Go Tell Mary (And Rev. Jackson too)

Apparently, the list of people you should not to listen to has grown by one. The new inductee is Rev. E. W. Jackson, a minister from Virginia who also happens to be running for Lieutenant Governor.

The most recently-covered outrageous statement he’s made as to do with yoga. It’s from a book he wrote some years back:

“When one hears the word meditation, it conjures an image of Maharishi Yoga talking about finding a mantra and striving for nirvana,”

First, off, I have no idea who the Maharishi YOGA was. I’m assuming he’s talking about this guy, but can’t even get the name right.

Jackson continues:
“The purpose of such meditation is to empty oneself. [Satan] is happy to invade the empty vacuum of your soul and possess it. Beware of systems of spirituality which tell you to empty yourself. You will end up filled with something you probably do not want.” (Underlining added by me…)

I don’t practice yoga. However, my wife does. She loves it. I love that she loves it. Health-wise, she is far healthier and stronger than before she did regular yoga. I can see the difference, and that makes our whole family healthier.

And (gasp!) I find no evidence whatsoever that Satan has entered her mind/heart because of it. Nor, frankly, have I seen evidence of Satan in the minds/hearts of any of the dozens of other folks I know who practice it regularly.

Here’s a great quote from Elspeth Reeve’s: “Behind the ice-cold eyes of Lululemon princesses burn the demonic flames of eternal hell…”

Snort.

Yeah. To be clear, nobody’s gonna go to hell for practicing yoga.

But, what I find most disturbing in Jackson’s quote has nothing to do with yoga at all, but about what he seems to believe about Christians. And he’s not alone. Which is why I’m writing this today.
Here’s the part of the quote I’d like to, ahem, meditate on:

“Beware of systems of spirituality which tell you to empty yourself. You will end up filled with something you probably do not want.”

OK. Let’s lay aside for a moment that this is absolutely, positively, 100-percent not what happens in meditation…

Yes, it’s true, when we begin to empty our minds in meditation, we do often find that other thoughts flood in. Thoughts we probably should listen to and embrace. Repressed thoughts that often need to be worked through. Yes, that does happen.

But it’s not “Satan” doing it. Far from being “satanic,”  it’s actually a very healthy spiritual process. In fact, to not be able to do it –to not be able to empty ones mind of the junk and clutter rattling around– this is one of our most insidious modern problems.

The truth is, far too many of us never empty our minds. We’ve got to be “going” all the time. We’ve got to be “doing” all the time.

We wake to a song on our iPad.
We turn on the Radio/TV.
We go to lunch with friends, but keep a constant watch on our smartphones.
We keep the radio on in the car. (Or, stay on the phone)
We watch TV while surfing the net (guilty as charged…)

In short: we do all we can to FILL UP the empty spaces in our lives. And, frankly, that’s deeply unhealthy.

The irony is that Jackson’s “aiding and abetting” this out-of-whackness. Jackson is offering a “Christian” version of of the “secular” busy-ness so many of us experience. Taken at its extreme, he’s saying God never wants us have time when our minds are calm…at ease…at peace. Silence is to be feared. Stillness is to be shunned.

“An empty mind is the Devil’s playground,” they say.

Truthfully, many Christians believe this. They move through life, desperate to keep the chatter GOING, not desperate to end it. It’s “Christian-chatter,” mind you. But chatter nonetheless.

However, this merely produces people who are, ironically, still filled with anxiety, stress, worry, fear, and phobias! Just different ones.

And, most ironic of all, rather than standing against the dominate culture of noise and “busy-ness” this way of believing actually supports it. In fact, it baptizes, in the name of Christ Jesus, our frenetic need to keep our minds filled with drivel.

How very sad.

“Mary and Martha,” by He Qui

And how truly and completely opposite of what Jesus says faith is. Faith is the opposite of fear, anxiety, busyness, stress. Take Mary and Martha, for example. Mary, Jesus says –the sister who sits still at his feet– gets the better portion. Not Martha, busy and occupied with many cares. (Story here)

And yet, time and time again, the Christian Church teaches us to be “Marthas.” Many of us in the Church feel guilty when we rest, renew, empty our minds, slow down.

Time and time again, the Marthas of the Church buy into the theology of people like Rev. Jackson, and in the process simply replace the randomly scattered thoughts of their brains with “Christian” ones. Still scattered thoughts. Just baptized with the name of Christ, and little else of his real Spirit.

Marcus Borg reminds us that faith is far more than “believing” certain things. Faith is really, most primally, “trust that the reality of reality is gracious.”

Faith is actually freedom from anxiety, worry, stress.
Faith is a place where the mind can be empty, calm, trusting, centered.
It’s a beautiful experience, really.

My good friends Tom Prasada-Rao and Pat Wictor have a song called “Go Tell Mary.” They’ve both got very fine recorded versions, available for purchase. (And you should. Buy it, that is…)

Pat has recorded it along with our friends Joe Jencks and Greg Greenway, in their great folk-supergroup, “Brother Sun.”

Listen here.
Lyrics here.

“Go tell Mary….I don’t want to be Martha no more.”

Yes. Exactly.

There comes at time in the midst of our busy lives when we realize that enough is enough. Some people, frankly, have mental breakdowns. Others burnout of jobs they love, and just can’t “push through” any more. Many of us spend days in the bed, frozen with exhaustion.

Sadly, instead of learning to rest our minds –instead of taking refuge in healthy practices like yoga, exercise, journaling, prayer and meditation– too many of us think the way out of this trap is to either take the path of a cluttered secular minds (iPods, video games, TV, etc) or the “cluttered Christian mind” promoted by folks like Rev. Jackson.

What I’m saying is: don’t choose either.

In fact, do the opposite of what Rev. Jackson suggests. Find ways to empty your mind, and trust that if you are a Christian, your God is big enough to be present with you even in the terrifying space where silence is found. On the other side of your mind’s clutter is a true peace of God that will, I promise, surprise you and make it all worthwhile. Here’s a great book that helped teach me about this.

And, if all this sounds really scary, if you try repeatedly and can never clear you mind, consider therapy and medication. (1) Because the fact that you can’t ever get your mind to quiet is also telling you something important.

So, in short, if you don’t believe God can be with you while you practice yoga, meditation, the emptying of your mind, your god is way, way too small.

Go tell Mary (even the one inside yourself) that you don’t want to be Martha no more.

And, while you’re at it, tell Rev. Jackson too.

(1) No, I am not kidding. It’s actually a pretty good test. If you find, with repeated effort, that you can never get your mind clear, calm and relaxed…empty of worry and anxiety…perhaps it’s time to seek spiritual direction, secular counseling or medication. In fact, a sub-theory I have about folks like Rev. Jackson is perhaps they need these things, but keep themselves spiritual distracted in order to avoid having to look at the hard truth!

UPDATE:
Readers have pointed out that Rev.  Jackson has now recanted his view that yoga is demonic. I certainly commend him for this. However, as a part of that new statement, he apparently “doubles-down” on his view that meditation that empties the mind is dangerous. So, despite the opening premise about yoga no longer being in question, the rest of this blog still seems salient to his views.

(Leave a comment below. If you like this post, then “share it” or “like” it on Facebook/Twitter by clicking the box below, so others can see too. Comments here are moderated, and are approved at my discretion, when I can get to it..so be patient if they don’t appear right away)  

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Eric Folkerth is a minister, musician, author and blogger. He has been Senior Pastor of Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas since 2001. During his tenure, church membership has grown almost 30 percent, and a completely new church facility (sanctuary and education building) has been constructed. Northaven is a leading progressive Christian congregation in the Southwest. Northaven is an eclectic collection of gay and straight families, artists, musicians, theater folks, academic theologians, lawyers and judges (go figure), socially conscious community activists, people who don't "check their brain at the door," and a wide array of others who either see it as their "last chance" inside the "institutional church," or their first trip back in decades. Eric is an avid blogger and published author.  Eric is also an award-winning singer-songwriter, who performs throughout Texas and the Southwest. He's an engaging live performer whose first CD was released in 2000. His songs have won honorable mention in both the Billboard and Great American song contests; and he's been a finalist in the 5th Street Festival and South Florida Folk Festival songwriter competitions. Eric is also a leader of Connections, a unique band comprised of United Methodist clergy and layfolk from throughout North Texas. Connections performs "cover shows" of artists like Dan Fogelberg, Chicago, Eagles, Doobie Brothers, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, James Taylor and others. Their shows draw crowds of between 300 and 1,000 fans, and they have raised more than $240,000 dollars for worthy charities. Eric has led or co-led hundreds of persons on mission trips around the globe, to places such as Mexico, Haiti, Russia, and Nepal. He has worked with lay persons to build ten homes, and one Community Center, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Dallas. He's a popular preacher, and often tackles challenging issues of social justice in his writings and sermons. His wife, Judge Dennise Garcia, is a State District Judge for Dallas, County. As judge of the 303rd Family District Court, she consistently gets high ratings from area lawyers, and was named "best judge" by The Dallas Observer. First elected in 2004, she was the first Latina ever elected to a county-wide bench in Dallas County. She was re-elected for a third term in 2010. They have the world's best daughter, Maria, and an incredible dog, Daisy. (As always, if you like this post, then "like" this on Facebook by clicking the box below, so others can see too...)

2 thoughts on “Go Tell Mary (And Rev. Jackson too)

  1. "Let he same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who…emptied himself…" Philippians 2:5,7"Be still and know that I am God." Psalm 46:10Seems like a pastor such as Rev. Jackson would have a clearer understanding of emptying and stillness. I mean, it's right there.

  2. Frank: That scripture is actually my own favorite meditation aid….I pray it slowly….leaving off a word each time…until finally (hopefully) I am in complete stillness, without thought.Be still and know I am GodBe still and know I amBe still and knowBe stillBe

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