Tag Archives: love

Tuned in: Testing God once again

There is an interesting blog titled “A Year Without God” which caught my attention a few months ago. It is a provocative blog that describes a former Adventist pastor deciding to live a year as if God did not exist .   He says in one of his posts titled “Where I stand: a six-month report” that he does not believe in God because of lack of empirical evidence.  These are his exact words :

I don’t see how there is any empirical, scientific evidence for God’s existence.I don’t see any evidence for any recognizable pattern of God’s interaction in the world. I don’t think the Bible records anything more than ancient people’s search for the divine.”  (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/yearwithoutgod/)

This is a  powerful and bold statement regarding the possible existence or non-existence of an all powerful being.   Although I understand his point of view, I also tend to be cautious and vigilant about any conclusions I make about that which possibly created my mind in the first place.  I sometimes ask myself :  Can the cartoon character conclude that there is no cartoonist?  Can the painting prove that there is no such thing as a painter?  I cannot reach such a bold conclusion if I am not capable of fully understanding what the universe is all about and what other people are perceiving and experiencing.  It is true that we may not be able to “prove” the existence of God by using physical evidence that only our five senses can detect.  But do we have only five senses?

Having said this, I am currently in a position in my life where I felt the need to get on my knees and plead for an answer.  I have been evolving in my spiritual journey, from being a catholic, to a pentecostal fundamentalist, to a more liberal reflective Christian.    For the past two to three years, I have gradually distant myself from the traditional Christian faith.  I chose to liberate myself from living a fundamental religious lifestyle, and adopt a more liberal and inclusive approach.   I have learned a lot from other faiths and traditions in this journey of mine.  You can read more about this spiritual journey in the following posts:  Spiritual Roller coaster,  Is this all there is to Life?, Am I Losing Faith?, Embarrassed by the Church, How NOT to be a Good Christian,  Religiously Correct. 

I am not ashamed to say this, because I also believe that doubt and skepticism can be utilized to learn more about the true nature of my existence, and also about God, as I am capable of understanding Him.

To make a long story short, I recently encountered trouble in my immediate family and felt desperate about it.  More doubts came to my mind, but this time it was about the approach I have been taking in the last year.  I started wondering if this “God business” was actually a bad thing to walk away from.  The concept of hell, salvation through faith alone,  the “forgiveness” of sins, the Holy Trinity, and the divinity of Jesus Christ were a few of many questionable doctrines that simply became too mystical for me to accept and believe any longer.  But right now I am looking past these doubts and allowing God to work on me.  I still have my doubts, but my recent experience in life has been like a a bucket of ice water spilled on my face.  I needed to wake up.

 

So I started to pray, like I have not done in months.  I humbled myself against my rational and intellectual nature, and started to talk to this “invisible” and “distant” God out of desperation.  I often criticized the act of prayer as a manipulative way of getting God to do what I want, which you can read more in the post “Why pray?.”  But I felt like a vegetarian craving for a hamburger in the middle of a desert.

I also started posting and sharing messages in a Christian forum and started reading an inspirational Christian book as well.  As I read some of the pages, my rational mind kept saying to myself:  “be careful…. don’t fall into the religious trap…. you know it is just superstitious….. this is only religious fanaticism… fairy tales.”

But my personal family ordeal was pulling me away from my rational mind, and towards the “unknown” of spiritual life.  I craved for answers.  So I decided to give God another chance.  I blindly got to my knees and plead for my heart to be transformed.  Instead of blaming others and expecting circumstances to change, I accepted the challenge of opening my heart again and let “God” do whatever needed to be done.  I was basically “testing God.”  I remember praying : “you want my attention?…. you got it!”  I cried like a baby.   I remember saying, “I don’t have a lot of faith… but I am here pleading, just in case you are listening!”

I then came across this other wonderful blog titled “Isaiah 53:5 Project” where it has a recent post called “God is calling, Pick up the Phone” The author described a time when he decided to open up to the possibility of God’s call:

” Since I couldn’t escape thinking about the possibility of God or continue to ignore His constant calls I finally, and reluctantly, “answered the phone”.

 

This post helped me realize that God may be “calling me.”   I have asked God if He is listening.  This post asked me if I have been listening to God.  The answer is probably NO.  Like the prodigal son, who walked away from his father, but returned after he has been starving to death.    I still have my doubts.  But that is ok.  I don’t believe God expects me to know everything for certain in order to grow spiritually.   Christianity may still not have all the answers, but I am willing to learn.  I am willing to listen.

I am tuned in.


Love, sadness, and regret: A weekend with my father

My Dad at the beach

My Dad at the beach

 

I spent this past weekend with my father after not seeing him for three years. It was definitely an unforgettable experience.   It was a weekend full of love and happiness, but also sadness and regret.  I was obviously happy because I got to see my father one more time before he departs this earth.   I love my father dearly and I wish he continues to enjoy life as much as possible during his last years.   But it was also a sad experience because I saw how deteriorating and frail my father has become.   He now walks with a limp, and is extremely forgetful.

We went to the beach, to the park, and the old pharmacy where he used to work at.  He saw a lot of old friends whom he has not seen for a while (he stays in his house most of the time).  I visited several places where I grew up as a kid.  We played pool together, visited my aunt, and ate a lot of tropical food.  It was a neat experience.  I returned home after spending the weekend with my father.  It was a sad farewell.

This might have been the last time I see him on this earth.  But I think I have learned to accept this possibility.  In addition to this, my father expressed to me how regretful he is for divorcing my mother.  We were sitting at his dinning room table and he softly said “I love you very much…”  I don’t remember my father being so affectionate . He then added, “I also love your brothers ..” I responded by telling him I love him as well.  Then he uttered the following words which will forever break my heart.  He said: “I wish I had never divorced your mother.”

This was a great lesson for me.  If I let my selfish nature dictate my life to the point of dividing my family through separation and divorce,   I will regret it later in life.   I am not saying that my parents were necessarily selfish, but they were definitely not happy in their marriage and decided to end their unhappy marriage with divorce.  Maybe they should have never married in the first place, but they did and they faced the consequence of their decision.  Maybe all of this was meant to be so that we can learn a lesson in this life.  I don’t know for sure.  All I know is that my father has reached a time in his life where he has concluded that he made a mistake, and he is paying the price today.

I don’t want to repeat the same mistake.  I don’t want to make decisions in my life  and regret them later.   My hope is to remain close to my immediate family and to avoid breaking the bond that I have with them.  But I understand that life is full of decisions that may or may not  be the best ones.  Who decides which decisions are good or not?  How will I ever know the consequences of my decisions?

 


“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.


The Delusion of Life

We tend to believe we are the center of the universe.   We like to think we are advanced beings capable of so many things.

But we  are simply a whole bunch of self proclaimed “intelligent” creatures living in a huge piece of circular rock, spinning and revolving around one humongous burning star among billions of stars in a seemingly limitless black space.

In spite of this humbling fact about our existence, we limit our growth by fighting each other over land, religion, and money.  We learn to hate each other faster than we are willing to accept and love one another.

Even after realizing the insignificance of our presence in the vast universe, we keep fixated on how to win the competition through consumerism and mass manipulation.  We prefer to compete rather than cooperate.

In spite of realizing that we definitely not know everything there is to know about our human lives and the reason for the universe’s existence, we still live our lives as if we have everything figured out.  We tend to pretend to know instead of living and accepting uncertainty.

We live in our own bubble of grandiosity and self-adoration.  But we are truly unsecured and we constantly feed our egos to the point of living a fantasy through religion, fame, professionalism, fashion,  patriotism, and pride.

This is our delusion.

This is what keeps us in a superficial sense of security and invisibility.

Will we ever fully wake up to the reality of our limitations? Will we accept the fact that we are all the same?  Will we accept and embrace our mortality?


Carl and Alfred: A tale of two Extremes

Carl and Alfred 

Carl was sitting on the edge of the sail boat.  Alfred was guiding the boat.  The other people were waiting by the shore.  The storm came unexpectedly and Alfred tried very hard to control the vessel.  However, the winds proved to be more powerful.  Carl hung on the rail of the boat, praying hard. 

“Hang on!” yelled Alfred as the winds continued to pick up speed.

“I am trying but it’s getting slippery!” shouted Carl back. 

Their voices were becoming less and less audible because of the noise of the salty waves that continued to hit the sail boat.  Alfred maneuvered the boat the best way he could, but with no progress.  The  winds and waves threatened to flip the boat.  Alfred desperately tried to control the vessel, but the water in his eyes and hands made his attempts almost impossible.  His heart began to beat faster. Carl looked around for signs of land in the midst of the chaos, but could not see anything except the gigantic waves and the falling rain.   He prayed for his family, and to give Alfred the strength to control the vessel.  He wished he could help Alfred in any way, but his lack of experience and fear paralyzed him. 

All of a sudden a big wave abruptly pushed the vessel and flipped it over.  Both men found themselves under dark water.  The noise of the wind suddenly vanished, as they could only hear and feel the pressure of salt water against their ears , face, and whole body.  Alfred was the first to be able to swim to the surface. He frantically looked around for signs of Carl.  He then spotted a white elongated dome above the turbulent waters.   He automatically registered that it was his sail boat, upside down.  He quickly swam towards it.  Still no signs of Carl. He reached the flipped boat, looked around, and saw nothing but gigantic waves and dark clouds.  He desperately tried to lift the boat, but knew that his attempts were futile.  He then thought of sliding around the edge of the upside down boat to see for signs of Carl.  He also thought of swimming down to the deep water to look for him, but feared losing the boat.  He continued to move himself around the boat.  As he began to see the other side of the boat, he spotted Carl a few feet away, struggling to remain afloat.

“Carl!” shouted Alfred, “swim towards the boat!”

Carl did not seem to hear him.  So Alfred repeated his shouts, trying to compete with the loud waves and winds that overcame him. Waves covered Alfred as he struggled to stay afloat, holding on to the boat, and trying to keep an eye on his partner.  Carl would sometimes disappear behind the waves, but would surface again.  Alfred continue to shout, and finally noticed that Carl began to get closer to him.  Alfred reached out with one hand while holding the boat with the other as Carl got closer.  The two men finally met and continued to hold on to the boat. 

“Don’t let go of the boat…!” shouted Alfred into Carl’s ears, “it is our only means of survival now!”

Carl simply nodded and remained put.  Two hours passed and the winds finally subsided.  The sun was already down, about to hide under the horizon. The clouds were clearing up. 

“We got to get to the top of the boat, but need each other to do so…” Alfred said, in a calmer tone of voice.

“How…?” asked Carl, trying to keep the water out of his mouth.

“One of us would have to serve as a ledge for the other to be able to climb up….” Alfred said between splashes. “then the first one would have to lift up the other one from above…!”

“Ok…you go first!” said Carl.  “You are stronger than me!”

“Are you sure…?” asked Alfred.

“Yes…! Please..!” answered Carl.

“Well then hold on to the boat, as I try to climb up…” stated Alfred.  He then climb up on Carl’s back as he struggled to move up and use Carl as a ladder.  Carl was plunged under the water, but without letting go of the boat.  He felt the inmense weight of Carl on his shoulders as he felt water coming up in his nose.  Alfred managed to obtain enough strength to reach the top of the bottom of the vessel. He quickly turned around to face his partner. “Are you ok? Can you reach up?”

“I’ll try…!” Carl answered, spitting water out of his mouth,  as he lifted up one of his arms.  Alfred grabbed the top part of boat as he reached down to Carl.  Carl was able to lift himself up with Alfred’s help.  Both men finally reached the top of the bottom of the vessel.

“I am sorry…” Alfred said after he finally caught his breath, laying flat on his back staring at the clearing but darkened sky.

“For what…?” asked Carl.  “It wasn’t your fault…”

“No, but I could have prevented it by going back to the shore sooner…” said Alfred.  “I could have also controlled the vessel more by moving to the south…”

“It’s not your fault, Alfred….” Carl insisted as he too stared at the orange sky.

They both laid there, contemplating the sky as the stars began to be more apparent.

The night came, and the only source of light came from the stars above. 

“When it’s light again, we’ll have to look for any signs of rescue. ..” Alfred broke the silence.  “I lost my radio, so all we have is the possibility of someone spotting us…”

“They should be coming soon, since we did not return to shore on time…” Carl reassured.

“Right….!” answered Alred, “that is the only hope we have at the moment. Although if we see land, we could swim towards it…..”

Both men continued to stay laying on the vessel, feeling the rocking of the boat as the waves fit them gently.  The  night was getting colder.  Their wet clothes made the temperature less bearable. 

“Are you asleep…?” asked Carl.

“I cant’….” answered Alfred. “I am thinking about tomorrow….can’t wait until tomorrow. But I guess that if we want to save some strength, we better get some rest”

“Right!”

The morning arrived.  Alfred has been looking around since the first sign of sunlight, for any signs of rescue. Carl woke up shivering.
“Seen anything…?” Carl asked.
“Nothing yet. But I am not giving up”

Three days later, the two men remain isolated in the middle of the ocean.

“It’s been three days now….!” Carl mumbled, almost crying.  “What if nobody ever finds us…?”
“Stop talking like that, Carl…!” interrupted Alfred.
“You know it is still possible that nobody will find us…!”
“I am not giving up, so you sure are not going to give up either as long as I am alive!” shouted Alfred.
A long pause.  Then Carl broke the silence.
“Are you afraid of dying…?”
“No…. but I don’t want to…”
“But what if you do….?” insisted Carl, “what do you think will happen… after you die..?.”
Silence.
“Do you believe in God….?”
“There is  no such thing…..” Alfred answered immediately.
“God is not a thing….” Carl said. “He’s a Being… a deity”
“There is no such thing, Carl…” he repeated as if talking to a child.
The two men continued to look around at the horizon. The hot sun was burning their skin every minute.
“I am starving…” Carl said.
“If it rains again like it did yesterday, we could live out of water for maybe 10 days….”
“And then what….?”
“What do you mean?” Alfred asked.
“What will happen after 10 days? After we die?”
“Carl…. I don’t believe in the after life if that is what you are asking about….”
“You don’t?  How can you explain…?”
“Do you want to engage in a philosophical conversation now about life after death in the middle of the ocean?” Alfred interrupted,  showing his frustration.
“It is not a philosophical question, but an important question to ponder given the circumstances…” answered Carl.
“It is pointless to believe in something that cannot be proven….!”
“Can you prove love, greed, creativity…?” asked Carl.
“Those things you can experience and feel…. God is an imagination to try to explain what has yet to be explained! It is an old psychological crutch to try to give meaning to a chaotic universe.  But science has proven that life can be explained, without the belief in a deity!”
“We don’t know everything about the universe, how can you conclude that God does not exist?” Carl was sounding confrontational.
“Because we keep evolving, and eventually, we will know everything about the universe, but in the mean time, we just need to keep exploring using science, not ancient superstitions and blind faith that just serves as a way to keep us from growing.” explained Alfred passionately.
Carl was getting furious, “The only way that we actually grow is with God’s help!” insisted Carl.  “God has given us  the consciousness to even have knowledge…”
“That is what you religious people want to believe, but consciousness is just another result of evolution…!” Alfred insisted.
“And how did this ‘so called’ evolution start?  How did the universe came to be?” Carl asked with insistence.
“There are several theories….”
“Theories?   All you can come up is theories?” Carl interrupted.
“Yes, theories can eventually be proven. Faith cannot,  understand the difference?” Alfred talked in a condescending tone. “There is the Big Bang Theory, and also the theory that the universe ‘just is’, with no cause”
“And that is the same as saying that God has no cause, you are talking about an eternal being: God!”
“Just because the universe can ‘just be’ does not automatically imply that there must be a God that must also ‘just be’. The universe is an accident, Carl, get that through your head!  Everything you look around you, no matter how beautiful it is, and how it seems that is has a purpose, really does not…!”
“So the universe, life itself, has no purpose?”
“Only the purpose that you choose to give it.  We create our own purposes.  We are masters of our own destiny, not to an imaginary fairytale.   And that is why we atheists appreciate life more than you religious people do!  We live in the moment, in the here and now.  You, on the other hand,  live hoping to go to heaven someday, not fully appreciating what you have right now!  And no matter what you say, you don’t give a damn about the rest of us who don’t believe either….!”
Silence.   Both men were catching their breaths.
“I give a damn about you, Alfred….” Carl broke the silence.  “That is why I am talking to you about it….”
“Out of self righteousness, I’m afraid!!.  To make yourself feel good about converting someone to your God…!”
“OK.  You have a point there….  I do want to please God…. but I do want you to be saved…” Carl said in a calmer tone of voice.
“I don’t need to be saved from anything except from these waters…” Alfred stated. 
Long silence.
Carl continued, “Assuming you are right, Alfred, that we create our own purpose.  Does that include morality?  Do we create our own morality?”
“Yes, we do….” Alfred answered calmly.
“So can I say that my morality is to save you?  Is that acceptable?”
“If it is acceptable to you….” Alfred answered.
“Ok then, I want to save you by talking to you about how to get to heaven…”
“I don’t believe in heaven, hell, or anything like that, Carl, don’t waste your breath! If you want to save me for real, then focus on the here and now, which is this problem we actually have of being in the middle of the ocean, three days with no food or water to drink.   If you are going to think about this real scenario, then we can talk about saving me!”
“God loves you, Alfred….” Carl said in a soft tone of voice.
Alfred almost chocked.  “How can you even say that?  How the hell can a loving God allow innocent children starve to death?  How can God be so loving and let natural disasters kill millions of innocent lives?  Can you explain that to me, Carl?  No you can’t, because suffering proves that God does not exist!  Period!” Alfred became increasingly angry.
“Is suffering bad?” asked Carl still remaining calm.
“What kind of a question is that?” Alfred responded.
“Just answer… is suffering a bad thing?” Carl insisted
“Nothing is good or bad, things are what they are.  Suffering is simply a negative interpretation of an undesired situation.   If we  desire to eat, and do not, then we call it suffering.  If you desire to convert me to your religion, and you cannot, then you suffer.  Get it?”
“Then why are you angry at the notion that we believe in a God that loves us if suffering in neither good or bad?”
“Because it creates pain, besides, not everyone is aware that suffering is neither good or bad” answered Alfred.

“But you still get angry at the fact that it happens.  You get angry that people desire and therefore interpret it as suffering.”
“I am angry at people like you who claim that God exists and loves us when evidence shows the contrary….!”
“Even if people’s suffering is neither good or bad? Your source of anger is not our claim about God, but the suffering itself, which you just said is neither good or bad.  And why do you want to be saved from this situation, if you know that your suffering is not bad?”

“Because I want to go back to my regular life, and I haven’t been able to do so for three days….”

“But you can choose not to desire to go back to your life, but stay here instead, and avoid suffering, right?” asked Carl.

Long pause.
“You are right” Alfred responded,” I am choosing to suffer, I should not be angry at you then…Can we just not talk for a while? My mouth is dry …”
“So is your mouth suffering…?” Carl said jokingly.
Alfred giggled and continued to look at the horizon.

Two hours later, both men spotted land, and began to swim frantically towards it. They swam until they finally touched land.  They both dragged themselves to the shore.  Alfred then crawled farther towards a palm tree’s shade.  Carl  followed.
Night was falling, and the two men were slowly recovering their strengths.
“Alfred…. Carl spoke. “I am glad I went through this ordeal with you…better than alone!”
“Me too, Carl!” answered Alfred.
“And I am sorry for trying to impose my beliefs on you…. it was disrespectful.”
“It’s ok…. I understand that you feel strongly about religion and want to share it. I feel strongly about my views too. ”

A long pause.

“Thank you for reminding me about focusing on the present, not just the afterlife.  I was taught the same thing when I was told  ‘don’t worry about everyday affairs, but about loving our neighbors as ourselves.'”
Alfred was surprised to hear Carl speak this way. “Religion can sometimes be a good thing .  I admire some of its teachings.” Alfred stated.
Carl was pleased to hear this from his partner.
“You know what we have in common….?” asked Carl.
“What?” responded Alfred.
“Neither of us wanted to die….. We desired to live instead.  We chose the same thing…!” Carl said.
Alfred pondered on his partner’s reflection.  “I guess you are right….We are both the same on this level.”
“I choose to call this unity and communion, God working through us…. you probably choose to call it an evolved behavior that accidently turned out to help us survive.”
“Right.” Alfred agreed.
“But no matter how we call it, it united us even more, in spite of our different beliefs.”
“Good point….” Alfred said.  “If I were to create my own religion, I would centralize it on unifying people in crisis in spite of difference of opinion.”
“Funny you say that…” Carl stated.  “I believe that religion already exists.”
Both men finally fell asleep.

Alfred wakes up.  The sun was beginning to rise.  He quickly turned to his partner.  Carl was still sleeping.  Alfred stood up.  His whole body ached.  He still did not see signs of rescue.  He also started looking for food.  He spotted some fallen coconuts.  He quickly brought them to Carl.
“Carl! Wake up! I got breakfast here!”
Carl appeared to be deep in sleep.
“Carl, buddy! Come on!  We need to eat this!”
Carl remained motionless.  Alfred began to worry.  He checked his pulse.  Did not feel anything.  Checked his breathing and heart beat putting his head against the Carl’s chest.  Nothing.
“Carl! Wake up, my friend!” He started doing CPR on Carl .  Alfred began to panic. “Don’t, Carl! Don’t die now! We can do this!” he continued to shout as he continued CPR.  But Carl did not respond.  His skin felt cold.  It looked pale as the sun continued to rise and revealed more of what was happening.

Alfred began to cry. “You said you would not give up! You said we are united to survive this!”
Alfred stopped the CPR and fell on Carl’s body, weeping and crying.
“Why? Why? Why?!!” Alfred kept repeating.  He pounded his friend’s chest with all of his might.

“Live, damn it….Live!!” Alfred yelled as he tried to resuscitate his partner one more time.  But He came to realize that it was no use.  Carl was dead.
Thoughts began to raise in his mind.  How will he survive alone? What if nobody rescues him?  What if he runs out of things to eat? Will he die as well?

After finishing digging the hole in the sand, Alfred slowly dragged the body into it.  He did not shed a tear while doing  this.  After finishing filling up the hole, he sat on the sand, staring at the grave.

“Carl….” he called as if still talking to a living being, “I am suffering now because I miss you…..” His eyes remained fixed on the sand that was covering the body.  “And although I don’t believe in your God…. I believe that I became something new because of your companionship….” Alfred closed his eyes trying to remember his partner’s face.  “Thank you for being with me during this hard time….”

Two hours later, Alfred spotted a boat that was sailing his way.  Alfred was being saved.


What is Happiness ?

A lady who dreams of spending time with family who lives hundreds of miles away.  She is delusional about her family coming to visit her. She is disoriented and paranoid.  She relies on medication to remain fully functional.

A drug addict who gets excited for simply receiving extra food during the holidays. He has no family members to spend time with.  He sometimes sells food and medicine to support his drug addiction.

A man who prefers to spend time by himself on Christmas. He is depressed and actively psychotic. He is sometimes suicidal.   He has an elderly mother who no longer can visit him as she used to.
These are just a few examples of the suffering that surrounds us on a daily basis.  We complain about every little thing that happens to us, but forget about  the people who dream of having the basic things in life such as food and shelter.  How unappreciative can we be?  How much more are we going to ignore our suffering neighbor?  We remain fixated on what would make us happy, and disregard the needs of the “least of these”.

We tell each other “Happy Holidays!”, “Happy New Year!”, but are we really wishing each other happiness of are we simply being polite?  Are we happy when we receive the Christmas gifts, or simply being spoiled? Do we care about other’s basic needs or about our desires and wants?  The truth is, all we really care about is our own comfort and self indulging behavior.  Let’s admit it.

We don’t know what happiness really is.   We rarely think about the ones who need real happiness in their lives, not because they have less money, dirty clothes, or fewer friends, but because they have nothing at all.

Do you know what it’s like to have nothing at all?  Ask a homeless person.    Ask a severe mentally ill person.  Ask an orphan.  They will surely educate us on what happiness really means.  They would say happiness would be something like a hot meal.  Or a warm bath.  Or spending one hour with distant family members.  Or having a clear mind without hallucinations or delusions for 30 minutes.  This is what happiness really is.

Unless we are starving, freezing, depressed, petrified, or in unbearable pain, we will never appreciate what happiness really is.


How NOT to be a Good Christian

Being a good Christian sounds nice.  But to me, it  is trying to feed the ego so that I can feel better about myself.  It is trying to build up churches, ministries, fellowship, etc. in order to serve the self.  It is worshiping pastors, doctrines, denominations, and convenient interpretation of Bible verses, not serving others like Jesus taught us.  It is not even about Jesus or God, it is simply about the self.

Being a good Christian is  looking for “salvation,” waiting to go “up there” in heaven, or hoping to have some miraculous revelation from God.  Not being a good Christian, on the other hand, would be to stop looking, and simply being.  It means to stop following the church, and start following Jesus.  Now, my personal experience of being is to embrace what I have learned is good and practice it everyday.  It is not to do what I have been told many times is expected from church (even if they say it is what God wants).

What follows are a few tips on how Not to be a good Christian.

Stop Attending Church.  Yes, you read it right. It is truly a waste of time, unless you go to learn more about how to feed the hungry, visit orphans, shelter the homeless, fight for justice, and make peace. But if it involves singing, greeting each other, praying, and listening to a sermon that promotes religiosity and indoctrination of the denomination, like I have witnessed all of my life, then Jesus is being left hungry and naked.  Many times, and  I recently visited one which confirmed this, churches are basically a celebration, like a pep rally.  And people experience the same excitement and pleasure as when people go to concerts, movie theaters,  political conventions, and sports events.  No difference.

Dare to doubt. Question what you were taught to believe, especially if it only helps the church to grow, not promote justice.  Dare to believe in making peace, loving our enemies, forgiving, feeding the poor, being humble, and other perfect selfless characteristics that Jesus taught us at the Sermon on the Mount.

Accept change. It is all about Transition.  It is all a transition from one stage in life to another.  I have learned in life that we must lose some in order to gain some.  When we hold on to specific ideals, people, jobs, etc. without the state of mind that nothing is eternal, then we would be stagnated.  We don’t grow.  People die, jobs are lost, friends leave, opportunities change, simply because life goes on.  I should not hold on to an ideal for too long, because then the reality of the inevitable transition of life will surprise me and the result is disillusionment, chaos, and depression.  On the other hand, when I start accepting the fact that we are all evolving, that nothing is eternal, and that some things end so that others begin, then when change occurs, it is easier to simply embrace it and move on.

Love the Unloved.  Do you love those who agree with you, share the same interests as you, and love you back?  That’s nice.  However, that is just being a good Christian, not what Jesus taught us to do.  How about praying for terrorists?  How about genuinely serving the mean boss who micromanages you?  What about forgiving the robber, rapist, or murderer that just messed up your life? Impossible?  If you are a good Christian, yes it would be impossible.

I consider myself a Reflective Christian, and those of you who have visited my blog before probably have read what I mean by this (Please read What is this Kingdom? page).  My experience has been that it is not about me.  This life is not about following the right denomination, building churches, saying the right things, or religiously reading the Bible and pretend we have a ticket to go to heaven. It is not even about going to heaven, but actually living heaven by doing what Jesus taught us to do: serve others unconditionally.

Do you want to follow Jesus for real?  Then empty yourself from all selfish agendas, “take the cross” by accepting the selflessness of the Kingdom of Heaven, and reach out to others.  Do this and you will be just like Christ.  Anything else would simply mean being a good Christian.