Religion and family, family and religion

8 Nov

Religion and family…often people think these two go together like peas and carrots.  In reality, it’s more like oil and water, it seems.

Maybe my family is more diverse than others, maybe we’re a bunch of fanatics, I’m not sure.  But looking at the religion thing, the family thing, and then…(insert a deep gasp here) the in-law thing.

The ones our family marries always bring some new twists to the religious front, and they aren’t chosen because they are pretty.  Yeah, just let that imagination run wild…it can’t beat what many of us have seen already.

By and large, I’d call the bulk of our family moderately Christian to agnostic.  We don’t really have atheists, unless you want to count my sister there, but I’d really only count her as anti-organized religion more than as an atheist.  But just like Americans in general, the majority isn’t necessarily the LOUDEST portion.  Gather any random 100 of my extended family together, and I’ll guarantee…bringing up a religious topic isn’t going to be a good idea.

Our religions are as varied as eye color.  I attended my cousin’s Bar Mitzvah when he turned 13.  I’ve watched baptisms, marriages, funerals…the usual visits to churches for family get togethers.  I probably have visited about forty or fifty churches over my life, and almost that many denominations.  I’ve discovered something.

There is more to religion than who’s God is bigger.

Did you know that dinosaurs can become controversial?  Yep…the creationists don’t like dinos.

Dinner can become a controversy if its a barbeque…I guess that Seventh Day Adventists are also vegetarians.  Don’t forget, Jews don’t eat pork either.  And…our childhood solution of picking the pork out of the pork and beans does not really make it kosher.  We didn’t know that, we were like 8 and 10 years old then.

When the campfire stories start, don’t bring out the ghostly sort.  They aren’t going to be appreciated either.

And when you see Cousin Cleopatra’s daughter Antoinette and she really looks like Great Aunt Beatitude, and acts like her too…don’t make a comment about how she’s got to be the reincarnation of Great Aunt Beatitude or you’ll have another uproar.

And, when you hear about how Cousin William’s new wife, the one with the unpronounceable name, has studied shamanism but is currently exploring Eastern religious mysticism, just smile and nod.  There’s no sense in feeding the fire that that statement is apt to start.

Sometimes, its a minor miracle that a major war has never occurred at a large family gathering.  I also find it amazing that plain conversation can occur without sparks flying at random, but it seems that over time, we learn which of our family members are unlikely to appreciate which topics, and how to steer clear of those conversational hazards.

But when you get down to nuts and bolts, how do you deal with being one of the seriously minor minorities in your family or community?  How does the word “enlightenment” or “awareness” ever cross your tongue without lighting that wildfire?

Maybe part of seeking higher consciousness includes the freedom from feeling a need to convert anyone to religious open mindedness or your personal belief system.  One response I used recently was that there were many roads leading to Rome, but they all get there eventually.  While that outlook won’t work for the most severe of your family fanatics, it does work often,

There really ARE some basic truths to remember.  You can’t force feed enlightened thinking, you aren’t making foie gras.  You can’t make anyone see the truth in anything if they don’t want to see it.  Spare yourself the agony, witnessing may be something Baptists are encouraged to do, but there aren’t any tracts for enlightened awareness and tolerance.

You wonder if its fair?

Of course not.  It is totally not fair.  You have to walk on eggshells to not start the war, while they march around crushing them continually and expecting everyone to fall into line behind them.  Maybe that’s the enlightened part…you don’t feel a need to have a parade behind you.

That’s part of leading by example rather than leading by rhetoric and preaching.  If you don’t eat meat or don’t eat red meat, you don’t have to make a long winded announcement about why and why everyone else should cease and desist immediately.  You aren’t going to change their minds that way, believe me!

Bring alone or volunteer to cook some of the food, that way you can ensure that something is suitable, if your diet is part of your religious lifestyle.  Many people, as they move along in the New Age, abandon eating red meat, anything but organic meat, or all meat entirely.  You may eat only organic, or only healthy, unrefined foods.  Some choose an all raw diet.  Eating is often associated with religious practices and there is nothing wrong with it, as long as you don’t expect the world to adopt your choices too.  Lead by a gentle and considerate example.  Share the food your new religious beliefs have led you to eat, and perhaps…it might entrance and intrigue.  Rabid preaching has never converted a soul!

I’ve not adopted any strict dietary regimen as my religious/spiritual views have begun shifting.  I do eat red meat…sometimes.  Mostly, I eat poultry, fish and seafood.   We don’t eat a lot of meat anyhow, and it usually is more of a seasoning than a primary ingredient.  I’m still amazed by “spaghetti sauce” and “chili” that is mostly meat rather than other ingredients.  Despite my ability to cook quite well, and the fact that I enjoy cooking enough to do it for fun for friends & family, I’ve found over time that you can lead a horse to water, but that does not mean they’ll drink.  What does that translate to?  They may love the food, miss the important reasons about why it is prepared that way, and never try to incorporate any of the style or idealism that created the food into their own lives.  That means…they missed the boat, and it didn’t change anything to have the culinary experience, no matter how many times some people have enjoyed it.

I don’t share a lot about my spiritual outlook with family either.  If they ask, I answer.  Why not share?  Because volunteering the information is only going to lead to a confrontational argument, during which, at some point, I’ll be deemed to be under demonic influence.  It is non-productive to go through the experience.  Once again, I simply choose to live the life and avoid the strife.

While my personal terminology may be different, when explaining some concept after an inquiry, I choose familiar language to express my ideas.  To me, the term “God” is the same as what can also be called the “Source” or the “One” etc.  Why rock the boat and have them miss the point on the use of a new term?  Communication is about expressing ideas in a way that the message is received as accurately as possible.  If I use unfamiliar terms, it is misunderstood, and appears to someone who is strictly adhering to a particular denomination of some kind that I am “worshiping” some new “god,” which is a very bad thing.  The rest of the message is lost, because only this incorrect view has been received.  It does not hurt to deliver the message in an understandable though simplified manner.  It takes an entire foundation of knowledge to understand a concept, and it has taken me decades of observation, study, and discourse to arrive where I am now.  If it is new to them, then no matter what their chronological age, it really is as though I’m explaining the concept to a child.  A vivid comparison is the answer to a 4 year old’s inquiry about where babies come from.  That four year old is not ready for the “whole story,” and is quite satisfied to know that babies come from a mother’s tummy.  They have no interest at all as to how they got there or the actual mechanics of it coming out yet.  Now when the ten year old inquires, it’s a different answer entirely.  At that point, they need more mechanics, along with a small dose of the morality.  If its a sixteen year old inquiring, its all about the morality, emotions, hormones, and practicality, as the mechanics should have been grasped long before.  In essence, it’s all the same question…just different abilities to grasp the answers means that different answers are required at different stages of their development.  It’s the same thing when explaining an idea to an adult, really.

The foundation of knowledge has to be in place first.  If there is a blockade due to fanatical adherence to a doctrine, it is very apt to be fear based.  A barrier due to fear cannot be breached in a single conversation, nor in some cases, in hours of discussion.  That foundation still has to be built before there can be understanding and eventually even tolerance.

To cause change in the world to happen, the best way is always to start in your own little corner of the world.  That’s our families, our extended families, our circle of friends, and our associates.  There is no better way to  illustrate spiritual views than by living the life, and being willing to share it, but unwilling to force feed it to others.  Do the best you can with your own spiritual life each and every day, and remember…a truly spiritual person doesn’t do it just for an hour or two on Sunday, but rather does it 24 hours a day, each and every day of the year.  It’s a journey we all take, one way or another, and our paths are a very individual choice.

I guess that’s the key.  Remember, it’s a spiritual path, not an interstate.  There are no short cuts, no toll booths, and no limited access.  A path is like our spiritual path.  It may curve and bend and twist and have huge obstacles for us to surmount, but it is always fairly narrow and rarely is it paved.  We may come to forks and y’s, and even cross roads, and wonder which is the right path.  We may even come upon dead ends and realize that we missed an important turn, and are forced to retreat and retrace our route until we find where we deviated from the true path.  Most of all, we all have free will to choose which path we take and how fast we walk and how often we stop along the way.  Some of us may come to a dead end and drop down exhausted or wail in regret and remorse.  Others may sigh, turn around, and head back to where they belong.  It’s our choice, and ours alone.  It can’t be forced.  It can’t be done for us.  There is no high speed transit either!

Our families are important.  They provide us with our connection to our roots, and therefore our past.  They maintain our ties with history and culture too.  They are an asset to enriching our lives.

Families are also a huge source of stress and strife.  They know every detail of our childhood, of our past…good and bad.  They know our weaknesses and our strengths.  They can bicker and argue, they can ridicule and dispute.  They point out our flaws.  They help us, and they hinder us, and they do it with no sense of remorse either.  Some will ask for our help, others will watch us and be inspired.  Others will become depressed.  They love us, they hate us, they envy us, they pity us, and sometimes all of that in the same breath too.

My family helped shape who I am today.  They carefully and thoughtlessly at the same time, cultivated my character, my intellect, my self worth, my self consciousness, my abilities, my flaws, my strengths, my interests, my education, and even my career path.  They have shaped portions of my life to the point that their influence exists everywhere.  It’s there in my cooking, it exists in my lifestyle, it exists in my passion for important things and my revulsion for the less-pleasant parts of life.  They shaped my moral outlook, my political outlook, literally every facet of my life shows their influence.  They are me, and I am them.

For better or worse takes on a whole new meaning with family sometimes.  But no matter what, it is true.  I am them, and they are me.

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