Okay let’s get this straight my spiritual fingers are long. Not only do I have a Master of Divinity from a Baptist Seminary I also have served as Unitarian Universalist minister. I am not only knowledgeable in these two religions I am fluent in Buddhism, Taoism, and that once great religious movement the Shakers. I have had weeks of meditation in Trappist monastaries (especially Thomas Merton’s old haunt Gethsemane) and the Sisters of the Poor Mother House (Mother Theresa’s former order) and other places. I have lived in the Christian Community Koinonia founded by Cotton Patch Gospel Interpreter Clarence Jordan and visited Catholic Worker Houses and talked with Christian Anarchist Will Campbell. I live simply, am a vegetarian, try to practice non-violence and have worked and lived with the poor for over two decades. I only invest in social awareness accounts and wear no leather. Hell, I have literally been known to hug a tree. I was baptized at ten and called to the ministry at nineteen. I have taught classes on meditation, non-violence, Christian scriptures, world religions, community, and so forth. So if I wanted to be a pious prick I could but I know no one is called to Prickery. So if I hear a pious someone proclaim someone else is going to hell it only convinces me they will be the real inhabitants of hell or are at least living it here.
But I am often amazed at folks with small fingers who want to talk as though they have long fingers. Believe it or not these people can be found on the right and left ideological poles. The right are so convinced they know they are told by their God to hold judgment over gays (although most denominations have constant struggles within whether to accept gays as they are). Studies show that when these same pious folks work or live with gays they become more accepting. And do not even get me started on the hard core anti-gay preachers who later are caught with male prostitutes or being gay themselves. The right also hold claim to the answer when life starts (amazingly these folks agree that it starts at conception, or the fertilizing of the egg, or when the fetus first breathes, or when it is viable outside the body, and some even say masturbation is killing life). But they are sure beyond a shadow of a doubt. And that is their spiritual problem they have to judge and hold tight to their beliefs because they are scared of doubt. No one wants to be a doubting Thomas.
A faith that is based on doubt is a faith that is based solely on beliefs of the head and not on a relationship with God, the universe, and others. Their faith is I think therefore I am and therefore if I do not think right I am not. Oblivion waits for them beyond their belief. A relational faith while it too can be misguided has a firmer ground. It thinks God or my wife has acted this way in the past and probably will act this way in the future. But there is a probability factor there. If I become distant, hurt or start coasting in the relationship I will not be able to trust or know as much about how they may act. Yet most if not all relationships have these times of distance, hurt, and coasting. In relationships Oblivion may happen but there is strong probability there is someone on the other side of oblivion. So your experience is not one of having to hold on to truth no matter what but trying to keep the love flowing. The doubt of faith makes room for others and the ability to continue to grow. Certainty stunts growth and closes the door on the other\s in fear.
Strangely because we are becoming a more secular society those on the left find an opening to claim they are spiritual. Even though they live completely secular lives they can claim spirituality with none or seldom practice of that faith. Therefore they can say the cutest things with as much certainty as their friends on the right meeting them on the backside of the ideological spectrum. Their spiritual problem is they want to claim a spirituality without much work or pain. But to have confidence and skill in anything it has to come from practice and work. Spirituality is no different. To have a strong spirituality it must be practiced and worked. You cannot say I believe you should accept everyone when all your friends or those whose company you prefer have come from the same socio-economic-ethnic-political group as you. You cannot believe in the inherent worth and dignity of everyone when you treat those who have differently than those who have not. The list could go on but I wish to conclude with the saying no pain no gain. If we do not challenge our beliefs they do not grow strong. A wise man once said it is easy to love those who are like you but I challenge you to love those who are different from you.
We all need to check our spiritual penises at the coatroom and do those thing which help us to grow spiritually. Spiritual growth is accomplished by growing a healthy relationship with god, ourselves, the universe and the others around us. Believe me this is true it comes from a long fingered spiritual nut.
I belong to a group where we meet once a month eat a meal together and decide after presentations of two charities which one we should give money to at this time. Now that seems simple enough but the presenters are viewed by some as if in some mortal combat to grasp the hearts and pocketbooks of the group. If only I had known this when I was making my presentations I would have bribed some of the members to assist me in winning the vote. You know they could cough excessively during the other’s presentations and ask harsh questions. They then could, during my presentations, ooh and ahh and ask softball questions. And if someone asked me a question I was not prepared for I could have bellowed with indignation, ‘I cannot tell you the truth. You cannot handle the truth’ or maybe I could have teared up and said it would mean everything to me if you vote for my group. Of course this would cost me money I could give to the charity and fake crying might cost me a little of my dignity but I would have ‘won’. But maybe there is another way to view life besides winning and losing.
Our society promotes winners and losers in most everything we do. In fact one candidate from New York running for president of the United States proclaims that he will make Americans winners again because he is a winner. And why is he a winner because he has more stuff than the rest of us. This tradition of winning is deeply embedded in the American way. We tell ourselves we are a special country. Such phrases and concepts as exceptionalism, city on a hill, the last great hope of democracy and so forth have been force fed to our psyche since the beginnings of this country. All of this makes us divide ourselves out from the rest of the world and proclaim we are winners of the greatest country sweepstakes.
These concepts come from two early philosophies. One is Calvinism. Calvinist\Puritan theology proclaims that there are those among us whom God has elected from the beginnings of time. How do you tell these elected people? Calvinism says ultimately you cannot tell but indicators might be how well you are doing in this life as far as reputation, wealth, health, and other things. So if you are winning in this life you are surely the chosen. This of course sees its extreme in the health and wealth gospel of many television preachers.
The second philosophy is the free market. The belief that if we leave it to its own devices the economy will rightly choose economic winners and losers. How you say? Adam Smith, the father of capitalism, says this is done by an invisible hand that mysteriously corrects all the various discrepancies of a free market system. It is no accident of faith that Smith’s magnum opus, The Wealth of Nations, was written in 1776 the year of our Declaration of Independence. But for our purposes the world of economics is divided between winners and losers and that is ordained almost from God.
Now couple those two philosophies with our culture’s obsession with the sports world which constantly talks about winners and losers and you have a citizenry that sees everything as a competition and every interaction as having winners and losers. After all winning isn’t everything it is the only thing.
But what if there was another way. A way beyond winning. At this point Rush Limbaugh would roll his eyes and say something about the feminization of culture (as if that would be a negative thing). We have all heard or even spoken about the critique making everyone a winner by giving everyone trophies creates a false narrative of how the world really works. But if we could put away for a moment our preconceptions and well developed cultural paradigms maybe beyond winning might make sense.
The first thing that needs to be said is the need to win is an inner compulsion brought on by two spiritual issues on opposite sides of the coin. The first is the need for people to think of you as important or a need to be valued is pictured on one side. If winners are the only ones who are valued or who are important then it can be hard to lose. The unemployed person has lost in the economic competition of life. The non-athlete who competes but does not win is a loser. The person whose life is full of struggle and pain is not chosen by God. A beyond winning attitude would not necessarily look at success but growth, wisdom, and inherent dignity of everyone as more important than who wins and who loses. So as persons who observe from the outside in a beyond winning world we treat everyone as equal in importance and view everyone as worthy of praise even if they do not win. If they compete, if they learn and grow from their experience, and if they maintain their sense of honor and dignity, that is what we are concerned about. As the person we must realize our value is not determined by other people’s opinions or values. If we have right livelihood, if we are true to ourselves we do not need the approval or the designation of winner from others.
The second spiritual issue is an arrogant narcissism. It is the belief for the world to be right I must win or have my way. There are many ways the world can be right without me winning or having my way. The Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno in his book The Tragic Sense of Life says, ‘It is such a small thing to be right.’ Maintaining healthy relationships and community is often more important than many of the issues for which we fight. Gandhian philosophy states that not one person holds the complete truth and it is in dialogue with the other that we come to the whole truth or the third way. Arrogant narcissism is usually brought on by feelings we are not valued unless we have our way. If we are ever wrong or admit to a mistake people could not possibly value us. So we fight for our side and our opinion because we are scared and dependent on others approving us. We search inside for validation but it is not there and must be found outside ourselves. Beyond winning asks is this my fight, is this worth fighting for, what is the cost, and do others have points of view with which I can live and not what does it mean if I lose.
There is a way of life beyond always choosing winners and losers, and the haves and have nots. But for that to happen we have to move from our established paradigms and maybe viewing a world beyond winning is the beginning of that world.