Humility is Often an Exaggerated Virtue

Yes, I remember so well how wonderful it is to be humble!  I had learned that this was so very early in my life, knew that I certainly did not appear to be arrogant, was generous to others, and was just an all around nice guy!  And I still think this description of my self was true…and I hope it is still true today!  But there is a profound difference in the “knowledge” of humility and “be-ing” humble, the latter not an acquisition but an on-going process.

BUT, I now realize that the “humility” described above was a learned life-style instilled into me from an “humble” rural Arkansas culture and an “humble” fundamentalist Baptist culture.   The “humility” certainly did include a socio-economic dimension as I was the product of what historians called the Southern white “dispossessed” who were still suffering from the collapse of the pre-Civil War Southern culture, a pronounced historical “humiliation.”

But, one could still use the label “humble” to describe me and still could I hope.  However, I now think that humility is not something that you can acquire by social pressure or education or a spiritual culture.  In fact, I don’t even believe in “humility” in a certain sense but I do firmly believe in a phenomena which I like to call “humility-ization.”

Humility-ization is something that came to me, and is still coming to me, as a result of “the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.”  I prefer, however, to describe it as “the Grace of God.”  Humiliti-zation is a life long process of being stripped of the superficies of our existence, including the extremely superficial accoutrements of our “spiritual life.”  It entailed learning that my “humility” was mostly performance art, a role that I had subscribed to in return for the approbation of my family and community.  AND, that was good and I’m pleased that I acquired that persona for I now realize it kept me from a lot of mischief.  But, it took me way too long to realize that this “performance art” was very superficial, essentially inauthentic, and thus an act.  Even more so, it dawned on me that the New Testament word “hypocrite” was merely a term for one who was “acting” virtuous.

I emphasize that performance art is just a natural part of life and there is nothing necessarily wrong with it.  But, in a Christian culture, if one lives his whole life being “good” basically because he has learned it is the way to earn social approbation, then these words of Jesus would apply to him, “What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?”  In my culture it would give one a good “send off” with lots of lavish praise. But what about the unlived life which could certainly have been lived as a Christian but one who was sincerely living out of the “abundance of his own heart” and not just from listening to shrill dogma he had listened to since early youth.

For, Jesus was not here to provide us fire insurance.  Jesus was not here to prop up an empty life, to give the shell of a human being a “suit of clothes” to wear, but to empower one to become authentic, to give expression to his inner-most essence which might be described as “the Christ child” within us all.  “Becoming a Christian” in the culture I was raised in, and lived in most of my life, was merely part of a persona and that, I might add, a very worthwhile persona.  But, to live one’s whole life as a mere Christian persona, as a Christian marionette (or Christian-ette) is to miss the point of the wonderful spiritual teacher who left us so much wisdom if we would find the courage to explore it more fully.

 

The Crisis in Modern Faith

My Christian faith has really matured in the past year.  Specifically, I have no faith in the Christian tradition but I do firmly believe that there was a man named Jesus who walked the face of this earth some 2100 years ago and he left behind teachings that I find of great value.  I do not know how much of the story of Jesus that we have in the Bible is valid but I firmly believe that there was some young man who was attuned with what I still call “the Spirit of God” and his story is a story of redemption.  There is so much to explore here.  So much to “cuss and discuss,” and yes I’m familiar with all the debate about the “historical Jesus,” and don’t find that vein of thought threatening to my faith.  But I firmly believe, in the midst of all my doubts, that there is a wisdom in the teachings of this man that we call Jesus though allowing this wisdom to filter through our ego-ridden mind requires a lot of work.

But then there is the conflict between his teachings and my experience in church and what I observe in the “performance art” of modern Christianity.  And I think that the whole of life is performance art in some sort and that is necessary.  But sometimes the performance art that is our life gains such primacy that we totally disregard the other dimensions of life which I like to call “spiritual.”  The whole of the performance art that is our life, our identity itself is often called our persona.  When this persona becomes the whole of who we know ourselves to be, and if we live our whole life ensconced in this “pretend-me” that famous question of Jesus becomes relevant, “What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul.”  For one who makes this mistake has lived his life on the surface and never done the “soul work” that would allow his soul, his inner-most essence, to find expression.  He will live his life as “The Hollow Man” that T.S. Eliot made famous in a poem.  And, emphatically I state, “This does not mean that losing his soul means he will burn for eternity in hell.”  In some sense, never having escaped the fantasy of his superficial reality, he has spent his life there.

Jean Paul Sartre described “bad faith” as one of such naivety that it perpetuated great darkness even while sincerely assuming to be promoting Truth.  Just because we are sure of our faith tradition, and of our practice, does not mean that the ego is not in control and if so ugliness will abound.  But then if the ego is in control, its primary objective will always be keeping one from awareness of its tyranny.

The Fallacy of Believing in my Belief

When evangelical Christians first trotted out the notion that the Lord had “raised up” Donald Trump to lead our nation I was really upset.  And for good reason.  Their lame justification was that God sometime chooses flawed persons to accomplish His will and that we needed to remember to “judge not that ye be not judged” or that we should, “Be patient, he is only a baby Christian.”  I still think that was merely self-serving palaver but I do increasingly think that he brings to the table such profound spiritual darkness that God is giving all of us a chance to do some soul-searching and posit the question, “Now how did this ever happen?”

What these evangelical Christians did not realize was that they were facilitating a crisis for their faith, a crisis from which they will not emerge unscathed.  None of us ever emerge from any crisis “unscathed” and that is why crises are often times of redemption.  Now, brace yourself evangelicals, I think that “redemption” periodically is in the cards for you just as it is for all of us, regardless of our religious orientation or complete lack thereof.  But for many Christians, especially evangelicals, the need of anything like “redemption” is preposterous as, according to their addictive reliance on dogma, they have been redeemed already by Jesus and His Spirit now leads them into “all truth.”  Well, Jesus will do that.  But I’m reminded of a bromide from my last fundamentalist pastor, in a mega-church in Springdale, Arkansas, “The Truth will set you free.  But it will first make your miserable.”  I don’t think that dear soul knew just how correct he was.

Well, I humbly invite them to, “guess again” the ability of their faith in Christ to keep them from all errors “of the flesh”, i.e. ego. Their whole-hearted, slavish devotion to Trump who is the antithesis to the teachings of Jesus belies the self-serving dimension of their faith, the role of “the flesh” in their approach to religion.  And, I say to them, “Welcome to the world” as I have certainly had to embrace similar disillusionment and now see faith as a path of occasional disillusionment as we discover just how much we have been “seeing through a glass darkly.”

The core issue on the table here is reason.  The Protestant Reformation gave rise to an inordinate, unseemly faith in rationality to the point that we came to believe that with reason alone we can rule this world, our own life, and even reduce the Ineffable to a series of rational constructs.  But Paul Tillich warned us last century, “A religion confined to reason is a mutilated religion” for he saw that reason is always subservient to hidden dimensions of the heart.   God has sent Trump to evangelical Christians to give them a glimpse into the baser dimensions of their spiritual impulse…and we all have those impulses!  The most sinister of all these impulses is that we are immune from them.

I now realize that I grew up trying desperately to “believe in my belief” and never being able to pull it off, leaving me in great anguish about my spiritual welfare.  I often took comfort in rational gymnastics only to eventually realize that the very effort of reasoning oneself to God was futile.  No less of an evangelical luminary as Oswald Chambers himself in the early 20th century warned about the lunacy of “believing in our belief.”

So, what can you believe in?  What, if anything, is real?  “I think, therefore I am” is the way it is, isn’t it?  Descartes surely said so.  I no longer think so.

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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/stats/day/literarylew.wordpress.com

https://wordpress.com/posts/anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com

https://wordpress.com/posts/theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com

 

The Myth of the Wounded Healer.

One of the delights in blogging is that I discover kindred spirits from various parts of the world.  One recent discovery was a blog entitled “Nickle Boy Graphics” in which another man with a fundamentalist-Christian past brings to the table a gentler approach to biblical faith.  He is a talented graphic artist and uses this skill and knowledge of the Christian tradition to kindly and gently chide those Christians who take themselves too seriously.  Here is a link to one of his posts which I found very provocative:  https://nickelboygraphics.wordpress.com/2017/02/24/its-not-about-giving-up-teddy-bears/

One point this gentleman makes here is that we need to always remember that beneath the surface of someone who is careening in life, appearing to be on the verge of crashing and burning, there is a soul in great pain.  It is so easy to offer, from our font of “great wisdom” a banal kindness and reassurance which, though innocently intended perhaps, fails to include simple recognition of this person’s presence in the world, which I like to describe as “Presence.”  Before we unleash our “fixing” machinery on this person…a tendency we professional care-givers always has ready to unleash on the world…we need to pause and offer simple recognition and acceptance.  We need to lay aside our diagnostic knife and merely recognize, “You and I are here together brother/sister.  We are in this together and I accept you ‘as is’.”  It is easier and simpler to wield diagnostic jargon such as “nuts” or perhaps a sanitized “mentally ill,” or “sinner” or “evil” or “alcoholic” or “drug addict.”  Each of these labels might be quite valid but beneath the label that we so readily foist on the person there is a “Person” who needs to be spiritually/emotionally embraced, as in “accepted.”  And this is not unrelated to the “acceptance” that Christians purport to find in Jesus but closer scrutiny of the scripture reveals that Jesus always has in mind acceptance “as is” without the requirements many Christians demand.  When an individual is offered this “as is” acceptance, described by psychologist Carl Rogers as “unconditional positive regard”, often that individual can find the Grace to begin to address the pain that until that point he had been unable to embrace.

The ability to offer this “unconditional positive regard” comes only with having been through the experience of brokenness oneself and having found someone who proffered this kindness.  It is the ego’s refusal to experience “brokenness” that keeps many professional care-givers from becoming the mythical “wounded-healer” who can facilitate the soul-work where healing is realized.  (Carl Jung is the one who first coined the term “wounded-healer,” perhaps drawing upon Greek mythology.)

“Who Am I to Judge?”

Trump supporters efforts to justify their support for their leader reaches some extremes at times.  One of my favorites, often from the evangelicals is, “Who am I to judge?”  When I first heard that, I could not help but think, “Oh my gawd!  Who am I not to judge?”  Trump is mentally ill, this has been very apparent from early in last years campaign, and yet this lame justification is positing the notion that we should follow the admonishment of Jesus and “judge not that ye be not judged.”

But this lame-ass response comes from those  who fail to acknowledge that they judge in every other respect everyday.  They “judge” about anyone that is different from them, including blacks, Muslims, homosexuals, non-Christians, and basically anyone that fulfills their need for a “them.”  But after wielding that judgment mercilessly every day of their life, and doing so obnoxiously, with Trump they lamely and piously ask, “Who am I to judge?”  They are showing us that their judgment is very selective.  When someone or something comes along that fits their needs, that embodies all of the hidden dimensions of their heart, they are willing to say, “Well, maybe I won’t judge on this occasion.  Just who am I to judge anyway?  Why is everyone so hard on this man who is only a “baby Christian'”?

We cannot be human and fail to exercise judgment.  To think that one can is very naive.  Yes, I am here demonstrating “judgment” of Trump and “who am I to do so?”  My legal standing on this matter is that I have one eye and half sense, I am not stupid, I am not morally bankrupt, and I can see when “the emperor has no clothes on.”  But it is very important for me to note on this matter an axiom that I live by, “What you see is what you are.”  Though I judge Trump, and will continue to do so, “There go I but by the Grace of God” for I see so clearly how he articulates a dimension of my lily-white, faux-Christian ass that mercifully I learned to encase within a sense of basic civility and respect for others, i.e. “basic human decency.”  One simple example, I will never make fun of a handicapped person.

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.”)

 

“Apocalypse Now” vs Love

I grew up in a culture where apocalyptic fundamentalist Christianity ruled.  My young mind and heart thrived on it though it scared the hell out of me, just as it was designed to do.  I think there is an intrinsic vein of judgment built into that mind set and the image of summary judgment on mankind for wrong doing is appealing, especially when you just happen to be one of those who will escape God’s vengeance because you have uttered salvivic “magic words.’  There was some subtle, though completely unacknowledged satisfaction in knowing that one would be escaping God’s wrath while those who were “left behind” would be getting their ass kicked.

Fear is an intrinsic dimension of being human.  I think this stems from the primordial fear of knowing that our grasp on life is tenuous to begin with and can be taken from us at any moment for no reason at all.  And, on top of it all in the end, as the wit has put it, “No one ain’t a gettin’ out of this alive!”  And some people are so attuned to this fear base and are ready to exploit it, particularly politicians and religious leaders. Donald Trump is the consummate master of this exploitation rode to power with a steady stream of “red meat” designed to trigger the fears of voters not willing, or able, to employ critical thinking.  Of course, evangelical and fundamentalist Christians swallowed everything he said, delighted with the notion that he was going to “make America great again.”

I’m reminded of the words of Jesus, “Perfect love casteth out fear.”  I would think that even a tad of the love of Jesus would at least give one some immunity from being the prey of a fear-mongerer like Trump.  But, I too have felt the silent call of Trump’s rhetoric from time to time but have paid no attention to it, recognizing it for what it is—my reptilian brain still present and ready to be resurrected at the slightest tip of the hat if I would but feed it with the energy of my attention.

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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/stats/day/literarylew.wordpress.com

https://wordpress.com/posts/anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com

https://wordpress.com/posts/theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com