Your Best Life Now

Your Best Life Now

What Is Salvation? Enlightenment? Awakening? Learning to Let Go…

posted by smcswain

letting goFr. Thomas Keating, the Trappist monk, said “Discernment is a process of letting go of what we are not.

“Discernment” is yet another word, similar in meaning to enlightenment, awakening, salvation.

All of these words point to the process of “letting go,” as Keating puts it, “of what we are not.”

What are we not?

You are not your thoughts. Which is why you and I must make it our daily practice to be the observer of our thoughts…what is called in the East the “witnessing presence.”

Does this seem hard to understand?

Perhaps this will help. When I speak of observing the mind, the image that comes to my mind is that of a loving adult who is watching the antics of a grandchild as he or she is playing on the family room floor.

Think of your thoughts as that of the little child.  The mind as the family room floor. And, you, the deeper you or, if you prefer, the higher self within you, as the adult observing the dance of thought on the floor of your mind.

Why should you remind yourself that you are not your mind…your thoughts?

So that the mind will not take you over.  Most of life’s happiness, or lack of it, takes place between your two ears.  That is, inside the head.  Which is why President Abraham Lincoln purportedly said, “Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

Separating yourself from your thoughts is a process that will take a lifetime to perfect. Which is why Saint Paul said, “Think on these things” (Phil. 4). Which is also why Jesus said, “…out of the mouth, the heart speaks” (Lk 6:45).

I thought about this yesterday when, in response to the Supreme Court’s action of striking down the “Defense of Marriage Act” thus opening the door to the recognition of “same sex” marriage, the Representative from our state of Kentucky, Rand Paul, commented that this action takes us a step closer to the “union of humans and animals.”

What is in someone’s mind who would liken the Supreme Court’s decision to the “union of humans and animals?”

Do you wish to be “saved,” as I was asked often by the religious people in my childhood?  They meant by this, “Do you want to get your sins forgiven and so go to heaven when you die?”

I now gratefully understand that salvation is so much more than this limited view of salvation. Or, enlightenment.  It is, among other things, freedom from the prison of one’s mind. Freedom from the defilement of one’s life by what goes on inside the head, according to Jesus.

You are not your mind.

You are not your body either

When you understand this, you can accept the changes you see as your body ages…and marches…toward death. Until you understand it, you are lost, as is our culture, in trying desperately, but unconsciously, to preserve the body.  You are lost in your love of it…what others think of it…you pamper it, fret over it, think more highly of it than  you ought, even despise it.

Which is the case with so much of the shallow Christianity in our world. The Jimmy Swaggart’s, Kenneth Copeland’s, and a host of other Christians have convinced many that, when the New Testament speaks of “flesh” it is referring to your body and that your body should be despised and rejected, as if there is something sinful or wrong with it.

This is so unfortunate. There is nothing wrong with your body. There is everything wrong, however, with your attachment to it, as well as your attitude of revulsion toward it.  Which is just a back door way of remaining attached to the body.

Pay attention to your body. Listen to your body. It is one of the portals into the Divine Presence. God speaks to you through the intelligence within the human body…through the voice one hears inside the body. And, sometimes, through the body.

Just do not be attached to the body.

Why?

It is not who you are. It is instead your temporary dwelling. It does not survive death. But you do.

My house at 3105 Meadowlark is not my home. The house is the temporary dwelling place wherein I, and my family, experience home.

Separate yourself from your body.  That is, take care of it…listen to it…learn from it…enter into Presence through it but do not despise it…do not worship it.  Do not, as so many mistakenly do, remain so attached to it that  you’ll spend thousands of dollars trying to dress it up, stretch out its wrinkles, pull it, remove fat from it, and all in the ego-driven attempt to hide the reality of death from yourself.

Know, my friend, that your salvation, your enlightenment, your spiritual awakening is, as Thomas Keating reminded us, “the process of letting go.”

Let go today.  Let go of your worries.  Let go of your fears.  Let go of your anxieties…your depressive thoughts…your hurts…even your hopes.

Let go of everything.  Attachments only hinder your progress.

And, oh, by the way, what does it mean to “let go?”

It means to BE a person of faith.  Faith isn’t holding on to “beliefs.”

Your beliefs are just another attachment.

Faith is not holding on. Faith is letting go.

Letting everything go. Even your beliefs.

When you let go of everything, you make the paradoxical discovery, you have everything.

I cannot explain this.  All I can do is invite you to let go yourself.

Then, you’ll see.

Do You Have But One Blessing, Father?…A Father’s Blessing

posted by smcswain

Father's Blessing“Do you have but one blessing, Father? Oh, please, Daddy bless me too.”

And Esau broke down and wept (Gen. 17:38)

One of the most heart-wrenching scenes in all the Old Testament.

Esau, first-born son to Isaac, was looking for his father’s blessing and I’m thinking, What child does not need…

A Father’s Blessing?

Most of the social problems we face today could be fixed by…

A Father’s Blessing.

I’m a Dad. A proud one, too. A step-Dad as well.  And, equally, as proud.

I had a Dad, just as you do.  Or, did.  My Dad unexpectedly died many years ago now and, if he did anything, he gave to my brother’s and me…

A Father’s Blessing.

What does it mean to have the blessing of your father?  It means…

1. To be treated equally…to be treated the same, a lesson Isaac, father to Jacob and Esau, learned too late.  Custom or no custom, first-born or no first-born, father’s make a huge mistake whenever they show favoritism to their children. Children are all different, as any parent knows who has more than one child. But children are smart, too. And, they know whether or not you favor one over the other. Love them all. Love them equally.

2. Teach them the way. That means, give them boundaries. But don’t be harsh toward them when they push at them. And, they will. They should. How else does one grow without resistance?

3.  Give them room to screw up.  This, they’ll do, too. Plenty of times. Don’t beat them; believe in them instead. Forgive them, too. Show them how. And, remember, you’re one big screw up yourself. Show them how to forgive others by how you forgive others and how you forgive yourself for your own mistakes.

4. Know they’ll catch from you far more than they’ll ever learn from you. Preach at them all you want, but it’s your practice that they’re watching. Don’t tell them all people are created equal and then expect them not to be prejudiced like you when they hear you make racial slurs or ugly, unkind comments about people who are different from you in color, creed, or lifestyle. You’re the hypocrite. Not them.

5.  Fill your home with laughter. Play. Play. And then, play some more. I don’t give a damn how tired or busy you are. You brought those children into the world. Spend time with them. Get into their stuff with joy, spontaneity, laughter, and excitement. They’ll love it. You’ll love it. They’ll grow up happier, healthier children, too.

6. Pass along your faith to them but give them room to forge their own faith experience.  You’re their spiritual guide. You’re not their religious dictator. The surest way to have them reject your faith is for you for force it down their throats.

7. Teach them to question everything, even the stuff you tell them to believe.  You want your children to grow up healthy and internally strong? Independent and strong enough to make their own decisions?  Then, give them room to disagree with you when they think differently.  Give them room to grow. Keep the lines of communication open, instead of using your position or authority to cut off discussion.

8. Make your home a SAFE PLACE for them. You create a security inside your children…the internal feeling of safety, not by arming your home with AK-47′s and hand-guns out the ass, but by loving them…by ending the drama that goes on between you and your spouse…the constant yelling and arguing.  You know what I’m talking about. End the  put-down’s. Calling your children “Losers” or saying things like “You’re a dumb ass!” or “You’re stupid!”  may be some of the most damaging stuff you could ever say to your children. Damaging to them when they hear you say things like this to each other, too. How disrespectful.  You tell them to treat the neighbor kids fairly – so the neighbor’s parents will think you a good parent – meanwhile, you talk to your children’s mother like she’s a piece of shit.  Shame on you.  Never should a day go by but what your children see you and your partner hug each other, say loving and kind things to each other.  And, never should a day go by but what you hug your children and tell them you love them.  You children will grow up feeling secure when you’re there for them through the thick-and-thin of it. No matter what they face, don’t ever let them face it alone.

9. Bless them everyday. Not for the stuff they do but for WHO they are.  They may question many things but they’d better never question whether they have your blessing. Isaac’s stupidity as a father, blessing one child and not the other, set in motion a conflict between these two brothers, Jacob and Esau, the effects of which are still being felt in the present. What you do for your children…what you fail to do for your children…what you say, or do not say…what you do, or do not do…has eternal consequences.  You bet it does.  For the most part, your children will grow up to BE just like you. So, take a hard look at yourself this morning in the mirror. And, remind yourself, just as you needed your father’s blessing, so YOUR children do, too.

10. So, here are the three “BLESSINGS” you should give your children every day:  “I’m here for you.”  “I’m proud of you.”  “I love you.”  Do this. Mean it with all your heart.  And, watch your children grow up, not as the next American Idol or star of the NBA, but human beings who know how to love, to live, to laugh, and so leave this world, as you intend to leave it, better than how you found it.

A Father’s Blessing.

What could be more important?

Want to Grow in Your Faith?

posted by smcswain

growing in faith

A Tribute to My Father…

posted by smcswain

Spirituality

Looking for God Outside Yourself is Like…

posted by smcswain

Gold-Bars-in-Fort-Knox“If God is everywhere,” writes Fr. Richard Rohr, “then God is not anywhere exclusively.”

Hold this thought in your mind this day…no, everyday…and see what happens.

I suspect, among other things,

1. You will begin to honor spiritual truth wherever you find it – not just the truth which may come through your tribe or denomination or group. There is but one spiritual  truth, although it may be known in a myriad of varying ways. Be suspect of anyone who insists, “I hold the truth.” Truth cannot be contained.

2. True, you may hold strong beliefs or convictions for yourself. But, you will cling to none of them. Does that sound a bit like double-talk? That’s because it is. Most truth floats like a leaf on river of contradiction or paradox. It you will maintain a mind that is open to everything and attached to nothing, you will grow continually. If, on the other hand, when you assume you are right and that your beliefs no longer need questioning, you can be certain you have ceased to grow. Worse still, you are most likely living outside the truth you think you know.

3. Most important, “If God is everywhere…,” as of course God is, why would you look outside yourself today for the God who is near to you now…even within you?

Look no further, my friend…

You have all of God there is. God does not come to you in bits and pieces. So, let nothing…you inadequate religious instruction, your background or conditioning…let nothing create in you, the thought, as well as the anxiety such faulty thinking produces, that God must be sought in order to be found. The preacher who said, “Seek God while He may be found…” (Isa. 55:6) meant well. He just did not have all the facts. About this much, however, he IS right. “Now” not tomorrow…not sometime soon…”Now” is the moment to wake up to the realization, God need not be found. Nor must you seek God to find God.

You cannot find Who is not lost.

To look for God outside yourself is like panning for nuggets of gold while holding the keys to Fort Knox.

Live in the joy of Being herself. It IS your natural state of human existence. “Thanks be to God,” said Saint Paul, “who causes us to triumph in Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15).

What more could you want in life? This IS…

Your Best Life Now!

6 Questions Christians Should Just Start Asking…

posted by smcswain

Since the article I wrote a few weeks ago was released, “6 Things Christians Should Just Stop Saying,” I have received a myriad of emails and comments. Most have appreciated my awkward attempts to share my feelings and concerns about the state of Christianity today. Others, however, were not so appreciative. In fact, some were quite offended.

I meant no offense with the former article.

I mean no offense with this one.

I do feel, however, it is way past time for the Church to let go of its own collective ego and get real with life and faith and the big issues of our time. The Church is largely dying. This is true in many places. And even if you disagree with my assertion, I think you would agree the Church is declining, as well as going through dramatic changes, good and bad, and whatever emerges on the other side will likely be dramatically different from the Church we know today.

When I assert, however, that the Church is dying, I do not mean to convey the notion that the Church will disappear.

It won’t.

Meanwhile, however, the madness in the Church is escalating, as seen in the most remarks, for example, by Rev. David Barton in a recently recorded Sunday morning service. Barton, the evangelical preacher, said something to the effect, “You can’t be Christian and drink Starbucks Coffee because Starbucks supports gay marriage.”

At first, I thought, “You’re kidding, right?”

He wasn’t.

Then, I thought, “You didn’t just say what I heard you say?”

He did.

Then, I thought, “You mean I can’t be a Christian and have a Bud Light occasionally or shop at Target (my wife’s favorite store) or J. C. Penny’s or … What’s this? … Not at Amazon either?”

“What, you mean I’ve gotta give up my Levi jeans? Is that what you really just said? Expedia, too? Because last I checked, they ALL support gay marriage.”

You can see perhaps why I have now six questions Christians should just start asking.

1. Why would it surprise any Christian that the Church has squandered its prophetic voice when buying a cup of coffee from a company that supports gay marriage is now the criteria by which we are to judge the genuineness of one’s faith?

I mean, really! Is this what it comes down to now?

I have more questions…

2. Why are there more atheists in cultures and countries where Christianity is the predominant religion? Has something gone terribly wrong with Christianity?

I would say, “No. There’s nothing ‘wrong’ with Christianity. But yes, something seems to have gone terribly wrong within the many denominational expressions of Christianity.”

3. Why are the numbers of those leaving organized religion in Christianity outpacing the number of those uniting with the Christian religion here in America by almost two to one?

And, why do most Christian leaders, when asked how to explain this anomaly, almost always suggest there is something wrong with those leaving instead of asking, “Is there something wrong with us who are staying?”

4. How can our new Pope Francis — the venerable pope himself — say that in the end everyone will be “saved” only to have the Vatican’s “Damage Control Department” quickly explain that the pope did not really mean what he said?

Really?

You think that correcting the pope’s theology increases the credibility of your own?

Oh, come on. You’re not that stupid, are you? And if you are, why would you be surprised — for that matter, why would any church be surprised — when the world takes what it says these days with about as much seriousness as it does the entertainer Rush Limbaugh?

He’s a comedy show. The Church is becoming so.

5. Why do Christians who say they they take the Bible literally insist that Jesus was saying in John 14:6 that he was literally the only way to God, but then overlook applying the same literalist logic to John 10:16 where Jesus says, “I have sheep that are not of this fold”?

Using the Bible as a proof text to support your theological biases is just that: “using” the Bible. It leads to all sorts of abuse and misuse of what should be regarded, but not worshipped, as a sacred guide pointing beyond itself to God herself. Yes, “her-self.” See what I mean? When you bring to the Bible your assumptions and biases, you interpret the Bible through your own lenses, instead of the other way around. This IS the history of Christianity and why there are something like 30,000 different Christian denominations in America alone. Has it ever occurred to you what distinguishes each of these denominations, one from the other?

Each one believes it is just a little more “right” than the 29,999 others.

And then, there is question No. 6. Admittedly, there are a dozen other equally good questions I could have noted here. You might have a few of your own you would add in the “Comment” section. Maybe some Christian leader somewhere is paying attention, instead of always looking for a fight or pretending to believe in a Church that has clearly gone mad.

Question No. 6 I’ve included for those of you who too quickly assume I’m some enemy of the Church. If that makes you feel better, then believe that lie. The fact is, I love the Church, with all its flaws. Hell, how could I not? I’ve got plenty of flaws myself. And like the Church or not, it is in-and-through the Church that I have experienced God…whoever or whatever God is.

Which leads me to say, hard-nosed atheists, and there are plenty of them around, share much in common, in terms of their narrowness and arrogance, with religious fundamentalists, Christians, Muslims, etc.  Anymore, when I meet mean people, or mean people leave mean-spirited comments in posts like this, I know I’m likely meeting an atheist whose arrogance has left him delusional or a fundamentalist whose angry and afraid about almost everything.

6. Why do many of those who have left the Church largely because of the narrow intolerance they experienced there, frequently turn around and show the same narrow intolerance toward the Church they left?

Is that fair? Or Christian? Leave the Church, if you feel you must. But let go of your resentment — your own critical spirit — because, if you don’t, what good has leaving done you?

Have any questions of your own? Or any answers? Share them.

This is 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?

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