Your Best Life Now

Your Best Life Now

Sinner’s in the Hands of an Angry God!

posted by smcswain

sinners“Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God!”

Yes, that WAS the title of a sermon given by Jonathan Edwards in the 18th century.

The title has changed over the years; the message has remained the same.

You are a sinner.
To be a sinner is bad.
Jesus suffered God’s anger so your sins could be covered.
If you repent, you’ll be saved.
You’ll live in heaven when you die and avoid hell.

In recent years, I have come to see, not so much the fallacy of this theological logic, just its inadequacy. Maybe this kind of believing…maybe this kind of red-faced, perspiration-producing, stroke-inducing preaching from behind Christian pulpits or, worse, on busy street corners…maybe it served some necessary function at one time in our history. Highly debatable, I concede, but maybe, in some twisted way, it was helpful…that’s all I’m saying.

What’s abundantly clear is this: If it ever was, it no longer is.

The word “sin” is rich in meaning. It is, as are many words, a “picture” word, meaning “to miss the mark.” It points to an archer who aims his arrow at a target but he misses or fails to reach it.

The tragedy of the human experience is not that, if you do not get your nasty, sinful, and hell-deserving condition cleaned up…that is, “under the blood,” as it was often described in the days of my youth, you’ll suffer eternal conscious torment in a literal hell one day. And, deservedly so. Because, if you end up in hell, as the preacher’s reminded us, “it isn’t because God sent you there…you sent yourself.” In other words, if you don’t get “saved,” you’ll be eternally lost, damned to hell itself, and both because you elected that destiny for yourself.

Silly, shallow logic but it made sense to the limited minds of my youth. Heck, I used to preach that same stuff myself. I’m embarrassed to admit it today, but I did nonetheless.

As Maya Angelou loves to say, “When you know better, you do better.”

The real human tragedy is actually worse than the way it was preached by Jonathan Edwards…worse than the way many preachers and priests still preach it today. That tragedy is this: that you and I could live our lives…stuck, as it were, in a limited understanding as to why we are here on earth and so never quite figure out the meaning of our lives…that is, never quite get the point of human existence…the point of our own existence. That we might actually “miss the target,” miss THE point of our lives.

I’ve been reading a new book by Fr. Richard Rohr. This guy gets it. And, he states it infinitely better than I ever could that there are two movements to life. In the first half, it’s all about us. The second half is about…or, should be about, getting outside of this “all about me” problem we call “sin” or, the better word today, “ego.” His book, and one I would highly recommend you add to your summer reading list – after, of course, you’ve read The Enoch Factor:) is entitled, Falling Upward: Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life.

“The most counterintuitive message,” writes Rohr, “in most of the world’s religions, including and most especially in Christianity…is this: that we grow spiritually much more by doing it wrong than by doing it right.”

In other words, to be a sinner is not a bad thing, but a good thing indeed.

How’s that for a radically different way of looking at your “fallen” condition…what Catholics and Evangelicals refer to as “original sin?”

Your condition is not something God hates. Or, that God is seething over and, as a consequence, had to send His innocent Son to be His “bully pulpit” and appease His wrath.

Instead, the recognition of your condition, the acknowledgment of my condition, is first simply the inner awareness that, during the first half of my life, it really was all about me. I was “into” the fulfillment of my own ego needs for recognition, for advancement, for rewards that came in the form of big pay checks, a pregnant retirement account, a name for myself and, not only this, but even my religious life was all about securing for myself an eternal destiny that would, in the end, preserve “ME” in heaven forever. Heck, I worked to even have a few trophies up there.

Second, it is the recognition that, in the second half of life, I am all about dying BEFORE I die…I’m all about living a resurrected…connected…compassionate…and conscious life now. I’m all about the death of the ego now, so that “the power of the resurrection,” about which Saint Paul spoke, becomes more and more a living reality today (Phil. 3:10).

Conversion, salvation, enlightenment…you can call this “SHIFT” in consciousness – which simply means “awareness” or “understanding” – every religions has its own cultural way of explaining what happens when, after missing the point of human existence for much of my life, the shift occurs and, from point onward, you think differently, live differently, view the world differently.  Everything changes. You could not go back if you wanted to. In fact, it would never even occur to you to go back, any more than it occurred to the woman at the well whose life shifted after meeting Jesus (John 4).

You remember the story. She came to Jacob’s Well with bucket in hand to carry water back to her home.  After meeting Jesus…after having experienced a “shift” in her own consciousness, she returned to the city but left her bucket beside the well.

Why?

It would no longer be necessary. She carried the “well” back with her…in her.

For me, the shift came one Sunday afternoon several years ago now, while I was reclining on the living room sofa, beer in one hand, remote in the other.

Suddenly, I just woke up.

If you have not yet awakened…or experienced this shift in consciousness, my story will make no sense to you whatsoever. If you have, few things make more sense.

Do not seek this shift.

Why?

It isn’t necessary. Life will bring it to you when you are ready. This is what the Bible means by “grace.” Grace and salvation or enlightenment is all about God. Religion is all about the ego…doing it on your own…earning your place in heaven.

The shift will come to you…when you’re ready. Being “Christian”…being “righteous”…or, being “enlightened,” is not something you do. It is something DONE unto you.

If it has not yet occurred, it will. I promise. If you’re concerned about when it’ll come, I’d be inclined to say, it has happened to you already. But you are again allowing the ego in you to do whatever it can to keep you from acknowledging the change…the shift…because, if it can divert you and so get you to continually look for God, it will have succeeded in edging God out – e g o – and, this need not happen to you, my friend.

God is not difficult to find. God is impossible to ignore.

If the shift has occurred in you, then you are nodding your head in agreement with what I’m writing about today. You are saying to yourself, “That’s it! What you describe is what’s happened to me.”

Then, give thanks this day, my friend.

But then, I know you will.

How could you do anything less?

Who Are You?…

posted by smcswain

Who are you?

I think I will have to respond like this:

“When I left America for Europe on my first trip around the world, I left as a Baptist Christian.

When, in Europe, however, I realized I was really more than just a Baptist Christian, I was a Catholic Christian, too.

But that was before visiting the Middle East where I became a cross between a Jew and a Muslim…

Until, of course, we visited India where I realized I had been a Hindu all along;

Until we visited Japan where it all became clear: I’m really a Buddhist.

When I finally returned to America, I realized, “I am all of these religions and still a Christian, too. In fact, I’m pretty sure I am more Christian today than I’ve ever been before.”

So today, I suppose I would have to identify myself as a Jew, a Muslim, a Hindu, a Buddhist, a Catholic and Baptist Christian who has never…ever…I repeat…never…ever…stopped loving Jesus or seeking to follow him…

I don’t think I ever will.”

So, who are you?

What is TRUE Spirituality?

posted by smcswain

SpiritualityFor much of my Christian life, I confessed Jesus and so pursued some kind of spiritual life. It was not because I was all that interested in overcoming the self-centeredness that WAS my life…my up and down emotional states…my negative thinking about others…my pursuits, interests, and ambitions, virtually all of which were all about my hopes and dreams. The fact is, my life was pretty much about ME.

I largely pursued spirituality for what I felt were its beneficial outcomes for me, especially the one about escaping hell and making heaven.

What I did not know in those days is that I, like most people, was thoroughly controlled by my own ego – the very illusory thing Jesus sought to show us how to overcome…that very inner entity that almost all spiritual teachers tried to bring to our awareness and so enable us to overcome.

It is the ego in you that is the false self – not a “bad” self just not your best “self” or even your most “real” self. It is the self we must move beyond or else our spirituality is cheapened into some kind of insurance policy for the world to come. Or, little more than some cheap attachment or sacred substitute here.

And, why is this? Because it is the ego in you that wants to survive. The real you is eternal – most of Christian history it has been called the “soul.” But think not of the “soul” as some of invisible image of the best ego you! Which is, of course, how most of us think of the soul. Just the best part of me. So I stand in the mirror and look at my body and mistakenly think that, in death, the soul…the best mirrored image of me…is what survives.

My friend you are going to die and with it, all attachments of the ego you. And, that includes the “body” image, too.

The ego in you dies, too. Which is, of course, why it tries hard, and believe me it has been quite successful with Christians, to attach itself to the future…to get you all wrapped up in things…even “religious” things…beliefs…doctrines, none of which are evil – they are all just beautiful expressions of what we believe. But, if the ego can divert our attention away from that toward which all doctrines point so that we invest our doctrines with our imaginary hopes and illusory selves, then of course it makes sense that, when people question or challenge our doctrines, we would feel reactionary and defensive.

Such things we take personal.

And, why do we?

Because we’re still under the illusion we ARE these beliefs…we ARE our attachments to all things spiritual, including our beliefs in heaven or hell.

But, Jesus said, “Deny yourself” (Matt. 16:24) – not “Deny yourSOUL” – the real you…the eternal you…the YOU in ONENESS with ONENESS herself. No, what he was saying is, “Detach” – that’s Buddha’s word. Jesus used “Deny.” The same pointer toward the same outcome. Just words.

Don’t get attached to words. Another ego thing. Buddha called all attachments – emptiness. He said to let go of all emptiness. Which is, of course, the illusion. All attachments are “emptiness.” How do you hold on to nothing? The ego tries.

Jesus described all attachments as “the laying up treasures on earth where moth doth corrupt and destroy” (Matt. 6:29). Same truth. Different pointer. If you think he was talking only about money and possessions, you’ve missed his point entirely. “You cannot serve two masters, God and mammon simultaneously” (Matt. 6:24). Mammon is any attachment. Even an attachment to some “sacred” belief or doctrine.

What is TRUE SPIRITUALITY?

Father Richard Rohr says, “True spirituality is not a search for perfection or control or the door to the next world; it is a search for divine union now” (The Naked Now, p. 16).

This then may be the test of genuine spirituality in your own life. I cannot say this for sure. But, I might be onto something here:

The test of true spirituality is whether you are more and more interested in NOW and living with fewer and fewer attachments while, at one-and-the-same-time, less and less interested in the future that Jesus said “Take no thought of anyway” (Matt. 6:33-34) with its illusions of golden streets and jasper walls and palaces for all who’ve believed correctly…

For those like US…for those like ME.

It’s all about ME…

And US, isn’t it?

Or, is it?

Or, is it just EGO?

Just sayin!

The Return of the Twinkie…

posted by smcswain

twinkiesI was asked this morning by one of my Facebook friends from Australia, “Steve, what’s a Twinkie?”

At first, I thought he was joking. Who does not know, and miss, the Hostess Twinkie?

He wasn’t joking. He really wanted to know, as he had only ever heard of them but had never eaten or enjoyed one. Nor had he ever even seen one.  I sent him the picture of a Twinkie.

What simple pleasures you and I may enjoy, as well as take for granted, and all the while there are others who have no idea…they can only imagine.

All of this reminded me of those many days, even years, when I looked for the return of Christ.

Many Christians still do.

As for me, I had the charts, the plans, even the graphs. I carried them with me. I could quote scripture and verse and link both to the world events unfolding right before our eyes and just as predicted long ago. I knew Hal Lindsay’s “Late Great Planet Earth” as well as he did. Had I been a fictional writer, I could have gotten rich on a Left Behind series of books and movies long before Tim LaHaye did. Think of the warehouses of Twinkies my riches could have helped stored away before the Hostess stock tumbled and the plants all shut down.

I could have been the modern day Joseph. They could have called me Twinkie Savior, for I would have been the only wise soul in the barren land we call America who had the foresight to store away Twinkies before the days of trouble arrived.

What is it that you look for? Long for?

Still looking for a bodily return of Jesus?

Good luck with that.

After a couple of “hits and misses” with “The Rapture of Jesus” charts I used to carry around – with all its predictions..speculations…anxieties and anticipations…and, of course, its antichrists. Yes, there were plenty of those…first it was the Russian President Khrushchev, then it was our own John F. Kennedy – if you recall, he was a “Catholic” and the Protestants and suspicious Evangelicals were certain there had to be some connection between him and the Antichrist.

Wrong.

So then, it was Henry Kissinger – the accent gave him away.

I finally decided the charts I was carrying around were not as reliable as I thought. Besides, Hal Lindsay had been saying that a generation was forty years, or approximately forty. Further, that Jesus would return at the conclusion of that generation after Israel was re-established as a recognized state. That happened, if you recall, in 1948.

When 1988 came and went and Jesus had not returned, I decided Hal Lindsay and the Tim LaHayes knew about as much as I did about the return of Jesus.

Nothing.

In time, I gave up all those silly, unreliable notions I was raised to believe. Besides, I no longer need the bodily return of Jesus.

Why would I?

If the Eternal Christ is alive to you already, what more could you possibly need? You only look for that which you do not have.

Which is why I still, from time to time, go in a convenient store and, as I’ve done hundreds of times before, looked for the Hostess Twinkies.

Today, I can do without the Twinkies.

Just as I can do without a bodily return of Jesus.

Why would you need a Twinkie when you could carry the Hostess plant in your heart? That’s essentially the same reason why the Samaritan Woman at the Well (John 4) left her bucket after meeting Jesus and returned to the city without it.

Why would she do that?

Because, when you carry the Eternal Well within you, you no longer need an empty bucket.

No, my friend, I no longer feel the need to look for what has found me already?

And, when what has found me, finds you – and that’s one certainty I think you can count on – you’ll know what I mean. It will all be clear then. Which is why, when it finally dawned on Rob Bell, he had no choice but to write and say, “In the end, my friends, LOVE WINS.”

Meanwhile, if you need to pray for the return of anything?…

Pray for the return of the Hostess Twinkie.

The Dualistic Mind – Isn’t THIS What Really Needs Saving Today?

posted by smcswain

us versus themJesus Christ is the model for integrating divinity and humanity. This IS the challenge we all face. Because, contrary to how many Christians have been raised to believe, we are both human and divine. All of us. That means, yes, you and me.

I know how hard it is to accept this, since most of us were raised as I was to believe that we’re mere humans and, even that notion, carried with it a conditioning that something was “wrong” with that notion. To be human was to be wrong…to be sinful…to be loathed and loathing…to be human was something to overcome…it meant that we were in grave need and, as a consequence, completely helpless and, left to ourselves, we were condemned to final judgment and hell itself was our inevitable destiny.

But, thank God, Superman himself, Jesus, showed up just in the nick of time. It does not occur to many westerners, does it, that the reason why movies like Superman, Batman, and other “super-heroes” are so popular is because, our notions of redemption, the “substitutionary atonement”  kind the church has perpetrated for the past two hundred years, is completely inadequate?  Even Jesus, the SuperSavior, hasn’t been enough for us. So, we unconsciously keep looking for more redeemers through the mythic characters on the movie screen.

What many of us were not taught is that we are divine, too. And, I know just how hard it is to even say this, much less accept the full import of its meaning. Divinity was reserved for Jesus. To think that we share in the same nature as that of Jesus himself is unthinkable to most Christians. In fact, this is precisely how most of Jesus’ radical teachings can be so easily dismissed, as they are by most Christians. For example, you’ll hear Christians say, “Oh yes Jesus said ‘Love your enemies’ but that’s easy for him…he’s god. The rest of us have intolerable people we have to live with.”

Really? Do you suppose that lets you off the hook?

You are badly mistaken my friend.

Why would Jesus have said, “Greater things than I have done you will do?” Do not allow your conditioned, but inadequate, thoughts of Jesus difference from you dismiss his teachings as hyperbole. Or, as something you are not expected to live by because, mere human mortal you are, you could not possibly be expected to be like Jesus.

This IS dualism.

Dualistic thinking is the dividing up of everything – humanity and divinity, “us” and “them,” those who are right and those who are wrong, the righteous ones from the enemy or enemies…it is the inability to live in the tension of contradiction…even conflict. It is the inability to be comfortable with paradox and, as a consequence, dualistic thinking seeks to reduce everything to an “either/or” proposition, even the humanity and divinity of Jesus…even your own humanity and divinity.

Let this rudimentary thinking leave you, my friends. In the words of Father Richard Rohr, you are not “mere humans trying desperately to become ‘spiritual.’…”The Christian revelation was precisely that you are already spiritual (‘in God’), and your difficult but necessary task is to learn how to become human. Jesus came to model the full integration for us (see 1 Cor. 15:47-49) and, in effect, told us that Divinity looked just like him–while he looked ordinarily human to everybody!”…”It is in our humanity that we are still so wounded, so needy, so unloving, so self-hating, and so in need of enlightenment” (p. 69). (from The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See).

Let go of dualistic thinking. Embrace instead the mystery of all mysteries. We are, just as Jesus said, “his brothers and sisters” (Matt. 12:46-50) and that means that the same nature in him – human and divine – is the same nature that is in you. As the French philosopher Teilhard de Chardin put it – and, yes, I’ve taken liberty to add to his words my own commentary to his comments: “You are not a mere human being, sinful, depraved, and, because of your sinfulness, so repulsive to God that He had to pistol whip his Son to death…He had to make someone suffer and die to redeem himself, first, and his own twisted and dualistic thinking – holiness versus unholiness…that is, God had to overcome His perverted, vengeful mind and heart and uncontrollable wrath in order to be able to redeem you, so you could finally be spiritual, and even perhaps one day divine, too. Or, at least, in the Presence of the Divine.”

“No, my friends, you are spiritual already…or, dare I say it…yes, I say it, and it takes no daring whatsoever for the truth needs no defense…YOU ARE DIVINE ALREADY. What else could the “image of God” be in you?

If you will embrace this Christian truth, and then, give your full life attention to allowing this God in you to transform your humanity into true humanness…to make you, as Jesus said, into little children once again (Matt. 19:14) but, not childish thinking people – that’s not what he meant – but, childlike in humanity – children know NO malice, hatred, prejudice, division, separation, us and them, right and wrong, no dualism in them…they learn all that stuff from us, their parents and caregivers and they learn it in church, unfortunately, too…this is what Jesus meant about becoming as little children…and, if you’ll allow yourself to move beyond your adult ways of thinking and move beyond the incorrect teaching you’ve received and beliefs and traditions that are so contrary to Jesus and become, once again, as a little child, just like you once were, then redemption will come…transformation in you WILL occur – naturally and through no effort whatsoever.

And, isn’t this what needs redeeming in you and me? Isn’t it redemption from dualistic thinking – this inhumane way of thnking and so living that carves up the world into “us” and “them”? – the “saved” Christians verses the “lost” everyone else, or Americans versus the Communists, the Democrats versus Republicans, the “straights” versus the “gays,” the fundamentalists versus liberals and all the doctrinal differences and the nonsense that IS the denominational madness within Christianity?  Did you know there are now 30,000 Christian denominations in America alone? And, do you know what distinguishes each of them?: “Each one believes it is a little more ‘right’ than the 29,999 others.”

DUALISM. Isn’t it this dividing up of the world into the “saved” versus the “lost” – the Christians from Muslims from the Jews from the Buddhists from the Hindus from the Atheists and on and on and on the madness goes – isn’t this what we need salvation for?

Salvation, my friend, is not about avoiding some imaginary future place of punishment. We are saved to live as the divine humans we are, living divinely and humanely – not for THEN but for NOW..today?  It is not the future that needs transforming. It is today.  It isn’t an imaginary future hell from which we need saving. It is from the very real hell our dualistic thinking has created in this world.

Make it your spiritual practice, therefore, my friends, to celebrate both your humanity and your divinity. Live from this place of oneness. You, too, are God’s in human flesh. YOU ARE the new INCARNATION of God. You are the new generation of Jesus Christ’s brothers and sisters here to live as humanly and as divinely as possible.

This IS…

Your Best Life Now!

And, What Is It You Do? Today’s Elevator Speech

posted by smcswain

elevator speechI had lunch today with Wayne, an old friend who recently reached out to me to rekindle our friendship. Today was the second of what I suspect will be many future luncheons and/or conversations around coffee with Wayne. Wayne is one of those rare souls who knows how to be a loyal friend.

At one time, I was Wayne’s pastor. Both of us have been through a lot of changes in our lives since those days, however. While he is still a person of deep and abiding faith, his connection today to organized religion is an arm’s length connection. I’m no longer a pastor either, having closed that chapter a decade-and-a-half ago.

Our conversations seem to cover everything from what our children are doing who are now adults…to things like his business – he’s a consultant, to things like my business – I’m a consultant, too. We talk about life — how too damn brief it is — and only getting brief-er by the day it seems. We talk about faith, too.  Of course. That’s something into which we’re both deeply interested.

Today, however, we talked business.  He made a couple of salient points worth noting, too. If you’re a small business owner…no, even if you’re the CEO of a major company, these are pretty stellar reminders:

1. When your business is the busiest, your chances of expanding the business are the greatest. Capitalize on this business expansion opportunity. Many small businesses and self-employed persons, however, including consultants like me, often miss this field ripe unto harvest. Which is why we’re always saying, when it comes to the services we provide,  it’s either “feast or famine.” We’re either enjoying the benefits of our busy businesses or we’re looking for the nearest line at a soup kitchen. When business is good, it’s easier just to sit back and coast and fail to aggressively market ourselves and our services. Then, all too quickly, the stream dries up and everything looks as bleak as it actually is. So, Wayne is right. When you’re busy, you’re not only around paying clients but, if you’re paying attention, your potential future clients are all around, too.

2. The second salient reminder Wayne made today is the importance of the “elevator speech.” Remember your first sales and marketing class either in college or in job training program? You had to not only write your elevator speech but, what was worse, you had to actually give it to the guy seated next to you.. I think I flunked that class.

Right in the middle of our conversation, Wayne stopped, looked at me, and asked, “So, Steve, why not give me your elevator speech?  Tell me in thirty seconds what you do?”

I nearly choked on a leaf of lettuce. I was eating a salad. I couldn’t answer his question.

No, it’s not because I have no clue what I do. But, what I do is expansive, varied, even complicated, and it isn’t easily explained in two or three sentences.

That was, at least, my feeble response to his very good question.

That was noon today. It’s now after midnight and I’ve been thinking about his damn question all afternoon and evening.

So, I decided just to sit down and give expression on paper to the stuff I do in person.

Here’s my elevator speech.

Warning: It’s a bit longer than two sentences. But, short enough that, with practice, I could probably use it on those slow elevators that are located in almost every Hampton Inn I’ve ever stayed.

“What I do? Well, I’m a speaker. I give talks to groups interested in the joy of life and living…to those who are interested in the things that matter most…things like who we are and why we’re here…things like how to love and laugh and lead others to do the same. In other words, I give talks filled with laughter and stories on how you and I might live an optimal life so that, when all is said and done, we can retire knowing we’re leaving this world a more conscious, compassionate, and charitable place for everyone, regardless of race, religion, or nationality. I’ll go just about anywhere to give these talks. And, if the price is right, then, yep, I’ll go anywhere.”

“I’m also a personal coach to a select group of persons…those interested in connecting with their highest self…who are seeking answers to the really big questions of life. Some of these persons are professional people just looking for some inner equilibrium, bombarded as they are by daily demands that would stagger anybody.  Others are just seeking to connect to their spiritual center. Some have given up on organized religion or, they’re close to doing so, and largely because it doesn’t work for them anymore. Almost all of these are deeply spiritual people…they just want to keep advancing in their spiritual lives.  I’m privileged to be their guide, as it were, in what is the most important task in life – the journey into one’s spiritual center.”

Well, what do you think?

Oh, I know what you’re thinking. “It’s still too long, McSwain.” I know. I’ll work on it. And, yes, there are other things I do, too, as many of you know. Which is why I said earlier…it’s varied…complicated.

I am an author, a writer for the Huffington Post, and other national and international publications. I’m a spiritual teacher, a fundraising executive and, for the last couple of years, I’ve been an adjunct professor of Communication at the University of Kentucky.

Oh, and I’m a father, too, as well as a husband.”

So, now, there you have it.

But, at 2AM this morning, there is something else that occurs to me. It happens to be another elevator speech that was given by another person long ago when he was asked a similar question.

It was the morning after his spiritual awakening that took place, apparently, under what’s known as the Bodi tree. Siddhartha Guatama was his name and he was met that morning by someone who asked, “Who are you?”

His response?

Siddhartha Guatama said, “I am awake.”  Which is, of course, the meaning of the name by which he would be known to this day, “The Buddha.” Or, “awakened one.”

My friends, I’m not sure I could love my varied, even complicated life anymore than I do right now. But, maybe I will. I’ll see if that is possible.

What I can tell you is this: For all the fulfillment I feel at speaking and writing, coaching and counseling…for all joy I know at being married to Pamela, a truly beautiful gift from God, for all the peace I know at being a father and stepfather to four genuinely amazing children, I am most pleased…the most deeply satisfied…the most profoundly appreciative to God that, I, too, may say…

“I am waking up.”

Not yet awake, but awakening.

What could be better than this?

The Yellow Squash Does Sweat…

posted by smcswain

yellow squash“The yellow squash will sweat.”

Or, so said the recipe. I bought some fresh, yellow squash day before yesterday. Grabbed an internet recipe off the web with instructions for making squash and sweet onion. The recipe instructed me to slice the squash, quarter inch in width, and place the pieces side by side on a paper towel. Then, I was to pinch a little sea salt and sprinkle it across the top of each slice.

I don’t usually follow recipe instructions the way I used to feel I had to follow the Bible – with scrupulous attention to detail, preciseness in application, and all served up with a kind of background fear that, if I do not, the recipe might just go up in flames just like the world will go up in eternal flames if the Bible isn’t taken literally.

This time, however, I followed the instructions closely, sprinkling a little sea salt on the freshly sliced yellow squash.

After a few moments preparing something else, I looked back at the squash and, sure enough, little beads of sweat were popping up on the surface of the squash.  The salt was drawing some of the moisture from inside the squash. As a consequence, it fried better in the skillet, alongside the caramelizing sweet onion slices.

A very tasty spring dish, I might add, too.

Then, it occurred to me that Jesus likened his followers to “salt and light” (Matt. 5:13-16).  Neither of these metaphors of your presence or my presence as Jesus followers in the world carries one iota of effort or struggle or war-making associated with it. Yet, when I think about much of my spiritual life throughout its several decades, my religious life was nothing less than one big struggle with failure sprinkled over most of my efforts like salt on squash slices.

Instead of my efforts at being “spiritual” bringing out the best in me, my efforts made me miserable much of the time and a misery to almost everyone around me.

I struggled to feel close to God. Sometimes I did. Most of the time, however, I did not. When I did, it was usually at a religious rock concert or a revival meeting when the preacher was yelling and scaring the hell out of everybody as he described all the horrors of what was coming when the world came to the end and just how close that end is. His stories were like Stephen King novels filled with suspense, lots of horror, especially for the lost and those left behind.

At such times, I felt something I mistakenly thought was God. It was more an emotional reaction I realize today. It also explains why my spiritual life was mostly dissatisfying and much like a roller coaster of madness. Some days “ON” but most days “OFF.” My whole spiritual life was really pretty pathetic and no matter how hard I tried, I could never quite make it with God.

Or, so it seemed.

I wrestled with unanswered questions that, had I ever admitted those questions out loud to other Christians – a mistake I made more than a few times – I was quickly pounced on by the “We’ve got it all figured out crowd” of religious zealots who would wave their two-ton King James Versions of an inerrant, answer-filled Bible the way Brad Pitt would wave his sword in Troy and they would dare anyone to disagree, or raise questions because, to these misguided souls, questions were akin to compromise, just as they mistakenly thought that doubt was akin to disbelief.  They were wrong, of course, but they would counsel me with their mindless cliches’ “Stop asking so many questions, Steve, there are some things you just have to accept by faith.”

“Really?” I would say to myself. “There are some things I shouldn’t question? That I should just accept by what you call faith? Isn’t what you’re really doing is just avoiding the hard questions yourselves, while hiding behind your presumption of faith? Isn’t it really fear and not faith you’re living by? And, you’re so deceived by your own fear, you can actually call your fear, faith?

Faith isn’t your BELIEFS

Fear can be dressed up, however, to look like faith.

One of the things I’ve come to learn is that, the more absolute and certain a person tries to sound about what they believe, the more certain you can be of just how uncertain they really are – inside, that is.  Where it matters. In one’s heart.

Somehow, it seems phony to me to disregard the mind as do so many “religious” or “spiritual” people…that God-created and God-endowed capacity to question things…to probe, as did Job in the Old Testament, that seems infinitely more real…more genuine…more honest and authentic to me today.  Unfortunately, the Christians with whom I spent most of my time were anyone but like Job. They were more like Job’s inauthentic, know-it-all friends…who were really religious bigots…the kind so abundant today…the “we’ve got it all figured out,” crowd…the so-called friends of Job were offended by Job’s questions and they came to set him straight…to correct the error of his theological ways.

You cannot imagine how many emails I get from Christians thinking I’ve gone off the deep end. What I’ve left is only the madness they wish they could leave. But so many of them are drawing their salaries from equally mad places of presumed spirituality that they are like incarcerated free people. They look longingly through bars of restriction, wanting to be free of the religious madness paying their salaries.  The door is open, of course. And, they know that, too. But, fear keeps them right where they are…pretending to believe things they don’t believe…saying and preaching things they have sincere questions about…I know this, my friend, I am coach, counselor, and friend to scores of these religious leaders all across America.

Job’s “friends” struck down his questions, told him to confess his sins – since everybody knew such bad things would never happen to a righteous person for no reason whatsoever. Job obviously was a sinner and had done something to deserve his misfortunes.

It didn’t work with Job.

It didn’t work with me.

It doesn’t work with anyone who intends on finding…on knowing an authentic faith…a spirituality that is beyond religion…a sacredness that knows the real temple of God is the Temple within (1 Cor. 3:16), as Saint Paul reminded us.

It was only when I realized that I needed to do nothing at all to become who I am already, that the salt of God’s presence began to sweat from within me all that was inauthentic…phony…playacting.

In case you missed it, Jesus did not say, “One day you will be like salt and light.  Soon enough, but only after confirmation…only after baptism and a new members class and a lot of Bible study courses…no you don’t have to worry about a Bible yet but you will. Right now, you just need to confess that I am the way and the only way to God and that all these other religions are wrong and that I’ve come to start a new religion – I think we’ll call it Christianity…yes, that sounds like a good name…So, from this point on, what I’m starting is right and it is the only way…and once you’ve gotten the theological stuff all figured out – you know, once you’ve accepted the virgin birth – don’t worry about that now, the Catholics whom you don’t yet know but, they will be here soon, they’ll help you sort out your theology and then there will be some Protestants who’ll come along to correct the Catholics…and then, there will be the Evangelicals who’ll correct both the Catholics and the Protestants…and so, once you’ve acknowledged the great doctrines of the Trinity, and the virgin birth, and the immaculate conception…the substitutionary atonement for original sin…and, of course…once you’ve got the inerrant Word in hand…and, oh yes, all this after you first repent of your sins in a revival meeting…that is, repent of your original sin nature you inherited from Adam after his even more evil wife duped him into eating the apple off the forbidden tree…and then…

…and then…and then…

…and so goes the madness we call “religion” today.

“You mean, Jesus, there is more?” you ask.

“Oh, yes,” says Jesus, “lots more you’ll have to get straight in order for this salt and light metaphor to work…you see, you’re not there yet. I mean look at you guys.  You don’t even have a Bible yet. So, you’ll have to get together and, after the Holy Spirit comes…that’s the third part of the Trinity you’ve not heard about yet but you will. You’ll have to figure that out and He will guide a group of folks who’ll convene a Council of Carthage, and they’ll need to be lots more Councils as almost all of these will be divisive in nature but, but you’ll need to get all my words recorded – and it would be best if they were recorded in red and I prefer the King James Version but that’ll come later and so will a man named C. I. Scofield. Remember that name. He’s important because he’ll explain Saint John’s Revelation. Most will think John was smoking weed when he wrote what will be the last book in your upcoming King James Version of the Bible. So, God will raise up Scofield to correct the stuff that wasn’t so clear in the Revelation. He’ll put his own notes in the margins of what will be called a reference bible and, if people will just read his notes, then Revelation will make sense and the pre-millennial, dispensational rapturist theology will finally be the correct version of how the world will come to an end.  So, be sure you get that correct. Gotta know how it’s all gonna end, my friends.”

“So fellas’ you see you’re hardly salt and light yet. But, don’t give up hope, you’ll get there someday…somehow…I promise…you’ll make it one day with God!”

Whoa! Sort of wore me out just writing what you and I know inside is the nonsense…the madness of what so much of religion has become. Right?

Of course.

So, can you see, my friends, can you fathom why I have struggled to get through much of my spiritual life? What was around me and, unfortunately, what is still around so many spiritually hungry people…and maybe you, too…is what I would call a salt substitute, anything but the REAL thing.  A kind of religion that is devoid of any power. Just a lot of puff and smoke, or smoke and mirrors.

I had all but given up hope that the religious world could change…that I could change…

Then, one day, sitting on a couch, watching a PBS special on television, a remote in one hand, a Bud Light in the other, I woke up. I both died and resurrected in the same instant. My search ended. The war within was over. The confusion with which I had lived for decades disappeared. All my efforts to know God ceased. Peace…confidence…blissful joy, even the most profound and indescribable serenity came over me and…

I quit seeking God from that instant onward.  Why would I seek that which had found me already? Not since then have I ever felt the need to seek after God, like the prophet erroneously suggested. I live daily with a profound sense of the Presence. Why? I am salt….light.  I am.

And, the same is true of you.

I stopped looking at the Bible, too, as an “answer-book” and, when I did, it took on a life to me. It is no answer book. Never was. People who think it is are just wrong. It’s an old book. It doesn’t even address half the problems we face these days. Probably needs updating with some new and equally inspiring books. But, from the moment of my transformation, I began to see the Bible as it really is, a collection of the faith stories of people just like me, faulty, full of faults, full of themselves, sometimes flippant, almost always arrogant, but, at times, too, seemingly in touch with Source…with life…with themselves…with God.

Try reading the Bible this way my friend and you’ll see for yourself what the Bible was intended to be.

From that moment on the couch – I wish it would have been a bit more dramatic – like when, after reaching the summit of Mount Everest, I met GOD!!!!! – my “burning bush” story – something like that would make my story a little more believable. But it wasn’t dramatic but the consequences have been. Beyond description.

No longer do I feel the need to BECOME anything. I AM everything already. So are you. I am salt. I am light. So are you. Together, we are already making the church sweat and the world salivate after that which is real in us…authentic…and true.  People are leaving religion my friend for the precise reasons I’ve described above. They have not left their longing, however, to be spiritually connected.  They resonate with the truth of Jesus’ words “I am the light of the world” and his equally truthful declaration, “You are the light of the world…You are the salt of the earth.”

We are little Jesus’ in this world. We are not becoming anything. We are just being who we are…brothers and sisters, standing alongside Jesus…loving, to the best of our ability, those our culture wants to call “gays” and “fags” and “immigrants” – hell, my friends, we are all gays and straights and immigrants because, just as Jesus prayed, “I pray that they may be ONE” (Jn 17), we now know we ARE all ONE.  The Boy Scouts of America have gotten it half right. Now, in time, they will get it completely right.

Why? Salt and Light is here.  We are that salt in this world that causes what’s evil to “sweat” – what’s evil in culture, even what’s evil in the church…in religion gone mad…and we are salt and light in the world to provide perspective and presence and power.

And, my friend, there is no effort in any of this. Just be who you are. This moment.

I am…that’s not “will be” “hope to be” “one day I’ll make it”

It is who you are now. When you cease struggling to find God…to be like God…to be good…when you stop trying to find God…

You’ll discover…well…

Well…just give up the struggle, my friend and see what happens for yourself. In yourself.

This is…

Your Best Life Now!

 

Happiness…

posted by smcswain

happinessJean-Jacques Rousseau said, “Every man wants to be happy but in order to be so he needs first to understand what happiness is.” Understand “what” happiness is? Don’t we all know “what” it is?  Maybe not. Ask people what happiness is and you’ll get as many different definitions as there are flavors of Baskin-Robbins ice cream.

How would you define happiness?

Andrew Shapter, in an article that appeared in the Huffington Post, offered “99 Definitions of Happiness.”

Really? Is there that much ambiguity surrounding happiness?

Here’s my definition of happiness:

Happiness is a deep sense of contentment that rises from a profound sense of trust, security, and peace with life itself. It is neither dependent on something pleasurable for its rising nor does it need the “right” mood for it to be evident.  Happiness is, in the words of the Buddhist monk, Matthieu Ricard, “an optimal state of being,” what Jesus described as “the abundant life.”

This happiness happens not by accident. It is the consequence of a disciplined and healthy mind (and, it is also the subject of my next book – currently being written – entitled “Why are People So Unhappy? Living Life Backwards and Discovering Happiness”).

What’s your definition of happiness?  It might just end up in the book. Share it with me and with others, would you? I’m really curious about this, as I think there is much confusion surrounding it.  What’s good, and I’ll be covering some of this in the book, science has gotten into the fray.  Since the adoption of a Positive Psychology discipline in the late 90′s within virtually every college and university Department of Psychology, some really important, as well as scientific, research has been given to the study of human happiness. In future articles, and in the book, too, I’ll be sharing some of the findings.

For example, scientists have now confirmed there are three main explanations for the level or degree of happiness you and I experience through life. I’ll address these in the next article. For now, take a minute and try writing out your definition of happiness. This is the first place to begin anyway.

So, I thank you for your contribution.

For me, happiness is: _____________

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