Archive for wisdom

What They Didn’t Tell You

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 16, 2017 by thecrossingchicago

At the writer’s conference that I mentioned in my last post, we were challenged in one of the individual workshops with writing prompts.  Sometimes the prompts can be downright hokey, but I thought that most of those given at the conference were genuinely thought- and reflection-provoking.  The final prompt that was given to take back with us to our respective homes and writing desks was, “What they don’t tell you about.”  So, I will stick with the theme and see how it goes.

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They.  The pronoun that represents anyone and no one.  I guess “they” are grandparents, parents, the wise elders of society, talking heads, preachers, and gurus.  They tell you that you can get whatever you want as long as you work hard enough for it.  They tell you to never give up.  They tell you that if you get a college education that everything will go smoothly.  They even tell you that there will be some pain in life, but there is nothing that God gives us that we can’t handle. Yeah, they tell you a lot, but there’s plenty that they don’t tell you.

For one thing, they don’t tell you about how unfair life can sometimes be – that life really is like a box of chocolates.  That, although you think you know,  you have no idea what you are biting in to and there’s a good chance that you might crack a tooth on an unexpected almond.  Or that you may put the whole piece in your mouth while in unfamiliar company just to realize it’s coconut when you can’t stand the taste of coconut and it makes you want to puke,  but you can’t spit it out so you swallow it trying to keep the wince imperceptible.

They also don’t mention that regardless of the taste of the filling or the texture of the inside, life is encapsulated in sweetness.  You’ll sometimes draw some that aren’t the most appealing or tasty or even downright disgusting, but there is still some deliciousness even in that single bite and if you only focus on it, the experience can still be enjoyable.

Another thing they don’t tell you is that order of things is really just a fabrication to make ourselves feel better.  Babies will die before their mothers and grandparents will live to see their grandchildren perish.  The true order is that there is none.  We are made to believe that as long as we treat people nicely, we will live long lives and never experience the pain of loss.  But we all know that this is a fairy tale.

The flip side to this is another thing that they don’t teach you – that there is healing on the other side.  That things will somehow be ok despite the fact that they never will be.  There’s nothing anyone can say to make it better and you will hear many utterances that will make matters worse instead of better, even though the one saying them means well.  You will even be guilty of making such comments yourself.  You will learn, though, that there is such a thing as “holding space” and that the mere compassionate presence of another will do wonders to help you see that indeed God is with you though you walk through the valley of the shadow of death.  They don’t tell you that, as painful as it may be, you will sometimes be situated at the right place and time to be that compassionate presence for another.

They tell you that you can be and do anything you want to in life as long as you work hard.  If you go to school and get a good education, then the world is your oyster and nothing can stop you.  They tell you that you can make as much money as you want and have any job that you want as long as you keep your nose to the grindstone and go to the right schools.

What they don’t tell you is that your grade A education can never be a substitute for passion.  They don’t mention that you can get that great job and then be laid off in a flash of restructuring.  They forget to teach you that all of your book studies will never prepare you for the realities of life and that compassion and mindfulness will always supersede knowledge.  They also forgot to impart to you that money isn’t and never will be everything and that you can become a prisoner in a cell of your own construction.

Even with all of this, they don’t tell you that there is such a thing as joy.  Being caught up in the “important things,” they forget to mention the euphoria that comes from feeding a hungry child or the feeling of wet sand between your toes as you walk barefoot at the beach or the sound of rain on leaves and freshly bloomed flowers.  They overlook sharing that there are sacred spaces and music that stirs the soul and good wine.  They didn’t deem it worthwhile to mention that the sound of laughter can move you more than any pithy quote and that there is more peace to be found in a single breath than in all the sacred texts ever written.

They forgot to teach you a lot.  But despite that, you have learned.  Life taught you what they couldn’t and you have been a good student because at some point you realized that the key to understanding wasn’t how much you studied or where you went to school, but how well you listened and how aware you were about how things really are.  Well done good and faithful student.  And let’s not blame them.  Maybe they never did learn or maybe they forgot or perhaps they were just too afraid to let go of the way they think things ought to be.  You have done and occasionally still do that.  So do I.


The Dogma Files: Adam and Eve

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 22, 2015 by thecrossingchicago

adam and eveGod is a liar.  The fact that we exist is proof of this reality.  In Genesis 2:16-17 God tells Adam that he can eat from any tree in the Garden of Eden, except for the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  God warned Adam that if he ate of that fruit, he would die on that same day.  Guess not.  Maybe God was just kidding.

There are a lot of aspects to Christianity that are really hard to swallow.  There are a lot of stories that just don’t add up and the story of Adam and Eve is probably at the top of this list of untenable narratives.  Can we safely disregard this story then?  Should we just pull a Thomas Jefferson and cut that part out of the Bible?  Shame on the writers of this story for recording lies that would cause us to stumble some 2500 years later.  Or should I say shame on us for reading metaphorical narratives as though they were literal history?

It sounds awfully sacrilegious to call God a liar.  If the Bible is recorded as the exact, inspired, historical, factual Word of God, then God has been caught in a number of lies.  This makes it extremely difficult to follow such an untrustworthy deity.  We don’t have to worry about ditching God though, because God never said the words written in the Bible – not verbatim anyway.  As I’ve said here and elsewhere numerous times, the Bible is compilation of historiographical narratives.  It is the story of a people who are trying to make sense of their existence by recording true myths about existential problems and the plight of humanity.  This is the story of the Jews as seen through human eyes peering into the world of the sacred.

To call something a true myth is not an oxymoron.  Mythologist Joseph Campbell said, “All religions are true but none of them are literal.”  It’s also been said that a myth is something so true that is happens every day.  The stories in the Bible, Adam and Eve being no exception, are myths that help us see into the true nature of God and humanity, if only we have the eyes to see.  With this in mind, what would it look like to view the story of Adam and Eve through this lens and not as a literal event?  Let’s find out.

Although Adam is a proper name today, it wasn’t when this story was recorded.  Adam merely means “human.”  It is a play on words using the Hebrew word adamah which means “earth” from which Adam was formed.  The word for form or make in Akkadian is adamu and the word for red (the color of the clay from which Adam was made) is adam.  Those scripture writers were some witty fellers, weren’t they?

The Jews were in captivity in Babylon in the 6th century BC.  By that time, Akkadian was replacing Sumerian where most in the ancient Akkadian empire spoke both languages.  When the Jews were in captivity, they were influenced by the Akkadian, Babylonian, and Sumerian religions and this is where the creation accounts of Genesis come from.  The Jews’ language was also influenced by these other Ancient Near Eastern cultures.  Ironically, the story of King Sargon who led Akkad to prominence sounded much like the story of Moses.  Sargon was said to be placed in a reed basket as a baby and placed in the river to be left to the mercy of nature.

Now that we’ve freed our minds from the absolute necessity that the story of Adam and Eve must be literal, let’s take a look at the story and see what meaning it holds.  There is a lot of meat here (pun intended) around Eve being formed from Adam and the dominion of humans over animals, but I’ll save the gender roles and ecological discourse for another time.  For now, I want to focus on “The Fall” of humankind.

Adam and Eve had their pick of any food in paradise.  Assumedly, there were numerous types of vegetation and fruit to choose from.  It may be worth noting that there is no account of Adam explaining the rules around the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but although God laid down the law before Eve was even created, she is aware of what was said.  This shows that Adam and Eve are not to be taken separately.  They represent all of humankind and are given two names so as to represent both genders.

Despite the fact that Eve knew better, she is tricked by the wily serpent (supposedly not yet a “snake” because it hasn’t yet been condemned to slithering on its belly) to eat the fruit of the tree (note again that nowhere in this text does it say “apple” although that’s how the legend has morphed) and have the same knowledge as God.  Adam also ate of it and many misogynists would claim that Adam gets a bad wrap because it was all really Eve’s fault.  It also makes us wonder why the story is told as the Fall of Adam and not the Fall of Eve.  God warned that death would happen on the same day, but we are told that the two went on to have children who would populate the region.  Of course we run into the age-old problem of incest if the offspring of Adam and Eve were having children together, but this is only problematic when the story is taken literally.

Adam and Eve did not physically die from eating the fruit, but as an archetype for humanity, humans do begin an existential death when we try to play God.  When we create false realities about ourselves, others, and cosmology and then try to impose those realities upon others, we die a little every day.  Adam and Eve were completely innocent in every sense of the word.  Not only had they done no wrong, but they were naive.  They had no idea they were naked.  They had no needs nor anxieties.  But when they tried to have knowledge (versus wisdom) they became aware of their lack and ineptitude.  They were no longer “good enough” and felt the need to hide themselves from the essence of all being.

Knowledge is good.  Knowledge is, as they say, power.  But when we seek knowledge as an alternative to wisdom, we begin to climb up out of the well of our depths and into the world of logic.  We lose all sense of mystery and sacredness and begin to see a need for a logical explanation for everything.  Facticity becomes more important than wonder and we lose the ability to experience God.  We leave our hearts behind and live in our heads.  This was the downfall of humankind as brilliantly painted into the tapestry of the myth of Adam and Eve.

When knowledge rules over wisdom dualism is born.  The need for exact reasoning for everything leads to a necessary determination whether something is good or bad.  The realm of wisdom tells us that there is no dualism and that good and bad are different sides of the same coin.  The realm of knowledge tells us that we have to put everything in its logical place to make sense of the universe.  This is why the forbidden fruit grew on the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  When humankind decided to replace contentment and an awareness for the sacred we began to die.  The very essence of our meaning and purpose, our very existence in fact, and that existence in God became cloudy and we made a self-imposed exodus from paradise to our own Babylon where suffering awaited being born out of our delusions.  Humans are incapable of knowing everything.  When we try to give everything an explanation, we will inevitably be wrong some, if not most, of the time.  The false realities that we create are mere delusions that become attachments, for we are incapable of letting go of our finitude.  Perhaps this is why we have such a problem with mortality and need assurance of eternal life.

The story of Adam and Eve is not the history of our earthly mother and father who brought the wrath of God upon themselves for eating a forbidden fruit.  It is the story of humanity’s struggle to make sense of its own existence.  It is a myth that is so true that it happens every day.  It’s a warning against giving up wisdom for knowledge.  It isn’t an explanation for why bad things happen in the world and why Jesus needed to come as “the new Adam” and save us from ourselves.  But, in a sense it is exactly that, because Jesus pointed the way back to paradise.  He taught the way back to godly wisdom and giving up worrying and competing over resources.  He showed us that we need merely to turn our gaze inward to find that the Garden of Eden not only still exists, but is flourishing with more than we can ever need.  Now that’s a story worth telling.