On Getting Along

© 2005 – Tim Arensmeier

As published in the Sonoma Index Tribune, Sonoma, California

February 18, 2005

 

Some of the members of the Sonoma Valley Ministerial Association have been noting the increasing polarization that has been happening in our community (and our country) over a variety of issues.  Over the next 6 weeks some of religious leaders here in the Valley will be offering some reflections on this from their different spiritual traditions. 

 

In the aftermath of our recent “bloodless coup” which we experience every four years in America, it became increasingly clear that while it was indeed bloodless, it certainly was not without a significant amount of verbal shots.  As a kid I recall people saying, “If looks could kill.”  And, remembering the words of Jesus, You have heard that it was said...'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment (Matthew 5:21 & 22), I couldn’t help but think that many people would have done physical violence were it not for the consequences they’d suffer.

As a pastor in town I’m fascinated at how the various religions approach interpersonal issues, such as how to get along when we actually disagree.  While unabashedly a believer in and follower of Jesus Christ, I’m not ignorant of the similarity of other religious writings to what in Christianity is taught as

  The Golden Rule: 

Jesus said, Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  (Luke 6:31)

In Buddhism, it is, Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.

(Udana-Varga 5,1)

Islam’s version:  No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.  (Sunnah)

Orthodox Judaism:  What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellowman.  This is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary.  (Talmud, Shabbat 3id)

Zoroastrianism:  That nature alone is good which refrains from doing to another whatsoever is not good for itself.  (Dadisten-I-dinik, 94,5)

Taoism:  Regard your neighbor’s gain as your gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss.
         (Tai
Shang Kan Yin P’ien)

Confucianism:  Do not do to others what you would not like yourself.  Then there will be no resentment against you, either in the family or in the state.  (Analects 12:2)

Hinduism:  This is the sum of duty; do naught onto others what you would not have them do unto you.  (Mahabharata 5,1517)

So, are all religions the same?  Do all roads lead to Rome, ipso facto, all religions lead to God?  No.  But in light of how we assist others in our community in behaving in an amicable fashion towards those with whom we may not share political persuasions, I believe that mean spiritedness is inconsistent across the board.

Having been involved in pastoral counseling for decades, my wife and I have observed that there is an inverse relationship between security and hostility.  When security is up, hostility is down.  When we encounter people who are hostile, it may be a reflection of their insecurity.  Responding with equal hostility only exacerbates the fray.  Attempting to build up that other person’s security frequently quells their hostility.

Let’s work at being constructive of our friend’s security.  Jesus is honored by that, and nobody else is offended.

 

==========

 

1st response & reply:

 

Dear Reverent Arensmeier,

I enjoyed reading your thoughts on getting along with others until I came to:  "So,... do all religions lead to God?"

You said: No.

If you had said:  "I do not think so", or "I do not believe so",  I could have respected this.  But a straight "No" speaks to me of arrogance and of the arrogance of all the different churches, temples, mosques, and of their people who claim to have The (only) Truth,  and it better be their version that is recognized as such, or else!

As for the rest of your article, I have found the insight very useful and hope that you will continue to bless us by sharing with us your and your wife's experience. 

Sincerely,

(Name withheld as I haven’t obtained his permission to post it . . .)

 

Dear Mr. (See above . . .) -

        I appreciate your observations.  As the person writing the article, my opinion was what was being unfolded.  Therefore, my response to the rhetorical question was given.

        As to whether or not it was arrogant, I would simply ask if truth is flexible.  For instance, in a 10 base system of math, is 2 plus 2 allowed to be 5? 
(Have you seen the wonderful play that the Sonoma Valley High School is putting on, "1984"?  If you've not seen it, you would appreciate it, I'm sure.)

        My own position is that truth has always been . . . narrow, and, yes, arbitrary.  In the world of science, two molecules of hydrogen and one of oxygen make water.  If you vary the molecules or their makeup, you don't have water.

        While I adhere to the biblical understanding of truth and that Jesus Christ is Truth, unlike some who would chop off your head if you disagree with them, I'm not suggesting a holy jihad against all "infidels."  I just accept the biblical teaching that if a person is going to be in a right relationship with the holy God of the universe, it will be because that person has expressed belief in Jesus Christ.

        An obvious question which could be posited in response to that observation could be, "What about the other religions?"  I respect the daylights out of many of the teachings of many of the religious systems of the world, and am familiar with many of them, however, the biblical teaching of Jesus, the Christ, is that "
God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him will not perish, but [as opposed to perishing] will have everlasting life."

        My understanding is that the hope of everlasting life is predicated upon repentance for our inherent sinfulness and belief in Jesus Christ and his substitutionary sacrifice of himself in our places for our nature of sin, or self-centeredness which appears to be a universal blight on all of mankind.

        I personally really enjoy the sense and confidence of being forgiven of my sinful nature by God as expressed in Jesus Christ and all he has done in living for us, dying for us, being raised from the dead for us, and currently interceding for us before his father's throne in heaven.

        Remember:  I'm responding to a request for some input in how to get along with people with whom there may well be a significant disagreement at some rather substantial points.  So, my response is pretty much my belief and that belief is based on convictions which are based on my own study of the bible and the other religious writings of the world.

        Arrogant?  It could be interpreted that way, and I'm truly sorry if someone chooses to so interpret it, but I'm comfortable with the joy of Christ's salvation and the knowledge that my acceptance by God is not predicated upon my own good, but on the good of Another, namely Jesus Christ . . .   That's a giant encouragement to me, and has proven to be a winsome attraction to others to seriously consider the claims of Jesus Christ on their lives.

        I invite you to respond and would buy you a cup of coffee someday if that would interest you.  We could talk and explore some of the claims of Jesus Christ on our lives together.

                        Kind regards,

                                tim arensmeier

 

2nd Response ‘n Reply:

 

Dear Mr. (name withheld),

 

    Thank you for your response to my reply to your letter to me.  I seriously mean that. 

 

    Having said that, I will reply throughout your note to me -- in the context of your comments to me.  Okay?

 

-----Original Message-----
From:

Sent: Monday, February 21, 2005 2:48 PM
To: 'Tim Arensmeier'
Subject: RE: Newspaper article

 

Dear Reverent,

 

I thank you for your lengthy response.  I am glad that you find comfort in your branch of religion.  It is the idea, isn't?  To find solace, and to find it in God is the most secure kind, I discovered for myself.  

 

Your comments are appreciated, and I value your reply.  Regarding [my] branch of religion, I would only wish to convey that I am not religious.  I don't like religion.  I don't even like Christianity.  Having said that, I wish to quickly add, however, that I am a devoted follower of Jesus Christ, as that is what He invited us to do:  "Follow me." 

 

My path to God might have been different from yours but I will not invalidate in words or deeds other paths that other people take because doing so would cut me off from the rest of humanity.  I am God's as much as the rest of creation.   

 

While I will celebrate and respect your thinking, I remain committed to the basic concept conveyed in my initial response to your letter to me:  Truth is essentially inflexible.  The concept that, "It doesn't matter what you believe, so long as you are sincere," doesn't hold a scintilla of intellectually credibility.  I may "believe" that the earth is flat.  That doesn't alter the facts that it is round.  Right?

 

Having said that, I acknowledge your comment that you are "God's as much as the rest of creation."  In saying that, you are acknowledging that God created the universe and all that is in it.  I applaud you for that wisdom.  Many, today, adhere to the evolutionary theory that we are the amalgamation of time plus chance plus nothing.  Therefore, we are not accountable to anyone for the moral decisions which we make.  I would submit that God is alive 'n well; that we will, ultimately answer to Him for the moral decisions which we make.

 

I believe that God created diversity and that differences are to be embraced and rejoiced in, even in religious styles and beliefs.  The refusal to do so have always resulted in great misery, as all who knows a little of history have to admit.  

 

Agreed!  In part . . .   God did create us as diverse individuals, and when we acknowledge that, we may celebrate the differences amongst us.  However, if we acknowledge that God created us, we must, philosophically and intellectually, acknowledge that God indeed did "create" us and therefore has something to say about how we live and conduct our lives. 

 

I believe that the diversity of style of worships is not an affront to God but a celebration of his infinitely diverse creation. I like the story of the elephant and the blind men because it illustrates this belief.  They each described the part of the elephant they touched and were each absolutely convinced that the others were wrong in their diverse descriptions.    

 

While the myth as suggested exists, the facts of the allegory are that there is truth, and various approaches to it do exist.  The allegory has various blind men telling their respective stories of truth as the "feel" it.  The fact is that there is an elephant, and their "feelings" of what it is are less than accurate.  What they "felt," while imperfect, was the accurate rendition of their subjective experience.  However, the "truth" which they all missed, as "blind" men, was that the elephant was a truly amazing creature, created by the God who invites us all to come into His Presence, by faith in His Son, Jesus Christ.

 

(Signature withheld)

 

Thanks, again, for your thinking.  I'm still committed to buying you a cup of coffee (wherever you choose) and talking about these matters,

 

        Tim

 

3rd Response ‘n Reply – All from same person:

        

February 22, 2005

 

Dear Reverent,

 

I believe God has created  and is still creating and recreating all there is.  I believe in a living God,   the very breath  we  breathe,  therefore  to  me evolution is only a continuation of God's work.  All we have to do is to look around us to see it. 

 

Dear (Name withheld),

 

Once again, your reply is valued and appreciated.  While we may differ in our understanding as to how God created everything, we’re certainly in agreement as to that He did that.

 

God is the master artist and his masterpiece is in constant flux and constantly evolving.  All around  me I see  a  magnificent recycling system.  I see no contradiction between the theory of evolution and creation,  two aspects  of the same thing. 

 

Your delightfully poetic language and expression are an extension of what I see as your reflecting that you have indeed been “created in the image” of a creator.  Of all the world’s religions, only the bible of the Christian faith addresses why we’re creative.  If you are created in the image of a creator, you are creative by definition.

 

And if  we agree that God  is  eternal, million and billions of years of evolution to God are but a second.  Why cling to old images and ideas (which at the time made sense) when using our God given mind help us appreciate His creative genius even more?  Today's ideas are only the spring board for tomorrow's further deepening of our appreciation of God's presence.  The more we understand this, the closer we will be to a peaceful world.

 

Bless your heart, at this point in your letter I find a need to express a respectful disagreement, while honoring your thinking.  It would appear to me that one of your underlying premises is that mankind may with certain improvements of thinking issue in a sort of ideal world.  While I’d love to see such, the biblical scriptures tell us that we’re really not capable of that, because of a flaw in mankind.  Not a design flaw, but a response to being creative flaw.  Created in God’s image, included, among other things, the capacity to create those things which are beautiful, gracious, beneficial to others, and consistent with God’s very nature.  It also, granted mankind the capacity to say “No,” to God Himself.  Or, stated another way, to disobey God.  The essence of that is called in scripture:  sin.

 

When the federal head of the race, Adam chose to creatively disobey God, it set up a problem endemic to mankind to this day.  We’re all stained with the effects of his sin, in that we are inherently sinful to this day, and can only come into a relationship of righteousness with God by being clothed in the very righteousness of Jesus Himself.  Without that, we’re left in our sin, and if we haven’t chosen to respond to God’s grace in this life, being the quintessential gentleman, God will not require us to spend eternity with Him in heaven.

 

While I enjoy your reflections and the way your mind works, it seems to me that you’re working awfully hard to circumvent the biblical thinking of mankind not having the capacity to generate an ideal world.  When people come to an awareness of God’s love and His means to a relationship of loving dependence upon Him, then there is hope of  real progress in the development of a civilized society. 

 

In the world today, where the message of God’s saving love has actually penetrated, circumstances for people are truly enhanced.  Where that message has not penetrated, mankind remains in a pretty bleak situation.  It’s even fascinating to observe the various religions of the world and see what they’re doing, or not doing for the ultimate betterment of mankind.

 

Just some thoughts in respectful response to your last note.

 

(Signature withheld)

 

            Kind regards,

 

                        tim

 

Sonoma Valley Community Church (RCA)

181 Chase Street

Sonoma, CA 95476

707-938-8100 v.

800-478-6766 f.

www.svccrca.org

 

 

 

 

 

Web posted:  February 20, 2005

Updated:  February 23, 2005

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