The inexplicable question

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I don’t mind people knowing that I’m “religious”, but I typically avoid using specific language or trigger words around my non religious friends out of my assumption that they’ll misinterpret what I mean, think, or believe. Words that are often prone to misunderstanding like karma, nirvana, heaven I skirt around, I especially avoid the biggest one of them all, “God”.
I’ve been asked in the past by sincerely curious atheist and agnostic friends, and as a challenge by my more confrontational ones; “What or who is God?”” Explain to me what it is you think God is, or does, or wants in some kind of concrete and easy to understand fashion.”

Problem is, I don’t know what God is. I wouldn’t even know how to begin to articulate “it”. It’s something utterly beyond my intellectual capacity to grasp. It’s the “Great Mystery.” I do think I can experience this Great Mystery in some limited way. Little glimpses out of the corner of my eye. Sometimes I get a glimpse in more formal and structured spiritual practices like meditation, or contemplative prayer, in liturgical worship or at the Eucharist. Sometimes the experience of transcendence occurs spontaneously while out walking in nature, sharing a laugh, or tears of sorrow with a loved one. In the smile of a stranger, or communing with the universe through the lens of a telescope. Or simply sitting still in a quiet place. Or in one of a thousand other ways.

But putting that experience into words is simply not possible. That is after all what religion itself attempts to do. If taken at face value, if viewed through some literalist lens, religion becomes entirely superficial, rigid, narrow, limiting and even regressive. And it misses the mark entirely.
But if religion is viewed for what it is, a man made attempt to point you towards something. Not to dictate, not to judge, not even to give you concrete answers of any kind. Its a finger pointing towards the moon. Remembering at all times that the finger (religion) is not the the thing itself, it’s not the moon ( the mystery we choose to call God). Religious scripture is full of metaphor and allegory from various people throughout the ages trying to convey what it is they believe their experience of this Mystery or Other is. It’s done through the extreme limitations of language, and through the filters of their own time period, culture, and limited understanding of the world around them. When viewed this way religion can be dynamic, enriching, enlivening, expansive and even enlightening. But even then, it can only take you part way. As one friend of mine , an Anglican priest that used to be a Buddhist monk, once commented to me. I’m paraphrasing I think: “In truth, both the Buddha-Dharma and the Gospel of Christ fall short of the mark, they are simply among the best we can do..” Religion points you towards an experience with God.

But *what* is God? I have absolutely no idea how to answer that.

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A short rant about the Christmas season.

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I really don’t like the Christmas season. No matter how hard I try to go into the Christmas season with a positive attitude, it invariably happens. Well before Christmas Day even arrives I hit the proverbial wall and just can’t wait for it to all be over.

It’s not Christmas *itself*. Christmas I rather like. For one thing I like its inclusivity. It can be celebrated, meaningfully, by almost anyone. It is of course largely a Christian holiday, one in which Christians the world over celebrate the birth of Jesus. But it is of course also in part a pagan one. In that the day itself was chosen to coincide with the celebration of the winter solstice, to help along the conversion process of the pagans in the first several centuries , CE in Europe. Christmas still retains pagan symbolism as well, like the Christmas tree for example. Many pagans today mark the solstice, but also celebrate Christmas as part of the festivities, given its pagan history and symbolism. It is also very widely celebrated as a secular holiday with no religious overtones at all. But the “Christmas Spirit” can still be very much there in the celebrating of the holiday and the shared human values of love, compassion and goodwill. I care not whether one celebrates Christmas from a Christian perspective, a pagan one, or a purely secular one. They all can contain the “True Christmas Spirit” …or lack thereof…

But what I really, really hate, is guilt inducing aspects. The unrealistic expectations. The capitalistic, pro-corporation and  bastardization  ( or what Don Cuppit called “the Disneyfication of Christianty”)of what should be a meaningful and personally nourishing holiday. A holiday to spend with loved ones, not spend yourself into debt (the gift giving aspect of Christmas is actually a fairly new tradition), or feel guilty over not remembering a card for every last friend or family member. Nor should there be a misguided attempt to prove you care by madly juggling your schedule to try and make every last Christmas dinner or celebration you’re invited too. Thereby doing little more than upping your own stress level. Christmas should be about slowing down. Remembering to be grateful for what you have.  Remembering those shared human qualities of love, compassion and goodwill towards others and think about how we may better bring those qualities into our everyday lives in the coming year. It should be about loved ones, blood and not, and if you’re so inclined, about your religious communities and engaging with your chosen spirituality, Christian, pagan or other. But…fuck the consumer, capitalistic, corporate bullshit. It has no value. It’s a distraction from values. Leave the sales alone, maybe we could each just buy our immediately loved ones a single gift, and make sure we tell everyone “I love you”? Maybe we can admit we don’t need a closet full of more stuff, but we could use a life with more meaning and loved ones that are held close?  Maybe we can think about slowing down and taking a deep breath and just…. Remember to just simply *be* and laugh and love and pray?

But seriously. Fuck the consumer bullshit. That’s not Christmas. It’s a caricature. A poor one at that.