Category Archives: progressive christianity
I made the decision. I took the first step. An unforeseen event blindsided me.
Now I’m feeling lopsided and discombobulated.
The decision: Lens exchange eye surgery to improve my vision.
The first step: The operation on my right eye. (They do the left eye next week.)
The unforeseen event: The sudden death of the woman who was the child and youth minister at our church. Sarah was 34 years old, the mother of two young boys.
I am typing this with one eye closed as I deal with the day-to-day of lopsided vision. I’m typing this with eulogies from Sarah’s heartbroken father and husband running in a discombobulated jumble through my mind. I’m typing this feeling like I can’t see clearly and I can’t pin down the best words.
But then, I remember a theme that ran through the reflections on Sarah’s life:
Everyone does what they can.
Maybe writing about feeling lopsided and discombobulated will help someone. I hope so, because for today it’s what I can do.
I wrote this post in December 2012. I’m re-posting it now, because some of us might have to re-consider our “cats.”
Are you trapped in your traditions? Do they serve you, or do you serve them?
I pondered this question after reading a Paulo Coelho blog piece about an ancient Japanese story, which I will paraphrase here:
A great Zen Buddhist master had a cat. The cat was his constant companion even during the meditation classes he led. When the old master passed away, another disciple took his place and continued to allow the cat to join in meditation. When the original cat died, the disciples missed its presence, so they found another.
Disciples from other regions heard about the cat who attended meditation classes, and spread the story around to others. These disciples believed that the cat was the reason for the greatness of the Zen Buddhist master. Other temples began to bring cats to class.
Eventually, writings began to appear about the importance of cats during meditation. A university professor studied the issue and wrote a thesis about the effects of cats on concentration and energy. Disciples began to believe that cats were essential to meditation.
Soon, an instructor who was allergic to cats decided to remove the animal from his daily classes. Other disciples were aghast and reacted negatively, believing the cat to be essential to their success. But his students made the same progress even without the cat.
Generations passed and, one by one, monasteries began removing cats from meditation. After all, it was a burden feeding all those cats. In fact, students began to study the benefits of meditating without animals. More time passed until “cat,” or “no cat” was no longer a matter of consideration. But it took many years for the full cycle, because “during all this time, no one asked why the cat was there.”
Christmas is one of the most tradition-bound times of the year. Christmas trees, shortbread, gifts, overspending on gifts, turkey, family gatherings, family fights, church services, candles, crèches, Santa, pageants, parties with too much rum eggnog, carols . . . These things have been part of our current version of the holidays for so long we have started to believe that Christmas is not Christmas without them. If we were to suggest not including them, people would react with aghast negativity.
Why are those “cats” in the room? Is feeding them becoming a burden?
Christmas means different things to different people. For me, it recalls the birth of a compassionate movement toward “all is one.” It recalls the birth of a man—an activist—who sought social justice and lived the idea that every person contains the divine spark.
As I meditate my way toward Christmas this year, whether I invite some of those “cats” to join me or not, the movement toward “all is one” by all of us divine sparks continues regardless.
It makes my shoulders rise and my teeth clench to I hear God-ness referred to as “he.” To me, there’s something misguided about that.
It’s not because I hate men or have suffered trauma at their hands; I haven’t. And I don’t have father issues; my father was what everyone would describe as a “good man.”
Describing God as “he” feels inadequate to me, off target. Dangerous even. It’s like referring to gravity as “he.”
To me, making God a “he” personifies something that cannot, and should not, be personified. It turns the Source, the Manifesting Force, the Creative Essence of our natural world into the Old Man in the Sky, and that causes all kinds of problems. The minute we personify God-ness we give a non-human force completely inappropriate human intentions.
The Old Man in the Sky can be blamed for things, thanked for things, asked for things.
We would not consider blaming gravity for an airplane that falls out of the sky, and we would not assume that gravity had evil intent. We would not thank gravity for holding our TV on the stand while we binge watch The Crown, and we would not assume it had done so as a special reward for our goodness. We would not ask gravity to alter its natural state to accommodate our favourite sports team and keep that home run ball from sailing over the fence.
Good things and bad things happen that involve gravity, but we don’t blame or thank gravity for those events. We simply accept. We don’t personify gravity, and so it goes about being gravity without everyone making judgments about it.
We can’t change gravity, but we have learned to work with it and to leverage it for our purposes. Accepting it and understanding it helps us to navigate through our world more effectively. We can choose to not believe in gravity, sure, but we’ll stick to the ground just the same.
Good things and bad things happen in our ever-creating world, and I believe we shouldn’t blame or thank God for those events. Simply accept. If we don’t personify God-ness, it can go about evolving and creating our world without everyone making judgments about it.
We can’t change God-ness, our creative source, but we can learn to align with the flow and leverage it for our purposes. By accepting it and understanding it we can navigate through our world more effectively. We can choose not to believe in God-ness, sure, but we were created, we will keep creating our whole lives, and we’ll create something else when we’re gone just the same.
If you ask me, an Old Man in the Sky has nothing to do with it.
On Remembrance Day last year, I journeyed to my hometown in the Ottawa Valley to honour our veterans at the ceremony there. In her tribute that day, the minister, Rev. Patricia Van Gelder, spoke about the old testament passage from Micah about “beating swords into ploughshares.” The passage assures us that someday—that elusive someday—peace will reign so unequivocally that weapons will be redundant and the metal from them can be turned into tools used to provide us with food.
But, she said, when she attended a presentation by the local historical society, she noticed something. The presentation was about a shift in farm machinery that took place in the early 1900s from horsepower to tractor power. Tractors allowed farmers to work faster, cover more ground, and they didn’t need to worry about horses breaking legs in groundhog holes or other similar tragedies. Farmers adopted the technology and soon there were tractors on almost every farm. Early versions had flaws so there were rapid changes and turnovers. Tractors, tractors everywhere.
So why then, asked a person in the audience at that presentation, were there so few old tractors of that vintage still around?
The answer? The war.
The metal from implements that farmers used to grow food for us was donated to the war effort to turn into weapons. Rev. Van Gelder realized that what happened was the opposite of what the passage in Micah talked about. “The stuff of life turned into the stuff of death. Isn’t that a grim thought?” she said.
So, how do we hold onto faith when faced with that grim truth?
Rev. Van Gelder suggested that the passage reminds us that war, hunger, fear have no place in this world. We need to pay attention when we make choices that contradict that. If we wake up to the incongruity of what we’re doing, maybe we can change our course.
We need to re-think choices that take us toward death and away from life. If make the better choice, if we feed each not kill each other, perhaps that elusive someday might actually arrive.