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Ecumenical and Interfaith News – September

(Submitted by the Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee of the Pacific Southwest Region, Disciples of Christ, and the Southern California Nevada Conference, United Church of Christ)


     The man chosen to lead the World Council of Churches at its birth in 1948 was a Dutch theologian named Willem Visser t’Hooft.  His most famous book was entitled “The Pressure of Our Common Calling.”  His argument was that the churches must seek unity with one another because only as we speak with one voice can we be faithful to the divine call which all of us hear.  Since Visser t’Hooft’s day there have been countless instances when the different branches of the church did indeed stand and speak together to the world.  A very concrete example of that has now happened in the state of Alabama, where the state legislature has passed what the New York Times calls the nation’s cruelest immigration law.”   It is an attempt to block undocumented immigrants in every aspect of their lives.  It criminalizes being employed, renting a home, and signing a contract if the party is undocumented.  It requires the police to check the papers of anyone they choose to suspect is here in the States illegally.
      American citizens are also affected.  Businesses that knowingly employ illegal immigrants will lose their licenses.  Public school officials will be required to determine students’ immigration status and report back to the state.  And anyone knowingly “concealing, harboring, or shielding” an illegal immigrant could be charged with a crime, say for renting someone an apartment or for that matter driving them to the doctor or to a worship service at church.  This is even worse than the law recently passed in Arizona.
     Four Christian leaders—a Methodist bishop, an Episcopal bishop, and two Roman Catholic bishops—have sued to block the law, saying that it criminalizes acts of Christian compassion.  (There are not many DOC or UCC congregations in Alabama, which may be why we are not involved.)   The bishops say that this law violates their religious freedom to perform acts of charity without regard to the immigration status of those they minister to or help.  R.C. Archbishop Thomas Rodi said that “this law attacks our core understanding of what it means to be a church.”
     We have in our history the brutal discriminatory law-enforcement apparatus of the Jim Crow era—but then the civil rights struggle led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.—whose stone memorial has just been dedicated in the nation’s capital.  Yet waves of anti-immigrant hostility have made many in this country forget who and what we are as a nation.  Thank God for these bishops, who certainly speak for all Christians who understand that the divine command to do justice and love mercy overrides human legislation.


    How many members of UCC and DOC classes in Southern California have taken a yoga class?  You go to the class, perhaps taking with you your very own mat on which you can follow the teacher, learning the asanas,” or postures—there are so very many of them—and then practicing them with some regularity.  This writer has, and has benefited greatly.  It’s not just the careful, intentional stretching of muscles and tendons, many of which seldom get the exercise they need, which feels so good and is so good for toning the body.  It’s also the slow, deep, conscious breathing, which is an indispensable part of yoga practice, and which can bring home to us how intimately connected wholesome breathing is with our physical and emotional health.  And it’s also the long moment of total relaxation between postures, which can reveal to us how much more tense and uptight we are than we had realized.
    Yoga comes to us from India, from the vast and varied tradition of Hinduism.  There yoga grew out of a whole different way of seeing the world, and practicing the spiritual life, than we know in the Christian West.  This has led some Christian leaders, especially among the more fundamentalist or evangelical churches, to be rejecting of yoga.  Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kentucky, warned the people of his denomination that yoga is not compatible with Christian belief and witness. 
    It’s so sad that any major church leader would take such a stance, and so influence their people away from benefiting from the great gift of yoga.  But Mohler has his counterpart among fundamentalist Hindus, who object to the proliferation of yoga teachers and yoga centers in the United States on the grounds that they separate yoga practice from traditional Hindu belief and worship (and that they are really just out to make money!). 
     The fact of the matter is that yoga is a rich and wonderful practice which can enhance the life of anyone, no matter what their religious tradition.  Yoga does not require any particular set of beliefs, any more than jogging does.  It requires only that one accept that the human soul is intimately connected to the body and therefore that attending to what nurtures and brings health to the body is also good for the soul.   This should be a no-brainer for Christians who read in their scripture that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.  How about an introductory yoga session at a coming regional assembly or conference?


     When Congress was bogged down recently in the debate over raising the debt ceiling, the chaplain of the Senate voiced the concerns of the nation in his daily prayers.  Barry Black, a longtime navy chaplain and Seventh-Day Adventist minister, urged the Senate to reach a resolution to the stalemate.  His prayers became more intense as the deadline approached.  On one of the last days before an agreement was reached, Black prayed: “Faced eith potentially disastrous consequences, give the members of this body the wisdom to work while it is day.  For the night comes, when no one can work.”
     On another front, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin is calling Oklahomans to pray for rain.  More than 40 percent of Oklahoma is experiencing an exceptional drought, the most severe category measured by climatologists.  Seventy percent of Texas is also in the category of exceptional drought.  Texas Governor Rick Perry issued a call for prayer in April.  The drought in his state is much worse now.  Fallin and Perry, who is now running for President, are among the prominent politicians who are skeptical about the overwhelming scientific evidence that human activity is warming our planet’s climate.

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