So, just be happy instead
A story is told of a little girl talking to her teacher about whales. The teacher told the girl that it’s physically impossible for a whale to swallow a human whole because of the size of its throat.
“Well, Jonah was swallowed by a whale,” the girl informed the teacher.
“It’s just not possible,” the teacher replied.
The little girl was determined and said, “Well, when I go to heaven, I’ll ask Jonah.”
“What if Jonah is in hell?” the teacher countered.
“Then you can ask him,” the girl concluded.
It’s easy to laugh at our penchant for wanting to be right, no matter what the facts of a situation are, when it’s framed as a joke. Our insistent clinging to our beliefs, though, even in the face of a mountain of evidence that says we’re wrong, has created this ego-driven, dysfunctional, tribal, and separated world we live in.
We seem to live in two different realities – each one driven by political, spiritual, and communal beliefs that appear to be polar opposites – never the twain shall meet. In these worlds, it’s clear to us who is going to heaven and who is going to hell.
The truth is, we’re all in hell, one that we’ve created together to keep us believing the ego’s lie that we’re separate from one another and truly have nothing in common.
How do we escape this hell? By realizing that our true function here is to be agents of connection and relationship – bringing unity in a world that is enthralled by a trance of separation.
In this moment in time, we believe we are hopelessly separate from one another. We are divided politically in ways we’ve never been before — so much so that we find it hard to even look at one another, much less strike up a conversation. The wealth gap and decimation of the middle class has created a world of a tiny minority who seem to have it all and the rest of us left with little or nothing. Racial lines seem more bright and solid as black and brown people fear for their lives if they see blue lights in their rearview mirror.
Religious divides have deepened, too. Many are fleeing organized religion as others double down on theologies of condemnation and separation. It’s easy to become captivated by the times, but we are called to break free from the prison that we have collectively created.
We break free through by connection, by building relationships not based on politics, class, race, or religion, but on the thing that we all share – an original blessing, a divine awareness that lives within each of us.
Some have so deeply forgotten their original blessing that they spend their time miscreating in the world. Instead of looking on them with scorn or hatred, we are called to remember our own light of divinity and live into it so deeply that when others see it, they remember their light, too.
When I worked at CNN in the mid-1990s, back before I had even heard of A Course in Miracles, I knew deep down that connection was the better path, even if I didn’t know it consciously. One day, Bob Barr, who, at the time, was one of Georgia’s congressional representatives, stopped by CNN to do a television interview. I was working at CNN Radio at the time and my boss requested that Barr come down to the radio studios so we could do our own interview with him. I just happened to be the editor who was available.
For those who may not remember Barr, he was the author of the Defense of Marriage Act that then-President Bill Clinton signed into law in 1996. Much has changed since then for the better as two U.S. Supreme Court rulings – in 2013 and 2015 – gutted the law and gave same-sex couples the right to marry. The U.S. House recently passed a law that would repeal what was known as DOMA, and enshrine LGBTQ rights in the laws of the nation.
None of this had transpired on this afternoon as Barr strode down the narrow hallway to my booth for our interview. At that moment he was just a guy – then in his third marriage – who wanted to ensure that I would never be able to marry the woman I love.
Other editors and anchors were waiting to see how I would handle this, whether I would challenge him or argue with him. As he neared my booth, I noticed his tie which featured a colorful display of Tabasco sauce bottles. I smiled as he approached and complimented him on his tie. We immediately bonded over our love of spicy food and sauces. He explained that his wife had given him that tie and he cherished it for that reason.
It hit me then: someone was in love with Bob Barr and knew him so intimately that they could delight him with a simple gift of a tie that he proudly wears in public.
In that moment, we became human to one another, and we had a great interview. I did ask him about DOMA – which had not yet passed – but I wasn’t hostile.
Some may say that I blew a chance to come out to Barr and openly challenge him on his stance. For what end?
If you look at me you can tell I’m a lesbian – my picture serves as the illustration for the word “dyke” in the dictionary (it should, anyway). Barr knew who he was talking to – but maybe a lesbian treating him as a human being and not an opponent made more of a positive impression on him than me arguing with him or challenging him in that moment.
I’m sure Barr doesn’t remember me at all, but in that moment, we touched our common humanity together. We created a connection and I’m convinced that that was far more effective than being openly hostile to him.
This is how we heal the separation in our world — by connecting, even in the smallest ways with those we may see as our enemies.
Barr had the power to deeply affect my life in adverse ways, but even then, in my nascent spiritual awareness, something told me that if I could connect to him – even on the level of Tabasco sauce – perhaps there could be a chance for deeper connection. If not, then, at least, I got a chance to plant a seed: An obvious lesbian had been kind to him and had provided him with a chance to see her as a fellow human being who also loved hot sauce, just like him.
What are you practicing in the world? Are you acting as an agent of separation or unity?
As a gauge of this, maybe check what you’re posting on social media. Are you arguing, disagreeing, trying to be right, and creating hell for yourself and others?
It feels good to be right. It’s the ego’s favorite drug. A Course teacher Marianne Williamson always used to say, “Even if you’re right, you’re wrong,” because our pride over being “right” simply creates more separation in the world. In addition, in Chapter 29, A Course asks us: “Do you prefer that you be right or happy?”
We can be both right and happy however, because seeking connection and relationships, no matter what our disagreements over things in this world are, is the right thing for us to do because it creates unity which produces happiness and joy for everyone involved.
Even though a whale may not be physically able to swallow a human, the whale of Love can swallow our fear whole and bring our ultimate unity into this moment. That is what brings us all into heaven.
Founder of Motley Mystic and the Jubilee! Circle interfaith spiritual community In Columbia, S.C., Candace Chellew (she/her) is the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians (Jossey-Bass, 2008). Founder and Editor Emeritus of Whosoever, she earned her masters of theological studies at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, was ordained by Gentle Spirit Christian Church in December 2003, and trained as a spiritual director through the Omega Point program of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. She is also a musician and animal lover.