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Your Best Life Now

Your Best Life Now

Hell No, I Do Not Believe in Hell

posted by smcswain
Hell No! I Do Not Believe in Hell

Hell No! I Do Not Believe in Hell

I think I have finally decided that to believe in hell, as I once did, is really the admission that Love does not exist in you.

How could it?

HELL? HELL NO!

Just imagine. You’re in the imaginary heaven (I say “imaginary” because, I now believe heaven, just as I believe hell, is a dualistic creation of the mind and that both are states of consciousness, not literally places. BTW, before you judge that as “unbiblical” that is exactly what Pope John Paul II believed, too). But, my point is this: just imagine you’re in heaven – a real place, if you wish, and, from that lofty and eternal place of bliss, love, and compassion, you look down into hell below and see a soul who is burning in torment and suffering.

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How could you possibly stand it? Wouldn’t you have to turn away? And then, when you turned away, how could get that picture out of your mind?

That is, if you were really filled with compassion…with love…with forgiveness…how could you ever rest and enjoy the eternal bliss of heaven knowing there were people, maybe some of them your own family, suffering eternally?

If you could stand this, which I no longer believe you actually could, but, presuming you could…if you could…I think what you are really admitting is that your heart is devoid of love.

How could it not be?

That’s my conclusion.

You do not have to agree and many of you will not. But this is the conclusion to which I have come.

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To believe in hell is to admit your heart is devoid of compassion. And, for me, I want to become more and more compassionate, not the opposite. So, I have no choice but to refuse to live at a level of existence that actually looks forward to justice and punishment being executed on anyone. So, no, I do not believe in any future judgment or ultimate punishment on you, me, or anybody.

COMPASSION? HELL, YES!

I believe only in compassion, mercy, and love. If that makes me a heretic to you, then I welcome that label with as much enthusiasm as a soldier would welcome the Purple Heart.

I want everyone, whether they deserve it or not, to know and experience Eternal compassion.

And, yes, that means everyone. So no need to start listing those you’re sure should be excluded. Leave that where it belongs – inside a cold, compassion-less heart.

Just my morning thoughts.

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Can I Trust Faith Healers I See on Television?

posted by smcswain

No! That’s the short answer.

Almost without exception, faith healers are charlatans or just plain misguided spiritual imposters.

Faith Healers are Imposters

Can I Trust Faith Healers?

Can I Trust Faith Healers?

That is not to say your faith plays no part in healing. It does. The role of faith in one’s health is documented. I am suggesting here that the phony flock-fleecing, materialistic rich dudes you see on television and hear on the radio promising healing – if you have faith and send them a donation as convenient prerequisites – are more crooked than Lombard Street in San Francisco.

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Faith healers who say Christians should regard sickness and suffering as an attack from the Devil or, if they are attacked, that they could overcome all illness and suffering if they just have enough faith are some of the most pitiful, delusional, misguided, and demonic persons I can imagine. They are evil but, and this is the demonic nature of it all, they appear so godly and sincere.

If you haven’t figured this out by now, you need to be told loud and clear that being human means you will suffer. You will have problems. And it isn’t the Devil – whatever you think that creature is – who is inflicting the sickness or hard times on you. Nor is God “testing” you to see whether your faith is strong enough or you’ve offered up enough prayers to warrant his attention.

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Suffering is the nature of life.

Spiritually-mature people know this.
Spiritually-gullible people, however, believe in faith healers like children believe in Santa Claus.

Mature followers of God are those persons who embrace all of life’s experiences and they do so while practicing mindfulness, faith in the Eternal Presence, and personal, inner peace. This all takes discipline and practice. It isn’t a reward you get for an all-night prayer vigil or the right kind of oil anointed on your head. Spiritually-mature persons are those who are learning the secret Jesus taught – indeed every spiritual master taught – and that secret is how to be in the world but not of it at one-and-the-same time.

The Buddha said, for example, “Suffering is the nature of the human experience.”
Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation”(John 16:33).

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Here’s my advice: Make spiritual maturity your aim. Let go of the religious nonsense you see and hear peddled across the religious marketplace on television and radio. I don’t want to call any names here. Frankly, however, I do not have to. Almost any of the religious hucksters you see or hear on television and the radio are guilty of this faulty gospel of wealth, health, and prosperity.

If there was one iota of truth to what faith healers claim, why is it then that you have never…I repeat…you have never…again, I repeat, for those of you hard of hearing…there has never ever been one instance when a faith healer, in one of their circuses of miracle healing, restored or healed a Down Syndrome child.

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Not once.
Not ever.
Never.
Nada.

So, why is it you cannot see this phoniness on their part? What is it that has blinded you to this trick of theirs that you would still be willing to send your last dollar to them so they can jet set around the world selling their phony formulas they call faith and the “Gospel?”

Yes, the question is: What is wrong with your capacity to see evil for what it really is?

If faith healers were real, which of course they are not, wouldn’t they be able to release God’s power to heal at least ONE Down Syndrome child? Is God only able to take away crutches from those with pains in their backsides or tumors in their chests?

Come on! Wake up! Give me a break! Stop being sucked in by these charlatans masquerading as spiritual leaders. Live real. Be real. Stop making a mockery of your own faith.

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It just ain’t so!

It isn’t evil in this world – although there is plenty of it on the streets everywhere – that is destroying the Christian faith and our culture. It is religious hucksters like I’ve just described who have doing more harm to the Christian faith than anyone or anything else in this entire world.

Period!

What this world needs is for people like you and me to grow up! To let go of childish faith. And, at the least, turn away from these charlatans pretending to be God’s servants.

Walk with God instead, in and through all of your experiences, the good days and the bad days, the days of triumph as well as the days of suffering. You’ll have both. So, do not try to escape from either. Step into your problems instead. Do so with courage knowing you are not alone.

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Why?

Because you’re not!

Dr. Steve McSwain is an author and speaker, counselor to non-profits and congregations, an advocate in the fields of self-development, interfaith cooperation, and spiritual growth. His blogs at BeliefNet.com, the Huffington Post, as well as his own website (www.SteveMcSwain.com) inspire people of all faith traditions. Dr. McSwain is an Ambassador to the Council on the Parliament for the World’s Religions. His interfaith pendants are worn by thousands on virtually every continent, sharing his vision of creating a more conscious, compassionate, and charitable world. Visit his website for more information or to book him for an inspirational talk on happiness, inner peace, interfaith respect or charitable living.

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The Spiritually-Mature Person

posted by smcswain
The Spiritually-Mature Person

The Spiritually-Mature Person

Luke 10:38-42 New English Translation (NET Bible)

Jesus, Martha, Mary and the Spiritually-Mature Person

38 Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him as a guest. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted with all the preparations she had to make, so she came up to him and said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the work alone? Tell her to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things, 42 but one thing is needed. Mary has chosen the best part; it will not be taken away from her.”

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For years, I have read this story from Luke as have most all Christians, as well as the church traditions out of which they come, as preferring a contemplative life over any other kind of life. This interpretation works well, especially if you are among the clergy and have chosen to career path of a minister or, better still, the life of a monk.

Over the centuries, this story has been read as a kind of condemnation of Martha who admittedly appears slightly obsessed with her service. The story has also been viewed as a praise of Mary for having chosen “the best part” – namely, to be as a good student in school, contemplative…a good listener, and one who follows instructions.

To Be in Service or to Be in Silence?

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But herein lies the problem with this traditional interpretation. It praises Mary while rebuking Martha. It makes Mary’s choice to sit look better than Martha’s choice to serve. While that interpretation has been the Church’s popularly accepted interpretation for centuries, it misses Jesus’ real point altogether.

Whatever else he was saying, Jesus was not setting up an either/or proposition, one choice being better than the other. Had he meant to do this, he would have used the word “better” to draw a distinction between the two choices available in the story, Mary’s choice clearly being the better of the two.

You will notice instead, however, Jesus said Mary had chosen “the best part” meaning, both service and silence are good. But clearly, the best way to live is to serve in silence. That is to say, to be like Martha and serve while being like Mary in silence. Service in silence. A silent service. To live your life publicly while nurturing your soul privately. There are many ways to say this.

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But this IS the trick, isn’t it?

The Spiritually-Mature Person is Learning to Serve IN Silence

It’s far easier to serve…to do good…but lose yourself at the same time in serving. We do all the time. We get up and go to work and live for the weekend when we can rest. To learn to rest while working…now that’s a trick! Maintaining your connectedness to Source while the office is coming apart at the seams? Master that, and you have become a spiritually-mature person.

Conversely, it is far easier to withdraw from the world…to enter a monastery, for example, and devote oneself to a rigorous discipline of contemplation, silence, and prayer and never get around to serving either. Just sit all day at the feet of Jesus. Well, it might look spiritual but it isn’t. Feeding yourself spiritually may be better than living a purely materialistic life, as Jesus made clear through one of his own temptations (“Man shall not live by bread alone – Matt. 4:1ff). But God is not interested interested in detached followers any more than I’m interested in decaffeinated coffee.

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Mary’s choice and Martha’s choice are both good. The best, however, and certainly where the majority of us are in our lives, is to do balance our service with connectedness to our Source. I have found this is the biggest challenge facing those interested in becoming spiritually-mature persons.

A spiritually-mature person is learning to balance outer service with inner silence…to listen within while doing your duties without.

Don’t think this is tough?
That could only be because you have not tried it.

Make no mistake. The spiritually-mature person is neither spiritual nor mature because he or she can quote from memory endless chapters of the Bible or because he or she goes to church six days a week. Neither does living life like a monk in total seclusion and silence make one more spiritual than a broker on Wall Street.

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A spiritually-mature person is the one who practices the art of listening while living…of being while doing…of hearing while hammering…of serving while seeking the Sacred through solitude and silence.

Mark Nepo, in The Book of Awakening, puts it like this:

“Our challenge each day is not to get dressed to face the world, but to unglove (or, undress) ourselves so that the doorknob feels cold, and the car handle feels wet, and the kiss good-bye feels like the lips of another being, sold and unrepeatable.”

Wish to become a spiritually-mature person?

Make it your practice to serve outwardly while seeking silence inwardly. This is the secret to YOUR BEST LIFE NOW!

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Detours to Avoid on the Spiritual Journey: “The Easy Path” – Post Two

posted by smcswain

Jesus was “driven” by the Spirit into the wilderness, as the Gospel writer Matthew describes in detail (Matt. 4:1ff).

That wasn’t by limousine either. But, as I pointed out in the first of this four-part post, life will take you, even if it has to drag you kicking and screaming, into whatever you need for the evolution of your spiritual consciousness. I learned this from my spiritual guide. I heard it beautifully articulated by Eckhart Tolle. And, I know it from my own experience as well.

This does not mean, however, I regard everything that happens to me, or everything that will happen in the future, as God’s will. There was a time in my life when I spoke regularly and definitively about “God’s will,” as many do still, as if I actually knew what it was. In recent years, however, I’ve decided it is presumptuous, even arrogant, to even remotely assume I, or anyone else, knows the will of God. Except perhaps in one place, where Saint Paul said, “Be thankful in all things…for this is the will of God” (1 Thess. 5:18). You’ll notice he did not say, “Be thankful FOR all things.” He said instead, “Be thankful IN all things.”

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The most I will say, and I cannot say this with absolute certainty, is this: the great paradox of human existence is that God seems both inextricably interconnected to everything I experience and, at-one-and-the-same-time, not responsible for or connected to any of it. I do not try to explain this because there is nothing to explain. I simply make it my practice to look for the Presence of God in every life experience.

Therefore, if the first detour to avoid in your spiritual journey is the mistaken notion that you can live a trouble-free, problem-free life — that you can live life on a mythical “Easy Street” — the second detour to avoid is thinking there is an “Easy Path” to the life you imagine living — that you can achieve something or get something for nothing…that success without sacrifice is actually possible.

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The Myth of “Easy Street”

The first temptation, or trial, of Jesus was at the point of his greatest strength. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was spiritually strong, certainly in touch with himself and with Source itself.

But herein was the danger he faced.

While spiritually strong, he was physically hungry and weak. Having had no food or nourishment for more than a month, his extreme hunger made him extremely vulnerable. In that state of vulnerability, he looked at the smooth, round stones lying on the ground and was immediately reminded of the small, round balls of dough his mother would knead into loaves of bread. As he recalled this, it was as if he could smell the aroma of fresh, baked bread.

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“You have the power,” whispered the devil, which was really his shadow self and the same shadow self inside your own head. “Why not use your power to turn these small stones into bread and satisfy your hunger.”

This was his danger.
It is our danger, too.

Jesus refused to use his personal power to circumvent the normal processes of bread making to satisfy his hunger. In other words, he refused to succumb to the temptation of seeking something for nothing. Therefore, he not only avoided the myth of EASY STREET, he avoided seeking an EASY PATH to satisfy his own hungers or desires.

I think about this every time I buy a lottery ticket. Which, thankfully, isn’t very often.

In fact, I only ever buy a Powerball ticket when the amounts get staggeringly high. And, “high” is relative and always changing. For example, “high” used to be $10 Million. Remember when Publisher’s Clearing House first got into full swing? Ten million seemed high, almost beyond imagine. With the Powerball Lottery sometimes reaching hundreds of millions of dollars, however, who bothers with Publisher’s Clearing House anymore?

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Isn’t our state-sponsored lotteries only an attempt to get something for nothing?

Lawmakers know they can’t get elected by being honest enough to tell the voting public that we have to raise taxes to fund education, pave our highways, fund our public programs, etc. What public official ever got elected telling such truth? Or, trying to run a winning campaign by admitting, “A vote for me is a vote to raise taxes.”

What politicians have learned to do is play a foolish game of deception. Voters are complicit in this, too, because we help make the rules and then support it by buying lottery tickets.

Lawmakers, therefore, avoid the more honest approach and use the lottery proceeds to essentially raise tax revenues. However, it isn’t the well-off you see standing in long lines to buy lottery tickets in convenient stores, is it? I seldom see it, anyway. No, I suspect the real truth is, this method of raising taxes takes advantage of the poor. It actually preys on those whose resources are clearly limited.

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We seek something for nothing.

Personally, we do this, too. I have often wondered, for example, what I would actually do if I ever did when the hundred million dollar Powerball. Oh, sure, I pretend like the best of them how generous I would be and how much of it I would give away.

When I am honest, however, and that’s only when I avoid the lure of buying a ticket, I know that all my imaginary generosity is only to appease the guilt I feel. Anybody who has ever stood in line to buy a lottery ticket will have to admit far too many of those standing with you should probably be spending what little discretionary income they have on something other than the promise of an Easy Path to the mythical Easy Street.

We seek something for nothing.

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Here’s another example of the Easy Path people seek to recognition, success, power, position, whatever.

Have you ever noticed that almost every fundamentalist preacher in America who is anti-education, anti-scholarship – and that would be a great many of them – and yet, in spite of their vitriolic anti-education rhetoric, virtually all of them have “Dr” in front of their names?

Why? If the real truth were fully known, many of these want the prestige even they associate with education but they have neither the discipline nor the honesty to take the hard road…the road of sacrifice…to secure a real education. They want something for nothing, to change the stones into bread and enjoy the taste of recognition.

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There Is No Easy Path

Here’s one other application for consideration. Those interested in spiritual things quickly discover there is no Easy Path to spiritual awareness…spiritual growth. There is no spiritual success with the discipline of study, reflection, meditation and prayer.

Jesus put it like this…straight from Deuteronomy 8:3…”You cannot live on bread alone.”

But that never stopped anyone from trying.

The real truth is: there is no way to live a truly sacred life on a purely material level.

There is no Easy Street anywhere.
There is no Easy Path to a life worth living.
What’s really priceless in your life always comes with a price.

And the price?
Your life itself.

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Roads to Avoid on the Spiritual Journey – “Easy Street”

posted by smcswain

“So many roads. So many detours. So many choices. So many mistakes,” says the actress Sarah Jessica Parker.

Yes, and on the spiritual journey, there are four roads, mistakes, and detours to avoid. But what are they? They are the same detours Jesus sought to avoid, even as I suspect all other spiritual masters sought to avoid…indeed every spiritual seeker.

The roads or detours Jesus sought to avoid are described in Matthew 4. I’ll describe the four roads he avoided in four different posts.

The first road to avoid is the proverbial, but mythical, “Easy Street.”

Who seeks a trial to endure or a difficulty to navigate? Don’t we all secretly long to live on “Easy Street?” Does this not explain our fascination, even our veiled enjoyment, whenever we hear of the trouble that comes to those whom we regard as people of privilege, power, or possessions? Having envied their lofty position for so long, we find strange enjoyment in the misfortune that has befallen them.

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Easy Street – Isn’t It Really Just a Myth?

At the outset of his public ministry, Jesus endured trials. But not because he chose them. Like you and me, I suspect he sought to avoid them. Which is why in Matthew’s gospel account, we are told the Spirit “drove” him into the wilderness (Matt. 4:1). That’s a literal reading of the Greek text, meaning something similar to what we’d say “forced” him into the wilderness.

Life has a way of taking you where you need to go for the evolution of your spiritual consciousness. You cannot avoid difficulty. Nobody lives on Easy Street. The only difference between any of us in terms of the difficulties we do face is that some seem to face far more than their fair share.

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Job’s counselors explained, and of this much they were right, “People are born to trouble, as surely as sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7).

Life will try you. Sometimes, relentlessly.

When I hear Christians opine, however, “God will never put on you more than you can handle,” I recoil, just as I would if I saw a snake on a path while hiking through the woods. I do so for a couple of reasons.

First, God does not put anything on anyone, any more than you would make your son or daughter’s life more difficult or miserable than it is already. Just the opposite is in fact the case for most loving parents. They do all they can to help their children avoid difficulties. Stop attributing such nonsense to God.

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Second, there are times in life when the trial…the burden IS greater than any human could possibly bear. If you don’t think so, then consider yourself lucky.  But do not consider yourself special or, worse, as “protected” or “spared” by God.

God does not protect anyone or spare anyone. And, don’t bother to quote scripture in objection to this. Just because people in old scriptural times attributed everything to God and believed God would rescue them or protect them from all trials and difficulties – if of course, they prayed and lived right – …and, just because they attributed to God their victories as they stood proudly holding the decapitated heads of their enemies doesn’t mean it is so. Stop reading the Bible as a explanation for everything or a justification for shallow thinking.

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God simply is. Now, of this much I’m pretty sure, you can be sure: God’s presence is with you always. God’s presence can be known in every experience, too.

And, yes, there are times when it appears to you that something, or Someone, has spared you or protected you or blessed you with something wonderful and unexpected. But do not make the mistake of thinking the avoidance of tragedy means the hand of God has spared or protected you, even as others died going through the same thing.

Furthermore, do not think that picking the winning lottery numbers is the hand of God “providing” for you. Even if you are inclined to say, and who would not be after winning the Powerball lottery, “Thank you Jesus!” Say it to yourself, if you wish, acknowledging the feelings of gratitude do need to be expressed, but be spiritually wise enough to remember, God had nothing to do with either.

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Be Grateful, Prayerful, and Assured…But Do Not Be a “You-Know-What!”

God has created this world and her presence permeates it all. But God is not running around placing shields of protection over some, while withholding his protection from others. Such explanations only reveal just how shallow much of the spiritual thinking is both America and in the Church today.

Here’s what I would suggest instead:

Be grateful when an unexpected blessing comes your way.
Be prayerful when you find yourself facing trials and difficulties.
Be assured God is with you in any and all situations of life.

Isn’t this enough? Isn’t this spiritual maturity? Isn’t this avoiding the myth of “Easy Street?”

Do not be so shallow as to genuflect and cross yourself when you score a touchdown.
Do not be so insensitive, even anti-Christ, as to carry a sign around the edges of an incomprehensible human tragedy declaring, “God Hates Fags and this Tragedy is His
Judgment against Sin!”

May God help us!

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Bliss Beyond Belief: An Interview with Noelle Amendola

posted by smcswain
Bliss Beyond Belief

Bliss Beyond Belief

She lives in a travel home, along with her husband.
They sold their real house, left their jobs, and took to the road.
Now, they travel from city to country to city, bearing a message of freedom, joy, bliss.

Her message? One of hope and happiness, as well as freedom and spirituality.
Her book? Bliss Beyond Belief. The title alone was enough to draw me.
The author? Noelle Marie Amendola.

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Wow! That’s the word that comes to my mind when I think about meeting Noelle in person – or, sort of “in person” – in a recent SKYPE interview, no less. I am not real sure how I first met her but I think it was by accident (or, as she would put it, “by Divine design”) on Facebook. It does not matter now just how. What does matter, however, is who she is and the message she shares.

Noelle Amendola exudes genuine excitement. You’ll see that in the interview. When she tells you that her life is filled with blissful ease, joyous trust, meaningful self-abandon, her face will say all of that for her. What you’re left with this feeling she could be the most real person you’ve met in a long time and you’d like to know her secret.

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Amendola has found feedom from what many across America would call a stifling religious background. Scores of people have left, or are leaving, the faith of their childhood. Many are searching for spirituality beyond religion. And, both of these descriptions would fit Amendola precisely. What makes her different, however, is that she has found her spiritual moorings.

And, that may just be the biggest irony. Her spiritual moorings were not found until she turned loose of most of them. What is left is a joy and gladness that could only ever be found when we let go of a painful past, get in touch with our inner Source, and then share with others the bliss of this discovery, which is precisely what Noelle Amendola does.

What a joy it was to interview her. But then, you’ll share in that for yourself. Take a look here at her life, her joy, her infectious spirit of generosity, and her deep commitment to the Eternal Presence we all seek, whether conscious of it or not. Then, order her book, and discover for yourself what it means to enjoy Bliss Beyond Belief.

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What Others are Saying about Bliss Beyond Belief:

“Noelle’s Book goes beyond a self-help book it is a like a blue print of how to get face to face with your inner child.” – Toni Carbone

“A wonderful uplifting book for everyone!” – Jennifer Allred

“This is a Wonderful book and great guide to a better life.” – Emily Warren

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Sunday Morning Spirituality

posted by smcswain
Sunday Morning Spirituality

Sunday Morning Spirituality

For two decades, I have crisscrossed this country giving my best effort at counseling and guiding churches representing every denominational persuasion, Evangelical, Protestant and Roman Catholic. I have sought to serve churches with one pastoral leader and as small as one to two-hundred attendees to churches with more than 20,000 attendees and professional staffs as large as many congregations.

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I have not only tried to bring sound, spiritual counsel to these churches and church leaders but I have sought to be an astute observer, too…a listener. I have observed congregations age, decline, and many even die. I have grieved at how marginalized the Church has become, as people too numerous to count have left or are leaving the Church of their childhood.

I have asked, “Why?”
I have wondered, “What is happening to the Church?”
I have sought to explain, “Why are people walking away from the Church in numbers so staggering that Christian Century now says there are an average of nine church closures every day in America alone.”

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I am convinced…
I am solidly sure…
I am unequivocally certain…

There is but one primary explanation for the rapid decline and widespread departure from today’s church and the theologian Matthew Fox nails it in his new book entitled, Meister Eckhart: A Mystic Warrior for Our Times. He writes that today’s spiritual “seekers want less religion and more…spirituality.”

And, what is spirituality?

It isn’t more church attendance.
It isn’t more Bible knowledge.
It isn’t more obedience to a religious leader’s rules.
It isn’t more positive thinking.
It isn’t more praise songs in worship.
It isn’t more belief in creationism.
It isn’t more separation from the LGBT community or people not like “us.”
It isn’t more insistence on the infallibility of scripture.
It isn’t a return to the “old-time religion.”

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No, it is one thing and one thing primarily:

Spiritual seekers want to know a profound inner feeling that life itself, including the seeker’s own life, is sacred and inseparably connected to the Source of Life itself – the Eternal, Ineffable Presence of God.

What could be more important than this?
What could any spiritual seeker desire more than this?

When the Church gets it, and willingly gives up the other nonsense that has been its maddening agenda for decades, it will live again.

Until then…if or when…

Well…

Just go visit a Starbucks – if you’ve got the nerve – on any given Sunday morning even, and ask the congregation gathered there…

“Was there ever a time you went to church on Sunday morning?”

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What Does It Mean to Be a Spiritual Person?

posted by smcswain

The first thing God said to Moses was, “Take off your shoes” (Exodus 3:5).

Why?

Spirituality

Spirituality

Freshly laid carpet?

Hardly, although sometimes I think that Hank, our newest dachshund family member could show a little more respect for his new home and stop taking a poop on the decorative carpet that covers a portion of the hardwood floors. I don’t care if it is raining outside.

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I suspect what we have in God’s admonition “Take off your shoes” is spirituality in its third trimester. That’s the time in a woman’s pregnancy when the birth of her child could come at almost any moment.

Which is kind of how spirituality works.
Here’s what I mean…

Spirituality is the birth of sacred awareness. Inside the soul.  I know no other way to say this but that, when spirituality comes to life in you, it does so in an instant with or without your assistance. Suddenly, all of life…literally, all of it…becomes alive with sacredness. Everything, as well as everyone, in an instant, is a sacred entity to you…a kind of extension of the divine itself.

Everything feels holy, too. But not in some stuffy way. It is more like how you might feel when standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon…breathless…so much so, you will feel the need to go barefoot…to take off your shoes, so to speak. To step slowly.

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I am frequently asked, “What does it mean to be a spiritual person?”
Here’s what I have come to believe.

1. Spirituality is being struck one day with the surprising realization everything is sacred indeed.

Everything. Not some things. Even pesky little winged creatures like the fly. Or, the mosquito. I know this sounds a bit weird, but maybe it sounds weird only to those who are still asleep.

It is not just in sanctuaries and cathedrals with high ceilings and stained-glass windows where the sense of the sacred is noticed…felt – although, such places are notably sacred, too. What I am saying, however, is this: when you wake up to the Sacredness of all things, it is not just those places but every place indeed…as well as every person who is sacred…regardless of their color, or their religion, or their culture, or their political party…everyone and everything is holy, real, and shoeless.

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Spirituality is the unavoidable awareness everything you see, feel, touch, smell, and encounter has the feel of sacredness surrounding it. Which may be why even an atheist has the capacity of being spiritual. I do not know for certain, but I kind of think this might be what Pope Francis was saying. Only the guardians of religion devoid of spirituality are bothered by such a notion. Those aware of the Sacred – how could they be bothered? Even an atheist is sacred to them.

Spirituality cannot be defined, at best only ever described, as I am attempting to do here. You cannot capture it. You cannot become it. Spiritual is who you are already. But, when you become aware of this, you suddenly realize that spirituality is the most precious of all discoveries. Maybe the most important discovery you will ever make. Which makes it all the more sacred to you, too.

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You also realize you did nothing to get it. You simply awakened to the realization of your natural state. And, by the way, waking up occurs when you least expect it, too, which I’m pretty certain was the way it happened for Saint Paul, too.

Hell, as well as his hellish behavior, was surprised right out of Saul’s soul, literally. So dramatic was the change, in fact, a name change was in order – Saul became Paul. Saul was not expecting this transformation…anticipating it…praying and pleading for it. Saul who became Paul did nothing to plan for it at all. Most notably, he wasn’t in a worship service, lifting hands heavenward or tapping his right foot to the beat of a praise song when it occurred. He was doing nothing at all in fact, except doing what he thought was right, which was really wrong, and traveling from city to city to do it.

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You cannot manufacture the experience of the Sacred. It will happen to you in its own. When it does, however, it will leave you speechless. Saul went into some trance-like state and, when he woke up, he was Paul. He was different. And, nothing was ever the same.

Which is the story of every awakened soul, whether Christian or Muslim or Hindu or nothing at all.

Except awake.

Isn’t that enough?

Not to those still asleep.

Theologians, Biblical and contemporary, teachers, preachers, and others call the spiritual experience “grace,” which of course it is. The mistake, however, we religious folk too often make is nothing short of a gross and negligent act of reductionism.  We reduce the grace experience of spirituality into a religion of rules and processes and, after a while, denominational procedures that one must follow in order to be properly manufactured as spiritual mannequins. We look spiritually alive but inside we are dead…lifeless…unconscious that we are, too.

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“Seek the Lord while he may be found,” counseled Isaiah (Isa 55:6).

There is but one problem with this, Mr. Isaiah. You’re wrong.

You cannot find God. He/she/it doesn’t play hide-n-seek.

Nope. Spirituality is waking up to the realization that what you seek is seeking you…and may, in fact, BE you. It is hard to say this, I know. But, when spirituality is you…that is, who you now know yourself to be…you almost have this feeling – which may be why Jesus described it as oneness with the Father in John 17 and, coincidentally, prayed that his followers would know the same. But, whatever, you just come to this place where you know that you are that which you seek.

Spirituality, therefore, is an awareness of the sacredness of everything.

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2. The gift of this sacred awareness is God’s part…God’s gift…and, our part? Well, that, too, comes more natural than it may seem: God said to Moses, “Take off our shoes,” but I have this feeling he was already doing so.

Which is the way most people respond to their spiritual awakening. When everything feels and is sacred, something needs removing. After all, when you came into this world, you came fully naked, not clothed. It’s all that clothing stuff…the stuff of religion and rules and proper-ness…that starts coming off the moment you experience again the naturalism of your original state.

What I say next I cannot say with absolute certainty. However, I am growing more and more convinced that spirituality is not becoming more and more holy. It is not wearing a business suit but feeling inside, and so behaving around others, as if you were a monk in a monastery who never thinks a bad thought, speaks only in Thee’s and Thou’s, and is just plain holier than everybody else in the world.

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Heck, some days I feel lousy, out-of-sorts, and anything but holy.
There are times I feel close to God; at other times, I wonder if there is a God.
I laugh. I cry. I am happy sometimes. I am often sad.
I feel confident sometimes but, at other times, I’m scared shitless.
I used to own an arsenal of guns and defended it as an American right. Truth is, I’m scared and find comfort in imagining I have adequate protection.
I get angry. I sometimes cuss. I don’t always think the most wholesome thoughts.
And, I feel guilty about all of this, even as if I should apologize to you for admitting these things when, in my better moments, I’m only describing JUST HOW IT IS WITH YOU, too.

Am I right?
Damn right, I’m right.
I’m not right about many things, but I got this one.

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My problem is, just as your problem is, I was raised wrong. Plain and simple, by people who had spirituality all wrong, too. And, they were very devout churchgoing people. They were just wrong, however. They did the best they could but their best was pretty bad…when it comes to what spirituality really is.

That’s no judgment. Just a fact.

Many still get spirituality all wrong. Which is why pews are emptying everywhere. People have finally gotten the courage to step away from the familiar and look elsewhere for what they haven’t found under the steeple.

Spirituality has little to do with “proper behavior.” Packaging spirituality in a list of “do’s” and “don’ts” and “what we believe” and rules of etiquette and…well…none of this gets at it. So many devout people still have this erroneous notion that the really spiritual people of this world have beaten their “flesh” into subjection so that they never ever again know jealousy or envy or angry or have a lustful thought but they have instead separated themselves even from themselves.

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Well, to that idea of spirituality, I say this: “POPPYCOCK!”

It’s bull. It’s not right. It is in fact just plain wrong.

It’s taken me a lifetime to figure this out – this spirituality thing. Again, and it will take almost a lifetime for you to get this, too, but spiritual is not something you become. It is who you are already. It is simply waking up to this reality. And, the nice part is, you will wake up to this awareness many, many times and, then, one day, you won’t wake up anymore. You will just never again fall asleep to this awareness. You will be this awareness.

So think of it this way: Spirituality is becoming more and more yourself…more and more human. It is to know fear instead of this notion you’ve lived with that, if you’re really spiritual you will never be fearful. Of course, you will. Faithful people are still fearful people. Sometimes. It’s just plain bull to think otherwise. Faith is faithfulness even when you’re afraid. Faith is fear dressed up in a boxer’s uniform and refusing to ever quit fighting.

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Being spiritual does not mean feelings of anger have disappeared forever. Heck no! Hardly a day will ever go by for genuinely spiritual people but what they will feel angry. What changes, I suppose, is the stuff that pisses them off. It starts to become less about little stuff…and, more about big stuff like injustice and social inequality and the abuse of this planet and the abuse of people.

Spiritual people feel sadness at loss, too. They know suffering. They feel pain. They have difficulties. They’re familiar with hardship. They get sick. They grow old, suffer illnesses and, yes, they eventually die. This notion that really spiritual people are never to be sick…is SICK itself. It’s nonsense and, if you believe that nonsense, you of all people are most misguided.

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No, my friend, spirituality is not becoming something other than who you are. It is learning to live INTO your humanity with all of it’s joys, pleasures, pains, hopes, and fears. It is to LIVE into these experiences but…and here’s the difference…you live INTO these experiences with a profound sense of the Sacred.

And, it is that sense of the Sacred…that feeling you should walk barefoot in this world…which is, of course, the way you showed up…barefoot and naked. Human. Spiritual. And, yes, even Divine.

You don’t know this yet? You haven’t yet felt the need to “Take off your shoes?”

You will. One day. When you least expect it.

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