Spiritually Speaking
  
(A series of articles contributed by members of the Ministerial Association of Potsdam)

Spiritually Speaking: Where is God in the tragedy?

By PAULA JENSEN-MOULTON

Christian Science Practitioner and Teacher

Where is God in the tragedy? This is a question that comes to mind as we ponder recent world and national tragic events, and look to how we can secure a safer environment for students and for everyone.

There is always the asking of the question, “What perhaps could have been done to avoid such a senseless act of violence?” and then the deep spiritual query, “Why would a loving God allow this?”

Certainly, these are not questions that can be responded to with a quick, pat answer, but through consecrated prayer and the healing comfort that a loving God brings. And it is in God’s comforting presence that peace can be found in the midst of tragic circumstances.

When the shootings occurred in Newtown, Conn., the tragedy tugged at my heartstrings. Partly because I had been an elementary school principal in the North Country for ten years and having spent time growing up in the town next to Newtown, the situation hit close to home. I remember turning directly to the Bible finding this: “But the Lord was not in the earthquake, and after the earthquake a fire, and after the fire, a still small voice.” This comforting message was what I needed: God is not in the tragedy. God is in the healing response.

Mary Baker Eddy, in her textbook on healing, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures writes, “The very circumstance, which your suffering sense deems wrathful and afflictive, Love can make an angel entertained unawares.” To me, that angel, that still small voice can be heard as a direct message from a loving Father-Mother God.

Just as a mother or father seeks to comfort a child by bringing hope and assurance of his or her love and care, God is there for us as Love itself. And this love quiets fear, brings peace and heals. And love has no partnership, no communing, with hate. Just as light dispels darkness, love’s presence destroys hate. The light does not ignore the darkness; the light dispels and extinguishes the darkness, because darkness is really nothing but an absence of light.

In many ways, really every problem we encounter, every distressed situation or discordant condition, has as its basis, the human concept of lack. For example, a hateful remark or comment can stem from a limited sense or lack of love. A perverse or twisted action lacks an ordered or peaceful presence. Poverty lacks abundance; fear lacks confidence. And sickness or disease displays a lack of ease expressed as bodily or mental discomfort.

The conflicts that exist today, remind me of the importance of keeping my thoughts filled with God's love and being mindful to not allow a vacuum to lodge itself in consciousness where hate can enter. It is often helpful also, to shut out the clamor of discontent and earnestly listen to God's message. To me, this is what prayer is: listening to God.

And silence is a necessary ingredient to listening. I find it more than coincidental that the word “silent” and “listen” are comprised of the same letters. They are intertwined in their meaning.

And with that silence can be heard the still small voice of comfort, hope, forgiveness, and peace.

Prayer on campus: A time to communicate with God

 By HARVEY SMITH
SUNY Potsdam Campus Minister

There is a place on our campus where one could go to meditate and pray. The space is located in the Labyrinth Room, next to the Counseling Center in Van Housen.

What’s prayer all about? Simply put, it’s a time of communicating with God -- talking and listening to our higher source. Prayer is an invitation open to anyone and not just for clergy or religious people.

Most religions believe that God hears and answers prayer. While I have witnessed many answered prayers in my lifetime, and some were of the miraculous and beyond the “it was just a coincidence” stage, I have also received a “wait” and even a “no” answer to some of my prayers.

Surveys done by Barna in the United States found that more than 4 out of 5 adults claimed they had prayed in the last week. This percentage has held steady since 1993.

In another survey done by US News, it was found that 75% who prayed in America were Christians, and those who prayed said they pray more than once a day. The Bible alone contains about 375 references to prayer.

The majority of prayers are for family members and 41% say their prayers are answered often.

When prayers get unanswered, 73% say it’s because the prayer didn’t fit into God’s plan, but that it wouldn’t deter them from praying at future times. Almost all prayers are done privately and only about 5% say they pray most often in a place of worship.

In a recent Gallup poll it was found that 76% of Americans favor a constitutional amendment to allow voluntary prayer in public schools, and that 23% oppose such an amendment.

Again, through the efforts of the Counseling Center and the Campus Ministry Office, students, faculty, and staff are invited to use the place to pray that is located in Van Housen in the Labyrinth Room.

As someone once told me, “Why worry when you can pray?” I was also told by the same source, “Why pray when you can worry?”

Dr. Smith has an office in the Student Union (221B) and welcomes a visit during his office hours Tuesday – Thursday from noon until 3 pm. He also welcomes reactions and comments via e-mail at smithha@potsdam.edu

Is there life after death?
Variety of viewpoints to be aired Nov. 21

 By HARVEY SMITH
SUNY Potsdam Campus Minister

 On Thursday, November 21, at 7:00 pm, in the Student Union Multi-Purpose Room, there will be a panel discussion on “The Hereafter.” This discussion will center on what will happen to one’s body after a person dies – heaven, hell, nothing, or something else.

The members on the panel will share from their various religious and non-religious beliefs. Each panel member will state what their belief is and based on what observations and/or on what authority. Some of the views that will be presented are Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and Atheist.

Each member on the panel will have several minutes to state their position and belief on whether or not there is life after one dies. After all have shared, there will be a time for questions from the audience and addressed to the panel or to a particular person on the panel.

For many students on campus, and because of a youthful age, death is not a big issue. However, there are some who have recently lost a close friend in an accident, or a classmate when in high school.

On our own campus in recent years, we have had some students die from accidents on the highway and some by suicide. Also, some students have had a grandparent die recently, and, regretfully, a parent at an early age because of a terminal illness.

My mother died from cancer at an old age. I had several months helping her as she prepared herself for death.

One time I asked her if she “had her house in order” since she would soon be meeting her Maker face-to-face according to our Christian belief. She indicated that there were some things she needed to get right with God, so she prayed silently and when finished, she had a peaceful smile on her face, and in a sense, she was saying, “I’m ready.”

On the other hand, my dad died suddenly of a heart attack and there was no time for me to be with him in his last moments. It made me realize that death is inevitable and to not put off things to say and do with a loved one before death would parts us.

Morrie, in the book “Tuesday With Morrie” by Mitch Albom, when told how sad it was that he was going to die of “Lou Gehrig’s” disease, replied, “Mitch, we are all born with a terminal illness.”

I highly recommend the “Tuesdays With Morrie” book. It’s sad and yet funny at times as this man goes through the last stages of dying. A quote by Morrie that I write in sympathy cards to those grieving over the death of a loved one is, “Death only ends a life, not a relationship.”

Again, you are invited on November 21st to a most relevant panel discussion topic on what will happen after we die.

Dr. Smith has an office in the Student Union (221B) and welcomes a visit during his office hours Tuesday – Thursday from noon until 3 pm. He also welcomes reactions and comments via e-mail at smithha@potsdam.edu

Do You Believe in Miracles?

 By HARVEY SMITH
SUNY Potsdam Campus Minister

Someone once asked me in what ways did I “hear” from God.

As a Christian, I gave them several answers: the Bible, through others, in prayer, in meditation, and in miracles. To me, with regard to all these means, miracles are the “sure thing” when it comes to hearing from God.

I looked up miracles in the dictionary and it stated that they were “events or actions that apparently contradict known scientific laws.”

I also noted that Walt Whitman said this about miracles: “Why, who makes much of a miracle? As to me, I know nothing else but miracles. To me every hour of light and dark is a miracle. Every cubic inch of space is a miracle.”

Many people have a hard time believing in miracles. I once did. I can remember watching on television where a preacher would have the sick and lame come on stage and with a prayer and the laying on of hands one person after another seemed to be healed.

Some even came up on crutches and in wheelchairs and would discard them after they were healed. Somehow, I was very skeptical and thought it was all rigged and a fake.

Sometimes it takes a real life personal experience to convict even the most skeptical person that miracles do exist. The skeptics would probably say a miracle was “luck” or “circumstances” and not a God-given and spiritual miracle.

For me, miracles came about as a “real-life experience.” This is a true happening and I will recount it the best I can remember it happening in 1969.

My daughter, Lori, had developed a bad case of psoriasis as a 4-year old. She had sores, red blotches and even scabs in places that went from her head to her toes.

We had taken her to specialists and they said they had not seen it so bad on someone at such an early age. To help us, the doctors gave us a tar solution to put in her bath water and a sun lamp that she had to use.

When she went to kindergarten at age 5, she was made fun of by other children since her skin looked so out of place from the others. Between her coming home crying, and my wife and I having to get up around 4:00 am daily to begin her “tar bath” and then sun lamp treatments on both sides of her body, we were all at our wits end.

While praying one night in bed, I felt an “urge from God” to get out of bed and kneel beside my daughter’s bed and pray that she be healed. This “urge” was not an audio voice, but an internal one that was loud and clear to my consciousness.

I fought that prompting until I realized I would do anything to see my daughter healed of her psoriasis. Therefore, I knelt beside her bedside as she slept and prayed a simple prayer as I laid my hand on her body.

When I went back to bed I felt a wonderful feeling and a sense of fulfilling a duty that was given to me. However, before I went to sleep a sense of doubt began to creep into my thinking. Was this only my imagination? What if in the morning she still had the psoriasis? Would I still believe in God if she wasn’t healed?

In the morning, when I went to see my daughter to awaken her, I was amazed to see that her face had no sign of blotches or scars. As she got up I lifted her gown to check the rest of her body and I noticed that her whole body was entirely clear of any signs of psoriasis.

To me, there was no other way to explain what happened other than to declare it was a miracle and a gift from God. Moreover, my daughter is now 48 years old and the disease has never returned.

Do I believe in miracles? Without a doubt and with good reason. Do I believe in a God that “speaks” to you and cares for you personally? Again, without a doubt. After sharing my witness to such a miracle, I have heard countless others who have shared such happenings of miracles very similar to mine.

Perhaps some who are reading this account would also share a miracle they have witnessed and would be willing to send it to the Letters to the Editor column.

 Moses: from the River to the Sea

By TARIK AIT MAATALLAH
Potsdam Mosque

Talk about a full cycle of life: Moses (AS) is born just as Pharaoh sends his orders that all first born kids of the Jews shall be killed. Allah, who knows the value of such a man to all of humanity, has a different plan:

"And We revealed unto the mother of Moses (AS), saying: Suckle him and, when you fear for him, cast him into the river and fear not nor grieve. Lo! We shall bring him back unto you and shall make him one of our messengers." Sourat Alqassass (Ch.28) aya 7.

She does and she sends his older sister to follow him from distance. The river, flowing through the palace, takes him right before the eyes of a powerful woman there (some say the wife and others say the sister of Pharaoh).

She falls in love with a beautiful baby and convinces the pharaoh to keep him for adoption. The boy (wished to be dead amongst the Jewish boys) grows with the best care from his enemy. Groomed into a statesman, a strong soldier and a bright young man, Moses (AS) is now ready to cast a divine spell unto humanity.

He runs away from Egypt fearing for his life after he went too far defending another Jew against an Egyptian who ends up dead. God forgives him and leads him into the desert and loneliness. On top of his great skills, Moses (AS) needed time for some soul searching and to put everything to the test. "Travel forges the man", they once said. Well try travel in the desert!

Moses (AS) comes to a well and sees men filling up their gourds.

He notices two women hiding and asks them what is the matter! They tell him that their dad is a very old man and they cannot go to the well until all the men disperse. A gentleman (some 5,000+ years ago mind you), he offers to do it for them. He gets to the well and hands them back their jars filled with water.

Moses (AS) is not to meet two children or the old man himself. He meets two young women after he has been in the desert for God knows how long and yet Quran specifically tells us how he treats the two young women with respect.

No advances and no asking for favors in return. I like this part very much because we brag about how civilized we are and refer many times to people in history as savages or less civilized at best. Moses (AS) kindly gives the ladies water and pulls himself back to a shade and prays:

"So he watered for them. Then he turned aside to the shade, and said: "My Lord! I am needy to whatever you send down for me." (same ch. aya 24)

Humility with the shepherds. Humility and respect with the ladies. Humility and respect with his Lord. What a beautiful way to ask! We want certain things and we want them now and we get doubtful or ill-mannered with God if we think the answer will not come. Moses (AS) leaves it up to God to decide what it is He wants to bestow on him. All Moses (AS) does is acknowledge his need and convey the prayer.

Moses (AS) ends up marrying one of the girls and is now the caregiver and protector of an elderly and his family. Moses (AS) takes his family into a journey through the desert. As they wander one day he sees a fire on top of Mount Sinai. He tells his family to stand still and he will go to the fire to bring back either wisdom or a fire for their use.

"As he saw a fire, then he told his family: Stay here! I sense a fire may I bring you a brand there from or may I find on the fire some guidance." Ch. 20 (sourat Taha) aya 10

Moses (AS) is ready for his mission in life. Allah calls him on top of the mountain and enters into a direct conversation with Moses (AS). In Islam, it is believed that Moses (AS) is the only human being ever to speak directly to God.

He asks to see Him too and is quickly made to understand that was a step too far. I think this incident is there to seal the deal. Moses (AS) now knows beyond a shred of doubt the magnitude of his mission; the mandate comes from none other than God. Moses (AS) will be trusted with the biggest mission in history to free the largest group of people ever freed at once from one of the worst ruthless tyrants ever to exist.

He asks to hire someone for help and suggests his brother Aaron (AS) for the oratory skills and the trust Moses (AS) has in him. Moses (AS) is yet granted another unique feature, he is one of two messengers of God sent at the same time with the same mission.

Moses (AS) is endowed with 9 miracles according to Quran including his cane turning into a real snake that eats the imaginary snakes the sorcerers create to overwhelm what is perceived as Moses' magic. He is also able to put his hand in his pocket and bring it out white.

He argues with pharaoh over the freedom of the children of Jacob (AS) (AKA the children of Israel). Every time the pharaoh fails a promise, another miracle comes to smite him and his soldiers. The self-proclaimed god is overwhelmed and finally agrees to let God's chosen people to go. But a wicked tyrant never learns from his mistake.

He decides to pursue the slaves and corner them against the sea. Moses (AS) prays and gets the assurance that he and his people are safe. He is told to hit the sea and another huge event takes place to save the oppressed from their oppressor.

Moses (AS) and the children of Israel walk through the sea. Moses (AS), through his message and life, clearly sets apart those who obey God as God's chosen people and those who disobey Him as the people who should seek His guidance.

From the river to the sea, Moses (AS) fulfills his mission in life. But his mission survives him. Moses (AS) brought a message from God and a set of commandments and directives to be good servants of God on earth.

The Torah was also a first in our history. Even though, Muslims believe Abraham, David and other messengers of God received revelation. Torah was the most comprehensive revelation up to that date in time.

The bible will build on it and Quran will come to finish the work. Moses (AS) cycle of life still goes on. His story is one of inspiration and guidance to those who want to make it from the time they are babies thrown into the river of life until the day they cross over the ocean of the hereafter.

 

Sex and religion are intertwined
because sex was God’s idea


By ED SACHS
Pastor of North Country Community Church

In the February 8th issue of the SUNY Potsdam “Racquette” the “Sex Q&A” column dealt with the question of why sex and religion are intertwined. Dr. Whelehan did a fine job of discussing the reasons why humans might want to use God as a tool to regulate and control sexual behaviors.

She betrayed her bias, however, by never speaking from the perspective of people of faith. Her way of looking at the world is kind of like that of an archeologist trying to explain what the tool they just dug up was used for. The theory might be interesting and reasonable but it is really just a guess. She missed the simple answer.

If there is a God who created the world, then that same God invented sex. Sex and religion are intertwined because sex was God’s idea and He therefore has an opinion about how it should take place. That’s good news. We don’t have to mess around and experiment with our sexuality. We can read the owner’s manual and know how it’s supposed to work.

I remember the relief I felt when I realized that sex was part of God’s plan for mankind. It is a good thing. I suddenly found freedom from guilt and shame. My marriage was exactly what God had in mind when He made humankind.

Of course the “bad news” connected to this revelation is that God also has some rules having to do with sex and if you don’t want to follow them, things aren’t going to go well. How many people do you know that are emotionally and psychologically beat up because they didn’t play by the rules? How many broken hearts does it take before we realize that sex requires a “till death do us part’ commitment? Like Beyonce says, “if you like it, you better put a ring on it.” That’s safe sex. Any other way is a recipe for disaster.

Why settle for social experiments when you can have the best? Don’t miss out on the divine truth that can guide your life. That will always be best in every area of life.

 

What Do We Mean By ‘God?’

By PETER MUELLER
Pastoral Associate at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Potsdam

I recently wrote about how theists and atheists often get our wires crossed when talking about “God.” We don’t mean the same thing by the word; what the one believes is not what the other disbelieves, and vice versa.

I presented what is, to me, the only reasonable way to begin thinking about God: that God is not a thing or a being, nor even the Highest Being, but rather is the unlimited source and ground of existence, the One who does not depend on anything else for existence, but simply is.

The only other option is to assert that there is no source of existence, only a never-ending cycle of reaction, without beginning or end. Not only is this view contrary to scientific observation, which can accurately affix the beginning of the Universe at 13.7 billion years ago, but it is also contrary to how every human being lives every day.

We all go around ranking events, tasks, things, and people in order of importance, and making a thousand little decisions that distinguish between good and bad, right and wrong. In a never-ending cycle, without purpose or end, there would be no grounds for any such distinction.

Recognizing God as the “unmoved mover” or the “First Cause” is only the starting point, however. In spite of the fact that such a One is necessarily beyond our complete understanding (the only One unlimited enough to fully comprehend Him would be Him), there is more that our reason can tell us.

Firstly, this One, being the source of all existence, is entirely self-sufficient; He needs nothing outside of Himself. If He did, He would be just another dependent being. This also means that there’s a distinction to be made between God and the things He creates. Although they exist entirely through and because of Him, none of them are Him. God is separate from His creation in the same way that Shakespeare is separate from “Hamlet”; the play is entirely the work of Shakespeare, but the being of Shakespeare is not exhausted by the play that is “Hamlet”. Paradoxically, God plus the universe does not equal more than God alone.

Secondly, as such a One surrounds and encompasses everything, and nothing exists except through Him and in Him, we apply to Him the (inadequate) adjectives “all-powerful”, and “all-knowing”, to try and express this pure transcendence. Clearly, nothing can exist or happen without His knowledge or consent.

Thirdly, and most importantly, we can say that God is “all-good” or “all-loving”. This might seem like a non sequitur, but it is just a natural conclusion from what was said above. God is completely self-sufficient, and has no need of anything outside of Himself; but we also know that there are things that are not Him, though they exist because of Him. What possible reason could perfect Self-Sufficiency have for creating anything outside of itself? The only answer is Love. God created solely because He is Love, and desired that there be others to share in that Love.

Knowing all this leads to one more thought, which I will leave you with. Such a One as I have described is no impersonal force or disinterested landlord. It is impossible to regard Him from the standpoint of an observer, as one separated from the action and looking on. Such a One cannot be engaged in any way other than a personal relationship.

 What Do We Mean By 'God?'

By PETER MUELLER
Pastoral Associate at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Potsdam

I have never met an atheist. To be honest, I seriously doubt that they exist.

I have met a great many people who claim to be atheists, but then I always find out that if they are atheists, they’re bad at it.

Someone will say to me that he or she is an atheist, but five minutes of conversation disclose that he or she has a moral code and believes in love and justice, or that family, or relationships, or service to others, or “doing the right thing”, are important.

Mind you, I’m not disagreeing, but consider the following question: if there is no God, no eternal Being, no one Source of existence and life and love who orders all that is, then what are we?

Answer: a random collection of atoms, which, by a long chain of coincidences, coalesced into a stack of animated meat which will shortly dissolve away. We inevitably cease to exist, and the impersonal universe continues on its empty cycle of action and reaction. In such a world, there is no such thing as love, only a conditioned biological impulse, either to ensure that our genes are passed on or to manipulate others into giving us pleasure.

There is no such thing as Right or Wrong, or Good or Bad; how can we say that things should be one way and not another, if everything is chance? Even the thoughts we are thinking are just a series of neurons firing in our brains, and are just as conditioned and meaningless as everything else about us.

I’m not saying that this is what atheists believe; I’m saying that, to the extent that you disagree with this view of the world, you cannot really be an atheist.

Some atheists dispute this, telling me that atheism is simply denying the existence of a deity or Supreme Being. My reply, as a Christian, is that this is something I entirely agree with.

I certainly do not believe that God is a deity, or a being, or even the Highest Being. I do not believe that God is “a” anything; not one being among many, or one being in the world. Rather, I believe that God is outside of any category, including that of “being; God is naught less than the source and ground of all existence, the consistent act of “to Be” itself.

Consider the following: first, practically anything that you can think of did not create itself. It came into existence through things and forces outside of itself; it is dependent upon other things for its existence.

A human being, for example, is dependent upon its parents for its existence, but also upon an environment that can support life, and the existence of stuff to be made out of in the first place, and so on. But where did those things come from?

They didn’t make themselves either, and are themselves dependent on other things for their existence. If you follow this chain of dependency back, one of two things will happen. Either it will go on forever, in which case it is meaningless; or, it will eventually arrive at one entity that is not dependent, but rather contains within itself the reason for its own existence.

As a Catholic, I can’t resist bringing in Thomas Aquinas, the great medieval philosopher; he rarely referred to God as “ens sumo”, the highest being, but rather as “ipsum esse subsistens”. This means, “that which subsists of itself”, or “that which is not dependent upon anything else for its existence”.

In my opinion, this conception is the only reasonable starting point for talking about God. We human beings see that things exist, and we wonder why. There are only two possible answers to that question; either there’s some meaning and purpose to existence, or there isn’t.

I don’t think anyone believes the latter; but if it’s the former, then one has to ask what source that meaning and purpose has. It is here that religion begins to speak.

 Don’t just spend ... invest

By ED SACHS
Pastor of North Country Community Church, Potsdam

No, this is not an article about financial management. Most of us don’t have much cash to invest anyway, but we do have time.

Have you been asked, “How are you going to spend your summer?” You might answer, “I’ve got to get a job” or “I’m doing an internship” or maybe you’d say “I’m going to lie on a beach.” May I suggest that you look at it differently?

I once spoke to a man who was facing death in the next few days. He told me, “Life is weird.” I think what he was considering is how we spend so much of our time on earth taking care of business, doing the things that have to get done each day and then we come to the end and it seems like such a waste.

Many people never take time to think about what they want to accomplish in their lifetime. They just do what they have to do every day and hope it all turns out ok. Focusing on the daily grind and nothing else may leave you empty and discouraged.

One alternative is the guru on the mountain approach. This is the guy who decides to totally avoid the issues of this life and focus only on spiritual things. You may notice these guys get pretty skinny, pretty fast.

May I suggest that we need to balance these two things? We need to take care of the business of life but we also need to look beyond it.

I like to eat and I don’t see anything wrong with enjoying good food so I am willing to take time to shop, grow, cook and eat the good stuff.

At the same time I don’t want to do this all day, every day. Instead, I want minimize the time that is needed to survive each day so that I can use some of my time building toward something more. Let’s call this “investing in the future.”

Now, if you are a college student, you understand this because you are investing the time you are in school so you can do bigger things later with the knowledge and degree you earn. Just what are the bigger things are that you hope for?

Perhaps it’s a nice car and all the techno gadgets you can imagine. Perhaps it’s a home and the trappings of family life. Will you be saying “Life is weird” somewhere down the road? Be careful not to spend your life on things that rust away. Like they say, “You never see a hearse pulling a U-Haul.”

The only thing that we can take out of this life is the investment we have made in other people. A great guideline from the Bible says, “And what does the Lord require of you?

To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8 NIV) Notice these things all focus on God and other people. Invest your summer, your career and your life in eternal things. Your life may still be weird, but it won’t be wasted.

 What is Christianity really?

By A.J. DANIELS
Pastor of Stonegate Community Church, Potsdam.

I'm a simple guy who likes things broken down simply. I never went to church growing up and I had no idea what this stuff was all about, let alone believed it.

One day, I found someone who was able to tell me simply what the bible and Jesus said about life and about me. It was way different and a lot more understandable than I thought, and I made a choice to make it a part of my life.

You see, IMO it breaks down simply. There are two choices in this life. Choice 1: your life as it truly is. With hurts, pains, worries, joys, love, loss etc. Choice 2: That very same life with God's love, support, mercy, guidance and life hereafter.

The thing is, it's your choice. No one can make it for you and no one can force you one way or the other.

The other very important thing that I learned is that faith is a choice. It is not some destination that you arrive at. The bible speaks a lot about our hearts and free will. God knows that we hear a million different voices saying a million different things about Him,

His plan and His opinion of you. So you wanna know what I think it breaks down to?

I believe that there is a God. I believe that God loves each and every one of us, just as a loving father loves each one of His kids. No matter what you've done or who people have told you that you are.

He recognizes that our behavior has separated us from Him in that He is ALL good, and we are not (Let's be honest here). So seeing that Light and Darkness cannot share the same space, He brought forth a solution. His Son Jesus came and lived as a normal dude like us.

The thing about this is that because He had God's nature inside of Him, he was able to live like we are supposed to. He was ALL good. When He died the death of a common criminal even though He was innocent,

He broke through that barrier. When He rose again (because of that God nature inside of Him) He then extended that sacrifice to US. If we choose to believe that and ask Jesus to be in our lives, He says that His sacrifice covers all of our mistakes.

So there it is. In my opinion, Jesus did what I could never do. He connected me back to God. This is awesome! But the best part of this is that He then promised to help me through life.

To help me every day become the best version of me that I can. He says that He'll help me to be less selfish, more loving, forgiving and so on. He promises to guide me and never leave me alone. In my life this has become more real than anything else. So that's my story.

I'm still writing it and you are writing yours. I'm so glad I started writing faith on its pages, it has truly helped me enjoy my life a lot more. He never says it will be easy, He never promised me a simple journey.

But He does promise to be beside me no matter where the journey goes.

 Is It Worth It?

By ED SACHS
Pastor of North Country Community Church

So before I begin, let me say, don’t write this article off as some “religious guy” moralizing like they always do.

This “religious guy” was a college student in Potsdam once and he just might have learned some things outside of the classroom as well as in.

Like they say, “the best way through a mine field is following someone else.”

We make a lot of choices in life and most of them have consequences. What seems like a good idea may end up making a total wreck of things. The key is to know what your priorities are and protect them from impulse actions that might mess them up.

What are your priorities? Getting through the semester with passing grades? Making your romantic relationship the best it can be? Perhaps just having the most fun you can today.

Notice the last item is a short term goal and the first two are long term. Many times, if we give into our short term impulses, we sacrifice our long term priorities. Living for the moment may seem like a great philosophy until you realize the cost to your future. I

s it worth it? Playing your favorite game all night, partying until you puke or jumping into a new romantic opportunity may seem too good to pass up until you wake up and discover you have lost out on something better. Economists call it “opportunity cost.”

I have worked as a counselor for twenty years now and can say that most of the people that I have met who are feeling like their life is a mess and it is all hopeless, got to that point one impulse decision at a time. Your mental health is based on your choices as well.

As a certified “religious guy,” I can add that the ultimate long term goal is your eternal life. I remember sitting on the edge of my bed one morning before class and realizing that what I did that day would probably influence more than just my short life.

What if there is a creator? What if our lives really have eternal purpose? We better figure it out and base our lives on it. Starting now. I know for me it has already been well worth it.

 

Allah is all-kind, all-forgiving

By TARIK AIT MAATALLAH
President, Ministerial Association of Potsdam and Potsdam Masjid (Mosque).

God revealed in Quran ayas 148 and 149 of sourat Annisa (chapter 4 titled Women):

“Allah does not love the utterance of foul speech except by whoever was wronged, and Allah is all-hearer, all-knowledgeable. Whether you reveal goodness or you hide it, or you forgive a foul, Allah is indeed All-kind, All-forgiving”

Goodness is words and actions. Some of it is mandatory and some is desired. Foul is also words and actions. All of it is either unlawful or hateful. A kind word brings all the goodness since the son of Adam told his brother as in aya 28 of Al-Maida (Chapter 5 titled The Supper):

“If you stretched your hand to me to slay me, I shall not stretch my hand to you to slay you for I indeed fear Allah the Lord of all the Worlds.”

God gives us a definition of a kind word in aya 24 of Ibrahim (chapter 14 titled Abraham): “Have you not seen how God strikes an example of a kind word as a nice tree, with roots that are steady and branches out in the sky”!

A foul word is all evil; no matter how high it goes it falls down, and no matter how loud it is, it remains despised. In the same chapter aya 26, God says: “And the parable of a foul word is a rotten tree that has been uprooted from the ground, it is never stable.”

The messenger of God Mohamed (Peace Be Upon Him ) said: “A person utters a word, out of the kindness of God, to which he/she pays no attention and God raises him/her in ranks because of it. A person speaks a word, out of God’s curse, to which he/she pays no attention and God dips him/her deep in hell because of it.” A word is your own until you utter it and then you are accountable for it.

So if people think that an angry word they utter is a burst of chest air that will be carried away in the wind, they are fools. We believe that our words and deeds are meticulously recorded by two angels whose task is to tally all that we say and do. In Qaf (Chapter 50) aya 18 God says: “Not a word does he utter but there is a sentinel by him, ready (to note it).” The messenger of God (PBUH) said: “Kindness never becomes old. Evil is never forgotten. God never dies. So be as you wish to be for you are judged based on whatever you are.”

A foul word is evil whether it is true or not. If such word were true then it becomes backbiting of the subject person when he/she is absent. If it were false then it is slander. If it were true or false in the subject person’s presence and in public and it were not intended to give genuine advice, then it is an insult, insolence and transgression. This is exactly why revelation insists on spreading kind words as in aya 53 of Al_Isra (Chapter 17 titled the Holy Journey):

“Tell my servants that they should only say the best word for Satan plots to spread dissension between them. Indeed Satan is to mankind an avid enemy.”

The person you attacked rightly or wrongly could retaliate rightly or wrongly and that opens wide the door of evil. Many arguments or fights between family members or friends are the result of an evil and sometimes unintended word. That is why the revelation above stresses the importance of choosing and saying only the best word no matter what the situation is. When criticizing someone, chose words that leave no room for misinterpretation. It is always better to say of an idea you do not like: “Let us think about that” instead of “well! That is just the most stupid thing I heard.” AT times the person at the receiving end is caught off guard or at a moment of weakness and can react rather badly. Notice how one sentence opens a can of worm and the other one opens a thoughtful conversation. The foul word in all cases starts a fire that is hard to contain. When a bad word is intended then it legitimizes animosity. In case a person is wronged and is too weak to retaliate, he/she will pray God for His protection. Who amongst us is up to a faceoff with God who never lets down people seeking His Protection?

 

Why do people suffer?

By DONNA BEHNKE
Christian Science Church

Suffering is a condition in which we believe a lie and experience its effects. Lies are believed as a result of ignorance, which allows us to be fooled.

We buy into something without proper examination. Lies can be taught and shared and accepted as common sense. But all lies deny God as The One and Only Cause.

When Jesus told the parable of sweet and bitter water never coming from the same source, he was encouraging us to check our source for each and every thought. He knew God's thoughts are Truth and all others are lies, no matter how attractive they may appear.

He also warned that a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand. God is One, undivided, but duality presents a world of twos: up/down, in/out, here/there/, good/bad. In duality man is tossed back and forth without certainty.

Duality is a misperception: it breaks the First Commandment to have one God, one Source, one Power, one Reality.

So if God is the Only and Wonderful, why do we actually chose suffering instead? Because lies are very subtle.

First, they parade as your own thoughts. A lie says: “listen, I am you and I know how things are.” If you identify with the lie, you will have a vested interest in it, even though it causes suffering. For when the suffering comes, the lie will blame another for its deeds. In this state the lie has attached itself to you and it gets a free ride.

Secondly, if this does not work, the lie will flatter you. It will say, “Because you are so smart, this little secret I am offering you is special and just between us; we can keep it in the dark and no one will know.”

Third, if we do not buy it, the lie will offer us something: “See this my way and you will be rich, ______, fill in the blank.” Now, if we have resisted so far there is one last big lie it will tell: “this is God's will and you will be guilty if you ignore it.” Now it has our attention!

So how do we handle persistent lying? By knowing what God is and what God is not.

God is Love. We have heard this many times but what does it mean? God always uses the emotion (energy in motion) of Love. Love-energy produces: peace, joy, blessings, joining, cooperation, unity, harmony, eternity.

God-energy is the Truth experienced. What energy does the lie us? Fear. What does fear produce? Hate, anger, self-righteousness, separation, despair, loneliness, loss; in a word, suffering in all its forms.

Jesus said, “destroy this temple and in three days I will restore it”. Why? Because he knew the Truth and only Truth. He could not be fooled. He heard one voice, the voice for God. He had overcome duality. So how should we proceed? Never accept suffering! Chose God-energy.

Examine the fruit of every action, and if you have been fooled, this understanding will expose the lie and it will disappear. Never feel guilty for your mistake, for this is the lie’s second defense, to keep you entangled.

Rather, cleanly step away from the lie, turn your back on it and never give it the time of day. Remember, if it was never true, how could you experience it? God is Truth, and has created you in and of Truth. Rejoice in your true Selfhood. It is Truth that sets the captive free.

 

 Federal Mandate a Threat to Religious Liberty

By PETER MUELLER
Pastoral Associate at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Potsdam

On January 20th, the Federal Government’s Department of Health and Human Services stated that as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, private employers will be required to provide free contraception and sterilization in their employees’ health care plans.

This mandate was issued in spite of protests that it would force Americans who regard sterilization and contraception, including drugs that are used to induce abortions, as immoral and sinful, to violate their religious beliefs.

The first amendment to the United States Constitution states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The free exercise of religion can be prohibited both by refusing to allow the exercise of religious beliefs, and by requiring the violation of religious beliefs. In its January 20th ruling, the federal government is specifically requiring some US Citizens to violate their religious beliefs or pay a penalty, disregarding the right to religious liberty guaranteed in the Constitution.

It has been claimed that there is a religious exemption included in the mandate. There is, and it is so narrow as to be meaningless: those religious organizations which minister only to people of their own religion are exempt.

This means that religious schools, universities, charities, hospitals, homeless shelters, and other social care centers, which serve the common good by ministering without distinction to people of any or no religion, are not exempt from the mandate; neither are many private businesses owned and run by people of religious conviction.

It has also been claimed that the mandate is justified because the need to provide essential medical care outweighs religious objections. That contraception and sterilization constitute essential medical care is, to put it mildly, highly debatable; that there is a lack of either is demonstrably false.

A 2010 Guttmacher Institute report on contraceptive use in the United States noted that 9 out of 10 employer-based insurance plans cover a full range of contraceptives, and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebellius acknowledged that even when contraceptives are not covered, contraceptive services are widely available at sites such as community health centers, public clinics, and hospitals with income-based support, not to mention doctor’s offices and pharmacies. Attempting to justify a violation of religious liberty in this way is farcical.

Many people may not agree with the religious beliefs that contraception, abortion, and sterilization are immoral and sinful. Let me be clear: I am not arguing here that contraception, abortion, and sterilization are wrong. I am convinced that they are; however, that is not the issue. The issue is the denial of religious liberty to those who do.

Prohibiting the free exercise of religion is not something that becomes allowed because you happen to disagree with it. To give an example, I disagree with the beliefs of Quakers, who will under no circumstances fight in a war. However, my disagreement does not give me leave, were I in a position of power, to force Quakers to fight in a time of war. The federal government cannot require people or organizations to violate their religious beliefs, no matter whether or not public opinion happens to agree with them.

The government currently respects the religious beliefs of groups such as the Amish and the Christian Scientists in regards to health care. This same respect should be extended to those citizens and organizations that are morally opposed to contraception, abortifacients, and sterilization.