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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.”

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.

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/)

The Ministry as Performance Art

Bishop Eddie Long, a well-known mega-church pastor died last month after a long battle with “an aggressive form of cancer” and even more aggressive forms of financial and sexual scandals in recent years.  This story in Huffington Post is a very sad report of a life wasted under the ruse of religion, a wastage which devastated many other lives as well. (http://www.cnn.com/2017/02/03/us/bishop-eddie-long-i-knew/index.html) When “men of the cloth” get caught in compromising positions, i.e. “get caught with their pants down,” I don’t always giggle with delight.  I used to but I’ve grown up now and am more accepting of human foibles even in the arena of Hamlet’s “country matters.” But the story of Reverend Long goes far beyond the pale of “indiscretion” and reflects characterological depravity.

Having set out to be a “man of the cloth” in my youth, I can report first hand I was very much a mortal though I very much pretended not to be.  In my fundamentalist Christian culture, the ministry I took a stab at was usually performance art and, I now see, the Christian experience itself was largely “performance art” though that is not to dismiss it completely.  Life is “performance art” after all. (See poem at end.) But Bishop Long demonstrated the human cost of this duplicity, not just to himself but to those he victimized.  This is not to minimize the heinous nature of what he did but merely to recognize his primary flaw was in being guilty of being “human.”  Suffering from that malady always leaves one living a life of pretense to some degree and the more that the “pretense” is required by one’s social context to remain hidden, the greater the risk to the individual and to those around him.  And often the Christian culture fosters pretense over open human-ness which always involves being frail, flawed, and broken at times.  This is true for the laity but equally so for the clergy though the standards are often beyond the pale for the clergy.

Pretense in the area of faith is often a tragedy.  Spiritual teachers have always tried to tell us that spirituality is not about show but about authenticity and to be an authentic human being is to occasionally wallow in dimensions of human experience that we would rather not let others know about.  And most of the time we don’t have to.  Most of the time this ugliness can be addressed either privately or in the intimacy of close relationship, including therapeutic relationships.  But too often organized religions teach us to ignore this ugliness leading to the tragedy of Bishop Long.  This makes religion appear to some as complete escapism.  And often it is, and we certainly need escape for “humankind cannot bear very much reality.” (T.S. Eliot)  But the “escape” of religion can be salvivic if we deign to address the ego’s grip on the whole of our life, including our religion.

 

(From a W. H. Auden poem)

I wish you first a sense of theater.

Only those who learn illusion

And love it will go far.

Otherwise we spend our life

In confusion about who and what we really are.

 

Spiritual Discernment vs. Judgment

The Apostle Paul described a “discerning spirit” that could penetrate into the depths our being and there reveal the “thoughts and intents of the heart.”  In recent years I’ve learned to apply this in very human terms as I’ve become more attuned to the whims and fancies that pass through my mind/heart.  For example, about a year ago I was listening to an early campaign rally of Donald Trump and felt an urge to yell out, “Atta boy, Donald!  You tell’em!”  His rhetoric, the cadence of his speech , and evangelical fervor appealed to faint emotional imagery from my early youth and I immediately told my wife, “I know why so many people find him appealing.”  Here I exercised “discernment,” paying attention to a subtle impulse of my heart to which I gave no energy as I recognized it for what it was, opting instead for more mature, rational discretion.  Earlier in my life I would have taken what he was saying, “hook, line, and sinker” and would have been an enthusiastic supporter.

And I find myself exercising this discernment often in my life in areas of race, gender orientation, and even physical appearance.  Part of me still has the very human impulse to respond with great intensity to my first impression but now I have that discernment, related to what Shakespeare called, “the pauser reason,” and realize that the distinctions that my ego wishes to carve the world into are not as clear and distinct as they first appear.

My mind brings to my attention one of my favorite anecdotes from the life of Jesus, the story of the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well.  This woman was a well known local prostitute and a contingent of local Republicans…so to speak…(wink, wink) were demanding that she be stoned to death, according to the law.  Jesus responded, “Let thee who is without guilt cast the first stone” after which he told her to “Go and sin no more.”  Now, Jesus knew well what the law was and that it did indeed call for him to pick up one of the rocks from one of the local rock-vending kiosks nearby and start pelting her himself.  But he exercised internal discretion, i.e. discernment, and knew that often grace and forgiveness was in order rather than strict enforcement of the letter of the law.

 

The Incarnation in Modern Terms

The writer of Hebrews (10:31) tells us that it is a “fearful thing to fall into the hands of an angry God.”  My interpretation is, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of, hmm, ahem…Life.”  For when the vicissitudes of life, those “thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to” have worked their magic, under the ministrations of the Spirit of God, it is very frightening when the ego begins to feel imperiled.  To that point in our life, our fragile little ego has held full sway without any threats, carefully isolated with a prison of sterile conceptual formulations about life, about who “we” were and who “they” were and what “life” itself was, and even more so who “God” was.  But the ego is scared as hell when its tyranny is threatened and we are on the threshold of coming alive, of being “born again”, and occupying our body for the first time.  The ego, described by the Apostle Paul as “the flesh” has been proud of itself and its accomplishment of preventing this “incarnation.”  Now, it is watching its handiwork under grave threat as the “Spirit of God” is threatening its dissolution.  William Wordsworth offered relevant wisdom:

 

Dust as we are, the immortal spirit grows
Like harmony in music; there is a dark
Inscrutable workmanship that reconciles
Discordant elements, makes them cling together
In one society. How strange, that all
The terrors, pains, and early miseries,
Regrets, vexations, lassitudes interfused
Within my mind, should e’er have borne a part,
And that a needful part, in making up
The calm existence that is mine when I
Am worthy of myself! Praise to the end!