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Your Best Life Now

Your Best Life Now

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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Chaos Without…Contentment Within?

posted by smcswain

Chaos without? Contentment within!

Now that’s the goal of all goals, is it not? So, why is it, that your life and mine has more of the former and too little of the latter?

This morning, for example, I had the good fortune of getting caught up in a little conflict with a colleague.

Chaos Without…Contentment Within

Contentment

Contentment

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Ever happened to you?

It was the kind of conflict that steals your joy almost immediately, does it not? The day starts out well but then this stings you like a bee who appears out of nowhere.

Then, as if that were not troublesome enough, once the unhappy exchange with the colleague is over – with no clear winner – you spend the remainder of the morning replaying the conversation in your head. The trial is over. The verdict has been issued. Everyone has gone home. But you’re still standing in the middle of the courtroom, making arguments for an audience of one — the one in your head.

An empty courtroom of conflict and the chaos is being played out inside your cranium. You are familiar with this madness, are you not?

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Here’s how the madness inside your head often goes. You can admit or not if this is how it is with you.

You say something, as the defense attorney. The prosecutor in your head says something in response. You respond in defense to their charge. But not the same way you responded when the real drama unfolded earlier that morning. No, this time, you respond in precisely the perfect way you wish you had responded when the actual incident occurred.

This insanity goes on and on…

and on still more throughout the day.

Heck, I even took the empty courtroom with me on a walk around the neighborhood. All around me were the sights and sounds of new life but I saw none of the seductive scenery, lost as I was in a salacious drama inside my head.

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Contentment and the Stuff in the Head

Then, suddenly, as if surprised by an tsunami, I caught myself engulfed in the mental chaos. And, when I did, I stopped in my tracks. Literally. The thoughts stopped too. The courtroom was silent, for the first time that morning, I might add.

The interrupted drama came to an instant pause, as if an actor had recited the wrong line on stage in the middle of a play and all the others actors are befuddled and wonder what to do next.

When you are gifted with an interruption inside your head…something that temporarily stops the internal chaos and conflict, then you must seize it, my friend, as if it were the last morsel of bread before a famine ensues.

Think of this interruption as the God of spring herself at work on your behalf.

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It just might be, you know.

God may just be gifting you with an opportunity to step outside the conflict inside…and, why? So you may see inside the beauty that surrounds you outside.

Tell me this is not a miracle and you’ll not succeed. For I will always believe that God is the God of springtime interruptions.

In that moment of silence…standing, no longer inside the empty courtroom of my head but, instead, under the rich, blue sky like an endless ocean…

Everywhere I looked, the sights and sounds of spring were shouting at me. Birds were singing that spring had sprung. Squirrels were dancing to their rapturous songs. Twigs and limbs, still cold and dark from winter, were pushing forth new life in pale greens and bright reds.

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Contentment is the Goal of All Goals

God spoke to me today. I know it was her. She is everywhere my friend.

But, you know…

You only ever see around you what you are cultivating within you.

Cultivate chaos and conflict will abound, both within and without.
Cultivate contentment and peace will abound, both within and without.

When there is peace within you, there will be peace in the world.

Until then…

Well…

It’s just drama…
In empty courtrooms…
And, troubled craniums.

I’m ready for something more. Aren’t you?

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Your God is Dead! Just a Little Pre-Easter Thought

posted by smcswain

Your GOD is Dead!

Your God is Dead

Your God is Dead

YOUR GOD IS DEAD!

That’s what the bumpersticker declared on the back of the 1970’s VW van covered with colorful paint. I’m not sure which was holding the hippie van together, the duck tape or the bumper stickers. Maybe they both were.

But I got to thinking. Our ideas about God are sometimes just as old and held together just as tenuously.

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God, as I was raised, brainwashed or conditioned to think of him (I prefer “her” just to remind me to stop thinking of him as a him when he is actually neither him nor her)…it is this God who may be dead. It is this God who may not have ever really existed.

You’ll have to decide that for yourself, however. I can only tell you where I am today and where I am today is miles from where I was even ten years ago.

If it isn’t too threatening to you, I’d like to get you to thinking, too.

God is dead.

The one I was taught to believe in, that is.
He’s died slowly, however, and over a long period of time. Oh occasionally, I still try to keep him alive on a kind of religious life support, comprised mostly of little “beliefs” I self-inject into my soul to comfort the pain of letting him die, much like a nurse might administer morphine to a patient in pain.

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Here’s the God I was taught to believe in…

Some of you’ll recognize this description of him.
Just don’t confuse the description with the deity herself, which may be our biggest error.

This God lives above the sky, somewhere even in the “heavens,” wherever that may be. Perhaps somewhere among the stars.

It was much easier to think about this when I was a child. Then, I went to school one day and learned our nearest star is something like eight or nine light years away. That is, the little light I saw at night when I was just eight actually emanated from its source before I was born.

Not a very comforting thought to an eight year old looking for God in the heavens at night.

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So, where is this God? And, what does he look like? And, what am I to think about him?

Is he as angry as the preachers I see on television and hear on the radio? Is he as pissed off as I was when I was a preacher? Angry at sin. Equally angry at sinners. Ready to hurl a lightning bolt or two or a tsunami at any moment against those not like the righteous “us,” like those gays and lesbians and transgenders? Oh, and Muslims, too?

Know this God?
Ever heard of him?
I’m pretty sure you have.

Is this God Dead?

Is this God dead? Not hardly!

He’s very much alive in the thinking…and in the believing…of religious people today, whether they are Christian or Muslim or whatever. He’s still alive, too, from time to time in my own thinking. It’s true, whoever said it, God loves those I love and, at my worst, he probably hates those I hate, too.

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I know better than this, however, in my better moments. I just don’t have enough of them.

I was raised to believe in a God who was super-human but human-like, the big super-duper guy in the sky.

Isn’t it true that this kind of God comes to your mind even when the name of God is mentioned?

Honestly, for me, I have this image of a aged male in a white robe, long beard sitting in a high-back chair, similar to a throne, and the throne is floating around on a cloud somewhere just above the clouds. Or, maybe on the clouds.

This God is a miracle-worker, just like Cecil B. DeMille depicted in “The Ten Commandments” starring Charlton Heston as Moses. If I watched that movie once as a young adult, I must have watched it a dozen times. More recently, there have been newer, more dramatic depictions of this God that have been captured on the big screen.

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“Our God is a powerful God!” I was told. If Moses carried a big stick, you should see the stick God carries!

It is to this kind of God you offer up prayers in hopes you’ve offered them correctly, in the “right” spirit, with the “right” words, and, of course, with just the right amount of faith to move him to action.

Always on your behalf, too, and why not?

So, I regularly prayed, “Bless us, O Lord,” by which I really meant, “Bless Me, O’ Lord.” If I’ve prayed that prayer a hundred times, I’ve prayed it maybe several thousand. After all, I’m deserving of a blessing.

It is this God I was raised to believe in…that many still believe in.
It is this God the atheist reacts against and says “God is dead” or never existed.

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And, they’re probably right.
But, what Christian has the gumption to admit it?

Just my opinion, of course, you might disagree. But…there’s no need to react to any of this. Or, to write me and tell me how wrong I am, how misled I am, and how mistaken I am to mislead others who’ll end up in hell with me and because of me.

You really believe in Hell? Don’t get me started. Just add me to your prayer list. I could use your prayers. You likely could use the practice. We’ll be mutually benefitted.

All kidding aside, I wish only to invite you into thinking about all of this…about the God you were taught to believe in, just as I was.

Just ponder the whole God-thing but give up feeling that God needs you to defend him. I can assure you, if God is the kind of God I was raised to believe he is, there is nobody big enough to threaten him.

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It is this big, angry, bully God I no longer believe in, however – the one I used to say with one breath is a God of love but in the next would say is going to judge the world and consign to hell all who are not real believers like us.

So, why are you threatened? Do you not react because there is something in all these questions that rings too painfully true?

 Can You Let this God Die?

I know how scary it is to let old ideas of God die. I know how much easier it is to cling to mythical ideas of God, too. I did this for a long time precisely because I had no other way to think about God. And, giving up old ideas about God felt too much like I was giving up God herself. That was too frightening to face.

Do you cling to a God deep down you fear has died because you have no living God with which to replace her? Is this why you keep listening to preachers talk about things you know just aren’t so because it at least means you’re not alone in the denial of truth?

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But then, aren’t you getting tired of pretending to believe things you know are simply not true? Isn’t that like administering CPR to corpse that’s been embalmed already?

What if God…the real God…is not this miracle-working, super-duper Guy in the Sky with all the answers printed in a leather-bound King James Version of the Bible?

  • What if, instead, God is the spontaneous thought of God that just pops into your head from time to time?
  • What if God is the face you see across the counter at Starbucks?
  • What if God is the feeling of awe you get when you hear the birds at dawn?
  • What if God is the gay, the lesbian, or the transgender person across the hall?
  • What if God is the immigrant you’d rather fence out to keep out than cut a path to let in?
  • What if God is the woman wearing the hijab to work?
  • What if God is the smile you see on a stranger’s face? Or, the pain you see in a starving face?

Wonder what would happen if you were to let go of the God who is dead and believed instead in a God who is invisibly visible all around you?

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I’m just asking. You’ll have to work this out on your own, which is what aint Paul meant when he said, “Work out our own salvation” (Phil. 2:12).

Yep, I’m afraid so. No good thing comes cheap. There’s a little effort involved in spiritual enlightenment. The gift of grace may be free. But the package wherein it resides needs to be unwrapped.

Just sayin…

What if, however…

What if God is bigger, grander than anything you could define, describe, or draw on a piece of paper or print on a page of inspired scripture?

My own experience has been…when you can let go of your definitions of God, you might just discover…as I did…a discovery worth making…

One that’ll leave you wondering why you kept returning to a tomb every year, looking for a body…

When the tomb emptied of all evidence 2,000 years ago.

Except, of course, for a few garments called “old ways of thinking…”

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The Joshua God, the Jesus God, and Why Millennials are Leaving the Church

posted by smcswain

The Joshua God…

The Jesus God…

And, Why Millennials are Leaving the Church…

Why Millennials are Leaving the Church

Why Millennials are Leaving the Church

“Christians must start to believe in the God that Jesus presented,” says Fr. Richard Rohr. I would add, “instead of believing in the God that Joshua believed in and so described in the Old Testament.”

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Throughout the history of Christianity, the Church, church leaders, and, therefore, Christians themselves have justified the Church’s right of violence toward others, its discrimination of others, and even its condemnation to hell those who did not subscribe to the same beliefs the Church had defined and so declared were “infallible” doctrines, beliefs, and “viewpoints” of their faith.

Which is always easy, isn’t it…

…Whenever the God you have created in your own image is the God you’ve fashioned after your own hatred, prejudice, or envy of others? After all, what better way to feel better about your own evil and prejudice than to say God hates homosexuality, too, or that God wants us to destroy Muslims, too, or whatever it is or whomever it may be that you do not like yourself?

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Of course, it is easy…

To deny others the right to same-sex marriage, for example, whenever “your” God is the same God the tribal Jews created in their own image and told about through their stories in the Old Testament. Many of them believed, just as Christians today believe, God hates sin so badly, in fact, that sin had to be destroyed – by any and all means, in fact – and, sometimes, that may unfortunately mean you have to even destroy a sinner or two in the process…

…or three or more in the process.
It’s unfortunate. But, after all, God is “righteous” and will not tolerate sin.

Of course, the end justified the means. Which is what gave Moses all he needed to declare to Pharaoh, “Our God says, ‘Let my people go’ or else!”

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Of course, the Jews were as suspicious as the Egyptians were stubborn. And, well they should have been. This formerly-raised Egyptian whom the Jews most likely wondered if he had been wandering much too long under the scorching desert sun shows up one day trying to garish their support. To encourage them to follow him in what their historians would later describe as the “Exodus,” he presumably displayed their tribal God’s power in plagues on Egypt.

These plagues were to prove to the stubborn Egyptians and suspicious Jews alike, Moses is for real…that his “God” means business, and that their tribal God is more equipped than all the gods of Egypt combined.  So, yes, of course, it is perfectly fine to call down fire from heaven and all kinds of natural disasters so everyone would know God not only favors his people but is more than willing to destroy his enemies, if need be.

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The Joshua God…the Jesus God…

The plagues were pretty convincing, too…but, none as convincing as…

…the killing of all the first born. “Oh, that’ll do it,” Moses must have thought to himself. “Now, they’ll believe in God when God sends a death angel to destroy countless numbers of innocent firstborns.  That’ll do it…that’ll “show ’em” whose God is the REAL God…our big Guy in the Sky, He’ll get ‘er done…”

Think about it, you can damn well justify anything, can you not?

…when you have created your tribal God after your own image and then told your historians to spin your history into stories you ultimately call “Divinely-inspired and infallible” Holy Scriptures?

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Who can argue with “inspired” and “infallible?”
Never mind that the presentation of God is just plain wrong!

Well, it wasn’t wrong among the religious leaders…
Until Jesus showed up.
Damn Jesus.
He has a way of messing things up.
We had this thing all figured out…and a God created in our own image of hatred to boot.
Until HE came along.
No wonder they killed Jesus.

We can’t kill him anymore.
There’s this little thing called the RESURRECTION in our way.

So, what a prejudiced Christian does today is to say that Joshua’s God in the Old Testament is the same as Jesus’ God of the New Testament.

Well, I’m not buying it.
And, I think Millennials are leaving the Church today because they’re not buying it either.

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Why Millennials are Leaving the Church…

It’s not rocket science to see that people today…even those who still call themselves “Christians” can justify…indeed do justify all kinds of prejudice toward, for example, homosexuals or those longing to live in same sex relationships, when their God is Joshua’s God of the Old Testament…instead of Jesus’ God of the New Testament.

But let’s be honest.
Let’s be real honest.

If God — I mean, the REAL God — is the one defined and described not by Joshua of the Old Testament but by Jesus of the New Testament – if Christians insist, Jesus was/is God in human flesh – then, for anyone to say that Jesus’ acceptance of all people…Jesus’ love of all people…would exclude homosexuals or Buddhists or Muslims or whomever it may be just because they don’t live like Christians live or because they don’t believe as “believers” believe…

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The REAL God…

To keep insisting that Joshua’s God in the Old Testament is the same as Jesus’ God of the New Testament…well…that is, it feels to me, to be an almost deliberate misrepresentation of God. And, if it isn’t a blatant, willful misrepresentation of the REAL God Jesus showed up to correctly portray…

It’s wrong nonetheless and it should be corrected. If the Church does not correct it, my guess is it will continue its downward decline into mediocrity. It will give more Millennials, and others, reason to leave the Church.

Where I come from, a misrepresentation of the truth is a lie.

…And, frankly, I’m not so certain but what to lie about God…the “real” God…Jesus’ God…
…is unbecoming of those who claim to be his followers.

Maybe this is one of the reasons why Millennials are leaving the Church.

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