Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Parent Metaphor

In my own thinking about God (or the Divine, or whatever word we want to use), the metaphor that I have found to be most useful is the metaphor of the loving parent, because it carries with it the idea of unconditional love.

A truly loving (and wise) parent will not try to control a child's life, and will not try to control what they do or who they love. They will not plan paths for their children, but instead allow their children to go their own ways.

This is very much the imagery that Jesus was drawing upon when he called God "the Father." For example, in the "Parable of the Prodigal Son" found in Luke 15:11-32, what was the plan of the father for his son, and how did he try to control or guide his son's life? The answers are none, and he didn't. When the prodigal son asked for the share of the property that would be his someday, the father gave it to him, and there's no mention of any arguments or questions. And then the son left. Once again, no mention of what the father might have said. And then, when the son had wasted all of the money and had returned home, the father greeted him without questions or recriminations. Unconditional love.

But we also have to raise that bar a notch or two because when we're talking about the difference between God and Mankind, we're not talking about the (metaphorical) difference between a parent and an adult child, but the difference between an adult and an infant. (For a sense of the gulf between God and Mankind, read the diatribe that God addresses to Job in chapter 38-41.)

So when we ask about God's "will" or expectations for us, the best metaphor is that of a parent whose small child has gone to the backyard with other children to play. Does the parent care if the children play hide-and-seek, or cops-and-robbers, or cowboys-and-indians? And does the parent really care whether the child plays the role of the seeker or the sought, the cop or the robber, or the cowboy or the indian?

That's my response to people who ask if God could really love Hitler. If we really are as children to God, then Nazism was just another childish game, and God loves his children regardless of what games they have decided to play.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Nine Billion Names of God

"The Nine Billion Names of God" is the title of a science fiction story I read years ago, the details of which are not relevant to this message, except that it described a religion in Tibet which believed that God had a specific number of names (about nine billion names), and that the purpose of mankind was to write out all of those names.

I thought about that story after driving with a friend, because I pointed out a red-tailed hawk that was sitting on a fence-post at the edge of the road and I was surprised that my friend didn't really seem interested. I can understand someone not wanting to spend time learning about birds, or spend time looking for them, but it puzzled me that someone wouldn't want to admire and learn about a magnificent, beautiful bird that was sitting in plain sight by the side of the road.

In thinking about my own attitudes, I realized that I felt a certain obligation to learn about the animals and plants around me. I can't know God directly, and I can't understand all of creation, but the least I can do is learn the names of the living pieces of God that are around me.

It started with birds, and I've always been pretty good with trees. Lately I've started trying to identify wildflowers, so I'm now learning about Spreading Dogbane, Cow Vetch, Yellow Spearwort, and Pickerel Weed, among others.

I'm thinking that next I'll try to identify different kinds of mosses, lichens, and fungus.

And I'm hoping that the total will be fewer that nine billion.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Theology of Health Care Reform

I experience a certain amount of cognitive dissonance every time I hear a politician or pundit express opposition to universal health care when the same politician or pundit has previously advocated "Christian values." For example, the "C Street" members of Congress are all very public in their Christianity, very Republican, and very opposed to health care reform.

I describe my reaction as "cognitive dissonance" because it is difficult for me to understand how anyone who thinks of themselves as "Christian" could possibly oppose health care reform or government support of health care.

Consider one of the most well-known of all parables, the parable of the "good Samaritan" in Luke 10:25-37. The context of the parable was an exchange about what Jesus elsewhere described as "the two great commandments," that you should love God with all your heart, and your neighbor as yourself. Jesus was then asked "And who is my neighbor?" Jesus replied with a story of a man who had been beaten and robbed by thieves and left as dead by the side of the road. Priests and Levites passed him on the road, but a Samaritan (not a Jew) saw him and, moved by pity, bound his wounds and took care of him. Jesus asked which of the three was a neighbor to the man who was robbed and was told, "The one who showed him mercy," to which Jesus replied, "Go and do likewise."

Is there any doubt but that we are required to show mercy to those who are sick or wounded?

In another often-quoted passage, sometimes referred to as the "parable of the sheep and the goats" but more often as the "Judgment of the Nations," Matt. 25:31-45, the context is more complicated, because Jesus is describing future events, and quotes the "Son of Man" when he "comes in his glory" with "all the nations [...] gathered before him." Jesus says that the king will say to those at his right that they are blessed and will inherit the kingdom, because "I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me."

When asked by "the righteous" when it was that he was hungry, thirsty, naked, or sick, the king will reply that "just as you did it to the least of these who are members of my family, you did to to me."

Once again, is there any question but that the righteous will take care of those who are sick, even the least of us?

And yet the self-righteous "Christians" among us are blocking efforts to apply our collective resources to the care of the sick.

I have not seen any public discussion of why someone who calls himself or herself a Christian would oppose universal health care, but the only possible rationale I have been able to imagine is a concern that non-believers would be required to pay tax money for health care for others, and Christians do not want to force their beliefs on non-Christians.

Of course, that same kind of concern doesn't stop those same Christians from being ready and willing to force on others their views on abortion, same-sex marriage, and military spending.

And why don't we let the non-believers speak for themselves? Why don't we who believe in Christian values speak out in support of the principle of health care for all, and be willing (even glad) for our tax dollars to help pay for the health care of the sick and needy? Why is there support for universal health care among atheists and agnostics and so little support among fundamentalist Christians?

Can anyone say "lame rationalization"?

I'm afraid that self-proclaimed Christians oppose health care reform because they are trying to serve two masters, God and wealth, and are failing (as Jesus predicted in Matt. 6:24). If you are so concerned about your own money, and with your own tax liabilities, that you can't support the idea that we should all help each other with the costs of being sick, than you can't really love God and you can't really love your neighbor.