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RELIGION IS NOT. . .PART II

The narrow-mindedness that leads one to see whatever is outside the bounds of one’s own people… as ugly and defiled is a terrible darkness that causes general destruction to the entire edifice of spiritual good. –Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook

Good morning Gentle Reader.  As I noted last time, I have a further concern about Religion generally.

We were warned, beginning with the Jewish prophets, that as imperfect human beings we can be easily seduced into splitting the holy and the good.  The holy focuses on our duties to God; the good focuses on our duties to our fellow human beings.  This interdependent whole, the holy-good, continues to be split.

Today, for example, there are those for whom serving God means turning inward – to the soul, to prayer, ritual and to the house of worship (think: we are ‘Christians’ for 2-3 hours every Sunday and the rest of the week we are anything but).  Then there are those for whom social justice has become a substitute for the religious observance of God.

The message of all faith traditions is that serving God and serving our fellow human beings are inseparably linked – they are interdependent.  The split deletes the essence of both.  Consider that unless the holy leads us outward toward the good and the good leads us back, for renewal, reconciliation, healing, and sustenance the health of both are depleted and become dis-eased.

We are not without hope.  We are blessed with many role-models that demonstrate how the holy and the good can be reunited.  Sadly, our role-models’ stories do not make the front page news.  We have to consciously search them out – which is not a bad thing for us to have to do.  If we search for them we will find them.  Moses blessed these folks: ‘May it be God’s will that his presence lives in the work of your hands.’  We will know those who have reunited the holy and the good by their works not their words.

Throughout my life I have been blessed – and inspired by – the community-building, life-transforming, hope-creating, and healing-energy of Jews, Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Bahai.  I equally value the moral force – the holy-good – of humanists (even though they might not use the concept ‘holy’ as I do – they do embrace the concept ‘good’ as I do).

‘Being Good’ is as near as we get to a universal concept.  ‘Being Good’ commits us to seeking to rid our world of poverty, hunger, disease/dis-ease, homelessness, and deep wounds inflicted (physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual wounds).  Those who are the ‘healers’ are truly doing God’s work.

If you search for the ‘holy-good’ you will find little pieces of light breaking the cover of deep darkness.  You might even discern the great light of the ‘holy-good’ shattering the darkness.

The darkness around us is deep. –William E. Stafford

 

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May it be God’s will that his presence lives in the work of your hands. –Moses

Good morning Gentle Reader.

Consider this:  Religion is Not the cause of conflict in our world.

Imagine that Religion is a fault-line and we take sides on either side of this line – a border if you will; at times it is more like a no-man’s land that both separates the ‘sides’ and is a place of great danger – and opportunity – for those who might enter it.  The formation of this fault-line is serious stuff.  However, this line-boundary becomes absolutized when conflict – especially political conflict – is religionized.

When we choose to do this then what are virtues – compromise, the search for understanding, the willingness to listen and learn and to embrace one another as fully human beings created in God’s image – become, in Religion, vices.

Religion is adulterated.  Religion is no longer a pathway to conflict-resolution.  Religion becomes conflict-intensification.  This transformation is not new; we humans have been engaging in it for thousands of years – we are, as you know, at our best imperfect beings.  What is new for us, the post-modern human beings, is that technology enables us to up the ante on all fronts – all is intensified; and we are good at intensifying stuff.

As a consequence, we are living in what I have come to call a religious fundamentalism of hate.  What we need is a counter religious fundamentalism of love [think: love, care, compassion, understanding, empathy, reconciliation and healing – all religious traditions and many humanist and philosophic traditions continue to call us to love one another as we have been loved].

Aristotle reminds us that we become our thoughts.  Gandhi counsels us to become the change we want to see in our world.  God reminds us to love one another as I have loved you.

Why do we continue to build walls and create no-man’s lands?  Why do we continue to choose to embrace the darker angels of our nature?  Why do we continue to choose to see the splinter in the other’s eye and ignore the log in our own?  What helps us engage, guilt-free, in life-depleting actions and ignore life-nourishing actions that we could take?

Ironically, we do all of this – and more – because we have become rooted in fear.  We have become our fear.  We are fear and we are fear-full.  Fear has become our identity and who wants to give up his/her/their identity.  It seems all faith-traditions see themselves as victims AND (remember, Gentle Reader, there is always an ‘AND’) ironically, all faith-traditions are perpetrators and persecutors.

What fears enable us to build and sustain the walls, the boundaries and that help us create the no-man’s lands?  We fear the other, the stranger, the immigrant, the refugee, the one ‘not like us’ (think: tribalism).  This is another irony for all faith traditions tell us that every one of these folks is our ‘neighbor’.

Some faith traditions teach that each human being is created in God’s image.  Those same traditions think and act as if the other is a manifestation of the devil (perhaps IS a devil incarnate).

The final irony for today: In all faith traditions the most repeated phrase is: Be not afraid!

Now, Gentle Reader, I have another concern about ‘Religion’. . .

Learn to do good. Seek justice. Aid the oppressed. Uphold the rights of the orphan.  Defend the cause of the widow. –Isaiah 1:17

Love one another as I have loved you. –God

Today, more than ever before in our human history, we are called to and challenged to embrace a disturbing and liberating paradox: each of us is, potentially, a fully human being AND each of us is also a member of the human community – we are ‘wholes’ and ‘parts’ at the same time.  We are truly in it together.  We are truly interdependent.  More than two thousand years ago a person asked a wise man: ‘Who is my neighbor?’  The answer is: EVERY SINGLE PERSON INHABITING OUR GLOBAL COMMUNITY.

Sadly, for me at least, today, more than ever before in our human history, we are tearing our global family apart.  Our darkest angels continue to run amok amongst us.  The better angels of our nature are struggling to survive.  In too many ways our better angels are losing the struggle.

We also have an opportunity.  More than ever before in our human history we have the opportunity to help heal our global family.  Most of us are not able to engage in ‘big healing’ AND yet each one of us can become healers.  And if each of us consciously chooses to help heal in small ways then over time our global family will experience healing.

Gentle Reader, you might remember the ‘Starfish Story.’  One early morning a person was walking on a beach.  The person noticed a young person picking up a starfish and throwing it back into the ocean.  There were thousands of starfish lying on the beach.  The person asked the young person: ‘Why are you doing this? You cannot possible make a difference to these thousands of starfish!’  The young person responded: ‘No, but it will make a big difference to this one!’

Gentle Reader, you and I can help to make a difference – little or big – to others we meet.  AND, if we believe in the power of prayer we can also make a difference.  Will you and I become effective when it comes to healing our global family?  Yes AND No.  As I look at this short sentence I am recalling Mother Teresa’s words: ‘I am not called to be effective, I am called to be faithful!’  AND, she was also effective.

We are called to love one another.  Mending our world bestows spiritual dignity on those who strive to eliminate the evils of the world – one act at a time, one life at a time.  Each generation, says the sages, has its own seekers and search – ours, it seems to me, involves seeking and searching ways to mend our world, to help heal our global family.

Each of us has our own challenge, our own charge and we each have been blessed with our own unique gifts, talents, abilities and potentials.  No one can make the contribution we are called to make.  For each of us there is a healing that no one else can do – this, I believe is one of the reasons each of us was created.

As long as there is hunger, poverty and treatable dis-ease/disease in the world there is work for us to embrace.  As long as nations fight, and men hate, and corruption stalks the corridors of power; as long as there is unemployment and homelessness, depression and despair, illiteracy and ignorance there is work for us to embrace.

If we become silent and listen intently and receptively we might hear the whisper of God asking us: ‘Where are you?’

To live a life of love, compassion and empathy is to hear and respond in healing ways to the silent cry of the afflicted, the lonely, the marginal, the poor, the sick, the disempowered, the refugee, the immigrant, the ‘stranger’ and the ‘other’ who is not like me/us.  As we know, today this cry is not so silent.  In fact it is so intense we, in our Culture, have to up the inner and outer noise in our lives so we can block out those cries.  Awareness of all of this does not bring comfort but disturbance and we do not want to be disturbed – especially ‘by them!’

The world needs mending; our global family needs healing.  God has empowered us to take on this challenge.  God has entrusted us with a family – a large, diverse family.  AND SO. . .

Did I offer peace today?  Did I offer words of healing? Did I let go of my anger and resentment? Did I forgive?  Did I love?  These are the real questions.  I must trust that the little bit of love that I sow now will bear many fruits of healing. –Henri Nouwen

 

 

A STORY. . .

No story lives unless someone wants to listen. –J.K. Rowling

Good morning Gentle Reader.  If you have been following my blog you know that I love stories – I am especially drawn to teaching stories.  I began searching for and paying attention to stories when I was in high school.  I also love to tell stories – sometimes to my family’s chagrin.  This morning I am going to share a powerful and poignant story with you.  This morning as I was thinking of all of the migrant children – in our country and in other countries – that have been separated from their parents I recalled a story that a Rabbi told me many years ago.

THE STORY: Janusz Korczak was a hero; his story lives on because people want to listen and, hopefully, learn.  Janusz was a Jew. He had trained in Poland as a physician.  Early in his career, he was drawn to the plight of underprivileged children.  In 1911 he founded an orphanage for Jewish children in Warsaw.  This orphanage became so successful that he was asked to create one for Catholic children as well, which he did.  He became famous throughout Poland.

People of all faith traditions called him ‘old doctor.’  He developed revolutionary views about the young.  He believed in trusting them and giving them responsibility.  He helped children develop their own newspaper, the first children’s paper in Poland.  He helped transform schools into self-governing communities.  He also wrote some of the pioneering works of child psychology, including one called ‘The Right to Respect.’

He told the community, ‘Children…have a right to be taken seriously.  The unknown person inside each of them is our hope for the future.’  He believed that in each child there resided a moral spark which if stoked into a moral fire – and nurtured – the darkness that resided at the core of human nature could be consumed by the moral fire.

When the time came for the children under his care to leave, he would tell them: ‘I cannot give you God for you must find him in quiet contemplation in your own soul.  I cannot give you love of man, for there is no love without forgiveness, and forgiving is something everyone must learn to do on his own.  I can give you one thing only: a longing for a better life, a life of truth and justice.  Even though it may not exist now, it may come tomorrow if you long for it enough.’

In 1940 he and the orphanage were driven into the Warsaw ghetto, and in 1942 the order came to transport them to Treblinka.  Offered an opportunity to escape, he refused, and in one of the most poignant moments of those years, he walked with his 200 orphans to the train that took them to the gates of death – to the gas chambers and the furnaces of Treblinka.  He was inseparable from them to the very end in the dignity of love.

Janusz saw God’s image in children the world had abandoned.  He kept his faith with them and with God even to the doors of the gas chamber.  ‘No greater love…’

He who has ears, let him hear. –Jesus

Our life is what our thoughts make it. –Marcus Aurelius

Good morning Gentle Reader.  If you have been following my blog these past 7+ years you will, I hope, remember that I write not in order to convince, coerce nor convert you.  My intention is to invite you to ‘Consider’ what I offer you.  My desire is that you do not automatically accept what I offer nor reject what I have to offer because what I offer does not resonate with you.

For me ‘Consider’ involves taking time to reflect upon what has been offered me.  It involves emerging questions that might help me reflect more broadly and deeply.  It involves suspending ‘surety’ and embracing ‘doubt’ – if I embrace ‘surety’ then I find that I am not open to searching and seeking and I am certainly not open to holding an attitude that I might be influenced by the other.

This morning I am going to offer us a number of what I call ‘Guiding Questions’ to ‘Consider.’  Hopefully, you will find one or more of them worth your time and energy ‘to Consider.’  They are listed in no particular order.

CONSIDER: Guiding Questions

  • When I am at my best as a_____ I_______. [fill in the blank, for example: parent, teacher, leader, friend, etc.] When I am at my worst as a_____I_____.
  • What are my favorite ways to nurture each of my P.I.E.S.S.? [NOTE: P.I.E.S.S. are the five dimensions that combine to help make up who I am; they include my Physical Dimension, my Intellectual Dimension, my Emotional Dimension, my Spiritual/Spirit Dimension and my Social-Relational Dimension].  What are my favorite ways to deplete each of my five dimensions?  [NOTE: To up the ante, consider that our ‘favorite’ ways to deplete our dimensions involves ‘self-violence.’  For example, one of my favorite ways to deplete my Physical Dimension is to not exercise enough – by choosing not to exercise I do violence to myself.]
  • Does the way you_____ get you what you want? What do you want?  After you fill in the blank, emerge a response to the second question first and then emerge a response to the first question.  For example: Does the way you listen get you what you want? What do you want?  You would reflect upon and respond to the second question first – your response could be quite complex if you were to consider a number of listening-contexts (think: listening to your child or to your adolescent or to your direct report or to your ‘boss’ or to your minister, etc.).  My experience is that if a person tells me that they are clear as to what they want and the way they do it gets them what they want then the possibility that the person is open to change is nearly zero – no motivation to change.  A person is more open to changing if the person does not know what they want or is not sure that the way they______ gets them what they want or knows that the way they do it does not, or seldom, gets them what they want.

Well, Gentle Reader, that’s enough for this morning.

‘…he forces consideration upon the mind’ –said of Abe Lincoln [D.H. Donal

The greatest challenge in life is to be your own self and accept that being different is a blessing and not a curse. –Kilroy J. Oldster

 In ancient Greece ‘philosophy’ was a way of life, it was not an intellectual exercise.  One quest that philosophers embraced was the quest for self-realization or self-awareness in the sense of coming to know one’s ‘True Self.’  This quest involved developing and living into and out of certain spiritual exercises.

The ‘true self’ is liberated from its state of alienation; a state it was immersed into by self’s worries, passions and desires.  The ‘self’ liberated is no longer simply an egoistic, passionate self; one becomes a ‘moral’ person, a ‘true self,’ open to ‘reason’ and open to participating in universal thought – to seek and attain ‘wisdom.’

‘Wisdom’ is a state of complete liberation from one’s passions and leads to ‘clearness of mind and soul’ as well as knowledge of self and knowledge of the world.  This implies ‘perfection’ and it is an ideal to be pursued with the realization that a mere mortal will never achieve this perfect state of wisdom.

Wisdom was an ideal after which the philosopher strives without the hope of ever attaining to it.  Under the best circumstances, the only state accessible to man (and for the Greeks it was, indeed, for ‘man’ – the male citizen) is philo-sophia: the love of, or progress toward wisdom.  Hence, the spiritual exercises must be taken up again and again – a life-long journey with renewed commitment and effort.

The philosophical life is a conversion, a total transformation of one’s vision, life-style and behavior.  The philosophical life was counter-cultural and many philosophers were not well received by those ‘in charge’ (ask Socrates about this).

One of the great Greek Philosophers, Plotinus (205-270 CE) provides us an example – an example that I like.  Plotinus says that engaging in the spiritual exercises is like sculpting.  For the Greeks, sculpture was an art which ‘took away,’ as opposed to painting, an art which ‘added on.’  The statue pre-existed in the marble block, and the invitation and challenge was to take away what was superfluous in order to have the ‘true image’ emerge.  Thus the philosopher’s challenge and task was to chip away all that hides the true self; the true self, in essence, is there to be uncovered by the sculptor – a paradox: the philosopher was both the sculptor and the piece of marble to be sculpted.

A conception that was common to the major philosophical schools: people are unhappy because they are the slave of their passions – their passions cover their true self.  They are, in other words, unhappy because they desire things they may not be able to obtain, since they are exterior, alien and superfluous to them.  Happiness, for the philosopher, is the uncovering of the essential – that ‘self’ which is our ‘true self;’ the ‘self’ which waits to be uncovered and embraced.

Become the change you want to see in the world. –Gandhi

 

Good morning Gentle Reader.

Have you ever had a challenge (think: problem, polarity, paradox, or dilemma) and exchanged it for another challenge?  I have, way too often.  When I become aware that I am doing this type of exchange I realize that this pattern will continue until I address the root cause, the root cause called ‘Richard.’  In order to help us address the root cause, the great mystics, whether Eastern or Western, ask: Who are You?  Who are you choosing to become?  Why are you choosing this becoming?  The mystics tell us that these are the three most crucial primary questions.

Many of us Christians think the most important question is: Who is Jesus?  Other folks believe it is: Does God exist?  Still others think it is: Is there life after death?  How many of us ignore another primary question: Is there life before death?

My experience is that there are those (at times including myself) who don’t know what to do with this life.  They are all hot and bothered about what they are going to do with another life.

One sign that I am awake and aware and that I am living in the ‘Now’ is that I do not concern myself with what’s going to happen in the next life.  I am not bothered about it; I am not anxious – it is as if I am not interested.

When I do think of ‘another life’ I ask: What is eternal life?  I used to think it is ‘everlasting’ life.  But the great theologians who come from a faith tradition that embraces the idea of an ‘after life’ tell us that this is crazy – ‘everlasting life’ is still within time.  It is time-focused.  Eternal means timeless – NO TIME.  As a human I cannot understand this concept for I am time-bound.  I can understand time (well, perhaps I cannot even truly understand time), what is timeless is beyond my comprehension.

The great mystics tell us that eternity is right now.  NOW!  Eternity is the endless ‘NOW!’

When anxious or dis-eased or distressed I find myself ruminating about my past.  I find myself being ashamed of things I did, or didn’t do and I find myself still feeling guilty about choices I made.  For me, part of forgiveness involves ‘letting go’ of the past and part of living life is to ‘live in the Now.’

When I am able to do this I believe I do experience a taste of eternity which seems to be an endless ‘Now’ – no past and no future in eternity, just the endless ‘Now.’