Of Qu’rans and hijabs

Of Qu’rans and Hijabs

I recently made a deliberate study of aspects of Islam, namely the Qu’ran and the wearing of the hijab. I did this to get a better sense of the religion that is often demonized and ridiculed in the West. Much of the prejudices about Islam come from a lack of knowledge aside from sensationalized newscasts and misrepresentations of the religion based on a few people who hide behind Islam and commit acts of atrocity, acts which are against the teachings of the Islamic faith.

Now, as I’ve stated before in one of my earlier posts, Islam is a cousin to both Christianity and Judaism. In Islam, Jesus (pbuh) is seen as a prophet and the Messiah, but not as God. Islam’s respect of Jesus (pbuh) is evident in the phrase “peace be upon him” that is mentioned or written in abbreviated form of pbuh after mention of his name, like I have done here in this article. All three religions trace their lineage back to Abraham of the Torah/Old Testament with the Jewish and Christian religions basing theirs on Isaac and Islam basing theirs on his stepbrother Ishmael. I will not go further into their similarities at this point due to both having written about them before as well as that not being the topic of this article.

Instead, I wish to focus on two other aspects about Islam which are often brought up in an attempt to show the religion as being hostile, intolerant, and sexist: the Qu’ran and the wearing of the hijab.

I have spent time reading the Qu’ran. In fact, I made it a point to read a verse or a surah (chapter) from it each day during the Lenten season. From this and other readings I have done of the Qu’ran, I find it to be no more violent than the Torah/Old Testament of the Bible. There are mentions of attacking non-believers who attack first. Yet, there are also admonishments to not compel belief in anyone. That is, to put it another way, no one is forced to believe in the Islamic faith, unlike the door-to-door proselytizing that occurs with some sects of the Christian church. In fact, there are many verses that sound much like the Bible and seek to convey the same incidents.

When some individuals or groups state that the Qu’ran is filled with violence and calls for violence against non-Muslims, they seem to forget places within the Old Testament/Torah where there are calls for the Israelites to do the same, such as admonishments to kill entire cities in the name of Jehovah. The calls to violence in both the Torah/Old Testament and the Qu’ran are contextual to the time wherein they were written. They are not to be taken as modern day admonishments for believers.

Instead, the practices of Islam are based on what are known as the Five Pillars of Islam: The Profession of Faith (Shahadah), Daily Prayers (Salat), Almsgiving (Zakat), Fasting during Ramadan (Saum), and Pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj). These bear resemblance to Judeo-Christian practices of reciting articles of faith, such as the Apostles Creed or Nicaean Creed; daily prayers or even the hours of prayer once used in the Catholic Church; works of charity; fasting during the 40 days of Lent; and the former practice of Christians who used to make pilgrimages to holy places or as many Jews do now to the Eastern Wall.

But what about the Islamic practice of jihad? What about it? Jihad simply means “the spiritual struggle within oneself against sin”. While some groups have used the term to engage in violence against others, that is not the true meaning nor is it sanctioned by the vast majority of Muslims. Muslims engage in personal jihad every day as they struggle to not commit sins against their faith. This is much like pretty much any religious person does as he or she strives to remain true to the tenets of his or her faith. So, there goes that argument.

The Qu’ran is filled with lovely sections that praise the Creator and the works the Creator has made, much like the Torah and the Bible are filled with similar sections.

My other topic is the hijab or scarf worn by some women who are Muslim. Many believe this is required by the Qu’ran, but it isn’t in the sense that many believe it is. The hijab or other head coverings are simply part of the Islamic faith for women to maintain a sense of modesty in dress. It is not that different from nuns who wear habits or Amish/Mennonites who wear bonnets. While there are some countries who impose the wearing of head coverings or full body coverings for women, they do not do this because it is required by the Qu’ran, but by their own set of moral or legal codes.

Women, particularly those living in the West, wear the hijab or other head coverings (shayla, khimar, chador, niqab, or burqa) for various reasons from believing their faith calls them to do so to a way to visibly express their faith to expressing their cultural identity or even to challenge the prevailing thought in the West that women who wear the hijab are somehow oppressed or silenced. There are also Muslim women who do not wear a head covering, but maintain their modesty in other ways. It’s a personal choice for the woman far more than a religious one. By the way, some Muslim men also wear had coverings for the same reasons, although they are not like the hijab. Even this is somewhat like the reason why some Jewish men wear yarmulkes or hats.

I hope this serves to enlighten my readers a bit about both the Qu’ran and the wearing of a hijab. If you have further questions, I suggest you contact your local mosque with a open mind and simply ask. Many mosques also hold open houses for non-Muslims to learn more about their Muslim neighbors.

The greatest defense against ignorance, prejudice, and fear is education. If more people take the time to learn about other religions and cultures, then the better our world becomes. Humankind has far more similarities than differences once you reach out and learn more about one another.

Peace-Salaam-Shalom

Musings on Jesus and the Abrahamic faiths

It’s been awhile since I last posted a blog entry. However, I’ve been thinking a bit about Jesus from a theological view when it comes to the Abrahamic faiths, particularly Islam and Christianity. What I am about to write may anger some people, but it is not meant to do so. Rather, it consists of thoughts that I’ve had based on life experience, the brief formal theological training I’ve had, and my own theological training through reading on my own.

First, most people, especially fellow Christians, seem to forget that Jesus never once said to pray to him as if he were God. Rather, the prayer given as the model prayer states that when we pray, we are to pray to Our Father/Allah/Abba. Most Christians consider the Lord’s Prayer to be the perfect or model prayer for our faith. It is simple. It is succinct. It covers all the major areas a simple prayer to the Creator should cover. Praises the Creator. Asks for His Kingdom to come to earth to save us from our human troubles. Asks God to grant us food. Asks God to forgive us for our sins. Asks God to help us to not be tempted to sin, even though we will be tempted since we are human and, as such, imperfect. Asks us to forgive others as we forgive them, which we try to practice, but rarely accomplish due to our imperfect nature. Ends with more praise to the Deity. A good prayer. However, it never says to pray to a Trinitarian Godhead, just to God/Allah/Abba.

So, why do Christians consider Jesus to be God? If Jesus never said he was God, then why do we? One argument uses the passage where Jesus says no one can come to the Father except through him. However, many of the prophets of the Torah or Old Testament also say they need to be heeded if people are to obey God and follow His commandments. One particular event in history occurred to make the theological statement that Jesus was and is God. That event was the First Council of Nicea in the year 325.

The First Council of Nicea was called together by Emperor Constantine the Great to bring about unity in the Church when it came to the nature of Jesus as either being the Son of God or actually God in the flesh. One one side were those who were led by St. Alexander of Alexandria and Athanasius who stated the doctrine that Jesus was God, rather than separate or even a prophet of God. The term they used was ‘homoousios’ which meant that Jesus and God were of the same “essence”. The other side, called the Arian side due to the primary debater of the side being named Arius, used the term ‘homoiousios’ meaning that Jesus and God shared a ‘similar essense’. This one letter difference brought a substantial change to Christianity in that by deciding that Jesus and God were essentially the same rather than similar, then Jesus was God rather than just one of God’s prophets. Let me break this down a bit for you.

St. Alexander of Alexandria and Athanasius, hereafter known as the Orthodox side, argued that God the Father always existed and God the Son always existed along with Him in an equal manner. They used the scriptures where it quoted Jesus as having said phrases such as, “I and the Father are one”(John 10:30), and the “Word was God” (John 10:30).

Arius, and those who followed his idea of God, argued that God was God alone and that the Son of God was created by God and therefore could not be God due to his being a creation of God. As such, there was a time when the Son did not exist. That would make the Son separate from the Father and therefore inferior to the Father. To use Arius’s words, “were He in the truest sense a son, He must have come after the Father, therefore the time obviously was when He was not, and hence He was a finite being”(M’Clintock & Strong, 1890, p. 45). They also appealed to scripture by using phrases such as, “the Father is greater than I” (John 14:28) and stating the Son was “firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15).

In the end, the Arian side was branded as heretics and the orthodox side held sway over time as a whole. They adopted what Christians know as the Nicene Creed which declares that Jesus is and always has been God, rather than just God-like.

Yet, if you think about it, for the 325 years leading up to the First Council of Nicea, Christians varied in the belief of Jesus as being God. That would have made them much like the Jewish and Islamic faiths of the time in that Jesus was considered a prophet, albeit a major prophet. In a way, it makes the early followers of Jesus much like our cousins of the Muslim faith in that Christians see Jesus as the last of the great prophets and Muslims see Mohammed as the last of the great prophets. For them, God was God. One God. Allah. Abba. Father.

It becomes even more ironic when you consider the fundamentalist branch of Christianity which says it longs for faith like the early Christians in that the faith they long for is more in tune with Islam and Judaism than it is with what is now seen as Christian theology.

If one looks deeper into the Islamic faith, it is also seen how Muslims view Jesus with reverence as a prophet. I have a long way to go to fully understand my cousins of the Islamic faith, but I can say that they and our cousins of the Jewish faith are closer to us than many Christians realize. It just takes all sides wanting to open the door to dialog and understanding rather than simply believing all that is given to us by media outlets. Our common heritage through Abraham exists. Sure, we have different theologies and variations on those different theologies, but we share in the common belief of one true God as Creator of the Universe.

Just food for thought in a world where there is too much negative stew.

Peace-Salaam-Shalom

References:

M’Clintock, John; Strong, James (1890), Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature 6, Harper & Brothers.

Borders and Boxes

Thousands of children from Central America are flooding the southern part of the United States on a daily basis at this time as they search for somewhere safe from the ravages of rampant crimes, particularly drug crimes, in their homelands. As is typical for some of those who live in the United States, the call for these children to be instantly deported is loud and sometimes violent.

Turning to another part of the globe, there are refugees fleeing from the unrest in Syria and other parts of the Middle East due to everything from government troops to the rising terrorist group ISIS. Refugees here are fleeing primarily to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq, but a few are going to Germany and Sweden in their search for safety. In Europe, a few countries have closed their borders to the refugees, such as Bulgaria and Spain.

Add to this the recent rising of anti-immigrant conversations from the United Kingdom as they deal with a rising Middle Eastern population, and you have yet further division among the human race.

All of this has gotten me to ponder why we require borders in the first place. Secondly, and related to this, why is it that humans feel the need to place people in boxes that categorize and subdivide ourselves from one another rather than looking for those things that make us similar? All these borders and boxes serve no real purpose than to divide humanity even further. They do not serve to bring people together as should be the desire for the sake of the human race and the future of our planet.

John Lennon, the former Beatle, once sang the words, “Imagine there’s no countries/It isn’t hard to do/Nothing to kill or die for/And no religion too/Imagine all the people/Living life in peace”(Imagine). I often wonder why we humans cannot strive for this as vehemently as we strive to create more weapons to destroy one another or even more boxes to subdivide ourselves from one another. There is no one thing that causes we humans to do this, of that I am certain, unless the underlying reason is fear.

That may be it. Perhaps we divide and subdivide ourselves so much because we fear having to learn about our fellow human being. As the American poet Robert Frost once wrote, “Good fences make good neighbors”(Mending Wall). Yet, if that poem is read, even it goes against the idea of borders and boxes as it states, “Before I built a wall I’d ask to know/What I was walling in or walling out/And to whom I was like to give offence” (Mending Wall). A wall would make sense if there was a good reason for it. If there were, as the poet says, cows to roam and the wall used to keep them in check. Perhaps we humans have no reason for the wall other than to repeat as the neighbor does by simply saying, “Good fences make good neighbors”(Mending Wall). We do not know why it’s there, but that it’s always been there, so it must stay there.

Some argue that the borders we have are there due to the result of military action and the truce documents saying they are located between certain coordinates. If they are there only to mark the areas where one side may venture due to a disagreement, are they not like when two children or roommates share a room and one lays down a line saying that everything on one side is theirs alone and the items on another belong only to the other person? Sounds rather childish if this is the case, doesn’t it? Rather than talk out our disagreements, we fight until we feel there are enough people dead (or, heaven forbid, the other side is annihilated), then create an invisible line to ward off the other side (again, provided anyone is left on the other side). Seems like a great waste of human potential and the opportunity to work together to create harmony rather than discord.

Others argue that these borders and boxes are needed to delineate easier governance of the people. I guess I would argue that perhaps sharing governance of ourselves might be best. Why not set basic laws for all humankind to ensure all are treated with respect and dignity? Basic ones like not killing one another, sheltering the homeless, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, reaching out to help our fellow human being when they need it, and respecting each person’s faith journey or even right not to have a set faith, but just choosing to live and let live. Yes, it makes it easier to set laws specific for a given country or state or region because no one has to talk with anyone else other than those who are set to govern that particular place. The United States does not ask Canada for permission to create a law and the opposite does not happen either. Would it not be worth it to have people talk to come up with what is good for all humanity rather than set up borders and boxes?

I can almost hear the calls of people shouting that I’m a Communist and should be watched or put away. I can even hear those questioning my sanity. Yet, maybe this was what the Christian scriptures refer to when the comment is made by Paul when he stated, “There is no longer Jew nor Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus”(Galatians 3:28 NRSV). If one would prefer to hear what is attributed to Jesus, then look at the passage from John 14:2,
In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?”(John 14:2 RSV). Given I am quoting Christian scripture; it places me not so much with Communism, but certainly within Socialism.

Who cares? It is just a box. A human formed opinion to label me in some convenient way. Does it matter? Not really, except for the person placing me in that box and others who may agree with him or her.

Divisions and subdivisions happening at a rapid rate,
Always building walls and gates.
Keeping someone out or in.
To me, it seems like such a sin
Against humanity.

Back to my opening images, though. For the thousands of children who survived the perilous journey to the United States in hope that the words on the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor,/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,/The wretched refuse of your teeming shore./Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,/I life my lamp beside the golden door”(New Colossus by Emma Lazarus), are still true; my question remains is it true? It was for our forebears, but will it be for you?

For those fleeing tyranny in hope of safety, will they find it?

For those who are caught between the rockets of Israel and Hamas, will they ever know peace?

When will we, as human beings inhabiting the 3rd planet from the Sun, spend more time trying to erasing borders and knocking down boxes instead of trying to create or build more?

One can only hope it is soon.

References:
Galatians 3:28– http://biblia.com/books/nrsv/Ga3.28
Gospel According to St. John 14:2– http://www.biblestudytools.com/john/14-2-compare.html
“Imagine”– http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/johnlennon/imagine.html
“Mending Wall”– http://writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/88/frost-mending.html
“New Colossus”– http://www.libertystatepark.com/emma.htm

Where Some Religious Problems Began and Hope For Peace

I have always been interested in religion, between having been in a number of denominations, visiting a number of different faith paths as well as seminary, I have seen the varying aspects of the way humanity worships and finds a niche for our spiritual side. I keep returning to one event that may have been one for which there arose some issues between the Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Islam, and Christianity). That event was the First Council of Nicaea. It was at this meeting where the Christian church truly set up a barrier to differentiate itself from Judaism and, in a way, Islam. The difference caused by a single word containing a single letter changed how Christianity viewed its namesake.

Prior to the First Council of Nicaea in the year 325, the Christian church had no agreement on the nature of Jesus. Some viewed Jesus as one with the Creator, while others saw Jesus as a separate entity from the Creator. The concept of one Deity is the foundation for both Judaism and Islam. One God, monotheistic in nature, serves as the Deity for these two faiths. Up until the First Council of Nicaea, this was even the foundation for the Christian faith to an extent. The nature of Jesus was not concrete. Was he God? Was he another God? Was he a subordinate God? Was he simply a prophet? Members of the early Church wrestled in their faith with these questions.

The purpose of the First Council of Nicaea was to put an end to the arguments over the nature of Jesus as Son of God in relation to God the Father. On one side were the Arians who claimed that the Son of God was created by God the Father and was, therefore, not actually God, but a separate being from God. The other side, usually referred to as the orthodox side, claimed that the Christ was indeed God and was not a distinct entity from God the Father. It all came down to one letter that changed a single word, the letter “I”.

The words in question are Greek. One is homoousios. This means roughly “same essence”. The other, also Greek, is homoiousios meaning “similar essence”. This one letter, which ironically we get the phrase “one iota of difference,” changed the world and relationship of Christianity as it relates to our cousins of the Abrahamic faiths of Judaism and Islam. By the Christian church deciding that Jesus the Christ was God, it set up Christianity’s distinct view of a Trinitarian Deity, or more simply put from my catechism, “God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. How many Gods are there? One.” If you answered three, the nun slapped you on the wrist and made you go through the lesson one more time. From this council the first Christian creed was adopted, which is what we now call the Nicaean Creed. It helped to bring an end to the divisions in the early Christian church, to an extent as those not agreeing with it were banished, and established the orthodoxy of the Church.

The problem arises as many people do not know this history of the Christian church, in addition to forgetting that the Christian faith, as well as Judaism and Islam, all hearken back to Abraham as the patriarch for these three faith paths. We are cousins. The issues we have with one another are due to the human desire or foible to be completely correct on an issue, in this case, religion. Yes, the media shows people from every side who are hell-bent on eradicating the infidel regardless of the faith of the infidel. There are misguided Christians, misguided Muslims, and misguided Jews who would rather advocate the differences and attempt to eradicate the other two than to open dialogue between us. We need to recognize that and accept it for being the bastardization of their faith to the point of using it as a weapon. It is up to those of us in all three of the Abrahamic faith paths who are open-minded and intelligent to work together to open the lines of communication and instruct others, and ourselves, into knowing that we have more in common than we have different.

The biggest similarity is that we all believe in One True God. Whether we see One God as just one distinct Deity or a Trinitarian version does not really matter in the long run. All three Abrahamic faiths believe in charity. All three Abrahamic faiths believe in love for one another. All three Abrahamic faiths believe in striving for peace. We cannot allow the fringes of our faiths to lead us down the path of continual hatred and war. We must strive for peace and acceptance of our shared lineage and shared values.

It’s Not A Weapon

I recently read an opinion article where a minister was decrying the death of ‘religious etiquette’ where he complained about wedding dresses being too risqué and people carrying water bottles to church and those things he sees are the death of respect for church. I read another article decrying how people being tired or afraid of being judged by their appearances as to why people are not attending church anymore. I have also read hundreds of articles and opinions how our country is going to Hell because of same-sex marriages, birth control, abortions, lack of organized prayer in schools, gun control, and a myriad of other things. Some churches have gone as far as giving guns to people to entice them to attend church. This got me to thinking that one of the problems that the Christian faith, in particular the Christian faith in the United States, is that religion is being used as a weapon against other people rather than as a bridge. Somehow, I do not believe either our Creator or Jesus advocated faith being used as a weapon. That seems utterly absurd when you stop and consider it, doesn’t it?

The Christian faith, including the Bible, is not a weapon. Stop using it as such! Jesus taught that his disciples were to go out and make disciples of the faith. He did not say to do that under duress, torture, or hatred, yet Christians have done this for centuries. Rather than obeying the two greatest commandments to love God with all your being and to love your neighbor as yourself, Christians have been trying to promulgate the faith by yelling, screaming, torturing, and even killing others who refuse to comply with their faith or their particular form of faith. This is not Christianity! This is abuse. This is cruelty. This is inhumane. This is downright un-Christian like behavior!

There are people hurting in our world from the wounds caused by those who are supposedly ‘good’ Christians. Need a few examples? If you need examples, then you are already part of the problem. However, out of kindness, I will give you a few.

The LGBT community. People who are born Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transsexual have been persecuted for centuries. The excuse is that what they are doing is sinful according to the Bible. When one tries to argue using one of the two greatest commandments, they get the “you cannot pick and choose what you’re going to follow and not going to follow from the Bible” crap. Yet, these same people likely have no issues with tattoos, perfumes, jewelry, material wealth, eating seafood, eating pork, working on the Sabbath, etc. Talk about picking and choosing which scripture to follow and which not to follow, these people are doing it themselves. If a person identifies themselves as part of the LGBT community, it’s because the Creator made them that way. The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 14:13-14,

Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean (NRSV).

Simply put, don’t stand in another person’s way saying he or she is somehow bad or sinful as that is not our place as humans. If we say something, such as a person’s sexual preference, is disagreeable for us, then that is our personal viewpoint for ourselves. If a person does not like the idea of someone else being born LGBT, then that’s their issue, no one else’s. It is not up to the straight person to judge the LGBT person or for the LGBT person to judge the straight person. Our Creator made humankind in His/Her image; therefore, all humankind is clean and part of the Creator.

Now, before anyone jumps to other conclusions about allowing for horrible things such as murder, rape, or child abuse, let me be clear, those things are wrong. The same passage goes on to say that if a person does something that causes someone else to be injured, then they are “no longer walking in love” (Romans 14:15 NRSV). Once again, the point is love. Love. Love. Love. The point of the Christian faith is love and love is not a weapon.

It does not take a history major to understand how many times well-meaning, but misguided Christians persecuted non-Christians and Christians who espoused dissimilar beliefs for not being Christian or not being their own particular form of Christian. The Puritans came to what we call the United States to escape religious persecution. However, they persecuted the Catholic Christians and the Quakers when they arrived in the colonies. Go back further and there are the Crusades to rid the Holy Land of those who follow the teachings of Islam, the cousin of the Jewish and Christian faiths. Add to that the countless times the Jewish people were persecuted throughout time by Christians. Add to that the treatment of the Native Americans as they would not assimilate to the Christian faith, even though their faith in some ways is far more Christ-like than the way most Christians practice.

There are many paths leading to the Great Spirit of the Universe. People follow whichever path to which they are led. Just because that person practices their faith differently does not make them wrong. I was raised in a home where religion existed on a rather casual level. My mother sometimes attended church at a United Methodist Church or a Church of Christ-Disciples. My father attended at Church of God. Certainly different ends of the Christian perspective. I went to these three, but also attended for a while in my youth, an Apostolic Church and was baptized and confirmed as a Roman Catholic. In my adulthood, I have attended Lutheran (ELCA, Wisconsin and Missouri Synod versions), Presbyterian, Episcopal, Jewish, Southern Baptist, Church of Christ-Independent, Buddhist, and now United Church of Canada. I hope to be able to at least attend a service in a Mosque as well, but have no idea how to go about asking if I may.

What I have learned is that people are all seeking something in life, a meaning of life greater than what they experience in their day to day lives. For some, a belief in a Higher Power fulfills that need. I think it is a human need to know we are not alone in times when we feel so very alone. It can be comforting to feel the presence of our Creator even if the presence is simply another person sitting with you that cares about you as a person.

Religion is not meant to build walls up between humanity, but rather help to build bridges of understanding and cooperation. Religion is not a weapon to be used to harm others, we have far too many weapons that do that already. Isn’t it time to care less about a person’s exterior or if they bring a drink or snack to church or who they love and more about one another and how we can work together to live this crazy thing called life?

Real Christianity—Respecting Other Faiths and Love

Real Christianity—Respecting Other Faiths and Love

Let me start off by saying that I, in no way, shape or form, believe myself to be a prophet or to be anywhere close to the perfection of God. I am far from it. I make mistakes; I sin. I get angry, discouraged, and sad, frightened, and feel lonely at times. I am human, for better or worse. Yet, there is something that has been occurring a great deal that is weighing heavy on my heart. It is personal and yet not personally against me as an individual. It is the attack on my faith.

Regardless of the person’s political persuasion, the Christian faith is and has been for a great deal of time under attack. The extremes of the political landscape demonize the Christian faith as either obsolete or narrow-minded.

It is neither.

At its core, Christianity is a faith based upon love and understanding, not hate and intolerance. Christianity is simple, yet complex and it is the complex nature of the faith that leads to its misrepresentation by those seeking to use it for his or her own gain whether it is financial or fame. These are ironic, as the person for whom Christianity basis its beliefs wanted neither. Jesus Christ did not want fame or wealth. He wanted people to get along and believe in God. It is my hope to try, in my humblest way, to show the true nature of Christianity rather than gloss it over with personal theology. With the Creator’s help, I will do just that. All I ask from you, dear reader, is an open mind and an open heart. Thank you.

Other Faiths

I shall begin this journey with what Christ said regarding other faiths. In his time on earth, Jesus was likely to encounter a very wide variety of religious beliefs especially if the definition of what a religion is taken in the literal sense. According to the online version of the Merriam-Webster dictionary, religion is defined as the following (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/religion):

1 a: the state of a religious <a nun in her 20th year of religion>

b (1): the service and worship of God or the supernatural

  (2): commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance

2: a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices

3 archaic: scrupulous conformity

4: a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith

Examples of RELIGION

  • Many people turn to religion for comfort in a time of crisis.
  • There are many religions, such as Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism.
  • Shinto is a religion that is unique to Japan.
  • Hockey is a religion in Canada.
  • Politics are a religion to him.
  • Where I live, high school football is religion.
  • Food is religion in this house.

When looked at from the dictionary definition, there are many religions even now; therefore, it should be no surprise that Jesus encountered numerous ones during his time on earth, such as, Judaism, which essentially had four different options:

Zealot-the revolutionary side that wanted an armed revolt to drive the Romans out; Sadducees-the “wealthy lay-nobles, priests and aristocrats, [who] sought to protect their wealth and power through compromise with Rome”; Pharisees-who “were in many ways the idealists of Jewish society [and] sought to live a life of spiritual purity by a meticulous following of the torah (Jewish law)”; and the Essenes-“who solved the problem of Jewish identity in a Roman-occupied Israel by withdrawing to a monastic-like setting” (http://dlibrary.acu.edu.au/staffhome/gehall/xtology2.htm).

Add to this, those who worshipped the Emperor, Islam, and various other religions based upon superstitious beliefs, omens, and portents and you have the earthly world of Jesus at that time. Jesus is seen by Christians as being, at least in his earthly form, Jewish. His teachings with regard to other religions are, at times, rather vague.

One verse in particular comes to my mind on the inclusivity of Jesus for all humankind. It is from the Gospel of John, Chapter 14, verses 2 and 3: “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also” (NRSV).

In the “Father’s house there are many dwelling places,” that particular line itself has always fascinated me. What are those dwelling places? Are they simply rooms within Heaven? Are they different paths that lead to God that humans take to get to their Creator? Some translations call them “resting-places,” “dwellings,” “abodes,” “rooms,” and even “a traveler’s resting place.” As humans, we call the cemetery a resting place sometimes. Perhaps, once our souls leave our mortal bodies, they go to Heaven and dwell in one of these places regardless of names and regardless of what path we took to get there. While the chapter from the Gospel of John continues with Jesus saying, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (14:6 NRSV); perhaps it is meant that it is through Jesus’ death and resurrection that the door into Heaven is opened for all humankind. After all, one of the main principles of Christianity is that no human could ever reconcile their sinful nature on their own. It took God allowing Himself to come to humanity in the flesh and take on those sinful natures associated with humanity in the flesh as one of us in order to save us from ourselves. If Christians believe that Jesus was indeed both God and human, then this sacrifice was for all humanity rather than a select few.

This, to me, is even more evident in the often-quoted verse of John 3:16 where it is said that God loved the world so much that He sent Jesus to die so that no one would suffer for eternity. The verse that follows this states that “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17 NRSV) and going on to say, “…this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God” (John 3:19-21 NRSV).  While verse 18 states, “Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:18 NRSV), I believe that verses 19-21 explain this as being the difference between those who choose to follow God’s teachings through Christ versus those who say they do, but act differently in the reality of the situation. Those who do not follow the two greatest commandments are those who refuse to come into the light, as those two commandments are the light of God through Christ. The two commandments in question are, of course, those mentioned by Christ as being to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” and to “love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:29-31 NRSV).

The Christian Bible states, before these verses, “the Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Mark 12:29 NRSV). Notice, there is no mention of the Lord’s specific name. Part of this may be due to the mention of God’s name was and is considered inappropriate to the Jewish people. Hence, the reason why most people of Jewish faith will write either G-d or YHWH rather than the name of our Lord straight out.

Some will argue here that I must be incorrect because other faiths follow other Gods. Those who follow Islam follow Mohammed. They fail to see that Mohammed is a prophet, not God. This is a bit like those who are Jewish who see Christians as being similar in that we follow the teachings of Jesus whom we see as the Messiah, but they see as a prophet. In no way do I plan to continue with the intricacies of the main theology of these religions, or the variations on those, so I hope that you will see there are more similarities than not. I will, however, provide a very basic overview of how these three religions are interconnected.

The Jewish people trace the origins of their faith through Abraham, the father of Judaism. Yet, those who are Islamic can also trace their origins though this great patriarch since he had another son named Ishmael. While the official Jewish birthright went to Isaac, both the Jewish and Muslim faiths owe their existence to the same man. Out of this, Christians trace their origins back to Abraham through Jesus’ stepfather Joseph who is a descendant of Abraham. These three great religions should get along, as they are inter-related. However, human actions have caused them to stray from being family. Among those are the sins of the Crusades, Jihads, and Pogroms that have been perpetuated by humans who sometimes followed specific doctrines of these belief systems.

There are many variations of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. I am not qualified to get into all the variations of these religions. Suffice it to say; though, since all contain the aspect of human freewill and with it, human stupidity, then there have been many times when what some believed was the will of the Creator has been used as an excuse to justify the persecution and death of others. What they fail to see is that this clearly is not what the Creator wants the created to do. For some of that, we will continue in the next chapter.

Love

Depending which translation of the Christian Bible being used, there are between 131 to 319 references to the word “love”. There are about 93 references to “love” in the shorter Koran, also depending on translation. Love plays an important role in the majority of the world’s religions. That love, found in the forms of agape, filial, and passionate love, is an important aspect of faith. Those who adhere to almost every form of religion perform acts of charity.

It is a requirement in Islam to do charitable works. It is the third of the Five Pillars of Islam, the sacred requirements of that faith. The first two are the profession of faith and prayer. According to an article from a website entitled, “The Religion of Islam,” there are two types of charity required of those who follow Islam: zakat and sadaqah. Zakat is “an obligation for those who have received their wealth from God to respond to those members of community in need” (islamreligion.com/articles/46/). In contrast, sadaqah is “voluntary almsgiving, which is intended for the needy. The Quran emphasizes feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, helping those who are in need, and the more one helps, the more God helps the person, and the more one gives, the more God gives the person. One feels he is taking care of others and God is taking care of him” (islamreligion.com/articles/46/).

All of this should sound familiar to Christians as it sounds a great deal like what Christ taught when he taught,

…for when I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me. Then the righteous will answer him, Lord, when was it that saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you as a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you? And the king will answer them, 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. Then he will say to those at his left hand, You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me. Then they also will answer, Lord when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you? Then he will answer them, Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me” (Matthew 25:35-45 NRSV).

The sad thing is that there are those who profess to be Christian who do things in contrary to Christian love. One thing is neglecting the poor, the needy, the children, the old, and the infirm. When a political party calls out any of these people as being somehow worth less because of their situation, that is not love. When laws are passed that take assistance away from those who need it, that is not love. When laws favor only the wealthy, that is not love for everyone as one would love themselves. There are people suffering in our world, if we truly are a Christian nation, then we need to act as such. We need to provide assistance to those who need it whether it is financial, health-related, or emotional. We need to make certain the homeless have homes, the hungry have food, the naked have clothing, and the sick have healthcare. If a Christian says otherwise, he or she needs to re-read their Bible.

Love goes beyond charitable acts, though. It transcends boundaries, many of which are put in place by people. The boundaries of race, creed, gender, gender identity, gender preference, national origin, politics, and the countless other boundaries that we humans put up against those who are not like us are not love. However, they can be broken down by love.

This brings to mind one of my father’s favorite verses from the Bible. He liked I Corinthians 13 as a whole, but he especially liked the last two verses of that chapter that say:

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we shall see face to face. Now I only know in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love (I Corinthians 13:12-13 NRSV).

At first, this verse puzzled me greatly, especially these two verses together. Yet, I think I get what is trying to be said here by Paul. In our lives here on earth, we think we see what the Creator means for us, but we only see it through the blinders of being imperfect humans. This causes us to put up boundaries between one another for a myriad of human reasons. We only really know part of what God plans for us, but we fail to grasp the fullness of God because we are only humans. We are imperfect. However, when the time comes for us to meet our Creator, then we will see it all so clearly. We will see that life boils down to three essential elements by which we are to live: faith, hope, and love with the greatest one being love. A love that transcends our imperfections of being human and setting up barriers between fellow human beings and ourselves. A love that knows no boundaries. Some humans have seen this world and tried to lead us more toward it during their lifetime. People like Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, and others who strove to bring about peace and justice for all people.

The love that Jesus is asking Christians to have is one that accepts others for who he or she is as a person, as another human being, who is on this journey through life with us. It does not ask us to change him or her to our way of thinking; just love them for who he or she is as a person. Jesus spent time with everyone from every lifestyle, Jew and Gentile, tax collector, just ordinary person on the street. Jesus simply asked people to follow where He lead them.

We are, by that same token, called to love one another as Christ loved us. The world we live in throws enough at us without our constantly causing more stress for one another. It is pitiful how, for instance, people only seem to help one another during holidays or time of disaster. We are called to love one another as Christ loved us. That means all the time, without prejudice, and without seeking material gain for ourselves. We are not called to love only those like us or who agree with us, but everyone. As Paul writes in Galatians:

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28 NRSV).

Jesus came and saved us all, every human being, through His death and resurrection. Paul continues to write in Galatians and says, “…God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children”(Galatians 4:4-5 NRSV). Those under the law are much more than just those who were Jewish, everyone regardless of whether they followed the law was affected by the law in some way and were, as such, under the law. It is like the laws of our country. Everyone who is in our country is expected to abide by the law. No one is exempt from the law. No one was exempt from the law Jesus speaks about either. If a Gentile wanted to do business with a Jew, he or she needed to know when, where, and how they were permitted to do so. Hence, they were under the law even though they did not follow the law for themselves. When Jesus tells us to love one another, he means everyone.

One particular boundary humans place on love that is especially talked about is whom someone may marry. There are a large number who say that same-sex marriage is wrong. Some even try to point out Christ as being against it. However, Jesus says nothing about same-sex marriage. Nothing. Zilch. Zero. Nada.

While it is found within the Old Testament as being against the law of the Israelites, we must remember that the laws were written by both God and humankind. The Israelites needed to set themselves apart from those living around them where same-sex marriage was a common practice. In addition, the much smaller Israelite community needed to grow in population, which biologically cannot happen if people choose to live in a same-sex relationship. It was a matter of necessity for people to procreate in order for the community to survive.

I would argue that the problems people have with same-sex marriage are based on ignorance far more than scriptural directive. It is not what they are used to seeing as the media does not portray homosexual couples like they do heterosexual ones. Would I like to see two homosexuals displaying their affection in a public manner? No, but I also do not think heterosexual couples should do so either. Holding hands or a quick kiss is not a problem. Putting their arm around their loved one is not the problem. Making out is a problem regardless of a person’s sexual preferences. I do not care to watch any couple making out in public. It is a personal thing that should be kept that way. Want to make out? Get a room. Plain and simple.

Again, I do not have all the answers. Some who read this may now think I am insane. Others will think I’m on the right track. Still others may send me nasty emails or comments. If I offended you, then I apologize. If I inspired you, then thank you, now go out and inspire others to serve our Creator regardless of what path you follow so long as you do no harm to others.

Peace be with you.

 

Real Americans

I recently had a person respond to a comment I made on a Facebook post deriding me for my concept of what an American is and is not. I commented that America is not what it once was and that it has gotten to be a place vastly different from where I was born and raised. This becomes even more apparent to me since I am temporarily living outside of the States due to family employment. I am gaining a much different perspective on the US while living in Canada and being able to visit my native land on occasion. What I am seeing, in addition to what I hear from my neighbors and acquaintances, saddens me sometimes when I think of the potential that exists in the United States to do so much more with the wealth that is there than what is currently occurring. What has happened to my country? To our country? Why are we acting the way we are? What exactly is a real American?

As I see this becoming more of a series of posts rather than one concise posting, I will just touch on the one concept that bothers me. That concept is what a ‘real’ American is. When I was growing up, an American was someone who was either born in the United States or immigrated to the United States and worked his or her way to citizenship. It could also be a child born overseas to US parents or even to one US parent. Sounds simple enough. I even think it is still the legal definition of what an American is. So, what happened?

The scene is becoming increasingly common. Someone asks another person the question, “What are you?” I heard this often from students I taught and even neighbors where I once lived in Florida. They asked me this. They asked others this. They did this in a quest to place a person in a box. Ironically, the people asking the question were usually white and they asked this question to someone who was not White, more than those who are white. Interesting. The concept of what a “real” American has devolved in some way to mean a person who is not Caucasian. Given the skin tone of most Native Americans is not Caucasian that makes the question both rather idiotic as well as rather insidious.

The idiocy stems from the fact that the United States is a mixture of people and cultures far beyond those from Northern Europe. The Southwestern Untied States has people from Mexico, Central and South America. They were there before the first Europeans arrived. The rest of the United States was once vastly inhabited by Native Americans who, as I mentioned before, are predominantly non-Caucasian. After Europeans arrived, many others started immigrating to the United States and settled here. Some Asians were brought over to work on the West Coast and help build the once vast railroad network. African-Americans were brought over both as slaves and some came as free persons. If something happened somewhere in the world, people came to the United States to change their lives for the better. The United States earned and enjoyed being called the Melting Pot of the world. Our country is a land of diversity. That diversity once made us great. We fought a Civil War and went through the Civil Rights movement to make all races seen as equal. It set us apart from many countries in the world where the make-up of the people is the same. Somehow, the love of our diversity has morphed into division.

Part of this idiocy has been manufactured in the form of certain media outlets attacking the skin color of our current president. He presents a quandary for what was once the majority of the American population. President Obama is neither entirely Black nor is he entirely White. He is of mixed race. That mixture seems to have scared some people who are just too xenophobic to realize that being of mixed race is okay. Perhaps these same people once advocated laws that banned intermarriage between people of different races. They saw that taboo fall with the advent of Civil Rights and dealt with it. However, when the leader of their country became someone with those qualities, they could not handle it. Therefore, we have seen a rise in those who question his citizenship and even hate him for being someone they cannot place in a box.

These same people have taken this even further and started to question their neighbors being citizens or not based on skin color or religious beliefs. Somehow, this has also changed into questioning someone’s citizenship or loyalty to his or her country. Recently, we heard of a young man who is of Mexican descent who was ridiculed when he sang the National Anthem at a basketball game. Even though he was born in the United States and is therefore a citizen, people were accusing him of being an illegal immigrant to the United States simply because of his cultural background. What difference should it make when it comes to his being an American? We are a nation of immigrants. Look at the names in the telephone directory. They are all not European names. They are names from the world pantheon of names. With those names are cultures, religions, and lifestyles that all blend to make the United States unique and wonderful. It is a shame to disparage anyone based on his or her cultural background.

Here, in Canada, the question is not asked as “What are you?”, but rather “What is your cultural background?” Yes, that may simply sound like a politically correct way to ask the same thing, but it goes beyond that. It acknowledges that the person is a human being first, and then presents a curiosity about what that person believes, practices, or lives. It is less combative, in part, due to the length of the sentence, but also due to the nature of the words used. Perhaps we, as citizens of the United States, should take this and apply it to our country. No, Canada is not perfect. No country is perfect, but imagine if we started viewing each other as people first, then whatever culture, religion, gender, gender preference, or whatever box that is needed to make us feel better. We would be better able to define a ‘real’ American as someone who loves our country because she or he was born here or immigrated here for a better life.