Somebody once said that God writes straight with crooked lines. That’s a little to cute for my tastes, but it’s nevertheless true. We try, we plan, we decide, we get it all figured out – and what we end up with is epic failure. We lock ourselves in only to find ourselves in chains and quite mystified at our circumstances. We grasp our plans so tightly that we choke them to death, or step out so timidly that what we produce is far too tiny to have any impact. In the end, we are much better off to step out boldly!
How sad it is that the wealthy are willing to donate hundreds of millions of dollars to rebuild a finger pointing at the moon, but aren’t willing to be equally generous to the starving and dying around the world. Idolatry is like that. It convinces us that we are following the precepts of Divinity when in truth we are only whitewashing tombs.
It’s fine to want to rebuild Notre Dame, but if you suppose that is God’s priority then you worship a God I do not know. What’s more, if you think that God cares more about any building than a child, then you are surely worshiping evil while believing it’s good. You see, the wealthy tend to be all about easy solutions, about throwing money at a problem – especially when it will enhance their next vacation. When the problem is complex and not likely to be resolved so quickly, their attention wanes rather quickly. Perhaps this is what Jesus meant about a camel passing through the eye of a needle.
I happened on a young couple the other day. In front of their building were several shell casings accompanied by evidence markers, several police cars, and a liberal application of yellow crime scene tape. It was about eight-thirty in the morning and the police had been there a short time. The shooting happened at one in the morning. Trusting that the high-tech system that locates gun shots would locate the problem and not wanting to become a target themselves, nobody called the police in the middle of the night. Luckily for the intended victim, he was not in his car smoking weed (as is his practice) when the shooters came by looking for him, but his windows were so deeply tinted they thought he was inside. The weapon seems to have been a fully automatic 9mm.
The couple’s young son, whom the mother told me had a great sensitivity about what she called “energy shifts” in the neighborhood, had asked to sleep on the floor when they went to bed. After the shooting, they all moved to the floor, the intended victim’s car having been parked near their bedroom window. They know the target from seeing him in the neighborhood and said that, although they knew it was wrong to judge people by appearances, he seemed to be a shady character. They also said he was now lying low somewhere unknown, and hoped that the shooters wouldn’t return.
The mother shared with me that they had repeatedly moved to different parts of the city trying to avoid this sort of things, but everywhere they moved it seemed there were shootings nearby. The father recognized the police department evidence technician from seeing him at other shootings, and they exchanged greetings and pleasantries. This is what passes for normal in our cities, and the truth is that we always have more than enough money to fight wars but never enough money to address the issues in our cities. We need to be clear that is a choice, and that choice is negatively impacting our children – killing them, in fact – while our politicians prostitute themselves to the military industrial complex.
Meanwhile in Milwaukee politicians are announcing increased efforts to curb prostitution, doubtless in an attempt to clean up the city for the Democratic National Convention next year. After all, you can’t have the low rent prostitutes cluttering up the streets when the professional whores have their convention…
One name for God might be Truth, with a capital “T.” Some people are mightily turned off by the term God, through no fault of their own and no fault of God’s. Rather, they are turned off by the term God because of the behavior of those who claim to have discovered Truth through their religion. There is no small irony in that!
Religion can’t be Truth because it developed after Truth – long after it, in Truth. At its best, religion tries to point us toward God, point us toward Truth, which is very useful but not the same as being Truth. You wouldn’t know that by watching many, but not all, religious adherents. They claim to believe in God, but what they really believe in is their religion’s view of God rather than God Itself. A Presbyterian God, or a Roman Catholic God, or a Lutheran God can never actually be God. The best it can hope to be is an image of God, or a picture of truth, or a slice of Truth, and there isn’t anything wrong with that unless you start believing it actually is Truth. That view is like carrying around a picture of your loved one and starting to believe your picture is the person themselves. It seems silly because it is silly, but when it comes to Truth our judgment gets obscured.
Why is this important? This is important because we too easily get caught up in debates about who has the best religion, as if religion has any impact on Truth! Every religion is the equivalent of a third grader doing an artist’s rendering of a Picasso painting. There are some things in every tradition that might give us a slight idea of what it’s trying to depict, but most of it is a confusing (if charming) mess. The Truth is that is you really want to get to Truth, you are going to have to eventually go where religion cannot. You are going to have to move to the direct experience of Truth.
Westerners are bombarded with information every minute of every day. Much of it goes by and isn’t absorbed, much of it is taken in and stored for later, some of it is immediately processed and used, but taken in total it is more than we can use and is a significant cause of stress. What can we do about it?
The easiest intervention is to simply turn it off. Do you listen to the radio during your commute? Try silence, or if you can’t tolerate the silence try listening to recorded music without commercials – but work toward silence, because even music is information. Are you in the habit of having the television or radio running in the background when you are at home, even if you think you aren’t paying attention to it? The truth is that you are paying attention to it, even if you think you are doing something else. The more we move toward doing one thing at a time and eliminating background noise, the better off we will be.
At first, you may feel a bit uncomfortable with the reduced stimulation. That is only because you are unaccustomed to it. In fact, our central nervous systems are operating on overload. While it’s true that reducing unnecessary stimulation will make us more efficient, the most important reason to work toward it is that it will positively impact our health and our relationships.
I can’t tell you how many people, confronted with a crucifix or other image of the crucified Jesus, say to me, “…but he’s not up there anymore!” Of course, part of the reason they are saying that is they can’t deal with the idea that Jesus ever was “up there.” It was a great problem for the people of his time, too.
Here’s the bigger issue: He isn’t up there, you are correct. Now you are up there. Are you ready to talk about that?
As a people, we love looking back, but looking back is a mixed bag. The elderly love to reminisce, as I learned when I worked in long-term care. You cannot turn around in a long-term care facility without seeing a copy of a magazine dedicated to reminiscing! I have wondered if there is a hidden, archetypal truth in that folks with dementia tend to forget in reverse – the newer things first and the oldest things last.
As a trauma survivor, I have a problem in that trauma impacts memory. In layman’s terms, trauma is a terrible file clerk. Our trauma impacted brain essentially misfiles memories to make room for coping with the crisis at hand. Unless and until we address the impact of our trauma, it will seem to us that we don’t remember much about our past because our memories are hidden in the wrong file cabinet. As we go through the work of therapy, our memories gradually return because we have hired a new file clerk to sort through the tangled mess left by the trauma clerk. I know this to be true because I have experienced it.
For some of us, however, our memories and the past they represent become a prison. The door to our cell is unlocked and we are free to walk out, but we keep pulling it closed. I believe this happens because it is much easier to see ourselves as the enraged, offended party whose life circumstances are outside our control. The problem is that perspective, while perhaps necessary for a time as we come to understand how we got in the situation in which we find ourselves, becomes a self-imposed prison that limits and eventually destroys us. Many of us have seen the angry, red-faced protester screaming for peace, unable to move past their anger at past injustices to effectively work for the peace they deeply desire.
If we are going to be the change we want to see in the world, as Gandhi suggested, we are going to have to surrender our obsession with the past. To do that, we have to give up all hope of the past ever being different than it was. We can, and should, clearly state what was wrong about the past so that we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past in the future, but we cannot continue to dwell in the past if we are going to have a future. To do so is to leave that ineffective file clerk in charge of the office and continue to repeat the same mistakes, all the while mystified as to why nothing changes! There is a word for that letting go of the past, that choosing not to spend all of our time seeking to change what cannot be changed and demanding reparations that will never be paid. That word is forgiveness.
I confess I find it more than a little amusing when charismatic spiritual teachers and leaders of any stripe complain about the cult of personality in western culture. Maybe they don’t realize the irony, or maybe they are just trying to avoid the dance.
The biggest spiritual lie is that we need something outside ourselves to be happy, complete, and just the way we are supposed to be.