"If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters--yes, even his own life--he cannot be my disciple.” – Luke 14:26
As a young boy of about 7 or 8 I remember first hearing the story about the woman caught in adultery (John 8). It is impossible now to recall if I even knew what adultary was but Jesus' response to her and her accusers was the beginning of understanding Christian justice for me.
I was recently accused of hating the Roman Catholic Church while discussing homosexuality and of fueling division among people of faith and seculars.
Perhaps I am, but certainly not in the way it was presented by my opponent. At first I felt inclined not to respond, but this morning while reflecting on the words of one of my favourite teachers, Richard Rohr from his recent book ‘Falling Upward –A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life’ (2011). I will readily admit that there are times when I ‘hate’ institutional religion but not in the way that my opponent seems to think. So I am taking the liberty to provide my explanation about ‘hating’ the institution using the words so thoughtfully expressed by Rohr as follows:
I truly hope that my opponent and others will now understand my true love for God and my passionate desire to bring Christ's justice into the world and religious institutions everywhere.. . . . . when Jesus talks about "leaving" or even "hating" mother, father, sister, brother, and family. Everything in us says that he surely cannot mean this, but if you are talking about moving into the second half of life, where we are about to go, he is in fact directing us correctly and courageously.
First of all, do you recognize that he is actually undoing the fourth commandment of Moses, which tells us to "honor your father and mother"? This commandment is necessary for the first half of life, and, one hopes, it can be possible forever. As we move into the second half of life, however, we are very often at odds with our natural family and the "dominant consciousness" of our cultures. It is true more often than I would have ever imagined. Many people are kept from mature religion because of the pious, immature, or rigid expectations of their first-half-of-life family. Even Jesus, whose family thought he was "crazy" (Mark 3:21), had to face this dilemma firsthand. The very fact that the evangelist would risk associating the word "crazy" with Jesus shows how Jesus was surely not following the expected and mainline script for his culture or his religion.
One of the major blocks against the second journey is what we would now call the "collective," the crowd, our society, or our extended family. Some call it the crab bucket syndrome—you try to get out, but the other crabs just keep pulling you back in. What passes for morality or spirituality in the vast majority of people's lives is the way everybody they grew up with thinks. Some would call it conditioning or even imprinting. Without very real inner work, most folks never move beyond it. You might get beyond it in a negative sense, by reacting or rebelling against it, but it is much less common to get out of the crab bucket in a positive way. That is what we want here. Jesus uses quite strong words to push us out of the family nest and to name a necessary suffering at the most personal, counterintuitive, and sentimental level possible.
It takes a huge push, much self-doubt, and some degree of separation for.people to find their own soul and their own destiny apart from what Mom and Dad always wanted them to be and do. To move beyond family-of-origin stuff, local church stuff, cultural stuff, flag-and-country stuff is a path that few of us follow positively and with integrity. The pull is just too great, and the loyal soldier fills us with appropriate guilt, shame, and self-doubt, which, as we said earlier, feels like the very voice of God.
So Jesus pulls no punches, saying you must "hate" your home base in some way and make choices beyond it. I am happy he said this, or I would never have had the courage to believe how it might be true. It takes therapists years to achieve the same result and reestablish appropriate boundaries from wounding parents and early authority figures, and to heal the inappropriate shame in those who have been wounded. We all must leave home to find the real and larger home, which is so important that we will develop it more fully in the next chapter. The nuclear family has far too often been the enemy of the global family and mature spiritual seeking.
Perhaps it has never struck you how consistently the great religious teachers and founders leave home, go on pilgrimage to far-off places, do a major turnabout, choose downward mobility; and how often it is their parents, the established religion at that time, spiritual authorities, and often even civil authorities who fight against them. Read the biographies of Hindu sadhus, Buddha, Ashoka, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Jesus, Sufi saints, Francis, Clare, and the numerous hermits and pilgrims of Cappadocia, Mt. Athos, and Russia. You will see that this pattern is rather universal.
Your True Self is who you objectively are from the beginning, in the mind and heart of God, "the face you had before you were born," as the Zen masters say. It is your substantial self, your absolute identity, which can be neither gained nor lost by any technique, group affiliation, morality, or formula whatsoever. The surrendering of our false self, which we have usually taken for our absolute identity, yet is merely a relative identity, is the necessary suffering needed to find "the pearl of great price" that is always hidden inside this lovely but passing shell.
Instead of our "Don't leave home without it" mentality, the spiritual greats' motto seems to be "Leave home to find it!" And of course, they were never primarily talking just about physical home, but about all the validations, securities, illusions, prejudices, smallness — and hurts too —that home and family always imply.
Of course, to be honest and consistent, one must ask if "church family" is not also a family that one has to eventually "hate" in this very same way, and with the same scandal involved as hating the natural family. (We will address this in a later chapter under the rubric of "emerging Christianity.")
I encourage you to reread the epigraphs at the beginning of this chapter. They are pretty strong, almost brutal, by contemporary standards; but they make very clear that there is a necessary suffering that cannot be avoided, which Jesus calls "losing our very life," or losing what I and others call the "false self." Your false self is your role, title, and personal image that is largely a creation of your own mind and attachments. It will and must die in exact correlation to how much you want the Real. "How much false self are you willing to shed to find your True Self?" is the lasting question.2 Such necessary suffering will always feel like dying, which is what good spiritual teachers will tell you about very honestly. (Alcoholics Anonymous is notoriously successful here!) If your spiritual guides do not talk to you about dying, they are not good spiritual guides!