Giving up Religion for Easter

Easter-825x510This Easter, I almost gave up religion altogether.

Don’t worry, I don’t mean giving up God or Christ or Krishna, I don’t mean giving up my passion for Love, Peace and Consciousness.  I’m not forgetting about Jesus and putting all my eggs in the Easter Bunny basket.  It’s just that this Easter the whole concept of organized religion somehow struck me as very very odd.

Palm Sunday morning, I walked up to my little St Cyprians church as usual.  Because it was Palm Sunday, the congregation was gathered outside the church steps, all holding palm leaves as we listened to the beginning proclamations from the Book of Common Prayer.  As I walked up to join all the sweet people standing in the sun, all of a sudden the whole premise of religion struck me as very odd.  At the same time that I love all religions and I love attending all types of services, pujas, meditations and prayers, I also think they are all kind of weird.

Palm SundayWhat a strange thing that 2000 years after Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem over the palm leaves put down before him all these random people all over the world should be standing outside churches on a Sunday morning holding palm leaves. I know that rituals have meaning, and I actually LOVE rituals – whether it’s smearing ashes on my forehead on Ash Wednesday or putting sandalwood paste on my third eye for Shivaratri, I love physical things that remind me about embodying the divine.  It’s just that it’s important to remember that all the physical things don’t really matter – it’s all an inside job.  And for some reason that morning, as I stood there outside the little church that I love so much, I was struck with the oddness of it all – if my heart is connected with Christ and I am loving God as I live and breath and move about my life, then what is the point of all of this?

Turns out, Father Ted’s sermon was the perfect answer for my feeling of strangeness at the whole concept of organized religion.  (Now, how does God do that?  Did He inspire those thoughts and feelings in me because He knew what Father Ted had written in his sermon?  Or when I had that sense of oddness, did He go back in time to earlier in the week and whisper in Father Ted’s ear?)

After the reading of the passion story from Mark’s gospel, Father Ted began to talk about Palm Sunday and Holy Week.  As Father Ted put it, “From triumphal entry to his death by crucifixion in just a few short verses. From riding a donkey into Jerusalem at the beginning of the week, to being put to death for speaking truth to power at the end of the week.”

Jesus had been preaching for years in Galilee and the areas surrounding Jerusalem, telling people that the Kingdom of God was inside of them, teaching people how to connect directly to God, showing them God’s love and mercy – and proclaiming that there is no burden of sin between us and God, and no need for any intervention or sacrifice by a priest or anyone else on our behalf.

In Holy Week, Jesus entered Jerusalem, the very center of both religious authority and secular Roman rule – and he went into the Temple and threw out the money changers and those selling doves for sacrifice.  He was challenging the whole system of both political oppression and organized religion that had been established – that people needed to exchange the impure roman coin for temple currency to buy doves or pigeons for the priests to sacrifice at the altar in order for them to attain atonement with God.  Jesus was telling us that we already have AT-ONE-MENT with God.  We don’t need organized religion to mend our broken relationship with God – to God, it was never broken.  We don’t need any rules or rituals or hierarchical system of priests and middle men.  And this challenge to both the religious and secular authorities is what led to Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion.  And he knew it would.  This was the cause Jesus was willing to die for.

good-friday-copySo, sitting in the pew of my adorable little church, I am struck with the extreme irony that the establishment of religion has turned Jesus’s very teachings inside out!  Instead of realizing the absolute truth of our original innocence and our direct connection with God, the teaching that Jesus gave up his life for, the church has turned his very death into the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf – even though Jesus himself taught that we didn’t NEED a sacrifice, God already loves us completely.

Palm Sunday evening I attended my second service of the day – this time online with the Collective, the wonderful little mis-fit faith community in DeLand.  Pastor Ben, dressed in T-shirt and jeans, reading his sermon from his iPad screen in-between drumming in the band, talked to us about the parable of the Third Mile.

ArtBook__039_039__TheSermonOnTheMount____The parable Ben told goes like this:  Back in Roman Galilee there was a law that if a Roman soldier commanded a citizen to carry his pack, they must carry it for one mile.  One day, a small group of disciples heard Jesus preaching and he said “The law requires that you carry a pack for one mile, but I say carry it freely for two.”  The disciples were deeply impressed by this and after a year has passed, this custom of carrying the pack for two miles had become a “new law” among the disciples and the leaders among them would often quote this teaching of Jesus and the need to carry the pack for two miles as a sign of one’s faith and commitment to God.  Jesus heard about this new custom and came back to the community saying “Dear brothers and sisters, you are faithful and honest, but I have come to you with a second message, for you failed to understand the first.  Your law says that you must carry a pack for two miles.  My law says, carry it for three.”

What I got from the sermon is this:  if there is a religious rule that a person should carry the pack for one mile, then Jesus taught that we should go the extra mile, because it’s not just about following the rules, it’s about what the rules are trying to show us about giving, loving and our relationship with God.  But when the “extra mile” group of people, following Jesus teaching, re-set the rule to  two miles instead of one, Jesus said again, no, it’s about that extra mile, so go 3 miles.  But it’s not really about how many miles.  The problem is, however many miles you add on, it becomes exactly the same thing: a rule to follow to be a good Christian, a good Muslim, a good Hindu or a good something or other.

“What if instead of offering his followers an ethical system to follow, Jesus was inviting them to enter into a life of love that transcends ethics, a life of liberty that dwells beyond religious laws?”

If we just create a new religion in the name of Jesus and set up similar rules or roll calls that must be followed in order to get to heaven and a new order of priests and go-betweens, we’re not really following the teachings of Christ.  If we absorb the way of love which transcends systems that Jesus showed us back into a system of rules, requirements and safe ethical formulas, we’re missing the point.  It doesn’t matter how many miles the rule says you should run, it’s not about counting the miles or following the rules, it’s about transcending the rules and running towards God with all your heart.

“In the end, our wholeness and wellness, our goodness and flourishing, are not to be found in systems of accepted minimums, or in the predictable systems that arise to challenge those minimum requirements – not in religions or in our best attempts at better religions.”

So in the pew and again online at the Collective, I got the message – it’s not about the rules, it’s not about organized religion, it’s about connecting directly with God.  As Ben put it, it’s about “Love that transcends ethics.”  In all these churches and mosques and temples, in all these rituals and Palm Sunday ceremonies, the purpose of it all is to live closer to God, to live AT-ONE-MENT with God.

love-shoesIt’s the spirit of the law that matters, not the letter of the law.  And living the spirit of the law is an entirely inward process between you and God.  It has nothing to do with any organized religion or consecrated creed.  No amount of empty rule following or proper religious conduct can make any difference.  If a person runs 5 miles or half a mile doesn’t matter in the least. We could run an infinite number of miles or just stand still – as long as we do it with absolute sincerity.  It’s what is happening inside that matters.  It’s about the state of our hearts.  It’s about our direct connection to God.

That is the cause that Jesus died for!  And the ironic thing is, by Christianity creating this complicated system of rules and have to’s, in setting up an organized religion with the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, it is recreating the same system that Jesus spoke out against.  We see this again and again, and it is up to us to keep bringing back the Love that transcends religion, just like Martin Luther speaking up about the Catholic church selling indulgences or Martin Luther King Jr. speaking up against injustice.

So, to truly follow Christ, we can’t just create a new religion, we have to let go of religion, let go of the outer show of faith and live our inner experience of faith.  And not just when we are dressed in our Sunday best, but in our every day moments.

In Father Ted’s Easter Sunday sermon, he also spoke to this direct connection of God and the Resurrected Christ not in organized religious ceremony – but inside our ordinary lives.

“After all the “Alleluias” this morning we will leave this sanctuary and go out into our ordinary lives.  But that is exactly where we will meet the risen Jesus if we will only open our eyes, and hearts, and souls to the world around us.  In our liturgy this morning we will greet each other in the “Peace of The Lord.”  This is a greeting of the Christ that is alive in each one of us greeting the Christ in the other.  It is a symbolic and liturgical action.  But when we walk out the door into the world we are called to see the risen Jesus in each and every other person we encounter.”

I have often grappled with the check box called “Spiritual but not religious” because I’ve at times felt that I am “Spiritual and ALL religious” or an “Everything.”   I love all religions and all ways of loving God, so I haven’t wanted to say that I am no religion – until now.  In the essential truth, the truth that Jesus died for, it is not about a new religion, no religion or all religions – it’s just about connecting with God.

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Further reading…

The Last Week
by Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan depicts Jesus giving up his life to protest power without justice and to condemn the rich who lack concern for the poor. In this vein, at the end of the week Jesus marches up Calvary, offering himself as a model for others to do the same when they are confronted by similar issues. Informed, challenged, and inspired, we not only meet the historical Jesus, but meet a new Jesus who engages us and invites us to follow him.

Peter Rollins examines traditional religious notions from a revolutionary and refreshingly original perspective. At the heart of his message is a life lived through profound love.

Caroling with the Gandharvas

my-photos-food-fashion-photographyDid you know that it’s not just Love, Peace and Compassion that is common among different religions?

There are many descriptions of God, Holy Beings and the Heavenly Realm that are strikingly similar across faiths – the feeling and experience is the same, only the words are different.  One such experience is the Gandharvas, as they are known in Hinduism and Buddhism.

The Gandharvas are heavenly beings who sing for the Gods.  In the Abrahamic religions these Angelic beings are called the Heavenly Host.  They are beings whose sole purpose is to sing honor and glory to God, who spend their entire eternal existence singing praises to the Divine.  I guess I shouldn’t say their sole purpose is singing – for in their singing they uplift, heal and glorify all of life.  In their singing, magic and mystery happens and I’m sure their one purpose of singing contains a multitude of purposes that I cannot even fathom.  But what I do know from experience is that they adore God and in their singing praises they magnify the Divine for the entire universe.  So, that is no small sole purpose.

AAAADH3MBXQAAAAAALGByAOne of the amazing and interesting facts about the Gandharvas (if you can call a trait of a heavenly being a fact), is that they love praising God so much that they are drawn to anywhere such praise is happening.  Wherever people gather to sing gratitude and love for the Divine, they gather also.  Loving God in song is like a magnet for the Heavenly Host – our voices lifted up to the Lord and our hearts loving God in unison pulls them straight to us.  This is one of the many reasons why I love going to church, or to chanting circles, or to Krishna Das concerts, and why this time of year I love to attend Christmas Caroling.

Last night I attended St Cyprian’s Carols and Lessons service.  Our sweet choir, joined by some extra singers from the Community choir, sang some beautiful versions of ‘Ave Maria’ and ‘O Holy Night.’  The packed standing-room-only congregation joined them in singing ‘O come, O come, Emmanuel’ and ‘Angels we have heard on high.’  And as those Angels heard US, they flocked to the tiny church, as well.  (It made me wonder if THEY have any songs called ‘Humans we have heard on low.’)  Luckily, they don’t need chairs or even standing room, or the hundred-year-old wooden walls of the church would have burst.  I could feel them bringing their Angelic presence and their pure love for God to our gathering, adding the vibration of adoration to all of us as we sang.  During the Ave Maria, I closed my eyes and could feel my consciousness being lifted up effortlessly, almost as if I was on an elevator bringing us closer to God.  All I had to do was sing and open my heart.

jtciLast year I attended the Vero Beach Community Church Christmas Eve service.  The Vero Beach Community Church has a choir of at least 80 people and a grand organ that covers the whole front wall with a beautiful stained glass of Jesus with open arms in the middle.  In addition they have a children’s choir and as if that is not enough, they have an orchestra.  The large church has several services on Christmas Eve and all of them are packed.  As I stood as one of a thousand audience members, singing the carols with this human chorus of voices, I could feel the Angelic chorus of Gandharvas and Heavenly Host joining us in tier upon tier above us and all around us.  These magnificent beings joined us in singing glory to God and victory to Compassion and Peace in the victory of Christ, Alleluia!  My heart was filled with ecstatic joy as I felt this vibration of adoration and GOD not only filling my heart and every heart in the room, but radiating out for miles, lifting up the entire world into the victory of LOVE.

So, if you want to, over the next week or so, if you attend any holiday gatherings with people putting their love for God into song, tune into the other beings joining you.  Whether you consciously tune in or not, whether you can feel the angels singing with you or not, their vibration of love will lift you.  And if you choose, you can consciously join with the Heavenly Host or the Gandharvas in their purpose of lifting up the entire universe into the adoration of God.  It is not only a service to the world, it is fun.


 

To learn more about the Ghandarvas, check out The Ghandarva Experience from Tom Kenyon – it has an introduction with information followed by some truly beautiful and angelic music.  This is a CD that is meant to be experienced and used as a spiritual practice and it is very beautiful.

More Tom Kenyon

Stand on One Leg and LOVE! the Rest is Commentary

456501701A few weeks ago in church we had a reading from Matthew’s gospel where a lawyer asks Jesus “Which commandment is the first of all?”  And Jesus replied:

“’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

In Father Ted’s sermon, he also told us of a Rabbi Hillel, a contemporary of Jesus who was famous for a similar answer to a trick question.  Asked if he could recite the entire Torah while standing on one leg, he stood on one leg and said, “What is hateful to you, don’t do to others.  That is the whole Torah, the rest is commentary. Go and learn.”

In Islam, ‘compassion’ is the most frequently occurring word in the Qur’an. Each of its 114 chapters, with the exception of the 9th, begins with the invocation ‘In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful…’piriformis-standing-lga

Love and Compassion are also central to Hinduism and the most important practice of ‘seeing the Self in the other’ (strikingly similar to ‘Love thy neighbor as thy Self’).

Daya or Compassion is a fundamental teaching of the Sikh religion, where it means ‘suffering in the suffering of all others’ and it is believed that Enlightenment cannot be reached through meditation alone but the spiritual seeker must also do good works towards their fellow humans.

Compassion is so important to Buddhists that they have been known to remove insects from the ground before putting up posts during construction, as to not harm any creature, however small.

Compassionate to even smaller creatures still, devout Jains sweep the path before them as they walk and wear masks as to not step on or breath in, thus inadvertently killing, any minute invisible insects.

How is it then that we have seen so much violence in the name of religion?  It is a very peculiar quirk of humans that we can have so many beautiful religions that all profess love and compassion as their central tenets, yet we use those religions to argue, discriminate, hate and at worst kill each other.

In my tradition of contradicting myself, I have two “buts” to that statement.

But, I don’t think i73032265t really is our different religions that drive us to those extremes of disunity, warfare and violence.  I think the conflict is really about something else altogether and religion is just used as an excuse.  The reasons for violence throughout history are such basic things as greed, land or power and instead of kings or emperors, or nowadays politicians, saying to their armies “I want that gold and that treasure in that land, let’s kill them for it” and just being honest about it, they say “Those heathens are doing the devil’s work, let’s go kill them.”  I guess they figured their citizens would be less likely to want to die just to feed their king’s coffers.

The second but is: But I think more and more, people are seeing the absurdity of this kind of religious disagreement about which way of practicing love and compassion is right.  We are finding the common ground that we all share.  In fact, I believe this call for unity, understanding, kindness and compassion among all peoples was actually central to many of the prophets, founders and sons of God who started these religions in the first place.  They themselves were trying to reform the baser human tendencies of greed and violence and taught instead LOVE.

The Gospels are full of stories of Jesus sitting down to dine with tax collectors, accepting the devotion of a prostitute (that was NOT Mary Magdalene, but that is the subject for another post), and of showing mercy and inclusion to gentiles of all sorts.

Flamingo_Web_For Muslims, at the heart of their faith is the principal of tawhid or oneness. This oneness has been described as that which dominates the mind in Islam, while the heart is intrinsically linked to the concept of compassion. “My Mercy encompasses all things” (Qur’an 7:156).  Islam sees love and compassion – the ability to feel with the other, as expressions of the interconnected oneness of all human beings, reflecting the oneness and unity of God.

The Muslim leader Badshah Khan, who waged nonviolent resistance for Indian independence alongside Gandhi has said:

“It is my inmost conviction that Islam is amal, yakeen, huhabat – selfless service, faith and love…. My religion is truth, love and service to God and humanity. Every religion that has come into the world has brought the message of love and brotherhood. Those who are indifferent to the welfare of their fellowmen, whose hearts are empty of love, they do not know the meaning of religion.”

This is why religious or spiritual figures from all different faiths and religions are often found saying “Love is my religion” or the like.  This is why I am an Everything.

This is also what Karen Armstrong discovered when she founded the Charter for Compassion.  The bottom line of virtually all religions is compassion – so let’s stop squabbling about the different nuances of compassion or who we believe said that compassion is most important or what name we use to refer to the All Compassionate One – and let’s start making COMPASSION a part of our every day life and all that we do.  Instead of worrying which prophet is the most right or  most godly about compassion, isn’t it more important to actually practice the compassion they all speak of?  That is what putting all our varying religions into Natrajaction actually looks like.  And that is what will bring about the Unity of God that all our prophets, saints and Holy Ones of all religions have taught in one way or another.  That is what we have always yearned for.

That is why I stand on one foot and say – Love!  The rest is commentary.


Please enjoy the inspiring Charter for Compassion video – and if you haven’t already, please sign the charter.

I Am an Everything & God is not a Christian

All ReligionsI have had people ask me “are you a Christian?” or “are you a yogi?” or “you’re a Hindu aren’t you?” It almost strikes me as a strange question. It was the same when I went to my first meeting with my new Interfaith Women’s group. We have two Muslims, one Jew, one Buddhist, one Hindu, a Native American and a smattering of various Christians – but what am I? I guess you could say that I am actually an interfaith woman. So, if asked, I usually answer “I am an Everything.”

The bottom line is that I just love God! I love God so much I couldn’t contain it to just one WAY of loving God. I want to chant like a Swami, I want to meditate like Buddha, I want to pray like Jesus, I want to melt into Mother Nature like the Native Americans, I want to teach like a Rabbi, I want to dance like a Sufi, I want to shout out God Allah Lord Jesus Christ Shiva Shiva Om! I want to praise God in every way humanly possible. I love God in all religions and I see God loving us through all religions.

God’s love is so immense – to think that God would constrain Herself to only love us through one savior at one point in time at one location on the planet… or that She even COULD! It doesn’t make any sense at all.

I was recently reading a speech by Archbishop Desmond Tutu called “God is not a Christian.”

“We should in humility and joyfulness acknowledge that the supernatural and divine reality we all worship in some form or other transcends all our particular categories of thought and imagining, and that because the Divine is infinite and we are forever finite, we shall never comprehend the divine completely. So we should seek to share all insights we can and be ready to learn from the techniques of the spiritual life that are available in religions other than our own… That what we call the Spirit of God is not a Christian preserve, for the Spirit of God existed long before there were Christians, inspiring and nurturing women and men in the ways of holiness, bringing them to fruition, bringing to fruition what was best in all.”

All religions tell us that God is eternal – God was certainly there in paleo times, in Jurassic times, from the very beginnings of the universe with the big bang to the birth of humankind – God was there. Of course God was loving us all along the way in every civilization and every culture – inspiring and nurturing us in the ways of holiness.

Think of a soul who lived on planet Earth in the year 30 B.C. and after he dies he comes to find out – too bad, if only you had been born a decade or two later you might have had a chance for heaven, but alas, eternal damnation for you. Or to think of a rainforest tribes woman who lives with a heart full of love and reverence and then dies and finds out, too bad those missionaries didn’t reach you in time, off to hell you go. I cannot imagine a God who would create such scenarios.

I love the way Bishop John Shelby Spong puts it in this interview:

“Every church I know claims that we are the true church and they have some ultimate authority… The idea that the truth of God can be bound in any human system, by any human creed, by any human book is almost beyond imagination for me. God is not a Christian, God is not a Jew or a Muslim or a Hindu or a Buddhist. All of those are human system which human beings have created to try to help us walk into the mystery of God. I honor my tradition, I walk through my tradition, but I don’t believe my tradition defines God, I think it only points me to God.”

▶ Bishop Spong Interview – YouTube. The quote is after the first part about heaven and hell.

That is one of the keys, isn’t it? Having the humility to realize that God cannot be contained by anything we could create – no religion, no book, no church. Isn’t that obvious?

So, I honor all paths, all religions – including all the individual ways of connecting with God and living here as a soul that anyone can come up with. And I honor all those who choose to follow ONE path – I have no interest in starting a religion that believes you have to embrace all religions. A person can just simply be a Muslim or a Christian and take that path all the way to God. Sister Margaret Ann, my catholic nun friend, is not interested in anyone else but Jesus and she has the purest dedication to follow him and that is enough. There are plenty of people who say they honor all religions but do not behave as if they honor any at all. It is sincerity and humility on whatever path you choose that makes all the difference. Bishop Spong need not say a single Sanskrit chant to know God.