Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Bible and Pluralism

Would you want to know if your deeply-held convictions were based on a misunderstanding of the Bible? If you were wrong, would you want to know?

Please consider this carefully.

If Jesus is the "only way," who is Jesus?
Jesus was a mystic, especially as he is depicted in John. That is, he experienced God directly, within himself. Many Christian mystics have shared this experience over the last 2,000 years. The “I am” passages may be Jesus’ poetic expressions of such a mystical experience in which his personality and ego fell away and the only reality he sensed was that of God. If this is how we understand the passages, then when Jesus said “I am the way ... no one comes to the Father, but by me”, this may mean that the way to God was to become one with God, as Jesus did. It may mean that we do not get to God through dogma or doctrine, but rather through mystical union with God, an experience shared by mystics of many religions throughout history.

Other passages in the Bible provide helpful language to express religious pluralism. Philippians 2: 5-7 is a beautiful expression of the humility of the Christ: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” We might well ask: how could the religion of an empty man get so full of itself that it would claim to be the only true faith? Integral to having a mind of humility among ourselves is abandonment of any claim to the superiority of our religion. Our walk of faith is hindered by this hubris, and it is insulting and hurtful to others. Jesus said “whoever would be great among you must be your servant.” (Matthew 20: 26) To declare that we have the true faith compared to all others would contradict our calling as servants. It gets in the way of having a mind of humility. The highest values of our religion, the very reasons that we follow the path of the Christ, are contradicted by claiming that Christianity is superior to other faiths. (Jim Burklo)

This passes my mind check and my gut check. It allows me to embrace Christ fully and passionately, to see him everywhere, in everyone.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Fundamentalism Will Never Bring Peace

Happy Spring, readers. This site has had lots of competition lately: long walks with a puppy under blossom-heavy cherry trees, baseball practices on muddy diamonds, Jonathan Raban's new novel "Surveillance," teaching our daughter to jump rope, baking rhubarb pie, designing posters for a farmer's market. Yes, life is grand, even when problems arise. On one eventful day this week, I dropped my cell phone in water, learned that our old Toyota's "oil change" had morphed into new brakes and pads and rotors, and discovered my husband's identity had been stolen to charge items online (hence the need for a rhubarb pie, with its natural mellowing agents).

These were minor glitches, fixable, nothing to put a dent in my happiness. In fact, as I looked at the fogged screen on my cell phone, I wondered if setbacks make me feel less guilty for living a charmed life, ergo happier. By pure accident of birth, I have more than I need, and others not nearly enough. How does one make sense of that? How do you make sense of that?

Here is something to chew on, from Christian Ethics Today

The core belief of Fundamentalism is the conviction that we are right and everyone else is wrong. Because of this compulsion about truth, it becomes essential that everyone else share the same beliefs. It has been this religious conviction that has brought about the greatest bloodshed in human history. This is at the heart of the Catholic-Protestant war in Ireland and the Jewish-Arab wars in the Middle East. Perhaps the ugliest expression in recent years of this mentality is the Nazi Aryan Supremacy movement which resulted in the death of millions of Jews. Even today, it seems inconceivable that the nation that produced scores of theologians, musicians, artists, and scientist, could produce such an evil movement and evil man. And the underpinnings of these atrocities were religiously based! This is Fundamentalism at its worst.

Closer to home, this egocentricity, both in the political and religious venues, is tearing churches and nations apart as it has done for centuries. There will be no peace in our hearts or in the world until we have the grace to accept differences in others. It should be humbling to realize that we are American, Iraqi, Egyptian, African, Chinese, Christian, Muslim, Jew, by the accident of birth.

Fundamentalism is insidious in that, like alcoholism, it is wrapped in denial. Those who rigidly hold to their belief and want to impose them upon others, feel gratified that they are “uncompromising” and “true to the faith.” This rigidity of belief more often than not leads to irrationalism and inconsistency. People captured in this mental prison pick and choose their beliefs and then search high and low (and in the Bible) for justification to support their beliefs regardless of logic or consistency. For example, take the “Right To Life” movement. Think of the logic of killing abortion doctors in the name of the “Right To Life.” If the issue in abortion is the right to life, what about the right to life of women and children we burned alive in Vietnam and Korea. Or for that matter, what about the right to life of our enemies or convicted criminals. Strangely enough, many who feel so strongly about protecting the lives of fetuses are perfectly willing to kill our enemies and execute criminals. This is an example of how rigid beliefs force inconsistencies.

I knew a Baptist minister who canvassed several members of his church one Sunday morning when he discovered the supply of unleavened bread was gone. When someone suggested they use regular bread, he declined on the basis that it had to be unleavened in order for the Lord’s Supper to be authentic. However, he had no problem using grape juice for every Lord’s Supper. When questioned about this, his indignant reply was that “my Lord would never put alcohol to his lips.” (The limits of credibility were sorely stretched in a later discussion on the subject with this minister about Jesus’ turning water into wine and the parable about putting new wine into old wineskins).

Fundamentalism is dangerous because it will stop at nothing to get its way. How much difference is there in the Muslim who martyrs himself and kills others for Allah and the abortion protester who blows up a clinic killing medical and other people inside. Think about the logic in the term, “fighting for peace!”

In a world of warmongering, rebellion, and bloodshed, Jesus taught peace and asked that His church continue that mission. Instead, the Church today has lost its moral leadership in peace making because of its own divisions, rigid dogmas, and territorialism. Our creeds and covenants are exclusive and designed to foster an artificial unity. Pluralism and inclusiveness are ridiculed while inerrancy and baseless convictions are embraced in the name of orthodoxy and truth.

Christians, Jews, Muslims, Democrats, Republicans, Liberals, Conservatives, Hawks, Doves and all others: WAKE UP! Life is about love and not hate. It is about acceptance and not rejection. It is about peace and not war. It is about unity and not division. If we can’t accept that, we are surely doomed to an Armageddon of our own making. The Prince of Peace gave us an alternative.

By C. Truett Baker

Friday, March 16, 2007

Small World

I just got my Powerbook back, so please indulge me while I blather and fulminate and make up for lost time. First, huge kiitos to Tomte for the lovely updates to the blog, to Ilmarinen for posting (and deleting as needed), and to all of you for keeping the conversation going. It will take me some time (understatement) to wade through old comments.

Have you heard about "addiction transfer"? It has been in the news recently in reference to gastric bypass patients who become, post-surgery, addicted to alcohol. Get one monkey off your back, another one hops on, so to speak. Stop eating, start drinking. Stop drinking, start clinging to dogma. Right? It would explain why there is no zeal like that of a convert . . . the zeal is steady even when the object isn't. And it could be why Laestadianism attracts some personalities more than others. I suspect that for some folks, if you took the exclusiveness (fear and scorn) out of Laestadianism, it would be like taking the nicotine out of a cigarette.

Somewhat related: Our daughter came home singing "It's a Small World" yesterday, sending me reeling back to 1970 and elementary school.

It's a world of laughter, a world of tears
It's a world of hopes, it's a world of fears
There's so much that we share that it's time we're aware
It's a small world after all

There is just one moon and one golden sun
and a smile means friendship to everyone
Though the mountains divide and the oceans are wide
It's a small, small world.


Well, I learned that song in 4th grade, when Ms. Reese cast me as the American girl in her school play. I wore a red, white and blue costume and long braids, travelled "the world" with my redhead pal Larry, met Santa Lucia, sang "Konichiwa means Good Day in Japan" and learned to toss and catch sticks rythmically while sitting like a chief. The rehearsals were outrageously fun and I overcame my stage fright for our one performance, not missing a line.

Wherever you are, Ms. Reese, thank you. You could not persuade my parents to advance me a grade, but you did better: you inspired me to see strangers as potential friends, not "worldlies." (Now how do I get that dang song out of my head?!)

More or less apropos, I'd like to share an email from a reader:

"We had a big snowstorm last week and my husbands sister and brother in law were on vacation. Me and my husband went over to her house to shovel out their driveway before they got back. As I was shoveling, an African American lady came to help from across the street and asked if we needed some help and offered to let us use her snowblower. She seemed rather friendly, so I struck up a small conversation with her, asking her how long she had lived in Minnesota, etc. I told her that my family is Swedish and Finnish (I was actually born in northern Sweden)...and she told me that her husband is Finn. Out of curiousity, I asked if her husband had any ties to the Apostolic church. Sure enough . . . Marion Hallberg. This lady invited me and my 3 year old daughter in her house and we had lunch and talked about some of the interesting aspects of being around those people. She remarked that I look a lot like the OALC'ers, even though I was from the FALC... I know a lot about the OALC because it was similar to how I grew up and I attended services there a few times, out of curiosity. I was just shocked to meet someone that was so close to Marion (I have never met her, but was touched by what people said about her on this site). I have no connection to the FALC anymore, but still enjoy conversing with others who have left and those from other sects of the church. This is basically my invisible "social network", which still keeps me in touch with my culture and my upbringing."

I'm glad she shared that. Dunnit warm your cockles?

Peace all.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Bred Dina Vida Vingar

To OALCer who asks what churches we attend, may I suggest that it doesn't matter? If you want to find our what makes someone tick, you need to go deeper. I appreciate the desire to find categories for people; it's natural. But it doesn't get you far. Within the OALC there are people who don't agree with what you have posted here. I just talked to an OALCer who thinks it is sinful to judge another's spiritual state and that it is "un-Christlike" to shun those who leave the OALC. (Unfortunately, this person is not a preacher.)

That said, I go to an ELCA church, when I'm not visiting an Episcopal or Congregational or something-other church, or staying home with the New York Times and a Thermos of coffee. So sue me! For all the wonderful things a church can do, it cannot stand in for one's relationship to God, and it sure can get in the way of it, if allowed.

Today our pastor gave a stirring sermon about the need to resist a culture of hedonism and to fight for social justice. She described a recent meeting with a senator who received so much hate mail from "Christians" after supporting some civil rights legislation that the senator concluded they "can't be on the right side" if God is, as Christ said, love.

We were urged today not to retreat into ourselves but to be "engaged with the world" on behalf of the poor, as Jesus was. Love in action.

Mentally, I contrasted this message with the Laestadian ethos of avoiding the world, which seems, well, so much easier. Especially in our modern age when we are constantly exposed to the suffering. If you spend even a few honest minutes thinking about how many children died today in Darfur, you are motivated to either (1) distract yourself or (2) do something -- however small.

Later in the service, to my surprise and delight, came a blast from the past: "Bred Dina Vida Vingar"(the entire first line came flooding back, in Swedish no less!). In English it is called The Holy Wings. Is this hymn also familiar to you? I sang out with joy. It was one of those "full circle" moments, where I returned to a place where I once stood, but no longer in shackles. (I'm no more Lutheran than Chinese, but boy am I happy to sing that good ol' Lutheran music!)

Today in the NYT Sunday Magazine there is an intriguing, heavy-weight article (warning: do not attempt to read it in a noisy room) about faith and science. It includes a novel theory that belief and skepticism are tandem evolutionary adaptations. In other words, our age-old disagreements have ensured our survival as a species (if not, alas, as individuals in the crosshairs, or bonfires). We need each other.

For some reason this concept cheered me. What we argue when we argue about faith is usually immaterial (pun intended). And if it is true that some of us are "programmed," as it were, to be more or less faithful, how is that different than being blue-eyed or brown, smart or simple?

The dishes still need doing.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Juletomte to the Rescue

Hi friends! Thanks to Tomte, who may in fact be Juletomte, I am back to blogging. No sooner did I kvetch about my computer loss than he mailed me a little Dell that happened to be "gathering dust" around his um, workshop. (Apparently reindeer prefer Apples?) My Powerbook is in California somewhere getting data extracted, and when it returns, my warranty will recover its replacement. After which, I pledge to be a good citizen and back up regularly. One very expensive lesson learned.

Nonetheless, I am feeling very grateful these days, to Tomte (who also gifted us with "recent comments" and the Label CLoud and the new search box) and to all you regulars and newcomers, who have made for some exciting catch-up reading. Wow. You are doing such a great job of welcoming new voices and respectfully asking and answering questions. This feels like a true community, doesn't it? Who'd a thunk?

Recently a cousin in the OALC phoned me and asked if I was "free2bme." I confessed. She had heard rumors about this site and they were personal and derogatory, to put it mildly. This saddened me. I hope that she is comforted by the fact that we are not slandering people here. I welcome anyone to post comments. I expect others' experiences to be different than mine (my cousin's family does not, for example, practice shunning). But I will continue to publicly reject a doctrine that I consider false and harmful.

And sometimes just unsavory. I was tempted to hit the delete button when I read OALCer's post with the "breast" Laestadianisms, but decided it is better to leave it all on here. Readers can weigh the tone and content of all the various messages, and draw their own conclusions.

Now, as for searching the archives, doesn't the search box work for this? I will try it and report back.