Exactly. Because God Says So.

God - lightThere seem to be a growing number of mortals on the planet who are convinced they have a direct line to the Almighty. On the face of it this looks like a pretty good thing – until you get to the point at which God is telling you something different from what She’s telling me. And that’s when I think it goes from good to scary.

I had an interesting conversation with a handsome Lyft driver named Zaid the other day. It included a crash course on the Quran. Zaid can (and did) quote extensively and verbatim from the Quran – so my Biblical/theological expertise was quickly outclassed and I figured I would do well just to listen. I am sincerely eager to understand all faiths better, so listening was easy. About five or ten minutes in, the conversation went thus:

Zaid: “So, do you even know what language Jesus spoke?”

Me: “Ummm, Aramaic?”

Zaid: “And how many years later was the Bible even written down?”

Me: “Well, the Old Testament, maybe five or six centuries B.C.; the New Testament I think about 50 or 60 A.D.?”God - sign

Zaid: “Exactly. On the other hand, the Angel Gabriel spoke directly to the prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him, who transcribed the words of Allah directly into the Quran (which I read from beginning to end at least once every year.”)

About this time I was grateful to be near my destination. Because we had reached the point at which I was to understand that Zaid’s God is right and mine is wrong. Now, although the God of my puny understanding has not responded sufficiently to a lot of questions about the injustices and inequities of our little planet, I’m cool with Her general compassion for me. And so far I haven’t found anything Jesus said about loving one’s neighbor, caring for those less fortunate, etc to be off the mark. (Actually, I think God may have said, in a sort of aside from time to time, “Who’s responsible for injustice and inequity? Me?? Or perhaps, you people down there?”)

I admire those who take their faith seriously enough to study on a continuing, regular basis. What I don’t admire is their conviction that they’re right and I’m wrong, and whatever they’re doing is right because God says so. It doesn’t take much history to see what trouble this has gotten us into. Or awareness of current events to see what trouble it’s causing all over the planet today.God - sunrise

God knows I have enough trouble with my fellow Christians. Particularly those of them in power who are telling me (for example) that God says a fetus has rights greater than those of the woman in whose body it resides. Or that I may not choose to lop off a week or two of intractable pain when I’m ready to die because God says I should suffer a bit longer. God seems continually in favor of laws that they like and I don’t. Not to get political or anything like that, but these folks are in cahoots with a guy who has broken most of the Commandments more times than can be counted, and if he’s done anything lately that Jesus might approve of I haven’t noticed.

In decades of working with the San Francisco Interfaith Council and other such groups I have met countless Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, and followers of faiths I’m still learning to pronounce, all of whom simply seek peace. At community breakfasts etc everyone prays in his or her own tradition and listens, as well as possible, with an open heart. We actually stay pretty far away from suggesting that anyone’s god (or faith journey of whatever sort) is better than that of anyone else. But it’s a little disheartening to read every day about the meanness and murder going on around the globe in the name of the poor, abused Almighty.dove of peace

I could easily be a Brahma Kumari. The Brahma Kumaris believe all religions are valid. Just about all they preach is peace. And not incidentally, their leaders are all women (who make decisions in cooperation with the guys, but still.) As far as I know, no Brahma Kumari has ever started a war.

Which is more than can be said for the rest of us righteous folks.

 

 

And God said……….

Creation of the Sun and Moon by Michelangelo, ...
Creation of the Sun and Moon by Michelangelo, face detail of God. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A friend’s 3-year-old, I recently read on Facebook, concludes her mealtime/bedtime prayers with “Ah, man.” Her mom thinks it’s rather endearing. I think the kid may be onto something. I just have a feeling that God/Allah/Jehovah/Whomever (and I am quick to admit I believe quite deeply in the one who said we should love one another) is somewhere in cyberspace shaking Her head and saying, “Ah, man.”

I mean, look at the messes we’ve gotten into because somebody knew what God said. You can start with the crusades, but it would be just as easy to start earlier. In any event, today is an exemplary peril.

Take Egypt, for example (since it’s too painful to start with the U.S.) In the August 26th New York Times, David Kirkpatrick and Mayy El Sheikh report on the Egyptian military’s latest move, enlisting Muslim scholars to persuade soldiers and policemen that it’s their religious duty to kill their friends and neighbors who are supporting the recently deposed President Morsi. Why? Because God said to. On the side of the military in this is a televangelist (the U.S., it turns out doesn’t have a corner on televangelists) Amr Khaled who is out there assuring the troops, “You, you conscript in the Egyptian military, you are performing a task for God Almighty!” Ah, man. I have long since lost track of what whose god is telling whom in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and assorted African countries. In China no one seems to be listening to the Buddha, although it was indeed distressing when the monks got angry in Myanmar.

Closer to home, the troubles I am most often confronting these days have to do with what several groups presumably listening to the same (as in, Jesus) God believe that god is saying. “Life begins at conception. Abortion is murder.” What that correct? Or did She actually say, “All you children are made in my image. You may control your own bodies.” Who knows?

Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone would quit believing he or she knows exactly what God is saying and started listening instead for the voice of god? I have no theological training, but I’d be willing to bet God isn’t saying “Now remember, abortion is murder.” Or even, “Get out there and perform this task of killing your friends and neighbors.” More likely, She’s somewhere in the ethernet saying, “Ah, man. Could you try to get along?”

More on mortality: living strong, dying well

It’s hard to think about the death of my sister Jane (below) without thinking of another death we faced together.

Our father, in his 90th year on the planet and his 20th year of widowhood, started putting the pressure on Jane and me to come to see him one Thanksgiving. As we were in different states and had families and other things needing attention, getting to Virginia required some doing. Our dad had two daughters in between Jane and me, but she was the executor of his estate and I was the one who brought comfort because I closely resemble my mother. We four daughters usually visited at different times in order to stretch out the audiences for his story-telling and generally keep an eye on him. This time he was adamant. He wanted the two of us there together.

In mid-January we got it worked out. Jane and I met in Atlanta, having to spend the night there because the Richmond airport was snowed in. We managed to get on the first plane to land in Richmond the next morning. After picking up a rental car for the drive to Dad’s home in Ashland we took him to lunch at the only place open in town. He was impatient to get back home. Once there he did his traditional monologue about his 12 flawless grandchildren, a reassurance, of sorts, of his posterity. Then he shuffled off to his room for a nap.

And that’s where we found him when he didn’t answer a call to dinner. Keeled over, on his knees at the head of his bed, where he had said his prayers for 90 years. Having  departed this realm in the midst of a conversation with God, all arrangements complete. He and God had long maintained a strong, conversational relationship.

Not all of us can engineer our departures so efficiently — you had to know my father. Or so gently as Jane’s closing days with her family around, singing hymns. But there are millions of such stories (some of which are in the book, Dying Unafraid, that was motivated by the first story above, if you’ll pardon a little blatant self-promotion here; it’s still in print.) The great majority of those stories happen not because the central character had an unshakable faith in some deity or other (although that does tend to help matters) or because he or she had mystical powers or superhuman strength and determination, but because the central character accepted his or her mortality. We’re born, we live, we die. The facing of, and preparation for, its eventual end often makes dying better and always makes life richer.

That’s the lesson of these two stories. Dying unafraid tends to happen to people who live unafraid. And who talk to their families and friends, and complete their advance directives, and make it clear what their choices are. This is equally true for the young and the old, the fit and the infirm.

What are you waiting for?

Of COURSE there's a Santa Claus

We are, it turns out, born to be believers. And that’s a good thing. According to a recent article by Wall Street Journal reporter Shirley S. Wang, imagination is a valuable asset, beginning in childhood:

Imagination is necessary for learning about people and events we don’t directly experience, such as history or events on the other side of the world. For young kids, it allows them to ponder the future, such as what they want to do when they grow up.

“Whenever you think about the Civil War or the Roman Empire or possibly God, you’re using your imagination,” says Paul Harris, a development psychologist and professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education who studies imagination. “The imagination is absolutely vital for contemplating reality, not just those things we take to be mere fantasy.”

So we start out with Santa Claus and the tooth fairy, and grow up to comprehend health reform. As my daughter, a nurse, said to me today, “Really, Mom, I just have to take everyone else’s word for it; there’s no way I can read those thousands of pages.” Nor I — but we are people of (varying) faith.

Although we grown-ups may have gotten realistic about Santa, studies say most of us have faith. Faith in God, Allah, the teachings of the Buddha — doesn’t make a lot of difference. But faith — belief in some power that controls human destiny, belief that doesn’t rely on logical proof — is worth having at any age. Mary McLeod Bethune, a great lady who was smarter than most of us, said, “Without faith, nothing is possible. With it, nothing is impossible.”

Many of us celebrating the babe in the manger this week, along with many who celebrate other happenings and symbols, cling to the belief that there will actually, someday, be peace on earth. Even if it seems impossible.

My son (who is now 50, so don’t tell him I’m still repeating this story) was a true believer child. We had, at our house, a little green elf who arrived on December 1 and spent the next 23 days perched on light fixtures, curtain rods and high cabinet tops; Elf moved around a lot. He watched to see if everyone was good or bad, and on Christmas Eve he flew off to cruise with Santa. One December night, when my son was about 8, possibly older, I was turning out the light as he posed one last question. “Mom,” he said, “I know about Santa Claus, and I know Dad is the Easter Bunny, and all that — but… but how does the elf get from one room to another?”

You gotta believe. We have a health bill, not what we wanted, but the biggest reform in generations and something to build on. The jobless recovery means millions of kids belong to jobless parents, but Santa will come to many of them with the help of a host of community groups. All over the country, Muslim and Jewish volunteers are pitching in to relieve their Christian friends at soup kitchens so the latter can go home and read The Night Before Christmas to their kids.

Peace on earth, goodwill to all.