The following is the extended version of the newsletter article from last month, May 2011 newsletter. I apologize if it may not make a whole lot of sense to some. The newsletter version is pretty much the first two paragraphs deleted.
In the book of Exodus Moses comes down from the mountain top to find Aaron the high priest upholding a golden calf in worship- the classic story of idolatry. The thing that strikes me is they never called it Baal, or Apis. They called it YHWH. They attempted to put a face or physical aesthetic of sorts to the one true mysterious God that is beyond form and conception. And yet, through out biblical scripture YHWH is portrayed as a God that desires this profound relational connection to its creation as if it affects the life flow of everything. When it’s severed it is meaningless.
It’s interesting when you start seeing the parallels of Exodus and how Christians tend to treat God as a conceptual object. We uphold the divine through words from the basis of a logical construct. God is treated and portrayed as something that we observe, discuss, and even criticize as if we are removed from it. This is also known as theology, the study of God, trying to grasp the divine, from which we can forge as our object. The irony in this is the positive message one could advocate on behalf of their religion. Yet they view and treat, perhaps subconsciously, other people as an object in the same way. The unfortunate and convenience of this posture is it removes one self from the issue. If I disconnect myself, I assume little or no responsibility. Rationally, at this point, I am now at liberty to express opinion, belief, critique, etc. without ever bringing positive change of any sort. When I make this sever it allows me to hide behind the mask of individualism, personal prosperity, salvation, etc.
The following is one of my favorite Jewish teachings that bring to light this sense of reasoning:
A group of people were traveling in a boat. One of them took a drill and began to drill a hole beneath himself. His companions said to him: "Why are you doing this?" Replied the man: "What concern is it of yours? Am I not drilling under my own place?" Said they to him: "But you will flood the boat for us all!" (Quoted in Midrash Rabbah,Vayikra 4:6)
I cannot help but wonder if this is where we got that saying, "we’re all in this boat together". I love this teaching parable because it addresses the notion of our connectedness as a community. People are not objects. I am subject to you and your choices just as you are subject to mine. What I do directly affects those around me. We have the ability to bring change and impact within our community simply by how we regard each other and even God. This brings into light a saying that I have been hearing lately, you are either part of the problem or part of the solution.
Having been engulfed in a conservative Christian sub-culture for the majority of my life, I began to realize that theology so often, if not always, was emphasized above and beyond faith. If theology is our attempt to grasp the divine then the contrast is faith, being held by the divine, from which we are subject to, which ultimately brings true change. What I am attempting to propose is that theology forged doctrine became our focus (or our god?). I realized that it became more about an intellectual belief system. So, at some point a line in the sand was drawn. It became about an us vs. them mental and spiritual posture that comes from community viewing people as objects severing relational depth. Although one advocates for a positive religious message, it can create a cognitive dissidence from ones intellectual belief system and how they live it out. This can become more about talk and critique of others who don’t believe in the same way as you or me. Therefore, the soil for relationship is far from fertile; it is toxic and can corrode community.
Community is an endeavor of the soul. Call it another spiritual discipline if you will or call it social responsibility. We are all profoundly connected and have the ability to embrace it, avoid it, or even run from it. Our lives, choices, and words impact each other. The ones that are affected the most with this type of thinking/reasoning are our young people. I say "our" intentionally to acknowledge they are all of our responsibility. We get to partner and support them as they seek to forge this community’s future. I guess an answer resides somewhere in the question, will you be part of the problem or the solution?).
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