Tag Archives: Religion

christianity and culture… the shadow

I have been sitting with this writing for months and months, not to find the right words as much as to come to accept what these thoughts might mean and what effect they might have. First, it must be said that part of growth, of maturity, is to be able to see the shadows, even the darkest ones, in the things that you love – and even if the love is uncertain because the shadows are so dark, to be able to find some light in the things we at times want to disown. It is paradox, and paradox is life, or I should say Life with a capital L. Sometimes the hardest truths hold the greatest paradoxes.

I hang on to Christianity, sometimes by the skin of my teeth. I wouldn’t say Christianity hangs onto me, as I don’t think Christianity would really want to keep the likes of me around. I tend to feel a bit “bad for business” at times, which is likely why Life has me in the hospital, doing my caring there, and as a spiritual director, watching and witnessing those who go through the often-overwhelming growing pains that come with spiritual maturing. There is fruit here and so I haven’t thrown in the towel. Sometimes people really need a companion for the journey.

I have spent a lot of time with many who want nothing to do with Christianity – monotheism generally, but Christianity especially. When we talk, I wonder why I would still call myself a Christian (I’m still working this out) and I often have to qualify it (at least outside the hospital) with, “I would consider myself a panentheistic Christian, to be specific.” I have no defense for Christianity or what it has done. I have no evangelical fiber in my being, meaning I don’t really care if people become a Christian or not. It might help them and it really might not. I do care if people find something that works for them and for the world and if there is enough substance there that they can mature spiritually into places of union, love, and nondualism with Life and the world around them. To me, this is the Christ at play. I guess that’s what keeps me coming back and what I think Christianity has to offer the world, though the division and exclusion that Christianity historically has offered is quite the opposite (more on that in a moment). Christianity can offer a unifying, creation- and physical world-celebrating vision of divine indwelling that no other religion quite offers. But I would have to say that most people miss this because they cling to the shadows as though the shadows are the “good news.”

The shadows. Yes, there are a few, and there is no way that I can list them all out. The atrocities done in the name of the church, under the corruption that comes with power, or even the “good intentions” of winning souls for heaven. There is one great shadow that, to me far out does them all. And it is the reason for my caution in speaking to the truth.

Christianity in its historical trajectory has been a culture-slaying religion. It was founded by orphaned people who didn’t have a home, oppressed, cast out, and enslaved. Traumatized. From the Hebrews to the early Christians, the people of Jehovah were on the move and very often under some other nation’s dominance. Egyptians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Romans. This is the history of the Christian religion. And to people who don’t have a home, heaven sounds like a very good place. Traumatized people have to do something with their trauma. It became their message that they brought to the nations: “The Earth is not your home. Your home is in Heaven.” You are a citizen of heaven. No Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female. Et cetera, et cetera. In this worldview, any culture or group of people that was at home with their land, with their people, their gods, and their ancestors was a considerable threat. And if somehow, missionaries could get people to question their own belonging and latch onto the “belonging in the family of Jesus,” the battle was won. Look through the history accounts and see how many accounts of truly indigenous expressions of Christianity there are, or mission attempts that honored the local people’s cultures. The early Celtic church may be the closest you will get.

So Christianity and the spread of this religion has been about destroying cultures in the name of being a part of the culture of followers of Jesus. “Believers” if you will. When something like “Christian counter-culture” is so at the heart of a religion, it seems unrealistic that it will ever not be there. It goes the same for politics and Christianity, something that always has been connected. Christianity is a political religion, ever since it was made the official religion of the Roman Empire. Tied to the hip with the ruling class. I think some of these things are changing in some places, and for the better, but I wonder if Christian communities that celebrate various cultures as unique expressions of faith and connection with God are thriving. Many that are growing fast often still cling to this message of dominion. “Every knee will bow, every tongue confess…” The messages of winning the battle against the world and finding our home with Jesus are sung and celebrated in churches the world over every Sunday. It truly breaks my heart to see it still happening even today.

I ask you to look for the truth in this. It might not be all true, but there is some here, as there is in all things. Wonder to yourself about your response. It can be easy to defend, deny, or shut out those things that are just too uncomfortable to bear… Christianity in it’s growth and expansion has been a religion that has demand people set aside their culture and beliefs of place and follow “the one true God” (often this being Western Culture). Another response is often to have more reason to not wanting to have anything to do with Christianity. Fair enough, I say. But wonder too, whether anything can be ALL bad, and perhaps try to find the redemptive places where healing and union in love is still taking place.

There is freedom in being honest about our allegiances and also the traumas of our history. Trauma that is not honored and acknowledged often gets inflicted on others as another form of trauma. If we want to grow into maturity and awareness, we need to look at the things we love and see the shadows. Otherwise, we turn the other way and pretend that certain uncomfortabilities are not taking place. We become co-conspirators then by virtue of our silence, much like the many religious people looking the other way in the midst of the Nazi genocide. We must do the same with our Christian history of culture destruction. Only then can we move into a future of unity, inclusion, and spiritual maturity.

Advertisements

The One thing I would tell everyone

Kat asked me last night what I think is the most important thing that people need as far as spiritual, emotional, and health support. This is something we think about a lot in our soul crafts of spiritual support (me), yoga teaching (her), and resilient community building (both). I thought long and hard about what I have learned so far in my many, many conversations with patients and spiritual seekers, people in pain and people who are thriving.

There are so many stubborn people. Men and women who desperately cling to how they have always done things, how their church tells them they should think and believe, how the supermarkets advertise, or how their families pressure them. They resist change and they suffer. I want to grab their faces in my hands and ask, “Do you really feel this way? Do you really think that? Does eating this or that really make you feel good?!? BECAUSE YOU DON’T HAVE TO!! Listen to your heart. Listen to your body. Follow it’s lead.”

People need to be affirmed, honored and celebrated that they can trust their heart, that they their personal experience of Divine love is valid and worth something. Ironically to follow the crowd, to feel the pressure of the system or the hierarchy to think and feel a certain way without the affirmation of one’s uniqueness is a profoundly lonely experience. How many pastors really want to say the things that they feel they must say so as to not make their parishioners too uncomfortable? Why do we twist, bend, argue, and force ourselves to believe in a God or a way of living that when we really listen to our hearts doesn’t feel good or compelling at all?

Your unique and personal experience of your soul, of Spirit, of transcendence, is worth something. It is important and valid and true to you. It is written on your heart. I want to know about it. I don’t want to know what someone else has told you that you have to believe, I want to know what you feel, wonder about, and live by. And I hope that at least in my company, you will feel free, unfettered, and fully welcome.

May you recognize in your life the presence
Power and light of your soul.

 May you realize that you are never alone,
That your soul in its brightness and belonging
Connects you intimately with the rhythm of the universe.

 ~John O’Donohue

Idealizing transference and religion

Had some thoughts after church today, coming from worship and also from many experiences as a chaplain. As one who gravitates towards psychoanalysis (especially Kohut’s theory of Self Psychology) and spiritual direction (especially the tradition of the Christian mystic), there are some things that stand out to me differently from when I did my theological training in seminary. As one who has merely scratched the surface of Self Psychology, I may butcher the theory as I reflect on this, but I hope it provides some usefulness as we think about God, religion, and a deeper awareness of the Self.

Self Psychology breaks down the three basic self object needs into mirroring, idealizing, and twinship. Mirroring is hearing from caregivers that I am wonderful, special, and valuable. Idealizing is having someone I can rely on who is a image of “calmness, infallibility, and omnipotence.” Twinship is having those who I can feel similar to and be in like relationship to. When these needs are not met sufficiently, an individual suffers from self object need derailment and will seek to meet these needs in increasingly unconscious ways – self object need transference.

It is the Idealizing transference that I pick up on a lot with religion. It makes sense to me and it fits when it is minor. It can be helpful, good, and stabilizing to the self to give God

There is significant benefit in seeing the God who exists both in light and darkness, in presence and in absence.

the role of a perfect, stable, faithful foundation. After all, to make this transference with a human makes for a much quicker “frustration” as a human is soon to let us down at some point. But this frustration is what we need to form a health sense of self. In religion this idealizing transference can go overboard, with some potential life-shattering results.

Essentially, an idealized transference happens when there is a low sense of self worth, an ingrained feeling of not being able to do it on my own. Often fathers and elders meet this basic idealizing need, and in recent history of suppressed emotional expression, working away from home, and at times, narcissistic tendencies, many men and women suffer from a deep woundedness in this area. If we have not had good relationships with idealized figures who show their lack of perfection and therefore encourage us to hold ground in our self, we will constantly be looking for others (God/Jesus included) to be that foundation.

Sadly, and often, life happens for people and their faith is shattered because God doesn’t seem to pull through for them. This is very real and frankly, many of our worship songs don’t prepare us for this. I see this in the hospital, and it is one of the reasons I say to people, “I have come to learn that often the answers we easily come to in church, don’t really fit in the hospital.” There is significant benefit in seeing the God who cannot be so easily pinned down and understood, the God who is at times unexpected (the Wild Goose in the Celtic tradition), the God who exists both in light and darkness, in presence and in absence.

This is such a scratching of the surface, but it gets me thinking. Here’s a really good from a therapist/mother’s perspective: Demigods on Eggshells.

Dig your well deep

It is not naive or small-minded to settle on one spiritual path or rest with one tradition or religion. There is a time in life for being skeptical, for questioning everything, but it is only good for a time. It doesn’t do a lot of good for the long run. The ego wants to keep us in a place of questioning, just as it wants to keep us in a place of surety.

We must dig a well deep within our tradition. Learn the tools of the other wells, yes, but find the well we will dig or we will never get to the life-water that is deep under the surface. To dig many shallow wells in many traditions never gets us to the water. When we finally get deep down, we find that there is only one water… one life. But we have found it with our well. I will meet you there in the underground aquifer of love, Truth, and union.

When we come out the other side, when we cross over that line of being done with the skepticism, we recognize that that time was good, just as the time for literalism was good. In the place, we see that we have much farther to go on the journey, many places to find ourselves, and it is ok that we are not there yet.

Rohr – Christians have a phd in “either/or”

Thank you for your words, once again, Richard. Here, he talks about the all-too-common dualism in Christianity (about the 7:00 mark). From the Evolutionary Christianity website.

Richard Rohr on Evolutionary Christianity

Other highlights…

  • how did we go from the inclusive son of God, who spends time with tax collectors, sinners, and prostitutes into an exclusive religion in his honor? (44:00)
  • all creation is incarnation, not just in us, or in Jesus, but all the way back t0 15 billion years ago.
  • If it’s compassion, it’s universal compassion.
  • If only we can stop seeing ourselves merely as a religion in competition with, and see ourselves as a gift, as all religions are a gift to us. If we can just be Jesus to the world and let the cards fall where they may (as Mother theresa said). If Christians could just be Jesus, rather than making him into a product or an opponent, always one who builds boundaries instead of bridges… that would be the evolution of Christianity and a much more gracious world. (54:00)