Back to the books. I always turn to books.
We returned from Disneyland on Saturday night and began falling back into the pace of life today. Sunday was sort of a throw-away day as we unpacked, returned a borrowed car (ours needs repair), and went grocery shopping to refill our empty shelves. A good trip always leaves me contemplating life, the universe, and everything (to borrow from Douglas Adams). So it really is no surprise that I broke into the book collection--that I am having a rough time paring down--to seek some direction.
I love books. I love the look, the feel, the smell. I love the prospect of knowledge as you first open a new one and the deep satisfaction when you finally close a long one. So I looked through the shelves and pulled down a book that has been haunting me for a long time. The Ragamuffin Gospel, by Brennan Manning is scratching an itch. Many of you are probably unaware that until two and a half years ago, I was a youth pastor. I left the pastorate for a number of reasons, but among them was a deeply troubling murmur that the church wasn't anything like Jesus.
Jesus seemed to get dirty a lot. He was in the muck and mire. He loved seemingly unlovable people. He was all about love. From my vantage point, the church seemed to be more about maintaining the staus quo, a pseudo-spiritual country club type atmosphere, an almost elitist organization that kept people out by only letting certain types in. Now, with much reflection, I see that my view was amplified by my own set of issues; but, I still think the church is a few ticks off the mark. This book is helping me to see that my frustrations are not isolated.
The journey that this blog chronicles is a physical and fiscal journey but, it is primarily a spiritual journey (and a spiritual journey regardless of your faith affiliation, if any). We set out to find the truth. The truth is: a.) where you find it and b.) BIG, unmissable. What we are finding over and over again is the truth that this world needs help and our consumerism does nothing to help it...period.
The book recounts a Zen story. For brevity, I will paraphrase:
A monk, being chased by a tiger comes to a cliff. Seeing a rope he slides over the precipice only to find a snarl of sharp rocks at the bottom. He is out of rope to descend, he cannot ascend and face the tiger, and to make matters worse, two mice begin to gnaw at his rope. Just then, he sees a ripe strawberry and eats it with the joyous admonition that it is the best strawberry he has ever had.
Manning goes on to say,
Children do not focus on the tigers of the past or the future but only the strawberry that comes in the here and now.
That struck me, because it is what we have been struggling with lately. We cannot return to our past (consumerism) and the future looks bleak. We have often felt like we are running out of rope. But there re plenty of strawberries to enjoy. This problem is not unique to this journey. It is the same reason I left the church and the same reason that I am always looking to books for answers. I live either in the uncertainty of the future or the regret of the past but, rarely in the present.
I have only begun to mentally explore the ramifications of living in the present but, I imagine that it will be a lot more simple than trying to cover the past or prepare for the future. Jesus lived in the present and taught others to do the same. He didn't have a home that we know of and he rarely had his next meal planned. He often instructed his disciples to trust God for their needs and to focus on more important matters. Maybe the church would be more influential if it helped people now, where they are, rather than focusing on preparing them for the future. Maybe I would be a better and more complete person if I focused on what matters NOW more than what will make a brighter future.
Before I close I hope you understand that I believe there are good people, in many religions and cultures, seeking to better this world. There are many that focus on helping people NOW. There are many groups that make the world better in the same ways Jesus did, by feeding the hungry, healing the sick, forgiving the broken, lifted the fallen. But, there are also many churches that need to take a serious look at who they are following versus who they claim to follow. Like wise, I need to really look at how I can make the world better NOW.
I said earlier, that consumerism never made the world a better place. I really believe that. If we didn't consume so much, there would be less poverty, less waste, less pollution, and more quality time. So by slaying that Dragon--in any small way--I am helping to make the world a better place. My choices NOW change the world NOW and in the future.
NOW I need to go to bed.