Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Apple vs. Twinkie

This is too freaking awesome!!! Have a laugh at the sponge cake's expense!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Sunday's Actual Sermon

St. Barnabas Church
August 26, 2007

Year C, Proper 16
Isaiah 28:14-22; Psalm 46; Hebrews 12:18-29; Luke 13:22-30

Shaken, and Stirred
by Anastasia McAteer [note: the title is just for fun; it wasn't published anywhere - except here!]

Aren’t these readings fun? Isaiah says, “when the overwhelming scourge passes through, you will be beaten down by it” and the Psalm tells us “the kingdoms are shaken; God has spoken, and the earth shall melt away” and Hebrews says God shakes the earth, and that God’s voice makes the “hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them,” and then finally Jesus caps it all off with those knocking on God’s door being told, “go away from me, all you evildoers!”

Well. I would like to start by thanking those who create our lectionary, for giving me such delightful passages to work through with you this week. This is a preacher’s joy, believe me. I’m not being entirely sarcastic – I actually realized pretty quickly that it’s an interesting grouping, because they all have something in common. It’s something we here in LA are rather used to: and that’s being shaken. Shaken to our very core.

In our epistle reading, we are reminded again of this ongoing theme of God as a consuming fire. Remember that from last week? And this week, the writer goes on to talk about how God shakes the earth with warnings from heaven, and the psalm speaks of the mountains trembling and the sea foaming, and the Old Testament passage spoke of hail and floods.

God shakes the earth. After the images that have come to us from Peru in the last few weeks – not to mention our own memories of Northridge and other quakes – I have to say that this isn’t a very comforting scripture to meditate upon.

It forces us to remember that God is not safe. The reality of dealing with the living God is that he cannot possibly be contained by us – not in our community, in our church, or on our altar. Even in our world. This God makes wars cease – we cause them. He rains down hail and floods – we turn them into acid. This God speaks and people beg for him to stop; he causes “sheer terror” and an “overwhelming scourge.” God has power like we can’t imagine.

Thinking on these passages, I remembered a well-known line from The Chronicles of Narnia, the great allegory of the kingdom written by C.S. Lewis. The children who star in the story learn that Aslan, the Christ figure, is a lion. They are afraid to meet him, and they ask, “Is he quite safe?” Mr. Beaver replies, “’Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”

The writer of Hebrews struggles for the words to describe the presence of God: “We have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and a darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, and the sound of a trumpet.” It’s beyond our imaginations. It’s not safe. But it’s good.

This bothers us, our not being able to understand God. We want to know why. The philosopher Søren Kierkegaard once said that Christians are like schoolchildren who want to look in the back of the textbook for the answers instead of working through the problems themselves.

And why shouldn’t we demand some answers? The world is falling down around us. People who love each other can’t agree, can’t get along. We make war, we coerce, we argue. Our own denomination is splitting up. We’re banging on the door and God is completely silent; or worse, he seems to be telling us to go away.

God’s work is strange, and alien, says the writer of Isaiah. God does things we cannot understand. How often do we ask “why do bad things happen to good people?” Why would God shake us, or if God’s not causing it, why does God allow it to happen?

Let’s continue reading in Isaiah, and see if we can figure out what this passage is talking about. Turn in your Bibles to Isaiah 28, verses 23-29. This is right after the reading we just heard. So God has just declared that he is going to bring a scourge upon the enemies of his people, and has promised a new kingdom of justice and righteousness. But there will be a lot to go through before that kingdom is established – and God’s people will be caught up in the flood and in the hail. They aren’t safe from the scourge to come.

But the writer of Isaiah goes on to explain why this is necessary, and to promise that there is a reason behind it all. He uses a very common metaphor for them: farming. Let’s read it together: (23-29). Here we are reminded of the violence required to farm land and make crops into food. The dill and cummin – these are spices – have to be threshed and beaten. The grain has to be crushed and the chaff shaken away, so that it can be used to make bread.

So, maybe we should understand the scourge and the terror of the earlier verses as God “farming” the earth. God is plowing under and pulling up weeds and beating the chaff away so that something new and good and nourishing can be created. God wants to make bread out of us: living bread that will feed the world’s real hunger. But in order to do that, we have to submit to being crushed, to being shaken.

Is God punishing us? Or, as the psalm says, is God simply ending human fighting and foolishness? Is this God’s wrath – or is it God’s love?

Last week, we read from Hebrews that God disciplines those he loves. The process is painful. I’m sorry to say it, but faith gets harder, not easier, as we progress through the Christian life (Yancey). There’s no trotting into home base, easing up to a comfortable cruising altitude. If we’re at a comfort level with God, then we’re no longer in touch with the God who isn’t safe.

There is hope, though, right at the end of this passage: the grain is not threshed forever and not pulverized. God doesn’t want to destroy us but make us into something healthy.

Bread is a good thing – a nourishing thing – that comes out of the violent process of threshing. Destruction comes and we are shaken. We are beat like dill and cummin, we are threshed like grains of wheat. Sifting, processing, grinding, pressing, kneading, clarifying – just pick a button on your blender – so much we do in the kitchen can be applied to this strange work of God’s. God shakes us to sift out what cannot be used for the kingdom.

And in the Psalm, we are reminded that no matter what is going on around us – even if the mountains themselves are falling down – God is in the midst of a kingdom that does not shake, that is not moved. God’s voice shakes the earth, Hebrews says, but only to remove the shakeable things. God’s kingdom is not shaken.

Our kingdoms are shaken. The nations make much ado – another Bible version says they are “in an uproar” – because God makes their wars cease, breaks their bows, shatters their spears, burns their shields with fire. God takes away their weapons of mass destruction and commands them to “Be still!” God brings desolation – desolation of our desires, destruction of that which we pursue which is not justice and righteousness. God will drastically change our way of life, our standard of living. What awesome things God will do in this world. What strange and alien things.

We stand before this God with reverence and awe. This God is not safe. But he is good. I don’t even think, from our Hebrews reading, that we can assume heaven is safe. God lives there, after all. But it’s good: God is our refuge and strength.

I think we’re going to be shocked and probably a little scared when we meet God face to face and see with our own eyes how vast God’s kingdom is, how it stretches north and south and east and west, beyond our imagining. We’ll be amazed by how much it encompasses, and especially by all who are there. That’s what our Gospel lesson is about today. Those who try to enter by the narrow door may just find it locked, and those who come from east and west, north and south – they are the ones eating in the kingdom.

In the gospel reading, someone asks Jesus how many people, really, will make it in the end. How many will measure up to God’s standards? So Jesus humors the question: he tells this person to go ahead and strive for the narrow door. Take the difficult path that few will tread. But as he so often does, Jesus follows this up with a reversal: that narrow door may be shut on you. You may think you measure up, but there are no guarantees. Just because you’ve strived for it, the narrow door will not automatically open for you. You can’t be sure that anything you do will ever be enough.

But what Jesus has done, that is enough. Jesus blood is a “better word” than Abel’s, because Jesus’ blood cries out not for vengeance on his murderers, but for mercy on them. For the Father to forgive them, for they know not what they do. Jesus is the Passover lamb, and the mediator between us and the holy God whom we dare not approach alone. God isn’t safe. But God’s Son will be there with us when meet him. Jesus Christ mediates our new covenant with God by shedding his own blood.

Jesus is the ultimate example of bad things happening to a good person. Very few, if any, have tread a path as difficult as his. But he was willing to accept what God called him to – his prayer for his fate to pass from him went unanswered. And those in the kingdom, eating with God, are Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and the prophets, who risked everything for God, who gave up their livelihoods and families and were unpopular and even killed for the sake of what God asked of them. Their’s was a difficult journey, marked by pain and confusion and most of all, not knowing what would come next. Spending years waiting to hear God's voice again.

We must be ready to be changed, to be sifted and shaken. The life of faith only gets harder the longer you live it.

I want you to know that I’m not saying God causes every bad thing that happens as some kind of divine test. I don’t believe that. On the contrary, I think God has very little to do with most evil in the world, but God can always work with it. Know that when you push on God is with you. God can use whatever is happening to refine you, to make you more ready to eat in his kingdom. God is with you. God knows you and loves you and is making you into something new that will nourish this world. God will not pulverize you. God will not let you be crushed beyond what makes you better.

Remember the story of Job? The classic biblical tale of a person who got exactly what he didn’t deserve? Rabbi Abraham Herschel once said, “Faith like Job’s cannot be shaken because it is the result of having been shaken.” [can't find citation for this: anyone?]

The most dangerous person is one who has been shaken and still believes. In another of his novels, The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis writes (and I paraphrase): The enemy’s “cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do [God’s] will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be moved, and though the mountains be toppled into the depths of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, and though the mountains tremble at its tumult.

Dill is beaten out with a stick, and cummin with a rod. Grain is crushed for bread.

We bang on the door and the voice within calls out “I don’t know you!”

How painful it is when God is silent! How difficult it is to be disciplined! But if we want to walk on our own two feet, God has to let go of our hand. (Lewis)

God’s “decree of destruction” is not against us, it’s against evil. God is coming to sweep away the refuge of lies with hail! God is like a fire: he consumes, he destroys, he purifies, and he warms. This work of God is strange, alien to our understanding. He is not safe. But he is good.

We have come to something that cannot be touched, a blazing fire, and a darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words make the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them. His voice shook the earth…but now he has promised, “Yet once more will I shake not only the earth but also the heaven.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of what is shaken – that is, created things – so that what cannot be shaken may remain. True faith cannot be shaken because it is the result of having been shaken.

“Be still!” commands the Lord. We are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken. God is in the midst of the city and that city shall not be moved.

When we are shaken, what is useless will fall away and we will be formed into something nourishing and healthy, something desperately needed for life itself. Like our Lord Christ, we will be blessed and we will be broken, as we offer ourselves for the life of the world.

So let us give thanks…for being shaken, and for the removal of what is shaken so that what cannot be shaken may remain.

“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe, for indeed our God is a consuming fire.”

Monday, August 27, 2007

My bro's got a cd

So my brother's cd has been made, and he's so cute, he's even got a myspace page.

What a guy. He's been writing music since he was 8, so I guess this was inevitable. He's definitely got a "worship leader" kind of sound, but that's certainly not an unpopular way to sound these days. Anyway, check him out (if you like Christian pop).

Philip Yancey: Where are you?

Yesterday I quoted Rabbi Abraham Herschel in my sermon, a neat quote that went like this: "Faith like Job's cannot be shaken because it is the result of having been shaken." I got the quote from Philip Yancey's book, Disappointment with God.

One of my hearers was Prof. John Goldingay, who teaches OT at Fuller and has written a similar kind of book on tough times entitled Walk On. He really liked the quote and, unbeknownst to me, went home and tried to look up its source.

This morning he informed me that he couldn't find a source for it, since Yancey doesn't list one and a Google search was not fruitful. Dr. John thinks it's maybe an urban legend. This got me curious too. So I went to to see if I could contact him, but it's just a dummy address for the publisher. I also checked Christianity Today, since he's an editor for them (or was?), but they don't have an email listed. Makes sense - but I have a real question, not a fan letter.

So we were contemplating who I might know who'd know Yancey, and then J suggested that instead I post here that I am looking for either the source of the quote (since I know some of you RabbITs read this) (that's rabbi-in-training, my friend Gary's self-description) and/or a contact email for Yancey, so that I can ask him where he got it.

It's possible it's from a lecture or something, but then why not cite the lecture? Very curious. I'm not proposing that he made it up, I just would like to know where it comes from.

So if anybody knows the quote in another context and can source it for me, that would be awesome. Otherwise, I'll keep trying to get in touch with Yancey to see if he remembers where it's from. Since I would like to put the sermon up on here, I want to properly cite the quote.

Thanks, guys!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Me Ol' Boss's site is up!

And what a great resource it looks to be! Here's the email from her. I'm sure readers here will find it a fascinating site. (although wow - I started working on the website project for her 3 years ago! I guess good things take a long time)

We write to announce the launching of our new website for the USC Knight Chair in Media and Religion, The site aims to be the go-to destination for resources on covering (and teaching) religion and public life in the 21st century.

Want to know what Buddhists think of masturbation or whether Hindus approve of pre-marital sex? Check it out in “the GET.” Need some background information on the fall TV season's slew of supernatural shows? Read all about it in “the STORY.” Curious about Christiane Amanpour's CNN special on religion and politics? It’s all here. These are just some of the resources, stories, interviews that we've collected to help reporters (and journalism students) expand and enhance interviewing, reporting and writing. Our new media section offers tips and examples of what web-based coverage can do. And the classroom section has syllabi and student examples for teaching about religion and media — including courses on faith in Hollywood.

We're eager to hear your suggestions, comments and ideas for growing and improving our site. We hope you will link to our website from yours and forward our welcome message to your membership. Welcome!

Sunday's Gospel

Nothing is more fun than procrastinating, so I'm going to write a blog post instead of doing my sermon. Actually, I thought of two sermons for this weeks' readings (or one really looooong one), so I'm posting the seeds of the one I'm not preaching here. Someday I'll flesh it out. But contextually, the other is better for the people I'm preaching to, this time. I'll post it after Sunday. Meantime, here is my reinterpretation of this Sunday's gospel lesson - lemme know what you think (it's rather "out there" - but come on, did you expect less from me?). In case you don't know, it's Luke 13:22-30.

Jesus is asked will only a few be saved? And his answer, we immediately think, is the next sentence from his mouth: strive to enter through narrow door, because yes, only a few can get through that door. But what if he's doing his usual thing, telling them what he thinks they want to hear, before explaining that actually no, that won't work as well as you think! There is a whole speech there, not just the first sentence. So let's see what the whole of his answer says...

Will only a few be saved? Well, you guys, you are my followers, and you should try as hard as you can to follow God’s way. But don’t be surprised if you try to get through that door and it’s locked, and you can’t get in. You see, all your striving may not open the door for you. In fact, you may call out to God that you did everything you thought you were supposed to – you came to church, you took Eucharist, you listened to a lot of sermons, good and bad – you clocked your time and now you want your harp and halo. Yet the Father will respond that not only does he now know you, he’ll call you evil! Evil! Doesn’t the Father have any gratitude?

But wait, who is in the kingdom? It’s Abraham and Isaac and Jacob – who were, to put it mildly, pretty big screwups. But they kept their faith in God. They kept doing what God asked of them, even when it didn’t make any sense, and it completely uprooted their lives. They were doing anything but clocking time – they rode a rollercoaster of emotion and confusion and trials that, in the end, created the people of God. And the prophets – these are the very ones that Jesus goes on in the next section to say Jerusalem rejects. Nobody listens to these guys. They come with a word from the Lord, and as we heard in Jeremiah last week, they are unpopular. They are despised. They are often killed. All for stepping out on a limb and preaching faithfully the word from God. Not the word people want to hear, the false prophets’ dreams they attribute to God. The prophets speak the hard truth. And they suffer for it.

So the Kingdom isn’t made up of the people who just clocked their time at temple or in daily prayer, the people who thought they had a good relationship with God, those who rejected bad influences, who obeyed a long list of dos and don’ts. In short, the people who lived a comfortable life with a comfortable God. The people who were first – who ran the churches, who sat in the seat of power, who maybe even wore these robes or fancier ones.

Those people are on the outside looking in at the ones whose lives were turned upside down by God. The ones who were weird and loud and harsh and maybe a little smelly. Who didn’t go to church. Who didn’t say the right prayers. Who didn’t jump through hoops and weren’t interested in church leadership. In there, enjoying the feast, are the ones nobody expected to see there.

And you will weep, because it makes you sad, and you will gnash your teeth, because it makes you mad. You belong in there, not these riff raff. Not these people from far away who never knew your God – not the way you knew Him. (exactly!)

And it may irritate you because you worked so hard. There is nothing wrong with working hard. Jesus says “Strive.” A couple chapters earlier he says to persistently knock on that closed door until the person inside gets so annoyed that they open up for whatever you want. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the prophets, they all went through a lot that tested their faith. They all had to be very persistent.

So, Jesus, will only a few be saved? Not at all. More than you can imagine will be saved. You may want it to be a few – the select few who’ve done everything “right”. But Jesus answers the question by saying, “people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God.” Those that you never in a million years could have expected – the very last on your list – they will be there.

Wanna come?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Finally finished with Jihad

My paper that wouldn't end, ended. Thanks to me going back on my medicine. I can't seem to think without it. So I'm going to wait for the pill-free life until I don't need to think anymore, which will be after this Sunday's sermon is finished. It's going to be quite unpleasant, from what I've experienced so far: basically always feeling dizzy with a massive headache, and pretty much being unable to string words together very well or concentrate on anything very long. Luckily I have Netflix to help me get through the rough spots. Ah, Paxil - it's great while it lasts, but I don't recommend the withdrawal.

Anyhoo, I thought I'd post the final section of my paper (starting a bit before). I'm not posting the whole thing because it's really long and while not boring, it is a lot of info you can get elsewhere. So I'll just post the last bit, which is where I put my own head into the game. I don't come to a lot of conclusions but I definitely try to ask some provocative questions.

E. Islam’s Civil War
Reza Aslan stresses that “jihad is neither a universally recognized nor a unanimously defined concept in the Muslim world.”[1] David Cook wonders if jihad can still be understood in its grand historical context, “Or has the fact that any political and religious malcontent, such as Usama [sic] b. Ladin, can label his struggle jihad caused the term to lose all meaning?”[2] The radicals have not been declared apostate by the greater Muslim community, so Cook concludes that theirs must be “a legitimate expression of Islam.”[3] But not all Muslim scholars will accept this; they insist that Islam itself is engaged in a civil war of sorts over which interpretation of jihad – and the religion itself, by extension – will prevail. The fundamentalists and modernists argued their points over two centuries, and today the debate rages between academics and imams, peasants and ayatollahs, in speech, print, and – too often – violent action. For the most part, the scholars here cited have not given up on peace or accepted the radical position. They request patience:
What is taking place now in the Muslim world is an internal conflict between Muslims, not an external battle between Islam and the West. The West is merely a bystander – an unwary yet complicit casualty of a rivalry that is raging in Islam over who will write the next chapter in its story.[4]

Muslims ask for the same grace to be given them that Christians allow themselves in light of Christianity’s violent past: namely, that what happened then does not have to define them now. Like Christians who see the overarching narrative of their Bible presenting a God of love and mercy, Muslims wish to stress the overall attitude of the Qur’an as promoting justice and peace even as it acknowledges the harsh realities of life. Ali wrote that it was “very unfair of the Christians to make too much of the wars of Muhammad, which were purely of a defensive nature, and offer apologies for the most cruel wars of conquest and extermination by Moses, Joshua and other Jewish worthies under the express commands of God.”[5] Aslan references the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) in which Protestants and Catholics massacred one another, ending the lives of nearly one third of the German populace. It was that war which “signaled the end of the Reformation,” and peace between Christians was eventually attained through a progressive revolution in philosophy and doctrine that began with wary mutual acceptance and has concluded with ecumenical cooperation. “This remarkable evolution in Christianity from its inception to its Reformation took fifteen vicious, bloody, and occasionally apocalyptic centuries” – and Aslan reminds us that Islam is only just beginning its fifteenth.[6]

V. Jihad and the Christian Worldview
This brings the discussion directly to the task of putting the Christian worldview in dialogue with Islam. Jihad is perhaps the most misunderstood concept – and the most necessary to understand – in inter-religious dialogue in the current world climate. Interfaith encounter is poised to heal deep divisions in the world, if it takes advantage of the information available through studies such as this one rather than relying on stereotypes. When Christianity and Islam meet, what similarities, differences, and questions need to be addressed in regards to jihad?

Like in Christianity, there is a wide range of views on scripture and tradition in Islam. Ironically, the fundamentalist Muslims do not advocate a “Qur’an-only” approach but realize they must go beyond the scriptures to support their cause – which is the opposite approach of most fundamentalist Christians. The modernist Muslims use exegetical methods quite similar to those of Liberal Protestants, such as the historical-critical approach. But in both faiths, the majority of laypeople do not agree with the exegesis of the academic elite, preferring to trust their spiritual leader (pastor or imam) to interpret the holy text for them. How will religious leaders handle this disconnect?

Scholars like Cook approach the Qur’an and early traditions as a fundamentalist Christian would the Bible and early church: inerrant and unchangeable. He says that later movements of Islam (Sufism, nineteenth century theologians, today’s scholars) do not hold as much weight as early history in understanding Islamic doctrine. But not all Muslims or Christians feel this way: another viable option is to see religion as an ongoing relationship between God and humanity that has struggled through rough patches, but can continue improving on the past. Scholars like Hathout, Aslan, Köylü, and Zawati believe in the progression of their faith into a new era of peace supported by Qur’anic teaching, just as violence has been sanctioned in former times.

Reza Aslan theorizes that Islam is evolving, going through a Reformation of sorts. Who will determine the future of Islam? Can those from other religions help, or will our participation simply hinder the process? What can Christians do to promote better understanding between Muslim and Muslim? Perhaps our best option is to not directly interfere in conflicts between Muslims, but work instead on promoting a better understanding of Islam among Christians. If we realize the complexities of jihad, we may live in less fear and confusion about the present state of the world. Christians must learn – and teach others – the distinction between jihad and “holy war,” and not conflate jihad with the Crusades. It is true that both Christianity and Islam have violent histories, and we must allow one another the grace to move out from under the shadow of the past.

Up to now, Islam has not been a compartmentalized religion but encompasses all of life. Will Islam need to undergo a revision of mind and secularization of its practices to overcome the violence it has been locked in for so long? Christians may be able to more charitably consider the quarrels and fractures within Islam if we consider our own history. What saved Christianity from civil war, in the end, were philosophical movements that took Christ from the center of public life to an exclusive private realm of individual devotion. Would we wish for Islam what has become of us? Should we use our own history to suggest answers to the present Muslim debates over the future of their religion?

Fundamentalist Sayyid Qutb offers additional points of connection between the faiths. His goal of “freeing” the people of the world by putting them under God’s rule sounds quite similar to some early Christian missionary or colonial activities. Certain Christians see America as the land where God’s rule is modeled. But when we understand that ours is not the only religion with this aim, how will we respond? The “culture wars,” fighting for the “souls of America,” aggressive wars to defend our way of life or spread democracy abroad – all of these smack of Qutb’s rhetoric. When God approves of what you do, justification and reasoning are irrelevant. Are we willing to align ourselves with this school of thought?

One very important difference between Christianity and Islam is highlighted by this study: Muslims have no scriptural or historical mandate to love their enemies. This needs to be recognized for Christians to understand where Muslims are coming from. It does not mean that Islam does not support love, human rights, and pacifism – it does, in great measure. But Muslims start with reality, which includes the inevitability of people fighting. Islam recognized this, and the suffering it causes, and addressed these problems by providing a just war theory in jihad. Jesus also knew that fighting and suffering are inevitable, but offered a very different response.

The pressing question for Christians is whether we have been acting more like Jesus or Muhammad. Islam can be used as a mirror to help us see where we might be justifying something that is not actually part of our religion. Just war theory (ironically, created by Christians) can definitely be supported by the Muslim principle of jihad. But is it upheld by Christian Scripture? Those Christians who believe in self-defense and just war theory may be following Muhammad rather than Jesus. Christianity deals with violence by absorbing it, following a God who is self-sacrificial and does not fight back when he is hung on a cross. Are we able to do the same: to, like Muslims, accept the reality of human sin – and then let it do its worst to us?

This paper has provided me with a far-reaching education into a topic I knew very little about, and when considering how I will use it in my ministry situation, especially in interfaith encounter, I find I am left with more questions than answers. However, they are good questions, questions that will lead to dialogue and perhaps even better understanding. Hopefully they are questions that will cause those of us in each religion to step back and really take in the Other as he or she is, thereby gaining a better understanding not only of the person, but of the faith. I would like to bring the questions raised by this study in an actual situation of interfaith dialogue one day.

VI. Conclusion
This paper has taken some first steps in understanding jihad from the Muslim point of view, in all its variation and complexity. It began with the basic doctrinal background and moved into the two major schools of interpretation, fundamentalist and modernist. It then brought up the issues that contemporary scholars are struggling with as they seek to define the doctrine for the present day. It closed by asking difficult questions that uncover new challenges for interfaith dialogue and for Christians to examine themselves in light of what Islam teaches us.

True learning cannot happen unless we listen to Muslims themselves: reading their interpretations and debates rather than assuming we know what they have to say. This is how we do appropriate scholarship and find correct insight. This paper offers an understanding about jihad specifically from the Muslim perspective as a model of effective scholarship and as a help to those who wish to approach Muslims in a sympathetic and thoughtful manner.

[1] Aslan, No god but God, 87.
[2] Cook, Understanding Jihad, 163.
[3] Ibid, 164.
[4] Aslan, 248.
[5] Moulavi Chiragh Ali, “War and Peace: Popular Jihad,” in Contemporary Debates in Islam: An Anthology of Modernist and Fundamentalist Thought, 89.
[6] Aslan, 248.

Qutb's article is Sayyid Qutb, “War, Peace, and Islamic Jihad,” in the same book as Ali's.

Interfaith Organic Humane Farming

Wow, interfaith cooperation through organic farming: it doesn't get better than this!

(although I am interested in what this guy thinks the OT says about "responsible capitalism")

This article is about what the farmers are doing, and it's great. Now I hope I can help convince the consumers that they need to be concerned about this stuff also!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

not a false prophet

Weren't today's readings fun? You get Jeremiah all, "How long will you people be lying about me? says the LORD" and then Jesus is all, "You think I came for peace? Ha, fools! I came to divide yo' ass!"

Yes indeed, that's just how we read it too.

In all seriousness, it was really good stuff. Usually you hear these sorts of passages and you think, uh oh - well, no, actually first you think "Thank God I don't have to preach on this!" then you worry about your friend who is preaching then you get on to the uh oh.

Our preacher did wonderfully, and even as I listened to the readings I was thinking about how they fit so well together. I got to read Jeremiah and I kid you not, I read it like I was a fire-and-brimstone preacher. Dr. John (Goldingay) loved it. I yelled at the folk. I was like "What's UP with you people??" They dug it.

But yeah, that reading was all about all the people lying in God's name, having dreams that they claim are God's word that are no such thing. It was about how the word of God is a "fire" and a "hammer that breaks a rock into pieces." Then the gospel went on to describe Jesus' mission as bringing "division, not peace," and all the lovely ways people will be divided over God.

And one person mentioned after the service that she was surprised I'd prayed for unity in our denomination, right after hearing those passages. But J pointed out that those passages are about division between the church and the world, not within the church. From the inception of the Church the Bible is quite clear about the unity that should always be there. But when it comes to the way of the world - not the people, but the systems and the sin and the selfishness - then we are the hammer that breaks the rock into pieces. We are the fire that burns the brush away, that burns out the impurities, but warms those inside the House of God.

As I write this paper on Islam I think more and more about how similar our religions are, how much we share goals. Islam's goal is to free people from their blindness, their slavery to false gods (materialism, political systems, evil desires) and free them for slavery to the one true God. Some think this can only be accomplished through Muslim rule, but others advocate more peaceful means. Either way, it's quite the same as what we Christians say we hope for: that God will cut away all the bullshit in people's hearts so they can see God clearly. And we want to help with that. And so do they. It's very much the same goal.

All through church I was thinking, as we were talking about our King eternal, I was thinking about my Muslim friends and how they have the same goal. They want the same thing: God's reign on earth. It's so close. But very far in other ways...mainly, that they definitely don't go in for loving enemies. There's nothing in their scriptures about that, it's very much unique to Christianity. I'm not sure any other religion advocates such a radical idea. Even Buddhism would say don't harm others, but I don't think that would be out of love, more the recognition that nothing can really hurt you.

Anyway, the message from Jeremiah said that those who have the word of God need to preach it faithfully, because many people do not have the real word, the authentic word that is fire and hammer, but probably something a bit more coddly and welcome. Jeremiah had a tough message to give, and he was surrounded by people giving the happy message, the one that is easier to listen to. Their own dreams of the way things are, should be. The LORD says they falsely attribute their own dreams to God. They falsely speak in God's name.

So the world needs all the true prophets it can get. All the people who are ready to listen to the word, whatever it says, no matter how unpopular it makes them and how much it pisses people off. If the real word is given you, preach it faithfully.


I am going to close my eyes and fall backward and pray that God catches me.

I'm going to put my trust back in this process. I'm going to go with it as long as it goes. And if I get ordained in the end, I will preach the word I'm given faithfully.

And I'm going to follow this fully, whole-hog, all the way. Meaning, I am officially suspending my PhD application process. I am going to invest all my energy into becoming whatever kind of minister God may want me to be.

I have this fire, in my bones, these words that I want to say, this message I feel like I have to offer. So I am stepping out of the safety of the academy and going to try to get it through to the real world. Or at least whoever God puts in my path.

And the scariest of all, I am going to try to write this book about the spirituality of food, on my own, no phd after my name, no big research grant. I'm just going to see if I can do it. I know it's something God wants me to try to tell the world. So I am going to write it and see what happens.

In the meantime, I am going to do whatever I can to become an excellent priest. I especially want to rediscover and recover my deep attachment to preaching, to digging into God's word. I've been floating away from it, off in the academic realms, and I want to come back to what was giving me life, when I was really and truly devoted to it. And that was serious exegetical work that then became beautiful writing that then was transformed into something new when it was preached, something different and yet the sum of everything that had come before. I want to get better at this. And I want to love it again, not do it last minute because I have to study for the GRE.

So no GRE. And I will finish this paper and not worry what grade I get. But I definitely don't love writing academic papers. I loved writing the Gadamer paper. J says that's because it was practical - it was aimed at helping people in the real world. It was more like a sermon than a journal article. That's what I love. And that's what I think I'm called to do.

No more chasing after my own dreams. God give me your word. With your help, I can preach it faithfully. God help me. Here we go.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Help me, this sucks

I have really hit the wall on this paper. It just won't fucking end. Warning I am tired and pissed so this post is going to be R rated for language.

I'm exhausted, I'm sick of it. It won't end. It won't stop. Why?? Why can't I make these words make good sentences?? It's become like the Shleiermacher paper. A huge struggle against a glut of information and racking your brain to think of every tiny vocab word that would make for a shorter sentence or just bring that paragraph up a line...

Oh I am tired, I am sick of it. I'm so sad when I look at my email. I have all these invitations to do fun things. There are so so so many things I want to be doing instead of writing this paper right now! Why can't I get it done??

Every time I think I am making progress I realize it's crap and I start over. I just spent 9 hours on a Saturday on it, and I feel like I have only done inches when I have miles to walk. I don't get it. It shouldn't be this hard. I alternate between hysterics and determining to get done no matter what; between crying fits and manic spells of flurried work. And my body hurts, my eyeballs really hurt, my neck and back are sore, my wrists kill and my fingers are starting to numb up.

Uh oh. I can't think of words like "numb" now. I wonder if this is because I went off the paxil. I swear I can't even type sometimes. I've always been a great typist and now I am having to fix a zillion typos. It's like my muscle memory is gone, the whatever neurons that connect my fingers to my brain are misfiring.

And then the thought process - putting these quotes, these other people's words, into my own, it's killing me, and I can't figure out why. Why has this taken me over a week now? I'm pushing 40 hours on this paper and I feel like there is nothing to show for it. I feel like I'm not even halfway there.

It's not even an important paper!! It's not a class I need a great grade in, it's not something I care so deeply about. I mean, I am learning, and I'll be a freaking expert by the end. But I don't care that much about being one in this area. It's just so pointless! I feel like it's a huge huge waste of time and especially of course effort.

You know the worst part of all? I'm not going to get an A on it. I know I won't. This prof has all these ridiculous little preferences for the way you write (how you name countries, that you list dates after all names - which are impossible to find for some of my people) and who the hell knows what else but it's stupid tiny things that he's being nitpicky about. And that's ALL he comments on! He doesn't comment on content at all. I'm already prepping my response to him: Dear Dr. Jerk, could you please tell me why my paper that took me 100 hours didn't merit an A? All you mention are the footnote formatting and the fact that I didn't transliterate properly and/or use the correct diacritical marks (that word won't produce anyway!). Maybe you could give me some sense that my effort was not completely ignored by you in favor of your stupid anal-retentive rules? Could you maybe read the fucking thing instead of just looking for your pet peeves? Did it ever occur to you to pay attention to what the words say???

Of course I know that I am writing this to learn something not to get a grade. And my efforts do not depend on the grade, nor does my self-worth. Right. I'll keep telling myself that.

Meantime, I am tired, and cranky, and my eyes are puffy and raw. And I can't even think when it will end. And my new neighbor is throwing a party with music that is happily floating up through my floor. I don't like him already. I fear how I would behave if I went down there, though.

I am so frustrated. I want this to be over so bad. I want to work on stuff for my ordination, and my GRE, and get stuff going on my PhD apps, and oh yeah, get the house ready for my sis coming in a week! Geez!! I want to be watching movies and having fun, enjoying some time off. I want to spend time with John instead of having all this to do. Starting next week he's too busy to see me anymore. Ugh. This SUUUUUCCCCKKKKSSSS!!!!!

I'm just writing b/c if I try to go to bed I will cry or be angry and either way, won't sleep. Maybe I should take a sleeping pill and be done with it. Then maybe I'll get through the noise, too.

I hate this paper. I hate it because it doesn't want to end. I can't even make fucking progress. I hate what I've written and I hate that I can't get out of it now. I hate that there is so much left to do and I hate that what I've done is crap. I just want it over!! I want it over!!

I try to get it over and I always get too tired and have to stop. Just now I was trying to rewrite a section for the millionth time and realized I couldn't even understand what the words say anymore. I can barely read right now. I am so tired. I am so so tired. I hate this paper. I hate it hate hate hate hate hate it!!!!!!!

OK, time to meet the new neighbors. Ha ha. They're gonna love me.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

One more Philosophy class post

Well I shouldn't promise that - there could be more. I was just saying last night to J that I enjoyed the philosophy class more than the world religions class, especially the papers (but that's probably because I'm pooped at the moment and not enjoying my final paper at all), so maybe I should rethink this comparative religions stuff and do philosophy instead. I think I'm encroaching on his territory.

Anyway I was nosing around on my facebook friend's profile, and he was in the class with me, and he was lovely enough to have actually written down all the insane things our professor said. Good times. So I am stealing his work (thanks, Jeff!) and posting it here, for your amusement:

"So that's what you're doing in seminary...trying to get unscrewed."- Merold Westphal

"You don't have to be purple to talk about pansies."- MW

"What happens when you marry a Pole to an Italian? You get just the right number of vowels and consonants in a name."- MW

"Its a lot like an orgy."- MW, describing the Platonic relationship between the soul and pure being

"Anyone ever grow up on Uncle Wiggly?"- MW

"If it isn't scary, it isn't God."- MW

"I don't think Jesus was that into kissing."- MW

MW: I hope you're not a tighty - whitey

Dan: Well, not today.

MW: Hey, I didn't ask!

"Which involves going to church on Sunday mornings and singing hymns lustfully...ah, er... lustilly."- MW

"I always thought you were a monkey."- MW to Harris, eating a banana

Oh, the happy memories. That was actually a really fun class. And so now I will present for your enjoyment a little something I like to call...


A Training Manual based on the Philosopher’s Truth and Method

To reach an understanding in a dialogue is not merely a matter of putting oneself forward and successfully asserting one’s own point of view, but being transformed into a communion in which we do not remain what we were.
~ Hans-Georg Gadamer

This manual is intended to prepare persons who wish to have meaningful conversation with those from faith traditions other than their own. The hermeneutics of philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer will be used to provide a framework for exploring the issues at stake in interfaith encounter as well as the process that leads to understanding. Gadamer himself seeks to offer a description of and not a prescription for achieving understanding; however, we can use his hermeneutics to create a “best practices” model for interfaith dialogue. In this manual, Gadamer will be our guide to understanding ourselves, understanding the Other, the process of dialogue, and the goals of a successful interfaith dialogue.[1]

I. Understanding Ourselves
The first step in preparing for interfaith dialogue is understanding ourselves: we always enter dialogue, both consciously and not, with prejudice. It is impossible to be prejudice-free because we are entrenched in history and tradition (272). By “prejudice,” Gadamer does not mean a negative, unfair assumption, but rather “a judgment that is rendered before all the elements that determine a situation have been finally examined” (273). We come to dialogue with unexamined judgments because we cannot examine a situation that has not yet occurred. This cannot be helped. We always bring prejudice to any new situation because we come to it with some idea of what we are doing and who with. At the very least, we come with self-awareness that has been constituted (consciously and not) by history and tradition (300). We “belong to” history in the sense that it creates in us prejudgments about the world that are far more powerful in shaping our beliefs (and consequent behavior) than any judgment we may have chosen to make (278). We must respect the power of prejudice: that tradition has shaped who we are and will continue doing so. When we accept this inevitability, we can begin to discern our horizon.

All persons experience the world from a horizon: the “range of vision that includes everything that can be seen from a particular vantage point” (301). Tradition has provided this vantage point, and we cannot overcome it because it constitutes who we are. It is called a “horizon” because it takes into account more than only “what is close at hand” (304). There is a whole that is much greater than our part. To have a full sense of our horizon means that we recognize it as not only our particular situation, but also the way our point of view fits alongside innumerable other points of view, all of which together make up the “higher universality” which understanding seeks to achieve (304). Without our particular contribution, understanding cannot be attained; therefore we never give up our own horizon in the quest for a greater commonality or in the mistaken assumption that we could achieve the whole on our own.

Understanding ourselves honestly means recognizing that we are constituted by the past: “the horizon of the present cannot be formed without the past” (305). Our past horizon is more than our personal history; it is the whole “historical movement of human life” in which we move and thus is not “bound to any one standpoint” and nor ever “truly closed” (303). To understand our present horizon, we must first realize that we are part of a much larger tradition that informs our prejudices. And all of this is constantly changing, for we are continually engaged in testing and revising our prejudices based on new encounters. To truly understand ourselves, we must fuse our past and present horizons, bringing out the tensions between them so as to challenge and revise each (305). We bring this fusion to interfaith dialogue, and whatever transpires ensures that our horizons will be continually changing – and changing us at the same time.

Knowing these things about ourselves, how then do we prepare for dialogue? Primarily, by being open to the change that happens when we test prejudices. Having recognized and respected our horizon and prejudices, we put them “at risk” by consciously bringing them to the fore and being willing to revise them according to whatever new truth emerges in dialogue (272). The truth that comes out will challenge only what has been appropriated as part of the conversation; only when our preconceptions are out “on the table,” so to speak, are we able to modify them. If we are not aware of our prejudgments (Gadamer calls this the “tyranny of hidden prejudices,” 272), how could we ever examine them, and discover whether they are true? Our prejudices may enable greater understanding or they may not; if not, they should be revised in favor of what is actually “borne out” by the dialogue (270). Unhelpful prejudices are not usually noticed prior to conversation – how could they be? – but as dialogue moves forward, putting all prejudices at risk in the process of revision and replacement allows the participant to reject those prejudices which are not confirmed by the mutual understanding that emerges (270). This process can only take place when we first understand ourselves as necessarily prejudiced, horizon-bound beings.

Understanding Ourselves: Main Points

  • Recognize that your tradition has given you prejudices (not necessarily negative)

  • Do not reject or try to overcome prejudices – they make up your unique horizon

  • Your horizon is always changing and changing you

  • Dialogue requires you to consciously bring forth your prejudices and put them at risk

II. Understanding the Other
An important part of our horizon is our faith tradition, which has usually helped create our prejudgments about those from other religions (even if it ignored them, we learned that they are not worthy of consideration). Whatever our church or temple taught us has been supplemented by the media, our families and peers, and the wider culture. We cannot escape the way we have been formed, and although we cannot help bringing this to the dialogue, we do not have to leave our prejudices unchecked. There are techniques to help us better understand the Other we will encounter and give him or her a fair hearing.

Gadamer observes that true understanding is reached by those who learn to “gaze ‘on the things themselves’” – for us, this means letting the Other herself guide us to knowing her (269). This requires us to move beyond believing what we want to or already do about the Other – what Gadamer calls “arbitrary fancies” and “habits of thought” (269). Instead, we seek to encounter the Other as she truly is. This means, first of all, that each participant recognizes and is sensitive to the Other-ness, or alterity, of their partner: “the indissoluble individuality of the other person” (304). We know that we never fully realize what we ourselves bring to dialogue, because of our entrenchment in tradition (the past horizon). Likewise, the Other cannot fully realize what she brings, nor can she be entirely transparent to us, because of her historical particularity. If we think we already know another person, then we not truly open to learning from him (354).

We must also give up the notion that we can objectively approach one another, for both of us are historically situated in the dialogue process and in ourselves (301, 354-5). We cannot adopt a “neutral” approach (as if we could give up our prejudices), nor should we suppress prejudice. Rather, as we have seen, the most fruitful understanding arises when one is “aware of one’s own bias,” bringing prejudices right out into the open and examining them in relation to what is emerging in the dialogue (271-2). Of course, we allow the Other the same privilege, for “[o]nly by being given full play is [our prejudice] able to experience the other’s claim to truth and make it possible for him to have full play himself” (299).

So with prejudice consciously at the fore, we can delve into the “play between the traditionary text’s strangeness and familiarity to us” – that is, the way that the Other presents himself as we somewhat expect him too, but always has the capacity to surprise and teach us something we never could have known prior to the encounter (295). If we approach another person in confidence that all of our ideas about her will certainly be affirmed, then we are embracing only familiarity and not recognizing her subjectivity. But if we approach the person as a complete mystery about which we can know nothing, then we overemphasize strangeness and will not be open to how she may speak to our tradition. For example, a Christian may assume that a Buddhist has nothing to teach him about God, since Buddhism is usually non-theistic; yet many Christians affirm that Buddhists have helped them think about God in completely unexpected ways that are quite in line with traditional theology but never would have come up without the interfaith encounter. Here the tension in-between strangeness and familiarity has allowed the Christian to learn something about himself as well as about the Other.

We do not seek empathy in our dialogue, in the sense of losing our self to become completely like the Other; nor do we seek domination – of our own viewpoint or the Other’s. Every revision we make projects a new meaning onto the Other, so during dialogue we may have several “rival projects” (that is, prejudices in the constant state of revision) competing for attention. But Gadamer insists that a “unity of meaning” will become clear, and that unity will replace both persons’ prejudices (269). Understanding “always involves rising to a higher universality that overcomes not only our own particularity but also that of the other” (304). Each person’s piece of the truth, added together, makes more of the whole truth visible.

Understanding the Other: Main Points

  • Recognize the alterity of the Other

  • Do not try to approach the Other objectively

  • Celebrate both the familiarity and strangeness of the Other

  • Constantly revise your prejudices so as to arrive at a unity of meaning with the Other

III. The Process of Dialogue
For Gadamer, understanding is an event, not a method (308). For our purposes, the event is the dialogue itself, and by exploring what works to achieve understanding, we can coax a procedural “method” out of Gadamer’s observations of successful understanding-events. We have already suggested that the process that leads to fruitful interfaith dialogue includes openness to revision and replacement of prejudices in an ongoing exercise of testing them against the truth emerging from dialogue. Let us explore this process and its implications in more detail.

A real temptation in interfaith discussion is to view the Other as an objective example of his faith tradition, thinking we know all about the person based on our understanding of his religion. When we open ourselves to genuine dialogue, we learn that there is much more to that person than his religion, but also there is much more to his religion than we could have known on our own. The event of understanding begins when we allow the Other to address us as a person and not a representative sample. This requires “the fundamental suspension of our own prejudices” about how he must believe and behave (298). Gadamer describes this suspension as having the structure of a question, meant to “open up possibilities and keep them open” (298). Genuine curiosity about the Other as herself helps us set aside our preconceived notions and causes us to dig deeper into who she really is – and what this teaches us about her tradition (360).

Yet despite our best efforts, we are “always projecting” meaning into whatever we are trying to understand – we always read the Other “with particular expectations” of our own coming into the picture (269, emphasis added).The process of fruitful dialogue which leads to understanding, then, will be to bring these prejudices to the fore of the discussion, so that they may be examined in the open and revised or replaced as required by the truth that emerges from letting the Other be herself. Dialogue that leads to understanding requires each participant to be aware of his or her prejudice and be willing to put it at risk in the face of whatever higher universality emerges. It must begin with mutual awareness of personhood and alterity, but continue by challenging the prejudices which are inescapable despite this awareness.

“Openness to the other, then, involves recognizing that I myself must accept some things that are against me, even though no one else forces me to do so” (355). There is “a fundamental sort of openness” required in that we recognize not only that the other person’s tradition is valid, but that it can speak truth to us (355). Genuine dialogue happens when we trust that we can find truth in our experience with the Other – and from the Other’s experience as well. Gadamer praises the person who seeks truth from new experiences rather than replicable, absolute knowledge: “someone who is radically undogmatic; who…is particularly well equipped to have new experiences and to learn from them” (350). Learning from new experiences means being able to let one’s expectations be thwarted: to embrace the essential element of risk. The person adept at interfaith dialogue possesses openness to new experience as truth-teaching.

Experience does not seek to dogmatically be “right,” but rather “to know what is” – and as finite beings none of us can ever have the full picture of “what is” (351). Admitting our finitude means we move away from dogmatic truth claims. Interfaith dialogue does not measure success by one partner winning an argument about ultimate Truth, but instead seeks to find common experience that speaks to “what is” for both of us, even if we cannot articulate shared dogma. The purpose in questioning the Other is not to find weakness, but to bring out strengths, so that more of reality is uncovered (361). The truth in both viewpoints will revise and replace the prejudices of each, leading to a higher, shared meaning based in the experience. This is, in a nutshell, Gadamer’s hermeneutic; it is also, quite simply, the key to good interfaith dialogue.

The Process of Dialogue: Main Points

  • Allow the Other to address you as the subjective person that he or she is

  • Bring prejudices to the fore and test them against the Other as a subject (person)

  • Be open to learning from new experiences

  • Release the need for dogmatic truth in favor of discovering shared experiences of truth

IV. Goals of Successful Dialogue
Discovering shared truth through experience is a complex way of saying that a goal of dialogue is simply to come to an understanding. Whether or not any agreement can be reached on the particulars of dogma, the true aim is “that each person opens himself to the other, truly accepts his point of view as valid and transposes himself into the other to such an extent that he understands not the particular individual but what he says” (387, emphasis added). Until we can explain why the Other’s point of view makes sense, we have not understood it. If we go on dismissing her as blind or stupid, we have not truly allowed ourselves to suspend prejudice and hear her. If we are able to really listen so that the Other’s experience rings true, we will attain a feat sorely lacking – and desperately needed – in most discourse today.

Understanding occurs when horizons – both our own present and past horizons in self-awareness, and our horizon with that of the Other – are fused (305). Fusing them means that our own horizon and the Other’s are changed; it cannot happen without both sides being mutually affected (and effected) by the broadened vista. The result of fusion is that each participant enhances his or her being with new truth.[2] In successful dialogue, “both come under the influence of the truth…and are thus bound to one another in a new community” (371). Thus another goal of dialogue is to create new communities of understanding which grasp more of reality than had either of the persons prior to the encounter.

But dialogue cannot stop with just the warm fuzzies of a new community; Gadamer claims, “we consider application to be just as integral a part of the hermeneutical process as are understanding and interpretation” (307). In interfaith dialogue, we may come to agreement about how we understand something, and even to mutual appreciation of interpretation. But if this does not affect how we live, then true understanding has not taken place. The central problem of hermeneutics, to Gadamer, is application – the changing of practices on account of new understanding (306). If I go on behaving exactly as I did prior to our dialogue, then the Other’s horizon has not truly fused with mine, for there is no evidence in my life of the fusion taking place. The application of the truth will mean some kind of change in practice for each of us, for we now know something more about the world than we did previously, and this cannot help but affect how we live in it. “To reach an understanding in a dialogue is not merely a matter of putting oneself forward and successfully asserting one’s own point of view, but being transformed into a communion in which we do not remain what we were” (371). Genuine dialogue changes practices, not merely beliefs. This is the final goal of interfaith dialogue: to change how we live based upon our encounter with the Other.

Goals of Successful Dialogue: Main Points

  • Dialogue seeks to truly understand what the Other says

  • Dialogue fuses horizons and binds persons in a new community of shared truth

  • Dialogue changes our practices as well as our beliefs

V. In Conclusion: Where Gadamer May Fall Short
By now we can see how Gadamer’s hermeneutics provides an excellent framework for preparation and procedure in interfaith dialogue. However, we must note that Gadamer cannot apply perfectly to our task. For one thing, he is primarily concerned with the interpretation of texts, not persons, and so some of our application may be stretching his meaning. Furthermore, Gadamer is quite adamant that he is not intending to propose a methodology for understanding, but rather is concerned with describing the way understanding happens. By turning his hermeneutics into a method for success in interfaith dialogue, we are taking his ideas further than he intended (let us hope that, because he does not locate the meaning of a text solely in the author’s intent, he would not complain about our doing this!).

There is one more important aspect in which Gadamer may fail us. A notable feature of interfaith dialogue is that it gets at the very heart of people’s beliefs and behaviors; in this sort of work we are dealing with what has possibly most constituted the makeup of prejudice and horizon for a human being. Therefore, when true understanding is achieved across religious lines, the soul of a person can be affected. Sharing common meaning, and having that affect practice, is certainly a noble goal – and the one at which Gadamer seems to aim. However, one wonders if something deeper may be attained when applying this hermeneutic to the realm of religion. Gadamer says that the “task of hermeneutics is to clarify this miracle of understanding, which is not a mysterious communion of souls, but sharing in a common meaning” (292), and by this he means to reject Schleiermacher’s psychological approach to authorial intent. But could the ultimate effect of the “miracle of understanding” in interfaith dialogue actually be a mysterious communion of souls – a mutual recognition that God has spoken to my soul in the same way God has spoken to yours, and therefore we share something more than understanding or meaning, creed or practice – we share an experience of God (or, Schleiermacher might say, of absolute dependence) that causes our souls to commune? The “magic” implied by this claim is likely beyond the realm of philosophical inquiry and takes us into theology instead. But it is a potentiality that Gadamer, perhaps blinded by atheism, did not take into account.

Therefore we must remember that while Gadamer has proven very helpful in our training for interfaith dialogue, he is primarily a guide and not an intentional teacher. Nevertheless, we are confident that if you approach interfaith dialogue using the model offered in this manual, you will be well-prepared for a rewarding experience!

[1] Gadamer’s Truth and Method is the basis for this manual. Page references will be given in parentheses and all refer to the second, revised edition (New York: Continuum, 2006 printing).

[2] This is analogous to Gadamer’s description of an artwork increasing in being by its presentation (135).

Monday, August 13, 2007

A well-reasoned response

Rather than continue the polemical arguing that I can't help myself doing on the comments from the last post about the homemaking degree (I am in a really feisty mood, unusually, today), I wanted to post this very well-reasoned response from my ethics TA, who also happened to attend Southern Baptist Seminary. She was usually the only woman in her theology classes (she was getting a theology degree - and is single), and she is now doing a PhD. I really love what she says in a lot of ways, and I am never against showcasing another viewpoint from a person I know and whose integrity and scholarship I trust (which usually is a person I know or who is willing to put their name on their comments, eh-hem).

But first, one guy made a great point, which is "I wonder how they'll sell a degree that will cost tons of money, yet by its very design offer no possibility whatsoever of allowing the graduate to recoup any of that monetary investment." A very true and practical point. It's just adding additional strain to a couple in ministry, who already will probably struggle to pay off the husband's seminary education.

So here is a woman whose thinking I really respect (learn more about me from who I listen to than from what comes out of my silly ol' mouth, OK?):

There's nothing inherently wrong w/ sewing, nutrition, and valuing children. I'd probably benefit from some of those things:) Women should be able to follow that as their life callings, just as much as they should be able to follow a calling to preach.

I'd probably like the women in those classes and think they love the LORD and want to be excellent in all they do.

I emphasize that there is nothing wrong with women's personal choices if they want to take those classes:) On the other hand, there is something wrong with institutionalized sin that holds women back from other choices and legitimate callings...

It is sin if we pressure women to take such courses or to only follow certain roles and for treating them like they don't love Jesus if they aren't convinced that the institution's stance on women is the truly Biblical one. I wish that wasn't the case.

I would encourage Fuller girls to love their SISTERS taking the classes, befriend them instead of making them your enemies, pray with them, and be open and willing to dialogue with them. They make great friends.

At the same time, I ask that you condemn prejudice and group-think sin that holds women back with love, truth, humility, & actions, not writing off those men who hurt us as beyond God's reach and asking the LORD to show you what to do to help women.

Hurt for women. Work and pray for changes. Look for good in your opponents and build bridges. Create dialogue... and then write the seminary trustees and ponder what place sewing has in the mission of the church and spreading the Gospel?

[seriously ... a great question]

Condemn what having such a course implies, ask about the quality of instruction (the one women-only class I had was not up to a graduate or collegiate level) and let them know that there are great home ec classes at state schools. They could save school $.

I love Southern Baptists for many things: for leading me to the LORD, nurturing my calling to missions, teaching me some great Bible classes, praying w/ me and for me, and giving me fellowship and lots of opportunities to serve God.

Every step away from them HURTS and perhaps that's OK. We should hurt over confronting people's sin and in the case of women's issues, there are a lot of sincerely devoted believers who are sincerely wrong. I hate their sin, but also don't want to be a poster child for Southern Baptist bashing.

Love them. Confront them. Keep loving them.

Yay! Yay! Rove is gone!

Let's hope he goes into hiberation forever! And takes a few more people with him!

Struggling with Jihad

I know it's kind of a bad pun, but it's true. This is a tough assignment I've given myself. I hate learning things I dislike about other religions. I'm trying to keep a very open mind - and I've discovered some of the very basic differences between our religions, which then spark some really intriguing questions; but I wish I was back with my interfaith friends so I could talk with them about this. It's confusing to sift through all the viewpoints, and after my lovely attempt at the lifecycle rituals didn't go all that well, I'm not feelin' the confidence. Oh, well, I can only research so much.

BTW, love Reza Aslan's book, No God but God. He is a fiction writer as well, and he tells the story of Islam with such beautiful prose. He intermingles stories from Muhammad's life with discussions of doctrine in such a way that you don't really realize you're reading doctrine, but rather it's just a fluid transition from history to application and back again. Incredibly well written. Reminds me how good this stuff (religious writing) can really get. Plus, I am tickled that he's a friend of a friend. Always cool to know these things. He also worked for a time at my old job, at Annenberg's Center for Public Diplomacy, but dunno if he's still there.

Anyway lift me up, because I'm really pooped and I so want this summer's work to be over. I did a GRE practice test and I was not happy with how it turned out. The weirdest thing was that the math scored higher than the verbal. I guess I was less concerned about math and happier to wildly guess, and I've always been a good guesser. In verbal I psyched myself out. Even as I went over the answers, I was arguing with the software. I could make a case for all my answers. When I knew the words, that is! (I felt like it was throwing me the hardest possible vocab, just to mess with me) But I guess we don't get to argue why our answer worked, we just have to learn how to think like a test-maker. Which is why I'm using the "cheater books" as J calls them. I don't care. Clearly these things are not designed by human beings, but rather the Inquisition, brought forward in secret government time-travel experiments designed to keep graduate school enrollment low so that fewer people will be educated and challenge the status quo. That's my theory, anyway.

hey, it's not so far fetched. After all, nobody expects the spanish inquisition...

I'll stop with the silliness now. But that means I have nothing to say. Here, read this article about women eating steak. You go girls. I must object to the writer's use of the adjective "gut-busting" in relation to the In-n-Out double-double, though. Puh-leeze. Any Cali girl can put down that burger. Maybe not animal style with fries and shake, though. That must be what they meant. I know what I want for dinner!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Feminary has competition

Well...sort of. My husband alerted me to the new program at Southwestern Baptist Seminary, which is apparently trying to start its own Feminary - only with a slightly different angle than what we do here. It's the first seminary-approved concentration in ... wait for it ...


specifically, Christian homemaking.

Now if this isn't aimed straight at the wives who sit around bored and pregnant while hubby's at seminary, then I don't know what it's for. Apparently Southern Baptist Sem in Louisville has had a certificate program for a while, but Southwestern has taken it to a whole new level with an actual degree concentration. What a leap forward for the women! Now you can have your BA and learn to bake cake, too!

I don't see why they are stopping at classes on childrearing, cooking, and sewing. They need to go whole hog and teach classes on running VBS, managing Christmas pageants, maintaining the fine line between pretty and overly flashy fashion, and even perhaps a special lab on places to hide that necessary nip of booze. (for my mom it was at the Catholic neighbors' house)

Anyway, if you prefer this sort of "women's studies," more power to you. It's not really my cup of tea, but I realize that the Church can be 40 years behind the culture on things like the sexual revolution (frank talk from Lauren Winner is finally, using the media well (Christians in Hollywood have moved past the Gospel films idea in the last 10 years or so), and now, feminism. Oh wait, no, apparently we are regressing on that last one. Ah well. That's why the Church is so fun - we're just such a diverse bunch of folks!

Here is the story:

And here is the concentration requirements:

Go get 'em, ladies! Or even better, men! Yeah, that would throw them off. It shouldn't be any more lonely for a man in these classes than for a woman in the seminary classes!

Update: I just looked up what was at Southern Baptist Seminary, in Louisville...and I think it's even more over-the-edge:

Eh-hem...Seminary Wives Institute?!

I mean, I'm not against seminary wives - some of my best Fuller friends are the wives. But they have ambitions beyond being wives - most of them are wicked smart and have their own careers and/or educations in nursing or therapy or teaching or rocket science (ok, I don't actually know anybody in that last one, but it's quite possible, seeing how close we are to Cal Tech). They do not necessarily see their primary call to be to their home, as is described in the yahoo article above. Not that we're against the home. But there are ministries for women beyond working with women.

I guess that's what gets me about all of this - the overt (not even implied) instruction that women can only teach women and children. That men can't learn from us. I realize that's following some scriptural teachings in their literal sense. But let's not forget that the first evangelist for Jesus was a Samaratian (sp?) woman at a well who told her town about him, and the first preacher of Jesus' resurrection was a woman too. Hm. What were those women thinking?? If only Mary had been in the kitchen with Martha, instead of learning at Jesus' feet, she'd have chosen the better part. Right???

I love how the seminary wives' classes are taught by faculty wives. Let's keep it all in the "wives" category. I mean God forbid we be called women in our own right, or students, or identified as anything beyond our relationship to a man. Hmmm...I wonder if aspiring pastors' wives can sign up - like, single gals looking for the M(Div)RS? Ha ha ha. I amuse myself. Seems like a great way to meet a husband.

Ah, I think my favorite class from the brochure is "Greek for the Rest of Us." Come on, let's go all the way and call it "Greek for Dumb Women." Did I ever mention how I was about the best in my Greek class? I did? Well I am again.

Clearly I need the "Embracing Femininity" class. I never wear makeup and I even stopped shaving my legs. What a freak I am. I'm not sure how I even qualify as a woman anymore, what with my academic ambitions and straight A's and hairy legs. Oh, yeah, and "Playing Hymns" and "Ministry of Hospitality" sound awesome. Damn, I wish I could take these classes. I really mean it - I wouldn't mind learning some of this stuff.

The brochure is priceless:

OK, I'll stop now. I gotta try out the GRE practice test. But this is just too much fun. I wonder if it's too late to enroll J in these sorts of classes. He really needs to learn "Fitness for Life."

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Working for the Weekend

Did I say for? I meant "on". Yes, I think I will work over this weekend, because it would be just so nice to be done w/my summer stuff. At the moment I'm down to one paper left. So why not buckle down and get 'er done, and then have time for more important things like GRE study?

Let's see, here's the haps for me:
1. I finished my Gadamer as guide to interfaith dialogue paper. It's good. I am happy it's done. And my hubs the philosopher read it and although he disagrees with some of it (i.e. he generally disagrees with postmodern philosophy), he gave it the thumbs up for sending to prof. So that's out of the way. The nicest thing he said is that - well actually, two things: first, that I could use this as a prospectus for a dissertation b/c I guess it's that interesting of an idea (but I have no interest in doing a PhD on this...I think) and second he said that I could expand each of the sections into chapters and make a book out of it, because it would actually be a useful book. What a compliment from the house philosopher! I felt really good about all of that.

It wound up being kind of halfway between an academic paper and a layperson explanation of a tough philosophical book. I wanted it to be the latter but b/c of page # constraints I couldn't do the full explanations and resorted to a lot of jargon and shorthand. However, if I ever write the actual Gadamerian Interfaith Training Manual, I will expand the four sections into chapters of at least 20 pages each, in which I not only explain the concepts in greater detail so that a non-Gadamerian could understand (perhaps even for a non-postmodern, but that's harder), and then I would add lots of illustrations and stories and examples to make it readable and interesting and fun, and charts and stats and stuff. What a cool book it could be.

Yes, I will post it, but I want to wait until the due date's past, so you have to hold your horses for a bit.

2. I am definitely going into the diocesan ordination process. I have to make up a little paperwork for the vestry, but I don't see why they won't move it forward, and I checked with Antony and he said that yes, the next step would be handing me over to the bishop - no more discernment at church! (well, no more hoops of discernment - of course it goes on in some sense) What an amazing relief. Of course, I don't really believe any of it will happen. I told my girlfriends theology group (new small group attempt) the other night that I will believe it when I am actually sitting in the bishop's office and he says it's a go. 'Til then, it's no expectations as usual.

3. I'm writing my next paper on jihad. If anybody has sources for me I am all ears. I'm looking to write a more philosophical/theological piece on it rather than historical or political or related to current events. But I do really want to show the spectrum of belief and not just the liberal side (which is easier to access b/c liberals tend to write more academic resources). I got and/or looked at books from the following folks: Reza Aslan, Karen Armstrong, Alex De Waal, David Cook, Mary Habeck (this one is called Knowing the Enemy and I am guessing it's anti-Islam but we'll see), Rudolph Peters, Mustafa Koylu, and Hilmi M. Zawati. So if I'm missing a big one let me know.

4. Studying for the GRE is going well, I'm realizing how very little math I remember but then it's coming back faster than I ever imagined it would. Haven't done any practice tests yet - probably will hit that this weekend. Straw poll: would you jump right into the practice tests first before studying to see how much studying is required, or not until after reading a few study texts? Or am I nuts for studying at all? So far I really liked the Princeton Review book and found its test tricks to be handy. Should I take it ASAP or give myself more time to fret? I'm guessing the former is wiser.

5. If you're on facebook I am too, and I'd love to be your friend, so add me and tell me you read Feminary. I'm on there as Anastasia not Stasi. You can see scary pictures of me and all the very many causes I support (today was a goof off on facebook morning), including a cause for stopping the use of poor grammar. Booya.

OK, I think it's time for a swim. It's hot in here. Swim, then meetings, then going to watch the doggies again. And at the doggie house, I am isolated and its quiet so hopefully will get a lot of jihad research done, maybe a paper written, maybe a practice test tried. What a fun fun weekend I've got planned. I sure know how to party.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Lifecycle Rituals

Well it's been a while since I posted a paper for your enjoyment, and since these have all been due by now I hope I'm not transgressing any ethics by putting up my world religions comparison paper. Plus it is a good way to procrastinate on writing my next one, messing around here on the blog. Anyway, there will be a lot of text stuff (italicizing, etc) that won't translate over and I haven't time to fix it. So sorry about that. Hopefully you can still see the general idea. I sure learned a lot from writing it and I hope the same is true for you. Also hope I didn't screw up my research too badly. I tried to be as faithful as I could to both traditions, while still pointing out some of the troubling elements. Enjoy!

Passages: A Comparison Study of Christianity and Hinduism through the Lifecycle

Rites of passage – called samskāras in Hinduism – provide a fascinating point of comparison between the Christian and Hindu faiths. Lifecycle rituals offer a glimpse into practices and devotion of the faithful and allow the student of world religions to observe how adherents experience life stages in their religious communities, and how they are shaped by the journey.
This paper will draw primarily upon Roman Catholic rituals (although many of the comparison statements will apply equally to non-Catholic Christians’ rituals).[1] This choice, while limiting, still represents the largest segment of Christianity worldwide, and that which has had the most historical influence on Christian denominations in Europe and the United States. Moreover, Catholicism has a structured ritual life that provides a clear point of comparison with Hindu rites.
Likewise, a focus must be chosen from the wide world of Hinduism.[2] Most of the classical samskāras are only for men in the “upper” three varnas (the station that determines one’s life duties). The “most popular” sixteen of these will be dealt with below, though there are many variations according to geography, gender, varna, and family tradition.[3]
Samskāra is a difficult term to translate. It denotes religious action, but not simply formalized ritual. It is infused with a deeper meaning, much like the Christian term “sacrament”: implying mystery, promise, and ontological significance.[4] Thus sacraments and samskāras lend themselves to comparison. They provide culture, rules, taboos, and structure to spiritual and societal life in both traditions. Their elements will be explored sequentially through the life cycle, from pregnancy and birth, through childhood and puberty, on to adulthood and finally, death.

Pregnancy and Birth
There are several samskāras surrounding pregnancy. The first is garbhādhāna, or conception, which is quite meticulously planned, “in a definite manner calculated to produce the best possible progeny.”[5] Next is pumsavana, or “a rite quickening a male child,”[6] and sīmantonnayana, “in which the hairs of a pregnant woman were parted” by her husband.[7] The former reveals the preference for a son (most of the samskāras are for males) and the latter is related to medical practices intended to “preserve the physical and mental health of the pregnant woman.”[8] The jātakarma ceremony is performed at birth, before the umbilical cord is cut.[9] Thus the child comes into the world surrounded with a rich ritual heritage that has confirmed the desire for his or her presence in the family and, it is hoped, laid the foundation for a happy and prosperous life.
There are almost no Roman Catholic rituals related to pregnancy or birth. The medieval practice of the “churching of women” involved the new mother going back to church after a set number of days, to reenter the Christian community and give thanks for a successful birth. It was largely a purity rite, which gave the woman permission to leave her house again following childbirth. This provided protection for the mother, who may otherwise have been sent back to the fields to work when she was in a fragile state of health.[10] The churching of women liturgy has fallen out of use, but it may be worth reinstituting as a rite of celebration for new mothers.
Christians could perhaps learn from Hindus how to better acknowledge and celebrate the stages of pregnancy and birth. The samskāras of conception and pregnancy affirm the woman’s special state and the hopes of the couple. Because of a long history of embarrassment and shame around the body (particularly the female body), Christians have not developed a ritual structure surrounding this most important event. Many women are not able to bring their pregnancies into their religious life at all. Thus, the only commonly practiced Catholic birth ritual is baptism of the baby, effecting initiation into the Christian faith and Church membership.
Infant baptism has been practiced since at least the beginning of the third century ce,[11] and historically involved naming the child as well.[12] In present practice, baptism usually takes place within six months of birth, and often much earlier. Though it is a birth ritual in timing, in its meaning it may be compared to Hindu initiation. To this topic we now turn.

Childhood and Puberty
There are a number of samskāras that document the child’s early life: nāmakarana (name-giving), niskramana (first outing), anna-prāśana (first feeding), chūdā karana (first haircut), and karnavedha (ear piercing).[13] There are also educational samskāras: vidyārambha (learning the alphabet), upanayana (initiation), vedārambha (commencing Veda study), keśānta (shaving), and samāvartana or snāna (the end of being a student).[14] The most pertinent of these for comparison with Catholicism is upanayana, or initiation.
Upanayana brings a young man into “full citizenship of the community” and affirms his race, social status, and resultant privileges.[15] It is a complex ceremony that marks “a new era in the life of the initiate,”[16] a time of religious study and commencement of “the continuing, life-long process of ritual self construction.”[17] An important change in his identity occurs as well, as he now calls himself “twice-born.”[18] The ceremony takes place around puberty (unlike Catholic initiation at birth).[19] Despite the different timing, upanayana has similar purposes to baptism.
A baptized Catholic child is brought into full communion with the Church and is considered a member from baptism onward; both initiations provide relational identity in a particular community. Also like the Hindu initiate, the baptized child embarks on religious education, or catechism, which leads to the rites of confirmation and first communion. These are integral to the Catholic’s “life-long process of ritual self construction,”[20] through participation in Eucharist and penance. Confirmation takes place when “the young person can knowingly and freely choose Christian faith,”[21] and in this way is similar to the timing of upanayana.
But what is key, in both traditions, is that a fundamental change in being is believed to take place: in upanayana the Hindu receives “birth from the Veda” and in baptism the Christian is clothed with Christ and adopted as God’s heir.[22] Both religions believe that their rituals not only indicate a new life stage, but, by their performance, change the very ontology of the initiate. Hinduism and Christianity share an understanding of initiation as rebirth into a new identity, as well as community acceptance and the start of religious education.

In both religions, marriage is the next rite of passage, and unmarried persons are, if not rare, at least not normative.[23] Catholics are offered a sacramental alternative to marriage in ordination (for men) or holy orders (for both sexes). These involve a lifelong commitment to the Church, and require public vows of celibacy and poverty. They are perfectly acceptable – even admirable – alternatives to married life. No samskāra alternative to marriage exists; in India, singlehood carries negative connotations, and is especially demeaning for rural women.[24] Yet there are rare substitutions: for instance, women in certain parts of northwest India may choose to be sādhin:
Their title is regarded as a feminine form of sādhu (holy men), and they see themselves and are seen by fellow villagers as a kind of ascetic, albeit in a strictly limited sense. Theirs is a wholly respectable status, as their title itself implies, and no disrepute attaches to either the women themselves or their families.[25]

Sādhini are not to be confused with Christian nuns; they do not take formal vows, and although they remain celibate, they are not cloistered but actively engage in worldly affairs. And they are quite extraordinary; for the vast majority of Hindus, marriage is their adulthood samskāra.
The Hindu marriage ceremonies are called vivāha, and marriage is considered a “religious duty encumbent [sic] upon every individual.”[26] Marriage is the most complex of the samskāras, comprised of 35 ceremonies intended to symbolically “cover all the aspects of married life.”[27] Differences abound when it comes to arrangements, as to whether the bride and groom know one another or are even cousins, or whether a “love match” is allowed.
In Christianity, marriage is considered a holy sacrament. Though rarely arranged by parents, Catholic marriages must take place between two Catholics (so if one party is not in the Church he or she must join; otherwise, the wedding cannot take place under a priest). Non-married Christians are not usually ostracized; but marriage is defined by the Church as the only appropriate situation for sexual relations and is strongly encouraged for the raising of children.
For Catholics, marriage is the paradigm of human friendship, in which “the love relationship of a Christian couple [sacramentalizes] the relationship between Christ and the church, between God and humankind.”[28] Scholar Rajbali Pandey (1907–1971) offers this description of Hindu marriage that could easily translate to Christianity:
Hindu marriage which the nuptials solemnize is not a social contract in the modern sense of the term, but a religious institution, a sacrament. By it we mean that besides the two human parties, the bride and the bridegroom, there is a third superhuman, spiritual or divine element in marriage. The physical conditions of the two parties are always subject to change and, as such, they cannot form the permanent basis of marriage. It is on the third element that the permanent relationship between the husband and the wife depends.[29]

Despite the differences in how each may approach marriage, here is evidence of a strong similarity in the two religions’ understanding of the sacred union of husband and wife.

The final samskāra in a Hindu’s life is antyesti, or funeral ceremonies. “While living, a Hindu consecrates his worldly life by performing various rites and ceremonies at the different stages of his progress. At his departure from this world, his survivors consecrate his death for his future felicity in the next world.”[30] This ritual arose in part from the practical needs of disposing of the corpse, as well as allowing the survivors to be purified and the soul of the dead to be released.[31] Hindu custom usually dictates cremation, and many recitations, gifts, processions, and rites surround the preparation of the body and actual burning.[32] Following the cremation, additional ceremonial actions are carried out by the mourners to ensure the soul’s safe journey away from the body. They continue making offerings and rituals at specified times following the death.
Catholics practice one final rite of passage prior to death, when possible, called extreme unction. This ritual allows the dying person a final confession and Eucharist, to prepare the soul to meet God. Christians also believe in the afterlife, and anticipate a future bodily resurrection (for many centuries this meant that burial was preferred over cremation). Christian funerals recognize the grief of survivors, yet are hopeful occasions in which the future resurrection of the deceased and her reuniting with the survivors is emphasized. Often prayers will take place in the home, and frequently a wake (all-night prayer vigil) will be part of the death rites.[33] The funeral service is at the church, usually including Eucharist, and an additional brief service is offered at the grave, “petitioning God to receiving the soul of the departed.”[34] As in Hinduism, rituals of remembrance are offered at set times following the death.
In both traditions, while overt attention is paid to the ongoing life of the deceased, the ceremonies also serve to provide comfort to the survivors through familiar and symbolic ritual behavior. In the end, this is the primary purpose of any lifecycle rite: to contextualize a status change through religious activity: offering communal fellowship, spiritual meaning, and identity.

Ministry Application
The value of ritualizing life stages is recognized throughout world religions for its psychological and social value in the life of individuals. This comparison study of Hindu and Christian rituals has allowed me to more clearly understand how deeply embedded these rituals are in a practitioner’s life, how they form identity, and how they can assist in interfaith dialogue.
In working with persons (in any capacity), it is vital to understand how the rituals that may have surrounded their life stages have affected their psyche, emotions, and relationships. Those who reject religion have often experienced ritual in a negative way – often because it was compartmentalized, and thus the person is unable to connect it to everyday life. This is why lifecycle rituals are a vital element of Christianity: every stage of life (not just those that we have mentioned) needs to be integrated into the faith of the individual and affirmed by the Church. Many aspects of childhood – especially early childhood, when so much socialization takes place – are better ritualized by Hindu samskāras. Christians must commit to bring God into every stage of life, so as to raise holistic Christian adults who recognize God’s hand throughout their lives.
It is also important for ministers to note the identity-forming aspect of lifecycle rituals. So much of who a person becomes is wrapped up in how their family and culture of origin ritualized the lifecycle. Acceptance and belonging in a community (as in the initiation rituals compared above) gives a person a place in the world. Whether pubescent changes were celebrated or shamed makes a huge impact. Healthy awareness of mortality can be fostered by the ritual life surrounding funerals and can be quite beneficial even for young children. When done properly and consistently, ritual can be put to very positive use in forming strong Christian identity.
Finally, as I hope to engage in interfaith dialogue in whatever vocation I may pursue, this study has offered me many new insights and tools to encourage better relationships between those of many faiths. Often misunderstandings occur across religious boundaries because of ignorance regarding formational rituals. Our identity may be largely wrapped up in rites of passage that are completely foreign to those of other traditions. Thus, learning about one another’s rituals is not only fun and interesting, it provides a fundamental connection between persons at the deepest level. For example, a Christian and a Hindu may truly connect over their shared understanding of marriage as a sacramental relationship between three parties, one of them divine. Finding such common ground leads to better understanding and cooperation (though of course we should never neglect differences – we learn as much or more from them!).

This brief comparison of the lifecycle rituals of Hinduism and Christianity has sought to uncover some of the similarities and differences between the faiths. But three significant, overarching differences must be mentioned before concluding: first, most of these Christian rituals are available to all persons, regardless of social standing, while the Hindu rituals are largely reserved for the upper varnas.[35] Second, Christians celebrate these rites of passage for both genders, not only males (except for ordination, which, in Catholicism, is only available to men). And third, adult converts are more regularly found in Christianity. This paper has focused on rituals from birth so as to cover the entire lifecycle and offer clear comparison. But this does not necessarily apply to all Christians, and certainly not to most converts (who tend to be past childhood).[36]
These differences emphasize that the rites described above are actually quite specialized and may not apply to the majority of those practicing various types of Hinduism or Christianity. Indeed, marriage and funeral rites may be the only samskāras in which most Hindus participate (or are eligible to do); and certainly Protestant rites of passage are different from Catholic. Thus, while points of comparison may be made, they are not universally applicable. It would be inappropriate to assume that all Hindus and all Christians celebrate all the rituals in the ways mentioned above. But by comparing some of the representative lifecycle rituals of these two religions, from birth and childhood through adulthood and on to the next life, one finds openings for dialogue – and that is always the primary and final goal of undertaking studies such as this.

[1] Additionally, the terms “Christian” and “Church” throughout this paper will refer to this particular branch of the Christian faith, while recognizing of course that there are many other kinds of Christians.
[2] Note that varnāshramadharma is the most common self-designation for those the West calls “Hindus,” but as this paper is for a Western audience, “Hindu” will be used as a concession to common parlance.
[3] Rajbali Pandey, Hindu Samskāras: Socio-Religious Study of the Hindu Sacraments, 2nd ed. (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, 1969), 23.
[4] Pandey, 15.
[5] Pandey, 59. Many Catholics may understand the timing aspect of this ritual – their conceptions are also meticulously planned, if the couple is practicing natural birth control (the only type permitted by the Church!).
[6] Ibid, 60.
[7] Ibid, 64.
[8] Ibid, 69.
[9] Ibid, 73.
[10] Walter Von Arx, “The Churching of Women After Childbirth,” in David Power and Luis Maldonado, eds., Liturgy and Human Passage (New York: Seabury Press, 1979), 70-71.
[11] Tertullian disapproves of it in his treatise De baptismo.
[12] Paul F. Bradshaw, “Christian Rites Related to Birth,” in Bradshaw and Lawrence A. Hoffman, eds., Life Cycles in Jewish and Christian Worship (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1996), 21-22.
[13] Pandey, xviii-xix.
[14] Ibid, xx-xxii.
[15] Pandey, 111-112. See also Brian K. Smith, “Ritual, Knowledge, and Being: Initiation and Veda Study in Ancient India,” Numen, Vol. 33, Fasc. 1. (Jun., 1986), 69, who points to the predominance of class differentiation in this rite.
[16] Pandey, 140.
[17] Smith, 65-66.
[18] Pandey, 112.
[19] In this regard, Protestant initiation is more similar, in that many Protestants also wait to initiate until a child is an adolescent or older (when she reaches the “age of accountability” and is held responsible for her sins).
[20] See note 17 above.
[21] Bernard Cooke, Sacraments and Sacramentality (Mystic, CT: Twenty-Third Publications, 1983), 146.
[22] Smith, 67, and Galatians 3:27-4:7.
[23] Prior to Vatican II, Catholics understood ordination and holy orders to be “higher” callings than marriage, but now marriage has been deemed an equally holy calling.
[24] Peter Phillimore, “Unmarried Women of the Dhaula Dhar: Celibacy and Social Control in Northwest India,” Journal of Anthropological Research, Vol. 47, No. 3. (Autumn, 1991), 331.
[25] Phillimore, 332.
[26] Pandey, 153.
[27] Pandey, xxiii-xxv and 233. Space does not permit a full rendering of these rituals, nor those of Catholicism, but their richness and lively history is certainly worthy of further study.
[28] Cooke, 93.
[29] Pandey, 226.
[30] Pandey, 234.
[31] Pandey, 236.
[32] Much attention in the West has been devoted to the practice of sati (in which the widow throws herself on the funeral pyre), but this was always somewhat rare, and is nearly obsolete in present times (Pandey, 252).
[33] Karen B. Westerfield Tucker, “Christian Rituals Surrounding Death,” in Bradshaw and Hoffman, 201.
[34] Westerfield Tucker, 208.
[35] Socio-economic status can affect Christians’ access to priests and churches, and therefore the timing or availability of ritual acts, especially historically.
[36] Perhaps rituals should be developed that will take adults through the stages of Christian maturity, in an age-appropriate way. Why should all the catechism be for the children?