Tag Archives: prophecy

The Need of a Religious “Splinter in the Brain” for our Culture

Emily Dickinson used the phrase “a splinter in the brain” to describe a sudden irruption in the routine functioning of one’s mind.  Our mind’s do work like a machine, prone to constantly regurgitate thoughts and feelings to keep our preconceptions and biases in place.  (Just as I do in this blog!)  This is too often a relentless, even monotonous process that we see from time to time when we realize we are talking to someone who will not allow us to intrude into their monologue.

The same phenomenon is present with any tribe as groups of peoples are just like individuals, striving to function in such a way so as to keep in place preconceptions and biases that maintain group coherence.  A contrary vein of thought or behavior is frowned upon and at times violently oppressed.  When this group coherence becomes more important to the group than functioning amicably with neighboring tribes war can often take place…always under some “justified” pretext of an affront or insult to the groups dignity or integrity. A closed system such as this can be dangerous which healthy tribes will address with allowing some degree of dissent.  This dissenting voice will always come from someone/s who deviate from the norm and offer a different perspective on the “reality” that prevails within the tribe.  These are often the voices of artists and religious leaders who serve the function of “a voice crying in the wilderness.”

Religion having always been an important part of my life, my focus here and elsewhere is often the role of the church in our country, particularly given the horrible catastrophe that is brewing in our country.  The church often appears to have been “culturally encapsulated” so that it often serves only to reinforce the biases and prejudices of the status quo, failing in its task to offer a prophetic word, a voice from beyond the pale of the cultures obstinate insistence of grinding on in its “metaled ways.”

The following is a relevant post from another one of my blogs from yesterday:

Barack Obama has answered the bell and has come out swinging, addressing the Republican morass of recent decades that has created our country’s present debacle, and yes, taking not-so-veiled jabs at the figure-head and spokesman for this roiling cauldron of chthonic energy.  I stumbled across a book just last week by Rebecca S. Chopps entitled, “The Power to Speak: Feminism, Language, and God,” which is relevant to this cauldron as she explores how language, including religious language, can be used to give expression to hidden dimensions of the heart, individually and socio-culturally. But for this “revelation” to occur, there must be a voice/voices from beyond the pale of the status quo who see into the heart of the poisonous mindset which is always oriented primarily to maintain the prevailing power structure.  Chopps writes as a feminist but also as a Christian…apparently…though if she calls herself a Christian she is certainly beyond the pale of the Christian power structure that would “legitimate” her wearing that label.

Here I will share a couple of paragraphs from Chopps’ book:

Proclamation, in feminist discourses of emancipatory transformation, resists and transforms the social symbolic order.  Proclamation is a form of resistance to the practices and principles of modernity that control, dominate, and oppress.  But proclamation resists by way of transformation, seeking to provide new discourses by a variety of strategies, methods, and ways, and to transform the ruling principles and order into ones that allow, encourage, and enable transformative relations of multiplicity, difference, solidarity, anticipation, embodiment, and transformation.  Transformation occurs by creating new images of human flourishing, new values of otherness, and multiplicity, new theoretical practices of solidarity and anticipation. 

This is reminiscent of one of the most powerful of Paul Tillich’s sermons, “The Shaking of the Foundations” in which he argued that the purpose of the church is to, “rattle the cage” (my term) of the status quo.  But the status quo does not want to be “rattled” and will arm itself to the teeth in an effort to deny any affront to its comfy zone of satisfaction, where “they bask, agreed upon what they will not ask, bland, sunny, and adjusted by the light” of the unquestioned assumptions which give them privilege and power.  This is also obviously so with the power structure of religious culture though often those most ensconced in that power structure are basking even more in the comfort of a falsetto humility which does not permit any consideration or discussion of their motivations.

I conclude with another paragraph from Chopps:

Through discourses of emancipatory transformation, proclamation enables those marginalized voices who so often have not been heard, to speak: to speak of the beauty, hope, pain, and sorrow they have known on the margins.  Proclamation also speaks within the ambiguities of the order, the ambiguities, for instance, of the bourgeois who, though promised freedom in his autonomy, discovers few genuine possibilities for the community, relationships, and love he so desires.  Unable to find any “authentic meaning” the bourgeois attempts to fill in the empty spaces of his or her soul through the attainment of material goods that great momentary satisfaction with increasingly diminished returns.

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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/

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Richard Rohr Prophecies, Part 2

Christians are usually sincere and well-intentioned people until you get to any issues of ego, control, power, money, pleasure, and security.  Then they tend to be like everyone else.  We often give only a bogus version of the gospel, a fast-food religion, without any deep transformation of the self; and the result has been the spiritual disaster of Christian countries that tend to be so consumer-oriented, proud, warlike, racist, class conscious, and addictive as everybody else and often even more so, I’m afraid.  (Richard Rohr, posted in “Mindful Christianity” on Facebook.)

I do think that most Christians are “well-intentioned,” even those who I fiercely disagree with.  But speaking from what I have seen and from my own personal experience, the influence of human needs for, “ego (gratification), control, power, money, pleasure, and security” play a greater role in faith than it is comfortable to acknowledge.  Each of these needs can be subsumed under the rubric “ego” which is the Pauline “flesh” in modern terms.  As a result of this we turn out faith into an ego enterprise and even though our announced purpose with our faith is often very noble, the ego is at work getting its “pound of flesh” so that the effectiveness of our noble impulses is diminished…or even obliterated.  I quoted W. Ian Thomas recently who noted that often our spirituality can be merely a stage upon which the ego can strut itself, merely “a platform on which to display our carnal abilities.”

This is not to suggest that anyone’s motives are pure.  Many “noble pursuits” which I am here putting into question accomplish a lot of good.  If one waits until he is “pure” then he will have to wait until he has returned to Eternity!  But a willingness to look at our motives from time to time can help us identify the ego’s machinations and chip away at its tyranny.  However, this insight is painful as often we see just our foolish and self-promoting we have been and often that this has been our primary purpose.  The result can be disillusionment, and disillusionment can be gut-wrenchingly painful and often will lead us to distraction at the first sign of being threatened with it.

Rohr noted also that when we succumb to this ego-tyranny, “we become just like everyone else” as culture, i.e. “the world,” is built upon ego and this is necessary in a sense.  But when we have “become just like everyone else” we are driven by the same whims and fancies of self-gratification those pose the grievous situation we see in the world on this Christmas day.  But a caveat is in order. Being something other than “just like everyone else” is a perilous notion as many in my spiritual tradition, reading Paul’s admonishment to, “Come out from them and be ye separate” do so with foolishness, and sometimes pure insanity, and thus accomplishing “difference.”  But Rohr’s teachings, and those of the Apostle Paul, had to do with where our heart is rooted and the spiritual call in most all religions is to be rooted the Ineffable, not the ephemeral that keeps the world going. Often a specious spirituality will drive one to the extremes which present with us the Alabama spiritual lunacy.

Fr. Richard Rohr Offers a Prophetic Word to Christians.

Christians are usually sincere and well-intentioned people until you get to any issues of ego, control, power, money, pleasure, and security.  Then they tend to be like everyone else.  We often give only a bogus version of the gospel, a fast-food religion, without any deep transformation of the self; and the result has been the spiritual disaster of Christian countries that tend to be so consumer-oriented, proud, warlike, racist, class conscious, and addictive as everybody else and often even more so, I’m afraid.  (Richard Rohr, posted in “Mindful Christianity” on Facebook.)

I intend to use this astute wisdom of Fr. Richard Rohr for a series of posts as here he eloquently notes concerns I have about the Christian faith, concerns which are relevant to me personally.  Here Rohr elucidates how “the flesh” (the Apostle Paul’s term) is very present in our Christian faith, an awareness which that antithesis of our faith (i.e. Satan!!!) does not want us to be aware.  “Awareness” is a powerful antidote to the ego’s machinations which is why we resist it so intently, even to the point of wrapping the teachings of Jesus around our self-serving orientation to life so that we can never let the light of day shine upon them.  I have a hunch that Paul’s “besetting sin” was his recognition of this quandary, the deep-seated, intuitive understanding that, though the “Spirit is willing, the flesh is weak.”  Human frailty is so pronounced that each of us attempts to hide from it, even to the point of taking spiritual teachings like those of Jesus and turning them into “a platform for the display of our carnal abilities.” (W. Ian Thomas) The very human need for a persona will often seize upon spiritual tradition and incorporate it into its complicated and deep-seated (i.e. unconscious) scheme to hide from our frailty, even though it is only in our frailty that we discover God and therefore our self.  This is what Jesus had in mind when he noted, “He that will find himself must lose himself.” (my paraphrasing of Matthew 10:39) and the “self” here that must be lost often includes the Christian persona that we have clung to the whole of our lives.

This issue is very relevant to the Christian voice of today when so many critics, from within and without of Christianity, are warning that the tradition is in jeopardy.  This is because religious leaders have not heard the same prophetic voice that Rohr listens to and have succumbed to the siren call of what Rohr termed “fast-food religion,” alluded to by Dietrich Bonhoeffer as “cheap grace” and by, Vance Havner, an early 20th century fundamentalist evangelist as a, “cheap and easy believism.”  Now the Christ I believe in is not in jeopardy and cannot be, for He is the “Cosmic Christ” that Rohr elsewhere describes, being beyond the grasp of the time/space continuum.  But Christian tradition, sustained by rote ideology is a “house build upon sand” and thus not a reliable object of faith.

 

Here are two other blogs that I publish.

https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/

https://literarylew.wordpress.com/

https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/

A Prophetic Word from A Literary Critic

This is the best “sermon” I’ve read yet about Trump and his minions. Rebecca Solnit spares no punches and delivers a prophetic word, not just about Trump, but about our whole culture. As they say, “Read it and weep.” And weeping is in order as this is a very sad moment in our history and could get even sadder at any moment. My use of words like “sermon” and “prophetic” bely my rage at the church culture of my origins. Yes, “me doeth protest too much.”  A poet friend of mine in Arkansas once described a culture-bound clergy in these terms, “Ye heroes of spiritual contraception who have long-since despaired of rebirth.”

I still think that “truth” can be found in spiritual traditions but very often spiritual traditions ossify and become merely “well-worn words and ready phrases that build walls against the wilderness.” That leaves it to artists, writers, and even comedians to “speak truth to power” and Ms. Solnit here “knocks it out of the park.”

Here is the link to Solnit’s Essay — http://lithub.com/rebecca-solnit-the-loneliness-of-donald-trump/

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Two other blogs of mine are listed here which I invited you to check out:

https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/

https://literarylew.wordpress.com/

https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/

Nicholas Kristof of NYT Delivers a “Word from on High”

I’m going to linger on this subject of Jesus as our “imaginary friend” for a while.  One reason is this brilliant op-ed in the NYT by Nicholas Kristof who used “literary license” to make the teachings of Jesus very relevant to the darkness that is prevailing now in Washington D.C.  The preacher, or pastor, that I was familiar with in my past would discourse about Jesus in a very prosaic fashion though several of them did so in a way that was immensely valuable to me.  But here, a journalist, approaching the matter from beyond the pale of theology and ecclesiastical decorum takes the teachings of Jesus and delivers a prophetic word to our country which is in desperate need of men and women who have the courage to stand up and speak “truth to power.”  This prophetic voice is silent in most of Christendom and apparently the mute button has been hit by evangelical Christians.  Please read this op-ed.  It is so powerful and inspiring.  I don’t know anything about the spirituality of Nicholas Kristof, and don’t really care, because what I like to call “the Spirit of God” was coursing through his veins when he wrote these words.

“Cardboard Cutout” Politics and Jesus

,http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/gene-huber-trump-cardboard-cutout_us_58a91337e4b045cd34c2689d?ncid=inblnkushpmg00000009

I don’t think Trump realized what this incident was revealing about himself.  He felt that this hapless young man was making a statement which validated him but his affirmation of Trump only demonstrated his own emptiness and testified to the emptiness that Trump has brought to the table.  Trump is an “empty suit” and so vividly exemplifies the “empty suit” of our capitalistic culture which is always trying to satisfy its inner void with “stuff” in a futile endeavor which can only end with further futility…and possible disaster. Meanwhile, many Christians are aiding and abetting this enterprise and therein demonstrating the meaninglessness of their own “cardboard cut out Jesus.”

This event brought to my mind a prophetic poem of T. S. Eliot, “The Hollow Man” and here is the first stanza:

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar.

I do think that the prophetic function in today’s world is rarely fulfilled by religion. Religion has become enculturated, “canned” or packaged and therefore not capable of bringing the breath of fresh air that is its responsibility.