Your Best Life Now

Your Best Life Now

Prayer…Does God Answer Prayer? Ebola Survivor Thinks So…

posted by smcswain

Prayer…Does God answer prayer?

Apparently so, according to the Ebola Doctor, Dr. Kent Brantly, who was himself an Ebola survivor. You can view his full remarks in a recent press conference he held soon after leaving the hospital.

Prayer: Does God Answer Prayer?

Prayer: Does God Answer Prayer? Picture Used by Permission – www.MichelleMcSwain.com

I am not so certain, however. There was a time I, too, said God answers prayers. I wanted as badly as anyone to believe God did. As a consequence, I looked everywhere for answered prayers. I deemed these as indisputable proof God did answer prayer.  I gave my attention to every “miraculous” story I could find, such as the one experienced directly by Brantly  himself. Such stories gave me temporary reassurance that God did indeed answer prayer.

Does God Answer Prayer?”

But then, and this has been the case throughout my life, reality set in.

I began thinking about my logic, imperfect as it is, and I would find holes all through it, then and again now.

Maybe it’s just me but I could not help but ask questions like this:  “Well, Dr. Brantly, I’m sure you are certain God answered your prayer to be spared the deadly Ebola virus, but what of those 1200 others in Africa who died from it?”

Did any of them pray to get well?
Why didn’t God answer their prayer?
And, apparently, he didn’t, so why not? Furthermore, why was yours answered but not theirs?
Did they not have, as you had, enough other prayers being offered on their behalf?
Do “more prayers” better the odds of getting heard? If so, how many more prayers does it take?
Did their prayer go unanswered because they were not all believers? Is being a believer a pre-requisite?
Or, could it be that they just did not believe strongly enough? You know, have enough faith?

Ever asked questions like these? If so, you know how I’m feeling about now.

In fact, you probably know how I feel any time I see…

…a professional athlete genuflect and make a sign of the cross immediately after scoring the winning touchdown…

…Or, a tornado survivor give thanks to God and a million others in a news report for the fact that his home was spared in a neighborhood that looks like a war zone from the Middle East;

…Or, when a doctor gives his personal thanks to God for prayers answered and a second chance at life that was given to him. Aka, Dr. Brantly.

I truly hesitate to say anything here because I know how defensive I used to be whenever anyone questioned my beliefs…which was often. I am especially hesitant, however, under these particular circumstances. It is truly impressive to see such a benevolent and giving person like Dr. Brantly whose selfless love of Christ and service to others would lead him to risk his own life to give life to others. Or, at the least, relieve the suffering of others. Frankly, and I’ll be plainly honest here, I am not sure I could do what he has done. So, I have the deepest respect for him and give thanks to God for such benevolent and generous people…people whose example I hope to better emulate in my own life.

Furthermore, I understand the natural inclination he and other survivors feel whenever the odds are against them and, for whatever the reasons – God, prayer, the miraculous – they are spared and given another opportunity at life. How can you not be thankful at such a time? And, if you don’t thank God, who DO you thank?

Heart Attack and My Prayer

I recently survived a mild heart attack. Mild or otherwise, it was a heart attack and such things get your attention. In my case, it was a brush with the Grim Reaper and, while I required only one stent in my heart for one blockage, the risk of dying was nonetheless real.

Very real.

How could I not be thankful when I walked out of the hospital? I was. I am. And, had this happened many years ago, I would have prayed for healing.

I would have given thanks for surviving it.
I would have given God the credit for answering my prayers.
I would have given God the credit for answering the prayers of my family and friends.
Frankly, I would have given everyone a big high “5″ as it were, since the whole experience proved once again that God answers prayer.

But that’s just the point. He didn’t. Not directly, anyway.

The truth is, I did not pray for healing.
I did not ask God to grant me another chance at life.

Why? Because praying such a prayer made no sense to me.

How could I ask God to heal me when there is no telling how many other people across the planet were dying of heart attacks at that very instant?

I no longer pray such prayers. And, even if I did, I wouldn’t be going on national television in a press conference or standing behind some pulpit and declaring to others that God answers prayer.

Why? Because God doesn’t answer prayer. It is this kind of belief that gives rise, not to faith, but to disappointment. The fact remains, no matter how many times you might ask in prayer to be healed of whatever is threatening your existence today, something is going to get you tomorrow. In other words, you are going to die. And, the sooner you can make peace with that reality, the happier and healthier you’ll be.

God Does Not Answer Prayer

It is this kind of nonsensical belief that gives rise, not to faith, but to disbelief itself.

Here’s what I believe…
God has created the human body with a natural instinct at survival. It permeates the entire created order, as Darwin so eloquently reminded us. He called it “survival of the fittest.”

Furthermore, God has allowed science and scientists – who gratefully are among those who actually use their minds given to them – to work in concert with this survivalist instinct inside every cell of the human body – to bring technologies to bear on bodily weaknesses and, as a consequence, the natural healing process is helped along by science and medicine.

What then did I pray for during my heart attack?

I prayed that these technologies would work together with my body’s natural desire to survive (and that of my own, too). I prayed for the doctor performing the heart stent, that he would be alert and bring all of his skill to bear on the procedure. I prayed for the nurses who cared for me. I prayed especially for the young ladies, mostly, who came into my room from time to time to empty the trash and clean my toilet. I prayed more for them than for all the others, including myself. What a thankless job. Wonder if they ever pray? Wonder what they ask of God?

All went well for me.

How could I not give thanks?

I’m still giving thanks, now eight weeks later.
I will always give thanks.
And, one day, when I do die, and I will die, I’m still going to be giving thanks.

Why? Because my faith is not in a God who answers prayer.
My faith is in a God who does not answer prayer.
My faith is in a God who does not heal one and ignore another.
My faith is in a God who has given to humans not only a miraculous body but the minds and technology to help people live long and live well.

No other God exists.
No other God has ever existed.

And, it is time, believing people stop believing in a make-believe SuperDoctor who lives above the sky and who rescues the sick and infirm…

Provided, of course, they pray…
…have enough faith…
…and, yes, have enough other prayers offered for them.

Such things make great tales of survival.
But they do not inspire faith.
If anything, they temporarily only confirm the delusions of the believing…until that day when their prayers don’t work. And, that day is coming.
Furthermore, there is not one ounce of truth to any of it. And, it’s time that Christians – me included – stop believing fairytales that have no truth in them whatsoever.

 

Meditation: The Key to Living a Sacred Life

posted by smcswain
Meditation: The Key to a Sacred Life

Meditation: The Key to a Sacred Life

Meditation is the key to living a sacred life.

It is the key that unlocks the chamber to an inner life of tranquility. Meditation is also the indispensable discipline you must practice in order to know a sacred, spiritual life.

If meditation is the indispensable link, therefore, even the key to living a sacred life, what is meditation and how may I learn to practice it?

What Is Meditation?

Meditation is easier to define than it is to practice. As a definition, meditation is the progressive quieting of the mind.

It is just that simple.

And, it is just that difficult.

I have always loved Sir Edward Dyer’s poem, “My Mind to Me a Kingdom Is”

My mind to me a kingdom is, such present joys therein I find
That it excels all other bliss, that world affords or grows by kind.
Though much I want, which most would have, yet still my mind forbids to crave
They get with toil, they keep with fear; such cares my mind could never bear.

Content I live, this is my stay;
I seek no more than may suffice; I press to bear no haughty sway;
Look! What I lack my mind supplies.
Lo! Thus I triumph like a king, content with that my mind doth bring.

Some have too much, yet still do crave; I little have and seek no more.
They are but poor, though much they have, And, I am rich with little store.
They poor, I rich; they beg I give.  They lack, I leave, they pine, I live.
But all the pleasures that I find, It is to maintain a quiet mind.

How then, do you “quiet the mind” through meditation? That’s the first question that must be answered before asking how to “maintain” a quiet mind.

1. A specific time and place is important when learning the art of meditation.

In the early days of my spiritual practice, I would try to engage in the practice of meditation at about the same time every day and certainly the same location. For me, it was getting up at five o’clock in the morning and meditating in the front room of our house, while sitting on a coach. Some people get into the lotus position, as it is called. But that never seemed to work for me. I chose sit up instead on a couch but in a position where I would not as likely fall asleep. Sometimes, however, I fell asleep anyway.

Although I no longer use that same place to meditate today, I still regard it as a sacred place. Places become sacred with practice. The manner in which I meditate, however, has remained the same. More often than not, I use the same posture whenever and wherever I meditate. If there is a couch or a reclining chair available, that’s what I typically use.

You will have to find the method that works for you. If you are serious about meditation, try the lotus position first. You may just find it works for you. It has millions of others for hundreds of years.

2. A specific method or practice of meditation is important.

I used a method one of my spiritual teachers taught to me – the Japa Method of Meditation. This is an Eastern practice, but a Lectio Divina practiced by many Benedictine monks and practitioners of the Roman Catholic faith is based on this method.

I found the Japa method to be the most helpful. For an introduction into the mechanics of this method and its specific practice, I would suggest you read the layperson’s take on it and, among those, few would be better than Wayne Dyer’s book, Getting in the Gap: Making Conscious Contact with God through Meditation. While not the most comprehensive book on Japa meditation, it is a good introduction with specific guidance in its actual practice.

There are many different practices of meditation, however, You may need to try several before finding one that works best for  you. In recent months, for example, I have enjoyed a meditation series produced by Deepak Chopra and Oprah. Now, after several offerings, they have a wonderful collection of meditations that will help you get started. Check out the link and see for yourself.

3. Have few expectations of meditation.

That may sound like a strange suggestion but it is important to be mindful of what you’re expecting meditation to do for you. And, most of your expectations should probably be discarded.

It might be better in fact to have no expectations at all. With practice, the benefits of meditation will become obvious enough. Most likely, however, you will not notice the benefits until the practice becomes as essential and as habitual as your morning coffee.

People who stay with diets eventually lose weight. People who consistently exercise as a means of getting in shape do not depend on any of their expectations for their primary motivation. Hence, they are able to stay with those practices, especially during the difficult times when the benefits of their efforts are barely noticeable. Which is most of the time.

To help you identify unconscious expectations you may have about meditation, ask yourself the question: “Why am I beginning this practice? What am I expecting from meditation?”

Now, do not misunderstand.

I can almost hear someone saying, “Are you suggesting, if my expectation for practicing meditation is to enhance my sacred life, I should give up that expectation?”

Well, as strange as it may sound, that is precisely what I’m suggesting.

Maybe this clarification will suffice.  What I am suggesting is that you simply be aware of your motivations and expectations regarding this or any spiritual practice. Awareness is all that is necessary. There is no need whatsoever to purge your desires. Just be aware of them. That is enough.

This way, when meditation does not feel as if it is enhancing your sacred self – which will sometimes be the case – you will nevertheless stay with the practice, knowing the benefits will be forthcoming. In time, you will discover that you feel spiritually-renewed, even when your meditation is interrupted by someone or something or does not produce the same feelings of peace or tranquility every time.

4. Remember the primary purpose of meditation: It is to awaken in you a deeper awareness of this present moment.

When you are present, you are in Presence. You’re in Presence whether you are aware or not. Meditation trains you to be more alert, more aware, more in touch with this present moment. Hence, you are never more spiritually-connected than when you are grounded in Being itself, to borrow Paul Tillich’s famous phrase.  Meditation is by design the means by which you enter into a deeper connection to with the present moment or Presence herself.

People may practice meditation for different reasons. Some for health or relaxation; others for happiness; and, still others meditate in hopes of altering their brain chemistry.

That is correct.

Recent brain research, for example, now tells us that frequent meditators seem capable of changing the genetic make-up or chemistry functions within their brains. In other words, meditation seems to stimulate the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter within the brain associated with positive, happy or tranquil feelings.

While all of these are positive benefits of meditation, the real purpose, however, is far more altruistic. It is to bring you into the present more completely. While that may seem just as self-motivated as the other reasons for meditating, the fact is, when you meditate, you become more and more free of yourself. Altruism is the consequence of a meditative practice. Which is why some people define meditation as the key to transformation.

The former Catholic nun turned Buddhist, Pema Chodron puts it like this: “We do not meditate to become good meditators. We meditate in order to be more awake.”

Two spiritual teachers spoke of the same reality although they used two different metaphors.

The Buddha and His Disciples

What enlightenment is to a Buddhist, salvation is to a Christian. Both are designed to awaken the spiritual practitioner to the eternal – which is only ever this present moment. There is no past or future, except as memory or anticipation. There is only ever now. The present may be filled with thoughts about the past but thoughts about the past are only ever thought about this present moment.

The same is true of the future. Thoughts about the future…even the future itself…if and when it ever appears, it does so only as this present moment.

When you understand that this is the nature of reality, you will begin to understand the longing you feel inside to be free. Therefore, all spiritual traditions offer a pathway to salvation…enlightenment…nirvana. What you call the spiritual goal is secondary. What you experience is universal. And, that experience is the joy…the focus…the freedom…the peace and tranquility of living completely and fully into this moment.

It is here you meet the deepest needs in yourself and in the lives of those around you.
bi
When the Buddha was asked, “What do you and your disciples do?” he answered, “We eat, we walk, we sleep.”

“But,” pressed his inquirer, “how is that enlightenment? Don’t we all eat, walk and sleep?”

“Indeed, we do,” replied the Buddha. “But when my followers eat, they know they are eating. When they walk, they know they are walking. When they sleep, they are aware they are sleeping. That is the difference.”

Jesus and His Disciples

One day, Jesus and his disciples saw a man born blind. “Rabbi,” he was asked, “Who sinned? This man or his parents that he was born blind?” (John 9:2).
The clever way in which we avoid the immediate is by focusing on the insignificant. Which is precisely what those around Jesus had done and were doing with the blind man. Instead of entering into the moment at hand, they gave their attention to the man’s past and what either he or his parents had done that resulted in his blind condition.

What each of us need “saving” from is both the past and the future. Which is the point of Christian salvation. Those who think Jesus came to be God’s scapegoat for sin or simply the means by which you can have a future in heaven miss the point of salvation entirely. Jesus, like Buddha before him, came to save you from yourself.

Meditate on this and see what happens.

Communicate: 5 Ways to Enhance Communication

posted by smcswain

COMMUNICATE What could be more important than learning how to communicate?

Here are five ways to enhance communication in your own life…

Communicate

Communicate

Seek the Truth

Seek the Truth

Speak the Truth

Speak the Truth

Expect the Truth

Expect the Truth

Hear the Truth

Hear the Truth

Live the Truth

Live the Truth

Communicate

Communicate

Dr. Steve McSwain…is an author, speaker, leadership coach, counsel to non-profits, faith-based organizations and congregations, an adjunct Professor of Communication at the University of Kentucky, an interfaith activist and spiritual teacher.

But not always in this order. On the university campus, he teaches students the art of communication. In public talks, however, he teaches people the art of leading, as well as the art of living.

Visit his website for more information: SteveMcSwain.com  Follow him on Twitter and Facebook

Suicide…an Unpardonable Sin?

posted by smcswain

Suicide

Saint Augustine believed this in the fifth century and, as a consequence, this became the Church’s position regarding suicide for centuries. But Saint Augustine was wrong about this, just as he has been wrong about many other things, including “original sin.”

For most of my life, I have let the Church do much of my thinking for me. Which, if you do not know by now, I regard as the ultimate form of spiritual laziness. There’s lots of laziness many places. When, however, I set out to discover for myself what I really believed, I made many wonderful and liberating discoveries.

One of the most important discoveries, for example, is how frequently the Church has changed its theology over the centuries to accommodate new ideas and understandings. More times than you can count, in fact. If you are a student of Christian history, or any religious history, you know this to be true.  True among all religions, I might add. But, not too far behind this accommodation phenomenon is just how frequently, and sometimes violently, the Church has sought to suppress any idea it deemed heretical or contrary to its teachings.

It took the Catholic Church, for example, nearly four hundred years to finally admit that Galileo was right and the Vatican was wrong when it came to the question of whether the earth revolved around the sun or the sun around the earth. For centuries, the Church had insisted it was the latter.

Galileo

Galileo, on the other hand, building on the work of Copernicus, said it was the former.

You know who won that debate.

We have come to accept – those of us who haven’t given up on the Church entirely – just how slow the Church is in admitting it’s own wrongs.

The Church was wrong about the Kingdom of God.
The Church was wrong about slavery.
The Church was wrong about women.
The Church was wrong, and many still are, about homosexuality.
The Church was wrong, and most still are, about same sex marriage.
The Church was wrong, and creationists still are, about evolution.
I could go on. But you get the point.

In time, the Church seems to come around and get on the right side of history. But not without first inflicting unimaginable damage on people in the process of adjusting its erroneous theology to accommodate the times.

Which brings me to the subject of suicide.

The Church and Suicide

The Church was wrong about it, too. But, typical to its contrary style, it took centuries of abuse before the Church slowly changed its theology to accommodate new understandings.

In the case of Galileo, not until 1992, did Pope John Paul II finally confess the Church had been wrong all along. Few, however, paid much attention to the Vatican’s confession of evil and sin against Galileo.

Given the Church’s sordid history of denial and wrongdoing, why would anyone care the Pope apologized?

Pope John Paul II

They didn’t. Which is why, although reported in the news, the Pope’s confession went largely unnoticed.

An apology nearly four hundred years in the making is rather meaningless, wouldn’t you say?

The history isn’t much better.

An article in the Salt Lake Tribune, for example, briefly surveys the Church’s poor record of understanding toward those who had completed suicide throughout the centuries. Here’s one of the points made…

“Those who took their lives lost their property, their burial rites and their place in heaven. They were posthumously excommunicated from the church, their corpses were often defiled, their memories erased, their families humiliated, shunned and disinherited.”

It’s the Christian way far too often, isn’t it?

The Church has been so wrong about so many things and for so long, I am sometimes amazed anyone pays any attention any more to anything it says.

A Call to Compassion

Which brings me to the recent suicide of Robin Williams.

Like you, the whole damn thing saddens me.

I thought of Robin as a friend and I’ve never met him. But he felt like my friend…like my childhood playmate. That guy or girl with whom you could be completely and totally your crazy childlike self.

I needed Robin. Our world needed Robin.

And, like you, I have cried for our world…for myself…for him…for his family. I will miss him.

And, yes, I’m hoping the Church gets this one right. That the Church will be on the right side of history this time and respond with compassion and understanding.

What is not needed is the pontification on suicide or whether, for example, those who complete suicide go to heaven.

Oh yes, fundamentalist Christians are already ranting about this and doing so in their typical arrogant way.  Who among them, or who among us, has the foggiest idea about heaven or eternity? I sure don’t. I’m pretty sure no one else does either.

Fundamentalists say, “We believe in heaven.” But the real truth is you and I only ever “believe” in the things we don’t know.  And, what we don’t know is frightening. Which explains why, among other things, suicide is frightening. We know so little about it.

Heaven

Furthermore, this explains why religious people spend their time writing about and/or reading books on heaven and eternity. It is because, contrary to what they want you to think, death still scares the hell out of them. Additionally, they are secretly worried sick that heaven might actually NOT exist.

It’s a kind of mental delusion. We dupe ourselves into “believing” things and mistakenly confuse our delusions for “faith.” A clever mental trick.

And, of course, it’s the same thing religious people do who want to debate the existence of God. The only reason people try to prove God exists is because they’re secretly afraid she doesn’t.

So, with Robin Williams, and others like him and their families, it is my sincere hope the Church will respond to this with compassion, understanding, and with openness.  We need many informed and humane conversations around the issue of suicide.

I hope the Church’s best minds – not those with “made up” minds…rigid know-it-all-minds…not “we’re right and everyone else is wrong” minds…but those with the best open minds to gather and grapple with suicide and help the world better understand it.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

What our culture needs is a compassionate, informed Church. A Church that explores this issue, as well as the other related issues and concerns like euthanasia, assisted suicide, etc., and mental health. Instead of the Church’s typical response to science and medicine…to be suspicious and hostile toward both…but this time join ranks and enter into intelligent conversation and exploration.

I want to know more about suicide myself and I want the same for you, the Church, and those outside the Church but within our human family. And, to those of you reading this who might have had thoughts of suicide, do not conclude from this that, because the Church has been wrong about so many things, it might not be any help to you now. There are many churches and church leaders and followers of Christ who get it. Seek one out. Or, at the least, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or call this number 800-273-8255.

Isn’t this the opportunity to broaden our consciousness, inform our understanding, and deepen our compassion?

Whether you are a Christian or Buddhist or Hindu or Jew or Muslim or atheist or just another human being…

Isn’t this the humane thing to do?

Cheek Turning: Completely Impractical Words Jesus Spoke

posted by smcswain
If Someone Strikes You on the Right Cheek

Photo Used by Permission
www.MichelleMcSwain.com

Cheek Turning: “If someone strikes you,” counseled Jesus, “turn the other cheek!” Completely impractical words, wouldn’t you agree?

Who does this? You get sucker punched on one side of the face and you’re supposed to submissively turn the other cheek, too? Give me a break! Such nonsense could never possibly work. Just ask the Jews. Or, the Arabs. Right?

Maybe not. But maybe it does, too. But then, how would anyone know? Has it ever really been tried?

Oh, sure, there are those of us who mistakenly think to turn the other cheek means to run from conflict. Or, roll over and take abuse. Or, disappear to a remote corner and lick our wounds.

I’m not talking about this and neither is Jesus. I do know, however, what it’s like to do everything I can to please everybody…to fix everyone as well as every situation…and then, when I fail, which is almost always, I run at the first sign of disagreement in order to avoid a negative reaction or, worse, rejection.

Jesus is talking here instead about real cheek turning or a radical departure from the more common method for handling conflict between two people…between two religions…or between two peoples and nations.

Like the Jews and Arabs.
Like Christians and Muslims.
Like the Americans and…well…just about everybody else.

Jesus went on: “You have heard it said,’An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,’ but I say to you, ‘Is that going to get you anywhere?’ Do not strike back at all!” (Matthew 5:38-42).

If Someone Strikes You on the Right Cheek…Do Not Strike Back at All!

This is Jesus’ strategy for resolving conflicts, ending violence, and the futility of seeking revenge. And, frankly, it’s about the dumbest thing he ever said. Isn’t it?

Of course! Everybody knows his strategy would never work. It didn’t work for  him. Which probably explains why nobody bothers to try it because the few who have, aka Jesus, the Buddha, etc., either end up being attacked, as in the latter, or dead, as in the former.

Saint Augustine of Hippo knew this, too. Which is why he used his skillful brain to craft a clever alternative – the “Just War” theory – that, for all practical purposes, has guided western history down to the present.

Good thing he did. Otherwise, the Church would have had no way of completely disregarding Jesus’ instruction.

But here’s the question I cannot escape: How do we know cheek turning is impractical? Have anyone tried it lately?

If Someone Strikes You on the Right Cheek, Kick Ass in Response

I do not know the answer to my own question but, my guess is, few have.  “Kick ass” is the cowardly but convenient way of responding to any conflict and the favorite method of most Americans.

The Church, too.

Which explains why I always find it interesting when there are discussions among Christians or articles about “the Christian perspective on war.”  Isn’t the Christian perspective on war “turn the other cheek?” Granted, there are probably many “church” perspectives on war. But I find it odd that there could be more than one Christian perspective when clearly Jesus said, “Turn the other cheek.”

“Look,” you say, “I’m a believer in Jesus but, when it comes to some of the things he taught, let’s be honest, sometimes his way just doesn’t work. It’s completely impractical and simply cannot be taken seriously.”

Really? Are we not just seeking to dismiss and, therefore, disregard Jesus’ way?

Hasn’t the “Just War Theory” succeeded in just giving “believers” a way to disbelieve Jesus’ teaching, but still regard themselves as believers? After all, idealism does not work in a world full of Hitlers, Hirohitos, Hamas or Husseins.

Right?

If Someone Strikes You on the Right Cheek, Turn the Other Also?

I admit I’m a bit conflicted here. Call me simplistic. Label me an idealist. Dismiss me outright, if that makes it a little easier for you. But, for the life of me, I cannot understand how we Christians  can claim to be “saving” the world when some of the things the Savior said himself, saints do not believe and so easily disregard.

What am I missing here?

Is Jesus the Only Way to God?

posted by smcswain
Is Jesus the Only Way to God?

Is Jesus the Only Way to God?

Another Cardiac Unit Insight…

Is Jesus the only way to God?

I am often asked, “What did Jesus really mean when, in John 14:6, he is purported to have said, “I am the way…no one comes to the Father but by me?”

I was raised to believe that Jesus was saying, “I am the ONLY way to know God…if you do not believe in ME, you have condemned yourself to eternal separation from God.”

Is that really what Jesus meant?

I think not.

I thought about this during my brief hospital stay. A heart attack, even a mild one, has a way of bringing you face to face with your own mortality.

There are two reasons I know this is not what Jesus meant.

1. One, it would be completely out of the character and teachings of Jesus to exclude anyone from God who did not get his or her “beliefs” just right, even “belief” in Jesus. Such dogmatism was precisely the thing that irked him the most by the exclusivist religion of his day that was always drawing boundaries around those who were “in” and those who were “out.”

2. Second, clearly Jesus was a teacher of spiritual things – virtually everything we know about him…from him…comes to us as a teaching…a path to follow…a lifestyle to adopt…and, therefore, his words here simply mean, to borrow Thich Nhat Hanh’s brilliant analysis – and this from a Buddhist monk, not a “Christian” theologian:

“When Jesus said, ‘I am the way,’ He meant that to have a true relationship with God, you must practice His way. In the Acts of the Apostles, the early Christians always spoke of their faith as ‘the Way.’”

“The Way is not an asphalt road”…

     (as in a paved, rigid system of beliefs).

“But we must distinguish between the ‘I’ spoken by Jesus and the ‘I’ that people usually think of. The ‘I’ in His statement is LIFE itself, His life, which is the way. If you do not really look at His life, you cannot see the way. If you only satisfy yourself with praising a name, even the NAME of Jesus, it is not practicing the life of Jesus…The way is Jesus Himself and not just some idea of Him…Many who have neither the way nor the life try to impose on others what they believe to be the way. But these are only words that have no connection with real life or a real way” (Living Buddha, Living Christ by Thich Nhat Hanh).

I’d rather walk the way of Jesus; not just recite words about Jesus.

Isn’ that what it really means to be Christian?

Dr. Steve McSwain is an author, speaker, counsel to non-profits, faith-based organizations and congregations, and a spiritual teacher. His books and blogs inspire spiritual seekers all over the world. He is a devoted follower of Christ but an interfaith activist as well. He is frequently heard to say, in the words of Mother Teresa, “I love all religions; but I’m in love with my own.” Read more from Dr. McSwain on his blog Your Best Life Now.

The 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War: Remember, We Must…

posted by smcswain

This may surprise you, but what we commonly call the Vietnam War, or the Second Indo-China War, was technically the “Vietnam Conflict.” The US Congress never officially declared war against Vietnam. They viewed our participation in the conflict as a means of protecting South Vietnam from Communist takeover.

What was our involvement in the war that began fifty years ago?

According to America’s Wars Report, issued by the Department of Veterans Affairs (May, 2010,) 8.7 million service members were involved. To put that number into perspective, that’s over half the number of all US service members who were involved in World War II. About 5.4 million lives were lost to the Vietnam War.

It may seem small in comparison, but that is over twenty times the number killed in the American Revolution. Over 153,000 Americans were wounded in the Vietnam War.

At the height of hostilities in January, 1968, US forces heavily bombed the borders of Cambodia and Laos. The Communists launched the Tet Offensive, but failed to gain control over South Vietnam. The American public grew weary of government policies and suggestions that we were winning the war.

Even though the Paris Peace Accord in 1973 called for a cease to hostilities, and was agreed to by all parties, the war dragged on until April, 1975. Our involvement in the war ended on August 15, 1973. By 1976, both North and South Vietnam were reunited.

As of May, 2010, in the above cited report, 7,391,000 veterans were still alive. That number is three times more than the number involved in Desert Storm.

What do the numbers mean?

The numbers give you a snapshot of our involvement, but scale the numbers down to just one, where you can understand it personally.

Every number represents a loved one… each with a unique personality, with extraordinary talents and aspirations, each one with a life ahead of them.

How could they have known that their American Dream would turn so horribly into a hellish nightmare? Many were too young to understand. They did not have to wait long to find out.

Many of them were sent home in body bags. Even more came back with limbs amputated by landmines, suffered shrapnel blasts and bullet wounds. Many became blind. Others were deafened from the continual strafing, screeching, and thudding of aerial bombardment, machine gun fire, and explosions. Many are confined to a wheelchair for the rest of their lives. Many came home unappreciated, rejected, and spiritually devastated. Even today, many of the survivors of that war will not speak of the atrocities they witnessed or the hell that they suffered.

The horrors of war, the memory of loss, the chronic pain; it’s just all too agonizing to remember.  But remember we must, even if it is too difficult for those who actually endured the horrors of that war.

Remember Our Service Members…

America owes a debt of deep gratitude and appreciation for the service members who fight for the freedoms we far too often take for granted. Let us not turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to our own. Let’s remember every last one of them. If you have opportunity, visit the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington in person. If not, visit The Wall USA, a non-profit established by veterans of the 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment to honor those who died in the Vietnam War.

It is here you’ll find the poignant words: “If you are able, save for them a place inside of you and save one backward glance when you are leaving for the places they can no longer go. Be not ashamed to say you loved them, though you may or may not have always. Take what they have taught you with their dying and keep it with your own. And in that time when men decide and feel safe to call the war insane, take one moment to embrace those gentle heroes you left behind.” (Major Michael Davis O’Donnell 1 January 1970 Dak To, Vietnam Listed as KIA February 7, 1978)

As we remember the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, let us…

Resolve to end all war, respect and accept all persons, and pray daily for peace.

To remember does not mean to simply recall or bring to mind. It holds even greater significance. When you RE- anything, you are doing it again. Redo. Reapply. Reassure. Whether or not we are a service member, we are all an individual members of a greater organism called humanity.

When we join together and stand united as one, in strength and purpose, this is how we RE-member.

And, rightly honor the memory of our soldiers.

10 Steps to Inner Peace and Success…

posted by smcswain

Be Love to Others

Perhaps this is what inner peace looks like to you. Photo Used by Permission

Perhaps this is what inner peace looks like to you. Photo Used by Permission

We are born for love. Not just to be in love and to be loved, but to BE love. You see, love isn’t just something you do. It is a constant state of BEING. It is a place of abiding from within the deepest part of ourselves.

As human beings, our highest calling is to be in alignment with all that love is… to be profoundly tender, to be deeply affectionate; to be more understanding. When we offer compassion, empathy, and kindness, as a natural outflow of who we are, we open the doors to fostering friendships, promoting peace and reconciling relationships.

Remember also that we are born for connection. As the late John O’Donohue said in Eternal Echoes, “it is the nature of your soul to belong.” The greatest happiness comes from remembering this ancient truth: that we come from Love and that we are, in fact, love.

Create Quality Memories Now

In the busyness of life, we tend to not pay attention to what really matters. The thrust of our energy is spent on achieving, of earning rewards, on getting ahead. But, the question is… what investments are we making in our own future happiness?

Every day, we are given 86,400 seconds. With each, we are trading our lives for something… but for what? Is the trade worth it? How much of our time is invested in creating quality memories right now that we will enjoy looking back on for the rest of our lives?

Consider that happiness is an ocean floor. It is that settled peace found deep within you. Nothing beyond that depth perturbs you as it is too far removed from the circumstances and external events at the surface. Think of this depth within you as the place where you store all your happiest memories, your finest moments.

Elevate Your Thoughts

Imagine an elevator inside your brain. It goes up, down, and sideways. Your subconscious is the operator, but you can consciously override it. Your thoughts enter the elevator and instruct the operator where to go. The mood of the occupants regulates the motor. Extremes in temperature, such as being hot under the collar or giving someone the cold shoulder, cause the motor to malfunction. The elevator comes to a screeching halt!

How does the elevator go sideways? When you allow other people to push your buttons, to make decisions for you, or when you’ve lost sight of which way is up or down. It also goes sideways by adopting a holistic approach, where both hemispheres of the brain work in harmony to bring you inner peace.

If the words are debasing, mean-spirited, or negative… the elevator leads down. If our thoughts are inspiring, motivating, or encouraging… the elevator goes up.

Forget Kissing the Frog: Be the Frog!

Remember the Brothers Grimm fairy tale of the reluctant princess who kissed the ugly frog? The frog then transformed into a handsome prince. In popular culture, this story is often referenced to remind people, “You’ll have to kiss a lot of ugly frogs before finding your handsome prince.” In other words, you’ll make many mistakes before making the right choice.

What about the “ugly frog,” however? Do you ever feel you are neither the lovely princess nor the handsome prince? More like the unacceptable frog instead?

Most people have a hard time accepting themselves. They are quick to regard others as a prince or princess but quicker still at disregarding themselves. Inner peace and success requires that we respect others and revere ourselves as well. Jesus put it like this: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” When you have done the latter, the former will take care of itself.

Keep a Healthy Perspective

Do you tend to look at things only as black and white? Do you choose to see the world through rose colored glasses? Did you know that the way you see life determines your health?

Thanks to the many years of pioneering work by Dr. Bruce H. Lipton, we now have scientific proof that our perceptions and beliefs control our biology, and our overall health. For example, he cites that 95% of cancers in our body are a direct result of our thinking. Does this surprise you? It may, but it shouldn’t.

Here’s why: Thoughts based in love lead to co-creation, procreation, and recreation. They support creativity, growth, and flourishing. Thoughts based in fear find us reacting to life rather than responding it. They cause adopt protective behavior, and release toxins into the bloodstream. The healthiest perspective we can adopt is to operate from our highest self; that is Love.

Know Your Why!

Thoreau once said, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” What was he getting at? His point is that we have so much more potential within us than we ever realize. If we live out our days without a sense of purpose, without being intentional as to its direction, without ever considering our place in the grand scheme of things, we are merely existing; not truly living.

That’s no way to BE, and it certainly is no way to be happy either. If we get bogged down in the hustle and bustle of the workaday world, we lose sight of our own inner beauty. Tapping into our potential and the unique gifts God has given us, we discover our WHY, our reason for being, our main purpose for being here. When you know your why, you know your way!

Nurture a Sense of Humor

“Laughter,” said the late Grady Nutt, “is the hand of God on the shoulder of a troubled world.” If this is true, make it your practice to be one of God’s gloves. In other words, let humor and laughter fill your life. Few things will release stress faster than a good laugh.

To bring more laughter into your life, try surrounding yourself with people whose outlook and attitudes are positive. Negative people will drag you down. Optimistic people, on the other hand, generate an energy that positively impacts the atmosphere around them. By spending more time with people like this, you discover their spirit reproduces itself in you.

Second, balance your information intake. In other words, in our world where the news everywhere is almost always negative, make certain you balance this digestion of information with reading that enriches and uplifts you. Otherwise, instead of inner peace you’ll have indigestion.

Rid Yourself of Toxic Thoughts, Chemicals, and Habits

Speaking of the mind, there is another step necessary for you to take in order to move closer to a life of inner peace. Rid yourself of all toxicity, whether toxic thoughts, chemicals, habits, and foods.

Toxic thoughts are angers, resentments, and even regrets. Let go of thoughts drenched in hostility or inner peace will be more elusive than a butterfly. Holding a grudge or nurturing a resentment, observed Nelson Mandela, “is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”

Certainly, there are habits that hinder our experience of inner peace. Drinking too much alcohol, failing to balance work and play, activity and non-activity, and relying too heavily on medications instead of the body’s nature capacity to heal.

Even the foods we eat, or fail to eat, contribute to one’s inner state of peace. Practice listening to your inner voice; it will tell you what is toxic.

Stay Connected to Your Power Source!

Since the advent of computers, laptops, and cell phones, etc., power strips have become a household necessity. Power strips provide multiple places to plug-in to a power source and recharge your devices.

Similarly, everyone needs to be connected to a spiritual power source. Some people call the source of this spiritual power “God.” What is more important than the title, however, is whether you actually get in touch with this Divine source.

Prayer and meditation are two viable methods of connecting to the spiritual power source. While most westerners are familiar with prayer, meditation may not be as familiar. What is meditation? It is the practice of progressively slowing the mind and bringing of one’s inner world into a state of peace and solitude. To tame the mind, however, takes practice.

If you master the mind and slow down its almost incessant activity, your daily reward will be inner peace.

When You Have a Choice, Always Choose Kind

The first of these ten steps to inner peace was “Be Love to Others.” This last step takes that first step one step further.

Start each new day with the resolve to do one thing for someone else they would not likely do for themselves. It could be as simple as a smile and a hello to the clerk while standing at the counter of your favorite coffee café. Has it ever occurred to you how infrequently people smile either at themselves or to each other during the course of a day. Your pleasant smile and warm hello are gifts they might otherwise seldom receive.

If you find yourself in a disagreement with someone, resolve to always be kind. “Never repay evil for evil,” counseled Saint Paul, the spiritual teacher credited for much of the New Testament. Instead, “be kind in any and all circumstances.” Inner peace is your reward.

Dr. Steve McSwain is an author, speaker, counsel to non-profits, faith-based organizations and congregations, and a spiritual teacher. His books and blogs inspire spiritual seekers all over the world. He is a devoted follower of Christ but an interfaith activist as well. He is frequently heard to say, in the words of Mother Teresa, “I love all religions; but I’m in love with my own.” Read more from Dr. McSwain on his blog Your Best Life Now.

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