Jumping – on inclusion and exclusion

I was at a gathering once where there was an opening ceremony that was not inclusive. It was a breath exercise that had us chanting the name of Shiva, a Hindu god.

The group was mixed, and nobody was Hindu. Some were Christian, some had no religion, and some were openly pagan. Some people were quite opposed to Christianity, having been harmed by the church as they were growing up.

After the opening exercise, we were all asked what we felt. We were asked this after all parts of the event – not just here. Several Christians said that they felt uncomfortable with this exercise, because it sounded like they were being asked to pray to Shiva. Some Christians said that they said “Alleluia” instead, and one chanted “Do Re Me”. Some did it for a few chants, but then stopped. They were uncomfortable, so they didn’t want to participate.

I was one of those people, but I didn’t say it at the time. They were saying it for me. I didn’t want the participant who shared this thing which was important to him to feel like we were jumping on him. I did want him to be sensitive to the feelings of his audience, however.

What I did was pray beforehand. I thought of different Bible verses that would apply to this situation. I thought of how Jesus says that if we are connected to Him, nothing can harm us. We can be bitten by snakes and drink poison and we will be safe. This wasn’t that dramatic, but it seemed to apply in a way. Then I was concerned about giving the wrong impression to others. The apostle Paul tells us that we can eat meat that has been consecrated to gods – that it won’t harm us. But he also says that we shouldn’t, because it might give the wrong impression to new Christians. Our actions might cause them to stumble.

I chanted along for a little, but honestly it went on a lot longer than I thought it was going to. I got tired of it and stopped. I opened my eyes to see the teacher looking at me– she thought it was going on too long too.

We had a break immediately after our discussion and the lady sitting next to me stood up and started jumping up and down vigorously and shaking her hands and wrists. She looked a little manic. After a minute of this, I asked her what she was doing and she said that she was shaking it off. She was “so upset” by that discussion, and that it represents her “life’s work”. I got the impression that she thought the Christians were closed minded. She had said earlier that she participated in something called “Dances of Universal Peace”. Right then her “dance” looked like she was ready to jump off a cliff.

I am now very glad that I didn’t say anything before so I could see this happen.

Later we had a time where we were singing wordless sounds. We were given a few open chords, and we started adding in our own sounds – some drum, some shaker, some intoning. Eventually it all became the sound of “Alleluia” over and over. After that, we discussed it again. Several non-Christians said that they felt very uncomfortable with it. One even thought about leaving.

It seemed like an interesting counter to the opening. Now the other half of the room felt awkward. I didn’t notice any Christians jumping up and down, shaking off how angry they were at the non-Christians. Later, at lunch, I happened to sit with several Christians and we talked about

There seems to be an interesting dynamic happening these days. Christians are expected to be considerate of non-Christians feelings, but non-Christians aren’t expected to do the same.

I recall how I created a Thanksgiving dinner prayer that was inclusive and considered the feelings of relatives who were openly against Christianity. They don’t have a faith tradition – they have a visceral reaction against Christianity. The prayer didn’t mention Jesus or God at all, but did give thanks. I took quite a bit of time to make something that would work for both sides. Meanwhile, at all other gatherings, they don’t think about the fact that the Christians feel obliged to pray before a meal. I feel that to eat a meal without giving thanks for it is to act like a dog – just lunging in and devouring food. A compromise would be a moment of silence beforehand, where the non-Christians don’t have to hear a prayer, but the Christians can say one quietly to themselves. They don’t consider this.

I feel like this is happening more and more in our society.

Sure, plenty of Christians have been thoughtless. They have been pushy and aggressive. They have given people judgment and condemnation rather than love and service. They have not been Christ-like. We have had to soften our approach, certainly. But we also have to meet in the middle.

I’m OK with someone not being Christian, but I expect the same courtesy from them. If I’m OK with you living like you want to, I need you to also be OK with me living like I want to. I don’t need everybody in the room to pray to God, but I do need everybody to understand that I am going to. I don’t expect them to pray along with me. I’ll try to do it in a way that they don’t have to hear it. But if I have to participate in their belief system, then why do I have to be silent about my own?

In our desire to make a more inclusive society, we have to include everybody.

The center where we were meeting was a treatment center for addictions. It had elements from many faiths there – Buddhist and Native American being the most prominent. There were Tibetan bells, yoga mats, sage smudge sticks, and carved masks. There were books on mindfulness from Asian religions. There was only one thing that referred to Christianity, and it was a small painting of Mary. It was high up above the lintel of a door, and it was around a corner. There were things there that represented the wisdom traditions of the world – but with one prominent exception.

So much for equality.

Most of the people who were going to be coming to this center normally weren’t going to be members of those wisdom traditions – they were going to be middle-class white people from America. They were going to be surrounded by images of peace from cultures they aren’t part of. Meanwhile, their own culture wasn’t represented, out of a desire to not offend. Something seems odd about this.

I believe that we can share. I believe that we can all participate together. I believe that we can all get along. I believe that for one group to dominate the conversation is to change it from a conversation into a monologue. Yes – Christians have dominated the conversation for a long time. But the answer to that isn’t to silence the Christians and raise the voice of the non-believers.

We aren’t equal unless we all are equal. This applies to everything – belief, gender, race – everything.

Don’t go changin’

One of the worst things a new person can do is start to change things.

Perhaps your way is better. Perhaps the way you did it at your old place was smarter. But suddenly changing things at your new place when it affects everybody else isn’t smart at all. This is especially true if you start changing things without asking anybody else for their opinion.

Say we are all rowing a boat together, and a new person jumps in and starts calling out a different cadence. Or brings a different kind of oar. Or drops the anchor in the middle of the race. It is going to mess everything up. It is going to make the whole thing stop.

It is OK to ask, or suggest, or recommend. It isn’t OK to just do it.

Even if you’ve been there a long time, don’t make sudden changes if it affects other people. If it affects your work area and nobody else works where you are, then have at it. If other people use that space, then don’t.

Sometimes it may seem like we “are doing it this way because we’ve always done it this way.” Sometimes we may be. But sometimes there is a rule that you don’t know about because you’ve not been there long enough to know that rule.

Sometimes people will push back not because of the idea, but because of how it is presented. You have to warm people up to a change. You have to include them. You have to think about their feelings.

It doesn’t matter if the idea is a good one if people aren’t willing to put their energy behind it. Surprising people with sudden change will never result in their support.

The result isn’t more important than the people. If you leave the people out of the equation, you will make a far bigger mess than the one you were trying to fix.

Travel advice

I was trying to find more Jewish blessings and came across this bit of interesting advice about returning from a trip. This was on the Chabad website, and is by Rabbi Eliezer Wenger. This seems like useful advice for everybody.

1. It is preferable to return from a journey while it is still day.

2. A married man who goes on an extended trip should bring his wife gifts upon his return.

3. Upon returning from a trip, one should not enter his home suddenly. He should notify his family members of his presence by either knocking or calling first.

4. One should not enter his house from a trip while he is hungry. When one is hungry, he is very irritable and may become angry quickly at one of his family members.

I took out this bit of advice because it does not apply to everybody – “One should try to get an aliyah on the Shabbos following his return.” This means that on the Sabbath after you return home, you should try to get called up to read from the Torah. There isn’t a parallel in the Christian community, as the readers are assigned and are never called up randomly from the congregation.

Gender violence and gender harmony

This is about gender violence, specifically it is about violence against women performed by men. Yes I know that there are women who attack men. Yes, there are women who attack women, and men who attack men. This is not about that.

This is about the fact that there are way more women who are being attacked by men just because they are women. Just because they are seen as lesser. I speak about what I know. You always have to write from what you know and what you experience.

Simply being a woman is seen as lesser. We are seen as the weaker sex. We are not encouraged to do anything that is rough-and-tumble. We are not encouraged to do anything outside of our proscribed gender roles. When a woman does anything that is seen as traditionally masculine she is seen as is as butch. When a man does anything that is seen as feminine he is seen as effeminate and is considered to be weaker.

This is a shame. It is not fair for men to not be allowed to be who they are. It is not fair for women to not be allowed to be who they are. There is nothing specific about our genders that make us better able to wash dishes or better able to pay bills. There is nothing specific about our genders that make it logical that one is supposed to be nurturing and caring and the other one is supposed to be hard and aggressive.

Everyone can take care of the house and everyone can take care of the children. It is important that everyone knows everyone’s roles. The role has nothing to do with gender but with ability. And ability comes from education, not gender.

It is important that young boys learn how to cook and darn their own socks. It is important that women know how to balance a checkbook and how to do house and car repairs. It is important that everybody learns how to take care of themselves completely and fully.

If we only know half of our tasks that we are half people.

Perhaps this is why women and men think they have to get married. They think they have to have someone else to take care of them instead of being able to take care of themselves. Imagine how strong marriages would be if both people are independent and strong, so both together make something even stronger.

This is the source of healing. This is the source of peace. We have to stop being women and men. We have to start being people.

Another take on “The Way” verse

There is one verse that is attributed to Jesus that I just cannot stand. It is so exclusionary, and everything I know about Jesus is all about welcome and love. The words are from John 14:6 “Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Perhaps you’ve heard them spouted at you by a person who used it as their final statement in a religious discussion that became an argument. It is the Christian version of “I told you so!” and “Because!”

Those words don’t allow any wiggle room. They don’t allow any discussion. They don’t allow any love.

You have to forgive the Christians. This is what they are taught. But it sure seems that some Christians are taught the “no one may come to the Father” verse more than “thou shalt not judge” and the “love your neighbor” ones.

They are taught these lines so that they feel a sense of “I’m right.” It makes them feel like they have made the right choice. They are in the club.

The only bad thing is then they use that line as a club.
That line becomes a weapon.
It becomes a division sign rather than a plus sign.

For me, being Christian should mean that you take that club and turn it into a hammer to build a Habitat for Humanity house. Or you turn it into a shovel to dig up land to grow vegetables for Second Harvest. It means you stop being selfish and start to become self-less.

It doesn’t mean that you should beat people over the head with your religion. If you have to attack people to prove your faith is right, you are doing it wrong.

You have to forgive these Christians. This behavior is very human. People like to feel like they are on the winning team. And they hate to think of their friends as being out in the cold. So really, they are trying to get you to join their team. They think they are being helpful.

The more I think about it, the more that line doesn’t sound right. It sounds really mean. I keep hoping it has been mistranslated. The “Lord’s Prayer” retranslated from the original Aramaic is a lot more mystical and beautiful – so I’m hoping that this is the same way.

I have wrestled with that line for years. When I read it, I come to a full stop. I hit a wall that I just don’t know how to deal with. It just goes against everything else that Jesus said. When I read it, I got stuck on the word “through.” Nobody can get to God without going through Jesus? Why is he standing in the way? Is he a bodyguard?

I think I’ve come up with a solution.

It means that people need to serve God in the same way that Jesus did. It means that they need to be submissive to God. It means that they need to put their own wishes and wants second and God’s will first. It means that they need to obey God even if it means giving up their lives. It means that they recognize that everything they have in life, even life itself, is a gift from God, so if He wants it back, they have to give it up.

In Living Buddha, Living Christ” by Thich Nhat Hanh said on page 55-56

“When Jesus said,”I am the way,” He meant that to have a true relationship with God, you must practice His way. I the Acts of the Apostles, the early Christians always spoke of their faith as “the Way.” To me, “I am the way” is a better statement than “I know the way.” The way is not an asphalt road. But we must distinguish between the “I” spoken by Jesus and the “I” that people usually think of. The “I” in His statement is life itself. His life, which is the way. If you do not really look at His life, you cannot see the way. If you only satisfy yourself with praising a name, even the name of Jesus, it is not practicing the life of Jesus. We must practice living deeply, loving, and acing with charity if we wish to truly honor Jesus. The way is Jesus Himself and not just some idea of Him. A true teaching is not static. It is not mere words but the reality of life. Many who have neither the way nor the life try to impose on others what they believe to be the way. But these are only words that have no connection with real life or a real way.”

I find it interesting that a Buddhist monk has a better grasp on Jesus than many Christians.