Thursday, 14 June 2012
Originally posted April 26, 2012.
A place of security and rest. Family gatherings, good food, games, security, rest, and warm showers. The place we long for when we've worked hard or had an upsetting day of events. It is where we are shielded from the terrors and horrors of the outside world.
No matter what anyone might tell you, there is truly only one place you call home. Not the next-door neighbor's house. Not grandma's house (although, depending on grandma's house, that might be a cozy place to visit). And certainly not some igloo in the North. No other house will do but the one that you call home.
While working at the mall, cleaning the carpets and floor mats, a swift flying object caught my eye. A bird had somehow managed to find its way inside. Back and forth it swooped from skylight ledge, to skylight ledge, to a window ledge just above the mall doors, and back across the mall to yet another skylight ledge. Anywhere it could see bright sunlight and the open sky. Anything that looked like freedom. He was trying to find home.
This was two or three days ago. Today, on my way into work, I walked through one of the department stores that connects directly to the mall and saw the same type of bird...perhaps even the same one. A bird trapped in a world it does not belong to and likely scared and frantic. (He flew right to the shoe department, so maybe he was tired of flying.)
In the middle of the mall is a giant skylight dome, as well. Skylights adorn the ceiling from one end to the other. However, there are only three main entrances (not counting service way exit doors). Between the skylights and the doors, there is only one real way for that poor bird to find true freedom. Even the giant skydome, with all its vastness (from a bird's point of view), will not be enough for the bird to truly be where it longs to be.
In this world, I think we can relate to that bird more than many of us will realize.
I'm sure we've all seen pictures like the one here. Ones that say that one religion is as good as the next. That they all preach the same things. That we're all essentially good or that evil and good can't exist without the other. That ultimately we all serve the same god and one's Nirvana is another's Heaven.
It sure sounds like a nice thought about our different beliefs, but if you tried telling that bird that one skylight is the same as the next skylight or the mall entrance doors, the bird would peck at you in pure frustration. (That bird was already fraught with anxiety.) For if the skylights and the doors were all one and the same, why wasn't the bird able to escape to the wild blue yonder as he flew back and forth to each one? Obviously, there's a major difference.
The fact is that while we are all supposedly looking for the Home our hearts are longing for, the freedom from the pains and fears of this world, like that bird in the skylights aching for the sky we are still hopelessly trapped with some vague view of true Paradise. The reason is because most of us do not know (yet) that there is only one way to freedom: Jesus Christ. Just as there is only one mall entrance (yes, I said there were three, but for the sake of argument and given the section of the mall the bird was in, there is only one), yet many skylights.
It's quite clear that many of the religions today share many aspects. Most have some deity or many deities they worship. Many have a moral code based on or woven into they're beliefs. Many have some goal of "a higher state of being" or a destination beyond this (physical) world. However, it doesn't take an examination with a microscopic lens to figure out that the content of these similar aspects are actually quite different. Christianity has one God-head who presents Himself as three persons. Islam is strictly one god, Allah. Many other religions have multiple gods. Of course, the list of differences goes on and on. It's actually very naive to say that all religions lead to the same place or ultimately serve the same God. Whether you believe in Christianity's God or Islam or Hinduism...each religion's idea of who the ultimate deities are do not match up. Each religion has a different idea of how women should be treated, or how one is deemed "good enough". Some religions don't have a spiritual aspect at all.
Each skylight is certainly not the same. So how does one figure out how to get out free? How does one fly away home?
It's not an easy thing to figure out what makes one religion better than the other, or why one ought to be considered over the others. How does one even determine what is really true when so many of them make such seemingly outrageous claims?
No, it's not an easy thing to figure out, and the answer to that is best explored for another time, at least in regards to the specific claims each one makes.
The bird, though, "examined" all the skylights, and he often flew to the window ledge just above the doors. It might have taken a lot more searching, but eventually he would have found the doors to freedom. This is because the only realistic way out was through the doors. For one, it's physically impossible to phase through solid matter when you, yourself, are physical matter, too. With the doors open, there would have been nothing to restrict the bird's escape. Despite how clear the skylights were, clearly they were as solid as the bird and do not make for good passage ways.
I want to take a slight "detour" in the discussion for a moment.
It's an interesting thing, the notion about humility. God often uses it to show us just how trapped we are. Had the bird "humbled" himself, lowered himself, literally flew lower to the ground, he certainly would have found the way to freedom. When we are are pitted against trials or facing consequences of our poor choices, God employs humbling circumstances in order to bring us out of those situations. It might seem that God is against us, when truly the opposite is true. For humility is a process of strengthening one's character and opening our eyes to more than we perceived before.
You see, humility requires that we let go of our pride. Pride is often described as thinking of one's self as greater than he really is or as being put on a pedestal. One such example is the idea that we are in complete control of our lives. We make our choices and only we know what's best. It's absolutely true that we are free to make our own choices, but God will humble us - bring us to a low point in our lives through various hardships - in order to help bring us to a wiser understanding. (How much wiser would the bird be if he just knew to fly a bit lower when he was on the window ledge above the doors?)
So now that I've seemed to bounce between a few different topics here, let me bring them together.
Many people obviously hold to the uninformed idea that all religions are essentially the same. As I have lightly illustrated, this simply isn't so. The problem that arises from holding to this idea is a result of stubbornly, pridefully resisting the need to examine what each religion actually teaches, the effects of those teachings when employed, and the evidence (or lack thereof) to support the claims each makes. For as I've already pointed out, it didn't matter what skylight the bird used, only the one door would lead to true blue skies. What if someone was able to successfully pass the message to the bird that he just needed to fly lower through the doors? What if the bird refused? Because I can tell you that the blue sky was not as easily seen through the doors, yet that didn't make the doors any less the only true way out.
Like I mentioned, the point here isn't necessarily to promote Christianity as the only one true religion (I do hold to that, but such a claim is for another discussion). What I want to encourage here is for people to let go of the faulty idea that all religions are equal. That all religions are nothing more than many different paths to the same God. And to show why the stubborn pride of holding to such a false idea (further refusing to examine the differences and see which one holds the right to Absolute Truth) will keep people trapped.
I mentioned at the start about the human longing for a Home that is not of this world. CS Lewis, in his book, "The Weight of Glory",
"What more, you may ask, do we want? … We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words—to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.
“It was when I was happiest that I longed most...The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing...to find the place where all the beauty came from.
“At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of the morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in.
"If I find in myself a desire which no experience in the world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world."
Lewis, like the bird, recognized that this world is not our true home. Not when we understand that we were made for someplace else. This could not be more true for the Christian. In his children's fantasy book series, "The Chronicles of Narnia", Lewis described the world we live in as the Shadowlands. Just as our own shadow is but a crude image of ourselves, so is this world but a crude image of the true glory of the Home we long for. Yay, the very Home many of us do not realize is what we long for. It was not until after all the glorious events in the stories did the Heroes of Narnia find themselves in the True Narnia. Indeed, it was much larger "on the inside" (you'll have to read the stories to understand what that means). The Narnia they had all previously experienced was but the shadow of the real thing. Just as the sky the bird saw through the skylights was but a crude experience of the open blue sky outside the mall. Indeed, the bird could not actually enjoy that small portion of sky that it could make out through the skylight. He knew he was made for another world, and so he kept searching, not content for the malls "religions".
In the Bible, in the book of Jeremiah, God banished His people, the Israelites, to either the sword or to Babylonian captivity because of decades of rebellion against Him. They were sinful children who would not obey their Father in Heaven. As you read through the chapters, you get the strong message that God is quite angry with His people and very justified in punishing them. He drives them from the Promised Land, the home he secured for them ages before after they were freed from slavery in Egypt. This, people, was their home! Now, they were to live as slaves in a foreign land, trapped in a world they did not know. Much like the bird, though inside the "splendor" of the construction of the mall, it was in a foreign world and not where he belonged.
Often times, even after describing Israel's punishment, God would tell the prophet Jeremiah that there was still good news. When Israel's heart softened and relinquished its sinful pride and once again turned to God with open minds and open hearts, He would bring them back home with joy. Image, if you can, being far from home, longing for the place you felt you belonged. The warm bed, the family table full of good food and love, the bookshelf you read your favorite books by...no longer something you could freely enjoy. Indeed, those feelings were the feelings the Israelites felt. The same feelings the bird in the mall felt. They were trapped, and because none humbled themselves, lowered themselves to serve the Lord, they could not escape.
It is not until we humble ourselves to the truth of God's word that we will discover the true freedom and home we long for. It will not be until then that we will even be able to describe those longings, to give it a definition. When we do, however, then we will fly away home.
As a point of fun (and for my own understanding), going from top-center clockwise, what religions are all the symbols for?