Thursday, May 7, 2009

Who's At The Table?

The Dalai Lama once said, "Religion is like going out to dinner with friends. Everyone may order something different, but you can still sit at the same table." If only people of different religions could sit peacefully at the same table. More often than not, inter religious relationships are like a cafeteria food fight; walking on eggshells and ending in custard.

Jesus used an open table as a way to shatter the boundaries that divide people. All people were welcome at the table; no hierarchy, no judgment, no hard and fast etiquette. In fact, at Jesus’ table the least prominent guests sat at the head of the table. It is tragic that in so much religion, the table (communion table) has become the focus of exclusion.

It used to be a major achievement for Baptists and Anglicans to sit at the same table. Eventually, we got used to that. Then the challenge was to have Protestants and Catholics at the same table. We grew to accept that. Then the challenge was to have Christians and Muslims at the same table. We’re still working on that one. So much more is possible.

I sat at a table last weekend that had an open spirit. It was a panel for a local interfaith celebration. I was pleased to sit alongside open minded Christian, Muslim and Bahai representatives. I was thrilled to be joined at the table also by a Native American and a Shaman. This was a table laid with love, set with spirit, as Jesus and all the great sages would want it.

This is the sort of table I want to eat at. I haven’t generally attended local clergy prayer meetings because the menu is too limited, and the invitation list is too restrictive. I want to mix with people who share universal values, a common spirit, no matter what the religious background. This includes humanists, free thinkers, evolutionists, yoginis, parents, scientists, ordinary people on a common human journey.

I want those whose thoughts and spirits are evolving independent of religion to be prominent at the table. I want census forms and questionnaires to include boxes for those who are spiritual but not religious. I want to tell someone I’ve just met that I am spiritual but not religious, and see them smile knowingly. Is society ready to recognize the legitimacy of non religious voices?

In England, the Office of National Statistic didn’t know what to do with the nearly 400,000 people who claimed Jediism on their census in 2001. Therefore they were recorded as “atheist”. To a Jedi (yes, a la Star Wars), the Force is not God in the religious sense of a supernatural being, but a spiritual presence or power. The Force is within everyone. The Jedi code is a combination of martial arts principles of balance and timing, and Joseph Campbell’s notions of myth and guidance. Jediism is not my preferred meal choice, but I want to be at the table with Jediis and take in the aroma of their wisdom.

The time has come to legitimize spiritual but not religious beliefs and values. The shining examples of this emerging movement are leading the way with their philanthropy and decency. There is nothing to fear. For those who continue to find sustenance and motivation from within religion, churches will continue to provide that opportunity and census forms will continue to collect their statistics.

For those of us who don’t find sustenance and motivation from within religion, its time to stand up and be counted, in both meanings of the phrase. The God of your understanding is visible in your life and this integrity connects you with millions of others around the world. Your beliefs and values are valid, and you are far from alone.

May the Force be with you, a Force so inspiring and intimate that it fills your life with meaning and direction. May the Force be with you, a Force so authentic and compassionate that your life is a beacon of hope for the world. You are part of something greater than yourself. This Greater Force, by whatever name, is an irresistible force for love and kindness in the world.

Let me offer Master Jedi, Luke Skywalker, the last words-

"Right and wrong, good and evil, light and dark most of the time, they are illusions that prevent us from perceiving the greater reality. The Jedi have learned to distance themselves from these illusions, to seek the truth beneath the words."


Walter said...

Once again, you've aced it!
Brilliant post, and I couldn't agree with you more.
It occurs to me that so much "interreligious dialogue" occurs between the monotheistic religions only - kind of a boys club. I once challenged a progressive Archbishop about this, asking why there is no dialogue with, for example, New Age people, and he declared that any such dialogue was impossible.

Lisa J. Chorny said...

And your wisdom just keeps on expanding... Excellent blog Ian! Thank you.