Thursday, April 1, 2010
A theology of wholeness
This is a pieced together version of a recent paper I did after my trip to Israel/Palestine... I apologize if it seems choppy! But I think you'll get the idea ;) I am always open to conversation and feedback if you have thoughts!
I believe we each live and breathe our own theology. How we see God shapes the lens through which we see the world, shapes our narrative, and ultimately defines our actions.
I would like to reflect on a theology which leads to actions of life and wholeness as compared to a theology which leads to actions of death and brokenness. A theology of life is not reserved for one denomination, religious expression, or political party over another, just as a theology of death can be expressed in any as well. Within each religious tradition there is room for diversity of interpretation of Holy Scriptures. I hope to examine aspects of theology which transcend the boundaries of our religious traditions, while valuing and appreciating the distinct differences between each. The texts of the Holy Scriptures of each of the three Abrahamic faiths may be interpreted in a way that leads to peace and wholeness, or may be interpreted in a way that results in exclusivity of one over another, and justifies violence and hate. Again, this is not about one religious tradition over another, but is about a specific theology which can be found in the scripture and tradition of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Historically, groups within each religious tradition have committed horrendous actions of death and violence in the name of God, and in contrast, groups within each tradition have lived for centuries in loving relationship with God and neighbor.
A theology of peace and justice is one which invites us to interpret Holy Scriptures in a way which recognizes the goodness of all of creation. This interpretation invites us into relationship with God and our neighbor; both our neighbor of the same religion, and our neighbor who is the ‘stranger’, or ‘alien’. This theology becomes a living theology when it transforms our way of being in the world. Our beliefs are more than theories and words on paper, but they shape the way we relate to God, our neighbor, and all of creation. When we believe in a God who is good and just and who created and loves every creature here and now, we see ourselves called to respect and care for all in loving service. A life-giving theology is one lived by speaking words of peace, by taking non-violent action in the face of injustice, and in educating, empowering, and serving others.
This theology of wholeness rejects a Scriptural hermeneutic which focuses on hierarchical ordering of groups, people, races or nations. Interpreting any Holy Scripture in this way furthers systems of violence, hate and injustice, and may lead to fundamentalist, extremist beliefs. These beliefs lead to a constant cycle of war and hatred which cannot be defeated with opposing extremist views. In the book No God but God, Reza Aslan states, “Fundamentalism, in all religious traditions, is impervious to suppression. The more one tries to squelch it, the stronger it becomes. Counter it with cruelty, and it gains adherents. Kill its leaders, and they become martyrs. Respond with despotism, and it becomes the sole voice of opposition.” Fundamentalism in one religious tradition leads to fundamentalism in an opposing religious tradition. This view of Holy Scriptures should be tested by its fruit.
In Mathew 7:15 Jesus says:
15"Watch out for false prophets. They come to you pretending to be sheep. But on the inside they are hungry wolves. 16 You can tell what they really are by what they do. "Do people pick grapes from bushes? Do they pick figs from thorns? 17 In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit. But a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree can't bear bad fruit. And a bad tree can't bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down. It is thrown into the fire. 20 You can tell each tree by its fruit.
Fundamentalist interpretations of the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament and the Quran lead to further violence, hate, and suffering. Fundamentalist theology should be judged by its fruit. While teachings of violence can be justified by excerpts found in the Holy Scriptures of each of the Abrahamic religions, propagation of hate and violence is in clear opposition to the core principle of each religion to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves. In rejecting a theology which focuses on exclusivity and violence, and focusing on a theology which focuses on life and wholeness we move closer to a peaceful relationships.
Regardless of religious tradition, I have seen two underlying themes in theologies which lead to wholeness. First, each has an underlying belief in the goodness, compassion and mercy of God, which is not limited to a few, but is given freely to all. Second, their belief calls them to real and practical action. Over and again I witness a theology which is more than shallow words, but which comes to life through loving service to one’s neighbor, and active solidarity with all of humanity. I would like to explore this common theology which is founded in God’s love and justice for all of creation, and which comes to life in individual and community actions. A belief in God’s creation of and love for all of humanity leads to a place of mutual respect and concrete expression of deep unity. This is not a message confined to the afterlife, but is a message of life, healing and hope here and now. In my Christian tradition, Jesus tells us the time is now when speaking of the Kingdom of Heaven. The Kingdom is at hand, a revolution of faith and life is available now. It is more than words on paper, but pulses though our bodies and has seeped into our very being. A theology of wholeness recognizes that the ultimate truth of each of the Holy Scriptures is about relationship between God and us, and between one person and another. This relationship with God and neighbor fills us with a dynamic hope which moves us to actively pursue peace and justice for our community and for the world.
A living theology of wholeness recognizes that in situations of injustice, we are each living under oppression. Invitation is extended to spend time in self examination, to reflect on our own role in the struggle. A theology of wholeness requires all to spend time listening and seeking to understand the ‘other’. Focus is placed on the reality of structures of sin, and care is taken to avoid vilifying an individual or a people. Rather, in living a theology of peace, we seek to break systems of injustice and oppression. In taking this theological stance we often walk the edge where the political meets the spiritual. When our faith is rooted in human dignity and human rights for all people, we find ourselves advocating through, and fighting against political and social forces. This theology brings transformation to individuals, communities and societies. While there is a constant awareness of the historical importance, the big picture perspective, and the political and social implications of our actions, a living theology of peace and justice is grounded in small, everyday, consistent, practical engagement in the real issues of life.
This is not confined to any one land or people. We are all connected. When one part of creation is suffering, we are all suffering. This is not only in a spiritual sense, but also in a practical sense. Our governments are intimately connected. Our economies are intertwined. Our religious communities are connected. In this time of globalization our lives are connected through our media, our cultures and our relationship- and as the inter-connected creation of God.
Our theology shapes every part of our life. The way we understand God impacts our relationship with our neighbor and the choices we make day-to-day and moment-to-moment. I feel too often the central tenants of our religious traditions are trumped by political, economic and social factors. In the midst of the context of our lives, I believe we are called to carefully reflect on our theology and the implications of our beliefs. This call includes an obligation to resist structures of sin, to speak truth, to seek relationship with God and my neighbor, and to stand in solidarity with those who are struggling. This is a living, breathing, dynamic, transformative theology of wholeness.