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 31, 2013
Soft drinks are still being consumed at an alarming rate in the U.S., but the trend away from sugary soft drinks is important and, evidently, being encouraged by the beverage industry itself. This is not to say that the industry has suddenly become a knight in white armor when it comes to the fight against obesity, but at least it is beginning to show some concern for the impact its products are having on our well-being. We can only hope that the public is becoming more aware of the need to cut back on sugary drinks and, thus, also creating a demand for sugar free products. Obviously, there is still a long way to go, but it is encouraging that the trend is headed in the right direction. Amen.
Wednesday, May 29, 2013
The charge made against mainline churches is that we are too liberal and do not "really" believe. We have a weak faith—obviously, because we're liberals. The consequence is that our churches are losing members. One important issue in a much more complex scenario is that too few members of mainline churches take the advice of the above passage to heart. We aren't ready to explain our faith. Most members haven't really thought it through, read a bit of theology, or done some serious Bible study & reflection. Most aren't interested in "such stuff." Mainline churches are often very good about service, the doing part of faith, but as good as they are at sharing their faith through deeds, just so weak are they at sharing their faith through personal witness at appropriate times and in appropriate ways.
In the mainline, we need to get over the attitude that "talk is cheap," and we need to reverse the one that holds, "more do and less talk." In fact, what we too often need is less almost frenetic "do" and more reflection and study—more "talk". More time spent in Bible study. More time spent in prayer & meditation. More time spent in adult study groups learning how to share our faith. Amen.
Monday, May 27, 2013
Saturday, May 25, 2013
|The pope speaking on May 22nd|
Source: Vatican Radio
"The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all! And we all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: we need that so much. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.” (emphasis added)On first reading, many media commentators assumed that the pope was asserting the possibility that atheists can be saved without having to become Christians let alone Catholics. More circumspect readings generally agree that he was not making such a blanket statement. And the next day, Thursday the 23rd, a Vatican spokesman clarified the pope's position on salvation by saying that anyone who is aware of the Catholic Church and doesn't become a Catholic “cannot be saved” if they “refuse to enter her or remain in her.” (Quoted here)
What is worth noting in his speech, however, is the pope's concept of creating a "culture of encounter" between peoples of faiths and no faith. He seems to be suggesting that we have the drive to do good created in us as part of our God-given natures. We should nurture that drive in each other and use it as a point of contact for mutual understanding—for dialogue, that is. It is not clear what his ultimate goal is in encouraging a culture of encounter grounded in good works. The Thursday clarification would suggest that he still desires the incorporation of the whole of humanity into "the Church," which apparently means the Catholic Church. The hope is that he is encouraging something else, which is a culture of pluralism based on understanding growing out of dialogue with each other. Dialogue in this sense is more than discussions. It is a process of listening, learning, and reflection leading to reductions in conflict and a growth in peace.
If Pope Francis' goal is to develop a "culture of encounter" as a subtle form of Catholic evangelism, he will fail. It will become evident over time that his real agenda is aggrandizement rather than dialogue. If, however, he seeks such a culture as a way to embrace pluralism to the end that ours might be a less conflicted, more peaceful world, he could well play an important role in fostering a more dialogical international atmosphere. Time will tell.
Friday, May 24, 2013
|Religious Affiliation in Canada 2011|
Source: Globe and Mail
Canadian officials have been quick to point out that the 2011 survey was voluntary and so may not reflect current trends in a reliable way, but at the same time the general turn away from organized religion has already been documented in Canada. These figures reflect a known trend although the change from 2001 to 2011 may or may not be as sharp as they suggest.
So much has been written on this subject that all we really need to say here is, first, that the decline in organized religion does not seem to point to a decline in religious sensibilities as such. Even in quiet and conservative places like Lowville, NY, it is not unusual to have friends who are openly religious but attend no church. Second, this decline is being seen more and more in some ecclesiastical circles as offering an exciting opportunity to discover new, less institutional ways to be the church.
Thursday, May 23, 2013
Walk into a school, any school, and we walk into a culture. The First Presbyterian Church of Lowville, New York, is most definitely a culture of its own. Businesses are cultures. Industries. Branches of government. Crime syndicates. Prisons. You name it. It is a culture.
Beavers can't help themselves. They build damns and lodges. We build cultures—or, better, we create cultures. And this drive to create them is built deeply within us. We need and use culture to protect ourselves, put food on the table, obtain shelter and clothing, and fulfill our most basic human drives. The so-called "tribal instinct" is an instinct to live together in communities that can exist only as integrated cultures that share a language, values, behaviors, skills, religion, and habits. We don't just eat. We create cuisines. We go to Italian or Thai restaurants, savor particular Chinese or French dishes.
Sociologist speak of the "social construction of reality," a sociological doctrine that holds that we humans construct our own realities at every level. I saw and participated in one such social construction of reality yesterday. Central to it was the social construction of a culture to mediate its reality (the "reality" being all of the laws, agencies, and institutions dedicated to addressing issues of housing and homelessness). Building cultures is what we do. We can't help ourselves anymore than the beavers out on Beaver Lake can't help but build damns and lodges. It's what we do.
Monday, May 20, 2013
Take, for example, the passage in James 1:2-8, which states, " If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you.  But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; [7, 8] for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord." (NRSV)
One can imagine how important this advice concerning doubt might have been to large segments of the early church, but it is advice that is much less helpful today. In the Age of Science, doubt is necessarily a good thing. We learn through doubt. We discard worn out ideologies through doubt. We keep "the powers-that-be" in bounds through our doubts. Doubt is a useful tool in many different situations and circumstances.
In an age that encourages doubt, we can see the spiritual value of doubt. It is a motivation for discovering a deeper faith. It keeps us from turning even our most cherished beliefs and practices into idols, something religious people are especially prone to do. Doubt keeps us humble because it reminds us that we are not God. We do not have all the answers. Doubt, indeed, is the very foundation of our faith. Without it, faith as trust is not possible. Those who are certain their beliefs are true by definition do not live in faith, for faith means trusting in spite of uncertainty—and doubt.
The advice the author of the Book of James gave his (or her?) readers in ancient times is not good advice for us. We are called to use doubt as a tool in our search for wisdom. We are called to ask in spite of and in the midst of our doubts. For us our questions are the path on which we walk toward faith, and we simply do not accept the rigid boundaries imposed on us by the concept of "being double-minded." We are of one mind in which doubt and faith are yin and yang, intertwined, and inter-dependent. James' views on doubt were undoubtedly right once and undoubtedly will be right again. They are just not right for us right now.
Or...in some circumstances...maybe they are right right now. In the end, it depends on whether the Spirit speaks through James' advice with that "particular clarity" that is the province of the Spirit. In the Age of Doubt, we do well to doubt even our doubting from time to time—lest doubt itself become an idol.
"I ended up leaving Christianity and becoming an agnostic not because of my scholarship but because I simply couldn’t understand how there could be a good and powerful God who’s in control of this world given all the pain and misery in it. We live in a world in which a child starves to death every five seconds, a world where almost 300 people die every hour of malaria. We live in a world ravaged by earthquakes and tsunamis and hurricanes and drought and famine and epidemics, and I just got to a point where my previous solutions no longer made sense."One does not argue with a person who thoughtfully and in good conscience comes to the conclusion that evil is so prevalent in our world that believing in a loving God makes no sense. Rather than believe that such a God could tolerate evil, Ehrman chooses not to believe. This is a faith choice, and it is one others make. It deserves respect.
It is not, however, the only choice thoughtful persons of good conscience make. Faith in a loving God is also a choice. It requires only a shift in perspective and in the set of questions we ask. If, that is, there is no God at all, then how did life come to be on Earth against astronomical odds—and not just "be" but evolve in amazing and intricate ways? If there be no loving God, then how does one account for the good that so often accompanies evil? And for each child that starves, how many experience a nurturing love that is so much more than a biological mechanism for preserving the species? This is not to make little of the suffering but to understand that there is much more to life than suffering even in the midst of suffering. Ehrman is entirely correct in his assessment of our world, but it is a world also "ravaged" by vast amounts of good, small and large, which surely rivals the evil we see in the world and in many quiet corners of the planet outweighs it.
We have to choose. Listening to a heart struck by awe at the grandeur of the universe and the beauty of a lake, struck by the kindness of another, inspired by the story of a Galilean carpenter or an Indian prince, and inspired by the Spirit—listening to a heart touched by these things is another choice. It makes sense, too. No choice should be made lightly, and those who still pursue goodness and truth whatever their choice should be respected. We choose best when we understand that whatever choice we make is a matter of faith and there are real choices we can make. Amen.
Saturday, May 18, 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.
Saturday, May 4, 2013
Friday, May 3, 2013
|“Blue Ocean,” Tadashi Ikai, 2005|
Courtesy Asian-Pacific Heritage Month
But unrest can be as destructive as it can be creative. It hurries us past any hope of peace. It simply cannot stop to listen, to see, or to feel those moments of beauty and love that are built into each of our days. Unrest is angry, bedeviled, tense, touchy, patronizing and prejudiced, unreasonable, and lives in fear. It lives in fear of coming to rest. It goes into the quiet forests of our lives with a shotgun to bring down what lives there. It pumps trash and filth into the beautiful lakes and quiet shores of our hearts. It fills our streets with the roar of polluting machinery simply because we cannot come to rest, be still.
So, the most important task we face personally and as a race is to come to rest creatively, to balance the quiet of peace with the squirming source of our growth. We don't need to "be at peace" so much as to find a way for rest and unrest to live in harmony in our souls. Restless we must be—but quietly so.
Wednesday, May 1, 2013
It is hard to believe that it has been 20 years already. All of us who make regular use of the Web remember the first time we logged on. No one could have anticipated how much it all would change our lives.