Stranger As Neighbor in a Promised Land

Contrary to the old adage, fences do not necessarily make good neighbors. In our election campaign season this last year, the winning candidate promised to build a wall and have our neighbor pay for it. We’ll see.  Now by presidential executive order, an indefinite ban on all refugees from certain predominantly Muslim countries entering our country has also been put in place.  Yet central to the biblical tradition is the repeated reminder, “: “You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were once aliens  …” ( Ex. 23:9) And one of the parables considered most authentic to the Galilean sage is about finding abundant life by caring for the stranger in our midst as our neighbor.

It has been argued by some that if you don’t have a wall on your borders, then you don’t have a country. On the other hand, if we don’t treat the alien in our midst as one of “us,” then what kind of a country do we have?  And who is our neighbor?

You can read more Here.

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How a “Non-theist” Celebrates “The Holidays,” Part II

santa-jesus

In case you hadn’t heard, it’s okay to say “Merry Christmas” again. As I wrote this commentary, president-elect Donald Trump had just uttered this proclamation on his victory tour. But anyone who has ever read the source material for the amalgamated tale commonly known as the “Christmas Story” (the Christian scriptures) knows there are several separate and distinct versions that differ both in factual detail and – more importantly — theological intent. if you’re going to say “Merry Christmas” again, which Christ in Christ-mas are you talking about?

You can read this latest commentary Here.

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Something Old, Something New: How a Non-Theist Celebrates “The Holidays”

corn

The Thanksgiving holiday in America is a national observance that has been traditionally framed in a religious context. Whether you like roast turkey or not, one is expected to be thankful for it, and express one’s gratitude to the “Giver” of all good gifts.

For those of us who have enough, or more than enough, it’s all sufficiently palatable; if not theologically problematic to sing the old standard hymn in the face of arms-length hunger and poverty.

God, our Maker, doth provide, For our wants to be supplied.
Come to God’s own temple come, Raise the song of harvest home.

The Christmas holidays are even trickier for those who give even a token nod to “the reason for the season;” with a doctrinal claim that a theistic god-being somehow enters into the human story; rather than being an anthropomorphic creation emerging out of our own human imagination. But that’ll be Part II.

Because it was the prescribed scripture reading for the Thanksgiving Day observance in a liturgical tradition I led for many years of ministry, the passage in Matthew’s gospel about not fretting about the basic necessities of life itself was always reassuring to those who were already among the favored, blessed ones. (Gospel of  – Jesus Seminar coding: Jesus might have said something like it (pink), probably not (gray), definitely the words of the gospel writer’s community, not Jesus (black).

Don’t fret about your life – what you’re going to eat and drink – or about your body – what you’re going to wear. There is more to living than food and clothing, isn’t there? Take a look at the birds of the sky: they don’t plant or harvest, or gather into barns. Yet your heavenly Father feeds them. You’re worth more than they, aren’t you? So don’t fret. Don’t say, ‘What am I going to eat?’ or ‘What am I going to dink?’ or ‘What am I going to wear?’ These are all things pagans seek. [Matthew 6:25-34]

In addition to the gospel writer’s agenda to usurp the original voice print of Jesus and demarcate the believers and non-believers, those earlier words in this passage that are more or less attributed to Jesus – or at least are Jesus-like – certainly employ that intimate, familial language of a father / child relationship in such pictorial terms that it may be difficult for a lot of folks to steer clear of the literal, in favor of the literary form of metaphorical expression being used.

Thinking about all this, I realized there’s something old, and something new. Earlier this week I remembered something I’d forgotten! It was that realization I’d had after about a dozen years in parish ministry that — after observing the same holiday, year after year, with the same texts, the same ‘traditional’ hymns, etc – there didn’t seem to be anything new or more to say. Except, of course, for the little hiccup that a traditionally theistic notion of an all-sufficient giver of all good gifts does not square with reality.

So what else is new? And, what’s part of the original past that could be new again? Continue reading here.

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The God of Our Own Creation: Confessions of a Non-theist, Part II

In Part I of this Series, “Away with God!,” we began to consider our conventional, cultural notion of “God” with a capital ‘G.’ This kind of ‘god’ is a theistic one. It is commonly assumed and understood to be about a being, distinct and apart from our selves. It is a “Supreme Being” who is at once transcendent; but who personally intervenes occasionally in what is otherwise intended by the same creator god to be the natural order of the all things, known and unknown.

What kind of a god is this, I’ve asked? More importantly for me these days, what kind of human conflicts result from such a human construct of our own mind’s imagination? [this assumes one rejects the notion some supreme being planted the idea of It’s existence in our mortal minds.]

The issue that is now front and center over my concern with this kind of thinking is how it has resulted in such exclusive claims in various forms and religious traditions; with adamant fervor, insisting on distinguishing orthodoxy from heresy, true believers from infidels. An example that should be familiar to our circle:

In the Christian faith tradition, there are the mainliners, who are good, God-fearing folk who simply accept the belief system handed down to them.

  • There are hardliners who take things so literally they can sometimes literally become “radical extremists.”
  • There are fundamentalists who are quite sincere, if not overly zealous; but are generally harmless, unless they become hardliners.
  • There are evangelicals of different sorts; a widely diverse group that range from guns-and-Bible social conservatives who wield their own electoral voting block, to bleeding heart social progressives who actually take the ethical teachings of Jesus seriously to heart.
  • And finally there are ascetics, a fringe group who, by all outward appearances, live in an alternate universe.

But the one thing they all seem to share in common is the notion of a theistic kind of a god; with a physical being-ness surprisingly not unlike our own! Theists hold to the notion of a “Supreme Being” to which they wistfully accord all the power and perfection from which we fall imperfectly short. Along with such thinking comes the inherent desire to curry favor with the “One” who can bestow such blessings. Continue reading here.

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Away with God! – Confessions of a Non-theist

I pray God to rid me of God.”
        — Meister Eckhart (1260-c1328)—“Non-dual” Christian mystic / sage

While it is apparent that religiously-infused thinking and speaking seems an inevitable and unavoidable human endeavor, it is when we distort such myth-based thinking and the metaphorical language used to express such thinking a finite and literal way, that what is presumed to be life-enhancing becomes instead something that is not only deadly-serious, but lethal.

As my thinking has consequently progressed and evolved, I have reached a point of reflection that we have come to another fork in the road; where for too long the employ of religious rhetoric and practice has become so irrevocably distorted and misused, as to make its further usefulness ineffective, dangerous and destructive. This includes the word and notion so bandied about, ‘god.’

The starting place for me in this next part of the journey begins with a re-thinking of the commonly assumed understanding and use of theism, and the ‘god’ represented by such a notion. This commentary draft is the beginning of what I intend to be a larger and far more complex conversation. Continue reading here.

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Reconciling False Divisions, Part III

Third in a Series exploring the shared Abrahamic roots of three faith traditions

 Part III: Christian Roots

As we turn briefly to the Christian tradition of these three “Abrahamic” faiths, two points can be made upfront. First, Christianity – no matter its varied and diverse forms in which it subsequently evolved – must be understood as originating as a Jewish sect; out of which all that followed emerged.

Second, the common thread that provides continuity with that earlier faith tradition is the shared Abrahmic roots; and the central theme of progression, from a past and into an unknown future. “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. … 2Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, ‘as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.” (Hebrews 11:8, 12)

Whether or not Abraham was a real historical figure — or a legendary composite figure that emerged as a cultural formation that any notion of “God” was most meaningfully revealed or expressed in a unifying whole — the result was mono-theism. Put completely in the vernacular, the whole ball of wax was seen as the sum of all those various, attributable parts of what we humans choose to call “divine;” divine being something other, something more than we could presumably conjure for ourselves, and our own human imaginations. Continue reading here.

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Reconciling False Divisions, Part II

Second in a Series exploring the shared Abrahamic roots of three faith traditions

 Part II: Islamic Roots

نبی اللہ ابراھیم خلیل اللہ Abofe: the name of the Islamic prophet, ʾIbrāhīm (Abraham), written in Islamic calligraphy followed by Peace be upon him.

نبی اللہ ابراھیم خلیل اللہ Above: the name of the Islamic prophet, ʾIbrāhīm (Abraham), written in Islamic calligraphy followed by Peace be upon him.

An American politician wants to build walls, and a major religious leader wants to build bridges. A series of previous commentaries explored the inseparable confluence of our political and religious life.

The current Series has turned to consider the shared, common roots of three great Abrahamic faith traditions; in an attempt to not only identify “false” divisions, but honestly acknowledge real differences, as well. It is a quest for common ground, arising from shared roots; along with and a shared respect for our different paths. It’s tricky.

So to do so, we’ve hearkened back to the origins of monotheism, and the earliest notions of that integral wholeness referenced above. We consider, once again, the “call” of Abraham, and the universal theme of leaving the place of the known and familiar; in order to faithfully risk the possibility of an encounter with something more than we can ask or imagine, hope or believe.

The figure of Abraham not only represents the progenitor of the outward expressions of three great monotheistic faiths, but the prototype for the internal spiritual journey, as well. My own journey as a self-professed progressive in the Christian faith tradition has led me to believe little of what other Christians may profess. I find the same to be true of Islam.

But in a world so filled with forced migration and walls of division, the three Abrahamic faith traditions can share a common pilgrimage of faith over belief. It is an act of trust. Put another way, it is an act of submission that draws one into another kind of journey. In this sense, all children of Abraham are (lit.) muslim.

You can read more HERE.

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Reconciling False Divisions

Tree of Abraham

The bosom of Abraham – medieval illustration from the Hortus deliciarum of Herrad of Landsberg (12th century)

A Series exploring the Shared Abrahamic roots of Three Faith Traditions

Part I: Jewish Roots

A Presbyterian politician who wants to be the leader of the free world claims to have written a great book; second only to the Bible. He has promised to “protect Christianity,” and ban all Muslims outside the United States from entering. It remains unclear if he expects all radical Jihadists to self-profess at the border; instead of — say — swearing to be as Presbyterian as he is.

Beneath the superficiality of such political idiocy, an appreciative consideration of the shared Abrahamic roots of three great faith traditions might be helpful in finding ways to reconcile the false divisions that the most strident voices of ignorance seem to propagate.

This is first in a series of commentaries that attempt in some small way to make such a modest attempt. It begins where it all began; with Jewish roots and the mythic Hebrew character of Abraham.

You can read more of what this might mean in this latest commentary Here.

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Unto Us a Child Is Born

Unto Us - observe nativiry jpeg

A Brief Observance of a Holy Nativity

Even non-theists and progressive Christian types love to sing Christmas carols. And, as the British atheist, Alain de Botton, once said, “Religions are intermittently too useful, effective and intelligent to be abandoned to the religious alone.”  The annual observance of one holy nativity is the perennial reminder to respect and beatify the dignity and sacredness of every birth, everywhere.

You can read more of what this might mean in this latest commentary Here.

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All I Want for Christmas Is an AK-47

When the Reason for the Season Goes Missing

Making a list, and checking it twice: “The Prophet Isaiah” – Raphael, 1512

Making a list, and checking it twice: “The Prophet Isaiah” – Raphael, 1512

The morning news cycle yesterday made passing reference that — among the brisk Black Friday holiday shopping spree sales last week — Americans snatched up more guns for gifts than in any previous year. Only a few hours later, news broke of another mass shooting spree, this time in San Bernardino.

With every perpetrator, there is one common denominator. We usually don’t know why they did it, at least initially. But we always do know how they did it.

And, in this case, the means used to express that something in such a lethal way was with legally acquired weapons that provided the means to commit those violent acts. Whether or not this scenario fits our predisposed opinions, those are simple, plain and undeniable facts. But lest the reader think this is just another editorial debate ….

This is the season Christian faith communities of every sort prepare in one way or another to observe the nativity of something deemed to be holy and salvific. We recall ancient prophecies that foretell a “prince of peace, and wonderful counselor” comes around each year with a message to save us from ourselves. (Isaiah 9:6)

Once born into a world of violence and terror not unlike our own, the message remains unchanged. Regrettably, so too has been the obstinate ways in which we have collectively refused to live with one another in response to that message.

You can read more of what this might mean in this latest commentary Here.

 

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