Category Archives: religion

Quotes Worth Repeating – The Guru’s Cat

10257039_10204059223820221_7035561874645616129_n (1)The story of the Guru’s cat by Anthony de Mello is worth repeating:

When the guru sat down to worship each evening, the ashram cat would get in the way and distract the worshipers. So he ordered that the cat be tied during evening worship.

After the guru died the cat continued to be tied during evening worship. And when the cat died, another cat was brought to the ashram so that it could be duly tied during evening worship.

Centuries later learned treatises were written by the guru’s disciples on the religious and liturgical significance of tying up a cat while worship is performed.   – Anthony de Mello

You can find this story and many more in Anthony de Mello’s book The Song of the Bird

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Uncomfortable Love

This post is a contribution to the February Synchroblog “Loving Your Enemies”. Check out the links to all the other contributions to the February Synchroblog listed at end of this piece.

As a follower of Jesus I have to take the instruction to love my enemy seriously.

The biggest problem I have with loving my enemies is that I’m uncomfortable with it.

It doesn’t feel good and it’s hard – really hard – and it’s not fun either.

Sometimes I try to water the instruction down a little and make it more palatable.

I say to myself “loving your enemies doesn’t mean that you feel all warm and fuzzy about them” or “loving your enemies doesn’t mean you have to invite them over for dinner” or “loving your enemies is a process” or “you don’t have to love your enemies the same way you love your friends”

And while all of those things may be true I don’t know that grabbing on to disclaimers gets me any closer to loving my enemies.

Other times I declare, “I don’t have any enemies!” because if I don’t have any enemies I don’t have to worry about loving them – but we all have experienced being hurt by someone and enemies come in many different forms.

And finally, if I get really honest with myself, I want to know how far forgiveness and love have to go.  What does it mean to love my enemy? What does that actively look like? Does that mean I let people take advantage of me? How does my passion for justice co-exist with compassion for my enemy?

I don’t have a lot of answers but over time I have discovered a few things – some good and some not so good …

sometimes understanding my enemy helps me to love them

unfortunately most of the time loving my enemy doesn’t change them

loving my enemy helps me remain free of bitterness and negativity

loving my enemy takes more strength than hating my enemy

hating my enemy takes more energy than loving my enemy

preparing my response in advance can help me love my enemy

loving my enemy does not mean that I don’t oppose what they do or say or believe

loving my enemy is uncomfortable 99% of the time

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Even with what I know I am almost always constantly just at the edge of chucking the whole idea of loving my enemies but something or someone usually seems to come along to give me a little encouragement to keep on trying.

Sometimes it’s a story like the one of 14-year-old Malala who was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman while on a bus in the Swat Valley. She made a full recovery in England, and became a remarkable, brave voice for the rights of women.  When Jon Stewart interviewed her he asked her what her reaction had been when she found out that the Taliban wanted to kill her. Her words have taken up a permanent residence in my heart.

“I used to think that the Talib would come, and he would just kill me. But then I said, if he comes, what would you do Malala?’ then I would reply to myself, ‘Malala, just take a shoe and hit him.’ But then I said, “If you hit a Talib with your shoe, then there would be no difference between you and the Talib. You must not treat others with cruelty and that much harshly, you must fight others but through peace and through dialogue and through education. Then I said I will tell him how important education is and that ‘I even want education for your children as well,’ and I will tell him, ‘That’s what I want to tell you, now do what you want.'”

Malala’s story reminds me that loving my enemies is about aspiring to something good and right. That loving my enemies promotes peace and goodness for all.  That loving my enemies does not mean I am weak but takes all of my strength and courage.

But if I’m honest I have to admit that there are days when nothing inspires me.

Some days I just feel tired and weak.

On those days, when I can’t find any sane reason to keep on loving my enemies, when I am crushed by those who seem to be the most unloving and unkind, when I feel the weight of fear and anger becoming heavier than hope and love, when I am wrestling with what it means to stand up for the oppressed and at the same time to love the oppressors … on those days I utter the only line I can remember from a prayer penned by a Serbian priest during World War II …

 “Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.”

The words come from a prayer written by St. Nicolai of Ochrid, a Serbian priest, who was arrested by the Nazi’s during World War II. As the story goes he was betrayed by a fellow priest. As he sat in prison, anger began to consume him, leading him eventually to pen these words:


Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them. Enemies have driven me into your embrace more than friends have. Friends have bound me to earth; enemies have loosed me from earth and have demolished all my aspirations in the world.

Enemies have made me a stranger in worldly realms and an extraneous inhabitant of the world.

Just as a hunted animal finds safer shelter than an unhunted animal does, so have I, persecuted by enemies, found the safest sanctuary, having ensconced myself beneath Your tabernacle, where neither friends nor enemies can slay my soul.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless and do not curse them.

They, rather than I, have confessed my sins before the world. They have punished me, whenever I have hesitated to punish myself. They have tormented me, whenever I have tried to flee torments. They have scolded me, whenever I have flattered myself. They have spat upon me, whenever I have filled myself with arrogance. Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Whenever I have made myself wise, they have called me foolish. Whenever I have made myself mighty, they have mocked me as though I were a [fly].

Whenever I have wanted to lead people, they have shoved me into the background.

Whenever I have rushed to enrich myself, they have prevented me with an iron hand.

Whenever I thought that I would sleep peacefully, they have wakened me from sleep.

Whenever I have tried to build a home for a long and tranquil life, they have demolished it and driven me out.

Truly, enemies have cut me loose from the world and have stretched out my hands to the hem of your garment.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Bless them and multiply them; multiply them and make them even more bitterly against me:

So that my fleeing will have no return; So that all my hope in men may be scattered like cobwebs; So that absolute serenity may begin to reign in my soul; So that my heart may become the grave of my two evil twins: arrogance and anger;

So that I might amass all my treasure in heaven; Ah, so that I may for once be freed from self-deception, which has entangled me in the dreadful web of illusory life.

Enemies have taught me to know what hardly anyone knows, that a person has no enemies in the world except himself. One hates his enemies only when he fails to realize that they are not enemies, but cruel friends.

It is truly difficult for me to say who has done me more good and who has done me more evil in the world: friends or enemies. Therefore bless, O Lord, both my friends and my enemies. A slave curses enemies, for he does not understand. But a son blesses them, for he understands.

For a son knows that his enemies cannot touch his life. Therefore he freely steps among them and prays to God for them. Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

What helps you to practice the uncomfortable act of loving your enemies?  

Here are more blog posts about Loving Your Enemies:

Beauty In The Wilderness

I originally posted Beauty In The Wilderness in March 2011 as I prepared for Lent.  I have edited it to eliminate the connection to Lent so I could repost it today as I have recently been connecting to many people who are presently wandering in the wilderness and I wanted to remind them that God is not causing their wilderness but he is with them in the wilderness.

“the wilderness is still one of the most reality-based, spirit-filled, life-changing places a person can be.” Barbara Brown Taylor

I grew up hearing sermons and bible lessons that talked about God leading us into the wilderness in order to teach us something – about Him, about ourselves, about the world we live in. The “wilderness” was another word for suffering and the reason (they said) God led us into suffering was because in the midst of suffering he was able to get our attention, to cause us to trust him and to make us teachable and transformable.

I believed it and it made me very afraid of God.

Whether it was a relationship problem or an illness or unemployment I didn’t just have the anxiety of the problem at hand to deal with – I also had the emotional and spiritual agony of believing that God was making me suffer in order to get my attention so I could be transformed.

I don’t believe that way anymore.

Now don’t get me wrong – I believe there are things I can learn in the wilderness and I believe my wilderness experiences do change me.  I even believe God can bring good out of wilderness situations – I just don’t believe God is causing or orchestrating my suffering. Of course I still battle those beliefs that set God up as my adversary but after I talk myself into remembering God isn’t causing my suffering I can more easily trust God in the midst of my wilderness.  And for as much as I dislike wilderness experiences and spend a fair amount of time and energy avoiding wilderness experiences it is in the wilderness where I have found out the most about who I really am and what my life is really about.  Not so much because of the suffering that takes place in the wilderness but because of the self awareness and self examination it causes, because of the focus it produces, because of the questions it births, because of the humility it generates.

It was during a wilderness experience where I discovered God wasn’t the perpetrator of my suffering – that I didn’t need to be punished for who I was and it was okay for me to be me – in fact, it was better than okay, it was good.

Not long after that particular experience I ran across the poem Wild Geese by Mary Oliver and fell in love with it … not just because it is a beautifully crafted message but because it reminded me of the beautiful truth I had just discovered while wandering in the wilderness with God.

I leave you with Oliver’s poem in hopes that you too will discover something beautiful about yourself, about God and about the world you live in even when you find yourself wandering in the wilderness.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Mary Oliver, Dream Work, 1986

 

The Best Religion

This was originally posted on 9/4/2012.

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There is a story that has been circulated online about a conversation that took place at an interfaith conference between the Dalai Lama and the Brazilian liberation theologian Leonardo Boff.*

When recalling the conversation, Leonardo Boff confesses he thought the Dalai Lama would defend oriental religions as being the best, but instead, His Holiness answered, “the best religion is the one that gets you closer to God and makes you a better person.”

Expanding on that, he went on to say, “whatever makes you more compassionate, more sensible, more responsible. The religion that will do that for you is the best religion, for you.”

Clearly inspired by where his thoughts were leading, His Holiness added, “I am not interested, my friend, in your religion, or if you are religious or not. What is important to me is your behavior with your peers, family, work, community and in front of the world.”

I am a Christian and have been all of my life. I was born into a Christian family, as a young girl I chose to be a Christian and many times throughout my life I have chosen to remain a Christian. However, my idea of what it means to be a Christian has changed so dramatically over the last decade that it sometimes feels like I have completely changed religions.

I have changed enough that some Christians have even questioned if I still have the right to call myself a Christian. To them I would say, “the best Christianity is the one that gets you closer to God and makes you a better person.”

I might even add, “whatever makes you more compassionate, more sensible, more loving, more responsible … that’s the kind of Christianity one should pursue. You should not be so concerned with what I believe as how I behave … with my peers, my family and friends, at work, in my community and in front of the world.”

Just as some have reasons to choose a new religion I have reasons to remain a Christian and yet, that doesn’t mean that I am not changing my religion.

I hope I continue to change my religion as I grow and learn more about what it means to be the best kind of Christian – the kind that moves me closer to God and makes me a better person.

*I could not verify that the story is true, however, the ideas presented seem to be harmonious to the Dalai Lama’s philosophy and the teachings of Buddhism.

Cross Gender Friendships And The Church

This post is part of the February Synchroblog “Cross Gender Friendships”.  I will list the links to all the contributions at the end of this post as soon as they are available.

cross gender

Although I grew up going to a Baptist church and living in a conservative, Christian community I wandered from the church during my twenties but returned after my husband asked me for a divorce eight years into our marriage.

Having not been an active “adult” member of an evangelical church I was unfamiliar with a lot of the “unspoken” rules about relationships between men and women, but over time I learned that it definitely wasn’t considered safe for me and a married man to be alone and maybe not even good for me to be alone with a single guy. Why? Well, mainly because we might end up having sex. It could happen in a variety of ways but what it would amount to is we might be sexually attracted and not be able to control ourselves.

Once, when our pastor had a biking accident and broke his collar bone I stopped by his home early one evening to drop off a meal only to discover that he was uncomfortable with me entering his home because his wife was at the grocery store and he was home alone with his youngest son who was probably around 3 or 4 at the time. I was taken aback because the problem at hand had not occured to me, but when he asked me if I could come back in 30 minutes I agreed. However, when I came back almost an hour later she still wasn’t home.  He reluctantly made the decision to let me in with the meal, reassuring me that she would probably drive up any minute. After putting the meal in the kitchen I sat on the edge of a chair that was the farthest from him in their family room. I don’t remember what I was wearing but be assured it was modest as I wouldn’t have showed up at my pastor’s home in anything else. I remember sitting with my legs tightly held together and my arms crossed across my chest wishing I could hide my body because … well, because, I needed to hide it before it caused something bad to happen. As we sat there trying to engage in polite conversation I got the feeling that he was as uncomfortable as I was. I recall wondering if it would look more or less suspicious if I stayed until the Mrs. showed up or better if I left before she returned. I tried to play it out in my head …if she came home and we were sitting far apart and nothing was going on it would probably be better than if she came home and found out I had been there and already left because then she might think we had time to … what? flirt? kiss? have sex? … I tried to ask about his injury and how he was feeling but immediately felt like that was being too intimate, and changed the subject to the weather. When I glanced at my watch to check the time and realized that I had been there less than ten minutes, even though it felt more like an hour, I knew I had to get out of there. I couldn’t take it. I left feeling anxious and ashamed and worried even though nothing wrong or bad or inappropriate had occurred.

Looking back, it sounds crazy to me. Why didn’t I question the idea that good, mature, adult people who were serious about following Jesus, loving others and having healthy relationships couldn’t be trusted to control themselves? But at the time I didn’t question it and I think a lot of the reason I didn’t question the idea was because I was so new at learning what it meant to be a follower of Jesus. It would be years later when I would realize that being a follower of Jesus should be more about transformation than avoidance.

There was a story in the news recently about a dentist who fired his dental assistant because she was too attractive to him (irresistible is the word that was thrown around). He said he was afraid, even though nothing inappropriate had happened, that he might end up having an affair with her. It turns out that he had talked about it with his wife, who also worked at his dental practice, and then together they had talked to their pastor (probably at her suggestion). Together they all decided that it would be best to fire the dental assistant. When the dental assistant filed a lawsuit the courts ruled in the dentist’s favor, saying he had the legal right to fire her.

I’m not going to argue if what the dentist did was legal. It probably was legal. I will argue that what the dentist did was unjust. I will argue that what the dentist did was unloving. I will argue that what the dentist did was unlike something that Jesus would have done. I will argue that the theology behind the decision is bad theology.

The church shouldn’t be teaching that men and women can’t be friends because they might end up having sex. The church should be teaching us how to have healthy, loving, appropriate, respectful relationships with one another.

The church shouldn’t teach the dentist to fire his dental assistant if he is attracted to her but that to love his neighbor/dental assistant by taking responsibility for his lust if it exists; and the church shouldn’t teach me to feel guilty or ashamed about loving my neighbor/my pastor by taking him a meal after an injury.

IMO the church needs to do some serious re-evaluation about what it teaches when it comes to cross gender friendships.

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Be sure and check out the other posts for this month’s synchroblog:

Chris Jefferies – Best of both

Jeremy Myers – Are Cross-Gender Friendships Possible

Lynne Tait – Little Boxes

Dan Brennan – Cross-Gender Friendship: Jesus and the Post-Romantic Age

Glenn Hager – Sluts and Horndogs

Jennifer Ellen – A Different Kind of Valentine

Alise Wright – What I get from my cross-gender friend

Liz Dyer – Cross-Gender Friendships and the Church

Paul Sims – Navigating the murky water of cross-gender friendships

Jonalyn Fincher – Why I Don’t Give out Sex like Gold Star Stickers

Amy Martin – Friendship: The most powerful force against patriarchy, sexism, and other misunderstands about people who happen to not be us, in this case, between men & women

Maria Kettleson Anderson – Myth and Reality: Cross-Gender Friendships

Bram Cools – Nothing More Natural Than Cross-Gender Friendships?

Hugo Schwyzer – Feelings Aren’t Facts: Living Out Friendship Between Men and Women

Marta Layton – True Friendship: Two Bodies, One Soul

Kathy Escobar – The Road To Equality Is Paved With Friendship

Karl Wheeler – Friends at First Sight

Doreen Mannion – Hetereosexual, Platonic Cross-Gender Friendships–Learning from Gay & Lesbian Christians

Jim Henderson – Jesus Had A Thing for Women and So Do I

Elizabeth Chapin – 50 Shades of Friendship

The Best Religion

This month’s synchroblog asks the question: if you were to change to another religion, what religion would you choose and why?

 

There is a story that has been circulated online about a conversation that took place at an interfaith conference between the Dalai Lama and the Brazilian liberation theologian Leonardo Boff.*

When recalling the conversation, Leonardo Boff confesses he thought the Dalai Lama would defend oriental religions as being the best, but instead, His Holiness answered, “the best religion is the one that gets you closer to God and makes you a better person.” 

Expanding on that, he went on to say, “whatever makes you more compassionate, more sensible, more responsible.  The religion that will do that for you is the best religion, for you.” 

Clearly inspired by where his thoughts were leading, His Holiness added, “I am not interested, my friend, in your religion, or if you are religious or not. What is important to me is your behavior with your peers, family, work, community and in front of the world.” 

I am a Christian and have been all of my life.  I was born into a Christian family, as a young girl I chose to be a Christian and many times throughout my life I have chosen to remain a Christian.  However, my idea of what it means to be a Christian has changed so dramatically over the last decade that it sometimes feels like I have completely changed religions.

I have changed enough that some Christians have even questioned if I still have the right to call myself a Christian.

To them I would say, “the best Christianity is the one that gets you closer to God and makes you a better person.”

I might even add, “whatever makes you more compassionate, more sensible, more loving, more responsible … that’s the kind of Christianity one should pursue.  You should not be so concerned with what I believe as how I behave … with my peers, my family and friends, at work, in my community and in front of the world.”

Just as some have reasons to choose a new religion I have reasons to remain a Christian and yet, that doesn’t mean that I am not changing my religion.

I hope I continue to change my religion as I grow and learn more about what it means to be the best kind of Christian – the kind that moves me closer to God and makes me a better person.

*I could not verify that the story is true, however, the ideas presented seem to be harmonious to the Dalai Lama’s philosophy and the teachings of Buddhism.

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Here are links to all the contributions for this month’s synchroblog:

Quotes Worth Repeating – If The Church Were Christian by Philip Gulley

If the church were Christian, Jesus would be a model for living, not an object of worship.

If the church were Christian, affirming our potential would be more important than condemning our brokenness.

If the church were Christian, reconciliation would be valued over judgment.

If the church were Christian, gracious behavior would be more important than right belief.

If the church were Christian, inviting questions would be more important than supplying answers.

If the church were Christian, encouraging personal exploration would be more important than communal uniformity.

If the church were Christian, meeting needs would be more important than maintaining institutions.

If the church were Christian, peace would be more important than power.

If the church were Christian, it would care more about love and less about sex.

If the church were Christian, this life would be more important than the afterlife.

In the end, what I’m hoping for is a church a little less full of itself, and a little more full of love. It wouldn’t take much, for love and grace and kindness have a way of multiplying. We can start with just a few bones of it, and watch it build into something so vast it boggles the mind — a divine extrapolation, if you will.

Philip Gulley