I ate an orange and tasted heaven. You ate an orange and found a worm in it. Both events are true. I cannot insist only orange trees grow, and uproot every other tree. You cannot uproot every orange tree, exterminating them because that is your preference. I continue to eat oranges and remember not to offer you one when you visit. We avoid talking about oranges.
We talk about shoes instead …
(The larger portion of what is written below I typed up almost two years ago. I found it when looking through old files on an old laptop. When I wrote it, I was too caught up in other matters and left it in pieces. Now it’s a piece of my mind.)
Religion and spirituality are like shoes – necessary for comfort, warmth, a feeling of safety.
Let’s think of any spiritual practice we follow or engage in as a type of shoe.
The shoe manufacturer is the spiritual leader, religious organisation, or church we’re affiliated to.
The Feet Maker is the Being, Consciousness, or Deity we believe in and worship.
We’re the feet – bare, vulnerable, hardworking, and carrying the weight of ourselves.
If I’m an atheist, or unsure of what to believe in, or just don’t give a damn, I still have two feet. I exist, and because I am here, there is something afoot. How a large number of people choose to acknowledge that something is through a religious belief. We are all impacted by the shoes people wear, even if we don’t endorse the existence of religion, or care for it. It has mass power because of the masses. Whether we believe in the Feet Maker or not (or Feet Makers; there might be more than one supreme creative energy out there) is irrelevant here.
We are not always sure-footed. We feel granular surface imperfections on our soles – such a tenderfoot! We look to shoes to help us with that. Shoes give us confidence, support, and structure; they speak to who we are, and what we stand for. There is the sound of many feet, all stampeding through life. We put shoes on to make sure our feet are protected, not trampled upon.
Shoes matter. We notice what people wear. People decide how they’re going to relate to you, treat you, based on what you put on your feet. It’s a yardstick by which worth, or unworthiness, is measured. Wearing the wrong shoe can have you unintentionally getting off on the wrong foot with someone. In a group that favors certain brands, you need to be brave to wear something different.
Whether I choose flip flops, strappy sandals, those trendy trainers, or go barefoot, what matters is how my choice makes me feel and act in this world. If my shoes, or bare feet, encourage me to contribute something meaningful to my community, my world, I’m delighted with my choice. If my selection makes me intolerant, self-righteous, dogmatic, rigid, and holier-than-thou, I’d like to think I have the good sense, and enough mercy on my neighbours, to choose differently when my awareness kicks in.
What we choose to wear is of much less significance than how we choose to walk in those shoes.
I believe the Feet Maker is pretty chilled about belief systems, about what we slip our feet into to make us feel comfortable and meaningful – if the shoe fits, wear it.
People wearing the same shoe brand can do vastly different things with the feet in those shoes. One individual kicks a lost dog to the kerb; the other pair of identical shoes, but on different feet, takes the dog to a safe place and tries to locate its owners. Same shoe brand, different walk. The actions of the feet are profoundly more telling than the make of shoe the feet are wearing.
We need to pay less attention to how smart, trendy, or sexy shoes are, and far more attention to what the feet in the shoes are doing. Are they running soup kitchens for the hungry and beating their wife black and blue after dinner because they don’t like the flavor of her soup? Expend energy on helping both the perpetrator and victim, not condemning their religion and all who share their beliefs.
Our personality influences our decisions and choices, including, I think, the form and personality of who, or what, we choose to worship, believe in; not worship, not believe in. As with everything else, our preferences, family traditions, life experiences, pain, ambitions, and desires lead us to our choice. Here are a few oversimplified examples to illustrate:
If I’m most at ease with everything being black or white, with no confusing grey areas, perhaps a rules-are-rules belief system (as Kris Kristofferson satirically sings in The Law is for Protection of the People) will mirror that and best suit me, be my choice.
If I’m traumatized and confused the same rules-are-rules belief system might also appeal. I feel I can trust that which takes matters out of my hands and places it in the reassuring grip of an Almighty who promises I’ll be safe if I do exactly as I’m told. On the other hand, an open-minded, accepting, less stringent system of worship or spiritual practices might sing to me. Which will it be?
If I’m looking for relief from a fear of death, non-existence, or the horrors of the world I currently live in, perhaps I would favour a set of beliefs that assures me that, if I follow the right path, it will eventually lead to a painless, eternal life in paradise or heaven.
On the other hand, I might choose to go to a church because that’s where my family is, I find good friends and a supportive social network there, and I enjoy singing the hymns.
What I choose to believe in is a reflection of me. Quite honestly, I feel it’s all about what we gain from the relationship with our Feet Maker. The personality of my belief system, my spiritual practices, has changed markedly over the years, mirroring changes within me.
I really don’t think the Feet Maker minds what we do to feel, and give, more love, as long as love is our footprint.
If we’re decent, doing-our-best-to-live-consciously, make-this-world-a-better-place individuals, it makes no sense that how we choose to worship, or not, incites hate, intolerance, persecution, or murder in others.
It is cause for grave concern if the ultimate, supreme consciousness does as some humans (too many) tend to do – judge people according to their race, religion, economic status etc. If that’s the case, we’re not in safe hands.
In religions, as in other organisations, there are good, sincere, loving people doing good works. Right next to them on the wooden pew, plastic chair, or prayer mat is ‘bad works’, the wolf in sheep’s clothing; the man or woman utilizing their Feet Maker and beliefs to progress their selfish, perverted, harmful, divisive, even murderous, agenda. Yes, deal with feet who are guilty of abominable actions and conduct. Hold the shoe manufacturer responsible if they knew of the crimes and atrocities committed by those wearing their shoes. Expose their actions, or lack of it. It is not a cue to vilify all who wear those shoes.
Let’s face it, some deeds are exposed, some are not. Some people and organisations thrive without any apparent consequences for evil actions and intent. Abhorrent practices abound in communities, countries, cultures, and religions. There is no perfect person, no perfect politics, no perfect family, no perfect country, no perfect anything within humanity and our structures. There is no perfect belief system or religion because we are, simultaneously, the imperfect builders and imperfect building blocks of every system.
There is no one-style-fits-all shoe. All our feet are different.
Amidst all these imperfections and differences, shouldn’t we gift the world our tolerance, goodwill, humility, and humaneness? It makes no sense, when every pair of feet is nothing like any other pair of feet, to bitch at somebody about the shoes they choose to wear.
There are so many shoes on the religion and spirituality markets. How do we get all the feet, wearing such a variety of footwear, to be reasonable and nice to one another?
Surely it’s about what makes us happy, giving, excited, loving, and tolerant – all the good stuff. If wearing stilettos makes me all these things, well, good for me! You prefer trainers. I might not like your taste in shoes, and you loathe my piercing heels but, my goodness, we have the most stimulating conversations (not necessarily about religion, we might have to avoid the topic). You find my legs in high heels a real turn-on but, hell’s bells, you wish I’d stop complaining about how my back aches and my feet hurt because, clearly, it’s my shoes and my own damn fault for wearing them.
I might insist my preferred sacred text is the only truth because my Feet Maker spoke directly through the pen of these men. You might say What nonsense. Unless my Feet Maker comes down to earth and launches a defense on my behalf I really don’t think I have a leg to stand on. All I have is the assurance that some people will believe me, some will not. How we wish to personally and collectively (as in religious organisations) utilize these texts is our business and our joy, as long as love is our footprint.
We tacitly agree to let heated topics go. We flow with what we have in common and with what we can disagree on without going to war, on a witch hunt, or on a crusade. When religious preferences are too laden with self-righteousness – a we’ve-got-the-hotline-to-salvation zealotry that stands in an unloving, lethal stance against anything perceived as a threat – hate holds the reins, and we’ve witnessed over and over and over again where that horse takes us.
Unless my Feet Maker shines the light of their presence throughout the world and booms, in every known language and without the need of a translator or interpreter (except that required for the hard of hearing), that yes, we are the chosen ones, that my belief system is the only acceptable one, I have, as we all do, feet of clay.
I quickly returned my engagement ring (which I’d put on my finger far too readily and quickly anyway) to the man who told my 16-year-old son, ‘I will make you cry if you try having a theological discussion with me!’ My son was, reasonably and respectfully, holding up his end of just such a discussion. This man could not bear it that we would not cower before his religious posturing. How dare this teenager disrespect me? he huffed. Do I not have a library of thousands of books and 26 years of experience in the ministry? he puffed.
The ensuing conversation revealed claims of open-minded tolerance to be a ruse.
Huff-‘n-Puff felt his direct-from-God experiences set him apart, made his status and word irrefutable. Unquestionable acceptance of his ideas and understanding of the bible and other religions was demanded. I was asked how I could possibly allow my child to not believe in heaven. My reply: he is my child, but not mine to manipulate, pressurize, bully, or beat into my spiritual comfort zone.
As we grow, physically and spiritually, we refine our personal understanding of what occurs in our life and environment. Nothing is fixed, especially not our beliefs. It’s not my place to tell my son what he should believe. I can tell him what I believe, he can listen (and he does). He can decide to agree or disagree (he does both), and that is that. I will not indoctrinate him. When my son sits in the surf on his surfboard, surrounded by a pinking sea and matching sky, he draws his own conclusions about life, and ponders whether that knowledge requires anything of him.
Unless you’re at a Stilettos Only meeting, do the sensible thing and take your shoes off when you enter a room, or…
dance a tango with a pair of trainers, thrilling at the tension and energy zinging between you. Try not to stomp on one another’s shoes, and never, ever deliver a confrontational kick to a bony shin.
Understand that, as comfortable and cushioning and lifesaving as you find your shoe, for me, that very same shoe is an uncomfortable fit that hurts my feet or doesn’t suit the rest of my wardrobe.
Shoe manufacturers want their shoes to be worn by lots of feet.
Motives for this vary – salvation campaigns, megalomania, mental instability, business acumen, being their Feet Maker’s representative on earth, wishing to impart helpful life skills etc.
Some manufacturers tell us their shoes will make for happy feet and will, in fact, save our feet.
Some get heated and defensive about why their shoes are the best and must be worn by everybody. This emphatic stance might even lead to a Nancy Sinatra event: These boots are made for walking, and that’s just what they’ll do. One of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you.
Shoe manufacturers can get violent and vehement when threatened by other manufacturers’ toecaps, heels, or ostentatious buckles.
It defies understanding, this belief that if your Feet Maker and style of shoe is understood by you to be the One and Only, and if others will not accept and live by this decree, then brutality and murder are sanctioned.
How does an affiliation to a religious organisation, sacred text, deity, or belief give us the right to mark others as less than we are and even, in some cases, fuel a desire to kill them because, in so doing, we’re helping our Feet Maker out? Is your Feet Maker so petulant and in need of henchmen he requires this of you? Who in their right mind would want to worship such a personality, one who advocates, blesses, and demands these actions from his faithful? *
I don’t believe it. We need to quit framing the Feet Maker for the crimes we commit, often for reasons unrelated to our beliefs, but rendered palatable if labelled God’s will. Trying to find a good, godly reason to kill or hurt people is ungodly. Pinning it on the Feet Maker when we slay and harm others is scummy, and a double crime.
If something is that good, that right, it shouldn’t pit us against one another. What is good and right should, without effort, stand in its rightness, with no need to launch an offense, or a declaration of power and potency. It’ll just be. Like the sun, moon, and stars. Like gravity, cycles of growth, the rotation of the earth. Like the shape of your body, the shape of your feet.
Leave me to my perceived wickedness and impending eternal damnation. Be as nice to me as you can muster because, at the very least, what you believe should make you, to a greater degree, a reasonable, kind person.
Discrimination, heated arguments, and ego driven insistence on being right, on owning the truth, hasn’t made our world a better place.
Love is the quality all religions claim their Feet Maker embodies. If that’s the case, walk the talk.
I’m wearing flip flops. I’m not an expert on anything. I’m thinking this now. It wasn’t how I thought then, and it might not be how I think tomorrow. Everything I say is experiential. Before you accuse, criticize, and abuse, just walk a mile in my shoes (Elvis Presley).
If I’ve offended you – and I sincerely hope I haven’t – how will the shoes you walk in influence the way your feet respond?
* I’m using the masculine gender here for no other reason than it’s the gender many religions assign their Feet Maker.