Friday, June 17, 2011

the Sunday chicken of faith

If your upbringing was anything like mine, there was probably someone, somewhere along the line who uttered this bit of advice: "Never discuss religion or politics at the dinner table." No point in ruining a perfectly good meal with a lot of heated discussion that never resolved anything by the time the dessert arrived.

Hot button issues can really wreak havoc on the Sunday chicken.

Still, what is nearest and dearest to the heart does seem to call out for some room to roam -- a time or place or situation in which faith can have its say. I suppose churches and temples -- in the case of religion -- offer a resolution, however imperfect. Here you can toot your horn to your heart's content ... as long as you either keep it to yourself or rein it in and/or make nice about it.

My faith, to the extent that I have one, tends to lean towards what I cannot help but think of as the grown-ups in spiritual endeavor -- the ones that are older, that have been around the experiential block and are less inclined towards lock-step compliance or youthful and limiting exuberance. Without intending the sort of insult that would not play well at the dinner table, I think Christianity, Judaism and Islam qualify in the youthful, sometimes-threatening category. Hinduism, Taoism and Buddhism -- while not denying they too have been enthusiastic teenagers -- qualify as grown-ups.

But when I try to winkle out what it is that makes the grown-ups grown-ups in my mind, I find myself circling back, over and over again, to the one aspect of religion that I think of as a sine qua non, an utter and inescapable imperative of a realized and peaceful spiritual life. I simply cannot think of another option ... religion has to go. The same door that is marked "entrance" in religious life is likewise marked "exit:" One side says "entrance" and the other says "exit." Same door.

This is no artful conceit. It is just an imperative -- not a "should" or a "fry in hell if you don't." Going through the door marked "exit" is just what happens at the end of a satisfying movie. Do whatever you have to do in order to grow up, but then ... grow up. Better and worse have nothing to do with it. A grown-up is just a grown-up ... no big deal. Peace, like sex, is not a big deal unless you're not getting any.

So by my lights, it's something to keep an eye on. It's OK to be devoted to this religion or that, this discipline or that. But keep an eye on it. And when it decides to walk away, when the last wisp of campfire smoke disappears (and I don't mean anything as facile as making a trip to the undertaker), then you're home ...

And you can enjoy the Sunday chicken without choking down politics or religion.

Without disrespect -- eat, digest, shit. Is that so complicated?


  1. I imagine children having been given things are better at sharing than adults who spent the day at work. And politics and religion seem to influence ones sense of justice in the face of the idea that he who has the most toys wins.

  2. Can't endorse the sweeping generalizations you make. Any tradition that produces St. John of the Cross or Rumi cannot be easily dismissed as childish. Check out The Cloud of Unknowing, they don't provide crayons with that one.

    Ironically, your post strikes me as middle schoolish in presentation and sentiment. Perhaps speculations/projections about childish religion should be made on an individual basis rather than broad generalizations about entire religions.

    All the best,

  3. Jonah -- You are absolutely right -- the brush I paint with above is miles too broad. Every rule has its exception ... including this one.

    I had hoped with the post only to present a generalized picture of my short-hand mind, the mind that does triage as a means of espousing good, bad and indifferent positions. Stating such views -- or any views for that matter -- is not a request for anyone to agree with me. In fact, my hope is that whatever views I do present will encourage others to come up with their own most fruitful approaches. "What an asshole!" for example, strikes me as pretty useful way of re-examining and perhaps revising our own views.

    As to Rumi and St. John and Meister Eckhart and other bright lights, I enjoy them too. But in the case of St. John and Meister Eckhart, I would ask, how are they greeted within their own tradition? Not with open arms, I think it is accurate to say. Meister Eckhart would have been hung out to dry if he hadn't been smarter and more experienced than his inquisitors. And I wonder when it was that anyone went to church and heard a sermon based on Eckhart's teachings. George Fox, that old hell raiser, put himself in positions where he was routinely thrown into the midden. And, although I know less about his status, is Rumi treated within Islam as a great teacher ... or simply a delicious poet? I don't know. Many if not all of these men, and more like them, tend to be marginalized with, at best, the kind of doting and 'tolerant' smile reserved for an obstreperous family member.

    I am not trying to deflect your criticism here. It is good criticism ... and I hope you will use it to improve your own good practice.

  4. I too was raised to never talk about religion or politics, or ask someone how much money they earn. It was considered impolite. And in my experience that's based upon the historical experience of the brawls that can ensue.

    It seems to me that a kernel of motivation will be commandeered by someone in a position to manipulate it to their own ends. The kernel still exists, but becomes buried and dismissed while the decorations that manipulate become dominant. Some may wade through it to find that essence, but most are lazy or distracted or lack the capacity to do so.

    That kernel of intention may be a noble political idea of justice or a religious notion of kindness. But before long it becomes a stacked deck and a pogrom. The good gets lost in the manipulation that will benefit the few and not the many.

    I'm a moderator in a chat room for folks with gender issues. The purpose is to triage the variety of gender issues and offer appropriate education and support. And we've had to make it a rule that we don't allow discussion of religion or politics because they can be so divisive and distracting from the rooms purpose. The danger of losing sight of your own life among beliefs is very real.

  5. St. John of the Cross is a saint and one of a few dozen 'doctors of the church'. Didn't know there was such a thing. Turns out many of them are mystics. This new knowledge provides me pause in speaking about traditions with which I have little or know familiarity save what I hear on TV/newspapers (God knows the subjects they speak of on those mediums that I do know about leave more than a little to be desired). I don't know seems like the wisest option more often than not. Not that your opinion is wrong but I'd want a lot more information (which you might have who knows) to make a conjecture as flame inciting as yours before dousing the victim in gasoline--a liquid you seem to spread far and wide in this post.....

    be well,

  6. Jonah -- It makes me happy to think that you can exercise the only useful lesson to be learned when seeing the faults of others: Just don't YOU do that!

    I hope you will continue in your good ways.