Thinking About Religion

religionYou hear it from both atheists and some believers. Religion does more harm than good. And what’s often pointed to as the rationale for this belief is all the death and misery caused by differences between religions.

They point to the Crusades, to Ireland, to India, and of course to the Middle East as proof that all too much killing has occurred “in the name of God.”

Since religious identities are apparent in all these situations, it’s an easy argument to make and is not often dissected. In other words, the conclusion that religion is at fault is usually not questioned by anyone. It becomes the backdrop to an argument, a given, while debaters continue on to argue whether other religious functions do or do not make up for the bloodshed.

A couple of articles I’ve read lately suggest that I and others who have taken this “truth” for granted, may be fairly off the mark. Benjamin Wiker tackles this problem in The Myth of Religious Violence. I think he makes some excellent points. Relying on William Cavanaugh’s book of the same name, he argues most so-called religious wars are really political in nature and have much less to do with religion as the subject. According to Cavanaugh, religious differences are easily abandoned when some greater issue unites the otherwise religious opposites.

This is confirmed in John Wilkins, Undefining Religion. Wilkins, who is in my estimation, a thoughtful and deep thinker, argues that religions get blamed for many (but not all) wars based on a thing called the reference class problem, i.e., the tendency to ascribe fault based on an easily identifiable “class” rather than on actual facts, or the fallacy of composition. An example would be, I’m for Obama and I’m Catholic, you’re against Obama and Protestant, thus Catholics are for Obama and Protestants against him.

Wilkins argues:

Even the so-called religious wars, such as The Troubles in Ireland or the Crusades, were the outcome of social, economic and political processes, for which religion stood, not as a cause, but as a proxy for the opposing sides. This is not to say that religion never causes problems of this kind – of course it does. But often enough it is not the cause so much as the banner under which other issues are being resolved. The Irish Catholics and the imported Protestants were representative of ethnic groups with different social status and power, and so being Catholic was not so much the root of the Troubles as the honest signal of group identity.

This is all fine so far as it goes, and I’m happy to see some clarity brought to an issue that has always been troubling in discussions about the value of religion. But unfortunately, Wiker takes it a step further, and enters into what I think is simply a sea of illogical conclusion.

Wiker contends that this false premise, that religion causes wars and strife, death and misery, is the reason why our country rejected a religious-state connection. He argues as Cavanaugh’s beard, that this belief is necessary to those who wish to create secular states. Notice the innuendo here. Secularists (bad) conspire to make religion the cause of bad things in the minds of the people which allows them to strip religion from the state apparatus, and thus make a secularist state (truly bad).

Wiker goes on to carry Cavanaugh’s argument that the case of Everson v Board of Education, is seminal in this regard, wherein Hugo Black borrowed Jefferson’s words from a letter of 1802, interpreting the 1st Amendment, non-establishment clause, as “thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.” Wiker argues that forever after “secular-minded” justices have used the violence excuse as the basis for their secularization of government.

Somehow I fail to see the connection, and nowhere does Wiker point me to any other verbiage in the opinion or other opinions for that matter from which I may logically deduce such a conclusion. Wiker claims that but not for this dastardly act, we would still be the Judeo-Christian country that he, no doubt, feels was intended.

Funny, but throughout my investigation of religion and the 1st Amendment, I’ve never come across the “violence” argument before. Actually what we find is a constant reverberating chant of argument that relates to the sanctity of religious freedom being maintained through its separation from government. Enlightenment founders were aware no doubt of the sordid an often ugly connection between religion and government in Europe. Indeed Wiker makes his own argument for this, in explaining to us that religion is merely the vehicle used by governments to effect results having little to do with faith. The argument actually becomes circular.

While we can be safe, I think, in our historical conclusions that the Clause was erected and maintained to protect religious minorities their freedom to exist and practice as they wished, Wiker has unknowingly it seems, add the very argument of religious violence to the pot. Religion and government together too often makes religion the tool of government. And that tool is a powerful one indeed, giving rise to passions that can be far greater than any other argument as a call to arms.

Just what I have been thinking about this week.

 

Resurrection City

ResurrectioinCityI approached Resurrection City: A Theological Improvisation with some skepticism, I admit. The message of Jesus seen through the eyes of jazz? Somehow it seemed rather implausible and frankly a bit gimmicky. After all, I guess one could do the same with weather or baking a cake if one tried hard enough, but would one actually learn anything?

Yes.

Professor Heltzel has in fact not only pulled it off, but offered us a truly meaningful way of looking at the ministry of Jesus, the message of God, and how we as mortals upon this flawed earth can bring forth true justice amongst ourselves.

I have indeed listened, during one portion of my life, a fair amount of jazz. I am not a musician and thus I can only say that I liked a good deal of it, and found some of it harsh and difficult. My expertise is sorely lacking.

Such is not the case with Heltzel, who obviously knows his stuff. He uses the idea of jazz and how “good jazz” works as metaphor for how we must approach the fractured world we live in, in hopes of resurrecting our lives to reflect the mishpat envisioned by God.

We are taken on a tour of the Hebrew Scriptures wherein we are reminded that throughout the pages of Isaiah and Jeremiah God’s people are continually called to do justice and to care for the weak, the dispossessed, the widow, orphan, and the stranger. We are reminded of God’s call for Jubilee, a time reserved to “re-balance” the scales of economic inequality.

Jesus, Heltzel tells us, was the improviser, taking the old laws, the old prophetic calls to justice, and re-imagining them in new ways. Jesus in effect gives us a new way to see and interact with God. The Jesus Way, the way of love, which moves beyond love of neighbor to love of enemy, replacing violence with loving resistance to inequity in the world.

This is what jazz is all about, improvisation. It is taking the old, well-known song, and changes it, probing and altering, tinkering, imprinting one’s own voice upon it, making it anew. We still hear the strains of the old, but we are revived in this new way of hearing.

As examples of the Jesus Way, Heltzel focuses of John Coltrane as his Jazz improviser, and Sojourner Truth, and Martin Luther King, Jr. as theological improvisers. Each made a seminal and world-changing offering to the “old” way of seeing, listening, and doing.

Heltzel maps out how the Christian Church has been, over the centuries, molded into something far removed from God’s loving call to mishpat. It has strayed into a patriarchal, white seat of power, that justified slavery, and the oppression of women throughout the ages. What is required is a “new way” of being church, one that returns us to the radical Jesus Way, and calls us to improvise in order to achieve that social justice that God desires.

In that social justice, all of us are freed as we learn the truth of our past, while we gain the tools to begin the process of building our resurrection cities, where communities operate for the benefit of all their people. We must start that process, as he points out, by looking clear-eyed at our past. Through the stories of Sojourner Truth and MLK, Jr, we examine with honesty the past that still haunts us, and how both of them improvised solutions to the problems before them. Each surrendered totally and followed the call for justice.

Perhaps the most striking image for me was his reference to the famous theologian James Cone, who writes:

“Theologically speaking, Jesus was the ‘first lynchee’ who foreshadowed all the lynched black bodies on American soil. He was crucified by the same principalities and powers that lynched black people in America.”

This is a powerful metaphor, and comes at the beginning of our journey through the ugly past of American slavery. It informs our thinking, in a deeply powerful way when we juxtapose that against the determination of Martin Luther King, Jr., to maintain a non-violent resistance to Jim Crow in the South. How does the anger and hatred that the Cone statement engenders get translated into the sedaqah (righteousness) of the love-based non-violent resistance of King, or his mentor Gandhi?

Heltzel steps forth with his jazz references. The “blues” of slavery meld into the spirituals that both bespeak that evil and pain while yet pointing to a better time and a better life. These are grafted by the jazz musician into the new music of a world to come, one infused with power and new directions.

We see the Poor People’s March on Washington and in our own time, the Occupy Movement, as similar jazzy improvs–people joining together in their pain and anger, and forging a loving yet determinedly non-violent response to the powers that oppress and dehumanize us all.

Heltzel informs us, and then calls us to action in our place and in our time to create the new songs that God calls forth from us to build a new world, one of justice and for all.

Read this book. You will be transformed.

**This book was sent to me for review. The opinions contained within this review are mine and mine alone. No other agreements exist between the writer and anyone connected to the book or its dissemination.

Religion vs Spirituality

A friend of mine posted this a few days ago on Facebook. religionspirituality

I commented that “I could agree with that.”

And I can.

But like all memes it suffers from simplicity.

Often memes are just plain wrong upon further reflection. Sometimes they are right “most” of the time. Maybe they are mostly wrong except in a few circumstances.

This one I think is mostly right, but with a few caveats.

First of all, most religions are not “someone else’s experience.” They are a lot of someone elses. Where Christianity is concerned that numbers in the dozens. And that only relates to its scriptural base, the bible. If you add all the other writings not canonized, but still reflective of how people of generally the same time frame came to see the Jesus experience, then it grows substantially.

And of course, that says nothing to all the theologians and biblical scholars that have expanded our knowledge of exactly what that experience was, and how it should be conceived of. They number in the thousands over the years. And of course the mystical writers have their own experiences to relate.

So we actually have a lot to dig through in discerning what that “experience” is. Much the same could be said I suspect of most other religions. The end belief system is the product of hundreds if not thousands of minds. And of course, there is much conflict between minds.

But religions have surely set dogma and told believers that they should adhere to those beliefs. They divide them often into those that “must” be adhered to, those that should be, and perhaps those that are “up to your conscious”. And these change too, moving from one category to another. That is where the trouble begins.

Do we dare question the insights of a St. John of the Cross? Or The little Flower Theresa? Are their visions and spiritual deductions sacrosanct because of their sainthood? Is mine less so because I lack the imprimatur of the Church? That is where one’s spirituality conflicts it seems to me. And it is where the Church, standing for religion errs.

For the Church seeks, based upon its self-defined expertise, to tell the parishioner  what she must believe to remain within the good graces of said institution. An institution made by humans I might add, whatever your current theology might be about what Jesus intended when he laid the mantle upon Peter’s shoulders. This is error as I see it.

The Church has a serious and important role. That role is to nurture, care for, and raise up the individual who comes seeking. It can and should not judge, but only facilitate  with love and forgiveness, warmth and understanding, that relationship between God and creature. It should in no way be a barrier, EVER. When it does so, well as Jesus said, better tie a millstone around its neck and drown it.

And of course many would do just that. In the name of God.

And they are just as wrong as those who see the Church as God, speaking for, judging for, and forgiving for God.

For that purpose of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, tending to the sick, and ministering to all who are suffering, is the primary goal and purpose of religion, or Church. And if, I would argue, it limited itself to that purpose, it might well effectively reduce suffering in the world in a degree that would stupefy modern governments.

That is not it’s only purpose however. It serves to be the gathering forum for believers, and that is of no small importance. For the scriptures make clear to us, throughout them, that the gathering of the people in “church” is valuable and necessary. In some sense the Trinity teaches us that–one God in three forms operating in perfect community. We are communal creatures, and Church can and should mirror that perfect community. We are called to act selflessly, and no better place to learn it SHOULD be the Church.

Instead of course, we find nothing but judgment and rejection for so many. As if God needs humans to prevent other humans from approaching the altar. As if somehow the Church sanctifies and not God.

Spirituality is not a substitute for church in this sense. All too many people are walking around proclaiming their spirituality and their self-interpretation of scripture. The trouble is, scripture is not something that one can “just understand with an IQ of 100″ as a self-proclaimed atheist recently told me. Although not a believer, he insisted that our “debate” be limited to the four corners of the bible, and using the common sense meaning of the words themselves. Of course such a notion is absurd.

Millions of unchurched Christianists proclaim what God wants, needs,  and hates. They then insist that we conform to their beliefs. Church can and should be the counterpoint to this sort of self-serving Christianity. If it is wrong for a church to speak for God, how much more so when an individual seeks to tell another what God wills or punishes? Here faith is simply used as a defense to calls of bigotry. We hear, “I personally don’t care about _______, but God is against it in the bible, and it’s my Christian duty to speak up.”

This is what comes from unfettered “spirituality” absent the restraints religion heterodoxy. But heterodoxy is in the end a human endeavor, and should never be confused with God, now with eternal truth. It is the best of what we understand now, and not what we may realize tomorrow.

Smart churches do this. All churches should do this.

Churches should be spending more time helping its members explore and think. As in all things, critical thinking skills apply. The dogma of the present church should but serve to start the discussion, and the exploration. God gave us these marvelous thinking instruments and they are meant to be used. Only by the deepest and broadest searching will we be rewarded with the most meaningful experience of God.

So, it’s not all one, or all the other. Each goes wrong by itself. It is the blending of both, and the value of both that enriches the individual.

Amen.

The Hypocrisy of Treating Jesus with “Tough Love”: Here’s a Riddle for You . . . (Sunday Homily)

Sherry:

Because I can’t say it any better.

Originally posted on Mike Rivage-Seul's Blog: ". . .about things that matter":

the least

Readings for Third Sunday of Advent: IS 35: 1-6A, 10; PS 146: 6-10; JAS 5: 7-10; MT 11: 2-11 http://usccb.org/bible/readings/121513.cfm

Recently, Mary Shaw contributed a well-received article to the pages if OpEdNews (my favorite online news source). The article was called “American Hunger and the Christian Right.” There Ms. Shaw pointed to the irony of predominant elements within the GOP adopting as their two main goals cutting social services such as Food Stamps and eliminating labor unions while at the same time calling themselves “Christian.” In Ms, Shaw’s analysis, such inconsistency does not jibe with the personal poverty of Jesus himself, or his concern for the poor manifested in mass feedings on more than one occasion.

In the light of today’s liturgy of the word, I would go even further and argue that the GOP position flies in the face of the entire Judeo-Christian tradition expressing (as it does) God’s…

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Unstructured Thoughts

EinsteinWe can never explain God simply can we? Never, no matter how much we try.

Oh we can pretend that we can. We can for instance call God, “love”.  All that needs saying right?

No, it but starts the conversation surely. How does this “love” allow for all this hate and misery and pain and suffering in this world of ours? And even before these creatures called humans deigned to stand up and gaze over the grasslands, it was so. Some animals are carnivorous, feeding off other passive creatures. How “loving” is that?

When the opposable thumbed ones stood up, did they do so out of a desire to see the world in a bigger context or because it enabled them to see danger when  it was still far enough away to do something about it? Before they too became somebody’s meal?

Creator of the universe? Yes, but is this “our” universe, or a lot of “ours” universe? Is it our playground or simply our small slice of this one? Are there many? Do they each have a God, or is this one running them all? Is Jesus our Jesus, or is Jesus, Jesus everywhere?

Oh you know the answer? Confess, it’s only a guess. You guess you know. You choose to believe you know. You don’t really know.

Is that the essence of God? Is it determining to believe what you can’t know? But perhaps I cannot know what came before the “Big Bang”. Astrophysicists tell me that I may not ever be able to. Is that where God is?

Are we all just struggling humans trying to make human sense out of what is not human? After all, did the psalmist have it right when he said, “how hard for me to grasp your thoughts”? Can I grasp them? What exactly is “in my image” mean after all?

♥ ♥

But then there is this: “if they are capable of acquiring enough knowledge to be able to investigate the world, how have they been so slow to find its Master?”

We are tantalized with both you see, the confounded frustration of never “getting it” to the assurance that we can. Or at least the belief that we can. For that image thing surely means that we must “think” in the manner of God, in the sense that 2 + 2 = 4, and if A = B, and A = C then B = C. It must be like that, surely?

So why can’t we KNOW for God’s sake? Actually why can’t we know for our own sake, for surely God doesn’t need us to know, but we desperately need to know. Or don’t we? Is there some delicious wonderment in believing rather than knowing? Is that comforting and empowering somehow that cold factual knowing can’t be?

♥ ♥

After years on his cushion, a monk has what he believes is a breakthrough: a glimpse of nirvana, the Buddhamind, the big pay-off. Reporting the experience to his master, however, he is informed that what has happened is par for the course, nothing special, maybe even damaging to his pursuit. And then the master gives the student dismaying advice: If you meet the Buddha, he says, kill him.

Why kill the Buddha? Because the Buddha you meet is not the true Buddha, but an expression of your longing. If this Buddha is not killed he will only stand in your way.

If that’s true, and it may well be, then what are we to do then? Toss the bible in the trash? Stay away from every edifice that signifies the place of knowing, i.e., Church? Don’t read what anyone writes about the subject? Because the minute you think you have a handle on God, like partially set jello in your hands, it slides away? The minute somebody makes sense, or assures you that they know, you can be very sure they don’t?

I don’t recall wherein his Confessions, he said this, but  Augustine said, “God is not what you imagine or what you think you understand. If you understand you have failed.”

How much clearer could that be? And pray tell, why does Augustine then proceed to tell us so much about God? We are driven to explain what is inexplicable, and by its very nature is probably clearly not what we explain.
Perhaps it is what keeps me in the Catholic church and out of it at the same time. I don’t trust the messenger any more, yet I know God is there. It’s all very funky in my head when I try to sort it all out. Perhaps sorting is the wrong thing to do. Just let it ferment old girl, just let it ferment. It will take care of itself.

♥ ♥

I do know that this passage has stayed in my head for more than a week. I can’t shake it. I guess I ask God a lot for wisdom. Maybe because that is one of the few things in the Bible where a feminine aspect of God is clear. Wisdom is SHE, damn it, and if you don’t like it, well too bad.

Anyway, I long for this:

There is in her a spirit that is intelligent, holy,

unique, manifold, subtle,

mobile, clear, unpolluted,

distinct, invulnerable, loving the good, keen,

irresistible, 23 beneficent, humane,

steadfast, sure, free from anxiety,

all-powerful, overseeing all,

and penetrating through all spirits

that are intelligent, pure, and altogether subtle.

24 For wisdom is more mobile than any motion;

because of her pureness she pervades and penetrates all things.

25 For she is a breath of the power of God,

and a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty;

therefore nothing defiled gains entrance into her.

26 For she is a reflection of eternal light,

a spotless mirror of the working of God,

and an image of his goodness.

27 Although she is but one, she can do all things,

and while remaining in herself, she renews all things;

in every generation she passes into holy souls

and makes them friends of God, and prophets;

28 for God loves nothing so much as the person who lives with wisdom.

29 She is more beautiful than the sun,

and excels every constellation of the stars.

Compared with the light she is found to be superior,

30 for it is succeeded by the night,

but against wisdom evil does not prevail.

8 She reaches mightily from one end of the earth to the other,

and she orders all things well.(Wis. 7: 22-8:1)

Until God so chooses to grace me, I remain but a God Seeker. But then, truly, whether we know it or not, aren’t we all?

Amen

How Can You Mean This?

MatthewdIt is claimed that Susan B. Anthony once said something like this: “I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do, because I notice it always coincides with their own desires.”

I’ve noticed the same thing. Have you ever know anyone to say in their defense: “I myself wouldn’t have a problem with THAT, but the Bible says that God is against it, so I must follow God first.”

Meanwhile in Congress, the GOP is intent upon cutting SNAP by 40 BILLION dollars. All the while, a significant number of them are receiving PERSONALLY tens of millions of dollars in farm subsidies. You see, we must do this they claim, because these people who are receiving free food are lazy, they are becoming a “take” culture, while they themselves are simply being given some help, ironically in the food production arena, to keep America’s food shelves healthy and full.

Mathewwrong

And do you know what they claim is their moral justification for what they do? Why it is Paul’s statement in Thessalonians:

“In fact, when we were with you, we instructed you that if anyone was unwilling to work, neither should that one eat.”

They do not of course answer the burning question of “where are the jobs”, a bellowing demand they make of this President every week, if not every day. Yet, someone people should starve because those who receive food assistance are undoubtedly unwilling to work. Work at what, they don’t say.

Yet of course all this is so much a lie. Forty-seven percent of all recipients are children under 18. Eight percent are seniors. Forty-one percent live in households where someone works full or part-time. Less than 10% of recipients receive any other type of assistance. Nobody speaks louder or more clear than the GOP when it comes to veterans. Yet over 900,000 veterans currently receive SNAP.

Those are the facts.

What of the moral argument?

It too is utter nonsense and bespeaks the usual literalist reading of scripture that these fundamentalists indulge in.

I have some personal experience here for I’ve talked with a number of people who I’ve known since childhood who tell me all about Paul’s statement in defense of their agreement with Republican goals to cut SNAP funding. They of course first start by telling me of their personal anecdotes, stories of acquaintances or relatives who get assistance and either brag or are “known” not to really need it. This is almost immediately followed by complaints that “I’m tired of working so hard for these freeloaders. My taxes are already through the roof because of Obama.” (Note that taxes in general have gone down under President Obama’s administration, but of course people believe what they want to perpetuate the myth they are living with.)

Then of course comes the scripture. “Even Paul said that those who do not work shall not eat” This is often followed by the incredulous statement that “Everyone knows that Jesus was against government!”

So there we have it. Jesus doesn’t like government and so as all  fundamentalists tell me, these things should be left up to the Church. Yes. Well, nothing is preventing the “Church” from taking on the job. Nothing has been preventing them from doing so for over two thousand years. Somehow or other, they haven’t gotten the job done. So please don’t tell me the Church should do it.

And the thing from Paul? Well, IF one were to actually read Paul with some understanding of what his letters are about, one might get a clue that this is not a statement that should EVER be taking literally.

Looking first at Paul’s overall theology, it is clear that he, like many others in the movement, expected the return of the Lord within their own lifetimes. Indeed, in his first letter to them, he calms them and reassures them that those “who are still alive for the Lord’s coming will not have any advantage over those who have fallen asleep.” (1Thess 4:15) Much of Paul’s teaching on marriage for instance is based on his believe that the Lord would return within most of their lifetimes. Thus he counsels that those who can maintain celibacy, should not marry. Those who find it difficult should marry rather than engage in promiscuity.

Secondly,  it is not completely accepted that 2Thessalonians, from which the “no work, no eat” comes from, was actually written by Paul. Be that as it may, Paul is writing again to Thessaloniki because a crisis has arisen. Indeed, many of Paul’s letters are in response to crisis within the believing community. New people sometimes arrive with new teachings, something teachers get off on tangents. In other words, Thessaloniki is in crisis.

The crisis is quite obvious and is stated in the letter itself: Someone is telling the people in the community that the day of the Lord’s arrival has actually come!

“. . . Please do not be too easily thrown into confusion or alarmed by any manifestation of the Spirit or any statement or any letter claiming to come from us, suggesting that the Day of the Lord has already arrived.”(2Thess 2:2)

This is what has caused the problem. People are in panic. There is conflict. As is the case in all the cities, the household churches are supported financially by the more wealthy members. It seems that some in the community are no longer working, and are looking for the Lord to appear, and simply living off the largess of the wealthier among them. Paul says this must stop. According to him, there are various things that must transpire before the Lord returns, and these have not occurred. Everyone is to return to normal activities. Return to calm. Go back to your jobs and your normal pursuits.

What is pathetic in this use of a single sentence out of context, is that even to the most limited of readers, the context should seem most clear. Paul is not out of the blue announcing that it is a teaching of Christ that that no one who fails to work shall not eat.

This flies in the face of Matthew 25 which says something quite different:

Mathew25aThis is the great teaching of Christ.

This is what needs be followed by all who would claim the name of Christian.

While we keep these writings about scripture and faith, we urge readers to contact their congress person and demand that the cuts in SNAP be restored.

Surely we are better than this.

Amen.

Matthewc

And Yet We Try

Father GodOh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!
How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways!

For who has known the mind of the Lord
or who has been his counselor?
Or who has given him anything
that he may be repaid? (Rom 11:33-35)

This is a troubling passage for most of us. It suggests that no matter what we do, we are too small, too limited to understand God. When faced with some calamity or other that we cannot understand, we say oh so mysteriously “God has his reasons, and someday we will understand.” Such nonsense is less than helpful to the one suffering, but we are at a loss and so we say such inane things.

For a variety of reasons, many biblical scholars conclude that the real first attempt to set down in writing the oral traditions of the early Israelites didn’t occur until the tribes had secured the land of Palestine. That is only a beginning of course, relating to the ancient times, the exodus, the wandering and the entering into the land. It is no little stretch to see why this might be so. Given the bloody history of the take over of the land by the various tribes, it is not unexpected that some effort would be made to tailor the stories to defend all that invasion and mayhem as God-ordained.

Similarly when we look at the histories in Samuel, Kings, and so forth, we see justifications for the political lifestyle that was being faced by those returning from exile. We see theology melded around political necessity and reality. We see the winners proclaiming truth. The losers no doubt had their own version.

So what do we make of this thing called “THE BIBLE”? A collection of writings, all unknown today, and perhaps largely unknown at the time. At least the source of much that was put down in written form had come from hundreds if not more than a thousand years before. Traditions oral, handed down from generation to generation. And more than one in some cases for the same basic “history”.

We can of course make it all quite easy. We can simply declare that it is all written at the direction of the Almighty Himself–not exactly dictated, but placed within the mind of various scribes exactly as God desires, and they faithfully scribbled it down as if it was being read to them in their mind. To make it a “human” endeavor, we are told that each writer used his own “words” although it is hard to explain why God’s words wouldn’t be considered the best.

We can do this, making the Bible the “word of God”, smiling smugly and going on with nary another thought, glad that that problem has been laid aside as solved. No matter that it is not remotely true of course, or that someone so grand and perfect could surely “write” a manual of behavior much simpler and easier to understand. And do not say it is not hard to understand. If that were so, then pray tell why are there so many (30,000 at least) various “churches” all claiming that they have got it right and nobody else, quite right. To say nothing of all those millions who actually in their arrogance eschew “experts” and find the document easy enough for the average person to understand as written.

We actually know that the bible, or should we say the various writings that would one day be declared, by men long dead, the bible, have been rewritten more than several times. They are not all the same, there are longer or shorter versions of some books, parts left out, and new parts added. We can tease apart a good deal of this, but it all leads to something called an “oral tradition” that is not capable of being “located” or known. Our oldest copies are not so very old when we look at what they refer to. Most are from the Common Era, after the birth of Christ.

They are copies of things we no longer have, and they are probably copies of other things we don’t have either. And on it goes.

And the most we can say, is that God, we trust, has held these minds in loving embrace while they struggled to explain their history and times and how God had occupied their world and influenced it, changed it, and directed them. If we are to believe that God really means free will, then he did not put words or thoughts in their minds, but loved them fiercely and from that relationship trusted that they would speak truthfully as they understood.

So some of what they believed is true, and some is just not. But they were well-meaning, honest, and dedicated to showing this wonderful God as the center of the universe they lived in. And that is the best we can expect.

And it is humbling, this knowing.

For we are no different. We are well-meaning, and we are honest, and we too are dedicated to explaining to ourselves and to each other how this God we so love works in the world and in our lives.

And we struggle with words, and ideas, and concepts. And we don’t get it all right, but we get some of it right. And a thousand years from now, others will continue doing the same.

And bit by bit, perhaps we will piece together some mosaic of this Godness. At least enough to know that it is too grand for each of us, for all of us.

It is a process we experience, this doing God. It is touching ourselves in our aloneness, and in our neediness. It is discovering that the only important thing is love, and from that all good comes. And when we feel that perfect loving peace for short moments, then we know in some place deep inside that we have for a brief instance brushed aside the veil and we have seen.

And we scribble hurriedly before it slips from us, as it must. And others will judge if we have hit the mark or failed, far from now.

For we are creature.

And yet we try.

Oh How Can It Go So Wrong?

humilityWho among us has not felt the ugly cloak of self-righteousness upon our shoulders? For most of us, it is a humbling and heartbreaking experience, one that leaves us filled with shame and begging to be forgiven for forgetting who and what we are.

Not that I favor the constant not-really-so-humbling- practice of constantly confessing loudly our sinful nature. I find that rather self-righteous actually. I see no need to heap ashes upon my head on a regular basis. My failures and limitations are known to God and to me, and in the quiet of my own heart these things are pondered deeply and acted upon appropriately. All else is for show it seems to me.

Today’s liturgy focuses on the famous parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. As we all know, the Pharisee was among his peers an object of piety, a stickler for the details of Jewish law, and always quick to call for perfect compliance in the strictest sense. The tax collector, was an outsider within his community, working for the Romans, taking his pay as a cut from the exorbitant tax bills of his fellow Jews. The more he got from them, the more he got. He was shunned and hated by all those who saw him coming.

The Pharisee enters the temple and begins reciting all his virtues–how he is superior to most of his fellow Jews, especially this lowly tax collector. He apparently thinks that God needs reminding and remind Him he does. On the other hand, the tax collector dares not even raise his eyes heavenward, so ashamed of his sinful nature is he. He begs for mercy.

No doubt the Pharisee, perhaps not with words, but in intent does not beg at all, but merely asks to be given his due, what he assumes is his (wealth, prestige, power) because he is who he is, a Pharisee.  The tax collector expects nothing, but he trusts that this God of love will consider his plea.

We are led to recall the first reading from Sirach:

The LORD is a God of justice,
who knows no favorites.
Though not unduly partial toward the weak,
yet he hears the cry of the oppressed.
The Lord is not deaf to the wail of the orphan,
nor to the widow when she pours out her complaint.
The one who serves God willingly is heard;
his petition reaches the heavens.
The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds;
it does not rest till it reaches its goal,
nor will it withdraw till the Most High responds,
judges justly and affirms the right,
and the Lord will not delay. (Sir 35: 12-14, 16-18)

Can we relate?

If there was ever a story to point out what Pharisees might appear like today it is this story:

A server at a popular Italian eatery in Kansas was shocked to find that customers had left behind an anti-gay message on their bill in lieu of a tip.

“Thank you for your service, it was excellent,” the customers had written. “That being said, we cannot in good conscience tip you, for your homosexual lifestyle is an affront to GOD. Queers do not share in the wealth of GOD, and you will not share in ours.

The customers continued: “We hope you will see the tip your fag choices made you lose out on, and plan accordingly. It is never too late for GOD’S love, but none shall be spared for fags. May GOD have mercy on you.”

No doubt any decent person finds this type of thing utterly shocking. One can easily see the self-righteous arrogance of the writer. So very sure they are right. So very sure they know the mind of God. So very sure they will be properly rewarded for their public chastisement of the young waiter. The slurs make it clear that there is no human love offered, but merely condemnation.

Good people of faith will of course be horrified and condemn this behavior for what it is, an utterly misguided reading of scripture, a failure to recognize the over-riding directive of love that we are all to obey first and foremost, and a blatant exhibition of raw bigotry.

Others will condemn the words used, but claim that the action was still appropriate because they too are sure they understand the bible correctly.

Some few others will remind us that it is our “job” to advise the sinful of their sins, since they may be somehow “unaware”. Christian duty is their cry.

People of no faith will nod their heads and once again point out that this is what “religion gets you”. If there is anything good in religions of any kind, it has long been lost to powerful interests within and their acceptance of “rules” that on their face are unfair, unjust, ugly, bigoted. No God who would create such a rule, they argue, is a God worth worshiping or following.

As I remain separated from my Church, I watch as it struggles with these issues. Pope Francis signals that at the very least, our rhetoric has been ugly and off-putting. It does no good to welcome with the one hand while the other is demanding that to be a member in good standing, one must cease and desist being who you are. There is no welcoming in this. There is only some sick pathetic attempt to portray something one is not.

One wonders how the patron at the restaurant learned such ugliness. Jesus certainly modeled no such behavior. The companies like Hobby Lobby who are suing the government in order not to be required to provide health insurance to their employees that includes coverage of birth control and other reproductive assistance is another example. Where does Jesus model this sort of “my way or the highway” approach. Did he not uphold the Samaritans on many occasions–a sect reviled by ordinary Jews.

If one believes that this is from God, then surely one must be horrifically wrong, for this is not love, this is not compassion, nor is it forgiveness, welcoming, community, support, loving kindness. There is nothing good here at all. There is only hatred, fear, and self-righteousness, that suggests that in finding you lesser I am somehow better.

And this cannot be so.

This cannot be God.

 

Always in Hope and Prayer

Our_Mother_is_CryingAfter witnessing another round of Washington gridlock wherein all too many of the players jock only for their own personal best position, it is all too easy to lose hope.

All too easy to give up the fight when so many are aligned in an evil dance of pointing the finger at each other rather than at ourselves.

Our selfishness, our greed, our pride, our self-righteousness, our ambitions all serve to pit one against the other in an endless dance of death where neither can let go for fear of being dealt the final death-blow, and yet we slowly bleed  each other to death.

People are really suffering in our world, and people are really afraid. The two often don’t coincide. Those who live in fear, fear the one’s who are suffering and clutch all the more tightly those miserable things they have acquired, all the while attempting to build a fortress to contain these things from being taken.

Those who suffer do so in great silence, too weary from the struggle to just exist. The pain in their eyes echoes but one question: how can you let me die? Worse how can you let my innocent child die?

We argue over whether a human has the RIGHT to food, to shelter, to health care, as if it were a real question and not one created by forces that control the means of food, shelter and health and want only to exact a price for them in order to afford yet another jet, or condo, or island for their pleasure. It is all too awful at times, all to hard to fathom.

We were created in the image of God, yet we have distorted it by all the ugliness we continue to hold within us. Worse, we look at ourselves and see through this distortion our God become like us. How unnatural, how grotesque!

Yet there is this:

JUST ONE

I ask for just one miracle this weekend:
that I will no longer believe the impossible is.

That I will find the faith to believe
that liberation will come
for those who are imprisoned by their own
- or another’s -
fear and judgement.

That I will find the faith to believe
that the most intractable minds can be changed
– even my own.

That i will find the faith to believe
a different world will be born
from the empty hells of this one.

That I won’t stop living for the end
of all that would destroy us.

From Hold This Space

And from this praying upon unholy knees, we rise again to continue on, learning, teaching, reaching upward in love, in goodness, in equality, in justice, crying forth for a miracle of salvation for the human race.

Explaining the Inexplicable

hidden-3d.com-gallery-x-3Dimka_Chel_CamelIt is surely true that one of the greatest lessons I learned as I ventured into the blogosphere is something that cannot be learned easily in the real world, unless over long periods of time.

It is that everyone’s brain does not work the same. We tend to think that they do. When we come up against a person who seems unreasonable and without logic in their thinking, we tend to say “it’s just them”, as in something is wrong with them individually.

But when, via the Internet, you meet dozens and then more dozens of people who have this same “problem”, you realize that there must be really different ways to organize thinking.

The two groups that have frustrated me the most are fundamentalists and atheists. I probably should subdivide that somewhat because not all atheists are the same, nor probably all fundamentalists. Let us just say that the most fervent among either group share this trait–a perfectly ironclad belief that they are right, and a perfectly ironclad belief that there is no fact out there that can change their mind. They basically don’t acknowledge the latter of course.

Fundamentalists insist that I suspend all my senses and the accompanying logical deductions that seem to support conclusions in accord with those senses and believe that for whatever reason God wants us to believe a completely different scenario of “how things came to be”.  Our senses serve double duty–allowing us to function in a natural world, yet designed apparently to lead us terribly astray if we follow them to their logical ends. In other words, see the dangerous animal ahead, but don’t look much further into what composes the animal.

Atheists, at least the vocal ones nowadays, say all such God-talk is utter nonsense, and there is no point in trying to debate a fantasy. No one who believes in God, whatever their education can be other than a dolt. They are reduced to making fun of believers, mining the Bible for quote after quote, ridiculing the logic and implications. If you try to point out history, context, literary genre, or anything similar, they point out that “progressive” explanations are merely attempts to not dump the baby out with the bath water.

Atheists reduce all religion to fundamentalist definitions because that is the easy target. It is would be akin to defining and then criticizing all political parties using only the Tea Party model.

It is frustrating to “explain” belief to a non-believer. It is hard to explain because if you have not had that “moment” its hard to make it understandable. It requires a willingness to think outside the box I guess.

I have no answer for the fundamentalist. Mostly life either throws them a curve that upsets their apple cart or it doesn’t. For those to whom that happens, they discard fundamentalism rapidly thereafter, and alas often any belief in God at all. This is the unfortunately reality. The Internet abounds with various “help” blogs for “recovering fundamentalists”.

But there are a vast number of atheists out there who are not of the vocal and hysterical variety. They are just quietly what they are, much as I was for many years. Contrary to the “new” atheists who claim they are discriminated against, I and I dare say most atheists have never felt this. Frankly it’s something that seldom comes up in any conversation.

Among my atheist or agnostic friends, still the subject of “why do you believe in God” does arise in a friendly way, and as I said, it is hard to explain.

This is all to say, that I have found what I believe is the most cogent and helpful explanation of what believing is all about. And it’s all about stereograms.

Stereograms are pictures that contain other images within. For some, the other picture is apparent almost immediately. For others, it takes some minutes, maybe longer. For some few, it never happens. The beauty here is that even those that “never can”, can at least recognize that others can.

Thus belief is seen as “another way of thinking” or “another way of seeing”. Some can “see” this way easily, some after a while, some only after a long while, and some never. But the nevers (atheists) can at least know that others can see this different way.

If that all sounds confusing, then I urge you to go to Making the Spiritual World Real. I’m quite sure that David Flowers explains it much better than I. If we can make inroads in our differences, at least to understand each other, then we have moved miles.

Blessings this day.

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