Happy Easter, too – another reprise of an old Christmas post

While I did not grow up Catholic, my best friend did. So, one of our rituals that lasted about ten years was going to midnight mass on Christmas Eve. One of the traditions of that mass was the Father would also wish Happy Easter, as he knew he would not see more than a few parishioners until next Christmas.

While fewer people are church goers than before and some check the box “none” when surveyed, Christmas remains an important holiday for the promise it brings. Whether you believe that Jesus is the son of God, there was a man by this name who walked the earth and spoke to gatherings of people of all sizes. He reminded us of four key themes among his many parables and lessons. And, these themes can be found in other religious texts.

– Treat others like you want to be treated.

– Help people less fortunate than you.

– Recognize each of us is imperfect.

– Forgive those who trespass against us.

To me, if we live our lives doing our best to remember these four things, Jesus’ words will help us be better people. And, if enough of us do this, the world just might be a better place.

Let me leave you with a true story. One of the homeless families we were helping did not know what their daughter was doing after school. She did not want her parents to know as they may make her stop. She finally confessed that she was going down to the soup kitchen to feed the homeless. To state the obvious, a homeless teen was helping serve other homeless people a meal each afternoon after school. Please feel to share this poignant and powerful story.

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A reminder of what Jesus did when he was on earth – a reprise

As we enter the Christmas holiday season, it would be helpful to remind ourselves what Jesus did while he walked the earth and what he promoted while he was here. Variations of his overarching themes can also be found in other religious texts, so these tenets are important regardless of religion. His Golden Rule which paraphrases to Treat others like you want to be treated translates well to any religious faith.

Jesus spent most of his adult life with the disenfranchised people of the areas he traveled. He would visit and stay with those who were not the powerful leaders or church leaders of the day. He tended to be with those who needed him most – the sick, the disabled, the poor and the downtrodden. In fact, he was not welcome by church leaders in some places and became irritated when church leaders did not use his church for its key purpose.

If Jesus walked the earth today, he would likely be irritated with us for many things.

  • Jesus would not be too keen on the demonization of people who look, speak or worship differently than the speaker.
  • He would not be too keen on intolerance especially when advocated by religious leaders who preach a message of exclusion. Jesus welcomed everyone.
  • He would not be too keen on the commercialization of his birthday, which loses sight of why we are honoring the day in the first place.
  • He would not be too keen on treating the impoverished in the world as if they had a communicable disease. “There, but by the grace of God, go I” he would say.
  • He would not be too keen on turning our backs on people who are refugees from their war-torn land. He would be there welcoming them in.
  • He would not be too keen on people being killed in the name of any religion, especially when the perpetrators are twisting language from its true meaning.
  • He would not be too keen on abortion unless a mother’s life is threatened. And, while this may sound inconsistent, he would likely be in favor of using birth control to avoid abortions, lessen poverty and prevent the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases.
  • He would not be too keen on the prosperity church leaders who live high on the hog after bilking poor and sick people of their money. If you hear the term “seed money,” understand you are being swindled to help someone buy a jet or house.
  • He would not be too keen on corrupt leaders who forsake their mission to govern wisely and judiciously.
  • He would not be too keen on people not being good stewards of our earth which is consistent across many religions.

We seem to have become a collection of cafeteria Christians, only picking parts of the bible we like and missing the overall context and message. We must treat others like we want to be treated, with no caveats. To prove my point, I want you to picture a mental image of Jesus and then go back to the first bullet point above regarding “demonization of people who look….differently than the speaker.”

Now, I want you to picture an adult Syrian refugee. Jesus did not look like Max Von Sidow, Jim Caviezel or Jeffrey Hunter (who played him in movies). Jesus looked more like the Syrian refugees look than how movies portrayed him. And, he did not speak English. If Jesus was among the refugees, we have folks who would be arguing to deny his entrance into America as he would be a single adult male with a mideastern appearance.

We must be better than this. We must understand his key message and live like he would want us to, even if he does not look like we do. It is the Christian thing to do….and Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, Muslim and Buddhist thing as well.

A few more musings before year-end

To me, a few good things have happened and are happening this year to get us back between the white lines on the highway. In no particular order:

  • Jair Bolsonaro lost his bid for reelection in Brazil. As expected, he is pulling a Trump saying the election was stolen from him, but everyone else, including party leadership, are moving on. “But, I won by a huge margin,” he can be heard saying in Portuguese to the departing caravan of people.
  • Boris Johnson was shown the door in the UK as Prime Minister. The only good thing about Johnson’s tenure is he got to oversee the Brexit mess he helped create before succumbing to a series of unforced errors, as they like to say in tennis.
  • Not to be outdone, I was told before she was appointed by the Tories as new Prime Minister, that Liz Truss was not the best of replacements. She proved the author of this concern correct, lasting only 45 days in a mistake-filled tenure.
  • In Australia, apparently climate change, environmental concerns and paid child leave are important as Conservatives who passed on these issues, were swept out of office over the summer with the new Prime Minister Anthony Albanese taking the oath. Between the wildfires and depleting barrier reef, rising temperatures is not a friend to the country/ continent.
  • In Ukraine, Vladimir Putin is realizing what happens when someone stands up to a bully. Volodymyr Zelenskyy has shown what leadership looks like, while Putin has shown what autocratic rule looks like. Fortunately, Russians are starting to see what the world sees and his days may be numbered.
  • And, at long last, with the Tax Fraud conviction by a jury of the Trump Organization and the investigation and released Executive Summary by the House Select Committee, the former president is starting to get his come-uppance as he truly spirals out of control blasting anyone who dares criticize him or not genuflect enough. Plus, there are other legal matters in Georgia, Pennsylvania and Mar-a-Lago that he needs to contend with.
  • Joe Biden is far from perfect, but he has shown that things can get accomplished to help the greater good. I am very pleased the Respect for Marriage Act, some gun governance and an infrastructure and climate change bill were passed. Sadly, neither party seems to care about the debt and deficit, so some poor soul will have to get the blame for doing what is needed – raising revenue and cutting expenses – as the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction Plan concluded, when the debt was about 1/4 the total it is now.

Have a peaceful and enjoyable Christmas. Stay warm and travel safe.

A Christmas wish – do our part to break down barriers (a repeat post)

The following is an edited version of an earlier post that remains relevant today. In the spirit of the Christmas season, it is worth a revisit.

Last night, my wife and I attended one of a series of “talks” around improving racial relations. It is a weekly chat sponsored by a multi-faith group based in our city. In essence, it is facilitated small group and large group discussions on breaking down barriers and listening to others who do not look like you do. It was well done and very meaningful.

To hear stories about small and large examples of racism is very important. To hear about how assumptions can be made and, if not corrected, can be become more concrete in the eyes of the beholder. Children learn lessons whether you want them to or not, even when you try to do the right thing. So, it is imperative to have open conversations about treating people like you want to be treated and listening to comments, so that they can be reinforced or amended.

Yet, it is we adults that need to do better. A few themes we discussed include:

– do not indict a group for the actions of a few;

– recognize that small slights can be hurtful, as well;

– try to walk in another person’s shoes; understand that a white person has more liberty to go anywhere, while a black man, even when dressed-up, faces more restrictions and risk;

– shine a light on hateful speech or behavior; tolerance must be viewed toward a greater good, so it is OK to be less tolerant of those who use words to demean and diminish;

– speak up and speak out to people who share your skin color, ethnicity, religion or politics who are indicting others who are different just because they don’t look, think or worship as you do (this is especially true if those who are condemning others are in leadership roles);

– be the change you want to see and see people for whom they are; and

– recognize that racial injustice is also the result of a larger poverty issue, which affects people of all colors.

There are many more lessons that were conveyed during the session, but one of my takeaways is this is religion at its finest. Welcoming, including and helping. Let me end with one more tidbit on how religion can help provide solutions and create a welcoming dialogue. Walk the talk. Words are easy. The person who gets up out of his or her chair to help people is admirable. The person who tells someone they not do appreciate hateful criticism of others is steadfast.

Jesus said it so well in his Golden Rule. Treat others like you want to be treated. If we do this, we are way ahead in the game. And, if anyone thinks they are better than others, the same guy said something about “he who is without sin, can cast the first stone.” So, welcome, include and help.

The Un-Golden Rule

Growing up I learned the most important words in my bible were the ones in red print. The publishers wanted to highlight the words attributed to Jesus. Some of the most notable red passages are often referenced by another color calling them the Golden Rule. One from Matthews 7:12 quotes:

“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”

Mark 12:31 uses different phrasing but gets to the same theme:

“The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

In short, I prefer the paraphrase of “treat others like you want to be treated.” Note, there are no caveats to the rule. Yet, what frustrates me is when Christians and other religious groups place caveats on these important words. They tarnish the rule making it “un-golden.” In their minds, the rule reads “treat others like you want to be treated….”

-unless such person is attracted to a person who is not the same gender,

-unless such person does not know what gender they identify with,

-unless such person worships differently,

-unless such person is from a country that promotes other religions,

-unless such person is from a different ethnic group, or

-unless such person belongs to a different political party.

While too many preach some of these caveats as witnessed by the public splits in the Methodist, Episcopalian and Baptist churches, there are many ministers who see the bigger picture. From the blog of Reverend John Pavlovitz in a post called “Phobic Christians, while you have been bothering LGBTQ people…:”

“Stop spending so much time and energy trying to make gay people ‘not gay’ or transgender people ‘not transgender’—it isn’t going to happen.

Instead, try spending that time and energy, making:
hungry people less hungry,
hurting people less hurt,
lonely people not feel alone,
victimized people not feel victimized,
invisible people feel seen.
bullied people feel protected.
grieving people feel comforted“

I have often found comfort in the words of Reverend Pavlovitz. I even know of atheists and agnostics who react favorably to his messages. Just seeing a glimpse of his style in the above piece, he focuses on using religion as way to reach out and help others. To me, this is religion at its finest. Picking others up.

Per my bible, that guy who is quoted in red print tended to hang out more with folks who were disenfranchised. As a symbolic mantra, WWJD is a bracelet worn by many Christians to ask themselves and others “what would Jesus do?There is a famous example in the bible of a woman being publicly stoned for infidelity. So, what did Jesus do? Jesus stopped people from stoning this woman by making a simple comment – he who is without sin shall cast the first stone. Maybe we should think about that when the perceived others are being stoned by the self-anointed ultra-pious worshipers.

An unsurprising, but concerning “deal with the devil”

In an article in Raw Story by Brad Reed called “‘Deal with the devil’: Evangelical pastor testifies about bargain Christian conservatives made with GOP,” an unsurprising, but still concerning agreement is revealed.

“The Rev. Robert Schenck, who was once a prominent anti-abortion activist, testified before the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday that he and his fellow conservative Christians made a Faustian bargain with the Republican Party as part of their quest to overturn Roe v. Wade.

During his testimony, Schenck described a meeting he and his fellow evangelicals had with Republican operatives in which they were told that, in order to get what they wanted with Roe, they would have to accept and promote an entire package of right-wing policies that they otherwise might have found objectionable.

In that meeting that I participated in, the conversation went something like this: ‘You guys want Roe v. Wade overturned, we can do that for you, but you take the whole enchilada, you take the whole thing,’ he said. ‘You take everything else that comes with it. Because if you want Roe gone, you have to work with us.

Schenck then argued that, while Christian conservatives eventually got what they wanted from Republicans, it came at a great spiritual cost.”

I think this article, which can be read in full with the following link, speaks for itself. To me, simply holding up the former president as a paragon is insulting to the religion and drives people away. To be frank, Schenck’s comments are an indictment of the religious leaders who bought into this as well as the Republican leaders who sold themselves as hired guns.

We need religious leaders not cult leaders

One of my pet peeves is witnessing bigotry from the pulpit. To me, it is one of the more egregious abuses of power, as we look to our ministers to be among our better angels. One thing I have sadly learned over my worship, volunteer and business life is just because one is portrayed as pious, does not mean they are without fault.

To be frank, we need our ministers, rabbis, priests, imams, and other faith leaders to be religious leaders not cult leaders. We need our religious leaders to inspire us, counsel us, and guide us to be on and remain on a good path forward. We do not leaders to tell us who to hate, who to distrust, or who is less deserving of grace, using religious text as a weapon.

Former president Jimmy Carter is arguably one of the best ex-presidents we have ever had. His good works and good deeds around the world have helped eradicate exposure to a parasite in some third world countries, have helped shape peace agreements, and have bolstered Habitat for Humanity as he has been an ambassador for his country and the disenfranchised. He has also written around thirty books and taught Sunday school on a routine basis.

He is the kind of religious leader that we need. He often cites the context of the Christian bible rather pulling excerpts to demonize people with. He notes, taken out of context, almost any religious text can be used to put people down. In his words, that misses the point. He would look to those words in red in the Christian bible that say something like he who is without sin shall cast the first stone.

There is a reason some churches are seeing fall off in membership. Some of it is a self-fulfilling mission – when you teach a message of exclusion, people feel excluded and stay away. Even those who feel included may stay away as they don’t like the exclusive messaging. Religion is at its finest when it includes, but it is at its worst when it excludes.

A religious leader can make that kind of difference.

You have a right to be bigoted, but your right has no standing

Standing.  “Standing is the legal right to initiate a lawsuit. To do so, a person must be sufficiently affected by the matter at hand, and there must be a case or controversy that can be resolved by legal action.”

It has a legal meaning as to whether your opinion against what I do matters in my ability to do it. The Supreme Court ruled that someone marrying a same gender partner or a different race partner has no bearing on what another may like or dislike or believes religiously. And, vice versa.

In other words, you have a right to your opinions, whether they are bigoted or not bigoted, but they have no bearing on me. You have no standing in what I do. Only when my words or actions are harmful to you, do you have standing to bring litigation, provided litigation can solve the rift. So, a gay, lesbian or transgender couple can legally marry, as it has no impact on another person, but if they drove over your mailbox on the way to their honeymoon, then you have an issue.

Within the conservative movement is an unhealthy embrace of diminishing other people’s rights who do not look, vote, worship, love, or present gender-wise within that person’s expectations and preferences. For the most part, they have no standing on the issue, whether their opinions are bigoted or not bigoted. And, from what I have witnessed, standing is some cases is created when it really does not exist.

So, a gay, lesbian or transgender person has the right to be a teacher, minister, work in a day care, etc. The only time standing would exist is if the person was being harmful to kids and others. In its basest terms, a gay minister is fine, but a pedophile minister is not. Standing exists by those harmed on the latter issue, but not the former.

Using examples from the news feeds, the kids sexually assaulted at a football camp sponsored by a Penn State football coach, the female gymnasts sexually assaulted by a Michigan State and Olympics trainer, the wrestlers and football players sexually assaulted by two different team physicians at Ohio State and Michigan, the boy scouts who were sexually assaulted by scout leaders and the women sexually assaulted by Southern Baptist Convention ministers all had standing.

These are the things we must watch out for, someone who is being harmful to another person, not what someone may do in their privacy of their own home or how they look, vote, worship or present. You have no standing there.

Domestic violence has no place in religious worship

The following post was written four years ago. I repeat it as domestic violence continues today, and in some cases, were heightened when we had the pandemic shutdown. In a charitable group I was involved with that helped working homeless families, about 1/3 of our victims lost their home as a result of domestic violence abuse.

I listened to a troubling story on NPR about a female Baptist minister being a domestic violence victim. She gained the support of her father, who is the minister of a church, to seek a divorce from her abusive husband. But, the deacons of her church threatened to expel her if she did not recant the divorce.

I have shared before the story of a friend who went to her minister because her husband was beating her. The minister asked to see them both. To her surprise, the minister told her in front of her abusive husband that it was her fault. If she was a better wife, then she would not be beaten.

Both women found new churches. As a Christian, I am appalled that male religious leaders can justify the abuse of another human being from their scriptures. And, other religious leaders can find similar interpretations from wording in their religious texts. So, domestic violence and even honor killings are more acceptable in some cultures.

My response is quite simple. These are crimes. If a religious leader tells you it is OK that a male parent or husband can beat or assault a woman, find another church or religion. A perceived supreme being worth worshipping would not condone such violence, regardless of what the religious texts might be interpreted to say. Women “hold up half the sky” says the ancient Chinese proverb. And, women were very important in promulgating Christianity after Jesus left earth.

My thesis is straight forward. Religious texts were written, edited, interpreted and translated by imperfect men. Even if the words were divinely inspired, they were not dictated. Men wrote them down. Sometimes, they were written many decades after the event occurred. I mention the word “edited” as some chapters got cut from religious text that governs two religions.

Given the two words “imperfect and men,”  it is my view there is no way every word should be held up as true. In fact, gospel is short for “good news.” The news is the writer’s version of the truth, so each gospel or book will include their version of the story based on their male and human biases. If women penned these texts, they would read differently.

So, domestic violence simply should not be tolerated. It is a crime. If my friend had been later killed had she heeded that minister’s advice, he would be culpable in her murder. Again, let me say this boldly. No religious leader should condone domestic violence. He is abetting a criminal act. If yours does, please find another place of worship.

In my worship and charity work, I have met some wonderful religious leaders of many faiths. But, I have also met some whose imperfections are more apparent. Find a religious leader that respects you as a person. They are out there.

Finally, if you, a friend or a relative are in a domestic violence situation, get out. He will not change. I will leave you with a true story told by a friend about his sister. His family of eight brothers and sisters had no idea one of their sisters was being beaten by her husband. She made excuses for missing family events when she could not hide her cuts and bruises. The husband also beat the kids, sometimes picking them up and driving their heads into the ceiling. The brothers and sisters did not know until their brother-in-law killed their sister.

Get out. He will not change. He will beat you. He will then apologize. And, then he will repeat the cycle.

Two Proverbs I find of interest – a reprise

The following is a reprise of an earlier post. The gist is in bold. Please know as I mention below, all religious text is imperfect and biased as the passages were written and edited almost entirely by imperfect men.

A definition of a proverb that I find most telling is “a simple and concrete saying.” If we could be so communicative every day on matters of import, what a more wonderful place it would be. While we have English, Chinese, Hindu, Italian, Greek, American et al proverbs, I wanted to pull a couple from Proverbs in the Christian bible that resonate with me.

From Proverbs 1:7 – “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”

I have often said that God gave us a brain, which in and of itself is a miracle. To not use it, would be a waste of a glorious resource and would dishonor Him. King Solomon, who is known for his wisdom, uttered the quoted proverb above. He said “fools despise wisdom and instruction.” People pray for a miracle, but often they have the ability to take steps to solve their own problems, if they thought about it more. In fact, I would suggest we pray that God give me the wisdom to determine for myself what needs to be done. And, if I cannot do so myself, I should pray for wisdom to find good help.

Some religions do not want to use current doctors or medicines to cure their family members. To my way of thinking, this is an insult to God and even arrogant, as the miracle you are praying for to cure your loved one may be the one standing in front of you wearing the doctor’s clothes and holding the iPad. I am truly saddened when I see a young person die because they are denied help based on a religious belief. Modern medicine is a miracle and we should use it judiciously at the hands of a capable doctor.

From Proverbs 8:11 – “For wisdom is better than rubies, and all things one may desire, cannot be compared with her.”

I like this quote as well, as God is instructing us to value wisdom more than personal possessions. He is encouraging us to become learned and cherish our wisdom. Coupling these two quotes together to me says, continue to seek instruction to gain wisdom and value it once obtained. I mention this, as in our country, we have an ultra-conservative group of people who are not valuing science like they should. The reason is it is conflict with our limited understanding of what the bible is telling us. When data flies directly in the face of what the bible is telling us, it does not mean the science is wrong, it means when the bible was written by men, they did not have the advanced knowledge of science we have today. In the Jewish faith, one of the reasons shellfish and pork are unclean as people were dying from the spoiled or bacteria infested meat for medical reasons, not biblical ones.

My point is we should not substitute what exists in the bible for science, no more than we should substitute science for a person’s faith. We believe because we do. I personally recognize a number of inconsistencies, but I also hold true to the good that is represented in the bible. But, before people jump all over me about the bible being a strict interpretation of God’s word and will, I would ask a simple question – have you really read all of the bible? Including the parts the ministers don’t talk much about that show a fearsome God.

There is an old saying “if you want to create an Atheist, have them read the bible.” There was actually a study done a couple of years ago by Pew Research; the conclusion is Atheists know the bible better than Christians do. If someone wants to read the bible, I would suggest they start with the New Testament and add in a little Proverbs and Psalms. Reading it start to finish will not be as comforting.

With that said, I would add that Atheists also know the bible differently. There are many things therein which are more parable than fact. Jesus often taught us using parables and often used agrarian ones because of his audience. Further, the bible was written, edited, translated and rewritten several times by men, who even if divinely inspired, were imperfect and who wrote in different languages and long after certain events happened. The gospels were written between 30 and 75 years after Jesus walked the earth. They were also men, so their biases are reflected therein. There are many good teachings in the bible, just as there are a few things that are not as applicable anymore and some which should be set aside.

God gave us a wonderful brain and we should use it to the best of our abilities. He did so as He wants us to think for ourselves. We have done and can do so many wonderful things to help people and advance our lives. Let’s pray we use our wisdom for the greater good. And, let’s treat others like we want to be treated.

That is what I believe. I would welcome your thoughts and impressions.