Lists to Live By
I have always found fascinating the desire we human beings have to reduce the difficulties of life through the practice of a few simple "laws." The first list of "laws to live by" that I was really excited about was called The Boy Scout Law, and it had twelve points. A good Scout is:
For me, growing up in eastern Ohio in the late 40s and early 50s, scouting was much more important to me than anything else. I still remember summers I spent at Camp Avery Hand, and the ceremony at the end of each week in which we all paraded, in the dark, past a row of twelve torches, set back off the path maybe twenty feet, and several steps apart. Each torch illuminated a wooden slab on which was painted one of the 12 points of The Boy Scout Law.
We carried with us twelve small stones we had been instructed to bring, and as we passed each of the twelve points, we were supposed to throw one of the stones at whatever "point" or worthwhile quality we had not really lived out during the week. Although a few stones usually landed at "Obedient" and "Clean," most of us got through the list without tossing more than a pebble or two. Consequently, by the end of the walk, we always still had lots of stones still among us. These we usually hurled with so much vigor at the final sign, "Reverent" that it sounded like machine guns were going off in the forest.
Like most of us, I had been exposed to another list, The Ten Commandments, and I had even seen the movie that came out in 1956 (which, incidentally, I thought was much better than the book). That list, followed by Jews and Christians when it is convenient, goes like this:
· Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
· Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.
· Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
· Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
· Honor thy father and thy mother.
· Thou shalt not kill.
· Thou shalt not commit adultery.
· Thou shalt not steal.
· Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
· Thou shalt not covet.
Imagine most of our political leaders, and political leaders all over the world, being asked to "come clean," to walk past a row of plaques, each containing one of the Commandments (keep in mind this is the "Word of God," presented to Moses on Mt. Sinai), or even the 12 points of the Boy Scout Law, and being asked to throw a pebble toward each commandment or point they had violated. They, and many of us, would have to have their own private gravel pits!
And of course God gave Moses lots of other and often contradictory laws like, "If a woman commits adultery, kill her." (But, but, but…what about "Thou shalt not kill?") And what about God’s laws, from Leviticus, also given to Moses, "Engage in no commercial activity on the Sabbath," or "Do not travel more than two miles from your home on the Sabbath." The attitude most of us seem to have is that, except when they suit us, the Old Testament God can take his laws and stuff them. Maybe that is appropriate.
For many of us the Old Testament itself lacks credibility. Some, over the centuries, have called it the "Word of God," although there are several different Old Testament "Gods," all with a capital G, and most often the dominant God of the Old Testament is racist, intolerant, mean-spirited, demanding, egotistical, and tyrannical. No wonder we prefer to watch a football game or a soap opera when offered the choice between spending a couple of hours watching the "Yankees versus Red Sox" or reading the Word of God; or between watching "All My Children" and curling up with the Word of God. As human beings, we "vote with our feet." The Old Testament loses hands down.
Jesus Christ, on the other hand, offered a different understanding of God, a God who is tolerant, loving, and forgiving. Christ says we need only two commandments: 1. Love [this New Testament] god with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind, and 2. Love your neighbor as you love yourself.
Our culture, though, seems to be devoted to money and not love. I am reminded of George Orwell’s paraphrase of a popular passage out of the New Testament: "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not money, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith so that I could remove mountains, and have not money I am nothing." Well, sentiments like those are clever, even funny, but, to me, they are a bit too cynical.
Regardless of the culture we live in, we can always create a "Culture of One" and make it what we will…perhaps a "culture of love." Christ’s two commandments, and yes, perhaps most of the 12 points of the Boy Scout Law, are probably all we need to live a good life, and a highly spiritual one at that.