Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The "Dead Sea Scrolls" are now online!

History has showed us that technology can be a force of destruction, of suffering, a tool to enforce censorship, and to prevent the flow of ideas and information. But techonology can also be a force of creativity, of combatting suffering, and a tool to fight censorship and advance the flow of ideas and information.

The Dead Sea Scrolls are now online, as part of a venture between The Israel Museum in Jerusalem and Google. Written between the third and first centuries BCE, they include the oldest known biblical manuscripts in existence. In 68 BCE, they were hidden in 11 caves in the Judean desert on the shores of the Dead Sea to protect them from the approaching Roman armies. They weren’t discovered again until 1947, when a Bedouin shepherd threw a rock in a cave and realized something was inside. Since 1965, the scrolls have been on exhibit at the Shrine of the Book at The Israel Museum. Among other topics, the scrolls offer critical insights into life and religion in ancient Jerusalem, including the birth of Christianity.

At Purdue University, I had the privilege to study under Dr. Stuart Robertson (professor of Biblical Hebrew and Religious Studies) as part of his Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity and The Bible and its Early Interpreters courses. Dr. Robertson has worked on the Dead Sea Scrolls and he incorporates his experience working with them (along with his keen intellect, his humility, and sense of humor) into his classes and teaching. He really made me think of the importance of these manuscripts. Some of my favorite moments (and I believe of many of my classmates) were the discussions in class regarding the Dead Sea Scrolls, so now I am happy to share with you the link below that will allow anyone with internet access to look at these treasures:

Friday, September 23, 2011

The KJV: Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant Responses

If you are near Purdue today, hopefully you can attend this panel, as part of the Purdue Renaissance Comparative Prose Conference:

The KJV: Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant Responses 
1:00-2:30 p.m. Joanna Benskin, Moderator

○Sandor Goodhart, Purdue University 
“Jewish Hermeneutics in the European Middle Ages and Now”

○Angelica Duran, Purdue University
“English Bible Translators on the Spanish Inquisition’s Index of Prohibited Books”

○Stuart Robertson, Purdue University 
“ ‘Them’s Fightin’ Words’: The Threat of the KJV – Revised"

Thursday, September 22, 2011

"Doesn't matter, because I'm RIGHT!", and possible tattoos for me.

Si Fallor, Sum
(by St. Augustine)

Sapere Aude
(used by Immanuel Kant)
I am a man. And as a man, I sometimes do things that make me pound my chest and make me exclaim to the world: "I, am a man!"...my girlfriend simply rolls her eyes at this. But then, at the first sight of a needle (let's say the needle you see pricking your arm for a blood donation) my sense of 'manliness' is quickly replaced by the heart beat rate of a hummingbird along with the fear of a field mouse trying to avoid an owl...my girlfriend finds this amusing. So, my fear of needles is the primary reason why, for instance, I do not have a tattoo. But perhaps, you (or someone you know) have a tattoo. What made you get the tattoo? Does it have a meaning to you? Is it a matter of self-expression? In the many occasions I have thought of the hypothetical tatoo (I am not doing it) I would get for myself. And one conversation (among many conversations and debates) via the Facebook wall of a friend a couple of days ago made me think of this again; one tattoo I do not want to get is one that exclaims "I am RIGHT!"

When we are having chats, conversations and even debates with each other, perhaps for quite a while, we think that we made some good points, tried our best to remain open to the other person's point of view, and then (like I did a while ago during a conversation regarding a matter of religion that I am not going to cover this time) we get something similar to this: "I don't really need to be open to other ideas. Why should I?  I am right", specially when it comes to certain topics, can be quite frustrating. I start to wonder if the person is speaking to me as an equal, or to an intellectual inferior because I am not part of his/her club? Or, was my attempt to have a productive dialogue doomed to fail?

I always start thinking: what does "RIGHT" mean? Because, if I am 'right', does that mean that the 'Other' is "Wrong"? Can we both be "Right"? Can we both be "Wrong"? I believe that these are important questions. However, it has been my experience that many times, there may be something else at work here. Perhaps, in the end, it is not really about being 'right' about X, or being 'right' about Y. I believe is fear.

Fear of being wrong.

Or maybe, fear that if I am wrong, maybe I am not so different from the 'other' person, this 'other' that we do not like. Maybe the person that we do not like (because of politics, religion, culture, country, etc) stands in our minds for everything that we should not be. Then the person is no longer a person, but becomes to us a representation of those things that we are sure we don't want ourselves to be associated with, or those things that we should not do. I think all of us do think this way from time to time, at different degrees and levels, and sometimes without realizing it. And if this is true, then perhaps we have to allow for the "terrifying possibility" that: being a Democrat, or a Republican, or a Conservative, or a Liberal, or a Christian, or an Atheist, or a Philosopher, or any of the categories that we place ourselves and others into and that mean so much to who we are and to our identity are no assurance that we are right. This can be terrifying.

Of course, some of us will say, not so...

Some, of my Christian friends have told me that with the Risen Christ in their lives, how could they be wrong? They argue that they stand in the truth and the light of Christ who died in the Cross for our sins; they may stumble from time to time, but God will never abandon them completely in the life that is part of the acceptance of the loving gift of grace....unlike 'those Atheists' who deny the truth and do not see the light. We are 'right', 'they' are wrong. (And since I am a Christian, I am right...right?)
What does an Atheist know about love, and respect for others, if he/she hides behind reason and denies God?

Some, of my Atheist friends have told me that they without the yoke of religion and with their minds not clouded by the delusions of faith, how could they be wrong? They argue that they stand in the truth and the light of reason and the power of the scientific method; at the least they can say 'we don't know' to some questions without fear now, since it does not mean that in the future we shall never know the answers...unlike 'those Christians' who deny the truth and do not see the light.
We are 'right', 'they' are wrong. (And since I am not an Atheist, I am wrong...right?)
What does a Christian know about love, and respect for others, if he/she hides behind God and denies reason?

Those Christians...
Those Atheists...

If only those 'people' thought like we did...
If only those 'people' just chose to live like we do....

Perhaps, if you are a Democrat, you think that our goverment should or should not do certain things.
Perhaps, if you are a Republican, you think that our government should or should not do certain things.
Perhaps you ask what role can the "private sector" play in solving A or B, but you don't want it to play a role regarding C or D.

Those Democrats and their silly ideas...
Those Republicans and their silly ideas...
Or, maybe I am wrong my dear reader by using those terms. Should I rephrase? Here it goes:
Those Liberals and their silly ideas...
Those Conservatives and their silly ideas...

I am "right"...he/she is "wrong"...we are "right"...they are "wrong"....

The debate can go on, and on. Arguments, counterarguments, reasons, ideas, etc. But life goes on. And are we willing to be so sure of ourselves, that we ignore the lessons of history that show the endless suffering caused by people, or one single person, that did terrible things in the name of being 'right'? Because of the right God? Because of the right idea? Because of the right cause? And I ask, could we have avoided some of this suffering if instead, one group of people, or a single person instead said: these are my principles and I stand by them...but maybe, I could be wrong.

All this brings me back to my question of what hypothetical tattoo I should get. And I think it should just be words; part of this was inspired by an agnostic I met at a conference who had the following on his arm: Sapere Aude. This could be a possible tattoo. Immanuel Kant once said sapere aude-dare to know. 'Have courage to use your own understanding!'--that is the motto of enlightenment. (from his What is the Enlightenment?)

But then there, is the other tattoo I could get with the words: Si Fallor, Sum. St. Augustine (like Kant later) was a philosopher and thinker, in addition to being theologian; to be a theologian and a philosopher at the same time was common until the Enlightenment where there was a "split" between these two disciplines, and some think this was a good thing and some think this was not. I myself believe that "thinking about God" and the "love of wisdom" will always be connected, but that is just my opinion. (Note: If you are a Western Christian, including Roman Catholic Christians, Protestant Christians, Evangelical Christians, and even nondenominational Christians then for your doctrines were shaped and/or influenced by St. Augustine and I always tell my friends that to understand Western Christianity regardless of denomination or of lack of it, you must read him). As a Christian he once said si fallor, sum--if I am mistaken, I exist or if err, I exist. 

(I thought how either tattoo would look, until I came back to reality)

So, who is right? Kant? Augustine? How about Christians? How about Atheists? If some of them are 'right', then someone has to be 'wrong...right? I mean, they ALL can't be right...right? If there is only ONE truth, and if this one truth, was right in front of our eyes, would we see it?
Would we dare to accept it?
Would we dare to accept that we are mistaken, because before we were convinced that we were the rightful and worthy bearers of the truth? Because of who (or what) we are?

Next time we yell at someone or at our ideological opponents "we are right", perhaps it may be a good idea to stop, and wonder if the reason why we are saying it, is because we are in fact right.
Or is it our big inflated egos.
Or because we may be hearing the 'other', but we refuse to listen.
Because maybe, we could be wrong...

Is it about being right?
Or is it about being wise?

What would you prefer?

Well right now I 'know' that I do not want a tattoo. And why? Because I dare to accept that I am a big chicken. That to allow that needle anywhere close to me would be an 'error'....or like some say 'an epic fail'. It takes real courage to accept that I am a big chicken and that to get a tattoo is an error I can live without...but I could be wrong ;)

But hey, at least you and I are not crazy like those Christians, or those Atheists, or those Democrats, or those Republicans...

Turn out the light
Don't try to save me
You may be wrong

For all I know
You may be right
You may be wrong but you may be right...

Monday, September 19, 2011

On same sex marriage: my open letter as a Christian, to another Christian

While we distinguish between pious and godless, good and evil, noble and base, God loves real people without distinction.
(Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

The following is an open letter that I write to a fellow Christian that identified himself/herself on my blog as "Common Sense". Common Sense (CS) made some comments that made me think, pray, meditate, and reflect with what I what was presented by CS. And now it is the time that I should respond and I shall try to do so in the spirit of productive dialogue, of compassion, and of love for another fellow human being:

Dear Common Sense,

As I promised to you, the following is my response in connection with the comments you made regarding my blog entry The pain of my divorce, and how it shapes my position on "same-sex" marriage, and love.  Before I say anything allow me to tell you that I address you as a brother/sister in Christ, as a human being, and as someone that took the step to present his/her views about an issue that continues to polarize our society and our country. For my part I address you as a brother in Christ who is also a father, a student of scripture, of theology, of philosophy, and of life itself in all of its wonderful areas of art, of music, of poetry; always in the spirit not just of love and reason, but of wisdom as much as I can.

You first told me: God's peace to you also sir. Allow me to say to that the peace of the Lord may be with you always.

You then said: Living in sin, no matter for how long, is still living in sin. Just because it's been for 40 years makes it OK? 
"Living in sin" refers to a theological and religious expression based on an interpretation of Holy Scripture in the context of a relationship that you do not approve. My interpretation of Holy Scripture, along with my study of tradition in the church (it has evolved) and my sense of reason makes me disagree with you; the kind of relationships I had in mind and that I thought I explained (perhaps I was not clear with my words) are not only "OK" but are to be celebrated when we "see" the love and the commitment that people have to each other. I celebrate it. However, I would hate that our conversation would end here just because we disagree on this point.

The word "couple" as you use it doesn't apply and I reject it. 
Again, maybe I did not explain myself well. If I see two people in a loving committed relationship (for example a man and a woman in their 20's or a man and man in their 40's) then I believe I am seeing a couple. I have not seen any arguments that convince me of the opposite. I still however, always remain open to different opinions on this issue not just from religion, but also from others outside of religion, like the field of psychology, of cultural anthropology, etc. Let us continue my friend.

Is it also a civil right if that "couple" is a brother and a sister, a Father and his daughter, a 50 year old and a 5 year old, a woman and her cat? Sin has, and will always be, sin. Here, I have a few thoughts to offer that hopefully may clarify some points:
First, we have to ask what is a civil right? A very basic definition offered by the "Legal Information Institute" out of Cornell University (of course there are other groups that may offer a different take on this) is that a civil right is an enforceable right or privilege, which if interfered with by another gives rise to an action for injury. So far nothing here has to do with only with religion. Many churches do have their own systems and procedures to deal with the actions of their members, but then we are stepping out of the "civil" arena. Of course, I am happy to know that religious figures (like Martin Luther King in the U.S. and Desmond Tutu in South Africa) are driven by their faith to fight for civil rights. However, in the end, it is a court of law (not the Church) that cases are reviewed and decisions are made that affect every citizen, including both Christian and non-Christian citizens.

Second, I fail to see where I suggested or even hinted that when I was talking about couples in loving committed relationships, that I was talking about brothers and sisters or fathers and daughters. Perhaps your intention was to suggest that if we let people of the same sex be married, then we will have to do the same for "brothers and sisters". May I suggest that in the future, if you are going to use a "slippery slope" argument, it is always important to avoid misunderstandings and not fall into non sequitur; perhaps you have a reason for why legal recognition of "same sex marriage" could lead to legal recognition of "incest marriage", but none was provided. It is at best speculation (and theoretical scenarios) that so far I would need to see solid arguments to support it.

Third, when you added a 50 year old and a 5 year old, a woman and her cat?, again same issue. And here I will say: A) I was not talking about pedophilia (a mental disorder related to the intense sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors of an adult directed at a child) or sexual abuse of a child. B) I was not talking paraphilia, with its connection to a what the APA (American Psychiatry Association) calls to your context of, as in pedophilia, the sexual urges and behaviors from a person to a "non-human" subject like an animal.

In fact (and perhaps you already knew this) "homosexuality" is not a mental disorder according to both the American Psychology Association and the American Psychiatry Association since the 1970's, when they came to this conclusion – a position shared by all other major health and mental health organizations 
based on their own review of the science, when APA CEO and Medical Director James H. Scully Jr., M.D., wrote a letter on June 13, 2006 to the Department of Defense, addressed to Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs William Winkenwerder Jr., M.D:

I am writing on behalf of the American Psychiatric Association’s more than 36,000 psychiatric physician members and as a veteran of the United States Navy. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) is a national medical specialty society whose members specialize in the diagnosis, treatment, prevention, and research of mental illnesses including substance use disorders. In addition, the APA publishes the
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the latest version of which is known as the DSM-IV-TR, which is the standard reference book on mental disorders and their diagnosis.

I write to respectfully request that you update Department of Defense Instruction Number 1332.38, which addresses “Physical Disability Evaluation,” is dated November 14, 1996, and to my knowledge is still in effect. Enclosure 5 of the instruction, in section E5.1.2.9, refers to “Certain Mental Disorders including: …Homosexuality.” DSM-IV-TR does not include homosexuality as a mental disorder. Based on scientific and medical evidence the APA declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder in 1973 – a position shared by
all other major health and mental health organizations based on their own review of the science. I urge you to remove homosexuality from the “Physical Disability Evaluation” instruction.

(the link to this document is here)

Allow me to continue with my letter to you.

Sin has, and will always be, sin. Today's so-called standards do not change the truth. You are taking God out of marriage. There can be no true, honest debate when Our Lord is removed from marriage.My dear Common Sense, I can see that you are very concerned with sin. I respect that. For my part I understand that sin can result in internal struggles and outside of ourselves; this last part is the ONLY aspect of sin that could, could be considered in the legal arena. I do not say that for example my heart does not break when I hear of the terrible sin of one person beating another person because he thought that "guy is gay and he was looking at me funny". Nobody deserves to experience that. What I ask is what does the law do and can do. Can the law look into the heart of the person that is going to beat somebody up out of hatred? In the person's heart, sin has already been committed by the thought of hatred. But the law cannot act on that.

We could have many conversations (and pray together) on the meaning of sin or what is truth (from how it was viewed in Ancient Judaism, to the way Jesus Christ understood it, to the way ancient Christian thinkers like St. Augustine talked about it) and we could have a discussion about other similar issues; it is part of the many reasons of why I am in college, why I study scripture, why I study philosophy, why I talk to people from all walks of life, why I am called to ministry, etc. But here is the problem: the nature of sin is something that in itself is a religious discussion. And is not that, "I am taking God out of marriage" or that my faith is not important to me when it comes to how I relate to others, including love. I think God smiles when we are in loving and committed relationships and I think he smiles at the one I have now, just like I think the woman that I love smiles when she thinks of me :)  I am simply acknowledging what government can and it cannot do and also, for example, what was decided back in 1963 where both the required use of the Lord's Prayer and Bible reading as devotional opening exercises in public schools is unconstitutional: In relationship between man and religion, the state is firmly committed to a position of neutrality. (Justice Tom C. Clark, delivering the court's opinion) So, you may disagree with how I am seeing marriage and treating it as this secularized thing that I keep referring to that you believe is NOT marriage. I respect that. But the state stays out of those opinions and it has done so many times. When you also add that I shouldn't mis-apply terms to make my point, I recommend one possible solution: perhaps religious people like you and me when talking about marriage (like I did once in front of God, family and friends, in the Church) should remember to call it matrimony. Then, when I am talking about legal marriage, my words (for the concerned of using more specific words) are pointing out to the REALITY of legal marriage as such, how is it obtained, etc. Then if we talk about matrimony, done by a priest, a rabbi, pastor, etc, at a house of worship, such matrimony is ONLY legal because these individuals have been given authority by the STATE to ALSO perform the legal marriage at the same time.

So now, I turn to the last part of your comments, and truly the part that I struggled with the most: 
How does that feel? ...to completely ignore God and his Word when it suits you? It must make a lot of things easier.
Leviticus 20:13

Only God can look into my heart and truly know how I feel. But I will try to tell you the best that I can: thinking about God, my theological positions based on my exegetical approach to Holy Scripture, the conclusions that I reach that make me ask questions, then ask new questions, that in turn make me pray again, reflect again, meditate again, etc is NEVER easy. It is a struggle.  

Also, why do you say that I am ignoring God? Why do you say that I ignore him when it suits me? It appears to me (and I could be wrong) that you are reaching these conclusions and judging me for them because I disagree with you. And maybe and I cannot be sure:
Because my understanding of God is different from yours?
Because my words point to a different theology from yours?
Because of what I may think of "separation of church and state"?
Because I am willing to look at what science can tell us about this issue?
Because of my understanding of love?
Because of my understanding of marriage in the way that the Church understands it?
Because of my understanding of marriage in the way that the state handles it?

No my dear Common Sense, it is never easy. Never. In many ways there will be times in our lives when we wrestle, struggle with God. If we don't, how do we grow? How do we properly use the spiritual gifts that each of us may have? 

And yet, it was that your last words were simply Leviticus 20:13 That to me was the most troubling part of your comments. Because you ended your comments like this:
If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.

It is here that I asked myself: Why?
First let us be clear: of the thousands and thousands of verses in Holy Scripture (both in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament) there are no more than 7 to 8 verses that could be related to anything that people call "homosexuality" or "homosexual behavior", that in turn has been used against members of the LGTBQ community. 7 to 8 verses. 7 to 8 verses...

And of those few verses, the one you chose to close your comments with was Lev 20:13.
First, I see an interesting theological scenario: a Christian choosing the Hebrew Bible instead of the verses from the New Testament. If a Christian wanted to use one book from the Bible to make a point on this (the letter of St Paul to the Romans has been used by Christians on this issue) then why not chose a Christian book instead of Jewish book. But no, you decided to chose the book of Leviticus. 

Second, this is the same book of Leviticus that has plenty, plenty of what has been called the "Holiness Code". So, if you quote me to me from Leviticus, what of the rest of it? 

If I was writing a blog entry on how children should behave and how they should treat their parents (and this would apply to me since I have a daughter) would it be wise my dear Common Sense to end my comments (as a Christian) this way:
Leviticus 20:9
Would someone that was reading my blog ask: wait, does he think that those who curse their parents should be put to death? And it would be a valid question, since I would be the one that used that verse from Holy Scripture to support and end my comments. I think my family and friends would be very worried for me, and for my little girl. And who could blame them!

Do you see what I mean? And what if some poor soul, with mental problems read my blog? And like me, he was a father, with a small child. Dear Lord, do you see where I am going with this?

We have a responsibility as Christians to be very careful with the way we talk, specially when it comes to Holy Scripture. And all I said was a theoretical scenario. What happens when these are no longer theoretical scenarios.

When does the way we talk about Holy Scripture, becomes a real scenario? It happens in our country when using Holy Scripture this way has resulted in death. Not life, but death. Remember, when I was addressing your opinion that what I talked about had nothing to do with civil rights? If you recall, in your first comment to my blog, your last words were: Since when is "sexual preference" a civil right? Please...(rolls eyes)

It is that kind of thinking and words like that, when taken to a horrible extreme, can be disastrous. And it is here that I should turn your attention to Uganda. In February 25, 2010, the Psychological Society of South Africa (PsySSA) issued a statement to the Ugandan people and their leadership offering a science-based assessment of the proposed “Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009” and calling upon them to abandon or defeat it:

"It is good practice that legislation is based not on unsubstantiated opinion, but rather on recognized research findings," the statement notes. "The scientific fields devoted to mental health and well-being, including psychiatry, psychology and sociology, do not consider homosexual orientation to be a disorder, but rather view it as a naturally occurring variation of normal human sexuality." (full text here)

Right now, "homosexuality" is currently considered by most Ugandans to be criminal under current legislation. According to section 140 of the Ugandan penal code “carnal knowledge against the order of nature” is a crime. However, homosexuality is not explicitly mentioned in the Act, leaving room for judicial interpretation and that interpretation has been disastrous. But even this room for interpretation is not good enough for some.

David Bahati, a member of parliament in Uganda, wants close this "legislative gap." After meetings with U.S. backers and receiving encouragement from Uganda’s first lady herself, the Anti-homosexuality Bill, (AHB) otherwise known as “The Kill the Gays Bill,” was born. The AHB would push existing legislation much further by mandating harsh sentences such as death and life imprisonment. It also provides for the arrest of those who fail to report people whom they know to be homosexual. So, how would this be interpreted if it passes?

And unfortunately, this bill is the combination of two things:
1) Disregard for what science is telling us.
2) Fear and misconception fueled by angry rhetoric not just from officials in government, but Christian leaders.

Christian leaders my dear Common Sense! And not just one priest here, one pastor there, and one person somewhere else. No, from every level at the Church!

These priests, these pastors, these bishops, use verses like Leviticus 20:13 to justify the current environment of official harassment and systematic oppression by government institutions. The Church and the State, are both working together to do this. How horrible! That's what happens when our fears, our hatred and our prejudices go to the extreme, and because some have concluded "others" have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.

How can any of this be part of the Gospels?
How can any of this be part of the truth and the life of Christ?
How could we even imagine that this could be part of the will of God?
And if you do not agree with my theological arguments, or with the data available from science, then allow me to ask you:
How can any of this be reasonable?

"Living in sin" gets a whole new meaning, if you have to "live" in prison or you are executed. And all with the tools of the state, supported by the Church in Uganda.

Do you know how many times I have been asked personally, when Christians do similar things around the world: "Why would I want to be part of this?" "Why would I want to be a Christian if this is what Christianity is all about?"
But not all is lost.

There are many groups in Uganda (both religious and non-religious) that are fighting against this.  

The work of Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, a retired Anglican Bishop from the Diocese of Western Uganda, has become increasingly vital over time, as he sees the intensifying persecution of gays and lesbians in his country. Taking the courageous step of ministering to LGBTQ people in his country, when the other Bishops and priests would not, he is calling on people here in America to “stop exporting hatred” as he continues to advocate for the global decriminalization of homosexuality. Unfortunately, some American Christians have been going to Uganda and have been part of fueling this tragedy. Christians, my dear Common Sense!

And for this, he was told by his fellow bishops to stop.  
He refused.
He was then excommunicated.
Because he felt a calling by Christ.
Because he was moved by the Holy Spirit to do something.
Because he saw the suffering of human beings due to prejudice and hate.
And he continues to take a stand.
And I take that stand with him.
 And many other Christians are taking that same stand.

My dear Common Sense, as you can hopefully see, this was not easy for me to say and to put into words.
And hopefully I have misunderstood some of the few words you wrote that made once again, made me reflect on this manner.

I say this with all my mind, with all my heart, and with all my passion:
No, to hatred on any shape and form.
No, to prejudice on any shape and form.
No to violence, specially against the weakest of us.

May you and me say yes to Christ, and to the kingdom he wants us to have not in another place, but in the life that is part of his will here as it is in heaven:
When he is hungry and we give him food. 
When he is thirsty we give him something to drink.
When we think he is a stranger and we welcome him.
When he is naked and we give him clothes.
When he is sick and we take care of him.
When he is in prison and we visit him.
And some of us are already doing all of this (his will here as it is in heaven) without knowing that we are doing this, to Christ.
And Christ smiles.

Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.

your brother in Christ,

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Prayers for the Sick, and for the Healers

For those people who are sick and/or in the hospital (including those who are close to us and those who we do not know and are alone tonight) I offer the following from from the "Book of Common Prayer"-The Episcopal Church:

"O God, the strength of the weak and the comfort of sufferers: Mercifully accept our prayers, and grant to your servants the help of your power, that their sickness may be turned into health, and our sorrow into joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

I also offer the following for the Healers (the doctors, nurses, and all hospital and medical staff) that take care of our loved ones not just tonight, but every day and every night:

"Sanctify, O Lord, those whom you have called to the study and practice of the arts of healing, and to the prevention of disease and pain. Strengthen them by your life-giving Spirit, that by their ministries the health of the community may be promoted and your creation glorified; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

What "is" the Bible? Part 1

For the last couple of days my mind, my heart, and my very being have been involved in self-reflection, meditation and prayer. Not every second of the day of course (hard to do that when you also have to go to work, school, and attend to other matters) but when I do have the opportunity I use those moments to ask questions, get answers, ask new questions and so on. This is in part to what I discussed in my blog entry
In regards to "same-sex" marriage, why would a Christian quote from Leviticus 20:13? and is also related to the sometimes wonderful, sometimes painful, and always joyful aspects of my still very exciting journey as a Christian, and of course as a human being.

I then started to reflect, when it comes to Christianity, on why some of my fellow Christians have told me (in conversation, online debates, or chats over coffee) that they are Biblical Christians or Bible-believing Christians. I will leave for another day the definitions of these terms and their context in both the Christian Fundamentalist world and the Christian Evangelical world (while both of these share some similarities they have a lot of differences between them) and why that is. For now I go back to when I ask a Christian why he/she refers to himself or herself in this way, it appears that all of the responses come down to one thing: the Bible.  That has made me ask myself many times in reference to this and other issues: what "is" the Bible?

We can discuss the way we "see", "read" and "use" the Bible as one way to answer this question but it is not the ONLY way. Some of us say quite simply: it is the word of God. Some of us say it is the inspired word of God. And there many others, but they all point to what it means to us. I believe it is also very important to look at the process in history that lead to the creation of this book that you may have a copy of, not just on your desk or at your church (if you have one) but perhaps next to your hospital bed, in your classroom, etc. In addition, we have truly come a long way since the days of the Gutenberg press, and the Gutenberg Bible. These days we can also find the Bible in electronic form in the web and our mobile devices like the iPhone, the Droid, the tablet, etc; I have a few Bible apps myself. Now, what I am about to say may be familiar to many of you. So, it may sound like I am not saying anything that is new, but perhaps to some of you it may be new, or you may have some disagreements with it.

First, what we know as the Bible was not a created as one/single book like one you could write yourself right now, from the first page to the last page. It was first in oral form (both for the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament) and then later it was written down in a particular language, for example in Koine Greek like in the Septuagint, itself a translation of the Hebrew Bible. Second, these writings circulated around the many parts of the Roman Empire as letters, as fragments, as separate documents and would start to be collected by the Church (for now let us define "Church" simply as the Christians and generations of Christians around the Roman Empire including their Christian leaders) and third, someone made a decision of what "books" would be part of the canon; some books made it, some didn't. This happened over the span of many centuries, including writing, rewriting, editing, and translating of documents and: we have no originals, all we have are copies.

In the second part of this entry we will look at a timeline of the process of the canon of the Judeo-Christian scriptures that we now know as the Bible. We must remember the following: what follows happened over 1,000 years BEFORE the famous 1611 "Authorized King James Bible" in the English language of that time, including the 16th century German language "Luther Bible" translated by Martin Luther.

To be continued...

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

In regards to "same-sex" marriage, why would a Christian quote from Leviticus 20:13?

As part of the comment thread for my blog entry The pain of my divorce, and how it shapes my position on "same-sex" marriage, and love I received the following last comments from a Christian who is using the name "Common Sense":

God's peace to you also sir.

Living in sin, no matter for how long, is still living in sin. Just because it's been for 40 years makes it OK? The word "couple" as you use it doesn't apply and I reject it.
Is it also a civil right if that "couple" is a brother and a sister, a Father and his daughter, a 50 year old and a 5 year old, a woman and her cat? Sin has, and will always be, sin. Today's so-called standards do not change the truth.

You are taking God out of marriage. There can be no true, honest debate when Our Lord is removed from marriage. You are truly scarred indeed, and I pray for you. This secularized thing you keep referring to is NOT marriage. You shouldn't mis-apply terms to make your point.

How does that feel? ...to completely ignore God and his Word when it suits you? It must make a lot of things easier.
Leviticus 20:13

After receiving that I replied with the following:

Dear Common Sense,

There are too many ideas that come to my mind and too many feelings and emotions in my heart to post here regarding your last comments.

I have decided, in the spirit of productive dialogue, to respond to your last comments in the form of an "open letter" that I will be posting as a new blog entry.

your brother in Christ,

I ask all of you for your prayers and/or for your positive thoughts as I reflect and meditate on this issue. I shall be posting my reply (as I said, in form of an "open letter") soon.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The pain of my divorce, and how it shapes my position on "same-sex" marriage, and love.

One day was one of the happiest of my life. 
Another day of was one of the saddest of my life.

The day I got married I understood that the day was not only about the woman that I was saying "I do" to and myself (in front of God, of friends and family) but also the holiness of that day. That holy day truly was an opening to the endless possibilities of time and space, in the friendship that is beyond friendship, in a love that goes beyond the world of eros and gets close to the world of agape; of that divine and/or transcendental love. Truly, a new life!

One day, that "new life" was over. 

I am unable to count the days that I yelled in anger at God, at the world, and at myself when it was all over. Words quite simply cannot describe (regardless of the two languages that I speak--English and Spanish) many feelings, emotions, and thoughts I had during some of the most lonely, terrible, and sad moments of my life as I tried to heal from this wound in my heart. I cannot count the days that to get out of bed was one of the most difficult things I could do. I cannot count the days that I would go to a party or a "get-together" and envy the joy I saw in the eyes of a married couple as they gazed at each other because that used to be me. How many times I told myself "I failed", "I failed".... Even now as I write these words, it is a bit difficult to remain steady, to remain objective, to remain focused on what I want to tell you my dear reader, because I cannot count the nights of tears that seemed like they would never end.

What was divorce like? For those of you that have a loving and committed relationship, including those of you who are happily married imagine this:
Think of waking up tomorrow and you are not going to that movie with him/her.
Think of waking up tomorrow and all your pictures of that awesome and/or romantic vacation with him/her, now you can't even look at.
Think of the joy of that first kiss with him/her when you were dating becoming a painful memory, that you hope will become at best a bittersweet memory.
Think of waking up tomorrow, and your bed is empty.
Think of every plan, from today to the last day you will have on this earth, everything that you have planned for together and the joy and happiness that you think about because of those plans: gone.
And if you have a child: think of the child you have in your house today, gone :(

And the day you get your divorce papers in the mail is not quite THE day, because it is a process of many days before and after that day; anybody that has been divorced understands this. It is quite simply a long, long, long process. For many of us even when this process is over, another one begins. There is a process of trying to heal, not only your heart, but the life you have. And if there are children involved and what happens to them, oh dear Lord I cannot even describe to you how painful that is.

So, regardless of where you my dear reader may stand on divorce I tell you this and this cannot be denied: 
it is not the church that grants a divorce but instead it is a judge, it is the state, it is the government. Why is this important? How is any of this relevant to "same-sex" marriage? What I say now may or may not sound very logical or very reasonable. Then again, life sometimes doesn't care one bit about logic or reason, and sometimes that is a wonderful thing...and sometimes it is not.

When I "see" (can any of our senses really help us with this one) an already loving and committed relationship, a relationship of love (of what I described before as the friendship that is beyond friendship, in a love that goes beyond the world of eros and gets close to the world of agape; of that divine and/or transcendental love) before the papers have been signed at a clerk's office or the words/blessing have been given by the priest/pastor I always say: this union is already a marriage in the hearts and minds of these two people. These two people already have what I as a straight male from a legal point of view once had. I simply had the legal right to enter into this relationship, the legal right. Legal. And I could have leave it at that. The government, and my taxes, and the hospitals, and my job would have been fine with that. And if that is all I wanted, I could have simply skipped the pastor/priest and go right to the courthouse. That's it. And when the marriage was over, it was not the Church, or the priest, of the pastor, or my friends, or my family, who gave me a divorce: it was the signature of a judge on a different piece of paper from the first, on a different legal document.

And these two people who are not "straight" should have a chance, a chance, a chance, of having this new life. And it makes no difference that their union does not match what some of us feel is the ONLY way to be married. Anyone can go to Vegas for the weekend, meet someone, and be married! And maybe that could be a happy marriage or it could end in divorce. It does not change the fact that any man and woman can get this done before or after playing in the casino! (I still am not seeing groups in Nevada or outside of it trying to change this nor have I seen any legal efforts in the legislature to change this process, a process that was never in the minds of the Jewish and Christian writers that gave us later what is called the "Bible"and yet it goes on) Members, human beings of the LGTB community should be able to live their lives in the love and the friendship of the commitment inside the possibilities that I as a straight male tried to have according to the law, including if they wish to fly down to Vegas for a weekend of casino playing and a short trip to the chapel.

During the process of divorce, the day of divorce, and after, I experienced suffering that I do not wish on anyone. If you know someone close to you that like me has experienced this, and you can see the suffering in his/her eyes over this, would you not want to find a way to take away that pain? If you say yes, then would you really want to deny the chance to that person to have the opposite of that same suffering? The joy, the dreams, the love?

Legal obstacles can affect a lot of aspects of our lives, and it is here that the "same-sex" marriage as part of a struggle for civil rights cannot be denied. To simply say that 'is not an issue of civil rights' does not deny the fact that life is simply better when the law is not telling you "NO", and many things in life can be taken for granted when you don't have to ask the law if you can do this, or that, because you just simply do. I want to see brothers and sisters of the LGBT community have that same chance, like I did, to have the state say "Yes, this is legal". A chance to have that legal document if they wish to have it because that document could make all the difference.

And many of them may experience the suffering, the kind of suffering that makes one question his/her life because of divorce like I did. But at the least, they were able to try. On the other hand, they may be able to experience the almost indescribable joy that comes with marriage, like I once did, and for them it may last forever. And I refuse to allow the protection of "traditional marriage" (what that means is a subject for another day) to become some sort of medieval wall that only protects the lives of those "lucky" enough to make it inside before the gates are closed.

If the day comes when I have that legal document again, that gives me full legal recognition of what in my heart and mind I already know to be true, then I hope from the bottom of my heart that it will also be the same day when her, him, you, all of us, can.


Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11, Sam Harris and Jerry Falwell, the "Eucharist", and what are we to do today

Eucharist: Middle English eukarist, from Anglo-French eukariste, from Late Latin eucharistia, from Greek, Eucharist, gratitude, from eucharistos grateful, from eu- + charizesthai to show favor, from charis favor, grace, gratitude; akin to Greek chairein to rejoice
When people think about 9/11, what do people think about as we look from our point in existence on this day of September 11, 2011? Do we think about the victims? Do we think about the people that gave their lives trying to rescue others? Do we think about where we were that day? 

These are all ways to look at that day and there are many more. The horror of those images live with us. But along with those images of horror are images of courage, of self-sacrifice, of compassion. And then I think back to the 19 men who committed that terrible act. These were human beings like you and me. And they did this....these 19 human beings did this...

I just came back from a "Workship at Food Finders". "Food Finders" is a food bank and a central warehousing facility, which solicits food donations, transports the donations back to the warehouse, sorts and holds the inventory, and distributes the food to organizations (including food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, etc) that in turn give food to the hungry.

So we (as part of the Episcopal Student Association at Purdue) joined the folks of our church The Chapel of the Good Shepherd to gather at Food Finders Food Bank to package beef crumbles and sort other food, and then we celebrated the "Holy Eucharist". In the Episcopal Church, the celebration of the Eucharist is a central part of our lives. This is also true in other Christian traditions and without going into the theological similarities and differences of what it "means", it comes down to this: the connection to the supper celebrated by Jesus that was based on Jewish rituals and customs (according stories in the 'Gospels'), to having bread and wine, to having a meal with others, to giving thanks, the "new covenant", etc.
And that's what we did at Food Finders after were done with our work. On the way back I started to think back to the couple of hours we spent there, of what we did there. Then I thought about that day 10 years ago, and the 19 men...

(I ask you to take a few minutes to thing about this: what if instead of these 19 men being "Muslim" would have been "Puerto Rican"? How would my life have been for the last 10 years and for others from Puerto Rico? What if instead of "Muslim" they were Japanese Americans? What if instead of "Muslim" they were from Mexico? Or "Mormons"? Or "Jewish"? Or "Pagans"? Or "Christians"? And each group left a note of their "reasons" for doing this, religious or non-religious"?)

These 19 men did this. Then I asked myself "What if"? What if these 19 men, instead of doing this would instead....

1) Have done what millions of their Muslim brothers and sisters did that same day here and around the world going to work as doctors, nurses, police, teachers, etc.  
2) Have done what millions of their Muslim brothers and sisters did that same day here and around the world in, for example, being there for a family member that was in the hospital waiting for an operation.
3) Have done what millions of their Muslim brothers and sisters did that same day here and around the world living their lives in peace....

Then that day would been different, much different. But it was not. 

And I read news articles and blog entries, along with Facebook notes and comments of many of us remembering that day. And I am happy to see so many words of respect, of reflection, of asking, including plans and ideas of what we could do and what we can do to avoid this from happening again.

But it saddens me that still to this day to some people "Muslim" means "Terrorist", or "Potential Terrorist". To some some people from other faiths they come to the tragic conclusion that 9/11 was a manifestation of a religion that is incapable of love...a religion of violence.  To the millions of Muslims that have never engaged in an act of violence, I thank you for your service, for your compassion, and for proving these conclusions as false with the way you live your lives.
But still, some take their conclusions further....

I have seen the following in a couple of places around Facebook, from Atheist thinker, scientist, and author Sam Harris who said in his latest blog entry:
At a minimum, we must create the conditions for human flourishing in this life—the only life of which we can be certain. That means we should not terrify our children with thoughts of hell, or poison them with hatred for infidels. We should not teach our sons to consider women their future property, or convince our daughters that they are property even now. And we must decline to tell our children that human history began with magic and will end with bloody magic—perhaps soon, in a glorious war between the righteous and the rest. 

I as a Christian agree that to create the conditions for human flourishing in this life is something to work for. But also as a Christian I have a daughter and I am not terrifying her with the thoughts of hell, or poison her with hatred for infidels, or that because she is my daughter she is my property and that if she gets married she will be property of her husband. And I am not the only Christian father that does not.

He goes on:
One must be religious to fail the young so abysmally—to derange them with fear, bigotry, and superstition even as their minds are forming—and one cannot be a serious Christian, Muslim, or Jew without doing so in some measure.

So then according to his reasoning I am not a "serious" Christian since I am not doing any of this, including many others like me.

He also said:
Ten years have now passed since many of us first felt the jolt of history—when the second plane crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center. We knew from that moment that things can go terribly wrong in our world—not because life is unfair, or moral progress impossible, but because we have failed, generation after generation, to abolish the delusions of our ignorant ancestors.

Before I say anything else, I will say this: I agree (like Sam Harris) that separation of church of state is important. History has far too many lessons about this. I also agree (like Sam Harris) that the civil rights of atheists and other non-theists should be respected, including their right to criticize religion, and to pursue a path that can lead my Atheist brothers and sisters (along with anyone) to create the conditions for human flourishing in this life...

But when it comes to the conclusions and comments in the article, I thought I was listening to someone else; not to a an Atheist thinker but to a certain Christian who once said:
I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen.'

When we conclude that those that think in a different way from us, or are "different" from us, are guilty OR will be guilty of the horrors in the world then Sam Harris is no different from someone like Jerry Falwell.

Jerry Falwell believed that people different from him (pagans, abortionists, feminists, gays etc) either let the horrible things in this world happen and also will either cause these horrible things themselves or potentially will do them any day because all of them who have tried to secularize America.

Sam Harris believes that people different from him (Muslims, Jews, Christians, etc) either let the horrible things in this world happen and also will either cause these horrible things themselves or potentially will do them any day because sins against reason and compassion do not represent the totality of religion, of course—but they lie at its core and only "non-serious" Christians, Muslims, and Jews and non-theists would not give in to the the delusions of our ignorant ancestors. To him faith does not point to if someone can do something like 9/11 but instead that the core of religion is something that can make me at any moment do something like 9/11 because my faith could make me come to the conclusion that I am doing the "right thing". Even more, the lives of people of faith not doing these horrible things to him is "irrelevant".

But Mario you may ask, how can you even compare the thinking of these two figures? Sam Harris is NOT like Jerry Falwell and Jerry Falwell WAS NEVER like Sam Harris. I would say yes, you are correct.  But they share at least one thing: how to see others that are different from them. One thought that not having a religion like him would eventually drive this 'other' to a life of horror for him and everyone else. Another thought that having a religion would eventually drive this 'other' to a life of horror for him an everyone else. To both of these thinkers, it is only a matter of time, that history has taught us that far too many times to ignore this.

History has also taught us that the moment we start to think that WE are in some way superior to OTHERS.....
History has also taught us that the moment we start to think that OUR way is the ONLY RIGHT way.....................

But not every believer is this way, thinks this way, or acts this way.
But not every non-believer is this way, thinks this way, or acts this way.

I am happy to say that there are many Atheists who have a different way of looking at people of faith. Many of my Atheist brothers and sisters respect me, and we want to learn from one another for the benefit of all. To you I say thank you!!!! I am also happy to say that there are many people of faith who have a different way of looking at atheists. Many of us instead look at an Atheist brother and sister and know that she/he is an equal and can be a good member of society. To you I say thank you!!!

So, will we let 9/11 be about the 19 men who did that act of violence 10 years ago?
Will we let 9/11 be ONLY about the "errors" and the potential dangers of being a non-believer?
Will we let 9/11 be ONLY about the "errors" and the potential dangers of being a believer?

Or will we let 9/11 be about believers and non-believers working together, crying together, laughing together and pursuing ways to ease suffering (physical, emotional, etc) around the world like many of them do right now as we speak? Because they acknowledge their differences but do not let those differences turn to something terrible.

To many of us 9/11 is about believers and non-believers saying in a loud voice: "No, I am not 'better' than you." About believers and non-believers saying in a loud voice: "I stand with you."
About the believers and non-believers who were (like a friend of mine reminded of) among the 343 firefighters, 23 NYPD officers, 37 PAPD officers, numerous private EMS workers, and countless civilians gave their lives so that others could live. About the believers and non-believers among the  6,207 military personnel that have given their lives since that day. 

And who knows...maybe believers and non-believers can find a food bank in their area, work there together for a few hours, then go together to a restaurant of their choosing and share a good meal....just a thought :)


Friday, September 9, 2011

The Republican debate, immigration reform, José Díaz-Balart, and one of the "Kairos" in my life--Part 1

Etymology:  Greek καιρός right or proper time. 
Fullness of time; the propitious moment for the performance of an action or the coming into being of a new state.
As I was watching the Republican debate the other night, there was a moment that one could call a kairos in reference to the issue of "immigration reform". That moment came when news anchorman and journalist José Díaz-Balart (of the Spanish-language network "Telemundo") spoke to all the candidates. He started with this: I want to talk about a subject that was very dear to the heart of President Reagan, which is immigration reform. As you know, he was the last U.S. President to sign immigration reform in 1986. All of you, I think, have said that you don't think immigration reform should be discussed until the border is secure.

After saying this, he asked Governor Perry what specifically, in your mind, would make the border secure? Perry's response started with: Well, the first thing you need to do is have boots on the ground. After developing this idea he added the use of the "predator drones", having a federal goverment that will commit to having those 'boots on the ground' and the aviation assets in the air and finally attacking President Obama's statements on the current security of the border.  

When Díaz-Balart asked former Governor Romney for his opinion, Romney said we got to have a fence, or the technologically approved system to make sure that we know who's coming into the country, number one. His second point was a variation of what Perry said before: we ought to have enough agents to secure that fence and to make sure that people are coming over are caught. His third point was different from Perry: he talked about getting rid of the "magnet", how Border Patrol agents told him that the reason they come in such great numbers is because we've left the magnet on. To him this "magnet" includes sanctuary cities, giving tuition breaks to the kids of illegal aliens, employers that, employers that knowingly hire people who are here illegally. Those things also have to be stopped. 

(Note: We shall skip Newt Gingrich's comments for now)

Former senator Rick Santorum (speaking as the son of an Italian immigrant) gave his point of view of what immigration means to him as one of the great things that has made this country the dynamic country that it continues to be, people who are drawn because of the ideals of this country. He also added that we have to have a program in place that sets that parameter that says, you're going to come to this country, come here according to the rules. It's a very good first step that the first thing you do here is a legal act, not an illegal act. 

Representative Michelle Bachmann gave her own take on the points already discussed in the context and the problem that we're dealing with in relation to the "narco terrorists" in Mexico and (following Perry and Romney) we should have border or a fence.  Failure to do this would be, in effect, to yield United States sovereignty not only to our nation anymore, but to yield it to another nation. That we cannot do. She added comments about a visit to the Bay of Pigs Museum and talking to Cuban Americans. I met with a number of people, and it's very interesting. The Hispanic-American community wants us to stop giving taxpayer- subsidized benefits to illegal aliens and benefits, and they want us to stop giving taxpayer-subsidized benefits to their children as well. 

Then she was asked: The fence is built, the border is under control. What do you do with 11.5 million people who are here without documents and with U.S.- born children? None of the candidates before said anything specific about this, and to me this was one of the most important questions asked on this issue and it gave Bachmann the chance to be the first to address it. This was her response: Well, that's right. And again, it is sequential, and it depends upon where they live, how long they have been here, if they have a criminal record. All of those things have to be taken into place. She also said that in the past when our immigration law worked beautifully people had to demonstrate that they had money in their pocket, they had no contagious diseases, they weren't a felon. They had to agree to learn to speak the English language, they had to learn American history and the Constitution. And the one thing they had to promise is that they would not become a burden on the American taxpayer. That's what we have to enforce. 

Herman Cain's response was: Let's make sure -- let's solve all of the problems. It's not one problem. He still agreed with the others before him that first we've got to secure the border. Second for him was to promote the path to citizenship that's already there. We don't need a new one, we just need to clean up the bureaucracy that's slowing the process down and discouraging people. Third, enforce the laws that are there, and the way we do it, empower the states. 
(Note: We shall also skip Governor Huntsman comments for now)

Representative Ron Paul said that we need to remove the incentive -- easy road to citizenship. Nobody has mentioned the fact that they qualify for benefits as well, you know, the welfare benefits. We shouldn't have to give -- the state of Texas shouldn't be forced to provide free health care and free education. He added that sure, we can secure the borders -- a barbed-wire fence with machine guns, that would do the trick. I don't believe that's what America is all about. I just really don't. He also added that every time you think of fence keeping all those bad people out, think about those fences maybe being used against us, keeping us in. 

Since that night, I have been thinking, meditating, praying, and reflecting about what the candidates said. My initial reaction to all of this (my Facebook status yesterday morning) was that I was extremely disappointed at the way Republican candidates "answered" the questions regarding immigration reform. Saying 'secure the border first', or 'we need more boots on the ground', and that we should not 'yield United States sovereignty' are (at best) part of ONE piece in this puzzle. But, it is not the ONLY piece, and it does not have to be the ONE piece you must use FIRST.

But later I asked myself: why? Why do I feel this way? Why do I feel "extremely disappointed"? Why do I think that the candidates (except from some of the answers offered by Huntsman and Gingrich) did not answer in the way 'I' wanted them to answer? Why was I angry when I heard the responses listed above? Why was it that the anger I felt then later changed to sadness? What was it about what Huntsman and Gingrich said that gave me some hope? And what does any of this have to do with kairos?

In Part 2 of this entry I will try to answer these difficult questions.


Monday, September 5, 2011

Star Wars, Scripture, and a wizard: Change, the "will of God", and the unknown...

Here are three things that can bring fear to many of us:

1) Change
2) The "will of God"
3) The "Unknown"

Here are three things that can bring joy to many of us:

1) Change
2) The "will of God"
3) The "Unknown"

Hmm, how can the same three things bring us fear AND joy?

First, let us look at a dialogue from the "Phantom Menace, a.k.a. Star Wars Episode 1 (I should note that this is my least favorite of the Star Wars movies but it does have some decent moments including this one):

OBI-WAN: I have a bad feeling about this.
QUI-GON: I don't sense anything. 
OBI-WAN: It's not about the mission, Master, it's something...elsewhere...elusive. 
QUI-GON: Don't center on your anxiety, Obi- Wan. Keep your concentration here and now where it belongs. 
OBI-WAN: But Master Yoda says I should be mindful of the future... 
QUI-GON: ...but not at the expense of the moment. Be mindful of the living Force, my young Padawan.

Now let us look at the following:

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?
(From the Gospel according to Matthew)

Why did I choose to look at a dialogue from a movie, and also to something said by Jesus? Both allow me to look at the following:

Do we not worry about the future?
Perhaps you make plans regarding how to come up with money for the rent or a mortgage. I have been there myself many times. And we worry of what may happen if we do not come up with the money; to be homeless is a reality that many of us do not want for ourselves or our loved ones.

Is it valid to plan and worry about it, yes.
Can it affect us to a point where we can even loose sleep, yes.
But, is that all we should do?
.....And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?....

What if we have a very important meeting at work or with a doctor in about 30 minutes. Do we worry so much that we forget to go to the meeting? We don't want to put our job at risk or our own health at risk if we miss that very important meeting.

But what about the past? Surely the past cannot affect us, only what we are doing in the present. Well...

Perhaps you are going on a date tonight.  You are very excited about it.  So you get ready for it. Then you remember something painful in your life, related to an ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend of yours. And you think to yourself, 'should I go on this date'? For all you know, she/he will break your heart later and why allow yourself to be in that situation? You will go from single now, change to (if I am allowed to use a Facebook term) "in a relationship", get your heart broken, then change back to "single".

The future...
The unknown....

They can be very, very scary.  However, what if the date goes well?
Even more, what if it develops into a beautiful and meaningful relationship?
Do we deprive ourselves of this possibility?

The future...
The unknown...

Perhaps you are a Christian and you ask yourself: "Is it the will of God that this may work?"
If you do, the valid question comes:
What is the "will of God"?

To a Christian, there is such a thing. But, how can he/she know about it?
Does she pray?
Does he think about it?
Does she get a 'message' about it?
Does he stop to think how it will affect others?

To an Atheist, some of this may sound like a bunch of nonsense. So, allow me to rephrase this:
What benefits (or problems) can come with this potential relationship?
Is he ready to do this?
What does her mind tell her to do?
How will this affect others around him?

Is the "will of God" something from the outside, external?
Or, is it something from inside of us, internal?

In the end, we analyze the situation, we make a list, we make a plan, etc etc.
But at some point we must act!
Maybe all the planning, all the lists we made, all the preparations will not help us at all.
But at some point we must act!

Kierkegaard never had a problem with reflection, with thinking; after all, he was a thinker himself. But he had a problem with that reflection and that thinking keeping the person from acting, remaining passive, inside of himself and not doing anything. Of not acting!

And it is true: we cannot be fully sure of the outcome.
The result may be something terrible.
But the result may be something wonderful.
Or the result may have elements of both.

But we should not let our anxiety and the mistakes of the past stop us from acting in the now, and having what could be a wonderful future.

I try to look at the past (sometimes I am not good at this, and sometimes I am) as my teacher.
It is in the past that we can recall what worked and what didn't work.
It is in the past that we can remember bad advice and good advice.
It is in the past that we can go back to an experience that could be similar to the one that we have now.

I myself try to do what I can to find out what the "will of God" is, not only in what I must do, but also in how the choices I am making may affect others; that my choices will not harm them, will not cause them suffering but instead will bring them happiness, joy, love. It is my hope that what I am doing is part of the "will of God".  It is also my hope (and part of my drive) that what I am doing now will be the right thing and that I remain open to other possibilities, to changes, to the advice and the wisdom of others when I do act.

I also try my best to remind myself that the "will of God" may elude me.
That if I am lucky, I may grasp a very small part of it.

We do not operate in the isolation of our own hearts and minds. We operate in a world with other human beings, with their own hearts and minds.

The past, the present, and the future: separate from one another, or a part of "one"?

The choices that we make in our lives bring change, and this is unavoidable.
We should never forget that "change" is part of life.
Change will bring to us many moments to our lives and when those moments come we can either let them pass or we can act.

The results of change and the actions we take may bring us pain and suffering. And yet, sometimes because of this pain and suffering we can tell others about our experiences. They in turn may avoid some of the suffering we felt and teach others about it.

...teach others about it...

In these "others" we find both friends and strangers.

As a Christian I must remember that he is my brother.
As a Christian I must remember that she is my sister.
My brother and my sister does not want my hate.
My brother and my sister wants my love.
My love in the past, the present, and the future.
My love when change comes.
My love when anxiety comes.
Perhaps I may 'listen' to the silence of the "will of God".

It has been in moments of prayer, or meditation, of reflection that I been lucky enough to "receive" certain answers.

To my Atheist brothers and sisters allow me to translate:
There are times when we must slow down, stop what we are doing and ask, "now what"?" Perhaps your mind and heart will know what to do. Then again, I think that works for everyone, both Atheist and Christian  :)

Act my friend, act.

The present is important, but do not forget the future!
The future is important, but do not forget the present!

To end this reflection, I leave you with one of the most beautiful quotes from the "Lord of Ring-Fellowship of the Ring":

All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us....