check out our retreat village where we'll live and work the next few weeks (that we is my family and me).
check out our retreat village where we'll live and work the next few weeks (that we is my family and me).
isaiah, my son, put together a large floor puzzle of the universe yesterday with his friend micah. this morning, as we were getting stuff together to leave for the drive across town to the kid's art camp and my office, isaiah opines, "dad, what if the planets crashed into each other and that is how god was made?" thus started a conversation about the origins of god and all things that lasted 15 minutes--almost our whole drive. the gist of the conversation was his idea that someone or something must have made god. so i had the delightful task of seeking to describe the orthodox teaching of creatio ex nihilo to a seven-year-old. isaiah is quite thoughtful theologically (i've blogged on his reflections before here)
i told him that we believe that god made everything, and so god even made the planets. well, he said, what if a comet came exploding across the sky and that made god and then god made the planets? okay, i said, nice image. their is an old way of talking about this that says god was the first mover--before god made the world, there was nothing to fly or move, and god got it all started. so, he said, god must have been in some other galaxy in the milky way and came over to our world and created it. well, if god created everything, really everything, then there would not be anyplace god could go before god made it. hmm, he said, so if god made everything, then is god everything? good question, i said, god is in everything, but god is not everything. it is like you--you came from mommy and me, and we are in you, but you are not us. you are you. that's like god. god made us, we're from god, god is in us, but we are not god.
hmm, he said, so if god is in everyone, that is how we can all be in the same family, right? all people? but then we should all be rich, daddy, because in our family we all share and so if we're all in the same family, all people should share and have enough. I said, wow, isaiah, that's right. but some people have lots of money and don't really want to share. other people have a lot of money and they share a lot of money, too.
it is a delight to be a parent. it is also amazing how much we undervalue the ability of young people to understand big ideas. so often kids in sunday school are taught crap and they are capable of so much. these are big ideas, ideas that will orient a life, that shape a space within which the spirit can work and lead in his life. too many kids grow up not even knowing the depth and breadth of their own tradition so when they reject it in their teens or early twenties, they reject a wooden caricature.
i dedicated my book on u2 to isaiah and grace, my two kids, and to their sponsor-sister, rose. partly i did this because the book is an introduction to the faith i hold dear and the book is an invitation to faith as a way of life. i hope for them to find a vibrant faith and while not confining their minds, i want to offer them footholds as they explore the well of living water that we who follow jesus claim as our source of life.
anon, and +peace
My family all drove down to Washington D.C. to visit friends for the fourth of July weekend. My friend, Mike Wilker, is the new head of the Lutheran Volunteer Corps, a wonderful organization where I spent a service year after college. As we were in D.C. we planned to attend the celebration at the Capitol, including the televised concert and then fireworks over the mall. We went to the event early in the day hoping to get a good spot on the lawn and have time to enjoy the day downtown. Security was very heavy as you would expect. But we wandered around, checking out the Folklife Festival on the mall and the incredible new National Museum of the American Indian. These were both terrific and represent such a wonderful public spirit (they are free, part of the Smithsonian).
(My son Isaiah waving his flag)
The fireworks and concert (complete with the Beach Boys, Gloria Estefan, tenor Ronan Tynan, and others) was also an inspiration--lots of families, very multicultural and all free and open to the public despite all the security precautions. Spirits were high and the whole afternoon and evening was fun.
Yet that same weekend, on Saturday, I read only the latest reflection on the way our nation has allowed terror to become our own work and not simply the work of others against us. I am so dismayed at the ways the United States has fought terror with terror, and this theological analysis by one of my seminary professors is particularly unsettling. I find that I feel caught between the potential of the United States as a great nation and those things that, because of our high ideals of liberty and justice for all, are all the more disturbing and thus require a vocal "NO" from Christian voices. Here is the article from Ted Peters, editor of Dialog: A Journal of Theology:
While pursuing research a few years ago on what would become a book dealing with the concept of sin, I had to make a decision. I was trying out a new list of seven sins, looking for the most common and the most deadly. Each one on the list represented a step down the stairway to increasing evil. Now, which would I put at the end? Which would be number seven? Which sin would constitute the final step, the abyss? Which sin would constitute irretrievable alienation from the God of grace? I elected blasphemy to the office of kingpin of sins.
Number six, the one just before we step into blasphemy, would be cruelty. Cruelty in the form of torture became on my list the second most heinous of human activities. To illustrate cruelty I told the story of two of my students who suffered torture at the hands of tyrannous governments. One, a doctoral student and Lutheran pastor in South Africa during the Apartheid era, withstood violent physical abuse and forty days of solitary confinement. While undergoing the worst of the worst, he kept his sanity by reciting to himself long passages of scripture he had previously committed to memory. Even though his body was being subjected to pain beyond the breaking point, he could maintain spiritual health within his psyche because the Christian symbols kept his internal soul in tact.
The other student was on internship in El Salvador. She was arrested on trumped up charges, intimidated, and subjected to threats and harassment. During the most degrading and terrifying moments, she would sing out loud, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” Again, whelmed by the surrounding flood of intimidation that inundated her consciousness with fear, her inner soul retained its strength and integrity because of access to the Christian symbols. She could take psychic comfort in her faith.
What these two experienced in common was oppression by a government which ruled by tyranny, arrests that denied them human rights, deliberate cruelty, and a modicum of comfort within their souls where religious symbols made internal integrity possible. As I mentioned, the perpetrators belong in step six on my list down the stairway to the abyss of evil.
Now, what could be worse? What would happen if the torturers of these two near martyrs would be clever enough to rob them of their inner souls? What would happen if their tormentors would profane the religious symbols—scripture and hymns–which provided strength and resolve to their psyches? Might there be such people so bent on evil that, unsatisfied with physical torture, would try to contaminate and prostitute and disaggregate their spirits? The answer is yes, such people exist. They are rare. But we know them as Satanists. One key activity of Satan’s disciples is this: they try to destroy the inner life of the human spirit by destroying one’s capacity to have faith in God. I have given this phenomenon the label: ‘‘Blasphemy.’’
There are multiple levels to blasphemy, of course. But the most profound and most diabolic is the attempt to destroy the human soul by contaminating the very religious symbols that provide inner integrity and strength. God can handle our blasphemy. It is our souls that are subject to destruction at the hands of the Satanist.
With this as background, I found chills running up and down my spine while reading an article in Time magazine, ‘‘Impure Tactics’’ (February 21, 2005, p. 33). It was another one of those many reports about torture by US troops inflicted on prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. We all know about the physical tactics of deprivation and brutality carried out in the name of intelligence gathering. But this article describes blasphemy.
According to the account, a 21 year old Saudi Muslim prisoner was confronted by a female interrogator who wanted to know why he had gone to Arizona and to flight school, suggesting he could’ve become a hijacker. The prisoner elected to remain silent. In order to open him up, the woman questioner began to use sexual tactics. The tactics she employed were not merely seductive; they were carefully calculated to violate Islamic religious taboos. She disrobed gradually in front of him. She rubbed her breasts against his back. Though he tried to spit at her and began to cry, she persisted.
Then she pretended to be menstruating. Secretly substituting red ink for her alleged menstrual blood, she rubbed it on his forehead. According to Islamic law, this rendered him unclean. He was profaned. The young Muslim man was then told his water would be cut off for two days, preventing him from ablution and cleansing. Time reports that ‘‘the interrogator said she wanted to shame the devout Muslim captive in order to break his connection with God.’’ Just ponder the significance of this: she wanted to ‘‘break his connection with God.’’
Reading this leaves me aghast. I’m so utterly ashamed that my government uses my tax dollars to support such activities that are not merely disrespectful of the Islamic religion but aimed deliberately at the destruction of this person’s inner soul. I feel as impure as did that Saudi that day. As an American, I feel unclean because of what that interrogator did.
My friends and colleagues complain occasionally about the division of red states and blue states, reminding us how during the 2004 presidential campaign the Republican party tried to get Americans to believe that churchgoers were Bush supporters. George W. Bush was identified with Christianity. Is Bush a Christian? Well, maybe. One Sunday in Washington I accidentally found myself in an Episcopal church with the president and family and a dozen secret service officers. Is this evidence that he embraces the Christian faith? The problem I see is this: the devout Christians I know avoid blasphemy. They also seek forgiveness for their trespasses.
In order for me to feel clean again, George W. Bush would need to do the following. First, he would need to repudiate the practice of blasphemy at Guantanamo Bay. While he’s at it, he might as well repudiate cruelty as well. Second, he would need to don sackcloth and ashes while apologizing to the entire Islamic world for this assault on one of their souls. Then, thirdly, he could turn the water on for this Saudi prisoner. –
Ted Peters Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary
Dialog: A Journal of Theology . Volume 44(128-129) Summer 2005.