The Road to Denver
In addition to writing for One Spirit Project, I was, for about 2 1/2 years, also a self-appointed expert on one of those question and answer sites that are so popular nowadays. While perusing the new categories that had been added since I signed up as an expert, I found one entitled spirituality. So I signed up as an expert there too and began reading the questions. One woman posted a story about how one's word was a bond that ended with a little blurb about how it was so important for Christians to keep to their word. The overall tone that I perceived was that the word of Christians was better than the word of an "unbeliever". The story itself was inspirational, the comments I felt gave an air of superiority to Christianity and I stated as much in a response to the poster. (The comments in question were not written by the poster, but came with the story.) After several posts back and forth, we took our discussion to private email.
While she claims that she believes all faiths lead to God, she also believes that Christianity is the only true faith. This may seem contradictory at first, but I actually espouse a very similar view, except I don't consider any particular faith to be the one true faith. I do believe that I have found the best faith for me, and therefore my faith is the "only true faith" in relationship to my life.
When she read my bio information on the expert site, she said she realized why I thought the way I did— and she attributed that to the fact that I'm gay. Her reasoning seemed to be that I had to try to "rewrite" the Bible so that my being married to another woman was acceptable in God's eyes. And that led me to rewrite the Bible about a whole lot of other things in an attempt to avoid contradictions.
The only problem with her scenario is that I had my faith before I realized that I am gay. Realizing one is bisexual is not quite as obvious as realizing one is homosexual because there is an attraction for members of the opposite gender. Therefore, the same gendered folks you're attracted to are simply "really good friends". Until I was in my early 20's, I was under the mistaken assumption that bisexuals had to have a partner of both genders at the same time. I didn't realize that multiple partners (polyamory) was something completely unrelated to one's orientation. I attribute this lack of understanding to my upbringing: a middle class, white Catholic family where, to the best of my knowledge, I'm the first "out" gay in its history.
So where is this going? Just humor me for a bit more, please. In the course of our email discussions, she was always saying that what I was doing, what I believed, etc. was wrong. And time after time I pointed out to her that she was judging my actions, beliefs, etc. based on her faith, and that such a judgment was therefore not valid for me. It would most certainly be wrong for her to live a "homosexual lifestyle". (I strongly dislike that phrase— it's no more a lifestyle than heterosexuality is.) It would most certainly be wrong for her to say, as I do, "I am, God is, and we are One." It would most certainly be wrong for her to state that each and every individual who has lived, is living or ever will live is as divine as Jesus. These would be contrary to her faith. They're not contrary to mine. In a final attempt to illustrate what I was trying to say, I came up with the following.
Before I continue, let me give you a few basic definitions that I'm going to use here: religion/faith, sin and God. A religion, for most of us, deals with a belief in a deity or a creator of some sorts. At the very least, a "higher" state of being. But for me, a religion is how you relate to the forces of the universe on a daily basis, which may or may not include the belief in a deity. How you treat others is based on your religion. How you discipline your kids is based on your religion. Whether or not you feel guilt for doing something is based on your religion. Your religion is the sum total of your beliefs about what is right/wrong, moral/immoral, acceptable/unacceptable, etc. It comes from within you and within your heart. Whether you base your decision on a sacred text, personal dealings with God or in science alone matters none. It is what speaks to you and what your heart of hearts tells you is the right thing to do. That is your religion.
You may or may not follow your religion/faith every moment of every day. Those who feel they have a right to steal and do so at their will are not committing a "sin" against their religion, which includes the right to take what they want regardless of who paid for it. Those who believe stealing is wrong may still steal, but they're not following their religion and therefore it is a sin. Sin, in my understanding, is the willful violation of your religion.
And finally, "God" is the guiding principle of that religion. Some guide their life according to their idea of a divine or supreme being and what the being has dictated. Others use common sense or the Golden Rule or science. Whatever you choose is irrelevant since it is a purely personal choice. With that said, let me continue.
Let's look at our various lives as a journey. Say going from Pittsburgh (birth) to Denver (death). Let's say that for time out of mind, everyone has gone straight out I-70, through the rolling hills of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri and all the cornfields of Kansas and finally start up the High Plains into Denver. This is how everyone makes this journey. The path is well worn and well-marked. Documented throughout history with books and maps. They can, of course, vary the speed with which they travel, and stop at different hotels or sight-seeing stops along the way, but all the same, everyone takes the same basic route.
Then some curious or "rebellious" or adventurous or simply unique person wonders what's outside the borders of the area mapped. S/he decides to go up the Pennsylvania turnpike and lo and behold, finds Cleveland— with a whole bunch of other people making the journey to Denver, but taking another route: along Lake Erie and then up through Wisconsin and the 10000 lakes of Minnesota then across South Dakota, seeing the Badlands and down through Wyoming, following the Front Range.
This person who made the new journey starts to tell people of his/her journey and the other inhabitants who follow a different path. Word gets back to those starting on the journey and now instead of one path, there are two. And more and more people begin to forgo the older path for a newer one. There are warnings from those whose family has followed the original path for time out of mind. Warnings of pitfalls and dangers as yet uncharted that this original path doesn't have because it's so well traveled— despite the fact that the people of Cleveland have been using it for time out of mind. Some are deterred from following the new path, but others are not.
And then, someone else decides that if there are two paths to Denver, maybe there's three. So s/he goes south, down into the Blue Ridge Mountains and then across to Tennessee to the Smoky Mountains and then down into the bayous of Louisiana and along the Gulf Coast of Texas before heading north through the vast expanse of the state then into Colorado and approaching through the desert south of Pueblo. Now, there is a third path to Denver.
Those who walk the original path won't see the lakes or the badlands or the bayous or the Gulf or the deserts. But that doesn't mean those things aren't really there just because those on the original path haven't seen them. They can continue to believe that lakes don't exist if they want: it's not going to change the experience or the truth for those who did see them. On the other hand, just because it was an experience (ie, true) for those who take the "alternate routes" doesn't mean it's an experience (ie, true) for those on the original path either. Those on the alternate paths saw lakes. Those on the original path did not.
However, if those on the original path start insisting that lakes and deserts and bayous don't exist, then there's going to be problems. Same thing goes if those on the alternate paths say to the originals must believe in lakes now because those on the alternate path saw them. They may have good motives: simply expanding the beliefs of the originals. Educating them about something outside their current base of knowledge. But to force them to believe what those on the alternate paths chose to experience is as wrong as saying that lakes don't exist simply because it isn't something they have personally experienced.
The analogy to the different faiths of the world doesn't really need much clarification. We all choose our own faith— our path, as it were. We make the choice every moment to continue on that path and we can, at any moment, choose to take an alternative path. There are literally an infinite number of ways to get from here to there. Simply because we start out in apparently opposite directions does not mean we can't end up at the same place.
I can hear the most obvious counter argument already: But what about those who get lost and don't end up in Denver? Well, there are several possible answers here. First, there's always the option of stopping to ask for direction. Some will steer you astray for their own personal reasons, but someone who truly loves you and cares about you will make sure that the directions you're given are accurate and correct. It's up to you to follow them or not. And if you choose not to, you can always ask again. Second, there's the chance that Denver isn't the only place out there to "arrive" at. Simply because custom has said that all must end at Denver doesn't make that the absolute truth, just as the scientists of the middle ages saying that you'd fall of the edge of the world if you sailed too far west didn't make that true either. Experience proved them wrong. What kept intrepid travelers from trying was fear; what finally proved them wrong was facing that fear.
But unlike the objective "truth" that the world is flat, our faith is based on something completely subjective. Something we won't ever be able to prove to anyone but ourselves. Something we shouldn't have to prove to anyone but ourselves. And something we shouldn't ask others to prove for us. Their personal journey is as valid to them as mine is to me. And while I can explain my journey and seek to educate them (while at the same time learning from their personal journey), I have no right to insist that my personal journey is the only valid one and insist that everyone do it my way. I most certainly would get upset if someone insisted that my experience wasn't valid, therefore I should not insist that someone else's experience is not valid.
Unfortunately, too often, this is not the case. And as history has shown, time after time, when one group of humans insists their way is the only "real" way, then others become "less" than human because they don't agree with the "real" way. History has shown us the most negative side of our nature during these times: the feeding of the Christians to the lions, the Crusades, the Salem witch trials, slavery, the annihilation of Native tribes, the Holocaust, the ethnic cleansing in Serbia and Croatia, in Albania and Sri Lanka, the jihads in the Middle East, the Israeli's enslavement of the Palestinians, lynchings of blacks in the US, gay bashing, wife beating, rape, murder, robbery....All of it comes back to one simple thing: we are forcing others to live by our rules instead of allowing them to live by their rules. Forcing them to follow our path instead of allowing them to follow their path. And until we accept that everyone has the right to live their life according to their path, we're doomed to repeat the lessons of history time after time after time....
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