Relating, Creating, Transforming

Posts tagged ‘wisdom’

Alternative Wisdom

Wisdom of Solomon 6:17-20

wisdomChineseThe most common type of wisdom in society is what we call conventional wisdom. This is the mainstream, what “everybody knows.” It is society’s understanding about what is real and how people should live. Conventional wisdom includes ideas that are so accepted they are not questioned. These ideas tell us now to live; we are socialized into conventional wisdom as we grow up.

Example: we are told that life is about reward and punishment, i.e. “your reap what you sow” or “get what you deserve.” Though this idea is prevalent in secular culture, it also exists in religion, i.e.: “God will reward or condemn you based on what you’ve done.” Obviously, conventional wisdom leads to social separations, because it claims that some people’s roles in society are more important than others.

A person’s self-worth or identity is based on how they measure up to society’s norms.

At the end of the day, conventional wisdom can lead to us thinking that the reality as we have labeled it is actually the end-all. This of course can close our minds to new realities and ideas.

There are many examples of conventional wisdom. Here are a few:

The Earth is flat. The Earth is the center of the Universe.
You have to make more money. It is always best to pursue promotions and jobs that pay more.
You should buy a house.
You should do tons of cardio exercise to lose weight.
Keep taking antibiotics so you won’t be sick.
In Hollywood: a movie can’t succeed unless it stars a famous actor.

What examples of conventional wisdom can you think of?

To bring this home, consider that many people’s image of God is based on their acceptance of conventional wisdom. God, for them, is the enforcer and the one who gives legitimacy to religious behaviors and viewpoints. It’s the idea that people must satisfy God…

conventional-wisdom-quote-minh-tan-halifaxNow let’s switch gears to alternative wisdom—a grouping of ideas and perspectives that are not afraid to ask questions, to challenge convention. Alternative wisdom confronts the so-called norms of society and asks why we consider these norms to be our reality. For example, conventional wisdom says that a person’s worth is determined by measuring up to social standards. Alternative wisdom says that all people have infinite worth that is intrinsic and not based on merit. Likewise, while conventional wisdom says that our identity comes from social tradition, alternative wisdom says that identity comes from centering in the sacred, and in our humanity. And finally, conventional wisdom tells us to strive to be first in line for everything, no matter what. Alternative wisdom says that the last will be first and the first will be last.

Can you think of your own examples of alternative wisdom?

More specifically, in Jewish and Christian Scriptures, there is most certainly a blend of conventional and alternative wisdom. If you look closely enough, I’m sure you can find various examples of both. To bring this conversation to its center I would like to hone in on alternative wisdom as it was for Jesus of Nazareth. For Jesus, parables were storytelling methods of imparting alternative wisdom. The parables were not black and white. They asked questions. Typically, wisdom teachers like Jesus, Socrates, Buddha—they focused on a “wise” way and a “foolish” way; a narrow way and a broad way. Instead of telling people how to live or which rules to follow, wisdom teachers made observations about life and spoke from experience. This is why Jesus periodically referred to nature.

Jesus of Nazareth, unlike other religious leaders and teachers of the time, and unlike many of the churches and religious leaders of today, did not spend so much time interpreting scriptures. Instead, Jesus taught and modeled experiential living—the daily experiences people have.

Rather than focusing on written words, Jesus focused on the experience of God.

Jesus and others invited people to see something they might not have otherwise seen, to look past conventional wisdom and conditioned culture to something beyond, something that could transform a person. For example, the idea that a person’s purpose in life is to follow certain rules so that God will be pleased and then, when they die, God will allow that person to go to heaven—this is not the alternative wisdom of Jesus. Instead, Jesus flipped this convention on its head, saying that those who were thought of as the lowest and the least religious would be the ones better off in the end. Jesus’ wisdom portrayed God as Giver of Compassion and not Judge. Further, when Jesus spoke of death, it was not a physical death, but a death of that conventional self—dying to the societal norms that trap us and living into a new reality of transformation, resurrection and enlightenment.

Friends, don’t buy into conventional wisdom. Be different, be weird, defy the conventions.

Ask questions about why we do this or that. Seek alternative wisdom—based on what you see in nature, what you actually feel within yourself, and your own experiences. Seek and develop alternative wisdom, as this will help you see the bigger picture and enable you to get to know yourself better, apart from all the social conditioning and convention.

Give heed to alternative wisdom, which gives assurance that we are truly alive.

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Well Traveled

Matthew 5:1-10  

Hey, how ya feelin’ today? Blessed? Are ya feelin’ blessed today?

kidquestion
If you were to answer “yes” to that question, what does that mean, to be blessed?

Let’s ask our friend the dictionary. First off, if this word is used as a verb, it is pronounced blest, with one syllable, i.e. “Before the dinner started, grandma blessed [blest] the food.”  But this word can also be used as an adjective, and this case, it is pronounced with two syllables, i.e. “Gerry’s graduation from college was a bless-ed moment.” Of course, you can also say:

“I don’t have a bless-ed clue about what you’re saying!”

In general, though, blest or bless-ed means favored, fortunate, lucky, privileged, enviable, happy. This is the most typical use of the word, at least here in the U.S., where you hear people say “I’m blessed” quite a lot.

But the modern use of #blessed is not really close to the “blessed” said many times in a famous speech attributed to Jesus of Nazareth in Luke’s and in Matthew’s Gospels. Often called the Beatitudes, these words of Jesus are believed to have been said from a hill overlooking the Lake of Galilee, but over time, a collection of Jesus sayings, kind of like a Jesus mixtape.

The_Hamilton_Mixtape_album_cover_2016

These “blessed” quotes had their foundation in the Hebrew wisdom literature, the Psalms and Proverbs. In Israel’s culture, poets and sages used beatitudes to encourage admirable behavior and traditional attitudes towards life. These ancient writings affirmed that blessedness was not about material fortune or prosperity. People were blessed when they were filled with and surrounded by a spiritual sense of well-being—both as an individual and as a community.

Jesus’ blessed sayings, though, are paradoxical. They don’t fit the typical idea of what it means to be blessed. Poor, mournful, humble, hungry, merciful, honest-hearted, peaceful, persecuted, and hated? These states of mind or being don’t necessarily seem blessed, at least according to society. But maybe that’s point. For Jesus,

Being blessed was about being well-traveled—being wise and awake.

Being poor isn’t just about having less material things. It’s about detaching yourself from things and finding freedom, joy, and gratefulness in all that is simple and beautiful. Mourning is about being open and honest when you are sad. Justice-seeking is wanting the best, not just for yourself or for those who are close to you; but for anyone anywhere. Being merciful to others means mercy will find you. Working for peace and not war ends your hate and starts your love.

So, I hear this saying to all of us:

Accept that people won’t like you and will sometimes say bad things about you when you try to do good things. Don’t let that stop you. Instead, find joy in the fact that you even have an opportunity to do good.

Lighten Up!

Matthew 11:16-19; 25-30

Can you sense when you are in a heavy environment?
Do you recognize when the environment is light?
How do you know?

In our Gospel story today, Jesus of Nazareth is getting impatient.

He seems to compare the behavior of the people around him to children bickering back and forth. Na, na, na, na, na, na na! Imagine your most annoying playground back-and-forth argument between two kids and you’re there.

Sticking out tongueBut maybe that interpretation doesn’t work as well. It seems to me that the children aren’t the annoying ones. They are just responding to the frustrating apathy of those around them. They played the flute and tried to get a joyful reaction out of people, and…nothing. So then they went for crying, funeral-type thing, and that didn’t work either.

That of course is a reference to John the Baptizer, the guy who shouted at the people, calling them to change their ways; it didn’t work. They said he was crazy and demon-filled.

Then Jesus, who was different than John—perhaps a “softer” message of love; it didn’t work either. They called him a glutton and a sinner.

So yeah.

The kids are right. How frustrating. Try to motivate people with joy or with sorrow and neither attempt works. People were lifeless but they sure knew how to criticize.

Not much has changed, really. In the current religious landscape of the world, there are very, very loud and annoying people who call people names and criticize people who try to do something different, or lighter, or freer….

They call them sinners, for sure.

They call them pagans or unchurched or unbelievers.
Sometimes they call them derogatory names because of their sexual orientation.
They even say that some are going to hell…just because they interpret the Bible differently.

This is what happened then and it happens now.

People drag other people through the mud and call them names simply because of fear and ignorance. If it were just a few people doing it and no one paid attention, I wouldn’t care. But many of the mud-slingers are in positions of authority or have media influence and are seen on many screens and heard on many stations.

So they drag people with them into their heavy hate rhetoric.

And religions start sinking in the mud because of this. All of them.

Religious people stop loving and helping those around them; they stop looking for justice; they stop praying and meditating; they stop living mercy and compassion.

And this is my [and many people’s] complaint about religion in general.

We argue back and forth about who is right or more holy; we assert our positions on scripture and draw lines in the sand to separate people; we shout so many words at people in order to criticize them and then we do it on Facebook, Twitter, or whatever platform we can find. This is religion at its worst—just empty, hateful, and ignorant words.

Pure heaviness that no one would ever want to be part of.

And then, some good news that we’re supposed to focus on instead:
Wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.
It’s really simple.

Wisdom, in the 1st and 2nd century, was understood as a presence equal to that of the Creator. Wisdom was part of the creation of whole universe. Wisdom was not a person or a thing or even a god, but wisdom was constant, and unbiased, and wonderful.

In the Jewish tradition of Proverbs 8, it says:

Wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her.
Wisdom was formed long ages ago, at the very beginning, when the world came to be.
Wisdom was there when the Creator set the heavens in place, marked out the horizon on the face of the deep. Wisdom was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in the Creator’s presence, rejoicing in the whole world and delighting in humankind.

And then, this advice from Wisdom Herself:
Now then, my children, listen to me; blessed are those who keep my ways.
Blessed are those who listen to me, watching daily at my doors, waiting at my doorway.
For those who find me find life.

Wisdom shattered the empty, hateful words of the religious.
Wisdom drowns out the prejudice, mean religious people of today.

Why?

Because wisdom is evident not in words, but in deeds.

Anyone can make arguments and yell back and forth and point fingers.
But how many of those who shout actually do anything good?

A true prophet is known because he or she lives what he/she says.

And so in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says:

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find Sabbath rest. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Easy?
Light?
Since when did religion [much less Western Christianity] become easy and light?
Since when did being a person of faith include rest, learning, and release to freedom?

Since then. Since now.

But we’ve walked away from this path—many of us.

We love the heavy “yokes” of doctrine and dogma so very much because it gives us black-and-white answers and gives us the excuse to judge and be prejudice against certain kinds of people. Often, religious people prefer that type of heaviness to the lightness, because having a lot of freedom in religious practice and thought means that there are no definitive answers and that no one gets it exactly right. Your god or your savior isn’t the best or the truest. That scares some people. And yes, it scares a lot of so-called “Jesus followers” who want nothing at all to do with a light burden and too much freedom. They view Jesus as a god who started the best and truest religion on earth.

But Jesus founded no religion.

We did.

Instead, Jesus offered Sabbath rest—the kind of holistic rest from all the rules, and restrictions, and heaviness.
Sabbath rest can even be translated as recovery and restoration.

So we’re all kind of religious addicts in recovery, on a road to get rid of our heaviness, our baggage; we’re on a road to be restored and to be light—to be free.

The Jesus yoke is not easy, actually.
The word means goodness, pleasant, worthy, loving, kind.
So if we carry such a yoke, we leave heaviness behind.

We walk light on our feet and we walk in light.

We stop shouting and pointing fingers.
We start treating all people with a light yoke of love, mercy, and freedom to be themselves.
We accept the Sabbath rest of recovery and refreshment for ourselves so that we offer it to others. And we learn to laugh a lot more, and to be lighter…and this is freeing.

 

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