I give thanks to God for the 21% of atheists who, according to the recent study by Pew, affirm their belief in Her or Him, and I am blown away by the holiness of such people who manage to pray once a week. In fact, I think that I aspire to being one of them (though with a bit more regular prayer).
Of course the quick response to such a finding is that American atheists must not be a very bright group if over a fifth of them say that they believe in God. Don’t they know what the word means?! But in truth, they may be way ahead of many of us who count ourselves among the faithful.
Perhaps what this twenty-one percent is expressing is their awareness that the categories of both “faith in God” and “atheism,” as both are commonly used, are too narrow to capture the complexity of that which they believe and that which they do not. It seems to me entirely reasonable to deny the existence of the old man in the sky which most people have in mind when they use the word “God”, affirm belief in something/someone, and accept that one may as well use the word that most people use when they want to talk about something which is, almost by definition, beyond human language.
The disbelief of these atheists sparkles with a holiness that in Jewish tradition has been the hallmark of none less than the biblical Abraham and the great Moses Maimonides. It was the latter who insisted that no positive statements could be made about God because they would constraint an infinite being to finite language.
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That’s the challenge to the listeners, and to myself, on my weekly radio show. Hirschfield and Kula is carried on Portland’s KXL Newsradio 750, and finds the spiritual perspective on everything from how we raise our kids, to politics, to movies.
Listen in to this week’s conversations which deal with how we consume, what that says about who we are — from alcohol to the the size of our mortgages, are we out of control or just expressing our freedom?
The breaking controversy about the acceptability of things like gayness and the ordination of women in the Anglican Church is important for all of us, whatever we think about these issues and whether or not we are even Anglicans. Why? Because the way this struggle is unfolding, whether at the just concluded Jerusalem conference of Anglican conservatives, here in this country or around the world is about something much larger – something which effects all spiritual communities and also personal relationships. It’s about the importance of recalling that the people in front of us should always be more important than the ideas inside of us.
A quick read of the statements from players on both sides of this conflict show people more interested in power over each other, than in relationships with each other. This isn’t about sex, or ordination, or anything else. It’s about who controls the boundaries of orthodoxy and the terms of membership in the community. If it were otherwise, there would be statements from both sides about how painful the prospect of separation of the factions would be. There would be a process of re-examination of the values which these sides share, even if those shared values translate into different policies on critical issues.
I am not naïve, and I do appreciate that sometimes, different members of a church, community, or family must go their separate ways. But when they do so without taking every opportunity to affirm the dignity of those from whom they are separating, they loose whatever moral edge they think they have.
If each party to this dispute really wants to work it out, they probably can because the emotional pain that each feels is identical. Each side feels abandoned. One side because they are not fully included equals in the church, either because of their gayness or by virtue of being women. And the other side because it feels that their understanding of what it means to be Anglican, has been thrown over, and them with it.
I hope that the coming days see an effort from the Church, not to clarify orthodoxy, but to reaffirm relationships among all those who would call themselves Anglicans. If they did that, they would provide a role model for a world filled with religious folks who would rather fight about who understands God properly, rather than experience how much they share with all those who are making the effort to understand God at all.
It’s Friday and if you are like me, and lots of other people, you are already thinking about the weekend. Of course if you hate your job, then you’ve probably been doing that since last Monday, but that’s a whole other conversation. For now though, I want to begin what I hope will be a weekly part of this blog, one which shares a practice that brings a little joy and renewal to our lives, which is what the weekend should be about.
For me, these practices are connected to Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath, but they are not only for Jews. They are for anyone who wants tools to help them celebrate their lives and the people in them. In fact, they are not restricted to any particular day of week either. I just think that each of them, if done once a week, will make your life better and happier.
Today’s practice is to buy flowers once a week for someone about whom you care, and hand-deliver them if at all possible. Why? Because the experience of giving something living to someone about whom you care, is a powerful thing. Yes, a plant works to. In fact, it may be even better because it is fully alive. But cut flowers still eat and drink, so I think were okay on the living point. And since there is also something to be said for giving to the same person week after week, unless they have a really big house or garden, flowers are better. I suppose a new pet would count too, but it’s one of those gifts that demands an awful lot of the recipient, so I would not go there.
The idea that we can bring beauty into each other lives is an important thing of which to remind ourselves, especially at the end of a long week in which we may have forgotten that. The fact that most people place flowers in public spaces also evokes that memory in a way that can be shared with others e.g. “Those are lovely flowers”, “Thanks, my (husband, partner, friend, you choose) gave them to me.
Just reminding ourselves that we can be the givers of gifts to those about whom we care, restores a sense of joy and capacity with which we may have lost touch. Not to mention the look in their eyes when we hand them the gift. And that is why I like bringing flowers to the same person each week – in my case, my wife. If the week has been good, then it’s a celebration of what has been. But if it has not been so good, it’s a way to start over, remind ourselves that we can actually do that and that we have enough good feeling to do so – I bought the flowers, right?
I love the fact that anyone can do this. You need no special training for this ritual, and it doesn’t cost a great deal of money. It doesn’t matter what else you have planned for the weekend and you don’t have to consider yourself religious or even spiritual for this one. You just need to know that whatever else is going on, there is still some beauty in the world and that you can convey it and share it with others.
Have fun shopping and have a wonderful weekend!