Friday, May 15, 2009

Prayer for Life

O God,
Commanding Castalian Composer -

How my body breathes your sweet song
When the lute strikes notes without being touched.

Hear the violin sing softly of playful aspiration!
Hear the cello moan rudely of decisions fraught with fear!
Hear the trumpet blast hastily towards futures yet unknown!
Hear the clarinet hum steadily of days and nights in turn!

Your sacred water enflames my soul,
Overflowing with pleromatic joy-
Have You once again conducted Your creation?

May it always be so.

[Inspired by discussion with Kerry Maloney and Pannaa 730]

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Spiritual Discipline of Nonviolence

There are definite ethical concerns tied up with Matthew's infamous injunction: "If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also" (Mt 5:38-39). If read as a moral absolute, this form of non-violence may not adequately speak to the complexities of mass slaughter or genocidal brutality, in which more is required than a defenseless turning - I shall leave that discussion to another time. On a more daily basis, in our interactions with others, I have found this moral principle to be both effective, cathartic and spiritually grounding. What does it mean to affirm someone's inherent worth in the face of offensive or hurtful behavior?

In the Sri Guru Granth Sahib, we come across an adaptation of this ethical truism:

ਜੋ ਤੈ ਮਾਰਨਿ ਮੁਕੀਆਂ ਤਿਨ੍ਹ੍ਹਾ ਨ ਮਾਰੇ ਘੁੰਮਿ ॥
Do not turn around and strike those who strike you with their fists.
ਆਪਨੜੈ ਘਰਿ ਜਾਈਐ ਪੈਰ ਤਿਨ੍ਹ੍ਹਾ ਦੇ ਚੁੰਮਿ ॥
Kiss their feet, and return to your own home.

[Pannaa 1378]

This commandment radicalizes that of Jesus' in the way of reverence. It focuses less on what is given (later in Mt and Lk, a tunic) or received (a subsequent blow), and more on the disposition that is cultivated in the practice of returning home. The act of kissing another's feet (reminiscent, perhaps, of John's account of the foot-washing, 13:1-15) mirrors in Sikh tradition the appropriate demonstration of reverence for the Lotus feet of the Satguru: e.g. "I take the Support of the Lord's Lotus Feet; there is no other place of rest for me" (Pannaa 46). In a very real sense, then, this exhortation deferentially affirms the dignity of personhood. Just as a radiant lotus flower bursts out of the murky swamp, so too an individual's humanity shines through destructive deeds.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Awkward Jesus Questions

The following clip demonstrates the need for reason in religious discernment - you have to give it to the pesky questioners for their creativity, persistence and ecological awareness!

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Oh Harvard

The Divinity School satisfies my nerdy cravings for intellectual absurdity day in and day out. Occasionally, however, I'm caught off guard by the sheer ridiculousness (not in a pejorative sense, mind you, but in a 'this-is-quite-irrelevant-to-my-life' sense) of contemporary scholarship. For example, in discussing the book of Revelation, a professor recently offered up the following: far from suffering the psychological resentment and paranoia of the dispossessed, the author employs intentional "solecisms…a form of creolizing the Greek. The Seer is poetic – deliberately transgressing grammatical norms as an exercise of his own discursive power. Like his post-colonial Anglophone counterparts in the new world order, the Seer negotiated a linguistic balancing act between decolonization and intelligibility."

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Choose Your Jesus

When people tell me that they don't believe in Jesus, I ask: which one? SImilarly, when people insist that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, I find myself wondering: which version?

A closer examination of scriptural depictions of the carpenter from Nazareth reveals a strikingly multi-vocal composite. When 'reading against the grain,' the diversity of such descriptions reflect the heterogeneous landscape of proto-Christianity, as communities struggled with questions of gentile-inclusion, apocalypticism, Middle Platonism, the kerygma of the cross, Sophia-Wisdom, etc.

A brief 'history' of Jesus might look something like this:

1) Prototype of the Undivided 'single one' (GTh)

2) High Priest in the line of Melchizedek (Heb)

3) Secret Messiah of the Jews (Mk)

4) Waker of the fallen-asleep (GPet)

5) New apocalyptic Moses (Mt)

6) Universal martyr (Lk)

7) Logos incarnate (Jn)

8) Lamb with an iron rod (Rev)

9) Living book of the Father's mind nailed to a cross (GTr)

10) True Man trampling death (Norea)

Which Jesus kindles your heart with the invitation: "come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest" (Mt 11:28)?

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Monday, May 11, 2009

Reflecting God

In this morning's shabad, Guru Arjan Dev Ji notes:

ਤੁਮਰੀ ਭਗਤਿ ਪ੍ਰਭ ਤੁਮਹਿ ਜਨਾਈ ॥
You are known, O God, by Your devotees.

[Guru Arjan Dev Ji in Raag Prabhaatee on Pannaa 1338]

This statement carries significant weight. A superficial reading would satisfy itself with the missionary zeal of Matthew's injunction: "Go and make disciples of all" (Matthew 28:19). Yet, I believe that this evangelistic reading prematurely absolves us of significant responsibility - it affords us an escape in pointing to those not yet 'converted.' On my view, Guru Arjan Dev Ji suggests that the very decisions and expressions of our lives reflect back on the God that we exalt. The Pannaa implies that our interactions with others speak publicly to our individual relationship with God. We serve as ambassadors of God in a very real sense - our ways (or lack thereof) of being, loving and sharing in the world mirror those of the God we hold up as our guiding light.

Much theological debate in early Unitarian circles centered on questions of atonement. In contrast to the Trinitarian atonement theories of the day, faithful Unitarians insisted that the wrath of God was not appeased by the death of Christ (thus reconciling God to humanity), but that the reconciliation effected should be understood in terms of humanity reconciling itself to God (Romans 5:10). In a sermon titled How God Becomes the Father, Rev. T. Thompson writes: "imperfect, sinful as we are, we must embody the spirit of God, that the Father may be visibly present to the senses and understanding of men [sic]; that love, mercy, justice, truth shall have personality" (51). Symbolically, then, the promise of incarnation need not be eclipsed! In the publication Unity, Levi Eliel counsels: "We should make the word of God flesh, have truth, love, purity, righteousness born into us, embody them in our lives, and...we become at one with God. This is the true atonement, i.e. at-one-ment" (345).

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Prayer for Connection

Flowering Presence,
God of All-

I long for Your sweet scent:
A fragrant hint of gentle cradling
In the showering grace of ambrosial trails.

I long to follow the vestiges of Your balm,
Which mark beings and places as memories
In Your heart.

Some days, I wither and dry
In the absence of Your provision.
Or do I ignorantly choose to fast?

Other days, I sprout and pullulate
seeds of Your loving kindness.
Or do I merely manifest the already circulating?

All days:
Your breath warms my soul-
A source of light to grow
Into communion with other enraptured

May I ever detect Your incense in All
And share in the banquet of this existence.


[Inspired by Amrit Kirtan, Pannaa 395, and the non-canonical Gospel of Truth]

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From Self-Reliant to Anti-Racial

Yesterday, I attended an anti-racism workshop led by Rev. Hope Johnson, Rev. Keith Kron and Ken Wagner at First Parish. It got me thinking: if a congregation truly aspires to become multiracial, multicultural and justice-making, its members must first spend significant time identifying obstacles to diversity - typically, such reflective work focuses on the church's immediate socio-political environment and own church culture.

Yet, I suspect that our religion itself harbors potentially off-putting elements that turn off many communities of color. Since the early twentieth century, Unitarian Universalism has been heavily influenced by the Transcendentalist strands of Thoreau's Walden Pond solitude-in-nature, Ripley's self-segregated Brook Farm experiment and Emerson's 'egotheistic' introspection. This hyper-individualism flies in the face of cultural systems that privilege relationality over self-reliance, wide kinship networks over the on-my-own orientation. Doing theology alone (our vocal 'build your own theology' refrain) undoubtedly liberates the self from the oppression of socially prescribed and mandated dogma. Yet, it similarly can work to isolate the self from wider communities - be they familial, religious, social or otherwise.

Might this overconfidence in self-sufficiency not disincline diverse peoples from looking into our faith not on account of church committee inhospitality or member prejudices, but on the grounds of our Good News itself?

Fortunately, the reverence we cultivate towards our seventh principle may help to mitigate such unapologetic autonomy.

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