Aug 29, 2009

Evaluating God?

Have you recently eaten at a restaurant at which a waitperson URGED you to take a “customer satisfaction survey” so that “Outback” or “Blimpie’s” could better serve you? Sure they offer a large drink if you do so. Maybe it’s just me, but sometimes this serving mentality is annoying—especially when the humanoid who is doing the urging also promises to give you computer lessons because doing it on line is so much quicker. What is quicker is a paper shredder!

Some best know the name Ludwig Feuerbach for his criticism of Idealism and religion, especially Christianity. Feuerbach held that humankind was not made in God’s image as we are used to reading in the biblical book of Genesis. Rather, Feuerbach believed that God was created in humankind’s image. He wrote that “Religion is the dream of the human mind. But even in dreams we do not find ourselves in emptiness or in heaven, but on earth, in the realm of reality; we only see real things in the entrancing splendor of imagination and caprice, instead of in the simple daylight of reality and necessity.” Thus, Feuerbach became an intellectual forerunner to Kierkegaard, Schopenhauer, Marx, and Nietzsche.

Why all this verbiage about Professor Feuerbach? The verbiage about Professor Feuerbach comes about because today I saw a church’s (tongue-in-cheek) attempt at better “customer relations.” What I saw was a survey from one of my colleagues titled “To Better Serve You . . . ‘Please Evaluate God.’ ”

Among the questions: “How did you find out about God?” followed by 18 options including the newspaper, Dead Sea Scrolls, and a burning bush. The evaluation sheet has ten different kinds of “customer satisfaction survey-type” questions, many of which are very funny. My favorite questions were number six which asked the respondent: “Have you ever worshipped a false God before? If so, which false God were you fooled by? Please check all that apply [12 choices plus other].”

Yet this tongue-in-cheek survey does point out that in many people’s faith pilgrimage we pray to God that we want “to have it our way” [Burger King]. Do we simply consume God like we do a “Blimpie slow-cured ham, prosciuttini, pepperoni, provolone, roasted red peppers and creamy Italian dressing Meatball Parmigiana hot sub on ciabatta bread?”

PS. When was the last time you saw Blimpie and Ludwig Feuerbach in the same article?

Aug 25, 2009

“The Intuitive Mind”

School begins for all of us soon! It is ironic but only those who have suffered under all the teaching and reading and instruction are in a position to appreciate the gift of a good education. I recently re-read a quote I copied from Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes:

You have to study and learn so that you can make up your own mind about history and everything else, but you can’t make up an empty mind. Stock your mind, stock your mind. It is your house of treasure and no one in the world can interfere with it. If you won the Irish sweepstakes and bought a house that needed furniture, would you fill it with bits and pieces of rubbish? Your mind is your house and if you fill it with rubbish . . . it will rot in your head. You might be poor, your shoes might be broken, but your mind is a palace.

I have always been a great advocate for education. But there are people who are formally uneducated who have a deep understanding of reality that defies education. I know people who have only finished 3rd grade, but have a unique kind of wisdom that you cannot get in a classroom.

There is a kind of learning that is more important than factual knowledge, as important as facts may be in the big scheme of things. There is a kind of learning that is more essential than the frailty of human reasoning, as important as reasoning may be. It does not defy reason; it confounds it because it surpasses it. It is akin to faith; it resembles insight, and approaches intuition.

May our school year be blessed and may we remember that education and knowledge are means to the end of a life with value and meaning. This is what I have been thinking.

Aug 21, 2009

"Our enemies can often correct our faults by their disparagement, just as the flattery of friends can corrupt us" (Augustine, Confessions).

During my travels this summer (2009) I spent some time with James J. O'Donnell's relatively new biography of Saint Augustine titled of all things--Augustine: A New Biography (2005). Of course there are many splendid biographies of Augustine--Peter Brown, F. Van Der Meer, and Gary Wills, to name a few . . . and scores more besides. O'Donnell's Confessions, however, seems well written and thorough. Best of all this 340 page book got me through a lot of "down time" in airports and elsewhere this summer. As Augustine is one of the theologians most influential in Western culture, I can never read enough either by him or about him--and the literature is extensive.

Perhaps it is a reflection of my advancing age, but I still enjoy reading. In fact one of the best gifts people give me is offering tips on a good read or two. So today I want to thank Dan Dick and John Robbins for providing me six book titles to add to my reading list. I hope these will get me through all my "down time" between now and Advent!

Aug 18, 2009

Coming Attractions

Several decades ago, in fact in July 1976, the following banner was seen draped across a London street: "America! Come Home—All is Forgiven!!" Those Brits have a wry sense of humor—especially about our US bi-centennial.

In an ironic sense, however, this is a similar call the church makes to modern America every autumn. Many of our citizens/members have been recreating or slumbering all summer, but now the call goes out—Come Home--All is Forgiven! Therefore Sunday 7 September 2009, is hereby declared “Amnesty Sunday” at First United Methodist Church, Arlington, Texas. All persons who claim FUMC as domicile can come home without penalty. You are eternally welcome here!!!

I look forward to worshiping with you Sunday and hope this next year, although demanding, will be one of joy and discovery for us all.

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