Friday, October 19, 2012

Render Unto Caesar

In his book, Jesus and the Disinherited, Howard Thurman interprets the life of Jesus as a story about how to survive and thrive as an oppressed person.  I'm taking a course specifically focused on Thurman, taught by the remarkable Rev. Dr. Dorsey Blake.  Last week he said something that has had me thinking a lot about my own ministry and work in the world.

Dorsey was talking about the idea that it is easy to deceive ourselves, to stray from the path of our heart and soul with the compromises of success.
We rationalize:

I will just take this job (this raise, this promotion) but only to
gain the power or money I need to do the good work I plan to do.  

We compromise and slowly drift away until we no longer remember who what our values were.  This is one of the things Thurman is talking about in this book.

So we move to the verse in Matthew where folks are trying to trip Jesus up, asking if Jews should pay taxes.  Jesus asks someone to show him a coin and, pointing to the face of Caesar on the coin, says, "Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's. (Matt 22:21).  Dorsey brought this up and was asking us which things we felt belonged to Caesar (the government) and which things we felt belonged to God.

At some point in the conversation, Dorsey started preaching.  I have to tell you that we love it when Dorsey gets his preaching on.  He's a brilliant and powerfully gifted minister and I just love watching him get all riled up and starting repeating things to make a point.  He said something like, "As spiritual people we will never have success within the empire.  We are here to fight the empire, to speak out against the system that oppress the people.  We should not and cannot seek success in the realm of Caesar, but must find our sense of success and accomplishment in the world of our own spiritual conviction."

It reminded me of a letter I once read that was between Ken Kesey and Allen Ginsberg.  Basically, Kesey was asking Ginsberg about the life of an artist and the feeling of being misunderstood.  Ginsberg wrote back and told him that it is the role of some artists to be visionaries, to lay the tracks way out in front of the train that is society, so that the train had somewhere to go.  It's a lonely life, out laying track far away from most of the folks.  But it's a powerful life and one where you are charged with the vitally important job of helping to shape who we will become as a people.

These are important pieces to what it means to be a spiritual leader.  Whether we see ourselves as visionaries or not, we are called to walk in places that most people don't walk.  We are not here to work within a system, to fit well within a system.  Churches, Synagogues, Mosques, and Temples are not generally places where folks work to find great financial stability.  That is not their purpose.  We who work in these places provide spiritual stability.  Through our lives of service we discover lives of great spiritual stability and richness.  As a pagan leader, there is even less money (as there are almost no existing organizational structures to facilitate such jobs).  So we must remember that we should not seek this kind of success.

I know this.  Deep down, I know this to be very true.  And yet, I find myself falling into these traps from time to time.  I sometimes have trouble staying with the pure intent of my plans for ministry, and instead I end up second-guessing which choices will lead to the best financial stability.  I have lived an unconventional life and made choices based on my spirit and my heart for a long time now.  Looking at the success that other people have, I wonder if I'm simply not being pragmatic or responsible in my decision making.  It's easy to incorporate these fears and judgments, allowing the desire to be responsible overwhelm my faith in the innate stability of my spiritual journey and the truth of my connection to my own path.

I resolve to have more faith in this path.  I will endeavor to give the government it's due.  When I work, I pay my taxes.  When I engage in business arrangements, I will do the proper paperwork.  But the structure of my life and the trajectory of my life will not be defined by how well it fits in the capitalism that guides the economic system I live in.  No, my life's trajectory will be guided the same way it always has been, by the wisdom I discover as I walk the path of my life towards new and wonderful opportunities to be the hand of the Goddess on earth.  I can't remember a time when my life wasn't being guided clearly by my relationship with the divine (including those dark years when I was learning what it meant to lose one's faith).  Let other people get MBAs and reasonable jobs that will pay the bills.  The life for me is the one filled with service, hope, teaching, and hopefully a 401K somewhere along the line.  I may not making choices for great financial success, but that doesn't mean I have to accept a life of abject poverty either.