Whose God is It Anyway?

Whose God is It Anyway?

Faith: Find yours or don’t, but for God’s sake and mine, let others do the same.  Part 2 0f 2

 

In case you haven’t met, let me introduce you to the God I’ve come to know* and love.  You might recognize Him/Her or He/She might just resemble your God (presuming you know One, of course).  That resemblance would be natural.  Your God and mine are probably related.

*Legally, my “knowledge” of God is subject to change at any time, for any reason, and without prior notice.  Any resemblance of my God to anyone else’s is unintentional and purely coincidental.

My God is not a jealous God.

My God knows that those who believe in God desperately want to know His/Her plans and His/Her will so we can take a shot at living in the manner He/She wants us to live.   But God doesn’t work that way. If there was a book that perfectly defined how God wants us to live, it would be helpful. But to be perfect, such a book would need to be written in God’s hand, not a human hand. The only such writing I can think of (though my theological education is admittedly woefully inadequate) may have been made on the tablets that Moses brought down from the mountain. Those rules, while often broken, have stood the test of time very well. But the writings of people, no matter how inspired by God they may be, have to be flawed, simply because all humans are flawed.

What we inherited from our ancestors are texts written by people, many of whom may have been inspired as holy messengers. Accordingly, each text likely carries a degree of spiritual wisdom, but all are nonetheless imperfect. The contradictions that exist within, for example, the Bible, can only be attributable to the fact that many human authors were contributors, and their memories or interpretations of The Word were more-or-less good, but not perfect. It they were perfect, there would be no contradictions in the Bible. Likewise there would be an easily recognizable correlation among The Koran, the Bible, The Torah, The Kojiki, the Four Texts of Confucius, The Tripitaka and other all sacred texts, except for the fact that they were nearly all written by men (there’s an inherent bias right there) to define a monotheistic or polytheistic God’s Will in the world.

If the inspired men who authored and compiled the Holy Scriptures were not flawed, all religions would share the perfect vision and there could be no such thing as religious disagreement, let alone religious wars.

I seriously doubt that God ever intended women to be denied the opportunity participate fully in the development of our world’s religions. Men certainly don’t have an exclusive proclivity on spirituality, intelligence, perceptivity, reason, or any other key theological components.  But God’s rulebooks were overwhelmingly composed by the males of the species, and were terribly flawed by that chauvinism alone. Imagine how much more theologically advanced our species would be today, if the perspectives and wisdom of women, fully half of humankind, had not been excluded from their rightful positions in the mix from the beginning. The religious hurdles we face today might have already been cleared long ago if women had their equal place at the table.

God does not want any of us to feel threatened by anyone else’s interpretation of God. Neither should we be threatening to those whose faith is not aligned with ours. No human can ever fathom and understand all that God is. We are only just now taking our first little forays outside of our solar system, which is in itself a tiny and insignificant portion of God’s universe.  We are all blind as we describe the elephant in the room using our imperceptions to prove our imperfections from where we stand in the room. Our descriptions need not be the same to still be correctly attributable to the same God (or pachyderm). God is not apt to require anyone to blindly and fully accept any religion’s narrow definition of God and faith. I lose no favor from my God from my inescapable inability to fully know and define God.

Rather, if anything, I think God wants us to look for elements of the True Way in any venue, idea or religion. Likewise, God gives us license to disregard (not, however, to destroy) any idea or practice that one’s self perceives as contrary to the foundations of love of God. My self perceives that we should welcome (not merely tolerate) one another’s differences.

It is ironic that people are self-compelled by fear of the unknown to feel they are completely and unquestionably right in their faith, while God knows none of us is even remotely able to be so.

It is tragic when people so desperately need to believe that they are completely right in their faith, that it becomes their duty to destroy all believe otherwise.  Might is not right.

My God is an inclusive God.

I believe that the self, the soul/spirit that is in every one from birth, is a fully included particulate of God on earth temporarily residing in a biological vessel. Further I believe it’s nearly certain that other particulates of God inhabit other vessels, not only on earth but in other realms in the universe. As we are all particulates of God, no one is worthless, nor is any one inherently more valuable than others. If all are included, there are no “chosen.”

My God is not a vengeful God.

As God is not vengeful, God needs or wants no agents of vengeance. (Vengeance is mine say the Lord.)  My God grieves when people are persecuted, are made to suffer, and are wounded (physically, emotionally and soulfully) or die in war. God grieves all the more when wars are perpetrated in God’s name. “Holy War” is the ultimate oxymoron. Those who perpetuate deadly Holy conflicts are proxy-morons. God neither condones nor punishes them, but forgives them.

My God is a generous God.

For a long time I drove around with a bumper sticker on my car that read “Grace Happens.” It was a play-on-words about Grace Church, where I was a member of the most wonderful, spirit-filled congregation I have ever known. Grace Church was happening. But the broader and simpler statement, Grace Happens is also true.

I deepely believe in God’s Grace, the no-strings-attached gifts that God presents to us from time to time regardless of how undeserving we may be. God’s Grace is bewildering because it is completely unrelated to our worthiness. God’s Grace is not a reward reserved only for the righteous; neither is misfortune a punishment just for the sinful. There is no fairness or unfairness involved in God’s Love or God’s Grace. Each is simply and magnificently a gift freely given. The apparent randomness of Grace is mystifying.

My God is a forgiving God.

I believe that God’s generous love freely forgives and informs how we should comport ourselves as well. I need to be forgiven, and need to forgive. The comfort and peace that so unexpectedly comes when one forgives is surprisingly as strong as, or greater than, that felt by the forgiven.

My God is a patient God.

I believe that God waits patiently for me to learn and accept what God wants of me. The surest sign that I am doing as God intended is an enlightenment of my spirit.

My God is a loving God.

God motivates through love, not fear. God does not want us “obliged” but “inspired” to love one another, to worship, and to do no harm. To be obliged is to follow “the rules;” to be inspired is to be infused with “the Spirit”. The fearsome God portrayed in the Bible (especially the Old Testament) and in other religious scripture, appears intent on defining duties as the price of admission into God’s Kingdom. I believe that God’s power lies in love, not in duress.

 My God is an eternal God.

Achieving a favorable eternal existence ought to be a crucial concern in the lives of those who believe in an eternal soul. Life presents opportunity and danger to the soul. We, being particulates of God, are eternal. Nourishment of one’s soul in a lifetime is the opportunity. The damage one does to one’s soul is the danger. After a life, a soul (the essential you) will carry the soul-nurtured nourishment and the self-inflicted damage of that lifetime forever. An earthly human lifespan is an infinitesimal moment in eternity. That makes what we take with us infinitely more crucial. That’s why I love watching Ebeneezer Scrooge when he finally figures that out.

My God is a pained God,

especially when we kill one another, and even more so when we kill in God’s name.

Faith: Find yours or don’t, but for God’s sake and mine, let others to do the same. – Part 1 0f 2

Faith: Find yours or don’t, but for God’s sake and mine, let others to do the same. – Part 1 0f 2

“Organized religion preaches Order and Love but spawns Chaos and Fury. Why?”, Kerry Thornley (1938-1998)

 

My Definitions

Faith – Strong belief in something or someone based on experiences.

Blind Faith –Strong belief in something or someone, despite any and all evidence to the contrary. (Not necessarily less valuable than experience based faith, just different.)

Religion – A series of strong beliefs in a defined system of faith in a deity or deities

Tolerance – The simple recognition that as humans we always have been and are prone to error, including those inspired to write “Holy “books. This is why matters of faith differ. Accordingly, all should  be allowed to believe as we each see fit and give others that same respect.

Creed – A statement of faith beliefs – “I believe in…”

My Take What You Want and Leave the Rest Creed

For your consideration, these are my strong beliefs, blind and otherwise:

Do I believe that God, the Creator, exists? Yes, I do. I can find no other plausible reason for the elegance of the world and the universe in which I live. I can conceive of no other explanation for the creation and evolution of life on earth. I can think of no other answer to the origin of the source of my conscious self that has no single physical presence in my body. If we who have life in this world and all who came before us, from us, and will come after us are but a random chain of accidents, we must be the most unlikely and phenomenal of coincidences. And this most unlikely accident cannot account for that self that is conscious in me.

Do I believe myself to be a spiritual as well as physical being? Yes, I do. My “self” is more than a biological mechanism. Absent a spiritual aspect of being, how could a biological being be “self”-aware? What possible combination of chemicals inside me has random chance combined to concoct the resonances of Love, Justice, Liberty and other ideals? If I were not a spiritual, self-aware being, how would I differ from an asteroid floating aimlessly in space, or a ping-pong ball randomly bouncing in a bingo machine? As a living being with the freedom to choose, if not to determine my future, to influence it, I am able to see and create options and assign relative values to them. From whence, other than the self, would those values come? If an asteroid collided with earth, and no self-aware being existed, so what?

Oh yes, I believe in a maker – an architect – an initiator – a being enormously great and completely perfect – perfection being in full accordance with the workings and intent of Creation. I am even willing to hope that my ‘self,’ my spirit, my soul, may actually be a minute but not totally insignificant particulate in this greater being, God. I thereby can also believe that death may not be an ending, but a re-joining with, or a re-positioning in, that colossal universal being. And I believe that through the self, my soul, my spirit, I can communicate with God and with my fellow participant souls in God, through prayer, meditation, and the sheer thoughts of love and concern.

As importantly, however, I am as certain as certainty allows that neither I, nor any other being that had life on this planet, has the wherewithal to contrive or postulate a system of beliefs that accurately and totally defines universal perfection – “the True Way.”   No religion, no prophet, no seer or saint that has walked this earth has had an even partial understanding of any more than a miniscule fraction of “the Universal True Way.”

“How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, ‘This is better than we thought!?’ Instead they say, ‘No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.’ A religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the Universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths.”

Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space

The power and security of the idea of the True Way is alluring and many have succumbed to the Siren songs of power and security by professing to know the True Way. But no one has ever even conceived of the full extent of the essential questions concerning the True Way that need to be asked before one can begin to understand the answers.

Absolute righteousness – being in complete and pure accordance with all that is the True Way – is impossible for beings such as ourselves because we are but tiny participants unable to completely imagine, let alone comprehend, the universe. Nonetheless, fearing the unknown, we are driven to believe that we can and do know all, so we have established and propagated thousands of religions, each of which professes to be the one True Way to God’s perfection. Each religion’s true believers are God’s “chosen.”

While it is axiomatic that there is only one True Way, it is also a mathematical certainty that none of man’s existing religions is absolutely righteous, i.e., really comprehends the one, complete and perfect version of the True Way. It is pathetic and tragic when one doctrine’s believers must either convert or exterminate that which does not ascribe to their woefully incomplete definition of the one and True Way.

Coronary Episode #2 – Part 2

Coronary Episode #2 – Part 2

Just My Luck – Chapter 11–2

I was disconcerted that for some six hours I was not self-aware.  My body was fully alive, but my “self” was AWOL.

Move over Buster Keaton

Just My Luck.  I had a coronary emergency and by a somewhat circuitous route Ibest hospitals award stumbled into one of the best cardiac hospital facilities in the country,  the Gagnon Cardiovascular Institute at Morristown Memorial Hospital.

My surgeon was not just an excellent practitioner of his valuable profession, he was a really nice and concerned fellow.  He explained to me that this time I was going to need a double by-pass.  He’d only performed a few thousand such surgeries so far, but he assured me he was really getting the hang of it of late.

I took him at his word.

Despite our lighthearted banter, I knew this was serious surgery.  I would not be up and around the following day as I had been years before with the angioplasty.  I was in much greater immediate danger than I’d been in during my original coronary event.  They were wasting no time, I was going to be opened up tomorrow.

The surgeon explained what was to come.  He would need to break my sternum from top to bottom to gain access to my heart.  If all went well, I would awake with tubes sticking out of me and with a stapled-shut wound the length of my separated sternum.  (We didn’t discuss what might happen if things didn’t go well.)  The vein he’d use for the first by-pass was already available near the heart.  It was a vein that all humans have, but that have a purpose only in women.  For men, it was like a spare tire: there in case needed in an emergency.  He would need to harvest the vein for the second by-pass from my left leg, so I would have a wound to care for there too.  Both wounds would be vulnerable to post-operative infection.  The recovery would be weeks-long and uncomfortable.

Doris later told me that the nursing staff was willing to take bets that I wasn’t going to be able to attend my son’s wedding in Maui six weeks hence.

But at least I had insurance.

I had a lot to live for when I prayed for help before my first cardiac procedure.  Now I had a son-in-law, a soon to be daughter-in-law, and a beautiful grand daughter, not to mention even more great friends to add to the list.  So despite my rational doubt that God will sometimes intercede in the work of the Grim Reaper, my emotional side prayed long and hard for God’s help.

I guess it’s true: there are no unbelievers in a fox hole.

weinerjan1

The following morning I was prepped for surgery, met the anesthesiologist who would assure I was asleep but not dead during the operation (another funny guy), and was transferred to a narrow, hi tech gurney.  The operating rooms were surrounded by a space where the players about to take the stage waited in the wings, sort of like the locker rooms at a sports arena.  Unmasked and ungloved they joked with one another as if I wasn’t even there.  I was glad to be an observer of their camaraderie, I could tell they were a real team.

The anesthesiologist arrived at my bedside and asked if I was ready. I had no choice so I was. He did the “count backwards from a hundred” thing though we both knew I’d not make it to 96.

In literally no time, and I mean no time, I was in the recovery room. It was all done. I woke and realized that I was no longer where I was when my countdown nearly reached 96.  It was as though I’d just “apperated” (a Harry Potter term) from the surgical bull pen directly to the recovery room in a flash.

No passing “Go” and no $200.

The only evidence that the continuum had been interrupted was that I didn’t continue the countdown to 95.  All that build up, the tension, the drama, the countdown at 97 – and now at 96 it’s all over?   Wait a minute, I missed the best part!  Replay the video.

What an anti-climax.

Where Did I Go?

My operation repaired my diseased heart once again, but in the process it raised some strange and troubling questions in my mind.  I’d been under general anesthesia before, but for much shorter periods.  Somehow this time it was very different.

This time my “me” fundamentally didn’t exist for six hours and for some strange reason, when I awoke I could feel the lingering absence of my “self” in my bones.  It wasn’t sleep.  I didn’t dream nor did I have the slightest cognition of any sensation whatsoever.

For six hours I was simply unaware that I had ceased to exist.  One cannot be much further gone than that.  For all intents and purposes, a time had just ended when there was no “me.”  When my awareness of self was gone, everything was gone.  It was as though a piece of my life had been surgically removed.

During those six hours of course, being aware of absolutely nothing, I wasn’t comfortable or uncomfortable. I was literally nothing.  It was only now that I had become aware again that I was disconcerted that for six hours I was not aware.  My body was fully alive, but my “self” was AWOL.

Was that a foretaste of death?  Is death really the door to nothingless? Or had my self/soul just gone dormant for a while?

My self did re-awaken, fully intact and ready to resume its existence from where it had last been.  The fact that it could and did re-awaken gave me comfort.  But I also realized that my belief in the immortality of the soul was likely too simple.  The soul may be immortal, but how that all works has to be more complicated than I can understand.  I simply don’t know how to account for the absence of my “self” for six hours. I have no idea if it existed then or where it may have gone.  I still believe that my soul is immortal, but this conundrum confirms that I don’t know that it is.

Faith is a belief in knowledge we don’t have.

Can you experience a temporary state of absence of being?  If so, how can you determine that you have?  I’m getting a headache.

 

Anesthesiologists must be wizards.

Another Difficult Road Back

The recovery period after my surgery was the most physically painful six weeks of my life.

I’ve never met a hospital bed that I liked.  They all must be designed by insurance companies to compel patients to make their hospitalizations as short as they can.  The first couple of days I was basically a biological bag of sore: uncomfortable, weak, and bored beyond endurance.  On day three I had my first taste of relief when the surgeon removed the draining tubes from my upper body.  It felt like a full quiver’s worth of iron spears was withdrawn from my chest.

The surgeon told me that all had gone well as planned and that I was lucky not to have had alinked sausage 2 heart attack beforehand.  He told me that the artery with the stents that were put in years earlier now resembled a length of linked sausages where the artery had collapsed in the spaces between the stents.  It was possible that it might have been a matter of a days or weeks before my emergency would have been far more serious.

Dumbstruck by dumb luck again.

Never able to find a comfortable position is a pitiable situation.  Not allowed to lift anything, including myself, meant that to sit up, lie down, roll over, and do other canine tricks, I required help.  Being helpless as a baby is definitely not conducive to the self esteem of anyone who has already graduated from infancy.

Hospital food can be good or bad, but it’s always just hospital food.  Morristown Hospital’s kitchen was better than most, but I wouldn’t choose to go out to eat there.  Daytime television was simply torturous, but you can only read so much when you’re under the weather.  There has to be some undiscovered law of physics that says over a prolonged period, time slows to a pace inversely proportional to the number of times you look at a clock (e.g. the more you look the slower it gets).

All in all, I was an impatient in-patient for ten days that felt like a baseball season.  Nonetheless, I was grateful to be alive and on the mend.

Despite my long hospitalization, when I was finally released I was still about as close to being an invalid as I’d ever been.  Weak and wobbly and in need of constant close attention, I returned to Lauren and Tim’s house where Doris and I were in residence for the duration of our condo renovations.

Being the superb friend that he is, Bob drove down from Connecticut just to drive me there from the hospital.  Doris, who had been at the hospital every day of my stay, led Bob and me along her now too familiar route between Morristown Hospital and Lauren & Tim’s home in Warren, NJ.

Tired and shaky, I made progress every day thereafter.  I had one major goal: I would be strong enough and healthy enough to be able to fly to Hawaii in the last week of February and stand on the beach to watch, with great pride and happiness, as my son, Tom, married the love of his life, Kathermmaui 2ine.

I heard through the grapevine that Katherine had told Tom that if I couldn’t make it to Hawaii, they should still go there to vacation but postpone the wedding and have it in New Hampshire when I could be there.  Knowing that a Maui beach wedding had long been Katherine’s dream, I doubled my resolve to be there.

It was a great wedding. I was elated to stand on the beach with whales breeching in the distance while Tom and Katherine exchanged the vows they authored.

What a special place Maui is.

What a blessing it was to be there.

 

Just My Luck.

Coincidentally, in my recovery from both of my “coronary events,” I had similar extra incentives to “get well soon.” Both of the motivations involved the opportunity to take long flights to attractive venues.  As mentioned here, in my most recent recovery the carrot-on-the-stick was flying to Maui for the wedding.  Not long after being released from my angioplasty procedure nearly a decade earlier, I was scheduled to fly to London with Bob for a meeting with our firm’s European maxresdefaultStrategic Account Managers.  I’d been advised by my cardiologist that I might want to call in as “still sick” for the trip.  I took a wait-and-see strategy and would make my go/no-go decision after taking my pulse a day or so before the trip. 

A week before our scheduled flight to London, I received a notice from British Airways that Bob and I had both been “bumped up” at no additional cost from Business Class on a 747 to seats on the super-sonic Concorde for our flight to London.    My recovery immediately went super-sonic.  After a thorough stress test on the treadmill, my cardiologist decided not to advise against going.  In both cases, the final decision was mine.  In both cases I celebrated the end of my ordeal with a trans-oceanic flight.  In both cases I’d been warned that if something should happen while in flight, it could be several hours before I might receive proper attention.  In both cases the flights were uneventful.

  Just (More of) My Luck.

©2016 James Ash

 

 

 

Self – Part 2

Self – Part 2

Just My Luck  – Chapter 8 – Part 2

 

How Old is Your Soul?

As I’ve considered the notion that my soul experienced earlier lives (either here or elsewhere) and is destined to live more, I’ve found it comforting to find others I respect who are speculating similarly.  My mentor for the first 11 years of my corporate writing career, Vladimir P. Chernik (one of the most remarkable people I have ever had the privilege to know, admire and love as a great friend), strongly believed in reincarnation.

father_time-1900In that context, he claimed to subscribe to the theory that one’s birthday held the key as to how ‘old’ one’s soul currently is.  Why not?  The theory qualifies as a possibility.

From almost anyone else, I would have scoffed at this idea as a silly parlor game, but Vladimir was an unusually intelligent man whose demeanor and views on life were spiritual, practical and nearly always optimistic.  He also had a robust sense of humor and was not above a good practical joke, so take or leave his speculation on this as you choose.

If only just for fun, here’s how Vlad calculated the age of one’s soul, measured in lives, not years:

  • To begin he’d simply translate a person’s birthday into its numerical expression. My birthday is October 8, 1951 or 10 08 1951.
  • Now, add those three numbers: 10+08+1951= 1969.
  • Now add those integers: 1+9+6+9=25.
  • And finally add those last integers: 2+5=7.

The aim is to decant the original numbers until you arrive at a solution between 1 and 9.

So, according to Vlad’s ‘ancient system’ I am currently living my 7th of 9 lives on earth (he didn’t consider life on other planets).   Mine then is a fairly mature soul.  My wife was born 05 30 1952 which takes us to 1987 and 25 and 7.  Vladimir proclaimed we were well matched. (I was deeply gratified and relieved to learn this.)

 All right, tell me Vladimir, what happens to the soul of a person who will be born on May 26, 2030  [5+26+2030=2061 = 9] when s/he dies?  There is no 10th life, that would be 1+0: a first grader.  Will this soul, like the feline, run out of lives at 9?

Well Jim,that depends on the soul.  If it’s mature enough it can move on (to another planet perhaps?).  If not, it’s back to the starting line, the first grade.  A soul keeps going through the system over and over until it matures sufficiently to move on.

And then where Vlad?

Where does one go when s/he graduates?  Anywhere s/he wants.

 

You Can’t Take It (All) With You

In the course of my soul searches I’ve wondered whether a soul might have been able to retain just one valuable, hard earned lesson from each previous life for use in later lives. After all, some lessons are so costly they ought not to expire.

This idea leads me to two questions:

  • What learning might I have had previously that helped me in this life?cant take with u)
  • What learning this time around would I choose to take with me into my next life?

In answer to the first question, I may have something that may qualify as such a lesson.

I mentioned earlier that I was neither among the very popular or the outcasts in my adolescent and high school years.  Charlie Brown was well intentioned, but not cool.  But unlike Charlie Brown and many adolescents, I did not suffer the neuroses of doubting my innate worth and my lot in life in the future.   Somehow, it didn’t bother me in the least that I wasn’t among the junior high school social elite, the super athletic, or the political leadership of my high school student body.  I cannot put my finger on why I was content to bide my time and be satisfied with being fairly ordinary during those years, but I inherently knew that my “glory days” (to take a page from Bruce Springsteen’s songbook) were surely ahead of me. I didn’t want the high water mark of my life to be a membership in a high school fraternity.

My calm contentment and my quiet confidence in my future came from within.  I started to emerge from the shell during my college years.  When I did prepare for and assume leadership roles in my education, career and my private life, they were meaningful.

Had I learned in a different time and place that I could depend on better days ahead? I think it’s entirely possible.  I have no other explanation for it.

I do not remember where, when, or how I first encountered the thought that my “self” might be my soul, but that idea resonated with me from childhood.  Might our proclivities* (an excellent word) actually be the left-over products of experiences from previous lives?  Could child prodigies actually be drawing on talents and learning acquired in an earlier time and place?

Now the second question. What, if anything, would I want my soul to remember and carry over into my next lives?

  • Never run into the street without checking for cars first?
  • Don’t let yourself be in love with two potential life mates at the same time?
  • Don’t let your mother die alone?
  • You can love them but don’t bet on the Chicago Cubs?

If given a choice, the greatest lesson I have learned so far in this life is that despite the systems, rules, laws, technology, and achievements of our species, we can never completely harness or predict what will happen, luckily and unluckily, in the fundamentally random world of events.  Our control over our environment will always be incomplete, so anything may happen to anyone at any moment.  All we can do is live our lives accordingly.

If you believe that your soul is immortal, the possibilities are endless.

What’s Next?

For all I know human life on earth could be Vladimir’s proving ground in which souls develop and mature.  It could be a soul must self-improve in each life and reach a specified level to advance. We might have to return to life at the testing ground, earth, time and time again until qualifying for the next step.

We all may be at various stages of (for lack of a better word) maturity, but we who live all have souls.  Contrary to the egocentric nature of humans and most  Western religions, I like to believe that all biological living beings, not just humans, also might have souls in various stages of development.  Why not?  Are we so neurotic that we simply have to be the only DSC_0014soul-bearing beings?   Is it inconceivable that after a soul graduates from human life it might advance to canine life?

Okay, don’t abandon me here in disgust at how strange I’m getting with this.  It happens that I have a spectacular dog, and I envy some of his traits.  I believe him to be capable of love, and I love him in return.  My point is I don’t know, and so the possibilities of where an immortal soul may go, or what it form it may take, are truly endless.

This idea that animals may have souls first came to me one day in the narthex (area between the main entrance and the last row of pews) of our church after a Sunday service.  One of our parishioners, Abby (not her real name) a single woman in her early 40s, had lingered there to have a relatively private moment with the minister.  I was there saying good-bye to a friend.  Abby was visibly miserable and could no longer hold back her tears.  When our minister, Richard (not his real name), asked what was the matter, Abby tearfully told him that her dog, a retired racing greyhound she’d rescued five years before and her constant companion, had died a few days earlier.  Richard couldn’t hide his incredulity for her concern.  Abby continued, “I just want to know that I will see Rocket (not the dog’s real name) again in Heaven when I die.”  Reverend Richard, probably the worst minister I ever met after SFH disrespected my father, actually scoffed before saying, “Of course not.  Dogs don’t have souls.”  He then spun his heels and walked away leaving Abby in deeper distress.  Nice guy, huh?

I had to step in.  “Abby, please don’t listen to him.  He doesn’t know anything.”

She replied while still crying, “But he’s a minister.”

 “Unfortunately, that’s true.  But on this issue he is dead wrong.”

 “Really?  How do you know?”

 “Let me ask you something first,” I said. “Did you love Rocket?”

 “Yes, I loved him dearly. He was wonderful.  No question about it”

 “I remember him from the Blessing of the Animals,” I truthfully told her. “I’m sure he was easy to love.”

 Abby nodded.central-fla-greyhounds

“OK then.  Let me ask you, did Rocket love you?”

 Without a moment’s hesitation, she said, “Yes, I’m sure of it. If he could, he would have been right beside me all the time.  I could see his love in his eyes every day.”

“Well then, there you have it,” I said.  “Where does love come from, your brain?  No.  It comes from your soul.  And it stands to reason, if he loved you,- and I agree with you that he did – he had to have a soul. Where there is love there is a soul. Rocket had a soul and it still exists.  Souls don’t die when the body expires, so I am as certain as I can be that because  your soul and Rocket’s have a bond you will be together again in Heaven.”

That was the first time I articulated this idea that had been bubbling around in my head, and I knew I believed it exactly as I’d said it.

Ultimately, I will only know absolutely for sure that my soul is immortal when I die. Until then, the best anyone can possibly do is believe, or don’t. My “self” feels like it is immortal, and I want it to be.  But if I am wrong in my belief about the soul’s immortality, I will never know it because at the moment of death, I – my “self” – will truly and irrevocably cease to exist.

I will simply “not be” forever.   It’s hard to imagine.

Is the absence of pain worth the loss of joy and being?

Each of us will find out some day. “To be, or not to be.”  In the meantime, the best we can do is be happy, hopeful and content.

 

*proclivities – innate tastes, preferences, desires, appetites, tendencies

© 2016 James C. Ash

Self – Part 1

Self – Part 1

Just My Luck  – Chapter 8  – Part 1

From childhood, I have been aware that along with my body and all of its physical contents, there is a core “me” embedded somewhere in there too.  It’s always been a simple awareness but a complicated concept that raises lots of questions.

Where does this core reside?  Is the “me” some physical aspect of my brain?   Or is the “me” some ethereal, metaphysical spirit that somehow belongs inside me?  How is my central core related to my physical person?

Where does my body end and my “me” begin?  It’s hard to define, but I have always known that my body and mind are mine, but not “me.”  What is mine belongs to, and is subordinate to, “me.”

Boiling the idea down, I realized that one key job of the “me” is to evaluate situations  and various options available and make decisions in the brain.  The facility for making decisons is in the brain, but the driver of that facility is “me.” Somehow, the “me” initiates and controls the decision making function and calls the brain’s control center into use to implement the decision as best as possible in the world.   That is one way the “me” definesdefine yourself itself (its “self”) to the rest of the world.  There is no better evidence of the motivations, morality, desires, maturity, and responsibility of a person than the decisions s/he makes.  What one subsequently does shows the core values that define her/him.

But how and where are decisions actually made by us?  Is decision-making just the result of low level electricity flowing around in various patterns in the organic wiring and synapses in our nervous systems?  Can’t be only that.  Where is the force that controls and choreographs that electric synapse ballet in a manner that produces a decision that is consistent with who I am?   What force keeps us from simply making random decisions all the time?

It’s still an incomplete idea, but I have embraced the notion that the core “me” is what I call my “self,” which is also my soul.  I believe my soul, my core me, makes the crucial decisions in my life.  Only my soul/my self is responsible for these decisions and ultimately it is my soul that will either grow or be damaged by the choices it makes.

Selfhood

Selfhood is a special concept, more than the sum of its parts.  Self is all the conceptual nouns that inhabit my physical being: my awareness, my thoughts, my emotions, my memories, my misconceptions, my decision-maker, my judgment, my values, my prejudices, my experiences, my passions, my disinterest, my wondering, my mistakes, my pain, my ecstasy, my achievements, my dreams, my nightmares, my fears, my courage, my pride, my ego, my id, my guilt, my tastes, my love, my pleasure, my displeasure, my past, my present, my future, …and somehow more.

My soul is immeasurable, has no weight, no substance and no exact GPS coordinates, but it exists and changes constantly nonetheless.  And, if you will excuse the pun, it is ‘self’’contained.  The soul is not biological, not tangible, but it controls the purposed actions of my body.

Who I am now is part and parcel of who I once was plus some verbs (gerunds actually): learning, forgiving, supplicating, ignoring, discarding, growing, regressing, loving, loathing, praying, observing, recovering, participating, judging, mistaking, trying, failing, succeeding, knowing, exploring, resisting, forgetting, restoring,…the list goes on, but I think you get the idea.

But the self has another, evself controlen more important realm beyond rational decision making as well.  The core self, the soul, feels emotions.  It’s the soul that releases the endorphins of joy, happiness and love as well as the vitriol of pain, anger and hatred that so heavily influence our actions.  We, in a way perhaps validate this idea when we tell one another, and especially our children, to “control yourself.”

In that same vein, the magnetism that binds us to, or repels us from, others is a product of the soul. Love cannot exist in the absence of the soul.

For something that takes up no space, the self, the soul is HUGE.

Mortality and Immortality

One of the more important verbs in “me” is ‘believing,’ especially in this context:  I believe that my self, my soul, is immortal.

I believe that my soul, my core being, existed long before I was born and will continue to exist long after I die. I believe the bundles of gerunds and conceptual nouns that comprise my self today include many gathered before this life and some gathered in this life. I have also amended or shed some that no longer fit “me” and there are others to which I aspire but have yet to master.  All those remaining when I die I will carry with me into the next journey of my immortal soul.

Death, the end, applies only to the physical body, my temporary habitat from which I experience a life that tests and grows or shrinks my self/soul.  The only constant in life is change.  The ultimate purpose and result of a life is a changed self -an improved or more heavily damaged soul – at death .

Why do I believe that my soul/self is immortal?  I know this is a simplistic answer but, it’s because I cannot believe otherwise.  I cannot conceive how and why a self/soul that has no physical composition but drives the bus can transition from being to a state of non-being.  My soul wasn’t created at my birth and it will not die at my death.  My body was created for my soul, not the other way around.

With apologies to Mr. Shakespeare, “To be, or not to be.”

All I know with certainty is my self, my soul is real.  It exists here and now.  Beyond that, all is pure speculation and belief.  Where my soul goes and what happens to my soul in death, and why, will remain a mystery before the body dies.

The Possibilities are Endless

But what’s the harm in making some wild guesses?

I choose to believe that the soul is not physical and so not subject to the physical death of the body.  If one accepts that premise, when the self parts from its bodily partner, it prevails in some other, likely metaphysical, form.

Will my self/soul somehow join with another newly paired set of animal chromosomes to live another life on earth?  Maybe.  I suppose it might, but it’s more likely, at least mathematically, to inhabit some other life form somewhere other than the earth.

The universe is incomparably big, literally, as is the realm of possibilities. It is all but certain that life forms inhabit other places in the universe.  So when a soul is set free in a universe full of life, why re-visit earth?  Been there, done that.

If I lift a grain of sand from a beach and toss it into the air, how likely is it to land in the exact place where I’d picked it up?  And if the soul needs to grow, would not a different environment offer more opportunities to learn than the one you just left?

Will the next stop on this ride be in a place better or worse or incomperable than this one?

Which way is the wind blowing?

 

As Monty Python was known to say,

“And now something completely different.”

Metaphysical Mysteries Solved!

 

WHERE DOES THE SELF GO BETWEEN LIVES?

 

 

 

a-1-self-storage-logo-cropped

HOW DOES IT GET THERE?

SOUL TRAIN

 

(to be continued, unfortunately)

 

©2016 James C. Ash

Survivor’s Guilt

Survivor’s Guilt

Just My Luck  – Chapter 7

Why some survive and others don’t becomes very large in the aftermath of tragedy. The most difficult questions that drove my PTSD and held my mind captive for several months after 9/11 were: why was I spared when so many who were more deserving perished? What distinguished me from those who didn’t make it out?  Does God intercede in what happens to us at pivotal times of our lives?  Might we actually have “guardian angels” protecting us when we can’t protect ourselves?

 After considerable thought about the central [Why me?] question, I arrived right where I started, which is the only possible answer: nothing, good or bad, distinguished me as more worthy or less worthy of survival that day.  A very large number of brave and heroic people on the New York City payroll were certainly more worthy.  Among the civilians like me, some very noble, humble, caring, giving, and trustworthy people were removed from this world that day as were some conniving, selfish, even sadistic folks.  Both extremes were among those who died and those who escaped death.

Likewise, the young, those in middle age, and others about to enter a well-deserved and long anticipated retirement were among both the living and the dead.  Tuesday, 9/11/01 was the first day in a new job for some who died and some brand new employees in the World Trade Center survived.  Entrepreneurs and long entrenched executives, custodians, military troops, mechanics, all manner of civilians and of course many police, fire, EMS personnel were at the WTC and Pentagon. Some running out and others running into the burning buildings.  All categories professional, religious, physically fit, handicapped, married, divorced, widowed, heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual and trans gender, tall, short , athletic, uncoordinated, you name it were and were not among the survivors.

In the alphabet soup, every letter was in both the soup pot and the bowl.

God did not choose who would live and who would die, actively sorting our souls by any conceivable set of criteria.

Likewise, the idea that one’s survival was deserved is absolutely ludicrous simply because its corollary would be that others didn’t deserve.  NO ONE deserved to die that day.

Random luck was the unbiased and uncaring arbiter of all who lived and died.dice_by_thamyris71

Random, Not Planned

Like so much of our world, the casualties were random.

God did not plan before, during or after the event who was to die and who was to escape.  God didn’t write the passenger manifests for the four airliners that were hijacked.  No one on any of those planes survived the day.  God didn’t manipulate the lives of the thousands of people who worked in the World Trade Center or the Pentagon, deciding who would be where when the disaster struck.  God didn’t choose the time the planes took off, or their routes, or their speed so that they would crash into the towers or the Pentagon at the precise moment necessary to have let specific people escape and to take all who were pre-destined to die.

My understanding of God includes no arbitrary favoritism or abandonment.

For me, there is no getting away from the fundamental premises that the events of 9/11 were initiated by free will and resulted in random consequences. I cannot even begin to imagine a God’s Plan that removed me from harm while taking so many good and valuable people.  And I cannot simply attribute my escape from death to a plan whose inherent injustice can only be explained away as simply “a mystery.”

A mystery is ultimately of small use in assuaging Survivor’s Guilt.

Many well meaning and sympathetic people have told me, “God must have some special plans for you.” If I was spared from the horrible fate that so many of my colleagues met in order that I might fulfill some Godly mission, it must really be a super-important one.  I can only pray that I will be up to the enormity of the task when it comes.

No, I appreciate the sentiment but I don’t believe God had any hand whatsoever in the terrorists’ decisions to hijack the planes and fly them into the buildings or the ground. Neither did God determine who among the day’s victims was to die and who was to live.  God did not consult some carefully crafted Plan Book to make sure that people with important roles in some miracles or some special services yet to come, got to live another day.

Clarence

“All right everybody, please take note:  George is scheduled to dissuade a lovely, misguided, would-be home wrecker from a life of prostitution in the big city in… let’s see now… Ah, here it is, in 2021.  For her sake, he’s got to stay alive at least until then.

 Do whatever you have to do, Clarence.”

I think God has special hopes for us all.  We are free, not destined, to please or disappoint.

No doubt I am on the lookout for opportunities to make a positive difference in situations that might require my attention.  I certainly accept that I still have unfinished business in God’s world.  What I can’t accept is that this separated me from those would die.

Not one person who died on 9/11 didn’t have important unfinished business.  How many parents of new born, young, adolescent, or older daughters and sons died when I did not?  Newlyweds or newly betrothed?  How many happily or unhappily unmarried people?  Civic Leaders?  Military  members?  Religious Leaders? Grandparents?  Students?  Scout Leaders?  EVERYONE living has important unfinished business.

Mine had no priority over anyone else’s.

Obviously most, if not all,, of us die with important unfinished business.  Here’s the core lesson: it would be nice and tidy if we could all complete our missions before we die, but there’s never enough TIME.

Did God or His/Her Angels Intercede?

This is a much harder question for me than the God’s Plan theory or the Important Plans Awaiting notion, simply because I have had such astounding luck at several key moments in my life.  God may not have a “plan” but might God choose to nudge something or protect someone in order to change the course of a life from time to time?

What might trigger such an intercession?

I will explain in a later chapter in greater detail my understanding of my self, my soul, and my spirit, which are all one and the same.  I believe in the power of spirit and believe that the power of many souls can be harnessed in combined prayers of supplication. The  I have seen it happen and I  have felt God’s spirit in me and others.  It’s too rare, but wonderful, a stupendous gift.  This is what I believe may at times result in an intercession.

How does it happen?

The first time I ever considered that an angel or other force may have interceded on my behalf was when I was driving southbound on CT Route 7, a heavily traveled two-lane road several years ago. I was alone in my little 1988 Mazda 323.  I can’t remember exactly when this happened, but it was certainly before either of my children had left the nest.   In other words, I still had some very important unfinished business.

I was approaching a traffic light where a similar road, Route 35 emptied onto Route 7 from my right.  About 100 yards before the light, my southbound side of the road widened into two lanes, the right lane for turning onto 35 and the left to continue down 7.  As I approached the green traffic signal at speed in my left lane a large heavy pick-up truck with a raised chassis in the northbound single lane suddenly jumped into my lane to pass the car in front of it at high speed.  In an instant, we were mere seconds away from a head on collision, one I would surely lose, badly.  The next moment I found myself in the right turn lane as the tall pick up sped past me less than a yard away in the lane that I somehow vacated.

I didn’t remember doing anything to juke my car into the right lane.  The only activity in my brain was the phrase ‘Oh shit!’  There was no time left to react, but there I was.

Looking back on the incident I realized how tremendously lucky I had been.  Somehow, my body responded to the immanent danger before my mind did.  How did that happen?  I still wonder.

Furthermore, I was in some heavy traffic. I was very fortunate that there was no car beside me in the right lane when my body put my car there.  If I had taken the time to check my side view mirror, which I didn’t, I simply would not have moved aside in time to avoid the head on collision.

My pulse was shuddering and I was short of breath when I cleared the intersection and pulled into the parking lot of a small row of stores.  I shut down the engine and sat stunned at what had just taken place.  I hadn’t had time even to feel fear as those seconds passed.  Now I was shaking.

That’s when I first wondered if I had a Guardian Angel.

Is Luck Distributed by Angels?

Some, maybe not all, coincidences could well be caused by intercessions.

Occasionally we hear of instances when twins separated at birth, or long lost friends, or birth mothers and the children they put up for adoption are reunited by an improbable series of events.

Could it be that a Guardian Angel whispered the notion of a lottery ticket in my ear on 9/11?   I simply don’t know.

The idea that an angel may have delivered my whim conjures up all the “Why Me” complications that the God’s Plan theory has.  Why intercede for me and not for any who died?  I am certain that others deserved an Angel more than I did.  Okay, an intercession is not necessarily part of a mysterious plan, but it is a mysterious event.  Is it possible that God isn’t responsibClarence 3le for all that happens, but He/She does on occasion tweak the course of events?

Were it not for what happened on Route 7, I would dismiss the Guardian Angel on 9/11 intercession idea completely.  But, while it still makes little sense to me, I need to leave room for the possibility that God does sometimes intercede, and be content with that for now.

I will never claim to know all.

God’s Design

While I cannot subscribe to the theory that God micro-manages all that we do (and therefor all that we are) in a Master Plan, I do believe that the universe, including us, is God’s Design.  The distinction between God’s Design and God’s Plan is the difference between the blue prints for a highway from here to Albuquerque with six lanes divided by a median and guard rails, drainage, shoulders, on/off ramps, etc. versus the timing and managing all of the myriad interactions that will happen on the road to Albuquerque among all the cars, trucks, motor cycles buses, emergency vehicles, snow plows and those who drive them.  The design defines what’s possible and so confines the randomness to that space.

The road is always designed for intrinsically good and valuable purposes; there are no evil elements intended in the design.  The drivers on the road, however, can use or abuse the road for good, bad, or benign purposes. When the road is used to get an injured person to a hospital in an ambulance, it is good.   But when the road is used as a get-away route for a pedophile, it is not.  The Design, the primary intention, the hope, is well defined. Who is driving, where they’re going and why is all random.

Like a child’s toy top, God sent the world spinning.  It’s anybody’s guess where it will go from there.

Seeing a great deal of randomness operating in all lives, I have come to think that randomness is probably a key component of God’s Great Design.  The free will granted to all of us enables – no requires – us to make choices as we deal with randomness.  How and why we make those choices define in large measure who each of us really is.  Our free will is itself a major contributor to the randomness in our lives.

Luck, random dumb luck, is also baked into God’s Design.  God does not intercede to reward or punish the person who puts his last ten chips on number 21 at the roulette table.  Other than the fact that God’s design includes the concept of numbers (one of God’s really cool creations), God has nothing to do with the outcome either way of the gambler’s bet.  The gambler owes neither his thanks nor his blame to God if number 21 comes up or not.  But if and when God did intercede in events on someone’s behalf, wouldn’t the guise of luck/coincidence be a good vehicle to mask it?

In God’s design, we are made mortal and often unpredictable.  We have been born into a world that includes countless ways for humans to live and to die.  That we will die is certain; when, where and how each of us will die is unknown even to God and is, therefore, random.  When, where and how we live determines if we live a life worth living.

I believe that while God does not inflict death and seldom, if ever, deflects death, God grieves with those who grieve and welcomes the souls of the departed with love.

And the self lives on.

guard angel cartoon

 

 

 

© 2016 James Ash

The Worst Day of My Life – Part 5

The Worst Day of My Life – Part 5

Just My Luck – Chapter 6 – Part 5

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch

Doris was going about her morning getting ready for work when the phone rang.  The caller ID read that it was her father.  Suffering from COPD in a nursing home in Brunswick, Maine, Gene nearly always had his television on.  So he was the first in the family to see the special news report from New York about the horrible plane crash into Tower 1.

Of course he knew I worked in the World Trade Center, but he didn’t know which tower I was in.  When Doris answered the phone he didn’t even bother to say hello, he just told her to turn on her TV.  Unsure why, she did as he said and saw the 107-story smokestack that was Tower 1 as the news commentators told what little they knew about the plane that had flown into the World Trade Center in Manhattan.

Doris immediately understood what she was seeing and quickly made the mental calculation that:

  1. the burning tower was the one with the big transmission antenna on top, and
  2. I worked in the tower that didn’t have a big antenna, so
  3. mine was not the burning tower.

She told that news to her dad and quickly ended his call in order to dial my office to tell me to get the hell out of there.  My voice mail answered.  She left a semblance of that message.

911 tv tower 2 strikeThis was probably about the same time I’d opened my eyes after my prayer on Church Street because shortly after hanging up the phone and turning her attention back to the TV, she witnessed that unforgettable live image of American Airlines Flight 77, a Boeing 757 out of Washington, D.C. carrying 58 passengers and a crew of six, become a fireball when it blasted into Tower 2.

At first Doris thought she must be looking at a replay of footage of the plane hitting Tower 1.  After the stunned television commentators took a few moments to process what had just happened, however, they dispelled that misconception.  Doris then realized she was looking at two burning towers on the TV screen.

That’s when she became seriously worried.  Soon, neighbors and several other friends began to gather at our house.

The huge antenna on the top of Tower 1 was but one of a forest of other, smaller, antennae, that were now useless on both Towers.  Most landline telephones downtown, including the one on the wall by the bodega, were now out of service and cell phone service was gone.

Notorious as I still am for not having my cell phone with me, I’d actually put my cell phone in my suit coat that morning. So even though for once I had it with me, I needed a pay phone anyway.  Just my luck.  I decided to make my way uptown to Grand Central Terminal to call Doris. There were still several pay phones there in those days and after the call I could catch a train home.

The Fulton Street subway station was close by, but when I got there I found a crowd of people had already filled all the space below street level, up the stairwell, and onto the fulton st subwaysidewalks above ground for several blocks.  I wondered in amazement why so many people were willing to join a line that long.  I wasn’t very familiar with the Financial District beyond this point, but I knew I could find a better alternative than this.  So I wandered deeper into what for me was uncharted territory.

I passed a few small groups of people making their way towards the World Trade Center, but I was just about the only person going the other way.  The area seemed nearly deserted and the deeper I ventured the emptier it became.

The early Dutch settlers of Manhattan established their homes on the lower tip of the island.  Their roads and thoroughfares were meandering paths originally blazed by their cows.  That’s why, unlike the orderly grid patterns of the rest of Manhattan, the uninitiated can easily get lost among the haphazard streets of the Financial District.  Fortunately, I soon happened upon a subway station whose uptown station was astonishingly all but deserted.  I don’t remember which subway line it was and without luck I doubt that I could find the same station today, but the map on the wall indicated that I’d found a local subway train that would get me to Times Square where the shuttle could take me to GCT.

When I boarded the train, several seats were available and passengers were calmly dozing or reading or bobbing their heads to the music from their ear-buds.  This, plus the empty station platform, were an eerie contrast to the chaos above.  It was as though I’d ventured into a time warp.  I was uneasy when I realized that I was likely the only person in that car of the uptown train out of Brooklyn who knew what happened that morning.  These folks probably left their homes before disaster struck and were now routinely riding the subway to work completely oblivious to what my father-in-law in Maine already knew.  They were probably among the last in the city to know.

At Times Square Station people knew.  Every pay phone had a line of several people waiting their turns.  I was relieved to see that the phones in mid-town were working.  The shuttle trains to Grand Central were running as usual too.

A few minutes after 10:00 a.m., when I was again under the GCT roof, I stopped short as I passed a newspaper stand near the concourse.  The TVs hung from its  ceiling showed replays of the second plane hitting Tower 2 followed by something I didn’t know had happened: the floor-by-floor pancake progression of the collapse of the building that I worked in.

I stood transfixed as I saw the impossible.  Too shocked to react, I was numb.  Anyone who hadn’t left the building was now undoubtedly gone.   The enormity of that fact was too much to digest.  For the second time that day I stopped in place, closed my eyes and prayed for the souls and families of those who had perished while I had made my way uptown.

Emerging from my prayer, I knew that if I wanted to function and get home, I couldn’t try to deal with what I’d just seen; I needed to focus on things at hand at that moment.  But deep down I knew that the only important concern for days to come would be “who?”  Who made it?  Who didn’t? And who did it?

I Will Never Get Angry With You Again

I wiped my face with my free hand to re-set my mind and resume my immediate mission to call home and get home.  The pay phones were more plentiful and the lines were shorter at GCT.  When I finally called home the phone was answered by my mother-in-law, who had come payphone pairto live with us years before.  When she heard my voice she immediately called out, “Doris, it’s Jim!”  Then speaking again to me she said, “Oh thank God.  You’re okay right?”

“Yeah. I’m okay.”

 “Here’s Doris,” she said as Doris picked up a different extension.

Through tears of relief Doris greeted me with, “I will never get angry with you again!”

That warmed me and actually made me laugh, and with the first tears of many to run down my cheeks I replied, “I’m going to hold you to that.”

 

(to be continued)

©2016 James Ash