Archive | June 2013

The Prodigal Son in Context

To fully understand any of Jesus’ sayings, it is necessary to understand the first century Jewish context in which he lived. Professor Amy-Jill Levine provides such a context in her exegesis of the parable of the prodigal son which has been summarised in a blog:

You can hear Dr Levine speaking on the subject here:

The Provocation of the Prodigal


Metaphysical Madness


In his book Prosperity, Charles Fillmore wrote of the parable known as The Prodigal Son:

The prodigal son took his inheritance and went into a far country, where he spent it in riotous living and came to want. When he returned to his father’s house he was not accused of moral shortcoming, as we should expect. Instead the father said, “Bring forth quickly the best robe and put it on him.” That was a lesson in good apparel. It is a sin to wear poor clothes. This may seem to some to be rather a sordid way of looking at the teaching of Jesus, but we must be honest. We must interpret it as He gave it, not as we think it ought to be.

I would say to Charles Fillmore:

Now Charles, is it really a sin to wear poor clothes? To claim that this was the message Jesus intended seems to miss the whole point of Jesus’ mission as best we can make of it.

In the synoptic gospels (those attributed to Mark, Matthew and Luke) the picture presented of Jesus is that of a caring man campaigning for social justice. “Love one another,” he said. He did not say, “Love those who are well dressed.” According to Matthew, Jesus said, “Why do you worry about clothing? Think about how the flowers of the field grow; they do not work or spin.” (NET) This is very different from suggesting that it is a sin to wear poor clothes.

The photograph on this page is of an impoverished woman on a street in Mexico City. Her choice of clothes is not a sin; her dirty skin is not a sin. The sin in this image, which I discovered on Morgue File, is committed by a society that does not clothe the poor.

You say your interpretation of this parable is a metaphysical one. Metaphysics can be defined as the study of the ultimate nature of reality. I find it very hard to understand what the wearing of poor clothes has to do with the ultimate nature of reality. Rather, I would think that interpreting this parable as you have done, is metaphysical madness. It does not promote any understanding of the nature of reality. Instead, it helps promote rabid capitalism, encouraging your readers to constantly keep up with fashion and discard clothing that may be a little worn, but still serviceable. This, I would suggest is a true sin, Charles.

This entry was posted on June 29, 2013. 1 Comment

Unity and Islam

“For a Muslim to participate in Unity, it is not a leap of faith, but a deepening of faith.”
—Reginald Oliver, Unity Magazine, July-August 2013

The 9/11 destruction of the twin towers in New York generated a degree of fear of Islam in the community. Fear is overcome by love, so let us look at what there is to love about Islam. There is a lot to love, and Islam may be closer to Unity teachings than you might think.

In Unity we seek knowledge of the Divine through meditation and prayer. For most of us, I would guess, this means possibly once or twice a day. A practising Muslim does this at least five times every day so God (or Allah) is deeply integrated in his or her every day world. And the call to prayer, beginning and ending:

Allahu Akbar
La ilaha illa Allah


God is most great,
There is no god but God.

—is this not another way of saying as we do in our Statement of Faith:

There is only one Power and one Presence
in our lives and in the universe
God the Good

As stated on a BBC web page, “In the ritual prayers each individual Muslim is in direct contact with Allah. … Praying together in a congregation helps Muslims to realise that all humanity is one, and all are equal in the sight of Allah.” Indeed, one of the great Islamic ideals is tawhid or making one. As expressed by Karen Armstrong in her book Islam: A Short History, this represents the divine unity, which Muslims seek to imitate in their personal and social lives recognising the overall sovereignty of God—or, as we say in Unity: There is only one Power.

Many of us will have heard of two major branches of Islam: the Sunnis and the Shias. The Shias emphasise a mystical approach to the Divine, as do the Sufis (a mystical sect of Sunni Islam). We are very familiar with the Sufi poetry of Rumi, Hafiz and others. These writings resonate well with the teachings of Unity.

There is so much fear in our society when Muslims are mentioned. Why should this be so when the very name of their religion, Islam, means peace. It seems to me that the only explanation is bad press. Our mass media over-report bad things and under-report good things. How much good news was there on last night’s television news? We read and hear much of the actions of a few extremists but we find little in the media reporting the good works of organisations such as the Agha Khan Foundation that is doing so much to relieve suffering in the world. Reginald Oliver wrote in the article quoted above, “As the Klu Klux Klan has historically used Christianity [as] their cover for hate and violence, so now have a small number of Muslims used Islam.” Do we judge Christianity by the actions of the KKK?

Reginald Oliver’s article in Unity Magazine tells how Unity added to his Muslim faith. Perhaps there is something we in Unity can learn from Islam. First we must replace fear with love.

This entry was posted on June 26, 2013. 3 Comments