Monday, December 20, 2010

So This is the Begat

Every time I watch or listen to Alan Watts speak on reality I feel completely and utterly unraveled afterwards. I can never get enough of Alan Watts, or I should say I can never get enough of The Begotten.

My favorite quote: "Life is a bridge, pass over it but build no house upon it." Although I'm unsure about the source of the quote it has been attributed to Jesus (Isa), son of Mary on the Victory Gate at the Fathepur Sikri Mosque in India. It bears some similarity to the Christian relationship of being in the world but not of the world. The difference being that mainstream Christians are waiting for a glorious Hereafter whereas the Eastern concept brought up by Alan Watts is of experiencing the infinite Now without trying to hold onto it.Everything is constantly moving, changing, evolving so don't cling to it. This is why I'm constantly being drawn to the book of Ecclesiastes, which describes the impermanence of Reality as vapor. You can't grab a hold of it and keep it in place, so why try? Breathe in reality, live in harmony with its flow, be IN the world but not OF the world. Am I the only one who goes coco nuts over this? The constant flowing, reshaping, and overwhelming abundance of creativity of Reality/Life itself draws me in like moth to flame. I ramble on and on trying to come up with words to describe the experience of awe when realizing the immensity of  ____ until I realize both the futility and creativity of Naming the Unnameable.

Enjoy the dance of life but don't lean on it. Breathe it in but don't hold your breath.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Why I love the South

99% of the time I leave my phone off while driving, but after seeing this I couldn't help but take a picture.

This is why I love living in the South. There's nothing like a dose of good ole' evangelism to start your day.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

When Did You Choose to be Straight?

If you don't already follow Unreasonable Faith, then you're missing out. I love watching gems like these. Thanks to Daniel Florien at Unreasonable Faith for sharing this street interview video on choosing your sexual orientation.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Are Christians the New Persecuted?

Nope, at least not here in the West. Christians in the West are just beginning to realize that as the world becomes more globally interconnected the walls which used to keep The Others out are dissolving. They are our neighbors, co-workers, friends, and relatives. We have to share this planet and tribalism no longer works.

"Christians are entitled to hold their cherished beliefs, but they are not entitled to impose those beliefs on the rest of us and certainly not entitled to seek to make their beliefs the law of the land!"

Actually you can replace Christian from the quote and insert any religious identity and the quote will still work. For example:

"Muslims are entitled to hold their cherished beliefs, but they are not entitled to impose those beliefs on the rest of us and certainly not entitled to seek to make their beliefs the law of the land!"

 Sound familiar? (Here's a hint.) Moving more towards a secular society doesn't mean that the citizens will lack values and morals, but it allows room for a multi-cultural society to prosper. We are rapidly becoming more and more interconnected with our global neighbors. If Facebook were a country it would be the 3rd largest country in the world. Facebook! We don't live in comfy little bubbles of ignorance anymore which means if we want to live peacefully with our neighbors we've got to interact with them. Or we could go round and round making ignorant statements about each other stating how persecuted we've become. Christians in the West are far from being persecuted. (Squabbles over billboards and textbooks don't count as persecution. Sorry.)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Why I Can't Believe in Your God: Part 5- Final Thoughts

Believe me, I have nothing against the traditional theistic view of God. It just doesn't work for me anymore. It doesn't speak to me on an rational, emotional, and spiritual level. I've tried believing and I've tried wei wu wei (effortless doing), believing without trying to believe. Nothing. So what then? Am I forever doomed because I can't seem to connect with the god of the Bible, the Torah, or even the Qur'an? None of it resonates with me, but what does resonate with me is the spirituality of brokenness, of simply being human. I'm not talking about nature worship nor do I believe in supernatural healing energies, that all comes across as mumbo jumbo to me. What resonates with me is reality itself, not a hereafter devoid of pain and suffering but the here and now. I draw connectedness and meaning from my spirituality as an evangelical would from their religious beliefs. There's no need to feel disappointed for me because I don't "get it". The It I seek is behind and beyond the it we've created.
The reason why I can't believe in your god, in an orthodox set of religious beliefs, because it keeps me from experiencing the big picture. Religion that asks it's practitioners to be a better [insert believer here] will only move towards being what their religion asks of them. I've realized that any singular religion is but a limited expression, a singular experience, of the whole. It is part of the whole but not the whole Itself. But rejecting my submission to a singular religious identity doesn't mean that I reject the "values" within the religious systems. These same values exist across all, and outside of, religion because they are HUMAN values. So when I say I value honesty, mercy, compassion, humility, love, etc. these are not exclusive to any one faith (i.e. Christianity). THIS is what blew me off my Christian high horse when I started reading the Qur'an. Each of the faiths spiral towards their holy center without realizing that the center is the same as the edge! This is not to say that all religions are right or even worship the same god. I used to say this until I realized this only trivialized their unique experiences of Reality. What I mean to say is that regardless how strange our beliefs may seem to one another we still share in the Human experience. At any point, scratch that, at EVERY point in the spiral we are still human. I believe that any beliefs/ideas which strips us of our humanity and our basic human rights should be left in the past to rot with our ancestors.

Spirituality, however, spirals outward from the center (Ourselves) towards everything and everyone else with a sense of openness and connection to all life. Our sense of connection starts with our sense of self. Who are we? What makes up our identity and where are the borders? What do we believe? Why do we believe "X"? The difference between spirituality and religion I believe is the guts to question the world and narratives around us. Religion has an established narrative, a set lens through which you see and interact with the world. There's nothing wrong with narrative, if your religion is truly making you a better X then full steam ahead. I can't contain myself to just one narrative because I resonate with so many of them. But the reason is because I resonate with the human experience that the narrative represents, not the narrative itself.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Water Cooler Evangelism

I recently started at a new job a few weeks ago and I've been anxiously hoping to join in a water cooler discussion on religion and spirituality. I would start the discussion myself but I'm sure I would quickly alienate quite a few people before I finish my first thought. Anyway, I prefer listening to others discuss religion and spirituality than listen to myself rant (that's what this site is for). Here are a couple videos on water cooler evangelism, the first one made by yours truly.

Of course my video isn't as funny as this next one, I did however find the commentary intriguing. Why are people so reluctant to talk about their faith? Is it because the majority of believers weave emotion and identity with their faith?

Maybe there's so much pressure on Christians to proclaim the gospel that they rather not try unless they know they can secure a WIN for Jesus. Most unbelievers will hear you out but rather not be sold on anything. Sharing personal stories and experiences for the sake of sharing goes much farther than out right evangelism. Because in the end you can evangelize till your blue in the face (or martyred in a foreign country) the choice is still up to the end user. That's right, I said end user. The more people wear religion on their sleeve and treat it as a "life-changing" product the more people will see it as just that, another product. But be forewarned, if you don't meet your conversion quota the Evangelism Linebacker will get you!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Why I Can't Believe in Your God: Part 4- Individualized Expression, Individualized Experience

I started this series mainly because I found myself so fluid in my beliefs I couldn't even explain them to a stranger. I needed to express what I view as true as I currently see it (ehh, that still seems too fluid). I also pondered the phrasing of the series's title. Why Can't instead of Don't or Won't? Don't and Won't comes across as if I'm actively trying not to believe whereas Can't expresses more of an inability. This will make a bit more sense after I explain a verse at the core of my spirituality.

 He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
   And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
   and to walk humbly with your God.
Micah 6:8 NIV

I am but a single expression of life, deserving of no higher praise than the worker ant or a blade of grass. All life will succumb to death, and through our death new life is possible. We are beyond blessed to simply have a chance to experience reality and all that is asked of us is to do justly, love mercy, and to walk humbly with our own experience of reality. As individual expressions of reality we think, speak, dream, and love differently, but it is in that uniqueness where our equality is tenderly held. Even though some of us may think we deserve a bigger slice of life over everyone else in the end our bodies will share the same dirt. What does any of this have to do with my inability to believe in a theistic god? Quite simply we are individualized expressions of life with individualized experiences. The universe will never again spring up another you, ever. Each of us is a unique cosmic event that will only occur once and then fade back into the circle of life, like wave into ocean.

As an individual expression I experience everything from my own perspective. Even if I tried to comprehend your individual experience it will be filtered through my own. I must learn to walk humbly with my own experience and perception of Reality before I can even begin to comprehend yours. I must walk humbly with MY perception of _____, whatever THAT may be. This is why I've had trouble pinning down my beliefs, because I don't know what THAT is, I can only experience it and I'm not quite done experiencing ____ just yet. This is why I CAN'T believe in your God, because your God can only truly be perceived and experienced by you. I'm willing to listen to you and your experience because you are a cosmic event which will never arise again. How can I not be enthralled!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Why I Can't Believe in Your God: Part 3- The Human Variable

Although I write on this site for self-reflection and meditation this series is intended for an audience it will unfortunately never reach. Mainly because this is an obscure blog in a sea of thousands and when it comes to blogs most people only read what they're comfortable reading. Most bloggers (including myself) stay within their online communities and rarely venture into a camp with an opposing viewpoint. And when they do the "Others" at times considers the outsider's comments a threat to the community. Even in the digital realm we default to petty tribalism. But of course I could be completely wrong, and getting off track.

The biggest factor in my leaving the theistic view of God behind is also the one aspect I cherish most of all in religion: the human variable. Granted, our humanness has caused us to be the most mindlessly destructive creatures on the planet but it is also the source of some of the most mind-blowing, awe inspiring, breath taking man-made works (of course as the only known sentient beings we're the only ones who can appreciate it). But it is that same humanness which I find makes scripture even more compelling than the previous image of Father Sky God as the sole author and authority of All. Reading scripture as if it had been handed down unblemished from heaven is cute but it removes the human voice present throughout scripture. You don't have to be a historian to realize that the Bible was written, edited, and transmitted by people, you just have to read the Bible itself. Covering the authors of the Bible in a cloak of infallibility rips away that humanness I connect with when I read the Bible. The same goes when we gloss over and reinterpret those less desirable verses which depict our humanity in horrid detail. Reinterpreting the Bible won't change the fact that certain beliefs and practices were acceptable at one point in our history. We just have to realize why they're no longer relevant to a 21st century society. A tribal god and its tribal law may have been necessary to maintaining the cohesion of a tribe but as citizens of the 21st century those gods and their laws are no longer necessary, we've outgrown them. Do we really need to avoid wearing clothing made from two different types of material or only marry within our tribe? Christians would say that Jesus' sacrifice made the old laws irrelevant. Sure why not, but how is the story of the sacrifice of a man-god relevant to us now in the 21st century? Preachers may try to repackage and sell the story's uniqueness but the fact is that the gospel story is just another story. (In fact, it's one that has been told for centuries before Jesus.)

What I find myself drawn to is what the story/scripture says of our nature, our humanity. We are broken, hateful, evil, greedy, lustful, terrible terrible creatures with daddy issues. But, it's in that shared brokenness that we are capable of tremendous love and beauty. Some of us aren't comfortable with our humanity, so we seek out to create perfection. Instead of dealing with our brokenness and learning to love ourselves as more than a collection of minor imperfections we create something greater, higher, more perfect than ourselves. I'm not saying theists are delusional, it's hard being human. We're all doing our best to cope with reality, and for me the theistic God just doesn't work anymore. Yet I hold onto the stories because they are by us, about us, for us, which makes them a part of us.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

I'm SBNR....Kind of

SBNR, or Spiritual But Not Religious, is a phrase which I use (at times) to describe my spirituality. Only, it comes across as anti-Religion (read anti-God in the Bible Belt) whereas I surround myself with religion, all sorts of religion. I use SBNR as a short hand to sum my my on-going fluid spiritual journey which is nigh impossible to pin down in a specific set of beliefs. Because, to be honest, sometimes I believe in contradicting beliefs and other times I believe in none of them. It's not about dogma, rituals, or communal identity, it's about discovering oneself.

SBNR's tend to come across as some New Age mystic movement but from what I've seen it is an incredibly diverse group mainly because of its sincere openness to question, seek out, and discover life itself. Some have labeled SBNR as Burger King Spirituality, "having it our way", picking and choosing what one wants from the various world religions.

The reality is that even the most conservative believers of any faith pick and choose elements to follow and embrace. To me the issue isn't how closely one follows their faith, but how does your personal experience with your faith and God lead you to a higher plane of self-cultivation? How are you growing in your faith? I believe that is the disconnect between religious believers and the Nones (which includes the SBNRs) described in the video. Most believers opposed to SBNRs are under the impression that they (SBNRs) have given up all forms of self-cultivation (my new favorite word) and refuse to follow any sort of higher moral authority. Equating lack of belief in a higher power to immorality is a load of baloney! A belief in and allegiance to a supreme being is not a magical cloak of morality. People will choose how moral they want to be regardless of their beliefs. SBNRs embrace life itself for what it is refusing to box it into a single narrative. This doesn't make them amoral, in fact it's quite the opposite. SBNRs embrace and respect the people behind the religion because it's the people not the dogma which is important. I hear so many evangelicals state how it (life) is all about giving glory to God. Yet this intense focus on a theistic Father God sometimes translates into hating what the God of the Bible hates. What do our actions and words really say about the marginalization of the least of these (homosexuals, Muslims, women, the poor, other non-believers, etc)? What do our actions and words say to our neighbors when we say we "love" under certain conditions? There is a disconnect when I read that the Bible has over 2000 verses on the poor and all I hear in church is how we should be giving more to the church.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying SBNRs are better people they just don't get caught up in dogma drama (as much as others). Their focus is on connecting with their fellow man and understanding their role in the universe, in the here and now. I'm careful when I use the term SBNR because although it describes me to a degree it just sounds oppositional. I'm not against anything religious, in fact I LOVE talking about and (at times) experiencing our religiousness. I love the story and symbolism in religion but most of all I go crazy for the wildly creative interpretation of scripture, like this for example. I've considered telling people I'm SBNER, Spiritual but not Exclusively Religious, but even then that leaves a bad taste in my mouth. So now I try to avoid boiling down my spirituality to an acronym and ask my interrogator if they'd like to sit and talk about it over lunch. When you get to know someone on a personal level it's difficult to hate them for their beliefs.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Righteousness of Finn the Human: The Enchiridion

"A long time ago, when I was a baby, I went boom boom on a leaf. Then I fell backwards and sat in my own boom boom and cried for a day, but no one came to help me. That day I vowed to help anyone in need, no matter how small their problem!" -Finn the Human. Adventure Time, "Memories of Boom Boom Mountain"
I am still a boy at heart, right down to the core. I still play video games, get excited when I walk down the toy aisle, and religiously watch cartoons with my kids. Of course, I keep all this bottled up on the inside since as a grown 26 year old I can't be running around with a toy sword yelling "get ready for an upper cut, you dog!" Which is why I love the new cartoon series from Cartoon Network, Adventure Time. Who wouldn't want to watch a 12 year old boy fight for the weak and helpless while going out on awesome adventures? Sure the superhero cartoons are drenched in justice but I can't think of too many cartoons which approach the subject of justice and compassion as humorously and memorably as Adventure Time.

[Adventure Time, by Martin Corba]

Adventure Time can't be explained, it must be experienced. The show follows the adventures of a Peter Pan-esque 12 year old boy, Finn, and his best friend, Jake, a 28 year old dog with magical powers as they battle monsters, rescue princesses, and go on radical adventures in the land of Ooo. Did I say radical, I meant mathematical!

The show is filled with odd characters, pre-adolescent toilet jokes, and memorable fist pounding catch phrases set against the backdrop of a post-apocalyptic world.  As far as I recall none of the characters have mentioned anything of how their brightly colored and joyous land of Ooo rose from the ashes of its past. Maybe because, as a cartoon the creators don't want to get into the gory detail of its apocalyptic destruction. So what exactly does all of this have to do with the righteousness of Finn the Human? Why even talk about a cartoon character? Because I LOVE story, we as a species crave it, and the one story we continue to tell over and over again is that of the archetypal hero.

What makes Finn righteous is not his strong ethical code or his stance on justice, it's his normality. His humanity is the very thing which sets him apart from every surreal creature and pastry-shaped character on the show and it's also the one thing we, the audience, share with Finn. There are human like characters on the show but Finn is the only one which bears the title Human. Amidst and beneath all of the boyish pranks and pre-adolescent humor the theme Adventure Time revisits is of an imperfect hero always struggling to do the right thing. The righteousness of Finn lies in the struggle of simply being human in an alien world. Although I would like to add that even though he's human he wears a hat which kind of makes him look like his fellow Oooians (Sound familiar? Hero taking on the form of those he swears to save? *Hint, hint*).  His empathy towards non-human sentient beings radiates the message of loving those different from ourselves. No matter who they are or what they've done, Finn the Human will ALWAYS helps those in need.

"I'm not righteous, I'm wrongtious."

The episode entitled "The Enchiridion!" best illustrates the struggles and responsibilities Finn must face as he seeks out a magical book which can only be read by a hero who's heart is righteous. Interestingly enough the real Enchiridion, or Handbook of Epictetus was a manual of practical philosophy which contained "Stoic ethical advice compiled by Arrian, who had been a pupil of Epictetus at the beginning of the 2nd century." (Wikipedia) The trials Finn faced focus on his ability to distinguish right from wrong and how he treats his fellow Oooians. For his first trial, he saves three fairy creatures from a burning pit of fire and once released they begin destroying old ladies. Finn questions his sense of "righteousness" after releasing the creatures although his companion, Jake the Dog, reassures him that it's all an illusion to test his heroic attributes. As I was diggin' the eastern religious reference Jake is suddenly devoured by a giant ogre. I was slightly tempted to interpret this scene as a metaphor for the battle between ignorance (embodied by the ogre) and wisdom (Jake the "Buddhist"* Dog) but I've already read too much into the episode. It is a cartoon you know.

For his last trial he's instructed by a hooded figure to slay two creatures: an evil heart beast and a neutral ant. Finn refuses to destroy the unaligned ant even at the risk of never reading the Enchiridion. He could of easily crushed the defenseless ant for his own gain but refused to do so. For all three trials Finn's compassion for others was being tested, not his ability to defeat evil. And for that he's handsomely rewarded with a peak at the Enchiridion (watch the video to see what page he read) and a delicious meal of spaghetti with his friends.

Already well into season 2, Adventure Time continues to surprise me with its subtle themes of morality and justice underlying the rambunctious adventures of an energetic and righteous 12 year old boy and his wise dog. I'm sure a lot of parents will dismiss this as another mindless cartoon (it does contain a sprinkling of mildly inappropriate innuendos at times), but I have yet to find another cartoon as hilarious and thoughtful as Adventure Time. I love...scratch that, I am insanely obsessed with Adventure Time, but that's probably the kid in me.

*Jake is not a Buddhist, but is merely connecting to the internet through meditation. Love it.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Xtranormal with a Pinch of Hellfire

After watching Peter's (Emerging Christian) inspiring Xtranormal videos I thought I'd give it a whirl. The site is a lot of fun and very easy to use (although the site did crash for a few hours the other day as I was wrapping up which caused my video to disappear and sent me into a minor panic attack).

I don't know why I chose robots as the characters. I guess I wanted to geek out my video, although I could have tried to tailor the script to fit the video. Two robots talking about sins, Hell, and Jesus seems a bit out of place. What about Robot Jesus or the Space Pope?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Why I Can't Believe in Your God: Part 2- Thou Shalt Not Question

To make a long story short, I can't accept the image of God portrayed in the Bible. Not because I know too much or I lack the faith, it's just that the theistic image portrayed in the Bible is no longer relatable in the 21st century. Some monotheistic believers would state that the divine transcends any notion of intellectual inquiry and examination while pointing out the physical "evidence" supporting their leap of faith. We are creatures of thought and curiosity. We are born curious and denying ourselves, and especially others, the ability to question only serves to chip away at our humanity.

Born and raised in the Bible Belt, I was taught to believe that the Bible is 100% completely infallible and inerrant, and to question the word of God (i.e. the Bible, its history and the various orthodox interpretations) is often equated to a full frontal assault on God. There is absolutely no room for exploration and interpretation thus creating a stagnant, static climate in the journey to experiencing the divine within Christianity. What is commonly forgotten (and ignored) in conservative Christian circles is that the same creative and spiritual interpretations and readings done by non-inerrantists is similar to the creative and spiritual interpretations done by apologetics, pastors, and Sunday school teachers. Unless you're reading all of scripture 100% literally, you've entered the realm of metaphor and interpretation. And if scripture passes through a human filter for interpretation in 21st century sermons and lessons how can we not consider the human factor when scripture was first penned? For Christians to question the validity, authority, and personal experiences of all other religions except their own reveals a deep desire in controlling their identity and reality as Christians. Except it's difficult to connect with another human being, let alone evangelize to them, when they stay in their comfy bubbles of security.

My issue (today) is not with Christianity but the stagnant theology within Christianity which suffocates the limitless creative Word at the focal point of the faith. (Although I should point out that there are A LOT of social issues within Christianity that must be dealt with by the Church if it wants to continue preaching the message of universal love.) I grew up a Christian (SDA) but during my teen years I noticed there was a much larger world, a larger story, beyond what I've been fed which caused me to branch out beyond the confines of the faith. Many believers would say that my peering out of the Christianity box was Satan leading me astray from God. On the contrary, I find myself deeper in thought about the divine than I ever did in my youth, and the only "straying" I've done is from a particular set of theologies in a vast sea of beliefs. It is the God structured from these beliefs that I can no longer swallow, not because I'm overwhelmingly sinful, but overwhelmingly curious. How can I be damned for all eternity by the same God who imbued us with curiosity, awe, and wonder for the universe? How can the same God create countless diverse lifeforms and then ask us not to study and question their origin and downfall? How can the same God encourage us to know Him through the Word and then place restrictions on what we may or may not query? No scripture is entirely inerrant, or even divine, because all scripture must be read and interpreted by man.

I ask so many questions that I now consider it a spiritual practice. Flip through my archives and all you'll find is post after post filled with questions. Why? I believe how we wrestle and live with a question is much more fulfilling than cranking out an easy answer. Anyone can crank out an answer and sell it to the crowd, religions have been doing that for thousands of years. We are creatures of exploration and I can't imagine the human race ever running out of questions to ask or corners of the unknown to explore.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Science Saved My Soul

Unreasonable Faith, how I love thee.

They recently shared this 15 minute gem entitled Science Saved My Soul. A must see video on the grandeur and overwhelming beauty of the universe. It makes you feel microscopic until you realize your relationship to it All. Absolutely breathtaking.

My favorite line:

Stars have died, so that I could live. I stepped out of a supernova. And so did you.

This video is in the same vein as the Atheist Spirituality videos I stumbled upon last Spring. I use the term spirituality in a non-supernatural sense to describe the awe of and connectedness to the universe.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Why I Can't Believe in Your God: Part 1-My "Bitterness" Towards God

I often get to a point in my conversations with mainline Christians when they begin to see that I'm just a normal person. When they get to this point they become perplexed trying to balance the "paradox" of how someone can live happily (and morally) without following their view of God. Instead of accepting the possibility that other views may be equal to theirs they try to find some fault with the non-believer. I've often heard that my unbelief in the Christian salvation narrative stems from a past cosmic injustice causing me to be angry and bitter towards God.

I'm sure there are people bitter towards God but I am not one of them. I have a roof over my head, two wonderful children, a loving wife, my health, and I have plenty of food in my fridge (in fact, too much). Outside of being unemployed I have no bitterness towards the universe. My childhood wasn't the greatest but I had a home and two parents who loved me. I have no reason to be bitter and if I had a reason I don't believe that a truly compassionate God would punish me for unfaithfulness or lashing out against It in anger. The rain falls on the just and the unjust, as anyone from the Southern Baptist Convention President, Johnny Hunt, to notable Atheist, Christopher Hitchens, can be diagnosed with cancer. The universe is indifferent, we shouldn't be.

I humble myself not before a Grand Designer with a Grand Plan but before the reality that surrounds us, dwells in us, and that which we take part in as living things: the cycle of life itself. I am not bitter towards the fact that I will cease to exist because I did not exist before I was born. Yet knowing that I am going to die does not drive me into a hedonistic rampage or extreme bouts of depression. I welcome the day along with the night, the pleasure with the pain, and the laughter with the sorrow. If anyone has a legitimate reason to be bitter it should be the unborn for not having the chance to experience the ups and downs of life. Most Christians who claim I'm bitter only do so because they believe I must have experienced something terrible resulting in my anger towards God which hardened into unbelief. But I could only be bitter against God if I 1) believed in the theistic view of God and 2) believed God is in control of everything. To say that God is in total control of EVERYTHING means God is the source and author of both the Good and Bad. The fact is that I arrived at my conclusions and beliefs (two separate things) over a long, long journey of thought, reflection, and meditation. I have not arrived "here" because I'm against something, I arrived here by realizing my connection to Reality, my place in and relation with the universe. Being bitter is pointless and self-centered, it's not all about me, nor is it all about Mankind. We are not the center of the universe, we are simply participants and observers of the cosmos. How can I be bitter towards anything when I have the chance to observe AND participate in life itself?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

So Many Articles, So Little Time

It's terribly difficult in keeping up with all of the bloggers I follow on the internets through my feed reader, but then again there are a lot of good reads out there. Here are a few postings which caught my eye recently.

Andrew Hackman (Happy Belated Birthday!) shares a video from RSA Animate and his thoughts on reforming the public education system. And if you're unfamiliar with the videos by RSA Animate I encourage you to visit their Youtube channel. It's definitely worth your time.

John Shore has quickly become one of my favorite bloggers: passionate, witty, a down right rascal. Here's a recent posting entitled What Non-Christians Want Christians to Hear. (It's not about how much they LOVE to sin. It's quite the opposite.)

Scotteriology shares a video of a Bible Defenders video game. No foolin'! You can play as creation science evangelists Carl Baugh and Kent Hovind along with author Gail Riplinger and Pastor Peter Ruckman in this Mario-esque parody game. This reminds me of a video game made for the original Nintendo Entertainment System I used to play called Exodus: Journey to the Promised Land. Ahh, nostalgia.

And last but not at all least, Sabio at Triangulations recently wrote on Religious Prescriptionists found in faiths other than Christianity. Gasp!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Religious Venn Diagram (According to Google)

Google, what would we do without you.
Praise be Google. Google Almighty knows best!
(HT Blame It On the Voices)

I guess Christians and Muslims have more in common than they thought.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

THAT'S in the Constitution?

O Internets, how I love thee.

Although Bill Maher has been releasing politically embarrassing videos of Hogwarts graduate, Christine O'Donnell, I think it's safe to say that O'Donnell can embarrass herself without Maher twisting statements she made years ago.
Christine O'Donnell:" Let me just clarify. You're telling me that the separation of church and state is found in the first amendment?"
Chris Coons: "Government shall make no establishment of religion.”
Christine O'Donnell: "THAT'S in the first amendment?"
ARE YOU SERIOUS! If you're running for public office you should, at the very least, know the Constitution. I admit I don't know it myself but I'm not running to represent the People. Would you want a doctor operating on you if he/she didn't have a basic understanding of anatomy?

I know there are those who would love to interpret (maybe even rewrite) the Constitution as fully supporting the concept that America has always been (and always will be) a Christian Nation. If they truly realized how a theocracy would obliterate our cherished freedoms they might not be so gun hoe in dissolving the wall between Church and State.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Hell House: The Guilty Effect

Trinity Church in Cedar Hills, Texas is entering its 20th year of Hell House. If you are unfamiliar with Hell House it's worth going to at least once to get the full effect. Hell House began in Texas in the early 90's (although it's origins and variations date back to the 70's with Jerry Falwell)  as a fire and brimstone Christian haunted House. Variations of this phenomenon have sprung up across the country and have become a common fixture during Halloween. Click here for a list of Judgement Houses (they claim they are different from Hell House) near you.

Last year I wrote about my experience at a local Hell House in Murfreesboro, TN which was strikingly similar to the 2001 documentary on the Trinity Church spook house in Texas entitled Hell House. As they enter into their 20th year, this year's theme entitled The Twenty Effect, one can only imagine the horrific scenes presented by a surprisingly talented cast and crew. But after watching this year's trailer it seems like more of the same: sex, drugs, and violence.

The production value gets better every year, and their formula of replacing serial killers and ghosts with real life situations makes the fear all the more realistic. The scenes are so close to home that many in the audience may have personally experienced  the scenes they witness in a hell house. It may help to give an empathic perspective for the potential abusers and attackers in the crowd, but from what I've seen the Hell and Judgement Houses, which are presented by (and in) a church, are completely devoid of redemption and compassion for the unrepentant. The bad people continue to suffer and the good will either ascend to heaven or live a happy life. But life isn't as black and white as the producers of Hell House portray it to be, the world is indifferent and full of gray areas. The bad don't always get what they deserve, and the good don't escape from suffering. And the moral standards presented are those of the church community which doesn't come across as universal among the visiting public. This is the disconnect people experience when they walk through a hell house. And to top it all off at the end of the tour you're brought into a room and asked THE question: if you were to die today, where would you go? More often then not many are so shaken and overwhelmed by guilt that they are willing to do and say anything to secure their place in heaven. (The Hell Houses may boast about the number of converts won but I wonder how many actually stick around?)

What the church failed to do is what they were meant to do in the first place: reach out to the broken with love and understanding. To love people for who they are and not condemn them for what they've done is what Christianity is all about (or in my opinion SHOULD be about). There are many reasons why people succumb to drug use, abuse their loved ones, or commit acts of violence. It's not because they love the sin, in fact most born again tales include a heart wrenching description of how painful their previous lives were. The "sins" portrayed in Hell house are not committed from a burning desire to inflict pain on others, but an outcry of suffering on the individual AND universal level. Parading crowds in front of violent and painful scenes while delivering the message that the pain will simply stop if we trust in God is grossly neglecting the pain of the sufferers while denying their basic humanity. Victims of abuse as well as the abusers (who were probably victims themselves in childhood) need compassion, love, and understanding. The only thing hell house is good for is entertainment, except there's nothing really entertaining about watching people suffer nor subjugating the audience to relive similar experiences. I wonder if the congregants of the churches participating this year are aware how well the title Hell House fits them.

Monday, October 11, 2010

What's On Your Bookshelf?

I love reading, although I purchase books much quicker than I can consume them. Here's a snapshot of the books I have yet to read. I've read a couple of these but the majority I have yet to crack open.

From left to right:
Some of the following are out of view
  • Sikh Religion [Not in view]
  • Still Here, Ram Dass [Not in view]
  • The Transcendent Unity of Religion, Frithjof Schuon [Not in view]
  • Behold the Spirit, Alan Watts
  • Taoist Tales, edited by Raymond Van Over
  • Cloud-Hidden, Alan Watts
  • The Tao of Pooh, Benjamin Hoff
  • Guide to Yoga Meditation, Richard Hittleman 
  • The Crack in the Cosmic Egg, Joseph Chilton Pearce
  • Bhagavad-Gita
  • Who Needs God, Harold Kushner
  • When Bad Things Happen to Good People*, Harold Kushner
  • When Children Ask About God, Harold Kushner
  • When All You Ever Want Is Never Enough, Harold Kushner
  • Religion: A Humanist Interpretation, Raymond Firth
  • Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time*, Marcus Borg
  • Why Christianity Must Change Or Die, John Shelby Spong
  • A New Christianity For A New World, John Shelby Spong
  • Christianity's Dangerous Idea, Alister McGrath
  • Who Killed Jesus, John Dominic Crossan
  • The Sacred and the Profane, Mircea Eliade
  • The First and Last Freedom, J. Krishnamurti 
  • The Book**, Alan Watts
  • The Sacredness of Questioning Everything, David Dark
  • Wherever You Go There You Are, Jon Kabat-Zinn
  • The Secret Message of Jesus, Brian Mclaren
  • Stages of Faith, James Fowler
  • Beyond Belief, Elaine Pagels
  • How to Practice The Way to a Meaningful Life, H.H. Dalai Lama
  • The Essential Talmud, Adin Steinsaltz
  • Jesus For the Non-Religious, John Shelby Spong
  • The Person of Christ*, Donald Macleod
  • The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell [Not in view]
  • Unity in Islam, Tallal Alie Turfe [Not in view]
  • God: A Biography, Jack Miles [Not in view]
  • The Bible, Karen Armstrong [Not in view]
* I've read
** I've read but would LOVE to reread.

I'm currently reading How Good Do We Have to Be?, by Harold Kushner and Orphans of the Sky, by Robert Heinlein. Although I should stick to reading one book at a time I enjoy switching between two books consisting of one religion and one sci-fi book. Unless it's a book on religion AND sci-fi, then my attention is focused on just one book. (I'm tempted to start reading Children of God, by Mary Doria Russell or Valis by Phillip K. Dick. They're just sitting there on my bookshelf, haunting me.)

So what's on your bookshelf? If you're a blogger I encourage you to post a picture of your bookshelf on your blog and share what's on your reading list. (I'm looking at you Don R. and Doug B.) Any suggestions what I should read next?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Happy Powers of 10 Day! 10/10/10

Today is a day to sit back and increase our perspective of the world around us. Powers of 10 day is inspired by the 1968 film by Charles and Ray Eames, The Powers of Ten, a magnitude roller-coaster which takes us from the edge of the universe to the guts of a proton by factors of 10. Please excuse the lack of 21st century special effects.

Here's a similar, more modern clip from the Imax film Cosmic Voyage.

Still feel like we're the center of the universe? It would seem like an awful waste of creative energy if the cosmos was created merely for our enjoyment or to show off the glory and power of a monotheistic god. The universe just is, and we are a part of it just as much as it is a part of us.

Friday, October 8, 2010

God in America Airs Next Week

Set your DVRs! Don't miss this new 6 hour documentary airing next week on PBS covering the history and shape of the American religious landscape. Here's the trailer if you haven't already seen it. God in America airs on PBS next week on October 11, 12, and 13. Check your local listings for time and channel.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Fun Times with Religious Cartoons

I've stumbled upon this animated segment from the film The God Makers, produced in 1982 by Ed Decker, a former priest and temple Mormon of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). Now I'm not certain if the beliefs presented here are what LDS really believe because the God Makers was produced by an ex-communicated Mormon. You can watch a rebuttal to this cartoon here and a beautiful, although unrelated, video tour inside Mormon temples here.

And then there's this Jehovah's Witness Cartoon which emphasizes the human nature of Jesus.

And of course there's this hilarious little live action gem about Elisha and the She Bears. A bit of warning, the video is not as violent as the story told in 2 Kings.

What's the point of posting these videos? Mostly, I get a kick out of them. I don't care much for apologetics since when they literalize concepts and beliefs which should be told in metaphor and myth, it comes across as silly (e.g. God lives near a star called Kolob). But when non-believers literalize the scripture, as seen in the mauling of the 42 youths in 2 Kings, apologetics tend to be appalled and disgusted by the portrayal of the often overlooked gore in their scripture and claim the non-believers are either twisting scripture or they see nothing wrong with 42 youths getting mauled.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Religiously Illiterate America

Two new interesting Pew Forum studies have recently been released. The first is a really useful interactive graph which illustrates controversial battles over the building of 35 mosques in the U.S. in the past 2 years. Aziz over at City of Brass made an interesting point on the growth of mosque constructions. In 2000, there were 1200 Masjids (or Mosques) in the U.S., now there are roughly 1900 at a growth of 6% a year. If Muslims are taking over America they're pretty lousy at it.

 The second survey is disheartening. Atheists and agnostics are among the most religiously knowledgeable. Click here for the number breakdown. The internets is a buzz with this recent report. I'm a bit late jumping on the bandwagon but I thought I'd throw in my 2 cents. The questions were simple, which is why I found the results so disappointing. Anyone who has taken a World Religions class at a community college could have answered all the questions correctly. Don't believe me? Then take the quiz to see where you stand in comparison with your fellow Americans. I haven't nor do I make it a habit of reading any evangelical blogs but I can guess their response to the survey. A "Who cares?" attitude about other faiths is exactly what caused Christians to score lower on the survey because they already know what they believe is true. What's worse is that roughly half of protestants could not correctly identify Martin Luther and his writings as inspiring the Reformation. I can understand walling yourself off from other religions to protect from "the taint" of their sinfulness, but missing questions about your own faith screams that we are less religiously literate than we actually portray ourselves.

I understand most people don't have the time to study other religions, unless that's what you do for a living or a hobby, but if anything this survey should be very humbling. There is a LOT we don't know about each other, a LOT. To assume that Muslims want to impose Sharia Law (thereby destroying the very religious freedom they have come to love and embrace as Americans) or that Buddhist worship themselves plays to our fears rooted in our lack of knowledge. We don't know anything about "Them" but this is what I've heard... We say we want to love our neighbor, but how can we love them without getting to know them? I am more concerned with removing fear and ignorance about our neighbor than with being religiously literate, BUT I believe this is only possible through educating ourselves. Sadly, most people of faith will only access material deemed acceptable by their religious view. A conservative Christian is more likely to read a book about Islam written by a fellow Christian than actually reading the Qur'an itself. Outsiders, then, are filtered through a water-downed perspective which often times scarcely resembles the original. This is why I avoid apologetic material of any religious cloth, apologetics exist only to defend their own point of view. Frankly, most people don't care to be religiously literate, but seeing that a good chunk of the world follows a certain religious view it's probably not a bad idea to pick up a $10 Intro to World Religions book.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Why Won't God Smite My Enemies

I've noticed a disturbing rise in visitors arriving on my site searching for "God smite my enemies" including similar variations. I wrote a post last year on imprecatory prayers in the Bible and the fine line between praying for someone's downfall and taking action when God denies our vengeful request. Prayer as a communal act is meant to draw the participants closer to each other and to the divine. The family that prays together stays together. Yet prayers that are meant to bring down some sort of divine justice seems to run contrary to the purpose of prayer: to connect, to bring together. To a lesser degree, prayers directed to change someone else's mind (or sexual orientation like in the previous post) seems to reduces the Infinite to the level of a mere puppet existing only to do our bidding. To me, prayers like these seem to degrade the act of connecting with the divine and only serves to inflate the ego of the participant. I'm not against prayer even though I don't pray myself, I simply have found other ways to connect with man and the universe. We are bursting with creativity, curiosity, and the urge for connection and I truly believe we are hard-wired to bless others. If we feel empathy for our neighbor I can't imagine praying for anything but blessings for them. I suppose that if our empathy is limited to a tribal in-group we can very easily pray for our neighboring tribes downfall. It is fear which drives us into cursing our neighbor and wishing them harm. Fear boils into hatred which pushes us over the edge to commit dreadful acts against humanity. If we are truly praying for our neighbors to be blessed why would we put restrictions on the blessings?

Friday, September 24, 2010

How Good Do We Have to Be? Part 3- The Cycle of Guilt

"The relationship between a parent and a child is the most complicated one a person will ever have, even more than between wife and husband." -Rabbi Harold Kushner

Chapter 4 entitled, "Fathers and Sons, Mothers and Daughters" was so moving and struck such a tremendous chord with me that I read it twice. Kushner delicately describes our roles as children and parents and what everyone involved needs from each other. Both parents and children yearn for the other to admire and love them unconditionally, yet children need our protection and acceptance. Children can only hurt and embarrass their parents to a limited degree, yet parents can inflict untold damage which may cause a chain reaction affecting all relationships in the child's future.
"We harm them them not only with physical and emotional violence. We harm them with unrealistic expectations. (A colleague of mine says that 'being disappointed' is a uniquely middle-class form of child abuse.) And we harm them by not modeling an adult lifestyle for them, an approach that includes a willingness to make and admit mistakes and learn from them rather than always insisting that we are right. Children need to admire their parents. And one of the things we should teach our children to admire about us is our willingness to say, 'I'm sorry,' 'I was wrong about that,' 'I don't know.'I can remember times I had to tell my children that I had been wrong about something, how fearful I was that they would lose respect for me because of that admission, and how astonished I was to find that they love me all the more for being willing to say that. They needed to hear that from me. They needed to be assured of my integrity more than of my perfection." -Ch. 4, "Fathers and Sons, Mothers and Daughters"
If there is only one chapter you read from this book make it this one (I say that now although I have yet to finish the book. I'm a slow reader.) I used to question why parents in general mistreat their children the way they do as I've witnessed in public settings, to me it would make sense to avoid any action which may hurt the child physically, emotionally, and psychologically. That was of course before I had children of my own. Now that I'm a parent I catch myself treating my children the same way I was treated. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't abused in any way nor do I abuse my children, but I have found myself making the same minor, although crucial, mistakes my parents made. I hold them to higher expectations than I should, being disappointed in them when they fail. I put too much pressure on them to succeed while forgetting that they're children (in fact they're not even in pre-school yet).

So what can we do to stop the generational cycle of guilt? We should begin by acknowledging to our children and to ourselves that we are broken and fallible creatures. Admitting that we, as protector and guide to our children, can and will make mistakes shows our children that even though we are surrounded by imperfection we are capable of learning from our mistakes. We can overcome them and not be defined by and bound to them. We have to allow our children space to grow into the beautiful living creatures they are, to grow into their humanity. Unfortunately this means they can, will, and must make their own mistakes. As a parent we want to stop them from experiencing any pain whatsoever. We want to shield them from the suffering we endured while we were young. But shielding them from pain also shields them from beauty, from truly living out the human experience. We so desperately want to carve out the perfect life for them but doing so we weaken them by building up a false reality, a reality of high expectations and unattainable images of perfection. We must allow them to live their lives and not hijack their dreams with our own. Sure, we may not have been the ball player we always wanted to become but we shouldn't force our children to take up a sport they have no interest in or push them to unrealistic levels of success. They must always know we will love them even if they make mistakes, but this can only be done if we break through the illusionary world of perfection by admitting our own faults and failures. This takes guts, guts that I wish I had at times. I know that my relationship with my children is affected by my history with my parents, and this is the same for most (if not all) of us. I yearn for their continuous love and affection as much as my children yearn for mine. So why not give it to them? Why deny them the love they need to grow and become parents themselves.
"When we liberate ourselves from the myth that God will love us only if we are perfect, then we will no longer feel that we need to be parents of perfect children to be admired, or children of perfect parents to survive and succeed."

Part 1: A Story of Emergence
Part 2: Guilt and Shame
Part 3: The Cycle of Guilt
Part 4: The Wholeness We Seek
Part 5: Is There Enough Love for Everyone
Part 6: Final Thoughts

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Universe Is In Us

I can't think of anyone else who gets me ecstatic about the cosmos as much as astrophysicists, Neil deGrasse Tyson. Every time he's on the Daily Show or on a History Channel documentary he lights up whenever he talks about the majesty and grandeur of the universe.

This clip is taken from a final "sermon" on cosmic perspective he closed with at the Beyond Belief conference in 2006. There is another interesting related video which also uses this clip to help explain what Atheists may celebrate. Darwin's birthday perhaps?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Searching for God

After giving this site a facelift earlier this year I found it difficult to search for and reference my archives without a searchbox. I find it helpful to reference previous related articles when I'm trying to make a point or at the very least to watch my writing and beliefs evolve over time (I had once called myself a Monotheist but have long since abandoned that label).

I mention this because I've been blogging less and would like to provide you, the reader, especially if you're new to the site, a simpler way of reading through my archives. Why should you flip through my archives? I can't give you a valid reason other than you might find something interesting like this little gem on sci-fi books with themes on time-traveling to the Crucifixion, or this little nugget comparing Jesus to a shaman.

Of course you can always mix things up by hitting the random post button (the orange one below the search bar to the right) which will generate a random post. Most important of all tell me what you think: if an article sucks then leave a comment saying so or better yet if you're a blogger than write a response post on your site. I encourage and thoroughly enjoy online conversations which is why I started this site in the first place.

Monday, September 13, 2010

God Is

Anything past the title of this posting will severely reduce God to a word, an idea, an image. Even the title God Is claims that God Is, eliminating the possibility that maybe God isn't. Even talking about God as if It were a separate being constricts God to being nearly infinite. God is everywhere EXCEPT in the space in which I inhabit, right? But if that were true then would that mean God is cut off from the physical universe? If God is not the whirlwind and not IN the whirlwind, then where and what is God?

So if God is not here nor there, where is God? God is also commonly spoken as a Spirit dwelling among the individuals of a community (wherever two or three are gathered...) or as the message itself delivered by the community, the Word Incarnate. In Islam and Christianity, God is portrayed as Creator, something entirely different and separate from its creation which has a drive or calling to reach out to the divine. As a highly curious species, we're always reaching out to discover, examine, and honor that which is bigger than ourselves. What I constantly find myself returning to is God as a verb, primarily, Love. In Hebrew, YHVW isn't a noun but a form of the Hebrew verb "to be". To me, when I see Love and Compassion in action I see God Is-ing into infinite forms of creative expressions and manifestations. The most creative and loving thing two people can do together is bring in a new creation, a new being into existence. And then that being brings forth another and another while simultaneously interacting and interconnecting with beings already present. Our existence is not solely for the purpose of procreating but to enjoy our brief blip, our cosmic hiccup, while we are here. I'm not talking about hedonism but enjoying the borrowed breath the Tao has granted us and then passing it on to someone else to enjoy.

So when I speak of God (which I commonly refer to as the Divine) I don't speak of the vengeful Judge of the Sky ready to damn or save based on minor infractions; I speak of the transcendent and all-encompassing Source of all, God as Love. But of course mankind has been struggling to define love as long as they have tried to define God. Sometimes words are unnecessary and muddles that which simply Is. I find it best to simply Be.

Monday, September 6, 2010

How Good Do We Have to Be? Part 2- Guilt and Shame

Does God really expect perfection from a fallible creation? And if God doesn't expect perfection why do we collectively strive for it? Even though it's irrational we all feel as if we're expected to achieve perfection and as a result we expect it from others. In chapter 3 of How Good Do We Have to Be? Kushner tackles the issue of guilt and shame, two words which is commonly used interchangeably for feeling bad about ourselves. But why do we place so much pressure on ourselves? Why is perfection necessary in an imperfect world? And what can we do to relieve the immense pressure of perfection?

Rabbi Kushner on guilt and shame.
"Psychologist and anthropologists see them as different emotions. Basically they see guilt as feeling bad for what you have done or not done, while shame is feeling bad for who you are, measured against some standard of perfection or acceptability. The distinction is crucial, because we can atone for the things we have done more easily than we can change who we are."
Taken to the extreme, guilt and shame sucks the marrow out of life, they are not completely useless emotions but are necessary in our evolutionary growth as complex social creatures. So how do we cure shame and guilt which is commonplace in our daily lives? Kushner suggests that religion should have been the cure and not the cause as it has been steered by religious spokesman. Religion was meant to connect one to the other and all to the Divine. From my personal experience as a churchgoer, I've heard 10 sermons guilting the congregation to repent for every 1 sermon on the immense unconditional love of God. It seems to me that if the Church, or any other religious community, is to be a place of healing and mending of broken hearts it should contain less damnation and more acceptance. Kushner shares his accounts of everyday people approaching him after public talks and interviews who pull him aside to tell him of their religious experiences which often happen outside the sanctuary and within support groups like AA, which offer shared weakness instead of shared strength. These support groups are made of equally broken and suffering people who support and trust one another because they understand and recognized our shared fallibility, our shared brokenness which is intrinsic to being human. To embrace our humanity is to embrace our brokenness, our inevitability to make mistakes. One of my favorite lines which summarizes God's transcendent love for mankind reads, "God condemns the sin but loves the person who did it too much to brand him a sinner".

We should feel guilty for some things, but only for things we have control over anything else would be needless self-punishment. Our irrational guilt really comes from the feeling that we have more influence than we really do over people and events. We can no more control the weather than we can stop someone from committing suicide. Oh, we can try, but someone bent on committing suicide will find a way to do it regardless of whatever we say or do. The best we can do is let them know they are truly loved for who they are, and if their suicidal thoughts are based on feelings of being unloved hopefully our words may do some good.

The chapter wrapped up rather oddly, or at least I failed to understand his closing statements (I am human, you know). Kushner ends chapter 3 with a remedy for irrational guilt: counterbalance it with an random act of compassion and kindness. Maybe I'm thinking too hard or maybe I don't understand it because it's an irrational act, it's not suppose to make sense! Maybe an intentional random act of thoughtfulness and charity is suppose to help us realize our irrational emotions. Of course religion may not be for everyone, but Kushner states that religion done right should alleviate guilt not increase it. The irrational rituals of religion should reacquaint us with our better nature, helping us to realize that sometimes we can do bad things (and own up to them) but we are also capable of much good. We should walk away with feelings of forgiveness not just from our fellow man and God, but from ourselves.

Part 1: A Story of Emergence
Part 2: Guilt and Shame
Part 3: The Cycle of Guilt
Part 4: The Wholeness We Seek
Part 5: Is There Enough Love for Everyone
Part 6: Final Thoughts

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Sacredness of Ground Zero: Part 4- Not in My Backyard!

The Park 51 controversy has sparked a wave of anti-Muslim rhetoric and has empowered local residents to march and protest against the growing radical Muslim horde. As a former resident of Murfreesboro I've been closely following the protests to halt the construction of the new Islamic Center of Murfreesboro. Just over the weekend there's been a suspected arson attack on construction equipment as well as shots fired near the site (I've read one article stating 9 shots and another which stated only 5 were fired). No one in Murfreesboro has been hurt yet but fear has a powerful grip over the ill informed.

See if you can spot the "evidence" produced by Laurie Cardoza-Moore, spokesperson of the Murfreesboro Mosque Opposition, as she states the danger in building this house of worship.

The fear seems to be of radical Muslims taking over America by infiltrating the "capital of the Crusaders", Nashville. First of all, What?! How long has Nashville been the Crusader capital of the world? Pat Robertson also uses alarming words like mega and massive to scare his audience into believing that these growing communities constitutes a national security threat in this August 19 episode of the 700 Club (the same one mentioned on Anderson Cooper). Ms Moore gives two pieces of evidence why we should protest this site:
  • Mosaad Rawash, a board member of the Islamic Community of Murfreesboro, had posted pro- Hamas material on his Myspace page. Yes, his Myspace page.
  • The Imam, Sheikh Ossama Mohamed Bahloul, taught at a mosque in Irving, Texas under investigation for terrorist related activities.
Although Anderson Cooper states in the video that the first allegation has been thoroughly investigated and Rawash has been cleared of all charges, and the second allegation was found to be complete bunk, Ms. Moore still believes this is enough evidence to keep the Islamic community of Murfreesboro from building a house of worship for their growing community. Using Myspace as evidence, really? Her evidence is no more than an exaggerated reach to tie a quiet moderate community which has been present in the area for 30 years with Muslim extremists. I doubt she, or anyone heavily opposing the construction of this mosque, has attempted to visit with the Muslim community in person. Moore tolerates the community staying at their present cramped location because this keeps them out of view. Out of sight, out of mind, right?

The issue is not that terrorist may be secretly planting training camps and education centers in the Nashville area, the issue is that many Americans don't know anything about Islam and this scares them to the point of denying their fellow citizens their freedom of worship. Vandalizing the Islamic center's sign with the words Not Welcome is one thing, arson and gunshots are on a whole other level (although the gunshots might be possibly unrelated the ATF and FBI are still investigating). There are thousands of churches throughout Tennessee and I highly doubt that a handful of new mosques and Islamic centers constitutes such a legitimate threat to the thriving Christian community as Ms. Moore argues. Of course it's much easier to love your neighbor as long as they're Christian (well unless you're not). So the moral of the story is if your neighbor is not Christian (in some circles read Un-American traitor) run them out of town. Toleration is so next century!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Words of Wisdom

"You know, you make some things sound harder than they seem."

A wise woman shared those words with me yesterday, and I didn't place much thought into them until now. I thought to myself of all the instances that this particular phrase was uttered and I came to realize it was during times of stress and anxiety over a very simple, (and often times) menial task within the grand scheme of life. How much easier would life be if we simply took a moment to step back, breathe and examine the majestic tapestry of our lives.

Don't get me wrong life is complicated, full of suffering, and sometimes we feel so battered and broken we want to throw our hands up and quit. But how much of that suffering is brought upon our own hands, how much of it is necessary? We tend to focus too much of our time and attention on the shortcomings and mistakes of the past while in constant fear of the trials to come in the future that we forget that life is impermanent and in constant flux. Life is chaotic, one day you might experience extraordinary suffering or the next might be the best day of your life. There is nothing guiding this, sh*t just happens. We naturally deal with suffering by looking for someone to blame or to take our frustration out on (including ourselves). But this line of thinking is a misguided notion that people have power over the chaos of the universe. Not all events are caused by the hand of man and those that are may have originally begun with good intentions.

So how do we keep calm during stressful and anxious moments? By realizing that THIS moment will pass into the next and there is no guarantee that the next moment will be pleasurable or painful. I admit that statement bothers me, and it should bother you too. It sounds heartless without an ounce of compassion, but it's true, sh*t happens and sometimes there's nothing we can do about it. So who do we rely on during troubling times? Each other. By embracing the chaos of the universe we relinquish the fear of the future and the ghosts of our past, but this can only be done if we have others to lean on. This is why Adam was given a partner in Genesis, because it is not good for man to be alone. Our neighbors aren't perfect yet that is the single most beautiful trait of our humanity: it is through our shared imperfection and brokenness can we weather the storm of life's tragedies. Simple, no? I believe Kohelet, or Solomon as he's popularly known, summed up the simplicity of life in Ecclesiastes: have a few good friends, a good job, and eat, drink, and be merry. Simple and wise like the woman who shared the opening quote, my wife.

Peace and blessings.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Sacredness of Ground Zero: Part 3 - A Truly Sacred Space

Out of the destruction comes hope, out of the hatred blossoms a chance for reconciliation. The media has been bombarding us daily with the controversy over the Park 51 project yet it's only recently that I've heard any mention of the prayer space allotted to Muslims in the Pentagon mere feet from a 9/11 memorial.

So what's the difference between this space and the Park 51 project? Is it size, the distance, perhaps the owners and operators? Has the space within the Pentagon escaped scrutiny because it remains out of view (out of sight, out of mind), or is it because of its use as an interfaith chapel? The main outcry by opponents of the Park 51 project is "Not There, that space is hallowed, sacred, anywhere but There." Yet Muslims congregate less than 100 feet from the attack on the Pentagon. I began to Google Protest at Pentagon... but thought twice before Google logged my search (I don't want government agents knocking on my door in the middle of the night).

The Park 51 project is not a 13 story mosque as many believe, it will be a community center with the top levels ( the top 2 if I remember correctly) as a dedicated Muslim prayer space. The 13 story building will include
  • outstanding recreation spaces and fitness facilities (swimming pool, gym, basketball court)
  • a 500-seat auditorium
  • a restaurant and culinary school
  • cultural amenities including exhibitions
  • education programs
  • a library, reading room and art studios
  • childcare services
  • a mosque, intended to be run separately from Park51 but open to and accessible to all members, visitors and our New York community
  • a September 11th memorial and quiet contemplation space, open to all
It is a community center which will include a mosque as stated on their website,
Future plans for Park51 include a world-class facility which will house a mosque. Intended to operate as a separate 501(c)(3), the mosque will be a welcoming prayer space accessible to Park51 members as well as all New Yorkers, but will be independently run.
This information was not found by stealth espionage, it was pulled directly from the site. So Why is this project being blown way out of proportion? It is a community center which includes a mosque, not a mosque which will include a community center. So again, what is the difference between this space and the space in the Pentagon? Outside of size, and distance away from the attack site, the only other significant difference I can think of is that the Pentagon site is not owned by any Muslim group since it is an interfaith chapel which allows time for different groups, whereas the Park 51 project is an independent project to be led by Muslim Americans. The mosque will be run by a separate non-profit with their own board of directors.

There is another mosque an additional 2 blocks down (4 blocks from Ground Zero) which predates the World Trade Center. So why all the fuss, is this really about the "insensitive goals" of the Muslim community? And if the Park 51 project is such a threat why not protest and call for the removal of the one 4 blocks away from Ground Zero? Why not make a one mile "No Mosque Zone" thereby pushing back this "evil" takeover of our American values? To be perfectly honest I can not relate to the family members who lost their loved ones during the attack since I have yet to experience losing someone close. But Islam did not attack us on 9/11, terrorists did. The terrorist were Muslim, yes, but they are not representative of all Muslims. To say Terrorism= Islam is like saying The Klan= Christianity. The attack was done by an extremist militant group which not only despises religious freedom but want their fellow Muslims to convert to their brand of Islam or die. Most people forget that the majority of terrorist attacks and suicide bombings are aimed at fellow Muslims for their "heretical beliefs". Yet Westerns have trouble making the distinctions between extremists and moderates by lumping them all into one group.

I believe the Pentagon interfaith chapel is sacred (although I believe all land to be sacred) because it embodies the spirit of what America should be and what it values. Now I'm sure there's tension between some of the religious groups from time to time but I think it's phenomenal that believers can share the same four walls without attacking each other. So why not a community center run by Muslims seeking to embrace the same tolerant interfaith spirit embodied in the Pentagon chapel mere inches away from the 9/11 memorial? Is another mosque two blocks closer to Ground Zero any more of a threat than one a mile away? It is just a building, a space, for the Muslims already living in New York to meet and pray. Those whom opponents consider the Enemy are already here the only real difference is that the building makes them more visible. This country should be one which takes the higher, nobler ground, defends its freedom for ALL, and welcomes diversity. The only reason we fear our neighbor is because we really don't know them, so get out and introduce yourself.

Monday, August 23, 2010


I recently got the chance to see the 2009 biographical drama, Creation, based on the life of Charles Darwin surrounding the death of his eldest daughter, Annie, and his struggle to write On the Origin of Species. Although it is a partly fictionalized account of Darwin's life it humanizes Darwin who is often demonized by Creationist for his elevation of scientific inquiry over the belief of God's Providence over all of creation. I admit I know very little of Charles Darwin as his books are on the bottom of my booklist (not for any particular reason though). I thoroughly enjoyed the interplay and inquisitiveness of Charles Darwin with his daughter but I connected the most with his struggle to balance his beliefs and scientific research with his love for his family and neighbors who felt threatened by his life's work.

All of nature is a battlefield...

Played by Paul Bettany, Charles Darwin is a man drawn to the beauty of nature. As he traverses gently through the woods with his children, he presents to them the struggle for life which is constantly happening all around them. And like nature, there is a struggle within all of us: a struggle in knowing our own mortality, a struggle to love and be loved, and a struggle to discover meaning within nature's battlefield. This is not a film toting the superiority of science over faith, but one man's struggle for balance between a search for truth unwrapped by the senses and truth felt by the heart. Is this an accurate historical portrayal of Charles Darwin? I'm not sure (it is a film), but I do know it is a human portrayal of a man who suffered from the death of his children, impacted most of all by the death of his eldest daughter, Annie. Is it wrong to question the Will of God when that same God takes your children from you? Is it wrong to to question the church's view on the nature and origin of man when our senses give us contradictory data? In the film, Darwin doesn't fear the questions but the implications which may come from people losing faith in God, the Constant behind the chaos. At the time, the world relied on the belief that everything moved within the power and guidance of God. Darwin who witnessed the balance of life and death in the natural world could not balance the savagery of the cosmos with a compassionate God.

Tell me a story about everything...

Darwin sought not to destroy God, as his friend Thomas Huxley (grandfather of Aldous Huxley) would have liked (or as he's portrayed in the film), but to tell the story of everything: our origin, our evolution through history, and what the future may hold for us. He wanted to tell of the beauty and wonders of nature not bring society to its knees. Telling this story nearly killed him since he knew what it would mean for the ones he loved. Coming out to the world with the truth studied by our senses would crush truth accepted by the heart. To Darwin, there is no compassion in the universe which does not come from an outside source, it is all survival. This sense of accepting reality for what it is and the sense of despair which may come accompany it is summed up in his question, "Suppose everyone stopped believing that God had any sort of plan for us?" What then? Who or what do we turn to for strength, where do we go when the chaos presses in from all sides?

You have finally made an accomplice of me...

There is no dramatic twist at the end, Darwin finishes his book which has reshaped how we view the world. It may seem that the core of the film is about religion vs. science but that's too clich├ęd for my taste. The film is about our story, the human story, and all of its complexities and intricacy that comes with being human. We each have a story that we cling too, but cling too tightly and we ignore the big picture, the human story. As a species aware of its own mortality we fear the unknown, and as we stare into the unknown we struggle with what it all may mean. Life itself may not have any inherent meaning except that which we give it. This line of thinking is too chaotic for some and understandably they may turn to religion for strength as did Emma Darwin, played by Jennifer Connelly, after the death of their eldest daughter. Charles Darwin was not afraid to pull back the curtain of the unknown as he sought to learn the story of everything, yet he feared what may happen if he finished his book. The story may frighten us but that doesn't mean we shouldn't continue telling it because we have each other to turn to, to lean on. Embracing our shared fear should inspire us to boldly continue because life continues. Life was here before us and will remain after us evolving into all manners of new life.

I must say that although many people, especially here in the States, may find it uncomfortable watching a movie about Darwin (a biographical drama based on his life) I highly recommend watching it.