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Archive for the ‘The Other Side’ Category

This article in the New York Times is clarifying: Christ Among the Partisans

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He who does not have attention in himself
cannot be poor in spirit,
cannot weep and be contrite
nor be gentle and meek,
nor hunger and thirst after righteousness,
nor be merciful, nor a peacemaker,
nor suffer persecution for righteousness sake.
(St. Symeon the New Theologian)

It is almost counter-cultural to be self-reflective or self-aware. Such reflection is often dismissed as navel gazing or self-absorbtion; instead this culture would have us blame evil-doers or the demonic other. In contrast, in all spiritual teaching, repentance is basic to the purification of our souls. This requires placing oneself, with all humility, in the Light of God and receiving the grace to see ourselves for who we are rather than who we wish to be. The enemy of life is within our own hearts and cannot be destroyed with nuclear weapons.
May God have mercy on this earth and may our leaders not destroy it.

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‘I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.’ (Michelangelo)

“O Divine Sculptor, chisel thou me according to thy desires.” (A prayer taught by Parmahansa Yogananda)
This is my paraphrase of a portion of an informal lecture by a devotee of Yoganana, Brother Anandamoy:

Our souls are like the angel that Michelangelo freed from the marble: perfect and beautiful. The circumstances of our lives are the primary way the Divine Sculptor releases our beautiful soul. Troubles come and a chunk of stone (sin, or in other words that which keeps us from God’s intention) is carved away. This is very painful and we often react by grabbing that big chunk of “stone” and glueing it back on! Troubles come again, often the very same sort of trouble that has plagued us before….and the chunk of “stone” is released once again. When we finally surrender and hang on to God rather than our need to be right and perfect in other’s eyes, that chunk of stone is really gone for good. We no longer have to experience that same set of troubles.

All of life is this process of being sculpted, or rather, being released from this stone that entombs the beautiful soul that is ours as sons and daughters of the Divine Sculptor. It is a most powerful prayer: “O Divine Sculptor, chisel thou me according to thy desires.” I commend it to you but with caution – having one’s soul set free is quite the painful process. But being freed is the point of it all.

The celebration of the resurrection of Christ, the rolling away of the stone from the tomb will soon be upon us. It is tempting as Christians to believe that a simple prayer of repentance or being “born again” frees us in a magical way, suddenly taking away the “stone” of sin from our lives. On a cosmic level, this is true. But on a practical level of life in this plane of existance, the spiritual practice of surrender to Christ requires our daily cooperation. Surrender (i.e. devotion to Christ, not just an intellectual belief) is the process by which the soul is set free.

“O Divine Sculptor, chisel thou me according to thy desires.”

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I discovered a kindred spirit in an Interview on This American Life. Click on the Real Player icon next to “Heretics” 12/16 episode 308. It is worth the hour it takes to listen, well worth it. Here’s a description of it:

The story of Reverend Carlton Pearson, a renowned evangelical pastor in Tulsa, Oklahoma, who cast aside the idea of hell, and with it, everything he’d worked for over his entire life.
Prologue. Carlton Pearson’s church, Higher Dimensions, was once one of the biggest in the city, drawing crowds of 5,000 people every Sunday. But several years ago, scandal engulfed the Reverend. He didn’t have an affair. He didn’t embezzle lots of money. His sin was something that to a lot of people is far worse … he stopped believing in hell. (2 minutes)
Act One. Rise. Reporter Russell Cobb takes us through the remarkable and meteoric rise of Carlton Pearson from a young man to a Pentecostal Bishop: from the moment he first cast the devil out of his seventeen-year-old girlfriend, to the days when he had a close, personal relationship with Oral Roberts and had appearances on TV and at the White House. Just as Reverend Pearson’s career peaked, with more than 5,000 members of his congregation coming every week, he started to think about hell, wondering if a loving God would really condemn most of the human race to burn and writhe in the fire of hell for eternity. (30 minutes)
Act Two. Fall. Once he starts preaching his own revelation, Carlton Pearson’s church falls apart. After all, when there’s no hell (as the logic goes), you don’t really need to believe in Jesus to be saved from it. What follows are the swift departures of his pastors, and an exodus from his congregation – which quickly dwindled to a few hundred people. Donations drop off too, but just as things start looking bleakest, new kinds of people, curious, start showing up on Sunday mornings. (23 minutes)
Song: “Let the Church Roll On,” Mahalia Jackson

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This world is so confusing. I try to understand why cartoons in one country cause people in another to react with violence. I wonder if it really has anything to do with genuine faith or if it is primarily a political act of aggression. I have read and researched, talked and listened, been respectful and inquiring of the Islamic faiths (there are many forms of it just as there are of every religion). I have grown in my respect for many of these forms but also am dismayed and fearful of others. This is very disturbing to me.
At the same time, there is the news about prison riots here in the USA. The riots are racially based. Interviews with inmates reveal that if they don’t act with hatred and violence toward those of another race, they will be punished by those of their own race. Seems to me like a microcosm of the world-wide violence. Perhaps the same sort of pressures apply to those of Muslim faith who are currently rioting.
One of the most helpful courses I studied in college concerned large social movements. 35 years later, I still remember the central point of the course: human beings are so malleable that in large groups individuals will do horrific acts in total contrast to their stated beliefs. I haven’t been put in that position as far as I know. I pray I would be more like Deitrich Bonhoeffer or Mahatma Ghandi but I fear I might be more like Peter during the trial of Jesus and try to just blend into the background or run away.
I wonder if this is why I tend to be suspicious of any large group event. I watched the Super Bowl to see the commercials but I can’t imagine getting all excited about any sports team. Perhaps I’m just ornery and don’t want to be one of the crowd. I’m suspicious of mega-churches for the same reasons. They remind me of rock concerts and hero worship. Basically, if everyone is doing something, I think there must be something wrong with it. Makes living in this world a little challenging. But then, it seems that’s largely the point of Christ’s teaching – we are made in God’s image and all of life is a struggle to fulfill that promise. The crowds won’t show us the way.

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I just discovered another website that fascinates me. Truth Dig: Drilling Beneath the Headlines It is the website of the Rev. Madison Shockley from the United Church of Christ in Carlsbad, California. He is a person of color and therefore a person whose experience of being a citizen in this United States is probably much different than my own.

Being a part of a community in which people come in all hues and views is of great importance to me. I have to say that I judge the authenticity of a spiritual community by the diversity of it’s members. My clearest moments of being a part of God’s kingdom have come when the physical manifestation of that kingdom was primarily, but not exclusively, people of color. I don’t know if this is fair or not, but it is one of the primary ways I judge the truth of a spiritual path. If people all look and act the same, I assume it cannot be a totally authentic manifestation of God’s spirit. This probably isn’t completely fair of me but so far the test has proved to be accurate.

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This story was in my email box this morning from my sister-in-law who knows of what she speaks:

    Lessons on Life

(more…)

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