An Ode to Tea
April 9, 2007
Response to Luther’s Letter to Leo X (September 6, 1520)
April 11, 2007

I find myself at odds with the man I should be praising. James, he said, has taken it upon himself to write a letter with no sound Christian core. The crucifixion is missing. The suffering is missing. Christ is missing. His point? Any such letter should not fit into the canon. Very well, then. Let it not fit into the constricting canon.

Then, he goes about his method of apology, dancing around the corrupted Roman Curia as though it were something so far gone it wouldn’t be worth fixing. Corrupted, certainly. But to impugn it in the very same sentence that he exonerates the Pope of all wrong-doing is a brave maneuver. And, he says, far be it from him to condemn immorality, for he sees the beam in his own eye.

But let’s be frank. Luther was a man of great insight. His guiding faith led the way to the reformation of a corrupt and degenerate church. Yet, his day has long since past. To cling so strongly to the Christian notion of salvation is not only limited, it is damaging. It has become increasingly ironic, I feel, that the profession of inclusion in many Christian denominations is coupled with a rigorous assent of scripture, regulation, and rules which tear certain faith-filled individuals from Christianity.

Recognizing this and seeing it resolved is a matter of some trouble. Playing the hero, I have often crusaded towards an all-inclusive Christianity. In truth, however, it is quite nearly impossible for this to exist. Christianity, by its very definition, embraces those who believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God. How can Jews, Muslims, Hindi, or other religious faithful feel ultimately welcome in such an environment? Indeed, they would come more for the community and less for the worship, it seems.


There is something behind our naming and scheming, our rules and regulations as they stand. Perhaps there is even something behind the most basic fundaments of our faith, if believing in something greater is sufficient to bind all faiths together. There is commonality in people, however they believe. The Jew values tradition and holds fast to ritual and ceremony, particularly as they remind him or her of the salvation of the Jewish people. Muslims recall the work and prophecy of Mohammed, proclaiming his angelic vision and the divine appointment to lead the people of Allah. Hindi have their own faith, with which I am woefully unfamiliar, naturalists believe according to the functions of nature, and so forth and so on. What is the common thread? Belief, for one. If there is a capacity to believe that is realized, embraced, and practiced, then there is a great deal in common. How that belief is named is where things become problematic. I don’t suppose a Jew would ever think salvation to be in the rain of a spring, as a naturalist might? Or that a Muslim would hear the intonations in a Hindi chant and liken it to one of his own?

Much comes in the way of mutual understanding, however, when we think there are great things at stake. If I were to say that I thought your turkey sandwich is disgusting, you might refute it. You might not. If you knew that you liked turkey, you would probably eat it. If, however, I showed you a BLT that I had, and suggested you try it, you might just be willing to give up that turkey sandwich. And, after enjoying the BLT, you might decide you liked it better than turkey. But whether you like turkey or bacon is of little consequence in the larger scheme of things. It may affect dietary choices in the future, but it isn’t a life-or-death decision.

Religion, faith, and what lies beyond come at a higher premium, however. Not only do most faiths focus on creation and life/death issues, but they seek to remove the human propensity toward egocentrism. There is an instilled understanding that what is outside of us is more important that simply ourselves. Therefore, we are charged to live a certain way to the betterment and maintenance of whatever “the greater good.” When we come across a faith we can understand—in spiritual, emotional, and intellectual ways—we are hard-pressed to back out of it. It gives our life purpose in a grander and more important creation. We are not only a part of creation; we are integral to it.

Now suppose that we are assured that life would not end for us if we committed to living for the preservation and betterment of greater creation. With the human instinct of fear intimately tied to death, we almost certainly would stick to our guns and follow that faith. Do good. Do well. Avoid evil. Etc. Each faith has its prescriptions. If, however, someone comes to us and actually suggests that our belief system—that which has brought has comfort and security in life and has truly begun to do away with a fear of death—is misguided, what would we do? According to human preservation, we would balk. What?!? Our faith is WRONG!?!? No! Your faith is wrong! You’re the one who won’t be saved! And so it goes—through petty little squabbles to all-out, multi-continental wars. It’s human history. And it continues to repeat itself.

Now let’s take a step back and analyze this whole business. It would seem, thus far, that while we are told our work is valuable for higher ends, we take on the practice of “living out our faith” because we are promised salvation, forgiveness, etc. Perhaps we don’t do so consciously, but it’s part of our survival mechanism. Who wants to die? Not me. So I do what I feel will best preserve my life—in whatever form that may take. This is a bit egocentric, yes? So, there is human nature in all faith. It stands to reason. Where we make our biggest mistake, I feel, is beginning our arguments in defense or offense of that faith grounded only in the rudimentary need to survive. If we would just take a moment to consider our role in the grand scheme of things, we might understand that our individual existence is meaningless without others. True, we’re integral to something bigger than ourselves, but we cannot exist alone. Are we arguing for our faith to convince ourselves that we will, indeed, be immune to all destruction, suffering, and death that might come? Or are we defending it because it truly works toward a cooperative higher end? Too much of the former is at play, without necessary intellectual and spiritual intercession.

In all of this, it’s easy to see where the commonality is. At the same time we argue against each other, we’re arguing for the same reasons. And, according to human logic, it makes no sense that one form of salvation can exist alongside another. Or, for that matter, that one “greater good” can be harmonious with another. But is there a logic at play in “greater creation” that we don’t about or understand? Does God or Allah or Nature think outside the human box? Is it possible our greater goods are compatible? Perhaps. These are the discussions that aren’t happening. Instead, guns are drawn, insults hurled, and fights ensue. What will it take to bring down the walls and be vulnerable for a moment? It seems that the solution is universal vulnerability. We must be convinced that EVERYONE else is as vulnerable as we are. But who can start that chain? And how do we know that all the walls will come down? Some are much thicker than others.

Consider this a treatise on Easter Tuesday, if there is such a day. The same Tuesday that might be a holy day for the rest of the world, from country to country and faith to faith. However it is celebrated, take this at least to heart: believe as you feel compelled to believe, remembering that belief is as varied as the human race. And yet, it is still, together, the human race.

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