Tag Archives: faith

Jews in the Qur’an

I have been struggling with the mixed messages in the text regarding people of the Jewish faith. At some points, God affirms His covenant with the Israelites and states that the Qur’an is intended to reaffirm what was handed down through the Torah. But then there are other passages that are highly critical of the Jews, and if taken out of context, are easily used to justify anti-Semitic sentiments.

Here is an example of where God speaks favorably in regard to the Jews.

Children of Israel, remember how I blessed you. Honour your pledge to Me and I will honour My pledge to you: I am the One you should fear. Believe in the message I have sent down confirming what you already possess.

(p. 6)

Compare the previous passage with the following excerpt.

How evil their practices are! Why do their rabbis and scholars not forbid them to speak sinfully and consume what is unlawful? How evil their deeds are! The Jews have said, ‘God is tight-fisted,’ but it is they who are tight-fisted, and they are rejected for what they have said.

(p. 74)

Finally, Jews are depicted as being the most hostile toward Muhammad and the followers of the faith.

You [Prophet] are sure to find that the most hostile to the believers are the Jews and those who associate other deities with God;

(p. 75)

So having read the introduction to the text, I am aware of the importance of the context of these passages. My understanding (and I am not a scholar, so it is just my limited understanding) is that the text is critical of a certain group of Jews who aligned themselves with the Arab Meccans who persecuted Muhammad and his followers. It is unfortunate that snippets of text are pulled and used out of context to justify ideologies, which I believe happens way too often. And this goes for other religious texts too, such as the Bible and the Torah. Human history is brimming with instances where quotes were cherry-picked from these texts to justify what I would consider non-spiritual acts.

In all fairness, the text is also critical of Christians and Pagans. I’m not sure I whether I will explore those aspects of the text. Honestly, there are some spiritual and inspiring passages that I have noted which I would like to focus on in future posts. I’d much rather look at the positive and spiritually uplifting aspects of the text. That said, I will try to get another post up soon. Cheers!

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Initial Thoughts on the Qur’an

I’m about halfway through the Qur’an and I’ve been taking notes, waiting, and thinking about the text before starting to write. At this point, I feel ready to share some initial thoughts on the text. Let me start off by saying, though, I am not a religious scholar, just someone who is interested in all spiritual texts. My thoughts are just my own impressions and I hope they do not offend anyone. It’s certainly not my attention. I just felt that I could not participate in discussions without having first read the text myself.

The first thing that struck me about the text is the emphasis on being mindful of God. Throughout the text, God tells people to be mindful of him and to remember the things that God did in the past.

Children of Israel, remember how I blessed you. Honour your pledge to Me and I will honour My pledge to you. I am the One you should fear. Believe in the message I have sent down confirming what you already possess. Do not be the first to reject it, and do not sell My messages for a small price: be mindful of Me.

(pp. 7 – 8)

It is told that those who are mindful of God will receive blessings for doing so.

If the people of those towns had believed and been mindful of God, We would have showered them with blessings from the heavens and the earth, but they rejected the truth and so We punished them for their misdeeds.

(p. 101)

In addition to being mindful of God, God promising to punish those who do not follow his laws is another recurring theme in the text so far.

Many messengers before you [Muhammad] were mocked, but I granted respite to the disbelievers: in the end, I took them to task—how terrible My punishment was!

(p. 156)

While there are some beautiful and inspiring passages, which I will explore in future posts, much of what I have read so far has been God dictating what a person should and should not do, accompanied by promises of blessings for obedience and the threat of eternal punishment for those who do not adhere to the scripture. I personally have difficulty believing in an all-powerful God who metes out punishment to those who do not adequately worship him. So I read this from the perspective of karma, that those who incorporate spiritual values into their lives will reap spiritual rewards, and those who follow the more negative paths will have to deal with the consequences that manifest as a result of their actions. For me, that is the underlying spiritual message in regard to God’s blessings and punishment.

Thanks for stopping by, and I will try to get another post up soon.

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“Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living” by Krista Tippett

becomingwise

I picked this book up while at the Faith in Literature conference, where I was fortunate enough to attend two conversations with Krista Tippett, as well as a luncheon with her. She was so inspiring that I could not pass on the opportunity to acquire an autographed copy of her book. It was promptly placed at the top of the “to-be-read” pile.

The book is basically a collection of her thoughts along with snippets of conversations with spiritual thought leaders, activists, writers, and poets from her radio show, “On Being.” She divides the book into five main sections: Words, Flesh, Love, Faith, and Hope. There is so much wisdom in this book, that it is impossible for me to do it justice, so I will just share a few passages and my thoughts on them. The first one concerns the power of stories.

They touch something that is human in us and is probably unchanging. Perhaps this is why the important knowledge is passed through stories. It’s what holds culture together. Culture has a story, and every person in it participates in that story. The world is made up of stories; it’s not made up of facts.

(p. 26)

I had a professor in college who specialized in Irish literature, and I remember him telling me that stories mattered. That has stayed with me throughout my life. There is power in stories and poems. They convey something about the human experience that cannot be expressed in a spreadsheet or a graph. It saddens me when I talk to people who say they never read fiction or poetry, because they don’t have the time or they only want to read “factual” books. These individuals miss out on something unique to the human experience, a communal sharing that our society desperately needs.

Growing up, I connected to the revolutionary spirit of the 1960s and did my best to carry the torch of social change. But after a while, I became disillusioned, and Krista captures what it is that has changed between the 60s and today.

A comparison was made with the 1960s, another moment of social turmoil, including many assassinations. A journalist said that he thought the difference between the 1960s and now was that even though there was incredible tumult and violence, it was at the very same time a period of intense hope. People could see that they were moving toward goals, and that’s missing now.

(p. 156)

It is hard to remain hopeful when we are bombarded with negative stories via social media and network news stations. I really make an effort to stay positive, but sometimes I can’t help feeding in to the hype. One of my short-term goals is to try to be more positive and hopeful.

I have always been fascinated by both science and mysticism, which is why the following quote resonates with me.

Both the scientist and the mystic live boldly with the discoveries they have made, all the while anticipating better discoveries to come.

(p. 186)

What I love about science and mysticism is that they both seek to illuminate the hidden mysteries of existence. There was a time when the mystical arts and the sciences were aligned. That changed for a while and the two were at odds. But lately, I see the paths converging again, and I think that it will ultimately be the unification of the scientific with the spiritual that will usher in the next stage of human evolution and ultimately save us from ourselves.

With all the negativity, divisiveness, and hostility that I have seen this past year, this book was exactly what I needed to shift my perspective back to the positive. Too often my cynicism kicks in, but Krista reminds me that there is always hope and that we should never stop striving to improve ourselves and the world around us. I want to close with one more quote that really captures the importance of this book, which I hope you will read soon.

Our problems are not more harrowing than the ravaging depressions and wars of a century ago. But our economic, demographic, and ecological challenges are in fact existential. I think we sense this in our bones, though it’s not a story with commonly agreed-upon contours. Our global crises, the magnitude of the stakes for which we are playing, could signal the end of civilization as we’ve known it. Or they might be precisely the impetus human beings perversely need to do the real work at hand: to directly and wisely address the human condition and begin to grow it up.

(p. 14)

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Faith in Literature: Contemporary Writers of the Spirit

faithinlit

This past weekend was one that was filled with gratitude and inspiration: gratitude for friends in my life and inspiration from listening to writers who use the written word as a way to express spirituality.

My friend Rick Chess is a poet and professor at University of North Carolina in Asheville, and he was one of the organizers of the Faith in Literature festival. He graciously invited my wife and me to attend some amazing sessions, including two conversations hosted by Krista Tippett that were recorded for possible broadcast on her “On Being” radio show, as well as an intimate luncheon with Krista and other distinguished guests. I am extremely grateful to Rick and thankful that he is a part of our lives.

The first conversation occurred on Friday evening, between Krista and poet Marilyn Nelson. One of the themes of the discussion that resonated with me was about the connection between poetry and silence. Marilyn explained that poetry taps into the silence within us, that it comes from silence and evokes silence. This strengthens the importance of poetry in an age where people are increasingly afraid of their inner silence and attempt to escape that silence through technology. Marilyn and Krista also discussed poetry as a form of contemplation and how poetry can help individuals rediscover reality.

On Saturday afternoon, my wife and I attended a luncheon at the chancellor’s house where Ms. Tippett and the other writers were in attendance. The food was delicious, and it felt nice to be included with such talented and spiritual individuals.

After lunch, we attended a conversation between several writers, which was very inspiring and prompted us to purchase several books and get them signed.

Finally, the closing event on Saturday evening was a conversation between Krista Tippett and Pulitzer Prize winner Isabel Wilkerson, discussing Wilkerson’s book The Warmth of Other Suns, which details the Great Migration through the lives of three protagonists. This was such a powerful conversation, particularly in regard to current racial tensions, the ongoing refugee crisis, and the need for “radical empathy.” I loved the way they described empathy as “not pity or sympathy, but the ability to get inside another person and understand how they feel.” I think if we all started practicing radical empathy, the world would be a different place.

Needless to say, my pile of books to be read has increased over the weekend. Here is the list of books I bought, all of which were signed by the authors. I hope to share my thoughts on these in the near future.

  • Tekiah by Rick Chess
  • The Beautiful Possible by Amy Gottlieb
  • Kohl & Chalk by Shadab Zeest Hashmi
  • Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living by Krista Tippett
  • The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

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Scarlet Witch: Issue #02

ScarletWitch_02

Wow! I’m completely sucked into this story. I’m totally impressed with the way the creative team has woven occult symbolism and mythology together.

In this issue, set on the Greek island of Santorini, Wanda converses with the goddess Hakate and is tasked with facing the Minotaur, who roams the dark labyrinthine streets.

The first thing that struck me about this issue was the artwork. The panels are structured in a circular fashion, divided in a way that represents the labyrinth. The curvature of the story’s graphic structure starts out subtle (the outer area of the maze) and gets tighter and more intense as the tale progresses, just as a labyrinth’s turns get closer and tighter as you near the center. The reader must focus, figure out where to turn next when reading, and follow the pathways. It works really well and fosters the sense of confusion as the reader navigates the tale.

As Wanda and Hekate talk, Hekate says something interesting.

“Of course, we of the Pantheon never stay dead for long.”

Gods and myths are recurring all the time. Gods die and are reborn in a continuous cycle. This is essentially expressing what Frazier asserts in The Golden Bough, albeit in a much shorter way.

As the witch and the goddess continue their discussion, Hekate offers another pearl of wisdom.

“The people’s faith in a god—this one or that—often that belief is what makes the god strong. It’s been many summers since I’ve smelled the kiss of iron in the air from a blood sacrifice in my name. Oh, there’s blood in the air, all right, but not for me.”

This made me think about our current global violence, where people of one faith are killing others in the name of their god. But it is not just religious fundamentalism that is adding to the blood in the air; it is also the blood from people who worship material things—money, oil, property, power—the modern gods of our industrial and technological society. There is always a sacrifice required in order to gain those things we covet.

So far, I am very impressed with this graphic series. I encourage you to check it out.

Cheers!

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“For Whom the Bell Tolls: A 2001 Appeal for a Moral Referendum” by Umberto Eco

UmbertoEco

So it’s officially 2016, which in the US means it’s an election year, and already the battle lines are being drawn. People are choosing who they will support and social media is buzzing with political memes. And sadly, I am seeing the beginning of what promises to be a polarizing and divisive election. Who will end up suffering as a result? We will, of course. Which is why this essay written by Eco 15 years ago resonated with me. It’s almost prophetic.

In this short essay, included in Turning Back the Clock: Hot Wars and Media Populism, Eco looks at an election in Italy, the influence of media on the electoral process, and the groups of people who form various factions of the electorate. One of the categories of voters he calls the Mesmerized Electorate, and this is a group that I see playing a prominent role in the upcoming US election.

The second category, which I call the Mesmerized Electorate, the most numerous, has no defined political opinion but has based its values on the creeping form of “culture” imparted for decades by the various television channels, and not only those owned by Berlusconi. What counts for these people are ideas of well-being and a mythical view of life, not unlike that of the people I would call generically the Albanian immigrants. The Albanian immigrant wouldn’t have dreamt of coming to Italy if the TV had showed him for years only the Italy of Open City, Obsession, or Passion—he would have steered clear of this unhappy country. He comes because he knows Italy as a country where a colorful television hands out easy money to those who know that Garibaldi’s given name was Giuseppe: a rich, showbiz Italy.

(Turning Back the Clock: p. 117)

Here in the US, I picture people in this category sitting on the couch, remote control in hand, switching between reality TV, game shows, and FOX News. They are fed a constant stream of how great things are, the threats to their imagined way of life, and how their life should be, yet are distracted from the realities that are growing around them.

While the image of a Mesmerized Electorate is unsettling, I find the Discouraged Electorate to be much more disturbing.

We are faced with the Mesmerized Electorate and the Motivated Electorate of the right wing, but the greatest danger to our country is the Discouraged Electorate of the left (I mean the left in the broadest sense of the term, from the old secular republicans to kids in Rifondazione Communista, down to Catholic volunteers who no longer have any faith in politics). This electorate is made up of that mass of people who know all the things said here (and don’t need to hear them repeated) and are disappointed with the outgoing government. They castrate themselves to punish their wives. They ensure the victory of the de facto regime to punish those who failed to satisfy them.

(ibid: p. 119)

Unfortunately, I know many people who fall into this category: people who supported Obama and felt they were let down; people who think Hillary Clinton is a liar and untrustworthy; people who feel Bernie Sanders is too far to the left; and those who are so disillusioned with politics that they view all candidates, regardless of party affiliation, as part of a corrupt political system which they no longer want to be a part of.

As the rift between voters in this country widens, the debate becomes more vitriolic. Personally, I do not see this as helpful to the advancement of our society. I encourage everyone to read broadly, learn as much as possible, and keep an open mind between now and November. Try not to let emotions, fear, or the media cloud your judgment and lead us farther down this path.

“And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.” (John Donne)

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Why It’s Important to Read “Go Set a Watchman” by Harper Lee

GoSetWatchman

Before I started reading this book, I had heard the harsh criticism directed toward it. I decided not to let it stop me from reading the book and inquired of my Facebook friends if anyone had a copy I could borrow. My friend Amy came forth and said she had one which she had preordered and was still in the box. She said based upon what she heard, she could not bring herself to even open it. I told her I would let her know my thoughts and whether she should read it or not. After finishing, I say yes, read it. Here’s why.

First off, everyone needs to understand that this is not To Kill a Mockingbird, nor is it as good. Let’s be realistic—it would be quite a feat for any author to write two books of that caliber. But there is still an important message here that I feel is relevant to our current society.

OK, yes, Atticus Finch expresses racist ideas in this book. Now ask yourself: Why does that make you so angry and uncomfortable? While racism is repugnant and offensive, Atticus is a fictional character. So this visceral reaction that people have is something more than just a reaction to racism, and this gets to the heart of why reading this book is important. The negative response to this book, in my opinion, is because a person that we have come to idolize, albeit a fictional person, has failed to live up to our idealized expectations. This need that our culture has to expect our heroes and idols to be perfect is a real problem in our society. We place political leaders, sports stars, writers, artists, and so forth, all on pedestals and we want them to be perfect. One flaw, one aspect about them that does not agree with our image of how they should be, and we attack them viciously. It is a serious problem. With the election coming up, I hear people saying “I cannot support ________ because of his/her stance on _________.” It’s not a question of how good the candidate is, or whether that person would be the better leader; it is a question of whether that person meets ALL our expectations. If not, then they are not worthy in our eyes. Now it seems we have projected our expectations of perfection onto fictional characters as well. For me, there is something really wrong with this picture.

The irony here is that having our idols fall from grace is actually what this book is about. In the story, Jean Louise (Scout) sees her father fall from the proverbial pedestal. For many of us, our parents are our first idols, those we look up to for guidance and wisdom. It is often devastating when we are forced to confront the fact that our parents, like all our idols, have their flaws.

It happened so quickly that her stomach was still heaving. She breathed deeply to quieten it, but it would not stay still. She felt herself turning green with nausea, and she put her head down; try as she might she could not think, she only knew, and what she knew was this:

The one human being she had ever fully and wholeheartedly trusted had failed her; the only man she had ever known to whom she could point and say with expert knowledge. “He is a gentleman, in his heart he is a gentleman,” had betrayed her, publicly, grossly, and shamelessly.

(p. 113)

Dealing with the disillusion that accompanies the realization that your idols (particularly parental ones) are not what you envision can have profound consequences, as evidenced by the plethora of patients seeking counseling for family issues. This is why it’s important to read this book, and face the fact that no one that we idolize can possibly meet our expectations. The expectations we set for other people by nature are not attainable.

I will close with another quote from this book which I thought was great.

Prejudice, a dirty word, and faith, a clean one, have something in common: they both begin where reason ends.

(pp. 270 – 271)

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