Am I a Good Person?

"Anonymous" posted...

Hey, it was good to hear that you believe that we should be connecting with people of other faiths. There is, however, a major difference between Christianity and other world religons: Jesus was God in the flesh, there is no other like Him because He is eternal. People of other faiths can do nice things and feed the poor, I think your theology of what God's word says about the depravity of mankind. Here's a good question: are you a good person?

The short answer is: "No. I am not a good person." In fact, I think a lot of my journey over the last six years from mainstream Evangelicalism to an Emergent (sometimes "jaded," sometimes "deconstructionist") form of followership stemmed from guilt. Downright shame. I was convicted to the deepest parts of me for the arrogant, ethnocentric, angry, self-convinced religion I was practicing.

Adam, a good friend of mine, thinks it's b.s. to hold a belief system out of guilt. He likes Barack Obama, but won't vote for him because he thinks "most whites" are attracted to his audacious hope out of guilt for representing a latent, racist power structure.

I don't think that's true.

I think they're (we're) following Obama because they're attracted to leadership. But I digress...

It's not a bad thing to take action and make changes out of guilt. Guilt is a natural, important reaction to injustice - especially of our own making.

So if my Christianity is heavily informed by guilt over colonialism, Holy Wars, televangelists, Christian pop, culture wars and picket signs, then so be it. We should all be ashamed of the things done in the name of "Gospel." There's a lot to apologize for.

Now, the second part. Anonymous writes:

Jesus was God in the flesh, there is no other like Him because He is eternal. People of other faiths can do nice things and feed the poor...

Do I agree that there is no other like Jesus? Of course! Do I agree that people of other faiths do nice things? Yes!

But those folks are quite confident in the deity (or divinity) of their gods and prophets. So let's be respectful and aware... it's circular to argue that Jesus holds the only divinity. Do I believe that? Yes I do. I've said before, I think religion that sacrifices its own precepts for the sake of false-ecumenism is BORING. But I recognize a bad argument - and saying the Bible is true because the Bible says it, or God is God because God is God or Jesus is God and no-one else is... well, those just aren't very interesting arguments or statements in an interfaith context.

Oh rats! N.T. Wright is on The Colbert Report and I have to watch...

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My Response to "Divine Energy"...

Here's what I wrote back to Christine...

I was honored to receive your e-mail. I must confess that I've only been casually introduced to Taoism. I've read The Tao of Poo and the Tao Te Ching as translated by Thomas Merton, a Roman Catholic monk.

Merton has some beautiful reflections on Lao-Tzu's teachings. He says, in spite of fundamental differences in our understanding of reality, God and self, there is a common spiritual experience and spiritual awakening that naturally comes out of deep commitment to the monastic life. In essence, from different vantages and with different lenses, we approach the same truth. There is a Biblical translation that reads, "In the beginning was the Tao. And the Tao was with God, and the Tao was God. Tao was with God in the beginning." John 1:1-2.

Militant, fundamentalist Christians use contextualized translations like this as tools or weapons with which to penetrate foreign cultures or religions. There is another way to approach these translations, though.

Another reads...
In the beginning was the dhamma, And the dhamma was with God, And the dhamma was God... The true light that enlightens everyone. - John 1:1 (Sri Lankan translation)

By understanding that all of humankind is seeking a truth beyond itself, we can stretch ourselves and grow, and share the journey with our sisters and brothers of other faiths. That's a long-winded introduction to saying that ultimately, I believe emerging/Emergent (click here for the difference between those words... is a movement of Christianity evolving into a postmodern worldview that acknowledges, respects and befriends other cultures and religions. We are not all that different.

Now, here is where emerging Christianity differs from classic-modern-liberal Christianity: it does not say that all paths are the same, or all paths lead to the same place, or even that they are all equal. By equalizing all religions, we ultimately demean them because we negate (and sometimes offend) foundational assertions of truth, unique to each religion. Emerging Christians believe that Christianity is uniquely true, but they simultaneously believe good is found in all religions, and that Christianity is not uniquely good. Emerging Christians also believe that truth is found in all religions, and in humility, acknowledge that evil is found in the Christian religion, as much - and sometimes more - than in other world religions. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, emerging Christians recognize (as postmoderns) that "absolute truth" is not knowable by limited, finite human beings. We see in part, we hear in part, we know in part. And in that partial knowing, we share our spiritual journeys with all religious adherents. And there is beauty in that global dance when it is fervent, humble, hopeful and true.

As to your question about the divine spirit breaking in to and transforming finite human beings (into those like the Buddha, Christ, etc...) yes, I agree with you. As a Christian, I believe Christ was uniquely transformed, in that the transformation came before he was born - he was predestined as a perfectly unified human: one with the divine spirit of God. I believe all humans have the potential of achieving perfect union with the spirit, but that our lives are numbed and muddied by human frailty, passions, selfishness, limitations and unhealthiness. It is out of this dysfunction that the Buddhist/Hindu belief in cycles of life and reincarnation become so practical: most of us need centuries to heal our wounded hearts.

Christine, I'm blessed and honored that you shared some of your story with me. I have two requests:

1. Would you share more of your personal beliefs and practices with me? I'd like to know more about what your Taoist practice looks like, day-to-day.

2. Would you allow me to post your e-mail(s) and my response on one of my blogs? I find dialogue one of the most engaging forms of writing and learning.

I would be open and eager to hear any disagreement, pushback, or affirmation to anything I've written.

All written respectfully and with gratitude,
Peter Walker

P.S. There is a fabulous book called "The Good Heart" that chronicles an ecumenical dialogue between the Dalai Lama and several Roman Catholic priests. It is a wonderful example of respectful interfaith dialogue, founded on mutual respect and appreciation, but also on honest and mindful of differences in faith. Thanks again!

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