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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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Religion Can Facilitate Meaning in a Meaningless World.

Religion has historically offered solace to the duress of life’s fragility, offering hope and comfort when there appears to be none.  The word “religion” means “to bind together,” reflecting humankind’s awareness that the psyche is divided and some unification of this schism is needed for the resulting anxiety to be handled effectively.  But acknowledging this duress is challenging to the human ego, which offers us a steady diet of pabulum and diversion with which to amuse ourselves rather than boldly opening one’s heart to the existential tumult that is always simmering beneath the surface of “civilized’ life.  (“Most men live lives of quiet desperation.”  Henry David Thoreau)

This escapism can be fatal to religion.  This insight is what led Nietzsche to declare in the 19th century that, “God is dead,” as he saw that human culture was creating an alienation that could eventually be catastrophic to life.  The alienation that meaninglessness can produce often creates an existential crisis world that religion could help and alleviate were it not encapsulated by the culture and thus disallowing it to fulfill its function of directing the soul toward the numinous. It in the domain of the numinous that the heart can explore the mystery which is intrinsic to life, though it was very disconcerting to a world that was increasingly rationalistic.  This mystery can facilitate an integration of body and soul that will allow humans to live meaningfully in a world that that would otherwise be bewildering or baffling.

Religion, however, is not the only antidote to this problem of meaninglessness.  The metaphor present in meaningful religion also finds expression in the artistic and literary worlds, artists and writers being capable of using their respective mediums to put humankind in touch with imagery that can facilitate an experience of this numinous.

Does Sin Have Meaning Any Longer in our Culture?

I have some taint of the Trumpian arrogance in me so that it is hard to say, “I made a mistake.”  Yes, my “memory bank” failed me in yesterday’s post and the “relevant” poetry blurb at the very end was not the one I had in mind, a problem which I have now corrected.  I’m making this “confession” though facetiously just so any of you who are interested can return to yesterday’s post and sample a bit of the wisdom of Stanley Kunitz. However, admitting being mistaken is a very human flaw and I’m in recovery now from having been mired in that morass of self-loathing and infantile arrogance most of my life.  Richard Nixon when he resigned in 1973 did not really admit doing any wrong, declaring famously at one point in the debacle, “I’m not a crook.”  But when the impeachment proceeding reached a certain point of intensity, he did resign and with great humiliation walked to that waiting helicopter with his wife and continued his flight into political ignominy.  He was in great pain, greatly shamed and humiliated by what his words and behavior had led to, but under the pressure of the political structure that he was part of and respected to some degree, he accepted disgrace and meekly resigned, a tacit admission of wrong-doing.  Nixon had some inner sense of self-control that allowed him to not resort to the violent impulse that would explode in many people when they are shamed like he was.

There is something to say for a religious culture in which “confessing sins” is part of life.  Even though this “sin” matter goes deeply beneath the surface…and from time to time circumstances lead us to exploring the matter more intently, discovering that the real sin lies in the “thoughts and intents of the heart—it is helpful to have the surface level of the issue commonplace enough that we can readily admit shortcomings.  But occasionally people appear in our culture who have steeled their heart about even a cursory acknowledgement of sin or fault and they will brazenly refuse to admit wrong on even the most trivial matter.  And if one of these people happen to stumble into a position of power, they can wreak havoc on all who are within their sphere of influence.

 

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/

We Have Finally Killed God!

Nickel Boy Graphics

We Have Finally Killed God!

There are several questions that come to mind from this fairly simple comic panel such as “Is it even possible to kill God? And what does it even mean?” (For now, the definition I want to use for killing God is “removing the belief in God from minds and hearts.”)

But remembering that I want to be radically and savagely in search of knowing Real Life Jesus, My Companion In The Way, there’s one question that stands out before the others.

“Which is worse: killing God or warping the image of God?”

Before examining this question, it’s important to define “killing God.” The definition I want to use is “removing the belief in God from minds and hearts.” This is about killing or eliminating ideas and feelings, not about whether or not Jesus really is God and whether or not as God he could die on a cross. (Although these…

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Words do “Wear Out” and Need to be “Re-vivified.”

Words wear out.  Infused with great meaning when they are first uttered, the significance/meaning diminishes with the passing of time as they become common coinage in the verbal soup that we live in, to the point that perfunctory usage depreciates language to mere social cache.  As T. S. Eliot put it, “Words slip, slide, decay with imprecision” as they are employed by our common tongue. They become the, “well-worn words and ready phrases,” according to Conrad Aiken, which have the primary function of blocking out the unpleasantness beneath the surface, a process he describes as, “having built comfortable walls against the wilderness.”

It becomes the responsibility of each generation to re-invigorate language by using words in terms of personal experience, not merely for the purpose of gaining and maintaining social approbation.  And when words are used in “personal terms” they can occasionally offer a fresh look at the meaning of words stripped of their perfunctory usage.  T. S. Eliot put it this way, “Last years words are for last year’s season and next years words await another voice.”

Carl Jung had important insight on the need of this re-vivication of language, especially regarding, “Eternal Truth,” that religions often purport to purvey:

The church’s, “truth may…call itself ‘eternal,’ but its temporal garment must pay tribute to the evanescence of all earthly things and should take account of psychic changes.  Eternal truth needs a human language that alters with the spirit of the times.  The primordial images undergo ceaseless transformation and yet remain ever the same, but only in a new form can they be understood anew.  Always they require a new interpretation, as each formulation becomes obsolete, they are not to lose their spellbinding power over that fuges Mercurius (i.e. Mercurius fuse) and allow that useful though dangerous enemy to escape.  What is that about ‘new wine in old bottles.’?  Where are the answers to the spiritual needs and troubles of a new epoch?  And where the knowledge to deal with the psychological problems raised by the development of modern consciousness?  Never before has eternal truth been faced with such a hybris of will and power?

And I close with a short Carl Sandburg poem, “Precious Moments”;

Bright vocabularies are transient as rainbows./Speech requires blood and air to make it./Before the word comes off the end of the tongue,/While diaphragms of flesh negotiate the word,/In the moment of doom when the word forms/It is born, alive, registering an imprint—Afterward it is a mummy, a dry fact, done and gone.

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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/

“Specious Faith Has Its Good Side!!!

The speciousness of the Christian faith is being exposed in my country, particularly that of the Evangelicals; but, the hypocrisy is relevant to all Christians and all believers of any stripe.  The “luminaries” of the Evangelical Christians are conspicuously displaying this speciousness as they “dig in at the heels” in their support of Trump, not able to simply acknowledge, “Oops, I made a mistake!”  This is because the specious veneer of their faith does not permit erring, their faith’s ego dimension…present in all expressions of faith…not being permitted into their consciousness.

But “speciousness” in faith provides an heart-level “faith opportunity.”  Realizing that hypocrisy has been present in religiosity to some degree, at least, allows us one to simply acknowledge what the Apostle Paul called, “the flesh,” and swallow pride while recognizing, “Oops, I only ‘see through a glass darkly’ and was not aware of the extent of this ‘darkliness.’”  This is what Jesus recognized in the religious establishment of the day and really pissed them off when he called them, “hypocrites,” a word meaning that they were mere actors, merely practicing spiritual, “performance art.”

Humankind are merely mortals.  And being simply mortal, we can’t help but take ourselves too seriously, assuming that we are more noble than we actually are.  But occasionally the Cosmos, i.e. “God,” intervenes and “Trumps” us to show us just how shallow and insincere we are.  The resulting disillusionment is so painful that usually our ego will merely resort to “industrial strength” armament and we will “hunker down” and cling to our charade.

The hypocrisy I’ve addressed here with reference to the Christian tradition applies to all “belief systems,” especially those who are so sure they are not ensconced in any, “belief system.”  Atheism, for example, is but one of the many havens for that some escape to just to avoid the flimsy grasp we have on this precious gift called, life.  The alternative would be the intrinsically human experience of vulnerability.

Richard Rohr Prophecy, Part 3

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.)

Here Rohr alludes to addiction that often besets Christian countries, making people in these countries, “tend to be like everyone else.”  His teachings emphasize the addictive dimension of faith, a malady that leads him to encourage meditation as part of spiritual practice. He sees meditation as a means by which one can quieten that “monkey mind” that is often present in all spiritual practice, leaving one’s quest for spiritual depth to consist largely of a lot of thoughts bouncing around in one’s skull.  The core issue is addiction to thinking and even if “spirituality” characterizes one’s thinking it does not mean that this “rhapsody of words” (Shakespeare)  is anything but rhetoric disguised as spiritual truth

Rhetorical spiritual truth, i.e. “the letter of the law,” is upon closer scrutiny merely a means of avoiding the spiritual truth that is hidden in the literal grasp of the holy writ.  Meditation facilitates the opening of space between the rhetoric and the Essential, allowing that Essential dimension to begin seeping through into our consciousness and therefore into our day to day life.  It “quietens the mind” and allows that “still small voice of God” to filter through a lifetime of accumulated cognitive detritus. However, when one is addicted to his “cognitive detritus” and it happens to have the label “spiritual,” it is very challenging to understand and admit that it is merely detritus, an obsession with the superficial dimension of teachings without allowing experience of the Essential meaning.  This is the circumstance Jesus discovered in his life time with the religious establishment, leading him to say some rather “uncharitable” things to the Pharisees because he realized that they were so often merely, “straining at a gnat, and swallowing a camel.”

Another dimension of this problem is addressed in the Eastern teaching, “the word is not the thing,” succinctly captured with the Buddhist observation, “The finger pointing to the moon is not the moon.”  Just because we use words like, “God” or “Holy Spirit” or “the Bible” etc. does not mean they have any real value other than that of the aforementioned detritus.  These words are mere “pointers” and their value is found when we allow them to lead us into the Essential dimension.  French philosopher Gabriel Marcel, a devoted Christian, recognized this when he noted, “Words have value when they ‘open up’ into a region beyond themselves.” When the word is but a thing, it is only an object and is not allowed to open up.  This closely parallels the dilemma of “letter of the law” believers who are unable to “open up” as they take even themselves literally, not recognizing that they are but an expression of a mysterious and ineffable presence.  Their bondage to the “letter of the law” reveals the bondage of their life, a bondage that spiritual teachings seek to free them from.  But for this truth to begin sinking through to them they would have to admit, “I have eyes to see, but see not; ears to hear, but hear not.”