Can you have faith without religion?

God is so reliable. I was perusing my list of blog post ideas, looking for inspiration, when one caught my eye: Can you have faith without religion?

F is for Faith

The substance of things hoped for, The evidence of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1, KJV

It’s a compelling question, especially since an increasing number of Americans now describe themselves as “spiritual, not religious.” One study reports that as many as 33% self-identify as such. I am among them.

Before I could expound on some of the reasons millions today believe God is spirit [John 4:24], rather than an angry, judgmental and vindictive Being who lives beyond the farthest star, a browser tab caught my eye. I typically have at least a dozen browser tabs visible. They’re frequently visited sites, including CNN, The Weather Channel, a couple of unfinished books on Kindle Cloud Reader, Facebook and Twitter, and sites related to whatever research I’m conducting. Right now I have 18 tabs at the ready.

It was Facebook that lured me from my writing. At the top of my news feed was a story, “My Neighbor’s Faith: The rabbi and the Christian cab driver.” I was instantly intrigued.

Rabbi Brad Hirschfield recounted the time he hopped into a Syracuse cab and was stunned to discover “JESUS LOVES YOU” stickers on practically every surface of the interior. The dashboard bore a crucifix; pocket Bibles hung from the windshield. He quipped, “This wasn’t just a cab, it was a rolling cathedral!”

The scruffy looking cabbie asked the rabbi what he thought of Jesus, and why he didn’t believe Jesus was his path to salvation. The rabbi’s response was profound:

“I can believe that Jesus is a great teacher without believing that he is God’s son and the only path to salvation. One truth doesn’t negate the other. I can love Jesus in my way. And you can love Jesus in yours. There is room for both of our understandings of Jesus. I don’t believe that you have to be wrong for me to be right.”

“I don’t believe that you have to be wrong for me to be right.” The words hit the cabbie like a ton of bricks.

I felt a punch in the gut, too. Why? Because I’m keenly aware that the Loud Mouth can be as strident and judgmental as those who describe themselves as religious, particularly those who describe themselves as Christians.

God's wrath was aimed at you. Jesus took it. Don't reject him.Many Christians criticize those who don’t believe that we need to be saved from God’s judgment and eternal punishment. I, on the other hand, criticize anyone who believes that God is judgmental, sadistic and unforgiving. Neither position reflects Yeshua’s (aka Jesus) teachings.

Days ago, I expressed to a Facebook friend that I wanted to be more mindful of Jesus’s admonition to “judge not” and “condemn not.” It obviously put the spiritual wheels in motion.

Enter Rabbi Hirschfield, stage right: “Why do religious people have to be wrong for you to be right, Pat?”

I’m sure he is only the first of many who will offer me opportunities to rise above my Virgo propensity to criticize and analyze.

Rabbi Hirschfield didn’t say that I have to believe that God is an angry, judgmental, genocidal and vindictive Being who lives in the sky. I don’t have to believe that God’s forgiveness has strings attached, or that God solves problems by killing, banishing, forsaking or sadistically torturing anyone to death. I also don’t have to believe that sadistically torturing an innocent child to death is a divine way to demonstrate one’s love for the guilty children.

What he said was that others don’t have to be wrong for believing any or all of these things. Another great Jewish rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth, probably would concur: “Whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet,” he reportedly said.

I have faith that I can shake the dust off my feet. I can give others loving allowance to believe whatever they want and worship whatever kind of God they want. I have faith that I can practice Jesus’s teachings until they are second nature: Love my neighbor as myself; forgive 70 times 7; judge not; condemn not; God is within.

I have faith that I can experience and radiate the Christ within me, as he did. I have faith that with practice, I will grow in love so consistently that I’m will not be the person I was the day before.

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.

Who’s gonna nab the real burglar in Cambridge?

The furor over the arrest of renowned Harvard University Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. has been painful to watch, even from the balcony of Life’s dramas: Scenes littered with suspicion, mistrust and accusations of racial profiling morphed into outrage, defensiveness, retaliation and, alas, some unfortunate mug shots. None of it—not the incident, the race-based commentary or what was really happening behind the scenes—was spiritually enlightening or positively evolutionary.

If you resisted the urge to jump onto this stage and fuel the flames of racial bigotry, if you maintained some distance and climbed into the balcony of the mayhem, then you had the benefit of being detached enough to see the character stealing each scene. You could almost hear him chortling. Uh huh, it was our devious friend Ego, the Anti-Christ, gleefully yanking everybody’s chain. Yes, I said it: Your, my, our ego is the Anti-Christ.

I didn’t think that I was the first to link the two; but just to make sure, I Googled “Ego Anti-Christ.”  The numerous results included books such as Real Jesus, the psychology of anti-christ, and articles. One, “How to Recognize the Anti-Christ Within” leaped from the page. There was even an Oprah.com Community post, “The anti-Christ is NOT a person.” 

Millions are waiting for the Anti-Christ to arrive, but it’s been here all along. It sits where we sit, stands where we stand, walks where we walk. And all too often, it speaks when we speak. It prods us to do and say things to others that we would not want done or said to us. It picks fights, fuels dissension, and causes us to choose angry force over peaceful power. It justifies righteous indignation over effective conflict resolution. It’s like a magnet, spinning our moral compass out of control.

Ego is the antithesis of the Christ spirit. It upstages maturity and intelligence. It stirs up mess, and through mass and social media, engages millions in divisive bickering that keeps us mired in the drama of Earth, distracting us from the greater reality of who we are and what Life is. Heaven forbid that we should choose peace, bliss out, and discover that we are more powerful than our egos led us to believe!

Ego is winning its battle for our souls, though not on merit. We’re forfeiting without even showing up.

Ego has a vested interest in highlighting our differences rather than our unifying divinity. It tells us that others are less human, less intelligent, less prosperous or not as beautiful as we are, and we should treat them offensively. We obey. It tells us that someone thinks they’re better than we are, and we should be offended. On cue, we shake our fists in rage, hearts pounding, glands sweating, blood pressure rising, literally making ourselves sick. 

Ego doesn’t care whom it hurts. After all, hurt people hurt people. Hurt people also create more drama, so the ego’s manipulative mission has been accomplished. Ego will act a fool and make a fool wherever humans allow: in the opulent offices of global government and business leaders, in the squalor of tent cities, refugee camps and urban ghettos, and in quiet upscale neighborhoods such as Cambridge, Massachusetts.

In every case, the human mind makes a conscious decision to relinquish control to the devilish ego. We are not as conscious of the corresponding consequences, but that can change. At any moment, we can choose to act in our own best interest.

“I can be changed by what happens to me.
I refuse to be reduced by it.”
                                                                       Maya Angelou

 Whenever we let the ego force us to focus on the superficial, we volunteer to be reduced—sometimes in front of huge gawking audiences. Whenever we handcuff and book someone for screaming at us, we reduce ourselves to mere ego. Whenever we ask, “Is it because I’m Black?” or retort, “I’ll talk to your mama on the porch,” we’ve let the ego win. Whenever we label ourselves as anything other than children made in the image of the Love that is God, we’ve bought into the ego’s false claims that we are only humans, defined by our differences.  

Situations often arise to help us remember who and whose we are. These teachable moments allow us to practice calling on the Light of God within to anchor us to our seats so that we won’t leap onto the stage of someone else’s ego-driven drama. These are times when we can work on perfecting the art of seeing the omnipresent God Light in everyone, no matter how they’re acting.

Truth has its rewards. Without these challenging or confrontational situations, when would we have an opportunity to demonstrate our values, stand firm in the truth of our own divinity, and refuse to be diminished by anything said or done?

Whatever your reaction to the lamentable drama in Cambridge, did you observe your own values on display when you spoke or wrote about it? Others certainly noticed. While responding to my comment about the incident on Denrique Preudhomme’s blog earlier this week, a woman declared that she didn’t believe that we should turn the other cheek and let God handle our problems. Furthermore, she said, God would not want us to back down from a fight with our tails tucked between our legs.

If she had not written that, the rest of us would not have known that she, like George W. Bush, perceived God as pugnacious rather than the Prince of Peace. I didn’t argue. We must give loving allowance for folks to believe what they believe. However, I did acknowledge my awareness that there are many who, like her, do not believe in the teachings of Jesus. (OK, so I also added that this is why we create, nurture and repeat these hurtful dramas. I admit that it might have been a bit judgmental. I’m working on that—mean it. Hey, if my soul was fully evolved, it wouldn’t be wearing this body.)

That brief online exchange was just another of my many self-awareness tests. Sometimes I pass, sometimes I fail. The most difficult part for me is maintaining conscious awareness that many times each day I will encounter these opportunities to speak and act from my empowering Divine-Self or my destructive Ego-Self. Each decision has its corresponding consequences, which should be incentive enough. And it is, when I remember instead of getting caught up in the drama.

It’s infinitely easier to detect these growth opportunities when I watch other folks’ dramas from the balcony of their lives. Recently, several friends have approached me for support after encountering dehumanizing individuals who hadn’t simply hidden their God Light under a bushel; they had buried it in a different zip code.

One friend wondered if the vile nature of her client’s in-your-face communication warranted an equally caustic and profane response “to show him who he was dealing with.” After all, she was no chump!

Because she was no chump, I suggested, wouldn’t it be a greater demonstration of her strength if she refused to allow him to blow out her Christ Light with his belittling rants? Any chump can throw verbal garbage or physical blows. Any small person can try to feel bigger by diminishing the worth of others. Only the strong can turn the other cheek, knowing that the power of the Almighty is within them. She liked that idea and accepted the challenge to flex that muscle.

A few days ago, another dear friend and mentor, a phenomenal manager in the business world, demonstrated that he is also an awesome leader in the real world. His boss, frustrated that he did not have the authority to fire my friend, spewed venomous, demeaning language in his face.

My friend didn’t react, no matter how disrespectfully the man behaved in this professional setting. He refused to relinquish his power. He refused to allow the out-of-control being on the other side of the desk to force him to abandon the refuge of his Christ-Self.

He calmly observed his boss’s tantrum. In fact, he said, he felt sorry for the man—and with good reason:  Despite his considerable education, this man did not know what he was doing to himself physically or spiritually. He did not know that his fury was creating a chemical time bomb in his body. He did not know that this is a reap-what-you-sow world: Whatever you do will be done to you. He also did not know that your anger cannot control others’ bodies, minds or behavior unless they allow.

Luckily, most of us can exist an entire lifetime without being subjected to scenarios with this level of toxicity. I can’t say with certainty that I would have responded appropriately if I had encountered this situation before my mentor modeled—with a capital “M”—how to exude sheer power. If he can do it, we can do it.

He didn’t simply accept the opportunity to be Christ-like, he owned it. He was like the proverbial tree that’s planted in the water: He would not be moved. Despite his boss’s numerous attempts to drown him in darkness and goad him into responding insubordinately, my friend stood strong and tall in the Light, knowing that Darkness and Light cannot occupy the same space at the same time. By making this choice, he and the Light actually became One.

The irony here is that one man was a Christian minister. The other wasn’t. Guess which.

It was Ego who walked off that stage with his tail tucked between his legs—a defeat that did little to spoil its high batting average in many other places in the world, including Cambridge. Perhaps we can further diminish its influence and impact if we simply shed light on other instances in which we held the Anti-Christ at bay. (Now wouldn’t that be a Revelation?)

What challenges have you faced that you’ve overcome in a powerful way? Or if you missed an opportunity, with hindsight, how would you have handled it more effectively?

In Memoriam: Life as we once knew it

I watched in wonder as the debate over Notre Dame’s invitation for the President of these United States to speak at this year’s commencement hit a fever pitch of judgmental rhetoric—led by those who call themselves Christians. Fascinating stuff.

Maybe I’ve been watching the drama on Earth from too far away. I’ve obviously lost the ability to zoom in on the important stuff. I certainly missed the moment that “judge not and you will not be judged, condemn not and you will not be condemned” ceased to be central to the teachings of the radically non-religious Jewish rabbi named Yeshua. People on both sides of the issue claim to be his followers; but they clearly don’t walk his walk.

The Loud Mouth is brash enough to call out non-Christlike Christians; but the President, who consistently confronts hot topics directly, without being confrontational, delivered a speech that appealed for both sides to disagree if they must; but do it with Christ-like civility:

“I do not suggest that the debate surrounding abortion can or should go away. No matter how much we may want to fudge it—indeed, while we know that the views of most Americans on the subject are complex and even contradictory—the fact is that at some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable. Each side will continue to make its case to the public with passion and conviction. But surely we can do so without reducing those with differing views to caricature.

“Open hearts. Open minds. Fair-minded words.”

As the resident bull in a china shop, let me take this debate to a place where our President couldn’t: To “The Beginning.” At the heart of the abortion issue is this: When does Life begin—and does a woman have a right to choose to give birth to an infant body?

Much of the debate rages around whether Life begins at conception or at some stage in the development of an embryo or fetus. The presumption here is that Life is physical—and that a human can give It, take It, save It, or even make It miserable. Perhaps we have forgotten what Life is—Life with a capital “L,” that is.

Have you ever seen Life with your physical eyes? Where was It? What was It doing? What did It look like? What was it wearing? Can you draw a picture of Life? Have you ever photographed It? How old was It?

What does Life look like at birth? At death? Can you describe it? Have you ever thought about it? Have you considered the possibility that we have made the words “life” and “body” synonymous?

When Life leaves a body, the body dies. Does that mean that Life is dead, too? Unless you send me evidence to the contrary, Life—like Spirit, like Soul and like God—is invisible to those in the physical world. And, unlike those in the physical world, Spirit, Soul, God, and Life have no beginning and have no end.

We have forgotten. That’s why this Memorial Day weekend, I honor the Divinity that we once knew as Life: The powerful, invincible, God-like essence that we temporarily abandoned to slip into costumes called human bodies and solve problems by disrespecting, maligning, berating, battling and killing those who disagree with us, or belong to a different army, tribe, gang, race, gender, sexual orientation, political party or religion.

I mourn the loss of our memories. We have forgotten that at “the end of the day,” our souls will not be held accountable for how others treated us—only how we treated them. If we remembered that—even if we forgot what Life really is—Memorial Day would be just another day on the tiny planet called Earth.

Is Your Consciousness Ascending?

As I watched the sunrise this Easter morning, a question popped into my mind. Perhaps you have asked yourself the same thing, but were afraid to ask it of anyone else. It’s not a simple question, and maybe you’re not ready for it; but the Loud Mouth is here to help if you get stuck. Read it slowly and repeatedly, if necessary:

Can we accurately call ourselves Christians if we believe in and try to practice the powerful teachings of Jesus, but we don’t believe that God allowed Jesus to be brutally tortured and murdered three short years into his ministry, in lieu of satanically brutalizing the rest of us throughout all eternity? 

What say you: Yes or No?