Tag Archives: faith

A Prayer About Humility

Religion often today reveals a very ugly dimension of the human heart, an intent to acquire power and domination rather than to bring reconciliation in this world.  Religion affords many opportunities for the ego to run amok, carefully hidden from any criticism because of its “spiritual” nature and the “fact” that “god is leading.”  But on this notion it has been helpful to remember the teachings of the Bible to, “Try the spirits, to see if they be of God” and also the admonishment of the Apostle Paul that we see only, “through a glass darkly.?”  The following poem by Louis Untermeyer reflects more humility, a desire to not prevail and dominate but actually to “lose,” to become, “losers” even though in our particular historical moments many persons of faith are finding appealing the clarion call of one who vehemently denouncers, “losers.”

PRAYER by Louis Untermeyer

God, though this life is but a wraith,
Although we know not what we use;

Although we grope with little faith,
God, give me the heart to fight and lose.

Ever insurgent let me be,

Make me more daring than devout;
From slick contentment keep me free

And fill me with a buoyant doubt.

Open my eyes to visions girt
With beauty, and with wonder lit,

But let me always see the dirt,
And all that spawn and die in it.

Open my ears to music, let

Me thrill with Spring’s first flutes and drums
But never let me dare forget

The bitter ballads of the slums.

From compromise and things half-done,
Keep me, with stern and stubborn pride;

But when at last the fight is won,
God, keep me still unsatisfied.

Advertisements

School Shootings and Spiritual Bromides

Another high school shooting, another response with the perfunctory, “You are in our thoughts and prayers.”  This bromide is now catching a lot of flak, especially when coming from politicians who obviously prefer a glib, meaningless bromide rather than any commitment to addressing a politically-divisive issue.  With still another round of, “thoughts and prayers,” we have the commitment of these politicians to renew their commitment to further displays of, “not gonna do a damn thing.”  And many spiritual persons, steeped in “performance art” religion, will also offer this platitude and not dare to question their legislators and local authorities.

Spiritual bromides are common…and even have value.  Offering our “thoughts and prayers” to those who have experienced misfortune or tragedy.  And these words can convey the heart’s deepest sentiment and any such expression carries value.  But spiritual bromides can become so common place that they are merely the aforementioned, “performance art” designed to convey to others the appearance that, “we feel your pain.”  Since politicians, and spiritual leaders who have long-since lost their soul, will have to face this situation again, I suggest they have a new button on their computer, “TAP,” which they can automatically press in a moment like this and send out the automated message in which “thoughts and prayers” are wished.  Even better, they can call one of their staff persons and get them to push the button, allowing them to continue with interruption their daily routine of “spiritual activity” designed only to make them feel better about themselves.

Religion is so susceptible to being reduced to bromides like this, described by poet Conrad Aiken as, “well-worn words and ready phrases which build comfortable walls against the wilderness.”  Words are easy, and regardless of how noble they might be, they can be simply the noise of “sounding brass and tinkling cymbals,” if they have no gut-level meaning in the person using them.  This style of meaningless language is captured by an Irish poet, W. R. Rodgers, in this excerpt from his poem, “Word.”

Once words were unthinking things, signaling

Artlessly the heart’s secret screech or roar,

And once they were the gangways for anger,

Overriding the minds qualms and quagmires.

Wires that through weary miles of slow surmise

Carried the feverish message of fact

In their effortless core.  Once they were these,

But now they are the life-like skins and screens

Stretched skillfully on frames and formulae,

To terrify or tame, cynical shows

Meant only to deter or draw men on,

The tricks and tags of every demagogue,

Mere scarecrow proverbs, rhetorical decoys,

Face-savers, salves, facades, the shields and shells

Of shored decay behind which cave minds sleep

And sprawl like gangsters behind bodyguards.

Its foremost ardour or its farthest wish,

Its actual ache or naked rancour.

Spiritual Banter, i.e. “God-talk”

By using words like “faith” I am really misconstruing my intent. Words like faith can easily be part of what I call god-talk which amounts to chatter which I sometimes describe as, “gospel-eze.”  For example, I could go down to a church and banter about “God” and “the Holy Spirit” and “Grace” and “the Second Coming” and “the Lord’s Supper” and do so adroitly and readily find a place in a social context.  And, I find each of these terms of value but if I should do so as described I would be grossly out of line and disrespectful to the people of that church for my needs of a social context have already been met elsewhere.  And “banter” as offered above certainly has its place but the problem lies in it never becoming more than banter with no effort made to explore these and other words and concepts beneath the surface so that they have personal meaning.  In some contexts, the need for social connection and for maintenance of the social connection are so paramount that the verbiage must not only be the same but its meaning must remain the same disallowing any real personal meaning to take place.  For “personal” meaning occurs when words and concepts find application in that “foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart” which is never found when a rigidly scripted format is valued over personal experience.

Let me illustrate with a common spiritual notion like “sin.”  Sin is simple when it is kept on the superficial level of a judicial act that has occurred “in Adam,” as in the “Adamic fall,” or in the day-to-day misdeeds that we all make.  But sin is more of a challenging notion if we see it as a state of separation from our Source, a state which leaves us in the darkness, a darkness which Paul had in mind when he declared that at best we only, “see through a glass darkly.”  Understanding this heart-level dimension of sin then makes us aware of how our ego influences our interpretation of our day-to-day experiences, even our spirituality so that we become aware even of the self-serving nature of our spirituality itself.  This insight then makes grace, for example, even more meaningful as we can see God’s forgiveness as covering even that sin and allowing us to be a bit less spiritually arrogant than we had been before.

Jen Hatmaker, a Courageous Evangelical Woman!

Jen Hatmaker, a noted female evangelical writer and speaker, has become a persona non grata with evangelicals as she has chastised them for their hypocrisy with Trumpism and then even dared to announce that she supports same-sex marriage.  Her children are now being harassed and she is receiving death threats.  Her portrayal of the monstrosity that much of the evangelical tradition is roiling in was covered this morning in “Politico.com.”:

This year I became painfully aware of the machine, the Christian Machine,” she wrote in April on her blog. It was Good Friday, a somber day for Christians to observe the crucifixion of Jesus. Hatmaker wrote that she understood now the machine’s “systems and alliances and coded language and brand protection,” not as the insider she had long been, but “from the outside where I was no longer welcome.” During the election season, she added, the “Christian Machine malfunctioned.” It laid bare the civil war within her Christian community.

This “Christian machine” Hatmaker describes is a monolithic, mindless, soul-less monster, devouring everything in its path that has forsworn the god-given capacity for critical thinking.  It is an assembly-line production, designed to spit out a finished product much like the one introduced by Henry Ford in the early 20th century, the “product” in his case being the Model-T Ford.  “You can have any color you want,” he announced, “As long as it is black.”   Efficiency and uniformity was the rule of the day which is always de riqueur for mass production. A Christian produced by this assembly-line is what I call a Christian-oid who each day says to those around him, “Wind me up and watch me be Christian.”  For this is a canned faith, spit out by the gospel machine consisting of monotonous dogma, much of which has great value when not spit forth mechanically.  The Christian produced by this mechanical monster is a “letter-of-the-law” Christian on steroids. Another way to view this phenomenon is through the lens of enculturation.  Our faith is presented to us by our culture and any culture presents its packaged “truth” as being beyond question.  This is particularly deadly with religion as it plays on the ego’s need for certainty and will facilitate a faith in which the need to be “right” and “certain about being right” obliterates any opportunity for humility.

Even with evangelicalism becoming a self-parody, led by men such as Robert Jeffress and Jerry Falwell, Jr…and of course, Alabama’s Roy Moore…it is heartening to see there are those who have the courage to voice dissent.  Even Falwell’s school, Liberty Baptist University has significant numbers of students, teachers, and alumni who have taken Mr. Falwell to task for his obsequious and fawning submission to Trump.  And Ms. Hatmaker, born and raised in a Baptist church, and still claiming to be evangelical and apparently still avowing to, “love Jesus,” has the courage to call her faith tradition to task for lamely succumbing to the siren song of political power offered by a moral and spiritually depraved charlatan.

(Here is a link to the Politico article—https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/12/17/is-jen-hatmaker-the-conscious-of-evangelical-christianity-216068)

An Alternative to Perfunctory Forgiveness

My foray into A Course in Miracles (Acim) the past year and a half has been very helpful in learning to view reality, including my faith, through a more critical prism.  One of the most important lessons has been about forgiveness which is more than the perfunctory “performance art” forgiveness that I have been accustomed to.  This “performance art” forgiveness is when you forgive someone who has offended you because that is the thing you are supposed to do.  You have learned that when someone has “been naughty” to you, it is your Christian duty to forgive them, especially if they ask you to.  But Acim teaches that forgiveness goes much deeper than social obligation into the depths of the heart where you recognize that in an important sense you and the offending party are one, that “there go I but by the Grace of God.”  You forgive because you realize that you are connected to that person, are “cut from the same bolt of cloth,” and are in some sense guilty of the same offense.

Performance art forgiveness is often a transaction of power.  You are the bastion of moral virtue and godliness and before you is the lowly miscreant seeking absolution.  The miscreant walks away comforted with your forgiveness and you walk away basking in the comfort of knowing that you have, once again, been noble and Christian.  Acim teachings put each party on a level playing field…and that is where the teachings of Jesus want us to be with others. His teachings were intended to be a great equalizer among humankind, not as a means to facilitate some of us being “noble” and others “not so much.”

But performance art forgiveness, and the whole of performance art faith, has its place in human affairs functioning kind of like a set of training wheels on a bicycle. And perfunctory forgiveness is better than none at all and, if given a little thought and humility, can lead to the understanding taught by the Course.

________________________

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/

Paul Tillich’s “Mutilated Religion” Will be Addressed Here

A couple of responses from my last few posts have really impressed me, including one that was actually very critical.  The critical gentleman took me to task for being “non-sensical” and immature to which I had to agree.  I have always taken a bold tack in this blog but I am now coming out more boldly and taking spirituality, as I now understand it, into a new dimension which is very non-linear and therefore in a sense very “non-sensical.”  Paul Tillich declared that a religion within the bounds of reason is a mutilated religion and I now choose to address this “mutilation” far more openly and will do it with reason itself.  You might say I will turn reason upon itself.

I don’t know the gentleman that was critical of my observations but he did demonstrate a graciousness and intelligence even as he made his concerns known in a very pointed manner.  And, I think I know where he was coming from as I grew up in a very linear culture and still have the capacity to understand and respect that way of viewing the world.  And, I’m glad that I do as otherwise I would be taking “non-sensical” to another dimension in which I would be, shall we say, “functionally impaired.”  Our world functions on the basis of linear thought and those who subscribe to that way of viewing the world are usually quite intelligent and noble people.  Unfortunately….or fortunately”…I am not blessed with the comfort of that world view and see life, including religion, from broader perspective and do so without any illusion that it is the only way.

Again, I must employ the bumper stick that I overwork—DON’T BELIEVE EVERYTHING YOU THINK! Thinking is not autonomous, its roots lie in the depths of our being, often thought of as the unconscious.  We think in accordance with premises and biases which are not easily acknowledged and sometimes impossible.  Religion is particularly susceptible to this dimension of our heart as it reflects our innermost being, including our deepest fears, insecurities, and hopes.  Though religion offers “re-ligio” (tieing together of that which has been disconnected, as with a “ligament”) it often proffers ignoble impulses to accomplish this purpose.  For example, one of the things which can most unify a group of people is hatred aimed against another group or even a particular person.

*********************************

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/

Paul Tillich’s View of God as “The Ground of Being”

Paul Tillich has been one of the pivotal figures in my spiritual and intellectual life.  He introduced me to meaningful concepts like God as “the Ground of Being,” and “The Wholly Other,” and the notion I’d like to kick arounds today, “God as the unifying Ground”.  In the lengthy quotation provided below, gleaned from a Paul Tillich Facebook page, Tillich’s teachings present sin as estrangement from God, as a separation from God as “the Unifying Ground of Being.”  The unified state that he describes is what I often describe as “the unity of all things” before “the fall” occurred in the Garden of Eden when Adam ate of “the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil.”  When Adam took that bite of the apple from that famous seductress Eve (wink, wink) mankind fell from this unified state into the bifurcated world of object separateness where good and evil, male and female, us and them, subject and object, et al were separate.  It is the hunger to return to this state of Grace that has driven mankind since, producing religion, art, and the whole of culture, including…alas and alack…consumerism, addiction, and the arms race!  This hunger, until it is satisfied by the “Unconditional Positive Regard” (see psychologist Carl Rogers) that Christians know as the Grace of God, humankind is fated to fill it up with “stuff” which will only fade away.  The Christian tradition teaches that Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit, can fill that emptiness and alleviate that hunger though I aver not in the way that historic Christianity of the past few centuries has taught us.  For the past few centuries has witnessed the objectification of mankind via the philosophy of Descartes (“I think, therefore I am”) and the poison of capitalism which turned us into “things” and crusted over our hearts with that cursed tendency to “thingify” everything we touch, including God.

The story of mankind is the narrative of our quest to know God and find again that unifying ground.  And, with that point, I’m going to bid adieu with the warning, “Ponder seriously over that word “God” I just used for “the word is not the ‘thing.’” And though organized religion has much to offer on this search, what it offers is usually so institutionalized that it is so completely devoid of spirituality value in addressing the existential plight that threatens civilization.

For Augustine as for Tillich, the loss of the unifying ground of life results in a disunity, a separation from one another of the interrelated facets and aspects of life. Thus (to use slightly different language) God is the principle of unity and harmony, and separation from God is the cause of disunity, disharmony, and a final consequent loss of being (reality) and meaning (value). As did Augustine, Tillich applies this fundamental principle of interpretation both to individual and to social or historical existence. He sees Enlightenment culture as beginning with a powerful assertion of the *autonomy* of reason against *heteronomy*, the absolute and yet uncreative authority of the now alien and external religious powers of the receding medieval world. This was, however, an autonomy with *theonomous* elements: it assumed the ultimate identity of reason and nature, of the rational, the good, and the beautiful, and so of objective and subjective, of reality and value, of cognition, morals, and art. As a consequence, in the Enlightenment the ‘rational’ stood not only for that which is true (the result of the rational cognitive processes of science) but also for that which is just (the result of rational and radical politics) and that which is beautiful (the harmonious and the orderly). In that theonomous unity (that is, through the exercise of ontological reason) the power and meaning of modern culture were nurtured.”

Langdon Gilkey, *Gilkey on Tillich*, 1990, p. 63