Puncturing the Cynicism of Our Age

The motivations of any professional include supporting themselves and their family. In being drawn to a new career in hypnotherapy, I am somewhat unique at HMI in that I have no dependents, and no expectations that I will have a comfortable retirement. In contrast, many of my peers-in-training are openly concerned about financial success, and some among the instructors project aspirations of personal wealth.

The conversation I walked into during workshop break went a little farther than that. Three students and the facilitator were agreeing that “you can talk about love, but ultimately everything is about money.” I guess that my reaction was incongruous, for they all turned to look at me. I tried to soften the pregnant silence with a jocular “Speak for yourself!”

The retort came from the man lazing in the recliner on the stage. I had to turn to see the subtle smirk on his face after he said “It’s all about money to you, too.” I tilted my head to the side in a manner that I am certain appeared calculating, and he reiterated his assertion. Stepping closer to him, I firmly asserted “You don’t tell me what I think.”

Turning back to the astonished triad, I explained:

“It’s all about power. There are two kinds of power: some power you can store – that’s what money is, in fact, a way of storing power. And there’s another kind – the kind that has to be about the world doing work. In my experience of life, there’s far more of the second kind of power than there is of the first.

“And that is why I love unconditionally: because I like to see power at work.”

The other students opened their mouths, but the facilitator closed the conversation with “Very well put, Brian.”

Separation of Church and State III

My response to the Freedom From Religion Foundation turned their position on its head. Rather than keeping religious leaders out of politics, we need to keep political leaders out of religion. The tendency for leaders to cross lines is one of the greatest dangers to religious practice.

Steve Matichuk offers a summary of the absolutist Christian position. Essentially, as Christ seeks a universal brotherhood, any celebration of national identity dilutes his message. Steve holds out for some accommodation. My response below:


This is very close to my mind at this point, as I am just working through a video teaching on Revelation 13. In Revelation 12 the dragon (or Satan) is expelled from heaven, and in 13 he plots his dominance of earth by raising up tyrannical governments that are supported by hypocritical religious practices.

On the other hand, in Christian terms some governments are better than others. We should celebrate actions that manifest Christian ideals, while avoiding at all cost the use of government to enforce Christian morality.

As I emphasize in the video, the real battle is in the human mind, which continues to evolve after birth. Beginning with the collaborative experience of nursing, the brain actually develops centers that support socialization, culminating in adulthood with the center responsible for altruism – or what Christians would call “Unconditional Love.”

The holidays that you list are manifestations of many of the virtues listed in 2 Peter 1:5-8. But it is those virtues that should be celebrated – not some abstract ideal like our “freedom.” We are all yoked to God’s purpose, and so none of us should consider ourselves to be privileged with absolute freedom.

Recidivism

When contemplating the selection from among the disciples of the Apostles, Luke records [6:12]:

Now during those days Jesus went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God.

Now this is an interesting proposition for prayer: the junior partner in the triune turning to himself for wisdom. Illogical, even bizarre? I can understand it only by assuming that Jesus was a pseudopod emitted from the Holy presence, not in possession of all his spiritual faculties.

Of course, as a demonstration it is instructive to read  of the devotion and trust that Jesus invested in the Father. If he was moved to pray, how should not we as well? And conceiving of him as a man, I would not rue Jesus that comfort.

A common elaboration of the Crucifixion is that it was not just physically agonizing, but also spiritually devastating. We have the great heart-rending cry:

Eloi! Eloi! Lama sabachthani?

[Mark 15:34]

There was no answer, because there could be none. God took on flesh because it was only through flesh that evil could be healed. Once Jesus assumed that burden, it was his and his alone.

The angels cannot change their nature – it is the grace and curse of humanity to possess that capacity. Thus God testified to Cain:

Sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.

[Gen. 4:7]

Jesus was the culmination of this seeking after strength. He arose out of a culture devoted to the seeking after purity, and chose to allow sin into his heart so that its consequences could be healed.

The bulk of the BIble demonstrates the difficulty of this accomplishment. The men raised to greatness always struggle with their frailty. Jacob’s lust makes him little more than a seed dispenser to two competing sisters and their handmaids, and his favorite Joseph leads monotheism into subjection to a polytheistic culture. David succumbs to desire, clearing the way for marriage by sending his friend into battle to die, and Solomon again opens the door to polytheistic practices.

This recidivism illuminates the challenge of loving unconditionally: to be merciful is to grant power to those lacking the ability to discipline their behavior. Every parent confronts this in the two-year-old and adolescent, but somehow we believe that grace given by God is proof against this corruption. To the wise, though, the recidivism of the Bible is the greatest possible proof of God’s compassion for us. He pursues the loving embrace even against the evidence of our unfaithfulness.

Of course, in demonstrating the infinite depths of divine compassion, the heroes of the Old Testament are problematical role models. This came to a head in Islam, which largely sanitizes the evidence of personal frailty. A Muslim scholar disputed with me over David’s betrayal of friendship, explaining that the sanitized history was enforced by Muhammed’s (pbuh) son-in-law, Ali, and justified in that opportunists used David’s behavior to justify their own lecherous license.

The consequence of this idealization of Biblical heroes is that the program of monotheistic escalation (the only God worth worshipping is perfect and infinite) extends to the heroes of the Bible. They are no longer human but gods themselves, immune to temptation and error.

So what of Jesus, absorbing the burden of human sin on the cross? We know that he showed reluctance and despair in the event. This supports my sense that divine love comes at the first possible moment. In the New Testament as in the Old, the manifestation of grace is subjected to pressures almost certain to destroy it. Among those are the unfaithfulness of those to whom salvation is offered. Returning to Nazareth early in his ministry, Jesus is astonished by their cynicism, which makes him unable to offer power in any great measure.

So I conclude: as monotheism is the pursuit of a truly human god, in that pursuit Jesus is truly our god, struggling against our sinfulness while healing us so that we may sin again. Paradoxically, as we approach more nearly to his grace, that struggle intensifies. The assault on his virtues are more focused, the wounds more intimate. As God cried out again and again in the Old Testament, would we not expect Christ to be tried by anger and fear?

Even perhaps, at times, to be overcome by human impatience and frustration?

Inner Purge

I apologize to those who find that this is “too much information.” I am more aware of my spiritual process than most, and part of the purpose of this blog is to help others understand the nature of personality. One of our biggest challenges is figuring out how to get our parts to work together, and encouraging discordant elements to seek opportunities elsewhere.


After the sudden departure of the embedded systems supervisor in November, after winter break the team arrived back at work to learn that the senior hardware designer had accepted a position elsewhere. The last two weeks have been a scramble, and I’ve been pretty brutal about testing others in assessing whether I believe that the company can survive.

Strangely, that process has been accompanied by a deep-rooted sense of joy. It has no specific source that I can identify.

So I had plenty to process last night, and found it hard to nod off. I had activated Microsoft Solitaire early this week, and got involved in trying to catch up on the daily challenges. I’m used to the Sudoku challenges which I often polish off in under ten minutes. Solitaire has an element of chance to it, and I found myself simply unable to complete some of the more difficult puzzles. I’m sure it’s possible, and I indulged myself in playing the same challenges again and again. Giving up around 11:30, I settled in to sleep.

As a man, I have found that the greatest temptation of unconditional love is (as I have alleged elsewhere) to have women offer you many opportunities to bind love to the world. Of course, it’s not that simple. Most of them want to bind that love to them personally, maybe extending to the children that will enter the world through them. I keep on sending out to them “Yes, thank-you, but what about all this?” I conclude with a projection of personality that makes them aware of just how deeply and broadly love is embedded in the world.

But we all dream, of course, and so I wake up in the middle of most nights to throbbing arousal. Until recently, a specific woman was always presented as the focus of desire. Early on they were media personalities linked to my deep past, but more recently there has been a kaleidoscope of ladies that I encounter at dance celebrations, yoga and in coffee shops, many of whom I haven’t even engaged in conversation.

I’ve been slowly boring through that facade, and recently encountered the admiration of a woman without form. She tried to hide from me, but I pinned her down and got a good look into her before turning my attention elsewhere.

Last night’s encounter was something similar. A powerful arousal without focus, just the sense of a feminine personality. I tried to pin it down to push it away, thinking about being able to function at work today, but it was too diffuse. Frustrated, I engaged in the mechanical process of release.

Then they began to arrive, woman after woman, as though the goal was to find someone to attach this passion to, a material manifestation that would be sympathetic to the goals of the originator. I simply pushed them all away, one by one.

As I laid in my bed afterwards, a powerful sense of unease entered me. I had a vision of another room, decorated with bright colors. I focused more and more intently, and then something emerged from the center of my chest – a sickening brown vapor that disappeared reluctantly into the ground.

The vision disappeared, and I was left with a powerful sense of energy along the parasympathetic nodes that line the spine. It was accompanied by a great warmth in the muscles lying over my shoulder blades. And I thought:

I’m getting my wings back.

A Matter of Character

In his final State of the Union address, Barack Obama eschewed partisan politics and stretched for the heights of statesmanship. Frustrated in his most heart-felt passions by the institutions that foment mistrust of government, his program of political renewal is built around appeals to cherished notions of our national character. While composed of practical steps – among them redistricting and campaign finance reform, voting rights, and extension of public education by two years – its illustrations were drawn not from  isolated instances of specific lives transformed by those benefits, but from abstract descriptions of relationships transformed when we act from hope and trust.

Obama supported the authority of his prescription by outlining the results of seven years of quietly doing what was possible while his opponents trumpeted doom. This includes enhanced international cooperation to isolate and weaken the agents of violence, improved terms of trade to protect workers and the environment, enhancement of personal security with health care reform, and revitalization of America’s manufacturing and energy sectors.

His restrained rhetoric is set against a collection of voices that trumpet conflict. This is not limited to the field of Republican presidential nominees – the growing strength of the Sanders campaign is fueled by harsh rhetoric targeting the financial elite. I believe that the popularity of those voices reflects the sense that for the average American, security is precarious. This is supported by polling that reveals that as regards their condition, 49% of Americans have become more angry over the last year.

As wages stagnate and costs rise, inevitably every choice faced by a working family is fraught with consequence. Any single error can set us on the hard road to poverty. In that state, our natural desire is to make our choosing less difficult – in much popular political rhetoric, to remove the impediments imposed by the state. Unfortunately, this logic appeals to the interests of those that siphon financial energy from the system. One of the Koch brothers, after the federal investigation of climate science racketeering by Mobil-Exxon, appeared in public to state that in many ways he is a liberal – he believes that businesses are most successful when the individual worker is free to make his own choices. As “success” to Mr. Koch translates to “higher profits,” what history has shown is that a family man will accept lower wages when facing competition from a younger, unburdened candidate. “Freedom” as understood by Koch translates to a lack of security that eventually pits every man against his neighbor for the benefit of owners.

In his book The Guardians: Kingman Brewster, His Circle, and the Rise of the Liberal Establishment, Geoffrey Kabaservice argued that the American century was birthed on the battlefields of WWII. For the first time, the American elite went to war, and came back appreciating the strength of the brotherhood that leads men to sacrifice their lives in service. It was this brotherhood that motivated the Veterans’ Acts that opened college and home ownership to the lower classes. And it was the clawing back of those gifts by that generation’s children that steadily weakened the lower classes as we entered the 21st century.

The fragility of the post-war Golden Age must lead us to ask: is Obama right? Is our national character one of quiet service, or a narcissistic struggle for privilege that slowly grinds down the weak?

Against the cynicism of the realist, Obama marshaled the words of the man that prophesied his presidency. In his last public address, Martin Luther King, Jr. promised his audience that they as a people would see the Promised Land. Obama borrowed not from that speech but from King’s Nobel Peace Prize address, in which the prophet heralded the ultimate victory of “unarmed truth and unconditional love.”

That may sound like another flimsy basis for policy prescriptions, but it actually leads to an analysis that shows the inevitability of our exit from this era of untrammeled selfishness. Throughout history, when economic activity expands into a new scale (from the city to the state, from state to nation, from nation to globe), those managing the expansion are able to erode the rights of those that created the technologies and products that allow the expansion. They do that by transferring knowledge to impoverished labor markets (or by importing cheaper labor). By selling goods back into the originating society, owners are able to reap enormous profits.

What ultimately happens, however, is that as wages equalize, poor workers motivated by the hope that they, too, would achieve the rights of their richer cousins gain the courage to organize to secure those rights. Having played out the cheap trick of producing in cheaper labor markets, the elite is brought under ever increasing pressure to actually increase the value of labor through organizational strategy. They then confront the truth that a competent and creative worker is the best source of operational improvements, and that personal security is essential to avoid fear that distracts her attention.

This has been played out again and again through history, in each of the transitions listed above. We now face the last transition to the global stage, and growing economic instability in  China suggests that the cheap trick has just about played itself out.

So if the morality of Obama’s appeal doesn’t resonate in the pragmatic mind, I believe that it yet reflects the wisdom of historical experience. His prescriptions are the investments that we need to make now to ensure that when the burden of poverty is leveled, we as a nation are prepared to lead the charge into a future of common accomplishment safeguarded by international compacts of economic and environmental justice.

While the elite may create panic with rumors of “one world government” and “black helicopters,” the past proves that the lower classes will eventually recognize their common experience, and organize to ensure that the government that creates the rules by which power is allocated will do so in a way that ensures that power servers that greater good, rather than the whims of the elite. All the lower classes need do is to marshal the courage to believe in the commonality of their experience (which is the root of all truth) and recognize that when they invest in each others’ power (loving unconditionally), they strengthen themselves.

God and Human

One of the more frustrating problems faith is trying to make sense of pronouncements that characterize realities that we cannot understand. In Christianity, a great deal of dialog, derision and good-old-fashioned blood-letting revolves around the concept that Jesus was at once both God and man. It is related to the problem of the Holy Trinity that was the most controversial issue in the Council of Nicea, and continues to divide the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.

To critical onlookers this probably appears to be ludicrous ado about nothing, merely an attempt to layer a veneer of respectability over a huckster’s mumbo-jumbo. But to those that take the program of Christianity seriously, the mystery is a real problem. Jesus clearly expected us to be more. That is hinted by his repeated pronouncement “Your faith has healed you.” It becomes more explicit when he tells the disciples “there is nothing I do that you cannot do yourselves” leading him to observe peevishly, when waken on a stormy sea, “Oh ye of little faith!” And of course, ultimately he avers to his students “Things even greater than these shall you do.”

Clearly, Jesus’s expectation was that he was only an existence proof, not a singular phenomenon.

So how do we become like him? What is this faith? What power does it allow to enter into us? And as Jesus demonstrated, how do we establish a permanent and continuous living with and through that power?

The key, I believe, is clear through Jesus’s teachings. He began with parables that characterize the unconditional and infinitely forgiving love of the Father. At the midpoint, he simplifies the Law as “Love your God, and love your neighbor as though he was yourself.” And finally, in the great struggle in Gethsemane, he conquers the fears of the flesh and surrenders himself fully to his love of the world. And in his resurrection, his glory testifies to the authority earned in his remaking of heaven and earth through the mechanism of his sacrifice.

So he is God and Human. But why God? Why the best, most powerful God? What is it about love that is so powerful?

To understand this, we have to turn to the realm of the Almighty, where the ethereal host evolves under different laws of physics. What we know is that angels do not have flesh. They are souls living in pure relation. What is common between their realm and ours is that some of those relationship are beneficial, and some harmful.

Two forms of relation are particularly potent. First is the relation of Death, which creates insuperable barriers between the angels, preventing them from entering in relation. Although there is a certain restfulness in death, by its very nature its grasp is difficult to escape. The second is Unconditional Love, which seeks restlessly to maximize the benefits of relation. It is a force that helps angels escape circumstances that suppress their expression, liberating them into mutually beneficial engagements that generate new and unexpected possibilities. As we are told, liberated spirits facilitate the spread of love by “singing” its praises.

In the Book of Revelation, John is brought into Heaven. While Heaven is not the Realm of the Almighty, but reflects its dynamic. Around a throne occupied by Unconditional Love, twenty-four principal angels are gathered wearing crowns. When the living creatures sing the praises of love, the angels are compelled to lay aside their crowns and bow in praise to the one on the throne.

Why is this so? If so powerful, why should love sit on a throne, isolated from us, guarded in fact by fearsome predators? That is not its desire, as revealed in the final Chapters, where no light and no temple is found in the city of God because love has been woven into its very fabric.

The problem is that when offered power, we think first of ourselves. Trapped here in this physical existence, full of pain and struggle, we use our strength to compel others to serve us. We violate the compact of unconditional love. We corrupt it with “sin.” To become as Jesus, we must surrender our self-concern. We must think only of others, and trust that they will concern themselves with us.

This was the compact that Adam and Eve sundered in the Garden of Eden. Given the task of tending God’s kingdom on earth, they thought of themselves. God tried for many generations to overcome that sin, but the gap was too great between his perfection and our fallen state. Jesus came down to experience that fallen state, to struggle with its frailty, to have his compassion sharpened on the point of our daily peril. It was only in the intimacy of the disease that healing could be given.

So this is how Jesus was both God and Human: he was a one-way street. Through him, only love came. Impervious to self-concern, no sin went back the other way. And through the humanity of his courage, love gave those he encountered the strength to turn aside from fear and accept the healing power of love.

And finally, in his encounter with death on the cross, love suffused that presence and turned it into the agent of peace. Death is no longer a final separation, but an agent that brings surcease when fear pushes us into violence. Having submitted death, the Prince of Peace is capable of cocooning us in love until we recall our better selves.

So this is the answer: in submitting to the teachings of Christ, we become gods in loving one another, and thus receive from each other the power to bring good into the world, and thus experience good to the limit of our capacity.