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Pilgrimage Statistics

Cumulative Days Riding:  171                       Cumulative Days Blogging: 156

Today’s Mileage: 5                                                    Total Trip Mileage: 1139

National Day of Prayer in United States: National Day of Prayer is held on the first Thursday of May each year, inviting Americans of all faiths to pray for the country and its leaders.

Is that a sacred scripture or a weapon?

Greetings fellow pilgrims!  I am reminded today why one of my favorite statements about technology and electronics is” “just when you think it is your friend it turns on you!”  I rode the bike this afternoon and dictated my posting concerning today as the National Day of Prayer.  Then when I sat down to transcribe it I found that the tape was blank!  For some reason it did not record so I will have to try and recreate it from memory.  Here goes…

I hope that everyone has taken a moment during the day to offer a prayer in whatever way is appropriate according to your belief system.  I feel the need to add this qualifier (“in whatever way”) because sadly the events of the day have been marred by controversy.  I say sadly because our community, nation and world can use all the help we can muster to set aside our differences and come together to face our growing shared problems (terrorism, global climate change, dwindling resources, conflict and war).  However, even something as promising as a call for all people to turn toward the divine for help and guidance has become a derisive issue.

Two issues seem to provide fuel for this controversy.  One centers on the issue of whether it is appropriate to have an “official” day of prayer; the second is a question of what constitutes an appropriate prayer.

Private Prayer... Freedom of Expression

A recent court decision, which is being appealed, sided with the argument of those individuals who believe it is inappropriate to have an officially sanctioned day of prayer as this represents the government sanctioning religion in general. Whether this religion is practiced by a majority of the people does not matter as the backers of this legal challenge believe it breaches the separation of church and state.  These individuals will often point out that existing laws that are written in inclusionary manners are often ignored or actively flaunted by elected officials who use their proclamations of faith for political gain.

Not just for Christians!

Personally, I do not see a problem with the government sanctioning a day of prayer as long as there is no official prayer and individuals of differing faiths or no faith at all are not subjected to exclusionary prayers.  An exclusionary prayer is one that proclaims or insinuates that there is only one valid path, valid name, valid experience associated with the divine.  Such prayers may outright condemn as false or heretical any and all other paths and names for the divine or divine experiences.

Recently at a local county council meeting atheists, secular humanists, and two groups of Buddhist were made (they were given no warning and/or before the fact choice) to sit through an “in the name of Jesus Christ our Savior” opening prayer that specifically targeted with condemnation abortion providers and gays.  The council member who delivered the meetings opening prayer offered no apology when a person in attendance complained. How do you think the Buddhists in attendance (community members, taxpaying citizens, who were there to request the county’s recognition of Buddha’s birthday) felt?  Were they made to feel uncomfortable and excluded simply because a “devout Christian” did not want to miss an opportunity to preach his message, which happened to be one of hate and exclusion in this case.

 Just this last week I sat through a graduation ceremony for a local state supported university.  While most of the individuals in attendance were likely Christians, the opening and closing invocations, which were given by a member of the school’s board of trustees, ended with proclamations about Jesus Christ.  In addition, the US Senator who was the commencement speaker also worked into his talk mention of Jesus Christ. Curiously, he finished his talk by sending off the graduates into the world with the advice to “make lots of money!”  No call to rise up and transcend our needs and desires for the greater good of the people and nation.  No challenge to aim for Mars, cure cancer, help clean up politics, just a call to produce and consume!

 I am living in the Bible Belt so I recognize the importance of faith and religion in people’s lives. It is an important part of my personal life.   However, it is troubling and unsettling to see individuals who represent all of the people of the county, state, country (elected officials and University board of trustee members) act as if there is no valid diversity of beliefs and faiths.  It seems to me the least they can do is to use a pluralistic inclusionary invocation at public meetings. If someone in attendance wants to mutter the name Jesus Christ under their breath while their neighbor mutters Buddha or Goddess, or just takes a deep breath and relaxes, how does this deny anyone their “right” to their faith?  Does it matter at all that I have the right to sit in a public meeting (this is not a church service or revival) without having to hear someone “proclaiming their faith” in ways that insinuate that I, my children and my fellow church members are somehow misguided, wrong and “going to hell.”  Again, I am not attending their church or revival, I am not speaking about the ten commandment signs they place in their yards, I am speaking about a tax payer funded meeting, conducting “official business” where I have to just sit and bite my tongue, I guess because I am in the minority! 

It is my understanding that the reason we have a constitution is to protect the minorities, as the majority can vote in the leaders who write the laws.  Therefore the courts and the constitution are there to protect the non-dominant races, faiths, sexual orientations, ethnic groups, and political groups.

Back in the Fall I blogged about the importance of great teachers, most being guided by profound deep faith in the divine.  I included Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, and Billy Graham.  Rev. Graham’s son Franklin Graham has placed himself in the center of the ongoing controversy about today’s day of prayer.  It seems that he was invited to speak at the Pentagon but this invitation was later withdrawn because of some very negative things he said in an interview about the Islamic faith.

While Franklin certainly has every right to free speech he needs to recognize, as I have taught my sons, that the things we say have consequences.  You can’t go saying negative things about a major religious tradition which will be part of an ecumenical Day of Prayer, with the purpose to “bring together” the community, and expect to be welcomed.  To add insult to injury he now claims that this is all part of some systematic affront toward white Evangelical Christians by President Obama.

In a Tuesday USA Today interview he was reported to have said: “Muslims do not worship the same ‘God the Father’ I worship.”  He also took a swipe at Hinduism, saying, “No elephant with 100 arms can do anything for me.  None of their 9,000 gods is going to lead me to salvation.  We are fooling ourselves if we think we can have some big kumbaya service and all hold hands and it’s all going to get better in this world.  It’s not going to get better.” 

Hindu Deity Ganesha

Is it any wonder why the organizers of the Pentagon service uninvited Franklin Graham?  He proclaims to know what Muslins believe and then displays his lack of knowledge about the Hindu deities (Genesha has an elephant head but only four arms; Vishnu is often pictured with multiple sets of arms).  Again I have no problem with Franklin Graham offering whatever form of Christian prayer he chooses at private gatherings or public religious gatherings, but not at officially government sanctioned event that are undertaken to bring together our diverse communities of faith.

One final point; as I stood in the locker room at my gym this morning Franklin came onto CNN, which was playing on the locker room TV and made a timid statement that he can only be expected to pray in the way he was taught to pray and in the way he believes.  He may believe this to be the truth, but if we accept this reasoning and logic then a lot of people who had in the past to change, adapt and adjust might have been “off the hook.”  If a racist Southern sheriff could have just said “that was the way I was raised” as an argument for why he should not be expected to follow the new civil rights laws, or people opposed to women’s new found right to vote refusing to give them a ballot because they still believe in “the old way.”  There are many loving, devout Evangelical Christians who can sit in a meeting and hear a non-denominational prayer without feeling that their faith has be slighted. They might even listen to a prayer by a Hindu or Muslim and see the similarity in all forms of prayer.  If Franklin Graham wants to limit himself to exclusive Christian prayers then I suggest he stick with his church and his revivals.  If he wants to be accepted into the larger faith community than I suggest he learn how to speak to the heart of all faith and religions, free of any denominational or specific faith trappings.

Hindu Deity Vishnu

Just a quick aside, when I served as the Chaplin for my son’s Boy Scout troop I often lead prayers that called on the boys to look within themselves and toward the divine for strength and answers.  It was not a Taoist prayer, or a Unitarian Universalist prayer, it was an inclusive upbeat non-denominational prayer.  I did it! I challenge Rev. Franklin Graham to do the same!

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Cumulative Days Riding:  167                              Cumulative Days Blogging: 152

Today’s Mileage: 4                                                 Total Trip Mileage: 1120

Your choice!

As I ride the bike this evening I am appreciative of the supportive comments made by my fellow pilgrims concerning yesterday’s posting.  It is always nice to find out that you are not alone, especially when faced with the growing chorus of negative voices that surround us.  At times like these it is easy to feel a tinge of hopelessness at the magnitude of the task that we face, in somehow turning back these negative, divisive forces.

I believe it is possible to turn around our nation’s slow decline into hatred and uncivil society, but it is not going to be easy.  I believe that a desire to make this change is part of what has brought so many of us together networking to find “like minded” individuals, as I am fond of saying: Add enough small ripples together and you have a large wave, a wave for positive change!

Many people are familiar with the Humanistic Psychologist Abraham Maslow and his theory about the Hierarchy of Needs.  At the bottom of the pyramid are the deficiency needs: Physical Needs, Safety Needs, Belonging Needs, and Esteem Needs.  These needs are powerful and often demand our attention.  If they are not being filled we feel an emptiness/deficiency until they are met.  Appealing to these needs is often accomplished with emotional messages which may include: calls toward anger and resentment, threatening messages, heightening fears, announcements of scarcity, threats of banishment, questioning an individual’s values and motives, challenging their patriotism.  We have seen some sad examples of these needs playing out in people’s lives like the young Irish girl who was bullied and badgered to the point of committing suicide.  If you study the various signs and angry shouts of the Tea Party activist seen at televised rallies you see many blatant examples of these appeals.

At the top of Maslow’s hierarchy are the Being or Self-Actualized Needs.   These are a diverse set of needs that differ for each person.  They represent things like: Compassion, Beauty, Creativity, and Justice.  These needs have a very subtle voice and are only heard when one quiets the deficiency needs or looks past these lower level needs.  When someone asks: What would Jesus or Buddha do?  When you hear or read the thoughts of the Dali Lama, Gandhi or Mother Theresa you are hearing a call toward an all embracing love and compassion for all people, these are the voices of the Being Needs. 

I know I am not alone when I cringe at the loud emotional voices screaming at us from the papers, the radio, TV and internet.  They call others names (e.g., socialists, baby killers, liars, illegal aliens, Islamofacists, etc.) and are not talking about finding common ground or solving the problems that face us.  They present “Us versus Them” and/or “Win or Lose” scenarios that only divide peoples and communities, along racial, religious and economic lines.

I have included the Peanuts cartoon tonight because I think it points to a sad fact concerning these heightened emotional appeals.  Some, perhaps many, people in fact enjoy being mad and angry.  They do not wish to rise above their egotistical selfish needs.  They may like the sense of immediate energy and power that strong negative emotions infuse them with.  They may find meaning in the causes tied to these emotional statements (e.g., antiabortion, gun rights, anti-immigration).

A challenging Puzzle, but a solution is possible!

How do we turn this situation around?  I think we need to speak up with our opposing views and not let ourselves be shouted down.  We need to challenge our churches to stand up for the positive loving values espoused by all of the faiths (e.g., follow the Golden Rule or better still the Platinum Rule).  We need to engage independent/undecided citizen and educate them to our position.  We need to work at making our lives, our relationships and our social movements shining lights and beacons for the Being Needs!

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Cumulative Days Riding:  162                         Cumulative Days Blogging: 147

Today’s Mileage: 4                                              Total Trip Mileage: 1098

We are almost to Jacksonville Florida and tomorrow we will visit the first of three pilgrimage sites in the area, including two historical architectural churches and a nature site highlighting the beauty and diversity of the flora in Northern Florida.

Wired to love?

I’m sure that some of my friends and students found themselves saying “Oh my gosh, Dr. Edwards has gone over to the dark side!”  I want to assure everyone I am still my optimistic and upbeat self.  The title of today’s blog came from a statement made by Andrew Breitbart in a Time magazine article.  Mr. Breitbart is a highly outspoken mouth piece for right wing political thought on the web who the Time article described as a “Tea party Tycoon.” As I read the article I found myself shaking my head, not in disbelief, I’m a Clinical Psychologist I am seldom surprised by human behavior anymore, I shook my head out of sadness and concern. 

I have recently blogged on the characteristics that can lead religions to produce “evil” outcomes.  We have seen some of the sad results of this process in the tit-for-tat historical massacre of Christians by Christians and in the recent news reports of the arrest of a small group of “Christian militia” who intended to attack police officers and hasten a second revolution.

All hate all the time?

In recent news cycles a lot of attention has been given to “hate speech” or what you might call “alarmist speech.”  Terms like “lock and load,” “on the firing line,” and “reload” maybe seen as a colorful call to arms by the people using them, but it concerns others with the imagery of armed rebellion and violence.  Often the people making these statements will defend their “freedom of speech” and will attack those who raise concerns as being the source of the problem (e.g., the Obama health care bill caused the anger and threats of violence) and not the potential victims.

As a therapist I know from experience that words matter!  Among yesterday’s news announcements was the sad story of the teenage girl who after months of verbal and physical bullying by nine fellow students committed suicide. Their words mattered… they drove a desperate young girl to take her life! 

Matching hate speech!

I have spoken personally with members of a Unitarian Universalist church in Knoxville Tennessee, that lived through the terror of a gun wielding assailant who blasted away randomly during a children’s Sunday service.  A handful of innocent adults died in the pews, luckily no children were injured!  On the seat of the assailant’s vehicle in the parking lot lay a hateful letter targeting “liberals” filled with references to the “inspiring words” of a list of popular conservative talk show hosts.  These talk show hosts words mattered… they cost innocent people their lives!

In my last blog we talked about the triple filter test.  I have had a lot of comments about this post.  Many of them agree with my statement that we would all be better off if we followed this test before we spoke, before we made public statements, before we stepped in front of a microphone, before we painted a placard with hateful statements.  I noted that the three filters were truth, goodness and usefulness.  I would like to highlight the usefulness question because I believe it comes in two variations.  Is it useful for the person receiving the information (e.g., a compliment, feedback) or not (e.g., gossip, lies)?  Is it somehow useful to the person providing it (e.g., advancing an agenda, raising alarm and/or money, undermining someone else’s efforts)? 

As I noted in the last posting if Senator Scott Brown continues to repeat a lie (e.g., that Rachel Maddow is running against him) because it generates campaign fund then it is certainly useful to him given an “ends justify the means” approach to politics.  I guess some people would see it as an effective tactic or a screwed move.  I see it as nothing more than a useful lie, an example of false propaganda from a politician who will no doubt speak out of the other side of his mouth when he asks the people of his state to “believe in me” when they cast their reelection votes.  

Brought to you by Westboro Baptist Church!

Mr. Breitbart’s statement, which I used as a header for this posting saddens and concerns me.  He has a right to his belief, and he like all of us chooses the “process” he is going to follow in making his decisions.  That process might be the Golden or Platinum Rule, Might makes Right, the Ends Justify the Means, it’s all a Game, or The Triple Filter, to name just a few.  However, whatever process we use we must live with and accept the outcomes we sow and reap. 

I believe that when someone chooses to place themselves into a public position of authority, like a politician or clergy member, or are elevated by the popularity and marketing of their opinions, like a talk show host, news caster or leader of a movement, they have a responsibility to choose their words wisely!  Their proclamations should do more than serve their narrow needs, they should think about the greater good!  We would hold someone in contempt if they shouted “Fire” in a crowded theater just to secure a better seat, and then shrugged their shoulders at the trampled people’s suffering.  Then why do we turn away in silence when someone espouses hateful attitudes just to create distress in others or advance their personal agenda?

I believe that all of us have a responsibility to make sure that those who lead us, (whether Conservative or Liberal, Republican or Democrat) or act as our mouth pieces, (talk show hosts, favorite bloggers, or letter to the editor writers) or act as our cheerleaders  (family and friends) or offer us guidance (religious leaders) do it in a way so that the answer to the “usefulness”  question is not just that it is useful for them (e.g., makes money, sells books, strokes their egos), or even that it is just useful for our movement or side (e.g., we win the election, we save our school at the cost of som other school, or our church grows larger) but that it be useful for all members of the community, nation and world community.

Lets make it so!!!!

I know I am a dreamer!  I know what I ask is almost impossible to imagine in our present overly charged and highly emotion political and religious landscape.  However, if we who represent the “moderate core” the loving, compassionate, caring individuals, and yes dreamers in every faith and political movement stand up and make ourselves heard we can drown out these voices of hate and divisiveness.  I believe we can!  Join me… stand up… speak up… be heard!  After all we only have a world and a future to lose!

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding:  155                            Consecutive Days Blogging: 139

 Today’s Mileage: 4                                              Total Trip Mileage: 1061

As I ride the bike today I want to note that we will be visiting the first of several pilgrimage sites in the St. Augustine Florida area tomorrow.  These include some of the earliest European fortifications in the New World, the Greek “Plymouth Rock” and a Catholic shrine. 

Peace and Prosperity for all on Planet Earth

I always start my morning by checking for blog comment s and facebook messages.   I often find a series of requests and offers to join different groups and causes.  I think one of the most significant aspects of this new social media is that it allows us to connect with a diverse group of people who we otherwise would have no possibility of meeting.  I find it intriguing and exciting as I get messages from fellow spiritual pilgrims from around the world.  One recent morning I had messages from an artist in Australia, a young man from Tunisian, a “healer” from Estonia, and was conducting an IM conversation with a college student from India. 

At times like this I wish I were bilingual, as I have received messages in Chinese, Hebrew, Arabic, Danish and Russian.  I could not understand their statements, but enjoyed the beautiful photos attached to the messages.  Artwork, like nature, speaks a universal language.  In our world community it is this growing connectedness of like minded, or at least open minded individuals which offers the most promise to finding solutions to the big problems that we all face as inhabitants of a shrinking world.  Besides reaching out to individuals, I have joined a number of groups. I find this to be an invaluable way to connect with others who share common interests.  I conducted a quick review this morning of the groups I have joined.  They represent a somewhat diverse range of interests, although most are of a pluralist, spiritual nature committed to a growing worldwide interconnectedness.  Many of them would fall under the heading of New Thought, Naturalistic or Eastern Thought.  Several focus on healing and health and often combine artistic images that promote and convey the messages of balance and creativity.  Of course there are several associated with Unitarian Universalism, my current religious affiliation.

No Seaparation

This collection of groups would not be a surprise to my family, friends and students who have heard me readily express my spiritual and political views.  There is one thing you won’t find in this collection of groups.  You will not find organizations that take a narrow perspective, such as condemning Israel or Palestine while not acknowledging the joint responsibilities, or singling out a particular religion for criticism, such as Islam.  You won’t find groups that argue for a continuation of the status quo, or that proclaim  “Americanism” as God’s gift to the world. 

Of course I would not seek out such groups and anyone who knows me would not invite me to join such a group.  It is for this reason that I was surprised and a little shocked when I found an invitation to join a group entitled “Let’s Build a Church in Pakistan.”  The group boasts over 50,000 members.  As best I can tell the group is based in England and has postings that are sprinkled with obscenities.  It is an “in your face, poke in the eye” attempt to throw fuel on the anti-Islamic sentiments.  It attempts to stoke the dichotomous “we are right and you are wrong” flames of anger and hatred. 

People Who Want Peace

As a pluralist I believe that all people should have a right to build churches, temples, mosques and stone circles to practice their faith.  I know this flies in the face of the rules in several countries (e.g., Saudi Arabia) where exclusionary regimes place severe restriction on such rights.  I do not believe these regimes are correct. 

I am proud of the US where people are free to build their houses of worship and practice their faith as they choose.  But even in the USA these choices are at times confronted by narrow minded exclusionary forces.  On my pilgrimage journey I have come across Hindu and Jain temples that were blocked by local governments from building in their communities, forcing them to relocate.  This is not right! 

Unitarian Universalism

I will join any group that embraces a goal of a world where every citizen has a right to worship.  But before anyone points fingers at other countries they should first look in their own back yard.  I am choosy about the groups I join.  I review them to make sure they fit with my values and standards.  I do not know who sent me this request, they obviously do not know me.  They do not share my desire for world peace, my desire for a connected world community. I embrace everyone on my friends list with love, compassion, concern and respect.  Please join me in this effort!

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding: 137                            Consecutive Days Blogging: 119

Today’s Mileage: 5                                             Total Trip Mileage: 958

I just finished riding the bike and I have to admit that I am not feeling 100% tonight.  As such I am going to make today’s posting brief.  It just so happens that today is an important Religious Holiday in the Islamic world. 

Mawlid is a celebration of the Prophet Mohammed’s Birthday.  The holiday is celebrated in most Muslim countries in a carnival manner, with large street processions, children receiving special gifts and sweets and the decoration of homes and mosques.  Charity and food is distributed, and stories about the life of Mohammed are narrated with recitation of poetry by children.

Mawlid is celebrated in a number of non-Muslim countries where sizable numbers of Islamic followers are present.  India is noted for its extensive celebration which includes the  display of relics at various shrines.  Saudi Arabia is the only Muslim country where Mawlid is not an official public holiday.

The Prophet

To give you a sense of what the festivities can include one site gave the following description: “The Holiday is usually celebrated in a festival with strength contests, card and shooting games, clown and puppet shows- it ends up looking like the circus came to town. Whether you prefer to ride the swings, arm wrestle or try to find the queen of spades, don’t forget AROUSET El MOULID (The Mawlid’s Doll) and the candy horse, more popular among boys than girls. The experience would be incomplete without the doll-shaped candy and a box of sweets like FOULEYA, which is sweetened and caramelized peanuts, and MALBAN, a jelly like candy covered with powdered sugar, and sometimes stuffed with walnuts.” 

This description of dolls, horses and sweet treats reminds me of the major festivals of many other faiths.

This celebration is not without some controversy.  It was noted on several sites that Islamic scholars are divided on whether observing Mawlid is necessary or even permissible in Islam. Some see it as a praiseworthy event and positive development while others say it is an improper innovation and forbid its celebration.

In recent years there has been some efforts made by Muslim’s in western countries to have the Holiday receive official recognition, most notably in the United Kingdom.  They argue that such recognition would afford the Muslim community an opportunity to better educate the population about their faith. These efforts have largely been met with resistance.

Sacred Words!

This question of designating religious holy days as official state holidays has the potential of being divisive within communities and nations.  Many people will remark that only the holidays of the “predominate faith” should be so honored.  But what defines this distinction, a simple majority? 

I remember having a conversation several years ago with a Buddhist nun from Sri Lanka who said that Christians were creating conflict in some part of the country by demanding that Sunday be made a non-work day, as it is in the Christian nations of the west.  It’s easy to see how this could add to animosity between the faiths rather than build bridges between them.

Let us honor our Muslim friends and fellow community members by wishing them a happy and festive Mawlid celebration as we pray they will honor us on our faith’s celebrations.

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding:  125                                              Days Blogged: 107

New Mileage: 4                                                                 Total Trip Mileage: 890

It’s Valentine’s Day and I would like to wish all of my blog readers a happy holiday.  It is always good to be joyful about and give thanks for our relationships.  Of course it can be said that we shouldn’t need to have a holiday to remind us of how special some people are in our lives.  We shouldn’t depend upon a once a year box of candy, flowers and card to remind a person how important they are to us, every day these people are gifts in our lives. If you do not have a Valentine in your life then today is a good day to ask yourself what you need to be doing to find such a relationship.  Remember these words of wisdom: “Relationships may be made in heaven, but you got to do your own maintenance.”   But then isn’t that the whole idea behind this holiday?

The Ark of the Covenant

Today’s blog is not about Valentine’s Day.  Today we are visiting our third pilgrimage site in as many days.  The Orlando Florida area is what you might call a site rich environment.  Most people who visit this area know about the monster resort and theme park known as Disney World.  The site we are visiting today represents a spiritual theme park unlike any that I have found on my pilgrimage search.  It is called The Holy Land Experience it is part of the Trinity Broadcast Network it advertises itself as an experience of the holy land in particular during the time of Christ’s life.

The Scriptorium

The site has the Scriptorium a Museum/archive filled with relevant archaeological manuscripts, and areas like: the Jerusalem Street Marketplace; the Great Temple designed in the style of that that would’ve existed at Jerusalem in the 1st century; also the Wilderness Tabernacle site with the Arc of the Covenant like that the Jews would have used as they wandered the wilderness; and Calvary’s Garden Tomb with a replica of Christ’s tomb and the three crosses.  Obviously anyone visiting this site needs to be prepared for the fact that this is an evangelical Christian site.  From what I could see only cursory mention is made of the Jewish faith and I saw no indications of the significance of Jerusalem to the Islam faith.

Calvary Garden Tomb

I entitled this blog one third of the holy land experience because Jerusalem, and the surrounding area, the holy land, is a major pilgrimage site for the all three of the monotheisms.  For the Jews the Wailing Wall is arguably their faith’s major pilgrimage site, and for Islam the Dome of the Rock is often listed as the third most important pilgrimage site.  This bias is to be expected and of course it is the Trinity Broadcast Network’s right to advance their viewpoints. I suspect it is also indicative of this group’s exclusionary approach to viewing religious truth.  They believe they, meaning their faith, has truth and other faiths do not!

Christ in the Prayer Garden

As a pluralist it saddens me that an opportunity to educate people of all three faiths to the beliefs and contributions of the other faiths has been missed. Yesterday we visited a Buddhist temple that included replicas of shrines that exists in India and Nepal.  I noted that these replicas serve the same function as visiting the actual location if the followers approached them with a sense of reverence.  I suspected that this theme park can serve as a pilgrimage site for Christians.  Personally, I wonder if it’s not a little too commercial!

Steps of the Great Temple

I read reviews where people talk about the long lines and waits, and the plays that are conducted using Roman soldiers wearing Adidas tennis shoes.  I suspect most of the actors look an awful lot like the visitors, more European than of Middle Eastern.  I wonder what it’s like to watch an reenactment on the Great Temple steps while you’re eating a corn dog are sucking down a Coke, or standing next to  fidgety children in the hot Floridian sun?

Many people visit Orlando and its numerous amusement parks to escape into a fantasy world of loveable characters, goofy Pirates and fairy tale princesses. Some people would say the Holy Land Experience may be promoting the same escape experience, this time into a “world of old” that is as much “imagined” as it is factual.  But then again, I guess one person’s Theme Park distraction may be another person’s profound pilgrimage experience into the past.  I guess waiting in line to catch a glimpse of Christ’s tomb may be an opportunity for soul-searching exploration of one’s beliefs.  If a walk along the river wrapped in the solitude of nature can connect me with the divine, then it’s likely that watching an enactment of Christ’s crucifixion can and does reconnect some Christian to their God.

Happy Valentines Day!

One final note, I mentioned to Susan how interesting it might be to have a pluralistic theme park featuring rides, restaurants and attractions representing all of the world religions.  Perhaps we could call it The Holy World Experience.  I started to create some rides and restaurant ideas, however Susan warned me that I might be venturing into the area where terms such as sacrilegious, blasphemy, and heresy are likely to be thrown around.  While I am never one to shy away from a good parody, there are some topics that are too sensitive to be treated so lightly.

Stay tuned as we will visit two more pilgrimage sites in the next three day.  Have a wonderful  St. Valentine Day!

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding:  124                                              Days Blogged: 106

New Mileage: 6                                                                 Total Trip Mileage: 886

Often the synchronicity of events in my life makes me smile.  Yesterday I shared with you the nature of my inner guide.  I noted that this guide is embedded within a framework made up of several humanistic assumptions about life and that it represents a dynamic process that takes into account situational demands with a general goal of balance and growth.  Several phrases I find myself using in my teaching speak directly to wisdom generated by this process.  Statements such as: “One size does not fit all!; Never say never!; The ends do not justify the means!; Be certain, but humble!; Change is mandatory, growth is optional!”

Buddha of the Ten Forms of Wisdom

I mention this because I had reported that we were going to visit a religious theme park in Orlando today.  However, situational factors demand or at least suggest a change in these plans.  As I mounted my bike to ride, of course, virtually toward Orlando, I realized  we were going to pass by an important diversity pilgrimage site in Kissimmee.  This site is unique as it offers a cluster of shrines unlike any that I have uncovered on my widening search for pilgrimage and retreat locations.

Shrine to Buddha's Birth

I use the term Diversity Site to label retreat and pilgrimage locations that feature a faith which are commonly located in other parts of the world but found more rarely in the United States.  For example a small city near where I live houses a Vedic Hindu temple, A Coptic Christian church, and a Buddhist Ashram with one of the few female Buddhist monks in the US.  I would classify all three of these  Diversity Sites,as  they are places one can visit to learn of the teachings, traditions and rituals of a unique world wisdom tradition.  All three of these sites are embedded in a landscape featuring a multitude of Christian denominations, and each offers a unique educational opportunity.

Shrine to Buddha's Enlightenment

Nestled on the outskirts of Kissimmee Florida is the Wat Florida Dhammaram, a Theravada Buddhist temple and monastery affiliated with a Buddhist temple in Thailand.  The temple serves the local Buddhist community and has resident Buddhist monks.  The central temple complex houses a large bronze statue of Buddha and welcomes visitors of any faith.  What makes this site highly unique are the four separate shrines included within the temple compound.

 Many major world religions suggest that adherents of their faith travel to sites that played a central role in the development of the faith (e.g., Mecca for Islam, Jerusalem for Jewish and Christian followers).  For Buddhists there are four such sites, all located in present day India or Nepal.  The Wat Florida Dhammaram has constructed replicas of the sacred places of pilgrimage honoring Lord Buddha’s life.

Shrine to the Buddha's teaching of the Four Noble Truths

The shrine named Vihara Maha Mayadevil located in Lumbini Nepal commemorates Buddha’s birthplace. The shrine named Mahabodi Temple located in Bodgaya India commemorates Buddha’s enlightenment under the Bodhi tree.  The shrine named Dhamekha Stupa located in Sarnath India commemorates Buddha’s first teaching of the Four Noble Truths. The shrine named The Parinibbana Temple located in Kusinara India commemorates Buddha leaving his moral body and passing into Nirvana.

Shrine honoring the Buddha's entrance into Nirvana

While some people might argue that a visit to these shrines is not a substitute for a visit to the real thing, I suspect that time, distance and costs likely precludes many people from a pilgrimage to India and Nepal.   I would argue that if a visit to a shrine replica helps a person renew and/or strengthen their faith then it has served a critical function in that person’s life.  In line with my afore mentioned philosophy, I believe if kneeling before and offering incense to a replica helps the person find balance and grow in  commitment to their faith (both representing positive outcomes) then the pilgrimage process was a healthy and productive one!

If you have enjoyed the blog please sign up for stationarypilgrim’s e-mail subscription by going to the upper right corner of this page For more information about the temple and it’s shrines please visit the Pilgrimage Site tab at the top of this page.

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