Friday, May 8, 2020

#83, Men, agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia (neither sheep nor goats)


In This Hideous Strength, C.S. Lewis writes, “In relation to God, we are all female.” (quoted by Scott Peck, People of the Lie, p. 12) On the same page, Peck writes these words: “ is not neuter. He is exploding with life and love--even sexuality of a sort….Certainly I consider God androgynous.”

In many Christian churches, as recently as last Sunday (digitally) sermons about “sheep” and “goats” are delivered, with the underlying, implicit and deceptive dualism that ‘those who believe and follow Jesus Christ are ‘sheep’ while those who fail in that undertaking are deemed “goats”. Stereotypically, as documented on many websites including travelChinaguide, sheep are “meek, usually very quiet and gentle, holding themselves aloof from the world. In a herd, all the sheep tend tpo listen to their leaders and show esteem to them. Because of the obedient character, sheep are among the most popular animals beloved by mankind.”

Goats, on the other hand, as outlined by Susan Schoenian, a sheep and goat specialist at the University of Maryland on the website, Sheep 101, “goats have 60 chromosomes, sheep has 54 (humans 46);…goats are independent and naturally curious; sheep prefer to flock together and are more aloof…most goats have horns…mountain goats can jump 12 feet in a single bound, according to National Geographic…in bright light, the pupil in a goat’s eye is rectangular rather than round.
In the parable of the sheep and the goats, in Matthew 25: 31-46, “Jesus uses the example of a shepherds who separates his sheep from his goats in order to help his followers understand what judgement will be like. Jesus explains that people will be separated into two groups: those who have lived good lives and believed in God will be put on one side and have a place in Heaven; those who have rejected the belief in God and sinned in the their lives will be placed on the other side and will go to Hell. (BBC)

In Luke, another reference to the lost sheep, being found this time by Jesus, refers to sheep as sinner, depicting God’s desire to find sinners and bring them back into the fold.

It is more than a little tricky and potentially deceptive to hold fast to a single stereotypical image of sheep and/or goats, as a relevant theological exegesis. Literalism, reductionism, the absence of ambiguity, and simplistic menu’s that offer and promise salvation are worthy neither of a homilist nor of a deity worthy of the name. The risk is in the absolutism, the certainty, the absence of context, nuance, complexity and necessary reflection that engenders the spiritual path one dof life’s most challenging and potentially rewarding, as well as most mis-apprehended paths.
In a first-year seminary class in Field Education in 1988, one adult student uttered, pontifically, “We all know that Hitler will not be to Heaven.” Naturally, the room of some incipient clergy, a dozen fundamentalist biblical literalists, and half a dozen ‘liberal’ non-literal, searchers seemed to erupt in tension. The first group loudly concurred with the pronouncement; the latter group denounced it. As one of the latter group, today, I am deeply concerned with a faith that hangs on a literal reading of scripture, and then is propagated in pulpits among “Christians” across North America, as the absolute, sacred and incontestable truth.

In his 1983 best-seller, People of the Lie, Scott Peck, a Christian psychiatrist details many biographic narratives, including one of his own. In his search for those responsible for the My Lai massacre in Viet Nam, through the corridors and offices of the Pentagon, Peck could find no one who took responsibility. Legendary, too, are the reports that the American people were lied to about the actual facts on the ground in that war, as a political refuge to protect the administration against protesters, who resisted the conflict, and eventually prevailed in its terminaltiy, along with the withdrawal of then President Lyndon Johnson from the forthcoming presidential election in 1968.

In his book, Why We Lie: The Evolutionary Roots of Deception and the Unconscious Mind, David Livingston Smith, philosopher and evolutionary psychologist elucidates the essential role that deception and self-deception have played in human-and animal-evolution and shows that the very structure of our minds has been shaped from our earliest beginnings by the need to deceive. Smith shows us that by examining the stories we tell, the falsehoods we weave, and the unconscious signals we send out, we can learn much about ourselves and how our minds work. (from Goodreads.com) In a comment on the text, “Athena” writes these insightful observations:

As stated by Dr. David Livingston Smith, PH.D, ‘while it I strue children are taught not to lie, they are actually more frequently8 taught how to lie in a socially acceptable manner,’ Every time you receive a gift, you must put on a Duchenne Smile and pretend you are grateful, no matter whether you like it or not. Every time an event upsetting to adults occurs, you are taught not to laugh or grin foolishly. We were taught to hide our emotions and show only what ‘should be shown’ to others. Why? To make a good impression. To make friends. To impress teachers and employers. To form connections. To exploit society. To increase the change of having a ‘successful life’. Lying is biological. It gives one an upper hand in society.” (from Goodreads.com)
There is no inference here that those homilists who preached about sheep and goats were dissembling, deceiving or even necessarily distorting, merely simplifying, eliminating the complexities, the counter-thoughts and the rigorous theological exegetical work which those (virtual) congregants were hungry. Those people in the offices of the Pentagon, too, were refusing to take responsibility, leaning firmly and confidently on the notion that a ‘committee’ is as close as anyone will ever come to finding the author of that historic massacre.

Searching for truth, unwrapping the veil of self-deception each of us has in our perceptions, as well as the ensuing assessments evaluations, judgements and the new insights that poke their green stems through the earth of our previous conscious awareness, while itself exhausting and potentially psychically crippling, also affords the authentic psychic archeologists and anthropologists of our biographies new and ultimately freeing notions of what really happened and what those happenings mean as formational of one’s identity.

There is a new NBC series entitled Council of Dads, in its infancy, in which a dying man creates a ‘council of dads’ who will be there for the family if anything should happen to him. One ‘daughter,’ an aspiring writer searches for the real story about her past life, including an ‘adoption’ and ‘re-think’ and then somewhat heroic parenting by her now sober father. Her part in his sobriety is life-giving, surprising and her discovery hangs over the now-deceased father’s closest friends, prior to disclosure, as worrisome. Dancing around the full story, once again, is indicative of our social conditioning, while “breaking through” is considered a relief, even if its full apprehension may at first be challenging.

Thematically, the hidden and protective shield all of us, men and women, put on our traumas, our alcoholic ‘uncles’ and our unmarried aunts, as well as our ancestors’ most dark nights of their souls, robs us of the rich legacy in which we have all been nurtured. None of us has an ancestral narrative free of pain, conflict, danger, sickness, disease, faulty judgements, or even aberrant and shameful moments. Keeping the vault of those events locked in the attic of our memory, or some photo album, or some official and buried documents, diaries, tombstones, and classmates’ accounts robs both those imperfect and even despicable people of their full disclosure.

Mya Angelou on being interviewed on npr (March 27, 2013), says this about her early life:

At one time in my life, from the time I was 7 until about 13, I didn’t speak. I only spoke to my brother. The reason I didn’t speak, I had been molested and I told the name of the molester to my brother who told my family. The man was put in jail for one day and night, and released. And about three days later, the police came over to my mother’s house and told her that the man had been found dead, and it seemed he had been kicked to death. They made that pronouncement in my earshot, and I thought my voice killed the man. And so it’s better not to speak. So for six years I didn’t speak.”

The words are so graphic, so tragic and so poignant that no one on hearing/reading them can help but be moved. Her book, Mom & ME & Mom, details her tortured and redemptive relationship with the mother who sent her away at three to live with her grandmother, then took her back and only decades later did the two women evolve a relationship based on profound intimate and difficult personal disclosure.

Each of us, both men and women, have turbulent troubling stories in our family history whose entanglements have both ensnared and confounded us for years, while continuing to confront us with questions about the why of another, the what meaning can be attributed to, the light that continues to lie in the darkness of unknowing. And one of the significant questions of a life fully lives is whether the environment in which we dwell is supportive of our ‘dig’ into our own family’s fossils.
If the truth, however, of the public square, is considered so destructive of the stability of that square, and the people occupying offices and positions that are dedicated to the institution’s integrity and authenticity that it must remain hidden, and then wrapped in the ideological ‘gift-wrap’ of a particular administration, in order to guild the lily of that administration, then the truth-telling of the ordinary folk also unpalatable. The model of dissembling, reduction, deception and covering up has overtaken the public discourse.

Just this morning, the Attorney General of the United States, in defending the historic implications of the Justice Department’s withdrawal of charges against Michael Flynn, for National Security Chief to trump, for lying to the FBI, made this statement:
“Well, history is written by the winners!”

And therein lies the cultural, governmental, and now legal justification for any and all decisions of the current administration. And who are the winners: the men who occupy the seats of power in the U.S. administration, and the sycophants and acolytes who uphold the men and the public utterances of those men, while the world watches fully cognizant of the back story that reads just as tragically as the biography of the little girl we know as Mya Angelou.

There is a difference between a literal death of a man and the literal interpretation of a poetic parable. And that difference can help us to discern the complex realities of the events in our lives and the metaphoric, mythical and interpretative readings of those incidents which provide the contextual, psychic and rhythmic melodies, including their overtones, that elevate each of us from a stick-drawing or a cardboard cut-out to a living, breathing, thinking, feeling, sensing and pulsating human spirit, that cannot be contained in a literal reading of any holy book.

While our diaries, journals and letters hold some of our secrets, they are a garden of flowers, fruits, and even weeds seeking discovery. And, in this springtime of our pandemic, when time seems to hang barely above the freezing mark, when hundreds of thousands of humans have perished, and their families have been left without the gifts of the story-telling that remained locked behind the closed doors of polite behaviour, smooth and comforting words, constrained smiles, and tightly clenched lips and fists, this weekend, Mother’s Day offers yet another opportunity to have the conversations we have dreaded for decades.

Who knows what new chapters will be written, based on stories previously secured in memories so shamed and fearful that their complexity precluded release?

And, while women are more comfortable than men with the details of their lives, men too are not without the psychic muscle, discipline and emotional maturity to being their own walk into the beach of their previously resisted lake, river, or ocean of being.

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