Jerry Martin’s Daybook

Having family roots in Tennessee and Texas, I have always felt the weight of what C. Vann Woodward called “the burden of Southern history” and what Katherine Anne Porter saw as “the never-ending wrong.”  I have on my wall a portrait of my great-great-grandfather, known as “Squire” Martin, the leading man of a county in Tennessee, west of Nashville, near the Kentucky border.  He died in the prime of life the first year of the Civil War, and left a sickly son, who went off to Vanderbilt medical school to find a cure.  Squire Martin has a handsome face suggestive of firm and benign character.  Yet he was a slave-owner, with a modest plantation, really just a farm with a small house made of bricks made from clay found on the property.  He is buried in a family plot there, overrun with weeds.  He was said to have been a kind master and, my father recalls seeing old “Doc” Martin reunited with a former slave, his playmate in childhood, the two hugging one another like long-lost buddies.

A kind master?  On a recent trip, I read Frederick Douglass’s early memoir, written when he was only in his late twenties, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself.  In the stark prose of a self-taught escaped slave, it is a gripping story steeped in an unmitigated hatred of slavery.  Young Douglass had bad masters and good.  The good ones punished – which means whipped – but they did not enjoy the cruelty.  His best master – or, in this case, mistress – was a young widow in Baltimore to whom he was given as a house servant.  She was new to the role of an owner and smiled at the boy with a benign glow.  This amazed him since he had never seen any white person look upon a black person that way.   But, as she learned to be a slave-master, she lost her gentleness, becoming mean and heavy-hearted.  Slavery had stolen not only his happiness but hers as well.

Young Douglass secretly taught himself to read and to write.  It was forbidden to teach a slave even the alphabet, but he invented a game to play with a white boy, over who could form letters better.  The white boy always won, of course, but, by imitating him, Douglass himself learned to write.

Finally, Douglass formed a daring escape plan, and got a few other slaves to join him.  He did not know anything about the nation’s geography except the idea that north was where freedom could be found.  But, when he got to Philadelphia, he discovered that an escaped slave was still not safe.  He could be turned in for a reward, perhaps as little as 25 cents, and sent back.  Douglass made his way to New England, where the strong anti-slavery sentiment gave him protection.  He worked for pay, and worked hard, and did not mind any form of work, however toilsome, because it was freely chosen and compensated.  He started attending abolitionist meetings and was invited to relate his experiences.  At first, he found it completely unnatural to speak his mind to white people but, as he got over this reticence that was protective in slavery, the words came to him, and they came and they came.  William Lloyd Garrison heard him and got him to write his story.  The book sold thousands of copies here and in England and provided a mighty force against slavery.

Looking back at Squire Martin, the “good” master, while I do not condemn him in personal terms — he probably was a man of integrity and decency, living well the role time and circumstance had given him – I notice that what kinds of goodness we can develop, just like what kind of intellectual tasks or interpersonal skills we can achieve, are empowered and shaped – and therefore limited by — by the conditions of life we find ourselves in.  This is not an excuse.   Some individuals rise heroically above their circumstances in spite all, and that is what we should all aspire to do.

Impoverished by the war, “Doc” Martin ended up a country doctor in West Texas, accepting as pay canned okra and hominy.  His children picked cotton and lived in a cleaned-out chicken coop.  All honest labor, without the moral stain of the South’s “peculiar institution.”  No longer masters, they were better off.

 

Read further Daybook entries – Click Here

 

Theology Without Walls – The Transreligious Imperative

God’s autobiography is mainly the story of divine interaction with people and with messages given over time to different cultures. Toward the end of God: An Autobiography, I am told that we stand on the “threshold of a new spiritual era, a new axial age, in which spiritually attuned individuals will draw their understanding of spiritual reality, not just from the scriptures of their own religious tradition, but from the plentitude of My communications with men and women.” Each religion got part of the story. It was now time to put the parts together.

I was told to start a new project, called Theology Without Walls. So I started attending the American Academy of Religion, and in 2014 held the first panel for the new TWW project. I did not mention to my new colleagues what I had been told in prayer. I presented the project on its own merits. The argument for it can be stated in a simple syllogism. If the aim of theology is to know all we can about the divine or ultimate reality, and if insights into that reality are found in more than one religion, then theology needs to take in all the evidence and not be confined to our own tradition. It should be Theology Without Walls. The project attracted considerable interest, including from leading theologians, and the result is a volume of twenty-one essays by outstanding thinkers that has just been published: Theology Without Walls: The Transreligious Imperative (Routledge, 2019). Since I am a philosopher, not a theologian, and since I did not even know any theologians or as a life-long agnostic, much about religion, it seems little short of miraculous that Theology Without Walls has succeeded to so sublime a degree. All I had to do was whatever God told me. That was all.

TWW FLYER

 

New Video Series – “What’s Your Spiritual Autobiography?”

I am happy to announce a new series of videos.  As I have met readers of God: An Autobiography, I have found them to be fascinating people, each with his or her own spiritual story.  I have started to interview them online.  The series is called, “What’s Your Spiritual Autobiography?”  Our lives are more amazing than we realize!  I hope you find these stories as interesting and inspiring as I do.
My Reader Series continues with my interview with Jonathan Weidenbaum.  Jon is a brilliant philosopher and an engaging teacher of philosophy who also travels the world visiting it’s holy places both east and west. He wrote a penetrating review of God an Autobiography for the online academic journal – Reading Religion.

 


My Reader Series continues with my interview with Rosemarie Proctor. Rosemarie has lived a life of love, loss, of spiritual denial and of spiritual discovery.

 


My Reader Series continues with my interview with Joel Weiner.  Joel is a life long businessman who was called into the leadership of his local Jewish congregation and found himself not only responsible for finances but for giving some sense of direction for the spiritual quest of the congregation.

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My Reader Series continues with my interview with Ray Silverman. Ray is a professor of Religion and English at Bryn Athyn College. He and his wife Star are the authors of an outstanding book of ethical reflections based on the Ten Commandments.

 


Readers of God An Autobiography are fascinating people. Take Matt Cardin for example . . . Matt is a writer of eerie fiction the kind that explores the twilight zones of life. He had never posted an interview on amazon until he read God an Autobiography. . .


 

My readers are amazing people. . . Mark Groleau is a theologian, community activist and honest seeker. To him, living more as Jesus did is more important than fixed doctrines. Shortly after God an Autobiography came out Mark interviewed me for his Wikigod podcast. Here the tables are turned. . . in this searching discussion I ask Mark where his life and spiritual journey are taking him today.

 

“Sparks” from God An Autobiography . . .

Enjoy flash insights (Sparks!) from God . . .

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Open your Eyes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Open your mind.”

The idea that there are many gods still did not sit well.  “Lord, which are You saying, that there are many gods or many descriptions of God?”

 

They are the same.

“Manifestations of God?”

Yes.

“But that means there is only one God.”

No, that is too simple.  Open your mind.  Do not assume your current categories are adequate.  Imagine other possibilities.  Do thought-experiments.  For example, what if a being/beings do not have to be only one or only many?  What other ways are there to think about it?

What other possibilities?  I was steeped in Western philosophy, in which the great metaphysical debates have been conducted in terms of such concepts as the one and the many, universals and particulars, identity and difference, being and becoming.  I constantly pressed God to explain things in terms familiar to me.  Sometimes He did, but often he told me that I had to revise my concepts and loosen my logical constraints.  These were the only concepts I had.  Where does one go to get new concepts?

God continued,

Similarly, what other ways are there to think about infinity, omniscience, and so forth.  And, most fundamentally, what other ways are there of thinking about being, nothingness, existence, the power of existence, the act of existence, the force of creation?  I will guide you, but you have to make the breakthrough.  I can’t put new concepts into your head.

“Once again, why not?”

The human being is a …

I seemed to get a partial answer that was making sense in terms of what it is to understand a concept, but it was immediately erased, as if someone pushed the erase button on a tape recorder.

The answer is very complex and you don’t have time for Me to go into it all.  You need to get back to work now.

Lunch break was over.  The vague sense I had afterwards is that a concept is not a distinct entity, like a momentary thought or idea, that you might just zap into somebody’s head, but more like a pattern of mental behavior that has to be lived through, like knowing a melody.