Thursday, July 17, 2008

Meet Barack Dobson, by David Kuo: SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT

Meet Barack Dobson

How different are they? Really? James Dobson and Barack Obama?
On the face of it there is little, save their shared humanity, that seems to unite the two men. From their skin color to their positions on abortion, gay marriage, poverty, the role of government, from their views on the separation of church and state to their positions on the Iraq War, the men are about as far apart as men can get.
But appearances are deceiving. The men are actually very, very similar. (And this goes beyond their common love of basketball).
Both men see their religious faith as one of their primary political weapons. They take that faith and move in opposite directions, but their philosophy, their spirituality is very similar.
Dr. Dobson attacked Sen. Obama for having a flawed view - a deliberately skewed view - of Biblical theology "deliberately distorting the Bible," "dragging biblical understanding through the gutter," "willfully trying to confuse people," and having a "fruitcake interpretation of the Constitution." Obama responded by saying Dobson either hadn't read his speech (at a Sojourners event on poverty) or was just trying to score political points.
That back and forth, however, is simply the exchange of men who long ago decided that their faith was a tool for material ends.
It is a common mistake, a common temptation - the temptation to take the very hard work of the spiritual life - living humbly, loving your enemies, putting others first, forgiving always - and replace it with the easy work of politics - the promise that this policy or plan will bring about a sort of spiritual nirvana.
That is what unites Obama and Dobson. That they take those politics in different directions is incidental.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Things are Not as they Seem, Part III

This morning a couple of unusual things happened which may show the fruit of this kind of revelation. Barb and I were planning what to do for Sunday morning, something we do quite regularly since we do not have a "regular" church where we attend as members. We both had the same ideas as each other, several in a row, showing that we were "tuned in" to each other--which of course doesn't always happen. [In fact, just the other day we were praying together about a very important issue, and for some reason we couldn't "hear" together on it, and kept running into snags as we prayed. That makes our inner agreement this morning even more striking.] I'm not sure why this is happening, but I can see two possible factors: one was that we were thinking "sideways," without being under specific obligation to anyone; and as Barb often says, we do the most significant works of love and service when we're not really thinking about it--sort of "by chance," as in the story of the man on the road to Jericho, and in the description Jesus gave of the judgment of the sheep and goats: "When did we take care of You?" They didn't even know they were ministering to Jesus!

I like to think that another factor is the freedom that comes from this realization that things are not as they seem: when we know that the human institutions that are all around us are not (and never will be) what they're "cracked up to be," we can make the right choice to be FREE among those institutions, not to take them (or ourselves) too seriously--and we can freely navigate among them, doing what needs to be done, and blessing people freely everywhere we go--because we DESIRE to do this and not because we have to. It is this aspect that allows us to be content wherever we go, and that keeps us in the New Covenant, the Kingdom of God, a kingdom of willingness, rather than slipping back into the legalistic covenant of obligation.

I believe this was the kind of freedom Barb and I were enjoying this morning, during both the planning for the morning and then later in fulfilling the plans.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

a guide to what I meant to say

First, let me explain what I meant in my note in Carl's blog, in case anyone comes over to here from there:

The thought I was referring to there is called "Things are Not as they Seem," parts 1 & 2, and they won't make much sense unless you read part 1 first.

Next I want to be sure this dream gets in here, from early in the week:

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Truth from a Dream
I woke up this morning from a deep dream in which the person in the dream had been searching in great darkness and confusion. The place where the person had been searching most recently was in the area of the number 4: the meaning of 4, the tetragrammaton, the name of God, YHWH, etc.

Suddenly this person turned around and began shouting with great excitement, "I see! I see! I see! I see!" I was not even able to return to the "experience" this person had just had a few seconds ago which caused this change, but there was no room for doubt that the experience had been very real and profound: everything about this person changed--their understanding, their awareness, their motivations, their character, their personality--no area was left unchanged.

After I woke up, two things became crystal clear about this. First of all it was extremely clear that seeing is a gift, an absolutely sovereign gift from God. Although this person had been searching with a great deal of angst and desperation, I could tell that there was no connection between the seeing and the seeking, in terms of "earning" the ability to see, or developing any kind of character that would be more ready or likely to see than before. Any and all character change came AFTER the seeing, and as a consequence of it. I interpret this to mean that it is always OK to pray for anyone to be able to see, because this does not involve any superiority of character or status: God is good and generous with His gifts, and it's always OK to ask Him as a good Father to give such powerful and life-changing gifts to His children.

The second thing I learned came as a result of asking: I asked "back into" the dream, What is the core change in this person that has come as a result of the seeing? The answer came in one word: Joy. The core motivation was now joy, replacing whatever had been there before, something darker and less hopeful. This person would now find it much easier to do loving and gracious things willingly, by choice, rather than from a sense of obligation, because they now had Joy in the center of the heart (where it belongs!).

another mistake

This is automatically switching over to my other blog. What I need to do is to shift all my entries to the new one and just use the new address all the time. Sorry for the distractions, and for my incompetence on here.


more catch-up--sorry!

Sigh...I just noticed that I have inadvertently put three of my recent entries into the other blog by mistake (again). I will take a minute to put them in here, and then maybe try to figure out how to shut the other blog down and just keep this one running!

The first one was from July 3rd:

Thursday, July 3, 2008

My reply to a thoughtful quote

Here's a quote from the thoughtful blogger Aedificium,

followed by my reply. First Aedificium:

Bonhoeffer and the Weakness of God

I’m supposed to be working on the dissertation, but I’ve gotten bogged down in some nasty German linguistics. Last night I was doing some reading designed to kind of “wind me down” and came across what I see as a prophetic comment from Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his Letters and Papers from Prison. So much for winding down. I’d love to hear some thoughts on the implications of this for the church today. And I mean that in the nicest possible way.

The quote from Bonhoeffer:

“And we cannot be honest unless we recognise that we have to live in the world etsi deus non daretur [even if there were no God]. And this is just what we do recognise - before God! God himself compels us to recognise it. So our coming of age leads us to a true recognition of our situation before God. God would have us know that we must live as men who manage our lives without him. The God who is with us is the God who forsakes us (Mark 15:34). The God who lets us live in the world without the working hypothesis of God is the God before whom we stand continually. Before God and with God we live without God. God lets himself be pushed out of the world on to the cross. He is weak and powerless in the world, and that is precisely the way, the only way, in which he is with us and helps us. Matt. 8.17 makes it quite clear that Christ helps us, not by virtue of his omnipotence, but by virtue of his weakness and suffering”.

And finally, my reply:

In his final sentence here Bonhoeffer reminds us of both the purpose and the method of Jesus’ coming to earth: that He might partake of the weakness of our flesh, the consequences of our sin, the experience of our separation from God–and that in so doing–by identifying with us in our weakness–He might conquer those limitations for us and give us the chance to partake of His victory. If we suffer with Him, we will be glorified with Him.The implications of this for the church today are vast, and profound. To be very brief, we could at least start with this blog’s politics: it is an understatement to say that the antics of our American political candidates regarding public expressions of their religion are very far from the spirit of Bonhoeffer’s observations. But this goes far deeper into our private lives and the lives of our churches: our identification with Him in His weakness, in response to His identification with our weakness, readily cancels out all our attempts to make something or be somebody through our religion, and returns us to the place of being one with the poor and serving those who are most in need–the place Jesus consistently taught us to take if we are ever going to follow Him in any meaningful way.Mr Obama said recently that if the Defense Department tried to operate on the priinciples of the Sermon on the Mount–well, he didn’t know if they could do it! But that’s the real issue, the real paradox here, the real scandal of the cross. And this is the distinctive contribution we can have as believers in Jesus in the midst of our tyrannical and “No-God” generation.


Things are Not as they Seem, Part II

Part II

At its very worst this perspective (mentioned in my last rant) will produce a Mao, tearing things down and then building them up (from a violent revolutionary base) only to tear them down again half a generation later, at the cost of millions of lives, from the ideological basis that things are not ‘pure’ enough according to the principle.

At its best this same perspective may be a variation on the Via Negativa, the paradoxical teachings of Jesus on becoming great by serving as the least, of gaining your own life by losing it. It would be an easy step to look into Eastern sources for the contradictory perspective as well, since the Tao that can be spoken or comprehended is not the Tao; paradox is a major tool of spiritual enlightenment and development in nearly all cultures (except the modern “scientific” West). But the central paradox as spoken and lived by Jesus, the Cross, is sufficient grounds on which to base a thorough study of this kind.

A couple of implications come to mind too: in literature, this idea could be an umbrella covering all kinds of sarcasm, irony, humor, as well as social tragedy (I’m thinking of The Lottery by Shirley Jackson, Goodman Brown by Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Those Who Walk Away from Omelas by Ursula LeGuin). In psychology it could relate to the practice of welcoming or including one’s shadow or dark side in the process of integrating the personality (as in St. Francis’ advice to “feed your wolf”). I can begin to imagine applications in art, and in music….I’m not so sure about where the “hard sciences” would go with this, though I have followed with at least some mild interest a bit of the ongoing discussion on “dark matter.”

Now, about the cynicism: classic irony is based on the disappointing realization that “Things are Not what they Seem” in human behavior; this is difficult for the “Once-Born” personalities (William James) to take, but it is an essential step in the process of growing up. After the realization hits—earlier for some, through childhood trauma; later for others, through broken loves or shattered personal “idols”; but by the end of adolescence for most of us—we then have a choice as to what we do with it. When I was 19 and I began to see plenty of evidence for what Jesus calls hypocrisy, all around me and inside me as well, I bolted: I left school, left home, left God and church and the career world—and I have never been the same since! Now, years later, I can see this perspective as a valid philosophical base for interpreting human behavior on a very wide scale; and I can ground this in the teachings of Jesus who said repeatedly, “You have heard that it has been said…but I say to you….” The Gospel has little or no effect (as is the case in religion as described in the previous post) if it is not allowed its natural course which is to challenge and destroy (or deconstruct) our social, cultural, and behavioral institutions and customs, and face us with our actual raw motives for what we do. The advice from the Cloud of Unknowing to focus on “a naked intent toward God” strikes me as the sanest and most satisfying response because it frees us from the accusation of hypocrisy and from the ignorance of our own inner motives that plagues us in our society, and leaves us in that primal place for which we were made, that of openness to the Spirit. In that place we find our freedom from religion, education, medicine, even websites—in the restoration of our original identity, both individually and corporately.

Things are Not as they Seem, Part I

I had an idea this morning, and since that is such a rare occurrence I thought I would write it down… (Actually this happens most mornings, and often I do try to write it down, usually in my Journal…).

I have been working with (literally!) thousands of websites lately, and this theory (not yet proven) occurred to me: it seems that the purpose of a website is quite similar to the purpose of religion. The purpose of religion is to provide an obstacle in the way of getting into personal communion with God (and fulfilling our destiny); religions can be evaluated in terms of how well they serve this purpose. It seems to me that websites are created to hide the person of the ‘blogger(s) and protect him/her/them from contact or communion with other living human beings; as with religion, sites and ‘blogs can be evaluated in terms of how well they accomplish this purpose.

For example, Mike Morrell, the guy I am working for at Sites Unseen, has a kind of catch-all category in his site called “Whiz-Bang Cutting-Edge Postmodern ‘Ministries’” The links there are the ones that (it seems to me) are most effective in screening the real message, the real person, of the ‘blogger from the curious eye of the surfer. The rule seems to be, the slicker the presentation, the greater the distance between seeker and ‘blogger—and therefore the greater the “success” of the site in preventing communication.

Now you might think of this as a bit cynical….

The applications of this method of seeing things can be extended indefinitely—and the intellectual vigor it would take to do it is appealing to me! For example, the purpose of education is to prevent people from learning and developing according to their natural bent and talents; its effectiveness can be judged according to how well it does this. The purpose of the health professions is…well, maybe you can see the way this is going.

I don’t know if this would be called a Deconstructionist perspective, the kind of thing that’s currently popular in the college setting, since I haven’t been actively involved there for a few years now. I have a couple of further thoughts about the origins and implications of this approach, but I’ll save these for the next post.