Sunday, September 23, 2007

late night rambling

Maxims Reference:

"All mortals tend to turn into the thing they are pretending to be." -C.S Lewis

"What people call insincerity is simply a method by which we can multiply our personalities." -Oscar Wilde

I'm stuck, asking "who am I really?" The parts are many: my parents' son, my siblings' brother, Shelly's friend, Greg's friend, Sarah's whatever-the-heck-I-count[ed]-as, ___________'s friend, AAA Matthew, the generous son of God , the sinner filling his head with noise to silence God and have 'just this sin.' What model gives this any form? Spectrums, graphs, percentages, or solutions? Am I leaping or crouching? Who are the characters/actors/agents in this story? The trite summations of life and God I dispense to others have lost their resonance. Are they now merely insufficient for a more evolved person or have I hardened my heart?

Disabused of a comforting pride—one that told me that I stood at the center, being touched on all sides: that I was the complete man—all I have is this awareness of a mind always lying to itself, conspiring against faith and love. How much deceit has seeped into my life, underlies my thoughts, and strengthens the sinful pillars of my mind? I'm resigned too, sad because of an intervening conviction that these existential crises are a mark of immaturity/irresponsibility to others and God.

What is motivating this all? Will digging deeper help? Is this all mere vanity before God and you, affected weakness concealing a sinister and deliberate treachery, seeking pardon for the tormented hypocrite rather than the prideful one? I answer my own questions, of course.

I imagine the scoffers condescending still, "You homo curvatus in se. Buck up! This is the 'doing' faith. Your mind filthy only because you wish it so; hands idle save for wringing."

But I protest, "All I do is make the sub-conscious conscious. I've made the incision; I'm performing the surgery. There's bleeding, such disarray; It's not time to sew up now! Oh how I pray for virtue not managed nor planned but flowing from the Spirit, of vice extinguished, not merely explainedvice not demanding sympathetic countenance but evocative of a righteous purifying anger.

My heart feels dead and it's not taking orders; there will be no repentance today. There is a reaching coming from some will but its only organ-of-use is that damned mind: offering an explanation of sin and capable of manifesting only shame when something in or about me longs for redemption.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Unwell in a New Way

Last semester, for my Pastoral Care and Counseling class, I read excerpts from “The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction” by Eugene Peterson ( author of The Message). His thoughts on inadequacy and false humility have stuck with me, becoming a weekly and sometimes daily critique on my flights from God.

As someone with an ideological commitment to orthodoxy and “conservatism” as well as an acute and weighty (but sometimes numbing) sense of condemnation because of my moral failings, I juggle imperatives, asking myself questions with conflicting answers.

What I can say is that some of the following thoughts shifted my thinking in a lasting way: at times, making me face God when “humility” and biased guilt would have me do otherwise.

From “The Contemplative Pastor”:

“People don't feel they are very good at the Christian life. They are apologetic and defensive about their faith. A feeling of inadequacy is characteristic of adolescent life. When a person is growing rapidly on all fronts - physical, emotional, mental - he or she is left without competence in anything. Life doesn't slow long enough for him to gain a sense of mastery. The teenager has a variety of devices to disguise this feeling: he can mask it with braggadocio, submerge it in a crowd of peers, or develop a subcult of language and dress in which he maintain superiority by excluding the larger world from his special competence. The variations are endless; the situation the same: the adolescent is immature, and therefore inadequate. And he is acutely self-conscious about this inadequacy.”

“That is exactly what the pastor meets in people of all ages in the church. They feel they aren't making it as Christians. This is a bit of a surprise because in the past the Christian church has more often had to deal with the Pharisee - the person who feels he achieved adequacy long ago. People today are more apt to be uneasy and fearful about their Christian identity.”

“That process seems natural an innocent - as natural and innocent as the feelings of inadequacy in the adolescent and his consequent admiration of competence. It is more likely, though, a new disguise for an old sin - the ancient business of making idols. God calls people to himself, but they turn away to something less than God, fashioning a religious experience but avoiding God. The excuse is that they are "inadequate" for facing the real thing. They proceed with the awareness that, far from sinning, they have acquired the virtue of humility. But the theological nose smells idolatry.”

At this point, Google Book’s anti-copyright infringement protections thwarted the rest of my quote harvesting. Until I can check out the book, here are my notes from the rest of the chapter:

-The pastor can’t treat this inadequacy as an unfortunate feeling to be removed by psychological or moral means. The pastor should see it as a sign of sin—an avoidance of personal responsibility in the awesome task of facing God
-Second Characteristic (the first being Inadequacy) : Historical Amnesia
-People are not in tune with 20 centuries of tradition
-People are not of the persevering type—they easily led by fashions
-It is a manifestation of our nature, just like Inadequacy because it acts like a clever ruse for masking sin. It is a sin of denial that denies dependence on God and interdependence on neighbors and a counter-insistence that the ego be treated as something God-like.
-The quest for “identity” and integrity, while appearing innocent, actually harbor sin.

I needed to read all of these things. Inadequacy—reaching but not grasping—and dejection typify so much of my life and, now I realize, so much of my irresponsibility. I’ve been the Pharisee and I’ve played the woe-to-me Christian, but it wasn’t until I read this that I saw them as symptoms of the same disease. I don’t mark this realization as a cure; I am still an adolescent (may I hope an older one?) but I am guarded against seeing virtue in sin.