Sunday, April 29, 2012

Faith & Reason

In last week's post, I mentioned taking time recently to watch several documentaries. Two more among these were the PBS Frontline series "From Jesus to Christ: The First Christians" and Bill Maher's "Religulous".

Despite their obvious differences, both of these works touched on the larger question of the rationality of faith. Human beings have always struggled with spiritual beliefs, as the gospel episode of "Doubting Thomas" makes clear. Our analytical minds want to know and understand the mysteries of the universe. The problem is that the mysteries of ultimate truth do not lie in the realm of rationality. Logic can take you to the edge of the chasm of belief, but cannot build a bridge across it. The leap of faith is an act of mystical courage. You either make that leap or you don't.

Unfortunately, mysticism is something we have a hard time dealing with. It is chaotic, paradoxical, and just plain messy. While we strive for knowledge, it call upon us to recognize. When we want to understand, it tells us to experience. We want clarity; mysticism looks like pure and deliberate confusion. The truth we hide from is that God, life, and love are exactly like that: gloriously and beautifully confusing.

Acknowledging this reality does not mean abandoning the pursuit of knowledge. Faith is not about settling for something of lesser intelligence. It is about acknowledging that truth is not the same as scientific or historical fact. Faith is an act of humility.

"We know you must approach us with logic, but do not get carried away by your ego ... I am not saying that you should turn off your brain. Your mind is our mind. Just see and accept your limits. Delight in them, they will teach you great things."

Faith also demands trust, something that pushes all the skeptical buttons of modern American society. We do not trust institutional authority, so why should we listen to organized religion? We cannot help but see the death, destruction, and evil that has come from corporate religion. Surely that must indicate that anything religion says is illegitimate? If that is our standard, however, what ideology or belief system would ever pass muster? Our failure to live out faith properly speaks to human imperfection, not the falseness of the faith itself.

Faith cannot be proven true or false, as much as we might want it to be. Intuition is the key. As I said last week, intuition is the voice of God within us. It speaks of what is right or wrong about a particular belief system, of what is true and trustworthy. It tells us where to find God. No amount of evidence can ever replace our intuition.

"Trust yourself. Trust your heart. She will not fail you. Believe in your own goodness, in your own loveliness. For that is what you are. Love and goodness brought to life. Turn your eyes inward, and you will see it is true."

Perhaps it is inevitable that our society views faith and reason as opposing sides in the Great American Culture Wars. There are plenty of individuals and groups happy to exploit this faux conflict for power and profit. We have allowed ourselves to be tricked into believing that easy formulas illuminate truth, when in fact they are nothing more than security blankets. It is time to wake up.

"We were created to give witness to the paradox ... to celebrate [it], to cherish it. Yet you run from your destiny. You hide in the worlds you create for yourselves. You demand truth along your lines, your logic. Truth does not exist for you. You exist for it. Stop your arrogance and embrace the paradox of love."

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Intelligent Design

The week after Easter was Spring Break for the school where I teach. I spent a good chunk of the time watching several documentaries that have been sitting in various queues for months. Among these were two on the topic of intelligent design:

They came to mind during my homeroom class on Friday because of a story on the Channel One News broadcast regarding the new Tennessee law on teaching about the origins of life. This legislation was also the subject of a Los Angeles Times editorial earlier this month. In that same day's paper, there was an opinion article arguing that the universe has no purpose. The latter topic is the true conflict in all of this.

The problem with this conflict is that all of the participants are trying to prove the unprovable. We are letting our human rationality get in the way of our intuition. We see intuition as weaker than intelligence, when in reality it is the opposite. Intuition, conscience, whatever you want to call it is the voice of God in our heart and soul. It speaks to us of what is true. We ignore it at our peril.

"I know you wonder why. Why are you here? Why are you alive? You know the answer. You’ve seen it so many times, in the eyes of a lover or a child, watching the sun disappear and the moon rise. You’ve felt it on the wind. Say it with me now. Let the word form on your lips. Love. It’s that simple, isn’t it. Love."

"So why did you come to be? The simplest answer is why not? But I suppose that won’t do. We needed to share ourselves. I’m not sure that answer is much better, but I will try to explain. You call it love. To us, it is simply our way of being."

This conflict is foolish. Our purpose is self-evident. The proponents of intelligent design choose to overthink it. The scientific secular-atheists choose to ignore it. Both do so because they fear the consequences of truly acknowledging it. If life is about universal love, what does that do to the exclusivist claims of religious, economic, political, and scientific institutional authority? Will we allow their fear of losing power and resources override what we know to be true?

"Love is why we are here. Love is the glue that binds this universe together, that gives us life. It is the magic and mystery behind our existence ... Not a lofty goal or purpose. It’s actually pretty simple, just to love, just to be who we are, for no other reason than that it’s who we are. No great cosmic justice, no heaven or hell. When we die our essence returns to the great river of life that drives this universe, no matter who we were or what we did. So why bother with this life, if it doesn’t matter? Why bother with love? Because it is who we are. To deny love is to deny ourselves."

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Curse of Materialism

A recent letter to the editor in the Los Angeles Times caused me to do something I do not normally do: open the business section of the newspaper. The original article was a set of four stories about families getting themselves out of debt. What caught my attention was the strong language in the letter written in response:

"I am infuriated by the families you profiled. They lived foolishly ... They took little responsibility for their spending and were grossly materialistic ... The families in your story are not inspirational, just pathetic."

While these words will certainly sound harsh to our ears, it would be a mistake to dismiss them too quickly. Some of our discomfort comes from being so accustomed to the language of faux tolerance and political correctness. Who are we to judge someone else's lifestyle? But our greater sense of unease probably comes from the words hitting too close to home. Who among us is not guilty of indulging in luxuries we do not really need? We live in a society that is obscenely materialistic, and we all participate in the gluttony in some way.

The first reading today is a passage from the Acts of the Apostles (4:32-35) that describes the life of the early Christian community. They lived in ways that we would deride today as socialism or communism. If we are really being honest with ourselves, however, we must acknowledge that they were simply living as authentic followers of Jesus, and we are not. We can come up with all sorts of rationalizations for why their lifestyle cannot work for us today, but that is just an exercise to hide from the harsh truth that we are not being inspirational, just pathetic.

"Family is about sharing all that we have, not hoarding it. We do not earn anything; it is all a gift from our Parent." If the early Christians could live as a family, so can we.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

2012 & the Kingdom of God

December 21, 2012: Turning point in human history or just another day? If you believe in one of the many Mayan calendar theories you are probably eager for or terrified of the answer. But what about the rest of us? What should that day mean to us?

As we celebrate Easter today, we also proclaim our visions of the Kingdom of God. For many, that Kingdom is meant to exist here on Earth. A world of peace and justice is not just possible, it has been divinely mandated. For some, especially those drawn to New Age beliefs, December 21st is the key to making the Kingdom a reality.

I say that such ideas are the fantasies of children. Why are we so unable to see life for what it is? Why are we so unwilling to recognize our Creator's gifts?

"From your perspective, you see love and hate, good and evil, right and wrong. I see what is and what will be, and what I see is love and good, always."

"Look around you. Love surrounds you no matter where you are: in the rose garden and the trash heap, the wedding chamber and the grave, the sword and the plowshare. All are love, as all were created through love. The grand paradox of life is that all has purpose and that all is love."

"Why are you so anguished? Life unfolds as it should. Stop and enjoy the process ... that is why you are here, that is why you were created."

It might be tempting to interpret this truth as a rejection of social justice efforts. That is the fantasy of the spoiled brat, of which we have too many in this world. We are family. We have a duty to help our brothers and sisters see and feel our Parent's love.

"It is time for us to embrace our family, even though we will fail, and probably fail miserably. This is another paradox of our Creator. We can never truly be one family is this life and yet they compel us to try, they demand that we make the attempt."

December 21, 2012: Turning point in human history or just another day? It all depends on what kind of day you want it to be.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Redemption & Forgiveness

The articles that inspired this post were written several months ago, but seem particularly appropriate for today, Palm Sunday. Last November, the Los Angeles Times published a two-part series about the California state prison hospice, and the struggles of John Paul Madrona, an inmate pastoral care worker, to make amends for the murder that resulted in his incarceration. In December, the Times published a follow-up piece about the murder victim, Tracy Takahashi, and the reactions of his brother, Dean, to the original series of articles.

"I think it is not up to me to forgive," [Dean Takahashi] said. "It's not for my side to offer redemption - that has to come from within ... But I will say this: The path that [Madrona] is on, that path is far from hopeless. It is a good path. Whether he is inside the prison or out, I want him to stay on that path. That is what I ask of him."

What are we celebrating today if not these attitudes? My Brother gave his life to show us what love means. This truth does not diminish his nature, it tells us everything we need to know about our Parent. They tell us that life is never over until it's over; and it's never over. Every moment is an opportunity to redeem ourselves; to live with hope, generosity, compassion, empathy; to find our "good path" and run with it to infinity and beyond. We are true children of the Creator, and we are meant to love all of our brothers and sisters with the same passion that we remember today.

"Our brother calls us to love, love God, love your neighbor, love. How hard is that? What are you afraid of? If he was willing to die to love you, what’s your excuse for not loving those you fail to understand, those you despise, those you hate? ... Our brother died and rose so that we might all be one people, one community. The words and ideas in your head cannot change the reality of your heart and soul. We are all one people, one community. You may not like that truth, but you cannot outrun it forever."