Archive for September, 2009

“For whoever wants to save his life will lose it”


From the Tao Te Ching

by Lao Tzu, 5th or 6th Century BCE

Zen Cross

If you want to become whole,
let yourself be partial.
If you want to become straight,
let yourself be crooked.
If you want to become full,
let yourself be empty.
If you want to be reborn,
let yourself die.
If you want to be given everything,
give everything up.

The Master, by residing in the Tao,
sets an example for all beings.
Because he doesn’t display himself,
people can see his light.
Because he has nothing to prove,
people can trust his words.
Because he doesn’t know who he is,
people recognize themselves in him.
Because he has no goal in mind,
everything he does succeeds.

When the ancient Masters said,
“If you want to be given everything,
give everything up,”
they weren’t using empty phrases.
Only in being lived by the Tao can you be truly yourself.

Tao Te Ching #22

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“Fundamentalism is the childhood disease of all religions and cultures”


2006-04-27 – Washington, D. C.
International Prayer for Peace
Appeal for peace

Full Text

Men and women of different religions, from the different continents of this world, we have gather in America for the first time, guided by the spiritual energy of the "spirit of Assisi." Here in Washington, D.C., we have prayed, we have dialogued, and we have invoked God for the great gift of peace.

We have also listened to the prayers of the many who ask for the globalization of solidarity; we have heard their cry that asks for the scourge of poverty to be defeated. Through the testimony of many people, an invocation has reached us. It comes from the victims of violence, and from the victims of terrorism and war; it rises from those who lack even the most basic human rights, the right to medical care, to water and food, and to religious freedom. We have felt that a world in which billions of human beings struggle to survive is unacceptable, at a time when humanity has more resources available than all previous generations.

We have come here, men and women, as pilgrims in search of peace. Our world seems to have forgotten that human life is sacred. God has compassion for those who suffer, those affected by war, and the victims of blind terrorism. The world is tired of living in fear. Fear humiliates the best part of us. Fear and pessimism sometimes seem to be the only way, but they lead down a dark road. Religions do not want violence, war, or terrorism; do not believe those who say otherwise!

To all our fellow religious people, to every man and every woman, we want to say that those who use violence discredit their own cause. Those who believe that greater violence is the response to the wrong they have suffered do not see the mountains of hatred they help create. Peace is the name of God. God never wants the elimination of the other; the sons and daughters of our adversaries are never our enemies: they are children to love and protect, all of them.

Humanity is not made better by violence and terror, but by faith and love. Fundamentalism is the childhood disease of all religions and cultures, for it imprisons people in a culture of enmity. This is why, in front of you young people, we say to those who kill, to those who sow terror and make war in God’s name, "Stop! Do not kill! With violence everyone loses! Let us talk together and God will shine on us!" Only peace is holy! Let us have and advocate serious, honest dialogue.

Dialogue is an art. It is not the choice of the fearful, of those who give way to evil without fighting. Dialogue challenges all men and women to see the best in others and to be rooted in the best of themselves. Dialogue is a medicine that heals wounds and helps make this world more livable for present and future generations.

Once again, today, we solemnly ask ourselves and all men and women, believers and people of good will, to have the courage to live the art of dialogue. We ask this for ourselves and for the generations to come, that the world may open to the hope of a new era of peace and justice.

Proclaimed and Signed in Washington, D.C.
Georgetown University
April 27th, 2006

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The Christian Siege Mentality on Display


At Capitol, a Day of Muslim Prayer and Unity

3,000 Gather to Combat Fear and ‘Do the Work of Allah’ Amid Christian Protests

By Jacqueline L. Salmon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 26, 2009

Nearly 3,000 people gathered on the west lawn of the Capitol on Friday for a mass Muslim prayer service that was part religion and part pep rally for the beleaguered U.S. Muslim community.

As faint shouts of “Repent!” from Christian protesters floated across the gathering, dozens of long rows of men in robes and white knit caps and women in head coverings prostrated themselves to God, gave praise and listened to sermons as part of the congregational prayer that occurs about noon Fridays.

“Stop being so scared!” thundered Imam Abdul Malik of New York. “You ain’t done nothing wrong. Just do the work of Allah, and believe.”

The service comes as the Muslim community has been rocked by verbal attacks from conservative Christians that have grown stronger since the election of President Obama and by the recent arrests in a terrorism investigation involving several Muslim men, including an imam.

“We wanted to bring people out to show you don’t need to fear America,” said Imam Ali Jaaber of Dar-ul-Islam mosque in Elizabeth N.J., the service’s main organizer. At the same time, he said, he wanted to remind non-Muslims that “we are decent Muslims. We work; we pay taxes. We are Muslims who truly love this country.”

Across the street from the service, Christian protesters gathered with banners, crosses and anti-Islamic messages. One group, which stood next to a 10-foot-tall wooden cross and two giant wooden tablets depicting the Ten Commandments, was led by the Rev. Flip Benham of Concord, N.C.

“I would suggest you convert to Christ!” Benham shouted over a megaphone. Islam “forces its dogma down your throat.” A few Christian protesters gathered at the rear of the Muslim crowd, holding Bibles and praying.

At one point, organizers asked them to tone it down.

“We would never come to a prayer meeting that you have to make a disturbance,” Hamad Chebli, imam of the Islamic Society of Central Jersey, said from the lectern. “Please show us some respect. This is a sacred moment. Just as your Sunday is sacred, our Friday is sacred.”

For some time now I’ve been a firm believer that the world needs a stronger ecumenical  movement.  For the church to be the Church there needs to be more understanding and cooperation among the world’s Christians.

But, as the above story illustrates, Christian ecumenicalism is not enough in this day and age. Christians need to tear down the walls of their siege mentality and build bridges to all the world’s religions –if the world is to survive.  We need to go beyond the well intentioned movement to “Coexist”, where we respect each others differences, and work towards a “Comingling” in which we celebrate those things we have in common: a belief in God, a call to service and and the desire to treat others as we would want them to treat us.

What the world doesn’t need are more Christians ramming their dogma down the throats of others. But respecting the rights of others to exist alongside us is not enough. This is a good start, but it will never break the bonds of fear and prejudice that are strangling this nation and the world.   We need to join in common cause. We need to break bread together, laugh together and cry together. We need to pray together.

As Martin Luther King Jr. so prophetically said, in the letter he wrote while imprisoned in Birmingham, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

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The Misplaced Siege Mentality of Christianity


  

“for whoever is not against us is for us”- Mark 9:40

"he who is not with me is against me”- Matthew 12:30

What do you think? What’s Jesus saying here? Do these statements mean essentially the same thing or do they somehow contradict each other?

I know some people who use these kinds of verses to point out how contradictory and illogical the Bible is, easily dismissing it as fiction.

On the other hand, I know Christians who use this apparent incongruity to emphasize how inscrutable the infinite God is (and by association, Jesus) and how he can simultaneously embody conflicting natures.

The Markan line has been used by some Christians to encourage a faith that is more tolerant of different beliefs while others have used the verse from Matthew to stress the sole legitimacy of the Christian religion.  But, as a friend of mine recently asked, is it fair to emphasize one aspect of Jesus’ teachings while ignoring another aspect that we may find less appealing (or more appalling)?

I would like to suggest that both of Jesus’ remarks encourage religious tolerance. Though they may seem contradictory, they are answers to two entirely different questions that are closely related. And in typical Jesus fashion, he addresses both in the same ‘spirit’.

In Mark, Jesus is responding to a complaint that an ‘outside’ healer is performing miracles apart from him. In Matthew, Jesus’ response is to the religious leaders who are accusing  him of using Satanic (or pagan) powers to perform miracles apart from God.  Both of Jesus’ answers are flip sides of the same spiritual coin. 

In each case Jesus seems to be saying that good works are always the work of God. Seen in this light, then Jesus’ cryptic follow-up statement in Matthew – that one can be forgiven for denying Jesus, but not forgiven for denying the "Spirit" – points towards religious tolerance. 

After all, who is closer to embracing and following God’s spirit ? A Christian who is uncharitable, selfish, proud and envious (me) or a "pagan" who is selfless, sacrificial and humble? Who is more closely following the narrow path to salvation?

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Electrons and God: Are Either For Real?


Dancin Wu-Li Masters

I’m back into the book “The Evolution of God” by Robert Wright. I found this passage to be particularly interesting as it was my  introduction to Quantum Physics with the book “The Dancing Wu Li Masters” by Gary Zukav that got me first really thinking about the possibility of God.

“It’s a bedrock idea of modern physics that, even if you define “ultimate reality” as the ultimate scientific reality—the most fundamental truths of physics—ultimate reality isn’t something you can clearly conceive. ”

“Think of an electron, a little particle that spins around another little particle. Wrong! True, physicists sometimes find it useful to think of electrons as particles, but sometimes it’s more useful to think of them as waves. Conceiving of them as either is incomplete, yet conceiving of them as both is… well, inconceivable. (Try it!) And electrons are just the tip of the iceberg. In general, the quantum world—the world of subatomic reality—behaves in ways that don’t make sense to minds like ours. Various aspects of quantum physics evince the property that the late physicist Heinz Pagels called quantum weirdness. ”

“The bad news for the religiously inclined, then, is that maybe they should abandon hope of figuring out what God is. (If we can’t conceive of an electron accurately, what are our chances of getting God right?) The good news is that the hopelessness of figuring out exactly what something is doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Apparently some things are just inconceivable—and yet are things nonetheless”

“At least, some physicists believe electrons are things. The fact that nobody’s actually seen an electron, and that trying to imagine one ties our minds in knots, has led some physicists and philosophers of science to wonder whether it’s even accurate to say that electrons do exist. You could say that with electrons, as with God, there are believers and there are skeptics.”

“The believers believe there’s something out there—some “thing” in some sense of the word “thing”—that corresponds to the word “electron”; and that, though the best we can do is conceive of this “thing” imperfectly, even misleadingly, conceiving of it that way makes more sense than not conceiving of it at all. They believe in electrons while professing their inability to really “know” what an electron is. You might say they believe “in electrons even while lacking proof that electrons per se exist.”

“Many of these physicists, while holding that imperfectly conceiving subatomic reality is a valid form of knowledge, wouldn’t approve if you tried to perform a similar maneuver in a theological context. If you said you believe in God, even while acknowledging that you have no clear idea what God is—and that you can’t even really prove God per se exists—they would say your belief has no foundation.”

“Yet what exactly is the difference between the logic of their belief in electrons and the logic of a belief in God? They perceive patterns in the physical world—such as the behavior of electricity—and posit a source of these patterns and call that source the “electron.” A believer in God perceives patterns in the moral world (or, at least, moral patterns in the physical world) and posits a source of these patterns and calls the source “God.” “God” is that unknown thing that is the source of the moral order, the reason there is a moral dimension to life on Earth and a moral direction to time on Earth; “God” is responsible for the fact that life is sentient, capable of good and bad feelings, and hence morally significant; “God” is responsible for the evolutionary system that placed highly sentient life on a trajectory toward the good, or at least toward tests that offered the opportunity and incentive to realize the good; in the process “God” gave each of us a moral axis around which to organize our lives, should we choose to. Being human, we will always conceive of the source of this moral order in misleadingly crude ways, but then again you could say the same thing about conceiving electrons. So you’ll do with the source of the moral order what physicists do with a subatomic source of the physical order, such as an electron—try to think about it the best you can, and fail. This, at least, is one modern, scientifically informed argument that could be deployed by the believer in God.” [Robert Wright, The Evolution of God]

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Elected to What ?!


calvin aghast 3Following up on my last posting on the excellent little book  Being Presbyterian in the Bible Belt by Ted V. Foote Jr. and P. Alex Thornburg, I wanted to share what these two ministers have to say about the Presbyterian(USA) view of election, a thorny issue that has resulted in a lot of interdenominational warfare:

If, then, God mysteriously and graciously elects or chooses for salvation because God loves us so much and is so passionately willing to seek us out in life with that salvation, we may well ask, what are we elected to?

Moving away from the heaven and hell afterlife categories, most Presbyterian-types would concede that there’s plenty of hell to worry about and, we hope, plenty of heaven to celebrate in the earthly here and now.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Book of Order state that God elects God’s people both for “service and salvation”, which means that God freely chooses God’s people both (1) so that they may receive grace in life for healing and wholeness and (2) so they will serve God among God’s people, this for upbuilding the larger community which is God’s world…..

…Yet there is a distinction we need to clearly make. It’s between serving others and living with an agenda for others. Living with an agenda for others is self-motivated and self-serving.  Serving as the Lord of heaven and earth calls us to serve demonstrates an openness that is not manipulative but rather leads each one to be available for serving others respectfully and for serving with others respectfully. We’re called to serve in this way, realizing that such others may, or may never, recognize God’s grace blessing in whatever ways God’s grace does bless them. Such others may, or may never, chang their lives to be “more Christian” in our judgment. Such others may, or may never, culturally be “as we are” or in agreement with us on matters of faith and practice.

And if God is truly sovereign, it also can be said that God works where there is no naming of God’s name, that God works among those who don’t “know God” as we have experienced God, and that God works where we believers do not perceive or understand God to be working. This understanding of God who is truly sovereign allows God to be truly God on God’s terms, not according to our understanding of God.  It does not take away our freedom of choice in life-decisions, nor does it take away the component of human choice from the complex makeup of the universe. This understanding does deny that we humans ever have the power to “save” ourselves with our own choices.

Wow! I never would have believed that someone could explain the doctrine of election in a way that I could (almost) agree with.  This certainly ain’t your great-great-great-great grandfather’s Calvinism.  And it certainly isn’t close to the double predestination -“God chose me for heaven and you for hell“- theology we are getting from the pulpits of today’s popular  Hyper-Calvinist preachers , who are generally not members of the PC(USA) but of the PCA, SBC and various independent reformed churches.  The PC(USA) must have poor JC (that’s John Calvin, not Jesus Christ)  spinning in his grave.

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Heaven Insurance


I’ve been fortunate to land a part-time job working with youth at a local Presbyterian (USA) church. Realizing that I am woefully ignorant when it comes to the doctrines of any denomination aside from Roman Catholicism and Methodism, I picked up a little book called Being Presbyterian in the Bible Belt – a Theological Survival Guide for Youth, Parents, and other Confused Presbyterians written by two Presbyterian ministers;  Ted V. Foote Jr. and P. Alex Thornburg.  The book is published by Geneva Press, an arm of the Presbyterian Publishing Company so I figure that it’s pretty orthodox.

I’ve found the book to be very refreshing and the theology is right in line with my own evolving beliefs.  Their use of the phrase “Bible Belt” doesn’t refer to a geographical place but a theological  and spiritual state of mind, one that I am very familiar with. In particular, I appreciated their discussion of heaven and hell, a topic which has been a  bone of contention when talking to Hyper-Reformed Calvinists.

The question of heaven and hell are of primary importance for the neo-evangelical in the Bible Belt. In many ways, the concern about the destiny of one’s soul in the afterlife is the motivating force for accepting Jesus into your heart. As we noted earlier, many neo-evangelicals consider the future salvation of your soul to be dependant on your conversion, your acceptance of Jesus into your heart. “If you don’t, God won’t save you.” Therefore, the ultimate reason for accepting Jesus is to ensure your place in heaven. The life of faith is really just a kind of ‘heaven insurance” so that you can be certain of being fitted with wings and a halo. You “take out the policy” by believing and doing the right things, and then it’s paid off when you die and you get your reward.  Heaven is the place for people who paid the right dividends on their hell insurance. (we never thought of ministers as insurance salespersons, but it fits the metaphor.)

Obviously, there are a number of problems with this view of the world, or the afterworld. Not the least is the prevailing attitude that it’s always “our people” who get into heaven and the bad guys, usually anyone who doesn’t quite believe and act the way we think they should, who end up being cast into hell. Heaven becomes an exclusive country club for the beautiful people who can look down at those sinners in the ghetto of hell and feel sorry for them.

Well said, though I am embarassed to say that not too long ago the idea of my faith as  ‘heaven insurance’ would have had a nice ring to it. If I get nothing else out of this  little book I’ve learned a new word that will be seeing some regular use: neo-evangelist.  I love it.

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