Wednesday, January 31, 2007

God's Fool

Every once in a while I am blessed with the opportunity to act as God’s fool. Last night was one of those times.

Just prior to Thanksgiving I traveled to Israel with a small group of Nashville rabbis and Evangelical pastors. Last night we convened an open forum to discuss our first-of-its-kind journey with the community at large. Hundreds of people attended. For the most part we focused on a number of amazing moments of deep dialogue that occurred between us, and while it is my habit to play Devil’s Advocate in such settings, I kept myself under control, and happily joined in the Jewish-Evangelical camaraderie. And then I got carried away.

An audience member asked a question regarding the fate of the Jews in the Evangelical scheme of things. The pastors spoke passionately about God’s eternal covenant with the Jewish people and how the modern State of Israel was proof of God’s steadfast love of the Jews. As they spoke I kept waiting for something more. As I heard the question, the person was not asking about the political fate of the Jews in this world, but the eternal fate of the Jews in the world to come.

While I applaud and welcome Christian Zionism and its love of and support for Israel, I had learned, or thought I had learned, that in addition to their belief that God would resettle the Jews in Israel the relationship between God and the Jews was such that they had a special place in Heaven that did not require them to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. I swear to Krishna I heard this from the pastors while I was in Israel.

Proud of my evangelical friends’ theological liberalism I took the microphone and shared that teaching with the crowd, inviting the pastors to affirm that I had heard them correctly.

Dead silence. A dead, dark, deafening silence that sucked the heads of my colleagues deep into their shoulders. The kind of silence neither Rachel Carlson nor Clarice’s lambs could never know. A silence so painful I smelled brimstone rising around my chair.

Suddenly our moderator, a Vatican Two Catholic who believed God, like Motel Six, left a light on for all people, said, “Well, I want to thank you all for coming. Good night.”

Really, that is how the evening ended. A ninety-minute Jewish-Evangelical love-fest ruined by five seconds of, “What, you still think I’m going to burn in Hell for all eternity? Damn!”

To be fair, one Evangelical panel member came up to me afterward and copped to being the one who told me Jews were going to Heaven, but admitted to being the odd person out theologically. I just heard what I wanted to hear. I do that a lot.

I am not proud of ending the evening on a down note. It was not my intent. In fact, I had intended the opposite. But if someone had to point out that the Emperor wore no clothes, I am glad it was me.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Proud to be an American

Barack Obama, whose initials alone will preclude his ever being elected president of the United States, announced that he is formally exploring a run for the presidency in 2008. Like so many others I love BO. True, I know little of what he stands for, but that doesn’t matter. He is young, handsome, cool, hip, and black. For the moment that is plenty.

But as much as I am happy to raise my arms and shout, I love BO (is this joke getting stale?), I am even more happy to shout “I love America.” I am so proud to be an American. Yes, we are screwing up royally in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Palestine, Syria, Darfur, and probably a dozen other places of which I am unaware, there is something very exciting going on as we move into the presidential race of 2008.

Look at the likely candidates from the Democratic Party alone: Hillary Clinton, a woman; Barack Obama, an African American; Bill Richardson, a Hispanic; John Edwards, a WASP. What other country has such diversity? If we could get Joe Liberman to run again and add a Native American to the mix, you would have to vote Democratic just to make history. Of course you couldn’t vote for Edwards, but we could make him a secretary of something or other.

Can you imagine a Native American and Jewish Joe winning the White House? They could pay off our national debt through casino and bingo winnings alone. And I would love to see a National Totem Pole next to the Nation’s Christmas Tree and Menorah.

But I’m serious: what other country could do this? Sure, Israel had Golda, India had Gandhi, and England had Maggie, but none of them was Hispanic. The fact that we can field a diverse slate of candidates like this says more about us than any foreign policy madness coming out of the White House.

I am deeply saddened by and angered over American foreign policy. But I am proud to be an American. I don’t think we can or should promote American values in other countries; I do think we have to protect our civil liberties in the face of an emerging American fascism hiding behind fear of Islamic terrorism and insane notions such as The War on Christmas. And I am proud that we have not abandoned our true values— not the narrow minded heretic hunting witch burning values of the Puritans, but the liberal values of the Enlightenment that laid set in motion a country that is devoted to putting the ax to sexism, racism, anti-Semitism, etc.

With our values in place, I am confident we can survive the last years of neo-con madness with our souls intact.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Taming the Taliban

Sometimes the cure is worse than the disease. In an essay by Dinesh D’Souza entitled “The America Terrorists Never See” (USA Today, Tuesday, January 23, 2007), Mr. D’Souza says that the only reason Muslim terrorists hate us is because of our decadent American values. Democracy and capitalism are OK and Islam isn’t really opposed to them. What Muslims hate and what Americans have to stop exporting is our wicked culture. If we want to win the hearts and minds of Muslim s abroad President Bush must highlight the America not portrayed by Hollywood or the music industry:

“He should not hesitate to speak out against American cultural exports that are shameless and corrupting. And America should promote traditional family values, not feminism and homosexual rights, in international forums like the United Nations.

“If traditional Muslims realized that there are millions of Americans who go to church, take care of their families, and live by traditional values, they would be less likely to view us or our leaders as the Great Satan, and fewer of them would be tempted to join the camp of the Islamic radicals.”

I read this with stunned disbelief. What Mr. D’Souza is suggesting is that we portray a Taliban-like America in order to win over the Taliban-like Muslim. It would go something like this:

Hey, look at us; we don’t give our women equal rights either! We make the mistake of allowing abortion, but we are trying to correct that. And we still don’t pay them as much as men, so we really are on the right track.

And, don’t worry about gays; we hate homos as much as you guys do. In America, we don’t even allow men to hold hands, and the Saudis do that, so we are even more homophobic— no need to fear us (unless of course you’re a closeted gay Muslim in which case we will beat your ass to prove to your straight Allah fearing neighbors that we are as tough and God fearing as they are).

Yeah, and we hate Hollywood! The only TV we really love is House on the Prairie and 24 (and those Muslims on the show are evil only because they don’t realize that we Americans love God and hate gays just like they do).

And music? If it weren’t for those godless liberals we’d burn people like Madonna. Look it up, those are the values our country was founded on. Good Christian values like burning people at the state, and pillorying unbelievers in the stockade, and exiling heretics from God-fearing colonies like Massachusetts.

And we love church. Sure our preachers say that Allah is a false god and Mohammed is a pedophile, but you say Jesus isn’t the biological son of God, and we known that’s not true. So let’s not quibble about the fact that you are going to burn in Hell for all eternity.

Yep, America isn’t the Great Satan, liberals are. So if you are going to set off a nuke in America do it in LA just like you did on 24. And don’t worry, this time we’ll send Jack Bower after the ACLU.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Power of Juan

If you want to make money in the religion business you have got to start your own religion. I am fishing for some good ideas, and praying for God to guide me in this venture. As if in answer to my prayer, as I was watching a trailer for the movie called One, the Movie, I was struck with a revelation. God may be calling me to promote the Power of Juan.

Since I was sixteen I was convinced that God is one. Not simply one numerically, but the only one, all there is. Some forty years later I realize that I was wrong. I am not called to teach that God is one, but the truer belief that God is Juan:


At last I realize the truth. But intellectual knowing is not enough. We need a practice of realizing the Juanness of all. This practice I call Juandering. It is a walking meditation practice incorporating the repetition of the Divine Name, Juan, leading to the state of Juanness, the state of being aware of the Juan in, with, and as all things. In addition thrice-daily prayer will be instituted were we ask God to make us Juan with everything.

Every faith needs a clergy, so I am creating the Holy Order of Juan, members of which will be called Juanitas. A bishop elected by the community itself will lead each local Juanita community. The bishop will be called Don Juan. Juanitas and their Don will gather on Day Juan of each week (Sunday to pagans) to Juander together through their respective neighborhoods singing praises to the Juan.

To help deepen our lives we will imitate the lives of saints. Chief among these is Jesus who taught that he and his Father are Juan. All of us can realize this as well.

Since we are all Juan we do not discriminate against women, homosexuals, beings of other species, or nature as a whole. There is also no room for infidels or the damned. There is simply Juan way to live: Juanderfully.

Of course a religion without an enemy lacks drama and that may make it more difficult to sell since there is no one to sell it to, so I single out those who have not yet realized the Juanness of all things. These people engage life from the state of Tunis, that state of mind that is not yet Juan and whole.

To promote my new faith I plan to film: “Juan, The Movie.” In it I travel the globe asking great religious leaders to speak of the Juan. As it becomes clear that each of these sages is committed to the Juan, I am certain that viewers of the film will join my faith and proclaim a new day of Juanness for all.

If you would like to become a Juanita and help develop this faith our most immediate need is for a logo and t-shirt. Then we will need a martyr. Let me know.

Yours in Juan,

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Heaven and Hell

I received email today from a newspaper reporter requesting that I respond to a series of questions on heaven and hell for an article he was writing. Given the limits of space, I imagine that he will not be able to print the whole of my remarks, so I thought I would share them with you here:

Before I can answer your questions, let me be very clear about my definitions of the words I will use.

First, God. God is the Source and Substance of all that is. God manifests as and transcends all reality. God is not other than creation, nor is God limited to creation.

Second, Self. The individual is a manifestation of God. We are to God as rays of sunlight are to the sun. Sunlight is simply the sun manifest in time and space. It is not other than the sun nor is it all of the sun. You and I are rays of God. We are not all of God, nor are we other than God. This is what the Bible means when it says we are created in the image and likeness of God.

When you know who you are as the image and likeness of God you live from love with love. You embrace each moment with gratitude, and each being with justice and compassion. Living this way is heaven. Living any other way is hell.

So now let me turn to your questions:

1. Is there a heaven or hell?

Heaven and hell are states of mind. The first I call mochin d’gadlut, spacious mind, and the second mochin d’katnut, narrow mind.

When we are in spacious mind we are awake to God in, with, and as all reality; we identify with all life, and find ourselves embraced by and living from ahava rabba, infinite love. In spacious mind there is no Jew or Gentile, male or female, slave or free, saved or damned. There is only God manifest in infinite variety. In spacious mind we live freely, lovingly, fearlessly, with compassion and hospitality toward all we meet. This is heaven.

When we are in narrow mind we are locked in the prison of ego, and imagine ourselves to be separate from God and creation. We live in perpetual fear, and engage life without trust, love, and compassion. In narrow mind we divide and judge, calling some chosen or saved and others infidels or damned. In narrow mind differences, God’s infinite creativity, scare us, and we worship the idol of conformity. In narrow mind we imagine ourselves to be alone, afraid, and adrift. This is hell.

We move into and out of heaven and hell depending on our state of mind. The purpose of authentic spiritual practice is to open us to heaven and spacious mind. Too often, however, we worship at the altar of ego and end up in the hell of narrow mind. It has nothing to do with God rewarding or punishing us. It has everything to do with our willingness to see what is true.

2. Where do people go after they die?

The question assumes something about people that I do not assume: namely that we are entities separate from God and can therefore “go” somewhere. I do not believe this.

I am to God as a wave to the ocean. Each wave is unique and distinct, yet all waves are nothing other than the ocean in which they arise. Each being is unique and distinct, and yet not other than God who is all that is.

When a wave “dies” it simply returns to its truest nature; it becomes what it always was—the ocean. When I die, I simply return to my true nature, God. Do I “go” anywhere? No. There is nowhere to go. There is only God here, now, as me, as you, as all things rising and falling.

For people who believe that death is the doorway to heaven or hell, eternal reward or punishment, death matters. To me death does not matter. Life and how I live it matters. Death takes care of itself.

3. Why do you believe this?

I believe what I believe because of my experiences in meditation and prayer. I am not moved by doctrine or creed. I am not moved by another’s opinion, or by a teaching in a book, no matter how old or revered. There are many holy books and they say different and often contradictory things. How am I to choose which is true? I prefer to test matters for myself: to look and see what is so. In this I follow the advice of the Bible: be still and know. When I am still, when my narrow mind stops racing from distraction to distraction, I slip into spacious mind and know that God is all.

4. Describe your understanding of what is in heaven and hell.

Given that for me heaven and hell are states of mind here and now, what is in heaven is not different from what is in hell. The difference between heaven and hell is not content, but my relationship to that content.

In both heaven and hell, reality presents itself: there is you, and me, and everything else. When I am in the heavenly state of spacious mind I engage reality with absolute trust, love, compassion, justice, and equanimity. When I am in the hellish state of narrow mind I engage the same reality with absolute terror, anger, defensiveness, and violence. The reality doesn’t change. I change.

You can always tell when you and others are in heaven: you are fearless, loving, welcoming, and kind. You can always tell when you and others are in hell: you are afraid, cruel, divisive, and abusive.

5. Describe your understanding of who will be in heaven and who in hell.

We are all in heaven sometimes and we are in hell sometimes. To the extent that you know you are a manifestation of God, you are in heaven. To the extent that you imagine you are separate from God, you are in hell.

6. How do people get into heaven or hell?

We fall into the mind state of hell through ignorance of what is. We fall into the mind state of heaven by awakening to the awareness of what is.

When we are in hell we are like a man who wakes in the middle of the night to find a poisonous snake coiled next to his leg at the foot of his bed. All night long he lies awake, frozen in terror, praying with all his might that the snake not bite him. As dawn breaks he suddenly sees that the “snake” was no snake at all, but a belt that he forgot to put away when he went to bed. Once he knows the truth, the snake is gone, the fear is gone, and he is filled with joy and relief. This is heaven. The “snake” is the notion that you are other than God. Wake up and you are in heaven. Stay asleep and you are in hell. It is your choice.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Dalit Delete

Despite the fact that India’s constitution abolished the Dalit or Untouchable “caste “ (technically Dalit is not one of the four castes— Priests, Warriors, Merchants, and Laborers) in 1950, millions of Hindus still suffer the harsh indignities of Dalit membership. Within the Hinduism that supports the caste and out-caste system, the best a good Dalit can hope for is to merit rebirth as a member of a higher caste by submitting quietly to the horrors of Dalit life. This is a flawless system of social control.

While rebirth may provide hope for many Dalit, millions of other Untouchables have found a way of raising their status in this life: they are converting to Buddhism. Buddhism has no caste system, and by becoming a Buddhist a Dalit ceases to be a Dalit. Last October alone almost 200,000 Dalit Hindus became Buddhists thus saving themselves potentially countless lifetimes working their way up the Hindu ladder of success.

This got me thinking. If Hindus can by-pass the negative side of their religion by changing teams, why can’t the rest of us? If you are a Doubting Thomas Christian, for example, and just cannot be certain that your faith is strong enough to secure you a place in Heaven, why not become a Jew? As a Jew you can measure your success by tallying how many good deeds and religious obligations you do versus what a schmuck you are. A single good deed can tip an otherwise balanced scale and get you into heaven. Deeds, unlike faith, are something under your control; so make the switch.

Or if you a Jew who can’t shake the notion that Moses invented the whole commandment thing, why not become a Taoist and seek to live in harmony with nature? Or you may be a Muslim with a thirst for alcohol. No problem, become a Catholic and drink away. Or you could just skip the whole mess and become an atheist. If there is no God there is no need to placate him or follow his social mores.

All of this jumping ship suggests, however, that no religion or lack there of really matters. If we can change religions to avoid what we don’t like in one or prefer in another, we have to admit that it is we, and not God, who is deciding what is and is not true. Who would convert from the Truth and a seat in Heaven to swear allegiance to falsehood and get yourself damned to Hell? Yet people change religions all the time without ever really knowing which if any of them is true.

We choose to believe what we choose to believe because it makes sense to us to believe it, and not because we know for certain that it is in fact true. If this is so, and it is, you should take a close look at the religion you say you believe in and see if in fact you do believe in it. If you don’t, why not switch? But even if you do believe in the teachings of your religion, don’t take it too seriously: after all what do you know for certain anyway?

Thursday, January 04, 2007

T-Shirts for the Apocalypse

Saturday’s Jesus t-shirts (see my previous blog) got me thinking: Why not market a series of religious t’s that would unabashedly promote specific religions as these two Jesus t-shirts promote Christianity?

The more I thought about, the more I realized that while I have seen t-shirts with symbols of other faiths emblazoned on them, I have never seen a shirt that actually promoted another faith. I went on line to double-check this, and while my survey was anything but scientific, I could not find a single shirt shouting, “Be a Sikh” the way so many Jesus shirts shout, “Be a Christian.”

So the only thing left to do is design my own. I have no real interest in getting into the t-shirt business, but I want to offer a little pump priming for those of you who might be so inclined as to create and market a line of in-your-face religious t-shirts. So here are some shirt ideas I came up with. Please feel free to add your own in the comments section of the Blogger version of Toto.

Shak-T (Pro-Hindu)

1. (Under an image of the blue God, Krishna:) “You don’t have to be bluish to
love Krishna”
2. (Under the same image:) “Go Blue!”
3. “Born again? Big deal! Why Not Be Born Over and Over Again?”

T-of-Life (Pro-Judaism)

1. “God’s Chosen. Can’t Beat That!”
2. “Jesus may be your Christ, but he’s my cousin.”

T-had (Pro-Islam)

1. “Submit! It’s What We Do.”
2. “Everyone comes to Allah Sunni or later.”
3. (Front:) “99 Names of God” (Back:) “and not one of them is Jesus”
4. (Under a picture of the Kaaba:) “Dare to be Square.”

T-Cup (Pro-Catholic)

1. (Beneath an image of the Holy Grail:) “Obey Your Thirst!”

Anyway, I hope you get the idea. If you come up with an award winning design and make millions selling it, just don’t forget to send me one.