Sunday, January 30, 2011

Broadcasting Faith


Recently, I was granted the opportunity to recline on the couch and watch a good, uninterrupted half hour of television.  Now, I’m not much of a TV fanatic, but occasionally a good half hour to park my brain in front of a screen is necessary. I can honestly say, however, that since that evening, my brain has yet to “park” anywhere.  In fact, that one evening of social media actually stirred some extra thoughts.
While aimlessly skimming through channels, I was not expecting anything surprising or unusual to appear on screen. I barely paid full attention as the various reality shows passed before me, until I froze suddenly, remote control in hand. On the television screen in front of me, in bright yellow lettering read “Trinity Broadcasting Network,” the umbrella company that sponsors the infamous “Holy Land Experience” in Orlando. My face literally brightened at that moment. There was no turning back then.
As an Evangelical TV station catering to all sects of Christianity, Catholicism, and Messianic Judaism, the Trinity Broadcasting Network certainly works assiduously to please everyone. With various interviews, praise and worship services, and online streaming webcasts, the mysterious religious station somehow manages to satisfy the average Jesus believer. Apparently, this one television station has creatively “saved” hundreds of unaffiliated Americans into the Christian faith in less than an hour, and while I may not be one of those people, I certainly appreciate the overall effort. The talk show host actually once pointed to the camera and prayed for all the viewers in the middle of her interview, creating a warmer atmosphere on screen. TBN has definitely mastered the personal outreach; I felt pretty special that night.
While the Trinity Broadcasting Network does not target toward my religious beliefs, nor do I feel any impact from the biblical and spiritual messages themselves, I applaud the intentions of this religious station. Evangelical Christianity is perhaps the largest growing movement in America due to the many interpersonal outreaches that occur daily. There are over thousands of missionaries that travel to the world to preach their faith; who knew that some of the most acclaimed preachers just proselytize from a television screen? Is there perhaps a more genuine, personal outlet to outreach your faith than on global television? Has social media become the most effective gateway to sharing your religion to the world?
 While many religions fervently believe in pure biblical orthodoxy, admirable intentions, and kindness, there are also the inexorable issues brought to every faith: financial stability, membership, clergy relationships, and effective outreach.  At the end of the day, every practicing religion needs to be active in this society to stay alive. We, as faithful people, need to accept and focus on the modern factors that stabilize our faiths today in order to see our values spread all over the world tomorrow.
I personally consider a friendly conversation or a warm gesture as a sign of outreaching our faith. We informally outreach our faith to others just by the simple acts of kindness we do every day. Holding a door for someone behind me or giving to charity, however, won’t necessarily promote my faith to keep it alive. I understand that there are simple ways to broadcast my faith, even by adapting to the modern, secular world. To be honest, I have proudly “liked” all the Jewish facebook groups online, I make phone calls to my Broward community annually, and I have even downloaded the latest application on the iPhone, the “iSiddur.” Social media is the future, and I must keep awareness of that if I want my religion to be a part of that future.
While it may not seem like it today, Christians have once needed gateways to promote their faith in public. Today, there would be no one take part in the international missions trips, the church services, and the ministries if there weren’t any websites to learn about the faith. Besides the fact that every religious center needs to stay strong financially, these places need to put their names on the map in order to spread their faiths and values to large congregations.
Religion is no longer limited to paper; just about every biblical text can be accessed online. Worship services can be viewed on live webcasts, pastors and rabbis can text blessings to congregants, and faith is debated over the internet. The world today has embraced social media, and we must follow the world in order to spread our values. If economic times were easier, I would recommend that every dominant religion runs its own television network. How cool would it be to simply click a TV channel and see your faith in action? As long as the adaptation to social media doesn’t devaluate the genuine values in every religion, I think a little more universal outreach is what every faith needs to succeed.
 The world is changing and progressing every day; the values beneath biblical orthodoxy and the Scriptures can easily be promoted to society in whatever forms of communication needed. So while I may not particularly agree with everything preached on every religious channel, I truly applaud the concept of faith being outreached into my own living room through television and other sorts of social media. I have no doubt Evangelical Christianity will continue to grow, thanks to outreach channels like the Trinity Broadcasting Network. I can only hope that every faithful group will find a network of some sort to spread their ideas and beliefs to the world. Religious awareness and coexistence are not out of reach; we just need to figure out the most effective ways to create and outreach both. Perhaps becoming aware of the modern world around us, first, will help us all accomplish this awaited goal.                                                        

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A New Hope

When some hear the word “Messiah,” light illuminates their faces. Others hear the word and fall to their knees in prayer.  Just about everyone I’ve met, however, feels relieved and at peace with themselves, for the  arrival of the Messiah, whoever it may be, sure sounds wonderful for the world we live in today. I, on the contrary, cringe at the thought.
Why am I so opposed to peace miraculously brought to the world? Moreover, why do I passionately disagree with all the Messianic prophecies in my own Jewish Scriptures? It’s not that I prefer endless world conflicts over peace, nor do I ignore the words written in every holy book, I just refuse to blindly believe in an unknown being to accomplish everything that we can do today.
In the Jewish faith, the upcoming Messiah must be entirely human, from the paternal line of King David, and bring eternal peace to the world in his (or her) first (and only) coming. Therefore, according to Jewish texts, the Messiah today is still unknown, which decreases my faith this non- existent, detailed person. The details according to the texts, however, increase my faith in the pure humans that exist in our communities.
Synagogues, churches, mosques, even Buddhist temples all gather to promote peace, to credit something greater for the peace that already surrounds them. We, as faithful people, preach and pray for one person to come and enlighten the world; we truly accept that one selected, humble person will just bring about peace at an unknown time or place. By doing so, we feel comforted that perhaps the peace we’re looking for will arrive sooner if we worship or promote this bizarre concept. Feeling comforted by this unproven idea, however, proves our reliability for things in the world, this case being world peace, to be accomplished for us. Faithful people have certainly become lazy these days.
Truthfully, the Jewish texts have proven that this long awaited peacemaker can’t be Jesus of Nazareth. We can’t expect to see the Lubavitch Rebbe riding through town on a donkey anytime soon. Even the Dalai Lama, though an inspirational leader, doesn’t apply to the Messianic prophecies written all over the Old Testament. This doesn’t stop us, though, from blindly parading the idea of eternal peace everywhere we go. I suppose it comforts us to praise an unknown being that is claimed to help us all get along one day. Since some believe that one man will unite the world, we act as though we are utterly incapable of connecting with others. We’ve been motivated to perfect ourselves in time for one person to arrive and perfect everything else. With the concept of a Messiah, we are literally relying on an unknown future to be built in front of our eyes, rather than building the world in which we live today.
Not all of us, however, accept blind faith. Rather than futilely reclining and waiting, some move forward in repairing the world just in case no one does it for us. We don’t realize, though, that these people have already begun taking small steps to complete the mission of one Messiah: bringing eternal peace to the world. In fact, these individuals may just be the only “Messiahs” we’ll ever witness in our lives. And while these people may not have the ability to instantly create lifelong peace in the Middle East, they put in all their effort to create something close enough; their intentions alone are far more pure than any prophesized text.
Don’t get me wrong, there are many religious activists who do remarkable things. The most faithful people I’ve met spend all their time serving G-D and those around them, which inspires me every day. We, as faith activists, just need to double check our intentions behind our deeds.  Are we catering to the world purely for the betterment of the world, or to speed an entrance of an unrealistic miracle? Will opening the door for the person behind me please the Messiah? Or will it make the person walking behind me feel grateful? Which one is more realistic and impactful at that moment? Perhaps if we focus our actions towards improving the world today, we will be taking steps toward eternal peace, because at the end of the day, would the Messiah have arrived on time to hold the door open?
Unfortunately, I cannot prove that a Messiah is merely imaginary comfort, nor do I know if one will actually arrive. I do know, however, that I will forever look down upon the concept of one selected man accomplishing something we all have the capability to create ourselves. Eternal peace exists just outside our front doors. We can memorize the kindness in our hearts much more effectively than the Messianic texts. We do not need to wait for a debatable prophecy to arrive to create world peace; we could begin the small steps ourselves. We could all, in fact, be our own Messiahs.
My opinions may be unorthodox, but let’s face it; while a rebuilt temple sounds nice, creating peace in our own communities is just so much more worthwhile. Chris Tomlin and Phil Wickham can easily sing about creating peace just as beautifully as their previous Messianic tunes. The mitzvah mobiles could illuminate a motivational message on their trucks rather than a Messiah picture. Promoting peace today is so much more effective than promoting a debatable idea. Promoting the world to accomplish the unthinkable is much more powerful than wistfully praying for the unthinkable to be done for us.  
Life is too short to rely on debatable Messianic hope; let’s create our own. Let’s focus our intentions to making this world, today, a better place. I’m sure any Messiah would be happy to see faithful people coming together to accomplish a global, worthwhile mission. Though we are simply people, we can find the motivation to create something greater for our world today, and in the future. And we have already begun.