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Much like last post, I must begin by saying in no way am I saying any religion, or religion in general is not good. Religion gives many people structure and guidelines that often help them to grow. As Haile Selassie pointed out in the statement above, it helps them grow spiritually. It is the goal of religion to help people grow and mature in a spiritual fashion.
Many of the practices include some of the same elements although they may be used in different ways. These include, but are not limited to, prayer, fasting, meditation and study. Whether you fast for Ramadan or for Lent you fast to mature and confirm your spiritual beliefs. It is your religious beliefs that are helping you to grow spiritually. Once again, this is a similarity to remember we all have in common. The same with prayer and meditation. The exact methods may differ but the reason and result is the same – to help us grow spiritually.
If you happen to observe someone engaged in a religious practice different than your own, please keep in mind they are doing what helps them grow spiritually. Just as people may use different exercise to improve their physical bodies or different types of learning to mature intellectually, we also use different practices to grow spiritually. Let us work toward and look forward to a day when everyone can become spiritually mature no matter what their belief. It will be then that we can accept each other in a spirit of love and understanding.
This is one of those quotes I really love. When you think about religion it is often, if not always created after the death of its most important figures. That being the case, as it is in the three examples above, it would be impossible for the individuals to be a member of a religion they inspired. That does not make these religions any less valid or take anything away from their beliefs or practices.
What it does is allow us to step back and take a good hard look at what is the common thread that was woven through all of these great leaders, and by consequence, through all great spiritual beliefs – Love. These individuals did not preach a certain religion, but rather a set of moral principles predicated on love. Love is the common thread that flows through most spiritual beliefs. It is a force that drives many of the other principles and tenets of whatever faith you may practice. It is the driving force behind a spiritual practice. Love, combined with faith and hope make up the basis for most of the world’s religions.
Which brings me to my point, if the founder of the faith you follow based their teachings on love, how can you not do the same? Interacting with those of different faiths should we not all come with a spirit of compassion, acceptance and understanding? Those are all aspects of love. The individuals mentioned above were strong in their beliefs and certainly strong in their love. When you are filled with faith, hope and love you do not judge another. You do not say evil words towards another because they are following a different path of love than you.
Let us all belong to the religion of love no matter what organized faith we may follow.
On March 15th at 1:40 pm a shooting began at the Al Noor Mosque and continued at the Linwood Islamic Centre at 1:55 pm. In this shooting in New Zealand 50 people died and 50 more were injured. Most of them were Muslim people doing nothing but practicing their faith. The suspect considered himself a Christian from the far right political movements. In the wake of these shootings many well-meaning Muslims lived in fear and with a feeling of persecution.
On April 21st in Sri Lanka 3 Christian churches were bombed along with luxury hotels. In this terrible attack 253 people were killed and another 500 injured. Most of them were Christians celebrating one of their holiest days. After the bombings curfews were in effect and even Muslims that wanted to help were told to stay home for fear of retaliation. The perpetrators were members of Islamic State of Iraq, a terrorist group.
On April 25th there was a shooting at a California synagogue that left one person dead and several more injured. The shooting happened on the last day of Passover, an important Jewish celebration. The shooter was a 19 year old student who was a member of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. His own pastor said of the events, “It’s a deplorable act of wickedness.”
Reading these events in your local newspaper, online or whatever source you get your news from could leave you thinking how sad, angry and frightening this world has become. To some extent that would be a correct statement. What these events also show is that no belief is safe, and further, no belief is completely innocent. Victims and attackers cross lines of faith, color, race and creed. In a world where tragedy seems to highlight the agendas that seem to tear apart at the very fabric of our humanity, there also lies the seed of opportunity.
What you may miss in the news coverage, and if you do you are not to blame as it is usually buried, if mentioned at all, is the help that also crosses those same lines. One of the greatest challenges is to accept help from the very same group that staged the attacks. With such strong feelings of grief, sadness, loss, pain and even hate these events often have the effect that those responsible desire. They increase the divide among different groups of people.
In looking at the three events listed above, which sadly are only a few examples of hate crimes that are becoming all to common, you can see that the group that was attacked on one occasion can be the very group doing the attacking the next. This does present us a chance to stand up not only as a strong and noble representation of our faith, but of humanity as a whole. This takes courage.
What takes just as much, if not more courage, is accepting help from members of the same group that just attacked you. In the example of Sri Lanka, Muslims were told not to go to their houses of worship for fear of retaliation from angered Christians. One could understand that thinking. When you see so many loved one’s lives innocently taken from them you want to lash out. As one observer noted, “When you are bitten by a bug, you want to kill all of the bugs like that.”
As we can see in the above examples, every faith has its devils. Every faith also has it’s angels. In each one of these cases prayers, tears and help came forth from true members of every faith. It is these moments of hate and tragedy that have the potential to either tear us a part, or bring us together. It takes courage on both sides to do so. It also requires a realization that every group contains both the guilty as well as the innocent victims. It is only as individuals we can reach out to our neighbors of different faiths to increase communication and understanding.
Just as every faith contains both the innocent and the guilty, every faith also contains brothers and sisters, fathers and sons, mothers and daughters. Pain, fear, anger, sadness and frustration are also something that is shared by everyone. So is hope, peace, joy and love. Let us do our part to help heal and understand the former while sharing the latter with everyone regardless of faith.
The American Civil War (never really did understand that term) was about far more than just slavery. It represented rural verses city life. It pitted national governing against local governing. In broad terms, the southern way of living against the northern way of living. Of all of these issues the basis was the same, different people with strong ideological beliefs on both sides.
It can still be argued as to whether rural or city planning is better and healthier. I am sure there are benefits to both national and local governing. What I felt was really a no-brainer was dismissing the human rights of someone based on either the color of their skin or their ethnic upbringing. In today’s world of division, this can, and often does, include political and religious differences as well. While it is certainly ok and quite natural to disagree with each other on these issues, what is not acceptable is to vilify or dehumanize others who are or believe different than we.
As I tend to surround myself with people who are as accepting and open-minded as myself, these issues are not always front and center in my mind. In my own way I think of things like prejudice and racism as not only arcane, but ludicrous. Would you really deny yourself a blood transfusion because Dr. Charles Richard Drew, who invented a way to process and preserve blood plasma was African-American? Would you do without such inventions as paper, printing and umbrellas because they come from Chinese inventors? Would you do without all of Albert Einstein’s contribution to science because you are anti-Semitic? The fountain pen, windmill and one of the most important inventions to my writing – coffee are all of a Muslim origin.
To do without any of these inventions because you believe this or that group of people are less than you would not only be foolish, it would be ignorant and stupid. Every culture has its heroes and its villains. To condemn an entire race or group of people based on the actions of one, or some of its people is not only irresponsible, but asinine. Do I hate all of my German friends because back in the 30’s and 40’s there was a neurotic freak named Hitler who killed millions of people? Of course not. Do I hold a grudge against all of my Christian friends because many of them lead to the death of over 100 million Native Americans? That would be senseless.
If we are to hate someone based solely on the racial/religious or political differences we have with them, then we should be prepared to do without all of the amazing contributions brought on by that group. As I look around my group of friends and notice the vast difference in color, culture and creed, I look forward to learning from and working with all of them to make our world a better place. As the Dalai Lama said, we are all brothers and sisters.
Last week we looked at different places that serve as great locations to meet new friends. That was scheduled to be a one week theme, but due to all of the wonderful feedback and suggestions I received we are going to highlight a few more this week as well. I am grateful for each of you who shared with me your favorite places to meet new friends. Keep them coming for the benefit of all our readers.
Today’s post is about houses of worship. As I write this, Hanukkah is beginning. When I shared this idea with people around me, they seemed to fall on two extreme sides of the equation. Some would say that is the only place to meet true genuine friends. Others would say the place is full of people who are judgmental and condescending to different beliefs. I believe the truth is somewhere in the middle. I think houses of worship are a great place to meet friends. Why? What about the two extreme arguments? Let us take a look at each one.
First, the fact that houses of worship are the only place to meet true friends. I find this argument to be ridiculous for several reasons. Even in the same faith there are many different houses of worship and you can run into fellow believers at many different locations. Personally, I have met some of the most spiritual people in some of the most unique places. Whether they were there to enlighten others or just enjoying their lives, it was only after getting to know them that I learned their spirituality. Great people of faith can be found anywhere.
How about the cynics view that everyone there is judgmental and condescending? Sadly, this is where a few bad apples tend to spoil the whole bunch. I find there are people like that in every faith and in every house of worship. In fact, there are people like that almost everywhere. Yet, houses of worship are a great place to meet people devoted to not only their faith, but their love for their fellow humans. Just like anywhere else, it is a matter of finding those that walk the walk and not just talk the talk.
Houses of worship can be a great place to find those who share the same values as we do and care about others. Whether your faith is Christianity, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, or any other religion, you can find caring devoted people who love and accept others, even if their faith is different. If you can’t find such a person, be one and make as many friends as you can to be a shinning example.
I highly suggest using your place of worship as a place to make new friends. Attend a social function outside of the regular service. Volunteer for projects that not only promote your faith but help the community. You will not only make great friends within your faith, but within your community.
Years ago I used to ponder why the world was as it is. Why, if there is a supreme being, is the world filled with hate, jealousy, racism and the like? Why did I find a lot of those things in my life as well? It was on one of my darkest days in which I finally received the answer. I wasn’t sitting on a park bench like the man in the picture above. I was in a library trying to find a book that would give me some advice on turning my life around. Some books were way to metaphysical for me at the time. Some were very complex and involved psychological phrases you would need a degree to decipher. While getting frustrated at the lack of a book for the average Joe to turn their life around, a voice in my head spoke to me. “If you can’t find one, write one.” From that day forward I have continued to find tools to help the average individual live a more positive and rewarding life.
What led me to this dark and dreary day in the life of Neil was a lot of circumstances. Professional, personal and my surroundings. By surroundings I mean things such as some of the music I was hearing, shows on television I saw, what I read in the newspaper and what I witnessed people doing to each other around me. Again, I began to wonder how the spiritual powers that be would allow such things.
The answer to that question was very similar to the first question I asked, except this one was a riddle of sorts. (yes, even my own head doesn’t always give me a straight answer) “How do you change a dark room?” This may sound foolish until you look at it in the terms of the world as a whole. If you want to lighten up a dark room you do not work on ‘removing the darkness’ you simply add light. If your glass is half-full you do not try to remove the air you just add more water, or rum, or iced coffee, but I digress. If we all remained focused on removing the negativity from the world we would create a vacuum that could very well be filled with…well…more negative things. The only way to decrease the negativity in the world is to add more positivity and love.
Another shocking revelation is that either one of these situations, love or hate, mankind does to itself. We make the choices. If we sit back and do nothing to counter the troubles we see in the world we are allowing it to happen. If you see someone hungry give them food. If you still watch the news and hear about some group being discriminated against, do something to make someone feel more loved and accepted. As the saying goes, “God helps them who helps themselves.” This is not just true for one person, but for all of us everywhere and the world as a whole.
For most of us, despite our differences, would fit into these categories. Ironically, often we search until we can find something that makes a person different from us. It is almost as if saying, “That person is a lot like me.” Somehow diminishes either one of you. When we understand that we all share the same basic needs and wants, judgment and hatred become all but impossible.
If you are a person who loves others and does not want to harm them, and reading a blog like this it would be a safe assumption you are, then it would serve you well to surround yourself with other like-minded individuals. Does it really matter where on this planet they are from? By writing these posts I have met and befriended many other like-minded souls from over 100 different countries. They have brought not only a unique perspective, but a great deal of joy to my life. Does it really matter what color they are? I am blessed enough to have friends of every race. Not only does it include many great and loving people, but our pictures together are a lot more colorful. Politics? Ooh…that is a good one. Quite often we can almost be at each others throats because of different ways to address the same problem. Instead we should focus on the fact that we are both trying to solve the same problem. Maybe their solution takes into account something we overlooked? Maybe a combination of both solutions would work the best? We will never get to that point if we busy ourselves with such low level minutia such as what political party is the correct one.
Even my wonderful friend Nick who sent me this picture, and by doing so inspired this post, has different opinions than me on a wide array of different subjects. Do you know what? That is great to me. Often when we talk he will bring to my attention a way of looking at things I had not considered. Even on subjects where we just ‘agree to disagree’ we still have the same respect and admiration for each other. Not only is it ok with us that we are different in some regards, but it is quite cool that we are also the same in many ways. It is that similarity that prompted him to share the above picture with me and allowed me to share it with you.
Today, celebrate the fact we are all a little different, and when it comes down to the core of who we are, most of us are really the same. Both of those should be reasons to celebrate with your fellow humans.
There are a handful of lessons I have learned in my life that really stuck with me and defined who I am to this very day. One of them I was told was that “If you hate someone or something you just do not know enough about it. If you learn about it and still hate it, that does not mean it is bad, it means you still have more to learn.” This is something I keep with me to this very day.
If we are being honest, we would have to admit there are lots of messages telling us who we should dislike, who the bad guys are and why. From politics, sports and even religion have messages telling us that there are people who are less than us. When we read about some violent episode conducted by a group of people it can be easy to say “Look this group of people are evil.” If we were to apply that same guilt by association to every terrible act that has been done I fear we would all belong to some group of evil.
How can we ever not harbor some sort of negative emotions towards people who by their very acts cause the death of hundred, or even thousands of people? It is a very difficult question to answer. Quite often we must look back in history for answers as to why things happen today. Was there an event in history where this group of people were made to suffer under the group they attacked?
Even personal history can shed some light on why people can do acts most of us would find unspeakable. Did this person suffer years of physical and emotional abuse? Did their family constantly remind them of judgmental or even hateful beliefs that hand been handed down for generations? Were they raised in a neighborhood that also promoted these beliefs? Maybe while attending school for 8 hours a day surrounded by peers their age they learned to adopt their beliefs? They might have even did so just to fit in at first, but after years of trying to fit in those beliefs became part of their spirit.
This can be even worse when an entire society is fed information that is hateful. We can use both Nazi Germany during World War two, as well as early America as examples. In the 1930’s Germany began a campaign against the Jewish people. This was not only political, but in schools, the media and in the home. An entire generation grew up being taught a terrible doctrine of hate and evil. This resulted in the death of over 6 million men, women and children of Jewish decent. In the founding years of America the same thing happened. Americans were told the native people were uncivilized and less than they were. They were told they were violent and threatened their safety. It was also said that the Native Americans stood in the way of the prosperity and freedom of the white settlers. Again, this message was delivered in the media, the government, the home and even the church pulpit. This resulted in the death of over 100 million men, women and children. What is worse is that often entire nations and cultures were lost. Medicine and knowledge we could use today are gone forever.
Does this mean we should hate the German people who did not stand up to their government? Should we hate those who acted on the beliefs they were raised on? Should we still hate the American soldiers who killed pregnant Native American women because when they were being forced to walk from North Carolina to Oklahoma they were going to slow? Sure those acts, among many others in history are hard to understand and even harder to forgive for some people.
We must not only view the history, but be careful not to view it through our own eyes. It may be easy to say “If I was in Germany back then I would have told Hitler to go to hell !” We can say that as somebody who was raised free and without judgment. If we had been told, and often given ‘proof’ as to how bad this group of people were from the time we were born, we might act differently. While there is plenty of proof of people who have overcome very challenging situations to be loving non-violent people, it is impossible to know how we would act in the same situation. In fact, we will never know as we will never have their exact life and genetic makeup.
In a world that urges us to blame and condemn, there is very little accent on compassion and understanding. Those two elements are essential if we ever hope to change the world we live in for the better. Let me be perfectly clear on one very important point. Understanding someone’s violent action does not mean Condoning it. We can certainly condemn acts that harm others, and we should, but without following that with an equal effort to understand why they happened in the first place history would be doomed to repeat itself.
Ah the devil… Satan… whatever you care to call him. Some refer to this as negative side of the universe. Some just call it negativity. The name we attach to this power of evil is not important to what we are going to discuss today. What we are going to discuss is the lies we have all been fed. These come from all kinds of places, the media, coworkers, history, even well-meaning friends and family. Sometimes the voice seems to come from inside our own head.
The messages may seemed varied, but they all serve the same purpose, to lower our vibration. Whether it is politicians doing their best to convince you that a certain group of people are bad because of their skin color, religion, political belief or maybe even just based on where they live. Maybe the message is coming from the media telling you the world is going downhill fast. There is more violence than ever, there is more hate than ever. Convincing you that you have to live and walk in fear. Even our friends and family telling us not to get our hopes up about that dream we are saying or not to venture away from that seemingly safe career we have because we will fail if we try to do it on our own. They mean well, they are wanting us to be safe.
It is my belief these messages all come from the same source and are intended for the same purpose; to create a world full of fear and devoid of love. When we are divided against ourselves, when we are so busy finding reasons to hate each other it is difficult if not impossible to work together to solve the real problems that exist. Two people’s ideas put together may do a great deal to end world hunger or bring a cure to a certain disease, but if they are refusing to talk because they look different or worship or vote in a different way the world will remain darker.
I propose working together and finding the reasons to come together in a spirit of love and community to solve issues. This does not mean ignoring the problems that plague us all, but working together looking towards creating a solution instead of assigning blame. Is there more violence today or is the world better connected and we can hear about each and every incident? Are guns the problem or is it the promotion of lack of respect and sanctity of life promoted in movies, television, music and video games? I don’t pretend to know those answers. What I do know is this, by focusing on how terrible things are without an accent on finding solutions and healing the hearts and minds of people everywhere, we are letting the powers of darkness win.
So next time you hear the ‘devil’ whisper in your ear about how bad the world is, how truly bad people have become and how hopeless both you and your life are, next time you hear him whisper that you cannot withstand the storm. You need to face that demon, whether it is the media, a negative coworker or even a voice in your own head and reply with conviction that you indeed are the storm! You are a storm of love and compassion that will not be defeated. Even though you are hearing how scary and bad the world is, you will do your part to bring love and brighten a stranger’s day. When you hear about anger leading to violence and death, you can use it as a reminder to respond to hurt with empathy and compassion.
No matter what you hear about the world and people around you, the fact is that the power to change that world lies in each and every one of us. Your act of kindness and of love, no matter how small will have a ripple effect that will affect far more than you will ever know. What you may not think about is so will your anger and negative actions, even your apathy. Do not let the devil lie to you. It is you who are the storm, you who have the very power to change the world and we do so through love and compassion.