Saturday, October 9, 2010

Sabbath . . . maybe not

(And yes, this is me.  Why do you ask?)

This may be too long and serious for many of you to read, but after reading Shaun Groves' post this morning on being discerning, I decided that I had to write this.  Yep.  I had to.  (And by the way, if you read Shaun's post, the comments are as interesting as the post . . . love this man!)


I don't remember how I found it, but I recently connected to another blog, The Bloom Book Club whose creators are two absolutely adorable young women, Jessica Turner (whose husband, Matthew, has his own thought-provoking blog, Jesus Needs New PR, that I find myself roaming around in from time to time) and Angie Smith (whose husband, Todd, makes gorgeous music with the group Selah.  Yeah, that group!).  The Bloom Club's beautiful, softly-soothing-girly-pink opening page greets readers with words I like to think I live by: "Bloom . . . read.  discuss.  grow." 


In fact, I could've sworn that it was Jessica and Angie who encouraged me to buy David Platt's Radical, a book I not only loved (though it stomped all over my heart) but immediately began buying copies of to give to others who, I hoped, would also devour it (and allow it to stomp around on their hearts!).  But now I don't see it listed among their recommended books list, so maybe it was another on-line book club, I don't know.  (Arghhhh, the joys of being at the tropical time of one's life . . . can't remember anything.)   At any rate, thinking it WAS they who had recommended the latest book-of-my-heart, when they recommended Wayne Muller's Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in our Busy Lives, it was a no-brainer that I immediately clicked onto the Amazon link and ordered a copy.  (I mean, who of us couldn't use more rest, renewal, and delight in our often crazily busy lives?) 


After one of my own insanely hectic days earlier this week, I finally grabbed Sabbath, fresh from its wrapping, spine-as-yet-uncreased, and headed to the bedroom.  After shutting the door to the baseball playoffs being beamed into the den, sandblasting off that morning's makeup and replacing it with something that promised to overnight renew my aging epidermis, I fluffed my pillows just so, and finally climbed into bed with the book that promised me some insight on renewing everything else.  


From the first few lines, something about the writing style demanded more concentration that I had hoped to have to put forth at the end of the day, but it got easier as I pushed on through the paragraphs.  Page 1 . . . yes . . . page 2 . . . I so agreed . . . page 3 . . . yup . . . page 6 . . . really liked . . . And, in fact, I was really getting into a good flow with Muller until I hit a small bump at page 7.  In the second full paragraph there, Muller writes, "When we act from a place of deep rest, we are more capable of cultivating what the Buddhists would call right understanding, right action, and right effort."


Interesting reference, I thought, but not totally unheard of for a scholarly writer and ordained minister to use another faith's tenets to make a point.  I continued.


"In a complex world and unstable world, if we do not rest, if we do not surrender into some kind of Sabbath, how can we find our way, how can we hear the voices that tell us the right thing to do?"


Whoa.  Hold the horses.  Voices?  As in plural?  Aren't there medications for that?  


I slowed my roll and began stepping a little more cautiously through the following paragraphs.  


Must've been just a bump in the road.  After all, page 8 was fine . . . But then I skidded again on page 9:


"When Muslims are called to prayer five time each day, all work ceases, and all the ancient words, spoken aloud for centuries rise like fragrance to the skies."   


Okay.  I'm not the most educated or the best self-taught or even the smartest or most discerning reader, but I couldn't help but wonder if Muller's "like fragrance to the skies" description of Muslim prayers was meant as an allusion to much of what is said in the Old Testament about the "sweet fragrance" of offerings sacrificed before God.  Ezekiel even writes of God's referring to His people as "fragrant incense" (20:41).  Paul refers to Christ, Himself, as a "fragrant offering and sacrifice" made on our behalf (Ephesians 5:2).  He also refers to the gifts from the Philippians as a "fragrant offering and sacrifice pleasing to God" (Philippians 4:18). In the Revelation, John writes of incense rising up with the "prayers of the saints" (5:8, 8:3). 


I could go on and on, and I'm sure there are those who would say that I'm reading too much into the phrase and that maybe Muller's "to the skies" doesn't even mean anything close to "God."  But I don't think so.  What else could "to the skies" mean when it's used with "prayers"?  And if that is the case, that Muller is inferring that connection, then Muller is essentially describing the ritualistic prayers of Muslims as something pleasing to God when scripture tells us something quite the opposite.  Repeatedly, thoughout the Old Testament, scripture says that the sacrifices and offerings of those who worship anyone or anything other than God, Himself, are not acceptable to Him.  He wants our hearts.  And since the Messiah came, we are told that there is but one way into relationship with the Father -- through Messiah, His Son, Jesus.  That is no where to be found in the religion of Islam. 


A couple of paragraphs further, Muller writes 


"In Buddhism, one takes refuge in the Buddha nature, and in the wisdom of the Buddha and in the family of the Buddha.  And so doing, we join the company of all those who have sought healing and liberation, we surrender into that place where Buddha-nature already lives within us, and we align our intention with our innate, natural perfection.  Thus when we sit in meditation, all the saints and ancestors send us loving-kindness, as they accompany our each and every breath" (italicized emphasis mine).


In the very next paragraph, he writes, "Jesus offered this same beautiful practice to his disciples."


Okay, that's it.  I'm off the horse.  Down from the wagon.  Out of the car. 


I go back to the Jessica and Angie's website.  I see that concerns similar to mine have been registered at the The Bloom Club's website, and Jessica and Angie have acknowledged those concerns and addressed them.  They stand by their choice, explaining that there is so much "amazing" stuff to learn from the book and that, besides, Muller is simply quoting (their italics) these other religions.  


If that were the case, I wouldn't have a problem with the book.  But I think you can see from even the few parts I've quoted directly from his book that Muller does not appear to be simply quoting other religions. Rather, as one who writes, "In the evening, turn it over to the care of God, the angels, and all the Buddhas, all the spirits of the earth and sky" (170), Muller appears to indeed be accepting and embracing all of those other beliefs as peers and equals to belief in Christ.  All of that is well and good if you are a Unitarian Universalist.  I am not. 


While I've already acknowledged that there are some paragraphs and full pages that I can appreciate, and possibly, who knows, perhaps even a few nuggets of gold in the remaining chapters, my time is just too limited to have to dig and sift through so much for so little.  (Ironically, Muller's Sabbath would cut into my Sabbath.)


Grinning and trying to be discerning,


Pamm