For five years in the 1980’s, I had the wonderful privilege of working for New York University, in the heart of Greenwich Village. I commuted by train, the first two years by subway and the last three by a combination of commuter railroad and the PATH tubes under the Hudson River.
Unlike the automated trains I took for years at Denver International Airport, these trains had human operators, accelerating, braking and using their own voices to announce station stops and safety messages. The standard warning on the NY Subway system before departure was, “Stand clear of the closing doors.” One memorable operator had a deep, slow, ominous and very serious voice, a real attention getter. “Stand Clear of the Closing Doors.” Never lost a passenger, that one.
And so, in my deepest, most serious and reverential voice, I implore you, “Stand clear of the closing dogma.” If you must believe any hard and fast set of words, believe the words silent, open and empty. I mean it. Take it all and take it all in. And then throw on that grain of salt.
Every message out there since the beginning of time has contained the whole truth. It’s just been wrapped up in limited human words and experience. The stories unfold and circle around, carrying the cloak of their own times and the long since desiccated husks of the messengers who told the tales.
We turn these words and tales into idols when we insist that they are carved in stone, unchanging, hard and fast rules for life and salvation. “Dogmattit! Do it this way or go to hell. Go directly to hell. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200!”
My poor Mennonite Church USA is going through the throws of dogmattit right now, with a herd of selective literalist thumpers holding up their marble idols, their rock hard billy-clubs insisting that, “Dogmattit, the divine billy-club says you can only have sex this way, under these circumstances, with one individual from the opposite sex and only for procreation, to boot. Dogmattit!”
“Dogmat mutual respect or right relationship. Dogmat the way you were created and the one you love. Dogmat you both. Dogmat all’a’y’all. Dogmat you straight to hell! And we love you. We just can’t abide that you don’t kiss our holy billy-club.”
“We stand firm at the holy doors, dogmat billy-club in hand. Stay out, you that were made to tickle in the wrong place. Stay out, the one who would give their life and lifetime to you. Stay out ‘r I’ll club you and all the other vermin that snuck in here when I wasn’t lookin’! And don’t forget I love ya.’ And God does, too, dogmattit! Just can’t abide your low down ways. And by the way, I’m a pacifist, just like Jesus. Don’t get me wrong.”
Ah, the painters, poets, songwriters and novelists get it right. We accept and appreciate the changing styles and times when it comes to art. If only all the religions of the world could do the same with their scriptures. Take a step back. See the line, the beauty, the color. Soak up the kindness and truth in the whole picture, the whole story. Let it fill your heart and feed your soul.
Make no mistake. We need to learn the rules and ropes. We need grammar and syntax. We need technique, tools and methods. It is good to teach our children. But as we master our trade, our art form, we grow when we see and paint something entirely new – something entirely new that will become old and tested in tireless time. And we need to give it to the world, the gift of picture and story that will be viewed and heard and felt, so long as its communally acclaimed quality speaks a growing, evolving, universal truth.
Scriptures are stories and pictures, dear friends, stories and pictures to show and tell under the Tree of Life. The ones who see and hear have hearts of flesh and not of stone, hearts that beat in relationship and compassion. Hearts that grow and evolve and create, radiating kindness and beauty and welcome. Dogmattit! Tell me a story. Sing me a song. Show me a picture. And please, put down that billy-club.
© Two Trees in the Garden. Feel free to quote, as useful, with proper reference.