Thursday, August 19, 2010

Homemade Parables

ANDADORS. Babies learn how to walk with the help of andadors (cane walkers or strollers). When their legs are strong enough, the strollers are removed, and they learn how to stand, walk and eventually run. Someday they may become marathon runners in the Olympics. We all learned to pray with words, thoughts or methods, and most do not know how to pray without these. We do not know how to run in the marathon of the spiritual life. Just try to imagine Olympic marathoners running with andadors.

BABIES. A baby brings joy to the family and is the center of attention. Some parents wish their cute babies never grow up. This is unnatural, because everyone grows up. Babies will not grow only if they are frozen or embalmed. What about our beliefs? What is the difference between our childish beliefs and our adult beliefs? Is it grown up and mature, or stunted and retarded?

BANANAS. A single banana does not look impressive. A bunch of healthy bananas look nice and attractive. A faith that is self-centered is like the single banana. A faith that loves God by serving others is united to the bigger community. It is part of the bunch.

BRUSHING OUR TEETH. Long ago, we learned to brush our teeth because our parents obliged us to do so. We grew up appreciating this and now we brush regularly. This is similar to religion. An immature faith obliges us to follow our human traditions, while a mature faith motivates us to love God by serving others. This is not a burden-some thing. This should be as natural as brushing our teeth every day. There is a difference between “I have to” and “I want to.”

BUTTONS & CLOTHES. Buttons are useful in wearing clothes. Too many buttons get in the way of conven-ience. What if you are in a hurry inside the toilet and there are too many buttons? Clothes are worn for protection and modesty. When clothes are too elaborate, expensive or uncomfortable, they do not serve their purpose. So is religion with its complicated and abstract beliefs.

CAKE AND ICING. The cakes on display in bake shops look very attractive and beautiful. Some of them are for display only. Beneath all that decorative icing is some cardboard or styrofoam. Religion can be like this, for dis-play only. God’s truth and goodness may not be there under all the fervent religiosity. An unspiritual religion is all icing, no cake; all form, no substance; all law, wrong spirit.

CELL PHONES. Today cell phones are as common as watches. Cell phones are useful when properly charged and the signal is strong. There are millions of followers of different religions around the world, like the millions of cell phones. A cell phone that miscommunicates is useless. A religion that does not guide or teach correctly is also the same. Although all religions teach love, peace and truth, why do we not know how to live in peace and harmony?

COFFEE. Coffee is a favorite drink of many. They feel the day is incomplete without coffee. Some cannot get through the day without consuming several cups. There are also daily churchgoers who feel the day is incomplete if they do not attend mass. Someone said they probably experience what addicts go through without their daily fix. Is the mass something truly spiritual, or just something programmed into our daily routine?

COMPUTERS. Thanks to computers, the physical laws of time, space, motion and gravity can be defied in the animated movies that we see today. Computers connect people around the world, aid science and research, design skyscrapers, fly airplanes, fight wars, perform microscopic medical operations and so on. But computers do not function when there is no power. The same is true of religion. All the religious fervor in the world is useless when it does not have the spirit of God, which produces compassion, peace, truth and justice.

DAG-DAG BAWAS. The term means to add and subtract and refers to the doctoring of election returns in Philip-pine politics. This term applies also to communicating information and ideas. Messages can get misunderstood or distorted. Twenty centuries have watered down, diluted, exaggerated or even distorted the Christian faith. This is why liturgical rules, doctrinal assertions and theological disputes seem more important than being just, loving and humble. Essentials can be forgotten while emphasizing non-essentials.

DRIED FISH. Salted fish is dried to preserve it. Dried fish reminds us of the dried bones mentioned in the book of Ecclesiastes. All obsolete and unrealistic beliefs are like the preserved dried fish. Now, is our faith a living faith or is it drying up? Is our God a God of the living or of the dead? A faith that is in touch with reality continually adapts and reforms itself. This is why the faith taught by Jesus is called a new covenant, even if it is already 2,000 years old. His call to repentance is a call to transformation and renewal.

DURIAN. The durian is the king of fruits. Many love it, but many also hate it. They say that it smells like hell (we don’t agree) but tastes like heaven. It is extremely nutritious and is alleged to restore health, lower cholesterol and clean the blood. For all its positive qualities, it can have bad effects when too much is eaten. It is known to raise one’s blood pressure. Like the durian, religion’s good qualities attract many followers. But religion can also be dangerous when self-interest, narrow-mindedness, fanaticism and bigotry enter the picture. So many people throughout history have suffered and died in the name of religion.

GOLDEN CALF. Alluding to the worship of the golden calf in the Book of Exodus (Ex 32:1-6), critics say that Catholics worship a golden child and a golden lady.

HALO-HALO. Religion is like the halo-halo, a mixture of the holy and unholy, the spiritual and unspiritual, faith and superstition, good and evil. Our task is to separate the grain from the chaff, as Jesus pointed out. We must distinguish the essential from the non-essential; substance from form; spirit from law.

HERMIT CRAB. The hermit crab or umang does not produce its own shell. It scurries around looking for empty seashells and moving in once they find the right size. Once they grow bigger, they abandon the shell to look for a bigger one. When we were born, our religious beliefs were ready-made and waiting for us. We can be like the hermit crab and move on to look for bigger shells when we outgrow our childhood notions, or we can stubbornly cling to our obsolete beliefs and get stuck.

LAMINATED FAITH. We have pictures or diplomas laminated to preserve them. How laminated is our faith in God? As Christians, is Jesus he real to us, or is our religion more real to us? Do we worship in spirit and in truth, or do we worship our religion and its beliefs? What is more real to us – to love God by serving others, or to go to church and receive communion? If all that matters to us is to celebrate the sacraments, attend retreats or memorize the bible, then our God has become laminated by our human traditions.

LECHON. The lechon is our favorite food during fiestas, weddings, birthdays and very special occasions. When lechon is served too often, it is no longer special. When religious devotions are endlessly repeated with little or no understanding, they become mechanical and mindless practices.

MAKEUP. Women believe that makeup makes them more beautiful. Someone said that older women with more wrinkles tend to have thicker makeup. How old is our religion? How thick is the doctrinal, theological, devotional or liturgical makeup of our faith in God?

MOVIE STAR. Movie fans have their favorite movie stars. They adore them, watch their movies, collect their pictures and read many things about their idols, but they never get to meet the star personally. Many of us call ourselves followers of Jesus. We say many things about Jesus and we teach many things about Jesus, but do we really know him and follow him? Is he real to us, or are we just adoring fans of a distant movie star?

NEW CARS AND OLD ENGINES. All new cars have new engines. Some old cars may get a new engine. Old cars can represent the old covenant and new cars can represent the new covenant. Our usual notion of religion obliges us to worship God by offering sacrifice. Instead of duty and obligation, Jesus taught us to focus on love, truth, understanding and compassion. Although we call our faith a new covenant, most see it in terms of ritual and tradition, reverting to the worship and spirit of the old covenant. When this happens, we turn Christianity into a new car with an old engine.

OCEAN. The surface of the ocean seems empty, but underneath it is a vast world of teeming life forms. Religion is like the ocean when we stay on the surface and focus only on external practices. Beneath its traditions can be a spiritual reality with its limitless possibilities of flexibility, openness, freedom and depth of meaning.

PILI NUT. The pili nut is the seed of the pili tree. It has a hard shell that needs to be cracked open to get the seed, which is cooked in sugar and turned into a tasty treat. During his lifetime, Jesus saw that their ancient Jewish faith had become encrusted with a hard shell of religious observances. He taught that the essence of faith is to honor God by serving others. This is why he healed even on the Sabbath day. He cracked open the shell of their tradi-tions and exposed the seed of goodness within. 2,000 years later, Christianity is now sugar-coated with all sorts of pious beliefs and practices. Many of us never taste the pili nut itself. We just lick the sugar coating.

RADIOS. Long before computers came around, radios were the most important means of communication. They still are. But radios work only if they are tuned to the right station. Religion is like the radio. If it is tuned to God, it will produce the right results. It will bring peace and harmony. If not, it will cause division and conflict. It will lull or blind people and it will produce fanatics who attack or kill others.

RAIN. The rain waters the parched earth and gives life to the crops and trees. Too much rain causes floods and even deaths. Religion can teach us about God and life. It can give us the right values and attitudes when it has God’s spirit. Without the right spirit, it can also make us self-satisfied and complacent. This is why critics say re-ligion is the opium of the people. Religion can also make us narrow-minded and fanatical. Like the rain, it can have good or bad effects.

RECHARGEABLE LIGHTS. The lights went out at a retreat house during a power outage. The sisters hurried to get their rechargeable lights and turn them on. No lights came on, because all the lamps were not recharged. How about our rechargeable faith with its rechargeable love, peace, truth and compassion?

RELIGION'S TRAGEDY & FAILURE. The tragedy and failure of religion is due to these things: worshipping a spiritual God in a religious yet unspiritual way; approaching a simple message of goodness and transformation in a very contrived and complicated way; and teaching others about God in a very abstract, academic and unrealistic manner.

SEA SHELLS. Sea shells with their myriad sizes, shapes, colors and designs provide inspiration to artists and de-signers. Many of these shells start out the size of a rice grain. From tiny specks they grow and grow spirally until they are hundreds of times bigger. The helmet shell or the Triton shell is as big as a watermelon. Our faith is like a speck of belief that should mature spiritually as we grow older. It can remain a tiny shell that never grows, or it can grow hundreds of times to carry us through the vast breadth and depths of the ocean of life.

SHOES. Shoes protect our feet and make our walking comfortable. Many wear expensive and branded shoes to show off. Others torture their feet and cultivate corns by wearing pointed shoes designed for single-toed feet, not the normal five-toed human feet. One misstep with stiletto heels and these slaves to fashion risk a broken ankle. Shoes are for feet, not the other way around. Isn’t this also true of religion? Didn’t Jesus say the Sabbath is for us, not the opposite? Why do we mindlessly follow what others say or do? Many imagine they worship God, when in fact they are worshipping their religious beliefs or their own selves.

SIOPAO & PAOSIO. Siopao is a piece of steamed bun stuffed with meat inside. The meat of Christianity is the story of Jesus and his message of transformative love. 21 centuries have wrapped this in a thick coating of beliefs and practices. When these traditions become more important than loving God by serving others, things are turned inside-out. The siopao is now paosio. Instead of doctrines and sacraments surrounding the life and teachings of Jesus, the story of Jesus becomes an add-on to our liturgical rites. What do we seek when we keep going to church – God and the story of Jesus, or the priest and his rituals?

STRAWBERRIES AND CASHEW NUTS. Strawberries and cashew nuts are unique because both produce their seeds outside the fruit. The strawberry seeds dot its red skin while the big cashew seed grows outside and below its fruit. They remind us that religion can be like this. Good religion brings us to God and the truth. Bad religion pushes God aside to pursue its own agenda. Is Jesus still at the center of our faith, or has he turned into a straw-berry or cashew nut and relegated to the outer fringe?

WATERING PLANTS. People who do not know how to care for plants think they have to water their plants every day. They do not realize roots can rot from overwatering. Water gives life to plants, but too much water can kill the plants. Worship and devotion give life to religion, but too much worship without understanding can produce the same result. A reality check will reveal the diminishing mass attendance and disappearing religious vocations. Perhaps we worship too much but do not love others enough.

Salvador C Wee, SJ