This is a profoundly moving song with multiple levels of meaning. I discovered it today and have listened to is several times.
Hush now don’t cry
Wipe away the teardrop from your eye
You’re lying safe in bed
It was all a bad dream
Spinning in your head
Your mind tricked you to feel the pain
Of someone close to you leaving the game of life
So here it is, another chance
Wide awake you face the day
Your dream is over
Or has it just begun?
There’s a place I like to hide
A doorway that I run to in the night
Relax child, you were there
But only didn’t realize it and you were scared
It’s a place where you will learn
To face your fears, retrace the years
And ride the whims of your mind
Commanding in another world
Suddenly, you hear and see
This magic new dimension
I will be watching over you
I am gonna help you see it through
I will protect you in the night
I am smiling next to you, in silent lucidity
Visualize your dream
Record it in the present tense
Put it into a permanent form
If you persist in your efforts
You can achieve dream control
How’s that then, better?
Dream control (hug me)
If you open your mind for me
You won’t rely on open eyes to see
The walls you built within
Come tumbling down, and a new world will begin
Living twice at once you learn
You’re safe from pain in the dream domain
A soul set free to fly
A round trip journey in your head
Master of illusion, can you realize
Your dream’s alive, you can be the guide but
I will be watching over you
I am gonna help you see it through
I will protect you in the night
I am smiling next to you
I was listening to Home by Stephanie Mills, from The Wiz. It’s one of my favorite songs. One of my favorite movies, for as long as I can remember is the Wizard Of Oz. The older I get, the more I get from that movie.
As the tears were rolling down my face from the song, I remembered the scene near the end of the Wizard of Oz. The Good Witch comes in and tells Dorothy she always had the power to go back to Kansas (Home) at any time. Oh, if only it were that easy. Is it that easy?
When I think of home
I think of a resting place
A place where there’s peace, quiet, and serenity
And that’s where some of my friends have gone
Friends who have traveled with me through my wonderful experience in Oz
A journey I’ll never forget
When I think of home, I think of a place
Where’s there’s love overflowing
I wish I was home, I wish I was back there
With the things I’ve been knowing
Wind that makes the tall grass bend into leaning
Suddenly the raindrops that fall they have a meaning
Sprinklin the scene
Makes it all clean
(When I think of home)
Maybe there’s a chance for me to go back
Now that I have some direction
(Maybe there’s a chance Ill get home)
It sure would be nice to be back at home
Where there’s love and affection
And just maybe I can convince time to slow up
Givin me enough time, ooh, in my life to grow up
Time be my friend
And let me start again
Suddenly my world’s gone and change its fate
And I still know where I’m going
I have had my mind spun round in space
And watched it growing
And oh, if you’re listening, God, please don’t make it hard
To know if we should believe the things that we see
Tell us should we try and stay or should we run away (Should we run away)
Or will it be better just to let things, let them be, oh
Livin here in this brand new world
Might be a fantasy
But its taught me to love, oh, yeah
And its real, its so real, its real to me
And I’ve learned that we must look
Inside our hearts to find
A world full of love
Like yours, like mine
Like, like home
(When I think of home)
My friends smilin down on me
Givin me their energy, oh
(When I think of home)
I think of a peaceful world and joy
All around me, yeah
(When I think of home)
And love that we share can never
Never, ever be taken away from me, yeah, yeah, yeah
(When I think of home)
I just sit down and think
And gets on down in my bone, bone, yeah
(When I think of home)
I can hear my friends tellin me
Stephanie, please sing my song
I want to sing, I want to shout
I want to tell you what its all about
A couple of weeks ago Netflix released The Discovery. The Discovery is a movie about a scientist who discovers proof of an afterlife by measuring consciousness leaving the body at the moment of death and going somewhere. The Discovery leads to a rash of suicides as people start killing themselves to “get there”. Some are people who want to escape the circumstances of this life Some are people who are anxious to find the next thing. But, what they all have in common is they believe there will be a next life and it will be better.
Without giving away any more of the plot, I will say the movie explores themes of what the afterlife will be like and questions we’ve had like “Is reincarnation a thing?” The first time I saw the film, I missed a lot near the end because it does move rather slowly through the middle parts. I watched it a second time, after reading a fan’s theories, and it made much more sense the second time. You really have to pay attention to the dialog, particularly in the last part of the film. I’m not sure whether I believe in reincarnation at this point or not. I certainly don’t believe it is as simple as a lot of people think in that we simply keep getting recycled, over and over and over in a linear fashion. The way The Discovery explores it gives an explanation for things like reincarnation and deja vu that are more nuanced.
My biggest problem with the film is all of the effects of The Discovery on society are negative. More precisely, I should say the only effect they explore is the suicide rate. People are dying to “get there”. I’m not going to deny that proof of an afterlife would be a trigger for some already considering suicide. But, what would the other effects be? I think it would depend on your view of the afterlife and the purpose of life. What if you found out that suicide wasn’t a “go the head of the class” pass into a blissful existence, but didn’t actually solve anything and any issues you had in this life, you still had to work out either in the afterlife or with a do-over? What if you knew that after your suicide you were going to have a life review where you were going to evaluate your own success in your goals for this life, including a detailed first hand experience of how the emotional ripples your suicide left in its wake? Maybe you’d be more inclined to stick around and work through the issues you’re having in this life. After all, if you have to reincarnate to face those issues again, you’d find yourself back as a baby, starting all over with those issues about to come up instead of having gone through the hard work of making it to this point where you can hopefully learn those lesson and put them behind you. Who wants to get almost of of the way through a course only to have to start over again? I’m not saying any of these things are true of suicides, but a discovery of the afterlife isn’t a guarantee of a pass of having to do the hard work we came here to do. Knowing what i know about the afterlife makes it more likely I’ll try to stick this life out, not less.
And what of the positive impacts of knowing we don’t die? What if we knew that “killing” someone didn’t actually kill them? Would murder be the worst thing we think we can do to someone? How would our day to day lives change if we viewed every person we meet as an immortal, divine being who is wiser than we can imagine and more loved than we’ve dream of, if we knew that body wasn’t the person, just the costume they chose for this particular play? How would we react to “tragedy”, if we believed this life was a class and each tragedy was the next test of the semester? How would we deal with grief if we knew that “death” is only a transition, a “see you later”, not a “good-bye”? Maybe people would commit suicide to get there, but how many would be willing to stick it out and learn the lessons they came to learn knowing that their loved ones will still be there when they do?
With the advent of the SoulPhone, we may be witnessing the birth of The Discovery. In fact, there may be more than one Discovery. If one of these technologies produces evidence that can be examined and replicated via technology, rather than a medium, maybe that will be what it takes to reach the tipping point and shift the consciousness of this planet. There will always be hold outs. There are people who still don’t believe we went to the moon or that the Earth is round. But, what if enough people knew, not just believed? The world would never be the same. Science and philosophy are finally taking a serious look at what faith has been telling us and we are seeing leaps and bounds being made in terms of finding out how our universe works, including beyond the physical that we have assumed is the Ground of Being. I, for one, am very excited to see the changes that would make to our world.
Normally, in the circles I travel in, I’m defending ego because a lot of new age teaching is that ego is our enemy and we must do everything we can to vanquish ego. Ego is a necessary part of being a human being on this planet, but like everything else, can get out of balance. Today, as I’m on one of my afterlife boards, I see an ugly display of how too much ego causes completely unnecessary conflicts.
Someone came to the board. As far as I know it was their first time there. They responded to a question about whether or not we do mundane tasks in the afterlife. Do we still have to do dishes? Laundy? Do we ever escape this drudgery? This person, in their response, made reference to the movie Astral City. Astral City is a movie based on the book by Chico Xavier, a Brazilian channeler who channeled nearly 500 books in his lifetime. The movie was a huge success in Brazil, where Chico has a cult-like following. I happened to really have enjoyed the movie, despite some disturbing elements.
There is a member of our group who detests the movie and Chico. One of the disturbing elements of the movie is the teaching that people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol or even who abuse food end up classified as “suicides” and suicides go to a place of torment. The movie opens with a scene where the main character is in torment because he has not taken care of his body and his sudden death is ruled a suicide. My friend in the group, who I know very well, pounces on it anytime this movie is mentioned. He lambasts the movie, Chico and the Chico-following anytime he gets the opportunity. His contention is the teaching of the movie could lead to despair. Anyone who has abused their body might give up hope and commit suicide since they know they’ve already trashed their life and there is no redemption possible. The character in the movie doesn’t actually take his own life. Ironically, his argument is similar to the problem pointed out in the movie The Discovery, but for the opposite reason. In The Discovery, people are committing suicide to “get there”. Once they have proof there is an afterlife, they assume it’s better, so they want to hit the fast forward button (boy can I relate to that).
So, back to my story. The person who recommended Astral City had said it brought them great comfort. They, like me, saw the fact that life continues after “death”. While there is a purgatory for some, it’s temporary, redemptive, and we can leave when we wish. Families are reunited. There is opportunity for productive work. There is growth to even higher realms. For all of these reasons, I liked the movie so much I bought it.
But, here’s where the problem comes in. The person who recommended the movie was so attached to their recommendation that they took the criticism from the other person personally. Their ego was bruised. So, they attacked that person. I tried to intervene with some humor. I said “You brought up Astral City in front of Sam (let’s call the person Sam)? Boy, I’ll bet you never do that again.” Then, I tried to explain to the person that Sam really is a nice guy (and Sam really is). But, he has a passionate hatred for these false teachings, New Age teachings that say we become egoless, balls of light just floating around for eternity or fundamentalist Catholic teachings that we have to go through purgatory if we screw up. To Sam, I tried to get him to get this person a little grace because they had “lost” (I used their word) a child. Clearly they were hurting and hurt people hurt people.
Neither Sam or the new person was going to back off. Sam ended up blocking the new person. The new person fired off a closing salvo on me and left the group. I said “Uh-oh, Betty left the group” (let’s call her Betty). Sam said “Good.”
As an outside observer this saddened me. Sam and Betty, in my opinion, were both too caught up in their egos to just soften their words. As I watched the exchange, I wondered how each of them would react to this when they have their life reviews. To be fair to Sam, he did say he was criticizing the movie, not her. But, she couldn’t hear it. He jumped all over me once for mentioning the movie, but I was able to sort his criticism of the movie out from a personal criticism of me.
Our church is really big on a book called The Four Agreements. It comes up all the time. In fact, it came up on Sunday. One of the agreements is “Don’t take it personally.” Frankly, I don’t even know what the other three are. If that one isn’t number one, it should be.
Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is?
[holds up one finger] This.
Mitch: Your finger?
Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t mean s***.
Mitch: But, what is the “one thing?”
Curly: That’s what you gotta figure out.
That is a scene from the movie City Slickers which came out in 1991. For some reason I still remember that line well enough that when the title for this blog came to me, that scene popped into my head.
The other day I was listening to a Podcast where a master yoga instructor was asked if there were just one thing she could teach her students what would it be? I thought about that. What is the one thing that is the most important in life? As I’m dealing with a lot of negative emotions surrounding death in the various groups I’m in, I ponder “What is the one thing that could help with all of that anger, fear, and depression?” And I came up with an answer. I know the One Thing.
The One Thing is to know that your body is not you. At the root of the fear of death is the knowledge that our bodies do not live forever. As much as we deny it, as much as we try to keep these bodies young, we cannot escape that nagging knowledge in the backs of our minds that it’s a futile effort. One day this body will be no more. And, since we identify so closely with the body, the natural conclusion is that we will be no more either.
If we can break that attachment to the body, we can conquer the fear of death. Yesterday I was discussing the fear of death with a young woman. I asked her specifically what does she fear? She thinks at the end of life we just cease to exist. She feared being a disembodied consciousness in a black void. Just blackness for eternity. I told her that, if she ceases to exist, there will be no blackness to perceive and it certainly won’t be for an eternity. So, nothing to fear there. She fears her friends going on and having fun without her. Again, if she doesn’t exist, she’s not going to be around to be jealous of them having fun without her. She fears what they are going to do with her body after she’s gone and people looking at “her”. I told her that after she drops her body (she will go on), she won’t care any more about what happens to her body than she cares about what happens to the hair left on the salon floor after she gets a haircut. Her fears were totally irrational, yet totally normal.
My mother-in-law has already picked out and bought her casket. Occasionally, I will tease her and tell her that we’re going to have her cremated. “Oh no. I don’t want to be burned up!” she’ll say. (I guess she thinks it’s going to be warm and dry and well lit inside that casket. I let her keep that fantasy.) When we talk about our wishes after our deaths, we’ll talk about being cremated or being buried. I’m very careful with this language. No one is cremated or buried. I’ll ask “What did they do with the body?” The body, that which was their vehicle, is discarded. To me, it makes not a whit of difference what you do with whatever assembly of molecules happens to be collected at the time when I step out of my vehicle. The molecules that were in this thing we call my body when I was born are long gone. If I live long enough, the molecules that are collected today, April 25, 2017, will be long gone when I step out. They come and they go. They pass through. They are not me.
I practice daily not identifying with the body. When I see it aging, I remind myself it’s not me. I’ve become so detached from it, I surprise myself when I get protective of it. I do take care of it. As vehicles pass by me too closely on the road as I walk, I get angry because they’re not respecting the space I want for my body. I still need it to operate in this world. But, I know my life is not dependent on my body.
If I can help people with One Thing, that’s it. You are not your body. Your body is a tool, a temple, a vehicle. Take care of it. Be grateful for it. But, don’t place ultimate importance on it. And, don’t worry about what will happen when you burst forth from it. It’s gonna be good!
I read The Shack about a decade ago. I was coming out of fundamentalist Christianity and rapidly deconstructing my faith, so fast that I was about to chuck Christianity entirely. The Shack presented a different view of God, a view that I had never heard any Christian express. God, as a black woman, now that’s a God I can relate to. God as a father and being all loving and cuddly didn’t really work for me, as it didn’t for Mack. People who were too chummy with God kind of weirded me out. I was the father of two girls not much older than Missy. So, I could relate to Mack’s pain when his daughter was murdered.
The Shack takes on a lot of big questions. And it offers some damn good answers, from my perspective. God loves us more than we can imagine. God is in this with us, even when we are in pain- maybe especially when we are in pain. Radical forgiveness is essential to living a life where we are not constantly hurting ourselves- letting go is essential. And there is a plan, even if we cannot always or even often see it. I read the book three times. I highlighted just about every page. I was in discussion groups where we discussed it. After reading it, I had a new understanding of the Trinity (still not a huge fan of it. I find it an unnecessary analogy that brings more confusion than it solves). But, I had a deeper appreciation of God as a loving, caring father- not someone who was out to get me and send me to an eternal fiery hell.
As I’ve read some others’ comments about the movie/book, one criticism that I am seeing is it doesn’t sufficiently answer the problem of theodicy. Theodicy is the branch of theology concerned with defending the attributes of God against objections resulting from physical and moral evil. Put simply, why would an infinitely loving and powerful God allow “evil” to exist? Why do we have to suffer?
This question is at least as old as the concept of God. The book of Job takes it on. If you’ve ever read the book of Job, you may have noticed God doesn’t give a direct answer. She doesn’t in The Shack either.
For me, the movie doesn’t have to answer the problem of theodicy. It’s not a problem I wrestle with anymore. There is “evil”. There is suffering. There is pain. That’s a given. It’s part of this world. Whether you are one who believes it’s because God screwed up on version 1.0 and allowed Adam to thwart His plans and now we’re in world 2.0; or you believe it was part of the design, we find ourselves in a world of pain. For me, the question is “What am I going to do with it?”. For most of my life I did not trust God. How could I? This was a God who put me in a world where I was in jeopardy of eternal torment. This was a God who allowed children to die. I was never naive enough to believe that nothing bad would ever happen to me (I was a weird kid). I always feared the worst. So, I did not, could not trust God. When I read The Shack the first time I still did not trust God, even after finishing the book.
Ironically, after Shayna’s passing, I finally got what it meant to have faith that life is happening for me, not to me. It’s not that bad things will not happen to me. It’s quite the opposite. It’s inevitable they will. It’s what the final outcome will be. There’s a powerful scene in the movie where Mack speaks with the personification of the Holy Spirit. She asks him about his definition of good and evil. To paraphrase, whatever he likes or brings pleasure to him or his loved ones is good. Whatever he doesn’t like or brings discomfort or pain to him or his loved ones is evil. When I heard Mack put this into words, I realized this is nearly the universal definition we all have of what is good and what is evil. Then she asks him “Have you ever been wrong? Have you ever changed your mind?” He answers, of course, yes. I think we all can think back to things in our life that we deemed “evil” at the time. And years later, we see the path that opened up because of those things and we wouldn’t change them if we could.
I think the answer to the problem of theodicy is trust. It’s trust in the process. It’s trust that we don’t have all of the answers yet and that when we do it’ll all make sense. In that sense, I think The Shack answered the question as well as it can be answered on this side of The Veil.
Last night we watched the television program “This Is Us”. If you haven’t seen the show, it’s must see TV. If you haven’t seen the episode from February 22, 2017, spoiler alert. Stop reading now.
In last night’s episode, Randall takes William on a road trip back to his home town of Memphis. William is Randall’s father who abandoned Randall as an infant. Randall makes contact with William after being adopted and raised by another family. Randall is a highly successful professional. William is a recovering drug addict. William has terminal cancer and the two of them are getting to know each other as William is dying and has moved into Randall’s home.
The episode does a great job of encapsulating William’s life from the time he is born during World War II. In just an hour, we get a feel for his ups and downs. His father dies in the war. So, he never even met him. William’s single mother raises him and we see the full arc of his life from infant being loved on by his mother, to old man, getting to know his now grown son.
Normally during a television program or movie I will find one primary character to identify with. In This is Us, I have been torn between Randall, the son with two daughters and a wife, and William, the old man. Randall is several years younger than I am and William is a few years older than I am. When William is on his death bed and says he’s a little afraid of dying, I could relate. As much as I’m looking forward to death, dying is still a little scary. I’m not ready to go yet.
Last night as I slept, I dreamt of my sister, Bridget. For some reason, I was trying to figure out how old she was. Was she born in 1974 or 1972? It was ‘72. Once I figured that out, I was trying to figure out how old that made her. I knew (in my dream) that it was 2016, but i could not do the math. The last age I remembered was her being 16 (that’s how old she was when we got married). But, that didn’t seem right. Finally, the math clicked. She is 42. Wow. I thought. How old does that make me. Then, I did that math. Suddenly, I felt ancient. I have never in my life thought I would live this long. I’m 55. I began to feel what I think it feels like to die. It was kind of scary. I didn’t like the feeling, so I woke up.
As time for getting up rolled around this morning, I thought of Shayna. It’s been 20 months since I last saw her. Unbelievable. Today, we leave for the Back to Your Center weekend retreat where we hope to find a reset on life. We’re leaving out of the Cincinnati airport which brought back memories of picking her and Tywana up from there after the volleyball tournament in Florida. That was on a Saturday, she passed the following Wednesday. So, picking her up is still etched in my memory.
The arc of a life. So many ups and downs. Good times. Bad times. We endure. We enjoy. And, eventually, we go Home. There was a quick shot in the show last night when William had passed and he walks into his mother’s arms. She had grown old before she passed, but there she was, young and vibrant looking the way he remembered her, waiting to be with her boy again. The remembrance of that scene brought me to tears this morning.
I’m re-reading the book The Shack in anticipation of the movie coming out next month on what has to be the ten year anniversary of the book. I’ve read the book two or three times, but not in almost a decade. The last time I would have read it, the girls were probably somewhere around 12 and 9 years old. In the book, the main character, Mack, has a daughter who is kidnapped and murdered and must confront his relationship with God in light of this tragic event. The book takes on all of the big questions, including the biggest- theodicy- how could an all powerful and all loving God allow the absolute worst- the death of a child?
Those years ago when I read the book, I could related to Mack, as a man with several young children. Now, I related all the more, as a grieving father. After Missy’s death, Mack falls into The Great Sadness. I had no idea at the time how well the author described this feeling that settles in on a grieving parent, a feeling we wear like a lead lined overcoat weighing us down.
The book is pretty traditionally Christian and features, the Trinity, prominently. In standard Christian fare, God tells Mack this world is not as designed. Something happened when Adam disobeyed that screwed up the whole world. The pain and the separation were not planned, and therefore I assume, not necessary. However, God is working to redeem the world. The idea of divine providence (not the words) are also a prominent theme of the book. God is working for everyone’s highest good, even through all of the brokenness.
Mack struggles with this concept because Mack is enduring the ultimate pain. God tells Mack he would not suffer so if he could just trust. But, how do you trust someone who would allow what is most precious to you to be ripped from you? When I read the book the firsts time, both of my girls were still here, yet I didn’t get this divine providence concept and didn’t buy into it. I also didn’t trust God. I was attending a church at the time where a lot of people believed if you did the right things, including tithing and praying enough, God would make your life smooth sailing. Tithe and he’ll send more money back to you than you put in. Pray and he’d even find a parking space for you. I never believed any of that. I knew that, at any time, tragedy could strike and I did not trust the God who would allow that to happen.
Then, tragedy did strike. The worst. Shayna was taken, suddenly, in the middle of the night, without warning. And I had a decision to make. If I didn’t trust this capricious God before, how could i trust Him after? What I have found since that time is my view of the world has taken a shift. The pain isn’t a mistake. It’s an ordinary pain, even an necessary pain if we are going to live in a world with choices, real choices between doing good and doing evil and all of the consequences that brings along with it. There have to be opportunities to serve and to serve, someone has to be lacking something. God wasn’t surprised by the “turn” humanity took, it was part of the design.
And the pain, is it worth it? Mack, at the point I’m at in the book now, cannot imagine what could make his pain worth it. He’s still at the point where he doesn’t trust God. Ironically, I trust divine providence/God now more than I ever have. Trusting God doesn’t mean that I trust that nothing bad will ever happen, anyone who has spent a few years on this planet knows that’s bullshit. Trusting God means I trust that whatever happens, it’s ultimately going to work out and it’s ultimately going to be worth it. Not today, not tomorrow, and in my case, maybe not for 30 or 40 years (God forbid it’s that long), but it will be, one day.
I’ll watch anything with an afterlife theme, at least once. I’ve been watching a show called The Good Place. It’s not deeply theological, but it’s amusing. The premise of the show is a woman who is a bad person has, through a clerical error, ended up in The Good Place. She’s selfish and rude and really has no business being there, which she quickly realizes. The problem though is there are only two options. There is The Good Place, a place of eternal bliss with frozen yogurt shops and all kinds of fun activities. And, there is the bad place, a place of eternal torment. She has no choice but to keep up the charade or face eternal torment.
The way you get into the good place is an accumulation of points during your life on Earth. Good deeds have a positive point value. Bad deeds have a negative point value. At the end of your life, if your point total is high enough you’re allowed into The Good Place. Fall below the line and you’re in the bad place, presumably forever.
Sadly, this is way too close to the theology I grew up with. There was a binary choice of heaven or hell. You were either going to unbelievable eternal bliss or to lonely eternal torment. It never made sense to me that this was the way it is. Why not a medium place for people who were pretty good, but not necessarily deserving of bliss? If you missed the mark by one point, you were going to the bad place? They told us all we had to do to get to The Good Place was believe in Jesus and we’d be saved. But, on the other hand, they handed us this huge set of rules- no swearing, no drinking, no smoking, no dancing, no… well you get the picture. And, if you were doing any of those things when Jesus came or you died (whichever came first), the whole thing could be blown by an unconfessed sin. Get caught in the wrong place, like a bar or the movie theater, when Jesus came back and He wasn’t coming in to get you.
Even if you did make it to the end of your life without Jesus coming back catching you in the wrong place at the wrong time, you were then going to face a single elimination evaluation that would determine where you would spend eternity. No do-overs, no excuses. Just you and The Judge and then off you go.
What I now believe is there isn’t a binary choice of where we go- bliss or torment. There are places that we migrate to based on what we’re ready for after we have left this life. Earth, some say is the lowest place. Some say there are lower places. There are definitely higher places and there are more than one place. And it’s not a one and done proposition. We can and do move from place to place even after this life is over.
The Good Place is on episode 11. Poor Eleanor (the main character) has been trying to figure out how to stay in The Good Place and has several times argued there should be a place for people like her, people who hadn’t earned enough points to go to The Good Place, but weren’t exactly serial killers and rapists. At the end of episode 11, they have introduced the concept of a Medium Place. Makes sense to me.