Monthly Archives: January 2011

“Tra-di-tion! Tradition!” (Science and Religion)

Maybe you’ve seen the film, “Fiddler on the Roof,” and the struggles that the main character, Tevye, has with his children and whether they should conform to tradition or not.

In many ways, the struggle of whether traditions have become outdated or not is the struggle between science and religion, today.  I would say (and have said!) we need both.  Neither ought to exclude the other.

I join in religious community for some grounding.  I follow a liturgical tradition – which, to the outsider, may smack of outdated tradition – because it helps me to observe occasion respectfully, and to use words and images that can connect me to what I believe in ways that other things can’t.  So, when I gather with other Christians and we share in Eucharist, or Holy Communion, I don’t believe that we are eating the literal body and drinking the literal blood of Jesus Christ.  Instead, I join with other Christians in this ritual to remind me that we are all connected – wherever we come from, whatever we do – and that we are remembered, wherever we may go, having completed whatever we’ve have done.  And this ritual is made tangible in the taste and touch of a loaf of bread and cup of wine.  …other examples would include the ritual of baptism, or ashes on the forehead on Ash Wednesday, or singing together, or hearing stories of our ancestors in the faith – they all have meaning beyond the literal.  The point of religion, as I see it, is to engage in the uniqueness of life in order that life might have meaning for the individual, and we go about doing this in community.  Sometimes religious life gets caught up in the details of the corporation, and imposes such institution-building ideas on people (which leads to feelings of guilt, or denial of the individual), and I think that is to its detriment.

At the same time, I’m grateful to the evidence-based observations and learnings of science.  In medicine, we have learned all kind of things through experiment and new knowledge.  Often, old knowledge is replaced through experimentation and new understanding.  In technological advancement, be it computers or airplanes or what-have-you, I am grateful for new advances as well, and am happy to make use of them!  New technology often replaces old technology – even to the point where old technology is obsolete and has no further purpose.  New learning can often replace old understandings.  The point of science, as I understand it (and I say that because I simply have not studied it in depth), is to find final answers – that is, to narrow in on details so that we might know definitively how things work.  I am amazed at what we, as a species, have discovered, and continue to be at awe with what we continue to find out!  Knowledge really is power.

So, in these musings, I have wondered about the relationship between science and religion.  For me, they are not exclusive by any means. So, science and religion are both necessary. I have thought that perhaps one way of looking at the two and how they related is this: Science works to have checks in place so no one is wrong; Religion works to have checks in place so no one is right.

Commitment (!)

Dare I blog about this?  …after all, people may assume I have certain perspectives on commitment – be it whether I expect it of them (coming to church and giving in the offering plate) or if it is something we all should do (eg. get married).  I don’t intend to be over-in-depth about this, but rather convey some thoughts…

I’ve read recently about several celebrities commenting on marriage.  George Clooney, a divorcee, has said he’ll never get married again.  Shakira – the Colombian pop-singer – is engaged, but prefers the role of ‘eternal girlfriend’ to ‘wife.’  Elton John has chimed in about same-sex marriage and how it’s viewed in the USA and what that means for him and his spouse.

The thing is, our culture is pushing more and more towards individualism to the point of commitment being seen as a hindrance.  We are encouraged not to sign contracts with cell phone companies; pre-nuptial arrangements are standard for the excessively rich; and a regular, sustaining, financial gift to a charity (as opposed to an occasional gift) is unusual for most people.

It may well be that marriage is a particular kind of commitment that people have an aversion to these days for reasons like ‘the church is out-dated.’  So, because of scandal in the church, people don’t want to connect with such an institution; or, because of certain church groups’ stance on same-sex unions, some people don’t want to be connected with such ultra-conservatism.  For those reasons, I can understand people’s aversion a little bit.

The institution of marriage is different, today, than it was years ago – and not even that many years ago.  In North American, western culture, it is acceptable to live with one’s partner without being wed.  It was only a few decades ago when that was taboo.  Peoples’ views on sexual relationships, and sex in the media, are different today – perhaps influenced by the internet (for good and bad).

As a clergy-person, I have been asked to do baptisms, weddings, and funerals.  It’s true that I have not done a lot of any of them; and, of any of them, I have done funerals the most.  I think our cultural and societal views of commitment influence peoples’ acceptance or rejection of these rites.  There’s a thought that one must dive in, whole-hog, into church life if one is going to consider baptism (for themselves or a child) or wedding in the church; on the other hand, I get the impression that people are more willing to engage the church when it comes to times of loss and death.

I would tell people who are questioning that baptism and wedding ceremonies are not meant as life-long encumbrances to the church, but rather a ‘marker’ for friends and family to celebrate a relationship.  That is, a relationship that has begun in new life (baptizing an infant, or welcoming an adult into a church family) or a relationship that is already blossoming (a wedding between two people who love each other).  And, without such ceremony or observance, we deny ourselves an opportunity to celebrate life!  In baptism and in marriage, we give ourselves an anniversary to celebrate love and relationship.

In terms of committing to financial support, I think people need to inform themselves better of an organization before supporting it.  Does it fit with your set of values?  And, might there be some incentive to give (for example, many non-profit organizations can issue income tax receipts, as churches do)?  Is the organization wise with its use of funds (eg. how much goes into non-direct-work like administration and promotion)?  And when we’re willing to commit to giving to an organization – in the sense that that becomes part of one’s household regular budget – we can take some ownership in the successes of the organization, as well: we’ve contributed to making it happen.

In all of this – particularly in the thoughts I’m expressing, here, about marriage commitment – I’d like to add that I’m aware of ‘alternative relationships’ that exist these days.  I know that there are such things as “open relationships,” for example.  It seems to me still, though, that a sense of rooted-ness comes with being able to have some kind of long-term commitment with another person – however that may be arranged.

I would suggest that we allow ourselves to commit more than we do.  It becomes a matter of trust, and faith that we put in our fellow human beings.  (And, to be clear, I would hope that the church would open itself better to new expressions of love – that same-sex relationship not be denied, but be supported and welcomed fully in more, even all, denominations.  I work towards such full inclusion in the ministry I do in Lutheran circles.)

Martin Luther King Jr Day

“Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood, now is the time to make justice a reality.” Martin Luther King Jr (from the “I Have A Dream” speech, August 28, 1963)

Justice comes in at least two different, broad forms.  There is ‘retributive justice’ – having to do with policing and settling scores (vengeance can be a form of retributive justice).  And there is ‘distributive justice’ – having to do with goods and rights being passed out evenly.  As I see things, Christians ought to engage in working towards justice of the distributive kind (whereas they would have little to no place in engaging in retributive justice).

Martin Luther King Jr was an articulate proponent in favour of justice – distributive justice – for all people.

We would want to build walls of division, or draw lines as to where our rights and property are infringed upon or held up.  But we’re called to work towards the rights of all.  We’re called to hold up what is of utmost concern and importance, no matter what, and that is: life.

I’m conscious, for myself, that I have certain agendas and pursuits that are personal – I want the best for myself and my family.  But sometimes that can be at the expense of another.  Is my living making it hard for another person to live?  As a concrete example: do my choices at the store (conscious or without thinking) keep a person somewhere else in a cycle of poverty – am I buying something cheaply, but is that price being borne by someone else?

And once my needs and wants are met, do I work towards the rights and needs of others?  Does my concern end only when I am “full”?

A quote that I’ve used a number of times is “an injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  Martin Luther King Jr wrote this from jail in the 1960s.  He’s absolutely correct.  We must always raise up the cause of our fellow creatures and parts of creation!  The work of justice does not end when our needs are met – it only might end when there is justice, enough, for all.

An Appearance

(I’m conscious that this is the first blog entry this month – even this year!  If you’re looking for the January Paradox newsletter, please note that it was posted on December 21st.)

Today is Epiphany.  It’s the feast day in the church-year where it is revealed that Jesus is the incarnation of God in human form.

An image that comes to mind about incarnation is that of peoples’ expressions at hospitals.  If you’re in the maternity ward, there are smiles and happy people.  If you are in the intensive care unit, or palliative care, peoples’ expressions are often much more somber, even sad.  As can be expected, people have an innate love for life, and fear of death – but we may not stop to ponder life or death all that much.

The inbreaking of God into the human experience – entering history in the person of Jesus Christ – is reason for wonder.  We use the image of light breaking darkness because Jesus’ life gave us a new vision of how we might be with each other.

God – the source of life, the source of love – is manifest in us, creatures and beings of creation.  We experience closeness with God, or what might be called ‘heaven,’ when we relate well with each other and creation.  We experience distance from God, or what some might call ‘hell,’ when we break relationship with others and when we neglect life.

It’s fitting that Epiphany arrives early in the new calendar-year – January 6th.  It’s a new beginning, a new hope, a new light in the darkness of winter (at least for those of us in the northern hemisphere!).  We celebrate God-among-us as revealed in Jesus Christ, and we give thanks for new life.  It is this appearance of God, revealed in Jesus, that we carry with us – followers of the way of Christ – in our living.  May it be so in 2011!