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.

 

 

Tiny pieces of peace on earth

"A Peace Dove to the whole World" al...

“A Peace Dove to the whole World” al-Ma’sara village children, south of Bethlehem (Photo credit: ☪yrl)

BLESSINGS OF PEACE AND LIGHT BE WITH YOU THROUGHOUT THE YEAR. I lifted that line from the web page of the organization discussed below — but it works.

Thanks to the immortality of cyberspace, this brief essay that I posted three years ago re-surfaced this week. Someone sent a comment — “Awesome post, dude!” was the opening line — apparently after reading it for the first time. Maybe he was Googling the word Peace. In any event, it’s still valid and now resurrected:

In the olden days of the 20th century, at least until the latter third or so, there was a quaint custom for newspapers — remember newspapers? — to print nothing but good news on the front page on December 25, in recognition of the historical figure celebrated by Christians around the globe as the Prince of Peace. Even for followers of other religious traditions, or of no religion of all, there was something comforting about picking up the morning paper (another quaint but honorable old custom) or checking the corner newstand without being confronted by headlines screaming of wars and disasters, murder and mayhem.

Couldn’t find such a front page this year. The New York Times, The Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle… no luck. On the front page of the Sunday (December 26) Chronicle, though, is a feature article encompassing the message of peace that is the essence of all the religious celebrations of December: Chanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and many more. It’s a profile of the man who, in 2000, launched United Religions Initiative, retired Episcopal Bishop William Swing. U.R.I. is dedicated to fostering cooperation and mutual respect among all religions, and to bringing peace and justice to people everywhere. Hard to argue with that.

From modest beginnings a decade ago U.R.I. now boasts (except U.R.I. folks tend not to be boastful) several hundred “Cooperation Circles” scattered across the U.S., Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America and elsewhere. Circles (the San Francisco Interfaith Council, of which I’m pleased to be a part, is one) are made up of ordinary people with extraordinary goals: promoting peace, equality and justice in a limitless variety of ways. U.R.I. also has programs in areas such as women’s rights, youth, environment and peacebuilding. There’s that word again: Peace.

Wouldn’t it be fine to see a little of that in the New Year?

When fear & hatred go viral

Illegal aliens threaten, Muslims are murderers, we should be Very Afraid. Or perhaps, like the author of these points, just Very Tired.

A super-patriot message (re)circulating in cyberspace could serve as a blueprint for how to spread hatred and fear across the land. It purports to spread Republican virtues, having been written (with apologies to someone else’s earlier blog in the same style) by retired military/public servant Robert A. Hall. Originally floated in a blog dated February 19, 2009, it has recently been picked up and dusted off for recycling. This writer has gotten it three times; though I am not on a lot of right wing Favorites lists I try to listen and understand messages received from friends with whom I disagree.

Hall, now a resident of Illinois but not an admirer of its current native son President, apparently served honorably in the U.S. Marines and the Massachusetts state senate. This space hereby commends him for his public service, accepts his right to whatever political beliefs he chooses, and takes very strong exception to his blog. It is the incendiary passage below that needs to be refuted:

I’m  tired of  being told that Islam is a “Religion of Peace,” when every day I can  read dozens of stories of Muslim men killing their sisters,  wives and daughters for their family “honor”; of Muslims  rioting over some slight offense; of Muslims  murdering Christian and Jews because they aren’t  “believers”; of Muslims burning schools for girls; of Muslims stoning  teenage rape victims to death for “adultery”; of Muslims mutilating  the genitals of little girls; all in the name of Allah, because the  Qur’an and Shari’a law tells them  to.

I have not read the Qur’an, though I doubt that’s what it says. Iftekhar Hai has.  Co-founder and director of interfaith relations for United Muslims of America, Hai understands what the Qur’an has to say far better than do Hall or I. Here are a few clarifications — if only they could circulate as widely as is the above screed:

Whatever faith you are born in, you are in God’s image. The message is the same, but people keep adding on and that’s what messes things up. Diversity is part of Islamic belief.”

The Qur’an does not condone the killing of non-believers. Religious leaders cannot decide who is a non-believer. Islam is not exclusive, and extremists are wrong to judge others.”

As to the status of women in Muslim countries, Hai says inequality for women has no basis in the Qur’an, but is a cultural matter (as in the wearing of the burqa by women in Afghanistan. Only 18% of Muslims, he says, live in Arab countries, with the majority in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh; he is quick to point out women leaders in those countries and in Indonesia.

It seems superfluous, but still appropriate, to mention that Christians have done a lot of killing “in God’s name,” as have people of just about every other faith, and that assorted acts of mayhem and violence are caused every day under every conceivable banner.

Iftekhar Hai, like millions of his fellow Muslims here and abroad, is a man of peace. He serves on the board of the San Francisco Interfaith Council and works with other organizations such as United Religions Initiative to promote understanding, cooperation and peace among all faiths. Wouldn’t less fear and hatred, and more peace and understanding be a good idea at this point in world history?

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?