Sunday, August 14, 2011

God is NOT my co-pilot

Maybe it's just me, but whenever I see that bumper-sticker I cringe. Actually, I have to admit that when I see most bumper stickers of a religious nature I tend to cringe, but this one more than the others.

The mere idea that God is somehow riding shotgun for you is more than a little denigrating to the essence and power of Who and what God is. His power fills the universe and His essence surrounds us no matter where we are. It was the psalmist who proclaimed, "Where can I escape from Your spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence? If ascend into heaven, You are there; if I descend into Sheol, You are there too. If I take wing with the dawn to come to rest on the western horizon, even there Your hand will be guiding me; Your right hand will be holding me fast." The earth alone cannot contain His glory. As Abraham Heschel said, "In the realm of the ineffable, where our own presence is incredible, we do not ask: Where is God? We can only exclaim: Where is He not?"

God is not something that can be thought of in terms of the familiar and mundane. He is beyond our minds to fully comprehend, yet He has made Himself known to us. He is something so far above us in power and holiness that even Moses was not allowed to look upon His face, lest he be consumed. In fact He is so holy that His name could not be spoken in Judaism – except once a year on the Day of Atonement. Heschel describes that name as "The word that means more than universe, more than eternity, holy, holy, holy we cannot comprehend it. We only know it means infinitely more than we are able to echo. Staggered, embarrassed, we stammer and say: He, who is more than all there is, who speaks through the ineffable, whose question is more than our mind can answer; He to whom our life can be the spelling of an answer."

But, we have sought to make God like ourselves. God has become the "Laurel" to our "Hardy". We have brought Him low enough in our minds that we have reduced Him to a mere sidekick, sitting along side us, taking Him along for the ride. Even the reply to the "God is my Co-Pilot" bumper sticker is not enough. You've seen it, I'm sure: "If God is your co-pilot you're in the wrong seat." It isn't enough to think of God as a divine Chauffer. He is far more holy, far more powerful, filling the universe with His glory alone.

In my religious experiences I have found that Protestantism, far more than other faiths has been more apt to treat God as "one of us" than even Catholicism has. Have you walked into any ancient/medieval cathedral? The largeness and the expanse alone can cause the spirit to exult. Your eye is pulled heaven-ward and your mind fixates on the idea of how small we truly are. If we are so small in this building – imagine how small we are in relation to the universe and in relation to the Creator of the universe? We are subconsciously reminded of the power and glory of God and we are urged to try and make ourselves worthy to approach such a God. Protestantism, on the other hand, has gone too far in bringing God down from His heavens. He is become familiar, common and smaller. Their places of worship are more often than not, more to scale. We appear, in relation to any crosses, or altars or steeples, larger – or at least on an even par with the Divine. There is little to remind us physically of our having any need to approach God with humility.

The God whose glory and voice alone shook Sinai with its power shouldn't be reduced to the realm of irrelevance and insignificance. Furthermore, as Abraham Heschel stated: "We cannot think any more as if He were there and we here. He is both there and here. He is not a being, but being in and beyond all things." He is not like us – He is above us, beyond us, and within us.

Strength

    Recently, while meeting with a Rabbi, I was asked, 'Where do you get your strength?' The question took me off guard a little and I had to pause for a minute and think. I wasn't exactly sure, I replied after a few moments. "Perhaps it had something to do with my DNA. There is a long line of strong women in my family", I added. "Ultimately I think that each morning when you wake up to another day you realize that you just have to keep moving. . . and so I keep waking up and putting one foot in front of the other."

    I've been thinking about her question quite a bit and I still have to admit that I'm not sure of the real answer. I'm also not sure why she asked it. I assume her question was related to my spiritual and emotional journey, coming out, and having a desire to find my own way in the world. But it hasn't helped me crystallize a clearer answer than the one I originally gave her. I really do think that there is an element of genetics that can't be denied. I had strong grandmothers, great-grandmothers, and great-great grandmothers who were not afraid to thumb their noses at convention and society. They raised children out of wedlock, divorced worthless husbands, survived abuse and came out of it all smiling. Some of them were tough-minded pioneers, some braved Hitler's blitz, others raised families with nothing – but they didn't view themselves as extra-ordinary. They simply got up each morning and kept moving forward.

    Where does that come from? How did they find the strength? Somehow I think it's inside all of us. We're the product of countless mothers and fathers who survived unfathomed cruelties, plagues and privations and their collective strength is within us.

    Twenty years ago I may have tried to pawn off a weak explanation about gaining strength from Jesus or the Bible, but it would've been self-serving and false. Can people gain strength from those things? I'm sure some do, and I won't take away from their ardent belief in finding solace from scripture. But I think that it must come from inside of us to be of any use to us. Someone else's strength won't go far in helping me through illnesses or times of stress, it has to be something that wells up from within. Perhaps it's a gift from G-d, perhaps not. I only know that it is a gift. I didn't cultivate the strength, it was simply there.