This short poem takes the format of a common joke. However, one point of the poem is that you can expect that enlightened folks often transcend “the usual.” When religion occupies transcendence, even the transcendence of itself, then religion no longer becomes a bad joke — simply a good joke. God is too big for any one religion, since religion is a created human institution. There is no end to transcendence. God is always “more.”
Of course, this joke is based on the infamous quote of Gandhi that he was a Hindu, a Muslim, a Christian, and a Jew. This sort of syncretism (blending of beliefs from different religions) is frowned upon by most in religious establishments (see my poem, Syncretised Swimming). Quite aptly, Gandhi’s friend Nehru commented that only a Hindu would say that. Though this is funny, it isn’t quite true. Mystics in every religious tradition recognize that transcendence is at the heart of religion and that there is no theological box that can hold exclusive claim on God. An acceptance of God’s transcendence requires an openness to truth manifesting itself in ways that we do not, even cannot, fully understand. In Christian tradition, this might be expressed as “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8-9) In fact, this scripture is used as an explanation of why someone must be “born again,” that is, freed from the slavery of human ideologies and man-made theologies, and re-born into a freedom that recognizes and acts in accord with the Spirit.
Even Buddhists, who are sometimes seen as discounting transcendence, sometimes as far as being reduced to some form of psychology, hold that Buddhism can be followed in conjunction with any religion. Compassion, or love, is ever-expanding of one’s soul, ever deepening one’s experiences of fuller realities. Theology is a framework for how we think about God. Meditating upon God can be enlightening. Nonetheless, thinking about God and manifesting God’s will for us in our lives are often two very different things — essentially, the difference between thoughts and experience. I find that Gandhi’s formulation of “Be the change you want to see in the world,” is a better representation of effectively communicating our understanding and experience of God to others. As Albert Schweitzer said, “Example is not the main way in influencing others. It is the only thing.” St. Francis might not gone quite as far, but pretty close, in saying that we should preach the gospel (good news) at all times, using words if necessary.
The need to sell a particular brand of anything, including religion, has led to much misunderstanding and violence in human history. Compassion and love everlastingly invite us to not just tolerate others’ experience of truth, but to parlay all of the truths we can’t get our hands on to harmonize our lives according to the highest powers present in the universe. This is less a belief than a process, in an analogous way that life is less a theology than an experience. Keep it real, my friends!