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Showing posts from July, 2016

Life after death? Part 2

This essay's first part began by enumerating some of the reasons why people find the prospect of life after death appealing. I then considered why both a physical and a spiritual understanding of life after death are problematic in light of advances in astronomy, particle physics, and biology. Part 1 ended with this question: If human spirituality does not connote an ethereal, eternal aspect of human existence, then what is the human spirit?
My efforts to answer this last question shape my thinking about life after death. If the human spirit is entirely the result of evolutionary processes, then aspects of that spirit should be apparent in some other lifeforms but most fully developed in humans. The human spirit, in other words, is the quintessence of what makes a human fully human and has at least six overlapping yet distinctive elements: self-awareness, linguistic capacity, the aesthetic sense, creativity, limited autonomy, and the ability to love and be loved. All six aspects …

The Disciples' Prayer

A Sunday School teacher began her lesson with a question, "Boys and girls, what do we know about God?" A hand shot up in the air. "He is an artist!" said the kindergarten boy. "Really? How do you know?" the teacher asked. "You know - Our Father, who does art in Heaven... " Polls report that 55% of Americans pray daily and another 21% pray at least weekly.[1] The Lord's Prayer, part of today's reading from Luke, also occurs in Matthew's gospel.[2] The brevity of Luke's version compared to Matthew's suggests that the Lukan version is older because texts tend to expand through retelling and revision. The Lord's Prayer both summarizes Jesus' teachings and teaches us how to pray.[3] First, the prayer addresses God as Father, asking that God's name be hallowed or made holy. The word Father emphasizes that we are God's children. Persons who find thinking of God as a father or in masculine terms troubling can usefull…

Life after death? Part 1

In listening to parishioners, I've learned that life after death can appeal in several ways. Some persons enjoy this life but also hope for even greater enjoyment in an unlimited future of life after death. Conversely, some persons experience so much exploitation, pain, suffering, or deprivation in this life that the possibility of a new life without pain, suffering, tears, or death appeals greatly. Of course, the abuse of this appeal prompted Marx, among others, to characterize religion as the opiate of the masses. More broadly, many persons believe that this life rarely, if ever, provides justice for both the righteous and the wicked, a justice that seems achievable only after death. Finally, if God's love for people is as great as many persons believe, then God's infinite love can never find fulfillment in finitude but only in eternity.
Regardless of life after death's appeal, some of its traditional attributes now seem dissatisfying to people to whom I have minist…

For whom are you Jesus?

A distraught woman tried many times to contact her priest only to discover that it was his day off. She contacted him the next day and scolded him severely. "Father, I needed you yesterday," she said, "and you were not there for me. You have let me down. I cannot believe you would take a day off when so many people like me need you." Then she added, "The devil never takes a day off." The priest, a little irritated and with tongue in cheek, responded, "And if I didn't take a day off I would be just like the devil, wouldn't I?" Two weeks ago, with no idea of what today's gospel reading might be I began re-reading Richard Gula's book, The Call to Holiness.[1] Perhaps my choice of a book illustrates a serendipitous synchronicity in which we can discern God at work. Gula, a Sulpician Roman Catholic priest, believes that God calls people to live at the intersection of spirituality and morality. That is, we follow Jesus by emulating b…

The rogue truck driver in Nice

A truck driver in France used his vehicle this past week to kill scores of people. Here are some thoughts. The incident was probably not a terror related crime. ISIS claimed that it inspired the truck driver, an immigrant from Tunisia who has lived in France most of his life. The French police, however, described the driver as a delinquent. Furthermore, the driver did not attend mosque nor give any indication that he practiced any version of Islam. Importantly, the truck driver appears not to have had a political agenda so his crime, by definition, cannot have been a terror crime.The incident has evoked bigoted, inflammatory, and ignorant responses. Probably the worst was that of Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the US House of Representatives. He proposed a loyalty test for US citizens who are Muslims and deporting those who believe in Sharia law. That proposal has multiple major flaws:A loyalty test for Muslims is patently …

Where was God in Dallas and at other shootings?

Where was God in Dallas and at other recent shootings by police officers and of police officers in the US? That question usually presumes God both being present and able to intervene to prevent evil from happening. Only the first of those presumptions feels right. If God were able to intervene directly to prevent evil from occurring in the world, then why is does so much evil occur? Why would a good and loving God allow evil on a grand scale (e.g., the Holocaust or the destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina) and on a personal scale (e.g., the shooting of unarmed young black men by police officers and the recent capricious slaughter of police officers in Dallas)? The traditional Christian answer to those questions is that God, in creating the world, chose to allow individual freedom and voluntarily refrains from acting. I find that answer disturbing and unsatisfying. The idea of God choosing to refrain from direct action to prevent millions of deaths and untold sufferings paints God…

Who is your neighbor?

A Sunday school teacher was telling her class the story of the Good Samaritan, which we just heard in today's gospel reading.[1] She described the situation in vivid detail so her students would catch the drama. Then, she asked the class, "If you saw a person lying on the roadside, all wounded, and bleeding, what would you do?" A thoughtful little girl broke the hushed silence, "I think I'd throw up." Jericho was a thriving commercial center located about 8 miles north of the Dead Sea and 12 miles east-northeast of Jerusalem. In spite of Jericho's proximity to Jerusalem, robbers infested the road between the two cities, as was common on many first century Palestinian roads. We know nothing about the victim left for dead by his attackers nor are the details of his injuries important. Three passersby are the parable's main actors. Their deeds reveal Jesus' message. The first was a Jewish priest. After the consolidation of all Jewish sacrifices in…

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Sent to change the world

The story of Elisha healing the Aramaean general Naaman is over twenty-eight hundred years old.[1] Yet the story, one of the best-known Old Testament stories, peopled with characters that even now seem true to life, retains a fascination through its dynamism and a focus that shifts between the local and the global.[2] Naaman was a common Ugaritic name derived from an adjective meaning pleasantness or loveliness, an ironic name for a general.[3] Obviously, parents then as now were poor prognosticators of a child’s vocation. The text refers to Naaman’s disease as “leprosy.” The disease we call leprosy, formally known as Hansen’s disease, did not arrive in the Middle East until it arrived via Alexander the Great’s troops returning from India four hundred years after Naaman died. Nobody knows the exact nature of the disease that afflicted Naaman; one scholar hypothesizes that the disease may have been psoriasis.[4] A young Israelite, a female slave, a prize of war, served Naaman’s wife. …