Sunday, May 27, 2012

The True Church

Today is Pentecost Sunday, generally considered to be the birthday of the Church. Birthdays are good days to reflect on who we are and who we want to be, where we have come from and where we are going.

Most people have seen or heard of the YouTube video "Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus". For all the hype, it is simply an Evangelical Protestant critique of mainstream Christianity, particularly Catholicism. Naturally, it spawned response videos, such as "Why I Love Religion, And Love Jesus". And all of them are an attempt by corporate religion to say: But we're not like them, we're not that kind of religion, we're something else, something better, and Jesus endorses us alone.

Everyone, corporate religion and individual believers alike, redefines Jesus so that he agrees with their institutional or personal theology. It is easy to do, because it is part of his nature. He himself asked the question: "Who do you say that I am?" He continues to ask us this question, and there is still no single correct answer.

Of course, that has not stopped the many branches of Christianity from each claiming to be the "True Church." None of them are right, however, because none of them are truly willing to embrace God's family. The True Church must include all of us, not just the ones who agree to play by a particular institution's rules. Corporate religion may attempt to reach out to everyone, but they are always willing to reject someone.

"This family I speak of is something beyond what traditional religion is willing to accept. They place limits and conditions upon it. They turn it into a club. But the family I speak of is not their property. It belongs to the One who created us all, the One who loves us all." The True Church can only exist as a potentiality, not an actuality.

But didn't Jesus found the Church? Yes and no. We have always been one family, but we have not always acknowledged it. Jesus did not create the family, he opened our eyes to its true nature. His disciples recognized that God's Chosen People is all of us, not just some of us. But they and we still struggle to fully embrace this truth.

But am I not just redefining Jesus myself? Yes and no. I might call it rediscovery, but that's just semantics. Where I differ from the crowd is that my intention is not to show that Jesus agrees with what I am saying. He is my brother and I want his love, but I do not seek his stamp of approval. The revelation that drives me belongs to the Creator, not Jesus. Again, semantics perhaps ... but not really. God's family is not the only entity that is bigger than corporate religion is willing to admit.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Visions of Heaven

The Church celebrates the Ascension of Jesus this week, so there are bound to be plenty of sermons about heaven today. This subject was also the cover story for Time magazine's Easter weekend issue. The article reviewed multiple competing Christian interpretations, starting with the recent book Heaven Is for Real. The story told in this book is hard to believe, but its appeal is not hard to understand. As the book's website describes, it provides "comfort and assurance."

When it comes to the after-life, our desire to make the unknown known is completely natural. In many ways, it is the driving force behind religion. We need our visions of heaven. As the Time article says, "one's vision of paradise shapes how one lives." But no matter how tantalizing that vision is, it will never be more than a fool's errand.

"Of course you ask: 'Where will I go?' Does it matter? To you, I suppose it does, but the answer will not satisfy what you want. You want a place, a destination. This we cannot give, because it is like trying to assign a place to us. We are everywhere and nowhere, every moment. Do you think it will be any different for you?"

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Purpose of Education

For the past ten years, I have taught a faith development course in a Catholic high school. Due to the implementation of a new standardized religion curriculum mandated by the U.S. bishops, that course comes to an end with my last class this Friday. The looming demise of my course has prompted a good deal of reflection on the purpose of education in our society. What seems evident is that our goal is to create people who will be what our corporate systems want and need them to be, rather than helping them to discover who our Parent created them to be.

What prompted this post was a recent article in Time magazine about partnerships between public schools and corporations to ensure that students receive the skills necessary in today's job market. The author quotes one of the corporate executives, a former school administrator, responsible for this effort. "These kids have already gone past a $15-an-hour lifetime. They are reinventing what high school - and their future - is all about." Once again, it's all about the money.

Why does our future depend on what we can do for the economy? Why do we identify ourselves by our jobs? Why do we surrender our lives to our corporate masters rather than our Creator? Does the economy love us the way they do?

"We were created for so much more. There is more love in every atom, every molecule than in all the romances ever conceived. We are the song of life, of love, of a mother and father who made us by sheer force of will."

In the case I began with, the bishops are not making curriculum changes because the current religion courses fail to teach God's love. Their concern is about the exodus of people from the Church and a decline in orthodoxy among those who remain. Their analysis of this problem is that it stems from a failure to properly convey the corporate message. Hence the curriculum changes as part of the solution. What the bishops fail to consider is that perhaps the people get the message better than they do.

"Do not listen to the preachers and prophets because they tell you that you should ... If you believe the message to be true in your heart, then listen to the messenger. If not, reject him, whomever or whatever he may be. Trust yourself."

Both of these examples are about control. They are variations on the "Tiger Mom" phenomenon: adults attempting to create children in their image. In so doing, we fail to follow the wisdom of the one Parent who actually accomplished this feat, then gave their children the freedom to become whoever they felt called to be.

But not all of us are this way. Another news story that made the rounds recently was of a child who made an entire arcade out of cardboard boxes. Sandy Banks of the Los Angeles Times wrote a column about the boy's father:

"Here's the whole thing about parents," [George Monroy] said. "They want to create their kid into what they want it to do. And they force upon them sports, books… 'This book is good for you, read it. Play T-ball. Play soccer.' But he'll be so miserable on the soccer field if he doesn't want to play, you're wasting his time and your time too. You have to let the kid decide what he wants to do."

If God trusts us to figure it out, why can't we trust our children ... and ourselves.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

E Pluribus Unum

Out of many, one. If there is anything sacred in the American experience, this is it.

Last Sunday was the twentieth anniversary of the Los Angeles Riots. Naturally, there has been extensive news coverage the last couple of weeks, especially from the Los Angeles Times. Two columns in particular stood out to me, one by Steve Lopez and another by Hector Tobar. Both speak of the inevitability of the unrest, the sadness of the experience itself, and the struggles since then to rise out of the ashes.

Whatever else the riots were or continue to be, they are surely evidence of our failure to live the American ideal. We are many, but rarely one. We can make our excuses, but ultimately it is about our unwillingness to embrace one another as family.

Steve Lopez concludes his column with two quotations from Martin Luther King Jr. The one that speaks the most prophetic truth is this:

"We must live together as brothers or perish together as fools."