Artistry/Image above by Rob Woodrum with Bill Dahl: All Rights Reserved
The Flight of Air God #21 or
Where’s the plane of faith taking us in the 21st century?
By Bill Dahl – ALL Rights Reserved – originally published August 2010.
The proposed mosque in Manhattan, the renewal of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, the ongoing conflict between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, the China-Tibet conundrum, the kooky zealot in Florida who caused global upheaval threatening to burn the Quran, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spewing hateful, divisive falsehoods at the United Nations this past week.
Sometimes, I feel like a helpless, powerless, passenger on an airplane, strapped in my seat as our world is tumbling through yet another episode of life-threatening turbulence created by the voices, actions, sound bites, video and images of those who claim to act and speak on behalf of God. Yes, like it or not, we’re all passengers on Air God – Flight #21. So, here’s my question: Where’s the plane of faith taking us in the 21st century?
My fellow passengers, you know exactly what I’m talking about. I see the concern on your faces and hear the angst in your voices every day, as you share your reaction with me over the most recent episode that has caused the overhead bins to pop open unexpectedly, spilling the contents in the aisles and laps of our lives, disrupting the safety and sanctity of our journey. Let’s get honest with one another: We’re all victims of this upheaval today. Nobody’s exempt or immune from this phenomenon. Yet, people continue to point fingers at the other, expecting that somebody else is responsible for coming up with solutions to this chaos.
Even declared atheists like Christopher Hitchens present profound challenges to each and every one who declare an allegiance to a God inspired way of life when he says; “religion has caused innumerable people not just to conduct themselves no better than others, but to award themselves permission to behave in ways that would make a brothel-keeper raise an eyebrow.”[i] Guess what? The atheists and agnostics aren’t immune from this turbulence either.
Is this issue of human, cultural and geo-political conflict based, in part, on religious beliefs, going to miraculously vanish anytime soon? Fat chance – Listen to renowned religious affairs commentator Karen Armstrong: “Human beings will always need a spirituality that takes them beyond the material.”[ii] Impossible, you say? I hope not. My preference is to be guided by the sentiments of Mahatma Gandhi when he said, To believe what has not occurred in history will not occur at all is to argue disbelief in the dignity of man.”[iii]
I am reminded of a line in the film I Am Legend, where actor Will Smith screams a critically important truth: “God didn’t do this! We did!” Well, if we’re responsible for the problem, who’s responsible for the solution? Perhaps a quote from Albert Einstein is pertinent here: “The significant problems we have cannot be solved with the same level of thinking we were using when we created them.” How might this occur? Allow me to share a personal story.
It started several years ago when a 17 year old Afghan, Muslim high school student became a member of our family for two years. During this time, Mustafa and I spent countless hours ruminating about God, faith, religion, politics, people, change, growth, learning, unlearning, compassion, collaboration — and love.
In our family, we have been participants and eyewitnesses to misconceptions and misunderstandings that seemingly melt in our living room, replaced by love, understanding, respect and a dialog of the possible. Hope for a better future among people of different faith persuasions has been born in our home…and in our hearts.
The question that Mustafa and my family continue to wrestle with is; “Why can’t Jews, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Atheists, Agnostics, and Muslims collaborate, cooperate and create a way of living together that is contrary to the violence and hatred that inhabits the airwaves, brings joy to the heart of God, the human species, and peace to this planet?” As Bruce Feiler writes in Abraham – A Journey To The Heart of Three Faiths: “You can connect with God only if you understand what it means to connect with one another…So the question is not whether God can bring peace into the world. The question is: Can we?“[iv] (emphasis is mine). Author and activist Irshad Manji suggests; “Why can’t we lose all the sacramental one-upsmanship and view each other as the handiwork of a common Creator.”[v]
What must we learn/unlearn – many of whom claim to be descendants of the God of Abraham in the 21st century? Where is the plane of faith taking us in the 21st century? As U.N. Secretary General Ban-ki Moon has said, “We live in troubled times. All around us, intolerance and religious tensions are on the rise. Extremist dogma is gaining ground, and moderate voices are being undermined. Every day brings new instances of the harmful impact cultural misunderstandings can have on relations between communities, both within countries and across national borders.”[vi] Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has written, “I regret that we have fostered a political culture that rewards the extremes, a culture in which dogmatic belief is deemed a virtue and open-mindedness a weakness, and sarcasm and slanderous attacks frequently drown out intelligent discussion. Haven’t we had enough of this? We need a dose of unity.”[vii]
Despite the clear blue sky appearance of the heavens, one cannot possibly forecast what our flight in life might entail today. Frankly, we have come to expect our daily lives to be slammed by the hurricane force winds of terror attacks, wars, conflicts grounded in theology, and a new outbreak of genocide or ethnic cleansing. Cyclones seem to come out of nowhere, routinely spawning new, hateful acts perpetrated in the name of some supernatural authority. The down-drafts of religiously justifiable anger regularly plunge humanity into acts of unconscionable revenge against one another, legitimized by human interpretations of a purported holy book. The hot-air of charismatic fundamentalists lifts their followers from postures of belief and belonging to behaviors that betray the sensibilities of the human soul to comprehend the carnage they commit. Winds whipped by greed generate new efforts to further marginalize others whose existence, appearance, beliefs or religious practices diverge from their own. Ethnic groups, neighborhoods, communities, tribes and countries live in heightened states of vigilance, seemingly on the lookout for the first threat of wind shear that may be arising from a place and a people different from themselves. Fear permeates the air-ways. Children, the homeless, the hungry, the sick, the refugees and the disadvantaged are blown out of the way by the gusts from the religious self-righteous. What appear to be inconsequential and subtle breezes provide the perfect atmosphere for those, professing to speak for God, to prey upon others who become unwitting puppets, perpetrators and casualties, blown to bits as the end-result of a hail storm they never imagined they would be in the midst of.
My question is: How has the atmosphere of faith become so tumultuous, intrusive and disruptive that the daily existence of each and every passenger on this planet is now affected by these conditions? Is it possible that we’ve now become unwitting victims of spiritual climate change that negatively impacts our present day travels and has serious implications for the generations who will follow us? Perhaps it’s time to confront this unholy truth…together.
It has been said that:
“God and his ways are not what most of us think. Most of what we are told about God and his ways by our friends on the street, or read about him in the papers, or view on television, or think up on our own, is simply wrong. Maybe not dead wrong, but wrong enough to mess up the way we live.” (emphasis is mine) [viii]
I’ve had airplane flights that resulted in a great deal of joy when we landed. I’m sure you have too. On those flights where we encountered all kinds of unsettling turbulence, I just wanted the flight to be over. During the turbulence, I asked myself all sorts of questions like, “Who’s flying this thing? Did the pilot make a navigational mistake or are these conditions something that simply couldn’t be avoided? You mean, I really paid for this ride?”
When we awaken to the conscious appreciation that we are buckled up in our seat in life, there’s no getting out, and this is going to be one, loooong flight, complicated further by chaotic conditions in the atmospheres of faith – We’re in for a ride aren’t we? Yet, there’s a helplessness of being characterized as a passenger that infects all of us and retards the implementation of a new, vastly less turbulent flight plan. The days of “just along for the ride” are over. Like it or not, your life and those of your loved ones are passengers on Air God Flight # 21. Simply buckling up and stowing your carry-ons securely underneath the seat in front of you, or in an overhead bin. Sit back and enjoy the flight — just won’t cut it anymore. We must assume a new posture. What might that look like?
Perhaps we might embrace the truth that life in the 21st century, strapped in your seat on Air God Flight # 21 is a “pilgrimage — a way to let go of concepts and theologies that do not help us become more compassionate, loving and surrendered people .” [ix] It’s time to begin constructive dialog with the passengers seated around us. Why? Why is this issue so important? Listen to Rabbi Harold Kushner:
“Human beings are the only creatures capable of recognizing the gap between what they are and what they can be expected to be, and of being embarrassed by that gap.” [x] We have the opportunity and responsibility to encourage and lead people to become all they can be, particularly as it relates to interaction among persons of different faith or unfaith affiliations.
We, the people who inhabit this planet, are responsible for changing the flight path of the plane of faith in the 21st century. We can do this…we must do this…together. We can no longer sit back, buckled in our assigned seats, with our backsides glued to the seat of apathy or the prospect that somebody else will step up and somehow, make this conundrum go away. Enough! A movement must begin with us, the passengers, whose lives are rocked on a daily basis by the turbulence created by those who shame the name of God, by steering the plane of faith at an angle, and toward a destination, that breeds new forms of conflict, bigotry, prejudice, misunderstanding, sorrow, mistrust and fear for all aboard.
Each of us must intentionally begin to embrace what Samir Selmanovic has aptly characterized as holy awkwardness: “Only when we believe that the other is not there to hurt us – though the other may struggle to understand us – can we begin to share not only the light but also the shadows of our religion. To step into such conversations, we have to be ready to embrace the holy awkwardness that surrounds our God talk.”[xi] As theologian and faith & culture commentator Ron Cole has recently remarked: “A religion that does not embrace all humanity, and all faiths is infinitely small…and is of no earthly good. My goal on the anniversary of 9/11 is to continue my search of the infinite in other sacred texts, cultures…in new friendships and conversations. It is infinitely beautiful to find God in all humanity, and in all faith…somehow, I think the more we pursue that journey, the more we will find life.”[xii]
Finally, as Jim Henderson and Matt Casper point out, perhaps we must recognize that we “spend so much of our time trying to get others to see the light that it never occurs to us that we may be living in a fog.”[xiii]
P.S. — there are no parachutes on this flight.
Voice over the intercom: “You are now free to move about the cabin.”
About Bill Dahl:
Bill Dahl is a creative thinker, freelance writer, social justice advocate and ongoing contributor to the faith and culture dialog. He has been characterized as a gifted story teller. He is the author of The Porpoise Diving Life – Reality For The Rest of Us – Picking Up Where Purpose-Driven Peters Out. The website and monthly ezine by the same name have thousands of subscribed readers in over 184 different countries. The audio book was released in November 2007. The book has received endorsements from well-known, progressive, national, leaders in the faith & culture arena including theologians Brian McLaren and Tony Jones, Jim Henderson from Off-The-Map, author Jim Palmer and others. Bill reviews pre publication manuscripts for publishers, literary PR firms and authors who write in the faith & culture, current events and economics genres. His writings have been published in The New Zealand Journal of Christian Thought & Practice, U.S. Catholic Magazine, Spirituality For Today and Plain Truth Magazine to name a few. His interviews, poems and articles about faith and culture are frequently featured on Theooze.com, Next-Wave, Emergent Village, Amazon and Ginkworld. Mr. Dahl authored a chapter in a book (November 19, 2007) entitled, Out of the Ooze – Unlikely Love Letters To The Church From Beyond The Pew, published by NavPress. For a list of recent publications please refer to http://billdahl.net/about.php.
Bill has been a contributing columnist to Los Angeles based Hispanic Vista, Immigration Law Weekly (NY,NY) and The Central Oregon Senior Times. His immigration reform advocacy articles are translated into Spanish and reprinted in Spanish language newspapers and ezines.
Bill and his wife Jacki make their home in central Oregon (along with their 3 adopted Greyhounds and Bill’s Black Lab Reggie). They have 4 children and three grand children. For the past 20 years Bill and Jacki have been engaged community activists in Seattle and southern California with marginalized and at-risk young adults and their families. More recently, they have intentionally opened their lives to high school students from other countries and other faith persuasions. They are a couple who have a penchant for Creating Dialogue in a World Gone Different.
During his business career, Bill was an executive for several Fortune 500 companies including The Chrysler Corporation, GMAC Commercial Finance and Bank of America. He has led a consulting practice and has conducted seminars and guest speaking engagements throughout the U.S.
[i] Hitchens, Christopher god is not GREAT – How Religion Poisons Everything, Twelve – Hatchette Book Group USA, New York, NY Copyright © 2009 by Christopher Hitchens, p. 6.
[ii] Armstrong, Karen The Battle For God, A Borzoi Book – Alfred A. Knopf – A Division of Random House, New York, NY Copyright © 2000 by Karen Armstrong, p. 333.
[iii] Chadha, Yogeh Gandhi – A Life, John Wiley & Sons New York, NY Copyright © 1997 by Yogesh Gandhi, p. 164.
[iv] Feiler, Bruce Abraham – A Journey To The Heart of Three Faiths, William Morrow-An Imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers. Copyright © 2002 by Bruce Feiler, p.14.
[v] Manji, Irshad The Trouble With Islam – A Muslim’s Call For Reform in Her Faith, St. Martins Griffin, New York, NY Copyright © 2003 by Irshad Manji, p.39.
[vi] In Siljander, Mark D. A Deadly Misunderstanding – A Congressman’s Quest to Bridge The Muslim-Christian Divide, HarperOne – An Imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, New York, NY Copyright © 2007 by Mark D. Siljander, – Excerpt from the Foreword by Ban-ki Moon Secretary-General, United Nations, p. vii.
[vii] Albright, Madeleine The Mighty and the Almighty – Reflections on America, God and World Affairs, HarperCollinsPublishers New York, NY Copyright © 2006 by Madeleine Albright, pp. 89-90.
[viii] Peterson, Eugene H. Eat This Book – A conversation in the art of spiritual reading, William B. Eerdsman Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI Copyright © 2006 by Eugene H. Peterson. Pp. 34-35.
[ix] Chittister,Joan Murshid Saadi Shakur Chishti, and Rabbi Arthur Waskow. Excerpt from Karen Armstrong – Foreword to The Tent of Abraham – Stories of Hope and Peace for Jews, Christians and Muslims – Beacon Press, Boston Copyright © 2006 by Benetvision, Neil Douglas Klotz, Arthur Waskow.
[x] Kushner, Harold S. How Good Do We Have To Be – A New Understanding of Guilt and Forgiveness, Little, Brown and Company Boston, MA Ó Copyright 1996 by Harold S. Kushner. P.35.
[xi] Selmanovic, Samir It’s Really All About God – Reflections of a Muslim-Atheist-Jewish- Christian, Jossey-Bass a Wiley Imprint, San Francisco, CA Copyright © 2007 by Samir Selmanovic, p. xvi.
[xiii] Henderson, Jim and Casper, Matt Jim and Casper Go To Church – Frank Conversations about faith, churches and well-meaning Christians, BARNA – an imprint of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Carol Stream, Illinois Copyright © 2007 by Jim Henderson and Matt Casper, p. 102.
[xiv] Patel, Eboo Acts of Faith – The Story of an American Muslim, and the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation, Beacon Press, Boston, MA Copyright © 2007 by Eboo Patel, p. 180.