Tuesday, October 9, 2007

My Favorite Freedom

The Last Judgement. Oil/Oak, 46,5 x 32 cm.Image via Wikipedia
As I've been more fully embracing Universalism (and really the awesome love of G-d), there have been many freedoms that I've come across.  Many accuse Universalists of being licensors of sin.  By declaring that G-d will ultimately reconcile all to Herself, somehow we are also saying "Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you'll be in Heaven, no matter what!".  I'm not going to address that right now (been there, done that and I'm sure I'll have to do it again).  What I would like to talk about is what may possibly be my favorite new found freedom. The freedom to be wrong!
Galatians 5:1 says:
It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery
However, I think many (most?) Christians feel enslaved to something (actually usually to several things). But, one of the biggest entanglements for me was the need to be right.  I was taught that G-d had indeed saved me.  But, He was only able to do it because I was fortunate enough to have gotten the plan of salvation perfectly right and had taken the exact right steps.  Talk about a narrow road.  To be saved one had:

  • to be baptized the right way (dunked- not sprinkled)
  • have spoken in tongues (the sign of the infilling of the Holy Spirit)
  • been baptized in Jesus' name (not the Father, Son and Holy Ghost)
  • and stay on the narrow road (backsliding was a sign you had never been "saved" in the first place).
    • Evidence of backsliding included:  smoking, drinking, cursing, watching the wrong movies, hanging out at the wrong places, wearing makeup (for women), wearing pants (for women), dancing, etc., etc.   

While people in my church didn't go around saying everyone else was going to Hell, it was certainly implied. Not many people could live up to these standards.  We didn't actually hate Catholics for example, but everyone knew they were not real Christians.  Converting a Catholic to true Christianity was a victory (and probably saved them from the flames of Hell).

I felt tremendous pressure to "get it right".  After all, my eternal security was resting on the decisions I made. Supposedly having this decision in my hands was supposed to make me feel good. The opposite was true for me. It made me extremely jittery and tremendously insecure.  I would literally have given anything not to have been cursed with the burden of being responsible for my own salvation.  That included my life.  I would have given my life.  I often wished I would never have been born.  And, if G-d would have given me the option of annihilating myself, I would have taken it in a heartbeat.  I knew I was not good enough, strong enough or wise enough to navigate my way to salvation and I was completely despondent because of that knowledge.

A side effect of this need to get it right and worshiping a god who places this burden on us is one that many people don't see while in it.  It can be subtle.  But, once you get out from under it, it becomes more obvious to you.  We become like the god we serve.  If we serve a god who is a demanding perfectionist, we become a demanding perfectionist, demanding perfection not only from ourselves but from others.  If G-d will damn a person to Eternal Torment for eating the wrong fruit from a tree (which Genesis never even implies She does.  But I digress), what should we do to a person who actually commits a crime like theft or rape or murder?   The idea that the smallest offense deserves eternal punishment makes the judgments we put on each other pale in comparison.  If we serve a god who judges this harshly, we are going to judge ourselves and others in the same way.  We take this demand of getting it right when it comes to eternal salvation and begin to apply it to everything in life.  Getting it right become the most important thing, not  living, experiencing, trying, failing and doing it over again.

I am so grateful for the freedom to be wrong.  I think of all my new found freedoms, it's the most precious to me. I engage in a lot of debates on various message boards on the Internet.  One thing I've been observing lately is just how closely people identify with their ideas, beliefs and actions.  Attack their beliefs and they think you are attacking them personally.  Criticize something they've done and you'd think you had taken out a gun and shot them.  On one of the boards I'm on, the topic of attending church comes up all the time. Some of us are for it and some of us are vehemently opposed to it.  What I find fascinating is how whenever we are discussing something like this how people feel personally attacked when someone else says that their opinion is different.  People seem to have a need to feel that others approve of their actions and beliefs.

The idea that all of our beliefs and actions are us; and that we have to have them just right is an idea that makes us ever defensive of the beliefs we hold dear and the things we have done.  We feel we must defend them to the death because they are us and we have to be right.  There are two errors here.  One is that we are our thoughts, beliefs or actions.  Mindfulness practice is helping me sort through this.  I am not my thoughts.  My thoughts are something I have.  They come and they go.  I am not my emotions.  Emotions are something I experience.  They come and they go.  I am not my beliefs.  Beliefs are something I hold.  I hold them loosely.  They come and they go.  By making this differentiation, I can more easily accept it when someone attacks my beliefs or my actions.  I don't take it as personally.  I don't have this down perfectly yet.  I still get upset when my wife points out a mistake I've made.  I can feel my blood pressure rising, my chest tightening, my voice raises and I prepare to do battle to defend my honor.  Sometimes (more rarely), when someone attacks my beliefs, I go into defense mode (I'm better about that).  I still identify too closely with my actions and beliefs.  But, even when I do make the mistake of identifying with them too closely, I have a second way out of this.  I now have the freedom to be wrong.  "So, my beliefs are wrong.  So, what?  It's no big deal.  If I need to change them, I will.  If I get them wrong, I'm not going to Hell for it.  So, I did I something that I shouldn't have done.  I made a mistake.  Please forgive me.  But, I don't have to be right all the time."  It's so nice to be able to say that!

Another thing a belief in an all-loving G-d who has already taken care of our salvation does is it allows me to free others to be wrong, too.  Again, this is a work in progress.  So, Ty, if you read this, I'm not claiming to be all the way there, yet.  Just like a belief in ET spills over into every day life, the belief in a G-d of many chances spills over into everyday life.  I am more patient with others because I know G-d is so patient with me. I am able to forgive others their missteps because I know they are not their actions or even their beliefs.  They are a beloved Creation of the Father- no matter what they say, think, do or believe.

Right now on my message board I'm getting a painful example of what it's like when someone needs to be right, at all costs. I'm seeing both sides of this.  I say painful because I can see the attacker is hurting.  I can see the pain he's causing to some of the members of my board.  And, it's painful to me because I'm trying to figure out the best way to deal with it and struggling. We have someone who has infiltrated the board and is attacking everyone, including me. I'm not sure what this guy's agenda is.  He is attacking without provocation and with baseless accusations.  I'm seeing how ugly it is when someone thinks he is the holder and the defender of all Truth and needs to help G-d get it out to the rest of us knuckleheads.  Unfortunately, I'm also seeing that some people on the board are not able to withstand his attacks because he has attacked their past actions (affiliations with certain organizations) and their beliefs as being heretical.  Ironically, this guy says he is a universalist.  The other day he said I'm not a real Christian (not the first time I've heard this).  I'm happy to report that my heartbeat did not even pick up when I read this.  So what?   No big deal.  Even if he were right, it doesn't change who I am or my relationship with G-d.  Because of my freedom to be wrong (which  I don't think I am BTW), this stuff rolls of my back like water off of a duck.  Thank G-d for the freedom to be wrong.


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