Category Archives: religion and spirituality

“You Spot It, You Got It”

Conservative Christians in my country are currently beset by a rash of “sexual indiscretion” scandals, personally or with their close associates. In some instances their response is to minimize the “sin” with the pious platitude, “God has forgiven me” but what they fail to address is how that often their lives have been characterized by ardent stances on moral issues and quick judgment of others on sexual matters. Yes, I firmly believe God has forgiven them and he will forgive them of a more serious sin that is present if they would deign to acknowledge it.

This “unacknowledged sin” I can address because of personal experience, past and present, demonstrating once again the wisdom of a psychologist, “You spot it, you got it.” I knew one of the notable figures alluded to above and helped educate him in the practice of being what I now call a Christianoid. I was in the position to do so for at that time in my life I was a Christianoid and each day could have said, “Wind me up and watch me be Christian.” My Christian faith was a “thing” that I had acquired from my culture and it provided the core of my persona. Without it I would have been a “no-thing” and would have had to deal with the intense existential anxiety that comes when you begin to realize, cognitively and emotionally, that one is “no” thing.

One could use the term hypocrite to describe me at that time in my life for the word means simply “actor” and I was merely an “actor” in the whole of my life, including my faith. I didn’t know anything else. And I was not a “bad” person nor was I a “hypocrite” in the usual sense of the word. I just was very immature and had not enrolled yet in the “school of hard knocks” which always facilitates an identity crisis. And I lived in a culture and practiced my faith with people plagued with similar immaturity.

One thing that Christians need to learn from this current “mess” that they are in is that the God who they believe in so fiercely…the same one that I do…is trying to tell them something about sexuality. Basically, He is saying, “Hey, I made you sexual beings. I did it deliberately and it is a good thing. But trying to deny, avoid, or repress it will get you or your children into trouble.” And it is very apparent that those who have the gravest concern about the sexual behavior of other people and want to control it have the gravest issues with their own sexual impulses. “You spot it, you got it.”

The sexuality issues of Christians is part of a more fundamental error they are making which is a denial of their very body. And this is very personally relevant for myself as I took this to an extreme and have spent my whole life denying my body, placing too much emphasis on cognition rather than emotion. A misplaced emphasis like this will always turn one into an ideologue in which the “idea” is valued more than the “thing” which the idea refers to. Thus I had to discover that the “Jesus” that I purported to worship was only an idea and that I was actually, in some subtle sense, only worshipping myself.

Let me emphasize that I believe firmly in moral codes and in self-restraint, or, as the Greeks said, “measurement in all things.” But when the external boundaries become too strong, when they are emphasized excessively, the spirit within is squelched, and “acting out” will occur often in the form of “sexual indiscretion.” It is almost as if the gods are saying, “Hey, you think you are in control and a bastion of virtue? Just watch this!” And then they send a vixen our way, we imbibe readily, and are taught that we are not what we were pretending to be. We must not fail to learn the lesson that we are always “actors” in some sense and that “none is good, no, not one,”; or as Shakespeare put it, “Give every man his just desert, and who would escape a whipping?”

Hiding behind “God’s forgiveness” is not enough. Sure, it is there and will always be there. But our indiscretions always reveal issues in the depths of our heart and in those depths is where the work needs to be done. But with Christianity that I used to teach others there was no awareness of those depths and barriers actually in place to avoid discovering them. This is the “bad faith” that John Paul Sartre wrote about.

I share here a beautiful poem about death that a friend of mine posted on Facebook today.  It is stunningly beautiful and captures my sentiments that I have about death but also about life.  For, even in life we are all “one flesh” in some sense for that we are part of the fabric of the human species and even of the cosmos, “star dust” as Carl Sagan put it.  Yes, we live in time and space and must never lose our sense of identity and know that we are separate and distinct even as we simultaneously we realize that in some sense, “Oh, no we are not!”  I like his use of “Christ” as a symbol of the Unity of All Things, certainly stemming from the Pauline notion that “by Him all things cohere.”


Death Is Nothing At All – Poem by Henry Scott Holland
Death is nothing at all.
I have only slipped away to the next room.
I am I and you are you.
Whatever we were to each other,
That, we still are.

Call me by my old familiar name.
Speak to me in the easy way
which you always used.
Put no difference into your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.

Laugh as we always laughed
at the little jokes we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me. Pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word
that it always was.
Let it be spoken without effect.
Without the trace of a shadow on it.

Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same that it ever was.
There is absolute unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind
because I am out of sight?

I am but waiting for you.
For an interval.
Somewhere. Very near.
Just around the corner.

All is well.

Nothing is past; nothing is lost. One brief moment and all will be as it was before only better, infinitely happier and forever we will all be one together with Christ.
Henry Scott Holland

Chief Seattle Offers Wisdom for Today

My fascination with non-duality, the “unity of all things” continues. I stumbled across a letter from Chief Seattle in 1844 to President Franklin Pierce which suggested he had been reading the Eckhart Tolle of his day:

There is no quiet place in the white man’s cities. No place to hear the leaves of spring or the rustle of the insects wings….

What is man without the beasts? If all the beasts were gone, men would die from loneliness of spirit, for whatever happens to the beasts also happens to man. All things are connected….

The whites, too, shall pass—perhaps sooner than other tribes. Continue to contaminate your bed, and you will suffocate in your own waste.

But this “unity of all things” is so subversive, so much “non” sense! It rattles my cage and will do so for the rest of my life. The flux of life cannot be reduced to linear thought as much as our reptilian brain wants it to be. Life is a flow. I am a flow. We attach ourselves to stories to convince ourselves otherwise. But we are always merely a “process in a process in a field that never closes.” (W. H. Auden)

“Bad Faith” gets Exposed Again!!!

Mike Huckabee is demonstrating again what John Paul Sartre described so eloquently as “bad faith.” One of Huckabee’s tribe (conservative, evangelical Christians) has again gotten “caught with his pants down.” Huckabee and many others of that tribe are seeking to comfort the offender, Josh Duggar, and minimize the pain that comes from having your baser nature exposed to the public. Now Huckabee’s benevolent response is not without some merit as we should offer comfort to those of our tribe…and others…who have encountered duress even if it is self-imposed. But that comfort does not include overt or subtle excusing of the behavior, attempting to mitigate the offense with lame explanations such as “he made a mistake” or “God has forgiven him.” Yes, he did make a mistake and yes God has forgiven him but what he and many other evangelical Christians fail to see is the real offense—using one’s faith to hide behind and cover up one’s intrinsic human-ness, including “baser instincts.”

Huckabee’s “bad faith” demonstrates the biblical “form of godliness” that “denies the power thereof.” Though I don’t doubt his sincerity, his faith is a suit of clothes that he dons each day and makes him very appealing to his friends, confidantes, and political base. Of course, he sincerely does not know this. He thinks he is a humble Christian servant. But he needs to keep in mind that the Islamist extremists who are beheading people are equally sincere in what they are doing! It is often that which we are most sincere about that hides our darkest secrets.

And that brings me to a core issue in this most recent sexual scandal that is rocking our culture right now. In spite of their “innocence”, evangelical Christians need to wake up and embrace that fact that they are instinctual creatures like God created them to be and if they use their faith in an attempt to obliterate their instinctual nature, it will rise up occasionally and bite the in the butt. I do not think that Jesus intended his teachings to be used as a way of hiding from our instinctual nature but as a way to embrace the whole of our “human-ness” and express it in a mature, responsible manner. But attempting to repudiate these baser impulses always leads to projection and at times to “acting out”—“They call it Reason, using light celestial, just to out do the beasts in being bestial.” (Goethe)

I do not excuse Josh Duggar for his “mistakes.” But I understand! I remember being a horny teen-age boy and having learned that these sexual impulses were “nasty” and “of the devil.” I guess I was blessed/cursed with more guilt than was Josh and managed to not let my youthful lustfulness go quite that far. And I can identify with the response of Josh’s parents who sought to cover up this “indiscretion” for they too were, and are, but human and had this Christian “face” to maintain. But what Mr. Huckabee and the Duggar family need to learn is that their Christian faith needs to seize this opportunity to deepen and to learn that the “Grace of God” that they purport to believe in is providing them an opportunity to lose this Christian “face” and learn that they can then join the human race and still be a Christian. Then there is “forgiveness” that is not just a self-serving, postured contrition which allows one to continue in his/her blindness, to wake up again the next morning and say, “Someone wind me up again and watch me be a Christian.” I know. I’ve been there most of my life and am even now far short of “perfection.”   I have not learned even yet to live with these occasional gut-wrenching bouts of “imperfection.”

Once again the “tee-hee” part of my brain wants to smirk and ridicule when another one of the self-righteous crowd gets his hypocrisy exposed. But my “tee-hee-er” does not work as well as it used to as I feel sorry for the Duggar family in some way. It is so painful to face disillusionment and my tendency has always been to “cover my ass” and not learn what is staring me right in the face…and has always been apparent to those that know me the best.  I’m reminded of the wisdom of Shakespeare who noted, “Give every man his just deserts and who would escape a whipping.”

“The Closed Cab of Occupation”


W. H. Auden declared that “We drive through life in the closed cab of occupation.” Auden was, like myself, an alienated soul sentenced to life as an “observer” of life rather than a “participant.” But being an “observer” with the capacity to even “observe” himself, i.e. self-reflect, he realized that even his occupation of poet was a “closed cab” and he was fated to view life through the prison of metaphor. And I’m glad he accepted that imprisonment as his work has been a god-send to myself and to many others, though he suffered greatly under its torments.

My “occupation” from very early in my development has been to “observe” life rather than to experience it, a stance that eventually evolved into the “closed cab” of a diagnostician, a mental health counselor. In the comfortable confines of that self-imposed prison I could…and still can…categorize and label this beautiful mystery that we call life and keep myself insulated from its hoary depths which are often frightening. But, mercifully I have the gift that Auden had and can self-reflect somewhat even about my “self-reflection” and thus my clinical detachment is breaking down. Yes, the prison-bars are bending and with a “little bit of luck and a strong tail-wind” I’m gonna be able to slip between those bars at some point and come out to play for moment before that damn Grim Reaper has his way with me!

A recent phrase I stumbled across on a Paul Tillich Facebook page is someone’s observation that Tillich’s teachings had taught him “just how much I am embedded in my own thought.” This “embeddedness” is a critical dimension of life that is difficult to grasp; for, to grasp this nuance of life is to see and experience a schism in the depths of one’s heart and he/she begins to realize there is more to one’s “experience” that what can be “thought.” This insight can be the beginning of recognition of one’s “closed cab.”

I want to share with you the insight of John O’Donohue about this discovery:

Thought is one of the most powerful forces in the universe. The way you see things makes them the way they are. We never meet life innocently. We always take in life through the grid of thought we use. Our thoughts filter experience all the time…Even your meetings with yourself happen in and by means of thinking.

 More often than not we have picked up the habits of thinking from those around us. These thought-habits are not yours; they can damage the way you see the world and make you doubt your own instinct and sense of life. When you become aware that your thinking has a life of its own, you will never make a prison of your own perception…In order to deconstruct the inner prison, the first step is to see that it is a prison. You can move in the direction of this discovery by reflecting on the places where your life feels limited and tight…”Heidegger said, ‘To recognize a frontier is already to have gone beyond it.’” (“Eternal Echoes: Celtic Reflections on Our Yearning to Belong.”)

Embedded in our Own Thinking

To think is to go beyond. Thinking that deserves the name never attempts to make a cage for mystery. Reverential thought breaks down the thought-cages that domesticate mystery. This thinking is disturbing but liberating. This is the kind of thinking at the heart of prayer, namely, the liberation of the Divine from the small prisons of our fear and control. To liberate the Divine is to liberate oneself. Each person is vulnerable in the way he or she sees things. You are so close to your own way of thinking that you are probably unaware of its power and control over how you experience everything, including yourself. This is the importance of drama as a literary form. It provides you the opportunity to know yourself at one remove, so to speak, without threatening you with annihilation. Your thinking can be damaged. You may sense this but put it down to the way life is. You remain unaware of your freedom to change the way you think. When your thinking is locked in false certainty or negativity, it puts so many interesting and vital of life out of your reach. You live hungry and impoverished in the midst of your own abundance.  (John O’donahue, “Eternal Echoes: Celtic Reflections on Yearning to Belong.)

Shakespeare addressed this issue in his first sonnet in a challenge to a friend who was so embedded in his own thinking that he was unable to make the commitment of marriage. Shakespeare described him as “contracted to thine own bright eyes,” telling us that being entrapped in a verbal prison limits us in our ability to see beyond the end of our own nose. Persons like this live in an echo chamber and their private prison is reinforced as they usually gravitate toward social groups that view the world from a similar prison. Conrad Aiken described it as “seeing only the small bright circles of our consciousness beyond which lies the darkness.” Those who do not see the world as they do, those who believe differently and often even vote differently are seen to be in that “darkness” and in some instances are seen as “going to hell.”

Now those of you who drop by from time to time recognize that this is a favorite subject of mine. Yes, “you spot it, you got it” applies to me also! I grew up in a very close-minded view of the world and have not escaped it yet…at least not fully. As O’Donohue noted, even beginning to see what I like to call “epistemic closure” has us in its clutches is often so frightening that we refuse to give the notion another thought. And he noted that “annihilation” is the subconscious fear for ego-identity (our persona) is a verbal construct and for even one plank in this artifice to be threatened evokes primordial fears of disintegration. It is easier to just cling dogmatically to what has been “tried and true” and is validated by our peers and go merrily along our way.

Meditation has been immensely helpful to me to find some degree of clarity or “spaciousness” so that I can catch myself immersed in repetitive thought patterns of non-productive value. And when you can learn to “catch yourself” at “stinkin’ thinkin’” the poisonous thoughts often begin to diminish in power. Until we begin to pause, catch ourselves interpreting things in a worn-out manner…which must be boring and annoying to others…we will remain ensconced in the story that we tell ourselves daily.

Tribute to My Dear Momma!

Mother’s Day in my chlld hood always meant wearing a white rose to church, announcing to everyone that our mother was still living.  Wearing a red rose was what those would do if their mother had passed on.  (I might have the colours reversed.)  And the event was always successful in its purpose,  as it brought the attention of myself and my five sisters to how wonderful our mother was.

And, she still is today; for, she does live in our hearts even now and always will as her presence is etched deeply in our memories, even pre-conscious memories when she was the source of everything good.  And, even everything bad—I remember vividly crying obsessively, “Momma why’d ya do it, momma why’d ya do it, momma why’d ya do it” when I pulled a boiling cup of tea off the table and inflicted third degree burns on my four-year old chest and arm.  Of course, momma did not “do this” but at that age “cause and effect” are being burned into our hearts as this time-and-space continuum that we live in demands.  For, in a developing mind, if momma is responsible for everything good then it stands to the developing linear reason that she is responsible for everything bad!

But that occasion was one particular moment when momma employed such skill and good judgment, drawing on her memories of life on the farm in central Missouri and then covering my wrinkling skin with lard before she went out to tackle starting, and then driving, an old pick-up truck when she had not yet learned to drive.  But she figured out how use the hand-crank on that old jalopy, fire it up, and drive me and my younger sister and I to a neighbor’s house who would then drive us to a physician.  During the whole trip my refrain of “momma why’d ya do it” continued but she did not allow her own personal anguish to interfere with the task at hand and, with the help of a neighbor, got me to the doctor.

This is but one demonstration of what I call momma’s faith.  I don’t know what went on in her heart at the time, but I know that she often called upon the Lord to address difficulties in life and I’m sure she did on this occasion, even as she simultaneously called upon her inner resources. And she faced many, many crises when raising her six “needful things” and at times found it overwhelming.  But, even when seriously ill, she would rise up from the bed and “gird up her loins” and get the job done…and this is faith!  Now, she does not have my style of faith which includes the wisdom of various spiritual traditions and quotations of the likes of Shakespeare, T. S. Eliot, and W. H. Auden.  And even today, sitting up there in the comfort of heaven, she will often smile and chuckle when I’m knee-deep in my ethereal faith and whisper to me, quoting Hamlet’s mother, “Oh, what a noble mind is here o’erthrown.”  But it has never even crossed my mind to dismiss her faith…or that of anyone else…knowing that faith is expressed in different ways through different people.  But I remember so clearly the courage she demonstrated in difficult situations and the affirmations of her faith and see so clearly the value and validity of a faith unlike that of “literarylew.”  She showed me so clearly that one dimension of faith is doing what needs to be done in one’s day to day life, an employment of the “Will of the Species” which is very much related to what my spiritual tradition calls “the Spirit of God.”





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