Category Archives: religion and spirituality

Embedded in our Own Thoughts, Part 2

Embedded thinking, part 2

We are naturally embedded in our own thinking because thinking…at least in the West…is inherently linear.  But it is possible for those steeped in this “linear-thinking” to find the courage to “step back” a bit from that comfortable cognitive grasp of his world and in so doing find that his world view is finite but nevertheless valid.  This “stepping back” is the exercise of a meta-cognitive muscle that we have the capacity for but is frightening to use for one who has made an inordinate emotional/spiritual investment in the world view that circumstances has given him.  This is precisely what Jesus had in mind when he chided those who have “Ears to hear but hear not, eyes to see but see not.”  Jesus recognized that being conscious, that is being spiritually alive, involves more than simple regurgitation of a mind-set and view of the world that one acquired by accident of birth.  And, if I might speak for Him now, he is telling people like me who were “Christianized” by accident of birth that mindless regurgitation of Christian dogma and teachings…and doing so with like-minded souls…can easily find us amusing ourselves in an echo chamber, which, borrowing a line from Goethe, is  “like kittens given their own tails to tease.”

Thinking is linear because of our “fall” into the time-space continuum, or that which is known as “reality.”  In fact, in the Genesis Creation story, eating the forbidden fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is an illustration of falling into “thought” which always bifurcates our world even as it “bifurcates” our selves.   At that point we have been “categorized” and begin to exercise a “categorical imperative” to carve-up into dualities what had been a unified field, creating “good and evil,” male and female, right and wrong, and…yes…even Democrats and Republicans!  Linear thinking has created this world we live in and perpetuates it….and may it ever be!  For without linear thinking, our world would crash and burn immediately.  But when linear thinking runs amok without the God-given gift of “the pauser Reason” the world will still face calamity; for, any phenomena carried to an extreme becomes problematic and even dangerous.  Ideological extremism illustrates for us daily what can happen when someone or some groups gets too carried away with their “noble” and “enlightened” ideas.

Meditation has helped me immensely on this issue.  And though my “monkey mind,” incessantly running to and fro and chattering without cease, it has been given pause and this “pause” has been pregnant, allowing me to open my heart to hidden dimensions of life.  With even my lame success at meditation I have learned more intimately that “embeddedness” in my own thought has been a cognitive prison and this insight…cognitive and emotional…has been redemptive.  And that “redemption” has allowed me to experience being “out of control” which has come to me as simple anxiety.  Of course, this “simple” anxiety is not “simple” at all as it brings me face to face with my own human-ness which is always experienced as vulnerability; Norman Brown noted, “To be, is to be vulnerable.”  And it has been fear of this vulnerability that has kept me locked in this cerebral prison, the escape from which is still in progress and will be in process for the rest of my life until at last I cast off this “mortal coil” and return to my Source.

I’m planning on this “transition” not taking place for decades!  For, “fallen” though this world may be, it is a beautiful world and I am increasingly delighted with the simple but profound beauty which surrounds me every day.  The only issue is, and always has been, “Will I pay attention?”  And, paying attention is relative to the meditative lesson of looking beyond the end of my nose, peering outside of that “small bright circle of my consciousness beyond which lies the dark.”  It is in that “darkness” that I see glimmers of light and these “glimmers” are the best that we can hope for. For these “glimmers” are the brilliant flash of light that we are blessed with when we find the humility to simply “see through a glass darkly.”

Back in the “Flow” of Life!!!

This ends my longest hiatus from “literarylew” in the four years I’ve been offering this verbal “deed to oblivion.”  I’ve had technical problems with WP but the real “technical problems” are with the rusty technology of my heart which has spent 63 years hiding my “light under a bushel.”

For over a year now I have been immersed in the works of Carl Jung and have found it stimulating and deeply challenging.  Jung did not live on the surface of things and his writings lead one into a plunge into the subterranean depths of the unconscious, a plunge which is disconcerting to say the least.  On this note, I often think of the title of an Adrienne Rich book of poetry, “Diving into the Wreck” for any descent into the hoary depths of the heart is certainly like “diving into a wreck.”  T. S. Eliot described it as daring to “live in the breakage, in the collapse of what was believed in as most certain and therefore the fittest for renunciation.”

Jung wrote extensively about the Christian faith, my spiritual bailiwick, and his perspective emphasized the power of myth which, if one can lay aside the comfort of biblical literalism that I grew up in, can allow one of explore the rich layers of meaning in the Judeo-Christian tradition.  But this cannot be done without daring to see one’s own life as mythical, to realize that the narrative of our life is fictional in a sort, and that in this narrative there can be found a real “Presence” which is the essence of who we are.  Or, as Stanley Kunitz put it, “I have walked through many lives, some of them my own.  I am not the one I was, though some remnant of being remains from which I struggle not to stray.”

Jung and Kunitz grasped the dynamic nature of life, its eternal flux.  Life is not static, though our ego constantly demands that we cling to a static view and experience of life even if that view and experience is devastating to ourselves and to others.  When we begin to tippy-toe into the “flow” of life (i.e., the “Spirit of God”) we find the experience unnerving.

My Life in a Mega-Church

I spent two years as a member of a mega-church in the early eighties, a Baptist Church in Springdale, Arkansas. I was so proud of myself, so pleased to be a member of a church that was so “up-and-coming” and growing larger and larger and larger. And the pastor was very good. And I mean very, very good; even today I appreciate memories of his skill as an expositor of scripture.

And I was single at the time and didn’t “smoke, drink, or chew…or screw”…though I will admit I faltered on that latter point from time to time. And, yes, God forgave me. I knew he would. He had to. But I hated relying on that “duty” of His and so didn’t “imbibe” as much as I wanted to. But, nevertheless, I did not “smoke, drink, or chew!!!” But, I continued to flirt with darkness in the fall of 1981 when, after hearing the pastor lament the passing of Arkansas’s “Blue Laws” I stopped by after service and reveled in a luxurious Wal-mart for a while and bought a lot of “stuff.”   (The “Blue Laws” disallowed most stores to open on Sunday) I do remember to this day the guilt of that offense, hoping that no other church members saw me!)

But it was so nice to be part of a church that was really special and powerful and becoming more so. The Word of God was being preached and souls were being won to Jesus and even though the world was lost in sin, we were doing our part to win the world to Jesus. And I was a small part of this enterprise. It felt nice to belong.  Now looking back on it, the “pride” is kind of awkward, for it is the pride that Emily Dickinson had in mind when she described, “a mind too near itself to see itself distinctly.”  Or, to put it in the words of a recent Face Book discussion group re Paul Tillich, a mind “embedded in itself.”

Looking back on it, I was merely an “actor” in my life and my faith and so I’m tacitly accusing this church of the same. But, I have some guilt over accusing them. For, they were very, very good people and are so today. And, so was I! And they will not be reading this account and if so they must take it as it is, a revelation more about myself much more than an account of them. Yes, those people were “limited” but who is not and there was none of them more limited than was I. Dealing with my “limitations” has taken me a different direction than most of them but I’m sure most of them are not in the same place as they were back then. We are all “actors” in some sense and God takes our “strutting and fretting” during our “hour upon the stage” and weaves them into this beautiful tapestry that we call the human experience.

“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.”