Friday, June 27, 2014


   Attaining a clearer and more effective view of the God of our faith today is difficult.  So let's go a step at a time and review the basics.

   To begin with, there is a big difference between our faith and our religion.  Our faith is not letting us down, our religion is.

    Faith comes first.  We can describe our faith as our soul-deep, life-giving persuasion that God is the Infinite, Eternal, creative, healing and world transforming Living, Conscious Energy of Love who is powerfully present within all that exists, calling forth all that exists to its ever-evolving fulfillment in wholeness and love.  We further believe that God exists fully in the person of Jesus Christ, who represents the ever-evolving, human expression of God's loving, universal presence, made effective for us in and through the indwelling presence of the Spirit.

   Our religion is embodied in the church community that helps us understand and express the details of our faith, and that guides us in how to believe and live in the ever-evolving love of God.  Remember Vatican II's aggiornamento?  But since then, our religion has fallen ever shorter of explaining our faith in a way that fits today's world and times.  So we are stuck with many outdated and harmful expressions of our faith today.  There's much work to do.

   Let's begin with an example to help explain one reason we are behind the times.  When I was a schoolboy, my teacher taught me that one apple plus one apple equals two apples.  Then she taught that one orange plus one orange equals two oranges.  Then the same with pears.  Then she gave us a test and asked, "How much is one banana plus one banana?"  I couldn't answer the question.  Later I complained to my teacher, "You taught us about apples, oranges and pears but you didn't teach us about bananas."

   My teacher explained to me, "I wasn't teaching you just about apples, oranges and pears.  I was teaching that if you look inside those three examples, you will see a deeper truth than the fruits themselves.  You will see that if you add one thing and one of the same thing, you get two of the same things.  In fact, if you look a little deeper, you will see that if you add one of something and one of something different, you get two of them, no matter what they are.  You could add one apple and one desk and get two things."

   I thought about it for a while and then a light went on in my mind.  I saw the deeper truth beyond the literal items.  "Wow!  You could add any things at all and get the sum of them!"  At that point I saw the hidden truth within the material things of this world and ceased being a literal fundamentalist.

   Unhappily, some of our fellow Christians read parts of the Bible with the eyes of literal fundamentalism and thereby miss the amazing, beautiful truth within the story--within the "apples, oranges, pears and bananas" of our everyday world.  Because they don't see deeply enough, their religion can be reduced to politics, or profit, or power, or war.  (Another definition of "religion" is that it is someone's highest worldly value or values.)

   A very troublesome example of literal fundamentalism today is the way some of our fellow Christians read the creation story in the first chapter of Genesis.  Their concentration on the "apples, pears and oranges," of the story can unfortunately lead them to a distorted view of nature and science, and can reduce their religion to the values of politics, wealth inequality, and even disdain for the poor, sick and outcast.    

  So let's review, in simple terms, the story that reveals the true God of our faith.  Imagine, 3000 years ago in the Middle East, groups of wandering nomads living in the desert.  Imagine them gathering close together at night around a fire, telling stories.  Imagine them looking up at the wonder of the night sky with its billions of stars clearly visible in the desert darkness.  And imagine that they began to believe that there was a Power greater than themselves, in fact so much greater that it created the sky and all the stars, the earth and all the inhabitants of the earth--a power so great that It made them tremble with awe and wonder.  In their primitive awareness of that Power, they gave birth to the Hebrew faith.  Later, they realized that they did not create their faith themselves but were inspired to do so by the living Power, who on its (his) own initiative gave them their basic insight into his existence.  In time, we came to call this act of God's initiative, "Revelation."  God did not speak words, he gave insight.

   At first, the Hebrews called this Power, "El Shaddai," naming it after the strong wind that blew in at times from the north.  Being story tellers, they went on to create a creation story.  They knew, of course, about the desert, the earth and the sky, the stars, moon and sun, the plants and animals.  So they created a wonder-filled story of creation, and they told that story over and over again at night around the desert fire. And so the story became a basic part of the Hebrew religion, which was the way they explained their faith.

    In time, the story was written down,  Then, centuries later, the Hebrew priests, in their own act of aggiornamento, decided to "update" some parts of their religion.  They took the original creation story and organized it into a new form--a form that we could today call a catechism.  Now, the creation story is about the action of God, and everything that God does is perfect.  In their culture, the number 7 symbolized perfection.  God's work of creation was of course perfect, so the priests overlaid a seven-point structure upon the original story:  six days of creation and one of rest.  (The priests were also aware of the seven-day week.)

   The story's seven "days of creation" are the "apples, oranges, pears and bananas" that the priests used to help make their point of God's perfection.  The Hebrews saw the truth of God's perfection within the man-made structure and they read the old creation story with even new awe and wonder.  

   Their faith told them that all the limited, space/time, human expressions of God that they could invent--as beautiful and wondrous as they were--didn't come close to expressing God in God's full self.  In fact, in order to show that their faith was infinitely beyond their total understanding, they chose never to mention God's Holy Name.  In their culture, to name someone or something meant to have control (in this case, intellectual control of understanding) over that person or thing.  The Hebrews knew the difference between their transcendent faith, given to them directly by God, and their all too human religion.

   More to come in following posts.



No comments:

Post a Comment