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🙏

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

 

 

IT’S A GREAT DAY! – poverty

“Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural.  It is man made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings.”  NELSON MANDELA

“Live simply so that others may simply live.” GANDHI

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Some of you are saying, “Larry, what does poverty have to do with a great day?”

Did you wake up from a peaceful sleep in a warm, comfortable bed?  Do you have a roof over your head?  Have you done your gratitude list for this day?  Did you eat a hearty breakfast? Will you probably live this day without threat of gun violence or persecution for your belief system?

Congratulations!  Your day has the promise of being a GREAT DAY.  A majority of the world’s population does not have that promise.  But, many of those people go out and make it a fantastic day regardless of circumstances.  That’s the miracle of our species – we are survivors who have an innate desire to thrive.

Does your need to thrive ride on the backs of the less fortunate?  Does mine?  When was the last time we chose to contribute to our local homeless shelter in lieu of a new addition to our designer clothes or, perhaps, buy that man standing on the corner with a cardboard sign a lunch at Burger King rather than a steak for our dinner tonight?  When did we last decide to live more simply so that others in our world would have a dish of rice to eat or a cup of clean water to drink?  When?

My friend, it is absolutely a great day because we have so many choices in front of us.  We can choose what we will eat rather than if we can afford to eat.  We can choose which chair or sofa we will rest upon rather than which overpass we will seek for shelter.  We can choose to tidy up our living room rather than rearrange our boxes and tarp.  Do we understand that much of the world does not have adequate food, shelter or water and our Western culture of greed and consumption has contributed to that shortage?

Along with substantial blessing comes substantial responsibility.  You and I ARE our brothers’ keepers.  That is not a suggestion; it is a mandate dictated by all the world’s major religions and belief systems.  Hug our loved ones this morning, appreciate all that has been given to us, and then contemplate how we can live more simply and help eradicate poverty.

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soul’s foundation

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 overflows.

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  • A trust in inner coherence itself.  “It all means something.” (Faith)
  • A trust that this coherence is positive and going somewhere good. (Hope)
  • A trust that this coherence includes me and even defines me.  (Love)

Fr. Richard Rohr at cac.org names faith, hope, and love as the soul’s foundation.  The author of 1 Corinthians 13:13 agrees.

“Three things will last forever – faith, hope, and love – and the greatest of these is love.”  NLT

Think about it.  Every human being who ever has been, is now, or ever will be, receives equal and inherent dignity as children of God.  We, all of us, have been created in the image of God.  Jew, Gentile, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, believer and non-believer, white, black, brown, purple, straight, gay, male and female, none of the above, etcetera, the ancient wisdom of Jewish scripture (Genesis 1:26-27) tells us this is truth. That is our starting point, but, unfortunately, the human condition questions, disputes, and regresses to a state of prejudice in which the powerless and disadvantaged lose out.  Even the forefathers, hallowed for the United States Declaration of Independence, when they famously declared “all men are created equal”, they actually meant all who are white, property-owning males.

Not much inherent dignity there, but at least it was a new direction in governing.  It became ‘WE, THE PEOPLE’.  That’s what Jesus’ ministry to the downtrodden, oppressed Jewish nation was all about.  Do you really think he was planning to start a brand new religion or that, as many Jews were hoping, he was planning to usurp power from the Roman governors?  No, Jesus understood that he too had inherent dignity as a child of God and that his purpose on earth was to lead others to also believe.  He and his disciples, calling themselves ‘the Way’, ministered to the poor, the sick, the dying, the oppressed with a message that they too were worthy of a seat at the table.  They too were children of God blessed with dignity and worth.

Although the religion which names itself after Christ has missed the mark of the message of Jesus in so many ways throughout history, it does acknowledge that faith, hope, and love (sometimes called charity) are mainstays of a Christ-centered faith.  In the times of today, when not much of anything makes sense and I know the world is irrational, the rock of my spiritual foundation needs to be solid and unwavering.  It cannot be built on man-created theology or a litany of ‘thou shalt and thou shalt not’.  It must be an indwelling sense that has deep personal meaning, that gives me a positive path to follow, that tells me I am worthy of His love.  Jesus is my rock, can be yours too.  Has nothing to do with religion or church or theological correctness.  It’s all about my soul and yours, nurturing that inner sanctum, and claiming our rightful heritage as children of a merciful, loving God.  AMEN?

“The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”  Psalm 18:2

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just as I am

 

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A beggar and wanderer in life’s trek reaching beyond the horizon’s mysteries.  Take me, consume me, I no longer fear your infinite wisdom.

As a young man I was indoctrinated into the belief that Christianity alone held the answers to the mysteries of life and the hereafter.  I did not see it as a nefarious attempt to control my thinking nor kidnap my soul.  It was merely the traditional theology handed down generation after generation from father to son, mother to daughter because they truly believed this was the only path to goodness and eternal life.  My first taste of religious intolerance occurred within my closely knit community, when an upstanding Catholic parent thought he was worthy of a seat on the school board, but was met with vehement opposition from the “true” Christian community fathers.  I became familiar with the words, “We love you as Christians, but you don’t qualify”.

That screaming “but you don’t qualify” became the signature arguing point in my withdrawal and subsequent denial of anything religious.  Unfortunately, it also enabled the demon of alcoholism to replace all that had been taught to me as a young lad.  I recognize today, as a sober man, that not everything of those early learning years was errant and repressive.  When reading familiar scriptures, I can now agree and reflect on the truth contained in many of those verses.  But I also recognize that the tradition of my Christ-centered faith is not exclusive.  It is not the only way.  AA’s concept of a “God of my understanding” led me to find sober salvation along with millions of others who could not swallow a narrow, wrathful and vengeful entity sitting upon his throne breathing fire and damnation.

Today I hold to the thought that a truly loving and compassionate God does not have the capacity to hate or deny God’s love based on man’s theological interpretation.  Period.  God is love, love is God.  It is impossible for God to not love. That is cemented by none other than Jesus, the Christ.

If therefore the Son shall set you free, you shall be free indeed.”  John 8:36

Believing in Jesus, not as the man nor as the divinity, but as the way to a lifestyle free of “thou shalt” and “thou shalt not”, as a path to unconditional acceptance and compassion for all of God’s humanity regardless of race, creed, sexuality or ethnicity – that is the freedom expressed by every one of the world’s major religions and especially in John 8:36.  I can realize a life which is  no longer bound by the shackles of judgement or hatred or intolerance.  Free indeed!

Bottom line for me is that this freedom is a choice I make every day.  Do I bow to the God of my understanding or do I submit unquestioningly to the God of my tradition?  Ironically, they are the same God, but do I follow the narrow interpretations of theologians or do I live my life according to a God understood by me?  Today I know that God is God is God, the One and the same universal entity referenced by Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, and Christianity, but never intending to be exclusive to any one faith walk.  Man has encouraged that exclusivity.  Man has kidnapped, pigeon-holed, and taught lies about God which are contrary to the core tenet of each of the 5 great traditions.

In Exodus 3:14, the writer reports that when Moses asked, “Whom shall I tell the people you are,” the vision he was seeing replied, “I am that I AM.”

I AM is the same supernatural power which mankind from the beginning of time has searched within himself for the answers to these questions: 1)who am I?  2)why am I here?  3)what am I supposed to do here?  The cave man in his natural questioning painted pictures on the cave walls to express his connection to nature, the world’s first mystics knew they were one with the universal power to which they chanted, the shepherd boys in the hills marveled at the star-lit night ushering  the arrival of a new messenger to show THE WAY to a lost tribe.   I AM has always been with us and in us throughout eternity.  I AM does not belong to any man’s theology or doctrine.  I AM cannot be humanly defined, cannot be humanly described.  I AM simply is.

“Just as the same lump of clay can take on infinite form and remain itself unchanged, so God takes on infinite form while never being other than God.” – Rami Shapiro, Perennial Wisdom for the Spiritually Independent: Sacred Teachings—Annotated & Explained (Skylight Paths Publishing: 2013), 66.

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A beggar and wanderer in life’s trek reaching beyond the horizon’s mysteries.  Take me, consume me, I no longer fear your infinite wisdom.

Life can be a blessing wandering through the mysteries of the universe as a beggar hungering for truth.  Or life can be a daily disappointment filled with the sufferings of dissatisfaction because the simplicity offered freely is unappreciated while the worldly desires unmet are futilely sought with gold and silver.  It’s my choice – yours too.

So, wherein is wisdom, the nugget of truth?  Is it with the one who merely endures each day of his life because he is counting with dread the moments until the death transition, the end of physical existence, the decay of body?  Or is it in the one who embraces each new day of his life with excitement and anticipation because he sees beyond the horizon to the other side where infinite wisdom dwells aside love and peace?

I don’t know.  I am nothing more than a traveler, a messenger for a greater truth which I do not completely understand nor am able to humanly define, yet know it exists.   But, as a beggar and wanderer of this universe, I know nothing will be lacking when nothing is desired.  Death and suffering will have been defeated.

“You were born with wings, why prefer to crawl through life?” Rumi