It was a long-shot dream, but goddamnit, it was MY dream. MY musical vision. I'd spent a decent part of the last 3 years plugging for "My Sweet Lord" by George Harrison to be covered by my band at church, arranging the song (against my grain) to fit the Christian perspective, Bob learning the slide guitar parts, me offering to sing the lead with my not-so-great, but peppered-with-vigor voice.
When I brought the song up to my guitarist last week, I mentioned that I wanted "My Sweet Lord" played at my funeral, with the chants to Krishna left intact. (And that I wanted Wayne and Steven to perform it...) "Why would you want to praise Krishna?" he innocently asked me. "Why WOULDN'T I?" It's just another one of God's names." I said, "God is God is God is God." He just about fainted, unstrapping his "Jesus" embroidered guitar strap. ANNIE, YOU'RE SCARING US! SWEET, SUCCULENT JESUS SAVE ME NOW!
I posted this brief story to my Facebook, and my new Pastor, Dave, chimed in. I'd said I appreciated the beauty of other religions, and he commented back with a "Beauty is one thing, truth is another. Isaiah 44:6" A litany of lengthy comments followed between the two of us, during which I raised very valid religious questions with him retorting nothing back but "But Jesus said..." "But the Bible says..." My main point about the truthfulness of other religions hinged on this example:
There's a tribe of African pygmies living in the jungle, and for generations, they've been worshiping a twig. It's a sacred twig, which they revere and honor and pray to. It's all they know. They've taught their children and their children's children to pray to the twig that is their God. Christian missionaries never made it to this remote part of Africa, and thus, the tribe never heard the message of Jesus Christ as the one and only Savior. I raised the following question: "Does that mean that this tribe and all of their generations are banished to Hell just because Christians never arrived to convert them?" "Because if that's true," I said, "God's really kind of a prick."
The dumbfounded Pastor came back at me with this: "In Matthew 28, Jesus gives The Great Commission to his 11 disciples to 'go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.' This passage indicates that, indeed it is possible for the whole world to hear the good news of Jesus as Lord and Savior."
Ok, now that we're back from our trip to La-La-Land, where everyone in the whole universe hears the Gospel of Jesus Christ, let's examine this further:
I'm an educated person. I studied both Western and Eastern religious scriptures and philosophies in college (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Taoism, enough to almost have a minor in Religious Studies), and have long since firmly believed one simple principle: God is God is God. God has many faces, many names, many versions, cross-culturally. This radical approach to religion has ruffled the feathers of an awful lot of my Lutheran brethren, especially my new, fresh-from-the-Bible-Belt-Conservative Pastor.
God exists, in a myriad of manifestations, across the universe. Those of us who believe in and worship God have each been brought up in what was the cultural version of God. I and my fellow Christians were raised and educated, exposed to the European, Judeo-Christian version of God that professes salvation only through Jesus Christ. I practice Christianity as my version of religion, because that's the God I was taught to believe in. The Hindis on the other side of the Ganges worship Krishna and a million other Gods, have their own sacred texts, prophets and leaders (yogis). The Muslims have Allah and Mohammad. Buddhists have the Buddha and the monks, et al. The Jews believe in God, but are skeptical about the whole Jesus thing, and that's totally ok. The African pygmies are worshiping the Twig of Life, because that's the God they KNOW.
In conversation with my Christian therapist (I have a secular therapist and a Christian therapist), I brought up my vision of religion, and she agreed with me that it'd be presumptuous and narcissistic of Christians to think OUR way is the ONLY way. And she's right.
With regard to the "truth" of the Bible and it's place in fundamentalist Christianity, we believe it is the Divine Word of God inspired into people who wrote it down. It's God's Word, taught to us in our own cultural tradition. That said, who's to say God didn't also inspire the Bhagavad Gita and the Koran in other cultures? Can we prove conclusively that God didn't? No. Can we prove that He did? No. It's a heated question that will only be answered when we die and go to Heaven, or achieve Nirvana, or wherever the afterlife is. It's a question God can't answer for us. Having faith in God is inherently mystifying.
My progressive, liberal thinking has gotten me into trouble more than once at my uber-conservative Lutheran church. I challenge people too much. I make them uncomfortable by asking deeply intellectual questions that mortals can't adequately answer. I upset and crack their ingrained belief systems, sometimes to the point of alienating myself. Sometimes Christians lose sight of what a radical punk Jesus Christ was. HE was an iconoclast. He ruffled feathers all the time, and it landed him on a cross. Martin Luther, the founder of my denomination, was a radical who refused to accept all the doctrines and practices of Roman Catholicism. (He was also a raging anti-Semite, but we like to gloss over that part in our church.) Radical thinking has been part of religion from the inception of a higher being in humans.
I have a dear friend, Aliya, who's a Muslim. She came to visit me with her cousin in the hospital a few months ago, and we had a lovely conversation, and I adore her dearly. She brought me a get-well gift. A mug that says on it, "With God..All Things Are Possible." And we both believe that. Her God and my God. It's a gift I treasure. I wouldn't dream of attempting to woo her or convert her over to the Christian version of God, for I am satisfied that she believes in God, and is saved, and is loved.
After Bob, my guitarist, told me last night at practice that the Pastor vetoed "My Sweet Lord" entirely, I was shell-shocked and angry. It's a beautiful song with a beautiful message, and has universally been accepted as a loving hymn to one's Savior. Bob said he'd explain over dinner tonight what Pastor's reasoning was behind nixing it, and I told him that whatever the reason was, it was likely I wouldn't be satisfied with the answer. Thus I stormed out of the sanctuary after practice last night shouting "Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna!" at the top of my lungs.
It wasn't simply me being an egotistical musician who was spurned; it was a knee-jerk reaction to what was ultimately a really unfair decision that left a bitter taste in my mouth. It was my attempt to bring something beautiful and meaningful to my congregation, a song that doesn't sound like every other contemporary Christian pop song that we cover, which all eventually sound exactly the same. (Contemporary Christian music is largely banal and insipid, and I'm the only one in the band who doesn't listen to it outside of the context of the band.)I arrive at band practice and the church service on time, I volunteer a dozen hours a month to enhance the congregation's worship experience, and drumming is one of my favorite things to do. I've been playing in the band for 5 years--drunk and crazy and sober and stable, sicker than a dog and thriving like a champion. My bandmates have seen it all from me. Bob no sooner finished a spiel about how everyone has an equal voice in the band, how he didn't want to be "the leader," played 6 tunes and then shot "My Sweet Lord" down at the Pastor's bequest.
Sometimes I think I'd make a better Unitarian Universalist than a Christian...