Lately I’ve been thinking about the conundrum that is revealed by the carnage we see nightly on the TV screen, how two rival factions of the same religion can be fighting each other–factions with a division that the rest of find baffling, especially in a religion that is actually one of the world’s most all-inclusive, since the Koran designates Muslims, Jews and Christians as “people of the book” who are equal under God.

It reminds me of a basic conundrum of Christianity that’s as old as the Mary versus Martha question. You remember that one: Mary sits and listens to Jesus talk while Martha complains that she isn’t helping out in the kitchen. Jesus says, “Martha, Martha, you’re worrying and making noise about many things, when only one thing is needed. Mary chose the better half, and it won?t be taken away from her.” (This version of Luke 10 is from The Unvarnished New Testament, translated by Andy Gaus).

The conundrum I’m talking about is one that isn’t actually in the Bible–it’s one that’s known only to historians. James, the brother of Jesus, was a very orthodox and observant Jew and wanted to take that route, when it came to keeping his memory and teachings alive. Paul was the rebel, the one who brought new ideas to the religion and brought Christianity, which started out as a Jewish religion, to non-Jews. The two of them HATED each other while both of them were alive. As we now realize, Paul “won” the fight. He did it by bringing Christianity into the modern world, by encouraging it to change and grow. When it comes to Paul, I’ve often found a lot to disagree with, but he redeemed himself totally in my eyes when he wrote in First Corinthians 13 that if I “have no love, I’m nothing.”

Before Martin Luther nailed his objections to the door of the established church and started a Christian reformation, the church held the best sexual orgies around (something you wouldn’t guess from all the nervousness they seem to have about sex today). Some day we’ll see a similar reformation in Islam, but I have no idea when or where it will occur. It won’t happen until Muslims realize that they don’t need to be afraid of the present–or the future–because there is wisdom in every age, if you just look for it and are open to it and listen to it when you find it.

I just recommended a wonderful book to a friend of mine whose daughter wants to enter the clergy. It’s a thirty-year- old book, but it deals with a much older age, because it’s a history of prehistoric times, called When God Was a Woman by Merlin Stone. It points out that the earliest concepts of God HAD to be of a female deity, simply because people could see the cycle of birth and death in the passing seasons. Maybe it was maleness and all the “rule making” that came with it that caused religions to form factions and start to hate each other, and even hate other people who belong to the SAME religion!

When you make too many rules, you shut yourself off from enlightenment, from the new. You stay in the kitchen making tea and toast, because you’re “supposed” to serve guests refreshments, while one of the greatest shamans who ever lived is talking away in the living room, just out of earshot. You don’t see the enlightenment that can found right in front of your face every day and search for it in a single book or viewpoint instead. Once you pledge allegiance to that doctrine, you defend it by closing your mind off to any new influences.

And as we go along the road of life, we need to step lightly around the large stones of hatred that are scattered in our way. It’s inevitable that we will slip sometimes, but we need to pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off right away when we do. We need to have the courage to question ourselves and our beliefs, so that we can spot the truth when it shines through the leaves of that tree that seems to be blocking our way. God reveals Herself in so many ways, throughout every day. She’s right there (whoever She is), giving us life lessons every minute.

Walking on this road takes courage (as just being human takes courage), but it’s too late to turn back: We somehow signed on for this journey, so we need to keep putting one foot in front of the other as best we can.

The shamans we love have made the path, now it’s up to us to walk on it.

NOTE: This Diary entry, previously published on our old site, will have any links removed.

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