-along a wilderness trail-
From time to time I engage in conversations (usually online) with folks who had once been religious but now no longer identify with any sort of religious institution. I had such a conversation yesterday with a very nice man who told me that going to church made him feel "reduced and restricted." It made him feel "small" and he wanted to live a life that felt "big."
At one level I totally understood what this man was saying to me. Many (if not most) people think of the scriptures of their religion as a book of laws that govern everything people say, or do, or think. God is depicted as a sometimes-angry judge expecting compliance with the prescribed codes of conduct - obedience reaps reward, disobedience gets you punished.
So I can easily understand how someone might abandon a religious institution because it provided little more than a "God" who is petty and vindictive. I can understand why someone would abandon a religion of laws that seem designed to force people into living submissive lives. I understand why my online friend might have felt "reduced, restricted and small" in his experience with a religious institution.
Yesterday, after my online conversation with my formerly religious friend, I came upon one of the teachings of Jesus as recorded in the Gospel of Luke:
Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. From anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to anyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods do not ask for them again.
The Buddha teaches a very similar wisdom:
Hatreds do not ever cease in this world by hating but by love; this is an eternal truth. Overcome anger by love. Overcome evil by good. Overcome the miser by giving.
I read these passages, and think to myself, "Wait a minute, these are crazy words!"
We may imagine that scriptures teach us to love one another - to be merciful and forgiving. But, after all, this love, mercy, and forgiveness have their limits - don't they?
Loving my friends and family? - that's a good idea. Maybe caring for the sick and the poor? - yes, as long as they don't take too much away from my own time or resources. Embracing and welcoming a stranger or someone who is different? - well, ok, as long as they aren't too strange or too different. Forgiving someone who has hurt me? Yes I can do that, as long as they apologize and repent (after all I am the injured party).
But forgive an enemy -no questions asked? Bless those who injure me? If someone steals from me don't try to get it back and give them even more? Overcome anger by love? That's crazy, reckless, even dangerous.
And so it is.
While religions of various stripes may depict "God" to be small, petty and vindictive, and while religions may force people to submit to a life within carefully defined limits, I open and read from the Gospel of Luke or I read this teaching of the Buddha and I see anything but restriction and reduction.
I hear these words and I encounter an untamed "God." I encounter a wild "Holy Presence,"- reckless love with absolutely no limits and restrictions. And I am invited to live my own life in a way that reflects that kind of wild, crazy, and even dangerous "reckless love."
I hardly feel small, I feel immense. I am pulled out of my ego and scattered out into the cosmos.