Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Sermon: Cliff’s Notes to Every Religion

I like to think I am not a Christian. But I used to be, and if once-saved-always-saved holds true I will be spending eternity with a choir of angels on streets paved with gold. Like it or not.

Now the Righeous Voices, who still doggedly reside in my brain, spiritual squatters that they are, say: It must be that you were never TRULY born again.

Well, if I wasn’t, I can’t say who ever was. I certainly threw my whole heart and soul into it … for nearly 25 years … though the shine wore off my salvation a good 10 years earlier.

My faith in Christ’s atonement died in periodic spasms from about 1973 to 1982. I tried my best to keep it going, but it just up and died. Still, some vestiges remain.

So today’s subject is: What’s left?

It’s this: the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7). Those words, solemn, stern, compassionate, a little loony, matter-of-fact, and transcendent, still knock me out:

“Blessed are the not so impressive, because they are what it’s all about. And blessed are lies, hate, injustice, intolerance, and dirty tricks against you, because they mean you must be doing something right.

“You are what you are in the same way that salt is salty. Don’t lose your personal saltiness. Who wants salt that’s flavored to taste like anything but salt?

“And you are a light in the world—so let yourself shine.

“I’m not here to abolish religion as you understand it. I’m here to show you what it’s really all about—it’s all right here, not a bit of it is missing: ‘Be to other people what you would like God to be to you.’

“It’s not just ‘pure in word and deed’ that makes you good. It’s your whole attitude towards other people. You can’t be good and disrespectful of others.

“If you find yourself wanting to do something nice for God and suddenly remember that you’ve treated somebody kind of badly. Forget God for a moment, and go fix up the mess you’ve made with your fellow human being. Take care of that other business before you start trying to impress God.

“And don’t think God’s impressed because you repress your sexual desires. Repressed or unrepressed, desires are desires. Do whatever you have to—poke out your eye, even—to control your desires. See where that gets you.

“Both what you do and what you think affect other people. Get that through your head.

“Forget keeping your promises, don’t make any promises in the first place. Let your ‘yes’ mean yes and your ‘no’ mean no. Don’t stake anything on the future, because the future is out of your control.

“Do not fight evil. If slapped, turn the other cheek. If robbed, find something else of yours to give to the thief. If forced to walk one mile, walk two. If asked for something, give it, and never reject a borrower’s request.

“Love your enemies and pray for those out to get you. God shines the same sun on the good and the evil—if you love only what’s good, you’re not loving the way God loves. [Wow.]

“Don’t show off your good deeds. Nobody needs to know you’re doing people favors. In fact, it’s best to give with such blind generosity that even you don’t know exactly how much you’re giving away.

“Keep your praying to yourself, too. Don’t let other people see you at it. And when you pray, say something like this—‘Father in Heaven, have it your way, you’re the one that’s holy and everything … not me. Just let me have what I need for today, and don’t keep tabs on what I owe you in the same way I don’t keep tabs on what others owe me. And don’t test me or let really awful things happen to me.’

“Forgiveness comes only to those who forgive. If you don’t forgive others, God won’t forgive you.

“When you deny yourself, don’t be all passive-aggressive about it. Look presentable. Let the fact that you’re sacrificing something for the good of someone else just be your and God’s little secret.

“Don’t invest, and don’t save. You can’t understand anything about Heaven if you’ve got a stock portfolio.

“And stop worrying. Don’t worry about life, or food, or health, or clothes. Life is more important than food, and your body is more important than clothing. Look at the birds, for instance—what kind of career path do birds have? and what kind of savings account? Yet God takes care of them, right? Show me one person who added an hour to life by worrying.

“And clothes? Sheesh. Look at the wild flowers and talk to me about haute couture—I dare you. And they get it for free! Show me a lily with an AmEx card. You can’t. So stop whining. And stop being so stingy. Stop waiting for your ship to come in. Instead, look for God’s kingdom (and, guess where it is—inside you). Don’t worry about the future because, believe me, you can’t handle that shit right now.

“Stop sizing up people. Or they’ll start sizing you up. The standards you measure others by will end up being the same standards they’ll measure you by.

“How dare you judge people for their little defects when you yourself are totally fucked up! Fix yourself first—and once you’re all perfect, you can maybe then dust the dandruff off the other guy’s shoulder.

“Stop wasting what’s really valuable on unimportant shit. Because, in the end, that unimportant shit will tear you up.

“Ask and you get. Seek and you find. Knock and the door will open. This is the way things work. You get what you ask for. You see what you look for. You end up where you’re heading.

“After all, if your kids want breakfast, which one of you would give them rocks instead? So if you know how to do nice things for your children—and, believe me, you are dicks, all of you—how much better does God, who’s like PERFECT, know how to do nice things for you? So religion in a nutshell is this: Be to other people what you would like to imagine God would be to you. What goes around comes around.

“Don’t follow the mainstream. The mainstream is for losers.

“And don’t trust preachers. They look okay on the outside, but they are wolves underneath. What you need to pay attention to is what they create. If what they create is bullshit, then they’re assholes. Simple as that.

“Not everybody who talks for God knows anything about God. Be suspicious. And remember what I said about the mainstream. Real goodness doesn’t advertise. Real goodness comes with no price tag. Real goodness is worth more than it appears to be worth. Real goodness produces more real goodness.”

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