You are Not a Good Person

When I was a kid, I was taught in catechism class to “love the sinner and hate the sin.” But, in my experience, it’s much more gratifying to hate the sinner and love the sin.

I long for the Judas goat, to carry away all my ugliness and hatefulness into the wasteland. I want someone to blame, so I can avoid the painful, tedious work of growing up. It’s so much easier to focus on the sins of others.

If there are “bad people” I can label and shun, then (by implication, by categorization, by magic) I get to be a “good person.” The bad is out there, far from me, and I get to feel superior to it. Then I can do my bad stuff and keep it secret. As long as no one sees me, I don’t have to acknowledge it or do anything to change it.

Projection is a pandemic, poisoning our world. Whether it’s Israeli soldiers firing on unarmed civilians, celebrities slut-shaming the victims of their sexual offenses, or cops justifying shooting yet another black man, we all want to slay our sin by blaming others as sinners.

But the truth is that there are no good people. There are no bad people.

There are only people.

We all have within us the capacity to do good and evil, to be loving and selfish, kind and cruel. And until we truly embrace that agonizing truth, we can never truly love. Never truly find peace.

In my work with sex offenders, I have learned that bad behavior is driven by a misguided attempt to meet some basically good need. The need to be heard. The need for control. The need to connect. The need to feel safe.

A paradoxical mind and heart is needed to come to grips with this. Sexual offending is never okay. The offender must own what he did (it’s almost always a “he”). At the same time, there must be room in the heart for understanding what drove the behavior, so that the underlying needs can be met in a healthy way.

Neither pole is enough. Simply punishing and shaming accomplishes nothing — in fact, it makes everything worse. If you believe you’re a monster, unforgivable, why not burn down the world. Yet empathy without accountability reinforces victim mentality.

Justice must be tempered with mercy, and vice versa.

In this historical moment, we are sorely lacking in mercy. Mercy is hard to find when I see myself as the “good guy” and the other as the “bad guy.”

The way forward calls for us to embrace one simple truth:

You are not a good person.

None of us are.

Let’s help each other nurture the good and heal the harm.

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You are Not a Good Person

Consent, Rape, Slavery

Sweden just passed a law stating that sex without positive consent is rape. In a facebook group I participate in, there was a discussion about this law, and some (both women and men) expressed consternation about the unintended consequences of this law. Julian Assange’s alleged sexual misconduct was brought up as an example. One participant said that his alleged behavior was “not rape by any definition I understand it. Yes it was nonconsensual – but there was no force, coercion, or restraint involved.” Another said that the woman stopped consenting because she discovered he wasn’t wearing a condom (implying that this weakened her right to not consent).

I found myself getting madder and madder. This was a group focused on psychological and spiritual growth. I was so angry that I knew a rapid reply would likely be hurtful, and would certainly be unhelpful. So I slept on it — and woke up at 4am, and stewed, staring at the ceiling. I’m still angry, but hopefully I can clearly articulate why this bothers me, and why I believe Sweden got it right.

Remember the movie “50 First Dates,” with Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore? She has a brain injury which wipes out any long-term memory, so she “resets” every morning when she wakes up. He starts dating her. They go out on several dates, but for her every date is a first date (hence the title). At one ponit, he tries touching her breast, and she objects. He mansplains to her that they’ve gone on a dozen dates, so — and I quote — “I’m entitled to unlimited boob access.”

The operative word, of course, is “entitled.”

The notion of a woman’s (or man’s) right to withdraw consent at any time certainly has perils. If used capriciously or cruelly, it would be toxic to any meaningful relationship. And, even if not used capriciously or cruelly, the partner would likely feel frustrated and rejected, and possibly hurt or humiliated.

But what if there was a “point of no return?” What if, after a man reaches a certain level of arousal, a woman were obliged to continue sexual behaviors, even if she didn’t want to? Is it truly my right, as a man, to ejaculate every time I get an erection? Is a woman compelled to let me finish? What about oral sex? Does she have to finish every blowjob she starts? If she lets me touch her breast, do I also get to touch her vagina? If she kisses me, am I entitled to unlimited tongue access?

The belief that men have a right to use women’s bodies sexually has a long, ugly history. We try to pretty it up with romantic notions, but it’s fundamentally ugly.

Sex without consent is, and has always been, rape. Consent can be withdrawn at any time, for any (or no) reason. Yes, this could be frustrating, confusing, humiliating, hurtful to the man. He might not get his sexual needs met.

Tough shit.

If we allow men to have this power over women, then women are not free.

Think about that. Our society says, in myriad ways, that a woman does not have control of her own body. She is not free to say no. Men get a veto.

There’s a word to describe one person having control over another person’s body. No, the word isn’t rape.

It’s slavery.

Of course, in any healthy relationship, there is give and take, compromise, putting the other’s needs and wants first sometimes. Of course sexual satisfaction is a crucial part of a healthy romantic relationship. Of course sex should be fun, and ideally¬†everyone should get to climax.

But the discomfort of men suffering from withdrawn consent is NOT morally equivalent to the damage inflicted by nonconsensual sex. If it’s nonconsensual, there is always force, restraint or coercion involved.

Always.

Dismantling unhealthy beliefs and changing one’s world view necessarily involves discomfort, especially for those giving up perks inherent in power inequalities. Cognitive dissonance makes you squirm. You don’t know how to be in the world, you’re unsure of how to act. You don’t feel comfortable in your own skin.

Get over it.

 

Consent, Rape, Slavery

Humility

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. It’s traditional to give up things for lent, to fast. I decided to give up casual web browsing, television and reading fiction. I had grandiose notions of all the time I would spend in meditation and prayer, and how holy and cleansed I would be after the six weeks of Lent.
An hour later, I was surfing the web, followed by binge-watching videos.
I guess the spiritual lesson I’ll be learning this Lent is humility. There’s a part of me that’s terrified of silence, of emptiness. Terrified of just being with myself, I guess. I’ve been grappling with my addiction to overeating, but it seems there are other ways I’ve been trying to fill that hole.
There are times when I am able, even eager, to face that emptiness inside of me. But the notion of six weeks of unadulterated emptiness? Nope. No way. Can’t handle that.
So I’ll be exploring that fear instead. Embracing my weakness, and letting go of the image of myself as bad-ass inner explorer of the noosphere. I don’t love myself quite as much as I thought, so I guess my struggle is to be okay with who I am today, flaws, fears and all. To nurture and embrace that scared little boy in me. To be okay with being weak. After all, even Jesus wept in Gesthemane, and begged to not drink from that cup.
The cornerstone of my theology is embracing brokenness, in myself and others. But, lurking under that fine ideal, a sneaky egotism was lurking, believing secretly that I was better.
Well, I’m not. I’m scared, and I’m lonely, and I’m weak. And that’s the me that God loves. Can I love myself, too? Just as I am today?

Humility

Refuge

I take refuge in the Buddha,
in the sacred heart of Christ,
in the deep unknowable Godhead,
in the boundless ocean of Chi,
in the divine dancing awareness
that penetrates and participates in every part of me
and everyone and everything.
I take refuge in the mystery of Love.

I take refuge in the Dharma,
in the Logos,
in the Tao,
in sacred Sophia, the feminine face of God,
in the deep truth of my impermanence and my interconnectedness,
in the certain faith of being cradled in the divine embrace,
in the root reality of the Void,
the emptiness and fullness
into which I die and from which I am reborn
in every moment.
I take refuge in the mystery of Love.

I take refuge in the Sangha,
in the mystical body of Christ,
true fellowship, the communion of souls,
the deep tribe of sinners, seekers and saints
who die to their small selves
and are reborn into the light
to join together holistically
and resonate to the Song of Songs.
I take refuge in the mystery of Love.

Refuge

Sarx and the ego

I recently got a copy of Adventures in Soulmaking by Troy Caldwell. I got a free review copy from speakeasy.net (no one paid me for this review). It’s a book that tries to reconcile Christian spirituality and depth psychology. So I really wanted to like this book.

It was a mess.

Dr. Caldwell’s flavor of Christianity is evangelical, literalist Protestantism, which does not mix well with Jungian depth psychology. Dr. Caldwell developed a really elaborate system, wherein he tries to connect the notions of sarx and nous to the unconscious mind. For those unfamiliar with these terms, nous is the spirit, the higher, “holier” part of us, whereas sarx is “the flesh,” the lower, “sinful” part of ourselves. Dr. Caldwell equates nous to the “higher unconscious” as he terms it (the collective unconscious, where the archetypes live), and sarx to the personal unconscious, where (he so asserts) all the nasty, sinful bits of us live. He then offers several tools “to clear out the sarx/Shadow debris” (p 218).

Now, the tools he offers are mostly pretty useful, particularly his approach to working with dream material. This is pretty much straight-up Jungian depth psychology, though he brings his faith into the center of this process. He also acknowledges a wide variety of tools, such as centering prayer, lectio divina, etc., and talks about the purgative, illuminative and unitive approaches to spirituality.

But his whole system is deeply flawed, resting on a profound error. This is a fairly common error, especially among evengelical Protestants, and many people make the same error. To Dr. Caldwell, the personal unconscious and the Shadow are identified with sarx — with the sinful, naughty bits of us that need to be overcome, fixed, purged. But that’s not what sarx is at all.

Sarx is the ego.

It is the ego that represses, hides and denies our sexuality, our violence, our brokenness. Any spiritual path that is predicated on such denial and repression is doomed to failure. Because it’s the ego that pushes away the “bad” stuff, the Shadow that contains the bits of us that we don’t want to acknowledge. But acknowledging our shadow, accepting and embracing all the unwanted bits of ourselves, is the only true path to healing and growth.

I realize that there are many approaches to, and definitions of, Christianity — or any religion, for that matter. For me, what makes Christianity appealing is that God doesn’t need me to be perfect. God loves me just as I am, in my brokenness, with all my nasty bits included. Opening up to God allows me to embrace my nasty bits, to heal them, to accept them and integrate them. Pushing them away just leads to enemy formation, to projecting what I don’t like in myself on the “other” — the black, the female, the gay, the Muslim, the Republican, whatever.

Dr. Caldwell’s approach is about justification, glorification, sanctification. It is doomed to failure, because we can’t be justified. We can’t be sanctified.

We can only be loved.

I wrestle with this every day, not only with my own brokenness, but the brokenness of the sex offenders I treat. In my experience, the only healing, the only redemption, comes from embracing the brokenness. All bad human actions are unskillful attempts to accomplish some fundamentally healthy goal — to be safe, to be heard, to be connected, to be powerful, to feel relief. If we only try to punish bad behavior — in ourselves or others — we will only increase the bad behavior.

Love is the answer. The only answer. Jesus knew that.

To be fair, I think, on some level, Dr. Caldwell also knows that. But he appears to be struggling to integrate his own shadow material here. He recounts a dream where he approaches an island fortress, riding on a battleship. Then, suddenly, he’s sinking into the ocean in a downed PT boat. Then a giant squid from the depths is harnessed to propel the boat by a native boy. His conscious interpretation of this reinforces his “battleship” self, but what I see in this dream is that he only is able to access the power in his depths until he surrenders that power and sinks.

It’s a lesson I need to learn over and over again. I want to be in control. But surrender is the path.

Sarx and the ego

Killing for God

I just read Strange Glory, a biography of Dietrick Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer was a German theologian and minister who was part of the German underground that attempted to kill Hitler. (I got a free review copy from speakeasy.net; I wasn’t paid for a review, blah blah blah.) Bonhoeffer was only peripherally involved in the plot to kill Hitler, and in fact advised a high-placed officer not to kill Hitler until they had a better plan for what happened afterward. Still, Bonhoeffer travelled a long way from his earlier pacificism.

It’s easy to hate Nazis. Nazis make moral complexities simple — they’re evil, kill them. But the history of people killing for God is a long and ugly one, and it’s still playing out today.

Strange Glory was uncritically supportive, not to say fawning, of Bonhoeffer’s moral choices. But the Nazis thought they were on God’s side, too — in fact, their belt buckles said “God With Us.” The bombers in Paris thought they were doing God’s work, as did the shooter at the Planned Parenthood clinic. Probably the people burning black churches (yes, this year, not the ancient Jim Crow past) thought they were doing God’s work.

And, of course, the Bible is full of stories about killing for God.

We like killing for God. It makes us feel good. Strong. Righteous. Smite the evildoers. Kick some butt. Bring ’em on!

But what, really, is the difference between righteous anger and cruelty? Both make us feel good about hurting others. Having enemies is such a seductive solution. Not only are all the problems located in them, but we get to vent our aggressions — and feel blessed for doing so. Because “they” — whoever they are — aren’t quite like us. Not quite human. Not quite real. They’re monsters, animals, devils.

But I have a monster in me, too. I have my very own predator, my own killer. I have enemies I’d like to see strung up on the White House lawn. (For me, they are the greedy corporate lords and their lackeys in Congress.) There’s a part of me that wants nothing more than to dance on their graves. Because they’re Just Plain Evil. No good in them. Not like me. Other. Different. Less.

But they aren’t. They’re people just like me. And so are the Paris bombers, and the church burners and ISIS, and the Nazis.

Is it ever right to kill our enemies? Is there such a thing as a just war? Are there enemies so evil that it’s a moral imperative to slaughter them?

This is a difficult and complex question. But our propensity to form enemies, scapegoats, and blame them for our problems is so pronounced, and so poorly checked, that I start from a place of assuming that we almost always commit some evil in our enemy formation process. We dehumanize, we glory in our cruelty, we blame others for what we’re unwilling to see in ourselves.

I am deeply troubled by the reversion to tribalism and enemy formation in world politics. Terrorism is a tool used by governments — including ours — as well as ISIS and “lone wolves.” This issue informs — poisons — every level of our culture, from police killing unarmed black men to Donald Trump wanting to block all Musims from entering our country.

It was only when Bonhoeffer was in prison, utterly powerless, that he was able to truly embrace the beauty of life. Power clouds the mind. So does privilege, and fear, and hate.

Jesus tells us to love our enemies. There is nothing in our enemies that isn’t already in us. When we hate, we hate ourselves. When we kill, we kill a piece of our own soul. It’s loving that is painful and difficult. But that’s where we grow. That’s how we heal.

Killing Hitler didn’t help Bonhoeffer. Loving God, loving his enemies, did.

Killing for God

Counting

One for what I’ve done.
Two for what I plan to do.
Three for what I’ll be.
Four for what I was before.
Five ’cause I’m alive.
Six because there are no tricks.
Seven, sensing heaven.
Eight — can’t wait. I storm the gate.
Nine. I’m dying. I wail and whine.
Ten is when I’m zen.

But then, but then,
again, again, again…

Then comes little zero
with that hunger for the hero.
And from this hollow in my heart
I start.
I start.
I start.

 

Counting