religion, peeing, and the golden rule

October 15, 2009

If I stand and pee in our upstairs bathroom and look up I see Jaimen’s handwritten sign quoting Jesus’ “Do to others as you want them to do to you.”

When I turn to wash my hands my eyes fall on the besplattered Mary Azarian “N is for Neighbor” print that is pinned into the wall just above the sink. A man and a woman conversing, smiling, standing on either side of a fence.

When I lie in bed and look up I see the sky and stars, the moon if the timing is right, and the condensation that has gotten trapped in the skylight, and water stains on the wood frame.

I don’t think much of religion anymore. I used to. I know that it has a powerful draw for many people and that that draw pulls from deep inside their being, or seems to. I know that it makes many promises, many claims, and that it shapes language and thought, and corrupts language and thought.

I was always trying to get to the core of things, which of course means that I thought things had cores, which I suppose is a religious idea.

The core that I finally found, dwelling as I was in the realm of Protestant Evangelical Christianity, is hanging over my toilet, and the teaching about loving your neighbor, and that your neighbor is, well, everyone. That was my holy of holies, that’s what I found when the veil was torn. My ticket off the magical mystical tour. My pass out of religion, into the world, into myself, my ordinary self and my actual surroundings. It didn’t make things any easier, but a lot less cluttered. It made things harder, since many of the consolations faded away as well. But more authentic, more real. And for me there are no greater consolations than those. That is certainly what it feels like.

It opens you into the lives of others, and into your own life. Into the life of your community, your society, your time, your world, our world.

It is a strategy, a theme, a posture, and a throw away line, a slogan pinned to a wall, that means less than nothing if you don’t actually try to do it, and think seriously about it. There are other “cores” out there, other strategies and themes, instincts, tendencies, many of which run fiercely counter to “love thy neighbor” and they are not trifles.

I’ll end with some words of Hillel, a famous teacher and contemporary of Jesus. They are on a notecard stuck in a folder somewhere in my office, it used to be up on my shop wall:

If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
If I only for myself, what am I?
If not now, when?



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