Stopping to reflect and be thankful

Living fully in the present moment is probably the most important spiritual practice any of us could ever master. Why? because living in the present moment grounds us.  It forces us to stop thinking about the “what ifs” of the future or the “I should’ves” of the past.  Even when I’ve been in the midst of the greatest upheavals in my life (like…oh… say the last two years), when I distill life down into the present moment I find that there are things to be grateful for that I had taken for granted and all but forgotten.

It always comes back to gratitude.  When I stop worrying or fretting about what might happen next and I stop dwelling on the mistakes I’ve made in the past, I realize just how amazing everything is that I do have. Just the fact that I can breathe and it brings oxygen to every cell in my body and keeps me alive and kicking is enough to bring wonder to my soul.  Then there are the people who surround me with love – my friends and family.  Even my crazy, delinquent dog is enough to make me smile when I really think about the unconditional love she gives not just me, but everyone. Sadly, the things that I am most thankful for in those few minutes of reflection, are usually the things I take most for granted.

Today I am exceedingly thankful for the spiritual community that is gathering and calling themselves Sacred Journeys. Thank you for being open-minded, curious, flexible and willing to grow and change.  Thank you for volunteering, for participating, for visioning, for inviting your friends, and for your excitement about Sacred Journeys. Thank you for trusting me to lead us, design our worship, share my thoughts and theology, and carry our ever-evolving vision of who we are and want to be. Thank you especially to our founders who believed strongly enough in the concept of a progressive, inclusive church to put hours and hours of energy and work into the creation of Sacred Journeys. I am blessed.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

~Kaye

Nothing good came out of Eden

Lately, I’ve been pondering the two different Creation stories in Genesis.  The first is in Genesis 1 and is a beautiful poem describing how, in six days God created the world and life on it (men and women included), and proclaimed that it was “very good!”  The second creation story is the ever-popular Adam and Eve story.  And, yes, I believe (as do most scholars and theologians) that these are stories, myths told to explain the origin of humanity.  Every religion has their creation stories.

In my pondering I’ve come to the sad conclusion that nothing good came out of the Eden story.  Nothing.  And I have at least three good reasons.

First, because Adam was created first and Eve was then created from his rib, as his helpmate, his companion, women have been relegated to the position of second best ever since.  It didn’t help Eve’s case at all that she was painted as naive and foolish enough to listen to a talking snake and deliberately disobey God.  Then she led Adam astray!  Gasp! Now people have been suffering for it ever since. Darn woman. The message is clear.  The woman was never God’s first choice, and she was prone to messing up, so from then on she was put under man’s control. Thus it was and thus it has been ever since.

The second reason I believe nothing good came out of Eden is that this story was twisted by Augustine to create his theory of “original sin”.  Original sin is the concept that because Adam and Eve committed that first sin by disobeying God, for which they were cast out of the garden and cursed, every human since has been born with the stain of that first sin. Within two chapters we went from being created “very good” to being sinful and not good enough.  Unfortunately, the one humanity has been ingrained to believe is the latter.  We have lost our true identity as God’s Beloved.  We have forgotten that we were knit together in our mother’s womb, that we are wonderfully made (Psalm 139;13-14). So, instead of spending our lives trying to live into the beautiful, unique person God created us to be, we spend our lives living with guilt and shame for not being good enough for anyone, much less God.

And if these two reasons weren’t enough to believe that nothing good has come out of Eden, I’ll add to the list the denigration of a powerful feminine symbol. With the snake being cast as the antagonist in the story of Adam and Eve, patriarchal religion effectively stripped the snake of its ancient role as a symbol of the divine feminine. For thousands of years, the snake symbolized a woman’s wisdom, prophetic ability, strength, power and authority.  In one fell blow, this myth stripped the snake of its power for women and has been maligned as an evil, conniving, manipulative being ever since. Fascinating, isn’t it?

As for me… I think I’ll stick with the first creation story.

~ Kaye

The Root of the Hypocrisy

(**This is an abbreviated version of last Sunday’s message)

Comedian George Carlin has a wonderful skit which takes religion to task.  He says, “Religion has actually convinced people that there’s a man, living in the sky, who watches everything you do. He has a special list of 10 things he does not want you to do and if you do any of these 10 things, he has a special place full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever till the end of time.  But he loves you.”

The whole concept cracks us up, yet many, many Christians buy into this blatant contradiction in God’s character.  The book of first John is clear, “God is love.” Oh, and that is a PERIOD at the end of that sentence. It does not say “God is love, but if you screw up or do any one of a number of other things God will be angry, punish you, condemn you, kill you or send you away weeping and gnashing your teeth.” Nope, it says, “God is love (PERIOD)”

Paul, in 1 Corinthians 13, tells us exactly what that looks like (and he was not using this for a wedding, like we so often do today, this was describing God). “Love [God] is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.  It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends.” (NRSV, 1 Cor. 13: 4-8)

English mystic, Julian of Norwich, wrote, “In my vision, I saw that God is never angry.  God is goodness, truth, love and peace. God is power, wisdom, love and unity. It is against the very nature of God to be angry.” It is also against the very nature and definition of God to be jealous, vindictive, punitive, violent, or exclusive. Yet, ask a non-Christian what they think the Christian God is like and I bet they’ll use a bunch of those words.  Why?  Because Christians are living that example.

Dr. Milton Rokeach did a study (about 40 years ago, but I’m sad to say that I bet it would still hold true) which concluded that those who were more religious were more bigoted; those who place a high value on salvation were more insensitive to the feelings of other and more insensitive to social issues; and, those who held high religious beliefs or values had less social compassion. The article states that there is the clear suggestion that there is “a hypocrisy deeply embedded within many religiously oriented individuals and a hypocrisy deeply embedded within organized religion as a social institution.” In other words, folks aren’t walking the talk.

Personally, I believe that the hypocrisy stems from the hypocrisy of “God is love…but…” We can be jealous because God is jealous. We can be angry because God is angry.  We can smite our enemies because God does. We can judge other people because God does. As humans it can be really hard to give up some of these things, so we continue to believe that there is a contradiction within God to explain or justify this. Basically, we’ve created God in our image because to strive to live a God-like life is just too hard.

Author Ann LaMott says something to the effect that if you find that God hates all the same people you do, you can be sure that you’ve created God in your image.”  When we finally know in our hearts and souls that God is love, period, we will also know that God can reject no one. It is then that the contradictions will be gone, the hypocrisy will disappear and our lives and how we live them will be transformed.

Religion as a negative or positive force

I’ve been reading essay papers for the last week on whether religion is a positive or negative force in people’s lives and in society.  My students fell on both sides of the issue and a number of them argued that religion is BOTH a positive and negative force.  I would tend to agree that religion is “both”.

Religion is a negative force in individual lives and society when it inflicts pain, causes people to feel guilt or shame, is judgmental and punishing, and uses manipulation to maintain or grow its membership.  Too often power, greed and self-preservation operate in the institution of religion with these unfortunate outcomes.

A healthy religion that positively affects people and society is one where people are encouraged to reach their maximum potential, to be all that God created them to be. It provides a supportive, loving, accepting community. It evolves and incorporates new ideas, new discoveries, new theories and is relevant to current times. And, it has the ability to inspire beauty, creativity, and artistry.

Wow. I choose what’s behind door number two!  Or at least I wish it were that easy.  Throw a few human beings into the formula with their differences of opinion, their egos, their baggage, and their preferences and it is hard to maintain a healthy religion that is consistently a positive influence. Yet I feel compelled to try!  Call me crazy (somedays I feel crazy), but I believe that religion, as the external expression of our internal spiritual journeys, is truly meant to help us connect to the divine within.  And when we connect with the divine within, all of those other good things happen – we’re inspiried, we love, we reach out, we encourage, we look beyond our differences and so forth.

One of my students said that in religion we are “unfolding the mystery together, but understanding it on our own.”  Isn’t that beautiful?  Together we worship, learn, study, discuss and reach out so that the mystery of God’s Sacred Presence can unfold in our midst.  But ultimately, how we each understand this presence is highly individualistic.  We come to understand the mystery deep within ourselves, in ways that are unique to each person.  Then it becomes a wonderful circle.  The more we understand and are aware of God within us, the more it will find external expression in our lives. As we are inspired, we tend to become inspiration for others, which then inspires us more.  As we find we are loved by the Eternal One, so we reach out in love to others, which helps us to see even more the love that dwells within. In this way religion becomes a truly powerful, positive force.

I look forward to continuing to unfold the mystery of God together, and to create as positive a force as we can in our lives and in this world.