Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Good Man- In the Worst Sense of the Word

I just got back from church. It’s early afternoon but I was lucky enough to play in the band this morning so I stayed for both services. We go to East Lake Community Church in Irmo, SC. It is a smallish church by local standards. All the services are contemporary, meaning there is pretty much a rock band leading praise and worship. And today it rocked.

During the service there were two special speakers, a man and a woman. In real life they are husband and wife. They came onto the stage in character, lights dimmed, and walked into spotlights. They took turns speaking about a crisis each was having. She was talking about a failed marriage, he about being a young man with preschool age children who had just been diagnosed with cancer. Both were speaking to God, telling their stories, asking, “Why me?” Both were angry and confused and earnest.

It was so real. At rehearsal, early in the morning before the first service, I heard them say their lines for the first time. And it was hard. Even though I knew they were acting – it was easy for me to suspend my disbelief because I know lots of people whose marriages have failed. I had a serious brush with cancer last spring. I asked some of the same questions.

Their three kids had tagged along and were sitting out in front during rehearsal. At one point their oldest son (I think he’s 6) came running up to the stage with his arms up, crying and needing to be held by Mom. The parents swooped in and hugged up all of the kids assuring them that they were just play-acting. I don’t think the little ones understood the words exactly, but the emotions came through clearly. It was hard not to tear up myself as we could all overhear Mom and Dad comforting the children because their wireless microphones were still on.

Church was so moving this morning. The songs were all very thoughtfully selected. The message one that all could relate to. It was just so real. It made us think so much. There weren’t too many dry eyes in the house. It was religion at its finest.

Then I logged onto the computer and checked out Nicholas Kristof’s latest op-ed piece about how ignorant most of us are about the world’s religions. We know about people ‘s faiths who are different than us basically through sound bites and news about religious extremists of all religions who present a negative, even violent view. We hear about suicide bombings, stonings, walls being built, missiles being fired, women who must be completely covered in public, death threats, preachers claiming to know the will of God so clearly that they can designate deaths from natural disasters are HIS just punishments, supposed men of God who want to make a public show of burning another religion’s holy book.

And it is too bad. It seems the vocal minorities often do that. Kristof made his point by giving a quiz, one that I failed. Try it for yourself.

1. Which holy book stipulates that a girl who does not bleed on her wedding night should be stoned to death?
a. Koran
b. Old Testament
c. (Hindu) Upanishads

2. Which holy text declares: “Let there be no compulsion in religion”?
a. Koran
b. Gospel of Matthew
c. Letter of Paul to the Romans

3. The terrorists who pioneered the suicide vest in modern times, and the use of women in terror attacks, were affiliated with which major religion?
a. Islam
b. Christianity
c. Hinduism

4. "Every child is touched by the devil as soon as he is born and this contact makes him cry. Excepted are Mary and her Son.” This verse is from:
a. Letters of Paul to the Corinthians
b. The Book of Revelation
c. An Islamic hadith, or religious tale

5. Which holy text is sympathetic to slavery?
a. Old Testament
b. New Testament
c. Koran

6. In the New Testament, Jesus’ views of homosexuality are:
a. strongly condemnatory
b. forgiving
c. never mentioned

7. Which holy text urges responding to evil with kindness, saying: “repel the evil deed with one which is better.”
a. Gospel of Luke
b. Book of Isaiah
c. Koran

8. Which religious figure preaches tolerance by suggesting that God looks after all peoples and leads them all to their promised lands?
a. Muhammad
b. Amos
c. Jesus

9. Which of these religious leaders was a polygamist?
a. Jacob
b. King David
c. Muhammad

10. What characterizes Muhammad’s behavior toward the Jews of his time?
a. He killed them.
b. He married one.
c. He praised them as a chosen people.

11. Which holy scripture urges that the "little ones" of the enemy be dashed against the stones?
a. Book of Psalms
b. Koran
c. Leviticus

12. Which holy scripture suggests beating wives who misbehave?
a. Koran
b. Letters of Paul to the Corinthians
c. Book of Judges

13. Which religious leader is quoted as commanding women to be silent during services?
a. The first Dalai Lama
b. St. Paul
c. Muhammad

1. b. Deuteronomy 22:21.

2. a. Koran, 2:256. But other sections of the Koran do describe coercion.

3. c. Most early suicide bombings were by Tamil Hindus (some secular) in Sri Lanka and India.

4. c. Hadith. Islam teaches that Jesus was a prophet to be revered.

5. All of the above.

6. c. Other parts of the New and Old Testaments object to homosexuality, but there’s no indication of Jesus’ views.

7. c. Koran, 41:34. Jesus says much the same thing in different words.

8. b. Amos 9:7

9. all of them

10. all of these. Muhammad’s Jewish wife was seized in battle, which undermines the spirit of the gesture. By some accounts he had a second Jewish wife as well.

11. a. Psalm 137

12. a. Koran 4:34

13. b. St. Paul, both in 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2, but many scholars believe that neither section was actually written by Paul.

I guess my point is that we are all too eager to condemn others whom we know very little about. There is so much goodness in all major religions. And there are major discrepancies as well. There is this crazy guy here in SC named Maurice Bessinger. He owns a chain of BBQ restaurants and sells BBQ sauce. There are booklets in his restaurants available that say that the Bible was totally OK with slavery. Scripture is quoted to back up his point. The same Bible in which Jesus stated,

"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (NIV, John 13:34-35)

It is hard to reconcile the two. There are a few references in the Old Testament to, “An eye for an eye”. When one person injures the eye of another he is instructed to give the value of his own eye in compensation. This seems in direct contradiction to the passage in Matthew where Jesus says, “you have heard it said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I tell you, do not resist and evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.”

I have to agree with Kristof when he says, “Religion is more complicated than it sometimes seems, and that we should be wary of rushing to inflammatory conclusions about any faith, especially based on cherry-picking texts [and I would add here – the actions of religious extremists]. The most crucial element is perhaps not what is in our scriptures, but what is in our hearts.”

This all put me in mind of a brilliant David Wilcox song called “Good Man”. The lyrics are really thoughtful and inspiring, but you’ve got to buy this CD or mp3. It’s from an album called Vista.

cover of Vista

Good Man:
(David Wilcox)

Click this link then the play arrow for "Good Man" to hear him sing it.

Let me apologize in advance

For the way my friend behaves

He'll pick a fight and take a holy stance

He's so proud that he's so saved

I hope you don't judge Jesus

By the things my friend will say

He holds a bible like a dagger

And he twists it just that way

He just loves conversation - like a cat loves a bird

I guess he's always been a good man - in the worst sense of the word

The good knights went out to save the day

In the age of the crusades

A sharp sword on a tortured soul

They were sure the point was made

Any tool can be a weapon

If it's used with that intent

The devil's great at quoting scripture

And confusing what it meant

So all the evils done for Jesus - it is a history so absurd

But there will always be a good man - in the worst sense of the word

They 'jacked a plane to make a sneak attack

They were trained to die in flames

Their last words were to God above

Just to praise His holy name

For all the terror and destruction

They felt no sense of shame

You gotta wonder why religion

Can make people so insane

But their devotion was unquestioned - follow straight and never swerve

The devil always needs a good man - in the worst sense of the word

dwilcox 2176

We make it all so complex. My book is the word, yours heresy. My code is the only correct one. My Lord. My God. My Holy days. I am saved. You are condemned.

When creating our Rules for Living and Learning with my 2nd grade class this year, one child said that we should simply follow our conscience. If there is a God (and I DO believe), then God gave us a conscience to guide our behavior. All too often, we set aside what our heart says is right so we can focus on differences and find reasons to hate and condemn. Is it trite to say, “Listen to the children”?


Ruth said...

I definitely flunked this religious test. And I am proud of it. Really, what nonsense that is touted as dogma and defended with weapons. Nobody should write that kind of stuff, not to mention demand others read and believe it. I am so happy your church gives you what it does, because that is what religion should be about. Rules and structure for fellowship and to make us better people. Any more than that and it runs the danger of making us worse people. Ruthie

Chris Hass said...

Well, I'm not really much of a test taker anyway.

We have a copy of the Koran in our living room. It was a gift from our Saudi Arabian exchange student a few years ago. While he was here he was so excited to attend church one Sunday with Tricia's parents. He truly had an open mind and wanted to know and understand more about Christianity and American churches.

Tricia's folks' church is one of those mega-churches with hundreds, if not thousands, of members, numerous morning services,and jumbo-tron televisions at the front. Despite our best efforts to explain to him that this wasn't necessarily the "typical" church, I still wonder how this one experience might have shaped his views on what our churches are like. I wonder if everyone he spoke with in Saudi now has the same idea of what "the" American or Christian church is like. There's no harm if they do but as you noted, it's never a good idea to cherry pick scripture or base our beliefs or understandings on one or two facts, quotes, experiences, or understandings. There are many instances when it really does do harm.

As I read your post I kept thinking back to one of those church signs I referenced a few weeks ago: "God expects spiritual fruit, not religious nuts."

I hope your having a great visit this weekend. I won't be at school on Monday but I'll see you Tuesday.

Brent and Kristen said...

Your presentation at church sounds quite moving. I don't know if it's bad to say, but I grew up going to a traditional church where my biggest concern was what I would wear that Sunday, who I would sit with, and if we would get spotted passing notes. I love that I look forward to hearing the Message now. I am drawn in because (just like in the classroom) they know that there are better ways to teach the Message than by lecture. I look forward to what my children will take from the service and how they will be moved. I am moved every Sunday and I love it! : )