If you ever belonged to a church family you’ve probably met the most endearing host of the faith. You know, she’s the one who went out of her way to make newcomers feel welcome and to help any church member as much as she could. If you were lucky, she even invited you to her home for a potluck lunch after services.
When I joined the Seventh Day Adventist church in Tucson I was on my own and fresh out of high school. Like most “kids,” I barely had enough money to survive. So, I took every invitation offered to feast on a buffet-style lunch any time I could. On one fortuitous Sabbath afternoon after church, Joline, the sweetest woman in my congregation, invited me and handful of new members to her home for potluck. After lunch, we spent time chatting and enjoying each other’s company while seated around a table in her backyard. I can’t recall exactly what we were talking about, but I vividly remember how the conversation ended. I stuck my foot in my mouth by blurting out, “Oh my goodness!”
As I said it, I watched Joline’s face grow pale before settling into a grayish, granite-like composure. “You should never say that.” She stated flatly.
“Why,” I asked.
“Because we have no goodness in and of ourselves. We are sinners. It is only through Christ’s goodness that we are good.”
At the time her comment made perfect sense, and I was not the least bit embarrassed for being chastised. If anything, I felt the sting of having offended my savior.
Now, decades later, the sting of that memory still pricks my spirit but in a different way. I am angered that this religious concept is still infecting people with the demoralizing mindset that they have no inherent goodness.
On recognizing how valuable we are
One can only imagine the trauma this idea has inflicted upon individuals and the societies in which it’s accepted. Many children, for example, first learn about how vile and valueless they are in Sunday and Sabbath schools. Consequently, one wonders how this religious concept effects their perceptions of self-worth after they become adults. And what do we suppose the statistical correlation is involving individuals whose self-worth has been shattered and the rates of drug addiction, incarceration and suicide?
I was fortunate in that I was able to overcome these self-degrading concepts I’d been indoctrinated with in my formative years. I came to appreciate just how valuable my life is. Yet, accepting my own self-worth also helped me to appreciate something much more profound, which is the inherent goodness of people, and the potential of humanity to build a better world.
“Meditation is a process of lightening up, of trusting the basic goodness of what we have and who we are, and of realizing that any wisdom that exists, exists in what we already have. We can lead our life so as to become more awake to who we are and what we’re doing rather than trying to improve or change or get rid of who we are or what we’re doing. The key is to wake up, to become more alert, more inquisitive and curious about ourselves.” Pema Chodron