At Beit haKadosh, we have a motto much like on the Dodge car commercials-we question everything; and I do mean everything. Just like the Israelites, we have questions, we have situations that come up, we have a desire to reconcile the meaning of Scripture with our everyday reality. Unlike the Israelites, we do not have Moshe, we do not have a prophet, we do not have the ability to just ‘go ask God’. If you think you have a direct line, you may need to look back over your life and think about who may be on the other end of the phone. I have never met a prophet, as far as I know neither Judaism or Christianity have produced or revived the prophetic schools.
So what do we have? We have religion. And what is religion? It is an intellectual substitute, and a poor one at that, for intimacy with God. Religion is, by nature, exclusive and it puts the search for truth in a straightjacket. It comes up with doctrines and dogmas created by men, that cannot be questioned. “Religions are divisive and quarrelsome...they are a form of one-upmanship..separating the saved from the damned. They harden into institutions that must command loyalty. Irrevocable commitment to any religion is not only intellectual suicide, it is positive unfaith because it closes the mind to any new vision of the world.”-Alan Watts
Religion relies on converts, it is by nature separatist and it is separation, not seeing all humanity and the universe as echad, that creates conflict, pain, fear and hate. If I see you as separate from me, you become an object to be converted, manipulated or eliminated-I deny your humanity. This has been the legacy of Christianity and Islam and, to a lesser extent, Judaism. Conversion at the end of a sword. Charges of infidel or heretic. The result is war and suffering. And who wins? Who has the truth? Y’shua said we would know by their fruit. The fruit is shalom, it is harmony with each other and the world, it is justice and honesty. There is no religion that can lay claim to a consistent demonstration of these things therefore none of them is true because religion in and of itself, is a fallacy. What was Abraham’s religion? What was Noach’s? Enoch’s? Each religion may claim them as their own but the Bible is silent. Yet they are the examples of what we are to be. Abraham is the father of all who believe.
The point is that no one and no group has a corner on the market of truth, no one can claim the creator as exclusively their own. To do so is a lie because we need to see ourselves as echad, as a unity of humanity and in unity and harmony with God’s universe. If we both see ourselves as echad, we will see value in one another and in all things. We will love one another as we love ourselves because we are one. We are people that can join hands on the journey of life in search of God, in search of Zion.
It is the journey that is important. When Israel was on the journey, they were inclusive and YHVH continually reminded them to be so. He chided them to treat those not of their bloodline as equals or better. They were all seeking truth, all wanting something better. They all were going to Zion, a metaphor for living in the presence of God much like the description at the end of Revelation. Even when Israel reached the land, the physical trip was over but the spiritual had just begun.
The difference between ‘the way’ and religion is that religion, in it’s conversion, says you’ve arrived. Religion, in it’s pride, says ‘this is it, you’re saved, this is all there is and we have it all.’ Whether you are a Christian, a Jew, a Messianic or whatever, if you think you have it all, you are, to be blunt, a fool. Those in such positions may seek more knowledge in the hopes of solidifying their worldview and theology but they don’t grow, they become prideful, there will become more and more deceived. I have met people that think they hear from God, and since God always confirms what they think, they believe they cannot be wrong. They are arrogant and they usually end up alone unless they are charismatic, in which case they form a ‘cult’.
One on the journey, on the other hand, says ‘We don’t have all the answers, in fact we are not even sure the ones we think we have are right but you are welcome to what I have found and we can join hands and seek together.’ Humility, the lack of ego, these are the marks of one on the journey. They question, respect differences yet see things as echad. If you have not changed the way you think about the world, God or yourself in the last twelve months, you have gotten off the path and are standing still. Y’shua said we should be as little children. The world is new to them. The ask millions of questions, they grow, they change their minds all the time as they assimilate new information. They don’t care if they are wrong, it is the excitement of learning and growing that fascinates them. That is where we need to be.
So where are you? Are you in a religion? Do you follow Judaism, look for the answers with the rabbis? Judaism was once a vibrant, experiential religion with freedom and many sects that while differing in their answers were yet united as a people group. That was before they wrote everything down. First there was Mishnah, then Talmud and then death. It is now an exclusionist religion with cultural rituals divorced from their true meaning. Or are you a Christian, following a religion based on false premises, inaccurate history, extreme oversimplification and divisiveness? Have you become part of a small splinter group? A Nazarene, a Messianic, do you follow a particular teaching or personality? Are you alone? Too often people who seek do so with the wrong mindset and it closes their world. I know because I have been there. I continually redefined who was God’s ‘in’ group and tried to adjust accordingly. I spent so much time reading books and studying scripture and trying to find all the answers that I forgot to look around me and seek God and relationship with his creation. If the fruit of your pursuit is your own isolation, you are on the wrong path. You are creating your own religion.
Why do so many people follow a religion? Why do they become devoted to a rabbi, a pastor, or a book to the exclusion of all else? I think there are two reasons-laziness and fear. For the lazy-no one can make the spiritual journey for you. Nowhere is there a nice, neatly wrapped set of doctrines and beliefs that will do the work for us, answer all our questions and fulfill us completely. God cannot be reduced to a formula. To follow someone or something that claims to give you this is to commit spiritual suicide and deny your value as a person created in God’s image. You are then trying to make yourself in someone else's image. Which brings us to our second reason-fear. We do not value who we are as individuals made in God’s image with his spirit, with a connection to the infinite. We think we lack knowledge, our answers aren’t valid, our questions are stupid. But while echad, we are all unique and what we need is different and we must seek it ourselves because only we know what it is. You can’t sit around and wait for someone to drop it in our lap. Y’shua said each one of us is to ask, seek and knock. This is your life, your journey. Don’t live it through someone else. Learn to enjoy uncertainty. Experience echad. Don’t stand still!