Saturday, July 02, 2016


No, I don’t want to talk about it. I’m still thinking about it. But thinking is not exactly what I’m doing either. This is not introspective philosophy where one follows logic and definition to some conclusion. This is not religion sponsored by an institution which tries to control the thinking and lead it to a conclusion that supports the institution. This is not “spirituality” which is pretty much indefinable anyway but can lead to a particularly poisonous sort of self-delusion and a variety of oppressions.

Self-delusion is the whole problem and it is encouraged by the idea that introspection and/or emotional impulse are at the heart of faith — that one leaps to some position and calls it a commitment. I’m not a theologian because I don’t believe in theos of any kind. I’m not a Buddhist, though I try to be empty and non-yearning, but I still respond to suffering and anguish. Maybe a Taoist, but why do I have to be an “ist” at all?


Who demands these labels? Though I’m attracted to the incomplete ideas of Heraclitus, partly because they ARE incomplete and partly because he seems to speak of constant change and interacting opposites, a sort of dignified version of Bibfeldt, who was a deliberate fantasy anyhow. It’s a bit of a problem that the Wikipedia entry writer is not identified, so it’s impossible to tell what his angle is. There’s always an angle.

“From the lonely life he led, and still more from the apparently riddled and allegedly paradoxical nature of his philosophy and his stress upon the needless unconsciousness of humankind, he was called “The Obscure” and the “Weeping Philosopher”.

“Heraclitus was famous for his insistence on ever-present change as being the fundamental essence of the universe, as stated in the famous saying, “No man ever steps in the same river twice” This position was complemented by his stark commitment to a unity of opposites in the world, stating that “the path up and down are one and the same”. Through these doctrines Heraclitus characterized all existing entities by pairs of contrary properties, whereby no entity may ever occupy a single state at a single time.”

When I used a “travel sermon” that I repeated whenever I was a pulpit guest, I based it on the phenomenon of “sweet spots” in time — the moments when one briefly feels the vastness of the universe but also one’s embedded belongingness in it. It was a Universalist point of view, quite unlike the “frozen-hearted” Unitarian logic and steely mechanisms. 

The two denominations never quite reconciled. Formally they joined in 1961, but were actually joined only by their heretical status in a world dominated by Calvinistic damnation. Each of the four professors at Meadville evaded the problem in his own way: Godbey went to history, Engel went to environment, Shadle went to social service, and Reeves went to physics. They were all dominated by the U of Chicago Div School objection to phenomenology, which seemed to challenge the Christian fantasy, and which stood (seemingly) as the Calvin to their UU variousness.

But I kept thinking about those “sweet spots.” It was also a sweet spot in terms of the work some people were doing on the same campus. Csikszentmihalyi was proposing “flow” as a key to happiness.  Gendlin was close by with "focussing."  Victor Turner was just developing his ideas of the three part “liminal” nature of African ceremonies and Bernie Brown was absorbed in using the concept, though others thought that “liminal” was just another term for “dissociated” but didn’t put it that way. When Jim Jones caused tragedy in Guyana, they said, Calvinistically, “You see how dangerous that liminal state is? Those people were led into psychosis and couldn’t get out.”

Carl Rogers was around, carefully using empathy, and Bettelheim was working with fairytales, though he was later accused of abusing kids. Toulmin was thinking hard but the Derrida folks didn’t like him. In terms of writing, Norman Maclean was in the early stages of Alzheimers, wondering what to do about it. Richard Stern and his love of narrativity helped me. I stole the title of his textbook — “Honey and Wax” — for my “sweet spot” sermon. The thinkers of that time who have come to be crucial to what I and many others are thinking about are Lakoff and Johnson in the frame of metaphor.

Mircea Eliade had just the right mix of scholarship and mystery to become a point of pilgrimage for many young aspirants, so he was hidden in our seminary where we passed him in the hallway, too civilized to be a shaman but too elemental to be academic, trailing aromatic tobacco smoke. His basic book, “The Sacred and the Profane” remains one of my most valued sources.

Robert Schreiter, CPPS

The other was Robert Schreiter’s "Constructing Local Theologies” in which, as a priest in orders, he addressed the dilemmas of Christian specifics in a culture that had none of the relevant symbolism. For instance, the pre-contact Inuit ate only meat — that’s all there was — so what could bread and wine mean to them? What is a cross in a land of no trees? Schreiter urged the search for the most essential and deep symbolisms of all people. Technically, he was teaching Catholics how to be missionary celebrants of the Mass.

These are the reference points I acquired academically and still use in my thought. They are phenomenological — perceivable through the senses — even the feeling of the sacred that Eliade asserted. Perhaps sacrality is halfway between institutional theologies and the seductively flowering kudzus of “spirituality.” (Including the gothic ivies of academia, the spirituality of the intellectual.) Perhaps sacrality is a process, an interaction. There are sacralities of evil. Aesthetics of the body and forthright sexuality can be sacralities.

Instead of building a physics-type theory structure, I’m concentrating on defined, time-limited, symbol systems of ceremony that might never be analyzed except through outside observation and imposed definitions, so thoroughly real to the believers that they can't imagine anything different. This is the substance of the second book,Come Through the Door.”  

I’m trying to find ways to consider the concepts as a celebrant or even a poet. Sacralities should move both ways, both controlled and uncontrolled. Sweet spots might respond to preparation, coming from the poet/celebrant or acting on the poet/celebrant.

Susanne Langer’s unexplored thesis revolving around the connection of consciousness and aesthetics as well as her unusual use of language in her writing ultimately caused her to be scrutinized by her fellow scholars.” (Wikipedia) I found Langer but was waved off by advisors. She was  female AND phenomenological. Now I find that she is appreciated again, not least because she found and explored past thought in this domain of the “felt”. 

I’m not bothering with the past very much. I don’t have time. Don’t have the philosophy background and don’t agree, as I’ve said, with introspective rationalisms.

The newest research about the brain is redeeming the great majority of the tissue and connections that result from animal evolution and still go on managing our bodies, certainly our emotions, and sometimes our minds. We have been so arrogantly insistent on logical, ethical, mathematical pre-frontal cortex operations that we have neglected the entire autonomic in-body system, deranging and limiting ourselves.

"The Sacrality of Love" by chicourano

Much social and particularly academic prestige and accomplishment depends upon this theoretical rational domination, gender-assigned to the male. I’m finding that when I explain the necessity of the sensuous and emotional, many upper-class men become angry and denying, particularly if I step over to the rough, stigmatized language of the oppressed. So I do it. Sacrality can be fun, but not if it throws you out of your endowed chairmanship. And this is where the third book, “Patterned Tumult”, is focussed: survival.

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