We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.
Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk
Friday, May 17, 2013
One's first inclination is to blame pastors for being timid, hypocritical, and even two-faced. In the pulpit, they communicate a kind of "soft" literalism that doesn't overtly challenge literal readings of the Bible. Closer to the mark, however, is the situation that most pastors face most of the time. Mainline church goers, as a rule, are not all that interested in the Bible. In most churches, Bible study groups are small and usually limited to the "same old faces," most of whom are among the more conservative members of the church. Those members who might be most receptive to modern scholarship are also the ones who are least interested in hearing about it. Mainline churches, furthermore, tend to emphasize doing over talking. Committed members want to serve the world, and they consider Christian service to be the heart of their faith. They don't have much patience with "just sitting around and talking." Other members, again probably more conservative, want to emphasize personal spirituality, which means prayer groups more than study groups. They are interested in the Bible primarily as a devotional aide, which is not the place for introducing critical approaches to scripture. Beyond these constituencies in mainline churches is the 50-60% or more of the congregation that sits mostly on the fringes of church life. Few if any of them are interested in the Bible at all.
This is not to say that mainline pastors can't share critical approaches to scripture with members of the churches they serve. But, there are conditions required for them to do so successfully. They themselves have to be willing, able, and committed to exposing their congregation to modern biblical scholarship. There has to be an important segment of the congregation they serve that wants to know more about the Bible and is willing to listen to non-literal approaches to scripture. And there needs to be a shared perception that a mature 21st century faith implies a knowledge of scripture that is both critical and faithful. Such a perception sees literalism as an obstacle to faithful readings of scripture and is committed to using biblical scholarship as an antidote to literalism. My sense is that there are only a minority of mainline churches today where these conditions exist. Perhaps mainline pastors can sometimes be faulted for not working to create them. Perhaps.
Thursday, May 16, 2013
The major difference between hating and loving is perhaps that whereas to love somebody is to be fulfilled and enriched by the experience, to have somebody is to be diminished and drained by it. Lovers, by losing themselves in their loving find themselves, become themselves. Haters simply lose themselves. Theirs is the ultimately consuming passion.
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
In 2013, living in faith means living at odds with the central values that drive our dynamic, knowledge-based, information-hungry world. In faith, we take heart in things we cannot know. We find comfort in things for which information is not available. At the same time, however, faith does not believe. It is familiar with doubt and with unbelief. It feels comfortable with them and, in fact, journeyed long with them. Faith cherishes doubt and embraces unbelief—but only as the platform on which it rests.
"Rests" is the key word here. Faith is a coming to rest. It gently sinks below the questions, important as they are. It humbly puts aside its belief and unbelief alike, slowly drifting below them as well. Faith comes to rest in a place where the Unknown inspires confidence. It resides in a land where not-knowing is not ignorance and a lack of information is the beginning of wisdom. Faith is not built out of research. Its truths cannot be proven, either from a test tube or by citing verses from a holy book. Faith is not interested in proof because it gently, quietly, and with profound humility seeks a deeper, quieter world of "rest". Silence is its best friend. Meditation is its path. Dialogue is its joy. Wisdom is its ultimate goal. And beyond these things lies the Unseen in which it is fully confident and happily certain. Amen.
Saturday, May 11, 2013
If anything, the author sounds like a liberal—in the sense that liberals criticize people of his persuasion in pretty much the same way he criticizes them. Progressive Christians feel that fundamentalists in particular and evangelicals in general are ignorant of the true meaning of the gospel, practice a fear-based religiosity, and turn the Bible and faith into idols. Liberal Christians have even coined the word, "bibliolatry," to make that last point.
There is no question. The author of this posting has virtually no clue how those of us who advocate openness to others and a non-dualistic approach to faith understand our faith. But, that's not my point here. My point is that both of the warring camps among Christians today tend to treat those in the other camp the way this author treats people of a progressive faith. Until that changes, postings like this one and any rebuttal of it are a waste of time and energy. They change nothing. They may serve to "gin up the base," but that only promotes the failure to understand each other within Christian circles, which brings us so much discredit in society at large. All too often, we are our own worst enemies. We are obstacles to the work of the Spirit rather than channels.
There is one point in the author's article on tolerance, however, that I would like to take exception to here. He is incorrect in his statement that, "The problem with Tolerance is it doesn’t lead anyone to repentance." If we truly value a Christ-like tolerance we are led led precisely and exactly to repentance. Far too often, we fail to practice what we value and what we preach to others, and we do need to repent. Amen.
Friday, May 10, 2013
The street angel movement reflects the way in which the Spirit manifests itself in its longstanding campaign for peace on earth. It shows up in unlikely places using impressively ordinary people, such as a ragtag tribal slave people in ancient Egypt or a carpenter's kid in the first century Roman Empire, encouraging unlikely outbreaks of peace in places where peace is in short supply. Amen.
Thursday, May 9, 2013
|Former Rep. Gabby Giffords testifying before Congress|
These figures are still too high. We still need to develop a wise policy concerning firearms, one that gets beyond fear mongering and finger pointing. Otherwise, there will be another Sandy Hook, another Aurora, and another Columbine. Still, we the public seem to be already taking action ourselves to accomplish what Congress can't seem to do—reduce gun violence. For whatever reason, when it comes to guns we are behaving better. That's good. That's hopeful for the future. Sooner or later the current gun debate will quiet down again, and even if we can't get the national legislation we need to improve the situation we face today it seems likely that all of the publicity and debate that has taken place since Sandy Hook will itself have a further positive impact. That is a prayer as well as a reasonable hope for the future. Amen.
Wednesday, May 8, 2013
They never were "factual," because our modern use of the concept of fact was born out of the scientific revolution. It is a fundamental component of the scientific way of thinking. The Genesis accounts come from a time before facts, but biblical literalists today treat them as if they are factual accounts. They have "repurposed" the accounts to fit into a modern, scientific framework; but then they have been forced to deny the relevant findings of science because science denies the "facts" of Genesis. In short, biblical literalism draws on the world view of science to defend the Bible but is then forced to deny the findings of science as a consequence. Science wins, no matter how one slices this loaf of bread.
By arguing for the factuality of the Genesis stories, biblical literalism tends to obscure the theological truths that are still meaningful to us today. However the universe is being created, we still put our trust in God, Creator of the Universe. We remained awed by the beauty of that creation and have a far, far better grasp of its unimaginable extent and grandeur. As I have written here before, the more science discovers about the nature of reality, the better we realize how incredible God's creation really is. A literal six-day creation doesn't hold a candle to the explosive majesty of the Big Bang nor does it begin to compare with the mind-boggling discoveries of modern-day quantum physics.
Borg really calls on us to get over our infatuation with scientific thinking and see its limitations when it comes to matters of the human spirit and the Spirit of God—and the contents of the Bible. Facts are not God nor even god-like. When one paddles quietly through the mists of dawn on a northern lake, one is embraced by realities that have nothing to do with facts. Science is a tool and nothing more. Facts are fine in their place, but who cares about the "facts" of the sun rise, the call of the loons, or the grace of a crane gliding in for a landing amidst the soft breezes of the morning?
Tuesday, May 7, 2013
For many in the 21st century, including some Christians at least, the doctrine of "substitutionary atonement" is off-putting for its emphasis on blood and violence and is difficult to understand even as it reflects ancient ways of thinking otherwise long fallen out of favor. Indeed, it is cruel to take an animal, force it on an altar, and take its life in the midst of an assembly of people hoping that its death will give them salvation. The cross was cruel, and according to modern sensibilities we cannot take glory in it or see in it God's will from the beginning of creation. We can and do still insist that Jesus died because of our sins and even for them, but not as a sacrificial lamb slaughtered to please God's justice (as one theory of substitutionary atonement would have it). We don't think like that anymore—thankfully not.
Let us not, however, throw the baby out with the bathwater. While the doctrine reflects ancient religious practices long fallen out of favor among the vast majority of the world's peoples, it still was built out of important theological insights that remain important to us today. It most especially affirms that God loves the world and not only cares about it but is impacted by its pain and suffering. God cares. God is involved, furthermore, in bringing healing out of the vast wellsprings of pain. God's Spirit is working for the emergence of the Kingdom.
The death of Christ on the cross, according to Hebrews 10:11-18, furthermore, brought all other forms of sacrifice to an end. That is, in ancient times, Christians did not participate in the bloody acts of religious sacrifice common to their day. They believed that except for Christ the practice of sacrificing animals on altars was senseless. In our time, we need but extend that insight to include the death of Christ as well and to affirm that in our own understanding of God's love for humanity there is no room for God sacrificing anyone on a cross. Jesus, rather, marked a seminal moment in God's ongoing struggle with the human heart, so important for us as Christians that we see in and through Christ the deepest expression of God's love known to us. He was for us the Son of God. The cross was an intimate and essential element in the "Christ-event". Without it there would have been no resurrection, which for us as Christians is the real heart of the good news of our faith. Amen.
Monday, May 6, 2013
n his translation of
While in the NRSV and other translations seem to present a list of cognate experiences that include enlightenment along with tasting "the heavenly gift" and so on, Wright renders these two verses in a way that turns them into a description of Christian enlightenment. That is, one who is enlightened is one who has tasted the heavenly gift, the word of God, power over the coming age, and has also had a share in the Holy Spirit. Let's stick with Wright's rendering for a moment and see where it takes us.
One thought that comes to mind immediately is that in Christianity we don't talk about "enlightenment" that much. Our thing is salvation. It may well be, however, that these are two words describing the same thing. Certainly in Buddhist circles enlightenment is the path to salvation if not salvation itself.
Furthermore, whereas enlightenment is generally thought of as seeing more deeply into the true nature of reality, Hebrews changes the metaphor for enlightenment from sight to taste. We don't see more deeply but taste more richly (sweetly?), and where enlightenment generally is a matter of looking deeply within ourselves in Hebrews 6:4-5 it is more about experiencing something outside of ourselves. It is a gift—to mix metaphors. Enlightenment is thus external to us. It is received and experienced. We may infer that enlightenment is God's gracious gift given to those who are receptive to it. Enlightenment is not insight but, according to the impressively long list of synonyms for "taste," it can imply discernment, perception, and even knowledge—so that, in a way, seeing enlightenment and tasting it are not so very different even if the metaphors imagine different senses.
So, the key question is the source of enlightenment. In Buddhism, it is something we gain for ourselves by looking more deeply into the nature of reality. In Hebrews, it is a gift that allows us to discern more fully the nature of reality and especially the nature of the Giver. God is the source and object of enlightenment. While Christian imperialists will insist that there is "obviously" a radical difference in these two forms of enlightenment, it is not clear that they are correct. Each, for example, sets us on a path away from self and in search of ultimate truths that reveal realities very different from what we see and taste superficially. Each is counter-intuitive. Each grows out of the discovery of quiet and deep reflection. In Buddhism, enlightenment is not something to be achieved but is attained only as one puts aside such things as achievements. So, in a sense, it comes as a gift—one that does not come from one's self after all because "self" does not even exist.
The thing that matters in the end is the search itself. Enlightenment whether Christian or Buddhist is a precious gift. It sets us on the path of our salvation. Amen.