separation of church and state

Living as a Democrat in rural, Republican Florida challenges one’s sense of inclusiveness and social propriety.  A recent controversy in local politics regarding funding our library’s request to make the New York Times available online to library cardholders is a case in point. My friend at BY HOOK OR BY BOOK has shared a great post regarding this issue.  It is indicative of a population which refuses to leave the 1950s.

On Florida’s horizon is a bill filed by a State Senator which would require courses be made available in our public schools at taxpayers’ expense providing studies of the Bible.  The following is the letter which I have submitted to our local newspaper.

State Senator Dennis Baxley, a Republican representing the Ocala region, has filed SB 746 to be considered during the 2020 legislative session. The bill would require courses providing studies of the Bible’s Old and New Testaments in public schools. According to the sponsors of the bill, “all state and federal laws and guidelines maintaining religious neutrality” would be maintained.

One can easily favor this endeavor to educate students regarding religious doctrine because the writers of SB 746 guarantee that such studies would not “endorse, favor, or promote or disfavor or show hostility toward a particular religion, religious perspective, or nonreligious faith.”

Certainly it would be educational and advantageous for students to learn about man’s trek across the numerous religious philosophies created throughout history by holy men, theologians and scholars to instruct, comfort and control the masses. However, knowing the history of our state’s policy-makers, can we be assured that their explicit guarantee of neutrality will be followed? It sounds reassuring today, but, what will our teachers, students, and public schools face 5 or 10 years from now? Would it not be wiser to focus this Christian educational effort in the hands of the experts in religious education – our county’s esteemed parochial schools where children are educated in an atmosphere conducive to their family’s beliefs?

Of course, should these religious studies include all the major faiths of our world including Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam among others worthy of study, then, perhaps this bill could provide a well-rounded education to young people regarding various man-created philosophies of religious belief.

The key word in SB 746 is public – public education system. It is our duty to oversee and maintain this public system serving the diversity of religions, races, creeds, and lifestyles which make us a strong melting-pot nation. E Pluribus Unum, on the Great Seal of the United States, was a motto included on the seal in 1782. It means “out of many, one.” That is who we are. We are one people, one nation worshipping or not worshipping as conscience dictates. We are church people and synagogue people and mosque people and temple people. I applaud our legislators’ work to introduce religious studies into our public schools, but let’s include all faiths as worthy of study, not just Christianity and Judaism. I would enjoy a course in Buddhism, my neighbor favors Islam. Red-blooded American citizens, we are E PLURIBUS UNUM.

we are One

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So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.  GENESIS 1: 27

Millions of Christians are obviously dyslexic.  That verse does not say that man created God in man’s image.  OUCH!  Have I deflated any egos, yet?  If not, keep reading.

In Western culture, many of those who profess a God, especially those of Christian persuasion (and I honor 🙏 any who do not profess), conduct lives led by ego and personal advancement.  Individualism is lauded, winning at all costs is admired, the boys with the most toys win.  The comparison game runs rampant, many egos are shattered upon realizing they don’t measure up to that which is considered success and prosperity.  I know what I speak of because, yes, I have been there and done that.  I can still go there today if I am not mindful of the fact that I am created in the image of God, I also am Spirit.  Let that sink in.  You, me, all of humanity and all of Creation are made in the image of God, the permeating life energy which is our reality.

We are primarily spirit and our physical existence on this earth should not be what defines us.  This body, this life we have created embracing materialism, this set of prejudices we harbor, this ego we strive to protect is not reality.  The spiritual persona, which is exactly what God was, is, and always will be, is most often reserved for Sunday morning church and Easter time reflection, yet it should be the everyday, 24 hour a day endeavor to align with what we know to be truth – the Life proclaimed by Jesus of Nazareth or the Path advised by Buddha.

In Hindu teachings it is enlightenment, Christianity calls it salvation, Buddhism names it the end of suffering (dukkha).  It is the surrender of egoic and self-serving lifestyle to a transformative and liberating awakening.  It is when Yahweh, Allah, Vishnu, Shiva, Nirvana, Buddhahood and God, in whose image we are made, becomes reality and this earthly life is known to be illusion.

A deflated ego is a good thing.  It removes any need to attain material wealth, to strive for social status, to always be right in religion and politics, to proclaim my God better than yours, to be judgmental, to fear and hate, to be anxious about tomorrow.  A deflated ego ushers in enlightenment, salvation and the end of suffering.  Namaste. 🙏

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NAMASTE – is it really so difficult?

“The crises we find ourselves in as a species require that as a species we shake up all our institutions—including our religious ones—and reinvent them. Change is necessary for our survival, and we often turn to the mystics at critical times like this. Jung said: “Only the mystics bring creativity into religion.” [1] Jesus was a richard rohrmystic shaking up his religion and the Roman empire; Buddha was a mystic who shook up the prevailing Hinduism of his day; Gandhi was a mystic shaking up Hinduism and challenging the British Empire; and Martin Luther King, Jr. shook up his tradition and America’s segregationist society. The mystics walk their talk and talk (often in memorable poetic phraseology) their walk.” MATTHEW FOX  cac.org – Richard Rohr 

Do I do that – walk the talk and talk the walk?  How about you?  Those of you who have read my ramblings over the past few years probably realize I have a serious issue with religion and religionists.  Many of them talk a great spiel from the pulpit and the pews of their churches, but then don’t walk it in their lives or in their behaviors.  That is not real; it is not empowering.  If not embraced in lifestyle this pretty rhetoric becomes just more trash on the pile of religious deceit.  Preachers are guilty, parishioners are guilty, black and white are equally guilty, politicians are guilty.  Me too.  I do not always walk the talk.

But I highly esteem those mystics who have.  The four named in the introductory quote are just a few of the many men and women who discovered their inner truth and then lived lives accordingly.  Buddha was human, Jesus was human, Gandhi was human, and Martin Luther King was human, all acclaimed mystics were humans who acknowledged the Divine center of their beings as the most consequential and significant reason to talk the walk and walk the talk.

Our world is racing to the annihilation of the human species.  Accompanied by rabid politics, fear-mongering politicians, greedy capitalism and heretical religions, the voices of those who pursue social justice, peace, and inner searching seem lost in the insanity.  That which could turn the tide and redeem civilization from a sure demise is often obscured by conversations of victory at any cost rather than sensible compromise embracing the rights of all mankind and all earth’s natural resources.

We must come to realize and surrender to the premise that this planet is not a hodgepodge of several billion humans intent on survival as individuals, but rather, an ecosystem which includes all mankind, all animals, all plant life, all resources interdependent on one another and living together as one cohesive environment.

Learning to love ourselves and others begins from a place of reverence for all of life.  This reverence flows forward in the Buddhist greeting, “Namaste”, I honor the divine in you.  Not only other brothers and sisters on this earth, but every part of creation should be viewed and greeted with namaste.

“Honor the sacred.
Honor the Earth, our Mother.
Honor the Elders.
Honor all with whom we share the Earth.
Four-leggeds, winged ones,
Swimmers, crawlers, plant and rock people.
Walk in balance and beauty.” 

(Native American prayer for the earth)

 

 

be still and know

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Just another traveler on life’s highway hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet.  It’s peaceful.  Beyond the horizon is rest calling my name.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup is overflowing.

Be persistent in asking.  When in that quiet inner space, don’t be timid with requests.  The answer will always be ‘yes, no, or not now’.  But, whatever the answer may be, be assured that our internal GPS has got us covered and will bring us safely to the next plateau of life – if we heed our inner voice.  Very simple, degree in rocket science not required to know what our conscience tells us in those quiet moments.  The secret, if there is any secret, is to slow down, be silent, still the wandering mind, and listen.  Ask for guidance and it will be given.  Be still and know.

Seek joy and happiness relentlessly.  Life around us changes with every passing moment.  We must also adjust.  Our central core of understanding has an amazing capacity to adjust.  What was yesterday’s ‘golden oldie’ is today’s old fogey flashback.  When we hang on to the ‘way things used to be’ we are stifling what needs to happen now in our continuing growth.  Doesn’t mean we should give up values, the moral compass which has been a lifetime beacon; rather, it means evolving those values to make sense in today’s crazy world.

Centuries ago when one element of society disagreed with the beliefs and actions of another, it could find a new, uncharted continent to settle and follow its philosophy.  Vacant, unexplored land has disappeared and it has become a matter of species survival to learn co-existence with a variety of races, creeds, and religions.

Namaste🙏

do not fear

Fearlessly walk through valleys of darkness.

black-and-white-black-and-white-boy-1299417FEARLESSNESS – pursuing the chosen path which is personal truth, standing steadfast when ridicule and contempt attack from the hidden hills, allowing peace and contentment to reign in nights of loneliness and despair – friends, that is fearlessness.  Just as personal truths, chosen paths are unique. Rejoice in this blessing.  Namaste 🙏backlit-clouds-dawn-415380

 

what if ?

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Do you ever play the ‘what if ‘game?  It’s akin to the ‘should have’, ‘would have’ and ‘ought to’ conversations we have with ourselves occasionally.  I don’t know about you, but I never seem to win that game.  It’s primary facilitator is monkey mind.  What?  you don’t know what monkey mind is.  Oh Lord, we need to have a talk.

Monkey mind is the incessant internal chatter happening within the space between the ears.  Can’t turn it off, can’t shut it out, can’t override it.  On and on and on go the thoughts passing through the gray matter occupying the skull.  It is fertile ground for the game of what if.  

What if I had married my high school sweetheart?  What if I had planned my future as a young man rather than float through the 60s and 70s as a wannabe hippie?  What if my parents had tried harder to work out their religious differences instead of divorcing?  Yeah, what if?

I’ve become rather good at ignoring monkey mind allowing it to scream its mindless chatter into the ozone.  But, sometimes, even 70 years after the fact, I scream back, “what the hell was so damned important about their religious beliefs to let me grow up without a daddy?  Tell me, what?”

Funny thing about monkey mind – it’s not very conversational, just wants to rattle on with politics, worries, money problems, relationships, what old lady Jones fussed about yesterday, nursing homes, arthritis, dementia, the sorry state of the union, the price of lettuce, Susie’s boy friend, the cat’s dirty ears, floors need to be mopped – on and on and on.  But, after having its way for a while, the noise stops and serenity settles in for a visit.

And all is cool until the JWs knock on the front door, “Do you know where you are going when you die?”

“Hell yes,” I respond in my Donald Duck underwear and fluffies, “I’m going down to undertaker Bob’s place to have a nip and tuck and a transfusion of embalming fluid.  Now get off my porch and take your tracts with you.”

Have you guessed by now that I have a hair up my butt about organized religion?  When other neighborhood boys were playing pitch with their daddies, I was cooking supper for me and mom because she had to work.  When other boys took their daddies fishing, I had to go grocery shopping with mom.  When other boys sat beside their daddies in church, I sat beside my mom praying for a daddy like theirs. C’mon, take your best shot.  Tell me again what is so damned important about religion that mom and dad had to divorce because they couldn’t agree about Jesus.

You don’t have an answer either, do you?  Maybe they both got wrapped up in a lot of fahooey about ‘proper’ Christian behavior.  Maybe they listened to parents and pastors instead of their loving hearts.  Maybe they listened to theatrics and drama from the pulpit rather than humility and compassion.  My time on this earth has shown me that there are innumerable examples of what organized religion gone astray can inflict on the devoted masses.

Extortion, persecution, subjugation, enslavement, murder, genocide – all in the name of God.  Not just Christian, but Judaic, and Muslim, too.  Maybe I’ve got this God-Jesus thing all wrong.  What if God is judgmental, wrathful and vengeful condoning murder and intolerance of the infidels?  What if Christianity is the only truth amidst all the world’s faith creeds?  What if?  What if?  What if?  Aw hell, there goes monkey mind again running the conversation.

I don’t know if Shakespeare was a man of faith or not.  But I do believe he nailed it with his line from Hamlet:  “This above all:  to thine own self be true.  And it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.”

Do I know my own self?  Do you?  We came equipped from the factory with reason and logic.  We have a conscience that guides and speaks to us in those questioning moments.  We profess an indwelling spirit.  Maybe that is all we need to navigate this life in search of enlightenment.  Evolving to the higher self intended for us does not need to be rocket science nor religious indoctrination.  Shalom.

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us versus them…really?

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Just another traveler on life’s highway hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet.  It’s peaceful.  Beyond the horizon is rest calling my name.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup is overflowing.

Be persistent in asking.  When in that quiet inner space, don’t be timid with requests.  The answer will always be “yes, no, or not now”.  But, whatever the answer may be, rest assured that our internal GPS has got us covered and will bring us safely to the next plateau of life when heeding that inner voice.  Very simple.  A degree in spirituality is not required to know what the conscience speaks in those quiet moments.  The secret, if there is any secret, is to slow down, be quiet, silence the wandering mind, and listen.  Ask for guidance and it will be given.

Seek joy and peace relentlessly.  Life changes with every passing moment.  We must also adjust.  Our central core of understanding has an amazing capacity to adjust.  What was yesterday’s hot flash is today’s old fogey flashback.  When hanging on to the ‘way things used to be’ we are stifling what needs to happen now for continuing growth.  Doesn’t mean giving up values or the moral compass which has been a lifetime beacon; rather, it means evolving those values to make them workable in today’s crazy world.

Only a few centuries ago when one element of society disagreed with the beliefs and actions of another, it could find new, uncharted lands to settle and follow its philosophy in peaceful bliss.  Unfortunately, vacant, unexplored land has disappeared and thus it has become essential to the survival of our species to practice co-existence with next door neighbors who look, talk, behave and worship differently.

Perhaps the common denominator is that the vast majority of the world’s population wants to live peaceably, support families, have a comfortable standard of living, practice a chosen faith walk (or absence of faith walk), and leave this world a better place then when arriving.  The violence advocated by an extremely small, but vocal, percentage of extreme religious adherents has, unfortunately, grabbed today’s headlines.  Each brand of religion is guilty.  Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu each have an element devoted to hateful rhetoric and unenlightened teaching.

Demonizing an entire faith for the actions of a few of its adherents is not evolving to a plateau of world brotherhood necessary to co-exist.  Rather than name-calling, fear-mongering, and instilling lies about those outside our tribe, what would happen if we allowed ourselves to recognize the divinity in all mankind?  Loving another’s divine nature regardless of religious tradition does not diminish our own spiritual walk.  It can only enhance the God connection.

Lead me by example and not by edict.  A primary principle of Alcoholics Anonymous is ‘attraction rather than promotion’.  Show me your wisdom instead of forcing it upon me.  St. Francis of Assisi prayed, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.”

Let’s try to be instruments of peace.  It could be the only chance for the human species to see a 22nd century.

speaking truthNAMASTE

 

 

the arrogant Christian

ARROGANCE – conceit, haughtiness, egotism, superiority, pride, overconfidence, superciliousness, self-importance, condescension

HUMILITY – the cure for arrogance

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Which will it be?  Which am I?  Arrogant or humble in my faith walk?  How about you?

Here’s the quiz:

  1. Do I pridefully share my unsolicited testimony with strangers?
  2. Do I believe my concept of God is the only valid belief and that only those like me are ‘saved’?
  3. Do I deride other religions?
  4. Do I believe only those who profess the New Testament ‘road to salvation’ will know an eternity?
  5. Do I believe Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindi, even Christian sects other than mine are ‘lost’ and will burn in hell?
  6. Do I believe it is my duty to defend the God which I understand even to the point of warfare and murder?
  7. Do I believe it is righteous to murder those providing abortion or those receiving abortion knowing by heart the 10 Commandments and “thou shalt not kill”?
  8. Do I believe my government ought to be governed by Christian principles?
  9. Do I believe the Judeo-Christian scriptures are infallible and inerrant?
  10. Do I interpret every verse and passage of those scriptures literally?
  11. Do I believe non-believers deserve my scorn and derision?
  12. Would I help a destitute refugee of another creed, faith, or race?

LASTLY

Would I recognize Jesus, the Christ, if He were standing in front of me in the guise of  a starving child from Yemen, a 14 year-old Honduran girl pregnant by rape, a young family fleeing persecution in Syria, a ghetto black man from Chicago addicted to drugs, a homeless woman living in the nearby woods?

Would I?  Would you?  The Christian world celebrates the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth this week.  What’s hanging on my personal cross, on yours?  Arrogance, maybe?  Will we resurrect into the man or woman whom the universal God of all mankind designed us to be?

(There is only one correct answer to the questions in the above quiz – humility)

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ecological refugees

“We are at war with ourselves. We have put our faith in the mythical god of progress and are seeing the consequences. Millions of ecological refugees wander the earth, seeking an environment capable of sustaining their lives. . . . Did God have this kind of progress in mind?”

-Louis Vitale, OFM, Love is what Matters

My dedication to a simple lifestyle was not a choice I made altruistically.  No, it was forced medicine for a chronic financial malady.  But, it opened my eyes to an alternative world where the Joneses do not matter, accumulation of stuff is not a priority, big boy toys are unimportant and money is a resource to be respected and used wisely.

Yes, by Western standards, I am the poorest man I know, but I am extraordinarily blessed with every one of my needs filled.  It took severe financial reversals at age 60 to teach me life’s true priorities.  It is not about the stuff we gather unto ourselves, nor the clothes we wear, nor the degree behind our names, nor the shiny new BMW we drive, nor the universities our kids attend, nor the upscale church we attend, nor the country club memberships.

Real blessings have no price tag nor can they be bought.  You and I awakened this morning breathing air and pumping blood.  Of all the people on earth we probably have the most reasonable chance of surviving for the next 24 hours without fear of being murdered or maimed.  If we are hungry, someone nearby will feed us.  If we are cold, someone will provide us a blanket and a breakfast.  When we are lonely, a friendly ear is just minutes away.  With raised arms to the heavens let us be grateful!  Most of the world’s population does not have what you and I have at this very moment.

For meditation today, consider those who have lost all possessions and their homes to natural disasters.  Floods, fires, hurricanes and tornadoes devastate without discrimination.  Droughts are causing famines, changing weather patterns are creating wastelands out of productive lands.  The vagaries of nature combined with the unbridled greed of Western society have set the stage for a deluge of ecological refugees.

Man, in his quest for material wealth, social status, and personal comfort, seems to have forgotten that all of us need this earth to survive, all of us need to share the resources.  There are no shortages if we learn to compromise and share.  We do not live in a world of scarcity; rather, we live in a world of plenty designed by nature to accommodate its people if they learn to share the bounty.  No one blessed with material wealth and financial success is more privileged or more deserving than another of the world’s brothers/sisters struggling to survive as refugees, either ecological or political.  We ARE our brothers’ keepers; we cannot allow political or social influence to refute ancient wisdom.

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