Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Abolishing Religion

I'm getting tired of the assertion that "religion" - maybe I should say, "Religion" with a capital R - is responsible for all the evils in the world and the idea that all Christians (or Muslims, or other people of faith for that matter) are ignorant, fanatical and intolerant. I have increasingly seen variations on these themes, mostly by people identifying as agnostic, atheist, New Age or "spiritual-but-not-religious", often implying or culminating in the idea that if we banned or abolished all religion, this would go away.  No more evil, no more bad or hateful or harmful people left to lash out at others. No more rape or murder; no more war. Which are lovely "no"s to be sure, and I'm all for them.

But here's a thing or two. Thing One: Most wars are (historically) not fought over or backed by religion. For more on the causes of wars, here's a short, factual article from a Catholic blog and a completely secular opinion as well. Thing Two: to "abolish religion" is to rescind people's rights to their own beliefs and spiritual practices, to force them to go into hiding when they worship and persecute them. It's been tried in several places throughout history, including Sudan, Israel-Palestine and Nazi Germany... not really with favorable outcomes. I can't help but think that rather then getting rid of faith-based communities ("organized religion"), if more people actually paid CLOSER attention to the various paths to God they profess to follow, and made MORE of an effort to "be religious", there would be more peace-, charity- and love-based interaction and far fewer wars and hate crimes. Hatred is not at the core of any religion; not Islam, not Christianity, not Wicca, Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Paganism, Satanism (truly), Jainism or any other. Religion doesn't breed hatred - intolerance does. And from what I've seen, atheists and agnostics are as likely to be intolerant and hateful as religious fanatics - they just don't (or don't always) use God as an excuse.

Are there hateful, angry extremists who rail against others in the name of God? Yes. Are some heinous crimes committed by religious fanatics or in the name of a particular religion? Yes - of course. They have been throughout history and modern ones make great, sensational news headlines (the more horrific the better, it seems). AND, as the links above reflect... heinous crimes have also been committed throughout history and still are in modern times, without religion behind them.  People are, by nature, competitive, greedy, power-hungry, frightened, covetous - as well as kind, considerate, foolish, fallible, thoughtful, vengeful, loving, imperfect... there's a reason we have so many words to describe human emotions, moods and behaviors. What it comes down to is this: we don't need less religion in the world, nor would that create the change so desperately needed; we need less hatred, less intolerance, more love and more effort to live together on this planet peacefully.


Friday, June 26, 2015

Love Wins!

I am SO excited today - much work left to be done in many directions, (racial disparity, gun violence and equal pay for women, to name a few) but it's such a huge step forward and a true cause for celebration!

Oh - what am I talking about? Right - this may be read on another day or by someone who hasn't heard yet. (Is that last possible?) Today, the Supreme Court overturned various states' bans on same-sex marriage and made marriage equality the Law of the Land. I heard the announcement while I was driving to work, and found myself in tears and thinking of so many friends and friends-of-friends who are no longer among us and didn't get to live to see this day, or to marry the person they loved. Joy and sadness... but the joy is overwhelming.

I received a petition request (this one) in my inbox a few hours after The Decision, and I hit the link to sign it. It's actually surprised me how effective these can be, and Lord knows I like to share my opinions. The email I received started with this:
The Supreme Court just made history, establishing marriage equality as the law of the land. The religious right is already erupting into hysterics, declaring that "Satan is dancing with delight." Mike Huckabee claims the decision is repealing "the laws of nature and nature's God." The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops says it's "profoundly immoral" and that it will harm children.
The petition form I signed asked me whether I'd like to add a personal comment (that opinion thing again - of course I did) and once I had, it asked me to share all this through social media, to show that not all Christians feel the need to discriminate on the basis of sexual preference. I don't tweet or Instagram or whatnot, so I clicked on the Facebook icon... and then knew this would take a little explaining. Here is what I posted to Facebookistan and all those friends and family of mine who inhabit it. Well, and to anyone else who happens upon them - perhaps those even more.

So before my secular friends and those of various other faiths look down to the bottom of this post and ask why I feel the need to be supportive specifically "as a Christian"... I add my voice in as a Christian to counteract the evil, hateful rhetoric being slung by some outspoken Christians whose views I do not support, and who don't speak for me (or my church - or I would not have become a member). Jesus taught love, not hatred.
So "as a Christian" (as well as, as a human being): Granting marriage equality in no way harms children or families - in fact, it helps and heals them in many ways including "legitimizing" children born to or adopted by same-sex couples*, which I would think Catholics should support. As far as Christian Biblical citations: Jesus never said anything against (or about) homosexuality. He said to love God, who is in everything (and we in God - Episcopalians are fond of saying, "... in whom we live and move and have our being") and love your "neighbor", who is everyone. This ruling was and is about treating human beings with respect and correcting a dire wrong against innocent people that has been perpetuated for far too long. The healing process has begun, and as Jesus taught... Love wins.
If you are of like mind, please do "like", share, discuss, forward and/or sign this petition... it's about time our voices were heard.
I am an Episcopalian and a happy member of the Christian Left - and I approve this message.

* ...and allows them to be step-parents and legal guardians of their spouse's children, to advocate for each other and their children in times of medical or other crises, not to mention being given the respect and dignity that straight Americans and their families have enjoyed since the founding of the country)... and more...


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Looking Through the Salidor

For years I wondered what a salidor was. 

Or rather I didn’t really wonder, so much as take it on best authority – that of my elementary school peers –  that there was such a thing. It was from a sing-song rhyme, the kind that little girls sing together with increasingly intricate hand-clapping patterns on the schoolyard at recess.

I didn’t know what a salidor was, but (1) I wasn’t going to show my ignorance by asking, and (2) I knew it was something you got to after sliding or climbing down a rainbarrow… or some such – may as well use “rainbow”, since that makes more sense, right? At any rate, it obviously had to do with friends coming over to play.  Obviously. I may have been corrected once or twice on the finer points, but I’m sure I would hear none of it; I was RIGHT (just ask my 7-year-old self), and that’s just what it was. Sometimes there were words we didn’t understand, but as long as you sounded like you got it, it was OK – sing it with confidence! At any rate, for some reason I woke up with this rhyme in my head the other day and it made me think of how songs and stories get passed down through oral tradition.

If you’ve ever played a game of “Telephone” at camp or in school, or sung nursery rhymes or children's songs that someone else learned from someone else… you’ll get the idea. Things change over time and over distance as they get handed down and passed around. Things, for example, like what a teacher said.

There was this interesting experiment I remember hearing about in an introductory Sociology class when I was first in college: A class was in session (high school? I can’t recall), and suddenly someone burst into the room, late. He had an altercation with the teacher involving the student swearing and possibly threatening the teacher and was finally told or made to leave – I don’t remember all the details. Once he was gone and the disruption over, the teacher asked the class to please write down what had just happened, in case it was needed later. The students wrote their papers and handed them in as they left. A few days later, the principal (or other authority figure) came in and explained that there might be a disciplinary case around this and it was important that they understand what happened and who was at fault. He asked the class to please write down again what had happened. The principal took these papers and left. A week or so later, the class’ teacher explained that something had happened to the original papers and they were missing – he apologized and asked the students to please try to recall as much of the incident as they could and to please re-write their observations for him, which they did.

This had actually been an experiment, the scene planned out ahead of time. The papers had all been saved and when compared, each person’s re-telling of the account varied – sometimes hugely – both from what actually happened and from the same person’s other accounts. Papers from the same person also differed depending upon whom they had been written for – the teacher or the principal/authority figure. I was fascinated by this. The experiment looked at how events are (1) observed by different people, (2) recorded, (3) changed over time if asked to re-record them and (4) altered depending upon whom they were written for or trying to appease or impress.

I may not be recalling the story of this process completely accurately – I intentionally didn’t look it up before writing this, because it addresses my point. If you'd asked me 10 years ago... or right after I'd taken the class... I'm sure I'd have a better and more accurate memory of the details.

You can probably see where this is going.

The most frustrating thing for me and I think for many, in studying scripture, is trying to figure out what may actually have happened and what might actually have been said. Much is allegorical, parable, bigger Truths explained in story; but someone had to have said and  done at least some of these things, or they wouldn’t have been recorded.

The Bible is a collection of stories, accounts and observances. For the sake of paring it down a bit, I’m just looking at the New Testament right now. Let’s call it given that a man named Jesus lived. He was a traveling rabbi, a Jewish teacher, and taught what seemed to many a new and interesting message about God. This teacher said exciting and subversive things! He questioned the status quo, spoke out against rules that were in place and enforced for their own sake, that were “of man” rather than “of God”; he spoke with authority, as if he had first-hand knowledge, and took the titles of the Roman emperor, the ruling power of the day, for himself: Prince of Peace, Anointed One, Son of God. He healed people on any day of the week (including the Sabbath, when one was not supposed to do any work), shared meals with outcasts and pariahs, called priests in the Temple “thieves” or “robbers” for charging people money to come pray and offer sacrifices and he taught that following strict laws about what one can or can’t eat was not nearly as important as what was in a person’s heart and how one acted in the world.

We know about this rabbi named Jesus because there were crowds of people who listened to him and followed him, and some of them told what they’d heard to others, who in turn passed it on. To make it even more confusing, some of what was written had to do with what Jesus and others did, and some of it was about parables – made up stories that carry and exemplify truths about the world and how we are in it – that the rabbi told. From playing Telephone, I’ve heard what a simple sentence can sound like just 10 people and 3 minutes later; “Hi, I’m Jack Robinson – tell what you know” can easily turn into, “Hire Jack Robbins and Tellie wants snow” – or something even less coherent than that. If a story or an occurrence (or a song, or a joke) is told several times a day to different people, and each of them passes it on… speaking it many times and over a period of many years, to many more people… what will it sound like 40 to 60 years later, when it finally gets written down? Or even if some of the writers were students of people who followed this rabbi, putting to paper what they’d been orally taught… you’re still looking at second-generation (at best) re-telling of events that someone is pulling up from memory.

Now wait for over 1000 years or so, read these many-times-told stories and accounts that are in an ancient language and written in and for an entirely different time and social structure; translate them into Latin and marinate for a few hundred more years, then translate the messages and teachings again into another language – this time commonly spoken (16th century English, for example), so that even more people can understand. Once that is done, allow scholars from different parts of the world to have access to these several-times-translated stories and accounts, and assume that each translates these into their own language – or the same language through different perspectives or understanding of the original text - each using the accepted norms of the day and place they’re in, and/or that translator’s personal biases. Shake and stir. Go back to the oldest translation you can find, learn the language it’s in and try to read it. Then re-translate it all over again. Telephone.

Can you pull the really important bits out of what you now have? Will you worry over whether there were 12 or 13 apostles? Just men or women as well? Whether Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey or a horse (or both)? Why different gospels tell the same story slightly differently? Or will you look for what the point of it all was, try to understand the meanings underneath, look for what's relevant and ascertain how these might be helpful to you in living day-to-day?

Many years after learning the rhyme – many years and experiences later – when the tune came to mind, I was able to re-fit the sounds I remembered into actual words and speech patterns. It made me smile:

            Say, say, oh playmate, come out and play with me
            And bring your dollies three, climb up my apple tree
            Climb down my rain barrel, into my cellar door

  And we’ll be jolly friends forever more!


Thursday, January 1, 2015

Holiday as Sabbath

"The sabbath was made for mankind and not mankind for the sabbath" (KJV). The idea of sabbath is to set aside periods of rest and rejuvenation in order to cultivate a closer relationship with God and reap the benefits that brings into our lives. It occurs to me this morning that perhaps work holidays are a perfect opportunity to put this into practice.

In the Book of Mark (3:1-6), Jesus is criticized in the synagogue for healing a man's withered (arthritic?) hand on the sabbath - it's used as a means of trapping him into admitting that he's breaking sacred laws and is therefore worthy of punishment. Jesus pushes back with a question - "is it lawful to do harm or to do good on the sabbath...?". He makes the point - and I agree - that healing and helping others is not a labor we should (ever) be resting from - it's acting with compassion, loving our neighbors and doing to others as we would have them do unto us - doing the work God has asked us to do. There are things that task us, that do require effort on our parts, that I think are completely appropriate to and even help us get closer to the idea of sabbath. Perhaps it would be best described as following the intent rather than the letter of the law. I feel like people (both as mentioned in the Bible and who speak out in modern day) who cite/d sabbath as a rigid rule - "thou shalt not do any work of any kind on this day" - were and are missing the point; it's meant as a guideline that reminds us to set aside a day when we don't focus on laboring in the world, but on our connection with God; a day of recharging and reconnecting.   Being loving and compassionate, helping or healing others, connects us to God and is therefore living into the meaning of sabbath, not taking us away from it.

I attended an LDS (Mormon) church for a time in my late 20s, and while I ended up having more differences than not with the organization and its members' beliefs, I found much good in their practices. Families were emphasized as was helping each other out - having very little at the time and living in a new city, I found that folks I didn't even know well and the church itself were welcoming and eager to lend a hand or give of their time, money, clothing, furniture or food to me and others when needed. One of the things taken very seriously - at least in the ward where I worshiped - was the expectation to not do anything on Sunday that could be called (secular) work; parishioners spent upwards of 3 hours in church, and when you left, the charge was to (1) not shop, eat out or otherwise patronize any stores or other businesses, and (2) keep on your church clothes all day and "not do anything on a Sunday that you couldn't do in your Sunday best". I agree/d with the former (not that I always managed it, but it was a good goal), but not the latter - because there are things that I feel bring one close to God and nature (such as sitting on a beach, going for a hike, swimming or playing with your kids), that really require something other than dresses and suits.

Which brings me to today, New Year's Day, which is for many a holiday and to me, a great opportunity to practice sabbath. The first thing that came to mind for me on this was that some stores, restaurants and such are open for business today; and the best way I can support it as a day of rest is to not patronize any of these places - to have a day of not shopping, eating out or otherwise supporting businesses staying open. It may seem a small thing, but I feel like it can be hugely beneficial both to me (as a forced day of being present and self-sustaining) and for those who have to work (in giving them an easier/slower day at work and hopefully showing their employers that this is a day that people should be given off). So what shall I do with my day off? Well after pondering the idea of sabbath and getting some of my thoughts organized into a blog post, I plan to spend time with my husband, go for a walk, do some scriptural reading ("homework" for me, but of an enjoyable and spiritually-connected sort), and knit (always relaxing and good). I may even clean house a little, if I'm feeling like it (cleanliness being perhaps close to Godliness & all that). Whatever I do and don't do today, it will be consciously and conscientiously in the spirit of creating sabbath.

I invite you to do the same... whatever it is that you find relaxing, rejuvenating, spiritually uplifting or grounding; whatever brings love, laughter, joy or grace into your life. Today is a great day to spend time with, nurture and pamper yourself and others... not because you have an obligation to, but for the healing, grounding and connection it brings all around. I invite you to join me in a sabbath.