Just as I was about to embark on my recent trip, I dreamed a dream which was so vivid and different that I must report it here. Unlike many of my dreams, this one involved the revelation of several ideas rather than the narrative of a series of unrelated events or descriptions of people and places. The ideas occurred in a systematic form while I was a participant in a small group of faculty in a familiar private school library setting.
Earlier in the dream, small groups of faculty were sitting on the carpeted floor among the low slung stacks in a school library. The conversations were informal, casual, friendly and probed into heavy topics other than education, topics such as religion. For some reason, I had to leave my group, in fact the whole meeting, and was absent for a while. Later I returned, but was made to sign in in a book open by the entrance. I did so, but felt it was unnecessary since I had been there earlier. I recall that I was wearing a beautiful new, intensely red shirt which I was proud of.
I returned to my discussion group, sat down on the floor with the rest of the participants, and was suddenly aware that I was very clear, for the first time in my life, about what the meaning and purpose of life was and what roles religions played in every one's existence.
My "revelation" began with the Ten Commandments which I realized should not be taken as a list of absolute rules, given by God to Moses and the Jews, but rather should be viewed and used more as a list of important guides to people about how to live their lives. Problems arose in religions when the "guides" were elevated into commandments, or laws, and then extrapolated from, first by the rabbinic schools and more recently by all sorts of preachers and prophets. I saw that treating the "suggestions" or "guides" as some sort divinely inspired list for human behavior became a problem for human-kind when obeying and disobeying the rules suddenly made obeyers and disobeyers into saints or sinners. Furthermore, since it was impossible for the list of Ten to cover all conceivable situations, many hours were spent by learned holy men extrapolating principles from every "commandment" to cover every imaginable situation (e.g., don't work on Sunday unless....).
I saw that the Jews had skewed the intent of the original "guidelines" by making them into laws. They were not alone in doing this, however. Look at what contemporary denominations and sects have legislated based on the original "Ten." In my dream, I saw that the original intention of the guides had been mostly replaced by volumes of derivative legislation honestly intended to clarify the original intent of the Ten Guides. Instead a whole new and detailed and exacting legal system was formed.
The role of the person, Jesus, in all of this was to be a corrective to the burdensome weight of legalism which had stifled human action, enterprise, and indeed life itself. In the dream, I saw that his role was to live his life in such a way as to be a living illustration of what living a good and correct life might look like. The good life, as lived and talked about by Jesus, had little to do with adherence to a set of rule-- even though following rules is relatively easy, ethically speaking. Little reflection and thought are required: just find the rule covering the particular situation and act accordingly.
I saw in the dream that Jesus and his life and his words were to be taken as the best available example of how we should live our lives, of what's important for us to do and think about. Since Jesus was to be seen as a corrector of human error, he would not be viewed as divine or as a relative (Son) of God who was here to be killed to "pay" for our sins, and then to rise from being dead to give us a reason or incentive (a reward or goal for life) to be good (because we followed the rules).
Put simply, Jesus lived the life outlined by the Ten Commandments and, along the way, explained to those who followed him what those commandments really meant in terms of daily living. He was a clarifier not a rule-maker. In the end Jesus was killed by his peers because he "walked the walk" that he preached, and that kind of person tends to make the people who surround him/her angry and jealous. People cannot stand it when someone does what they're supposed to do--and can't or won't--and does it as a matter of course. Jesus by his goodness became an easy target for those who were unwilling or unable to live the kind of life presupposed and articulated so simply by the "Ten."
I saw that since the commandments were simply principles of good or smart or peaceful living, they weren't an iron clad set of legal proscriptions. For example, "Don't Kill"--hey, we don't have the right to take life because we didn't create it. To put a person to death for killing another person is a double crime and stupid on the face of it as well. Taking life is not our prerogative any more than creating it is.
Stealing also fouls up society and makes people angry at one another. Wanting what your neighbor has gets you in trouble if you let it become a guiding principal in your life. You honor your father and mother minimally by listening to what they have learned from their experience in the world. In addition, you honor them because it was their union (whatever the circumstance) that created the miracle of your life. You love/respect/honor God or some Higher Power (whatever you choose to call it) because you know that you didn't create the universe and you aren't the most important item in the universe or it's central focus. In addition, you acknowledge that there is "mystery" surrounding and permeating all human knowledge and certainty (death of a child, for example).
Loving another person's spouse will inevitably cause troubles for you, and then for both of them. Common sense, right? Love your neighbor even more than yourself. While demanding and difficult, this is a great point-of-view from which to frame one's actions in the world. Think how much suffering would have been avoided if we had let this be our baseline for behavior and thought in ages past.
My conclusion in the dream, and it was clear as day, was that Jesus was a walking example of the fact that the principles of the Ten Commandments could be lived out in daily life. No more, no less.
Meaning of life, or not?Whatever it was, it was sure clear to me and even makes good sense in retrospect. Another item to ponder seriously as my journey continues to unfold.
A welcome to readers
As a resident of this planet for more than four fifths of a century, I have enjoyed both successes and disappointments in a wide variety of vocations, avocations, and life experiences. This blog satisfies my desire to share some thoughts and observations--trenchant and prosaic--with those who are searching for diversions which are interesting, poignant and occasionally funny. I also plan to share recommendations about good/great movies I've watched and books and articles which I've found particularly mind-opening, entertaining, instructive. In addition, I can't pass up the opportunity to reflect publicly on how I am experiencing the so-called Golden Years. Write anytime: