Huston Smith, the man who helped the world understand other faiths, perhaps more than almost anyone else, died on Dec. 30 at age 97.
I first learned of it when my oldest sister, who lives in Berkeley, Calif., not far from Huston and Kendra Smith, sent me a note saying he had breathed his last about 7:30, the morning of Dec. 1, at his Berkeley home.
I was surprised that it took until Jan. 1 for a news story to show up about the death of this remarkable religion scholar.
Dec. 4 was a beautiful reminder, in the long struggle for justice, that, no matter how long we wait, God hears our cry. And love and justice will win.
A few weeks ago, Chief Arvol Looking Horse issued an invitation to clergy and faith leaders to stand in solidarity with the people of Standing Rock. He said he was hoping maybe 100 would respond. But I joined thousands, in a procession of faith leaders, to gather around the sacred fire at the Oceti Sakowin Camp at Standing Rock.
I knew something special was happening here.
Instead of promoting Christ, Christians often promote …
their spiritual practices
their specific type of baptism
their required form of communion
their style of sermon
their definition of salvation
their philosophy of evangelism
their form of ministry
their brand of worship
their interpretation of Revelation
their interpretation of the Bible
their favorite leadership model
their social customs
their laws, rules, and regulations
their political beliefs
their moral values
Imagine if Christians introduced people to their God instead of their religion.
Here are the criteria for post-Christianity according to Barna:
1. do not believe in God
2. identify as atheist or agnostic
3. disagree that faith is important in their lives
4. have not prayed to God (in the last year)
5. have never made a commitment to Jesus
6. disagree the Bible is accurate
7. have not donated money to a church (in the last year)
8. have not attended a Christian church (in the last year)
9. agree that Jesus committed sins
10. do not feel a responsibility to “share their faith”
11. have not read the Bible (in the last week)
12. have not volunteered at church (in the last week)
13. have not attended Sunday school (in the last week)
14. have not attended religious small group (in the last week)
15. do not participate in a house church (in the last year)
As I read through the list I am struck by the evangelical bias. There are very specific practices included in this list (Bible study, house churches, sharing the faith, small group attendance, Sunday school) that reveal this bias. They are asking about practices they consider normative, their presence and their absence. There is no mention of receiving the Eucharist, charitable giving, or social outreach such as volunteering in a soup kitchen.
Let me be clear, I am not judging them positively or negatively on their list. Instead, I'm intrigued ... deeply and profoundly intrigued, truth be told.
Our text this morning, brothers and sisters, is from the inimitable Scottish devout Robert Louis Stevenson, writing (ostensibly) about his native city:
“Indeed, there are not many uproars in this world more dismal than that of the Sabbath bells in Edinburgh: a harsh ecclesial tocsin; the outcry of incongruous orthodoxies, calling on every separate conventicler to put up a protest, each in his own synagogue, against ‘right-hand extremes and left-hand defections.’ And surely there are few worse extremes than this extremity of zeal; and few more deplorable defections than this disloyalty to Christian love. Shakespeare wrote a comedy of ‘Much Ado About Nothing.’ The Scottish nation made a fantastic tragedy on the same subject. And it is for the success of this remarkable piece that these bells are sounded every Sabbath morning on the hills above the Forth. How many of them might rest silent in the steeple, how many of those ugly churches might be demolished and turned once more into useful building materials, if people who think almost exactly the same thoughts about religion would condescend to worship God under the same roof! But there are the chalk lines. And which to pocket pride, and speak the foremost word?”
Let us talk for a minute, blunt and honest and not polite for a change, about that which is never said and ought to be: that the divisions and disagreements among the Christian sects and traditions are silly and selfish.
I'm sure it will end on September 12 when the news media go back to reporting the most urgent question of our time -- which GOP candidate will win the tea party debate on Monday night? -- but this past weekend's coverage of the 10th anniversary of 9/11 was relentless. (I know I could just turn off the TV, but when you write a blog on religion, culture, and politics, you gotta do the research).
The packaging of the 9/11 narrative, with its stunning visuals, has been masterful these last 10 years -- compelling, emotional, inspiring. And ratings gold.
But it strikes me that grieving-through-media does not serve us well, individually or collectively.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was at home in Washington, D.C. getting ready to go to Sojourners' office. I was upstairs listening to the news on NPR when I heard the first confusing report of a plane crashing into the south tower of the World Trade Center. I immediately called downstairs to Joy and asked her to turn on the television to see what was going on. Moments later, as we ate breakfast together with our three-year-old son Luke, we watched the second plane strike the north tower. I still remember my first response to Joy, "This is going to be bad, very bad," I said.
Of course, I meant more than just the damage to the Twin Towers and the lives lost, which became far greater than any of us imagined at first. Rather, my first and deepest concern was what something like this could do to our country and our nation's soul. I was afraid of how America would respond to a terrorist attack of this scope.
Rose Berger from Sojourners magazine spoke to the hundreds of us gathered in Lafayette Park just before we processed to the fence surrounding the White House. She mentioned the irony of building a monument to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by the powerful political forces who disregarded or dismissed his message during his lifetime -- we only honor him after he is safely dead. How ironic also that the dedication of the monument was postponed by the most recent example of significant climate change. Will evidence of climate change begin to also signal political change?
Rose called on us to take up the banner of the Living Spirit of Dr. King within ourselves and allow it to inspire us as we risked arrest by calling on President Obama to take a clear stand to help protect our environment and begin to make a U-turn from the climate change path we are traveling as a nation and culture. We are part of a two-week vigil and civil disobedience action calling the president to deny permission for building the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline from the environmentally devastating tar sands/oil shale development in Alberta, Canada to refineries in Texas.
The email came just a few days before two Jewish rabbis and two Muslim friends joined two of us Christian ministers for a Sunday morning service. This service was part of a national event called Faith Shared.