Spiritual Mathematical Knot

Spiritual Mathematical Knot

A conversation on Facebook helped me appreciate the ultimate spiritual mathematical knot – drawing closer to God. Baha'i RingstoneResponding to a Baha’i quote on the challenges inherent in searching for God a friend posted this tongue-in-cheek response “So. Pretty easy overall.” A mathematical formula to describe how easy it might be came to me in a flash. The difficulty we have in finding and drawing near to God equals our actual distance from God divided by how close we think we are. Let’s unpack this spiritual mathematical knot.

Thinking we have God in our back pocket creates a mathematical impossibility. You can’t divide by zero. This is the challenge facing those who, like I once did, think they are comparatively closer to God than others. 

A group I once belonged to was über-obedient. We kept many Torah Commandments, like the Sabbath, Holy days, and food laws. By having both the law and the testimony of Christ we believed we were closer to God than anyone else on earth. In some ways, maybe we were. We took God at His Word and organized every aspect of our life around obeying, following and worshiping Him.

impossible divideAnd yet belief in proximity to God kept us from drawing any closer. My personal battle with this is described in painful personal detail across the pages of the first two books of my Trilogy.  The People of the Sign describes my involvement with the Worldwide Church of God and its 1995 implosion. That devastating fail was underscored by many members blaming the other side instead of becoming introspective. Being a victim of divorce and kidnapping helped me understand the two sides. Detachment helped me realize I was nowhere near as close to God as I had thought, opening up the “valley of search” described by the Baha’i quote that led to this blog.

Spiritual Proximity Sensor 2

My personal search around the world is described in The Hardness of the Heart. How we view and treat our fellow man is directly related to how open our heart is to God. Self-sufficiency, judgmental attitudes and the belief that we already have enough of God in our lives creates an impassible divide between us and God.

There are many ways to conclude we are as close to God as possible, which becomes self-fulfilling. How close are you to God?Fear of turning to God due to feelings of guilt and inadequacy are but mirror images of this arrogance. They are also expressions of a focus on ourselves. These too are fetters of ego that create distance.

Yet anyone who thinks they are far away from God can easily draw nearer just by deciding to. Recognizing the distance allows us to instantly decrease it. Think of how Christ welcomed and embraced sinners, while condemning the Pharisees. Apparently such spiritual equations function more like quantum mechanics than classical physics.

How close are you to God?This makes searching for God  sound easier than it is, of course. But on the other hand, we usually make it harder than it is. And I think that was the point of my friend’s cheeky, and well-timed response to my Facebook post. Thank God for friends who help us untie spiritual mathematical knots. Or tie them, as the case may be.

Are you as close to God as you want to be? Or knot? John 13:35 says everyone can know who follows Christ by a simple test. Do you know what it is?
A Special People?

A Special People?

We have children of a certain age – 4 and 7. So I can relate to Jami, the author of this blog on a child’s piano recital. She humorously points out that she wants her children to know they “aren’t that great”. “You’re not better than others”.

I'm Better Than YouShe somewhat convincingly suggests that this is the message of Christ. It’s a great blog, and it inspired me to try to tackle this important topic myself, however imperfectly, because Jami’s blog raises a question that is at the heart and core of my book – “The People of the Sign”.

Why does God seemingly tell Israel, in Deuteronomy 7:6, the opposite of what Jami proclaims as the message of Christ?

For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth.

Isn’t telling one people they shall be raised above all others the opposite of what Christ tried to accomplish? Isn’t Christ’s approach to this at the heart of why the Pharisee’s hated Him, and killed Him? Isn’t this question at the heart of all religious strife on this planet today, as evidenced by the highly explosive situation in the Middle East, focused on Israel?

This is a blog, not a treatise on theology, so at the risk of oversimplifying I’ll discuss just two quick points on why there is no contradiction between Moses and Christ.

First – if you want to find evidence of progressive revelation, that God has been raising mankind, the way parents raise children, here it is. Every parent knows you fill your children with love in infancy. You make sure they know that they are THE most important thing in your life. This statement by God is 100% in alignment with that principle.

Life is hardBut does that relegate Moses to “baby talk” – a lovingly told divine lie, a bait and switch, in which the baby later learns “it’s a cruel world, and I know I told you that you were special, but you really aren’t?”

There is a parallel verse that can help us answer this – Exodus 19:5

Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine.

Here we see, clearly, that God conditions such elevation. The same principle of “you are a special treasure above all people” is outlined in Exodus 19:5, but with a caveat. “If you will indeed obey”. Is God interested in being obeyed? Not so much. He is interested in the results of obedience. His laws are “great making”. The greatness part comes as a result of the learning that comes from obeying God’s holy and perfect law. And it does elevate the keepers of it above others, because they do become great.

And, in fact, the New Testament also addresses Christians as “a special people, a royal priesthood”. And there is a whole lot of theology that tries to deal with the seeming contradiction I raised above. The New Testament writers after Christ, especially Paul, and the religion that was constructed upon an imperfect understanding of what Christ brought, have wrestled with this question down to our day.

A major problem with Judaism is that, as a result of historical failure to keep the law they wrote a never ending series of protective laws, to ensure it was kept. A major problem with Christianity is that Divine Law was thrown out altogether. Today, we are still trying to figure this out, but it’s really not that hard. Check out my blog on a little known book called The Secret of Divine Civilization for a practical example of this.

HumilityWe are trending toward World War III because religious fanatics have so twisted and overheated the hearts of millions of followers that they are willing to risk global conflict to prove that they, not the modern nation of Israel, are the chosen ones of God. Secular society, on the other hand, abandons all Divine guidance.

At the center of all this is the world’s only Jewish State – and a people who, after 4,000 years and millennia of suffering, may be closer than we think to the answers to this conundrum. These are, in a sense, The People of the Sign – since the Sign in the name of my first book refers to the Sign of the Covenant God made with Israel – the Sabbath. But the answer to why I believe they are close to a breakthrough will have to wait for another day.

Freedom v. Religion?

Freedom v. Religion?

Freedom From ReligionThis blog continues a discussion started in my last blog and ties it in with my opinion that the United States risks turning a founding principle – freedom of religion – into freedom from religion.

Religious Freedom is a primary source of the unparallelled ascendancy of the US and of its influence in human affairs. Many seek to exercise this freedom in an effort to align the nation with the Will of God as expressed in the Bible. This anchors one side of the so-called “Culture War” which has been emerging for 150 years, and which in recent decades has given birth to the red/blue state divide.

Obergefell v. HodgesThe rainbow symbolizes two extremes. One side invokes Noah’s flood as described in Genesis 6:5: “God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” In the wake of the US Supreme Court’s (SCOTUS) decision in Obergefell v. Hodges on same-sex marriage the President turned the White House into a rainbow.  Storm clouds are gathering over an epic battle for religious freedom.

Mormon Polygamists in PrisonBack in 1878 SCOTUS ruled in Reynolds vs. the United States that you can hold a religious belief in polygamy, but you can’t act on it. Why are polygamists jailed while same-sex couples are protected? What kinds of impulses qualify as those which can be acted upon, vs. those which can’t? Are there other cases which shed light on these questions?

Hobby Lobby ObamacareIn Burwell v. Hobby Lobby SCOTUS ruled that Hobby Lobby can ignore “Obamacare’s” birth-control mandate for religious reasons. “Americans do not lose their religious freedom when they run a family business” they said. A Huffington Post article assures conservatives nothing has changed.

Gay Wedding RingsThis rings hollow. An Oregon court fined Aaron and Melissa Klein $135,000 for refusing to bake a lesbian wedding cake. Is Sweet Cakes different than Hobby Lobby? Yes, because one was about an offering to all employees, the other about discriminating against certain customers. And Sweet Cakes’ owners acted foolishly and punitively, while Hobby Lobby can be said to have acted wisely, with restraint. Still, to determine the Sweet Cakes fine an employee discrimination case, in which one would expect higher fines, was used.  And some believe “militant gays” are using the new state and federal rulings to target a different minority – Christians with anti same-sex beliefs. The outcome of  Masterpiece Cake Shop v. Craig (Denver, CO) may shed light or throw fuel on the fire.

To help reflect on this I randomly picked a Virtues Card and came up with Hope – “looking to the future with trust and faith”. Interestingly, the card features the rainbow. Coincidence?

Noah's Covenant and Gay PrideI don’t believe in coincidence and I believe America’s roots tap into divine soil. She plays a pivotal role in the Creator’s purpose and I have faith she will continue to do so. The card says “The very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance, but live right in it, under its roof.” This is one of the reasons I chose to tackle this thorny and potentially divisive topic in this blog. I have hope – and I hope that a discussion, a dialogue, will lead to answers, and peace, and reconciliation, and unity. After all, the motto on our great seal is “e pluribus unum”.

Mosaic Flag


Je Suis Charlie Who?

Je Suis Charlie Who?

My Bachelor of Arts degree features a major in Theology and a Minor in French. This odd combination qualifies me for very, very little. It does, however, lead me to reflect on what is just below the surface of the current Je Suis Charlie meme sweeping the Western World.

Searching for truthDr. David Wainwright, may he rest in peace, not only taught me French, he was one of my most respected mentors and an accomplished public speaker, who wasn’t afraid to address topics others avoided. I often reflect on a sermon he gave in the 80’s for the church that sponsored Ambassador College, where I was studying. He used the layers of the onion to symbolize how ignorance and misinformation must be stripped away to uncover truth.

What interested me most is that his analogy was true to the onion. There was nothing inside.  He didn’t put defined boundaries around Truth, which is why he was such a powerful mentor. He left it up to the individual, even within an organization generally comprised of people telling us exactly what to believe.  The balance between a collective and personal view is a topic that fascinates me.

Which ends the general philosophical noodling and gets to the point of this blog – the situation in France. Many Americans find the French rude and stuffy, but I love the language, the culture, and the people. I came to know them quite well living with four different families across northern France, including the Paris region, during a college immersion program. They can be very warm, genuine, and have big hearts. But the individuals aside, when it comes to their collective approach to Islamic Terrorism over the last 50 years there is little to like about France.

Je Suis Charlie

Je Suis Charlie

Suddenly everyone knows Charlie Hebdo – the French weekly satire magazine which may have inspired an American equivalent, The Onion, founded in Madison, where I live today. Ironic, since the meme from the Charlie Hebdo attacks is “Je Suis Charlie” – “I am Charlie”. Stripping off the layers of this French onion reveals that Charlie is an American whose last name is Brown. Yes, it’s the peanuts character. Do the French know this, and relate to Charlie Brown, I wonder? Do they have a Charlie Brown style anxiety about identifying with the Jews?

Is that, perhaps, why they tried to exclude Israeli Premier Netanyahu from participating in the recent rallies? Among the people who can legitimately claim “Je Suis Charlie” the Jews should be considered exhibit A. How can the French be so gauche? Where did such attitudes and perspectives originate?

The roots of the modern nation’s conflicted relationship to terrorism may be embedded in France’s own “Reign of Terror“. That, and the focus of their own colonialism may be behind their affinity for the Arab world which over the last 50 years has focused way too much of its energy on hatred for Israel. It goes beyond attacking cartoonists, it denies Israel’s right to exist, and seeks to drive its people into the sea. And while elements of French society are anti-Islam, they pale in comparison to France’s historic antisemitism. France has a long and illustrious history with this particular evil, which became especially visible during the World War II era.

It continues to lurk in the shadows, but can be clearly seen, if you know where to look. A double standard was applied to the Charlie Hebdo attacks and the subsequent attack at a Jewish Supermarket. This hypocrisy goes hand in hand with the false equivalency France applies to Israel and its enemies. There is an old “joke” that Europe has never forgiven the Jews for the Holocaust, which highlights the ongoing tendency to blame the victims of Islamic Terrorism, – when they’re Jewish, which they usually are. For this reason it’s especially important to pay attention to how France ultimately processes the Charlie Hebdo attack.

Will they finally begin to hold the perpetrators, including their culture and beliefs, responsible for the global hatred and murder that is being spawned, or will they childishly and selfishly focus on the handful of their own who fell victim to it? Will this current crisis drive the people of France to peel back the layers of the onion that have formulated their national perspectives in this confusing and troubled age? Or will they continue to scapegoat Israel and the Jews for a problem they, in fact, helped create?

Alan Dershowitz, for example, goes so far as to say the French “Played Footsie with Terrorists“. They’ve done this with Israel too. They enabled the Israeli nuclear program, which arguably has enabled Israel to survive, and thrive, as a beacon of multicultural diversity in a dark region. But France regretted their participation. They are torn, conflicted, and don’t really know who they are or what they stand for.  They don’t want to be seen as Antisemetic, but they still can’t identify with the Jews. Those sentiments run deep. In fact, there are those who believe Arabs imported antisemitism from Christian countries in Europe.

Regardless of where one stands on these various topics, and of the issues of concern in this current wave of French solidarity, I applaud the engagement of the French on the topic of the attack on Charlie. And as Dershowitz pointed out, the US President should absolutely have joined in. A crisis is a terrible thing to waste. And there are worse icons we could identify with than a newspaper that adopted Charlie Brown as its muse. But all of us, and at this moment in time, especially the French, need to reflect deeply on who and what we are.  We shouldn’t just “Suis” the latest fad. Reacting to attacks and conforming to mass movements is a fast and effective way to wrap more onion layers around large groups of people.

Diligent independent investigation of the truth is required to emerge from behind the veils of the onion layers, and into the light. If enough individuals engage in this activity, society can be transformed. Civilization has proven repeatedly that when large masses of people quickly adopt an identity they don’t fully understand, there are lots of tears. They flow freely when history crushes the onions we choose to inhabit.

Peeling the onionIn keeping with a blogging promise I made some time ago, I pulled a random Virtues card (from my deck of 100 cards obtained through The Virtues Project) and Courage came up. No challenge making many connections here. I’ll just end with excerpts of the quote from the front of the card and let my readers form their own. After all, each of us lives inside our own unique onion.

It’s helpful, though, as we’ve done here, to reflect upon the soil in which it grew. As you do, do so with Courage. And strip those layers off – one by one.

“Courage transforms fear into determination. It is embracing life fully, without holding back, doing what must be done even when it is difficult or risky. When we are tempted to give up courage supports us to take the next step. Courage opens us to new possibilities, and gives us the strength to sacrifice for what we love. At times we need courage to accept the truth, and to pick ourselves up after mistakes, ready to make amends and try again.”