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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Musings on Kierkegaard

This week I am participating in a Pastor/Theologian Retreat with 10 other minsters and a seminary professor.  We are spending part of our days hiking and conversing along the trails in Rocky Mountain National Park and another part in more formal conversations around several pre-assigned books.  One of the authors we are discussing is the 18th century Danish philosopher/theologian Soren Kierkegaard.  We have been reminded of how influential Kierkegaard is on our modern western understanding of the world even to the point of coining phrases and ideas that are now common place.  Here is a partial list:  "Leap of faith."  The "Masked man."   We are "people not numbers."  "Subjectivity is truth."   "What labels me negates me."   "Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced."   "Life must be understood backward, but lived forward."

Below are a couple of my favorite Kierkegaard parables for you to ponder:

"A fire broke out backstage in a theatre. The clown came out to warn the public; they thought it was a joke and applauded. He repeated it; the acclaim was even greater. I think that's just how the world will come to an end: to general applause from wits who believe it's a joke."

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"There was a little town of Ducks. Every Sunday the ducks waddle out of their houses and waddle down Main Street to their church. They waddle into the sanctuary and squat in their proper pews. The duck choir waddles in and takes it place, then the duck minister comes forward and opens the duck Bible (Ducks, like all other creatures on earth, seem to have their own special version of the Scriptures.) He reads to them: “Ducks! God has given you wings! With wings you can fly! With wings you can mount up and soar like eagles. No walls can confine you! No fences can hold you! You have wings. God has given you wings and you can fly like birds!” All the ducks shouted “Amen!” And they all waddled home."


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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Theodicy

Sometimes I am asked if I really do believe in One Eternal Presence of God that encompasses all of Creation, then how do I understand and experience the fear, hatred, and violence in our world?  I must confess that in recent days I've asked myself the same question.  Sometimes I do feel like the agnostic fleas below.




Very little seems to make sense when innocent people are shot out of the sky, communities and families bombarded and destroyed, children seek safety only to be met by  military troops, and a man is murdered on a city sidewalk by those who are supposed to protect.

The truth is there are no logical, reasonable answers to the age old questions of theodicy, or the problem of why a good God would allow evil.  Every religious tradition seems to have its particular perspective and teachings some of which include elaborate mythologies of cosmic, spiritual battles between good and evil forces, with the good always winning out in the end. But these mythologies and theologies seem to always fall just short of a truly satisfying resolution.

Another truth is that regardless of our ideological or theological explanations of evil; fearful, hateful, and violent acts still persist, and as a result we experience suffering.  Humanity has a knack for causing ourselves and the natural world pain.  It is true that when we harm another we equally, if not more so, harm ourselves.

When I get caught in this paradox of good and evil I am reminded of how the teachings of the world's religions continually call us back to a simplicity of living in love that Jesus says is "Loving God with our whole lives, and loving each other as we love ourselves."  To me this means recognizing that God "Is" eternally present throughout all of Creation, in every person I meet, every flower I see, every molecule of water I drink, and every breath of air I take.

Does this make pain and suffering go away?  Of course not, but it does allow an ember of hope to glow within the most seemly hopeless situations.  It reminds me that the worst things in life often contain the seed of the next good thing.  It also reminds me that when we fail to recognize the God in each and every fellow human being and the entire created order we open the door to fear, hate and violence.

So, perhaps in the end the ultimate question of theodicy is not really a God problem but a people problem.  And the answers lie within our own actions.   
Love God (God is everywhere).  
Love neighbor (Everyone is our neighbor).  
Do unto others as I would have them do unto me (We are all in this together).


An Invitation to Participate in a Ramadan Iftar
tomorrow evening, July 24, 2014.



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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Stone In My Shoe


Today very soon into my morning walk I noticed a stone in my shoe.  At first I thought, "it's not that big and will probably work its way somewhere into my shoe so I don't even notice it."  So I walked on listening to a podcast in my earbuds.  Unfortunately, the stone stayed right in the middle of my shoe and with every step I took it became larger and larger, but I kept walking.  That's when I noticed I had not heard the last five minutes of the podcast because I was thinking about the stone in my shoe.  In my imagination the stone had become a boulder, much like this one:




I finally interrupted my pace, paused the podcast, sat down and unlaced my walking shoe to find this:







How often do we do this very thing with events in our lives?  How often do we make a "mountain out of a mole hill" or a boulder out of a tiny pebble?  How often does a small irritation become a major problem because we didn't address the small irritation in the first place?  I think if we are honest with ourselves the answer to all of these is "Too often!"

It just so happened that when I went back in the podcast to hear what I had missed while contemplating my "boulder" I heard this quote from author Tony Robbins to which I add my own words in red, "Five years from now, if you remember at all, you’re gonna laugh or smile at whatever’s stressing you out now, so why wait?!?” 

So, what's stressing you now?  Is it a boulder or a tiny pebble?  What will it look like in five years?

My guess is that it's probably a tiny pebble worth at least a big smile, if not a chuckle!   So, why wait?


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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

"Faith?"

When he entered the house, the blind men came to him; and Jesus said to them, ‘Do you believe that I am able to do this?’ They said to him, ‘Yes, Lord.’ Then he touched their eyes and said, ‘According to your faith let it be done to you.’ And their eyes were opened.
~ The Gospel According to Matthew, chapter 9


I've been thinking about faith recently and exactly what does it mean to be a person of faith.

As best I can determine the word "faith" (pistis in New Testament Greek) appears in the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke 24 times.  In every instance Jesus observes and acknowledges faith as an active agent in others that leads to seemingly impossible results, usually healing and wholeness, or what we would refer to as a miracle.  Jesus commends people for their faith and also scolds some for lack of it.  

In every instance faith is something profound within the person that leads to action.  Jesus never refers to faith as adherence to doctrine, ritual, or custom, nor does he define it.  Jesus leaves the definition of faith to be determined by the results of its presence or absence. 

Once when Jesus disciples had some problems with an exorcism this little exchange took place:  

Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, ‘Why could we not cast it out?’ He said to them, ‘Because of your little faith. For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, “Move from here to there”, and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.’   
Matthew chapter 17.

All of this seems to prompt the questions, is there evidence of faith in our world and our lives, our "communities of faith", or "faith based communities" ?  

Are there stories of healing and wholeness?  Are mountains being moved into seas?  Are we or not "people of faith?"

If I were on trial for being a "person of faith" according to Jesus criteria would there be enough evidence to convict me?



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Thanks to each of you and I look forward to many more weeks and years of sharing with you.