Sunday, 25 July 2010

Learning to speak for ourselves and protecting the testimony of others

A couple of weeks ago I went to baptism by the sea being conducted by a local Christian group. I was very kindly invited by some neighbours who are members of the group and lovely people. It was mostly a pleasant enough event. After the singing and the testimonials and the dunking in the sea there was a barbecue. The sun was out, the sky was blue, the people were friendly and some were even charming.

During the testimonial section of the proceedings, where the new converts described how they had come to their decision to make their “commitment” to Jesus and so on, I found the situation slightly disturbing and went for a little walk down the beach. I came back in time for the dunking, which was fun.

I’m not entirely sure exactly what made me want to take my little time out from the proceedings during the testimonials. I think it had something to do with the interjection from one of the Christian group’s leaders in between each of the converts who were telling their stories. The testimonials of the new converts seemed to be fair enough, but the process whereby in between each testimonial this leader from the Christian group commented on what the person had said, and what it signified, as though the convert’s testimony was not sufficient to stand by itself seemed to be discourteous. I suppose I found that commentary discourteous to the courage that it clearly took for the converts to tell their stories and declare their commitment. Of course sharing in a communion, sharing in a fellowship is important. But I wonder if we don't need to be more careful when it comes to guarding and protecting the testimony of the fellows in our fellowship.

To understand how I feel about this, you probably need to know some background.

My interest in religious and spiritual practice stems from a commitment to find common ground across all faiths or absences of faith in our (us human being’s) relationship with the eternal. As I see it, we all have a relationship with the eternal. That is to say, we all have a relationship with everything, with the universe, or the multiverse, or (G)god, or all time and all space, or The Mystery or whatever you want to call that space. We all have a relationship with everything-nothing. Whatever you want to call that thing or non-thing that we are all a part of, we all have a relationship with it. How could we not?

Not only do we all have an individual relationship with it, but we also all have a collective relationship with it. In our relationships with those we are closest too, in our families, in our community groups, with our friends and relations and neighbours, and with our colleagues at work. All of us in all of our inter-relationships also have a collective relationship with this eternal mystery, the origin of all, the open unfathomable unanswerable question.

Many of us may not care that we have a relationship with the eternal, and I think that is fine. As we grow older we may come to care more, and I think that is fine too.

Ultimately I think it is ALL FINE… and for me that is sort of the point. From the perspective of everything-nothing, from the perspective of all of it, from the perspective of the universe/multiverse, from the perspective of the totality, from the perspective of all time and all space… from that perspective how any of us come to make our peace with our relationship with all of it is not a problem. God is not suffering worrying that some of us don’t love her. In fact I expect she finds it amusing if not entertaining. We are not a problem for (G)god. We are a part of all of it. We are the set of atoms and molecules that she put in the place occupied by our body. We are the network of conversations and interrelationships that we are embedded in. How could she possibly have a problem with us? We are this particular part of everything.

And from our own point of view, it is not as though there is any problem with being a part of everything either. Besides anything else there isn’t an alternative. We are a part of all of it, whether we like being that or don’t like it. Some of us may not like it, but that is alright too. Things are how they are, man! (Wink.)

Actually there is ONE alternative that I can see to being a part of everything, and that is BEING EVERYTHING. Or to say that same thing in a slightly different way, the alternative to being a part of everything, is to be God. Now for most of us, becoming God any time soon is not a realistic career path. And it is for this reason that I think that we human beings need to reconcile ourselves with being a part of everything and reconcile ourselves with not being God. Because that is what we are. And that is what we are not.

So the summary version of everything I just said is that there is no problem with our relationship with the eternal. There isn’t anything that needs to be “done about it”. The notion that human kind has “fallen” from a state of grace and that we became sinful when originally we weren’t is completely contrary to all the evidence. All the evidence points to human beings climbing gradually upwards along the slow path of evolution from the slime of the primordial soup to the barbarisms of our human history to the condition that we find ourselves in today. Today we still perpetrate crimes against humanity, but today at least we are aware that they are crimes against humanity – and that is something completely new. Humanity has risen to today’s pinnacle of being able to recognize when it is committing genocide, in contrast to the past when genocide looked like land clearance. Many of us are still murderers and often the murderers are running countries, but the advance of being able to recognize those of us that are evil is a huge step up that has taken 10 thousand years of human history.

And we are not finished yet. We stand today on a new frontier beyond which the prophets of our own time are pointing the way to higher levels of consciousness than the vast majority have ever before experienced. Whilst we face great challenges on the road ahead, the future calls us ineluctably to rise even higher into unimaginable realms of new transcendence.

Incidentally, just to be clear, none of what I am talking about here has anything to do with BELIEVING anything. It doesn’t really bother me what anybody “believes” because either their beliefs are aligned with the nature of reality in which case there is no problem, or their beliefs are not aligned with the nature of reality in which case they are going to suffer and eventually either die or give up those beliefs whichever comes sooner.

The nature of reality requires of us that we align ourselves to how it is. There isn’t an alternative. Trying to get it to align itself with how we think it should be does not have a good outcome. You can’t argue with gravity. When we just make up how we think it ought to be, we suffer until we correct our false notions. Consequently none of us need worry too much about the “beliefs” of others which don’t concur with our own. Either there isn’t a significant difference or else one or other of us is going to suffer more, and the one of us who is suffering more is going to find out soon enough without that one needing to be told they are wrong by the other one. Beliefs that are not aligned with the nature of reality either get corrected, or the people propagating those beliefs get eliminated. That’s how evolution works. In the end reality always wins.

I suppose you can’t argue with gravity, but you can build a helicopter. And it’s not always easy to know whether you are doing the first of these or the second. Sometimes you may die before you find out which you were doing, but that is all really beside my main point today.

My main point today is that when I am among Christians of the kind that were on the beach that day, I would tend to say (if I was asked) that I am not a Christian because I am not a Christian according to what such a group as this mean by that word, and if I was to say I am a Christian to those people I think it would be likely to cause a misunderstanding. What "being a Christian" means amongst this group of people is primarily that you are willing to adhere yourself to a particular set of doctrines including such things as the infallibility and literal truth of the writings included in the Christian bible, and secondarily that you are willing to be led in your indoctrination into this doctrine, by leaders in the group who have been legislated as having the authority to teach that doctrine.

However I am a Christian in the sense that Jesus was a Christian. And what I mean by that is that I am ready and willing to give up my life as a priority to giving up my opportunity to speak on my own behalf when it comes to speaking the nature of my relationship with the eternal. The opportunity to do this belongs to me. In and amongst the many wonderful things that I am grateful for every day, it is quite probably the greatest gift that (G)god gave me.

I get to stand on the sand beside the ocean and speak for myself. I get to choose my own words. I am not beholden to anyone who is presuming to have the right to translate what I say into some greater message that the world needs to hear. No one needs to hear my message. No one needs to agree or disagree. No one needs to witness it. No one needs to like it. No one even needs to understand it.

And the same goes for you and me. Together we can stand on the sand beside the ocean and speak for ourself. We can put our arms around each other. We can hold hands and watch as the sun goes down over the hills. We can whisper secrets into each others ears, and smile knowing smiles of understanding deep in our hearts.

We stand together, all of us, equal before Ggod. None of us have more right than any other to speak of her mysteries or indeed to deny her existence. Whatever you have to say about her non-existence, I am happy to listen. We all know deep in our hearts that when the truth is finally told, we none of us know anything. The Christians call this "The peace of Ggod which PASSES ALL UNDERSTANDING." When I look into your eyes at sunset and smile a deep contented smile, you can be sure that that’s what I’m smiling about.

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