Spiritual Wealth

In the interests of full disclosure, I am not a Christian. But I do believe that there are a lot of important lessons to be learned from the Bible. I think there are lessons to be learned from many other sources as well. The trick is to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Unfortunately, the chaff often does not come from the philosophy itself, but from the way that philosophy gets twisted by others for their own benefit. Nothing makes me more angry than seeing people get taken advantage of. Nothing is so heartbreaking as seeing people preyed upon and then cast aside.

I may not be an expert on all things Christian, but I do know this: Jesus did not advise people to crave money. He never said that the way God shows favor is by making you rich in this life. He cast out the money lenders. He said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven.” (Matthew 19:24)

Basically, Jesus wasn’t about stuff. He wasn’t about accumulating riches. He wasn’t trying to show people how to game the system so that God would give them prizes.

He did not approve of greed. And he certainly never told anyone to go without groceries so that some creepy preacher could buy a private jet. Jesus would be horrified by the prosperity gospel.

Money is not the key to happiness in this life or any other. Whether you agree with him or not, does Trump seem particularly happy to you? He worships Mammon, and I wouldn’t want his life for anything. Golden toilets don’t make the going any easier.

Love, decency, kindness, generosity, the ability to learn and think critically… these things are priceless. Clamoring for stuff and money… that’s not your kingdom here on earth. It’s just a form of burial before death. If you learn nothing else in this life, let it be that.

Money Church

A big thanks to StoryCorps for inspiring this blog and my first book. http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Why I Say Happy Holidays

I like chestnuts at this time of year, but this particular chestnut is getting old. I’m referring to the annual debate about whether to say Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays. Here’s why I think the answer is clear.

When I say Happy Holidays, I am wishing you a Merry Christmas. I’m also wishing your neighbor a Happy Chanukah, a Good Festivus, a Lovely Winter Solstice, a Happy Kwanzaa, a Joyful Yule, etc. I do this because I love all my diverse friends, every single one, and I want them all to be happy. I wish them all well. Is that really so terrible?

By saying Happy Holidays, I’m not disparaging your beliefs or the holiday you choose to celebrate. I’m not saying Christmas is evil or your religion needs to be abolished. If anything, I think Jesus would be all about spreading the love and including as many people in that love as possible. By saying Happy Holidays, I’m showing my dedication to peace on earth, good will toward Men. All of them. Every last one.

I genuinely believe that the majority of people who say Merry Christmas don’t mean any harm. I think their wishes come from a good place and are sincere. Well wishes from an open heart are always welcome by me. In fact, when someone wishes me a Merry Christmas, that’s the only time I’m perfectly comfortable responding in kind. Because their stance is already established. We are fellow celebrants, so there’s no risk of discomfiture or offense. So, Merry Christmas to you, too!

On the other hand, by insisting everyone say Merry Christmas, you are sending a very different message. You’re saying, “If you’re not Christian, that’s your problem. I don’t have to take you into consideration. My holiday is the only right holiday. You are wrong for not complying.” You are also assuming that every person does, or should, think and behave exactly like you. You are taking the entire month of December hostage, and making it awkward for anyone else to celebrate anything else. You are excluding people.

Why wouldn’t you want to open your arms and your heart wider? Wasn’t that Jesus’ central message, after all? You are turning this into a debate that’s so contrary to the holiday spirit that it makes me want to spit out my egg nog, throw up my hands and forget the whole thing.

So, um… Happy Holidays.

peace

A book about gratitude is a gift that keeps on giving! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

What Hate Looks Like

 

It really breaks my heart to have to write this blog entry after the high of yesterday’s entry about Seattle Pride. Unfortunately every light seems to have its shadow. The brightest lights seem to cast even darker ones.

So, two things. First, at the Pride events I attended, I would occasionally come across religious zealots shouting hate speech over microphones and carrying signs such as these:

My immediate thought was that Jesus would be so ashamed to have these people using his name in this way. He was not about hate and exclusion. He was not about judgment and condemnation. His fundamental message was love.

One of them even shouted at me, “Repent your sins and gain eternal life!”

Ignorance abounds. My response to him was, “I don’t want to have eternal life if it means I have to spend it with people like you.”

These people don’t come to events such as these to “save” people. I guarantee you that not one person in the crowd was running up to them and saying, “Why didn’t I see this before? I have been wrong all along! Thank you!”

No, they were there because they get a sick and twisted high off of trying to ruin things for everyone else. They get off on imagining that they are the only ones who are “right” and they don’t care who they hurt to get that feeling. If there is a hell, and  anyone is going to it, it’s people like these.

The second, and most horrifying thing is that a transgender person, Michael Volz, was attacked in Seattle this week after attending a fundraiser for the survivors of the Orlando shooting. Michael was walking down the street, causing no harm to anyone,  when someone said “Happy Pride!” and then beat them half to death. I don’t understand. I will never understand.

Please join me in contributing to the GoFundMe campaign to help Michael through this. Let’s show the world that not all of us are despicable. In the end, love will win.

On that note, if you’ve never seen the video below, take a minute to watch it now. It will restore your faith. I’ve been watching it about once a day since I discovered it.

That’s the Ticket

Okay, I don’t normally do this, but I’m strongly encouraging you to leave this page right this minute. You have GOT to see this. Seriously.

Just when you think people can’t be more insane, gullible, or stupid, you hear a story like this. And it has everything. Crazy looking people. Bizarre ideas. Jesus. A baby alligator. And best of all, it totally reinforces why I couldn’t wait to leave Jacksonville, Florida!

What are you waiting for? Click, already!

American Alligator, baby Photo No. 3 660

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!

Whether or not you believe that Jesus was the son of God, his mother apparently did. Can you imagine the pressure, raising the son of God? I mean, kids are a handful as it is, without them being divine.

How did Mary handle the terrible twos? How do you discipline God’s son? Did she and God debate parenting styles? Did God take an active part in his upbringing? Did he show up for his Bar Mitzvah?

Was Jesus informed of his parentage right away, or did Joseph, like other adoptive parents, wait until he was old enough to understand this news? Did strange and important people like the Magi keep showing up at his door throughout his life, or was he pretty much left alone to grow up?

And if he did know, how did he interact with the other kids in the school yard? Was he involved in sports? I suspect he wouldn’t have been the short stop. Did he play games? Did he always win? Did he always let everyone else win? Was he popular?

Most importantly, how did Mary prevent him from having a massive ego? I mean, if God were my honest to… uh, God… father, I’d have a hard time not feeling superior. “My dad’s holier than your dad.” How did he view the adults around him? Did he feel lonely and set apart?

The Bible doesn’t really go into detail about these things, and unanswered questions like these are why I struggled with Christianity as I grew up. I prefer to take what wisdom I can from all the religions I encounter and go from there. There is a great deal of knowledge all around you if you care to look for it.

Baby hand in father's palm

[Image credit: healthofchildren.com]

Jesus, Man…

In a recent chat with one of my blog friends I was reminded of this guy who used to walk hundreds of miles up and down the coast of Florida during my childhood. He wore a brown robe tied with twine, and sometimes wore sandals, but was often barefoot. And he dragged a HUGE heavy cross. He had long hair and always looked like he went weeks between baths. For all I know he covered other states, too. But I did see him in several parts of Florida over the years. We called him the Jesus Man.

I never spoke to the guy. We always assumed he was mentally ill. I mean, who does that? Sometimes he’d be walking in the pouring rain or the freezing cold or more often in the blistering heat. He was always alone.

I tried Googling him just now in hopes of attaching a picture. I didn’t find him, but what I did come across was rather eye-opening. There are several guys who do this. One has done it all over the world, apparently. And while their beliefs do not fall in line with mine, they don’t seem to be mentally ill. They’re just very, very dedicated to their evangelism. I certainly can’t fault these people for that. Their commitment to their cause is really impressive, to be honest.

I just hope that for the sake of these guys today, they are a little more PR savvy than the Jesus Man of my childhood was. He spent days and years and miles dragging a cross, and never spoke to anyone or got any publicity or seemed to further his cause in any way. Maybe people who were already Christians were heartened by seeing him, but I suspect no non-Christians were converted by observing this dirty, sweaty, grubby man grimly dragging a cross in the hot sun. Most of them probably thought the same thing I did: “Jesus, man, you’re crazy.”

At the risk of being relegated to hell, I have to say that there are lots of creative ways to get your point across. In this day and age it isn’t hard to reach a whole lot of people without half killing yourself in the process. Work smarter, not harder. There are also times when you’re simply beating your head against a brick wall. Continual wall beating is not dedication. It’s nutty. And I’m willing to bet Jesus would prefer you focus on his teachings rather than his martyrdom, but that’s just my non-Christian opinion. I suppose it depends on what kind of return you are seeking for your investment.

Cross

[Image credit: anniewald.com]

On Being a Unitarian Universalist

For most of my life I was without a spiritual home. My mother was a member of the Congregational Church, but I can only remember setting foot inside one a handful of times as a child. As devout as she was, as a single working mother her time and energy were limited. I remember her trying to get me to go to Sunday school one cold Connecticut winter day, and we walked about a block and then turned back. It was too cold and I was too resistant to the idea. I think my mother gave up on the concept for me at that point.

Even with my limited experience with Christianity, I knew it wasn’t a good fit for me. It just never felt right. It didn’t feel logical or like a valid part of my everyday life. It always seemed out of date and based on the knowledge of the world as it was 2000 years ago. We know so much more now. What did the words of Jesus, however wise they might have been, have to do with a world in which we’ve walked on the moon and can talk instantly to someone on the other side of the planet?

That’s the thing, though. In many religions, including Christianity, I do find pearls of wisdom. In many ways that only adds to my confusion, because I’ve also seen the dark side of religion. The intolerance. So many religions assume that theirs is the only way to salvation. If you don’t believe exactly as they do, then you’re not one of the chosen, and you’re going to hell.

I can’t subscribe to the notion that a Bushman of the Kalahari, for example, who follows the religion of his parents, is condemned to hell by virtue of the fact that he was born in the “wrong” place, to the “wrong” people. I just can’t buy it. And if it is true, it’s not something I want to be a part of.

Why does my spiritual path have to be the only right one in order for it to be valid? That seems too simplistic to me. There’s too much variation in nature for there to be no room for a variation in philosophy.

So I cast about aimlessly for many years, feeling kind of alone in the wilderness, until finally I found Unitarian Universalism. In this conservative religious world of ours, I find a liberal, all-inclusive church to be a refreshing change indeed. The UU Church believes, as I do, that there are many paths to the divine. On any given Sunday you might find yourself amongst UU Humanists, UU Christians, UU Pagans, UU you-name-it-they’ve-got-it.

For me, most of all, Unitarian Universalism seems to be a place where people who have experienced mainstream religion and have been turned off by it, but still want community and fellowship, can find a home.

And lest you think we’re some lunatic fringe group, here are some Unitarians, Universalists, and UUs you may have heard of:

  • Presidents Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Millard Fillmore, and William Howard Taft
  • Writers Louisa May Alcott, Charles Dickens, Horace Greeley, Ethan Allen, Kurt Vonnegut, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Ray Bradbury, Margaret Sutton, Herman Melville, E.E. Cummings, Margaret Fuller, and William Carlos Williams
  • Other recognizable names include Paul Newman, Rod Serling, Adlai Stevenson, Linus Pauling, Paul Revere, Arthur Schlesinger, Albert Schweitzer, Daniel Webster, Pete Seeger, Frank Lloyd Wright, Neville Chamberlain, and Clara Barton

So what is a typical service like? There isn’t one, really. We often discuss various religious philosophies, cares and concerns, current events, or basic concepts about everyday living. Here’s a list of topics that were discussed in various UU churches recently:

  • The Communion of Life: Climate Change and the Unitarian Universalist Response
  • How Do We Know?
  • The Neurobiology of Compassion
  • The Road Not Taken
  • Moderation and Balance: An Islamic Perspective
  • America’s Religious Experiment
  • The Origin of Love
  • Questioning
  • A Glimpse Into the Heart of Terror
  • Joining the Drum Circle: Ancient Rites
  • Celebrating Community
  • Ground Hogs, Possums, and Mockingbirds. Reflections on the human need for control and certainty in a world where there is little of either.
  • Effective Altruism: Saving Lives from the Comfort of your Desktop
  • The Hidden Face of the Divine Feminine
  • The Adventure of Forgiveness
  • Lies My Government Told Me About Immigration

One thing that can be quite disconcerting about a UU Church is that rather than adhering to one dogma or creed, rather than being expected to conform or walk in lockstep with all the people around you, we UUs can’t seem to agree on ANYTHING. But the beauty is that we respect each other’s right to disagree. Here is something we all agree on, however. The seven UU Principles.

  • The inherent worth and dignity of every person.
  • Justice, equity and compassion in human relations.
  • Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations.
  • A free and responsible search for truth and meaning.
  • The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large.
  • The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all.
  • Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

Because most Unitarian Universalists find it unpalatable to recruit people, or risk being perceived as trying to convince people to change their ways, you won’t hear much about our religion. Not from us, anyway. We are loathe to cram anything down your throat. But you are always welcome to come to a service and form your own opinion. To find a congregation near you, go here.

uu

Pet Peeves

I’m feeling cranky today because it’s my last day of vacation. I’m in the mood to gripe about stuff, so here goes nothing.

It drives me absolutely nuts when someone who does not know me calls me honey or sweetie or darlin’. It sounds so condescending to me. It says, “I can’t be bothered to learn your name.” And as far as I’m concerned, those terms of endearment are intimate and therefore should be reserved for people whom I choose to be intimate with. I do not include the anonymous waitress or the neighborhood mechanic in that circle of intimacy, so please don’t call me baby, darlin’.

Another thing that sets my teeth on edge is when men call their cars or boats or even my drawbridge “she”. As in, “She’s a real beauty, that hotrod of yours.” Assuming that an inanimate object that is completely under your control and will always do what it is supposed to do must therefore naturally be female is an offensive concept to me.

And I hate it when a woman calls another woman “dude”. I just hate that on general principle. It doesn’t make you look cool. It makes you look stupid. I’m not a dude. I’ll never be a dude.

And by the way, not everyone enjoys the smell of cigars; no one wants to hear your music full blast as you drive down the street; science is based on proof so get over it; I don’t want to see your underwear; I’ve never bought anything from a telephone salesman, so stop calling me; my eyes are up here; yes I know I’m fat; it’s none of your business if I’ve accepted Jesus as my personal savior; if you think global climate change doesn’t exist you’re an idiot; if you ask my opinion you should be prepared to hear it; no I don’t have any spare change, so move along; choosing not to have kids doesn’t make me nearly as selfish as allowing your kid to scream in the movie theater does; a disdain for education only reveals your stupidity; perfume and cologne are supposed to be subtle, not an assault; Miley Cyrus is a disgusting girl who is out of control and should be ashamed of herself; yes I disagree with your politics but that doesn’t mean you can call me names; and I prefer my dogs over most humans based on a lifetime of experience.

So there.

Hoo. I feel cleansed.

my-pet-peeves

[image credit eloquentscience.com]

I’ve Got Your Number. Right Here.

Well, everyone, I’ve got sad news. Today is 12/12/12, and it’s the last day any of us will see a triple date like that in our lifetimes. How sad. I’m sure to some people it’s even very significant, perhaps life-threatening. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there is a doomsday cult out there somewhere huddled in a bunker, waiting for the rest of us to be charred to a crisp so they can take over.

Here’s the thing about dates, though: they’re created by humans. And there’s more than one calendar out there, some still in use, some not. There’s the Julian calendar, the Gregorian calendar, the Chinese calendar, the Hebrew calendar, the Hindu calendar, the Islamic calendar, the Roman calendar, several different Egyptian calendars, the Unix calendar, the Ethiopian calendar, the Thai Solar calendar, Buddhist calendar, and the Baha’i calendar, and heaven help us all, the Mayan calendar. Many cultures rely on more than one calendar at the same time.

To further complicate things, some cultures start the week with Sunday, others with Monday. And in some countries, people write their dates day/month/year, and in others it’s month/day/year. And don’t even get me started on holidays. Easter Sunday is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox. Before President Lincoln straightened us all out here in America, Thanksgiving was celebrated on any one of a variety of dates, depending upon the state in which you lived.

In most Western cultures, our year is based on the date of Jesus’ birth. The problem with that is no one knows precisely when he was born. We could very well be as much as 7 years off. And in ancient times, it was speculated that his birth month was January, March, April, May or November. We finally settled on December 25th as it coincides with the southern solstice.

The starting year in Japan is based on when the current emperor began his rule. So 2012, for them, is the 24th year of the Emperor Akihito. Although rarely used in these modern times, this year in China could be either 4649, 4709 or 4710.

And no system is perfect. We make leap year adjustments, and there’s even a leap second on the atomic clock. When we adjusted to the Gregorian Calendar in England and America in 1752, we lost 11 whole days, and there was actually rioting in the streets.

So next time someone panics like it’s Y2K, or if you’ve cancelled your manicure appointment because the Mayan calendar is coming to an end in 9 days, remember: it’s all relative. Personally, I don’t worry about it much, because I’m a Capricorn.

Incidentally, you can buy my 2013 fractal calendar here: http://www.zazzle.com/fractal_calendar_2013-158324473116307597