Yesterday I listened to a TED talk on our local NPR station. It was a program about how laws and regulations have become convoluted and out of control in today's overly litigious American society.
We have more laws today than at any time in our history. Today, the United States has more people incarcerated than any other country in the world.
The speaker told the story of a recent incident where a man suffered a heart attack in front of a local fire station. Instead of rising to his aid, the firefighters and emergency medical technicians stood at the firehouse door and watched the man as he was writhing in pain on the sidewalk. The law prohibited them from assisting that man until "911" was first contacted.
So, someone called "911" and an ambulance was dispatched; but the ambulance went to the wrong address, and in the end, the man died - all along there was a building full of rescuers who could have saved his life, but were unable to do so because they were restricted under the burden of the law.
In the program yesterday, the speaker said something that really struck me: "Laws are supposed to help us take good care of one another in a society. They aren't supposed to be a wedge that keeps us apart or a burden that weighs us down."
It's Sunday morning. Many people from all over the world are attending some type of church today. And because it is the season of Lent, many people will also be hearing about "laws" on this day - supposedly the Lenten season is a time for those who break the laws of God to repent and confess.
On the flip side, a whole bunch of other people will not be going to church today. They have given up on religion (or never turned to it in the first pace) because religion is perceived as an impediment on a spiritual journey. They have rejected the religious institution with the burden of all its many laws, imposed upon believers - laws that must be followed in order to gain favor and avoid punishment.
This morning I am thinking about laws and recalling the story in the Hebrew scriptures about how the Jewish people first became a nation. With Moses in the lead, they wandered though the desert on the way to the Promised Land.
The people in the desert were presented with 2 laws for their journey. First of all they were told to trust in the all abiding Holy Presence to lead them on the way. Second, they were told to take good care of one another and help each other along on the journey. That's it- just these two laws as guidelines for the way through the wilderness.
As I think about the Hebrews on the journey to the Promised Land, I am again reminded of what that TED speaker said yesterday about the purpose of any laws in any society, how laws are supposed to help us take good care of one another. They aren't supposed to be a burden or a wedge to keep us apart.
In the case of ancient Israel, their 2 laws eventually expanded into 10 laws, that ultimately were expanded into 613 laws regulating every aspect of how people were expected to think and behave, even how they were to eat and how they were to dress. The law that was supposed to set people free to help each other along the away turned into heavy burdens that weighed people down and kept people apart.
Interestingly enough, when Jesus came along he basically said, "Let's get back to the basics - back to those 2 laws to follow on this journey through life: "Trust in the Higher Power to guide you on the way and don't just worry about yourself, be compassionate and help each other out along the way."
Somehow his followers in subsequent generations have often ignored his teaching and churches have become institutions for making laws and enforcing laws that put burdens on people weighing them down and keeping them apart.
The spiritual journey is a way of liberation - it provides us a pathway for entering into relationships, connecting with "God," and bonding with our fellow human beings. Moses knew that, Jesus knew that, so did the Buddha and so did most of the other great wisdom teachers of all the major religious traditions.
It's the people that have come along in the generations after them that seem to have gotten it all wrong.