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TRUST

Based on an address Dr. Blair gave at the eastern and western connECtions96 in the summer of 1996.

(PDF version available here.)

by Dr. Ralph Blair


INTRODUCTION

Tennessee Williams used to say that “at New York cocktail parties, I drink martinis almost as fast as I can snatch them from the tray.” He said it was at these parties that he “always had a particularly keen and truly awful sense of impermanence” that, he said, haunts all of us. He called “fear and evasion … the two little beasts that chase each other’s tails in the revolving wirecage of our nervous world.”

Fear and Primal Fear aren’t just Marky Mark and Richard Gere movies. They’re our own home videos, channeled through the little amygdala alarm in our brains. Once that alarm goes off, we experience fear, whether or not there’s any good reason to be afraid. Psychiatrist Karl Menninger said that “fear is probably the first emotion experienced” though he added that it’s “so inextricably fused and regularly associated [with anger] that it is difficult to make useful distinctions” between them. Overcoming such fear becomes our “first spiritual duty,” according to philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev. Freud called fear “the fundamental phenomenon and the central problem of neurosis.” According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than 23 million Americans suffer from serious anxiety, over twice as many as suffer from depression and other psychiatric disorders.

Cognitively speaking, fears and anxiety can be prompted and sustained by lack of trust. They can also be resolved by trust. Psychologically, trust is an absence of anxiety. Philosopher John Dewey once said: “To me, faith [or trust] means not worrying.” Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr defined trust as “the final triumph over incongruity.” He went on to say that trust is “the final assertion of the meaningfulness of existence.” Read more →

Anger

An expanded version of Dr. Blair’s address on anger at connECtion95, the summer conferences of Evangelicals Concerned at Kirkridge and Mills College, June and July, 1995.

In a promo for New York City’s Lesbian and Gay Community Center, cartoonist Howard Cruse depicts a gay guy asking his lesbian friend: “Where’s the meeting for people who’re mad as hell and aren’t going to take it anymore?” She consults the Center’s schedule and replies: “Hm — Depends on what night of the week it is.” Gay columnist Bruce Bawer rightly objects to the fact that “many gay leaders and commentators persist in encouraging us to celebrate rage.” Of course, lesbians and gay men are not the only people who are feeling angry these days.

According to the Billy Graham Professor of Evangelism at Southern [Baptist] Seminary: “The whole Christian Right movement feeds off of a ‘theology of resentment.'” [Ken Chafin] A prominent evangelical journalist reports that “Moods of … anger dominate the conservative evangelical subculture.” [Rodney Clapp] Evangelist Luis Palau warns: “I fear the Age of the Angry Evangelical is upon us. That we are getting to be an angry bunch isn’t merely a caricature created by the so-called ‘secular humanist media elite.’ Evangelicals are getting far too angry about far too many things, … we American evangelicals are now known nationally (and internationally) by our anger.” Read more →

REVIEW. Winter 1995 Vol. 20 No. 1.

“Ordination of Women and of Gays: Are They on a Par?” by Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., Calvin Seminary Forum, Spring 1994.

Flannery O’Connor knew that “it seems to be a fact that you have to suffer as much from the Church as for it.”  Now even the Pope is taking a few tentative steps to admit this in recommending repentance for “the lack of discernment, which at times became even acquiescence, shown by many Christians concerning the violation of fundamental human rights: over the ages.  One level of explanation for such oppression by “Christians” is noted by an Asbury Seminary professor who recently wrote: “Our church subculture has erected dozens of barriers that separate many people from the possibility of becoming disciples” of Christ, and “virtually all these barriers are essentially cultural barriers and hve little or nothing to do with ‘the faith once delivered to the saints.”  It’s crucial to remember this historical context as we turn to Plantinga’s article.  Of course, churches aren’t alone in abusing people.  Wherever institutions of whatever kind exercise authority, opportunity for abuse is often indulged.  But abuse at the hands of churches is uniquely egregious given Christ’s unconditional love, to which also he calls his followers.  Read more →

Temptation & The Truly Alternative Lifestyle

This booklet is an expanded version of Dr. Blair’s keynote address at connECtion 1992, the summer conferences of Evangelicals Concerned, at Kirkridge in the eastern Pennsylvania mountains and at Chapman University in Orange, California.

(PDF version available here.)
(PDF of book format available here.)

by Dr. Ralph Blair

“Though vine nor fig-tree neither
Their wonted fruit shall bear;
Though all the field should wither
Nor flocks nor herds be there:
Yet God the same abiding,
His praise shall tune my voice;
For while in Him confiding
I cannot but rejoice.”
Habakkuk 3:17-18


Oscar Wilde could not resist it. In Lady Windemere’s Fan he couldn’t resist saying “I can resist everything except temptation.” And I couldn’t resist repeating it.

Temptation. What do we get out of getting into it? How do we get into getting out of it? We face it every day. Think of the temptations we’ve faced just in the past 24 hours, or just so far this morning, or just at this very moment.

Are we tempted to act unjustly, to be unkind, to reject God’s will? (Micah 6:8)

Are we tempted to disguise our motives? To gossip? To trespass into another person’s private space? Are we tempted to neglect conferees we don’t find attractive? To join in as a friend is nasty about someone else behind her back? Are we tempted to behave seductively? Are we tempted to make excuses for ourselves while giving little or no benefit of the doubt to anyone else? Are we tempted to be discouragingly critical? To gloat over somebody else’s troubles? To ignore those troubles? To free-load? To spend ourselves into debt on ourselves while withholding money from others who really do need some? Are we tempted to be Madonna’s “material girls?” To be perfectionistic? To be lax? To condemn? To manipulate and exploit someone who finds us sexy? To exploit others by renting or viewing pornography? To engage in phone sex? To break promises? To rush unwisely and unlovingly into romantic relationships? To steal? To lash out? To hold a grudge? To procrastinate? To avoid pulling our own weight? To withhold forgiveness? To neglect family and friends? To pout? To gripe about the food? To be ungrateful? To neglect opportunities to encourage others? To claim we have a right to do whatever we want to do with our bodies, our money, our time, our talents? Are we tempted to apply these thoughts on temptation to anyone but ourselves? To focus on a disagreement over something I’ve said so as not to see that most of what else I’ve said easily applies to us all—individually and collectively? Am I tempted to pretend I’m a stranger to all these temptations? Are you tempted to believe me? Are we tempted to think that God is not ready and willing to forgive us? Are we tempted to take God’s forgiveness for granted? How seriously do we want to resist these temptations?

How selectively? How soon? What do we get out of getting into temptation? How do we get out of getting into temptation? Our presence here this weekend probably indicates that we want to resist temptation better than we do. But why not go beyond mere resistance, to a seriously heroic discipleship? Read more →

The Lord’s Prayer

Ralph Blair is a psychotherapist in private practice in New York City. He founded Evangelicals Concerned in 197 6. This booklet is based on Dr. Blair’s keynote at connECtion1990, the summer conferences of Evangelicals Concerned, at Kirkridge and at San Francisco State University.
(PDF version available here.)

By Dr. Ralph Blair


An unknown gloss adds a word at the end of one of Jesus’s sayings: “When you pray, don’t be like hypocrites who love to pray in the synagogues and on the broad street corners to be seen by People magazine.” But there he was, in People magazine: Jerry Falwell tableau vivant—bent over a bed, on his knees, hands velcroed together on top of a Bible, eyes shut, piously beseeching a disinterested French poodle on the bed beside the Bible. People magazine’s a pretty big street corner! Now maybe the posturing wasn’t Falwell’s idea. Maybe it was People’s. But why did he stoop to play the part?

“Believe me,” said Jesus, “they have had all the reward they’re going to get. But when you pray, go into a room by yourself,” he said, “shut the door and pray to your Father privately. Your Father who sees everything will reward you.” That’s how Cardinal Newman could reflect: “I am never less alone than when I am all alone.”

Jesus continued: “When you pray, don’t rattle off long prayers like the pagans who think they will be heard because they use so many words.” But there they were, in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, led by Cardinal O’Connor, in vanity and in vain, rattling off the lines of The Lord’s Prayer in a shouting match with ACT-UP invaders. “They think they will be heard?”

After a federal district court ruled against spoken prayers at public school ceremonies, there he was, an Iowa preacher protesting that the ruling violated his constitutional right to free speech. To whom did he intend to speak?

And there he was on 60 Minutes, a U.S. Marine drill instructor, barking orders at his young recruit.

“Get ’em up!” He meant: put your hands together as if in prayer. “Yes, sir.” “Pray! Ya’ got 30 seconds. Go!” “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, … ” Evel Knievel says he can do it in 10 seconds.

After a court of appeals ruling against public school-sponsored spoken prayers at football games, protesting fans throughout the South chanted The Lord’s Prayer across the field before kickoff. They think they will be heard. Does God really have to listen to all this crap? God listens and weeps.

Standing on the 50-yard line, the mayor of Montgomery, Alabama began his protest prayer session by boasting that “Football and prayer are a tradition in Montgomery and in Alabama and in America.” One can think of other traditions in Montgomery and Alabama and America. Read more →

Nevertheless, Joy!

NEVERTHELESS, JOY! is Ralph Blair’s keynote address at the connECtion89 summer conferences of Evangelicals Concerned held in the states of Pennsylvania, Washington, and Wisconsin. Dr. Blair has been practicing psychotherapy for twenty years. He founded Evangelicals Concerned in 1976.
(PDF version available here.)

by Dr. Ralph Blair


During the Great Depression, one of the hit songs on Broadway was “Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries.” Rodney Dangerfield rebuts: “Life is just a bowl of pits.” A rational therapist might caution: Well now, isn’t life really rather a mixed bowl of cherries and pits? After all, even Woody Allen says life’s divided into two parts: “the horrible and the miserable.” All these opinions are really the same. All except the rational therapist’s. Each is cynicism about life. Tallulah Bankhead expressed cynicism when she said: “If I had to live my life again, I’d make the same mistakes, only sooner.” Two hundred fifty years ago, playwright John Gay wrote for his own epitaph: “Life is a jest; and all things show it. I thought so once; but now I know it.” Gay’s cynical descendants put the same sentiment crassly: “Life sucks and then you die.”

Hearing these ideas, maybe we don’t know whether to feign a knowing smile or cluck our tongues and wag our heads. Like hearing a sick joke that resonates with our own warped wit, we’re torn between emotions. We find the pessimism both uncomfortably funny and sad because it reflects our own defensively cynical hostility when we, too, so desperately desire something so much better to be true, but experience no real hope that it can be true. We want to live the pretensions of irrational optimism but we’re stuck in the disappointment of irrational pessimism. And so we try to protect ourselves by concluding with Gay that life’s a dirty little joke and with the songwriters, “Don’t take it serious … just live and laugh at it all.” But as a writer of Proverbs knew long ago: “Even in laughter, the heart may be aching.” (14:13)

There was a lot of laughter on Fire Island in the 1970s. Gay people were courageously emerging from dark closets of isolating fear to the relief of promised companionship. But poppers, pill punch, and parties that lasted all night did not really liberate the oppressed from the pain of isolation, insecurity, rejection and meaninglessness. Popular T-shirts of those summers read: “So many men, so little time.” Oscar Levant put it: “So little time, so little to do.” What was there really left to do with so many men? That lifestyle was conceived and delivered in boredom while basic sexual needs went unmet. No one seemed to notice that, in the words of Edna St. Vincent Millay: “It is not true that life is one damn thing after another—it is one damn thing over and over.” And then as Malcolm Forbes laments: “By the time we’ve made it, we’ve had it.” Read more →

What’s The Bible?

This booklet is an expanded version of Dr. Blair’s keynote address at the 1988 summer connECtions of Evangelicals Concerned.
(PDF version available here.)
(PDF book version available here.)

by Dr. Ralph Blair


Believe it or not, pornographers sometimes solicit me. But they don’t want me to pose; they want me to purchase. Sometimes a sample is enclosed within a sealed second envelope on which is printed the obligatory and entrepreneurial copy: “WARNING! Adult material enclosed. Open at your own risk or discard unopened.”

Maybe Bibles should come that way—sealed inside plain brown wrappers with big, bold letters: “WARNING! Adult material enclosed. Open at your own risk or discard unopened.” That would put both Christians with their domesticated dogmas and non-Christians with their domesticated doubts on notice that there are real shockers inside—much more scandalous to both than the predictable sex shots. Typically, the Bible turns the predictable upside down, as when Jesus says that prostitutes are entering God’s kingdom ahead of religious leaders. That is still surprising to both the prostitutes and the preachers, though today’s headlines prompt us to ask: If the prostitutes are entering, can the preachers be far behind?

Actually, the Bible has been an x-rated book for a long time. Yet The New York Times began its story on our New York Bible study by saying: “It is no one’s image of what homosexuals do in New York City on a Friday night.” In 1828 a Bible published by Quakers placed at the bottom of pages passages thought unsuitable for mixed company. In 1833 Noah Webster published his own revision of the King James Version because, as he put it, “many words and phrases [in the Bible] are very offensive to delicacy, and even to decency.” It was his notion that “such words and phrases ought not to be retained.” According to Webster, “Language which cannot be uttered in company without a violation of decency, or the rules of good breeding, exposes the Scriptures to the scoffs of unbelievers, impairs their authority, and multiplies or confirms the enemies of our holy religion.” Perhaps it was not the “unbelievers” who would have been so offended. They may even have welcomed the fact that the Bible speaks their language. For his 1909 Study Bible, C. I. Scofield revised the King’s English to get rid of what he considered indelicate vocabulary. He didn’t think the Bible should speak of “the men which sit on the wall [and] eat their own dung and drink their own piss.” He preferred that they drink their own “water.” In King James’ day, by the way, “piss” had itself been a euphemism borrowed from the French. Modern English translations obscure what the servant in Genesis 24:9 was doing when he swore an oath to Abraham. Americans read that the servant “put his hand under the thigh of his master.” What the servant really did was to swear his oath while holding fast to Abraham’s testicles. That’s why we call them testicles—from the Latin testis,” witness.” Today we swear while holding fast to the Old and New Testaments.

The Bible can be particularly graphic when it comes to sex. For example, the Song of Solomon celebrates Solomon’s favorite harem girl’s “rounded vulva, like a bowl always full to the brim with sweet liquid.” She, in turn, sings of “my lover thrusting his shaft into the hole and my guts seething for him.” The bawdy Bible pictures cherubim with flying phalluses under their wings. These are hardly the cute Christmas card chubbies modeled after the youths later boy-lovers chased. The Bible speaks of “well-hung” Egyptians and of the Lord’s threat to shave the pubic hair of the unfaithful King Ahaz, one of Jesus’ ancestors. But this is all generally hidden away in euphemisms about “hands” and “feet” or it’s not translated at all. The New International Version does manage to expose the lovers “whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses.” But the prudish Living Bible deprives readers of that entire line of scripture. To put that one in Living vernacular would perhaps be just too much for American fundamentalists to swallow. Read more →

Ethics & Gay Christians

Introduction.

I approach this topic with some sense of uneasiness, not only because of the recurring poverty of ethics in my own life but also because I know that due to some understandably bad experiences with oppression at the hands of homophobic church people, discussion of ethics in the lives of lesbians and gay men can be a thankless and even resented undertaking. It can be experienced as threatening to all of us. Recently, a director of Dignity (the Roman Catholic lesbian and gay male organization) wrote: “When I first joined Dignity in 1975, 1 was told that if we pursued the discussion of ‘morality and ethics’ we could possibly split the membership of Dignity right down the middle.” (Dignity Newsletter, Feb., 1982) Perhaps that “goes with the territory,” so to speak. After all, when what is meant by “morality and ethics” in this context usually means “sexual ethics” in general and, more specifically matters of promiscuity, monogamy, S&M, “open relationships,” and so on, discussion can get quite heated. Read more →

With Sunshine & Rainfall for All

An Evangelical Affirmation of Gay Rights

This is an expanded version of an address delivered by Dr. Blair at the 34th Annual Meeting of The Evangelical Theological Society in 1982. Dr. Blair is a psychotherapist in private practice in New York City. He is the founder and president of Evangelicals Concerned and is a member of The Evangelical Theological Society, The Christian Association for Psychological Studies, and The Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues of The American Psychological Association.

If we evangelical Christians are going to have anything worth saying in response to proposed gay civil rights legislation, we would do well first to hear what is being said. Quite apart from our having nothing intelligent to say if we really haven’t heard what’s being said, we fail to render what Bonhoeffer reminded us was the “first service one owes to others:” that of “listening to them.” When the early church faced what seemed to be strange claims of Gentiles to full rights in the church, believers did what evangelicals today are not so willing to do with homosexuals: they engaged in dialogue and really tried to hear each other. And they began by emphasizing truths about which they were all in agreement (Acts 15). Read more →

Getting Closer: Structure For Intimacy

KEYNOTES-Getting Closer: Structure For Intimacy

This material is based upon Dr. Ralph Blair’s address at connECtion 1981,the summer conference of Evangelicals Concerned, Inc.
© Copyright 1981 by Ralph Blair

According to social psychologist Daniel Yankelovich, “Surveys and my own interviews show a widening acceptance of cultural pluralism. We are not going back to … the notion that [for example] homosexuality is intolerable … The Moral Majoritarians are counter revolutionaries, trying—I think futilely—to roll back what has already happened.”1 Although Yankelovich reports that “The public is still mired in unrealistic expectations and still entranced by the seductions of duty-to-self,” (which he sanely dubs a “moral and social absurdity”) he observes that “Peoples’s life experiments … now drive home the lesson that duty-to-self is not a viable guide to conduct.”2 He sadly notes, but wisely interprets: “The most ardent seekers of self-fulfilment fallaciously view the self as an endless series of gratifiable needs and desires.”3 Then he asks a crucial question: “Will we achieve a synthesis between traditional commitments and new forms of fulfilment? Or will we indeed end up with the worst of two worlds—a society fragmented and anomic, the family a shambles, the work ethic collapsed, the economy uncompetitive, our morality flabby and self-centred, and our personal freedom even more restricted than under the old order?”4 Read more →

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