Archives For April 2016

Recently, someone asked me to compile a resource list for interfaith education and dialogue. I thought I’d share this list on the blog as a way to encourage others to explore the world’s religious traditions. Enjoy!
Buddha
(Picture of a painting in a Korean Buddhist Temple, my photo)
Books
 –
Informational:
 –

Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know–And Doesn’t by Stephen Prothero

Popular author and scholar of religion Stephen Prothero writes about the importance of understanding the dynamics of the world’s major religions:

 –

The World’s Religions by Huston Smith

This book is a classic, professional, academic resource on the world’s religions:

 –

The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions by Karen Armstrong

Scholar of religion Karen Armstrong explores the origins of the world’s major religions in the ninth century BC:

 –

Highlighting the similarities between religions:

Oneness: Great Principles Shared by All Religions by Jeffrey Moses

The author examines how the common teachings of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism lead to inner peace:

 –

Highlighting the differences between religions:

God Is Not One by Stephen Prothero

This New York Times bestselling writer and Boston University professor makes the case that the eight most popular religions of the world address different human problems and propose divergent solutions to those problems.

 –

Videos

“The Pope Video – Inter-religious Dialogue”

The Pope’s prayer intention for January 2016 was “that sincere dialogue among men and women of different faiths may produce the fruits of peace and justice.” In this video the Pope goes into the way that love unites practitioners of all religions:

 –

“TEDxRainier – Interfaith Amigos”

A pastor, a rabbi, and an imam share their thoughts on interreligious dialogue and cooperation:

 –

Websites

Harvard University’s “The Pluralism Project”

One of the goals of this effort is “to discern…the emerging meanings of religious ‘pluralism,’ both for religious communities and for public institutions, and to consider the real challenges and opportunities of a public commitment to pluralism in the light of the new religious contours of America.”:

 –

Vatican II’s “Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions”

The Catholic Church makes an an official statement about her role in promoting unity and love among humankind:

 –

Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue

Guided by a spirit of love and truth, this body within the Catholic Church works together with other religions to make joint statements about beliefs and the common good:

http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/interelg/index.htm

Best wishes,

David J.W. Inczauskis, n.S.J.

“There are two ways through life, the way of Nature and the way of Grace. You have to choose which one you’ll follow.

Grace doesn’t try to please itself. Accepts being slighted, forgotten, disliked. Accepts insults and injuries.

Nature only wants to please itself. Get others to please it too. Likes to lord it over them. To have its own way. It finds reasons to be unhappy when all the world is shining around it. And love is smiling through all things.”

–Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life

“Where there is a struggle, it is a struggle for power.”

–Friedrich Nietzsche

Path Lithuania

(Wooded Path in Lithuania, my photo)

The great philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche criticized Christianity for confusing weakness with power. He writes, “Christianity was from the beginning, essentially and fundamentally, life’s nausea and disgust with life, merely concealed behind, masked by, dressed up as, faith in ‘another’ or ‘better’ life” (The Birth of Tragedy, p.23). His analysis is telling because it is true. The highest symbol of the religion is the cross, an instrument of torture. The most important historical practicioners of the faith are martyrs. The figurehead of the belief system teaches that the greatest among us are the servants, not the masters.

Nietzsche puts us face-to-face with life’s fundamental choice: do you opt for the “way of nature” or the “way of grace”?

According to nature, the best among us will survive. We will keep evolving until we’ve achieved approximate perfection, won economically, politically, and biologically. We will have eliminated suffering. We will have destroyed death on our own. We will have made ourselves Nietzsche’s “supermen.” Is this your vision of the future?

According to grace, the least among us in this life will become the greatest in the next life. We humbly accept this truth in faith. We will seek to achieve perfection in this life, but we will fail…many times. We will look to the heavens and shout for mercy; God will hear our poor cry. We will die, but we will die in hope for ourselves, for those before us, and for those after us. No stone will be left unturned. All will be accounted for. Everything done in love will have meaning. Is this your vision of the future?

Both visions require faith. Nature’s vision requires faith in humanity alone. Grace’s vision requires faith in God, who enters into our humanity. Christianity is faith in a fused God-humanity. Let no one tell you that Christianity lacks faith in humanity. All the opposite! Christianity is faith in a humanity backed by the infinite power and possibility of God! Let no one tell you that Christianity prohibits human freedom. All the opposite! Since Christians have the freedom of God, our freedom is infinitely great!

I am a child of grace.

I can say with St. Alberto Hurtado, “The Church of God establishes itself and triumphs through the heroic work of her saints; through the parents who work in their homes with tenderness and with faith; through hours of manufacturing, navigating, and working in the fields; through the employer who fights against temptations to money or to dishonest actions; through the sacrifice of the ailing widow who leaves behind children and who unites her suffering with Christ’s; through the students who fight against injustice and oppression; through the donation that the poor person gives out of her/his indispensable income. In these moments humanity triumphs together with God” (paraphrased from Un fuego que enciende otros fuegos).

On the way of grace, whatever is done in love matters. On the way of nature, whatever is done for survival matters.

All things equal, take your pick.

Best wishes,

David J.W. Inczauskis, n.S.J.

“How many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky?
Yes, and how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, and how many deaths will it take ’til he knows
That too many people have died?

The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.”

–Bob Dylan

Guatemala

(Landscape with Clouds, Guatemala, my photo)

The “man” in Bob Dylan’s song…sometimes I think of that “man” as God. We, from here below, sing with melancholy and with pain to God, “How long will it be until you see that we are tired of suffering? How many more deaths will it take until you bring us all to heaven? How can you allow it all to happen without batting an eye? … The answer is blowing in the wind.”

I thought of this song when I witnessed my first “patient death” at the hospital. I was just two weeks into training as a hospital chaplain. It was around 10 AM on a Sunday morning. The phone rang, and a nurse said to me matter-of-factly, “Patient so-and-so is about to die in room so-and-so. Can you come up to comfort the parents?” I thought, “No, I can’t. How can I comfort them? Their son is about to die.” But I said anyways, “Sure I’ll be right up.”

The patient was middle-aged. His parents were standing at the side of the bed weeping and stroking his face. His body was there, but I wasn’t sure whether his spirit was. A few minutes later, the doctors entered. They did a few simple tests, and one of them said straightforwardly, “I’m sorry, but, at 10:20 AM, I declare that so-and-so is dead. The chaplain is here to be with you.” The doctors left. I stayed in the room with the parents, but it felt as if I was alone.

A few minutes of silence followed. I’d yet to say a word. The mother looked at me and cried out, as if shouting directly at my heart, “Why? How is it that a mother has to see her son die? Why did it happen like this?” What could I say? More silence. I muttered quietly, “I don’t know. I really don’t know.” The father moved to find a chair. He looked dizzy, and he buried his head in his hands. He wept bitterly for several minutes. More silence.

I mustered up enough strength to say to the mother, “Is there something that might be helpful to you right now?” She quipped back, “Yes. Get me my son back.” I looked at the ground and thought, “Yes. Faith moves mountains.” I turned my gaze back towards the bed, but the son was still dead. “I’m sorry,” I stated resignedly. More silence. In time the mother gazed at me and said angrily, “Well, I guess a prayer will have to do then.” I took the mother’s hand. The father wasn’t about to stand up from the chair. He wasn’t with us, really. No one was, really. Nonetheless, the mother and I went up to the bed, and I prayed. We stood around some more, and it seemed like my presence was no longer welcome. I excused myself and gave the parents some time to be alone with their son. “I am the one who really needs to be alone,” I said to myself. As I closed the door to the room and walked down the hallway, I could hear the mother’s moans echo from wall to wall.

About half-an-hour later, I met the parents outside of the dead patient’s room. We did the paperwork, and they left. Almost as soon as I sat down at a computer to “chart” what had occurred, another page came in. The nurse said on the phone matter-of-factly, “Patient so-and-so is about to die. Can you come to comfort the family?” And so on…

That day was a rough day. Three months later, I see that my shifts aren’t always so dramatic, but they often are. “How many times must a man look up/Before he can see the sky?” Isaiah writes, “The grass withers, the flower fades: because the wind of the Lord blows upon it: surely the people is grass” (40:7). In death we see how insignificant we are, and, as counter-cultural as it may be, I venture to say that a healthy understanding of our insignificance is a good thing. We might try saying to ourselves, “I won’t live forever. I will die.” We might repeat it–many times. Death stings. It cuts our pride. It belittles us. Death endures despite all the scientific advancements, despite all the relationships we’ve built, despite all the obstacles we’ve already surmounted. Death wins.

Before becoming an intentional Catholic, I used to say to myself, “I am not going to die.” I couldn’t handle it, so I denied it. Was I a coward? Maybe, but perhaps I was also a realist. Some people said to me, “Yes, you will die, but life for others goes on, so make a difference.” I logically thought, “Great, so I can build up others’ hopes before they realize that they will die, too?” Meaningless. It seemed liked nothingness, so I preferred not to think of death at all…certainly not death for me, at least.

It’s true: Jesus changed me. It wasn’t a coping mechanism. (I already had one, you see.) It wasn’t the result of intense study. (Though I studied a lot!) It wasn’t a social thing. (I had a girlfriend and, maybe, at least a few friends…) It was an encounter. I met Him in the wind: in the wind that blew as I read the Scriptures, in the wind that blew on my heart as I went to Mass, in the wind that blew on my memories as I reflected on life, and in the wind that blew on my soul when I first discovered that God is above me, below me, behind me, and before me.

At first, it was just the possibility of God… Maybe He is there. Then, it became the reality of God… He is there. What happened to me? I thought about it frequently: “How is it that I have become so religious?” More and more, I felt that it was less because of me and more because of God. St. Augustine says, to paraphrase, “I am made for God, and God will leave me restless until I rest in Him.” God took me from Alpha to Omega. I eventually resigned, “You’ve won. Game. Set. Match. I give myself to You.”

In the hospital I do wonder why God doesn’t intervene to save the patients I meet. I don’t understand it. I don’t think that I ever will understand it. The answer is in the wind, and I’m not the wind. Death still humbles me now as it did before, but the difference is my acceptance of its reality and my conviction that, because Jesus rose, death doesn’t have the last word. Isaiah’s 40th chapter doesn’t stop with the wind and the grass:

“Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall. But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”

Those that I’ve accompanied at the hospital at moments of death, they “utterly fall,” but, their strength will be renewed. I’ll see them again, and we’ll walk together on a journey in which we will never grew weary. Death’s sting will be a distant memory. The mother, the father, the son, and I will cry again–not out of sadness but out of joy, for He will raise us up on the last day.

Best wishes,
David Inczauskis, n.S.J.