Posts Tagged ‘Christianity’

Forgiveness?

August 6, 2017

This post may cost me followers, maybe even friends, but nonetheless I feel compelled to speak my mind on the subject of so-called Christian forgiveness.

A number of different situations have cropped up for me recently, to bring my attention to the topic of forgiveness, what it entails, and what preconditions may be necessary for it to occur.  As background, let me say that I was raised in an ethical Jewish tradition, but outside of a Jewish community, such that my classmates and friends were all Christian. This was back in the days when public school classes began not just with a Pledge of Allegiance, but also with prayers, which the teacher usually closed with “In Jesus’ Name” and I silently said “Cross that last line out, God.”

My maternal grandfather was an immigrant from Russia in the early 1900’s who became one of the founders of the Labor Zionist party in the U.S., friends with Golda Meir and Chaim Weizmann and other early supporters and leaders of what became the Israeli state. He sent my mother to school in what was then still called Palestine, and she was also an active voice for the creation of a Jewish homeland. During my elementary school years, she taught Hebrew in an after school program at a Jewish center, leaving me to come home from school to practice my piano lesson, do housework and prepare supper. My present skill with, and enjoyment of, cooking surely dates back to those meals.

My mother was highly and expressively critical of all religious extremism, Orthodox Jewish as much as Christian or Muslim. She saw the Jewish Orthodox community as actively harming the goals and functioning of secular Israel, as readily as she pointed to the hypocrisy of “Bible thumping Christians” who preached forgiveness but still unforgivingly blamed Jews as “Christ killers.”

From that early conditioning, I moved on to exposure to different Eastern religions, became comfortable with Quaker values and silent worship, and also with Zen Buddhism, finding myself finally, in 1993, a student of MasterPath and happily centered in an unfolding, ever expanding understanding of basic spiritual Truth. As my inner education has proceeded, layer after layer of mental conditioning has been peeled away, sometimes quickly and easily, at other times only after considerable turmoil.

My consideration of the meaning of forgiveness falls in the latter category. I have thought that I’d come to terms with where I stand in relation to “letting go and letting God” as the Quakers express it, but after some months or even years, a situation would crop up to show me I am not yet free of anger and resentment over the way some people have behaved toward me. One friend recently forwarded me one of those picture quotes that make their way around the Internet, this one stating “I’m not Jesus, so I don’t easily forgive, and I don’t have Alzheimer’s, so I don’t forget.” It struck a chord in me, and started me once more into an on-going contemplation of the meaning of forgiveness.

I’m far from conversant with the New Testament, although one cannot live in a nominally Christian country without coming to know bits and pieces of the Bible which get quoted in all sorts of context. I also had an English literature teacher in college who insisted one could not understand most American and European literature without having a familiarity with both Old and New Testament, and who therefore required that we all read substantial chunks of the Bible in order to pass his class. What stays in my memory, in the context of forgiveness, is the blessing (or is it an injunction?) to “go forth and sin no more.” I hear this as specifying that to be forgiven one must change.

“I’ve apologized so you must forgive me” doesn’t cut it. An apology, unaccompanied by meaningful change in conduct, is nothing more than empty words from an arrogant and demanding ego. That is probably why Twelve Step programs include making amends as a crucial step – not just apologizing but doing what one can to set things right – i.e. demonstrating changed behavior. If I am sorry for something I’ve done that hurt another I make certain not to repeat the hurtful behavior. I expect the same from others – and I dismiss as inappropriate, even offensive, those “good Christians” who preach that I “should” forgive just because someone apologizes.

There are profoundly good, caring and sensitive people of all faiths. Most of these, in my experience, have no need to promote themselves by their religious affiliation. Their quiet daily actions speak loudly on their behalf. The more forcefully a person insists that they are acting from Christian, or Muslim, or Zoroastrian or Hindu or any other religious teaching, the more certain I am that the speaker is likely to be disrespectful of others, unforgiving and self-righteous while demanding that their own actions be forgiven “in the name of” whichever form of God they worship.

I suspect this topic of forgiveness remains pertinent to me just now, not only because of a personal, family-related situation, but because of the recent exacerbation of offensive, intolerant, “my way or the highway” conduct by self proclaimed good Christians on the national political scene who mistakenly insist that they are merely returning the nation to its origins. Yes the founders of the United States were almost exclusively Christian men, but they were adamantly opposed to having any form of religion imposed by civil authority. The Puritans fled dictates of the Church of England. William Penn established a Quaker colony. Jewish immigrants created a center in earliest New York city. The Constitution clearly established the separation of church and state, giving everyone the right to worship as he (or she) pleases. Too many current politicians seem to have conveniently forgotten our founders’ emphasis on a secular state. They are instead critical, judgmental, demanding that law follow their particular interpretation of Christian values, and in the process totally betraying those values.

I readily admit that I shut down as soon as someone says “the Christian thing to do”, when they mean the caring thing, or the thoughtful thing, or the right thing to do is X, Y or Z. I make a sharp distinction between someone explaining a teaching of their religion and then showing how they implement it, and another person who says this or that is a religious requirement that everyone MUST be made to obey, often without manifesting the appropriate associated behavior.

Which brings me back to forgiveness, and my inescapable conclusion that it you want me to forgive you, change your conduct before you approach me, and when you approach me, ASK,  don’t demand or otherwise make it my responsibility to bring about a change in our relationship. You caused the rupture, you need to figure out how to repair the wounds. My role is to be open to be approached, and willing to engage in a cooperative effort to heal the relationship.

Not bad advice for the national political scene as well.

Not a Christian

December 21, 2013

“I am not a Christian.” A simple, declarative sentence.
My housemate’s aide asked why we do not yet have a tree up, and I answered, “I am not a Christian.”

Why is this the first time I’ve made that statement so openly? In the past, I’ve evaded. “We don’t make a fuss over the holiday, since it’s just the two of us.” Or, “I wasn’t raised to celebrate Christmas.”

It’s true, I wasn’t. My culturally but not religiously Jewish upbringing included commemoration of holidays as a remembrance of history rather than as spiritual practice. I’m old enough to have attended public schools that started the day with both the Pledge of Allegiance and a prayer. For all of my first 6 years in school, I would silently add “Cross that last line out, God” when the teacher ended the prayer “In Jesus name.” Later, at convocations, graduations, other public events in pre-politically-correct times, I didn’t bother with the amendment. Other people could pray as they wished, and assume what they wished about me.

While I lived in Vietnam, in order to participate in a choir, I practiced with the group at a non-denominational Protestant church. My mother did not let me perform with them on Sundays, however. I lit incense at a temple with our Chinese housekeeper, and watched the elaborate funeral parades of some of Saigon’s wealthiest families. The first time I encountered the concept of reincarnation, I knew it to be truth, resolving as it did so many of my questions and doubts.

One of Many

One of Many

In college I took several courses in comparative religion, and sat in silence with the Quakers, drawn both by their lack of ritual and their commitment to social action. The practice of seeing “that of God in every man” enabled me to feel part of a larger whole, in contrast to my life’s lessons of being an outsider. I diligently sought, in the silence, to discern “God’s will for me” and to listen to the “still small voice” giving direction to my life.

I’ve rarely had – or perhaps only rarely remembered having – dreams. The few vivid ones that have occurred have always been crystal clear as to their meaning, and prophetic. My access to inner answers has been simpler, more direct than dream interpretation. If I frame a question before going to sleep, I awake with the answer. If I frame a question before participating in Quaker Meeting, I leave the meditation having received – either from within myself or from a spoken message – a sense of direction. I never conceive of this instruction as God speaking directly to me. Rather, I remember my grandfather’s answer to a question about why one should do right. “Because you know it is the right thing to do.”

I have followed my inner instruction because I know it to be right for me. Living and working these past twenty years amid practicing Christians, primarily Catholics, I’ve kept my views to myself in order not to offend, in order not to disturb their settled beliefs. I’ve been respectful of our differences, not feeling any need to explicate those differences.

For more than twenty years I have been student of MasterPath – a spiritual teaching, an instruction in how to find “one’s way back home” to realization of one’s true nature as Soul. Practitioners number now in the tens of thousands, come from many countries and a wide variety of faith – or no faith – backgrounds. What we have in common is the desire to know our Divine purpose – to know and be our true selves, to manifest wisdom unadulterated by considerations of body, emotions and mind.

Different religions use terms like man’s purest essence, Buddha nature, the Soul self, Christ consciousness to describe the state of pure consciousness to which my Path leads me. Many religions ascribe the capacity to manifest that pure consciousness only to the founder(s) of the religion, as something outside oneself, to be worshiped and admired, but not to be attained.

Regrettably many religions are now adulterated by ego interpretations of what it means to act “as a ______” (fill in the blank with Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Jew, Buddhist, Taoist, etc.) so that instead of manifesting the beauty and truth of their faith, they demonstrate violence, intolerance, exclusion and dominance all in the name of religious purity. It should not surprise anyone that atheists point to the history of war waged in the name of religion as proof that belief in God has a negative influence on humanity.

Religious history has little to do with why I reached my seventh decade before stating plainly, “I am not a Christian.” Or maybe it does? Maybe the intolerance of differences reflected in all those wars waged in the name of religion has seeped into my being, quietly persuading me to not make an issue of my difference from my neighbors?

No, I think it has taken me this long to be truly comfortable with who I am and what I know to be Truth; to achieve a genuine indifference to reputation and how others perceive me; to feel certain in my knowledge of my Inner Being. In other words it has taken me this long simply to Be, and hence to be free to speak my own truth. I need not weight myself down with a responsibility not to offend others. If they are discomforted by me, so be it. In a far from cartoonish and Popeye’d way, I am what I am.

In the words of a blessing spoken at the start of a lovely Ba Gua exercise called Swimming Dragon, “I am health, I am beauty, I have enough.” It is enough, that I AM.


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