Need for Disorder

This devotion by Richard Rohr is another excellent example of the importance of paradox in life.

Order, Disorder, Reorder
Friday, July 14, 2017

by Richard Rohr

First the fall, and then the recovery from the fall, and both are the mercy of God. —Julian of Norwich [1]

Whenever we’re led out of normalcy into sacred, open space, it’s going to feel like suffering, because it is letting go of what we’re used to. This is always painful at some level. But part of us has to die if we are ever to grow larger (John 12:24). If we’re not willing to let go and die to our small, false self, we won’t enter into any new or sacred space.

The role of the prophet is to lead us into sacred space by deconstructing the old space; the role of the priest is to teach us how to live fruitfully inside of sacred space. The prophet disconnects us from the false, and the priest reconnects us to The Real at ever larger and deeper levels. Unfortunately, most ministers might talk of new realms but rarely lead us out of the old realm where we are still largely trapped and addicted. So not much genuinely new happens. [Emphasis added]

I see transformation and change occurring in three stages: order > disorder > reorder.

A sense of order is the easiest and most natural way to begin; it is a needed first “container.” But this structure is dangerous if we stay in its safe confines too long. It is small and self-serving. It doesn’t know the full picture, but it thinks it does. “Order” must be deconstructed by the trials and vagaries of life. We must go through a period of “disorder” to grow up.  [Emphasis added.]

Only in the final “reorder” stage can darkness and light coexist, can paradox be okay. We are finally at home in the only world that ever existed. This is true and contemplative knowing. Here death is a part of life, failure is a part of victory, and imperfection is included in perfection. Opposites collide and unite; everything belongs.  [Emphasis added.]

We dare not get rid of our pain before we have learned what it has to teach us. Most of religion gives answers too quickly, dismisses pain too easily, and seeks to be distracted—to maintain some ideal order. So we must resist the instant fix and acknowledge ourselves as beginners to be open to true transformation. In the great spiritual traditions, the wounds to our ego are our teachers and are to be welcomed. They should be paid attention to, not denied or even perfectly resolved. How can a Christian look at the Crucified One and not understand this essential point?

The Resurrected Christ is the icon of reorder. Once we can learn to live in this third spacious place, neither fighting nor fleeing reality but holding the creative tension, we are in the spacious place of grace out of which all newness comes. God is now in charge, not us.

There is no direct flight from order to reorder. You must go through disorder, which is surely why Jesus dramatically and shockingly endured it on the cross. He knew we would all want to deny necessary suffering unless he made it overwhelmingly clear.

–Richard Rohr.

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Assisted Suicide

I am including this review in the blog because the theme of the blog is paradox.  I was particularly intrigued by Lynch’s observation that “assisted suicide” is an oxymoron.  In this book, Lynch makes the argument that a self-killing necessarily does not involve another.  As a lover of incongruous juxtapositions, I was taken aback that I had not noticed it myself.  Good point Mr. Lynch!

The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal TradeThe Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade by Thomas Lynch
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There is much to like about this book. As a poet, Lynch is an excellent wordsmith. However, sometimes his wordplay exceeds his message and becomes distracting. At points the book is more clever than profound, but at other points the book is profound and important. The book was obviously written when Jack Kevorkian was prominent in the news as there is a portion of the book that is an impassioned argument against the oxymoron (his observation) “assisted suicide.” I would rate the book much higher if he hadn’t had several digressions from his topic and an unnecessary scatological chapter entitled “Crapper.” It reminds me of when comedians are at a loss for material and revert to bathroom humor. Lynch is particularly strong when he tells stories (e.g., the local celebrity who champions a drive to rebuild a bridge across a lake to the local cemetery), when he is being overtly poetic, and when he is writing of deeply personal matters such as the death of his mother. I am glad I read this book and recommend it to anyone who will ever deal with death.

View all my reviews

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Jesus: Human & Divine by Richard Rohr

At Peace with Paradox
by Richard Rohr
Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A paradox is something that initially looks like a contradiction, but if you go deeper with it and hold it longer or at a different level, it isn’t necessarily so. Holding out for a reconciling third, a tertium quid, allows a very different perspective and gives a different pair of eyes beyond mere either/or. You’d think Christians would have been prepared for this. Notice that Jesus in many classic icons is usually holding up two fingers as if to say, “I hold this seeming contradiction together in my one body!” Jesus is the living paradox, which, frankly, confounds and disturbs most of us. Normally humans identify with only one side of any seeming contradiction (“dualistic thinking” being the norm among humans). For Jesus to be totally human would logically cancel out the possibility that he is also totally divine. And for us to be grungy human beings would cancel out that we are children of God. Only the mystical, or non-dual mind, can reconcile such a creative tension.

That’s why Jesus is our icon of transformation! That’s why we say we are saved “in him.” We have to put together what Jesus put together. The same reconciliation has to take place in my soul. I have to know that I am a son of earth and a son of heaven. You have to know that you are a daughter of God and a daughter of earth at the same time, and they don’t cancel one another out.

All of creation has a cruciform pattern of loss and renewal, death and resurrection, letting go and becoming more. It is a “coincidence of opposites” (St. Bonaventure), a collision of cross-purposes waiting for resolution–in us. We are all filled with contradictions needing to be reconciled. The price we pay for holding together these opposites is always some form of crucifixion. Jesus himself was crucified between a good thief and a bad thief, hanging between heaven and earth, holding on to both his humanity and his divinity, a male body with a feminine soul. Yet he rejected neither side of these forces, but suffered them all, and “reconciled all things in himself” (Ephesians 2:10).

Adapted from Prophets Then, Prophets Now (CD, MP3 download);
and Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer, p. 178

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Sustenance not Protection

“However, as a person ripens in unsayable intimacies in God, they ripen in a paradoxical wisdom. They come to understand God as a presence that protects us from nothing, even as God unexplainably sustains us in all things. This is the Mystery of the Cross that reveals whatever it means that God watches over us; it does not mean that God prevents the tragic thing, the cruel thing, the unfair thing, from happening. Rather, it means that God is intimately hidden as a kind of profound, tender sweetness that flows and carries us along in the intimate depths of the tragic thing itself—and will continue to do so in every moment of our lives up to and through death, and beyond. ” James Finley, Adapted from “Ripening,” Oneing, Vol. 1, No. 2

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Luminous Darkness/Bright Sadness

“Our mature years are characterized by a kind of bright sadness and a sober happiness, if that makes any sense. There is still darkness in the second half of life—in fact maybe even more. But there is now a changed capacity to hold it creatively and with less anxiety. It is what John of the Cross called “luminous darkness,” and it explains the simultaneous coexistence of deep suffering and intense joy that we see in the saints, which is almost impossible for most of us to imagine.”

This daily meditation by Richard Rohr highlights another great paradox!

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Comfort in Paradox

“A paradox is synonymous with ‘apparent contradiction’ and thus amounts to a set of claims which taken in conjunction appear to be logically inconsistent.” According to this definition, paradoxicality does not entail logical inconsistency, per se, but merely the appearance of logical inconsistency. For a person who is plagued by the thought of the irrationality of faith, and the absurdity of the idea that logic must bow at the feet of the cross, I find joy and comfort in the paradox today.

–Chad Lawson (quoting Paradox in Christian Theology:  An Analysis of Its Presence, Character, and Epistemic Status by James Anderson)

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Better Than Perfect

The Theological Paradox for today:  If creation was created perfect, is the redemption of creation through Jesus Christ merely restoring creation to its previous perfection?  According to John Wesley (Sermon 59:  God’s Love to Fallen Man), God has made an even more wonderful glory for creation than if man had continued in original innocence and obedience.  In John Wesley’s words:  God “saw that to permit the fall of the first man was far best for mankind in general;  that abundantly more good than evil would accrue to the posterity of Adam by his fall; that if ‘sin abounded’ thereby over all the earth, yet ‘grace would much more abound’… .”  Wesley goes on to say:  “mankind in general have gained by the fall of Adam a capacity of attaining more holiness and happiness on earth than  it would have been possible to attain if Adam had not fallen.”  That leads to the question, was the original created order less than perfect?  Kudos to Seminarian/Theologian, Len Carrell for the response:  “No, that means redeemed creation is “better than perfect.”

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Naked Spirituality

In this world of morality preoccupied with sex, this title seems like an oxymoron; however, the terms are perfectly consistent. Richard Rohr’s meditation for today ends with the words: “Spirituality teaches us how to get naked ahead of time, so God can make love to us as we really are.”

When Adam and Eve were in perfect communion with God, they were naked. As they sought to accumulate things, they separated themselves from God. The Hebrew Scriptures are often used to teach an ethic of blessing to those who are righteous, but they can also be interpreted to emphasize blessing on those who are willing to “strip down.” Consider Abraham who is a prime example of faith. He was willing to give up his family and his country in reliance on God. He was even willing to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac, demonstrating that he put nothing between himself and his relationship with God.

What would Jesus say? Jesus did not preach a “prosperity gospel” as some might like to say. That is much closer to an oxymoron than “naked spirituality.” Jesus taught about the problems, not good news, of prosperity. “Do not store up treasures for yourself on earth… .” (Matt. 6:19, all Bible quotations NRSV) “You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Matt. 6:24b) “Therefore, do not worry, saying, … what will we wear?” (Matt. 6:31) “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” (Luke 6:20b) These are but a few examples.

The example Jesus gave after the story of “The Rich Young Ruler” is particularly appropriate to this point. After Jesus told him: “Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, … ; then come, follow me.” (Luke 18:22)  The man became sad for he was very rich. Jesus then said: “Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Luke 18:25) It has been said that Jesus was describing a practice that would have been known to the crowd. A camel who was fully loaded could be taken into the city after the main gates were closed by removing the saddle and other goods and having it go through the pedestrian night gate on its knees. This stripping of the camel of its worldly goods (burdens) would allow it to fit into the city. The camel could not take its goods into the city. The goods were a barrier to its entry. Without its goods, the camel was “free” to enter the city. Is it going too far to say the “naked camel” could enter the city?

Father Thomas Keating, one of the founders of the spiritual discipline of Centering Prayer, speaks of the divine therapy that takes place during the prayer. As we go through life in this materialistic culture, we build up around ourselves personas and defenses that separate our true selves from God. This true self surrounded by these barriers forms a false self. It is only once we are able to surrender these false selves to God and allow God to peel these layers away that we become what God created us to be. Imagine the skins of an onion being peeled away. What is left could be honestly called our “naked” true self.

This ties in with the idea of Spiritual/Not Religious previously discussed. What sense does it make to have a relationship with someone without getting to know them? What sense does it make to be spiritual with barriers between us and God? What sense does it make to make love with your clothes on?

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Hermeneutics of Humor

Hermeneutic might be one of the least funny terms one could imagine; however, what is funny and what is not funny is “in the eye of the beholder.”  Consider a theology professor who is quite comfortable with the term hermeneutic and who regularly announces that his last statement was funny as he chuckles to himself and the class springs to not so spontaneous but usually sincere laughter.  What was funny?

The term “hermeneutic” derives from the Greek mythical character Hermes who is most well known for being the messenger of the gods.  Hermes, aka Mercury in Roman mythology, did not generally deliver humorous messages, but is the patron of orators, literature and poetry.  As such, Hermes is the god of all aspects of communication including language, speech, metaphor, wit and ambiguity.  His particularly “unfunny” job is to carry souls of the dead to Hades (unless you laugh at death like Chuck Norris).  Hermes is also known as a trickster.  The study of hermeneutics is the study of theories of interpretation.

What is funny?  For something as ubiquitous as laughter, it is amazing how difficult it is to define humor.  The best approach to define what is funny is to give examples of those things that are found to be comical.  Those things that do not seem to belong together can induce laughter.  Placing a theological term next to a term describing levity might seem to be such an example.  What could possibly be humorous about hermeneutics?  Some might say theology is about as serious as you can get and should be approached with solemnity, preferably dressed in black and with a sour face.

If solemnity is a requirement of theology, then Jesus was no theologian.  Consider the vision of the sanctimonious individual who goes so far as to strain gnats out of her soup but swallows a camel.  You have to agree, that is a funny image.  What about calling somebody a “whitewashed sepulcher”—the whole idea of painting a tomb to make it pretty is funny.  How about the way Jesus would turn trick questions back on the questioners?  Jesus used humor to make important points in effective and palatable ways.

Unfortunately, humor has too often been used in cruel ways.  Consider the common phrase:  “Just kidding.”  All too often that phrase comes after a harmful and malicious statement.  Why are those statements considered “funny?”  Perhaps it is because of the type of humor where something true is expressed that is often taken for granted or is not generally expressed.  Think of those jokes or stories where someone might chuckle in response and say, “That’s so true.”  We generally appreciate the wit and perception of a comedian who states the obvious in a way that we have not previously considered.  Some examples of this are George Carlin’s famous routine about the difference between the harsh imagery of football (played on a gridiron) versus the sweet, pastoral imagery of baseball (played on a field); or Ellen DeGeneres routine about flying on a plane where 4 inches of difference in reclining is the difference between comfortable and safe.

An all too common corollary of the “true statement not usually expressed” is what might be called “bathroom humor.”  Unfortunately, all too often a lazy comedian will resort to use of profane statements because those statements induce laughter.  All those conversations that were once said to be taboo in “polite company” have become comic material because they are things not usually discussed, but are generally true.  The truth or falsity of the statement combined with the out-of-place obscenity tends to induce laughter.

For better or for worse, “bathroom humor” appears in the Bible.  The Hebrew Scripture is replete with examples that scholars have recently identified.  Suffice it to say that “feet” and “laughter” are pointed to as euphemisms for things not generally discussed in polite company.  Put next to the Hebrew love of puns, Jewish comedians have a long history.  Perhaps so many years of practice explains why Billy Crystal is so funny (to quote the aforementioned theology professor, “that was a joke.”)

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Spiritual/Not Religious

This paradoxical phrase is much overused and perhaps discussed too much.  Question number 1:  What is meant by spiritual?  If the answer is a warm fuzzy feeling at a beautiful sunset or a conviction of the presence of God in the presence of beauty, what is being said is “being moved to think of God.”  That is a good thing, so now what?  Is God all about feeling warm and fuzzy?  What is the response to those feelings?  Putting aside all the theological questions of general revelation, what is done with this feeling of spirituality?

Question number 2:  What is meant by religious?  Most would probably say something to the effect that they don’t want to belong to “organized religion” and perhaps give many reasons why churches are hypocritical.  What they are really saying is what Groucho Marx is famous for saying, “I wouldn’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member.”  Seriously, isn’t this religion-bashing over generalizing?  Can all religion/churches be painted accurately with the same brush?  Most likely, most church members could point to plenty of churches they wouldn’t want to belong to as well.

Isn’t saying “I’m spiritual, but I’m not religious” like saying “I’m in love, but I don’t want anything to do with him/her?”  When someone falls in love, they want a relationship.  They go to the prospective lover’s house and ask deep questions like “what is your favorite color” with the idea of getting to know the person better.  Being satisfied with the “spiritual feeling” is like being in love at first sight and never finding out their name–sad.

Of course if Mr. or Ms. Spiritual considers the Bible at all, they might consider what God has said.  First, God loves us whether we like it or not.  Second, God’s desires are summed up very simply as “love God, love neighbor.”  While some might argue they can love God all by themselves; they can’t plausibly argue that they can love their neighbor alone.  In order to love truly, one has to be in relationship. Being “spiritual” alone is not being in relationship and is not truly loving God or neighbor.  Plenty of people don’t like the term religious–just call it relationship and experience true love.  Share the love of God with other like-minded persons and learn the joys of true love.

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