Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The B-I-B-L-E

while reading someone's blog the other day (my apologies, but i don't remember the source), the writer commented that one of the reasons he rejected religion based on a "holy book," was the inconsistencies and factual errors of such books.  his reasoning, which i can't fault, was that if such a book is "divinely" inspired and supposed to be error-free, what does that say about the deity that is supposed to have "dictated" the book to its writers when the inspired book is filled with killing, racism, and mistakes.  this got me to thinking about the christian holy book--the bible.  the world is full of christian apologists who try to explain away its inconsistencies and defend it as literally true, but no thinking person who reads the bible could honestly believe that it is to be taken in that way.

so, what do we make of the bible?  many christians believe it to be the only basis for their faith.  others, like me, reject this notion.  we believe that the bible must be read critically in the light of the truth God gives us, a truth that comes not from a book that is obviously not free of error, but rather a truth that comes from the heart and mind.  are we to believe that God wanted the ancient Israelites to massacre the inhabitants of the "promised land," that God created the earth just as the bible describes (and which creation story is to be believed, since there is more than one in the bible), that God killed every person on earth except for noah and his family in a worldwide flood?  are we to believe that God came to earth in the person of jesus to be executed by the romans at the behest of jewish religious leaders?

is there truth in the bible?  i believe that there is.  the bible teaches of a God who loves what God has created (despite some parts that seem to teach the opposite), that God cares for creation, that God suffers with us, that we must turn from lives of selfish self-indulgence and care for one another and all of creation.  in this way, we embrace our true natures as creatures created in God's image.  could we reach such conclusions without the bible?  many have and continue to do so, some without subscribing to the existence of God at all but instead listen to their own hearts' needs to become compassionate towards their fellow creatures.

is it important that one accept that such needs are placed there by a creator God?  i think not.  the practice of compassion is what is important, the source of compassion not so much so.  my prayer today is that each of us will listen to that inner voice in our hearts and minds, a voice that prompts us to reach out to others with love, respect, and compassion whatever the source of that voice.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

When Peace Like A River

the other day, i was reviewing some of the photos in my photo files and realized that i often take pictures of water.  i have pictures of fountains, streams, rivers, lakes, of all sorts of iterations of water.  as i pondered why i have such a fascination with water, particularly moving water, i thought of how i envision love as a stream that flows forever with God as its source.  love moves through all of creation, like a peaceful stream, and i see myself as both a recipient of love and a channel through which love can reach others.  perhaps this explains my fascination with water.  

the desktop picture on my main computer is a photo of a beautiful stream in northern vermont, that on my ipad is a photo taken by my son of a waterfall on an arkansas river not far from here, and on one of my laptops is a photo of a peaceful lake in salzburg.  each time i sit down at one of these i am reminded of water as a metaphor for never-ending love.  i hear the sound of the water lapping the shore, of the burbles of rivulets as they move, of the splashing of water against water, and i am at peace knowing that all of creation is awash in love.

my prayer today is that we are buoyed by the stream of love which flows in and around us and that we are conduits through which love is carried to others.  shalom.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Come My Way, My Truth, My Life

a few days ago, my wife and i went to a bible study led by one of our pastors.  the passage under consideration was john 14: 5-6, “Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’   Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”  the group participating in the bible study was large, and our time was limited.  a few comments were made and questions asked, but i said little because of the time constraints.  the paragraphs below are what i wanted to say and later shared with the pastor who led the bible study.  she said that she had hoped that her teaching would lead us in this direction, but none of the other participants could see the passage except from our present-day christian viewpoint.

when jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except by (through) me," he may have been saying something far more complex than a surface reading of the text conveys.  seeing  jesus as the most influential of a group of jewish reformers that included his cousin john gives a different color to jesus' statement than viewing it from a modern christian perspective.  could jesus have been saying that his "way," in contrast to the "way" of the jewish religious elite was the "true way," while theirs was a "false way, that jesus' "way" gave the people their "life" back, while the "way" of the religious leadership robbed the people of their "life?"

the intricate rules of daily life which had once been essential to preserve the religious/ethnic identity of the jewish nation in captivity, lest they fall into assimilation with their captors or compromise their beliefs like the samaritans, had grown to become a religion of its own, rather than a means of preserving the essentials of the jewish religion.  in substituting these burdensome rules for the foundation of the law (love of God, love for your neighbor), the religion of the law and the prophets had been obscured, and jesus called the people back to remembrance of the simple truth, the "way," on which the jewish religion rested.  It is jesus' call to return to the basis of the jewish faith that attracts not only common people chafing under roman, herodian, and “jewish" rule, but also religious thinkers like nicodemus, joseph of arimethea, and the "rich young ruler."

john the evangelist has jesus returning again and again to the seat of power for this religious elite.  each time jesus returns the power struggle, as seen in the eyes of those “jews," intensifies, until at the end they see jesus as a profound threat to the power structure they have so carefully built, first by collaborating with herod the great and later by playing off the romans against the people the “jews" hope to continue to control through the demands they place on the people in the exercise of the religion, a religion which the people see as a powerful means of protest against the roman rule.

here is Jesus in the second temple that is the very symbol of collaboration with the false jew, herod, challenging the rule of these religious leaders, and the people increasingly see him not just as a religious reformer but as the promised one, the messiah, who will restore the religion and throw off the rule of the romans.  these powerful religionists must do something, or their control of the people will be compromised, their position will be jeopardized, their ability to act with some degree of freedom from the romans will be lost, and roman oppression will increase.  the something they must do is get rid of jesus, and they pursue this with a sense of urgency.

in this light, jesus' farewell discourse is both powerful and poignant, because he knows that it will be up to his inner circle of followers to continue in the "way" jesus has preached.  if they fail to continue his work, the reforms he has begun will be abandoned and the true religion will be lost in the struggle to maintain control that is at the heart of the religious leaders' lust for power.  so, jesus becomes a martyr so that his teaching can live on and its sphere of influence can be widened.

it is a mistake to see the teachings of jesus through our 21st-century christian eyes, but we must see them in the context in which they were spoken.  my prayer today is that we who call ourselves christians will not make jesus’ teachings something they were never intended to be, using his words to exclude others, to make ourselves as his followers a closed society that purports to have all the solutions to the struggles of life.  may we see how others who are not christians live out the teachings of jesus far better than those of us who call ourselves christians and love them for it.  shalom.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Of Him Whose Holy Work Was Doing Good

one of my greatest faults is that of arrogance.  i have a propensity to believe that i am more virtuous than others and am quick to see what i perceive to be others' shortcomings.  i often catch myself thinking, like the pharisee in luke 18, "God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are . . .," when i should be praying the publican's prayer: "God be merciful to me a sinner."  it is at those times that i think, "how far i am from the kingdom of God."

i know that others see me as a kind and caring person, and i am that, too, but i often fail to realize that these qualities are no reason to think myself a better person than another, that there is no excuse for smugly congratulating myself on my own goodness.  i recognize that my arrogance causes me to be too quick to criticize and too ready to be hurt by the words and actions of others.

how do i become less filled with pride and arrogance?  one way, of course, is to pray about it.  another is to spend more time serving others, reminding myself that this service doesn't make me good, but rather service helps to erase the faults that cause me to do injury to others through my own faults.

as i work through my own shortcomings, my prayer is that i will learn to have the heart of a true servant, one who serves because the love of God is in me, and that each of us will open our hearts to the presence of God and the transforming power of love.  shalom