Remembering to Count It All Joy

At 3 o’clock on Memorial Day, in collective consciousness, we remembered, honored, thanked, and mourned those who are no longer physically here with us. Among those with the most heartbreaking memories were the 1,600 children who’ve lost a parent in Afghanistan or Iraq.

Nearly 150 of those children gathered this weekend at a grief camp to share their stories and to relieve some of their pain. They drew pictures, wrote stories, talked, and cried, letting go of their anxieties, their anger, their fears, but not their memories. Who can imagine a child’s struggle to understand death, when she barely understands life?

Children’s imaginations are so powerful, so vivid, and so transformative. I suspect that their imaginations, as well as our imaginations, also have the power to heal, which explains why therapists encourage us to be creative when we’re working through painful issues such as loss.

What if we could use our imaginations for a moment? Ever seen a photo of the solar system? Envision it now, and choose a planet to visit. Pretend that this planet has an observatory where we can watch all of the action on Earth.

Think of it. It would be as if we were sitting in the audience, watching a bazillion personal dramas performed 24-7.

Look! Some of the theaters over there are decadently opulent; and their players perform in elaborate costumes, surrounded by luxurious props. Others don’t even have rooftops. Players are dressed in rags and recite their lines on stages with dirt floors. Some are deliriously happy. Others are miserable. Some have magnificent physical bodies; others have been ill from the day they arrived on the planet.

Why? Why not, if it’s just theater, if it’s not real? And, just for a moment, let’s just suppose that’s exactly what the Earth experience is: Theater. It certainly has all of the necessary theatrical elements: There’s this constant stream of souls in human body costumes carried onto stages in little blankets. Some time later, each one is carried off in a rectangular box. Not one of the actors stays on the stage forever. Never have. Never will.

And what characters they play! Some of the roles last a short while; others stay onstage much longer. Have you noticed that most of the actors become so engrossed in their personal dramas that they actually think the theater is Life itself—the Alpha and Omega? It makes sense that whenever someone exits the stage, they think that character has ceased to exist.

But have they?

What if Earth is not Home, but simply a place to act out an infinite number of melodramas, murder mysteries, sci-fi adventures, tragedies and love stories—then move on?

What if the building you’re sitting in is merely an elaborate prop in a gigantic theater created by you and billions of other souls as a place to grow, learn, love, and play?

What if your body is merely a costume that you are wearing; and the real you is on the inside, looking out?

What if the people who play major roles in your life agreed, a very long time ago, to share the Earth stage with you at strategic times to add some tension, comic relief, love, even denouement to your drama?

What I’m suggesting is the possibility that your physical life is just a fraction of your total existence; and that your personality is just a role, a character you’re playing right now. I know these possibilities might be difficult to grasp. In fact, you might find them downright goofy. That’s OK. We’re simply using our imaginations to go somewhere we’ve never been, remember?

Think about the times you watched a stage play or a television show and became caught up in the drama as it unfolded. You probably screamed when you were frightened, cried when one of the characters died, and cheered when good won over evil or when the star-crossed lovers finally united. You had honest emotional reactions, even though you knew it was theater. You can only imagine how emotionally involved you’d become, if you weren’t aware it was theater.

Sitting on another planet, with a broader perspective of the Universe, could make you wonder if life on Earth is actually an opportunity to learn something—and every person in your life is there to teach you. Sometimes we’re too close to a situation, too caught up in the drama to see the lesson in it. From the audience, however, it’s clear as day.

Do we dare step outside of our personal dramas to view the stress in our lives, the pain we cause ourselves and others, the despair and feelings of victimization from a different perspective? Can we use our creative power, our imaginations, to open ourselves to receive answers to age-old questions: Why does life seem so unfair? Why am I here? Why did my loved one die? Is there a God? Why did this horrible thing happen?
Maybe you’ve asked these questions. I certainly have. What I’ve noticed is that the answers were revealed to me, in proportion to my willingness to receive and understand them. As they say, when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.

Who are the souls that have agreed to come onto your stage to teach you about love, about Life, about appreciation, about pain, about integrity, opportunity and failure? Who demonstrated powerful lessons that sent you scurrying to find the strength, the God within you? Who helped you to know yourself?

You asked them to teach you. Imagine that. Did you learn the lesson, or will you have to call in another teacher? While you’re at it, think about what your performance has taught others?

What if everything that happens in your experience here is part of a plan to move you closer to the Divine? Would you see everything and everyone differently? Would you judge experiences and people as good or bad—or merely part of the journey?

Eventually, children who have experienced the death of a loved one will learn that light and darkness cannot occupy the same space. Maybe they’ll even learn to ask: If Life is eternal, what is death, really?

Stepping out of the drama, sitting the audience, you might discover that Life is always fair; God is never far; Death is not The End; and absolutely nothing is unforgivable.

Perhaps that is why the Bible suggests that we “Remember to count it all joy!”

Busting “Da Code”

If you think that the uproar over The DaVinci Code has nothing to do with you, think again. Do you think that folks are jumping up and down, screaming and waving their arms wildly, simply to alert the rest of us that a novel shouldn’t be read as non-fiction?

Are there any literate adults out there who don’t know the distinction between fiction and non-fiction? If so, don’t worry about learning it now; it’s much too late. In the meantime, the rest of us Christians will forgive this brazen insult to our intelligence.

Let’s face it; each of us creates our own reality, anyway. And that’s really what’s at the heart of this backlash against Dan Brown’s murder mystery: man’s incessant proclivity toward controlling others’ thoughts and dictating their beliefs. Historically, we have marginalized or murdered those whose beliefs or behaviors have disagreed with ours.

In this case, we have a novel published in these United States, where the very first amendment to the Constitution guarantees freedom of speech, the press, and religion. Dan Brown exercised his First Amendment rights and created a novel in which the search for a murder motive led to the unmasking of an ancient secret. Sounds like the ingredients for great drama, huh? That’s just the half of it.

The ancient secret in this fictional tome, for both of you who haven’t read or heard about it, was that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and had children. That’s when the real drama began. The audacity of Brown to concoct a fictional story that not only depicts Jesus as human, but reveals how and when he transcended humanity and became a deity. Mesmerizing stuff.

I have hundreds of books in my personal library; very few of them are fictional. Not one of them was a murder mystery, until my daughter convinced me to buy The DaVinci Code. She insisted that as a journalist and a seeker of truth, I should make this exceptional murder mystery an…OK, exception.

She was right. I devoured this book—and more. As a journalist, I had to know: Did the novel accurately portray the Roman Emperor Constantine and the decisions of the Council of Nicea that have impacted—no, dictated for nearly 2,000 years—what we Christians believe to be the absolute truth?

Within a very short time, I located a wealth of reference material, dating back centuries and written by Bible scholars and theologians. They make some of the same claims as The DaVinci Code.

Have you heard about any protests against these non-fiction books? Don’t you find that fascinating? It would appear that calling attention to this scholarly research would put these issues in the public domain and raise some tough questions that many don’t want to answer. So it makes sense that they would freak out when Brown had the temerity to expose this obscure research and put it in the hands of millions who’ve read it on buses and in bedrooms.

Don’t get me wrong. I fervently believe that those who love God should be protesting just about now. If we could just find someone to lead us. No one has organized a boycott against the Bible writers or publishers, even though this book portrays God as exhibiting unholy vengeance and wrath. Am I the only one who is pained that God is depicted in the Bible as bi-polar, inhumane, indecisive, hypocritical, and possessing the conflict resolution skills of Atilla the Hun? Where’s the picket line?

How in the world can anyone one explain all of inconsistencies—including the Good God/Bad God character? The very first chapter has so many conflicting facts that Bible purists, literary buffs, and proofreaders should be gnashing their teeth.

Jewish and Christian Bible scholars have demanded a vetting of the Bible’s narrative for centuries. In our lifetimes, the reasoned cries of Episcopalian Bishop John Shelby Spong, the Rev. Marcus Borg and others have been virtually drowned out by hysteria such as we’re witnessing now.

There’s no traffic jam on the path to Truth, by any stretch of the imagination. Most of us own Bibles; few of us have noticed any irregularities in the narrative. Even a casual perusal would reveal some trouble spots.

Quick—how many of each wild animal species was on the ark? One male, one female? The answer is yes…and no. The number changes several times. Why?

How many days did it rain—40? Yes…and no. It depends upon which verse you’re reading in the same chapter. How many days passed before they got off the boat? Pick a number. After saving animals’ lives, what’s the first thing Noah did when he got the all-clear? The answers to straightforward questions shouldn’t change, whether you’re writing fiction or non-fiction, but they do in this book. The DaVinci Code revealed to many of us, for the first time, the reason why.

“How did I miss these contradictions?” I wondered. Others ask the same thing when I suggest that they read the Flood Story for themselves.

I’ll tell you how we missed it: We let preachers read selected portions of the Bible to us and we nod our heads and say, “Amen.” The other reason we missed these nuggets is what I call the Fear and Intimidation Factor. Many of us are afraid to question or even acknowledge these obvious factual inconsistencies because we’re afraid we’ll accused of having no faith—or worse, that we’ll be labeled an atheist. Name-calling isn’t exactly a Christian value and neither is judgment, which segues nicely into something else that demands protest: the Bible’s character assassination of God.

Anyone who has read or studied the Bible has noticed that the Old Testament God is diabolical; the New Testament God is divine. Card-carrying Christians have a simple explanation: God “changed” His mind and consequently, “changed” His behavior. Yeah, right.

If God is absolute, He doesn’t change. He’s either good all the time—or never. So what really has changed since the ancients’ perception of God was captured in writing? It is the culture, the era, the politics, the motivations, agendas, and the religions of the human hands that wrote, re-wrote, improvised, hyperbolized, added to and subtracted from, and inaccurately translated this anthology.

God changed His mind? The only mind that seems to change is ours—with the wind. Those of us who call ourselves Christians claim to see God in the same perspective that Jesus (not his real name, by the way) saw God. Then, we inexplicably reach back into the Old Testament and quote scriptures depicting a God that Jesus viewed as too unforgiving, too unloving, too violent, too vengeful, too homophobic, too sadistic, and too unfair to really be “Our Father”.

Anyone protesting that? Nope. Anybody figured out yet that we have to choose which God we believe in—the sadistic, genocidal one or the Prodigal Son’s Dad.

How ironic is it that protesters who demand factual integrity demand that we have blind faith in writings that clearly malign the integrity, the compassion and the unconditional love of the God that Jesus believed in?

They also insist that we have blind faith (emphasis on blind) in illogical stories that claim, on one hand, that a pregnant Mary knew that she was carrying God’s child, the Messiah. Despite that, she raised him to be a carpenter; and years later, she and her other kids were mortified when Jesus launched a ministry and preached that God was the polar opposite of the one in Jewish scripture? According to the Bible, Jesus’ mother and his sibs wanted him to come home and sit quietly somewhere.

How quickly did Mary forget the angel, the star in the East, the magi, and those wonderful gifts? She raised her son to work with wood, not wisdom; and then she and his sibs begged him to stop talking about God in public. It doesn’t add up. But who’s challenging these ancient details when Dan Brown is a much easier target?

I haven’t heard any of Brown’s critics vilify New Testament claims that Jesus was born twice, either. Now remember: to fulfill Jewish scripture, the Messiah had to be born in Bethlehem. Two strangers—Matthew, a Jewish scribe and Luke, a Gentile physician—neither of whom was a disciple or an eyewitness to anything Jesus did or said, crafted conflicting birth scenarios attempting to establish that Jesus was the Messiah.

One writer claimed that Jesus was born in a barn and placed in a manger after Joseph inexplicably made a very pregnant Mary travel by foot and ass from Nazareth. (You remember Joseph. He made that cameo appearance in the Christmas pageant, never to be seen or heard from again.) The other gospel clearly mentions no journey; Joseph and Mary lived in Bethlehem, and Jesus was born at home.

I know, “How’d I miss that?” You’re wondering.

Which story is the truth? Those who believe that the Bible is inerrant say that it’s different parts of the same story. And they’re protesting fiction. Let a novelist create a character that was born in two places, and these nit-pickers would flip out. But I digress.

You might also recall that Jewish scripture predicted something else about the Messiah: he would be a descendant of King David. The Jewish writer’s birth narrative certainly didn’t forget this. He painstakingly traced Joseph’s lineage back to David. Of course, this little detail implies that Joseph, rather than God, is Jesus’ biological father. Oops.

Has anyone protested against this non-fiction writer’s blasphemous egg-sperm genesis of the baby Jesus? Nah. Matthew can claim that Jesus was fully human; but they’ll pummel Dan Brown for daring to say it in a work of fiction. Curiously, not of these 21st century protesters is offended by Biblical quotes hinting that Jesus of Nazareth was actually illegitimate.

Won’t anyone decry this apparent lack of family values in the books that are called gospel? Nope, what riles these protesters most is the claim that Jesus might have been a family man with a wife and kids.

Strange, isn’t it? Maybe not. These same folks attend church on the pagan’s day of worship, rather than on the Bible’s Sabbath. Ditto for celebrating December 25. It, too, is rooted in paganism: the tree, the gifts, the date itself. None of it is related to Jesus’ birthday; yet none of these protesters has proposed that Christians separate themselves from pagan rituals. But let a novelist write a murder mystery and appropriately do his historical research so that the narrative framework is strong enough to hold his fictional storytelling, and these folks scream bloody murder.

Personally, I like the idea of a fully human Jew who received the divine revelation of what God really is, and who walked throughout the countryside teaching that we are One. It inspires me that someone with flesh and blood demonstrated that the Holy Spirit is within us, that we should love each other as we love ourselves; we should judge not, fear not. We should condemn not.

It’s a much more powerful story when a man reveals that through love, we can heal ourselves, heal each other, and heal our world. If only half-Spirit, half-egg beings can achieve inner peace, treat others with divine love, and enjoy a truly life-altering relationship with God, how can we egg-sperm created humans do it?

Is it more important to worship Jesus as half-egg, half Spirt—or to do what he urged us to do: follow him, i.e. do what he did. On no occasion did try to squelch others’ beliefs in favor of his. He made no attempt to start another religion. He was born and he died a Jew—a Jew with a grander vision of what God is and who we are, as Sons of the Father.

Saying you’re a Christian only reveals what you believe. By contrast, Christ-like reveals how you behave. Too often, they are mutually exclusive, used as a wedge to separate and denigrate others. Excuse me; is this what the Prince of Peace would do?

I sincerely believe that the Dear Ones who are protesting this novel and movie have a passion for Truth. I also believe that if they applied the same Truth barometer to non-fiction as they do to fiction, their passion for Truth would send them circling in front of religious bookstores, instead of movie theaters.

I can only imagine what would happen if the zeal that they’ve focused on The DaVinci Code were channeled into busting the real code—the code that has inflamed unloving, judgmental behavior for more than 2,000 years and continues to contradict the teachings of the Prince of Peace that these activists claim to follow.

O X Y MORONS, You’re Killing Me!

Why is that whenever you buy a new car, suddenly you notice more cars on the road that are the same make and model? After writing about X and Y chromosomes, more news reports about them are catching my eye.

One of my favorites was truly a breaking news story: scientists have linked X and Y chromosomes to the REAL reason women and men think so differently. (Duh.) On the heels of that revelation, I spotted globetrotting journalist Kevin Sites’ insightful article on mud pie-eating Haitians—and the nutritional value (not) of Haitian dirt.

The combination of the two articles made the Loud Mouth ponder the dual mysteries of mud and men. You, too? Or am I the only one who’s ever wondered…

  • Why original man was created twice: first out of dirt, then minutes later, out of clay?
  • When you breathe into dirt (or clay, for that matter), what happens?
  • Does dirt have ribs?
  • Or lips and a larynx?
  • So, can dirt ask for a companion or talk to snakes?
  • Have you ever tried to tempt dirt?
  • Do you expect to give dirt directions, and it will follow?
  • Is dirt smart enough to know right from wrong?
  • Which chromosomes can be found in dirt: XX, XY, or Uh Oh?

Is it just the Loud Mouth, or have you also wondered whether a certain bestseller is accurate history—or something much more significant? And what are we missing by interpreting it literally?