Friday, December 14, 2012

Tradition - A Personal Reflection

World's Religious Traditions
World's Religious Traditions (Photo credit: Micah68)

Webster's defines "tradition" as: 1. the handing down of statements, beliefs, legends, customs, information, etc., from generation to generation, esp. by word of mouth or by practice; 2. something that is handed down; 3. a long established or inherited way of thinking or acting; 4. a continuing pattern of cultural beliefs or practices; ...The definition goes on for several more explanations, but I think you get the idea.
Growing up, we had a few traditions. Some were so entrenched in our lives that we didn't realize they were traditions until we stopped practicing them. Things like, Wednesday was spaghetti night; Saturday, we had beans and franks; and on Sundays, we usually had a sit-down meal at around 2 o'clock. We called it dinner, which cracks my daughters up every time I ask, "So what's for dinner?" They call it supper.
Other traditions were explained in sincere, one-on-one talks, like when my Mom told me why we went to church on Sunday or why we didn't put the Baby Jesus in the crèche until Christmas morning.
As my children grew, I practiced some of these traditions without much thought; they were simply conditioned responses to the stimuli of a particular time of year. Perhaps it is getting older and having grandchildren that bring me to this place of reflection.

My parents had a tradition that each year, when decorating the tree, they always put up a red and gold-trimmed ribbon before anything else went on the tree. The ribbon was from the first Christmas after they were married. This little bedraggled ribbon was their only decoration that year. 

Upon further reflection, I realized that as the holy/holidays arrive, I planned to do what my parents and teachers taught to do without realizing it was a learned response. This has made me stop to look more closely at the reasons for each tradition, weeding out the ones that no longer serve a useful purpose or have lost their meaning and focusing in on the ones that are truly significant to my family and me. As Karen Armstrong writes in her book, A Case for God, “…if a ritual no longer evokes a profound conviction of life’s ultimate value, (we) simply abandon it.”
Therefore, with careful consideration, we put candles in our windows, not because folks seem to be returning to the days of lighting up their homes, but as a simple reminder that the Light still shines bright in a world of darkness. I love the symbolism of the candle and have used it often in my teaching and ministry. The simplicity of its message of Light and Illumination is powerful.
We will put up a tree. I didn't have a tree several Christmases ago, and I won't ever do that again. I found it to be very depressing. Our tree is artificial - our contribution to the environment on many levels: more living trees left to clean the air, less pollution from dead trees being burned or thrown into dumps. The tree is symbolic of Life and Hope. "Ever" green, it reminds us that Life goes on from season to season.
Along with decorating the tree, I will decorate the inside and outside of the house. Outside, there will be fresh greens, red berries hung with ribbons on the door and light posts. Inside, there will be vignettes of angels (I love my angels...they remind me that I am never alone.) and snow people, which reminds me to stay child-like...full of expectation, hope and wonder.

We will send greetings, but only to the friends and family, who we won't see over the next few months. However, if this isn’t done before the end of December, I am not going to stress out. Letters/cards will be sent within the first few weeks of the New Year. (Once I got wrapped around taking care of babies, working, etc. and didn't send them until April!)
Another tradition we have scaled down greatly is gift giving. Both Roger and I felt the need to go back to the times when gifts were small and meaning-filled, usually homemade, and always, personal. Again, as a way to help give to the world, many of our gifts are fair trade.
Finally, we have several crèches (manger scenes). After all, this is why I celebrate the holy days, for which I make no apologies. I find it sad that so many feel the need to apologize to the world for practicing what they believe in. My feeling is that no matter what your faith tradition, you should be able to celebrate and share it with others.


I follow the tradition begun when my girls were small. The Baby will be hidden until Christmas morning and, God willing that my mind doesn't go on vacation, I will find Him and place Him in the manger before we do anything else.
These will be the traditions that Roger and I follow. However, my daughters are now all of an age where they are developing their own traditions. I have watched with interest as they sort out the traditions they wish to keep. I try to remain neutral to their decisions. After all, it is their lives.


Last year, I was thrilled to hear one of my granddaughters recite the Chanukah prayer and light the Menorah that Roger made for my daughter and her family. They are a blended family, observing both Christian and Jewish traditions.

In closing, I pray that as we keep time-honored traditions or create new ones, on whatever spiritual path we follow during this season of Light and Love, that our lives and those close to us be enriched. May we be reminded of the many blessings we all have, the many sacrifices of those who came before us, and the many dreams for a world of Peace that we all hope for today and each day into the New Year.

By Linda M. Rhinehart Neas - Second Year Ordinand at TNS

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Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Word Made Flesh

The Many Faces of Christmas - Shaped Wooden Pu...
The Many Faces of Christmas - Shaped Wooden Puzzle from Sri Lanka (Photo credit: mharrsch)
 "The Word became flesh, and lived among us.” –John 1:14 

“Are magazines getting trashier and trashier, or am I just becoming a grumpy old fart?” I asked the cashier in a St. Paul, Minnesota convenience store, gesturing toward the racks of periodicals. 

“Well, sir,” she deadpanned, “both of those things could be true.” 

Those of us with Incarnational, or “God with skin on” religions–Christians, Vaishnavas, anyone who organizes life around the idea that God could appear in a form at once divine and human– shouldn’t, theoretically, be in the business of setting up false dichotomies. At the very least, we ought to be comfortable with paradox. We should be both/and people in and either/or world. 

Nevertheless, because the urge to parse distinctions–to say “this, but not that”–is as strong in us as in everyone else, we are sucked into the either-or-ness of it all. In so doing, we lose the subversive power of putting things together that the world wants to keep separate. 

Saints and sinners, for example -“Good people” expect other “good people” to give “bad people” a wide berth. 

“Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” the Pharisees and Torah scribes asked Jesus’ disciples.[i] Whom one sat down to eat with was very serious business in ancient Israel. 

Jesus answered: Healthy people don't need a doctor--sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.[ii] 

Nevertheless, I suspect Jesus knew there was no right answer with these people. 

John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you said, ‘He is possessed!’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him–a glutton and a drinker, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’[iii] 

So not only did Jesus hang out with undesirables, He also liked to eat and drink, apparently. Moreover, while this fact offended the scribes and Pharisees, it positively scandalized later generations of theologians. Origen (c. 185–254 CE) for instance–who in many ways is one of my heroes–only grudgingly admitted that Jesus ate and drank at all, while insisting that He did it in a way unique to Himself, in which the food “did not pass from His body.” 

The idea that the incarnate God didn’t poop brings us to another false dichotomy: the “spirit” vs. “the flesh.” 

The idea that the two are at war simply does not appear in the Hebrew Bible, and the few New Testament passages on which the idea is based are generally misunderstood. 

For instance, Paul’s famous instruction to the Roman church to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” [iv] must be understood in the context of a movement that believed the end of the world was imminent. Paul therefore encouraged Christians to remain single and celibate, in the belief that there was no future in founding a family (or anything else.) 

It is with later theologians like Origen and Augustine, mostly North African and under the influence of Plato, who began the long process of driving a wedge between “the spirit” and “the flesh”–a process that continues to this day. 

Yoga begins and ends with an understanding of the body that is, to say the very least, at odds with the Christian understanding. Christians are not called to…see the human body as a means of connecting to and coming to know the divine [...] The physical is the spiritual in yoga, and the exercises and disciplines of yoga are meant to connect with the divine. 

Christianity certainly does distinguish between “spirit” and “flesh.” “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit,” [v] said Jesus, explaining why spiritual rebirth is not contingent on physical rebirth. 

Yoga makes this body/spirit distinction also; the purusha, or “in-dweller,” who looks out through our eyes and is identical with the Atman, is eternal, while the body is temporal¬. However, where I believe the Yogic tradition trumps the Christian tradition is in its recognition of the sacramentality of the body–the ability of the body to raise our God-consciousness. 

The supreme irony is that the whole of the Gospel faith is predicated on God becoming flesh. Jesus not only affirmed the holiness of the body, He seemed to revel in fleshly existence. “Eat for me and drink for me,” He told St. Teresa of Avila, because she could do things for Him in the body that He could no longer do for Himself. (The similarity here to the practice, recommended in the Bhagavad Gita, of “sacrificing sense objects in the fires of renunciation” [vi] is striking.) 

Jesus affirmed and cherished the flesh at every turn, feeding people, healing their physical illnesses, eating and drinking with them. He even restored human bodies to life after physical death had occurred, sealing His sovereignty over death by rising from the dead Himself. Whatever the meaning, interpretation or historicity of these events, they plainly emphasize the high value God places on our physical being. 

So is the baby in the manger “the high and lofty One who inhabits eternity,” or the rabbi who, at his first meeting with his disciples after His resurrection, made them breakfast? 

Does He “dwell in the high and holy place,” or “with the one who has a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble and to revive the heart of the contrite” [vii]? 

Is this Jewish avatara a physical being destined to death, or an immortal spirit Who is beyond the limitations of time, space and the body? 

Does the unseemly and all-too-human birth narrative of Jesus (whatever its historical truth) proclaim the humbling of God, or the divine reality of human life behind the maya of earthly existence? 

All of these questions, says the Christmas story, pose false dilemmas, and to each one the God-baby offers the same answer: Well, both of those things could be true. ________________________________________ 

[i] Mark 2:16 [ii] Mark 2:17 [iii] Luke 7:33-34 [iv] Romans 13:14 [v] John 3:6 [vi] Bhagavad Gita 4:26 [vii] See Isaiah 57:15 

By Scott Robinson, PhD., TSSF

Ordinand Scott is a second year student at The New Seminary.  Learn more about his music and ministry at:
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Tuesday, November 6, 2012


 English: The Sabbath Rest (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
English: The Sabbath RestThere are words, which cause you to want to know more about them.  They sound musical when you speak them or look as if they are a complete story unto themselves - words like calliope, rutabaga, serendipity or peregrine.
The word “Sabbath” has intrigued me since I first heard it. You seldom hear this word, except in the context of religion. Where did it come from? What is the meaning? Why are we still using it today?
Sabbath comes from the Old English sabat - the seventh day of the week observed by the Jews of the day (about 950) as a day of rest; borrowed from Latin sabbatum, from Greek sabbaton, from Hebrew shabbath, from shabath he rested. Sabbath was applied to the first day of the week (Sunday) about 1410. The spelling with double b is first recorded about 1280, and with th, though recorded before 1382, did not become widespread before the 1500's. (Resource: The Barnhart Concise Dictionary of Etymology, Robert Barnhart, Ed., 1995, HW Wilson Company-Harper Collins/New York)


Sabbath means, literally, "he rested." Rest...time off...time spent not working is so important to our health - mentally, physically, spiritually. When we have rest, we are able to discern our needs and the needs of others; we are able to open to the creative energies around us; we are able to imagine possibilities for change; we are able to heal.

As an interfaith ordinand, I have been looking at how to more fully observe the Sabbath as well as how to share this time with others. I found, as a member of ONE, that has created an initiative to be observed on November 18, called ONE Sabbath.


ONE Sabbath is a way to link all paths to the task of ending poverty, disease and hunger.  ONE Sabbath can be part of a ministry of action, as well as a ministry of presence.  Bringing this information to our places of worship - to our faith communities - we can then be both a catalyst for change as well as a light shining in the darkness.
Together, we can make a difference in the world. Together we can end poverty, disease and illiteracy. Together, we can find rest...we can unite in ONE Sabbath.

Sabbath was written by Ord. Linda M. Rhinehart Neas.  She is an educator, writer and poet from Western Massachusetts.  
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Friday, September 28, 2012

Welcoming All New Students!

September 2012

Dear First and Accelerated Students,
Welcome! We celebrate your joining the ranks of students studying for ordination as interfaith ministers. Please know that we are here to answer questions or if you need a resource for your ideas.  
Your first year of seminary is a time of awe, confusion, joy, introspection and a myriad amount of other feelings, all of which will lead you to where you need to be to do the work you are called to do. 
Be gentle with yourself as you journey forward this year. Remember that there is no growth without chaos and conflict. Even the tiniest of seeds must push itself through a ton of dirt before the Sun shines on it.
We pray that you will enjoy, grow and be blessed by this wonderful journey we are taking together.
Blessings of Love and Peace,
The Second Year Students (Class of 2013)

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Saturday, September 15, 2012

Like the Lotus

 Photo Credit: Linda M. Rhinehart Neas ©2012
Shari Landeg, TNS class of 2014, asks an interesting question in one of her blog posts.  She writes, “…how can we define and perceive altruism from a spiritual perspective, and what is at the heart of its application in the world, in terms of the evolution of humanity?”  Shari answers the question by sharing thoughts on the Buddhist “development and practice of Bodhicitta - ‘awakened mind.’”
Through this practice, one realizes that in being one with all, in seeing our shared humanity with all its bumps and bulges, we are able to grasp the idea of the endless possibilities we, as humans, have for change.
Like a lotus that grows out of the mud, up into the sunshine above the water, we can grow into awakened beings. We may remain with our feet in the mud of chaos, in the murky depths of pain, suffering and heartache, but we can hold our heads high in the light of loving-kindness, universal compassion and limitless potential.
Shari Landeg’s spiritual journey began in her early teens, alongside her mother’s.  She would tag along to various groups, meetings and spiritual organizations, which opened her mind to a wide range of beliefs, philosophies and ideas.  She grew up strongly connected to her indigenous heritage, and held a deep reverence to the environment, specific localities and natural landmarks considered sacred to Maori culture, which fed her passion for all cultures, peoples and sacred practices generally. She encountered the Tibetan Buddhist path in her twenties and had a primary role in the establishment and running of a Buddhist center in Tasmania, Australia. 
She has an academic background in Asian Cultures and Societies, and has taught in various educational settings.  She is currently writing a memoir about her time living a Himalayan Refugee community while she researched the roles of Tibetan women.  Her passion for interfaith has grown over the last few years, leading to her recently accepting a position as Administrator for Interfaithnet - a social media forum started by a group of Interfaith Ministers living and working in the Asia Pacific.  She promotes interfaith ideals by researching, writing and corresponding with a diverse range of faith based organizations in the region, and through her personal blog; 
Her ordination in 2014 will be the culmination of a long held dream.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Interfaith . . . Bridging Mutual Understandings . . .

English: Mysore painting depicting Hindu Godde...
English: Mysore painting depicting Hindu Goddess Lakshmi (Photo credit: Wikipedi
When Christians, Muslims, or Jews first encounter Hinduism they are likely to be struck by (and misunderstand) the profusion of gods and goddesses, vividly represented in paintings, sculpture, and other forms.  Also, words used in English sometimes are not precisely chosen or accurate representations of reality.  For example, there is not "worship" of nature in various forms, cows, etc.  Life and living things are venerated or honored or revered as representations and expressions of the Divine.  They are not "worshiped" in any sense different from how pictures of saints, the cross, the Star of David, pictures of Yashua, the Christ, and so forth are "worshiped."  This is a great misinterpretation and misunderstanding, perhaps due to limitations of language and different usages of words and phrases. 
Maestà (Madonna with Angels and Saints)
Maestà (Madonna with Angels and Saints) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
First impressions can sometimes be mistaken, for Hindus regard gods and goddesses as manifestations of the One Supreme God.  Hinduism is in fact monotheistic.  In the Vedantic schools of Hinduism, God is the unchanging, infinite, immanent, and transcendent reality that is the Divine Ground of all Being and basis of Creation.  This Supreme Cosmic Spirit is eternal, genderless, omnipotent, and omniscient.  It can be described as infinite Truth, infinite Consciousness, infinite Love, and infinite Bliss.  There is a remarkable similarity between this set of attributes and those ascribed by Christians, Muslims, and Jews to the one God of classical monotheism. 
Historian Arnold Toynbee once wrote, "We do know that there are more approaches to truth than one, and more means of "salvation" than one." This is a hard saying for adherents of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, but it is a truism for Hindus.  The spirit of mutual good-will, esteem, and veritable love ... is the traditional spirit of the faith of the Indian family.  This is one of India’s gifts to the world. 
Joseph Campbell put it this way, "The first principle of Indian thought, therefore, is that the ultimate reality is beyond description.  It is something that can be experienced only by bringing the mind to a stop; and once known, it cannot be described to anyone in terms of the forms of this world.  The truth, the ultimate truth, that is to say, is transcendent.  It goes past, transcends, all speech, all images, anything that can possibly be said.  But, as we have just seen, it is not only transcendent, it is also immanent, within all things.  Everything in the world, therefore, is to be regarded as its manifestation." 
Just as there are "representatives" of almost every faith, which may tend toward the "my way only" or judgmental or dogmatic lines of thinking, there are these various sorts of thinking, writing, speaking, and behaving among those claiming to represent Hinduism.  However, no true Hindu will ever "judge" or "disown" someone of another faith, whether from his own family or village or otherwise! 

Amarillo Tx - Dynamite Museum - Love World Round
Amarillo Tx - Dynamite Museum - Love World Round (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
At the core, all are same:  based in Selfless Loving Service.  Within Christ followers, there is a renewed appreciation for the immanence of God and a recovery of the mystical sense of God's presence within the world of time and space.  Further, the contemplative practices identified with Hinduism, Buddhism, etc. are essentially the same as those in "Christ-ianity," Judaism, and other faiths, bringing the spiritualities of various faiths closer together.  All, ALL, are our Brothers.  May we Revere and Love One Another . . .  At the core, at the Heart, we are All the Same . . .

by Vinita Channahsorah, a first year student at TNS, has had a life-long calling in interfaith ministries in various forms, roles, and settings.  Her parents brought her up reading excerpts from scriptures of many different faiths, and there were often persons from all faiths, groups, cultures, and backgrounds in the house.  She has always lived in a universe where all faiths are the same at the core, with Agape' Love as the basis of all along with Selfless Loving Service—God Almighty can manifest and work in and through Mankind in an infinite number of ways and forms.  Dr. Channahsorah recently graduated the Shalem Institute's two-year program, "Leading Contemplative Prayer Groups and Retreats: Transforming Community."  In addition, she guides (or facilitates) prayer in many faiths in various forms, such as readings, silent contemplation, walking-prayers, and guitar & hymn compositions. 

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