What is religion? I think we have strayed far from its understanding and quite frankly, living out of its understanding. It has been muddled by our attempts to get back to that Divine relationship. But our attempts have been saturated in shame and judgment. When problems in life arise, we develop theories of why God must be allowing this or even creating this. “Maybe he’s teaching me. It’s a lesson,” we make continuous attempts to understand this Mystery in order to pull us out of the pain.
So if the problem starts with God orchestrating the pain in our life, then we must fixate and figure out the solutions in an attempt to please God. There must be a cure and it falls on our shoulders to get it right. Maybe we change our behavior by stopping it or altering the intensity of our engagement in it. We switch habits that don’t seem as “wrong”. Or we muscle up on our religious “rituals”, depending on our religion. For Christians, increasing Bible reading or Scripture memorization is what we reach for as the remedy to our struggle and pain. Have you ever thought about why we tend to default to that?
Another tactic is to generate and populate our lives with greater rules and regulations. Or we learn from others on how they construct their lifestyle, rich with stipulations and laws which get passed down to us, within family and within the church. We create worlds of legalism. Do this, but don’t do that. This is right and this is wrong. It all feels seemingly safe and secure. Handrails to grab onto; training wheels that prevent us from falling, lines to divide and articulate lanes to travel within. It even creates a feeling of pride, this deep sense of satisfaction and fullness over our ability to hang on to and follow these laws. And this pride is always tethered to the belief that we are satisfying the desires of the Other (I am doing it right, so He will love me). But eventually such constructs begin to crack under the polarizing and paradoxical experiences in life that draw out pain, anger, need and longing.
Do we know why we do this?
The heart’s intent is to be in “right” standing with the Divine; where no rift, discord, or disharmony exists. However, all of this is based and founded on fear of punishment and judgment that we carry within ourselves. What we experience internally becomes the lens from which we view all of life and the Mysterious One. We are terrified of disconnection, but out of fear and continuous hiding (pushing parts of ourselves away), we sustain and cultivate this disconnection. We pull away and detach. But our very existence and life is about continuous connection. This is how all of life works. So underneath all the shame, judgment, and self-hatred is the heart’s cry for True Communion.
However, living under the regime of fear and judgment, the creation of rules metastasizes to reconcile hurt and to “feel” connected to the Life Source. But it does the complete opposite. It only perpetuates detachment, evolving into greater problems and pains. When we break the rules we create (but somehow believe God has explicitly made them), we feel shame and then either act out compulsively (usually fueled by a deep rage), leading us into greater self-hatred, or we restrict and intensify the rules.
Thus, we create fundamentalism, a restricted way of living, operating and functioning in the world. It is sustained and stained by judgment, criticism, self-hatred, and shame. Living in fundamentalism, we stay hidden, cutting ourselves off or splitting aspects of ourselves of which we feel shame. Again, we fear these certain parts from being seen, felt and exposed. Because we don’t actually go into or explore or look at these tenants within, we default to control, manipulating the outer or external world to calibrate the internal dissonance.
When we create these standards of living, we hold others to this, judging them for shaping their life differently that conflicts with ours. It confronts our own worlds, our belief systems and our ways of operating in life. Discomfort permeates within and to combat this state of dis-ease, we clamp down tighter, eclipsing our struggle and tension by focusing on the “sins” of another.
Fundamentalism is fear-driven, always stemming from hurt. Instead of opening ourselves up to the pain, allowing it to move and transform us, we shut it down, living in fear of its return.
But what happens when something Foreign comes along and ruptures this self-constructed world?
The instinctual response is extreme discomfort and fear. We cover this up by anger and rage, which comes forth to protect and guard against this level of vulnerable exposure. Our internal alarm system signals to us that something is off and even dangerous. This is what the Pharisees did when Jesus challenged their belief systems and I guarantee this is what most of us do to one another whether we are conscious of it or not.
Reflexively, to cushion and buffer the blow of our exposed nakedness and feeling threatened, we try to get it off of us. We turn to scapegoating or casting, projecting and blaming the other to keep our world and self from falling apart and our manufactured securities from shattering. Everything we held onto and have known is now at risk of fraying. With great urgency, we try to hold up the walls as they face the inescapable experience of ego demolition.
However, this demolition is necessary, the confrontation of our belief systems and securities in order to move into something new; into a new way of being, seeing, living and connecting.
But this is how we have constructed “religion”, creating laws, regulations, mechanisms of control, upping our spiritual game by doing more in order to combat the fear and pain within. However, I believe we have deviated far from what religion actually is and means, instead perpetuating and sustaining these segregated tribal groups that fight (violently, I might add) to convince others that they hold the correct systems of belief. And this has existed ever since humans detached from intimate union with the Divine. We have cultivated a humanity that lives tribally and segregated, while God is continuously moving us into unity and harmony.
What if what we are doing is not working? It is just propelled by the same motive, delivered in a new way, hoping to achieve the same results of being in good standing, to “please” the Divine, to change His mind, to fix the pain and to find the cure. Every religious construct does this, even Christianity (I am getting heretical here).
What if our understanding and perception of God and of Jesus is off? What if we have been seeing and communicating through this distorted lens? What if hell is not what we have imagined it to be? What if our self-constructed religious institutions are not what True Religion actually is?
(On a side note, regarding hell. I find it fascinating that when people begin to question the meaning of hell, the response towards such persons is often met with anger, being labeled a heretic and then ostracized. Pondering on why this generates such vitriol, I began to form this theory that the belief in the hell we have constructed is so strongly needed to sustain a fear-driven, right and wrong orientation of living. It drastically threatens our security system, puncturing the way we have constructed our lives. When we cling to the hell we have interpreted for centuries, then it fuels us to try to live “correctly” and “rightly” in order to please God. But the hell that I believe actually exists, is one that is created within, and equally challenges us to face the shadows within in order to change for the better. It is far more vulnerable and exposing than the hell we have believed in and we are also confronted with the responsibility of helping others face the hells they presently live in, instead of this false security that “those” people are going to “burn”, but “we” are safe and sound. But I digress.)
We spend unnecessary energy arguing who’s right and wrong, who’s belief system is most accurate, and I wonder if Christ is saying “You’re missing it; you’re playing the game humanity has played since the beginning, when mankind disconnected, hid and remained in hiding. You’re still holding on to the same rules to sustain this false security with me. Let me show you a new way to live and a new game to play, with less rules.”
Maybe Christianity has wandered away from what True Connection really is. Maybe Authentic Christianity is about living in the paradoxes of life, the ambiguity, and the mystery. Could it be that Christianity is less about altering someone’s belief system, or getting them to join “our team” and instead joining them in becoming fully integrated and connected with themselves, others, and God? I don’t believe this process is about challenging beliefs, getting them to say some “sinner’s prayer” and trying to avoid “sinning” by constructing layers and layers of protective barriers. It is about breaking down those barriers and operating without constraint, but also to be completely and fully engaged with life and living in the present.
What if when we experience and understand True Religion, such a shift will enrich our traditions, not destroy them? What if it becomes fueled by unbridled love, and deep pleasure and enjoyment, not something cerebral, rote, lifeless and obligatory? Jesus even explicitly stated that he came to bring wholeness to the law, not abolish it. I wonder when we experience wholeness, our engagement with life will change drastically, giving way to immerse ourselves in the pains and joys that accompany this journey.
I will explain.
Radical Religion: Part I
There are two words that I think are essential to understand when it comes to living whole and complete; that being, “religion” and “radical”. Both are in relationship and, in fact, they cannot exist without the other.
Religion, when broken down is rich with meaning. In Latin, religion is worded Re-ligare. The prefix “re” means again, while the root “lig” refers to tie or bond. The word Ligare essentially can be defined as “to connect”. It is not arbitrary that a fundamental physiological component of our bodies, the ligament, is derived from this word. The ligament is a fibrous connective tissue that connects to various bones and cartilage and supports muscles. Quite an important task!
Religion, then, originates from this Latin word Re-ligare, which, when translated, means to reconnect or rebind.
This appears to reveal that religion is about reconnection, to return to a bond or an attachment. “Again”, clearly indicates moving back towards something. It implies that there is some kind of return. For instance, if I went to Ireland for the first time, I would not say that I am going “again” or “returning” to Ireland on my first venture there. However, if once visited, I decide to make another trip out to the country, I would certainly use the word “again”. I would be returning back to a place I traveled once before or several times.
Now if religion is about reconnection, or returning to unity and harmony or coming back to a bond, why in the world would this even exist in the first place amongst humanity? If we are invited to reconnect, then it speaks to disconnection, which implies that we (all of humanity) have pulled away. And this further implies that there is something/someone from which we have distanced ourselves. But what would create this detachment effect?
When I think of creating distance between me and someone, usually it indicates some need for protection. There is some felt or intuited experience that I do not feel safe in the presence of another. And sometimes the experience can either be a tangible present discernment that someone is unsafe, or it triggers past relational injuries that surface within the current exchange.
However, regarding God, as I shared in a past writing/podcast, when humanity (Adam and Eve) decided to partake of the prohibition (fruit of the tree), immediately fear washed over them and they reflexively hid. Their fear was instinctual, and this innate need to protect oneself from the harm of another kicked in. But as it shows in Genesis Chapter 3, God was inviting them back into intimate connection, or to RECONNECT!!!
But Adam and Eve stayed in hiding, avoiding the vulnerability of sharing that they stepped into the prohibition. So, they disconnected and detached from the Life Source when they chose to stay defended and guarded. They distanced themselves from a state of vulnerability, moving farther away from True Connection and Love.
Remaining in this hidden, shamed place, generated all kinds of problems, or disorder. God explicitly said what would happen to humanity. Everything would become disorganized and distorted. This disconnection created, stimulated and perpetuated discord and our whole entire being and way of relating suffered from this. The whole system and its rhythm was thrown off.
However, we can only live so long in the discord before we try to remedy the disorder. Our entire self-suffers as it feels the rhythmic dissonance, that something is out of tune; and we look for ways to get back to that rhythm and harmony. In other words, everything we do is about returning to a genuine, true connection in life. And I mean everything. We are innately hungering, seeking and attempting to mend the detachment. We will do whatever we can to come back to a Divine Relationship and honest connection with life.
What it Really Means When we talk about Disorder
Disorder always is a message that something is off. But disorder, which is often expressed behaviorally, is fueled by emotion and emotions are the actual signifiers regarding whether we are connected or not, that something is or isn’t missing. Anger, sadness, grief, fear, emptiness, loneliness, joy, excitement, pleasure, etc; these all carry meaning that acknowledges connection and disconnection.
We are wired to be aware, connect to and feel the fullness of these feelings in order to lead to the understanding present within them. We cannot get to the message until we go into the feeling. Our feelings communicate harmony and disharmony. And when these go unattended, suffer neglect and are shamed, we end up detaching from this vital part of ourselves. This detachment then leads to impulsive and compulsive behaviors, which are all perpetuated from a disconnected self. Suicidal behaviors, cutting, rage, bitterness, murder, molestation, rape, etc. all stem from detachment and such behaviors are an attempt to feel connected again (I will cover most of these in later writings). And all of these behaviors are a reaction to something off-kilter and warped in the connectedness of life and relationship.
This is really important to understand. When we continually live in shame and hiding we move in the reverse of true humanity. We experience a degradation of our personhood, creating barbarism. It is written in Genesis and expressed in other historical books. Mankind drastically deteriorated into impulsive, consumptive, hypervigilant, reactive, guarded, destructive, tribal creatures. It is the complete opposite of how we were wired to be, fully present, alive, engaged, loving and indulging in life.
However, even underneath this barbaric humanity is a heart yearning for True Life; and although the person may not be aware of this, they are continuously, and insatiably attempting to meet those heart needs. You cannot turn this off. Our heart’s desire to be whole and connected is always on and we will relentlessly seek out such fulfillment. Whether a person is aware of their disposition or not, they are always pursuing wholeness.
Here is the thing, the more someone disconnects from the Connector and disconnects from themselves (a simultaneous experience) it perpetuates a detached personhood. And when a person lives in this disconnected state, they are never truly present in life. To be present means to be living in continual awareness of oneself and surroundings (without judgment), attuned to one’s own heart and the needs/emotions that fuel it.
But when someone is bound and riddled by shame and perpetuated hiding, it obscures this ability to be aware and access one’s internal world. They feel and then act off impulse, leading the person into more entrenched and potentially destructive ways of dealing with the shame that haunts them and trying to feel whole.
One’s ability to attune and access their internal world is dependent and shaped upon their attachment figures (people who care for them in their formative years). Our caregivers give voice to our felt experiences and provide safe parameters to connect to and express these emotions. By doing so it enables us to mature, evolve, develop and live connected. We do not fear our internal self, instead we welcome it, allowing these beautiful emotions communicate messages regarding the world around us. We develop an innate sense of our own needs, desires, longings, limitations and strengths.
When we live attuned and can embrace all of our self, we care for the messages that tell us when there is connection and disconnection in life, and specifically in our relationships.
Here’s the thing, however, in the evolution of humanity, we are having to work through the connectional disorders and false ways of trying to reconcile harmony in our relationships that have existed ever since humanity entered into the world. We are not born into families that are whole and well-integrated. And our histories are lined with inhibited relational connection. We all carry some degree of injury that has created a false self and warped ways of living. When I say false self, I mean this defensive way of living that seemingly protects us from harm and attempts to hold on to relationships.
If you think about the disturbances in your own self that create dissonance, inhibit living and the sometimes hurtful ways of acting out of this, the heart in all of this is the cry of detachment and the longing for True Connection. All of these disturbances have to do with relational attachment.
I truly want to make sense of this for you, so you can experience a growing compassion towards your own self and others.
Disorder, false personalities, defenses and our injured ways of feeling connected all stem out of relational fissure and various degrees of pain. This means then that healing and becoming whole requires relational support and love. This is where religion comes into the picture.
Radical Religion Part II:The Invested Movement towards Wholeness
Let me get to the point. Authentic and true religion is about reconnecting to all of life. This includes ourselves, others and the Divine. This was the whole point of Jesus, to reveal the Divine Love, to model Authentic and Wholistic Humanity and begin the process of reconnection. It was not to get someone to change their belief system, or get them to follow rules, but to allow their perspective of God and life to shift through experiencing the Divine Presence in human skin. The experience is the most important part and the change in belief will follow. This is incredibly important to understand.
Jesus always went to the heart, whether it was radiating compassion or confronting the inner-world of those whose hearts were saturated with pious arrogance, superiority and inflated ego (Pharisees or what I like to call, the Fundamentalists). This means we are called to do the same, always starting with our own self.
Now, let me expand on my theory of religion with the fascinating command Jesus gives in Matthew 5:48. Chapter 5 covers a lot of ground, beginning with the process of becoming connected to all of life (the Beatitudes) and then going right to some of the root issues that begin within the heart. He also emphatically highlights True Love, that pours out to those we hate, as well as reconciling relationship. But right at the end he finishes with this line, “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect”.
Here’s where it gets really exciting (at least for me). Notice how he gives the command to be perfect in the present and states that this perfection we are to carry is the perfection the Father has. When Jesus refers to being “perfect” he means “complete” or “whole”. In the past, I found this to be an incredibly difficult and unattainable feat, until I investigated further.
To be perfect means to be whole and to be whole means we are fully integrated within. What does that mean? To be fully integrated, means we are completely connected to ourselves and aware of our internal world. It means that we know ourselves deeply and consciously commit to seeing and embracing all that lies within, facing the shadows, voicing the pain and struggle and allowing it all to teach us the greater messages that lead us to a richer and satisfying life.
Let me explain even further. Almost all of us are disconnected and detached in some way from ourselves. We have natural defenses in place and corresponding behaviors that block us from looking in and feeling the pain and wounding we carry. We may project, scapegoat (violently or nonviolently), deflect, minimize, catastrophize, deny, split (pushing away the shamed, unwanted, hated parts of ourselves), etc. All of this is another way way of saying disintegrated personhood.
But here’s the caveat, in order to live authentically and truly connected, we must go the core, the areas within that are deep with pain, surrounded by fear. And we cannot do this alone. We need others to walk with us into the “abyss” of the self and face what lies hidden in the shadows.
This is where “radical” comes in. Radical means “root”. True radicalism is not about violently holding on to belief systems and forcing others to comply with such tenets. True radicalism is about going to the root, the pain, the core, facing the False Self in order to get to the True Self; the True Self that is tethered to the Divine.
Radical religion is about together uncovering the blockages that inhibit Authentic Connection with all of life. With great courage, we help one another face the scary, the unwanted, the shamed and hated. We draw out the pain and the defended self, while simultaneously becoming more connected to the True Self. This is exactly what Jesus did. And as he did this, people’s belief systems and warped perceptions of God began to shift, first with confusion, followed by a powerful expansion of consciousness.
Radical religion is about reintegration (acceptance of the entire self), which leads to wholeness or the perfection that Jesus talks about. This consists of caring for the emotional dimensions of ourselves and others, which also inevitably impacts and changes our perspective of those we have hated. When we attune to ourselves and embrace all that lives within, when we weep and get angry for ourselves and care for our own pain, we will see others drastically differently.
I believe that when we invest in this journey towards wholeness our lives will become transformed and deeply rich. Integration requires full attunement to our entire self, which includes conscious awareness of our bodies and the messages communicated somatically. When we notice the physical signals, we can then travel into the emotional realm, which again, signals to us when something is off in our connection with life.
To give an image, when a fruit-bearing tree is producing rotten, underdeveloped and anemic fruit, it is a clear sign that something is off in the foundation or the heart of the tree, which, if followed further, one will find that some kind of malnourishment and disharmony happening between the tree and its connection to the ground.
Returning to True Religion
I am not sure why we have strayed from Authentic Religion, perpetuating Tribal Religions stocked with dogmas and rituals, deviating from a Unitarian Love that is drawing all into this Divine Communion. There is importance in understanding the history of this derailment; however, what is even more vital is that we move towards True Religion or reconnecting with ALL of Life.
This is not a solo endeavor. We absolutely need others to help in our growth, transformation and reconnection. But this is a great challenge and responsibility. I must admit how terrifying and thrilling it is to be a part of this Loving Flow that is moving people into richer living and True Humanity. The honest truth is that it is a messy commitment, forming communities that allow for the pain, defense and intense emotion to arise, and to walk with people into the shadows. Such a commitment comes with the prerequisite that we continually journey into ourselves, feeling, seeing, and expressing what lies within.
It also requires courage for those who are wrestling and unsettled with the shallow dimensions of relationships; who feel an inner turmoil and intense hunger for vulnerable and authentic connection.
For me, I am going against what I have been taught in the Church, all the dogmas, support groups, sermons, rituals, etc. I know this may bring up discomfort, but I believe that when we help each other become integrated and attuned to all of our self, we will simultaneously become connected with the Divine. When we change our focus to the heart of a person, I believe it will beautiful lead to transformation. It requires a shift in where we fixate our energy.
Sadly, and I have fallen prey to this for most of my life, we keep confronting behavior and generating methods to alter it; self-help books, seminars, conferences, manuals, formulas, etc. Our methods are often imbued with judgment and shame, and a works-base mentality, instead of compassion and courage to go to the root, where both the wounding and the True Self lie. The only work we are challenged to do is to face, love, and care for what lies within. And the paradox is that we can only do that when others love and care for what resides internally in us.
I truly believe when we remove the impediments and blockages to our True Self, helping one another to grow in greater attunement and self-awareness, we inevitably move into the Divine Love Flow. I get that this sounds “New Agey”, but God’s love is a flow that was revealed through Jesus. This Mysterious One is not only inviting us but moving us into this rhythm and harmony. How exciting and incredible that this gravitational pull into Love is constantly flowing, an unstoppable current. The only thing that really blocks our awareness of this is that we have not yet had loving encounters that open us up to this Loving Current.
I will end on this. I have seen this profound shift and transformation in myself when I stopped pulling away from anything that surfaced in me; hate, sexuality, anger, rage, judgment, insecurity, fear, etc. The truth is that it was a brutal, piercing and painful experience to go inward. I don’t mean introspection, or judging myself for my temperamental limitations, wounds, pains, fears, doubts, reflexive reactions, etc. I just mean, allowing and feeling what purposefully was surfacing.
For me, this inward journey required moments of solitude with the Divine and sharing this with others who were safe, accepting, compassionate, and loving. In order to move through, it was necessary that I open myself up and express gutturally the pains that I carried within but were often unconscious of their existence until they presented themselves in certain moments. What followed has been this deepening and strengthening of attunement to life, God and others. I have reconnected and this continues in its formation.
As always, I have no clue how this will be taken. Some may love what I am saying and others will hate it, even to the point where they stop reading or listening and that is the risk I take in sharing this message. However, this is a message I must share and not sit on.
My hope is that the ways we have operated in “religions” and particularly the Church, will shift and shed what has actually robbed and obfuscated authentic connection with the Divine, ourselves and one another.
There are moments where there is this resurgence or stronger emphasis on community. I wonder what compels this? The message in it seems to speak of a hunger for greater and true connection, but there also appears to be blockages to that. What I have experienced has tended towards a behavioral and right/wrong focus, when there is a far different path. This path is greatly uncomfortable, because it no longer operates in those paradigms, but instead journeys into the heart, underneath the behavior.
Religion is about helping others to come out of hiding and allowing the space to struggle, wrestle and slowly take steps towards the Divine Invitation. Religion consists of “seeing” another, turning towards them, revealing our own vulnerabilities, past and present. It is about deepening engagement and intimacy with one another and collaboratively helping each other remove the impediments (shame, judgment) that obscure the True Self. It is not about doing less or more of something.
It is about having open conversations that invite us to explore and engage in our curiosities of the miracle and wonder of life that, I believe, will lead us into the Loving Presence for which we are hungering.
My bent, as well, is that True Religion is an open invite to all, to engage in the unfolding experience of greater connection, and opportunity to heal in all the wounded and underdeveloped areas in ourselves. Unfortunately, it has been formed into a club with requirements and rules for getting in, instead of the loving space to wrestle, struggle, and experience a beautiful, expansive love and grow regardless of where we are.
This cannot be talked about without referencing the disciples who followed Jesus, washing their feet and the communion. Jesus invited some of the messiest, intense, violent, and unstudied people to teach them about the depths of life and loving. There was no prerequisite for getting in, just the invitation. And what is even more powerful is that he vulnerably cared for all of them, washing their feet in actual nakedness or True Humanity. Then with communion, once again, he gave all of them the invitation to be a part of this new relationship, including Judas, who would betray Jesus.
Seems to me that Jesus is clearly displaying an inclusionary love, but somehow that got lost in translation.
May we all awaken to this Divine Love that is inviting us into deeper and authentic connection, moving us into wholeness, and leading us into True Living. May we also awaken to the meaning of True Religion, truly operating as the body, drawing one another into this beautiful connection to the Divine and all of Life.