Category: Inclusiveness

Healthy self-criticism

John Cobb, in his 2010 book Spiritual Bankruptcy, notes that sometimes those who practice a particular religion may tempted think that their way is “the only way.” The great church historian Roland Bainton noted that “the worst wars are religious wars.” Extreme competition can be deadly.

Against this backdrop, Cobb offers a refreshingly different view, speaking for those of varying faiths who are engaging in the process of secularizing:

We are secularizers who believe that the deepest element in our traditional Ways focuses on actual betterment of conditions in this world. We believe that we are most faithful to our own Ways when we are most open to the wisdom of others as well. We believe that we are liberated by our tradition to evaluate critically every aspect of it. We believe that through secularizing our traditions, we can contribute to the urgently needed responses to the threat of disaster that becomes ever more imminent.

How would you describe “the deepest element in our traditional Ways?”

From “The Worlds Major Religiousities,” by The Best Schools, August 30, 2022

OT and WOW

The Old Testament, according to a Jewish rabbi I heard speak long ago, maintains that the benchmark for an ethical community is how well it treats those without rights. In ancient Jewish society, the three major groups without rights were widows, orphans and wanderers (aka homeless, refugees).

Empires consolidate power by taking away rights, as in Putin’s Russia and his war against Ukraine. Who are the “widows, orphans and wanderers” in American society today? An era of rights-expansion begun by Brown v. Topeka Board of Education (1954) is being reversed by today’s US Supreme Court, by various state legislatures and by leaders of the national Republican Party.

I’m grateful to the Christian communities who have touched my life by keeping this OT quest for justice alive. I’m grateful for the exposure I’ve had to Judaism through the OT, through several synagogues over the years, and through numerous Jewish rabbis, Jewish scholars and Jewish friends.

From The Home for Little Wanderers

OT in evolution of theism

A discussion topic among theologians today is theism. It’s part of the evolution of faith. Our understanding of deity has progressed from ancient, fear-based understandings that led to attempts to appease or placate the gods, to a more intimate, love-based, relational understanding of the divine.

The Old Testament was, and is, an vital part of this history. A key OT story is Moses’ breakthrough understanding in his call to return to Egypt to lead the enslaved Israelites to freedom. Moses’ dialogue with the divine Voice is both quaintly charming and profoundly revolutionary.

Moses asks, “What is your name?” Or, “Who shall I say sent me?” In a time when many gods were worshipped, it was important to invoke the correct name. The Voice responds, in essence, “I am nameless.” The deity of Israel could not be so easily described and was without a “handle.”

The divine Voice in the Moses story was more verb than noun–no idol to be adored, but rather the creator of the universe, to be experienced in the relationships and in human history: Say to them, “the God of your ancestors has sent me.” This was a pivotal step from local gods to a universal God.

The challenge today is to retain a divine objectivity that exposes the moral bankruptcy of prejudice, tribalism, injustice, and every form of discrimination, while not objectifying the Voice, which is inherently relational and made known through the dynamic process of creation and human history.

From “What is Theism,” by the Marcus J. Borg Foundation, March 20, 2018

Transformation

In Marcus Borg’s The Heart of Christianity, pp. 107ff is about “Born Again: Dying and Rising.” He wrote: In the gospels and in the rest of the New Testament, death and resurrection, dying and rising, are again and again metaphors for personal transformation, for the psychological spiritual process at the heart of the Christian life.

When I was young, operating from the “earlier paradigm” Borg describes (September 13 post), I thought resurrection and life eternal were “invented” by God after the death of Jesus. Borg wrote: … the path of death and resurrection is “the way” that Jesus himself taught. I now see that the crucifixion and resurrection story as a revolutionary, timeless “object lesson” to demonstrate the way things are.

Borg helps me understand that the point of this story, of creation, of life itself, is transformation. It is a universal experience to which Christianity witnesses but does not hold a copyright. It is at the heart of every faith and everyone’s life experience, whether or not one is conscious of it or grateful for it. Because transformation is a universal experience, it can be a starting point for every human conversation.

The Jesus story–which I understand within the context of the larger Jewish story, which I understand within the larger context of the story of the Universe–is my story. As I live into the theme of transformation (which I understand to be the heart of everything), I’m able to receive, appreciate and find common ground with everyone’s story. This makes me excited about waking up every morning!

From “Marcus Borg: The Essence of Christianity is Transformation,” Interfaith Voices, June 13, 2014

This week’s resource: Marcus Borg

I think Ernie named Marcus Borg (1942-2015) as an important resource and my Friday brain trust (a Fullness of Loving group) all agreed. Like us, Borg was a US citizen and roughly our contemporary in chronology. Borg was a teacher of theology. We are students of theology. Our Friday group resonates with Borg’s thought, though as my friend Don says, “I don’t agree with anyone about everything.” Borg’s 2003 book, The Heart of Christianity, will be the focus of this week’s posts.

The subtitle is “Rediscovering a Life of Faith.” The cover jacket proclaims, “How we can be passionate believers today.” I think today Borg might speak about being a “follower” (of Jesus) rather than a “believer.” Like our Friday group, Borg grew up in a world dominated by memories of World War II and the realities of the Cold War with the Soviet Union. He pointed out (in 2003) how much the world had changed since Will Herberg’s 1953 book, Protestant, Catholic, Jew.

Borg noted (in 2003): The religious landscape in America is rapidly changing…. In the last thirty-five years, we have become the most religious diverse nation in the world.” He experienced an escalation of this diversity in his remaining dozen years, and since Borg’s death this diversity has intensified. Today, we have an unprecedented ability to learn from each other, but diversity meets resistance from those uncomfortable with change, including extreme opposition by xenophobic tribalism.

Though he is deceased, Borg’s wisdom is still available to us through The Heart of Christianity and his other writings and presentations. He can help us see diversity as a gift. That’s my goal for this week.

From The Marcus J. Borg Foundation

Kenotic faith

This concludes several posts about Sallie McFague’s 2013 book, Blessed Are the Consumers: Climate Change and the Practice of Restraint. One of my many takeaways from the COVID-19 pandemic is that the underbelly of the American heritage of individual freedom is that we are prone to chafe at requests for restraint in the interest of the common good.

Restraint relative to public health practices, restraint relative to environmental degradation, and restraint relative to consumption of vital resources may be dismissed as “woke” ideology. It isn’t heard as an extension of the prophetic tradition of the Old Testament or Jesus’ self-emptying (kenosis). This is a sad byproduct of today’s hyper polarization.

McFague devotes an entire chapter to an exploration of “kenotic theology.” This includes sharing scarce resources among the needy, with a particular focus on food, “the lowiest, most basic need shared by all living beings.” She wrote: Like “Teilhard de Chardin, I have come to realize that I cannot love God or the world, but must love both at once.”

The chapter concludes: The classic doctrine of Christian discipleship, that, made in the image of God, human beings should embody the kenotic love of God, means that our own bodies must be on the line. In other words, food (and the whole planetary apparatus that goes to produce food for the billions of creatures) should become the central task at all levels, personal lifestyle changes, and public policies.

From “Tomorrow’s Gods: What is the future of religion?” by Sumit Paul-Choudhury, BBC Future, August 1, 2019

Glad and generous hearts

We have the daunting, exhilarating privilege to live in a difficult, challenging era that is both confusing and clarifying. An essential skill for this moment is to be attentive to little things, such as our daily habits, while being mindful and attentive to big things, such as loving our neighbor. A gentle, almost imperceivable act of kindness can be a fulcrum for big change.

To a friend whose congregation is struggling with “theological” issues, I said, “These are difficult times, painful but clarifying.” For a community of faith or a political party in times of great confusion and division, the easy path is to think small and act big, as in Dobbs. The tougher path is to think big (as in human rights and inclusiveness) and take small, steady steps forward.

I’m encouraged by seemingly simple yet transformative steps, like the ancient faith community that cultivated “glad and generous hearts.” They discovered–in their own difficult, challenging era– the essential ingredient for great love: joyful generosity. That ingredient, and the great love that flows from it, is available to us today. Think big, be simple. Cultivate a glad and generous heart.

From Goodreads

Ranked choice

This week, Mary Peltola won Alaska’s first “ranked choice” Congressional election to fill the brief remainder of late Congressman Don Young’s term. She’s the first Native American to represent Alaska in Congress. Peltola, who is Yup’ik, will be on the ballot again in November, running against Republicans Sarah Palin and Nick Begich for a full two-year term.

Peltola’s election is noteworthy because Native Americans comprise 19.6% of Alaska’s population, the largest of any US state. The ethnic and human interest story is significant, as the provided links indicate, but my point here is that this election may reveal a resource for the nation to find a healthy way out of the rancor of our polarization.

I’m just beginning to learn about ranked choice voting, where voters list their first choice, second choice, etc. If no one gets 50% plus one first preference votes, a “runoff” of sorts is held without requiring voters to return to the polls. The candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, etc., until a winner is determined. The Atlantic and National Review provide a pro and con analysis of ranked choice voting.

What appeals to me is that this method of election has the potential to elect more moderate and less extreme candidates. In my opinion, that’s a resource worthy of consideration.

From “Peltola wins Alaska special election to fill Young’s House seat,” by Jackie Wang and Kate Ackley, Roll Call, August 31, 2022

Our collective memory

From Teilhard’s The Human Phenomenon (p. 142): Through commerce and the transmission of ideas conductivity from one to another has been increased. Traditions have been organized. A collective memory has developed. However thin and granular this first membrane must have been, from now on the noosphere has begun to close in on itself, encircling the Earth.

The words “a collective memory” reminded me of Carl Jung’s concept of the “collective unconscious,” which was Jung believed is “inherited from the past collective experience of humanity.” He believed, for example, that archetypal images can be passed from one generation to the next just like eye color, hair color, etc. I wondered if Teilhard (1881-1955) and Jung (1875-1961) collaborated.

They never met, but I found this: Carl Jung was reading Teilhard de Chardin during the last days of his life. According to Miguiel Serrano, when he visited Jung on May 10, 1961, “On the small table beside the chair where Jung was sitting, was a book called The Human Phenomenon by Teilhard de Chardin. Serrano said Jung remarked, “It is a great book.” Jung died on June 6, 1961.

From The Fisher King Review of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and Carl Gustav Jung Side by Side, edited by Fred R. Gustafson, March 21, 2015

Nameless, faceless, helpless, powerless

It’s been a tough year for women. Progress is not inevitable and human rights can be taken away. But, freedom resonates within the human spirit, and political or religious oppression cannot erase the memory of freedom in those who have experienced it. I believe freedom ultimately will win.

(After that paragraph, this post could go in several directions. You may need to pause a moment and let your mind and emotions roam around whatever application is most relevant to your life.)

The direction I’m going with this is Afghanistan, prompted by an August 12 article by Christina Goldbaum and David Zucchino in The New York Times (updated on August 15) that profiles several Afghan women whose lives have been upended, and whose hopes have been doused, by the Taliban’s resumption of power in Kabul one year ago. Afghan women aren’t nameless, of course, even as the regime thwarts any hint of individualism and requires female faces to once again be covered.

The regime’s male dominance surely robs the country of well more than 50% of its brain-power and potential. The spokesman for the ominously named, decree-issuing Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice offered this mind-bending attempt to frame the narrative: “All these decrees are for the protection of women, not the oppression of women…. A woman is a helpless and powerless creature.” One day, he’ll know better. Sadly, dire Afghan poverty perpetuates this illusion.

From “Taliban Rewind the Clock: ‘A Woman Is a Helpless and Powerless Creature,’” by Christina Goldbaum and David Zucchino, The New York Times, August 12, 2022 (Updated August 15, 2022)