A most wonderful companion

While I often reference my personal life and the people who pass through it, I would like to jump the shark and speak about a woman I met recently and find myself head over heels in love with. Sounds a bit crazy, but that’s my life.

I am polyamorous. I was in what I thought was a stable relationship, my primary partner had other long term lovers and a number of short term ones after my injury. Three years later I am recovering and start to see people, and my primary (Samantha) melts down, ending our relationship. I was disappointed. Interestingly, the reason for the meltdown of my primary is because she could feel that my new friend (Janice) was in love with me.

At this age we don’t admit it. Even I, who rushes into relationships as a hobby, have slowed down the speed at which a relationship progresses. I’m pretty sure I let Janice say “I love you” first. It only took a few dates. I’m still amazed this is happening.

I never expected to fall in love, yet here I am.

She is, of course, beautiful. As with most women she doesn’t see it, but she glows. Her energy and spirit are expressed physically. And that’s just her body. More on that later.

Her mind is fascinating. I described her the other day as “The most open-minded opinionated person I know.” She does many of the things I do, such as pointing out an opponent’s strongest argument. She recognizes her own party’s propaganda, at times saying “That’s just left wing propaganda.” She sees through the diversions and focuses on reality. She runs a Facebook page devoted to the scientific process.

Her personality is fascinating, and tuned to mine. She is polyamorous, she is bisexual, she is adventurous. She does things I would never have done without her. She has done things I would never do. She has darkness in her past. She has largely recovered from some of the most horrible abuse I have ever heard of. She has lived a life of adversity, and come away with few scars. Her strength shines through illuminating her path.

Some of the scars were deep, and she is disabled. She has had many medical experiences similar to mine. She exists on her Disability payments and rent from a boarder. She cares for the mother of her late husband; and her now twenty one year old daughter, who is breaking into the world. She maintains relationships for decades.

She is an activist, feet on the ground protestor and protector, having provided clinic defense for abortion clinics, helping women safely obtain a legal procedure. She is outspoken in the Bi+ community (Bi+ refers to all bisexual related groups, such as Omni and Pan). She is a leader in the local chapter of Americans United, a group devoted to preserving First Amendment rights.

She is an Atheist. She is the only Atheist who has ever convinced me they knew what they were talking about. She uses the most basic definition of Atheism, and it is a thoughtful process. I get to explain Christianity to her, and she hears a point of view she has not heard before.

About her body. She is properly proportioned, lush and soft. She is eager. She enjoys playing with our boundaries. She is a wonderful lover, expressing herself freely. She makes me feel twenty years younger. She came up with a word to call each other, because our relationship is unusual. She calls me BoyfriendLoverPartner, I call her GirlfriendLoverPartner.

We spend the majority of our time together, her presence is soothing. We share tastes in music, and go to performances frequently. We’ve been to several cultural events together.  We have made friends as a couple, and in fact are going to a party tonight. We are in tune.

We have mini vacations planned, a weekend at a LGBT nudist camp, a weekend in Manhattan for Pride weekend, a weekend in Rehobeth DE for a performance of a drag troupe.

In almost three months we’ve only had one major disagreement, and we worked together to resolve it.

At Magic Gardens for an evening event

 

I’ve been on a roller coaster since Emma died, this feels right on a molecular level. Her family likes me, her pets like me, I fit in.

I know this has become little more than a love letter, Janice has not received all the praise she deserves. She has opened doors that were previously blocked, she has helped redefine a few words for me, she has opened my eyes to things, and I hope I have shown her things she didn’t know.

This is what is happening in my life. I have found a most wonderful companion. I am happy.

The benefits of Brain Injury

I always have found the bright side of any situation. I learned things I would never have had the opportunity to when I spent some time in Prison. I was fascinated by the technology involved with oncology when Emma had cancer. My Traumatic Brain Injury has provided more insight into “Medicine,” Rehabilitation, Mental Health care, and aspects of society of which I was previously unaware.

There have certainly been things which I see as benefits. While I would never suggest that crushing your skull is something everyone should try, a TBI is not universally negative.

Frustration is so normal in TBI patients that the resulting anger is an expected symptom. I was never frustrated; I was depressed, but never felt there was nothing I could do. Instead of anger towards my changing conditions, I felt curiosity. I was exploring the “new” me. It helped a great deal with the transformation. Rather than wasting time in frustration over what I could not do, I was busy finding out what I could do.

One thing I learned from Emma’s Cancer journey was the importance of an advocate. Sam was my advocate in the months following the accident. She coordinated my benefits and assistance.

When my physical therapists told me I would be lucky to get a thirty degree extension of my arm, I did not set that as a limit, I did not aim for thirty degrees. When I reached zero degrees most of the therapists could not do the same. When I reached minus five degrees (hyper-extension according to the books) no one could. It felt good to do what doctors had said I could never do.

When the otolaryngologist told me my hearing was fine, I sought out another, who was able to diagnose the Superior Canal Dehiscence which had occurred when my skull was crushed. I found a surgeon I trusted to cut into my head and now my hearing is fine.

When the ophthalmologists could not understand that my eyes were not on the same plane, I saw a neuro-opthalmologist who prescribed lenses with prisms and tints (which I could not afford). Fortunately, vision therapy corrected my vision.

The mental fog and slowed processing speed has taken the longest to clear. I am probably as recovered as I am going to get, but that is not stopping me from exercising my brain as much as possible. A month ago I was not writing at all, since 1 January I have been writing close to twice a week. I have had no return of my abilities to play most instruments, but I can drum, well. I cooked last week for the first time in years. I’ve started collecting firearms and reloading shells; I’ve been to the range a couple of times and still can’t carve out the bullseye, but it gives me a goal to work towards. And, dating has become interesting again; as I feel better about myself, other people see me differently.

The accident was the result of my fall down some hazardous steps. I had mentioned the state of the steps, and requested a handrail, a couple of times before the accident. Following the accident the owners denied they had ever heard anything about the steps being hazardous, and had no intention, even after my fall, of installing a handrail. That was sufficient for me to file a suit for negligence, which I won quickly. The amount of the settlement was adequate to reverse my losses of the previous years, allowing Sam and I to purchase a condominium and live comfortably.

Due to the damage I sustained, I qualified for SSDI. I will never have to work again, which has reduced my stress level, which in turn assisted my recovery. Getting handicapped parking also made life easier.

I am calmer, much more understanding than I was before. One exception is truly stupid people, of whom I am less tolerant than before. By “truly stupid,” I mean people who choose to not know things. As with the incident at the Lincoln Memorial, it is understandable to be misled by false media reports, but several days after the truth is revealed you are truly stupid if you think the kids were racists and attacked the Native American.

The therapy I received helped me see that an actual “recovery,” in the sense I would be the same person I was before the accident, is impossible. We all change a little every day, I am not the person I was five years ago, nor are you. We just don’t notice when the changes appear over time. I woke up in the hospital and felt I had aged twenty years. I had, because I was able to exist as a thirty something, and now I was my age. Most people face the reality that they are no longer the football hero or cheerleader they were in younger days, I had to face the reality that I am mortal, because I had never “aged” before.

Admittedly, I am doing much better than most TBI patients with my level of injury after three years. I am doing better than most Multiple Sclerosis patients thirty years after diagnosis. All my life has been fortunate, including Sam finding me in the mudroom, where I would have bled to death by myself. This I place as a result of my relationship with God. Little tiny coincidences have made my life fascinating for sixty years, and I don’t believe in coincidences.

Three years after the accident, I appear normal to most folks. Because I am. I am not the whiz kid with all the answers, but “normal” was a pretty low bar to reach. Another couple of years and I might make it to “above normal,” but for now I am content.

God the Father

Father’s day is celebrated around the world, in various ways and with various spellings. The relationship each of us have with our own father is unique, for many reasons. We each define who our father is, what his duties as a father are, and how well he fulfills those duties. Some people spend time reflecting on their own responsibilities as children, and factor themselves into the equation. This all falls under the umbrella of understanding our father, fatherhood, and ourselves. Considering that at least one quarter of Americans have sought Mental Health assistance and folks most in need of help never seek it, I believe it is safe to say in general we do not know the participants in the father/child relationship well enough to make many judgements.

I know my children do not think I am a good father. I know many of the reasons why they think so, and the level of maturity they possessed when they made the decision, as well as the level of maturity I had hoped would reverse the impression. They haven’t gotten there yet, so I can only assume the situation is permanent. My relationship with my own father has changed a number of times over the years, which may indicate I am more flexible than my children (my impression), that they are emotionally damaged (a strong possibility), or maybe I am not a good father (always worth considering). The most definite pieces of information are they do not know me, and have made no attempt to know me, yet they harbor strong feelings about who I am (provided by their mother).

So earlier this week, when a dear friend made a statement about God, portraying it in a “paternal” image, in conjunction with the approaching holiday, my thoughts drifted to children and their illusions about fathers. The statement had been in the context of gun control, and he had said “every time it works, God smiles.” My God supports free will rather than denying it, so I don’t see God smiling in such an instance, and I started to wonder what made our perceptions about God so different.

The first thought was that the all powerful creator of the universe really doesn’t give a damn if you buy a gun or go bowling. Then I realized I was thinking of my God. I realized we all have different Gods, everyone sitting in the pew at church believes in a different God, because despite the holy texts, we each have to read and understand what we have read. We carry a banner (“Christian” in my case) but we have different beliefs, in some cases radically different. From what I’ve read, God wants us to live our lives according to his directions, and when we die we get to find out if we correctly interpreted the directions and how to follow them. Not before.

Some religions clearly don’t hold this view. Some people misunderstand their religion, and believe they are supposed to enforce God’s directions on Earth, even when the texts clearly state otherwise. Some people are just doing whatever they want, and waving a banner because it gives them a sense of authority. Problems arise from confusing terms, which inhibit communication. “God” is a concept, so when I say “God” it means the being that I imagine God to be, when Benjamin Netanyahu says “God” it means the being he imagines God to be, and when the leader of Daesh says “God” it means the being he imagines God to be. My theological mind argues we are all speaking of the same God, my psychological mind knows we are speaking about three different Gods, because we believe they are different, having in our minds created God and the differences between the Gods. We all believe God is greatest, if we speak Arabic we say Allahu Akbar.

I can be fairly annoying in arguments, because I tend to coach my opponents to make better arguments, I see all the sides.

I believe a part of my vision of God is based on my view of what a father should be, and my impression of myself as a father makes me believe I am doing it right. My children are each successful in their chosen fields. They are strong willed and independent. They don’t always do the things I would want them to do, but guess what? I didn’t do everything they wanted me to do. That doesn’t make them “bad children” any more than it makes me a “bad father,”  but they have placed themselves in judgement of my activities (which had nothing to do with them, particularly the ones that took place before they were born), so you might see how I can compare the relationship to that of God and Humans. They don’t know who I am now, how could they know anything about who I was then?

I consider the Christian Bible to be God’s word. I am fully aware the words themselves were written by human beings, and translated several times to accommodate various languages and ages. The Aramaic of 30 B.C. is unrecognizable to Arabs today, the English of 1611 would be unintelligible to an English subject today, Modern English is largely unintelligible to Americans. Many thoughts are ascribed to God in the Bible, they represent the message of the moment, not different Gods. The messages of the Old Testament are different from the messages of the New Testament. I suspect the punishment for arguing the order in which to prioritize its words would be similar to the punishment I meted out to my children when they brought up things I had said prior to their existence, it has nothing to do with the discussion at hand.

My beliefs have led me to understand God placed us on Earth to learn. Learning means making mistakes, and learning from them. There are sects which believe intent is an equal failure,  it may be, but I believe overcoming desire is the extenuating circumstance God will consider when it makes judgement. Jimmy Carter thought it was a sin to lust in your heart, but I believe acting on that lust is the sin God prohibited. Denying the opportunity prevents the sinner from making the decision to act. Allowing the opportunity gives the sinner the ability to redeem their heart. The same holds true in the gun analogy, Omar Mateen may have hated gay people, or just Americans, but had we prevented him from purchasing the guns, would it have pleased God? Would it not want Omar to have the opportunity to decide not to pull the trigger? Is it sad because you responded to Omar’s decision by arguing over his motives and methods rather than reaching out to his victims?

So on Father’s Day, which in America is celebrated on Sunday, considered to be “The Lord’s Day” by most Christians, get to know your father. Your father on Earth, and your father in Heaven. They both spent a good deal of effort on telling you who they are, but have no control over how you interpreted what they told you.

Get it right this time. It really is for your own good.

Whose God?

I’ve seen a number of discussions about God lately, not so much intentionally about God as about the nature of gods, inspired in part by Professor Larycia Hawkins of Wheaton College. Professor Hawkins had decided to wear a hijab to show solidarity with Muslims, and stated Christians and Muslims worship the same God.

As you might imagine, there has been quite an uproar over the suggestion that the God of the Christian Bible is also known as Allah. If he’s the same guy, why are the religions so different? Well, let us look at that question. Start with why do you think God, Allah, or any supreme being is male? You are trying to define the creator of the universe in human terms because they are the terms you are capable of understanding. For my part, when I refer to God I avoid gender specific pronouns, preferring “it” over “him” or “her.” This practice is the first step in incorporating the concept that God is in no way human.

One of the more troubling (to me) arguments to come out of these discussions suggests members of a religion in some way possess ownership of their God. This does not appear to be distant from the concept of my car owning me.

To answer the initial question, are these worshiped entities the same, very little investigation is required. Looking back a couple of millennia before Christ, Abraham makes his mark as a prophet. From Abraham comes Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, three different approaches to the same prophecies, commonly referred to as “The Abrahamic Religions.” The same God, called by different names as time passed and languages changed. As those religions developed, “God” was attributed with different qualities, the manner of worship acquired different rituals. God didn’t change, the way humans interpreted God changed. Islam is simply the latest developmental spur of the Abrahamic tradition, in which Jesus is merely a prophet, as is Mohammad; the Quran being the inspired message of God to Muslims.

The evolution from Abraham gives us Judaism, Jesus appears and is rejected as the son of God by the Jews but accepted as the Messiah by those who create Christianity, Mohammad comes along and delivers the Quran rejecting Jesus’s status as Son of God, creating Islam. God did not change, just who is believed to have delivered his latest instructions. Being most recent, the Muslim believes his religion to be most evolved, thus the correct or “true” religion. Christians may counter their religion is still evolving, Protestantism produces new denominations routinely, but the core of Christianity, Christ, dates the religion as beginning with his birth. Each of the Abrahamic religions believe they are the one and true religion, leading the followers of each religion to believe the followers of the other religions are at best misguided and at worst following a different God, perhaps even an evil God. Some take it a step further denouncing other beliefs as not being religions at all.

As I stated earlier, we as humans define God using the measurements we are capable of understanding. God is seen as a fatherly, therefore male, figure. He must be very old, so he would have grey hair, and he would carry a staff to assist in walking. Even if you are one of those who believe the religious texts date the universe at six thousand years old, God would be well beyond the aging process of humans. Yet no one ever depicts it as a young being, creating the universe is thought to be the work of a mature being. Do you think its hair turned grey at the age of forty, or forty million? The question may already be in your mind, how is the dimension of time traveled by a being who created the universe and time along with it? As humans we travel about seventy years, yet God has traveled at very least billions of years, with some of those being before the current measure of years existed, does it appear older today than at the origin of the universe?

As humans, we cannot pretend to understand the details of what God is physically, much less its motives. The best we can do is to interpret God’s intentions for us, and every religion on Earth teaches we should love each other. If you honestly believe a religion teaches otherwise, tell me how long you practiced that religion before saying anything else, don’t tell me what you have heard about a religion you have not been involved with. Religions are different because they were created by different humans, each believing they understand God better than anyone else.

So I believe the answer to the question “Do we believe in the same God?” is quite obviously “yes,” but not in the way most people mean when they ask the question. I believe the answer remains “yes” regardless of the religions being compared, well beyond the Abrahamic religions, because God is not the rituals we follow in worship, or what we eat or wear.

God is Love.

If you do not believe God is Love, then you do believe in a different God than I do, you might want to check with your religious leaders to see if you believe in the same God they believe in.

Us and Them

 

Let me start with a simple question. After 9/11, when you all met Osama bin Laden, who said “I guess he’s right, let’s give him what he wants.”? Anyone? If anyone wants to contact me through the comments but does not want their name published, I will update this, but my thoughts are no one was convinced of his position by his ability to kill three thousand people.

So when we blow up a village chasing a terrorist, how many of the relatives of the dead or injured villagers do you think are going to congratulate us on a job well done? Far more likely, they will hate us and support further terrorism against us.

This is not a war with fronts and battle lines with soldiers lined up shooting at each other. This is a war where all those things we thought only happened to other people can happen to us, are happening to us. That is the lesson. We are all other people in the eyes of other people, if you see “us” as humanity, it was never happening to others, it has always been happening to us, we are doing it to ourselves. When we turn away refugees because they happen to be of the same religion professed by terrorists, we have have lost sight of that which makes us different from the terrorists.

I’m not saying I don’t want terrorists eliminated. As far as I am concerned they have violated their contract with humanity and invoked the most prejudicial Golden Rule, but killing innocent people has never won anyone any friends. This is a war of intelligence, and although as a former member of the intelligence community I made jokes about the oxymoron of military intelligence I can say in all seriousness we are woefully unarmed as a species. A terrorist is far less likely to spend two years being processed as a refugee in order to enter America than he would be to simply walk across the border with the other illegal immigrants.

If you are not familiar with the term “Daesh” please become so. It is a pejorative term in Arabic for those terrorists who no one can agree on a name for. IS, ISIL, ISIS, Those bloodthirsty motherfuckers, whatever, they don’t like Daesh. Kind of like when Bush 41 referred to Saddam Hussien as “Saddem” a word meaning “shoe shine boy.” This is one of your weapons, perhaps your only weapon, the ability to deny the terrorists access to your terror. Very much as when dealing with animals, show no fear. You should certainly take prudent precautions, but should the feces strike the oscillating rotary device, laugh in their faces.

 

Remember that stuff about turning the other cheek? Which part did you think was negotiable? Here is your biblical lesson for today. The punishment for any transgression was once death. There was no measure, only one response to bad behavior. God spoke to Moses, providing the concept of measure; an eye for an eye, then Jesus brought us to the next level, teaching that our Earthly existence was of little importance. As a species we are not moving in the right direction, death for any transgression seems to be returning to popularity, when we should be ready to move to a level beyond turning the other cheek. Look into your soul, are you prepared to evolve towards Homo Sapiens Supra, or are you among those left behind, as Homo Sapiens Sapiens left Homo sapiens neanderthalensis behind?

I do not make these statements based only on Daesh and the responses to their war on everyone. You had to realize they were just plain old crazy when even Al Qaeda rejected them as “too extreme,” they are not representative of any religion, or any thought process for that matter. Extreme is becoming normal, tolerance is increasingly vilified as weak or even subversive. Tolerance is not the goal of extremists, obliteration of opposing viewpoints is their goal. Turn that around as well, those who seek to obliterate opposing points of view are terrorists. This applies not only to Daesh and Al Qaeda, it applies to anyone who seeks to silence (and at its most severe, destroy) anyone in disagreement.

In the same sense all Muslims are not terrorists, all white people are not racists, and all racists are not white. You might think after a century and a half of racial awareness in America we would make some progress. We did, now we have slid back down from the mountaintop. “Students,” more appropriately “professional activists,” have started a wave of protests at universities across America, using the arguments of their grandparents against the reality their grandparents forged. Demanding, among other things, a return to segregation, a group of privileged students calling themselves the “Black Justice League” occupied offices at Princeton University. “Jim Crow” is invoked in some twisted argument for a “blacks only” space. In the Twilight Zone episode in my mind, these children are slapped into unconsciousness by their grandparents over Thanksgiving dinner, and wake up to face actual racism, so they might understand the words they are using.

We have seen tolerance and sensitivity turned upside down. Rather than seeking knowledge, the “prize” today appears to be offense. Free Yoga classes for disabled students have ended due to complaints of “cultural appropriation.”  Following this line of reasoning, it would be inappropriate to learn a language other than that of your nation of birth, listening to music from other cultures would be banned. How do these practices bring us together as a species?

They do not. They splinter us, until we are seven billion distinct cultures, churches of self, paranoid of the knowledge other churches even exist. A recent Pew Research poll found forty percent of Millennials support censorship under certain circumstances (no one seems to be in favor of censoring themselves, regardless of how offensive I might find them). Suppressing the expression of unpopular ideas does not make them go away, and as Larry Flynt said, “Freedom of speech doesn’t protect speech you like, it protects speech you don’t like.” More golden rule stuff here, give my thoughts the respect you seek for your own, you don’t need to agree or even listen, but allow my words to exist if you expect me to allow yours to exist.

The United States of America is an idea. An idea forged from the oppression of our founders. The rights specified in our constitution were not theories, they are rights which had been denied. Denying those rights today is anti-American and unpatriotic, regardless of the number of flags on your pick up truck. I don’t care if we lead the world or if we just follow along, but if we continue to move backwards, against our principles, we deserve to be left behind with the terrorists by people more civilized than us.

Faces in the crowd

Good morning, today is my birthday. I’m spending the weekend relaxing in the mountains, so on Friday evening I was talking with a friend and not watching any news. I woke to the aftermath of the Paris attacks.

As of now one hundred and twenty nine people are listed as dead, with another ninety nine of the three hundred fifty two wounded in “very serious condition.”

One hundred and twenty nine families will have an empty seat at the table. Lovers will lay down in empty beds, children will live their lives without a parent, parents will bury their children. One hundred twenty nine times over, for now, this time. The day before, forty three died and two hundred thirty nine were wounded in a suicide bomb attack in Beirut, one hundred forty seven were killed and seventy nine wounded in an attack on Garissa University in Kenya. Brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, and friends lost forever.

Every face in the crowd is loved by someone, the eyes which once lit up when that face entered the room are now filled with tears.

On Saturday morning, my circles of friends checked to see if they were intact. Most were. Not all. I haven’t heard from Beirut yet, Baba had a way of knowing where his next restaurant should be blown up.

Luis Felipe Zschoche

Luis Felipe Zschoche

Luis Felipe was in Paris to complete an album with his band Captain Americano. He decided to catch the Eagles of Death Metal concert at Bataclan with his girlfriend. They are now faces in the crowd.

It is not a good day to be a Muslim.

I knew a woman who grew up in Germany during the second world war. She was a child, she did not know any Jews, she lived on a farm and knew there was a war going on. She had no idea about the holocaust taking place. Years later, in America, she was just another German, a NAZI, a Jew killer in the eyes of anyone who heard her heavy accent.

In America during the war we “interned” people of Japanese descent, American citizens were sent to what were essentially prisoner of war camps inside America.

As a society, I do not believe we have matured much since then. After the 11 September attacks anti-Muslim prejudices were so out of hand that Sikhs, who have nothing in common with Islam but happen to wear turbans (unlike actual Arabs or Muslims) were the target of hate crimes.

I do not expect people to be able to differentiate between peaceful Muslims and ISIS terrorists when they cannot tell a Sikh from a Muslim.

It is time to make some tough decisions, and in order to make intelligent decisions you must be armed with facts. Hear that well extremist friends. Be more intelligent than your adversary.

We are indeed at war, our my opponent is hate. So look deep inside yourself, which side are you on? It does not matter if you are Muslim or Christian; if your motivation to action is hate, you are on the same side, and you are not on my side of this battle.

My God tells me to love everyone. I return to Matthew 5:43-45; “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

If you choose to feed hate, it grows just like any other organism. One friend stated it quite well; “Let us not get polarized and divisive. Extremist organizations thrive and recruit from divisive societies. Let us not cast blame on an entire community because of the actions of a minority. People killing people are not fueled by differences of race or religion. Those are just the excuse for a deeper seeded evil fueled by extremism. So let’s not provide the soil on which those seeds of extremism can thrive and flourish.”

Do not mistake my intentions. The individuals who are responsible for the destruction of lives and families should be hunted down and eliminated like the cancer they are. Feeding that cancer by attacking innocents is counterproductive.

My time here on Earth nears its end, but my time with God has only begun. I will NOT spend eternity reconciling hate, that task is to be completed here. Besides, I hear they have a pretty good band in heaven, they just got another guitarist.

Hearts and Minds

I am not your typical Christian, if there is such a creature. I’ve read the Bible a few times, the New Testament several, from which I believe I understand what God expects of me.

There are some parts which may be more significant than others, I shed tears when I get to Acts 5:30 “30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree.

Jesus’ words are the most important part, and his most profound and simple message is expressed in “The Sermon on the Mount,” recounted in the various gospels, of which I prefer the writing of Matthew. In Matthew’s fifth chapter, verse 17, Jesus says “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them (emphasis mine).” He makes several examples of a “that was then, this is now” nature, culminating with my favorite verses; “43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.46 For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?47 And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” Matthew finishes with Jesus’ final instructions in his 28th cahpter “19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”

This is the call to proselytize, the foundation of mission work. Note that Jesus told the disciples to “teach,” not belittle the beliefs held by others, or torture them into submission. One definition of “proselytize” is “to advocate or promote (a belief or course of action).

Obviously, some people misunderstand Jesus’ gentle ways, missing the message of Matthew 10:14 “And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet.

You can capture hearts with love, and minds with knowledge, but when you simply attack someone’s beliefs you should expect them to be defensive. If in your attack you misrepresent their beliefs, it’s time to go home. You lose. Think how you would respond to the same behavior. Offer the truth, and if you are turned away, turn away.

Presently the Muslim culture has been hijacked by terrorists, who distort their religion to justify acts of hatred and violence. So far the terrorists have been successful in convincing the Western world they represent Islam, routinely murdering any Muslims who dared to disagree. This is the forced conversion, from Islam to Al Qaeda, that results in resentment, and the eventual overthrow from within. Eventual.

Fearing the terrorists’ and their brand of Islam, Christian missions in the Arab word have flourished. This is not in response to Jesus’ call to teach, but true “Islamophobia.” Islam is not the problem, terrorism is. The two are different. Proselytizing as a political weapon is not what Jesus had in mind.

Recently I came across an article claiming pedophilia is a cornerstone of Islam. No, not any more than it is a cornerstone of Christianity. There are events in the Quran that could be called child molestation if they happened today, fortunately the Old Testament doesn’t mention ages in all that “begetting.”

Luke gives the most details about Jesus’ mother (Mary), from which it has been calculated she was 14 at the time of Jesus’ birth, and may have married Joseph at age 12. Judged in the same light as Islam, Christianity would include a cornerstone of child molestation.

We simply cannot judge a civilization of two thousand years ago by the standards of today. Are there Muslim pedophiles? No doubt in direct proportion to the number of Christian pedophiles. Oh, you’ve been in the same cave with the Pope? Pedophilia has more to do with power than sex. It is not an “American” problem, it is a “Human” problem.

When our missionaries attempt to convert Muslims by spreading lies about their religion, they are no different than the terrorists. Hearts and Minds follow attractive examples, Jesus (to me) is the best example of how to live. His message appeals to one third of the world’s population, he didn’t touch that many souls by lying to them.

Spreading lies and distortions are hate mongering. Anyone doing so in the name of any religion has missed the teachings of their religion. I’m pretty sure God doesn’t like that, and there is no avoiding his judgement. Our lives in this world are finite, choosing to live those lives opposed to God has consequences that last for eternity.

 

 

 

 

 

On Pens and Machine guns

B6wLoAvIEAAMZED

I am Charlie

As most of my readers are American, they have probably never heard of Charlie Hebdo prior to the mass murder that took place on 7 January at the magazine’s Paris office. It is not the type of publication that would be popular with most Americans, or for that matter, most people. I am not Charlie, nonetheless Je me tiens avec Charlie. Free expression is an alleged cornerstone of American and other free societies, I often find myself defending the rights of people I would never shake hands with. My heroes have been the Marquis de Sade and Larry Flynt, not for what they published, but for their ability to be published at all. One of my favorite quotes of Larry is “If the First Amendment will protect a scumbag like me, it will protect all of you.” We owe a debt of gratitude to those who have suffered to insure our rights.

Charlie Hebdo is a rather adolescent publication, perhaps satirical, perhaps simply another incarnation of the insult humor of Don Rickels. The humor often is more of a “I can’t believe you said that” reaction, or “That’s really going to piss off the X,” where X equals any group. Charlie Hebdo didn’t single out Islam, they poked everyone, Islam just rose to the top of the list of favorite targets by lacking any sense of humor. In America we give the same honor to North Korea.

The Charlie Hebdo attack contains some interesting points many will miss. The first Police officer on the scene, Ahmed Merabet, was from an Algerian family (Algeria being a formerly French territory). He happened to be Muslim. After being wounded by the terrorists he begged for his life and was then shot to death. Obviously not all Muslims are terrorists, but Ahmed’s brother makes the point that terrorists are not Muslims at all. Al-Qaeda and ISIS may wrap themselves in Islam, but if you truly believe in an all powerful God, what use does your God have with your machine gun? Can’t God take care of its issues without assistance?

This is not a religion

This is not a religion

This may be the catalyst for separating terrorists from Muslims, even though Magritte’s surrealism was lost on this artist. My prayers continue.

Another point to consider is the response to the murders. One French newspaper ran the headline “12 morts, 66 millions blessés,” as this was an attack on France. The terrorists were hunted down and killed in days. This was also an attack on the arts community, which has come out strongly supporting freedom of expression (no real surprise) with the pencil versus the machine gun theme.

“Artist” is a vague description, after years of being described as an artist I have accepted the title, but I still maintain everyone is an artist in their own media. Many of my fellow artists take the title more seriously than I take them, one illustrator commenting “Are there ideals worth dying for? Certainly. But does blood need to be shed? I think not,” demonstrating why his chosen media is pictures rather than words. This is a tough one for my generally mild mannered colleagues, dying involves spilling blood. We can celebrate the brave martyrs who stand up to the terrorists, but please do not claim to be willing to die for your beliefs if you are going to whine about scraping your knees. Do me a favor, stand behind me, not beside me. Just because the pen is mightier than the sword we are not guaranteed to survive every battle.

Free expression is the essence of free society. Each and every one of us has the right to say whatever we feel. The celebration of that right is allowing it to those who offend us. It is not an expression of free speech to tell someone to shut up, free speech is the recognition you can respond to any statement with a statement of your own. You don’t need to kill them, nor they you, due to a disagreement. This is often referred to as civilized behavior.

This is where we draw yet another lesson from the Charlie Hebdo massacre. The attack on free expression is an attack on free society, and the attack is not just being waged by radical Muslims. One of the beauties of free speech is its ability to highlight the sensitive and the obscene. Every time one group speaks of the annihilation of their opponents they expose themselves as intolerant to the degree of being uncivilized. Certain elements attempt to shut down speech they find offensive, which in itself is the greatest offense. Charlie Hebdo probably could not have been published in America, where tolerance is defined as being intolerant of offensive views. Maybe it is because I am a writer, a musician, a communicator, an educator, one of my strongest beliefs has always been “silence is death.” By surrendering our basic rights in the name of “political correctness” we have failed to nourish the practice of critical thought and debate, leaving violence as the only response for the simple minded.

Remember the words of Larry Flynt, and apply them to the poem by Martin Niemöller.

First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the free thinkers
and I did not speak out
because I was not a free thinker.
Then they came for the Cartoonists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Cartoonist.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left
to speak out for me.

54adfbdacf62d.image

Not One More

This one is a little tough to write. I’ve given a great amount of thought to whether or not I should even publish these thoughts, as of late I have seen such polarized thinking I have considered giving up any hopes of changing minds altogether.

You are doubtless aware of the killings in Isla Vista, a student community of Santa Barbara California. An incredibly disturbed young man stabbed his two roommates and a visitor to death,  then he drove to a sorority house (which refused to allow him entry) where a few women who had refused his advances lived. Stopped by a locked door, he shot three women across the street, killing two. He then drove to a convenience store, firing multiple rounds inside the store, striking one man multiple times lethally. Sheriffs showed up at the store and the young man fled before they could determine he was the actor. He drove about on the wrong side of the road, running down bicyclists and pedestrians,  firing at and missing at least three people before encountering a sheriff with whom he exchanged fire. He then ran down a bicyclist, and fired into a crowd injuring three people. He shot one more person before a group of sheriffs caught up with him. They fired several shots into his vehicle as he sped off. He struck one more bicyclist before crashing into some parked vehicles. When the sheriffs removed him from his car he was dead of an apparent self inflicted wound.

That is what happened. Six dead, thirteen injured. Half of the dead killed by stab wounds, some of the injured assaulted with a motor vehicle. Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown summed it up at a news conference hours after the incident “I think the problem with an incident like this is it is obviously the work of a madman.”

Comments from those who knew the killer ranged from “It wasn’t a surprise, I wish I could have done something to stop it,” to “There was nothing I could have done, he was a troubled kid.” His parents were devastated, joining with the families of the victims in their grief. While they had been quite aware of his issues, they were unaware of the depth of his illness. Authorities had seen “warning signs,” but he failed to meet the criteria for involuntary institutionalization.

Why do I speak of this subject on a Sunday?

You are likely aware of the story of Cain and Abel, children of Adam and Eve. A jealous Cain kills Abel, and when asked where Abel was by God in Genesis 4:9 Cain replies “I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?

Cain was punished, exiled to the land of Nod, but he was not killed, in fact God protected him saying in Genesis 4:15  “Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” Cain went on with his wife and procreated, founding the village of Enoch.

We are our brother’s keeper. It is natural for a parent to fail to see the sociopath child, I suspect every heinous villain in history has had his mother say “boys will be boys” about aggressive behavior. The rest of us do not have the excuse of parental ignorance. There is something we can do, and saying “I wish I could have done something” is perhaps the most pathetic of all statements. This young man was not an insane Norse warrior killing everything in his path. He was stopped by a locked door. He ran from confrontation. All that was required, all that was ever required, was for someone to stand up to him.

One victim’s father has made an effort to assign blame and responsibility. I understand his grief, and make allowances for his judgement. Elliot Rodger was a severely disturbed young man, multiple psychiatrists have stated so, everyone who had contact with him, even his parents, concur. The NRA and/or “greedy politicians” were not responsible for this young man’s actions, they did not place the knives, guns, and car keys in his hands. Sending postcards saying “Not One More” has not stopped the several hundred homicides that have taken place in the intervening month. Expecting “someone else” to solve the problem will only result in more victims.

“There was nothing I could’ve done,” the neighbor said. “Maybe I could’ve postponed it, but he was a troubled kid.” – See more at: http://thebottomline.as.ucsb.edu/2014/05/isla-vista-mass-murder-claims-lives-of-6-ucsb-students-13-injured#sthash.40rlGjCt.dpuf
I think the problem with an incident like this is it’s obviously the work of a madman.” – See more at: http://thebottomline.as.ucsb.edu/2014/05/isla-vista-mass-murder-claims-lives-of-6-ucsb-students-13-injured#sthash.40rlGjCt.dpufI think the problem with an incident like this is it is obviously the work of a madman.”
Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown at a late-night press conference a few hours after the incident. “But I think the problem with an incident like this is it’s obviously the work of a madman.” – See more at: http://thebottomline.as.ucsb.edu/2014/05/isla-vista-mass-murder-claims-lives-of-6-ucsb-students-13-injured#sthash.40rlGjCt.dpuf
Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown at a late-night press conference a few hours after the incident. “But I think the problem with an incident like this is it’s obviously the work of a madman.” – See more at: http://thebottomline.as.ucsb.edu/2014/05/isla-vista-mass-murder-claims-lives-of-6-ucsb-students-13-injured#sthash.40rlGjCt.dpuf
Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown at a late-night press conference a few hours after the incident. “But I think the problem with an incident like this is it’s obviously the work of a madman.” – See more at: http://thebottomline.as.ucsb.edu/2014/05/isla-vista-mass-murder-claims-lives-of-6-ucsb-students-13-injured#sthash.40rlGjCt.dpuf
Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown at a late-night press conference a few hours after the incident. “But I think the problem with an incident like this is it’s obviously the work of a madman.” – See more at: http://thebottomline.as.ucsb.edu/2014/05/isla-vista-mass-murder-claims-lives-of-6-ucsb-students-13-injured#sthash.40rlGjCt.dpuf

Jesus repeatedly told us to love one another. He did not say “hope things work out” or “wish for the best” or “wait for someone to do something.” He called us to action, the simplest action, the easiest action. Love. Love can be defined in many ways, but what is more simple than helping the injured soul? Action for young Elliot would have prevented his suffering, the suffering of his victims, and the suffering of his victims’ families. It was obviously not an easy choice, his parents could not bring themselves to it, the authorities required a more clear and present danger, but everyone knew he needed help. No one felt they were his keeper. For some reason it is more appealing to chase the evil giants than to deal with issues on a personal level. One approach works, the other never will.

Elliot Rodger was our brother. George Chen, Cheng Yuan “James” Hong, Christopher Ross Michaels-Martinez, and Weihan “David” Wang, were our brothers, Katherine Breann Cooper and Veronika Elizabeth Weiss were our sisters. The thirteen injured physically, and the thousands injured emotionally are our brothers and sisters. By failing Elliot, we failed all of them.

All it takes is a word or two, and enough love to intervene.

 

 

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown at a late-night press conference a few hours after the incident. “But I think the problem with an incident like this is it’s obviously the work of a madman.” – See more at: http://thebottomline.as.ucsb.edu/2014/05/isla-vista-mass-murder-claims-lives-of-6-ucsb-students-13-injured#sthash.40rlGjCt.dpuf

A difference of opinion

 

The Ichthys is a symbol in Christianity, from the Koine Greek word for fish, based on Matthew 4:18-19:

18 And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers.19 And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.

During the time of persecution by the Roman Empire, the Ichthys was a symbol used to mark meeting places, and even as a “salute”, to covertly distinguish friends from persecutors. If you recall the television program “The Prisoner,” you might recognize the symbol.

The Ichthys salutation

The Ichthys salutation modified to mean “I’ll be seeing you”

 

In the last few decades, the symbol has been re-popularized, initially as a bumper sticker or medallion quietly acknowledging Christianity. Not willing to let a private expression of faith go without an argument, several groups decided to mock the Ichthys, creating their own variants.

 

Evolution of the Ichthys

Evolution of the Ichthys

If you know so little about both Christianity and evolution you believe the two are in conflict with each other, you might find some of the more aggressive variants (none of which are shown here) as expressing something you consider to be “truth.” The truth is, by displaying a “Darwin Fish” you have expressed your general ignorance and arrogance. Christ had nothing to do with creation. That was his father, God, who gave the people sixteen centuries before Christ a story of the creation of Earth they could understand. There is no rational reason to believe that the creation story in Genesis reflects the actual or complete mechanics of the creation of the universe, but it does follow the path that scientists believe took place. Some people might feel that lends some veracity to the story. Other would prefer to pick apart the story for what is left out. If you think Genesis is a science book, you missed the point, regardless of your religious beliefs.

In a recent conversation about arrogance, one contributor displayed both his arrogance and ignorance as he attempted to preserve his point of view with something that no doubt sounded wise and noble to him by saying “it should also be noted that respecting someone’s right to have a belief in something is a given. But it in no way means that the belief itself, especially one that is considered to be the cause of much damage and suffering, should be respected. Indeed, it becomes one’s duty to hold it up for ridicule and scorn.”

I can respect someone I don’t agree with, but when you feel it is your duty to ridicule and scorn someone’s beliefs, you are not in any way respecting the person, their right to have the belief, or the belief. Trying to sugar coat your arrogance only makes you appear more arrogant, as if the foolish Christian can not see through your self deceit. Very little elicits more pity than a fool who genuinely believes he is wise.

If you choose not to believe the Judea-Christian beliefs, so be it. You are not alone, roughly two thirds of he world’s population is neither Jewish or Christian. However, very few people actually believe there is no God. If you wish to express the superiority of your views that no God exists, even claiming them to be backed by science, you might want to consider the meaning of both “Atheism” and “science.” To say you believe there is no deity, none at all, because you have no empirical evidence of its existence, indicates faith. You believe in something you can not prove. Were you to have any understanding of science you would know that the absence of empirical evidence of something does not imply the actual absence of that thing’s existence. There is no empirical evidence of the existence of electrons, yet we are all certain they exist. Intellectual honesty would require a thoughtful person who does not believe in a deity to accept the possibility that a deity might exist. Such an intellectually honest person would call themselves an Agnostic.

If you call yourself a Christian, there are rational discussions to be had about your beliefs, such as “why you think you are in a position to judge other people.” If you call yourself a Muslim there are rational discussions to be had, such as “why do you believe you should kill people who do not share your faith.” If you call yourself an Atheist there are rational discussion to be had, such as”Why do you have faith in something that can not be proven (there is no God) yet feel you can judge others who have faith in something that can not be proven (there is a God).”

We all have differences of opinion, and if we are secure in our opinions can discuss them without insulting other people’s opinions. People who feel they can simply shout down any opinion that is contrary to theirs lack security in their beliefs, whether they be the Westboro Baptist Church, the Taliban, or Atheists. They are all equally annoying to those of us who have explored our spirituality and can express our beliefs rationally.

Secure in our beliefs, most of us can take a joke. I might even put this medallion on my car.

car-emblem-sticker-fish-n-and-chips-darwin-fish_350314693843

 

 

Influences

Our relationship with God is based on a number of influences. Some shape our vision of what God is, some shape our vision of how to treat God. Some of these influences are from organized religions, some from the practitioners of those religions. Those practitioners can be our family, friends, or members of religions who proselytize either directly or subtly.

Although some religions believe children are born into them, most notably Islam, the majority of religions teach a personal relationship with God to some degree. I rather like the Amish practice of sending young people into the untamed world so they can decide if remaining Amish is for them. George Carlin spoke of a change in Catholic doctrine in the sixties that taught kids to ask questions, and he noted they failed to provide answers. My own religious mentor, Dr. Colton, taught us not only to ask questions, but how to evaluate answers. I searched for quite a while before finding my place in God’s plan, and then Dr. Colton hit me with another statement that pushed me away from Christianity for a few years when I was nearly forty. The fact I keep coming back tells me something about the truth I see in God.

What we choose to believe is influenced by our maturity in how we believe anything. I once worked in a corporation that made some major errors. When I pointed them out to my manager, he said “Those people make a lot more money than we do, they know what they’re doing.” As it turns out, they did. They were shredding the company to make it appear more profitable on paper so they could sell it. They sailed into the sunset and I was left behind with the new angry owners. The new owners fired my former manager, I like to think they had no tolerance for blind faith.

 Søren Kierkegaard is seen by many to be the father of existentialism. He was highly critical of organized religion, but not of God. He criticized blind faith. He said;

“God is not like a human being; it is not important for God to have visible evidence so that he can see if his cause has been victorious or not; he sees in secret just as well. Moreover, it is so far from being the case that you should help God to learn anew that it is rather he who will help you to learn anew, so that you are weaned from the worldly point of view that insists on visible evidence”

Belief in God requires a “Leap of Faith” according to Kierkegaard, “religious belief is a personal, passionate affirmation of the will rather than a conclusion of the intellect. It involves embracing that which is not simply indemonstrable from reason’s impartial spectator perspective but also absurd. Faith is not a one-time event, however, but a passionate attitude requiring constant renewal. In virtue of our sinful nature, faith is not something we can achieve on our own but requires God’s grace. It is only through faith that we fulfill our key task in life of becoming our authentic selves.”

Blind faith is meaningless. If you choose to know God, you will find faith. If you choose to follow blindly, you are unlikely to meet God on your path.

I’m not sure what the conquistadors thought they were accomplishing with “forced conversions”, what amazes me is that five hundred years later Muslims are still doing it. Nonetheless, if we can see what is wrong with attempting to force beliefs, we can avoid it in our own lives.

The devil in the details

During a conversation about religions, one person said “the differences are only very small details.” That is often very true, and some details are insignificant in the big picture. Some are not. We are, as members of related denominations, more alike than different, but there are reasons behind some of the differences. This is where the deceptions occur which are used to attack faith.

I have a friend, I’ll call him “Mark”, who is agnostic. He was raised in a religious family, but when he had questions he received unsatisfactory answers. He paid attention in church, but found the information confusing, even contradictory. Given only bits and pieces of scripture reinforced his impression the Bible was self contradicting. So he gave up, still believing in the existence of a creator, but unwilling to believe a book full of contradictions.

The Bible is not the story of the events of a weekend. It is the history covering several thousand years. As history develops, ways of explaining and interpreting it change, the very language in which it is recorded changes. Over the course of a decade, Mark repeated several times the Bible was self contradicting, yet at no point could he produce any contradictions. I believe he perceived them, he just couldn’t pin them down.

Another friend recently said “very little in the Bible is concrete.” As evidence he offered “Depending on the religion, there are several different organizations of what the 10 commandments consist of.” This is remarkably similar to Mark’s point of view. In fact, the differences in “The ten commandments” are based on the way they are presented. In the twentieth chapter of Exodus, Moses receives the stone tablets, which no longer exist. The commandments are not numbered, or separated five per tablet, in fact one interpretation is they were two copies of the commandments, one on each tablet, as is common in legal contracts. The way in which the they are presented is narrative, so various denominations have punctuated them differently, all coming out with ten commandments, although the number and contents of each individual commandment does not always remain the same. Then in the fifth chapter of Deuteronomy Moses retells the story to a younger generation. There are differences in the phrasing, but the essential commandments remain the same. But this is only the beginning.

The choice of a Sabbath is based on theology. At the time the commandments were given, they were given to the Jews, who honor the Sabbath as the seventh day, based on creation as recorded in Genesis. Christians began to celebrate the first day, “the Lord’s day,” as the Sabbath in the second century, as Christianity became independent of Judaism.

Various translations differ on “Thou shall not kill.” The Hebrew words “לא תרצח (lo tirtzach)” are alternately translated as “Thou shall not kill” and “Thou shall not murder”. There are many examples of accepted killing and self defense in the Bible, it seems clear the commandment addresses unjustified killing, but there remain people who choose to see this as a contradiction.

This one came up in my research and presents the reason I keep looking deeper. German Theologian Albrect Alt has suggested “Thou shall not steal” was originally intended against stealing people, as in kidnapping or slavery. The Talmudic interpretation is “Thou shall not kidnap.”

In what is part of the first or second commandment (depending on your numbering) “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them” has been stretched to extremes. The Catholic Church claims that images and statues representing holy figures are not worshiped. Protestants claim that images of Jesus are of the man and not of the Son of God, and Protestant crucifixes are bare of Christ’s form. Jews won’t even spell the word “God”, and Muslims have elevated the prophet Mohammed to a Godlike state in that any representation of him is viewed as veneration.

In the 3500 years that have passed since the time of Moses, tens of billions of people have considered the words of the Bible, people who have spoken thousands of languages. The words are far less important than the message, and that message continues to be shared. There will be those who choose to see contradictions, or manipulate interpretations to fit their desires.

If I say I am averse to lying, and acknowledge I have lied in my life, does that represent a contradiction? Does it suggest everything I say is a lie, or that I have struggled with the circumstances of life and regret my transgressions? There are many ways to interpret words, and much of what we believe comes from within. When it come to eternity, it makes sense to carefully examine the totality of a belief system, rather than discarding everything based on differences in punctuation.

Mixed Marriages

I have a mixed marriage, by which I mean my wife is an atheist, and I am not.

I phrase it that way for a reason. The choice is not Atheism or (name a religion), the choice is Atheism or any religion.

Most folks just aren’t wired to consider a range of views. It is ever so much easier to view the world as “us” and “them”, simple binary terms of “with us” or “against us”, and I have noticed a growing insulation, “us” is turning into “me.” It does not need to be this way, with the ease of communication there is no reason for people to be less informed about the world than they were in the past.

There’s a word for people who are uninformed. It is not considered a compliment, nor should it be. Anyone can be misinformed , but to be uninformed is to be ignorant. In 2014, to be uninformed is a conscious choice. I cannot understand why anyone would choose ignorance, I would say I do not want to understand, but I would like to know. Understanding ignorance carries the danger of finding mental numbness attractive.

I have tried to understand atheism, it is a belief system, and like any religion should be evaluated by any seriously spiritual person. Yes, it is a religion. It is based on faith, a faith without evidence, no different than any other religion including my own. I believe that God speaks to me. For someone who has closed their mind to God such a claim is absurd, bordering on mental illness. The Atheist believes that God does not exist. For someone who speaks to God such a claim is absurd, bordering on blindness.

But atheism is not a block, a single set of beliefs, anymore than any other religion. Within Christianity there are two major sects, Catholicism and Protestantism, and within those sects thousands of divisions. There are probably a hundred groups calling themselves “Baptists”, many of whom would not care to be in the same room with each other. Atheism is similar, because there is nothing uniting about rebellion, and often rebellion is the root of atheism.

Choosing not to believe in God is not quite as simple as it might sound. Which God? By definition, atheism is the belief that no God exists, not the Christian’s Gods, or the Muslim’s Gods, or the Hindu’s Gods (I use the term “Gods” when referring to monotheistic religions because the different sects within the religion define God differently). Most if not all atheists stopped at the first God they ran into, the God of their family religion.

Richard Dawkins, who presents himself as a professional atheist and “rationalist”, suggests in his book “The God Delusion” that “a supernatural creator almost certainly does not exist and that religious faith is a delusion” which is fairly astray from rational if he actually is an atheist. “Almost certainly does not exist” is not quite the same as “does not exist”, so it would appear the one who is deluded is the wanker who paid twenty six dollars for a book about atheism. Dawkins has argued against creation, and intelligent design, for decades, yet he admits the existence of a creator. He just refuses to call him “God”. He is in this way no different from the people who call themselves “Baptists” and spread hate. They both have defined God to suit their own ungodly interests. They both serve their own egos, swindling other confused souls to provide them with a living.

 

 

If you have watched the video, you may find yourself uncomfortable with someone who refers to himself as a scientist claiming “no one knows how the creation of the universe began.” I’m pretty sure everyone knows how it began, we’re just quibbling over who pushed the “Start Universe Here” button. To hear him state the universe didn’t just “pop into existence” must be confusing not only to all the religious people of the world, but also to those who subscribe to a creator-less “big bang”. It thoroughly baffles a person like me who believes that the big bang was God’s method of creation. But then, con men rarely make sense if you actually listen to them.

There are as many ways to not believe in a God as there are to believe in a God, and the arguments all come to the same point. We all believe something, what we believe is between us and eternity.

 

Easter Sunday

easteregg5

The birth of the Easter Bunny

On the odd chance you are from some far away, heathen culture, say England perhaps, I’ll be sharing the story of Easter today.

Matthew tells the story like this, in his twenty eight chapter:

 “In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre.And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it.His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow:And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men.And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified.He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you.And they departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word.And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him.10 Then said Jesus unto them, Be not afraid: go tell my brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me.11 Now when they were going, behold, some of the watch came into the city, and shewed unto the chief priests all the things that were done.12 And when they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel, they gave large money unto the soldiers,13 Saying, Say ye, His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept.14 And if this come to the governor’s ears, we will persuade him, and secure you.15 So they took the money, and did as they were taught: and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.16 Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them.17 And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted.18 And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
If you are just coming in to the story, in the previous chapter Jesus had been put to death, and sealed in the sepulchre, so finding him walking down to Galilee was rather amazing. The “other Mary” is Jesus’ mother. There are no eggs or hares in the story (or bells, which is a European version of the egg story, in which bells fly from Rome to deliver Easter eggs).
Easter Bells

Easter Bells

This is the story as told in the Bible. A recent survey of English schoolchildren found over one in four (25%) believe Aesop’s Tortoise and Hare are featured in the story. That’s pretty good, because over four in ten English schoolchildren (40%) are not Christian, which means more than  one in three non-Christians (13% 0f the total children, assuming that 100% of the Christians got the question right) are aware Aesop didn’t write the Bible. How much do you know about other religions? If you are a Christian, were you aware that Jesus’ mother was so unimportant after giving birth to him she is referred to only as “the other Mary”? How much of your own religion do you believe only because you have heard about it?
Easter is the most celebrated of Christian holidays, in that more Christians recognize the holy significance of their savior rising from the dead than his birth. Consider that. Easter is a celebration of life, life following death. Eggs represent life, so they have become intertwined with this holiday. A final parable if you will.
The product of a mixed marriage, rabbits and bells

The product of a mixed marriage, rabbits and bells

If you search the internet for “Easter”, the first page of results is unlikely to refer to the Bible at all. You will find references to favorite candies and how many calories they contain, egg hunts, and I came across one story about PETA protesting the use of eggs at the White House. A lot of stories, but somehow the guy who came back from the dead didn’t make the news.
Toady is Easter Sunday, the day we celebrate Life in the message from a man who died and returned. Perhaps we can honor his last wish, one so important he crossed the void to deliver it in person, “observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” Observe (in the sense of “analyze” and “discover”) your religion, read your holy book. Maybe you will find the things you took issue with are not even in there. Maybe you will find new reasons to follow more closely.In the spirit of Christ rising from the grave, bring your faith back to life today.

Love

A common refrain by atheists is “If God is so loving, why do bad things happen?”

It is similar to the insolent child, who says “If you really loved me…”

Defining “love” is the domain of the lover, the one giving love. Love can take many forms, and most parents understand “love” does not mean providing everything the loved one desires. For many people, love means supporting, caring, and providing a positive example. The love we give is not always what the person we give our love to desires in the immediate sense, but inspired by our love we sometimes do things that makes our loved ones better people, capable of expressing love of their own some day.

God expects us to grow. Growth requires challenges. So bad things happen, innocent people suffer, and we are given the opportunity to show our love to people who sometimes may only deserve it because they are our brothers and sisters, fellow children of God. If we are the one suffering, we learn to accept love, which I am discovering is much more difficult for most folks than I had thought.

Simply giving people what they want is not love. It may bring peace to the moment, but it does not bring peace to life. We know simply giving a child candy will stop them from crying, but on several levels it is not the healthy solution.

Our loving God does not condemn souls to hell, they condemn themselves. God is always willing to accept the repentant soul. This is what we call unconditional love. It is not allowing the pain to continue in the name of love, but allowing the pain to end. At one point in my life, my relationship with my mother required that I break contact with her. It was not healthy for either of us to simply gloss over our conflicts, and after a fair amount of soul searching I determined that the best way I could display my love would be to avoid arguments, and the only way to avoid arguments was to break contact. This lasted for several years, and eventually we found each other again. We both grew, and had we argued all those years we probably would have said things we would regret which would have caused more damage than we could repair. I remained in touch with her other son, but eventually that relationship became so painful I had to remove him from my life completely. I’m not certain I could ever forgive the things he has done, but then he is not asking for forgiveness so I have been spared that dilemma.

Unconditional love is difficult. We are not God. We expect something in return for our efforts and sacrifices. I lived with a woman during the eighties who had been hurt so often she could no longer love, and though I did love her, she didn’t want to hear the word. At the time, the Tina Turner song “What’s Love Got to do With It?” was popular, and LuAnn was fond of the line “What’s love but a second hand emotion?” I hope she healed, and found a way to love, because it isn’t a second hand emotion. Loving someone is not dependent on the return of love, but the lack of a two way relationship can be exhausting. I gave up on LuAnn back then, but the experience helped me in understanding other wounded souls. In return, God has placed plenty of wounded souls in my path, some more lovable than others.

I have not been the best teacher, but in my defense I have not been the only voice teaching. There are people I have loved that have learned to hate, but rather than give up I just move on to the next case. Because unlike any material wealth with which we have been blessed, the capacity to love is endless.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hate in the name of love

It might have been during the “Political Correctness” phase that American society found itself losing tolerance for all things not sanctioned by the arbitrary gods of popularity. We seemed to be doing fairly well breaking away from prejudices based on stereotypes, and then bigotry made a comeback in some twisted vision of being intolerant of intolerance. We went from being proud of ourselves to being disdainful of everything outside our selves.

1001284_10151961351380896_290498837_n

 

There seems a race to be the first identify and denounce anyone who doesn’t share the acceptable views. It is not even an analog approach, in which acceptance is based on a percentage of shared ideas. Zero tolerance became the buzz word for the thought police, any variation means being labeled an outcast.

Who behaves like this? Insecure, shallow fools. But the very point of this article is to avoid hatred, so don’t get me wrong. I love insecure shallow fools. I’ve even been married to a few. I love dogs, I just don’t like being snarled at.

Maybe it is just too much to ask people to be better than that which they despise. Jesus tried and for his efforts was nailed to a tree.

A bill recently introduced in Tennessee, HR 1547, is titled ” The Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act”. Apparently, the fact it is from Tennessee automatically makes it racist and homophobic. An article published on “The New Civil Rights Movement” website carries the headline “Tennessee Passes Bill Allowing LGBT Students To Be Bullied In The Name Of ‘Religious Freedom’.”

Okay, there are hack writers of every stripe, and fanning the flames of prejudice is always a money making proposition. What makes this article so astounding is the link to the actual bill within the hate speech. The bill actually empowers LGBT students in their rights to free speech in the schools, but the article implies allowing any speech without prejudice is allowing bullying.

The extrapolation of the effects of the bill continues with “At a basic level, a student could merely write “God” on a chemistry test as the answer to a question asking to where water comes from.” Why yes, a student could write that today. He would be wrong. The summary of the bill states “This bill requires an LEA (Local Education Authority) to treat a student’s voluntary expression of a religious viewpoint, if any, on an otherwise permissible subject.” which means that the expression of a viewpoint is allowed, not judged as correct, and only on otherwise permissible subjects, science (with the exception of AGW) is not about opinions. That’s just not good enough for the muckraker who wrote this, or the drooling hordes who chimed in with their learned views. “Bartdrom” commented “Congratulation to the people of Tennessee. You have now set the new standard, lowered the bar, for civility, intellect, and education of your young. Now states like Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas have a new low to aim for. Until then, they’ll be able to say: “Yes, we’re backward 3rd world states too, to whom education, reason, tolerance and civility are largely eschewed …but at least we aren’t Tennessee.”.” No, no prejudice or intolerance there.

I’m not suggesting that so called liberals are the only source of intolerance, there are closed minded people of every creed. It is the hypocrisy that astounds me. One friend uses the sarcastic phrase “Kill all fanatics”, and is joined with a chorus of fanatics who cannot see the sarcasm. I suppose it is to be expected, seeing yourself is a trait associated with critical thinking, not angry mobs.

So I try. I try not to treat all of Islam based the acts of the Taliban. I try not treat all LGBT people based on the acts of queer nation. I try not treat all Christians based the acts of the Westboro Baptist Church. I try not to treat all liberals based the acts of a few uneducated children. But then, I’m one of those Christian Conservative Republicans from Texas, so my opinion doesn’t count anyway.

Every belief system teaches to treat others with the respect you wish to receive. That does not mean treat others the way they treat you, it means prove you are worthy of the treatment you desire by treating others in that fashion. Don’t damage your cause by acting in the way the people you don’t like act. Or the way you think they act. Or the way you think they acted one hundred years ago. If we all tried to be better than the people we don’t agree with rather than the same as them, the world would pretty much have to be a better place.

 

.

 

 

 

The Bible

When you hear “The Bible”, what comes to mind? A big book with a jewel encrusted gold cover that is open on the table on an alter with a man wearing robes and speaking in Latin? The 5 X 7 book with a worn leather cover your grandfather carries to church each week? That pristine dust cover on your bookshelf with a binding that has never been stressed?

Regardless of your beliefs, the idea included Christianity. The Christian Bible holds an unregistered trademark on the title, although the word is derived from the Greek “biblion” which translates to “scroll” or “paper”. By the second century Jewish groups had stared calling “Bible” books “holy”, and as Christianity grew and overwhelmed its Jewish roots “The Holy Bible” came to mean the sixty six books of the Protestant Christan Bible, broken into two sections named “The old testament” and “The new testament”. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church’s bible consists of eighty-one books.

The Old Testament contains, at minimum, the twenty-four books of the Hebrew Bible divided into thirty-nine books and ordered differently from the Hebrew Bible, and the Catholic Church and Eastern Christian churches also hold certain deuterocanonical books and passages to be part of the Old Testament. The New Testament, contains twenty-seven books, the four Canonical gospels, Acts of the Apostles, twenty-one Epistles or letters, and the Book of Revelation.

Christians include the Hebrew Bible within the Old Testament, it is the history leading to the New Testament, not the core beliefs of Christianity.

As the Bible spread throughout the world, it was translated into all the languages of mankind, and with the passage of time re-translated as those languages changed. For better or worse, these translations are referred to as “versions”, as the differences in translation can be seen as a difference in interpretation. For believers in Christianity, it is taken that translators have been divinely inspired, so that the meaning remains as intended. This is not always true, versions have been written to fit the interpretations of the translator, most notably “The New World Translation” (NWT) written by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, which varies from the commonly accepted meanings and omits and replaces so much information that it is not accepted as a valid translation by most biblical scholars.

In the Book of Revelation, near the very end, chapter 22 verses 18 and 19, it is said “18 For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book:19 And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book”.

I own two Bibles, the Revised Standard Version, given to me on my eighth Christmas, and my grandfather’s King James Version (complete with his margin notes and bookmarks). In writing articles for these blog entries I use BibleGateway.com, which has more than one hundred and eighty versions in over seventy languages for cross referencing scripture, when I quote or link to scripture I always use the King James Version (KJV) for consistency.

With all these resources available, two things about mankind’s relationship with the Bible irk me on a nearly daily basis. The first is non-believers misquoting and mis-interpreting scripture. Often I can easily forgive ignorance of a subject, but if you have chosen not to believe, at least know what it is you don’t believe in. The second is believers misquoting and mis-interpreting scripture. If you have chosen to believe, shouldn’t you know what you believe in? As Fred Phelps is discovering this week, spreading your own variant of God’s word is not spreading God’s word.

I’ve said it thousands of times, and will certainly say it thousands more, it is not a difficult book to read. It is shorter than some Stephen King novels, and there is a version written in a language you will understand. That’s what “divinely inspired” means to me, God wants you to read his word and is doing everything possible to make it accessible. “The Word on the street” version translates Genesis 1:1-3 “First off, nothing. No light, no time, no substance, no matter. Second off, God starts it all up and WHAP! Stuff everywhere! The cosmos in chaos: no shape, no form, no function– just darkness … total. And floating above it all, God’s Holy Spirit, ready to play. Day one: Then God’s voice booms out, ‘Lights!’ and, from nowhere, light floods the skies and ‘night’ is swept off the scene”.

It’s easy.

Redemption

Redemption is a very appealing concept to most people, it infers rising above one’s current state, acceptance despite failure. Recognizing the difficulty most humans have with forgiving each other, Luke relates three parables about redemption, focusing on the joy of the redeemer rather than the redeemed. I believe this is an attempt to say “You might not quite understand this, but God still loves you”.

The first parable, “The parable of the lost sheep”, appears in both Luke and Matthew.  In this parable, a shepherd with one hundred sheep loses one,  and leaves the other ninety nine while he searches for the missing sheep. When he finds it he is filled with joy.

In case one might think there was something special about that individual sheep, Luke follows with the parable of the lost coin,  in which the subject sheep are replaced with coins, ten pieces of silver, of which one is lost.

Luke completes the series with the most popular parable, “The prodigal son“, possibly because it is more complete in its explanation, and possibly because while many of us might not own one hundred sheep or even ten pieces of silver, we can all understand the concept of a stray child.

“Prodigal” does not refer “Prodigy”, its meaning translates to “wasteful” in modern English. The prodigal son is the younger of two, and requests his inheritance while his father is still alive. In a world in which actions had deeper meanings, asking your parent to just go ahead and give you your inheritance is similar to saying “You’re dead to me”. Back when words had deeper meanings, that was as severe an insult as you might hear.

The elder son stayed with the father and family, working the land, and the younger son took his inheritance to a foreign land, where he wasted his money on “riotous” living.  Some translations mention prostitutes. After he had spent all he had, the land fell on hard times and famine, keeping in mind this is a parable, it is possible to translate this to mean the younger son himself was the source of “wealth” in his self imposed exile.  The young son found himself working as a swineherd (remembering the Jewish aversion to pork, this is an incredibly low position) and envying the pigs their food. He decides to return home and repent to his father, asking only that he be allowed to work for him, because his father’s servants had never gone hungry. But his father saw him approaching.

The father ran to him, embraced him, and clothed him in a fine robe and sandals, and called for a feast to celebrate his son’s return, killing the fatted calf for the feast. And here, the most important verse.

24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found”.

Take this point. When the son requested his inheritance, not only had he removed his father’s presence from his life, he had ended his own life in his father’s eyes. This was not an issue of the father’s anger, but of the grace the father displayed by letting the son go.

The older son wasn’t quite as understanding, and upon returning from the fields refused to enter the feast, so that his father had to invite him in, and the son was still reluctant to enter, “29 And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends:30 But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf”.

Humorous aside. While checking various translations, one read “You never gave me a goat to party with friends”. Just places a strange image in the mind.

The father responds to the elder son that he (the son) is always with him (the father), and all the father has is the son’s, going on to reprise “32 It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found”.

The idea that the “righteous” might be jealous of those that strayed and returned is also reflected in Matthew, chapter 20, verses 1-16, in which a man promises to pay workers to harvest grapes, and as the day passes he hires more workers, offering higher wages. At the end of the day those that had worked the longest received the least, and those workers who had worked all day complained, but the man responded “did I not pay you what I promised?”.

Heaven is all the reward waiting. There are no first class suites, no steerage compartments, and our father is happy to bring us on board anytime before the boat sails. None of us are more valuable to him than any other, our works are either good or they are not, we either enter heaven, or we do not. “Purgatory” is not a Christian concept, and seeing that the idea predates Christ its absence from the New Testament is telling.

Life is purgatory. Be the best you are capable of, your time here is fleeting and without schedule.

 

 

 

 

Responsibilities

By and large, humans shun responsibility. Responsibility infers blame, and although positive and negative events are fairly evenly distributed, the fear of being held responsible for a negative event overrides the desire to be recognized for positive ones.

From Luke, chapter 10 verses 30-37, “30 Then Jesus answered and said: A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. 33 But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 On the next day, when he departed,[a] he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.’ 36 So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?37 And he said, “He who showed mercy on him.”Then Jesus said to him, Go and do likewise.

Since 1959, every state in America has adopted some form of “good Samaritan” statute, protecting those that provide aid from being held liable for injuries sustained, but the laws vary by jurisdiction and are often so ambiguous that neither the injured or more importantly the person capable of providing aid do not understand what protections exist. In other countries, the law reaches further, with Germany going so far as to criminalize non-action, and indemnifying the person providing aid even if their actions made matters worse.

Why do we need laws to tell us to show mercy to our neighbors? Because we have a problem with responsibility. In this precise case, it had become so common for the injured to bring suit against their rescuers those that could provide assistance learned to stay away. This would suggest that anecdotes of rescuers being sued for “damages” are not rare but in fact normal.

We are reminded of a higher responsibility in II Corinthians chapter 5, verse 1o “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad”.

Personally, I believe this is the root of atheism. The desire to avoid responsibility for our actions in life. A fear that our choices have not been worthy of redemption, and we in turn may be judged to be lacking.

One who knows God may be confident in his actions. One who does not know God lives in fear, because he does not only not understand which actions will be judged as bad, he also does not know which actions will not be judged as bad, and because he does not understand the mercy and love that is God, he cannot understand which actions will be forgiven.

In believing in God, one also believes in Satan, and when one knows (that which can be known about) God, one also knows Satan. The only strength Satan possesses is to deceive, to mislead. So he spreads untruths about God, allowing fear to rise from ignorance.

In today’s parable, we see the priest and the Levite as doctors and laypeople afraid to provide assistance out of fear of Earthly consequences, and the Samaritan as a Godly person who realizes the only consequences that are important occur beyond this world.

This concept is universal, it applies not only to the physically wounded but also the emotionally wounded, and certainly the spiritually wounded.

Be nice. Let it flow through you. It’s contagious.

 

Carrying on

We all have bad days. Sometimes several. The measure of our faith is how we handle them.

Right now I’m tired. Fatigued. Weary.

I try to look beyond the present. I try to look beyond my immediate position in the physical world. I’ve been here before, things get better, things get worse, the physical world is finite but my soul is not.

I reflect upon 2 Corinthians, chapter 4,“15 For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God.16 For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory;18 While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.”

My outward man is worn, leaning upon my inner man to get through the day. It is comforting to have such refuge, and it is very tempting to permanently retreat to this refuge. But it’s way too quiet in there.

So if I am a little slow at times, consider that I am resting. I spend a great deal of time in research, both searching and digesting information, and measuring public responses through various social media outlets. Most days, it is like standing in the rain, some days it can be like standing naked in a sand storm.

Sometimes a quiet voice says more than thunder. I need to work on my quiet voice today. So I’ll be experimenting with a new tamale recipe, creating a balance of flavors and textures that I hope will be appealing and satisfying for my guests this evening.

 

Conflicting rights

 

 

 

 

 

il_570xN.180109589

When I was young, signs like this were in every establishment. They often applied to me and my friends, as “hippies” were not always a widely accepted group. I suspect they were used to enforce a variety of personal prejudices, but to me they meant “We would rather avoid an argument than accept your business”.

Even Jack Nicholson didn’t get what he wanted.

There is a bill in Arizona, passed by the legislature and awaiting the governor’s signature, that reminds me of why I love Arizona. Arizona is America’s crazy uncle, the one who gets invited to Thanksgiving dinner because he’s part of the family, but we keep him away from the dinner conversation. We love him, but his ideas are just a little edgy.

The bill provides the right to refuse service if such service violates one’s religious beliefs. It has been interpreted by some as legalizing discrimination, and by others as protecting business owners against discrimination.

Personally, I’m of mixed feelings. It’s not a complicated bill (read it again, it’s only two pages), it’s just a complicated application. If you refuse service to someone based on your religious beliefs, that person cannot sue you for discriminating against them. Well, they can, you just have a codified defense.

The conflict itself is multi-layered. It is framed as a gay rights issue, so I will address it in that context. A business owner (in this case a bakery) refused to make a cake for a gay wedding. The owner stated she believed that gay marriage is a sin, and that baking a cake for the wedding would be supporting a sin. The couple decided that instead of going to another baker they would go to the newspaper. Another baker provided a cake for free and the bad press put the original bakery out of business. Free market forces win, but the story doesn’t end there.

Several other similar cases have occurred around the country, with bakers and wedding photographers taking a beating because they placed their beliefs before profits. That should be their right. I say that from a religious, economic, and social point of view. The state should not be capable of forcing you to do business with anyone.

Simply going to another provider is not sufficient for some people, and they bring suit against the business. This has happened in Connecticut, Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico in the last few months, so Arizona decided to pass a statute that would protect business owners from such legal action.

Unlike other groups that are discriminated against, gay people are not always obviously gay people. Unless they’re getting married, and the absence of a member of the opposite sex in the couple is obvious. It is unlikely that the same gay couple in Arizona would have been denied the opportunity to purchase cupcakes from the baker, and if they had ordered a wedding cake without a same sex couple atop no one would have noticed, so the issues that have brought about this bill stem directly from gay marriage.

So in some ways this takes the issue from “Do you accept gay marriage?” to “Do you promote gay marriage?”. The arguments from both sides that are surfacing are reflecting the “Not in my backyard” or NIMBY emotions of many otherwise “liberal” people. It turns out everyone doesn’t feel the same way about this, or there may be shades between the black and white positions that have been staked out. The bill is designed to protect business owners in the practice of their beliefs, it does not single out a single religion or reason for being denied service. It could apply to anyone, at anytime. Without this bill it would be possible to sue a Halal butcher because he would not provide a roast pig.

What bothers me in all this is the divisiveness it accentuates. For one thing, the baker in question happened to be Christian. If there’s anyone who thinks Christians are more opposed to homosexuality than Muslims, or any other religions, please remove your head from the sand. The situation has been the exclusive realm for Christian bashers anyway, with headlines like “Would Jesus bake a gay wedding cake?”. The answer is an obvious NO, Jesus was a fisherman, not a baker. Please stop trying to define a religion you have rejected.

A person’s right to their sexual orientation does not override another person’s right to practice their religion. And vice versa. Just because photographer “A” won’t take pictures at your wedding doesn’t mean you can’t get married, or that no one else will take the gig. You have a right to be married, photographed, and served cake, just not by the individual of your choice. They have the right to say “No thank you”, you shouldn’t be able to sue them.

In this world, we make choices. If someone wishes to alienate a segment of the population (and their supporters), taking the gamble they will make up the lost business with like minded people, they should be able to do so. This is what capitalism is all about, doing what you believe in, not simply selling your soul for profits. That’s the edgy part about our crazy uncle’s ideas. They make a certain amount of sense to all of us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Priorities

Setting priorities requires understanding. Understanding not only the issues being prioritized, but the effect those priorities have.

We often refer to Mark, chapter 12 verses 41 to 44 when it comes to being charitable, “41 And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much 42 And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing.43 And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury:44 For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.

This is often interpreted as illustrating the depth of commitment of a poor widow who gives all she has in contrast to wealthy people giving what is easily afforded. It is not. Read further.

The next chapter (13) begins “And as he went out of the temple, one of his disciples saith unto him, Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here!And Jesus answering said unto him, Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.And as he sat upon the mount of Olives over against the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately,Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign when all these things shall be fulfilled?And Jesus answering them began to say, Take heed lest any man deceive you:For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.And when ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars, be ye not troubled: for such things must needs be; but the end shall not be yet.For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be earthquakes in divers places, and there shall be famines and troubles: these are the beginnings of sorrows

In this context, you can see that the widow and the wealthy had given to build a great temple, but it was a false temple. She had given all she had to scribes building great temples, when Christ, who had for her eternal life, stood only steps away, ignored.

As we make choices in life, it is our best qualities that move us to give of ourselves. We should not be blind to what it is we are giving to, and what giving denies to the the issues we have not prioritized. More importantly, we need to be selfish enough to give of ourselves to that which will benefit us. To do that, we need to understand what will actually benefit us.

Why bad things happen

“If there was a God, he wouldn’t let this happen”.

First off, what makes you think God is male? Is it not the greatest indicator of ego centrism (and sexism) to determine the creator of all that exists must fit our belief that all beings must be either male or female, and the great architect would have to be male?

The fact such a question is asked is the greatest indicator that the person asking the question is incapable of understanding the answer.

Are they asking why humans die? Well, you’ve got a choice, if you want to reproduce, you have to die. Unless you have infinite space to house all the generations of your species. We die, and we don’t know when we will die. Would you really want to know? At what point would you start saying “This is the last time I’ll do this”? How much of your life would be wasted mourning its loss?

I’ve recently become aware of a study which indicates people with Multiple Sclerosis may have a life expectancy of six years less than people without Multiple Sclerosis. What does that mean? I’ll be six years younger than all the other people around me when lightning strikes?

We all die. There is no avoiding it. The only blessing we have to make it easier is that there is absolutely nothing we could have done to avoid dying. There’s the looking both ways before walking into traffic things, but when it is your time, it is your time.

I think of John Heinz’s death. My second wife worked near where his crash took place. She had stepped out for a cigarette and saw the two aircraft, and heard the crash, her supervisor had children at the school the wreckage fell on. That evening we watched Peter Jennings on the evening news. He finished a story with the sarcastic ad lib “Which is about as likely as having a plane fall out of the sky on you”.

The next story was about John Heinz’s helicopter and the plane it collided with crashing into a schoolyard full of children.

Jennings was fairly pale to start with, when the camera came back to him he was a whiter shade. I laughed.

Like someone slipping on a banana peel, his gaffe outshone the images they couldn’t show on television. Laughter is the best medicine. Sometimes it’s the only medicine.

In the fifth chapter of Matthew, verse 45, Jesus says “That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust“. We’re all treated equally.

Fear of death is more often the fear of another’s death, the loss of companionship. We recognize our own mortality, but don’t like the way it looks on others. We know we can handle the loss of our own life, but feel sadness for our friends faced with the same loss. Why do we do this? We say “She’s in a better place”, or “He won’t suffer anymore” in the midst of our own suffering.

I can only speak from my own experience. When the doctors acknowledged they could not do anything else for Emma and assigned her to palliative care, I didn’t want her to come home on the 4 July weekend because I was worried about readmitting her to the hospital if she took a turn for the worse. She couldn’t get any worse. She was going home to die, there would be no return to the hospital. Everyone knew that but me. I’m sure Emma knew she wouldn’t be running in the tall grass again, she just wanted to be home, in her own bed, with her cat. She lived up until she died. She did not give up and live a breathing death, she was alive every moment. She had mourned other losses in her life and wasn’t about to mourn her own, that was my job.

I think the entire experience gave me new perspectives, altered my way of viewing the universe. That, I believe, is why “bad” things happen. Those of us who survive are supposed to learn and share the lesson.

Here’s what I learned. Life is for living, there will be plenty of time to be dead later. Bad things don’t happen to me, they happen to the world, I just happen to be nearby.

People who ask “why does God allow suffering” sound to me like spoiled children complaining about eating vegetables. The process of life is far more complicated than the immediate desires of the individual. We are given the opportunity to grow from all of our experiences, and should find a way to be thankful for each of them.

‘.

Morals

Morals are typically defined as rules or habits of conduct, with reference to standards of right and wrong. “Having” morals means possessing a set of rules or habits which have been developed based on standards of right and wrong.

“Right” is defined as that which is morally correct, just, or honorable.

You can see the circle in logic, an assumption of a universal “Right” and “Moral”.

So what are the odds that someone would have no morals? I’ve been accused of having no morals, because my morals were different from those of the accusers. The accusation not only taught me about the differences in cultures, it taught me about the thought process of the people who make such accusations. In the world of absolutes, there is no room for discussion.

When we judge others, we’re really judging ourselves. We are comparing ourselves, and finding one of us (typically the other person) lacking.

When we fear judgement, we have already found ourselves lacking, and are uncomfortable sharing what we’ve found.

So let me share with you my personal philosophy. Be a cowboy.

1512571_10152129754377836_1826388008_n

It doesn’t matter what people think. What other people think takes place in their minds. It is the result of their lifetime of experiences and their culture, and it more than likely has very little to do with you. Their judgement will not change your life, only theirs.

From that, and knowing just a bit about me, you can figure out the next part.

What I think isn’t important. At least, not important to you. I share my point of view, and try to explain it. It may resonate with you, causing you to explore the ideas further. It may not resonate with you, in which case you may choose to fortify your opinion by exploring the ideas further. Either way, we both “win”.

There is no absolute “Right” and “Wrong” in our world, only the right and wrong we choose for ourselves. We may share these morals with other people, in whole or in part. I find the people I share the least with the most interesting, we both have more to learn than people who have identical viewpoints. I’ve learned a lot about being a Christian from talking with Atheists. I’ve learned a lot about human rights from talking with people focused on animal rights.

The loss occurs when an opportunity to learn is wasted. If nothing else, we can learn something about ourselves from how we respond to a situation. Of course we make judgements, the conversation ends when we pass judgements.

Carry on the conversation, share your passions. Win by helping others win.

Today’s inspiration is the fourteenth chapter of Romans, summarized in the fourteenth verse. “I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean.”

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Today we celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He would have been eighty five years old.

This most unique man is celebrated with a most unique holiday. Where most holidays are considered a day off, President Clinton altered Dr. King’s Holiday, which had been signed into existence by President Reagan ten years earlier. It is universally recognized as a day “on”, a day of service.

You’ve probably been inundated with “little known facts” about Dr. King, Much like the label “New and Improved” it seems the phrase “little known facts” should be removed after a dozen websites have listed the facts for a decade. Of the three individuals currently recognized with national holidays, Dr. King is only person born in the United States (George Washington was born before the United States existed).

There are many stories (and legends) about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. the civil rights leader, but the greatness of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. the man is why he is commemorated with a national holiday. One of the simplest is the observation that there are very few images of Dr. King smoking a cigarette. There was a stigma within he church at the time, but the reason he expressed to others was that he didn’t want to set a bad example for his son. One of the most influential men of our time was concerned about the example smoking might have for his son.

Dr. King was brilliant, having skipped both ninth and twelfth grades and entering Morehouse College at the age of fifteen, an impressive achievement, particularly for a young black man in 1944 Atlanta Georgia. He graduated in 1948 and enrolled in Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester Pennsylvania. I’ve been to Crozer several times and never noticed any markers commemorating Dr. King. He received a Ph. D. in Systematic Theology from Boston University in 1955, having already accepted a position as Pastor at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery Alabama. In December, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to surrender her seat on a bus to a white man, and Dr. King was thrust into the limelight as the leader of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which lasted over a year.

In his address to the NAACP on 1 January 1957, Dr. King spoke to the challenges addressing civil rights within a political framework. “Actually, the Negro has been betrayed by both the Republican and the Democratic party. The Democrats have betrayed him by capitulating to the whims and caprices of the Southern Dixiecrats. The Republicans have betrayed him by capitulating to the blatant hypocrisy of reactionary right wing northern Republicans. And this coalition of southern Dixiecrats and right wing reactionary northern Republicans defeats every bill and every move towards liberal legislation in the area of civil rights”.

Dr King was an admirer of Mohandis Gandhi, citing his use of non-violence in his 1964 Nobel acceptance speech “a magnificent way by Mohandas K. Gandhi to Challenge the might of the British Empire…he struggled only with the weapons of truth, soul force, non-injury and courage”.

Knowing these things about Dr. King, knowing the depth of his commitments to his beliefs, it confuses me when people use his image to further goals that he quite obviously would not only not endorse, but most probably rail against.

On the evening of 4 April 1968, Dr. King stepped out onto the balcony of the Lorraine motel in Memphis Tennessee for a cigarette.

From the ballistic evidence, Dr. King was leaning downward, possibly tying his shoe, when a .30-06 bullet struck his cheek, breaking his jaw, then ran down his neck, severing his jugular vein and breaking several vertebrae as it traveled down his spinal cord.

James Earl Ray, who had escaped from Missouri State Penitentiary the year before and had in the interim traveled extensively about North America, confessed to firing that shot after he was captured at London’s Heathrow Airport on his way to Rhodesia, where he intended to live under Ian Smith’s white minority regime.

Ray entered a plea of guilty in order to avoid a death sentence and received a sentence of ninety nine years in prison. Days later he recanted his plea, and began his story of a conspiracy to kill Dr. King. He stated he had believed that George Wallace would be elected President and would pardon him. He spent the remainder of his life unsuccessfully attempting to withdraw his guilty plea. He died in 1998, after escaping and being recaptured in 1977.

In 1997, almost thirty years after Dr. King’s death, his son Dexter, who had been seven years old when Dr. King was assassinated, met with Ray in Prison. Dexter was convinced of Ray’s innocence, and supported his efforts to obtain a retrial. Loyd Jowers, the owner of Jim’s Grill in Memphis, had been alluding to a conspiracy to kill Dr. King since the early 1990s, and after Ray’s death, the King family brought a wrongful death suit against Jowers and “other unknown co-conspirators”. Despite the main witness being taped admitting the story as false, and Jowers’ sister testifying she had participated in creating the false story in order to make money selling the story, The civil jury found Jowers and “others, including government agencies” participated in a conspiracy to assassinate Dr. King in 1999. Jowers died in May 2000.

The Memphis county prosecutor had said on several occasions that Jowers’ claims were without merit, but to be fair, they could have been co-conspirators. No government agencies were specified in the verdict, nor was the level (local, state or federal) of the agencies specified. A 2000 Department of Justice report concluded that Jower’s claims  were not substantiated nor credible and that they found significant evidence to refute them. Nonetheless, the King family prefers to believe that James Earl Ray did not kill Dr. King.

Following this sequence of events, there remains the pervasive story of a “hidden truth“, that a jury found the United States Federal Government guilty of murdering Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

That such a story exists detracts from the truths of Dr. King’s life, a life dedicated to truth and justice. Perpetuating the story eradicates any shadow of credibility the person spreading it may have had. Dr. King would not approve of such a grotesque misinterpretation of the truth, and I believe he would be appalled that it is connected to his memory.

I think he’d be more troubled by that than by all the people who can’t bring themselves to speak his name, and call him MLK. He and his father are named for the reformer, Martin Luther, and his name is Doctor Martin Luther King, junior. He was an American who changed the world.

“Religious” violence

In every discussion about religion, the issue of religious violence comes up. Typically it is the “atheists” who will say “More people have died over religion than for any other reason”

Ahem

I am unaware of the part religion plays in heart disease, or malaria, or AIDS. In fact, there is evidence indicating a relationship between being religious and better health. Certainly most religious practices guide the follower towards healthier lifestyle choices, yet thirteen million people died of heart disease and stroke in the last year for which statistics are available.

As it is, only one out of ten deaths can be attributed to violence.

So then the anti-religious person responds, “Well, what I meant was that more violent deaths are caused by religion”.

Really?

So the majority of the 1.3 million people who died in traffic accidents were driving to Church?

There are a number of ways to quantify causes of death, my favorite report (I’m a guy who used to subscribe to the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report) is called “Deaths by mass unpleasantness“, but a more conservative measure by the World Health Organization suggests that of the one in ten deaths caused by violence, one in ten of those is homicide, and I’m fairly sure that not all of those were religiously motivated.

You could certainly factor in such things as “Death by oppression”, but there is no evidence that a significant number of people have died because of religion. Not even when you include historical atrocities.

“But really” he pleads, trying to vindicate his position in the face of factual evidence, “More wars have been fought over religion than any other reason”.

Guess again

According to the Encyclopedia of Wars, of the 1,763 major conflicts in recorded history, only 123 of them can be classified as having been fought over religious differences. That’s less than 7 percent.

It was funny when George Carlin said “More people have been killed in the name of God than for any other reason”, but that was the seventies, and we’ve had forty years to check the facts. And George taught me to question everything, including him. The people who run around quoting him weren’t really listening to him.

Judaism wasn’t a threat to Germany, but Adolf Hitler exploited religious prejudices into a unifying hatred, from which he propelled his thousand year Reich into a twelve year suicidal spiral. Wars are fought over real estate, religion is often used as an excuse or incitement.

Our most current experience with “religious wars” are not religious in nature at all. They are power struggles between greedy leaders, and greed is a sin in every religion I know of. Exploiting a largely illiterate and uninformed populace, claims of religious righteousness are made. Any student of the religions involved knows that murder is not the prescribed remedy for conflicts within or without the church.

Which brings me to my summation. “Fewer people have died due to Religion than any other cause”. Immediately you know the statement is false, more people have died due to religion than have been trampled by elephants. When we consider the violence caused by religion, we need to quantify the statement. I’m not even going to argue the balance of good spirituality has provided to mankind, damage is not undone by good works. I will argue that of the violence inflicted in the name of religion, very little has been caused in the active and prescribed practice of religions.

What would Jesus do?

There will be those among you who find this irreverent. That, I believe, is the point.

We are all too familiar with the shortest verse in the Bible, John 11:35 “Jesus wept”. There is no counterpoint, no scripture that reads “Jesus laughed”, but are we to believe that he delivered all of his parables without jest? Many stories invoke a sarcasm that must have been delivered with a smile, and I can’t see rejoicing, which Jesus often did, without a smile. As children flocked to him were they attracted by a scowl?

There are many individual moments in the Life of Jesus that are not recorded. There is a gap of eighteen years in the gospel, and much speculation as to what he might have done in that time. The purpose of the gospel is to reveal the critical moments in Jesus’ life, the intervening years summed up in Luke 2:52 “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man”.

Some Anglicans believe that Jesus traveled to England, there are Buddhists who believe he traveled to India. There is one story that he traveled to what is now Texas, where the crowds were fed with the meat of a pig that had been anointed with the holy trinity of spices, garlic, chili, and cumin, after which its skin was passed the length of assembly, often one hundred yards, the members of the crowd raising their hands to the sky each time the pigskin reached its goals. This theory is backed by the Mormons, who believe Jesus returned to North America after his crucifixion, on a Thursday in November, where he met with disciples from the UTA and A&M. Following this meeting the sunrise was marked with a maroon sky, and sunset skies were burnt orange. Meetings continue to this day, with groups of eleven men to signify the absence of Judas, led by a Messiah (or “Coach” in English) gathering every Sunday.

Interpreting an untold story can take you anywhere.

Which brings me to another untold story, what Jesus had to say about homosexuality.

Nothing.

Anything we attribute to Jesus on the subject is by inference. Maybe he didn’t mention it because it was obvious, like some of the other things he didn’t mention (bestiality, pedophilia). Maybe he didn’t mention it because it wasn’t important. What he did speak against was infidelity, and as same sex marriage was not mentioned, any homosexual acts would be outside of marriage.

So how did he treat those who committed the sin of adultery? In the eighth chapter of John, he comes across a woman accused of adultery, and is asked “Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?” to which he replies He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her“, and then finding himself alone with her says “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more“.

From this I infer Jesus’ teachings focus on that which is important. While adultery is a sin, judgement is reserved for God. Homosexuality may or may not be a sin, but judgement is reserved for God.

We are faced with many lessons on what we should and should not do, from following the Gospels it appears the more important a lesson, the more often it is repeated. Loving our enemies is mentioned repeatedly, forgiving transgressions is mentioned several times, and admonishments to reserve judgements to God number in the scores. Homosexuality, zero. So if we’re keeping score, it appears Jesus was much more concerned with what we should do than what we shouldn’t.

This is not to say our actions are unimportant, just that our positive actions are likely to be found more worthy of God’s grace than our negative actions would be of his retribution. But that all remains up to God.

 

 

True Believers

I learned a new word today. “Takfirism“. Takfirism is an internal conflict within Islam, in which a “Takfiri” accuses another Muslim of failing to follow true Islam. 

Oddly enough, this morning I was reading an old email from a Muslim friend, in which she said “some Arabic words need 3 or 4 English words describe just one complete meaning of an Arabic word”. Learning about Takfirism, I realized we have the same concept in Christianity. I’m not certain that Catholics are Christians. How many time have you heard one person claim that another is not following the teachings of their church. In English, we use six words. “The pot calling the kettle black”. Typically Christians don’t kill Catholics except in Northern Ireland, but it hasn’t been unusual for Christians to uphold their belief in the right to life by depriving a doctor of his.

The word came up as I was going over some information from Iran. While the worldwide population of Muslims is about 90% Sunni and 10% Shia, in Iran that proportion is reversed. Takfiri is a term usually applied to fundamentalist Sunnis, and Iran is now using the term to blame all conflicts in Muslim countries on Takfirism, funded by Saudi Arabians and “other regional monarchies”. Apparently, geography and political science are not very popular disciplines in Iran, because the United States and Israel are often referred to as being among those regional monarchies.

I was following a story about the mourning for the eighth Imam of Shia Islam, Imam Reza, who had been poisoned in the year 818 on this date. I was a little confused, it was my understanding that martyrs went to paradise, shouldn’t they be happy for him? Yes, the cynical “I guess that’s how long 72 virgins last” crossed my mind, but after going over a couple of translations of verse o56.036 and it appears that the reward is perpetual virgins. Unlike suicide bombers who defy the Muslim prohibition against suicide, Iman Reza was a true martyr and should be seen as residing in paradise.

As I read further, it turns out the person who poisoned Imam Reza was the Abbasid Caliph Ma’mun, a Muslim whose goal was to end the fighting between Shia and Sunni, an anti-Takfiri. So I’m not sure why he poisoned Reza and how Reza was a martyr for Islam if he was executed in accordance with Sharia. What is obvious is that Abbasid Caliph Ma’mun, though remembered as a judicious sovereign, failed miserably in joining the Sunnis and Shias.

So takfirism prevails, only today it’s the Shias claiming the Sunnis are not true to Islam, and claiming it is Sunni takfiris that are causing conflict.

Do you have a headache yet? I do.

My Muslim friend, a practicing Muslim, has difficulty interpreting the Qur’an. How am I supposed to understand Islam? I understand this much. Believers know that God will pass judgement after we leave this state of being. Non-believers think it is their job to pass judgement. Politicians blame unrest on the segment of the religion they don’t agree with. In those ways, Islam is like every other religion on the planet.

Apologies

The reason for apologies is not to sooth the person who has been injured. It is to better the soul of the person offering the apology.

Forgiveness should be given regardless of apology, in fact it is better without an apology. Forgiveness is the grace of the injured. Demanding an apology is a lack of grace. Desiring an apology is hoping that the person you have forgiven will grow from the damage they have done. The reason bad things happen is so we can all grow, victims and perpetrators alike.

A few years back my step son showed a great lack of respect for his mother. We demanded an apology, wanting him to acknowledge the pain he had caused. Instead, he refused. He said, “I’m not going to apologize because I’m not sorry”. At that moment he earned a great deal of respect from me. He was not going to give a phony, meaningless apology. I realized that he had adequate character to learn from the situation, and some time later he did make amends. I think we all learned from that incident.

A few other people out there have displayed only their weaknesses, we all travel through life on separate paths. I was speaking with someone about one particularly disappointing individual the other day. He has my forgiveness, but I will never let him close enough to do any more harm. In Matthew chapter 18, “21 Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?22 Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.” It takes a lifetime to forgive that often, until the only response left is to expel the person from your life, as earlier in Matthew 18:17 “And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.” So it goes.

The essence of an apology is the recognition of injury, and the desire to cause no further pain. In the case of spreading hurtful words, an apology does not require the strength to face the injured party(s), but a first step would be to stop causing pain. A person of character might rescind his comments, “Bob, you know when I said this? Turns out it wasn’t true”. A truly weak person continues spreading the story, knowing it to be false, to preserve their own ego. That person requires forgiveness, an exposure to grace, more than anyone. Sometime after seventy times seven times it is time to just walk away, as a final act of grace.

These things have been difficult for me to learn. My life has been entwined in repairing things that are broken, giving up was never an option. I wanted apologies not to ease my pain, but to satisfy my need to repair the other person. Some people can’t be fixed. It was never my job to fix them, just to give them opportunities, which I have, as they have given me the opportunity to grow.

In the fifth chapter of Matthew, Christ gives what I consider to be our most important lesson, “43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.46 For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?47 And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

Those that hurt you give you people to forgive, and for that alone you should love them. Continue to aim for perfection, which in this case means “completion”. We exist in our own bubbles, other people are only opportunities to respond gracefully, or less so.

The most wonderful time of the year

On Wednesday we celebrate the birth of Christ. This is a time of much reverence.

Whatever your beliefs, you are probably aware of the existence of Jesus of Nazareth. You may not be aware of his teachings, I cannot comprehend why the message of loving one another has not caught on, but I guess if you were trying to spread an opposite message you might start by masking the truth of your opponent. Behind the dogma of the various churches, hidden behind the dull passages of the old testament, the message of love and peace is there for anyone to see.

There is a fair argument that Jesus was not born in December. There is widespread skepticism that he was the son of God, but there is ample evidence that he existed.

So a man comes to a part of the world torn by religious conflict before and since, shares the message that God loves you and wants you to love each other, and there’s some reason to deny his very existence? Might that reason be to deny the message? It isn’t Jesus’ “birthday” that we celebrate, it is his birth,and thus his life, and with his life the message he shared.

The message is what we honor every 25 December. The idea. The concept that God is willing to give of himself to us, and in honor of that, we should give of ourselves to each other. If you don’t believe in God, how does that make love a bad thing?

This Christmas, take a deep breath and contemplate what the holiday celebrates. Release yourself from the shackles of ritual, whether that ritual is blind adherence to the practices of a church, or blind avoidance of the message of Christ. Read about Jesus of Nazareth, the book about him is everywhere.

Unconditional Love

Today I’m going to bounce around a bit. The topic is unconditional love, and though we often talk about it, we seldom practice it. It’s hard, we are immersed in a world of quid pro quo, expecting something in return from those we love appears natural. But that is not what love is about.

First Corinthians chapter 13 is often recited at weddings. It speaks of the attributes of love, verses 4 through 7 are familiar “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things”. But the part that I want to explore today is the first three verses, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.”

Love happens. It is not a product that you can create or earn. It is it’s own “reward”. I see it as a gift from God. God loves us unconditionally, and as we know God, we know love. It still isn’t easy. I still find myself expecting something in return for love at times, but as Tina Turner said “What’s love, but a second hand emotion”. My love is within me, it does not compel another to reciprocate in any way, and certainly not in a way I desire. My second wife would often say “but I cleaned the kitchen for you”, when what I had wanted had nothing to do with the kitchen. I don’t know if she did what she did as an expression of love or payment of a debt. It doesn’t matter. I claimed to love her, yet I expected a quid pro quo on my terms.

Jumping to a section of the fourth chapter of First John, “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.10 Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another12 No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us“.

Love is the manifestation of God within us. It may be, if there is a measure, the measure of our acceptance of God’s presence with us. Are we merely clanging cymbals, speaking of love but not knowing it? Without love we are nothing, we can choose to define love however we wish, but saying it doesn’t make it so. You have to do it. Love one another, without expectation, without condition, and you will know love. You will find what you are seeking, the fulfillment you dreamed of, by knowing love.

One last bounce, to the fifth chapter of Romans, which speaks to the unconditional nature of God’s love. The theme is repeated throughout the chapter, I’m fond of the eight verse “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”.

Do not let the evil in the world stand in the way of love. It’s not easy, if it was easy everyone would do it. But it’s certainly worth it.