Tag Archives: jesus

I AM : The ultimate experience

I used to think that death was the greatest mystery of our existence. But I have learned that death can be explained easier than life. Death is mostly understood by the fact that it is the experience of transferring to another state of existence . Although what happens to our consciousness after death remains a huge mystery , the experience of death itself is as far as we can possibly go in our empirical and tangible world.  We can all understand that death is the end of our current existence as we know it.  Our bodies decompose and our minds , if they actually exist, enter the unknown.  We cannot begin to understand the unknown.
But what remains a huge mystery to me is not the end of existence , but existence itself.   The mere state of being aware.  And not only aware, but aware of ourselves.  Aware of the “I.”  The “self.”  How can we know what or who we really are?  How can each of us differentiate from other “I’s” or “selves.”? How can we even use the phrase “I am?
Religious scholars and teachers interpret the bible’s use of the phrase “I am” by referring it to God, or higher power.  It is used mostly to describe the eternal and “present” God.  It was written in the book of Exodus that when Moses asked God whom should he say sent him to liberate the Israelites from Egypt, God told him to tell Pharaoh that “I am” sent him (Exodus 3).  In the Gospel of John , Jesus also referred to himself as the “I am”.  Because of these references , scholars decided to associate the “I am” with the divine being or God . It is also agreed by most religions that God is omnipresent. He is everywhere. He is the eternal present.

In Buddhism , being in the present moment, or mindfulness, is one of its teachings to help avoid suffering.  To be aware of the present moment.  The here and now.  Is experiencing the here and now the same as experiencing God?  The “I am.” ?

Was God trying to teach Moses that He is the Eternal Present (“I am that I am”)?  Was Jesus teaching us that the resurrection (a new life) is in the eternal present, as opposed to in the future (“‘I am’ the resurrection”)?

But what exactly is the “I” or the “self.” Could it simply mean the “eternal presence” that we all ignore by focusing on the past and the future?
The present moment, or the here and now, is all we really have.   Everything else is a fabrication of our minds. We fool ourselves with the notion of reliving the past (remembering stories of past heroes and events) and anticipating the future ( maintaining hope and having goals ).  These mind created phenomena is what keeps us living an illusion, which then can turn into depression, anxiety, regrets, and fear.  We create our own heaven and hell in our own personal minds.  All of this while missing the here and now.

Is the “I” , the self, an illusion?  Are we truly individual beings?  Or are we connected as one big entity, while believing that we are separate beings?  And what about the phrase “I am?”  .

When I use the phrase “I am”, what can I use after it to accurately describe the self?  I am human?  I am a person?  I am a body?  What is being human, person, or body?  I am a parent.  I am a patriot.  I am a writer.  Which one of these are true?

None of the above.   Since they are all fabrications of the mind.  They are all identities that I use to attempt to create the nature of the self.  And while I write this post in this blog, I still keep using the word “I” as if it means something.  Or someone.  What is it?

Furthermore, saying ” We are ” or “They are ” can be questionable.  Not everybody will agree with whatever characteristic you give to a group of individuals.  But when it comes to identifying with the “I”, how can you question your individual present?

In its purest form , I am is simply I am . Nothing else… No other addition can make it more true . It is simply identifying myself with the present moment.  With the eternal present.

I am is the ultimate mystery.
The ultimate experience .


Lost Minds: Serving people with mental illness

I have been planning to share a short journal I started months ago that describes my experience as a  mental health counselor.  I work at a P.A.C.T. (Programs of Assertive Community Treatment) which serves people with severe and persistent mental illness, such as schizophrenia and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).  The program staff  visits these individuals and provide psychiatric and rehab services to help them prevent hospitalization.  I have learned, in the three and a half years I have worked here, some aspects of these people’s lives.

Why am I sharing this with my readers?  Well, because serving this population fits perfectly (I think) with the Kingdom of Heaven.  People diagnosed with a mental illness, particularly schizophrenia, are usually marginalized and discriminated.  Only a selected few are willing to work closely with these people.   They are the “least of these” that Jesus talked about as well.  They are trapped in their own paranoid and delusional minds.   They are ignored, ridiculed, and avoided.  They are Lost Minds.

Here it goes:

October 2013    Yesterday, I visited David.  I saw him walking down the street ,claiming that he didn’t know where he was going but he complained of people calling him names. He was obviously having auditory hallucinations. He states he doesn’t have any friends and does not want to spend time with others .  David complains of pain on his neck and does not want to eat because he wants to lose weight.  His thoughts are concrete , just like a child.

Today I visited Mary for medicine observation.  We need to observe her take her daily medication to ensure she is compliant.   She opened the door to my surprise. She has a history of not answering the door or the phone when we call her. I could sense a strong body odor.  She sat down on the front porch while I talked to her. I reminded her about appointment with psychiatrist but she tried to avoid meeting with psychiatrist by saying that she had to submit a job application in the afternoon but then she said she would meet with the doctor. She tends to say she is busy or cleaning up as an excuse. She has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, paranoid type, and has auditory hallucinations on a daily basis. The “voices” started when she was in her late teens.
About a year ago Mary began to act more bizarre by not answering her door, acting more guarded, not letting staff come inside, and exhibiting poor hygiene.  She also lost significant weight, and we suspected that she was not taking her medication. We consulted among the PACT team members and decided to start observing Mary take her medication on a daily basis to ensure she was compliant. She reluctantly agreed. However , her sister called the PACT office and shared concern about Mary acting “weird”.  When the sister visited Mary one time, she saw a pile of trash in Mary’s kitchen. She reported that Mary was hoarding trash for unknown reasons.  Sister also said Mary did not have enough food and found hamburger wrapping paper with leftover food in it and the kitchen sink was clogged and filled with dirty water.  The sister said she offered to help do grocery shopping and cleaning up the trash, but Mary declined.  I visited Mary one time and assertively invited myself inside the apartment. I found exactly what the sister described.  I opened her refrigerator and it was almost empty. The pile of trash in the kitchen was about three feet high, and it included a microwave. When I asked Mary what was going on, she replied “I am cleaning up… ” which did not make sense.  I also offered to help her clean up and transport her to do grocery shopping, but she adamantly declined. I  warned her that if she does not clean the pile and buy some food, the PACT team will have to admit her in the hospital for an evaluation.  She managed to resolve the situation but her personal hygiene continued to be a problem.  She has also thrown away furniture because she has been “cleaning up.”  She still does not answer her door every time we visit her but she has been compliant most of the time.

March 2013   Ronald has a history of admissions to the state hospital and the jail.  He is diagnosed with paranoid Schizophrenia and cocaine dependence.  He has a history of accusing others, including the PACT team, of poisoning him , stealing his money, and breaking into his trailer. He threatens to kill some of his family members. He has talked about owning big companies , having surgeries where his organs have been removed , and having supernatural powers . He is one of the most severe cases of mental illness I have worked with. He was recently arrested and placed in jail for continuing to threat family members. He has been on conditional release which grants him the opportunity to live in the community if he complies with treatment . However , Ronald does not always remain calm and is often verbally belligerent and hostile towards staff and some family members.
I visited Ronald at the jail a few weeks later . He insisted that he was “poisoned ” and that his family “cut him up and shot him several times. ” I decided to confront and dispute his thoughts, but he became increasingly irritable and defensive.  He finally stood up and walked away.  The psychologist who evaluated Ronald submitted a letter indicating that given the recent history of threats and paranoia, Ronald is recommended to go to the state hospital.  And so the cycle continues.

May 2014   Today I visited Anthony who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and cocaine dependence.  He admits to drug use but does not have the motivation to quit.  He lives in a dirty motel room.  He has roaches crawling everywhere and it has a lot of smoke from the cigarettes.  He talks about going to war, which did not happen, and being shot.  He only gets $10 a week from his payee, because if he gets anymore money he will use it for drugs.  I am supposed to transport him every week to cash his social security check.  But many times he uses the $10 to pay back one of his “friends.” So he often has very little food and goes out on the street to panhandle.

September 29th, 2014    Today I visited Robert.   He is currently struggling with the anniversary of his marriage with his deceased wife. He has cravings of drinking alcohol so that he can numb the pain that he feels for spending one more year without his wife.  He suffers from panic attacks and depression.   He tries to avoid large crowds.  His best friend is a little kitten that he owns, which gives him comfort during difficult days.

I also visited Will, who lives in an apartment that has numerous things around the living room and dining room which represents his mental status.   He suffers from disorganized thinking and substance abuse. He may also be suffering from dementia.  Having a counseling session with Will is almost impossible. He does not follow a logical conversation , since he jumps from one topic to another.  He also smokes marijuana.

December 11th, 2014     Today I visited Anthony again at the state hospital … He looks physically healthy, but exhibited some delusions. He wants to return to the community , and smoke cigarettes.  He said he will not smoke marijuana but I don’t believe so.  He does not have contact with his family .  He has no friends… He has no place to call home.  His mother died about 14 years ago… She appeared to have been his whole life.   Now he has nothing , except the hospital and the staff.  After this visit, he went back to eat lunch.   He was sitting by himself at a small table . What kind of life is this ? It is sad to see him like this.  What if he was my brother .. My friend… My cousin? Does his father ever think about him?

What am I going to think about this person’s life situation? He is doing fine? He is suffering? He has an addiction that is consuming him? He is just another worthless life?  Or is he a unique human being that needs help?  Lots of help….


“Blessed are the violent” : A book review on Zealot

Since it was published, I became interested in reading the book Zealot, by Reza Aslan.  I finally got the chance to read it and decided to share a book review with my readers.

The book starts with stressing on how the Roman empire took dominion over Jerusalem. It focuses on the fact that the Jews were jealous people who strongly believed they were God’s chosen people and that every foreign invasion and cultural “impurity ” had to be abolished at all cost. In spite of this nation wide grandiosity, Jerusalem was simply a small province at the corner of the great Roman empire. The author emphasizes that the Jews did not see this exceptionalism as arrogance or pride, but a direct command from a jealous God.  But out of this insignificant portion of human history, a great figure submerges which proved to influence history forever. In chapter two,  the author explains that Jesus was executed mainly for being one of many “bandits ” who rebelled against Roman dominion.  Jesus is then described as a leader who declared war on Rome by identifying himself as a Messiah or “King of the Jews “. However, Herod was the “king ” chosen by Rome (client -king) to maintained control and peace in Judea, although he was hated by the Jews for working for Rome and not God.  Herod was followed by one of his sons, Herod Antipas, who took over Galilee when Jesus became famous.  The idea that Jesus was originally a violent enemy of Rome brings a lot of questions to mind.

In chapter three the author writes that Jesus was born and raised in the insignificant town of Nazareth, and not in Bethlehem (which was added to link Jesus to King David and only mentioned in Matthew and Luke ). When Jesus decides to go to Jerusalem to the festivities, he admitted people knew who he was and where he was from (as opposed to what the scriptures say about the Messiah) but instead made emphasis on his heavenly origins.  So instead of being an earthly king and Messiah, he is described by gospel writer John more as a divine being or logos. (“The verb was with God from the beginning …” Jn 1:3).  The author then asserts that Luke’s story about the Roman census during Jesus ‘s infancy is inaccurate.  He mentions this to explain that these ancient authors did not write to show historical “facts ” but revealing “truths .” Readers back then were not interested in what actually happened but were more interested in what it means, which may have been the case.  In chapter four, the author talks about Jesus’s mother being raped, Jesus having siblings, and probably being married.  He also stressed on how impossible it is to say anything about Jesus ‘s early life because before he was declared Messiah it did not matter what kind of childhood a Jewish peasant had.  And after he was called the Messiah, the “only aspect of his childhood that mattered were those that could be creatively imagined to buttress whatever theological claim ” about Jesus’s identity as Christ.  Out of many rebellious gangs, the author then describes an extreme group of extreme rebels called “zealots “, thus the title of this book.

Chapter five starts with describing Pilate as a cruel and bloodthirsty governor, different from how the gospels describe him. After many massacres, the Jews declare war on Rome. Chapter six is simply a narrative going back and forth in history after Jesus’s death on how the Jews regained control of the Temple but lost their land back to the Romans.

In Part two, the author is fixated on the idea that Jesus was also an extremist or “zealous” rebel fighting for freedom and return the land to God.  He explains that when Jesus answered the question about whether to pay tribute to Rome or not, Jesus was “clear ” on the argument of God ‘s sovereignty over the land.  However the author does not point out the possibility that Jesus was probably wisely preventing to fall into the trap that his interrogators were desperately trying to set for him.  It was a tricky question very difficult to answer without creating more controversy.  If Jesus answered yes to paying tribute to Caesar, then he would be seen as a traitor and friend of the Romans.  If he would have answered no, then he was publicly claiming to be a rebel and a “zealot .”   Either way, Jesus was going to be targeted as a trouble maker.  But he apparently chose a more peaceful and neutral response, avoiding to engage in a political argument based on Jewish ambition to regain the land. Furthermore, the gospels don’t agree what kind of soldiers (Romans vs. Temple guards) came to arrest Jesus, but they all agree that he was targeted mainly because of his threat to the Sanhedrin, not to Rome .  The high priests tried to use political reason to justify execution, (“he called himself the King of the Jews! ” vs. …”son of God “) which worked.  But Jesus’s true crime did not necessarily involve a pure political rebellion against Rome, but against the Sanhedrin.  His mission was mainly emphasized on rescuing and serving the “least of these” or the poor, in my opinion.

In his notes at end of the book, the author stresses that those who perceive Jesus’s response as “apolitical ” are “blind to the political and religious context of Jesus ‘s times ” (pg. 241). He also argues that the “titulus ” above Jesus ‘s head on the cross was not a sarcastic sign because Romans were not humorous.  I wonder if this author remembers all the mocking and ridicule that Jesus received by the Roman soldiers before his death, which all four gospels wrote about.  This is another example of the author’s attempt to justify his view of Jesus as a political extremist rebel and threat to Rome among many other violent rebels on his time.

In chapter seven, Jesus is described as John the Baptist’s disciple, not the other way around, which may explain further Jesus fleeing back to Galilee after John’s execution.  Nevertheless, Jesus became much more powerful and influential than the Baptist.

In chapter eight, the author makes a statement which reflects more my understanding of Jesus ‘s teachings when he writes that Jesus was less concerned with the “pagan empire occupying Palestine than the imposter occupying the temple, ” specifically Caiaphas (Pg. 99). Jesus was clearly enraged by how the temple authority treated the poor. The author  then continues to describe Jesus as a unique teacher and leader such as including women as disciples, doing exorcism for free, and speaking with authority unlike the common religious leader in spite of being a peasant.  The author further emphasizes that Jesus ‘s miracles or magical powers were “something unique and distinctive” (pg. 111). They were done, which I could not agree more, as manifestation of God ‘s kingdom on earth as prophesized in Isaiah 35:5-6.  The author explains that Jesus healed a leper, for example, to make him pure and clean enough to enter the temple and be accepted in God’s presence, without all the traditional rituals, thus manifesting the kingdom of God.

However, in chapter 10, the author points out that, in addition to being a new order where the rich will be poor and the poor will be exalted, it will also be a total overthrow of the Roman Empire.  And this could only be done through violence.  The author explicitly writes that he thinks Jesus was “not a pacifist ” (pg. 120) and then uses one biblical verse to justify this view (Mathews 10:34, Luke 12:51) but does not include verses that point to the contrary, which are the majority ( Mark 9:50;  Mathew 5:9,  5:44, 11:28, 18:21-22, 26:52; Luke 6:35, 23:34; John 14:27, 16:33, 20:21, 24:36, ) . If the gospel writers and early church members were desperately trying to distant Jesus from a violent and “zealous nationalism ” as the author points out, wouldn’t they have omitted the few verses that mention swords and war? And yes, Jesus was a Jew, but his teachings were full of invitations that included Gentiles. He prophesized to a Samaritan woman, healed another Samaritan woman and also healed a Centurion’s servant. He also commanded his disciples to spread the good news to the “ends of the earth.” Israel was NOT all that mattered to Jesus. The author only presented questions as to whether Jesus was planning to become an earthly king in the Kingdom of God.  But he wisely mentioned that Jesus was clearly the personification of the new Kingdom as evidenced by his miracles and signs.

In chapter eleven, the author repeatedly points out that Jesus did not openly call himself the Messiah, which, as the author says and I agree, may have different definitions according to the time in history.  It was most commonly used to describe an earthly king who would deliver the Jews from earthly foreign domination, which Jesus did not accomplish.  The Son of God was also a title given to past kings such as David and Solomon (Psalm 2:7, 1 Chronicles 28:6).  Son of Man, on the other hand, was a self claim title more frequently stated by Jesus, which may have been a humble way of Jesus referring himself as a mere man, thus manifesting his humaneness. In chapter twelve, the author insists that most of what the gospels say about Jesus ‘s last moment is false, simply because he believes that early Christians were trying to avoid appearing as zealots themselves to the Romans after the Jewish war and so they’d depicted Pilate as a considerate governor manipulated by the “blood thirsty ” Jews.   It is more credible that early Christians invented some details to depict Jesus more as a Messiah.  But it is ridiculous to assume that early Christians chose to change Jesus from a violent revolutionary to a pacifist leader.

The author starts Part 3 by emphasizing that most of Jesus’s followers and writers of the New Testament did not meet Jesus or lived in Jerusalem during Jesus ‘s a time, which is an important key to point out.  In spite of this, this fact does not necessarily discredit what these authors wrote about what Jesus could have really represented. In Chapter thirteen the author interestingly points out that no where in the Old Testament is the messiah prophesied to suffer and die, like Jesus claims about himself.  The image of Jesus must have been evolved from being an earthly messiah to a celestial king seating at the right hand of God. The author is right by stressing that Paul perceived Jesus as not human , distant from the Jewish background and more like a cosmic being. And this makes sense since Paul admits he did not learn from any apostle but claims that God himself revealed it to him (Galatians 1:15-17).  Paul, in my opinion , created his own version of Jesus based on Roman pagan religion.   I agree with the author that Paul’s version of Jesus is the standard doctrine of today’s church.  In chapter fourteen the author is right when he  stresses on James ‘s role in the early church as the most accurate version of what Jesus is all about: helping the poor.

We  are all  guilty of interpreting, choosing and dismissing verses according to our preconceived ideas of what Jesus really taught and  who he was.  What must be kept in mind, however, is the inevitable conclusion that Jesus’s presence in human history, with or without some fabrication and embellishment in his story, has surpassed all other historical figure in the last 2000 years. Whether we perceive Jesus as a violent rebel (which I personally doubt), the messiah (which he did not fulfill according to Hebrew Scriptures), the son of God (which title was also given to king David ), or a peaceful rebellious leader concerned for the poor and sick of the whole world and not just Jerusalem,  Jesus was (or is) the manifestation of what God represents... Unconditional love.


Pain

I wrote this short story about ten years ago and decided to share it in this blog.  It is based on true stories of my personal life.   Hope you enjoy it.

Pain

I am awakened from a dream and I still don’t know if I’m still sleeping or having another dream. I look around and find myself in the most beautiful place I have experienced in the world: the shore of a tropical beach. On one side are the palms, bushes, green mountains at a distance, and even a fishing wooden boat parked on the sand.  On the other side is the  endless sea, with green and blue surface. It appears as if it’s later in the morning , right before noon. The sand beneath my feet is almost white and the waves caress the sand a few steps from my feet. I feel the presence of someone sitting on the edge of the boat parked in the sand. It is a young man with casual clothes and sandals, looking at me with a friendly smile, as if he knew me. I approached him with confidence and he invites me to sit next to him.

               “Who are you?” I ask curiously, remaining standing in front of him.

               “A messenger,” he responded while maintaining a smile. His hair is brown and has light skin.

               “What message do you have and from whom?”

               “A message for your life from the Almighty!”

               “I’m  listening…”

               “You carry a lot of pain in your heart that the Lord would want to take away. It’s a pain about many  situations in your life … “

               “I do not feel any pain. What pain are you talking about? “

               “A deep pain that you can not grasp. But that is causing conflict and sadness in your life. “

               I do not want to believe this man, but I am curious to hear what this strange messenger is about to tell me. The sea breeze caresses my face. The heat from the sun warms my hair and shoulders, while I decide to ask about this pain.

               “Let us start with the most painful experience you’ve ever had. Do you remember what it was? ” the stranger asks me as if talking to a student.

               Nothing really comes to mind. My eyes are on the sandy ground as I try to think what the messenger is talking about . When I lift up my eyes, I see the messenger sitting on the edge of the boat, but the scenery behind him is different. I see now a smaller palm behind the man. Behind the palm is a fence. Instead of hearing the ocean waves behind me, I now hear cars running. Then I look behind me and I find myself on the edge of a busy road, which is like 10 feet from where I stand. The sea became a neighborhood across the road where you see only the roofs of the houses because they are at the bottom of a hill. A concrete fence separates the house from the road.

               “Where are we?”, I ask the messenger.

               “You’ll know in a moment…,” he answers with a straight face.

               I look again to the cars passing on the road and see a gray stationwagon slowly approaching and parks near me. When I look at who drives the car, I recognize that it is my mother.  She looks younger, but with a frown on her face. As she parks the car, I notice that her gaze is no longer on the road but a boy sitting by her side. The child is also sad. I  see tears on his tender face. I carefully approach the station wagon parked on the grass at the edge of the busy road.  I immediately recognize where I am. They do not seem to notice me, as if I were watching a movie. But it is a movie where I am in it.  It is very real.  I continue to slowly approach the car and watch the sad child’s face.  I acknowledge that the child is me.

               “Remember this day….?” asked the messenger behind me.

               I admit that I do, but I do not answer. I keep noticing the child and my mother. I feel my eyes watering. I know exactly what happens in this scenario. My mom had picked me up from school. She had turned the wrong way at a traffic light where there is a pizza place on one side, and some condominiums on the other.  I had to ask where we were going, since the direction was contrary to our home.  That day, we went to live at my aunt’s house because my parents were separating. I feel tears shedding down my face as well.

               “This is the worst pain you have. Correct?”  asks the man behind me.

               I can not speak. The emotions are overwhelming. Still, I do not want to admit the pain. I want to speak to my mother instead. I want to tell her to turn the stationwagen back to our home. I want her to give my dad another chance. But what did I know? I was just a child. What did I know about what was really going on? How did I know what was best for a family? Family? What is a family? Is this what it is supposed to happen in a family? I hated the moment that my parents separated! Damn the day they divorced! But whose fault is it? I don’t know. I do not think it’s a question of blame. It’s just facts of life that hurt, but serve for growth and maturing.

Pain? I remember the man is still behind me. But I want to ignore him and fixate on my mom while she is still parked in front of me. Then she turns her gaze to the road and drives off.  Then I look back where the messenger is.

               “Ok, I remember this day. I remember this pain, but that happened a  long time ago! “

               “Then why  are there still tears on your face? ‘”, questioned the messenger.

               I don’t want to answer. I immediately dry my face and I am now in dark  environment. I’m in the livingroom of a house. It’s night time and I see a total of five people watching television. I look out the front door and recognize the neighborhood and, accross the street, I see the front part of the house where I grew up. I’m in the neighbor’s house.   Now I recognize the neighbor and her daughter in front of me. Beside me is my brother in a wheelchair, a child, and my dad sitting beside the child. I realize that I’m the child again. The room is dark but the light of the television shows the people’s faces,  particularly the bitter face of my father. I see the brightness of his tears as he screams and curses while the child listens in silence. My father is  yelling and blaming my mother for leaving us at the neighbor’s house and going to church. This was always a typical argument at home. I feel fear and dread by being in this place.

               “Tomorrow, my world will end!” shouted my father while everyone else remained silent in the dark. His crying haunts everyone in the room, including myself, even if I am not really there. I remember as a child, I felt fear, sadness, and shame at the same time. What a horrible way for two children to spend time with their ​​father before a divorce! Yes, this was the night before my parents legally divorced, a disastrous proceeding in the family.

               “This was also painful to you, was it not?,” the messenger announced. I did not see him since I’m in this new environment. I do not not want to pay attention to him. He is reminding me of the pain I denied a minute ago.

               I want to be out of this nightmare, but I do not want to show my sorrow. I prefer to stay calm so that the messenger does not  see that  these experiences still hurt me. Why is it that this stranger is allowing these vivid memories  to resurface now? What is the purpose of reminding me of this pain? Although I admit it  in my heart, I do not want to reveal it. I decide to leave the house and walk towards the home across the street.  I want to get away from that situation and the voice of the messenger who created this nightmare. I’m starting to feel anger towards this strange person who seems to have pity on me.

               I  jump the short fence of my house and walk towards the middle of the yard besides the house.   Suddenly it becomes daylight. It’s like instant daylight, but the sun is still on the horizon. I can breathe the fresh morning air. It’s a much better environment where there are no highways or people screaming in the night. I stand in the middle of the yard next to my house and watch the young palm tree that  a janitor from a private school gave me. The palm looks healthy but still has a few more years to be a full size palm tree.

               “This palm was a gift of great importance in your childhood, was it not?” The voice of the messenger comes back to haunt me.

               I ignore him completely. I wonder what he will prove me now about my past life. Doesn’t he know that he is causing more pain by doing this?

               “This palm was eventually torn out by the winds of a hurricane…” added the messenger.

               “God took it away! ‘, I decided to speak to clarify the situation. Now I feel more angry because the messenger perhaps wanted me to admit this other pain like I did in the previous two.

               “And what else did God take away from you…?”

               I hear footsteps coming from the front of the house. I turn and  see the same boy walking in the yard where I stand. He does not feel my presence again. I acknowledge that the child is me,  but seems to be younger than the boy at the other scenes. He has a plastic bag in his hand with  tiny seeds inside.  He walks past me as if I am an invisible ghost and goes to a wooden structure shaped like a triangle. The structure I remember  was a dog house that was being used now to house another animal. The little  house was lying on its side , with the only entrance facing up. A piece of zinc is covering the entrance. My throat feels like a knot, as I realize what is about to happen.

               “My God…!”, I begin to say aloud while the child stands up and drops the bag of seed in the ground for a moment to remove the piece of zinc.

               “Do not open it! Do not open it! “, I shouted trying to have the boy pay attention to me before I discover what was inside. “My God, do not open, you’re going to be frighten …!

               “Aaaahhhh!” The child and I scream at the same time. Now everything seems to be moving in slow motion.

               “What was inside the dog house?,” asks the messenger, knowing full well the answer. 

               I ignore the question of the messenger as the child screams in horror. I feel fear. I am afraid to go and see what frightened the child, or me. But I don’t need to see inside the wooden house. I see it clearly in my memory. A feathery little body, the  size of my hand, lying on its side. It has a line of ants going in and out of its eye socket. It’s a frightening image. My hands are over my head. I’m reliving another nightmare. I hear another scream, this time it’s an adult, coming from the front of the house. The boy and I look. It is my father. Running and screaming hysterically, as he usually did in dramatic moments.

               “What happened?, My father yells at the child.

               “Don’t say it, I do not want to hear it!” I yelled to the child, knowing that my cry is in vain.

               “The baby chick is dead !”

                Now I’m on the sand at the beach where I was before. I am kneeling with my hands on the sandy soil. I see tear drops falling on the sand.

               “Why did the baby chick die..?,” asks the messenger who appears to be again sitting on the edge of the boat parked in front of me.

               I keep crying and moaning on the hot sand.

               “It was because of your carelessness, wasn’t it? He died from lack of nutrition. It was abandoned and left to die. You thought of checking it the night before, but decided to wait until next morning. “

               “I was just an ignorant child …”, I try to justify between sobs.

               “But it was your responsibility. And you repeated the same mistake with your best friend of your adolescence. Your new pet was also carelessly abandoned and ended up dead… “

               “Enough!” I yell.

                “You want to blame your family, but you know very well it was your responsibility….”

                “I said that’s enough!! You got what you wanted! “

               “Shall I present the next stage of your life where other pain also originated …?”

               “No!” I cried immediately. My face is wet with tears. “I can’t see anymore!”  I have my hands covering my face.

               “This pain is what I meant when I spoke to you first,” said the messenger.

               Now I feel hatred  in my heart as I  yell,   “Why are you torturing me so much? What kind of abuser are you? “

               “You asked me what I was referring to by pain and I showed you. It doesn’t mean I enjoy it…. “

               I turn around and look into the beautiful clear sea while I’m trying to dry my tears without achieving much. The pain I feel is as deep as the sea I see at this time. The sea is beautiful above, but who knows how many things are  hidden beneath the surface ? This was exactly what I learned from my life with this man. My life may look good and healthy. But there are concerns caused by the past that are hidden, but affect in many ways.

               “My message is simple…. the Almighty wants to heal this wound in  your heart and take away the pain. You just need to ask with sincerity …”

               My anger made me more rebellious towards this man. I don’t recognize that my anger is not really caused by this strange man, but by my hidden pain.  A pain that was just revealed.

                “I do not need God to remove any pain. I need my pain!! My pain creates the person I am today.” I try to intellectualize my emotional state.

               “And that person is the one that keeps you away from the Almighty and His Salvation. You need to be born again; you need to  transform into a new person. You need to be a man without pain.  You are called to become a joyful man. ‘

. I turn around and face the strange man, “If God loves me, why did he let these things happen? Huh? Answer the  question! Why did he allow them  if he loves me so much…?” I ask the man with contempt.

                “For that same reason…, because he loves you.”  the stranger answers, “He allowed them so that He can be manifested in your life. He wants to make you a new man!”

                 “Manifest in my life? Where was God when my parents fought so much and ended up divorcing? Where was God when my brother almost died while still in the womb of my mother? Where was God all the times my mother struggled to help my brother improve  and all the prayers and religious events where it was believed that there would be a miracle for him? Answer me! Where was God when my older brother had diabetes and my mother was depressed? Can you answer my questions…?”

                 “In the same place  when your brothers laughed and played with joy, especially the one who does not walk, who was chosen as an instrument of spiritual growth for others. God was in the same place during your pain as when you happily  graduated from high school. In the same place as when you happily visited your girlfriend, celebrated your wedding, and bought your first home. God has been in the same place  when  your daughter was born  .God has been in the same place during times of pain and joy. He has  always been at your side.”

                  “That’s hard to believe …”, I reply.

                   “That’s because you don’t  want to believe it…., but it is true,” replied the messenger.

It seems that nothing I say serves as justification for my rebellion. Nothing I try to explain or excuse is enough to accuse God of being unfair or even cruel. This man tells me that God has been present in good times and bad times. That means that He allowed both types of experiences to  take place.  One was for us to enjoy life, and the other to learn from life, even if they were undesirable. One was to relieve pain, and the other was to cause pain, and give me the opportunity to be a new man. Both experiences are to give thanks to God for.

                     “I don’t want  to feel this pain anymore…..” I admit at last, with weary eyes.

The messenger smiles.

Why would I want to stay bitter with the painful experiences of  my life? Why do I   think I have to justify my pride and my self sufficiency, if  these are actually  caused by my pain? It is as if I wanted  to justify keeping the pain, manifesting itself in my arrogance. Why do I find it preferable to keep this pain, even it it serves as a barrier that prevents  others from entering in my life, including God? Yet I live denying the pain even if it is  deep in my heart.  What stops me from releasing this pain and be free from any emotional attachment?  The pride,… and the pain.

                     “Take away this pain…., please …”

The man’s smile begins to disappear. Instead of having a smiling face, I see now a face in pain and suffering. Big drops of tears fall from his eyes, followed by drops of blood coming down from his forehead. Then I notice that the boat  parked behind him starts moving and modifying on its own. Its shape changed from a boat to a vertical wooden pole . From the top of the wooden pole, two horizontal poles submerge on both sides. The man’s face is in torment as he extends both hands towards me, showing me his open hands . I look at them and I notice that they are filled with blood, as if something sharp had penetrated  them. Then the man reaches out to both sides and is elevated to the post that is erected behind him. I was amazed and terrorized as I see this man who remains tied up in this wooden post. I was going to ask what was happening. But I think I understand clearly what I see. Because I decided to give my pain away, this man then took my pain and hurt to the point of bleeding.

                    “You took the pain from me…,” I say out loud while the man seems to start to lose consciousness in this horrible situation. Suddenly, the pain of this man seems to be so large that he takes a deep breath and then breathes no more. I recognize who he is now. There are no more tears on my face. The memory of my past is in my mind, but the pain is no longer in my heart. He took it off and stayed with it. I kneel again and raise my arms thanking the Almighty for this man that took away my pain and took it to him to death. I then fix my eyes on some letters written in the wood above where his head is. The letters  are clear and they say :”Jesus.”


Conversations with God: A Review of The Shack book

I will try to give a brief review of this book without giving away the plot.

The Shack is a story about a man named Mack who suffers the loss of his daughter victimized by a serial killer.  While still grieving her death, he receives a note in the mail supposedly from God, inviting him to meet him exactly at the place where his daughter was murdered: an abandoned shack.  Mack decides to go and meets three individuals who introduced themselves as the three persons of the Holy Trinity.  The conversations are casual and friendly, trying to normalize the interactions as if there were four human beings talking to each other.

This book pictures God repeatedly condemning the idea of independence from Him.  In chapter 8, God says  “When you chose independence over relationship, you became a danger to each other”, implying that independence would lead to hierarchy and authority.  Mack reasons that authority is used to refrain people from fighting endlessly and getting hurt but God explains beautifully that in a selfish world, authority is used to inflict great harm.  I believe that the key word is not independence or authority, but selfishness.  Being selfish is the root of all evil.
According to God , we humans ” embrace fear and pain and power and rights so readily in our relationships” but our choices are not stronger than His purposes. We don’t understand it now, but one day we will. I think this is all a human author can say about the possible reason why God allows evil things to happen to people.  We can never fully explain or justify evil, which is why so many people conclude that God is evil or simply does not exist.

But going back to hierarchy, doesn’t the Bible teach about the man being “the head of the household” like Jesus is “the head of the church”? And didn’t Jesus relied on God the Father to do his miracles and fulfill God’s will? Doesn’t the Bible also teach about slaves submitting to their masters? Clearly, the Bible does teach about the importance of hierarchy.

In chapter 12, God uses the analogy of sinking in water and encouraging Mack to allow God to rescue him.  “When you start to sink, let me rescue you.”   While reading this, I ask myself : are we sinking?  Are we unsaved and desperately needing to be saved?  I believe we are sinking in our own selfishness and need to be “rescued” by learning to reach out and serve others in need. We need to genuinely rescue others from injustice, hunger, and illness so that we can be rescued from our egos. But God says we cannot do this with our own strengths.  I can believe that, except that we don’t necessarily need to be saved from “eternal damnation”, but we actually need to be saved from ourselves.  The ego gets in the way of genuinely helping others (which can be called sin if you want).  Emptying ourselves from the ego so that we can fill ourselves with genuine care and love can also be interpreted as being dependent on God so that we can live the Kingdom of Heaven (“blessed are the poor in Spirit” Matthews 5).

God also said in chapter 12 “I don’t create institutions…”.  This is an important statement to remind ourselves with.  Humans create institutions, including religion.  God, on the other hand, is about relationships.

In chapter 13, God teaches that lies are like fortresses that need walls (justifications) to make us feel secured, but it does not work.   God uses our choices to work perfectly into His purposes.  He says “All evil flows from independence, and independence  is your choice”. He also says “True love never forces” and He further explains that love has true meaning when He allows consequences of our choices be manifested.  But, does true love also permits God to allow people to suffer eternally in hell? What happened to grace?  And wouldn’t true love allow us to be independent somehow? For example, my love to my children would not be selfless and complete if I don’t allow them to live on their own and have their own lives outside of my house. I would want them to succeed in life without depending on me forever.  True love would mean being willing to let go.  Maybe God’s love does not function the same  way as a human father’s love.

In Chapter 14, conversations get even more interesting.  God states an important fact when he says that emotions are neither bad or good.  “Most emotions are responses to perceptions” and “Just because you believe something firmly does not make it true” are  statements I agree with.  The description of expectation versus expectancy nicely illustrates how important it is to maintain a relationship alive instead of killing the relationship with rules and requirements. If I perceive my relationship with God by simply being fixated on the rules that I must obey (the Law), then my relationship with God is based on fear.  But if I accept  the fact that I am imperfect and accept God’s grace while living a simple life, then my relationship with God is further nourished and deepened.  If I expect my wife to do certain things to make me happy, then I would be greatly disappointed and will quickly start building resentment towards her.  But if I focus on simply being with each other in good times and bad times, everything else becomes secondary.

Farther in this same chapter. God says “I don’t want to be the first among a list of values: I want to be at the center of everything.” According to this statement, God does not want to be #1 in my life, or be the most important thing in my life.  He rather be involved in everything in my life.  This idea conforms with the concept of not idolizing an erroneous image of God  by attending religious services , but simply living life to its fullest.  In other words, stop looking for God in particular places and during very long repetitious prayers, but live God in everyday life.  When we idolize God, we put everything else behind.  When we “live God” , everything else is included.  We can do this by practicing compassion, mercy, forgiveness, service, peace making, and simplicity when we interact with family, coworkers, strangers, and friends.  Everybody we commune with; everywhere we go; every time.  Otherwise, we run the risk of treating everyone else with contempt and hatred, while “loving” an idolized God.  Livng the Kingdom of Heaven instead of searching to go to heaven.

God says that religion uses the Law to condemn and accuse.  Mack asks “Then why did you give us those commandments…?” and God responds “Actually, we wanted you to give up trying to be righteous on your own.  It was a mirror to reveal just how filthy your face gets when you live independently”.    So this answer implies that the Ten Commandments were just another reminder of human’s tendencies to be independent through rules and regulations and controlling others.  So it wasn’t God’s attempt to keep us straight?  I understood that the Commandments were ways for God (or humans) to keep control of a chaotic mass of confused people in the middle of the dessert.  Anyhow, the book also implies that we don’t have to follow the Commandments anymore. So I don’t have to love God with all my might since Jesus forgave my sins and it is all about grace?  I believe it is true that God’s grace is unimaginable and enough to redeem us, but we should also not take for granted the importance of loving our neighbors as ourselves, being truthful, avoid greed, honor our parents, etc. while we live the Kingdom of Heaven.

I also think that having a genuine love and care for others would automatically lead us into obeying the Commandments, without having to worry about breaking them.  It is almost like learning  a new language by trying to memorize a long vocabulary list and grammatical rules, versus simply speaking the language with others in everyday conversations and learning as you go.

“Forgiveness is first for you, the forgiver…to release you from something that will eat you alive..” is a true statement that we should all learn from.  We should let God  help us “take on the nature that finds more power in love and forgiveness than pain.” At the end of the book, Mack pardons the killer by repeating himself “I forgive you, I forgive you…” To me this sounds simplistic and superficial.  Do people really forgive by simply repeating this phrase? Is this realistic?  Jesus taught in the Gospels that we should forgive 70 x 7.  I am not sure He meant to “fake it until you make it.”  Maybe Jesus did mean it like that.  At the end of the story the reader is left in the dark about whether Mack spent a real weekend with God, had a near death experience, a psychotic break, or simply a dream.

In the After Words page, the author talks about a “new revolution of love and kindness.”  This is what I call the Kingdom of Heaven.  The Life that involves a radical change of behavior that reflects selfless acts of service and compassion.  Whether you are a Christian, a Buddhist, a Muslim,  an Atheist, or whatever you decide to identify yourself with, we all can agree that this kind of revolution is essential in today’s world. I could say a lot more about other parts of the conversations that Mack had with God, but I will only limit it to what I have written  on this post.  I may have more input in another post.

The Shack is a book that clearly reflects the Christian’s interpretation of what God would tell us about suffering and His love (although not fully explained). However, it is fair to say that the author attempts to address life’s most difficult questions with kind words and reassurance which reflects an unconditional love from a graceful God.  It emphasizes on relationship instead of institutions and authority.  It stresses on dependence on God rather than independence and self-righteousness.  It magnifies  on grace rather than guilt. It reminds us of God’s unexplainable purposes being bigger  than our fruitless and selfish choices.    If I ever have a true conversation with God about suffering and His love for us, I think it would be similar to the conversation that Mack had with Papa, Jesus, and Sarayu.


How Stupid Can You Be?

Have you ever wondered how stupid you can be?  You haven’t?  I hope  you don’t take offense while reading this post.  But I challenge you to be honest with yourself for a moment.

The dictionary defines “stupid” as : slow of mind; given to unintelligent decisions or acts;  acting in an unintelligent or careless manner; irresponsible;  dulled in feeling or sensation; marked by or resulting from unreasoned thinking or acting.

I am paraphrasing this definition as follows: Living and defining Life without reflection. 

  I encourage you to think about all the times that you made decisions without thinking much about it.  How many times have you accepted claims at face value simply because they “sounded good”?   Or simply because it did not require much thought or reflection? How often have you taken for granted and blindly believed all the stupidity that people say  and claim?  And I am not talking simply about being developmentally challenged, or mathematically challenged, or not knowing how to spell properly based on what the modern English language dictates.  No.  I am really talking about a holistic way of being stupid.
For example, I recently heard on the news about how excited people are about the new Pope.  One devoted person told a reporter : “I used to not go to church anymore.  But now that we have a Pope from Latin America, I am excited about going back to church!”  How stupid can this person be? Does going to church depend on whether or not you like the leader of your church? Or does it depend on whatever calling you believe you have in this life? I also read numerous posts from various blogs that show certainty about what Life is about.  This type of thinking is dangerous, ignorant, and stupid.
I acknowledge I have been stupid myself many times in my life.  I have believed a lot of claims about what I should do and what I should believe in.  I have accepted the notion that we live in this life for selfish reasons that truly serve our  self-serving agenda, such as being prosperous, following a specific religious doctrine, traveling the world, having children,   or earning a career.  Don’t misunderstand me, I still think all of these things are good (except the religious one). But they don’t define Life itself.
I want to share a few quotes about Stupidity.  Here you go:
“You’re hopeless! What arrogant stupidity! You say, ‘If someone makes a promise with his fingers crossed, that’s nothing; but if he swears with his hand on the Bible, that’s serious.’ What ignorance! Does the leather on the Bible carry more weight than the skin on your hands?” Matthew 23:16
“Jesus replied, “You, too? Are you being willfully stupid? Don’t you know that anything that is swallowed works its way through the intestines and is finally defecated? But what comes out of the mouth gets its start in the heart. It’s from the heart that we vomit up evil arguments, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, lies, and cussing. ” Matthew 15:16

“We are in danger of destroying ourselves by our greed and stupidity. We cannot remain looking inwards at ourselves on a small and increasingly polluted and overcrowded planet.” Stephen Hawking.

“Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Egotism is the anesthetic that dulls the pain of stupidity.”  Frank Leahy.

I invite you.  I challenge you. I plead you to seriously reflect on what Life is really about,
and resist the tendency to adopt a superficial, and selfish approach that poisons our minds, hearts, and souls.
How do you choose to define Life? Are you using a stupid definition without reflecting and simply following someone else’s convenient definition?
Your level of stupidity will depend on your answer to this question.




Are you Hungry?

I am experiencing another reminder about the mysteries of life.  I have family members who may soon reach their final days on earth.  Human suffering continues to occur everywhere.  I have been reflecting again about the pain of having to let go.  It is a necessity to learn to surrender.  It is part of life for lives to come and go.   I have been rereading literature from famous Christian authors such as C.S. Lewis.  This author described the mere Christian faith as a way to rely on the help of the Almighty God to lead us into perfect repentance.  Thanks to this review, I have thought about the way I have been trying to let go of my selfish nature, of the natural way of thinking only about myself, and shifting into a more inclusive, forgiving, and selfless approach in life.

I have contemplated on the more flexible, serving, and merciful way of perceiving myself as merely another being among billions of others in an insignificant planet among millions of other planets and stars in a gigantic galaxy. Perhaps this is what Jesus meant when He  taught about “denying the self” (Mark 8:34), “loving our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:33)”, “turning the other cheek” (Matthew 5:39), and being “meek as I am meek” (Matthew 11:29).  This also relates to other teachings such as Buddhism which teaches that we must surrender  our desires, have a simpler life, and empty our thoughts. It teaches about being in the present and to become united with others.  Hinduism also talks about rejecting the world we perceive because it is an illusion, and embrace the inner self.  I am convinced there is a connection to all of these teachings.

But there must be a change of heart.  There must be a realization that the world we typically perceive is not the real world.  There must be a desire to deny what we have always perceived as the “I”, the Ego.    We must connect with the real self. There must be hunger.  There must the a thirst for Truth.

When we eat food and are stuffed, there is no desire for anything else.  We usually get tired and go to rest. We are typically distracted with the mundane, the superficial.  But when our stomachs are empty and our throats feel dry, there is an obvious desire for something new.  There is an acknowledgment of a need for something more.   The irony is that, the desire for something more, the need to be satisfied and quench the thirst, involves emptiness.  Emptiness of what?  Emptiness of the “junk food” and the “sugar drinks”  of the superficial and immediate gratification we have been consuming most of our lives.  There is a need to “purify” our thoughts, our minds from all the “stuff” that keeps our egos fed.  There is a need to have a “bowel movement” of all the selfishness and individualism, and defensiveness.  There is a need to be hungry and thirsty again, and then satisfy ourselves with Truth.

But this requires guts.  This process requires “dying“.  This approach involves pain, suffering, and embracing the hunger and the thirst.

I am currently feeling hunger and thirst.  Sometimes I don’t feel the hunger and thirst because I make the common mistake of consuming “junk food” and “sugar drinks.”  But I become hungry again.  I become thirsty again.  Isn’t this what Jesus taught about the “bread of life” (John 6:35)  and the “living water” (John 4:13-14) that He offered?  I feel the need again, but it is time to change my diet.  It is time to feed the real self, and let the ego starve to death.

Have you been eating the proper “food” to enhance the real self?  Have you been hungry and thirsty recently?  I challenge you to fast and empty yourself.  We need to become purified, and continue to hunger and thirst for Truth.  We need to desire to be true to ourselves.

Blessed are you who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for you will be filled...” (Mathew 5:6)