My mother’s neighbor has a Landseer named Pismo; a black Newfoundland with white spots, or a white Newfoundland with black spots depending on who you ask. Pismo was trained and papered for the AKC circuit, but failed to score well at the Dog Shows. After examining a number of score sheets, the trainer realized that a black spot on Pismo’s ankle created an optical illusion An illusion that turned her “pretty dog” stance into “slightly awkward pooch”. The neighbors were advised to alter the spot with a little mascara, but they felt like it was cheating. Last I heard, Pismo received her water rescue certification and was attempting to lure with the greyhounds.
Growing up I owned a cat whose tabby markings spelled out love across his side . . . but only when you squinted and leaned to the left. My mother bragged at work about her biblical cat that literally put on love. A competitive coworker spent an entire evening examining all of her pets. She came to work with a picture of her Bassette Hound. After a thorough search (and most assuredly a few glasses of wine) she had found a map of Bolivia below the bassette’s left shoulder.
Now I own a Weimaraner, solid gray with no major distinctions. Except for the fact that he’s slightly overweight; a sensitive subject for us both. My mother told me for months that my dog was fat. In my defense, I argued that the vet once told me that an acceptable physique only required a slight outline of the ribs (something a cleave to . . . both for my dog and myself). “You can still see his ribs,” I would smugly tell my mother. To which she would look at his sides and shrug in agreement. Until one day when she ran her hands across his “ribs.” Turns out they aren’t really ribs, just fat rolls imitating ribs. A perfect shadow of what ought to be visible.
The other day, I took my dog for a trail run. An event he thoroughly enjoyed for about the first half mile. He huffed and puffed his way through the rest. Emerging from the woods, he quickly realized I had parked the van at the top of a hill. He looked at the hill, looked at me, and sat down. Like any well-trained owner; I hiked the hill, drove down, and pushed the button for the automatic sliding door. My dog hopped (figuratively speaking) in, and away we went. Fake ribs or not, I glanced at my panting pooch through the review mirror: “you’re a fat dog.”
Illusion is powerful. What is seen on the outside can deceive . . . but not forever.
In religion, the most dangerous illusion of all, is morality. A high-browed claim of what we do or do not is but an illusion of faith that will always fail.
Stand on your soap box all day long and shout to the world about how you abstain from this or from that. Sit on your high horse with arms crossed scowling at the things you would never do. Show me your check list that is better than my deed. Posture yourself in piety for the sake of the Gospel . . . but you will not fare well in the ring. Lose your temper and eyes will narrow, “she calls herself a Christian, ha!.” Indulge in a bit of juicy gossip, and you are the same as one with no religion at all. Morality is the worst illusion of religion, for it only emphasizes your imperfections.
Judge your neighbor for what they have done, which you have not. Rant about their adultery, their carnality, their self-pity. Boast of your longsuffering with their shortcomings. Deem their mistakes as weightier than yours . . . and you will encrypt love. Love without restraint will become slanted with prerequisites. Love without limits will lean towards requirements. Morality is the worst illusion of religion, because it leaves seekers to look for love in other places.
Say you are without sin, and you only deceive yourself.
Look in the mirror and find the beauty of imperfection. Imperfection that levels the playing field and esteems all men as equal. Cast off the religion of doing good, and embrace that which is founded in grace.You may not have done this, but perhaps you’ve done that . . . We all need forgiveness, we all need mercy, we all need love. It is hard to imagine religion without a list of dos and donts. But as Christ said, “it is finished.” This is our religion: done.
Oh the places we can go with such freedom; water rescue and luring with the greyhounds. Or maybe just loving the people around us — one imperfect person to another.