Category Archives: religion and spirituality

A Perspective on “Enlightenment”

 

WordPress and Facebook introduce me to so many interesting people from different walks of life who I would have never met otherwise. I would like to introduce you today to a young Korean woman, Wanyoung Kim, who can be found on Facebook and is stunningly intelligent and erudite.

Recently she declared on Facebook, “You can be mentally Enlightened, but it is really the power of Christ that heals a person.” I was puzzled as this declaration reflected a dimension of Christian faith that I had not noted before with her postings. So I responded, “I agree. But, I’m curious how you would define ‘Christ’? This is not a cynical question. I just know that you are a very thoughtful person.”

Ms. Kim responded with:

A friend of mine (name omitted here)once described Him as the Internet of all hearts and minds- I cannot say it more succinctly than this. To believe is to know that his suffering accounted for all grievances of every heart and mind that walked upon this Earth in world history. ‪Christ is a man of sorrows himself like me, one can say. The heart of Christ is to see Him in every human being including myself- to empathize with the pain I see of a stranger in the street and this empathy is a healing act where a collective feeling of sharedness which in itself is a unity to the Other reassuring them we all are part of this suffering of Christ. I become Christ my self.

Ms. Kim does not see Christ through the narrow prism that I was taught as a child in conservative Arkansas as a Baptist in the fifties and sixties. And as I read her insightful observations some ancient part of my soul…which I often refer to as “literallew”…wants to denigrate her thoughts immediately. But “literallew” is increasingly buried under the Light of what I now see as Spirit of God which wants us to interpret the scripture and not merely regurgitate it as we have been taught. And this is not merely an intellectual enterprise but a gut-level enterprise that cannot be taught with “book learnin’”. It requires a willingness to have a heart that is “petal open” as Toni Morrison once put it; or, in the words of Shakespeare, a heart that is full of “penetrable stuff.” And this is scary for it subjects one to the flow of life and deprives him/her from the cold, sterile “certainty” that I was told was available and strived for so desperately and never was able to obtain.

Christ is not a “thing” that can be reduced to our “ideas” and thus captured by our ideology, as noble as that ideology might appear to be. He was, and is, an expression of the “Wholly Other” and can be known only when we are willing to experience our own finitude which can only occur when we come face to face with the Otherness that faces us daily with each one we meet and even with this beautiful world itself.  Eckhart Tolle reports He is the “Presence” which is the only thing that “is” if we can separate ourselves from our compulsive thinking.

But seeing Christ in non-linear terms requires an ability to see ourselves in non-linear terms which for most of us requires a radical transformation in self-definition and view of the world. It requires a transformative shift of perspective which brings to my mind the notion from the Apostle Paul, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” It is much easier to just tenaciously hang onto the  way that we have always seen and experienced our world. As W. H. Auden put it, “And Truth met him, and held out her hand. And he clung in panic to his tall belief and shrank away like an ill-treated child.”

But I’m aware that what I’m writing now is “nuts” to nearly anyone from my youth that might happen to read this. This does not make any “sense” to a linear mind that is confined to the time-space continuum. But I have learned that it is very possible to escape confinement in that prison and still respect it and those that live in therein. And I, too, can still live within its confines which is known as “reality” even as I revel in the freedom which Christ represented and offers today.

 

Neurology Challenges & Deepens Faith

The New Yorker magazine has an excellent article on a new device which electrically stimulate parts of the brain and alleviate depression and even addiction.(http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/04/06/electrified) It reminds me of neurological research of a couple of years ago that said that his religious fervor of mine can be traced to a neurological “god spot” which did not shake my faith in the least due to the intransigence of my very unique and special “god spot”!!! (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/scienceonreligion/2012/04/god-spot-in-the-brain-more-like-god-spots/)

And, seriously, my faith and the rest of my reality is not shaken by scientific exploration as I feel very strongly that my grasp of reality is a mystery beyond my comprehension and that “reality” itself is far beyond my comprehension. And since I’ve come to realize this, I’m much more accepting of myself and of others though I am often very, very angry that the rest of the world refuses to see things just as I do!!! (Just kidding!)

Consciousness is a scary thing. Hamlet said that it “doeth make cowards of us all” as Shakespeare realized that it was easier to live in the comfort of unexamined dogma, knowing that the “earth was flat” or whatever the prevailing myth of the moment is.

The Moon is Made Out of Cheese!

This is just a whimsical notion I’ve tossed around for years to illustrate lunacy. And our imagination is a myriad of whimsical notions some of which are occasionally more outrageous than that one. This dimension of the human heart is the birthplace of everything that makes up the world, everything from the wheel to bread-ties. Without the capacity to imagine we never would have even made it to the Stone Age.  And, yes one is free to imagine that the moon is out of cheese but hopefully the notion would not find lodging in too many minds!

My mind/heart is now teeming with these whimsical notions as I have taken giant strides towards escaping the linear logic of the “literallew” of my youth. And, I feel that these whimsies are fine as they are just that—“whimsies.” But, some of them aren’t so nice…to put it mildly…and fortunately I have the “faculty of judgment” available which empowers me to not pay any attention to them. And if our imagination is in play, there will be a myriad of fancies that flutter past our mind’s eye and we cannot be dismayed by the unpleasant ones.

History is the tale of visionaries who have dared to imagine the impossible. One simple example is that unknown soul who dared to imagine that the earth was not flat back in the 16th century. Whoever he or she was must have been hesitant to share this “crazy notion” and when it was first shared the outcome was certainly not pleasant. The “tyranny of the way things are” holds us captive and it takes bold individuals to dare and question that “psychopathology of everyday life.”

I think religion should have a role in challenging this “tyranny” and does on occasion though usually the insight of the challengers is quickly co-opted and turned into dogma. Scientists are often earth-shakers as they are willing to think outside of the box and bring new dimensions to our consciousness. And art provides my favorite “earth-shakers,” people who are not only able to think outside of the box but at times outside of the box that the box is in!!!

The imagination is very much related to the body. One whose imagination finds the freedom to flow will be in touch with his/her physicality and will be comfortable with it. The unconscious, the gut-level dimension of the heart, will be allowed to speak its truths some of which are occasionally very dark at first glance. As Ranier Rilke put it, “The heart has its beastly little treasures.”

Ideas, Logs, and “Ideologues”

A new friend of mine who reads this blog shared a thought about my recent musings re ideologues. She used her lovely artistic imagination to juxtapose the word ideologue with the admonishment of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount to the hypocrites to first remove, “the log in your eye” rather than focusing on the speck in the eye of others. Her observation points out the projection of ideologues who see in others their own faults. And, of course, they have no awareness of this and if “awareness” should venture too near to them they will “gird up their loins” and flee the threat.

But my focus here is not ideologues and their “sensible” non-sense but the beauty of the human imagination seen here with the observation of this artist/musician. (See Marthawebb.com) Artists are gifts to human kind as they can use this imagination to “play with reality” and suggest associations that others might not see. Martha’s observation has brought together a verse from the Bible and the word “ideologue” and given emphasis to the hypocrisy of “ideologue-ites.” Though the word “log” has nothing to do etymologically with the word “ideologue”, her observation will always stick in my mind when I hear the word “ideologue” or when I see one in action.

Playing with reality” is critical if we are to be human…or at least one who is “alive.”   If we don’t mature to the point where we can step back from our view of the world a bit, we will live our lives under the tyranny of a worldview that fell our way by happenstance. In some sense, “reality” will have “lived us” rather than us having “lived” in reality and by “living” participated meaningfully in it. This is what Thoreau had in mind when he declared that he feared coming to the end of his life and realizing what he had lived was not life. And Jesus had the same thing in mind when he posed the question, “What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?”

“Perfect Love Casteth Out Fear”…Eventually!

Hmm. Well, if it does I’ve got a lot of work to do for I have a lot of fears. But these fears are diminishing as I’m slowly beginning to accept God’s love, realizing that this love is a dimension of life that is not “out there” in some objectified projection from our collective and individual heart. God is immanent as well as transcendent.

But fear will never go away completely for it comes with being human. Those who are so proud of being totally fearless might take caution as this could be merely the brazen arrogance of psychopathy. To be is to be vulnerable. And to be fully human, or to be in the process of maturing as a human, is to be increasingly comfortable with the experience of vulnerability. And that is often scary!

I have tried most of my life to escape vulnerability…and human-ness…with ideologue-ism. It is a very dependable escape and when we opt for that “fig leaf” we will always have the affirmation from others who have subscribed to similar ideas. And, I can assure you that it is so comforting to know that one is in the comforting warmth of like-minded “believers” and to have that firm conviction that one’s view of the world is “right.” Coming to the point of maturity and seeing that this “escape from freedom” was a self-imposed prison has taken courage that I didn’t know that I had…and, I don’t really know that I have it even yet! But I see so clearly now the tyranny of ideas when not moderated by an open heart. I see now so clearly how the ideologue-ism of those days of my life included participation in a group effort to control others. And I see this same poison so vividly illustrated today in extremist groups such as ISIS and political factions in my country who seeks to deny rights to minorities, even the right to vote and the right to health care.

 

 

 

Breaking news! GOP Hates President Obama!

“We wage the war we are.’ I use this W. H. Auden quote so often because it so vividly describes my life. But I think the quip is relevant to each of us, individually and collectively. American politics has been demonstrating this “warfare” in a vivid fashion since Barack Obama became president. Senator Mitch McConnell announced upon Obama’s election, that the “primary goal” of his party was to “make Barack Obama a one-term president.” And this Republican game plan has sought egregiously to undermine the President each step of the way, even to the of bring harm to the country and the threat of devastation to the world economy.

sThis single-focus is often good for any group as it provides coherence when otherwise there might be none. But this “single-focus” often goes beyond the pale at times and eventually lead even to internal conflict in the group itself. This is because this “single-focus” is so intense that “reality” is disregarded, the “reality” in this case being the welfare of the country but also the welfare and integrity of the group itself. This “single-focus” can galvanize such intense emotions that actions result that are so short-sighted that the long-term outcome of the actions leads to  catastrophy. The resulting autistic frame of reference is vividly illustrated today on the world stage with Islamic extremist group, Isis. And, sure enough, there are signs that the Isis organization now is experiencing internal conflict.   When your subconscious need is to project your violence on others, eventually “others” will not suffice and the group  begins to have conflict within; it begins to feed upon itself.

The Republicans have graphically demonstrated their antipathy to the President so many times, most recently when 47 Republican senators signed a letter by Senator Tom Cotton which sought to undermine complex negotiations between the White House (and other world leaders) with Iran on nuclear disarmament. A few weeks earlier, the Speaker of the House John Boehner intruded in Obama’s purview on the same issue by inviting Benjamin Netenyaho to speak to the Congress without the customary formality of going first through the White House.

But the seething hatred has even gone to comical at times. In Obama’s second inaugural address, one Congressman interrupted this very formal very event with a cry of, “You lie!” This Congressman had imbibed his party’s hostility toward the President to the to the point he could not control himself, and felt he had the liberty to behave so rudely. He lacked the self-awareness, or meta-cognition, which would have given him impulse control and the realization that such an outburst would be so egregious that both parties would later chide him for the offense.. Another event even more clearly illustrated the childish nature of the hostility when one Republican Senator during intense discussions with the President over the budget, told the President to his face, “I can’t stand to even look at you!” To make this even further comical, when the Senator was “outed” on this rudeness, his response was a fervent denial, followed by a threat, “If anyone was tape recording that meeting, they will be reprimanded for violation of the rules.” The lack of self-awareness kept him from realizing that he was then tacitly admitting guilt.

Obama’s response to the Republican intrusion into negotiations with Iran revealed a truth that is too painful for most members of the Republican party—the extremists who have so much power in their party is ideologically similar to Isis.   Obama noted, “I think it is kind of interesting that the GOP is aligning themselves with the hard right of Isis. I think it’s somewhat ironic to see some members of Congress wanting to make common cause with Isis. It’s an unusual coalition.”

I have wanted to liken these hardliners to the Isis myself. But it is important to note that this is an over statement as our system of government and our culture will not permit this radical extremism to lead to overt violence.   But the subtle violence in their collective heart just two years ago led them to jeopardize the world economy when they tried to shut down the government rather than compromise with the White House on a budget deal. As that political battle approached denouement, the extremists (i.e. Tea Party) began to realize that their childish intransigence was not going to succeed. At one of the conferences within the GOP, two of were quote as they came out of committee meetings exuberantly avowing, “We are rightI”

Hardliners who venture into extremism cannot be negotiated with. One cannot negotiate with any individual or group who is desperately convinced they are “right.” Furthermore, this being “right” is very much related to the conservative religion of that contingent of the GOP who are convinced that God is leading them. It is hard to negotiate with anyone who so desperately believe God is on their side. This issue is a demonstration of the danger of ideology I have blogged about recently. Anyone who is so invested with any idea…even those that might be “good and noble”…cannot approach any issue on the table with reason. Oh sure, they have reason but their reason is blinded by the hatred which is the underlying unifying force of their group. As Goethe so pithily described it, “They call it reason, using celestial light celestial, just to outdo the beasts in being bestial.”

These people are so deeply embedded in their own thinking that they cannot see beyond “the small bright circle of their consciousness.” This is called narcissism.  Emily Dickinson described it as a “mind too near itself to see itself distinctly.”

 

 

 

Ideologues are Scary!

Another young man has been arrested for allowing Muslim extremism to enthrall his grasp on reality. conspiring to bomb the White House because of the government’s attacks on Islamist extremists. Christopher Lee Cornell looks like another typical American young man who for has stymied his personal angst and alienation by affiliating with Muslim extremism. News reports are often reporting similar stories of young men…and women even…who are trying to join Isis or other Muslim extremist groups. Alienation and anger appears to describe most of them.

But just because of anger and alienation, why would anyone have to glom onto any idea as “crazy” as violent extremism and bring upon themselves and others so much pain? It is as if they sell their soul to gain something they believe in fully, with all of their heart and life, even to the point they are willing to die and to kill others. Their desperation takes “belief” or “faith” to a level that is beyond the pale. This development in ours and other cultures illustrates the appeal and the danger of ideas. Investing inordinately in any idea, or set of ideas, often brings the temptation of taking these ideas too seriously, very much related to taking oneself too seriously.  When one does this, he/she has become an “ideologue” which Eric Hoffer described decades ago, “The True Believer.”

But this illustrates the specious nature of all ideas. Yes, we look at this young man and other extremists and shake our head and call them “nuts.” But even our middle-class, educated, and “christian” ideas merit scrutiny occasionally.  For an “idea” is not the “thing-in-itself” ,but is so often taken to be.   When this happens, we have failed to follow the Buddhist wisdom, “The finger pointing to the moon is not the moon.”

Of course, I am not exempt from risking this peril. In this venue I trot our “ideas” myself, ideas reflecting a belief system and personal identity which I take very seriously. I myself am full of ideas and certainly have made an investment in them. But now I am old enough that I see very clearly these are only “ideas” and therefore merit caution lest I take them “too” seriously. And if I should do so, it will because my ego is influencing to overestimate by wisdom. You will know that I have done this when you discover that there is a Pay Pal button on this page with a request for donations! Or, when you discover that I have somehow found out your mailing address and are suddenly harassing you with this “stuff” in your mailbox. Or when you somehow hear that I’ve been arrested for “seet preaching” this stuff on my neighborhood streets, perhaps with the additional charge of “public indecency!”

One has become an ideologue when he/she takes “pet ideas” and puts so much energy in them that perspective is lost, failing to realize that these ideas are important to him/her but will not necessarily be important to other people. When that happens, these ideas….many of which might even contain “noble truths”…can become a hammer that is used to bludgeon other people and convert them to our way of viewing the world. The root issue of an ideologue is profound alienation, so profound that there is an inordinate need to proselytize and get others to believe the same way so to alleviate our existential loneliness  Ideas, though an intrinsic part of what makes us human, often become a weapon with which we brutalize other people, often under the guise of some “ultimate truth.” The classic ideologue has in mind making others join his “tribe,” with the ultimate goal of conquering the whole world. This mind-set in my youth was often expressed with the call to “win the world to Jesus” which I now realize was merely a heart-felt desire to make the world “just like me.” And that desperation cannot be blamed on Jesus, or even the Christian tradition. It must be laid at the foot of our “human-ness” as the human need for affiliation, if unchecked, can lead to extremism.

Loneliness is painful. And subscribing to the prevailing ideas of our culture is important in our youth and helps us achieve an identity and take comfort in belonging to our tribe. But at some point we have to grow up and be willing to look at our ideas…even the one’s we deem beyond question…and begin to seek affiliation with some “thing” which if followed can lead us in the direction of being more inclusive in our approach to life.

(An afterthought: Just moments ago, I came across this wisdom from Stephen Hawking in a post on Face Book: the greatest danger to knowledge is not ignorance but the illusion of knowledge.)