True Experiences Of...

            What does it mean when someone claims a “true experience”? Perhaps, it depends on how you define “true.” Maybe, it means something else. I’m opting for something else in this essay.

My dear fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha

My dear fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha

            I was attending an “Omega Service” for one of my deceased Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity brothers recently. The service started before the time and immediately the ushers locked down the sanctuary and I was caught in the lobby. No in-and-out, in other words.  I was forced to watch the first 30 minutes of the service from the monitors. It turned out to be good fortune.

            While standing in an anteroom with two other latecomers, a frat brother suddenly began giving out CDs, explaining that they contained interviews of people who had near-death experiences and lived to share their experiences. He said that each person had seen a “bright light,” signifying to me that he meant the experiences were mystical and true. I accepted the CD gladly not knowing what to expect. I embrace the unknown.

 

 

I began listening to the CD the following morning on my way to the pool with my wife. The interviews were about the speakers’ “True Experiences Of…” going to heaven. Although recorded in 1990 by a company called, what else, Messianic Vision, the interviews sounded like something from decades gone by; maybe the 60’s or 70’s. Maybe it was the production value or maybe it was the antiquated style of language the speakers employed. They spoke very crisply, matter-of-fact, and with command. There was a distinct absence of words, such as “like,” “so,” “really!,” and “amazing,” words that are overused in today’s vernacular.

 
Can you open your heart to others' true experiences?

Can you open your heart to others' true experiences?

            Each speaker described an event that caused their temporary death, but then ended with life. The first speaker, a physician, described dying as a fetus, but coming back to life. Later, he fell several feet off a roof down to a concrete landing, blacked out to unconsciousness, then went to heaven and hell before returning to life in the here and now. The next speaker had an auto accident that left sans heartbeat and in a coma. She, too, went to heaven and lived to tell about it. Each of these experiences was declared to be “true.” The underlying messages were clear: going to heaven is the bomb and the only way to get there is through believing in Jesus.

 
                                 What does  your  heaven look like?

                                 What does your heaven look like?

            Each person’s description of heaven was compelling. Indeed, they all talked about seeing “a bright light.” For one person, the light was the face of God. For another, it was the face of Jesus. Astonishingly, the light itself conveyed meaning: the true presence and love of Christ. Once engulfed by the light, the heaven that they’d known previously only through the Bible suddenly became real. You could sense the veracity of their experience and authenticity of their belief.


 

 

Most well-meaning people hearing these experiences of heaven might be taken aback. The storytellers might be considered crazy, brainwashed, foolish, silly, etc. But the clarity with which they spoke left me wondering, “What if they are ‘true experiences?’” As Pope Francis said earlier this year, referring to homosexuals, “Who am I to judge?” It’s true. Who am I?


Can you be open to "true experiences" different than your own?

Can you be open to "true experiences" different than your own?

            I’m a person who believes that we ought to make room for others’ “true experiences” in the same manner that others make room for ours. I’m the person who believes that there is enough room in the universe of faith for everyone to have his or her own experiences without being frowned upon, minimized, labeled, dismissed, and judged harshly. I’m the guy who doesn’t feel it’s necessary to say “that’s not something I agree with” whenever I describe a religious belief of person different than me. I’m the guy who believes there is more value in standing in unity with “true believers” than in opposition to them. We need each other.

 

            True freedom of religion means that we all have a choice in the matter and no tradition stands above the others. The U.S. Constitution guarantees this freedom. It is up to individuals and faith communities and other communities of learning to understand and promote such freedom. It is all of our civic duty to stand strong in protection of this civil liberty. When we fail to uphold this freedom for anyone, whether by denying its existence, insisting our tradition has the answer, or as Donald Trump did last night, by not shutting down religious ignorance and intolerance when we encounter it, (a heckler called President Obama a Muslim, which is blatantly false), we become complicit in intolerance, prejudice, and often, hatred.

 

There is a relationship.

There is a relationship.

            In an essay titled, “Disobedience as a Psychological and Moral Problem,” the psychologist Erich Fromm said, “freedom and the capacity for disobedience are inseparable; hence any social, political and religious system which proclaims freedom, yet stamps out disobedience, cannot speak the truth.” With regard to religious experience, I believe we can interchange the word “disobedience” for “true experience.” Who are we to judge what is a true experience?

 

            There is a relationship between freedom and religious experience. I believe freedom exists when we embrace our own religious convictions and practices with confidence AND accept the fact that others have their own convictions and practices which need not infringe upon us. (Groups such as ISIS are excepted.) With that said many forms of “true experience” can truly co-exist without anyone feeling compelled to judge.

Are you on the road to Freedom?

Are you on the road to Freedom?


            The next time you find yourself in an anteroom, checkout line, church, synagogue, university, office, etc. with a person declaring his or her “true experience,” try withholding your judgment. Instead, try embracing that person as a human being and their experience as true to that person. Do some deep listening. Or as Stephen Covey encouraged, “seek to understand, then to be understood.” If we can engage in that manner, surely we’ll discover “truths” that none of us previously thought existed.

Namaste, my friends, X



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