Archive for September, 2010

Reprint: Only Spirituality Can Solve The Problems Of The World

September 27, 2010 - 12:42 pm 88 Comments

Before addressing the importance of spirituality in modern times, we should first define it. Spirituality is the experience of that domain of awareness where we experience our universality. This domain of awareness is a core consciousness that is beyond our mind, intellect, and ego. In religious tradtions, this core consciousness is referred to as the soul, which is a part of a collective soul or collective consciousness, which in turn, is part of a more universal domain of consciousness referred to in religion as God.

When we have even a partial glimpse of this level of awareness, we experience joy, insight, intuition, creativity, and freedom of choice. In addition, there is an awakiening of love, kindness, compassion, happinesxz at the succes of others, and equanimity. As the turbulence of our mind settles down, our body also begins to heal itself because it also quiets down. The body’s self repair mechanisms are activiated when the mind is at peace because the mind and body are , at the deepest level, inseperatebly one.

All religions are founded on a deep spiritual experience of unity consciousness where there was complete union between the personal and the universal. Unfortuinately, many times the followers of religion, instead of understanding the religious experience and seeking it for themselves, ended up merely worshipping the founder of the religion. It is important to fully grasp the teaching of a religion, and its basic tenets, that have come from a deeper experience of transcendence. Self righteous morality is not a means for experiencing higher consciousness. Higher consciousness spontaneously leads to moral and ethical behavior.

However, because spiritual knowledge is powerful, the custodians of organized religion have frequently ended up with destructive behaviors– power mongering, cronyism, control, corruption, and influence peddling. As a result, organized religfion has frequently become quarrelsome, divisive, and led to conflict.  No organized religion has been immune to this unfortunate tendency. So we have the Crusades and witch hunts of Christianity, the Jihads of Islam, the violent communal riots instigated by fundementalist Hindus, and the persecutiuon of minorities and ethnic cleansing all in the name of God.

Our present times are particularly dangerous because ancient habits combined with modern capacities and technologies of destruction are a devastating combination that can destroy life on our planet.

As we begin to have a more scientific understanding of the transcendent level of our existence, and look at the basic tenets of all religions, we find that the spiritual experience is fundemental to all and similar in all. This experience can be had by anyone through the practice of meditation, prayer, contemplative self inquiry, the expression of love and compassion in action, intellectual inquiry  into the deeper meaning of life, and self-less service.

With these practices, we begin to rea;lize that consciousness is a field of infinite possibilities; that is omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient, and infinitely creative. The experience also leads to unbounded love and compassion. getting in touch with our deepest self is therefore the utmost importance because it is our connection to the mystery that we call God.

As the Sufi mystic, Rumi said, “You’re not just a drop in the ocean, you are also the mighty ocean in the drop.” If there is anything that will, at this moment, heal our wounded planet with its immense problems of social injustice, ecological devastion, extreme economic disparities, war, conflict and terrorism, it is the deeper experiential understanding and knowledge of our own spirit. With this deeper understanding, and with an interfaith opportunity to solve the problems of the world, addressing its inequities and heal ourselves.

The word, “healing” and the words, holy and whole, all mean the same thing. To be healed is to have the return of the memory of who we really are. When we return to our sacred source, the world will be holy, and it will be healed.

 

 

Some Additional Thoughts and Outlooks

September 20, 2010 - 2:53 pm 44 Comments
A Reflection on our Nation and its possible directions…

Since this week is the week, each year, we recall the ratification of the Constitution, I thought that a historical and timeless question about citizenship and national directions might offer you some sobering and insightful thoughts…

 
Thomas Paine: “[It is impossible to sit down and think seriously about the affairs of America, without reflecting on the original principles it rested on, and the glow and ardor which these principles inspired…. The principles deserve to be remembered, and to remember them rightly is found by repossessing them for oneself. ]”

 

The author and patriot, Thomas Paine, often considered the most secular among all the Founding Fathers, has this reflection for us to ponder, and then I have an assessment to share… 
 

 

The following quotation is from Alexander Fraser Tytler, who was an economist and history professor at Edinburgh University. He wrote and taught during the time of the American revolution.

He concluded:

“A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largess (generous benefits) from the public treasury.

From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising them the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world’s great civilizations has been 200 years. These nations have progressed through this sequence:

From bondage to spiritual faith; from spiritual faith to great courage; from courage to liberty; from liberty to abundance; from abundance to selfishness; from selfishness to complacency; from complacency to apathy; from apathy to dependence; from dependence back to bondage.

Q’s: Where do you see our American society today? Where are we in this progression? What are your ideas that would change the drift of this progression?

Maybe we could hold a Forum or a discussion on this???

 
 

 

“Food For Thought” 
John Adams, Unitarian, and Second President:

We should begin by setting conscience free. When all men of all religions

 

 
 

.. shall enjoy equal liberty, property, and an equal chance for honors and power we may expect that improvements will be made in the human character and the state of society.

 

The author and patriot, Thomas Paine, often considered the most secular among all the Founding Fathers, has this reflection for us to ponder, and then I have an assessment to share…
Thomas Paine: “[It is impossible to sit down and think seriously about the affairs of America, without reflecting on the original principles it rested on, and the glow and ardor which these principles inspired…. The principles deserve to be remembered, and to remember them rightly is found by repossessing them for oneself. ]”

 
 

 

“Food For Thought”The following quotation is from Alexander Fraser Tytler, who was an economist and history professor at Edinburgh University. He wrote and taught during the time of the American revolution.
He concluded:

“A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largess (generous benefits) from the public treasury.

From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising them the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world’s great civilizations has been 200 years. These nations have progressed through this sequence:

From bondage to spiritual faith; from spiritual faith to great courage; from courage to liberty; from liberty to abundance; from abundance to selfishness; from selfishness to complacency; from complacency to apathy; from apathy to dependence; from dependence back to bondage.

Q’s: Where do you see our American society today? Where are we in this progression? What are your ideas that would change the drift of this progression?

 

 

 

 
 

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

 
 

 

 

America’s Real Religion: Looking at the Philosophical and Theological Ideas Behind Our Constitution

September 20, 2010 - 2:44 pm 90 Comments

John Adams:

“Statesmen my dear Sirs, may plan and speculate for Liberty, but it is Religion and Morality alone, which can establish the Principles upon which Freedom can securely stand…. The only foundation of a free Constitution, is pure Virtue, and if this cannot be inspired into our People, in a greater Measure, than they have it now, They may change their Rulers, and the forms of Government, but they will not obtain a lasting Liberty. They will only exchange Tyrants and Tyrannies. …

America’s Real Religion: Looking at the Philosophical and Theological Ideas Behind Our Constitution

 

 

 

“We the people…” Familiar words? Without cracking a history book or knowing much about civics, experientially each of us knows that the personal and national “blessings of liberty” are at first hard won, and for many of us, not truly appreciated or not fully realized among us. We realize the difficulty in writing out one’s own character, its values and ethics as a daunting task- but to create a large diverse group’s charter or system of laws approaching the scale of our Constitution, is truly awesome and admirable endeavor to complete. During this next week, we celebrate and recall the Constitution, as one of the most remarkable documents in the history of humankind.Few things are as they were in 1787. Yet, what we can still be assured of is the lasting need for a generous measure of personal freedom and for ongoing religious inquiry. This combines with the admission that the evolution of culture and law is often tedious and slow, but that reality should not frustrate or deny the necessity to reform both the culture and law.

To my dismay, it seems as if the only group that makes an active or concerted connection between theology and politics are the evangelical Christians or the religious right. People, such as Pat Robertson,

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Who is prone to declare erroneously that ” God is on the side of the Constitution!” This assumption and so many that are like it, has to be effectively countered!

I do not know how he arrived at that conclusion! The word, God, is nowhere to be found in the text!

After some hours of investigation, I would like to begin to counter some of those popular assertions. Today, I will offer to you another, more inclusive and more open perspectives… Ones that might truly surprise and might even delight you….

Like any other momentous change or innovation, it is easy and glib to say that our national Constitution is a totally unique, even an inspired document! That it was diligently crafted and defiantly drafted by 55 illustrious, well educated men of great good will and enormous perspicacity. While this outlook is an almost pious and certainly generous assessment, we who hold a more balanced view, are tempered by the reason they so esteemed, to state that such a sociopolitical marvel as a Constitution did not uniquely appear complete or arrive full blown like Minerva from Jupiter’s head- already mature and wise!

Most principles of governance, human relations, and philosophy build upon previous precedence- foundational studies, formative prior cases, or at the very least, trial and error.

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As learned men of their generation, these Founding Fathers drew on the rich resources of Greek or classical thought, on their own contemporary and European philosophers, and on current scientific discoveries. They also drew keen insights from the ongoing tumultuous outcomes of European politics.

When all these sources combine, and then taken in and aided by their own reason and life experiences, these learned but fallible men came together to hammer out each article and debate each clause.

Consequently, their sources are many, and multifaceted, and the are the clear results of human thought, therefore their finished result can hardly be worthy of divine revelation! It is good to remember that Jefferson, and later Lincoln, stated that they believed that the Constitution should be updated every 20 years!

Additionally, some of the working models for that document were taken from antiquity, others sections from more original and contemporary thinkers. Here are two startling examples:

There was, living in Philadelphia at this time, an Italian statesman named Philip Mazze, who had already founded the Constitutional Society in 1776. The signers of the earlier Declaration of Independence could not have missed hearing about Mazze’s contention that a pluralistic nation like ours needed some sort of unifying, mutually agreed upon Constitution-

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one that would bind the individual states into an organized Federal body for mutual protection and the common good.

A second potential source, which was startling to me at first, was the discovery that there already was a forerunner or already established working model for cooperative and peaceful organization among neighboring nations. It was found in none other than the 9 Iroquois Native American nations of the greater Northeastern region.

These nine nations gathered together to share, to trade, and to offer one another group protection. Each nation agreed to a nonaggression pact that began with the words, “We, the people.” These nations invested their chieftains with diplomatic powers to settle disagreements, establish a code of civility, and oversee social interaction. This pact made each tribe an equal partner in any decision-making, and each was a participant and equally responsible for keeping harmony and the social order for the common good.

Other contributing factors to the ideas of the founders are easily discovered in the principles of Greek Athenian democracy, especially in the writings of Plato and Aristotle. Other sources include European social ferment, and the writings of those European philosophers who were champions of an flexible government that remained firm on personal freedoms.

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These Constitutional ideals were not to be compared to narrowly conceived theological treatises as much as they were the progreessive result of all the broad philosophical outcomes from the Age of Enlightenment.

Our Colonial intellectual giants- Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, Paine, and Madison all spent time in Europe, and frequently debated and exchanged ideas with proponents of various social, political, and economic theorists concerning the nature of government, and the individual’s relationship to common law, or one’s ethical responsibility to the State.

Here are some of the leading philosophical sources that significantly influenced the authors of our Constitution: Jean Jacques Rosseau: He advocated for a new level of personal sovereignty, an autonomy, and a freedom that would be foundational to the idea of a participatory Citizenship- He stated that freedom and responsibility are closely linked, and that an informed participation in civics and citizenry are the marks of a healthy, constructive adult.Voltaire: His stance was to be in vigorous opposition to any state run church or system of belief. He stridently protested against any government’s right to limit the expression of personal liberties, especially those whose aim was to constrain religious freedom.6

John Locke:Probably the greatest influence would be given to his writings and outlooks. (And as you might know, Locke had previously written a governmental charter for South Carolina, that was, unfortunately, never adopted!) He declared that no magistrate or governmental policy has the slightest authority over a person’s conscience. Religion, for Locke, is a matter of inner conviction, not outer compulsion or any creedal coercion. He believed that the rights of conscience must hold sway, and be more respect worthy than any social convention or any governmental rules.

Locke was definitive when he said, a government rules only by the consent of the people it governs, and that life, liberty and livelihood are among a person’s inalienable rights. (it was Jefferson who first penned the idea that property or livelihood was a right… But later chose in his final editing of the declaration to widen the pursuit to happiness!)

More specifically, what did these Founding Fathers believe? What was the “American” religion that so influenced their thought and convictions? Surprisingly enough, well maybe not so surprising, the predominant outlook or prevailing theological viewpoints among the authors was a liberal, dissenting Christianity or an

unorthodox more personally defined Theism that would be considered to be Unitarian or Deist. Although there were, numerically, more Anglicans and Baptists, the

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most preeminent thinkers and contributors were men such as Washington and Franklin who were Deists. 70 % of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and many of the delegates at the Constitutional Convention can be generally identified as dissenting from religious orthodoxy- many were either Unitarians or Universalists in their thoughts and beliefs. Included in this leading edge and inspirational guidance were four of the first six Presidents; not bad for a small bunch of religious whippersnappers and religiously rebellious thinkers!

As men of the Enlightenment, and as the product of the best quality education of their times, they sought a personal expression of religion that was reasonable and that could support and could harmonize with their political and governmental views. They believed, that it was one’s ethical beliefs that can come from a dissenting or more rational theology, that underlies all other choices and decisions, and helps to formulate each of their convictions, even if they are unorthodox or agnostic.

They further proposed that each person has, as her or his inherent right, to pursue their own religious answers and to express those ideals without any governmental interference.

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These Constitutional authors believed that one’s religious expression comes out of an inner yearning or an aspiration- a desire that seeks to reconcile or complement what a person can observe or rationally trust and know. …

Now, let’s briefly look at two versions of liberal belief common to our Constitutional ancestors: Deism and early Unitarianism. (Universalism followed much of the mainline Christianity of its day, except for believing in the harsh doctrines of Heaven & Hell, or exclusive faith based Salvation, so it was still branded heretical!)

Deism has been characterized as the premier religion for the age of Reason. It is formulated by natural observation, common sense, and empirical reasoning. Its view of a God has come down to us most popularly as the cosmic clock maker- a Presence or Power that initially winds up the mechanism of the universe, and then steps back, and allows it to unwind over time… This unwinding process is also our human and societal process. “God” is no longer directly involved. “God” steps back, admires what deity has intelligently designed, and then leaves humankind to its own devices, which we optimistically call our capacity for reason and our personal and ethically based responsibility that is called free will.

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Washington, Paine, and Franklin were all best-known Deists. Through their writings we can conclude that their highest conception of a God was closer to a Divine Providence, a grace, or good fortune. Deists do not believe in miracles, but affirmed that through the exercise and acuity of reason, plus the careful observation of the laws of Nature, that whatever there was of supreme worth and value could be discerned.

How did this philosophy impact our formative government? One incident explains it well. George Washington had idealistically hoped that all the various aspects of Christianity could unite around their own universal ideals- from the prophet Micah:

“To do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly.” However, Washington could not abide any imposed restraint or claims of superiority by one group of Christians over another. He said that he would not tolerate church favoritism in government or any deference given to a particular religious group. In the Treaty of Tripoli, he stated this definitive assessment of the relationship between religion and government:

“The government of the United states is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion… Or any other religion. It is founded on the freedom of religion.” It seems as if the conservative preachers have missed that one! If they did miss it, I have the tee shirt to

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prove that he did say it!

The whole idea that any one religious approach should be politically powerful is in a clear contradiction to the Founding tents of freedom.

The early Unitarians, such as Jefferson, Adams, and Madison, chose to keep a closer Biblical basis for their faith, but refused to accept ancient creeds or theological conjecture about God or Jesus. They, too, believed that religion is informed by science, and that our human religious understanding can rightly move beyond first century conclusions and comprehension…

They saw that the fear of the unknown is pernicious, and we should seek to replace the unknowable and the unproveable with a lifelong moral conscience and as a sign of maturity and awareness, extends itself to be concerned with all human welfare.

(See my sermons on Jefferson & Priestley)

With the upcoming national elections, the time has come for our religious congregations to champion the guarantee and preservation of religious liberties.

If successful, we can begin to assert that religious freedom remains our Constitutional legacy. Ours is the challenge to work cooperatively to preserve, protect, and promote an inclusive, and compassionate model for religion as our best way to ensure that the vision and purpose of “We The people” will be maintained and preserved.

 

 

 

 

So Be It!

Yom Kippur: Lessons in Forgiveness from The High Holy Days

September 13, 2010 - 4:20 pm 28 Comments
 
 The Power of Forgiveness

During this time of the year, Jews from every nation and sect gather together in their temples and synagogues to celebrate Yom Kippur– The Day of Atonement. This day is the highest and holiest day in the Jewish religious year; it is a day of prayer, reflection, and fasting. It observance marks the end of the 10-day New Year period that started with Rosh Hashanah. It is the year 5768 by their traditional calendar which is considered to be the first day of the Creation, and it is when a record of the soul of the Jewish people began.

It is a time that is greeted with solemnity and gratitude, for Yom Kippur prepares and proclaims a special oath, covenant or promise. The promise is twofold: That we can come closer to the presence of God in our lives, and that we are assured of the forgiveness of our sins. This twofold promise translates into a twofold theology much akin to our traditional understandings of a Unitarian God and a Universalist doctrine of salvation.

The Jewish people, according to Evelyn Underhill, the renown religious scholar, states that:

The Jewish soul, as it discloses itself to us in its records, was, from the beginning, peculiarly sensitive to God.”

As recorded, these early Jews possessed a rare and almost absolute devotion to the leadership of Yahweh. This dedication, expressed through its sacred holidays and ritual observances, became the focal point and the rhythmic life’s blood of the Israelite society. This devotion to their God and the noble almost defiant resolve they maintained even through many centuries of persecution, created a unique and intimate relationship of a people with their God, which was then collected into inspirational and ethical teachings that became known as the Hebrew Scriptures. These writings and subsequent Rabbinical commentaries created the picture of a people with a distinctive moral fiber. It is a quality of fiber that, when it was woven together, understood and practiced, gave each believer a spiritual and ethical quilt of meaning and purpose for their whole lives.

The twofold message of the Jewish understanding and practice during Holy Day of Yom Kippur finds its greatest and most lasting meaning in the atonement and in the forgiveness of sins. This outlook and commitment becomes for us, the key point for our understanding and for our appreciation of the Jewish religion as a whole– to understand how, and in what way, forgiveness and absolution are given and received.

Yom Kippur demonstrates our universal human need for the both reverence and repentance; that without a willingness to devote yourself to something and/or someone, and to the equally important need or willingness to accept each other’s brokenness and trials, and to offer forgiveness, we humans can easily give in to sins of self importance, vanity and pride, and miss the opportunity to live our lives with inner peace.

This reciprocal ideal is the basis of Judaism. It translates directly into the later Rabbinic wisdom of Jesus, and helps to form the basis of Christian thought and making its way down to us as the roots of our Western standards for morality.

Originally, in the era of Jewish history that predates the establishment of the local temple or synagogue, animals sacrifices were substituted for personal repentance. Not until the later time of the Prophets, did the concern for individual conscience take priority over the group consensus.

In those earlier times, a bundle of sticks would be attached to a goat and then the goat was either sacrificed or sent off into the wilderness. Each stick represented a known or confessed sin, and symbolically, the animal carried them all away, thereby absolving the sins of the transgressors. This practice was the origin of the term- scapegoating: It was a ritualistic way of transferring or projecting the flaws and sins, the guilts, fears and shames of a tribe, a group, or any family onto a sacrificial target so that the offending people can start again with a clean moral slate.

Now, as this practice has changed over the centuries of culture, this scapegoating procedure now primarily refers to projecting an excuse for rightful blame; We are all familiar with the therapeutic abuses of this practice… Such as in early Freudian understanding, we could indict our parents: ” I blame it all on my mother! Or as the great comic theologian, Flip Wilson, used to exclaim: : The devil, the devil made me do it!”

In a more convincing and compelling understanding of the practice of scapegoating states that it is a spurning of reality and responsibility for what we, as individuals, and as adults what we choose to do! Unfortunately, or tragically, we often scapegoat what we, as communities, groups, and nations are willing to deny and then accept about ourselves; What we are willing to tolerate from our leaders, or what we can easily justify and condone in our daily or social life! All the avoidance of personal and corporate responsibility negatively affects our interpersonal behavior, lowers our cultural reputation or can serve to corrupt our national consciousness. That might be the truth behind the popular statement: We get the government we deserve!

Back to the development of the idea of forgiveness…

Historically, when worship became more localized in temples and synagogues, the expiation of sins and trespasses that a person had to atone for became more individual and communal. In this shift of emphasis, the faithful would enter the place of worship and be instructed to be quiet, to meditate and to rest or to wrestle as they continue their introspection.

They were told to fast from food, and more importantly, to fast from their frantic pace of life in order to allow space in their thought … To give themselves a space and a time for reflection … To give themselves more time to the consider their lives and to appraise or evaluate their current motives and ethical directions. This thoughtful, thorough, and sometimes agonizing assessment of one’s behavior, ethics, and values would eventually lead the person to a heartfelt contrition.

This time, having been set aside at the beginning of the Jewish New Year, holds many valuable lessons for us today. Jew and Gentile, agnostic or mystic alike, can each benefit from an examination of their values, their goals, their ways of relationship, and to evaluate those areas of their lives that are in need of improvement or redirection. It is time set aside to recognize their next steps, their best steps towards wholeness.

Like the devout Jew, we can find profound benefit in a periodic personal and communal struggle to find workable answers, and in the renewed willingness to resolve our own personal and communal shortcomings. Because of the power and the benefit of this practice, modeled by Judaism for the world, I will ask you these introspective questions:

Do you give yourself least a day each year to take a good look at your life? When did you last take a moral inventory or give yourself a spiritual assessment or schedule an ethical check up?

When did you last consider your motives and acts, your habits and patterns, your vices and values?

Since cultivating both forgiveness and repentance are the central concerns for healing any lingering emotional problems any of us might have, how do you provide yourself with this opportunity?

How do you use your spiritual ideals and beliefs to examine your motives and values, so that you can let go, and free yourselves of any past negative patterns or difficult feelings?

When these problems plague us, it is often beneficial to express them in confidence, and with seriousness to a caring and appropriate person; someone who will understand you and place them in a healthy spiritual and/or psychological context for our greater understanding.

It is often problematic if or when we keep our feelings to ourselves, and then by our all too human tendencies, we wind up dwelling on them, so then they become intensified! Because such rehearsal can make us angry or bitter, in fact, it can paralyze us emotionally by becoming an obsessive concern and become, in our minds and hearts, overwhelming!

As I have learned personally and professionally, when we keep our negative feelings to ourselves, we can become attached to them- as it is said psychologically, we over-identify with our problems- so much so that we miss the whole purpose of letting go- of losing them and freeing or forgiving ourselves!

We can ask: How is it that you still find some value in holding on to the thoughts, feelings, or experiences that promote the three great spiritual and psychological poisons: Regrets, remorse, and lingering resentments? Ask yourself: How is that attitude working for you? How does holding on to it help you to live more completely and love more fully?

Now does that mean you should openly share everything, with everybody? You know, “wearing ones heart on one’s sleeve?” Or does it mean that we are to be so open that you allow the cruel and insensitive people in our world to dump on you? Does it mean because you have been hurt, you allow yourself to be used as someone else’s punching bag? Of course not! There is a definite need for privacy, and an abiding respect for disclosure and discretion, and that certain ethical boundaries should always be maintained. …

Additionally, and vital to our well being is this corollary: While we are encouraged to forgive, we are compelled not to forget what others do to us, but to use whatever the painful wisdom of those lessons have given us. By refusing to forget, we can promote self esteem and self respect by avoiding the tendency to fall into the same traps or patterns. As I see it and practice it, forgiveness and tough love effectively work together.

When forgiveness is taught as a genuine spiritual approach its full or lasting emotional benefit is not given through a quick pious formula or is to be used as a convenient rationale that gives easy permission for your ego to feel justified- and then keep on doing what it pleases- be it an addiction, a self punishment, or simply continuing to do anything that is hurtful to ourselves or to anyone else.

Forgiveness does not come from just bluntly airing your differences, or causally telling or complaining to someone about your troubles. Equally true, is that forgiveness surely does not come from just logging time in the pews, or sitting piously through a religious service, or from going through the enforced church instruction or the expected motions of repentance without truly understanding it deeply. It is not some pious magic ritual that gives you instant salvation or can satisfy you easily with some form of cheap grace.

In my research and understanding, in my life and professional practice, forgiveness has four general ways it expresses itself- two are self defeating and unproductive, and two are positive and in religious language, they are more redemptive.

Briefly, the less positive ways we express forgiveness center themselves on how and to what extent we will avoid conflict, try to keep the peace, etc., because we are afraid to lose the friendship or partnership, so we often too quickly forgive. …

We forgive without expecting a change in the behavior of those who have hurt you… Guess What? They will do it again!

The second self-defeating approach is found in the refusal to forgive- when we continue to rehearse the hurt, hold on to grudges, remain stuck or refuse to move on emotionally from slights and insults we all might receive over a lifetime…

The two more positive ways combine a willingness to forgive with the expectation of behavioral reform, or true contrition by the offending person. The first way is simply known as Acceptance. Accepting what has happened to us, knowing what our roles in it was, and understanding both the offense and the best response of wisdom and then moving or getting on with our lives. We have to accept that we might never receive a sincere apology, but we have learned from the situation, and now choose to let go…

The last approach is Genuine Forgiveness. It involves not holding a grudge, not lording over another in some pious way, but clearly expecting behavioral changes that restore trust and intimacy, that give or help to regain respect and equality to the person who is willing to offer forgiveness…

Forgiveness is accomplished only when it is understood in earnest, and then reinforced by one’s community’s or one’s personal and family values. Forgiveness is then affirmed in one’s heart or received by one’s conscience. And when it is genuinely experienced, it is a powerful and often transformative way to find a release from any burdens and toxic beliefs that troubled us for so long.

In the Kol Nidre Service, which comes at the culmination of the High Holy days, there is a prayer of forgiveness…

As it is a long prayer, I would like to share a short portion of it with you now…

If you have trouble with the concept of a God, please interpret it as Truth, Spirit, or the Source of whatever is good, right, fit or true for you…. you might like to sit quietly and use this as a prayer for yourselves, or just listen as it is an example of the Jewish promise of peace and release….

“[May it be your will, dear God, that I fall short or sin no more, that I do not revert to my old ways, that I do not cause anger or hurt by my actions.

Holy One, I ask that you wipe away any misdeeds that I might have committed with your great compassion. As it is said in the Psalms…. May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable before You, my God, my Rock and my Redeemer. Salat AMEN

So I ask you to understand that we are all in need of empathy, forgiveness, and respect; And even though you might wear the marks of physical pain, personal loss, some relational scars, or some secret shame, know, down to the depths of your being, that today you have been given a promise of release and relief upon your acceptance and repentance, and that the God or source of your understanding holds out its heart to you, and offers you this day, the soulful gifts of freedom and hope ….

So it is that my last thoughts on Yom Kippur for you is this: Shalom and Shalem… Peace and wholeness; peace and restoration … May there always be enough… Enough forgiveness, justice, empathy and compassion for us all. So BE IT

Opening Words:

The irreverent and antiestablishment psychiatrist, Thomas Szasz encapsulates the teachings of forgiveness in these pithy and declarative words:

The stupid neither forgive nor forget;

The naive forgive and forget;

The wise forgive but do not forget….

 

Children and Forgiveness;

When we are young, we learn from our parents…

When we are older, we judge their actions…

And when we are old enough, and wise enough,

we learn to forgive them… . Adapted from Oscar Wilde

Closing Words:

“[We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. Any of us who is devoid of the power to truly forgive, is also devoid of the power to truly love.

It is true that there is some good in the worst of us, and there is some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate, and more open to life and love.]” From Martin Luther King, Jr.

On Tolerance: Our Greatest Community Value? Looking at the Mosque Controversy

September 5, 2010 - 6:11 pm 298 Comments

“Here ( in the USA) there are believers and unbelievers, conservatives and radicals, men and women of all nationalities and all races. We are a great and diverse company. And if we hold together at all, it is not because we seek any identity of opinion or attitude, but rather because we have learned to accept the principle of freedom, to practice the virtue of tolerance and good will, and to understand that religion means that we shall have love one for another.”
The Rev. John Haynes Holmes

Ramadan is ending this week. Rosh Hashanah is beginning. The regular routines of American styled Christendom are returning as children go back to school, and our mainline congregations gather the conventional attitudes as they steam towards the holiday season…
Yet, as we near the nineth anniversary of 9/11, the newspapers fill columns reporting the distress of those who feel slighted, upset and somehow violated by the idea that a new Islamic Center- which will include a mosque or worship space- will be built two and a half blocks for Ground Zero. The radio talk shows seem to stir up ferment and dissatisfaction, and they appear to be doing a great or convincing job of fueling fears, raising anxiety, and making the idea of having a mosque nearby some sort of violation of their sacred space!
What it appears to me is this: It is the wholesale posturing and conflation of erroneous ideas that can happen when narrow, uninformed or naive religious beliefs become manipulated by self serving politicians, media outlets, ans all those who feel that it is their purpose in life to create discord as to increase their self importance! It is the “shining example” of what is worst in human nature- when reason is trumped by fear; when religious differences are used as a cultural wedge of division; when the ignorance is given credence- so much so that they might well succeed at being able to shift public opinion away from religious tolerance, away from the actual Constitutional guarantee of religious freedom– All misguided efforts to quell and to satisfy the seeming outrage built on half truths and the merciless acceptance that cultural and religious differences warrant such denial of the rights of citizenship.

What is missing in this media fueled conflagration? The spiritual and ethical values of consideration, courtesy, and compassion; what is lacking is the willingness to learn from one another – honoring religious and cultural differences as an expression of personal choice or as a sincere sign of respect for their adopted religious teachings. As for the claim that the 20 Saudis were carried out the plane attacks as being legitimate  representative of all Islam- the third largest religion in the world- and that Islam is devoted to terror and conquest…. Well that is as absurd as declaring that all Catholic churches should be closed because all priests abuse children! We can never afford to slay the facts in order to emphasize political points- any and all such skewing of reason can only lead to tragic erroneous conclusions whose only value is in the larger support of lies, hate crimes, and other inhumane actions!

The remedy, as I see it, for all this comes down to a few cogent factors that require our introspective, our rational appraisal, and our application of religious and ethical truths. Politics aside, at least for a moment, tolerance for beliefs and practices than differ or that are not our own becomes the greatest preventative against the destructive, dehumanizing effects of religious hatreds.

Tolerance is also our best protection against subtle yet insidious notions of personal self-righteousness, arrogant ignorance, or what the underlying frustration behind all this fuss may really be pointing to- the unwillingness to clearly express our indignation and the feelings of powerlessness about the whole situation we find at Ground Zero.

Xenophobia, or the fear of the stranger, is one of the principal psychological factors we encounter here. While it is reasonably safe to say, Judaism is for the most part assimilated into our country and culture- and that Jews have immeasurably enriched our culture and given NYC and the world a multifaceted mosaic of gifts, talents and treasures.
However, Islam does not enjoy or does not have such a level of acceptance. In our popular and insular culture- that is, an American culture that is, for the most part, religious illiterate- even when that extends to what Christian ethics and ideals truly teach- which includes a radical hospitality, a welcoming of the stranger, and to refrain from judgments least you be judged… In short, that we are to become our sister’s and brother’s keepers…
This cultural discomfort with Islam has deep awkward roots- and the distrust that Islam has for Western values goes back into antiquity. Other than Biblical source material, we can agree that the height of the consternation, violence, and lasting mistrust comes from the great exercise in Christian Triumphalism known as The Crusades. ( Christian Triumphalism is the name generally given to the belief that somehow Christianity is morally and theologically superior to all other religions- and therefore it is our arrogant and righteous duty to try to convert all the unbelievers! You know, in order to save their souls! Even if it were not for such rubbish, it would still remain a scaring travesty- an exercise in pernicious hypocrisy that seems to know no bounds…)
The virulent prejudice displayed against Jews in its path and mainly directed at the defeat and slaughter of Moslems and Islam, failed miserably to achieve anything more than a mere modicum of time when “our” Holy Land was safely in our possession. However, The Crusades as the twisted ignoble effort failed at redeeming the seeming corruption of this universally regarded Western sacred space Tragically, it still has psychological, sociological, cultural, and financial repercussions that unsettled us, and yes, threaten the relative uneasy peace we have in the world today. (Remember all three of the historical Western religions- Judaism, Christianity and Islam have sacred places and holy shrines in that part of the world…) So, in one sense, we Christians- loosely defined- have inherited the sins of our forefathers- and this ancestral prejudice has been rehearsed for centuries- So to think that it will all blow over, or be easily resolved is a foolish, ungrounded hope.

In my mind, it will take nothing short of a nationwide sustained ten year “teach in” on religious literacy, interfaith compassion and respect, that could begin to resolve all the rehearsed slights and indignities we see fostered by this mosque incident. However, it is all too common in human nature and in our national priorities and financial misdirection, that it is so much easier to see the demon lurking in social differences outside, that to face the terrors we hold within us.

For nine years now, this secular but sacred space called ground Zero remains a large whole in the ground- and our citizenry appears to be paralyzed from making any progress towards re-consecrating the space by rebuilding, by creating a lasting memorial garden, by cleaning up the corrupt and mean spirited collisions that keep us, as a nation of survivors, still staring into a dark and heartless pit- an enormous abyss of despair!
Those who clamor that building a mosque so close to the Zero site is the height of indecency and disrespect for the dead have little honest perspective and much misplaced indignation. If this space were so sacred, I would have to ask out loud this question: What about the bars, strip clubs and other closer places and sleazy establishments that ring the site? Has there been any conscious or concerted effort to “clean up” the place- out of respect for the dead and the suffering? If anything, we should build a series of interfaith chapels that surround the site on all sides- that is, if our desire for consecration was genuine, sincere, and not politically motivated.

A lack of empathy is a clear and telling sign of spiritual immaturity. I say this because in my life study, my spiritual guidance work with people, and my personal experience, I have found that one of the constant qualities or working definitions of being a growing person is that he/she is filled with questions- filled and challenged by the awe, wonder, and the all-inclusive mysteries that are found in living as a part of modern life. Each person in their own way, thirsts for answers, and we can readily agree that no one religious system or philosophy holds all the answers or credibility to be immune to hypocrisy and inconsistency among its leaders and followers. No religion holds enough insight/knowledge/consistency/water to be able to attest to all truth, all reality. We can rightly and willingly acknowledge that each person contains the results of their own life experiences; their own perceptions, prejudices, and problems. We all acquire our beliefs and values from our formative education, our parental and family examples, our adult relationships, chosen teachers, etc., and from the best school of all- life itself. Whether we make sense of life through logic or mysticism, tradition or emotion, each event and experience, each book or every person we meet acts as a potential teacher for each of us.

This is the universal gracious connection we have to one another – it is what personal acceptance of human preferences and difference and what the practice of religious tolerance requires of us. We can prayerfully and metaphysically declare that the names for God, Life, Source, etc., need not divide us- that God is one, humanity is one, that there is only one earth, one sun, one reality that we ultimately share.

Subject line: Religious Freedom Sarah Palin-style

Hi there,

I just signed the ACLU’s “I Stand for Religious Freedom” petition. I am standing with thousands of people all across America in defense of religious liberty. I am also affirming my support for leaders like Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City who boldly oppose religious discrimination rooted in cultural stereotyping and resist those who seek to trade away our most precious values for political advantage.

Our laws protect the right to build a mosque, church, synagogue or any other house of worship. And preventing Muslims or any other group from practicing their faith is unconstitutional and un-American.

Sign the petition and stand with me in opposing religious discrimination.

http://action.aclu.org/site/PageNavigator/Religious_Freedom_Bloomberg

Sincerely,

(Your Name)

Some additional quotes, insights and reflections on tolerance:

How do we create a harmonious society out of so many kinds of people?
The key is tolerance – the one value that is indispensable in creating community.
Rep. Barbara Jordan

If our religion is a true religion… It must both tolerate and reverence variety.
The efficient biologist or engineer who would deny all value to religious
meditation and the religious life; the missionary who begins by suppressing all
native activities that he in any way disapproves; the scholastic theologian who
denied independent value of the natural sciences or humanist philosophy; …
All are limited in their outlook, and because limited, they are wrong. …
Our tolerance must not be merely passive, a tired intellectual gesture;
it must be active, springing from the belief and the knowledge that truth is too
large to be revealed in but one form, or one creed, or in any one way of life.
We must accept the hard saying that out of diversity alone comes advance, and that any one human mind is too small to grasp more than a little truth, to live
more than a little reality.
Aldus Huxley, from his book, Religion Without Revelation

“…. while we are asserting our own liberty and Christian rights, let us be consistent and uniform; and not attempt to encroach upon the rights of others. They have the same right to judge for themselves and to choose their own religion, with ourselves. And nothing is more incongruous than for an advocate of liberty, to tyrannize over his neighbors. We have all liberty to think and act for ourselves in things of a religious concern; and we ought to be content with that, without desiring a liberty to oppress and grieve others… Let us, as much as in us lies, live peaceably with all men; but suffer none to lord it over our consciences….
Jonathan Mayhew, Influential 1700’s Preacher from Boston

Everyone has a RESPONSIBILITY to not only tolerate another person’s point of view, but also to accept it eagerly as a challenge to your own understanding..
— Arlo Guthrie

The best thing to give to your enemy is forgiveness; to an opponent, tolerance; to a friend, your heart; to your child, a good example; to a father, deference; to your mother, conduct that will make her proud of you; to yourself, respect; to all men, charity.
— Benjamin Franklin

The problem to be faced is: how to combine loyalty to one’s own tradition with reverence for different traditions.
— Abraham Joshua Heschel

The Christians are right: it is pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began.
— C. S. Lewis

In all affairs, love, religion, politics, or business, it’s a healthy idea, now and then, to hang a question mark on things you have long taken for granted.
— Bertrand Russell

We should be too big to take offense and too noble to give it.
Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves.
— Abraham Lincoln

Everything that the modern mind cannot define it regards as insane. If people can be educated to see the lowly side of their own natures, it may be hoped that they will also learn to understand and to love their fellow men better. A little less hypocrisy and a little more awareness..
— Carl Jung

Arrogance is an impediment to wisdom.
— Bias of Priene

Don’t be so tolerant that you tolerate intolerance.
— Bill Maher

Respect for the rights of others means peace.
— Benito Juarez