Saturday, October 30, 2010

Two Selves

I've been on a journey of self-discovery.

It's been just over three weeks since I last posted anything. I've taken that time to examine some notions that have embedded themselves into my mind. I'd like to share what's come of that examination.

The basic idea is that the Christian life - the life I'm trying to live every day - requires me to participate in the killing of my self.

Let me unpack that astounding statement, please.

The Christian life is a life centered on the person of Jesus the Messiah. The Christian tries to act as Jesus would act, to pray as Jesus would pray, to love as Jesus loved, and to experience life as Jesus did. In essence, we are trying to become Jesus in our own selves.

If I'm going to become more Jesus-like, if I'm going to displace my own wishes and prejudices for those of the man who I declare to be my Lord and Master, then some parts of me must be removed, excised - killed, never to return.

Let's call the Jesus-self, that work in progress, the real self.

If that's true, then the pre-Jesus self, the "old me," is a false self.

So, in brief, what I'm being challenged to do is to kill the false self and let the real self flower to its fullest extent in the years of life that I have remaining to me on this Earth.

What is this false self? How can it be false, if it was the "natural" me that existed before Jesus entered my tidy, well-organized world?

Imagine that we are each a self. We're the product of our nature, and our nurture. I'll leave to others all the argument about which is more dominant, and which aspect caused what character trait, behavior quirk, or belief choice. For the purpose of my illustration, we're each the product of our heredity and our environment.

Our heredity is beyond our control, for the most part. Our environment - ah, our environment - the things we expose ourselves to, the people whose views we share, the heroes we admire, these things are within our control, to varying degrees.

What are we told in modern twenty-first-century America that might have some effect on our self?

"You'll only be truly fulfilled if you have the newest car, you know."

"You deserve to live in that house. You've earned it!"

"Why not get that home theater system? It won't cost that much!"

"Those jeans make your butt look so cute. Go ahead - get 'em!"

"Don't you think that you're just a little too heavy? Wouldn't you feel better about yourself if you looked like that actress?"

"You'll never amount to anything unless you take this class."

"It doesn't matter if you like working there. For the sake of your career, you need to work here!"

"Why do you keep hanging out with those people? They're just so uncool!"

"What's with this interest in God? Are you nuts!? You have to check your brain at the door to believe that stuff!"

"Nobody will ever give a crap about you unless you get yourself together. You need to do this, and buy that, to shape up. Get on the ball - you're falling behind!"

Do any of these sound like the messages you hear every day? Do you get the feeling that you're being brow-beaten by every commercial and every magazine ad that you see? Do you feel a little uneasy that you're not the person you could be, because you just don't have enough cool stuff, or hang out with the right people?

Welcome to the consumer-centered manipulation circus of 21st-century America. The rest of the world isn't really so different, so I guess we could say it's the 21st-century world that bombards us with these sorts of messages.

Of course, the messages we hear are more subtle than I've portrayed them above. However, that's what you're really hearing so many times a day, in so many different venues, from so many different voices. We're awash in a sea of manipulative, carefully designed persuasive art that is primarily intended to keep us consuming the products and services of the modern industrial state. As long as we're good little cogs in the marketplace, everything rolls along fine and dandy, and it's the best of all possible worlds.

And over time, that best of all possible worlds kills our very souls...

On the other hand, I contend that when we become Christ-followers, and from that point, Christ-imitators, we begin to slay the false self and replace it with the true self that is the gift of Jesus to each of us. What do we hear from this Jesus that we're working to become?

"You are worth saving, worth dying for, in fact! It's done - the work's completed."

"Your Father in heaven loves you, has always loved you. You're a special creation in His universe. He's not content to leave you as you are, though. You can be so much more than you can imagine."

"Nothing pleases the Father more than hearing from you. He loves coming to your aid. He doesn't need you to be complete in Himself, but He wants to be with you just the same. See the difference?"

"I call you my friends if you do what I ask you to do. I only want what's best for you. Sometimes what's best for us requires pain. I've already been there, so I'm with you every step of the way."

"We make a great team. I'd love to go on forever like this; it can only get better."

"Stay with me, and I'll stay with you. I'll be here even when you think I'm not around."

This is what the three-part community of the Father/Son/Spirit says to each of us. These are some of the words that speak into existence the true self, and begin slaying the false self.

The true self does not come into being overnight, nor without a struggle. Like any pitched battle - and it is a battle, make no mistake - there are backs and forths, victories and defeats. The objective of this war is the future of our life. The theater of operations is our mind and our soul. The signs of combat are the changes we make in our lives as the true self comes more and more to the fore.

We begin finding different things to do with our money - but not always.

We begin re-evaluating associations and friendships - but not always.

We start to consider what we do with our spare time - but not always.

We may re-examine our political loyalties - but not always.

We may begin to work to repair broken relationships - but not always.

Our lives may seem to be in turmoil, and yet we may be smiling - but not always.

The true self is a different kind of person. That self is focused on a different goal, a different life-objective, than the false self that is being slain. Here's what a single verse from the Hebrew prophet Micah says about all this:

6:8 He has told you, O man, what is good, and what the Lord really wants from you: He wants you to promote justice, to be faithful, and to live obediently before your God.

And this, from the pen of The Teacher in the book of Ecclesiastes:

12:13 Having heard everything, I have reached this conclusion: Fear God and keep his commandments, because this is the whole duty of man.

That's all. Hold in awe the Lord your God, obey his pattern for living, and love your neighbor as you would love yourself.

It all sounds so simple. Well, actually, it is simple. I've heard words of wisdom, though, and they are these: Simple doesn't mean easy.

That distinction is the subject for the rest of the life of each Christ-imitator. We each have to account for it in our own way; we each live our individual lives along our own personal trajectory. No two lives are alike.


I wrestle every day with how that death of the false self and the advance of the true self will look in that day. Some days I'm more successful in winning the battles than in others. Some days I lose badly, and I feel like I'm back in the old self all over again. God gives me the determination to get some sleep, and wake to engage in the battle of a lifetime all over again the next day.

May you be blessed with the faith and determination to engage in your own confrontation every day, and to remain on duty until final victory is won.

Amen! Grace and peace to us all...


  1. I very much enjoyed your blog and look forward to following your thoughts. I have studied all book based religions, philosophy, advanced quantum physics and molecular biology. My path to spiritual truth has been a journey of over thirty years. If I may be so bold as to speak to a truth I have come to understand.

    Christianity and the words of Jesus are without any doubt to be in contrast. Jesus spoke of God becoming the universe. Christianity speaks of God creating the universe. This blaring enigma offers serious alarm when we loosely investigate the difference.
    God as per Christianity is deemed the creator, separate from self in judgment of the sinner. The devout follow is required to tailor their life to meet the demands of their God. If they fall short of God's desire they must suffer purgatory or hell. This carrot and stick methodology is important for the church to thrive in membership.
    Conversely, I believe in a God who chose to experience being. In order to effect this desire God became the universe. This fundamental shift in understanding allows one to comprehend that all manifest reality is God. There is in fact nothing that is not God. As I converse with you God is dancing with God. When one accepts this fundamental truth we then determine you, me, the chair you sit on, the computer you look at and the words you reads are all GOD. We see now ONENESS, there are not six billion plus souls on this earth there truly is only one. We are not body, we are eternal consciousness.
    Death, birth, space, time, physicality, separation are all illusions. Again, you are not your body, you are consciousness experiencing being in a body. The ego locks us into self, we determine we are the body so there must be need to protect and extend the life of the body.

    Our names are different, you are Den and I am Chris. This is the illusion we are playing Den. From another perspective we are named the same, the ego self we call " I ". Beyond this dream we may wake to discover our true name.

    God I Am. God you are.

    We are ONE eternal consciousness. An open door awaits Den. Do you truly wish to wake form illusion?

    Namaste, my brother, love is all there is...

  2. Thanks for the comment, Chris.

    I've come to a slightly different conclusion in all my reading, conversations, prayer and meditation. I'd say that rather than God becoming creation, God (in Jesus) infuses Himself, in some mysterious way, into creation, and specifically into man. This union of the Creator and the created remakes the created in some as yet unfathomable way. We have passages in the Bible that talk about the old Adam, and the new Adam. That's another way of saying what I just described, so this is hardly a new idea.

    In Orthodox Christianity this metamorphosis of broken mankind into new mankind is more front and center than in more western strains of Christianity, but not dramatically so. In the plethora of voices that speak the message of Jesus, we hear different points of emphasis, different ways of speaking much the same Truth. Each of us is limited in saying the truth of God, so we must each say what we can say, describe what we can see. Our testimonies constitute an encyclopedia of accounts, and I suspect they must be appreciated as such.

    There remains much mystery before me, and I expect that most people, if they're honest, would admit much the same thing. The search for truth continues. I try to be diligent on seeking out what I can find. You sound as if you're on the same hunt. Good fortune in continuing to find treasure. Avanti!

  3. Enjoyed the post. Ah, the new and the old self. It becomes quite a process. Of course, my greatest struggle is that while there are always the obvious parts of the old self, so much of the old self and new self become blurred. In daily life, what decision is truly wise?

    Some say people are short sighted, but I disagree, and instead believe we are 'mid-sighted'. We can see past the immediate and plan on the not so distant. It is the 'long way down the road' that is hard to see. So many values and priorities it seems are driven by this. Since I work with youth, that is where I see it most. We teach our youth so often, that school goes above everything else. We teach, a test is more important than youth group, a sport is more important than serving. We tell them go to the best school, even if it means abandoning community at a pivotal age. I have in my short life seen so many of my friends fall away from the faith after they broke community to go to college. Many find it again later in life, but was the 'better college' worth the trade? Just thinking out loud really.

    Long story short. I often wonder how much of the 'old self' and its values "blend in" to our view of the new self. I just find the truths we hold to be 'self-evident' are often more in need of scrutiny than any other. Namely, the standard american phrase, that I have come to see as an enemy of who I am meant to be in Christ. Life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. I should freely give my life to spread the Gospel, I should become a slave to Christ, and I should only pursue the path laid out for me by God. Of course, the kicker is, in that I will find true life, true liberty, and true joy. How am I doing? That is a question I cannot answer from the inside, but I know the journey is long, and I am only at the beginning of it.

    There is my 2 cents worth anyway. Enjoyed the post though.

  4. Oh, I forgot to comment on Chris' post. At this point, Den really said everything I would have said, but I am curious, as it is at the crux of the power of your claim, but I am curious where you draw the statement that Jesus spoke of God becoming the universe. Understanding the basis of your claim will help me understand the content of it. Thanks!

  5. Yes I too like this vantage of false self and true self. I challenge Jake to note the difference between 'old self and new self' and 'false self and true self.' The true self (according to T. Merton) is the original Self (Adam in Paul's language). St. Paul also calls this the new man/creation (2 Cor. 5:17). The False Self is the compulsive self, the disguised self, therefore the lying self.

    I think Chris is more on it in my opinion. The True Self is a unitive self and a unitive reality. We are "particular" (separate from) but yet one with all that is. This is not a pantheistic or panentheistic statement, but rather a "theosis," that is, Christ is expressed as the True Man, that is unitive with g-d: "I and the Father are One" (John 10) - which btw has been cheaply co-opted into a some rationalistic theologic trinitarian necessity to prove Jesus' divinity. That may be a part of what Jesus meant, but it isn't the reason why he said it. Jesus rises above the Pharisees' consciousness - their rigid narrowing of all things, like 'who's in and who's out' and 'what is righteous and what is defiled' - and Jesus transcends as the One with Parent/Creator.

    The death of the false self is the death of the ego-centric person. The false self must die if one wishes to be "found" one with g-d. Again, this is not a moralistic statement (the Pharisees might have said that). No, this is an ontological statement, a statement of Being, of Identity, true identity, the identity that was always there but obscured by the compulsive self - sure, we can call it sin as long as we don't simply mean 'morals.'

    But let me say at this point, the true self is not rediscovered through the mind or asceticism or any other gnostic or 'bootstrap religion'. The true self itself is a gift from outside of us. It has to be otherwise it is not transcendent. How can the false give birth to the true? How can the compulsive self bring rest? No wonder Jesus didn't start a religion but rather deconstructed Judaism from within and spoke of 'a radical otherness...' 'the kingdom is like... weeds, a net, a mustard seed...' None of what he said about the kingdom is made up of religion. It comes from the One. And Jesus identifies himself as the One: 'I am the Gate, Shepherd, Light...' Now Jesus' statement makes sense: 'I and the Father are one.'