America: Land of Denial

In these relevant and poignant words Robert Bly lifts up literature, art, and poetry as our best cultural weapons against the toxic denial that’s eating at the soul of our nation.  Sadly, the humanities have taken a beating within our nation’s colleges and universities. This only magnifies the need for a sense of urgency among our most creative individual and thinkers.

“It’s possible that the United States has achieved the first consistent culture of denial in the modern world. Denial can be the considered as an extension- into all levels of society – of the näive person’s inability to face the harsh facts of life…

We have establish with awesome verve, the animal denial as the guiding beast of the nation’s life. The inner city collapses, and we build bad housing projects rather than face the bad education, lack of jobs, and persistent anger at black people. When the homeless increase, we build dangerous shelters rather than face the continuing decline in actual wages…

Earnest Becker says that denial begins with the refusal to admit that we will die…Death is intolerable. To eat, shit, and rot is unthinkable for those of us brought up with our own bedrooms. We want special treatment, eternal life on other planets, toilets that will take away our shit and its smell…This mechanism of denial, once established by the longing not to see death. . .becomes rooted in our whole way of being. We specialize in not seeing what the deficit and rapid use of oil will do to our grandchildren…

…In this situation, art and literature are more important than ever before. Essays, poetry, fiction, still relatively cheap to print, are the best hope in making headway against denial. The corporate deniers own television. We can forget about that. There’s no hope in commercial television at all. The schools teach denial by not teaching, and the students’ language is so poor that they can’t do anything but deny. School boards forbid teachers in high school to teach conflict, questioning authority, picking apart arguments, mockery of news, and corporate lies.

…Great art and literature are the only models we have left to help us stop lying. The greater the art the less the denial. We don’t need avant-garde art now, but great art…Eating bitter means to turn and face life. If we deny our animalness, our shit, and death, if we refuse to see the cruelties and abuse by [corporate] executives, presidents, and sexual abusers, it means we have turned our backs on life. If we turn our backs on life don’t be surprised if we kill the poor, the homeless, ourselves, and the earth. Getting rid of denial, then means getting used to the flavor of “bitter,” getting used to having that flavor of bitter truth in the mouth.”  

From The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart, by Robert Bly.

 

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Texas Governor Urging Pastors to Support “Bathroom Bill”

Yesterday I wrote a about Christianism and it’s heavy hand in US politics. Some of my clergy colleagues may not agree with applying this term to fellow Christians.  I recognize that there are many Christianities.  We come in a variety of flavors, so to speak.  But there is a distinct difference when political leaders move to legislate restrictive and discriminatory policy in the name of any religion.

Texas Governor, Greg Abbott, recently acted in a way that bears all the markings of Christianism.  Dallas CBS affiliate reported that Robert Morris, Pastor of Gateway Church in Southlake, Texas, was asked to urge his massive, multi-campus congregation to influence their state representatives to vote for the controversial “bathroom bill.”  The Texas Senate has already passed the measure, but Texas House Speaker, Joe Straus, has been opposed to such move, saying it will harm the state’s economy. Religious leaders speak on public matters all the time. So, what is the problem here?

Abbott has been known to post scripture and Christian based content to his Facebook page. But there are numerous Christians, including myself, that do not support legislation that sets apart or reduces any group for any reason, including the LGBTQ community. I am particularly concerned when a politician maneuvers to legislate such discrimination, hide behind religious beliefs and then call on mega church, or any church, pastors to do the dirty work of stirring the emotions of their congregations over a problem that doesn’t exist.  This is Christianism, which is just another form of fundamentalism.

I know that many of my fellow clergy are taking note of this and are having meaningful dialogue with their congregations regarding difficult issues, especially when the issues directly involve ostracized people.  But we need more.  I believe the conversation must expand through relationship building, education, and calling what the likes of Gregg Abbott and Robert Morris are doing for what it is; attempting to define public policy according a narrow “religious” viewpoint.  There is nothing to say people of faith cannot act on their faith in the voting booth.  But there is a boundary between the secular state and religious ideology for a reason. Keeping that separation in place prevents us from becoming a theocratic state.

*The image below was recently posted on Gregg Abbott’s Facebook page along with the biblical citation for Isaiah 14:27, which is about God’s prophetic promise to defeat Israel’s oppressors. I find this ironic given the recent bill he signed banning “sanctuary cities.” 

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Pope Francis on Walls and being Christian

Today Pope Francis reminded the world that building walls isn’t Christian.  Donald Trump took this personally.  But Pope Francis got it right.  The Judeo- Christian texts are filled with instances of God breaking down walls, removing barriers, and lifting veils.  Nothing- not even the powers-that-be, as the Apostle Paul reminds us-  can separate us from the love of God.  This is not metaphorical for Paul.  The Christian faith is about community.  We can’t have authentic community when barriers stand between us, especially those built by fear mongering politicians.  Putting up a wall between nations, especially in the 21st century, runs counter to all our ancient texts proclaim.

For centuries, political hopefuls have co-opted the Good News, corrupted it, disembodied it, and gutted it of its economic and social implications in order to posture themselves for more power.  Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are merely the latest in a long line of offenders.  But they didn’t get where they are on their own. They had help.  They have been aided and abetted by “Christian” leaders and their followers for a very long time.

The Gospel of Jesus is, both, spiritual and social.  They cannot be separated. God’s justice is for all. It is distributive. It is not limited one faith over another.  And it certainly isn’t about this business of building walls.

If the question is whether or not Pope Francis as any business calling out potential world leaders for misrepresenting the Christian faith, the answer is: absolutely he does.  In fact, a leader in his position had better call them out or further risk the integrity of the church universal.

There are seismic shifts occurring in religious communities everywhere.  People of all faiths are tired of their religion being used as a justification for terrorism, or a shield for some to stand behind, while they deny the civil rights of other, or as an excuse to carry out xenophobic and oppressive policies.

So, a word of gratitude for Pope Francis and those like him who muster the courage to spoke for the voiceless in our world and calling out those who misrepresent the Good News.

**I recognize the Pope lives behind walls as do many people.  The point is that bridges send an entirely different signal than barriers.  Our world needs a different kind of leadership.  I think the Pope is expressing, in part, what that kind of leadership looks like.