguing and even having a “bright and shiny” quality to it which appears to convey truth.  But this “bright and shiny object” can easily be only a spiritual bauble with which the ego can find amusement and self-gratification for a while.  The Truth is not on the surface of any spiritual tradition, is not a “thing” in the least.

But if you have been raised in the West where we have been systematized and “thingi-fied” since at least the industrial revolution, it is human nature to see everything as a “thing” even spiritual matters which are intrinsically a “no-thing.”  This is because our culture has turned our soul into a “thing” so that our intrinsic grasp of who we are is conceptual and therefore we will see other people, spiritual traditions, and even “god” as a thing.  We can’t help it.  It is human nature to perceive out of “the abundance of one’s heart” and the heart is always encumbered by the dross of the enculturation process.  Any spiritual tradition will encounter “meaning” only when one has the temerity to look beneath the surface of his life which always will jeopardize spiritual traditions that have been passed on to him.  Indeed, in some sense one must lose his spiritual tradition, his faith, his god if he is to find meaningful spiritual roots, meaningful faith, and a meaningful “god” who is not a mere idle thought rattling around in his skull.  This is relevant to the admonishment of Jesus that we must lose our life in order to find it, our “life” consisting of the persona that by necessity we acquired and has served a useful purpose…and can do so again if we will allow our internal resources (i.e. “Spirit”) to be tapped and give meaning to this persona.  And in my spiritual tradition, Christianity, the Christian persona is difficult to grasp as our ego does not want us to get a glimpse of just how much our faith has been an example of performance art.  This is what Jesus recognized with the established religion of his day and called them “hypocrites” or “actors.”  He, being a keen spiritual observer of his world, immediately recognized that their spiritual tradition had become merely performance art.  I think that today he would call most Christians something like “Christian-oids.”

Truth is elusive and to put it into words is difficult, technically impossible.  Words are only “pointers” in the spiritual realm and human nature is to take these words superficially and mistake the word for the thing.  Truth is a process, not a thing, and in my spiritual tradition this process is described as a “Person” and this is a meaningful way of seeing and intuitively grasping Truth.  But when at the core of our heart we perceive ourselves as a “thing” it takes a miracle for us to see any dimension of spiritual life, and life as a whole, as anything but a “thing.”  Until we see and understand this, our relationships…even the closest and dearest relationships…will be one “thing” relating to another “thing” without the presence of any dynamic process that is the essential feature of the life process.  Life is not static.  We live in a flux and we are a flux but our ego resists understanding this as doing so requires a heart that has become “petal open” and therefore aware of its fluidity and the fluidity of the whole of life.

(I almost got carried away here.  My ultimate point was the spiritual emptiness of our culture which has facilitated and even encouraged the development of Trumpism, with our President being only a symptom.  I pose the question I so often pose here, and in real time, “Where is the church?”  I could even say, “Where is God?”  Yes, God has disappeared and one could even say “dead” as did Nietzsche presciently note in the 19th century but that is only because those purporting to believe in Him have turned him into a sterile concept, the “letter of the law” and as the Apostle Paul told us, this “letter” always kills anything it touches.  Instead of droning on further, you might want to see a further amplification of this concern in another blog I posted yesterday.  Here is the link:  https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/)