The first 36 years of my life were devoted to a Christian fundamentalist cult. They practised a doctrine of perfection that was presented as a carrot tied by string to the end of a stick. You could never quite reach that carrot. The rules kept changing and if you failed they hit you with the stick. Quite literally in my case. As in every good dualistic religion everything is black and white, good and bad. You are either in or out. We were kept very busy with the process of ‘sin management’ and indiscretions were used against us to whip us into line. Richard Rohr puts it well when he describes it this way: ‘No one is ever quite pure enough, moral enough or holy enough or enough of an insider of the proper group’ (Rohr, Immortal Diamond).
The high water line was obedience and woe betide any one who was found to be disobedient to the word of ‘the elders’, which was equal to the word of God. They were tough on us because they were contantly trying to save us. It must have been so exhausting. They had to watch over us so we would not fall and trip into sin and go to hell, or worse, leave the group. We were the ‘in’ group. We had the truth. We were Gods chosen people. Everyone outside was evil and impure and quite simply ‘outside’.
“In a moralisticly oriented religious group there are always clear outsiders to be kept clearly out-side. Hiding inside this false moral purity are things like slavery, sexism, the greed of Christian emperors…pedophilia…conquest and oppression’ (Rohr).
This did quiet a number on my little head. Brainwashed from the age of 2, this tight knit controlling group was my only social construction. I was not good at contradictions or complexities. I had no idea what it meant to think criticallly or to have opinions of my own. It was an easy way to live as you just did as you were told. The word from the ‘fathers’ was final. Yes it was a patriarchal system, and women were lectured publically and privately to submit and to obey.
This is a group that still operates today. They hold the high moral ground and are the purveyors of truth but keep themselves separated from everyone else. Even from people they love who have left the group. Leaving is the unforgiveable sin. People who leave are excommuicated, for their own good of course. You are told that ‘they’ are giving you into the hand of satan, hoping you might come to your senses. In other words, when it gets so bad that you can’t possibly manage, you will return to the group. These groups do not follow the gospel of Jesus Christ or His teachings. I tell you this because there are many religious institutions around today who are watered down versions of the above mentioned Christian fanatics. They spend every single moment of their day sacrificing their lives for God but they do not understand the teachings of Christ. They twist every scripture to fit their doctrine but do not understand about context or things like grace and mercy and equality.
The good news of the gospel is not about dangling carrots in front of peoples noses. Nor is spirituality a series of hoops you must jump through to be approved by an almighty disaproving God. The good thing about following Jesus, spirit-based morality, is that you are not motivated by reward and punishment. You need not follow the rules, you do things because they are true and good and right and not because you are afraid of punishment. You follow Jesus because you are in love with him and because He helps you. He gives you the desire and the power to please Him. Its because you want to not because you will be punished by your community if you don’t. The good news of the gospel is this: freedom, vision, relief, hope and love Including all people, race and gender. Everything and everyone belongs. Even the broken and poor and outcast and those who are told that they don’t belong.I am concerned about the way some people still operate out of the ‘you are bad and we are good mentality’. This mind sets reveals alienating behaviour because it cuts off anyone who does not line up to a moralistic view of Christianity. As Richard says in the above quote ‘there are clear outsiders to be kept clearly out-side’. We are continually drawing lines in the sand when Jesus asks us not to judge.
I think about the parable of the wheat and the weeds and this is the thought that I will leave you with to think about for yourself. Richard Rohr observed that to see with new eyes “requires that we be willing to respond and change because we are aware of our own mixture of good and evil. Jesus uses several mixture images that illustrate the tension. They seem to say, this world is a mixture of different things, and unless you learn how to see, you don’t know to separate; you get lost in the weeds and can’t see the wheat.” The trick is to learn HOW to see with new eyes. This is why Jesus says, I came to give sight to the blind. He knew that clear vision was something we would struggle with. We usually see things how we want to see them and not as they are or as He sees them.
Jesus speaks in parables to help us to see. He does this to engage the right side of our brains. Religion today is a dualistic left brain religion. It deals with linear thinking, right and wrong, black and white, logic and order. Jesus engages the right side of our brains so we can run Steven Speilberg images and mini movies in our minds. To help us to see in a new way. To see the whole picture not just a slice of it. To see in color not in black and white. He uses images that ancient jewish people would have been familiar with. Seed, wheat, weeds, yeast, pine seeds, fish, wine, bread etc.. He engages their minds to get to their hearts. The result is always to bring life, peace and hope. Not exasperation and fear.
Remember that the law does not give life, only the Spirit gives life. Are we aware that each of us have a mixture of good and evil in our own lives? He is saying to us in the parable of the wheat and the weeds that good and evil grow up together beside each other. It is not our job to run around pointing out the evil like some deranged person standing on a chair, screaming and pointing at a spider. It is His job and the job of his angels at the end of days to patiently take out the weeds, burn them and safely put the wheat in the barn. We just need get on with job of living our lives in peace with each other.
Cult teaching would have you believe that ‘we’ are the wheat and ‘they’ (the outsider, the sinners) are the weeds. What will happen to the weeds, ‘well they gonna BURN’, they gonna burn in HELL and Damnation”. Jesus teaching would say that everyone carries seeds of good and seeds of bad within them. As these grow to maturity, let me deal with it. We are not good at carrying or living with both the good and the bad. We like to think that we comprise only GOOD. It is Jesus job to decide what is weed and what is wheat, not ours. Both we and the world are a mixture of wheat and weed. That is the mystery.
“It takes a lot more patience, compassion, forgiveness, and love than aiming for some illusory perfection that is usually blind to its own faults. …it takes uncommon humility to carry the dark side of things and it takes courage to carry the good side too. The crucified one always hangs between these two theives – paying the price within himself just as we must do’( Rohr, p40 Everything Belongs).
I love this picture of Jesus on the cross, even in his final moments he is painting a picture of the beloved hanging bewteen wheat and weeds. The best bit is about to come. Are you ready. Jesus forgives both theives. Do we? Do we forgive ourselevs for both the good and the bad in us?
Lets not be blind to the weeds in our own lives and lets not judge what we perceive to be the weeds in others lives. In another parable Jesus talks about planks and splinters. He says in Matthew 7, ‘why do you point out the speck of sawdust in your brothers eye and ignore the plank in your own eye’. Ha ha… I love that. Such incredible imagery, ‘speck of sawdust” and ‘PLANK”. He is shouting to us: “compared to the huge amount crap in your life, your brothers stuff is a teeny tiny speck. Stop pointing the finger people. Let’s trust Jesus to deal with specks and weeds and get on with what He asked us to do which was to love one another the same way He has loved us; unconditionally, graciously and with mercy. He looks at our shit and sees a teeny speck. Meh…. That is grace, that is love.
We must ask ourselves, is our life an example of an encounter with a loving and caring God. Are we growing the fruits of the Spirit, love, joy peace, long-suffering, goodness, meekness temperance, faith and distributing this fruit to everyone that we encounter? Or are our lives spent deciding who is and who is not worthy, who can and who can’t take part in our IN groups. The Franciscans have a saying;
“Don’t expect a lot of freedom or permission from most religious people, but thank God, the gospel requires them to give you forgiveness.”
Ahhhh love it.. Shalom
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