Wednesday, August 7, 2019

The Masquerade

 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean” (Matt. 23:25-26).

Jesus lambasts the Pharisees seven times in Matthew 23 for being “hypocrites.” The word hypocrite comes from the Greek hypokrit─ôs, meaning a “stage actor; pretender, dissembler” (Source: Online Etymology Dictionary).

Apparently in Greek theater, an actor played several roles in each drama. Each role had a different mask, and as the actor changed roles, he/she changed masks to portray the new personality. So, a hypocrite is someone who changes masks to appear to be something different from what they really are.

Jesus calls the Pharisees hypocrites because they display the mask of holiness and piety on the “outside of the cup and dish,” but their inner lives are “full of greed and self-indulgence.” In order to be “pure in heart” (Matt. 5: 8), they are admonished to “first clean the inside of the cup and dish.”

Throughout their writings, Thomas Merton and Richard Rohr examine the concept of the “true self” and the “false self.” In simplistic terms, the true self is the stamp of God’s image on our souls along with all the accumulated shadows, and the false self is the different masks we put on to present to the world an image of ourselves that we think is more acceptable, more desirable or more lovable.

We all need masks to deal with reality. Different roles that we play in life like Greek actors on the stage, require different masks. The problem arises when we come to believe more in our masks than in our true selves. When this happens, we develop a false self.

This is my "spiritual director"
mask. Notice the Celtic cross
around my neck.
For example, I taught at the university level for over 30 years. Many students addressed me as “Professor Clymer.” At first, I was quite pleased with this appellation. I could strut around like a peacock with the illusion that I was somehow more important or more intelligent than other people.

I call it an illusion, because my mask belied my humble background, my longings for acceptance and my need for God. I had come to believe more in my role (mask) as a professor than a human being made in the image of God. Many years later, my illusion was ripped from me through a midlife crisis and intense inner work.

I could name many other delusional masks that I have worn, some more lightly than others. Parker Palmer, in his book On the Brink of Everything, describes well my inner work and its usefulness for embracing our true selves: “Contemplation is any way one has of penetrating illusion and touching reality” (p. 57).

The Pharisees presented an illusion of piety. They could not see the reality of their own shadow selves. They were supposed to be reflecting God’s plan for the world and his people. Instead they were “full of hypocrisy and wickedness” (Matt. 23: 28b). That is why Jesus criticized them so severely. He was trying to “penetrate their illusions” and get them to be in touch with their “reality.”

Palmer claims that any devastating loss can serve as a catalyst to make one touch reality and destroy illusions. He calls himself a “contemplative by catastrophe.” I have had catastrophes that have shattered many of my illusions, but I have also become much more self-aware through spiritual disciplines.

What role do you play that is the most tempting with which to identify and create a false self? What has served you the best in shattering your illusions of self-importance? Catastrophe or contemplation, or both?

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Despite all the Differences: Love!

I recently viewed a German documentary on YouTube called “Trotz aller Unterschiede: Liebe!” (In spite of all the differences: Love!). It was the story of three couples who defied all conventional wisdom, fell in love and got married. 

The first couple consisted of a woman who was 6’4” tall married to a man whose height only came to 5’4”; a one-foot difference. The stark contrast between their heights shown in the video walking hand-in-hand through the streets caused many stares and whispers. If their heights had been switched, with the man being a foot taller than the woman, there wouldn’t have been as many gawks or whispers. The couple had two children and at the time of the interview were happily married for 18 years.

The second couple was a 38-year-old woman married to a 20-year-old man. She was his high school teacher, and after he graduated, they fell in love and got married. This couple causes nearly as many snickers and open-mouthed stares as the first one. People assume they must be mother and son until they see them hand-in-hand or with arms around each other. Again, if their ages had been switched with the man being the one who was 18 years older, although unusual, would have been more acceptable to society. Because of her age, the 20-year-old man had to be resigned to the fact that it would be a childless marriage. Despite much against them, their marriage is thriving. 

The third couple is made up of a man who is a truck driver and a woman who is the head doctor at a reputable hospital in a large German city. Interestingly, few people notice when they walk hand-in-hand through the streets. But when they explain their professions to new acquaintances, the concealed gasps are even more pronounced that those for the first two couples with great physical differences. 

Although the Central Europe that I am familiar with does not have a caste system, there are certain expectations about one’s place in society that are more firmly entrenched than in the USA. For example, a construction worker I knew in Switzerland was criticized (gossipped about) for driving a Mercedes Benz. Although there was nothing to prohibit him from driving this vehicle, it was considered to be too much of a luxury for position. He was trying to feign a higher station in life than his job dictated. These unwritten laws tend to keep people in their place. 

So imagine the difficulty of rationalizing a woman doctor, a LEAD doctor, marrying a truck driver. The differences in status were beyond imaginable for German society. The doctor’s mother, in particular, was unrelenting in her criticism of this uneven social coupling. Yet their marriage works.  Both love what they do for a living and have much non-job-related interests in common to keep their free time full of shared activities. 

In spite of these huge differences, and in spite of their society’s perceived notions of how couples should be formed, these three survived glares and gossip to have thriving marriages.

Perhaps we could learn a lesson from these couples. Things aren’t always as they seem. Things don’t always have to be done as proscribed by conventional wisdom. Love conquers all stereotypes, prejudices, expectations and social norms. As the Beatles sang, “All you need is love,” and as Jesus said: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34).

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Projection: of Logs and Specks

Projection is a psychological concept was made popular by the great Swiss psychiatrist and thinker, Carl G. Jung. The idea is that we take the negative emotions and behaviors within ourselves and “project” them onto others. For example, If I can’t stand someone’s behavior, I am probably projecting on that person my own unresolved issues with that behavior.

I find it fascinating that Jesus identified the phenomenon of projection nearly 2,000 years before Jung: “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3 NRSV) The context is in judging others when our own behavior is just as bad. We criticize little things in our neighbor’s behavior, when our own unresolved attitudes and behavior are even bigger than what we are criticizing in our neighbor or someone else.

The phenomenon of projection is as old as humanity. The two most common emotions that are projected are anger and fear. We are told as Christians that we are not to be angry, even if all of us are to a certain extent. We repress the emotion until we can no longer hold it in, and we explode. Or we project it on to other people. We are also told as Christians to “fear not,” but all the messages we hear, especially in the political arena, cause us to fear. So, we repress our fear or project it on to others.

I personally repressed my anger for many years until one occasion when it exploded against my innocent daughter. I had to do some serious self-examination to realize that anger was capable of doing great physical harm to other people if I didn’t check it. This was done by serious inner work. Unfortunately, few people take the time to do such inner work and continue to repress and project.

In my reading of the political scene in the USA, it seems to me that those on the left project their anger on those on the right; those on the right project their fear on those on the left. No one is willing to examine their inner souls to see what unresolved issues within they are projecting on to others, so it ends up with both sides yelling at each other.

Beyond anger and fear, much of the projection we do comes from self-loathing. Our US American culture constantly sends us messages that we are not good enough. Of course, there are endless amounts of products available to make us feel better about ourselves. I thought that when the authoritarian generation passed away and the new “I love you forever” generation would raise their kids, that self-loathing would pass away. Not so. Our culture has found endless ways to make them feel as negative toward themselves as my generation did.

I’ve been reading Richard Rohr’s The Universal Christ and I found this quote: “. . . if you nurture hatred toward yourself, it won’t be long before it shows itself as hatred toward others.” This is the worst kind of projection and is so prevalent in our current cultural scene. The amount of hatred both openly and covertly expressed toward others currently is cause for concern. And it comes from unresolved self-hatred.

Jesus’ said: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (Matthew 5:8) In order to obtain a “pure heart,” one that is free of projection, we need to do serious inner work; contemplative work. The book I wrote with my sister, The Spacious Heart has many suggestions on how to do that inner work. May your find your soul and “see God.”

Saturday, April 20, 2019

My Morning Walk: Chronos or Kairos?

This morning my walk around my neighborhood was a Chronos walk. It could have been a Kairos one. Let me explain.

The Greek has two words for time which are Chronos and Kairos. Chronos is time measured by the clock in seconds, minutes, hours, days and years. Many modern watches and smart phones contain a chronometer, which measures the precise amount of time one spends on a particular activity. The word is a combination of Greek time Chronos and meter, an instrument of measurement. For years joggers, runners and walkers have worn them on their wrists to measure the time of their exercise. I remember purchasing my first wristwatch with one in about 1980, a real breakthrough at the time!

Kairos time, on the other hand, refers to an opportune moment, a breaking into one’s normal routine with a God moment; an inspiration.

I began my walk today in the penumbra of early dawn. By the time I reached the halfway point, the sun’s rays had lightened my path. For the past months I had been walking in total darkness. It was nice to be able to see once again the landscape of trees, green lawns and mountains on my morning walk. I wasn’t sure I would be able to take my walk this morning because of the unpredictable weather of spring.

Yesterday was a complete washout. Threatening clouds hung over our activities with high winds announcing an approaching cold front. Tornado watches were posted as the angry sky dumped torrents of rain on our roofs and on our enthusiasm. But the new day dawned with a full moon hanging on the horizon, cool temperatures, calm winds, and plants bursting in song and bloom wherever I turned.

In my writing, in my conferences and with my spiritual companions, I tell people to take meditative walks. To stop and “smell the roses.” To meditate on scripture, on a song or poem. To drink in God’s wondrous creation through the changing seasons and unpredictable weather patterns. To be and not just to do. To allow God moments to break through.

This morning I passed numerous Dogwood and Redbud trees in full bloom. The grass was the greenest it had been in months. The dirt and the grime of everyday life was cleansed from the previous day’s rain. The world was fresh and newborn.

There could have been many Kairos moments on my walk, but I was bound to Chronos. I had set my watch to measure the time, and my smart phone to map my path with GPS, to monitor my pulse and my pace. There were moments when I wanted to get closer to a tree or a flower, or to breathe in the freshness of the morning, but I wouldn’t allow myself to interrupt the walk. I was drawn to meditate but driven by numbers.

How often our lives are ruled and ruined by Chronos. How often even those of us schooled in the ways of Kairos fall back into our time-dominated routines. In this season of celebrating new life and resurrection, I challenge each of us to become more drawn to “opportune moments” and less driven by our schedules.