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Nanotechnology: An Examination of Hopelessness, Ray Bradbury-Style

By Madeline Phoenix

There was a grand rainstorm today; it caused the power lines on our road to collapse, due to the colossal impact of a withered old oak tree. For almost four hours, we were bereft of technology’s ‘affectionate’ touch. Well, a house seems somber and gloomy without the cheerful, hospitable air of artificial orange-red lights, so we went out for a drive. The sky lit with the strange pulsations of an amber sunset, and a tapestry of His intricacy unspooled over the velvety horizon; the clouds of the sky sang with mysterious, mournful hues of turquoise, periwinkle and aquamarine, and a peculiar shade of rosy sepia made sensual love to the orange mesas of the storm-filled clouds. Clarisse was one of the only people, in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, to see those sunsets, and to think about their beauty. Every other character was trapped within the thrall of their ‘family’, and the walls within which their technology constructed their reality. Clarisse meditated on the meaning and profundity of the natural world, and for this she was murdered. “I sometimes think that drivers don’t know what grass is, or flowers, because they never see them…” (Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451).

While I write this, I contemplate what I’m using to write it: a 27-inch iMac that has a 2.7 GHz Intel Core i5 processor. This computer, like my iPhone, is constructed of tiny little microchips, and I am guided through everyday tasks by a helpful lady named Siri who has enough artificial intelligence to tell me what to eat for dinner and how to get there. My iMac and my iPhone record and track everything I do; when I think about it, I realize that they might call them friendly little things like “cookies,” but nothing I do on the Internet is private, and nothing I do on this computer is safe from surveillance. Maybe I sound paranoid, but sometimes I imagine a million beady invisible eyes watching me. They crawl up into my skin and pluck out my eyes; and then they are my eyes, and I see only what they allow me to, for beauty and truth indeed are in the eye of the beholder. They burrow deep beneath the drooping skin of my shadow-stained eyelids, and the sleep they have stolen from me conquers my worn visage. I can’t cry out or plead for some ridiculous, ill-begotten mercy because I’m too blind to realize that they’re eating me from the outside in. I am frozen in time now, and the artificial twinkling of Their bug eyes pervade the timeless fibers of my immortal soul. It is a cure, a gift, a prize, they proclaim; and I must trust the elastic skull-tight beached bleached blonde model on the grain-coarse screen, mustn’t I?

When I touch the fake, flimsy Flexiglass screen of my cell phone, a century’s worth of my intelligence filters away like dewdrops from a hot blade of viridescent green grass. The virtual ghosts of the future ensnare humanity—we just aren’t Ebenezer Scrooge. We don’t need to improve ourselves, or change from a miser to a lovely benefactor; we need to wake up and burn the bugs away before they claw their slimy infectious way into the cord-grey of our moldering brains.

El and Maddie

Nanotechnology has arrived in the U.S.A., but it’s not like democracy. It doesn’t allow people to learn, or flourish, or demonstrate any sign of individuality. It’s not freedom; it’s a sort of mind-slavery that will never truly go away unless we as a people battle it. It’s not just some nightmarish monster looming over the cavernous shadows of humanity’s future; it’s festering within the very marrow of our world today.

Whenever our phones blare a scarlet ‘1’ from System Preferences, we are given a new software update—an update that only welcomes more of the monsters into our hardware. Whenever we download the latest app updates from App Store, we are exchanging parcels of ourselves—but for what? For whom? We are not receiving anything in return, except for the manacles of false pleasure. Do we surrender to the vivid lights and secretive bugs embedded within the very threads of our subconscious because we’re bored?

It’s a quotidian action in these dying times to choose the colorful, simpler meme or post, rather than expend the effort and manna to open a tome of majestic knowledge; to live in these times is to exist as an amusement addict, addicted to useless information and biased propaganda; we are in the need of the next meme or vine or tweet to bring laughter to our dimming brains and synthetic perverse gems to our corrugated hearts. Nanotechnology has created the fabled handheld computer; cell phones can hold thousands of images, whereas the older, larger PC—which would consume an entire room, while cell phones take up the space of a palm and nothing more—could only retain one-fourteenth of the common electronic photograph.

People are forgetting compassion as a result of nanotechnology. They tap away at their keyboards, or the alphabets super-imposed upon their flickering touch screens, and they say cruel things to others—and, since they cannot see that their malice is hurting an actual person, they feel entitled to say whatever comes to their mind, whether it is ‘do cows snort up milk while laughing like humans do,’ or something else far worse. Recently, a sixteen-year-old sophomore girl who was part of the high school’s choir went missing. An adult Facebook Friend of mine shared a press release that stated: “Human remains were found;” but she did not speak of the situation with love or compassion. She said that the community needed to have a ‘loud, open’ discussion about gun safety and where gun owners should store their guns. The death is believed to have been a self-inflicted gun wound. Not once in her post did she offer prayers or sorrow or blessings to the family of the deceased girl; not once did she speak of the sadness or agony this family who has lost a child must be suspended within; no, she merely used the death of this girl to further her own political agenda. Unfortunately, this lack of empathy and terrible selfishness is not an isolated occurrence. Nanotechnology waters the worst within a person and drowns the goodness in a harmful pestilence, for which the cure is almost impossible to find.[1]

As Clarisse says, ”Sometimes I’m ancient. I’m afraid of children my own age. They kill each other. Did it always use to be that way?…I’m afraid of them and they don’t like me because I’m afraid.” (Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451). Children these days, like the people Clarisse fears in Fahrenheit 451, would rather laugh about Fortnite than try to better themselves and their dying world. Fortnite is the incorrect spelling of ‘fortnight’, or a two-week period of time, and another epidemic brought upon the world with the rise of the Nanobot Age is ‘text-talk’, or illiteracy; it’s easier to watch an artificial screen of pixels, isn’t it? In all honesty, I find it easier to peruse social media than write; instead of creating new worlds with my words, I am furnished with a web of lies—and lies are silkier than truth; lies aren’t as hard to create. Lies obscure pulchritudinous pathways bordered with real flowers. Reality, virtual reality…if I swallow the red pill, won’t I be BORED? After all, life seems monotonous and colorless, what with all the iridescence and vivid hues of the virtual web the nanobots have enfolded us within.

How does nanotechnology affect the natural world? In order to obtain the resources necessary to create our phones and computers, and to power the “Cloud” in which all of our Google and other documents are stored, massive amounts of energy are used. Take a data farm in Northern Dulles, Virginia. It’s a massive institution, storing hard drives that collect and record our data. How much oil and coal is drained from the land, just to fuel this single farm? Multiply that single farm by hundreds or even thousands, because at least that many are needed to contain our virtual “Cloud” of information. And what of the resources used to build our semiconductor chips and other tiny bits that are used to send, store and receive our data? Each so-called “bit” requires energy. The land we live on fuels the creation of all this energy. At some point, the calculus of this land-pillage will become too great of a problem for humans to solve. Then we’ll call in our CPU’s and robots, and they will be in charge of our blue Earth.

By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10504500

There is an alternative. Come to my garden with me, and look at the yellow flowers; spring has at last arrived, and the lovely sun-yellow flowers resemble a lady’s fine slippers. These are real, and these are good. Watch the lilac trees and crape myrtles flirt with the glimmering cerulean sky while they sway to and fro in the wind; feel the light, frivolous teasings of the soft, flimsy flower blossoms while they swoosh past, buoyed along on the zephyrs of time summoned by the Vernal Equinox. None of these are unreal; and all of these are good. All of these are true; one does not need a substitute.

I still feel the teensy bugs, devouring every ounce of the natural world. I mourn for the ethereal emerald-azure hue of Mother Earth’s precious oceans, for it has little time remaining before it grows rancid, infected by the acid rain and smog and waste the nanotechnology has left behind in its apocalyptic wake. Soon, the nanotechnology will conquer the oceans too. Nanotechnology is fueled by the consumption of fossil fuels, whose production destroys this good Earth. The cloudless cerulean sky of a flawless gay day—will it not also succumb to pillars of dark smog and spirals of dying birds? Will the birds soon cease to chirp and sing everlasting choruses of truth, love and hope? And, as these things crest and trough like the tides of the waning ocean, people will be too addicted to their handheld devices and matrixes of un-thought to even notice; they will not even be able to raise a protest.

I never liked the sensation of being watched. And yet here I am, wondering how long it will take for the bugs to burrow beneath humanity’s eyelids; have they not done so already? How much longer do we have left before this dangerous dance ends with our souls exposed to their wicked darkness? We have no ‘red pill’; no crimson magic to rescue us from our failings; for the vibrant flashings of the screens have made us color blind. We have only our lackluster human shells and the looming specter of nanotechnology. Burrowing, burrowing…and we cannot even feel the pain, for the nanotechnology has already devoured us. What will be left?

What could be left?

[1] As it may have been noted, this essay is in electronic format. This only demonstrates the ‘efficiency’ of nanotechnology—it is faster to type this into a computer than to interact with a pen and a sheet of paper.




Confusion Reigns: Driving and Talking about Everything

Confusion reigns. I glance into the bottom of my mug and swirl the chamomile tea around. I ignore the brown spots on the bottom. They’re from a basil plant that occupied the cheap white mug with the light blue dots and a “J” inscribed on the side. When I tried to scrub it last night, my husband said that next time I should use the mug with red dots that is marked with a “B.” I groaned and kept cleaning out the dirt stains.

“B” for “basil” he added, and then I laughed.

“That’s a good idea, but it’s yucky.” While he was talking, I finished scrubbing most the dirt off and put it in the dishwasher, which never gets all the debris off anything. That’s why I love and hate dishwashers.

Now I’m staring at the same patch of brown that grazes the bottom. It’s like staring into tea leaves except there’s no hidden meaning, other than dishwashers don’t replace hands holding brushes.

I finish the last sip. It’s morning. I’m writing.

He comes in carrying his iPad and five documents he needs to scan. He’s listening to Red Hot Chili Peppers. “They sound good, I was in the mood for them,” he explains, “Their lyrics are scrambled, but sometimes they kill it.” The song, “Scar Tissue” is playing, and these words float to me:

With the birds I’ll share this lonely view.

With the birds I’ll share this lonely view.

My back aches and I hear it raining outside. The water drips down the drain spout. I stand up and then lie down and wait while he scans documents and I think about the song. I’ve always loved it. So many people, ones I’ve never met, never will meet, love it too, and we probably don’t gain the same thing from it, except for the feeling of alienation it suggests.

The water still drips down the drain spout. When it comes out it sounds like a machine gun rumbling and tapping against the asphalt. Maybe machine gun is too extreme. Maybe it’s more like the tapping of fingers on a keyboard. But water can be a weapon; after all, it’s more powerful than earth if it rains hard enough. I would take a walk in it but I’m cold and don’t want to get soaked.

I think, I’m confused, so is Maddie, she knows this feeling all too well, it’s the main theme in her new project, which she’s stubbornly titled, “Where the F*** Are You? The book is about two teenagers, growing up confused and angry in a messed-up world. They’re awake. They remember God. They love Him. And yet the main character, Cass (named Cassia by her mother, a herbalist struggling with bipolar disorder) feels like God isn’t helping. Why won’t God come down and fix this shit, Cassia or Cass asks herself. So she’s angry.

I love this book idea, because a lot of souls are angry too. I want to help Cass sort it out. But I have to wait for Maddie to write the main chapters because it’s her project. Not mine, not yet, but it will be in time, just like all her books become joint works. It’s just how it goes. We work. The world cries. We write about the world crying and try to give hope. Meanwhile, it keeps raining and it’s gonna rain all day.

Meanwhile, Maddie’s angry with God too. Why is the world so messed up? Why is our book not getting picked up? Why do churches preach hate not love? Why am I here? She asks these questions, and I just listen.

She makes me read Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye. We discuss it in the car on the way into school. “The writing is brilliant, I can’t do all the things she does,” I say.

“But your dialogue is better, and that’s where you put your great descriptions—”

“—I still can’t weave a depressing story about childhood into an equally depressing story about a woman who’s messed up from childhood, the way the book’s going, she’s going to cheat on her husband.” I think about some of Atwood’s descriptions. She uses words like “undulates” and I never can find that word when I’m writing. It’s not one of my words. I don’t explain this; instead, I turn the temperature gauge to the right to warm up the Jeep. It’s not that cold but I’m freezing.

“She does cheat, and it’s like it’s because she had such a bad childhood.” Maddie touches the switch that controls the seat heater.

I notice the Jeep is driving better since we got the tire fixed. The road feels more stable underneath the weight of our four Coopers. They’re American-built and we try to buy American. This is new for me. Buying American. I feel bad knowing my new computer was made in China. They use slave labor. I keep thinking when I learn these things, but I didn’t know, and then I chastise myself for not knowing because there’s things that do matter, like treating souls right when they’re here on earth. I think too much, people say, but not thinking is no defense. It just means you don’t know anything or you don’t know what you should. It’s like plausible deniability if you’re a president. Iran-Contra—and that was a President I liked. I speak of none of this and wrestle with my coffee mug. If I don’t grasp the handle right, the coffee spills and then I’m grabbing napkins from the side pocket and all that’s distracting, especially when you’re driving down a mountain.

“And you also write good action scenes, the best.”

“My action’s okay.” I speak in half-sentences too often. Right now, I’m stuck on the main character having an affair. “Ugh she cheats?” I flip the windshield wiper on. It’s raining, or as Atwood would say, spitting. That’s the term the Canadians use. “That’s awful, I can’t believe she does that.”

“Yeah, with her abusive ex-husband, and I bet Atwood cheats too, she writes the scenes so convincingly.”

We’re quiet for a moment. I wonder if she’s going to correct her use of an adverb. Ever since I told her about Hemingway’s distaste for them, Maddie has excised them from her work. I have too, more or less. We’re ridiculous sometimes, I also think, but I’m stuck on Atwood.

“Yeah, it’s a mistake, I wish she didn’t cheat,” I say. I ease off the brakes on as we head into a tight curve. It’s not foggy but I’m tired and my coffee doesn’t have enough cream in it because we ran out and forgot to get more last night. So I sip as I drive down the mountain and wish I had more cream in my coffee because if I did, I’d drink faster and that might make me feel more awake.

We are awake. That’s the scary thing. We both know how messed up the world is. I don’t say this, but I’m thinking about the President, and the blog I wanted to write about the President’s lawyer. It would be a balanced piece about the Code of Ethics that governs lawyers. A different code governs attorney conduct in each state, and the President’s lawyer is probably licensed in New York. But no state Code of Ethics would allow a lawyer to pay hush money to his client’s ex-lover out of the lawyer’s personal accounts. You’re not supposed to pay bribery funds or extortion demands, for one thing. And even if that were somehow ethical, a lawyer is not supposed to commingle funds or use his personal accounts to pay folks on his client’s behalf. It’s so far beyond the pale of what’s acceptable . . . and yet it was done. Stormy Daniels either bribed the President or was she extorted? I don’t know what happened exactly. But it makes me mad. It’s not right. Funny, the things I don’t know. Funny, the things my daughter already knows. Like when I talked to Maddie about it, I called the President’s ex-lover “Stormy Davis” and Maddie corrected me. “It’s Daniels,” she said, and I wondered how she knew so much about the dirty side of living.

I shake my head. Maddie also wrote a blog but it’s personal. It’s called, “He Loves Her,” and in it, Maddie analyzes song lyrics by Pearl Jam and Eminem. The Eminem song in particular shows a man who abuses a woman and why, and how this makes Maddie feel. It’s personal. And the blog itself is beautiful. Should I try to submit it to a magazine, I wonder? I don’t have time but I should. I never have enough time anymore, not for my writing, not for hers too.

We’re listening to one of Pink’s songs and we both love it. I wonder if the boys, who are sitting with their backpacks stacked side to side, red fabric rubbing against blue, in the second row, like it too, but I don’t ask, because Maddie’s talking some more. She wants to help a friend who’s struggling in school, and the old adage, “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink” might apply, but Maddie worries and wants to help. I have advised Maddie to be a friend first, and also to take care of her own work, but I’ve also smiled to myself while listening to Maddie repeat aloud the same sort of words I would use. I’m hard on her. I expect a lot. Do I expect too much?I ask myself. And then Maddie’s saying, “She’s really got to care about school, if she doesn’t do well now, she won’t do well junior year, she needs to get into a good college, she needs to get off her phone and study more, she needs to have confidence in herself, why won’t she ask her teacher for help? Teachers are there to help, that’s their job, I’m so worried, she really needs to get her grades up . . .” and so on and so on.

We’re already thinking about SAT prep, and Maddie’s visiting the University of Oregon in June. Because she knows already that after she graduates from UVA, she’ll get her doctorate in English from Oregon. Are we crazy? I don’t know.

Pink pleads, “Please don’t leave me.”

The birds have a lonely view. With them we share this, all of us. And yet we’re not alone, we just feel like we are. And that last sentence, the one with the comma, that’s for Atwood. She uses commas in ways I wouldn’t. But she’s great. And her main character is frail. I want to forgive her. Maybe that’s what Atwood’s asking for too. Or maybe she just wants to be understood.

Then she won’t feel so lonely.

 




When Red Tape Blocks Neighbors from Helping the Homeless

The community I live in, Front Royal, Virginia, has a large problem with homelessness. And with the record cold temperatures we’ve been facing over the past few weeks, the non-profits who work the problem of homelessness as well as several local churches met on Thursday to discuss a simple solution to a horrific problem: how do we get the 75-100 homeless citizens of Front Royal out of the freezing temperatures during the night. As reported by the Royal Examiner,

The first Thermal Shelter meeting was held Thursday evening, Jan. 11 at New Hope Bible Church, to discuss the serious need for a temporary thermal shelter in Warren County.

The Royal Examiner’s take was that the Thermal Shelter meeting had a strong turnout, and the Mayor of Front Royal, Hollis Tharpe, “was in attendance and was able to help answer a variety of questions.” In addition, the Royal Examiner emphasized several positive results. For one thing, the community united to address a serious problem. In addition, the meeting successfully accomplished something: several churches in attendance volunteered to hold week-long thermal shelters from 7 PM to 7 AM, starting immediately.

The Gazebo, where in good weather homeless try to find shelter
Photo Credit: AgnosticPreachersKid

The article (which did a great job quickly summarizing the specifics of what occurred that evening) did not mention an additional positive aspect of the meeting. Pastor Marc Roberson of Riverton United Methodist Church spoke about the Winchester Area Temporary Thermal Shelter (WATTS). As one of the founders of WATTS, Pastor Marc knows how to run a Thermal Shelter. Pastor Marc went over the practicalities, the resources and volunteers needed for conducting Thermal Shelters. He also discussed how to train volunteers and how to set up a strong structure that would ensure that the Thermal Shelters ran smoothly. Pastor Marc also explained that churches should figure out how to integrate housing the homeless with safely running activities that involve children and teenagers—which again is a concern that churches must and can resolve. For example, churches can ensure that the homeless guests arrive an hour after all activities end and leave an hour before morning activities commence in the mornings. WATTS, for the record, is now well funded, with paid workers, but it started off as a volunteer organization organized in a time of great need.

Kathy Leonard (l), Vicki Davies, Michelle Smeltzer, Pam Williams and Roni Evans.
Photo Credit: Jen Avery

Nonetheless, none of this can legally happen right now, which leads me to express my take on this first meeting. First, I’m grateful to the news organizations that covered the meeting, particularly Jen Avery from the Royal Examiner. Naturally, I’m grateful to the folks from the churches and non-profits that came and volunteered their time and support to help solve a public emergency.

Moreover, I’m grateful to the organizers of the event: Pastor Bobby Stepp of New Hope Bible Church; Kathy Leonard, Homeless Liaison for Front Royal and facilitator of the evening; Vicki Davies of St. Luke Clinic, Michelle Smeltzer, with House of Hope and the Department of Social Services; Pam Williams, from The Potter’s House; and Roni Evans. Every single organizer there realized that as a community we must do something, and now, to get our brothers and sisters, off the streets.

After all, people die in the cold, and as Pastor Bobby Stepp said in his opening prayer when he quoted from the Bible:

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” Matthew 25:35-40.

All or almost all of the attendees present, no matter their religious affiliation, agree that a community should help shelter the homeless. The eight or more churches who volunteered their time and resources follow the axiomatic principle that being a good citizen means you do not allow your neighbors to freeze in the cold. We have neighbors who are freezing tonight. There’s just no way around this truth.

Hollis Tharpe, Town Mayor
Photo Credit: Jen Avery

Unfortunately, as the meeting progressed, truth and emergent need ran into a massive roadblock: bureaucratic red tape. Mayor Tharpe explained that before a church could legally host a Thermal Shelter, it would have to go through a sixty to ninety day process that would include no less than four town hall meetings as well as a visit from a Fire Safety Inspector. The tone in the room changed dramatically after Mayor Tharpe spoke. He in fact, did not speak of red tape; in fact, he said that “he would move the process along as fast as he could.” And when asked for comment afterward, Mayor Tharpe said that he didn’t understand why a permit was needed in the first place and he would check on the situation and the legal stance of the town on Tuesday. “I’m on the little guy’s side.” In truth, Mayor Tharpe hardly comes across as an obstructionist to the cause of homelessness. Nonetheless, the issue of bureaucratic red tape changed the tone of the meeting.

Indeed, an air of civil disobedience arose. It was palpable and it was alive. I was part of this wave of people who muttered, “This will not do,” which was quickly followed by several suggestions. “We can hold a slumber party,” exclaimed one church leader. “Or a lock-in,” cried another church leader or church goer. “Or we can build an underground resistance movement and ask forgiveness not permission,” murmured a member of one of the non-profits in attendance.

Stevi Robinson, the Chair for Fundraising from Warren County’s Habitat for Humanity, who was in attendance at the meeting along with Vice President Kim Taylor Jones stated afterwards:

A 2007 Habitat for Humanity construction site in the United States
Photo Credit: Joe Mabel, Wikipedia

There are many hurdles to overcome in addressing the rising homelessness crisis in Front Royal/Warren County. While it was wonderful to see such a great outpouring of community support last Thursday, the need is still outweighing the current response. There is much work to do still, and I encourage everyone that attended last weeks meeting to bring a friend or neighbor to the next meeting.

My grandmother Hazel used to always say, “never look someone in the face and not see your own.”  Anyone of us given the right circumstances could end up homeless. We as a community have the ability to help everyone have a healthy experience at life. We need to stop turning a blind eye to the tragic living conditions that currently exist for some of our community members.

If the Town and County can’t be motivated by the human factor, Studies show that communities that take a housing first approach enjoy roughly $1.78 return for every $1 spent on such programs. (University of New Mexico ISR). The time to act is now.

The non-profit I serve on as secretary, ROTH of FR (Roof Over Their Heads) has a simple mission statement:

ROTH of Front Royal aims to end homelessness in Warren County, VA by providing housing and supportive services to members in our community through non-judgmental and non-discriminatory assistance.

Five of us from ROTH sat in the front row, and we observed the frustration on the faces of facilitators like Vicki Davis of St. Luke Community Clinic. She has nurses lined up to volunteer their care to homeless men and women who need medical treatment—and could receive it while finding a safe and warm place to sleep at a Thermal Shelter. And now Vicki is being told that her nurses may as well stay home. I haven’t spoken to Vicki, but I can speak on behalf of ROTH. We must help get the homeless off the street when the temperatures drop into the teens. Over the past year, our 501(c)(3) has helped at least one hundred homeless or almost homeless citizens of Front Royal and the surrounding areas in Warren County, but one homeless citizen suffering in sub-freezing temperatures is one too many.

And while I will not quote any of the church leaders in attendance, I am certain that a church should not be told it cannot follow its guiding principles, but should bow to the insanity of a bureaucratic process that will ensure one and only one thing: the homeless will freeze tonight and tomorrow night, until all the formalities and senseless legalities are followed by a legion of would be angels.

There must and should be a better way. And something tells me, based on a question asked of Mayor Tharpe, that if we proceed with this Thermal Shelter idea without going through a 90-day approval process, we will not be thrown in prison for fulfilling our civic and/or religious duty. There is a time to help. And that time is now.

 




Poor Poor Old Roy Moore

Hi Roy. It’s me. You don’t know me from one of the malls or high school football stadiums you frequent. You’ve never heard of me actually. I’m one of those girls who grew up. You actually know a lot of us because you have a taste for the young ones. We grow up as awkward, daffy creatures, but we go on to have babies. Then those babies make it to the tender age of fourteen. Like us when we were young, our teenagers hang out in packs and talk about boys. You should walk up and down a high school hallway sometime. Young love abounds. It’s cute and it’s sweet and it’s a little ridiculous, but that’s okay.

You know when you watch these kids that they’re more or less safe as long as they hang out in their noisy, gawky little groups, but if your kid wanders off, you worry about the predators. I live in a small mountain town called Front Royal. We worry about predators like bears, but we also worry about creeps.

My Daughter’s H.S. Band at Football Game

I told my daughter about creeps last night. I said, “He might be dressed nice, he might talk fancy, he might make you feel special, he might even be a judge or a priest, but if he asks you out, he’s a creep,” and then my youngest son piped up, “Don’t worry Mom, I’ll beat up any creep.” I looked over at him and smiled. “Son, you got another foot to grow before you can protect her, but that-a-boy, I like how you think.” Then I turned to my daughter and in the calmest voice I could summon, I said, “Don’t talk to men like that, they’re wolves who feed on easy prey, and right now, you and your friends are easy prey.”

I know you see things differently. You’ve got a taste for the forbidden. But here’s the thing, Roy. It’s forbidden for a reason. I go to football games every weekend to watch my kid play her clarinet in the band, and I listen to the sweet goofballs behind me. The girls are silly and loud. They curse and wear lipstick and try to look old. The boys sit behind the girls and try too hard. They preen and puff out their chests and drop f-bombs like firemen toss out candy at parades.

Goofy girls and boys. Birds of the same feather, here, Roy. If you listen to them, you’ll realize that among their cuss words and their soft-edged banalities, these kids don’t know where they’re going or how to get there. That’s why they have coaches and band teachers who know how to teach and guide young men and women. There’s many ways to guide a young woman, but we should all be able to agree that taking their innocence in the back of your Mercedes isn’t a good way.

In some ways I’m grateful you won’t step out of your race for the U.S. Senate. You are a part of our awakening. Men like you created the impetus for millions of mothers to march in cities all across the country earlier this year. We marched in Washington, we marched in New York City, we marched in the city streets with our peace signs and our pussy hats and we gave men like you a very simple message.

It goes like this.

Roy Moore in 2001, By BibleWizard

Dear Roy Moore:

Please be quiet. Like really, really quiet. Walk back home and sit down on the sofa and think about what you’ve done.

Yours Truly,

Mother of a Teenage Daughter

I thought about you last night. I have to worry about these things because the President and your friends in Alabama say you’re innocent until proven guilty. I know a hard truth though. Men like you run the legal system. Your accusers will never see justice done.

Then this morning, my cat vomited a hairball on the kitchen floor. Hairballs take a while to emerge but they are the outward manifestation of an inner sickness. Thanks Roy. You helped me understand the half-life and inner meaning of hairballs. On the outside you’re as fine a gentleman as Alabama can offer. You sit behind the bench with your gavel and hand out judgments in full view of the Ten Commandments, but your inner world is devoid of the holiness you purport to enforce and honor.

You just hurled up a hairball, sir, and though it took years to manifest, it’s ugly and no one else is going to clean it up for you. Remember your savior? His name was Jesus, and he had a particular distaste for hypocrites. If he walked into your courtroom now, he would take his whip to you. After all, he really disliked the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. Speaking of the Pharisees, they handed him over to be crucified, all in the name of enforcing the law.

By: maorlando – God keeps me as I lean on Him!! from Far NW Houston, Pinehurst, Texas, U.S.A.

You do the same thing of course as a judge. You mete out punishments and brandish your beliefs as if they mean something to you. But your outer actions don’t match your professed inner world. If you really followed the Savior’s teachings, you would treat other fathers’ little girls the way you’d like your own daughter to be treated. If you really walked with God, you would realize that a man’s greatest moment is when he sacrifices his own needs to help someone else.

You do the opposite.

Sir, you dine on innocence. And while professing holiness, you vomit up hairballs. And unlike my beloved cat, you know you’re eating at the wrong table, but you do it anyway. Now you’re blaming the girls. I feel sorry for my cat. And she seems to feel sorry about the mess in the kitchen. You’re not sorry for anything.

All you think about is poor poor ole’ Roy Moore.

 

 




The Confusion of Charlottesville

We live in confusing times. I keep turning thoughts over as I peruse headlines and spot pictures of men carrying sticks, pipes and guns while supposedly enjoying their First Amendment right to peacefully assemble. I get stuck in weird places. Like I’ll be mid-sentence saying, “White supremacists in Charlottesville weren’t looking to peacefully assemble. You aren’t looking for peace when you don shields and firearms,” and then I read or hear someone say, “Yeah, so you think it’s right for Black Lives Matter protestors to wield sticks and pipes, to shoot cops in Dallas, to break windows in DC?” And I stop what I’m doing and loudly reply or think to myself, “No, no, it’s never right to bring weapons to peaceful protests,” and then someone else says, “But what about at Second Amendment rallies? Is it wrong for these folks to lawfully carry firearms while demonstrating their ability to bear arms responsibly and peacefully?”

Right there—I’m stuck. Stuck. So I think about it some more. I dig through the text of the Second Amendment; whoa, I get whirled around by the exact language I see. I turn over words and phrases:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Note that it says Congress shall make no law abridging the right of the people peacefully to assemble. That means the federal government can’t make a law that prevents us from gathering peacefully in a public place. It doesn’t say a state can’t make such a law; nor does it say Congress can’t make a law that prohibits your ability to gather as a violent mob; indeed, when you march in D.C. or elsewhere, you must obtain the proper permits and follow limits the police and the authorities set on time, place and weapons. So when the Women’s March happened in D.C., we headed into town knowing we couldn’t bring sticks with our signs or weapons or much of anything other than our pretty pink hats and our walking shoes.

The Second Amendment talks about our right to bear arms. The text says:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

When I read this, I wonder if the First Amendment trumps the Second because it comes first. Yeah, that’s not the most analytical of thoughts, but what happens if you want to exercise your right to bear arms, but you also want to do so while exercising your right to peacefully assemble? Do we think we can gather as a crowd to protest a statue peacefully while also being armed to the teeth?

See, I get lost in the minutiae sometimes. It’s the curse of the time I spent in Professor Belz’s Constitutional History classes at University of Maryland; it’s the side effect of surviving Professor Devin’s Socratic lectures at William and Mary. I turn it over in my mind until I get turned upside down; and then I search for an open door that will guide me out of the chaos that is public discourse in Twenty-First Century America.

Then I eat a tuna sandwich and receive a text from my daughter: Mom, practice is over at 5, you can pick me up outside the band room . . . and I come back to reality. I’m a mother, and Charlottesville harbors the university I want and hope this daughter of mine can attend in four years. UVA, after all, is a good university—and it’s seventy miles away from me. I look up to education. I view the hallowed halls of its campuses as sacred places, and sacred places should be safe ones.

But it’s not just my child that should be safe. And it’s not just universities that should be safe. All our children should be able to walk up and down a town square in safety—just as all our young adults should be able to walk to class without being threatened by weapons-wielding men and women.

Which brings me back to the headlines I keep perusing, and the questions that keep interrupting thoughts. And I realize, as I finish feeding the cat leftovers from the tuna can, that all of this is a distraction from the larger issue. Don’t get me wrong. Let me be crystal clear: no one should ever bring a weapon to a peaceful protest. And all protests should be peaceful. There’s no ifs ands or buts here. I condemn all violent protest. Period. I particularly condemn those who march under the aegis of rhetoric that is in and of itself violent: white supremacy. But those who march for Black Lives Matter should not carry weapons on their marches either.

But this is all a distraction.

From the bigger things that bedevil all of us.

Some of these things seem small, but they’re not. Like today, I asked my son how his lunch was, and he said he forgot it.

“What did you do?” I asked.

“Well, I bought it.”

“You bought it?”

“Yeah, she said to bring in money tomorrow.” My son looked at me. He knew I was upset.

“That’s gonna cost me ten dollars,” I said. And I sighed and walked away. Because you can’t explain budgets in any manner that takes hold with an eleven year old. But any adult reading this, anyone who’s trying to raise a family in America knows what I speak of. What little we have doesn’t go far, does it?

A lot of us don’t have a lot. The top one percent of Americans now own more wealth than the bottom ninety percent. Which is to say: America is riven by inequality.

Desperation and separation act as the fuel for our violent civic dialogue. Families are saddled with debt, but during the 2008 Recession, and other times throughout our history, corporations, not individuals, were bailed out of financial ruin. Corporations poison the water we drink, the air we breathe; yet wealthy shareholders, rather than workers, reap the unholy profits sowed by these sometimes legal corporate endeavors.

Jobs are “outsourced” to laborers working in other countries under slave-like conditions; robots, not Americans, fill newly-created American jobs; and corporations are hired to run enemies down in countries near and far—all in the name of waging an endless war against terror. A war that has few boundaries and no stated parameters for ending is also a war that exhibits little sympathy for the lives of innocent bystanders.

Meanwhile, the oceans grow more acidic; the trees in our forests, more scarce. Our scientists warn that our use of natural resources is killing the very earth we live in and is threatening the future of our children and our children’s children. Our very way of living is a violent one that leaves destruction in its wake, and still we carry on and march for or against statues erected to honor men who died eight score and many more years ago.

And yet our elected leaders understand very little of this. After all, they serve with no term limits, nor do they observe any form of meaningful limitation on who can influence them. Corporations are not citizens, and yet they sprawl out across the political landscape like teenagers in a frat common area, grabbing what they can from those who represent us in Congress. Both parties are, in short, corrupt. Each of the two major parties serves the corporate lobby. Each keeps the War on Terror going; each feeds from the same vat that feeds the rich and powerful.

We, as individual humans, are better, more important, more precious, more beautiful, more meaningful—than any of our ruling institutions. We each have the light of God within us, and this light can and does shine no matter how dark our institutions turn. We must remember what unites us.

We are unified by love. We are unified by the blood that runs in our veins and by the light that flows like living waters through our souls. We must seek the light that each one of us, as sons and daughters of the One, possesses. And we must demand that our institutions serve us, as individual beings with light, rather than the non-human, inanimate monster that is the modern corporation. We cannot allow ourselves to be distracted by old statues, or by ignorant men touting Swastikas, or by angry but misguided minorities who bring weapons to the public meeting place.

We must wake up. And join together in love and in light. And once we do this, we must demand that our institutions follow us into the light and take a route that will lead us to live in peace and in harmony with ourselves and with the Mother that is our Earth.

We—and Earth—deserve no less.

 




Intolerance and Modern Spirituality: Interfaith Outreach

Intolerance is the single greatest problem I think we face in religion. Intolerance rears its head when Christians preach that Jesus is the only way Home, and anyone whose follows a different path is condemned to hell. Intolerance rears up and screams its hateful hue and cry when secular Muslims misuse the words of Muhammad to preach violent jihad. Intolerance spreads like a cancer when fundamentalists of any cloth or wearing any frock picket and protest in denial of an individual s right to experience love when their sexual choices come in rainbow coloration.

Intolerance itself can be defined in the following manner:

  1. Lack of tolerance; unwillingness or refusal to tolerate or respect opinions or beliefs contrary to one’s own.
  2. Unwillingness or refusal to tolerate or respect persons of a different social group, especially members of a minority group.[1]

Intolerance’s playgrounds, ironically enough, are vast and diverse, for intolerance is bred in any petri dish that separates humanity on religious, political, geographical, social, artistic, or historical grounds. The cause of intolerance is difficult to locate, because so many modalities of incoherence feed into it. Yet an evolution in the genus of intolerance can be found if one starts with identity, adds in the three sisters, fear, ignorance and irrationality, peppers in a false sense of separation or otherness, and ignores the divine spark that fuels individual human existence.

Where otherness blooms, hatred spreads. Combating this growth is akin to preventing the spread of invasive bamboo in a mid-American back yard. You can rip each instance of it out, but if you do not dig a canal around the bamboo, or dig an entrenchment before the bamboo reaches across your land, it will shoot across any other plant or bush or grass or flower in its path. In other words, it’s much easier to attack bamboo before it takes root than to pull up each weed as it appears. Bamboo, like intolerance, must be met at the outer gate, before it takes hold of the yard.

The key to fighting intolerance is prevention. It must be fought before the roots that feed it find home in your heart, or in the hearts of those surrounding you. The keys to overcoming intolerance, fortunately, are as varied as the causes of it are varied. After all, the antidote to an unwillingness to tolerate others lies in love and acceptance. The answer lies in unity.

How, though, do we sow unity? One of the best engines for achieving social change lies in our religious institutions. At first glance though, hope for using religion to instill such unity seems like a task brimming with difficulty. Each week, I talk to people about religion in America, and all too often, people express anger and disillusionment towards the church they were raised in, or deny God altogether. Raised by fear-based and shame-engendering teachings, Americans either embrace pulpits that brandish the weapons of disunity and intolerance, or they reject religion altogether. They call themselves spiritual, not religious, and many good souls (far too many good souls) give up on church altogether.

In some ways, I was one of those souls, except instead of rejecting religion, I started the difficult process of trying to form my own ministry. No matter how disappointed I’ve gotten with the actual practices of churches, I still like the concept of church. I have seen the importance and utility of combining with others to fuel social justice and to synergize interfaith growth and dialogue via the sort of collective action that occurs within the walls of a worship center.

Yet when I looked around, I saw nothing that seemed to match my own beliefs. Interfaith ministries, as far as I could tell, did not exist. So I figured I would build one, but I discovered early in the process that there is a tremendous difference between serving others and doing the structural work of church building. The mere process of starting a non-profit requires cutting a swath through an endless sea of paperwork and red tape, and the actuality of creating a sacred space for worship services includes outreach, salesmanship and organizational vigor. I found that I was somewhat grinding my gears.

chalice_2011_cropped

Photo Credit: http://www.uua.org/sites/live-new.uua.org/files/chalice_2011_cropped.jpg

That’s when I discovered the Unitarian Universalist (UU) church. One day, I was researching the dogma of the trinity. I realized that the opposite of trinity was unity, and I began to read more carefully about the Unitarian tradition. For some reason, I clicked on UU instead of Unitarian when I got to the search page on Google. That’s when I came to the main UU website.

I had to keep rereading what appeared there, because it was so unique and yet so familiar. Indeed, I couldn’t quite believe my eyes when I first read the seven Principles that guide UU practice, which focused on the worth of each individual, acceptance and compassion, the goal of community peace, and “respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.[2] This, I said to myself, is exactly what I believe. And these principles, if applied by individuals when supported by a strong religious institution, would result in the propagation of love, unity and tolerance.

And it was about that time that I read a sermon that had been shared at a UU congregation. In the sermon, the preacher (a woman!) weaved Rumi and Buddha into a discourse on a problem of some sort . . . ironically I don’t even remember what the problem was—which is to say the problem itself seemed almost irrelevant. What impressed me was how the preacher tried to solve the problem, which was by searching for truth across cultural boundaries and within multiple sacred traditions. All I knew at that moment was that I had found a place where I could comfortably serve and contribute.

After all, it was Rumi that gave me the motto for my own religious approach:

Not Christian or Jew or

Muslim, not Hindu,

Buddhist, Sufi, or Zen.

rumi_religionNot any religion

or cultural system. I am

not from the east

or the west, not

out of the ocean or up

from the ground, not

natural or ethereal, not

composed of elements at all.

I belong to the beloved,

have seen the two

worlds as one and

that one

call to and know,

first, last, outer, inner,

only that breath breathing

human being.

No matter where I serve, THIS is what I will teach. Because it captures the essence of what human institutions, particularly religious ones, should exalt: the oneness of humanity. We are not other. We are not different. We all bear a spark of the divine. And if we can teach one another to see this divinity in one another, we can all walk one another Home.

 

 

 

 

[1] http://www.dictionary.com/browse/intolerance.

[2] http://www.uua.org/beliefs/what-we-believe/principles.




Shame is Not a Good Teacher

Shame is one of the worst emotions we can teach our children to feel. It’s difficult to wade through spirituality without finding shame, though. We see the hint of it, the strong suggestion of it, throughout Christian schooling as well as throughout the Bible. We see it in the story of David and Bathsheba, for example. We also see it embedded in the teachings of Paul in the New Testament. Far too many preachers and ministers take these stories or these scriptures and use the stories to make us feel terrible, and this isn’t a proper or the best use of the Bible.

The great Christian writer and teacher, C.S. Lewis, wrote about this in a 1952 letter. He wrote:

“It is Christ Himself, not the Bible, who is the true Word of God. The Bible, read in the right spirit and with the guidance of good teachers will bring us to Him. When it becomes really necessary (i.e. for our spiritual life, not for controversy or curiosity) to know whether a particular passage is rightly translated or is Myth (but of course Myth specially chosen by God from among countless Myths to carry a spiritual truth) or history, we shall no doubt be guided to the right answer. But we must not use the Bible (our ancestors too often did) as a sort of Encyclopedia out of which texts (isolated from their context and read without attention to the whole nature and purport of the books in which they occur) can be taken for use as weapons.” Letter November 8th 1952

By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7049156

By Scan of photograph by Arthur Strong, 1947 Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7049156

We need more love-based, gentle teachings like those espoused by C.S. Lewis. We need to guide our children to the best path without using the weapons of shame and fear as our artillery against their spirit. When we focus on sinning and the blood of Jesus, we often cause pain and suffering in the exact people we’re trying to help. Basically, we are taught to feel shame when we “sin,” and then we are taught that Jesus died for or sins, and that in turn makes us feel even more ashamed for the mistakes we make as young men and women. Instead of feeling relieved, we feel sad and ashamed, and we carry that sadness and shame out of church into our daily lives. But aside from pain, what does feeling shame really give us?

It’s true that Jesus was crucified. It’s true that David made a big mistake by sleeping with Bathsheba. It’s also true we all make mistakes, both as children and as adults. Taking responsibility for our errors, for the hurts we cause others, can help us make better decisions in the future. But shame mires us in pain—and when we heap the death of Jesus on top of this pain, we end up suffering.

When we hold the image of a suffering man on the cross in our minds while we think about our actions, we end up replaying all our mistakes in a dread-inducing atmosphere. We get mired in sacrificial blood so to speak, rather than moving on to the real task of becoming the best people we can be. Carrying the cross is really not our job, but in effect that’s what we do when we obsess over concepts like sinning and sacrifice.

If we hold onto our mistakes and to the notion that every mistake we’ve made dirties us, we create a sort of hell on earth for ourselves. When we fear dying because we are afraid of what we will face after death because of the mistakes we make when we’re down here in our human shells, we end up afraid of living; we end up afraid of life. Priests and preachers should help guide us, but too many of them use fear as their cudgel.

For example, my children once attended a traditional Methodist church without me. And the kids listened to a lecture from the minister about how your sins down here on earth caused you to suffer judgment back Home. The minister gave a sermon in which he asked the members of the congregation to picture a stack of index cards laid out on a table. Imagine that you’ve died and have gone Home. You go up and even before you visit with your family and your friends, you go before a board or a council and you undergo a life review—all of which is accurate. We do go before a board and go over the good and the bad decisions we made throughout our lifetime, but in reality, the focus is much more positive than negative.

But the minister wanted the focus to be about sinning, so he said, “Jesus is waiting for you, and he will point out all your sins, and then he will show you all the same cards, but with blood smeared all over them. HIS blood. See, he gave up his blood so that all the awful things you do on earth won’t keep you from getting to heaven, but if you don’t atone now, you will have to explain yourselves to Jesus.”

When my kids told me this part of the sermon, I exclaimed, “No! This is fear-based, shame-engendering nonsense. Sure you’re not supposed to hurt others while you’re down here. You’re not allowed to rape or murder, you shouldn’t steal or tell lies to hurt others . . . but no one is waiting for you with blood-crusted index cards. The teaching back Home is much more positive. The aim isn’t to scare you or make you miserable; the goal is to emphasize areas where you did well, where you helped and served others, and to teach you places where you could have done better—all with the intent of helping you learn to do better, to become the best souls you can become.”

My children were a little confused, so we talked about it some more. They asked me what sort of mistakes could result in your getting punished after death, and of course I mentioned that killing, raping or sexually abusing others could get you punished, and as soon as I said that, my eldest asked about sex. About whether having sex could get you in trouble.

I shook my head and said, “Sex is not something to fear. Overall, it’s a positive and lovely thing that brings us joy, particularly when we experience it with someone we’re in love with and who we respect. We live in physical bodies. When religion emphasizes fear of our physicality, of what it causes us to do or to be or to enjoy, this is not good for us. Our bodies are built for certain things, and among those is sexual pleasure. It’s part of our human nature.”

the_kiss

By own photo of the sculpture of Rodin – own photo in the Rodin Museum, Paris, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4145510

“So should priests not be celibate?” My daughter asked.

I shrugged. “Celibacy has been touted as a virtuous accomplishment. In fact, it can also be a perversion of nature. Even though we are animals, and sex is one of the single most important instincts nature has given us, and perhaps the strongest of all of our instincts. It’s impossible to be human without embracing our sexuality, and true happiness and contentment are the rewards of a strong, loving relationship; this includes a sexual relationship.”

“So are you saying we shouldn’t be celibate? That it’s wrong for us to be deprived of sex? I thought you also taught that it’s okay to fast sometimes, Mom,” she said.

“Sometimes it’s good to fast, yeah,” I agreed. “But that’s not the point of celibacy. The point of celibacy is to find purity through deprivation, and fasting is another type of deprivation, but it reminds us that we are able to overcome our instincts, at least for a little while. No one can exist forever without eating, and I don’t know that it’s good to try to exist without satisfying our physical needs.”

“Might make it easier,” my son chipped in, “ Not to have to eat. Then you wouldn’t have to cook, and we wouldn’t be led by our donkey souls into eating so much junk food.”

I chuckled and nodded. “Well, that brings up an interesting point. Hunger is easy for us to understand. When people are starving, their morals quickly evaporate, and they take to stealing, fighting, and rioting to get food. Our bodies tell our brains that we’re in trouble, that we’ll die if we don’t get food soon, and the primitive part of our brains turn loose our most primitive emotions.”

“So are you saying we go crazy if we try not to have sex once we’re adults?” My daughter was trying not to smile.

“Not exactly, no. Maybe celibacy is fine for some people, I dunno. But in general, sex is perhaps our strongest instinct, because it represents how we express our love physically. We need to be able to express our love. We really need it, at least once we’re grown up and mature enough to handle all the emotions that come with it. So sexuality is a very strong instinct, and it’s tied into love. The way it’s taught though is like it’s a bad instinct. Sex is perhaps our strongest instinct, and yet it is to be ignored, restrained from or used as a weapon against us?”

How have you been taught about sexuality?

How would you teach your children differently?


David by Michelangelo; Photo by Jörg Bittner Unna (Own Source, Wikipedia)

David by Michelangelo; Photo by Jörg Bittner Unna (Own Source, Wikipedia).

When I say that we should use gentle, love-based teachings to guide our children and help them make good choices about their sexuality, I’m not saying anything goes. I don’t think we should teach our kids to simply do whatever they wish to do. We should teach our kids to value their bodies. We should teach our kids how to say no, either to other kids, or to adults who don’t respect proper boundaries. We should teach our children how to stay safe, and how to respect the safety and well-being of others.

Indeed, we have a duty to teach our sons in particular that “No” means “No,” and that a women’s body is hers alone to assert control and dominion over. We should teach our children that experiencing sexuality without love and commitment is something that will often leave them feeling empty and unfulfilled. We should teach them that sex is an adult act with adult consequences, such as pregnancy and disease. And we should help guide our children on a path that emphasizes discernment and the other side of free will: consequences.

Everything we do, after all, has consequences. But making the best choices occurs when we are unafraid and not laden with shame or dread. We should accept ourselves as well as seek responsibility for our actions, but we should not fear judgment or carry our mistakes as burdens. We should not feel ashamed, because shame is not a kind or a good teacher.




Is Jesus the Only Way Home? Is it False to Teach Otherwise?

I read a blog last night that discussed a theory that some Christians have. It runs like this:

Jesus is the way, the light, and the truth, and through him is the only way one can approach God. Jesus also warned about the influence of false prophets, so if someone preaches something that goes against the centrality of Jesus to the salvation of his or her listeners, she or he is a false prophet[1] and is leading you astray.

As an interfaith minister who hails from the Christian tradition, I accept Jesus as our savior. I believe that he died and was resurrected, and that he was the son of God and was doing God’s will his entire lifetime. But I don’t believe that this means that Jesus wanted us to abandon other holy and pure paths Home. I don’t think that following Jesus’ actual teachings means that we must reject other well-intentioned routes or teachings that can also guide us to God.

And here is why.

Jesus taught that God’s main commandment was to love God and to love one another as God loves us:

One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:36-40.

What this means to me is that Jesus taught an overarching law. We should love God, the Father, and we should love one another. If we live like this and do not know Jesus (say we live in a place where the history of Jesus is unknown, or say we grow up being taught solid Buddhist, Hindu-Yogi, Sufi Muslim, or Native American beliefs), we are following a proper and good path Home. We are living as Jesus lived, with love, tolerance, forgiveness and obedience to God’s will as our central precepts.

Kinneret-moshava

Sea of Gallilee By he:User:י.ש. (The Hebrew Wikipedia[1])

Jesus repeatedly said that he was doing His Father’s will. He did not claim to be the Father, but the son of God.

Jesus also taught that when he left this world, he was leaving behind a great gift to all of us in the form of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is what allows each one of us to connect to Home. It is, the best I can tell from what Jesus said, akin to a Holy Counselor, or a direct line to our Creator, and we are supposed to honor this gift by using it to listen to what the Spirit tells us. Says Jesus:

I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.

When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how to defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say. Luke 12:8-12.

This is a rather an amazing thought. Jesus says that you shouldn’t speak against him (and that’s something I for one will not do, for I believe in him as our Savior and as the son of God). But he says you will be forgiven if you do. But if you speak against the Holy Spirit, which for sure represents a different entity and thus path to Salvation than going through the son alone, you are blaspheming and will not be forgiven. Thus when we listen to the Spirit and follow what we hear, when we incorporate teachings that come from within us and try to be the best souls we can be, we are following a good path. And when teachers tell us to look inward and to listen, they are not leading us astray. They’re simply telling us to do what Jesus told us to do.

The Holy Spirit spoke to many of the apostles after Jesus died, and helped them in their ministry. There were prophets mentioned in both Acts and in 1 Corinthians, and these prophets are accepted as being proper and good teachers (so long as they are listening to the Spirit and using what they hear to help guide listeners to the straight and proper path). Here are some examples of prophets doing God’s work after Jesus died:

And when Paul laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. There were about twelve men in all. Acts 19:6-7.

We continued our voyage from Tyre and landed at Ptolemais, where we greeted the brothers and sisters and stayed with them for a day. Leaving the next day, we reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven. He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied. Acts 21:7-9.

Note that Phillip, one of Jesus’ apostles, had four daughters, and each one of them were prophets.

In the next paragraph, it states that another prophet delivered a message to Paul, warning him of danger.

After we had been there a number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. Coming over to us, he took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, “The Holy Spirit says, ‘In this way the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.’” Acts 21:10-11.

This same man, Agapus, is also mentioned as being in a group of prophets and sharing warnings earlier in Acts:

In those days some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them named Agabus stood up and predicted through the Spirit that a great famine would sweep across the entire Roman world. (This happened under Claudius.) So the disciples, each according to his ability, decided to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. This they did, sending their gifts to the elders with Barnabas and Saul. Acts 11:28-30.

Photo from http://looklex.com/e.o/galile_s.htm

Sea of Galilee, seen from Jordan Photo from http://looklex.com/e.o/galile_s.htm

In addition, 1 Corinthians 11 speaks of how prophets (male or female) should behave in a properly run church. In other words, Paul thinks it is acceptable for a woman to prophesies (so long as her head is covered, which is another issue altogether). The place of prophecy in religion and in future church life, in other words, is accepted by Paul, for we all have special gifts and abilities we should use to serve one another and to serve God. Prophecy, which can come to anyone who is chosen by God, requires that one listen to the Spirit, or to God directly. It is also likely that God could send his only begotten son, Jesus, or an angel as a messenger to speak to any human. It is not logical to argue that Agapus, Phillip’s daughters, or any of the future prophets discussed by Paul in 1 Corinthians 12, are doing wrong when they obey the guidance of the Spirit and share the message they receive to others. The mere fact that prophets (who are divinely guided, either by God or by the Spirit) are accepted in the New Testament shows that the Christian Church assigns the Holy Spirit an important role in the calling of individuals to God. If the Spirit can call us, then it is right and good to follow that call rather than the mere call of Jesus alone.

Indeed, Jesus states as much when he tells us it is worse to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit than to speak against him. Jesus also says, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” And Jesus, again and again, states that he is obeying the Father and doing the Father’s will by sharing God’s teachings with God’s people. Jesus tells us all to listen to God and to do as the Holy Spirit guides us. It is impossible to say that we should disobey the dictates of the Holy Spirit and still follow Jesus, because Jesus himself tells us to obey the Spirit. In other words, Jesus explains that we can follow his teachings to love God (the Father), to love one another, to look inward and listen to what the Spirit tells us, OR to accept Jesus’ teachings and apply them to our lives. It’s not enough to simply accept Jesus as our Savior. We must live according to his commandments, and these are to love the Father and to love one another.

Is it enough to live like Jesus lived, to love one another, but to accept the teachings of other (earlier or later) prophets? Are all Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, secular humanists, perhaps even Unitarians, as well as those who follow the teachings of indigenous traditions . . . are all these people condemned to hell? In other words, what do these words mean to those of us who live two thousand years after the death of Jesus:

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6.

One possible interpretation is of course taking these words completely literally. If you want to get to God, you gotta go through the son. You can’t go directly. You can’t listen to the Spirit. You listen to Jesus and to Jesus only.

This is a sensible interpretation in some ways. But if you will, consider the time and the place, or the texture of when and why this statement was made, and also consider the other teachings Jesus brought. After three to five years of oppression and opposition, of denial and worse, Jesus was about to die. When Jesus was talking to his disciples, he was preparing them for his death. He was about to go away, but he would send the Holy Spirit down as a guide. The rest of the conversation went like this:

If you had known Me, you would know My Father as well. From now you do know Him and have seen Him.”

Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.”

Jesus replied, “Philip, I have been with you all this time, and still you do not know Me? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I say to you, I do not speak on my own. Instead, it is the Father dwelling in me, carrying out His work. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father

Gospel Trail - Mount Tabor, Galilee Photo by Tal Glick http://www.goisrael.com

Gospel Trail – Mount Tabor, Galilee
Photo by Tal Glick
http://www.goisrael.com

is in me—or at least believe because of the works themselves.

Truly, truly, I tell you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I am doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.

If you love me, you will keep My commandments. And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate to be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot receive Him, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. But you do know Him, for He abides with you and He will be in you.

I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. In a little while, the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you are in Me, and I am in you. Whoever has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me. The one who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and reveal Myself to him.” John 14:7-21.

Jesus explains that he is doing God’s will. That the Father lives in him and he lives in the Father just as the disciples live in Jesus and they live in him. We are supposed to love Jesus and to love the Father, and we are supposed to live according to what Jesus taught when he lived on earth. We are supposed to continue doing Jesus’ works even after he is gone, and the Holy Spirit will help us serve others just as Jesus did his Father’s will and served God’s people.

When Jesus says that he is the only way to God, I think he was speaking to the times he lived in. In 33 AD, Jesus was living as the Messiah here on earth. John the Baptist, the other leading prophet of the time, had already handed the baton to the Lamb of God, as John called Jesus, and had gone Home to rest. All of John’s disciples would then have been expected to follow Jesus, and we are told in John 1:35-42 that Andrew and most likely John followed Jesus based on John’s instruction. The rest of John’s disciples probably took after Jesus once John the Baptist passed away. Everyone who lived at the time of the Savior would have been expected to help Jesus in his miracle-giving ministry. Anyone who lived and saw the miracles Jesus did with their own two eyes should have accepted and followed the son.

How far does this expectation extend? Many generations have passed. Many countries, including Israel, have fallen and risen. And many people follow the teachings of other prophets and servants of the Lord, including Muhammad, Rumi, Buddha, Ramakrishna (from the Hindu monk tradition), Ahmad . . . the list goes on. I am not comfortable asserting that all of these teachers are false, or that those who follow these teachers and do their best to live good lives, to love one another, to love God . . . are damned.

I just don’t think that is what Jesus meant when he said to the people in his own time period that he was the way and the truth and the life. I don’t think he meant that good souls who lived thousands of years later were condemned to hell if they looked inward and listened to the Spirit and found a route Home that took them through the gates in a slightly different way. I don’t think that Jesus, after living on earth as a man, meant that for all souls who lived on earth thereafter, that the only way to God forever and ever more was to proceed through the gate manned by Jesus. If that were the case, then why send down the Holy Counselor, or the Holy Spirit? Why commission Paul to preach? Why does the New Testament speak of so many other prophets who listened and taught after Jesus went Home?  Why did the Spirit talk to saints and monks, preachers and teachers, like Saint Theresa, John of the Cross, Saint Augustine, Martin Luther, Meister Eckhart . . . and why has the church accepted the visions and accounts, the epiphanies and insights . . . of so many who were inspired by the Spirit?

Am I certain I’m right? No, I’m human, I’m in a human shell. I do my best to interpret and teach the scriptures. I listen to the Spirit and to what I’m told and study and while I’m in this shell, I will do my best to love God, to honor the son of God, and to love others. I will look inward, and suggest that others look inward as well. After all, Jesus taught that the kingdom of God exists within us.[2] Therein lies the map Home. We all have it. We all have the key to our own salvation.

 

 

 

 

[1] Mark 13:21-22. At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time.

[2] Luke 17:20-2

1.




Paul is No Friend of Women: Head Coverings

I read a passage in Paul’s 1 Corinthians 11:5-6 the other day that got me scratching my head. In it, Paul argues that in an orderly church, a woman who prophesies must have her head covered, or else get her hair cut off or shaved off. In Paul’s mind, it was a dishonor for women to speak out without their heads being covered, and this reflects Paul’s extremely negative views towards women.

The fact is that Jesus most certainly did not object to women speaking out in church as prophets or otherwise while their hair was uncovered. Perhaps the most dramatic proof of this is the anointing scene attested to in John 12:3 (and also mentioned in Mark 14:1-9 and Matthew 26:6-13). According to these accounts, while Jesus was reclining or laying back in either a chair or perhaps even a sofa beside a table, Mary anointed Jesus by pouring expensive oil on his head . . . but also according to the account in John 12:3, she went even further. She anointed his feet . . . and wiped the nard off his feet with her hair. Explains John:

Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was served in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of perfume. John 12:1-3.

From the standpoint of answering Paul’s views on women speaking out at church, should this occasion (where Mary anointed Jesus in front of his disciples and family members) be considered a church meeting? Church can simply be defined as the coming together of more than one people to worship God. Any time Jesus met with his disciples, he taught them about God. Jesus was speaking about godly matters during Mary’s famous anointing of him for burial. Therefore, such a meeting should most certainly be considered a church gathering.

Paul said no woman should speak at church, nor should a women prophesize with her head uncovered, or else she should have her head shaved. Jesus obviously disagreed. Jesus considered Mary’s act a beautiful thing. Her anointing was a highly symbolic act, for she was anointing him to prepare him for his death. And the family and apostles present did not object to the way she touched him or the way she acted as a prophet or priestess during the anointing process; instead, Judas objected to the wasting of the expensive nard, which could have been sold and used to feed the poor.

Jesus replied,

Leave her alone . . . She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her. Mark 14:6-9.

Two things are very clear from this statement:

By Autore sconosciuto (images.vogue.it/) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Autore sconosciuto (images.vogue.it/) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

  • Jesus approves of a woman acting in a symbolic and highly prophetic manner. After all, the anointing of him by Mary foretold or indicated that Jesus was about to die. Like many symbolic acts by Jeremiah and Ezekiel, John the Baptist and Jesus, Mary’s anointing represented a godly sign of what was to come.
  • Jesus honors Mary’s anointing act, and treats Mary as an equal and beloved member of his church.

Moreover, Mary’s head most certainly was not covered, nor was that of the other woman who oiled and then dried the Savior’s feet with her hair during an earlier church meeting involving Jesus. Luke 7:36-50. This woman, who was “a sinful woman,” wept over Jesus and wet his feet with her tears.

Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. Luke 7:38.

When the Pharisee who was hosting Jesus objected, Jesus told a parable about a moneylender who forgave the debts of two people, one of whom owed more. The man who owed more was forgiven more, and thus he would love the lender more; just so, Jesus explained, would the woman love more if she were forgiven more.

Therefore, I tell you, how many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little. Luke 7:47.

In other words, Jesus not only refuses to rebuke a woman who kisses his feet and rubs away the tears she has shed on his feet with her hair—he uses the opportunity she gives him to teach yet again about his main commandment, which is to love. Jesus does not care about the rules of the surrounding institutions. He does not respect the orthodoxies of the rabbis or other Jewish authorities.

Unfortunately, Paul does respect these orthodoxies and he does apply the preexisting and prevailing institutional bias to how churches created by him treated (and often still treat) women. Unlike Jesus, Paul is no friend of women:

And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is just as though her head were shaved. If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or shaved off, she should cover her head. 1 Corinthians 11:5-6.

By Olympe de Gouges (Originally from [1].) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Olympe de Gouges (Originally from [1].) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Paul contradicts Jesus here. And by contradicting Jesus, Paul departs from the true teachings that Jesus brought with him. And if Paul wrongfully taught that women should not speak in church (or prophesy with their heads uncovered), then Paul could be wrong about other things as well (such as the submissive role a wife must take in marriage). Paul is not equal to the Savior, and his teachings on inequality often reflect this.

Jesus brought a new set of teachings, with new laws, when he brought his new covenant. Paul spoke in derogation of these new laws many times, particularly regarding women. If anything, Paul was enforcing the old Jewish laws that Jesus disregarded. The old laws that Paul is enforcing were in fact abrogated by the Savior’s life and Crucifixion. Hebrews 8:7-8, 13. Paul never walked and talked with Jesus; in fact, he only visited with Jesus a couple of times, and not in physical form (and this, after Paul persecuted the early church, which Paul himself freely admits to doing). Paul himself states that he should not be considered an apostle:

For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 1 Corinthians 15:9.

Perhaps Paul should be taken at his word.

And yet Paul’s teachings are accepted widely and have been used for thousands of years to repress women. It’s ridiculous that the one Apostle who never walked and talked with Jesus is accepted as readily as the other apostles, such as Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, Phillip and Thomas (among others). All of these apostles worked hard to spread the words of the Savior—and they kept true to his word. When Paul strays from the letter and spirit of the Savior (such as on matters of women’s equality in the church), his teachings should be considered moot and obsolete.

Should a woman speak in church? Of course. Mary spoke and acted symbolically in the church that Jesus created, as did Martha and other women, like the Samaritan in John 4. See Luke 10:38-42. If the Savior allowed women to have a role and spoke to them as equals, why should we listen to Paul when he treats women as less?

 

 

 

 

 

 




Don’t Pick Sides When You Pray

Yesterday I wrote about division. I wrote about the Blue Lives and Black Lives, and how both must matter. Both should be loved and supported, in prayer and in action.

I favor unity in all cases. I don’t think a sense of unity is created when we choose to pray for only police officers. We can support both the men in blue as well as the black men in hoodies, perhaps with a different set of prayers, but with loving intent all the same.

Here’s what I wrote yesterday . . .


 I saw a sign in a local church today:

Pray for the Men in Blue

And certainly I’ll pray for them. I’ll pray that they use discernment when they see black men in hoodies. I’ll pray that they receive the support and training they need when they try to sort out their threat matrix. I’ll pray that they enforce the peace with love and tolerance in their hearts. I’ll pray that they, as well as the black men in hoodies, make it home safe to their families tonight.

Of course I’ll pray. But I’ll pray my ass off for the black men in hoodies too. I’ll pray for all humanity as we try to forge a straight path in these dark days; I’ll pray that we walk with love and in the light no matter how difficult the two may be to grasp hold of and live with; I’ll pray for all sinners that they may live more like saints. Always, I’ll pray—for all of us.


Someone very close to me read this and asked me to clarify my thoughts on cops. “Don’t you think most cops are good?” he asked.Pray_meninblue

And of course I think most cops are good. Most cops wake up every morning and put on their blue or brown uniform and go out with the intention to “protect and serve.” Most cops have good intention throughout their day . . . and the same principle applies to most civilians. When a black student at a university, say a football player, grabs his collegiate sweats and takes a walk, he’s just trying to live his life. He doesn’t deserve to get stopped and frisked at gunpoint just because a black man (bearing a completely different physical description aside from skin color) in the same city has robbed a bank. Or when a black father gets into his car and drives through town to get an errand done, he’s just trying to take care of his family. He doesn’t deserve to be harassed and treated as if he’s a criminal during a routine traffic stop.

In other words, the vast majority of black Americans and the vast majority of cops begin their day, they don’t wish to hurt anyone. They are doing their jobs and living their lives. They are not looking to hurt the innocent or commit a crime.

But at times things go awry. The black American who shot the cops in Dallas was motivated not so much by a misguided desire to achieve reform, so much as hatred. What that man (and I won’t say his name because I think this encourages those who seek fame through their bad acts) did was wrong. It was evil.

We should all be motivated by love. Buddha said in the Dhammapada:

Hatred can never put an end to hatred; love alone can. This is an unalterable law. Dhammapada 1:5.

Jesus said something similar:

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12: 28-31.

No matter what we do for a living, we should love our neighbors as we love ourselves and we should be motivated by love rather than hatred.

When police officers go out in the field, or in the line of duty, they should not merely be looking to serve and protect. They should be looking to love, serve and protect. If love is at the fount of their service, then the police officers will be able to better see and understand the people they are serving. They will be motivated less by fear and more by a willingness to disregard triggers that lead to undisciplined and paranoid reactions to innocent black Americans.

I have watched videos of cops killing civilians, and in the worst of the videos, I’ve seen malfeasance and hateful intent, but with the help of a retired military cop, I have learned to watch these videos with greater discernment. For example, I have watched the killing of a Navajo woman by a cop in Winslow, Arizona (which is shared below).

As I watched the video, the retired military cop explained to me all the mistakes the frightened cop was making (that led to what was later ruled a justified shooting). “He’s too close to her right here. He’s not approaching her with sufficient distance, he’s not giving her clear voice commands. He’s escalating the situation. He should have waited for backup. He should not have laid a hand on her here, he should have used a baton, not his hands here . . . and now, he should not have pointed his gun in the same direction as his partner. He’s not controlling the situation . . . and now she’s got a weapon in her hand. He has no choice now. It’s kill or be killed, but all of this could’ve been avoided if he had approached the situation better,” explained the retired military cop. “Approach determines response,” he concluded. “And his approach was all wrong.”

I have also discussed the issue of cop training with a gun instructor. As this instructor explained to me, “Too few cops are training properly on the use of firearms. They are going to the shooting range, but they’re not training with live people, they’re not training on close combat, they’re not learning how to handle the very difficult scenarios that cops may or may not have to face. But when a difficult situation does arise, you must have trained on it in order to be able to handle it correctly,” the instructor said to me.

With all of those caveats in mind, when I pray for the men in blue, I pray that they get the training that they need to handle difficult situations. I also pray that they approach all civilians in a manner that is fair and just. I pray that cops treat a black child wearing a hoodie or a black dad driving in his SUV with the same love and protectiveness as the cops treat any white child or white dad.

When love informs how we see the world, we’re better able to see that every soul is precious. When love provides the filler for the fuzzy spaces within our hearts, we are better able to identify the innocent as not posing a threat. When love alone is what motivates us, we’re not as likely to think that someone is a threat to us just because their skin is darker than ours. Indeed, if we view all other humans as being our brothers and sisters, part of the same Body of Christ or as descendants from the same Maker (the Father), then we treat all the people we encounter as deserving of our love.

Division arises from a bad choice. We choose to see others as different, and as a threat to our way or to our identity or to our sense of comfort. Cops fall into the same bad habits as the rest of us do. We identify ourselves by our colors, whether they’re drawn on the uniforms of sports teams we follow or patched onto the sleeves of uniforms we don when we go to work or dabbed onto our very skin.

We choose our colors and we choose to think that one color makes us superior . . . and yet beneath the skin we wear, we are all the same color. Our souls all shine white, lit by a brilliant light. The lamp that is our soul looks the same as any one else’s soul, for it emerged from the same One Light that created us all.

I pray that we all remember that One Light guides us all. I pray that love wins, and love alone rules us all.

 




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