In the “old days” of my youth in the American South there were tent revivals, even tales from my mother of “brush arbor revivals”, and other examples of evangelical fervor run amok. I received a mailer last week regarding the modern day equivalent of this type of event which will be held in the comfort of a local motel on the north end of the main street in Taos, NM where I now live. The flyer (fortunately addressed impersonally to “boxholder) announces—THE BIBLE…AMERICA…WHAT’S NEXT? Inside the flyer, some of the topics to be addressed are: How near is His return?; The Signs of His Coming; Will the United Nations Rule the World? The Power Behind the Beast & the Anti-Christ.
This is a glossy, full color, four page-flyer and it will bring the crowds in along with their hard-earned money. The evangelist will leave town 11 days later with his coffers fattened and the desperate souls will leave with the fears heightened and their desperate ideologically-based faith intensified.
In my youth, I loved it when these guys would come to town, though I was born late enough that brush arbors and tent revivals were almost a thing of the past and I never got to participate in one. But evangelists would hold us in awe, driving up in their expensive cars, wearing their handsome suits, and trotting out all of those impressive diagrams and charts which offered positive proof that the end-times were near and that Jesus was coming back to bring his children home and wreak havoc on all those left behind.
Yes, part of me is snickering at this scene that will unfold in this lovely community and part of me would like to attend a night or two and gawk. But I’m pleased that I’m now mature enough that the snickering is overshadowed my a profound sadness, especially for the children who will be mortally wounded with the terror of the atmosphere and many will “come to Christ” out of a fear of hell and will spend the rest of their life under the tyranny of ideological Christianity. And I don’t think the evangelist is necessarily a shyster. He probably is caught up himself in this institutionalized hysteria and is merely playing his role…as we all tend to do in life…in a collective mindset that has him at its beck-and-call, his life being merely the “toy of some great pain.” (Ranier Rilke)
I am “errant” in so many ways other than balking at following through with a career as a preacher. This “errant” theme has characterized the whole of my life though often it was so subtle that I didn’t notice it. For example, I am very much a Christian today but I am not the “right” kind, as defined as what a Christian was in my youth. And for this I feel a lot of guilt for I know that I’m one of those who has “departed from the faith once delivered unto the saints” or who “went out from us because he was not of us.” Guilt, and its kissing-cousin shame, are so fundamental to human nature and are so instrumental in bringing us into the tribe in our youth. And I think that constitutionally I was more susceptible to the torments of those emotions than some are and thus there was a desperation in my effort to “belong” and subscribe to every facet of my conservative culture.
Being a Christian in my youth was a very rational matter; it meant following a simple line of syllogistic reasoning which, having uttered the magic words…the verbal “formula”…one could know the he was “saved” because he had uttered those “magic words.” That never worked for me, not in the depths of my heart, though I assumed for decades that it had as I blindly followed the reasoning of my pastors, “If the Bible says its so, it is so. Trust the Bible, not your feelings.” And I now see that I was actually being taught to trust reason.
To make a long story short, I see God, the Bible, and the Christian faith as something wholly different. It was best summed up by Richard Rohr recently on Super Soul Sunday when he noted that God “is not a being among other beings, but is the very Ground of Being.” God is not merely another object in our world of objects, though we may believe him to be a very “big” and “powerful” one who lives “far away.” Those qualities still leave him as a “being among other beings” or “an object among other objects.” I now see, and intuitive feel/know Him in the depths of my heart and no longer try to “reason” my way into confidence in Him.
Unfortunately, any traditional Christian reading this, including anyone from my youth who happened to stumble upon this, would immediately say, “Why heck! Doggone it, he fooled around and went atheist on us!” Well, I see what they mean and in their approach to the world they would be right. But I am not an atheist but a man of an increasingly deep faith in God who is the Wholly Other yet inexplicably dwells in me and the rest of us and is working his cosmic Mystery through our meager efforts.
In the “short version of ‘my story'” I described the context of my “call to preach.” The blame issue is certainly apropos here and thus merits discussion. But I’m now to the point that I see beyond “blaming” and see the wisdom of accepting responsibility for choices that I made, even “choices” when I was a mere “babe” and not really capable of making any “choice.” We are all born in a context and are shaped by that context and can never fully escape that it. But most of us can get to the point where we have some awareness of that context, and of its impact on our life, and can then make better choices than if we had not gained that awareness.
Blaming accomplishes nothing. It is a ruse that we use to pretend that we are not making choices so that we can perpetuate maladaptive thought-patterns, emotions, and behaviors which long-since needed to be discarded. We have to realize that we hang on to them…hang onto the pain…because of the fear that what we would find in their absence would be greater than the pain we have when they are present. Or, as Shakespeare so pithily put it, “We cling to these ills that we have rather than fly to others that we know not of.” We prefer to cling to discomfort, and even misery, with which we are accustomed than to risk a fate that we “know not of.”
A dear friend of mine once alluded to a very painful situation in his family life and noted a point of acceptance when he allowed “the pain to swim over me.” That image of engulfment has stayed with me for two or more decades as I’ve sought the courage to accept my own “pain body”, using Eckhart Tolle’s term. We hate pain and the core of our being is predicated on avoiding it, even though if we could manage to accept the pain we could live more fully than we have when trying ferociously to avoid it.
This brings me to the image of The Cross and the story of Jesus and the Crucifixion. The teachings of Carl Jung offer a richer interpretation of this story, suggesting to the Crucifixion is a call to the death of the ego, to the surrendering of our pain body and embracing the pain rather than denying it, discovering in the process that we can survive and, even, we find “Resurrection.” It is much simpler to take the story literally and to do so allows the ego to continue to direct our lives and allow us to live in the pious certainty, the tyranny of “the way things are.” We then continue to remain ensconced in the time-space continuum and completely avoid the spiritual realm, even though we may take great pride in “preaching Christ and him crucified” and other hackneyed bromides.