One week from Christmas 2015 it us time for me to post my final reflection for this year. A big thank you to all who have stayed with Another Voice for these past twelve months. Right now I plan to resume after Epiphany. If I find I really have nothing worthwhile to say, I will pull the plug on my computer.
My original inspiration came from T. S. Eliot: “For last year’s words belong to last year’s language. And next year’s words await another voice.”
Too many church people (like many presidential candidates) spent far too much time regurgitating last year’s language. We learn from the past but we don’t live there. And……wanting to live in the past is a very contemporary problem.
More reflections, I hope, in 2016.
For today a final reflection, once again, from my favorite poet T. S. Eliot and his “Journey of the Magi.”
The journey of the magi, you see, is not just a pious legend from the past. It is your story and mine…..
Merry Christmas and every good wish for the New Year!
“A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The was deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.”
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires gong out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty, and charging high prices.:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.
Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.
All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we lead all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I have seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World is one of the four “constitutions” resulting from the Roman Catholic Church’s Second Vatican Council (1962 – 1965). It is commonly known by its Latin name Gaudium et spes – “Joy and Hope.”
The document was officially promulgated on December 7, 1965. It gives an overview of the church’s teachings about humanity’s relationship to society: to economics, poverty, social justice, culture, science, technology, and ecumenism.
For fifty years, this document, drafted by some of my long-gone professors, has inspired and motivated me as a believer, a theologian, and a teacher. It still challenges me and gives me hope for today and for tomorrow.
I find it still has a very contemporary ring, echoed in its opening lines. A good reflection for all Christians on this third weekend of Advent 2015. A brief and appropriate Christian response to today’s anxieties:
The joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the people of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted, are the joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts. For theirs is a community composed of men and women. United in Christ, they are led by the Holy Spirit in their journey to the Kingdom of their Father and they have welcomed the news of salvation which is meant for all people. That is why this community realizes that it is truly linked with humankind and its history by the deepest of bonds….
To carry out such a task, the church has always had the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel. Thus, in language intelligible to each generation, it can respond to the perennial questions which people ask about this present life and the life to come, and about the relationship of the one to the other. We must therefore recognize and understand the world in which we live, its explanations, its longings, and its often dramatic characteristics.
A brief citation. A contemporary challenge. A clear statement of Christian mission…..
In the original Star Wars film, the Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi painfully announced the destruction of Alderaan: “I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror….”
The Force was understood as an energy field created by all living things, that surrounds and penetrates living beings and binds them together. Were Obi-Wan with us today, and not just a fictional character, I suspect he would proclaim, with sad seriousness, that we are experiencing indeed “a great disturbance in the Force.”
That great disturbance is marked by increasingly high levels of terrorist violence, gross aberrations and distortions of religious belief, and political polarization that seems to thrive on ignorance, deception, xenophobia, and falsehood-packaged-as-truth.
The what of contemporary terrorism is rather easy to define. Electronic and print media are filled with terrorist images and terrorists each day: Paris, Beirut, Colorado Springs, San Bernardino, London, and many, many other places and countries. The why of terrorism is much more complex and takes us into the world of socio-cultural change, economic disparity in our world, and aberrational religion.
My focus today is on distorted religion and what Christians can do about it.
Aberrational religious people (often called fundamentalists) have a kind of narrow tunnel vision. They take one element of reality and proclaim it as the total view of reality. In their distorted perspective, they are convinced they alone have the truth. In their worldview facts are only facts when they fit and reinforce their worldview. They pick and choose scriptural citations, often taken out of context, to reinforce their prejudices. In reality they produce the “thugs and killers” about whom President Obama spoke on Sunday night, December 6.
Anyone who disagrees with this distorted religious worldview is an “enemy” of God. In praise of Allah, Muslim fundamentalists terrorize and murder in places around the world, while Christian fundamentalists terrorize and murder in the name of Christ.
Jerry Falwell, Jr., the president of Lynchburg Virginia’s Liberty University, put his own aberrational religion on display, on Friday night, December 4. He urged Liberty students during the school’s convocation to get their permits to carry concealed weapons on campus following Wednesday’s mass shooting in San Bernardino, California. “If more good people had concealed carry permits,” he said, “then we could end those Muslims before they walked in.” The message is clear: we are the good guys and Muslims are the bad guys.
The New York Times reports that yesterday Donald Trump called for the United States to bar all Muslims from entering the country until the nation’s leaders can “figure out what is going on,” an extraordinary escalation of his harsh rhetoric aimed at members of the Islamic faith.
A few days ago, Representative Alan Harper, who represents Tuscaloosa and Pickens counties in the Alabama House, said in a Facebook post that travelers should try to “shop and purchase gas and other items at American owned stores.” “The C stores/tobacco outlets, etc. with the lights around the windows and doors,” he said “are not owned by God fearing Christians.”
Other fundamentalist Christians in America take extreme social action against LGBT people and same-sex marriage, advocating that LGBT people wear distinctive clothing, be registered, or be confined to prison. Some American Christian extremists want them executed. Other aberrational Christians in their distorted “right to life” morality, argue that physical assaults on doctors and personnel at Planned Parenthood offices and abortion clinics are justified, even when resulting in murder.
Sexism is a form of fundamentalist aberration as well. Cutting and pasting from the New Testament, the senior senior pastor of the Ridgeway Baptist Church in Memphis, told his congregation on Sunday that women need to submit to their husbands in all things, and that the “feminist rebellion” was responsible for many of the problems the country was facing. Cutting from Timothy, he reminded his congregation that “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.”
These kinds of aberrational religious fundamentalism excuse people from honest self-examination and reinforce their ignorance and anti-intellectualism, and support their prejudices, zealotry, intolerance, and hatefulness.
Yes there is a great disturbance in the force……
Our challenge is to confront ignorance and ignorant beliefs:
(1) Muslim terrorists are anchored in a distorted understanding of Islam. They need education. Christians need education about Islam.
(2) Christian terrorists are anchored in a distorted understanding of Christianity. They need education about their own tradition.
(3) No religion has all the truth. We are all on a journey toward the truth. We need to listen to and learn from each other. God is much greater than any one religious tradition.
(4) People in every religious tradition need help to understand that all scriptural literature and all statements of religious doctrine should be understood in an historical critical perspective. Historical situations change; and truth is expressed in a variety of languages, cultural understandings, and literary forms.
(5) We all need ongoing education to grow in our own understanding of our religious tradition and the religious traditions of others. Ongoing learning is part of ongoing life. Why not offer classes in Christianity as well as Islam in our parochial schools and parishes? Why not offer them as part of “social studies” in our public schools? As evening adult classes at our community colleges?
(6) Why not set up centers for the study of Islam and Muslim history and culture in our universities? Centers for inter-religious dialogue….
(7) In all of our educational endeavors, we need to stress the importance of conveying accurate information. There is a tremendous amount of just plain ignorance out there in our world. Education, of course, is more than passing on information. We need to educate people – again at all levels – in the skills and importance of critical thinking. Asking questions is a healthy way to think and live.
There is a great disturbance in the Force and it is moving toward a critical mass. We have no Obi-Wan. We are our only hope.