Category Archives: Christian faith

Where Your Treasure Is, There Your Heart Will Be Also

Jesus once noted, “Where your treasures are, there shall your heart be.”  In the fundamentalism that I grew up in, I certainly understood that this teaching meant that the true “stuff” of life was not to be found in “this world.”  But now, I’ve aged a bit and I value this and His other teachings even more as I approach them from less an intellectual manner and more with a combination of intelligence and intuition (i.e. affect).  Aging, and the “thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to” have done their work on me and I approach the whole of life, including spiritually, with more personal involvement.

One main difference in my understanding of this wisdom now lies in what back then was my culture’s distinction  between “this world” and “the other world” which I guess was heaven.  I think that the treasure that Jesus had in mind was something which we can find during our tenure on earth, a treasure which certainly is “eternal” but I don’t think “eternity” is a quantity of life anymore.  I think that Jesus was offering us an early version of the Shakespearean wisdom, “Within be rich, without be fed no more.”  Jesus was teaching us the lesson of other great spiritual teachers that there is a quality of life that is missed if we make that  what Alfred Lord Whitehead called, “The fallacy of misplaced concreteness.”  Misplaced concreteness is taking that which is ephemeral and perceiving and thinking it to be “real.”  This is very much a version of the Platonic cave allegory about what is “real” and what is “unreal.”  Jesus was telling us that if our “treasure” was in the material realm, we were missing the primary purpose of life which was, and still is, to “shuffle off this mortal coil” while still living and discover that we have something inside which satisfies where that which is “outside” only leaves us empty.  Furthermore, this is what he had reference to when he posed the question, “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul.”

The emptiness of our modern day is so apparent in that we have allowed the mandate of capitalism to drive us into trying to fill that internal emptiness with “stuff.” And very much related to this, the “thing-ification” that we have acquired from our culture’s emphasis on “stuff” has turned even “god” into an item of “stuff,” meaning he is only a sterile concept. Technically our “highest value,” ( i.e. “god”) is “stuff” which is illustrated in the rampant consumerism.

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Hiking the Appalachian Trail.

In 2009 this phrase entered the English metaphorical lexicon as a synonym for having an extra-marital affair.  The Republican Governor of South Carolina, Mark Stanford disappeared from office for a suspicious amount of time and no one could fully account for his absence.  His staff at one point, under mounting pressure, finally explained that the governor was “hiking the Appalachian Trail” and could not be reached.  Shortly thereafter it was revealed that he was in Argentina cavorting with his sexy paramour.  Thus an apt metaphor for “cheating” came into our language. Stanford had to resign from the office and submit to the humiliation of the press, especially the late-night comedians who pilloried him for his hypocrisy.  Being an outspoken supporter of “family values” and moral propriety, his hypocrisy was apparent to all.  He was a broken man.

But now he is back in Congress as an outspoken Republican critic of Donald Trump while most of his party continues to cower before the “sound and fury” of Mr. Trump, all of which “signifies nothing.”  Sanford describes himself as a “dead man walking,” noting how that he lost everything and knows how it feels and so now has nothing to lose.  Circumstances of life, I like to call it that “bitch reality, slapped him in the face and he managed to find the courage to accept the loss of face and emerge with a newly found humility.

Disillusionment is painful.  It is particularly painful for those who are outspoken proponents of moral virtue and political correctness.  Such hypocrisy now abounds in the Republican Party and they have unwittingly elected as President the very epitome of dishonesty, insincerity, and moral depravity.  They now have the opportunity to use the words of the cartoon character Pogo and humbly lament, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Sanford declares he now has nothing to lose.  And he doesn’t.  The Republican Party needs to find that same humility and simply admit, “We made a mistake,” uttering the words that Trump is incapable of uttering.  And, furthermore, the entirety of our country needs to find this humility as Trump’s election is a reflection of the American soul and not merely the soul of those who voted for him.  We now have a learning opportunity before us.  Let’s see what happens.  Usually in these circumstances the wisdom of W. H. Auden is relevant, “And Truth met him, and held out her hand.  But he clung in panic to his tall belief and shrank away like an ill-treated child.”

(If you want to see more details about Govenor Sanford’s fall from power and rebirth, see the following link:  http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/02/mark-sanford-profile-214791)

Trump and the’Awful Grace of God’

“The Lord has raised him up!” Some conservatives made this argument for Trump and I’m beginning to believe they were right, but not in the way they had in mind. Conservatives have the very important responsibility for emphasizing boundaries and restraint in any tribe but when that emphasis becomes extreme, “balance” will be forthcoming from “the gods.”  Now they have Donald Trump who is the poster child for poor boundarys and he is putting fundamental “proprieties” of our country in jeopardy, best illustrated with this egregious connection with Russia.  Conservatives are being “hoisted on their own petard.”   Lord help us.  (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/flynn-held-multiple-calls-with-russian-envoy_us_58792072e4b09281d0eaaaf1?y4gb5h6z14c7rjm7vi)

Conservatives in America are facing a “come to Jesus moment” as is our entire country.  A “Come to Jesus meeting” is a popular expression of a moment when truth is becoming impossible to hide from, when truth is even about to “bitch slap” somebody.  And like all humans, Conservatives are averse to this invasion of reality and are doing everything in their power to undermine Truth’s insidious, persistent effort to “out” them.  “Human kind cannot bear very much reality.” (T. S. Eliot)

But a “Come to Jesus” moment is also relevant to Christians as it is to all spiritual traditions from time to time.  But for evangelical Christians in particular, who have hitched their wagon to Trump, this poses a real problem as in their mind set they have no need to “come to Jesus” because He is already leading them and in fact has led them to back Trump to “Make America Great Again.”  In their mind, there is no need to “come to Jesus” for they already have Him and under his leadership one can make no mistakes.

But this naive belief of evangelicals deserves the scrutiny of meta cognition, alluded to by the Apostle Paul when he told them that the Spirit of God should be allowed to penetrate into the hidden recesses of the heart and is a “discerner of the thoughts and intents the heart.”  Being a Christian does not give one a perfect perspective as it does not eradicate what Paul called the “old man” or “the flesh.”  The Spirit of God, if it is allowed to daunt the tyranny of the ego, can show an individual just how much spiritual impulses are subject to hijacking by this aforementioned “flesh.”  Speaking from experience, it is stunning to suddenly realize just how much one’s spirituality has been “all about me” and in fact has little or nothing to do with spirituality, or in this context, with “God” or “Jesus.”  It is just because we never escape our basic malady of being “human” with an innate tendency to twist everything about life in a self-serving manner.  This always give rise to what Sartre called “bad faith” and then offers the popular press and stand-up comedians plenty of material to ridicule any spiritual enterprise.  The resulting criticism is often over the top  but the tenor of it is well deserved.

Yes, Donald Trump is a god-send but “god-sends” are often painful as they are an assault on the tyranny of this ego and the experience is crushing.  Disillusionment is so painful that we will use any self-deception to avoid this moment described by Aeschylus as “the awful grace of God.”  Or as W. H. Auden worded it, “When Truth met him, and held out her hand, he clung in panic to his tall belief and shrank away like an ill-treated child.”  The evangelical leadership is particularly vulnerable here as if they allow reality to set in, as it must be doing by now, they might have to do the very thing that Donald Trump cannot do, admit that, “I made a mistake.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am a Writer

I’m a writer.  It has taken me 65 years to make this bold assertion though this blogging experience of the past five years has been a very tentative, left-handed way of making this announcement.  And “endeavor” was a deliberately chosen term as it has been and always will be a struggle as writing of any substance must come from the heart; and anything that flows from that bastion of “beastly little treasures” will be a struggle.  The heart is the innermost recess of our being, so “inner most” that, if you will let me slip into Zen for a moment, it is a “No Thing” and can best be described as emptiness.  Therefore, if you “know” what your heart is…that is if you cognitively grasp your heart, or think that you do…I would beg to differ with you.  For the “heart” always lies beyond our conscious grasp.  And this “emptiness” is very much related to the Christian teaching of “losing your self to find your self” and finding our “self” in the sense that Jesus had in mind is much more than a cognitive, rational, linear-thinking enterprise.  You could even say it is a “work of the cross” but not in an intellectual way but in the constellation of archetypal energies which will often feel like a crucifixion.

Acknowledgement that anything is beyond the grasp of our conscious mind is frightening to most people, especially those of us in the West.  Since the Descartes dictum, “I think, therefore I am” the West has been worshipping thinking or reason and we have slowly come to be convinced that the whole of life can be reduced to linear thinking, i.e. reason.  And this has made us technologically and scientifically great but left us with a spiritual emptiness that will soon leave my country, the United States, with a man who is egregiously mentally ill as its President.  “They call it Reason, using Light celestial, just to outdo the beasts in being bestial.” (Goethe)

But writing and all artistic enterprises can only spring from a heart that novelist Toni Morrison described as “petal open.”  That is where spirituality flows from, other than the “letter of the law” variety which is only what the Apostle Paul called a “work of the flesh.”  My favorite description of this vulnerable heart was written by Shakespeare whose character Hamlet, with great intensity lamented to his mother that he could never unburden his heart to her because it was, “bronzed o’er with the damned cast of thought so that it” is a barrier against “sense” (or feeling) and thus not “made of penetrable stuff.”  Shakespeare knew that an open heart can be “penetrated” while a closed heart, one shrouded by an enculturated verbal patina will be reduced to mindless palaver, “the well worn words and ready phrases that build comfortable walls against the wilderness.” (Conrad Aiken)

But words do have the capacity to furrow into the depths of our heart and there we can use them to “unpack our heart.”(see footnote below).  But the unopen heart will only reflect from its patina a slough of jargon and packaged, formulaic speech in accordance with what the speaker perceives will gain him the greatest approbation.  Here is the opening stanza of a poem by Irish poet W. R. Rodgers who in 1942 recognized the “post-truth” dimension of language that is currently plaguing our world.

WORDS (an excerpt)

By W. R. Rodgers

Once words were unthinking things, signaling

Artlessly the heart’s secret screech or roar,

Its foremost ardour or its farthest wish,

Its actual ache or naked rancour.

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.

(FOOTNOTE:  For you Shakespearean scholars, I am misapplying this line of “unpacking my heart with words” to describe something useful, when in the play “Hamlet” it described prostitutes deliberately plying their trade knowing that they could then go and perfunctorily confess their sins.  Hmm!)

Spirit Battles Form

My wife and I had an interesting discussion this morning about soul.  She was not raised with a definite spiritual tradition like myself and so she often brings a different perspective to “god talk” such as terms like “soul.” As a result of this discussion, another dimension of the soul became apparent to me.  The soul is not a static phenomenon but is dynamic, vibrantly dynamic as it lies at the very core of our being.  The soul is something we are born with and the fact that others would utilize some other term does not bother me in the least.  The soul is “the Christ child” which we are at birth…and even before…which the Chinese describe as “chi.”  This burst of energy that we were, and still are, was flung into being by what in my spiritual tradition is called “the Word.”  It is will, it is “elan vital,” and in some fashion is energy and at birth this “germ of being” that we were, vibrating with the energy that it was/we were, began its task of seeking expression in this world of form.

But the soul-quest, which Carl Jung described as our vocation, is a perilous venture for obstacles are present each step of the way for the duration of our life.  We could even say “Satan” immediately puts barricades up in our way to keep us from unfolding as this “Word” had intended for us.  And our life, being inherently a spiritual enterprise, is the story of the unfolding of this energy (I might say “Spirit of God”), seeking full expression and battling each step of the way the barricades that are necessarily before us.  For, with these “barricades” that the world of form puts before us, we are deterred from staying totally Spirit in which we would never enter the human race.  Though we might have human form, we would be some version of a blob of protoplasm.

And others unfold beyond this “blob,” but are still spiritually driven beyond the pale.  Their neurological “god spot” is over heated.  Those who suffer from this spiritual malady are often addictive personalities and are plagued with the desire to “Break on Through to the Other Side” as Jim Morrison of the Doors put it.  Unmitigated, this drive will accomplish what it did for Morrison who died of an over dose as a result of his psycho-pharmocological attempt to “break on through to the other side.”  This is spirituality run amok, which upon closer scrutiny is merely the ego’s co-opting of the soul’s quest for expression, turning the spiritual hunger into an unmitigated black hole.

But still another example of the ego’s intrusion into our spiritual development (one could even describe it also as a Satanic intervention) is to settle for some static level of development and at some point in the process of unfolding find certainty too intoxicating.  When we sip of this delightful elixir, at some point it becomes too intoxicating and our spirituality will be arrested, sometimes even fatally.  At that point we shut down the dynamic life process and when Life or, to use W. H. Auden’s term “Truth” presents itself, we “cling in panic to our tall beliefs and shrink away like an ill-treated child.”  This is the temptation that fundamentalist Christianity taunted me with.

Forgive me for beating a dead horse, but Donald Trump is relevant to this argument.  He, like all human beings have a soul.  We can see it in his frenetic, desperate quest for power which is ultimately merely a quest for love.  But early on, and certainly in his “terrible two’s” the world of form was not sufficiently present to teach him about limits.  He then became stuck in narcissistic splendor and then the family and environment in which he lived never set adequate limits for him when it was still possible.  By his mid-teens when he was kicked out of a boarding school, he demonstrated that he was not going to submit to the world of form.  What this meant is that the energy that he was/is, that soul-level energy, was closed in upon itself and, to borrow wisdom from my youth, “The person who lives by himself and for himself will be spoiled by the company he keeps.”  In other words, his soul became bound in the anguish of incomplete development but with his wealth and circumstance he was able to bully his way through life to the point that he will shortly be the President of the United States.  Once again, the “world of form” has not set limits for him, have not resolutely told him, “No, Donald.”  Now he is in the position to wreak havoc on our country and the world.  (And here I do not have the time to explore how this developmental phenomenon as relevant to those who put him in power and continue to not hold him responsible for his word and deed, also relevant to our entire culture.)

Thinking “Outside of the Box”

“Thinking outside of the box” is popular rhetoric for looking at things differently.  But, the task asks for more than is often realized–realizing that you are “boxed” already and have a built-in, ego based aversion for escaping that narrow view of the world.  And though you might bounce around the notion of “thinking outside of the box,” just be aware that you are not likely to do it beyond a comfort zone and that getting beyond that “comfort zone” is where the action is.  Getting beyond one’s comfort zone is the essence of “spirituality,” a term I use to refer to getting down into the “foul and ragged bone shop of the heart” where we actually live.  I will readily admit that the spirituality of my life has usually been designed to avoid this “catastrophe”;  and it is “catastrophic” when we begin to step outside of the comfort zone our box has provided us and begin to delve into the heart.

Another way to approach “thinking outside of the box” is paradigm shifting.  But, once again, you can’t begin to “paradigm shift” until you have the honesty and self-awareness to acknowledge that you are confined by a paradigm.  And we all are.  It is called “being human.”  But I’ve spent my life avoiding my human-ness, remaining in the comfort zone of my preconceptions and biases, i.e. my “box.”  And my Christian faith has been the most important dimension of my “box” and I am only now beginning to explore this matter.  And this is not to diminish the teachings of Jesus but merely to recognize that His teachings always come to an individual in a cultural context; and, try as we may, we cannot fail to consider the impact of the cultural context on our interpretations of His teachings and on the interpretation of every dimension of life.

The particular cultural context that I was born into offered me a spirituality that solved this “dilemma” by teaching that “cultural context” did not have any role in spirituality, that it came to us directly from on high without any interference by little difficulties like preconceptions and biases.  And that “solution” was the very heart of the problems which I’m beginning to explore and is very relevant to the lunacy so very apparent today in evangelical Christianity in my country.

A closing thought from the philosopher Paul Ricoeur, “You can’t have a perspective on your perspective without somehow escaping it.”

 

 

 

 

Drawing Boundaries in Religious Experience

After another long hiatus, I’m resuming my blog with the intent of pursuing a theme for periods of time.  Beginning today I am introducing the notion of human beings as “distinction-drawers,” a notion that I broached casually months ago.  And this is a very personal issue as “distinction-drawing” is very close to the core of my ego identity though now I am apparently in “recovery” from this death trap.

We are born into a world that was “always already underway.”  Even before we started to venture toward consciousness, this pre-existent world was beckoning, a gentle beckoning which would become more demanding as our journey through infancy continued and we approached the threshold of consciousness.  Becoming human depended on acceding to the demands of this “exterior” world and formulating a template through which we would view the world, a template which must be shaped so that it is consistent with the world view of the tribe into which we were born.  This template is a narrow prism through which we view the world and we will never completely leave it behind…even when in the “recovery” mentioned earlier.

One primary feature of this “template” is thinking itself which is a carving up of the world into discrete categories, providing escape from that matrix into which we are born and in which we spend the earliest months of our life.  This matrix (i.e. mother) is a womb, the mythological Uroborus in which there is no distinction drawn between me and the outside world.  It is the Garden of Eden from which we must be banished.  And if we fail to escape that matrix (i.e. “mother”) we will not be able to “join” the human race.

I will admit that there is some sense in which I have never made this escape as I’m still deeply rooted in that primeval world where distinctions are not as clear as they are to most people. I have spent most of my life “pretending” to have escaped by imprisoning myself in a conceptual world which has allowed me to function well in the “real” world.  This “real” world is a world of reason, a highly structured world which we call culture.  Without this fabricated world we would still live in that Ouroborous which means we would not really have a world at all, living in an undifferentiated state of unity with all things.  Having an “object world” is necessary for the creation of culture and our own infantile development of an “object relationship” with the world is necessary if we are to participate in the world into which we are born.

Joining our “object world,” our tribe, always means subscribing to reason and the “rational world” of the tribe is a “necessary evil” that we will need to gain some freedom from when we mature.  And that certainly does not mean we will need to become “un” reasonable only that we learn to see that the distinctions that we have learned to draw in our early tribal life are not as pronounced as they were seen, and felt, to be.  Early cognitive development turns us into a “distinction-drawer” and that is a developmental imperative.

Problems come, however, when neurophysiology creates too great of a reliance on this “distinction-drawer” and we never learn to see the world in terms other than black and white, us vs. them, good and bad, Republicans and Democrats, right and wrong, etc., etc.  And another dimension of this infantile imprisonment is that sometimes the social “norms” are so rigid that the developing child is basically tyrannized into his/her “distinction drawer” which helps the tribe to perpetuate its collective “distinction drawer.”

In my next post, I intend to explain how my Christian faith contributed mightily to the development of my “distinction drawer.”  And this is not the fault of Jesus Christ but merely an illustration of how human nature tends to use everything at hand to formulate a “distinction-drawer” early in life.