Monthly Archives: February 2012

Cracking Up

Ken Kuhlken: At church, a guest speaker urged us toward open-hearted love for others, even the apparently lost. I appreciate this kind of urging, but only if it’s given along with clues that help us to love better. Otherwise, it’s rather as if a doctor says, “You’ve got heart problems, goodbye.”

I doubt we can learn to love much better unless we begin to heal from the despair with which Kierkegaard contends we are all afflicted. And we can’t begin to heal from despair unless we learn about ourselves, how we work. Which can’t begin to happen until we devote ourselves to searching for the truth about ourselves and our human condition and facing what we find no matter how painful. Which we can’t do very well as long as we’re over-busy with achieving career goals and staying in shape and relating with friends and so on and so on. Something’s got to give. Which is why I don’t care for the trend to treat every depression with meds that fix us enough so we don’t crack up. Maybe we all need to crack up.

Dr. Bob Weathers: I love this, Ken: “We all need to crack up.” I’ve been reflecting a lot about the path, laid down by Christ, of crucifixion.  Sounds like a downer topic, but inherent in it is liberation, the peace that surpasses all (ego) understanding.  It is simply not sufficient to cognitively assent to Christ dying for our sins; we are called to a much more radical reformulation of our very selves. Christ’s life, death, and resurrection are God-given templates for our own existence.

What then does it mean to live a life of crucifixion, and resurrection? Kierkegaard provides guidance here.  We must choose to leap into the “abyss”. Otherwise, we are bound to acquiesce into Thoreau’s “lives of quiet desperation.”.”

The ego would separate itself from God; which is as foolish as this morning’s rays of sun, glimmering across the treetops, deciding to separate themselves individually from the sun.

But we do this all the time: forgetting our essential reliance upon the Divine.  One poet observes that God is like the ocean, taking care of each wave till it safely gets to shore.  Do we really believe this?  More crucially: are we daily committing to living this?

As a start then, what does a sanctifying (I prefer that term to “sanctified”) life look like?  How do I live all of this?

This is where crucifixion, as basic blueprint, comes in.  Daily I must be willing to breathe into that which is greater than myself.  Which, to the ego, feels like death.  But only in relationship to that which is greater does the ego have a genuine bearing, a true north star.

All simple enough to say; but truly crucifying to live.  What if, for example, I take just today’s suffering—its inevitable frustrations (of ego plans), its physical pain or discomfort—as springboard into deeper fidelity to God?  In other words, could I approach my daily suffering as a cross to be borne; and so as deliverance into that which transcends my preferences, my personal willpower, me? Can I truly I consider it all joy because it reminds me where my real good lies?

According to medieval Persian saying, Someone asked the Master what the essence of faith was.  The Master said, “It’s that feeling of joy when sudden disappointment comes.”

I agree that we first need to understand who we are, and then to undertake self-transformation (powered and enlightened by grace), if ever we are to truly appropriate Christ’s promises of the “kingdom of heaven.”  Yet we habitually ignore his life, and its inexorable calling to us.

Too commonly, our conventional religion allows or even assists us in ignoring God’s call. Our rituals become rote practices, mere husks of faith, offering neither transformation nor the hope of the ultimate salvation we seek.

I certainly don’t mean to advocate creating a more rigorous or puritanical religion grounded in a kind of sublimated form of (ego) willpower.

Rather, as individuals, we drop humbly to our knees and pray to be healed of our very selves, which keep us locked out of a living experience of the Kingdom, and perpetually divided in our allegiances, between the finite (the world’s values) and the infinite (Christ’s values).  This division may well be the cause of religiously inspired bloodshed and atrocity.

Instead, we can take the road less travelled, the path of crucifixion, where we need go no further than today’s allotment of disappointment, sorrow, and reversal of fortune to discover yet another opportunity for faithfully surrendering ourselves to the one who authors us into moment-to-moment existence.

 

Ken Kuhlken writes novels.  Dr. Bob Weathers teaches and practices psychology.

 

 

Red River

Red River (1948), directed by Howard Hawks, relates the story of Tom Dunson (John Wayne) and the enormous cattle ranch he has built up in Texas.  Unfortunately, there is no market left for cattle in Texas, so he decides to drive his cattle up to Missouri for sale.  During the drive, the people he hired to help, along with his adopted son, Matt Garth (Montgomery Clift), become restless as food runs low and Dunson grows more tyrannical—he first whips then threatens to hang dissenters.  Finally, Garth decides to take the cattle himself to Kansas, an easier target than Missouri, and Dunson swears revenge against this mutiny.

Red River (the title refers to both a major river the cattle drive must cross and Dunson’s cattle brand) keeps its focus on the relationships between the characters, with infrequent action set pieces (Indian attacks, the cattle stampede) to keep things exciting.  The film’s most important relationship is that between Dunson and Garth; the son must prove himself worthy in his father’s eyes, and overcome Dunson’s hatred for ousting him.  Conversely, only Dunson’s forgiveness of his son can redeem him in our eyes for his despotic tendencies.  Critics often compare their relationship to that of Fletcher Christian and Captain Bligh in Mutiny on the Bounty.  This would all mean little if Wayne’s and Clift’s performances weren’t exemplary.

The women of Red River take more than the passive role usually afforded females in the male-dominated Western genre.  Dunson’s girlfriend at the film’s beginning (played by Coleen Gray) wants to accompany him down to Texas to start his cattle empire; he refuses and insists she go along with a wagon train, which ends up ambushed by Indians who kill Gray.  His refusal to see her as an equal partner in his adventure gets her killed.  The film’s second major female character, Tess Millay (Joanne Dru), is part of a wagon train Garth encounters with his hijacked herd of cattle.  The train is under attack by Indians, and Tess has joined the men of the train in firing away at the attackers.  Tess, who becomes Garth’s love interest, exemplifies the “Hawksian woman” noted by critics as typical of Howard Hawks’s oeuvre, able to hold her own with the men in conversation as well as in action.

James Garfield, a graduate of the film studies program of the Claremont Colleges, is a Perelandra College administrator.

 

Although Wayne and Hawks’s next collaboration, the more suspenseful Rio Bravo (1959), is even better, Red River is still one of the greatest of Westerns.  The mix of action with character development makes for a superb balance, creating a trail-dusty cinematic epic.

I Did It My Way

Having previously written about the despair of finitude and the despair of weakness, two of the three varieties of despair Soren Kierkegaard identifies, I’ll turn to the third, the despair of defiance.

Those inflicted with this form of the disease have experienced the reality of the infinite.  Yet the experience hasn’t humbled them as it ought to. Instead, it has inflamed their self-esteem to the degree that they consider themselves equal to the power that created them and allowed them the experience.

I’m no historian, only a college history minor and writer of historical novels.  Still, I offer for consideration my view that the two most profound influences on the thought and events of the 20th century were the 19th century philosophers Friedrich Nietzsche and Soren Kierkegaard.

Nietzsche advocated for the supremacy and assertion of human will. Hitler was certainly influenced by Nietzsche, and Marxist dictators such as Lenin, Stalin, and Mao were, if not directly influenced by him, inspired by the school of thought to which he belonged.

A person inflicted with the despair of defiance, as I suspect Nietzsche was, can’t abide feeling subservient.  She may be endowed with a sensitive nature coupled with a brilliant mind and therefore suffer more deeply than most from wounds caused by misunderstanding or rejection. If she has experienced the infinite and been led to believe in an omnipotent creator and ruler, she is likely to blame all the unfairness she experiences or witnesses on that ruler. Having witnessed what she perceives as grievous flaws in creation, and at some level believing she could do better, how could she not defy God’s will to form her into the self he created her to be?

Another person inflicted with the despair of defiance may have succeeded so grandly in worldly pursuits that he concurs with his admirers and believes in his essential superiority.  Why then should he risk submission to his creator’s vision of what his self should become?

As soon as a sense of entitlement or resentment enters us, we expel humility and invite the despair of defiance, which prompts the acts that allow so many honored, successful, and even truth-seeking people to fall from grace. Fyodor Dostoyevski’s Crime and Punishment is an inspired case study of such a person.

The despair of defiance makes it easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for the rich (or powerful, and perhaps the intellectually gifted) to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Because the key to the Kingdom of Heaven is found in the self we are called by our creator to become.

In the film Chinatown, Noah Cross tells Jake Gittes, “I don’t blame myself. You see, Mr. Gittes, most people never have to face the fact that at the right time and the right place, they’re capable of anything.”

Notice the defiant won’t take the blame for his despair or anything else, no matter how despicable.