It should be no surprise that people get offended with a lot of the things I write. And to tell the truth, I’m often offended by what a lot of the people comment back to me. I guess what goes around comes around. But that’s how it works when you live in a social fabric. Whenever we step outside our world, whether it is physically going through the front door or by reaching out through the walls of our homes through radio and television airwaves and through the internet, we take a chance of being offended. And if we care to exercise our freedom of speech, we run the risk of offending others.
A lot of people use their voice to offend others. Somebody is always offended with touchy and strongly opinionated subjects like abortion, race relations, politics at all levels of government from the local to the national, religion, the ethics of certain sciences, intelligent design being taught in our science classes at public schools, the ethics of universal healthcare, school spending, and many, many others. People will be ready to fight over what’s the better car company between Ford and Chevy. More than once I had a former soldier tell me that he joined the service to fight for my freedom of speech so I needed to just shut the hell up. I found that pretty offensive.
On the other hand, some of us wear our devotion on our sleeves and we often look for that which might offend us. I’m often left scratching my head wondering why some ubër right winged conservative would feel the need to come visit my little website and then leave an over the top nasty comment about me or about black people in general or about liberals in general. Some people love to troll the net looking for a fight to pick. Others happen into it by accident. That’s what happens in a social network. But the people at the Westboro Baptist Church appear to be doing their best to kick offensive speech into the stratosphere.
Westboro Baptist Church is a group of unbalanced, highly religious, fervent, anti-gay individuals that routinely shows up at the funerals of American soldiers who died in the service of their country to express its belief that the deaths are some form of divine retribution for this country’s tolerance of homosexuals. Four years ago, the group picketed the funeral of Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder. Mathew was a Marine killed in Iraq. When his family was exercising their religious freedom to have a funeral to lay his remains to rest, protesters from Westboro gathered at the edge of the cemetery holding signs saying things like god hates faggots and thank god for dead soldiers.
The family of Matthew Snyder sued the church for intentional infliction of emotional distress and other civil violations. The family won that case. But an appeals court held that the picketers were protected under the 1st Amendment. On Wednesday, the latest version of the United States Supreme Court will hear arguments in this case that will assuredly test our devotion to the principle of free speech.
The members of the nation’s highest court might rule against the protesters out of a truly understandable sense of compassion for Snyder family’s ordeal. Having people display their bigotry with actions that have the same impact as a neon sign tattooed to President George Washington’s forehead on Mount Rushmore is pretty disturbing. Having it done to a young soldier who sacrificed his life in service to his country would make such a ruling a slam dunk. But would that be what’s truly best for the country?
The high court should resist any temptation to make a ruling influenced by emotions of compassion for the Snyder family or distaste for the Westboro members. To award financial damages for distress caused by the speech of others would be a dramatic departure from the court’s protection of free expression no matter how offensive. According to Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., we should be eternally vigilant against any attempt to check the expression of opinions we loathe. That was written nearly a hundred years ago.
And once we go down this slippery slope, who will determine what’s too offensive? Heaven knows I wouldn’t want people who are often telling me to shut up determining whether or not I’ve gone over the line. And I know for a fact that a lot if people would never want me to serve on that committee. Who has the wisdom to determine what speech is free and fair and what speech is offensive and over the line? From what I’ve seen, such a wise Solomon does not exist.
My heart goes out to the Snyder family. But just because somebody said something offensive about their dead son doesn’t mean we should be surrendering our right to freedom of speech. Somebody says something that you find offensive? I’m truly sorry but freedom of speech is sometimes a freedom to offend. No offense, but people need to realize that this is a pretty big club. All of us get offended by something somebody else has said or done. Offending others just so happens to be one of the more popular American ways of life.
I see a crime and a sin as two starkly different things. A sin is a matter of conscience. I shouldn’t be having those thoughts about my wife’s new best friend or I shouldn’t have cheated on my final exam. Yes if I got caught there would’ve been hell to pay. The wife would probably get a new diamond necklace or I would’ve been expelled from school or automatically flunk the class. But there are ways to fix things that doesn’t really impact our ability to recover and keep on with our lives. These violations are more of a failure of ethics or morality.
On the other hand, a crime is a violation of law and some government agency will probably get involved in order to set things straight. A crime might include a fine or some jail time or both for the perpetrator. But make no mistake, if a crime is proven to have been committed without any mitigating circumstances to justify the act, or a good pricey lawyer to come to the perp’s defense, somebody’s going to pay.
Recently there’s been a lot of discussion regarding the pedophiles that have become all but synonymous with the Catholic Church. The public press has been pretty harsh against Pope Benedict XVI and the Vatican. There have been a number of high profile accusations concerning the sexual abuse of children perpetrated by priests in Wisconsin, Germany, and Ireland. All the stories make the suggestion that the church leadership has been criminally negligent in handling the many charges of abuse brought to its attention. There has even been some accusation that the Vatican has been an accomplice in covering up crucial details in some of the cases.
The New York Times reported that from 1950 to 1974, Reverend Lawrence Murphy worked as a counselor at an acclaimed school for deaf children in Wisconsin, where he molested at least two hundred boys. Church bishops alerted the Vatican that Mr. Murphy had been accused of molesting children at the school, though his behavior was never brought to the attention of local law enforcement. Instead of allowing the investigation to come to its natural conclusion and allowing Mr. Murphy to face potential criminal prosecution, he was quietly transferred to another parish.
From 1981 to 2005, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who was later elected to become Pope Benedict XVI, headed the Vatican department responsible for investigating and acting on such allegations, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. When the bishops in Wisconsin finally initiated disciplinary action against Mr. Murphy, the accused priest wrote a letter of protest to Cardinal Ratzinger citing his failing health and his earlier repentance for his actions. Shortly after Cardinal Ratzinger received the letter, the trial was halted by one of his subordinates. Mr. Murphy died in 1998 as a fully decorated priest.
In response to this accusation and similar ones from Europe and the United Kingdom, the Vatican has gone on the attack accusing the media of an attempt to smear the Catholic Church. The fact that there is a paper trail that implicates Cardinal Ratzinger and the Vatican in a cover up of monumental proportions within the church is inconsequential. The real crime is the smear campaign from people who simply refuse to let all the dust flying around this story settle down and eventually die.
Like many fraternal organizations, priests are sworn to secrecy. And so any investigation by government authorities is seriously compromised by the mentality of the church authorities who want to take care of the matter quietly on their own. Breaking the priestly code of silence that prevents a more open discussion of the implications surrounding these scandals is a critical first step to breaking the far deeper conspiracy of silence that permitted these heinous acts and their subsequent cover up to happen in the first place.
To add insult to injury, some people actually feel, or at least at one time felt, that priests were above reproach simply because of their occupation. No priest would ever abuse anyone. You couldn’t possibly get the job if your character was that immoral. We simply trusted the church to do the job of policing their own. To some, the whole affair is something for the church to handle. We view these acts as if they were nothing more than sins easily rectified with a rote recital of a rosary or something similarly trite.
But these aren’t sins. What we are talking about are crimes. And when we take into consideration that these were crimes against children, you damn skippy the law needs to get involved. If a priest is accused of assaulting someone then that priest may have committed a crime. And if a crime has been committed then there’s a chance that there were accomplices to that crime. No where else would we be willing to make the sin of leaving an accomplice to the crime determine the punishment of the main perpetrator of the crime.
One of the most frightening things about the old African traditions is its association with voodoo. The word voodoo here is not a reference to the many variations of the African based religions that developed throughout both American continents and throughout the Caribbean islands among African slaves and their descendants. Indeed, as a practitioner of a Yoruba based belief system, I have to confess that technically my family and I participate in this spirituality.
The voodoo I refer to is the more superficial based on silly superstitions without much in the way of facts to support such beliefs. This bastardized and overly dramatized version of the African belief system gets played in Hollywood with such films such as the Believers, Eve’s Bayou, Serpent and the Rainbow, Skeleton Key, and the James Bond film Live and Let Die. Playing on people’s fears of African spirituality, many people are quick to prey on our collective superstitious and are quick to portray African traditions as something evil and better left alone. As a young Christian in Sunday school I was taught that anything African was to be avoided if you wanted to stay in god’s good graces.
As I grew older I began to realize that a lot of what I was hearing was just plain silly superstition. But that was back in the early stages of me questioning what I was being told to believe and my relationship with Christianity began to wane. As I started to grow in my African based spirituality, I began to earn a better understanding of how the honest reality of African traditions can be manipulated into the silly superstitions that became so popular. While I may not believe the superstition that laying a broom at the door of your house will keep spirits out at night, I do believe that there are spirits.
I have to admit that there are things that I do not fully understand and yet I believe. But it’s not fully necessary for me to understand how things work to believe in them. I don’t understand how microwave ovens work but I believe that they will heat my food when I push that little button. I have faith that someone else understands how they work and my personal experience with microwave ovens gives me faith that I can take to the bank. The same thing is true with my beliefs in the Orisa based spirituality.
Now, with all of that said, I had to laugh the other day when I saw my old landlord driving a rental car. It seems the woman had an accident and her relatively brand new car was in the shop being repaired. My first thought was karma. We moved out of her apartment building at the beginning of September. Because of a post office mix up, despite how many change of address forms will fill out, our mail continues to go to her apartment building. The woman occasionally calls and tells us we have mail waiting for us to pick up. Whenever she calls, we apologize and go pick up our mail. Her house is practically in our backyard so we see each other often.
Well, last month we were expecting one piece of mail that was pretty crucial. It was a notice regarding my son’s health benefits that needed immediate attention and quick reply. We were trying to beat a deadline. Instead of forwarding the mail to us as usual my landlord sent it back to the sender. She said she thought it was too important to forward. By the time we found out what happened we had missed the deadline. Now, for the next year at least, we are paying an extra two hundred fifty dollars a month out of our pocket to replace his lost benefit. That’s an extra three thousand dollars that we need. The misses was upset. I said she’ll get hers.
But the misses wasn’t content just knowing that karma would address the issue. She took the case to Baba Esu and asked for some tangible justice. She didn’t want anything drastic. Just something that would make her life just as inconvenient as she had made ours. Just a couple weeks later, we now see her driving her rental.
The misses felt bad. I continued to laugh. She said that she asked for something bad in a fit of anger and now regrets it. I advised her in the future to make sure she’s calm and rational whenever she asks for such things. She asked me if I ever wished for something to happen to somebody. I said of course. And if whatever I asked for comes to past I will simply say thank you. If somebody pisses me off to the point that I’m asking Orisa to step in on my behalf and take somebody to the tool shed, then chances are pretty good that I felt that they deserved it.
Besides, there is nothing to support the fact that what happened to our landlord has anything to do with us. It’s not like our old landlord has never wrecked a car before. I think in the year and a half since we’ve been here she’s already had a couple fender benders. This is just the latest. Besides, I’ve been asking Baba to help us win the lottery and that never happens. I’m pretty sure that asking for something bad to happen to somebody in a fit of anger doesn’t work either.
But nevertheless, I think I’ll buy Baba Esu something nice today. You never know how the spiritual realm operates. And I’d rather err on the side of caution. Wouldn’t want to piss Baba off, even if I do think it might be nothing more than silly superstition. I might want to do some more superstitious stuff sometime in the future and I would like to stay on Baba’s good side.
My two year old son loves the Nick Jr. show The Backyardigans. The show is a computer generated animation about five neighborhood kids who play in the backyards of their house. There’s Tasha the yellow hippo, Tyrone the orange moose, Pablo the blue penguin, Austin the purple marsupial, and Uniqua the pink spotted little girl with a couple of antennas on her head. Whenever this series comes on, baby boy stops what he’s doing and gives the show his full attention. If he doesn’t watch, something’s seriously wrong. Each episode runs about thirty minutes. I think he can go through about three episodes before he gets ready for something else. So the Backyardigans are good for about ninety minutes of distraction.
Not too long ago there was a new Backyardigans episode titled It’s Great To Be A Ghost. In this episode, Uniqua, Pablo, and Tyrone are pretending to be ghost and do their best to try and scare each other and Tasha, who is not a ghost. Tasha has no fear of ghost and the others are challenged to scare her with tricks of haunting. One turns invisible and wave things in the air. Another pops out of a painting. They imagine themselves floating through the air and going in and out of objects. But Tasha is true to her word and remains unfazed. Tyrone plays the most inept ghost. He’s running around trying to find something to scare Tasha with when he accidentally winds up under a sheet. He looks and sees himself in the mirror and finds the image pretty scary. He then has the idea to use his new look to scare Tasha. He sneaks up to her and says, boo. Tasha turns, sees the floating sheet, and screams. She runs away and Tyrone is right behind her taunting her with an occasional boo. Each time Tyrone goes boo, Tasha lets out a little scream.
I watched my son as he watched this particular episode. And while he loves the Backyardigans, this one episode has a unique affect on him. While he will watch the other episodes without much of any reaction, when watching this ancestor themed episode, he’ll watch it from the comfort of the reassuring arms of one of his parents. When Tyrone starts going boo, he starts to try and climb into our laps. He’s not comfortable at all with what he’s seeing. And I notice the subtle programming that is taking place.
When Tasha reacts with fear to the sight of a ghost in a sheet, she is teaching my son to react with fear to supernatural manifestations and unnatural aberrations. This is troubling to me. As a practitioner of Ifa, the ancient African spirituality that embraces the supernatural, this is a potential conflict. The ghostly characters in the show have only one concern and that is to be as scary as possible. But the African tradition teaches that our enlightened ancestors, the people who have passed on from this plane of existence, are part of our lives to help guide us and develop our spirituality so that when we can become enlightened and when we pass on we will help lead our descendants to true enlightenment. When we respond to our ancestors with fear and suspicion, we cut ourselves off from their assistance thereby making it much more difficult for ourselves to get through this thing called life.
In order to counter the messages this particular program is giving my son, we started our own little game of ghost. Baby boy will come up to us and say, boo. But instead of reacting with outright fear, his mother and I act with surprise. Instead of a little scream of fear, we’ll respond with an exaggerated, Oh! And right after our dramatic surprise we will smile and reach down and give him a big hug. We’re trying to teach him that it’s okay to be surprised when we see something that we don’t know or didn’t expect or didn’t recognize. But we shouldn’t respond with fear. It is a subtle difference and it might be a little too nuanced to be picked up by a two year old. But we have to start somewhere.
We like The Backyardigans. Although I really appreciate the fact that the show can grab my son’s attention for a few minutes, I have to admit that I find the episodes pretty entertaining myself. The episodes feature music and some very imaginative songs expertly executed by some very professional musicians. My all time favorite episode is Pirate Camp. I don’t know who the drummer is when they do the song titled the Scalawag. But if you ever get a chance to see it or hear it, you’ll understand when I say he or she really earned his or her pay that day.
And I like the way the show teaches lessons of cooperation and listening from the perspective of five unique youngsters without making it so obvious that it’s trying to teach cooperation and listening. There is no race. Everybody is a unique color and shape and nobody is associated with any race, although it is pretty hard not to notice that Tyrone and Uniqua are indeed voiced by black people. And with a name Pablo it’s a sure fire bet that he’s Hispanic or Latino. They do an excellent job of not putting one type of person or race ahead of the other.
But even the people who develop this show can slip every now and then. When it comes to showing how we should interact with the supernatural I think they missed the boat on this one. It isn’t helpful to teach children to fear that which we might not fully understand. And one thing that is easy to misunderstand is our relationship with our ancestors and other spiritual entities. It’s not something we should automatically fear. Hopefully, this will be one lesson from this program that my boy won’t learn. Regardless, I still love those Backyardigans. Those animated characters are allowed to get it wrong every now and then. Although they look like colorful animal characters, in all honesty they are only human.
Not too long ago I was driving down the highway during a particularly strong thunderstorm. The rain stopped for a brief moment and the sun managed to find a break in the deep, dark, rolling clouds. But on the other end of the horizon, I saw the most intense rainbows I’ve seen in my life. Not only did the ends touch the ground, the typical arch going from ground arcing through the air and returning back to the ground was matched with a faint opposite that started way in the clouds, arced down and then went back into the clouds. I had never seen such a setup before. And didn’t think a rainbow with a mirrored image floating in the sky above was even possible.
The clouds gathered once again and the sunlight’s contribution to the rainbow disappeared. But five minutes later the clouds dissipated once again, the sunlight came back, and the rainbow came back, stronger than ever, with its mirror image in the clouds. I started to get suspicious. A couple minutes later the sun went away again. But a few minutes after that the rainbows came back for a second encore. I got the message. It was time to do a little something about Oshumare.
To listen to some people describe Orisa you’d swear they were more human than anything else. Orisa are supernatural beings that cannot be described in human terms. Even terms like Iya and Baba, mother and father respectively, really don’t do the Orisas justice because many of us have a tendency to take such terms too literally. Many people want to think of Iya and Baba in terms of sexuality and little else. Most people will use vague terms like paternal energies and maternal energies and other vague sounding nonsense to try and put these things into perspective. But really, to try and wrap human consciousness around the meaning of sexuality for an Orisa is a fool’s game.
Nowhere does the misapplication of sexuality is more evident than when we try to describe the Orisa Oshumare. Some describe him as androgynous and others might go so far as to say that he is bisexual. What the hell? Bisexuality refers to a biological condition where sexual behaviors manifest as an attraction to both genders, male and female. People who have a bisexual orientation will have an attraction to both people of their own sex and people of the opposite sex. But what does that mean for an Orisa? Is there such a thing as a homosexual Orisas as well?
Like most of the things we’ve been we’re taught about Orisa and the rest of Ifa, the ancient African spiritual tradition rooted in the Yoruba people, we simply accept what we’ve been told about Oshumare without really thinking about what we’re being taught.
The rainbow is a manifestation of Oshumare. He’s often referred to as the serpent and the rainbow, but he is no serpent. Caring and attentive he’s the messenger that carries communications back and forth between our plane of existence and olorun, or heaven. When people need some assistance getting their messages to any Orisa, Baba Oshumare will be there to help facilitate a dialogue. However, more often than not these days, people are ready to send a message but all too often have deaf ears to hear the response. These days, business is pretty slow for Baba Oshumare. The number of people who are ready to listen as well as they are ready to talk dwindles almost on an hourly basis.
These days, more people see the rainbow in the sky and the last thing they think of is an Orisa let alone Oshumare, and the children of Ifa are no exception. If it is not one of the most popular Orisas such as the Babas Ogun, Sango, Obatala, Orunmila, or Esu or one of the Iyas Yemonja, Oya, or Osun then most people don’t know much of anybody else. Oshumare is part of that obscure majority of Orisa. And if people think they do know him it is as an example of some spiritual sexual perversion.
Baba Oshumare is the Orisa recognized as a manifestation of the rainbow. It’s not to be interpreted as a judgment of his masculinity, at least not in our basic human terms. Orisas aren’t so limited and we really should learn not to transfer our ideas and experiences to them. Baba Oshumare is as prime an example as any Orisa for how we as humans misinterpret nature’s manifestations into the most incorrect terms. And some of us wonder why we’re out of touch with our spirituality. We experience the rainbow and yet we still do not see.
Ifa is an African spirituality deeply rooted in African tradition. For most people who practice this spirituality, strict adherence to African social structure is absolutely necessary. These people feel that you can’t be a true Ifa devotee if you are busy developing new understandings about spiritual concepts that the wider Ifa community takes for granted simply because somebody who may be an elder says claims it as tradition.
It is inevitable that new understandings and concepts are refuted by elders with a vested interest in keeping the state of spirituality status quo. In this respect, Ifa is no different than any other organized religion that adheres to tradition for the sake of tradition and ceremony for the sake of ceremony. And without exception, the traditional way of doing things protects a very lucrative business for spiritual elders who can charge a king’s ransom to perform spiritual rituals that have absolutely no tangible or measurable results.
People can pay priest to do absolutely anything. In Ifa, there are rituals to protect health, protect relationships, assure financial success, or do whatever else somebody may want in his or her life. It is my experience that the ritual includes the slaughter of an animal in a very spiritually dramatic process. But all the ceremony and spiritual procedures in the world don’t amount to a hill of beans if a person’s character is lacking. I don’t care how well you know prayers, if your character needs attention then all the rituals in the world don’t matter. I don’t care how much you pay a priest, the best way to get a job is to prepare yourself through education or experience.
And what happens when the ritual doesn’t work and all that money is spent for naught? More than likely the priest will say that the devotee was unsuccessful because there was a bigger lesson to be learned here. But the priest would never admit that the biggest lesson a devotee can learn is to quit wasting time and money on pointless rituals. Although a spiritual ritual can make a person feel like they have spirituality on their side, things are not so cut and dry. If all it took was a ritual, everybody in the Ifa community would be living large. And that is simply not the case. But nevertheless, the orthodox Ifa practitioner believes in his or her spiritual elders, in ritual, and in the traditional thinking that eschews people developing their own sense of spiritual understandings.
The orthodox practices heap a great deal of significance on hierarchy and protocol. A great deal of significance is paid to people with impressive sounding titles. What exactly goes into getting a title? Well, a lot of it is nothing more than people buying them. And like rituals, almost any title can be bought for the low, low price of whatever. Like a prayer expertly recited can have little meaning from someone with questionable character, a priestly title can be neutralized as well.
Recently I have seen a number of communications from a number of devotees trying to expose people committing fraud in the name of Ifa. I was personally contacted by a couple in Trinidad who had a concern about a priest visiting from Nigeria. The priest did a reading and “discovered” that the couple’s baby was a gift from god and a ritual was necessary for the child to reach its full potential. Typical of a lot of spiritual work, the price of the ritual was exorbitant. And when the couple said that all they could afford was a fraction of the original asking price, the visiting priest didn’t hesitate to take what he could get.
It is a given that when someone is performing spiritual ritual, we believe that they are in communication with spiritual entities. No where is this more important than when someone is getting a reading. A reading is supposed to come directly from the Orisa Baba Orunmila himself. But not everyone has the integrity to pass along spiritual communications and keep their ego in check in the process. And when someone’s ego becomes more important than the messages, chances are they no longer recognize their purpose and are now just as misguided as the people they lead.
Fortunately, it is fairly easy to spot spiritualist who may have fallen off the spiritual bandwagon. All one has to do is look and listen and apply a little logic. When a priest says something like a child is a gift from god and a ceremony is needed for the child to reach its true potential, suspicion levels should go off the scale. What can a priest do on a spiritual level that god failed to do? My first guess would be very little. That would be one of the first clues.
Another good clue about a priest’s integrity or lack thereof would be the need for more spiritual work after getting a reading. That ranks right up there with going to get an oil change and having the mechanic tell you that your engine needs a complete overhaul and the transmission needs to be replaced as well. I will go out on a limb and say a reading should never lead to a need for more work. It just doesn’t work that way.
So before devotees get caught up in the spiritual tradition of throwing good hard earned money away by paying for expensive ceremonies and rituals from priest they hardly know, or from anyone else for that matter, I would recommend that they sit down and ask a single question. Why? It shouldn’t cost a fortune to become spiritual. Before our ancestors knew what money was they were able to establish this spiritual tradition. When did money become so important to the tradition?
Not too long ago I made a comment about Miss California Carrie Prejean’s comment about opposite marriage being the only acceptable form of marriage in her country and in her family. What I wrote must have been an invitation for people to hate because I got a lot of comments from people who questioned my intelligence, my patriotism, as well as my sense of spirituality. Because Ms. Prejean was being honest about the way she felt and how she stood up for the sanctity of opposite marriage she was going to get a heavenly crown from god. Who the hell was I to give my honest opinion about someone giving their honest opinion about people who were honest about their sexual orientation enough to have their same sex relationship sanctified by the state?
Ms. Prejean and her peers believe that god loves people who hate the idea of homosexual marriage. It sounds like a lot of people believe that they will be in god’s good graces if they hate in the name of god. God doesn’t like gays and lesbians and therefore, to get a holy crown, I’ll hate gays and lesbians. And how do we know that god hates same sex marriage? It says so in the bible. It says so in the book of Romans 1:24-27 and the First book of Timothy 1:10 and the First book of Corinthians 6:9-10.
It’s funny because these same Christian bible books also mention the hatred god has for adulterers but nobody ever says that people who commit adultery should not be allowed to marry in the name of god. These books also talk about sexual perversions and unnatural sexual acts. While that might include some same sex acts, I know a few heterosexual acts of sex that might cross the line of perversion. I’m not going to go into any detail here but I spent nearly my entire adult life learning a few sexual perversions in order to help satisfy the woman in my life. I know for a fact some of the things I do wouldn’t pass a lot of people’s idea of conventional sex acts.
But that’s okay. If god is going to judge my spirituality based on how prudish my peers think my bedroom life is I seriously doubt that god understands my spiritual nature at all. My god doesn’t judge me based on what you might think. In all honesty, my spirituality has absolutely nothing to do with my sexuality. As long as I respect myself and respect my partner and respect my family and respect my community, as long as I do what I can to be the best person that I can be, how does my private sex life interfere with that overall sense of respect? Why would god put such emphasis on what I do for good, healthy sexual relationship?
Honestly, I don’t think god cares. And since I’m talking honestly nobody can condemn me for what I say and I should be getting my heavenly crown any day now.
God is not a voyeur looking into my bedroom for sexual deviation. The idea that the creator of the universe wants to condemn me to hell because of my extracurricular sexual activity is an idea that doesn’t sit very well with my psyche. If the only people who go to heaven are the people who stick to orthodox sex without perversion, it doesn’t look good for me. I will definitely be disqualified at the pearly gates. But then again, if the heavenly bound are people who are so rigid that they cannot accept those who are different, then I would have to say, even if I was so inclined to stick with nothing but missionary sex with my partner, heaven would not sound very heavenly to me.
I have family members and friends who are part of the gay and lesbian community. The idea that they are not welcome because god doesn’t like the fact that they are honest enough to follow their true sexual nature, their true sexual spirit, is not one that sits well with me. If this is the nature of the Christian god, then hell sounds a lot more appealing than heaven.
But I know for a fact that god doesn’t judge people on such trivialities. My god doesn’t award heavenly crowns to bigots. My god doesn’t smile down and love small minded people because they hate in his name. The god that I have come to know and develop a relationship with is the type of god that would not think to judge others no matter what. God doesn’t need people to hate in his image. My god is big enough, strong enough, and capable enough to hate all by himself. People who revel in hate should learn to stand up on their own and hate on their own. Quit putting petty bigotry on god’s shoulders.
I was watching an episode of Bill Moyers Journal about how the greed of Wall Street is based on fraud. The guest on this particular show was William Black who identified the problem of our economic crises as a betrayal of people’s trust. People create a sense of trust through a series of manipulations designed to put a target at ease and when the opportunity presents itself, something of great value is exchanged for products or services of little value or, as in many cases when spirituality is involved, no value.
Bankers and other people in the financial world sold people on the idea of investing in assets that were either worthless or significantly overpriced. And as long as people were interested in becoming unwitting targets, people were interested in making them targets.
The same is true for people who prey on people in the ancient African spiritual tradition. Babalawos and iyanifas and people who claim to be of all kinds of priestly titles in the African tradition will prey on people who trust their spiritual development in people who claim to be in the spiritual know. Many people who may consider themselves spiritual neophytes want to entrust their spiritual development to other people who might appear to be more spiritually knowledgeable. And in order to become more spiritually developed, many people are willing to pay good hard earned money for it.
But spirituality is something that is totally subjective and open to interpretation. To some, spirituality is nothing more than being talented. A spiritual person can manifest their spirituality as a talent to entertain others. Other people may think that spirituality is having a string of priestly titles and paying for expensive rituals. People who are spiritual will know ritual and will know African words and dress only in traditional African costumes. Spirituality is measured by how many Orisa pots somebody has or how extravagant an Orisa shrine is put together or spirituality is dependent on how big or how festive an Orisa pot might be. Some people think being self centered is evidence of spirituality. People highly spiritual are royalty and deserve to be waited on hand and foot on a round the clock basis.
But spirituality is nothing so simple. Although spirituality can be developed, it is nothing that can be bought and sold like a commodity. It is nothing that should be shopped for. Although some people can help others develop their spirituality, if such help comes only at extreme cost how can that be spiritual? The though of paying extreme amounts of money for anything is stressful for most people. So how can the stress of paying for an expensive spiritual ritual help induce spirituality?
And while we’re asking questions, why does spiritual rituals cost so much anyway? People with priestly titles simply pull fees for spiritual work out of thin air. Exorbitant prices are supposed to assure quality of the work. But how can spiritual quality be verified? Do divination services come with a guarantee? Do people who perform rituals intended to induce good fortune give the money back when bad fortune is the result? Of course they don’t.
There’s absolutely no way to verify spirituality. I don’t care how well somebody boogies across the bimbe or how high somebody can jump with a machete in his or her hand spirituality is not a quantity to be measured. No priest is more spiritual than I am. I cannot claim to be any more spiritual than the next soul. People who pay extravagant fees promising to deliver your Ori into the waiting arms of Orisas should be avoided like the plague. No human being has the power to deliver another person to his or her spirituality.
A person who says that they should be paid handsomely for spiritual development is the same type of person who would be willing to sell worthless property to investors at over the top prices. There is no difference. Most people who spend a lot of money for their spirituality will simply turn around and look for their own spiritual suckers to fleece.
People need to wake up and realize that spirituality is not something that is bought and sold. Spirituality is something that is carefully developed on ones own. It is understandable to pay someone for his or her help in the process to develop spirituality. Teachers deserve to be paid to teach students. But the payment should be reasonable. And spiritual development takes time, not money. Anyone who says otherwise is someone that should not be trusted. Spirituality is hard to measure and hard to qualify. People out to cheat others are much easier to spot.
For all practical purposes we will define spirituality the existence that transcends bodily senses, time and the tactile world. Spirituality implies a separation between the body and soul. But spirituality may also be about the development of the individual’s inner life through specific practices. The spiritual is traditionally contrasted with the material. It is a perceived sense of connection to something that exists in a metaphysical reality that is greater than one’s self. It may include an emotional experience of reverence or a state of nirvana. Spirituality is the personal, subjective dimension of religion, particularly that which pertains to salvation from our day to day drudgery.
I am regularly astounded at the number of people who think spirituality is narrowly defined by circumstances from a single perspective. It is typical for some people who adhere to any particular set of dogma to believe anyone who doesn’t walk step in step with the exact same belief is a spiritual imposter unworthy of any consideration. People with the same basic beliefs but with what can be considered different styles of implementing the details are ready to condemn each other’s efforts as a damnable heretic.
The African spiritual tradition of Ifa appears to suffer more than its fair share of people who refuse to conform to the orthodox spiritual theory. I happen to be one of them. Traditional Ifa puts a great deal of emphasis on people conforming to a strict hierarchy of status and ritual that has little to do with spirituality and a great deal to do with obedience and submission not to some spiritual entity but to other people in the community.
All too often I am told that I do not have any inkling as to what makes someone a student of traditional Ifa. The most recent comment made was from a traditional practitioner expert who suggested that I go through the traditional motions of an initiation ceremony in Yorubaland because the initiation ceremony I already went through was not the way things are practiced there. But little information was given as to what makes one ceremony better than another. Instead, I was given the title of a book to read as to what makes the Ifa the tradition of Ifa so I too can conform to what the author of the book describes as acceptable Ifa practices.
Now here comes the best part. This traditional Ifa conformist tells me my personal dreams and meditations and conversations that I have with spiritual entities are all bogus and I need to stop pretending that I am doing my personal spiritual development and get with the program. Instead of Ifa I’m practicing some form of spirituality that more closely resembles Native American traditions. The Ifa conformist demands that I stop invoking the hallowed names of Orisa in my acts of blasphemy until I learn to adhere to the orthodox Ifa.
Usually it’s some self important babalawo or iyanifa or some other title that tries to get me to conform. But, this time I think it is nothing but a brand new initiate who has, in their own words, “gone through the motions” of ceremonial initiation rituals in a field trip to Africa and now feels that the only place on the planet where people are good enough to indoctrinate others into Ifa are the native Yoruba people. You see, you have to spend good money to go to Africa and find traditional elders in order to become spiritual. People who don’t simply are not worthy. Regardless of their story, this person obviously suffers from some kind of official ceremony on official Ifa ground superiority complex. You’re nothing if you’re not initiated by the expert elders in Yorubaland.
The fact of the matter is no one at our level of existence has the ability to initiate someone into or exclude someone else from the official spiritual club. Orisas are the ones who actually do the accepting. And unlike us humans Orisas aren’t bureaucratic requiring strict adherence to ceremonial ritual for ritual’s sake. No one can imbue another with spirituality. No one can say that they are the only ones who can converse with spiritual entities.
I happen to like the idea that my spirituality resembles the spirituality of people with a reputation for being spiritual. The fact that spiritual people resemble each other when all the dopey rules and regulations are taken out of the picture is kind of a compliment. People have a tendency to take the clearest of issues and convolute it with complexity and rules in a lame attempt to minimize confusion. What might work for one person might have a totally different feel for another. The steps that led to one person’s spiritual enlightenment will have no affect on the spiritual development of another. It isn’t always that cut and dry.
But a lot of people who have bought into the twelve step spiritual development program are not ready to give up their choke hold on their brand new elevated spiritual status. These people know for a fact that only someone pure of spirit and ready to manifest that spirituality with strict adherence to the spiritual principles listed in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Ifa can claim to bend spiritual entities to their will. May the Orisa have mercy on the souls of people who claim otherwise. Honestly, it must be nice to be able to write the rules of spirituality for everyone. I know I would never embark on such an endeavor.
Getting Baba Orunmila to do anything he’s not ready to do is like teaching bricks how to jump through hoops. It’s not going to happen, at least no time soon. So it amazes me that some people can get Baba to give them the reading for the year like clockwork for release on the first of January. I remember back in early December of 2007, I started asking Orunmila for the word for 2008. Baba responded asking me why I wanted the reading for the following year when the year wasn’t even close to being over yet. I responded that I was anxious and ready to demonstrate my special connection with the spirituality of Ifa. Baba responded, demonstrate it to whom and for what purpose? I responded, never mind!
Come New Years Eve, the last day of 2007, I was back with pen and paper ready to get that reading from Orunmila. Again, what’s the rush? Well, in the Orisa houses I experienced as an early practitioner, I was taught that people received a reading for the year at the beginning of the year. And Baba responded that I was also taught that people who were initiated into Ifa were more significant than people who were not initiated. I was taught that people had to shave their heads when they were initiated. I was also taught that people who wanted to practice Ifa had to spend tremendous amounts of money and must adhere to traditional Yoruba culture. Okay, Baba I give up! But when will I get the reading for the year? In classic Baba mode he responded, you will get the reading of the year when you are ready to get the reading for the year.
For weeks I had to put up with this circular, yoyo, Master Yoda logic. I didn’t get the reading for 2008 until sometime in March. So when I see people in the Ifa community post the reading for the year according to Orunmila right on the dot come the first of January, or even the first week of January, or even the month of January, I have to wonder what’s up?
Last year there were a variety of readings for the year from a lot of people. Not a single one of these readings matched what anyone else had to say about the coming year. Again I went to Baba for an understanding of what’s happening. Baba asked when did I ever hear him say that all of these people were speaking for him? Why would anyone simply take these people’s word that they were speaking for him? You see, a lot of people feel like they are speaking on behalf of Orunmila. They get out their divination tools and use them according to the user manual that comes with them. They will say a few prayers, throw the ipwele chain or ikin or whatever divination tool being used, do a little math to figure out which odu holds the answer, look up the result in a book of odu verses, and there you have the reading for the year.
But spiritual readings should be much more involved than a lucky throw to lookup an odu in a reference book. Imagine trying to convey a message about how someone should live their life using nothing but an odu verse that has a rather convoluted story about praising a babalawo and the babalawo praising Ifa with ten thousand cowry shells as payment. Now the odu has to be interpreted and the interpretation is only as good as the practitioner and there are so many ways a very important communication can be misinterpreted. And that’s only part of the problem of an Ifa practitioner whose relationship with Orunmila is in good standing.
People whose standing with Baba Orunmila is troubled have zero chance of even pulling up the correct odu. These people might think they are communicating with Orunmila by going through all the motions associated with divination. Indeed, any body watching them would see a very spiritually dramatic demonstration of stereotypical Orisa worship. But in actuality these diviners are doing nothing but making random stabs at luck. A divination tool in the hands of a practitioner of poor character or on the outs with Orunmila for some other reason would be better used as a doorstop. Baba doesn’t work with people who manipulate readings intended for others to their own benefit, and it is a guarantee that the benefit to the diviner will be lead to more money.
So I asked Baba, how are people supposed to believe what you are telling them through me when there is so much spiritual clutter out there? What distinguishes me from the others? Well, the fact that I don’t publish a reading for the year right on schedule like everyone else should give people a hint that something here might be different. I would rather do without a reading than just put anything up as Baba’s word.
When people read the word of Orunmila here, they can rest assured it is straight from the Orisa and not out of a book of odu verses. Baba and I will sit down and we will discuss the word so that I can get it from him without spin and without interpretation and without having to do some ciphering to get a number so I can pull an odu out of a reference book. Baba will explain exactly what he means. And if form some reason a question comes up about the reading that I didn’t think to answer before, I can always go back and start a new conversation with Orunmila instead of just throwing the equivalent of divination dice around. Integrity and accuracy are key. I might not be the first with a reading for the year. But trust that when I am ready for the reading, it will come straight from the Baba’s mouth.