Your Best Life Now

Your Best Life Now

The Madness that Must End Among Christians…

posted by smcswain

Monkey TempleThe Dalai Lama is coming to Louisville this Sunday.

I was thinking the other day, “It’s about time. After all, I visited his part of the world for the first time when I was but fourteen.”

It’s true. It was the first of many trips around the world that I was fortunate to take. My mother was a tour planner…tour leader, too. She and Dad would lead groups on trips to faraway places and my two brothers and I got to go. By the time I graduated high school, for example, I had been to Europe and the Middle East on three occasions, but also to the Scandinavian countries, as well as the far east including Russia, China, Thailand, and Japan. Hawaii was included in all those trips too.

It was a remarkable childhood, to say the least.

You can imagine then, to a young Baptist boy growing up in a conservative Southern Baptist church with its conventional notions of Divine exclusivity and its theological propensity to act as the self-appointed guardians of God’s grace, that I would see things in my travels that would lead me to question my narrow upbringing.

Before traveling the world, for example, the most “other” in terms of religion I had ever known was another Catholic. So, when we visited Rome for the first time, I found myself wandering around the Basilica of San Pietro with thousands of other Catholics who were waiting for the appearance of the Pope. I could not help but wonder who these Catholics  were and where they had come from. I knew that Baptists could trace their lineage all the way back to John the Baptist himself but, I wondered, when after us did these Catholics appear?

LOL!  I had a rather limited understanding of Christian history at age fourteen.

What I did have, however, was the curiosity to ask questions. Even hard ones. So, as someone else has said, I, too, was born with a WHY chromosome. I’ve questioned things all my life.

I heard a psychic on the radio the other day advertising her services.

“You have problems? I’ve got answers. Call me at 1 – 800…”

I thought. “If you are so psychic, wouldn’t you know who had a problem and call them?”

My propensity to question has led me to the conclusion: Christian fundamentalism doesn’t work anymore. Not only in its more extreme forms, as in Islamic fundamentalism. We all know that does not work. Nor can it be tolerated. But, fundamentalism does not work in it’s tamer versions either.  In the tamer versions of Christian fundamentalism, for example, followers vent their anger on the world they’ve failed to save by believing in and praying for the imminent return of Jesus and the rapture of the church.  In other words, since they’ve failed to save the world, they pray and long to get the hell out of it.

A kind of paranoid schezophrenia fundamentalist Christianity.

Fundamentalism, either in its harsher forms or milder versions, has never worked. But this is especially true today.

In our increasingly scientific and pluralistic world, fundamentalist theology unravels at almost every seam.  I’m becoming more and more aware of this and I suppose I’m becoming a bit bolder in my public admission of it, too.  God has not appointed me, nor has God appointed you, to be his guardian over truth.  For one thing, you and I “can’t handle the truth.” But it’s also because our little minds and even smaller egos too often try to squeeze God into our little box of limited explanations. In other words, we are guilty of the very thing God warns against – “fashioning God into an image we can manage…control…manipulate…put parameters around…and, basically, just incarcerate in our little heads.

But God is not only bigger and grander than you can imagine, God is bigger and grander than you can imagine.

For me, the shift in my thinking began even at fourteen when we visited Kathmandu, Nepal. That beautiful city that sits under the shadow of the snow-covered Himalayan Mountains. Can you imagine how impactful it was to observe, as I did, the Buddhist Monks in prayer and meditation, sitting in the familiar Lotus position, draped in their saffron-colored robes?

“What do they believe?” I asked myself.

“How is it so different from what I believe?”

“If God is a God of love but Christianity is the only way to know God…the only way to go to heaven, why would God permit so many other religions?”

“Why would he allow so many nice people to be so misled, too?”

My confusion was compounded when, after meeting some of them and then exchanging conversations with the monks who knew English, I discovered that they were actually happy in their faith. They weren’t the bit interested in my more enlightened way…my truer path to God. They seemed quite content with the path they were following. Furthermore, when I learned some of them had been sitting in meditation for days without food or water, I remember thinking, “When have I ever seen that degree of discipline or dedication even among the most dedicated Christians I’ve known?”

I had not. Why? Because most Christians are not that dedicated. Nor are they that sincere. This is no judgment. It’s just a fact.

The really big question came to me after having made friends with some of them. That question was, “If I’m going to heaven because I believe in Jesus but they’re going to hell because they don’t, how am I going to be happy in heaven knowing these happy monks are suffering in the flames of hell?”

My narrow, fundamentalist theology of exclusivity was falling apart even at that very young age. Yet, like many Christians then and many Christians still now, including many ministers who draw their livelihood from fundamentalist Christian congregations, I learned to stay quiet about what I was really thinking…what I was really believing…even through my own seminary days where I earned a doctorate in theology and went from there to serve as a Baptist pastor…I kept quite about what was going on inside my truer self, my higher self, because, to admit publicly the questions I had would have been tantamount to career suicide.

This is why I receive almost daily today emails from Christians ministers, priests, pastors, from virtually every denomination across America – Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, notwithstanding – and, they all say virtually the same thing. “I believe much of what you write about Steve but, if I were to admit this from my pulpit, my ministry would be over.”

I learned the hard way, my friends, you cannot live a lie and pretend to be a happy Christian or believe things you really do not believe.  Oh, I suppose you can and many do. Sooner or later, however, and, for me, it came sooner than later, the curtain will drop on your theological charade…you phony belief system.  If salvation, as Christians call it, or enlightenment as Zen Buddhists call it, is anything at all, it is inner wholeness…integrity…peace inside, even within paradox and contradiction. If you’re trying to make yourself believe something that, “just ain’t so,” as Mark Twain would put it, or preaching one thing but, in your heart, believing something else, just know that you’re likely on board an emotional and spiritual train wreck that’s just waiting to happen.

And, guess what?

Life will find a way of bringing your duplicitous journey to a screeching halt.

It did me. I’ve written about that in The Enoch Factor: The Sacred Art of Knowing God.

On this day, at fourteen, in Kathmandu, Nepal, we visited the famous Swayambunath Temple, known to most tourists as the “Monkey Temple” because monkeys actually live there.

When our tour group was ready to return to the bus, I was still standing near the Zen monks, transfixed as I watched them sitting motionless in meditation. I thought, “It’s just a show…surely, at any moment, one of them will twitch with discomfort or peek to see who was watching.”

They never did.

Fearing I might be more impressed than I should be by their devotion…their discipline, detachment, dedication…or, worse, their happiness and contentment, one of the little Baptist ladies in our tour group came over and stood by me. Presently, she whispered in my ear, “Look at those poor monks praying to a God they do not know.”

She paused.

Then, she picked up the familiar, fundamentalist refrain: “Why, if only they knew our sweet Jesus”…it came out like – ‘schweet Jesus’ – the way some southerns ask for ‘schweet’ tea in small town cafes’ – “why,” she said with such certainty…”I know but those poor souls do not”…”why,” she continued, “if they just knew our sweet Jesus, they would go to heaven when they die…instead of that other terrible awful place.”

My Christian friends, this is the madness that must end.

I was just fourteen years old that day outside the Monkey Temple in Kathmandu. No kid could have been more self-centered, more self-absorbed, or more pretentious than I. Yet, I can distinctly remember feeling offended by the sincere but sincerely wrong old Baptist lady. I wanted to look up at her and say…

“What makes you so certain you’re right and they’re wrong?”

“What if they’re right, and you’re wrong?”

What is it in you and me that wants to make God into a manageable deity?

The psalmist said, “The fool says ‘No god’!” (Ps.14:1).

I think the psalmist today might say, “The fools say, ‘We KNOW God’!”

No God.  Know God.  I’m not sure which fool is the bigger.

Seeing the Most Obvious…or, the Measure of Enlightenment

posted by smcswain

captain_obviousTwo little fish are swimming along in the ocean one morning when they meet with an older fish who casually asks them, “Hello fella’s, how’s the water today?”

They responded with equal casualness, “Fine, sir” and then, they continued to swim on. After a moment passed, one of the younger fish turns to the other and asks, “What the hell is water?”

The point is obvious. But, isn’t it true that often, the most obvious signs of Divine grace are all around us, but we miss them? We fail to see, or express our thanks…our deepest and most profound thanks…for the most obvious…the air you breathe…the sunshine, as well as the rains, the Presence so obvious in the eyes and smiles of another we but casually meet along the way?

What is spiritual enlightenment?

The capacity to see, and so appreciate, the most obvious signs of grace…God’s inexpressible grace.

Awaken, my friends. Spirituality need not be more complicated than joy over the obvious.

What Is the Sign of Spiritual Maturity?

posted by smcswain

spiritual maturityHow do I know when I am advancing on the spiritual path? What is a “sign” of spiritual maturity?

I would answer that question as many spiritual teachers like Jesus did when questioned…with a question of my own.

Must everyone believe as you believe in order to accepted by you?

Must you insist that what you believe is right which, by implication, means others must be wrong?

When you suggest that you, and other enlightened folks as yourself, “just believe the Bible” are you aware that what you are really saying is that you believe your “version” of the Bible and that equally devoted followers of the Bible frequently interpret the same Bible differently but just as sincerely as you do? So, can you not be honest enough to admit that you, and others like yourself, might be wrong yourselves?

When you are able to make your “truth” claims with passion…with sincerity…but draped with love…humility…and room for others to believe and so hold to equally meaningful “truth” claims, you…my friend…are advancing in the direction of spiritual maturity…true enlightenment.

It is time that we live with Christ-like humility…Buddha-like respectfulness. It is time for greater openness…for conversation…for contemplation…for introspection.

F. Scott Fitzgerald was right when he suggested, “The sign of first rate intelligence (I would say, the sign of first-rate, spiritual maturity) is the capacity to hold two opposing ideas in one’s mind and still be able to function”…(I would say, “still be at peace”).

Can you?

Make it your spiritual ambition to give up your believing in your beliefs. “Beliefs,” as my spiritual mentor always loves to say, “are a coverup for insecurity.  You only ever believe in the things you do not know.”

When you “Know” something, what is there to believe in?

Make it your ambition, therefore, to know God – this is faith. Do not be content with knowing “about” God – this is the “belief” stuff…which is just believing in the words you say about God or that someone else says about God.

No, know God for yourself instead.

“How?” you ask.

Wrong question.

Start from the premise that you know God already.

Why?

Because you do.

“What do you mean?” you ask.

If you did not know God already, why would you bother to ask the question?

Give up looking for God.

God cannot be found. You will NOT…I repeat…you will not find God in a book of religion.

When you stop struggling to find God, that is grace…real grace…the Biblical kind of grace.

Grace is the inner realization that God has found you already.

Why Coach Young Executives…and, People Like You?

posted by smcswain

coaching

I had a client coaching session late yesterday afternoon. The first of many sessions to come with a young, executive who is driven, ambitious…a rising star in his corporate environment.

I asked, “Why did you come to me as your personal coach?”

“I need balance in my life,” he answered without hesitation.

I thought, “Don’t we all.”

“I’m driven,” he explained.

Obviously.

“I just left an interview, for example,” he continue, “just before coming to meet you and, even although I have been with this company only a few months, I’m being promoted already.”

“Congratulations.”

“It’s no small promotion either,” he said. “It actually puts me in line to be the next CEO.”

“Wow,” I thought. And, only in his mid-twenties. So young and, yet, so smart. Articulate. Winsome. Likable. He’ll make it. Heck, he’s making it already. His mind reminds me of a hamster in a ferris wheel…spinning…away from something…or, maybe toward something…I’m not certain yet…I’ll need an other session or two…but I cannot help but wonder wonder if the progress he’s making is the kind he really wants to make.

It must not be. Not entirely, anyway. Otherwise, why seek a coach?

I like him. I’ll be able to help him. As long as he remains teachable, and, for some reason, I think he is; then, I am sure he’ll advance in this corporate world…heck, he has already. But, more importantly, he’ll advance in his inner world…where now he feels a bit out-of-kilter, he will soon and then always feel what now he misses. In spite all of his exterior togetherness…and, he does come across as together…this young executive who knows himself well enough to know something valuable is missing…something isn’t quite working inside…something is out-of-balance…this executive wants to fix it.

What is it?

It is the same thing you want fixed in you. He is no different than you or me or anyone else. It’s that in you that brings you back time and again to read this stuff I write. It has nothing I know to do with my ability to write. There are writers in this world. I’m hardly one of them. What I do write, however, resonates deeply within you because I write about the stuff that matters most. And, nobody has to explain to you what that is. You know this innately. Something in you connects with it and you find yourself saying, even if you don’t say it out loud…”That’s right…that’s me…he’s speaking to me…writing about me…what he’s desribing is the very think I want…I need…I must have.”

And, what is it that you want…that I want…that this young, executive needs more than all the trophies that are already gathering dust on the display shelf of his ambitions?

It is to feel connected to Life itself…it is to know what Paul Tillich called “the Ground of our Being.” It is to feel grounded in Presence itself so that, no matter what rages around you, there is peace within you…a quiet, enriching calmness…a joy unspeakable…indescribable…permanent even.

My friend, what you want…what I want…what the young executive wants is no trophy you could ever compete for and then win…no summit you’ll have to climb in order to reach…no reward you’ll ever get for making all the right decisions…no accomplishment you could ever achieve…and, certainly no promotion you’ll one day get but only after impressing the Board or pleasing the shareholders.

You, my friend, are already at that very place you seek. You’re atop the summit already. You have arrived at the destination you seek. You are already one with Life itself.

This is why Christians call it Grace. You really had to do nothing to get it. Why? Because you cannot arrive where you are already. You cannot become who you are by grace.

YOU ARE yourself the natural state of felt oneness with God. Why would you seek what you are already? Who you are…now? Do you feel this? The very Essence you are? Live from this place my friend and you’ll never ever…I repeat…you’ll never ever wonder whether you’ve lived a successful life…

You have succeeded already!

 

Mystery of Mysteries…You Say, “Jesus Is the Only Way!”

posted by smcswain

the-universeTo those who know me, it is no surprise that I was born with a WHY chromosome.

Because I was so fortunate as to travel the world during my teen years…those highly impressionable years…I’ve seen things, heard things, experienced things that became fertile soil to my many questions.

I was raised in a Southern Baptist pastor’s home. Everyone I knew was Christian. Most were Baptist. Even if you did not go to church, you regarded yourself as Christian and, very often, as Baptist, too. So, the nearest thing to me of a person of another “religion” was a Catholic.

Yet, on more than one occasion, I’ve stood with thousands of other actual Catholics in St. Peter’s Square in Rome…as they eagerly awaited a blessing from the Pope…and, as I watched with curiosity…wonder…questions.

Questions like, “Who are these Catholics? What do they believe? Do they believe in God? Are they Christians like us Baptists?”

If you have never been to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, put that on your “Bucket List.” Hard to stand inside what is quite likely still the most beautiful basilica in the world with its colorful windows, its magnificent ceilings that reach the heavens themselves, or to observe the beams of light as they cut their way across that breathtakingly, sacred place and not wonder to oneself, “What do these people know about God that I do not know? That we may not know?”

Pretty profound questions for a teenager to ask, wouldn’t you say?

I know many, many adults who never get around to asking such questions. Or, if they do, they quickly dismiss them. They mistakenly think that questions will lead to compromise just as they mistakenly think that doubts will lead to the loss of faith. What they do not know is that, until you actually question your faith and allow yourself permission to doubt, your faith is at best borrowed and superficial. Or, worse, inauthentic…even phony.

Imagine the questions I asked when visiting Jerusalem…walking around the Dome of the Rock, as I have done many times, holy site to two of the world’s greatest religions, Islam and Judaism. Can you understand how such observations…such experiences…would cause me to wonder, “Why do some people within these two religions claim the same spiritual father but dislike, even hate, each another? Furthermore, one calls God Allah, the other Elohim. Is it the same God? And, how are their gods different from the God we Christians worship? Or is it really the same God?”

As a teenager, I’ve stood outside the Swayambhunath Temple – known to Buddhists as the “Monkey Temple” because monkeys actually live there – in Kathmandu, Nepal, that beautiful city that sits under the shadow of the towering, snow-covered peaks of the Himalayan Mountains. I’ve watched as these monks sitting in the lotus position, some of them for hours…others for days, wearing their saffron-colored robes…making not the slightest movement…but only in deep stillness, meditation, prayer. I’ve observed the discipline of their spirituality, a discipline I had never observed even among the most devout of Christians.

Can you understand how I would wonder? How I would question?

Once, while observing the Zen monks in meditation, I was skeptical. I was certain it was all just a big religious show, the kind you and I are accustomed to seeing in much of Christianity today. I was convinced the monks were just playing to their audience of tourists. Our tour group walked on with the guide as she explained other things they were seeing. I stood transfixed, however, staring at the monks, certain that, at any moment, they would twitch with discomfort or peek to see who was watching.

They never did.

When it came time to leave, the guide sent one of the little Baptist ladies to fetch me. She put her arm around my shoulder and, perhaps feeling as if I might be a little too impressed by the display of spirituality I was observing, she whispered in my ear…

“Look at those poor little monks…praying to a God they know not. Why…if they only knew our sweet Jesus…they would go to heaven with us when they die.”

Even to the self-absorbed, self-centered teenager that I was, her condescension and dismissive certainty offended me.

I wanted to ask her, “What makes you so certain you’re right and they’re wrong? What if they’re right and you’re wrong?”

Some will read this and they will glibly…with certainty…with absoluteness that sounds as if they may actually know what they’re talking about, “Well, I just believe the Bible. And, since Jesus said he was the only way to God, that’s enough for me.”

Is it? Is that “enough for you?” Really? Or, is your “certainty” just a cover-up for your insecurity? You think your absoluteness fools me?

You’re wrong, my friend. There was a time in my life I tried my best to appear as certain as you. There are two kinds of fools in this world. The one who says, “There is NO God.” The other is the one who says, “I know God.” “No God; Know God” No difference.

Sure, you can “know” God, as the inner, inexplicable and transformative personal experience. But, do not ever, my friend…do not ever be so arrogant as to assume you actually “know” God, in terms of explaining God or understanding God. Or, maybe you should go back and read the Book of Job. When you’re so foolish as to assume you know more than you could possibly ever know, you’re hardly like Job. You’re more like his dysfunctional friends whose glib answers to life’s questions made them seem to Job, and to every reader, as the intellectual buffoons that they were.

My friends, if I have come to believe anything it is this: Mystery goes by many names…has many aliases…and, may wear many different faces. And, since this Mystery is too mysterious for either your little mind or mine, the better part of real humility would be to “let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2), as Saint Paul counseled.

What “mind” is this?

The Mind of Mystery…a Mind of Humility…a Mind of Compassion…a Mind of Service.

It was this MIND that created the universe, was present in Jesus, is everywhere in this universe and present in you and me and everyone.

And, oh, by the way, know how BIG this universe is?

Have you bothered to look? And then, to ponder?

When the spiritual emptiness of your soul becomes so great you can no longer stand it, you WILL look. And, what you’ll see when you do is a vastness that is not only greater than you can imagine, it is greater than you CAN imagine.

When you become aware of this, you will most likely make a discovery similar to one I’ve made…and that is…

That God is like this Uni-Verse…He…or, She or whatever it is, is THE One-Song.

And, when you hear that Song, you’ll sing it, too. It is the One Song that is melodious enough to include all singers everywhere.

And that, my friend, is the greatest Mystery of all Mysteries.

On the Pathway…But, to Where?

posted by smcswain

Boardwalk Through Lush ForestOn the Pathway…But, To Where?

It’s today’s buzzword, isn’t it? Pathway…Journey…People speak quite frequently these days about being on the path…or, on the journey.

But, to where?

For some Christians, it is a journey to heaven.

Really? Is that the point of this life? Just to endure it to make it finally to heaven?

At one time, I would have agreed. Everything I was taught about Christianity was all about getting saved in this life so you’d avoid hell in the next. So, you might say, the pathway…the journey was through this life and to heaven in the next.

You will have to decide this for yourself. I only offer the following suggestion for your thoughtful consideration:  What if the journey is really about something else entirely?

When Jesus said, for example,  “I have come that you might have life and it more abundantly,” has it ever occurred to you that what he meant has nothing to do with tomorrow?

Some of you will dismiss this notion as absurd, fixed as you are on an conditioned mental construct that includes a heaven somewhere in the sky. You cling to that idea as a child does his hope Santa will remember his requests on Christmas day. You hope for heaven the way some hope a vacation will free them from the stresses, as well as the drudgery, of their daily life. Ever noticed, vacations seldom do. There’s a reason they don’t. It’s the same reason a child’s elation on Christmas Day…his thrill that Santa remembered…soon disappears and then…well…there’s always another Christmas in which to hope, around which a child wraps his dreams.

Perhaps you’ve never been challenged to reconsider the widely held but mistaken views of New Testament “hope.” Maybe you, too, have thought that Christian “hope” is a wish for something better…something out there…the longing for what you do not have now or do not know today will be fixed one day…then, you’ll know, in the sweet by and by, as we used to sing in the little white church on the hill…then we’ll have whatever it is we feel life has cheated or stolen from us now.

No, my friend, New Testament hope is not about “wishing” at all. It is, instead, a quiet satisfaction…an inner calm…an unwavering confidence that frees you from all such wishing. Hope is knowing what others do not; it is having today what everyone seeks tomorrow.

And, what is it that everyone seeks? A future that they imagine is better than now. A blissful, trouble-free tomorrow that replaces the boredom and drama of today.

What these people have yet to learn, and I am only beginning to learn, is this: the future…whatever it is…only ever comes to you, to me, as today…

If you cannot know today or have today what you imagine tomorrow bringing, when tomorrow comes as today, will it not just bring with it more of today’s longing…more today’s unfulfilled wishing?

My friends, the mystery of life is the awakened, enlightened, salvific realization that the path you follow…the journey you’re taking…leads absolutely nowhere…

And, yet, everywhere at the same time.

That’s the paradox.

You say, “That’s confusing?”

Perhaps.

But perhaps that’s because you and I are still looking for what we do not have…still seeking for what we do not know.

When the seeking, the wanting, the wishing, the hoping…when the looking finally ends…then, and only then, will we discover the wonder, the mystery, the bliss of abundant living – life as Jesus knew it…described it…life as the Buddha and a myriad of others have lived it…

They have learned life’s greatest secret…

The path is NOT about going anywhere.

The journey is instead…

The destination.

Is There an Unforgivable Sin?

posted by smcswain

unforgivable sinThe question: Is there a sin God will not forgive? What did Jesus mean by these words?

In Mark 3:28-29, Jesus says, “I promise you that any of the sinful things you say or do can be forgiven, no matter how terrible those things are. But if you speak against the Holy Spirit, you can never be forgiven. That sin will be held against you forever.”

I remember preachers saying things like, “When the Holy Spirit seeks to lead you into repentance from your sins and you continue to reject the Holy Spirit, He will withdraw, leave you alone, and, at that point, you have sealed your eternal destiny…you’ll never be forgiven,” by which these preachers meant, you’ll not go to heaven when you die. You’ll go to hell instead.

Is this what Jesus meant by “speaking against the Holy Spirit?”

I suggest a different reading, one I think is closer to the meaning Jesus wished to convey.

Shortly before his death, Jesus sought to comfort his troubled followers. As he spoke of leaving them, they spoke of going with him instead. Peter went so far as to promise he would defend Jesus to the death.

Jesus reminded them, however, where he was going they could not come. But he would be with them nonetheless, because the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, would come after Him and be that Presence in them and among them and all would be as before. (read the entire section of John 13 – 16 to get the full import of Jesus’ words).

What is this Holy Spirit?

Isn’t it the voice within? The inner impulse you feel? The Presence of God guiding you…leading you…prompting you…enabling you?

You’ve heard his voice before, observed  his messages, however subtle they may have been.

Can you remember the last time, for example, when you needed to make a decision and, in that moment, you knew what you should do but, for some reason, you did not do what you knew you should?  Instead of taking the hint right before you, you ignored the message from beyond and did something else entirely.

The consequences you’ve never forgotten. Maybe have never forgiven either.

The promise of Jesus is that you will know what to do…what to say…how to respond…the choice you need to make…what’s the right thing to do…at just the right time.  Maybe not long before the decision has to be made but, when it does have to be made, you’ll know what to do in that very moment.

The Holy Spirit is not some “hound of heaven.” He’s more like a “hint from heaven” instead. Not the wine but the aroma that hovers just above. The Holy Spirit provides just the right reminder, at just the right time, and, as you pay attention to these subtle messages from beyond…the tiny impulse and so “take the hint,”  you know you have made the right choice and that you are creating what they would call in the east “good Karma.”

When, however, you ignore the impulse, the inclination, the indicator, the invitation and so, do something differently than that which the message from beyond is quietly reminding you to do…that is, when you ignore the path to follow and so continue following your own path, you more and more silence this inner voice and you create “bad Karma.”

It is not that God’s Spirit leaves you or that you damn yourself to some eternal hell. That is to miss the point altogether. It is ignore and so create the conditions within your life that are not favorable, sometimes even hellish and unforgivable. When you ignore the prompt, the promptings becomes less pronounced over time. The Holy Spirit is like a prompter just off stage who gives you the word you need to pick up and go on with the play of your life. If you ignore the prompt, the drama becomes drama indeed. The consequences more and more profound, too.

The Boston bombers are an example. The irony in their choice of bombs cannot be overlooked.  Pressure cookers…the kind my mother used for the Sunday roast, potatoes, and carrots…these became filled more and more with the pressure associated with wrong choices and, as a consequence, when the pressure became too great, the cookers became weapons of destruction.

I cannot but wonder how many times those two young men ignored the messages from beyond…the impulse to take courses of action differently than the ones they chose to take?  In extreme instances, what is clearly wrong can even look right. Or, justified. Each time they ignored the subtle impulses to make better choices, the pressure inside the cooker of their own consciousness grew dangerously explosive.

The choices you make today may not turn you into some criminal or damn you to an eternal hell but they do create the conditions, the circumstances, even the climate within which you live out your life. Sometimes, these conditions can become intolerable, perhaps even unforgivable, if by no other than yourself.

The choices made by the two bombers in Boston have changed reality for many people forever. The consequences unforgivably altering. But, before we judge them too quickly, perhaps it would be wise for us to examine more closely the conditions inside the pressure cooker of our world that results in intolerable acts of violence.  Think of our culture as that pressure cooker. Is there a message here our culture might receive? Or, ignore?

Train yourself to listen to the messages from beyond. They will not scream at you. But they’re there. They are everywhere. Everyday, too. Perhaps even now through this little blog. You’re reading this and you are saying to yourself, “I know. I know what I am supposed to do, even though I’ve been trying to ignore it.”

You must remember that God is not “out there, somewhere.” God is here. Right here, even in these letters on your computer screen.

You have read this for a reason. And, you know what that reason is.

So what is God saying to you?

How To Question Everything and Be the Stronger in Faith for It!

posted by smcswain

The Birds are Singing“Doubt is no more disbelief than questions are compromise” (from, The Enoch Factor: The Sacred Art of Knowing God).

Until you question your faith, you have no faith. It is true, however, you might have beliefs. But there is a chasm of difference between a believing person and a person of authentic faith.

For many people, and I include myself in this group, much of our religious conditioning has discouraged us from asking questions, as if there was something wrong with questions or, worse, with doubt. Questions were regarded as off limits. Doubt was regarded as stepping into the unknown and would lead to all kinds of aberrant behavior.

I say instead, this is all just poppycock.

Whenever you meet someone who appears so certain of what they believe…so sure…so confident, it is right for you to be suspicious.  Do not judge them, but you should investigate.  It is possible they have arrived at a place of certainty.  But do not blindly assume this. If you feel suspicious, you may have good reason. I have learned, too, it’s best to follow your heart.

Usually, those who are absolutely certain that they’re right about whatever it is they’re advocating…that those who seem to know what they believe and have no doubts are often some of the most uncertain and insecure people – but, just below the surface. This is why you must keep an investigative heart – or, if that’s too heavy a word, an inquiring, curious heart.

For example, when someone defends their positions or their beliefs by saying things like, “Well, I just believe the Bible,” ask them this very important question, “What does it mean to you to ‘just believe the Bible’?”

If they respond with something like, “It means to just accept what it says and believe it’s true?” know this: you are most likely listening to a frightened person who comes across as if they’re trying to convince you of something they’ve become convinced of themselves.  Instead, they are really seeking to convince themselves that all is well with them because inside they are terribly frightened about something…whatever it may be…fear of being reprimanded for questioning things…fear of losing their faith…fear that what they’re trying to believe may not be so. Like Mark Twain used to put it in one of his characters: “Faith is belief in what you know ain’t so…” They want you to think they are at peace. They are really anything but.

Know this. But do not judge them. They are likely doing the best they can. Be compassionate toward them and understanding. Remember there was likely a time when you, too, hid behind the “Certain and Sure” exterior. The louder someone is about what they believe, the more argumentative someone may be about their beliefs, the surer you are that they likely know little of what they really believe and cannot at this time in their lives admit this to themselves.

So, what is the pathway to authentic faith?

1. Question everything.

2. Open your mind and heart to many possibilities.

3. Trust that God will lead you either to accept what cannot be known by you at this time or She will grant you the capacity to live within the ambiguity…the capacity to know an inner peace beyond the conflict. Authentic faith is trust even when you are doubting what you’ve been taught to believe. Reciting the Bible, for example, while claiming to know things you neither can know nor truthfully defend or pretending to be at peace when of course you really are not…these things will not serve you well, my friend.

Bertrand Russell’s words are a little harsh for my taste but the truth within them is worth pondering. Russell, British historian, said “the problem in our world is that the fools and fanatics are always certain of everything; the wise are those full of doubt.”

4. Finally, let go of your fear about questioning and doubting. The inevitable consequence of both is this instead: you will grow stronger, emotionally and spiritually healthier, and, you will be at peace.

The path of doubt is the pathway to peace.

I can promise you this. It is the path to authenticity, too.

The day I gave up defending my beliefs…trying to make others wrong by making myself right…the day I gave myself permission to doubt everything…it was on that day…

Faith was born. Rich and real, vibrant and alive.

Which is why I love the spring…such is the dawn of new life…a new day.

As they say in the east, “A bird does not sing because it has all the answers; a bird sings because it has a song.”

The birds are singing this spring morning.

Can you hear them? They are singing your song…

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