God Ignored?

English: South African Anglican Archbishop Des...
English: South African Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu delivered a speech at the first International Ethics Conference at the University of Botswana. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Religion, says Bishop Desmond Tutu in his book, God is Not a Christian: And Other Provocations, “…should foster sisterhood and brotherhood, which should encourage tolerance, respect, compassion, peace, reconciliation, caring and sharing.” To the contrary, however, Tutu notes that religion “…has fueled alienation and conflict, and has exacerbated intolerance and injustice and oppression. Some of the ghastliest atrocities have happened and are happening in the name of religion,” Tutu writes.

Why in the name of all that is good is that true?

It sometimes feels that God is absent, or perhaps lounging, watching His/Her children be as completely human as they care to be – meaning, God leaves us to our own devices. In many ways, we are like the Biblical prodigal son, who insulted his father by asking for his inheritance while his father was very much alive. Such an act in Middle Eastern culture was unheard of, and should have driven his father to wild rage, writes Kenneth Bailey in his book, Finding the Lost Cultural Keys to Luke 15. Instead, writes Bailey, the father swallowed his hurt and insult, and granted his son the gift of freedom. He watched …as his son made a horrible decision, alienated his family and community, and went off to be as completely human as he cared to be.

In that story, the son “comes to himself,” and decides to go back home, and his father runs to meet him, which prominent men of that day did not do, lifting up his heavy robes exposing his legs so that he could run faster, again, something which was not acceptable for him to do. One did not run; one did not expose his or her legs. This father did both.

Stories like that serve as reminders that God is not absent, but that God really does allow us to be free – even if our being free results in oppression and intolerance and unkindness amongst ourselves as squabbling children.

It makes me want to say to God, “God, please, can you be a little more strict? Can you please cut down or cut back on this free will thing? Don’t you want a good world?” God allows us, as His/Her children, to take our inheritance of love and go to a “far land.”  Yes, we are free! But with our freedom, we are wildly irresponsible, causing so much chaos and pain.

Did God ask us to do things like love our enemy, or forgive folks, or …do to others as we would like done to us …knowing that we would never do it? That the way God wired us made it almost impossible?

Right now, there is a civil war in Syria – amongst religious people. Some of our lawmakers, like Sen. John McCain, seem to be pushing for our country to become involved militarily – like “boots on ground” involvement – in that country’s civil war. The Syrians are doing horrible things to each other, and some Americans want us to help them do it. Protestants and Catholics fought against each other in Ireland; Christians fought against each other in our own Civil War. In the case of Syria, I wonder if those who are fighting each other stop long enough for traditional prayers. My guess would be that they do.

What is it about religion that makes its adherents so incapable of doing what religion is supposed to foster, the things that Bishop Tutu raised in his book?

It seems that very few of us “get it.” The new pope, Pope Francis, seems to get it, that as a religious person, are all held to a higher standard. The other day he interacted with a young boy who has Down Syndrome, inviting him to sit in the pope’s seat in the pope-mobile. A small gesture, for sure, but one that made a profound impact on that young boy and probably changed his life. He’ll probably want to be pope one day so that he can pay forward what Pope Francis gave to him. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/19/pope-francis-down-syndrome_n_3465684.html)  He has said that “Christianity is incompatible with anti-Semitism,” and says that he is going to work to deepen and improve the relationship between Catholics and Jews. (http://www.religionnews.com/2013/06/24/pope-francis-christianity-is-incompatible-with-anti-semitism/). He is not being a reticent prelate, and his determination to be amongst the people is not going unnoticed. That kind of involvement with “the least of these” would probably help us all be nicer to each other. People have a need to be touched, loved and affirmed.

Is it that religion, in general, is reluctant to mingle with “the least of these” that helps breed what Tutu calls “ghastly atrocities?”

We have God, but we are not all that interested in worshiping Him/Her – if worship means to honor God by following God’s directions. We worship the Bible, wrote the late Rev. Peter Gomes, chaplain at Harvard University; in fact, Gomes said, this “bibliolatry” has superseded our desire and ability to connect with God. Gomes writes in The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Head and Heart,” that “in the absence of a visible God, the temptation is always near to make a god of whatever is visible and related in some proximate way to the real thing.”  Perhaps. Or perhaps we make a god of whatever is visible and related to our own ideologies and prejudices. Ideology kicks theology out of the game.

So, in the name of an ignored God, the late Osama bin Laden, purported to be a devout Muslim, plans and executes a plan to bomb the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon, though that part of the plan failed thanks to the brave people on that flight. In the name of an ignored God, churches spew venom against gays and lesbians. In the name of an ignored God, racism, anti-Semitism, and sexism have flourished. So many times the oppression of people and groups have been the worst inside of churches and in spite of a professed belief in God.

God allows us to go to a far place …and stay there.

Maybe we’d do better with a little less freedom.

A candid observation …

 

 

The Beauty and Power of Forgiveness

Deutsch: Desmond Tutu beim Evangelischen Kirch...
Image via Wikipedia

Once, not long ago, I listened to a white woman say that she was not interested in learning African-American history. “It’ll just make us mad,” she said, explaining that she knew the history was not good. She would rather just not know about it.

I thought her sentiments rather unfortunate. The only way America will heal of her horrid racism is by embracing the history that is hers. The embracing would be for knowledge, for understanding, not for criticism or blame. Both whites and blacks in America run from our racial history, to the detriment of our nation.

Krista Tippet, in her NPR program, On Being, recently interviewed Bishop Desmond Tutu. He said in that interview, “If these white people had wanted to keep us in bondage, they shouldn’t have given us the Bible!” The Bible, Bishop Tutu said, is “dynamite.” The “scriptures say that we are created in the image of God; each one of us is a God-carrier. No matter the color of our skin,” Tutu continued, “it does not take away our intrinsic worth.”

In Tutu’s South Africa, most  black African women were called “Annie,” and most black men were called “boy,” because, the white people said, their African names were too difficult to pronounce. It was humiliating for the blacks, and yet, Tutu said, there was a need to forgive.

The scriptures demand it.

Interfaith cooperation helped make forgiveness the goal in South Africa. “God faith inspired people to great acts of courage,” he said. God faith made people to want to fall into the arms of forgiveness instead of the arms of revenge and enmity.

In the 1990s, there was, according to Tippet, a “heart-felt apology” on the parts of some in South Africa. “Just as we were recovering our breath, the God of surprises” revealed himself, said Tutu. Apartheid could not be justified scripturally. Those white clergy who said that suffered expulsion from their churches. No matter. What they stood for was right, and they were involved in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which Tutu chaired. People who had been damaged by apartheid came forward and told their stories. For many, it was the first time they realized how horrible apartheid had been.

Tutu said, “I was amazed at how powerful it was to be able to tell your story.  You could see in the number of people who for so long had been faceless…there was something to rehabilitate them. It was a healing thing.”

Tutu related the story of a young black man who had been blinded by police officers. After he told his story, a member of the Commission asked him, “How do you feel?” and the young man said, “You have given me back my eyes.”

When victims meet the perpetrator, Tutu said, they have a chance to drain the bitterness and anger out. Healing becomes possible, for victim and for oppressor. “We discovered…despite the fact that it was not a requirement…those who heard would turn to the victims, and say, “Please, forgive us,” and almost always, the victims would.”

What would happen if such commissions were held in America? We continually sweep the horrors of racism under the rug, all of us, black and white, and as long as we do that, there can be no forgiveness, no healing.

Tutu says that when he is asked if South Africa has achieved reconciliation, he asks them to look at Germany. “In Germany…where there are people who are speaking the same language, they are still alienated.”

Forgiveness…works.

In South Africa, in spite of many different ethnic groups, with people speaking many different languages, reconciliation has been achieved. “The promotion of national unity, reconciliation, has been set in place.” It is not complete, but reconciliation is a “national project.” It is a process, he says, a process which America has never engaged in.

Tutu says the world in general and South Africa in particular, has underestimated the damage apartheid has imposed on the psyches of the people, both black and white. The same can be said for what American racism has done  in our country. The cloud of white supremacy and the underlying belief of black inferiority has taken its toll. It has done much damage.

America has not dealt with racism; she has not dealt with the damage done to a nation which has made one race think it is superior, and the other, grossly inferior. Tutu says South Africans are damaged. So are Americans.

It took a lot of courage for Bishop Tutu and others to call for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Forgiveness is a process, not an event. The first step, it seems is for the victims of horrid racism to be given a chance to tell their stories. Amazingly, anger dissipates. There is room for God, who, ultimately, is in charge.

It would be a wonderful thing if America had, long ago, made room for the God of surprises. God wants his people to live together. God wants forgiveness, wants us to give and to receive forgiveness. There is a beauty and a power in forgiveness.

The problem is not God. It is us…

A candid observation …