We are all travelers along the road to EmmausLatest Issue, Where's the Faith? Thursday, June 8th, 2017
Social Chaos: Where's the Faith?
As a progressive Christian, I believe there are many names for God and many ways to a loving God; this article reflects one of those ways. Take from here what works for you. Celebrate life with joy and peace!
According to the journal of Biblical Archeology, there are at least nine possible locations for the Biblical town of Emmaus. Historians tell us they don’t know exactly where it might have been except that it was just a few hours from Jerusalem.
Theologian, Marcus Borg, suggests that Emmaus is nowhere. “Emmaus is nowhere precisely because Emmaus is everywhere. Each and every one of us has traveled along the road to Emmaus.”
I know I’ve been on the road to Emmaus every time I’ve been searching for answers, or doubting, or questioning. And I’ve had many conversations along the way; discussing the ifs, ands and buts of my faith, of religion and life.
It’s easy to imagine two sojourners strolling down the road that we can almost hear them talking, maybe even arguing, about what happened. “What are they to make of this?” they ask. Jesus was supposed to be the Messiah, the One to free the people from oppression. Now Jesus was gone and the empire was still oppressing them. Is this some cruel hoax?
They had trusted, believed and followed Jesus. Their lives had been changed for the better, then they saw their beloved Jesus shamed, ridiculed, humiliated and crucified and now he was dead. Well, was Jesus dead?
Some said they’d seen Jesus, alive! Could it be? We can hear these two friends wrestling with each other, and even with their own hearts, on the road that day. This story of wrestling with unanswerable questions was written some 2,000 years ago, but this same wrestling continues in the hearts and minds of so many of us today, doesn’t it?
We also hear conflicting reports about death; the death of Christianity. Even Time magazine had a front cover saying, “Is God Dead?” We wrestle about the abuses we’ve seen or experienced in the church, about God hearing us, about the growing trend of being spiritual over religious. And so, we struggle down the road to Emmaus talking with one another about what it all means. If only someone would appear to us, and open our eyes, and cause our hearts to burn within us, and open the scriptures to us.
Let’s look at some of the travelers along the road to Emmaus. Mahatma Gandhi was a Hindu who studied all the great religions of the world and after completing an exhaustive study of Christianity, he came to the conclusion that Christianity was the most compassionate, most loving, most complete form of religion and the best way to encounter the divine, and so he resolved that he would become a Christian. Then he went to church, and in the church he discovered a great chasm between the teachings of Jesus and the way Jesus’ followers actually lived, and so Gandhi resolved to become a Christian just as soon as he actually met a Christian!
As we travel along the road to Emmaus, there are those who hold on to their interpretation of sacred scripture so tightly and insisting that we believe, believe every word. I’ve heard a preacher call these folks “religious terrorists.” They’re only too willing to tell us what it all means, and exactly what the scriptures say and how we ought to understand absolutely everything just exactly the same way that they understand it; some of them even wave the Bible as if it were a weapon, and so they clobber us with scripture and threaten us with eternal damnation if we don’t believe as they believe.
Another person on the road is Karen Armstrong. She’s one of the world’s authorities on religion who’s written several books on the religions of the world. She also has a famous TED talk about her call for a world Charter for Compassion. I learned from her that the word “belief” originally meant “to love” “to prize” or to “hold dear.”
She insists that religion is not about believing things … rather, religion is about behavior. She says you only understand religious doctrines when you can put them in to practice.
According to Armstrong, “in every single one of the major world faiths, compassion, the ability to feel with the other, is not only the test of any true religiosity, it is also what will bring us into the presence of what Jews, Christians and Muslims call God or the Divine. It is compassion, say the Buddha that brings you into Nirvana. Why? Because in compassion, when we feel with the other, we dethrone ourselves from the center of our world and we put another person there. Once we get rid of ego (Edging God Out) then we are ready to see the divine.” She also points out that every single one of the major world religions has highlighted the Golden Rule.
Another traveler on the road is St. Augustine, who said, “Scripture teaches nothing but charity (love), and we must not leave any interpretation of scripture until we have found a compassionate interpretation of it.” Unfortunately, many religious people have become more concerned with being right rather than behaving with compassion.
As we journey, may it become less important for us to believe in a certain way, and more vital that we behave with compassion. God is not dead. God is alive and well. God walks with us on the road, and sometimes we only see one set of footprints, when God is carrying us through difficult times.
And as we wander toward Emmaus, may we resurrect compassion so that our faith can be a pathway to peace. May we recognize the divine in our neighbor, the divine in the other, and yes, even in our enemies. I like how one preacher said it, “Believing that God is alive is not the point. But behaving like God is alive is the beginning of compassion.”
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