Me, Myself and Christ: Naivety

When I met Trey (a fabricated name) at contemplative prayer, I shared that I had written two books on apologetics. He skipped past my contributions, asking whether I had read his favorite writer on the topic. I simply shrugged and countered:

My perspective is grounded in unusual experiences.

Most popular Christian writing focuses on the theology of redemption or the experience of healing. I cannot claim to have been threatened seriously with destruction by sin – either in my own weakness or as prey to others. I was raised in a white, upper-middle-class community by a brilliant father and a mother committed to saintly service. The household had its issues, but they were issues that reflected the opportunity to negotiate choices, not the pressures of fear and want.

When my mother and I were discussing the psychological challenges facing her grandchildren, I observed:

We were a household of children raised by strong and caring parents. We spent our formative years struggling for influence over one another. It was only very recently that I realized how powerful my will had become, and so to appreciate how hard others had to work to maintain their autonomy.

The characteristic attitude of my childhood was an awed gratitude for the past. The most representative memory is standing with one foot on the sidewalk below the school, staring at the seam between the asphalt and concrete, and realizing that many people had invested their energies in manifesting this magical conduit that guided cars, people and water, each in their proper places. But my gratitude also kept me in reading my history books long after my siblings had gone out to play.

We were a Catholic family until I graduated from elementary school. I attended St. John Fisher in first grade, the strongest memory of which is kneeling for communion near the angry cross, and wondering why people worshipped that kind of God. I was consoled by the Catholic Children’s Bible, which I read in second grade. I found the Old Testament to be suspiciously like the Celtic and Norse myths that my elder sister brought home from the library, but the New Testament was an attractive promise of healing for the world. My father, unfortunately, could not reconcile the science of the day with Christian theology, and his critical analysis of faith eventually tore the entire family away from the Church – with the notable exception of my younger sister.

Faith was replaced by secular ethics. The foundation was gained in Church: our parish was a liberal Vatican Two congregation with an active lay membership. My parents were active in Democratic politics and the Civil Rights movement. Cub Scouts also provided a grounding in service to others, with weekly paper and bottle drives organized in collaboration with the Boy Scouts.

Unfortunately, it was clear that my peers were intimidated by me. I was aware that my intelligence separated me from others, and it was a tool that I applied forcefully to understanding of the world. Paradoxically, it was also the engine, powered by my father’s skepticism, that kept me from recognizing the silent voices calling out to me in my childhood. The closest encounter was on my first Jamboree. The other boys went off to make friends, but I found myself wandering on the paths above the campground, drenched in the peacefulness of the trees and brush, until a scout in my patrol ran up to warn that I needed to follow the buddy system, and dragged me back to camp.

With mature perceptions, today I recognize how my elders used my calming dispassion. For myself, I was far too busy trying to figure out how the world worked to think much about the impact I had on my peers. I studied physics in college because it was the most fundamental of the sciences, but in the rich social and political environment of UC Berkeley, I could not avoid the understanding that morality and politics determined the ends to which power was turned. I absorbed the popular ethics of the day, reading F. Scott Peck and Rollo May, supplemented by Foreign Affairs and the Christian Science Monitor.

There were a few signs of the impact my devotion had on those that managed to get close to me. After discussion section one afternoon, I followed the professor and my friend Peter up the hill toward the Campanile, thinking about how wonderful it was to have people like them in my life. They had moved ahead twenty feet, talking seriously. I was moved by a great joy. They stopped, looked at each other, and turned bemused smiles to me.

The Nature of Sin

Over the last fifteen years, I’ve had the privilege of being passionately committed to the service of two spectacularly beautiful feminine personalities. Unfortunately, as women like that tend to have a lot of dirt dumped on them, neither of them understood the depth of their beauty. In the second case, I finally found myself whispering across a crowded room, “Please, please, please. Please come into yourself. We need you here so badly.”

While I’ve been physically lonely for a long time, this process of calling beautiful women into the world has its positive benefits. I dance alone most Saturdays, but I dance with the joy of knowing that my loving is connected to a purpose that I find to be precious.

Many women respect that intention, but there are those that see my devotion as a resource to be turned to their benefit. The methods they use are pretty crude, and I have to say: after you’ve been sleep deprived for long enough, being beaten on by lust tends to lose its luster. So I really appreciate it when a woman approaches me with the attitude that she just wants to know what it feels like to step into devotion. Most of the time they finish dancing with me and go off into bliss with their lovers.

My most powerful experience of the impact of psychic wounding came under such circumstances. At the venue I haunted, a man in a rainbow tunic would show up occasionally on a field trip with a group of emotionally disturbed followers. One evening, I noticed a woman – let’s call her Deanne – staring at me. She seemed really timid, so I asked her to dance with me. When we got to the dance floor she announced “But I can’t go away with you or take my clothes off.” Realizing who I was talking to, I agreed. The song was a little forward, and Deanne looked uncomfortable. She agreed that she didn’t like the music, so I told her to come and get me when she heard something that she liked.

I kept on dancing by myself, and Deanne finally joined me again. Her movements were really wound up, and I just tried to invite her to move around into the space I left behind me on the floor. She began to play a little bit, and I had this strange sense of her opening up. Putting my hands on either side of Deanne’s head, I took hold of the threads of personality that she had wound up so carefully in herself, and attached them to the joy that my friends and I had built on the dance floor. I was overwhelmed by this glorious surge of energy, the likes of which I had never before experienced. Deanne just smiled and returned to her friends.

Scott Peck, author of People of the Lie, remarks that ‘evil’ is ‘live’ spelled backwards. From the physicist’s perspective, living is the process of investing the world with our spirit. Somebody had pounded Deanne out of the world, leaving her not even her body to inhabit. What happened that night, though, gave me an absolute conviction that evil is impotent in the face of love. That surge of energy was the joy of spirits welcoming Deanne back into the world. It was as though they had been waiting for her to reclaim them.

When we are first taught about sin, it’s as a prophylactic against evil. “Thou shalt not kill” definitely qualifies. Most of the Law of the Pentateuch (the Jewish holy books) can be interpreted in this way. The goal was to avoid corruption in the relationships between the people, the sacred land, and the God they worshipped.

The problem with the law is that it yoked guilt to evil: it created sin. This was the uniquely human evil that entered the world with the fall of Adam and Eve. Before that time, evil happened and living creatures just shrugged it off and moved forward. Man ate of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and began to ask “why?” From that point, whenever evil happened, our questioning minds looked for a place to affix the blame, and our materialistic tendencies led us to assign fault to the person that committed the sin.

When Jesus died for the forgiveness of sins, he sought to liberate us from this burden of guilt. As he put it “It is not the well that need a doctor, but the sick.” Implicitly, he is asserting “Who cares why it happened? Shouldn’t we just fix it and move on? Here: let me show you how love works.” In the most impressive case: the oppressor Saul goes blind on the road to Damascus and is healed to become Paul, the foremost Christian evangelist of his time.

Healing through love is the absolute bedrock of Christian ethics. Those that prefer to judge sinners might better focus their energies on learning to emulate the master that they adore. You’ll have a lot more fun when love moves freely through you. Assigning guilt just gets in the way.

We Can’t Say ‘Thanks’ Enough

Life is the opportunity to participate in organizing spirit. Our bodies escort them about in clouds, and as we move amongst each other they enter into new relationships. Some of these are wonderful experiences: “Love at first sight” is a good example. Some of them are horrifying: consider the records of the carnival atmosphere at a public lynching.

At the core of our primary personality is a set of spirits that manage our survival. Through the mechanisms of our glands, organs, muscles and nerves, they coordinate the biological functions that allow us to control the world around us, and thus to sustain life. For most of the history of life on earth, this was as far as it went. Innovation in the integration of body and spirit was controlled largely by survival. With humanity, however, the possibilities exploded – almost without check. Using the mechanism of our brain, in each life we can explore and evaluate millions if not billions of spiritual relationships. We call these ideas.

How do we know which ideas work? Well, we put them into action. We seek to describe sources of pain (weather, natural disasters, disease and predators) and to create the means to avoid pain. We attempt to deny resources to those that bring us fear, or perhaps even better to use fear to take control of their resources. We gather and offer gifts to the people we love, when before we might have shared them more widely.

In the course of taking these actions, we integrate ideas into our core personalities. This can have terrible consequences for our bodies. If we accept a destructive idea, it can turn on us. Our core personality intuitively seeks to isolate its effects, but that may then cause stroke or cancer.

The other option is to vent destructive ideas on the people around us. For destructive ideas, that can be a successful strategy. One powerful individual can infect an entire society (witness Adolf Hitler, Mao TseDong, and Josef Stalin). In doing so, however, those ideas have to fight against the enormous mass of human experience, which proves that most of us survive best when we invest in the survival of others. The common man’s experience of the power of loving dilutes and even ennobles (see prior post) destructive behaviors.

In the beatitudes, Jesus promises solace to those that suffer most from this process. Implicitly, however, he also singles out those that serve most effectively in furthering its conclusion.

The poor in spirit – To be poor is often to be weak, but most directly what it means is to be missing something that you need. The poor in spirit need to be filled, and the world all around them offers them a multitude of destructive alternatives. To remain poor is to preserve yourself for occupancy by constructive ideas. Thank-you for your steadfastness.

Those who mourn – To mourn is to affirm the value of what is lost. This is not just the body of those that are lost to destructiveness, but the relationships that they offered us. In mourning, we preserve those relationships in our mind, and thus transfer to our care the souls that once found a home with the one mourned. Thank-you for your hospitality.

The meek – When we suffer a wrong, we often wish to lash out in revenge. The meek chose to suffer patiently. They do not propagate destructiveness, but struggle against it internally. In the course of that struggle, they transform it. Thank-you for your courage.

Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness – To establish complete control, destructive ideas need to isolate their victims, making it appear that the acceptance of destruction is the only option available. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness raise their voice in warning and offer hope to victims. They encourage them to organize in support of each other. Thank-you for your witness.

The merciful – A person raised up in love often struggles when confronted with a destructive relationship. They may make regrettable choices, such as that made by Cain. Mercy recognizes this, offers wise counsel, and supports the wrong-doer as they seek to heal themselves and their victims. Thank-you for your compassion.

The pure in heart – From the perspective of Jesus, a pure heart can only be a heart filled with unconditional love. As unconditional love seeks to enter all things, a pure heart is an infectious agent. It embraces destructive relationships and transforms them. Thank-you for your service.

Peacemakers – The peacemaker enters into a destructive relationship and offers peace to both sides. In offering respect and affirmation to both parties, s(he) creates a common experience of beneficial relation. When the warring parties finally accept that commonality, they have the opportunity to recognize that the energies that they have committed to mutual destruction can be liberated for mutual benefit. Thank-you for your persistence.

The persecuted – When a strong personality stands up for love, the forces of destruction rank against them. This is terrifying, but because the power of divine love stands with them, the persecuted person is not easy to destroy. The attentions of destructive personalities are distracted, which allows their victims to rally and heal. Thank-you for your light.

In Jesus’s name: thank-you, thank-you, a million times thank-you.