The President Sings Amazing Grace

What a man! President Obama sang, without accompaniment, Amazing Grace at the funeral of Senator/Reverend Clementa Pinckney, assassinated by a racist 21-year-old white man in Rev. Pinckney’s church. The murderer also killed 8 others during their Bible study in the church basement.
The President gave the eulogy at the service and emphasized the word grace throughout his talk. Grace. One letter separates grace from the word race. Race- the reason for the murders. Yet those in the church during the funeral service emphasized grace rather than race.
Amazing!

The Simplicity Among the Great Complexity

The complexity of both the micro and macro world is beyond most of us. Fascinating for sure, but hard to understand. I actually ‘get’ the universe or multiverse a bit more than the other micro world of quantum mechanics. I was good in school with the proton, electron and neutron, but the boson, gluon and quarks fails to imprint onto my brain. I don’t get it no matter how hard I try.

Then there is the other concept that also fails to imprint on my brain. That dynamic duo, the ever-dueling concept of Heaven and Hell. Discussion of each leaves me as clueless as subatomic particle theory. Interestingly though, lay people are much more interested in the double H’s even though these are as unclear as tetraquarks.

Oh, I know, there are volumes of material about the Heaven/Hell theory, but, unlike the Higgs Boson, it is mere speculation. No one has ever experienced Heaven or Hell. It is pure hypothesis. Quantity is no proof of Truth.

If one analyzes the HH concept, it is nothing more than the human desire for reward and punishment. Somewhere in our post-reptilian brain we learned these two concepts and, upon the analysis of human existence, a conclusion was reached that an after-death reward/punishment scenario was justified. Life apparently was not long enough; an after-death epoch was needed. 

As a result, a Supreme Judge was envisioned- one who kept score, noting goodness and badness. Thus the need arose for a codified set of good and bad behaviors. The concept of sin bubbled up and, as expected, the need for cleansing. How and by whom was appointed to holy men who arose from the elders of the tribe. Rites and ritual along with temporal punishment developed. As did dogma. And the concept of righteousness and condemnation. Naturally a complete and complex system developed to enable the HH concept to be housed. 

Sigh.

What do you suppose those ‘good’ people do in Heaven all day long? I’ve wondered about that. I have heard that they contemplate the face of God. Really? Anything else? Does Time exist? What about relationships? Consciousness? Do we bring our unique personalities? Do we ‘know’ our families and friends? Do we mourn someone who did not make it? Have we emotions? How long does it take to be comfortable without our personal bodies? How will we recognize others without a body? Do we think? 

Squirming while Reading the Bible

Author Peter Enns’ book, The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It, has raised a bit of a stink in Bibleland. The biblical purists have summarily denounced it as ‘garbage,’ if the Amazon ratings correctly reflect the opinions of that group. Oh well. 

Enns knows that. After all, he was fired from his conservative theological institution for his bold views about the Bible. Yet he never will please that set of purists and he doesn’t hope to. Rather, he hopes that non-purists will embrace the Bible more deeply because of what he writes. 

The author knows that the Bible was written by a series of eastern Mediterranean rabbis in the 8th century BC who reflected the values, customs and beliefs of their tribe in that era. Enns also knew that the authors hoped to distinguish the Israelites from other Canaanite tribes and, in doing so, established a series of customary purification laws- laws which are not ‘obeyed’ by Americans. Further, the author points out how the biblical authors brought stories and myths back from Babylon and modified these as lessons for the Israelites. And finally, author Enns hoped to help clarify the many ‘God-directed’ killings found in the Bible- that most were hyperbole and were lessons to the people of Israel that YHWY was ‘on their side.’

Biblical purists, literalists and non-errants will never ‘get’ the Bible, but Enns hopes that his readers will come to understand the Bible in a whole new manner through his writing. It may be late for a whole swath who have rejected the entire Bible because they were forced to believe in the literal interpretation. 

The question must be raised: Why were biblical purists allowed to dominate the discussion? Why were others too timid to challenge them? What has been the cost of this untethered license?

What Replaces Religion?

As fewer Americans attend church the question arises: What replaces religion in ones life? To answer this one has to access what is missing that was provided by religion? After all, religion was an invention and, as such, must have had a cause.

I’d imagine that gathering together was a first cause. We see this in ancient stone works, temples and monuments. We are social animals and need and enjoy time together. 

Ritual naturally follows gathering and in ancient times rituals were formulated to honor and/or mark the passage of seasons and time itself. Rituals for belonging or membership were important as well. Rituals were invented to mark that which was not understood or feared in the natural world. Rituals for atonement, birth, death, illness, thanksgiving and even war were communal celebrated.

The building of elaborate worship spaces, decorated with art and engineered to demonstrate both permanence and power, was a natural outcome of the need to house ritual. Music and liturgy as well as the reading of sacred texts as well as the pronouncements of codified belief were an integral part of the gathering in the worship space.

A sense of awe or otherworldliness lifted the faithful from their dreary or miser lives as they worshiped in the ornate worship places. Sacred music lifted the heaviness of life and transported the mind and soul to the heavenly strata.

 In the worship place one might find someone, especially a priest (in the broad sense) in which to find consolation, to discuss a problem, to confess sin.

And now what? How do the so called ‘nones’ replace what a religion offered to people for millennia? I suspect that a none could easily dictate a complete list. Yet, the question might be raised, Is it enough?

Extraterrestrials and Incarnations

Here in Toledo an interesting lecture will be held on Wednesday with the curious title, Vast Universe: Extraterrestrials and Christian Revelation. Two points. It will be held at a Catholic university and the speaker is Catholic priest, Fr. Thomas O’Meara. That title is in fact the title of his book. O’Meara wonders both about the religious beliefs of these extraterrestrials as well as whether other incarnations of the Spirit (Jesus) have taken place in other sectors of time and space. 

In light of the fact that astronomers have identified nearly 1000 planets in our galaxy as potentially habitable, O’Meara wonders two things. First, if sentient, have these beings developed a belief in God? Further, have they encountered an incarnation of the Spirit which he names Jesus?

I ask a follow- up, compound question: Have any of these places concocted a theory of universal sin (Original Sin) and if so, by what means have they theorized that it could be mollified? Have they actualized the concept of Substitutional Atonement through killing?  Do they require that their Incarnation of Spirit be slaughtered as is believed in the Christian Faith?

For more insight into O’Meara’s theory, read a summary  http://cdn.theologicalstudies.net/60/60.1/60.1.1.pdf

Ubuntu: Beyond Love one Another

“Love one another as I have loved you.” That is the essence of many religious lessons, this one specifically that of Christianity devoid of dogma. Those words attributed to Jesus weren’t original to him. One can imagine this phrase on the lips of many others before and contemporary with him. Even mothers saying that to a child in a teaching reference.

I came across this same principle in a reference while reading a post by Caroline Fairless on her blog, “Restoring the Waters.” In referencing Ubuntu, she writes, As my goal has been and continues to be, to find deep and holy community in what I have named the space between, it is of critical importance.

In researching this African principle Ubuntu, I discovered it means essentially what John wrote but goes much deeper. It states (demands) that a person’s personhood exists only because of a bond shared with the other. Sounds convoluted which, in fact, is essentially the point. Ubuntu raises the love one another to a much more complex interaction with the other. One does not benefit from the love of another unless that love is reciprocal.

We in the Western culture, especially in the U.S. Might not fully understand that concept perhaps due both to our pioneer roots as well as our free-enterprise economic system. Dog-eat-dog as the extreme outcome. The ‘bootstraps’ charge. The pejorative welfare queen. The quintessential socialism label.

We weren’t raised that way. African Ubuntu is sewn into the essence of that culture; it defines the culture. We don’t get it. That’s precisely why we reward the corporate CEO and disregard the factory worker. That exhibits itself in the political arena as well when an entire political party works to reward the few at the expense of the many. 

It seems to me that our American culture could never embrace Ubuntu. At best, we might give lip service to love one another from time to time. Below is an in depth look at Ubuntu.

 Reference http://www.buzzle.com/editorials/7-22-2006-103206.asp

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Perhaps the world would be a more peaceful place if more emphasis was placed instead on teaching respect, decency, and tolerance – on teaching Ubuntu. The word ‘Ubuntu’ originates from one of the Bantu dialects of Africa, and is pronounced as uu-Boon-too. It is a traditional African philosophy that offers us an understanding of ourselves in relation with the world. According to Ubuntu, there exists a common bond between us all and it is through this bond, through our interaction with our fellow human beings, that we discover our own human qualities. Or as the Zulus would say, “Umuntu Ngumuntu Ngabantu”, which means that a person is a person through other persons. We affirm our humanity when we acknowledge that of others. The South African Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu describes Ubuntu as:

“It is the essence of being human. It speaks of the fact that my humanity is caught up and is inextricably bound up in yours. I am human because I belong. It speaks about wholeness, it speaks about compassion. A person with Ubuntu is welcoming, hospitable, warm and generous, willing to share. Such people are open and available to others, willing to be vulnerable, affirming of others, do not feel threatened that others are able and good, for they have a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that they belong in a greater whole. They know that they are diminished when others are humiliated, diminished when others are oppressed, diminished when others are treated as if they were less than who they are. The quality of Ubuntu gives people resilience, enabling them to survive and emerge still human despite all efforts to dehumanize them.”

For many Africans, while they may belong to different societies and have different traditions and rituals, Ubuntu usually has a strong religious meaning. In general, the African belief is that your ancestors continue to exist amongst the living in the form of spirits and they are your link to the Divine Spirit. If you are in distress or need, you approach your ancestors’ spirits and it is they who will intercede on your behalf with God. Therefore it is important to not only venerate your ancestors, but to, eventually, yourself become an ancestor worthy of veneration. For this, you agree to respect your community’s rules, you undergo initiation to establish formal ties with both the current community members and those that have passed on, and you ensure harmony by adhering to the Ubuntu principles in the course of your life.

What if the U.S. Became a Christian Nation?

Tis the season for those running for president in the Republican Party to prove that each is more Christian than Jesus. There is a minister and the son of a minister as candidates. The others are oh-so Christian, just ask them. They love Jesus. But, do they, really?

Blogger Benjamin Corey who writes on Patheos doubts that. He thinks that most don’t know what a ‘Christian Nation’ would look like. Here is a synthesis of his post.

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If America Became a Christian Nation (They Probably Wouldn’t Like What it Looked Like)
Because truth be told, if America actually were to become a Christian nation, I don’t think the people who advocated for it would be too happy with the end product. Since Christian is supposed to mean “little Christ” or “Christ follower,” we actually have a way to offer some clear cut examples of what a Christian nation would look like– because all we have to do is look at what Jesus taught, and how Jesus lived, as a model to pattern national behavior.

We’d Have To Abolish the 2nd Amendment. We’d Have to Replace the Department of Defense with the Department of Enemy Love. We’d Have to End Capital Punishment. Eradicating Poverty Would Be One of Our Most Pressing Concerns. We’d Freely Care for the Sick. We’d Become The Most Loving Nation Toward Immigrants. 

So, politicians can use the term “Christian nation” all they want, but I don’t think any of them understand what the term actually means– nor do I think any of them would find a Christian nation appealing.

A Christian nation doesn’t exist, nor will one ever exist. However, the Kingdom of God does exist, right here, right now– and you’re invited to live within it, where all of those above things are lived and practiced already.

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/formerlyfundie/christiannation/

The Frightful Starry Night

Light pollution here in the 21st century, especially in metropolitan areas, obfuscates the sky that I remember seeing as a child standing in my backyard on a warm summer night. I haven’t seen the Milky Way in years. Not only the light, but cloudy skies often hide even the Moon. Still, in far away places, the evening sky is as star-studded as it was 3000 years ago. It is as if one could reach out and grab a star!

Yet  that same magnificence, I would imagine, brings with it a sense of fear especially to indigenous people who do not understand the universe as scientifically as I. Superstitions develop from that awe as well as taboos. In the early 80’s I was standing outside at night with a 10-year-old refugee boy from the mountains of Laos. I pointed at the beautiful moonrise on the eastern horizon. Quickly the boy told me, “Don’t point at the Moon- your ear will fall off!” 

I think back on the primitive, non-scientific minds of the people observing that wonderous star-filled sky each evening which loomed overhead. To us on those rare moments of seeing it great beauty shines in our eyes. However, I suspect that three millenia past, beauty may have taken a backseat to fear. The vulnerability under that massive dome of stars could have been terrifying for many. 

  
What gods, demons or dangerous characters might swoop down from these heavens and curse or kill those helpless people during that long evening! There was no defense against these nighttime terrors. Except religious chants, totems, statues, beads, candles, fire or incense.  The same devil-warding measures that are still functional in religious rites today.

Scientists report that the Sky Monsters are gone. Twenty-first century urban dwellers no longer see the night sky. Night and day are virtually the same to the modern eye. Religious salve that once soothed the unlearned no longer is effective. The shaman is unemployed. Heaven appears light-years beyond. Over the Rainbow. Somewhere in a galaxy far away!

The Round Ark

irving Finkle looks a lot like Santa, but of course, being a Jewish curator of ancient tablets at a museum, I doubt if he has ever played the role.  He is the author of a book titled, The Ark Before Noah– a title which sends shockwaves down the spine of biblical literalists. Yes, and sorry folks, Noah’s ark wasn’t the original source of the myth: the Babylonians wrote it first. And the ark was round. Here is a description of his book from the publisher:

 In THE ARK BEFORE NOAH, British Museum expert Dr Irving Finkel reveals how decoding the symbols on a 4,000 year old piece of clay enable a radical new interpretation of the Noah’s Ark myth. A world authority on the period, Dr Finkel’s enthralling real-life detective story began with a most remarkable event at the British Museum – the arrival one day in 2008 of a single, modest-sized Babylonian cuneiform tablet – the palm-sized clay rectangles on which our ancestors created the first documents. It had been brought in by a member of the public and this particular tablet proved to be of quite extraordinary importance. Not only does it date from about 1850 BC, but it is a copy of the Babylonian Story of the Flood, a myth from ancient Mesopotamia revealing among other things, instructions for building a large boat to survive a flood. But Dr Finkel’s pioneering work didn’t stop there. Through another series of enthralling discoveries he has been able to decode the story of the Flood in ways which offer unanticipated revelations to readers of THE ARK BEFORE NOAH.  

Link https://www.hodder.co.uk/books/detail.page?isbn=9781444757071

  Round. Of course it was round because the fishermen in that region discovered that the round design made the boat impossible to capsize. Noah’s ark took on the shape of boats that the Israelites used in the lakes and rivers in their neck of the woods. Common sense.
The upshot of this post is obvious. Myths are often borrowed by other cultures who adapt them for the time and people they serve.

Pictures Painted on the Walls of my Womb

The inattentiveness of the desert provides an inexplicable healing. Meinrad Craighead found this in her experience among the sandstone flats and underground kivas of the Pueblo Indians. “When I came to New Mexico in 1960,” she wrote, “I found the land which matched my interior landscape. The door separating inside and outside opened. What my eyes saw meshed with images I carried inside my body. Pictures painted on the walls of my womb began to emerge” (The Mother’s Songs: Images of God the Mother [Paulist Press, 1986], p. 67) She discovered the Great Mother in the awesome beauty of the desert, brooding over a world still in the process of being born. She found hope where others might have experienced only despair. In being ignored, she was unexpectedly given back her truest self.”

– Fierce Landscapes and the Indifference of God by Belden C. Lane

‘Painted on the walls of my womb.’ What a powerful metaphor! God the Mother. Where did She go?

It is interesting to note that archaeologists tell us a few secrets not found in the pages of the Bible. In digging through layers of the time when Yahweh was the tribal God of the Israelites, they found a plethora of statues of the goddess Asherah. They infer that she was worshiped along side of Yahweh. There is further speculation that the two were husband and wife.

 Why was She written out of Abrahamic religion? Clearly because the culture changed and the society became strongly patriarchal.  If she had not been written out (redacted by later copyists)  would the world be different today? I’m betting so.