TODAY’s RELIGIOUS RANT
Some very conservative Christian friends of mine (and they seem to be growing fewer and fewer in number these days, which saddens me) are so very offended by me and, very often, justifiably so. I can be very cutting and crass and, as a consequence, come across very insensitive to where other people are in their own pilgrimage. I regret this. Indeed, I am sorry about this. Everyone should be respected for where they are in their own spiritual journey. Wouldn’t you agree? Just because you think (and I confess I sometimes think) others are not as “enlightened” as you are, does not give you (or, me) permission to act like an ass.
Yet, closed-mindedness is so easily threatened, isn’t it? I wish my conservative acquaintances felt more secure in their faith so they’d be less angered by the things I write and just accept me for the weird, quirky little thinker that I am – who is sometimes right or, maybe it would be more accurate to say, seldom right, frequently wrong, but, yes, I am committed to pursuing truth to the best of my ability, however imperfect that gets expressed from time to time.
From a Professional Ranter
I’m a thinker outside the box and, what so many people do not realize is that I am not even sure if I believe all the things I write. I do so nonetheless as a means of forging a real world faith – one that is my own – because I will not live my life carrying around a bunch of inherited beliefs from those whose good opinions I’m not secure enough to live without. So, my readers, whoever you are…please know that, while I do not expect you to agree with me or to even like me, know that I am who I am – whether you like it or not, and you are who you are – whether I like it or not, and, in the end, isn’t all that really matters is that we respect and receive each other in a spirit of Christ-like love? What could be more important than this? One more thing. I know that I am frequently way off base, as many of you so eloquently remind me – and I am sure remind each other about me. And, that’s OK. I welcome your challenges. But there is one thing you must know about me…and never ever question please. I love Jesus more passionately today than at any other time in my life. And, just because I no longer subscribe to one peculiar way of believing – which for little threatened people is “THEIR” way of believing – does not mean even slightly, that I am not serious about the life I live and the Lord I serve.
End of Today’s Little RANT! Can I get an AMEN? Or, better, a Hallelujah?
Hi, my name is Steve McSwain. I’m a christian thinker, blogger, writer, and rabble-rouser. I invite you to let me challenge you with the provocative, sometimes controversial, things I think about…write about. I do not ask you to agree. I ask you only to consider…to think for yourself…to forge a real-world faith for yourself. Stop being a pansy and grow up in Christ. You are not doing yourself, or the Kingdom, any favors by believing God has appointed you guardian of the truth – no matter what you think the truth is – or the gatekeeper to keep out those who threaten you. Stand on your own two feet. God doesn’t need defending. The Bible doesn’t need your worship. Both have been around a lot longer than you have and will be here long after you’re forgotten. So, grow up and live well. You don’t have long here, my friend. The life you live TODAY is the legacy you leave tomorrow. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and, most importantly, go to my website and to my “Inspirational Talks” page and book me to speak at your next gathering. I’ll speak in almost any setting…business gatherings or religious gatherings, with talks appropriate for both. See for yourself.
Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality without Religion. That’s the title to Sam Harris’ new book.
Now, this should be interesting. For those curious, as I am, about spirituality but who have abandoned organized religion (and, according to the 2012 Pew Forum the number has grown to 20% of the adults in the US – the fastest growing religiously-unaffiliated group in the US), self-proclaimed atheist Sam Harris has written a new book, already a bestseller and the book is not scheduled for release until later this month.
Spirituality and What I’ve Learned
Here are a few things I’ve learned about religious experience…about spirituality…
1. The experience of spirituality goes by many names.
The longer I live, the more convinced I become that there is a religious experience which, if you have yet to figure this out, goes by many names…salvation, enlightenment, transformation, awakening, expanded consciousness, or, as Sam Harris describes it, “waking up.” It appears that the descriptions used are tied more to one’s cultural milieu than anything else. I cannot say this, however, with certainty, but it does seem to be the case.
2. Though spirituality goes by many names, the experience itself is quite similar.
One of the most enlightening books I’ve read in recent years was written by the French philosopher Andre’ Comte Sponville. Interestingly, he, too, is a self-proclaimed atheist and his book is entitled, The Little Book of Atheistic Spirituality. If you have not read it, you should.
Spirituality, or spiritual experiences, share something in common and that commonality goes something like this:
“I cannot explain what it was that happened to me but, for a moment, maybe many moments, I felt something, experienced something, so transcendent, so amazing, so joyful and unifying, I felt completely free, unburdened, and in unity with everything..at one with all that is. The whole thing defies explanation, but the consequence of it, has changed me forever. Now, I see things, even life itself, so differently…so fresh. I feel toward all people differently, too. I feel a sense of oneness with everyone, the likes of which I’ve never ever felt before. I doubt if I will ever be the same.”
Speaking of “I doubt I will ever be the same…” that, too, appears similar.
3. This experience of spirituality, or whatever you wish to call it, does seem to change people for the better.
They become more self-aware, self-accepting, self-forgiving. They seem to be more at peace with themselves, with the world, and, equally as important, more at peace with others. They seem more committed to living and leaving a legacy that changes the world, too.
Spirituality…the Most Important Lesson I’ve Learned
The most important lesson I’ve learned is this…
4. Whenever you seek to limit spirituality to your group and then demonize anyone else and their experience, you only limit yourself.
How do you know if you are limiting spirituality to your kind…to your group…to only those who follow your rules for a genuine experience of spirituality?
How do find yourself reacting to this analysis of the spiritual experience?
My name is Dr. Steve McSwain, visit my website for more information: www.SteveMcSwain.com
Decisions! Decisions! Decisions!
“What should I do?”
I get this question often. I’ve asked this question of myself equally as often.
“What should I do?”
I sometimes know the answer immediately. Usually, however, I never get beyond the question. Frustration just mounts and mounts and indecision escalates. The decision I must make seems never to get made.
Some of you are going off for the holiday weekend and you are carrying with you the burden of a big decision you are running out of time to make.
Back and forth you go between competing alternatives and, just as soon as you think you know what decision to make, then a dozen other reasons as to why that decision won’t work cloud your judgment. Before long, you are back at the drawing board, so to speak, and asking…
“What should I do?”
“What should I do?”
I know what you’re experiencing. I’ve been in the place of indecision in the face of important decisions more times than I have space here to detail. As a consequence, I have learned a few things that might help you make the decision you must make, once and for all.
What is it about which you must make a decision?
1. Should I call off the engagement? Postpone the wedding plans? End the marriage?
2. Should I leave this job? Take that new position? Leave this job with no other position?
3. Should I have the surgery? Take chemo or radiation?
What’s the decision you must make? And, is there any help in making it?
Decisions! And, More Decisions!
Here are a few things that might help.
1. Stop asking “What SHOULD I do?” That’s the advice a team of Harvard Business School professors offer. Asking “What COULD I do?” rather than “What SHOULD I do?” can often lead you to a better, more decisive answer. Asking what you should do tacitly implies there is a wrong decision and a right decision inside the decision you must make when, in fact, either decision might just be fine.
2. Asking “What COULD I do?” taps the creative side of you. Meditate on this question. Jot down all the possibilities that come to your mind. Do not judge any of the options, at least at first. Just write them down or type them into your notes on an electronic device. As other options come to you over the weekend, make note of those, too. If there is someone with you over the holiday weekend whose advice and wisdom you respect, find a few moments to share with them your pressing decision and the options you are considering. If you have not thought of all the options, this trusted friend might actually help you see what you have not seen thus far.
3. Note what your heart is telling you. I’m a firm believer in following your heart…the gut instinct you have within. Your heart…instinct…is seldom wrong. What is it telling you? Yes, it is hard, if you’re not accustomed to listening to your inner GPS system. But my best advice to you is this: you must begin sometime learning how to listen to this inner voice. Trust it. Act on it. See what happens. This is about as close to the voice of God as you’ll ever likely hear. So, what have you got to lose? Trust the impulse within – it’s the Holy Spirit, for Christians. If you’re a Buddhist, and many of my readers are, it’s your Buddha nature. It CAN be trusted. You know this already, don’t you?
4. Now, once you have followed the suggestions above, you are ready to ask the question: “What WILL I do?” Once you have narrowed the options and listened to your heart, you will know what you must do. Now, you must do it. Make the decision. Act on it and do not look back. When you follow these suggestions, you will seldom regret the decision you make and actions you take.
One wise soul put it like this: “You don’t usually regret the things you do; it’s the things you didn’t do that you regret.”
Go for it, my friend. Let me know how this has helped you. And, know that, over the holiday weekend, I’ll be thinking about all of those across this land who have…like you…important decisions to make.
Write me at Steve@SteveMcSwain.com. Friend me at Facebook.com/DrSteveMcSwainPublicFigure. Follow me on Twitter. I’d like to be your friend. Go to SteveMcSwain.com for my books and unity pendants. Thank you much, too.
Prayer…Does God answer prayer?
Apparently so, according to the Ebola Doctor, Dr. Kent Brantly, who was himself an Ebola survivor. You can view his full remarks in a recent press conference he held soon after leaving the hospital.
I am not so certain, however. There was a time I, too, said God answers prayers. I wanted as badly as anyone to believe God did. As a consequence, I looked everywhere for answered prayers. I deemed these as indisputable proof God did answer prayer. I gave my attention to every “miraculous” story I could find, such as the one experienced directly by Brantly himself. Such stories gave me temporary reassurance that God did indeed answer prayer.
Does God Answer Prayer?”
But then, and this has been the case throughout my life, reality set in.
I began thinking about my logic, imperfect as it is, and I would find holes all through it, then and again now.
Maybe it’s just me but I could not help but ask questions like this: “Well, Dr. Brantly, I’m sure you are certain God answered your prayer to be spared the deadly Ebola virus, but what of those 1200 others in Africa who died from it?”
Did any of them pray to get well?
Why didn’t God answer their prayer?
And, apparently, he didn’t, so why not? Furthermore, why was yours answered but not theirs?
Did they not have, as you had, enough other prayers being offered on their behalf?
Do “more prayers” better the odds of getting heard? If so, how many more prayers does it take?
Did their prayer go unanswered because they were not all believers? Is being a believer a pre-requisite?
Or, could it be that they just did not believe strongly enough? You know, have enough faith?
Ever asked questions like these? If so, you know how I’m feeling about now.
In fact, you probably know how I feel any time I see…
…a professional athlete genuflect and make a sign of the cross immediately after scoring the winning touchdown…
…Or, a tornado survivor give thanks to God and a million others in a news report for the fact that his home was spared in a neighborhood that looks like a war zone from the Middle East;
…Or, when a doctor gives his personal thanks to God for prayers answered and a second chance at life that was given to him. Aka, Dr. Brantly.
I truly hesitate to say anything here because I know how defensive I used to be whenever anyone questioned my beliefs…which was often. I am especially hesitant, however, under these particular circumstances. It is truly impressive to see such a benevolent and giving person like Dr. Brantly whose selfless love of Christ and service to others would lead him to risk his own life to give life to others. Or, at the least, relieve the suffering of others. Frankly, and I’ll be plainly honest here, I am not sure I could do what he has done. So, I have the deepest respect for him and give thanks to God for such benevolent and generous people…people whose example I hope to better emulate in my own life.
Furthermore, I understand the natural inclination he and other survivors feel whenever the odds are against them and, for whatever the reasons – God, prayer, the miraculous – they are spared and given another opportunity at life. How can you not be thankful at such a time? And, if you don’t thank God, who DO you thank?
Heart Attack and My Prayer
I recently survived a mild heart attack. Mild or otherwise, it was a heart attack and such things get your attention. In my case, it was a brush with the Grim Reaper and, while I required only one stent in my heart for one blockage, the risk of dying was nonetheless real.
How could I not be thankful when I walked out of the hospital? I was. I am. And, had this happened many years ago, I would have prayed for healing.
I would have given thanks for surviving it.
I would have given God the credit for answering my prayers.
I would have given God the credit for answering the prayers of my family and friends.
Frankly, I would have given everyone a big high “5” as it were, since the whole experience proved once again that God answers prayer.
But that’s just the point. He didn’t. Not directly, anyway.
The truth is, I did not pray for healing.
I did not ask God to grant me another chance at life.
Why? Because praying such a prayer made no sense to me.
How could I ask God to heal me when there is no telling how many other people across the planet were dying of heart attacks at that very instant?
I no longer pray such prayers. And, even if I did, I wouldn’t be going on national television in a press conference or standing behind some pulpit and declaring to others that God answers prayer.
Why? Because God doesn’t answer prayer. It is this kind of belief that gives rise, not to faith, but to disappointment. The fact remains, no matter how many times you might ask in prayer to be healed of whatever is threatening your existence today, something is going to get you tomorrow. In other words, you are going to die. And, the sooner you can make peace with that reality, the happier and healthier you’ll be.
God Does Not Answer Prayer
It is this kind of nonsensical belief that gives rise, not to faith, but to disbelief itself.
Here’s what I believe…
God has created the human body with a natural instinct at survival. It permeates the entire created order, as Darwin so eloquently reminded us. He called it “survival of the fittest.”
Furthermore, God has allowed science and scientists – who gratefully are among those who actually use their minds given to them – to work in concert with this survivalist instinct inside every cell of the human body – to bring technologies to bear on bodily weaknesses and, as a consequence, the natural healing process is helped along by science and medicine.
What then did I pray for during my heart attack?
I prayed that these technologies would work together with my body’s natural desire to survive (and that of my own, too). I prayed for the doctor performing the heart stent, that he would be alert and bring all of his skill to bear on the procedure. I prayed for the nurses who cared for me. I prayed especially for the young ladies, mostly, who came into my room from time to time to empty the trash and clean my toilet. I prayed more for them than for all the others, including myself. What a thankless job. Wonder if they ever pray? Wonder what they ask of God?
All went well for me.
How could I not give thanks?
I’m still giving thanks, now eight weeks later.
I will always give thanks.
And, one day, when I do die, and I will die, I’m still going to be giving thanks.
Why? Because my faith is not in a God who answers prayer.
My faith is in a God who does not answer prayer.
My faith is in a God who does not heal one and ignore another.
My faith is in a God who has given to humans not only a miraculous body but the minds and technology to help people live long and live well.
No other God exists.
No other God has ever existed.
And, it is time, believing people stop believing in a make-believe SuperDoctor who lives above the sky and who rescues the sick and infirm…
Provided, of course, they pray…
…have enough faith…
…and, yes, have enough other prayers offered for them.
Such things make great tales of survival.
But they do not inspire faith.
If anything, they temporarily only confirm the delusions of the believing…until that day when their prayers don’t work. And, that day is coming.
Furthermore, there is not one ounce of truth to any of it. And, it’s time that Christians – me included – stop believing fairytales that have no truth in them whatsoever.
Meditation is the key to living a sacred life.
It is the key that unlocks the chamber to an inner life of tranquility. Meditation is also the indispensable discipline you must practice in order to know a sacred, spiritual life.
If meditation is the indispensable link, therefore, even the key to living a sacred life, what is meditation and how may I learn to practice it?
What Is Meditation?
Meditation is easier to define than it is to practice. As a definition, meditation is the progressive quieting of the mind.
It is just that simple.
And, it is just that difficult.
I have always loved Sir Edward Dyer’s poem, “My Mind to Me a Kingdom Is”
My mind to me a kingdom is, such present joys therein I find
That it excels all other bliss, that world affords or grows by kind.
Though much I want, which most would have, yet still my mind forbids to crave
They get with toil, they keep with fear; such cares my mind could never bear.
Content I live, this is my stay;
I seek no more than may suffice; I press to bear no haughty sway;
Look! What I lack my mind supplies.
Lo! Thus I triumph like a king, content with that my mind doth bring.
Some have too much, yet still do crave; I little have and seek no more.
They are but poor, though much they have, And, I am rich with little store.
They poor, I rich; they beg I give. They lack, I leave, they pine, I live.
But all the pleasures that I find, It is to maintain a quiet mind.
How then, do you “quiet the mind” through meditation? That’s the first question that must be answered before asking how to “maintain” a quiet mind.
1. A specific time and place is important when learning the art of meditation.
In the early days of my spiritual practice, I would try to engage in the practice of meditation at about the same time every day and certainly the same location. For me, it was getting up at five o’clock in the morning and meditating in the front room of our house, while sitting on a coach. Some people get into the lotus position, as it is called. But that never seemed to work for me. I chose sit up instead on a couch but in a position where I would not as likely fall asleep. Sometimes, however, I fell asleep anyway.
Although I no longer use that same place to meditate today, I still regard it as a sacred place. Places become sacred with practice. The manner in which I meditate, however, has remained the same. More often than not, I use the same posture whenever and wherever I meditate. If there is a couch or a reclining chair available, that’s what I typically use.
You will have to find the method that works for you. If you are serious about meditation, try the lotus position first. You may just find it works for you. It has millions of others for hundreds of years.
2. A specific method or practice of meditation is important.
I used a method one of my spiritual teachers taught to me – the Japa Method of Meditation. This is an Eastern practice, but a Lectio Divina practiced by many Benedictine monks and practitioners of the Roman Catholic faith is based on this method.
I found the Japa method to be the most helpful. For an introduction into the mechanics of this method and its specific practice, I would suggest you read the layperson’s take on it and, among those, few would be better than Wayne Dyer’s book, Getting in the Gap: Making Conscious Contact with God through Meditation. While not the most comprehensive book on Japa meditation, it is a good introduction with specific guidance in its actual practice.
There are many different practices of meditation, however, You may need to try several before finding one that works best for you. In recent months, for example, I have enjoyed a meditation series produced by Deepak Chopra and Oprah. Now, after several offerings, they have a wonderful collection of meditations that will help you get started. Check out the link and see for yourself.
3. Have few expectations of meditation.
That may sound like a strange suggestion but it is important to be mindful of what you’re expecting meditation to do for you. And, most of your expectations should probably be discarded.
It might be better in fact to have no expectations at all. With practice, the benefits of meditation will become obvious enough. Most likely, however, you will not notice the benefits until the practice becomes as essential and as habitual as your morning coffee.
People who stay with diets eventually lose weight. People who consistently exercise as a means of getting in shape do not depend on any of their expectations for their primary motivation. Hence, they are able to stay with those practices, especially during the difficult times when the benefits of their efforts are barely noticeable. Which is most of the time.
To help you identify unconscious expectations you may have about meditation, ask yourself the question: “Why am I beginning this practice? What am I expecting from meditation?”
Now, do not misunderstand.
I can almost hear someone saying, “Are you suggesting, if my expectation for practicing meditation is to enhance my sacred life, I should give up that expectation?”
Well, as strange as it may sound, that is precisely what I’m suggesting.
Maybe this clarification will suffice. What I am suggesting is that you simply be aware of your motivations and expectations regarding this or any spiritual practice. Awareness is all that is necessary. There is no need whatsoever to purge your desires. Just be aware of them. That is enough.
This way, when meditation does not feel as if it is enhancing your sacred self – which will sometimes be the case – you will nevertheless stay with the practice, knowing the benefits will be forthcoming. In time, you will discover that you feel spiritually-renewed, even when your meditation is interrupted by someone or something or does not produce the same feelings of peace or tranquility every time.
4. Remember the primary purpose of meditation: It is to awaken in you a deeper awareness of this present moment.
When you are present, you are in Presence. You’re in Presence whether you are aware or not. Meditation trains you to be more alert, more aware, more in touch with this present moment. Hence, you are never more spiritually-connected than when you are grounded in Being itself, to borrow Paul Tillich’s famous phrase. Meditation is by design the means by which you enter into a deeper connection to with the present moment or Presence herself.
People may practice meditation for different reasons. Some for health or relaxation; others for happiness; and, still others meditate in hopes of altering their brain chemistry.
That is correct.
Recent brain research, for example, now tells us that frequent meditators seem capable of changing the genetic make-up or chemistry functions within their brains. In other words, meditation seems to stimulate the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter within the brain associated with positive, happy or tranquil feelings.
While all of these are positive benefits of meditation, the real purpose, however, is far more altruistic. It is to bring you into the present more completely. While that may seem just as self-motivated as the other reasons for meditating, the fact is, when you meditate, you become more and more free of yourself. Altruism is the consequence of a meditative practice. Which is why some people define meditation as the key to transformation.
The former Catholic nun turned Buddhist, Pema Chodron puts it like this: “We do not meditate to become good meditators. We meditate in order to be more awake.”
Two spiritual teachers spoke of the same reality although they used two different metaphors.
The Buddha and His Disciples
What enlightenment is to a Buddhist, salvation is to a Christian. Both are designed to awaken the spiritual practitioner to the eternal – which is only ever this present moment. There is no past or future, except as memory or anticipation. There is only ever now. The present may be filled with thoughts about the past but thoughts about the past are only ever thought about this present moment.
The same is true of the future. Thoughts about the future…even the future itself…if and when it ever appears, it does so only as this present moment.
When you understand that this is the nature of reality, you will begin to understand the longing you feel inside to be free. Therefore, all spiritual traditions offer a pathway to salvation…enlightenment…nirvana. What you call the spiritual goal is secondary. What you experience is universal. And, that experience is the joy…the focus…the freedom…the peace and tranquility of living completely and fully into this moment.
It is here you meet the deepest needs in yourself and in the lives of those around you.
When the Buddha was asked, “What do you and your disciples do?” he answered, “We eat, we walk, we sleep.”
“But,” pressed his inquirer, “how is that enlightenment? Don’t we all eat, walk and sleep?”
“Indeed, we do,” replied the Buddha. “But when my followers eat, they know they are eating. When they walk, they know they are walking. When they sleep, they are aware they are sleeping. That is the difference.”
Jesus and His Disciples
One day, Jesus and his disciples saw a man born blind. “Rabbi,” he was asked, “Who sinned? This man or his parents that he was born blind?” (John 9:2).
The clever way in which we avoid the immediate is by focusing on the insignificant. Which is precisely what those around Jesus had done and were doing with the blind man. Instead of entering into the moment at hand, they gave their attention to the man’s past and what either he or his parents had done that resulted in his blind condition.
What each of us need “saving” from is both the past and the future. Which is the point of Christian salvation. Those who think Jesus came to be God’s scapegoat for sin or simply the means by which you can have a future in heaven miss the point of salvation entirely. Jesus, like Buddha before him, came to save you from yourself.
Meditate on this and see what happens.
COMMUNICATE What could be more important than learning how to communicate?
Here are five ways to enhance communication in your own life…
Dr. Steve McSwain…is an author, speaker, leadership coach, counsel to non-profits, faith-based organizations and congregations, an adjunct Professor of Communication at the University of Kentucky, an interfaith activist and spiritual teacher.
But not always in this order. On the university campus, he teaches students the art of communication. In public talks, however, he teaches people the art of leading, as well as the art of living.
Saint Augustine believed this in the fifth century and, as a consequence, this became the Church’s position regarding suicide for centuries. But Saint Augustine was wrong about this, just as he has been wrong about many other things, including “original sin.”
For most of my life, I have let the Church do much of my thinking for me. Which, if you do not know by now, I regard as the ultimate form of spiritual laziness. There’s lots of laziness many places. When, however, I set out to discover for myself what I really believed, I made many wonderful and liberating discoveries.
One of the most important discoveries, for example, is how frequently the Church has changed its theology over the centuries to accommodate new ideas and understandings. More times than you can count, in fact. If you are a student of Christian history, or any religious history, you know this to be true. True among all religions, I might add. But, not too far behind this accommodation phenomenon is just how frequently, and sometimes violently, the Church has sought to suppress any idea it deemed heretical or contrary to its teachings.
It took the Catholic Church, for example, nearly four hundred years to finally admit that Galileo was right and the Vatican was wrong when it came to the question of whether the earth revolved around the sun or the sun around the earth. For centuries, the Church had insisted it was the latter.
Galileo, on the other hand, building on the work of Copernicus, said it was the former.
You know who won that debate.
We have come to accept – those of us who haven’t given up on the Church entirely – just how slow the Church is in admitting it’s own wrongs.
The Church was wrong about the Kingdom of God.
The Church was wrong about slavery.
The Church was wrong about women.
The Church was wrong, and many still are, about homosexuality.
The Church was wrong, and most still are, about same sex marriage.
The Church was wrong, and creationists still are, about evolution.
I could go on. But you get the point.
In time, the Church seems to come around and get on the right side of history. But not without first inflicting unimaginable damage on people in the process of adjusting its erroneous theology to accommodate the times.
Which brings me to the subject of suicide.
The Church and Suicide
The Church was wrong about it, too. But, typical to its contrary style, it took centuries of abuse before the Church slowly changed its theology to accommodate new understandings.
In the case of Galileo, not until 1992, did Pope John Paul II finally confess the Church had been wrong all along. Few, however, paid much attention to the Vatican’s confession of evil and sin against Galileo.
Given the Church’s sordid history of denial and wrongdoing, why would anyone care the Pope apologized?
Pope John Paul II
They didn’t. Which is why, although reported in the news, the Pope’s confession went largely unnoticed.
An apology nearly four hundred years in the making is rather meaningless, wouldn’t you say?
The history isn’t much better.
An article in the Salt Lake Tribune, for example, briefly surveys the Church’s poor record of understanding toward those who had completed suicide throughout the centuries. Here’s one of the points made…
“Those who took their lives lost their property, their burial rites and their place in heaven. They were posthumously excommunicated from the church, their corpses were often defiled, their memories erased, their families humiliated, shunned and disinherited.”
It’s the Christian way far too often, isn’t it?
The Church has been so wrong about so many things and for so long, I am sometimes amazed anyone pays any attention any more to anything it says.
A Call to Compassion
Which brings me to the recent suicide of Robin Williams.
Like you, the whole damn thing saddens me.
I thought of Robin as a friend and I’ve never met him. But he felt like my friend…like my childhood playmate. That guy or girl with whom you could be completely and totally your crazy childlike self.
I needed Robin. Our world needed Robin.
And, like you, I have cried for our world…for myself…for him…for his family. I will miss him.
And, yes, I’m hoping the Church gets this one right. That the Church will be on the right side of history this time and respond with compassion and understanding.
What is not needed is the pontification on suicide or whether, for example, those who complete suicide go to heaven.
Oh yes, fundamentalist Christians are already ranting about this and doing so in their typical arrogant way. Who among them, or who among us, has the foggiest idea about heaven or eternity? I sure don’t. I’m pretty sure no one else does either.
Fundamentalists say, “We believe in heaven.” But the real truth is you and I only ever “believe” in the things we don’t know. And, what we don’t know is frightening. Which explains why, among other things, suicide is frightening. We know so little about it.
Furthermore, this explains why religious people spend their time writing about and/or reading books on heaven and eternity. It is because, contrary to what they want you to think, death still scares the hell out of them. Additionally, they are secretly worried sick that heaven might actually NOT exist.
It’s a kind of mental delusion. We dupe ourselves into “believing” things and mistakenly confuse our delusions for “faith.” A clever mental trick.
And, of course, it’s the same thing religious people do who want to debate the existence of God. The only reason people try to prove God exists is because they’re secretly afraid she doesn’t.
So, with Robin Williams, and others like him and their families, it is my sincere hope the Church will respond to this with compassion, understanding, and with openness. We need many informed and humane conversations around the issue of suicide.
I hope the Church’s best minds – not those with “made up” minds…rigid know-it-all-minds…not “we’re right and everyone else is wrong” minds…but those with the best open minds to gather and grapple with suicide and help the world better understand it.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
What our culture needs is a compassionate, informed Church. A Church that explores this issue, as well as the other related issues and concerns like euthanasia, assisted suicide, etc., and mental health. Instead of the Church’s typical response to science and medicine…to be suspicious and hostile toward both…but this time join ranks and enter into intelligent conversation and exploration.
I want to know more about suicide myself and I want the same for you, the Church, and those outside the Church but within our human family. And, to those of you reading this who might have had thoughts of suicide, do not conclude from this that, because the Church has been wrong about so many things, it might not be any help to you now. There are many churches and church leaders and followers of Christ who get it. Seek one out. Or, at the least, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or call this number 800-273-8255.
Isn’t this the opportunity to broaden our consciousness, inform our understanding, and deepen our compassion?
Whether you are a Christian or Buddhist or Hindu or Jew or Muslim or atheist or just another human being…
Isn’t this the humane thing to do?
Cheek Turning: “If someone strikes you,” counseled Jesus, “turn the other cheek!” Completely impractical words, wouldn’t you agree?
Who does this? You get sucker punched on one side of the face and you’re supposed to submissively turn the other cheek, too? Give me a break! Such nonsense could never possibly work. Just ask the Jews. Or, the Arabs. Right?
Maybe not. But maybe it does, too. But then, how would anyone know? Has it ever really been tried?
Oh, sure, there are those of us who mistakenly think to turn the other cheek means to run from conflict. Or, roll over and take abuse. Or, disappear to a remote corner and lick our wounds.
I’m not talking about this and neither is Jesus. I do know, however, what it’s like to do everything I can to please everybody…to fix everyone as well as every situation…and then, when I fail, which is almost always, I run at the first sign of disagreement in order to avoid a negative reaction or, worse, rejection.
Jesus is talking here instead about real cheek turning or a radical departure from the more common method for handling conflict between two people…between two religions…or between two peoples and nations.
Like the Jews and Arabs.
Like Christians and Muslims.
Like the Americans and…well…just about everybody else.
Jesus went on: “You have heard it said,’An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,’ but I say to you, ‘Is that going to get you anywhere?’ Do not strike back at all!” (Matthew 5:38-42).
If Someone Strikes You on the Right Cheek…Do Not Strike Back at All!
This is Jesus’ strategy for resolving conflicts, ending violence, and the futility of seeking revenge. And, frankly, it’s about the dumbest thing he ever said. Isn’t it?
Of course! Everybody knows his strategy would never work. It didn’t work for him. Which probably explains why nobody bothers to try it because the few who have, aka Jesus, the Buddha, etc., either end up being attacked, as in the latter, or dead, as in the former.
Saint Augustine of Hippo knew this, too. Which is why he used his skillful brain to craft a clever alternative – the “Just War” theory – that, for all practical purposes, has guided western history down to the present.
Good thing he did. Otherwise, the Church would have had no way of completely disregarding Jesus’ instruction.
But here’s the question I cannot escape: How do we know cheek turning is impractical? Have anyone tried it lately?
If Someone Strikes You on the Right Cheek, Kick Ass in Response
I do not know the answer to my own question but, my guess is, few have. “Kick ass” is the cowardly but convenient way of responding to any conflict and the favorite method of most Americans.
The Church, too.
Which explains why I always find it interesting when there are discussions among Christians or articles about “the Christian perspective on war.” Isn’t the Christian perspective on war “turn the other cheek?” Granted, there are probably many “church” perspectives on war. But I find it odd that there could be more than one Christian perspective when clearly Jesus said, “Turn the other cheek.”
“Look,” you say, “I’m a believer in Jesus but, when it comes to some of the things he taught, let’s be honest, sometimes his way just doesn’t work. It’s completely impractical and simply cannot be taken seriously.”
Really? Are we not just seeking to dismiss and, therefore, disregard Jesus’ way?
Hasn’t the “Just War Theory” succeeded in just giving “believers” a way to disbelieve Jesus’ teaching, but still regard themselves as believers? After all, idealism does not work in a world full of Hitlers, Hirohitos, Hamas or Husseins.
If Someone Strikes You on the Right Cheek, Turn the Other Also?
I admit I’m a bit conflicted here. Call me simplistic. Label me an idealist. Dismiss me outright, if that makes it a little easier for you. But, for the life of me, I cannot understand how we Christians can claim to be “saving” the world when some of the things the Savior said himself, saints do not believe and so easily disregard.
What am I missing here?