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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.



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.


Photo Credit:

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.







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.


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

Sea of Galilee, seen from Jordan Photo from

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

Gospel Trail – Mount Tabor, Galilee
Photo by Tal Glick

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


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 ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Autore sconosciuto ( [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.


The Non-Perils of Tolerance

I am an interfaith minister who preaches a doctrine of love, tolerance and peace, and usually my route is an easy one. I believe that all altars, followed in good faith, lead souls Home. I embrace the teachings of the prophets from the major (and sometimes minor, or less popular) faith traditions. Jesus was the Son and the Savior, but believing in him as our Savior is not the sole route to paradise. Living like Jesus (or following the path that he and other prophets, saints, and spiritual leaders have followed) is what matters, both for this life and for life afterwards.

I am also the mother of three children, and church for us will soon consist of worship services I lead in Front Royal, but for now, church is mostly what I teach at home. I don’t limit my teachings to Sunday mornings, but I do read from the scriptures and teach from the Word on Sundays. Most of the time, we work on the Bible, but I also teach from eastern scriptures. Sometimes we will read from the Mahabharata (the Hindu holy works); sometimes from Rumi (a Sufi mystic from thirteen-century Turkey); sometimes we will delve into poetry from Walt Whitman. In other words, our church embraces all well-intentioned routes to finding God.


So what happens when my daughter says, “Hey Mom, Dad wants to take us to church with his new girlfriend? And he says we gotta pack our church clothes?”

The honest answer for us at least was somewhat humorous. The kids and I looked at one another, each with a bit of apprehension and perhaps a tad of annoyance. “Church clothes?” My daughter said.

“Church clothes?” My middle child said.

“Huh?” My youngest child said.

It took us a while, but we found some clothing that was more or less church-appropriate. Our scavenging was not without a few remarks about the lack of guidance in the Apostle’s Creed regarding church attire (a train of thought that I may have started). But we got it figured out, and I also had a chance to go over the Apostle’s Creed with my children.[1]

To be clear, as a servant of God I do accept the main tenets of this creed. I don’t believe in the supremacy of the Holy Catholic Church. I don’t think it’s necessary to accept the pope or the catechism to be okay with God. I’m also not quite sure about the phrase, “he will judge the living and the dead” as applied to Jesus, for I do not think that Jesus is co-equal to God. Jesus was God’s Son, and he obeys his Father’s orders, but does he wield the staff at Home? I was thinking through these doctrinal matters as we searched for “proper” church attire.

And then my daughter piped up, “Mom, is it okay for us to go to his church, or his girlfriend’s church?”

A funny thing happened inside me. I hesitated. I had to think about it. I didn’t immediately say a loving, fearless, “Well, yes,” because I didn’t feel it. I felt uncertain. I pictured in my mind several different churches at once, and some of what I saw was good; some was not so good; some was innocuous but uninspiring. The worst of what I saw was an intolerant, fear-instilling Baptist preacher commenting on the sins of gays. The best was a Methodist minister reminding his flock at Christmas time that “we can’t take it with us,” so we should not focus on earthly material gain. But mostly I saw a little girl sitting in a pew reading a Bible instead of listening to church announcements. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing; after all, anytime someone gets curious about the Word, one more soul is hearing God’s call.

As I was thinking, my daughter said, “What if they teach things we don’t believe? What if they say it’s sinful to be gay or what if—”

“—I don’t think any minister in Northern Virginia is gonna go there,” I said.

“Better not,” she said. “I couldn’t stand it when they went off on that during Bible study last year.”

I issued a quiet nod and remarked, “If they were to refer to that same passage in Romans, you could remind them of what?”

My daughter’s face screwed up in concentration. “Doesn’t Paul say you’re not supposed to judge anyone else’s sins, because we all sin?”


“Okay,” she said, “But you don’t really think homosexuality is a sin.”

I nodded again. “Yeah, but you don’t need to argue that every time. You can always peacefully remind someone that the very same thing they’re using in the Bible to condemn others says you shouldn’t condemn or judge anyone, seems like a better way to change their minds right? More peaceful.

I smiled at my daughter, who was shrugging and shaking her head. “I don’t feel so peaceful when people say mean things at church,” she said. “In fact, I feel like kicking them.”

“Not good,” I chuckled.

“But Mom, they’re hateful.”

“Who’s hateful?”

My daughter stopped and thought about it, and then she said, “Mom, you teach a different way, and it’s never hateful. Will it be okay?”

“You mean, will it be okay to go to church, maybe hear what some other folks have to say? Or do you mean, will it be okay if they say some things you don’t agree with, maybe some things I don’t agree with either, do you mean will you be okay if you sit still and listen?”

My daughter was trying to roll her eyes at the direction my question was going, but her curiosity was piqued. “So would you go, if you were invited?”


Photo by Americasroof, Wikipedia

I smiled and then laughed. “Well, I don’t think I’ll be invited . . . but . . .”

We both chuckled, and then I continued my line of thought. “I always go to worship services if I’m invited, if I’m able of course. There are probably a few churches I wouldn’t go to, like Westboro Baptist—”

“—They’re the ones who protest at funerals, like when soldiers are killed, they protest against gays?”

“Yeah, that’s the ones. I wouldn’t go to their church because for sure they’re spewing hateful stuff, for sure. But the vast majority of Christian churches are good, they teach some fear-based stuff sometimes, that’s not good, but mostly they share the Word and they do their best to help people.”

“—Mom,” my youngest son interposed, “Are Catholics also Christians?”

“Yeah, Catholics are Christians, so are Protestants, so long as you follow the Apostle’s Creed you’re Christian.” I glanced at my daughter, who appeared thoughtful. She didn’t say anything, so I continued talking. “You should never be afraid to hear other people’s opinions, whether they’re right or wrong, accurate or completely off-base, you need to assume that they’re trying their best to get it right, especially when you’re going somewhere to worship God, even if you don’t love the service, even if you don’t feel totally comfortable, you can see a different way of worshiping him, and while you’re there, you can talk to Him yourself or you can think about Home, it’s never a bad thing to think about Home, it’s never a bad thing to see how someone else thinks about Home.”

“Mom?” It was my youngest son again. “Are we Christian?”

I rubbed his head. “We are all whatever we choose to be, I for one follow the teachings of Jesus, and I think he is God’s Son and the Savior, I just don’t think Jesus and the Father are the same. I guess this makes us nondenominational Christian, because most denominational—”

“—What’s denominational?” My middle child now was listening in.

“Oh, it’s a specific church, like Lutheran, Methodist, that’s what you all were baptized in, Baptist, Episcopalian . . .” I paused and waited for my middle child to nod at me. “So most Christians who belong to these denominations, they follow what they call the Trinity, but when I read what Jesus said, I think all along he said he was the Son, and he was obeying the Father, he was ‘doing the will of Him who sent him,’ but it’s okay to disagree with folks on this issue, it doesn’t make them bad or us better or them good and us worse, it’s just a different interpretation.”

My youngest son bounced away. He was done asking questions. But my daughter was still a little stuck. “It doesn’t matter who’s right? What does the Apostle’s Creed say?”

“You mean about the trinity or about gays?”

“Trinity, I know they’re wrong about gays,” she said with a winsome smile.

“It says nothing, it says the Father and the Son, treats them as separate, but a billion Christians think they’re the same, it’s just what is taught to kids when they’re young. But it doesn’t matter, trinity or no trinity, one God or Father and Son, it doesn’t hurt people if they’re wrong about some doctrines, what matters is that they’re well-intentioned, and the same goes for people who actually deny that Jesus was the Son, who say he was just a man—”

“—But you are sure he was God’s Son, and you’re adamant about it, right Mom?”

“Yeah, I’m sure.” I poured a glass of water and checked the time. It was Thursday morning and I wanted to take the kids to the mountains for the afternoon, so I needed to wrap it up. “The thing is, it’s important to be accurate, but it’s not so important to be right.” I smiled because I was repeating some advice a close friend had once given me. At the time, I had thought being right was incredibly important, but I had realized that being right is only important to those of us who have too much pride. I still struggled with this, and that was probably the gist of the issue for my daughter too.

Sure enough, she said aloud, “But aren’t you right, I mean about doctrines like the trinity?”

I lifted both hands and smiled. “Doesn’t matter.”

“Why not?”

What matters is how you love and how much you give. What matters is using your abilities to serve others. Those things matter so much more than being right. It’s really important to just do your best, and that applies to ministers and to preachers as well. I don’t sit here and judge other ministers. I don’t want it to be about figuring out who’s right and who’s wrong. As long as ministers are trying to help people get Home, that’s good. Whatever the faith, whatever the dogma, whatever the creed is, so long as it’s based on love and is taught with love, it’s good.”


Image from


A few days later, my daughter called me. It was Sunday afternoon, so I asked how church had been.

“It wasn’t bad, actually, it was really cute, Ben sat and read the Bible the entire time, I think he got as far as Leviticus.”

“Awww,” I smiled into the phone. “That’s what I used to always do in church, I’d get bored and then I’d start reading the Bible, always loved it.”

“Yep, he says he wants a new Bible, a blue one.”


“Yeah, that’s what he said, Mom.”

I grinned and added, “Tell him I’ll find a blue one.”


[1] I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic and apostolic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

Christians Must Speak Against Trump

If you’re a Christian or a follower of Jesus, you shouldn’t vote for Donald Trump.

I realize these are fighting words. I get that I’m speaking out on matters of the world political . . . and I get that as a minister, I’m not supposed to support one political candidate. So be it. I’m not advocating in favor of or in support of any particular candidate. But as a woman of faith and a minister to God’s people, I will not (nay I cannot) remain silent when faced with evil.

"Bundesarchiv Bild 183-H1216-0500-002, Adolf Hitler" by Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-H1216-0500-002 / CC-BY-SA 3.0. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 de via Commons -,_Adolf_Hitler.jpg#/media/File:Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-H1216-0500-002,_Adolf_Hitler.jpg

Bundesarchiv Bild 183-H1216-0500-002, Adolf Hitler” by Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-H1216-0500-002

Jesus demanded otherwise. Trump’s attack on the very roots of my faith demands otherwise. Trump, after all, is a flouter of all that Jesus taught, and if elected, Trump will rip at the foundations of all that Jesus taught and when he’s finished tearing up these roots, he will spread poison throughout the body politic with the dismembered branches of all that godly men and women hold dear.

What did Jesus teach? He said that above all, to love God and to love your neighbor as you would be loved. Trump loves no one. He attacks women like here, where he admits to calling women, “Pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals” . . . and when he is asked by Megyn Kelly about it, he suggests that “Blood is coming out of wherever . . . and later calls her a bimbo.

By US Government - US Government, Public Domain,

By US Government – US Government, Public Domain,

Trump is a bully rather than a statesman. Rather than debate intelligently with fellow Republicans, he has made fun of Rubio at least eight times for sweating and went so far as to heap scorn on Marco Rubio in a video segment.


If you don’t have time to watch the segment, Trump opens a water bottle and splashes the air with it and with a scoffing laugh mumbles, “Ha, this is Rubio,” and he smirks and eventually throws the water bottle over his head with a smug and disgusted chortle.

Trump, in other words, makes fun of people. He does not help the homeless, the needy, or the unfortunate; in fact, he walks past a homeless man and chortles aloud to his daughter that the homeless man has eight billion more than he has at the moment. According to an article in Forbes magazine, Trump’s actual donations to veterans amount to a paltry $57,000 and over the past several years, Trump has made no personal contributions to the charitable foundation created in his name.

Contrast this behavior, in other words, with what the Savior did while he was here. Jesus gave. He didn’t take. He gave, and he gave generously, and he told his disciples to give just as radically because he knew a simple truth: those who give love receive much more than they give because they receive grace. Jesus knew that love was all a soul really needed to obtain salvation, and the more love we give, the better off we are and the closer we are towards building the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth.

Does Trump care about the Kingdom of Heaven? Does he care about souls who need tending? Does Trump care about being a shepherd of God’s flock, or about taking care of the poor, the needy? Does Trump care about the public good at all? by Michael Vadon


He cares about making America great again.

Since when did goodness get removed from moral or political consideration? Since when did America become a nation that seeks greatness at the expense of goodness? Since when did we sacrifice the public welfare to the pursuit of superiority over other nations, peoples, creeds, or ethnicities?

Because make no mistake, if Trump has his way, American greatness will come only when all that’s good in the American heart is extinguished. Burnt up at the altar of making WE THE PEOPLE great. We as a people are only as great as we are good.

Which is exactly what Christians should focus on: building individual grace in the service of the public welfare.

Or to put it another way, what would Jesus do if he were here? Would he stand by in silence and allow a soul as dark as Trump to spread his vile and hateful speech? Or would he speak out with courage and discernment?

This isn’t rhetoric, nor is it a difficult question to answer in any way. When a mob wanted to stone an adulterer, Jesus defended her. He said, “Let he who has committed no sin cast the first stone.”

Can you imagine Trump standing up for the disenfranchised, the weak, the imperfect? Nay. Trump would have grabbed the nearest stone and hurled it at whoever stood in the way of American greatness. After all, Trump is amazing. He’s wonderful. He’s GREAT. And America must be superior to all other nations, just as Trump must be superior to all other individuals.

Did Jesus think this way? No. He said, “Judge not so ye be not judged.” He hung out with the homeless, the sick, the indolent, the castoffs and castouts of his society. He helped those in need. And he spoke out against evil, greed, hypocrisy, and immorality. He spoke out fearlessly and he spoke out radically.

When seeing money collectors brazenly gathering in the public space outside a temple, Jesus took an actual whip to the collecting tables. Sure, Jesus answered a question from an attacking member of the established order with the famous, “Render unto Caesar’s what is Caesar’s,” but he nonetheless railed against the misuse of political power by members of the Jewish religious leadership. Jesus spoke out and he spoke up—no matter the physical pain he knew would be inflicted on him due to his outspoken opposition to immorality and greed.

As disciples and followers of Jesus, so too should we speak out against Trump’s spread of hatred. Indeed, any religious leader, any priest, any minister in America who fails to speak up against the rise of Trump will be guilty of allowing the rise of evil in the land of the free and the brave. Those who serve God must love their flock by having the courage to speak up when evil is being done or served or propagated by threat of human hand.

Evil is as evil does, and Trump does evil. He does not speak love. He does not speak kindness. And he does not do or encourage kind acts. He simply spews hatred, breeds superiority and instills fear of anyone who is different. Trump will not make America great again. He will make America into a killer of all that is good in the collective and individual soul.

And we must not stand by in silence and allow it.




Mary Magdalene, Jesus and Mark, Part 2

I posited in the last blog post that Mary Magdalene was the wife of Jesus, and set forth scriptural authority for such a theory. And I also stated that Mark was connected to Mary. But how does Mary and thus Jesus connect to Mark?

We need to look to chapter 12 of Acts, the fifth book of the New Testament, for more hints. Acts 12 tells the story of how an angel rescued Peter from jail. It’s an intense story . . . but it’s what happens once Peter is freed that’s relevant to the issue at hand. For when Peter gets out, he goes where? According to Acts 12:12:

When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying. Peter knocked on the door and a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer the door. When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, ‘Peter is at the door!’

A few comments here. First, Peter could have gone anywhere. But he went to Mary’s house, and it appears as if Mary’s house was thus the center of the growing movement in Israel, because a lot of people were gathered there and were praying. Also, the servant girl knew Peter very well; in other words, he was a frequent visitor to that house.

But wait! There’s more! We also know that Mary lived at the house with Jesus’ brothers. We get this from Acts 12:17:

Tell James and the brothers about this, he said, and then he left for another place.

We know that the James mentioned here is not James the Apostle, because he was already killed . . . we also know that Jesus’ brother was named James. So what we have is a picture of a large, extended family, all living in a big house—which would have been a reasonable thing for a married Savior to do—he would have lived with close family while he ministered, because of course he received no pay for his work. His brothers (most likely) continued in the family carpentry business.first lost gospel mark_ebook

We also know that Jesus’ best and most insanely difficult miracle (aside from coming back to life himself) was the one he performed on Lazarus—the husband of Martha, Mary’s sister. John 11: 1-2. (The Bible characterizes Lazarus as Martha’s brother, but I believe they were married; all the same, the Bible confirms that Martha, Lazarus, and Mary were related and were close family). And remember that scene? Remember when Mary cried out, “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died” and Jesus in response wept! John 11:32-35. Once again, for emphasis: Jesus wept. Does he weep at any other time during his ministry? I think not—but he weeps when his wife’s brother passes away. And then he heals him.

Coming back to the issue of Mark . . . we know Mark was Mary’s son. We also know this incredibly important fact about Mark: he wrote the first and most cited of all the gospels in the New Testament. We also see Mark traveling all around with Paul, and when this relationship fractures, Mark travels with Peter . . . and then Mark does two things: he writes the authoritative account of Jesus AND he founds the eastern wing of the church in Alexandria, or in Egypt, which at the time was a hotbed, an intellectual powerhouse in Northern Africa. Which begs the question: why would Mark be trusted with these fundamental and huge undertakings if he were not close family? After all, he was not the charismatic speaker Paul, nor was he the outspoken and excellent leader Peter—and yet all the other disciples trusted his writings and his leadership enough to rely on his first gospel.

Was Mark simply a friend of the family? Or was he, like Mary, so much more? And why else would Mark part from Paul, who himself departed the most from the Savior’s basic teachings, unless Mark knew and truly grasped the Word as well as or perhaps better than any other of the Apostles? What makes most sense is that Mark was Jesus’ young son, not old enough to lead when Jesus died, but old enough to take his rightful place as a leader and disciple in the years after Jesus died.

Many people ask me why all of this isn’t laid out more clearly in the gospels. For one thing, it was not proper to call attention to yourself directly—that’s what we see in the Gospel of John. When John describes himself, he never uses his actual name. For example, in the Crucifixion scene, where Mary Magdalene, John, and Mary, Jesus’s mother stand beside the Savior, John writes:

When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” John 19:26-27.

Like John, Mark was reticent to call attention to himself in his formal writings. But there’s another, more sinister, and yet practical reason why the early gospels don’t connect the dots more clearly between Mark, Mary and Jesus: the family was at risk. After all, they’d just killed Jesus. They killed Stephen. They arrested Peter . . . and the persecution of the early Christians continued right up until Mark himself was dragged by the neck through the streets of Alexandria many years later.

It was dangerous enough to be a disciple. It was much more risky to be the Savior’s wife and children. And that, coupled with gender discrimination as well as the later notion that a holy man should be a chaste man . . . has led to the burying of the truth regarding the wife and son of Jesus. But the truth lies within the scriptures itself, simply awaiting discovery and a fresh examination by open minds.


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.


  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.




  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?

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