The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Posts tagged ‘Christianity’

THE MILLION MUSLIM MARCH

Twelve years after the original 9/11, theories surrounding what really happened that day are flowing as fast as the blood in Cairo.  It’s fifty years since the JFK assassination and that is still the subject of new books.  And it’s almost seventy years since the Holocaust and there are still those who deny that it ever happened.

Interestingly, some of those who claim the last event is a fabrication and whose co-religionists are widely blamed for the first event will be marching for “Muslim rights” in our nation’s capital – if things go according to plan.  Truly, these are strange times in which we live.

In all probability, the “March,” if it comes off will have far fewer participants than the organizers’ goal of one million.  From the admittedly inaccurate numbers of perhaps 2.6 million Muslims in America, that would require nearly every other Muslim to participate.  Islam, which is the fastest growing religion in our prison systems, would have to secure a one day release for some of its incarcerated adherents to achieve its goals.

But the issue isn’t whether a million people show up in Washington.  It is a matter of the presumed motivation which is causing the organizers to make the effort to pull this event off.  That is, theoretically, “to combat the discrimination that Muslims endure in America and to give us non-Muslims a better understanding of what Islam is really about.”

Perhaps I’ve been fortunate.  My third and fourth years of college I lived across the street from Elijah Muhammad’s Temple of Islam #2.  There were always a few young men, nicely dressed in suit and tie who stood outside the Temple and made sure that no incidents occurred there.  This was about a mile and a half from the complex that Muhammad Ali built.

Because I lived in a very well-integrated neighborhood – not just in terms of race but in religion as well, I knew a number of Muslims who were proprietors of stores.  One family started in this country with one brother who came from Pakistan, who worked two jobs and saved enough to buy a Standard Oil gas station.  He then brought over two other brothers and his wife and all of them worked in the family business and purchased several more gas stations.

These were people who came here for opportunity, worked hard in what has clearly become the old-fashioned and now passé way and were well-integrated in their communities.  But that is my experience and one that is not shared by a lot of Americans.

What is the American perception of Islam?  It is rather different – and perhaps more accurate than mine.

The Twin Towers; the Taliban; accurate stories about the suppression of women’s rights in countries in which Sharia law rules the land; the Boston Marathon; the persecution of Christians; the constant defamation of Jews as pigs; Afghanistan; Pakistan; Iraq; the issuance of fatwas against anyone who speaks ill of Islam; well, the list goes on and on, but you get the picture.

In some respects, the presumed “persecution of Muslims in America” is very little different than Al Sharpton’s categorization of how blacks are mistreated in this country.  And the problem is that when any group engages in what most of us consider to be uncivilized behavior, it is hard for even the objective observer not to extrapolate from that and conclude that is how all members of that group behave.

It is understandable to me that Americans who see constant reports about the number of violent deaths which occur in Chicago and our other major cities and see that the assailants and the victims are mostly black conclude that blacks are violent.

It is understandable to me that Americans who read about young girls in Islamic countries who are the victims of rape or refuse the advances of a male whom they spurned being stoned to death or being the victims of “honor killings” conclude that is the way Islam works.

Well, although it isn’t the politically correct thing, there is a tremendous amount of violence in our inner city black communities.  And there is a tremendous amount of medieval behavior in countries where Islam is the majority faith.

If we start by admitting that, perhaps we’ll look for the path which will lead us to fixing those problems.  And that would be worth a great deal more than having a march on Washington – or anywhere else.

MUCH ADO ABOUT JESUS

As I recall, the first eyebrow raiser written about  the life of Jesus hit the bookstores in the mid-‘70s.   A least it was the first one that was published in my lifetime that caused a stir.   It was entitled, “The Passover Plot”.  It sold so successfully that it was turned into a movie – which was also rather successful.

Now the purpose of this post is not to detail a history of books which contest the orthodox Christian view of who Jesus was and what he did.  Nor is it my purpose to defend that traditional view.  The catholic understanding of who Jesus was,  was rather nicely codified in 325 A. D. at the Council of Nicaea.

So it comes as a bit of a surprise that a new book by a former Christian, now converted to Islam, is making such a hit as a best seller.  And what surprises me more is that when the author, his motivations in writing the book, the scholarship which he has gained through his education, are questioned, a significant part of the country, the secular humanists – to be found everywhere – seem to make of those inquiries a connection to the Grand Inquisitor Torquemada.

Frankly, I assume he wrote the book to make money.  And if that was his goal, he seems to be doing pretty well with his plan.  Since I like to find the simplest reason that things happen – I will stand by my simple explanation for the author’s motives – until proven wrong.

Now I don’t have a great deal of experience in child-rearing – but I did have the responsibility of directing a fairly large children’s choir at church.  Mostly the children were there because they enjoyed singing.  But as will be found among a large group, whatever its composition, there are always a few who want to throw a sabot in the machinery and mess things up – just to see if they can.

We had a few (thankfully, a very few) like that.

What I learned as their director was that they were less interested in creating a disturbance than they were in drawing attention to themselves.  Perhaps they had an underdeveloped ego or something along that line.  And I found that the more I turned my attention to them through admonition, the worse they behaved.  So I made things simple for the rest of the children and myself.

If those few kids got out of line at a rehearsal, I simply sent them home and told them that if they wanted to continue in the choir they would need to follow the same rules of behavior that I expected and could rely on from the vast majority of the children.

Not only did doing this cause most of these children to shape up and behave during choir rehearsals, I think it improved the general decorum of all the kids in the choir – who suddenly realized that as nice as I am, there were limits to what I would accept in the way of behavior.

Of course, there were two children, Jamal and Jasmine with whom this technique simply was not effective.  But I’m not sure that anything with which I was familiar would have been more so.  Ultimately, I found it unfortunate but necessary to terminate their relationship with the choir.  This, of course, led to a few nasty calls placed by their annoyed and flustered parents.

“My little J. is an angel.  I can’t believe you threw him/her out of the choir.”

“Well, Mrs. _. – it’s like this.  I have no doubt that your child is an angel.  But you know the demons in hell were also angels.  I simply think that your little J. is trying to emulate the wrong ones.”

The point of my relating this is not to give you an amateur’s advice on child-rearing.  But it is to point out how the Christian community is causing a book of suspect scholarship (or so I hear – I’ve not read it) to gain far more notoriety and increase sales to fatten the author’s bank account than it might have otherwise achieved if it had been published and ignored.

Incidentally, the book is entitled, “Zealot” and the author is Reza Aslan – just in case you want to add it to your Christmas list.

The thing that I find most amazing in this entire brouhaha over Mr. Aslan’s book is not his thesis but that he has the freedom to publish that thesis without interference by any government authority, here in a country built on Judaeo-Christian principles – the very ones that apparently must be in error if we are to accept his notion about the historical Jesus.

It is interesting that Mr. Aslan is able to renounce his Christian faith and convert to Islam without fear of repercussion from those who are among the clergy of the churches.  The same may not be his fate should he try to further broaden his religious horizons since apostasy from Islam is punishable by death – or so the Koran and the imams tell us.  And they carry out those sentences with piety and swiftness.

This week in Saudi Arabia, a young man was sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes because he even suggested the notion of talking about religion and politics and “parental obedience”.  While the U. S. has officially “protested” this sentence, Raif Badawi will soon be forgotten as we unload the next shipment of oil from the Arab kingdom.

You don’t need to be a Messiah in order to look at a faith that treats its adherents in such a manner and shed more than a few tears.  At least I don’t.  And for those who want to establish the same Sharia law here in the USA – let me tell you that I would be one of the first in line to opt out.

MUSIC HATH POWER …

It’s Sunday – even here in Las Vegas.  We are currently enjoying a much needed break from the sweltering heat that made its way here and across much of the country.  We’ve even had two days of substantial rain and last night I stood in the dog park with Gracie and enjoyed the coolness as the droplets soaked me through and through.  (I think Gracie was less impressed with this than I was).

So even though the casinos are saying farewell to their weekend visitors, many of whom said farewell to their stash of cash while they stayed here, it is important to me to try to keep things in perspective and try to set aside some time away from that which is worldly and direct myself toward higher things.

On Sundays. as part of that discipline, I try to do some contemplative thinking.  That may take the form of reading or it may incorporate listening to music or a combination of both.  But this was a busy Sunday.  I had a few grocery items I needed to purchase for the dinner I was making and a car battery to replace.  Car batteries in the desert have about the same life expectancies as fruit flies.

So as I was coming home with a new battery installed and my groceries on the passenger seat, I had rolled down the windows as it was still in the mid-80’s and there was a nice breeze blowing.  As I waited for the light to change, a man pulled up next to me in a large, new SUV which obviously had a very high-powered radio installed.  He was playing rap music and I’m sure that the volume was sufficient that it could have been heard in our state capital, Carson City nearly 450 miles away..

One of the things you learn when you live in Las Vegas is that we have some of the longest street lights in the world.  When I first moved here I wondered whether some of them at which I had been stopped ever changed.  I now know better.  They do change eventually – but in this case the wait seemed interminable.

I thought about rolling up the windows – but I thought that would have been as rude as the driver’s behavior in subjecting me to this “music”.  So I waited somewhat impatiently for the magic green disk to appear on the signal.  It finally did, but not before I had heard more than my fair share of M*ther F*cker and B*tch.

I realize that my classical music traditions would seem as strange to the driver of this car as his music does to me.  Well, there’s no accounting for taste – or lack of it.  But since music has been such an important influence in my life I can’t help but feel that the kind we choose to hear has a significant impact on how we see the world and how we treat each other.  Or perhaps the way that we view ourselves and the world determines our choice in music.

Somehow I don’t see a person who listens to music which through denigration and vulgarity demeans others as a person who is likely to be one of those “touchy-feely” types.  I could be wrong.  But I believe that we are what we eat – and that is true of the food we consume, the literature we read and the music to which we listen.

I do know that for me music is a refuge.  It brings out the best in me and comforts me when I am troubled.  And this being Sunday, I thought I would share the hymn which I played when I came home from my excursion.  It is of American origin, probably dating from the mid-19th century and was composed by one of those best know authors, Anonymous.

I played it several times just to unwind from the traffic light episode.  I hope that you enjoy it as much as I have over many years.

THE TWO HALF-SISTERS

Ever since their births there have been two half-sisters who have been quibbling and bickering and quarrelling.  Their names are Religion and Science.

Both half-sisters attempt to explain the true “nature of things”.  But they do that in very different ways.  Religion, the older of the two, relies on “faith” and Science relies on “fact”.  Faith may be described as that which cannot be seen but can be believed and fact on that which is observable and provable.

Both half-sisters make some excellent points which favor their positions.  Most people subscribe either to the philosophy espoused by one of the half-sisters and in so doing reject that offered by the other.  But are what both have to offer, really so different?

Religion, on her side of the family was blessed with a plentitude of cousins.  Her many family members include Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, and Islam to name a few.  Science points to these various relatives as proving the case that if Religion truly had merit there would be only one way in which she expressed her world view.

Science too has many relatives on her side of the family; mathematics, medicine, astronomy, archaeology among others.  While Religion tries to come to an understanding of everything, Science segments her analysis of life into different disciplines, each concerned with its own specialty and ignores and shows little interest in the others – unless they happen on a discovery which might impact her own studies.

Science points out correctly that, despite Religion’s underlying theme of love and compassion, she has been the responsible party for so many of the wars that have plagued the earth.  But if Religion has the responsibility for starting these conflict, Science has elevated them to a destructive art form.

Mankind first fought these wars in the name of Religion with slingshot and spear and arrow.  Science gave us gunpowder and machine guns and the missile which could bring destruction all around the globe.

“Now am I become death the destroyer of worlds”  quoted J. Robert Oppenheimer from the Hindu Bhagavad Gita as the first A-bomb was set off at Los Alamos, NM.  Here was an example of how both Religion and Science could co-exist.  And it wasn’t a pretty picture.

It happened one day that I was at a conference which both Religion and Science attended.  During a break I was enjoying an iced tea on the patio of the conference center.  The two half-sisters sat down at a table near me and I overheard their discussion.

“You know, Religion you preach a message of love and understanding, compassion and forgiveness and yet as I am looking at today’s paper I see how that is actually carried out by your followers.  They murder each other, rob and steal and break all the commandments which you have established based on your faith.   How do you explain that?  To me it is evident and observable proof that what you have to offer is false.”

“Well, Science you are correct that what I teach and how that is applied by my students do not always coincide.  But how is that any different than one of your mathematics students who is given a simple problem, say what is the answer to the question how much is 3 x 5 who responds with 14?  Does the fact that this student and perhaps many more answered this question incorrectly invalidate the truth which you have found in your system of mathematics?  Or does it simply mean that they have not understood the principle correctly?”

“Well, Religion let’s look at another example.  For many years your leaders believed that the earth was the center of the universe; that the sun revolved around our little planet and then Galileo proved that was not true and that the earth revolved around the  sun.  Those leaders forced him to recant his position and shut him away in his house until he died.  How do you explain that?”

“Science, they were wrong.  But I would remind you that at the same time this was all happening those who were followers of your discipline believed that there were six planets in our solar system.  Then later our knowledge grew and suddenly there were seven, then eight then nine.  But then they reconsidered and decided that the last of these wasn’t really a planet and so now we’re back to eight.  If facts are just that, facts – how can they change over time?”

“Let me give you another example.  As you know, barbers were the first surgeons in your discipline that we know as medicine.  It was customary for them to apply leeches to an invalid patient to draw out the “bad blood”.  They were confident that this would help the patient heal.  Yet today if you were to go to any modern hospital I think you would be hard pressed to find even one which has a supply of leeches to treat any of the maladies of those who come there for help.”

“You see, Science we are not all that different.  I would assert that both you and I have a system that is based on faith.  What we believe today is what we think is true.  But as both of us have evolved over time our understanding has grown and our outlooks have changed to accommodate our greater knowledge.  And if you don’t mind, I would like to quote one of my followers, a man named Paul who summed this up rather nicely.”

“For now we know in part, and we prophesy in part.  But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.”

At that point I finished my beverage and left to re-take my seat at the conference.  The two half-sisters were still debating with each other.

I suspect that conversation will continue for a long time.

MERE CHRISTIANITY

The book “Mere Christianity” by C. S. Lewis had a profound impact on me.  In it, Mr. Lewis who had changed his view of life from that of atheism to embrace  Christianity in its Anglican expression explained his view of what it meant to be a Christian.  In essence, it meant to be accepting and non-judgmental of others.

I was floored that a minister in North Carolina has figured out a way to resolve the “problem of homosexuals and lesbians.”  His solution is “to round them all up and put them in an area surrounded by an electrified fence.”  I have included a link to this story and the video of his “sermon” on the subject.

http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/lookout/pastor-delivers-anti-gay-rant-suggests-building-electric-142753831.html

In order to hold to my principle of being accepting and non-judgmental of others, after I saw this I can only say that if this truly is what Christianity is all about, I guess I read the wrong book.

SOUL FOOD

As I was thinking about the meaning of Easter and preparing for it in a practical way, in other words planning the menu, I was pleased that one of the local supermarkets had collard, mustard and turnip greens on sale for only fifty cents a pound.  These simple vegetables were my introduction to “soul food”.

Although you can find almost anything here on the buffets in Las Vegas, greens have a tendency to be overcooked in the first place.  And when they sit for any length of time on a steam table they almost inevitably meet that fate.  So I prefer the ones that I make which are gently steamed and then finished with a topping of sautéed caramelized onions cooked in chopped bacon.

Although it was late January in 1972 it was a bitterly cold day when I arrived home somewhat later than usual.  I scurried to get in from the cold and the wind which was fierce – to be greeted by Tristan my Irish Setter and his companion, Josh who was a Newfoundland/Belgian Shepherd mix.  I had only a few minutes to warm up before taking them out to attend to their duties.

I sincerely hoped that Josh wouldn’t dawdle as, with the protection off his extremely dense coat, he seemed to enjoy this near zero weather.  Perhaps it was the fact that I had come home a little later than usual or that the dogs took pity on me but they both did their thing quickly and I gratefully cleaned up after them and returned home.  My fingers were still cold even though protected by heavy gloves.

After I took off my outer clothes and heated up my hands under some warm water, I began preparing their dinner and turned on the little portable television that sat on the kitchen counter, primarily for the purpose of providing some background noise.  I went about getting the kids their food and had just placed their bowls on the floor when a news flash came across the screen.

Mahalia Jackson, the Queen of Gospel Music had suddenly passed away in a suburb about fifteen miles south at the young age of sixty years.  I remember the chill that ran through me when I heard this – as though the kitchen windows had been flung wide open and the bitter cold had found its way into my apartment.

Although I had been raised in Christianity’s more liturgical traditions where services were very specifically laid out and where the rituals were well defined, from time to time I would visit other churches run by members who had come from a different tradition of the faith.  There were no small number of Southern Missionary Baptist churches on Chicago’s South Side from which I could choose.

These were the churches which were the birthplace of Gospel Music – the music over which Mahalia reigned.  So different from the Gregorian chant and the works of Mozart and Bach which I knew, these were hymns written by people who had the genetic memory of slavery firmly etched into their experience and into their minds.  They were the religious version of the more secular music known as “the blues”.

There was an honest spontaneity on the parts of the congregants to the minister as he would preach his sermon on the selection of Scripture which he had chosen – with enough “Amen-ing” to fill Carnegie Hall to the rafters.  There was a great deal of swaying in the seats as they received the Word of God and a great deal of fanning of the face – as though to disperse the Holy Spirit among all the members of the church who had come that Sunday.  And, of course, there was the music.

Mahalia sang the hymn, “Precious Lord” at the funeral service for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  It was written by the Father of Gospel Music, Thomas A. Dorsey after his wife died in childbirth and their newborn daughter died the day later.  I present it to you for your enrichment while wishing you a wonderful Easter.

This is the real soul food.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=as1rsZenwNc

THE HYMN OF THE UNIVERSE

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Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was a French Jesuit priest who had previously worked in archaeology and paleontology.  He was involved in the archaeological digs which uncovered both Piltdown Man and Peking Man.

Several of his books were denied publication during his lifetime and others were censured by the church as they challenged the Augustinian concept of “original sin.” 

His most important work was “The Phenomenon of Man,” but the work I enjoy the most is, “The Hymn of the Universe.”

Teilhard viewed the universe as a cradle from which all life evolves.  Although it can be cold and violent it also is nurturing.  It is God’s way of bringing life into being.

In the book, Teilhard describes one Sunday night that he was working on a dig in China and realized that he had not yet fulfilled his priestly responsibility to celebrate the Eucharist.  And he couldn’t – at least in the traditional way of offering up bread and wine – as he had neither of them.  As he describes standing on the open Chinese plain, “the stars filled the sky – attesting to the omnipresence of God.”

During the canon of the mass, Teilhard offered back to God what He had given us – the majesty of His Universe.

It must have been a remarkable service.

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