The Ten Commandments of Marriage

I. Heterosexual atheists may marry.

II. Heterosexual idol worshipers may marry.

III. Heterosexuals who use the Lord’s name in vain may marry.

IV. Heterosexuals who ignore the Sabbath and do not keep it holy may marry.

V. Heterosexuals who disrespect their parents may marry.

VI. Heterosexual murderers may marry.

VII. Heterosexual adulterers may marry.

VIII. Heterosexual thieves may marry.

IX. Heterosexuals who bear false witness may marry.

X. Heterosexuals who covet their neighbor’s spouse and possessions may marry.

Let’s see, have we left anybody out?

Chainsaw Bible Verses

Last Sunday’s Old Testement lesson was Isaiah 6:1-8.  It is the first half of Chapter 6 which is subtitled in my Bible as Isaiah’s Commission. This beautiful reading, in elequent metaphorical language, describes how the great prophet Isaiah, imperfect as he was, was called to deliver God’s message to Israel.  I was quite moved by the whole reading as I read it aloud to the congregation, especially at the end in Verse 8 as Isaiah accepts and responds to the Lord’s call by saying simply, “Here am I. Send me!”

As much as I enjoy reading the lessons at church, I admit that I am wary of the Bible. To me it is a powerful tool that if used carelessly or improperly can be quite dangerous. I regard the Bible as sort of a spiritual chainsaw. This description probably applies to holy books of every faith. The wisdom and insight in these ancient texts can help clear the tangled undergrowth of our lives, assist with the clean up of damage and debris of storms and crises, and can help prepare the fuel that warms our lives and sustains us. There is no other tool like a chainsaw.

Certain verses however, interpreted improperly or taken out of context or even used maliciously can cause irreparable harm.  Verses 6 and 7 from this reading provide an example of what I’ll call “Chainsaw Verses” and should be used with extreme caution:

Then one of the seraphs (6-winged servants of the Lord in Isaiah’s dream) flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

I shuddered as I cinematically imagined a dark-robed Inquisitor in some 16th Century church touching a live hot coal to the lips of some free-thinking peasant or a folk healer for using dogmatically unacceptable methods to ease someone’s pain. The victim’s subsequent inability to speak with a horribly burned and disfigured mouth is then declared as proof of the presumed guilt.  In my mind’s movie, the rest of the villagers recoil in fear and learn that they must never challenge the Inquisitor or they too may suffer the same fate.

Any master carpenter will stress to an apprentice that they must learn to understand, respect and properly use the tools their trade. Many of Jesus’ lessons were exactly in this form.  We all must learn and be wary of holy “Chainsaw Verses.”  They are being used even today by those who wield them like weapons to rationalize and impose their own narrow interpretations of the unknowable mysteries of faith. We must deny the Inquisitors of every religion, in Wichita and throughout the world, the tools of their destruction.

Lamentation for Detroit

The March issue of Atlantic Magazine on-line includes a very thoughtful and comprehensive article titled, “How the Crash Will Reshape America,” by urban theorist, Richard Florida. It is an vital analysis for anyone who cares about American cities and essential reading for those of us in planning, real estate, urban policy and economic development who will be dealing with the enormous changes this economy will bring over the next several years.  Wrenching change will not be limited to the Rust Belt but not surprisingly, one section of the article is subtitled “The Last Crises of the Factory Towns” which begins with this:

Sadly and unjustly, the places likely to suffer most from the crash – especially in the long run- are the ones least associated with high finance. While the crises may have begun in New York, it will likely find its fullest bloom in the interior of the country – in older, manufacturing regions whose heydays are long past . . .

Not surprising to even the casual student of American cities and our industrial economy.  Narrowing in to where the damage is greatest and most apparent, a later paragraph reads:

Perhaps no major city in the U.S. today looks more beleaguered than Detroit, where in October the average home price was $18,513, and some 45,000 properties were in some form of foreclosure. A recent listing of tax foreclosures in Wayne County, which encompasses Detroit, ran to 137 pages in the Detoit Free Press . . . and in December the city’s jobless rate was 21 percent.

Bleak.

Today, I happened to be looking at a new copy of The Bible that I brought home from church yesterday. I happened to open it randomly to the Book of Lamentations, an Old Testament book that I am not very familiar with. With Florida’s article (and likely my own unemployment) on my mind, I turned to the beginning of Lamentations and read the three verses below. I was shaken by how relevant the text is to today. With no intention to imply cause or blame, I have changed only one word in the text to create a sad modern prayer for the people and institutions of this once great American city:

A Lamentation for Detroit.

1 [a]How deserted lies the city,
once so full of people!
How like a widow is she,
who once was great among the nations!
She who was queen among the provinces
has now become a slave.

2 Bitterly she weeps at night,
tears are on her cheeks.
Among all her lovers
there is none to comfort her.
All her friends have betrayed her;
they have become her enemies.

3 After affliction and harsh labor,
Detroit has gone into exile.
She dwells among the nations;
she finds no resting place.
All who pursue her have overtaken her
in the midst of her distress.

(TNIV©)

Religion and Self-Control

I read an interesting blog post today by NY Times Science writer, John Tierney, on the topic of religion and self-control. I submitted a comment to the piece and have copied the essence of Tierney’s blog and my comment here. While I stand by what I say below, I have to admit to the irony of this blog. I should have been working on the more pressing items on my “To Do” list. So much for self-control.

You can find a link to Tierney’s blog, TierneyLab, under  “Blogs I Like” on the right.

Religion and Self-Control

Is self-discipline one reason that religious people tend to live longer? Do religious belief and piety promote self-control? You can find one answer in my Findings column. It discusses research from two psychologists at the University of Miami, Michael McCullough and Brian Willoughby, who have surveyed eight decades of scientific literature (pdf) to see if people who are more religious tend to have stronger self-control.

1. Are there any specific religious or spiritual activities that you have found to help build your self-control, or your child’s self-control?
2. Religious activities can also be exhausting, and presumably they could they could wear down someone’s self-control. Has this ever happened to you or your child?
3. If you’re not religious, what do you think of Dr. McCullough’s advice that it might be possible to build self-control by tying your New Year’s resolutions to sacred (but non-religious) values like self-reliance or concern for all of humanity?

My response:

I believe that this phenomenon of ‘religious’ people demonstrating more self-control is probably true but not due to the ‘religion’ that one learns at church, temple or mosque but due to the ‘ethics’ and ‘values’ discussions and education that occurs there. As the author, Karen Armstrong, documented in her book, ‘The Great Transformation,’ most cultures and faiths have independently developed some interpretation of what’s known to Christians as the Golden Rule as a positive way to live our lives on earth, irregardless of what some god may have in store for us later.

The notion that we should treat others as we wish to be treated requires an examination not only of others’ behaviors and actions but of our own. Once we begin to be aware of (and are then self-critical of) our own behaviors, we are more likely to avoid doing things that others might find reason to criticise – we exhibit self control. In doing this, we enable others to treat us favorably.

My own experience is that most people tire quickly of sermons and lessons (and water cooler talk) that focus too heavily on spirituality and theology. Zealotry, like a good martini, has a time and place but a little bit goes a long way. We would rather be taught how to make our faith relevant to our day-to-day lives. Personally, the sermons that don’t put me to sleep or to checking my blackberry are usually those that offer practical advice on how to live happily and productively among others. I suspect that anyone who regularly subjects themselves to a dose of practical ethical reminders is more prone to self-examination and to therefore improve their self-control in many aspects of their lives. And this, I believe, will lead to improved quality in one’s life.

As the Theory of Relativity is foundational to modern science, the Golden Rule is to life. We don’t fully understand the scope of either which is why inquiry and faith (in science and humanity) are so important. We do know through our own experiences however, that things get more difficult when we act as though these fundamental principles don’t exist.

Thank you for posing these important questions.

— John Fonner