Christians reject Jesus's teachings

At the Most-Attended March, Christians Broke Free from Jesus’s Teachings

We’ve been bombarded with coverage of the unprecedented worldwide protests following the inauguration of Donald J. Trump. But the largest march—the one primarily responsible for that ceremony—has received little mention: Millions of Evangelical Christians defiantly declared their independence from Jesus’s teachings, and it’s as if no one noticed.

Christians reject Jesus's teachingsMaybe it wasn’t newsworthy. After all, Christians haven’t been followers of Jesus for centuries. However, they do like being seen carrying a Bible to church, prominently displaying images of a non-Semitic Jesus, and they have a macabre practice of adorning their homes, churches and necks with the weapon that murdered him.

But like grinning all the time, it was inauthentic and exhausting; so they stopped. Throughout campaign season, they openly embraced values that are the antithesis of Jesus’s: hatred, misogyny, racism and xenophobia. They opted to build a wall around themselves. And rejected Jesus’s directive to care for “the least of these.”

According to Pew Research, 80 percent of self-identified white, born-again/evangelical Christians who voted and 52% of Catholics who voted say they cast their ballot for Trump—the proudly vindictive, misogynistic serial adulterer and KKK-supported cyberbully who urged violence against members of Jesus’s human family at his rallies. Their affinity for him reveals six things about Christians.

1.  Christians don’t ask, “What Would Jesus Do?” 

Our assumptions about Christians defy actual facts. Not only do they reject Jesus’s teachings, they are outright hostile toward them. In elementary school, these Christians would not have voted a think-skinned, petulant kid who reveled in name-calling and poked fun at other kids’ physical appearance as their eighth-grade class president. He’d be considered unsuitable to represent the class. As adult Christians, he is their ideal representative.

2.  Christians don’t have to be followers of Jesus

For years, I have made a distinction between Christlike and Christian: The former describes how a person behaves; the latter merely describes what a person believes. You don’t have to respect, obey or follow Jesus’s teachings to be a Christian. You simply have to hold some core beliefs:

  1. A human being can be conceived without human sperm fertilizing a human egg.
  2. God will not forgive the guilty unless an innocent son is heinously tortured to death; i.e., God is not the unconditionally forgiving father portrayed in Jesus’s “Prodigal Son” parable.
  3. Jesus’s purpose for coming to Earth was to be brutally murdered for sins committed by others—before, during and after his lifetime here.
  4. God will sadistically torture us throughout all eternity if we do not acknowledge that Jesus was murdered for what we did, express gratitude for his murder, and proclaim that Jesus saved us from God’s demonic, unending punishment.
  5. Jesus’s body ascended into outer space without the aid of a projectile, pressurized aircraft or spacesuit.

3.  Jesus’s followers don’t have to be Christians 

Jesus’s followers don’t have to share these beliefs. Punctuating that, I was given a palm card at the Women’s March in Chicago that read, “Love Trumps Fear.” It was distributed by Jews for Jesus—and reminds us that Jesus was born Jewish and dubbed “King of the Jews” by his Roman murderers.

Love Trumps Hate, Love your neighbors as yourself
Jesus’s teachings are at the core of his followers’ beliefs:

  • Love one another, be kind to one another, forgive others as God has forgiven you (John 15:12); i.e. God is the unconditionally forgiving father portrayed in Jesus’s Prodigal Son parable.
  • Love your enemies. Live peaceably with all. Do not be vengeful. (Luke 6:27, Romans 12:17)
  • Treat others as you’d want to be treated. (Luke 6:31, Matthew 7:12, Philippians 2:4)
  • Show compassion for all and help them: the poor, despised, and outcasts. (Matt. 4:24-25)
  • “Be sincere, not a hypocrite” (Matt. 6:1-6)

Followers of Jesus consciously strive to live by these tenets, as evidenced in the massive protest marches in various parts of the world. But for Christians, treating others equitably—or only saying and doing thing to others that you would want said or done to you—is scornfully dismissed as “politically correctness.”

4.  Christians hate political correctness

Political correctness definitionChristians want to say whatever, insult whomever and do whatever they desire to those who don’t look like, act like or think like them and, of course, those who are less privileged. They don’t care that Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40) because they are not followers of Jesus.

5. Christians disrespect or distort Jesus’s lessons on karma

In Luke 6:37 and Matthew 7:1-3, Jesus reportedly admonished us against creating bad karma: “Judge not, lest ye be judged,” he said. “Condemn not, lest ye be condemned.” Translated: Whatever you do will be done to you.

Christians often quoted that admonition to excuse themselves from acknowledging facts about Donald Trump. “The Bible says that we shouldn’t judge!” they proclaimed.

But facts are not judgments: Trump is a serial adulterer. Fact. He has been sued by dozens of small business owners for not paying their invoices. Fact. He was sued by a woman who claimed he raped her when she was a teen. Fact. His foundation admitted to spending $20,000 on a portrait of Trump and $250,000 to settle private legal disputes, in violation of IRS rules. Fact. He’s taken six corporate bankruptcies. Fact. He boasted of grabbing women’s genitals. Fact. He settled a civil fraud claim brought by 6,000 alleged victims for $25 million. Fact.

These are facts, not judgments. But none of these facts cost him Evangelical Christians’ support.

6. God giveth free will; Christians taketh away

Contrasted to Followers of Jesus, Christians want to be the boss of every body, particularly women’s. Evangelical Christians and Catholics, in particular, are obsessed with forcing women to give birth to unwanted children. Many cited this as the reason they voted for Trump, who was pro-choice until it was politically expedient to be pro-birth.

This is not a pro-life issue. Notably, once fetuses breathe on their own, faith leaders and their flocks are not interested in their lives. Perhaps they should stick around to witness the results of their strong-arm tactics:

At least they’re consistent. These are the same folks who willingly endangered the lives and freedoms of God’s Jewish, Muslim, LGBTQ, Native American, Mexican and African-American children with their votes—further proving they are not “pro-life,” simply pro-mandatory birth. If you already have a body, they could not care less.

Cameron Harris's fake news story about Clinton was shared by six million readers

Winners never cheat; cheaters never win

Take young Cameron Harris, a recent college grad who, according to this New York Times story, parlayed the $5 he paid for the “Christian Times Newspaper” domain into $22,000, by unscrupulously publishing fake news stories that supported Donald Trump’s narrative.

After Trump claimed during a campaign stop in Ohio that the election was rigged against him, Harris diabolically wrote and published a story claiming that an electrical worker had stumbled upon “tens of thousands” of fraudulent Clinton votes in a Columbus, Ohio warehouse.

Compounding his deceit, Harris added a photo of a guy behind stacks of bins marked “ballot box.” But he didn’t mention that the man and the ballots were in Great Britain. The story was eventually shared by six million people, worldwide.

After Harris was unmasked, he was fired by Maryland lawmaker David Vogt. Chances are, he will be welcomed into another political camp that appreciates his diabolical immorality.

Christians have shown us that the simply want to win. Even if they have to cheat. Whether by concocting fake news or drastically gerrymandering legislative districts to favor their party. When intelligence officials revealed that Russia had manipulated the outcome of the election, Christians weren’t alarmed that America is now a pawn for the Kremlin. They followed their leader beyond disrespecting U.S. intelligence community, and straight into denial.

And finally, the elephant in the room

Christians mouth the words that we are all children of God; but they voluntarily joined the same voting bloc as the KKK. They also knew Trump was being counseled by a reputed white supremacist, and had attracted the enthusiastic support of white nationalists. They’d heard Trump’s blatantly racist challenge to the legitimacy of Barack Obama’s presidency, falsely claiming that Obama was not born in America—another insult to the intelligence officers who vetted him. The government had access to Obama’s late mother’s passport records, which revealed where she was on his birth date.

Beyond normalizing hatred, Trump’s candidacy and electoral victory turned up the volume on hate speech and unleashed hate crimes against other Americans. Apparently, it was simply waiting for a golden calf to set it free. And it fled into Christians’ open arms.

Jesus’s teachings can be our guide

I know many of us have called ourselves Christians all our lives. But if we still share Jesus’s values, we’re Followers of Jesus who choose to stay on the path.

Let’s bid a fond farewell to our Christian comrades, as they march into the Siberian wilderness, following a leader with a gyrating moral compass. May they find what they are looking for—and may we respect their choice, while making every effort to protect our rights and our freedom.

Thanks to them, millions of Americans fear for their safety because of the occupant of the White House. As these Christians march off into the dark side of history,  consciously trampling Jesus’s teachings, immorally attacking humans’ God-given sexual orientation, usurping a woman’s control over her own body and eradicating Christlike democracy, they will have nothing to show for it but calloused feet and bulging karmic debt.

They won their battle, but not their war. Love will forever trump hate.

Can you believe in God and not believe that the Bible is the “word of God”?

You didn't do what I told you to do...A minister friend posted this graphic on my Facebook timeline a couple of days ago. It reminded me of the first time I read the Flood story in Genesis while wearing my thinking cap. I came face-to-face with the inexplicably heinous, unforgiving and inhumane behavior that scriptural storytellers have attributed to God. And they tell us this is the “Word of God“.

I understand why and how it was created. Culture, limited knowledge religious politics and the scribes’ proximity to mythical storytelling played huge roles in the disparate collection of books. What I don’t understand is why, three centuries later, after literacy went viral, 25% of Americans still believe that everything in the Bible is true.

That figure is questionable. If 25% really believed that the Bible is the “word of God,” there would be more murders and their defense would be based on scripture.

The same people who claim that the Bible is inerrant call genocide inhumane and murder immoral.  So do they really believe it? I don’t think most of them understand what they believe.

Case in point: Yesterday morning’s encounter with a Chicago bus driver. As I greeted her and paid my fare, the driver responded with a heightened sense of delight.

Next stop: Eternal Damnation

“I’m so grateful that you got on my bus!” Her face was aglow, making me quickly flip through my mental Rolodex to see if we’d previously met.

She leaned toward me. “May I ask you something?”

“Sure.” I quickly regretted my automatic response.

“Do you go to church?” Oh no, is she going to try to give me a sermon before I sit down? I wondered.

“On occasion,” I responded, looking around at the other passengers. Had she asked everyone that question? Their faces weren’t giving up that information.

She wanted to know my opinion about something. For the full five minutes that I was on the bus, she talked about her young minister, who seemed to be involved in some suspicious activities.

“He’s going straight to hell!” she said, authoritatively. “I’m saved. But if they rest of them aren’t careful, they’re going to end up there right along with him, and wonder how they got there!”

She was referring, of course, to the concept described in the graphic that Rev. Bobby had shared: According to scripture, God knew that “every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood” (Gen. 8:21). Scripture also tells us that God created us. So if we were born sinners, that means God created us that way intentionally. Despite that, human sinfulness outrages Him.

According to scripture, “So God announced to Noah, ‘I’ve decided to destroy every living thing on earth, because it has become filled with violence due to them. Look! I’m about to annihilate them, along with the earth.'” (Gen. 6:13)

True to His word, the scriptural God flooded Earth and “everything on the dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died” (Gen. 7:22).

The fluctuating Great Flood

Being omniscient and all, God knew what the flood’s outcome would be. Afterward, He apparently regretted it. Yes, according to the Bible, God makes mistakes. It says that when the waters receded 150 days later (Gen. 8:3), I mean, on the 17th day of the seventh month (Gen. 8:4), no, it was ten months later (Gen. 8:5), perhaps it was after 40 days (Gen. 8:6), or for sure, the 27th day of the second month (Gen. 8:14). OK, whenever the waters receded, God did a mea culpa. Perhaps he regretted leaving all those smelly, water-soaked carcasses strewn in the path of the ark survivors. Gross! 

He promised, “Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth” (Gen. 9:11). Don’t exhale yet. It doesn’t mean that God doesn’t plan to commit genocide again. Apparently, the scriptural God created a new batch of sinful kids. And He’s hopping mad about it.

But He’s holding to his promise: No more vicious flooding. This time, He plans to throw His sinful children into a fiery pit where they will writhe in pain throughout all eternity—because we won’t stop acting like we were born as sinners. It’s simply distressing. And no one was more concerned about it than my bus driver.

“They don’t know The Word’!” she declared, in a huff.

How ironic: It was Saturday. And Girlfriend was working. According to The Word, that infraction is punishable by death.

Do the faithful really believe that the Bible is the Word of God?

The Word of God? If a husband finds that his wife is not a virgin, she shall be stoned to death. Deut. 22:13-14I know what they tell the pollsters, their pastors and any potential person who needs to be saved from God’s demonic punishment. But how many Bible literalist would also insist that everyone who works on Saturday should be murdered? (Ex. 31:14) How many of them believe that women who are not virgins when they marry should be killed? (Deut. 22:13-21) Are they on board with murdering adulterers (Lev. 20:10 and Deut. 22:22) or disrespectful children (Ex. 21:17)?

Among the Blacks who believe the Bible is God’s word, how many believe that God said, “You may buy male and female slaves from among the nations that are around you. You may also buy from among the strangers…and they may be your property. You may bequeath them to your sons after you to inherit as a possession forever” (Lev. 25:44-46)?

While I, too, reject any depiction of God as violent, vindictive, unforgiving or anthropomorphic, as described in the Bible, I do not reject the concept of a Divine Presence, the invisible, invincible, immortal and everywhere present spirit that I call “God”. Do not mistake me: There is a lot of wisdom and truth in the Bible. But everything in the Bible does not offer wise, humane or moral solutions to human problems; so I cannot imagine that it is God’s word. I believe that God would be more consistent. God’s book wouldn’t command me not to kill AND then provide dozens of reasons for me to commit murder.

The argument generally is that God changed from the Old Testament to the New. So, God is not absolute? What changed from the Old Testament to the New was man’s concept of God—and it’s still evolving beyond rejection, and the excessive and demonic punishment that’s attributed to God and Jesus in the New Testament.

Perhaps I’m weird: Once I see something in a book that is blatantly untrue, hyperbolic or inconsistent, I conclude that it is not a non-fictional work. If a book asserts that God does things that are clearly inhumane and demonic, and that God mandates me to do horrific things such as stone someone to death, I am not convinced that it’s the Word of God. But I give loving allowance to those who believe God wants them to wear a fashionable orange jumpsuit for the rest of their lives.

I could be wrong; but I must make a choice. Worship a God who is divine and does what Love does, or worship the God in the Bible, who is frighteningly demonic. Am I off-base here?

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News Flash from Nazareth!

The Associated Press reported this week that archaeologists have found the remains of a home in Nazareth, Israel that can be dated back to the era when the New Testament says that Jesus lived. This is a discovery that could provide tremendous insight into the lifestyle of the people who lived in the city at the time that Jesus is believed to have been a child.

Here’s what we know so far: Nazareth sat on only four acres of land and comprised only 50 homes. According to the Gospels, the Messiah grew up in one of them. For that reason, the timing of this discovery is especially meaningful to Christians. According to Father Jack Karam of the nearby Basilica of the Annunciation—where Christian tradition says an angel told Mary that she would give birth—finding this ancient home during the Christmas season is “a great gift.”

For centuries, theologians have debated whether the man known today as Jesus actually existed. Not only does the Bible contain no firsthand accounts of him or his miraculous acts, they say that his virgin birth, execution and resurrection suspiciously mirror the life narratives of ancient mythical gods. Some say that Jesus might actually have been a metaphor for the Christ spirit within all of us. Others speculate that a traveling rabbi did exist who understood the divinity of man, embraced it, and uplifted others by spreading the word.

Since none of the gospels was written by men who actually knew Jesus or lived during his time, any of these possibilities exist. If someone who was half-human, half-Divine Spirit did walk on the planet, ancient history does teach us that he wasn’t born in December. The Bible doesn’t make that claim and it doesn’t declare that Jesus came to start a new religion.

According to some religious historians, the real reason for the season is that Christian converts, who were accustomed to participating in Jewish or pagan celebrations during the winter solstice, wanted their own holiday during that time of the year. Mythologists also note that December 25 was traditionally the birthday of mythological heroes said to have been the offspring of virgin mothers and pagan gods.

Certain stories and facts are often repeated in the Bible, highlighting the fact that scribes and storytellers liberally borrowed from each other. Remember, this was long before plagiarism laws. Matthew and Luke, for example, copied most of Mark’s book verbatim, but they thought the story was incomplete. Mark hadn’t established Jesus as the Messiah, the only begotten son of God. Matthew and Luke “fixed” that problem by adding birth narratives to Mark’s text. These narratives, written decades after Jesus’ death by men who didn’t know him, intentionally matched Jewish prophesy. Among other things, it was prophesied that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, so both set Jesus’ birth in that city. But that’s where the similarity ended.

The Gospel of Luke claimed that Jesus was born in a Bethlehem barn because there was no room in the inn for his Galilee-bound parents. Matthew’s gospel claimed that Mary and Joseph actually lived in Bethlehem, and Jesus was born at home. As theologians have reminded us throughout the centuries, it really doesn’t matter that Matthew and Luke set Jesus’ birth in two different places. After all, when Constantine the Great gathered religious leaders in Nicea to decide which of the hundreds of known manuscripts should be included in the book they would call the Holy Bible, few of those books—and none of the 27 selected for the New Testament were written as or perceived to be historical documents. But once the Council declared this collection to be the “gospel,” perceptions of their veracity began to shift. Complicate that with the fact that none of the original manuscripts existed when the Council met in 325 A.D., and thousands more copies were re-created by hand and translated (never flawlessly) for another thousand years.

So does it matter whether you believe everything in the Bible is the “word of God”? Not really. Over time, Thinkers have figured out that Jesus couldn’t have been born in two places at once. History has revealed that tax time in that region did not occur during December and that Joseph wouldn’t have been required to travel from Nazareth to Galilee to pay taxes at any time.

Now we learn that Jesus of Nazareth  grew up in a city that was a mere four acres in size, leading us to conclude that if the Messiah went missing, it would not have gone unnoticed and there would have been no 18-year gap in the record of Jesus’ life. There probably would have been a town-wide search party; residents in neighboring towns might have joined in, and the mushrooming posse would have been so unprecedented that one of the few literate citizens would have written about it.

What does it all mean? Many have leaped into the numerous credibility gaps in the Old Testament to declare that there is no God. But what if it only reveals that the ancient storytellers were recording their limited idea of what God is and what God does, and their stories don’t capture the essence of the real God?

Many have leaped into the numerous credibility gaps in the New Testament to declare that there was no Jesus. But what if ancient storytellers were merely creating an allegory about what humans would be able to do if they loved each other unconditionally, treated others the way they’d want to be treated, were aware that their souls were perfect, healthy and complete, and that the spirit of God was within them?

Maybe a man named Yeshua did exist who had this awareness, and lived it daily. Maybe he spent three years of his life teaching others what he knew. Maybe his empowering message enraged the Romans and they murdered him in a most humiliating way, and maybe decades later, writers edified this profound man’s teachings by encasing them within the framework of Jewish prophecy and pagan god myth.

At this point, we know more about what didn’t happen than what did. But do any of those facts mean that we have nothing to celebrate on this Christmas Day? Absolutely not.

Whether we believe Jesus was God, man or myth, we can celebrate the Christ Consciousness that has lived since The Beginning and resides within each of us right now. We can celebrate the birth of a period when Christians were defined by how they behaved rather than by the stories they believed.

Today we can celebrate the opportunity to totally transform our lives by patterning our behavior after that of the indisputably legendary Jesus: We can love unconditionally, bring a healing presence to every room and every relationship that we’re in, judge and condemn nothing, forgive everything, and do nothing to anyone that we wouldn’t want done to us.

It’s called non-religious Christianity, a transformative and powerful way to change our lives and save our souls from the consequences of errant choices and hurtful actions. It makes this day and every day a…

Very Merry Christmas!

The Bible vs. President Obama?

Several times within the past few days, I’ve received emails admonishing me not to buy a bright yellow T-shirt that says: “Pray for Obama, Psalms 109:8.” If you haven’t read that verse, it says: “Let his years be few, and let another take his office.” (KJV)

In the game of politics and political parties, some variant of this prayer is whispered, shouted, and muttered through clenched teeth—without Biblical reference—throughout the four-year term of any President. When a Republican is in office, Democrats pray for another to take his office, and vice versa.

 

It’s tradition, and it’s no big deal—except in this case, many have decided that the verse on these shirts and bumper stickers is intended to include subsequent verses in that chapter, namely Psalms 109:9-13. These five additional verses, which are referenced nowhere on the shirt, infer that we should pray for God to hurt or kill our enemies—yes, God’s other children. For weeks now, folks have been whipping themselves into a frenzy, concerned that everyone who wears the shirt poses a threat to our President’s safety.

 

I could be wrong, but it seems that the only real threat here is that there are people who actually believe that God responds affirmatively to mean-spirited vengeful prayer requests. But what else are they to believe, if the Holy Bible is the inerrant and inspired Word of God? That means that every word is true, even if those words characterize God as behaving more like Satan and less like The Divine.

 

Over the years, I’ve had a number of circuitous discussions with those who believe in the rage-filled, relentlessly unforgiving, kick your kids out, kill-every-living-thing God portrayed in the Old Testament. Typically, they discount these rants by asserting that God changed in the New Testament.

 

No, it wasn’t that the Jewish rabbi named Yeshua (colloquially known as Jesus) perceived God as more benevolent than the scribes portrayed Him in the Hebrew scriptures. They insist that God actually committed genocide, crammed predators and their prey in the cargo hold of a boat with one window for weeks while bloated human bodies floated all around it, contaminating the water, killing the fish, all the fruit-bearing trees and other vegetation. God did those diabolical inhumane things. But He changed after that, and the New Testament proves it: God decided to forgive all of His children’s sins, on one condition: The Prince of Peace had to be subjected to three days of horrific sadistic torture.

 

Really? Why did Jesus teach that God was unconditionally forgiving before he was heinously tortured, if it didn’t happen until after his death? And why did God want the Romans to savagely stop the good rabbi from teaching that God was a loving Father? His important message and ministry had lasted only three years. If you have the answers, please free me from my confusion.

 

What does this confusion have to do with President Obama, a t-shirt and Psalms 109, you ask? Simply, I think it’s helpful to understand the meaning and implications of scripture before deciding whether or not it has the power to harm our President. As any Bible scholar will tell you, we can’t intelligently discuss or react to specific passages in the Bible if we haven’t read the entire book, have no historical context for the writings, the writers or the politics of the time, and have read none of the large body of theological research regarding the collection of works that comprise the Bible.

 

This reminds me of a link that my friend Rev. Gaylon McDowell shared yesterday on Facebook. The link led me to the YouTube videos from an insightful lecture by New Testament scholar Bart D. Ehrman. It’s divided into 10 segments because of the time limits on YouTube, but I’d highly recommend watching all of them. Treat yourself to some jaw-dropping “I didn’t know that!” moments.

 

Dr. Ehrman is the chairman of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which he calls the “buckle” of the Bible Belt. He has written 20 books about the Bible, including New York Times bestsellers Misquoting Jesus: The Story behind Who Changed the Bible and Why and JESUS, INTERRUPTED: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible. Dr. Ehrman teaches historical approaches to early Christianity and the New Testament.

 

On the first day of class a few years ago, he looked out at the 360 students in his lecture hall and asked three questions:

 
  1. How many of you would agree with the proposition that the Bible is the inspired word of God? (Voom! The entire roomful of students raised their hands.)
  2. How many of you have read The DaVinci Code? (Voom! The entire roomful of students raised their hands.) 
  3. How many of you have read the entire Bible? (There was a hand raised, here and there throughout the lecture hall.)

Ehrman looked at them and said, “I’m not telling you that I think that God wrote the Bible. You’re telling me that you think God wrote the Bible. I can see why you might want to read a book by Dan Brown; but if God wrote a book, wouldn’t you want to see what He had to say?” he laughed.

 

And that brings us back to Psalms 109:9-13. Did God say or even inspire those destructive words? Do these verses really pose a threat to our President or his family?

 

I can’t think of a better time to have a discerning heart than when reading or repeating the Bible. If we put our thinking caps on, we would realize that God wouldn’t give us conflicting directives or portray Himself as bi-polar. For example, an Old Testament scripture about discernment totally contradicts the spirit of Psalms 109: “So God said to him, ‘Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart…’” (1 Kings 3:11-12, NIV)

 

When we are discerning, we can objectively look at a situation, person or written word and determine whether it aligns with what we believe to be true. When we are discerning, we can more appropriately interpret and react to Bible verses.

 

For example, does God brutally punish humans, as is indicated in so many Bible passages, or is 1 John 4:8 and 4:16 accurate when it states that God is love? It’s impossible for the answer to be “all of the above” unless we believe that God is bi-polar and not absolute. We must make a choice.

 

Why? Well, according to 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (NIV)

 

If God is love, is God angry and vindictive? If God is love, does God brutally punish? If God is love, does God harshly judge? Would love destroy every living thing on the planet? Can we believe the Flood story and believe that God is love? Can we believe the Garden of Eden story and believe that God is love? Which do you believe?

 

Have you tried the “Would Love do that?” challenge when you read the Bible? It’s my litmus test. When I applied it to the vengeful lyrics in Psalms 109, my answer was a resounding, “No, Love would not do that!” That influenced my response to both the t-shirt and the e-mail.

 

Between you and me: If we believe that God is Love, we really don’t care whether people buy “Pray for Barack, Psalm 109:8” t-shirts and bumper stickers. We don’t even care if they pray the entire mean-spirited chapter. Why? Because they’re spitting in the wind. We know that Love would never respond affirmatively to prayers asking Him to brutalize any of His children.

 

Needless to say, I didn’t respond to the urgent call to forward those Psalms 109 t-shirt e-mails. In fact, they immediately went in the trash, right behind the e-mails asking me to pray for President Obama’s protection.

 

Don’t be alarmed. I have a rationale for that, too: Appeals of this nature presume two things: 1) God is not Love and 2) God has such careless disregard for His child Barack Obama that He will only protect him if we submit a formal request.

 

I am not going to denigrate God by believing that either of these presumptions is true.

The God of Michael Jackson, Nidal Hasan, and a black man named Ricky

I know you’re wondering: Is the balcony so high in the stratosphere that the Loud Mouth has become light-headed? How on Earth did she connect God to the King of Pop, an Army psychiatrist accused of killing fellow soldiers, and a random black guy named Ricky?

There’s a logical explanation: For starters, all three souls were made in the image of God (as immortal spirits, not mortal bodies), and all three are associated with some kind of extremism: Major Nidal Hasan for his religious beliefs, Michael for his uh, lifestyle—and let’s face it, black guys named Ricky (or anything else) have been known to evoke extreme behavior in some people.

In recent weeks, I have been blessed to observe in-your-face performances by these three fascinating characters: Michael, in his documentary, “This Is It,” Rick Stone in the newest production at the Black Ensemble Theater, “The Message Is in the Music: God Is a Black Man Named Ricky,” and Major Hasan, in the alleged murderous rampage at Ft. Hood, Texas. (A hyperlink to this violence was intentionally excluded.)

Behind the scenes of two highly entertaining musicals and one absolute horror, I could clearly see God—three perceptions of God, anyway. I sat in awe as Michael Jackson extracted absolute lock-step perfection from each member of his performance team, without drama queen antics such as condescending rants or other displays of anger. He demanded nothing of his production team—more accurately, his family—that he did not demand of himself.

When he showed up for work, he was ready to perform at peak levels, and ready to inspire greatness in others. He was as precise in his movements as he was in his directions, clearly explaining what he wanted and why he wanted it. Mostly, he wanted to give audiences “awareness, awakening and hope”—an unusual mission for performers, but apparently typical of Michael.

He held each member of his performance family in high regard, edifying their excellence and affirming their ability to meet his extraordinarily high standards. From that basic premise, he consistently and lovingly elevated them to an even higher level of perfection.

I sat watching much more than another stellar performance by Michael Jackson the entertainer. I was eavesdropping on a powerful Master Teacher. No matter who we are and what we’re doing, we are constantly revealing what we believe about God through our treatment of others–particularly those over whom we have some control or influence.

Beyond the quest for dazzling choreography, perfect rhythms and pitches, Michael showed us his God. He led with Light, respect and unconditional love, rather than fear and intimidation. For that, he will continue to be loved and admired beyond death’s door.

On a different stage, genius playwright/director/producer Jackie Taylor has crafted the starring role in her latest feel-good hit, “The Message Is in the Music,” from a similar model of God. In this uproarious musical, chock-full of expertly executed tunes from  The Beatles, The Drifters, Gladys Knight, Curtis Mayfield (for whom God seemed to have a particular fondness), Paul Simon, The Temptations, Stevie Wonder and other old-school faves, Lucifer goes to God’s house, raising absolute hell and predictably threatening to destroy the Universe.

Unpredictably, he’s greeted by a God (a black man named Ricky) who is unflappable, making it utterly impossible to goad him into fury or a fight. God—and Thinkers—know that the devil only has as much power as others give him. In this play, God gave him absolutely none.

Taylor’s script dramatized what psychiatrist and spiritual teacher David R. Hawkins, M.D., Ph.D. revealed in his enlightening book, Power vs. Force. Power and force are often thought to be synonymous. They are not.
Power, as Dr. Hawkins so eloquently explained, does not involve force. In fact, it is its antithesis, which means that “May the Force be with you” might actually be a curse rather than a blessing.

So how are we to respond to force? Well, if Taylor’s characterization of God offered any clues, the most appropriate response to taunting rants is to retire for a refreshing nap. I was tickled that on the Black Ensemble Theater stage, as on Earth’s stage, God was the only one who seemed to know that force never wins. As He rested, His angels finally figured it out, and saved the world by showering the devil’s marauders with unconditional love, acceptance and forgiveness. I guess that’s why it’s called “overpowering” the enemy rather than “overforcing.”

After the former demons surrendered themselves to the Light, they groveled at God’s feet, as they had been required to do for the devil, bemoaning their unworthiness to be in His presence. God not only deflected their praise, He declared that their innately divine nature was the only truth He knew about them.

The moral: True Power uplifts. Force, on the other hand, can only destroy.

We see it every day. When the God of Force took center stage at Fort Hood, non-Muslims started pointing fingers, judging, disparaging and condemning. But the truth is that most, not all, of the followers of the world’s religions, including Christianity, believe that God is forceful. Their behavior often reflects it. They are angry, disrespectful,  judgmental and condescending. Righteous indignation is their schtick. Power is not part of their act. They’re showing us the God whom they worship, and we show them ours.

Just this morning, a Facebook friend angrily attacked a Palestinian who had posted something disagreeable on his “wall.” His tirade triggered a torrent of “shame on you” responses from FB friends who seemed to know him; I don’t. Defensively, this man, who apparently considers himself a Christian, posted Bible passages that supported his wrath-filled response–scriptures that portrayed God as angry, vindictive, destructive and unforgiving.

Since his premise seemed to be that the Bible is the Word of God, the Loud Mouth was compelled to ask: Where do Matthew 7:1-3 (The famed “Judge not…condemn not…How can you see the speck in your brother’s eye but can’t see the log in your own eye?” scriptures) fit into his scenario? At this late hour, his silence must mean that he’s still crafting a very thoughtful response to that question.

Fascinating stuff. We can find a verse in the Bible to justify everything from genocide to generosity, so we pluck a scripture that’s appropriate for the situation at hand, and declare ourselves vindicated. The Bible Tells Me So: Uses and Abuses of Holy Scripture provides some memorable examples of this, punctuating my belief that those who read only one religious book rob themselves of deeper insights into God, themselves, and the world of the scribes who created the collection of texts.

Maybe, if we read more, and exercised our thinking muscle more frequently, we might discover that our angry, attack responses are peculiar to humans, are historically barbaric and emotionally immature. There is no Light. There is no Love. There is no forgiveness. That can only mean that this is not divine behavior.

I was standing near a table at the food court in Water Tower Place yesterday when a boy who appeared to be around seven years old dropped his toy car onto the floor directly in front of me. I stepped back so that he could retrieve it. Seconds later, his brother’s car crashed onto the floor. There was no harm done; but the older boy leaped from his chair and pounded his brother in the back so hard that the guy standing in line ahead of me gasped in horror, and so did I. There was no adult at the children’s table.

The older boy, about nine or ten years old, stormed away, leaving his little brother whimpering in pain. When he returned, his victim’s eyes followed him closely. When he turned his back, the younger boy attacked him from behind, viciously pummeling his brother with the front end one of the cars until he howled in pain.

Both attacks were barbarically human and emotionally immature. Similar acts are mirrored throughout the planet every minute. The fact that scriptures in most world religions justify this behavior should be cause for alarm; but it isn’t. We don’t become alarmed until someone kills innocent people at Columbine, an Amish school, Virginia Tech, a South Side Chicago high school or Fort Hood.

We have nurtured a violent society and we see no relationship between that brutality and our beliefs. It’s always amazed me that we can’t look at Bible scriptures, which were physically written by humans, and classify them into one of two categories: Divinely Inspired and Definitely Inhumane. It’s even more amazing that we don’t realize that every scripture that we freely accept as the Word of God directly impacts our behavior and our children’s behavior.

We pass along our beliefs; we teach our kids that God responds with anger, force and sometimes inhumane brutality. Then we tell them that it’s wrong for them to respond that way. Jesus, we tell them, told us to turn the other cheek. But we also tell them that Jesus is God. What are they to think: God is bi-polar–or worse, a hypocrite?

After headlines scream of another unconscionably brutal act, we cry in anguish and disgust, “Why are our kids so violent? What’s wrong with them?” We march in the streets and attend prayer vigils; then we return to our computers and play Mafia Wars, lured like six million others by an ad that proclaims, “Surround yourself with thugs, thieves, crooks and bad guys. And that’s just your family. Trust me, you’ll love it!”

Almost daily, we update our status to brag that we’ve graduated to a higher level in the Mafia because we’ve committed a more heinous act of inhumanity. Often we solicit our Facebook friends to help us brutalize some prospective Mafia Wars victim.

We don’t understand that our thoughts reflect our consciousness. We play violent games, engage in virtually violent acts, watch violent TV and movies, read ancient stories of brutality against humans, sometimes committed by an angry unloving God, and we wonder why we don’t feel safe any more.

We’re merely witnessing what our beliefs about God look like when they’re acted out on our world’s stage. If we insist on believing in an angry vindictive God that solves problems by killing people, we must share responsibility for the fiendish acts of those who also hold those beliefs. We co-created those scenes.

Or, we can follow the God of Michael: Start with the Man in the Mirror.