Tonight was one of those moments in life when existence takes on new meaning. We labor under daily drudgery, shattered dreams, and worldly turmoil. The moments which rekindle the fires that make life exciting and meaningful are to be cherished, embraced and remembered for future reference.
Tonight I participated in a prayer vigil for the Orlando victims, the 49 beautiful people who were gunned down while celebrating life and youth in a place which they considered to be a safe haven for the LGBT community. They gathered at Pulse to dance, sing, and party with peers who came from all walks of life, all professions, all creeds. They were murdered by a disturbed man who allegedly shared their passion but could not reconcile his religious tradition to their lifestyle.
America’s response has been predictable. There has been a great outpouring of sympathy and love for the friends, families and loved ones of the victims. God bless America. There has also been a response from radical Christian and Muslim sects cheering the deaths as the direct intervention of a vengeful God pouring his full wrath upon a sinful nation. And then there was Trump polarizing America, inciting even deeper Islamophobia among the voters.
But, tonight was a very personal directive in my life. Those 49 victims will not have died in vain as long as I have breath in my body. You see, almost 100 like-minded people were at that vigil. 100 people pledged to live life offering love, peace, honor, and respect to all races, all creeds, all ethnicities, all religions, and all sexual orientations. It’s not too late; we can save mankind from self-destruction and I will be an instrument of that saving peace. That is my personal promise to those who died too young in Orlando. They have not died in vain. They have inspired ordinary people at my vigil here in Smalltown, USA and vigils worldwide to stand up to the hate-mongers and the hatred they intend to spread. Our loving God of peace will prevail. Amen.
John Lennon was an English musician who gained worldwide fame as one of the members of the Beatles, for his subsequent solo career, and for his political activism and pacifism. On 8 December 1980, Lennon was shot by Mark David Chapman in the archway of his residence in New York City.
excerpts from Martin Luther King speech, August 28, 1963, steps of Lincoln Memorial
“I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’
This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning, ‘My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.’
And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!’
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.”Isaiah 40:3-5 New International Version (NIV)
Many years ago I found myself at a crossroads in my spiritual life. Having been sober for several years I began searching for an extension of the entity I called HP. Believing that sobriety had cleared my mind sufficiently to venture into the world of theology, I found what I believed to be a true path to a better understanding of God. Sincerity and fervor was not an issue; I wanted to be one of those ‘normal’ people who worshipped in churches.
A local community church promised to be the answer to my searching; it offered to me the ‘black and white’ of every issue which life raised; there were no gray areas. Promoting itself as inerrant, literal and true to the Word of God, this fellowship of Godly believers covered me with their version of righteousness.
Unfortunately, it did not accept the recovery program of AA as Biblical and I was encouraged to abandon the AA fellowship. They told me the AA program was an unacceptable theology for a true believer. In retrospect I know today that it was only by the grace of God that I continued to stay sober while worshipping in their version of godliness.
The dilemma of breaking away from AA and then leaving the church was not part of the sobriety script. It left me with a foot in both doors; neither fellowship fulfilled my need to fellowship or worship. I learned from this experience that theology, religion, and spirituality are not interchangeable words.
Theology is knowing about God or a God-belief system; religion is a personal walk with God; spirituality is the inner change as a result of that walk. Thirty years after that near fatal encounter with the inerrant literalists I joyously practice religion, graciously accept spiritual blessings, and warily keep an eye on theologians.
This evolution leads to the gist of my post: gaining knowledge about varying theologies is important to discernment, practicing religion is soul food, cherishing spiritual gifts from differing sources honors God’s inherent intelligence.
My self-identity as a Jesus follower does not ascribe me to any particular faith or theology. This journey I am undertaking has led me to revere and trust the historical Jesus as presented by numerous non-religious sources as well as the writings of early Jesus followers. It is my personal belief that when Rome established Christianity as its state religion, theology overshadowed religion and spirituality; thus resulting in the loss of the true message of Jesus Christ and the 1st century disciples.
My quest for spiritual sanity demands that I learn about other faiths and their messengers who have presented the truth of God to an unbelieving world; the God of my understanding, my HP, is universal and omnipotent using differing avenues to approach the unbelieving world.
“In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.”
John 14:2 kjv
The author is not speaking in terms of the physical world, rather in the spiritual realm which in essence is what all scriptures are about. It is the spiritual manifestation of our desire for God. This verse speaks to me very clearly that my HP has room for differing religious persuasions, that there are many differing relationships with the Supreme Being.
“He marches to the beat of a different drummer.”
“Different strokes for different folks.”
We are a world of variety in life styles, persuasions and philosophies. What works for you may be anathema for me and your choice of music could drive me whacko. I love John Philip Sousa, Bach, and John Lennon and I have no idea what hip-hop is.
How often have you heard the above quotes used to describe someone who is not like we are? How do you react? Do you avoid, sneer, snicker, taunt, bully? Or do you love and embrace the differences? If we follow the entity which is the Higher Power in our lives, the path is clear to us. Bill W. exhorts tolerance in our AA literature. It is clearly stated in the sacred writings of all major religions and specifically cited as the greatest of commandments, after loving your God, repeatedly in New Testament writings of the Bible.
We have the instructions, the commandments, and the strength of Godly fellowships to guide us in our relationships with the rest of humanity which will lead to civility, tolerance, peace, and shalom (wholeness & completeness).
So, where have we gone wrong? Why are war, brutality, murders, suicide bombings, and genocide filling the screens we view every day? What we have is a far cry from what our world should be.
“The sky is blue.”
“No, stupid, the sky is green.”
Therein lies the problem. My truth may not be the same as your truth. I have been raised to equate the sky as blue. But, you may have been told that the color I see as blue is green to you. Or you could be color blind. Or one of us may have a need to be contrary.
Whatever the reason for disagreeing, it is evident that our truths are not the same even though we both call it truth. When we apply this to our religious philosophies, each of us certain that our truth is absolute and every other conviction is in error, we have created a breeding ground for hatred and discontent.
Jesus said, “I am the Way: the truth and the life.”
Obviously, a great number of his contemporaries disagreed. It got him crucified. Maybe he was the truth, maybe he and his followers of the Way had the answers. But others, Jews and Romans, held to a differing truth and had no qualms about pressing their version.
So, how can I honor my truth and yet respect and uphold the faiths of Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists who sincerely believe they have the way? Answers were much easier and forthright in a previous church affiliation I experienced many years ago. Everything was in black or white, all answers were concrete, and everyone outside our church was damned…..or at least unblessed.
And there is my answer. I know from that church affiliation what the truth is not. It is not narrow. It is not exclusive. It is not bitter. It is not vindictive. It is not vengeful. It is not proud. It is not arrogant.
Truth is love. Love is truth. Jesus is both. And that, short and simple, is the entirety of my religion.
1 Corinthians 13:4-8 tells me everything I need to know about religion, about faith, about conviction, and yes, about truth.
4″ Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails……”