I’ve run into my fair share of Sacred Cows in my time in the ministry. At my first appointment, there was the “Friendship Room” which was decorated and cared for and managed by the women’s group. It wasn’t truly as “friendly” as it sounded… and if you valued your life, you didn’t move the furniture. And of course, there was the Bible on the altar, and the flag in front of the sanctuary, that were never to be moved (because clearly we were worshiping the Bible and the US, not God. Yes, this made me a little crazy.)
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A Sacred Cow (if you need a formal definition) is an idea, custom, or institution held, especially unreasonably, to be above criticism (with reference to the Hindus’ respect for the cow as a sacred animal).
May people hold Sacred Cow beliefs – theologies or philosophies that they won’t compromise on, question or consider changing. It takes some major cow tipping to get some of these folks to budge from their rigidly held beliefs.
The problem with many Sacred Cows is that they hold us stagnant, closed and unwilling to engage a process of self-reflection, analysis and growth, both personally and spiritually. Sometimes having our cows tipped over is the best thing that can happen for our lives and our spiritual journeys. It removes some of the limits that we’ve placed on our thinking and acting, broadens our minds, and brings the possibility for new understandings and a deepening of relationship with the Divine. In a metaphorical way, we need some of our cows tipped over to experience resurrection – new life, new understandings and new consciousness.
Peter is (again) a great example. I think Peter had a lot of Sacred Cows. On Sunday we talked about the passage of Acts 11:1-18 which takes place after the resurrection. Peter was traveling around preaching and baptizing, but he was still keeping Jewish law – especially Jewish Kosher law. (This is somewhat understandable since Jesus didn’t come to start a new religion, but came to revision Judaism.) Peter’s understanding about this law and its role in one’s relationship with God was his Sacred Cow. It took a message from God, via a very vivid dream to understand that what one ate had nothing to do with their relationship with God! But Peter could not experience the fullness of Jesus’ message, he couldn’t experience resurrection (metaphorically) – new life, new consciousness, oneness – with this darn cow in the way. The cow was creating boundaries between people that, for the God of Jesus, were not there.
I looked over my book shelf and realized that every spiritual memoir I have tells the story of how the author had their world views, or theological views shattered. That awakening was tough, but it was the best thing that ever happened to their understanding of the Divine and their spiritual journey. As Sue Monk Kidd says, “The truth will set you free, but first it will shatter the safe, sweet way you live.”
We cannot experience resurrection, nor help others to experience resurrection, if our theology is going to hold ourselves, or others, in a contractive place of guilt, shame, anger, fear. Nor if we continue to judge and blame others.
This works on a psychological basis as well.
So, here are the questions this raises for us:
- What Sacred Cows have been tipped in your spiritual journey?
- When have you had your world views shattered?
- What are your Sacred Cows?
- What makes you defensive the moment people start to question or criticize that belief or practice?
- On what beliefs or practices are you unmoving? Rigid? Uncompromising?
- Do they hold you in a contractive place, or are they truly expansive beliefs that helps you to grow and embrace positive aspects of life and faith? Do they allow you to experience resurrection – new life, new consciousness, abundance, oneness?
- Where might you be holding yourself in judgment, blame, shame, fear?
- What do we need to give up, let go of, or tip over to experience resurrection?
Be aware that if we don’t make an effort to open up ourselves, the Spirit likes to tip over Sacred Cows, and it is usually really uncomfortable. Still it is necessary for growth!
Love & Light!