Me and Leo

ok….I am not quite up to Chesterton today but it is coming. I just have been swamped with little details. I swear sometimes I need a map for how everything connects and relates.

And I have been highly distracted both by something I have been reading (on the crackberry) and something I have been following in the news (on the crackberry).

I have been reading some of Leo Tolstoi’s essays. Leo, as you may know, wrote such things as Anna Karenin and War and Peace.

Leo also wrote a lot of other things too, particulary about the nature of Christianity, of which he was a fervent believer and of which he would have beat to a pulp any one who dared called him a ‘Christian.”

Leo, you see, was profoundly effected by the “Sermon on the Mount” (attributed to Jesus Christ but who knows). The “Sermon” contained many things, but most of all the injuction to look within first before turning outward and to obey two laws – Have no other God before God, and Do unto others as you would have others do to you.

Leo was a pacifist.
Leo was not a quiet pacifist.
Leo was someone who believed quite strongly in the teachings of Christ, was up on his Buddha and familiar with Mohammed.

He believed that the greatest threat to humanity was organized religion. That all forms of organized religion corrupted the original teachings and made the group higher then the responsibility of the individual to another individual. To paraphrase him, “God isn’t concerned what one country does to another, God is concerned what you do to a stranger because that is where both faith and country begin.”

I was on the fast track to becoming an Episcopal priest (long story) and a devout if not absolutely perky nouveau Christian of the oh-so-tolerant type. One month before my final meeting with my discernment committee (long process, but in the E church you go through a committee process to be approved for the Priesthood) my spiritual advisor called me and said “I have meditated on this for the past year and I am overnighting you a book I want you to read before the committee convenes. I have discovered that I cannot forgive myself nor justify not showing you this text.”

And, she sent me, “The Kingdom of God is Within You” by Leo Tolstoi. In it he does a basic historical breakdown as the church as group and business and quite rationally and logically shows that the existence of the corporation of a church cannot be compatible with the teachings of religion (any). That if you look at the closest we know to the original language, there is no group. There is, from all sides, a responsibility stated for the individual towards an outsider.

The group thing, no.

I read fast.

I read….oh…say….three chapters….and I cancelled the discernment process, left the church and suspended my studies for my Divinity degree.

It took me two years to read the rest of that small book.

Two years to get to the point where I could get past what I had been taught and think for myself. I remain – churchless, but I finished the degree. I rediscovered my faith, I am religious, but not churched and if you call me a Christian I will desire to beat you to a pulp for the insult (but refrain).

There is what Buddha says, there is what Christ says, there is what Mohammed says…and then – there are acres of pages of writings about what other people say that they said. Now, I have read the texts of Buddha and the Koran (among other things) and (like Whoopie Goldberg used to say) you can tell when people started erasing stuff and writing their own in.

All that we know of these great leaders is what other people have tried to remember that they said sometimes centuries after the fact. But, there are elements in the sayings that remain consistent. And simple.

Unbelievably simple.

Then they get all vajazzled up by people with an ulterior motive. Sometimes a seemingly good one, but still, in contradiction to the simple message. One of the simple messages that all of those prophets said was, “Change.”

That simple, “to follow me you must be willing to change.”

It is the people who had things that they could not imagine giving up that started writing in the margins.

In Pakistan, there is an American who was arrested on his very personal hunt for Osama Bin-Laden. He is, in just about every other sentence, described as a Christian. He says not only is good behind him killing Osama but he is behind him because of the damage and hurt Osama did to America.

Now, life is life. We all start with it, we all have it, it is probably the one pure and simple thing we encounter. The simple act of breathing.

Nations and politics and all that, those are churches we have made to ideals and ideas to preserve something that we are reluctant to give up.

All of the prophets said, thou shalt not kill.

All of the prophets said, it is not you that sits in judgment, but you who must remember that you will be judged.

All of the prophets said, take a look at your own glass house before coming out and swinging at your neighbors.

Trust me, it is that simple.

Again, look to who speaks to you with a message based in fear. In every religion there is a tale about a great flood, and from that flood a tale of how the god or gods saw the extent of the devastation that was almost complete and even for a god, who can whip up life out of a few raisins and a can of tuna they found in the cupboard, was horrified that they almost wiped the human race of the earth. And they pledged not to exact judgment on living mankind.

All of the cultures have some form of this tale.

Does this not suggest the very unassailable importance of every human life? No matter how we perceive them to what we have decided we cannot let go of…

Tolstoi’s premise of the Kingdom of God is within you is not that we live now in Heaven and Hell, but that the Kingdom of God, the perfection of peace and being, is within us and all around us at all moments and being in the kingdom means bearing the weight of responsibility for choice and action to either stay in the kingdom, or make yourself exile. The kingdom is not static, but living, and has room for all.

And I know I have a lot of readers from the Middle East and as a human being let me be so bold to say this, that man Gary Brooks Faulkner is no more a Christian then Osama Bin Laden is a Muslim. They may both be followers of some sect of each religion but, offshoot, and far from the core teachings.

Examine yourself.
Change.
Treat others as you want to be treated.
Rinse.
Repeat.

c.2000-2010 Cassandra Tribe. All Rights Reserved.

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About cassandratribe

"There are few artists that can do what Cassandra Tribe does. Whether with her poetry, her videos or her blog, Cassandra examines the truths that most of us can never come close to realizing and shows it for what it is, both beautiful and frightening at the same time. She exposes our inner-most workings like the cross-section of a powerful but flawed machine, our gears and springs, nuts and bolts removed and laid out before us. She is a true artist. Her new video, Requiem for a God, is the latest example of Cassandra's willingness to tear open and examine the very things that make us human. Shooting the film entirely by herself, she also eliminates all the little excuses we come up with to keep us from ourselves and our truth. You see, even when she's not trying to be, Cassandra Tribe is a beacon of truth and humanity in this darkest of worlds." (Michael E. Quigg, The Culture Network, June 2009)
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