I bet you thought I was going to start getting into the types, didn’t you? Nope, we’re not there yet, Papa Smurf.
We have a few more global concepts to go over first, before we work our way to the specifics of each type. Assuming we even do. I may leave that for you guys to research out yourselves.
Faith is a word that can mean more than one thing, depending on who is speaking. To some, “to have faith” means to agree with a particular creed or set of beliefs. It’s a thing that happens on the cognitive, conscious, intellectual level.
If that’s so, why is it that Paul says that we receive faith by grace (Eph 2:8)? Who needs grace (“an undeserved gift”) to make a cognitive judgment?[Mildly interesting side note: At least two people who read this blog are going to think that the next little bit was prompted by Sunday’s sermon. Wrong. I actually started this post, and intended to use this specific scripture, middle of last week.]
Matthew 13:13 says “Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.” Does this scripture make any more sense to you in light of what we’ve said previously about trances? Who “sees but doesn’t see, hears but doesn’t hear, and doesn’t understand” what’s really going on around them?
Okay, if you don’t like the term “trances” (and I understand that it’s an off-putting term for some people) then perhaps it would be better to go back a little bit and put it in different terms. Let’s briefly revisit our last enneagram post, where little Adam and/or Evie discovers the rude awakening that (A) they are not omnipotent and One with the universe (in other words, they’re not God; and (B) they have to come up with a strategy to get what they need from the world.
The realization that you are not God, that you have limits, is called “shame.” I know you’ve been told that shame is something else entirely, and you probably have all kinds of emotional associations with the word “shame” but for the moment, just go with me on this. John Bradshaw, a prominent psychologist and expert in “inner child work” writes extensively about shame in his books, most notably “Healing the Shame that Binds You.” He is, after a manner, an expert in shame, and he describes shame as I’ve described it. C.S. Lewis is another notable writer who refers to shame as basically, being embarrassed that you’re not a god. I’ve recently been re-reading “Till We Have Faces,” Lewis’ favorite of his own books, and at one point Psyche is talking about being in the presence of a god, and feeling shame for “being mortal.” Being, as it were, inadequate, compared to the divine.
It might be easier to understand if put in comparison with guilt. Guilt is feeling bad or inadequate for what you’ve done, or not done. Shame is feeling bad or inadequate for what you are, or are not. You are not perfect, and on some level that’s embarrassing and shameful. So you do what Adam and Eve did immediately upon realizing they’d screwed up: you seek to cover that shame so no one can see it. Adam and Eve used fig leaves. The rest of us use a personality. In the strictest sense, your personality isn’t who you are, it’s who you pretend to be to hide your imperfection. It’s a false self, a facade, that you do your best to believe is the real you.
Anybody else here old enough to remember those crappy vinyl plastic Halloween costumes from back before the government got all picky about the whole “suffication hazard” thing? Those hard plastic masks in the shape of Superman or Wonder Woman, or Barbie, with the little rectangular eyeholes, tiny little nostril holes, and those god-awful plastic smocks that were white in the back? Do you remember how hard it was to see out of those crappy masks? The best that could be said is that you sort of saw what was directly in front of you.
“Seeing, but not seeing.” When you wear a mask, it limits your vision. You have to make an effort to not see anything about yourself that doesn’t fit your constructed self-image. I heard a news report talking about the recent Michael Richards brewhaha, which parallels Mel Gibson’s similar episode of a few months back. Apparently, Richards talked on Jessie Jackson’s radio show about seeking healing for both the people he insulted, and himself. My initial reaction was “What does he need healing for?” and then it hit me. What if Mel and Michael really didn’t believe themselves to be racist or prejudiced? What if their constructed self-image was “I’m not that kind of person”?
And that’s when another part of “Till We Have Faces” suddenly “clicked” for me, and I understood it.Â It’s the main idea of the book, in the last chapter, after the Queen has recited, not her self-justifying written complaint against the gods, but her real, true, angry, bitter, ugly complaint.Â I don’t have the book on hand at the moment, but it’s something along the lines of “People talk foolishly about the joy of saying exactly what you mean, but in that moment when you find that you actually do say exactly what you mean, you’ll not talk of the joy of words.Â No wonder the gods don’t answer us, what would be the point, until that word gone unuttered can be got out of us?Â How can they speak face to face till we have faces?”
Both Richards and Gibson probably understand that statement all too well.Â They came face to face with their own ugliness, the “word unuttered” was got out of them by liquor, anger, and who knows what else.Â Now they can’t dodge that particular shame anymore, cover it up, or hide from it: the only option is healing it.Â There are things as ugly and uglier within me, words that haven’t been dug out of me yet. Â I have no stone to throw.Â But back on topic.
Thomson describes parables as “a trance-breaking literary form.”Â On a literal level, a parable doesn’t make any sense.Â So your brain tosses it back to your unconscious like a child giving up on a rubik’s cube: “Here, you puzzle this thing out when you get the time.”Â To your unconscious, the seat of imagination and dreams, the imagery and symbolism are clear. Â Parables are like a computer virus; they slowly, subtly start rewriting and revising the personal mythology that you are using as a blueprint for living your life, from within.Â Parables have the power to transform your worldview.Â They open up those tiny little rectangular eyeholes and let more of reality in.
The sermon I heard Sunday described parables as “subversive stories.”Â Â The minister described them as a ticking bomb in your brain, that at some point would go off and explode your worldview when you suddenly “get” it.
In that sense, parables are pretty dangerous to the status quo.Â If you want to protect and preserve your self-image and current worldview, don’t read the parables.Â Either that, or come up with some nice, literal or useful interpretation of them that supports your current self-image and worldview.
Now we return back to this idea of faith as a gift of grace.Â If “the mother of all sin” is doubt in God’s goodness and provision, what does that mean?Â If “sin” is as much a worldview as it is the acts spawned by that worldview, how do you “forgive” sin?Â How do you “forgive” a worldview?
By destroying it, and letting the person see reality as it actually is, you empower them to act from the God-reality of abundance and acceptance, and not their self-imposed reality of poverty, lack, covering-up and trying to earn some sort of salvation.
When Jesus preached freedom to the captives, on one level, he was telling them that he was going to free them through his death and resurrection.Â But on another level, he was actually creating a greater freedom for them by preaching to them.Â His words began the process of creating freedom from sin, tilling the ground and planting seeds that his death and resurrection would then bring to fruition. Â The parables create a mental environment where someone can accept salvation and forgiveness.Â Jesus’ teachings, particularly the parables, create the ability to believe in grace.Â You can’t accept a gift you don’t really believe exists.
Is it now becoming any clearer how faith is a gift of grace? Probably more to come.