Wednesday, November 21, 2012

2012.11.21 Thanks Given for a Book


Religion Gone Astray. What We Found at the Heart of Interfaith
by Pastor Don Mackenzie, Rabbi Ted Falcon, and Imam Jamal Rahman 
2011, Skylight Paths, Woodstock, Vermont, 170 pages.

“We have erred and strayed from your ways like lost sheep......” 

When as a college student I first found and fell in love with the Episcopal Church in 1958 the congregation said this line every Sunday from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer’s General Confession. I called it the sheep clause and loved it because it rang true.  I had run amok in so many ways, some of them by own foolishness and some by ambush.  And so had everyone else!

Religion Gone Astray  is a seminal book for the future of the religious enterprise, because it takes erring and straying beyond the individual and into the institutional.  Religions are like sheep:each one prefers and guards most zealously its own pasture, its own group, its own images of divinity, and its own practices. Because these things are precious they are worthy of defense and feel crucial to survival—at significant cost. 

The interfaith vision of this book touches on the costs of too much safety-in-the-fold devotion,  precisely in the paradox that the more we defend the more we offend. While all religions and their scriptures, at God’s command, issue calls to provide for strays and aliens, most of them are so bent on caring for their own well-being they don’t find out what other religions are about.  There are blinders on each sheepfold.

 As I joined the Christian sheepfold I knew there was a place for me,  and somewhere there was a God who cared about the whole, including the strays, the lost, the foolish, and the headstrong.  As a Christian I could be lost and found. Nice!

Over time, however, I began to wonder if Jesus in the parable of the Lost Sheep returned the strays to their own comfy group,  or did he simply challenge them to find God wherever they’d landed?

This book has affirmed my suspicions about the challenge underlying this cozy parable. Exploring the core belief of each major religion the authors make confession to God and each other on behalf of their religions’ sins (my word) and the challenges each faces to save the souls of each religion. 

All religions put faith in a God who cares about each AND all at the same time.  These authors try to be a bit more like God. They stick to their ongoing interfaith conversation, develop deep affection for each other, and deepen their own faith —without fighting for it.

The authors expose four ways in which each religion has gone astray and lost touch with God, self and neighbor:

    Exclusivity: staking claim to a One and Only Truth
    Violence: justifying brutality in the name of Faith
    Inequality of men and women:  domination politics to preserve patriarchal power
    Homophobia: denying the legitimacy of homosexuality in practice and in being

Chapters explore these four religious errors. Each includes a personal reflection, a look at how institutions and scriptures have strayed into practices that keep the people of the one God apart,  scholarly commentary, core teachings and healing, and particular spiritual practices from each tradition. It is readable, accessible to all, and there's no bloviation in it!

One of my favorite practices, comes from the advice of a Thai Buddhist who taught Imam Rahman to say Neti! Neti!— which means, Not this! Not this!—to keep violent thoughts at bay. (I use it to keep judgmental thoughts at bay.) Violence in religions arises when extremes are taken as the whole, dualities advanced as the one correct picture, and violence-advocating verses in scripture are preached as the whole truth about God.   

Judaism’s core gift is Oneness AND Jews also hold onto choseness; Islam’s is Compassion above all, AND Muslims hold the Qur’an to be superior; and Christianity offers Unconditional Love AND claims that only One Name saves. 

Go figure:)

I find these authors most honest and credible when they write about inequality between women and men in their religions.  They laugh at themselves: three straight  patriarchally stereotypical men offering insights about equal inclusion of women and homosexuals in their “club.” They admit that each religion has been spiritually truncated by the exclusion of women’s voices. And they sight ways in which change is happening. This book is one effort. 

My only regret is that I wish these authors had done more with language about God, particularly those troublesome masculinizing pronouns that keep deity clothed in masculine language. We can no longer afford to have an exclusively male deity, even in languages like Hebrew that have gendered nouns. Our God  is so much more than the biggest and best one of us. Does not Divinity deserve our strenuous effort—an interfaith jihad for gender inclusive language, yes, even pronouns?

My personal image of Godde is a Being of beings fully feminine and fully masculine. Abstract images like light or even wisdom, leave me..... not cold but lukewarm.

According to the authors of this book, “Religions go astray when they contribute more to human suffering than they do to human healing.”  There will be evil, and we will do evil, but we can not BE evil.

I recommend this visionary book for individual and group study in and among any and all religions.