My Internet Troll

Sometimes, I ‘m trolled on the Internet.  In case you’re not familiar with the term, “Internet troll,” it’s slang for someone who attempts to create discord online with arguments or inflammatory posts for no other purpose than to be disagreeable.  While I occasionally am trolled, I have one gentleman who’s been trolling me regularly for over six months.  Unlike most, he’s openly admitted that he has an agenda to discredit people like me.

This very dependable, articulate gentleman who trolls me on a particular social media site has stated that his goal is to challenge Christians because of his belief that Christianity is harmful to people. He claims that I’m not really a Christian because I don’t adhere to certain teachings he believes are essential to Christianity.  He also insists that Christians can’t be involved in interfaith pursuits.  Lastly, he insists that all I’m attempting to do is make money off of people.

When he first began trolling me, I thought he was sincere and wanted to have dialogue.  It took me a while, but I realized that this was not the case.  Instead, he’s attempting to create discord online. What’s interesting to me about this man is that he’s essentially a fundamentalist.  He’s really no different from rigid believers who insist that the belief and experience of others must match their own.  If one seriously considers the history of Christianity, it’s very clear that there always been a wide diversity of belief and practice among Christians. Christians have never agreed on key elements of the religion, like baptism or communion, the meaning of salvation, or whether the world is fundamentally good or intrinsically evil. These debates aren’t new.  Instead, they cross the span of two millennia.  This same kind of diversity of belief and experience is found in every other major religion.

The term “religion” comes from the Latin word religare meaning to bind together.  Religion draws people together to share common beliefs and experiences.  Religion also binds together within a person a sense of that person’s own beliefs and experiences.  Properly, religion isn’t about dogma but about attempting to make coherent sense of experience of life. When religion becomes dogma, then it’s making someone else’s belief and experience one’s own.  In other words, dogma isn’t my experience but is someone else’s experience that’s appropriated as true.

I can only assume that the gentleman who routinely trolls me was somehow hurt very deeply by religion or perhaps by a member of the clergy.  It’s clear that he’s not able to listen and attend to the experience of others because he’s limited by his own experience and intention to pick arguments to point out what he believes are inconsistencies.  Contrary to that, I find that my best opportunities to enrich my life have been to learn from the experience and thoughts of others, including shamans and Native American elders, Hindu yogis, Buddhist roshis, Muslim imans, Jewish rabbis and people with no particular faith or tradition.  When we open our hearts to respect and receive the rich experience of others, we have the opportunity to grow in ways we would never expect.

Yes, I am a Christian.  I draw a sense of meaning and fulfillment from the teachings of Jesus and do my best to live out those teachings in daily life.  But I don’t expect that others should follow that path that’s right for me.  Further, I encourage others to follow the path that’s right for them, whether that be through another religion or belief system or no particular belief system.  That’s because I contend that people who live with integrity to what is most true within them will lead lives marked by goodness and compassion.

People whose goal is create discord and division, whether in real life or online, have not discovered what it means to live with compassion for themselves or others.  Perhaps that’s what makes the term “Internet troll” appropriate.

 

(Photo credit: betsythedevine via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA)

© 2017, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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On Being Human

Who am I?  What makes me the person that I am?  I have to be honest:  I’m not really sure.  I have lots of roles.  I’m a professor, a mentor, a friend, a lover, a cook, a laundress, a lawn boy, a spiritual director, , an agitator, a letter writer…..and the list goes on.  But are any of these things who I am?  What’s the essence of me?

When I was three or four years old, I was the little boy who delighted to play in a sand box.  I had trucks, and soldiers, and all sorts of toys. I would play games of imagination for hours.  Was that me?

As a teenager, I had anxieties that seemed overwhelming.  What should I do?  How do I fit in? Where’s my place?  Honestly, I never figured out those questions, but my concerns over such things faded away.  Was that me?

It was so different in my late 20’s!  I thought I could take on the world!  I was ready to do anything — and I did a lot.  As I think back on those years, I wonder:  was that really me?  Who was that guy who worked so hard, anyway?

Then I was 45.  Oh, my!  All those things I set out to do twenty years before.  Some were great; some not so much.  I wondered:  was that all there is?  Was that all of me?

I’ve now had six decades of life.  You’d think I’d understand this thing called life by now.  I look back on those younger versions of myself and, well, at times I want to roll my eyes in wonderment at how silly I was and at other times I have great compassion for myself.  In looking back, there’s a glimmer of the person I may be.  Those were all me, but none of them were fully me.

As I look over my life and the lives of those I know well, I’ve come to understand that to be human isn’t to be one thing. Identity isn’t something fixed and constant over a lifetime.  Instead, to be human is to be a happening, a process which is dynamic, which evolves and changes over time.  As we grow and change, we do so in the context of others and the situations which we encounter.  Who I am is in relationship with others and the events of life.  Our lives take shape within the nuances of particular contexts, events, and relationships. From this perspective, it’s clear that we each have multiple dimensions to our identities. Each of us isn’t one thing, but we are many things.  But those many things which evolve over time come together as one in our sense of identity.

So what am I yet to become? What will the next twenty or thirty years bring?  Who’s to know?  But I am sure of this:  whoever I am in one moment to the next happens in relationship to others and in the context of events.  None of us becomes who we are alone.  Instead, it’s through and with each other that we be and become.

As a Christian, I understand the essence of the Divine as a trinity of persons.  The Divine isn’t a constant, but happening of relationships. The Divine is three-in-one and one-in-three.  In the context of these multiple relationships love begets love. This love is creative, redemptive, and sustaining. It’s absolute goodness and generosity. In considering my own life and what I hope to become, perhaps the greatest aim I could have is also be a happening in the context of others which begets love and manifests it in the world;  to be good and to be generous; to be creative; to allow for second chances; and to support and sustain life all around me.  Perhaps in this way, to be human is to be Divine.

Is this what my ancestor in faith, Athanasius, stated in the fourth century?  God became human so that humans could become Divine.  Perhaps in this dynamic happening of an evolving self we each discover who we are most deeply.

Photo credit: Marco Bellucci via Foter.com / CC BY

© 2017, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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Making Sense of the Resurrection of Jesus Today

Growing up during the Cold War Era in a family proud of its Eastern European heritage and belonging to an ethnic Eastern European church, there was a story I heard periodically around Easter time.  The story made its way into sermons and was sometimes repeated in family gatherings.

As there story goes, one evening in a Russian city a prominent intellectual was speaking to a large audience.  The speaker was a member of the Communist party and his topic concerned religious belief in a Communist society.  In great detail he explained Marx’s contention that religion is nothing more than the opiate of the people.  He elaborated by saying that in a classless Communist society, people were equals and had no need for some fairy tale to bring them hope. After his speech, he asked for questions.  An elderly Russian priest with a long grey beard raised his hand.  The priest asked if he could make a comment.  Sure that he could outwit the priest, the speaker invited him to the podium to use the microphone.  When he arrived at the microphone, the priest carefully looked over the audience.  Raising his head, in a booming voice, the priest exclaimed, “Christ is risen!”  The audience stood in unison and responded, “Indeed, he is risen!”  And the priest returned to his seat.

I don’t know if anything about this story is true.  It’s simply a story I often heard.  It was meant to convey the preciousness of our heritage, the importance of the Resurrection of Jesus as part of our faith, and our solidarity with long-lost relatives living in the Soviet bloc.

Today, as I reflect on this Easter holiday, my faith, and the Resurrection of Jesus, I know that my beliefs have grown, expanded, and evolved since childhood.  From my studies, I have come to accept that the analysis of Biblical scholar John Dominic Crossan which is shared by several others scholars is probably true:  that while Jesus died on a cross, there’s no reason to believe that Pontius Pilate would have allowed his body to be taken down.  As a sadistic tyrant, Pilate always left the bodies of those crucified on their crosses so that the corpses would be eaten by wild dogs and birds of prey.  It was meant to be an added horror to the diabolical execution that was crucifixion.  The earliest records about a resurrected Jesus are not about an empty tomb.  Instead, they focus on miraculous appearances, conversations, and dreams.  Were they real appearances or were they the kind of imaginings people experience at the loss of a loved one or as a kind of flashback from trauma?  There’s no way to know.  All we know is that those who experienced these appearances, conversations, and dreams took them to mean that Jesus was indeed raised from the dead.

So what am I saying?  Am I agreeing with people like Richard Dawkins that Christianity is based on lies?  Certainly not!  But I also don’t find evidence to support a claim for the bodily resurrection of Jesus.  I also don’t believe it matters.  That’s because I have come to understand that resurrection is a fundamental truth in life.

Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat.  But if it dies, it bears much fruit.  (John 12:24)

The processes of death and decay are a normal part of our earthly existence.  So is the rebirth of spring, the budding of new life, and the transformation of life from one form to another (as with a caterpillar to butterfly).  If we pay attention to the ways of life around us, we know that death is never the final word.  There is some sort of transformation that leads to a new and different kind of life.  This perspective is found in the teachings of Jesus and was shared by the early Christians.

Dearly beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall later be has not yet come to light. (John 3:2)

In physics, there are a set of principles known as the Laws of Thermodynamics.  Within the first law of thermodynamics is the law for the conversion of energy.  This law holds that energy cannot be created or destroyed.  Energy may change forms and flow from one place to another.  But it continues to exist.

Some part of the essence of our lives is electro-chemical energy.  This energy empowers our life.  When this energy leaves us, we are no longer alive but dead.  I contend that just as in thermodynamics that energy within a system cannot be created or destroyed but can change forms, so the energy of our lives is not destroyed does not end but is somehow transformed.  What it becomes, I cannot say any more that the author of the gospel of John.  But that the energy that makes us who we are continues on in some form of new life, yes, this I do believe.  For me, it is resurrection.

I don’t claim to know all the answers of the resurrection.  I’m sure that it’s not the mere resuscitation of worn out physical bodies or some sort of hocus pocus.  Instead, I believe that death is followed by new life.  That life may be in a different form and result from some sort of transformation of energy or life essence.  But that doesn’t make it less real than the life we currently lead.  And so, in faith, I embrace the mystery of the resurrection and am inspired by it.  I trust that just as this life has been rich and beautiful so the transformation that occurs in the resurrection will also be rich and beautiful.

It’s really from that perspective that I join the priest in the story I was told in my childhood and affirm once again this Easter:  Indeed, he is risen!

 

Photo credit: Storm Crypt via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

© 2017, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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