Dallas shootings, Cops and killing

I read the news today, oh boy.

My heart is saddened by the state of chaos this country has devolved into.

Cops targeting black males to the extent that they should be considered an endangered species.

And now blacks are killing cops in response to the lack of justice of those killings.

Killing in response to killing.

When has that ever amounted to anything good?

The fact is that this country has a race issue and it has never really been addressed.

And we are paying for it – big time.

I pray for peace and level heads as we sort things out, but I fear that these prayers are for naught.

Perhaps if the policeman that killed these black men would go to jail, then it might send a message that might help restore trust in the community.

That’s a lot of mights…

What we are witnessing is not just the reaction to recent events..

It is the reaction to systematic oppression and killing for hundreds of years.

We have repressed all of this, and now it is bubbling up.

Two wrongs have never made a right.

Killing to prevent killing has never helped anything.

A violent revolution only yields temporary satisfaction. (5,000 of history backs me up on this).

I pray for all the victims – as a result of police brutality and the Black Lives Matter protests.

My thoughts and prayers go out to all the families and friends of these victims.

As long as we see each other as people of different races, then racism will always be with us.

It is only when we see each other as human beings of the same race, then racism cannot exist.

May we all come to this realization soon…

For the sake of all of humanity.

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Orlando, ISIS and Islam – Just what is going on?

I know this post is late.

The incident occurred days ago.

I was in shock, and needed some time to process.

Seems we don’t give ourselves time to process things anymore in our instant-gratification generation.

The shooter claimed allegiance to ISIS.

I don’t believe that was his real motivation.

This was not a religious-based killing, in my opinion.

The Koran had nothing to do with the tragedy.

It was based on extreme hatred of a group of human beings that have been targeted since the dawn of time.

Gays.

I have read some things that make me believe that the shooter was gay himself (but never really came out).

If that is true, then that would really explain things.

You see, we tend to live by the golden rule.

If you love yourself and who you are…

If you love life…

Then you will wish this on others.

But if hate yourself and who you are…

If you want to die…

Well, then, I think you will wish this on others also.

History is littered with people who hate others who are just like themselves.

They hate that aspect of themselves and they project that hate outward toward others.

If the shooter was really gay and couldn’t accept that, then he might have felt like he wanted to die.

And take other gays with him.

Now, all of this is just my speculation and I could be wrong.

But it is, to me, the most logical reason for the shooting.

No, I don’t believe that religion or faith had anything to do with this tragedy.

The shooter was unbalanced and hated who he was.

And he took that anger out on others.

We must always be on our guard whenever we hate others.

Chances are, whether we like it or not, that we have those same traits within ourselves.

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The Trump Phenomenon

I want to talk about Donald Trump.

Yeah, I know.

This site is about spirituality, not politics.

As if these aren’t related.

Hah!

I do not want to talk about Mr. Trump’s policies.

That may be for another time. ūüôā

I want to talk about what I call the “Trump Phenomenon.”

WHY is he so popular?

Let’s face it, even his supporters think he is a ‘little rough around the edges.’

(I am trying to be as kind as possible).

Yet the man lead in the polls.

ALL the polls.

Technically, he has more people who like him over Ms. Clinton!

WHY IS THIS?

I believe it is because of one main reason…

He speaks his mind and is not afraid if it pisses people off.

A lot of Americans appreciate and respect that.

(frankly, so do I).

Aren’t we a country of individualism?

Why then do we end up with politicians who all sound the same and do nothing different?

It is not like politicians came from outer space!

They come from the populace.

From our cities, towns and states.

They come from our communities.

The point I am trying to make is that they represent us.

Literally, just not politically.

We do not like our politicians because they reflect the worse in us.

And nobody likes to face up to that, so we project our anger toward them.

We vote these people into office.

At least those who vote.

And if you think voting doesn’t make a difference, then remember the legacy of George W. Bush and wonder what would have happened if someone else was president during that same time period?

Do you REALLY think the exact same wars and laws would have happened?

I don’t think so.

Trump represents giving the bird to the existing political landscape.

He represents the extraordinary rising about the mediocrity.

Is this enough to win the election in 2016?

I do not know.

All I know is we have lost the gift to see the power that is within us.

You are a beautiful and unique human being, limitless and powerful.

And VERY unique.

We need to recognize this more in ourselves, and then we will elect politicians who are unique and powerful.

Powerful, in a good way, of course.

For now, all we have is Mr. Trump.

Who says life isn’t stranger than fiction?

Peace.

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You did WHAT in HOW LONG?

Well,

May and June certainly have been an incredible 2 months.

First, we got a dog that turned out to be VERY hyperactive, needed TONS of attention, and then very sick and needed even MORE attention!

Then I got a 2.5 degree burn on my hand (not quite 3rd degree, but worse than a 2nd degree).

(from making pasta. Let’s just say I will be more careful draining the bowl from now on!! Ouch!)

Then I had 2 – count ’em – 2 surgeries on my eyes.

Then (I am getting tired just writing all of this down), I got in a car crash!

All in the space of 60 days!

I am happy to say that most of these issues have been resolved.

We got the dog better and then found a better home for him – with a loving couple who can give him the attention and love he needs.

My hand is pretty much healed (just have to be careful not to get sunburned!)

I am fully recovered from my eye surgeries and now have 20/20 vision in my left eye, and 20/30 in my right. Pretty radical change from someone who has been wearing glasses for 50+ years in order to see clearly!

My car has been fixed from the accident (though I am still awaiting judgement from the insurance company to see if my rates will go up or if I will get my deductible back).

So all is good.

But that was a ROUGH 60 day period.

Oh wait!

I forgot about the most important thing!

My first book was published!

Wow!

Trust me, when I say a major milestone and success can also be stressful!

I feel VERY blessed right now to come out of all of this okay.

So if you ever think “nothing ever happens to me, my life is boring,” please keep this blog post in mind.

Sometimes boring is not such a bad thing.

Peace,

Steve

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Double Vision

I have recently recovered from surgery in both my eyes.

I was pretty much blind in my right eye due to cataracts, and my left eye didn’t have much longer before it was as bad.

There was no option beside surgery.

The surgeon recommended to have the surgeries about a month apart, which was fine by me.

For the first two week, I couldn’t exercise, strain or even bend over!

But that wasn’t the strange part!

What was REALLY weird was the unique view of the world I was experiencing.

You see, cataracts do three things.

1) they make the world cloudy

2) they make the world blurry

3) they add a deep yellow tint to everything.

I had NO idea how bad these three elements were until my right eye was fixed!

I could see CLEARLY without glasses- for the FIRST time in my life!

My left eye, however, was horrible.

It is hard to describe seeing the world through these two different lenses.

One eye was clear, in focus and with vibrant colors.

The other eye was foggy, blurry and had a yellow tint.

Keeping both my eyes open was driving me nuts!

Two different color schemes!

Two different fields of vision!

Two different levels of clarity!

I tried putting an eye patch on my left eye, but that just felt too awkward.

I popped out the right lens of my eyeglasses. That helped a little.

Sometimes I just closed each other to see the effect of seeing the world through two different lenses.

I realized how profound this experience was.

In my book РReligion? Been There. Done That. I talk a lot of how important it is to see the world through a different lens.

We must strive to see the world not only through OUR eyes, but through the eyes of another – to understand how THEY see the world.

It is a very difficult, but very powerful skill I believe we each must learn if we are to live in peace and harmony with people who think and view God very differently than us.

After I got my left eye done everything was GREAT!

Now I have 20/20 vision in my left eye and 20/30 vision in my right eye!

I only need over the counter reading glasses!

The experience of seeing the world through two different views at the same time will stay with me a long time.

Have you had a similar experience you would like to share?

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The Faust and the Furious

I have been meaning to read Goethe’s Faust for – oh, about 30 years!

About 5 years ago I got what looked like a FANTASTIC translation.

It was by Walter Kaufmann, who did such a GREAT job translating Nietzsche’s works into English.

Last week I FINALLY read it!

Was it one of the greatest works of literature ever written?

I can see where some people think that. Certainly parts of it were brilliant, imho.

But here is the thing.

I had no idea that the book’s main character was really Mephisto (aka, the Devil).

The thing that really caught my surprise that it was never clear to me WHY Faust sold his soul to the Devil (nor why he was saved at the end).

It seemed to me that Faust was just bored with his life and the Devil promised him something new – a new set of experiences that whetted his appetite.

Is that what happens to us?

We lose our appreciation for life.

We lose our passion for life.

So we get bored and start walking down the road of darkness and despair?

We are so overwhelmed these days – with our jobs (or searching for a job), the endless horrors that are happening around the world, our families, bills, etc. that we are both overwhelmed and bored at the same time.

When we feel despair, it is a sign that we have lost our way.

For the Lord is always with us.

The spark of the Divine is within us.

How can we feel so down when we are so blessed?

May you, my friend, feel blessed today.

Peace.

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Killing over pictures of Mohammed

There has been quite a lot of talk about “free speech” and the right of (mostly) westerners to make fun of the prophet of Islam, including making images and cartoons in his likeness.

In the interest of peace, I feel it is important to share my perspective.

Let me begin by stating that I have experienced Islam from many perspectives.

1) From an ignorant outsiders perspective. ¬†When I was a Jew and Christian I didn’t “get” Islam or why anyone would convert to that religion.

2) From an insiders perspective. ¬†In my book on religion and spirituality¬†I go into detail about my experience with 20 different religions. Part of that whirlwind experience was a stop in Islam. While I can not in good conscious say I was ever a practicing Muslim, I can honestly say there was a period in my life where I felt I was a Muslim in spirit. I read the Koran, believed that the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH – peace be upon him, which is a traditional sign of respect to the prophet in Islam) was Allah’s messenger, and I said the traditional prayers in a Mosque in an Islamic country.

3) From a respectful outsiders perspective. While I have moved very far away from the Abrahamic religions (and monotheism in general), I still treasure those times I embraced Islamic theology. That experience gave me a truly unique view of the Islamic religion.

This all allowed me to see Islam from inside and various outside perspectives.

This post is not to explain all of Islam, nor to defend any of its teachings.

Rather it is to give a different perspective on the issue of why drawing pictures of the Islamic Prophet brings some Muslims to point to commit violence.

Islam is based on the belief that Allah (God) has no physical form.  We should have no images of anything in heaven. This is consistent with the Law of Moses. But Islam was concerned that prophets have a habit of being worshiped. From a non-Christian perspective, this is certainly how Jesus is viewed by many.  A prophet of God who ended up being worshiped as a deity.

Also, having images of anything raises the possibility of that image being misused, abused and mocked. Surely we have seen how the image of Jesus has been treated like that.  The image of Jesus is on everything from t-shirts to bobble heads. Is this really appropriate?

I asked a Muslim why they got so upset over people mocking their prophet.

He gently smiled and said “and why don’t you get upset over people mocking your prophet?”

Gave me something to think about.

We are so used to having the¬†Christian religion, its beliefs, and its prophet mocked that we don’t even think about it anymore. ¬†Movies, books, TV shows all regularly make fun of the Christian faith.

And we quietly take it.

I think this desensitizes us to what is going on.

Mohammed, along with the Koran, is the cornerstone of Islam.

Mohammed (PBUH) was not God, nor did he claim to be. To have any image of him would elevate him above humanity, and allow for his image to be mocked.

For reasons that I still don’t fully understand, there developed an Islamic law that forbade people to make pictures of Mohammed, with the penalty being death. At least I don’t believe this law is found in the Koran, which is the source of laws for Muslims. Eventually mocking the prophet¬†became equated with blasphemy.

I am not asking you to agree with this law, only to understand it.

Now at this point, people tend to tell me “Steve, if people don’t want to see pictures of someone, that’s¬†fine. ¬†But that doesn’t give people the right to kill someone who makes a picture of Mohammed! That is just free speech!”

That is a nice, but flawed, argument.

The emphasis of free speech over someone’s personal religious beliefs is foreign to the Muslim mind. The fanaticism of free speech (e.g. I can say whatever you want and you just have to take it! So there!) is not a shared belief system around the world.

I would like to pose the following scenario to you to help drive home an important point.

Imagine a new neighbor moves right next door to you. ¬†You see him the next day and yell “good morning!” at which point he gets visibly agitated and responds:

“Please do not say that! In my culture that is an insult. It is the equivalent of using the n-word to a black person!”

“what? it is just an expression! It doesn’t mean anything. ¬†It is just a way of saying hello. So we say good morning. ”

“Please stop saying that phrase! I have already told you that it really upsets me. If my family were to hear you call me that, they would go ballistic! ¬†Where I come from, people get hurt calling those names. I am your neighbor, and I implore you PLEASE DO NOT SAY THAT phrase! Can’t you say something different?”

“You are crazy! I can say whatever I want! That is free speech, man. I don’t give a crap how you feel. ¬†I will say “good morning” as much as I want, and you just have to take it.”

“you don’t get it, do you?”

“Are you threatening me?”

“look, we are neighbors. I am trying to live in peace with everyone. How would you like it if I were to call you an offensive term every time I see you!”

“I would get angry, of course.”

“See?”

“This is different!”

“why?”

“Because I am simply saying ‘good morning!'”

“arrgh. You are a real jerk, you know that?”

“and you are crazy”

Now, every morning when you see your neighbor, you say those words that you KNOW will just anger him. He keeps pleading for you to stop using that phrase but you keep on saying it because you feel you have the right to, and you do not understand why he has a problem with this simple American phrase.

You keep insulting the man every day, every week, every month – for years.

Then one day, your house burns down. Seems his family and friends couldn’t take it anymore.

—–

Far fetched?

I don’t think so.

Now let’s play it back using a different response.

——

Imagine a new neighbor moves right next door to you. ¬†You see him the next day and yell “good morning!” at which point he gets visibly agitated and responds:

“Please do not say that! In my culture that is an insult. It is the equivalent of using the n-word to a black person!”

“what? it is just an expression! It doesn’t mean anything. ¬†It is just a way of saying hello. So we say good morning. ”

“Please stop saying that phrase! I have already told you that it really upsets me. If my family were to hear you call me that, they would go ballistic! ¬†Where I come from, people get hurt calling those names. I am your neighbor, and I implore you PLEASE DO NOT SAY THAT phrase! Can’t you say something different?”

“cool down, man! I didn’t mean anything by it. It is just a simple expression. I admit to not understand why it upsets you so much, but we are neighbors and there is no point of upsetting you like this. Is it okay if say “hello, neighbor” instead?”

“oh that is fine! ¬†I REALLY appreciate your sensitivity. ¬†I know how hard it is for someone to understand someone else’s culture. ¬†Can you do me a favor? If I ever say or do something that is offensive to you and your family, please tell me. This is how we learn. Please assume I don’t mean to anger you. I am sure we can work another term for all of us to be happy.”

“great idea! I will also tell my family and friends not to say that phrase that bothers you so much. ¬†Probably should tell the other families around you, too. ¬†I doubt they will understand.”

“could you help explain it to them? I am not sure they will listen to me.”

“no problem, friend. After all we all have to live together in this community. Let’s leave any fighting for something important! Like which team is going to win tonight!”

“hah! Good one!”

——-

Is that 2nd scenario so hard to imagine?

If you know you are doing something that upsets your friend and neighbor, and it is a simple thing to avoid- why wouldn’t you do it? ¬†Just because “you can?” Really?

It seems to me that the real issue here is that a lot of non-Muslims just have no interest in respecting Muslims and their culture, and have no interest in being friends with them.

You don’t insult¬†your neighbors and friends on purpose, over and over again.

You only do that to people you do not think much of, and could care less how they feel.

Is it really too much to ask people not to make pictures of someone who is not even an important figure in their culture?

Is it really too much to ask people not to make fun of someone’s religious beliefs?

Is it really too much to ask people not to make fun of an important figure in someone’s culture?

Yes, we can stand behind this “free speech” fanaticism all we want to.

Legally, in this country – and in many other countries- we can do so.

Is it worth the price to piss off almost 1/3 of the world’s population by doing so?

When you insult the religion of one Muslim, you insult the religion of 2 BILLION people.

Think about that for a while.

Is it really worth it?

I don’t think so.

Out of love and respect for another, I think it is a simple thing to refrain from doing something that angers them, it if can be easily avoided.

And making pictures of Mohammed is something that can easily be avoided.

If want peace with our neighbors, then we must first see them as neighbors.

At least, that would be a start.

Isn’t it time we learn to respect someone who beliefs differently than we do?

I think so.

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Time for renewal

There has been so much going on in the last few years. ¬†I don’t know even where to begin.

The major effort has been completing my book Religion? Been There. Done That. (Discovering the Map of Your Spiritual Journey)

It has been a labor of love.
30 year of exploring over 20 religions and denominations.
4 seminars.
4 years of writing!

Sheesh!

So first, please go there. Check it out.

I will write all the other stuff that has been happening soon!

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December – a Religious Holiday Extravaganza!

For billions of people in the world, this month celebrates many key religious holidays.

On December 5th is Ashura – which Muslims celebrate the day that the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) fasted in solidarity with Jews as they celebrated Yom Kippur.

On December 6th is the feast of St. Nicholas, which in all probability because the root of the legend of Santa Claus.

On December 8th, Buddhists celebrated Bodhi Day, which remembers when the Buddha presented the Four Noble Truths.

On December 12th  is the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, where Catholics  celebrate the vision of the Virgin Mary.

On December 20th is Hannukah, the Jewish festival of lights.

On December 21st, people of Earth based religions celebrate the Winter Solstice – the birth of Winter. The first day is called “Mother’s Night” and is celebrated for 12 days which ends on “Yule Night“.¬†¬†Yule is ¬†when the Sun God Lugh is reborn in human form to rejoin his wife Eriu.

On December 25th, Christians celebrate Christmas, where they remember the birth of Jesus Christ.

On December 26th, many Black Americans have Kwanzaa which celebrates the seven principles: unity, self-determination, working together, sharing, purpose, creativity, and faith.

Also on December 26th, Zoroastrians observe Zarathosht Diso -the death of the prophet Zarathushtra.

Whew!  Quite a lot of celebration this month!

Of all these holidays, the history of Christmas is one that fascinates me the most.

Why December 25th?

There is no clear information on when Jesus was born.

Some scholars think it was September.

Others think it was in November.

My personal belief is that I align with those scholars who think it was in the summer time – around August.

So why December? and why the 25th?

During the time of great Christian growth, the Roman Religion celebrated the God Of Saturn – Saturnalia.

On these days, they danced in the street, sang songs and exchanged gifts.

It started on December 17 and lasted until after the Winter Solstice.  Probably around, oh, lets just say the 25th of December.

As Christianity spread throughout the world, it encountered resistance from many who did not want to give up their religious traditions which have become so much of their cultural heritage.

The church tried to ease the migration path to Christianity for the local Romans by – in essence – offering them a deal – the locals could continue to celebrate the cultural aspects of Saturnalia if they agreed to worship Jesus instead of Saturn.

The 12 days of Yule became the 12 days of Christmas.  The rebirth of the Sun God transformed into the birth of the Son of God.

The Mistletoe was important in ancient Norse religions. Frigga (Odin’s wife and the mother of Baldur the Brave) made all the plants and trees promise not to harm her son. ¬†Unfortunately, she forgot to bless the Mistletoe. ¬†Loki, the god of Evil, shaped a spear made out of Mistletoe and used it to kill Baldur. ¬†Since then, it was agreed the Mistletoe would stand for peace and love, instead of hatred and death.

I could go and on.

A lot of Christmas origin stories are rooted in ancient Norse, Greek, Roman, and Earth based religions.

All of these synthesized with the Nativity story of Christianity to give us the current holiday called Christmas.

In a way, Christmas is really an interfaith tradition – celebrating many diverse religious influences.

Fascinating, ain’t it?

So, to everyone..

Happy Ashura!

Happy Bodhi day!

Happy Winter Solstice!

Happy Hannukah!

Happy Zarathosht Diso!

Happy feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe!

Happy Kwanzaa.

Happy Saturnalia.

Happy Mother’s night.

and Merry Christmas!

(and any other religious holiday I may have missed!)

Peace,

Steve

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1, 2 Freddy’s Coming for you

I love horror movies.

There is something very cathartic to me in the act of being scared in a safe place.

One of my favorite franchises is the Nightmare on Elm street series.

[Yes, I know that the monster is really a child molester (ugh), but thankfully they never really focus on that part of the story in the films.]

For those of you unfamiliar with Freddy Kruger (and where have you been these last 20 years?), the story goes something like this. Freddy was a child molester who was caught and tried. Due to technicalities, he was let go. The parents in the local community were so incensed over this injustice that they got together and burned him alive. ¬†But before he died, Freddy made a pact with the devil who gave him dream demons which gave him power over people’s dreams. In the dream world, Freddy was an unstoppable nightmare. He could make himself be anything, do anything. ¬†And if he killed you in your dreams, then you would never wake up.

Quite a story!

There were 7 movies in the franchise (8 if you count Freddy vs. Jason).  But it is the second one that I want to discuss today.

The second entry – Freddy’s Revenge – has been a source of intense hatred by fans of the franchise.

This has been for 2 reasons.

1) it has extreme homoerotic overtones, which did not sit well with the fan base.  That is a topic for another time.

2) Freddy wishes to come into the real world to kill us while we are awake.  This is worth discussing.

There is one specific scene that really angered the fans, yet it is that scene that I thought was perhaps the most profound of the entire series.

There is a scene in the movie where Freddy ‘breaks through’ the dream world into our world. ¬†He becomes real flesh and blood, and comes up from a pool at a party some teenagers were having.

Here is the boogeyman out in OUR world! while we are AWAKE!

The problem?

It wasn’t scary.

You see, Freddy – in the real world – is just a guy wearing a glove with some razors on it.

That’s it.

He is not even particular muscular or tall man. Kind of wimpy looking, actually.

If this scene were to REALLY happen, the kids would just gang together and beat the crap out of Freddy.

In the film, the kids acted scared and ran away.

I understand why fans didn’t like this scene, but to me it sent home a powerful message.

Our fears in our minds and dreams are far worse than reality.

When we are faced with our fears in real life, they are not very scary. They are just wimpy thoughts and we should be ashamed that we were ever afraid of them.

While they seem larger and unstoppable in our minds, in reality they are small and can be overcome.

What are the nightmares and fears that are holding you back in life?

Imagine if they really manifested in reality.

What would they look like?

I imagine they would be like Freddy coming out of the pool.

Smaller than what we imagined.

And not very scary after all.

Peace.

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