Why do we suffer?

The most spiritual moment in my life happened in church. But it's not what you think. It was in the church were I was baptized (as an adult), not the church were I was married or went to funeral masses.

There was a guest clergy delivering a sermon in the summer. A long sermon. A rambling sermon. He spoke about everything. Politics. Living. Christ. Honestly, it was hard to follow; it was all over the place. But then, deep into the sermon he paused. "Why do bad things happen to good people?"

Like I said. He was all over the place. Somehow he'd worked his way to one of the most important questions we have in our faith.

Again he said "Why do bad things happen to good people? How can this be true if there is a God?"

A long pause.

"Because we are human. It is our human condition to suffer," he retorted, as if summoning a dash of Buddhism. "We suffer because our bodies are weak. Our minds are weak. We seek the Lord to strengthen us. But we are still human. And our human form is neither unbreakable or permanent."

Neither unbreakable or permanent.

And how many people have struggled with this question: Why do bad things happen? Surely, if there is a God and we lead a life in the model of his Son, then bad shouldn't happen to us. Or happen to us less? Or at least there is some great reward at the end.

Many church scholars or clergy will point to Job and his trials as an example of how to deal with bad or why bad things do happen. That the pain we suffer on earth brings us closer to our God. Or even that it is symbolic of the pain which Jesus suffered at the end of his human life.

But this part of the sermon really struck with me. We are human. We think we have freewill, but we don't always. We think we are indestructible and will live forever when we are young. But we won't. It's part of our human condition. And it is not a reason to doubt faith. It's just being human. Part of being human is suffering. We are built to survive, first, then enrich, then enrich others.

A friend of mine passed away today. He was a father, husband, coach and Christian. He was the father of two children, one, like my son, with an autism diagnosis. His daughter, an accomplished young athlete had many accomplishments that made him proud. But the every day victories for his son made him just as proud. He'd had a brush with heart problems a few years ago that almost ended his life. His human body was saved and God allowed him more time on earth, even if it was a few more years, to see his wife, children and family and friends. He laughed and lived and saw his children go closer to their adulthood... a few more years of precious times.

And I'm sure if he had his choice he'd take the suffering and challenges of life, parenting, struggling and sorrows instead of the eternal bliss of a Christian afterlife which he earned, at least now. But what made him human was spent. There was no more life to live.

I can't help but to think of a Buddhist cop out that all relationships, even that of a spouse or parent, is finite and to take joy in the times you have. I'm too human to go there right now. I'd rather be this way, flawed, built by God in flaw. But if we suffer too much by our own thoughts and sadness, our bodies become prisons and our lives go by unlived. We must take from Buddhism that everything on earth is finite, because we are finite - and appreciate the good. We should suffer, but we can suffer less with faith, hope, love and in my friend's case, humor. A lot of it.

There is no good answer as to why good things happen to bad people. None. No scripture. No philosophy of removing ourselves from our own humanity. And that bad things do happen to good people does not mean there isn't a God to believe in or that there is even a heavenly reason or justification to it. It's just us being human.

I'd rather be this. Flawed. Human. Finite, but able to love, hope and keep faith. We will all suffer in life, because we are human and that is unavoidable. But we can strive to enjoy this life and our flaws and accept it.


Islam means submission to God, not death or fear or kill

By now everyone knows about the travel restrictions or "ban" imposed by President Trump's executive order, restricting travel from a handful of Muslim majority countries. And now courts have ruled against this executive order. I'll leave the legal experts to discuss this (check the link). But I want to discuss the greater fear of Islam. Part of the reason, I think, that Barack Obama refused to put "Radical Islam" in front of terror acts committed by people who call themselves Muslim is the fear of a stereotype being attached to all followers of the faith. It doesn't take more than a quick perusal of social media to find out that many people actually believe that all Muslims (or at least most) are indeed dangerous terrorists. Not going to link it here, but twitter and facebook searches will show you people that you follow, have friended and maybe even relatives believe that all Muslims are inherently bad people and that their religion is one that seeks to kill "infidels" (infidel becomes a complex word, much as their are different sects of Christianity, the same complexities are true in Islam).

I wonder how many people who make these stereotypical claims actually know Muslim people. A great podcast I've listened to is the story of Daryl Davis, a traveling African-American jazz musician who has befriended members of white-supremacist  groups like the KKK. I've shared this story and I advise checking it out. Perhaps there is a way to talk to people who are different and there's something to be learned from Davis's approach. And in the case of Islam, it's worth taking the time to learn the basics of the religion, submission to Allah, pillars of faith, but also knowing, just like Christianity, that people practice Islam in different ways.

In my typical "snarky" way, I want to make a statement like "you probably shouldn't comment on Muslim as a group if you don't personally know as many as you have fingers on your hand". I highly doubt anyone who personally knows this many Muslim people would have the same stereotypical beliefs. So I'm going to list some Muslims I know personally who are not just "non-terrorists" but good, productive members of society.

  • I worked with "S." at NASDAQ in my first real job out of college. He was a practicing Muslim who would pray in the break room in accordance to Islam tradition. I sat the cubical across from him when the planes flew into the towers on 9/11. As we heard of all the operational failures resulting from this horrible act, the stockmarket was quickly closed and from our suburban Connecticut operation center we were all excused for the day for safety reasons. "S", just like all of us, was devastated by the terrorism of 9/11. We discussed it among co-workers the next few days. He mentioned that those who committed the acts were not real believers in what he believes in. We stayed in touch a bit through the years. I'm pretty sure he voted for Romney and McCain, for that matter, if that defeats another stereotype.
  • "John" Hussaini has been the owner of the Subway in Clinton for over 20 years. When I was in high school, Subway was a 3-4 time weekly destination and I befriended John. He was excited to hear I was dating a half-Pakistani as he is from Afghanistan and we had many talks about this. John has been very active in the community in Clinton involved in many fundraisers. If you've met the man, I don't need to explain his kind and warm personality any further. 
  • In my previous blog I've discussed a Syrian family which goes to school with my children.
  • "A" was a coworker of mine at another job. "A" was from Indian, like many of the people in his group, however he was a Muslim, unlike the others who were Hindi or Christian. I did not know he was a Muslim until months after having met him and having "lunch" with him during his fast. None of the other people in his group from India seemed to treat him any differently than the others and his work was always solid. He was on a work visa and dreamed of becoming a US citizen.
  • "Dr. K." is an endodontist who worked with my mother. Her family fled Iran during the turbulence in Iran in 1980. She and her husband practiced "loose Islam" (her words). I remember helping her family move to a new condo in town and them gifting us with what have been a year's supply of saffron. "Dr. K"'s boss was Jewish and all the people in the office jokingly referred to the "Iranian working for the Jew". It was just that, a joke in an office full of ball-busters. I remember her being kind and softspoken and being known as a good endodontist. I've befriended two other Muslims in the medical profession, one a young woman at a party who I didn't find out was Muslim (nothing in her dress or behavior would have pointed it out) until we'd already talked in a group for an hour and another from Egypt who practices dentistry in the South.
I've met other Muslim people in passing and I have to say that I've never met one who filled the hateful stereotypes I've read on social media or fear-mongering "news sources". So, I advise you take the time to learn the people before making blanket statements. With the people I've pointed out above, all of them are from different parts of the world, some from countries where the "ban" was enacted, some not. We should not let "Christians" who commit acts of terror or violence stereotype all Christians anymore than we let radical terrorists who are Muslim create our view of all of Islam.