Teaching World Religions in the Age of the Clash of Civilizations

by Ronald J. Brown

Unification Theological Seminary is not only in the middle of New York City, the Empire City, but is literally in the middle of the world because of its unique student body. The Reverend Sun Myung Moon founded the institution in 1975 as a seminary where students, scholars and clergy of all the world’s religions would meet, interact, and hopefully engage in creative dialogue. As an  adjunct UTS faculty in world religions for the last ten years, my students have been drawn from every continent, included all age groups, and claimed worshippers of all the world’s faith communities.

Since the Seminary’s founding, the planet has moved from “The American Century” to what Samuel P. Huntington characterized in his 1996 book, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, as a world engaged in a cataclysmic “clash of civilizations.”  This clash of civilizations takes place daily in my UTS classroom as well as at Touro College, a largely Jewish school where I teach, and in lectures I deliver throughout the city.

This article summarizes three separate battlefields: 1) The struggle for my students to understand their own religion from a historical and academic perspective; 2) the struggle for students to keep an open mind while studying other religions; and, 3) the struggle to elaborate new strategies in  teaching world religions in a multi-religious environment.

Understanding one’s own religion

Studying the major religions of the world sounds like a good idea to most of my students, at least until it comes to a scholarly and historical study of one’s own religion. Students are inevitably fascinated by and curious about the other religions of the world and rarely if ever doze off. But as soon as I begin lecturing about their own religion the going gets tough.

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Our Alignment in the Era of True Mother

By Andrew Wilson

These days Unificationists may ask themselves, “Where are we in the providence? Where is God’s work headed?” When Reverend Moon was alive this was not a pressing issue, because he set the direction and we could simply follow.

But since he passed on in 2012 to take his place in heaven, things on earth have not been so simple. Furthermore, in 2013 Foundation Day arrived, proclaiming the victorious conclusion of the providence of restoration, but where did that leave us?

In my experience, every time Father made a providential announcement, it typically took three or four years to comprehend its meaning. It’s the same today; we needed some distance in time to understand what has happened since the dramatic events of 2012 and 2013.  Now in 2017 we can begin to see more clearly how the providence is changing and where it is heading.

Of course, the most obvious change is that Dr. Hak Ja Han Moon, True Mother, has begun putting her stamp on the movement. Also, we are coming to know God not just as Heavenly Father but as Heavenly Parent, and some of us are exploring what it means to relate to God not only as Father but also as Mother.

Change has always been a feature of God’s providence. Reading the Chambumo Gyeong, we can see the movement has passed through different eras, from the early days of pioneer missionary work, to the 1980s when we confronted communism, to the 1990s when we developed an interreligious and international family movement for peace, to the 2000s when we could witness the dawning of God’s royal sovereignty.

As the providence advanced from one stage to the next, we had to change our mindsets to adapt to new realities and challenges. So what is new about the reality of this era, and how should our mindset change to better align with the era of True Mother?

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Farewell Until We Meet Again, Mom

By Robert Brooks

Before my Mother passed into the Spirit World, I was given a perfect opportunity to offer her my final thoughts.

Ours was a tenuous relationship at times, often marked by long periods of silence. Her fears concerning my chosen faith course would often lead up to our intermittent silences. Before she ascended, my mother was diagnosed with vascular dementia, and that robbed her of her short-term memory. When I learned of her illness and its dire effects, it came to me clearly that my actions and words would be offered to insure her successful, unfettered ascension.

And so, my wife and I made plans to visit. She had moved far away, but there was still time. When we arrived at her home, my Mother looked both happy and relieved. Our last visit was a good time; sharing time, stories, laughter, and memories of long ago.

The day before my Mother passed, my sister, her caregiver, emailed to say Mom was fading fast and Hospice didn’t see her living much longer. If I wanted to, I could call and my sister would place the phone near her on speaker so Mom could hear and I could offer my farewell. My oldest son, viewing my distress with this sudden yet expected turn of events, suggested I sleep on my final words and compose my thoughts the next morning.

Following his advice, early the next day, somewhat surprisingly, the paper pulled the ink from my pen as fast as I could write. Forty some minutes after I got through on the phone and offered her these words, my Mother passed into the Spirit World where she now enjoys a successful ascension.

January 31, 2017

On the eve of your passing, Mom, I offer these final thoughts.

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“The Circle” and a World of Total Transparency

By Kathy Winings

Is it possible to go too far with our digital technologies? Is total transparency a good thing? If the majority of people in the world were digitally connected and our lives were out in the open, could we have a better, safer world? Are people ready to live in a totally transparent, digital world?

The new film, “The Circle,” attempts to answer these questions. “The Circle” focuses on a young woman, Mae Holland (Emma Watson), who lands an entry-level job in customer service at the Circle, a massive, powerful tech conglomerate, through a good friend who works in the company. Imagine Google, Facebook and Amazon all rolled into one company. That’s the Circle.

Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks), CEO and co-founder of the Circle, is an energetic and charismatic leader who appeals to the idealism of his employees — all of whom seem to be under the age of 35. With the personality of a Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg, Bailey and his COO and co-founder, Tom Stenton (Patton Oswalt), emphasize transparency and accountability with each new digital breakthrough they unveil. Much like the practice in today’s big tech firms, there is a regular company-wide gathering in which the new innovative breakthrough of the day is showcased and employees can cheer and marvel as their company pushes the boundaries of technology without questioning it.

Mae is drawn deeper and deeper into the Circle. Bailey is good at coming up with catchy names and phrases and selling the new tech innovations through personal stories that touch the emotions and ignite the idealism of his employees – most especially Mae. In her first week on the job, she is introduced to a webcam the size of a marble that is heralded as a means to a totally transparent world where no one can get away with discrimination, human rights abuses or crime, dubbed “Sea Change.” Bailey’s catchphrase is, “Knowing is good but knowing everything is better.”

Shortly after the launch of Sea Change, a U.S. senator trying to open an investigation against Bailey is forced out of office due to seemingly questionable actions unearthed by Circle technology operating under the guise of transparency.  Mae and her colleagues see this as a reason to celebrate their company’s role in making a change for the better.

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The Royal Road to Original Design: Divine Principle Post-Foundation Day and the Questions to be Asking

By Kathleen Burton

The 2013 advent of Foundation Day for the Unification Movement was the pinnacle of achievement of Rev. Sun Myung Moon and Hak Ja Han Moon, known as the True Parents, accompanied by True Mother’s instructions in January 2013 to pray to our Heavenly Parent. A plethora of questions arise with this declaration.

Heavenly Parent means the recognition of Heavenly Mother as well as Heavenly Father. How do we develop a relationship with Her? How is Her essence different from that of Heavenly Father? How do we expand our understanding of God’s dual characteristics in light of “Our Heavenly Parent”?

These ontological questions clearly point to a serious contemplation of a veritable cosmic paradigm shift in our understanding of the Godhead in the Unification Movement as we begin our journey of discovery toward God’s true essence of both femininity and masculinity. This “Royal Road” explores the need for a gender-balanced view of God and Divine Principle coupled with an equally important understanding of the more fundamental aspects of God’s internal nature and external form and how they are manifest in harmony with the gender-balanced  concept of “Heavenly Parent.” This is the process of getting to the Ideal. The journey on this royal road of inquiry and discussion requires asking questions and waiting and listening for Heavenly Parent’s reply.

True Parents’ Foundation Day victory has ushered in an era where long-awaited events, the foundation for which the Unification Movement founders and membership labored tirelessly, were achieved.  Unificationists believe Lucifer surrendered in 1999, and both the end of indemnity and end of the restoration providence were declared. These events, culminating in the advent of Foundation Day itself, establish a turning point for the study of Divine Principle. It pivots the providence from a linear restoration understanding, beginning with the Human Fall and quest for salvation through restoration history, toward what could be termed “The Royal Road”: a pursuit of God’s original design as discussed in Chapter One, “The Principles of Creation.”

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The Birth of American Music

By David Eaton

While attending the 6th World Media Conference in 1983 in Cartagena, Colombia, I had the opportunity with several other musicians to meet with UTS founders, Reverend and Mrs. Sun Myung Moon. In the gathering, Rev. Moon expressed interest in the creative process pertaining to musical composition. He encouraged us to study and master the classical tradition, calling it “the foundation” upon which we could carry out our creative endeavors. He then suggested we combine the best elements of other genres — Rock, Jazz, Gospel, Folk — with the classical tradition in an attempt to create “New Age Music.”

In recollecting that meeting, I came to realize that in many ways American music was something akin to what Rev. Moon alluded to. Owing to America’s immigrant nation heritage, American music is a rich amalgam of highly varied styles and influences that arrived from many places. In a very real way American music is “World Music.”

When the Pilgrims landed in 1620 they not only brought their faith tradition, but also the music that accompanied it. Some of the earliest musical expressions of colonial America were Christian hymns sung in churches and schools utilizing the technique known as “shape-note” singing. Many of these were eventually published in 1835 in the hymnal known as Southern Harmony, including the “Garden Hymn,” a song known to Unificationists as “Song of the Garden.”

Eighteenth century Appalachian folk music was also indicative of the cross-fertilization highly evident in most American music. Immigrants from Scotland, Wales, England, and Ireland brought their ballads, jigs, reels — and their instruments — with them, and these musical influences found their way across the land.

Gospel Music also had religious roots. The “call-and-response” mode of music-making dates back to the early 1600s. As it evolved from 17th century Negro Spirituals and field hollers, it was the Christian revival movement and Holiness-Pentecostal movement of the late 19th century that spawned this new genre. Gospel historian Robert Darden noted the first published use of the term “Gospel” to describe this music style was in 1874 when Philip P. Bliss edited a revival songbook titled Gospel Songs for use in evangelical meetings and revivals.

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The Battle for Dominion over Time: Thailand’s Many Calendars

By Ronald Brown

Of all the parts of creation that God gave us dominion over, time continues to remain the most elusive.

A calendar is one of the universal building blocks of all religions. For any new religion to succeed or ancient religion to endure it must prove its ability to have dominion over time. The prospect of an endless and meaningless succession of days, years, and centuries, is unsupportable for human beings, to say nothing of religious communities. Calendars are like maps placing an individual and a community firmly in a flow of time that began with the Creation and will end with the Millennium.

In late December and January, during my academic break, I traveled to Thailand. What could have been a pleasant month of travel, beach, wine, dancing, food, and fun turned into a research-filled period. My research was stimulated on the first day in Bangkok when the man at the front desk prepared the receipt for my $7 a night room.

The Confused Calendar of Thailand

He took out his book of receipts, filled in the sum in Thai Baht, misspelled my name, stamped it, and handed it to me. I stuffed it into my pocket and went to my room where I crashed on my hard bed and slept the entire day. It was only later that evening as I was writing my daily journal entry that I glanced at the receipt. I took out glue stick, covered the back of the receipt with glue and attached it to the page. Only then did I notice that he had miswritten the date: the month “12” and day “30” were correct, but in place of 2016 he had simply written “60.” I thought he had simply made a mistake and wrote “60” instead of “16” and thought no more of it. But this strange date stuck in my mind. I had to find out what “60” meant.

The Buddhist Calendar

My second encounter with the wild world of Thai calendars was by accident. Having checked into my hotel, I set off to explore the neighborhood. I strolled up a major road and stopped in the middle of an elegant bridge spanning one of the many canals that crisscrossed the city giving it the name “The Venice of the East.” I glanced at the elegant Thai script that announced I was on the Mahatthai Uthit Bridge and noticed the year of construction was 2457. Puzzled, I checked my handy travel guide and read it was constructed in 1914.

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Women, Science and the Future of Unificationism

By Alison Wakelin

Transitions are difficult, as both the Unification movement and world are discovering right now.  Restoration mode has given way in emphasis to further revealing of the Principles of Creation, and science is now coming into its own as a source of new insights for a new age. While it may be challenging to let go of previous modes of operating as a spiritual movement, we find deep truths emerging today in many fields which must be incorporated into any realistic and comprehensive future for Unificationism.

As women have become more involved in the academic and scientific world, a general picture is emerging of the differences between a man’s perspective and woman’s perspective. I remember my boss asking 20 years ago, “but what is women’s science?” I couldn’t tell him back then, but now I would be able to reply that women see things from a more holistic perspective, they often think more in pictures, more intuitively, and take in the whole of a situation at once.  Men tend to think in a more linear fashion, work out truths sequentially, and build up a worldview according to this method.

As a means for freeing people’s minds from the domination of the church in the early days of Western European science, the more male-oriented methods worked well, cutting out an ever-expanding corner of truth that held its own in rational circles, and gradually taking over as the predominant worldview in the West. However, its own success has brought us to a day when it is not unusual to find accomplished scientists asking if maybe science has simply tied itself up in its own strings. With uncountable solutions to the currently popular string theory (a highly theoretical mathematical scheme that regards a one-dimensional string as the most fundamental building block of matter), and no way to distinguish between these solutions, this has to be a valid question.

Even in the West, certainly since the early days of quantum physics and relativity, there has been a secondary track within science, based on the idea that matter itself is in some sense conscious, or at least has some kind of internal nature.

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An Encounter with the Holy Trinity: “The Shack”

by Kathy Winings

It is not often a reflective and innovative film that is deeply theological comes to the big screen – and is worth our time and attention. But “The Shack” fits this bill nicely. Not unlike “Heaven is for Real,” “The Shack” reminds us we are never alone, that God is always there with us. And what “Heaven is for Real” did for reimagining the spiritual world, “The Shack” does for the holy trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The movie tells the heart-wrenching story of Mack Phillips (played by Sam Worthington), a family man who must endure the disappearance and presumed death of his youngest daughter and make sense of a loving God.

The film begins with a brief but critical glimpse of Mack as a young boy who witnesses his abusive yet church-going father beat his mother at the slightest provocation. After Mack confesses to the family pastor about the beatings, his father beats him again, pushing the young boy to take drastic action, which turns into a secret that haunts him throughout his adult life. Mack’s wife, Nan (Radha Mitchell), knows he has a secret eating at him but she cannot convince him to talk about it. Nor can his neighbor, Willie (Tim McGraw), a faithful and God-loving man.

As a loving husband and father, it is clear Mack cannot seem to come to terms with a God who is there for us, loves us and to whom we can turn. After all, why did God allow his father to treat his wife and son so terribly? Would an omnipresent loving God really do that? Because he cannot find answers to his questions about God, he forms an uneasy truce with God. At the same time, he feels his wife’s faith is strong enough for both of them for the time being.  What is interesting is his wife’s nickname for God. She calls him “Papa,” with her children following suit.

A catalyzing event occurs one summer when Mack takes his three children camping to their favorite lake while his wife must stay behind. During this fateful trip, his youngest daughter, Missy, suddenly disappears while Mack is focused on saving his other daughter and son who become trapped under their canoe while boating. One moment she is there coloring her pictures and the next minute, she is gone; a parent’s nightmare.

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