The Problem of Walls and Weapons

The tragedy in Paris, as well as Kenya and Lebanon, should send reminders of the fragility of human life in our modern age. Instead, it is fostering a growth in a continued movement for nations to erect walls and allow more weapons to be used to separate and kill people who are not like “us”. Think about that for a moment and consider the following.

More weapons will not stop atrocities like the events in Paris, Kenya, or Lebanon from occurring. A common message sent out from certain aspects of society, particularly in the United States, tries to state that had there been more guns in the hands of the innocent people in Paris, then the atrocity would not have occurred. They state this somehow believing it as solid fact. However, one cannot know if that is true or not. While there might have been fewer people killed, there also could have been may more killed in a crossfire between those who committed the atrocity and those who were trying to defend themselves. In addition, it is alleged that those who committed this heinous act were also prepared to die at all cost, including the use of suicide bombs as what happened near the stadium. I doubt more firearms could have stopped the bombers from committing their horrendous acts.

Then there is the call for walls to be built, either literally or figuratively, to keep out immigrants and refugees because it is currently assumed that one or more of the terrorists carried passports from Syria, the homeland of the majority of those same refugees. While it is horrible that this may be the case, what about the thousands more who are not the aggressors, but the victims of the aggressors? There are thousands of people who are fleeing for their lives from the violence caused by ISIL/ISIS. The majority of them are simply trying to survive, not flee to the West to commit violent acts.

Besides, walls don’t work to keep people, good or bad, out. If someone wants to get around a wall, he or she will find a way to do so. Centuries ago, China built a wall to keep out aggressors. It was breached. Each day, hundreds of people cross the walls and boundaries of countries as they seek a better life. Some remain, and some are deported back to where they came.

But there are other walls that become built that are unseen. These are the walls that separate people in a more social sense than a physical one. One wall is prejudice and the other is fear. These two walls are ones that are sometimes insurmountable, not because of their size, but because of how people latch onto them with such fervor. These unseen walls cause us to place barriers between one another. Sometimes, these walls are in the form of words we use to label large groups of people as being bad based on the actions of a few people who look like the group or happen to worship using the same terms as that group does.

Right now, it happens to be Muslims who are being portrayed by media and certain elements of society as being nothing but bad people. They are called terrorists as a whole based on the actions of an extreme few of those who hide behind what is a peaceful religion. The vast majority of Muslims want nothing but to live in harmony within their communities as well as those places where they live among non-Muslims. The majority feels the need to pay for the sins of the few as they are pressured to speak out against acts of terror or be seen as supporting it. Yet, if people from a different religious background commit an atrocity, the innocent of those backgrounds are not pressured to speak out. If a Christian person commits an atrocity, there is no call for all Christians to speak out against it. If a Jewish person commits an atrocity, there is not call for all Jewish people to speak out against it. Only the Muslims. Yet, there are some who continue to say that if they don’t, then they are guilty of the supporting the crimes committed by the few.

The problem is not with religion, it is with people in general. The problem is not with needing more walls, but needing fewer ones.

That’s right, I said fewer walls to separate people. The walls of ignorance, fear, hate, oppression, poverty, war, and famine need to be torn down. In their place, we need to build one thing up above all else. We need to build up our fellow humankind. We need to end wars, and start spreading peace. We need to replace hate with love. We need to eradicate poverty and build plenty. We need to educate others so they may have what they need, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

A recent article I read was one where the interviewer had the rare opportunity to speak with ISIS prisoners of war in Iraq. The vast majority of those who were interviewed did not join ISIS for religious reasons, but for economic and emotional ones. They were starving and this terrorist organization promised them a way out. The terrorist organization gave them someone to blame for their problems, in this case, the West. While some of that is true since, while many of these people’s lives were bad under Saddam Hussein in Iraq, their lives became worse once he was deposed as civil war broke out in their country based on centuries old hatreds. Some joined out of fear that if they didn’t, then they and their families would die.

As I read the article, something occurred to me. The reason why many of these people joined was similar to why people join street gangs. Some fear that if they don’t, then they will die. Others do it as gang life promises them a sense of belonging and/or prosperity. Some join because they are so far in poverty that they need someone to blame and the gang tells them who to blame for their situation. This is not unlike those who voluntarily joined the Nazis in the 1930s and 1940s. It is not unlike those who joined the Ku Klux Klan in the post-Civil War South. It is not unlike those who join militia groups in modern society or other fringe, hate-filled groups. The majority of people who do so are looking for more in their life in some way and the gang persuades them that gang life is the way they can have or be more than who they are.

There needs to be an alternative to this lifestyle to make it stop. Rather than waging war in countries against people, there needs to be a fight for better living conditions. A fight for jobs. A fight for equality for all people regardless of who he or she is or what he or she believes. There needs to be education for all people to understand different cultures and religions as find common ground between them rather than what is different about them. Education is a powerful weapon against hate, fear, and violence. When humankind understands differences, then it becomes harder to fear or hate them. Instead, there becomes a natural instinct to try to see the similarities. But this only occurs with the chance to learn about our differences in a non-biased fashion. It comes with knowing who we are as individuals and facing our fears, prejudices, and ignorances, acknowledging them, and going beyond them to build understanding.

None of this means we have to like the way others are. It doesn’t mean we have to become like who others are. It does mean we must respect our differences and embrace our similarities. We must learn to love one another, whether we like them or not. For some people, this is seen as being too politically correct, as if that is a bad thing. However, it is actually being more humane to our fellow humankind.

Will this end all the problems instantly? No, there is no quick fix as many hope. It took time to build the walls, it will take time to tear them down as well. But it’s worth it.

The late Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” This rings so true for our world today. Peace can only come through light, never darkness. Hope can only thrive where all humankind sees one another as one rather than as many.

How the Democrats/Greens lost this Election and What Can Be Done to Fix It

The results of the mid-term elections were dismal for America. They were dismal for the Democrats and Greens. Let’s face it, they simply sucked harder than an F-5 tornado in Oklahoma. So, what went wrong? How in the heck did the extreme right-winger whip our collective rears and take control of both houses of Congress as well as the governorships of states? They used their usual tactics of fear, voter intimidation, and their mouthpiece, the Faux News Network. (No, I’m not saying their proper name. It might even be best if we simply give it a term used by J.K. Rowling and call it “the network that shall not be named). As Democrats and Greens, we know their tactics by now and should have been able to stop them. So, why didn’t we and, even more importantly, what can we do to fix this mess that our country is now faced with having to deal with?

First, and this is something I’ve said for years, we talk a great game, but cannot run one. If you go to most cities whether they are large or small, you find a storefront that says Republican Headquarters. It’s a year-round business for the GOP/Tea Party to stay in the public eye and force feed their rhetoric to the masses. When it comes to the Democratic Party or the Green Party, or any other party for that matter, their presence is only just prior to an election, then they disappear until just before the next election. That’s not going to cut it nor is it going to win votes. If we want to stay relevant or even become more relevant, we need to be out there all the time. 365 days a year. If we do not go away, then people cannot ignore us. We have to actively campaign at all times and in all places. We cannot rely on our old support system in the unions as they are being squeezed out by the policies of the far right. They are becoming irrelevant to today’s younger voter.

Along those same lines, we have to muster the vote. It’s not enough to have voter registration campaigns, we have to get those who registered to vote out to vote. Although I have not checked the recent numbers, I believe I heard that voter turnout was somewhere around 35-40 percent. That sucks. People do not feel it matters if they vote nor who they vote for as they feel that decisions are made by a shadow government or by corporations anyhow. We have to show them that it matters. We have to bring up what the opposition is doing and has done to undermine real American values. We don’t do that enough. Perhaps we have to physically take people to their polling location to get them out to vote. Why in the heck aren’t we doing that across the United States? We have to make certain that those who we helped to register to vote, but cannot make it to the polls, get absentee ballots and get them mailed in to cast their votes. What we fail to realize, and why we do I have no idea, is that the conservative seniors vote. They have nothing else to do, but watch the network-that-shall-not-be-named and vote, at least when their not driving around on their golf carts or taking tole painting classes. If we don’t get out the vote for every election, then we face horrible things like this last election brought upon our country.

Next, and this part might be somewhat crude, we have to become better at attacking our opposition than we have been in the past. The far right pummels the airwaves through television, radio talk shows, and the internet with their vile rhetoric. They make up stories to scare the American public into voting for them. They do this by using words such as communism, socialism, and liberal, which many people have no freaking idea what they really mean in the first place because they are not included on a standardized test. They play to the ammosexuals by saying that we will take their guns away. They play to the fundamentalists by saying that prayer and God will be taken out of our schools. (Yeah, right. If that’s the case, then two problems exist. First, is that assumes that students will not silently pray on their own. Next, is assumes that God is not omnipotent if a polticial party can cause God to not exist). Ironically, they play to the poor by fooling them into believing that trickle down economics actually works. It doesn’t. The wealthy could care less about the poor or the middle class, just so long as they do their bidding and accept their meager paycheck while paying for crap that the company now makes overseas using sweatshops and slave labor. Where is this so-called liberal media? Why isn’t there a network that is always on the attack against ultraconservative ideas and rhetoric?

Third, the Democrats (and Greens) need to define themselves more clearly against their opposition. I would hazard to guess that if you asked most voters to tell you what either of these parties stand for, then you would get a plethora of sometimes conflicting answers. The time for namby-pamby centrism is over folks. Screw the idea of compromise! The GOP sure as hell did that once they got control of the House and they sure as hell are planning to do this since they have all of Congress now in their greedy, corporate-funded hands. We need to bring out voices like Elizabeth Warren and Warren Sanders. We need to cultivate people to run for office who are able to speak well, back up their speech, and fight harder to win rather than just to make a good showing. We need candidates who will sometimes stop being so damned polite and call a liar a liar and back it up with facts and the other person’s record. Corner their asses and make them defend themselves. We need to stop kowtowing and backing down from a fight as we so often do. Yes, we want to all love in harmony with our neighbor, but sometimes dammit, we need to be more warrior like and less like doormat.

Fourth, as we have learned in this last election as well as most elections held since the 80s, we need the funds to win. As much as we might like to say that anyone can run for office and win, it’s a money game. Many good people who want to run for office simply do not have the money to afford to run for office. This includes the time they need to take off from work to campaign, the airtime they need to run advertisements, the money to pay staff, create flyers, etc. It costs a great deal to combat those who gain their funds through backroom deals with corporate executives and the ultraconservative wealthy. Rather than simply throwing our hands up and saying that the corporations and wealthy will always win, we need to build our campaign financial warchests through taking small, non-corporate donations. Heck, even having bake sales would help. Doughnuts for Democrats or Granitas for Greens, whatever it takes to get the money to compete against these corporate funded conservatives. Look at the Occupy movements as an example of how to raise awareness, get funding, and get out the vote.

Finally, we need to show that our candidates will listen to the people rather than corporations when it comes to running our country. We have people out of work. We have people homeless. We have people who are hurting in so many ways. We need to listen and act to help them in real, concrete ways rather than just talk about it or form a committee to look into it. America needs action rather than inaction. America needs real compassion for one another on so many levels. We see this occur in small ways already, such as soup kitchens and food pantries run by churches and civic organizations. We see it in neighbors reaching out to each other in times of crisis. We need politicians who do this daily rather than just during campaign seasons. We need people who are not career politicians nor lawyers running our country. We need teachers, bricklayers, cab drivers, garbage collectors, anyone who feels it is their civic duty to represent everyone that the office they wish to full will represent to be able to run for an win office. We need to then hold them accountable to do just that and not be afraid to call them out if they do not and demand why they did not. We need to ask our questions and get real answers rather than settling for political rhetoric and feel good statements.

We can take America back, I hope. We can still salavage what may be left of our country after this past election. We cannot trust those recently elected to the majority to do this as they will continue to be beholden to their corporate string holders.

Wake the freak up Democrats and Greens! Take a day to lick your wounds, then fight like hell to save our country!

Borders and Boxes

Thousands of children from Central America are flooding the southern part of the United States on a daily basis at this time as they search for somewhere safe from the ravages of rampant crimes, particularly drug crimes, in their homelands. As is typical for some of those who live in the United States, the call for these children to be instantly deported is loud and sometimes violent.

Turning to another part of the globe, there are refugees fleeing from the unrest in Syria and other parts of the Middle East due to everything from government troops to the rising terrorist group ISIS. Refugees here are fleeing primarily to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq, but a few are going to Germany and Sweden in their search for safety. In Europe, a few countries have closed their borders to the refugees, such as Bulgaria and Spain.

Add to this the recent rising of anti-immigrant conversations from the United Kingdom as they deal with a rising Middle Eastern population, and you have yet further division among the human race.

All of this has gotten me to ponder why we require borders in the first place. Secondly, and related to this, why is it that humans feel the need to place people in boxes that categorize and subdivide ourselves from one another rather than looking for those things that make us similar? All these borders and boxes serve no real purpose than to divide humanity even further. They do not serve to bring people together as should be the desire for the sake of the human race and the future of our planet.

John Lennon, the former Beatle, once sang the words, “Imagine there’s no countries/It isn’t hard to do/Nothing to kill or die for/And no religion too/Imagine all the people/Living life in peace”(Imagine). I often wonder why we humans cannot strive for this as vehemently as we strive to create more weapons to destroy one another or even more boxes to subdivide ourselves from one another. There is no one thing that causes we humans to do this, of that I am certain, unless the underlying reason is fear.

That may be it. Perhaps we divide and subdivide ourselves so much because we fear having to learn about our fellow human being. As the American poet Robert Frost once wrote, “Good fences make good neighbors”(Mending Wall). Yet, if that poem is read, even it goes against the idea of borders and boxes as it states, “Before I built a wall I’d ask to know/What I was walling in or walling out/And to whom I was like to give offence” (Mending Wall). A wall would make sense if there was a good reason for it. If there were, as the poet says, cows to roam and the wall used to keep them in check. Perhaps we humans have no reason for the wall other than to repeat as the neighbor does by simply saying, “Good fences make good neighbors”(Mending Wall). We do not know why it’s there, but that it’s always been there, so it must stay there.

Some argue that the borders we have are there due to the result of military action and the truce documents saying they are located between certain coordinates. If they are there only to mark the areas where one side may venture due to a disagreement, are they not like when two children or roommates share a room and one lays down a line saying that everything on one side is theirs alone and the items on another belong only to the other person? Sounds rather childish if this is the case, doesn’t it? Rather than talk out our disagreements, we fight until we feel there are enough people dead (or, heaven forbid, the other side is annihilated), then create an invisible line to ward off the other side (again, provided anyone is left on the other side). Seems like a great waste of human potential and the opportunity to work together to create harmony rather than discord.

Others argue that these borders and boxes are needed to delineate easier governance of the people. I guess I would argue that perhaps sharing governance of ourselves might be best. Why not set basic laws for all humankind to ensure all are treated with respect and dignity? Basic ones like not killing one another, sheltering the homeless, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, reaching out to help our fellow human being when they need it, and respecting each person’s faith journey or even right not to have a set faith, but just choosing to live and let live. Yes, it makes it easier to set laws specific for a given country or state or region because no one has to talk with anyone else other than those who are set to govern that particular place. The United States does not ask Canada for permission to create a law and the opposite does not happen either. Would it not be worth it to have people talk to come up with what is good for all humanity rather than set up borders and boxes?

I can almost hear the calls of people shouting that I’m a Communist and should be watched or put away. I can even hear those questioning my sanity. Yet, maybe this was what the Christian scriptures refer to when the comment is made by Paul when he stated, “There is no longer Jew nor Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus”(Galatians 3:28 NRSV). If one would prefer to hear what is attributed to Jesus, then look at the passage from John 14:2,
In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?”(John 14:2 RSV). Given I am quoting Christian scripture; it places me not so much with Communism, but certainly within Socialism.

Who cares? It is just a box. A human formed opinion to label me in some convenient way. Does it matter? Not really, except for the person placing me in that box and others who may agree with him or her.

Divisions and subdivisions happening at a rapid rate,
Always building walls and gates.
Keeping someone out or in.
To me, it seems like such a sin
Against humanity.

Back to my opening images, though. For the thousands of children who survived the perilous journey to the United States in hope that the words on the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor,/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,/The wretched refuse of your teeming shore./Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,/I life my lamp beside the golden door”(New Colossus by Emma Lazarus), are still true; my question remains is it true? It was for our forebears, but will it be for you?

For those fleeing tyranny in hope of safety, will they find it?

For those who are caught between the rockets of Israel and Hamas, will they ever know peace?

When will we, as human beings inhabiting the 3rd planet from the Sun, spend more time trying to erasing borders and knocking down boxes instead of trying to create or build more?

One can only hope it is soon.

References:
Galatians 3:28– http://biblia.com/books/nrsv/Ga3.28
Gospel According to St. John 14:2– http://www.biblestudytools.com/john/14-2-compare.html
“Imagine”– http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/johnlennon/imagine.html
“Mending Wall”– http://writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/88/frost-mending.html
“New Colossus”– http://www.libertystatepark.com/emma.htm

It’s Not A Weapon

I recently read an opinion article where a minister was decrying the death of ‘religious etiquette’ where he complained about wedding dresses being too risqué and people carrying water bottles to church and those things he sees are the death of respect for church. I read another article decrying how people being tired or afraid of being judged by their appearances as to why people are not attending church anymore. I have also read hundreds of articles and opinions how our country is going to Hell because of same-sex marriages, birth control, abortions, lack of organized prayer in schools, gun control, and a myriad of other things. Some churches have gone as far as giving guns to people to entice them to attend church. This got me to thinking that one of the problems that the Christian faith, in particular the Christian faith in the United States, is that religion is being used as a weapon against other people rather than as a bridge. Somehow, I do not believe either our Creator or Jesus advocated faith being used as a weapon. That seems utterly absurd when you stop and consider it, doesn’t it?

The Christian faith, including the Bible, is not a weapon. Stop using it as such! Jesus taught that his disciples were to go out and make disciples of the faith. He did not say to do that under duress, torture, or hatred, yet Christians have done this for centuries. Rather than obeying the two greatest commandments to love God with all your being and to love your neighbor as yourself, Christians have been trying to promulgate the faith by yelling, screaming, torturing, and even killing others who refuse to comply with their faith or their particular form of faith. This is not Christianity! This is abuse. This is cruelty. This is inhumane. This is downright un-Christian like behavior!

There are people hurting in our world from the wounds caused by those who are supposedly ‘good’ Christians. Need a few examples? If you need examples, then you are already part of the problem. However, out of kindness, I will give you a few.

The LGBT community. People who are born Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transsexual have been persecuted for centuries. The excuse is that what they are doing is sinful according to the Bible. When one tries to argue using one of the two greatest commandments, they get the “you cannot pick and choose what you’re going to follow and not going to follow from the Bible” crap. Yet, these same people likely have no issues with tattoos, perfumes, jewelry, material wealth, eating seafood, eating pork, working on the Sabbath, etc. Talk about picking and choosing which scripture to follow and which not to follow, these people are doing it themselves. If a person identifies themselves as part of the LGBT community, it’s because the Creator made them that way. The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 14:13-14,

Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean (NRSV).

Simply put, don’t stand in another person’s way saying he or she is somehow bad or sinful as that is not our place as humans. If we say something, such as a person’s sexual preference, is disagreeable for us, then that is our personal viewpoint for ourselves. If a person does not like the idea of someone else being born LGBT, then that’s their issue, no one else’s. It is not up to the straight person to judge the LGBT person or for the LGBT person to judge the straight person. Our Creator made humankind in His/Her image; therefore, all humankind is clean and part of the Creator.

Now, before anyone jumps to other conclusions about allowing for horrible things such as murder, rape, or child abuse, let me be clear, those things are wrong. The same passage goes on to say that if a person does something that causes someone else to be injured, then they are “no longer walking in love” (Romans 14:15 NRSV). Once again, the point is love. Love. Love. Love. The point of the Christian faith is love and love is not a weapon.

It does not take a history major to understand how many times well-meaning, but misguided Christians persecuted non-Christians and Christians who espoused dissimilar beliefs for not being Christian or not being their own particular form of Christian. The Puritans came to what we call the United States to escape religious persecution. However, they persecuted the Catholic Christians and the Quakers when they arrived in the colonies. Go back further and there are the Crusades to rid the Holy Land of those who follow the teachings of Islam, the cousin of the Jewish and Christian faiths. Add to that the countless times the Jewish people were persecuted throughout time by Christians. Add to that the treatment of the Native Americans as they would not assimilate to the Christian faith, even though their faith in some ways is far more Christ-like than the way most Christians practice.

There are many paths leading to the Great Spirit of the Universe. People follow whichever path to which they are led. Just because that person practices their faith differently does not make them wrong. I was raised in a home where religion existed on a rather casual level. My mother sometimes attended church at a United Methodist Church or a Church of Christ-Disciples. My father attended at Church of God. Certainly different ends of the Christian perspective. I went to these three, but also attended for a while in my youth, an Apostolic Church and was baptized and confirmed as a Roman Catholic. In my adulthood, I have attended Lutheran (ELCA, Wisconsin and Missouri Synod versions), Presbyterian, Episcopal, Jewish, Southern Baptist, Church of Christ-Independent, Buddhist, and now United Church of Canada. I hope to be able to at least attend a service in a Mosque as well, but have no idea how to go about asking if I may.

What I have learned is that people are all seeking something in life, a meaning of life greater than what they experience in their day to day lives. For some, a belief in a Higher Power fulfills that need. I think it is a human need to know we are not alone in times when we feel so very alone. It can be comforting to feel the presence of our Creator even if the presence is simply another person sitting with you that cares about you as a person.

Religion is not meant to build walls up between humanity, but rather help to build bridges of understanding and cooperation. Religion is not a weapon to be used to harm others, we have far too many weapons that do that already. Isn’t it time to care less about a person’s exterior or if they bring a drink or snack to church or who they love and more about one another and how we can work together to live this crazy thing called life?

Real Christianity—Respecting Other Faiths and Love

Real Christianity—Respecting Other Faiths and Love

Let me start off by saying that I, in no way, shape or form, believe myself to be a prophet or to be anywhere close to the perfection of God. I am far from it. I make mistakes; I sin. I get angry, discouraged, and sad, frightened, and feel lonely at times. I am human, for better or worse. Yet, there is something that has been occurring a great deal that is weighing heavy on my heart. It is personal and yet not personally against me as an individual. It is the attack on my faith.

Regardless of the person’s political persuasion, the Christian faith is and has been for a great deal of time under attack. The extremes of the political landscape demonize the Christian faith as either obsolete or narrow-minded.

It is neither.

At its core, Christianity is a faith based upon love and understanding, not hate and intolerance. Christianity is simple, yet complex and it is the complex nature of the faith that leads to its misrepresentation by those seeking to use it for his or her own gain whether it is financial or fame. These are ironic, as the person for whom Christianity basis its beliefs wanted neither. Jesus Christ did not want fame or wealth. He wanted people to get along and believe in God. It is my hope to try, in my humblest way, to show the true nature of Christianity rather than gloss it over with personal theology. With the Creator’s help, I will do just that. All I ask from you, dear reader, is an open mind and an open heart. Thank you.

Other Faiths

I shall begin this journey with what Christ said regarding other faiths. In his time on earth, Jesus was likely to encounter a very wide variety of religious beliefs especially if the definition of what a religion is taken in the literal sense. According to the online version of the Merriam-Webster dictionary, religion is defined as the following (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/religion):

1 a: the state of a religious <a nun in her 20th year of religion>

b (1): the service and worship of God or the supernatural

  (2): commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance

2: a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices

3 archaic: scrupulous conformity

4: a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith

Examples of RELIGION

  • Many people turn to religion for comfort in a time of crisis.
  • There are many religions, such as Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism.
  • Shinto is a religion that is unique to Japan.
  • Hockey is a religion in Canada.
  • Politics are a religion to him.
  • Where I live, high school football is religion.
  • Food is religion in this house.

When looked at from the dictionary definition, there are many religions even now; therefore, it should be no surprise that Jesus encountered numerous ones during his time on earth, such as, Judaism, which essentially had four different options:

Zealot-the revolutionary side that wanted an armed revolt to drive the Romans out; Sadducees-the “wealthy lay-nobles, priests and aristocrats, [who] sought to protect their wealth and power through compromise with Rome”; Pharisees-who “were in many ways the idealists of Jewish society [and] sought to live a life of spiritual purity by a meticulous following of the torah (Jewish law)”; and the Essenes-“who solved the problem of Jewish identity in a Roman-occupied Israel by withdrawing to a monastic-like setting” (http://dlibrary.acu.edu.au/staffhome/gehall/xtology2.htm).

Add to this, those who worshipped the Emperor, Islam, and various other religions based upon superstitious beliefs, omens, and portents and you have the earthly world of Jesus at that time. Jesus is seen by Christians as being, at least in his earthly form, Jewish. His teachings with regard to other religions are, at times, rather vague.

One verse in particular comes to my mind on the inclusivity of Jesus for all humankind. It is from the Gospel of John, Chapter 14, verses 2 and 3: “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also” (NRSV).

In the “Father’s house there are many dwelling places,” that particular line itself has always fascinated me. What are those dwelling places? Are they simply rooms within Heaven? Are they different paths that lead to God that humans take to get to their Creator? Some translations call them “resting-places,” “dwellings,” “abodes,” “rooms,” and even “a traveler’s resting place.” As humans, we call the cemetery a resting place sometimes. Perhaps, once our souls leave our mortal bodies, they go to Heaven and dwell in one of these places regardless of names and regardless of what path we took to get there. While the chapter from the Gospel of John continues with Jesus saying, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (14:6 NRSV); perhaps it is meant that it is through Jesus’ death and resurrection that the door into Heaven is opened for all humankind. After all, one of the main principles of Christianity is that no human could ever reconcile their sinful nature on their own. It took God allowing Himself to come to humanity in the flesh and take on those sinful natures associated with humanity in the flesh as one of us in order to save us from ourselves. If Christians believe that Jesus was indeed both God and human, then this sacrifice was for all humanity rather than a select few.

This, to me, is even more evident in the often-quoted verse of John 3:16 where it is said that God loved the world so much that He sent Jesus to die so that no one would suffer for eternity. The verse that follows this states that “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17 NRSV) and going on to say, “…this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God” (John 3:19-21 NRSV).  While verse 18 states, “Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:18 NRSV), I believe that verses 19-21 explain this as being the difference between those who choose to follow God’s teachings through Christ versus those who say they do, but act differently in the reality of the situation. Those who do not follow the two greatest commandments are those who refuse to come into the light, as those two commandments are the light of God through Christ. The two commandments in question are, of course, those mentioned by Christ as being to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” and to “love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:29-31 NRSV).

The Christian Bible states, before these verses, “the Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Mark 12:29 NRSV). Notice, there is no mention of the Lord’s specific name. Part of this may be due to the mention of God’s name was and is considered inappropriate to the Jewish people. Hence, the reason why most people of Jewish faith will write either G-d or YHWH rather than the name of our Lord straight out.

Some will argue here that I must be incorrect because other faiths follow other Gods. Those who follow Islam follow Mohammed. They fail to see that Mohammed is a prophet, not God. This is a bit like those who are Jewish who see Christians as being similar in that we follow the teachings of Jesus whom we see as the Messiah, but they see as a prophet. In no way do I plan to continue with the intricacies of the main theology of these religions, or the variations on those, so I hope that you will see there are more similarities than not. I will, however, provide a very basic overview of how these three religions are interconnected.

The Jewish people trace the origins of their faith through Abraham, the father of Judaism. Yet, those who are Islamic can also trace their origins though this great patriarch since he had another son named Ishmael. While the official Jewish birthright went to Isaac, both the Jewish and Muslim faiths owe their existence to the same man. Out of this, Christians trace their origins back to Abraham through Jesus’ stepfather Joseph who is a descendant of Abraham. These three great religions should get along, as they are inter-related. However, human actions have caused them to stray from being family. Among those are the sins of the Crusades, Jihads, and Pogroms that have been perpetuated by humans who sometimes followed specific doctrines of these belief systems.

There are many variations of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. I am not qualified to get into all the variations of these religions. Suffice it to say; though, since all contain the aspect of human freewill and with it, human stupidity, then there have been many times when what some believed was the will of the Creator has been used as an excuse to justify the persecution and death of others. What they fail to see is that this clearly is not what the Creator wants the created to do. For some of that, we will continue in the next chapter.

Love

Depending which translation of the Christian Bible being used, there are between 131 to 319 references to the word “love”. There are about 93 references to “love” in the shorter Koran, also depending on translation. Love plays an important role in the majority of the world’s religions. That love, found in the forms of agape, filial, and passionate love, is an important aspect of faith. Those who adhere to almost every form of religion perform acts of charity.

It is a requirement in Islam to do charitable works. It is the third of the Five Pillars of Islam, the sacred requirements of that faith. The first two are the profession of faith and prayer. According to an article from a website entitled, “The Religion of Islam,” there are two types of charity required of those who follow Islam: zakat and sadaqah. Zakat is “an obligation for those who have received their wealth from God to respond to those members of community in need” (islamreligion.com/articles/46/). In contrast, sadaqah is “voluntary almsgiving, which is intended for the needy. The Quran emphasizes feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, helping those who are in need, and the more one helps, the more God helps the person, and the more one gives, the more God gives the person. One feels he is taking care of others and God is taking care of him” (islamreligion.com/articles/46/).

All of this should sound familiar to Christians as it sounds a great deal like what Christ taught when he taught,

…for when I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me. Then the righteous will answer him, Lord, when was it that saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you as a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you? And the king will answer them, Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me. Then he will say to those at his left hand, You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me. Then they also will answer, Lord when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you? Then he will answer them, Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me” (Matthew 25:35-45 NRSV).

The sad thing is that there are those who profess to be Christian who do things in contrary to Christian love. One thing is neglecting the poor, the needy, the children, the old, and the infirm. When a political party calls out any of these people as being somehow worth less because of their situation, that is not love. When laws are passed that take assistance away from those who need it, that is not love. When laws favor only the wealthy, that is not love for everyone as one would love themselves. There are people suffering in our world, if we truly are a Christian nation, then we need to act as such. We need to provide assistance to those who need it whether it is financial, health-related, or emotional. We need to make certain the homeless have homes, the hungry have food, the naked have clothing, and the sick have healthcare. If a Christian says otherwise, he or she needs to re-read their Bible.

Love goes beyond charitable acts, though. It transcends boundaries, many of which are put in place by people. The boundaries of race, creed, gender, gender identity, gender preference, national origin, politics, and the countless other boundaries that we humans put up against those who are not like us are not love. However, they can be broken down by love.

This brings to mind one of my father’s favorite verses from the Bible. He liked I Corinthians 13 as a whole, but he especially liked the last two verses of that chapter that say:

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we shall see face to face. Now I only know in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love (I Corinthians 13:12-13 NRSV).

At first, this verse puzzled me greatly, especially these two verses together. Yet, I think I get what is trying to be said here by Paul. In our lives here on earth, we think we see what the Creator means for us, but we only see it through the blinders of being imperfect humans. This causes us to put up boundaries between one another for a myriad of human reasons. We only really know part of what God plans for us, but we fail to grasp the fullness of God because we are only humans. We are imperfect. However, when the time comes for us to meet our Creator, then we will see it all so clearly. We will see that life boils down to three essential elements by which we are to live: faith, hope, and love with the greatest one being love. A love that transcends our imperfections of being human and setting up barriers between fellow human beings and ourselves. A love that knows no boundaries. Some humans have seen this world and tried to lead us more toward it during their lifetime. People like Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, and others who strove to bring about peace and justice for all people.

The love that Jesus is asking Christians to have is one that accepts others for who he or she is as a person, as another human being, who is on this journey through life with us. It does not ask us to change him or her to our way of thinking; just love them for who he or she is as a person. Jesus spent time with everyone from every lifestyle, Jew and Gentile, tax collector, just ordinary person on the street. Jesus simply asked people to follow where He lead them.

We are, by that same token, called to love one another as Christ loved us. The world we live in throws enough at us without our constantly causing more stress for one another. It is pitiful how, for instance, people only seem to help one another during holidays or time of disaster. We are called to love one another as Christ loved us. That means all the time, without prejudice, and without seeking material gain for ourselves. We are not called to love only those like us or who agree with us, but everyone. As Paul writes in Galatians:

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28 NRSV).

Jesus came and saved us all, every human being, through His death and resurrection. Paul continues to write in Galatians and says, “…God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children”(Galatians 4:4-5 NRSV). Those under the law are much more than just those who were Jewish, everyone regardless of whether they followed the law was affected by the law in some way and were, as such, under the law. It is like the laws of our country. Everyone who is in our country is expected to abide by the law. No one is exempt from the law. No one was exempt from the law Jesus speaks about either. If a Gentile wanted to do business with a Jew, he or she needed to know when, where, and how they were permitted to do so. Hence, they were under the law even though they did not follow the law for themselves. When Jesus tells us to love one another, he means everyone.

One particular boundary humans place on love that is especially talked about is whom someone may marry. There are a large number who say that same-sex marriage is wrong. Some even try to point out Christ as being against it. However, Jesus says nothing about same-sex marriage. Nothing. Zilch. Zero. Nada.

While it is found within the Old Testament as being against the law of the Israelites, we must remember that the laws were written by both God and humankind. The Israelites needed to set themselves apart from those living around them where same-sex marriage was a common practice. In addition, the much smaller Israelite community needed to grow in population, which biologically cannot happen if people choose to live in a same-sex relationship. It was a matter of necessity for people to procreate in order for the community to survive.

I would argue that the problems people have with same-sex marriage are based on ignorance far more than scriptural directive. It is not what they are used to seeing as the media does not portray homosexual couples like they do heterosexual ones. Would I like to see two homosexuals displaying their affection in a public manner? No, but I also do not think heterosexual couples should do so either. Holding hands or a quick kiss is not a problem. Putting their arm around their loved one is not the problem. Making out is a problem regardless of a person’s sexual preferences. I do not care to watch any couple making out in public. It is a personal thing that should be kept that way. Want to make out? Get a room. Plain and simple.

Again, I do not have all the answers. Some who read this may now think I am insane. Others will think I’m on the right track. Still others may send me nasty emails or comments. If I offended you, then I apologize. If I inspired you, then thank you, now go out and inspire others to serve our Creator regardless of what path you follow so long as you do no harm to others.

Peace be with you.

 

Helping those who keep the U.S. the Land of the Free

Picture this. A soldier comes home from serving his or her country. They hear words of encouragement from the people in the airport or restaurant as the pass in uniform. They may even have a meal paid for by someone as a gesture of thanks for their service to our country. They may even get a standing ovation at a theme park when asked to stand en mass for recognition as a veteran. This all sounds like America cares about her people in uniform.

Now, picture this. That same soldier discovers that there is nowhere for him or her to find a decent paying job. He or she loses their housing. They become homeless. Where are the people who thanked them when they returned? Where are the politicians who sent them and praised them for their service when they returned?
We have heard politicians say those on government assistance are lazy and dependent on the system. Yet, they fail to mention that each month “a total of 900,000 veterans nationwide live in households that relied on SNAP to provide food for their families,” according to an article from United Press International dated November 13, 2013 (http://www.upi.com/Health_News/2013/11/11/Some-170000-US-veterans-to-be-cut-from-food-stamps/UPI-91491384230282/). Talk about a lack of respect.

Also, according to an article in Stars and Stripes, homelessness among veterans is a huge issue with over 57,000 veterans being homeless as of January 2013 (http://www.stripes.com/number-of-homeless-vets-drops-but-va-goal-might-be-out-of-reach-1.253983).

How is it that we can send our young men and women to fight overseas and serve our country, but we cannot house or employ them when they come home? This is a travesty. It is shameful for our country to do this to people who risked their lives. It is shameful for us to allow them to return with psychological wounds and not offer them help with these as well. It is all the more shameful that our elected officials, regardless of party, will call them lazy, yet use them for photo opportunities and speech backdrops. During last year’s government shutdown, those loyal to the Tea Party raced to defend the rights of veterans to visit memorials that had been shut down. However, those same politicians also voted to gut government programs that help veterans and their families once the cameras were not focused on them. This sends the message that patriotism only works for them if it will help them get elected or somehow shows them to be good Americans, which they are not.

When are we, as the people of the United States, going to stand up and demand help for our poor, especially our veterans who have served, yet are suffering from the greed of our politicians and their wealthy donors who wish to take assistance away from those who need it?

It is time for good people to stand up and speak out!

It is time for those politicians who refuse to help others to be voted out!

It is time for our veterans to know that we do care about them and all who are suffering from unemployment, homelessness, hunger, and lack of access to proper healthcare!

It is time for we, the citizens of the United States, to demand more of ourselves and our elected officials!

It is time!

U.S.A.–Bought and Paid for

Over 300,000 people are unable to drink or bathe in water contaminated by a chemical spill by a company whose spokesperson does not want to answer for their crime against nature and the people.

Politicians, many of whom are funded by wealthy corporations, make decisions that negatively affect thousands of people who are poor, under-educated, unemployed, and minorities or considered outside the norm, yet are re-elected by pandering to emotional causes such as abortion or gun control.

Massive political lobbies, wealthy individuals, and wealthy corporations control politics at all levels so that they continue to get wealthier while most Americans get poorer and become trapped in the vicious cycle of poverty.

The United States of America has changed from the Land of Opportunity to the Land of Greed and Plutocracy. We are no longer governed under the principles of being governed of the people, by the people, and for the people. We have allowed our country to be governed by the wealthy for the wealthy and to hell with anyone who is not lucky enough to make it to the top 1% in wealth. Face it, America is bought and paid for by these wealthy individuals, corporations, and special interest groups. We have allowed this to happen through being brainwashed into thinking that big business cares about the well-being of our nation.

We have been duped into believing that paying the lowest price is always the best way to go. It is the best way to go, for the corporate executives that know those cheap products we consume will need to be replaced shortly because they are of cheap quality. These corporations have moved the jobs out of our country to save money rather than keep them here and help our economy by creating jobs. What they are creating is more wealth for the executives since they continue to lay-off workers and/or move more jobs overseas. They fight against unions claiming they cost jobs because they exist to make working conditions better for the worker rather than the executive. They fight against affordable healthcare because they may lose some profit when they care for their employees needs by spending a little extra on insurance for them. They want fewer regulations claiming it will save or create jobs, yet refuse to admit that fewer regulations means causing environmental and human disasters that will kill people, some in time and others more immediately.

We shop at stores that are filled with junk at affordable prices that we do not need because they have undercut the local shops and sent them out of business. We are made to believe that these store care since they donate a pittance to the local schools or churches. However, we fail to see how much their executives make on the backs of their workers through low wages, no benefits, and fewer hours.

We dine on fast food because we are indoctrinated into it as children as the chain restaurants show cartoon characters who lead us into the world of low quality, calorie and chemically laden foods that are killing us physically, but our wallets still have some cash and we needed to do nothing to get the food but pull through the drive through or order it over our phones and computers. We refuse to see that the cheap food comes at a cost to our health and the ability of people to make a decent living, as the wages in these jobs are low as well as the skills needed to perform them.

We have sat by idly as we have elected people who care more about their next campaign than the people who elect them, except when it comes around to election time. Then, they drag out sound bites paid for by wealthy donors to scare us into believing our rights will be infringed if we elect those “liberals”. Ironically, it is those politicians who are sucking the lifeblood out of our country and our democracy as they pander to the chemical companies who now are in the business of selling genetically enhanced seeds to our farmers and to the oil companies who find new ways of polluting our natural resources rather than clean ways to provide energy that will save both lives and money.

It is time for people who truly care about America to stand up and say enough is enough!

It is time for real Americans to perform an election-driven revolution and unseat the greedy from office and put people into elected positions who will perform the will of the people with openness and honesty. People who will create laws that benefit all rather than the few. Politicians who will raise taxes on those who can afford to pay more and lessen the tax burden on those who cannot. Politicians who are statesmen rather than puppets. Politicians who will do more than promise a better America.

It is time for real Americans to stop patronizing the big box stores and shop locally at stores owned and ran by their neighbors instead of the distant corporations.

It is time for real Americans to realize that value means more than price. Paying a little more for a quality product is worth it in the long run. Putting fellow Americans to work is better than allowing corporations to move their business overseas.

It is time for real Americans to stand up, realize, and demand healthcare for all so that more people can work and contribute to the economy rather than suffer from illnesses and have to work simply to pay their medical bills.

It is time for real Americans to demand regulations on corporations that will protect the welfare of the people and the environment. We only have one earth and

It is time for real Americans to demand that our schools teach usable knowledge rather than teach so that students can pass a test. Bring back vocational courses so that those who want to work in a trade have the ability to learn that trade. With this comes the creation of jobs here for these students after they graduate rather than allowing corporations to move those jobs elsewhere.