Category Archives: Religion

May You Never…

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May you never…

I wrote this for a friend, who like so many of us, struggles with those who voluntarily and contrarily reside in a harsher world than we do. My apologies for the tone. I wrote it in one sitting, with my mind wide open.

1) Never tell someone that they weren’t bullied or that they are blowing it out of proportion. Fear sits in an invisible nest and those who inflict it often hide behind a smile and perfect teeth. Failure to protect those who need it is a hallmark of pathology.

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2) Never tell someone that they weren’t sexually harassed or that most of the cases are blown out of proportion. It is incredible how many people have been abused or harassed and have never spoken of it.

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3) Never tell a person sitting in a wheelchair or dealing with a disability that he or she has ignorant ideas about disability or how society can make their lives easier. We can endure a little discomfort if it makes another person’s life more manageable and dignified. In a rich society, we can also certainly afford a few dollars to magnify everyone’s ability to live a fuller life. Most of us sit in confusion as we hear people argue against such a fundamental idea.

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4) Never attempt to tell a black person that slavery had its benefits, about the ‘real’ reasons the Civil War was fought – or that there are no lingering, pervasive effects of discrimination in modern society.

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5) Never forget that many people endure hardship, suffering, and loss through no fault of their own. If you’re sitting in a house with granite countertops and most of the people surrounding you are similar to you in demographics, take a moment to give thanks rather than drag out the clichéd argument of merit or hard work. Many people do everything right and still suffer. If you are reading these words and think that just because you have granite countertops, that I’m referring to you, you are missing the point entirely. If you worked hard to get where you are, all good people will be glad for you. Your success is not the issue.

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6) Never insist that a person chooses their sexuality. I didn’t choose mine. Did you? If this kind of issue is important to you, attacking a person for being gay is exactly the same mentality that allowed blacks to be bought and sold, attacked, and vilified. The greater your reluctance to accept this as true is inversely proportional to how likely it is that you didn’t learn this prejudice – you acquired it.

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7) Never make an argument that a woman can’t or shouldn’t hold any position, office or authority that a man can. All qualifications exist independently of the letter on a birth certificate and should be judged accordingly.

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8) Never forget that being right will not make your life easier if you are shouting it with a snarled lip or with a repetitious and malignant tone. Preach through practice and let your life shine as an undeniable example.

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9) Never overlook that all human beings burn with the certainty that they have the right interpretation of religion. Most have become adept at citations, justifications, and all manner of argument to buttress the beliefs they hold. Most good people know that “Be kind” and “Do as little harm as possible” are key components of any religion and yet we violate these basic ideas from fear and pride. Religion which demands that we attack that of another fails to see the seed of its own demise.

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10) Never stop reminding yourself that although we may have perfected some small part of our lives or society as a whole, there will always be major roadblocks and setbacks. We are all going to encounter people who are fearful or looking back to the past as their anchor. We blind ourselves to our own ignorance and perpetuate the cycle by making decisions in society which veer us off course.

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Be who you are and live a good life in the best way you can.

If you feel like you need to shout in the face of disagreement, stop and consider.

If you feel the need to silence words which conflict with your own, pause.

Above religion, race, sex, creed or geography, fight for the side in which the lesser needs a hand.

 

The Rain Baptizes Indiscriminately…

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The late October weather had finally succumbed to the pattern nature intended. It was raining lightly when the man started walking and the temperature had dropped to the low 50s. Leaves left in clumps would cause his footing to slip unexpectedly as he glided across the pavement. The rain had baptized everything overnight.

Although it was lightly misting when he started, the rain had strengthened as he trekked across the innards of the city on a lazy Sunday late morning. His glasses began to look like the upper glass of an aquarium, beads of water obscuring both lenses. The man removed his glasses and headphones as the heavier rain fell. He continued on his way, head up, and frequently smiling though, as the brisk walk was even more enjoyable in the rain and cool air. Except for a couple of other older people enjoying the solitude, the man was left to walk in peace.

A couple of blocks away from the main street, vehicles were hastily exiting the modern and imposing protestant church. Its structures had made tentacles toward the sky and the surrounding urban landscape. Its recent history was one of success if such things were measured by the weight of the coffers and the number of worshippers filling the seats. The local eateries would soon be flooded with those who had just finished their services. The man could almost imagine each driver licking his or her lips as their respective stomachs rumbled. (Faith is difficult with a distracting appetite.)

The man neared the intersection blocked by a canyon of repair and excavation in the middle of the street. He passed a beautiful vintage theatre being remodeled as he approached. Its marbled exterior shone against the graying air. A large white Tahoe SUV approached from the man’s right. As both the SUV and the man reached the intersection, the driver’s window of the SUV lowered. A middle-aged man leaned toward the opening.

The man already had his polite “No” ready, as he imagined the man leaving church was going to offer him a ride, given the weather.

“You’re going to catch a cold, walking in this rain and cold,” he said. Without further comment, he put his window up and drove across the main street, leaving the man momentarily surprised by the driver’s words.

The man shook his head and couldn’t help but laugh, wondering to himself how the driver thought he might have survived so many decades of living if he truly had no understanding of the weather and one’s health.

As the man made his long return back down the main street, he drank in the birds chirping in the newly-installed trees lining the road, the darkened storefronts, and the myriad signs each business chose to place in its windows. After passing the excavated canyon in the street from the other side of the road, he could hear voices as he approached the corner storefront on the next corner. Outside, he noticed a table placed perpendicular to the front, with a flat propane-fueled stovetop next to it. On the table were covered dishes of food, plates, and various cooking items. Even at a few paces away, the man could feel the warmth emanating from the cooktop outside. Above it, the man noted that the storefront had been converted to a Spanish-speaking evangelical place of worship. Just as he crossed in front of the open door behind the cooktop, a small older lady stepped away from the inside wall where she had been leaning.

Looking inside, he noted row after row of metal chairs, some of them occupied by people, all of them animatedly talking to one another. The small lady bid him good morning in Spanish, then English. She waved her hand across the table and asked him in the softest voice whether he was interested in fellowship or perhaps a meal – or a snack to take with him as he walked.

Despite the chill of the air, the man felt his heart beat palpably in surprise from the woman’s kind offer. He took a moment to catch up to the surprise of her offer and then declined. “No, but thank you so much. You don’t know how welcome such an offer is. If you will permit, I will drop by some other day and join you all for conversation and several bites to eat.”

The lady smiled again and told the man, “Anytime. Where there’s food, there’s always an open invitation.”

As the man walked away, his feet seemed lighter and his heart unburdened.

He wondered how such a small place could easily put into practice one of the most basic principles of all the compassionate prophets: that all religion makes its appeal through an offered hand or warm smile and never through accusation.

In peace, he went; so too, that you might as well.

Dinosaurians and Trump

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Many of us share moments, some sublime, some perplexing.

Recently, a respected member of the community invited me to his house for lunch and a bit of jawing. (I know what you’re thinking – he couldn’t be illustrious if he were having me over at his house unless a lost bet was involved.)

One of the great stories he told me was about one of his neighbors. My friend told me that this neighbor knew how to build a car from scratch, plumb a house, wire an entire building, and seemed to know a little about every subject on the planet. My friend had always thought of him as a very smart, capable person.

…Until one fateful day when his neighbor extemporaneously deviated off the normal course of conversation and insisted that the world was only a few thousand years old. My friend is an elder statesman with a wide education, has traveled all over the world, served in the military and worked in a career helping people his entire life – so he’s been around the widest assortment of humans you can imagine. To say that he was flummoxed insufficiently describes the shock of the revelation that his neighbor is a “Dinosaurian,” one of the people who ascribe to the variety of nonsense that humans roamed the earth with Dinosaurs or that the planet is actually very young. Most of the people who believe such things are religious fundamentalists, but some are simply like the Flat-Earthers, cherry-picking whatever conspiracy theory fits their ideas.

Afterward, it seemed as if everything were about his neighbor’s insistence that the planet wasn’t ancient. No matter what the subject might be, my friend either couldn’t get the nonsense of his neighbor’s belief out of his head or his neighbor, previously silent on the issue, seemed to harp on and on about nothing else, as if mentioning it just once opened an invisible floodgate to his nonsensical ideas.

My friend told me that story to underscore the continuing amazement he has toward those who chose Trump as their president- or who continue to defend his actions now that he’s assaulted facts, news organizations, religions, and rational public discourse. Keep in mind, my friend is decades older than me. He also voted Republican all his life, even though he was more progressive than the party itself. He, of course, didn’t vote for Trump in the last election. He couldn’t have imagined voting for Clinton, but he knew a vote for anyone but the major candidates was a vote for Trump, having lived through several election cycles which were disrupted by left-field contenders.

Until this election, he could imagine that the choice wasn’t so grotesque as to be an apocalyptic choice either way. When he thinks of intelligent people voting for Trump, he imagines an army comprised of people like his neighbor, snidely ignoring the mountain of evidence at their disposal. He knows that reason didn’t bring most of them to their decision, even though they’ll insist otherwise. He watches as those who should know better fan the flame of prejudice toward other religions, something he’s observed go terribly wrong in other places all over the world. He’s seen how effective such fear mongering can be in a population. Watching people lose their insurance in the midst of so much concentrated wealth also should be sending a red flag to those in power, in his opinion.

For my friend, he holds out hope that the younger generation will continue to advance the progress we’ve made as a society, one dedicated to helping one another; being smarter, more compassionate and better human beings. He knows that people who voted Trump are either a bump in the road and soon to be passed over by time – or the warning bell for civilized, rational society. He’s not at all confident that we won’t descend into authoritarianism or some hybrid religious state.

 

 

 

The Sunrise Admonition Principle

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If you post glowing sunrises speaking of the beauty of god’s creation but privately judge gays, the impoverished, addicts, Hispanics or Muslims, you are missing the point of a graceful god. If it irks you to read this, imagine the hearts of those you are judging as they live their lives surrounded by distrustful eyes and dark wishes.

In so doing, you are also being dishonest. You are only sharing those things which serve as window dressing, the reflection of things you know which will draw no controversy.

All of us can look at the easy things and rejoice.

Few of us can see our own prejudice against the ‘other,’ much less admit it to the world. Like the admiration for the sunrise, however, the bile of dislike you might feel toward marginalized groups is just as much a part of who you are as that appreciation for light.

If I know you deeply, I can look at your picture of the colorful sunrise and smile – but not fully, as I understand that behind that window you present, there is a sneer of superiority, one which discolors my regard for your worldview.

Who you are is both the sunrise and the concealed dark shadows you guard so closely inside your heart.

Share who you are or change those things which shame you once revealed.

A Word About Religious Expression

From a local pastor and friend of mine: “…I insist on a secular government that prevents any religion from having power in public discourse and allows people who are not interested in religion to be left alone. I believe that my pursuit of ‘the Holy’ is to be between my own ears and will be reflected in my daily relationships with those around me. Be Loving, full of Laughter, and overflowing with Generosity and Grace…”

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An Imperfect Commentary on the Death Penalty

This is an imperfect commentary from the last time the death penalty was a hot topic. I didn’t share it because I seem to have a minority voice.

The fact that DNA evidence has exonerated so many innocent prisoners should give incredible pause to those so assured that justice is both possible and being served when we collectively execute someone. Almost 3/4 of those wrongfully convicted had eyewitness testimony used in their convictions. Imagine being accused of a crime you didn’t commit, your fellow citizens testifying that they saw you in the course of the crime and that the State decides to put you to death. “Yes, it is a small price to pay for the greater good,” you might say, but only because it is not you or someone you know being wrongly accused. It’s true that these cases are rare compared to the volume of our criminal justice system. If you can imagine yourself being accused and facing the death penalty, though, it might introduce the reality of swallowing that sentence.

This argument isn’t even about the rights of the victims or whether most of those convicted of murder have indeed ‘earned’ their sentence; it’s about the undeniable hatefulness of using a system known to have sentenced people to die for crimes they didn’t commit. It is a specious argument to tell those who are against the death penalty that they should be thinking only of the victim, as any system which kills people without being completely sure of its methodology is suspect. I find it difficult to reconcile the clamor for death absent certainty; until we as fallible and negligent humans figure this out, we must proceed with caution.

As a human, I do understand fully the urge to repay monstrous acts with repayment in kind. It’s just difficult for me to translate that to granting the State the same right. The indifference with which the State addresses its business makes it incapable of those qualities which make us all better human beings. I admit my contradictions in this regard.

I can more easily imagine looking the other way while an outraged father kills the monster who has killed his child than I can watch as the State pretends that it hasn’t repeatedly acted wrongly in the past. It’s too high of a price to pay. If, on the other hand, you are certain that all those charged are truly guilty, then proceed with a clear conscience. I won’t judge, but I do look askance at our collective disregard for how disjointed and untenable much of our justice system really can be. This is doubly true especially after personally hearing the shenanigans of a jury in an actual murder trial. I have no expectation or delusion of fairness. There is no jury of our peers, no prosecutorial objectiveness, nor unilateral access to fairness for anyone caught up in the judicial system.

Yes, I do think of the victims and I often wonder how it is that there isn’t more violence in the world. I think to my own childhood and am perplexed that someone in my immediately family wasn’t killed. (Except for my father; his offense was driving while wildly intoxicated and killing my cousin.) I don’t look to religion to guide my beliefs in this regard, because forgiveness toward anyone who has harmed a loved one is a case-by-case scenario, with only those affected capable of offering it. It’s intensely private and personal. I would never sit in judgment for how they choose to react or for their support of a specific punishment.

An eye-for-an-eye conveys a certain satisfaction, of that there is little doubt. But we must be sure that the eye we are poking is the one which first gave offense. Even so, we must be compelled toward reluctance lest we give away a small sliver of our progress as humans.

I’m conflicted about the death penalty in ways I can’t accurately express, for reasons anyone who has ever suffered loss will understand. It is precisely because of that loss I would hope that those on the other side of the coin are guided by a higher cause.

A Modern Hymn

Alternate words written for  one of the few people who reaches even heathens like me. The words are written to replace the hit song, “Sister Christian” by Night Ranger:  “Sister Christian” by Night Ranger   –Link

(If you would rather hear the instrumental version, click here:  “Sister Christian” Instrumental –Link

The greatest folly for anyone is to believe he or she along possesses the answer for all others sharing this planet. It is the certainty of thought that leads to the certainty of action. Each of us distrusts that hidden thing in others which draws them into a narrowing path of lesser acceptance, especially in matters of faith. Even among believers, there is no consensus for all matters which affect our shared world.

Instead of shouting the answer: be the answer. Be the example which requires no explanation. If you are the beacon, people will see your joy, your love, and the example of your life and come to you, asking what divine secret powers your life. That moment is the truest means to open your way of life to them and share it.

People are capable of viciousness regardless of race, religion, color or creed. I use ‘vicious Christian’ as a metaphor, rather than an accusation. Regardless of our specific beliefs, few people would deny that the example of Jesus exemplifies the best qualities we are capable of practicing: ‘do unto others’ and compassion in word and deed. What you believe is a whisper compared to the shout of your daily interaction with others, especially towards those who don’t share your views. We can’t know what resides in your heart, but we can easily measure the content of what emanates from your life.

vicious Christian
oh the time has come
to pretend you’re not the only one
with a say, okay?
why you arguing
and shouting so much
you know this world
don’t want to fight no more
with you, it’s true

it’s dangerous
what’s the price to fight
if we lose what’s in sight
no one can claim the right

soon enough
it might be you outcast
but we’ll protect you
down to the last
ok, let’s pray
vicious Christian
we all love our lives
don’t forget that it’s over soon
it’s true

it’s true…. yeah

dangerous
we don’t need to fight
let’s be each others light
so we’ll finally unite