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Repentance and Atonement for Jews and Non-Jews

treeretold by Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Her mother once gave her a bag of nails and told her that every time she lost her temper or insulted somebody she must hammer a nail into large tree in the back of their house.

The first day the girl hit 14 nails into the tree. Over the next few weeks, as she learned to control her anger, the number of nails hammered daily gradually dwindled. She discovered it was easier to hold her temper than to drive those nails into the tree.

Finally the day came when the girl didn’t lose her temper at all. She told her mother about it and the mother suggested that the girl now pull out one nail for each day that she was able to hold her temper. The days passed. Finally, she told her mother that all the nails were gone.

The mother took her daughter by the hand and led her to the tree. She said, “You have done well, my daughter, but look at all the holes in the tree. This tree will never be the same. When you say things in anger, they leave a scar just like these.” You can put a knife in a person and draw it out. It does not matter how many times you say I’m sorry, the wound is still there. A verbal wound is almost as bad as a physical one.

“How can I fix thetree?” asked the girl. “Will it have to remain damaged forever?”

“Yes and no” said the mother. “Our Rabbis say that if the tree is a special tree called a tree of life, and she responds to the way you have changed, she too can change and heal herself. If the tree is not a tree of life, and is dead to the possibility of your repentance, it will carry its scars onward. The tree will never be as it was before, but she doesn’t have to become like new to be a good tree of life. If you do your part and change, and the tree of life does her part in response, God will do something wonderful.

God will promote a healing that will make you and the tree of life better. This process is called repentance and atonement. It means that the changes that come about from repentance and forgiveness lead people to higher levels of relationship than was the case before the wound took place.”

“What happens if the tree doesn’t respond?” asked the girl. “Can I ever make it whole?”

“Our rabbis say you should try on three different occasions,” said the mother, “but if the tree remains dead even after you have changed, YOU can’t force it to become whole. In that case you should fix another tree somewhere else. There are always lots of other trees that need fixing, and most of them are trees of life.

Whenever you fix a tree of life God will make something wonderful happen. That is the miracle of repentance and atonement. God always responds to our attempts to change for the good, by helping us change; and then always responds to our change for the good, by giving us new and wonderful opportunities for repentance and atonement. This is why we have a Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) ten days after the beginning of every New Year; so the New Year will be a better one than the last one.”

tree1Yom Kippur is September 23 in 2015 and everyone is invited to fix things up with the trees of life in your life.

Rabbi Maller’s web site is:

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How to Determine Your Spiritual Gifts

By Rhonda Jones

Every believer has at least one spiritual gift according to I Corinthians 12:7, “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” God has given every one of us at least one spiritual gift to edify the Body of Christ. Although we all have a spiritual gift, we often do not know exactly what that gift is or how it should be used. Four Biblical passages provide the basis for teachings concerning spiritual gifts, specifically Romans 12:1-12; I Corinthians 12:1-31, I Peter 4:7-14and Ephesians 4:1-15.

Spiritual gifts are meant to serve the Body of Christ in the pursuit to fulfill the great commission. The three categories of spiritual gifts include the motivational gifts, service gifts and the manifestation gifts. The motivational gifts are often referred to as the speaking gifts such as evangelism and exhortation. Gifts of service usually involve ministries that supply a need, like the food or usher board ministries. The manifestation gifts include gifts of healing, speaking in tongues or any gift that produces a result that can be seen or touched.

Learning what gifts God has given you through the Holy Spirit is a life changing experience. Once you know what gifts God has placed in you, it is easier to move into the purpose for which God has created you. If you are not confident in knowing what gifts you possess, there are steps to bring you closer to knowing your purpose.

Candlemas Day

Candlemas Day via Wikipedia

Step One: Listen to Your Heart

What are you happiest doing? What are you good at by nature? Knowing what brings your heart joy is the first step to discovering your spiritual gift. Often we operate unknowingly in our gifts, but on a much smaller scale than God would desire. Your natural reaction to a situation will offer insight to what gifts you possess. A person with the gift of exhortation will immediately begin to encourage someone facing an obstacle, while a person with the gift of intercession will immediately turn to prayer. A person with the gift of service will try to find a task that would lift some of the burden. Make a true observation of your heart; it will not lead you in the wrong direction as long as you are seeking God.

Step Two: Spiritual Gift Assessment

After you observe your heart, the follow up step is an assessment. A self-analysis of your strengths and interests will assist you with understanding specific areas of ministry for your talents. Evaluations vary in number and complexity of the questions and in their scoring methods, but often the results are relatively accurate. Assessments only provide a basis, they are not meant to replace seeking God to reveal your spiritual gifts. Primarily assessments spotlight gifts, such as faith, wisdom, discernment, or other qualities designed to glorify God. Free assessments are available with immediate results on the web.

Step Three: Pray

If you believe you have discovered your spiritual gift, ask God to confirm your discovery. The Bible tells us to do all things with prayer and supplication! Sometimes we learn how to do things and we learn certain responses, but it is not our true gift. God is the one who placed the gift inside you and he will let you know if you are on the right track. Even after you discover your gift, you must continue to pray. Prayer will help you remain faithful and humble in the use of your gift. Prayer will allow you to walk honestly and whole-heartedly in your gifts.

Step Four: Exercise your Gift

After you have discovered your spiritual gifts, learn to exercise them. Exercising what you believe to be your gift is the final determining factor of whether you posses a certain gift. For example, if you discover that intercession is your spiritual gift, but you find that you can never find anything to pray about, this may not actually be your gift. Likewise, if you believe you have the gift of exhortation, but feel like encouraging someone might be intruding, this may not be your gift. If you believe you have a gift, exercise it. If there is not a sense of fulfillment or joy just from exercising the gift (and not from affirmations by people), you may need to continue to seek God to reveal your gifts to you.

After you determine your spiritual gifts, continue to pray. The most important thing to remember is that gifts are given to edify the body of Christ and should never be used to promote negativity or competition. Ultimately, the gift still belongs to God and any power associated with the gift comes from God. Equally, any results from the use of your gift are up to God and are at his discretion. You do not bear the weight of “making” your gift work. You simply pray for opportunities to use your gift and an understanding of your gift.

About the Author

Learn about Guided Christian Meditation CDs and resources that will enhance your life and relationship with God. Are you ready to transform your life and live with more purpose and passion? Visit Detox Your Life Now and & Awaken Your Inner Spirit to learn about this 10-week Christian faith-based program.

Article Source: How to Determine Your Spiritual Gifts

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The Peace Found in Forgiveness of Others

By Denny Smith

If you or I or any other were asked to compile a list of the ugliest traits of character that a person could have and that we run across in people I am sure that things like hatred, anger, bitterness, malice, and an unwillingness to forgive would all rank up there near the top of our list. People who possess these traits are not pleasant to be around. That is not to say they have no friends but only that the kind of person that takes up with them is very likely to share some of the same traits they have. And, I might add, one of the positive things about family is they are likely to love you no matter what so they will put up with you.

While I listed 5 traits it is easy to see how they are all related. Why is a person unwilling to forgive or lacks the desire to do so? Is it not because of hatred, anger, bitterness, and perhaps even malice (a sort of revenge motive of I will get even with you even if that mechanism is only by being unwilling to forgive).

Yes, we all have people who have done us wrong whom we have been very angry at, maybe bitter against, but I have never seen a time in my own life but what time heals and the things that seemed so great an issue at the time has over the years palled into insignificance and no longer matter. We are going to get hurt in life. That is just life. But, we also have to remember as we have been hurt so have we hurt others whether intentionally or not.

Why is it we take the hurts we receive to heart but see as insignificant things we have said or done to others (or even things we should have done as acts of consideration or kindness or love but failed to do)? Why is it we come to see everything as one sided as though it is the world against us but our purity is as of the new fallen snow without spot?

Certainly, there are some things that would be hard to forgive – adultery committed against us, desertion by a husband against his wife and children, physical abuse, lies told against us, hurts done to our children, etc. But, even so, where does holding on to the anger and bitterness and hatred get you? Does it bring you a happier life? Does it bring you joy? We all know the answer—it just brings greater suffering and sorrow, more misery, as we dwell more and more on the hurt we have received rather than a rebuilding of life that can bring joy and peace.

So far I have talked about the common experiences of man but we need to put a biblical perspective on these things not only because we are talking about Bible subjects but also because we are spiritual beings subject to the supreme spiritual being—God himself. It is not the physical man that gets hurt, who develops anger and bitterness and hatred and who is unwilling to forgive, but the spiritual man.

Man was created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26). As we have received hurt at the hands of others we have to remember we all, every one of us, have hurt God with our own lives. This has been true of man from the beginning. “And the Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and he was grieved in his heart.” (Gen. 6:6 NKJV) This was because “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Gen. 6:5 NKJV)

It is easy to say that was generations ago and times have changed, we are not that way today. Yes, easy to say but also easy to know we are deceiving ourselves when we do so. Paul said to Christians, “do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” (Eph. 3:30 NKJV) If a Christian can grieve God how about all those who know the truth of the gospel but will not obey it? Do you think they grieve God? If you think the one you will not forgive is your enemy do you think you are God’s friend all the while grieving him? So we see the one who will not forgive needs forgiving himself.

It would be good to hear some scripture on the subject of forgiveness and our great need to forgive others.

“For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matt. 6:14-15 NKJV) “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.” (Mark 11:25 NKJV) This forgiveness must be “from his heart” (Matt. 18:35 NKJV) which means of course sincerely.

If Jesus could have a heart of forgiveness toward those who were crucifying him, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34 NKJV), then surely no one has done such evil to you as that done to him. (I am not saying those who crucified Christ were forgiven without repentance and obedience to the gospel but only that Jesus’ prayer was from a heart desiring their forgiveness which came to many as they obeyed the gospel on the Day of Pentecost). How is our heart toward God and our fellowman when we relish hatred and enjoy the bitterness and anger that accompanies it? And why, why is that so? Why are we that way? Why would we rather destroy ourselves than to forgive? Is there any sense or reason to it?

There is comfort to be found in the Christian life in not only our own forgiveness by God but also the burden that is lifted from our heart when we from the heart forgive those we have so long held anger and bitterness against. “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor (‘harsh words’ in the NLT—DS), and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you.” (Eph. 4:31-32 NKJV)

It is so much easier to live life when surrounded by people that are kind and tenderhearted and forgiving, people who are not out just for themselves, or just to get you, or just to get even and reap vengeance but rather people that care about you. No, life is better when you are able to say yes I need forgiveness myself and I will no longer hold anger or grudges against others but I forgive as I seek God’s forgiveness also in my own life.

It would be good to talk a little about God’s loving kindness and willingness to forgive. God gives us all hope. The apostle Paul was at one time a very evil man. He says of himself, “many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them.” (Acts 26:10 NKJV) Yet, God showed him mercy and Paul later says concerning this, “But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life.” (1 Tim. 1:16 NLT)

Of those 3,000 on the day of Pentecost who obeyed the gospel and were saved that day Peter says to them about Jesus, “you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death,” speaking in reference to what they had done to Christ. Surely, if God would forgive them he will forgive you, me, and all of us if only we are willing to give up our sin. We need not live in hatred and malice and unforgiving of others as that is a personal choice. We choose to be that way. We do not have to be. No one forces us to be unloving and unforgiving and full of pride that will not let us repent.

David said, “Depart from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” (Psalms 34:14 NKJV) It is a choice. “Cease from anger, and forsake wrath.” (Psalms 37:8 NKJV) God is ready to forgive. “For you, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, and abundant in mercy to all those who call upon you.” (Psalms 86:5 NKJV)

There is a passage in Ezekiel that we all ought to learn for even though it was written for another people at another time it is still applicable today (Rom. 15:4), “’Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways,’ says the Lord God. ‘Repent, and turn from all your transgressions, so that iniquity will not be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies,’ says the Lord God. ‘Therefore turn and live!’” (Ezek. 18:30 NKJV)

We will all be judge individually, “every one according to his ways,” so it is not what kind of attitude the other man has who we have it in for but it is our own attitude that we must account for. Repentance can save us, “Repent…so that iniquity will not be your ruin.” It is up to us as we can get ourselves “a new heart and a new spirit.” No, we do not have to be the way we are if we are unloving and unforgiving.

In closing let me ask a few questions for your consideration. Why did Jesus come into the world? Who sent him? Why is Jesus called the Savior? Why did he die on the cross? Has God given us a choice (free will)? Is it possible to change our attitude, our life, and our hope? Why do we choose to hate, have bitterness and anger, to be unloving and unforgiving? What joy and happiness do we find in that? Is there a better way of life? Can peace and joy and hope of life everlasting be found or is the way hidden from us?

I think we all know the answers to these questions so there is only one other question to ask. It is the question in the old gospel hymn we have sung since the days of my childhood which is now many decades past. It is the question, “Why do you wait o sinner?” “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Cor. 6:2 NKJV) There is peace in forgiving and in being forgiven.

About the Author:

Visit Denny Smith’s web site to read more of his articles and also listen to over 110 audio sermons on many different subjects from “Where Are the Dead?” to “The Weaver’s Shuttle,” to “What Must I Do To Be Saved?”

Article Source: The Peace Found in Forgiveness of Others


Death – The Final Frontier?

I recently began an article on different beliefs about the afterlife. The first sentence went something like “Every culture has its own beliefs about the afterlife.” Almost immediately I realized this was pretty much wrong. Maybe in the old days different cultures contained large groups of people adhering to specific religious doctrines. But not today.

Some might disagree, noting that there are an estimated 1.2 billion Catholics out there—a huge faith group that believes in the afterlife as taught by the Vatican. Well, yes and no. From my experience as a Catholic, people tend to have their own private views. Get to know them a little better and their opinions leak out.

For instance, one person I knew was a Greeter at their local Catholic church, and they quietly believed in the idea of universal salvation. That means that everyone gets to heaven sooner or later, not just the pious on Earth or those in purgatory. This person was an upright Catholic, respected by many, who held this secret “radical” belief (The Vatican does not endorse the idea of universal salvation, but says that hell is eternal).

Afterlife (TV series)

Afterlife (TV series) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Another Catholic person I knew was enamored with Benny Hinn, a former Catholic schoolteacher who made little swipes against the Catholic Church on TV.

Let’s face it. The world is fragmented and complicated. Even in the old days it was. Some scholars might, for instance, say that the ancient Mesopotamians believed in a shadowy underworld. But did everyone? Surely there were some hard core materialists back then who would have viewed the whole afterlife idea as rubbish.

To take another example, in ancient India there was a school of thought called Charvaka, which advocated materialism. And yet some Indians and believers in Hinduism see India’s ancient spiritual traditions as a backdrop to that country’s unique status as the “guru of the world.”

Again, not all saw nor see it that way.

Instead of going through the major world religions and their beliefs about the afterlife, I thought a more hands-on approach would be more informative. But I need your help. I’m going to ask what you believe.

So here we go. These are some guidelines to get you thinking. Please don’t feel obliged to answer all of these points.

  • What happens after we die?
  • Do we go on?
  • Why?
  • In what form?
  • Is it good or bad?
  • Do we disappear into oblivion?

Your thoughts would be very much appreciated. If we get enough replies here, perhaps I’ll republish this as a new article.


Michael Clark, Ph.D.


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Pope Francis Visits A Declining Catholic Church

English: Percentage of Catholics in the World

Percentage of Catholics in the World (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Rabbi Allen S. Maller

A new Pew Research survey of 5,122 U.S. adults, (including 1,016 self-identified Catholics) finds that the Catholic church’s share of the religious marketplace is down from 23.9 percent in 2007 to 20 percent in the new survey, conducted in May and June of 2015.

The new survey goes beyond the standard tally of how many people say their religious identity is Catholic. It asks many questions that Pew has not asked before.

Pew found that in addition to the 20 percent who are Catholics, 9 percent of U.S. adults are “cultural Catholics”. Reared as Catholics they no longer identify themselves as Catholic. However, they still consider themselves somewhat Catholic by culture, ancestry, ethnicity or family tradition.

Pew also identified another 9 percent of Americans as ex-Catholics — “lapsed” or “fallen-away” Catholics — who were reared in the church but have turned their backs on it. This would mean that almost one quarter (9 of 38) of cradle Catholics are no longer Catholic.

“We see enormous differences between cultural Catholics and ex-Catholics,” said Greg Smith, associate director of religion research at Pew.

“Cultural Catholics exhibit a significant degree of openness to the church,” he said, “whereas ex-Catholics have cut their ties. Asked directly, ‘Could you see yourself ever returning’ to a Catholic religious identity, 4 in 10 cultural Catholics say yes, but 90 percent of ex-Catholics say no”.

Many of the ex-Catholics have become evangelical Protestants; or Conservative or Reform Jews (almost half of all converts to Judaism are former Catholics).

While the Roman Catholic church is getting smaller, those who remain within the church are stronger in their faith: 7 in 10 U.S. Catholics say they cannot ever imagine leaving the Catholic Church, no matter what. That means that in the future losses should be less.

The Pew survey found that most remaining Catholics align church teachings they consider “essential” to what it means to be Catholic. Leading the list: 68 percent cite a personal relationship with Jesus Christ; 62 percent list helping the poor and needy; 54 percent cite receiving the sacraments and devotion to Mary.

But only a minority see addressing climate change (29 percent) or opposing abortion (33 percent) as “essential” to their Catholic identity. Catholics are evenly divided over whether it is sinful to spend money on luxuries without also giving to the poor. Neither do most see it as a sin to use energy without concern for the impact on the environment.

Rabbi Maller’s web site is:

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London’s Victoria & Albert Museum to display Lord Vishnu on silk

Special to

Victoria and Albert Museum (V&AM) in London, which claims to be “world’s greatest museum of art and design”, will be showcasing Lord Vishnu avatars on silk in its Fabric of India exhibition from October three to January 10.

Dated around 1570, this display will include a Hindu narrative cloth in silk lampas weave, depicting avatars of Lord Vishnu. It will be “the first exhibition to fully explore the incomparably rich world of handmade textiles from India”, presenting about 200 objects made by hand, including sacred temple hangings and some expressing religious devotion and examining how fabrics were used in spiritual life. “Sacred fabrics created for temples and shrines would employ the best of available materials and highest levels of craftsmanship,” Museum release says.

Commending V&AM for plans to exhibit Lord Vishnu, Rajan Zed said that art had a long and rich tradition in Hinduism and ancient Sanskrit literature talked about religious paintings of deities on wood or cloth.

Rajan Zed, who is President of Universal Society of Hinduism, urged major art museums of the world, including Musee du Louvre and Musee d’Orsay of Paris, Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Los Angeles Getty Center, Uffizi Gallery of Florence (Italy), Tate Modern of London, Prado Museum of Madrid, National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, etc., to frequently organize Hindu art focused exhibitions, thus sharing the rich Hindu art heritage with the rest of the world.

Some fragments of Indian fabric dating back as far as the 3rd century will be on display in this exhibition curated by Rosemary Crill and Divia Patel and designed by Gitta Geschwendtner, which will form part of V&AM’s India Festival.

Martin Roth and Paul Ruddock are Director and Board of Trustees Chairman respectively of V&AM, which claims to have “unrivalled collections of contemporary and historic art and design.”

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Why natural is not necessarily good but you are sacred

Dioscorides’ Materia Medica, c. 1334 copy in A...

Dioscorides’ Materia Medica, c. 1334 copy in Arabic, describes medicinal features of cumin and dill. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By: Andy Pakula

Before I became a Unitarian minister, I was a scientist – a Ph.D. biologist. Ministry and science is an interesting combination – two fields that sometimes conflict and sometimes make for the most wonderful of synergies. I know a great deal about how living things work – about the chemistry and mechanics that life uses to sustain itself. I know a lot about how living things interact with one another.

The fact that this is in my background may make you feel that you can trust what I say about the world a bit more or it may make you feel more distrustful. The confidence we once had in scientists and science has vanished. Hostility and fear have largely taken its place.

There was a time when society was enraptured with the potential of modern technology. As we saw diseases cured that had for millenia brought human misery, there was a sense that we – through the intelligence of humanity – could be our own saviours – we imagined that our science and technology would allow us to create a world of universal peace and prosperity. The horrors of the 20th century shattered this vision as we saw our technology turned to more and more effective means of killing and oppression.

The pendulum seems to be swinging to the opposite extreme now. Science and technology are often seen as evils today. As West argues, many of us have adopted a sense that what is natural is necessarily good. Anything else is bad. The word “unnatural” has come to mean wrong, dangerous, and perverted. West would clearly like to refute this extreme notion that identifies natural as good and anything that does not occur without human intervention as bad.

So would I.

To quote author and fellow Unitarian Kurt Vonnegut “If people think that nature is their friend, then they sure don’t need an enemy.”

Vonnegut’s take is a bit extreme. Nature is not our enemy. It is filled with beauty and wonder and our tradition has long understood the natural world to contain the image of the sacred, perhaps more than anywhere else. And yet, there can be no doubt that nature is not entirely benign.

As a scientist, I learned about thousands of dangerous natural substances. One of the most potent cancer-causing agents in the world is a chemical called aflatoxin. It is not produced in some shiny chemical plant. It is not a by-product of industry. It is produced by a naturally-occurring kind of fungus that likes to grow on grain. Eating food contaminated the natural fungus that makes natural aflatoxin causes cancer.

Aflatoxin is a particularly extreme example, but it is not at all unique. Many plants, mushrooms, and animals are, of course, toxic. Even some foods we eat regularly, such as parsnips and potatoes produce their own toxins – probably as a way of protecting themselves from insects or microorganisms.

And finally, I must mention comfrey. You may know comfrey as a tall perennial plant with lovely little flowers. It is commonly used as a vegetable and made into a tea. For more than 2,000 years, comfrey has been used as an herbal medicine. It has been used to treat broken bones, ulcers, congestion, inflammation, and wounds. It is just the sort of thing that is popular today, where natural remedies tend to be trusted over something the doctor would provide. 2,000 years of experience – that has to count for something.

Well, whatever else comfrey may or may not do, it also damages your liver and contributes to the development of cancer. Comfrey is natural and it has a very long history of use. It is not, however, safe.

Synthetic drugs are tested using an incredibly exhaustive and expensive serious of chemical, animal, and human studies. Synthetic drugs are pure and guaranteed to be almost exactly the same every time you take them – no matter who makes them or which chemist you buy them from. Natural drugs are complex mixtures that can be very different in every batch. They undergo almost no testing.

I am very concerned about the natural food and medicine phenomenon. Sometimes, it is harmless to take a herbal medicine. Sometimes, though, we do irreparable damage to ourselves either because of side-effects of these natural potions or because we forgo a synthetic drug that could really help us because we have been led to be afraid of anything “unnatural.”

It is appealing to believe that natural is necessarily good. I understand myself to be a part of the natural world and I have a strong sense that all life is connected in some deep way. I sometimes find myself thinking that, because of this great communion, nature would not be in any way threatening. Indeed, it should be nurturing and restorative. It should provide a remedy for all of my ills. It is a comforting and deeply spiritual notion.

If we believe a traditional religious story of the origin of the world, God would certainly have made plants to suit our needs. In a more scientific world view, we might imagine that we would have a special relationship with plants that were around as we evolved. They might have adjusted to suit us and we to suit them. Mutually beneficial relationships do occur in the natural world. Some insects and flowers have developed such intricate and interdependent relationships that neither can live without the other! The plant could not be pollinated without its special insect and the insect would starve without its special plant.

But the reality is that we don’t benefit the plants and they did not evolve to benefit us. All of the drugs found in nature, such as penicillin, aspirin, some anticancer and cardiac drugs – are made by plants that evolved to produce them for some other purpose – usually to repel or kill some kind of invader – and we are just lucky that they have beneficial effects for us.

Just as natural materials are not necessarily good, unnatural ones are not necessarily bad. Synthetic medicines, as West points out, have extended our lives dramatically. They have literally transformed the nature of human life. Unless we are walking naked through an untouched primordial forest –we are making use of something or many things that are unnatural.

Patrick West says that we worship nature. He claims that we do so because we can no longer worship the traditional God and because we no longer trust scientists and doctors implicitly.

There is some truth to this claim. Human beings crave a simple organising principle. The world is immensely complex and becoming more so every day. Scientists and engineers dream up new things faster than we can keep track of them, much less know how to evaluate their safety. In response to such a complex and dynamic reality, some turn to fundamentalist religion and use scripture or religious dogma to help sort the things into categories that are easier to manage. Others turn to different simplifications, including the notion that nature is pure and good.

The duality of natural and unnatural is applied not only beyond us, but within us. Is the human character innately good or evil? This is a question that has been argued for centuries.

Today, a common notion has emerged that our character is intrinsically good – that it is by nature pure and true. Evil comes in only by that which is artificial and imposed upon us. As long as an aspect of our character is natural, this thinking would say, it is good.

I am reminded of when my son Jacob was very young. My wife and I were absolutely determined to keep him free from the contaminating influences of our culture’s violence and shallow values. There would be no telly in our home. The toys would all be wood – no artificial plastic stuff for this child. And most of all, there would be no weapons of any kind.

It was not long at all before our darling, pure, innocent Jacob was making anything and everything into a weapon. “We don’t have weapons in this family” we said, as we confiscated the toast he had bitten into the shape of a gun. “We don’t have weapons in this family” we said as he shaped his fingers into a gun and blasted away at us. “What are you going to do” he countered, “take away my finger?” At that point, we realised we were fighting a losing battle – not just against him, but against something that is hard-wired into us.

Human nature, I am convinced, is not purely good. Nature does not bestow upon us infinite goodness. Just as in the world beyond us, nature provides a complex mix of harmful and helpful, good and bad, constructive and destructive attributes and impulses.

It is human nature to be compassionate. It also appears to be human nature to fight one another. I believe that a sacredness, a goodness exists within each of us – call it dignity, call it soul, call it Atman, call it God – whatever you call it, it is there to be found in every heart. But the goodness is not all there is. We are innately capable of good and evil.

There will be no simple measuring stick for us to show us good from bad or right from wrong. Categories such as natural or scriptural that create simple black and white dualities will not be adequate signposts to show us the way.

Mary Oliver, in her poem, “At the Lake,” speaks rapturously of a natural event – a fish leaping through the air. She speaks of holiness and identifies it with the natural world.

The point is not the simple one that everything natural is holy and everything unnatural is not. It is more subtle. She writes:

“This is, I think, what holiness is:
the natural world,
where every moment is full of the passion to keep moving.”

The holiness of the natural world lies not in its naturalness alone, but in its motion. It is in the process of life – its exuberance and energy, its determination – that holiness is found. Goodness is to be identified in everything that shows us our unity, brings us together, creates understanding, and grows the living force of love in the world.

Dualities are for the solitary and untrusting. It is when we are alone that we must measure and determine for ourselves – when we turn to simplistic categories to guide us. It is when we can not trust others to carry out their roles responsibly that we must suspect everything and turn to simplifying dualities.

In community, we turn to one another. It is here, inspired by vision and bound together by love, that we learn what creates understanding, what creates trust, and what reveals our unity.

It is here that we begin to create the world we long to see.

About the Author:

Andrew Pakula is the Minister of the Newington Green and Islington Unitarians, a rapidly-growing, radically-inclusive, spiritual community in north London. He directs, a not-for-profit association of quality providers of spiritual events, programmes, and workshops.

With a Jewish background and influences from many other religious traditions, his is a particularly open and eclectic approach to spirituality. Andrew believes that authentic spirituality provides a way of living deeply, meaningfully, and with connection, and that it offers an essential antidote to the busy, individualistic, materialistic culture in which we live.

Article Source: Why natural is not necessarily good but you are sacred


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