"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture
and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words." ~Goethe

~ also, if possible, to dwell in "a house where all's accustomed, ceremonious." ~Yeats

Saturday, November 28, 2015


Genuine religion is not about speculating about God or the soul
or about what happened in the past or will happen in the future;
it cares only about one thing — finding out
exactly what should or should not be done in this lifetime.


It is terrible when people do not know God,
but it is worse when people identify as God what is not God.

Leo Tolstoy
Path of Life or
Calendar of Wisdom, 1909
as translated by M. Cote, 2002

Stretching from All Saints' Day on the 1st to St. Andrew's Day on the 30th, November is a month for honoring all deserving Saints and Souls. It begins and ends with a Holy Day, including some good ones in between, such as Martinmas. It's a month for showing respect to the Living and the Dead, which brings me to the ever - popular topic of taking the name of the Lord in vain, as in The Ten Commandments: "Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain" (Exodus 20:7 KJV).

It's true that the endless chorus of "oh my god" that passes for expression and dialogue in daily conversation grows tiresome very quickly, not so much because it's disrespectful but because it indicates such a limited vocabulary and lack of imagination -- similar to adults who chew gum visibly in public -- ewww, puh - lease, gag me! "OMG" is no better, yet somehow I find it less annoying -- sort of the way that changing "Kentucky Fried Chicken" to "KFC" made the meal seem a little less greasy.

Is the third commandment merely a rule against saying,"Oh my God" or does it suggest something more substantial than that? In answer to this question, it is helpful to consider that the Bible also says "strive not about words to no profit" 2 Timothy 2:14 (NRSV). So you don't care for your neighbor's choice of slang? Well, here's a simple solution: just turn the other ear.

I've long been inspired by Frederick's comment in the Woody Allen film Hannah and her Sisters:

"If Jesus came back and saw what's going on in his name,
he'd never stop throwing up."

I appreciate this understanding of not taking God's name in vain. I never did believe -- as I was taught in childhood -- that it meant not saying "Gee whiz" or "Goddamnitbullshittohell." What it really means is not ascribing your beliefs to God and doing your own will in God's name.

Contemporary American song writer Ben Folds suggests the same idea in his his song Jesusland:
"Town to town
broadcast to each house, they drop your name
but no one knows your face
Billboards quoting things you'd never say
you hang your head and pray
for Jesusland . . .
crosses flying high above the malls . . .

Additional thoughts
from a couple of thoughtful Episcopalians:

Ambassador / Senator John Danforth (who, believe it or not, was the speaker at my college graduation): "Moderate Christians are less certain about when and how our beliefs can be translated into statutory form, not because of a lack of faith in God but because of a healthy acknowledgement of the limitations of human beings. Like conservative Christians, we attend church, read the Bible and say our prayers.

"But for us, the only absolute standard of behavior is the commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. Repeatedly in the Gospels, we find that the Love Commandment takes precedence when it conflicts with laws. We struggle to follow that commandment as we face the realities of everyday living, and we do not agree that our responsibility to live as Christians can be codified by legislators.

"When, on television, we see a person in a persistent vegetative state, one who will never recover, we believe that allowing the natural and merciful end to her ordeal is more loving than imposing government power to keep her hooked up to a feeding tube.

"When we see an opportunity to save our neighbors' lives through stem cell research, we believe that it is our duty to pursue that research, and to oppose legislation that would impede us from doing so.

"We think that efforts to haul references of God into the public square, into schools and courthouses, are far more apt to divide Americans than to advance faith.

"Following a Lord who reached out in compassion to all human beings, we oppose amending the Constitution in a way that would humiliate homosexuals.

"For us, living the Love Commandment may be at odds with efforts to encapsulate Christianity in a political agenda. We strongly support the separation of church and state, both because that principle is essential to holding together a diverse country, and because the policies of the state always fall short of the demands of faith. Aware that even our most passionate ventures into politics are efforts to carry the treasure of religion in the earthen vessel of government, we proceed in a spirit of humility . . ."

~ from the essay Onward, Moderate Christian Soldiers ~
The New York Times, 17 June 2005


Bishop John Shelby Spong: “God is not a Christian, God is not a Jew, or a Muslim, or a Hindu, or a Buddhist. All of those are human systems which human beings have created to try to help us walk into the mystery of God. I honor my tradition, I walk through my tradition, but I don't think my tradition defines God, I think it only points me to God.”


And from an English bishop
within the Eastern Orthodox Church

Kallistos Ware: “We see that it is not the task of Christianity to provide easy answers to every question, but to make us progressively aware of a mystery. God is not so much the object of our knowledge as the cause of our wonder.”

~ from his book The Orthodox Way ~

Next Fortnightly Post
Monday, December 14th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading


  1. Also Tolstoy (but I'm not sure of the source): “If the thought comes to you that everything that you have thought about God is mistaken and that there is no God, do not be dismayed. It happens to many people. But do not think that the source of your unbelief is that there is no God. If you no longer believe in the God in whom you believed before, this comes from the fact that there is something wrong with your belief, and you must strive to grasp better that which you call God. When a savage ceases to believe in his wooden God, this does not mean that there is no God, but that the true God is not of wood.”

  2. Unfortunately, concerning Senator Danforth: