For every journey with a destination you need a road map. Of course, you can just meander around somewhere, say in a city you're in as a tourist. Even then, though, you need to know how to get back to wherever you're staying, and you need to know where the good places to eat are, which places are perhaps very dangerous, where it's best to avoid walking into, unless that's part of the purpose of your trip. In life, we also need something to guide us. I certainly do! Life is hard enough, even with this guide.
My guide is God. I've learned already on this journey that "God" is defined in many different ways, even within the same religion. My religion is one I have chosen for myself. Or rather, it is probably one I was led to. It is called "Christianity". It's only called that, though, because its followers claim to follow "Christ", the "anointed one", the "Messiah". He is the visible guide, the one who shows me what the invisible guide looks like. If I follow a person, that person determines the kind of path I follow.
So what is the road map? I'd call it a set of destinations I'm bound for, others I pass through or spend a lot of time in. I've spent a lot of time in places like Doubt and Comparison Corner. I'm spending more time these days in Contentment and Delight.
Some people seem to think of the road map as a set of rules that they call the Bible. That's how I used to see it, but now I see it as something much deeper and better - a description of reality, with a lot of promises, as well as some pretty hard examples of reality. But rules are not my map anymore. There are places on this map that are really important to me, - places that are both final destination and little places with the same name that I need to go to en route - places like "Honesty", "Thanksgiving", "Perseverence".
There are some followers of Jesus who seem to have an entirely different idea of what the road map looks like than I do. They seem to be claiming places as destinations that I no longer want to spend time in. They may look at the map and think of a place named "Justice" as a place for what I would now call "Revenge". Or "Cheating" as a place for them to grab what they think of as their fair share. This has often caused confusion in my life. What I do now is, after being all hot and bothered for a while, shrug my shoulders and then put all my efforts into following the map as I understand it, no matter what others may say or do.
For example, for me, a really important part of life is nonviolence. Jesus was nonviolent, and he is gentle with me now. I really need and value this gentleness. I love gentleness. So I aim to be pro-life in all its aspects, to be gentle through and through. Therefore, I am opposed to war, the death penalty and abortion. This makes me a maverick in some parts of Christendom, but I'm learning to be unperturbed, to go where my inner guide seems to be leading me, no matter where someone else thinks I should go.
I believe that we humans are meant to preserve and care for our world, not subjugate it. We are meant to preserve and encourage life in our world, not destroy it. So I am a "green". I try to live in a way that does as little damage as possible. That's why I live near a supermarket and a tram line. I can walk or ride my bike just about everywhere. I believe in treating my own body well. So I try to eat healthily - most of the time, although I have a real struggle here. In this area, my own cravings often lead me astray, alas. But my goal is to eat and live in a healthy way.
This nonviolent Jesus teaches us to love and honor other people as we do ourselves. For this reason, I strive to live in love, in reconciliation, and honesty. I try to tell other people the truth and to accept the truth in my own life. But how to tell it or receive it in kindness? Or what about when telling something truthful means getting into personal trouble? I still try to tell the truth. I want to live in truth. So, I don't cheat, and I don't hang out with cheaters.
My guide Jesus told us to walk the extra mile, to settle disputes before we even get to court. So, when I have a problem with someone, I think about the problem - a lot - and try and work it out with the other person, even if it takes years. I don't hide my problem from the other person, at least if the issue is important, but instead seek to work it out. Most of my relationship problems get worked out, thank God. Sometimes I have to forgive people for problems they have caused me, or even continue to live with the problem being unresolved. This is difficult, but I work on that too, with God's help. I also have learned to forgive myself for my own failures. That is humbling.
My guide also told me that going down this road would involve suffering. Sometimes relationships can be the cause of suffering for me. Sometimes it means letting go of my expectations, and being willing to go without my rights. I have experienced this many times - in friendships, in my marriage, and in my church. So, living in a nonviolent lifestyle means that living in kindness and grace takes precedence over my own wishes. Sometimes I suffer because of my own stupidity or ignorance. So, I practice forgiving myself and going on. Sometimes I suffer because of my needs coming into conflict with those of others. I am a musician and I love music performed at a high level of quality. Sometimes I have problems when working with others, trying to balance their need to enjoy music, not worrying about or even hearing their mistakes, with my longing for the perfect sound. I end up putting up with something far less than perfection. But isn't that what God does? God rejoices in progress even more than perfection.
I think living this lifestyle means accepting difficulties in life. Sometimes it even involves accepting tragedies and the consequences of tragedies. Still, it is the only way for me, and in the end, the only satisfying way for me to go.
I used to see life as mainly negative, a difficult struggle of deprivation. I saw God as a kill-joy. But now, farther along, I see life as something comprising both difficulties and joy. I think I'm learning more to see life as I believe God sees it. That means not magnifying my problems out of proportion, rather having confidence in my own abilities, trusting in the future, trusting other people, trusting myself. Believing in myself is still one of my hardest challenges. Seeing life as wonderful and enjoying it has been hard, but it's getting easier! I'm moving on! All this is possible if I see God as someone loving, as someone who wants me to succeed in life. I believe in being positive, and in loving myself deeply. But I have had to learn to love myself. This learning process is part of my journey.
I see life as a growth process, and that's why I entitle this blog "Masterpiece in Progess". I believe I've been created well. The blueprint is good, but I need to keep working on it, because I'm deeply flawed as well. I grew up with flawed parents whose parents were also flawed. I believe all of us humans are flawed. Even my dog is flawed. But we're in the process of being restored. This restoration is made possible, I believe, by Jesus Christ, whose sacrificial death set about a tremendous reversal of the death process. As we continue through life, and accept the terms of life given by God, acknowledging our own flaws and asking for help with our lives, we will succeed in overcoming more and more weaknesses, more and more hindrances, enjoying life more and more, because there is a life-power helping us to this.
I believe I am connected to this God and to the entire universe. I'm growing in understanding this connection, and paradoxically, it feels as though the connection is deepening, growing. When I pray and meditate about God, my journey and the road map, the connection seems to deepen. Still, I often forget that I'm connected, or on some level I disconnect, reverting to worry, or judgmentalism, or boredom. How good it is to realize my connection!
A large part of my journey involves faith - trusting that I'm on a good road, even if I'm having a hard time. I trust this man Jesus and his values, and his ability to lead me on my way.
Jesus said, "By their fruits you will know them." Another way of saying this is, "The proof is in the pudding." I want to live where love, honor, forgiveness, intimacy, gentleness, humor, and grace are my daily bread, and where others are eating this bread. Where life is vibrant and exciting. And I'm on a journey to a land where I'll find lots more of that. I want to eat this good fruit, and to hang out with others who do too. I have left the desire for achievement at the cost of others, rejection, revenge, cheating, selfishness, hatred of myself and others, bitterness, dishonesty, bigotry and quarreling behind. As it says on my road map, those are bad fruits. Eating them is a kind of hell and leads to more hell.
Wherever we are on our journey, I do believe that most of us, deep down, want those good, life-giving things. The journey is about taking steps towards making them become a part of us. Sometimes, we stop, stuck. Other times we stop in awe, overwhelmed by the view. Sometimes we turn around because the way is too hard. Sometimes the road is downhill. We meet others sometimes, join others at other times, and sometimes pass others by.
I must say, I do love this journey. There's never a dull moment. And I'm learning to love my guide, more and more each day. I'm also learning to really value my traveling companions. We're on a wonderful, exciting journey!