Challenging Belief

Challenging Belief

2019.8.10-11

 

I am taking part in several challenges this month and today they have come together because of a television program I viewed. The program “Expedition Unknown” is currently discussing new findings regarding the archaeological discoveries known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. The 14,000 fragments of cloth tell the story of a deity and the followers of such. Known today simply as God, belief in this deity led the charge for monotheism, the one deity referenced by the three Abrahamic faiths as “Elohim Shophtim Ba-arets”. The name means “the God who judges in (on) the Earth.

 

I am not particularly fond of this name and the reason for my displeasure is not really the name but rather the context in which it is used. You see, it appears in the Book of Psalms and references faith in the deity judging one’s enemies. Because one is considered faithful, it is assumed that one’s enemies are not and will be judged and punished accordingly. I should note that some of those fragments that comprise the scrolls contain the earliest writings of the Psalms, and other writings that comprise the Bible such as the book of Genesis and Leviticus, as well as other stories and writings never seen before being found in caves in Qumran.

 

My problem is that this name seems to imply a deity that shows favoritism. What if I am the one in error and not my enemies? Being faithful does not make me perfect; it makes me a believer. Another word for this deity is “El Nekamoth” or “the God who avenges”. Obviously I am not bloodthirsty and so seeking vengeance on someone is not a hobby of mine. I believe that I have enough to do trying to live my own life and I really don’t try to live others for them. These two names do raise some interesting questions, however, and I think we should give them consideration, especially in light of current events and killings.

 

What exactly falls under the prevue of “justice”, the purpose for judging someone? How do we define “avenge” and is it something best left to the spirit(s) or should we attempt such? Is there a difference between seeking revenge and avenging? The website “diffen.com” clarifies the issue for avenge and revenge by stating “Avenge is a verb. To avenge is to punish a wrongdoing with the intent of seeing justice done. Revenge can be used as a noun or a verb. It is more personal, less concerned with justice and more about retaliation by inflicting harm.”

 

Once synonymous, the two words today have different meanings. Avenge today implies the process of obtaining justice while revenge is a more personal active physical deed, almost always involving pain or harm for the purpose of retaliatory recompense for real or imagined damages. In the usage of these two names, the deity is expected to protect the faithful by avenging ill will and/or wrong doings, thereby carrying acts of revenge to assuage the injured party or parties. Such beliefs allowed the people to bear the hardships brought upon them by their faith and I fully understand that. I just have a problem with a deity being both a god of love and revenge. For some, revenge is not only pleasurable, it is a form of love.

 

In an article for the Association of Psychological Science, Eric Jaffe wrote: “A few years ago a group of Swiss researchers scanned the brains of people who had been wronged during an economic exchange game. These people had trusted their partners to split a pot of money with them, only to find that the partners had chosen to keep the loot for themselves. The researchers then gave the people a chance to punish their greedy partners, and, for a full minute as the victims contemplated revenge, the activity in their brains was recorded. The decision caused a rush of neural activity in the caudate nucleus, an area of the brain known to process rewards (in previous work, the caudate has delighted in cocaine and nicotine use). The findings, published in a 2004 issue of “Science”, gave physiological confirmation to what the scorned have been saying for years: Revenge is sweet.

 

“A person who has been cheated is [left] in a bad situation—with bad feelings,” said study co-author Ernst Fehr, director of the Institute for Empirical Research in Economics at the University of Zurich in Switzerland. “The person would feel even worse if the cheater does not get her or his just punishment. Theory and experimental evidence shows that cooperation among strangers is greatly enhanced by altruistic punishment,” Fehr said. “Cooperation among strangers breaks down in experiments if altruistic punishment is ruled out. Cooperation flourishes if punishment of defectors is possible.”

 

In other words, the possibility of justice being meted out in the form of retaliatory punishment encourages cooperation because it instills an expectation of fairness. Although a bit complicated, this is a concept I actually can understand and feel it makes the naming of a deity based upon an avenging demeanor more palatable.

 

There are also two other similar names used for this deity of these three monotheistic religions. They are “Jehovah Hashopet or “the Lord the Judge” and Jehovah El Gemuwal, “the Lord God of Recompense.” I freely admit I like recompense better than revenge. Recompense implies fairness in compensation while revenge denotes punishment and pain to me.

 

I wonder if my conundrum, the enigma of whether I want my deity to be an avenging deity or a compensating deity, was felt by those early believers. Perhaps it depends on how recently one feels to have been wronged or the extent to which one felt wronged. As of this date, I have not found a name for this deity that translates into “God of Fairness”. Maybe the key is in how one defines what is right and what is wrong. But then, the context comes into play and we should consider that what is right for one might not be right for another yet not necessarily be wrong enough for the need of revenge or recompense.

 

In early 2001, a research team led by Cheryl Kaiser of Michigan State surveyed people for their belief in a just world by seeing how much they agreed with statements like “I feel that people get what they deserve.” Sadly, the events of September of that year changed the minds of many and more and more people wanted revenge for the bombings and murders of almost three thousand innocent victims from over eighty countries.

 

Michael McCullough, author of “Beyond Revenge: “The Evolution of the Forgiveness Instinct” states:   “You have to have some way of maintaining relationships, even though it’s inevitable some will harm your interests, given enough time.” Revenge began as an altruistic punishment but, McCullough and his research team believe, a secondary system of human interaction has evolved. The act of forgiveness is a system “that enables people to suppress the desire for revenge and signal their willingness to continue on, even though someone has harmed their interests, assuming the person will refrain from doing so again in the future.”

 

My problem with revenge is that it is not an answer that permanently solves anything. It may begin with an attempt to right a perceived wrong but it just invites payback which requires more revenge which invites more payback, etc., etc., etc. I like forgiveness as a practice for human interaction much, much better. There is another name for the deity of those scrolls – El Nose, the God who forgives. This is definitely a belief I hope we all practice.

 

The Concept of Rest

The Concept of Rest

 

As I write this, it has been over 30 days since my last post.  In the process of researching the Psalms, the topic of this series, I came upon the concept of ‘selah”.  We will discuss this more in greater depth but basically selah is another term for the word “rest”.  So, in the spirit of good research, I took a rest from this blog.

 

Tonight I will post another article, this time a video of sorts.  The basic outline for the rest of this series will be a short video each day instead of just prose and then a longer article on Sunday.  I am excited about this design change and hope to get your feedback on it.

 

Thank you and now, on this proverbial day of rest for many, I bid you “Good rest!”

To Live

To Live

06.10-12.2019

Season of Spirituality 2019

 

A life of sanctity; a life of purpose; a life of intent.

Daily living attempted but is the time well spent?

To be blessed and have it reflected in the pathways one went

Rejecting the evil and the venom they often vent.

The wicked only lead the world into descent

Their anger proving nothing good, just to torment.

The crowds become flavored with their malcontent;

Yet goodness will be seen in its ascent.

Those who serve compassion will see their efforts augment.

It is our choice to reinvent,

Our duty to live a life we profess to represent.

And when our time on earth is spent,

It will be that which we did which will us represent.

 

[Loosely based upon Psalms 1-3]

 

What, When, Where but Mostly…Why?

What, When, Where but Mostly…Why?

05/07-08/2019

Easter 2019

 

In 2015 my series for Easter centered around philosophy.  This is a reposting of one of those posts.  I continue to be amazed at the people who feel philosophy and religion having nothing in common.  Then again, I am amazed at those who think spirituality and religion are polar opposites.  I received this question during that 2015 series and it is one that has been repeated throughout the past four years:   “I would describe this blog as a collection of different ways to think about theology so, as a believer yourself, what does philosophy have to do with theology?

 

In that first posting I wrote “What we think is based upon what we know.”  Today, four years wiser (hopefully!), I would “what we believe or hope to become true.”    First one has to establish what it is that we think we know.   Hegel once defined or described philosophy as “the study of its own history”.  I think this blog is a study of sorts of our history.  So, to me, discussing philosophy is something I do in one form or another every day in this blog.

 

As you know I divide these articles into series and, for organizational purposes, I divide the series based upon the Christian church calendar of the Episcopal Church.  Before making that decision, I studied various calendars.  After all, a calendar is merely an organizational tool, a way to divide the days in a year.  A year is a broader tool for organizing our lives, decades for organizing years, centuries for keeping track of decades, etc.  By using such organizational tools, I know when to write about certain things, the perspective to use in my approach and also how to locate what I have already written or learned, of remembering when I not only wrote about something but learned something.

 

Such an organizational tool has been utilized for centuries by mankind.  It is the reason we have different divisions of study such as theology and philosophy.  Theology was one way of answering the question “Where did we come from?”  Before long, in mankind’s quest to determine the meaning of life which is metaphysics, branches of philosophy led to questioning the nature of gained knowledge, the study of which is called epistemology. 

 

Epistemology asked questions much like the reader mentioned earlier.  How is knowledge justified?  What are the sources of knowledge?  How do we know what we know?  Rationalism believed that pure reason was the most reliable source of knowledge while empiricism maintained that experience was.  Skepticism purported doubts about various states of knowledge based upon external world skepticism (How can there be a world outside our own minds?) and what is called “other minds skepticism” (We have no proof of other minds other than our own.).  It also led to solipsism which stated “Only I exist”.

 

Logic or the study in an abstract form of the principles of reasoning was introduced and used to deduce and induce.  Deduction assumed certain truths without justification and then draws conclusions based upon those generally accepted premises.  Induction arrived at conclusions based upon certain premises and then employed hypotheses that could be proven after speculation.

 

Ethics came into being, that field of philosophy concerned with human actions, intent, and responsibilities.  Ethics involved not just knowledge but deciding what was right and what was wrong.  Amidst all the great philosophers is one man who is seldom thought of by the general populous as a philosopher.  That man’s name is Jesus of Nazareth.

 

Many people study Plato and Socrates, Aristotle and Descartes, Fichte and Schelling…. The list is plentiful.  These philosophers agreed and then disagreed with each other, though since they occupied different periods in history, not unilaterally.  All sought to explain life and the man known as Jesus of Nazareth explained mankind’s relationship with life.

 

In discussing last year the various types and sects of spirituality and religion, we found certain common truths.  The rule for living one with another often called the Golden Rule is found in eastern spiritualties as well as the Old and New Testaments.  I don’t think one can have any discussions about theology that do not include philosophy.  The” Why?” that religion seeks to answer is part of the greater “Why?” that philosophy seeks to determine.

 

I know a great many people in various religions and I don’t think I know just one person in any one religion or belief system.  I make that statement not because these people are confused about what they believe.  Most are adamant about what they believe.  I make such a statement because of the overlapping of beliefs that exist in various religions.  For example, most people in being generous and charitable to those in need.   Yet, none of those people all believe exactly the same thing in exactly the same way.  Our beliefs are as individual as we are and I don’t think that is necessarily wrong.

 

Where we do go wrong is when we believe a form of solipsism that says not “Only I exist” but rather “Only my thinking can exist”. We cannot seek respect and then fail to respect others.  We cannot believe only one group or gender deserves life, education, or basic human rights.  Man is a varied animals with different colors of mane, eyes, skin; different shapes of eyes; different lengths of body, noses, arms and legs.  What we look like is about as important to our classification and right to live as the various colors of a rose.  The hues of a rose are beautiful and interesting but they do not change the fact that it is a rose.  Philosophy reminds us to think, to question.  I hope that through this blog I encourage you to live.

 

Hope Floats Us All

Hope Floats Us All

Day 39 – Palm Sunday*

Lent 2019

 

I remember reading a biography of a military strategist.  “The outcome [of a particular military campaign] was inevitable.  There was no hope at all of a victory.”  I stopped and reread the previous several pages because I thought I must have missed something.  I had expected this man to be on the side that ultimately won but here he was saying that this major battle was doomed for failure.  I actually reread the pages three times and finally on the fourth time, read them aloud.  I had missed nothing and so I continued forward.  Then I read the last sentence of the chapter.  “Fortunately, the leaders were better at encouraging their men then in military rational.  They had hope and their hope won the battle, a battle that, on paper, was never theirs to win.  Hope that day was the best strategy.”

 

As I remarked yesterday, I do not presume to know what was in the speaker’s mind when he uttered the words we now call the Beatitudes.  I do think their purpose and his intention was to offer hope.  The goodness offered within the text speaks of the expectation of not great times but also the optimism those times can ultimately create.

 

Hope is not the same as optimism.  Optimism is a feeling that sees the good and its approach is quite positive.  Hope is an emotion that often arises in the midst of turmoil, of despair, of grief.  Hope is a choice.  We can choose fear or we can choose hope.

 

Barbara Fredrickson describes hope this way.  “Hope literally opens us up. It removes the blinders of fear and despair and allows us to see the big picture. We become creative, unleashing our dreams for the future.  This is because deep within the core of hope is the belief that things can change. No matter how awful or uncertain they are at the moment, things can turn out for the better. Possibilities exist. Belief in this better future sustains us. It keeps us from collapsing in despair. It infuses our bodies with the healing rhythms of positivity. It motivates us to tap into our signature capabilities and inventiveness to turn things around. It inspires us to build a better future.”

 

Psychologist C. S. Snyder, in his book “The Psychology of Hope: You Can Get There from Here” defined hope as a “motivational construct” that allows one to believe in positive outcomes, conceive of goals, develop strategies, and muster the motivation to implement them.  While not actively studied until the last twentieth century, it has become apparent that we need hope not only in times of chaos and turmoil but all the time.

 

I believe the Beatitudes to be a commentary of life.  We all will face despair, grief, will feel meek, will hunger and thirst for righteousness.  We also, hopefully, will strive to be peacemakers, be merciful, and pure in heart.  At some point in our lives, we all feel the thorns of persecution.  Hope is the antidote to all of those negative feelings and the motivation for the positive ones.   Perhaps poet Emily Dickinson describes it best:  “Hope is the thing with feathers; that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all.”

*In case you are wondering how Lent can have forty days and Palm Sunday means there are still seven days left in Lent, yet I am at day 39…. In this counting, because many readers are of different faiths, I count each day straightforward.  In the “forty” days of Lent, Sundays are not included in the count.

The Basis of Belief – All Lives Matter

The Basis of Belief – All Lives Matter

Days 37-38

Lent 2019

 

Religious freedom is not just something discussed and guaranteed in the United States Constitution, although that document was one of the first to include it in a government’s laws and stated human rights.  It has been the goal of mankind since beliefs became diverse and openly discussed.  Clearly the first deliverance of the Jewish people from the bondage in Egypt was not a cure-all.  In the mid twentieth century Adolf Hitler sought to not only enslave them but to eradicate them, even though he himself was of Jewish descent.   “We were redeemed from Egypt because of the righteousness of the women of that generation.”  This sentence is found in the Talmud, the Jewish holy book.   

 

Today many people are seeking freedoms, both for religious purposes but also for just basic living.  Sarah Aaronsohn was born at the end of the nineteenth century and spent her life trying to obtain freedom for Palestine from Turkish rule.  She was tortured for her efforts but remained strong and determined, faithful to her religion.  Lina Abarbanell was an opera singer of high acclaim.  She retired from singing but not from the stage and became a worldwide director of such wonderful operas as “Porgy and Bess”.  Born in Germany immediately after the end of World War I, Rosalie Silberman Abella took her experience as a refugee and used it as motivation to help others.  She became the first Jewish woman elected to the Supreme Court of Canada.  Ruth Abrams became the first woman to serve on the Massachusetts Supreme Court, championing both women and minorities through her legal career.  Ruth Ginsberg is a vigilant and powerful presence in the United States Supreme Court today.

 

Lithuanian Dina Abramowicz was a Holocaust survivor from World War II.  While many hold that librarians are quiet, dull people, usually female, Dina proved them wrong.  As the head librarian of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, she helped recreate the rich heritage of the Jewish culture and people after WWII.  Bella Abzug was a New Yorker who also proved the strength of the Jewish woman.  Throughout her three terms as a U.S. Congresswoman, she advocated for and helped pass ground-breaking legislation for equal rights and particularly the right of women to play intramural sports in schools.

 

More recently Jill Abramson was the first female executive editor of the New York Times and promoted women within the organization as well as featuring stories regarding gender equality and racial injustice.  Rachel Adler sought to achieve gender equality within her own faith and was a pioneer of the Jewish feminist movement.  Born fifty years earlier, Paula Ackerman had taken over leadership of her rabbi husband’s congregation upon his death, a move that was met with support from the members of their synagogue.   Amy Alcott is a fantastic golfer who was recognized in the World Golf Hall of Fame.  Sue Alexander is a founding member of the International Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. 

 

The Beatitudes offer us a reason to continue to believe, in spite of what life throws at us.  They also have, for many, provided a foundation for which to live.  With no mission board to support or guide her and less than ten dollars in her pocket, Gladys Aylward left her home in England to answer God’s call to take the message of the gospel to China.  Amy Carmichael is an Irish missionary who spent fifty-three years in South India without a break.  Both women believed that their Creator would provide for their needs.

 

Dr. Helen Roseveare graduated in medicine from University of Cambridge in the late 1940′s. A well-known missionary doctor and author, with several of her works still in print, she worked in the north-eastern province of the Belgian Congo with the Heart of Africa Mission in the 1950′s & 60′s.  Art critic John Ruskin enthusiastically proclaimed her potential as one of the best artists of the nineteenth century, but Lilias Trotter’s devotion to Christ compelled her to surrender her life of art, privilege, and leisure. Leaving the home of her wealthy parents for a humble dwelling in Algeria, Lilias defied stereotypes and taboos that should have deterred any European woman from ministering in a Muslim country. Yet she stayed for nearly forty years, befriending Algerian Muslims with her appreciation for literature and art and winning them to Christ through her life of love.

 

Khadīja Khuwaylid Even was an important figure in her own right even before her famous marriage to the Prophet Muhammad, since she was a successful merchant and one of the elite figures of Mecca. She played a central role in supporting and propagating the new faith of Islam and has the distinction of being the first Muslim. 

 

One of the most important mystics (or Sufis) in the Muslim tradition, Rābi‘a al-‘Adawīyya spent much of her early life as a slave in southern Iraq before attaining her freedom. She is considered to be one the founders of the Sufi school of “Divine Love,” which emphasizes the loving of God for His own sake, rather than out of fear of punishment or desire for reward. She lays this out in one of her poems:

“O God! If I worship You for fear of Hell, burn me in Hell,

and if I worship You in hope of Paradise, exclude me from Paradise.

But if I worship You for Your Own sake,

grudge me not Your everlasting Beauty.”

 

Throughout history women have been prevented from participating in a great many things, including religion.  Throughout history women have lived and fought for their religious beliefs and freedoms, finding strength in the cause and effects echoed in the Beatitudes.  These named represent a small minority of the thousands of thousands of brave and spiritual women who have lived according to their beliefs.  The list just goes on and on as these women have found purpose and strength from their faith. 

 

A news story today chronicles a suggested answer to the high number of people illegally entering the United States was to “dump them” in various locations across the country.  It should be noted that attorneys within involved agencies rejected this offer.  Throughout history women have been prevented from attaining an education and were considered good only as slaves, much like these immigrants have become – slaves and prisoners to an inept and ineffective system.  The fact is that all lives matter and we need to address issues as if we ourselves were the victims of the problems.  After all, whyat affects one really will, at some point, affect us all.  We truly and effectively need to treat others as we would want to be treated if we are to have success in living.

 

The women mentioned here today, as well as those in education, health care, and politics, live their belief that all lives matter.  After all, why do we believe and go through our daily living if it is not to help us live better and leave the world a better place?

 

 

 

 

 

That “E” Word

That “E” Word

Day 28

Lent  2019

 

I once went to a training seminar and the speaker introduced the next discussion topic by saying “Next we will discuss that hated “E” word.”  Most people guessed he meant education but the topic was evangelism.  “Whoa” everyone reacted.  We were not there to pass out tracts on some street corner nor walk around proclaiming the world’s end was near.  You might be thinking the exact thing right now.

 

I know what you’re thinking…Evangelism?  What does that have to do with mindfulness, better living (for those not interested in evangelical beliefs) and growing a better self?  In a word – harvest.  That which we reap from our being is our evangelism to the world.  Recently I heard a talk in which the speaker accurately portrayed the shunning many have for this word “evangelism”.  Evangel is the root of the word evangelism and while, like many words, it has had its metamorphoses throughout time, it means to “announce”.  For us today, in this context, it means how we are seen and heard.

 

Evangelism became the property of Christians when they began to define the word to mean the good news or gospel.  This occurred sometime in the mid 1600’s and still relates to the original meaning.  The speaker I heard said we needed a new word, a different synonym for the word “evangelism” that was less frightening and less denomination specific.  Some suggested “practice” while others simply wanted to forget the word existed at all.  It is a word that ranks in the lower forty percent of all words so clearly others would like to ignore it as well.

 

The problem is that we cannot ignore our personal evangelism.  It is how others see us and hear us and it is not based just on our appearance but more importantly on our actions.  This blog is not just for Christians nor is it devoid of spirituality.  We are discussing evangelism today because I firmly believe that evangelism is not the property of the faithful, any faithful.  I believe evangelism is dialogue and we all have that every day.

 

Adam S. McHugh wrote a book about introverts in today’s culture of extroverts.  “The verbal tool… is not confrontation or preaching but dialogue.  We subject ourselves to the same questions we pose to others, and as we traverse them together, we may arrive at surprising conclusions we could never have reached when simply trying to defeat one another’s logic.  The process is more important than an immediate decision.”  When we engage in dialogue, whether of the voice or of actions, we are participating in evangelism and sharing who and what we are.

 

Each day we live we “grow” our self-worth.  Every hour we live we should “water” that self-worth by increasing our knowledge, gaining understanding of self as well as wisdom for encouraging dialogue with others.   The biggest stop sign we have in our communion with others is fear.  We may think of it as hesitancy but it is fear, fear that we don’t really know how to proceed.

 

I really wish I could give you an owner’s manual for life but there just is not one.  Hindsight is definitely easier than trying to predict the future.  I have a notepad that states “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”  How do we create the future?  That is also not a certainty but we can have a better chance at creating a good future if we live what we seek.  If we want a more peaceful world, we have to live peacefully.  If we want a better environment, we have to be better stewards of our natural resources.  We have to learn from the past, practice in the present, and believe in the future.

 

Gardeners do just that when planting their gardens.  After all, it takes hope and faith in the future when planting a garden.  A successful gardener learns from past years and evaluates what worked and brought about a better yield.  They then apply those lessons to the current crop, believing in the potential of future harvests.  We should do that with ourselves and yet…we seldom do.

 

We need to plant our feet firmly in evangelistic soil, the territory of good news and positive thinking.  We all have had those “oops!” moments.  We all have had a time we stumbled or bumbled our way through something.  What we need to do is remember we are growing each and every day in the soil of those goofs.  Our very being here on earth is a story of hope.  We are the living embodiment of potential and survival.  That minute of great embarrassment or failure or even grief has already become history.  It is now evidence of survival and provides the seed for tomorrow’s success.

 

The best knowledge we can remember is that we are always growing.  For me the best synonym for evangelism is presence.  We need to always be present in our living, practicing what we believe and remembering that life is a learning experience.  When we are truly present in our living, then we will share the good news of our beliefs and our being, the presence of life itself.