Category Archives: theology

“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 

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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.

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!

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/)

A “God-complex” is Avoidance of God

Trump must be one hell of a Christian!  Yes, anyone that free of guilt must be even more than the “baby Christian” that evangelicals say that he is!  In fact, since Trump has never even needed to ask God for forgiveness is the first place, maybe he has always been a Christian…even before he was born perhaps!  In some uncanny way, since the Christian “work of salvation” done in Christ was completed “even before the foundation of the world,” maybe Trump’s roots go back that far and he is god himself!  He certainly acts like it.

And I’ve thought for a long time that Trump does have some “god like” power over people though he would be according to the teachings of Carl Jung, a “dark” god.  For example, many of Trump’s followers have complete faith in him even to the point they support him regardless of what he does or says.  “God” can make no mistake so whatever comes from his mouth, though blatantly false to “non-believers,” is “true” to his followers/believers.  God declares through the prophet Isaiah, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.  And scriptural literalists interpret this to mean that regardless of what happens, God has dictated it.  This appeared in today’s news when an Oklahoma Republican legislator has declared that abortion should be illegal even in the cases of rape or incest.  “God knows what he is doing, even if we can’t understand it” is the rationale for those believers.

Facetiousness and irony are certainly part of my intent here.  But I have recognized in my clinical work, and in my personal experience, a phenomenon I called “the god complex.”  And persons with this affliction certainly to appear to feel and think they are inviolate like god is, but closer scrutiny reveals that their posture reveals profound insecurity and fear and the certainty they cling to comes only from desperation.  These people have no “faith” in God but only a compulsive, desperate clinging to their thoughts about the Bible and God.  I have found that if they could only “get over themselves” they would find that their faith in the Bible and God could take on a new dimension.  But the price tag is humility and as T.S. Eliot noted, “The only wisdom we can hope to acquire is humility.  And humility is endless.”

 

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

Nicholas Kristof of NYT Delivers a “Word from on High”

I’m going to linger on this subject of Jesus as our “imaginary friend” for a while.  One reason is this brilliant op-ed in the NYT by Nicholas Kristof who used “literary license” to make the teachings of Jesus very relevant to the darkness that is prevailing now in Washington D.C.  The preacher, or pastor, that I was familiar with in my past would discourse about Jesus in a very prosaic fashion though several of them did so in a way that was immensely valuable to me.  But here, a journalist, approaching the matter from beyond the pale of theology and ecclesiastical decorum takes the teachings of Jesus and delivers a prophetic word to our country which is in desperate need of men and women who have the courage to stand up and speak “truth to power.”  This prophetic voice is silent in most of Christendom and apparently the mute button has been hit by evangelical Christians.  Please read this op-ed.  It is so powerful and inspiring.  I don’t know anything about the spirituality of Nicholas Kristof, and don’t really care, because what I like to call “the Spirit of God” was coursing through his veins when he wrote these words.

If Ignorance Were Bliss…

One of my dearest pastors from my youth would often quip, “If ignorance were bliss, we’d all be blistered.”  This was just a witty, deliberately maladroit Arkansas version of the epistemological insight that basically we are all more ignorant than we light to admit.

The nature of knowledge increasingly fascinates me.  The political situation in my country has intensified this fascination as I watch intelligent and thoughtful people persistently subscribe to things that are patently absurd, giving rise to the phenomena of a “fact-free” world.  Here is a New York Times op-ed from this morning in which this penchant for self-deception is explained, a penchant which the authors point out is present for liberals and conservatives alike. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/03/opinion/sunday/why-we-believe-obvious-untruths.html?_r=0

The authors point out that ignorance is our natural state. There is an absurdity to that observation unless you look at things closely, including your own life.  They are only restating what the Apostle Paul had in mind when he said that we “see through a glass darkly.”  We see first what we want to see and if we ever get beyond our self-serving premises it will not be merely a function of intelligence.  Particularly, in the area of religion it is very troubling, disillusioning even, to realize that we have been approaching even our spiritual experience with “dark” vision, an insight which immediately subjects us to disillusionment.  But if we can withstand the discomfort, or anguish, of disillusionment than sometimes we can begin to toy with the notion that perhaps those who see things differently, be it in regard to religion or politics, might not be as “wrong” as we had thought.

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(If this subject of “willful blindness” intrigues you, google the terms “epistemic closure” and “confirmation bias.”)