Faith and relevance in the 21st century

Category: Richard Rohr (Page 3 of 4)

Richard Rohr on the separate self

Source: read a long time ago that you can’t give away what you haven’t got. Here Richard Rohr says something similar: what you don’t transform you transmit. Bryant Myers also says that we always witness to something. He meant that in terms of our Christian witness in working with poor communities, but it also applies to our own lives. Along these lines, check out the piece by Richard Rohr below:

The separate self is the problem, whereas most religion and most people make the “shadow self” the problem. This leads to denial, pretending, and projecting instead of real transformation into the Divine.

It is really shocking how little Jesus is shocked by human failure and sin. In fact, it never appears that he is upset at sinners. He is only and consistently upset at people who do not think they are sinners. This momentous insight puts him centuries ahead of modern psychology and right at the center of rare but authentic religion. So much so, that most Christianity itself never notices or addresses this pattern. It is an “inconvenient truth.”

Early-stage religion is largely driven by ego needs: the need to be right, the need to feel morally superior, the need to be safe, and the need to project a positive image to others. At that point, religion has little to do with any real search for God; it is almost entirely a search for oneself, which is necessary—and which God surely understands. But we do this by trying to repress and deny our actual motivations and goals. These are pushed into the unconscious and called the shadow self. The shadow is not the bad self, but simply the denied self, which is totally operative but allowed to work in secret—and never called to accountability from that hidden place.

In my 42 years as a priest, it is clear to me that most people (not just religious people) focus on their shadow self—to keep “feeling good about themselves”—and their ego enjoys a perpetual holiday. It is a massive misplacement of spiritual attention. You can be a prelate or priest in the church with a totally inflated ego, while all your energy goes into denying and covering up your shadow—which then gets projected everywhere else. What you don’t transform, you will transmit.

A benevolent universe

Source: gem from Richard Rohr. It reminds me of a post I wrote some time ago asking whether or not the universe is a friendly place. I have no doubt it is.

“If God is Trinity and Jesus is the face of God, then it is a benevolent universe. God is not someone to be afraid of, but is the Ground of Being and on our side.

If anyone doubts whether we will be basing the Living School in solid, but broad and inclusive, Christian doctrine (“the Perennial Tradition”), they need only read our foundational second theme that underlies much of my work and the work of the master teachers that we are inviting to teach at the Living School.

If we want to go to the mature, mystical, and non-dual levels of spirituality, we must first deal with the often faulty, inadequate, and even toxic images of God that most people are dealing with before they have authentic God experience. Both God as Trinity and Jesus as the “image of the invisible God” reveal a God quite different—and much better—than the Santa Claus image or the “I will torture you if you do not love me” God that most people are still praying to. Such images are an unworkable basis for any real spirituality.

Trinity reveals that God is the Divine Flow under, around, and through all things—much more a verb than a noun; relationship itself rather than an old man sitting on a throne. Jesus tells us that God is like a loving parent, who runs toward us, clasps, and kisses us while we are “still a long ways off” (Luke 15:20). Until this is personally experienced, most of Christianity does not work. This theme moves us quickly into practice-based religion (orthopraxy) over mere words and ideas (orthodoxy).”

Evil Must Disguise Itself as Good

Some of the latest Richard Rohr daily reflections have been focusing on evil and goodness in the world. they are taken from his Spiral of Violence CD. This one really spoke to me about the subtleties of evil and some of the strategies of the Enemy. Reminds me somewhat of C.S. Lewis’ brilliant Screwtape Letters. I have highlighted the bits that are most profound to me. Check it out below:

When the first level of the spiral of violence, “the world” (group selfishness), is not exposed for what it is, and the second level, “the flesh,” generates out of control (murder, stealing, rape, lying, adultery, greed), then a third level of fully justified evil always emerges. These are systems like oppressive governments, penal systems, legal systems, military systems, economic systems, and all the other systems we create to control disorder and violence. They ordinarily have a complete life of their own. These can, of course, be good too; but when you worship them, when you let them have total power, when you refuse to critique these systems, they can wreak the greatest havoc in history—and they have. Any system that says “bow down and worship me” (Matthew 4:9) is always diabolical, whether it be church, state, or “the market.”

The devil’s secret is camouflage. The devil’s job is to look very moral! It has to look like we are defending some great purpose or cause, like “making the world safe for democracy” or “keeping the bad people off the streets.” Then you can do many evils without any guilt, without any shame or self-doubt, but actually with a sense of high-minded virtue. Evil must disguise itself as good (Thomas Aquinas), and until Christians start understanding that, their capacity for “discernment of spirits” (1 Corinthians 12:10) remains very minimal. They are easily duped and always misled.

Some of the themes that come out of this for me are the ends justifying the means, a sense of moral superiority (even ‘God on our side’), the politics of division, and the sense that we are inherently right and ‘they’ are inherently wrong. How I have to watch this in my own life.

Another classic from Richard Rohr

How easy it is to lose our spiritual hunger when we are so satiated in our society, when we have so many choices that we suffer from choice anxiety and we don’t feel a need for God. In that vein, here is some more wisdom from Richard Rohr that I want to take on board:

Beginner’s mind is a posture of eagerness, of spiritual hunger. The beginner’s mind knows it needs something, just as children do. This is a rare feeling in today’s treacherously seductive culture. Because we are offered so many things that are immediately satisfying (albeit in a superficial way), it is hard to remain spiritually hungry. We give answers too quickly, take away pain too easily, and too commonly stimulate ourselves with nonsense. In terms of soul work, we dare not get rid of pain before we have learned what it has to teach us. Much that we call entertainment, vacations, or recreation are merely diversionary tactics,and they do not “re-create” us at all. The word vacation is from the same root as vacuum, and means to “empty out,” not to fill up. One wonders how many people actually have such vacations!

We must be taught HOW to stay with the pain of life, without answers, without conclusions, and some days without meaning. That is the path, the perilous dark path of true prayer. It is how contemplative prayer differs from the mere recitation of prayers (which can actually be another diversionary tactic instead of any kind of self-emptying).

Adapted from Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer, pp. 43-47

The freedom of loving your enemies

More from Richard Rohr on the revolutionary nature of Jesus’ life, and how freeing it actually is:

Shame and honor, and the maintenance of these divisions, were, in fact, primary moral values in the culture Jesus lived in. As a result, required retaliation was the rule in Jewish culture, as it has been in most human cultures. Without it, a man lost all honor and respect.

For Jesus to walk into the midst of that and to say, “Do not retaliate” is to subvert the whole honor/shame system (Luke 6:27-35) in one blow. People who heard this would wonder, “How do I find my self-image, my identity? How would I have any respect?”

Jesus is pointing radically to God: Who you are in God is who you are, nothing more and nothing less. In that free space there are no ups and downs, no dependence upon families and villages and friends for self-esteem, upon wealth or good societal standing for our inner value.

You might think Jesus is asking too much, or being unrealistic; but he is actually freeing you from all of the emotional ups and downs, the ego dramas, that create almost all human violence, self-hatred, and unhappiness.

Adapted from Radical Grace: Daily Meditations, p. 371, day 384

I get frustrated when people say that these type of teachings by Jesus were not what he really meant, are meant in a metaphorical way, and are not to be taken literally. That’s rubbish. Why would he say them if he didn’t want us to live them out? The reason we shy away from teachings like this has more to do with the type of God we believe in than with what God is actually like. We want a God who will not bother us, a God we can make in our own image. It has been said by a few people that God made us in His image and we have been trying to return the favour ever since. Thankfully the liberating gospel of Jesus shows us otherwise.

How men change

Recent daily emails from Richard Rohr have been looking at how men change. This one spoke right to my heart:

We men try not to be “touched” or changed by things.  “Don’t  let anything go too deep, neither love nor pain…. Keep cool!” is the message we hear. Yet we really don’t survive our many kinds of wars. They now say that the long-term effects of any violent war lasts for four generations as post-traumatic stress in various forms.  This would mean that we are still suffering from the Civil War, the Great War, the Second World War, and the wars every ten years since.  Is it any wonder we have so many neurotic and unhappy people? Human beings are not meant to kill one another.

Boys are taught to win. We men can’t admit to anything that can’t be configured as winning. We have to pretend it’s not true and make another group or individual the loser, which for some strange reason is supposed to make us the winners.  It becomes so clear to me as I grow older that people who change, and keep changing, are the only people who grow up.  And we grow up when we allow events to touch us, influence us, and quite simply move us beyond our fortified home base. – Adapted from ‘How Men Change: A Thin Time

God help me to be a person who changes.

Plugging into life

In a day when everyone is connected, there is more evidence that we are actually more disconnected than ever. Our greatest human need is for a different kind of connection – connection with the other, but most importantly, connection with the Other. Star-struck lovers gaze into each other’s eyes, longing to be one with each other; in our Western culture, when we engage in conversation, we know when someone is listening when they are looking into our eyes; and when you want someone’s attention, you try to find eye contact. Richard Rohr also talks about a connection with animals. It is not for nothing that we call a dog our best friend. Many elderly people live much healthier lives for having a dog as a companion in their lives. Rohr talks about looking into the eyes of an animal like a dog and sensing a connection with another creature of the universe.

Much of our behaviour, in fact I would probably argue all of it, is a symptom of our desire for connection. Whether our behaviour be good or evil, it is all about our desire to find life, to transcend the purely physical part of our existence. Years ago, John Smith emphasised that the Rolling Stones song Satisfaction was not about sex and trying to ‘get some girly action’ at all, but about a frustration at not finding something deeper. U2 sang about not having found what they were looking for – in their own lives and in the injustice in the world – despite ‘believing in the kingdom come’. Believers in God or not, we long for something more. Our lives are about trying to find a connection with something higher, something greater than ourselves. And the fact is we will never find it fully until that day when all things are renewed and there will be no more striving after futile things. We look through a glass darkly; now we know in part; then we shall know fully, even as we are fully known (1 Cor 13:12).

Our problem with our desire for connection though is that we often do it by trying to find our self in someone else. We get married believing that our spouse is there to fulfill all our emotional needs, and when he or she doesn’t, we get disillusioned and look elsewhere. The next relationship is sure to fail as well until we come to realise that it is not about finding the right person but being the right person. I am so thankful for an older male pointing this out to me back in my 20s. In our desire for love and connection, we go too far and use other people. Jonathan Burnside says ‘the essence of a perverted relationship is getting information about someone else, and then working out what I want to do, so I get what I want’. I am getting better at not doing this but I still do it way too often.

We are inherently selfish people. We live as if it is my way or the highway. We actually believe at times that if everyone would just do things my way the world would be a much better place. But this only leads to more disillusionment. It has been said that you only get disillusioned if you have illusions to begin with. How true is that? What disillusionment then gives birth to is resentment. Someone else has said that ‘expectation is the mother of resentment’. We expect someone else to behave in a certain way, and when they inevitably don’t, we get resentful at them. Who do we think we are? I have found that to be true time and time again in my life. You would think I would have learnt it enough by now that it would have sunk in. But no, when I have my own expectations of what I want to do on a particular weekend at home and my wife tells me her thoughts, that old feeling of resentment kicks in yet again.

The word ‘resent’ actually means to re-experience pain. A friend of mine has said that resentment is the poison I drink to kill someone else. When you think of what is going on when we are feeling resentment towards someone, it’s maddening isn’t it? We are actually choosing to go back and feel the pain of the anger again and again. Often the person we are feeling the resentment towards doesn’t even know about it. Yet we still have the attitude of ‘I’ll show them!’. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

The human desire for connection is a curious thing. We desire more than anything to be close to someone but at the same time we so often choose to lock ourselves away in isolation and separateness from the ones closest to us. Resentment is a classic way of doing this. The old saying that it is the ones we love the most who we hurt the most is as true as anything that has ever been uttered. The irony is that in trying to connect, we actually willingly disconnect, depriving the other person of ourselves. It is then that we are often tempted to misconnect with another in an inappropriate and destructive way. I talked about this in my previous post on affairs.

Our desire to connect is often masked as a desire to find happiness. Our society is built around the individual’s desire or even demand to be happy. Our advertising is specifically designed to create artificial desires in us to make us consume products we believe we actually need. How often do we wonder how we ever got by without mobile phones or without email. But the fact is we did, and quite nicely (don’t get me wrong; I am not knocking mobile phones or email. They are wonderful inventions, but, like anything, if relied upon inappropriately, they will inevitably disappoint). In trying to find happiness in life, we often seek connection in a misconnection. That which we think will solve all our problems actually turns out to make us feel more apart from and more isolated.

I wonder what all this says about what we really believe about life? When we choose a direction that is so clearly not constructive for our relationships, I wonder if the truth has ever made that longest of journeys from our head to our heart. It is possible to believe something intellectually, to ‘know’ it in your head, but not have a deep conviction about it. It is only when a truth is lodged deeply in our heart that we really know it. Deep down we all have a longing for relationship, ultimately a relationship with God. It is the essence of who we are. We are made by a God who is in his very being, relationship. That’s why coming to faith in Christ often feels like a coming home. When I had an experience of this in my late teens, my overriding sense was that this is what I’ve been looking for all my life. Not that I had often even been consciously aware of it. But when I found it, it was like one of those ‘a-ha’ moments when I had a realisation of something I had always known. It was a bit like the scene in Return of the Jedi when Luke Skywalker tells Leia that she is his sister, and she looks into the distance and quietly exclaims “I know. Somehow…I’ve always known.”

Nature abhors a vacuum, and so does our soul. We simply cannot survive with our souls unplugged, just hanging out in the nothingness of a seemingly empty universe. Our human desire is to be plugged into life and love. When we love we have a clearer sense of what life is all about. It is then that we find what our souls have been looking for all our lives. It is then that we know joy, in humility and submission. It is about surrendering our ego, our arrogance, and our self-sufficiency. Augustine said that our hearts are restless until they rest in God. Jesus bid those who are weary and heavy-laden to come to him and find rest for their souls. This is where we find life, in resting in him and finding out how to live right. When Martin Luther King asked a colleague on one of their freedom marches if she was tired, this old lady said calmly, “my feets is tired but my soul is rested.” She was plugged into life. She had found her true connection, and she was living the dream. God help me to do the same each day.

Christmas reflection 2010

Singer Jackson Browne – who does not profess a Christian faith – laments the mad consumerism that overtakes us even more at Christmas than it normally does. In his song, The Rebel Jesus, Browne says the following:

Well we guard our world with locks and guns

And we guard our fine possessions

And once a year when Christmas comes

We give to our relations

And perhaps we give a little to the poor

If the generosity should seize us

But if any one of us should interfere

In the business of why there are poor

They get the same as the rebel Jesus

Jackson Browne sympathises with the treatment Jesus gets for raising awkward questions – the questions no one wants to hear, the issues that no one wants to face. Julian Assange would also sympathise with both Browne and Jesus right now. But most of us would rather have it easy. It is the troublemakers who raise these questions, and the easiest way to deal with our insecurity of not knowing how to handle them is to shut them up. We do it with our children too when they constantly pester us with that eternal question, “why?”

Jesus knew the same ridicule, from the beginning of his ministry when he was almost thrown off a cliff for his provocative comments to the religious leaders (Lk 4:29), through to his murder at the hands of the authorities. Even when he was unaware of it, Jesus knew criticism and rejection. With no room at the inn for his parents, the Son of God himself was forced to be born out the back of a pub amongst the smell and grime of farm animals.

Christmas is not a nice story. It has nothing to do with the nativity scenes we see on our Christmas cards or in most of the Christmas paraphernalia in Christian bookstores. Richard Rohr explains it well in the following piece from his Preparing for Christmas series:

Jesus identified his own message with what he called the coming of the “reign of God” or the “kingdom of God,” whereas we have often settled for the sweet coming of a baby who asked little of us in terms of surrender, encounter, mutuality or any studying of the Scriptures or the actual teaching of Jesus.

This is what I am inviting you to this Advent. But be forewarned: the Word of God confronts, converts, and consoles us—in that order. The suffering, injustice and devastation on this planet are too great now to settle for any infantile gospel or any infantile Jesus. Actually, that has always been true.

What we call the Incarnation, God becoming a human being, becoming one of us, strikes directly at the heart of evil and corruption in the world. God becoming human looks evil in the eye and takes it on without flinching. As Bruce Cockburn sang it so brilliantly, it is God “kicking the darkness ‘til it bleeds daylight”.

Christmas is a time of mixed emotions for many people. For some it is a wonderful time of creating happy memories with families, while for others it is a time when, as a pastor of mine says, the poor are poorer and the lonely are lonelier. Whatever it is for you this year, know that it is a time when the Creator of the Universe came running towards us with arms outstretched, as a helpless baby, vulnerable and defenceless. Know also that he lived a life of perfect love, and then died, once more with arms outstretched, to expose evil and to take our sin upon himself. But know especially that that wasn’t the end of the story. Defeated in the eyes of the world, he then defeated death itself when he rose from the grave, inaugurating the kingdom of God into history – a kingdom in which we are invited to work with him to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with Him on the journey.

When God Almighty walked the earth, he was known as the friend of sinners. The outcast and the poor flocked to him because he loved them as they were. People who feel like they are on the outside – people like Jackson Browne – are those he welcomes:

Now pardon me if I have seemed

To take the tone of judgement

For I’ve no wish to come between

This day and your enjoyment

In a life of hardship and of earthly toil

There’s a need for anything that frees us

So I bid you pleasure

And I bid you cheer

From a heathen and a pagan

On the side of the rebel Jesus

If you are one of these people sung about in The Rebel Jesus, or if you feel like you are on the outside, Christmas is for you.

May you have a blessed, wonderful, and meaningful Christmas. May you know his love more deeply, so you can live more meekly, and share more widely in the wonderful privilege of working with the King of Kings who became the Man of Sorrows, to bring the kingdom of love, justice and peace to this ailing planet. The Author of Life is the Giver of Life. As we give gifts to each other this Christmas, enjoy them and, as Richard Rohr would say, remember above all not the presents but the Presence!

Sweet baby Jesus, no crying he makes. Really?

I love people like Richard Rohr who are so warm and Christlike, and who just say it as it is. I am tired of the way Christians have gone along with the sanitised ‘sweet baby Jesus, no crying he makes’ version of Christmas that we have been fed. The reality is far from that. Let Richard Rohr explain it better than I ever could:

Jesus identified his own message with what he called the coming of the “reign of God” or the “kingdom of God,” whereas we have often settled for the sweet coming of a baby who asked little of us in terms of surrender, encounter, mutuality or any studying of the Scriptures or the actual teaching of Jesus. 

This is what you are invited to this Advent. But be forewarned: the Word of God confronts, converts, and consoles us – in that order. The suffering, injustice and devastation on this planet are too great now to settle for any infantile gospel or any infantile Jesus. Actually, that has always been true.

Orthodoxy and orthopraxy

For a long time now I have been thinking of the tension in living Christianly between right belief and right action. I have been writing notes for an article over the last few years called ‘Christ or Creeds’. In the church I grew up in there was a heavy focus on believing the right things – as long as you believed that Jesus was God and that God raised him from the dead, you were a Christian. After all, that’s what it says in Romans 10:9.

As has been aid before though, we cannot ‘cherry-pick’ verses and passages and form them into doctrine on their own. The Bible needs to be read in terms of its meta-narrative, not in terms of systematic theology ie. taking themes from different passages throughout the Old and New Testaments.

Rowland Croucher makes the point that, of all the Christian creeds we have, none of them talk about love. None. They all talk about what we believe, but apparently we don’t believe in love and living that out. John Smith also pointed out many years ago that the Gospels state once that we need to be born again, but those same Gospels have Jesus saying no less than 87 times, “follow me”. Ours is an activist Gospel.

Now please don’t get me wrong. I believe in belief. I think it is highly important that we believe correctly about who Jesus is, for this informs our actions. But the evangelical church has placed too much emphasis on creeds and right belief instead of right action. And too often we have created a dualism – separating belief from action. Jesus would never have countenanced such a thing. For him there was no dualism. Relationship with God was living it out. After all, that’s what James says – faith without action is dead (James 2:26).

The Christian church (and that includes me) has for too long focused on being right rather than being loving. As I have done a bit lately, I’ll leave the last word to Richard Rohr:

Where has this obsession with believing correct dogmas and doctrines gotten us? Presently, the Roman church, and fundamentalists of all stripes, are right back into it. It creates great dramas on both sides. Maybe that is why God is humbling us at this time.  The obsession with being right and having the whole truth has not served the Gospel well at all, nor has it kept us humble and honest. 

If you go to the four Gospels and read what Jesus actually taught, you will see that He talks much more about the “How” (practices which we ourselves must do) rather than the “What” (which just allow us to argue and try to be verbally right).

From Emerging Christianity: the conference recordings

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