Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Doing of the Thing

Between the Creed and the Tears

This blog was in part driven by Bob Bennett's song..

The Doing Of The Thing
Words & Music by Bob Bennett
© 1991 Bright Avenue Songs
P.O. Box 1578
Cypress, CA 90630-6578
Reprinted/Posted by Permission
All Rights Reserved

Fleeting glimpses of you everywhere
Like sunlight at dusk
Through this ocean of trees
And me in speeding car
Headlong into the future
Your perfume through this poison musk
My eye on letter "E"

Mistake the nodding of the head
And all the words that can be said
Mistake the very song I sing
For the doing of the thing

She in white dress
He in rented clothes
Bargains are struck
And promises made
But soon we find those people
Are already dead or dying
They just exist in photographs
That show how far they've strayed

Mistake the nodding of the head
And all the words the can be said
Mistake the wearing of the ring
For the doing of the thing

And in that quiet cemetery
Where theories go to die
It's not a question of believing
It's not a question of the lie
It's the distance that we will not cross
For the fear of suffering
Between the creed we speak so easily
And the doing of the thing

Broken souls covered in broken skin
No resolution on the video screen
And half a world away
Somebody does our bidding
Because we like to pray
With our fingernails clean

Mistake the nodding of the head
And all the words that can be said
Mistake the sympathy we bring
For the doing of the thing
The doing of the thing

Though I knew the good, I do not the good. Paul in Romans

So why this persistent discrepancy, this gap between intention & outcome? James Hollis

Ultimately we are far more than the fictive fractal stories we tell about ourselves or are told. In the larger Kingdom story we are part of a restoration narrative that can only be done in community. This is the doing of the Church. This doing has an undoing dimension to it as well. Together, the seemingly factitious stories our inner man tells about itself or reveals each and every day, now becomes cohered into something redemptive and beautiful and good and true.

In the larger shadow of modernism’s narrative, we have unwittingly submitted our ultimacy to this autonomous assessment via rational means. So indeed, we do have an over arching oracle & story that animates and empowers our defining. It is this constant disaffection with ourselves as reliable sources for any certainty (postmodernity) but remaining in the posture that this assessment is the most accurate of any we may experience.

The kingdom doing of the thing offers to us sacredness to our rumination. For indeed we do think we are. (Descartes). But is the miracle that alone, that projection of thought upon the chaordic experiences of each day are not enough to quell the fears that we are not enough? Is this sense of lack a divine message as to our truer nature? May my inner sense of dislocation actually be a message of something greater & truer beyond myself? Could my very questions be the answer?

As we enter an age where our world as whole seems to be facing a reckoning and summons, we are beginning to grasp that the coming together of life cannot merely be the task of an individual for themselves alone. Although moral action and its consequences do indeed rest upon us an individual’s, can the “doing of the thing” ever really be done or sustained by the individual? My holy hunch is no. I cannot do this alone for I am not alone. One could read that sentence many different ways. I am not alone means someone is with me. I am…not alone might also mean that the very ontological nature of my existence cannot be realized without the corporate other. The doing of the thing is not a solitary task. It is s Kingdom assignment. Being is as much about submission as it is obedience. Being is as much about service as it is accomplishment. Being is as much about acts of love as it is acts of presence.

We are sitting in the cross hairs of a great smack down between myths. As believers, we are discovering how malevolent the shadow side of the modernism’s penchant for the separation of the observer and the observed. In offering this unique authority to the individual’s task of discovery, we have disempowered the Kingdom currency that animates and projects a truer self upon the cosmos. This is not an "I am" as much as it is a "we are" therefore I am.

The Kingdom naming of the “body” cannot be a mere coincidence. We are “parts.” We do not merely function “better” when we work as a body, we are “not” alive and true to or natures when we are operating outside these created portals and designs for humanity. It is not merely a better way but as they said in the first century, “The Way.” It is a mystical and dangerously frightening way for it demands we begin to deposit with others all these fictitious stories about ourselves and our world into and upon the hearts of others. In this depositing redemption begins to take place as we see that we are indeed particular selves. We have never been totally autonomous, however, & this projection upon our deepest parts is in error.

In the Kingdom doing we see the shadow stories begin to be dismantled and redeemed. In this dismantling of the shadowed story, we discover we are potentially capable of such beauty and wonder (name numerous grand & wonderful art works and accomplishments of humankind) but simultaneously offering to the world a brokenness that puts forth Hiroshima’s, German Prisoners camps, Poll Pot, slavery in the US, what we did to the American Indians, etc...

In the Kingdom space we see emerging a beautifully bejeweled book with a reader who is the Spirit. When we pause He comes to the center of the room and begins to speak. In this space, even the manifold darkness has no ultimacy over the larger story. In this space where we truly wonder about the doing of the thing (for purposes of integrity) and reluctantly offer up our hidden agendas and deepest darkest heart felt desires. In this space, our singular stories begin to be transfigured, redeemed and a way of knowing re-emerges that not only acknowledges some degree of healing but is healing and wholeness itself.

What we discover is that alone, I am incapable of defining my inner world with enough glory to empower the doing of the thing. Deep within my own historic past, the shadow of forgotten and unrealized factitious narratives rule and reign over the very truth I so vociferously proclaim to others on Sunday or in my testimony to the saints. But in honest and open moments of contrition and broken openness, I see that there indeed another within me. This “other” is hidden and yet present. He knows this realm in others and unless and until I acknowledge my deepest yearnings and my deepest lacks, the shadowed part of us all goes unmasked so our story has two powerful themes never acknowledged and the redemptive power and grand nature of this restoration has no real presence in my life for I do not need redemption that deep, healing that profound, restoration that complete. I am an isolated self hoping to get to heaven, worrying about my own salvation, wondering if the “the Divine Other" looks my way.

In the kingdom doing I spend little time in this autonomous posture absorbing the love of the Father for I am finding it wherever I go. I discover the doing of the thing was never meant to be something I did to accumulate my own worthiness before the Father. The grace I am offered is truly the very “thing” I need to engage this duplicity of shadowed stories even to the point where I see my own righteous projection as part of the story that is yet to be submitted. Could it be that the doing of the thing is my admission of my inability to do the thing?

As I started out with Paul, let's return to the statement, "I do what I don’t want to do." Yes…let us say this daily. "I do what I don’t want to do." Why? I am a being only when I cease to define myself alone. I am only beginning to be alive and true to my very creation when I am a being with other beings. We are here together. I am not here alone. Why? I am not made to sustain this awareness of self without a deep cynical malaise coming over my consciousness. I am too much to bear for myself. As I draw nearer to the core of my being, without community I become a Sartre, a Nietzsche and many others in the last few centuries, full of disgust about my own moral dishonesty. Like Dostoyevsky’s Underground Man, I am an anti-hero.

The social sciences have in part done what the Church was always meant to do. They have given us humans a glimpse into the inner workings of our fallen natures. They have offered up countless narratives (& anyone studying in these fields knows the myriad of philosophies and perspectives on social sciences) that tell us of our agendas, our own personal sense of the ridiculousness in ourselves. What the social sciences have done is give us a great glimpse into the story of humankind without any real reason to do any better. What is the point if there is no point?

The question now is, “So what is the point?”

How do we live in this tension where we are now able to feel and know on a certain level our inability to know? So we begin to return in some ways to the more powerfully mythic postures of our ancient pre-modern family of humankind. We begin to acknowledge the limits of our rationality and self knowing and possibly sit in awe and mystery of this paradox of knowing.

The fact we can know our noble truer selves and simultaneously know our most hideous and fallen selves is overwhelming on some level. Can this ability be a curse or a blessing? The answer may indeed be hidden in the question itself. To know my desire for love and goodness and to do it not is a curse. To be told that indeed there is built within the very nature of creation a prevenient presence and power that undergirds me on a deeper level called grace, that already know this would happen and be experienced is to have a brief respite for clarity of the soul.

The Kiss of Heaven

Can I take a few moments in my life to ponder this type of story that offers me grace in the midst of this dilemma which begins to rename the life I live from a problem to be solved to a mystery to be lived? And it will always be mystery. How do I name the mystery? How does this naming allow me to live within it ebb and flow with a degree of integrity and noble beauty? I contend it is this submitting of my story to the larger narrative of worship.

It is worship’s narrative forming power that offers me the grace I need to be the antidote to modernism’s cynical posturing. It is worship in all its broadness and fullness that coheres a larger story into which I am placed that gives me this grace. The grace I need to exist if only truly offered and manifest in this body. I am not meant to be isolated for I am not truly who I am without placement into this larger narrative of doing. I am not doing things in life to win salvation or redeem myself. This mystery of life appears not to be something individuality can glory in with true gusto on their own. Once again worship is the truest celebration of my being. Worship is my being, along with the whole of creation, honoring, and celebrating our complete imbededness into a gorgeous tapestry of nonfiction that celebrates our “unknowing” through a corporate leaning into the paradox. Rather than avoid it, we, like David Dark, celebrate all the questions as an act of worship. This life is sacred. That is what I beginning to know at a deeper level when I am doing the thing with others. I find it is my truest self that is being loved. My acts, although essential to me as they are me engaging the world, I am more than what I do.

To begin to grasp that I am more than what I do is to discover the grace to begin to be restored in my inner most parts. This kind of spiritual work is an act of worship and one that coheres me with the body. I cannot do this alone.

There is an inner distance in the soul that represents a large chasm. This is the distance between the belief and knowledge of what is true, good, beautiful and loving and the doing of the thing. I am convinced that much of my Christian upbringing has been a highly cerebral experience where much of my beliefs were stuck up in my head. I thought about them daily, wrote them down, took classes to understand them better, talked to my friends countless times about them, corrected those I thought in error of what I knew to be true, and finally assumed by understanding of what I know to be true drew me close to God. I have been in deep error in this regard.In fact, I am convinced that my excessive knowing, discussing, debating, and studying may very well have taken over the very heart of my supposed faith – and the doing of the thing.

It is clear that I am able to deceive myself into believing that my awareness of certain truths, my pondering of their impact on my life and their implications for the rest of the world can very well be ruminated over again and again and not once engender a doing of anything. It may be that the excessive pondering is more a byproduct of some inner dis-ease than a real desire for truth and the actions of faith.

I am saddened by my detachment from my own body. I thought I was my mind alone. Rather than worship, obey, serve, and love others, I obsessed on the knowing of a truth through rational means, assuming my disciplined inquiry would birth the certainty I needed in an uncertain world. Ironically, in looking constantly outside myself for the truth in teaching, preaching, scripture, and tradition, I detached the very act of doing from the encounter.

The doing of the thing involves an entirely deeper part of my humanity. The doing of the thing involves a deeper repentance into my body to discover what parts of my will refuse to budge, refuse to love, are a still unreconciled to what I know to be true. Once again, I have in the past perceived the lack of action to be an issue of an unclear understanding or a need for more information. I now see that space between the knowing & the doing as being. I am more myself when I obey what I know to be true than if I merely ponder or ruminate over it. I am Christ’s in truth when I love Him enough to obey what I believe.

It very well might be that a culture that excessively honors the mind and rationality when it comes to spirituality may fall prey to the deception of hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is not some isolated event that a few deluded individuals purposely invent for the sake of power or deceit. No! This is a part of the human heart unwilling to look at the “troubling discrepancy between expectations for ourselves and the consequence of our behavior,” according to James Hollis in “Why Good People Do Bad Things.”

Why do I avoid in myself what I know to be unreflective of my truest values and commitments? Why do I condemn many of the same sins in others that I know reside within myself? Why do I minimize the impact my sin and lack of love have on my world while pointing out in others their obvious contradictions? What part of my very nature obfuscates the way of wholeness and purity? What lies in the way of such persistent fantasies about the impact of my actual life on my health, thought life, ability to be present and living to others and my actual love of the Savior? The distance between intention and choice does indeed involve my will. As a moral being I am given the ability to act upon certain inclinations and urges and understandings. I am not a puppet. So why would this freedom of sorts become such an existential blemish?

My experience with my men’s group and the ongoing inner work we do has given me glimpse into what appears to remain on some level intractable & persistent in our spiritual journeys. We are indeed beings in the process of either engaging life or ignoring it. As the 12step program says, “What we resist will persist.” The struggle we men have is the hidden strongholds that remain untouched by our beliefs, faith filled utterances and contrite postures of the heart. As Paul said, we want to do the good but…”

It may very well be that the ego’s most grandiose manifestation of hubris is the projection of its own sovereignty on its actions and thoughts. During what we men have come to call "work," it is clear that much of the inner world hidden away from our daily regimen is indeed the very realm in which forces and mandates are being deployed daily without our direct awareness. I say direct because we are aware but this insight does not come through what we have deemed the sovereignty of our ego or what some may call our persona. For those of us who are seeking a higher way or more authentic reflection of our Savior, we are indeed attempting to form a certain “type” of person. We desire others “see” us a certain way, believe our proclamations regarding our faith, and hope that our lives indeed do tell others about our commitments and allegiances.

Only if it were that simple that our desired persona was indeed the one that most clearly reflected our deepest selves. But alas, that is not the case. As men go deeper into the discrepancies of will and action, it becomes apparent that we are not a unitary whole in our persona or projected ego we offer to ourselves and others. What we are beginning to glimpse in our “work” during our daily and quarterly weekends, is that the desire for Christ likeness is certainly work and the exertion and toil of the soul needed to integrate the disparate parts of our hearts and minds is our salvation being worked out in fear & trembling.

The fear of disclosure has to be one of the most powerful energies hidden behind the confident and often arrogant persona we offer to others and even ourselves. Our daily lives so remove us from these anxieties that we are unaware of their toxic and discrete energy they deploy through our daily lives. The avoidance of humiliation seems to be such a primal force in humans that hiding is an option we take when our outward experience touches an inner un-resolvedness.

Because we believe the autonomy of our egos and personas are accurate and reflective of our truest selves, any sense of that idea of self eroding or being attacked throws us into a highly defensive posture. We now become defensive and angry. Our initial state of weakness is now being covered over with anger and we get lost in the attempts to correct any discrepancies or flaws another may being projecting on us in the moment or so we think & feel.

Much of the denial and avoidance we display daily is necessary to function. To consistently look into the inner crannies of our hearts and emotional lives is more than daunting. It is dangerous & impossible to be done alone. The journey is much like a group climbing a mountain or entering a volcanic crater. Whether climbing to the heights or the depths, we need ropes tied to our hearts and minds. We can get lost in our woundedness and angry at ourselves and others and in the process add to our lostness and anger.

Men naturally protect themselves. When that protection has been violated, when that ability to trust and receive love has been deeply scared and wounded especially in early childhood, the projected energies of denial, repression, suppression and avoidance get magnified. These are all mechanisms to avoid the anxiety of viewing our inner discrepancies with clarity. In some extreme cases one may even disassociate from themselves to the extent that they can engage in certain behaviors and nearly be unaware on some levels of the episode. To some degree, our personas our different identities. They are different people we offer to the world as to who we are. As Nate Larkin says, he has the church Nate and the husband Nate. We could probably name countless personas within us if we named them in this manner. The point is that spiritual work is not merely articulating beliefs but drilling down into the very strongholds that animate and energize the aforementioned anxiety management systems of denial, repression, etc. So in our work in NA we create a space for the man to sit in the anxiety. We extend to him a safe container to begin to ponder, express, report, offer up, any details, emotions, and possibly hidden reflections on their life to date. Nothing is off the table. Nothing is deemed untrue or false at initial offering.

Over the weeks and months of work we men begin to hear a story about ourselves that we have been telling others for years. We begin to hear the stories others have told about us. We begin to hear the story we believe God is telling about us. We hear the story, in the case of believers, of the Church upon us. We are a storied people. It is the multitudes of these stories that offer quantum energy to our lives and in some ways adds to the seeming discrepancies of our commitments and our behavior. Why don’t we do what we know to be right? We must find out. We can find out. This is the gift of the Savior's restoration. Salvation is more than a belief system but the very nature of God moving within in us to bring us into wholeness, integration. He desires we become whole and begin to offer this story up to His Holy Spirit for a re-write if you will. This re-write is written by the family of God. It cannot be written alone for much like there are legions within, so we need the power and presence of many to untie these fractal selves within our hearts.

Whenever a man enters the weekend retreat with a powerfully animated sense of self, it is clear that it takes much of his inner spirituality to cohere this energy for others to see. "I am powerful. I am smart." And the most difficult one to maintain, "I am holy and good." As the inner journey ensues, it becomes more and more apparent that “life" is inherently contradictory and conflicted, and any view that seeks to finesse these contraries is ”operating in bad faith,” says Hollis. As much as our ideas about our commitments seem congruent and befitting to our ego or personas, they are not powerful enough to touch the deepest inner contradictions or character flaws. No amount of ritual, repetition, reading sacred texts, will replace the work of exploring our hearts in the presence of His people. This is our life time work to grow in Christ tighter.

The working out of our salvation is what this life offers as the road of truth. The road of religious piety can offer others your persona and all its good intentions. This is not to imply that we are disingenuous or even deceptive when we offer this aspect of ourselves. But, as we grew in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord, we begin to see the subtle hubris that forms these personas and continues to allow them preeminence in our daily interactions with our spouses, friends and co-workers. At some point humility is the inner admission of your admitting the discrepancies are indeed a part of who you are as well. We are this strange mixture of our dreams, our commitments and our humanness full of duplicity and moral weakness.

When we remain in the level of our persona that moralizes around certain acts we tell ourselves we are evil, we may indeed have a history of acting a certain way. This is obedience on some level but it is not righteousness formed by deep contrition for my good works and outward persona is what I use my energies to sustain. This is not an outward manifestation of an inner work but an outward energy sustained by an outward persona. This is why we may call it a superficial or surface self. It is shallow for it does not emanate from the authentic self but the self we have concocted in our minds and the persona we actually believe we are. This is delusion and we act thusly on a day to day basis.No amount of haranguing the ego or will can turn this conflicted persona into a whole person. This is why moralizing over sin never works if it is a besetting sin as the Scripture calls it. Besetting sin that it is persistent and powerful in its impact on our lives. On our weekends we are most concerned with these besetting sins for they are a sign of the core voices and stories that are here-to-fore ignored in this man’s inner life. This is the portal for entry into the story that enables and empowers this person he does not want to be but in moments of truth can admit he indeed is.

The Church today is challenged to provide safe places for this unveiling to take place. These kinds of inner journeys do not take place during a Bible study or morning Sunday school class. These are strongholds that take an initial weekend and months and even a lifetime in some cases to begin to unravel and reveal the narratives that rule our will and heart. The strategies that many men’s groups’ offer, which is to promise you will not do a certain behavior ever again are on some level noble attempts to obey God’s laws. But the power needed to be restored at a deep deep level does not come from us. This is not to downplay the power of the will to engage in “acting” a certain way. In fact, once again, the 12 Step movement talks about “faking it till you make it” which is revealing the power of the body obeying what the mind knows to be true even when the mind is still playing tricks or recalcitrant. We cannot and will not see or hear the stories that undergird our deepest wounds and besetting sins until we stop certain postures towards life. Denial that our drinking, over eating, addictions to power, religion, lust or other drugs of choice, must be seen for their darkness and poison they are to begin the descent. The admission of and the willingness to engage may mean total withdrawal from a certain action or engagement. This detoxing from sin, allows the heart to begin to feel the anxiety that animates and cooperatives with our sin natures when we fall. We know the sin is sin. We are now looking at the “doing” or the “not doing” of the thing.

The Crisis as Threshold

A crisis is a holy summons to cross a threshold, says Sue Monk Kidd in her seminal work “When the Heart Waits.” The word crisis derives from the Greek word krisis and krino, which mean “a separating.” It is clear that deep inner change only comes about through crisis or profound and enduring prayer. As most of us have not developed such disciplines, crisis is the usual gateway to redirection and a straightening of one’s way. Most of us live in middle class neighborhoods, attend sedate churches, engage in soft hobbies, avoid harshness of any kind and settle in nightly to a routine of television & sleep. Our desire is less for peace of mind & heart and more for comfort. In this anesthetized world of habit and consumption, our inner man is sedated through routine. When circumstances hint that rough road may be ahead, we usually begin to barbiturate ourselves through doing more of whatever is numbing us out, dumbing us down. This is why for men at least, it takes a persistent addiction to reveal the true condition of the soul. The somatic messages of the body herald and rudely name what our minds are unwilling to welcome. And so a crisis describes our inner landscape, our soul’s longing.

Humans can only take a crisis every once in awhile. It is clearer that for some, under the moniker of bi-polar syndrome, crisis is ever present at least on an emotional level. What is even clearer from observing this tragic pose is that the very weightiness of one’s humanity is enough for those who contemplate their own brokenness occasionally and this ever present revealing for those with BP unveils nothing long lasting. We are not meant to gaze into the abyss of our own ruined will at length. In fact, standing at the threshold, in the seemingly abandoned space of contrite observation can destroy one without the grace offered by others willing to bear witness. We bear witness to the irrationality of our wayward hearts and obstinate wills. We nod in solidarity as we observe a brother over come with his own imperfection. We know we will undoubtedly be in that same “inbetweeness” once again ourselves.

The Threshold as Reality

Just as the madness of bi-polar ruminations are a curse for so many, so too is the mistake of attempting to live in the tension of our own duality. I like to see myself as one who embraces nuance and subtlety in life. However, when it comes to my own lack of perfection I am tossed between the oppositional forces of self love and self loathing. Ernest Kurtz in “The Spirituality of Imperfection” offers up this healing insight when he observes, “ To pursue perfection because we despise our imperfection-is to find neither satisfaction in successes nor wisdom in failures. Life becomes a constant battle, a never ending struggle to get somewhere, to achieve something, to produce something. Having split our world (and our selves) into either or dualisms- god or beast, angle or devil, right or wrong, left of right, good or evil, up or down- we lack all sense of balance. We tend to sway precariously on the teeter totter of life, running from one extreme to another, missing the point that the only stable place to be is in the mixed-up- middle. In the reality, that is the only place we can be.”

The phrase “reality” is so diminished and bastardized. I am the chief of sinners here in its demise as a God word. Let me vamp a bit here through an idea David Dark’s latest book The Sacredness of Questioning Everything spawned in a late night pondering of “reality.” For me Dark’s book is a poetic rant on the ontological subtleties of faith. His pages are filled with a luminous recounting of just how duped we are to our own convictions of certitude when it comes to truth and in a particular the reading of Scripture. As a recovering Evangelical, I have grown up in the climate of biblical presumption. Part of my heritage if not tutelage involved the projection of snippets of the Bible over life’s conundrums without impunity. This is what we did. We named “reality” quickly and with precision. Dark so powerfully reveals not only the shady under belly of the presumption but the impact on us humans when we deny the anxiety that accompanies these very conundrums. Dark says, “But the pretense of certainty come at a cost.” Indeed it does. This cost is the inability to “do the thing.”

I need the truth to set me free. I need the in breaking power of God’s Spirit into & upon my very being to be given the power of will to obey. This is being loved into action. What Dark made clearer for me was the “real time” prophetic power of the Scripture being pronounced in the moment of revealing. When Jesus read Scripture in the temple something was indeed happening. When He said, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” He was pointing to the reality of truth breaking into the moment. So much of my understanding of Scripture remains sequestered in a static recognition of “reality.” I know what I know. Correct? Well no. I don’t know what I know because I don’t know what I don’t know. And, until the moment of revealing, my ability to know may be veiled in my own limited ability to see and grasp the depth and breadth of reality.

Many times I have seen a man transformed right before my eyes through what we call “work” in New Adam. After this unveiling of the truer deeper real self, many times a Scripture will be read or recited over the moment of revealing. Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing,” seems to be exactly what is happening here. We were seeing the witness of all the ages manifest right in our midst. A man was ushered into this place where the naming of his very being is now aligned with eternity and the very voice of God as manifest through His holy writ. Now that is bearing witness to the infallibility of Scripture. Notice, however, it is in the in-breaking nature of this truth revealed that we see what lies before us. We did not see it before this time. So life is always revealed in retrospect. We look to the future in faith and see the truth of our beings revealed in the rear view mirror. The doing of the thing is a grand spectacle that involves the fullness of God’s revealing. I can only sit under it in awe and worship. Worship with others who are doing the best thing.