Kumaré

KumareA friend of mine asked me to watch a documentary called Kumaré to see what I thought about it.  You can watch it too at http://kumaremovie.com/.  I would love to hear your impressions. Somehow I missed it when it hit movie theaters in 2012.  But it is really a very important work on spirituality and religion! 

Filmmaker Vikram Gandhi, impersonates a fake guru and intentionally builds a following of real people in Phoenix, Arizona in hopes of discovering if spirituality and religion are real experiences or simply manufactured.

Vikram grows out his hair and beard, dresses like an Eastern guru, adopts his Indian grandmother’s accent, carries a unusual staff, holds spiritual classes at the local yoga studios, and visits other gurus. The followers he gathers are a fairly diverse group of mostly very intelligent people.  One of the amazing aspects of the documentary is that the more he gets to know his followers, the more compassionate he becomes towards them.  He finds himself wanting to help them with their problems.  They become very special to him.

Meanwhile, he is developing a set of teachings to teach them.  Actually regretting his farse, he brillantly succeeds in making his teachings as close to the truth as he understands truth.  He teaches them that he is a illusion – that all gurus are an illusion.  That people are their own teachers and must teach themselves.  In the end, after 3 months of intensive interaction with fourteen of his followers, he reveals the truth of himself to them with rather surprising results.  You’ll have to watch the documentary to see the reveal.  I don’t want to give it away.

But the question that this experiment brings up for a Christian is:  What if Jesus was a fake guru? What if our following him was no more real than these students following Vikram?  What if he was just a real good guy who loved us?

There was one thing that Vikram and Jesus had in common: They loved their followers.  But I use the word “love” here losely.  Vikram’s love is easy, always affirming.  It didn’t require much of Vikram or his followers. He never went the extra mile to get his hands dirty and serve them in practical ways. His love wasn’t tested with hardship or choice between serving himself and serving his followers.  Vikram’s love was simply a mirror that always pointed them back to themselves.

Jesus’ love is very different.  It is unconditional – given to followers and enemies alike.  It is not always affirming, but sometimes it painfully judges us and corrects us.  Jesus’ love requires much of Jesus – he endures hate, violence, even death.  Jesus’ love was tested and survives more than 2000 years later.  Jesus’ love points us not to ourselves or even back to himself, but to reconciliation with God and others.  Jesus’ love was spoken of thousand of years before his birth.  Jesus is still the real deal to me!

*****

April is a progressive Christian who writes about scripture and spiritual disciplines. See her latest book, James in the Suburbs.  

God’s Gift of Wilderness

So many people have “wilderness experiences” after family and friends return home from the holidays.  Just in case you are feeling alone today…

“The child (John the Baptist) grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel.” Luke 1:80

Throughout the stories in scripture, God provides “wilderness experiences” for those God loves.  Wilderness time usually occurs because God wants the person’s attention for some reason.   In the scripture above, John the Baptist is given wilderness time so he could become strong in spirit before taking on the task of preparing the way for Jesus.

But John the Baptist’s family was not new to wilderness “time outs.”  Years earlier, his dad, Zechariah, had doubted an angel’s message that his way-too-old wife was pregnant with John.  So God provided Zechariah with a “time out” by taking away his ability to speak.  Nine months later, after John the Baptist’s birth, God not only restored Zechariah’s ability to speak, but he gave him a new gift: prophetic words to speak to the people of God.  God used this silent time in Zechariah’s life to both let him consider the consequences of his doubt (does the world really need a doubting priest?), but also to prepare him to prophesy a very important message to the world.  God uses this “time out” to reshape Zechariah’s faith and to enlarge Zechariah’s ministry. In Zechariah’s case, it was because he had doubted and God wanted to change that behavior, but many times it has nothing to do with a failure of some sort. It has to do with God wanting to provide a space for growth.

I thought it would be interesting to think about other ways that God has used wilderness time in scripture…

  • Wilderness Maturing:  An idealistic, but immature Moses felt compelled to protect his fellow Hebrews from the Egyptians, but ended up running for his life into the wilderness after killing an Egyptian who was hurting one of his fellow Hebrews (Acts 7:29-30).  God kept Moses in the wilderness for forty years while he matured.  This was time well spent, because Moses would spend another forty years guiding the spiritually immature Hebrews through the desert.  If you are going through a time of wilderness maturing, look for lessons to absorb!
  • Wilderness Injustice:  Joseph spent a lifetime in slavery and at least two years in prison having done nothing to deserve it (Genesis 39:20-23).  He could have developed a terrible faithless attitude toward God, but instead he did a quality job every time a job was required of him – mostly forced on him.  If you are going through a time of wilderness injustice, pay attention to your attitude and look for creative ways that God might use you.  Joseph eventually became a ruler of Egypt.
  • Wilderness Nourishment:  King Saul forced David into the wilderness to protect his throne for himself and his son, Prince Jonathan (1 Samuel 23:13-17).  Even though Prince Jonathan was the rightful heir to the throne, Jonathan protected David from King Saul and showed him mercy, love, and kindness. Lessons David put to use as King.  If you are receiving wilderness nourishment from another person, accept it!  And pay attention to how you might mimic their behavior on down the line.
  • Wilderness Rejection:  Jephthah was rejected by the really awful people in his life (Judges 11:3-6).  And was eventually forced to live as an outcast in the wilderness.  He experienced wilderness rejection!  If you feel unwanted and unloved in the wilderness, it may be that God is using this time to teach you the kind of self-confidence that seeks only God’s acceptance.  Learn to get your affirmations from God and God alone.  Eventually, God not only sent other outcasts to join Jephthah, but Jephthah learned to lead these outcasts. If you feel unwanted and unloved in the wilderness, it may be that God is using this time to teach you compassion for other outcasts.  Eventually Jephthah became the commander of the Hebrew army.
  • Wilderness Temptation:  The Holy Spirit sent Jesus into the wilderness (Luke 4:1-2) where he would be tested.  Jesus needed the experience of overcoming temptations. If you are going through a time of wilderness temptation, call on God to guide you so that you can overcome temptation!
  • Wilderness Isolation:  Before Paul committed his life to following Jesus, he murdered Christians (Galatians 1:15-18).  Then one day Jesus met up with him.  Afterwards, instead of sending Paul into the world immediately to bare witness to his new faith, God sent Paul into the wilderness of Arabia for three years.  There is no record of anyone with Paul in the wilderness. During this time the Holy Spirit must have taught him the theology that comprises most of the New Testament, because Paul says that God taught him directly.  God isolated Paul so he could be in a tight relationship with God learning new things and unlearning old things. Before we can effectively minister to others, we must be ministered to by God. If you are experiencing wilderness isolation, allow God to minister to you.

Most of us have a hard time going through the wilderness.  We are often consumed with finding our way back to “civilization”, but the lessons we learn during our wilderness time can be essential for serving God in the future.  Embrace this time expectantly!

*****

April is a progressive Christian who writes about scripture and spiritual disciplines. See her latest book, James in the Suburbs.  

How Can a Pastor be Pro-Choice?

Well, as long as I am putting myself out there (referring to my post yesterday), several people messaged me and asked how I could be a pastor and support a pro-choice candidate. So I might as well just tell all…

When I lived in DC, I was part of a mother’s group that filed a law suit (and won) against Georgetown Hospital. It was sort of the opposite situation, but still over matters of whether the mother has the right to make her own decisions that concern her body. The mother had cancer and was barely twenty weeks pregnant. This was back in the early ’90s and babies didn’t generally live when delivered so early. The doctors decided she was going to die soon and wanted to take the baby by c-section. She said no because she believed that she would live long enough for the baby to be more viable. But the doctors along with the Jesuits who run the hospital got a court order to do an immediate c-section.

Her husband and parents asked the judge to support the mother’s wishes and he said no. As they were taking her to the operating room, she begged them not to do the c-section for a few more weeks. The mother had a heart attack on the operating table and died. The doctors didn’t even try to save the baby after they saw the conditions of the lungs and gave it to the father. The baby’s lungs were not viable and it died in less than 30 min in the father’s arms.I don’t think the government should have been involved in that decision – in my opinion, that was her decision alone. Perhaps she would have lived long enough for the baby to survive. Or maybe even brought the baby to term – perhaps she would still be alive – miracles do happen – who knows? From that experience I became very convinced that a woman should not have to go to court to make a decision that affects her body.

I apply this experience to when a pregnant mother’s life is in danger and in cases of rape. In my opinion, it is not for the government to decide if carrying a baby is a big enough health risk or not. That is her decision. Nor do I think she should have to prove if she was raped or not.  She has to have the last word on that determination too.

I’d encourage anyone with a viable child who is considering an abortion not to have one and I would try to help them afford the cost of raising a child or adoption. But in the end, I would support her decision 100%.  And I do not think the government should have control over her. So I support laws that are pro-choice.  These laws do not cause abortions. No one makes anyone have an abortion (except for this woman’s doctors and the hospital Jesuits in the case I just talked about!).

The good news is that because of the lawsuit, in the District of Columbia, women have now been safe from their doctors or hospitals seeking court ordered care for them for about twenty years now.

You can leave a comment on the blog by clicking below the other comments.

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  • JH: I’m in agreement with you about this. I do not think Government should decide about these issues. How terrible that a mother’s life, & that of her baby were so violated. Can only image how this made her husband, & family feel, to have this memory. Thanks for sharing with us & look forward to more of your sharings.
  • JTR:  I really appreciate this. Such a difficult and heart breaking topic. And such a slippery, slippery slope. As a freedom lover and supporter of the individual, I understand being Pro-Choice. But as a Christian, knowing that millions of babies have been aborted breaks my heart. I know many factors go into a woman’s decision, but I just wish for more education, more options, free birth control (I’d gladly support my tax $ going to BC over abortions any day) and a stronger culture of LIFE. It is so damaging emotionally and culturally. So sad.
  • DN: Thank you April for your candor and honesty in sharing your heart the past few days! Although we may have some fundamental disagreements I respect your experiences and conclusions and love you in Christ even more! Blessings, Darryl.
  • BC: A wonderful example about how complicated this issue is and how a black and white response just is not adequate to make very difficult and informed decisions.
  • BSH: I agree as well, though I would go further and say that religion should not interfere with a woman’s choice if she is not a believer. Each person should have the right to decide what to believe, or not, without another imposing their religious beliefs on him/her. I realize there is a vast difference between sharing faith and demanding others follow it; we see way too much of the latter when there are so many gentle souls who do the former.
  • KRS: The Federal Government controls more and more of our lives each year in ways unwanted on both sides. It was never intended to be like this. The Constitution and Bill of Rights is clear but largely ignored. Their job description is simple and they have no business doing most of what they do. Making every issue a National “all or nothing issue” is driving this Country apart.
  • April Love-Fordham:  KRS – Steve and I are just finishing a class that we have to take to adopt an older child. At one of the earlier classes, the teacher led us through what happens when parental rights are finally taken away from the parents and the child declared free for adoption. It is a fairly long and complicated process where the government tries very hard to keep the child with the parents. She asked us if we were the judge presiding over a particular family what we would require of the parents in order to keep their children. One very well intentioned man said that they would make them go to church. Now the government can’t impose religion on a person and personally I think that is a very good thing. The teacher explained this to the man. 
    But at the same time, the suggestion made the teacher so angry for another reason. She said, “If churches were doing their job, then there wouldn’t be any children that need adoption!” She pointed a very angry finger at the class saying “How many of your churches invite vulnerable people into your church and care for them as if those people were Jesus?” That is what scripture tells us to do. Then she asked, “How many of you have even spoken to a person in need this past week? This past month?” She said if we did the work of Christ that there would be no need for government programs.
    In truth, most churches harm – not help – the vulnerable populations. So I guess my answer is this… when you and I start loving those vulnerable people without condition, befriending them instead of judging them, living next door to them instead of moving into gated communities, then the government won’t have to be involved. Until then, I am glad we (still) have a government that will step up and do what isn’t their job, but what is right. And if that means I pay higher taxes, live in a smaller house, drive and older cheaper car, I am okay with that too.
  • KRS: I don’t mind paying local and State taxes. They do a pretty good job.
  • DM:  Amen, April. The story you shared is horrific, and one more example of why this is not a black and white issue. I agree with the teacher. We Christians have no right to judge. We sometimes confuse our job with God’s. God commanded us to LOVE! He is the only judge.
  • MP: A friend of mine from high school died giving birth, leaving her husband to raise their four young children alone. They knew her last pregnancy was high-risk, but she refused to have an abortion. I respect her choice. But the next woman who’s faced with a high-risk pregnancy should have a choice to end it. And she shouldn’t have to prove a certain degree of risk to some government bureaucrat; it should just be her choice. Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote recently about how his girlfriend almost died from peripartum cardiomyopathy, even though the doctors had not previously realized her pregnancy was high-risk.
    But I think, April, you’ve really put your finger on the real question: when there are no children waiting to be adopted, when there are no children dying of starvation or preventable disease–ANYWHERE–THEN maybe we can START to re-examine abortion. I’m not holding my breath.  http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/10/pregnancy-as-labor/264070/