Here is the downloadable version with some of the pictures shared at the Sisterhood-Brotherhood Dinner of the Interfaith Council of Rossmoor, CA.
Presented by Rev. Will McGarvey
Tuesday, May 28,2013
Sisterhood and Brotherhood Dinner
Interfaith Council of Rossmoor
I’m so appreciative to have been invited to address you tonight. The Rossmoor Interfaith Council is the oldest of all of our local inter-religious collegiums, and one that continues to be one of our most successful regional consortiums of Interfaith work in the county. I served on the Executive Board of the Council for some 6 years and left the board for some other work before coming back as your Interim Executive Director of the Interfaith Council of Contra Costa County, helping the council with the work of renewing our vision and restructuring. In all that time, this is the first time I have attended the Sisterhood and Brotherhood Dinner. I now see that this is one of those lesser known gems that occurs in the county, and while this event may seem very natural as an annual gathering for you, I don’t think there is anything like it in our other groups. So I want to commend you for keeping this tradition alive and well. And I’d like to encourage you to share it with others.
I’m hoping that what I present tonight will start new conversations, so if it’s possible to talk afterwards I’m open to do so, but I hope that you will find those of other faith traditions in your midst with which to further discuss these ideas. These aren’t only my thoughts, but they are my interpretations of some of the ideas that are floating around in our culture that may or may not help us move forward into the future that God – however you describe the divine – may be luring us into.
To begin tonight, I’d like to read my translation of Genesis 2 adapted from the Message Translation about the creation of the adam – the earthling – from the adamah – the earth. There are a lot of word plays that don’t make it into the English translation from the Hebrew, so I’ve taken the liberty add a bit about those wordplays into this translation. Perhaps we need to understand our creation myths if we are to understand ourselves. A reading from Genesis 2: 5-25.
Genesis 2:5 At the time GOD made Earth and Heaven, before any grasses or shrubs had sprouted from the ground—GOD hadn’t yet sent rain on Earth, nor was there anyone around to work the ground 6 (the whole Earth was watered by underground springs) — 7 GOD formed the adam – the genderless Earthling – out of the adamah – the dirt from the ground – and blew into its nostrils the breath of life. The Earthling came alive—a living soul!
8 Then GOD planted a garden in Eden, in the east. God put the Earthling he had just made in it. 9 GOD made all kinds of trees grow from the ground, trees beautiful to look at and good to eat. The Tree-of-Life was in the middle of the garden, also the Tree-of-Knowledge-of-Good-and-Evil.
15 GOD took the Earthling and set it down in the Garden of Eden to work the ground and keep it in order.
16 GOD commanded the Earthling, “You can eat from any tree in the garden, 17 except from the Tree-of-Knowledge-of-Good-and-Evil. Don’t eat from it. The moment you eat from that tree, you’re dead.”
18 GOD said, “It’s not good for the Earthling to be alone; I’ll make it a helper, a companion.” 19 So GOD formed from the dirt of the ground all the animals of the field and all the birds of the air. God brought them to the Earthling to see what it would name them. Whatever the Earthling called each living creature, that was its name. 20 The Earthling named the cattle, named the birds of the air, named the wild animals; but it didn’t find a suitable companion.
21 GOD put the Earthling into a deep sleep. As it slept God removed one of its ribs and replaced it with flesh. 22 GOD then used the rib that she had taken from the Earthling to make Isha – woman – and presented her to the Ish – man. God had separated the Earthling into an Adam and an Eve.
23 The Adam said,
“Finally! Bone of my bone,
flesh of my flesh!
Name her Isha
for she was made from Ish.”
24 Therefore a man leaves his father and mother and embraces his wife. They become one flesh. 25 The two of them, the Ish and the Isha, were naked, but they felt no shame.
What a story. It sounds as if it was first told around an ancient campfire – the story of how their tribe came to be. God forms the Earthling from the earth and then breathes the Spirit of life into its nostrils – and it becomes a living being. It sounds like many Native American stories, where the people come up from the ground itself here on this continent, but this is a Near Eastern story that parallels the Persian stories of being created in a self-sustaining paradise where the trees spontaneously produce fruit and the earthlings don’t have to work. It sounds a bit like the life of Chimpanzees on the recent Disney film about them, but without the rival band of Chimps that live in the land next door.
Except in this story, the Earthling gets created in paradise alone, without anyone like it. It’s androgynous. No gender, just an earthling. If we were to name the adam in English, it would be Dusty. It is all alone – and it must be lonely, because God starts bringing other creatures before the Earthling to see who would be its friend. In fact, God parades all of the other animal creatures in front of the Earthling, and it get’s to name them all, but there wasn’t a suitable companion – a true partner among them. The Earthling wasn’t created to be alone, but to be in a true community of equals. The Earthling was still related to all of those animals, but it recognized that it was something more – that it needed more to be fully human.
So, the God divides the Earthling into male and female. The Earthling is put into a sleep and a part of the side of the Earthling is taken in order to separate the Earthling into a female and male human. It’s only then that they get real names, did you notice – Man and Woman – Adam and Eve. No shame, just paradise – so far. The rest of the story tells of why people die, why people do bad things, why people have to work and toil for their food and even why childbirth is painful. It’s a typical explanation of the human predicament from then on. But right here this is a picture of idyllic human cooperation and complementariness. Much of our conceptions of Male and Female come from this story – the way we heard it. But I wonder if this telling of the story helps release us from the harmful portions of the story.
An earlier Western creation story is similar but very different: It comes from Plato’s Story of Love and Desire in Aristophanes’ Speech from Plato’s Symposium
“Once upon a time, he says, people were not born separate from each other. They were born entwined, kind of coupled with each other. So there were boys attached to boys, and there were girls attached to girls and of course, boys and girls together in a wonderfully intimate ball. And back then we had eight limbs, there were four on top, four on the bottom and you didn’t have to walk if you didn’t want to. You could roll, and roll we did! We rolled backwards and we rolled forwards, achieving fantastic speeds that gave us a kind of courage… and then the courage swelled to pride and the pride became arrogance.
And then we decided that we were greater than the gods and we tried to roll up the heaven and take over heaven. And the gods, alarmed, struck back! And Zeus, in his fury, hurled down lightning bolts and struck everyone in two, into perfect halves. So all of the sudden, couples who had been warm and tight and wedged together were now detached and alone and lost and desperate and losing the will to live. And the gods having seen what they’d done, worried that humans might not survive or even multiply again, and of course they needed humans to give sacrifices and to pay attention to them, so the gods decided on a few repairs.
Instead of heads facing backwards or out, they would rotate our heads back to forward. They pulled our skin taught and knotted it right here at the belly button. Genitalia too were moved to the front so if we wanted to, you know, we could. And most important, they left us with a memory. It was a longing for that original other half of ourselves, the boy or the girl who used to make us whole. And that longing is still so deep in all of us, men for men, women for women, men for women for each other, that it has been the lot of humans ever since, to travel the world looking for our other half.
And when, says Aristophanes, when one of us meets another, we recognize each other right away. We just know this! We’re lost in an amazement of love and friendship and intimacy. We won’t get out of each other’s sight even for a moment. These are people, he says, who pass their whole lives together and yet if you ask them, they could not explain what they desire of each other. They just…do.”
What do we make of such words? How many of you have heard these stories before?
What kind of Universe do we live within? How do we live as modern people knowing that our ancestors have conceived of the human beginnings in such ways? We have heard the term “soul mates” before, but this myth and the way they pictured human origins is quite foreign to most of us.
We must remember that the ancient world didn’t always consider men and women as equals. Only one Greek city state, Sparta, allowed women to vote. Athens, the so-called birth place of Democracy only allowed male landowners to vote or participate in the forum. What was true in Greece was also true in Rome and Jerusalem. The Pater Familia put the father in charge of his whole household. Women were given in marriage as property exchanges between families. Childhood mortality rates were so low that most children weren’t cared for as much as we would like until it looked like they might survive, although upper class families would want to make sure that they had an heir to be able to pass on their inheritance. Slaves, on the other hand, were the lifeblood of the household. The man of the house had full sexual access to all of his property, but could start a small riot between houses if he were caught with the family, children or slaves of another man. Men and women were not equals in the ancient world. There were stark differences and rivalries between the classes and the rival nations of the world, especially between those who considered themselves civilized and those they considered barbarians. The ins and the outs.
For the Christians in the room, the words of Galatians 3:27-29 resonate very powerfully about the new unity that was to be lived out within the body of Christ. This was St. Paul’s attempt to include Gentiles into the new Jewish Christian sect.
Galatians 3:27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.
The text preceding this pericope is all about the Jewish Law and faith, arguing that it was faith that welcomed Gentiles into the family of Abraham. Of course, the majority of Jews didn’t accept this rationale. For early Christianity, this was a radical new way of thinking about community – attempting to destroy three of the strongest social distinctions of the day: followers of God from the pagans, free people from the enslaved, and perhaps the strongest divide because it cannot be changed – the gender divide. Or can it?
St. Paul uses another image when he later wrote 1 Corinthians 12:14-28 as he situates each Christian as a part of the very Body of Christ in the world.
1 Corinthians 12:14 “I want you to think about how all this makes you more significant, not less. A body isn’t just a single part blown up into something huge. It’s all the different-but-similar parts arranged and functioning together. 15 If Foot said, “I’m not elegant like Hand, embellished with rings; I guess I don’t belong to this body,” would that make it so? 16 If Ear said, “I’m not beautiful like Eye, limpid and expressive; I don’t deserve a place on the head,” would you want to remove it from the body? 17 If the body was all eye, how could it hear? If all ear, how could it smell? 18 As it is, we see that God has carefully placed each part of the body right where he wanted it”
Here is a later text where Paul uses the metaphor of the different parts of a human body as the parts of the Christian Messiah’s body in the world. If the Christ lives in the world, it get’s expressed by every part of the Christian community. Now, the Christians of this period would have still excluded the non-Christians of their era, but Paul’s metaphor insists that each person of the community comprises a part of the body that cannot be cut off without significant costs to the whole – and that it is Christ himself who lives within the community of believers. There still remains exclusivity, but this remains a radical move toward inclusion of outsiders.
In the Gospel of Thomas, an early Gnostic text only found again in 1945 with the Nag Hammadi Library, the 22nd saying of Jesus includes these words:
Gospel of Thomas 22b “Jesus said to them: When you make the two one, and when you make the inside as the outside, and the outside as the inside, and the upper as the lower, and when you make the male and the female into a single one, so that the male is not male and the female not female, and when you make eyes in place of an eye, and a hand in place of a hand, and a foot in place of a foot, an image in place of an image, then shall you enter [the kingdom].”
It looks like this saying predates the canonical gospels and is cited in the Gospel to the Egyptians as well. One of the founding myths of the Gnostics was that each soul was divided from an androgynous soul into a male or female at birth – into a specific gender. A part of becoming one who has the secret knowledge of Gnosticism was one who was able to reconcile the maleness and femaleness of their own person – as well as raising the spiritual above the bodily form of humanity. This is “recovering one’s original self, undivided by the differences between male and female, physical and spiritual.” In the words of Bob Funk and Roy Hoover, “The theme of unifying opposites is well known from later gnostic texts.” (The Five Gospels, p. 487)
Unifying opposites. Much of our Western culture is filled with such dualities. Heaven and Hell, Spirit and Body, White and Black, Male and Female, Civilized and Barbarian, Modern and Mythic. Such dualities have plagued Christianity from the beginning.
So it was interesting last week, when journalist David Gibson noted that:
“Pope Francis is warning Catholics not to demonize those who are not members of the church, and he specifically defended atheists, saying that building walls against non-Catholics leads to “killing in the name of God.”
“(T)his ‘closing off’ that imagines that those outside, everyone, cannot do good is a wall that leads to war and also to what some people throughout history have conceived of: killing in the name of God,” Francis said Wednesday in remarks at the informal morning Mass that he celebrates in the chapel at the Vatican guesthouse where he lives.
“And that, simply, is blasphemy. To say that you can kill in the name of God is blasphemy.” Francis explained that doing good is not a matter of faith: “It is a duty, it is an identity card that our Father has given to all of us, because he has made us in his image and likeness.”
To both atheists and believers, he said that “if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: we need that so much. We must meet one another doing good.”
In a passage that may prompt a theological debate about the nature of salvation, the pontiff also declared that God “has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone!”
“Even the atheists,” he said to those who might question his assertion. “Everyone!””
Sure, such a statement is supersessionist, but at least he is using his tradition’s language as a way to increase the inclusion of others. Heaven knows that even most of us Progressive Protestants have moved away from insisting that it was Christ’s blood that is salvific. We would insist that Jesus was faithful to his Jewish vision of God’s kingdom, even unto death on a Roman cross.
So, how do we talk about humanity beyond siblinghood? Sure, some of us are brothers and others are sisters, but what about that small minority of people – the 1 in 2000 who are born with ambiguous genitalia, or born intersex or transgender? In the ancient world they were mostly known as Eunuchs, those who were made eunuchs after the Jewish exile to serve as bureaucrats in the Persian Empire. When the priests returned to Israel, Isaiah 56 goes out of its way to say that these returning eunuchs were included in the family of God, and welcomed back to the temple as well. Isaiah 56:1-8 from the Hebrew Scriptures:
Isaiah 56:1 Thus says the LORD:
Maintain justice, and do what is right,
for soon my salvation will come,
and my deliverance be revealed.
2 Happy is the mortal who does this,
the one who holds it fast,
who keeps the sabbath, not profaning it,
and refrains from doing any evil.
3 Do not let the foreigner joined to the LORD say,
“The LORD will surely separate me from his people”;
and do not let the eunuch say,
“I am just a dry tree.”
4 For thus says the LORD:
To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths,
who choose the things that please me
and hold fast my covenant,
5 I will give, in my house and within my walls,
a monument and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that shall not be cut off.
6 And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD,
to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD,
and to be his servants,
all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it,
and hold fast my covenant—
7 these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.
8 Thus says the Lord GOD,
who gathers the outcasts of Israel,
I will gather others to them
besides those already gathered.
This universalization happens in many traditions when they are faced with new realities. And so the new basis for who is welcome in the Temple doesn’t include bodily wholeness or who your parents are, but whether you keep the Sabbath and follow the laws of God. In Matthew 19, Jesus says that there are three types of eunuchs, those that are eunuchs from birth who have no desire to penetrate a woman, those who are made eunuchs at the hands of men – usually to become a trusted bureaucrat in the Emperor’s court – and those who are eunuchs by choice – those who take on a celibate life. In the ancient world, eunuch was an umbrella term for gay men or transgender people.
Such people have often been ignored or vilified. But these are our children and our grandchildren. No one is to blame that they are a part of the same diversity that is seen in the animal kingdom, in which over 450 species show gender diversity or sexual orientation diversity. But sometimes the politics of public restrooms is where their inclusion in our society gets meted out.
This is where the gender binary gets enforced, right!? At the restroom signs! Hopefully in our congregations there are more than two options, and we are increasingly adding single intersex restrooms. And so we have to work to make the world a more inclusive place, with space for the intersex and transgender communities.
You may not know this, but the clown fish is unique, in that if the school of fish they belong to loses all of its male members, the largest female will change their gender to allow the school of fish to continue to procreate. Nature is that creative in its desire to keep life going.
In cultures around the world transgender people have been celebrated and seen as shaman and spiritual leaders since they can communicate between this world and the spirit world. In some Native American and traditional cultures around the world, their languages include three genders to include what we would call intersex or transgender people. In the Mohave and Navajo cultures, there have been four genders, and the tribe would dress their children androgynously until a certain age at which they would watch them and what kind of toys they played with, and they would live out their lives in that way. Men, women, and women living out male roles, and men living out female roles. Many native peoples today use the Lakota term 2-spirit people for those who are not either male or female, and there has been marriage between people of all gender identities for generations.
I love the quote on this picture by Pretty Shield, a medicine woman of the Crow Nation (see pdf for the quote).
We have also seen such people in international athletics like Caster Semenya from South Africa, who was winning every race among women until they studied her blood and found out that she was an intersex person with female genitalia but whose testes were active giving her more testosterone than other females. There are those born with XXY chromosomes whose gender identities may not be known until their endocrine system starts producing either male or female hormones. Most of the time that matches the genitalia of the person, but not always which brings about hermaphrodite persons. Some XXY people still present fully as male or female, depending on their hormonal development. There are 13 clusters of genetic identities between XX and XY. Most often people with XXY chromosomes don’t even know that they are different.
Just like there is a spectrum of gender identities between maleness and femaleness, there is a spectrum of sexual orientations between heterosexuality and homosexuality. It’s been amazing to see the shift going on in our culture, increasingly accepting Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender people and the families that they are creating. To watch so many states change their laws to become more inclusive of marriage equality has displayed a surprising shift going on in parts of our culture. That the Boy Scouts made the national decision to welcome out Gay Scouts is a very significant move. Scouts can now keep the Scout oath, and be fully honest about who they are without fear of getting kicked out of their troops – or at least be able to find troops nearby that will welcome them.
The Genderbread Person image helps us understand this interconnection: That Gender Identity is about how a person thinks about what their gender is. Gender Expression is how they live that out. Biological sex expresses the genetics and hormones that express a person’s sex. And Sexual Orientation is who one falls in love with.
We all create families in our own ways, and there is a growing freedom for everyone to define what is family for them. Much within our culture and language attempts to enforce that gender binary. There was even a time that our educational system tried to enforce right-handedness. But we are learning that the human species contains a great amount of diversity. It’s hard to talk about just brothers and sisters when more and more of our siblings are coming out and talking about their life experience as someone who was born with ambiguous genitalia and have claimed an intersex identity, or those transgender folks who feel like they were born in a body of the wrong gender for how they see themselves. We have also seen so many celebrities show us that love is love, regardless of the gender of the people they are attracted to, but we are now seeing professional athletes and religious leaders coming out as Gay or Lesbian or Bisexual and as supporters. We don’t live in a black and white world any longer as the world is displaying multiple shades of grey – not only about what we know about humans, but also what we know about the animal kingdom.
Over the last 100 years we have learned much about human evolution and the history of our planet. We have learned about the migration patterns of early humans around the world based on the mitochondrial DNA of the different cultures and peoples of the world. Our knowledge about genetics has helped us realize that even the differences between humans are so small that it questions the very use of the word “Race.” We have more in common with each other: Caucasians, Africans, Asians, and Aboriginees than we have differences. And, scientists say that there is greater human genetic diversity within the continent of Africa than anywhere else on earth – perhaps since that is where early homonids first evolved and as groups left they had less genetic diversity to share.
The other thing we have learned is how long ago homonids separated from the other great apes. As we discovered how older species evolved into mammals and birds, we also saw that we were related to the rest of the animal kingdom. We have 98% of the same genes as chimpanzees, and yet our common ancestors separated over 6 million years ago. We have been amazed at some of the abilities that Chimpanzees have been able to learn, but we have also recognized the limits of their ability to learn because their brains just haven’t evolved as ours have. But human development is putting them at risk. In 1960 there were a million Chimpanzees in the wild. Today there is one fifth of that number.
At the same time, we have found our common mammalian ancestor, a small rodent like animal that was the first warm blooded animal with a placenta. This animal weighed around 6 grams and lived in trees feeding on insects 65 million years ago. The surprising thing is that this animal evolved about 200,000 years after the demise of the dinosaurs. This is our common ancestor with all mammals, both land mammals and those that live in seawaters. All mammals share different traits, such as three middle ear bones, milk to feed our young, bodily hair and warm blooded. So it should come as no surprise to us that Elephants have a culture, and can communicate with one another. In fact, Elephants mourn family members when they die. We also know that dolphins and whales can communicate with each other. We have recordings of whale song that can travel miles away in the water. A few years ago, I took my family to Alaska and while we were off the coast of Juneau we watched a pod of 16 whales work together bubblenetting for krill. The whales must be communicating with one another as they swim down in a spiral around a school of krill, letting air bubbles out to keep the krill within the cylinder while they take turns swimming up the cylinder gorging themselves on krill.
As we understand more about human evolution and as we recognize our relationship with the rest of the animal kingdom, we have to admit that we are related. Some of you know those people whose relationship with their pets seems to be just a bit too close, but maybe they recognize something of a consciousness within their pets. I’ll tell you, when my two miniature pinchers want something, like to be let outside, they know how to communicate it. And if you look at Facebook for any amount of time, you will see more pictures of cats and cute pictures of other animals that are almost anthropomorphic. Still, while humans are usually at the top of the food chain because of our technological prowess, we too can become a part of the food chain. All life on planet earth is related to one another. Each of our bioclimates have evolved to include all of the parts of the system.
At some level we know that we are related to the animal kingdom, though we often deny it. We often even deny the many bacteria that is a part of our digestive system that start to digest us within 30 minutes of our own death. We are a part of the cycle of life, and perhaps we need to find a way as modern people to come to terms with this truth that honors our relationship with the natural world. And perhaps in our older age, we will find the impulse to share what it is we have learned with those younger than us so that their psychological and educational evolution can occur at a younger and younger age so that the great human experiment can move forward with what we have learned – rather than without it.
We belong to each other. We know this even more today because of what our Quantum Physicists are telling us, for when we try to look at the universe we find both a creative and destructive universe – a fractal universe. What they found when attempting to look at sub-atomic particles is what is called Quantum Entanglement or Quantum Weirdness. When Erwin Schrödinger realized that light is both a wave and a particle, he also saw that when you look at one particle it affects another particle that is connected to it. Some particles are connected to particles nearby, sometimes to particles light-years away, and so there is a strange interconnectivity between all things on a sub-atomic level. If Newtonian physics did a good job of predicting what happens in the natural world when one force acts upon another force, when we look at a Quantum level there is an indeterminacy.
“What this indeterminacy means is that until it is observed an object has no definite value for that property….. In common experience a coin facing up has a definite value: it is either heads or tails. Even if you don’t look at the coin you trust that it must be a head or tail. In quantum experience the situation is more unsettling: material properties of things do not exist until they are measured. Until you “look” (measure the particular property) at the coin, as it were, it has no fixed face up.”
So, if the Universe is 13.82 Billions years old – since the Big Bang or the Big Bounce from the conflation of a previous universe – and the earth was the product of a collision of two planets 4.5 Billion years ago that reignited the earth’s mantle and created our moon – we are a natural part of a Universe that has been conspiring on our behalf – to bring human consciousness to fruition for all that time. If we know that our bodies are 93% stardust, can we tell if the stardust that is in our left hand came from the same star as the stardust that is in our right hand?
What are the Interfaith theological implications of this knowledge?
The first is that yes, in fact, we belong to each other. We are all a part of the same web of life. If even the very atoms and particles and magnetic fields of our bodies are interrelated, and as far as we know we are the only sentient beings in our relatively young Universe, then we are the Universe itself conscious of itself. Despite the fact that our philosophies, religions and languages constantly tell us that we are autonomous individuals, we need to remind ourselves that we are interconnected with every other part of the Universe. Our actions and beliefs matter.
As E.O. Wilson has noted in his book “The Social Conquest of Earth,” it was the cooperation of tribalism and the campfire that allowed early humans to evolve into communities that cared for infants and the aging in order to expand the opportunity for survival against outside threats. We weren’t individuals fighting off snakes in the trees any longer. It was the move to the savannah that allowed us to become communities. But here’s the rub, over the last 10,000 years we’ve been expanding the tribalism that has served us so well into villages, towns, cities, city-states, bio-regions, states, and nations. And for the last 100 years we have been experimenting with allowing multi-national cooperative states, like the U.N. and NATO and the European Union and the African Union to attempt to work cooperatively for the benefit of their regions and continents.
But at the same time, multi-national corporations and banking interests have risen with the strength to divide and conquer the needs and desires of these other cooperative bodies. So first, will we be able to evolve out of our tribalism – both our religious tribalism and our other tribalisms writ large in national, cultural and linguistic circles? Because if we aren’t able to do so, we won’t be able to break down the tribes and competing factions necessary to survive on a planet with declining resources.
I’ve mentioned some of the Christian Scriptures that lend themselves to this impulse. I would also add Micah 6:8
Micah 6:8 God has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
And as the Koran says in Sura 29:46
“And argue not with the People of the Book unless it be in a way that is better, save with such of them as do wrong; and say we believe in that which has been revealed to us and to you; and our God and your God is one and unto Him we submit” (Quran 29:46).
It is also consistent with the first two points of the 8 points of Progressive Christianity:
By calling ourselves progressive, we mean that we are Christians who…
1 Have found an approach to God through the life and teachings of Jesus,
2 Recognize the faithfulness of other people who have other names for the way to God’s realm, and acknowledge that their ways are true for them, as our ways are true for us,
As Robb Smith, co-founder of Chrysallis and Integral life said in his TED Talk “The Transformational Life:
“The invitation was sent 14 billion years ago … it says “Congratulations, you are the first self-aware species in the known universe who is interconnected to every other member of its species on a single planetary biosphere….” [We are invited] to move beyond a scared sense of self … beyond egonomics … and relate to each other empathically.”
It’s a huge step for some, but essential for moving toward a Siblinghood of all people.
Second, there is a great diversity within all of life – and that is a good thing and we should encourage that. In fact, we should expect diversity, of thought, of religious expression, of cultural habits, of philosophical persuasions and commitments.
Sura 49:13 of the Koran says,
“O humankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.” (Quran 49:13).
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, has long talked about Ubuntu – the South African saying of “I Am Because We Are.” And that’s true for people of every ability, dissability or diffability. In an article about his new book “God is not a Christian,” he says:
“Our diversity is beautiful – it would be so terribly boring if we were all the same! Conformity is stoked by fear of not being loved, and an expression of a need to belong. Let’s love each other – warts and all. Let’s dare to be beautiful in our own truth – and still belong. Unselfish self-assurance, compassion, an inner knowing that our humanity is caught up in one another’s, that we are inexorably diminished when others are humiliated, oppressed or treated as if they were of less worth than us – these are some of the inner qualities that will save us as a human race….
Peace, prosperity and justice – we can have them all if we work together. There is no ‘us’ or ‘them’. God is not a Christian but neither is S(he) an adherent of any other religion because no religion has monopoly on God. All major religions have love and compassion at their core, they promote tolerance not violence and hate, and most have their own version of the Golden Rule – treat others as you wish to be treated. They all recognise that human happiness ultimately comes from our relationship with each other.
In truth there are no outsiders, no enemies – unless we put them there in our minds. Black and white, rich and poor, man and woman, gay and straight, Jew and Arab, Muslim and Christian, Hindu and Buddhist, Hutu and Tutsi, Pakistani and Indian, – all belong. When we start to live as brothers and sisters and to recognise our interdependence, we become fully human….
Let’s make our humanness our way of life. Like when we pass the homeless and take time to look them in the eye and talk. When we meet the mother suffering from AIDS and are not afraid to take her hand and wipe her tears. When we remember that no one is a refugee by choice. When we hear of awful offences and never forget that inside there is goodness in everyone and that we have not walked in their shoes. When we do not judge or label others too hurriedly – because as the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard said “when you label me you negate me.” When we relate as human beings despite our differences, recognizing that ultimately we all want the same thing – happiness.”
We have seen this courage in the person of Malala Yousafzai, the 15 year old Pakistani girl who has stood up to those who would scare her and other girls away from their right to an education. She has said,
“God has given me this new life, a second life. And I want to serve the people. I want every girl, every child, to be educated.”
“I don’t mind if I have to sit on the floor at school. All I want is education. And I’m afraid of no one.”
“I think of it often and imagine the scene clearly. Even if they come to kill me, I will tell them what they are trying to do is wrong, that education is our basic right.”
Christian mystic Henri J.M. Nouwen said it this way:
“In a world so torn apart by rivalry, anger, and hatred, we have the privileged vocation to be living signs of a love that can bridge all divisions and heal all wounds.”
And the last theme I will leave with you tonight is that there is room for us to evolve further into the future – and we do so not just for ourselves but so that we can help God evolve into the future with us. If we are the Universe conscious of itself after 13.82 Billion years, then God needs us to evolve our consciousness so that the very concept of God can evolve out of the archaic, magical, mythic, rational, and postmodern conceptions into a new cosmology that matches the best of what we know scientifically with the best of what we know spiritually. We need to reclaim the ancient practices of each of our traditions – of meditation and yoga, of centering prayer and labyrinth walking, of reconnecting with nature through pan-psychic prayer and better eating and weight training. Every approach has some truth that brings about full human flourishing. In the words the Jewish Phenomenologist Martin Buber – every practice trains us how to approach each and every part of the Universe as a holy Thou – rather than an it. As we train ourselves to meet each part of the Universe as a holy Thou – rather than an object we can use – then we are truly living.
Integral philosopher Ken Wilber said it this way:
…isn’t it time for you to wake up? …You know that in the deepest part of your being, you can wake up, don’t you? You have been searching for how long now? Well, it is time for the Great Search to end. As long as you are searching, you are looking for a future moment that will be better than this moment, but it is this moment that holds the entire key…. So stop searching….
Andrew Cohen describes it this way:
“Those who seem to be most alive, most in touch with life and their own creative powers, are individuals who are demonstrating what it means to live on the edge of their own potential. They may be musicians, artists, writers, politicians, engineers, scientists, philosophers, or mystics. Living on our edge is really, really important, especially if we don’t want to live a life only half-lived—a life lost in mediocrity, ambiguity, and existential confusion. In the way that I see it, the full glory of what it means to be alive only begins to reveal itself when we are actually on that edge. That’s when we are truly alive—consciously alive, creatively alive. When we push towards that edge in ourselves, we allow Spirit’s true face, the creative force in the universe, which I call the evolutionary impulse, to reveal itself right now through you and through me.”
What is Evolution, really? Again, Andrew Cohen:
“Evolution is a cosmic process that is going somewhere in and through time. And we are all part of that process. This simple fact is potentially life-transforming, but it’s also hard to grasp at a deep level. The process that created us is moving. We tend to see the world around us as static. But it’s not. It’s going somewhere. We’re going somewhere. Awakening to this truth about all of manifestation changes the way we see the world around us and our place in it. The biggest and most important part of this awakening is that we discover our power to affect where the process that created us is going. We realize the ultimate reason for our own existence: to be a spiritual hero, to boldly take responsibility for the future of the process itself.”