A few weeks ago I noted Philip Gulley & James Mulholland, If God is Love (2004). I have been dipping into it ever since, in between my other reading. This is so much an exemplar of the spirit we need today, whatever our faith or our attitude to religion. You may find a similar spirit in Thich Nhat Hanh, or Gandhi, or Desmond Tutu, or Stephanie Dowrick, or Amin Maalouf, or The Wahid Institute or Charlie Notess..
It is not the spirit that too often stalks Washington or Teheran or Jerusalem today, to name but a few, for there we find the spirits of excessive certainty, of religion as divider, of religion as manipulation, of religion as power, of religion as paranoia, of religion as hate, of religion subservient to politics or greed, of religion opposed to humanity and human welfare, of religion that mouths the word “god” but has none of the essence.
In their book Philip Gulley & James Mulholland quote Moses Mendelssohn, mediated through Berthold Lessing’s Nathan the Wise. Rabbi Micah D. Greenstein told the story too in a 2004 sermon preached in Calvary Episcopal Church, Memphis, TN. He called the sermon The Bigger God.
There was once a nobleman who had inherited a beautiful ring from his father. It was handed down from generation to generation. Each father gave it to his most deserving son, and it brought favor in the eyes of man and God. The ring went from father to son for generations until it came to one man who had three sons.
The father tried to pick one who was worthy of wearing the ring, but he could not make up his mind since they were all worthy. In desperation, he called in a jeweler and asked him to make two more rings that were so identical to the original that even he could not identify it.
The jeweler made the rings so skillfully that no one could tell them apart. Then the father gave each son a ring. When he died, the family gathered and the three sons displayed their rings.
They were puzzled and wanted to know who had the genuine one. They decided to go to a judge and each son declared that his father had presented the authentic ring to him.
The judge examined the rings and saw that they were absolutely identical. He declared that no one can tell which is the genuine ring. There is only one way of knowing. The son who lives the noblest and most decent life has the genuine ring.
We need such simplicity more than ever, don’t you think?
By the way, I note Stephanie Dowrick is conducting interfaith services at Sydney’s historic Pitt Street Uniting Church each 3rd Sunday at 3pm. I really think I might go. Details here.
NOTE: Now you can read chunks of Amin Maalouf — enough to get his drift — on Google Books: In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong.