September 6, 2011
To the Diocese of Chicago:
In his book, Reimaging Christianity, Alan Jones writes that the future of the planet may depend on the capacity of all religious traditions to recapture a sense of themselves essentially as artistic endeavors. Artists don’t typically throw bombs at each other over their differences … neither do the mystics of most of the world’s religious traditions. I’ve thought about Jones’ words as we approach the tenth anniversary of the attacks on September 11, 2001. I remembered his words as we pilgrims from the diocese witnessed first-hand this summer the religiously hued mistrust and hatreds so evident in the Holy Land. I think about them when I listen to some of the invocations of God we hear in the political life of our own country.
I don’t believe we can blame God for the violence of our world. But religion, when it becomes a literalized view of a certain interpretation of God and God’s will … that’s another story. When I have decided that my particular take on the description of God offered by my tradition or sacred text is the only one that could possibly be legitimate, then it’s a short step to the decision that anything your tradition or text may have to say is not only not true, but a threat to my whole world view. Most of the hard sciences depend on methodologies that prove or disprove certain hypotheses. But the truth we encounter when we speak of God is something quite different. I can’t “prove” any of the things that matter most to me. How to prove that love is better than hatred? That community is preferable to isolation? That life is stronger than death? These things you can only celebrate, ponder, experience and explore. Like art or poetry, music or dance, you need to experience them.
On this anniversary of the terrorist attacks ten years ago, I invite you to give thanks for the many ways that the religious imaginations of millions of people throughout the world have proven stronger than deadly-certain hatred. I hope you will join me in praying for a world in which the vast mystery of God is celebrated as the source of joy and peace and the fountain of just action on behalf of those who have little or no hope. Let us follow Christ in loving the world and offering the love of God to all people with no strings attached. Let us imagine the world God longs for and then act to make it real.
Jeffrey D. Lee
Bishop of Chicago