What’s Important?

When I hung around with evangelical Christians, I would frequently hear this phrase: “be in right relationship with”.  That was a core value in life.   I agreed then, and I still agree in some ways.  I very much resonate with the value of relationships.  I am “a lover” by temperament, so to speak, and being engaged with the universe is supremely important to me.  I also have a huge desire to be “right”, but that is exactly the thing I’m now trying to dismantle.  I was a compliant kid.  I was afraid of my father and of all authority.  I wanted to be “good” and “correct” because I wanted to be praised instead of punished!  Now, I find that being “right” is not all that great of a goal.  First of all, it can lead you to be self-righteous and judgmental.  Second, how do you even know what is “right”?  Is it “right” to do everything an authority tells you to?  What if that authority tells you to harm someone else?  See, it gets tricky.  How about if I just say that I want to have a good relationship with everything?  I think that covers it pretty well.

One relationship that I am really working to improve is my relationship with God and Christianity.  It has gone through a huge change in the last few years, one that has many of my friends scratching their heads.  Some of them are downright disappointed in the change and have told me so.  Some have just stopped communicating with me.  I am most in awe of those who are openly listening, talking, challenging, and engaging with me as I rework my theology and practice.  Yesterday was Ash Wednesday.  Instead of going to Church, getting ashes imposed on my forehead, and beginning a 40-day penitential practice (which is an indication of how I participated in that relationship for 47 years), Steve & I finished reading T.S. Eliot’s poem named for the day and discussed post-modern cynicism.  Despite Eliot’s conversion, he doesn’t seem very enthusiastic about life.  This morning, we had breakfast with his Aunt and talked about her church experiences with fasting and confession and Bible study.  Today, I got another e-mail from an old friend who is willing to discuss my journey and walk with me in it.  I’ve known this person since I was about 12 and she was 17.  Replying to her became my top writing priority for the day.  So, I’ve decided to use that material for my post today.  First, a photo or two to open the mind:

What is the value of a sparrow?

A cardinal far from the Vatican

My thoughts for today:

I feel like I have a continual discourse going on in my brain about my relationship with Jesus and the Church.  On any given day, other people enter that conversation and keep it going.  At breakfast, it was Steve & his Aunt Rosie.  As we walked to the library, it was just Steve.  Now you’ve entered the discussion.  Welcome!  Come, have a place on the panel!
The Church.  So much of it is about the social aspect.  Sometimes it acts like a group of people who are all friendly, who share affinities, who enjoy being together and taking care of each other.  Seems there’s nothing wrong with that, but I’m sure that’s not all Jesus meant the Church to be.  What happens when that group disbands, moves away or dies off?  Kind of like your Presbyterian congregation.  Or what happens when that group gets visited by people whom they don’t care for?  People of a different kind who don’t fit into their social circle?  How do they behave?  Is that what Christianity is about?  There is so much intolerance, so much judgment, so much exclusion, that it just seems to represent the worst of society as well.
Theology & Philosophy.  The Church getting down to what it actually believes about the universe.  And why.  I was taught by my Episcopal parents that there are 3 legs on the stool supporting what they believe: Scripture, Tradition and Reason.  My dad held up the Reason leg when he talked about Science. In the face of overwhelming evidence about evolution, for example, there’s no need to dismiss it.  It can be worked in with the other legs.  Scripture is about the story of human life, the salvation story, the emotional story, the behavioral story.  But it’s still a story, a Myth.  It is about Truth, but it isn’t literally true.  I don’t think it’s “true” that we are all sinners, or that we are all fundamentally separate from each other.  If you look at the biological universe, we are all very much interconnected.  I don’t know if there’s any evidence to prove that a historical Jesus even existed, much less that he was resurrected from the dead and will come again.  I still love Jesus’ teaching, whether he’s fiction or fact.  I love how he goes straight to the religious teachers of the day and preaches in their faces about how they have undermined values like compassion, inclusion, humility, spirituality, and forgiveness.  I think if it were possible for him to reappear in the US today, he would go straight to the Conservative Republican Christian Right and do the same thing!  Tradition seems to be aimed at behavior, how we live together.  The thing that is so tricky about behavior is that it needs to change, it needs to be responsive and responsible.  Most people think that Tradition is about keeping things the same.  I think that keeping core values is a good thing, but the way they are expressed should be flexible.
The thing I miss most about The Church is choir!  Singing!  And I have always loved Gospel more than classical, deep down.  Yesterday, Steve put on a new CD; I immediately recognized Odetta’s guitar and voice and purred with delight.  He laughed and said, “Priscilla wants to be a big, black woman!”  It’s so true!  I love the soul, the familiarity with humanity and suffering and the confidence.  I don’t want to be brainwashed or shamed or coerced by guilt.  I want to be free and respected for what I am.  And what am I?  A white Anglo, in part. But I am partly a big, black woman as well because we are all connected here on earth.
Anyway, that’s where the dialogue has me today.  I want to tell you again how much I appreciate you taking the time to engage with me in this part of my journey.  It means a lot.  I really get turned off by the tendency, especially in politics, for people to circle the wagons or form a fortress from which to sling rhetoric while refusing to actually come out peacefully and discuss something.  You know what I mean?  And the media just makes the whole situation worse, little Tweets & comments here and there but no real engagement.  Thanks for being willing to be real, to put your story and your thoughts and your experiences in writing and listen to mine as well.  I respect you for that.  I think that’s how Jesus was, too.  I think of the stories in the Gospel of John especially, of conversations with Samaritans, women, disciples, beggars, and Pharisees.  He didn’t just knock off a sound bite for the media and move on.  And as much as anyone stayed to hear more, he kept interacting.  What a great example!


11 thoughts on “What’s Important?

  1. Someday you and I may well have real conversation about this Scilla…maybe on skype ? but for now…
    I come from a Baptist background, my sister is a born again Christian ( of 35 years or so and we are estranged ( she doesn’t have friends outside the church) my mother also became born again ( my sister worked on her for years) some 20 years or so ago..( she once told me we had nothing in common anymore and this after we had been the very best of friends)
    I am an athiest through and through though I belive in goodness as that doesn’t exclusively belong to those who have faith.
    At the end of the day I cannot square the circle that says God is Love and God is all powerful with the suffering that goes on today. If he loved and is all powerful he could stop sufferng now. To say it’s because he gave us free will just doesn’t add up.. If he did he made a mistake and could now change it..
    I’ve already said too much.
    Peace and love on your journey..

    • I don’t think you’ve said too much, but you’re allowed to say only as much as you feel you’d like to. I’m honored to know this much about you, anyway! “The problem of pain” is a indeed a big issue. Being estranged from family is a part of that problem, it’s true, and one that my family has suffered from as well. Thank you for sharing!

  2. “Now, I find that being “right” is not all that great of a goal. ”

    Here I differ from you, not surprisingly for one who goes around with the moniker “Princess of Righteousness.” When I got my name, I wanted something bliss-y like Ananda or Amrit, but nooooo…. I had to get a heavy-hitting one with connotations of responsibility & discipline, not to mention its maximally uncool connection to judgment. It took some meditation to come to appreciate my name.

    Buddha was down with righteousness. The eightfold path is all about it. Tao is another word for the same idea as dharma — that way that is in harmony with the cosmos. When you point your canoe, you can follow the current, you can fight your way upstream, you can get caught up in a relentless eddy, or you can be stranded on the rocks. When you are in the flow, you know it. Life unfolds with grace and blessedness. That doesn’t mean it is easy or clear, but it just isn’t bogged down in doubt & negativity. Following a dharma is like using a rudder. It isn’t so necessary on the glassy waters of Richardson Bay, but if you want to cross Raccoon Strait or venture through the Golden Gate, it will help your paddling translate into forward momentum.

    Here in New-Age-landia, people have a hard time with religions, even Eastern ones. Spirituality is cool, all soul evolution and transcendence, but religion means oppression. And yes, it is oppressing to the willful ego to follow a specified path. It means dealing with other humans, who can be very annoying or worse. It generally also means having to winnow the truth from what is sometimes very peculiar packaging. The hardest part, though, is that it means commitment to practice. I don’t care whether you want to learn to play the violin or be liberated, it just ain’t gonna happen if you don’t practice.

    Not only do you have to practice, but you have to practice with precision, with attention, and most importantly with kindness. Judgement is a troublesome weapon to wield, but that doesn’t mean that it lacks value. I aspire to diamond clarity in my own insight and must attack muddled, manipulated thinking with the blade of discrimination. You follow Socrates’ method as you do the same. When kindness and compassion create the scale, then judgment doesn’t have the same oppressive quality. You can think of it as pruning, a cutting away of what doesn’t serve the liberation of all sentient beings (or whatever other goal you put for yourself.) If it becomes self-righteous, then it fails the test. When you see the Buddha on the road, kill him.

    “how do you even know what is “right”? ”

    Listen, Watch. Feel. Experiment. Righteousness is powerful, mystical, unnerving, & profound. Some things you just know. It bubbles up from within. If it comes from someone else, then it is diluted and may not serve you. You can learn a tremendous amount from teachers, but they can’t teach you everything. You have to do your homework too.

  3. “When kindness and compassion create the scale”, what’s the difference between ‘right’ and ‘good’? The Eightfold Path gets translated into Right Wisdom, Right Ethical Conduct and Right Mental Development. Thich Nhat Hanh writes in his 14 Precepts of Engaged Buddhism “avoid being narrow minded and bound to present views”. I wonder if that can be done by trying to practice Good Wisdom, Good Ethical Conduct and Good Mental Development?

  4. right/wrong & good/bad are similar dichotomies and in another language might not have a distinction. My teacher used to say “nothing is good or bad; thinking makes it so.” I like the word right. It has a relationship to structural support — upright, erect, etc. To me, that is more of an orientation than a value.

  5. I like that idea of “right relationship” as being right like angles and not right as in correct. This week has been “right relationship” week over here at Chez Approximate, and I’m becoming more and more sensitive to the differences between a good relationship and a right one. I don’t really do Lent anymore (nor do I do religion, really) but I’m using the cultural construct as an excuse to give up unnecessary fear, and as I ponder that I realize that I tend to assume that a “good” relationship with any number of people relies on my being hypersuspicious of myself. How can I trust that what is good is going to be good for the duration? “Goodness” seems to imply an overly personal and label-y view– if I fall short of “goodness” in relationship, what does that say about my capacity for good? And does this mean I have a responsibility to mistrust myself and my intentions? In my personal lexicon, at least, “good” is what you are and “right” is what you do. The First Mate and I have a good relationship, and it might continue in goodness indefinitely even with no special effort toward the right. Ultimately, though, it matters to have checked the whole thing for sound construction and to develop some parameters of “rightness” in our future expansion. This is terrifying stuff, to be sure. Wish me luck.

    • Of course, I do! Also, thanks for working out the attitudes around the semantics. “Right” as structural is helpful. I am coming off a lot of structure into almost none, so I do need to take a look at what that might leave me. You and your auntie are both very good at shedding light on word meaning!

  6. Pingback: What’s Important? – revisited | scillagrace

    • My pleasure…my work, in fact. I’m glad you poked around and found this so that you could join in the community of discussion. It’s pretty serious stuff, so not too many bloggers venture into it. And the people commenting above are very thoughtful relatives who don’t live close to me, so the discussion is spread thin. Would that I had that stimulating exchange more often!

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