Category Archives: politics

Politics, Belief, and “a bit of wobbly”

Margaret Thatcher in 1990 brought the expression, “Don’t go wobbly” to the political table. At the time Saddam Hussein had invaded Iraq, Thatcher and George W. Bush were together in Aspen, Colorado discussing the ins and outs of a military response. As “W” appeared be equivocating, Thatcher told him, “This is not the time to go wobbly, George.” The opposite of, “wobbly,— going full speed ahead on a matter, throwing caution to the wind with utmost certainty–will always be appealing to many but the rigid certitude of such a stance often needs at least a tad of hesitation, a small dollop of what Shakespeare called, “the pauser reason.”

The relevance of this issue to our current political/cultural climate is obvious. And one dimension of this climate is the area of religion where “belief” is often held to so rigidly that many believers have found themselves “believing” themselves into a corner from which they can’t escape. This mind set avoids the wisdom of faith traditions that belief must be moderated with a bit of doubt here and there as when St Thomas prayed, “Lord, I believe. Help thou my unbelief,” or even Jesus when he prayed to his Father as the Crucifixion approached prayed, “Lord, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” Following here is a lovely poem which speaks of the need of a touch of “wobbly” in a person’s faith:

Belief by Lia Purpura

Light being
wavy and particulate
at once
is instructive—
why wouldn’t
other things or states
present as
both/and?
For instance
I both
believe and can’t.
Holding these
together produces
a wobble, I think
it’s time
to take seriously
as a stance.

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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.

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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/

“Like Kittens Given Their Own Tails to Tease”

Vaclav Havel was a playwright, poet, and artist who became the first president of the Czech Republic in 1992 after helping lead a successful revolution against the Communists.  His involvement in politics was not the route that most men of his artistic persuasion would follow but his voracious reading in religion and the arts led him to action, not idle thought, or as pointed out recently in the Times Literary Supplement, “working for social and political improvement, not for glory, but to put his soul in order.”  Havel had a hunger in the heart that led him into the ethereal, even the occult, but he also was grounded in reality and recognized that the lure of intellectual and spiritual escapism must not be allowed to capture him.  He recognized that passion, that as Hamlet put it, “the native hue of resolution, sicklie’d o’er with the pale cast of thought…(would)…lose the name of action.”  Or, to put it in New Testament words, “Faith without action is dead.” (This was from a book review of “Vaclav Havel” by Kieran Williams.)

Havel lived through social and political turmoil in his youth during the Communist Revolution when his comfortably ensconced family suffered loss of wealth and status making the young Havel “self-conscious about his social origin.”  This “self-consciousness” produced what the book reviewer, Lesley Chamberlain, described as “productive friction” in his soul which simultaneously created or affirmed a belief in a soul and the insight that engagement in the human endeavor was an important part of “putting his soul in order.”  This “productive friction” will not take place in anyone’s life without some unsettling experience at some point in life as otherwise one will just bumble along life’s way comfortably ensconced in one’s view of the world, like “kittens given their tail to tease,” as Goethe put it.

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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/

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)

It’s a “Come to Jesus” Moment

A “come to Jesus moment” in popular culture has come to mean to face a day of reckoning about circumstances that have been ignored to the point where they can no longer be disregarded.  The image draws from fundamentalist Christianity where “Come to Jesus” meant, and still does mean a moment of reckoning with God and an acknowledgement of one’s short comings.

Though no longer a fundamentalist Christian, I still think that the bromide, “Come to Jesus” still has value if one can approach the matter with a critical view, not only of the bromide itself but of the one who is using the bromide.  In other words, if one can overcome an innate, ego-driven aversion to “self” awareness, especially when it comes to matters of faith.  For most of my life the concept of “come to Jesus” has meant “come to viewing the world as I do” and now I see clearly the narcissism and tyranny of this mind set.  And, it has nothing to do with Jesus.  It has to do with an ego which exercises so much control over an individual, or group of individuals, that the narcissism inherent in the desire is not apparent.  At some point this dishonesty, this “bad faith” is likely to give rise to a powerful voice who will articulate the repressed anguish and rage of millions who are in the grip of this daimonic energy and promise to “Make America Great Again.”  Oh, my….Hmm.  What could I have reference to there?

The issues before us as a species are, and always have been spiritual and that is where “Jesus” comes in.  But by “spiritual” I do not mean the superficial sense with which I was indoctrinated.  By “spiritual” I refer to a dimension of the human heart that lies beneath the surface, down in the guts where words like “spiritual” fall short of actually apprehending the matter.  It is too convenient to keep “spiritual” on a superficial level of conscious, rational intent where we can have a false certainty of what we are doing and then, often, lamely announce, “God is leading” or “God has raised this man up.”

By “spiritual” I mean coming to a place where we recognize, and feel, that ultimately, we are implicated in a cosmic mystery which we can never totally understand with our rational mind and those “certainties” which consume us just might not be any more valid than those who have other contradictory “certainties.”  To put this in terms of my country’s interminable Congressional grid-lock, it would mean that Republicans and Democr ats would each recognize they see only “through a glass darkly” and resolve to put aside their petty differences and focus on monumental challenges that our country faces.  But when certainty grips any one party and/or their constituency, there is no solution because that would require the humility of recognizing, “Uh oh, I was not as much right as I thought I was.”  That would mean acknowledging from time to time, “I was wrong” which is something that Donald Trump, and many of his followers, are characterologically incapable of doing.  This would require spirituality that was something other than self-serving dogma.  This would require something other than the “prayer meeting” hosted by Congressman Louie Gohmert in his office last week where the evil forces they were trying to cast out of Congress were the one’s who were inspiring their self-indulgent display of hypocritical piety.  “With devotions visage and pious action we sugar o’er the devil himself.”  (Shakespeare)  Oh my, how wonderful it was to know that I was pious and to give others an opportunity to see it on display!

Thinking Outside of the Box With Comedy

I’ve always been blessed/cursed with “thinking outside of the box” though most of my life I’ve spent carefully trying and or pretending to do otherwise.  Here in this blog I like to focus on figures I have come across…past and present…who not only think outside of the box but often even dare to think outside of the box that the box is in!  Yes, that is a scary notion and can be dangerous as comedian  Robin Williams demonstrated so tragically.

Here I want to share a video link to another pair of comedians who push the envelope even further than Williams, at times venturing into anarchy or apparent nihilism.  But their intent is comedy and by sharing this skill of theirs they can certainly illustrate features of this human comedy that each of us plays a bit part in.

Keye and Peele here are spoofing President Obama, with one of them portraying Obama the straight man being very Presidential.  But then the other portrays another dimension of the President, an outlandish, outspoken, bombastic black man who is very angry.  In this spoof we see a good-natured illustration of the human comedy—we all have at least two dimensions to our personality, one in which we perform according to social convention and the other in which, if we had the liberty, we would say what we really would like to say.  This is very much related to the success of Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump who is at the top of the polls largely because he says things that more conventional candidates would never dare to say.

(http://www.cc.com/video-clips/0py5fm/key-and-peele-exclusive—obama-s-anger-translator—meet-luther—uncensored)

Here is another version of the same skit, this time featuring President Obama himself playing himself at a National Press Club Dinner.  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G6NfRMv-4OY)

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Ideologues: Persecuted for “His” Sake

Kim Davis, a county clerk in Kentucky has lost her battle with the U. S. Supreme Court in her refusal to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples.  But Ms. Davis claims that she bows only to a higher authority, God, and will not obey this ruling.  She declared, “To issue a marriage license which conflicts with God’s definition of marriage, with my name affixed to the certificate, would violate my conscience. It is not a light issue for me. It is a Heaven or Hell decision,” she said through her lawyers.

Ms. Davis will ultimately lose this battle before the Supreme Court but she will have the consolation of basking in the biblical trope, “Persecuted for His sake.”  For an essential part of fundamentalist Christian culture is the notion that the world is “alien” to them and their task is to convert the world to their “right way” of seeing the world.  When their efforts encounter resistance, they can immediately bask in the delight of knowing that they are being misunderstood and mistreated because of their fervent commitment to their Christian faith; they are being “persecuted for His sake.”   And, speaking from experience in my younger days, I can report of the great pleasure that can be found in knowing that one is being mistreated because of his faith.  What I now realize is that my faith took me in directions that could only lead to this “mistreatment” and feeling of being misunderstood and that the anguish of alienation was meeting some unconscious need.

Fundamentalist Christianity thrives on feelings of “dispossession” and alienation, feelings which were institutionalized in the 19th century when the fury of Revivalism that swept the South and the West, giving rise to what religious historians call our “denominational society.”  Bible verses which emphasized separation were emphasized to the exclusion of those which emphasis on unity.  For example, “Come ye out from them and be ye separate” was a favorite selection from the Apostle Paul.  The Old Testament admonishment to “stand in the gap” was used to teach fundamentalist Christians that it was their job to stand in the breach and stop in the onslaught of “modernism.”  This gave the socio-economically dispossessed the comfort of knowing they were performing an heroic biblically mandated action.  And, once again from personal experience, how wonderful it is to know that one has personally and collectively been divinely chosen for this task!  And, of course, awareness of the narcissism of this mind-set was not allowed to breach this hermetically sealed view of the world of “embedded thinking.”

Ms. Davis provides another example of a person embedded in her own thinking.  And being ensconced therein, she cannot budge for she cannot acknowledge that, though her spiritual convictions are valid for herself, they are not valid for the rest of the world.  But she thinks these convictions are valid for the rest of the world and is willing to jeopardize her job and even fines and imprisonment, knowing that in a worst case scenario she will have the comfort of being a martyr in her crowd of like-minded souls.

I have no doubt this is a good woman.  But good women…and men…can have ideas in which they are entrapped which lead to very bad decisions.  I have wasted decades of my life because of my choice to remain imprisoned in ideas of this sort.  It is wonderful, even exhilarating, to know that one is “right” even though the root cause is a deep-seated, unconscious “knowledge” that one is intrinsically “wrong.”  But this “knowledge” is specious, totally overlooking the Christian message that one is “ok”, an awareness of which would empower one to recognize the same of other people.  But when one is trapped in one’s own binary thinking one must have somebody “out there” who is wrong to avoid his/her anguish over the illusion of being intrinsically wrong.”  When my self-percept is one of being intrinsically wrong, I must fashion a world in which I am “right.”

Poet Gene Derwood once noted, “Big thoughts have got us.”  Kim has been “gotten” by a really big thought, the story of Jesus, and I personally think it is a marvelous and beautiful story of redemption.  But when one is enslaved by any vein of thought, regardless of how meaningful and rich it might be, one has sold his soul and has become a mere ideologue whose life is merely “the toy of some great pain.”

(HERE ARE TWO STORIES ABOUT THIS MATTER: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michelangelo-signorile/kentucky-clerk-kim-davis_b_8071594.html; http://www.cnn.com/2015/08/31/politics/kentucky-gay-marriage-licenses-supreme-court/index.html)