talkin’ about religion, talkin’ about a revolution

Soundtrack in my head:  Throwing Muses, “Soul Soldier”

candles, church, light, religion

pixel2013 (CC0), Pixabay

My original idea with this website was to write about both co-op living and my religion and spiritual path. So far, I’ve written quite a bit about the former, but little about the latter. I think maybe part of the reason is that spirituality is, in many ways, much more difficult to write about.

I mean, on one level, it’s very easy to write about spirituality. People have done so for as long as written history exists. Being understood, however, is a whole different story.

Take the word “God,” for instance. The word means so many different things to so many different people. There’s the God described in the Bible, the God described in the Koran, and in other religions around the world. Then there are those look at the word “God” and see an icon of an oppressive and/or patriarchal religion, and yet others who see an icon of a rather primitive belief system no longer relevant in our modern, high-tech society. So, if I open my mouth and start talking about God, what is it that the reader or the listener actually hears?

I remember once someone asked me if I accepted Jesus Christ as my savior. I asked him what he meant by that. It was a very sincere question—the liberal Presbyterian/United Church of Christ church I was raised in never used that kind of phraseology. I could see myself answering either yes or no depending on what that phrase meant to him. Unfortunately, by asking that question, I didn’t give him the answer he wanted to hear, and he proceeded to tell me that my question was proof that I was turning my back on God and was in need of being saved.

Religion and spirituality have both a wonderful and a horrible history. By tuning in spiritually through various religions, people’s lives have often changed for the better, sometimes drastically. People have been able to give up addictions and change other bad habits in their lives, become more loving, kind, positive and more motivated by high ideals. Religion and spirituality have given people perspective, comfort and strength when things seemed to be at their worst. People have said that whole new worlds have been opened to them. I would certainly put myself in that category.

At the same time, religion has also caused people to suspend their better judgment, to negate what they see with their own eyes and hear with their own ears and instead submit to something that may only by tangentially related to God.  I’ve seen how people stop thinking independently, trembling in fear of what they think is God, but in reality is someone else’s agenda, perhaps tacked on to an existing religion. An agenda dressed up in what might look like the shrouds of the Almighty to some, but truthfully are no more real than smoke, mirrors, and a man behind the curtain whom we are told to pay no attention to.

So, given the dizzying array of experiences with God and religion, how do I even begin to talk about spirituality in a way that I’m understood?

I could talk about service to God and how I think God has guided me–but then people might think I’m like the Religious Right trying to push a political agenda. Likewise, if I talk about about things in a non-Christian context, someone else may label me a heathen or into devil worship.

It would be tempting not to say anything at all. But that would also get me nowhere.

Clear communication starts with me. If I say to my friend, “I try to serve God and be guided by God on a regular basis,” and she concludes that I subscribe to a right-wing political agenda, then communication hasn’t really occurred.  I say something but she hears something different. That’s a failure of communication on my part.

Sure, someone could say that my friend is narrow-minded. I’m not quite sure I agree with that. We live in a diverse society and every person’s view of the world is, to a large degree, the sum of everything s/he have experienced up until now. So if the only people she’s met who talk about serving God are people who are politically conservative, I can’t judge her for coming to that conclusion. Even if she is being narrow-minded, so what? Am I going to just sit there on my self-righteous laurels and judge her for that?

Being humble, I might realize that my friend might respond more positively to, “I feel spiritually called to try to make a positive difference in the world.” In essence, I have said nothing different from the first statement, except maybe being bit more specific–but it’s something that she understands better. Now communication has occurred.

Indeed, if I decide that she is narrow-minded because my initial choice of words communicated to her something entirely different than what I intended, I am no different than that guy who got all judgmental about my response to his question about “accepting Christ as my savior.”

Talking about spiritual matters may be challenging, but it’s not rocket science either. It requires understanding who it is you’re talking to. I’ve been thinking about this more lately with the international furor over the cartoons depicting the Muslim prophet Mohammed. I am a big believer in free speech because human beings are inherently imperfect and it sometimes becomes necessary to raise issues. But when it comes to making an effective case for free speech, the cartoons really were NOT a good move. What have those publishers achieved? Now, in the minds of millions of devout Muslims around the world, free speech equals the desecration of a holy religious symbol, which probably has set back the cause for free speech in various parts of the Muslim world.

So it’s necessary and important to understand who you’re talking to and how to reach them. It’s important to establish common ground because it is only from that common ground that you have a chance of making yourself understood.

For the preacher on the street with the megaphone who pontificates without regard for listeners passing by because he feels that God will guide the righteous souls to him, I have two words for you: dream on.

Communication becomes more challenging still when I put something up on a website, since Web surfers come in all shapes, sizes and religious beliefs. Even so, I think I can start from the assumption that many who would choose to read this page on a somewhat regular basis believe, to varying degrees, that there is validity in just about all religions.

And so I can offer my pledge to do my very best to talk about my spiritual experiences in a way that people can understand and hopefully relate to. I would also ask you, gentle reader, to read what I say with an open mind, and not be quick to categorize what I say as liberal, conservative, Christian, un-Christian, New Age, or whatever. I never have, and never will, fit neatly into other people’s little categories.

can jimmy the groundhog see his shadow under ten inches of snow?

Soundtrack in my mind:  The Alarm, “The Stand”

groundhog, animal, winter, jimmy the groundhog

OpenClipart-Vectors (CC0), Pixabay

Two weeks after Jimmy The Groundhog predicted an early spring, winter has finally come to Wisconsin.

A little explanation to non-Wisconsinites. The Madison area has its own groundhog, Jimmy the Groundhog, located in nearby Sun Prairie, which declared itself the Groundhog Capitol of the World over fifty years ago, setting off a rather interesting and mostly good-natured rivalry with the more well-known rodent in Punxatawney, PA.

Which is funny because according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac website, the Groundhog Day tradition was brought to Pennsylvania by German immigrants in the 1800s–except that back in Germany, the small mammal that gave the sign of whether or not spring would come early was a badger. Finding no badgers in Pennsylvania, but lots of groundhogs, the groundhog became the bearer of the prediction for spring. But not only are badgers native to Wisconsin, Wisconsin is nicknamed the Badger State. Also, the badger is mascot for the University of Wisconsin, and all over Madison one can see little icons of a badger walking on its hind legs with a puffed out chest and a scowl on its face.

But nevertheless, we have a groundhog, too, and he didn’t see his shadow this year, thereby predicting an early spring. But that didn’t stop us yesterday from us getting our heaviest snowfall thus far this season—ten inches. I talked to a co-worker about this and she told me that Jimmy has four more weeks to be right. Who knows? Three days ago it got up to 50 degrees and I walked a couple of miles with my winter jacket open. Tomorrow night it’s supposed to plunge to –12.

It was an odd day yesterday. Madison has been known to stop its bus service when the snow gets too heavy, and so I went to work 30 minutes early just in case I had to leave early. I was checking the Internet site of a local TV station every 30 minutes today so that if the buses decided to stop, I’d have advanced warning. A woman in the cubicle next to me commutes to work from Dodgeville, about an hour west of Madison, and she joined many others in staying home. We were surprised to find out that Madison public schools had closed their doors, and most of the surrounding area as well. Since the kids were staying home, many parents were, too. The malls were closed, and many other businesses as well. The parking lot outside our building was half empty as was our cafeteria.

I left work at my normal time of 4:30 p.m. and I was surprised to see not much traffic on the roads. The bus driver suggested that maybe the city was trying to minimize the number of people on the roads to minimize the number of accidents and also make it easier for the snowplows to do their job. Well, that makes sense. Two co-workers some years older than me were talking about how easy kids have it today, and how schools never closed when they were kids. But, then again, Madison didn’t have traffic problems or a population of over 200,000 then like it does now.

I was going to run a couple of errands after work, but both places I was going to go to were closed. I was going to get together with a friend, but he cancelled. I found myself with a surprisingly free evening.

I walked into my co-op house, and it was surprisingly dark, with nothing but the refrigerator lights illuminating the dining room and kitchen. (We have a commercial refrigerator not unlike what one may see in stores or restaurants. It has glass doors and is lit up inside.) This was kind of unusual for 6 p.m. on a weeknight. It was sort of weird—stores closed, traffic surprisingly light for rush hour, an empty house. I began to think that I was in a scene out of Steven King’s book “The Stand.”

But I rather liked the quietness. There’s nothing like the weather to force you to slow down and relax.

Nevertheless, I hope that Jimmy the Groundhog is proven right about an early spring—and soon.