Q: I long to go on a pilgrimage, but lack the funds to do so. Any suggestions?
A: My understanding of pilgrimage comes from Genesis 12:1–3, where we are called to walk (lech) to our truest self (lecha) by walking away from all that conditions and defines us. We are not told where to go, only that when we arrive, when we are free of isms and ideologies, we are to be “a blessing to all the families of the earth.” This is the true destination of all authentic pilgrimage: not a site made holy by belief, but a state of mind and heart made holy by the lives we live. As expensive as a visit to a sacred shrine may be, the price of true pilgrimage is greater still: costing you everything that prevents you from being the blessing you can become.
My grown daughters are both drug addicts. I continually bail them out of jail and send them off to rehab, but nothing works, and I’m destined for the poorhouse. Why is God punishing me this way?
It’s your daughters’ actions that land them in jail, and your actions that are sending you to the poorhouse; God has nothing to do with it. We suffer when our adult children make harmful choices, but we suffer more when we try to save them from themselves. The person you need to take care of is you. Let your children deal with the consequences of their actions. Ask them, “What are you going to do to help yourself?” not “What can I do to help you?”
My best friend is Muslim and I’m Jewish. We’ve never had a problem, but I read on a website that it’s the obligation of every Muslim to “fight, defeat, and annihilate the Jews until not a single Jew remains on the face of the Earth.” I’m outraged by this, and yet afraid to talk with her about it. What should I do?
This quotation is from a 2009 radio address delivered by Egyptian Imam Muhammad Hussein Ya’qoub, and it should outrage every good-hearted and right-minded person regardless of religion. So give your friend the opportunity to demonstrate her outrage, good-heartedness, and right-mindedness. If she admits to planning your murder, excuse yourself immediately. I suspect, however, a more constructive conversation will take place.
I’m preparing to travel to several holy sites. What books should I bring?
While you might read a general introduction to the sites you are visiting, I wouldn’t take any books with me. The purpose of pilgrimage is to free the mind, not to burden it further. If you fill your head with someone else’s ideas and experiences you will have no room for your own, and if you have no room for your own, there’s no point in making this journey in the first place.
I believe that God is goodness and love, yet I see evil and hatred everywhere. How do I trust a God who tolerates the ungodly?
Your problem with God comes from your definition of God: because you believe God is goodness and love, you struggle with why God tolerates evil and hate. I believe God is reality, the dance of opposites: good/evil, love/hate, light/dark, on/off, up/down, front/back, yin/yang (Isaiah 45:7). Trusting God means accepting the good and bad that come from God (Job 2:10), and learning how to navigate what is as it is, and not as you would like it to be (Ecclesiastes 3).
I watch a lot of television, and it seems that the shows I watch are conditioning me to fear and even hate Muslims. What can I do to resist this insidious manipulation?
We humans are evolutionarily conditioned to fear the stranger, and then socially conditioned to direct that fear at whomever our society demonizes as the stranger. For some the fearsome stranger is the Muslim, for others the Jew, and for still others the African American. We are never at a loss for people to fear and demonize. My suggestion is threefold: First, pay attention to how media is manipulating you. Second, counter that manipulation by building bridges to and friendships with the “stranger.” Third, watch less television.
We raised our daughter as a devout Catholic, yet she’s engaged to an Atheist. I worry about his ethics. How can a person be good without God?
Would you worry any less if your daughter married an Orthodox Jew, or devout Muslim, Mormon, or devotee of Krishna? Each of these men seeks to be good according to the dictates of his God, but their understandings of God and good may differ drastically from your own. Believing in God is no guarantee that he will believe like you.
Regarding morality, the difference between atheists and believers is that atheists have to work out their moral stance for themselves, while believers adopt the norms of their religion. Given that religions are quite capable of doing evil in the name of God, I would prefer a son-in-law who thinks for himself rather than one who surrenders his moral responsibility to the will of the group, regardless of which group this may be.
Can all religions be true?
Because religions make competing and often mutually exclusive truth claims, they can’t all be true, though they could all be false. For me the question isn’t one of truth or falsehood, but of justice and compassion. Any religion that teaches me how to be more just and kind is worthy of my time and effort. In this regard there is no need to limit yourself to one religion; I learn from them all.
My husband of 15 years has suddenly become a super Orthodox Jew. He wants me to convert (again!) according to his new standard, to shave my head, wear a wig, and live the life of a devout Orthodox Jewish woman. I love him and want to support him, but this just isn’t me, or my kids. Should I leave him?
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Author and teacher Rabbi Rami Shapiro has been called “one of the best bridges of Eastern and Western wisdom.” His newest book is Embracing the Divine Feminine. He now also leads a weekly podcast for S&H -- check out the latest episode here.