Category Archives: Christianity

The Elusiveness of Truth

Trump is again demonstrating his alienation from what most of us know as “truth.”  He foolishly claimed a few days ago that he and Vladimir Putin discussed a joint cyber security unit but was immediately confronted with how the rest of us saw this as complete nonsense.  So he changed his tune yesterday, suggesting…and I paraphrase…”You must not take me literally.”  His handlers found the temerity to challenge him privately and let him know just how completely inane and foolish a “cyber security unit” with the Russians sounds.

Trump definitely believes in “truth” but he reserves the prerogative of getting to define the notion without reference to what others think.  He sees “truth” as a static quality and to him it amounts to whatever whim and fancy courses through his brain.  He reserves the prerogative of defining the term…and all other terms…without regard to how the notion is seen in the context that he lives in, that context which most of us call “reality.”  This arrogance resonates with many of his followers who also see truth as a static quality, some “thing” which they have certainty about without any consideration to the rest of us.

I increasingly believe in “truth” and I even have the temerity to spell it out as “Truth.”  But this Truth is an elusive quality which can best be described as a process, a “process” which the Christian tradition sees as a person, illustrated with the words of Jesus, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”  But this “Truth” lies deep in our hearts and, while always seeking expression, it denies the objectification that would permit any mortal to say that he owns it, objectively.  Those who claim to know “the Truth” objectively always do so with a certainty, a certainty which always betrays itself in real time as specious.

Here I wish to let poet Carl Sandburg present this notion beautifully in a poem entitled, “Who am I?”

My head knocks against the stars.
My feet are on the hilltops.
My finger-tips are in the valleys and shores of
universal life.
Down in the sounding foam of primal things I
reach my hands and play with pebbles of
destiny.
I have been to hell and back many times.
I know all about heaven, for I have talked with God.
I dabble in the blood and guts of the terrible.
I know the passionate seizure of beauty
And the marvelous rebellion of man at all signs
reading “Keep Off.”
My name is Truth and I am the most elusive captive
in the universe.

Shakespeare and Jesus Heard the Same Call!

Shakespeare’s wisdom in Sonnet 46, “Within be rich, without be fed no more,” brought to my mind the teachings of Jesus who clearly understood the presence of a dimension of life that most people are oblivious to which He called the kingdom “within.”  The “call” of this inner voice that Jesus heeded, as did Shakespeare and many others, can easily be misunderstood as purveying an “us” vs. “them” paradigm in spirituality—“some of us have heard the call, the rest of you haven’t.”  The temptation of this egoic arrogance always presents itself to those who have heard this “call,” for the ego loves the knowledge that it is special and others aren’t.  There is a certain intoxication to ferreting out truth in literature…or in life in general…and realizing that most people do not see or understand this “truth.”  And that awareness is understandable if one can avoid the temptation of then sitting in judgment of those who view life in more prosaic terms.  Jesus recognized there were distinctions in his world but he did not subscribe to the temptation of bifurcating his world neat categories of “us” and “them, or “right” and wrong,” or even “saved” and “unsaved.”  Those who insists on this bifurcation have been intoxicated with binary thinking and cannot see beyond this limited view of the world.

Let me illustrate from the ministry of Jesus in Matthew ch. 11.  He and his disciples were walking along the shores of Gallilee one morning and one of them wanted to delay heeding the call to follow Jesus, explaining that he needed to first go bury his father.  Jesus responded with, “Follow me, and let the dead bury the dead.”  In my youth, I understood this to mean that Jesus was saying that those who did not heed his call were “dead” in the sense they were “lost and going to hell.”  My understanding at that time was that Jesus was promulgating a cognitive gospel, a set of teachings to which one could merely intellectually assent and then take comfort in knowing that he had done so.  But the Truth that Jesus offered when he said, “Come follow me” was not offered in any creed or body of dogma but in a relationship that his ministry and the whole story of his Incarnation was an elaboration of in terms of flesh and blood, i.e. “human life.”  “Come follow me” did not mean to Jesus, “Come tag along behind me and be one of my groupies” but “Come follow me” and participate in a relationship with a spiritual Presence that I have embraced, one that can include you and one that does not emphasize “ex-clusion.”  His message was one of “in-clusiveness, not “ex”-clusiveness which has been the tradition in Western Christianity, especially Protestantism.   By describing those who were not following him that day as “dead”, those who were busying themselves with the important responsibility of burying a dead man, Jesus was not condemning them to exclusion from the Kingdom but merely telling the hesitant follower that a more important responsibility was beckoning him that morning.  Those left behind, dutifully “chopping wood, carrying water” are equally covered by God’s grace and those who consider themselves so spiritually “sublime” as to think that those with a different, “less enlightened” lot in life are “lost and going to hell” are not reading the gospel closely. Truth, when embodied and not merely an idea, offers unity, not disunity.  “Oh God, guard me from those thoughts men think in the mind alone.  He who sings a lasting song will think in the marrow bone.” (W. B. Yeats)

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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

“Within be Rich, Without be Fed No More”

Shakespeare knew that life was a spiritual enterprise, that the essence of life was buried inside what Hamlet described as “this mortal coil.”  The Bard knew that human nature was to avoid this inner essence, preferring instead to invest in the external where sensual experience offers a ready deterrent from the excruciating labor involved in delving into the heart.  In his 46th sonnet he encouraged us to overrule those “rebel powers” that encourage arrayment in the gaudy apparel of this ego-driven “mortal coil.”  He knew that the accomplishments and accouterments that culture entices us with to avoid our inner essence gives us a sense of fulfillment that is illusory, leaving us with an inner emptiness gnawing away at our soul.  He suggested a different emphasis, “Within be fed, without be rich no more.”  I do not think that he would say that cultural contrivances have no value.  But when these superficies become predominant and we become the “Hollow Man” of T.S. Eliot or Willy Loman in the Arthur Miller play, “Death of a Salesman,” we have allowed superficial accomplishments to predominate at the expense of paying attention to our own soul.  This is what Jesus had in mind with his famous question, “What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?”

And, with the quotation of Jesus, I think Shakespeare was quite aware of false piety and hypocrisy which facilitate a gross misinterpretation of that famous verse from the Bible.  Even spirituality can become a “thing” purveyed by a “thing-oriented”, objectifying culture and we can miss the danger of letting “godliness” and “piety” be merely a thing of the external, a matter of adherence to creeds and dogma while allowing the “stillness” of our heart to go untouched.  Thereby we reduce this teaching of Jesus to the superficial cognitive grasp of his teachings and disallow them penetration into our heart, failing to realize that in keep his teachings and the whole of our life on that superficial cognitive dimension we are “losing” our own soul.  This is the truth that Ralph Waldo Emerson had in mind when he expressed fear of coming to the end of his life and realizing that what he had lived was not life at all but a mere facsimile of life.  And that can be readily done under the guise of spirituality.  As Shakespeare noted, “With devotions visage and pious action we do sugar o’er the devil himself.”  Shakespeare was the most astute teacher of the human soul since Jesus.

 

Sonnet 146, Shakespeare

Poor soul, the center of my sinful earth,
Thrall to these rebel pow’rs that thee array,
Why dost thou pine within and suffer dearth,
Painting thy outward walls so costly gay?
Why so large cost, having so short a lease,
Dost thou upon thy fading mansion spend?
Shall worms, inheritors of this excess,
Eat up thy charge? Is this thy body’s end?
Then, soul, live thou upon thy servant’s loss,
And let that pine to aggravate thy store;
Buy terms divine in selling hours of dross;
Within be fed, without be rich no more.
  So shalt thou feed on death, that feeds on men,
  And death once dead, there’s no more dying then.
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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

A Prophetic Word from the NYT

I love Bill Maher and especially his emphasis of the “imaginary friend” of Christians.  I completely get and understand his point.  But I think there is a way in which Jesus must be our “imaginary friend” if He is to have any value to us, value other than mere rhetorical, dogmatic escapism.  Here is a link to an op-ed in the New York Times yesterday in which Nicholas Kristof used his imagination to apply the teachings of Jesus to the darkness that currently abounds in Washington D.C.  I don’t know anything about Kristof’s religious affiliation, and don’t care, but he took the teachings of Jesus and applied them to what is underway in our government and, in doing so, offered a prophetic word to a country that needs one.

Canned Religion and Conspicuous Piety

“When love begins to sicken and decay
It useth an enforced ceremony.
There are no tricks in plain and simple faith:
But hollow men, like horses hot at hand,
Make gallant show, and promise of their mettle.”

This Shakespearean wisdom from Julius Caesar has gotten a lot of play in my blogs the past year as I witnessed evangelical Christians utilize their canned faith to help elect Donald Trump to the Presidency. But I am such a keen observer of this hypocrisy because I’ve spent most of my life there.  And “canned faith,” steeped in the letter of the law, always thrives on the ego’s demand for “strutting and fretting” like the aforementioned “horses hot at hand.”

Plain and simple faith, huh?  Conspicuous piety always takes a lot of effort genuine human goodness requires simple presence in life, paying attention to this beautiful world and gazing attentively on the flow of life taking place around you.  It is amazing how much life one can miss when he is immersed in the self-imposed illusion of piety.

ADDENDUM–I have diversified this literary effort of mine.  In this blog I plan to focus more on poetry and prose.  Below you will see two other blogs of mine relevant to spirituality and politics which have lain dormant for most of the past five years.  I hope some of you will check them out.  However, the boundaries will not be clear as my focus is very broad and my view of life is very eclectic/inclusive/broad-based.  Yes, at times too much so!

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

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

GOP Self-destruction and Its War on Truth

Several times during the Obama administration I listened to Republicans passionately declare, “President Obama is out to destroy the Republican Party.”  It was apparent that their collective unconscious was speaking as the seeds of self-destruction were obviously ravaging their party.  During the Tea Party hey-day, many GOP stalwarts from earlier Republican Presidential administrations would say such things as, “We’ve been hijacked” in recognition of the incipient catastrophe that was unfolding.  And as the Trump madness gained strength during the 2016 campaign, most of his party’s leadership actively opposed him until it became apparent he was going to win then they sheepishly came on board.

Donald Trump is the embodiment of the poison that has been seeking expression in the GOP for decades as the party’s leadership pointedly followed a pathway of dishonesty and fraud, featuring a conspicuous disdain for truth.  Their “war on reality” is now on the surface and finds expression almost daily with Trump’s overt and flagrant dishonesty.  Stephen Colbert introduced the term “truthiness” several years ago in reference to how media often was very manipulative and dishonest with the news.  But now the Trump administration has followed this practice that was so conspicuous in his campaign with an even more overt disavowal of basic standards of truth.  Trump and his staff now openly declared that he has the right to say whatever is on his mind regardless of whether or not it is valid according to prevailing standards of truth and non-truth.

The failure to respect truth in this self-destructive tendency of the GOP  puts on the table the over whelming support of evangelical Christians.  These purported champions of Jesus Christ, who claimed to be, “The Way, the Truth, and Life” are openly supporting this man who is the blatant antithesis to the fundamental tenets of the teachings of Jesus.  I suspect that many of them now see they’ve been duped but, suffering from the same spiritual malady of Trump, they cannot utter the simple words, “I made a mistake” even though their very valid faith permits them to do so if they have the humility to admit human flaw.

The irony is that challenges to Trump’s moral and spiritual integrity have come, not from these evangelicals, but from those who do not wear their faith on their sleeve or who are not even Christian.  For example, Kazir Khan was the first to openly question the moral character of Trump.  And more recently, Congressman Mark Sanford (see yesterday’s blog) and Senator John McCain have boldly stated the obvious that Trump has trouble separating “truth from lies.” (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/feb/18/john-mccain-savages-donald-trump-administration-inability-separate-truth-from-lies

Though no longer an evangelical, I still have a passionate conviction that life is a spiritual enterprise.  As someone said, and I paraphrase, “Mankind is a spirit having an earthly moment.”  In the words of Teilhard de Chardin, the “Cosmic Christ’ is seeking expression in the whole of this cosmic enterprise that we are inextricably caught up in.  It is important that men and women of spiritual sensitivity be present to speak “truth to power” on occasion and that can’t be done when one’s “spirituality” consists primarily of sterile dogma and rhetoric.  I am very impressed with people such as Mark Sanford and John McCain who have faith of an “uncanned” variety and who aren’t wearing their “faith” on their sleeve.  Those who do carry only this simplistic faith Shakespeare described with the following keen wisdom:

When love (i.e. “faith”) begins to sicken and decay,/It useth an enforced ceremony./There are no tricks in plain and simple faith./But hollowmen, like horses hot at hand,/Make gallant show and promise of their mettle.

When “Truth” is not given reverence and allowed to permeate the whole of our being, individually and collectively, self-destruction is encouraged as illustrated by the Republicans.  Again, as Shakespeare put it, we then begin to “feed even on the pith of life.”

 

“People of the Lie”

In the mid 1980’s a psychiatrist, Scott M. Peck published a couple of books that made a big splash in self-help and personal growth circles.  The first was, “The Road Less Traveled” and the second was “People of the Lie.”  The latter was about the subject of evil and I personally think that he probably got carried away to label some of the people in his book as “evil.” I think he was guilty of the error of many clinicians, the tendency to wield the diagnostic label too readily.  Yes, I do think there are evil people in the world but then there are the rest of us who are constitutionally wired to be “people of the lie” in that we present a face to the community that is not reflective of what lies beneath the surface.  As Goethe noted, “The heart has its beastly little treasures” but most of us are so scared of the “beastly” that we hide behind a sanitized persona.  C’est moi!

But Donald Trump is an unabashed liar.  I hesitate to call him “evil” but I do think he has that capacity if my nation, apparently a “nation of sheep” will empower him.  He cannot tell the truth even on the simplest level; for, if the “truth” impugns his tenuous sense of self-worth, he merely resorts to brazen lies. There are so many examples such as declaring that the National Football League had conspired with Hillary Clinton re the schedule of the debates.  The next day the NFL denied any communication with him on this manner and Trump merely refused to address the issue.  In the last debate, Clinton reminded him of an egregious offense when he mimicked and mocked a disabled reporter, to which Trump leaned in an intoned, “Wrong!”   He simply cannot admit fault.  I see him as a terribly wounded two-year old whose “malignant narcissism” makes him constitutionally incapable of admitting any wrong.  In fact, in so many instances when he could have easily offered an euphemistic response like, “I misspoke” or “I regret putting it that way” he will merely double down because of a  characterological in ability to simply say, “I was wrong.”  Now, it is no coincidence that early in his campaign he stated that he had never asked God for forgiveness, an observation which evangelical Christian leaders like Jerry Falwell Jr. and Robert Jeffress conveniently overlook.  I have a hunch they have this same “characterological” problem.

I must admit that the evangelical faith of my youth would not have allowed me to admit, “I too am a ‘people of the lie.’”  Yes, I, too, have a shame-base and have spent most of my life adamantly refusing to acknowledge what Carl Jung called the shadow.  I was a mere “actor” which is the word in the New Testament, for “hypocrite.”  No, that does not mean I was a horrible person or a Donald Trump, it merely means that I had not found the courage, the “Grace”, to acknowledge that I was a flawed individual who was not as noble as I had presented myself to be or as I had thought myself to be.  I had been presented with a “packaged” religion and I had not reached the point of maturity and courage to “open the package” and allow what in my spiritual tradition is called, “The Spirit of God” to begin to flow.  Once I had begun to right myself after the horrible pain of disillusionment, a “still small voice” whispered to me, “Welcome to the human race!”  For, it is human nature to be some version of Peck’s “People of the Lie” but, I admit, that is putting it a bit harshly.  Perhaps I should just put it in the words of T.S. Eliot, “Human kind cannot bear very much reality.”