Monthly Archives: November 2012

Thanksgiving

Giving thanks is all the rage, and that’s a good rage. The entire month of November, my Facebook news feed has seen a constant stream of the many things that people are thankful for–family, friends, freedom, football victories, turkey, canned cranberry sauce. Okay, the last one is a stretch–only my son and I seem to be thankful for that jellied mass of cranberry goodness, but you get the picture.

Words of thanks are important, and need to be spoken or written, but all this thanksgiving has me thinking of the highest form of thanks–the actual conscious enjoyment of that which we are thankful for. We’ve all received a gift at one time or another that we really didn’t want. We probably said thank you anyway then promptly stowed the gift away in an unseen place or maybe even passed it on to someone else who didn’t want it either. Some “gifts” have actually orbited the earth several times in this manner. Obviously, such gifts aren’t really appreciated–we just don’t want to be rude. We appreciate perhaps the thought or the gift-giver, but not the gift itself.

But let someone give you a gift you actually desire–you will speak your thanks but you will also live it. You will stop at nothing to display it or put it to use. You’ll show it to friends and share it with them. You’ll cherish it and brag about it and protect it and if something happens to it your heart will break over it. The importance of the gift will be demonstrated in the passion with which you not only receive it but also with which you utilize it.

Most of us in our better moments intuitively understand that the good in our lives–indeed our lives themselves–are a gift. We didn’t earn them, we just awoke one day and they were there. This is not to diminish good stewardship or the rewards for hard work at all, but only to acknowledge that which precedes and underlies our stewardship and work. Before we ever lifted a finger or processed a thought, someone gave us life and nurtured us in it. And over the course of our living we continue to see our lives sprinkled with people or experiences or things that we didn’t choose but somehow seemed chosen for us. Grace isn’t an abstract principle, but the very nuts and bolts with which our lives our built.

And so, we thank–God, or others, or the universe. Whatever our world view, we just feel an appreciation well up within us and the words of thanks spring out. This is a very good thing. But an even better thing is to fully experience that for which we are thankful. Engage fully the moments of your life as they come. Love the people in it with all the energy you can muster. Use your gifts and talents. Because Thanksgiving isn’t a day in November or a deliciously roasted turkey on the table–at least it isn’t just those things.  Thanksgiving is life lived well and in love. That’s a feast for a lifetime.

Happy Thanksgiving, friends…

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Religion

Wow. It has been a while. You think when you start a blog you will write every week or maybe even every day but Life has other ideas. You get busy. An angry woman named Sandy storms through your life. You go on a short vacation. And suddenly you turn around and realize you haven’t written anything in the last three weeks. Then you start to feel a pressure about writing and the Muse takes leave of you (my Muse is named Victoria and she HATES pressure of any sort). So here I am having been internet speechless for nearly a month!

Today’s topic is religion, and I’ll try to keep it short and sweet. My background is church ministry and those who heard my sermons for years know that “short and sweet” can be a challenge for me–at least the short part. But I do hope I can be sweet at least.

A recent conversation with a loved one prompted a comment that I “can’t invent my own religion” (at least that is a close summation). That was a thought that I just haven’t been able to let go. It has fermented and fizzed in my brain for several weeks now and whether the result is fine wine or cheap I will let you be the judge of.

My gut response to such a thought is that EVERYONE invents their own religion. Literally. Unless you accept every single thought of some religious teacher then you DO invent your own religion. It may be tucked safely inside the framework of some established faith or it may be a smorgasbord of several belief systems but if you maintain any independent judgment you will invent your own religion to fit your life. Now you may feel “led” by Something Greater in this invention but make no mistake–there are no “pure” Christians or Muslims or Jews or Buddhists or Hindus–we all pick and choose a bit based on factors too numerous for me to mention here. So on one level it seems to me impossible not to invent one’s own religion to some degree.

Now, I do need to explain that at this point I’m using the word “religion” rather loosely. I’m using it as a virtual synonym for “worldview” or “belief system”. Everybody–including atheists–have one. We all make judgments about what is real and of value and what our lives are about. We all decide if we believe in a god or gods or The God or no god at all. We all make decisions about right and wrong, even if those decisions are largely subconscious. In other words, religion in that sense is unavoidable.

But of course, “religion” has a much more specific meaning in general usage. In that sense it means what “brand” do you accept? Do you follow Moses or Jesus or Mohammed or the Buddha or one of a myriad other systems? What rituals do you follow? What knowledge or action is required to be enlightened or saved? Or do you reject them all and believe that we are basically random accumulations of atoms floating in a meaningless universe?

It is at this point I must make what will be a shocking confession to some–I claim no religion, nor do I want to establish one or invent my own. I have a faith in Jesus, but I am coming to see just how irreligious of a figure he was, and my faith in him is often at odds with the institutional religion of “Christianity”. He doesn’t speak about religion and is frequently at odds with people who are religious. He often uses religious people as bad examples not to be followed. And his disdain of what we call religion made him quite unpopular with the religious–especially those who considered themselves leaders among the religious. In the end it got him killed in the physical sense. People don’t like it when you mess with their religion. They will metaphorically kill you or even actually kill you if social mores allow it.

Before anyone’s feathers get too ruffled let me say that I am going to develop these thought further in future posts and please don’t think I personally am judging anyone or denying that many times people who style themselves “religious” do good things and help others. The last thing I want to do is set myself up as a the judge of anyone. In fact, that is exactly what religions tend to do. They tend to supplant God and take it upon themselves to decide who is in and who is out and who is good and who is bad.

Tonight I just want to plant a seed–the idea that Jesus was not religious nor did he come to establish a religion. In fact, he came  to free people from the shackles of what is commonly understood to be religion. He came to help good things grow inside us and wanted his followers to do the same. I think for a while they did. Then unfortunately the simple way of following Jesus became obscured by a new religion established in his name. The Way of the Spirit was supplanted by the way of the letter. The Way of love by the way of ritual. The rest is history, and it is a sad history–persecution, crusade, slavery, genocide–all in the name of God. No wonder the unbelievers often roll their eyes and turn away. We have gotten in the way of Jesus. have gotten in the way of Jesus. At least my religion has. So I renounce it, and pray and hope that it will be replaced by something far better.

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