Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Variations on a Theme

"I am not a myth." (Marlene Dietrich, actress)

            There is an old saying that all myth and rumour have some basis in fact. From this ambiguous statement, I suppose we should be careful where we place our faith. After all, a myth is a "symbolic narrative," usually of an unknown origin and it is usually based on one form of tradition or another. For appearances alone, myth relates "actual events" and is primarily associated with religious belief. These legends usually revolve around a protagonist and involve issues "with or without a determinable basis of fact or a natural explanation, especially one that is concerned with deities or demigods and explains some practice, rite, or phenomenon of nature." These un-provable tales often act as a "false collective belief" and are used by some groups to "justify a social institution." Plato used myth as "allegory or parable" throughout his writings. Most ancient cultures used myth as a method for the transfer of oral history. I would assume it was always easier to remember grand tales of glory and desperate tales of woe than mundane information.


             Mythology is both the study of myth and the body of those myths "belonging to a particular religious tradition." It is understood that each exists outside of "ordinary human experience." It is interesting how many cultures and civilizations have shared similarities within their myths. Gods, morality tales of good versus evil, this study of the duality of man are all aspects "common within most mythological stories." They tend to have parallels and come from the same "creational force."  Take the Hebrew account of the flood from the book of Genesis and the story of Noah. Many cultures, based in antiquity, from varying regions, share one version or another of this same event. Sumerian, Phoenician, and most notably Babylonian accounts have strikingly close details to the flood myth that is relayed in the Torah and the Bible. Fragments of the Babylonian account from the Epic of Gilgamesh have been found on tablets dating back to around 2,000 BCE. While there are obvious differences between the two versions, many details of the flood account are shared by both narratives.
            In the Babylonian myth, Utnapishtim, a righteous character like the biblical Noah, is instructed to build a ship that will save him from a coming deluge. The flood will overtake all of the land and destroy all of mankind. This divine punishment is the consequence of man's wickedness. Utnapishtim brings "all of his relatives and all species of animals" aboard the vessel in order to save them from the cataclysm. When the downpour stops, he sends birds out over the water to find land. Eventually, the boat settles on the top of a mountain and mankind begins again.
            Whether one culture borrowed from the other culture or not, there is an "obvious relationship" between the two versions. From an evidentiary and historical perspective, there have been "numerous flood stories identified from ancient sources." They are "scattered throughout the world," not only in the areas relevant to the Hebrew and Babylonian civilizations. These varying myths all seem to share a standard version of the occurrence. It is therefore erroneous to assume that fantastic events like the flood have no factual basis. The word 'myth' itself has become synonymous with falsehood and misconception but hidden within, this type of myth has a grain of truth waiting to go to seed. There is a common factor, a subsequent relevance to each origination. Through examination of these base factors, we can distinguish between myths which have evolved from some form of truth and myths which are merely fictional and therefore untrue.

"A myth is far truer than a history, for a history only gives a story of the shadows, whereas a myth gives a story of the substances that cast the shadows."
(Annie Besant, British socialist)

            Most myths tend to serve some purpose. They attempt to relay through story a lesson or application appropriate to the culture from which the myth originated. Other cultures then borrow these tales, twisting them into their own culturally balanced representation. Rather than simply conveying the point, myth is used to carry on each tradition through diligence. For example, "world mythology is full of religious figures who have undergone resurrection." Dionysus is the Ancient Greek god of wine and divine madness, who was eaten by Zeus and then born anew. Odin, the high god of Norse mythology, took his own life to gain knowledge of the dead, then returned "stronger than ever." From Finnish mythology, Lemminkainen is rebuilt after his death by his mother, sewing together all the pieces of him. An ancient epic from the Mahabharata tells how Krishna is an incarnation of Vishnu, the Supreme God of Hinduism. Krishna is eventually killed, but because he is a God, "he does not decay and instead ascends to heaven." He is physically resurrected.
            One cannot help but to wonder of any purpose behind parallel stories that existed during, and well before, the legend of the resurrected God called Jesus. If similar incidents to the Gospel accounts exist hundreds, even thousands of years before the written record of "the Christ," what does that reveal about that record? The idea that so many risen and saviour gods exist in overall mythology seems to indicate there is a lesson to be learned. The Judeo-Christian version of Jesus is not the only tale "about god-like characters who worked miracles, conquered death, and were revered by their followers." Christian optimists might argue that God used prophets and shaman as far back as "the foundation of the world" (Luke 11:49-51, NIV) to "prepare the Way," but this does not explain the not-so-unique revelation of so many. One has to therefore question whether it is the similar traits or the differences contained within these myths that we should look to for clarity.

“According to Greek Mythology, humans were originally created with four arms, four legs and a head with two faces. Fearing their power, Zeus split them into two separate beings, condemning them to spend their lives in search of their other halves.”
(The Symposium, Plato c. 385–380 BCE)

            Comparative mythology is "the study of myths from different cultures in an attempt to identify shared themes and characteristics." The 'motif' of a dying/dying-rising god appears in many diverse cultures and mythologies. Numerous examples with variations on this theme predate Christianity.  In Greek mythology, we find Persephone and Adonis. Osiris and Horus are examples from Egyptian mythology. Later, Arabian mythology introduced us to the Phoenix and Akkadian mythology contains the tale of Ishtar. The fate of these protagonists is to eventually die, although the method of death can be rather diverse from culture to culture. Although claiming they would return, most of these "gods" did not resurrect "in a permanent sense as the same deity." Where Christian "mythology" is concerned, millions of followers are still waiting on Jesus to come back and save them from themselves. Entire segments of our modern culture revolve around such notions as the Second Coming and the End of Days. 
            The Egyptian god Osiris was not originally a god, although many of his followers believed he was, at least, "partially divine." Osiris would die and return to life at least twice, eventually becoming the Egyptian god of the afterlife. The cult of Osiris was centered on regeneration and rebirth and had a "particularly strong interest in the concept of immortality." Due to the rise of his cult a "democratization of religion" offered "even his humblest followers the prospect of eternal life, with moral fitness becoming the dominant factor in determining a person's suitability." Throughout the height of Egyptian civilization, "Osiris was the primary deity." His power was second only to his father, the supreme sun god Ra, "the leader of the gods on earth."
            According to the Egyptian calendar, Osiris was born on what would be our December the 25th, sometime in the 4th or 5th dynasty (2494 - 2345 BCE). It would appear that most of the lore surrounding Osiris "was appropriated by the Christian religion." Osiris "chose to become a man to guide his people." He was called 'the Good Shepherd' and he carried a shepherd's crook in most of his depictions. He was referred to as the 'Resurrection and the Life' and "his flesh was eaten in the form of wheaten cakes." His mother was "a virgin who brought forth a son who would be called 'the Savior of the World.'" Osiris himself would restore "order back into the universe." He acted as "the judge of souls," and in addition to the "judging of the heart" it was Osiris who "passes final judgment over the dead."  
            Considered one of the most important archaeological sites in Egypt, the sacred city of Abydos was the location of many ancient sacred temples including the Great Osiris Temple. Abydos is one of the oldest cities from ancient Egypt. Osiris' "sufferings, his death and his resurrection were re-enacted each year at Abydos."  The ism of "eternal life and of the resurrection of a glorified or transformed body" was prevalent in the story of the resurrection of Osiris. Despite a horrible death and cruel torture "inflicted by the powers of evil, he rose again" and became the "true way." He was Son of the Almighty and the Savior of mankind.  He became a god. Osiris was "the god through whose sufferings and death the Egyptian hoped that his body might rise again in some transformed or glorified shape, and to him who had conquered death and had become the king of the other world the Egyptian appealed in prayer for eternal life through his victory and power."  
            One cannot help but notice the stark similarities between the myth of the Egyptian god Osiris and the Christian god Jesus. The narratives tend to speak for themselves. On the one hand, Osiris is rejected into history as imagination and art while the latter is considered gospel. One is a fabrication, a creation from superstition and ignorance, while on the other hand, Jesus is revered and worshipped and the Lord of our lives. I suppose had the cult of Osiris caught on in the same manner the Messiah called Jesus did, we would be culturally different but the god we worship would be roughly the same. Unable to truly prove either one of these protagonists ever lived, we are left asking if is there some lesson we can garnish out of all this speculation and mythology.

"For the myth is the foundation of life; it is the timeless schema, the pious formula into which life flows when it reproduces its traits out of the unconscious."
(Thomas Mann, German novelist)

            It seems clear to me. We need a god. We need a saviour. As far back as one can go in recorded history, it appears that we always have. It is what the myth offers us in itself that seems most important. We repeat these myths over and over, each new construct simply a variation of the theme. The setting is different, the names have all changed, but the essence is the same. The motif is always intact as if cemented into our culture, our lore and the way we view this reality. We, apparently, are not always aware of this psychological conditioning. Human beings have primarily lived superficial lives which temporally satisfy us. We are not cognizant of the creational force behind these stories. The similarities are not a coincidence.  They tell us more about the human being then they ever will about the real, true God, if there even is one.
            This is how religious faith works; it is a subjective experience. Two people can believe the exact same doctrine even though the culture in which the story manifests is a thousand years apart. Whether it is false or not is irrelevant, it is still a collective belief. Like with the story of the Great Flood, it doesn't matter what the details might be, it is the standard message conveyed within that is most important. These continuing, and often universal, myths are themselves a truth. There is an obvious relationship among them. Whether it is Romulus, the Roman state god, whose death and resurrection was celebrated in annual plays, or Zalmoxis, the Thracian god, whose death and resurrection assured his followers there was eternal life, or Jesus, the Christian God, who experienced the Passion and baptized followers into eternal life, there have been resurrection/saviour gods since myth began. Myth itself is the purpose, the instigator of faith. It does not have to prove itself. It simply must present itself. History will do the rest. All saviour-gods, all sons of god, they all must undergo their own passion. They all conquer death through resurrection in order to share eternal life with their followers. Each one is based in early human history with no conclusive evidence of their existence.

"The human mind, no matter how highly trained, cannot grasp the universe. We are in the position of a little child, entering a huge library whose walls are covered to the ceiling with books in many different tongues. The child knows that someone must have written those books. It does not know who or how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child notes a definite plan in the arrangement of the books, a mysterious order, which it does not comprehend, but only dimly suspects. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of the human mind, even the greatest and most cultured, toward God. We see a universe marvelously arranged, obeying certain laws, but we understand the laws only dimly. Our limited minds cannot grasp the mysterious force that sways the constellations"
(Glimpses of the Great, George Viereck 1930).







Tuesday, August 19, 2014

How Water Works

"I need you
And you need me
Left alone
We will never be who we could be
So take my hand
And don't forget that
We can do anything

             I will admit that I am not the most demonstrative person on the planet. Public displays of affection make me squirm and prattling on about 'love this' and 'love that' is just not my style. I am a deeply feeling person, don't get me wrong. Over fifteen years with my partner is the proof in the pudding. It is just that I have never been one to place my trust in expressions or terms of endearment. I tend to demonstrate how I feel through my actions rather than bantering on about the depth of my being. Whether through my writing, or my daily living, I am most comfortable in this safe place. I don't like appearing vulnerable or to give my state of mind away. I often feel like a lump of beautiful coal, at least from the outside looking inward. Some might even describe me as a cold and heartless prick. If that is what it takes to keep them away, then so be it.
            I have a secret that few people know. Most would never even have a clue. I can share it from this protected place. The truth is I truly am a happy man. Considering my past and all the pain and suffering I went through, one might imagine any joy I have discovered would come as little ponds rather than a constantly flowing stream. A river runs through me. I have been given a gift. It is not a blessing or a run of luck. I did not earn it nor have I ever done anything to deserve the life I have today. Deep inside me where I breathe is the giveaway. It overflows but does not drown me. It is silent yet it rushes with the pull of a million waves. It is tidal and it is as deep as it is wide. Like any body of water, it all started as just one drop.
            I am no longer defined by the chaos I left behind me. Just take a look at my life and all the love that has been lavished upon me. Every part of me is filled with hope and much joy, even if I hold it all within. All things have been made new. I've been changed.  I've been saved from myself. I may have wealth and I may have my health. I have been loved by many and am hated by few. There is family that I cherish more than anything and family, just like everyone else, that I would rather not discuss. I have had romance that has ended and romance that has lasted. Ultimately, they both have been the greatest of reward. In one way or another, everything I ever wished for, everything I ever tried to gain, I have received fully and then some. I am finally, for once and for all, touched by a Grace I can only identify based on the experiences from my life. It healed my wounds. It gives me resolve. Every spoken need and silent prayer have been answered. It is a Love that is far too great to give me lesser things. Who knew it would end up living in this room and turning a light on somewhere down inside? It gives me a reason that I've never known before. Yes, it was a long wait but now is the right time.   
            While I may not be the best person to convey this experience, I know it started many years ago but I did not understand. I was empty or at least it felt that way. One drip became a trickle and the trickle became a puddle then the puddle filled the body of a once all dried up lake. I am no longer defined by the mud I left behind. I am full but not by volume. The great weight has washed away. I am re-made. I still hear the many voices of regret and defeat. There are all the lies that just won't let me forget. I no longer heed them as I have finally been set free. My cup flows over and I am good to the last drop.

 "Come with me now
Look and see how
There's an ocean
Overflowing with our hope so
Let's jump in
And take a swim
It's you and me


            The best things in life are not things. No matter how much you accumulate from this world, it will never be enough to silence the inner part that whispers out to us. Whether people, relics and material possessions, or even memory, no matter what we surrender to there is always that still small voice, calling out for Love. It can haunt you. The atheist experiences it. The Christian feels it. The Muslim just knows it. It is often a secret thing that we try to hide. In many ways we don't want to share it. If we could we would keep it for ourselves. It is precious like a golden dream. Each night as mortal men dance with darkness, just before they fade to sleep, the vessel may hear it. It reminds us we are more than flesh and bone and feelings. We are more than certain love. We do not know why it stays with us or even how it got there. A great deal of the time, most of us are not even aware of it. It is that one small drop that can become an ocean but you have to have enough faith to jump in and try to swim.
            They say that when an egg is broken by an outer force, life ends. They also say that when an egg is broken by an inner force, life then begins. I had been fighting it far too long. I was holding it all in, thinking that it would make me strong. It's odd that the things we hide inside always come peeking out, looking for Love. A touch of faith the careful may seek, but it's hard to catch forever when you are broken, cold and weak. Although the New Testament tells me it will come after the water (Matthew 3:16-17), I would argue I have been wet all along. It was my special friend when I was a young boy. All my life I had thirsted for even one tiny hint of dew, begging like I was in the desert looking for rescue through condensation. All I needed was one drop.    

"Just one drop of your Love
A single ray of sun
Just one thing to change the world
It's just you and me
Starting with a dream
And giving it all we've got
Only takes one drop"

            You can beg, steal, and pray all you want, one very important step when trying to survive god is to recognize that the kingdom which you look for is within. Every single day of our lives it whispers inside us. You have to pay attention to hear it. It is an endless dripping bead plunging over and over again so you have no choice but to listen. Other voices will try to drag you down, leaving you only with your belief. Without trust, God cannot lavish upon us all that He gives to the seeking. After all, "If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you" (Matthew 17:20, NIV). We are more. We are more than this and more than that. The only thing that matters is the Love. All of the pain and all the disappointment, all of the languishing in this life was the very thing that revealed the presence from which we all have tried to hide. Don't be of little faith. It may not always be beautiful, but it sure is a beautiful ride.
            I had to take a leap of faith. I had to convince myself that God had found faith in me, but I just couldn't be sure. The best thing I could do was not to think, or to look, or to create or even to want. I had to believe everything would work out for the best. I had to trust and in trusting, I had to surrender. With one humble act of faith, I had to let it all go and commit. I had to ask the rain to come. Once I learned the way was faithful, all my pain faded to memory. When all the things I thought inside my head met all the things I've said and done, it is here I found balance, that I found happiness. I had to learn how to activate it from within and abandon all the waiting for something to drip on my head. I finally realized that if you don't have the faith that God is really with you, then you really are all alone. The still small little voice has always been there so you know you can trust it. Take another look at my life. It's not easy to face this world yet still love it. Leave all your cares behind, seek Him and you will find He always loved you so.
            I am not a very demonstrative person.  I don't enjoy sharing how I feel for the entire world to see. I am a private man. I am a somber soul. Occasionally, I just have to let it out. I have to stop leading and just follow. I am compelled to share. I have faith that it is the right thing to do but if anyone asks, we never had this conversation.

"I need you
And you need me
We can do anything
(One Drop, Plumb 2013)







Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Tip of the Tongue

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. ” (1 Corinthians 13:1, NIV)

            Most religious people place a great deal of trust in their Holy Scriptures. More fundamentalist sects tend to place a lot more than trust in them. They seem to base their entire lives on the pages of books and texts written two thousand years ago or more. There is nothing wrong with placing your faith in something you deem sent from God, but when those words outweigh the love and compassion you’re supposed to have towards your fellow man, then there is a problem. I often wonder, in some warped way, whether these zealots have turned these “sacred” constructions themselves into a god. A god to whom they bow and pray and worship. They seem more concerned with what their scriptures say than what the legitimate God might think.   
            Sometimes they will fight for it. Sometimes they will kill for it. Some are even willing to die for it. Regardless of their fundamentalist claims, either Christian or Muslim or any other like-minded group, they will always stand by their truth. They claim to follow it completely, of course. They use its certainty as a weapon against those they deem unfit. If they have nothing else, at least they know that every letter of verse should be taken at face value. You cannot deviate from the word of a god.  It is here that books like the Bible or the Quran present a challenge for the literalist believer. Both contain vast volumes of literature almost impossible for an average intelligence to memorize, let alone follow completely. At the end of the day, these followers are forced to pick and choose the parts of these written cornerstones which apply to them. Occasionally, it seems to me that they just make things up along the way.
            Selective literalism becomes a convenient tool for the literal-minded. It allows for a focus on those things which apply to the belief structure of that group while dismissing, in many cases completely ignoring, any part that may contradict or undermine the teachings formed by each unique faction. You don’t have to be a fundamentalist to dissect and discriminate parts of your scriptures based on the appeal or aversion each selection may hold. Most schools of religious thought take what they will from their scriptures, all the while dismissing the rest. The Metropolitan Community Church, based in Toronto Canada, is a diverse and progressive faith community with a primary focus on gay rights and the inclusion of all homosexuals into the Christian family. Conveniently they disregard, or even ignore, key verses from the Bible, found in Leviticus and Romans, which condemn such “impurity” as vile affections (NIV).  
            Like attracts like. With each interpretation or embellishment, varying  denominations evolve, each centred on that version of the truth. Once you have a religious gathering, you need rituals and dogma to really validate your existence. Small alternate views may form within the overall group, but the basics of these highly  compartmentalized teachings tend to spread like wildfire. Jesus may have sat with His apostles for one last supper, but all these years later people still drink and eat from His body, transubstantiated through a form of consecrated cannibalism. He may have suggested we remember Him in such a vivid manner but He failed to inform us of the mystical journey that would occur on our tongue every time we kneel and produce our appendage to consume Him. Most Sunday mornings you can find over a billion people chewing on the Lord and gulping down the blood of Jesus.   

“And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues. ” (Mark 16:17, NIV)  

            I have been exposed to people speaking in tongues since I first entered a Pentecostal Church when I was a teenager. The display has always struck me as quite the spectacle. You can see it almost anytime you want these days. Whether on mainstream television programs like 2014's Big Brother, or in films like 1997's The Apostle,  the Spirit now moves in High Definition. Pick the right religious television station, or walk into the right Church, and you can watch a multitude of frenzied believers pour out the Holy Spirit with unintelligible bliss. Each receptacle of this Divine energy streams a message far too alien to comprehend. It can often seem, if you watch them, and care to listen, that they are possessed by some foreign magic. This is a Holy and special gift granted only to them (and a few million other Christians scattered all around the world). I often imagine the harmony of all those souls crying out, as if some immense chorus of this indwelling rises as a voice of the one true God. In unison, they chant and sing in babble. I want to understand the message contained in this outpouring, but I cannot. I try and I listen, but I cannot identify a single word they are trying to convey. This Holy Ghost, apparently, does not know English. 
            Glossolalia (speaking in tongues) is babbling in a nonexistent language. This repetitive and pseudo-meaningless speech pattern is primarily associated with Christianity and the day of Pentecost, but not exclusively. Other manifestations have been observed in other religious practices including Paganism, “the Voodoo religion of Haiti, ” as well as “in the Hindu Gurus and Fakirs of India.” The experience is usually accompanied by a trance-like state or religious fervour. The body of each carrier tends to dance, moved by the jargon only they get to understand. Possessed by a spirit that was not there before the event, the receptacle is overcome by a “profuse and often emotionally charged speech that mimics coherent speech but is usually unintelligible to the listener and that is uttered in some states of religious ecstasy.”
            Glossolalia should not be confused with Xenoglossy, that is “the putative speaking of a natural language previously unknown to the speaker.” In the Acts of the Apostles, this was the experience the disciples had on the day of Pentecost. Peter, John and the rest of the gang had gathered “all together in one place” when out of nowhere  “a sound like a violent wind blowing came from heaven and filled the entire house where they were sitting”(Acts 2:1b-2, NASB). The reader can assume the Descent of the Holy Spirit occurred here in the Cenacle, better known as the Upper Room, first mentioned in the Gospel of Luke (22:12-13). The event eventually moves to the area of Herod’s Temple, where Judeans and Gentiles from all over the world gather. Thousands of local and foreign traders, merchants and worshippers moved about en masse. A tumult of different languages and different dialects must have risen far above the Holy Place like heat on a summer afternoon. So many voices calling in a muffle of each other, blended together like a banshee rather than one chorus. Each disciple, having been filled with the Holy Spirit, urges the crowd and then “they began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them. As they spoke, “a crowd gathered and was in confusion, because each one heard them speaking in his own language (Acts 2:3-6, NASB).
            The crowd was amazed at this wonder and asked, “How is it that each of us hears them in our native language? (Acts 2:8, NIV) Later in Caesarea, a group of people spoke in tongues (Acts 10:46) and “those present compared it to the speaking in tongues that occurred at Pentecost. Throughout 1 Corinthians (12,13,14), Paul discusses speaking in “various kinds of tongues but does not differentiate between our two modern types. We can only assume he refers to the xenoglossy experienced by the Apostles in Jerusalem. He reminds his audience that when speaking in tongues, “What good will I be to you, unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction? (14:6) He attempts to shed light on his own experiences as well as how this gift from the Holy Spirit should be used in the churches. He notes, “Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air (14:9). For Paul, speaking in tongues is speaking to God, but God is not the only one listening. He compares the manifestation to lifeless things that make sounds, such as the pipe or harp, how will anyone know what tune is being played unless there is a distinction in the notes? (14:7)
            Speaking in tongues requires an interpreter. How can anyone receive a message if they do not understand what is being said? So Paul teaches that, when in the church, I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue (14:19). Tongues are then to be a sign, not for those who believe but for those who do not believe (14:22). For Paul, if God is to summon you, you must understand the message; If the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle? (14:8) In fact, Paul warns what will happen when members of a congregation come together and everyone speaks in tongues. He urges that when “inquirers or unbelievers are present, will they not say that you are out of your mind? (14:23, NIV)
            For more contemporary people of faith, who adhere to the practice of glossolalia , it is considered a sacred language unto itself. Practiced prominently within Pentecostal and Charismatic communities, this fluid vocalizing has been deemed miraculous and a spiritual gift from Jesus. These well-meaning Christians believe their fundamentalist experience with tongues is the same experience described in the New Testament. Nothing could be further from the truth. Selective literalists claim that either form can be real, both the unlearned languages (xenoglossy) and the mysterious babble (glossolalia). They claim the later is the “language of the spirit, a “heavenly language, perhaps even “the language of the angels. This position has no scriptural foundation whatsoever.
Undoubtedly there are all sorts of languages in the world, yet none of them is without meaning. If then I do not grasp the meaning of what someone is saying, I am a foreigner to the speaker, and the speaker is a foreigner to me.
(1 Corinthians 14:10-11, NIV)
             I sat with my mouth open. I did not utter a word. Almost the entire congregation, with few exemptions, prattled on in some state of frenzy, spewing forth words and phrases as if coded messages to one another. Some raised their hands in an apparent bliss while others bounced around like children desperate to find a bathroom. The minister was the loudest of them all, prattling on in a strong but distorted version of a language with which I was most certainly not familiar. I had always believed that speaking in tongues was a tool used by believers to deliver a message straight from God to the masses. I just assumed from the jubilation in the room that this gift had somehow found its way to each one of the people all around me. When the service was over, when the grand display finally ended, I asked the church deacon, the friend who had brought me, what language it was that they were speaking. When he inquired as to my meaning, I thought he would let me in on the joke. He softly touched my shoulder and sincerely expressed his faith in things unseen. “You are blessed, he confirmed to me. “You have been witness to the very voice of God, a gift from the Holy Spirit. I was dumbfounded, quite sure this was not the way I had been instructed in my church that the Spirit would move. I had no idea that God had a speech impediment. “But what does it mean? I inquired. “That is between each person and Jesus, he replied with much conviction.  
            Over the years, I have debated this spiritual issue many times. Most fundamentalist Christians I have challenged refused to admit that the nature of their tongues spoken (glossolalia) is not based in scripture and goes against the very teachings of Paul on the matter. It was often like pulling teeth just to get them to listen. With many, a rage seemed to swell and fester. It appeared to surge from the back of each head. How dare I question an act of God? I am not the only one. Purists ask where in any text such an interpretation finds validity and Cessationists claim “the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit, such as speaking in tongues, prophetic utterances and faith healing, ceased being practiced early in Christian Church history. For many observers, the fundamentalist practice of glossolalia  is an artificial ritual and not a true rendering of the legitimate manifestation found in the Bible. What then is this experience?
            The truth is hard to hear when the lies sound so good. Just because you believe in something does not automatically make it so. Faith in a ritual or an interpretation is not really Faith. It is illusion. It is a subjective experience and is not real. I suppose if you get to pick and choose what scriptures you use, excluding those which serve you no good, then creating something for your own purposes is not that far of a stretch. I have to wonder, considering this reality, just what the hell all those people are spouting day after day, week after week until heaven? I ask myself, since this form of worship is not a valid scriptural expression, then where is it coming from and just who sent the message? Ten million Christians babbling together doesn't mean that God has spoken.
"Do not add to his words, or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar.
(Proverbs 30:6, NIV)
            It is irrelevant what fundamentalists do with their lives or believe in their minds. Anyone can have faith in something, even if the object of that faith is a figment of their imagination. If they want to howl at the moon, then more power to them. The issue for me is not what they believe but the claim they maintain that every word of the Bible, or other Holy books like the Quran, are true and then they shape each to suit themselves. All the while they babble in the aisles and urge the homosexuals, the liberals and the heathen flee from them with little or no exception. They do this very thing. Everyone who does not follow exactly what the “word of God says are destined for doom and hellfire, but somehow this ruling does not apply to them. The damage such expectations can cause to a searching soul, unable to adhere, is often crippling and even deadly. What options do you have spiritually when you are told God doesn’t want you?
            It is ironic, and seems quite hypocritical (Matthew 6:5), in light of the very non-scriptural glossolalia practiced without evidentiary support. Those who cannot tow the spiritual line that has been created are often excluded, shunned and even abandoned as non-believers. When the words of sacred texts outweigh our responsibility to love one another (John 13:34-35), we have discovered part of the problem with religion, false faith. The Words are the end all and the be all. Everyone else has to follow the rules except those making the rules. They forget that adding to scripture does not only include the addition of words, it can also mean changing words to mean what they do not. Just because you believe in something doesn't mean you won’t fall for anything. It’s like a taste of their own medicine on the tip of their tongues.
“For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book. (Revelation 22:18-19, KJV)



Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Being Human

            Empathy had always been a great challenge for me. I never seemed able to look outside my own little world. I could express compassion towards someone who struggled. I could actually experience that compassion, but I could not find it within me to see things from another person’s point of view. I was unable to walk a mile in their shoes. Quite frankly, I found it almost impossible to imagine someone else’s circumstances from an emotional perspective. I could tell myself I was trying, but the truth is I just never cared. It’s funny how empathy works that way. If you don’t have it, none of that shit matters.

            As I continued to push forward on my (then) Christian journey, I realized that empathy explained the archetype of Jesus. It has been suggested that God, from His Omniscient place above us, needed to relate a wee bit more. Down He came and we know what He went through, but in the end there was no end. He was reunited with Himself in heaven, His empathy defined by the scars He took upon Himself. It’s an argument 2000 years in the breaking. If God was really, actually here, then He truly understands us. He knows what it is like to be human. Christianity taught me this much. This did little to improve my disposition towards others. It almost freed me from any personal responsibility I might have accumulated along the way. After all, if God went through being human, then He must get why I do this and do that. I don’t need forgiveness when I can rely on His understanding. He gets me, so why change at all?
            Change can creep in like carbon dioxide. It is silent and can be clever. I would argue that exposing myself to the spiritual realm shaped me into someone different, whether I wanted it to or not. It was not a quick process, to say the least. I still am being moulded, sculpted by the life that I lead.  There have been times that the chisel dug deep, but I still had such difficulty seeing things through the eyes of another. Perhaps the part of me that wrestled with my own sense of struggle limited me in this regard. I have never really understood why empathy was such a challenge for me to obtain. In the end, I had to be led to a place of understanding. I had to find the connection that would allow me to not only comprehend how someone else was feeling but to also imagine how God was feeling about that person. I figured if I could see things the way God does, or at least try in my limited human form, then I could not only learn to sympathize but could also relate more personally to the idea that each of us is a fellow passenger, simply on a different path, and that life chips away at us all.

“Give me Your eyes for just one second
Give me Your eyes so I can see
Everything that I keep missing
Give me Your love for humanity
Give me Your arms for the broken-hearted
The ones that are far beyond my reach
Give me Your heart for the ones forgotten
Give me Your eyes so I can see”

            My Dad always says, “Sometimes God has to knock us down to get us to pay attention.” I had been knocked down and was a broken man as a consequence. I was in deep grief over the death of a loved one and I was searching for anything that might ease my pain. I was greatly burdened with guilt and hungered for relief. I took to study. I read everything I could get my hands on. From religious texts from around the world to academic studies of theology and theistic history, I went searching for God. I vigorously studied the one place I was sure that I could find Him, the only place I had been told I would find Him. The Bible is an intense read. I sped through it as a young man so I knew all the stories. In class, I had analyzed popular verses but I had never once investigated what it really had to say to me. I kept notes, researched my questions and often found myself in disbelief. All alone, still grieving, still searching for a ray of light, I would sit for hours unmoving, hoping and praying God would reveal Himself to me. Doug’s death had left me yearning, but I still just could not see.
            The adage “Coincidence is God pointing a finger” never really rang true to me until I started to listen. I believe this time of heavy burden was necessary for me to learn the most motivating revelation from all of my study. I do not mean to imply in any way that God was responsible for my hardship. Free will took care of that all on its own. I began to pay attention, listening for a voice, for anything to direct me. Faith is letting God lead you whether anyone else recognizes it or not. Faith is following when there is nothing there at all. Blind faith is true faith. It is allowing yourself to be guided without surety. It is trusting regardless of every reason in the world not to trust. It is recognizing when God speaks to you through the things you know.
            During my hibernation, I used to read from “the Good  Book” as another stimulus played on in the background. I still find outer noise stops my inner dialogue from running away with itself when exposed to the ideas and suggestions made within the Bible. On June 2, 1997, I put on CNN, a modern companion piece to an archaic report, and sat down on my couch with the television turned down low. For over an hour I read through the Gospel of Matthew, keeping more notes on my questions and any points on which I wished to return for later study. The Great Judgment began like it always did. My conviction passed before my eyes, scribbles of confirmation. Matthew 25 has always had a profound effect on me. I have felt both condemnation and proclamation from its lessons. As I approached verse 36, “I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me”(NIV), the news channel broke in with an update regarding the Timothy McVeigh verdict. The Oklahoma Bomber had just been found guilty on 11 counts of his federal indictment. In less than a heartbeat, I finally made the connection. I looked at the verse, then at the TV and I got it, I finally understood what had been asked of me. I was finally able to see.

“I've been there a million times
A couple of million eyes
Just move and pass me by
I swear I never thought that I was wrong
Well I want a second glance
So give me a second chance
To see the way You've seen the people all along”
            When you ask God for a solution, never forget to listen for the answer. Faith is believing you have found it. All the clues, all the signs will point you in the right direction. Often they were hidden in plain sight. Unfortunately for most people, they ask God to lead them to a place, then refuse to go somewhere they just don’t care to go.  Many times God will lead us someplace we don’t want to go. The way I viewed people changed that day. I discovered all I needed along the way. McVeigh was not just a monster, a psycho nut job who murdered all those people, He was a person. There were reasons he turned out the way he did. I asked myself just what he must have experienced throughout his life to make him into such a fiend. The television started playing image after image of the destruction he brought to Oklahoma City that day and I grew angry. I thought back to April 19th 1995, and I remembered the carnage that this “human” brought into all our lives. Then it hit me. Empathy doesn’t excuse a person’s behaviour, empathy allows one to apply compassion regardless of their behaviour. This is how God must see us all. Yes, even Timothy McVeigh. Even him.   
            The idea that I would have to spend eternity with McVeigh, Jeffery Dahmer and even Hitler, was a hard pill to swallow for me, but it was the remedy that I needed. In attempting to see humanity, without exclusion, as worthy of God’s forgiveness and love, I freed myself from my own thinking. God could love even me. I finally came to realize that if I was to be how God wanted me to be, then I need to start looking at people the way God does and not from some tainted mortal perspective. I had to trust, to have faith that God knows what He is doing. In discovering this Divine Grace and Empathy, I realized that God is for all. He is for the hungry and the thirsty. He stands with the stranger. He clothes anyone who is naked. He tends to anyone who is sick. He visits the prisoner. You can find Him there.

“Give me Your eyes for just one second
Give me Your eyes so I can see
Everything that I keep missing
Give me Your love for humanity
Give me Your arms for the broken-hearted
The ones that are far beyond my reach
Give me Your heart for the ones forgotten
Give me Your eyes so I can see”
(Give Me Your Eyes, Brandon Heath 2008)
            On September 4th 2013, I was in a department store when the news broke. In the shop sat dozens of television sets, in all shapes and sizes, glimmering like digital wallpaper set to the very same flame. It mattered little your position on the floor, one could not help but stop to listen when they turned up the volume. Ariel Castro, the Cleveland man who kidnapped and enslaved 3 women for over a decade, had hung himself. From one side of me a woman, I believe she was a clerk at the store, expressed, “Burn in hell!!” I also heard other grumblings from the busy place. “Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy,” spoke one older gentleman. You could almost see some form of glee in their faces. There was joy in them. I was not surprised at this reaction. When we demonize people, they stop being human. It didn’t matter how valid or justified each reaction was. I could not hide my own, so I said, “What he must have had to experience for him to turn out that way.” Of course, your own compassion rarely meets another’s approval. If looks could kill, I would have been as dead as Mr. Castro.  
“For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Hebrews 2:16-18, NIV)