Actively bringing about much needed change in our communities and hope to the broken and disheartened.
Speaking of fart jokes.
I went to the comedy club last night here in Syracuse. There was this “local comedian” doing a stint in-between some stellar “out of town” acts…and that was the opening line to his first joke. Pitiful doesn’t begin to describe how poorly he told jokes after that opening line. I won’t bore you with the details. Suffice it to say, the host for the night got up after him and said…”well, if you’re interested in being a comedian (he snickers to himself)…at least that guy had some balls.”
But that guy last night, who was sweating it out in front of 350+ people with his bright green and pink notecards, obviously totally out of his comfort zone…he and I have something in common today. Tonight, I am experiencing his discomfort. I am attempting to write a blog post about theology and I’m not trying to sound angry. It’s way easier to sound angry, because then you don’t have to sound smart. Now I’m trying to sound smart and don’t have anger to excuse away all of my shortcomings. But lucky for me I’m a member at Planet Fitness and I’ve adopted their motto “Judgement Free Zone” and extended it to all areas of my life. So – JFZ up in here means I don’t write for everyone else – I write for me. All these theological pounds I’m about to shed are for my own personal health, and someday my theological bod will confidently step back on the scale and be proud of all its efforts.
So to dive in, consider the following:
“The truths of religion are accessible only when you are prepared to get rid of the selfishness, greed, and self-preoccupation that, perhaps inevitably, are ingrained in our thoughts and behavior but are also the source of so much of our pain. The Greeks would call this process ‘kenosis’ or “emptying.” Once you gave up the nervous craving to promote yourself, denigrate others, draw attention to your unique and special qualities, and ensure that you were the first in the pecking order, you experienced immense peace…a great deal of the aggression, frustration, hostility, and rage that mars our peace of mind is the result of thwarted egotism…” (Karen Armstrong, The Case for God)
I found this statement to be refreshingly true when I read it. That so often in life, the immense desire I have to protect my own ego thwarts my overwhelming desire to experience peace. I am probably one of the most selfish people I know. I also think about myself…literally always.
I’m not thinking about you right now, I’m thinking about me.
It’s just the way it is…as the author so rightfully pointed out – my ego, and the desire to protect it or advance it is ingrained in me. It’s a part of who I am…so much so that it becomes a “process” to then empty myself of this self-preoccupation.
I’d say for me, the two things I desire more than anything right now are Peace and Joy.
Peace, because everything around me is flying at 100 miles per hour and nothing is slowing down. I’m getting older by the second and I’m finding myself getting caught up in the rush of life around me to the point where I feel like I’m missing it. YOLO, right? Peace somehow allows me to experience the life I only get to live once.
Joy, in my thinking, is a natural fruit that comes from Peace. Once you’re able to slow down and have that inner (and outer) peace, you are able to experience the world around you, the people around you, and the life you have – and subsequently are joyful. Sad things might still happen, but joy helps you keep perspective.
So as the above statement relates – I somehow get in my own way. It’s my own ego that destroys me in the end. I choose to run the rat race. I choose to spend my time putting others down to build myself up. These are all things that I choose to do, that ultimately make me feel worse. More depressed.
Less at peace.
And not the good things I like feeling.
One thing that I think a lot about is religion. Especially God. Christian thought. I have a lot of books. Not many leather-bound ones…but many books nonetheless. Most of them about God. Most of them written by Christian authors.
Usually after reading them I feel worse about myself. I feel inadequate. Like I’m not living up to my potential, or that I’m somehow missing something. Lately I’ve allowed myself to ask a billion and one questions about Christian life and thought and it’s led me to lots more questions and lots of doubts. Usually everything I think about is about me though…what do I believe? How does that inform the way I feel? How does what I believe impact the way I should live?
It never usually drives me to any action steps though.
I usually just sort of let them inform my brain, but my heart remains unaffected.
When the Buddha was asked if there was a god, and if the world had been created in time or if it had always existed, the Buddha told the man asking him that “he was like a man who had been shot with a poisoned arrow and refused medical treatment until he had discovered the name of his assailant and what village he came from. He would die before he got this perfectly useless information. What difference would it make to discover that a god had created the world? Pain, hatred, grief, and sorrow would still exist.” (Karen Armstrong, The Case for God)
And that’s the truth of it. Sometimes it’s so easy to get caught up in this idea that it’s of utmost importance that I figure things out RIGHT NOW – before I’m able to start living (lest I begin living incorrectly) – that I miss the truth of the fact that once I find out certain things, I’ll realize they don’t help me live my life at all. That all along I was using theology, or the pursuit of knowledge, as an excuse to not practice life.
The first quote above – the one about “the truths of religion” – that’s a paraphrase by the author of some essential idea’s found in the Upanishads. Those are, to Hindu people, what the Midrash would have been to the Jewish people. An interpretation of their holy book. In Hindu culture their holy book is called the Vedas. In Jewish culture, their book is called the Torah.
My point in telling you that was that I found a truth of life in a place I hadn’t looked for it before. Sometimes we get so focused in on one way of thinking that it consumes us and we end up looking in the same places for answers where we know there aren’t any. Sometimes it’s our ego, and the desire we have for self-preservation that causes us to keep banging our heads against the same book over and over because it’s who we are, it’s what we know.
I’ve lived in the Christian culture since the day I was born. Now that I’m an adult and I have questions and doubts and I get all torn up on the inside about the answers my culture has for me – it shuts me down. I experience no peace, no joy – unless I drop the things that I’m told are true and just kind of wander out there aimlessly wondering how other people seem content in the places that disturb me the most.
But in my feeble efforts to find truth, I’ve discovered something somewhere that informs me on HOW TO LIVE rather than HOW TO BELIEVE.
Sometimes it’s not about what you believe. Sometimes it’s about how you live. The Buddha had some things very right. Compassion, peace, the ability to empathize with others, love…these were all things you had to be (not just say you thought were good things, they had to be things you practiced) in order to start practicing yoga – which ultimately was the pursuit of being at peace with oneself.
Maybe it’s time to start living out fundamental truths of humanity to find myself capable of experiencing peace and joy.
I’m not ditching Christianity. It’s who I am – it’s the lens I’ve always seen the world through – but for those of you who are like me, I’d encourage you to start the journey of asking those questions that irk you so much and start looking for answers outside the box. It’s pretty refreshing.