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.

Is God Your Father or Your Daddy?

I visited a friend in the hospital yesterday. As I approached the reception area, I noticed a beautiful little boy accompanied by a couple that might have been his grandparents. This cherub couldn’t have been more than four years old. Round-faced with pinchable cheeks, big brown eyes and a fresh haircut, boyfriend couldn’t stand still, as the receptionist prepared the badges permitting them in the patient rooms. He was busy, busy, busy.
Suddenly he looked up and screamed, “Daddy!” Seconds later, he leaped into the open arms of his spittin’ image: a gorgeous brother that this child obviously adored. The little boy grasped his Dad’s cheeks and kissed him squarely in the mouth. His little fingers surveyed his Dad’s face, then rubbed his head and hugged his neck. The child was so breathless, so delighted to be with his Dad; I wondered if his parents were separated or divorced, and he hadn’t seen his father in a while.
“Are you ready to meet your little sister?” his father asked.
Ahhh, now the picture was in focus: Dad had been at the hospital with Mom through labor and childbirth, and Little Bit had stayed with his grandparents. But while their separation was a brief one, it had been much too long for this child.
It reminded me of Sasha and Malia at the Democratic Convention, when they saw their Dad on the huge monitor on stage. Remember that? You could almost feel their urge to go up to the screen and hug him. They had missed him so much.
Daddy love. More than that, it’s Daddy like—a much greater compliment to a father, in my humble opinion. Fathers can be anyone whose sperm fertilized an egg. Only fathers who treat their children well—and do it consistently, consciously and unconditionally—earn the name “Daddy.”
I’m not saying that abusive, caustic, negligent, absent and unsupportive fathers can’t be loved; they can. But rarely are they liked: Their children don’t feel an overwhelming urge to kiss their faces, rub their heads or hug their necks. These children don’t squeal with delight when they see their fathers—or jump up and down while squealing and clapping, as my daughter, Maiysha, used to do. Lordie, Lordie, that child would make so much noise when her Dad came home from work.
Most children have a deep affinity for their fathers. When they grow older, many notice that they resemble their earthly fathers, or maybe they were frequently told, “You look just like your Daddy!”
On the other hand, no one has told them that they looked like their heavenly father, God. When they look in their mirrors, they can’t see a resemblance, either. Why is that? What are we looking for? That fascinates me, so I often ask Drama Queen Workshop participants, “What does God look like?” Their responses are always insightful.
Once, with great pride, a woman said, “When I look in the mirror, I see God. God looks like me.” Others nodded in agreement, though I noticed that none of them was a man. Perhaps it was the idea of God looking like a woman that they couldn’t accept—or maybe they had a more expansive view of what God is. Men can be great thinkers. Mean it.
In another workshop, for example, a man asked me, “Do you think God looks like something or nothing?”
My response: “I think God looks like everything. If it’s true that God is omnipresent, then there is nothing in which the spirit of God is not present.” He had no comeback. He just smiled, although I could tell that he initially intended to bait me into saying something stupid or shallow.
I’d only be in danger of that if someone had offered evidence that God has a physical body that resembles ours. Humans assumed that if we were made in God’s image, God looked like us. I can understand how ancient illiterate people concluded that. I’m not sure what our excuse is.
We believe that God resides outside of Earth’s atmosphere, yet we know indisputably that human bodies really can’t function outside of this atmosphere without special equipment such as space suits. So the likelihood that God is wearing a human body beyond Earth’s atmosphere is probably slim to none.
The ancient scribes didn’t know that, so they wrote stories claiming that the profound Jewish rabbi named Yeshua, ascended into the heavens in a body that had been brutally tortured and rendered lifeless after Roman soldiers crucified him. What, pray tell, was he going to do with that carcass, if he went where they said he went?
There’s also no evidence, aside from the conflicting texts of these scribes, that God—portrayed as both omnipresent and physically light years away, as in all ancient myths—would be so satanic as to orchestrate such an inhumane death. But many mythical gods were diabolical, so there’s a logical explanation for why they told the story this way. There’s no logic at all to why we still believe it.
You have to read books about ancient history and mythology before the light turns on and you realize what formed our beliefs—and how innocently those beliefs were formed. Everyone knew these ancient myths, so the scribes probably assumed that the rank and file would not regard their updated versions as news reporting. They were wrong. Once the religious giants at the Council of Nicea declared these books as the “Word of God,” myth mushroomed into fact. Allowing only a chosen few to read or interpret these words for more than 1,200 years cemented them into the human belief system.
Eighteen centuries after the confab at Nicea, we still believe these tales are true—and we vigorously defend the words, even though they desecrate God’s image as an unconditionally loving Father.
While discussing my first book, one woman argued, “God is sovereign! He can do anything he wants.”
I concurred. My question to her was, “But would God want to do anything inhumane or satanic?” She admitted that she hadn’t thought about that.
Perhaps, on this Father’s Day, we should think about that. Perhaps we should look at why we hold human males to a higher standard of conduct than we hold our Divine Father:
  • If an earthly father raped his virgin daughter, he would be labeled a degenerate sex offender and could spend years in prison for incest.
  • If an earthly father solved problems by committing acts of violence against his children, we’d label him an abusive parent and throw him in jail.
  • If an earthly father plotted with others to brutally kill his only child by allowing others to nail him to a cross and subject him to three days of excruciating pain, we’d call him hateful and satanic, and our outcry for justice would be deafening.
  • If an earthly father had a multitude of children who repeatedly committed crimes and hurt others, and he decided to stop them by killing his only good child, we’d label him criminally insane and send him away forever.
  • If an earthly father kicked his naughty kids out of the only home they’d ever known, and banished them to the wilderness without any survival skills or visible means of support, we’d think he was demented, demonic—or both—and we’d press to convict him for child abuse (after we garnished his wages for lack of child support).
  • If an earthly father told his kids to forgive others’ sins 70 times seven, but threatened to punish his kids’ sins with unending torture, we’d call him a hypocrite.
  • If that same father told his kids not to kill others, but he was guilty of genocide, we’d lock up the hypocrite and throw away the key.
  • If an earthly father,who had a huge mansion and lots of children, gave a known demon total control of those children’s thoughts and behavior, we’d move heaven and earth to free those kids from the gip of the demon and deprogram them so that they could function normally and harmlessly in society.
  • If that same father declared that only the kids who outsmarted the demonic caretaker’s tricks could return to the mansion, we’d imprison both of the conspirators for child endangerment, sadism and more.

Oddly enough, when someone tells us that God—our Father—has done all of these things and more, our reactions are totally different. We respond with praise and worship. We look to the heavens and sing love songs. Yet we demonize earthly fathers who have done far less. It’s amazing how the human mind works.

A couple of years ago, a devout young man asked me a question I’ll never forget. He was planning a praise and worship festival, and needed public relations counsel. Sensing my discomfort with some of his dogma, he pointed toward the door and said, “If God walked in here right now, wouldn’t you drop to your knees and start praising Him?”

I took a deep breath. “That presumes that I believe that God isn’t here already—and that if He came from someplace else, He would scare or harm me. Is that what Love would do?” The young man hadn’t thought about that. All of his life, he only believed what others told him to believe.

I never saw him again. Hallelujah! I keep telling you: God is good.

On this Father’s Day, let us give our Heavenly Father a well-deserved break from centuries of bad publicity. Let’s give God the benefit of the doubt by challenging every allegation of inhumane behavior with the question, “Would Love do that?”

On Father’s Day 2009, let’s declare that while the word of God is inerrant, the word of some of the ancient scribes is verifiably inaccurate. Let’s dare to believe that God does nothing demonic, and does not solve problems by hurting people.

As a Father’s Day gift to God, let’s read more than one book—or vow to read the one we have more carefully. All the evidence that it’s time to stop blindly accepting other people’s answers and start asking our own questions is right there.

On this day, instead of simply declaring that we love God, let’s begin to like God as a Father who treats all of us well—and does it consistently, consciously and unconditionally. Today, let’s allow God to become our Daddy. Who knows: When we feel that Divine presence washing over us, we might begin to squeal with delight, rather than tremble with fear.

Dare to Think?

“Mankind must evolve, for all human conflict, a method that rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is Love.” The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

My route to the office passes a large orange sign in a window of the McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum on the Mag Mile that screams: “WE DARE YOU TO THINK”. That sign always makes me giggle.

Thinking is often discouraged or forbidden in this Land of the Free, especially when it comes to religion. Typically, we are scared to think, rather than dared to think.

Suppose you have a friend who makes you feel lucky to have him in your world. In fact, everyone who knows this guy speaks of him with admiration. What a cool dude: kind, generous, trustworthy, always lending a helping hand to others. He’s a source of comfort and solace. You’ve never seen him angry or heard him utter a discouraging word.

Then one morning you pick up the newspaper and see his picture beneath a headline that screams “CHARGED!” He’s walking with his head bowed, dressed in an orange jumpsuit, hands behind his back and surrounded by a gaggle of police and TV cameras.

Your knees buckle as you read details of the crimes your dear friend is accused of committing: rape, murder and child abuse. Investigators say they also found evidence that he is involved in a terrorist plot to kill a great number of people.

Your head is spinning. Do you believe what you read—or trust what you know? That is our challenge when we read certain accounts about God: believe what we read or trust what we know.

If, as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. suggests, mankind must evolve beyond a barbaric level of conflict resolution, surely God is light years ahead. And if we share Dr. King’s belief that we evolve to a higher level of conflict resolution through love, and we believe that God is Love, is it possible to believe that God resolves conflict with revenge, aggression and retaliation?

We are dared to think.

When I was nine or ten years old, I recall leaving Sunday school a bit dazed. I couldn’t quite wrap my child’s brain around what I’d just read in class. I comprehended the God is Love part; but the book lost me when it claimed that God had done cruel and unusual things that Love absolutely positively would not do, under any circumstances.

We are dared to think.

I’ve been told that God is everywhere, knows everything, and is all-powerful. If that’s true, how are we also supposed to believe that God has a rival? A rival can only be taken seriously if it is an equal. God has no equal.

We are dared to think.

One thought always seems to lead to others: For example, if jealousy is such an undesirable human trait, how can we believe that God has claimed to be jealous? And pray tell, what exists in the Universe that would invoke jealousy from a God who is everywhere, knows everything, and is all-powerful?

We are dared to think.

It is claimed that Love had a fit of rage so intense that it killed everyone and everything in Creation, with a few exceptions. And they want us to believe that Love has threatened to do it again.

Anybody dare to reflect on that “revelationary” method of resolving conflict?