Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Resolution

It struck me out of the blue as I was driving home for the holidays. I was bewildered as to why I didn't think of it before. I've hinted at it and even mentioned my uneasiness yet I have decided to live up to the spirit of this blog: for the next year I will spend time with people of other faiths in prayer, study, and even worship. I honestly don't know what that means or what I intend to do, but I do know that I'm sick of just talking about understanding and loving our fellow man. I can't hide behind books and articles spouting from a digital pulpit that I am accepting of people of other faiths when all I interact with are Christians. I do know that I would like to focus on one faith a month in dialog, worship, study, and prayer for the next 11 months. I am reserving December of next year as a month of reflection and meditation covering what I've learned. I do not know how I will attempt this but I do know that I will try. I am unsure as to which religions I will choose to delve into or even how deep.

Some may see this as a grievous error which will lead me down a path of no return. I can not guarantee that I will escape uninfluenced by what I will encounter, in fact I am doing this because I feel my spiritual journey has run aground and has become stagnant. I am also not seeking a particular faith to follow, although many will try to convert me, what I seek is understanding, awareness, a deeper embrace of what humanity holds dear to its heart.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Literal Interpretation of the Flood

Genesis 6:17-22 (ESV)

17 For behold, I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life under heaven. Everything that is on the earth shall die. 18But I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. 19And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every sort into the ark to keep them alive with you. They shall be male and female. 20Of the birds according to their kinds, and of the animals according to their kinds, of every creeping thing of the ground, according to its kind, two of every sort shall come in to you to keep them alive. 21Also take with you every sort of food that is eaten, and store it up. It shall serve as food for you and for them." 22Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him.

My little girl loves her new Ark she got for Christmas even though she doesn't have two of every kind of animal. Do you know how hard it is to find an Aye-aye 3 days before Christmas?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The War on Christmas is Bullsh*t.

And the use of language is very necessary. Why? Because this faux war on Christmas is a defense of the definition of Christmas and the underlying beliefs and traditions. Those who cry that Christmas is under attack by secularist (and liberals) are not only ignorant of the history of secularization and pagan influence on Christmas but they condemn their "attackers" for expressing the very spirit of Christmas the "true defenders" claim they are defending. Although I'm wary of quoting from the Washington Times, I found this recent article very revealing on the true nature of the War on Christmas.

Focus on the Family's annual Stand for Christmas project invites shoppers to rate retailers based on their "Christmas-friendliness" which is measured by how much each retailer promotes Christmas via displays, background Christmas music, and if the sales associates wish the customers a "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays".

"The idea is to encourage retailers to keep the Christ in Christmas and counter the recent drift toward the secularization of the holiday", said Focus on the Family's Carrie Gordon Earll. [Quote from above article]
Yet, retailers aren't concerned over the preservation, or even removal, of the traditional definition of Christmas, their main concern is profit! Although I only have 4 years experience in retail and a meager understanding of marketing from my college education it's pretty obvious that a retail store markets their store image to pull in the greatest amount of customers. Once the customers are in the store they use various methods to keep them shopping (end cap displays, impulse items, signs for easy navigation, etc.). ALL retailers use the holidays as a marketing tactic especially during the Christmas season. The switch by some retailers from the use of Merry Christmas to include Happy Holidays is because the retailers are AWARE that society is diverse and if they marketed universally to include other holidays they would be welcoming more customers. Isn't a universal message of love and acceptance for your fellow man a part or even the core of the Christmas spirit? Or should we only love those within our tribe, who share our beliefs, traditions, and values? In the mind of the defenders, The War on Christmas is really a war on Christianity, specifically the exclusivity of Christianity. Again retailers aren't warring against Christmas nor are they attempting to remove Christ from Christmas since this would only alienate a huge market. If the true spirit of Christmas is to only love and embrace only those who are like minded I want no part in Christmas. However, I believe this is bullsh*t, as well as the War on Christmas.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

TV: Toddler Vision

My 3 year old son has incredible eyesight who he must get from his mother (I'm as blind as a bat), and coupled with his enthusiastic personality makes for some interesting trips to the store. He has to point out EVERYTHING. If it comes into his range of vision he has to comment on it.

"Look daddy a car! Look daddy, is that a cat? Look daddy a tree, a tree! Look daddy, DADDY!!!"
And if he doesn't know what an object is called, he soon finds out after asking his daddy. "What's that daddy? Daddy? Daddy what's that over there? No, over there?"

One day we were walking through Wal-Mart, his favorite store, when he yelled out, "Look daddy! A Mickey Mouse balloon!" I stopped looked up and couldn't see anything. I asked him to point it out and he kept pointing towards the empty ceiling. In these situations I just humor him and keep moving but I was worried: is my son seeing things or is my vision getting worse? I stood there for 3 minutes, which is an eternity if you're staring at a ceiling, and could not see it for the life of me. My son then started yelling for me to acknowledge that I had also seen the balloon.
"Yes son, I see it." but he didn't believe me and people started to stare as my son continued to yell. And right before I had a chance to raise my voice at him to calm down there it was. It was a red Mickey Mouse balloon that had gotten loose from the party supplies aisle and was wedged behind a light fixture. I could have sworn it wasn't there a minute ago but there it was. I apologized to my son and was relieved that not only was my son not imagining things he has incredible vision.

How much more then would we see, hear, touch, and feel if we only gave as much attention to our surroundings as our children? And with their enthusiasm, what great things would we be able to accomplish and experience in life? My children are rarely bored and are constantly interacting, experimenting, and examining the world around them. I know I find myself bored sometimes, yet why should we ever be bored? There is an amazing world waiting to be discovered, when did we lose our passion and enthusiasm for discovery? And how do we gain that passion back so that we may truly enjoy life?

Monday, December 21, 2009

Wrestling with God and Man: Part 5- Wrestles with God

Genesis 32:24-30 (NIV)
24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob's hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, "Let me go, for it is daybreak."

But Jacob replied, "I will not let you go unless you bless me."

27 The man asked him, "What is your name?"
"Jacob," he answered.

28 Then the man said, "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome."

29 Jacob said, "Please tell me your name."
But he replied, "Why do you ask my name?" Then he blessed him there.30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, "It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared."

[Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, By Gustave Doré, 1855]

Jacob felt that he could not live a truly blessed life until he faced his brother once again. Throughout his life Jacob wrestled with the deceptive part of his personality, yet that did not stop him, and his wife when they cleverly swindled more wealth and blessings from Laban before departing. I found it interesting to note that in verse 3 of chapter 31 the Lord said to Jacob "Return to the land of your forefathers and to your birthplace, and I will be with you." Was God not with him during his stay at Laban's? In the following verses Jacob stated that God had been with him and was protecting him from Laban's mistreatment. Yet I believe there is something deeper meant by this verse than just a restatement of God's promise (how many times does God have to repeat himself before we get the message?). I believe the verse sums up the yearnings, hopes, and fears of Jacob returning home to his family. God is found in the love of a restored family, reconciliation, and forgiveness. God will be with us when we humbly approach those who've we hurt with our words and actions. Whether God literally spoke to Jacob or not is no importance, Jacob knew deep down that he would receive true inner blessing by returning home to face those he wounded.

As he nears home, Jacob is approached once again by the Divine (Genesis 32:2): angels, as Rashi comments, who are to escort him home. Jacob sent the angels ahead of him with a message to Esau, and they returned with news that Esau was marching at the head of 400 men. I enjoyed Karen Armstrong's summary of Jacob's response.

Then he took refuge with his God. No longer confident of his own cleverness and subtlety, he felt unworthy, too small for the divine blessing which had enabled him to return to Canaan a rich man. Yet he realized that he must go forward to confront the past; he had to come to terms with the complexities of his youth in a way that his father, Isaac, for example, had never done. Jacob was the first of the patriarchs to make a return journey. Henceforth the whole notion of return would become an important symbol of integration and reconciliation in the faith of Israel. It was no longer sufficient to "get up and go". The patriarchs had to learn that no one could move forward creatively into the future without having made peace with the past. (In the Begining: A New Interpretation of Genesis. Jacob Agonistes.)

His prayers before and after his journey are a window into the struggle and growth Jacob had endured. On his way to Laban's, immediately after his encounter with the Divine at Bethel, Jacob cut a deal with God: if God would watch over him, Jacob would accept him as his God only after his safe return home. Now after years of service and running from his past Jacob offered a prayer of humility when all hope seemed lost.

10 I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps. 11Please deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him, that he may come and attack me, the mothers with the children.(Genesis 32:10-11)

An interesting Jewish interpretation I've come across states that Jacob wrestled with Esau's guardian angel, Samael, that night instead of God himself as has been interpreted by Christians. Jacob would then be both facing Esau on the spiritual and physical battlefields. An even more interesting interpretation states that Jacob was literally alone (32:24) and therefore wrestled with himself. Jacob had to conquer the Esau within before he could face his brother. The story of Jacob is an inner spiritual journey to discovery of the Self and reconciliation with his past life, and at the end of his journey he found God waiting to bless, forgive, and comfort him. However one may interpret the text, the heart of the tale is in the transformation of a man from a supplanter/deceiver to one who wrestled with both the physical and spiritual realms. Jacob could have easily lost to both the angelic being and Esau and his men, yet Jacob was given a new identity because he struggled. He was granted a new life (Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel...) to start over, another chance to undo the damage that had been done. Another chance for forgiveness and love.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Understanding the New Testament

During our last Jesus of Nazareth class session my professor handed me back a quote along with my graded homework. Most of the papers I turned in over the semester bordered on a Liberal Christian "let's-not-interpret-the-scriptures-literally" view and I think this quote is his subtle final response to my work over the semester.
"The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world? Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament." by Søren Kierkegaard.
Yes, I agree that the minute we understand (to grok!) the New Testament we will act accordingly although not because we feel we are obliged but because the Spirit of the New Testament moves us to act accordingly. It is not the obligation to follow the New Testament blindly to the letter but to incorporate the Spirit of the New Testament into our being. (I have yet to read any of Kierkegaard's work so forgive me if he touches on this topic.) We are caught in a lifelong struggle to incorporate what I believe to be the core of Christianity, unconditional love for your fellow man. Unconditional Love is, or at least should be, at the heart of Christianity and yet we (the church) have replaced that core with doctrine, beliefs, and theology about the man who is an earthly expression of Unconditional Love. My personal issue with the Bible is not that it is too constricting to follow (although the Old Testament Laws may be a bit difficult to follow to the letter) and might hinder my personal life, but that it should be read as a guide book to becoming Love Incarnate and not a rule book since it is a product of man. Being alone with the Spirit of the New Testament, or with scripture from any faith, is to admit that we need to transform ourselves from broken and fallible creatures to beings of Love.

Yet, I would go one step further and say it is dreadful to be alone with God! For to move into the presence of the Divine is more dreadful than embracing the structures, beliefs, thoughts, morals, and philosophies of man for it is our interaction and communion with the eternal that reveals to us the significance of living and loving every moment of our short lives. When we peak through the curtain that divides the mortal from the immortal we return with a fragment of love beaming from our faces. When we pray and commune with the Divine, help and walk justly with our fellow man, when we as a community come together we share our fragments of light and bask in its tremendous, eternal, and warm beauty. It is this light of love which humanity seeks in a dark and troubled world, and when we share it, God is found.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Fountain Revisited- Part 2: The Road to Awe

The Fountain is by far my favorite film of all time. I thought it was a beautiful film the first time through but the second round just blew my mind. The film is vague in it's meaning and ending leaving the audience to come up with their own conclusions. This series will take a second look into my revised thoughts on the film's spiritual and religious themes.

[Mayan Priest guarding the narrow path to the Tree of Life]

Warning: Spoilers there be!

The Western mindset has us think that if we can only skip over or even avoid death that we may enter into an existence free of pain and aging. Thomas, and at times Izzy, play out this mentality in the film but eventually find that only by accepting the natural order of the human experience will they come to find peace.

In Izzi's book, which captures her emotional and mental struggle with cancer, 16th century Tomas sought the Tree of Life to rescue Queen Elizabeth and Spain from the cancerous growth of the Inquisitor's lust for power. They tried to avoid the inevitable without fully realizing what they were seeking. Tomas' men are trapped and killed by the Mayan's as they approached the hidden temple and take Tomas to their priest.

The Priest guarding the path to Life challenges Tomas to join the fate of First Father who sacrificed himself for the Tree of Life. For the Mayans, and for all three incarnation of Thomas, eternal life is found only by first experiencing death. Death is the road to awe. It is through this mortal experience that we can enter into and become a part of the cosmos, a part of eternity. Not to confuse this with the universe itself which, in my belief, has not always been, but the creative and eternal Spirit of Life which has been since the beginning. When we die, we not only pass on that creative Spirit to those who are still alive but we join together and become a part of that Spirit.

As Tomas greedily drank from the Tree of Life he experienced a vision of Xibalba and collapses as flowers exploded and burst from within his body. The individual Tomas no longer exists but his death brings forth new life and a part of Tomas lives eternally through that new life. Tom, the 26th century space monk, stayed alive for 500 years as he traveled with his beloved Izzi (her essence "grew into the wood") in hopes of being reborn in Xibalba. His efforts in avoiding death only twisted Tom into a fearful and obsessed creature haunted daily by the Izzi that once was. His 500 year quest ends with the one path he had avoided, death as the road to awe.

During the last few months of my wife's pregnancy with our first child I had literally thousands of questions racing through my head. One of the them being how does the child know when it's "time"? My wife attempted to explain to me something about chemicals or hormones which her medical explanations always fly right over my head. Yet in the end the baby follows the instinctual instruction embed in their genes, they just know. Why is it that we follow our instinct during our introduction into the world and fight tooth and nail to avoid our "exit"? If we accept death as naturally as the rest of the animal kingdom would we begin to enjoy every minute of the NOW instead of worrying our lives away about the future? If death is truly the road to awe then we can rest in peace knowing that through our death new life can emerge, flourish, grow, love, and experience all the wonders and beauty of life.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Finals Week

I know it's been pretty slow here but I've been slammed working on final projects. Once I get through finals week I'll be back on my feet commenting and writing daily articles on topics like the Vatican exploring the possibility of alien life.

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Gold, Frankincense and Mars - Guy Consolmagno
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorU.S. Speedskating

Alien life on other planets, a waste of time and resources or a noble venture? I've written a few posts on this topic earlier this year and I'm currently reading The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell which follows a Jesuit funded expedition to the planet Rakhat. Interesting book so far even though it's taking me months to read through.