Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Snipers in the sanctuary

In Tennessee, a man reportedly enraged by the liberal views of a Unitarian Universalist church pulls out a shotgun during a children's performance of "Annie" and opens fire.

I assume we can all agree that this is not the proper way to protest church policy.

But while few disgruntled critics resort to gunfire (thank God), sniping is one of the most popular sports in any house of worship. Don't believe me? Ask the clergy. Nothing is too small or too sacred to avoid derision by those who confuse their opinions with God's.

The result, too often, is a church torn by dissent whose leaders are paralyzed by constant criticism. This is not exactly a recipe for healthy growth.

Can believers disagree -- even on core issues -- but continue to worship together in loving fellowship? I think it's possible, though not easy.

It requires a willingness to honor the motivations and intent of those with whom you disagree, rather than demonizing them as the "enemy." It requires a willingness to admit the possibility, however slight, that you might be wrong. It requires a willingness to seek truth together rather than run away to the shelter of people who think exactly the way you do.

It requires a willingness both to tell the truth and to listen for the truth.

Perhaps that's not as instantly satisfying as firing off a few shots or a few ugly remarks, but it leaves a lot less blood on the floor.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Finding yourself outside the box

When people think of the spiritual journey, they often think of it as a search for God ... which, of course, it is. But it is also a search to find yourself - the true self, the person created in God's image.

You might assume that if there's one thing you know, it's yourself. After all, you're the one who thinks your thoughts, feels your emotions, moves your hands and feet. How could you not know who you are?

But we pick up many cues about who we are from the boxes that other people put us in. To your employer, you are a skill set. To your teenager, you are an ATM. To your church, you are a pledge unit. Now, we always hope that we are also seen as more than the box: That the employer understands your need for meaningful work and a humane working environment. That the teenager enjoys spending time with you. That the church sees your worth as a child of God, not just as a potential committee member with a fat wallet.

You are more likely to see yourself outside their boxes if you have experienced unconditional love - from parent or spouse or friend or the Sacred Presence. Because that's what unconditional love does: It tears down the boxes and frees you to be yourself.

That came to mind when I read Pete's responses to the previous post (thanks to all for the civil discussion!). Pete wrote that shaming children and labeling them sinners is a poor way to instill good behavior. I agree. How much better it is to point out that a specific behavior harms the child or others and to say, "You are better than that. This action betrays who you really are."

Children need guidance and instruction, certainly! But we can give them the freedom to be good not out of fear but because it is the way of love - a love they experience as life-giving.


Friday, July 25, 2008

Are we born cruel or kind?

Well, I see that the conversation has deteriorated into name-calling, as usual. You know how much I dislike that. Not that my preference has ever stopped the mud slinging for long.

Reading the latest brawl brings to mind the age-old debate over whether human beings are essentially good or essentially evil. Are we born savages who must be taught (and taught and taught) civil behavior?

Or is it our intrinsic nature to be loving? Is it the broken world we are born into that teaches us self-aggrandizement? Is it fear and a need for control that leads us to despise those who believe differently?

The basic question is this: Are we born cruel or kind? Weigh in with your opinion -- gently, I hope.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Who's hurt most by moral failure?

We've talked before in this blog about how some believers insist on concrete answers about matters of faith while others have a greater comfort with leaving some questions up in the air. Naturally, that first group tends to think of moral rules as black and white. The others are more likely to see shades of gray.

But could these differences be based less on upbringing, theological preference or personality traits and more on what these groups stand to lose?

In a mostly political column in The Dallas Morning News, Rod Dreher makes this interesting observation in passing: "The poor and working class tend to prefer non-squishy religion prescribing a stark moral code — even if they struggle to live up to its demands. It's not hard to see why. Unlike ... social elites, folks living nearer the economic margins have far more to lose from individual and communal moral failure."

Is it true that moral failure hurts the lower classes more than it does those with wealth?

The individual moral failure of a man who abandons the children he fathered hurts those children and their mother, whatever their circumstances. The loss of his guidance and love will be felt by rich and poor alike. But the loss of monetary support can be devastating to a family living on the edge.

The communal moral failure of a nation that, for example, condones a corrupt judiciary will fall more heavily on those who are unable to pay bribes or pull strings.

But does that really account for the appeal of "non-squishy" religion? What do you think?

Sunday, July 6, 2008

What beats unplugged relaxing? Recharging

I wrote last time about unplugging from daily life -- taking time away to breathe. A more difficult task is staying spiritually connected even in the midst of our busy lives.

Perhaps "unplug" was the wrong word to use, because the more I think about it, the more I think the key to surviving when life becomes hectic is to stay plugged in -- plugged in, that is, to the source of our spiritual energy.

Most of this weekend I was exhausted from a tough week of long workdays. The solution, I thought, was rest. So there I was plopped in front of the television, catching up on recorded episodes of Doctor Who. Or reading a book. Or doing a crossword puzzle. Or surfing the Internet.

But no matter how hard I tried to entertain myself, I didn't feel refreshed. Just because I wasn't working didn't mean I was resting. It was just a different way to use up my depleted energy. I was unplugged, all right, but still whirring along.

What I needed was to recharge, not just relax. And that requires more than physical stillness. It requires an inner stillness, a receptivity, a recognition that I do not need to be distracted from the goodness of life in this moment.

This is something I learn over and over again, which shows what a slow learner I really am. I forget what truly nourishes me. And as often happens when I realize -- again -- that I need to plug in more than to unplug, I looked up Edward Carpenter's poem "The Lake of Beauty":

Let your mind be quiet, realising the beauty of the world,
and the immense, the boundless treasures that it holds in store.
All that you have within you, all that your heart desires,
all that your Nature so specially fits you for -- that or the
counterpart of it of it waits embedded in the great Whole, for you.
It will surely come to you.

Yet equally surely not one moment before its appointed time
will it come. All your crying and fever and reaching out of
hands will make no difference.
Therefore do not begin that game at all.
Do not recklessly spill the waters of your mind
in this direction and in that,
lest you become like a spring lost and
dissipated in the desert.

But draw them together into a little compass, and hold them
still, so still;
And let them become clear, so clear -- so limpid, so mirror-like;
at last the mountains and sky shall glass themselves in
peaceful beauty,
and the antelope shall descend to drink and to gaze at her
reflected image, and the lion to quench his thirst,
and Love himself shall come and bend over and catch his
own likeness in you.

So as we all return to work after the holiday weekend, my wish for you and for me is still waters and true refreshment.