The Christian

There is a famous quote attributed to Mahatma Gandhi in which he states to admire Jesus, but not followers. In one version, he speaking to  E. Stanley Jones, author of “The Christ of the Indian Road”. In response to a question about bringing Christianity to India Mr. Gandhi states,

“I would suggest first of all that all of you Christians, missionaries and all begin to live more like Jesus Christ.”

I grew up going to Sunday school as a child. Our small Congregational Church here in Centerbrook only counted a few families as members. My great aunt  Catherine played the piano. In Sunday school we mostly read the Gospels and bits of the New Testament. There was an emphasis on trying to be like Jesus – in fact it was the name of one of the songs we used to sing: “Lord I Want to Be Like Jesus”.

The Jesus I came to know as a child was a kind, loving, forgiving presence. He was someone who could see the very essence of a person’s heart through all their bullshit, all their wounds, all the “things” they had become in life. The message to me was that I must always love my neighbor, that I must always strive to let go of material things, let go of grudges, that I must never judge and that I must develop a compassion and understanding for those less fortunate than I – whether that meant the poor in “pocketbook”, the poor in spirit, or even those lacking the same knowledge I had of our potential to be so loving and kind as to say we were indeed, “like Jesus”.

It wasn’t until later in life I realized that Christianity seemed to mean something very different to some other people.

As I read through the entire Holy Bible myself, it seemed to me that Gandhi made quite a powerful point.

I was not taught to worship Paul – although his writings reveal much about the early Church. I was not taught to bring judgment against my fellow human beings. I was not taught it was ok to rationalize my political beliefs using the Bible. This is the point where formal Christianity and I parted ways.

What do I think now? I think Jesus overturning the money changer’s tables would pale in comparison to what he might have to say to a few folks using His name today…

I also think Jesus would be a fast friend to a few of us doubting Thomases…. Who simple question what to believe in the face of so much religious zealotry and insanity.

I think if the folks so wrapped up in telling the rest of the country what to do would spend more time trying to be like Jesus, we’d all be better off.

Group Survival

Holidays often bring us together with people who share vastly different opinion and philosophy from us.

One can argue, or find common ground.

One thing I know is the survival of groups – be it from a scientific and evolutionary perspective, social or religious perspective; Groups only survive when their members learn how to take care of and look out for each other.

Who’s got your back today?

On Dying And Everlasting Life

I’ve given a fair amount of thought to death.

It isn’t something I talk to other people about very often, death, so I can’t say I really know very much about what other people think. It does seem to me that there is a lot of denial. Religion attempts to soothe our worried minds with a promise of everlasting life. Thoughts of things like euthanasia or assisted suicide are beyond rational consideration. Doctor shows and drug company ads seem based on the premise that death is the ultimate failure. Life must be preserved and maintained at all costs lest we give in to a simple fact: everybody dies.

Someday I will die. You will too.

I realized that there are a few simple questions that when I faced honestly were very enlightening.

A dear friend once said to me that when she died she hoped to go to a wonderful place and be reunited with her lost friends and relatives. Its a very lovely thought, but it’s veracity is neither here nor there for me. What really made me think was the statement that followed, where she explained that if she were to find out there was no after-life, no heaven, and no friends waiting on the other side she would get a gun and blow her brains out.

I tried to imagine the millions of people living in misery, enduring pain with the hope that something better will await them when they die. Being the person I am, I of course had to pose the question – what if there isn’t anything?

I realized at that moment that regardless of a heaven, regardless of religion, living this life in misery only to hope for better luck or a happy reunion in the next is madness.

Immediately I asked myself a very important question: if I were to die tonight – if I knew I had an hour or two left – how would it feel? Would I feel frightened? Sad? Angry? Relieved? Guilty? Happy? It might be a little bit of all those things. But that question put my life into immediate perspective.

I realized that when my physical body is gone, the things that will be left of me are the impressions and effects I had on others. There is my wife, my children, my job. There are the students I have had. There are the people I was unfair or unjust to. There are the people who read my blog. There  are people who love and who hate me.

So if I were to die tonight, what could I say of these relationships? Did I make my wife happy? Did I give my children enough information, enough of myself? Did I teach them? Did they know how much I cared about them and that the *only* thing I ever wanted from them was to see them happy and perhaps share in that joy? Was I an honest worker and did I serve my disciplines well? Was I a good teacher, and did I give my students anything good that they carried forward in their lives? Did I leave even a single reader with a kernel of something that sparked some positive change in their life? Did I try to take responsibility for my mistakes and make up for them if possible? Will even those who hate me, have enough respect to say I tried?

And what if I were given ten more years? Would I use them to be sure I left a rich legacy to those that follow me?

This is *my* concept of ever lasting life.

Some Buddhists meditate on the image of a corpse decomposing. I once read of Buddhist monks who would go to burial grounds of another religion (Zoroastrians?) who left their dead to decay in the open. There they would meditate on death and their own mortality.

A little creepy maybe, but doesn’t it make you value life just thinking about it? Does it shift your focus? I hope I can learn to better make the most of mine.

– link: my visit to an outdoor crematorium and grave yard in Mumbai (Bombay) India