The Little Shoes that Changed My Life
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My name is Jim Myers. It was close to the end of 1990, a few months after my first grandson was born, I was sitting in my study flipping through a magazine when the picture above appeared. My eyes immediately locked on the soles of two little shoes -- on the feet of a dead child laying between two adults which I assumed were its parents.
As I looked at those little shoes, I wondered if that the little child had a grandfather somewhere and if he cared as much for him as I did about my grandson. As I read the story and pondered how that could have happened to that little child, this question popped into my mind:
What is so powerful that it could cause a loving mother
to place a glass of with a drink laced with poison to the lips of her own baby?
Surely, I thought, I would never do that to my grandson! Instantly this answer exploded in his mind -- "An unexamined religious belief system!"
Even though I was pastor of a church, I had never really examined the origin of my religious beliefs. But, then I thought about how powerful my religious beliefs were and they clearly my affected life -- what I did with my time, how I spent my money, my relationship with my wife & children, what I said "in the name of God" from my pulpit, etc. How far would I go if I really believed God was telling me to do something?
I began examining the sermons Jim Jones taught his followers and quickly realized that I taught many of their same things -- and my church's statement of faith contained many of the same beliefs as his. Jim Jones identified himself as a Christian and so did I. He preached from the same Bible as me. His church was actively involved in helping people in need -- and so was mine!
This was a powerful and transformational life experience. It led me to spend many months researching my own personal beliefs and the institutional religious doctrines I claimed were divine truths. Just because someone said something came from God, didn't mean people shouldn't check out that claim. I created a guideline for people to follow in my church. It has changed a lot of lives since that day in my study looking at those little shoes. Feel free to use it and teach it to others:
My Belief System will be LARGE ENOUGH to include all of the FACTS,
OPEN ENOUGH to be EXAMINED & QUESTIONED,
FLEXIBLE ENOUGH to CHANGE when ERRORS or NEW FACTS are DISCOVERED.
In the early 1990s a lot of people didn't grasp the importance of examining and questioning religious beliefs. Most people believed what other people believed was their own business and their lives would never be affected by someone like Jim Jones. They felt like they could never be lured into a cult like his -- but things changed after September 11, 2001. Americans suddenly became acutely aware of how dangerous religious belief systems could become. Other peoples' religious beliefs could hurt them. Today, I don't have to spend much time trying to persuade people about this.
But today, even though the danger of unexamined religious belief system is common knowledge, very few people have examined their belief systems. Beliefs control our lives. We are believing creatures. And, there are other Belief Systems that are just as powerful and potentially dangerous as Religious Belief Systems. In addition to Religious Belief Systems there are two other Belief Systems that people aren't taught anything about in public schools, religious institutions or any other public institutions -- Political Belief Systems and Economic Belief Systems.
In 1999 Dr. Ike Tennison, my wife Susan Myers and I founded the Biblical Heritage Center, Inc. In many ways, BHC is a way to honor and remember the child that wore those little shoes. My grandson is now a grown man with twin sons of his own.
A few years ago, Rabbi Jeffrey Leynor and I founded the TOV Center, Inc. It is an extension of my work at BHC. TOV is a Hebrew word that appears seven times in the first chapter of Genesis -- And God saw that it was TOV. In that context TOV describes acts that protect lives, preserve lives, make lives more functional and increase the quality of life.
The child in the picture above would probably be about forty years old now -- and I think he would be pleased to know that you know he lived and that his death affected my life and the lives of a lot of other people.