Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.” Jonah 3:4-5, NSVS
A common element of maintaining one’s self-esteem in this world is the idea each one is special, specially known, loved, and guided by the “Higher Power, Fate, or Whatever.” Certainly an element of truth is in this affirmation. No two finger prints are the same as our bodies are as different to each other as snowflakes. And in this time/space dimension, we call can be thought of as having our “Guides.” So how can we claim “Nobody is special”? Doesn’t such discourage individuality?
Most higher forms of religious teachings and experience, however, teach each of us, in our very essence, is not the body but something else. Call it the True or Higher I, the Christ or Christos within, we are all the same, connected by a Transcendent Oneness. Yet to remember and live by this in our time bound bodies is difficult.
Thus we think of our race, our religion, our country, our families as special. The opposite or corollary is our suspicion, distrust and even hatred of those not like us. Most of us, unless we had exceptional parents and communities, grew up hearing others called disparaging names with stereotypes of their odd or “funny” habits. The Jewish people receive this from non-Jews, as to Arabs, Japanese, Native Americans, along with of course, their beliefs about God and the Divine. I had an uncle who served in World War II, stationed for awhile at Pearl Harbor. I remember him hating Japanese, and years later when his daughter purchased a Japanese car, as are prone to do, he wouldn’t speak to her for some time.
Rev. Bill Carter, Pastor of the 1st Presbyterian Church in Clark’s Summit, Pennsylvania, told the story of what happened on a flight from Johannesburg, South Africa, to London, England. A woman with a thick European accent boarded the plane and came to her seat in the tourist section, only to discover the seat was right next to an man obviously not of her race! She told her seatmate, “I’m sorry, but you are not in the right seat!” He just smiled and nodded “yes.” She then tugged at the sleeve of a flight attendant saying, “As you can see, I’m sitting next to a person whose skin color is different from mine.” “Yes, ma’am, I can see that.” “Well,” she said, “this is simply unacceptable. I want another seat.” The flight attendant looked at her and said, “Sorry, ma’am, we do not move people unnecessarily as is our policy.” “You don’t understand,” the woman continued, “this arrangement will not do. I also have funds in my purse to arrange another alternative.” The attendant said, “You do?” “Yes,” she answered, “and would you please go up to the first class and see if there is an extra open seat? I simply cannot sit by this person.” So the flight attendant shrugged her shoulders and walked up the aisle. A few minutes later she returned, leaned over the European woman, tapped the man with the African accent, and said, “I’m sorry, sir, I hate to do this, but I must make a seating change. If you follow me, we have a place for you in first class!”
Authority figures also make easy objects of our hatred and ridicule. Politicians, community leaders and religious authorities easily become candidates for hatred. We even have our choice of various relatives we stay away from or judge as “different.” Some have former spouses used for anger and hate objects! Yes, by comparison to others, we think we easily preserve our specialness.
The ancient book called Jonah is a story of breaking down a sense of specialness. It is a story of the God’s universal love of all peoples. As you may know, Jonah was asked by God to go to Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, a nation that had attacked and humiliated Israel. In a discussion of this story of Jonah, Rabbi David Saperstein from Washington, D.C., Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, points out this is paramount to asking a modern day Israelite to love Iraq or Iran! Assyria once occupied the area of Iraq with Nineveh its capital comparable to Bagdad. It would be the last place Jonah or any modern Jewish person might want to teach the love and forgiveness of God! (See “More Than a Fish Story” at: http://www.csec.org/csec/sermon/saperstein_4311.htm)
Yet, after three days thinking about it in the belly of the “great fish,” Jonah obeys the call. Three days is a significant period in ancient religious thought. They represent the cycle of dying to one’s ego and normal consciousness and then arising with a new attitude. It connects with the Jesus story of three days and nights in the grave before his resurrection. For us to change from entrenched ideas and move beyond destructive habits of thinking, we usually are forced into a “time out”, dying to a dark place in our lives, and discovering new choices.
Bill Carter further pointed out in his sermon this problem of “specialness” rose very early in the church history. In Acts 10 we read of Simon Peter, son of Jonah, piously praying his noon prayers on the roof top. There he has a vision of filling his life with contaminated foods! He finishes this amazing prayer time and go down to find a non-Jewish Italian soldier at his door wanting to be blessed! Wow! He begins to observe that God shows no partiality or specialness to anybody. Later on, it then became a major issue in the growing church. In Acts 15 a special gathering occurs at Jerusalem to decide what to do with “Gentile” Christians who were different in not practicing circumcism and probably other life styles familiar to the Jews. It was decided it should not make any difference, that outward ceremonies and forms were not nearly as important as the understanding we are all God’s children. (See Bill Carter’s sermon at: http://day1.org/698-when_god_repented)
How big are our circles of love and kindness? Who don’t we want sitting beside us? Who are those odd, different ones who don’t come close to our form of praying? God loves them also, and maybe they are even way ahead of us in a consciousness of Divine Presence.
Many of us were raised thinking of God as being outside of us. We were taught if we went to a certain church and practiced religious rituals called by “sacraments,” and repeated a few creeds and prayers, God would come into us and look upon us as “Special.” In the new understanding of God, in what some call “Tomorrow’s God,” God is everywhere in every person. We can never get away from God. To experience this Presence, we merely need to awaken to it and remain conscious that “wherever we are, God is.” God isn’t a psychopath who watches down over us waiting to burn in eternal torment people who don’t adopt such little beliefs. God simply awaits our awakening, our “resurrection” to the Presence by letting go our damnation of others and begin seeing our common connections beyond skin color, language, ritual or creed. God’s love, as Jonah and we can discover, is universal. Whoever, wherever, however one awakens, experiences the Oneness.
To hate or judge against others also is a major barrier to our own experience of the Divine within. In the Course of Miracles, it teaches to hate or refuse forgiveness to another is a “war against ourselves.” Hating the Divine universal oneness blocks us to the Presence within, called in the Course the Son of God, our only true identities. This is the essence of Jesus’ words: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,” or the words, “…if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well….” (Luke 6:27-30) Why does this make sense? Because conscious of our Eternal Divinity as our One True Self we realize and experience we already have everything. Nothing can be taken away, even if the body itself is destroyed.
Politically, think of possible magnificent changes if we practiced more such universal compassion and recognition. Imagine what would happen if we took half the monies we use to defend ourselves with unimaginable weapons of destruction, and gave it to building schools and hospitals for the poor, in our country and in so many countries of the world more desperate than ours? I had lunch for a few years with a very bright research scientist who worked at Roswell. His wife had died of cancer and he struggled to overcome the heavy loss. We enjoyed conversation and religious discussions across the street in a nice little restaurant. Once I remember him asking, “Imagine what would happen if we took billions of dollars of money, now spent creating awesome nuclear weapons, whose production leaves huge pools of radioactive sewage for many centuries, and develop schools, hospitals and farms in poor countries which frighten us?”
Greg Mortensen, former mountain climber turned builder of schools, raises monies to build schools around Pakistan and Afghanistan. Beginning in the mid 1990’s when his first school in remote mountains near the K2 mountain, the nearly 150 schools today have turned out medical doctors and teachers to enhance life in several remote villages. In a talk at University of Buffalo in 2010, he said if the military would give him the cost of just one half of a Drone missile, he could build many more new schools.
Jonah learned God loves everybody and the way to relate to them is by spending “forty days” among them teaching and learning God loves them. May we see the timeliness of loving our enemies, our “bad relatives and neighbors,” or whomever, and especially those who “oppose us”. In such attitudes and actions, God is revealed in all His power, love, and deepest joy. The race is then over, the victory has been won!
Talk offered at the 1st Presbyterian Church of West Seneca, January 22, 2012 by Rev. David Persons, Weekend Supply Pastor/Speaker
A brief summary available on YouTube: