Cultural Glimpse

Enjoying diversity

Tag: Christianity

John of God

John of God

I had an interesting and wise visitor come over for lunch. As we sat over a meal of zucchini stew and red rice, Reverend Barbara told me stories of her several trips to Brazil where she went to see John of God at work.

John of God, a Catholic, is an unconscious medium and healer who sees over 1000 people a day, free of charge. It is estimated that he has treated, either directly or indirectly, up to 15 million people during the past 40 years. He has cured malignant tumors, made a blind person see, and the lame suddenly walk. Yet he always says, “I do not cure anybody. God heals, and in his infinite goodness permits the Entities to heal and console my brothers.”

Reverend Barbara recounted the story of John of God’s childhood and young adulthood. In the past, he was persecuted by the church and government authorities as a result of this gift. That did not stop him from his mission and he continued to help anyone who asked him for help. In the end, he gained the respect and acceptance of high-profile politicians such as the president of Peru and the mayors of assorted Brazilian towns who protected him and allowed him to continue to use his gifts to heal people.

I asked why she thought the church saw him as a threat.

“They think it goes against the Bible’s teachings,” she said. “But the Bible had books that talked about incarnation and women having leadership roles. Those books were ultimately not included in the Bible.”

Not included. You see, there was an editing process to the bible that today continues – with mainstream media and publishing outlets. Gary J. McDonald describes it best in his article Why Christianity Rejected Reincarnation:

Who created the New Testament? Was it Jesus? Was it His apostles? Was it God? The answer is none of the above. The first Christian emperor of Rome, Constantine the Great (285-337 AD), in the year 325 AD called together the First Ecumenical Council (a religious council) which consisted of the five main churches at the time to determine which opposing viewpoints concerning Jesus’ teachings would constitute religious doctrine. Hundreds of writings by a wide range of authors were considered and voted on. Yes, voted on! A number of writings received a majority vote while many other books, some with opposing viewpoints, were subsequently excluded. A few of the more noteworthy texts that did not make the cut include The Gospel of Mary, The Gospel of Thomas, and The Acts of Paul.

As additional ecumenical councils met over the centuries, certain words or sentences contained within the Bible were altered or deleted; in some instances, whole sections were removed. Many of the translations from Aramaic, Hebrew, and Greek (the original languages of the Bible) to other languages were incorrectly translated and as a consequence, the wrong meanings were applied to them. Those that believed in ideas or texts that contradicted the decisions made by the councils were called heretics and faced excommunication from the church. Ecumenical Councils over time determined what was to be considered religious doctrine and what wasn’t. Many scholars believe that the Fifth Ecumenical Council (553 AD) deleted most verses addressing reincarnation from the Bible. But why? The reasons are simple. The church elders wanted the general populace to believe that it was only through the church and its elders could anyone communicate with God or ever hope to reach heaven. This kept all power within the church versus within the people themselves. And since the elders were men, this kept women at a subordinate level as well.

As we finished our lunch and were enjoying tea with clotted cream and date syrup, Reverend Barbara casually brought up a powerful point. “Jesus said whatever I do you can do the same and better, which means we’re capable of healing as well. If Jesus is telling the truth, if he was not lying, then why aren’t we doing what he says?”

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Starting Point: Find Your Place in the Story

Jesus2

When I signed up for “Starting Point”, a ten week bible study class, I was not sure why I signed up. All I knew was that the past sixteen months of going to Freedom Christian had taught me quite a bit about the religion I was born into, the religion of my ancestors, and I wanted to honor this religion by learning more.

Each week, people in the group talked about their story of faith, and then through a book, CD, and conversations with the pastor and his wife we explored many subject matters, particularly the role God has played in our story up until now. Thought-provoking questions were raised and ways of becoming more intimate with God were discussed. Everyone’s courage in sharing their stories, in proclaiming how their faith changed their lives, touched and inspired me.

Through the process, I began to see my place in the story, remembering my grandparents who lived in the then Christian village of Telkaif in northern Iraq. My maternal grandfather Tobia went to church every morning at 5:30am, before he had breakfast and began working on his farm. He went to church a second time in the evening, before dinner. I remembered my people, the Chaldeans, who were one of the first in the Middle East to embrace Christianity and I reflected on the persecution they have had to endure for hundreds of years, especially in the last ten years. I looked at my relationship with Jesus, and saw how his energy lived on from one generation to the next – in our case, for two thousand years. He was in our blood.

“I know the story Jesus has had in my life throughout the years,” I said when I shared my story with the class. “Now, through the Bible, I want to read about his story.”

So while the class ended today, my story in this journey is just beginning.

How Are You Doing on Your Journey?

dreams

“Dreams are a big part of our everyday life,” said Pastor Aaron during Sunday’s sermon at Freedom Christian. “Looking at the history of the church, I see that wherever the biggest dreamers and most creative people were, who continue to have God’s dreams birthed in their hearts and live them out, that’s where God moved the most.”

The remainder of his sermon, which is part of a 12 week series titled The Mission, was just as powerful and inspiring as he noted, “I think one of the dangers of Christian faith is simply this in America: We stopped dreaming yet we serve the greatest Dreamer of all time.”

He said that we as Christians submit to God’s sovereignty and use it as an excuse for our apathy, adding, “In America, we might not be faithful to God but God is still faithful to us and then we take his faithfulness and say, see, God must be pleased with my unfaithfulness because He’s still faithful to me when I’m unfaithful to Him.”

He paused along the way and asked, “How are you doing on your journey? What might God be challenging you to change about your attitude, your heart, your nature, maybe those dark places?”

It is answering such questions that helps one grow spiritually and feel a special closeness to God, but only if we ask them of ourselves regularly, not forget them at the church altar.

Is Islam a Religion of Peace?

Is Islam a Religion of Peace

I went to cover a story at Eastern University entitled “Is Islam a Religion of Peace?” One of the main speakers was a Muslim who flew to Michigan from Turkey. I guess this is a debate that has been going around for a while, and all over the world.

The speakers each had very valid points to think the way they did. But one of the Christian speakers mentioned that the fear we had of Muslims was not an exaggerated one, that we were not fighting an ideology but Islam itself. He was concerned that if we didn’t put a stop to “it” we could be under real threat. He used Hitler as an example.

“Look what he did to the Jews,” he said. “He wanted to wipe them all out.”

True. But wasn’t Hitler a Christian? As was the American Presidents who bombed, sanctioned, and again bombed Iraq until Christians had to flee their land and live in Diaspora? There are a load of other examples of how violence was second-nature to some Christian men throughout history and even recently. But that definitely does not mean that all Christians are a violent group of people. Quite the contrary!

Regardless of what the speakers said, it was wonderful to see them respectfully engage in a dialogue and afterwards, hug each other. They proved that communication, not violence, is the real way to peace!

The Forbidden Yoga

Yoga at Manresa Jesuit Retreat Center

Yoga at Manresa Jesuit Retreat Center

Last year, I asked my editor if I can write an article about a Chaldean American yoga instructor that held classes at my gym. She said okay, except she wanted it to address the belief that yoga is against our Catholic faith. I thought, oh my God, I may have been committing sin for over twelve years!

I interviewed several people: the yoga instructor at my gym; the yoga instructor at Manresa Jesuit Retreat Center; and a Jesuit priest. All talked about the positive health factors associated with yoga. I tried to get a quote from one of the half dozen Chaldean Catholic priests but they didn’t have an opinion on this matter, given it was a foreign subject for them. No wonder I never saw a Chaldean person in a yoga class.

After the article was published, a local non-Chaldean priest sent a letter to the editor stating that there are significant concerns about yoga’s compatibility with the Christianity/Catholic faith. The biggest problem with yoga, he wrote, is that one is going to a source other than Jesus for inner peace. There is no peace apart from Him “who is our peace” (Eph. 2:14). He also called its origin occult. This was all new information to me, especially since many of the postures we performed in yoga classes were common exercises we did in Iraq.

Well, sin or not, I ended up in a yoga class last night, and thank God for that. I have not been able to go for a while because lately the gym’s daycare is not my son’s most favorite place. My husband, seeing my frustrations, said he’d watch the kids and encouraged me to go out there and commit this “sin” – though he did not know that’s what it was. We’ll just keep that a little secret.