What’s a hedonist after all

My oldest sister experienced a midlife transformation. She had been a rather “wild” adolescent and politically liberal until she was about fifty. At that time she joined the Catholic Church, became highly involved in her parish’s activities, and then judgments rolled from her tongue with the sweet blindness of a person blessed with 2000 years of a patriarchal thumbs up.

She became estranged from my mother and me after a Facebook argument that turned personal, as they tend to do. I was blamed for escalating the argument. Perhaps I am to blame. I defended my mother who felt humiliated by my sister. That was about 10 years ago.

Today, I am the evil in the family. My sister warns her grown kids to avoid me because I am a “hedonist.” The word popped into my mind today due to a falling out between my niece and her mother. If my niece attended church and just stayed away from me, she wouldn’t be falling into ways that are “not of god.”

When I first heard the label applied to me, I was hurt. Summing up all I am in this one-dimensional word was disheartening. But today I laughed because, for a hedonist, I sure don’t have that much fun.

I assume my sister uses that label because she heard from someone at some time that I live a polyamorous bisexual lifestyle. I wonder what her imagination conjures up.

It can’t be the reality of self-discipline I apply to: what I eat, when I eat, how I push myself to exercise consistently, reading and reflection, meditative work, the committed relationships I develop, the limits I place on what I buy, the internal work I do to minimize my judgments, the time I set aside from personal pursuits for my kids, and the jobs I purposely choose to challenge me to grow as a moral entity and friend. Hell, I’m even looking at returning to pursue an MA. Where’s the “pleasure” in any of that?

I mean, it’s not like I’m a smoker who doesn’t quit, obese because I don’t control my desire for sugar, parroting arguments I find online because I haven’t made the effort to reflect on these moral ideas for myself, having lied and cheated on a partner, and in a marriage lacking in serious ways because I don’t feel it’s my responsibility to compromise. In other words, I’m not someone who treats god’s creation as shit because I can’t control my appetites for food, stimulants, physical comfort, and pride. Now that would be a hedonist.

The argument I have received from Christians when I point out their hypocrisy is that yes, we are all sinners, but that doesn’t mean you get a pass on your sin just because I sin, too. I see where they are coming from with that. Except that judging others’ sins is exactly what Jesus said we should not do. It’s the Church who would have you swimming in self-righteousness as you decide to speak for god. As if she needs the help.

Humans do a good job of corrupting a good message in pursuit of power and authority.

I will try to do more not-doing. I would like to spend less time reflecting on judgmental Christians. If the intersection with my niece didn’t present itself like it does, I would rarely think about my sister. So today, I’ll leave the nominal Christians to commit their Pelagian heresies in ignorance.

I care less about sin than stories. And my story today is, I sure wish I was a little more hedonistic.

A Christian walks with Dao

A mother attempts to control a child through authority and tradition, through shame and fear. In thinking about the judgments used against this younger member of my extended family, I’m saddened the mother calls herself “Christian.”

The mother feels righteous. She desires others to affirm her goodness. She feels the security of patriarchal authority nodding to her hurtful words from millennia of tradition. But she doesn’t realize that words of exclusion and shame come not from Jesus. Her judgments come from those who wield power.

The first revelation, the source of a belief, is often inspired and becomes the heart of a new Way. Better if humans left it at that. But people don’t leave it at that. Later thoughts and interpretations often diverge from the heart in order to create institutions and maintain authority. Why? Because people desire power and answers, while detached observation and questions make them anxious.  These developments seem to happen in metaphysics and religions of all kinds.

I don’t hate Christians. I don’t pity them as confused or manipulated, either. In fact, I don’t think about them much at all. The farther I walk with Dao the less I care about the people whose stories diverge so much from mine. In other words, it’s none of my business what this mother thinks or why. But her daughter suffers, and her daughter has a story much like mine.

So I’ve been thinking. With Christians, we have the Beatitudes, the heart of what it means to be a Christian. Further actions that use this heart are Christian. Actions that don’t use this heart serve another purpose, not Jesus’s own. The same can be said for Dao. Tao Te Ching revealed the heart of Dao, and the many religions, rituals, and magic that arose over the centuries since Laozi distract from the heart and serve another purpose.

In other words, I have no interest in becoming immortal or directing my chi.

I just walk with Dao.

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The eight Beatitudes in Matthew 5:3–12 during the Sermon on the Mount.

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn: for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek: for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness: for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful: for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

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My favorite translation of Tao Te Ching is by Ursula LeGuin and here’s why:

Scholarly translations of the Tao Te Ching as a manual for rulers use a vocabulary that emphasizes the uniqueness of the Taoist “sage,” his masculinity, his authority. This language is perpetuated, and degraded, in most popular versions. I wanted a Book of the Way accessible to a present-day, unwise, unpowerful, and perhaps unmale reader, not seeking esoteric secrets, but listening for a voice that speaks to the soul. I would like that reader to see why people have loved the book for twenty-five hundred years. It is the most lovable of all the great religious texts, funny, keen, kind, modest, indestructibly outrageous, and inexhaustibly refreshing. Of all the deep springs, this is the purest water. (LeGuin, Ursula K. Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching: A Book about the Way and the Power of the Way (Kindle Locations 201-206). Shambhala. Kindle Edition.)

Most people seem to quote the beginning words of Book One, but the most meaningful to me are a few lines down:

So the unwanting soul sees what’s hidden,
and the ever-wanting soul sees only what it wants.

 

 

 

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