Richard Rohr interview on Iconcast

This is such an awesome podcast!  I know I frequently use enthusiastic language, but this interview with Richard Rohr covers so many topics relevant to reddress that I really do insist you consider finding the hour required to listen to it.  Thanks to prodigal kiwi for the heads up.

It’s from Jesus Radicals who run a series of podcasts called Iconocast.  Both very interesting.  And the banter between the interviewers Joannna and Mark at the end is fabulous.

This interview with Richard Rohr took place on December 21, 2010

Richard talks about:

  • the enneagram
  • ego-centric christianity
  • ‘dying to self/sin’ (St. Paul)
  • dualistic thinking
  • falling upwards
  • the two halves of life
  • emerging christianity
  • radical living within an institution “on the edge of the inside”

Falling Upward: Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life by Richard Rohr

(San Francisco; Jossey-Bass, 2011)

“There is much evidence on several levels that there are at least two major tasks to human life.  The first task is to build a strong ‘container’ or identity; the second is to find the contents that the container was meant to hold.”

This is more than a book about spiritual maturity, it’s a book about making sense of life when the wheels fall off.  For those of us who allow life to move us beyond simplistic answers and responses, seeking meaning in our suffering as well as our love, we will eventually find ourselves on the ‘second journey’.  Rohr proposes that if we know about this basic journey of life, we conduct our early years differently and we construct our generational relationships more significantly.  I’m not sure that I could have understood his concerns prior to experiencing transition into the second journey, which indeed, is something Rohr himself suspects will be true for most of us.

Carl Jung believed that “one cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life’s morning for what was great in the morning will be of little importance in the evening, and what in the morning was true will at evening have become a lie.”  That is, when we fail to grow up, we become absurd in our immaturity. Or, in the characteristic simplicity of the Dalai Lama, “learn and obey the rules very well, so you will know how to break them properly.”   Intellectually, this is likely to be an experience of of discovering that “beyond rational and critical thinking, we need to be called again.  This can lead to the discovery of a ‘second naiveté’ which is a return to the joy of our first naiveté, but now totally new, inclusive, and mature thinking” (Paul Ricoeur).  All of which sheds a soft dawning light upon Jesus’ words: “Anyone who wants to save his life, must lose it.  Anyone who loses here life will find it.  What gain is there if you win the whole world and lose your very self?  What can you offer in exchange for your one life?” (Matthew 16:25-26)

So, you can see how Rohr combines Jung’s psychological framework with teaching from a great variety of Spiritual Giants, across the ages and across religious perspectives, to present a convincing picture of this journey as basic to  human nature, one that Jesus understood very well because God created into the very fabric of the universe. “God wanted to give human beings their fullness right from the beginning, but they were incapable of receiving it, because they were still little children” (St Irenaus).

This is not entirely a practical book, though it was very comforting to recognize myself in its pages and that in and of itself is useful.  There are insights and wisdom rather than advice.  Certainly, I’d be happy to pass it on to someone who had an open heart to seeing the mystery of life in their own crumbling world (it’s inexpensive and beautiful printed as well).  I have found Rohr’s approach to be very helpful for making sense of my own life experience and reflecting anew with the Spiritual Wisdom of Jesus and the uniquely beautiful salvation available in Christ, who wraps up all suffering and pain through his own death into our shared resurrected life.

“Jesus, I am convinced, was the first nondualistic [i.e. both/and rather than either/or thinking] religious thinker in the West (there were philosophers like Heraclitus), but his teachings were quickly filtered through Greek dualistic logic!  Nondualistic wisdom is just not helpful when you are trying to form a strong group, clarify first principles, or demonstrate that your idea is superior to others’ ideas.  At that stage, real wisdom appears to be pious and dangerous poetry.  And at that necessary early stage, such warnings are probably right!  But that is also why clergy and spiritual teachers need to be second-half-of-life people, and why so many of us have mangled, manipulated, and minimized the brilliance of Jesus when we heard him in our early stage of development.”

On the Threshold of Transformation: Daily Meditations for Men by Richard Rohr

(Chicago; Loyola Press, 2010)

I can think of several reasons why it was good for a woman to read ‘daily meditations for men.’  I bought this book for a friend and had a (careful) speed read before wrapping it up – so glad I did!  This book is for men who are prepared to take a moment to engage themselves.  The questions are searching and the reflections sometimes surprising, gathered from Rohr’s work with, and writing about, male spirituality over many years, and gathered together in this format for daily meditations.  I am thrilled to pass it on to my friend.

The question of male and female sexuality is a vexed one in my corner of Christian Church Culture.  Are men and women essentially different beings or are our differences ‘mere’ social constructions?  In part the conversation is hindered by our culture’s insistence on individualistic self-fulfillment, in part it is our tendency to reduce who men and women ARE to what men and women DO.  So before I go any further, let me offer this quote from postmodern, feminist theologian Luce Ingaray, which has begun to direct me through that particular maze of objections:  “Essence is not a given, behind us, but a collective creation, ahead of us, a horizon.”

To address the question of male/female distinctiveness we must think about human beings as irreducibly complex and inter-related.  If it is important to distinguish gender, it is in order that we might embrace our finitude, the limitedness of human beings who are not complete until we are co-joined with others.  In Christian theology, it is the Church as a unified whole that represents Christ on earth, not Christians as individual parts.  Apart from the necessity to understand human sexuality for its own sake, coming to terms with male/female difference enables us to live with human uniqueness in a way that leads to love and peace.  Hence, Rohr writes:

authentic masculinity is the other side of feminine energy.  It’s the complement, the balance, the counterpoint, the needed energy to create a lovely whole.  Together these two energies are always new life and new beauty.  Separate they are overstatement, imbalance, sterility, and boredom.

Richard Rohr believes that there is a unique masculine spirituality which has been lost in western men.   (David Tacey also writes about this brilliantly in relation to the Australian male – will post on his books eventually.)  The masculinity we see in culture is over-cooked, from the shadow of the human personality, an ill-fitting suit of armor.  Our culture does not encourage men to take the time for self-reflection nor does it offer enough diversity in the expressions of masculinity honored.  If consumer media culture has created problems for women in regard to body image, our media has created problems for men in regard to ego and the inner life.

So how does Rohr define masculinity?

By the ‘feminine principle’ I mean everything vulnerable, interior, powerless, subtle, personal , intimate, and relational.  By the ‘masculine principle’ I mean everything clear, rational, linear, ordered, in control, bounded, provable, and hard.

I am aware of a discomfort in myself each time I read this quote.  It’s a discomfort I am keen to befriend because it is a guide into further understanding of myself and the constraints of culturally constructed notions of sexuality.  Its a post-it-note from my soul to explore further!