Calvin College Chimes

Editorial: Aslan in the name of Tash

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One time I was low-key faith-healed. At least, it was attempted. I attended an event on Calvin’s campus hosted by an outside organization. The leaders were intensely spiritual. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many hands raised in this land of the CRC.

I had broken my ankle, was in a fairly substantial boot and was not walking on it. After the event, someone came up and asked to pray for me. I never say “no” to prayer.  I was soon swarmed with people laying-on hands. “Do you feel like you want to stand on it?” Someone asked when “amen” had been said. I shook my head anticlimactically. I had agreed to a faith-healing.

On my way home, I wondered if I should have tried it.  I believe God can heal if God chooses just as I believe God reversed death. But I literally didn’t put weight on that belief. Why? The faith-healing experience was foreign to me and made me uncomfortable.

Worship is a faith action. How we worship enacts who or what we believe God to be. If we believe God heals when our faith is great enough, we faith-heal. If we believe God to be plural or of a certain gender, we use those pronouns in our worship.

I was well catechized as a child and believe God to be “a spirit, infinite, eternal…” etc. Therefore, I have, up till now, worshiped with very few “smells and bells,” as Protestants sometimes call the rituals of Catholicism. I didn’t  believe my spiritual God to necessitate tangible worship. (It did not occur to me until I was older that ritual might be for the enrichment of the human worshipers).

I never set out cookies for Santa because I never believed him to exist as a being who ingests cookies.

Similarly, I have never made a tangible offering to God, nor successfully transcended unto God in mediation, nor structured my day to pray a specific number of times in a specific physical orientation. If I did, it might illustrate that I believed God to be accepting or desirous of dedicated spaces and objects in this world, or reachable through a shared spiritual nature, or central to and the primary orderer of my daily life.

I do believe these things though. I just don’t often engage in practices which other religions use to worship in these beliefs. Which makes me wonder if Christians, and other people of faith, can borrow from one another the practices by which we affirm similar beliefs? Wouldn’t that serve to unite us?

I celebrated Passover Seder with Messianic friends when I was about nine. An extra place was laid for Elijah according to tradition and when the time came, all of us children ran to the door in anticipation to see if he had come. In that ritual, I finally understood and believed that God can enter into physical space and change physical history as God does in Exodus and what it meant to live and act believing God to be physically imminent.

Or is it appropriation, to take a practice from one religion and use it in another? In January, as part of the New England Saints interim, I attended a Sunday morning service at one of the oldest Unitarian Universalist temples. They worshiped on Sunday, in a church building, all traits of tradition familiar to me. An all-white choir sang African American spirituals with changed words to remove specific references to God. That bothered me. It seemed to be religious appropriation, the taking and changing of something belonging to a historically oppressed people group.

Then there is the question of idolatry. I believe God to be singular and essentially as described in the Christian scriptures. Thus, if I “borrow” a worship style or practice from another religion, and with it what that religion says God is, have I borrowed the deity or the practice? I imagine other religions which espouse similar doctrine of monotheism would share similar concerns.

C.S. Lewis, in “The Last Battle,” commends a character for worshiping “Aslan in the name of Tash” essentially worshipping God, but in all appearances, by practicing an entirely other religion. Depending on how you read it, this either celebrates sincerity–everyone who practices sincere faith practices true faith of  true God–or it claims that all truth is God’s truth and to the extent you worship in truth, you worship true God. Whatever Lewis meant, I believe the later.

Truth is desirable. None of us wants to believe a lie. Thus, it makes sense that we would believe and practice as much truth as possible. Truth is not exclusive to Christianity. For if we say that, we must say which branch, and there are many and contradictory branches. And Christianity is not the westernized caricature of pseudo-judeo-christian-american-exceptionalism so often marketed as Christianity.

True faith is neither geographic or culturally specific, though some faith practices are. So let’s make truth our guide and affirm as much faith as we honestly believe wherever we find it. It may not be true for a white universalist to appropriate the words of an African-American Christian. But it can certainly be true and honest for me to say with my Jewish and Muslim sisters and brothers there is one God and to affirm words of the Qur’an and Torah.

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