Either Jesus was wrong–or we are

bad-mathFor years, I believed that Jesus died on the cross for my sins, and that I became a sinner the moment I took my first breath. That’s what I was told. Everyone around me believed it. As far as I was concerned, it was so—until I began to notice that something didn’t add up:

Jesus didn’t simply die; he was sadistically tortured to death. According to the scriptures, he was made to suffer for something others did, just as I was destined to be punished because of something Adam and Eve did. It made me think.

Is God unfair?

If asked if God is unfair, our natural response is, “Of course not!” But do we really believe that?

Yes or no: Is it fair to blame, harm or kill an innocent person for something someone else did? If not, we actually believe that God is unfair.

If we worship someone who treats others unfairly, what does that say about us? To be consistent, if we believe that satanically torturing an innocent man to death is the divine way to solve a problem, then we also must believe that society should jail or execute innocent people for crimes committed by their relatives, friends, co-workers and neighbors. Do we?

No. We live in an if “you do the crime, you do the time” society. Why? It’s only fair.

The truth is, we don’t believe in harming or punishing innocent people, and we don’t know any sane person who does. Yet we love it when God does it.

Would Love do that?

Like most Christians, I was repeatedly told that Jesus’s suffering was an act of godly love. Further, I should be grateful that God loved me so much that He would have Jesus brutally tortured instead of me. And if I didn’t believe that Jesus was tortured, I would be.

I had to wonder: Is it an act of love to torture someone to death? Whether it was for their mistake or someone else’s, is that what Love does?

Furthermore, what kind of person is grateful that an innocent man was executed for a crime he committed? Was I that kind of person? I surely hoped not.

Jesus viewed God differently than we do

The way Jesus viewed God completely contradicts the way the crucifixion story portrays God. Jesus’s view of God is the polar opposite of ours:

Through his Parable of the Prodigal Son, retold in Luke 15, Jesus revealed what kind of father he believed God to be. He related the story of an impatient, greedy son who wanted his inheritance from his father—immediately, thank you very much. Despite the disrespectful “I wish you were dead” implications of his younger son’s demand, the free-willing father bestowed him the inheritance.

How to become a prodigal in a few easy steps

The self-indulgent son and his party pals squandered every cent of the inheritance, quickly transforming this son of wealth into a pauper. He became a laborer on, of all things, a pig farm. He’d hit rock bottom. To this famished heir, even pig feed looked like a banquet.

What next? After treating his father as if he were dead, going back home was out of the question. It was doubtful that he’d ever be forgiven.

But, weighing his options—pig slop or groveling at his father’s feet—he wearily returned home, bracing himself for the verbal or severe physical beating he deserved. He’d be lucky if his father didn’t turn him away or have him stoned to death, as was the custom in those days—and remains so in cultures that are wed to the dictates of their ancient holy books. It is human nature to be vindictive.

We view God as humanly vindictive

What would the next scene look like, if we were writing the story of the Lost Son? How would the father in our story react to seeing the wayward son who had wished him dead and had wasted everything?

My guess is that our scene would start with an angry, judgmental rant, complete with expletives and name-calling. If he allowed his son to live, the father would probably punish him so harshly that he’d wish he had been stoned to death.

In our story, he probably would never regain his position as a beloved son. He had traded that for debauchery.

Jesus viewed God as divinely forgiving

Father greets prodigal sonHow did the father react in Jesus’s story? He spotted his prodigal son from a distance and ran to greet him with open arms. He clothed him in fine garments and ordered a feast, much to the dismay of his older and much more respectful son.

The father in Jesus’s story was unconditionally forgiving, unconditionally loving and totally merciful. Why? That is the way Jesus viewed God.

It was a perception that defied religious teachings and disturbed the religious order. They felt that chaos would erupt if people were not controlled by the threat of extremely harsh or deadly punishment. (We see how well that has worked.)

What if every child was told the same thing when they reached an age of comprehension: “Sweetheart, we live in a what-goes-around-comes-around world. Whatever you do here will be done to you. It’s called karma. It keeps everything in balance. Keep that in mind every waking minute of every day. Let that be your guiding light.”

If we believed that, like the father in Jesus’s parable, God gave all souls the free will to choose our consequences, this world probably would be less chaotic and more heavenly. We would always be thinking that if we steal, cheat, deceive, rape or murder, at some point in our eternal lives the same thing will happen to us. Consequently, we would never do anything that we would not want done to us.

Instead, we worship the ancient human view of God as a controlling, judgmental, vindictive villain, an enforcer, and alas, a sadist who unfairly murders His innocent child.

I have only one thing to say about that: Either Jesus was wrong—or we are.

Forgive us, for we know not what we do

Forgive us, Father, for we know not what we do.

Each Palm Sunday, I am even more sensitive to the fact that for the next week, millions will unknowingly demonize God and believe that they will be mightily blessed for doing so. I’m sure you’re wondering: How in the world can someone demonize God and not know it?

As simply as I can explain it, we can be fully aware that we’re doing something (walking, driving or standing somewhere) without giving it a conscious thought. We frequently do things without thinking about why we’re doing them—or the meaning and implications of our actions.

For example: All of us have found ourselves in a room and wondered, “Why did I come in here?” Or while in the process of doing something, we suddenly ask, “Why am I doing this?”

On rare occasions, we ask, “What does it mean that I am doing this?”

Death by torture: Divine or demonic?

This week we will frequently hear the phrase, “Christ died so that we might live,” as if he lay down on a slab, closed his eyes and stopped breathing. No one ever says, “God gave Jesus to the Romans to be sadistically tortured to death for sins he didn’t commit.” If they did, would it change our perception of God?

God-so-loved the worldWe unconsciously declare, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16

Have you thought about the meaning of this Bible verse and others that proclaim that Jesus “died for our sins”? Would you like to? Let’s do a Drama Queen Workshops-style thinking exercise:

Scene:

Front door of a beautiful suburban home. A business executive and single father, who has returned home a day early from a business trip, hears loud music and raucous chatter coming from his basement as he opens the door. He walks past beautifully appointed living and dining rooms, then into the huge kitchen, and down to the basement.

As he gets to the foot of the basement stairs and his eyes adjust to the darkness, he surveys the room. It looks like a scene from Sodom and Gomorrah:

Teenagers are drinking alcohol and dancing wildly. A few have passed out on the floor and on the sofas. Four guys are gambling at a table in the corner.

Near the laundry room, two boys are raping a drunk girl in the shadows. One kid, who was severely beaten after vomiting on a classmate, is lying in a pool of his own blood, lifeless.

The father is outraged! “What the hell is going on here? Mandy! Mandy, where are you?”

Screaming kids start scrambling, trying to escape up the stairs. He blocks their exit.

His daughter stumbles over friends to turn off the music and runs to him, stammering, trying to explain. Dad doesn’t want to hear it.

Mandy begs for his forgiveness; but forgiveness is out of the question. She falls to her knees, head bowed, in tears.

Dad is so angry, he can barely look at her. He asks, “Where’s your brother?”

“He left for that spiritual retreat today, remember?” Mandy murmurs, sobbing.

Dad raises an eyebrow. “It looks as if you are the one who should have gone!”

“I’m sorry, Dad. I don’t know what I was thinking. Please forgive me. Please forgive all of us,” she says, making a sweeping gesture across the room.

Her friends are now too afraid to move.

Dad thinks for a moment. Looking into the faces of the frightened teens, his tone softens.

“Because I love you so much, I will forgive you—but only on one condition: When John returns, I’m going to have him arrested and slowly tortured to death. His murder will wash away all your crimes. Everyone who believes that I have done this as an act of love will be forgiven of their misdeeds. In fact, they will live forever. So go tell everyone you know.”

That’s our drama. Now, ask yourself:

How would you respond to the father’s forgiveness offer if you were one of those teens in the basement: Would you accept it? Would you be grateful?

Is it an act of love or sadism to have an innocent child sadistically tortured to death so that the guilty children can escape punishment for their own misdeeds?

Why do we believe it is an act of love if God does it?

If a parent loves his guilty children so much that he would protect them by having his innocent child tortured to death, how does he feel about his innocent child?

If we insist to others that God had His innocent child tortured to death, are we proclaiming that God is good or evil?

If we believe that torturing an innocent person to death—for any reason—is a good thing, what does it say about us?

Needless to say, I’ve given this matter considerable thought, and I have concluded that declaring that God does something that Love would not do actually demonizes God. So during Holy Week or any week, I will repeat only one verse from the Bible’s crucifixion narrative: “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:24)

The greatest cloning feat in human history

Dana Carvey's judgmental "Church Lady" character. "Well, isn't THAT special?"

Dana Carvey’s Enid “Church Lady” Strict:
“Well, isn’t THAT special?”

The condescending attitudes of those who believe that God solves problems by drowning, burning, torturing and threatening to excessively punish His children throughout all eternity used to make my blood pressure rise. I’ve been met with outright hostility and judged as a hell-bound heathen because I steadfastly refuse to believe that God would do anything Love would not do. Is it really diabolical to believe that God is consistent, not capricious?

Take a Deep Breath…

Instead of angrily going to the “You worship a sadistic genocidal despot, and you have the nerve to look down your nose at me” place, I’m making an effort to understand why so many believe that God is so vile.

Maybe people are so judgmental and think they’re so special because they believe that God is judgmental and exclusionary. But it’s mankind that seeks differences between himself and others, discriminates against others, and feels superior to others. More than likely, he long ago cloned God in his image.

Establishing an exclusive path to God perpetuates man’s belief in divine discrimination (an oxymoron, if I ever heard one). It goes like this: I’m on the only path to God; you’re not. As Saturday Night Live comedian Dana Carvey’s smug superior-dancing Church Lady character, Enid Strict would say, “Well, isn’t THAT special?”

What “One Path” Really Implies

This “One Path to God” theosophy presumes a few things:

  1. God is not omnipresent spirit: He (always “He,” in the image of his creator) is a stationary, man-like being who lives in Outer Space and occasionally venturing out to banish, condemn, murder or eternally torture His kids.
  2. God turns His back on unfavored children: Billions are wandering aimlessly because God didn’t show them the path home.
  3. God is a hypocrite: God wants humans to do as He says, not as He does. He sent Jesus to tell us to forgive 70 times 7, love our enemies, judge not and condemn not. Meanwhile, He drowns, tortures, threatens, judges and condemns…with love.

God’s Fingers Crossed behind His Back?

Another critical one-path belief is that God’s forgiveness comes with strings attached. They say three conditions must be met:

  1. God’s only innocent child must be sadistically tortured to death;
  2. Everyone else must believe that the innocent child was barbarically murdered instead of us;
  3. We also must believe that torturing an innocent man to death is an act of divine love. If we don’t believe it, they say, God will inhumanely torture us throughout all eternity.

Would Love do that—or have these Believers completely redefined Love?

Unfair father

Man has made God in his image, awash in qualities that we consider undesirable, criminal, even despicable in mere mortals. In fact, He bears a strong resemblance to our so-called “enemy,” Satan. Despite that, many have embraced this diabolical image of God—maybe because they haven’t really thought about what they believe. They simply believe.

Have you thought about it? Say “Amen” if you:

  • Worship and adore a father who doesn’t tell all of His children how to get back home.
  • Admire violent, vindictive dictators.
  • Relish the opportunity to be with someone who solves problems by killing and torturing people.
  • Love it when someone is unfair, threatening or judgmental.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Your choice, your truth: Are you human or divine?

In honor of George Washington, can we talk about truth?

I ask because the issue arose while commiserating recently with a friend. She was bewildered and hurt by her husband’s suddenly pubescent behavior. At 40, he had become obsessed with the gym, his brand new muscles, rap artists and flirtatious young women who thought he was buff.

“Is it a mid-life crisis?” she wondered.

The Loud Mouth also wondered what was the underlying truth. I didn’t doubt that my friend’s husband was going through a crisis. Actually, I found it rather ironic that his intolerance over her failure to wilt into a dead faint whenever he stepped out of the shower or entered a room actually rendered him rather unattractive, except to someone who valued superficiality.

This poor man truly had created a crisis. I simply wasn’t sure it had anything to do with mid-life.

Backpack instead of briefcaseHuman Life Can Be Calculated

Actors on Earth’s theater who identify themselves as their characters—as humans—have a beginning, a middle and an end. For these fine folks, everything and everyone is physical. Nothing exists unless they can see, feel, taste, touch or hear it.

Most of them believe that they were made in God’s image. But what is that image? It changes from one culture or country to another. Always has. As Greek philosopher, theologian and religious critic, Xenophanes (c.570 – c.475 BC), once wrote:

Ethiopians say that their gods are snub-nosed and black and Thracians that theirs have blue eyes and red hair….If cattle and horses or lions had hands, or were able to draw with their hands and do the work that men can do, horses would draw the forms of the gods like horses, and cattle like cattle, and they would make their bodies such as they each had themselves.”

Simply put: Those who believe that humans are merely physical bodies typically worship a god who looks human, complete with body, gender and a defined space in which to live. Their anthropomorphic god behaves in ways that are more characteristic of humans, rather than divine (2 Kings 1:10):

  • He is volatile, violent and vindictive (Ez. 25:17);
  • He changes His mind (Gen. 8:21);
  • He solves problems by slaughtering or sadistically torturing His children to death—one at a time (Mark 15:25) or all at once (Gen. 6:17);
  • He is jealous (Ex. 34:14);
  • He demands obedience and rewards it with physical bounty (2 Cor. 7:15);
  • He brutally punishes disobedience forever and ever (2 Peter 2:4);
  • For all of this and more, they say, he is “worthy to be praised” (Ps. 18:3).

The Divine on a Calculator

There are others who also believe that they were made in the image of God, but they perceive God to be invisible, invincible and immortal spirit (John 4:24). They believe God is everywhere, rather than somewhere.

They also believe that God is Love (1 John 4:8), and embrace Paul’s definition of love captured in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8: Love is patient, kind, not envious, boastful or proud. Love does not dishonor others, is not self-seeking or easily angered. It keeps no record of wrongs. It does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. Love always protects, always, trusts, always hopes, always perseveres, and never fails.

For these believers, anything that claims to be said by God, written by God or done by God, but does not fit within Paul’s definition of Love, mocks and demonizes God.

As humans, we create crises, not because of our age or any fear of aging. Generally, it’s because we choose to worship our mortal body costumes. We’ve made them our only reality. We’ve diminished ourselves to a calculable beginning, middle and end. But think about it:

  • If we are made in God’s image, are we spirit or is God a man?
  • If God is spirit, as John claims, how do we calculate God’s beginning, mid-life and ending?
  • If we are spirit, how do we calculate our own beginning, mid-life and ending?

We choose how we will perceive ourselves and how we will perceive our God. We can be, think and act as if we’re merely humans marching toward death, even on the way to the gym. We also have the option of traversing this world as divinely as humanly possible.

Our outcomes—our joys, our pains and our suffering—reflect our truth. For better or worse.

Does Christmas belittle Jesus’s mission?

Egyptian god Horus

Horus of Egypt, son of a human virgin and a god.

I’ve often wondered whether we have done Jesus a great disservice by assigning him the same birthday as ancient gods. In mythology, Horus of Egypt (c. 3000 BC), Mithra of Persia (c. 1200 BC), Attis of Greece (c. 1200 BC), Krishna of India (c. 900 BC), Dionysus of Greece (c. 500 BC) and others were “born” on December 25.

All are the alleged offspring of virgin mothers and powerful gods. As legend has it, these illustrious demigods healed the sick, raised the dead, and were murdered by the establishment. Each one was resurrected after three days.

While it’s possible that December 25 was Jesus’s birthday, no one can pinpoint anything, anywhere that cites that date or justifies claims that he is “the reason for the season.”

Despite that, hundreds of songs have been written, thousands of pageants have been performed, and millions of gifts have been exchanged on December 25th. The Pope’s latest book says our Christmas traditions are based on myth. If you want the Cliff notes version, Yahoo! News outlines “Five Surprising Facts about Christmas” in this post.

How many times was Jesus born?

Many contend that to be a Christian, you must absolutely positively believe the Bible’s accounts of Jesus’s birth and death. Fair enough, since religion typically requires unquestioning belief. But which accounts are we required to believe: Luke’s or Matthew’s? (Were you brave enough to take the poll in my previous post, Manger or Mary’s House?)

As discussed in that post, most of us haven’t noticed that the Bible cites two different locations for Jesus’s birth. Bible scholar Bart D. Ehrman says it’s because we read the Bible as we read other books: vertically, from the top of the page to the bottom, when it’s often more insightful to read it side-by-side.

To help his students glean more from the text, Ehrman asks them to list all the facts in a Bible story, then compare them with facts stated elsewhere. It’s a technique also used by the Rev. Gaylon McDowell, my New Testament teacher at Christ Universal Temple.

What I discovered when I did that exercise is that both narratives began and ended the same, but nothing else matched:

Contradictory Birth Narratives

If you’re interesting in learning and growing, I’d suggest that you try this technique with the Bible’s accounts of Jesus’s death and the days that followed. I think you’ll find it as insightful as the fact that the Book of James, written by Jesus’s brother, contains neither of these accounts.

How we missed it the first time

More fascinating, try this technique with the Great Flood story in Genesis, which claims that God couldn’t think of a better solution for man’s wickedness than to kill every living thing—including innocent infants, animals, fish and fauna. According to Bible and Torah scholars, five flood myths were woven together to Genesis. Because of that, you’ll need more than two columns on your page because the “facts” frequently contradict each other from one verse to another, not simply from one chapter or book to another.

Because we are told that the Bible is the inerrant “Word of God,” we typically dismiss or ignore inconsistencies. In other books, we’d consider it implausible for someone to be born in two different places. We’d easily notice that facts are changing from one sentence (or verse) to another.

With the Bible, we negotiate and reconcile blatant contradictions. That’s why we often see the star in Matthew’s story positioned over the stable and shepherds in Luke’s story. The wise men, who went to the house, are curiously standing near the shepherds and manger.

Why the facts don’t line up

Many believe the gospels were written by Jesus’s disciples. But based on the dates their gospels were written, Bible scholars agree that neither Matthew nor Luke ever met Jesus. They also note that the Book of James, written by Jesus’s brother, doesn’t mention the miraculous virgin birth involving his very own mother.

Matthew and Luke, however, were fervently committed to converting more followers to Judaism’s new sect, Christianity. Matthew crafted his birth narrative to attract more Jews by including as many elements as possible to link Jesus to the Jewish prophesies about the Messiah. In particular, it was important to establish that he was born in Bethlehem and from the lineage of King David. For good measure, he drew a parallel to Moses, who escaped the Pharoah’s mandate to kill newborn boys.

Luke’s aim was to convert everybody, Jew and Gentile. His birth narrative used imagery of common folk, shepherds, who rejoiced at the birth of the Messiah.

Both men realized that they needed a device to get Jesus to Nazareth after the birth. After all, he was known as Jesus of Nazareth, not Jesus of Bethlehem.

Does myth matter?

Completely lost in these tangled fables is the real significance of Jesus’s life: His message for us to love unconditionally and forgive untiringly, as exemplified by the father in the Prodigal Son parable. Another casualty: His admonitions for us to avoid judging and condemning each other.

If Jesus’s mission was to teach us that we are one with the father and to save us from committing sin by loving, forgiving and being nonjudgmental, have we belittled that mission by dedicating ourselves instead to errant words, unrelated traditions and worshiping the life story of mythical gods? If we haven’t honored Jesus’s teachings, as urged in his brother James’ book, what on Earth are we celebrating?

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?

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.

Where Is God?

I was absentmindedly watching the flight information screen as we ascended toward Istanbul from Cairo, and noticed a little factoid that had previously escaped me: The outside temperature. It was plummeting by the second. Before I switched screens to scroll through my movie choices, it was -98°F out there—almost 200° cooler than the Sahara.

It's FREEZING up here!

It's F-F-FREEZING up here!

I peered out the window. Why does anyone in the 21st century still believe that God lives above the clouds? I wondered. And why would anyone human want to, especially since we also believe our physical bodies are going to reconstitute for the ascension? What earthly bodies can sustain themselves up here?

Isn’t it interesting how we get so firmly entrenched in other people’s stories that they take on a life of their own (and ours)? The ancients, who hadn’t traveled above the clouds or to other planets, offered us their beliefs. We should thank them and catalog their beliefs for archival purposes, a reference point.

Instead, we revere their vision of a huge man-clone who lives in the frigid sky. We hold that caricature, with all his violent and sociopathic personality traits, close to our bosoms. And how is that working for us?

Humans fear the uncontrollable. That’s why we’ve confined God to a box: a religion box, a denomination box, and a place in the sky box. But how do we build a relationship with this sky-dwelling god of the ancients’ vivid imaginations? How do we feel secure when God is heaven knows how far away? How do we convince ourselves that this condescending god who can’t forgive us without torturing someone to death really loves us? How do we  love someone so diabolical and distant—and who considers us so vile? Or do we simply feign love because we’re afraid to claim otherwise?

On this or any Sunday, did we find God in the places we looked? Or have we simply found it safer to keep the God we met at church as far away from us as we can?

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.

Opening the eyes in back of your head

I recently reconnected with my college sweetheart and lifelong friend, who initiates a pleasant game of catch-up every once in a while. After all these years, I’m still surprised whenever he and his healthy sense of “what if…” curiosity suddenly reappear on my life path.

During our latest round of shoulda, woulda, coulda catch-up, we had a friendly debate about the value of revisiting the past. He insisted that it’s a healthy exercise, whether our memories are dramatically romanticized or even tinged with regret. Although I didn’t immediately admit it, he was right: Staring straight ahead can be myopic. Worse, we lose the valuable gifts tucked inside those rear view glances: context, life lessons and wisdom.

Rear-view mirror

(c) Bill Frymire

Perhaps you’ve noticed that we can’t always see where we’re going as clearly as where we’ve been. It’s the birthing chamber for those “If I only knew then what I know now” groans.

Ahhh, if our foresight was as 20/20 as our hindsight, life would be so much easier, wouldn’t it? But let’s be grateful that we have eyes in the back of our heads. With that hindsight, we can squeeze every drop of value from our experiences—pleasant and otherwise.

Easier to believe than to think

Albert EinsteinIt doesn’t take Jesus to tell us that putting new wine in old skins will make an absolute mess. It doesn’t take Einstein to tell us that doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome is simply wacko. That great teacher, Experience, has told us these things on numerous occasions.

It doesn’t profit us to blindfold the eyes in back of our heads or power down our brains when discerning truth from possibility. By now, we’ve had millions of chances to be “born again”: clear out the debris from thoughts and beliefs that we know, from experience, don’t work and let our evolutionary lessons inhabit this new space—staying open to the possibility that new discoveries might replace them, as well.

Is Earth really flat?

We don’t have to rely on what others told us to believe. For example, several Bible scriptures, including Revelation 7:1, Isaiah 11:12, Job 28:24 and 37:3,  tell us that Earth is flat. Eyes open, brains in full throttle, do we embrace these scriptures as Truth (the Word of God), or as insight into what ancient people believed was true?

During an online search for images depicting the “four corners of the Earth,” as described in Revelation 7:1, I discovered the existence of the International Flat Earth Society. Its members are dedicated to “unraveling the true mysteries of the universe and demonstrating that the earth is flat and that Round Earth doctrine is little more than an elaborate hoax.”

Half of what you see, none of what you hear

I also found the image I was seeking, created in 1893, complete with ten Biblical scriptures that “condemn the globe theory.” Among them, included scriptures claiming that the earth, moon and sun stand still.

Map of the square, stationary Earth

In the tradition of new wine in old skins, this map presents us with a round and square Earth. It was created using the same methodology as the Christian clergy at the Councils of Nicaea in 325 and 787 CE, who poured an Old Testament God inside New Testament wineskin. All over the floor splashed a bi-polar deity who is genocidal, filicidal, difficult to please, smiting, full of wrath, judgmental, homophobic, punitive, capricious, vindictive, sadistic, AND the unconditionally loving, forgiving father of prodigal children.

Does believing make it so?

Every minute of our lives, we have the opportunity to apply the lessons we’ve learned and use them as guides as we progress along our life paths. Instead, we repeat phrases and hold expectations that they will perform as if they are true, even though we’ve learned through observation and experience, they are not. Phrases that top that list: “Believing makes it so” and “What we think about, we bring about.”

Millions of us quote modern scribes who declare that we can manifest whatever circumstances, possessions and relationships into the physical world that we desire. All we have to do is “claim” them or follow a certain formula or invoke a particular spiritual law.

With all due respect to the writers of those theories, nothing we have experienced or witnessed validates their claim. When our eyes open and brains are in full throttle rather than idling in gullibility, we know that laws produce the same result, 100% of the time for 100% of those affected, independent of our thoughts or beliefs. Yet we keep doing the same thing, expecting a different result.

We also know that laws don’t have to be consciously invoked. When’s the last time you you invoked the Law of Gravity so that you could walk, sit or hang a picture without anything floating away?

Is possibility a law?

Anything is possible. But if the Law of Attraction works the way modern sages say, everything to which we devoted dominant thought and emotional energy, and visualized in great detail would appear in our experience. Nothing else.

In other words, there would be no dictionary entries for surprise or disappointment. We’d be in total control of our experience here; in fact, we’d have dominion over Earth, just as the ancient scribes believed. Wouldn’t that make our physical/ego selves’ toes curl with delight?

Opening the eyes in back of our heads

Perhaps it’s time for us to see a bigger picture, and make a game of it, as creative souls do. My dear friend Joe’s wonder-filled game of “what if…” seems perfect for this:

  • What if God is so much greater than the brain-limiting images of a huge being who looks like a human and lives in outer space?
  • What if God is a divine, immortal and invisible intelligence and we are made in that likeness and image, rather than the other way around?
  • What if we have misidentified ourselves as mere mortals?
  • What if we, as divine, immortal and invisible souls are much more invincible and intelligent than the sensory human body costumes we are temporarily wearing?
  • What if, in the divine, immortal and invisible world of Spirit, everything is perfect, in Divine Order?
  • What if, as divine, immortal and invisible souls, we are precisely where we want to be, having the experiences we want to have for this bat-of-an-eyelash moment in Universal Time?
  • What if attempts by our mortal, sensory human costumes to control the divinely perfect experience we’ve designed simply don’t work?
  • What if we let go of our limited vision of ourselves and consciously sought to identify ourselves as the divine, immortal omniscient spirit within us?
  • What if we trusted the Divine Within to be our pilots, instead of using our bodies and the brains within them to manipulate the circumstances, possessions and people in our physical lives?