The Endless Machinations of Ego

I think Richard Rohr is one of the best writers and teachers of Christian spirituality on the scene at this time. He sent out a meditation today which, in my opinion, is his best encapsulation of the endless schemes and machinations of ego. Spirituality is never more dangerous than when it is used to furnish the cavernous mansion of ego. Rohr writes,


We don’t teach meditation to the young monks. They are not ready for it until they stop slamming doors.
~ Thich Nhat Hanh to Thomas Merton in 1966

The piercing truth of this statement struck me as a perfect way to communicate the endless disguises and devices of the false self. There is no more clever way for the false self to hide than behind the mask of spirituality. The human ego will always try to name, categorize, fix, control, and insure all its experiences. For the ego everything is a commodity. It lives inside of self-manufactured boundaries instead of inside the boundaries of the God-self. It lives out of its own superior image instead of mirroring the image of God. The ego is constantly searching for any solid and superior identity. A spiritual self-image gives us status, stability, and security. There is no better way to remain unconscious than to baptize and bless the forms of religion, even prayer itself, instead of surrendering to the Substance Itself. First stop slamming doors, and then you can begin in the kindergarten of spirituality. Too many priests, bishops, and ministers are still slamming doors.

In the name of seeking God, the ego pads and protects itself from self-discovery, which is an almost perfect cover for its inherent narcissism. I know this because I have done it all myself.

I have been a pastor for 18 years. During most of that time I was a teacher of religion. A few years ago I decided I needed to teach Christian spirituality, which is to depart from merely teaching the mechanics and beliefs of a religious system (however good and important and valuable they may be) and move towards teaching time-tested ways of experiencing God personally. Rohr’s words above should be read and studied and contemplated until their meaning becomes perfectly clear because he is right. To slam doors is to continue to fortify the ego. Slamming doors can be understood as all the manifestations of ego — anger that we excuse as justifiable; attempts to force our opinions, ideas and perspectives on others; attempts to force others to change; verbal, emotional, and physical manipulation; endless clamoring for attention and validation from others, along with the depression and discouragement we wallow in when those attempts fail; constant cravings for recognition; comparing ourselves against others; feeling superior to and inferior to others; turning to things like food, substances, and pornography to comfort ourselves — the list is endless. All of these come out of the machinations of ego, and of all these religion is the most dangerous.

Religion is the best possible cover for ego because it hides itself in the things of God. Under the guise of religion I can try to force you to do what I want to because what I want and what God wants are synonymous. I can manipulate you into changing because the change might well be good and necessary and so I can justify any means of getting you to do it. I can whine and complain about whatever I wish and then simply claim I’m not yet spiritual enough to be able to control myself. This is especially dangerous because it looks like humility but it is simply ego finding one more way of justifying itself.

All of this is the endless scheming and machinations of ego. It is garbage.  Shit, as Paul called it. Ego simply has to be faced down or it will continue to be the controlling factor behind everything we do and say. Like Rohr, I know this because I have spent most of my life — even my life in ministry — hiding behind it. Not intentionally. Ego depends on us never seeing it for what it is because as soon as we do we realize it is a shadow — a sham — a falsehood. It is only when we get a glimpse of the ego that we realize for the first time we have lived our entire lives, spiritual and otherwise, in the matrix. And as soon as we see the matrix for what it is, that is the beginning of the end of ego. That will feel like the scariest and worst thing that has ever happened to us, but it is in that moment that — perhaps without realizing it — we have been taken up into the freedom of God.

A call to read less of the Bible

Many Christian people don’t worship God, they worship the Bible. I assume the same is true of other sacred books such as the Koran, the Torah, and the Bagavhad Gita, although it wouldn’t HAVE to be this way. A particular set of circumstances have risen up in the US to bring about this result. But that’s another post, and one that would be really boring to most of my readers.

The point is that Christians are not to worship the Bible.

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I’m in hell

I’m plumbing my kitchen sink.  It’s the worst, hardest, most frustrating thing I have ever done.  Seriously.  I know these days it’s popular to speak in the most extreme terms possible:

“That was the greatest movie ever.”
“That test was the worst.”
“I have a headache that is killing me.”

Please don’t think I’m doing that.  I hate this with a passion I’ve never hated anything before.  I even hate it beyond any interest in finding some kind of spiritual point in it, which I usually manage to do with most things.  I hate it to the point where I’m sitting on my kitchen floor almost laughing sometimes (one of those evil laughs like you hear in the movies), because it is a better alternative than crying, ripping my brand new counter-top apart, yelling at one of my girls, getting really, really drunk (which would make it even harder to fix the sink), sticking my head in a blender, etc.

Funny how suffering is relative.  I know some people right now who are literally suffering the worst thing that could ever happen in a family – the slow, horrible death of one of the family members.  I realize that compared to suffering like that, what I’m going through is barely worthy of mention.  Okay, it’s not worthy of mention at all.  Normally that realization would put my emotions in proper perspective.  Not this time.  All I can think about is that no matter how much that situation sucks, plumbing my kitchen sink sucks too.  I  know it doesn’t suck half as bad, or in anywhere near the same way, but that doesn’t change the fact that it deeply, truly, genuinely, sincerely, completely, thoroughly sucks.  [For those of my church brethren who are offended by my use of the word, “sucks,” please accept my apologies.  It blows.] 

Tomorrow I will again spend the day in the official “standing on my head” plumber position.  (Of course you don’t know this, but it’s the position from which I’m typing at this moment.)  Who knows, some of my family members might even have to start reminding me to say no to crack. 

If you know what I mean.

Walking for MS

Most of my readers probably know I have multiple sclerosis.  In fact, I was diagnosed with MS 20 years ago, December 5, 1990.  1991 was the scariest year of my life and [in my best Forrest Gump voice], that’s all I have to say about that.

But here I am 20 years later doing better than I ever imagined.  I have run in a 5k recently with my teenage daughter.  I carried my three babies up the stairs to bed every night, and played on the floor with them, and have been at all their events, and rode roller coasters with them at Cedar Point.  I trained for the Crim with my wife.  I bought a cane 10 years ago but have only had to use it a couple of times.  I have lived a productive life, largely free from MS, with the exception of some significant and scary flare-ups here and there.

This morning I was reading the blog of another person who, like me, was diagnosed with MS 20 years ago and who, like me, has had very few problems.  But lately she has noticed that she is having increasing difficulty walking.  I must admit this tapped into very deep fears, and I found myself looking back over the last few months to see if I too have had problems.  So far, so good.  I mean, I have definitely noticed some extremely annoying symptoms, but nothing I can’t ignore, and nothing that is obvious to anyone but  me.  So far, so good.

As I was reading this woman’s blog, I scrolled down to the comments section and read where one of her friends was encouraging her by saying, “I’ll continue to walk in the MS walk with you to help you raise money to treat your disease.”  I got to thinking about how intentionally uninvolved I have been with MS-related causes.  The course of my MS has been mild enough to allow me to live months at a time without hardly thinking about it at all.  Given that in 1990 and ‘91 I figured that by now I’d have been in a wheelchair for years, I have determined to simply not think about MS as long as it is possible to not think about MS.

Isn’t that in some ways what separates people who have chronic illnesses from people who don’t?  People who don’t have chronic illnesses are free to take their health for granted in most ways.  They are free of the burden of wondering what will happen next, and whether their current flare-up will get worse or stay the same, and how far this one is going to spiral down, and whether and how much functioning they will recover if it does get better.  I got to wondering what I’d do if tomorrow a flare-up started that got worse and worse until I did end up in a wheelchair, or maybe blind, or suffered some other type of permanent disability.  I realized the first thing I’d do is start trying to raise money for MS.  It’s no wonder that people without MS don’t get involved in finding a cure for it.  I’ve had MS for 20 years and I’ve never been involved, nor have I ever given a single dollar to fight the very disease that one day just might start to catch up with me.

This has to change.  Now is the time I can do the MS-Walk to raise money to cure the disease.  Now is the time I can do this simply because I am part of a unique group of people – people with multiple sclerosis – many of whom can no longer walk, much less run, exercise aggressively, and work three jobs like I do.  I have focused so long on the blessing of not having to think about MS that I have not enjoyed the blessing of being in a position to help do something about it while I still can.

There are many diseases and they all suck.  But MS is my disease.  It’s a natural way I can reach out and do a little good for other people who are suffering.  My MS may never get any worse, and I hope it doesn’t, but we all need to find a group of people to serve.

So I’m going to walk in the MS walk this year.  I’m thinking of the one in Traverse City in June.  As a pastor I’m weary of coming across like I am using my position to raise money for my pet cause, so I will probably not talk much about it in public.  On the other hand, if you think you might be interested in supporting me in any way, keep an eye on this blog and I will be posting more definite information once I get signed up.  Heck, even if you only give $1, it’s $1 more than I’ve given in 20 years of actually having MS!

That’s about to change.

Embracing Powerlessness, prt. 2

In my previous post I tried to clearly show that the path to peace is to embrace powerlessness. I showed that we have very little power over most of the things we care most deeply about. The question is how do we actually embrace powerlessness? The answer is as common as it is profound: by acting powerless.

Gestalt Therapy uses a technique called “acting as if.” This is where the therapist tells the client to act as if he/she is already the person he/she wishes to be. If he struggles to speak to women, he should act for a while like men act who do not struggle to speak to women. If she struggles with confidence, she should act like women who have confidence. This is what is often called, “fake it ’til you make it.”

If what I wrote yesterday is true, and we actually are powerless over a great deal of our lives, then the sooner we embrace this the better. And the way we embrace powerlessness is by acting powerless.

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