Category Archives: faith

Obama’s, “Clinging to Guns and Religion.”

In 2008 Barack Obama was overheard dismissively speaking of people who, “cling to their guns and religion” which immediately provided fodder for the base of the Republican Party who didn’t really understand what he was saying.  Sure, it was impolitic for him to say that where it might be misunderstood but it was a valid and important observation about the ideologically-oriented base of the Republican Party who “cling” to ideas rather than have a complicated and subtle interior life so that ideas are not taken to be the “thing in itself.”

Guns are fine.  The problem arises when the “clinging” function of the ego gets involved as an innocent device is given an inordinate investment of energy so that “guns plus the emotional energy” becomes another matter all together.  The “guns + emotional valence” takes on a life of its own, becoming a core identity issue to the point where it is no longer about “guns” but is about the individual’s grasp of who he is, of his definition of, “who I am.”  The more tenuous is the grasp of one’s, “who I am” the more desperate will he cling to some idea or group of ideas that he has invested in to keep him from being devoured by an existential anxiety that lies at the root of all cultures.  This abyss of meaningless will destroy one if his spirituality has not equipped him with the ego-integrity to address this spirit of negativity which is an intrinsic dimension of human experience and needs to be acknowledged, not denied.  This “ego integrity” is a spiritual capacity which allows confronting the hidden depths of one’s heart and integrating them into conscious experience and finding empowerment as a result.  Without this acknowledgement and integration, the energy that could be available for deliberate, focused, conscious attention outside of oneself will be turned inward to keep those “demons at bay.”  This is a “divided heart” or the “divided house” which Abraham Lincoln famously noted cannot stand.

But this hopelessness does not have to destroy one if he finds the courage to slowly, gradually, patiently, and humbly confront it and in so doing discover that he can find increasingly an indomitable core beneath this hopelessness…if he is willing to give up the contrivance that his ego has tricked him into relying upon, whatever that contrivance/s might be. The spiritual impoverishment of our culture is now egregiously before us.  Beneath the various contrivances it offers us, guns being but one of them, lurks the abyss of hopelessness which can be addressed if we are willing to acknowledge our “willful ignorance”, an ego driven self-deception who has convinced us that a life of illusion is preferable to a life in which we live as a fully functioning, integrated human being.


Here is a list of my blogs.  I invite you to check out the other two sometime.


“Loss” Sure has its Value, Sez Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.

(Naomi Shihab Nye)

Loss is a powerful issue in my life for reasons that are hard to pinpoint.  Many others have had to deal more tragically with the issue than I but something in the depths of my heart are quite familiar with it.  I think part of it was living on the margins of society in rural Arkansas in my youth but then practicing as a mental health clinicians for about twenty years, often dealing with tragically vulnerable adolescents and families also made its impact.

Loss is counter intuitive to what we are taught in our culture.  We live in a “get, get, get” world, or as a pastor from my youth put it, “get all you can, and can all you get.”  Our culture’s commercialism gives us an acquisitive orientation, dismissing the core of all great spiritual teachings that quality and depth in life is found in giving up the quest for “more.”

Two other poetic observations come to my mind, the first by Emily Dickinson who noted, “Renunciation is a piercing virtue, letting go of a presence for an expectation.”  This “presence” is often the very “way things are” at a particular moment in our life and losing this certainty can threaten us to the very core of our being.  When I entertain this vein of thought I always think of the wisdom of T.S. Eliot who noted the need to occasionally, “live in the breakage, in the collapse of what was believed in as most certain and therefore the fittest for renunciation.”

My country is in grave peril right now.  Yes, the stock market is booming so all should be well.  Yeah, yeah, yeah!  But the very fabric of our being is now in question.  “Truth,” which admittedly is not cut and dried, is now becoming totally self-serving so that the primary rule for defining truth is that “I want it” and “people like me want it to.”  And this is a peril that faces the whole of our society, conservative and progressive. The issue is, “Can we see beyond our own nose? Can we, “see beyond the small bright circle of our consciousness, beyond which likes the darkness.” (Conrad Aiken) It is only in the darkness of allowing our certainties to be subject to questioning that the Grace of an always elusive Truth can whisper to us.  Otherwise, another Eliot observation is relevant, we will be, “united by the strife which divided them.”

Here are two other blogs that I publish.

Marilynne Robinson’s Keen Spiritual Grasp of Life

Marilynne Robinson is one of the most astute social critics and feminist writers in our contemporary world.  In the current edition of The New Republic she has an article about Martin Luther and the dissent that he introduced, leading to the Protestant Revolution.  She points out that Luther was a very conflicted soul, certainly “haunted” and driven by forces he was not aware of, but he appeared at a ripe moment in history and has proven to be a pivotal figure in Western Civilization.  I also can see how one could even argue that the direction he led us was not even in the best interest of mankind, given our present day capacity to allow “dissent” to become such a way of life that even a “rational” body like the U.S. Congress is anything but rational.

Even in her youth Marilynne was a thoughtful sensitive soul, very “aware” of her own subjective experience and the world in which she lived, even that of flora and fauna. The following is from an article in “Christianity Today” magazine about Robinson’s keen spiritual sensitivity.  The writer pointed out that she developed a keen sense of observation, including the Ineffable, recalling that she could sense God’s presence there long before she had a name for him. “I was aware to the point of alarm of a vast energy of intention, all around me,” she writes, “barely restrained, and I thought everyone else must be aware of it.” Perhaps they were, but in a culture in which “it was characteristic to be silent about things that in any way moved them,” the young Robinson was, in her deepest experiences, alone.”

There were mentors, though. She remembers her grandfather holding an iris blossom before her, quietly commending its miracle of form, and the “patient old woman who taught me Presbyterianism,” offering Moses’ burning bush and Pharaoh’s dream of famine as wonders to contemplate. In their reticent attention, both mentors gave Robinson a way to stand before mystery and gradually behold it. “It was as if some old relative had walked me down to the lake knowing an imperious whim of heaven had made it a sea of gold and glass, and had said, This is a fine evening, and walked me home again.

Her subjective “aliveness” is best illustrated in her first novel, “Housekeeping” in which an Aunt cares for two young nieces and leads them into her eccentric, “hippy” world of myth and magic.  One of the nieces eventually rejects this life for the “normal” while the other takes off with her aunt for a vagabond life of adventure in an ethereal world of which most of us are oblivious, where distinctions are nebulous.  The most memorable line in this novel for me is, “Emptiness can blossom into all the compensations it requires.”  Robinson knew, and still knows, that the realm of the imagination holds riches untold for humankind if we are but willing to find the courage to venture there, allowing our intellect to be refreshed by the energy that lies there.

For need can blossom into all the compensation it requires. To crave and to have are as like as a thing and its shadow. For when does a berry break upon the tongue as sweetly as when one longs to taste it, and when is the taste refracted into so many hues and savors of ripeness and earth, and when do our senses know any thing so utterly as when we lack it? And here again is a foreshadowing-the world will be made whole. For to wish for a hand on one’s hair is all but to feel it. So whatever we may lose, very craving gives it back to us again. Though we dream and hardly know it, longing, like an angel, fosters us, smooths our hair, and brings us wild strawberries. (“Housekeeping”)


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
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.


“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.

ADDENDUM—This is one of three blogs that I now have up and running.  Please check the other two out sometime.  The three are:


Ego Integrity Amidst Constant Change

Hope consists in asserting that there is at the heart of being, beyond all data, beyond all inventories and all calculations, a mysterious principle which is in connivance with me
Gabriel Marcel

This French philosopher echoes Shakespeare who assured us that “There is a divinity that doeth shape our ends, rough hew them how we may.” It is easier to a linear-thinking mind to extrapolate from this the presence of “mind” (i.e. “god”) who is calling all the shots. I understand that line of thinking but I think it reduces God to finite terms. But I like the idea of being “rough hewn” and having the hope that there is some “method to the madness” of what I’ve called, and do call, my life which is working out the loose ends. And I really like Marcel’s description of “a mysterious principle which is ‘in connivance’ with me.” I like the idea of having a hand in my fate, being in “conniving” with this “mysterious principle” which I still like to call “God.”

A similar theme as presented here was put into words by the poet Stanley Kunitz in his poem “The Layers” when he posited the notion that through the vortex of changes that characterize our life there is some “remnant of being from which I struggle not to stray.” Psychologists call this consistency “ego integrity.”

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.

Here is a link to the entirety of “The Layers”:


Shakespeare’s Advise to the Wounded Soul

Shakespeare offered wisdom for all dimensions of the human experience.  For example, here he offered insight into maladies of the soul still relevant to modern times:

MACBETH   Cure her of that. 
                Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased, 
                Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow, 
                Raze out the written troubles of the brain 
                And with some sweet oblivious antidote 
                Cleanse the stuff’d bosom of that perilous stuff 
                Which weighs upon the heart?

PHYSICIAN  Therein must the patient minister unto herself.

Shakespeare was one of the greatest spiritual teachers we have ever had.  He certainly realized the value of “the healer’s art” I’m sure but he knew that ultimately each individual is alone, left with the responsibility of “working out our own salvation with fear and trembling.”  Others may assist us, and should, but ultimately we have to muster up the courage to confront the demons that haunt us in our inner most depths.

In religion and in the mental health profession, the quick cure is always fashionable.  These two enterprises often proffer only fads and fashions designed only as a band-aid that can only temporarily cover an existential crisis that needs to be “lived” through.  As someone put it, matters have the heart cannot be resolved by “thinking” through them but only by “feeling” through them.

Here I include a modern translation of the above Shakespearean quote:

In a modern translation, this part of the scene would say “Cure her of that. Can’t you treat a diseased mind? Take away her memory of sorrow? Use some drug to erase the troubling thoughts from her brain and ease her heart?” This is describing how Macbeth is pleading for his wife’s health. He feels compelled to treat her and is saddened when he hears from the doctor that one cannot mend the emotionally ill. This leads Macbeth into a rant that almost accuses the doctor of not being a doctor at all because he’s not able to cure someone emotionally sick. Macbeth is needing the doctor to be able to do something, use some drug that can help her in any way