Tag Archives: pandora’s box

Tennessee Williams Had Boundary Problems!

Yes he did!  For example, read this thoughtful and provocative wisdom that flowed from his heart, “Nobody sees anybody truly but all through the flaws of their own egos. That is the way we all see …each other in life. Vanity, fear, desire, competition– all such distortions within our own egos– condition our vision of those in relation to us. Add to those distortions to our own egos the corresponding distortions in the egos of others, and you see how cloudy the glass must become through which we look at each other. That’s how it is in all living relationships except when there is that rare case of two people who love intensely enough to burn through all those layers of opacity and see each other’s naked hearts.”

My clinical mind, not quite completely dormant yet, read this and immediately diagnosed, “Porosity of boundaries.”  For this man saw too deeply and felt too deeply and when one is that open he is susceptible to what poet Wallace Stevens described as, “The fatality of seeing things too well.” Life, including relationships must also be lived in a perfunctory manner, on the surface of things, for to dive too far into the depths of life is to risk opening Pandora’s Box.

But my viewpoint of Williams is not as critical as it might seem.  Insight about existential issues requires “boundary problems” otherwise one is confined to living life oblivious to reality, opting to keep on the surface of things. Yes, boundaries are important, even vital, and it is important to be able to maintain involvement and investment in the surface of life even when one’s heart is as open as was Williams’.  And Williams managed to do this, more or less, as he was a successful poet and playwright which usually requires an ability to function in the structure of life and of the art world.  The quoted passage demonstrates what novelist Toni Morrison described as having a heart that was “petal open.”  It was this quality which made his plays so rich and powerful as he was able to reach into the depths of his heart and put on our collective table wisdom that most of us do not have the courage to find on our own.  “The Glass Menagerie” and “Street Car Named Desire” are almost too painful to watch as Williams put human vulnerability right before us and then even rubbed our nose in it!  He put the repressed pain and vulnerability of family life, and of social life as a whole, right before our eyes.

The wisdom of the above quotation is humbling.  We prefer the comfort of being ensconced in our view of the world, including our view of other people including those who we love.  But, Williams displays here the wisdom that W. H. Auden had when he asked the question, “Suppose we love not friends or wives but certain patterns in our lives?”  This same wisdom can be applied to collective experience and pose the question, “Are those ‘bad guys’ actually that bad or are we contributing to their ‘badness’ to accomplish our unacknowledged purposes?  I remember in the 1960’s when the Viet Nam War was raging as my country passionately subscribed to the domino theory about Communist desire to take over the world when now it is quite apparent that there was more to it than we thought.  And what about destroying the Native American culture in the interest of Manifest Destiny only to now see clearly that it was merely an example of “might makes right” so that we were able to accomplish our greedy ends.

Life is complicated.  It is important that we wrestle with the issues that people such as Williams have written about.  But it is also to not make the mistake of taking ourselves too important and allowing the ugliness that is upon us to eat on us to the point of being consumed by bleak despair.  There is always hope.  There is “method to this madness.”  There is “a Divinity that doeth shape our ends, rough hew them how we may.”


Two other blogs of mine are listed here which I invite you to check out:





The Tyranny of Being Right

One of the earliest “distinction drawings” I learned after becoming conscious was that the world was divided into two categories—“saved” and “unsaved.”  And from that font of binary thinking I learned there were Baptists and then there were other religious denominations who did not understand the Bible “right.”  And even worse, there were the “Mary-worshipping” Catholics and also the Jews who weren’t even Christian!  And even within Baptist ranks, there were my particular brand of Baptist (Landmark Missionary Baptists) and then those “liberal” Southern Baptists from which we Landmarkers had split off from in the late 19th century.  And even within Landmark churches there would often arise doctrinal squabbles which would lead to a split and the start of another church.  Note that the phenomena of needing to draw distinctions was a fundamental premise.  And in my denomination, there was even the phenomena of the Bride of Christ which was an honorary place in heaven for Christians who had belonged to the church which most closely adhered to the gospel and could trace their historical roots back to Christ.  Yes, I was honored to learn that this was my church.  Yes, even in heaven there would be distinctions drawn.  Gawd it was comforting to know that I was so special.

And please note that this “distinction drawing” was not the exclusive domain of Christianity or even fundamentalist Christianity.  It is merely part of being human and is toxic only when we never mature enough to make the need of drawing distinctions less important than finding common ground.  It has always been present in human history and will always be present as it is inherent in cognition itself.  BUT, it is possible…I am finding…to be a thinking human being and realize that some of the distinctions I have drawn with such rigidity in my life are not quite as black and white as I had been taught.  But for those who are stuck in what Richard Rohr calls “binary thinking” cannot help but obsessively seek for distinctions which leave them separate from others and thus “right.”

One result of this emphasis on my early life was the need to be right.  I quickly learned that there was “right” and “wrong” and learned that “right” consisted of basically adhering to the rules that constituted “right.”  I now realize that existentially, in the bowels of my young heart, I had perceived myself to be intrinsically bad but that I could be “good” and be “right” if I followed the rules, if I would be a “good little boy.”  This put me on the path of being a very good hypocrite, for the word hypocrite merely means “to act.”  I am not denigrating myself in the least with this point.  I was only a child and had learned how to find validation and that was in “acting” right and I did so with utmost sincerity.  Richard Rohr has pointed out that most of us spend the first half of our life as an actor in all respects and only then begin to wrestle with the under-lying dimension of life which always involves opening Pandora’s box in some way.  But it is hard to impossible for a guilt-ridden Christian to admit they have been “acting” for doing so would be to acknowledge and embrace the feelings of “wrongness” which have always tyrannized them into outward compliance with rules.  They would have to realize they have been living in bondage to “the law” albeit a “Christian” version of bondage.  They have been socialized or enculturated into their faith…which is a necessary stage of faith…but at some point it is important to acknowledge the “act” they have been putting on and allow the “Spirit of the Law” to begin to flow.  James Alison, who will share the stage with Richard Rohr in a couple of weeks, has written a book entitled “The Joy of Being Wrong,” describing the release he found when he no longer had to be constantly trying to be “right.”  And of course, in the need to “be right” I constructed various constructs in life in which I could be “right” and “they” would be wrong.  Oh, how comforting it was.  And how hypocritical.

Lunacy in Religion Surfaces Again!!!

Christiandom has given Bill Maher and other stand-up comedians more fodder for there routines as a 53 year old former fundamentalist pastor has been arrested in Brazil to face 53 charges of sexual abuse. I will offer a link to the story as it is really creepy, primarily many of the parents willingly “followed God’s leadership” and entrusted their teen daughters into the care of this man’s reclusive and isolated ministry with a promise that he would make these girls God’s women! (http://www.cnn.com/2015/03/01/us/victor-barnard-brazil-caught/index.h)

I see so much lunacy in contemporary religion. And, history has many other stories of additional religious lunacy enough to bring anyone to the point of consideration, “Is all of this just nuts?” And I look at contemporary Christianity and am amazed at how intelligent, educated people can believe some of the things they believe in the name of Christ; and, yes, on the fringe I see many “nut-jobs.”  However, the social context that produced me some six decades ago would label me “nuts” also, or some variation of that term And, in a sense, they would be right for it is the context that gets to define the terms and in reference to the context from which I hailed I certainly merit some disapproving label.

Spirituality deals with the issue of meaning or our quest for meaning. And meaning is always found in a search into the depths of the heart. Unfortunately, the “depths of the heart” are chaotic to say the least and contain good and bad, a veritable Pandora’s box of mischief and worse. Sometimes one’s spiritual quest will take one right into the “Heart of Darkness” and there are times that temptations leads to catastrophic decisions, often “in the name of God.” An equally sordid route is when someone is so fear-bound, so fearful of that dark realm in his heart, they will not allow the Spirit of God that he professes to believe in to lead him in the depths of the heart in the first place. This person will keep it all in the head and become an ideologue, one picture of which we have today is Isis but in Christianity in my country there is Westboro Baptist Church.

But, this issue is ultimately a human issue and not the fault of the religious/spiritual impulse though certainly that impulse goes awry and we see catastrophe. We are complicated little critters because in those hoary depths of our heart monsters do lurk and sometimes our adaptations to them are inadequate, even in our faith. And this realization keeps me a little less rigid than I used to be though often I will find myself relapsing into an arrogance even with my “liberal” and “open-minded” and “all-inclusive” notions of Christianity. And this realization always brings me back to the basic emphasis of spirituality—chopping wood, carrying water. For all of our lofty and noble thoughts, what are we doing to make this world a better place for our kiddies?