I recently came across the term “holy envy” to describe how we can find uplifting encouragements to our personal spirituality by observing great examples in the lives of others, especially those not of our faith or shared background. In so doing, we compare our best to their best and find deep similarities in our human experiences.
The Ancient Egyptians viewed the body as more than just a physical system – it had emotional components, reasoning components, a spirit, a shadow, an intellect, a personality, and other parts – it was the sum of many things to them. Today, much of modern thinking views the body as a physical system. Yes, a physical system with some incredible mystery and beauty to it, but ultimately as a deterministic system.
I think the Egyptians were on to something – we lose an important concept of the body when we see it as something in isolation, as one item with many elements. When we see it as a combination of equally-important parts, we see that health and well-being involve so much more than making sure the physical system has enough food and sleep. Seeing the body as being made up of so many equally important things makes bonds of compassion easier to feel.
The actions of my past are part of me. Like sediment, they build over time. They may impact me in the present moment and influence my decisions for the future, but they are not a prison. They do not completely predestine me, though I cannot avoid consequences. I will always reap what I have sown, but what I choose to sow next is not forced upon me. It is always my choice.
My hopes for the future are part of me. Hopes, however, are easily twisted into fears should I become caught up in a worry that the universe might produce an unjust, unbearable outcome. But those fears, I come to learn, are unjustified. There is no promise of a terror-free existence. There is no guarantee of justice in this world. The absurdity of existence, whether I read of it in Camus or Ecclesiasties, is all there will be. Fearing what will be because it will not be what it is not is – that is irrational. Life is unbearable when I expect it to be other than what it is. When I come to accept that things happen to people regardless of the goodness or badness of things or people, and that I am a person to whom things happen, I find that my fear of the future subsides.
Does my hope remain? It cannot remain, not by itself. It is a psychotic vision to hope alone. Hope must rest upon a realization that my present state permits me a capability to choose. My hopes must help guide my choices, in context of my life thus far. I have no reason to fear or dread when I accept that I always have capacity to choose.
Camus said of Sisyphus that we must suppose him to be happy. That is to say, any of us can be supposed to be happy when we know our own absurd situation and persist in making choices and efforts. I may suppose to hope for a better tomorrow, but am I realistic if I do not acknowledge that tomorrow, I am one day closer to my eventual death? Tomorrow may actually be the day I die, but why should I fear that? My experience is that, on the whole, most days – if not all of them thus far – I have not died. So I am free to live my life with an assumption that the choices I make today are of value and that they will give me something to reap tomorrow from what I sow today.
And what of disasters that could befall me? They will happen. I don’t know when or what form they manifest themselves in, but they will happen, and I will adapt. I will cope. I will persevere. Sisyphus pushes his rock up the hill and, upon reaching the summit, the rock rolls back to the base of the hill. So what? Sisyphus simply walks down the hill to labor again. His work is futile only if we fear for a future that does not exist for him. His work may have no meaning, but it is only a punishment to him if he chooses to dwell upon his fate with dread. One could suppose a Sisyphus who, over time, accepts that his life is what it is. He accepts that there is nothing better and nothing worse ahead of him: existence for him is what it is. Why not accept the absurd, the wheel of fortune, the blur of life as a given and fear not?
Our ability to choose means the past is not a prison and that our future is not a trap. All things happen to all people, so why anguish over the absurd illogic of existence? Instead, let us accept that we exist, that we can do things that we choose to do, and that we, like Sisyphus, can be supposed to be happy when we find choices that develop a meaning for our lives that extends beyond the mortality of our earthly existence. Such a meaning is a matter for another discussion. But I can see a way in which Sisyphus, in his mind, is not being punished in a hell, but may have found a gateway to heaven.
The basic story goes like this: four people of great learning enter the paradise of all knowledge. As each takes in the totality, one dies, one goes mad, one rebels and fights to destroy the knowledge, and only one takes it all in and survives. That person then returns to the world of humanity to teach by word and by example.
In my reading of this story, I see a deep wisdom: I am one of those people, and I do not know which one I am. I suppose if I am not ready to leave behind the things of the world to teach peace and love by word and example, then I am one of the other three, incapable of handling the whole of knowledge and truth, incapable of being in the presence of G-d. I use the form G-d, as this story comes to me from Jewish tradition, and I wish to observe how some in that faith render that name so as to show it respect.
And while some beliefs allow me a clear pathway to heaven, not a one writes a guarantee that I am capable of being in the presence of G-d, to know as G-d knows, as an unprepared human being. Any belief that calls upon me to make that journey to the paradise of all knowledge does so with a caution that I have much to change in how I live and think and act in order to be ready for that ultimate revelation, that it not consume me. And then, once having attained that knowledge, I become even more different from the natural human I was at birth and through most of my life.
For I read the story to understand that those who die, who go mad, who rebel against truth, all them were unready to abandon the ends that they desired so that they could live only according to righteous means, even if it led to their worldly perishing. They were unwilling to be as compassionate as they needed to be. They did not welcome the ideals demanded of us when we understand the whole of the truth and knowledge of the universe.
All around me, I see people caught up in arguments about this or that, and at times I become caught up in them, as well. And, in the moment I argue, in the moment my hatred rises even a little bit, in that moment, I start to wonder if I am a dead man, a mad man, or a man who makes war against G-d. Because, in that moment of anger and contention, I am not a man who teaches peace and love by word and by example.
I am yet alive and I can yet re-think my ways, repent so that my reactions are different the next time I see a contention around me. If I want to be the kind of person who takes in all knowledge and survives to teach, then I must work at being a person who behaves as such a teacher even before I enter into that knowledge. It is not enough to show a checklist of things I never did and another list of things I no longer do. The lack of evil does not make us good. It must instead be a list of things I did where I made sacrifices in faith and love so that others would have better lives and hopefully themselves begin to prepare to become teachers themselves.
I have much yet to do with my life. May I draw breath and think clearly long enough to make as much preparation now for the knowledge that is to come. May I give thanks to my fellow humans of the Jewish faith, for they have been a light of wisdom unto the nations.
Sometimes, people ask the question, “Do you have proof that there is a God?” My answer is yes, but it’s a personal proof. It’s not something I can trot out and point at and say, look, see, this is proof of God. It’s inside me, but is a result of an experiment I did before and frequently repeat.
The experiment is simple. I desire to believe and let my heart reach out in love for anything receptive. I feel the love coming to me from an unseen source and follow up on that with further faith, prayer, fasting, and study. Other things follow, and I have before me, in my heart and mind, the proof of a loving God that encompasses all of humanity, all of space, all of time.
Trees grow and rocks polish over time, never on a command. Little things applied gradually over time make the changes, never a sudden happening.
Let us remember the soldiers who did not fall in battle, but who fell at home due to mental health issues. Let us remember the soldiers who did not fall in battle, but who struggled with lost limbs, lost eyes, burned bodies, organ damage, and brain injuries the rest of their lives. Let us remember the soldiers who did not fall in battle, but who were lynched because they were a different color and believed that wearing a uniform gave them some kind of equality in this nation. Let us remember the soldiers who did not fall in battle, but who struggled to fit back into civilian life after seeing what they had seen and doing what they had done.
Let us remember the soldiers whose spirit of civic duty of self-sacrifice to make the world better is a spirit we all should aspire to, that there may be no more war among us again. There is an ultimate hope in the calling of a soldier: a hope that, through one’s discharge of duty, there may come a day where we ask no more for soldiers, that service no longer consumes one’s life, whether on the battlefield or in the years that follow the battlefield.
Now is not the right time to start talking about gun control. The right time to talk about it was probably September 7th, 1949, after 13 died in the Camden, New Jersey shootings. So, if we’re late to the conversation, we should still have it.
The Second Amendment was created not for national defense or for personal defense, but to allow states to have their own militias to suppress slave rebellions, out of fear that a federal army made up of troops from states opposed to slavery would not assist in suppressing slave rebellions. Following the Civil War, the emphasis shifted to maintaining White control of economics and politics through exclusive access to firearms. Whenever Blacks or Hispanics defended themselves from White mobs with firearms, they were swiftly and surely prosecuted and punished by Whites for daring to disturb the White supremacy.
At its roots, the Second Amendment has always, always been about racial oppression and inequality. There is mythology and propaganda placed around it to obscure those roots, but let us deal in truth. It is a legacy of America’s slaveholding past. It continues to be a right that has a “Whites Only” ring to it all too often for it to be a truly universal right. The solution to America’s gun violence problem is to first acknowledge that we no longer have any danger of a slave rebellion and that we want all people to live in freedom, safety, and equality. Then we acknowledge that it is still possible to have personal weapon ownership, but with restrictions. There are dozens of examples around the world of democratic, peaceful nations that have both regulated personal weapon ownership and murder rates much lower than in the USA.
That’s not to say that murders and gun violence are non-existent in nations with regulations. It’s that the gun violence is at a much, much lower rate. Imagine what it would be like here if, instead of having 17 mass shootings in the last 10 days that took 33 lives and hospitalized 76, we had only one? I’d rather none, but one instead of 17 is a start. In the last 10 *years*, Germany has had only 21 killed and 65 hospitalized as a result of mass shootings, and they permit regulated personal weapon ownership.
When, in our nation, we have lost more in 10 days than another has lost in 10 years, we have to confront our present with a realization that we have built up walls of illusions about weapon ownership that prevent us from seeing the truth and the better place we can be if we begin to have the conversation that should have started 73 years ago… or even before that… but we need to have the conversation and we need to be willing to compromise from all-or-nothing stances to find a solution that will work for reducing America’s gun violence. We have to believe in and have hope that such a solution can be found, and that it can be lasting. We have to be ready to shed our idols and happy illusions so that we can be comfortable with the truth as our chief tool that will build the future we want to live in.
I don’t want to exclude anyone from the conversation: even if you’re a White Supremacist, it’s time to have the discussion about reasonable regulations on personal weapon ownership, along the lines of any of the dozens of other democratic nations that have implemented them with success. We can look to Australia, Germany, Canada, Norway, Switzerland, Israel, Japan, UK, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, and many others. When we make peace our path, a better world is our destination.
“For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore, I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thy hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land.” – Deuteronomy 15:11
In the New Testament, Jesus underlined this teaching of Moses’ many times. Since then, men have made excuses for not observing this commandment. Many of these excuses are ultimately connected to an addiction to money.
An addiction to money is a serious and real thing. The addict wants to gather up as much of the stuff as possible, more than could be used sanely by any one person in life. That excess is seen as necessary, and the addict makes up all manner of falsehoods to justify not giving away freely what is not needed to sustain life.
If you make excuses or reservations or qualifications about how to fulfill the command to open your hand – and not just barely open, but wide – to the poor and needy, who are equated as brothers to you, then that is the addiction to money speaking. You need to find help so that you have a healthier relationship to money that does not involve a dependency. There are people at all levels of means who are able to open wide their hands to their brothers. As we heal ourselves of addictive behaviors towards money, we join with them in healing the world.
There is a passage of scripture: “Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but behold, this is my doctrine, that such things be done away.”
In a culture in which online behavior that arises out of aggression and conflict is rewarded, we have to be willing to forgo the likes and comments that result from aggression and conflict, for such things are not of God, and therefore not of either Truth nor Love.
Truth and Love compel us to do away with anger, one against another. Truth and Love compel us to allow our hearts to be moved with compassion, one towards another. Truth and Love compel us to allow our hearts to be moved with forgiveness, one towards another. Truth and Love compel us to allow our hearts to be moved with peace, that our words and actions also bring peace. That is how “such things be done away.” Not with silent death, but with peaceful life.