In Response to Faith and politics: The New Wars of Religion.

This past November (2007) there was an article in The Economist titled “Faith and politics: The New Wars of Religion.  “that religion has re-emerged in public life is to some extent an illusion.  It never really went away…religion has returned to the stage as a much more democratic, individualistic affair: a bottom-up marketing success, surprisingly in tune with globalization”

I think about this article often as I am on the way out of seminary and possibly entering ministry.  Sometime in the future I shall be called to shepherd a congregation.  I enter this vocation with the conviction that I am called to serve, accept, and love everyone.  It may be difficult to uphold this at times. Even in the most difficult of times I am never excused from the obligation to serve, accept, and love all. To look into the face of the other. To be in proximity to Gods wonderful creation.

In the recent past I have been part of inter-faith dialogue and have been benefactor of its wisdom. A lesson I learned in these discussions is, we must condemn violence in our neighborhoods, in our country, and in our world.  There is not place for violence in the Gospel message that Christianity is rooted in.  We are not immune to the apathy and blank stares of inaction.  We slow down to see the train wreck and gawk at its carnage, making sure not to get involved.

We will protest the dehumanizing slave labor in foreign land and stand idly by as millions of people [legal and illegal] next door to you struggle to exist. They live hand to mouth, where the slightest emergency wreaks havoc in their fragile balance of work and life.

Religious leaders in this country are poised to be the visionaries/prophets of a new America. An America where one is not identified and divided by what they own or possess.

Possessions bind us to this world. Why is it that when faced with difficulty we go shopping or seek to own or consume things? We fear to be intimately woven to this created world. We are uncomfortable with intimacy, especially the intimacy that is involved with being human. Stuff cannot come between any citizen of this world.

Religious practice is on a rise.  The southern hemisphere is now the center of the Christian practice.  We are witnessing the power base of Christendom with black, brown, and yellow faces.

We must continue to work towards reconciliation with each other.  This is not possible as we point fingers and look at each other in mistrust.  Pride only breeds another generation of violence and bloodshed.

A lasting peace cannot be reached in the oppression or marginalization of any group.  Look to the colonizing efforts of Great Britain, France, and Belgium in the early 1900’s.  Division leads to resent and resent breeds anger.  Anger, if left unresolved, begets violence.

It is my hope that my fellow colleagues in ministry, of all faiths, will commit to dialogue.  We must set the example of tolerance and understanding.  We must sit together and denounce this violence.  It is my understanding prophesying or teaching ought to denounce violence as the way to exist.

If we can set together at the table and talk, then we can live together in a culture that is not fearful of the unknown.  We must invest in each other as a people, as a society.  If one is scared, than we all are scared.  Dominance and power are not a place to be peaceful.

All the “Red Campaigns”, relief efforts, and “storms” will never achieve peace until they emerge from an invested seat as we speak up for each other.

The Pope and Bush walk into a bar…

The other day I was in the gym doing my routine and noticed the TV’s had the Present-dent Bush welcoming the Holy Father to (a)Merika. I sat there gliding on my elliptical journey across the world.

As I was gliding across Europe towards Asia I heard Bush describe this nation as a nation of prayer. He also specified the gender of God as he excluded a feminine relation of the divine in his usage of masculine pronouns.

A nation of prayer I pondered as I approached Eastern Europe. Is Bush referring to the Muslims that pray to Allah, the Hindus performing puja, or the Wiccans performing rites? Is there room in Bush’s America for worship of “nature’s God” that he refers to in his address?

Bush claims a compassionate America where “the measure of a free society is how we treat the weakest and most vulnerable among us.” I take a right at the Caucasus

mountains and enter Turkey. I continue into Iraq as look for the denizens that America is protecting from tyranny and despair. There are no hungry, sick, and discomforted people here.

I imagined this area to be covered with danger and glimmering with hope provided by the majestic humble majesty of George Bush and his “awesome God.” Where is the compassion of the death and destruction laying claim to Iraq and her children? Where is the measure we believe in of this free society in our dealing with the weakest and most vulnerable?

In Bush’s Gospel Jesus claims only US. The compassion of turning the other check, the love in giving your tunic also and the call to love your neighbor seems lost on all of US.

I glide across Iraq and cross the beautiful deserts of Arabia and then into the Sahara. The red sands give way to the green canopies of Sudan and then the north of Uganda. I am soon faced with the banks of the mighty river Nile.

I sit at its banks a while and soak in the smells and sounds of this life giving ancient river. On it waters it carries many nations and hopes along with it. The lush pineapples and bananas on its banks, with children playing in the waters.

Is God the God of love here, Mr. President? Does America also seek to protect the weak and vulnerable here? What does profit have to do with love? Can we comfort the sick and care for the infirm here?

I dive into the waters. They caress and comfort me. They sooth my soul. The Lord has lay me inside these cool and still waters to restore my soul. I continue my journey around the world, gliding in my imagination to bear witness to the compassion of the world. Please pray for us that we do hold compassion for all. Let us not hold that we are the ideal and divine bearer of truth or justice. Let us walk together to call into existence the Kingdom of God. This is my prayer…

Mr. Bush you will be gone soon. You speak of embracing love (God’s love) as the surest way to save [creation] from falling prey to the teaching of fanaticism and terrorism. Terror and fanaticism are rooted in the certain assurance that ones opinion is the only way to truth. Mr. Bush, I ask you to treat human life with the same regard and respect as you idyllically paraded on the world stage around the Holy Father. It is time to live up to the call on your life as a man of God.

If each of us is willed, loved, and necessary to bring forth the Kingdom of God, is it about time that we as a nation lived this way. Real freedom in found in the bondage in service to others. Truth lies in the mysterious capacity of being, existence, and reality to which all I participate and none to which I own. May God blessings be upon you and may love (the love of God) be our guide.  Love is no joke…

Say it to me now…

I have become obsessed with the movie “Once” and its soundtrack. The other day at the gym I listened to the song “Say it to me now” 6 or 7 times in a row. I feel like weeping when I heard these words.

Scratching at the surface now
And
I’m trying hard to work it out
And
so much has gone misunderstood
This mystery only leads to doubt
And I’m looking for a sign
In this dark uneasy time

[This expresses my encounters with God as of late. I know I am seeking knowledge beyond my abilities. I just want to work out my faith. I want to gain peace and blessing. I miss the mark in this quest. I am unsure if this quest is noble at all or if it is just for show. Worse yet is it fire insurance. I cry out in the darkness of my nights for God to not be silent…grant me rest.]

So if you have something to say
Say it to me now

And I’m not trying to pass the buck
I’m just trying to get a better look
And I’m wondering how it feels for you
Now that the shoe is on the other foot
And I didn’t understand
When you reached down to take my hand

[I believe that I am responsible for what I do and not do. I want to understand and not take blind faith for what it is to me, a foolish plunge. I am thankful that you are God and I am not. I just focus on the exploitation, whining and bargaining that humanity participates in.]

And if you have something to say
You’d better say it now

Cause this is what you’ve waited for
A chance to even up the score
And as these shadows fall on me now
I will somehow
Cause I’m clearing up this wreckage Lord
And there’s more than you’ve ever seen before

[I hate that there is uncertainty on being/existence when I have no idea what was before life and what will be in death. I panic because I am at your whim and it forces me to trust you. I have no other means to swim in the sea of doubt. I am nervous and scared. I hope to hear your voice. How do I listen?]

So if you have something to say
Say it to me now

These lyrics, this song holds me in my struggle with God. It just might be the solace I have been asking for. It came from no where. I delivered me in peace. It let me sleep. That I am thankful for.

I Crave Your Mouth, Your Voice, Your Hair [Pablo Neruda]

DON’T GO FAR OFF, NOT EVEN FOR A DAY
Don’t go far off, not even for a day, because –
because — I don’t know how to say it: a day is long
and I will be waiting for you, as in an empty station
when the trains are parked off somewhere else, asleep.

Don’t leave me, even for an hour, because
then the little drops of anguish will all run together,
the smoke that roams looking for a home will drift
into me, choking my lost heart.

Oh, may your silhouette never dissolve on the beach;
may your eyelids never flutter into the empty distance.
Don’t leave me for a second, my dearest,

because in that moment you’ll have gone so far
I’ll wander mazily over all the earth, asking,
Will you come back? Will you leave me here, dying?

How do we imagine God?

 

I have been in this class that is studying the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas. It has been a difficult for me as I read his work. I have never taken a philosophy course before. I do not understand the language used in his writings.

In a super heated cup of water way, Levinas deals with relationships and the idea of proximity, the other, and insomnia. All are words we have heard and used frequently in our lives. For Levinas proximity has a deep and penetrating meaning. Influenced by his experience with the tragic events of the Holocaust, Levinas seeks to go beyond the Greek world of logic, reason, and thought and enter the Hebrew experience of dependency, choseness, and divine intimacy.

For Levinas the system of language, culture, and relationships that allowed and perpetrated the Holocaust defied humanity and its existence demanded explanation. Why did these events happen and where in divine purpose do these events serve to connect Creator and creation?

I sat in class on Wednesday and the thought came to me, “How do I imagine God? How do we imagine God?”

In a conversation between a group of Christians and Muslims here at the seminary last semester, a Muslim student from UT spoke of Allah (God) saying, “What ever you think, imagine, or speak of that God is. You must realize that God is not.” This is Tawhid. In the Islamic perspective there is nothing that is more than God. God did not beget a son. God is not many distinct gods or persons. God cannot be fathomed, imagined, or even spoken off. God cannot be understood, labeled, or seen. God is God and there is nothing like God.

Tawhid is what comes to mind when I read Levinas and the idea of proximity. If we view Tawhid as the claim that God is absolute and the perfect Creator, then we have no difference in a Christians, Muslims, and Jews understanding of God.

Tawhid demands an orientation to the divine with the understanding that nothing is more than God and that God cannot be boiled down to an easily digestible formula. Essentially, God cannot be owned, commodified, or deciphered.

The most beautiful thing about Tawhid to me is the impossible portrait of God it provides.

What is the Christian image of God? Is God levied to the old gray bearded man sitting on the throne looking similar to the king of the sea, Neptune or the sky god Zeus? Perhaps God is Alanis Morissette from the film, Dogma. When we as Christians imagine God do we account for the diversity of creation made by the spoken word of a divine Creator?

Where does our imagination of God limit our ability to be and receive prophetic instruction to live a dangerously active life of transformation and dynamic love?

How do you imagine God? Where does this image limit you? What function does this image play in your call?