Tag Archives: Jesus Christ

Eyes to See…that Actually See!!!

Vision is subtle and frequently we “have eyes to see but see not” and, yes, ” ears to hear but hear not.”  And it is very challenging to realize that human nature subjects us to this limitation yet without meaning, necessarily, that we are a bad person.  But if we never let the wisdom of this quip from Jesus sink in it can lead to a lot of “bad” that will emanate from the resulting unexamined life.

Those of us who were raised in a Christian culture, especially the evangelical/fundamentalist wing of that culture, are steeped in this biblical wisdom from early in our life and are taught that when Jesus comes into our life we are then given the gift of perfect vision, led by the Holy Spirit that “will guide you into all truth.”  But this is usually intrinsically self-serving wisdom and fails to consider how our faith is influenced by enculturation and “enculturated wisdom”, regardless of how noble it is, is of the vein described by the Apostle Paul as “the wisdom of the world.”  Therefore, being steeped in the knowledge acquired very clearly, as our peer group has told us that we do, we can stand smugly in the comfort this knowledge provides us. It is disorienting to say the least to realize that our faith has been largely the result of enculturation and that our “vision” is more lacking than we ever imagined.  Understanding this teaching brings us to understand the wisdom of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13, “We see through a glass darkly.”  Yes, God is with us and leads us but he does so as we stumble through “darkly” vision and imperfect hearing.

Relevant to this subject, John Berger wrote a classic little book in 1972 entitled, “Ways of Seeing.”  When I discovered the book 25 years ago it grabbed me immediately even though it was written to artists by an art critic and I am far removed from either.  But at that time in my life I was very familiar with the ambiguity of life, including “ways of seeing” and readily grasped the wisdom from the eye of this art critic. Berger pointed out that seeing ultimately is not so much a deed as it is an experience as an evocation as we focus on an object and allow that object to evoke from the depths of our heart a meaningful experience.  Each of us have these interior depths though so often circumstances have confined us to the surface of life where we scurry about our three-score and ten without ever daring to venture into the deep places of the heart that hide the mystery of life.  Venturing there will force us to encounter the significance of the teaching the aforementioned teaching of Jesus that we “have eyes to see but see not, ears to hear but hear not.”

Here are the opening words of Berger’s brilliant book:

Seeing comes before words.  The child looks and recognizes before it can speak.  But there is also another sense in which seeing comes before words.  It is seeing which establishes our place in the surrounding world; we explain that world with words, but words can never undo the fact that we are surrounded by it.  The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled.  Each evening we see the sun set.  We know that the earth is turning away from it.  Yet the knowledge, the explanation, never quite fits the sight.

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Believing in Our Belief, Part Deux!!!

The fallacy of “believing in our belief” as noted by Oswald Chambers is a critical dimension of faith for until this insight sinks in we will inevitably be subscribing to an enculturated belief system.  And the enculturation is the necessary start to our social life as it equips us to take our place in the community and participate in it meaningfully, including in religion. Faith in this culture will mean subscribing to a creed, a doctrinal system which is taken to be revealed truth without any consideration for the possibility that this creed and doctrinal system are only a means to the “revealed truth” that all hearts yearn for.  But when the words are taken as an end in themselves, not as mere “pointers” then we have subscribed to the “letter of the law” though our enculturation will often keep us from this awareness as culture wants to keep us on the surface of things.  Anyone who gets beneath the surface, into the “spirit” of things, is dangerous for the status quo.

I have described this “surface” religion as “canned” faith, like something you can buy down at Wal Mart and open at your convenience when you get home.  You leave the church feeling good about yourself in the sense of having your prejudices, biases, and premises confirmed and resume your complacent “Christian” life.  Of course, in some churches, this “feeling good about yourself” might take the form of having your “hide ripped” by a hell-fire and damnation sermon but if that is what you are accustomed to then it too will confirm your pre-conceptions about yourself and the world.  The status quo will go unchallenged.

I am describing a scene here in which “the salt has lost its savor.”  Spiritual truth of great value will then be like “sounding brass and tinkling cymbal” because it is part of a rote performance, bouncing around in our heads, without never reaching down into the “foul rag and bone shop of our hearts” where “the thoughts and intents of the heart” are to be found.  This is a very challenging notion to consider for often it will mean we have to face painful disillusionment, the recognition that though our faith is valid as far as “fire insurance” is concerned it has been very superficial and not been allowed integration into the depths of our heart which is what the Source of all spiritual truth has in mind.

 

 

“Why is There not a Christian Isis?”

A white supremacist recent challenged a Washington D.C. Muslim lawyer, Qusim Rashid, “Why isn’t there a Christian Isis?”  He was roundly rebuffed, with Rashid pointing out the violent history of Christianity with the Crusades, the genocide of Native Americans, and the brutal enslavement of African “heathens” to bring them Christ. The challenge to this Muslim demonstrated the lack of self-reflection present with many conservative Americans, not having any insight into how that what they see “out there” is usually right in the depths of their own heart.  And I would add to Rashid’s answer the observation that in highly “sophisticated” American culture we have mastered the art of sublimation so that our violence is often camouflaged so it passes for the ordinary.  And I think this is particularly so in all religions, including Christianity.

Violence is intrinsic to human nature and I think religion was given to us by the gods to facilitate an integration of the schism in our soul that leads to violence.  But when a religious practice is limited to the cognitive/rational realm, the inner recesses of the heart are not even addressed meaning that often our religious practice can be intrinsically ugly and escape our carefully-crafted version of self-awareness. (For more on violence and the sacred, check out Rene Girard.)

For example, in this venue and others I have addressed the sublimated violence of fundamentalist Christianity where manipulation, intimidation, shame and social pressure are often one dimension of the Christian emphasis to “win souls to Jesus.”  Just one illustration of this is the post-sermon altar call in which threats of hell-fire and damnation are de rigueur.  The Jesus I believe in today was, and is, the Son of a loving God and does not need human artifice to woo anyone into his kingdom, especially little children.  Little children who have “the hell scared of them” with fire and brimstone sermons are being subjected to systematic abuse and the cultural predominance of this violence will be effective in most instances.  These little children will grow up under the tyranny of a “loving” god, knowing in the depths of their heart that to let any dimension of their belief system go will be to encounter the terror that was evoked in their youth by the manipulation and intimidation by their church.  They will be “trapped” in their faith, not able in most instances to evolve spiritually and learn that God is not the beast they were presented with in youth.

And, of course, this ideological entrapment is obviously true also with the interlocutor of Mr. Rashid.  The ideology and life-style of white supremacists is deeply etched in their hearts, often by fundamentalist religion, leaving them free to make accusations of others about spiritual darkness that predominates in their own heart.  “Don’t believe everything you think,” I would remind them.  But they can’t help believing what they think because, being trapped in a cognitive prison devoid of God’s grace, they cannot find the “space” to question their motives.

(For more on the Rashid interaction with the white supremicist, check out the following link–https://www.someecards.com/news/politics/white-supremacist-muslim-history/)

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https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/

My “Atheism” Makes Faith Possible for Me!

Yes, I firmly believe there is a God.  But then, I have to immediately go “Bill Clinton” on you and make the observation, “But that depends on what ‘is’ is.” Though my favorite ex-President was “finessing” his way out of a tight spot…so to speak…he had a point.  “Is”, like all words, are ephemeral and warrant exploration from time to time.  Most people who fervently declare “there is a God” have in mind a God who is a “being among other beings” which means that he has an “is-ness” just as we do.  In other words, they see God in concrete terms and see him as an “object among other objects.”  Oh yes, he is a “really big and powerful object” and lives in glory “far, far away” but he still “exists” just as we do.  They believe in a “literal” God just as they believe in Biblical literalism.  Their God actually exists, revealing their disbelief in a Wholly Other dimension of reality in which God is, yes, “transcendent” but simultaneously “immanent.”  They fail to see that there is a “gulf fixed” between God and humankind, a discontinuity between Him and humankind which can never be breached by human ingenuity including “consciousness.” God is the “Ground of Being” as he is that which makes the whole of life even possible.  Without him I would not be able to discourse in a rational fashion nor would any “coherence” be found in this entire universe.  For, “By Him all things cohere.”

I used to be very much a concrete thinker myself and very literal.  Some part of me sees this present palaver as pure “non-sense” and, “straight from the pits of hell.”  And it is definitely “none” sense as it addresses the futility of reason as having final purchase on anything of ultimate value.  For reason, though infinitely important, is always a slave to our preconceptions and a need to formulate a picture of the Divine in such a way that our justifies our worldview.  Reason has true value when we can humbly allow reason to be applied to our reason, i.e. as in meta-cognition, and see that ultimately reason fails and requires faith.  Faith brings us to the limits of our “self” and allows us to brazenly hope and pray that there is something “out there” beyond this “small bright circle of our consciousness beyond which lies the darkness.” (Conrad Aiken) And that is the point at which persons such as Jesus Christ and other spiritual teachers become relevant as they have assured us that they feel and know that there is an “Ultimate” who is “out there” and their behavior has backed-up their convictions.

But this “atheistic” spiel here appears to have damned the millions and even billions who cannot even begin to understand this metaphysical “palaver.”  But, according to Christian hymnology, “Jesus paid it all,” and all are forgiven and therefore “ok.”  Those “concrete thinkers” don’t have it right; but then, guess what, neither do I!  None of us have it “right” but the story of Jesus tells us that we don’t have to be “right” but that He was an embodiment of an ultimate “Right” and that he came to tell us, “Chill out!  Don’t sweat it.  I gotcha covered.”  It has required me, however, to take myself less seriously.

 

 

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