Sunday, April 11, 2010

Thoughts on a Rainy Sunday

I have four more essays to grade, and then both piles are finished, ready to return to my classes tomorrow as promised. As usual, some students progressed; some students regressed; some students exhibited about the same. And it occurs to me that this is the way of the world.

Some of us move forward after our struggles. Some of us don't, becoming bitter, angry, or resentful, letting that struggle serve as yet more fuel to throw on whatever fire is the sum total of our lives. And yet others stay stuck. The odds are against us humans. Two-thirds of our options at any given time involve not learning, not growing, not forging ahead.

I watched a documentary about Dietrich Bonhoeffer last night. You don't hear too much about him unless you're a religious studies major or are interested in theology. We hear about Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., two great religious leaders who fought for justice and social change. We don't really hear much about Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was a great Protestant theologian from Germany, who happened to be teaching at Union Theological Seminary in New York right before WWII broke out. He thought about what God would want him to do. His faith and his conscience took him back to Germany, to preach against the Nazis and the persecution of Jews and to (albeit indirectly) take part in the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Needless to say, that plot failed, and Bonhoeffer was hanged in a concentration camp.

What fascinates me about Bonhoeffer is that faith for him was a challenge to not be lightly met. The popular view of the Sermon on the Mount at the time was that it was a reminder of how sinful we are as human beings, for who can do as Jesus directed? Turn the other cheek? Love your enemies? Disdain wealth and help the poor? Bonhoeffer's great contribution to the theological debate was declaring that Jesus's teachings weren't supposed to be a reminder of how bad we are; they're meant to be a goal, an ideal, that we all strive for. Now. Right here. Now. We struggle to express the will of God in the here and now, through faith. But, he added, to be a human who claims to know God's will is to invite idolatry. Who can know? Faith is acting by your conscience in a way you believe God wants you to act, but you can't know--and that's why it's called faith.

I am finding my way back to faith after years of spiritual limbo. I've never been an atheist--I just emotionally feel in my gut that there is something out there, some kind of great love, order, plan, something bigger than mere me--in the Universe. We call it "God" for lack of knowing its name. My view is rather ecumenical; I think, loosely, that all different faiths are simply taking different paths to the same God. I think all faiths have done wonderful things for humankind. I also think all faiths can absolutely be, and have, been corrupted at times and that people acting "in the name of God" have often committed great harm and crimes against humanity. Despite that, I think God is still good because he, she, it can't intervene--God's "terrible non-intervention"--because we must retain our freedom of choice. Otherwise, we're not human beings; we're puppets.

I don't go to church. It's rather tough when the gay community isn't embraced by most churches and many (not all) see homosexuality as a sin (and usually quote Leviticus to "prove" it). There are gay churches and denominations that do accept gay people, and perhaps I should check some of these out. But for me, largely, faith is very much an inner and individual relationship I have with God. My own private religion is large enough to incorporate things like meditation and chakras and spirit guides, reincarnation, and bodywork. And Jesus was a cool guy. Was he literally God? Absolutely, and all of us are literally of God, too. We are all everything; and being everything, we are nothing. Nothing but the One.

If you're still with me here, I apologize for getting esoteric. Rainy Sundays will do that to me. The truth is that I like sidetracking myself so I can put off grading essays. But a promise is a promise, so I need to get to them. I posted a quote from the Dalai Lama last night on Facebook that lots of people are clicking "like" for and commenting on. So, I'll close with it here:

This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart, is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.

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