Sunday, November 6, 2011

RESPONSIBLE HUMAN FREEDOM... September 13, 2006..edited Nov. 6, 2011

Introduction: In this  personal essay I explore how  important and central  a sense of spiritual freedom coupled with personal responsibility have been in my adult spiritual/psychological development. Some may find it offensive that I seriously engage the writings of the apostle Paul and take appreciative exception to one element of his teaching as  not always being helpful for present day spiritual development. I think such engagement with scripture shows a high respect for it and is a proper way for  post-modern Christians to interact with our Sacred texts. Please  notice also  I do not find ways that the teaching and life of Jesus are at variance with what my life experiences and spiritual needs have been. This may help some who have a strong traditional view of the Bible to more easily listen to my internal debate with Paul?

I’ve finished reading New Testament scholar Robin Scroggs' book Paul For A New Day. His description of ‘salvation by grace through faith’ is excellent and stimulating. But his application of it to church and to personal action is somewhat disappointing. (The disappointment being in what Scroggs appropriately believes about Paul, not in Scroggs himself). I think I see now why Jung, compared to most other writers, is able to fully keep my attention and feed my hope. It has to do with responsible sincere personal freedom. Scroggs explains, and I'm sure Paul believed, that the acceptance that God promises a person gives that person the highest level of human freedom imaginable. Paul expresses this beautifully in some places and Scroggs places it in excellent contemporary language. I think such freedom can only be received and lived out by one who also is sincere and is willing to take full responsibility for everything s/he says or does. I think also for this freedom to be personally realized one must carry an experience that is best described by the ancient Greek word and image of ‘Eros.' I will say more about Eros later. *
Imagine Radical Responsible Human Freedom

Both Scroggs and Paul seem to lose confidence in a person’s capacity to exercise that freedom unless it is defined further and thus limited from the outright radical giving by God of that freedom. The gospel speaks of ,' If the son sets you free you are free indeed.' Paul exclaims, ' It is for freedom that Christ has set you free.' These are both radical statements of the extent of freedom that is possible for a human to receive from the Sacred experienced in the Spirit. But Scroggs regresses from such radical freedom when he describes Paul as giving specific guidelines that such freedom must follow and the action consequences that must flow from this freedom. These are sometimes referred to as 'works of the flesh' and the 'fruit of the Spirit.' I am not suggesting that Paul's  negative and positive lists of behavior are not generally as ' good and bad' or 'sinful and righteous' as he suggests but to 'add them to' the Freedom Of The Spirit and its promised guidance for the individual life is to reduce the power and confidence of that Freedom. That is too big a loss out of the fearful spirit of ' just to make sure or to be safe.'  There may be changed times and situations throughout the ages where these are not the eternal 'good and bad' that Paul assigns to them.  Keep in mind that Paul still describes himself  in some ways as not very free. He seems to still be tormented by 'not doing the good he should and doing the bad he shouldn't."  Is this the freedom that Christ speaks of  and that Paul himself says is possible? It seems Paul in his human imperfection had not yet experienced the fullness of  Spirit Freedom that would set him free from making any restrictions or confinements on it. Perhaps Paul was not experiencing the fullness of the freedom that he was confident that the gospel promised to give? Perhaps humanity is now able to accept such responsible freedom more than even Paul experienced. Some of his writings were pointing to a freedom beyond what he had attained. He was comfortable acknowledging such when  he said, " I have not yet  attained  or arrived but I too press on to the fullness of the calling. " So we should not be surprised that  there be more capacity via increased levels of  consciousness  to live in greater spiritual/psychological freedom now than Paul and others have before. Paul himself said of this potential  freedom, "All things are permitted  but  I will not be brought under the power of any of them."  I Am suggesting that the power that makes 'all things permissible' (when and where they are what love requires or denies')  is dismantled when  not left to the promised  Freedom of the Spirit and not made into another fear based law. But, no matter how Scroggs and Paul say the contrary, listing essential do's and dont's  significantly limits the Promised Freedom. It either is or it is not the Radical Freedom, and I would say the Radical Trust, that God covenants to keep with a human who accepts the gift of such  freedom. If any limits are to be put on that freedom, it should not be any list of specific choices or behaviors or moral guidelines like Paul has done. Radical Gospel Freedom should be seen as only limited by sincerity, responsibility and the awareness of living in Eros.( I recognize the potential eruption of moral failure when a person in high position is misled into thinking the s/he is entitled, that the rules do not apply to them. We see examples of this in the news regularly. I can only say that just as radical is the freedom I see offered in the gospel is also the personal responsibility and humility that comes with it. If freedom is claimed without the sense of responsibility than personal disaster is only a matter of time. But that responsibility is not to a set law or rule but consists of trusting the promised guidance of he Spirit as it is continuously sought.)

When I turn from Scroggs and Paul to Carl Jung, this is the kind of faith and trust  I hear Jung believing is humanly possible to receive and to humbly live in. I hear him describing the possibility of a human being able to be trusted with such freedom of responsible choice if accompanied by a living Eros experience, itself an experience of grace. ** Not only is it possible but it is likely necessary if humanity is to take the next step in spiritual evolution. This alone truly brings to fruition the incarnation of God. Anything short of this total responsible freedom by a human falls short of any fullness of the Sacred being incarnated in Humanity. This is a freedom that I believe we can be confident that Jesus of Nazareth experienced and he implied that it is a gift available to every human. The quality of love that a Human can have for another and for the creation I believe is only as full as the inner  freedom they also experience. I view Jesus as an example of this happening in human life, thus he exemplified an incarnation of the Sacred. But Jesus' story  has been interpreted in such a way as to close the door for other humans to step up to the same plate and also say, “ I’m ready to try that also. I know I'm sincere, I know I  desire to take full consequences and responsibility for my actions and words and I am living with a continual sense of the gift that can only be called Eros”. I read, and hope others will also read, the last chapter ‘last thoughts’ in Jung's autobiography Dreams, Memories and Reflections. There He describes the kind of experience he thinks is possible and probably, in our day, necessary for humanity to be experiencing. In all humility I feel he is reasonably well describing my experience of life over the past 21 years or so. It is no wonder why I nearly lived in the words of Jung for several years. It gave structure to my internal psychological environment. The Bible documents as I then interpreted them and which I ordinarily turned to simply could not support me well enough. The reason and the difference is that Jung had a view that was willing to let me claim full freedom and responsibility of action and it was that paradoxically which helped me to truly stay responsible. In other words the Spirit truly keeps its promise to support your personal responsibility in ways your conscious will power, trusting the flesh, is most  likely to fail.  (I'm not describing any kind of perfection here but only a consistent sense of trust in the Spirit and of being intentionally real and honest with and about oneself.) Paul idealistically is able to demonstrate what I'm speaking of , and his writing helped me to also in my early adult years. But as I kept reading Paul he also takes that Radical Freedom away, which I think Scrogg’s book shows. That would have been very harmful to me and to my life's task ‘before God’. Jung helped my faith to stay anchored in the promise of God in a way that Paul, as I heard him, could not. Unlike these exceptions with  Paul, I find the teaching and life of Jesus as I perceive them are capable of supporting my faith and granting me the gift of Full Responsible Freedom. Jung helped me to reinterpret  the meaning of Jesus(many Christians interpret Jesus through Paul and even through the Old Testament context which results in this radical freedom and responsibility being diminished.) and gave me many more tangible examples and images that helped me to keep alive such concepts as: ‘You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free’ and ‘if freed you will be free indeed’.

I am not scholarly in the sense and quality of  Robin Scroggs and Jung or a spiritual giant like Jesus or Paul. That is why it is best for me to not quote people whose writing has had a huge effect on me but only to refer to the way they have effected me using my own words, just as I have done above with Jesus, Paul, Jung and Scroggs. I did early in adult life take Paul at his word about faith and freedom that are promised in Christ. I recall as personal  decisions, related to interacting with the elders at Clearlake Church(1984) when they began to not support my ministry efforts, began to be demanded of me and to make Paul's words regarding how one can be guided by the Spirit rather than by the Flesh became essential for me. To follow the Flesh means in part to follow after pure human rational judgment. To walk by the Spirit means to seriously take this human judgment into account and to also take full responsibility as you choose the direction of the Spirit when it is not in seeming harmony with rational judgment. To walk by the Spirit at certain crossroads requires one to not take the path that human rational judgment(the flesh) would suggest. To take the path of the Spirit I think has to do with following one’s sense of ‘Eros’ which is in harmony with the Spirit of God that one senses is a part of him/herself. It is always a 'leap of faith' to take and to own an action that is seen as the Spirit's call but is at variance with human judgment(the flesh), even while not dismissing or belittling that human judgment. This kind of decision and action always puts one in touch with the inner experience of courage. It is truly an experience of going one’s own unique way(often against conventional sources of wisdom) and it is crystal clear to one that this way is following the Spirit as a priority over the Flesh alone. This was my experience of the opposite pair of 'flesh and spirit' being united in me as a  single whole. Often in religious teaching we are told to despise and negate the flesh and  look to spirit alone.  I think that is a mistake and leads to a split mind and heart rather than a united or 'single eye' that Jesus metaphorically refers to as the ideal goal in life's difficult choices. But to get help from Paul for exercising such radical freedom I would need to stay clear of his words such as his nearly off hand lists of good and bad behaviors. Such lists of specific do's and don'ts are designed by their nature to limit one's confidence in the promise of the Spirit's present guidance when in uncertain areas of ethics and conflicting loyalties. Paul wants his reader to be free but he wants her to direct that freedom in the way he thinks it should be directed, in a way that would please Paul or meet what he thinks the Spirit should cause. This second guesses the Spirit and demonstrates a fear rather than a trust in the Spirit's guidance.
Was He Experiencing Radical Responsible Freedom?

Now one restriction that can be demanded of radical spiritual freedom is ‘love’ as well described in I Corinthians 13. But those words likely say far more and far less than what is often attributed to them. That chapter does not try to detail any specific eternal requirements. That is left to be the very work of the  incarnate Spirit in the individual human person. I think it is a sound assumption that 'Love, Radical Freedom and Spirit' will always be in harmony even if a human is in totally uncharted spiritual/ethical waters.(And this is the kind of waters Humanity at all levels is now experiencing in unprecedented ways.) ‘Love’(involving the combined trinity of Agape, Phileo and Eros) can be confidently seen as a quality that genuine Responsible Freedom builds upon to stay truly responsible and true to the application of its radical nature as unlimited freedom. Because love, like freedom and Spirit, has no limits the more it is fully realized. The picture is of Martin Luther King  Jr. in the Birmingham Jail. He expressed in a letter that night his disappointment that more of  America's religious leaders did not 'see' that this was a time for responsible Christ-like  public action.  He may be one of our countrymen who personally experienced Radical Responsible Freedom.

I find that many writers who get close to describing the Radical Responsible Freedom I am discussing seem to finally come back to the human experience of ‘Eros’ which I understand to be a well developed Greek concept. It is especially identified and defined in the Greek myth of Eros and Psyche. For some reason the word is left out of the Greek New Testament and many conservative commentators take pride in this fact. This may show that New Testament writers had some fear of the power of ‘Eros’ and it may be why the Bible alone has been limited in supporting all the tasks of a life like mine. I recall philosopher Rollo May in ‘Love and Will’ brought Eros first to my attention. I connected then to what he was saying. I knew it was important. This was probably in 1982 or 83. I know Theologian Paul Tillich gave great importance to Eros. Robin Scroggs even though writing about Paul had to refer to Eros and Jung's closing paragraph to his ‘Late Thoughts’ is given entirely over to Eros and ‘love’. To me Eros is a deep human passion experienced as  ultimate concern. A person's most dominant passion is a way of identifying his/her Eros. Whatever captures your strongest attention has the possibility of being an aspect of  Eros alive in you. I did not know a passion of Eros quality consciously until probably 1982 and it was first felt toward my ministry. This became a conscious matter when I reached the point for the first time I knew clearly what I was trying to do with my life and and my human effort. I had found my passion, my Eros. I had found my central experience of Eros.( I did not know what to call it then but I knew the experience.)  I see Paul's Eros was focused on 'the churches' that he loved and for whom he experienced living his life. His passion was obviously very effective in bringing something into reality that was powerful and that affected the course of the world. My Eros was first experienced as using myself to help those whom I served in ministry, to see their own value before God and to have a lively hope that their lives were on an important path, just as I felt mine was. So in a way my experience of Eros was a similar type to Paul's. I believe my Eros was more focused on the individual whereas Paul's was focused on the group. I can recall, surprising myself, supporting people in their need to, at least for a period of time, to not attend church for their own well being. I can hardly imagine Paul doing that.

I found the capacity to stand against my elders at Clear Lake  by exercising this kind of personal  Radical Responsible Freedom. My 'fleshly' desire and need was to be submissive to the elders as the congregation's formal authority structure. To act in this way though would , I was able to realize, have been walking according to the Flesh(rational human judgment and desire) rather than following the Spirit. Only the gift of Radical Freedom accompanied by full responsibility, was able to inform me of what the path the Spirit necessitated for me was in this regard. I was able by grace to follow the path of the Spirit in this case. There would be many other instances where this kind of inner spiritual dynamic would be needed in my life as it unfolded. I expect to continue, by God's grace,  to live by this central  spiritual principle for the rest of my days.  I now know what my responsible freedom feels like and how it works. I am never without it though it is never easy to practice at those times there is a conflict between  Flesh and Spirit.

But I am now convinced that an even higher level of Eros is now possible for post-modern persons and it is Eros of one human toward another. (Usually it seems Paul has no idea like this for he does not strongly encourage the coming together in sexual caring love. It does not seem to be his thought that such can lead to a highest awareness of God and to the realization of his very own Love song(I Cor 13). It sounds like he even feared that sexual encounter may lessen one’s experience of God. So my thinking drastically parts from Paul, as I understand him, at this point.) This higher Eros I imagine may seem more selfish than the Eros Paul or that I originally experienced(not that I have lost that expression of Eros). It would indeed be more focused but that is why we would expect it to be even more powerful and intense. It may even represent a difference in spiritual energy level comparable to nuclear energy being superior to chemical energy. And it would involve the richest and deepest parts of one's inner sexuality but not necessarily acted out in sexual encounter. My guess is that even Eros that is directed toward serving the group is also driven by one's sexuality, a channeled sexuality not overtly sexually expressed but still a healthy and fully responsible kind of sexual energy. As I have written somewhere else recently, if this Eros can actually be experienced physically and spiritually between beloved ones it may create a psychological/spiritual state in the lovers that allows for an unprecedented flow of non sexual love to be loosed in the world. A love that could spread like wild fire and allow humans to ‘see’, as never before possible, that humans are the most wondrous and most valued thing and resource in the world. ‘Love One Another” could potentially truly become a practiced accepted value throughout humanity. From a Christian standpoint ( and as was often expressed in my appreciated Church of Christ background) that would mean that everyone is really a ‘member of the church, God's called." The 'gates of hell will have not  prevailed against the church' but the love of the church will have taken in hell itself. Eve and Adam by discovering their Eros via each other will have tamed and befriended the serpent at last. Jim Hibbett

*The reader may find the blog post 'Glimpses Of Eros' to helpful along with this one.
** An excellent book which takes great pains to describe the importance and nature of a therapist maintaining the responsible freedom associated with Eros is :  The Love Cure by John Ryan Haule.

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