Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Belief, by Francis S. Collins

April 28 - Mahatma Gandhi and The Dalai Lama

Question 1.  In the beginning, Gandhi asserts, “Religion is not really what is grasped by the brain, but a heart grasp.”  He describes it as an inherent piece of our makeup as humans…thus, all possess it.  From there, he provides several “rules,” noting that strict adherence is required by all who seek to be a fellow member of his Institution.  These include: The Vow of Truth; Doctrine of Ahimsa; The Vow of Non-Thieving; The Vow of Fearlessness; and reflections on God. 

According to the first vow, Truth is not an option.  His example of the life of Prahlad was dramatic and extreme.  Most of us will not suffer similar torture and suffering for the sake of truth.  How do we understand the value and role of Truth today as Christians?  How does this compare with our culture’s flippant and casual attitude toward Truth?

Question 2.  Ahimsa means “non-killing.”  Gandhi broadens this definition to include any negative thought and action toward another…including enemies.  Obviously, this concept has never caught on with the rest of the world…which seems to prefer violence and retribution whenever possible.  Jesus taught a similar ethic of love and non-violence.  What, if any, might you regard as justifiable exceptions to this principle?

Question 3.  In his vow of “non-thieving,” Gandhi urges the sharing of one’s resources with those in need.  He implies that to retain more than one really needs is to “steal” it from another.  Again, this really hasn’t caught on too well in our capitalistic, consumer-based economy.  But progress is being made, especially through social agencies and religious institutions.  Where have you made progress in this area of your faith?  What opportunities are you aware of that might benefit others who wish to follow this path?

Question 4.  Gandhi maintains that “there is only One whom we have to fear, that is God.”  His discussion of God’s nature is humble and respectful…acknowledging the great mystery that pervades God’s spirit and presence in the cosmos.  God must rule the heart and transform it.  Our union with God is a joint effort in wrestling with and against evil…a continuous journey for which we can only strive with diligence and perseverance.  As best you can, describe your journey with God thus far.  How near or far do you feel from God, and why?  What would bring you closer?              

Question 5.  The Dalai Lama is obviously a well-educated person.  His basic thrust in this chapter emerges from a simple question: “Doe ethics have a place in science?”  What is your experience with the study and practice of ethics?  What are the dangers involved today with the exclusion of ethics from scientific forums?

Question 6.  The Dalai Lama explains the danger of “scientific materialism,” which, at its worst, leads to nihilism.  On the flip side, spirituality without the input of science can lead to a narrow-minded fundamentalism…also quite bad.  Obviously, the existence of both extremes is fully entrenched in their own preservation and pursuits.  Again as Christians, particularly the Lutheran expression, we attempt to see God at work in these ongoing dialogues.  What seem to be the most pressing issues of our day along this continuum?  What concerns you most as science advances and human needs continue to push for solutions and answers to human suffering?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Belief...Francis S. Collins

April 14 Book Study
Thomas Merton, Dietrich Bonhoeffer,
Viktor Frankl, Mother Teresa

Question 1.  Merton rushes out of the gate with this bold statement, “Ultimately, the highest function of the human spirit is the work of the supernaturally transformed intelligence, in the beatific vision of God.  Love is both the starting point of contemplation and its fruition.” 

Merton is careful to explain that this grace comes to us through Christ.  He continues, “But what is the true nature of mystical contemplation?  Essentially, mystical experience is a vivid, conscious participation of our soul and of its faculties in the life, knowledge, and love of God Himself.” 

For most Christians, and certainly Lutherans, such language is murky and such experiences otherworldly.  How do we bridge the gap between Merton’s world and ours?  How might our patterns of spiritual “contemplation” be considered “mystical?”  Where do we have opportunity to grow in this area of spirituality and what steps might we take to move in such directions?

Question 2.  Bonhoeffer has been a model theologian for me over these many years.  His great emphasis on love from Matthew 5 is compelling, not for its simplicity and ease, but for its difficulty and demands.  As such, Bonhoeffer urges us to take up our crosses and follow Jesus.  It is something we do…in “simple, unreflecting obedience to the will of Christ.” 

When and where have you been the giver and/or the receiver of such love of late?  How does your faith allow and direct such obedience?  Give examples, please.

Question 3.  I recall studying Frankl’s work on “logotherapy” both as an undergraduate and graduate student.  This should not be confused with “Lego-Therapy,” which is far cheaper and more entertaining.  Frankl skips the appetizers and immediately serves the meat and potatoes portion of his diet. 

Our real “hunger” as humans is centered on our search for meaning.  The key, he suggests, is always maintaining a worthwhile goal.  The absence of such a goal(s) creates an “existential vacuum,” otherwise experienced as boredom.  This, of course, leads to all kinds of shenanigans, as he aptly points out.  In the end, we must pursue these goals according to our own path. 

How successful have you been in pursuing such goals of late?  How have you assisted others by enabling them to “actualize their potentialities?”  (Or, in redneck vernacular:  “Git ‘r done?”)

Question 4.  Mother Teresa is less of an author and more of an author-ity on the synthesis of faith and love.  As a champion for the poor, she illustrates the broad scope of poverty beyond mere physical means…pointing to the poverty in spirit we all wrestle with at times. 

If possible, share your attempts to confront your own “poverty” and what steps have been most beneficial in recognizing and addressing this greatest of human struggles.  Where have you discovered opportunities to function as Mother Teresa to others in their need?