Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Conversion God Requires

The Conversion God Requires
By Fr Paul Bresnahan

Yesterday was an epic event for mathematicians at precisely 9:26:53am. That’s because when you place the numbers 3.141592653 you describe a mysterious number in the mathematical world and because yesterday was 3/14/15, the number only happens once in each one hundred years. MIT sent out notifications of acceptance yesterday at precisely that moment by email. Harvard kids held Pi parties. Mathematicians were beside themselves with delight. The number Pi represents the ratio of the radius of a circle to its diameter and is referred to an an irrational number in mathematics, since an irrational number is any real number that cannot be expressed as a ratio of integers. Wrap your head around that one. No matter how many times I read the words, my mind tumbles in humility before the concept. And yet without the concept we would be unable to calculate many essential equations and thus have our hands tied behind our backs in some rather fundamental human endeavors. After all, any homemade pie would be impossible without the number and that is an obvious and everyday application. The history of Pi is found in ancient Greece, India and the Muslim mathematicians allowed irrational numbers to be treated as algebraic objects an important step forward in the world of calculus. 

I find it interesting that Pi is thus called a transcendental and algebraic irrational. The very universal application of the number intrigues me. Its purity and mystery hold humankind under its authority and as a theologian I am intrigued by the very idea of the thing. I cannot help but wonder what it is that dwells in the Mind of God particularly when we try in our own meager way to plumb the depths of God’s being in any comprehensive way.

It makes me smile at the wonder of it all.

What then does God require of us all, in a universal way? That question cannot be answered quite so simply with either mathematical precision or purity. It is easy for us to get bogged down in our specific religious traditions and then maintain that we are the only way to the truth the way and the life.

Micah took a good stab at it when he said “And what does God require but to do justice, love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” ~Micah 6:8

But humankind doesn’t seem to warm up to such universal claims that God makes upon us.

In following the trial of the Boston Marathon bomber we read with interest the misguided words of the young man whose brother he says looked down the barrel of a gun and did not see death but heaven.

Talk about religious delusion!

On the other hand he does lament the death of the innocents, the victims of warfare inflicted on the Islamic world by the west. Yet, there is no such compassion or mercy in the heart of this young man for the innocents he wounded, maimed and killed by planting explosives in the midst of a festive unarmed crowd. What of that act of violence and terror? And such acts of terror are on the rise around the world.

It made me wonder what God thinks about the bloodshed inflicted by Christians, Jews, and Muslims on one another in the name of the one and same God. Sheiks and Hindus oftentimes do likewise and all of human history is stained with such religious fervor and in its wake leaves many souls so broken with grief.

Does God want everyone to be Christian? And if so what kind of Christian; Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran or my own personal favorite, Episcopalian?
Or would God rather we all be Muslim? And if so which kind? Sunni or Shia? 
Perhaps God would rather we all become Hasidic Jews, or Ultra Orthodox, Conservative or Reformed?
Then again, like so many in our modern world, God may be fed up with the whole bunch of us and like Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens decide it is not worth the risk of all the warfare, violence and terror to have any God at all to worry about and trust the world to the hand of Science and Secular Humanism.

That is a tempting alternative and many of our contemporaries have turned to it. As tempting as it may be for God to consider washing his or her hands of the whole thing, God cannot leave us merely to our own devices. For I believe with all my heart that when we turn our backs on God we turn our backs on the essence of human nature itself. For who is more at the center of the human heart than God?


The conversion God wants can be seen in all the great prophets. Again and again God has called us to return and then in the fullness of time we believe that God did something quite decisive in Salvation history.

In our tradition, it is seen most vividly in the person of Jesus whose claim on our conversion rests quite simply on the one essential Gospel Proclamation.

“Love one another.”

And then as is so exquisitely stated in today’s Gospel, “ When I am lifted up upon the cross I will draw the whole world to myself”
After all, in that cross is God’s forgiveness of us and God’s mandate that we forgive one another. That’s the only possible way forward.

When Jesus said “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father by by me,” many take that to mean that there is no salvation outside those two syllables “Je-sus”. Frankly, that just doesn’t quite have the ring of truth to it.

But if you were to say to me that the way of God and the way to Salvation is through the kind of life taught to us by Jesus
Love one another
Love your enemies
Be reconciled
Be forgiven and forgive
Then I would say, “You are not far from Heaven”.

Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness to remind the people that God brought them out of slavery in Egypt into freedom in the promised land. Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness to remind the people that the Evil One is still everywhere.

Mohammed, may peace be upon him, taught that is God is the All Merciful, so we are to have mercy and "Thou shalt not kill".

In the words of the Holy Koran we read as follows; "anyone who murders any person who had not committed murder or horrendous crimes, it shall be as if he murdered all the people. (5:32)
"You shall not kill any person - for God has made life sacred"(17:33)

Therefore the Conversion God wants is not so much a conversion to or from Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism or Atheism and so on, but to stop the violence in the Name of God, or Science or any other ideology.

Stop the violence.
Stop the warfare.
No more terror.
But instead
Quieten your hearts and be silent before God
In the Name of Justice and Peace
Feed the poor, visit the sick and those in prison, bind up the brokenhearted. And if you discover that you are persecuted for doing so, give thanks to God and rejoice, for great is your reward in heaven.

The struggle we face in our modern context is indeed a “holy war”; a “jihad” and our young people are being drawn to decide between the extreme of the so-called “Islamic State” or the way that leads to Peace with Justice without violence.

Many fall into the hands of the Evil One who seeks only to kill and destroy.
So too we in the west must turn our backs on so much warfare on foreign soil.

When Jesus tells me to turn the other cheek that’s where I get stuck. How can I thus defend myself?

That’s why this conversion is so urgent. 

Unless we find a way to Silence the human heart and bring justice and peace onto the stage of human history, then history merely teaches us that non only will the bloodshed continue, it will ultimately bring us all to naught. For as Gandhi is reputed to have said “The only thing that an eye for and eye and a tooth achieves is to make the whole world blind and toothless.”

This is why the only way to the Father is the way of Jesus. Shhh…not in the name by itself but the way of life for which that Name is shorthand. 

Therefore you shall 

"Love one another."

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Fr Paul 

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