24 January 2005

The Four Immeasureables: a Buddhist prayer

Well, after revising my version of the Lord's Prayer yesterday, I feel moved today to do a sort of similar adaptation of a central Buddhist prayer, "The Four Immeasurables." But instead of interpreting it in personal terms as I did the Lord's Prayer, I want to attempt to "translate" the concepts of this prayer into language familiar to North American Christians. So here goes:

O God, grant all of Your creatures happiness.

Grant all of Your creatures freedom from suffering.

Grant all of Your creatures perpetual, perfect joy.

Grant all of Your creatures peace and freedom from greed and prejudice.


23 January 2005

Mike's interpretation of the Lord's Prayer, v2.0

Just over a year ago, I published my own "translation" or interpretation of the Lord's Prayer. You can read that post here if you want to. Since then, I've realized that that translation contained at least one glaring error: interpreting "hallowed be thy name" as a statement of fact instead of an expression of hope. So here's a second crack at it. I fixed that problem, and also included a take on the traditional doxology at the end.

"Pray, then, in this way."

Our beloved Mother-Father,
Not a thing, but the Source of all things,
May all that points to You be set apart and adored.

May we also come to yearn for
The world that You yearn for,
And may that world become our reality.

Help us to find what we really need today
To best serve You and our fellow creatures.

When we do wrong, don’t hold it against us.
Likewise, we won’t hold it against our brother or sister who wrongs us.

Help us to avoid that which will get us in trouble,
And when we do get in trouble, lead us safely home.

I can ask all this because there is a world, both Now and Not Yet, in which You reign,
Because You have the loving power to make that world real,
And because all of Your creation bears witness that this is true.

May it be so! (Amen)

08 January 2005

Thoughts on the Incarnation

For me, as for the Buddha, it all comes down to the question of suffering. Or, more accurately, it comes down to this thing called "The Human Condition", of which suffering is a major part, but so are things like immense joy, family (with all its big and little joys and sufferings), temptation (a dry word for the aching needs we feel), fear and anxiety, etc.--all tempered and made more poignant and "real" by their fragility and the reality that our time, and our experience of all of these things, is limited. How could we ever really trust (a synonym for "have faith in") a God who had not fully experienced these things? How could we turn, in the depths of our suffering, to a God who had spent all of his/her/its eternal so-called "existence" on some pedestal in heaven, wrinkling his/her/its nose in distaste at the pathetic unpleasentness that these pitiful creations seem to get themselves involved in?

Now, let me be clear--I believe in a God who fully experienced the depths of our sufferings and the heights of our fragile joys since the beginning, both before and after the Incarnation. But why do I believe this? What would bring me to that conclusion? Nothing more or less than the Incarnation itself--the idea that God poured God's self so immensely into this individual Jesus. In that life, ministry, death, and resurrection, I see God fully experiencing our Human Condition, and I see that it's an essential part of God's nature to do so. (It always has been, but without the Incarnation, I might have trouble believing that.) Seeing that, I can have confidence, trust, and faith in a God who, no matter how bad it gets, has been there.

That, for me, is much of the significance of the Incarnation. But I guess that's not exactly true, since it really seems to just amount to proving a point, and I think that in the Incarnation the Son of God came not just to make a point, but to save the world. But that's another big subject--actually, much bigger, since it encompasses Salvation and Discipleship and Mission and Eschatology and the Kingdom of God, and those five together make up a great deal of what Christianity is. :-)

01 January 2005

The uniqueness of Jesus?

In response to a friend struggling with the Christian belief in the uniqueness of God's Incarnation in Jesus, I offered some of my own thoughts on the matter:

OK, to take a convenient starting point: I believe (in my postmodernfashion) that the traditional Christian model of God as a Trinity ofthree persons in communion is an authentic way to talk about God. (Postmoderns tend to like words like "authentic" and "genuine" better than ones like "true" and "objective" and "absolute".) I'm not saying it's The True Way to talk about God--I think that there are other very authentic models for God-talk, including the Jewish insistence on"Unity. Period." and the "ineffable Godhead and effable God" model of recent Christian theologians. But I believe that, as limited human concepts go, it's authentic.

Therefore, I think it's authentic to talk about a Son of God, one of three persons of the eternal Trinity. I think that Son of God has been active in the world throughout history--among other things, "standing at the door" of each of our hearts "and knocking," as the Book of Revelation says. I imagine the Son's been active in other ways, but I do believe that the most definitive, visible, and downright amazing way the Son of God has been active in our world was in the Incarnation in the human Jesus of Nazereth. I think that this Incarnation, including Jesus's life, teachings, healings, sufferings, death, and resurrection, in some mysterious way is instrumental and central to God's graceful plan of Salvation, whatever that is. I think that that manifestation of the Son of God in the Incarnation in Jesus of Nazareth is so amazing, that it's worth wholeheartedly devoting the rest of my life to following him (again, whatever that means--discipleship is another big topic.) And, I've found that the evidence in my own life and in the lives of those around me is that, once having made this decision, I can perceive the gifts of the Holy Spirit (that other person in that authentic model called Trinity) aiding me in my pursuit of discipleship--just as the Bible writers claimed.

None of this precludes the also-unique (but *for me*, not as definitive) workings of God in the lives of God's billions of other human children throughout history. I think God is clearly "incarnate" in God's creation in many, many ways, especially in human beings, but from my own point of view, in no case more definitively and in no case more salvifically (how's that for a big, undefined word) and and no case more worthy of my discipleship than in Jesus of Galilee.

Hope that helps. I'm not really trying to convince you of anything, just stating how for a postmodern like me, I find it possible to find deep, profound meaning in doctrines like the Incarnation without it being quite so rationally black-and-white and sounding like the big guy with the white beard turned into the little guy with the brown beard and it's a cut-and-dried as that.

Christmas giving

The following is a true story, though names have been changed to protect folks' privacy.

When I contacted Carolyn Mysel, Food and Holiday Committee chairperson at CHO, about my Discipleship Group's desire to adopt a family for Christmas, she responded with an e-mail describing briefly how the CHO holiday adoption process usually works (the adopting group contacts the family in need to find out about their needs--often food, clothing, and/or toys--then decides what they're able to give and makes an appointment to meet the family to deliver their donations). She also asked what sort of needs we thought we might be able to fulfill (essentially, our budget) so she could try to match us up with an appropriate family. But then, almost as an afterthought and without waiting for an answer to the question she'd just asked, Carolyn mentioned that she had been talking to a Latino family of three--husband, wife, and the wife's mom--who had fallen on hard times. The young wife, Carmen, was pregnant with the couple's first child, and it had become a very difficult pregnancy, to the extent that surgery had been necessary already, and Carmen had been prescribed constant bed rest for the remainder of her pregnancy--until April. Unfortunately, Carmen, a medical assistant, had been the sole breadwinner for the family,because her mother, Rosa, who had been a nurse in Uruguay, had not been able to find work in Virginia, and Carmen's husband Miguel did not yet have his working papers to be legally employed in the country. Now Carmen was not able to work.

Carolyn didn't know what this family's needs were for Christmas, and neither did I--nor did I know the answer to Carolyn 's question about our budget. But I felt that something (the Spirit?) had prompted Carolyn to suggest this family to us, so I said yes.

I called and spoke with Carmen, thinking, "They don't yet have any kids, so they don 't need toys. But they probably need food or clothing." But Carmen, who sounded tired but happy to talk to me, said that what she would really love more than anything would be a new mattress. The one they had had come from Goodwill, and was used, lumpy, and uncomfortable--especially for someone who faced spending the bulk of her time for the next 3 to 4 months resting on it! By the same token, she would also love to have a reclining chair of some kind--she was just thinking of a beach chair--so she could get out of bed and sit by the window sometimes. When I pressed her further, she said that her mom's bed was pretty uncomfortable too. Did they need food? Well, they had a source for food, but something special for Christmas might be nice. Clothing? Not really. They had all they needed.

I came away from this conversation thinking: What a wonderful family. God will help us to get them what they need, one way or the other. We weren't expecting their need to be furniture, but since it is, God will provide. Despite thinking this at that time, I was still fairly dumbfounded when God did, in fact, provide--again and again and again. As a group, we thought of ways in which we could call on other resources--other Discipleship Groups, for example--to help come up with the money for what could have been some rather expensive items. That didn't prove necessary. Patricia Kehler's colleague Jill had a twin bed she wanted to donate, perfect for mom Rosa. CHO had been holding onto a very lovely, comfy chair that both reclines and "stands up" at the flip of a switch, for just such a need. They also had a high-quality, like-new Queen-size mattress and box spring for Carmen and Miguel.

These latter items we delivered--some of the CHO furniture stalwarts,some friends of mine, and myself--the Friday a week before Christmas Eve. Carmen had somehow come by a reclining beach chair, and she was using it with obvious discomfort. She and her mom were thrilled to see us, and Rosa helped clear the way as we brought in the bed and the chair, and took their old bed back to the CHO truck, so it would in turn help someone else in need. Carmen moved to the sofa, and her eyes lit up as I installed, plugged in, and tried out her cool new chair. :-)

In the end, we as a group of 10+ ended up spending less than $200 on a turkey, some bed rails, and some grocery store gift cards so they can have a special holiday dinner or two. With that small investment, God has fulfilled (or is fulfilling) every need they told us about for Christmas, and then some. Further, I received much more than that in donations from members of the group at our meeting Monday night, which we'll use to help fulfill this family's ongoing needs. We've found out about some additional furniture needs which are less urgent--nightstands and dressers for their bedrooms. At present, between the generosity of group members and the resources of CHO, we know how we can fulfill 3 out of 4 of these needs right away! Also,they'll have ongoing needs for utility bills, food, and, as April approaches, baby items, and we plan to use our resources to help them with these needs, in partnership with another church that's also helping them. We've got a good start already, and I have confidence that for the most part we need only do as we have done and try to stay out of God's way and let God use us as instruments of God's love.

So after our meeting on the Monday night before Christmas, five of us from the group set out for Carmen's apartment with a turkey, gift cards, bed rails, love, and joy, not necessarily in that order. I led the caravan, and the group learned that this was not a wise idea, as I got us lost, not once but twice, in my own town. :-) Still, we made it, though I'm not sure they believed me when I said I just thought we'd like to see as many of our neighbors' Christmas lights as possible on the way. :-) We gathered outside the family's apartment door, after first trying to figure out if we knew any Christmas carols. We settled on "We Wish You a Merry Christmas." We knocked, and mom Rosa answered the door. We burst into song, and knew most of the words. :-) Rosa invited us in, and we entered. The apartment looked snug and warm and cheery--the table was set with warm red-and-green napkins and placemats, and they had a small artificial Christmas tree, which sparsely but prettily. All three family members were home, and all three greeted us warmly. Best of all, Carmen was looking very comfortable in her new comfy reclining chair--a major contrast to when I'd last seen her, looking somewhat pained and tired in the beach chair.

She was all smiles, and told us that she loved her new bed and chair. The chair had the unexpected bonus that they had set it up near their computer in the living room, and now she could keep in touch with her former co-workers at the medical center. She was clearly very happy about this, since she had had to stop working there so suddenly. We all introduced ourselves and chatted a little. Carmen mentioned that this has been especially difficult for her, because she's a bit of a workaholic, and now she can do hardly anything for herself! But she and her family were clearly happy and felt blessed, and wished us all a Merry Christmas. We wished them the same, and it seemed clear that they would have one, despite their difficulties. Since it was late (did I mention we got lost?), we didn't stay long, but were all struck, I think, by the general warmth and cheer in that apartment. It was there before we got there, but I think we were all thankful that God gave us the opportunity to add to it and also to become apart of it, and take some home with us.


Well, folks, I've become something of a non-blogger lately. Been busy. To rectify that, I'm going to recycle some potentially interesting e-mails I've sent recently into blog entries. Some of them will touch on some of the topics I mentioned in the (relatively) recent "Placeholder" post. Most won't. Oh well.