A Dogmatic Relinquishment of Fear

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

Leonard Cohen, Anthem

 

This is part of a presentation given to those who attended a recent workshop. For information about how you can attend these workshops, please contact me directly.

We are members of the church and for us faith and spirituality has so very often been about talking, speaking, accepting, discussing, believing. It is this model and this method which has to a very large extent failed. But it is to this that we return when we become afraid.

We began our journey together reminding ourselves that when Jesus encountered people and potential disciples in particular he did not engage them with talk of dogma and belief. His invitation to the potential disciple was to follow, not to believe.

What is difficult for us to get, to understand, is that Jesus is instructing us to let go of absolutely everything. This is precisely what Jesus did with people in his own lifetime. This is what we see happening in the gospels. If you look at the most well known and clear-cut of all of the stories of Jesus calling disciples, you have business men leaving behind their livelihoods, their means of income, their ties with generations of their past, their whole tradition. They were fishermen and it is more than possible that aside from fishing and mending nets and boats they knew no other and had no other means of making a living.

The stories of Jesus calling his disciples are passages from the Bible to which we need to go back often. We need to meditate on them, think about them, let them get into our imaginations and most importantly into our hearts. They call us to face our fear of the unknown and to embrace the risk which is faith and discipleship.

There is not one of us on this path who does not have something which niggles away at us and worries us. It is the thing of which we cannot let go. And it is difficult but it is crucial that we do let it go.

Jesus invites us to make a shift in our thinking and in our perspective. It is vital that we understand this. That is why when we began this journey together we began with a simple summary of Jesus’ teaching. I suspect that if you are reading through the gospels you will have supplemented that list by now with other things Jesus commanded. You will also be looking at parables and encounters Jesus had with people and seeing that what he is saying and what he is doing actually helps us to see what it is that we are doing and supposed to be doing ourselves.

 

Those of us who use computers and the internet, when we wish to do something we may well look up instructions and guidelines on the web. We may then, more often than not, go to YouTube in order to watch someone do it. This is how Jesus’ simple instructions fit into the demonstrations we see in his action and the explanations we see in the parables. We do have to remember that the explanations often leave us confused. The confusion leads us back into spiritual practice. As the author of the The Cloud of Unknowing says, ‘God may be reached and held close by means of love, but by means of thought, never.’ The parables remind us of this again and again.

 

Our fear does often send us back into our heads, into a kind of Christianity which is at odds with what we see in the gospels. When it is based on dogma and doctrine then it becomes knowing about God rather than knowing God.

Every single week we read about and see images of what people do to each other in the name of religion or politics. Every single one of these people believes that he or she is right, that he or she is correct, that he or she believes the right and the correct doctrine. I read an article about relationship counselling a while ago and one of the big problems in relationship breakdown is apparently a refusal to back down. People would rather be right than back down. People will sacrifice their marriage or significant relationship before they will concede a point. Actually that is true most of the time. Believing that we have the truth can actually be a major hindrance.

The other common factor when it comes to human beings’ ability to harm other human beings is the tribal mentality. I belong to this tribe. You belong to that one. I am this religion, you are that one. I am this race or colour. You are not. Be it football colours, the blue, orange or green of Scottish sectarianism, the short-sightedness of nationalism and racism, strongly held political identity, having something at which to point which identifies you as belonging is a very powerful motivation.

We can see when we look at man’s inhumanity to man, humankind’s inhumanity to humankind, just how powerful believing that we are right and that our beliefs are true can be.

In two parables which are as complex and undermining as any in the gospels, the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son, we have to ask what is was which motivated the Samaritan to rescue the man injured in the road and the father to embrace and welcome home his prodigal son. The one thing of which we can be absolutely certain is that it was not belief in any doctrine. It was not adherence to any code because the Law, as we find it in scripture, instructed the Samaritan not to touch anyone who might be a foreigner, blood or anyone who might be dead, not even to go within five feet. And the son was dead according to the law to the father and was contaminated by the pigs he had tended and the lifestyle he had led. His father should not have touched him let alone embraced him. The older brother who was furious was right if we are sticking to the letter of the law.

We are being told very clearly not to begin with doctrine and dogma. We were asked the question at a recent workshop if it would make any difference if Jesus had not risen from the dead or what difference would it make if he had not. That question was intended to have us think about truth and recognition. Those who listened to Jesus had no idea who he was nor how the story would end or turn out. Jesus was not a theologically loaded name, Christ was either not an issue or was an open question (was he the Christ? The question, as to whether he was he the one who was to come was about as strong a statement of belief as you were going to get then even from John the Baptist and Jesus definitely had not risen at that stage. And yet people listened to him, recognised in him the truth for which they were looking or perhaps even for which they did not know they were looking at that stage.

Christmas with its virgin birth, star, angels, like Pentecost with its flames of fire, is an event upon which to meditate and to which we should return again and again in our reflection and contemplation but we have to see that it is presented to us not as an event in which to believe but a record of a moment of recognition. These are what we might call recognition events.

Jesus is also, in amongst a lot of other things, a recognition event. In him we see who we are. We do not see whom we can become. We see who we are. And the invitation of the Jesus whose teaching is there in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John’s instructions to disciples and in their story telling and in the reports contained in their gospels is designed not to change us but to show us how to change our behaviour and thinking purely and simply as a gateway into a wholly new way of seeing.

And it is for this reason that it is vital that we do not return to our heads, to fear of losing and letting go. Clinging to and holding onto are opposite practices to the ones Jesus gives us. This will take us into religion which is all in our heads, into fear, into division, into inhumanity. This is what Jesus called the yeast or the leaven of the Pharisees. We are looking to allow the yeast, the leaven, of the kingdom of God to permeate and to open up that radically different way of seeing and perceiving and knowing.

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