Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Higher Ground

I went and saw Higher Ground tonight and really liked it. It was poignant and funny and at times hit very close to home. There were conversations and scenes that seemed eerily familiar from my own years as a fundamentalist Christian. But it was also respectful of its subjects and their earnestness. They were not made into caricatures. It did not mock, but it did gently poke and prod.

Sunday, August 28, 2011


I used to think that following Jesus was like being a guided missile: I needed to act; to do something; to get moving, and eventually the guidance system would kick in. As a result of this approach, I spent years going in circles and also caused a fair bit of destruction (as missiles tend to do).

Later I learned to be still; to wait; to listen for God and then to simply be obediant and faithful to whatever God put in front of me. I began to notice an interesting paradox: The more I turned inward and waited on God, the more outwardly aware I became.

I think it is this same paradoxical principle that accounts for the fact that the Quakers--the quiet, contemplative Quakers--were so often at the forefront of social actions for the benefit of mankind.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Radiolab - War of the Worlds

One of my favorite radio programs is Radiolab. It is intelligent, quirky and often surprising. This is one of their best episodes, which recounts the story of the broadcast(s) of The War of the Worlds and what it tells us about media manipulation.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

What a Billion Muslims Really Think - Watch the Documentary Film for Free | Watch Free Documentaries Online | SnagFilms

This extraordinary PBS documentary reveals the results of a groundbreaking six-year Gallup research project in which tens of thousands of Muslims across the world were interviewed to develop an accurate picture of how Muslims really think about various topics.

Inside Islam: What a Billion Muslims Really Think - Watch the Documentary Film for Free | Watch Free Documentaries Online | SnagFilms

Monday, August 15, 2011

Christian Cage Fighting?

I did not realize that there is a cage fighting movement among Christians! Apparently, some churches in the U.S. are turning to Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) as a way of trying to get more men interested in coming to church. I am not surprised to find that Mark Driscoll of Seattle's Mars Hill Church is among those on the MMA bandwagon. Here is a fascinating and insightful essay from a former MMA fighter on this strange trend:

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Other Religions

"At the still point, there the dance is..."
-- T.S. Eliot, Burnt Norton

I became a follower of Jesus Christ in my early twenties. Prior to that, I vacillated between atheism and agnosticism. God was, for me, mostly irrelevant. Then, as the result of a series of experiences, I became a Christian. Christianity is, therefore, the only religion I have ever belonged to.

Despite that, I have for many years had an interest in other religions--not with an eye towards finding something better, but to try to understand how the rest of humanity believes. Only 1/3 of the world's population identifies themselves as Christian. What about the other 4.5 billion? I have sometimes wondered--in terms of religious belief--what if I had been born and raised in Iran or India or Thailand instead of North America? What if I had been born in 1962 B.C. instead of 1962 A.D.? I've never been able to swallow the idea that all of humanity who have lived and died apart from being Christian--due to their position in time or geography--are consigned to eternal Hell.

And so, I have endeavored to learn about Islam and Hinduism and Buddhism and Baha'ism and Zoroastrianism and Manichaeism and all of the rest.

I do not believe that all religions are equal; different paths up the same mountain. As Stephen Prothero puts it in his book God Is Not One:

"What the world's religions share is not so much a finish line as a starting point. And where they begin is with this simple observation: something is wrong with the world. In the Hopi language, the word Koyaanisqatsi tells us that life is out of balance...Hindus say we are living in the kali yuga, the most degenerate age in cosmic history. Buddhists say that human existence is pockmarked by suffering. Jewish, Christian, and Islamic stories tell us that this life is not Eden..."

Prothero continues:
"Religious folk worldwide agree that something has gone awry. They part company, however, when it comes to stating just what has gone wrong, and they diverge sharply when they move from diagnosing the human problem to prescribing how to solve it. Christians see sin as the problem, and salvation from sin as the religious goal. Buddhists see suffering (which, in their tradiition, is not ennobling) as the problem, and liberation from suffering as the religious goal. If practitioners of the world's religions are all mountain climbers, then they are on very different mountains, climbing very different peaks, and using very different tools and techniques in their ascents."

Though I do not believe that all religions lead inevitably to God, I do believe that God leads to God, and that God can use any means to draw people homeward, including religions other than my own.

What I have discovered while studying other religions is that--although the religions themselves differ on the problems they identify, the solutions they offer and the means they provide to achieve those solutions--the followers of these religions seem to fall into consistently recognizable categories.

Among the adherents to every religion one can observe a range going from Fundamentalist to Moderate to Mystic. This range of tendencies seems to be inherent in human nature--regardless of religion or idealogy (the same continuum can be viewed within political parties). Some--particularly the neophyte or chronically immature--rely on the structure and perceived safety of Fundamentalism. Most will eventually take off their training wheels and become more Moderate and flexible. Some venture further, letting go of the handlebars and embracing the wind of Mysticism. Within each religion one finds this same continuum from Fundamentalism to Moderatism to Mysticism. Thinking in terms of this continuum, it is then interesting to see how the various religions interact with one-another. I have come up with a diagram to try to represent it:

Each religion is depicted by a long triangle. For the sake of simplicity I have given each of the major world religions their own triangle, but have lumped the religions that are lesser known or have fewer adherents (Sikhism, Jainism, Dogmatic Atheism, Rastafarianism, the Yoruba-based religions of Africa and Latin America, etc., etc.) into a triangle labeled "Other." Each of these "lesser" religions ought to have its own triangle, but I could not think of a way to render it while keeping the diagram readable.

Within each triangle is contained the above-mentioned continuum: At the outer edges are the Fundamentalists. Throughout the center area (much like a bell-curve) are the Moderates. At the inner point are the Mystics.

It is at the outer, Fundamentalist, edges that the various religions are farthest apart from one another. This is where we find hard edges, sharp corners and a vast gulf of separation. Fundamentalists see the other religions as misguided at best and demonic at worst. At their most extreme, Fundamentalist war against other faiths and against Moderates and Mystics within their own faith.

Those in the Moderate middle can be positioned closer or farther to the Fundamentalist or Mystical ends of the continuum, making them more or less one way or the other. The distance between religions is not as great, but a clear line and gulf of seperation still exists.

It is at the Mystical end (the "still point", to borrow from T.S. Eliot) that the various religions come closest to one another. What I have found in my studies is that every religion seems to have a Mystical contingent who place their emphasis on experiencing the Divine and being saturated in Love. For example, within Islam, these are the Sufis; within Christianity there are (among others) the Quakers and the Medieval Mystics such as Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross; within Buddhism, there is the meditative cultivation of Metta (loving-kindness).

The Mystics emphasize an ongoing, experiential encounter with Divinity. They desire to be transformed by these encounters and, as a result, to be able to live in simplicity, truth, clarity, peace and love.

At this "still point" where the various religions touch one another, Mystics from different faiths and traditions recognize each other as fellow swimmers in the waters of Divine Love. The Quaker Mystic John Woolman described it this way:
"There is a principle which is pure, placed in the human mind, which in different places and ages hath had different names. It is, however, pure and proceeds from God. It is deep and inward, confined to no forms of religion, nor excluded from any, where the heart stands in perfect sincerity. In whomsoever this takes root and grows, of what nation soever, they become brethren in the best sense of the expression."

Quaker Statesman and Mystic William Penn said it this way:
"The humble, meek, merciful, just, pious, and devout souls are everywhere of one religion, and when death takes off the mask, they will know one another though the diverse liveries they wear here make them strangers.”

It is also out of this Mystical root that a practical concern for the welfare of others--inside and outside of one's own faith--tends to grow. People of other religions are no longer regarded as merely fodder for Hell (or rebirth or annihilation or whatever) or as primarily targets for conversion, but as exceedingly valuable objects of Divine Love--made valuable by that Love, rather then by their acceptance of certain doctrinal propositions. According to William Penn:
"True religion does not draw men out of the world but enables them to live better in it and excites their endeavors to mend it."

Or, as James, the brother of Jesus, put it:
"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."

Or, from the Jewish prophet Micah:
"He has shown you, O man, what is good and what the Lord requires of you: to do justice and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."

If there is a hope and a future for the world and the world's religions, I believe it lies at the Mystical end of the continuum; at the "still point" where hard lines melt in the glorious light of Love and where the "self" and the "other" merge. At that point, we come to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength and we come to love our neighbor as ourself. Regardless of their religion.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Harry Manx - Only Then Will Your House Be Blessed

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Gordon Fee - How to Read the Bible for All It's Worth

Friday, August 05, 2011