Blowing up our violent god

I awoke this Sunday morning to a disturbing but not surprising newspaper story about a suburban Chicago teen, Adel Daoud, who tried to blow up a downtown bar full of patrons. His goal: To kill as many Americans as he could—and not just any Americans. He specifically targeted bar patrons with his car bomb because drinking alcohol is prohibited by Islam.

This was to be an act of jihad. The authoritative Dictionary of Islam defines jihad as: “A religious war with those who are unbelievers in the mission of Muhammad … enjoined especially for the purpose of advancing Islam and repelling evil from Muslims.”

The teen reportedly told undercover agents that he wanted to make it clear that his jihad was a terrorist attack. He didn’t want Americans to dismiss it as just another act of a mentally ill person, specifically referencing the recent Aurora, Colorado movie theater massacre.

According to the criminal charges filed against him, Daoud allegedly sent an email declaring: “I am trying to do something [an attack] here [in the United States] . . . pray to Allah for my safety and that I’m successful in this life and the hereafter.”

His message gets to the heart of this drama: There are those who believe that their god sanctions the use of weapons of mass destruction. In fact, Allah will protect them in this life and reward them in the afterlife, if they successfully murder their disobedient brothers and sisters.

Gun-shaped Holy BibleShocked? Appalled? Can’t understand why anyone would believe something so preposterous?

You shouldn’t be surprised at all. Most Americans worship a God who solves problems by murdering humans. This angry, vindictive god is at the core of Judaism, Christianity and Islamic faiths.

In the first chapter of the Judeo-Christian Bible, God kills “every living thing”—from pregnant women and newborns to plants, trees and wildlife.

The body count rises as the book progresses. By some accounts, the Bible records God killing more than two million of His own children. By contrast, Satan kills a whopping 10.

But that’s not all: God orders us to lay waste to each other, too. Using Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, I counted more than 50 circumstances under which the so-called “word of God” mandates us to murder a member of our human family for the strangest of reasons. (Good thing we’re disobedient heathens. We’d all be serving life sentences in state and federal prisons.)

Bible says God killed more people than Satan

dangerousintersection.org

For example, the Bible tells us that children who curse their parents “shall surely be put to death.” (Exodus 21:17) Women who are not virgins when they marry “shall be executed.” (Deut. 22:13-21).

Is this the word of God or merely insight into the controlling behaviors of ancient men, as recorded by scribes? Did God become less inhumane, as some would have us believe, when they contrast the God of the Old Testament with the God of the New Testament? Or is it more likely that humans gradually evolved beyond these particular barbaric behaviors?

If the Almighty can’t think of a more humane way to solve problems, how can mere mortals be expected to do so?

It’s a compelling question that attorney Eric Veith approached from a different angle in his March 2007 post on the Dangerous Intersection blog, “Does reading violent scripture make people violent?”  Veith cited a study that had recently been released in which researchers asked 500 students to read a violent Bible passage.

Half of the students were allowed to read through to the conclusion of the Old Testament story. Only those students knew that God had ordered members of select Israeli tribes to retaliate for a woman’s murder by completely destroying several cities. (Perhaps a precursor to the urban riots following the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination?)

Researchers then conducted an exercise to measure the students’ aggression after reading the violent passages. Here’s what they discovered:

Those who were told that God had sanctioned the violence . . . were more likely to act aggressively.

Let’s connect the dots: Our beliefs about God—what God is and what God does—informs, supports and sometimes even dictates our actions. The behavior of humans throughout recorded history reflects this. The results of this study merely punctuate it.

The violence we now experience on a daily basis, in the Middle East and America’s inner cities, reflects our thinking and our beliefs. And it reminds us why we have been told to let peace “begin with me”: As long as one of us worships a God who solves problems by murdering, torturing, crucifying, condemning, harshly judging and angrily retaliating against members of the human family, none of us will have peace.

What is it that you believe about God?

A Bag Lady’s Holy Week

Bag LadyRarely do I want to be that one, the bag lady. But for the next few weeks, I’ll be happily living out of suitcases. The first stop on my journey is the Balcony of Life, where I will stay until Easter is good and over. 

In years past, I’ve tried to tough it out and remain on Earth’s stage during Holy Week’s incessant demonization of the Divine, even though the bludgeoning of God’s holiness annoys me to no end.

As Einstein said, “Doing the same thing, and expecting a different result, is insanity.” So this year, I’m changing course: Rather than take myself there, I’m bringing myself here—to the Balcony. Memo to Self: Install an escalator! There’s no graceful way to lug all this stuff up these stairs.

Hmmm, even from the lower balcony, I can see what a blessing the soul we knew as Trayvon Martin has been for race relations in America. He has both awakened us to our tendency to label, judge and respond to another member of the human family based on superficial characteristics such as skin color and attire. He also has stirred our conflicted sense of justice.

As a species, we are still evolving, still trying to resolve our love-hate relationship with violence and vengeance. Sometimes brutalizing an innocent member of our human family is unacceptable to us. More frequently—in fact, daily—brutality is absolutely OK with us.

Why is the murder of one innocent child of God reviled and the brutal murder of another revered?

Trayvon’s murder falls under the unacceptable category. Hundreds of thousands of citizens in this mostly Christian nation have taken to the streets in outrage over the inhumanity of vigilante George Zimmerman and the insensitivity of the non-vigilant Sanford, Florida Police Department. We clearly revile injustice and violence—except when we’re giddy and grateful for it.

During this, the holiest week on the Christian calendar, we will attend vigils, wear hoodies to church, and post cathartic sentiments on social media in protest of the death of this innocent child and its subsequent cover-up. Then we will get down on our knees and thank God for sending another innocent young man to be slowly and sadistically tortured to death so that the guilty could be forgiven.

Let me play that back for you: According to ancient reports, God was so vehemently opposed to forgiveness that “He” stooped to the barbaric and distinctly human practice of sacrificing a live and innocent being before “He” would forgive the guilty. Yes, it’s the same God that wants mere mortals to forgive 70 times 7.

No one’s protesting the inhumanity, injustice or hypocrisy of this alleged act of God. No one’s demanding evidence that Love would do anything inhumane, unjust or hypocritical. No, instead we’re jumping for joy that we are washed in the blood of Jesus. Isn’t that part of a satanic ritual? Where does the Divine fit in that?

Can we legitimately scream for justice in Trayvon’s murder, when we’re not demanding the same for Jesus’s insanely brutal death? Can we credibly call for Zimmerman to be arrested and tried, but continue to give the Roman soldiers a get-out-of-jail-free card?

All of us carry baggage in our heads. Some of it is information and beliefs that harm us or others. We drag it from place to place and it blurs our ability to see Truth. Perhaps it’s time to let some of it go—starting with all illogical thoughts that demonize God.

From where this bag lady is sitting, if I am grateful for anything this Holy Week, it’s that God really is Love, and that Love forgives absolutely and unconditionally—no matter how much or how long we’ve repeated tales that The Divine does anything demonic.

Nobody leaves this planet alive, but everyone does.

 

“In death, only the body dies. Life does not, consciousness does not, reality does not. And the life is never so alive as after death.” Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, spiritual teacher and philosopher

I received an email from my cousin Burnadette, who was outraged by a TV news story from a network in Great Britain. Watch the video and tell me: Is this an infuriating news story about a two-year-old boy who is addicted to cigarettes—or do you see something more? Let’s look at the facts that were reported here:

  • Two-year-old Ardi Rizal of Jakarta, Indonesia is addicted to cigarettes.
  • His father introduced him to smoking when he was 18 months old.
  • The toddler is a chain smoker who consumes two packs a day.
  • Efforts to stop him have failed.
  • He throws a tantrum and even becomes ill if he doesn’t get his cigarettes.
  • He’s now in government-mandated rehab.

Undeniably, these are the facts, but are they the truth? I know you’re wondering: Aren’t facts the truth? Not always. When we’re standing on Earth’s stage, our vantage point is limited. Often we can’t see beyond the footlights. And rarely can we see what’s going on behind the curtain. But when we climb into the balcony of Earth’s theater, we can see beyond the actors’ peripheral vision. Our vantage point is 360°, broader and often deeper. We can see on all sides of each character and quite frequently, backstage of the entire scene.

Ardi Rizal-infant chain-smokerThis smoking baby drama is fascinating, even on the surface. Anyone who’s watched an infant transition into a toddler expects certain developmental milestones—but smoking? I’ve seen college students, dying (literally) to look more mature, who aren’t as proficient with a cigarette as this baby.

How in the world does an adult teach an 18-month-old to smoke? How do you teach a baby to hold a lit cigarette—let alone twirl it like a baton—without burning himself? How does a two-year-old develop the fine motor skills to light one cigarette with another? How does a toddler learn to deeply inhale and blow out rings of smoke without choking?

Did you see Ardi’s mannerisms? Was I the only one who saw an “old soul” in that young body?

Little Ardi reminded me of a case study I read several years ago. In this case, a toddler in another country stunned his parents by asking where was his wife. They hadn’t a clue what he was talking about. He insisted that he was married, told his parents his name—which wasn’t the name they had given him—his wife’s name and her address, which was in a city that they had never discussed with him. He also gave them details about the home he had shared with his wife, his secret hiding place in that home, and the items he had stashed there.

After the boy had pestered them relentlessly for weeks, the parents decided to prove to him that he had no wife or home elsewhere. After traveling to the nearby town, they were surprised to find a house at the address he’d given them. At that house was a woman the boy instantly recognized and who answered to the name he called her.

He insisted to the frightened woman that he was her husband. She insisted that her husband had died years earlier. Frustrated, the toddler went directly to his hiding place and retrieved the treasures he’d claimed to have stashed there.

What if we really leave Earth alive?

Over the years, I’ve read a number of dramatic (and often traumatic) soul testimonials such as this—including powerful eye-opening stories from those who survived near death experiences. Afterward, they no longer feared death. Most looked forward to it.

In some cultures, elders watch a new baby very carefully, looking deep into the eyes, searching for clues that might reveal which ancestor’s soul is inhabiting this new body. This information provides a different context for scenes such as the one in Jakarta. Plus there’s the accidental discovery of some of my own soul history, which I shared in my metaphysical memoir, EARTH Is the MOTHER of All Drama Queens, that influences my world view.

Most of us believe that every human has a soul, and that our souls live forever. It’s at this juncture that we begin to confuse ourselves: We believe that there is something invisible and immortal inside of us. We believe that it leaves when the body is dead. Or did the body die because it left? Was it, in fact, the Life in the body?

We also believe that we’re not that immortal soul. We are the part that remains here on the planet; we are the carcass.

Since we believe that we are made in God’s image, we’ve concluded that God looks like the mortal part of us rather than the immortal soul. In our confusion, we’ve given God a body, gender and the temperament of a sadistic sociopath whose “behavior” is unpredictable: He grants favor to some of His children, has savagely murdered many, and has promised to torture most throughout all eternity.

No wonder we’re afraid of death.

Believing that we’re going to die—or that we have to do or say something to earn eternal life—doesn’t make it true, and it doesn’t make death fearsome. But if it brings you peace, if it inspires a deeper trust in God, and if it makes sense to you, by all means, believe it.

Nobody has ever come onto Earth’s stage and stayed forever. Have you ever wondered why? Are we immortal souls who have infinite possibilities or mortal bodies with a finite lifespan?

If every soul is leaving his planet alive, but every body will be left behind, which are you?

Remembering how we got here–and why we came

Does this ever happen to you: You’re confidently traveling down some path–maybe one you’ve envisioned or planned for days or years–and you suddenly discover that the destination is not what you expected? I get that wake-up call almost every Sunday. All I know, for sure, is that I’m going to write a blog post; but I rarely know the topic when I sit at the computer. Most times, I write hundreds of words before Spirit directs me to go in a completely different direction. It’s as if the movement of my fingers on the keyboard stimulate my muses.

Today was going to be different. I’ve known my topic since mid-week, when I received a powerful message from my friend Melvin in Germany. I could hardly wait to share it. Then yesterday, everything changed: I read a story in N’Digo, Chicago’s “magapaper for the urbane,” by award-winning author, journalist, attorney and University of Illinois Associate Professor Christopher Benson. It began:

Just about two years ago, my mother died.

Just about two weeks ago, she called to let me know that she was going jogging.

Huh? How’d she do that? 

Benson quickly explained in his story that his mother had a back-from-death experience two years ago, after a serious fall. He reflected on how precious each additional moment is now, and how much his mother impacted his many successful professional careers. Benson traced those successes back to his mother’s response to what he, at age nine, considered to be an impossible class assignment. He had to write an essay on why his dad should be named “Father of the Year.”

“I didn’t have a father. He wasn’t there,” Benson wrote. “I had never known him.” What was he going to do?

His mother’s response reshaped Benson’s self-image and his view of life. She challenged him to write about his mother–the greatest father any child could ever have:

“She also wanted me to know deep down inside that, yes, I was different. But my difference was not something to be ashamed of. My difference was not something to be shunned. Indeed, my difference was something to be proud of, to celebrate in ways that would cause others to celebrate with me.

“In my difference, there was value. There was something I could use to help other people come to understand things they never really had considered before. I was different. Yes. But I was just as good, just as talented, just as worthy as anybody else.”

In the process of meeting his mother’s challenge, Benson and his teachers made a life-altering discovery: This child had a gift; he was a talented writer. From that point on, he decided, the circumstances of his birth would not define or limit him.

Conventional wisdom says that we do not choose our families, just our friends. Spiritual wisdom, which is not rooted in or bound by the limitations of earthly thought, espouses something different and more evolutionary:

  • Spiritually, we existed before the mortal body was created and will continue to exist after it decomposes.
  • We chose to be here at this time and in this place.
  • We had a purpose for coming–a purpose that is revealed to us when we ask, Spirit to Spirit; a purpose that will be supported, Spirit to Spirit.
  • Each actor on our stage, even those we choose (and who agree) to be our parents, are perfect for our purpose-filled script of this physical experience. If someone is missing from the script, it’s because we intentionally didn’t include him or her. A father or a mother, siblings, spouses, children would have been perfect for another story, but not for this one.
  • Even murder mysteries and horror stories have some entertainment value.

Everyone’s experience with their mothers doesn’t end up in a glowing tribute on the pages of a newspaper, like Benson’s. Every character who gives birth is not a nurturer. Some provide horrific stories of abandonment, neglect, abuse, torture, unloving and unsupportive behavior. And, while every stepmother isn’t a wicked witch, some are.

The childhood of recently retired Chicago broadcasting legend Merri Dee comes to mind. Merri was a toddler when her mother left this life. Her father then married a woman who was a storybook-cruel stepmother. Within a few years, he became ill and was unable to reign in this woman who was terrorizing his baby girl. Soon, he also left his body behind, leaving Merri in her care.

Merri recalls the stepmother severely punishing her for minor infractions. She stripped Merri of the family name, forbade contact with her siblings and other relatives, and forced her to fend for herself at the age of 14. Merri was not the least bit intimidated. No matter how much the woman beat her, Merri said that she refused to cry.

Her stepmother’s fury over her fearlessness, stubbornness and strength translated into even more cruelty. One day, the woman hung Merri out of their apartment window, head-first, until a neighbor spotted her and threatened to call police.

Years later, the plot for Merri’s life story revealed that her childhood was a dress rehearsal for the most critical act of her life: After working, continuing her education, marrying, giving birth to a daughter, and divorcing, Merri landed a job in sales for a multinational corporation. At the urging of a friend, she enrolled in broadcasting school, and became one of the great voices on Chicago radio. Because she had good looks to go with that voice, she soon became a local television talk show host.

One night, Merri and her talk show guest were kidnapped after the show, blindfolded, taken into the woods, shot in the head and abandoned. Her guest died; Merri didn’t. Mustering every ounce of strength in her body, just as she had as a child, she crawled through the thicket to a highway and summoned help.

Merri’s broadcasting career continued for three more decades, until she decided to pursue other interests last fall. Throughout that career, she raised more than $31 million for children’s causes through a variety of organizations, including the McCormick Tribune Foundation and the United Negro College Fund. She has raised even more spirits with her wise and gentle counseling and role modeling. Though she’s not nearly old enough to be my mother, she often watches over me and so many others, as if she was our Mom. (Thanks for sharing her, Toya.)

Once, while watching her bravely overcome yet another hurdle, and knowing that she didn’t have the benefit of a nurturing childhood as so many of us did, I asked her, “Where does all that strength and all that wisdom come from, given the upbringing you had?”

“From within,” she said, flashing that trademark Merri Dee smile.

Her lesson: Our source of self-worth or truth, financial supply or encouragement is not outside of us; the Invisible Spirit that is God is within. Everything we need is within.

If we could only remember that when stuff is hitting the fan and we have to respond quickly and instinctively. That’s the challenge, especially when we’re distracted–no, mesmerized–by all the drama on the world’s stage. If we look at our childhoods and adulthoods from that vantage point, the props and the actors seem real. We are more apt to react and judge people and their behavior as “good” or “bad.” When we judge them as “bad,” we close our eyes to the benefits that we asked them to deliver to us. That certainly includes our mothers and those who have played the mother role in our lives.

Is it implausible that we are Invisible Spirit, and we asked a soul wearing a specific body if she would be the vessel through which we, too, could experience physical life on planet Earth?

Is it implausible that the circumstances and challenges that surrounded our birth, adolescence and adulthood followed the script we wrote to help us practice, practice, practice bringing Light into the darkness, and respond in a more Christlike way to those who hide their Light under a bushel, a barrel or a big head?

Are you open to the possibility that there’s a greater plan for your life than your brain is aware of? Can you even imagine that you helped to create that plan–or does it make more sense that you are not here by choice, but by biology?

In the Home-Church, there are no right or wrong answers. This is safe space. No one’s telling you what to think, what to say or what to believe. Here, we share our thoughts and exchange ideas. I certainly hope you’ll share yours.