Friday, October 30, 2009

Great Value Caskets?

I didn't know whether to laugh, cry, or be horrified when I first heard this latest news. Yet, when I heard on NPR that Wal-Mart had started selling caskets online I knew then that the company I once dedicated 4 years of my life stocking its shelves and unloading its trucks will continue to influence every stage of my life. From infancy, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, my sunset years, and eventual death, Wally World will always be here to provide us with our every need at everyday low prices.

Let us stop and give thanks to the Great Provider and his messenger, Sam Walton.

Our Provider, who art in Bentonville,
hallowed be thy shelves,
thy people come to browse and buy,

the pious stay to serve you nigh.

Thy will be done
from west to east
on Earth as it is Bentonville.

Give us this day our Great Value Bread,

and forgive us for shopping at Target,

help us save money, so that we may live better

for thine is the market, the profit, and the shares

forever and ever,

Now I can rest in peace with the knowledge that my death won't be a serious financial burden.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Good Times Being Slain in the Spirit

In Novemeber of 2007, the news broke that Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa was spearheading an investigation to probe 6 prominent televangelist to see if they're misusing tax-exempt donations to live lavish lifestyles. A few of these televangelist preach what has been called the Prosperity Gospel, which is the notion that God showers material prosperity on those whom he favors. God wants you to be successful but if you don't follow his Will, God will punish you with poverty. Of course these televangelist must be doing something right to live in luxurious homes, fly in private planes, and own marble-top $23,000 toilets, right?

Benny Hinn sat down recently with Dan Harris on ABC Nightline for a rare interview. Check it out.

A part of me hopes they nail this guy for misusing tax exempt donations, but what happens then to the millions of people who draw hope from Hinn's ministry? Yes they'll be enlightened to his greed but at a great personal cost: the donations they've sent in, the prayers they prayed, the hope they put into the healing power of Benny Hinn's words would have all been in vain. Some will be angry, some might fall back into depression, while others might be thankful for having their eyes opened to the truth. Where will those millions of people go? Wherever they might find solace for the pain they endure in this world. Even though some may find religion as poisonous and primitive it does bring hope, comfort, and peace to millions. So if we're not personally willing to go and comfort those in need, they will find it themselves even if it costs them every penny.

I personally can't take Benny Hinn very seriously. A man who claims to be a man of God while sitting on that much wealth, and thinks he needs it all to survive, is depressing when you think about how much good he could do with it. And the fact that his name reminds me of Benny Hill doesn't help much either. Priceless!

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Jewish Gospels: Part 2- Fall of Jerusalem

In my previous post I brought up the importance of Jesus' Jewish heritage. This is hard to grasp within Christianity because his attributed divinity tends to overwhelm his humanity. What aspects of Jesus stays within the realms of his attributed divinity and his humanity? If Jesus was Jewish how closely did he follow the Torah and Jewish rituals? If we take Jesus' Jewishness seriously should we not also take the Jewishness of his followers into account including their writings of him? At what point did the early Christian church begin departing from their Jewish roots?

[The sack of Jerusalem depicted on the Arch of Titus]

Bishop John Shelby Spong greatly illuminated this subject for me in his book, Liberating the Gospels. Spong explains that it was the fall of Jerusalem and the fight over the Jewish Scriptures (the OT) that caused the early Christian church to begin moving away from their Jewish roots.
"It was the fall of Jerusalem, with its resulting destruction of the Temple and the priesthood, that raised the price of that uneasy accommodation to such painful levels that fracture was inevitable. The intolerable quality of this event did not appear all at once. Rather its intensity grew from the moment of Jerusalem's defeat over the next twenty years, until the separation was so total and so hostile that finally the Jewish Christians were literally expelled from the synagogues. As this tension built towards its climax, both Christian hostility toward heterodox Jewish Christians expanded. Echoes of this rising hostility can be found quite overtly in the Gospels. As the rhetoric heightened, the lines around what Jews could tolerate inside Judaism tightened considerably and those heterodox Jewish Christians, offended by this increasing hostility, began to move more and more into gentile circles." (Liberating the Gospels, "How These Jewish Books Became Gentile Captives")
With the heart of Jewish life demolished the one thing that kept, and continues to keep, the Jews together was their scripture. Judaism depended on their scripture as the final existing thread to their identity and their survival. Without it Judaism may have disappeared into history only to be mentioned in Christian history books. The post- 2nd Temple Jews also developed a new form Judaism, Rabbinic Judaism. In this new form of Judaism both the written and Oral Law took center stage, which caused a widening rift between Jews and the Early church, which at the time was growing into a Gentile majority, to become a full blown break over the battle over scriptural interpretation. The Jews protected the one link that bounded them together, while the gentile Christians found new interpretation in the Jewish scripture that they saw pointed to the Risen Christ. The Jewish Christians, caught in the middle, lost out in the end as the movement became overwhelmingly gentile the Jewish born Christians would eventually die out. Yet without the connection to Judaism through the Jewish Christians, Christianity may not have had a strong enough root to compete with the ancient Greco-Roman religions. It's tough being the new kid on the block, just ask the Mormons.

I agree with Spong that the destruction of the Temple and the subsequent battle over the Jewish scripture were the main causes of the Jewish Christian rift in the Early Church. Spong brought up an intriguing although highly controversial view of the development of the gospels: the gospels were written as "collections of expository teaching or preaching that had been created in the same way that the rabbis would create what came to be called the midrash rabbah." ("How These Jewish books became Gentile Captives", pg. 52) The gospels were written to help explain (and later remember) what they experienced through the Risen Christ by searching through the Jewish scripture for new meaning. To traditional Christians this translates as the early church invented Jesus as a vehicle for new teachings, yet this creative writing is riddled throughout Jewish literature. So the question then becomes how do we read the "eyewitness" accounts found in the gospels? How much of the gospels were elaborations made by the Christian church and how much are historical? All, some, none?

In this case, pronouncement stories, stories which surround a particular teaching or saying of Jesus, could have been written by the Jewish Christians as a creative foundation for a teaching of Jesus. The focus of the pronouncement stories is the pronouncement itself and not in the detail of the story, which gives the story flexibility when retold. A storyteller knows the basic structure of a story while she/he weaves his or her own creative aspects into the tale. This is how oral stories were told and retold until they were preserved in writing. It was when the story moved from the oral tradition to written, from Jewish to Greek that the words in the gospels moved from a new creative interpretation on experiencing God towards Christian Orthodoxy.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Hell House

"A part of Salvation is being afraid of going to Hell." Youth Pastor Tim Ferguson

In 2001, director George Ratcliff came out with his documentary entitled Hell House, on Christian haunted house attractions bearing the same name.

"Hell Houses are a distinctly American phenomenon which began in 1990 just outside of Dallas, at the Trinity Assembly of God Church. The original Hell House was conceived as a modern-day fire-and-brimstone sermon. Today, this religious ceremony of sorts is replete with actors, extensive lighting equipment and full audio-visual tech crews." (Hell House Site)

But the vampires, ghosts, and demons of a traditional haunted house have been replaced by scenes of family violence, suicide, abortion, drug and alcohol use. Instead of scaring kids with Freddy Krueger their using real life situations and the fear of eternal damnation to spook them into salvation. Is Christianity really about being afraid of Hell? Is their any room for fear in a message of Love? What do we do with this message of Fear?

Back in 2006, a coworker invited me to attend a Christian haunted house and I gladly accepted. At the time I had recently begun immersing myself into studying all kinds of religious beliefs so I thought it would be interesting to see how Christians would pull off doing a "Haunted House".

The church was packed! It was a 45 minute wait until I got to go through this Christianized haunted house attraction. They moved us in groups of 15 from room to room (with Demon guards yelling to keep moving) as we watched the events surrounding a troubled family: suicide, abortion, drug use, you name it. Demons and angels argue and battle over the family throughout the attraction representing the struggle within the character, with short monologues by the forces of good and evil explaining the plot. As the events climaxed half the family had died in sin, the other half repented. The Hell House I went through did not comfort nor support the sinners. Yet those who repented even on the verge of death were granted eternal life. After walking through the Hell scene with sinners trapped under plexiglass clawing, begging for escape we entered into through the gates of Heaven to be welcomed by Jesus, angels and the saved. The production was phenomenal, the acting was great, but the plot along with all of its assumption was downright frightening.

At the end of this judgmental house of horrors we were invited to sit and talk about what we experienced. Out of a group of 15 only 6 of us stayed for the do-you-know-where-you're-going-after-you-die speech. After a 5 minute crash course on salvation found through the blood of Christ the speaker gave us two options. 1) Those who know their saved are welcomed to leave and 2) those who are unsure about their salvation are encouraged to stay. In retrospect, I'm now curious to know what was said to those who stayed. Yet, I did not want to get into an argument, so I smiled, got up, and left. There would be no benefit in pointing out the lack of compassion, and contradictory message of love and fear that they were sending out. The most I would have received would be a prayer for my salvation, and if things got heated, an escort off the premises.

The Hell House I went through is almost exactly like the one seen in Ratcliff's documentary. Here is the trailer to George Ratcliff's 2001 candid documentary, Hell House.

No earthly redemption is found for the drug addict, the pregnant teen, nor the abusive father. The crowd receives the message that those who suffer in this life will also suffer in the next. My heart went out to those in Hell because they were condemned for losing hope. They lacked the strength to bear the errors they made in this life, so they are punished for not reaching out to the divine. The suicide who lost the will to live, the teen trapped in the world of drugs, the pregnant teen who aborted her child, and the father who found little solace at the bottom of the bottle. All these people are condemned without a loving embrace or a hand of encouragement. They are portrayed as unrepentant sinners in the hands of an angry God. But why exactly are the hopeless damned? Is it for theological reasons? Is it because they made the wrong choices? Is it because they are sinners and as sinners they MUST seek out Christ? The church would respond with an emphatic YES! But are these not the very same people that the gospel claims Jesus came to comfort, rescue, and love? Are these not the disenfranchised, the outcast, the sinners, the hopeless, and the unloved? Are we not responsible for reaching out to the downcast not by striking them with the Fear of God but reaching out with the Love of God? There is no love found in fear, and setting up an attraction of fear to encourage a message of love may bring in the curious but will push away the seekers.

If you haven't seen Hell House I highly recommend it. If you have a Netflix account they are now streaming it over their site. Or if you're feeling adventurous go and visit a local Hell House and experience it for yourself.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Dr. Seuss Bible

In America, there was once a time when one could stay up into the wee hours watching Comedy Central and come across, Mark McKinney and Scott Thompson trying to convince Bruce McCulloch to pray at the altar of Compensation on a little Canadian show called The Kids in the Hall. If you're unfamiliar with the Kids in the Hall just imagine 5 grown men doing sketch comedy in drag, occasionally wearing cabbage on their head, while collecting armpit sweat that ushers in a new era of world peace. Great stuff, eh. Unfortunately, we received the censored sketches in America. Apparently Americans can handle watching people eating animal organs on Fear Factor but can't stand to watch Jesus Christ getting crucified on Sam Ziddle's Crucifixion machine.

Shocked? Irreverent? Some of our Bible stories should seem shocking yet we read them with glossy eyes not appreciating, nor understanding, what is being said. Yet, when we take that event and dress it up (as in the Dr. Seuss Bible sketch) a part of us is horrified not because it has been turned into a comedic work but because it reveals the brutality of the event. Each of us interprets events differently and place meaning on those events. To Christians the crucifixion is an act of universal and transcendent love, to others it is sheer horror. It is the meaning behind the event that holds power over the individual not the event itself. Thousands of people were crucified by the Romans yet the crucifixion of Yeshua the son of Mary was remembered. Why? Maybe so that we can appreciate the preciousness of life itself and pass on that understanding to our children, hopefully a bit more tactful than The Kids in the Hall but you get my point.

Again, the Kids in the Hall are not having fun at God's expense but at the expense of those that sit, bicker, and argue over things that can't be proven (maybe they argue because they walk in toe-crappity shoes). And if the object of our debates were proven, our minds would be blown and the world would keep on spinning. Unfortunately this is not the case with 21 century religious believers with 21st century weaponry at their disposal. To quote another show on Comedy Central "isms are great for those who are rational, but in the hands of irrational people, isms always lead to violence."(South Park)

Although not related to religion, this is one of my all time favorite Kids in the Hall sketches. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Mr. Deity Season 3

A little over a year ago I was introduced to Mr. Deity in Rabbi Rami's Religion in Pop Media class. Mr. Deity is a series of short 2-7 minute comedy films by Brian Keith Dalton about the behind the scenes workings of the universe surveyed by Mr. Deity (God) and his assistant Larry (the Holy Spirit). I detailed my views on the show and why I don't believe they're trying to be offensive back in November of last year. (Although I understand why some would be offended.) Religious comedy isn't for everyone but if it is I'm sure you'll get a kick out of all 3 seasons of Mr. Deity. Here's the first episode of season 3 which started last June. Enjoy.

Click here to watch Season 1, Season 2, and Season 3.

Monday, October 12, 2009

A Quarter of the World

A new comprehensive study by the Pew Forum On Religion and Public Life has found that a quarter of the World's population are Muslim. More than 60% are found in Asia and 20% of worldwide Muslims reside in the Middle East. There are a lot of interesting figures and interactive maps in this new report which can be found and downloaded here. Here are a few more interesting and random findings from the study.

[Prayer in Cairo, 1865,By Jean-Léon Gérôme]
  • 1% of Worldwide Muslims live in Russia (11% of Russia's population) figuring for roughly 16.5 million Russian Muslims
  • There are roughly 1000 Muslims living in Puerto Rico where my father was born.
  • .2% of Worldwide Muslims live in the U.S. (.8% of U.S. population) just under 2.5 million Muslims in America.
  • 2/3rds of Worldwide Muslims live in the following 10 country with the largest percentage of Muslims per country: Indonesia, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Egypt, Nigeria, Iran, Turkey, Algeria, Morocco.
  • Indonesia is the world's largest Muslim country at 13% of world wide Muslims around 203 million.
The report also broke down the number of Shias and Sunnis by country and region. The Pew Forum also stated that "These findings on the world Muslim population lay the foundation for a forthcoming study by the Pew Forum, scheduled to be released in 2010, that will estimate growth rates among Muslim populations worldwide and project Muslim populations into the future. The Pew Forum plans to launch a similar study of global Christianity in 2010 as well." So what does this all mean? Well other than the fact that most of the world's Muslims are NOT Arabs they're also not living in the Middle East. I am highly interested in seeing the growth rates for both Islam and Christianity to see which areas have had a population boom in either religion. Although Christianity does put a heavy focus on missionary work and spreading the Gospel, what would would the major Christian leaders do if the 2010 report found Islam had a faster growth rate than Christianity? How would the rising Spiritual but Not Religious group in the U.S. (which I count myself a part of) react to next years findings? Now that we have this information what will the world do with it? Will Christian extremist push for eradicating this rising "evil"? Will Christians in general try harder to learn more about their Muslim neighbors? (Which I recently found out I have a few Muslim living in my neighborhood) Now that 1 out of every 4 people on the planet may be a follower of the prophet Muhammad, how do we reach out to them?

These numbers may mean little to most people out there but to those seeking to connect with a spiritual community this might mean a lot. A year ago I even considered converting to Islam myself. The first thing people ask me is "what kept you from converting?" as if I had learned some dark secret in my studies that kept me from joining. I tell them that I could not find any skeletons in Islam's closet that are any more horrifying than the skeletons in the closet of any other religion. The only thing that keeps me from joining a religion is exclusivity. Although I yearn to find a community to connect with, it would be devastating to my spirituality if I shunned all others. I may one day find myself (when I have free time and strike up the nerve) praying at a Hindu temple or Muslim Mosque but more as a way to connect with and learn more from my fellow man.

There is a LOT I love about Islam (which most of my knowledge of Islam comes from boring history books) but there is also a lot I love about Christianity. Judaism currently has my attention and I also admire the teachings in Buddhism and Hinduism (I tried meditating for a couple weeks straight during the summer and fell out of the habit). Some have said that I am creating a new religion by picking and choosing what I want from each, and that I'm doing this to cover my own rear end (fire insurance). The core idea that causes this line of thinking is the assumption that ONE AND ONLY ONE religion has it right. I do not believe that any one faith owns a monopoly on the divine and even if one did, it would be impossible to figure out the right combination of beliefs. Life in this world is not about right beliefs but about right actions (not to confuse that with works). I pull from multiple religions that help me on my spiritual journey towards acting justly and loving. All religions (that I'm aware of) teach that in the end it is all about love, including Islam. We need to reach out to the Muslim quarter of the world not because Jesus instructed us Christians to love our neighbors, but because they're human, and all humans yearn to be loved.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Lord, I Pray, Smite My Enemies

Psalm 35:1-9 (NIV)

1 Contend, O LORD, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me.
Take up shield and buckler; arise and come to my aid.
3 Brandish spear and javelin against those who pursue me.
Say to my soul, "I am your salvation."
May those who seek my life be disgraced and put to shame;
may those who plot my ruin be turned back in dismay.
May they be like chaff before the wind, with the angel of the LORD driving them away;
6 may their path be dark and slippery, with the angel of the LORD pursuing them.
Since they hid their net for me without cause and without cause dug a pit for me,
may ruin overtake them by surprise—
may the net they hid entangle them, may they fall into the pit, to their ruin.
Then my soul will rejoice in the LORD and delight in his salvation.

[Osteographia, or The Anatomy of the Bones by William Cheselden, 1688-1752]

Within Christianity where is the line between praying for someone's downfall and actually committing it? When we pray imprecatory prayers (to invoke evil upon; cure) are we asking God to invoke harm on our behalf thereby placing responsibility to commit evil upon the Divine? Although I am familiar with people praying for their enemies downfall (and conversion, be it spiritual or sexual orientation) I never knew there was an actual term for it. In the Bible imprecatory prayers (like the one above) can be read as prayer for divine protection and victory in battle. The righteous pray that justice will be on their side and is more of a battle cry prayer to rally the troops before launching at the enemy. In the ancient world, the gods were seen as having total control over every aspect of life from the weather and health of newborns to politics and war. Petitioning the gods for protection was common to them and the idea that the divine is supportive of our current wars still continues to this day.

Imprecatory prayers sound contrary to the core message of love in Christianity. There are some who defend imprecatory prayers as a prayer calling God to deliver justice upon the wicked, but this can portray God as our pocket-sized guardian. When we pray for people we think deserve punishment we are still basing that judgment call on our perception of evil. God then becomes a deity we can pull out of our pocket to handle those who WE think deserves punishment. Furthermore, instead of dealing with the situation itself we ask the Divine to act on our behalf. What happens when people like pastor Wiley Drake pray for Obama's death and God doesn't come through? Did God not answer pastor Drake's prayer because it was immoral or does that mean that "someone" should enact God's will? This is where imprecatory prayers can get outright dangerous! Someone, somewhere will cross the line between prayer and action. So what then do we do?

Why the need to pray for anyone's demise? If, as Christians, we are to love and even pray for our enemies why continue to justify praying for someone to be struck down by God? If we are to believe that God is a God of justice than there is no need for us to ask him to take down those WE think are unjust. Yet injustice continues in the world, should we not try to repair the harm caused by it? I believe that if we tread carefully we can do somethings about injustice but this is different from taking matters into our own hands. We have governments and laws to keep us from becoming vigilantes, yet we do not have laws (that I'm aware of) asking us to help the victims, the needy, the hungry, the unloved, the sick. This is the domain where I believe mankind can redeem itself from its own handiwork of evil. This is the Kingdom of God.

This video contains C.S. Lewis' thoughts on imprecatory prayers found in the Psalms and a Christian response defending that the curses are actually from God and not David.

If we strive not to wish or pray for harm to befall others in the first place we might avoid having to clean up the mess afterward. Let us pray for the well being of others regardless of their beliefs, social status, sexual orientation, and even their past.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Can We Be Scared into the Sacred?

I've known about this film for awhile, and even added it to my Amazon Wish List. I sat motionless and with a fractured heart after watching this film last weekend. Scared Sacred produced, written, and narrated by Velcrow Ripper is an immensely moving film in search of hope during our darkest times. I highly recommend watching it; click here to watch the entire film online.

Canadian filmmaker Velcrow Ripper sets out on a 5 year journey (1999-2004) seeking out a glimmer of hope in the dark and troubled corners of our planet. He is on an anti-pilgrimage, not to the sacred places of the world but to the places which have suffered, mourned, and live with the scars of their suffering. One would think that all you would find is pain and suffering in the war torn, and scarred populace, but Velcrow does find that glimmer of the sacred peeking out through the scared. From Bhopal and Bosnia, to New York and Hiroshima at every stop in his journey the story is the same: people have died and suffered, but there IS hope. Without it these people would die. Yet I know that living in America, I might never experience anything as horrible as the people interviewed in the film.

Would I have enough hope to survive? Would I blame God for my woes? Would I find the sacred in the scared? I do not know, and that is what I found so moving about the film. It speaks on the vulnerability of humanity, and in our soft spots the sacred speaks to us, comforts us, and brings us together. On September 11, 2001, the U.S. came to a screeching halt and was hurled into the presence of the sacred. Some were angry, most were scared, but in that fear we were awakened to the soft spots that were buried and forgotten in our media bombarded, workaholic lives. My heart goes out to the suffering, yet I might never experience suffering of the same degree. The best I can offer is that whenever I come across others suffering that I face it and do what I can to ease their suffering. Even if it means taking some of their suffering upon myself. Only, I pray, I hope, I am strong enough to carry the burden.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Some Assembly Required: Part 3- Extra Parts

James F. McGrath, Associate Professor of Religion at Butler University, Indianapolis, over at Exploring Our Matrix posted some thought-proving pictures a few months ago. Click on the previous link to check them out for yourself. What do you think? Did God put the Bible together himself or did God use people to do the work for him? What does this tell us about the Bible itself? Can the Bible escape man's fallible nature or does it contain fingerprints of man's highest hopes and dreams to our deepest fears and darkest issues?

As I've stated many times before, if I believe in anything with every ounce of my being it is that man is capable of making mistakes. With this humble approach to our fallibility how then do we reconcile the view that the "infallible and inerrant" Bible was penned, edited, arranged, and transmitted by the hand of Man? Should we even try to reconcile these two points or simply look at our freshly assembled Bible with new eyes?

A question arises for those who transcend the notion of an infallible Bible: what do we do now? For those who are open to the concept that mankind is fallible and that we might have made a mistake somewhere along the history of the Bible, what do we do with this man-made work?

  1. We could, as some have, toss the whole thing out and refuse to associate with the divine in anyway. If God can't hire decent secretaries to pen down his Word then there is no need to waste any more time.
  2. We could try to "fix" these errors by attempting to explain them away, harmonize the gospels, or even completely ignore the facts in front of us. (Ex. Out of the 5700 surviving Greek manuscripts, no two are exactly alike. How do we we pick out the most reliable copies?)
  3. We can keep the understanding that the Bible, as a man-made text, is capable of fallibility and continue to draw spiritual wisdom and guidance as citizens of the 21st century.
Bart Ehrman's work is an excellent guide to understanding that the Bible we have today is filled with all sorts of interpolations, additions, and other errors that clearly shows the handiwork of Man. But, I'm not going to toss it out because it may be theologically, politically, or even historically skewed (which seems like the direction that Ehrman is leaning towards). By realizing our own fallibility we come one step closer to walking a life of humility and love. And with that understanding we can grasp a deeper meaning found buried within the Bible. What does it matter if the Comma Johanneum was not added until centuries after the closing of the canon? Do we keep it in there for tradition's sake or just to support our theological views? Should we butcher the Bible like Thomas Jefferson did with his and take out what doesn't jive with our worldview? And what about the non-canonical texts that the church decided were not divinely inspired? Can we grow spiritually from non-canonical texts like the Gospel of Thomas, the Acts of Paul, or even the deuterocanonical books in the Catholic bible? If a text is not "divinely inspired" does it carry any worth at all? What then guides us to read, say for instance, the Bible as oppose to the Book of Mormon? Or even the Qur'an?

I believe that the Bible is a diary of humanity's struggle with itself and the Divine. It can be read as a reminder of who we were and even what we're capable of becoming (both good and bad). The Bible is NOT a user-friendly guide to life but we have to dig out and interpret the meaning behind the text and then struggle with that meaning. As 21st century Christians how do we interpret and apply that meaning to our increasingly interconnected lives? How do we handle 21st century issues that the Bible doesn't even touch? We should never be completely satisfied with the answers to our questions without having more questions spring up. It is the struggle to live in the mystery without being consumed by or driven away by it. What do we gain by all this questioning, challenging, and struggling? To understand, know, and love ourselves, one another, and God.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Soft Spots

I've always wondered why most people (or at least the ones I've met) are uncomfortable talking about faith and spirituality. I have my reasons why I'm uncomfortable speaking about faith to someone face to face but, for example, whenever I casually mention faith to people I meet in school it almost seems like a topic they'd rather not talk about. I know whenever I was questioned about faith in my youth I had a sick and guilty feeling in the pit of my gut. Being personally preached too at a young age is not the best feeling in the world. I never got into any serious trouble but since I was a teenager I was expected to get into trouble, hence the sermons. People today equate faith with Christianity, and, sadly, Christianity with intolerance. It's sad because the Christians I have met so far do not tolerate liberal Christians (or at least those who don't vocalize it say a prayer for my salvation). So I'm stuck between being mentally labeled as intolerant by non-Christians and being intolerated by actual Christians.

I may just be the only religion nerd on campus that actually wants to talk about faith and spirituality in general and not as a campus ministry echo chamber. There are plenty of Christian Ministry groups on campus that I could join (I walk by one daily that offers free wi-fi, free breakfast, and free Starbucks coffee from 8-10 a.m.) but the conversations would be limited to the denominational beliefs of the group. I want to go beyond the repetitive talks and reach into the spirituality of others. This is where I am confronted with silence, not because they lack an opinion or view but because when people open themselves up about faith and spirituality they are revealing a very vulnerable soft spot. A person's spirituality is bound to their being, it is a part of who they are. So when we open ourselves up to talk about faith we are making ourselves extremely vulnerable to attack. An attack on someone's beliefs and faith is a direct attack to their inner most being. God doesn't need defending nor proof but we do because we feel we are being attack (even though we don't come out and admit it).

Does it really have to boil down to who is right or wrong? Who is following the straight and narrow path and who is not? The experiences of Universal Truths can be relative because it speaks to all of us differently. How does it speak to you? What images are used? What do you get out of your communication with the divine? When you answer these questions I CAN NOT say that your experiences are false, because they belong to you. Yet when we are moved by the divine we seek out others who are moved like us so that we may share with one another. It is through these shared experience that we begin to define tribal boundaries. Any foreign imagery and experiences are shrugged off as not reflecting the divine BECAUSE we have not personally experienced the divine in the same manner. There is so much we can be learning and so many people we could be sharing with if we only choose not to erect barriers in the first place. This is my journey and my daily prayer: to seek out how the divine has touched, moved, and continues to impress upon the lives of others so that we may share, grow, and love.