World Religious Movements class, fieldtrips to Reformed Jewish, Hindu, and Buddhist temples, to observe and hear first hand the practice of their faith. Then, God added a little extra to the field trip – He’s so good, always.
Being a Christian who loves the Jewish people as the chosen of God (chosen as ambassadors and as the lineage for the gift of Christ), I was excited to hear what the Rabbi would share with us, and just before Passover too! The tour was lovely, and there is some artwork that I would like to return and view, but I confess, it broke my heart. Then, it called me to repentance.
Over and again, the cry of the Old Testament is ‘you have forgotten your first love, I Am the One who brought you out of bondage, and you have wandered away from Me.’ With gracious candor, we were told first hand that the goal and objective is social justice, and that in reviewing the Exodus, all should recognize the need to bring justice and freedom to others. This is worthy, and beautiful, but it’s a bit off target. God has become distant to them, and yet, have we not also pushed Him aside to chase lesser or more immediately demanding things? I have, and for that I’m truly sorry.
This was the overriding theme for my memory of the visit, but there were positive points. Two books were recommended, ‘American Grace’ (how religion unites & divides) and a chapter entitled ‘This Bread’ (reflections on Passover and Easter) from a 2 volume set named ‘My People’s Passover Haggadah’ (Vol 1, Vol 2, Review). One matter that gets pointed out is that in Passover, the sacrifice comes before the meal – in Easter, the meal comes before Jesus’ sacrifice. Even in this, He turned the prevailing ‘way of doing things’ on it’s head.
The Passover Seder is designed to be a full-sensory experience, involving sound, sight, smell, taste, and touch in the expression and memory, to bring about the most complete participation and impact possible. When considering the Exodus, each person is to view it as God personally reaching to rescue them, individually, from bondage. In turn, they are to seek to rescue others from oppression and social injustice, in any forum or form they find it. There is a widely published assertion that the central passage in the Bible (New Testament included) is Psalm 118:8 “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man.” The Rabbi pointed out, in relation to this view of the Passover and proper response, that the central passage in the Torah (we know it as the Old Testament) is Leviticus 19:18 “…thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.” (Actually, in just now looking it up, I find Leviticus 19 to be the likely source text for Jesus’ statements in Matthew 5 – will do more research on that.)
He mentioned that over the past few decades, there has been a broadening of the spectrum of Jewish observance and the definition of what it means to be Jewish. Originally, the Jewish heritage was seen as being passed through the mothers (which brings up some interesting points for another post). Now, one may be Jewish by matrilineal heritage or by conversion, and this may apply to ethnicity and/or faith. Strict adherance to rules against intermarriage between Jews and those of other ethnicities and faiths has mostly gone by the wayside, and the children may be brought up as Jewish or not (or multi-observant), regardless of which parent has a Jewish heritage. He also mentioned that although some still believe they are divinely called to the life of a Rabbi or full-time minister in Judaism or other faiths, He made his decision from an occupational standpoint. This is a career in which he can study, teach, and apply himself to the betterment of his community, both the community of Jewish faith, and the diverse community that is found in his local chunk of America. If you want to know how these ideas hit me, refer back to the paragraph on heartbreak and repentance.
Most crushing, for me, was his unguarded initial reaction to a question regarding the upcoming Passover Seder, as a burden and a pain. True to my ongoing interpreter training, I reminded myself to keep a straight face and not burst into tears until later, in private. I managed. It wasn’t easy, it isn’t now.
Jesus, forgive us, when the opportunity to recall and celebrate your most precious gifts to us are seen as a bothersome inconvenience. As though living among us, from diapers to crucifixion and all the issues of warped humanity in between, was ~convenient~.
In the trip to the Hindu temple, I did not carry the same yearning for something insightful, nor the same disappointment. (I do wish we would have had a deaf person and an interpreter with us, as it was extremely difficult to hear our tour guide, occasionally impossible.) I found myself praying for the people there who were diligently seeking enlightenment and release from the heavy weight of negative karma. The idols, made of various materials, require great care, yet they can do nothing but sit silent and unhearing as those that regard them carefully follow the dictates of ritual, in hopes of a better life next time around. Are we similar? Do we carefully follow the dictates of ‘do & do not’ in hopes that the God we visit occasionally will grant us the better life after we leave this one? How often do we forget that the weight has been lifted, and to Him we owe every moment? How often do we forget to turn to the one who is alive, attentive, and active?
Speaking of active… we went to our next destination and arrived significantly early, so our group walked around the corner and quietly, respectfully, entered a lovely Monastery. 8-10 monks were in the process of singing their praise and prayers – the unison of these male voices resonated in the sanctuary. The wood, marble, and stained glass were exquisite. After they filed out, one returned to be gracious – he set aside his vow of silence for a few moments to greet and welcome us, point out visitor information, and answer a couple of questions. Then he politely requested that we make certain the door was latched as we exited. It wasn’t supposed to be open at that time. Hmm… oops… and yet, a much needed blessing. Thank You, Lord, for some surprise “Jesus time” in the middle of an idol-filled day.
After this, we went down the street a bit and found what we thought to be a Greek Orthodox church – it turned out to be Polish Catholic, one of the oldest churches in the area, and one of the few to remain after a recent thinning. (There had been about a dozen Catholic churches, each serving a different socio-linguistic group, as set up in the early years of America’s immigrant communities.) Again, the architecture and artwork was fabulous, and the music of the huge pipe organ washed over my spirit.
The altar had some decorations that caught my attention – cameo carvings, and in my mind, an invitation to reflect and pray about our own involvement in Jesus’ crucifixion. We were there, by proxy, yet in our daily lives we may revisit those same issues even now. The carvings were –
- a torch – when the mob went to the garden in the dark of night
- a sword and rod – when both religion and government were against Him
- a sword and ear – when Peter took matters into his own hands
- a money bag and coins – when Judas traded Christ for material greed
- a whip – complete with the barbs that tore His flesh to ribbons
- a rope – the self imposed price of betrayal, as Judas hanged himself
- a pitcher & basin – the attempt by Pilate to claim innocence
- a rooster – a reminder that our pride cannot conquer peer pressure, yet our Lord already knows ahead of time that we are weak, and He went through it all anyway
There were sculptures highlighting various moments in the journey to the cross, then the tomb. It hits me now, I didn’t see anything about the fact that the tomb is now vacant…hmm… we tend to forget that part sometimes. Other sculptures were veiled in purple fabric. Our gracious host pointed out that during this time, Holy Week, all is in mourning, but on resurrection morning, all veils will be lifted in celebration of Christ’s victory over death, the grave, and grief. He invited us to look around and stay as long as we wished – then mentioned that our timing on entry was perfect – the doors were supposed to be locked. Thank You, again, for a few more moments of focusing on You in the middle of this day.
Next stop, the Buddhist temple, and quite a sermon. In the natural, let me say that I’m no longer built for extended floor-sitting – kudos to the much older ladies and gentlemen who do just that, for the sake of their faith. The nun who greeted us was very sincere in her beliefs and that which she sought to convey, from the Buddhist perspective. I, for one, heard some very convicting words from the Lord as she spoke…
- Why do you study your faith? Is it not to gain wisdom and learn to be in community with your God?
- How intently do you study? How can you expect to be of service to others if you haven’t put the time and effort into communing with your God and internalizing what He has revealed of Himself?
- Why should the Buddha, or your God, help you in a moment of need or concern, if you don’t do anything to acknowledge and serve him any other time?
- It is not enough to believe in God in passing, one must be in communion with Him, and through that communion be increasingly purified of the bad in ourselves, while learning from Him how to live pure lives and become pure.
- None of us are born innocent – all carry the heavy weight of negative karma from past lives (we carry the corrupt nature that was passed down from the fall in Eden). If you should live 100 years, doing good things, avoiding murder, adultery, drunkenness, theft, and lying…you will still find yourself, in some weak protectionist moment, telling a lie to save yourself some pain. That moment, that small lie, is enough to mar the rest.
- Lying, in their definition, includes gossip, slander, and rude joking. (now, re-read the previous point, and see what the Bible says in Romans 3, especially v23 – ALL have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God)
- Why is it that the doors of Christian churches are often locked? People may enter the temples at any time of any day to pray, but Christians go only a few times a week. How is that enough?
- You fill up on bad karma 6 days a week, not communing with your God, not letting Him purify you, then you have 1 day a week when you focus on Him and gather in the church to worship and pray. How is that enough?
- A nun’s day is full – preparation and service to the Buddhas and guardians of the dharma (the way to enlightenment), going out to serve others, a little food for herself, serving those who come to the temple, studies, and prayer/meditation. How is there time for else?
- One more message – knowing who we were, where we came from, and that we already had a belief system, she still unabashedly invited us to come back and learn what we needed to know so that we could move toward purity and enlightenment. She still testified to her faith and invited us to join her. Are we such faithful missionaries, do we care so much for the souls of others, really?
They’ve got us, honestly. The Pagans, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Reformed Jews, etc… They out-steward us in caring for the natural resources God has provided. They out-minister us in caring for the needs of others in their communities and around the world, whether those needs be physical or related to social justice. They out-grace us in welcoming others who are dirty or poor or different, even those who have a different belief about the world and the ultimate matters. They out-dedicate us in worship and reverence for their chosen deities. They out-simple us in their rejection or communal sharing of material goods. They out-discipline us in avoiding that which is understood to be sinful. Honestly, is there room to wonder why they can’t hear us when we try to tell them we know the One True Way to rid ourselves of the pervasive weight of sin and grow in the relationship that will ultimately lead to eternal joy in the home and presence of the Creator? And if you think I’m overboard or off-base, read the book of James.
Now, before you get excited or discouraged that I ‘saw the light in a Buddhist temple’, there were other things I took note of… she mentioned 84,000 different ways to follow Buddha… that anyone can become a Buddha (eventually, with dedication, etc), reminiscent of the serpent’s offer:
Genesis 3: 4And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: 5For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.
She went to great lengths to tell us over and again how the path is not so easy, not so glib, that many lives of dedication are required to purify us of bad karma (and how could we say that believing in Jesus in one lifetime is enough?), right before she spent another few paragraphs telling us that if we call on the name of one particular deity 7 times over 7 days, that deity will come for our souls when we die and take us to the pure land. The fact that she diligently made two absolutely opposing points didn’t phase her.
~Written by Janeen Jarrell at sglass.net