Monday, October 24, 2005

Did Jesus Think He was a Success?

I've heard people say that, in the "world's" eyes, Jesus was a failure. I guess 'world' in this sense means those who focus on money and career first, then family...spirit next...or maybe spirit never.

After all, Jesus tried to get people to come out of themselves to see the beauty of sharing life with others.

But he got too scary for the people in charge, because what he was suggesting they do would have required tremendous sacrifice. Probably the most feared thing to lose: the self.

And then there was trouble when crowds began to follow him, and people brought their sick or their children to him to be blessed. So, they tried to challenge his teachings, and when they couldn't do that, they killed him.

In the end, I think Jesus probably even had a few moments of anguish, he, too, thinking that he was a failure. Hanging there on the cross, flanked by two criminals dying the same way, maybe he thought: What was it all for? Did I imagine I was His son?

And, as his mother, standing with him, looked up and watched, perhaps she, too, had a few moments of doubt. Did she think: Is this the reward I get for bearing His son, this pain in my heart? My baby. How sweetly we sang together. How I loved his little fingers, and the sound of his laughter.

So, by all those standards...his life and death, and those few moments in which they doubted and wished for more life, I guess he seemed a failure.

But there's another standard by which the world should measure his success. And that is the measure of compassion.

This great treasure he carried in his heart, and gave it freely to all he met.

And, despite the moment or two of doubt he may have had on the cross, I think Jesus knew that he was leaving us with this wealth.

Even on the road to death, he inspired compassion.

A woman, watching him carry his cross to the place where he would die, took pity on him. Perhaps she, too, was a mother, and thought: This is someone's son.

As he stumbled and fell under the cross' weight, she came to his side, and, as he looked up at her, she took a cloth and wiped his face. It was the only comfort she could give.


Saturday, October 15, 2005

What is a Catholic?

Lately, I've been wondering: what does it mean to be a Catholic? Am I a Catholic?

Yes. If the definition means being baptized, receiving most of the sacraments, going to church regularly and receiving communion. Yes, if it means believing that the host is Christ present - not just a symbol. Yes, I believe.

But I must ask myself if I still belong -- based on what I'm hearing these days at Sunday mass, and from the church leadership in America and in Rome.

There are too many statements that seem, well, almost facist.

I paraphrase:

  • "Muslims, Jews, Buddhists may have admirable beliefs and practices...but Christianity, and specifically, Catholicism, is the way to salvation...because Christ himself said that 'the only way to the Father is through me.' "
  • "If you do not baptize your baby, Christ will not recognize him/her in heaven."

And there are other bad things happening. For example, we're reading in newspapers now that an edict from Rome is coming that will bar homosexual priests from taking vows to serve God.

No more men who hear the voice of Christ in their hearts and souls -- just because they are attracted, sexually and emotionally, to other men.

No more homosexual men, even those, who like their heterosexual brothers, vow celibacy.

And because there's to be no more homosexual men as priests, seminary entrants will now be asked about their feelings for other men. And, if they are honest (because we're told it's a sin to lie to a priest), they will be told they are not worthy.

I think the church is doing this to try to stop child molestation. But homosexuality is a separate issue from pedophilia. If you prefer men to women, that does not mean you prefer children to adults.

This is the latest in a long list of 'NOs' from my church.

No women as priests, too.

No touching.

No birth control.

No eating meat on Friday. Actually, you can eat meat now; somebody high-up said so.

I know what I'm not. I am not a Catholic who believes in these things, and who thinks that Christ, through divine inspiration and the Holy Spirit, is directing all this.

But I know what I am. I am a Christian, who believes that Jesus lived among us to teach us a new way. The way of love. The way of kindess and til it hurts...that God loves us matter what.

Oh, and don't judge; leave that to God. And just accept...the moment...the situation...the person...and know that there's enough for all. All the time.

And He said we should be happy knowing that God loves us, and not to worry.

Maybe Jesus was God's son for the Jews. And maybe Mohammed was God's son for Arabs. And maybe Buddha was God's son for Asians. And on and on -- for every culture and every group, I suspect there was someone divinely enlightened...and with a very special relationship to God.

So, maybe God has all these sons (and I bet there's some women in there too that we never heard about). And He sent them all to live among us -- during different eras and among different cultures -- to spread the word that there is more to us than just eating, and copulating and dying.

Throughout history, His sons and daughters are constantly making introductions: People, this is God. He loves you. He wants you to get to know Him.

Just a theory.

So maybe we, no matter what religion we profess, shouldn't be so all fired up about the supremacy of our own particular brand of faith. Because, in the end, we don't know what's on God's mind...or how He operates. Do we?

Another theory: maybe Jesus was a homosexual.

Do we know? No. Would it matter? Not to me.

So maybe we shouldn't be so quick to deny the gifts of others -- based on whether they're attracted to a square jaw and big shoulders...or soft lips and a full bust.

You know, Jesus had a special message for religious leaders of His day, the Pharisees, who conditioned God's love, and made the people suffer under the weight of obligations and restrictions. Something like this:

And woe to any one of you who leads these innocent ones astray. It would be better for you to tie a millstone around your neck, and cast yourself into the sea.

Everything the man said two-thousand odd years ago packs the same punch today.

And, just like then, we're still not listening.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

A thought about resistance

Recently, I had a thought about resistance -- to what is.

Resistance has its rewards - as when you're lifting weights. It builds strength. And certainly, in the face of evil or wrongdoing, resistance often helps bring about change and the overcoming of that evil. I'm think of Jesus and Gandhi and Martin Luther King and and their tradition of non-violent resistance.

But I think that, emotionally, resistance is the cause of much pain. My friend and I were speaking about this recently, and it struck us that our suffering is often colored by resistance and a fixed notion of what ought to be.

Let's say you're gardening, and you've spent most of the morning in beautiful sunshine. Suddenly, in the middle of your work, it begins to thunder and a hard rain starts to fall -- no mere shower, but the kind of weather you need to take cover from.

So how do we react to the storm?

My habitual thought process goes something like this:

I have two whole flats of flowers that I still need to plant, and, even if this rain stops in 10-15 minutes, I will be late for lunch that I've planned with friends -- and, suddenly, all that I had planned to accomplish for the rest of the day must now be postponed for another time.

The rain is plainly an inconvenience. I become angry and frustrated.

But what if I were to accept the rain...simply take it for what it is? And I'm not talking about even arriving at the higher state of acceptance & thanks for the drink of water it brings to the earth...but just pure acceptance with no judgement.

Further, what if I am able to change my notion of what ought to be, in this case, that I should be able to accomplish all my tasks in the alloted time I had initially given myself? False deadlines; naive scheduling.

What if I am able, then, to create another reality for myself? It may be as simple as this:

The rain has begun; it seems time for me to put the rest of the plantings off.

No judgement about the rain. No assumption that the rain should only come after I have completely finished putting the impatience (ironic?) in the soil.

I can first have sympathy for my disappointment...and even feel a sense of pity for this reaction that has welled up in me. But I think that I can try to gently say goodbye to this resistance and drop my notion of what ought to be. Chances are it will not rain forever; the sun will shine again.

This is the recipe for happiness in gardening...and in life, I believe.