Monday, July 30, 2012

...About Religion

You don’t have to know everything to know something. That’s why I put this together. As I celebrate my 53rd birthday in August, this is what I’ve learned—or at least some of it. It’s not everything, but it’s a start. My hope is this: That I will continue learning. And that you will share with me what you’ve learned.

1. Heaven. If you want to know what Heaven is like, go watch a child play.

2. Hell. Hell is not fire and brimstone that is stoked by a little red person with a tail and horns. Hell is a separation from God—a separation from happiness, from goodness, from love. God does not send anyone to hell. Each person does that on his or her own by accepting or rejecting the grace of God. The choice is ours.

3. Finding God. You have to seek out God to find God. Seek and you shall find. You have to make an effort. There’s just enough evidence that you can find him, if you want. People are looking for absolute evidence, which isn’t going to happen. It’s all about faith. You can’t have faith in the proven. I don’t have faith that two and two is four. With God you have two options: You can throw in the towel and say he doesn’t exist, or you can accept the fact that life is painful and tragic and messy and that God’s plans don’t often coincide with yours. And that just because you don’t understand doesn’t mean God doesn’t exist or isn’t good. The first choice offers no hope. The second does. But it’s up to you to make the first move. Seek.

4. Listening for God. God whispers.

5. God talking. Why is it when you talk to God it’s praying but when God talks to you it’s psychosis?

6. Proof of God’s existence. If you are looking for me to prove God mathematically, I can’t do that. In fact, no one can, anymore than someone can mathematically prove the existence of love.

7. Our existence. “We are not human beings having a spiritual existence; we are spiritual beings having a human existence.” —Pierre Tielhard de Chardin. Truth.

8. Our two-part harmony. There are two parts to humans: emotion and intellect; faith and reason; matter and spirit; inside and outside; body and soul. Call them what you want, but we are both/and creatures, not either/or. And it seems to me that much of the conflict between religious and non-religious people is the acknowledgement of this fact—that non-believers only want to acknowledge the outside and not the inside, the intellect and not the emotion, the body and not the soul. Perhaps because you can scientifically measure intellect, reason and body but not emotion, soul and faith.

9. Faith. I like the definition that faith is the evidence of things unseen. Just because you can’t see something doesn’t mean it’s not there or, really, that it isn’t vital to its existence. There is a behindness and beyondness and beneathness to all things. Take a tree, for instance. You can see the bark and leaves and limbs. But you can’t see the roots or the nutrients flowing through its trunk or that it’s absorbing carbon monoxide and giving off oxygen. In science there’s something known as the probability theory in which there’s a hidden or veiled reality that can’t be seen but seems to exist based on patterns. We have faith that these things exist because we can see the evidence. In my world, I can see the evidence of the existence of God within me and all around me.

10. Belief. “‘Belief’ did not originally mean believing a set of doctrines or teachings. In both Greek and Latin its roots mean ‘To give one’s heart to.’ The ‘heart’ is the self at its deepest level. Believing, therefore, does not consist of giving one’s mental assent to something, but involves a much deeper level of one’s self. Believing in Jesus does not mean believing doctrines about him. Rather, it means to give one’s heart, one’s self at its deepest level, to Jesus.” —Marcus Borg. Truth.

11. Our common cry. The most honest, heartfelt words spoken in the Bible: “I believe; help my unbelief.”

12. Faith and reason. Abraham Lincoln was writing a letter to a friend in which he said he was “actively involved with reading the Bible.” Not only is this a good piece of advice on how to read the Bible, but Lincoln went on to encourage his friend to do the same, saying, “Take all of it you can based on reason and accept the rest of it based on faith.” Lincoln was a smart man. You can’t take the entire Bible based on reason, and you shouldn’t take it all just based on faith. There needs to be a balance, and this is the best way I’ve found to find that balance. The more you learn the more the balance may tilt toward the reason side, but it won’t ever get there completely.

13. Science and religion: It seems to me science and religion are two sides of the same coin, and if you only look at one side you’re missing half the picture. Matter and spirit; body and soul. God can be found in both—in all things, as it were, even atoms and molecules. Yet for some reason we pit them against each other like they can’t coexist. Wrong. All science is doing is uncovering how God made things work. Great. It doesn’t take away from our faith, it simply enhances our understanding.

14. Creation. I can’t look at the universe and not see God. It’s too organized. I can’t look at life and not see God. It’s too beautifully complex and interwoven. To say the universe or the human body came about simply as a result of time, matter and chance is like saying a 747 was created by an explosion at a junkyard. The universe is so finely tuned that based on the laws of probability, the odds of it creating itself are so infinitesimal that if anyone got the same results for any other scientific experiment, the results would throw them out because of improbability.

15. Big Bang theory. “Whatever is in motion must be moved by another, for motion is the response of matter to power. In a world of matter, there can be no power without life, and life pre-supposed a being from which it emanates the power to move things, such as tides and planets. Or there is the argument that says nothing can be the cause of itself. It would be prior to itself if it caused itself to be, and that is an absurdity. Then there is the law of life. We see objects that have no intellect, such as stars and planets, moving in a constant pattern, cooperating ingeniously with one another. They achieve these movements not by accident but by design. Whatever lacks intelligence cannot move intelligently.” —Billy Graham. Truth.

16. Evolution. There is a directionality in the universe. It’s unfinished. It’s evolving. And that’s the way God intended it. He had to make it that way. If there were nothing more to be done than we wouldn’t be distinct from God. We would simply be part of God. There would be no suffering, true, but there would also be no freedom and no future. What kind of world would that be? Think about it. What kind of world would you have created? Safe? Or dangerous and exciting?

17. Zest for life. No, man did not have dinosaurs as pets. And, no, the earth is not 6,000 years old. It’s around 17 billion years old. If earth’s existence was a 40-volume set of books, each 485 pages long, and each page equals 1 million years, we wouldn’t come into existence until the last 1/10th of the last page. But the key is we did come into existence. We’ve evolved since then and we’re evolving now—at least in the micro sense. We’re also different. We’re the only species in our gene pool. We’re the only species capable of fully rational thought or aware of our own evolution. The question, though, is how did we come into existence. A scientific fluke of time plus matter plus chance? I like what Jesuit paleontologist Pierre Tielhard de Chardin has to say on the matter: What the neo-Darwinists fail to take into consideration is the one thing that is required to make survival work: a zest for life. “This is the fundamental driving force that impels and directs the universe along its main axis of complexity-consciousness. If this zest for life didn’t exist, life never could have evolved. Like a sick person revolted by the sight of a banquet, human beings would be struck down by biological nausea against life. But evolution has become conscious in our minds to the point where we can control its own driving forces.” Where did that zest come from? It had to be there from the beginning. It had to be created.

18. Understanding God. If you think you understand God, that’s simply evidence that you don’t. Our minds are too finite. And that’s the problem with a lot of non-believers—they can’t understand God, so they reject religion. But I think those who deny the existence of God are often simply confusing their God with the true God. Their God does not exist—the God of earthly security, the God of salvation from life’s disappointments, the God of life insurance, the God who takes care so that children never cry and that justice marches in upon the earth, the God who transforms life’s laments, the God who doesn’t let human love end up in disappointment. That’s not the way God works.

19. How the Bible imitates life. Adolfo Nicholas, S.J., the former superior general of the Jesuit order, gave a talk in Mexico City about how there are a lot of unfinished endings and a lot of unanswered questions in the Scriptures—what happened with the prodigal son(s), for instance. It’s unsettling, he said, because you’re in the middle of a drama and don’t know how it ends. Life is like that. His solution: focus on the journey and not the end. Enjoy and learn from the moment. That’s good advice.

20. Future. If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans for the future.

21. God is not my copilot. Those bumper stickers that proclaimed “God is my copilot” always drove me nuts. That means we are the pilot, that we are at the controls. Hardly. Control is a nice concept, but that’s about it. Life is too haphazard for us to think we’re in control. Our best intentions, no matter how well planned they may be, will go awry. Guaranteed. At best we’re in the co-pilot seat and taking commands from God, who’s actually flying the plane.

22. Religious growth. “Just as we can no longer live simply within the physical universe of Newton, so we can no longer live spiritually within the limits of our earlier traditions.” Thomas Berry. Truth. Why are people afraid to grow spiritually, to explore, to research, to uncover new understandings? By exploring, we haven’t denied the truths of Newton. We have just understood them better. Why wouldn’t we want to do the same with our religion?

23. Progressive revelation. No matter how desperately some people might try, we cannot simply take today’s issues and apply it to what was done two millennium—or more—ago. Why? Two reasons: Progressive revelation—we’ve learned a lot in the last 2,000 years, things that the writers of the scriptures didn’t know, and this changes our views and our understanding—biologically, geologically, historically, astronomically. Galileo’s heliocentric world. The discovery of dinosaurs bones. Hubble’s pictures of our universe. We shouldn’t be threatened by these things theologically, religiously or spiritually. You can’t protect your heart by cutting off your head. And, two, in medias re—we are in the middle of things. We’re changing. The world is constantly and endlessly transforming, and no matter how much we want to or try, we can’t go back. The best we can do is understand it and respect it. What’s true today was not true in the ancient world. They didn’t deal with some of the issues that dominate our society, nor do we deal with theirs. For instance, they weren’t interested in truth and history the same way we’re interested in history and truth. They lived in an oral society, so the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament material were not meant to be read silently but were written down to serve as memory aids so they could be performed orally. They lived in an honor/shame culture. We don’t. So commands like turning the other cheek goes totally against the social grain of the time. You defended your honor. They lived in a dyadic society. You were who your group said you were, so ideas such as loving your enemies was insanity. They believed in a benefits cycle, that God blessed the rich with benefits, so the message of equality and access of all people to God was unheard of. None of this makes us better, it just makes us different. But if we want to honestly understand what the writers of the Bible intended to be understood at the time it was written, we must try to understand all that was taking place at the time. We must gain insight into what the writers of the scriptures were thinking about and pondering in the days when this was written. They were trying to convey a message that people would remember. We cannot simply read a text that was written two millennium ago and apply it to today’s world.

24. Classicist worldview vs. modern worldview. Christianity seems to be split into two different camps these days, and the anger that spews between the two is not only un-Christianlike, but is embarrassing. And unnecessary. Both sides, it seems to me, are trying to get to the same place—from point A to point B—but are just taking different paths. One’s looping around the top, the other is looping around the bottom. One is approaching life with a classicist and the other with a modern or progressive worldview. The classicist worldview pretty much begins and ends with faith. It’s all about the heart. You don’t need to know, just believe. It’s essentially unaffected by areas such science and the complexities of the human experience. It’s unchanging. The progressive worldview, on the other hand, while also being based in the heart (all faith is founded there), is more likely to take seriously areas such as historical development, or the uncertainty and complexities of the human existence. As such, it is forced to have a more modest approach to moral claims and be open to revising positions of the evidence warrants it. I prefer the second. If others prefer the first, that’s fine. That doesn’t make them wrong, just different. Just don’t tell me I’m wrong and going to hell.

25. Getting into heaven. It’s not about following rules. It’s about love. And faith.

26. Good vs. evil. A Native American boy is struggling with a decision. Some of his friends want to do something that he doesn’t think is a good idea. So he goes to his grandfather and explains the situation.
            “Within each of our hearts there are two wolves,” the grandfather says, “a good wolf and an evil wolf. And every day of your life the wolves engage in a fierce battle for control of your heart.”
            “Which one wins?” the boy asks.
            The grandfather pauses for a moment. “The one you feed.”

27. Prayers. “There are only four basic prayers when you get right down to it: Gimme. Thanks. Ooops. Wow.” —Rabbi Marc Gellman. Truth.

28. Other religions.
I spent 18 months living next door to a Tibetan monk. That may not be unusual in Tibet, but I live in Kentucky, so it was not exactly the norm. He was a great person. Nice. Friendly. Wouldn’t harm a flea. Always smiling. Always laughing. I would hear him ringing a bell as he said his prayers early in the mornings when I got up to run. I once asked him why he rang the bell and he said, “Oh, that’s just to keep me awake. Ah ha ha ha.” When he found out I worked at a Catholic university he would ask me, “What’s the news out of Rome?” I would say, “I don’t know. The Pope didn’t call me today.” He’d laugh, “Ah ha ha ha.” We became friends. I fixed things for him when they broke. He taught me about Buddhism. Once, on a major Buddhist holy day, he asked me to drive him to Eden Park because he needed to be as high on a hill as he could so he could worship. I felt honored he would ask me to help him with his Buddhist celebration, even if it was something so minor. I have another friend who is a rabbi, who is one of the most amazing and interesting people you would ever want to meet. People flock to be around him. Why? Because he has a heart of gold. He truly cares about people, and people can sense that. Immediately. He once invited me to his house for a Sabbath dinner. That, too, was an honor to take part in his religious tradition. So, according to certain interpretations of my religion, these two friends of mine are going to hell simply because they don’t worship Jesus. Really!? God created them. He loves them. Why would he eternally punish these two very devout, religious people? That’s not in keeping with my understanding of God. God is love. Not hate.

29. The people you’ll meet in Heaven.
Plan to be surprised. God is more forgiving of other people’s sins than we are comfortable with.

30. Attracting others.
There are two ways to attract people to religions: Shower them with love or (figuratively and literally) scare the hell out of them. It seems to me the first is the only legitimate way to go about this. Street preachers who scream at people that they are going to hell because they smoke or cuss or don’t believe exactly the same things they do, do a disservices to Christianity—or whatever religion they’re espousing. The Gospel in one word is love. Preach that.

 31. How to grow a Christian. We didn’t go to church very much growing up. In fact, we didn’t even go often enough to even be considered CEOs—Christmas and Easter only. But religion was all around us in the form of other people. One person in particular had a strong impact on our family. Her name was Ella, although everyone called her LaLa. She was about 5-foot-nothing, weighed 200-plus pounds, was uneducated, worked pouring drinks and serving cookies to the people who just gave a pint of blood at the place where my mom worked. She lived in Section 8 housing and spent what little money she made taking care of her sister who was bedridden with MS. When we got a new car she thought we were living large—it was a Ford Pinto. Everyone loved LaLa. You couldn’t help but love her because her personality, optimism and faith were so contagious. After spending time with her, you left feeling better about life. During the years that we struggled to make ends meet, LaLa would always tell my mom, “You just put everything in the hands of the Lord. He’ll take care of everything.” Every day she would tell this to my mom, who would come home and share the words we us. When I got out on my own and I discovered how harsh life can be, the words of LaLa always came back to me. “You just put it in the hands of the Lord.” That’s what got me out of bed on Sunday mornings and into church. My life has been dramatically changed as a result. What I learned is this: You never know what seeds you might be planting by what you say and who you are.

32. What a Christian looks like. I once heard this at a retreat. It was said in passing and not meant to be profound, but it left a mark on me: “You are the best Christian that someone knows.” You may not know any Bible verses or be able to preach a sermon or argue with the people who knock on your door and want to talk to you about heaven and hell, but simply by going to church, you are someone’s definition of what a Christian looks like. That’s a lot of responsibility.

33. Love thy neighbor. Thy gay neighbor, thy straight neighbor, thy neighbor with a different skin color, thy neighbor with the accent, thy neighbor with the tattoos and orange hair. God created all of us in his image. There are no second-class citizens, no minorities, no human beings greater or lesser than any other. We are all the same in his eyes. The only difference between you and them is they sin differently than you. So drop your stones.

34. How to love your neighbor. One of the people who’s heavily influenced me is Viktor Frankl who was a psychotherapist in Austria in the 1940s. He was also a Jew, and he was rounded up by the Nazis and put in the concentration camps at Auschwitz and Dachau. He wrote a great book called Man’s Search for Meaning, and in it he tells the story of the day his camp was liberated. Some of the prisoners—who had been starved, tortured, brutalized, demeaned, abused and left hanging to life by the thinnest of threads by the Germans—hid the camp commandant and would not turn him over to the soldiers who liberated the camp until they promised they would not kill the man. How many of us can claim we would do the same?

35. Homosexuality. There are five references in the Bible about homosexuality—none by Jesus. Yet there are hundreds of references about social justice, including dozens by Jesus. So why does the lesser overshadow the greater? The answer, in short, is power and control. People need an enemy and they need something to fear. (This is also a secret of politicians.) If they have an enemy, they can find ways to strike out against that enemy, to claim superiority over that enemy so they, in turn, feel powerful and happy about themselves. That’s also a lot easier than lifting someone up. Gay people happen to be the current target. They are what African Americans were in the 1950s, and we’ll look back on this time with the same confusion and “How stupid were those people” feelings as we do now looking back on Southern police forces spraying people with fire hoses and attacking them with angry dogs. The bottom line, though, is this: Homosexuality itself is not a sin. A sin is a conscious, intentional separation from God. Gay people do not choose to be gay; that’s how they were born. (Dare I say, “That’s how God made them”?) Some may argue that homosexual sex is a sin, but to those people I say don’t go casting stones at somebody just because they sin differently than you.

36. Natural law. Many of the moral arguments regarding sexual issues that seem to dominate our culture these days are based on the idea of natural law—God set the laws of nature, so if something is being done that goes against what it was naturally intended for, then it’s a sin. Sex is intended for procreation, for example, and if procreation isn’t a possibility then it’s a sin. It’s the basis for arguments against contraception and homosexuality, among others, and supersedes the order of reason, which comes from humans. Here’s the problem: Procreation isn’t a possibility with masturbation. Procreation, however, is a possibility with rape, incest and adultery. Therefore, masturbation is more of a sin than those others? Wrong. I, again, go back to my saying: Trust God but lock your car. God gave us the ability to have faith in him and the natural order, but He also gave us the ability to reason and think for ourselves so we can survive and grow. Or use the Wesleyan quadrilateral (scripture, tradition, reason and experience) when making decisions about these issues.

37. Wesleyan quadrilateral. John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church, used four sources when coming to theological conclusions: Scripture, tradition, reason and experience. It’s a great way of making decisions because our understanding of Scripture is constantly changing, our traditions are ever evolving, our reasoning is forever expanding and our experiences and endlessly growing. What, for example, do reason and experience inform us about women being ordained? Are they fully capable physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually? Yes. Have they proven through other jobs to be fully capable? Yes. What does Scripture say about the issue? Nothing. It’s based on a tradition because all of disciples were men. But why were they all men? Because Jesus lived in a patriarchal time and society, but he still treated women equally. He was the first women’s libber. So why are we holding on so strongly to just tradition?

38. Abortion. What I truly wish is that we would spend as much time and energy and human compassion on what happens to a human being after he is born as we do before he is born.

39. Religious obscenities. The biggest obscenity to religion is those who use it and twist it to espouse their hate. Like Osama bin Laden or the people who hold up signs that say “God hates fags” or the North Carolina minister who recently advocated taking all homosexuals and locking them inside an electric fence until they die. the name of God, of course. That’s obscene.

40. Things Jesus never said. “Call me. I can help your team win.” | “I carry the King James Bible. All other versions are wrong.” | “Follow me and I will bring you fame and fortune.” | “I’m not concerned about the very poor.” | “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America.” | “I’m worried about who will end up the next emperor of Rome. I think I’ll start a political action committee.” | “He who dies with the most toys wins.” | “I’m a (fill in your political party here).”

41. Jesus was not Plan B. I’ve never liked the substitutionary atonement theory that says Jesus died for our sins. God didn’t goof. He didn’t look at Adam and Eve and say, “Ooops, they sinned. I didn’t see that coming. Now what do I do? I need a Plan B. I know, I’ll send Jesus down to Earth as a sacrifice and then everything with the humans will be OK because I didn’t think they would sin and I can’t think of another way to atone for it.” Didn’t God stop humans from sacrificing things with Abraham and Isaac? Jesus was part of the plan from the very beginning. Jesus’ purpose was a revelation of God, of love. He was sent here to show us how to live—how to listen and follow God—how to love and offer us a glimpse of heaven. Everything Jesus said about the Kingdom of God pointed to love—and not just ordinary love but incredible, super-abundant, overflowing love. Jesus never said the Kingdom of Heaven was like a violent, bloody Sam Peckinpah movie. God doesn’t care about money or power the way humans do. He cares about peoples’ hearts and compassion for other humans. That’s why he sent Jesus—to show us the way. And Jesus refused to change his mind when faced with the very real possibility of being killed. He refused to let go of this higher standard, which was a challenge the current power structure. So the power structure killed him. jesus didn’t die for our sins, he died because of our sins.

42. Salvation. So how are we saved? “By grace you have been saved through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works so that no one can boast.” —Ephesians 2:8. It’s the grace of God that saves us. It’s always been there. Before Jesus. After Jesus. Even if we don’t know Jesus, we still exist in the realm of God’s grace, which has existed from the beginning of time.

43. Biblical inerrancy. I don’t think the Bible is inerrant, at least not in the strict, rigid way that others claim. Are there mistakes? Yes. Are there contradictions? Yes. It was inspired by God, but written by man, and man makes mistakes. Lots of them. So be it. So what. It seems to me the Bible is written (and to be understood) in three ways: literally (e.g. Jesus lived, was killed and arose), spiritually (e.g. the psalms, lamentations, etc.) and metaphorically (e.g. 40 days and 40 nights, cutting off your hand if it causes you to sin, Job, etc.). The key to all of it is not arguing that every word in it is perfect and if you don’t believe it you’re going to straight hell, do not pass Go, do not collect $200. It’s that the Bible is an account of the ongoing loving relationship between God and man. Man screws up; repents; God forgives. Rinse, lather, repeat. It’s the single, constant, unending theme that plays out throughout the Bible, from beginning to end. We need to quit worrying about every single word and step back and grasp the bigger picture.

44. Scripture. Everything in the Bible is an answer to something. It’s up to us to figure out what the question is.

45. The lost Beatitude. Blessed are those who can laugh at themselves because they will never cease to be entertained.

46. Original sin. I’ve never been a big fan of Augustine, especially his concept of original sin—that we’re all guilty because of the choices of Adam and Eve and there’s nothing we can do about it. The Church picked up on this as the truth, even though other bishops at the time tried to convince it that Augustine was wrong. A couple hundred years later, Anselm used the Original Sin concept in his attempt to logically prove why God became human, and the Church used his conclusion—the sacrificial atonement theory—to its list of doctrine. The end result has been millennia of unnecessary guilt and repression. The fact is, evil and sin have been with us throughout our evolution. Whenever we became human, evil came right along with us. It had to. It is a necessary byproduct of our free choice. The hinge point to our lives is whether we say yes or no to the invitation of God’s love. But true love can’t be forced; it must be freely given. One of the consequences of having this freedom, however, is the option of saying no to God’s love (and, in turn, saying yes to evil). So you must have evil if you are going to have love. You must have that choice. And that choice is up to each of us individually. If there’s an original sin, it’s made by each of us at some point in our lives. And we are continually faced with having to make that same choice, day after day. If we’re guilty of sin, it’s not because of Adam and Eve. It’s because of us.

47. Social sin: We insist on the lowest prices for everything we buy, yet fail to realize the negative consequences of those demands. To get food cheap, farmers nearly starve. To get clothes cheap, people halfway around the world are treated like slaves in sweatshops. People are exploited, oppressed and suffer as a result of our social structure and individual choices. These actions are sins. Love your neighbor as yourself, we are told. Would we buy $200 shoes if we knew our actual neighbor next door—or our mother or brother or sister—was being forced to work 18-hour days for just pennies in order to produce them? Doubtful. Yet we have become blind to these evils and perpetuate through our consumerism.

48. Suffering. There are many kinds of suffering—suffering we bring upon ourselves, suffering brought upon us by the actions of others, natural suffering, innocent suffering—and there is no simple answer to any of them, no silver bullet. They must be dealt with individually. Sometimes the suffering can be understood, which doesn’t eliminate the problem but at least gives it some meaning. Sometimes (especially with the suffering of the innocents) the answer is “I don’t know.” Why do babies suffer and not get the chance to live? Why do old people suffer and not get the chance to die? I don’t know. The important thing to know is that God doesn’t will these things, nor does He like them. But, like the parable of the wheat and the weeds, He has to let the weeds grow so as to not damage the wheat. In the end, the wheat will be harvested and the weeds destroyed.

49. Karma. Karma is a boomerang. And a bitch.

50. Jesus’ final message. When Jesus was hanging on the cross, his last words (at least according to Matthew and Mark) were “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” The verse is a direct reference to Psalm 22. Through the years, people have interpreted this as God actually abandoning Jesus in his greatest moment of need, turning his back on him. (There’s actually nothing in the verses that say anything about it [“Be careful what you don’t read,” a professor once told me], but people came up with that to match the atonement theory.) But that’s not it. In Jesus’ time, people lived in an oral storytelling society. One of the common storytelling techniques was to quote the first few lines of something rather than quote the entire verse or story. People understood what was meant and intended. Rather than saying Genesis (chapters and verse numbers weren’t invented yet), they would say, “In the beginning.” It’s much like today, if I were to say, “It was the best of times; it was the worst of time” people would automatically know I was referring to Tale of Two Cities. Or, “A long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,” they would know I was talking about Star Wars. That’s what Jesus was doing, referring to Psalm 22—ALL of Psalm 22. Yes, Psalm 22 does start off with the cry by the psalmist, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” and continues on with feelings of being abandoned. But there’s a hinge point where the psalmist realizes God did not abandon him (“He did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him”) and then goes on to end the verse by praising God because he knows He did not and would never, ever forsake him. What Jesus was saying as he was dying was that even in periods of our greatest need, God hears our cries and will never abandon us. That’s what Psalm 22 is about, and the message Jesus was trying to convey. It was his last message to us—even when you feel abandoned, God hears your cries, loves you and will not forsake you.

51. The sad (but funny) truth about what we've done to Christianity. From Emo Philips. Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, "Don't do it!"
  He said, "Nobody loves me."
  I said, "God loves you. Do you believe in God?"
  "Are you a Christian or a Jew?"
  "A Christian."
  "Me too! Protestant or Catholic?"
  "Me too! What franchise?"
  "Me too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?"
  "Northern Baptist."
  "Me too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?"
  "Northern Conservative Baptist."
  "'Me too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?"
  "Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region."
  "Me too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879 or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?"
  "Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912."
  I said, "Die, heretic!" And I pushed him over.

52. God's love, and what we do to it. God loves each of us unconditionally. Everyone on the earth. We are all his creation, and he loves each of us equally. And to put restrictions on that love—if we worship Jesus only, if we do/don't get baptized, we if believe in sacrificial atonement—is to make God's love conditional. This is a human concept designed to box God into our belief system so we have control and power over others. It's saying we have the right answers and other don't, so you better join us. This is often, if not always, attached to a judgment theory—that we will go to hell if we don't believe this. Why would God create human beings and then not love them or let them into heaven because they don't believe this or didn't do that? What does that say about God?

53. Seeking God. This from St. Augustine: "[God] is not what you imagine or think you understand. If you understand him, you have failed. My human mission is to seek him through every means and to remain a God-seeker until the day when he reveals himself to me face to face."

Also: What I Learned...About Life

...About Life

You don’t have to know everything to know something. That’s why I put this together. As I celebrate my 53rd birthday in August, this is what I’ve learned—or at least some of it. It’s not everything, but it’s a start. My hope is this: That I will continue learning. And that you will share with me what you’ve learned.

 1. Take one. Enjoy life—there are no reruns.

 2. My philosophy on living. Eat right, get lots of sleep, drink plenty of fluids, go like hell.

 3. Getting older vs. being old. Betty Davis once astutely observed that “Getting old ain’t for sissies.” She’s right. Your metabolism changes. You knees start sounding like Rice Krispies. Your back is suddenly what’s stiff in the mornings. Getting older is a physical aspect that is out of our control and happens to everyone. But that’s different from being old. Old, I’ve come to discover, is the age you haven’t gotten to yet. No one ever told me that I would feel like the same person inside at 50 as I did when I was 25. I’d like to think that I’m a bit wiser than I was half a lifetime ago, but I still feel the same on the inside. And I doubt that will change. We are who we are no matter what our age.

 4. Young vs. old. The difference between young people and old people is that young people have their lives in front of them and get to look forward with joy to all the things they want to experience, while old people have their lives behind them and get to look back with joy at all the things they’ve already done.

 5. Stretch. Stretch your body. The older you get, the more your body tightens. The more it tightens, the more easily it breaks. Stay loose and limber. You’ll feel better, live longer and people will think you’re a lot younger than you really are. Stretch your imagination. Dream. And don’t just dream, but dream big. It’s easier to tame a wild idea than turn a boring one into something great. Stretch your limits. Dare yourself. Do something you’re afraid of. Something that scares you. Something you can mention to your friends and they will listen to intently because they can’t believe it. Stretch your boundaries. Go somewhere you’ve never been. Then go somewhere else. Stretch your mind. Study, read, take a class, learn a new language, take music lessons, do something but never, ever, ever stop learning.

 6. Minds. They’re like parachutes—they work best when open. Why would you even want to have a closed mind about something? About anything? Why wouldn’t you want to learn—or at least be open to learning about—something different? The world is full of differences, opportunities. Explore. Grow. Don’t cling to the past.

 7. Grow. If you’re through growing, you’re through. So do something new—mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually, all of the above. Learn to play a musical instrument. Learn a different language. Hire a personal trainer and get in better shape. Take up martial arts. Scuba dive. Jump out of an airplane. Get up at 5:06 instead of 6:05 and go exercise as the sun comes up. Cook something using new ingredients. Stay up alone all night. Teach some kid what you know best. Dance. Surf. Ski. Just don’t stop. Ever.

 8. Progress. What an exciting time to be alive. In my lifetime I’ve gone from rotary phones to push-button phones to cordless phones to cell phones to smart phones. I’ve gone from a Commodore 64 computer to an iPad. I saw man walk on the moon—which happened just 66 years after the Wright brothers learned how to fly. I’ve gone from vinyl records to eight track tapes to cassettes to CDs to iPods to the cloud. I’ve gone from teletype machines to fax machines to email to instant messaging to texting. I’ve gone from a black-and-white TV with a UHF converter box to a flat-screen plasma HDTV. Jim Crow died (theoretically). Social media was invented. DNA, genetic mapping, microwave ovens, GPS systems, ATMs, fiber optics, laser surgery, solar energy, electric cars, bar codes all came about. We’re living right in the middle of the Technical Revolution—what the history books are going to write about as an historic period in the evolution of mankind the way they do the Industrial Revolution or the Stone Age. It’s changing history, and we get to be a part of it. To me, all this progress is exciting. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

 9. Time. Time is the most valuable commodity we have. It’s inelastic and totally irreplaceable. We’re all given equal amounts of it every day—24 hours, no more, no less—and once it’s gone, it’s gone. For some reason I’ve always been aware of time. I think it dates back to a Schlitz beer commercial that said, “You only go around once so go with gusto.” I probably should have paid more attention to the gusto part—I would be a lot more fun if I had. But I didn’t. It was the “only go around once” part that resonated with me. But maybe that’s good. It’s pushed me to do as much as I can with the time I’ve been given—to try to live my life and not merely exist.

10. Time, part 2. If you can’t be on time, be early.

11. Time, part 3.
To realize the value of 10 years,
ask a newly divorced couple. To realize the value of four years, ask a graduate. To realize the value of one year, ask a student who has failed a final exam. To realize the value of nine months, ask a mother who gave birth to a stillborn. To realize the value of one month, ask a mother who has given birth to a premature baby. To realize the value of one week, ask an editor of a weekly newspaper. To realize the value of one minute, ask a person who has missed the train, bus or plane. To realize the value of one second, ask a person who has survived an accident. To realize the value of a friend or family member, lose one. Time waits for no one. Treasure every moment you have. You will treasure it even more when you can share it with someone special.

12. Life in the fast lane. “Life itself is a race, marked by a start and a finish. It is what we learn during the race and how we apply it that determines whether our participation has had particular value. If we learn from each success, and each failure, and improve ourselves through this process, then, at the end, we will have fulfilled our potential and performed well.” —Ferdinand Porsche. Truth.

13. Disappointments. Inevitably, we don’t always get what we want. We don’t always do what we want. Goals go unmet. Roads are not taken and roles are not filled. As a result, we have to adjust and make peace with our diminished expectations. It’s not fun. Or easy. But it’s life. And as long as you do what you can with what you have—and you keep trying—you’ll be OK.

14. Struggles. Suppose we had everything we wanted—no pain, no suffering, every pleasure, every free entertainment, no death, no meaning. We’d become impossibly spoiled brats. Are they happy? No.

15. Reality. Reality exists in various shades of gray, never in black and white. People try to make life’s issues out to be so simple when they never are.

16. Perspective. You can either complain because rose bushes have thorns or be grateful because thorn bushes have roses. Take your pick. The option is yours.

17. The book of life. “Life is a book and you are its author. You determine its plot and its pace and you—only you—turn its pages.” —Anonymous. Truth.

18. The meaning of life, small picture. “The meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day, from hour to hour. What matters then is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment. To put in general terms, it would be comparable to the question posed to a chess champion: Tell me master, what is the best move in the world? There is simply no such thing as the best or even a good move apart from a particular situation in a game and the particular personality of one’s environment. The same holds for human existence. One should not search for an abstract meaning of life. Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment which demands fulfillment. Therein, he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated. Thus, everyone’s task is as unique as his specific opportunity to implement it.” —Viktor Frankl

19. The meaning of life, big picture. “Consider a movie: It consists of thousands upon thousands of individual pictures, and each of them makes sense and carries a meaning, yet the meaning of the whole film cannot be seen before its last sequence is shown. However, we cannot understand the whole film without having first understood each of its components, each of the individual pictures. Isn’t the same with life? Doesn’t the final meaning of life, too, reveal itself, if at all, only at its end, on the verge of death? And doesn’t this meaning, too, depend on whether or not the potential meaning of each single situation has been actualized to the best of the respective individual’s knowledge and belief?” —Viktor Frankl

20. Destiny. “The world doesn’t owe you anything. It was here first.” —Mark Twain. Truth.

21. Success. I’ve found no better definition than Ralph Waldo Emerson’s:

To laugh often and love much;
To win the respect of intelligent people
And the affection of children;
To earn the approbation of honest critics
And endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty;
To find the best in others;
To give one’s self;
To leave the world a little better
Whether by a healthy child,
A garden patch,
Or a redeemed social condition;
To have played and laughed with enthusiasm
And sun with exaltation;
To know even one life has breathed easier
Because you have lived...
This is to have succeeded.

22. The secret of success.
Do the work.

Persistence. “Nothing in the world will take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than the unsuccessful person with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “press on” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.” —Calvin Coolidge. Truth.

24. Money.
I had two credit cards when I got out of college. I ran both of them to their limits. Fortunately, the credit card companies were smarter in those days and my relatively small credit limit kept my spending from becoming a real disaster. I’ve never been good at math, but when I sat down and looked at the numbers—the amount owed, the interest rates, how long it was going to take to pay it off—common sense made me realize that having debt was stupid. So I made a commitment to pay off the cards and a promise to myself: Keep everything on one card and pay it off at the end of the month. If you can’t pay it off, don’t buy it. That’s worked for me. I’ve never paid interest on a credit card since.

25. Mo money.
Money doesn’t buy class. It doesn’t buy character. It doesn’t buy friends (at least not real friends). It doesn’t buy love (at least not real love). Money buys stuff. It can buy experiences. It can buy luxuries. It can buy things that may enhance life, but they are not the stuff of life. They are not what truly matters. Consider this from Warren Buffet, who has all the money anyone would want: “Basically, when you get to my age, you’ll really measure your success in life by how many people you want to have love you who actually do love you. That’s the ultimate test of how you have lived your life. The trouble with love is that you can’t buy it. The only way to get love is to be lovable. It’s very irritating if you have a lot of money. You’d like to think you could write a check: I’ll buy a million dollars worth of love. But it doesn’t work that way. The more you give love away, the more you get.”

26. Love.
One of my favorite Peanuts comic strips has Charlie Brown and Peppermint Patty sitting under a tree pondering the meaning of life when up walks Snoopy. Peppermint Patty sits up and asks, “What do you think the secret of living is, Snoopy?” Snoopy simply walks up and kisses her on the nose. “Smak.” Perfect. (And funny.) That’s what life is all about. Love. That’s why we’re here. That’s our ultimate purpose. We weren’t put here to hate or to fight or to screw people out of money or control others. We did that on our own. By mistake.

27. Love, part 2.
Love is hard work. But worth the effort.

28. Daily chores.
Exercise. Give three hugs a day. Smile. Laugh. Read. Rest. Relax. Reflect. Work on something (a job, a hobby, a task). Pray often. Dream. Get a good night’s sleep.

29. Exercise.
Life, at least for men, is an endless struggle against beer bellies and man boobs. So for me, I run. In the mornings. Early. Before the day gets started. When the air is cool and clean—and no one can see me dragging my butt through the streets. Exercise really does energize you. It clears your mind, pumps up your body and lifts your soul. You need all three to be in good shape to make it through life.

Sunrises and sunsets. Will Rogers once quipped that people don’t appreciate sunsets because they don’t have to pay for them. That’s brilliant. I like sunsets. And sunrises. Sunsets are usually more colorful, but I’m a morning person, so sunrises get my vote. I like the cool, clean air and the optimism that mornings bring. Either way, sunrises and sunsets are God’s free eye candy and should be admired.

 31. Nature. There is nothing better than nature. Nothing. Trees. Fresh air. The sun. The stars. Mountains. Lakes. Oceans. Fields. Animals. Birds singing. Streams. The sounds. The colors. The smells. Nature is God’s house. (He created it, so why would He only be found in a manmade box, no matter how architecturally beautiful it may be?) We’ve lost that with our cities.

32. Travel. See everything your life allows—the oceans, the mountains, New York, LA, the Great Plains, the desert Southwest, the national parks, some tiny little town in the middle of nowhere, warm places, cold places, any other country in this world. Travel gives you a different perspective and understanding of people, cultures and environments. It opens up your world—and gives you great memories you can look back on later in life. It also make you appreciate your home.

33. Environment. “Treat the Earth well. It was not give to you by your parents; it was loaned to you by your children.” —Sioux proverb. Truth. Life on this planet exists on a razor’s edge. A couple miles closer to the sun and Earth would be nothing but gas. A couple of miles the other way and it would be nothing but ice. We need to quit treating it like it’s our own personal garbage dump.

34. Decisions. When Native Americans faced major decisions, they didn’t make the decision final until they thought through its impact on the next seven generations. We need to learn that lesson. All too often we look at the short-term gain, the immediate gratification, the what’s-in-it-for-me mentality. That’s a dangerous way to live.

35. Taking action. “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing’s going to get better. It’s not.” —Dr. Suess. Truth.

36. Character. “Who you are speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you are saying.”—Ralph Waldo Emerson. Truth.

37. Ethics. Before you can decide what you ought to do, you must first figure out what kind of person you want to be. If you want to be rich, then bilking people out of money isn’t a problem. If you want to be a person of integrity, then you’re going to have a hard time with that.

38. We are all kings. Frederick the Great was traveling through Prussia and met an old man.

“Who are you,” Frederick  asked.
“I am a king,” the old man replied.
“Over what kingdom do you reign?”

39. Taking aim. When an archer misses the mark he turns and looks for the fault within himself. Failure to hit the bull’s eye is never the fault of the target. To improve our aim, improve yourself.

40. People. No one ever sized up people better than the person who created the pencil eraser.

41. Everybody is somebody else’s weirdo. I learned this a long time ago and it’s taught me this: I really don’t care what other people think of me. Yes, I have a core group whose opinion I value. Otherwise, if anyone thinks I’m going to change because they think I’m a weirdo or should do things the way they want, they’re going to be disappointed. Shakespeare got it right: To thine own self be true. You have to be. If you’re not true to yourself, you’re wasting a unique opportunity in the history of the universe because there’s never been nor will there ever be another you. Be yourself. Even if that means you’re someone else’s weirdo.

42. Knowing someone. How do you truly know someone? You know what makes them laugh. That’s something that’s truly unique to each person.

43. Friends. Everyone hears what you say; A friend listens to what you say; A best friend listens to what you don’t say. If you end up with six best friends—friends who know what makes you laugh, who know your secrets and keep them that way, who you can act goofy with, who walk in when others walk out—then you’ve done well.

44. Family. If you died tomorrow, the company you work for could replace you within a couple of days, but your family you leave behind would feel the loss for the rest of their lives. So why do we spend so much time on our work instead of our families?

45. Priorities. “Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling five balls in the air. You name them—work, family, health, friends and spirit. You’re keeping them all in the air at the same time. You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls—family, health, friends and spirit—are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked damaged or even shattered. They will never be the same.” —Brian Dyson, former COO of Coca-Cola. Truth.

46. Regrets. Whatever regrets I have when I die will all revolve around the way I treated people. Everything else is irrelevant.

47. Worrying. “Worry is fretting about the future. Concern is figuring out future solutions. When you’re concerned, you are going to analyze and determine where and how to improve. If you’re worried, you’re just fretting that things won’t turn out right regardless of what you do—wringing your hands and imagining bad things. Concern leads to results. Worry leads to losing a good night’s sleep. If you wake up in the middle of the night with something on your mind, ask yourself if you’re concerned about something or worried about something. If you’re worried, get some warm milk and go back to bed. If you’re concerned, get some coffee and start taking notes.” —John Wooden. Truth.

48. How to be happy. Go serve someone else. Do something that is going to make someone else happy—expecting nothing in return. Their happiness will overflow into you. Guaranteed. I’ve never helped out another person or left a service project where I haven’t felt like I was the one who benefitted the most.

49. How to make peace. Two of the most underused and most effective words in the English language: Thank you.

50. Saving grace. The Lord looks after small children, animals and idiots. (I’m going to be OK.)

51. We must keep reminding ourselves, "This is water." What does that mean? This condensed commencement speech by David Foster Wallace explains

52. Making tough choices. "Knowing when to walk away is wisdom. Being able to is courage. Walking away with your head held high is dignity." Truth.

53. —. Your life is two dates separated by a dash. Make the most of the dash. (If this seems puzzling, go to a cemetery and look at any headstone and you'll understand.) Seriously, the dash is all you get. One shot. Don't waste it.

Also: What I Learned...About Religion