Tag Archives: spirituality

Reality Check

More Santayana:

“Reality is more fluid and elusive than reason, and has, as it were, more dimensions than are known even to the latest geometry.” — George Santayana, in The Sense of Beauty

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Plumbers are smarter than I am, and so are pastors

Plumbers make more money than university lecturers. So do pastors.

Americans have some tendencies to equate income with intelligence.

There are outliers who make money by going for the sensational and the glandular, like Miley Cyrus.

As a university lecturer, I might as well have the belief system of a pastor.

Worthwhile knowledge, its retention, and its real-world impacts are nebulous things, terribly hard to quantify. Outcomes are easily attributable to other factors.

Which is why people don’t ultimately accept “knowledge is power,” and why they remain skeptical of the value of education. The monkey with the shiniest toys didn’t necessarily excel in school, and that common observation places a little wrinkle somewhere in the brain.

In the U.S., the annual mean wage paid to clergy is $47,730.

At large churches, however, where they have “executive” positions, which help establish egos and golf club memberships, compensation is at least $110,000.

At other churches, senior pastors (first among equals, some being more equal than others) earn between $265,000 and $1.1 million.

The average U.S. income for individuals is $40,563, and the average family income is $82,843.

The annual mean wage for plumbers is $53,240.

As a university lecturer, I often deal with material similar to what plumbers have to deal with: clogs, stagnation, rust, and excrement.

Only the material I’m exposed to is metaphorically clogged up, stagnated, rusted, or just plain shit.

One thing is for certain. Pastors have a unique position. If your job involves prodding and provoking vulnerable hearts, your income has a shot at being slightly above average.

Move hearts and you’ll change wallets, whether you’re Miley Cyrus or an Executive Pastor.

By the way, everyone should be disgusted by the title Executive Pastor, except no one is, because churches are marketed and operated precisely like organizations designed to make money: corporations.

Some ancient fool said you cannot serve both God and money. Good thing we have plenty of Executive Pastors to straighten Him out.

Grief

Yesterday was Gail’s funeral.

My wife has known Gail and her family for 30 years, maybe a bit more. Kristi and I have been married almost 21 years, and we lived in Gail’s neighborhood for about 13 years.

I don’t know how to grieve the loss of Gail.

I don’t think I completely grieved the loss of Billie Sue. She died a few years ago, and my family had known her and her son for about 30 years.

I don’t think I adequately grieved the loss of my grandfather.

I don’t think I fully grieved the loss of my grandmother.

I don’t think I entirely grieved the loss of my other grandmother.

Maybe I’ve done a better job accepting death, my own eventual death and the eventual deaths of others. Having really thought and wondered about death a lot, too much, I might have gotten to the point at which one sees all of life shot-through with this inevitable, time-bound tainting. That doesn’t lead me to think everything is futile or meaningless because the creative works and good deeds of a person can have an impact on the continuing, overlapping drama of birth and death.

More likely, however, I’ve realized that overwhelming emotions are a waste of time, and something that should be controlled. I have to guard against the derailment of my days. Am I in denial when I wittingly choose denial?

Two perspectives seem less like denial: The realization that Gail lives on in the blood of her children and grandchildren, and the realization that Gail is very much present in a uniquely human way that neither requires nor negates metaphysical and supernatural beliefs.

To put the second realization in other words, yesterday, when a full church remembered Gail, when everyone’s minds and hearts were focused on her and memories of her, she was almost present.

I don’t mean that like a psychological trick one might play on oneself. With so many people beholding Gail’s image, with so many people loving her individuality, with so many people knowing just what she would have said or done in a variety of circumstances, with so many people imprinted by her life, she almost lives on within the community of those who knew her.

I wonder if that’s what the New Testament really meant, when Jesus said, essentially, “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, I am with them.”

If we gather in the name of, in the memory of, in the love of another person, something like a presence is present.

Gail is gone, an infuriating, heartbreaking truth. She’s not with us any more. Yet she nearly remains. We carry out the rest of our days with her imprint present in our lives.

Flip the Ritual switch

Rod Dreher recently published some thoughts on ritual that reminded me of a passage from Jaroslav Pelikan, a passage I’ve used on this blog before: “Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.”

With Pelikan’s words in mind, here’s what Dreher said about ritual:

Rituals can be deadening, but the absence of rituals can also be deadening. A ritual only works to order the soul and instruct the conscience if you do it even when you don’t feel like doing it. It teaches you that there is something more important than your individual desire at that given moment.

That’s from “5 old-timey rituals that should make a comeback,” which appeared in the December 2014 print edition of Real Simple magazine. Dreher’s ritual? “Dinner at six.” With the entire family.

Consider for a sec that these passages from Pelikan and Dreher could be applicable in a number of areas of life, including habit formation and learning.

With this topic at hand, I should include, like the Pelikan quotation, another repeat from a previous post, this one by C.S. Lewis:

A parallel, from a different sphere, would be turkey and plum pudding on Christmas day; no one is surprised at the menu, but every one realizes it is not ordinary fare. Another parallel would be the language of a liturgy. Regular church-goers are not surprised by the service — indeed, they know a good deal of it by rote; but it is a language apart. Epic diction, Christmas fare, and the liturgy, are all examples of ritual — that is, of something set deliberately apart from daily usage, but wholly familiar within its own sphere…. Those who dislike ritual in general — ritual in any and every department of life — may be asked most earnestly to reconsider the question. It is a pattern imposed on the mere flux of our feelings by reason and will, which renders pleasures less fugitive and griefs more endurable, which hands over to the power of wise custom the task (to which the individual and his moods are so inadequate) of being festive or sober, gay or reverent, when we choose to be, and not at the bidding of chance.

The neurobiology of religion: from ‘The friendly atheists next door’ – CNN.com

From The friendly atheists next door – CNN.com:

“Todd Stiefel told me about a lecture on the neurobiology of religion that he’d heard at an American Atheists convention several years ago. It was delivered by Dr. Andy Thomson, a psychiatrist who lives in Virginia and has studied the components of religious belief.

“Thomson has become famous among atheists for an exercise that seems to demonstrate how worship services work – why even lapsing Catholics like Harry sometimes felt that ‘Sunday morning high’ after church.

“In his experiment, Thomson asks members of the crowd to pinch themselves, hard, to gauge their pain threshold, and then to put their arms around each other and sing a few verses of ‘Amazing Grace.’

“Stiefel, who participated in the exercise, says the crowd couldn’t keep a straight face. Atheists singing ‘Amazing Grace’!?! But afterward, he said, he felt bonded to this unlikely choir, and when he pinched himself again, his pain threshold had increased.

“The experiment demonstrates the power of communal rituals, Thomson told me in an interview. Joining hands and singing together floods our brain with soothing endorphins, which boost our sense of trust and cooperation.

“It’s similar to how fans bond at the ballpark, and why after singing ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame’ and standing for ‘the wave,’ we often feel good, even if our team loses.”

via The friendly atheists next door – CNN.com.

If you need to leave baggage behind

If you need to leave baggage behind, remember what it looks like, so you don’t pick it up again.

Additional thoughts about healing and personal growth

Continuing some previous thoughts:

Forgiving someone for real damage does not necessarily heal the real damage.

Not all real damage is merely emotional.

If real damage is thought to be merely emotional when it is not merely emotional, then forgiveness will not usher in rapid healing and release.

Some real damage can be a matter of integration — concept, habit, worldview, and pattern, as well as emotions.

Imagine a teen driver accidentally bumping a middle-age cyclist off the side of the road. While the cyclist recovers, he forgives the teen driver, but the cyclist still has to heal.

More to the psychological point of this post, imagine a young man whose vulnerability is exploited by cult recruiters. The young man joins and devotes several years to working in the cult. Eventually, the young man’s eyes are opened to the true nature of the cult. He might be able to forgive the recruiters and leaders. Years of thinking and behaving within the cult’s ways and means, however, make lasting change a difficult process.