religion

The Ritual of Rituals

I’ve only recently discovered the incredible thing that is the body, mind and spirit connection.   I’ve heard about it for years, but I was either too lazy or too….something….to see if it had any real substance.

Well, it does and to be perfectly honest, I’ve never felt better.

So,  since early this summer, I’ve been applying this new-agey wellness mindset to my everyday life:  I go to work  and then come home and write (mind), I make every effort to walk two to three miles a day (body) and I go to church to sit a meditate (spirit).  

Now, I know I can meditate anywhere, but there’s a lovely church near River Oaks, which is a very affluent neighborhood here in Houston.    St. Michael’s is the home of some very wealthy Houstonians and the lay out of the church reflects the generosity of its parishioners.   Lots o’checks in those collection plates, apparently.  I say that because this church is amazing!!   We’re talking pricey appointments.    It has a 50-foot ceiling and on either side of the sanctuary are these massive floor to ceiling stain glass windows.   I love going in there in the early to mid afternoon.  The church is cold and dark and the sun offers the only light.  It surges through the windows, throwing prismatic colors against the floor and nearby pews.  It makes St. Mickey’s a great place to contemplate; to resolve….to pray.

This morning,  I awoke early as I usually do and after schlepping around the house waiting for the sun to rise, I decided to do my meditating first so I was out the door by 8 am.

But alas…there  was a morning mass I didn’t account for and I walked in during the middle of it.  The church is filled with dark plaid uniformed tykes, all students of the St. Michael’s school, K-8, thank you very much, their teachers and a few parents.   Now, it is  true, I am Catholic, but it is also true that I don’t necessarily practice full-blown Catholicism.  Instead, I’ve developed my own constructs which  have been honed by time, experience and education.   Make no mistake–I have a distinct faith that a  Higher Power doth exist, but my version is far less boxed in and confined and much more dimensional than the religion of my childhood would have me believe.  This system works for me.   Me.   No one else.   Just me.

I should also add that I’m not a regular mass goer either, but since I was already there, I decided, “What the hell?   Might as well stay.”   Besides, I felt I should pray for all the crazy loons and sinners in my life,  that there be rain…and lots of it here in drought-riddled Texas and for the firefighters plagued by wildfires they’re ill-equipped to battle.  I also wanted to be magnanimous:  I wanted to pray for the personal Axis of Evil in my life (aka: all of my exes).

So, I sat there and did what Catholics do.  I recited all the responsorials like rote and I did all of the Catholic calisthenics required:  I stood, I sat, I genuflected, knelt, made the sign of the cross, shook hands…I nodded.

The communion portion of Mass for the not so committed, can kinda/sorta be like  an ecclesiastical version of half-time, so I left early, but fear not, I got a few prayers in.     Because of my new-found sense of self, direction and my place in the world, I’ve learned to pray differently.  I now know that praying is as much a pep talk and an optimism infuser as it is actually asking for Divine assistance.   With the exception of praying for rain over a devastated state of Texas, I’m in control.  The reality is, God isn’t magic.     In other words,  I help make it happen.  I know what I want;  I’m learning what I need and I’m also learning the role I have to play in getting the desired response, i.e., getting my prayers answered.  I increase my odds of that happening by being pro-active. 

For example:

George prayed every day for three years to win the lottery, but never heard from God nor did he ever hit the jackpot.   Finally, God woke him up in the middle of the night. “George, is that you who’s been praying so hard to win the lottery?” the Supreme Being boomed.

“Yes, Lord, I’ve been praying desperately!  I really…REALLY want to win!!!”

God paused for a moment, then said thoughtfully, “Well, if that’s the case, George, I’ll tell you what. If want you to win, you have to meet me halfway. Buy a ticket already, OK?”

Amen ya’ll.

The Lighter Side Of Faith

And there is one, you know.  

The Christian or any religious devotee who walks around thinking that he has to live  his life in abject in fear because his views are all Old Testament, a time when God was a little peeved and smite crazy, has no life at all, as far as I’m concerned.   God created senses of humor in his human minions, therefore he has to have one,too.  

I mean, come on!!!!      What more proof do you want or  need other than to take one look at Kim Kardashian’s “career”????      

Sorry, these are a little blurry.    But as God’s boy, Matthew once scribed, “Squint and ye shall read”.  

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The “OP-ED” Piece

I see the Crystal Cathedral is going transepts up.   

It’s that really impressive looking, almost all glass house of worship located in  Garden Grove, CA.   Architect Phillip Johnson designed the main sanctuary building which seats 2,736 persons.   The building was constructed using over 10,000 rectangular panes of glass.  Interesting fact:  the panes aren’t bolted to the structure; they’re instead glued to it using a silicone-based glue. This and other measures are intended to allow the building to withstand an earthquake of magnitude 8.0.

But apparently, NOT a recession.

The church, founded by Rev. Robert H. Schuller the former host of the once popular,  “Hour of Power” TV show,  is broke–some $43 million in the hole.  Elders blame the economic downtown.   Seems the congregation numbers are lagging and so are donations and tithing.  As a result, the organization declared bankruptcy this week in a collapse blamed by some on its inability to keep up with the times and a problem in the fairly recent shift in power from Daddy Schuller to Junior.   Not sure what the problem is exactly and frankly, I’m not sure I care.

The church filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which will allow it to keep operating while it tries to put its finances in order under court supervision. The church said that for the time being, “Hour of Power” will remain on the air and the Crystal Cathedral will continue operating as usual, but what this really is, is a call to arms.   A cattle call of sorts, for donors.  What Church officials aren’t saying is that they’re hoping for little widowed and wrinkled, blue-haired miracles with check books and working Bic pens. 

Oh, yes they are!     Because sadly, this is what organized religion does.   It’s all about the money.   And this bothers me.  It bothers me that little old ladies will hand over their life savings thinking this Church and its sleek glass construction is some direct pipeline to the Almighty.   They think writing a hefty check can help them barter real absolution and I’m bothered immensely that these money mongers will take it, under the guise of religion.    Oh yes, make no mistake— these days, I’m bothered by so much.   What’s annoying me these days is religion and politics and yes, even civil rights…our own, namely.  

Let’s tackle religion first.  As a little girl, I was always confounded by the Catholicism that I had to endure.    Yes, I used the word “endure” because that’s what it felt like–utter captivity for an hour every Sunday morning and the occasional High Holy Day.   

I grew up in South Central Texas, some 50 miles southeast of San Antonio.  My hometown was predominately Catholic because of its Hispanic and Czech/Polish population and because of certain cultural limitations, that meant Catholicism that was more dogmatic;  made that way because of fear and guilt-infused superstition.  I grew up amidst very narrow thinking in terms of ways to seek and receive spiritual deliverance.  I do believe that most people believed in a God that was more sorcerer than anything else.  I believed they believed in magic and needed the hocus pocus in order to believe.  They didn’t have the…dare I say the intellectual bandwidth…to have blind faith and nothing else.    That’s not a condemnation; that’s just an explanation.  These were simple people who worked their land or someone elses.  Education was an extravagance and back then, deemed an unnecessary one.

For example;  I would read the Church bulletin which included all these blurbs about upcoming events: “Please attend the crowning of the Virgin Mary”.    

Why?

Or I’d read about some Church holiday that required going to Mass, then getting in line to kiss Jesus’ feet as these two strapping Altar Boys  are forced to struggle with a heavy crucifix while a smaller, younger lad wipes off the feet after each kiss…as if THAT was sanitary.   Then of course, there was the recitation of the “Stations of the Cross”.  This involved praying in stages at stopping points.  We’re talking framed photos placed intermittently on the walls of the church.  They depicted scenes of Jesus’ final hours.    It’s big with us Catholics; not entirely alien in the Anglican and  Lutheran churches, though rarely an applied part of their worship.    We do it a lot during Lent, especially on Good Friday.

Again, why?

I used to kind of “dig” Church’s pomp and circumstance and how it stood on ceremony.  Now, I’m rather bemused by it all.   Seems like a colossal waste of time and resources, but if that’s what floats your ecclesiastical boat, row on.  

As Christians, we’re told that God is omniscient; omnipresent and omnipotent, right?  As Catholics, we’re told that we have to enter a tiny little confessional with a priest situated on the other side of this screen (or these days, right in front of my face in full human Technicolor) and go through another human being to find absolution.   If God is all those things, why confess to a priest? And wouldn’t the loving, benevolent New Testament God forgive me anyway, automatically??    To me, the Catholic way is in total conflict with its own teachings and therefore,  just doesn’t make sense.  But many have argued that this human to human act of confessing has psychological ramifications; that it’s harder to do and requires more penitent behavior to confess to another person, as opposed to just spewing forth every sin privately.   Just you and that invisible force called faith.   

I have a confession to make:   when after school Catechism classes included going to confession, sometimes I’d lie to the priest.   As an eight year old, I just wasn’t committing that many venial sins!   Sorry!!!   Still, how appalled the Church would be!!     It would probably also frown at the fact that I’ve interviewed psychics and even gone to a few and found several to be frighteningly correct in their conveyed prophecies.   The Church would probably be a bit miffed to learn that instead of Sister Angelica, I sometimes watch Joel Osteen on Sunday mornings.  Joel’s message is OK.  I like it because it’s not overtly messianic.  

Now, I will admit before God and you, gentle reader, that I simply can’t handle all the Jesus talk.  Sorry, but I can’t.  I can talk about Jesus philosophically, but when it gets to the salvation, part—uh-uh.    Glenn Beck kept me interested to a degree with his show when he’d discuss all those Constitutional issues, but lost me when he kept talking about his being saved by Jesus.  Bully for him, just keep it to yourself, GB.   Why does this turn me off?   I don’t know exactly,  but it does and it did even when I was a child.   I was raised with this premise, but it just seemed to always be in conflict with how I felt about God.   I have no doubt about that existence. 

And believe me, I don’t have a Christian bias,  to which you might call bullshit and that’s OK.  That would be your right, remember?   But you’d be wrong.   Here, permit me to beat you to the punch.     G.K. Chesterton once scribed:

There are those who hate Christianity and call their hatred an all-embracing love for all religions

I understand  how one might think me inclusively exclusive  in what I say, but I assure you, that’s not how I feel.   I play no favorites.  I get turned off by all religions, yet have no issue at all with anyone’s belief system.  Nor should anyone have a problem with mine.   As part of my live and let live approach, I believe that saying Merry Christmas is just fine.     Or not.    There can be a nativity scene anywhere one wants to place one, but by the same token, don’t bitch about seeing a Star of David erected publicly.

I think out of respect for the victims of 9/11,  there SHOULDN’T be a mosque included in any of the building(s) that will replace the World Trade Center.  But legally; constitutionally, how could construction be blocked especially if the planned $100 million Islamic mosque and community center would be built two blocks from the World Trade Center site and not where exactly where the seven buildings once stood  And we all know, those structures were toppled nine years ago, by 19-hijackers who practiced  an extremely radical form of Islam.   

And therein lies the problem.   Some experts say the proverbial apple rarely falls far from the tree when it comes to Islam in general.  They contend that Islam can become rabid at the drop of a hat.   Well,  I don’t know that much about this particular religion’s culture or its propensity towards zealotry and I would think that most Americans  share this ignorance.    That said, this mosque issue is going to be a tough sell convincing the other of the opposing opinion.  This is one incredibly polarizing issue and here’s why:  the mosque will be situated two blocks away from Ground Zero proper, but let’s discuss where it’s being built specifically:  on vacant property along Park Place, the former site of a Burlington Coat Factory that had been razed because it was severely damaged by airplane debris on September 11th.  

Hijacked airplanes debris, mind you.    Knowing why this land was made vacant changes things a bit, does it not?

Then again, can the new World Trade Center buildings once built, forbid observant Muslims from working there, based on the same reasoning?? 

This looks like every nun I've ever known

So does this...

I’m all about individual belief systems or the lack thereof,  for that matter. 

Burkas–wear one if your constitutionally protected right to practice a religion which mandates modesty among female members and therefore, women should be covered up.   Why wouldn’t a burka be OK?  Why do they seem so alien?  They shouldn’t.   I was taught catechism classes by nuns wearing the Catholic equivalent.  They were just as covered up.

Additionally,  I think we should be able say what we think without fear of retribution…..as long as it’s not truly injurious or slanderous.  

Remember Carrie Prejean? 

She was Miss California and the Miss USA 2009 first runner-up. Prejean received national attention after pageant judge and gossip blogger, Perez Hilton used his final question in the Miss USA pageant to ask Prejean about same-sex marriage laws in the U.S.   She said she was opposed to it and as a result, Prejean was stripped of her Miss California USA crown for alleged breaches of contract.   Hilton, who’s openly gay, crucified her in his blog.   What right did he have to do that?   He’s not married and by the looks of him, I’m not thinking he’ll be ordering his “save the date” cards any time soon, either.

I think what happened to Carrie Prejean was wrong and grossly unfair.     What happened to opinion and the freedom to express them?  Do the P.C. police only exist if you get offended???   Funny how that works.   It certainly keeps the likes of Janine Garofalo and Bill O’Reilly employed.

What it all boils down to is simple.  If you think Bush was/is an idiot and the worst president ever, OK, you have the right to opine that, but by the same token, I should be able to call Obama the threat to Democracy that I think he is, without being called a “tea bagging redneck bigot”.    I’m not asking for tolerance, just fairness and sometimes, that means  allowing  variables and turning the other cheek to things you don’t want or like, but in the interest of fair play, you do it anyway.   You eat it and you eat it quietly.

So, if you’re an atheist or a fervent John Bircher, that’s OK.   If you’re a Mormon, groovy.  A Bahá’í?   That’s your call.  If you choose to exercise your freedom of religion by hugging trees and dancing naked in the forest during a full moon while worshipping a wooden likeness of TV’s Samantha Stevens from “Bewitched”, I’m cool with it.    And  if  every February, you want to commemorate your belief that a ground hog-slash-prophet was killed and buried by the jealous and the power mad ground hogs from his same phyla, then reanimated a week later, exiting his grave only to see his shadow and then promptly determining that there will be six more weeks of NFL post season on the WB,  fine.   Just don’t talk about it.  

In other words, don’t ask/don’t proselytize. 

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The King of Kings Is A Jock????

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From the “Now, I’ve Seen Everything Department”.

So, I couldn’t sleep because Morpheus skipped my house—again— and mockingly refused me slumber,  I went a-blogging, to check out the competition. To see what’s up. You know, if you look, you can find the weirdness you seek.

On this night, I was looking for stuff and I found a site selling Jesus action figures.

He’s rough–he’s buff and he’s doing real dare-devil, He-Man stuff not ever even attempted by that boi of butch brawniness, Race Bannon, the sexually ambiguous , yet rather ponderous factotum of a one, Dr. Benton Quest.  You know,  Johnny’s dad.  

Here’s Jesus now, scoring a GGGGOOOOOAAAAAALLLLLLL for God:

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Jesus lept.

At first I thought someone at the We Are Fishermen website (or maybe it was a blog) was actually lampooning the Lord, but I soon realized this wasn’t the case. These are real, by God action figures in about seven or eight different poses displaying various acts of machismo prowess and selling for about 30-bucks each.

Here’s Jesus as what I call the “Big Christhoona”, hanging ten….as in commandments.

“Thou shalt NOT wipe out, Dude “..

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You gotta wonder about the crass commercialization about the man perceived as the “King of Kings” by more than a billion Christians.

Segue.

Years ago, when I had just graduated from college,  a friend and I were in Laredo staying with a very Mexican, very Catholic family. There were crosses everywhere, in every room and these weren’t just crosses; I’m talking Jesus in full crucifixion reproduction, complete with the guilt inducing nail wounds in the hands and feet and dripping blood.

My friend and I shared the bedroom and as soon as the lights went out, my very Protestant roomate looked up and said “Oh my God!! Jesus’ eyes are glowing!”

I looked up and he was looking at me.

I had this strange desire to get up and wash my hands.

Segue again.

I’m all for anyone believing in anything that gets them through their life. I can’t and won’t cast aspersions. I mean, my life could make Mary Magdalene look like a saint.

Wait….she is one, right?

But gee Wally, shouldn’t taste, decorum and propriety coming into play?

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I’m not sure what form of “action” the above figurine is supposed to represent. I see this particular Jesus wearing a white trench coat, camo colored Capri pants, Doc Martens and what appears to be a pith helmet by his right leg. His crown of thorns appears to have been replaced by a wreath of lovely Jonquils.

The dove must be the requisite wise-cracking sidekick.

Maybe this is “Fashion Faux Paux Jesus” and he patrols the runways of Milan, Paris and New York looking to save fashion victims from themselves. He flies up and down the streets of Hell’s Kitchen where flop houses reign supreme.   If he gets in a jam, he and Doug (his trusty sidekick dove) throw down the pith helmet and it immediately converts into a Goldfinger mini-plane, flown by???? You guessed it—–Pontious Pilot.

(Thunderclap, a lightning bolt and I repent…..)

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Teetering on blasphemous and sacriledge? Maybe, but I really don’t think there’s anything wrong with these action figures, what I’ve written or Glow-In-The-Dark Jesus, for that matter.

I am, as the ubiquitous “they” say, a recovering Catholic. But I’ve learned more about spirituality just trying to live my life  more than anything taught to me by the Mother Church.

I know that faith is an extraordinary thing.  WEspecially on those occaisions when I didn’t have it.   It is powerful beyond comprehension. And in this day and age of avarice and greed with disappointment usurping joy at just about every turn, if we don’t have faith, we don’t have hope and if we don’t have either, then why bother? 

The bigger question then becomes, why would we want to? If we need to use tools (rosary beads or Mary statues adorned with flowers in our front yards) to help us fortify our convictions, then I ask–why the hell not?

Look, I can’t remember when the last time I went to Mass, but I can tell you the date and time I had my last conversation with God….my God.  And I know that the God I worship, has a sense of humor. He gave us the ability to laugh because well, it is ALL of His design.

So, whatever floats your boat.

Or forces Michael to row it ashore.   Halle–lu–ooh–jah.

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This Angers Me

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I just read an article from the AP with an Oregon City, OR.  dateline.   It’s a story we’ve heard before;  it focuses on religious zealotry and refusing medical care for a dying patient.  These “Christians” believe that their faith in the Almighty is all that’s needed;  faith as a panacea.     

Here’s the paraphrased story:

A  judge who sentenced an Oregon couple to prison yesterday for the death of their son says members of their church must quit relying on faith healing when their children’s lives are at stake.

According to Judge Steven Maurer,  “Too many children have died unnecessarily – a graveyard full.  This has to stop.”

Maurer determined that Jeffrey and Marci Beagley each should serve 16 months in prison. Members of the Followers of Christ church who packed the courtroom sobbed.  

The Beagleys were earlier convicted of criminally negligent homicide in the June 2008 death of their 16-year-old son, Neil, of complications from a congenital urinary tract blockage, a condition that normally, is treated quite easily.

Members of their church avoid most medical care and instead rely on rituals such as anointing sick people with oil and laying hands on them.

In ordering prison terms, Maurer reflected changes made in Oregon law a decade ago stipulating that freedom of religious practices is not an excuse to shun medical treatment for a dangerously ill child. The changes were a result of the deaths of children in Followers of Christ families.

The church’s small cemetery near the end of the Oregon Trail includes row after row of headstones marking the graves of children who died as a result of faith healing that went awry.

Maurer said the community is tolerant of the church, and he emphasized the sentences were not an indictment of it.

“We must keep in mind that this crime was one in which a child died,” Maurer said. “This was a situation where the community was counting on his parents to understand the boundaries of their faith.”

The Beagleys’ attorneys said they would appeal.

Neil Beagley was described as a bright, confident boy who loved his church and fixing cars. He became ill as the blockage trapped toxic waste in his body.

His parents testified they thought he had a cold or the flu. Medical experts say the boy’s kidneys were destroyed and his organs shut down.

Just months earlier, the Beagleys’ granddaughter, 15-month-old Ava Worthington, died from pneumonia and a blood infection that also could have been treated. Her parents, Raylene and Carl Brent Worthington, were acquitted of manslaughter. Carl Brent Worthington served two months in jail for criminal mistreatment.

Defense attorneys sought probation for the Beagleys. Mackeson called on Courtney S. Campbell, a professor of philosophy who specializes in bioethics at Oregon State University, who recommended probation, education and counseling rather than prison.

“There needs to be respect for religious freedom, accompanied by personal accountability and responsibility,” Campbell said.

Maurer said the Beagleys and the congregation knew about medical care but refused it.

“These two cases illustrate a crime that was a product of an unwillingness to respect the boundaries on freedom of religious expression,” Maurer said. “They’ve continued to use spiritual treatment practices in exclusion of medical treatment, even when their children were in extreme harm’s way.”

The defense attorneys asked that the couple remain free pending appeals. Maurer refused.

And well he should.  

Scream at me all you want , but I really don’t care how devout these people are; they refused to seek help for their child who died–literally–at their hands.    They knew he needed medical attention and they felt that God would come through their fingertips.

Instead,  he would’ve come through a doctor’s fingertips had they stopped for one minute and thought about God in the bigger picture.   I could get technical here and in a way, I’d be right–if God is the creator of all things, then  God made physicians and allowed all those incredible technological advances in medicine–this includes a plethora of drugs, one of which would have easily saved young Neil’s life. 

I was raised Catholic and at this stage of my life, I’m barely hanging on to that, but even so, I understand faith and its psychological ramifications.   It is so very closely engrained in and with hope and without that, we’re lost as humans.

This story–adults refusing medical care for their children in lieu of faith healing, makes about as much sense as the Puritans in colonial Salem who submerged women and men they suspected of practicing witchcraft, in the river.  If they survived, that confirmed their allegiance to  Old Scratch himself.  That meant they were guilty as sin.  Their drowning though, proved their innocence and that meant ye olde judges who had God on their side, killed a lot of innocent people back then.

It also reminds me of the hardcore Christian couple who find themselves barren and go to a fertility clinic increase their chances at conceiving.  They go through all the processes and a few weeks later find themselves “with children”… plural.   They eventually learn that of the five fetuses, two are terribly deformed, yet they refuse to abort them because that’s murder.  Only God can take a life.   We have no right to play God.

Well, what right did they have to play God in order to GET pregnant?    Yes, I know there’s a difference between creating life and causing death, but didn’t they delve into Divine territory in order TO get pregnant???   That’s precisely my point.

The Chinese restaurant approach to ecclesiastical belief amuses me.   It’s this,  “I’ll take this “No Dancing” from Column A……and uh….I think I’ll have “No Eating Pork or Shell Fish” with a side order of “Chastity–Unless Married and Even Then, In Moderation” from Column B”.

We have the right to believe or not believe in what we want.  That’s one of our fundamental freedoms.   Now, I have my own belief system that manifested itself in part from my early Catholic beginnings and mostly from what I learned since then.    There is or should be, in my opinion anyway, a very profound common sense approach to faith and religiosity.  If I jump off a cliff that’s 400 feet above a flat surface,  I’m going to die when I hit the ground below.  No ifs, ands or buts about it.   Natural laws tell me that I will die.   Gravity, momentum…all those factors indicate that I’m NOT going to live to tell anyone about my  groovy free fall experience.   Common sense.  Yes, sometimes when the conditions are right, ‘miracles’ happen, but beyond that, I believe in my God’s infinite power, but I also believe in my own power, and I’m responsible for understanding that and the limits that come with it.   It isn’t listed in any of the Good Books–esepcially not verbatim, but let’s face it–“shit happens” –and often without any explanation whatsoever.

Ever major religion of which I’m aware understands and advocates free will.  Sorry Calvinists, but while there might be some semblance of a Divine Plan and Universal Order, we pick and choose our own way through life.   It’s our call; it’s our Free  Will.  I don’t know what this sect,  what the “Followers of Christ” believe, but if they’re like any of the other (of what I call) Strip Center Religions and the often charismatic power and money mongers who establish them, then I would presume they believe that God is like some blanket life insurance policy that offers full coverage.    He isn’t.  They buy into the utter infallibility of the Bible.  It isn’t infallible–it is God’s word, if that’s what you choose to believe, but it is fact that it was written by man; errant, flawed man.   And invariably, everyone must pay the Piper in order to dance. 

Regardless.   I would ask the devout Beagleys if the phrase “Thou Shalt Not Kill” sound familiar to them.?   Then I would ask them to define neglifence.   Then, I would ask if in the midst of their pain and grief ,  does faith healing still define that which they believe?  I’d be interested in hearing their answer.  

There is cause and effect to everything we do, think and feel.   And in this case,  the Beagley’s negligence and ignorance killed their son.   God didn’t fail them;  their shortsightedness did.  

Yes, of course I mourn the loss of this young boy,  but I also mourn their lack of common sense, their extremely skewed faith and the lack of faith they had in themelves.

This is life.  And this is death…it’s cause and effect in the ultimate sense .   The Beagleys have already started their 16-month prison sentence. 

It’s their price for dancing.

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Faith Or Ignorance?? You Tell Me

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Having reported on the news most of my professional career, it’s truly the last thing I want to encounter in my life as a civilian.   I am blissfully unaware of most current events.   The story your about to read unfolded throughout most of  2008, but I only recently found out about it.

Here’s the story:

Wisconsin father, Dale Nuemann, charged last October with reckless homicide for not taking his dying daughter to a doctor, told police that he believed God would heal her.  He went on to say that when she lapsed into a coma, he merely thought she was sleeping.

Eleven-year-old Madeline Neumann lost a battle with undiagnosed diabetes in March of 2008 at her family’s rural Wisconsin home.   She lying on the floor, surrounded by people who’d been praying for healing.    It wasn’t until she stopped breathing that someone finally called 911.

Prosecutors say her father, Dale Neumann, had a legal obligation take his dying daughter to a doctor or a hospital.

Neumann told investigators that in the weeks leading up to Madeline’s death, he noticed that was a “little weak and a little slower,” something he attributed to puberty. Her condition deteriorated, and the day before her death,  Madeline could no longer walk or talk.

“We just trusted the Lord for complete healing,” he said. “We didn’t really sense it was like a life-and-death situation. We figured there was something really fighting in her body. We asked people to join with us in prayer agreement.”

Neumann said it never crossed his mind that his daughter might have lost consciousness.

According  to Neumann,  “I didn’t believe at all that the Lord would even allow her to pass.”

Neumann also told detectives that even though he’s convinced “sickness is a result of sin”, his daughter’s death hasn’t shaken his faith or belief system.

The family does not belong to an organized religion, and Neumann’s wife, Leilani testified that she and her husband have nothing against doctors. But, she said, she viewed Madeline’s illness as “something spiritual.”

Leilani Neumann was convicted of second-degree reckless homicide this spring and faces up to 25 years in prison..

Dr. Joseph Monaco, who worked on Madeline in the hospital emergency room, said she was “very, very emaciated and wasted physically.”

I hear stories like this and I get very angry.  And not only that, people like this make me angry.  I’m talking about those who believe God will handle everything in a flash, like one of Samantha Stevens’ (TV’s “Bewitched”) magical finger snaps. 

As if even Almighty God can take someone in the latent stages of Level 4 Cancer; when the death rattle has begun, that suddenly  He/She will make that poor emaciated creature well, then hope on out of their one-time death bed ready to dance a hula.

I wonder when people (even those who are limited in scope as the Nuemanns) will understand that God isn’t this better-than-a Vegas-act magician!!   Sure, mmiraculous events still happen these days.  Granted, they’re not as convincing as the Bible would have us believe, but miracles still occur.  The problem is people aren’t aware of them, or take them for granted.  It’s hard not to witness childbirth or a massive suspended bridge connecting two land masses across a huge body of water and not marvel at the miracle of technology.

But technology isn’t magic.  It’s applied science.  Therefore, I suppose my question at this point is when will people understand that God isn’t magic?   And when we people understand the role they play in their own survival?

I’m not an incredibly Godly woman.  While I believe in a very defined higher power that works for me, I also believe in the power we have within us.  God given power, one could say. I believe in our power to affect change and that covers an extremely broad scope.  

 The Nuemanns are what I called “literalists”.  They can’t see beyond the words of the Bible that they firmly believe are ccompletely infallible.  

OK, cool whatever floats your boat, but if they would have chosen to educate themselves to what exists beyond the scope of  this book’s text (and sorry people, but we’re talking about a book here, that no matter how you slice it, was physcially written by man) they wouldn’t both be facing lengthy jail sentences.. They are guilty of ignorance, extreme provincial thinking and misappropriation of faith.  In my opinion, they’re faith is wrong.   It’s oddly scoped.   They are entitled to believe as they see fit, but where has it gotten them?   Jail time and a daughter who’s dead.  I pity them them for thinking that all illnesses are the result of sin.  That speaks volumes about these people.

Sadly, they were looking for a miracle; one of those Lazarus type resurrection deals. At the time that happened and if that ever happened in the first place, that could have been described as such solely for the benefit of an even more ignorant and unenlightened group of people…..early man.  

You know, the needed the magic to believe.

What the Nuemanns failed to realize in their own (and yes, I’ll say it) STUPIDITY is that had they taken their daughter to a hospital, she would probably still be alive.   And if anyone would like to take that further and split hairs, we can do that:  That said, one then could argue that God paved the way for medical technology to be as cutting edge as it is today.  He gave people the drive and the intellect to invent these mmiraculous processes, such as dialysis, tumor removal and neurosurgery.  The list is endless.

 Go have a mole removed by laser surgery and then argue that point with me.

I don’t have more to say about the subject other than it reminds of a parable I’ve heard for years.

A man  was caught in a terrible flash flood. 

He prayed, “Lord, save me!” 

Shortly after his prayer, a boat paddled towards him and the people urged the man to get in.

“No thank-you”, said the man, “The Lord is going to save me”.

An hour later, a motor boat drove by and the people urged the man to get in.

“No thank you”, said the man, “The Lord is going to save me”.

The water continued to rise; so much so that the rescue efforts were significantly hampered. The man, at this point, was clinging to the roof-top; floodwaters were about to completely engulf him.   He knew his life stood in the balance.    Then suddenly, a helicopter flew overhead and lowered a rope ladder next to him as he clung to the roof for life.

“Don’t worry about me. The Lord is going to save me”.  

Shortly after that, the man drowned.

As he stood before God in Heaven, he asked Him, “Lord, I trusted in You–Why didn’t You save?”

“Save you???”, replied God, “I sent you two boats and a helicopter! What else did you expect?”

Well, there you go.

Maybe it’s just me, but I do believe that sometimes we haveto make the effort to see the ecclesiastical forest for the trees.  As this case perfectly exemplifies, do the alternatives really give us much of an option otherwise?l

 

Musings On A Sunday Morning

thinking

This morning, I was  mindlessly flipping through the many channels of  my TV,  which is hooked to the large and rather unsightly satellite dish poised on the railing of my balcony.   I pay 200 large each month to gain access to subscription TV channels.  

I like variation.

They like infomercials.

There’s little to watch on an early Sunday morning and while access to cable and satellite grants you a much wider selection; there’s still very little  choice.   That’s when programming lapses into this “Lamp Unto My Feet”  mode.   Religious shows are about all you can find.   Oh yeah sure…the Beverly Hillbillies  is on TV LAND but those are only good when filmed in black and white.    The versions playing now allow you see how brown and dingy Irene Ryan ‘s (TV’s “Granny”) teeth really were.

Not exactly the vision I want to wake up to.

As sprituality is concerned, I haven’t been much of a church goer in recent years.  I’m not sure why.  I think for me, reading and certain aspects of enlightenment stole orgnized religion’s thunder.   I’ve discovered that my prayers are always answered in the affirmative or the negative as often at home, as they are when I’m begging, grovelling and deal brokering in a cavernous Catholic church.

But today, my channel flipping landed on a local station that was broadcasting Houston’s religious wünderkind, Joel Osteen.  I listened to his  homespun SE Texas delivery.  I watched his broad smile and eyes that become the tiniest of facial slits when he goes happy face.    Jesus often comes into play in Joel’s homilies, but God always seem to be  le sujet chaque dimanche matin.   

Then, I wonder why he even  has to make distinctions between the two.  I was taught as a young Catholic sapling that God is comprised of three persons:  “And noooooowwwwww……Welome the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit to the stage!!!!!!!!!”

In early 1999, my niece was killed in a traffic accident.  I hadn’t been to mass in probably 12 years prior to her funeral mass that her uncle…a bishop and promiment figure among Texas Catholics, kept talking about Holly already  being in Heaven with Jesus.

When did that happen?  I was always taught that we were buried facing east so when Gabriel comes down from the heavens to blow his clarion indicating the end of days, we would rise again…a la Jesus.   Once our life-brimming bodies are resurrected,  we emerge from our graves and like so much ectoplasm, we’d float right on to Heaven.  I can’t remember where I was taught our spirits go in the interim, but I seem to remember that spirit and it’s former humanly vessel will be united in some way when the world ended.  

And then there’s the Rapture.  That was never  part of my Catholic  lexicon as the nuns, priests and well intentioned lay people tried to teach me diocesan Catechism.    But I think the Rapture inidcates Stage One of The End.   I’ve heard religious zealotry describe it as  something of a flash:  one minute you’re here, the next minute you’re not.    You’re sitting at your desk then suddenly, the din created by toiling in cubicles ceases and you’re all alone.  Those who disappeared into thin air got lucky–they lived good, God and Jesus fearing, sanctified lives and that  earned them a big ol’  E-ticket to come on up to groove in paradise for forever and ever, Amen.  

But if you’re the one left wondering what the hell happened……well, get used to hearing that word a lot because hell on earth is about to unfold before your eyes.   Watch for four really ugly men on horseback whose very beings represent war, pestilence, famine and death.

I can’t fathom perpetuity…infinity.   Eeschatology is a difficult concept to swallow.  Does Hell last  forever?   What happens to it at the end of the world?   What happens to a fully raptured planet?  It’s remains empty and whithers away do to neglect?   What happens after all the good people who ascend upward to the Heavens above and the bad ones fall to the very depths–is that all there is?  We part ways?  Half gets to experience sublimnity while the other half are sent to toil amid the flames?   Why must we even have an end?  What’s the logic in destroying this embattled, but still beautiful planet?

Why can’t we just come back as enlightened people each time? 

And what about the acceptance of Jesus Christ as lord and savior serves as the ONLY way one can gain entrance into the kingdom of heaven??? 

 I don’t get it.   Moses, Abraham, Jesus’ grandparents and anyone else who lived and died before that first auspicious Easter when Jesus died.   He wasn’t their Messiah.   He wasn’t even born yet.   So, logically one could surmise that  based on this particular infallable Christian tenet, that Moses, King David, et.al.  are in Hell.   Apparently, so are billions of Buddhists,  Jews, Hindus,  Muslims, and tribes who live primitively near a savannah in Africa or near  the banks of the Amazon who’ve rarely seen cultivated man, much less know squat about Jesus or the God I’ve  been referring to….what about them?     Are they hellbound???  Condemned to hell for innocently being ignorant of Christian ways and means?

Why?  

And why death and its permanence?  To think we only get one shot at life seems to defeat the purpsoe.

When man first supposedly emerged from the promordial glue of Life as living flotsam,  then began walking upright, then learned about the positives attached to eating protien riddled, brain-feeding meat along with the invention of simple machines and fire, we soon began to learn that life worked better if it included structure.   Needed was a leader, his followers, workers, nurterers, hunter/gatherers and if they were really lucky and progressive thinking, they’d understand that some semblance of a democratic process  was the only effective way to live communally.

And here’ are a few more things about me.  I adulterate my Scotch with soda; I’ll put ketchup on a lesser quality steak and I believe in evolution.   I think it’s ongoing, actually.  Well, to a degree anyway.  Who can deny it’s in play  while watching  the amazing growth cycle of a child from zygote to toddler to teen to adult?  Who can’t see  proof of evolution when looking at a once, youthful, dewey, fresh  face, now wrinkled and jaded in appearance and NOT understand this process is real and happening before our very eyes?   

Furthermore, I don’t buy the reality that God clapped his hands seven times over a seven day period and that created the universe and all who live in it.     I kind of think man has been always been around; that reincarnation exists as we live.   Sorry all you Vedas out there, but I believe this has some credibility.  Think about it:    Monkey people/knuckle draggers turned cro-mag, turned thinkers.   Every time man as a species dies out which happens all the time,   a new and improved version arrives on the scene.  Over the millenia, life taught our forefathers  keep building the proverbial better mouse trap.   They learned that a split level Tuscan style condo with a modernized kitchen and media  room selling in the lower 400-thousands (and city adjacent) serves as a much better dwelling than a lowly cave.  People represent progress.   When you think about, it’s hard not to believed that as humans, we aren’t recyclable.  It just doesn’t seem plausible to believe that all that spirit,spunk and talent and brilliance just simply evaporates into the ether.     

What  a waste. 

And who will replace us?   Those who live in sky towers; who drive flying jet cars, who can cook roast beef dinners for 12 in mere seconds  and have busy body robotic maids with  Brooklyn accents named Rosie? 

We are poised right on the brink of the Jetsonian Era.

Nevertheless, we are as we have been, as we will always be:  greedy, jealous,  slovenly, lustful, proud,  anger ridden and gluttons for both food and punishment.  Simply put,  we are human.   Programmed to be errant.    And if we’re lucky and normal, we’re also programmed to understand how to rectify our errancy.

When I think about the future, I see a blur.  It’s dizzying; hard to even try to see it in a sensical manner.   I used to see it in amazing clarity.  Youth makes the view 20/20.   If you’ve been able to place enough life in your quiver, you begin to understand how this whole process of life works.  You live and you understand you’re in far more contr0l than you ever thought possible.  

Faith that good things can still happen is as tough as living in a limited world and believing blindly that a religious prophet once had to prove his prowress to ignorant people by walking on water, healing a leper here and there with a touch of his hand and turning fish into loaves.   These people, so limited in scope, couldn’t possibly wrap their heads around logic; but they could easily and readily understand magic and mysticism.   Magic for them, was visually tactile.  

And that’s made it believable.

A metaphoric firey charriot (or a perfectly timed meteor) racing across the sky explained more to these people than a text ever could.  As mentioned above, faith often needs proof in order to stay in the cranial forefront and that’s what Jesus’ apostolic followers gave these people.  They gave them an option.   The uneducated who couldn’t keep up with ever evolving intellectualism of Judaism, needed something else.    Christanity got the nod.  Proponents needed these souls to believe.  So, the story goes that Jesus Christ could die like a human; but like a god they intended him to be,  he couldn’t stay dead.   He’d be back.

If someone doesn’t believe this, shouldn’t he or she have the right to ask if the  Bible’s authors were nothing but propagandists???

It’s easy to think this way.  Today, miracles don’t happen in a biblical context.   Never again will we see  anyone walk on water.   Those kind of miracles don’t exist–unless of course, you think the invention of a Wave Runner is the next best thing.   No one produces loaves from fishes anymore.   We do it today in mass production with flour, water,  yeast and riboflavin in gigantic  ovens which produce thousands of loaves everyday.

Lastly, I think miracles are idiosyncratic.   They’re what you need them to be.   Personally,  I don’t think of my life as existing in a chasm of religious goal orientation.   I don’t necessarily worry if I slip up on the controls of  those ten idioms that Moses was so closely attached, I’ll be condemned to hell for perpetuity.  

Save for murder.  Nor am I a fan of infidelity or coveting neighbors’ stuff either.

I also believe we endure periods of hell in our lifetimes.    Fire and brimstone are used euphemistically.    Hell is prison.   Hell is lonliness.  Hell is helplessness.  Hell is being mentally and emotionally skewed.  Hell is hunger, drought, unemployment and loss.  

Hell is poverty.  It is lonliness and grief.  Hell is burying your baby.   It’s kissing your husband’s lifeless face  in the waning seconds before the life saving equipment is shut off.  It’s looking back on a life poorly lived knowing full well that your particular  clock that controls everything,  is about to strike 12.

Hell is regret.

Far be it from me to gaslight your Godly reality, whatever that might be.  I want you to believe in what you must; in whatever gets you through the night.  I’m no different from any other human who’s ever walked on this big blue marble.   I’ve loved and hated and accomplished and failed.  Uderstandably, after living a life rife with arrears in faith, hope, love and mankind in general,  I understand what it’s like to want and need to believe  in the possibility that  something better could happen somewhere else, at some other time. 

But when specifically never comes hard and fast.   You question why.   This is where  the inexcplicable, but  all purpose explanation–” everything happens in God’s time” comes into play.

Faith is all we have,  really.    Whether that’s geared at God, Allah, Vishnu or the Druidic “Green Man” or the Denver Bronocs, we all need to believe in something.    Everyday I wake up in the morning to face the day ahead and I understand just how vital that is.  Prayer is important; it is empowering.  Belief in a higher power is important too….but so is the belief in ourselves.  That we’re often in more control than we realize.

I have only recently understood how relevant that is to the story line behind the “The Wizard of Oz”.       There she was, this misplaced Kansan named Dorothy, galavating around this strange land in ruby slippers thanks to a tornado and her farmhouse’s  open pier and beam foundation.   She learned at the very end of her long, difficult journey to the Emerald City, that by clicking her slippers together, she alone had the power to go home the entire time, she just didn’t know it.

You see, she never needed a wizard.

She simply needed wisdom and so do we, folks.

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