Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Some things that have caught my eye lately

Thing 1:

A Broader View of "The Sacred"
by Rubel Shelly

For too long now, we have lived with the idea that life is divided into spheres of sacred and secular, religious and worldly, holy and profane.

Partitioning things that way in our heads has led to ideas like "my personal spiritual life" and "my public business life." Thus we have debated whether politicians or athletes should ever have their fitness measured by some moral shortcoming or terrible relationship failure in their "private" lives. The consensus seems to be that there is no necessary connection between the two.

We talk about the "sacred space" we encounter in a cathedral or church sanctuary, at a retreat center or particularly breathtaking spot in nature. The store, office, or den is -- one must presume -- "secular space" for us.

So we have created a religious environment in much of Christiandom that allows people to participate in church as pious, reverent members on Sunday morning -- while being racist, lecherous, greedy, and materialistic the other six and a half days of the week! Church is sacred. The other settings are secular. Where did we get such absurd notions of the nature of reality?

Life is continuous from church pew to classroom to golf course. There is a single narrative from Bible class to workplace to football stadium. Each of us is weaving a holistic tapestry with innermost thought to words from the tongue to behavior in unguarded moments. How naive to argue otherwise.

The late Abraham Heschel used to raise this question: Is it an artist's inner vision or her grappling with stone that creates a brilliant piece of sculpture? The point of his question was to say that upright living is like a work of art. It is the outcome of both an inner vision and a struggle with very concrete situations.

"No religious act is properly fulfilled unless it is done with a willing heart and a craving soul," Heschel said. "You cannot worship God with your body if you do not know how to worship him with your soul." And vice versa, one might add.

A spiritual exercise such as prayer or Bible reading or fasting is not meant to be an end in itself. We obey God not for the sake of achieving or earning but to keep our hearts open to him and responsive to his voice.

All space -- cathedral, sickroom, factory, mountain lake, office cubicle, car, sidewalk, jail cell -- is sacred to God. It is a place from which he may be sought and found. It is dedicated to his glory by the use we make of it.

If God is with us and in us, how could any space be other than sacred?

Thing 2:

Brit Hume: The "Intolerance" of It All
by Rubel Shelly

To hear most people tell it these days, the ultimate virtue is tolerance. So we are instructed to criticize nothing, to affirm all points of view as equally legitimate, to teach our children there is no absolute moral truth, and to realize that all religious paths lead to the same God. No matter how you dress this animal in politics, education, or religion, it is still a monster!

Tolerance, diversity, pluralism, multiculturalism -- all are perfectly good words for very good ideas. But we have allowed them to be taken over in the modern vocabulary to mask not so much a lack of conviction but the very strong conviction that nothing distinctly Christian is tolerable in the public square.

Case in point: Brit Hume's recent comment about Tiger Woods. On "Fox News Sunday" for January 3, Chris Wallace asked his panelists to predict the biggest sports story for the coming year.

"Tiger Woods will recover as a golfer," said Hume. "Whether he can recover as a person I think is a very open question, and it's a tragic situation for him. I think he's lost his family; it's not clear to me if he'll be able to have a relationship with his children. But the Tiger Woods that emerges once the news value dies out of this scandal -- the extent to which he can recover -- seems to me to depend on his faith. He's said to be a Buddhist; I don't think that faith offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith. So my message to Tiger would be, 'Tiger, turn to the Christian faith and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world.' "

Well, yes, that would be a dramatic story. Given the spotlight on the man considered the greatest golfer in the world, it is hard to image a story that would be bigger in 2010. And everybody from Dr. Phil to Joe Blow has been offering his or her take on Tiger's issues, prospects, and options. But Brit Hume dared to do the unthinkable. He nodded toward Jesus and recommended Christian faith.

Tom Shales, media critic for the _Washington Post_, called Hume a "sanctimonious busybody" who dared to be "telling people what religious beliefs they ought to have." MSNBC's David Shuster called Hume's comment "truly embarrassing." Hume has been savaged by talking heads and bloggers.

Would anyone have dared be so scathing toward a psychologist urging therapy? A recovering sex addict suggesting Tiger be evaluated for an addiction program? A Muslim panelist recommending the Pillars of Islam? But, as Hume pointed out later in responding to the firestorm around him, any comment that suggests Jesus will generate an avalanche of criticism and invective.

So who's really being "intolerant" here? A man who found comfort and life transformation through Jesus after his son's death who now offers the option he discovered to another beleaguered soul? Or those who would silence him?
You'd think tolerance and diversity allow all viewpoints to be heard.

Thing 3:

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