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Archive for January, 2010

I’ve been mulling over some ideas about an emerging theological trend that is arising out of Christianity but expanding into a universal, wholistic view. I am planning at least one entry on it and probably more.

I think this movement portends well for the future of Unitarian Universalism, even though its early wave — most notably in my reading, John Shelby Spong, Philip Gulley and Marcus Borg — are not working specifically from that perspective.

More to come.

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It’s official

Today (well technically, yesterday, since I’m posting after midnight) I signed the book, and became an official member at the Davies Memorial Unitarian Universalist Church.  It’s something I’d been planning to do for a while. I felt at home there from the first hour I spent there, but holiday travel and other interruptions of life kept me away for several weeks. I don’t have a lot to say about it now, but I wanted to mark the date.

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A brief excerpt from Going Home: Jesus and Buddha as Brothers, by Thich Nhat Hanh.

Of course there is a relationship between water and wave, but this relationship is very different from the relationship between waves and waves. This is very important. When we say this wave is made of all the other waves, we are dealing with the phenomenal world. We are speaking of causes and effects in terms of phenomena. But it’s very different when we say that this wave is made of water. By separating the two relationships, we will save a lot of time, ink and saliva.

When you say that humankind was created by God, you are talking about the relationship between water and wave. God did not create man in the same way a carpenter creates a table. All our Christian friends would agree with that. The way God created the cosmos was quite different. You cannot mix up the two dimensions. You cannot consider God as one of the things that operates in the realm of phenomena. There are many theologians who are able to see this. Paul Tillich said that “God is the ground of being.” The “ground of being” is the noumenal aspect of reality. God is not a being in the phenomenal world. He or She is the ground of all being. It would not be difficult for Christians and Buddhists to agree on this.

We can talk about the phenomenal world, but it is very difficult to talk about the noumenal world. It is impossible to use our concepts and words to describe God. All the adjectives and nouns that we use to describe waves cannot be used to describe God. We can say that this wave is high or low, big or small, beautiful or ugly, has a beginning and an end. But all these notions cannot be applied to water. God is neither small nor big. God has no beginning or end. God is not more or less beautiful. All the ideas we use to describe the phenomenal world cannot be applied to God. So it’s very wise not to say anything about God.

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Last summer, after many years of not being particularly involved in any faith community, I began to feel a strong need to go back to a Christian church. I resisted the pull for a while, but eventually started attending a nearby liberal Episcopalian congregation. For a few months, it felt good — like coming home, I described it more than once. The religious upbringing of my youth was United Methodist, less liturgical than the Piskies, but similarly progressive. I dropped out of that in college and returned to it for a few years in my late 20s and early 30s before going dormant again.

I can’t say for sure what drove me, although the contemporary Christian music I still have on my iPod — and in particular, “Growing Young” by Rich Mullins — was a part of it. But I think a lot of it was needing a place for spiritual practice and expression that gave me some familiar touch points. I had visted a few UU congregations the year before, and while I generally liked them, I didn’t find them compelling enough to hook me in.

I had put some study into paganism, most specifically, ADF Druidism, which had some appealing elements but didn’t hit the spot either.  Christianity was my root, and so that’s where I felt pulled to return.

It was good, as I said, for a while. The Episcopal church was just different enough from what I’d experienced before to present some challenges and learning experiences, while being familiar enough to feel comforting. Lynda visited with me once, which I greatly appreciated, even though she had spent a few years in the Episcopal Church years before and had eventually left and wasn’t looking to return. 

After a few weeks, though, the old reasons that had led me away from institutional Christianity in the first place began to reassert themselves. In the years of reading and discussion I did on my own, outside of regular practice, I’ve really cemented myself as a universalist, it seems, and even when the exclusivity of Christianity isn’t prominent in a church’s practice, it’s assumed. The ritual communal confession doesn’t ring true for me either. (What I do believe about God is always somewhat in flux, but one thing I really don’t believe is that God judges us guilty and waits for us to beg his pardon.)

What exactly was going on with me then, I’m still not really sure. The best I can figure is, I was in real need of a spiritual home, and was naturally drawn to the familiar. But after I had gotten what I needed there, it turned out to be a launch pad… back to the Unitarian Universalists, as it happened, only this time I visited a different congregation that felt right for Lynda and me both.

While I probably look flaky to an outside observer, I think that detour was necessary to get back on the road.

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Killing the Buddha has an interesting (and inherently horrifying in exactly the same way traffic accidents are both awful and compelling at the same time) article attempting to make some sort of sense of Fred Phelps.  This guy makes 99% of religious wackos look sane by comparison.  The author describes his hate slogans as ‘magnetic poetry’ – all I can think is 1) wow, it’s sad when people who need mental health care can’t seem to find it and 2) that if there IS a God personal enough to know what he’s doing in God’s name, Fred Phelps is going to get the smack down of all cosmic smack downs for the vile crap he’s doing in said deity’s name.

PS I am not categorizing this as ”Christian” – while he uses the name it is clear he’s slid so far off track as to be his own psychotic thing with a thin veneer of wildly slanted Christianity slapped on top.  I’m not one, generally, to deny anyone the use of whatever label they choose to wear, but in this case, calling what Phelps preaches ‘Christian’ amounts to slander.

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I’ve seen a lot of comments, ever since Brit Hume advised Tiger Woods to change his spiritual path, rejoicing in how finally someone who is not generally known as a religious leader was bold enough to proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ on television. Christians, and in particular the conservative ones, seem to think Hume struck a blow for the faith that will lead to many souls taking the exit ramp off the highway to hell.

Ironically, this whole thing has just made me interested in learning about Buddhism.

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People Helping People

If you’re a committed Christian and a pet owner, who will care for your animals after the rapture comes?

Help is a click away.

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