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Giving Away Your Spare Coat

May 8, 2012

The founder of what has become known as Christianity appears to have been the son of a poor carpenter and to have been an itinerant preacher with no personal possessions and no money, supported by a group of followers,  such as Martha and Mary.

He offended just about everybody who was rich, powerful, influential and orthodox.

Not surprisingly he ended up being executed. He was trouble on all fronts.

Yet his message was one of love, acceptance and compassion for all. Those who have abundance were to give to those who had nothing – the principle of the Welfare State.

The trouble is, that those who have more than one coat do not see why they should give their spare one to somebody without one. After all, they earned the money to buy that other coat. It isn’t their fault the other poor sod doesn’t have one, is it?

Even the most generous and compassionate amongst us are not prepared to sacrifice any of our comforts to help another. We give what we think we can spare and no more.

So the poor are always with us, just as Jesus said they would be. He knew a thing or two about human nature. His insights and perceptions  turned him into ‘god’ for some people and the Church was born, and the simple message of the sage of Galilee, whoever he was, became entangled in a mass of dogmas and orthodox doctrines that have caused untold misery to countless millions over the centuries since he died.

When I started going to church in my youth I was hoping to meet people who imitated Jesus. I longed to find those who would give away their spare coats gladly for love of Him. I was wanting to be inspired to be courageous myself, to dare to follow where Jesus seemed  to be leading, to make a difference to the world. I wanted to belong to that alternative society that cared little for  amassing  material goods and living  for selfish pleasures. I hoped to find a model of that different society within the Church. I set out with great hope and stumbled upon the rocks that strew that path, jagged and huge and rough. I think I finally fell over a precipice and found that God just wasn’t there. I was left broken at  the bottom, and had to make my way back up again alone, in my own strength, because faith had gone. I had not been filled with any sort of spiritual greatness by the experience, I had retained my coats and lost a piece of my soul.

Giving away your spare coat is a metaphor to me now, of the difference between the true follower of Jesus and those who pay lip service. Probably it will never be possible for selfish humans to imitate the way of Jesus, because we are not naturally inclined to be selfless and altruistic. 

I remain of the opinion that , if God existed, and there was, indeed,  this great energy described as ‘wind’ and ;’fire’ available to all who were willing to invite it into them, the Church and our world  would be vastly different. Giving away your spare coat would not be so hard. After all, it isn’t yours, if you are a follower of Jesus – all that you have is God’s and you are merely a steward of it. Truly to believe that , would mean giving away that coat without regret, and with a smile. “Much is expected of those to whom much is given”

Paradoxically, I find that now I have accepted there is no help for me but my own inner resources, and am no longer attempting to please any Higher Power or to access ‘the divine’, whatever that might mean, I have found a meaning for the word ‘spiritual’.

I have discovered the power that lies in reaching out in love to other people, whoever they are. Just doing it makes amazing stuff happen. Really seeing people as my brothers and sisters, instead of merely saying that I do. Somehow ‘getting it’ whereas it once evaded me. Waking up to what Jesus meant when He said that those who seek to save their lives will lose them, and what he meant by having abundant life.

I am no longer a Christian and yet these words of Jesus ring more loudly in my ears today in a Unitarian church where he is scarcely mentioned, than they ever did in the past. I don’t know any Christians who would give away their spare coat,  or anything much of their material comfort , for the sake of Jesus, so I don’t think all that much of Christianity, and prefer Unitarianism, which seems more ‘honest to God’ to me, taking all of humanity as it is and teaching that we are all capable and full of promise and that together we can do what we cannot do apart, hand in hand, not thinking alike but nevertheless loving one another and caring passionately for social justice. Seems like the Jesus message to me, without any of the metaphysics that obscure it. It will  do very nicely as my spiritual community. It is waking up my soul and touching me deeply in the heart, places Christianity failed to reach. (Images of Heineken spring unbidden to mind….)

Here, at last,  perhaps I  will find people who inspire me to give away my spare coat. Teaching that will make it seem not only possible to do so, but useful and not completely daft. Pearls of hope in the darkness, a vision of  small steps that will take me nearer to where I wish to be, that place where, finally, nothing matters but the endless giving.

To misquote somebody better and wiser than I am ‘it is in loving that we learn to love and in giving that we receive’.

Who is my neighbour? The whole of humanity. Who are my brothers and sisters? Anyone I happen to meet along the way. We are One. If only we could live as if we believed this.

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