Monthly Archives: November 2013

Painting the Stars: Evolutionary Christianity

painting the stars

This is the last of five posts about Painting the Stars.
Previous posts are Toward Healing the Rift,  A Renaissance of WonderGetting Genesis Wrong, and An Evolving Faith

While there are two more sessions in the Painting the Stars series, my class/discussion group just covers the first five. Today’s reflection is on the fifth session: Evolutionary Christianity. This perspective is grounded in the life and acts of Jesus, holding that evolution is a general condition of all spheres. It is important to note that evolutionary Christianity is not the same as intelligent design. Intelligent design claims there are some organisms and forms of life that are too complex to attribute to evolution or genetic mutation. Evolutionary Christianity brings the theory of evolution and the teachings of Christianity together, seeing God as a “presence of divine love, inextricably, yet non-coercively, involved in the evolutionary process, as a divine milieu” (Bruce Sanguin).

I love the descriptor “non-coercive” to talk about God as divine love. Something I have always struggled with, and thus rejected because it seemed so strange, is the notion that God loves us yet can compel us (and other forms of life) to do what God so wishes. If God loved the world, so much so that God continues to create through us, why would God coerce us into anything?

Bruce Sanguin describes the non-coercive love like this: “Just as loving parents establish the conditions in which their children may thrive, but cannot engineer their children’s future, so God creates the conditions for a universe to thrive without controlling outcomes.”

God is a loving parent who has cultivated our environment so we can thrive and succeed but even Godcannot force or coerce us to go in a particular way. When I understand God’s love in this way, evolution and religion are not just compatible but unlock the mysteries of each other. As life evolves under the conditions of its environment, the divine love of God suggests and guides but never coerces. How does God’s non-coercive love change how we interpret the divine? Can God be a non-coercive judge or king or supreme being? Can God be omniscient or omnipotent and non-coercive?

Over the past five weeks, it has become even clearer that evolution, science, and religion are compatible and have much to offer each other. Science can deepen our understanding of religion just like religion can deepen our understanding of science. I as a Christian can find meaning and guidance in scripture while continuing to affirm evolution. There is not need for me to pick one over the other, and I think those who do are losing out. As Vincent Van Gogh reminds us, “When I have a terrible need of – shall I say the word – religion. Then I go out and paint the stars.”

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A Smattering of Every Day Religion

There are so many things going on right now surrounding religion and every day life that I decided to share some of the stories I think need some attention. Today I have three stories from around the country dealing with issues of gender, politics, United Methodist polity, and more. You may have heard about these stories, you may have not, but I think they should all be inspiring discussion.

And now, a smattering of every day religion.

“Vaginas Are Like ‘Little Hoover Vacuums,’ and Other Things Abstinence Lecturers Get Paid to Tell Teens” and “Standing Against Ignorance: When Justin Lookadoo Came to Richardson High School”

  • Need some talking points when speaking to teenagers about sex? Justin Lookadoo (pictured here), Pam Stenzel, and other abstinence only sex “educators” have some great ideas for you. Just tell the girls their vaginas are vacuums that will suck up sperm if a boy even gets near it; make sure the girls, again, know if they take birth control, their mother will probably hate them; and don’t forget to let the boys know it’s okay that they are stronger, less sensitive, and more adventurous…in fact, that makes them more dateable! The first article gives you a summary of these more extreme, religiously based abstinence only speakers; the second is a piece from Rev. Dr. Jaime Clark-Soles, who responds Richardson High School’s special assembly with Justin Lookadoo.

“‘I Relied Upon My Faith,’ George W. Bush Tells Leno”

  • George W. Bush was on the Tonight Show this week, and told host Jay Leno that he relied on his faith during his presidency. Bush is a conservative Christian and many of his actions reflect this faith (see this article for more about his religion during his time in office). Whether you agree with his views or not, this certainly shows the difficulty in removing religion from political actions.

“Frank Schafer, Pennsylvania Methodist Pastor, Suspended After Officiating Son’s Gay Wedding” and “Pa. Pastor Expects To Be Defrocked For Gay Wedding”

  • Something that has been happening in the United Methodist Church recently is the trial, and conviction, of Rev. Frank Schaefer for performing his son’s wedding to another man in 2007. The debate about LGBT rights and marriage equality is causing a huge rift in the UMC, truly testing the unity of the United Methodist Church. It’s a painful time for many United Methodists, especially those who love, and affirm the love, of same sex couples.

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Painting the Stars: An Evolving Faith

This is the fourth of five posts about Painting the Stars.
Previous posts include Toward Healing the Rift,  A Renaissance of Wonder, and Getting Genesis Wrong

Evolution is often thought of in terms of science and, more specifically, biology. Yet Painting the Stars wants us to broaden our view of evolution to see that religions evolve. Each facet of Christianity, or Judaism, or Islam, is like a species that evolve in different directions (and just like animal species, some branches of religion will thrive while others will die off). So Painting the Stars makes it clear that in order for religion – particularly Christianity – and science to truly complement each other, we must expand our understanding of evolution and see that religions are evolving all the time.

Today we’ll zero in on the church’s role in an evolving Christianity. When religions are continually shifting and changing, how does the institution productively participate in this evolution? Ken Wilber, an American writer and public speaker, speaks to this very question. Wilber suggests churches must act as “conveyor belts” for people as their faith and understanding of life evolve, helping them reach the next stage, and the next, and the next.When the church is a working conveyor belt, people are gently pushed forward in their faith; when the conveyor belt breaks, religious institutions leave their members to figure it out themselves or, even worse, to sit on the broken belt with no intention of moving forward.

But what does it mean for the church to be a conveyor belt? I think it’s obvious that the church, when it is working, is guiding and equipping Christians to live their faith in the world around them, to be disciples. Yet in order to cultivate modern-day disciples, churches have to be informed about social and cultural news; they have to learn the language of the world rather than insisting the world navigate the language of faith; church leadership needs to engage with science and art, creating their own evolving interdisciplinary community of faith.

Unfortunately, the church is often a broken belt. Maybe it worked 10 years ago, but no one has kept it running and now whole congregations are stuck. Stuck in their conceptions of faith and the divine, stuck in issues of social justice and mercy, stuck in the way things used to be. With the number of broken conveyor belts in the United States, it’s no wonder Christian churches are seeing a decrease in young people. As a 22 year old, I absolutely wouldn’t want to be part of a church that was not cognizant of what was going on and that wasn’t doing anything to engage with the world around it.

As religions of all variety evolve, it is time for the religious institutions to get their conveyor beltsworking again. It won’t be easy or quick. In fact, it is unlikely that we will ever get all the belts working again, which will result in some congregations, and sects, dwindling away. But that’s the way the world, the universe, evolution works, and we will have much more equipped disciples if we actively participate in our evolving faith.

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Religious Investors, Welcome to Twitter

A few weeks ago, I wrote about using social media – specifically Twitter – as a venue for religious expression. Twitter continues to be in the headlines, this time because of their recent debut on the New York Stock Exchange. Why is this today’s subject on Everyday Religion?
Because Twitter has joined the ranks of companies that have been approved for Muslim investors.

Among Muslims across the world, investments must follow the strict Shari’ah laws regarding finances. The Shari’ah is based on the Qur’an, Islam’s sacred text, and “governs all aspects of personal and collective life of Muslims” (HSBC, Introduction to Islamic Investing). This means when Muslim companies or individuals participate in the buying, selling, and trading of stocks, the companies they choose to invest in must meet the Shari’ah laws. There are two big categories all potential investments fall into: Halal or Haram.

Companies and corporations that do not manufacture or sell goods forbidden to Muslims, such as pork and pork products, are considered halal. Common industries for Muslims to invest in include chemical manufacturing, computers and computer software, energy, telecommunications, and textiles (source: Islamic Principles, Halal vs. Haram). 

On the other side of things, businesses are considered haram when they make money in Haramunacceptable ways or deal with products forbidden to Muslims. Industries that are considered haram – that Muslims should in no way support or deal with financially – include alcohol, gambling, pork and pork products, and pornography. Shari’ah scholars also advise against investments in tobacco and weapon companies (source: Islamic Principles, Halal vs. Haram). It’s not just the industry that puts a company into the realm of haram. A distinctive and key aspect “of Islamic finance is the prohibition of interest, whether nominal or excessive, simple or compound, fixed or floating”(HSBC, Introduction to Islamic Investing). Citigroup, for example, is non-compliant with Shari’ah law because of its heavy handed use of interest. 

Going back to social media, Muslims can freely invest in Google, Apple, Linkedin, and now Twitter (complete list of Shari’ah compliant companies at IdeaRatings). While I don’t dabble in stocks, I can see more of the general public interested in investing in Twitter, a service millions upon millions of people use every day. However, do Muslims have more of a tie to the social media site because of its presence during the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings? Andrew Torchia of the Huffington Post thinks so, saying that “Twitter has political significance for many people in the Muslim world because it was used to coordinate mass protests against the autocratic governments toppled by the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings.” I think this statement brings up an interesting question: now that Twitter shares can be bought, sold, and traded, will the relationship between Twitter and the Arab Spring have an impact on the number of Islamic financial institutions and Muslim individuals who invest in the company?

Shari’ah laws regarding investments and finances brings religion and money sharply together, and makes us think about how our faith influences – or should influence – our spending. Do you remember your religion when you reach for your wallet?

 

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November 12, 2013 · 3:47 PM

Painting the Stars: Getting Genesis Wrong

This is the third of five posts about Painting the Stars.
Previous posts include Toward Healing the Rift and A Renaissance of Wonder.

ecologicalmanvsnature

This week, our focus is on sustainability and respect for all living plants, animals, and humans. I should have saved my “man on top vs. human mixed in” image for this week, because our discussion centered around the concept of dominion from Genesis and shifting our interpretation from domination to responsibility.

Bruce Sanguin – who writes the pre-class readings – says,

“Genesis suggests that our role as humans is to have ‘dominion’ over the rest of nature…it was obviously intended to suggest that just as God exercised dominion with justice and kindness over the human realm, so as God’s stewards we should to the same with the non-human world. It is a call to exercise responsibility.”

When I read this and thought about it more, I realized how much sense it makes. While I have always been skeptical of the interpretation of Genesis that leads to the human on top model, I never thought of alternative ways to think about the concept of dominion. Yet when dominion is presented as stewardship and responsibility to take care of the earth, it turns the traditional meaning of Genesis on its head and calls Christians to embrace our roles as caretakers. Like Sanguin points out, God exercises dominion over us humans…but God does it with justice and mercy and love. If we are God’s hands and feet – God’s stewards and caretakers – why should we exercise domination rather than dominion? It may seem like a subtle difference, but the results are drastically different.

What would our world look like if all people of faith, not just Christians, took care of the earth? Not just each other (though humanity needs to do a better job of that too…) but the animals we raise for slaughter and our pets, the trees and mountains, the deserts and oceans, the cells and atoms that make up the most basic forms of life? How would we feel if we embraced stewardship? Would we have a deeper connection to nature? Would we live healthier lives?

Genesis 1:31 says,

God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.

God saw everything God had made, and it was very good. In the whole of creation, the plants and the animals and the humans, it was very good. The world wasn’t made for us. We were made for the world. And when we recognize and embrace the beauty of stewardship, it will be especially good.

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Thanksgivukkah: What Will You Eat on November 28?

For the first time since 1888, Thanksgiving Day and the first full day of Hanukkah will both occur on November 28th, 2013. Clearly, this is only exciting for American Jews who celebrate both holidays, but plans for this special occurrence are already in motion. According to an article on The Star (thestar.com), “more than 1,000 people are expected to gather in Los Angeles to celebrate the first — and likely only — Thanksgivukkah Festival with ‘light, liberty and latkes.'” Other manifestations of Thanksgivukkah include menurkies – turkey-shaped menorahs, pumpkin latkes, and Rabbi David Paskin’s “The Ballad of Thanksgivukkah” (Huffington Post).

Dana Gitell, a major source of the Thanksgivukkah Facebook buzz, draws parallels between the stories of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah:

“There are amazing similarities between the Pilgrims’ quest for religious freedom and what the Maccabees were fighting for. This a great opportunity for Jewish Americans to celebrate this country and for everyone to acknowledge the greatness of our shared religious freedoms.” (Source: NY Daily News)

Many Jewish Americans are thrilled to have Judaism in the spotlight in a different way this year. Usually Hanukkah falls around Christmas and is often assumed to be pretty much the same. With the hype and discussion surrounding Thanksgivukkah, Judaism has been catapulted into the scene, reminding Americans of the Jewish presence in this country. Thanksgivukkah is an opportunity of interfaith dialogue, as Americans of all stripes gather around the table. It’s “an invitation to celebrate the places where Jewishness enriches America, and where America enriches the Jewish people,” says Rabbi Mishael Zion, and the topic of gratitude and giving thanks seems to be a key place where these two celebrations converge.

Where the gratitude expressed on Thanksgiving can be fleeting, the emphasis on gratitude during Hanukkah is rooted in the rich history and stories told during the Festival of Lights. Rabbi Zion sees Thanksgivukkah as a time to “turn a generation of immediate gratification into one of rooted gratitude.” As the American family, Jewish or not, sits around eating turkey and mashed potatoes or latkes, they can share stories of gratitude for things beyond here and now.

There has been little critique of Thanksgivukkah, or at least very little that I could find, and I don’t think that’s surprising. In the U.S., Thanksgiving focuses on our shared past with the Pilgrims. Whether you were born in the United States or not, there seems to be a sense of unity on the fourth Thursday of every November. This year, I think November 28th will be an even more perfect day to put aside the walls we put up around those different than us – in religion, race, ethnicity, gender, class, culture – and give thanks to the great diversity of the United States.

 

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Painting the Stars: A Renaissance of Wonder

This is the second of five posts about Painting the Stars, a series on science and religion.
You can find my intro and first thoughts here.

It’s week two with Painting the Stars, and so far our discussions and readings totally echo myProcess Theology course in college. Process theology focuses on the interconnectedness of the world, and the universe, as well as constant becoming of every organism, and the wonder and awe that comes from this deep appreciation for divine expression in nature (for an overview of process theology, and writings from a process theology perspective, visit JesusJazzBuddhism.org). Bruce Sanguin, who writes our readings for discussion, gives us three core insights to an evolutionary world view, drawing on process theology vocabulary: 1) everything is becoming; 2) everything is alive and emerging; and 3) there is purpose.

Becoming: as you build upon your experiences, and your mood changes, you are always becoming a new person. You are not the same as you were 1 year ago, 1 month ago, 1 week ago, 1 minute ago. And everything, as Sanguin says, is becoming, from the dog and cat to the birds to the grass and dirt.

Emerging: emergence is about novelty and newness. When everything is alive and emerging, there is a sense of novelty. Just like becoming, each moment is a new moment and it is in that newness that we find beauty, wonder, and the sacred.

Purpose: we all have purpose. And when I say “we,” I include everything living. Seriously, everything. Even those mosquitos that drive you crazy have a purpose. I think this is one of the most important insights in evolutionary/process theology because it reminds us to respect our earth, and it shows us the sacred in all aspects of the universe.

I think Sanguin sums it up beautifully when he says, “We are not separate from the process that gave birth to life. Rather we are the presence of the whole, dynamic process intimately connected to everything that preceded us.”

ecologicalmanvsnatureThis kind of theology and spirituality, focused on the interconnectedness of the universe, deepens our feeling of awe, wonder, and mystery of the sacred. We don’t have to fit everything perfectly into doctrine and belief. We can leave things a mystery, and embrace the wonder and love that comes when we realize every little living thing is an expression of the divine.

Love all Creation
The whole of it and every grain of sand
Love every leaf
Every ray of God’s light
Love the animals
Love the plants
Love everything
If you love everything
You will perceive
The divine mystery in things
And once you have perceived it
You will being to comprehend it ceaselessly
More and more everyday
And you will at last come to love the whole world
With an abiding universal love.

–Fyodor Dostoyevsky

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