Monday, November 21, 2005

The World Changes, and They Die

On Saturday, I spent an hour getting a deep-tissue neck and shoulder massage (I'm still stiff from the accident). At some point during the therapist's manipulations, my sinuses popped open and air rushed in. I was stunned. I hadn't realized how stuffed up I'd been.

Then on Sunday, I went to hear retired Episcopalian Bishop John Shelby Spong, who was in town for a series of talks on Christianity. He acquainted us with the OT's "minor" prophets, talked about humanity's evolution away from (and return to) tribal gods, about spirituality without theism, and about a "nonpersonal" sense of God (beyond our family / power concepts of Father, Lord, Master,etc). God as source of life, of love, as the ground of being.

When he said that we can worship best by "loving wastefully," the audience erupted into applause and I felt a rush of air, my spiritual sinuses clearing.

After the lecture, a young man asked him how to persuade some fellow Christians to see beyond their legalisms.

"Tell them you disagree," he said. "And love them the best you can." He shared his experience of growing up among staunch Christian racists in the South. Many went to their graves with their racial hatred.

"Some people never change. But the world changes, and they die."

I recommend this recent interview with Spong at belief.net (the following is an excerpt):

What's the best verse in the Bible?

The text with which I close most of my lectures is from John 10. They are words attributed to Jesus that members of the Jesus Seminar don't think he ever spoke. I don't mind accepting that. But to me, they are so true to who he is. And that's the phrase, "I've come that they might have life and have it abundantly."

The way that I see Christianity is that its role is to enhance the life of every person. My basis of morality is this: does this action enhance life, or does it denigrate life? Does it build up or does it tear down? And if that's your basis, then you can't possibly be a sexist because sexism diminishes women. You can't possibly be homophobic because it diminishes homosexuals. You can't possibly be a racist because you can't tell people they are lesser because their skin is black. Or any of the other things that have discriminated against people.

Monday, November 14, 2005

FALC Issues

". . . it might be helpful if Free2bme chose to create a post on the FALC issue . . . in the hope of helping FALCers as they search for healthy faith . . . iIt appears to me that the FALC is splitting under the weight of many pathologies that we have already discussed as being all too common in Laestadian history--exclusivism, Groupianity as opposed to Christianity, and personal egos/grudges. I pray this time of turmoil within the FALC leads to the shedding of those Laestadian pathologies and a resurgence of healthy faith."

You ask, you get! Please use this thread to discuss FALC issues. Click on the title above to join the Yahoo group and to get to the letter by Bob Pieti.

A Buddhist Perspective on Science

Some of you may be interested in this recent article:

Our Faith in Science

By TENZIN GYATSO

SCIENCE has always fascinated me. As a child in Tibet, I was keenly curious about how things worked. When I got a toy I would play with it a bit, then take it apart to see how it was put together. As I became older, I applied the same scrutiny to a movie projector and an antique automobile.

At one point I became particularly intrigued by an old telescope, with which I would study the heavens. One night while looking at the moon I realized that there were shadows on its surface. I corralled my two main tutors to show them, because this was contrary to the ancient version of cosmology I had been taught, which held that the moon was a heavenly body that emitted its own light.

But through my telescope the moon was clearly just a barren rock, pocked with craters. If the author of that fourth-century treatise were writing today, I'm sure he would write the chapter on cosmology differently.

If science proves some belief of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change. In my view, science and Buddhism share a search for the truth and for understanding reality. By learning from science about aspects of reality where its understanding may be more advanced, I believe that Buddhism enriches its own worldview.

For many years now, on my own and through the Mind and Life Institute, which I helped found, I have had the opportunity to meet with scientists to discuss their work. World-class scientists have generously coached me in subatomic physics, cosmology, psychology, biology.

It is our discussions of neuroscience, however, that have proved particularly important. From these exchanges a vigorous research initiative has emerged, a collaboration between monks and neuroscientists, to explore how meditation might alter brain function.

The goal here is not to prove Buddhism right or wrong - or even to bring people to Buddhism - but rather to take these methods out of the traditional context, study their potential benefits, and share the findings with anyone who might find them helpful.

After all, if practices from my own tradition can be brought together with scientific methods, then we may be able to take another small step toward alleviating human suffering.

Already this collaboration has borne fruit. Dr. Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin, has published results from brain imaging studies of lamas meditating. He found that during meditation the regions of the brain thought to be related to happiness increase in activity. He also found that the longer a person has been a meditator, the greater the activity increase will be.

Other studies are under way. At Princeton University, Dr. Jonathan Cohen, a neuroscientist, is studying the effects of meditation on attention. At the University of California Medical School at San Francisco, Dr. Margaret Kemeny has been studying how meditation helps develop empathy in school teachers.

Whatever the results of this work, I am encouraged that it is taking place. You see, many people still consider science and religion to be in opposition. While I agree that certain religious concepts conflict with scientific facts and principles, I also feel that people from both worlds can have an intelligent discussion, one that has the power ultimately to generate a deeper understanding of challenges we face together in our interconnected world.

One of my first teachers of science was the German physicist Carl von Weizsäcker, who had been an apprentice to the quantum theorist Werner Heisenberg. Dr. Weizsäcker was kind enough to give me some formal tutorials on scientific topics. (I confess that while listening to him I would feel I could grasp the intricacies of the full argument, but when the sessions were over there was often not a great deal of his explanation left behind.)

What impressed me most deeply was how Dr. Weizsäcker worried about both the philosophical implications of quantum physics and the ethical consequences of science generally. He felt that science could benefit from exploring issues usually left to the humanities.

I believe that we must find a way to bring ethical considerations to bear upon the direction of scientific development, especially in the life sciences. By invoking fundamental ethical principles, I am not advocating a fusion of religious ethics and scientific inquiry.

Rather, I am speaking of what I call "secular ethics," which embrace the principles we share as human beings: compassion, tolerance, consideration of others, the responsible use of knowledge and power. These principles transcend the barriers between religious believers and non-believers; they belong not to one faith, but to all faiths.

Today, our knowledge of the human brain and body at the cellular and genetic level has reached a new level of sophistication. Advances in genetic manipulation, for example, mean scientists can create new genetic entities - like hybrid animal and plant species - whose long-term consequences are unknown.

Sometimes when scientists concentrate on their own narrow fields, their keen focus obscures the larger effect their work might have. In my conversations with scientists I try to remind them of the larger goal behind what they do in their daily work.

This is more important than ever. It is all too evident that our moral thinking simply has not been able to keep pace with the speed of scientific advancement. Yet the ramifications of this progress are such that it is no longer adequate to say that the choice of what to do with this knowledge should be left in the hands of individuals.

This is a point I intend to make when I speak at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience today in Washington. I will suggest that how science relates to wider humanity is no longer of academic interest alone. This question must assume a sense of urgency for all those who are concerned about the fate of human existence.

A deeper dialogue between neuroscience and society - indeed between all scientific fields and society - could help deepen our understanding of what it means to be human and our responsibilities for the natural world we share with other sentient beings.

Just as the world of business has been paying renewed attention to ethics, the world of science would benefit from more deeply considering the implications of its own work. Scientists should be more than merely technically adept; they should be mindful of their own motivation and the larger goal of what they do: the betterment of humanity.

Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, is the author of "The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality."

Monday, November 07, 2005

Open Thread

At our church, I sit on the "intern committee" that is responsible for supporting our pastoral intern, who looks like a plump, mild Midwestern farmgirl but in fact is a former physician with a booming voice and considerable chutzpah. Yesterday was All Saint's Day and with many concrete examples (from folks we know), she gave us this message. It's still ringing joyfully in my ears: I am God's beloved now, and I am a work in progress. I don't know how or when my gifts will be used. Confident in God's love, I can offer myself up to love others. Ain't that great? We can be bold, even in our ignorance of the future.

Readers, you are coming from:

California
Colorado
Florida
Illinois
Massachusetts
Michigan
Minnesota
New York
North Carolina
Oklahoma
South Dakota
Texas
Washington
Wisconsin
Canada
Finland
Sweden

I pray that this blog is helpful in some way.

Please use this thread to post anything you'd like, and thanks for visiting.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Food & Fables

Yesterday I searched our local supermarket for lingonberries, as I didn't have time for an Ikea run (where we get the $10 buckets that last for months). No luck. The cashier said that Safeway no longer carries the product except during the holidays. This surprised me, because given our large Scandinavian population, you'd expect a pretty constant demand. Fortunately, the fancier market down the street still carries little jars of the stuff.

I didn't grow up with lingonberries, but now we eat them in PBJ's, on waffles and over the kids' favorite pudding. So it tickled me when Theoforos shared the berry's role in Kalevelan and Kanteletar nativity stories. I would love to learn more. (Theo, just what is the Kanteletar tradition? Are there English translations available?)

For his cultural studies project in first grade, our son needs to come up with: a description, painting or model of foods from our cultural tradition. I was keen on making Swedish Christmas cookies out of felt or clay, but he wants to build a miniature lavvo, based on this photograph I took at a Sami exhibit.

Readers, please help! What kind of food should be in that pot?

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The World As It Is

"We see the world not as it is but as we are." Sisu included this gem in a recent post.

I was about 25 when I heard this idea for the first time. I thought it was dumb. Later it hit me like lightning.

I was a very young 18 when I left the OALC and my family, and I wandered in a parched emotional Sinai for several years, unsure of my future. I had been taught to see the world as a dangerous place and the evidence was certainly there, if only in the newspapers. I went to college by day and waitressed by night, walking to and from work on the very strip where the Green River Killer prowled for victims.

My antennae were tuned to fear -- not horror-movie fear but the garden variety, more like a low-grade flu. The kind of fear that makes you a tad more ALERT than you need to be, no matter where you are. That turns innocuous remarks into poison darts. That prevents one from being curious about others, because one is so busy defending oneself.

I met wonderful people, but when I encountered any rudeness or dishonesty, it loomed larger than the million kindnesses that preceded it.

And I was still attached to having OPINIONS about everything, as if it was possible and important to have the RIGHT thoughts.

But I was fortunate. As the years passed, I became more and more acclimated to the human race, in all its dizzying variety.

One spring day I was walking in the city, passing strangers on the sidewalk, meeting their gazes briefly and walking on -- watching long lines of drivers cooperating with each other to get to their destinations -- hearing the familiar noise and bustle without really hearing it, When I noticed that almost everyone was smiling. At me.

That's because I'm smiling, I thought. That's when I felt the thunderbolt: Love has changed me. Love sees differently.

I'm sorry . . . really there are no words to express this. You can understand if you've been there, and if you haven't, it seems a bit ridiculous.

I still struggle with my fears (hence the blog's title). But I'll always remember that insight, and I'm grateful for it.

Anyway, thanks for listening.