a new perspective on faith for a crazy world

MultiRacialThumbsUpComplexity of character and culture

There’s no question that we live in an extremely diverse world. We ignore that fact at our own peril. And the diversity extends not only to an assortment of climates, environments, chemical elements, species, races and cultures, but also to the subject of character itself.

At a recent relationship workshop, the presenter was making a point about what attracts people to each other. He likened personality characteristics to a #Doritos chip, saying that the cunning food companies have developed a theory of four basic “tastes” — sweet, salty, bitter, and savory. And the #Doritos recipe, of course, includes all four of these, so in theory it satisfies everyone, and you can’t stop eating their chips for that very reason.

If the chip had only one of these flavors — sweet, for example — you’d soon tire of it and begin wanting something else. That’s called flavor “satiation.”

Personalities, he continued, have similar emotional “flavors.” And a “nice guy,” for example, might fit the stereotype of “sweet” or “comfortable” (or platonic) — but if too much “niceness” exists, then satiation sets in, and the natural inclination is to seek another flavor. Like naughty. Or mysterious. Or funny and playful. Mischievous. Warm and understanding. Even dangerous! (Of course, focusing instead on any one of these alternative “flavors” has problems of its own, but we don’t need to go into that.)

The takeaway from all this is, more than likely, that complexity of character is valued more highly than a more boring, one-dimensional outlook on life.

All this marketing wisdom, mind you, was offered from a purely practical viewpoint. There’s a germ of truth there, but there’s also the higher perspective that has to be considered. If you extend this thinking to the world at large, with its many diverse cultures, that means we should all be seeking and appreciating a more complex experience that encompasses many different countries, peoples, spiritual and religious ideas, political persuasions, etc., …correct?

So current global movements away from diversity or inclusivity (out of fear of immigrants, refugees, “foreign” ideas, etc.) is actually counterproductive according to this “taste” theory. That’s the practical side. On the spiritual side, being opposed to diversity means we’re cutting off our nose to spite our face. We live in such a diverse, interconnected web of existence that it would be foolish and not very compassionate or neighborly (brotherly, sisterly) of us to automatically exclude or shut the door on others who don’t look, act, dress, eat, work, play, or believe like us. A steady diet of “white bread” alone would quickly lead to satiation and worse — racial warfare, religious discrimination, political chaos, new Holocausts, you name it.

So, to do anything less than welcome the outsiders, those who are different from us, is a very bad — even evil — notion!

And when it comes to complexity of character (whether it’s nice guys or naughty guys), it’s never really as simple as that. Everyone has a certain degree of complexity of character. To dwell on strictly superficial aspects, like the #Doritos marketers believe, is also asking for trouble. How we come across to others is important, but if we subscribe to the idea that you can’t be “nice” or “warm” because it’s too boring or one-dimensional, then we’re also giving in to a very cold, cruel, calculating, manipulative view of human relationships.

Enjoy your #Doritos!

WaterBearerPLAY

One of our colleagues recently shared this little inspirational video about the water-bearer and his two pots.

Without giving too much of the story away (spoiler alert!!!), let’s just say that there’s always more than one way to look at misfortune, failure, awful circumstances, and loss.

Of course, there’s always the danger that someone will accuse you of being heartless, unsympathetic, unfeeling, or trying to make light of suffering, serious illness, dire poverty, or some other tragic situation.  So this tale may not necessarily apply to every case, especially when faced with the extremes of human existence.

But for all it’s worth, it can be a helpful little story to give us another perspective on life’s challenges, which we all face at one time or another.

To see the water bearer’s story, click here: https://www.facebook.com/inspiremoreofficial/videos/1334621436629938/

HandsInBoxHeard the old expression “putting people in boxes”? Unfortunately, another thing that gets put into boxes a lot is faith.

Through the centuries, bloody wars have been fought over religious beliefs and differences. To their credit, there have been groups, organizations, and even some political entities (like states or countries) that came together to demonstrate it doesn’t have to be that way. One can gain much more by recognizing and appreciating our differences rather than fearing them or making them the cause of conflicts and bloodshed.

We won’t name names of people who have been doing it wrong — or right — you all know who you are.  Actually, come to think of it, perhaps even drawing lines in the sand like that is all part of the problem. If we’d only try to be more comfortable with living in the “gray area,” that place where there are no black & white wrongs or rights, we might all be much better off.

Recently, the people of Denmark were privileged to view a TV commercial that expressed that very same thought. It dramatically illustrated the problem with putting people in boxes.

DanishTV-Play

More than that, it suggested the beautiful, encouraging, inspiring alternative.

Wouldn’t you rather live in a world like this?

MosesOrangeFor those raised in religious traditions that obsessed over following the letter of the law, crossing every “T” and dotting every “i” when it comes to obeying all those carved-in-stone commandments, here’s some good news. The reason for our suffering is not some vengeful, drill sergeant God who wants us to “get it right,” every single time. Sure, there are good reasons for all those laws and commandments. But it’s not because God wanted to make our lives miserable.

No, actually, the problem is due to a very understandable situation that had nothing to do with God — it’s called “human error.” Somebody MISTRANSLATED a key passage in the Bible!

And once that mistranslation starting making the rounds, and others in the church hierarchy began adopting the idea as their own… even expanding on it, and making it ten times more awful than the original mistake… that’s when all the trouble started.

The passage in question comes from the New Testament, from the gospel of Matthew: “Be ye therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect.” (5:48, if you want to look it up).

The famous Episcopal scholar, author, and creation spirituality guru Matthew Fox points out that the Greek word (in the original Biblical text) that had been misleadingly translated as “be perfect” is teleioi. Fox explains that a more accurate meaning is “be full grown, be adult, be complete and whole” — not “BE PERFECT!”

A parallel passage in Luke’s gospel (the equivalent of another eyewitness giving his own take on what he heard in the same sermon from Jesus) comes much closer to the original intent, in Fox’s opinion: “Be you compassionate as your Creator in heaven is compassionate.”

So there you have it. God didn’t intend holiness to be equated with perfectionism. Rather, in Fox’s thinking, our goal in this life is to “expand” or to “ripen,” to grow towards and into the pursuit of greater compassion for our fellow human beings and other creatures on this earth.

“Imperfection is not a sign of the absence of God,” says Fox.”It is a sign that the ongoing creation is no easy thing. We all bear scars from this rugged process. We can — and must — celebrate the scars.” The alternative, he adds, would be to opt out of the ongoing work of creation, in which we are all serving as partners along with God.

Simply put, questing for perfection is destructive, in so many different ways — while seeking to grow in faith by becoming more compassionate is much more CONSTRUCTIVE and ultimately more kind, more caring for all concerned.

Well, you can breathe a sigh of relief! There are actually people out there trying to make our faith less fearsome.

matthewfoxOne of them, Matthew Fox, has been at it for over 40 years. His approach? Changing from the all-too-common, patriarchal, guilt-based “original sin” obsession to something that is less punitive, more freeing, user-friendly, and uplifting: “Creation Spirituality,” which focuses on the “original blessing” received when we’re born, not on some inherited curse.

Fox’s own faith journey was an unusual one — he started out in the Dominican Order, but his liberal ideas eventually got him in trouble, especially during the days of Pope Benedict XVI. After developing (and teaching) new academic programs on creation spirituality in Chicago and California, he was silenced by Pope Benedict and later expelled from the order. His “sins”? Being a “feminist” theologian; associating too closely with Native Americans; not condemning homosexuals; and lifting up the idea of “Original Blessing” over “Original Sin” (the notion that Adam and Eve’s actions condemned us all).

Now an Episcopalian, he has devoted his life to facilitating a “New Reformation” of faith that will offer hope, not condemnation; stand for social and ecological justice; be more universal and all-embracing of diverse faiths, both eastern and western; promote interfaith understanding, rather than creating divisiveness, hate, and hostility between different traditions; and create a belief system that does not demand an “either/or,” take-it-or-leave-it opposition between science and faith.

As one way of expressing what Creation Spirituality is all about, Fox came up with his own “95 Theses” (Hundreds of years earlier, Protestant reformer Martin Luther became famous for his original 95 Theses that led to the split with Catholicism.) Here are just a few of Fox’s new theses:

  • God is both Mother and Father.
  • Theism (the idea that God is “out there” or above and beyond the universe) is false. All things are in God and God is in all things (this is called panentheism).
  • God loves all of creation, and science can help us more deeply penetrate and appreciate the mysteries and wisdom of God in creation. Science is no enemy of true religion.
  • Spirituality and religion are not the same, any more than education and learning, law and justice, or commerce and stewardship are the same.
  • Economic justice requires the work of creativity to birth a system of economics that is global, respectful of the health and wealth of the earth systems, and that works for all.
  • Loyalty and obedience are never greater virtues than conscience and justice.
  • Original Sin is an ultimate expression of a Punitive Father God and is not a biblical teaching. But Original Blessing (goodness and grace) is biblical.

Want to know more about Matthew Fox? Check out his website at http://www.matthewfox.org/

A friend just shared a link to a Vimeo production on “being a mensch”, which is an old tradition that is actually so extremely applicable to what we’re going through today.

The Making of a Mensch from The Moxie Institute on Vimeo.

It’s a New Cloud Film from the Let It Ripple Film Series — a message which is insightful, inspirational, helpful, playful, thought-provoking, and entertaining, and needs to be shared with more people (no matter what faith you profess, wherever you are, and whoever you are becoming in this journey of life).

This new 11 minute film and accompanying discussion kit takes the science that was explored in a previous film, “The Science of Character,” and reframes it through the lens of the ancient Jewish teachings of “Mussar.” The film and discussion materials are an opportunity to revitalize these teachings around character development that date back to the 10th century, and reengage us all in how these Jewish tools are applicable to our 21st century lives.

And, yes, you don’t have to be Jewish to appreciate this. Honestly, if more of us who weren’t could take steps towards becoming part of this growing movement of “mensch” development, regardless of our denomination (or belief system), the world would be in much better shape to fight the evils facing us today.

The world’s gone mad?

Hard to believe…the last blog posting here in “noofaith” was back around the time of the Boston Marathon bombing, a few years ago.

And now, the world appears to have turned upside down, all over again! A change in leadership in the United States has many people worried about their safety, their health, their future, and even the precarious state of the world.

cropped-squigglerainbow.jpg Oddly, this brings to mind an old symbol that is a perfect description of what we’re all going through. Many would prefer to describe a life journey as rather conventional, point A to point B, in a very straight line.

spiralHowever, the more we experience “real life,” the more we realize that life doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t even resemble an orderly spiral.

Actually, it’s much more like a disorganized doodle or squiggle. Because with all the twists and turns, detours and switchbacks, unexpected stops and starts — nothing at all is predictable, traditional, or normal. And to be honest, it probably never was. But it’s even more crazy today.

We can ask ourselves, “So what do we do about it?” Some have chosen to march, to protest, to let out a wide range of feelings, at every point on the spectrum. Anger. Depression. Fear. A sense of betrayal. A deep-seated need to bring about change — NOW!

Others turn inward, exploring their spirituality in a different way. Meditating. Praying. Getting in touch with our inner child. Or simply vegging out. Sometimes our outlets might be the expression of feelings through the creative arts… drawing, sculpture, music, writing, performance, visual images, design. Other times we may turn our energies towards caring for others.

One truth about our world is the fact that there are as many different people (and talents and gifts and attitudes and feelings and styles of learning or communication) as there are colors in a rainbow. And so it is with faith. Building walls around others who look, act, or believe differently is counterproductive in the long run. Because to cut out even one part of this incredible mosaic of human life is to diminish each of us a hundredfold, since we would no longer have that particular “difference” as part of our collective experience.

Imagine saying, “I don’t like purple,” and eliminating it entirely. We’d be that much poorer for one less color in our daily lives.

I might not share the political opinion of my neighbor. But his or her presence is a vital and necessary part of our common life here on Earth. And together — ONLY TOGETHER — can we go forward, righting the wrongs, addressing the hurts, and reclaiming what we know to be the true path to peace: love and compassion for one another, not hatred, bitterness, divisiveness, injustice, and suspicion.