Monthly Archives: December 2015

Why I Dislike Santa

I love Christmas. I love the celebration of the winter solstice and the auguring in of a new year; I love to honor the last official appearance of God’s son in the world as a human boy; I love to hunt for the perfect Christmas tree; I love to teach the children about giving and sharing and making the world better for the less fortunate, which is becoming something akin to a family tradition for us. I love the smell of pine and I love the gathering of families and I love the promise (or in some years the delicious appearance) of snow falling in a glittering purple night sky. I love the winter season and I love Christmas for all that it is and all that it helps us to be. When, that is, we become better souls because of it. When, in other words, we give an extra twenty or we pay a family’s electricity bill or we smile at a stranger or we slow down and hold the door open for someone holding heavy bags or we buy a toy for a kid in need—this, to me, is the essence of what makes Christmas so good.

I just touched though on what often betrays the best of Christmas—this buying of presents. For even when it’s done with charitable intent, it’s still the one thing that unites all America. Christmas in America is about spending money. For inextricably tied to Christmas in modern day secular culture is the reign of the great symbol for mass consumer culture: Santa Claus. And I dislike everything about Santa.

Why?

  1. Adoring Santa Claus leads us to place the focus on spending money rather than on connecting with our inner selves or with things and matters of eternal value. We worship getting and spending and we become, as the Bhagavad Gita teaches, our deepest desires, or we become that which we desire most. If we spend all of our time chasing things down on Amazon, if we traipse up and down crowded malls staring into beautifully stocked windows, we end up wanting all of THAT. It’s unavoidable. We become what we desire most and we desire most what we focus our time and energy on acquiring or becoming. If we’re shopping, we in fact become what we’re shopping for . . . whereas if we are worshiping or meditating and seeking the divine, we become THAT—that union with the best in us and the best that come OF us. To reach our higher selves, we need to disconnect from our lower selves, or the ones that crave after the material bits and pieces of our fleeting physical world.

    From http://business.simon.com/leasing/orland-square-mall

     

     

  2. Santa Claus is a false idol. When we teach our children to worship him, to write him adoring letters asking for STUFF, we teach them to honor a purely imaginary entity, and they’re not even taught to honor this entity. They’re taught to fear him and ask him for favors. They’re taught, “He sees you when you’re sleeping and knows when you’re awake” as if they’re in the throes of some stalker/all-powerful, omniscient entity. They’re taught to behave and be good boys and girls so this all-powerful, scary but kind and plump entity will bring them toys. Just ugh.
  3. We lie to our kids from early childhood about Santa. When it’s time to teach them about the real God and his son, as well as angels and prophets, why should our children believe us? After all, it’s impossible to see God or angels with the human eye. God can only be seen or felt with our souls, and yet we’ve flimflammed our kids into thinking that they can’t really trust their intuition or their senses—after all, Santa does not exist, but all adults say he’s real—which leaves children with the choice of trusting themselves or trusting what more powerful adults allege to be true. In other words, trust us because we’re older, and don’t trust your own intuition is what we are telling children to believe when we insist they believe in Santa Claus.To truly see God and to actually communicate with angels requires that we teach kids to do the exact opposite of what we teach them to do with Santa, because you can only hear or see God if you trust yourself. Seeing with soulvision or via human intuition takes practice and the first step in practicing is trusting yourself and your teachers to help you see what is and isn’t real. Santa’s not real, but adults say he is. So who should a child trust? Obviously, a child can’t trust his or her own judgment in the case of Santa. What about God? Should a child blindly believe in God just because you say God exists? But you LIE! Why should a child believe you if you lie to him or her?

  1. God is real. Santa is not. But we tell kids they’re both real and we celebrate the coming of Santa the same time we celebrate the last coming of God’s son—and then we try to teach children about God? No wonder religion is so impossible to teach or comprehend in the modern era. We’re confusing the heck out of our children and out of ourselves too for that matter. When a child looks us in the eye and asks if Santa’s real and we lie and say “Yes Santa’s real,” we also lie to ourselves—we say to ourselves that it’s a “good lie” because we’re using the lie to propagate a nice myth for our children. We tell ourselves it’s a white lie just in keeping with having a white Christmas, but I say that’s pure nonsense. Why is it not better to say, “No Santa is not real, adults make up nice stories to amuse you, but Mom and I (Dad and I) get you presents we think would bring you joy . . . but the real focus should be on what Christmas really means, and truly what it’s about is celebrating the birthday of God’s son, Jesus. Why not tell them THIS?
  2. Santa brings us stress. When we run around spending and consuming, we make ourselves miserable. We also make our children miserable. They become selfish. Their motivation is dulled even as their need for physical baubles and plastic toys is sharpened. They get stuff, and none of it is meaningful . . . so they become even more fixated on getting more, because they feel empty after they open one present, especially with ten more waiting, and this need begets more need, and none of this is any good for the soul of your child.
  3. Santa promises to give kids more, but this promise results in them receiving much less than is their due. Each time they contemplate Santa or see a Santa decoration, or even a Christmas tree light somewhere, a Pavlonian like response goes off in their brains, and they think not about God but about getting something from Santa. Our children get obsessed with compiling, getting, comparing, consuming, taking . . . and this brings out the ugliest side of their human nature, not the best side. Even worse, we threaten the kids. We say, “Behave, be good, or you will get nothing and Santa will be mad at you,” so we start building up shame and fear of punishment, of authority in their hearts, one leaden deadening brick at a time. All of this fear of Santa resembles the fear orthodoxy breeds in churches. We shouldn’t try to shame our kids into behaving, nor should we resort to bribery. Our children are infinitely better than this. So are we.
  4. The symbol of Santa makes us competitive and jealous. We realize other children get more, and we want more too. It’s just human. We all do it. We all want not so much to have more, but not for others to have too much more than we have. The more our neighbors have, the more we want, and nothing brings this ugly emotion out more viciously than “Santa brought me this” envy.

    Nativity tree2011” by Jeff WeeseFlickr: Nativity. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons.

Santa Claus is easy. Everyone follows this tradition. It’s actually hard to say “No, I don’t worship or propagate this myth,” but it’s not really THAT hard to be truthful, to go a different route, to stick to what’s true and to diverge from the norm. After all, it’s been said that normal is just a dryer setting, and in the case of Santa Claus, normal also seems to me to reek of conformity to a certain form of insanity. You don’t have to hurt your children or your friends by telling the truth about Santa. You can say with grace and class, “Well, some people like this tradition and they follow it and that’s wonderful, but the truth is THIS,” and then you tell them you go a different route. No one sane is going to disparage you if you don’t teach kids that a strange man is appearing on their rooftop with reindeer carrying bags of toys.

I hope this gives you something to think about. I am grateful for the true spirit of Christmas, which I’ve seen abounding all around me in this beautiful town of Front Royal I’m now so fortunate to be living in, as a single mother of three. Over the last week especially, as I’ve recovered from a serious car accident, I’ve been treated with kindness and generosity and compassion by hospital workers, tow truck drivers, rental car agencies, mechanics, service center employees, and by souls online who’ve wished me a speedy recovery. THIS is Christmas and it’s why I love it so much. Christmas is about giving and loving in my home. What is it to you?




Donald Trump and the Qur’an

I seem to have lost a few friends this week over my opposition to proposed measures to ban all Muslims from the United States. Some authors might hesitate to speak out against demagogues like the erstwhile Donald Trump in fear of losing potential readers, but I am by very definition a minister to all—as in one who tries to reach those no matter their diverse and disparate faith traditions or spiritual practices. After all, the concept of interfaith hinges on tolerance, acceptance, and a profound wish to reach across rather than to erect barriers that would separate peoples from all around this good earth of ours.

NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt's photo.

When I shared this post quoting the boxer Muhammad Ali on Facebook, I said:

“The true teachings of Muhammad are ones of love and beauty. Muhammad was a prophet, a true servant of the Lord, who spent most of his life writing poetry (speaking it actually, not writing, for he didn’t write). He was called to serve at a relatively old age, and he got started slowly. He mostly took care of the poor, the widows, the orphans–he helped people and he taught simple principles, like pray with meaning and conviction, take care of others, love one another, feed the hungry, know that there is one God and this God is great . . . some of Muhammad’s teachings were perverted and twisted by later scribes–just as some of Jesus’ teachings have been twisted by later teachers. After all, the Christian church has led Inquisitions, started bloody “Holy” Wars, and it has also been misused by horrific organizations like the KKK to justify evil acts.

Most Muslims, like most Christians, are good souls. Some Muslims practice terrorism. So too do some Christians. The true enemy lies not on some foreign shore but within all of us–for the true enemy is the human heart, which is capable of good and evil. The vast majority of Muslims are good souls. Let’s not let fear and hatred be our guides. Let truth and the light each one of us holds within be our guide instead.”

One of my “friends” called me a radical liberal and claimed that the Islam religion is the Enemy, that all Muslims accept a hateful creed; and that I needed to reread my Qur’an if I didn’t see this; another said that Americans should leave Trump alone because he was the only presidential candidate who cared about Americans—particularly those with military experience. I don’t care much what folks call me, but I do care when scriptures are misrepresented, misquoted, or used as weaponry. So I’ll come back to the issue of the Qur’an in a moment.

But as far as the concept that critics should leave Trump alone, I can only respond that Trump should then take a seat back in the boardroom or the TV studio if he wishes to be left alone. And as far as Trump being a friend of the military, it appears to me that Trump is neither clear friend nor clear foe to the military. His policies if enacted would, however, most certainly result in decades more warfare in the Middle East, and his rhetoric is best seen as a wonderful recruiting tool for radical Islamic terrorists all throughout the world. If I were a Saudi Arabian sheik funding terrorists, I would be sending munificent funding in whatever manner I could to help Trump get elected.

As an American who loves peace, I do not love the message Trump is preaching. Islam is most certainly not the enemy, notwithstanding the fact that many terrorists have preached jihad and practiced radical hatred of all things American. The basic Islam religion, as preached by Muhammad and later prophets and Sufi mystics such as Hallaj and Rumi, is both simple and recognizable to all who practice the Christian, Judaic, Hindu or Buddhist faiths:

Not one of you truly believes until you wish for others what you wish for yourself. (Muhammad, Hadith).

The Qur’an also says something very similar to the Golden Rule, as taught by Jesus:

“Serve God, and join not any partners with Him; and do good—to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, those in need, neighbors who are near, neighbors who are strangers, the companion by your side, the wayfarer (ye meet), and what your right hands possess [the slave]: For God loveth not the arrogant, the vainglorious” (Q:4:36).

When Rumi spoke about the basic Muslim teachings, he called the religion an old lady’s religion because it focused on basics like feeding the hungry and taking care of those in need. Rumi went past those basic teachings, particularly in his great scriptures, the Masnavi. As a mystic, Rumi taught a creed very similar to what Christian mystics like Meister Eckhart teach. According to Rumi, if you empty yourself of all things created by humans, you are then able to reflect back the clear, beautiful holy waters that reside in all human souls. Stripped of human greed, want, desire, ego, and attachments, humans can attain purity, and through this attainment, will become closer to God. Indeed, this is also what great mystics in the Hindu and Buddhist faiths teach.

The Hindu faith further teaches, as does the Christian and the Muslim faiths, that service to other humans—feeding the hungry, taking in the orphans, giving shelter to the homeless—is a way of showing devotion to God. Not a single true prophet or servant of the Lord has not emphasized the correlation between service and achieving closeness to God. All the religions emphasize serving others and emptying yourself of egoistic desires. Or as this beautiful chart expresses, all the world’s religions agree that we should treat one another as we treat ourselves:

I have tried to find the creator of this poster. I cannot, unfortunately.

I have tried to find the creator of this poster. I cannot, unfortunately.

Does the Qur’an contain passages that are troubling and difficult to defend or understand? Sure. But so does the Old Testament and the Torah . . . so too does Rumi’s Masnavi, as well as Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, or any other spiritual work by the great poets and prophets throughout all human times. Even the U.S. Constitution, which is our secular Bible, is imperfect. Why? Because it was written by humans, just as the Qur’an was written by later scribes who often didn’t even know Muhammad directly.

Jeremiah, the great Old Testament prophet, says rather succinctly that scribes sometimes get it wrong. In fact, Jeremiah calls out scribes for lying:

 

“‘How can you say, “We are wise,
for we have the law of the Lord,”
when actually the lying pen of the scribes
has handled it falsely? Jeremiah 8:8.

 

I believe that the same thing could be said of those who took down the words of the prophet Muhammad. There are disparate tones and messages throughout the Qur’an. If you’re not certain of what it really says, you should go directly to the source and read the Muslim scriptures yourself rather than taking passages that have been selected in a spirit of fear by those who deplore all things eastern or who are simply ignorant of what the Qur’an actually says.

Indeed, the Qur’an must be read in the proper way: with the spirit of God guiding you as you sort out what was divinely inspired and what has been misinterpreted, rewritten, and simply changed by scribes who came to the words of Muhammad years, even centuries, after he died. When you read, try to read with light and love as your guide. That’s how I read: knowing that God tries to reach us all no matter where we live or what we bring to the altar.

Reading with light, with the spirit of all that is holy means that you seek for the truth within you, and you use that truth as your barometer of what is and is not the Word of God. Read with God alone as your guide, for God lives and breathes within each one of us.

Don’t accept my take on this work of holy scripture, but don’t accept hateful interpretations offered by frightened westerners . . . and most certainly do not accept the even more hateful misuse of Muslim scriptures that radical terrorists brandish about as part of their demonic rhetoric. Use the tools you have been given and truly seek to understand these eastern texts . . . because knowledge is the best tool you have to protect you when the world is shouting its chaotic messages and demagogues are spouting from the manifold uninformed grounds of our collective mindset.

 

UPDATE, 12/16/15

Donald Trump has donated all of $57,000 via his foundation to Veterans according to a recent article by the well-respected Forbes Magazine. I am putting this out there because some claim that Trump does great things for vets, but for someone who is worth 4.5 billion, he gives very little.

The relevant quote from the article is: “The Donald J. Trump Foundation has donated $5.5 million to 298 charities between 2009 and 2013 (the most recent year available), according to the non-profit’s 990 tax forms from those years. Of that, only $57,000 has been donated to seven organizations that directly benefit military veterans or their families, Forbes found. Wounded Warriors was not among the organizations Trump’s foundation gave to in that time period.”

The article can be read in its entirety here:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/emilycanal/2015/12/03/donald-trump-veterans/

 




God, Guns and Peace

When I spoke up recently about my own experiences with pistols, several of my friends responded with strong opinions. One said I shouldn’t tell people I’m a single mom because criminals would be more likely to hunt me down. Another said that as a minister of peace, it was hypocritical of me to own a gun because guns kill. Another said that all of us are capable of snapping and going temporarily insane, or experiencing psychosis, myself not excepted, and for that reason, I should not own a gun. It was arrogant and silly of me to think, she added, that I was not immune to insanity. Another friend characterized me as possibly being like any terrorist, supposedly well-meaning or perhaps not, who kills in the name of his or her God.

Photo: Glock

I don’t like when anyone resorts to name-calling or brandishes hysterical accusations during arguments. It’s not only anti-gun folks who engage in this sort of behavior of course. A gun instructor said to his students that he “hated all liberals.” A gun supporter said on a video I watched the other day that all those who want to “take away his rights” are idiots and they deserve to be shot. Other friends say that Muslims are the enemy, and college president Jerry Falwell Jr. said the other day that “if more people had concealed guns, we could end those Muslims.”

The gun debate, in other words, has become like the abortion debate. Some people say that when an issue becomes this acrimonious, you should avoid discussing it, but the world doesn’t resolve its problems if we all pull the fabric over our eyes and give up trying to resolve differences amicably. And I really dislike it when people, particularly men, tell me to keep my mouth shut. I won’t be quiet on issues if I think I can help a single person understand a complex issue better. It’s my hope I can enlighten and unite those who read my words.

As a minister, I’ve had to sort out differing interpretations of God’s word, and then I’ve gone directly to the source and tried to intuit, via the Teacher that lives inside my heart, how we should obtain peace while we live on earth. At an early age, I embraced “turning the other cheek” as a theory and wanted to apply it to my own practice. I love Jesus; I cherish Gandhi; I honor MLK.

But my God is the Lord of angel armies. The God I worship wields power when needed—the rod of force is used only to protect His subjects, to enforce justice, and to guarantee the peace. God, in other words, does not turn the other cheek, and for very good reason. As I have grown closer to God and as I have studied history and theology, politics and interfaith scriptures more, I have come to see that turning the other cheek often leads to less peace, not more.

The disagreement over how to obtain peace reminds me of arguments over capitalism versus socialism. Many people embrace the concept of equality; indeed, I embrace equality of opportunity, and I don’t love the fact that some people have three homes while others have none. I believe a good political system should aim to ensure that no individual who wants to work and tries to provide for his or her family goes homeless or hungry. It was often said to me in college that in a perfect system, communism would be the best form of governance. Despite my views on poverty, and setting aside a complex dissertation on modern politics and economics, I disagree with this concept.

I think humans simply like to have a piece of their own land, a place to call their own, and a chance to earn the fruits of their honest labors. I don’t think that human nature itself can be changed; thus, I don’t accept that a workable utopian world exists that does not recognize the human need to strive, to create, and to be independent and self-governing (at least to an extent). Communism, in other words, is not a governing theory that is in accord with the very souls its meant to govern.

The same holds true, in my opinion, for theories on peace that require us to turn the other cheek, to not fight back, to refrain from arming ourselves in self-defense. Such theories disregard human nature. Humanity, in other words, is not by nature peaceful.

Image from Wikipedia

I love peace. I don’t enjoy war, but given the state of the heavens and the state of this world, war is inevitable. So long as there are temptations and separations, divisions and boundaries, territories and countries, there will be conflict. So long as there is the potential for conflict, there is the need to keep the peace. And peace is not kept merely by wishing it into effect.

So how do we keep the peace? And who should keep it? Back when I was struggling with the theological underpinnings for fighting, I would pull my hair out trying to dissect the teachings of one great prophet: Jesus, as well as the teachings and actions of another great prophet: Muhammad. Neither prophet’s teaching on war and peace quite made sense to me.

Turning the other cheek makes emotional sense to me and it’s simple. Someone slaps you, don’t slap back. But what happens if all that’s left is Lucifer and God? Should God let Luce take the throne, or the rod? Or what if Hitler and FDR meet and Hitler says, “Surrender to me.”–should FDR, hypothetically speaking, hand Hitler the keys to his people’s cities?

And fighting to make the world safe so that you can worship in your own sanctuary also makes a certain amount of sense, but Muhammad at times took the fight further than I felt was right. Muhammad, after all, went searching for the fight at times . . . and that feels like an uncomfortable mixing of politics with religion. Then again, maybe in a tribal society, this was how Muhammad had to lead. But I don’t think prophets make the best military leaders.

Which brings me to guidance from the oldest known religion with the oldest scriptures. The Mahabharata, which serves as the holy writings for the Hindu faith, divides the job of peacekeeping from the job of teaching; these scriptures separate political leadership, which is the job of kings, from the work of prophets and holy leaders. Religious worship and spiritual instruction is handled by one class: the Brahmin. Governance, which is the province of kings, is handled by the class known as Ksatriyas. And the main job of kings is to wield to rod of force. Kings, in other words, keep the peace. And if the ksatriyas do their jobs correctly, peace is assured to all the other classes in society.

As an interfaith minister, I search for truth in all the cultures and scriptures, and when it comes to issues of peace and peacekeeping, I’ve found guidance from the Mahabharata and its insights. Who should fight? Well, we don’t have a strict class system in our postmodern world. We aren’t born into classes or assigned to them. Instead, we self-select, and this freedom for some can, myself included, can be dizzying. For some of us, the idea of bearing arms is repugnant. For others, owning a firearm for defensive purposes makes sense on a gut level—as in, we sense that we can and must do our duty to protect ourselves and our community from threats foreign and domestic.

Image from Wikipedia

Those of us who would take on this duty do not, in most cases, take it lightly. Strenuous training and practice are essential to responsible gun ownership. There are considerable abuses and misuses of the power and right to bear arms; I still think, after all, that the Second Amendment is limited by the clause “a well-regulated militia.” Some limits should exist and some regulations are necessary to ensure that arms are borne responsibly and carefully.

When it comes to misuses of power, I abhor the despicable incidences of police brutality, and will continue to speak out in favor of better training and to advocate that all lives matter. More can and should be done to ensure that bad cops are given the training and discipline required to maintain a safe and sane police force.

In fact, police malfeasance points to the need to ensure that citizenry maintains its own ability to guard against the ever-present threat of a police state. American government, after all, only grows bigger and Donald Trump, the current leader of the Republican primaries, would not hesitate to crush the rights and liberties of the individual. Should this occur, those who oppose the individual’s right to bear arms might think again.

But by then it might be too late to protect those who are unable to protect themselves. Until that time, I will train and practice and do my best as a soul to protect other individuals and to make sure that those who would turn the other cheek when a threat appears—can safely do so.

 




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