Monday, June 23, 2008

Radical Honesty as Spiritual Path: The Contribution of Bloggers

Dear Pilgrim Companions,

The reflections I'm posting here today link to a posting I just made on my other blog, Neverinparadise. As that blog posting suggests, it feels risky to speak from the heart, from the "real" places in our lives. And all the more so when one is blogging one's inmost thoughts to anyone in the world who happens to log in . . . . Blogging can even involve us in legal battles where we who are small folks in a world in which others have big financial resources and social-political clout can easily find ourselves squashed (more on this below).

So why risk? Life--my own life--would surely be easier if I simply turned my attention to the many frazzling and engrossing tasks of daily existence. The dog hair doesn't magically vaccum itself from the carpets.

As I ask myself lately why I keep on keeping on, the best answer I can come up with is this: simply put, I believe in radical honesty. There's far too little of that virtue in our lives, in my life. If I don't struggle for it in my own pilgrimage, then I surely can't expect it in others.

And without honesty and transparency, what social institutions really work, in a democratic society? When we cannot trust the word of a leader, everything falls apart. All social relationships that promise to build and not tear down humane society are built on the trust that people are seeking to be fundamentally responsible and honest in their interchanges with us.

By the time the aspirin reaches me in its sealed bottle, it has gone through multiple hands: from factory worker to quality-control inspector to bottler to shipper to pharmacist. If I cannot trust that, at each step in the transmission of the aspirin to me, someone did not substitute a noxious substance for the aspirin in the bottle, everything breaks down. Our whole social existence is built on a tenous, yet steel-strong web of relationships that demand trust.

And trust is built on honesty. When dishonesty becomes endemic, when it runs along every strand in the web of our social (or ecclesial) institutions, it becomes well-nigh impossible to live together and work together, since we cannot confidently perform even the most basic tasks of everyday existence: from taking the aspirin that we assume has not been tainted in its long journey to us, to turning on the light switch and expecting electricity to flow to the bulb rather than to set the house on fire.

I am not naively suggesting that things actually do work this way all the time--that we inhabit social structures that do adhere to codes of honesty. I am suggesting, though, that when dishonesty becomes systemic rather than occasional, when it becomes part of how we do business as a society, social institutions have no option except to fray. They are founded on assumptions about the fundamental honesty of each of us in our dealings with the other.

My spiritual path has come to center on radical honesty for a variety of reasons. The first and most obvious is that one does not accept herself or himself as gay, in a world in which millions of voices seek to drown out one's inner voice of self-truth, without a hard struggle for radical honesty.

It is simply easier to go along, to collude. It would be far easier for those of us who are gay and who continue to try to hold onto spirituality to follow the path the churches set before us: deny yourself, pretend, fit in, continue to let us define you as flawed and as the very epitome of sin.

This is the path many gay believers choose to follow. It is the path that those of us who try to be "cured" of our sexual orientation often follow.

It is a spiritually and psychically destructive path. I have learned that truth in my bones. I have learned that honesty--radical honesty--is, no matter how painful, vastly to be preferred to the lying to oneself (and, consequently, to others, even when one does not intend to do so) that is at the basis of the churches' "outreach" to gay believers.

I am inclined to the path of radical honesty, as well, because I believe someplace deep in my soul that there can be no authentic relationship with the divine and with another unless we seek truth in that relationship. Spirituality involves a pilgrimage of constant unmasking--of our lies to ourselves, of the half-truths we find it all too easy to live with.

Spirituality is a pilgrimage in which we try to meet God face to face every day, in the expectation of doing so definitively at the end of our lives. And that encounter burns away all dross of untruth, all self-deception. We struggle for honesty because we want to see God. Our hearts are made for this, we who are believers tell ourselves.

I believe in radical honesty, as well, because I have come to conclude, on the basis of too much life experience, that far too many of our social and ecclesial institutions live with astonishing levels of dishonesty. Of sham. Of self-deception and deception of others.

And we cannot move forward in the project of social transformation or transformation of the churches until we speak the truth in love to one another. Because I believe with all the fibers of my being that social and ecclesial institutions always stand in need of transformation, to make them more humane, to provide a place at the table for everyone, I have no option except to challenge the systemic dishonesty in our social and ecclesial institutions.

My own Catholic church is caught in lies so ugly and so deep that they are now threatening to tear the church apart. The lies go straight to the top, to the Vatican. They have everything to do with clerical power and privilege, and the misuse of these. The crisis regarding sexual abuse of minors is the tip of the iceberg: what that horrible crisis points to is the deeper truth of clerical abuse of power and privilege, and clerical abuse of the truth. Systemic abuse. Abuse that will sometimes stop at nothing to silence truth-tellers and to get its lying messages out to the public.

The Catholic church is an easy target for a variety of reasons, but I have discovered a similar fracturing of the truth in many other church communions. As E.J. Dionne's book Souled Out notes (and I have pointed out in previous postings), Christians today are making common cause across confessional lines, when it comes to making certain political decisions.

And among these decisions is the decision either to give one's trust to the churches when they profess to be leading the way in truth-telling (and therefore in dominating the political process), or to critique the churches for their failure to tell the truth. I stand with the latter option. If the churches are permitted to engage in fundamental dishonesty--about their use of money, about their intra-institutional human rights practices (how do they actually treat gay employees, for instance, even when they profess to oppose discrimination?), about the privilege they accord to white males above all other human beings, and so on--then they will end up having nothing of any significance to say to the public sector.

Because I want the churches to matter, because I believe that, checked in their game-playing and called to transparency and accountability, the churches can contribute to rather than impede the project to transform participatory democracy, I intend to keep challenging the churches to engage in truth-seeking and truth-telling.

I am blogging about the spiritual path of radical honesty in light of several occurrences in my blog life lately. Several weeks ago, I received a cease-and-desist letter from a church-related institution that I am not permitted to name.

It instructed me to take down my blog. I refused to do so. I stand on my right as an American citizen to speak freely. Unless I slander anyone or any institution in this blog, and unless I break any legal covenants that restrict my free speech, I have the right to speak freely on this blog, and it is wildly inappropriate for any group, and a church-affiliated institution in particular, to demand that I take down this blog.

Since I refused to take down my blog, I have begun to experience mystifying technical problems with the blog. I am trying to get to the bottom of those problems. One of the issues I'm confronting is that the counter that tells me if anyone is reading has suddenly begun to malfunction.

Up until the last several weeks, I have consistently had anywhere from 30 to 60 readers on this blog each day, from around the world. The figures vary, of course, but have normally stayed in that range.

Suddenly, the counter has been reporting no readers, even when friends tell me by email or phone that they have been reading the blog, or when I myself log in (the counter counts my own log-ins).

I am by no means saying that the several challenges I am now encountering with this blog have anything at all to do with the cease-and-desist letter I mention above, or with the institution that commissioned that letter. What I do want to suggest, however, is that the letter indicates to me a problem anyone blogging at the intersection of church and political life will encounter: bloggers who probe for the truth in the lives of churches and the place in which the ecclesial and political spheres intersect can expect to encounter attempts to shut down the conversation, by fair means or foul. I know of at least one other instance in which a blog similar to mine is facing some of these same challenges right now.

I choose to regard the unfortunate attempts to have me delete this blog, or to tamper with how the blog functions, as a curious tribute to the blog's ability to hit at the truth, at least sometimes. As the banner heading the blog says, one of my goals in this blog is to journey towards truth that needs to be spoken, but doesn't get told.

I appreciate those of you who are sharing this journey with me, even though I have no way of ascertaining whether anyone is walking with me each day, until some of the problems with the blog are fixed. I also appreciate those companions (literally, you who share bread/Bread with me) who help keep me focused on finding the truth in my own life. If one does not seek the truth for oneself and one's own life, one has no right to ask that others do so.

And I appreciate those of you who have encouraged me to keep telling the truth I find, even when I pay a price for doing so. My career as a theologian and an educator has been interrupted several times because I have not learned how to dissimulate--how to do so easily.

This is why, when first asked to assume a leadership role in academic administration, I repeatedly refused. I know myself too well. When asked by supervisors what I think of decisions they have made, I have been all too apt to tell the truth--assuming, naively, that leaders choose team members on the basis of their character and ability, and not because they are parrots who say yes, bow, and scrape, when told to bow, scrape, and say yes.

So, this blog will be me keeping on keeping on, continuing to search for transformative truth in my own life, and for the ability to speak the truths I find. Please know, fellow pilgrims, that if my voice suddenly goes silent, it is not because I have chosen to renege on my commitment to seek and tell the truth. It will be because someone or some group has had the ability to suppress my voice--though that will never happen without a fight.

P.S. At least part of the problem I am having with the counter that tells me how many visitors read this blog daily seems to have been introduced when I tried to resolve the problems with the blog as I first encountered them last week. Even so, the problem with the counter (and several other problems that impede my blog postings) predate my attempt to address the problem. They all began suddenly last week, and were absent from my Neverinparadise blog until I reported the Bilgrimage problems in a posting this week to Google's help group, noting that I was not encountering the problems on the Neverinparadise blog, though I continued the same process on each blog that I had always used. After I made that posting, problems began on the Neverinparadise blog . . . .

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