A couple of days ago I travelled on a coach. A normal kind of activity. During the journey I began to read a book that I had been wanting to read for over a year but had only just got round to ordering. It had arrived in the post the day before my journey.
The book is Inner Anarchy by Jim Palmer. I keep sharing his Facebook posts because I like him a lot. Even if he does talk about Jesus! He talks about a lot and even presents a Jesus who I like. And Jesus who I can get on with and a Jesus path that I could follow in some way. It's a path that is in many ways far more challenging than that proposed by the various Christian sects, even the most radical ones in terms of discipline. If you use Facebook I'd urge you to follow Jim Palmer. But don't follow him as a guru or religious authority or any other kind of authority. He wouldn't want that. Read him as a person who can help you teach yourself and trust your heart. And dismiss whatever doesn't resonate with joy and with compassion and passion.
A Sikh man had got on the coach at the same time as me and he was sitting on the seat behind me. I had read enough of the book for the moment and set it aside on the seat next to me. The Sikh asked if he could take a look at the book because it was obviously about God and Jesus and, being a Sikh, he likes those two subjects.
I sat back and relaxed. I listened to some music and then began another book that had arrived in the same parcel as Inner Anarchy and was also strongly related to God and to spirituality. That book was book one of The Masnavi by Rumi, translated by Jawid Mojaddedi. It's poetry of course, and I confess I find reading poetry difficult, but so far I'm enjoying it. It's a long poem - about 26,000 verses - so will take some getting through but if it's all as beautiful as it has been so far then it'll be worth perseverance. Rumi believed in some things that I don't. But his mysticism and teaching is profound and touches me.
The Sikh had read enough and asked me if he could come and sit with me. He then began to talk with me (or at me). He said the book said exactly the same as the Sikh scriptures. He should have read a little more and would have discovered that while there are similarities there are big differences - like Palmer wanting to do away with the myth of a sky God person in control of everything.
The Sikh raved about how we should admire God and then God will love us as give us things. [I think it's a shit God if it only loves us if we admire it] He raved about the 90 year old he was on his way to look after and encouraged me to chant in Punjabi several times a day and be like the 90 year old who got up at 2am every morning to do it and had a wonderful life. He encouraged me to find a big sheet of note paper and write the words Wahe Guru along the top row four times. Then to fill each row of the paper with the same words. And then to chant them every day. With attention and with true adoration of God. He said that there are forty benefits of admiring God written in his holy book and that chanting or praying in this way every day, several times a day, would mean that these benefits would come to me. He talked about how in the Gurdwara in Birmingham and in Leicester they were using chant prayers from the Guru Granth Sahib as a meditation form and how that meditation was leading to people being healed of incurable diseases. The Sikh told me lots of interesting things about his faith and his concept of God.
I tried to tell the Sikh that I don't believe in the sky God myth any more but since he tells everyone he meets about admiring God with every breath [a laudable aim, especially if that god is not the sky God] my non-theism met with a brick wall. A bit like if a non-theist or an atheist would have talked to me about God a few years ago.
He talked about how God has limits. How Hitler and the Nazis failed eventually because God didn't allow him them to take over the whole world. God controlled everything they did and then stopped them. I didn't like to point out that his God was in control of the murder of millions of people by the Nazi regime - and countless millions more people by other regimes he mentioned and that really any God who is all powerful and eventually steps in after watching so much horror is a very crap God indeed. In my opinion. The problem of suffering is a toughie for all theists and even in my strongest evangelical days I knew that there was no theistic answer that quite satisfied. "God works in mysterious ways" and "It'll all be for a greater good" seem like utterly empty platitudes in the face of the cruelty humans sometimes exhibit. And in the face of natural disasters we can't even give the equally empty platitude of "You can't blame God for the actions of humans. It is our free will."
The Sikh man was very pleasant though. I disagree with much of what he said but that's fine. I am glad that he sat with me and talked and I learned a little more about his faith and the reasons why he counts himself as very blessed to have such a faith. He was obviously a good man. One doing his best to walk in the light - and one almost certainly doing a better job of it than I often do.
I have to say that I haven't yet met a Sikh I couldn't get on with. And I know that there is much that the Sikh faith has that is highly commendable. For example: When he had earlier pulled out a bottle of water to drink he asked the people around him whether they would like it. He wouldn't drink it until he had offered. His reasoning, from Sikhism, was that others around may have been more in need of the drink than him, more thirsty. And since God is in every person, to offer the drink - to offer anything selflessly - is honouring and pleasing to God. I like that. But I would like us to be able to move beyond God and just to learn to offer selflessly anyway, just because it's a good way to live rather than to please a supernatural deity.
I like the Sikh teachings on selflessness, humility, service, hospitality, community and so on. I like the way this Sikh said he had learned to not ask God for selfish things but to just admire God. I don't know the teachings well at all but what I've heard of them I like. I like the fact that Sikhism isn't exclusivist. They firmly believe their way leads to God. But they also believe the other faiths lead to God too. So there isn't a need to convert the other religions or to save a Christian from Hell in the way an evangelical Christian might want to save a Sikh from that damnation.
I have enjoyed the few times that I have visited the local Gurdwara, the Sikh temple. I've been able to sit in the quiet and it feels good. And then I've been able to eat - and to help out too and to talk with people in the Gurdwara at that time. If you want a theistic faith, the Sikh one is pretty good.
Yes, it's a decent religion. But I can't say I will be getting up at 2am to chant for hours. And I won't be returning to my old version of the sky God, or to any other sky God. I have been set free from that myth.
Set free. Yes. But maybe, just maybe, Jesus can free me even more. Without chanting Wahe Guru for hours each day. And without praying Christian prayers to mythical beings or to their saintly followers for hours as I used to. I am free from that. I believed it was life and there was definitely a lot of light within the myths. But in the end it didn't bring me such life. How can it bring abundance of life when the central tenet is that we are fundamentally bad, fundamentally fucked up so much that we are completely lost and without hope unless somebody else dies an agonising death?
I am glad that I am now finding freedom. Immensely glad of my decision, made just four and a half months ago, to make a break with church, a finality. Bye bye liturgy of the sky God. Bye bye prayers to the sky God. Sky God, your followers are good people and many of them do wonderful things. In that loving place I can gladly walk with them. But I no longer can walk with them in the following of you.
And books like Inner Anarchy and Jim Palmer's previous couple of books, which I now want to read even more, can show me how to become more free. Inner Anarchy is a Jesus book that anyone can read and be touched by. It doesn't matter whether they are Christian, of some other faith, or an atheist. This is a Jesus I am excited about. Even while looking at Gnostic Jesus versions and finding much light within them, I didn't think I would ever be this excited by a Jesus again.
[1671 words. Sorry!]