Friday, November 28, 2014

What is Interfaith?

A weekend or so ago, on our way to the airport for a quick Saturday morning look at the last of the fall foliage...from 4000 feet in the air, Keith and I got into a discussion about the Muslim prayer service held at National Cathedral in Washington, DC. That morning I watched a video of the woman who stood up during the prayer service, disrupting everything, pointing to what must have been a picture of Jesus….declaring him Lord of Lords, King of Kings as she proclaimed the Christian way as the right way...the only way….THE way.

Keith sided with the woman and commended her for standing up for what she truly believed. I sided against the women, pointing out she should not have disrupted the service. He didn't think the prayer service should have been in the church to begin with. I thought it was perfectly fine and an example of what “interfaith” looks like. But the more I think about it, the more I question whether it really was such a good idea to hold a Muslim prayer service in an Episcopal church.

Now I am all into interfaith, inclusion, pluralism. I love the Co-exist picture that shows the symbols for many faiths. I truly believe that there is a TRUTH that is higher and more profound than the truth that is found in separate religions. There are truths in all religions. There are untruths in all religions. But THE 
TRUTH supersedes every religion.

My own personal “finger pointing at the moon” is Christianity. Sometimes the loud ramblings of some of the far right fundamentalists make me a bit reluctant to voluntarily place myself in the same religious category they claim to belong to. Things like Fred Hamm’s Creation Museum, theocracy and the War on Christmas campaign are just….embarrassing….. to, in any way, associate myself with. But then, Jesus associates himself with the far right fundamentalist Christians so who am I to get all uppity and on my high horse? Besides, I don’t fit in any other category. I truly believe that Jesus was the clearest image of the invisible God. Emmanuel, God with us, name above all names….blessed redeemer… word.

I do wonder sometimes if the far right understands the things he said and commanded and proclaimed. Their world view seems so far from the example he set in words, deeds and beliefs. His teachings are pretty clear and straightforward….and just in case we don’t get it the first time when we read the book of Matthew, there are three more gospels that proclaim his sayings and doings. Why the redundancy? So we clearly see HIM from the perspective of four different gospel writers? So we get the point? So we can’t be all wishy washy and unclear on what he said and did...and where he came and went….and the outcasts and sinners he associated with? I think so. Some of his sayings, which are often ignored by so many of his followers are clear cut and unambiguous.

Oh sure, since scripture is like an onion, layer upon layer, there are nuances and depths and meanings hidden beneath (contained within?) the plain meaning. I saw a bumper sticker once that said, “When Jesus said to love your enemies, I’m pretty sure he meant don’t kill them.” Love your enemies. Forgive 7 times 70. Go the extra mile….give them your cape too...don’t murder in your heart or commit adultery in your thoughts, don’t be all judgy or you will be judged. Do I have these things all down pat? Hell, no. I don’t even really like it that he said some of these things that totally go against my instincts. But I don’t deny they are there and “yes, but” and talk around them and make excuses about them or explain them away. I’m a work in progress, I guess….and I am a Christian who is gung ho for the interfaith movement.

So getting back to the subject of this post…lf the local mosque had burned to the ground or was in some way unusable then, yes, it could be considered a gracious, generous move to allow that “congregation” to worship in a local Christian church on a Friday night. But that was not the case and I don’t think it was the brightest or purest idea to hold a Muslim prayer service in an Episcopal church. This was an overkill moment in interfaith, a showy, staged demonstration of pluralism. Except that it wasn't. It was not inclusive but rather exclusive….focusing only on the Muslim faith (a faith I have NO problem with...other than those radical extremists bent on killing the infidel and waging jihad) If the service had been all faiths, worshiping together….a rabbi, a priest, a preacher and an imam leading the service in solidarity and blending the sacred from all of those faith traditions, that is my version of interfaith.

Realizing that we all see through a glass darkly and holding fast to our beliefs while respectfully giving others the same courtesy is interfaith. Focusing on our similarities instead of our differences while raising our voices in praise to the most high God is interfaith. Discussing, mulling, pondering and considering other views...that is interfaith.

A while back I saw pictures of several examples that moved me and demonstrate the true spirit of interfaith. Christians formed a human chain around praying Muslims and Muslims returning the favor by protecting a church during Mass. Links to the original articles and some of the pictures follow…

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Lovely Trees

Last weekend, I drove from my home in Williamsport, Pennsylvania to visit my mom in Ellwood City. Williamsport is in the middle of the state…. toward the north. Ellwood City is about an hour from the Ohio border so the trip involves driving across a big chunk of Pennsylvania on Interstate 80.

Interstate 80 is bordered by mountains almost the whole length of the drive. The trip is scenic in any season, sometimes breathtakingly so. Usually  my attention is honed in on  driving defensively….checking my mirrors, keeping an eye on the trucks and the hot shots trying to drive 20 or 30 mph over the speed limit. But on this trip, my eyes were repeatedly drawn to the hillsides.

They were varying, blended shades of a dark, rusty, tannish, blackish brown. They reminded me of the color of sienna, umber and burnt umber crayons; drab colors that made a  perfect background for the few trees whose leaves are still almost shockingly vivid and aglow. Bright, bright yellows; the crayon  you might pick to draw the yolk of an egg. Almost illuminated. Glowing...shimmery.  And the RED ones.  Capital letter red. Just the most breathtaking shades of red. I shook my head and exclaimed  “wow”a time or two, amazed at the splendor. And really….the colors could only be described with words like splendor.

It was raining a lot of the way but even the dark mistiness served as a contrast to those iridescent trees.  

There is a message there someone. Some spiritual implication.  Keith has always been fond of saying that things in the natural are reflections of profound spiritual truths. As above, so below. I can’t quite put my finger on it...but something is there hiding. It’s nagging at me like a name I can’t remember, the words to a song, a memory that is almost, but not quite clear.

Some things that come to mind….

The quote from Ann Voskamp, a blogger/author I've been reading lately. In one post she said she told her husband, the Farmer

…..that it was brave, the way the trees made dying look glorious.

And the controversy in the news and Christian circles recently about the young woman with incurable, terminal, late stage brain cancer. She chose to take her own life before the ravages of the disease plunged her into a real living hell. Some folks say she is brave. Other folks say she is a coward.

I’m inclined to say that it’s easy to take the high road when it’s not your path to walk.

And then another thought that is a game changer, a different perspective on this process we witness every fall as we sigh and lament that “winter is just around the corner.” Leaves do not just fall from the trees. The trees actively shed them.

Apparently, when the days start getting shorter and colder, trees start to seal off the place where leaf stem meets tree branch with a row of cells called "abscission" cells. The tree could not survive the winter with leaves attached because of moisture loss and such so the leaves have to go.

So really, it is the leaf that dies….not the tree. Come spring, the tree is good to go and sprouts new leaves. The leaf that fell in the fall is gone. Hmmmmmm….

If the natural hints at the spiritual, what do the trees and their colorful, dying leaves tell us?

We have one of those trees with tenacious leaves that hang on and on (and on) in our front yard. It is an ornamental pear tree that we planted when it was about the same height as I am now.  They are slow growers but  it is probably 20 feet tall….and a lovely, sturdy (yet elegant) tree. Our neighbor has a much bigger one in her front yard. They seem to be in sync and their leaves are still there late into the fall.

Our pear trees are still all green with only the tips of a few leaves showing some reddish tinges at the edges. Keith grumbled the other day that he will be raking leaves in mid November.  

The world is tired, the year is old,The faded leaves are glad to die...~Sara Teasdale, "November"

Not the leaves on our pear trees.....