Monday, March 28, 2011

Truth is a difficult thing to see.

So this weekend I was privileged to teach the Confirmation Class in my Religious School and we started talking about God and the Bible. It was an intense conversation with some surprising and I must say really surprising comments by the students. When Rabbi Sandy came in the discussion got more intense and in the end we realized the simple truth that the Bible and our understanding of God was never meant to be a static thing, but we define our contact with God, holiness and our understanding of the Bible by who we are as individuals and as a people. We seek a truth not THE TRUTH. We can see the myth of Adam and Eve are powerful stories but do we have to believe that the earth was created in 6 24 hour days in last 6000 years for it to have power. Of course not. The truth comes through. Our perspective plays a role.

I lived with the students' words as I ventured down to the Indianapolis Repertory Theatre's production the The Gospel According to James. The play is based on the story of an August 1930s lynching in Marion Indiana. There was one survivor and he went on to spend time in jail, got out, get educated, work for civil rights, create a museum for African Americans to remember the history of lynching in the US and later get a pardon. The play centers around the dialogue of two people. Mary Ball and James Cameron. You see the story told was that James and two friends Thomas Shipp, 18, and Abe Smith, 19. were out to stick up someone for some fun money. Found Mary and her boyfriend Claude Deeter in a car. Tried to stick them up but James knew Claude and couldn't do it and ran off. The rest is unclear. But Deeter died, Abe, Thomas and James were arrested. A crowd formed and pulled the first two from the jail, murdered them and hanged them. When they went to hang James, then 16 years old, a voice from the crowd saved him. Someone, one voice, stopped the lynching. We can talk about the power of that voice some other time. However the play has Mary and James telling very different stories. Each remembers the night but remembers it differently and each has a real good reason for the difference. Their recollections are discussed 50 years after the event. Most of those present that night had all passed on. There was a sad reality that in the heart of the play was that we remember and think what we need to or want to get out of the story. James, for example, until his last day saw the voice that saved him as that of an angel. Others think it was a member of the crowd who while in the midst of horror found his humanity.

But the over riding message to me yesterday was that truth is an elusive thing to nail down, especially when strong emotions are involved. Our connection to God, the horrors of murder both require our perspective. Go and see the play and it will help you understand what I mean. Remember what we see in life is always interpreted based on who we are. So much more so of our memory. With Bible, God or a horrific event who we are constructs meaning far more than the actual events and words. With that in mind we might see everything differently.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Still small voice

Again the world is reminded that the earth is not a calm solid rock but a dynamic and ever changing and sometimes violent system. Our life is a gift of the same system that allows for the earthquake to destroy so much of what we have built and cause so much devastation. We are thankful that the Japanese over the last 50 years have become expert in dealing with both earthquake and tsunami warnings and the death tolls will be far fewer that similar events in other regions. Of course those who must attribute a cause to nature will look to this as a sign of something from a supernatural force. God's punishment for some reason or a sign of the end times. Writers will connect the revolution in the Middle East with this event, the earthquake at Christ Church and perhaps even the local cold that seems to last for weeks. God does not throw storms, tsunamis nor earthquakes at people. God, in my opinion and by historical evidence, does not intervene in that way. The universe is a creation with rules, rules that I dare say bind even God. While the Bible and other Jewish texts are full of stories of God bending the laws of nature I dare say those a simply meant to illuminate the more important lesson in the story. If we look for a God that does it all then where is our place. In fact one could argue that if this is God's doing why should we be involved.

In the first book of Kings gives us a different way to think about this as we see an interaction with Elijah.

And God said: Go out and stand before ME on the mountaintop. Then the The Holy One passed by. A furious wind split mountains and shattered rocks in the presence of the Eternal, but the Eternal was not in the wind. After the wind, an earthquake -- but the Eternal was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake, fire -- but the Eternal was not in the fire. And after the fire, a still, small voice.

That still small voice is the one telling us to reach out, to share what we have, and to help those in need recover. We are partners with God, and my guess is that God would be in the mix helping too, if God could. But maybe that is why humanity was created.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Ain't it America

The Supreme Court the other day rendered a decision that said the funeral protests of the Westboro Baptist Church are Constitutionally protected speech. This church, which is basically the family of one man, Fred Phelps, is known for their hateful rhetoric that suggests that the death of young military personnel is God's punishment because of the fact the the US tolerates homosexuality. This is the church with posters that say God Hates Fags and their website has a clock on it counting the days Matthew Shepard, the young man brutally murdered for simply being gay, has been in hell. I know a lot of Christians including those who see homosexuality as a choice, a sin, a destructive "lifestyle" who never level this kind of hate. They would never agree with Phelps and his ilk but they share a basic foundation of their faith, the Christian Bible. Hard to see them and Phelps share a meal though they share a Bible. Is it fair to lump them together?

Now we turn to Peter King, the head of the House Homeland Security Committee, has started hearings on the American Muslim Community. In part he is looking for radical infiltration. He has even suggested that the American Muslim community has not been as cooperative with police and other law enforcement. This of course is odd since nearly 1/3 of the intelligence we have gathered since 9-11 to stop Islamic terror has come from the Muslim community. So in effect King is putting all of the American Muslims on trial for the actions of a few, many of that few do not even live in the US. Is it fair to lump them together?

King is doing something that should be an outrage to people. He is questioning the loyalty of Americans who only share as devotion or love for the same text with SOME terrorists. He doesn't question whether they share the same understanding of the text. My guess, just like my most evangelical Christian friends can't find a place in the Bible that promotes Phelps' protests and hate speech, the vast majority of American Muslims are just as confused as to how certain Islamists find words in the Quaran that encourages suicide bombing. Yet while many Christians are not ask to explain Westboro Baptist nor do they get soiled by the dirt they throw it seems easy to do that to any Muslim. Especially an Arab American Muslim. We should not be making anyone who follows the faith of Islam a suspect. It is not American.

Ironically, the Supreme Court got it right with Westboro. As much as I hate their speech, it is the cost of living in a free society to have the right for them to say what they say. Too bad Peter King doesn't understand that some ideal. I wish the GOP would stop him.

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