Author Archives: Beyond The Letter
Here’s a video about being still. The place is one of my favorite spots at the North Carolina Art Museum. When I run out to the museum, I like to stop and spend a few moments in this quiet, calming courtyard of water.
Centering ourselves; being calm while the storm rages. It is good finding time and space to “unplug” in today’s super-hyper 24/7 world. Put down the mobile phone occasionally and discover the real world that is closer than your breath.
This short video (3:40 minutes) will seem like an eternity for some. For others, it could just be the beginning to a 20 minute meditation or centering prayer.
Here’s an insightful answer by Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson to a 10-year-old boy’s question, “Do you believe in God?” In the 9 minute video Dr. Tyson touches on how science and religion deal with different things; “the Bible tells you how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.” He also explains how freedom of religion in the United States is possible because our constitution is not based on religion.
Also, his answer brings up other questions like: if God is good and all-powerful, why do bad things happen? This of course is not an question for science, but a call for our theologies to make sense of our world. Science can tell us how and why something happens; religion can give meaning to that answer.
They gave me gifts, but said they came from someone else.
You gave me a gift, that others told me about.
They told me stories about these gifts.
Stories a child could believe.
One day, I no longer believed the stories.
But the gifts kept coming and I pretended to believe.
I wanted to believe, belief brought comfort;
keeping me warm inside, when the world was cold.
Now I knew too much; I had learned how to survive on my own.
I was shivering; but I couldn’t go back.
Yet the gifts kept coming;
whether I believed or not.
Then one day, I didn’t open a gift.
It opened me.
It opened up a heart that had grown cold.
And now the stories don’t matter; the gift of love is real.
– Michael Lindsay
This is how you transcend race and religion…
God’s Love: Naomi Feil, a Jewish woman, sings Christian hymns for Gladys, who has Alzheimer’s and was unable to speak. Watch what happens at the end, when Mrs. Feil opens her heart and gives Ms. Gladys what she needs so deeply.
This is a 20 minute TED talk by an English vicar soon after the South Asian tsunami in 2004. A very thoughtful speech about what could, and could not be, the nature of God; and what we don’t know.
It reminded me of Paul Tillich’s notion of “the God beyond God,” and this quote from Albert Einstein…
“A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty – it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man. I cannot conceive of a God who rewards and punishes his creatures, or has a will of the type of which we are conscious in ourselves…Enough for me the mystery of the eternity of life, and the inkling of the marvelous structure of reality…”
Towards the end of his talk, Vicar Honey mentions the Hindu concept and greeting of “Namaste.” (May our true selves meet, and recognize the divine spark within each of us.) I think this is what Rumi was referring to when he wrote, “Out beyond the ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I will meet you there.”
“One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”
– Carl Jung
If we are to “see the light,” we have to acknowledge our shadow; and not worry so much about others’ faults (which is hard for me). Our lessons lie in our own darkness.
It’s hard to acknowledge personal “issues.” It’s easier to see them in other people. So we project our shadow onto others, “I’m good, you’re bad.” This is also a problem for groups of people, “my religion is the truth, your religion is false.” How often do we see self-righteous folks do terrible things to other people?
Fundamentalists consider God and Satan as separate entities outside of themselves. To be worshiped and feared, to fight for and against, to die for and to kill. Always trying to fix others and make the world right. Always the external.
Yet external revolutions always fail. Both culturally and personally. The Soviet Union tried to transform the world by exporting communism, but could only do it by force; and therefore failed. The United States tries to transform the world. And is successful when we improve our own country, and lead by example; letting the world follow us. But we fail when we try to force change onto others. Just look at the mess in Iraq today.
The fundamentalist Muslim world has turned Jihad into a sick external behavior. They can’t see or own their shadow. The West is bad, their societies are good (and oppressed). They are the true believers; others are infidels. They have the truth and want to force the world to acknowledge it. Until they see Jihad as an internal struggle between good and evil, their culture and societies will have their current problems.
I can’t fix anybody else; I can only heal myself. As I work on that internal revolution, maybe then I can help others without passing judgement.
We humans look for patterns in our environment, and search for meaning in our life. Our brains are hardwired to quickly make sense of our surroundings. A good thing in a dangerous world. That ability also allows a child to lie in the grass, gazing at the sky, and see clouds turn into things like faces, horses, and boats. Whatever their imagination can create. As adults, we have the answer for why clouds form. As children, we look for meaning in their shapes.
Religion looks for meaning, science looks for answers. Unfortunately, many of us try to use scripture for answers. And many skeptics use logic to create a meaningless world.
I ran across this article today (see link below), which got me thinking about the cross-currents we find ourselves in when looking for answers and meaning. In this article, Michael Shermer (who is a well-respected skeptic) describes a supernatural or paranormal event. The experience gave meaning to his wife and him. At the end of the article, there are readers’ comments that explain away their miracle with the answer: oxidized contacts. And perhaps that is so. But it doesn’t take away the meaning they derived from the event. Plus, the timing and place can’t be explained away by an on-off switch.
As he says at the end of the article, “The emotional interpretations of such anomalous events grant them significance regardless of their causal account. And if we are to take seriously the scientific credo to keep an open mind and remain agnostic when the evidence is indecisive or the riddle unsolved, we should not shut the doors of perception when they may be opened to us to marvel in the mysterious.”
The title of this post sounds selfish. Doesn’t it? But it’s not, and it’s probably one of the healthiest things we can do as individuals and as a society. From time to time, how many of us get that heroic instinct to “save the world?” I know I have. And we get so busy trying to solve problems and fixing others, that we forget to take care of ourselves and straighten out our own issues.
We can see this phenomenon more easily in others, like: the peace activists who attack the police, the folks trying to save the planet while driving gas-guzzlers, or the preachers of morality who behave poorly themselves. It’s easier to see others’ faults and want to fix them, than to do the hard work of fixing ourselves first.
We see this behavior with religious fundamentalists; trying to control other people’s thoughts and actions. Using the power of religion in the service of their own egos; creating laws and rules for how other people should behave.
There is a quote from the Bible that says, “It is better to be patient than powerful. It is better to win control over yourself than over whole cities.” (Proverbs 16:32) Yet how many “believers” want to control others, but are out of control themselves. The terrorists of today’s news headlines are perfect examples.
When it comes to how we live our lives, perhaps we should follow the safety advice we get before an airline flight takes off. “Put the oxygen mask on yourself first.” Then we can function with a clear head, and hopefully help others.
I am hesitant in bringing up this subject, since I prefer to focus on the positive. But today’s news headlines about war in the name of God remind me that we’ve been down this road many times before. From the religious wars in Christian Europe to the Islamic wars of conquest, we have heard the term “Holy War.” I see nothing holy about war. Yet in the Bible, we find Moses ordering terrible things done to the Midianites in the “name of God.”
What does this say about human nature, or the nature of God? Are we projecting onto God our own demons (shadows)? Does the God that ISIS claims to serve really exist? Did Moses actually hear God tell him, “So now kill every boy and kill every woman who has had sexual intercourse, but keep alive for yourselves all the girls and all the women who are virgins.”
How can anyone claim to know what God wants? And what kind of God would want these things?
Iraq / 2014 (as reported by CNN)…
Jana was a 19-year-old in her final year of high school, with dreams of becoming a doctor. Then, ISIS came to her village last August, and her world collapsed.
She described to me in chilling detail, how the jihadis first demanded that members of her Yazidi religious minority convert to Islam. Then they stripped villagers of their jewelry, money and cellphones. They separated the men from the women.
A United Nations report explained what happened next. ISIS “gathered all the males older than 10 years of age at the local school, took them outside the village by pick-up trucks, and shot them.” Among those believed dead were Jana’s father and eldest brother. A different fate lay in store for the women.
Jana described how girls like herself were separated from older women, then bussed to the city of Mosul. There they were put in a big three-story house with hundreds of other young women. The men of ISIS came periodically, and chose up to three and four girls at a time to take home with them. “These women have been treated like cattle,” explained Nazand Begikhani, an adviser to the Kurdistan Regional Government on gender issues. “They have been subjected to physical and sexual violence, including systematic rape and sex slavery. They’ve been exposed in markets in Mosul and in Raqqa, Syria, carrying price tags.”
Perhaps more importantly, Begikhani is also a researcher at the UK-based University of Bristol’s Gender and Violence Research Center. According to the field research and testimonials of Begikhani’s team, ISIS kidnapped more than 2,500 Yazidi women.
Meanwhile Narin Shiekh Shamo, a Yazidi activist based in Iraqi Kurdistan has compiled the names of at least 4,601 Yazidi women currently missing. In the first month after the mass abductions, Shamo says she was receiving calls and messages from up to 70 different hostages a day. Now, she can’t reach a single hostage. After more than a decade reporting on conflict in the Middle East, I was still ill-prepared to hear about the scale of this kidnapping and modern day enslavement.
Suddenly, the words of a 19-year-old ISIS imprisoned fighter whom I interviewed last weekend in a Kurdish prison in northern Syria made sense. The young man, horribly disfigured from bullet wounds to his abdomen and arm received during his year of fighting on the frontlines, described how ISIS attracted fresh recruits with the offer of cash and “wives.”
ISIS actually justified its enslavement of Yazidis in its own online magazine. “One should remember that enslaving the families of the kuffar — the infidels — and taking their women as concubines is a firmly established aspect of the Shariah, or Islamic law,” the group announced in the ISIS publication “Dabiq.”
The Kurdish authorities say they have rescued around 100 Yazidi women, in part through the payment of ransoms to Arab tribesmen who acted as intermediaries. Thousands of women remain hostage. And with ISIS successfully defending its territory from a loose coalition of Iraqi military, Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga, Syrian Kurdish militants and US-led airstrikes, it doesn’t look like a white knight will charge in to rescue these poor women any time soon.
Begikhani said all of the 100 Yazidi women rescued from ISIS appeared to have been systematically raped, likely by more than one man. The 19-year-old girl I spoke with here in Iraqi Kurdistan was deeply traumatized, and incapable of showing any joy or humor. Her mother and two brothers are still being held hostage by ISIS. Asked what she would say if she met the 70-year-old Arab man who took her home and ordered her to convert to Islam at gunpoint, she says: “I wouldn’t want to tell him anything. I just want to kill him.” Jana says she has given up her dream of becoming a doctor.
Northwest Arabian Peninsula / thousands of years ago (as reported by the Bible, Numbers 31)…
The Lord said to Moses, “Punish the Midianites for what they did to the people of Israel. After you have done that, you will die.” So Moses said to the people, “Get ready for war, so that you can attack Midian and punish them for what they did to the Lord. From each tribe of Israel send a thousand men to war.”
So a thousand men were chosen from each tribe, a total of twelve thousand men ready for battle. Moses sent them to war under the command of Phinehas son of Eleazar the priest, who took charge of the sacred objects and the trumpets for giving signals. They attacked Midian, as the Lord had commanded Moses, and killed all the men, including the five kings of Midian: Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur, and Reba. They also killed Balaam son of Beor.
The people of Israel captured the Midianite women and children, took their cattle and their flocks, plundered all their wealth, and burned all their cities and camps. They took all the loot that they had captured, including the prisoners and the animals, and brought them to Moses and Eleazar and to the community of the people of Israel, who were at the camp on the plains of Moab across the Jordan from Jericho.
The Army Returns:
Moses, Eleazar, and all the other leaders of the community went out of the camp to meet the army. Moses became angry with the officers, the commanders of battalions and companies, who had returned from the war. He asked them, “Why have you kept all the women alive? Remember that it was the women who followed Balaam’s instructions and at Peor led the people to be unfaithful to the Lord. That was what brought the epidemic on the Lord’s people. So now kill every boy and kill every woman who has had sexual intercourse, but keep alive for yourselves all the girls and all the women who are virgins. Now all of you who have killed anyone or have touched a corpse must stay outside the camp for seven days. On the third day and on the seventh day purify yourselves and the women you have captured. You must also purify every piece of clothing and everything made of leather, goats’ hair, or wood.”
Eleazar the priest said to the men who had returned from battle, “These are the regulations that the Lord has given to Moses. Everything that will not burn, such as gold, silver, bronze, iron, tin, or lead, is to be purified by passing it through fire. Everything else is to be purified by the water for purification. On the seventh day you must wash your clothes; then you will be ritually clean and will be permitted to enter the camp.”
Division of the Loot:
The Lord said to Moses, “You and Eleazar, together with the other leaders of the community, are to count everything that has been captured, including the prisoners and the animals. Divide what was taken into two equal parts, one part for the soldiers and the other part for the rest of the community. From the part that belongs to the soldiers, withhold as a tax for the Lord one out of every five hundred prisoners and the same proportion of the cattle, donkeys, sheep, and goats. Give them to Eleazar the priest as a special contribution to the Lord. From the part given to the rest of the people, take one out of every fifty prisoners and the same proportion of the cattle, donkeys, sheep, and goats. Give them to the Levites who are in charge of the Lord’s Tent.” Moses and Eleazar did what the Lord commanded.
The following is a list of what was captured by the soldiers, in addition to what they kept for themselves: 675,000 sheep and goats, 72,000 cattle, 61,000 donkeys, and 32,000 virgins. The half share of the soldiers was 337,500 sheep and goats, of which 675 were the tax for the Lord; 36,000 cattle for the soldiers, of which 72 were the tax for the Lord; 30,500 donkeys for the soldiers, of which 61 were the tax for the Lord; and 16,000 virgins for the soldiers, of which 32 were the tax for the Lord. So Moses gave Eleazar the tax as a special contribution to the Lord, as the Lord had commanded.
The share of the community was the same as that for the soldiers: 337,500 sheep and goats, 36,000 cattle, 30,500 donkeys, and 16,000 virgins. From this share Moses took one out of every fifty prisoners and animals, and as the Lord had commanded, gave them to the Levites who were in charge of the Lord’s Tent.
There is something that passes through your body and the earth every day. We couldn’t see it until now…