Reflections by Jerry Webber

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Slobbery, Transformation and Sunday School Picnics (Part 2)

In the previous essay, I leaned into Frederick Buechner's image of transformation as the difficult process of being changed from a "slob" to a "human being." Granted, the language of "slobbery" sounds a bit harsh, but for Buechner the word is a metaphor for our humanity mired in egocentricity. Others have named this slobbery our "false self" or "imposter self."

Without getting hung up on his terminology, I'm mostly interested in Buechner's analogy for how difficult it is to break out of this false-self-system for doing life. There is something about our human hard-wiring that clings with all its might to "the way things are." We resist change. The ego, or rational management mechanism within us, resists giving up control, even as our soul longs from some freedom from the controlling ego's dictatorship. It wants to be Number One . . . on top . . . in control.

This movement -- from control to surrender, from ego to soul, from self to God -- is a major part of the spiritual journey.

Now, make a slight shift with me. The same "slobbery," false self and entrenched egocentricity that is a part of the human condition is also a part of groups, tribes and nations. People within family-groups, races or countries identify with the values and mores of their particular group . . . in fact, usually the "identification" is actually "over-identification," which leads to a very egocentric group loyalty: "The way I and my group do this is right; the way everyone else does this is wrong . . . or if not wrong, at least not as good as we do it!"

In short, the values and patterns of the group with which I identify become the "norm" by which I evaluate life, because in most cases they are the only values and patterns I know.

Most of these forms come to us by virtue of where we grew up and what we were taught from our earliest days. We accept them without question. We integrate them into our world-view. We see all of life through these lenses.

Without interior strength and a high degree of inner freedom, we can stay locked into these systems, even when they conflict with the life we have in God. [Loyalty -- in some settings called "patriotism" -- is a very high value for most families, tribes and countries.] Rather than be disloyal to our group, we may "baptize" our loyalty and over-identification as "the will of God." Our way of life becomes our Divine Right.

In fact, these larger group systems take on the function of a kind of pseudo-religion. For instance, this past week in the midst of pendulum swings in global economies and stock markets, I heard professional economists and analysts say, "Right now we just need to have faith in the American economy," or "We need to believe in the our financial system." In other contexts, similar words could have come from an evangelist at a brush-arbor meeting.

For a long time I’ve believed that persons in the USA live under of the massive illusions – this pseudo-religion – that believes this nation has Divine Rights that are not granted to other nations. Our government and economic system are built on assumptions that this country will be – or at least “should be” – a world leader. As a people, we have little tolerance for being less than the best, for being anything but #1.

This stance has led to out-of-control greed, the glorification of lifestyles that accumulate for themselves to the detriment of others, and the kind of “me-first” mentality that is willing to crush others for its own benefit. This stance is not only tolerated, but encouraged in our society. That we haven’t recognized it, to any great extent, is an indication of how entrenched in our “slobbery” we are.

Thus, when that system of accumulation and acquisition begins to falter, there is nation-wide panic. When the ground beneath economic systems begins to crack and the fault lines begin to show, the national response is fear. The public discourse, then, is primarily about how to get back to “where we need to be” . . . or get back to the “way of life that we’re entitled to” . . . or how to get back to “world-wide superiority.” People across the political spectrum have used these words and made these speeches recently.

As a nation, we clamor to hold onto what we have. We refuse to let go, to consider other ways of being in the world, especially ways that might be more compassionate or generous. The national mindset, ingrained within us and hiding behind the language of national pride or patriotism or even “God’s will,” is very, very egocentric.

I realize that we are in days that provide a tremendous opportunity. I have no illusions that the nation as a whole will make a 180 degree turn-around, that we can drop our illusions and expectations in order to live more fully in truth and reality; but, as we see days in which we may have to learn to live with less . . . as the time comes when we are not #1, but rather dependent on other countries or economies (learning how most of the rest of the globe has done life daily for centuries!) . . . we will have an opportunity to demonstrate what it means to live from a framework of alternative values and realities, values and realities that are more closely aligned to the Gospel.

In short, I believe that those who have some spiritual grounding, an interior life of meaning and inner freedom, a practice of prayer and meditation that grounds them in every season of life, will be most able to make this shift. I hope you are one of these persons.

Because whether a human person or a nation, the process of moving from slobbery to a life of meaning is no Sunday School picnic.

No comments: