by David Henson
Don’t forget to feast this Lent.
In the midst of the almsgiving, praying and fasting that traditionally mark this season, remember also to feast.
But only on Sundays.
For Christians, every Sunday is a feast day, and fasting is forbidden at a feast. And, it would be downright rude — to the host, to others at the feast, and to yourself — to fast in the midst of a feast.
Of course, feasting isn’t the first thought that comes to mind in Lent, especially in the popular imagination. But, in many ways, it is the most important part. Some Christians tend to think of Lent only in terms of deprivation, discipline and rigorous religiosity.
Others might malign it as encouraging a kind of mind-body dualism in which the body is battered into submission or the spirit edified at the expense of the repression of the body. Others have criticized Lent, explaining they don’t need the Church to dictate a special season for them to draw close to God.
These criticisms tend to forget about that one critical element: the Lenten feast.
Now, before anyone protests, the feasts of Lent are certainly on the more somber side of things, with all the minor chords and buried Alleluias. But the Sundays during Lent are still celebrations. The Eucharist is never a dirge. It is always a celebration and not just of God’s love and of Jesus’ life. It is also a celebration of our participation in that divine mystery. It is an invitation to a party in which we can touch the hem of divinity — and sometimes more. It is an embodied celebration and a celebration of bodies, particularly God’s own body.
by Rand Walker
Turkeys are considered the essence of ineptness and stupidity. Perhaps they are categorized unfairly, but nonetheless, the word “turkey” carries negative connotations when it refers to certain people or undesirable events in our lives. Sometimes, we invite turkeys into our lives; other times, they show up unannounced or are driven into our space by something or someone else. This is a true anecdote about such as incident in my life a few weeks ago.
Some background is needed to set the scene. I live in a rural area that seems like a wildlife reserve at times. It is not unusual to see deer by the dozens grazing in the front yard or to hear hawks screaming overhead because they are being dive-bombed and aggravated by crows, or they are circling slowly, hunting for prey. Coyotes howling at night are a normal occurrence, but they have been heard howling before sunset, their otherworldly yelps and chortles growing closer together as two of them locate each other. Hence, turkeys wandering through the yard or in the woods just feet from my house are considered normal and part of the territory.
A nearby neighbor has a dog named, Joe. He is a German Shepherd/Border Collie mix who wandered up when he was a puppy more than five years ago. His pleasant, friendly nature endears him to us, so we feed him at my house, and he stops by on his rounds to visit. One peculiar thing about Joe is that he is very reluctant to enter the house, even the sunroom. Why this is important will become clear, later.
There is an 18’ by 12’ sunroom attached to the rear of my house with glass doors and panels around three sides. The doors can be opened and the screens slid into place. It was a sunny, quiet mid-spring Sunday evening, and two of the sunroom doors were opened with the screens in place. I have a cat, Missy, who is very skittish, and she was curled up on the loveseat in the sunroom, napping like most cats do during the day. I was in my recliner in the living room, reading a book. The door between the sunroom and the kitchen was open. Basking in the quiet and the solitude, I was engrossed in my book when suddenly, I heard a loud sound that had the qualities of both a thud and a crash, followed by the cat’s claws scratching for traction as she hastily made her exit from the sunroom, down the corridor to the basement steps, and into the basement. My first thought was, What the hell has that cat knocked over? She likes to climb, and there is a bar-height table in the corner of the room along with a couple of lamps and plant stands scattered around the room. I laid my book to the side and rose from the recliner, reluctantly, and walked through the kitchen toward the open door to the sunroom. I was not prepared for what I saw.
by Randy Walker
If you think your way is the only way, you might be “stuck in the details.” If you belittle those who do not look like you, act like you, or think like you, you might be “stuck in the details.” If dogma rules your life, you might be “stuck in the details.”
First, what is meant by the idiom, “stuck in the details”? Has anyone encountered someone who is obsessive-compulsive over certain things in his or her life? This person becomes consumed with a minute detail, or details, that have little impact on the person’s quality of life, and in doing so, misses the “big picture,” or the things that do matter and affect the quality of life or the outcome of something in particular. I once worked for someone who displayed this quirk to the extreme. He and I worked in construction. This man would obsess over visible brush strokes left on a painted surface, imperfections in trim molding, or other minor blemishes to the point that he would miss obvious things, such as a missing storm door, blatant damage to an outside wall or other similar but what should be easily detected flaws. In other words, he was “stuck in the details,” and he missed the “big picture.”
I believe it is easy for many people to do, essentially, the same thing when it comes to religion or worldviews. To me, religious dogma is an example of details, and people tend to focus on dogmatic “details” and miss the more crucial “big picture.” Stated another way: the doctrine and the rules included in the dogma become more important to some people than how they view and treat people they encounter. They will argue, vehemently, about a minute point of doctrine and proclaim that if other people do not believe just as they do, such people are inferior, hell-bound, unfit, outcast, ex-communicated... the list goes on.
by Peggy Beatty
In the movie, The Matrix, Neo can take a blue pill that allows him to live every day in bliss, but the trade off is that he gives up his autonomy and control to an unknown force that renders him a mindless slave - happy, but mindless. Or he can take the red pill which will afford him to learn the truth about himself. He will understand the forces that control him and learn to gain freedom from them, but at a steep price. The road will be hard; he will enter into dark places of His weakness: shame, guilt, neediness, greed, jealousy, fear. But he will learn to sculpt away these castings, these disguises of the true divine Self and realize that they must be held in paradoxical tension with all that is good and pure and true. The journey will reveal the truth and the truth will guide the journey. He will discover the essence of who he is. He will become his most authentic self. Happiness will look more like self-acceptance and deep joy, and Neo will be the Hero of his own life. This is how a book I am reading, called The Steps of Essence, by Hanns-Oskar Porr, describes the first call to becoming who you truly are: the choice of pills, blue or red.
I was intrigued with this because I think I missed this point in the movie. Or maybe not – it has been awhile since I saw The Matrix, but I am familiar with the choices that the pills afford. So, the first step is to say, “ok I am willing to take the hard road.” But here’s the catch, everyday you get the pill choice again: Will you choose to wait for happiness to present itself to you, to be a victim of life, a sort of bystander to your own existence? Or will you choose to to be the Hero of your life, to confront your fear, put aside some of those things you think you "need," and ride the wonderful experience of your true Self? The choice to hold the tension between what should and should not be is the demand of truly living YOUR [authentic] life.
by Mark Sandlin and the Admin Team of "The God Article."
“Being a slave to your own truth,” might be one reasonable way to define extreme fundamentalism.
On September 22nd two years ago, CNN ran an investigative report titled “Ungodly Discipline.” It takes a look at a history of biblically “justified” abuse in one specific school. It would be easy to walk away from the report and think it's nothing more than a he-said/she-said piece on spanking in schools. It is so much more than that.
It points to the dangers of fundamentalism. These children were not just spanked, they were abused. People who presumably loved them, hurt them. They justified it using the Bible. Fundamentalism frequently requires a devotion which is so blind that its adherents find they are nothing more than pawns in a game whose only purpose is to keep the game going. They are slaves to their own truths.
My heart goes out to each child who has grown up in this church and school. I have little doubt that some of them have escaped it relatively unscathed, but I know without any doubt that many have been wounded deeply.
The school is Fairhaven Baptist Academy which is associated with Fairhaven Independent Baptist Church
and Fairhaven Baptist College in Indiana. Their founder is Pastor Roger Voegtlin. His two adpoted children are among those who were abused and they are speaking out about it.
Pastor Voegtlin's adopted son, Frank Voegtlin, contributed the following introduction to the CNN video for this article. In part, it explains why I believe it is still important to continue to tell their story.
This CNN video was a liberating moment for my sister Catherine and me. Having been adopted at a young age into the home of Roger Voegtlin, the minister of Fairhaven Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Church, we were quickly taught that he was the definitive authority of God’s word. After living in his home and being abused by him for many years, we eventually left.
After leaving, we contacted several newspapers, etc. As hard as we tried very few, if anyone, would publicaly agree that our stance against our father was true or right.
This video started a public outcry 20+ years after our initial accusations and has allowed other victims to verify what we have been saying.
by Randy Walker
Arrogance is a two-edged sword. While it can make people feel superior and confident when stating their beliefs or points in an argument, the people receiving the message are often offended by the arrogance and feelings of superiority emanating from the messenger. In other words, the message may be valid, insightful, and credible, but these qualities are tainted and spoiled by the arrogant way it is delivered. There are a sundry of contexts where this happens, but I want to focus on one particular, controversial topic, and that is worldviews. Narrowing the subject even more, I will focus on fundamentalist Christians and hardcore atheists, who are science fundamentalists.
These two viewpoints provoke venomous responses from both sides of the argument. It is obvious that resentment easily morphs into disdain and outright hatred for the opposing point-of-view. When this happens, any hope of conversion or convincing others to see things from either viewpoint is overshadowed by the venomous nature of the argument. Stated another way, the message is tainted beyond recognition by the arrogant attitudes of the messengers.
Christian fundamentalists use faith rooted in the Bible, which is proclaimed as the infallible, literal “Word of God.” Most of the time, they view atheists as evil opponents who desecrate the Christian faith if only through a lack of belief in a higher power. I have heard more than one Christian say they hate atheists. They also see atheists as a threat to their evangelical pursuits. It is not difficult to see that Christian fundamentalists dismiss atheists as spiritually ignorant because they do not believe in God. I have watched more than one Christian cringe and become angry when the word “atheist” is spoken aloud.
Image from Wiertz Sébastien on Flickr
by Timothy W. Hooker
I’m probably not going to say everything in this essay just right. But, a realization is slowly dawning on me and I think it’s worth sharing.
A quiet little revolution has been going on in my life. I stumbled across a podcast called “5 Minute Dharma,” by Jay N. Forrest. From what I’ve gathered, Mr. Forrest used to be a Christian minister and has since then become a Buddhist teacher. And, instead of droning on and on like lots of dharma talks do, his podcasts cut to the chase. Five minutes, in and out. I highly recommend them.
Anyway, one of the things he recommended was getting a meditation timer and, in particular, he recommended an app called Insight Timer from (you guessed it) http://insighttimer.com
. Well, it has proven to be fabulous. Before Insight Timer, I wasn’t the best Buddhist sitter in the world. A gazillion things would get between me and time in meditation. But, this little $1.99 app has done the trick for me. I can pick which sounds I want to start and stop with, how long I want a session to be. And, it even has an online community and a system of stars to reward me for consistency.
Yes, I am Pavlovian enough to respond to rewards.
So, today was Day 26 of consistent everyday meditation. And, it has revealed a few things. The most interesting one, however, has been my bass-ackwards entry into understanding compassion.
How My Views of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Evolved Over Time
by Randy Walker
Dr. King's name evokes images of a leader who became a martyr for his cause. He stood against social and racial injustice during the tumultuous sixties of the twentieth century when such words and actions provoked violent retaliation from narrow, bigoted people who feared change. The fact that he insisted that protests be conducted using non-violent social disobedience seems ironic in light of his violent and untimely death on April 4, 1968, from an assassin's bullet. When he proclaimed: “…I've been to the mountaintop and I've seen the Promised Land. And I might not get there with you,” during his “Mountain Top Speech,” the people gathered in that Memphis, Tennessee, church were left with an eerie feeling the next day. That was the day he was shot dead on a Memphis hotel balcony. His words are timeless and relevant for today, and his spirit lives on in those who seek justice in the face of nasty attacks and potential violence. I admire his legacy and what he stood for, but it has not always been that way.
I was a child in the sixties, as opposed to, “a child of the sixty's.” As such, I was surrounded by the blatant racism so prevalent, especially in the South, during that time. My children are appalled when I tell them of seeing “Whites Only” signs outside public restrooms and some restaurants, but they were there in all their shameful glory of the era. When I started school, it was the first year racial integration was implemented in the school system I entered. I recall my parents WARNING me about the colored kids who might be in my class. They told me to avoid them because they were different. As a child, I remember thinking: “Are they dirty? Do they carry germs? I can see they are a different color, but why should I avoid them?”
Now, let me stop and explain that I, in NO way, blame my parents for teaching me such atrocious things. They—obviously—are older than me, and they, too, are victims of the paradigms of their time. They have also evolved beyond the narrow bigotry of the era.
by Mark Sandlin
“The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice,” proclaimed the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
It may bend towards justice, but it does not bend gently. It bends behind sweat of the brow, creativity of the mind, and love from the soul of those who believe that every living soul not only desires justice and equality, but has a right to it. You see, justice is not a passive pursuit. The moral arc will not bend without encouragement.
Dr. King was a living example of the kind of person who encourages the moral arc of history to bend toward justice. He is also an example of the only effective way to bend that arc: non-violently. We cannot hope to bring about justice by unjust means. Might, physical confrontation and other forms of domination will ultimately only result in nurturing an understanding that domination is an ineffective way to resolve issues of justice – and domination is the exact opposite of justice. As King says, “Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love.”
King was a Christian minister and I see his bias toward the least of these, the bullied and the marginalized; his preoccupation with justice; and his insistence on non-violent ways to bringing about justice as results of his attempt to live out a life guided by the teachings of Jesus. For certain, that is not the only impetus for doing the hard work of bending the moral arc of the universe, but I believe it is the only sincere way to be a follower of the teachings of Jesus.
Author and theologian Walter Wink also understood this moral imperative for those of us struggling to devoutly follow the teachings of Jesus. He helped us to see that not only is the idea of violence being redemptive a myth (violence, as Dr. King pointed out, begets violence), but there is a better way. He called it “Jesus' Third Way,” which is also the name of a small publication he wrote in the 1980s to show Christians a way to non-violently resistance apartheid. In it Wink points out:
In 1989, there were thirteen nations that underwent nonviolent revolutions. All of them successful except one, China. That year, 1.7 billion people were engaged in national nonviolent revolutions. That is a third of humanity. If you throw in all of the other nonviolent revolutions in all the other nations in the twentieth century, you get the astonishing figure of 3.34 billion people involved in nonviolent revolutions. That is two thirds of the human race. No one can ever again say that nonviolence doesn't work. It has been working like crazy.
by Randy Walker
"You don’t need religion to have morals. If you can’t determine right from wrong, then you lack empathy, not religion."
If you are still reading, I want to offer my perspective on what this quote implies. I feel suited for this infamous task because, while I consider myself spiritual in a broad sense, I am agnostic when it comes to religion and its associated dogma.
First, let’s define the key terms: religion, morals, and empathy. ” Webster’s New World Dictionary, Third College Edition, defines religion as “belief in a divine or superhuman power or powers to be obeyed and worshipped…” The same source defines morals as “good or right in conduct or character.” Continuing with the same source, empathy is “the projection of one’s own personality into the personality of another in order to understand the person better; ability to share in another’s emotions, thoughts, or feelings.
How do we act “good or right in conduct or character”? I believe that we can presume that if we act in self-destructive ways, we are not only harming ourselves, but we are also harming those who love us, look up to us, or depend on us in various ways. Obviously, committing acts that harm others, whether physically or emotionally, shows a lack of morals; however, broadening that perspective to include self-destructive behavior seems valid and logical. So, if we practice empathy (not mere sympathy, which is a measly recognition of and sorrowful feeling toward another’s plight), we are more likely to behave and conduct ourselves in “good or right” ways. Such behavior stems from positive character traits.