Your Best Life Now

Your Best Life Now

What Does It Mean to Believe?

posted by smcswain

parachutingTo believe, what does that mean?

To have faith, can you explain?

Faith, the capacity to believe, is an innate gift of Divine grace imparted to you at birth. In other words, you are a believer at birth.

How do I know this?

I was reminded of this as I awakened today. I went to sleep last night, as I have done 21,000-plus times before, knowing…believing…trusting…that I would awaken the next morning.

I did. You did, too.

I am often asked, “How can I trust God will take care of me?”  ”How might I be a stronger believer?”


Stop trying.

Whenever I “try” to go to sleep at night, I lie awake. When I let go of everything, however, I fall into sleep as effortlessly as a skydiver falls through the atmosphere.

The more you can let go of trying to control your life…your circumstances…your anxiety over how your going to make it…the more you practice just turning loose, closing your eyes, and then taking the leap, the more quickly you will discover, what I call, the parachute of Divine Presence.

Just when you feel you’re falling, you discover you’re flying

This is what it means to be a person of faith…beyond all beliefs.

This is what Jesus meant when he asked, “Do you believe?” (Jn 11:25-28).


Give Thanks in All Things! All Things? You’re Kidding, Right?

posted by smcswain

ThanksgivingSaint Paul said, “In everything, give thanks” (1 Thess. 5:17).

Yea right? Who does that? Give thanks for everything?  Really?  You’ve got to be kidding, Paul. Not one of your more inspiring moments, if you ask me.

For pleasures? Well, of course! For friends and family and good times! Yes. Yes. Of course, I give thanks for all those things and lots more.

That I have a job and my health? Yes. That the children seem to be doing well and the grandchildren are healthy and happy? Yes, yes. For all of this, I give thanks.


How could I not? But give thanks for everything? Come on!

Who does that? Who gives thanks for pain?  For disappointments? Like the one Rachel and Daniel must be feeling this morning? Two friends of mind whose two-year-old daughter is being buried today after losing her two-year fight with leukemia.

Talk about disappointing. Talk about a damn confusing and unfair turn of affairs. Then some wag like Saint Paul comes along and has the audacity to sing, “In everything, give thanks!” I hold my grandkids and smother their faces with my kisses and affection and think, “What if we were  having to bury one of them today?” Even the thought is repulsive.

And yet, even as I think this, my mind goes back almost two decades ago, on the eve of another Thanksgiving, I was giving the sermon at my father’s unexpected passing. I was trying to pretend I was able to handle this offense. I pretended to be strong and to have strong faith. I succeeded in holding it together for the weaker souls around me. But, all the while, I was raging inside.  Screaming out at the unfairness of life. Cursing fate, and close to cursing God, and doing almost anything inside but give thanks. I had nothing for which I felt thankful.


So, how does anybody make sense of the senselessness of Saint Paul’s words? How do you give thanks in all things? For all things?

Maybe there’s help here…

  1. Deny not what you feel right now.  If you’re in no mood to be thankful for all things, no need to pretend otherwise.  Know what it is you’re feeling right now about the situation you face. Give it a name. But, by all means, do not pretend to be thankful if you’re not.
  2. Accept that you are not now at the place where you can give thanks for much of anything. Do not shame yourself either. Accept instead who you are and what you’re feeling now.
  3. And, give yourself time. Time is a great healer of all wounds. I badly burned my hand as a child for example, when I disobeyed my mother’s warning to not put my hand on the electric stove. It was still scorching hot, she warned, even though the glow had turned gray. In defiance, however, I did anyway. I cannot tell you how excruciatingly painful it was and it lasted for days. But, in time, it subsided and my hand healed. So will you.
  4. This I know. You cannot imagine it now but, if you will permit yourself to feel whatever it is you feel today…if you will not judge yourself for feeling less thankful as Saint Paul, you will…in time…begin to see the hand of the Divine in and through everything that happens. And, something will begin to change in how you feel.

I know. I’ve been there.


There will come a day when you will find yourself giving thanks for the very thing that once caused you the greatest trouble…the deepest sorrow. There is a mystery here that I can neither explain nor explore.  I just know it to be true.

German theologian, Rudolf Otto called it the “Numinous” or the “Mysterium Tremendum.” A mystery that you will turn away from in fear and trembling, with questions and confusion; but, and this is the irony…the mystery, what you turn away from today, you turn toward tomorrow. What you repel today, you receive tomorrow. I cannot explain this. I just know it to be so.

On the eve of this Thanksgiving, I am giving thanks for everything. But you don’t have to. If you are not able to give thanks, then…


Know today…you don’t have to pretend.  You do not have to wear a smile you really don’t feel, just so everybody else will be comfortable. Know that it’s OK to not feel so grateful this Thanksgiving…to not feel like joining the chorus of praise.

My guess is, for some of you, just knowing THIS is enough to make you feel a little more grateful…

Isn’t it?  That’s enough, my friend. Think of it as the first note in what will someday be a song…

A Song of Thanksgiving.


Stepping into the Eternal…into Authentic Faith

posted by smcswain

stepAll structures…foundations…all pillars of faith….in other words, all beliefs are uncertain, temporary, and they are not…I repeat…they are not the source of authentic faith…

…if authentic faith is what you seek.

Faith is authentic…genuine…most real…when it has nothing upon which to stand. Which is why I’ve always liked the picture at the top of this page.  It is neither what you say nor what you claim that determines the genuineness of faith. It is instead your willingness to let go of everything…even every one of your closely held beliefs…and take one more step into the oblivion…


…the Oblivion that IS God.

When you can do this, my friend, you will no longer need anything to hold you up. No belief, no confession, no creed, as helpful and as “right” as any of them may be. For you will have made the grandest discovery of life – the Eternal in yourself.  It is that which takes hold of you.

The step you fear taking is, ironically, the step you need to take…you must take…into authentic faith.

So, let go of all attachments. Fall headlong into the authenticity of your own inner doubts. You will not go wrong. You will not lose your faith.  You will, paradoxically, find faith…find a foundation that you cannot see but will lift you up infinitely higher than any belief system ever could.


Which is, of course, why Jesus said, “He who would lose his life will find it” (Matt. 16:25).

I know. I’ve been there.

I took this step some years ago, and I continue doing so daily, not certain where it will ever lead, unsure of what will ever happen to me.

What I discover over and over again, however, is that the very thing I think I might lose, I actually find.

This, my friend, is the mystery of faith.

This, my friend, is the way to discover God.

When you take this step, you’ll have every reason imaginable to give thanks this Thanksgiving.


Hospital or Hotel? What IS the Church, Anymore?

posted by smcswain

hospital“If we devote ourselves to the effort to be real, the Universe in all its forms will find us, the way that wind finds leaves and waves find shore” – Mark Nepo.

“The effort to be real…”

That is my greatest ambition. Which is why I try very hard to write what’s in my heart, even if it is risky to express or painful to read. I want authenticity.

It’s so much easier to hide, isn’t it? You cannot imagine how many of my minister friends write me or say to me in a whisper, “So much of what you say I agree with but…”


And I know what’s coming next…

“If I said the things you say, I’d be without a job.”

And I want to say, “You think it has not been risky to me, or costly, to seek to be authentic…to be real?”

It would be much safer to be silent…to pretend to be and believe something else…

What should alarm all of us is that we have managed to create a Church where being authentic…being real…being yourself…is no longer an ambition to seek…a virtue to pursue…but an action that might just get you practically “excommunicated.”

So why would anyone be surprised that those who long to be whole…who wish to become complete must leave the Church to find health? Instead of the Church being a fitness gym where you can stretch and struggle and work out and get into spiritual shape, go into almost any church today and what you find is fast food, cappuccino Christianity.

Instead of hospital for sick souls, has the Church become a hotel for superficial saintliness?

Oh sure, there are exceptions to this. So drop the desire to defend your Church. I love the Church, too. But, I love authenticity a hell-of-a-lot more.

Shouldn’t we all?


How May I Know When I’m Truly Living By Faith?

posted by smcswain

You are thinking that what has happened to you is a “failure.” Right?

Think again.

Could it be, as someone has put it, that “what you perceive as a failure is simply life unfolding in a new direction?”

Can you wrap your mind around that question? Will you entertain this possibility?  That what you now feel is a huge setback is really just a step in a new direction?

In other words, what would happen if you viewed what was happening right now, not as some unwanted experience you must resist – which, of course, you are – but, instead, it is the very thing that must happen in order for Life itself to carry you toward your intended destiny?

Let me ask it another way:  Can you trust that your life is unfolding just as it is supposed to unfold? And, how do you know if you are now living from a place of trust? Peace and tranquility? Knowing inside, you cannot explain what’s happening, but you simply trust that life is as it should be?  How do you know when you are living by faith?

When you no longer have to ask the question.


How Do You Grow in Christ?

posted by smcswain

“Be no longer children,” wrote the Apostle Paul, “but grow up in Christ” (Eph. 4:15). All my spiritual life…for as long as I can remember…religious people have sincerely, but mistakenly, exhorted me to “grow up in Christ.” It sounded reasonable. And, they were quoting Saint Paul. But what did most of these religious people really mean? What did “growing up in Christ” actually mean to them? I suspect for most of them, it meant…

  • Go to church every Sunday and, if you are a really mature Christian, you will show up on Wednesday night, too, the weekly gathering of a faithful few to exchange the latest gossip about who was ill and infirm or facing unimaginable setbacks and adorn that gossip with a few Gospel prayers.
  • Spirituality meant reading the Bible every day. So, I remember many New Year’s Resolutions to read the Bible from cover to cover in a year’s time, thinking that, if I read the Bible every day, I would be taking a dose of high-powered spiritual vitamins that would protect me from the evil little amoebas that go about to and fro on the earth looking for weak followers to devour.
  • Furthermore, I understood “growing up in Christ” to mean that I had to rigorously seek to be spiritual every day. Pray…be good…work hard at thinking pure thoughts, instead of the one’s I was usually thinking – thoughts of pretty girls and parties and…well…you know…the thoughts you think, too, as an adolescent.  It was all so depressingly difficult…almost always a total disaster and, as I look back on it now from an entirely different perspective, completely misguided, misinformed, and just plain wrong.

Here, my friend, is the real spiritual truth.


  • You are spiritual already. There is nothing…I repeat…nothing you must do in order to be spiritual. If spiritual is not who you are, then what was the point of Christ’s appearance on earth?  Christ has demonstrated, and accomplished, in his own life, death, and resurrection the realization that, in God, we are everything already. That’s the point of Jesus’ appearing. If all his coming was meant to do was to suffer some kind of Divine punishment so you and I could go to heaven when we die, then, my friend, you and I in all candidness have missed the point entirely.
  • Spirituality, or growing in Christ, is nothing more than the progressive realization of who you are already.

And, who are you? A spiritual being who is progressively waking up to the realization that you and God are one.  You cannot “get more of God” by flexing spiritual muscles. You and God are complete already. You have arrived already at that place you’ve been told you have to work in order to achieve. You have all of God there is and God has all of you that there is. Daily, therefore,  you practice God-realization, God-awareness. That’s what it means to be spiritual. Nothing more. Nothing less. That’s all. It really IS that simple. And, it’s supposed to be this simple. It is RELIGION, my friends, that complicates it. Which is precisely why Saint Paul said “The cross is offensive to many” even a “stumbling block” (1 Cor. 1:23). It is mostly a stumbling block to religious people. Which is why they are always adding more to it…adding things you have to do in order to be. Do not believe it, my friends. That is actually the greatest heresy in the church today.  That you and I must add more to what Christ has clearly accomplished in his own life, death, and resurrection. There is NOTHING YOU COULD ever do to be more who you are. Live from that place of who you are. This IS not only the beginning of wisdom, it is freedom. It is salvation, the Bible’s way.


You Are What You Seek

posted by smcswain

treeOr, so said Saint Francis.

Rumi, the Sufi poet put it slightly differently, “What you seek is seeking you.”

And, Jesus said, “Seek first the Kingdom.”

So, what is the Kingdom? It is not the Church. Not heaven either.

Are you disappointed?

Don’t be.  What the Kingdom actually is…is better than both.

One day, when I was just a child, I learn a Sunday School song. I’d bet many of you reading this could sing it with me, couldn’t you?


“Zacchaeus was a wee little man

      And a wee little man was he.

He climbed up in a Sycamore Tree

       For Jesus he wanted to see!”

Neither the first person nor the last to wish to see Jesus.  But the crowd was in the way. Neither the first crowd nor the last Church in history to make it difficult for people to see Jesus.

Was seeing Jesus difficult because Zacchaeus was “a wee little man?”  The song says so. I cannot read this story but what I would wish to cast Danny Devito as Zacchaeus, if I were doing a modern rendition of this story.  Perfect, wouldn’t you say?

Interestingly, however, the text itself does not make clear whether the short person was Zacchaeus or Jesus himself.  In fact, the text oddly positions the Greek pronoun “he” so that “he was short in stature” may actually refer to Jesus and not Zacchaeus at all.


Here’s what the text actually says…

      “Now a man there named Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man, was seeking to see who Jesus was; but he could not see him because of the crowd, for he was short in stature” (Luke 19:1ff).

Who was “short in stature?” Was it Zacchaeus? Or, Jesus?

See what I mean? It isn’t so clear.

What is clear, however, is this: what Zacchaeus was seeking, Jesus was seeking, too.

And, what is that? Or, more accurately, who is that?

They were seeking each other.  You cannot find God inside a building. Or, a book of religion.

Why? Because you cannot find what is not lost.


Who Zacchaeus was seeking to see, Jesus was seeking to find.  In other words, the seeking, no matter who is doing it, is one-and-the-same. Which explains why the longing you feel for God is God.  To put it as succinctly as I know how, you cannot find who you already are.

“Scandalous!” you say. “You are saying you and God are the same!”

Interesting that you would make that charge! It was essentially the same charge another “crowd” brought against Jesus himself who, not coincidentally, said the very same thing. “You are gods.”  Perhaps you should go back and read John 10:34.

If God must be a separate entity to you, then, yes, of course, these words of mine will make you want to take up stones.  If God must be beyond you, bigger than you, it is perfectly fine. I have lived most of my life thinking of God in this very same way. And, to be perfectly honest, I still think of God from time to time as an Eternal Someone who is separate from me. In fact, I have been so conditioned to think of God in this way that it is hard to think of God in any other way.  The same will be true for many of you. Even now, you picture God as this benevolent and bearded grandfatherly-type, wearing a white robe, sitting in a big chair, and on the other side of an eternal door in a place called the “Kingdom.”


In recent years, however, I get this strange and wonderful feeling from time to time that the One I seek and the one doing the seeking are one-and-the-same.  Which explains why Meister Eckhart said, “The eye through which I see God is the same eye through which God sees me.” Which also explains why the religions in the east frequently teach, “I am that…you are that…all this is that…and, that’s all there is.”

Again, Rumi expressed it best: “I have lived on the lip of insanity, wanting to know reasons…knocking on a door. The door opens.  I’ve been knocking from the inside.”

Jesus looked up and into the Sycamore tree and said, “Zacchaeus, you come down for I am going to your house today.”

The house?

The Kingdom?



When the door opens, my friend, and, be assured, the door will open, you will discover what I am just beginning to discover.  You’ve been knocking from the inside.

See what I mean? The Kingdom is not outside you…the Kingdom IS you! (Read Luke 17:21).


Life’s Most Inglorious Bastard

posted by smcswain

Inglorious Basterds! Not sure why they spell it that way, but they do.

Remember the war film written and directed by Quentin Tarantino?

I’m pretty sure “Inglorious Basterds” is an apt name for my ego…maybe yours, too.

I have struggled to overcome my ego for decades.  If you’re a theologian type, get used to this word “ego” for I use it as a kind of replacement for what Biblical writers have tried to capture with the word “sin.”  Sin is not something you’re born with, as in the silly notion of “original sin.” People have looked for ways to explain what goes wrong in humans since humans evolved as conscious beings.  And, even Saint Paul, for all his seminal insight into the human experience, did not really know how to explain it either. But he did as good a job as any other, given his limited understanding.


Here’s how ego – the little inglorious bastard in me has bastardized my life for pretty much most of my life.

I’ve been a self-promoter all my life. Some of  you knew that already – Hm! You might explore why that is. Anyway, with an ego as broad as the Grand Canyon, I’ve wanted to be known but, not just known, I’ve wanted to be better known than most everyone else. I’ve wanted to be liked too. But not just liked, more liked than you. I’ve wanted to be successful; I’ve wanted to be envied, to make money hand over fist, and…well…you know, by this time, have several million tucked away, and living the high life.

Yes, I’ve been one of those kind. Which explains why I had a strange mixture of friends – those who admired me because they, more self-despising than I, envied me for what they presumed was a self-confident person who knew what he wanted and, by God, was going to get it. Theirs was a different sort of problem caused by an equally dysfunctional and inglorious bastard of their own.


The people who did not like me, and they were many, didn’t realize that the reason they didn’t was because they saw in me – namely, the competitive, self-promoting inglorious bastard type – what they were busily denying was also in them.

It usually works that way, doesn’t it?

You like those people who display qualities you admire and wish you had more of in yourself.

You despise, however, those people who display qualities you have denied or ignored are also in you.

That pretty much sums up the work of the inner inglorious bastard. Your ego.

You can look at almost any unacceptable behavior – what we’d call in religious circles “sins” and trace it to some twisted projection of the dysfunctional ego…envying in others those qualities you think are not in you and despising in others the evil that resides in your heart, too.


Ego. Life’s Most Inglorious Bastard.

Welcome to the real world, my friend.

When my Dad died, something in me died. What died was a big chunk of my inglorious bastard. I did not know it at the time. I grieved as anyone would who had just lost something or someone special. And, my Dad was special. The grief, the sadness, the brokenness in me took several years to sort out. But today, I see in his death my own spiritual resurrection. How could I remain sad? Oh sure, I miss him. But in many-a-strange way, he’s more alive in me than at any other time. And, yes, I talk to him. So, if that makes me nuts, I hope I’m never sane.

Every death, my friend, is followed by a birth. And, both underscore the cycle of Life – Eternal Life itself. Don’t waste any death – any death. I call them “littler” deaths all given to you to help you prepare for the doozy around the corner. And, that corner is getting nearer all the time. This is probably what Leonardo DaVinci meant when he said, “All my life I thought I was learning how to live; now I realize I’ve really been learning how to die.”


In just the last few days, some things have happened in my life that I think have struck a fatal, final blow to the inglorious bastard in me.  If not completely, pretty damn close. Ego is so subtle. The little bastard will even attempt to use its own dying as a means of surviving. It began to die in me the day my father died. But, in these last few years, it’s been doing a number on me. It has been secretly hoping that in its own dying and death it would somehow rise up and finally achieve the greatness it has longed for, the promotions it has sought, the achievements its dreamt about at night, as well as the success it has secretly envied in others all these years.

Don’t worry if you do not understand what I’m talking about. If you’ve gotten this far and haven’t quit reading, it is likely because you recognize the damn “dog” in you, too.  It was the atheist philosopher Nietzsche who called it “the dog that followed him everywhere.” He had a better understanding of sin than most preachers I know.


For years, I’ve wanted to be free of the bastard, not knowing it was using my desire to be free as a means of achieving its own inglorious ends.

But I’m aware now. Better aware, anyway.

Here’s how you may, too…

1. Stop trying. Once the process of ego-death begins in you – once the process of spiritual enlightenment begins to occur, what we Christians would call salvation followed by sanctification – words that mean virtually nothing to even the most devout in church today – another reason why, it’s past time for some new ways of describing great, old spiritual truths – but, that’s another blog for another day.  Just know, once the process of dog death begins in you, the Holy Spirit will bring it to completion. That’s why Saint Paul said to the Philippians, “Be confident of this, he who has begun a good work in you, will bring it to completion” (Phil. 1:6). Ego death is God’s business. That’s what Jesus was trying to say in all he said but, principally, in the words, “Deny yourself.” So, don’t rush things, my friend. Which means…


2. Wait on God. “Those who wait upon the Lord,” wrote Isaiah, the prophet, “shall renew their strength” (Isa 40:31). It’s the little inglorious bastard in you that zaps your strength. It isn’t the challenges you face in life. You have the resources within to face anything. It’s not your job that wears you out. It’s the dog that hounds you day and night. Do you know what it means to “wait on God.” Stop interfering with what appears in your life. Trust that nothing is showing up but what it’s supposed to show up. Let life unfold for you and release yourself into the arms of God, believing Jesus was right when he said, “Seek first the kingdom, and you’ll discover everything else takes care of itself” (Matt. 6:33). That’s what I’m discovering.


3. Now, give thanks. You, my friend, are free. More free now than at any other time. But you know this because you can feel it, even as I can. When you know this freedom more and more, and you will, for remember, it is your destiny to see the leash removed, you won’t be able to do anything else but cry tears of joy. It’s like a prisoner must feel when he looks and the prison doors are open. How could he not just cry?

Freedom from the inner burden of self-promotion and always feeling like you are not going to make it…freedom from the fear of not having enough recognition, enough respect, enough money…freedom from the worry that there’s too little life for all your efforts or too little money for the life you have left…freedom from the feeling of being a failure…of not reaching the dog’s dreams of grandeur and greatness…when those burdens, my friend, disappear from in you, from inside all self-promoters like me, then nothing much matters anymore…except of course you can’t help but smile, give thanks, cry and bow your head before the sacred. You will say all this with integrity because you will know more deeply than ever before that you are living the Life you were destined to live.

What could be more wonderful than this?

Let the ole dog die. Or, as Muhammad said, “you will die a thousand deaths.”

Death to all the Inglorious Basterds!

Wouldn’t make a good hymn to sing on Sunday. But it sure expresses my heart.

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