What if all the bad examples of partisan ideologies and societal expressions are a demonic diversion (figuratively or literally, it doesn't matter which)? What if the contempt that they inspire accomplishes the devil's purpose, poisoning the very space between us that is meant to be the medium of communion?
Musing on the new version of the scapegoat mechanism.
The instinct that wants to believe in Constitutional Originalism, along with unquestioning support for laws and biblical inerrancy is rooted in a desire for something to be sacrosanct. By insisting that these things are sacred, they remain inviolable, essential unseen, powerful. If on the other hand they are brought out into the light, examined, understood to be human inventions that need to be reinterpreted to remain meaningful in an ever changing world, they lose their power and we're thrown into chaos. And chaos in this instance means change, interdependence, the need to trust each other.
This whole world view is built on a desire to make the mistrust we feel sacred. To legitimize projection. It's a new version of the scapegoating mechanism that the gospels expose.
I'm recalling how all my life I've been affected by and drawn to sacrificial love, creative, non violent solutions, and risky generosity portrayed in story, film, and memoir.
The 1st rule of story is "Show, don't tell." In these artistic portrayals, I *saw* how self-emptying, co-suffering love, and restorative justice were the way to salvation. Both for me individually -- saving me from selfish preoccupations and all the petty sins, fear, and isolation that follow -- but also the only way to save the world, to save us from each other and from isolation.
All this left me wondering, why didn't I *see* this in the teaching and activity of the church, the body of the Christ on earth, those with whom the self-emptying love gospel of Jesus was entrusted?
Don't get me wrong, I saw a lot of very nice people being very nice to each other. But like Jesus said, what credit is that, even those who don't know the good news are nice to those in their tribe. (Paraphrased)
Then I realized that the good news is a living reality. Like water, it finds a way through rock. When the "church" gets the story wrong and equates God with the capricious, vengeful gods feared by ancient cultures, and curries favor with violent empire rather than the Kin-dom of Jesus's Abba, the beauty of the Way finds expression in story, film, and more importantly, the fools for Christ who risk all for the joy of living in the beauty that will save the world.
Incarnating the Word (that is, enacting the Way of Jesus) is the only meaningful affirmation of the word.
Christians are people of the incarnation (of the Word of God), we are not people of the word, or of the book -- that's Islam.
It doesn't matter what we say we believe, only what our beliefs lead us to do, say, and see. Conversely, what we do, say, and see reveals what we believe.
This doesn't mean that we aren't loved when we fail to enact the Way, or that we need to try harder to imitate Jesus. Although, there is a place for effort. As philosopher Dallas Willard put it so memorably, "Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning. Earning is an attitude. Effort is an action."
This issue here is simply clarity. The Way of Incarnation, or of embodying the Way, means that ONLY enacting is affirming. We affirm our faith in the Way by walking it, not by confessing creeds. Once this is clear a lot of the things that divide the body of Christ and limit it's impact are wiped away.
Not only are the superficial and meaningless differences wiped away, but also the hubris of individual pride. When we measure ourselves not by what we think we believe, know, or by comparison to anyone other than Jesus, "thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought" is no longer a problem.
Once this state is achieved we can begin. We can be resurrected.
In Christendom economics, which is essentially trickle down economics where a small percentage of the communal tithe goes to the repentant, or "worthy poor."
In the Kin-dom, wealth is not sought, or desirable, because it's a burden, a responsibility that complexifies one's life. The joyful exception is modeled by the early church well to do who supported community flourishing. A community made up largely of societal out casts.
The truth of scripture is trans historical and it manages this by taking the form of myth, story, parable, and poetry. The historical setting is far more setting than history.
These forms are flexible, they can move through time carrying their truth in images that can be understood in any cultural context.
The modern preoccupation with fact has diminished the purpose of sacred texts, which is to communicate meaning and wisdom across time.
The imaginative capacity to discover meaning appears to have been atrophied during the scientific age. And the good news found within the sacred stories has been hidden.
I enter the Presence, which is loveANDlight. I become as open to Presence as I can and think/say "I am willing to face, feel, or do whatever emerges in your presence."
Because Presence is loveANDlight, I know that I am safe and known. LoveANDlight is gentle, but unsentimental. I know that I am naked, my shadow exposed by the Light. But I can not see what Light sees, I get mere glimpses out of the corner of the eye of my imagination, or gut feelings that radiate out in varying levels of intensity. But I only need to wait and consent to the process that loveANDlight has initiated.
I am willing to experience these uncomfortable feelings and face whatever emerges in my imagination, because I trust Presence. Presence is not hurried or demanding, there is no need to rush to judgment or act, the guidance of loveANDlight is trustworthy, the Way will become clear.
Most of the time, my experience entails the afore mentioned gut feelings that radiate through my body. I take these to be a release of anxiety that I have been holding in my body. Sometimes this feeling comes with images associated with the feeling, and because of the awareness, I understand better my relationship to the person or circumstance.
Sometimes I recall specific relationships and realize what I've been doing, how I really feel, or what I ought to do bring life or reconciliation. If the relationship is complicated, or fraught with baggage, I realize that I don't know what to do, or all that I feel. But this is clarifying and anxiety reducing, as well.
One of the experiences I find most interesting about the "I am willing prayer" is when I remember that there's something that must be done, that I want to see finished, but don't want to go through.
In the loveANDlight of Presence, I'm able to patiently imagine how I might go about doing the thing without the pressure of actually doing it, or the disintegrated feeling of coercing myself through shame, duty, or bribery.
I imagine different approaches, and often get into the weeds picturing the details: the how, where, when, what, why. But instead of a lonely, dutiful effort of will, it's a conversation with Presence with no attached obligation. I know that I will still be loved even if I choose not to act on these playful musings. But the fact is, far more often than not, I find myself eager to get started. I've imagined the way, I know I can do it, and that part of me that wanted to see it through from the beginning is happy to have a plan and delighted to forgo coercion.
In my view, everything is revelation, even the Bible, which revealed this to me.
The issue is not to find the one correct source of revelation, but discerning the meaning of the revelation that each has been given in the beauty and terror of nature, the neighbor who triggers one's worst or best impulses, and the sacred or secular scriptures that have formed one's imagination.
Only by submitting to these revelations and contemplating what they mean will the Way of goodness, truth, and beauty be discovered, and the joy to walk it emerge from within.
I went through a phase in college where, in addition to Birkenstocks, I wore very simple clothing: cotton, loose fitting, monochromatic. There was a girl in one of my classes who asked if I was some kind of a monk. Without thinking, I said, "Yes." The idea must have appealed to me. To imagine myself as set apart for a higher calling, free from the trappings of a consumer identity. Even though I was attracted to the girl, I let her believe this about me for the rest of the semester, presumably hindering any chance I might have had with her.
This was during Ronald Reagan's first term and I was transitioning from a Business Administration major to English with a Creative Writing emphasis. Another strategic blunder. Not that I have any regrets, experimenting with ones' identity is inevitable. I'm glad to have gained a sense of self as separate from my professional identity at a relatively early age. Remembering this story makes me smile and wonder, especially now, when I would describe myself without reservation as a contemplative. Perhaps the tender shoots of a new way of being in the world were breaking through what was at that time rather arid soil.
I grew up Evangelical. Looking back, it seems as if the air I breathed was richer with judgment than with oxygen. Of course, we weren't explicitly encouraged to be judgmental. Jesus had clearly discouraged this behavior. Our practices were referred to as rightly dividing the word of God, resisting the devil, and standing up for eternal truth. However it might be defined, the result for me was that I ended up judging everything that I saw. I also painted myself into a corner with a lot of premature conclusions and preferences that became untenable.
I don't blame all of this on my religious heritage. There were cultural and temperament factors, as well. As it turns out, everything is raw material in the hands of the divine artist. When I eventually "stumbled" across Christian contemplative literature, the soil of my soul was thirsty for the nourishment offered from that tradition. But it wasn't until I was introduced to non-judgmental awareness that I found a life-long practice. Mindfulness, and non-dual thinking are other ways of naming the same approach. While these are also attractive it was the emphasis on non-judgment that felt like a prescription specifically designed for someone with my faults.
One of the ways that Richard Rohr describes contemplation is, "meeting as much of reality as we can handle in its most simple and immediate form, without filters, judgments, and commentaries." This is the vision to which I aspire. That I continually fail matters less and less. Simply desiring the gift of new vision and risking the vulnerability of not knowing changes everything without depending upon the feeble psychic muscle we call willpower. Exercising willpower is all about mastery and victory rather than process. I have been much helped by Simone Weil's idea of the will. She saw its purpose as rather humble, as the steering wheel of our attention. Just as our bodies become what we consume, so it is with our souls. We become like that to which we pay attention.
Ms. Weil also wrote of a "Method for understanding images, symbols, etc. Not to try to interpret [judge] them, but to look at them till the light suddenly dawns." I think of this as the more beautiful way, because when the light dawns the only thing to do is walk in it and rejoice. I would trade a decade of mental certitude for a moment of light.
I was a little suspicious of these ideas at first. They can be difficult concepts. It felt reasonable to think that I must discern right from wrong. It felt as if I would be affirming evil if I didn't call it evil. But, of course, there are problems with naming things, especially when done quickly. I've since come to think of non judgmental awareness as a deeper form of discernment. Deeper and slower. By suspending quick and conditioned judgments, I give God's spirit time to reveal deeper, less obvious truths. Truths that can only be seen with the eyes of love. Only love sees rightly. And with a little reflection I had to admit that it was rare for me to see with the eyes of love.
"One must be so careful with names anyway; it is so often on the name of a misdeed that a life goes to pieces, not the nameless and personal action itself, which was perhaps a perfectly definite necessity of that life and would have been absorbed by it without effort." –Rainer Marie Rilke
I've come to realize that nonjudgmental awareness includes awareness of judgment. I will, inevitably, have superficial preferences and conditioned responses. Noticing them, in what I like to think of as my shared awareness with God, is what allows me to notice myself judging without actually pronouncing or projecting on to others. Just as delayed gratification is a necessary part of maturity, so is delayed judgment a necessary part of mature discernment.
A natural outflow of this is that the Biblical imperative to "watch and wait" has become my modus operandi. It has also been helpful to receive a new name: He-who-does-not-know. When I live from this identity it's not uncommon for me to see everything as revelation and even as a gift. Every disappointment, every temptation, even confusion and despair, it's all an invitation to a new way of seeing.
Speaking of seeing, my son gave me a book for Christmas titled Contemplative Photography. The subtitle summarizes as well as anything I've seen the heart of my desire: "Seeing with Wonder, Respect, and Humility." God help me…
More often than not, our beliefs are skin deep, reactionary, tribal. We affirm or reject labels, giving mere lip service to the complex human realities onto which labels are affixed.
When the metaphors and symbols that create and drive human culture are explored, believing, or not, becomes moot. When the actual world of interdependent relationships rich with meaning, uncertainty, and beauty is but glimpsed, judgments are inconceivable. Silence and wonder replace reactionary beliefs.
Actions born of delight, or recognition are the natural outflow of seeing into reality. Condemnations, belief systems, opinion are "wood, hay, and stubble" in the fire of insight (in-seeing).
Which is why I don't think I'm interested in anything that follows the statement, "I believe (or don't believe)..."
It might be better, by virtue of being more accurate, to open with, "In my opinion..." but its still a bad start. And, by the way, adding "humble" to the phrase doesn't help.
Why, you might rightly ask?
First of all, because it's lazy, automatic talk, and thus lacking in presence and is thus disrespectful, even if accidentally so. (I welcome you to call me on it. I want to be fully present to you and respectful of your time and attention.)
Second, opinion is not interesting, and don't say, "That's you're opinion," because you're not interested in opinion either, except for the opinion that confirms your bias, and we can agree that while confirmations are comforting, they are not interesting.
Thirdly, we don't make progress by mindlessly spouting opinions, or arguing for beliefs. We progress through deep, mindful, humble, respectful exploration.
Lastly, whatever follows from, "I believe..." is prefabricated and tends to have a hidden agenda. I long for non scripted, agenda free conversation.