Glaucon In The Cave

(I wrote this in 1997 and it appeared in the Nyack College Journal of Literature and Art)

THE END

The Cave

He had lost his taste for religion following his parent’s divorce, but not his desire for the knowledge of the truth.  Because of this and the many confusing and disturbing things that seemed to occur in the lives of average men, our young man, after he had grown a little older, undertook to discover the ultimate purpose of life.  There could be any number of reasons why he wanted to accomplish such a task, but I don’t think it was merely because he had a difficult upbringing or a hard time relating to his parents.  Anyway,  couldn’t that be said of most young men of his generation? Back then society and culture were changing radically and even the national institutions were in danger of collapse, and though there seemed to be great progress being made in the sciences and the arts, more questions were arising than were being answered.   Many young people began looking for new ways to understand the complexities of life.  And there were plenty of options:  LSD and other mind-bending drugs were being taken by many hoping to experience alternate realities, and all sorts of gurus and cults were springing up claiming to hold the secrets of life.  Some of these things interested our young man (he indulged in much experimentation), but he thought that if he could simply exercise the power of his brain in some minimalistic way, he could discover a truth that would appeal to everyone, but more selfishly himself.  If he could somehow reduce his thought processes to a rudimentary state,  he was sure he could get at the complete objective truth.  Because he believed that no one up to then had made the elusive discovery, he was a bit overwhelmed with the journey he was about to embark.  His first order of business, he reasoned, was to debunk all the new age gurus, pluralists, and so-called mystics.  He didn’t intend to do this because he was positive they were all wrong, but, because he heard the Truth say,  “Beloved, don’t put any stock in all these phonies, but test their spirits to see whether they are true because many false prophets are coming into the world.”

Not long after he decided to attempt to understand the holistic truth of life, he enrolled in a local college to study the great minds of old.  Shortly thereafter he found himself surrounded by many intellectual types, or more likely, individuals who promoted themselves as intellectuals.  Unlike those days when only a few people went to college, now a multitude considered themselves members of the intelligentsia. This new group considered all those who stayed away from higher education (read: blue-collar, poor, or disenfranchised) to be inferior and incapable of comprehending the finer aspects of life or its meaning.  But soon the young man realized that even the professors were just an assemblage of affected misfits who were only seeking to be praised for their clever ability to spew scholarly clichés rather than come up with any great insights of their own.  He then deduced that many of the people outside the hallowed halls of the university were probably naturally wiser than the pseudo-intellectuals.  Later on, he decided it would probably be best not to study under these merely mortal men, but return to his original hypotheses of conceiving a whole new philosophy based on some primordial knowledge.  Once again he pondered how dangerous this would be, because if he used just his mind (and nothing else) to conceive the truth and then attempted to express himself publicly or publish his opinions on the subjects of epistemology, cosmology, metaphysics and the like, wouldn’t he most likely be accused of plagiarism or, even worse, cerebral naiveté?  He knew he would be reinventing the wheel to some degree as it applied to truths that had already been discovered.  But, again, it wasn’t his a priori discernment or some empirical investigation which taught him this.   It was the Truth, who, in a still, small voice said to him: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new for you to unearth.”

Unfortunately, this young man was like so many other young men of that generation. They believed that philosophy alone held the keys to human existence.   He often times asked of his co-sojourners: “What is life worth living if there’s no readily understandable purpose to that life?”  That question just about plowed him under with its burden.  Yet, once more, the Truth whispered in his ear:  “… Let me give you some advice:  Don’t talk to these men anymore!  Because if they think they are going to find the Truth simply with their minds, they are surely going to fail.”

Since he had decided not to completely remove himself from societies influences, averting other philosophers and thinkers would prove to be quite the impossible task.   After a short time, while on his journey of truth, he found himself, much to his chagrin, firmly entrenched within his own small group of illuminati. Due to his almost casual refutations of the great philosophers, he became highly regarded amongst his pretentious circle of sophists.  He quickly received an enviable reputation amid his peers as a unique mind who was seeking after all the truths which life might offer.  He really didn’t say much at all though, but it was on those rare occasions when he did speak that he came by his prominence.  Or maybe it was his pained misunderstandings, and not at all any great profession of knowledge that won him such notoriety.  Nevertheless, he portrayed himself as pitiable, because he knew he was still light years away from the Truth which he desperately wished to acquire.

Indeed he was pitiable.  He soon took again to drinking heavily and indulging in mind-altering drugs, but this time not to satisfy the curiosity of its para-philosophical possibilities, but simply to escape the brutal experience of his own lostness and his utter aloneness.  He surrounded himself with other cynical savants who drowned their sense of inadequacy in a bottle or a pill.  They all knew that their behavior would be their undoing, but they dared not speak about it.  They were weak, spineless creatures, but their false pride kept them from taking their own lives.  Their shame was that they claimed life was ultimately meaningless, but they were too afraid to support their views with an appropriate action.   Yet isn’t it the same as suicide to treat your body with such contempt, that surely death comes quicker to your door than to others?  Still, the Truth continued to speak to him saying,  “… pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!”

And our young man’s excesses would finally catch up to him on one particular night of debauchery and luxuriance.  Dejected and unsatisfied again, he stumbled into his apartment and promptly fell flat on his face.  That night he had a dream, and soon he was the dream, and the dream became reality.  Then he seemed to awake in complete darkness. It was so dark he couldn’t see his own hand in front of his eyes.  If he had ever felt alone before, now he knew what being alone truly was like.  He sensed himself completely separated from existence itself.  This must be hell, he presumed.  He tried to run, but his fear made him trip over his feet.  Then he remembered something he read in a book as a child, “The way of the lost is like deep darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble.”  Now, with surprising abruptness, the Truth spoke in a clear voice as if He was right there with him:  “… I will go back to my secret place until you admit your wrongs.  And then you will seek My face; in your misery, you will really seek Me.”

In utter fear and without knowledge of whom he spoke our young man cried out,  “Forgive me, Sir!  I had heard about You, but I wanted to be like You.  Save me from my transgressions; do not embarrass me in front of my foolish friends.” There was no immediate answer from the Truth, but all at once the young man was lifted up and brought into a cave, and still, there was no light at all.  “Glaucon,” the Truth spoke to him, “remember the teachings of your dear old friend and mentor”:

———————————————————-

Behold! Can you see people living in an underground cave, which has an opening toward the light, which reaches into the length of the cave; they have been here since they were children, and  their legs and necks have been chained so that they cannot move, and they can only see in front of themselves, because the chains prevent them from turning their heads around. Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way; and if you look carefully you will also see a low wall built along the way, like the screen which puppeteers have in front of them, over which they manipulate the puppets.

I see, replied Glaucon, who is our young man, talking to his long lost mentor.

And can you see, he asked, men, walking back and forth in front of the wall carrying all sorts of artifacts, statues and figures of animals made of wood and stone and other materials, which appear over the wall? Some of them are talking, others don’t speak at all.

You have shown me a strange sight, and they are bizarre prisoners, Glaucon answered.

One of them is you Glaucon, his friend replied; and you can only see your own shadow, or the shadows of the other prisoners, which the fire projects on the opposite wall of the cave.  The Truth again whispered into Glaucon’s ear in the cave:  “He is revealing the deep things of darkness and he brings deep shadows into the light.”

How could I see anything but the shadows if I can’t move my head? Glaucon protested, tears streaming down his cheeks.

Without answering him, his friend asked another question, And what if you were able to talk with your fellow prisoners, wouldn’t you try to make sense of what you saw in the shadows?

I suppose we would, Glaucon said, wondering if he was answering correctly.  After each time his old friend spoke, Glaucon waited a while for the Truth’s voice.

And now try to imagine if the prison had an echo which came from the outside, wouldn’t you think that when one of the passers-by spoke that the voice which you heard came from a moving shadow?

No question, Glaucon replied.

To you, I say, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.

Absolutely, Glaucon answered, now feeling his wits being restored.  And when his intellectual pride returned so did the Truth saying, “These are only a shadow of the things that are to come…”

And now take another look, and imagine what would happen if you were released and disabused of your wrong thinking. At first, when you were liberated and compelled suddenly to get up and turn your head around, then walk and look toward the light, you would suffer sharp pains all throughout your body; the light would distress you, and you wouldn’t be able to see the truths of which in your previous reality you had only seen shadows; and then you would hear someone say to you, what you experienced before was just an illusion, but now that you are coming nearer to the light and your eyes are tuned into the real existence, you will have a clearer vision.  What would you say to this person?

“Though I was living in darkness, I have seen a great light; I was living in the land of the shadow of death, but a new light has dawned,” Glaucon replied, not recognizing his own words!

To that his friend said, You have seen the Truth, and not mere reflections of Him in the water, but you see Him in His proper place; and now you will contemplate Him as He is.

Certainly, Glaucon exuberantly replied.

Will you not now argue that this is the One who gives the season and the years, and is the Guardian of all that is in the visible and invisible world, and in all ways the cause of all things? his mentor asked.

Clearly, Glaucon answered, I would first see the Truth and then reason about Him.

And just then the Truth, satisfied that our young man understood this teaching, appeared in all His Glory and spoke to Glaucon’s heart saying, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.  While I am in the world I am the light of the world. Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become a son of light.”

Glaucon’s friend returned, spoke again asking, When you remember your old way of life, and the wisdom of your fellow prisoners, will you not be thankful for your new knowledge and pity them?  Will you not also say with Homer, “It is better to be the poor servant of a poor master,” and endure anything, rather than think as they do and live like they do? 

To this Glaucon related, Yes, surely I would rather suffer anything than believe what I used to believe and live the life I used to live.

Imagine, his friend queried, that you are suddenly no longer in the presence of the Light and you are sent back to the cave, wouldn’t you certainly have your eyes filled with darkness again? 

Shuttering at the thought of his friend’s question, Glaucon cried out, “For the sake of Your name, O Lord, forgive my trespasses, though they be many.” Our young man, now trembling on his knees, looked up at the Truth and pleaded, “I have been a slave in this cave my entire life!  What must I do to be free of the darkness that has overtaken me?”

Then, just before Glaucon physically awoke, the Truth spoke to him and proclaimed, “If you do as my teachings say, then you will know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free.”

———————————————————-

            Glaucon leaped out of his bed, got dressed, and ran towards the bar where he had spent the previous night and loudly announced to all of his friends, “Listen to me, I want to tell you about a man who told me everything I ever did. I am sure that this man is the Truth we have been searching for?” His drinking buddies stared blankly at the young man not really knowing if he was the same person that they were with just the night before.  Then one of the professors from the college asked, “My dear boy, have you seen a ghost?  You are glowing like a candle.”

So he started to teach the men in the bar:  “Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made.  In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness does not understand it.  I am speaking to you as a witness, testifying concerning that light, so that hopefully through me you might believe. I myself am not the light; I’m only here as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every man has already come into the world.”

The men proceeded to ask our young man many questions about the Truth, but it was a little boy, eating dinner with his parents at a nearby table, who had overheard the talk of this wonderful man, and asked quite innocently, “So what was the Truth’s name?  Did He have a name!?”  “His name is Jesus,” our young man emphatically replied. Then the little boy filled with the knowledge of the Truth looked up to the heavens and exclaimed, “Praise the Name of the Truth!  Praise the Name of Jesus! The Name that is above every Name!” And soon after our young man spread the good news of his visions, many believed and came to know the Truth as well.

THE BEGINNING

(c) Paul Dordal, 1997

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Getting Up In The Morning (A Stream of Reflection)

why get upWhen I get up in the morning, I don’t hit the snooze button. I rarely hesitate about getting up. It’s not that there are times I don’t want to get up right then and there. It’s just that I know that it is time to get up. So, I do. [glad].

With the advent of smartphones, I am sure I am not the only one who looks at their neo-idiot-box first thing after waking, much like when I was a smoker and lit up as my first ritualistic morning activity. What do I look at? First my emails, then Facebook, and then CNN. Then I get out of bed. I guess some marketer will be happy to hear that. I am hooked like so many others. Someday, maybe, I’ll throw that fucking “stupid” phone in the garbage where it belongs. [anger]. But for now, at least, I am human, and average, and weak, like so many others living in a self-imposed, but externally built, prison of “needing” to “know” something first thing in the morning. Did I miss something in the last eight hours? No. Nothing’s happened. Thus far some “thing” has only happened a smattering of times in my almost fifty-five years of existence. [fear].

Mostly I get up when the alarm clock goes off because I need to pee. But why not go back to bed, even for a few minutes more, or call in sick? I have tons of sick time saved up. [sad].

I get into my bed at around 10:15 or 10:30 most nights, with the thought that I will get eight hours of sleep, which I won’t because I usually need a half an hour to fall asleep, and I pee at least twice or three times a night. Damn prostate. Damn aging process. [anger]. But I like to think that my sleep routine is very healthy, getting up regularly at 6:15 or 6:30 in the morning.

One of the things I have noticed recently is that the moment I turn off the lights to go to sleep, after checking the weather app on the stupid phone, putting my earplugs in, and pulling the comforter up to my neck, I experience a significant mystical grace. I sigh long and gratefully at the very moment my body is cocooned under the covers. It just feels so good, so peaceful. Are there better words to describe it? Sure, but you have probably felt it too. What does it feel like to you?

Often, when I begin to close my eyes, I reflect on other moments of mystical grace, sometimes in the shower with the steaming hot water beating lovingly on my back, sometimes on the crapper when it actually feels good to shit, [anger at some of you for not liking my using “bad” words], sometimes eating full-flavored food that I haven’t eaten in a while, sometimes looking at pictures of my children when they were really little (or seeing their child-like God-beauty now in their teens), sometimes holding my wife’s hand or feeling her lightly rub my back, or oftentimes when I am listening to music, really listening to it, and imagining I am playing it on a piano in a bar with a lot of sad people drinking dry red wine which explodes like gentle Pop-rocks® on the palette. (I used to drink wine). [love]. I think you get it. There are times when these grace moments are just really real. They are spiritual moments, in which the material world is intentionally interrupted by angelic fairy dust.

But even so, those moments are not the reason I get up in the morning. I’d like to think that I get up in the morning because it is not fair that I get to have angelic fairy dust moments regularly in my life and millions, maybe billions do not. In my self-righteous, morally superior inauthenticity, I believe I wake up in the morning to struggle on behalf of the poor and downtrodden, the marginalized and the oppressed. Maybe so. Maybe even altruistically so. But it is just not so, not completely, at least. [sad].

The reason I get up in the morning may have to do more with shame and guilt or pride or something not so bright, but not so shadowy either. Maybe it’s filial piety. I have responsibilities to my wife and children. I covenantally married her and brought our kids (half-way, I suppose) into the world. That’s noble and true, but it’s not on my mind, or, at least, not on my conscious mind when I get up. I know and am certain, that I am not like others who get up simply because there is an animal instinct to get up—to simply survive. But, because I don’t like the sound of that, it must be at least partially true. There are members of my meandering family who just get up every day. And like the existentialists of the mid-twentieth century, I sometimes ask why don’t they just kill themselves. For millions and billions of people, there is just no reason to wake up. [very sad; depressed?].

Ah, but love. Love gets us up, doesn’t it? [disgust]. No, I do believe love is real. It is also angelic fairy dust. It is also God. But what is it? Why can’t I reproduce it more consistently? The mystics write about it all the time, but much of those writings feel like a novel to me. So, I call bullshit on a lot of it. [anger]. Not because I haven’t experienced love or I can’t experience it now or develop more of it, but because I probably have a mental illness, but maybe not. Maybe I just want to avoid the experience of pain like every other fucking bourgeois American. [sad].

Do you like or love your job? Good for you. [disgust]. That’s probably why you get up in the morning (maybe you’re a drone). I don’t mind my job. I don’t love it, that’s for sure. I need it, for goodness sake, even if the boss supposedly needs me more than I need him. I know I am, as Karl Marx noted, primarily, a homo-faber, a working-man, but in this post-apocalyptic technological age, it just isn’t easy to see how going to work eight hours a day, forty hours a week, fifty weeks a year, and 2,500 weeks a lifetime is a motivating reason to get up every day. Talk about a fucking prison. [anger]. But, since I know I “have to” go to work, I do get up. Yet, I don’t live to work.

So, what about on my days off. Why don’t I just stay in bed for two days a week?

I like doing the crossword. [Read this sentence embarrassed with an inflection going up towards the end of the sentence].

I like the online USA Today crossword because it’s timed. When I am focused and centered—mindful—I can do it in five to seven minutes. When I am stressed, distracted, or worried it’ll take me ten or twelve. It usually takes me eight to nine minutes. I actually consciously think about doing the crossword when I get up on my two days off. [glad]. Senseless and pure! Coffee works the same way for me on my days off. I get to drink it in a ceramic mug, instead of my metallic (tasting) travel carafe, I use on work days. [glad].

Nevertheless, when I see you in the morning (any you, but especially if you are a you I know), I am genuinely happy to see you. I will greet you with a hearty good morning, and I mean it. You make me feel, maybe not like dancing, but at least legitimately alive. [love]

There is also a weird “feeling” piece to getting up, maybe a huge piece of the puzzle, I just can’t finger it, that provides me an ontologically motivating understanding that human existence is itself a struggle worth living. [What?].

Curiosity may kill the proverbial cat, but I know curiosity gives birth and zoe life to the human soul. The struggle is for the harder questions that remain, the fleeting question of love, the utopian question of justice—just the fucking questions are good enough, damn it—being filled with anger, passion, shame, guilt, sadness, love—all the moral emotions that drive the bus to the next stop on a journey that must be going somewhere. It must be. I just know it. God. [anger]. [love]. [peace]. [joy].

And I am going to get up and get on that bus every morning. Even if I don’t know where it is going. [peace].

© Paul Dordal, 2019

Waterfalls of Grace and Truth (Reflection)

WaterfallIn both politics and religion (and certainly the physical sciences, but not just these) truth is seen as the arbiter between good and bad, right and wrong, justice and injustice, etc. Yet, shouldn’t we admit that truth in both politics and religion is very fragile. Though objective truth is pursued and often claimed by religious doctrinaires or political pundits, history has shown that it has rarely been achieved. The belief in objective truth, in theory, may be quite reasonable, but humanity’s ability to grasp it is fleeting. Thus, claiming that the truth is the only important thing in politics or religion could easily turn a noble person into a tyrant. When objective truth is claimed in politics or religion, even the meekest of persons can be directly or indirectly a party to all kinds of immoral acts of violence and oppression.

One of my favorite verses about God in Christ says, “And then God became human … full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14). The essence of God is a full measure of both truth and grace. For humanity to evolve into empathetic beings that emulate God, the dialectical antithesis of one truth cannot be another truth, but instead must be grace. Do we really believe that we can synthesize opposing truths into greater truths? No, spiritual and material evolution require a revolutionary synthesis of truth and grace. Without grace, truth does not set people free but instead enslaves and oppresses them, while damning the person wielding truth as a weapon over others.

There is a great story told by Mark Cobb as remembered by John Swinton which exemplifies what I am trying to convey: “Imagine yourself walking through a deep, dense wood. You are surrounded by beautiful, luscious foliage; the constantly changing aromas of the rich shrubbery makes your head swirl. Suddenly, you reach a clearing. Right in the center of the clearing is a beautiful stream headed up by a magnificent waterfall. You stand and watch in awe at the mystery and wonder of the waterfall. Multiple rainbows dance across the glistening surface of the water. The sound of the water, the taste of the spray, the sight of the magnificence, and the power of the waterfall touches you in inexpressible places and brings you into contact with a dimension of experience which you can’t quite articulate. Eventually, your gaze of wonder begins to change as your curious side clicks into action: ‘What is this thing called a waterfall? ‘What is it made of?’ ‘Why does it have such an effect on me?’  “So, you pick up a bucket and scoop some of the water from the falls. You look into the bucket, but something has changed. The water is technically the same substance in each setting: H2O. It remains a vital constituent of your life; you need it to live and without it you will perish. Yet, something has been lost in the movement from the waterfall to the bucket. In your attempts to break it down, analyze, and explain what it really is, the mystery and awe of the waterfall is left behind.”[i]

What is the truth of H2O, the beautiful waterfall or the life-giving waters in the bucket?

For the sake of our own well-being and the well-being of other humans and the cosmos, could we each take a step back from all that we think we know to be factual about politics and/or religion and admit that without a full measure of grace we are the problem in our world and not the solution?

Grace is the waterfall; the water-bucket is the truth. We don’t have to choose truth over grace, but we can choose to hold both in glorious tension.

© Paul Dordal, 2018

[i] John Swinton, “Healthcare spirituality: a question of knowledge” in the Oxford Textbook of Spirituality in Healthcare. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014, p99.

Reformation, Revolution, and Resurrection (An Advent Reflection)

ArtistI had a couple of interesting and intersecting conversations yesterday with different folk. One group of folks were Christians who I meet with regularly to discuss the contemplative or mystical way of faith and the other group was a newly formed anarchist group working to return joy and laughter to organizing for a new society.

In the first conversation with the mystics, we were talking about the need for a whole new way of being the Church. One of our members recounted that he had been approached by someone who said that the Church was in need of another great reformation. His response was, “What the Church needs is a great resurrection.” In the second conversation, the group wrestled with the need of immediate reforms to assist the severely oppressed and marginalized while never losing sight of the revolutionary theory, tactics, and outcomes that are required for a whole new society to be realized.

All of this talk of revolution and resurrection frightens many people, both the weak and the strong, both the oppressed and the oppressors. What most people think they want is stability and certainty: homeostasis. Yet, normal life is filled with instability and uncertainty. In politics, hierarchal rulers enact powerful laws (violence) to maintain homeostasis, mostly for the benefit of the elite and the rich. In religion, hierarchies, theologies, and liturgies are rigidly structured and enforced, again primarily to the benefit of the elite (who write the theologies and liturgies).

When a societal or economic crisis occurs, which must happen because of the dynamic, chaotic reality of life, the common (“working class”) folk are usually most afflicted. The rich and powerful rarely suffer, because, frankly, it doesn’t hurt to lose millions when you still have millions. Thus, when the poor or disenfranchised demand redress, depending on the severity of the crisis and the response, those in power will sometimes offer a reform which doesn’t alter the fundamentally unequal or oppressive system. These reforms almost always placate the people until the next crisis.

The recent situation in France is a good example. The people power expressed in the streets caused the ruling elite to offer reforms and, unfortunately, then the protests died down. The collective memory of common folk is extremely short. They forget that unless they go all the way to revolution they will continue to be oppressed and suffer. Reforms rarely do anything but return the unjust system to an ostensible form of homeostasis.

Rosa Luxemburg wrote in 1899, “He who pronounces himself in favor of legal reforms in place of and as opposed to the conquest of political power and social revolution does not really choose a more tranquil, surer and slower road to the same goal. He chooses a different goal. Instead of taking a stand for the establishment of a new social order, he takes a stand for surface modifications of the old order.”

The miraculous entrance of Jesus into the world scene was a revolutionary act by God, not to reform the broken world piecemeal, but to fundamentally change the trajectory of evolution in order to recreate individuals and society into God’s image (re-evolution). Radical love and joy entered our world in a new way. When Jesus began his ministry, it was to announce to the world the need to repent—to make a revolutionary 180-degree change from the direction it was going. This was not a reform; not a tweak; not some new legislation. God came to us and said you are going in the wrong direction: the direction of law, of othering, of war, of disintegration. We must turn around to the direction of love, of empathy, of peace, and of intersubjectivity.

Jesus was incarnated into the world to die, yes, but not only to atone for the violence of sin but primarily to prefiguratively embody that life is essentially a series of deaths and resurrections. Chaos and order, death and resurrection, suffering and joy are the alternating contexts of life.  We must enter the darkness to see the greater light.  A revolution requires us to die to self, both individually and collectively as a society.  Revolution is the ongoing dialectic of death and resurrection.

This is why Nicodemus can’t even see the Kin-dom of Heaven unless he is resurrected (born-again) into revolutionary mysticism (Jn 3:1-3). Nicodemus must repent, leave his group of elite Pharisees, even leave his family and its oppressive belief structures, leave his old-life of hierarchical relationships, and embark on a frightening, suffering, but life-giving journey of revolutionary praxis. “If anyone comes to me and does not hate their own parents, their spouse and children, their brothers and sisters, and even their own life, they cannot be my follower” (Lk 14:26).

This is the way of Jesus. This Advent Season walk in the way of Jesus, born on Christmas Day and reborn every day in the revolutionary Christian.

© Paul Dordal, 2018

Possessed By My Possessions (Reflection)

PrisonProperty Is Idolatry
Recently, I saw a pithy quote on Facebook that proposed that, in order for us to survive as a human race, we must identify the root cause of all the violence in our world. My comment (which I rarely do on Facebook) was one word: “property.”

I love my property. I have an inalienable right, according to the Constitution, to my property. I love my car, my computer, my house (which actually belongs to both the bank and the state). I love all my stuff. I am an idolater. I love objects! I am possessed by my possessions. The demon god of Mammon controls me. This is, I have discovered, most definitely, my worst “sin.”

I want to repent, I do, but I have swallowed the key that opens the prison door of materialism which I have constructed. And the evil system of capitalism, which presents itself as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14), supported by institutional religion, ensures that I have a very limited ability to retrieve that key and set myself free. Capitalism has given you and I the tools to construct our property prisons, just like a drug dealer gives an unsuspecting person the drugs that addict them.

Property Is Theft
Not only is my love of property a mortal sin of idolatry, which keeps me from intimate relationships with God and people, it also clearly violates the seventh commandment, which states “Thou shall not steal.” But how is simply owning property thievery?  The great saints of old were clear in their thinking:

St. Basil asked, “And you, are you not greedy? Are you not a robber? When someone steals a man’s clothes, we call him a thief. Should we not give the same name to one who could clothe the naked and does not?” St. Ambrose said, “You are not making a gift of your possessions to the poor person. You are handing over to him what is his.” St. Jerome said, “Tell me, how is it that you are rich? From whom did you receive it? The rich person is either an unjust person or the heir of one. Do not say ‘I am spending what is mine; I am enjoying what is mine.’ In reality it is not yours, but another’s.” “St. Chrysostom said, “There is not mine and thine, but this expression is exterminated, that is a cause of countless wars.”

Over a thousand years later, political theorist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, would ask famously, “What is property?” To which he answered unequivocally, “Property is theft.”

People Are Not Property
Turning around the order of Proudhon’s thinking, where he stated that property is theft, he first said that the ownership of people (or slavery) is murder. People are not property. And here is another commandment I have broken and area where I must be set free.

The psalmist proclaimed this solemn truth: “The universe is the Lord’s and the fullness of it all, and all who inhabit it” (Ps 24:1). The process of setting myself free from property, from my idolatry, thievery, and murder includes setting free those people I think I own: “my” wife, “my” children, “my” staff, “my” ethnic group, etc. People are not objects, they are free souls who should not be controlled. The desire to possess or control people is the essence of pathological co-dependency. Interdependent folks view others as they see themselves: fully free and dignified in their sacred personhood, needing one another to become their fullest and most true selves. Our cultural language (which determines, to a great extent, how we live) of possession as it relates to our relationships will need to change for us to be free from our desire to control one another.

Thus, it is not surprising that Jesus proclaimed, “In order to find your true self, you must lose your false self” (Jn 12:25).

Nothing Left To Lose
If it is “for freedom, that Christ has set us free” (Ga 5:1), then the words of Janis Joplin must also ring true: “Freedom’s just another word, for nothing left to lose.” When we have no property, nothing left to lose, then we become free. Instead of fighting for our right to own property, we ought to fight to release ourselves and others from that which possesses us: our possessions.

© Paul Dordal, 2018

True Leadership Is Followership (Reflection)

#4 - Incarnation of LeaderDo Not Be Called Leaders
Did you know there is actually very little written in the Bible supporting hierarchical human leadership? In fact, Jesus was extremely cautious about, if not totally opposed to, humans having power over other humans: “Do not be called leaders…” (Mt 23:10).

In spite of this, a cottage industry of leadership resources has been produced by U.S. “Christian” publishers to develop, train, and multiply hierarchical leaders (not to mention the myriad leadership books published by “secular” booksellers.)  Ironically, I too wrote a leadership book called The Great Commandment Leader (2011). However, my book focuses much more on being a servant than being a leader, and my second book, In Search of Jesus the Anarchist (2017), further calls for the dismantling of the systems that create the sinful divide between leader and follower.

Over the last fifteen years or so I have tried to emphasize a new way of organizing life and society that promotes a leadership structure that is similar to the upside-down triangle popularized by various “servant leadership” models. Unfortunately, most of the servant models I have seen focus on individual leadership style changes, and not on transforming societies. Simply put, Western education and Christianity does not really teach a servant leadership or followership model of societal or economic life. So, what might it look like if we taught followership instead of leadership? Could we have a course (or, better yet, a course of study) called “Followership Studies?” Maybe there is one, but I have not seen it (and even the many new books on followership don’t address the misguided systemic hierarchical construction of almost all of our social and cultural institutions).

Thus, if I were to develop a course on followership, the outline might be something like: (1) Follow Down: An Incarnational/Non-Hierarchical Model (self-emptying); (2) Follow Up: Multi-Level Communication (self-sacrificing); and, (3) Follow Through: Finishing Well (self-denying). Though these three topics could engender a lot of sub-topics, my reflections today are on just a few overarching ideas.

Follow-Down
In my book on leadership, I challenged the prevailing definition of leadership as influence. Though, I do not necessarily say that “leadership as influence” was wrong, but how that influence was applied. For most leadership authors, influence is defined as the process of how a leader uses his power, privilege, and resources to get others to do what the leader or the organization thinks is best. My definition flipped the script and said that leadership is incarnational—it is the giving away of the leader’s power, privilege, and resources to enable followers to become leaders themselves. Jesus said, in reference to his followers, “Students are not greater than their teacher. But the student who is fully trained will become like the teacher.” (Lk 6:40, HCSB).

Follow-Up
So, Follow-Down is the humble (down-to-earth) movement towards recreating a society of equal and dignified human beings through self-emptying. Follow-Up, then, is the process by which people continually divest themselves of their privilege and resources through self-sacrificing for the sake of others. Unfortunately, the top-down, hierarchical, and neo-liberal capitalist system will always reassert itself, because that is how it is designed. Thus, the new flat/non-hierarchical society must be fought for continually; it must be perpetually communicated (followed-up) in different ways, primarily through loving, self-sacrificing actions matched with repeated words (e.g. Repent, the Kin-dom of God is near”). Jesus was the exemplary teacher/healer in this regard.  Like Jesus, we must follow-up with a ceaseless demonstration of the Good News of God’s Kin-Dom for all people.

Follow-Through
Lastly, as we incarnate by following down, and follow-up through a demonstrable program of the Gospel, then we follow-through by being consistent with our program of societal change. Accordingly, we recognize, as fundamental, that the oppressed and the poor will not follow if we do not follow-through. And by following-through, I am talking about knowing that we as “servant-leaders” are called to die to self (self-denying), not once in some mystical way, but through continually dying to self so that others may live. This can only be done through the Spirit of Christ coursing through our very being.

Final Thoughts
I have to admit that I don’t do this well. I am a work-in-progress. This is partly due to my own psychology and familial/cultural influences. Nevertheless, I refuse to beat myself up and see myself as the primary problem when the entire system of hierarchy, competition, and power that we all have been raised and currently live in (neo-liberal capitalism and hierarchical church systems) is opposed to what Jesus called for in his inauguration of the Kin-dom of God.

Thus, my emphasis now on followership focuses more on the societal possibilities of Jesus’s incarnational model. And though it may seem that this idea is not possible, that, overwhelmingly, people are always going to be followers and not desirous of leadership, even if this is true in our current reality, it is not true of human potential. Jesus’s Kin-dom of God, or what I have called the Commonweal of Love, is not unrealistic, it is simply focused on the potential of humanity, not on its current oppressed state.

A life full of meaning will be marked by our struggle for fulfilling our own potential as individual human beings and our struggle for a society where all people can fulfill their potential in intersubjective and interdependent mutuality.

© Paul Dordal, 2018

Anti-War Is Not Enough (Reflection)

Anti-Imperialist Button 1900I served thirteen years in the U.S. Army, including a consciousness-altering year of combat in Iraq.  Upon my return in 2010, I began the process of becoming an outspoken critic of war, especially U.S. wars. As Dwight D. Eisenhower said in 1946, “I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.” Yet, since re-engaging my anti-war activism I have discovered that hating war and being against violence is not enough. Because the causes of war are systemic, our whole way of organizing political and social life must change if we are ever really going to end war.

I know I am preaching to the choir when I repeat the immortal words of Jane Addams that “True peace is not the absence of war; it is the presence of justice.” This presence of justice, of course, can only be achieved when neo-liberal capitalist political, social, and economic systems, which create the impetus and machinery for war and the domination and subjugation of “weaker” peoples, are replaced by more equitable, human needs-based systems. Thus, true peace can only be established, not by simply holding a moral stance opposing war or witnessing to end violence, but by the more active engagement of joining the fight against imperialism—of intentionally opposing the neo-liberal capitalist system of the United States empire.

Recently, I have experienced pushback from some anti-war allies when I call for the expanded use of the term anti-imperialism. They say that the average person cannot understand the complexities of anti-imperialism.  Yet, this elitist position contributes to conflating instances of war with the systems that cause war, which keeps the anti-war movement in an infantile position where it doesn’t experience much success in thwarting or ending actual wars.

When I use the term imperialism, I mean when states, especially the United States, its allies, and their finance-capitalist handlers, attempt through huge corporate monopolies to exploit the resources of weaker nations.  Michael Parenti defines imperialism as “the process whereby the dominant politico-economic interests of one nation expropriate for their own enrichment the land, labor, raw materials, and markets of another people.” If the weaker nations do not submit to the imperialist’s expropriation, then various forms of violence (military interventions, sanctions, blockades, etc.) are used to keep them in line or to punish them. In the U.S. where there is a significant labor aristocracy (a large so-called “middle class”) the imperialist system is seen as beneficial for the “majority” and thus must be maintained by scapegoating any nation or people group that is opposed to the imperialist’s will (through racism, xenophobia, sexism, historical revisionism, etc.).

As a Christian and an Eastern-Rite priest I have come to understand the evil of imperialism not simply through my experiences in war or even studying political theory, but also through the Scriptures which are clear about God’s opposition to the oppression of the poor, violence, racism, xenophobia, sexism, and capitalistic greed. The church is complicit with the imperialists when it does not stand in solidarity with the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized, not just in our own backyards or communities, but also with those around the world. If the church is not the church of the poor and the marginalized but supports the neo-liberal capitalist status quo, then it is not the church of God. It is part of the empire.

Nevertheless, being an anti-imperialist cannot only be based on a metaphysically derived moral position or personal experience. It must be based on the concrete needs of all people to live in safety and have their needs met in interdependent communities of mutuality. The anti-imperialist position is one that is also understood through scientific study, which empirically shows that our humanity and our planet are sustainable only through cooperation, not “free-market” competition (the basis of neo-liberal capitalism). Thus, anti-imperialists promote the inherent dignity and interconnectedness of all of life. Anti-imperialists oppose racism, patriarchy, sexism, fascism, homophobia, and anything that undermines the dignity of the human person and the environment where we live. Being an anti-imperialist is to stand for and with the worker, the tenant, the immigrant, the transgendered person—all marginalized people—and for the protection of our sacred environment.

So, simply being anti-war is only the first step in coming to understand the more mature and intersectional anti-imperialist stance, which is the true basis of an effective mass-movement for peace and justice.

(c) Paul Dordal, 2018

Jesus: Healer of False Consciousness (Reflection)

Fat Cats“Jesus said, ‘You cannot even see the Kin-dom of God unless you rise above your false consciousness’” (John 3:3).

Introduction
Yes, I have taken some liberty with the original text, but not the original meaning. Jesus proclaimed that to live by the Spirit, one needed to be “born again”—to see through the blindness that the “world” (or the empire) has imposed on the common people. This blindness or false consciousness is what Jesus came to heal (Luke 4:18).

False consciousness is the imposed and erroneous beliefs of the oppressed as they adopt the ideology of their oppressors—when the poor and working classes believe that the elite class deserves to unjustly rule over them by virtue of their place of power. False consciousness also manifests itself when the poor and working classes falsely believe that all individuals have the ability to become a member of the elite class.

False consciousness is often violently (verbally and physically) acted out by the poor and working classes in their misguided attacks on other poor and working-class people (e.g., blaming the poor or the victim, union busting, police brutality, participating in imperial warfare, etc.). Only when the poor and working class awaken (are born again) from their false consciousness can they be “set free” and begin to overcome their oppressors (Luke 4:18).

Jesus was assassinated by the Roman Empire because he preached class-consciousness (e.g., “blessed are the poor”) and he healed those blinded by false consciousness. Jesus healed through his preaching rebellion by the poor and working classes over the political and religious elite (“Do not be like the hypocrites…”). Jesus’s preaching took place in three arenas: the personal, the institutional, and the imperial.

Personal, Institutional, and Imperial False-Consciousness
In the personal arena, Jesus challenged the prevailing religious-elite imposed attitude that a poor or oppressed person was that way because of personal sin. “Jesus’ disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God would be displayed in him’” (John 9:2-3). Jesus flipped the script on false consciousness which wants to blame the victim of poverty or disability. Jesus declares that poverty or disability are actually the means by which the goodness of God can be demonstrated.

In the institutional arena, Jesus challenged organized religion that regarded itself as a power to be obeyed, rather than as a vehicle by which the oppressed and poor could be served and set free. “Jesus said, ‘Tear down this evil temple which represents corrupt religion and in three days I will raise it up.’ ‘What,’ the blind disciples replied, ‘This temple took forty-six years to build and you think you can rebuild it in three days?” (John 2:19-20). Jesus, again, in healing the false consciousness of the working class, shows that any institution that doesn’t serve the poor and working classes is evil and must be destroyed.

Finally, in the imperial arena Jesus took on the Roman Empire, yet the religious elite (or labor aristocracy) of his time opposed him because of their false consciousness and desire to hold on to their own limited power. When Pilate, the representative of Rome, said he had the power to crucify him, Jesus replied, “You have no power over me, other than the power I give to you” (John 19:11). And then when Pilate presents Jesus as the “King” or “Emperor” of the poor and working classes, it is the co-opted religious elite who betray Jesus. “Pilate said to the religious elite, ‘Here is your King!’ At this, they shouted back to Pilate, ‘Crucify Him!’ ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ Pilate asked. ‘We have no king but the Emperor,’ replied the religious elite” (John 19:14-15).

Conclusion
Our function as liberated and transformed spiritual individuals, people who have come into class consciousness, is to help heal other individuals trapped in false consciousness, to dismantle the corrupt institutions of the ruling elite, and, ultimately, to replace imperial, capitalist rule with the truly just rule of and by the proletariat (the poor and working classes).

© Paul Dordal, 2018

Intersubjectivity (Reflection)

intersubjectiveI used to enjoy reading William Safire’s weekly On Language articles in the Sunday NY Times Magazine. Safire would look at how various words were being used in the press, in politics, or somewhere in the life of people. He then would look at the word’s etymology, wondering if the word’s meaning was still graspable or was it being changed by the new usage.

When I first started reading philosophy books almost forty years ago, I often had trouble understanding the words the philosophers used. Some philosophers spent their whole lives defining a single word or term. Sadly, at the end of the day, the word’s meaning was often still understood only by that philosopher. For instance, Karl Rahner’s use of the words “grace” or “transcendence” cannot be read with a dictionary understanding of those words, or even other philosopher’s understanding of those words. Rahner’s definition of some words was peculiar to him.

Sometimes I feel an odd sense of guilt or shame at not understanding some words. Two of the words I went a long time having trouble wrapping my head and heart around were subject and subjective. I still can’t say I understand them fully today. Now, you might ask, “What’s the problem? These are easy words to define.” Well, below are just a couple of very different ways to define the words—and there are others.

Subject: A vassal; someone who is under someone’s control.

Subject: A unique person; the mind; the consciousness; compare to an object, or a thing.

Subjective: one who lacks freedom; obsolete.

Subjective: a perception of reality peculiar to an individual; compare to an objective reality that is accepted by all observers.

I believe the words subject and subjective and their corresponding antonyms (object and objective) may be some of the most important words to wrap your mind and soul around. The reason that these words are so important is that if we are to live peacefully and cooperatively on this planet—with this planet, with the universe—then we are going to have to move towards greater intersubjectivity.

Intersubjective: the sharing of subjective realities by two or more individuals; compare to solipsism, where only my own mind exists.

Intersubjectivity respects the uniqueness and dignity of every person and recognizes that objectivity will always be a noble but, nevertheless, elusive goal. Starting from intersubjectivity, we ask the question, “What does this mean for my relationships with God, people, the universe?” Intersubjectivity, understood, rejects the objectification and commodification of life. Intersubjectivity is non-dual but still values seeing the differences. Intersubjectivity honors direct democracy but also emphasizes collectivism and the need to share without fear.

Anyway, these are some very imprecise, rambling ideas today. They are subjective, but I hope they spur some fruitful and hopeful intersubjective reflection.

© Paul Dordal, 2018

Soul Kitchen – A Parable

Soul-KitchenJuly 6, 1971 – Los Angeles, CA

Two teenagers were sitting in a grungy coffee shop called the Soul Kitchen in south LA. One of them was weeping; the other was downcast. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things, a man in his thirties, a hippie, walked in and sat in the booth behind the teenagers. They did not recognize the man because of their bleary eyes.

The man overheard the teenagers conversation and asked, “What are you discussing together?”

They were shocked at the question. One of the teenagers asked, “Did you not see the news or read the papers? Are you from another planet, dude? Didn’t you hear about the thing that happened the other day?”

“What thing,” the man asked?

“About the Prophet. He died in Paris on Friday. The world couldn’t handle him. He was killed by the evil of this world. We thought he was the One. And the crazy thing is now they can’t find his body. Some people say he is not dead, but we saw the pictures. We heard the witnesses. But now some are saying he is alive. They even went to the morgue and the Prophet wasn’t there.”

“Man, you guys are dense,” the hippie man said. “Don’t you know that the Prophet wasn’t made for this ‘world’—that the Prophet is immortal and all the prophecies from all the Books have attested to this Truth. The Prophet cannot die.”

The young teenagers asked the man to sit with them at their table.

When the man sat with them, he ordered some French fries and a beer. After the fries arrived he gave thanks for his food and broke some of the larger fries and shared them with the teenagers.

After eating with the teenagers, suddenly their souls were opened and they realized that they were in the presence of the Prophet. They remembered the words from one of the ancient Psalms, “Well, I woke up this morning and got myself a beer” (RB 4:1).

Just then the man got up to leave and the teenagers asked, “Hey what’s your name?”

“John.”

“John, what? What’s your last name?”

“Doe, John Doe.”

The teenagers were amazed. And the man disappeared from their sight.

Immediately, the teenagers got up and ran to find their friends. “It is true! The Prophet has risen, He is alive.” Then the two told what had happened at the coffee shop, and how the Prophet was recognized by them when he broke the French fry and drank the beer.”

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© Paul Dordal, 2018