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Both read the Bible day and night/But thou read’st black where I read white. –William Blake

The Wise and the Mystics caution us: Never say, “I Hate!” or “I Kill!” because your religion says so.  They remind us that every text needs interpretation.  They also remind us that every interpretation needs wisdom.  Fundamentalism (it doesn’t mean just one tradition) reads texts as if God were as simple as we are.  That, Gentle Reader, is unlikely to be true. 

All Scriptural Traditions and Religions (especially the three Abrahamic Faiths – Jewish, Christian and Islamic) contain hard texts, verses, commands and narratives that if taken literally and applied directly would not simply offend our moral sense, they would also go against our deepest understanding of the Tradition and Religion itself. 

The Hebrew texts, the Christian ‘New Testament,’ the Qur’an and the Hadith require a care-full interpretation if they are not to become the motivators for inflicting great harm.  That is why every-text based Tradition and Religion develops its own commitment to interpretation.  The Wise and the Mystics were/are clear: One who translates a verse literally is a liar and a deceiver! 

Their point is clear: no text without interpretation, no interpretation without wisdom and no wisdom without tradition.  2 Corinthians remind Christians clearly and force-fully: ‘The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.’  

For most of their history the Jews, Christians and Muslims have struggled with the meanings of their scriptures.  For example: Medieval Christianity had its four levels of interpretation – literal, allegorical, moral and eschatological.  Islam has its fiqh [deep understanding, full comprehension]; its four schools of jurisprudence; its principles of taqleed, ijtihad and qiyas [Gentle Reader, I invite you to do a bit of research and learn more about these concepts]. 

Hard Texts need interpreting.  Without this discipline they lead to violence (physical, emotional and spiritual violence).  God has given us a mandate and a responsibility to engage in this discipline.  We are guardians and stewards of God’s Word for the sake of our World. 

Consider, Gentle Reader, that fundamentalism refers to different things in different contexts.  One of them is the tendency to read texts literally and apply them directly: to go directly from revelation to application without interpretation, without wisdom. 

There are a number of negative consequences to literalism.  One is that it is a tap root of schisms.  Faith traditions become violently split.  Consider that fundamentalism emerges when people feel that the world has been allowed to defeat the word.  They, by contrast, become determined to defeat the world by means of their word. 

The great religious traditions believe that the most powerful battles are the ones that take place in the mind and the soul.  These battles change the world because they change us.  This is a wisdom that the zealots of all ages did not (and do not today) understand.  It takes wisdom to know how to translate the word of God into the world of human beings. 

Living traditions constantly reinterpret their canonical texts.  That is what makes fundamentalism – text without interpretation – an act of violence against tradition.  Fundamentalists ignore a significant fact about a sacred text – that its meaning is not self-evident. 

The sacred literatures of Judaism, Christianity and Islam all contain passages that, read literally, are capable of leading to violence and hate.  We must interpret them.  The great work of Jewish mysticism, the Zohar, reminds us that those who love the divine word penetrate beneath its outer garments to its soul. 

Religion’s ‘Hard Texts’ are a challenge to our capacity to engage in covenantal listening to God’s word.  God’s word is given to us in love and God invites us to interpret his word while we are rooted in love. 

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THINKING ABOUT ‘CHANGE’

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

Historically, some changes were ushered in by cataclysmic changes and some were ushered in by years of more subtle, yet revolutionary changes.  For example, the Ancient East (think, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Babylonia, and Persia) was replaced by the West (think, the Greco-Roman civilizations).  In many ways the Roman Empire was replaced by the Holy Roman Empire (think, Charlemagne) and the feudal states.  This slowly gave rise to the West’s great monarchies and their demise began with the French Revolution.  The monarchies were superseded by the nation-states of the nineteenth century.  These states were radically changed by the Industrial Revolution.  World War I (which was simply continued with World War II) ushered in the Atomic Age, the Space Age, the Information Age, the Technological Age, the Creative Age and the next age which is emerging and, as yet, has not been named.  The first ‘ages’ emerged over generations – since the end of World War II (70+ years) the West has ushered in at least ‘Five Ages’ – we barely become familiar with one and the next one emerges and seeks to take center-stage. 

To speak of all of these changes is to say nothing of the myriad of other changes which have taken place these past thousands of years – locally, nationally, and globally.  To list these does not even begin to innumerate the implications of each of these changes.  We do have some real sense of the power of change – radical and subtle. 

For thousands of years changes were not experienced as being world-wide.  Since the end of World War II, however, as change became more rapid it also became more global.  The direct global impact of change has dramatically increased these past thirty years or so – and there is no letup in sight.  If nothing else, social media will ensure this to be so. 

Although it is questionable to what extent the ‘nature of man’ has changed these thousands of years, it is clear that the ‘nature of God’ has – and continues to change.  I can hear someone say that ‘God’ has not changed.  Perhaps.  What seems clear is that our perception of God has changed and continues to change – and if perception is reality then the ‘nature of God’ has, indeed, changed.  Even the ‘People of the Book’ (Jews, Christians and Muslims) describe in their sacred texts the ‘evolution’ of God: Many gods became the One God.  The God of power and might became the God of spirit and love.  The God of law (and eye for an eye) became the God of compassion and forgiveness (forgive one seventy times seven). 

The ‘fact’ is that we humans do not agree – have not agreed – on what we mean when we say ‘God.’  How we define ‘God’ continues to change – why?  Simply because we humans continue to change and each of us, in our own way, seeks to define God (or to define God out of existence) in our image (a bit ironic I would say).  Perhaps this is the paradox: God does not change; it is we humans who continue to change and thus it is we who continue to shift, change and transform God’s image. 

With the passage of time we humans see ourselves differently – we change our view of what it is to be a fully human being.  A changing image of man means a changing man.  Why is this so?  It is so because by our nature, we humans are ‘meaning makers.’  As we seek ‘to make meaning’ we seek ‘to understand.’  Change occurs – now with tsunami-like power – and we humans seek to understand and we seek to make meaning of it all.  We search and we seek – and once in a while we ‘find’ (or believe that we ‘find’). 

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WHAT IF ‘GOD IS LOVE?’

For many months now (and off and on for decades) I have been holding this question: What IF ‘God is Love?’   My main focus has been on the faith traditions of ‘The People of the Book’ (Jews, Christians, and Muslims).  I have embraced Brother Wayne Teasdale’s concept of ‘The Interspiritual Quest’ [Gentle Reader: You might check out Brother Teasdale’s book ‘The Mystic Heart’]. 

Consider the following:

  • All those who love you are beautiful; they overflow with your presence so that they can do nothing but good.  There is infinite space in your garden; all men, all women are welcome here; all they need do is enter. –The Odes and Psalms of Solomon
  • God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. –1 John 4:16
  • O Marvel! a garden amidst the flames. My heart has become capable of every form: it is a pasture for gazelles and a convent for Christian monks, and a temple for idols and the pilgrim’s Ká ba, and the tables of the Torah and the book of the Quran. I follow the religion of Love: whatever way Love’s camel takes, that is my religion and faith. –Ibn ‘ Arabi, “O Marvel”
  • I profess the religion of love, Love is my religion and my faith. My mother is love, My father is love, My prophet is love, My God is love. I am a child of love. I have come only to speak of love. –Rumi “I Profess the Religion of Love”

When I reflect upon and strive to learn more about each of the Abrahamic Faith Traditions (the Jewish, Christian and Muslim Traditions – ‘The People of the Book’) I keep returning to the major and common belief of each: God IS Love!  This is the unifying tap root that connects these three diverse Faith Traditions.  They are indeed siblings of Abraham and children of the One God. 

When rooted in love – and not in jealousy or envy or spite or self-righteousness – these three Faith Traditions welcome each other as equally valid means for developing a relationship with the God who is Love. 

I live in the United States and among other things the United States is ‘Land of the Consumer.’  Our primary Cultural Metaphor is the Banking Metaphor.  People are not fully human beings, people are assets, commodities and resources.  Consequently we become conditioned to embrace the ‘spiritual life’ as if it, too, were another commodity, asset and resource.  We are rooted in the measurable external rather than being rooted an inner, spiritual life that nurtured by love – love for each person. 

The God of Love continues to strive to teach us via centuries of wisdom teachings that ‘LOVE’ – active, engaged, compassionate and fearless love – is the way (the only way?) to save ourselves and others from the firestorms of hate that rage around us and in us. 

Our challenge is to seek together to identify those teachings and practices that unify us in Love rather than continue to emphasize those that divide us in jealousy and self-righteousness.  ‘Seek love and you will find love!’  I offer us a question to hold (I write it in the first person): Do I really believe that God IS the God of Love?  I leave us with God’s words:  ‘Love one another as I love you.’ 

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AN INVITATION

Silence is the sleep that nourishes wisdom. –Francis Bacon

Greetings Gentle Reader.  I have been a great deal of ‘noodling’ these past days – one reason as to why I have not posted.  What continues to emerge as I search and seek are questions.  Yesterday morning I decided to share some of these questions with you and in doing so I am also extending you an INVITATION.  I invite you, Gentle Reader, to seek and search in order to emerge, or continue to emerge, your own ‘Questions for Reflection.’  I am also inviting you to choose one or two of the following questions and spend some time reflecting upon them (of course, if none of them ‘speaks’ to you no worries). 

MY QUESTIONS:

  • A ‘Relationship’ Question: What do you believe your responsibility is to others? ‘Who’ are the ‘others’ you are thinking of?
  • What is sacred to you?  In this context, what does ‘sacred’ mean to you?
  • A ‘Legacy’ Question in two parts: What is the story you want others to tell about you in five years AND after you die?
  • A few ‘Wisdom-Figure’ Questions: Who are – or who have been – the ‘Wisdom-Figures’ in your life?  What have they attempted to teach you?  What have they taught you? What teachings have you ignored because they were/are too challenging to embrace?
  • MENTORS.  A Mentor ‘sees’ and ‘calls forth’ and ‘challenges while being supportive.’  A Mentor ‘sees’ potentials and growing-edges.  A Mentor can be a ‘real person’ (living or deceased – think: An Author or Poet that challenges us) or a fictitious person (think: a character in a story).  Who were/are the Mentors in your life?  What did/do these Mentors ‘see’ in you and/or ‘call forth’?  What was/is your response to their ‘call’?
  • NURTURE & DEPLETE: What are your ‘favorite’ ways of nurturing your self?  What are your ‘favorite’ ways of depleting your self?  What motivates you to choose to deplete your self?  NOTE: You can up the ante by considering self-depletion as ‘self-violence’.
  • Why do you ‘Question’ and/or ‘Challenge’?  Do you do so because you are curious?  Do you do so because you are ‘closed’ and full of ‘surety’? 
  • CONSIDER ‘RENEWAL’.  When I engage in a renewal experience am I open to – willing to – challenge my beliefs, prejudices, stereotypes, etc.?  Do I engage a renewal experience with an ‘Attitude’ that I am open to being influenced by what emerges for me? 
  • When do I choose to be a cynic, or a critic, or a skeptic, or an optimist, or a pessimist, or a realist or a stoic or a searcher-seeker?  What motivates my choice(s)? 

We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark.  The real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light. –Plato

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WHY DO I ___________?

Good day Gentle Reader.  A few days ago as I was reading a question emerged into my consciousness: ‘Why Do I Read?’  I began to emerge a response via a series of questions.  As I was emerging and writing down my questions it also occurred to me that I could replace the word ‘Read’ with a number of other words – ‘Question,’ ‘Reflect’ and ‘Seek’ for example.  Gentle Reader you might emerge some additional words and I invite you to do so.  Following is what emerged for me.

Why Do I Read?

  • Do I read in order to defend?
  • Do I read in order to understand?
  • Do I read in order to deflect?
  • Do I read in order to be open?
  • Do I read in order to receive?
  • Do I read in order to be influenced?
  • Do I read in order to be challenged?
  • Do I read in order to dis-connect?
  • Do I read in order to affirm?
  • Do I read in order to seek?
  • Do I read in order to find?
  • Do I read in order to embrace?
  • Do I read in order to dismiss?
  • Do I read in order to convince?
  • Do I read in order to convert?
  • Do I read in order to escape?
  • Do I read in order to remain asleep?
  • Do I read in order to wake up?
  • Do I read in order to be disturbed?
  • Do I read in order to learn?

WHY Do I Read? 

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