Blessed are your eyes and ears

Sometimes I think of that moment in the story of Adam and Eve, when they both become aware of good and evil and what that must have felt like. Their sense of innocence was gone and they were keenly aware that they are naked, exposed, and were immersed in a world of sin. And then, I remember a line from the Easter liturgy that says: “Oh happy fault of Adam which gained for us so great a Savior” So, while none of us ate a bite of that damn apple, sin is in the world, its consequences glaringly apparent (at least to those who aren’t blind, metaphorically speaking). The good news is that we are not without hope, without help, without guidance; we were blessed with such a Savior. Which is why I’m confounded to think that there are those who think that sin isn’t their problem and that if they simply sanitize what they see and hear in the world then some how that becomes an acceptable response in dealing with its ugliness. Sin is here, that ship has sailed. It’s presence and legacy is unavoidable and is something we all have to deal with, even our youngest and most innocent. With the interconnections and expanse of social media, we are literally running out of places to sweep things we don’t want to see and hear under the rug. I also am acutely aware that one person’s definition of what is unconscionable is vastly different than another’s. And while accepting the gift of grace by following Christ has opened my eyes and ears, it doesn’t make me any less of a sinner or any less susceptible to its temptations. I think the Gospels lay out pretty clear criteria on how to go about dealing with sin. There is a clear conversation, though, about why Jesus teaches the way he does through parables:

 This is why I speak to them in parables, because ‘they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand.’ Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says: ‘You shall indeed hear but not understand you shall indeed look but never see. Gross is the heart of this people, they will hardly hear with their ears, they have closed their eyes, lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and be converted, and I heal them.”But blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear. Amen, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it

Jesus used story telling as a mechanism to teach us about sin, love, sacrifice, and who God is. It is clear from Jesus’ perspective that many people wouldn’t get it, because they refused to be open to it, even the Pharisees. So from where I stand, I do not believe that book burning, or banning is the answer. I must admit, on a list of banned books, “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Wrinkle in Time” are why I am a reader…and I read them when I was 11…and was not tainted by them in any way shape or form. As a matter of fact, I learned a lot about the horrors of the world without needing direct experience in how to face or understand those horrors. I also learned a lot about standing in someone else’s shoes and more often than not I was left hopeful. Sometimes, though, I learned very hard lessons about myself, that changed the way I moved and behaved in the world. Regardless of the discomfort one may feel reading a book like “Lord of the Flies”, which I hated and yet still learned a great deal about bullies and the nature of power, I learned about sin and what havoc it can create in this world, and what can happen even in the most unexpected circumstances. I think books like the ones I mentioned are necessary, not as an approval of, but as an awareness of the destruction that evil and sin have brought into the world without having to have first hand experience. Utilizing our eyes and ears and exercising what hopefully are evolving ethics and humanity in a safe environment are a way to contain the sin that need not be perpetuated as an inevitable result of being human.

I am in no way saying that any parents don’t have the right to guide their child’s education, but I am clearly saying that burning books or banning them in righteous indignation could also mean that you are afraid to see and hear uncomfortable truths about the world. Sin affects not just those who commit bad acts, but those who are victims of it as well. And most importantly ignorance of the sin is never an excuse to say you can never be responsible for it. I’m not saying this cavalierly at all. Reading a book like “Schindler’s List” was devastating for me, but knowing atrocities like the holocaust happened, opened my eyes and ears to a kind of hatred that designates a whole people as unworthy. That’s why there are those out there who would have you believe that none of these atrocities are real, and to block that knowledge so ignorance may abound and the sin can continue. I have also spent much of my lifetime working among righteous Christians who were wonderful reflections of Christ and at the same time, in the same environment Christians who were the worst kind of sinners. Hypocrisy abounds among those who believe they are above the decay of sin and refuse to acknowledge their own sin and portray themselves like wolves in sheep’s clothing.

Claiming moral superiority about how to address the nature of sin is the kind of hubris that Jesus despised. He hated the kind of hypocrisy that existed in the temple at the time of those who proclaimed a moral superiority but spent much less time living as God expected all of us to. You don’t have to like a book to appreciate it and understand its value, or believe that the very act of reading a banned book is a tacit approval of its content. There are many great books that simply depict, honestly, albeit sometimes harshly, and horrifically the character of our sinful world…but to pretend that somehow you and yours simply by the act of knowing about a sin, will be tainted by it somehow suggests you can remain free from its corruption magically in the first place. Like I said at the beginning, that ship has sailed. We are in the same boat. I will leave you with the man born blind who Jesus healed, and was booted out of the temple for being a sinner. Thinking you see, doesn’t necessarily make it so

When Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, he found him and said, ” Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered and said, “Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him and the one speaking with you is he”. He said, ” I do believe, Lord,” and he worshiped him. Then Jesus said, “I came to this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind”. Some of the Pharisees who were with him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have not sin; but now your are saying, ‘We see,’ so your sin remains.

Why did Eve Eat that Damn Apple Anyway?

even and the appleOne of my own first experiences of following my sensibilities occurred early on in grade school.  One day, when my teacher made an innocent mistake in pronouncing a classmate’s name, I raised my hand and corrected her.  Much to my complete amazement she was furious and made me put my head in the desk to “suffer the humiliation of Eve.”   The point of this little story is that my behavior was labeled “bad” for a reason that was rooted in one of the most pervasive assumptions (and one I was constantly plagued with) of all time—women are responsible for original sin, and as part of the punishment we should know our place.

The concept of Original Sin continues to slap women in the face in one form or another constantly.  For the most part, my time in Catholic school was a testimony of penance for that very belief.  For example, a priest once wrote my address on the board when I demanded to know where hell was.  Please save the explanations.  There is no parallel universe anywhere where treating a child like this would ever be acceptable.

So let’s take a look at the story that describes humanities’ fall from grace.  Did Eve’s choice to eat the apple from the tree of knowledge warrant plaguing womankind with that kind of burden?  Yes, she was disobedient, and yes, she convinced her mate to follow suit.  What about Adam’s culpability, though?   Eve had to contend with the serpent, pure evil; Adam just did what Eve asked him to do—how weak is that? (Remember that old maternal adage: if your friend jumped off a bridge would you as well? Well, Adam did.)

Eve suffered for her curiosity and then some, and Adam suffered for his weakness.  There is no inference that Adam was charged with dominating Eve, the two of them were considered one body. According to the first Genesis story, man and woman were created at the same time and God gave dominion over the earth to both of them.  It’s curious that most people only pay attention to the second creation story, where Adam is king of the world and Eve is made just to keep him company.  It is clear that part of Eve’s punishment was that she would  have an “urge” for her husband and be mastered by it—that appears to be an independent struggle for woman to contend with, not an excuse for gender subjugation.  If anything, Adam’s punishment is the clearer representation of slavery; he is destined to toil and sweat until he returns to dust.

Perhaps Eve and Adam knew intuitively that it was time to move on to a place of individual choice, and with that choice they lost their innocence.  Isn’t that the whole point of growing up though?  In order to mature in wisdom we have to leave our childhood behind and take what we’ve been taught and try it on for size.  So rather than getting too wrapped up in original sin and having woman bear the greater portion of it, perhaps it would be more productive to admit that both Eve and Adam made a choice that we have been living with ever since.  Even from the church’s perspective that may not be such a bad thing.  The Catholic Mass at the Easter Vigil has this to say about original sin: “Oh happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam, which gained for us so great a Redeemer!”   It is curious though: when the “sin” becomes a good thing, Adam gets credit for it and Eve isn’t even mentioned?

Focusing so much on the sin detracts from the great responsibility that humans were given: to subdue and cultivate the earth.  The direction of the game of life had been set down.  In order for humanity to be successful, it appears to me anyway, that men and women would have to use their inherently unique talents together: the power of dominion coupled with the grace to nurture the ordinary things that God made.  The formula for this cosmic union is contingent upon male and female rising above fighting over which perspective is right, to embrace both perspectives as necessary to fulfill, successfully, the charge of God.

 Another reason I bring up Original Sin as a fundamental assumption that desperately needs critiquing is that it still fuels one of the most pervasive myths that plague culture: that women are weaker and thus inferior to men.  There are those of you who may think that statement is inaccurate, but really, look around you; there is evidence everywhere of that belief regardless of what level of consciousness you’re coming from.  How many women are in “high places,” positions of power?  Even if you really believe that the place of women in the world isn’t inferior just different, you need only look at the way the law has treated woman in this country.  One need only recall what some of the great jurists (even the fathers of our country) did to women legally, especially in terms of rights.  Rather than assume that the subjugation of women is the natural order of things, I choose to believe it is not.  But if not, how were masses of people led to believe that it was?

While studying theology as an undergraduate, I was aghast at some of the opinions the church’s greatest teachers had about women.  Thomas Aquinas (the guy who pondered the number of angels that could fit on the head of a pin) said in his Summa Theologica, that every woman should have a man as her personal master, because her intellect is no better than that of a child or an imbecile.  What is up with that?  History has demonstrated that statement to be inaccurate.  In all honesty, there have been more than a few men who’ve crossed my path that have defied accepted boundaries of stupidity.  St. Augustine, one of the most influential of Latin Church Fathers and whose work created the foundation for western Christendom, had this to say about women (and it’s a gem): “women should not be enlightened or educated in any way.  They should, in fact, be segregated as they are the cause of hideous and involuntary erections in holy men.”  My response is the same one given to my sons when they point the finger at each other: “Don’t blame someone else because you can’t control yourself.”  My utmost favorite though, is a church writer named Tertullian who said this about women: “You are the devil’s gateway, you are the unsealer of that (forbidden) tree, you are the first deserter of the divine law, you are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack, you destroyed so easily God’s image, man. On account of your desert—that is, death—even the Son of God had to die”.  Methinks there was a bit of sexual repression going on there.  Even Martin Luther, a great reformer, believed that women were made by God to be wives or prostitutes.  And don’t even get me started on the Puritans.

But what does a young, female theology student feel when she finds out that many of the founding fathers of western Christendom had pretty skewed views of womankind?  Well, indignation at first, but there was also conflict because much of what these great men had to say was also brilliant.  It was at this point when using common sense, my innate sensibility, regarding the truth of the matter was essential: 1) there are plenty of men who are less intelligent than me; 2) it certainly is not my fault that men cannot control their sexual appetites; and 3) an entire gender, who, by the way was also created in the image of God, isn’t the gateway to hell.  These church fathers had great minds and were brilliant, yes, but like me were creatures of culture and human experience which made them most undeniably—fallible.

Herein lies the problem with our concept of great leaders and rule-makes: a majority of folk take every word, hook, line and sinker of what they say without using any discretion at all.  Generally speaking, their edicts for their supporters are sacrosanct, and those who oppose them are often vilified.   It’s black or white, with no amount of grey in between.  There seems to be a certain amount of infallible mysticism that surrounds the rules they create.  If they are brilliant and/or holy, then everything they say must be right and we must never disagree or criticize them.   Later, when we’ve evolved beyond them, or we tire of them and a flaw or two is exposed, we chew them up and spit them out, or, if they die before we tire of them, we make them saints.  Given that kind of attitude, how can the voice of a common student compare to the voice of the Church Fathers?  Well, if David could defeat Goliath, why not?  Seriously, if the names of the men who said those horrible things about women had been left out, wouldn’t it have been easy to write them off?  There have been plenty of times when I thought the men in my house were demons sent straight from hell, but that is my problem and no reason to make it a sweeping generalization for the rest of mankind.  We often vilify what we don’t understand, agree with, or are afraid of, because somehow on a deep level we do want to subscribe to the “there is only one true perspective” rule.   I, however, find it necessary to dispel this fundamental assumption when ever the spirit moves me—needless to say, the humiliation of Eve never quite stuck.

It is by questioning assumptions that we often have to contend with many conflicting perspectives, some of which seem to fit and others that do not.  It is during the process of questioning, though, that we can begin to recognize that inner voice, one rooted in being a completely unique person whose perspective is of no greater or lesser value than anyone else in the universe.  What I share with others doesn’t have to be right or better than anybody else’s perspective, it just has to be mine.  Have you ever been in conversation with someone and they pull out a masterful source from the Bible or the Constitution just to prove how right they are and how wrong you are?  Ultimately, both of the sources mentioned have always been subject to interpretation.  It is a rarity to hear someone say, “I believe this way because it serves me personally” and just leaves it at that.  Even though my inner voice may be inspired by my faith, it doesn’t mean that I have a better handle than anybody else on the mind of God or what God says to them.  It is the process of sharing our ideas that keeps us moving forward.  Sharing different ideas, regardless of who you are, should be encouraged rather than discouraged because you never know when another person’s perspective may be the needed ingredient for germinating an idea in someone else.  When personal truths are shared, the world becomes a better place.

Let me tell you something else I learned about some of our rule-makers out there: that many of them are completely and utterly crazy.  Throughout my life I’ve witnessed the amazing power crazy people have in establishing rules by which they demand others to follow.  Most often people, (including myself) side step around them to avoid the scenes they create when we don’t follow the rules they set down.  They come in many shapes and sizes, from some of the priests and nuns I had in school to people with substance abuse, or people who are generally miserable people and want to make sure the rest of us are made miserable too.  None of us are on this planet long enough to abdicate our person freedom and follow the rules of crazy people who sap away sanity like syrup from a tree.  Curiously, though, there is an upside to having crossed paths with all you sap suckers out there, because you gave me the opportunity to use and thereby hone my native good judgment.

So, back to the rules in respect to men and women, why can’t there be two equally respected perspectives?  Why can’t we simply appreciate that reality is divided into two equal parts, like two sides of a coin?  Well, besides equality and balance being absolutely no fun at all, with balance there is also no difference, no discord, and without difference there is no perceptual universe.  If there were never any conflicts what reason would there be for any of us go beyond our limitations?   If there were no darkness, could we truly know light?  It’s the same dilemma with good and evil.  Although the rules that I choose to follow may not be the same as yours, and many people in other parts of the world live according to a different rhythm, it doesn’t give me license to “live in my own private Idaho.” My own growth depends on bumping up against other rules and ideas that often run contrary to mine.  That may sound a bit like I am contradicting myself, but just bear with me.

While studying Constitutional Law in law school, I was aghast at the lack of discussion that was encouraged about controversial issues, and in Con Law, there was a new one every day, from abortion to affirmative action.  What saddened me most was that many class mates had their minds made up about an issue already and refused to even entertain the possibility that in actually listening to the “other side” they may be gaining a greater truth.  The atmosphere became not one of  learning, but of debating who was right.  Inside the walls of a law school should be a forum for good intelligent discussion, a place to exercise the skills we were learning: to conflict with each other and in doing so achieve a greater understanding.  Sadly enough, there may be a legitimate reason for societies’ mistrust of lawyers.  The one thing I regret most about law school is that I didn’t take enough time to tell those students and teachers who had thought provoking things to say that I appreciated their insights because it challenged me to look at issues a little more broadly.

So although inequity exists and may be the natural order of things, it doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be my goal to abolish it anyway and actively engage in conflict with the intent to create harmony, even if the harmony is only internal.  Because it was during my biggest struggles that truth often exposed itself and led me to seek an ever greater truth—inevitably leading to another conflict.  Again, it all turns on perspective.  One person may want to win and have their perspective prevail and happily remain ruler of their own little hill; another person may want to clash just to see what there is to learn in the process.   It makes the most sense to me to choose the latter.  The most important reason not to be too concerned about any controlling perspective is not only are they fleeting, regardless of who claims to be right at any given time, truth has a way of eventually prevailing anyway, like a phoenix rising out of the ashes.  There is so much more out there that we, as human beings, have yet to discover that no one person can ever claim to have any complete answers.  I believe that God has them, but the rest of us are a far cry from being “in the know” like God is.  We simply have to get over the fear to engage in conflict.

As a result of not being in the know, here is another fundamental assumption about the game of life that proved to be inaccurate: that the rules should never change.  The fact is that the rules change constantly, whether we want them to or not, as they should.  As long as humanity keeps moving, discovering, inventing, loving, and hopefully evolving, the one thing we can be sure of is change.  The ending of the game I play isn’t etched in stone; that is the great thing about free will.  The rules I live my life by now are not the same as those that guided my life in my teens, twenties, thirties, forties and yes even my fifties.  There may be a consistent theme in the rules I follow, but I’ve learned not to rigidly hold on to rules that no longer fit my life.

Let me stress that although there are certain fundamental rules that are necessary they aren’t always obvious.  I’ve usually discovered what they were the hard way but at times there were a few people who were older and wiser that held my attention.  And although there are lines drawn for the kinds of rules that help our world vs. destroy it, I can’t say, unequivocally, what they are.  Throughout my life though, (usually by running smack dab right into a brick wall) I have picked up on some universal themes which are laid out at the end of this chapter.  I am also aware that I can’t change another’s perspective any more than I can make pigs fly—with any level of concentration.  For example, the men in my house won’t be transformed into clean freaks simply because I choose to believe that dirty underwear doesn’t belong on the kitchen floor.  And although my opinions are made known to the men in my house, picking up underwear, laughing about bodily functions, and carrying the burden that it will always be my job to replace the toilet paper are things I’ve simply accepted, one, as a means to preserve my sanity and second, that men and women will always exist together and it would behoove us to try and get along.

So before you continue reading, let me offer a challenge: if you want to free yourself from the chains that bind you then suspend all your beliefs for a moment and try living by the seat of your pants for a bit. The Upanishads (Hindu scripture) says, “Whether we know it or not, all things take on their existence from that which perceives them”.  When you’re done reading, go for it.  Put on your old beliefs if they fit, but in order to see if the rules you are following fit the movie in your head, you should be willing to, at the very least, entertain the possibility that everything you think you know for sure right now maybe nothing more than a shadow created by someone else.  Only you can bring to life the movie that is in your head.  Then it becomes life as you see it, not how it has been told to you.  Oh and one more thing, once I chose which rules I was going to follow, the responsibility of achieving my dreams was on me.  Like the parable of the talents, God has given me a treasure, and it was up to me to go and make something out of it.  That may sound like a big responsibility, but I try to think of it more as a golden opportunity.

Things that I know are true:

1)  Things are not always what they appear to be, so pay attention and don’t judge too quickly—and by all means, have a sense of humor, especially when you’ve judged incorrectly.

2) Shit happens—and that can be a good thing.

3)  One need not be perceived as an influential person to be a powerful influence.

4)  What goes around comes around, or a slight variation: what ever you put out there comes back to you tenfold.

5)  Love (or God) is a constant (like in math) and is greater than and is never changed by our perception—love is separate from and not defined by our expression of it.

6)  The opposite of love is not hate, but fear

7)  What is essential is invisible to the eye; it is only with the heart that one can see rightly.

8)  Fame is not necessary for me to shape the world in a powerful way…no one, not even me need be conscious of it.

9)  Real power has nothing to do with control.

10)  Having faith demands that I let go (not give up) of an outcome; and doing that will almost guarantee things will work out.

11)  Just because I cannot understand “why” now, doesn’t mean that I will never understand, sometimes I have to be open to looking at an issue from a multi-dimensional perspective.

12)  Unexplained phenomenon is simply proof that I am continuing to evolve and that I don’t have all the answers yet.

13)  Vengeance never brings peace.

14)  Money is never a reason to do, or not do anything.

15)  I may not control all that happens in my life, but I do control how I respond to it.

16)  Destruction and death are essential elements in growth and life.

17)  Things gained without lessons learned are empty successes.

18)  Without God (love), I am nothing.