Monthly Archives: November 2018

Consequences

Flowers with background butterfly

Experience can be an excellent teacher if we reflect on our actions and their consequences. [MC]

There are always consequences. Every action, and every choice we make in life, has a consequence. Some of those consequences are minor, some are major.  Inaction also has consequences. And somewhere in the middle I live with them all. Even after leaving your abuser, the hidden consequences of domestic violence and abuse can linger for decades. Especially for children.  In my case, the consequences have lingered longer than they should, due to my cavalier attitude of denial about this very dark period of our life. Read more

Religion and God – making sense of the nonsense

Like a woven cobweb, God and religion are difficult to untangle. [MC]

Religion and God. Oh, my goodness! This is one of those articles that will not go away.  As I sat browsing through one of my journal writings from the eighties, I noticed my first words, “My pen is the mouthpiece for my unspoken thoughts”.  It’s a quote that remains true for me today. Until my unspoken thoughts appear on paper, I’m stuck.  At a standstill, neither moving forward or backwards.

Unfortunately, I’m also a bit of a coward. It’s easy to write about the outside-in stuff. Regale you with stories of my interests – running, yoga, friends, family, memoirs, or even a work of fiction. However, I am drawn longingly to write about life from the inside-out. But religion and God? I’ve read enough bitterly scathing, caustic, vitriolic criticism from others to scare me from writing about the subject for a lifetime. But I need to move forward. As my outward life unravelled so too did my inner life.  I make no apologies about the fact that a central spiritual theme decorates my Fiftypluskiwi writings –– God, religion, love – all have woven a well-trodden path of bittersweet moments in my life. And all were littered with myth, perception and misconception. So I began the process of unpicking and discarding. Questioning everything about my spiritual life.  And part of this process was trying to make sense of the nonsense that surrounds God and religion. Here goes…

Like a woven cobweb, God and religion are difficult to untangle. In a previous blog, Love in three minutes, I mentioned how, we use the words love and commitment as though both words have the same or similar meaning when, in fact, they are quite different. We do the same with religion and God. Mention religion and people start talking about God.  Discuss God and people start talking about religion. Seeking God and identifying with a religion are totally different experiences.  Throughout history, God has suffered a great injustice at the hands of those who claim to be the closest to God.

Religion has done a huge disservice to God. Not long ago I received a curt email from an acquaintance. The one sentence email read, “This is why I don’t believe.” Underneath was a link to a YouTube clip featuring Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) lecturing from his bestselling book, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Hitchens was a controversial, thought-provoking British-American writer. He was a serious atheist.  In the YouTube clip he was witty, funny, riveting, confident and clever.  And I had to agree with most of what he said. I did not believe in the God he was talking about either. But the problem I had, and have, with the atheist argument is how they mix God with religion as though they were one and the same, when in fact, the two are very different. And it wasn’t until I explored the question, ‘what if everything I perceived God to be was lie?’, that I realised I had been doing the same thing.

Jeff Goldwasser, a rabbi at the Temple Sinai in Cranston, says our society, it seems, has become so confused about religion that we don’t really seem to understand what a religion is. Because of that, we don’t really seem to understand what it means to experience God, either.

“Seeking God and identifying with a religion are different experiences. Yet, many people seem to think that a person who does not identify with any particular religion must, therefore, be an atheist. That is an insult both to God and, I suppose, to true atheism. Religions are human institutions that, at their best, help people to experience and be close to God. At their worst they can give people an excuse to hate, control and be greedy. However, the relationship between a religion and God is like the relationship between a radio and music. Just because you don’t have one does not mean that you can’t experience the other.”

Goldwasser says seeking God and identifying with a religion are different experiences. He is right. Religion is an ‘outside-in’ experience, between you and other people; it’s full of interpretation, theories and opinions. But God, experiencing God, is an ‘inside-out’ experience just between you and God. A feeling in your chest – it’s a matter of the heart.  No one else is involved. God happens when you allow yourself to wander through the chasms, abysses and crevasses of your own heart and pay attention to what you feel. Religion is not necessary for this. Someone once told me ‘going to church makes you no more a Christian than going into a cowshed makes you a cow’. So true! There is nothing, you need to achieve, belong to, or go to, to know God.

Can religion be found in God? No! Absolutely not. Can God be found in religion?  Yes. But as a stepping stone, not a stopping place. Religion can one of the many, many ways we use when we are seeking that something or responding to matters of the heart.  But religions don’t work for everyone. They are not necessarily the ideal way for everyone to experience God. No religion, and no human institution has a monopoly on the truth. Because that’s what this is about. It is not about having the best argument or winning the debate. It’s about truth. You do not have to have a religion to find that truth. These days I tend to tell people, ‘If the by-product of what you believe is love, then go for it’.

Freeing God from the shackles of religion has been a liberating experience for me. When I began the process of untangling the web that ensnared religion and God, I noticed how my attitudes towards others changed. The people I met, their stories, became incredibly precious. Everyone’s life mattered. Love, peace and tolerance take on new dimensions when you separate God from religion and religion from God. Especially love, because we are all searching for that place where love has hidden itself away.

Love in 3 minutes? Crikey!

 

While commitment has everything to do with togetherness, love, on the other hand, is about letting one another go. (MC)

Not long ago I came upon an article about English couple, Bill and Dorothy, who had just celebrated their diamond wedding anniversary.  When asked the secret to their happy sixty years of marriage Bill said they were as much in love today, as they were on their honeymoon.

“As long as you agree with a woman, you’ll be all right. I know the best answer is always, ‘Yes, dear’,” quips Bill.

Dorothy replied with, “Bill makes me laugh and we definitely enjoy each other’s company.”

Really! A funny and compliant husband is the secret to a happy marriage?  Is it that easy? I’m sure when Bill and Dorothy made those comments it was tongue in cheek, but their story did remind me of a wedding I was invited to a few years ago.

My relationship to the soon-to-be married couple was through the mother of the bride. We were running buddies. Weeks before the big day we would meet for our daily jog and discuss the wedding preparation trials and tribulations.

One day she asked if I would say a few words to the bride and groom during the church service. Not knowing her daughter or her soon-to-be husband very well, I assumed I would be sharing a few prosperous wishes to cheer them on their future journey.

“I want you to talk about love,” she said in a tone that suggested this was as simple as filling a glass of water.

I was both gobsmacked and horrified. Me, talk about love? Crikey! Last year I published a series of articles about my ‘curveball’ moments in life. Writing these memoirs provided me with the opportunity to think, ask questions, to make sense of life and my relationships with others. And, let me tell you, none has been more challenging for me than the issue of love or one of love’s many threads, marriage.

Thinking about my past failures on the love scene, I enquired as to how long she would like this ‘few words’ to be. I was allotted three minutes. Three piddly minutes, 180 seconds to talk about one of the most sought-after emotions in the world.

Added to my own feelings of inadequacy, were the young couple about to be married. Radiantly in love, they sizzled with energy and anticipation. In their youth, and because of their youth, they knew everything, and displayed a confidence untainted by hindsight. On paper, they did everything the ‘right way’. They were both well educated, had a new home to move into, great careers and were well supported by family.

And that was my dilemma. My conundrum. What could I tell this couple about love that might break through that glorious fizz-pop mix of youth, success, lust and of being in-love? What a heady mix! I thought it’s just as well I didn’t feel as though I had anything to say because they wouldn’t be listening anyway.

Weeks of worry preceded my putting pen to paper.  I did some research and found  8,001 couples were granted divorces in New Zealand in 2017. There were 8.4 divorces for every 1,000 estimated existing marriages and civil unions. But in the context of this article it doesn’t matter whether this figure is high or low, but it does suggest promises of love and commitment made on the wedding day, are a lot harder to put into practice as the years go on.

During my moments of reflecting I was struck by how, when we talk about marriage, we use the words love and commitment as though both words have the same or similar meaning. Little or no thought is given to the paradox that occurs between the two.

Love and commitment are surely one of life’s greatest contradictions. The marriage ceremony is a public statement of commitment to each other. When you are deeply in-love, commitment seems remarkably easy. Whether it’s a civil union, a de facto relationship, or marriage, everything about commitment suggests togetherness – a partnership binding two people who are committed to working together. Commitment is where plans, hopes and dreams are born. It’s the doing part of the relationship; the ‘outside in’ framework.

Now here’s the paradox. While commitment has everything to do with togetherness, love, on the other hand, is about letting one another go. to be true to who they are meant to be.

Twentieth century psychologist/philosopher Erich Fromm explained the ‘love’ part of relationships as love is union with somebody, or something, outside oneself, under the condition of retaining the separateness and integrity of one’s own self.

“In love the paradox occurs that two beings become one yet remain two,” he says.

Love scoffs at rules. Love is not a role to be played by either partner. It does not come bedecked with rights and expectations. Love cannot be earned nor can it be measured by success or achievement. It is not the role or responsibility of one partner to ensure the other’s emotional and physical needs are met. We can be concerned, but we are not responsible. Love lets go.

Real love does not always follow our natural inclinations; it is not an impulse from feelings.  It is not about doing something for the other, but about being. Love just is – and that itself is a life-long journey for all of us. Thank goodness, there is the odd moment of exquisite joy, because most of the time love is just plain hard work learned over a lifetime of experience.

Yes, marriage, and its counterparts, is the union of two partners in a relationship. Committed to being together, but as Eric Fromm suggests, retaining the separateness and integrity of one’s own self.

Commitment and love – intrinsically woven, yet individually apart. To walk together and walk alone. One a journey of togetherness the other a journey of self. How would you explain this to a young couple in just three minutes?