Easter 2015… its about hope

Easter is the highest holy day… the most sacred day of the year for some 2.2 billion Christians worldwide. Indeed, 1/3 of the planet’s population, Christians have faith that Jesus was the Son of God and that He rose from the dead on Easter Sunday morning after being crucified to death as a political prisoner on Good Friday.

The spiritual mystery of Easter is the resurrection of the body after death – both Jesus’ bodily resurrection and His promise of resurrection for those who live their lives believing in Him and following His teachings.

But regardless of your personal beliefs about Jesus or His legacy, Easter is about hope.
Not just hope in everlasting eternal life beyond death…but…

Easter is about hope. Hope today. Hope right here. Hope right now.

Hope that despite the immense suffering in our world…
hope that in the face of heinous trauma, pain and loss…
hope that in the evil shadow of homicides, suicides and genocides…
hope that in the desperate agony of catastrophic illness and starvation and fearful hatred…

Hope that changes everything.

Today, whether you are Christian or not, I invite you to be hopeful…

And that changes everything.

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Easter 2015… its about hope

Holy Thursday

Today Christians throughout the world celebrate Holy Thursday. Also known as Maundy Thursday, the day commemorates the institution of the Sacrament of the Eucharist (Holy Communion) at the Last Supper that Jesus shared with his apostles the evening before he died. Christians also believe that Jesus instituted the priesthood at that same meal. Because Jesus was Jewish, the Last Supper was actually a Jewish Passover Seder meal.

“Maundy” comes from the Latin word “mandatum” which means “commandment” which is the first word that Jesus spoke to His apostles after He washed their feet (although Jesus spoke Aramaic, not Latin).

“I give you a new commandment: Love one another as I have loved you.” ~ New Testament Gospel of John 13:34

Christians believe today commemorates:

The sharing of the Jewish Passover Seder meal that would come to be called “The Last Supper”
Jesus is said to have washed the feet of his 12 apostles during that meal
Jesus instituted the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist
Jesus instituted the Priesthood (Sacrament of Holy Orders)
Jesus gave his disciples a new commandment to replace Jewish laws
Jesus shared a final farewell and special prayers with his closest friends

“I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” ~John 13:34-35

For me, this day commemorates the very essence of Jesus’ message.
Sadly, 2000 years later, Christians still struggle to accept and practice its meaning.
This is the tragedy of Christianity today.

Holy Thursday

A Letter To Christians In Indiana, From Jesus

Indiana Christians?

john pavlovitz

Pen

Dear Christians In Indiana (and those elsewhere, who might read this),

I’ve seen what’s been going on there lately. Actually, I’ve been watching you all along and I really need to let you know something, just in case you misunderstand:

This isn’t what I had planned.

This wasn’t the Church I set the table for.

It wasn’t the dream I had for you, when I spoke in those parables about the Kingdom; about my Kingdom.

It was all supposed to be so very different.

It was supposed to be a pervasive, beautiful, relentless “yeast in the dough” that permeated the planet; an unstoppable virus of compassion and mercy spread person-to-person, not needing government or law or force.

It was supposed to be that smallest, seemingly most insignificant of seeds, exploding steadily and gloriously with the realized potential of my sacred presence, becoming a place of safety and shelter for all people.

It was supposed to be…

View original post 1,224 more words

A Letter To Christians In Indiana, From Jesus

Christians Talking to Muslims

Is Dialogue with Islam Possible?
By Thomas Reese
March 13, 2015 for the National Catholic Reporter

“It is dialogue and cooperation on the local level that makes a difference.”

Granted the Islamic State group and the multiple conflicts occurring in the Middle East, is dialogue with Islam possible? This was the question asked by Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, nuncio emeritus to Egypt and former president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.
As a member of the Society of Missionaries of Africa and an Arabic and Islamic scholar, Fitzgerald is especially qualified to discuss this topic, as he did in a March 6 lecture at The Catholic University of America sponsored by the Institute of Policy Research and Catholic Studies and the Africa Faith and Justice Network.

Despite having spent most of his life in dialogue with Islam, Fitzgerald is not blind to the difficulties of dialogue. He began by examining three elements that make dialogue difficult with certain categories of Muslims.

First, “there is a great difference in the experience of Jesus and Muhammad, and thus in the foundational experience of these two religions,” he said. Both were prophets with a message of conversion to the world. Both gathered around them disciples.

“Yet Jesus preached the kingdom of God, a kingdom which was not of this world,” Fitzgerald explained. “His was an essentially religious message which, although it was designed to have an effect on people’s behavior in this world, could be lived out within any political setting.”

“[Muhammad’s] message too was essentially religious, the acknowledgement of the one God as against the prevalent polytheism, but it had a social dimension to it, which was to bring about the formation of a new community bound not by blood ties or tribal loyalty, but by religion: the Umma.” The Umma was both a religious and a political community, and it took up arms to survive. Muhammad was both a prophet and a statesman.

Pre-Constantine Christianity, on the other hand, was a purely religious movement that did not take up arms to survive.

“So although Christianity was, as it were, taken over and used by political entities, in the first place by the Byzantines and then afterward by various monarchs and rulers, in essence, it remains independent of any political power,” Fitzgerald said. “Whereas Islam, from its very beginning as a separate community, has been both religious and political, and one would be tempted to say that striving to defend the community, if necessary by force of arms, is a natural component of the religion.”

There is a tendency among Muslims to look back to its first period, that of the Rightly-Guided Caliphs, as the time of glory and true Islam. This has inspired numerous revivalist movements throughout history. Jihads against Muslims who did not practice a pure version of Islam became common. Most of these movements were local and short-lived, but the Wahhabi movement, which started in the 18th century, is still with us and finds sponsorship in Saudi Arabia.

The attraction of the caliphate is the second issue examined by Fitzgerald. He notes that Islam split into Sunni and Shiite factions after the death of Muhammad because of disagreements over succession.

The Shiite believe that Muhammad appointed Ali, his cousin, as his successor. For the Shiite, each imam designates his successor, who must belong to the family of the prophet. The Shiite believe that there were 12 imams following Muhammad and that the 12th imam went into occultation and will return at the end of time to bring about a reign of justice.

Sunnis believe Muhammad made no provision for succession and therefore succession would be determined through election by prominent members of the community.

Yet despite these divisions, the caliphate during its period of Islamic expansion and prosperity acted as a focal point of unity for Muslims. This lasted until the mid-10th century, when the caliphate began to lose its importance until Mustafa Kemal Ataturk finally abolished it in 1924.

Although an attractive ideal, the caliphate has not always been a dominant factor in the life of Islam and certainly for centuries has not functioned as a unifying political power. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s pronouncement that he is the caliph has been condemned by Muslim authorities. A leading scholar, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, chairman of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, has said that the title of caliph can “only be given by the entire Muslim nation.”

The last point Fitzgerald examines is Shariah by which the Umma is to be regulated. He notes that there are four sources for Shariah: the Quran; the Sunnah, or tradition of the prophet; qiyas, or analogy; and ijma, or consensus among scholars. The multiple sources and textual ambiguity lead to debate and disagreements over Shariah so that there are at least four different schools of interpretation.

So when it is proclaimed that Shariah law is going to be applied, the question will arise as to which Shariah. Who is going to decide which type of Shariah law is to be applied, and who is to control its application, seeing that all the conditions are fulfilled before a judgment is given?

Fitzgerald concluded: “The takfiri jihadists who have proclaimed an Islamic State where Shariah law will be observed under the guidance of a self-designated caliph are not upholding Islamic tradition, whatever they may say.” He said he believes that dialogue is impossible with such people “who are convinced they hold the truth and therefore have no need of listening to others.”

But dialogue with other Muslims is possible, he argued. He pointed to four types of dialogue that are possible and encouraged by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue: the dialogue of life, the dialogue of action, the dialogue of discourse, and the dialogue of spiritual experience.

The dialogue of life, or what Fitzgerald calls harmonious living, takes place “where people strive to live in an open and neighborly spirit, sharing their joys and sorrows, their human problems and preoccupations,” in the words of the pontifical council.

Christians and Muslims have been living side by side for centuries in Africa and Asia, and now Muslims are present in increasing number in Europe and North America.

“Steps have to be taken in order to allow people to get to know one another and to create harmony,” Fitzgerald said. Increased violence has made this more difficult, but also more necessary.

Second, there is the dialogue of action where Christians and Muslims work together to face up to problems of society. Christians and Muslims have found common cause in the pro-life movement as well as in advocating human rights, social reforms, and care of the environment. Working together creates understanding and trust.

The third is the dialogue of discourse where, according to the pontifical council, “specialists seek to deepen their understanding of their respective religious heritages, and to appreciate each other’s spiritual values.” Themes such as justice in international trade relations, business ethics, problems of migration, media and religion, respect for the environment, and questions of bioethics have all been taken up in these dialogues. Some dialogues have also discussed purely theological topics like the foundations for holiness and reason, faith and the human person.

Finally, there is the dialogue of religious experience, where, according to the pontifical council, “persons, rooted in their own religious traditions, share their spiritual riches, for instance with regard to prayer and contemplation, faith and ways of searching for God.” Religious communities like the Benedictines and Trappists have been involved in such dialogues.

Fitzgerald concluded “that Christian-Muslim dialogue exists, and therefore it is possible.” But the situation is uneven. “There are places where there is very little or no interest at all in such dialogue, yet there are other places where relations with Muslim neighbors have become a normal concern for Christian communities.”

But at the same time that cooperation is growing, so too is mutual suspicion, which renders dialogue more difficult.

Fitzgerald puts little faith in international meetings of religious leaders and scholars. It is dialogue and cooperation on the local level that makes a difference. He said local dialogue should not be seen as a fire brigade for responding to a crisis, but as a preventive strategy that builds relationships that inoculate communities from being drawn into violence by suspicions and misunderstandings.

“It entails increasing mutual knowledge, overcoming prejudices, creating trust,” he explained. “It means strengthening bonds of friendship and collaboration to such an extent that detrimental influences coming from outside can be resisted.”

“Its aim is to build up good relations among people of different religions, helping them to live in peace and harmony,” Fitzgerald said. He noted that where Muslim and Christian leaders and communities have a history of cooperation, conflict is less likely to escalate into violence.

“It is the conflict that makes the news, not the absence of conflict,” he noted. “And yet this absence of conflict is really the good news.”

Where conflict has occurred, there will be a need for a purification of memories, which “means listening to the differing accounts of the same events, paying attention to both facts and perceptions, and trying to come to a common understanding,” he explained. “When the past is examined with honesty, it will usually be seen that all is not black and white. There can be wrongs on both sides. In any case, the acknowledgement of wrongs done, of injustices, of atrocities is an important step in any process of reconciliation.”

“Interreligious dialogue should lead to a common search for understanding, to a shared sympathy for those who are suffering and in need, to a thirst for justice for all, to forgiveness for wrong done, together with a readiness to acknowledge one’s own wrong-doings, whether individual or collective,” Fitzgerald concluded. “This would seem to be the true way forward for Christian-Muslim dialogue.”

***Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese is a senior analyst for National Catholic Reporter and author of Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church. His email address is treesesj@ncronline.org. You can follow him on Twitter: @ThomasReeseSJ

http://ncronline.org/blogs/faith-and-justice/dialogue-islam-possible

Christians Talking to Muslims

Lent: 40 Days of Self Acceptance?

Lent is an annual Christian religious observance of 40 days, from Ash Wednesday through 6 weeks lasting until Easter Sunday. Believers are expected to prepare themselves spiritually by saying special prayers and blessings, doing acts of penance, repenting for their sins, almsgiving, making atonement and performing acts of self-denial. Frequently persons will abstain from eating meat, enjoying their favorite foods or denying themselves some gratification for the duration.

Lent honors the the story of the 40 days Jesus spent alone in the desert prior to beginning his public ministry which culminated in his arrest, crucifixion and resurrection. During that time, the New Testament tells us Jesus fasted in the desert and overcame a series of temptations by the Devil. Indeed, for most Christians, Lent is a sacred time for self-reflection and preparation for Easter, the most holy day of the Christian year.

As a boy and young adult, I took Lent very seriously practicing a wide range of spiritual techniques based on what I realize now were very negative messages regarding my sinful unworthiness. I profoundly accepted that I was a bad boy born with the defect of original sin. I harbored guilt and sorrow quite well and could easily remind myself of my sins, faults and weaknesses.

Since then, I’ve spent the past 35 years of my professional life counseling thousands of people. Almost every person I’ve encountered as a pastoral counselor or minister is broken in some way. Broken thoughts, broken hearts, broken bodies, broken spirits – we are broken. Indeed, I’ve spent most of my life helping people fix themselves.

I do not dishonor Lent or its spiritual practices. I am aware that most Christians find purpose, meaning and comfort in the season.

But this Lent, I am an interfaith minister. My meditation shows me a different path. I choose to share it in the hopes that it may resonate with some blog followers looking for an alternative road to healing.

This Lent, I’m suggesting 40 days of self-acceptance.

Think about it.
What would it be like if you prayed for and blessed yourself?
If your special prayers included gratitude for being created in the image and likeness of the Universe?
If your repentance included your own self-forgiveness?
If your set money aside to to provide a little bit of charity for yourself?
If your atonement for your sins/failings/mistakes included making amends to yourself?
If you practiced acts of self-approval, self-affirmation and self-acceptance?

Imagine celebrating the very best of who you are…your real self-worth…for 40 days.
40 days of positive inner conversations; 40 days of focused attention on who you are and where you’re going; 40 days of self-nurturing.

I dare say we’re all really excellent sinners. We know how to do bad things quite well – to ourselves and to each other. We’ve got evil down.
We’re already masters at malicious thoughts, angry feelings, unhealthy behaviors and disillusioned spirits.

This Lent, consider some self-love. I am especially shouting out to those of you are struggle with depression, anxiety and addiction.
Consider making this Lent different.

I’m not talking narcissistic, exaggerated self-importance or public ego games played out in social media.
I am talking celebrating the best of who you are while trying on some new ways to experience yourself with less judgment and a little more adventure.
Experiment.

Celebrate your miracle. Happy Lent!

As always, I welcome your comments. Blessings.

Lent: 40 Days of Self Acceptance?

Putting End to Buddhist Patriarchy

It is interesting to note that it’s not just Roman Catholics and Muslims struggling these days with embracing the Divine Feminine.

Growing women’s influence within theology, philosophy, religion, the arts and particularly STEM careers is transforming our human capacity for compassion and cooperation. I honor this evolutionary shift as more women respond to the Sacred call to lead, to guide and to heal.

Good reading. Blessings from your Compassionate Gardener!

This article from Tricycle can be found here: http://www.tricycle.com/blog/putting-end-buddhist-patriarchy

January 30, 2015
Putting an End to Buddhist Patriarchy
In order to become a force for social change, Buddhism needs to rid itself of enduring ills—the barring of female ordination first among them. Ajahn Brahm

On December 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, an African-American woman refused to obey a bus driver’s order to give up her seat to a white passenger. This simple act of defiance became one of the most important symbols of the modern Civil Rights Movement in the United States.

Before she passed away in 2005, Rosa Parks became a Buddhist—at age 92. One can speculate that this female icon—and fierce opponent of discrimination—chose Buddhism because it lends itself to the advancement of social justice causes.

She was right.

Buddhism should advance the particular social justice issues described in United Nations Millenium Development Goal Number Three (MDG 3): Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. For Buddhism to grow in our modern world, we need to do more than teach meditation, preach inspiring sermons, and make the sutras available online. We are good at studying, publishing, and spreading the word of Buddhism. Where we have not been very successful is showcasing the compassion and selflessness of the dharma by our actions. We have written many more words in our books than what few kind words we have spoken to the poor, lonely, and desperate. We have built so many more temples than orphanages.

Theravada Buddhism’s current male leadership, in particular, needs to clearly demonstrate its commitment to MDG 3 through the acceptance of bhikkhuni [nun] ordination. Only then can the Theravada sangha use its considerable influence to make a fairer world—one where people are judged by their character, not by their gender.

Theravada Buddhist monks, generally speaking, are very conservative. Claiming to be the guardians of “original Buddhism,” they consider one of their most important duties the preservation of these precious early teachings. However, monks of all traditions in all countries—and Buddhist lay scholars as well—accept that there were fully ordained women, called bhikkhuni, in the lifetime of the Buddha. Moreover, in these early teachings, the Buddha clearly states that he seeks to give full ordination to women:

Ananda, once I was staying at Uruvela on the bank of the river Neranjara [present day Bodh Gaya] under the Goatherd’s Banyan tree, when I had just attained supreme enlightenment. And Mara the Evil One came to me, stood to one side, and said, ‘May the Blessed One now attain final Nibbana; may the Sugata [Buddha] now attain final Nibbana. Now is the time for the Blessed Lord’s final Nibbana.’

At this, I said to Mara: ‘Evil One, I will not take final Nibbana until I have bhikkhus, bhikkhunis, lay men, and lay women followers who are accomplished, trained, skilled, learned, knowers of the dhamma, trained in conformity with the dhamma, correctly trained and walking in the path of the dhamma, who will pass on what they have gained from their teacher, teach it, declare it, establish it, expound it, analyse it, make it clear, until they shall be able, by means of the dhamma, to refute false teachings that have arisen and teach the dhamma of wondrous effect.

Theravada Buddhists should have an advantage over other major world religions because their tradition explicitly gives equity to women. Christianity has no tradition of gender equality in its priesthood—nor does Islam, Judaism, or the various schools of Hinduism. Buddhism stood ahead of its time in granting such status to women from “when [the Buddha] had just attained supreme enlightenment” at Bodh Gaya.

Nevertheless, there remain two significant obstacles to the acceptance of bhikkhuni ordination in Theravada Buddhism: (1) Ignorance about who makes the decisions that govern the sangha, and (2) Ignorance of the Vinaya, the rules established by the Buddha that restrict what decisions may be made.

As to that first point, for instance, many monks in Thailand argue that a 1928 ruling from the Sangharaja [head Buddhist monk] of Thailand, Phra Bancha Somdet Phra Sangharacha Jiao Gromluang Jinawarn Siriwad, banned the ordination of female monks:

It is unallowable for any bhikkhu to give the going-forth [ordination] to women. Any woman who wishes to ordain as a samaneri [novice nun] in accordance with the Buddha’s allowances, has to be ordained by a fully ordained bhikkhuni. The Buddha laid down the rule that only a bhikkhuni over 12 vassas [an annual three-month retreat] is eligible to be a preceptor [ceremonial guide who delivers vows]. Since there are no more fully fledged bhikkhunis to pass on the lineage, there are thus no samaneris who have obtained a proper ordination from a fully fledged bhikkhuni.

Besides the antiquity of the ruling, one could also point out that the Sangharaja of Thailand, together with the Thai Council of Elders [senior monks], is only permitted to rule on matters directly concerning the monks and novices of the two main Thai Buddhist sects, Mahanikaya and Dhammayuttanikaya. They are not legally empowered to rule over the affairs of other monastic groups, such as Mahayana monks or nuns. The wait will never end for those well-meaning monks holding out hope that the Thai Council of Elders will sanction the legitimacy of Theravada bhikkhunis. The Thai Council of Elders, after all, is not legally entitled to rule on matters beyond its remit.

As for the Vinaya, the second obstacle that I listed, each monastic community is bound to act within its rules.

Renowned Theravada scholar monk Bhikkhu Analayo argues that the Thai Sangharaja’s 1928 ruling—and thus, the Vinaya in its current form—has no bearing because it directly contradicts the Buddha’s original teachings. In a recent publication, “The Revival of the Bhikkuni Order and the Decline of the Sasana,” Analayo argues persuasively that the Buddha gave authority for bhikkhunis to receive ordination in a dual ceremony—both in a sangha of bhikkhunis and then in a sangha of bhikkhus.

By restoring equity to women in the Theravada sangha through reinstating bhikkhuni ordination, we will address the inferior status of women in many Theravada countries, promote gender equity in education, and thereby make a strong statement in support of the third UN Millennium Development Goal: gender equality and the empowerment of women.

In a recent paper, scholars Emma Tomalin and Caroline Starkey explore the role that Buddhism in Thailand and Cambodia plays in maintaining gender disparity in education. Ultimately they ask, “What is the relationship between the reassertion of women’s traditional ordination rights and female empowerment through education?” Since, as they note, “several scholars, both Thai and Western, have implicated Buddhism as one explanatory factor for the historical inequality between genders, particularly in the poorest areas,” many advocates of bhikkhuni ordination see “a direct relationship between the low status of women in many Buddhist traditions and the inferior status of women within Buddhist societies.”

By fixing our own house first, we have the considerable opportunity and moral authority—through our books and sermons—to inspire our Buddhist followers to work toward gender equality in spheres other than religion. Such action would lead to a world with less violence, better health, and more prosperity.

Ajahn Brahm is a British Theravada monk and abbot of Bodhinyana Monastery in Serpentine, Australia.

Putting End to Buddhist Patriarchy

I will not fear

Thomas Merton, a Roman Catholic Trappist monk would have been 100 years old today. When I was a teenager, I read his The Seven Storey Mountain. The book strongly influenced my life, career path and my faith decisions.

This prayer is from that book. It’s offers a very unique glimpse into the inner prayer life of one of the most spiritually contemplative mystics of the 20th century.

Over the years, I’ve used the prayer often and offered it to many along their paths…survivors grieving the loss of a love; addicts struggling with recovery or sobriety; prisoners seeking forgiveness; depressed and fearful souls searching for hope…

You might pray it often:

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”
~Thomas Merton

I will not fear