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Archive for February, 2020

Show Up!  Pay Attention! –Lakota Shaman

The second difference is that the existence of God transforms the moral equation even if one assumes that God empowers us to be partners in the work of being, ourselves, wounded healers.

The paradox: God alters the equation without being altered.  We humans do not own this world.  We have been entrusted with its care – we are stewards and care-takers of this world.  We have been charged by God to hold this world in trust for God.

Our scriptures – the ‘Word of God’ – reminds us, over and over and over again, that we have been entrusted AND we will be held accountable.  We are visitors to God’s creation, we are not the owners.  God has invited us into a covenant which means that we have agreed to specific conditions and our faith traditions clearly define these conditions.  For example: the laws of God trump the laws of man.

Being faithful to our Covenant with God and being faithful to God’s Laws protects us from our dark-side – the side that wants to dominate, the side that wants to tyrannize, and the side that wants to de-humanize the other.

God helps us by providing us with Prophets (not profits).  Prophets are charged with reminding us of our Covenant with God.  Prophets are charged with reminding us that we are ‘care-takers’ we are not ‘the owners’ of our world.  We don’t like the Prophet for we don’t like to be reminded of our Covenant with God – in our arrogance we even go so far as to say that there are no more Prophets – our arrogance limits God.  Today, among other ‘charges,’ the Prophet is charged with speaking truth – especially speaking truth to power.

If God IS Love then I am (‘You’ are & ‘We’ are) charged with loving the ‘other.’  Simple enough.  ‘We’ are charged with considering other people’s interests and needs.  All faith-traditions remind us in many ways that we will be held accountable for how we treat the ‘other.’  God transforms morality into ‘What is Best for Us?’ – for ALL OF US!  For God, partisanship is abnormal.

All faith traditions employ a metaphor: ‘God is Father!’  This means, of course, that all human beings are my siblings.  We are, indeed, one family.  As a family when we are at our best we are a living paradox – we are capable of great good and great evil.  We choose the good and we choose the evil.  Because ‘God IS Love’ we have also been given the gifts of forgiveness, reconciliation, and healing.  We are truly Wounded Healers.

Friedrich Hayek coined the term ‘the fatal conceit.’  ‘The fatal conceit’ leads us to believe that ‘man is able to shape the world around him according to his wishes.’  What his belief unleashes is the law of unintended consequences.  We really don’t get what we desire for we really cannot shape the world as we wish (history reminds us of this over and over and over and yet we arrogant human beings still do not learn).

Hayek called himself a ‘professed agnostic’ and yet he recognized that ‘monotheistic imagination transforms humanity.’  The God of Love, the God of All, challenges us to consider ALL, especially to consider those we are prone to marginalize or dehumanize (the Parable of the Good Samaritan is the model for us).

God does transform our human condition without being transformed – this is crucial for we can, if we choose, trust that God IS Love AND that God’s Love is Truly Abiding Love.   

The most important crisis of our time is spiritual. –Henri Nouwen

 

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RELIGION & THE MORAL LIFE, PART I. . .

Be patient with all that is unsolved in your heart…learn to love the questions themselves… Live the questions. –Rainer Maria Rilke

Good morning Gentle Reader.  If you have read my postings these past eight years you know that I love questions.  There are questions that we are to respond to immediately; there are questions that we are to reflect upon and then respond to later and then there are questions that we are invited to hold and, as Rilke reminds us, to love and to live.

Here is a question that I have been holding for some time: What difference does religion make to the moral life even if we concede that we don’t have to be religious to be moral?  A few weeks ago I began to put pen to paper and see what would emerge if I began to write a response to this question.  What emerged thus far is three differences that religion makes.  I have decided to share these three with you – one post for each difference.  I also invite you to hold this question and see what, over time, emerges for you.

The first difference is hope.  As far as I am able to discern there is no logical grounds to believe that tomorrow will be better than today.  The reality is that tomorrow could be much worse is consistent with history.

Now, Gentle Reader, you might recall that I am a member of The People of the Book.  There are three faith traditions that claim ‘Abraham’ as their founding father – Abraham was chosen by Yahweh-God-Allah.  If we just stick with the early narratives of failure – Adam, Cain, the generation of the Flood, the Tower of Babel – we learn that God does not despair; God embraces hope.  God does not give up on us.  Actually, sitting here this morning I am thinking of the Holocaust.  I find it astonishing that after all the catastrophes of the past – after the Holocaust – that the Jews did not despair.  Talk about hope!

Hope!  What an interesting and intriguing concept.  Where does it come from?  It is not like pleasure, pain, aggression, or fear – all mammals (and some other life-forms) experience these.  We humans are the only beings to experience hope.

It seems that hope is the tap root of a number of specific seeds (we call these seeds beliefs).  Yahweh-God-Allah is not deaf to our prayers; we are not alone; we exist because the Creator willed us into existence; we exist in order to love (Yahwah-God-Allah is love).

The Creator did not construct a universe that is inherently hate-full, violence-full, war-full, nor blood-lust-full.  The Creator’s gift was love and free will – this is crucial.  The Creator unconditionally loves; the Creator is love.  We humans are loved so much that we have been endowed with free will.  We have choice.  We can choose to love or not.  I imagine that Yahweh-God-Allah is a risk-taker too – the risk: The ‘Creations of Love’ (we human beings) will not choose to Love.  One time the Creator got fed up with us and almost did us in (sadly, we seem determined to do ourselves in).

Yahweh-God-Allah, chose Abraham to be our father.  Yahweh-God-Allah entered into a divine covenant with us.  We, the People of the Book, are charged with creating societies in which we humans – regardless of rank, power, or privilege – are loved and are loving.  We are charged with being hope-full.

Hope is not logical – it is, however, transcendent.  Consider this: The history of the ‘family’ of Abraham can easily be turned into Greek Tragedy – without changing a single word of Scripture.  For example, this would happen if the first book of Scripture ended, not after Genesis 50 but after Exodus 1.  The end would be slavery.  Or, the Pentateuch would end, not with Deuteronomy, but with the book of Judges and its closing sentence: ‘In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.’  The ‘just society’ would not be created; anarchy would run amok.  Despair would rain and reign upon us.

Consider, Gentle Reader that Hope and Despair do not differ about facts but about interpretation and expectation.  There is, indeed, a moral difference here.  Those who embrace Hope, strive to love; those who embrace Despair resign themselves to darkness.  Because we have free will these are, in effect, self-fulfilling prophecies.

A morality of Hope lives in the belief that we humans can change for the better; we can learn to love one another as we are loved by Yahweh-God-Allah.  Hope is rooted in the belief that together we can make the world better for all.  Hope is also fed by the tap root of Courage (heart-healing).  We, the People of the Book, have been given the gift of Hope.  It is our charge to live into and out of this gift.  AND, we have choice!

Hope is the first difference.  What is the second difference?

A definition of faith is the ability to keep our hearts open in the darkness of the unknown. –Dalai Lama

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FRIDAY’S CHILD…BORN TO SERVE

Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world.  For, indeed, that’s all who ever have. –Margaret Mead

On 25 January, 2020 the Chinese welcomed in the New Year.  This is the year of the Rat.  I was born on Friday, 11 February, 1944; it was the year of the Monkey.  According to the Chinese zodiac, Friday’s Child is loving and giving.  My name in Chinese is Shi Rui Kang.  Shi is my surname (Smith) and Rui kang (Richard) is composed of two Chinese characters: Rui = sharp and kang = peaceful, quiet.  At my birth my mother dedicated me to be ‘God’s Servant.’ All of this reflection was stimulated by an email from one of my dear friends in Singapore who reminded me of the New Year that was welcomed and celebrated by the Chinese.

As ‘God’s Servant’ and as ‘Friday’s Child’ I am called to ‘caring’ for. . . In caring, both self and the other are primary – a paradox and a tension.  The growth of both becomes central in caring.  As an educator, for example, I must care for myself and my own growth in order to care for my students and their growth.  I must be responsive and response-able and responsible to both ‘self’ and the ‘other.’

There is another paradox/tension that I experience when it comes to caring.  This is the paradox of ‘selflessness’ and ‘selfishness.’  Selflessness is not ‘loss of self.’  It is more like the selflessness that I experience when I am absorbed in something that is deeply interesting to me that calls me to be ‘more, not less’ of myself.  This type of selflessness includes heightened awareness, greater responsiveness to self and to the other, and a fuller use of my gifts, talents, and abilities so that self and the other have an opportunity to grow [this growth is ‘healthy growth’ and involves the four dimensions of P.I.E.S.].  Paradoxically, in order to be ‘selfless’ I must also be ‘selfish.’  I must be committed to caring for myself – my own P.I.E.S. and I must be committed to allowing myself to be cared for.  To the extent I deplete, not nurture myself, I end up, at minimum, not having the capacity to care for the other and at maximum end up depleting the other.

In caring, while embracing these paradoxes/tensions, both grow more fully and become the persons they are called/meant to be.  As a writer I grow in caring for my ideas; as an educator I grow in caring for my students; as a parent I grow (still do) in caring for my children.  As a writer, I need ideas; as an educator, I need students; as a parent, I need children.  Without these I will not grow; without these I will not serve so that they grow and flourish.  And without these I will not be served; I will not have the opportunity to grow more fully into the person I am called/meant to be.

The paradox here is that I do not serve so that in the end I grow and yet when I serve so that the other grows I also end up growing.  I experience a tension between dependency (I need you; you need me) and interdependency (we are in this together, equally).  We both exist in our own right; we both need the other in order to grow; we both need the other for we are truly ‘in this together as equals.’  ‘Caring’ is a relationship that embraces these paradoxes and tensions AND as always, I-you-we have choice.  What/Who will I choose to care for today?  What/Who will offer to care for me and how will I respond to – or is it react to? – the offer to be cared for today?

Live so that when your children think of fairness, caring and integrity, they think of you. –H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

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In all things it is better to hope than despair. –Goethe

I am not without hope.  I-you-we have seen some signs: the re-recognition and the re-membering of Spirit as life-source as life-breath; the awakening of individual and collective conscience; the growing global concern for all of humanity; the commitment of many to ‘save our world.’

Individuals, small groups and large communities are taking the initiative to express in concrete ways care and concern for one another and for our earth.  We are searching for ways of living in nurturing ways in spite of our human greed – for power, for status, for money, for ‘things.’

Among the young, there is a growing appreciation for life and the rhythm of life (all life) and there is a growing commitment on we humans’ part to embrace our response-ability and our responsibility for the challenges at hand.  God has provided us with a diversity of faith-traditions that can help us if we have the heart and the faith and the courage to honor what is sacred in each and if we have the belief that God does provide in mysterious and diverse ways.

We have choice.  We choose.

There are three quotations that I invite us to take note of:

In a conference in 1990, James Morton, Dean of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City said: As long as we believe we are met here only as humans, set apart from the rest of Creation, we are part of the problem.  A solution begins only when we invite nature herself into our hearts, minds, souls. . .We are met here as Creation reflecting upon itself, its glory and its needs.  That’s who we are.  Not humans in a conference room.’

Scientist Carl Sagan, about the same time, said environmental problems must be recognized from the outset as having a religious as well as a scientific dimension. . . Efforts to safeguard the planet and cherish the environmental need to be infused with a vision of the sacred.

In 1990 government and religious officials met in Moscow.  They concluded their meeting with a ‘declaration.’  The premises of ‘The Moscow Declaration’ were plainly stated: The environment that sustains life on Earth is in peril.  Human actions are responsible. .  .Poverty and environmental destruction are insidious partners. . . Our loyalties must go beyond narrow frontiers to all life. . . We must find a new spiritual and ethical basis for human activities on Earth.

I do believe there is a call to the faith and humanist traditions of the world to bring their contributions of spirituality to the global life we share.  This is a response-ability (and a responsibility) that must not be ignored. To paraphrase the great Rabbi Abraham Josuha Heschel: Some are accountable, all are responsible.

 

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Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out. –Vaclav Havel

Someone once noted that this is the best of times and the worst of times (could be a great opening line for a book).  It seems so.  It is also a time of searching and seeking.  One search we seem to be on is the search for meaning.  Many such searches lead to dead ends or distortions that cut off, separate, divide and wound.  For example, organized religion can be and has been made into the worship of idols, evil and the demonic.  There is no holiness there.  As I reflect and write this morning, I am not referring to that kind of religion.  Only the creator of all that is, the One that is Love, the One that shows us the Way is deserving of my/our devotion and commitment.

There is one God and his name is Allah, says Islam.  There is one God who is revealed in Jesus the Christ, says Christianity.  The Lord our God is one Lord, says the Shema of Judaism.  The Way of the Buddha. the Enlightened One, is the way to Nirvana.  The Pure Mind, the pure spirit within, breaks forth in comprehensive Presence in Hinduism.  The Great Spirit of Native American spirituality is the One to whom all gratitude and thanksgiving belong.  The concreteness of African spirituality reveals dependency upon the Source of the beauty and fertility of their lands.

Although there are clear distinctions, variations and religious expressions contained within each of these great faith traditions there is no question in my mind that at their core the intent and focus is upon the Source, the Opener, the Sustainer, the Creator (the life and death of creation – particularly human life and death and eternity).

Gentle Reader, for me-you-us to speak of spirituality within these traditions we must take into account our current context; the current times within which we live.  When I see and experience and read about the growing divisiveness among faith traditions, it is easy for me (perhaps for you also) to move toward hopelessness, if not despair.

Yet I believe that hope is a way out of despair.  In my own life, during the times when things became so bad that the only way was ‘up & out’ then hope became real for me.  Today we seem to be moving down & in toward the wasteland of despair – human destruction of one another continues to manifest itself; our greed and selfishness and constant consuming continues to ‘feed’ us; Mother earth – her air, water, soil – continues to call us to become awake and aware of the choices we make that are killing her.  A dis-ease, if not a sickness, permeates humankind.  Perhaps it takes all of this for us humans to grasp the criticalness of our situation and to accept where the response-ability rests (with me-you-us).  Our very survival as humans – to say nothing of the survival of many other sentient beings – depends upon our choosing to be unconditionally response-able and accountable.

Few are guilty but all are responsible. –Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

 

 

 

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