7/13/06

    Tucson's Ground Breaking
    Unleavened Bread Breaking

    ‘Freedom’ is an overused word that has finally frayed around the edges. There is not a cultural group
    today that doesn't believe their ‘freedom’ is being impinged upon in one manner or another.

    In Judaism, the Seder celebrates man’s most basic freedom, liberation from slavery, in this case of
    the Jews from the Egyptians. This freedom to breathe as a sovereign individual, to create one’s own
    destiny, certainly is worthy of celebration and contemplation by those who have suffered.

    But can the concept of the Seder be made inclusive of non-Jews and still retain its validity? Tom
    Warne, a board member of Tucson, Arizona’s Jewish Community Relations Council believes it can.
    Recently he co-chaired an unusual event in which the Tucson community joined together to experience
    an observance of  the Seder. And in the process, they got to do a little reinventing of the wheel, which
    was fine with Warne.  (continued on page two)
    Editorial Page
As with all editorials, the following columns express personal opinions.
We welcome varying viewpoints from qualified individuals.
The Religion Network

  
  02-14-07

EDITORIAL: THE JEFFERSON BIBLE

A complex man, was Thomas Jefferson. Brilliant, innovative and learned
(he spoke half a dozen languages), he studied and questioned much of the
world around him.

Inevitably, though, he was a man of his times. The aristocrat freed but
two slaves in his lifetime and only a handful upon his death. The noble
ideas he held about man's rights apparently didn't apply to those with
dark skin.

His philosophy of life was certainly influenced by the time he spent as
American Ambassador to France. It was the age of Enlightenment, personified
and perhaps defined by Voltaire, who died in 1778.The influential writer was
bitterly opposedto the Church and anything clerical. Cutting edge thought of
the day exalted man's selective individual thinking. Theologically, Deism was
the intellectual choice. Thomas Paine's popular 1794 book,"The Age of Reason,"
argued against  church authority, organized religion and the veracity of the
scriptures. It put forth the idea that nature's grandness provided the primary
evidence of God's existence, and that the individual could best find God in
autonomous meditation.

Therein lies the impetus behind Jefferson's labor intensive reconstruction of
the Gospels, in four languages, no less. Yet He treasured the words of Jesus,
whom he deemed the greatest philosopher of all time. "It is the innocence of
His character,the purity and sublimity of His moral precepts, the eloquence
of His inculcations, the beauty of the apologues in which He conveys them,
that I so much admire,..." he writes to Francis Adrian van der Kamp, a Dutch
Unitarian minister.

And so, near the end of his life, Jefferson zealously undertakes to separate
"the dross from the gold" by lifting andisolating Jesus' words into a streamlined
version of the four Gospels. Leaping from one book to the other, he attempts to
understand the historic Jesus by neatly excising direct allusions to Jesus'
divinity. Sculpting a selective portrayal of Jesus with the use of a razor and
glue pot, he creates a powerful philosopher and deconstructs a Savior of 1800 years.

As historian Daniel J. Boorstein notes, "The Jeffersonianhad projected his own
qualities and limitations into Jesus,whose career became his vivid symbol of the
superfluity andperils of speculative philosophy."

In so doing, curious inconsistencies in Jefferson's thought processes are revealed.
For example, in the above quoted story of the blind man from John, Jefferson's
version is a brief philosophical discussion with some Pharisees. No wonder that
Jefferson was obliged to omit the final incidents of John 10, culminating in the
Pharisees demanding of Jesus, "Are we blind also?" If he hadn't healed the blind
man,there would have been no reason for the Pharisees to objectto Jesus healing
on the Sabbath, because the blind man wouldn'thave gone to the Pharisees to tell
them that he had beenhealed on the Sabbath, nor then would people have gone to
visit the man's parents to verify that he had been born blind, nor would Jesus
have said, "For judgment I came into this world, that they which see not might
see; and that they whichsee might be made blind," all of which led to the
Phariseesconfrontation of Jesus. Without the healing aspects of the story, all
logic and meaning are evicerated.

And if, as Jefferson insists, Jesus did not manifest the divine by healing,
while did thousands flock to hear himand marvel? Was he such a charismatic
speaker that they thronged to hear him philosophize? And after the crucifixion,
why were his followers willing to be martyred with his name on their lips?
Because of his eloquence? Not likely.

Finally, a word about the value of the Jefferson Bible, because it holds great
value, and for Christians inparticular. With apologies to the self-proclaimed
"Realist,"Mr. Jefferson, but a miraculous effect occurs when one reads the
teachings of Jesus in such a linear, condensed form.His message of love and
forgiveness is made even more potent. One can feel the frequency with which
He hammered home his themes...how we must forgive every single trespass against
us...the urgency is amplified. The intensity with whichJesus preached becomes
evident. His use of parables arehighlighted and their beauty made startling.
Even his attacks on false piety are rendered more powerful as he repeats his
messages over and over, trying to reach hisaudience, and trying to reach us today.

Jefferson did religious Christians a great favor after all.
- Lisa Bowman


    HYPOCRISY:  Whenever humans aspire to rise above their mortalmindsets into their divine natures, sporadic failure is inevitable.
    Thus, hypocrisy long has been a popular charge against the religious. With the flap surrounding Mel Gibson's ugly drunken display
    and his ensuing attempts to apologize, religious hypocrisy is back in the news. I suppose we could all just stop reaching for God
    and so avoid the charge of hypocrisy, but where would that leave us?

    Recently I posed a question concerning religious hypocrisy  to three men who have spent lives devoted to their religions.
    What follows is their respective responses. The question was:
    Many who do not belong to a house of worship cite the 'hypocrisy' of religions as their justification
    for rejecting religious affiliation. Inevitably such people cite as examples: religious wars, corruption
    and sexual scandals. How do those of us who belong to an organized religion respond to these charges?


    Stanley A. Nelson, Ph.D, M.Div.
    Dr. Nelson retired as Senior Professor of Theology from Golden Gate Seminary. Prior to that post, he held numerous
    positions, including working for the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board and serving as the pastor of four Southern
    Baptist churches in Texas, Kansas and North Carolina. He also spent three sabbatical leaves at Oxford University in
    England studying at Regent's Park College. He is an accomplished essayist and author.

    HIS RESPONSE:

    Organized religion!  Early in ministry when I was yet pastoring a local church, and while facing numerous situations,
    my frustration level was rising.  A wise person took me aside and told me, "There are a certain number of horse's rear
    people per square foot in all institutions, and the church is no exception." I chose to accept this report as valid, and years
    in religious institutional life, and living and serving on three different continents, have brought no qualifications to the
    statement.

    In institutional life there are times when an inversion of purposes happens.  In our democratic process, elections are by
    politics, meaning chosen people will represent the polis -- the people.  Then an inversion takes place. Those elected to
    serve the people, instead begin benefiting themselves. This inversion is a betrayal of the public trust.  This also happens
    in the church. The church is especially vulnerable when government and church begin to hold hands and dance together.

    But then, tell me, where would you like for hypocrites, needy people who are struggling with identity and with various
    demons go?  Is not the church a good gathering place?  The church after all is for the sick, the weak, and the struggling.
    Those who are healthy often feel no necessity to gather with us.  

    But there is another question associated with this issue -- why are there in the fellowship of the churches so many
    wholesome, responsible people who are good neighbors, workers in the community, supporters of neighborhood projects,
    and feel a responsibility to a part of the redemptive work of God throughout the world? That question also needs a response.

    --Dr. Stan Nelson


    Rabbi Lawrence Goldmark
    Rabbi Goldmark has served as the Spiritual Leader of Temple Beth Ohr of La Mirada since 1979.  Currently, he serves
    as Executive Vice President of the Pacific Association of Reform Rabbis.  Among many other positions he served as
    President of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California from 1997-1999. He is the Jewish Chaplain for St. Jude Medical
    Center in Fullerton, CA.

    HIS RESPONSE:

    There are many responses to the question of why a person should belong to a house of worship.  My late colleague,
    Rabbi Richard Hertz of Detroit, wrote the following:

    "The need for belonging to a congregation is not only sound religion but sound psychology as well.  To put your best
    foot forward and give your best to the world, you must contribute yourself.  You must identify yourself and share in the life
    of the community.  You get a sense of life's enrichment when you become part of something larger and more important
    than your own social circle."

    "All of us sense the need for greater resources than our own  Yet some people have said, 'Why bother joining a Temple?
    I can be religious without it.  I can live the ten commandments and the golden rule in my home and in my business.  I can
    think better alone than I can do in a crowd.  I can worship God in the hills or by the sea.  Why go to services and listen to
    sermons when my religion is complete without needing that sort of thing.'"

    "That may sound good, but does he really act that way?  How often does he actually go to a mountain top and think of
    God, or pray when he goes fishing?  The chances are that God is worshipped more frequently in houses built in His
    name and set aside for His worship than any place else.  One father said to his little girl, 'Come on, we can say our
    prayers on the beach.'  The little girl replied, 'But we won't, will we?'"

    "Rare is the person who can maintain his religious outlook without stimulus from those who share his values or
    devotion  None of us lives a life of moral perfection.  None of us lives unto himself.  These days, anyone who genuinely
    tries to live a life of moral values needs all the assistance he can get.  I know of no better place to get the aid."

    "The parasitic hypocrisy of the unaffiliated is most clearly revealed when, stripped of all pretense, he calls for the rabbi
    in time of joy or sorrow.  Yet he ignores the institutions that make it possible for the rabbi to minister to his people.  The
    unaffiliated person becomes a hitch-hiker. He depends upon others to carry the load."  

    "Not everyone who is affiliated with a synagogue automatically becomes a religious person, but certainly no one
    unsynagogued can expect to be a religious Jew.  He can be a secular Jew, a checkbook Jew, a kaddish Jew, a
    delicatessen Jew, a gastronomic Jew, a frightened Jew, cardiac Jew, but never a religious Jew and to my mind never
    a complete Jew."

    "We need Jews who will stand up and be counted as such, who want their families to be a part of the Jewish
    community and their children taught to feel part of an eternal people.  We need the spirit of those Jews who will
    add to their commitment and their enthusiasm to the joy of being a Jew."

    --Rabbi Lawrence Goldmark


    Gregory Coiro, O.F.M. Cap.
    Father Greg currently teaches theology and serves as Chaplain at St. Francis High School in La Canada, CA.
    In 1994, Cardinal Roger Mahony appointed him Director of the L.A. Archdiocese's Media Relations Office. He
    has appeared regularly on TV and radio, including on KABC Radio's  "Religion on the Line" and KCBS-TV's
    "Today's Religion." He also hosted his own show,  "Clergy on Call" for KPLS radio.


    HIS RESPONSE:

    Many times, people outside faith communities accuse believers of committing hypocrisy because we fail to live
    up to the moral standards our faiths possess and profess.  They are absolutely correct, of course; we are hypocrites.

    You see, there are only two types of people in this world: the hypocrites who belong to faith communities and the
    hypocrites who don't!  Yes, we are all hypocrites in one way or another, a hypocrite being one who fails to live up to
    what one believes to be good and just, right and true, all of the time.

    The big difference is that those who belong to faith communities at least participate in a way of life that demands that
    they face their failures and strive to do better.  Religious people believe themselves accountable to a Higher Authority
    (just like in the Hebrew National Hot Dog commercials) who forgives them when they sincerely seek His mercy with
    contrition and with a firm purpose of improving.

    But to whom are the other hypocrites -- the non-religious -- accountable?  Themselves?  Each other?  The changing,
    ephemeral trends of society?  The historical fact is that more sorrow, bloodshed, and death have been heaped upon
    the world and its people by the non-religious hypocrites of the twentieth century, morally accountable to no one, than
    by all the religious hypocrites who went before, combined!

    We religious hypocrites have beliefs which call us to become better and nobler...we generally strive to answer that call.
    Can the non-religious hypocrites make the same claim?

    --Gregory Coiro, O.F.M. Cap.
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    The Little Man
    11-28-06

    Sunday I wore one of my favorite necklaces to church. My husband bought it for me
    in Sedona, Arizona. It’s a wonderful example of Southwest jewelry: A hammered
    silver cross with scalloped edges that’s two inches in length. It's studded with ame-
    thysts, garnets and turquoise and possesses an earthy elegance. Small wonder I
    consider it a unusual treasure. The husband earned big points that day.

    I can’t put it on without remembering “the story.” You see, my husband chatted with
    the saleswoman in the shop as he selected the necklace. Shaking her head, the
    woman related an incident that had happened a few days earlier. It seems two teenage
    girls had come in to shop. One wanted to buy a cross necklace. She described to the
    saleswoman what she was looking for, ending her explanation with, “But I want a cross
    without the little man on it.”

    I remain in disbelief that a semi-educated person could utter those words. However,
    on Sunday a deeper perspective swept over me.

    A few years ago I had the privilege of hearing the 14th and current Dalai Lama speak
    in Pasadena. He covered many subjects during his appearance with a speakers’
    bureau, although I doubt I could quote you anything specific he said that evening
    (I'm blond, you know.) But his demeanor remains startlingly
    vivid in my heart.  His face is a study in open joy. His smile
    rivals the sun's light. Peacefulness enters the room with
    him. He lacks a shred of pretense and is devoid of intel-
    lectualism. Religiosity is a stranger to him. He is the most
    child-like man I’ve ever observed. And for several days
    after seeing him, I felt a peculiar sense of balance within
    my soul.

    For all his unworldly sweetness, the Dalai Lama is a man
    who fled to India in 1959, when the People’s Republic of
    China took control of Tibet. He is a world-respected leader-
    in-exile, working for the autonomy of his country. Chances are he will never again
    go home. He is a highly-educated man with heavy burdens…and yet he exudes the
    delight of a child. He is steeped in happy humility. The highest compliment I can think
    of to pay him is to call him “a little man.” He is “little” because he obviously has let go
    of self-importance…perhaps of any sense of “self” at all. And he is a “man” because
    he so completely accepts his humanity and identifies with all life around him. He
    understands that “Oneness” is All. And he is gleeful about it.

    Two thousand years ago, Jesus said to his disciples, “…whoever would be great
    among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be
    the slave of all.” He was rebuking James and John for asking to sit at his side in
    heaven. Had Jesus known him, I’m quite sure he would have used the Dalai Lama
    as an example of what he meant by the “first” becoming the slave of all. He would
    have loved the Dalai Lama’s humility, his sense of "littleness.”

    At the same time, Jesus was also speaking prophetically about himself. He showed
    his eternal Greatness by becoming the smallest sacrificial Lamb of God on the cross.
    By enduring the hatred, the scorn, the weakness and humiliation of all humanity he
    lowered himself into the triumph of overcoming death and demonstrating Eternity.
    Truly the greatest willingly lived as the least, and the Exalted was the most humble.

    As we prepare to celebrate His lowly birth in the manger, we can look ahead with
    reverential love to Easter and the ultimate lesson of the cross.

    Actually, I think that teenage girl in the Sedona jewelry shop was onto something.
    The figure on the cross truly is the “Little Man.” For all eternity.
       

    --Lisa Bowman for The Religion Network