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Finding Out What It Is to Be Truly Human

Kind of a hot guy, actually. (Auguste Rodin)

Kind of a hot guy, actually. (Auguste Rodin)

This post will probably be a bit ragged, because I haven’t thought the subject all the way through. But it’s been stirring inside me long enough that it’s time for me to try to get some notes down and hope that they mean something to you. In the past people often called my writing stream-of-consciousness, which I’ve never thought was correct, but maybe this entry will be an example of what they meant.

Here’s a lesson appointed for Morning Prayer tomorrow. I’ll reprint the whole thing so you can see the context. St. Paul, whose writing is always wise and eloquent, claims that he put these gifts aside when evangelizing in Corinth, so that instead he could give “a demonstration of the Spirit and of power.” If he did that, he was surely a master teacher, but in this letter he will now eloquently explain his wisdom! (I’m convinced he knew that every word he wrote was holy scripture.)

1 Corinthians 2:1-13 (NRSV)

When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.

Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish. But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written,

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the human heart conceived,
what God has prepared for those who love him” –

these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.

Learning what is truly human, seems to me, is our task in life.

And I can’t say I’ve arrived at the point of knowing; it’s more that I feel like I’m getting there, and also that I feel like I’ve always known. I want to ask, Don’t we all really know what it is to be truly human?

We may not live up to it – most people don’t, the world doesn’t – but that’s because we prevent ourselves from knowing.

We do, all of us, know what it means to be human. But we push that knowledge-awareness down deep inside; we seem to find it painful to know what’s human and not, so we keep ourselves from thinking about any of it.

As Leonardo Ricardo would say, we’re all about “pretend.” When I was a kid our adolescent term was having a “false front.” (Teenagers are experts on this subject, with built-in bullshit detectors.)

I never really lost mine and I bet you didn’t either. I’m not sure anybody does, but boy, does this world have massive incentives to give in to the BS.

Corporate life requires it – any large organization, for-profit or not. Bureaucracy demands we all worship the bullshit.

the-organization-man

Family life demands it in most families – at least the ones we grow up in. I suppose we think we don’t impose it in the families we ourselves create, but then again we probably do.

Commercial life – politics and television – are all about the bullshit. A TV show may make comedy or drama about rebelling against the BS (“The Daily Show,” “Breaking Bad,” “Downton Abbey”) but every eight minutes it’s “brought to you by the bullshit.”

There’s nowhere you can go (including church) and not be knee-deep in bullshit. That’s all the Church of England puts out anymore, and the rest of them are usually even worse. I don’t really follow the CofE anymore, and even if I did I wouldn’t want to go into this, but the latest thing is some kind of yes-and-no from the House of Bishops about same-sex marriage; “Gay people are welcome, and marriages are legal now, but of course we can’t conduct them, and we don’t let clergy officiate, and they ought not even get one privately themselves, but of course we can’t prevent them, and though it might be possible to offer some prayers after people get the civil rite, prayers aren’t the same things as blessings, you see,” which makes no theological sense at all and therefore is pure bullshit, the Anglican kind, you get the idea, it’s all who-fucking-cares.

June Butler cares, Mark Harris cares, Alan Wilson does, Leonardo perhaps and Louie (Crew) Clay almost certainly. But me, I long since don’t care. Leonardo knows his vocation, to tell the world and church “Let’s quit pretend.” But that’s his vocation and not, thankyouJesus, mine, not where the CofE’s concerned. I don’t fucking care, it’s not human there anymore.

What does it mean to be truly human? One of God’s names is Reality. (h/t Bill Coulter, late great.)

Here in the Episcopal Church we mostly think our places are getting more human all the time; I think that about my own congregation online, and I hope you think it about yours, too – that you’re right to think so. Even the Methodists got human yesterday, though only in New York and we’ll see how long it lasts. The retired dean of Yale Divinity School officiated at his kid’s wedding awhile ago, so two bigotbrains put him up on charges, which were set to kick off Monday till the conference bishop called the whole thing off. Good for him; good for the dean and his wife and his kid and his son-in-law. The dean is quoted in today’s paper thanking God for such a great son-in-law. That was nice; truly human.

But it takes a lot more than being for Gay rights to make us human; have you seen any Gay porn blogs lately? They’re all for Gay rights, at least I presume, but good grief, they’re inhuman.

Or they were until yesterday, when somebody Tumbld this:

catchotd:

We need to quit it with all the “cumdump whore” and “slave faggot” bullshit, you know? We’re willingly throwing ourselves into an identification that’s demeaning and dehumanizing, and that’s so dumb. Like, damn, love yourself; if you wanna scarf down three dicks and swim in a veritable pool of cum, then more power to ya man, you’ve got my respect.

Amen brother

Interesting that the reblogger said Amen.

MEANWHILE, back here at the farm, I try to make sense of my life and keep up with how much I’ve changed these last ten years. It’s really astonishing to me; I can’t make sense of it. I’m 62, my body is starting to wear out and my soul is cleaner than ever. (Should I have written “purer”? That’s what it feels like, even though nothing can be crazier than to proclaim to myself or anyone else “I feel like I’m being purified.”)

That is what I feel, though, and it’s damn weird.

So what was it Paul said again? The Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within?

I sense, more than know, what that means. Has something to do with a spark of life inside. Some bit of honesty is surely part of it; and increasing [crotchety] impatience with everything that isn’t real.

You know when people get old, they get crotchety; men especially. I’m only 62, which I’m sure to some of you is death warmed over. And only 62, to others.

I want to ask all the old people, “Did something like this happen to you? Is this normal? Is this like the reward we get for living this long?”

I do not know; I’m living this by myself, and no one can ever be sure of what’s going on with them. Our human capacity for self-deception is too great. Every discovery has to be tested; we’re too involved with ourselves to observe objectively.

Mind you I don’t claim one bit of better-than-you; I am after all still looking at porn sites. And on some level I don’t mind that at all – or I wouldn’t if could find any humane ones. The internet was made for porn, so there’s more of it than ever, but very very few where people treat each other decently.

I worry about what young Gay men are looking at these days. The internalized homophobia is just thick – except it isn’t all internalized, it’s disseminated, it’s broadcast, it’s enforced.

Here we thought, those of us who are now veteran activists, that we were rooting out societal homophobia and the psychic kind with it, but it seems like kids are killing themselves as much as ever.

I’d show you graphic examples or provide links, but you don’t want to see it. I don’t want to post them.

Instead here’s a nice thing; my Straight friend Tim found it yesterday.

Now I’ll start to wind this up. When I bought this house ten years ago my sexuality was on a certain trajectory. What turned me on at 20 still turned me on at 50, while my interests got much narrower and more focused – like “I want what I want exactly this way.” I felt some concern about that, like the world stopped containing 3 billion men and now had only 300,000, but I felt I was refining my desires too. Then a couple of years ago, I finally finished the 1000th draft of my third/ultimate novel, and quickly, my sexuality changed.

This wasn’t just my aging body, but the satisfaction/destruction of a gestalt. “The Gospel According to Gay Guys” is (or so I hope) the world’s ultimate love story with the world’s hottest sex.

And then I was done, and I’m not into that stuff anymore. Or I am, but not in the same way. I said it already, I got it out of my system, so it’s out with the leather and in with the sweat pants and pajama bottoms. (I suppose I should sell that stuff on Ebay.)

“Refining” sexuality sounds similar to “purifying” one’s soul. Meanwhile there’s this other thing going on.

I have said the Daily Office twice a day now for almost ten years, and posted it online. I was in love with God at 20 and I’m certainly in love with God even more now.

I think the repetition, as well as aging, is what does it.

I’ve told people on my sites, “Daily Office, twice a day for 30 days, and you’re bound to get closer to God.” Pray twice a day in an organized, disciplined way, and you won’t be able to stay away from God – even if getting closer is the very thing that scares you. (We want to get close, but typically not too close. Getting noticeably close causes most people to panic and back away; sure did me for awhile.)

I think probably nuns and monks, and Wesley with his Method, got this right a long time ago, even though I’m not sure they fully grasped it or anyone can.

Never my idea of a Gay role model…

Never my idea of a Gay role model…

But here is what I’ve learned: the soul’s desire is union with God; reunion, from before all time, and communion, here and always.

The soul’s desire is that all of life is worship, no matter what we’re doing at the time.

We can’t just will this attitude in ourselves as if it’s a decision we can make. Try that and you’ll forget it completely in 15 minutes.

Instead it works like this. “7 a.m., time to get up for the webcast. 12 noon, time to post the next services. 12 midnight, time to post again.” And the same tomorrow and tomorrow, day after day, month and year until it’s a habit that becomes a way of life.

I can tell you for sure that if I am getting closer to God these days, and I am getting refined and purified, it isn’t any doing of mine. None, zero, at most I just cooperate. At most I’ve just let go of my fear. God is no one to be afraid of; you won’t lose your personality (what makes you human), you’ll gain it more than ever before.

So you won’t be able to stand some things you used to be into. You’ll click off “House of Cards” because it simply got too dark. (The British original was both more humorous and more disturbing; I don’t like disturbing anymore. I don’t want those people in my house.)

Maybe you’ll end up selling all your sexgear, I dunno. (I do know it is better to have started getting it when you were 20-30-40 than to have waited until you were 50-60 to finally let yourself be who you are.) Whatever happens as you age, you really can welcome it, assuming you got on the right path in the beginning.

What’s the right path? The one that commits to being human, to expecting that out of yourself. The one that doesn’t mind wandering away without feeling guilty. The one that’s authentic for you, so you can be authentic with others. This “right path” doesn’t prevent you from hurting, making mistakes, loving and losing; going through dreadful things sometimes. Jesus could have done without some of those wilderness times – but he wouldn’t have been himself if he hadn’t had them.

My life still isn’t all put together, and I doubt it ever will be. Still, I’m almost shockingly happy.

That “human spirit within” is the only way to go. And I pity the fool who doesn’t go there.++

Internal Dialogue: Little Tommy & Big Josh

This morning Marcia, my spiritual director, sent me this quote from Hannah Whitall Smith’s A Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life.

 
“A Christian who was in a great deal of trouble was recounting to another the various efforts he had made to find deliverance, and concluded by saying, ‘But it has all been in vain, and there is 
literally nothing left for me to do now but to trust the Lord.’
  
 
‘Alas!’ exclaimed his friend in a tone of the deepest commiseration, as though no greater risk were possible, – ‘Alas! has it come to that!’ “

 

Marcia is hoping this bit of humor helps me, based on a phone conversation we had last night.

We have established by now that I have a great deal of trouble with St. Julian’s ideal of our soul’s being “one’d” to God.

Intellectually I’m all for it. But emotionally I invariably get anxious when the Holy Spirit invites me to get closer. I have a recurrent dream in which Christ stands inside a beautiful blue cave, with his hand outstretched, inviting me in.

The first time I dreamed this, I came close to the edge of the cave, saw that there was a little ledge to step over, and took one step inside before I ran away/woke up.

The second time, I took three steps inside, but no farther.

Then last week, when I was working on a new idea for webcasting Morning Prayer five days a week, which might really grow my website dailyoffice.org even more than its current 2.5 million hits, I got both excited and scared. So I called Marcia, and we talked last night.

She suggested that I try having a conversation with my childhood self; I’ll call us Big Josh and Little Tommy.

I have a photograph of him on my desk, taken by my grandfather when I was about 4. My parents had just driven from our home in north central Ohio to my grandparents’ house in Northwest Indiana. I was so glad to be out of the car that I ran around the outside of the house 3 times, then crouched down in the front yard, watching these people, waiting for what would happen next.

This was apparently remarkable enough that Granddad went to the house, got his camera, fiddled with the gear, came outside and took a snapshot. In the time it took to do all that I hadn’t moved.

In the photo Little Tommy doesn’t smile. It’s summer, obviously, because he’s wearing short pants overalls and no shirt; big head, big eyes, big ears, button nose, little mouth, short blond hair. His forearms are on his knees and he holds his hands together. All he does is watch for what happens next.

He looks anxious. That may be because of how he’s wired, but he’s also afraid of his dad.

One would think that the ultimate reassurance for a scared little boy is the protection of Christ himself. But that’s intellect talking.

This boy doesn’t trust.

I do, but he doesn’t. And when I get excited/scared about the most important relationship in my life, he runs the show. I have the dreams, but he’s the one who runs away/wakes up.

So, I told Marcia, this kid’s kinda messing up my life. She said, Talk to him about it. Then listen when he answers back. (Be both sides of yourself, like gestalt therapy’s “empty chair” technique.)

I didn’t do it right away. I’m trying to do it now.

Josh: I love you, little boy.

Tommy: I love you too. Gee, am I gonna look like you when I grow up?

Josh: Well, when you’re 62, yes. Sorry! I was cute when I was younger!

Tommy: That’s okay, I guess.

Josh: Do you know why I keep your picture in my bedroom-office?

Tommy: No.

Josh: To remind myself. You are me and I am you.

Tommy: I don’t understand.

Josh: That’s okay. You will someday. The thing is, child, your fears keep holding me back from getting closer to God.

Tommy: I don’t mean to.

Josh: I know. It’s my fault in a way, not yours. You were right to be scared then.

(No reply.)

Josh: My fear of the blue cave is that once I go inside, I’ll get lost and never come out.

Tommy: I’ve never been in a cave.

Josh: I have; a guide was with us. And there were lights inside, steps, a path. And signs, “This way out.”

Tommy: That would be good.

Josh: In another part of that cave, there were thousands of bats!

Tommy (covering his eyes): Ooh!

Josh: I know. I still don’t like bats much, but these were good bats. We sat and watched them fly around, while a hunky Park Ranger told us all about them.

Tommy: I don’t know that word hunky.

Josh: You will, buddy. I guess the point is that sometimes we get afraid when we don’t have to. When we’re with someone who’s safe and knows about bats, we don’t get so scared.

Tommy: Like a friend?

Josh: Yes, a friend.

Tommy: I don’t have any friends, I don’t think.

Josh: No. Which makes you twice as scared. But it’s all right. I’m your friend now. Will you be mine?

Tommy: I guess so.

Josh: I don’t want you to ever be afraid, baby. I want to hold you and love you and keep you from being afraid.

Tommy: Nobody holds me.

Josh: I know. But someday you’ll meet people who will.

(No reply.)

Josh: When you grow up you’ll get really good at taking a risk. Even when you’re afraid.

Tommy: How will that happen?

Josh: Some very nice people will teach you that being afraid prevents you from getting something you want a lot. And you want that thing so much, you’ll decide to try it in case they’re right. Because you know you won’t get what you want if you don’t try.

Tommy: What is it I want that time?

Josh: You want to help other people, at a place called the Crisis Center. Those adults run the Crisis Center, but they won’t let you work there if you can’t take a risk, and be honest and open. Which isn’t as hard as it seems, but you have to be willing to try it. Since you already know what it’s like to hurt so bad, like the people who need the Crisis Center hurt, you decide to do what your adult friends are telling you to do. It turns out great, baby. You change overnight, and become an open, honest person. The whole world opens up for you, because you took a risk to try and be like what they said.

Tommy: Gee.

Josh: That’s how you started making friends, and helping people. And they helped you too; they liked you, they loved you, they held you.

Tommy: Does it take a long time?

Josh: To a kid, yes. It takes surviving, first of all, which you’ll turn out to be good at. See, I’ve always kept you with me. I am still that child you are. You’re the greatest gift I’ve ever gotten.

Tommy: I like you.

Josh: I’ve always kept you safe, baby. We’ll always be together.

Tommy: That might be nice.

Josh: Now we’ve got to see what’s inside that cave, ’cause Jesus asked us to come in and explore it with him. He won’t let us get lost, baby. He always finds us and brings us back. And it’s this really beautiful cave, I’ve seen the inside of it. A little; but I want you to come with us. If you don’t come, I’ll never get to see all of it.

(Tommy thinks about this.)

Josh: I won’t make you. But Jesus is the one who will hold you forever, and keep you safe and warm.

Tommy: I don’t like being cold.

Josh (smiling): I know, baby. I don’t like it either. But we’ll be safe and warm with him. And we’ll see all these beautiful sights!

Tommy: Will we ever get to come back home?

Josh: Yes. Although Marcia says we won’t be the same as we were before. We’ll be better than we used to be, before we took the chance. Would you like to see a picture of this cave?

Tommy (nodding up and down): Yes!

Josh: Here it is, then. What do you think?

blue-cave

Courtesy of

bluecavejohnsparacio

blue_cave_walls

Tommy: It’s pretty!

Josh: Let’s go, baby. Hold my hand, okay?

Tommy: Okay. What if we get lost?

Josh: Stop trying to control everything. You trust me, I trust Jesus, we’ll be all right.

Lord, we’re ready. Keep the lights on for us; show us some of that pretty stuff you’ve got.

Jesus: Hey, guys! Nice you finally showed up.

Tommy: Don’t blame me, I’m just a little kid!++