Your Best Life Now

Your Best Life Now

What’s Wrong with Our Prayers? Here’s What’s Wrong…

posted by smcswain

What’s wrong with our prayers? Here’s what’s wrong…what we often call prayer isn’t prayer at all.

Let me explain it this way…

I do not pray to be healthy; I pray for wisdom to make healthy choices.

What's wrong with your prayers?

What’s wrong with our prayers?

I do not pray for healing; I pray for strength to endure the suffering that comes to me.

I do not pray for success…for work…for finances…for abundance; I give thanks instead, that I can dream and make plans and take risks and pursue my dreams. Then, I rejoice for all I do have, however great or small, none of which I may deserve anyway, but all of which is a gift from the Unseen hand.

I do not pray for long life either; I pray instead that I may live into the life I have. And, all I have is this moment…even as I write, I cry now…but not with sadness but joy for I am alive. I am living. How could I not be glad? How could I not rejoice? For now, that is…this moment…for this is eternity in an hour, is it not?

I think we’ve got this thing called prayer all wrong.

Why would I pray to be healthy when I innately know whether I’m taking care of myself or not…whether I am resting properly, or eating healthy, or exercising regularly?

I know what I’m doing. Or, better, what I may not be doing. Why would I degrade prayer by praying about such things I know the answer to already?

Why would I pray, for example, to be healed of sickness or cancer or some other disastrous and unexpected illness that attacks me out of the blue? What makes me special that I should not be subject to becoming ill or growing old or getting sick?

Does it irritate you, as it does me, when people send out the call for “prayer warriors” when someone has fallen ill? They sound an alarm, a kind of call to arms as it were, asking for as many people to pray as possible – as if, by getting more prayers they have a greater chance at being heard or getting healed. As if, by having many people praying, their army is consequently bigger than whatever may be resisting the answer they seek?

What nonsense! What a prostitution of prayer, too! To think, God only gets turned on to my needs, and so responds, when I get enough people praying for help. It’s absurdity and it has nothing to do with spirituality or real prayer.

I must, if I wish to move beyond merely calling myself a “believer”…I must stop this childish way of thinking and believing that the more prayers I can get to “go up to God” the better my chances of averting disaster, either for myself or those for whom I am praying.

That’s the stuff the charlatan preachers on television promote and to everyone’s peril.

But it ain’t so! And, it’s time you know.

Every day, millions of people suffer and die all over this planet, some from starvation, others from violence and bloodshed, still others from disease, aging, and a host of other natural causes.

How many of them, do you suppose, call out in prayer to be spared? And yet, they are not. So, why would I, or you, believe that, when we call out to God…when we plead, beg, offer incense, or amass an army of prayer warriors, that we are going to persuade the gods to look more favorably on our condition, or that of the ones we love? What makes any of us think our incessant begging is going to overcome the odds – whatever their cause?

Is it an attack from Satan we are experiencing? That’s what the Kenneth Copeland’s on television and the Benny Hinn’s of this world will tell you. Satan is often the scapegoat for those who don’t want to attribute suffering and illness to God. “No,” they say, “God wants you healed…it’s the Devil who’s trying to kill you!”

Really?

Well, if you call aging and sickness the attack of the Devil, so be it. But the day will come when we’ll all finally grow up and realize the Devil can be blamed for many things, but the fact remains, we are going to get sick, age, and eventually die, with or without any help from Satan.

Think. Think. Think about this.

Our theology so often is so limited. Our view of God is too frequently distorted, warped, and just plain spiritually immature.

You and I are born and we will die. Period. No one can be “healed” every time from every illness. Tell that to Kenneth and Gloria Copeland. Look at how they’ve aged over the years. In spite of their rants, they grow old, too…and get sick just like the rest of us…and, one day, they, too, will die.

It’s part of what it means to be human.

We must stop blaming Satan or our circumstances for the common cold. To do so makes the spiritual life the laughingstock of the world.

We must grow up in our faith instead. Pray…yes, of course, pray…but let prayer be without the begging, pleading, the believing that we are more special than others and so should not have to suffer like the rest of humanity. We must stop the incessant bastardizing of God. And, we must let go of such childish ways of thinking about God as if he were some kind of Cosmic Santa Claus who gives goodies to the good folks like you and me…who gives health and healing but only to those of us who “have enough faith”…or, who rescues from the jaws of death those “whose time to go is not yet.”

To believe and act in these childish ways does not “prove ones faith.” It undermines it instead. And, furthermore, it’s so unlike the Christ who walked into his own suffering, not away from it…who, yes, in a moment of weakness, prayed, just as we sometimes pray in weakness and fear, “Take this cup from me…” But, once he voiced that weakness, once he embraced his fear, he was able to step beyond both, just as the Buddha counseled all of us long before Jesus ever showed up: “Resist not what is…for, to do so, is to suffer all the more!”

In so doing, Jesus was able to pray the genuine and perfect spiritual prayer, “Not my will, but thine be done.”

When we can pray that prayer, spiritual maturity will have arrived.
Until we can pray that prayer, however…well…the Copelands, and the Hinns, and those of immature faith like them, will have to do, I suppose.

If you find the things I write about the spiritual life to be meaningful to you, would you share them with your family and friends? Visit my website www.SteveMcSwain.com too for more like what you’ve just read. Walk with God. But then, of course, you do. How could you not? You were born to do so.

Break Free…Living Fully into Your Doubts and Questions

posted by smcswain
BREAK FREE

BREAK FREE

Break Free. Sounds like the lyrics to a song Queen sang in the late ’80′s.

Break Free. Sounds like something one of characters might have said in the movie, The Shawshank Redemption.

It’s neither.

When I chose these words “break free” I was thinking of Rainer Maria Rilke’s statement, “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves.”

“Unsolved in your heart.”
Check.

“Loving the questions.”
Check.

Need to break free here?
Check.

Break Free

The two things Rilke notes are prisons of inner incarceration. You and I are the prisoners. Patience will be needed to break free…to prevail. But you will.

For now, however, to love yourself…everything about yourself…is not so easy, is it?

To accept yourself…with all your tiny, little secrets. And, a few big ones, too. Well, that’s even more difficult.

And, yes, you have a few big secrets that even scare you. That’s the stuff inside you head and heart hard to admit to anyone, including yourself. If you’re like me, sometimes you have thoughts…sometimes you think things…even feel things, that shock the shit out of you…yourself.

Can I get a witness?

It is impossible to imagine where any of this darkness comes from, which is why Carl Jung called the “the shadow self.” We all have one. Deep dark secrets that try to break free, too, in spite of our attempts to keep them latched and locked away.

Most likely, you dislike this part of yourself.  It’s still part of who you are, though. Better that you are aware of its presence…better still, that you are friends with this enemy – which means to stop judging – this part of who you are. Your shadows scare you…but they will seek to embarrass you if you ignore them…or, try to keep them under lock and key.

What about your questions? You have those, too.

People who appear to be the most certain about what they believe are really the most uncertain.

People who come across to you as if they have it all figured out do so because on the inside everything is really an indecipherable riddle, an unsolvable puzzle.

People who boast they know what they believe and what they just “accept by faith” as if it really were that simple, are the simplest of people who’ve done little or no thinking whatsoever. They’ve learned to survive by keeping the lid on their questions. But they are like sailors who’ve battened down the hatches on a submarine. Instead of plunging to the depths, however, they cruise along the surface life while pretending to navigate the depths.

These people can generally recite with certainty what they believe…so much so, in fact, you’d think they had been to the top of Mt. Sinai where God etched in stone their beliefs)…and, not only what they believe, but they’re convinced what you must believe, too…that is, if you want to “appear” to the world as they seek to appear: confident, certain, and complete.

Know this!
I repeat, know this!
No, I say it again, get this clear!

The Faith Charade

Their appearance is all a facade, a phony charade. The more confident they want you to think they are, the more uncertain they actually are.

Do not judge them. They are really very scared people. That’s all. Frightened by their inner doubts and questions. They have been falsely led to believe that their questions are a sign of faulty faith, even disbelief. And, that God hates both. What they do not know, however, is this:  until they question their faith, they have no faith. At best, they have a roller board of beliefs they drag around through life like a traveler at an airport terminal. They look as if they know where they’re going. But really, they are carrying a ticket to nowhere.

Is this you? If it is, you know it. Which is why you’re still reading this. You want to know if I have an answer for the phony front you’ve been wearing too long. You want to break free, don’t you?

Well, guess what? You can. Here are three places to begin the process to break free.  Here’s a way to cut the wire and live fully into your doubts…your questions…even your shadows.

1. Open wide the door into your shadow self.  Your questions, doubts, fears…even your bizarre thoughts and imaginations are not impulses planted there by some fictitious phantom.  No, not even Satan.  They’re part of you because they ARE you.  I would recommend you open wide the door to your secret self. It only becomes a sick self…an evil, dysfunctional and embarrassing self when you seek to incarcerate it. When you do, it schemes a plot to break free on its own and its freedom, should it succeed, will not be pretty.  Do not keep the door shut and the bolt latched. Open the door instead and go in. Look around. It’s all your stuff. Welcome to the real world…the real you.  Get comfortable. Might as well. There’s much you have to learn about yourself here. But what you learn will truly help you to break free.

2. That does not mean you’ll like everything you see. No, but what it does mean is that you will never make peace with that part of you against which you have declared war.  Our political leaders do not seem to get it. War against anything is the wrong metaphor.  What you fight prevails; what you resist persists. Or, so said my spiritual teacher, Eckhart Tolle.

3. Recognize false belief when you see it. And, you will see it. The phony comes all dressed up like we used to do when going to church…what my mother used to call, “Our Sunday best.” I suppose we thought looking as if we had everything neatly arranged…shoes shined, coat and tie, ironed shirts…somehow, all of that made it seem as if inside we were just as neatly packaged and had life by its tail.

You don’t. Know that your questions are a causeway into God’s presence. Your doubts plough a path to the Divine. Resist neither and you break free to live fully and free.

It’s just the way life works.
Authentic faith, too.

If you find value in the things I write, may I ask you to share these posts with your network of friends and connections? Visit my website and follow my blog at www.SteveMcSwain.com. Review my speaking schedule, too, to see when I might be in an area near you. I’d love to meet you.
 

What Is the Purpose of My Life?

posted by smcswain
What is the Purpose of My Life?

What is the Purpose of My Life?

What is the purpose of my life?

Haven’t you asked that question at least a million times?

I talk and write much about this, precisely because I think about it almost all the time.

How would you complete this sentence? “The point of my life is _________________.”

It’s not so easy to do, is it?

Mark Twain purportedly said, “The two most important days of your life are these: the day you are born and the day you figure out why.”

Have you? Figured out the “Why?” I mean. “I showed up for the purpose of ________________________.”

The Purpose of Your Life

  • When Moses came down from the mountain, after having visited with God, legend has it, his face was “radiant” because he had been with God (Exodus 34:29ff). Earlier, God called him to be the Deliverer (Exodus 3). Do either of these answer the question of the point and purpose of Moses’ life?
  • When the Buddha arose from under the Bodhi Tree, legend has it, he was mistakenly thought by some to be a God. So much so, in fact, one inquirer kept pressing, “If not a God, then what are you?” Finally, Buddha replied, “I am awake.” Is this the point? The awakening of consciousness? Expanded consciousness?
  • When Jesus spoke metaphorically and referred to himself as the “door” the “way” the “Good Shepherd,” the “light of the world” and so forth, and also said, “I have come that you might have life abundant” (John 10:10), was he suggesting he was the point of your life and mine? That to have the life he described as abundant, we had to have him? Or, was he pointing us by his example toward the way to such an abundant life?

And, what does “abundant life” really mean? And, what does it mean to be “awake” or to come down from a mountain, face radiant with presence?

I cannot say for certain. But maybe all of these stories and descriptions are pointing to something of the same thing. How you interpret any of them depends largely on your background or upbringing.

I was raised to believe the point of human existence is to get “saved.” That meant to confess to God my awareness of the miserable state of my sinfulness. Further, it meant to beg him to forgive me, as well as put my faith in Jesus who gave his own life as a sacrifice for me. The substitution of his life made it possible for me to be forgiven and, as a consequence, make heaven and avoid hell when I died.

That was pretty much it. Apart from this, the point of my life was to be a good person. Whenever I asked what that meant, I was told it meant to abstain from evil vices like smoking and drinking or having sex before marriage. It meant being a good American citizen and to not steal but especially from God. Therefore, weekly church attendance was mandatory, if I were a serious Christian, and the paying of my tithes and offerings to the church – which was considered synonymous with giving to God, were clearly the purposes for my life as well.

Sound familiar to any of you?

Now, had I grown up in the Pentecostal Christian world, all of the above would have been similar but with these additional explanations as to the point of human existence: The purpose of your life and mine was not only to be “saved” and so make heaven and miss hell but, as explained by Creflo Dollar, Joel Osteen, Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer’s and the like, the purpose of life is to enjoy abundance also, and lots of it.

Abundance translated into health, the avoidance of sickness, as well as aging, and plenty of this world’s finer things, as in nice cars, a nice home in a good neighborhood, and money enough to buy whatever your heart desired, including a vacation home somewhere in the Florida Keys.

Are either of these messages, however, right? Is the point or purpose of your life to avoid hell, make heaven and have all the good things of life while you’re briefly trapped in between the two now?

If that’s what you think, then you have much explaining to do…as in, why neither of these purposes ever seemed to be discussed, emphasized, much less enjoyed by any of the spiritual masters mentioned above?

Moses, for example, left abundance in Pharoah’s palace, as did the Buddha. I think you know the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ life. Not only did he not have anything material, as far as we know, but he seemed infinitely more interested in how people lived in this life and treated each other in this world than he was about anything after this life. Besides, were it not for the women disciples who traveled with him and shared their resources with him, he might have lived almost exclusively in abject poverty (Luke 8:1f). Maybe he did in spite of their generosity.

May I suggest something to you? It will be radical to those raised, as I was, in very conservative Christian environments. It will be scandalous even for those who think their way of believing is the “right” way and that all other ways are either inferior or, worse, just plain wrong. But, if you have an open mind at all, then consider the following:

The Purpose of Your Life

You were not born to get “saved” so you would avoid hell and make heaven.
You were not born to be “healthy” and “wealthy” this side of eternity.

As far as I can tell, you and I show up simply to know and to share in the joy of knowing and walking with God…which is a whole lot like knowing yourself, as well as enjoying and sharing yourself with others.

I’m pretty sure this is it. That this is my “calling” and yours as well. Which is why I wrote The Enoch Factor: The Sacred Art of Knowing God. Of Enoch, a mythological character in Old Testament folklore, it is said, “Enoch walked with God” (Gen. 5:24).

What could be more sacred than this? Or, more purposeful and satisfying? Or, life-enhancing?

I’m pretty sure your purpose in life…your reason for being…is somehow tied up in this mystery.

“How can I know this for certain?” you ask.

You cannot. You’ll just have to let go of your need for certainty. Security is impossible to find this side of eternity.

What I can say with some modicum of certainty is this: when I finally gave up the trite and meaningless explanations for my purpose in life given to me by sincere but sincerely misguided people, I set out on a journey to know…to discover for myself…to climb, so to speak, Mount Horeb, as did Moses, to sit under every Bodhi-like tree I could find, as did the Buddha, to figure out some how, some way the meaning of “abundant life,” as Jesus described it and, guess what?

I discovered for myself this single but important truth: There is NO destination on the spiritual quest; the quest IS itself the destination. Inside the quest I have discovered the question is being answered. The Sufi prophet Ghalib put it poetically, “For the raindrop, joy is entering the river.”

“How might I begin this quest, too?” you ask.

I’m pretty sure that the question means your quest has begun already.

Worth of a Dime…The Worth of a Soul

posted by smcswain
The Worth of a Soul

The Worth of a Dime…the Worth of a Soul

Do we all have value? Any worth?

Ever felt as if you had none? That you were worthless?

“Sometimes,” answered the lady I counseled on a street corner one day, “I feel nothing else.”

So this morning, I left the Hampton Inn in Tampa and dropped the rental at the Tampa International Airport.

I saw a dime on the terminal floor. At first, I stepped over it and walked on. Then, for no apparent reason, I just stopped, turned around, and walked back. I let go of my roller board travel bag, reached for my iPhone while dropping to my knees, and snapped a picture. I could feel the stares of the couple who walked by dragging their own oversized luggage. One of them turned around to see what I was doing. You can guess what he was thinking.

As I reached for the dime…

I gathered it up, looked at it, stood and dropped it into my pants pocket.

I asked, “Little fella’ ever been to Kentucky?”

I know. A bit strange perhaps. But I’m this way, you know. Furthermore, I have been thinking all morning about all the dimes and nickels and worthless pennies who inhabit our world. I wondered as I walked toward the gate and looked into the faces of strangers all around me…I wondered just how many of them felt worthless, as if their life was just a freak accident and their contribution to this world not much more significant than a dime on the floor of an airport terminal.

The world must be full of such people.

Or, maybe it’s because I’ve felt this way myself for much of my life.

Then, all of a sudden, I remembered something else – which is why I’m so glad I learned the stories of Jesus long ago and committed many of them to memory – I remembered the parable Jesus told of the woman who dropped a penny on her hardwood floors. She grabbed the broom and spent the remainder of the morning sweeping the floors looking for it.

Neurotic?

You bet it is.

Then, I thought about God and just how neurotic she is in her relentless search for you and me.

Why?

Even dimes matter in the Kingdom.

Is God Dead?

posted by smcswain
Is God Dead?

Is God Dead?

Is God dead?

I’m sitting on a plane waiting to fly to Atlanta the on to Tampa to visit clients.

And, I’m thinking.

“Oh no,” you say.”Not that! Not again!”

Agreed.

At the risk of getting too “heavy” into thinking – which is the blessing, as well as the burden, of our humanity, – the following are a few of the thoughts on my mind this morning.

What do some scientists and many fundamentalist have in common?

The Illusion of Objectivity

Both are blinded by the illusion of objectivity. Isn’t life, all of it, just a subjective experience? Of course, it is.

Some scientists, however, mistakenly assume their explanations of the cosmos are entirely objective, unbiased and based solely on empirical evidence. Certainly, every reputable scientist seeks to be as objective as possible. But complete objectivity is an illusion. What you attempt to explain objectively, you experience subjectively.

Many fundamentalist Christians make an equally problematic mistake. They assume, for example, ontological arguments both probe and prove the existence of God. St. Anselm, for example, Catholic archbishop of Canterbury, first popularized this argument for the existence of God. The existence of God is proven reasonably, or so he assumed, and rationally, without the need of perception or even evidence.

St. Thomas Aquinas summarized his popular cosmological arguments for the existence of God in his famous Summa Theologia.

Both of these men, and a host of others throughout Christian history, have held tenaciously to various explanations they mistakenly believed proved the existence of God. Their explanations, however, have become obsolete in our scientific world. As a consequence, in recent years, the argument for the existence of God most fundamentalist Christians rely on today is the one known as “Intelligent Design.” It, too, has credibility only with among those who want to believe God does exist.

All such arguments, however, mere feeble attempts to prove the existence of god, may sound logical, even very reasonable, and, if they do for you, there is an explanation for it. You cannot prove the existence of God. You only ever reveal the depth of your anxiety that SHE just might not.

What need would there be to argue God does exist except to overthrow the inner fear She might not?

You Cannot Prove the Existence of God

You seek to prove what you do not know. You argue God does exist, but only to hide the overwhelming feeling of insecurity at the thought He might not.

If you knew God, what would you need to prove?

May I suggest the following is infinitely more tenable and would serve your spiritual quest much more reliably in today’s world.

A Better Way

1. Let go of the need to explain or prove God. You can do neither.
God – whatever she is – cannot be explained or understood theistically. This is what the “God is dead” theologians were trying to tell us in the 60′s and 70′s. They were not altogether rejecting the possibility of God. What they were rejecting was our theistic definitions of God, or the God most of us have grown up being taught to believe in. In this, they were right.

And, what kind of God were most of us taught to believe existed?

If you are like me, you’ve grown up being taught that God is a kind of Super-human version of ourselves. This God humans created in their own image, therefore. The primary difference is that the God we created we endowed with all the capacities and capabilities that elude us.

Why else do you think super-heroes are so popular in print, in films, and in our imaginations?

Frail as we are and fearful of our death and disappearance, we project our fantasies for immortality, as well as our desires of transcending the limitations of human existence, onto that which we call God. In this way, we fashion a God in whom we might believe, as did the ancients before us, has the power that we do not have.

Furthermore, I was taught this God lived just above the sky and, as a supernatural being, he was a kind of Divine Superman, equipped with all the powers necessary to deliver us from our woes, wails, and fears of dying and death.

When you believe in such a God, you’ve got much to prove. Much, too, to explain. And, neither sound reasonable or convincing in the 21st century.

Consequently, if you are an evangelical Christian who believes it is your duty to seek to convert the world, then you’ll need to come up with a better argument for the God you believe in. No thinking person in our world is likely to be convinced by these old arguments that may have worked in the 19th century and for earlier generations, but no longer work today.

Still further, if you’re a five-point Calvinist (if you do not know what that is, consider yourself lucky) – and, I suspect this is exactly what Al Mohler is, in addition to being the President of Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky – then such arguments are no longer necessary. Neither is a defense for the evangelistic efforts to “win the lost,” as I heard it declared in my Christian youth and worked hard to do as a faithful believer.

Why?

A five-point Calvinist believes God will save those He wants to save (with or without your evangelistic help) and God will send to hell those he wishes to send to hell (regardless of what you think about it).

That kind of God I could never, ever, ever…did I say “Ever?” I could never believe in such a God. No wonder Southern Baptists have lost their way.

If all of this were not bad enough, when you believe in a theistic God who lives just above the sky and who has supernatural powers – or, powers you do not have – then, it is the inevitable consequence that you figure out a way to get this God to be on “your side.”

Hence, the birth of all religions.

Additionally, it becomes necessary to find a way to ingratiate yourself to such a God so that He will grant your needs, whatever you perceive them to be.

Hence, the birth of worship.

Do you need health? A healing? More money to pay the bills?

How about a little security? There are only so many AK-47′s you can afford to buy and place behind every door in the house to protect yourself against a government whose policies have gone wild? And, as a consequence, a world out of control, too.

Do you need a little more assurance that longevity is part of this God’s plan for your life? How about a little religious narcotic to anesthetize you from the fear of death? Or, the thought that life after death might not be real?

When your God is the version of God you’ve grown up believing in – a kind of Divine and Super-duper Santa Claus – only you’d better be good and believe in this one – then, it only makes sense why for most humans worship is something you do to “please” this God – as if, what this God wants is to be pleased by your groveling worship.

Yes, isn’t this what worship is for many? That time we set aside each week to fulfill our duty in order to have the right to lay claim on this God whom we need to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves? So, we praise and worship him, hoping he’ll be pleased enough to care enough about little you and little me? We offer our prayers in order to convince him to think more kindly toward us and to rescue us from our infirmities.

God is Dead

What does it say about this God you and I were taught to believe in who needs flattering cleverly disguised as worship before He’ll be pleased enough to regard our helpless estate?

Pretty hefty thinking for so early in the day, wouldn’t you agree?

What would you think of a father who had to have the groveling of his children and the bowing down of his children and the begging and pleading of his children before he’d muster enough love to respond to the needs of the child?

Yet, we behave toward this kind of God all the time and do not realize that, to the world, our God must be something worse than the Grinch who stole Christmas.

This God, and such notions of God as I have described, were part of our history and humanity, even a part of your upbringing as they were mine, but it is time they die. It is time we let go of them. It is time we stop fashioning God into ourselves – only a better version of us – and let God, whatever God is, be the Mystery we neither try to explain or presume to know.

God is not the Superman in the Sky.

In fact, God is nothing at all.

It’s OK to say this. It is infinitely more sacred than the primitive nonsense that passes for worship and devotion today. A statement such as the one I’ve just made only creates anxiety in those who are afraid it just might be so. Again, if you and I really KNEW God to be the big Kahuna in the sky, why would we feel offended when someone suggests that the God we’ve created does not exist? We only feel offended because we cannot tolerate the anxiety of thinking they might just be right.

There is a better way. First, let go of the primitive need to believe in the God you were taught to believe in. That God never really existed, except in our wishes. It will not destroy you to let go of such a God and you will not despair. Oh sure, it’ll be a little disappointing at first. And, a little scary. Not unlike the day you learned Santa Claus was a just a joke dressed up in a colorful outfit with a bag of toys draped across his back.

2. Every now and then be aware of nothing. You might just be surprised to as to what you find.

“That statement makes no sense whatsoever,” you say.

To the contrary. It makes perfect sense. What is there around you, for example, that is more than nothing? More than emptiness, spaciousness?

When I was young I was always fascinated by the planets and stars in our solar system. On a clear night, for example, I was often thrilled to look into the heavens and try to identify the many constellations.

Something happened to me a few years ago, however, and a shift took in my awareness…in my consciousness. I suddenly became aware of the nothingness that comprises most of space. It is emptiness. It is nothing. Or, so we think. And, we think this only because, if there is something there, we cannot perceive it with our ordinary five senses. But maybe there is something in the nothing that’s all around us. Just to perceive this that is no “This” is itself a mystery.

But a Mystery worth giving some of your attention.

God is nothing. No-thing-ness. Anything more we say is to diminish God, the infinite, ineffable, even inexplicable reality we probably should just stop calling God altogether.

Why? Because God, as a name has been so over-used, and abused, as well as associated with this Super-human version of ourselves living just above the sky, that the mere mention or use of that word conjures up the very image of God that is not God.

What I have discovered is that in the awareness of nothing, I find such peace, stillness, even more than I ever found trying to conceptualize God the way I was taught to think of Him, Her, It – whatever God is.

All I am suggesting is, give this a try. Do not let your fear of letting go of the Divine Santa Claus that Christmas, or the Christ story, will lose its significance.

For me, it has not. In fact, it has become infinitely more believable. And, vastly more meaningful. Consequently, my final suggestion to you is this:

3. Let go of everything. Your explanations. Your beliefs. Even your infantile need to explain everything, as if you have it all figured out. Which of course you do not. Practice living by faith. Faith has no need for props. Beliefs do. But not faith. In fact, genuine faith is foundation-less. Which is why you will often hear people say, “Faith is stepping up to the edge of reason…beliefs…all props and taking one more step.”

Trust what you can neither explain nor ever defend. Let go. This is what it means to be spiritual. To be whole. To be complete. To know beyond knowledge. Even to believe beyond beliefs. This is what it means, when Saint Paul says, “To grow up into spiritual maturity” (Ephesians 4:13).

You have nothing to fear. “Perfect Love,” said Saint John. “casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). To try and believe in what does not exist only compounds the very thing you wish to avoid: fear, hopelessness, death, and the end.

Let go.
Be aware of nothing.
Trust what cannot be proven.

And needs no proof.

If you like the things you read that I write, may I invite you to visit my website blog at www.SteveMcSwain.com, follow me on Twitter @DrSteveMcSwain. Facebook, too. I’d love to be friends with you. Have an enlightened day.

Things I’ve Learned about Leadership from the Masters of the Universe!

posted by smcswain

I’m writing this while sitting on a plane from Minneapolis to Denver.  I’m finalizing in my head the details of a talk I’m giving in Boulder later today and thinking about a recent invite I received to bring the keynote address at the Aviation Association of Indiana – their annual convention which is to be held at the Belterra Casino and Resort.

Things I've Learned about Leadership from the Masters of the Universe

Things I’ve Learned about Leadership from the Masters of the Universe

The event planner called and said “That talk…the highlights of which you have in a video on your website…that talk would be a perfect for our convention…It has humor in it. Yet, it’s thought-provoking. It’s full of leadership stuff and the Director of our organization has watched it and believes it would make the perfect keynote on leadership for our annual gathering.”

I said, “You mean the talk on leadership I call “Things I’ve Learned about Leadership from Jesus, Buddha, Moses, Muhammed, Gates, Buffett, and Other Masters of the Universe?”

“That’s It,” he responded.

“Great!” I answered. “I’d be honored to share that talk with your association.”

When we finished working out the details of the contract, I put the date on my calendar and began thinking about the fact that I’ve been getting several calls lately from event planners and company CEO’s who like this approach I’m taking to teaching leaders about leadership – and, particularly, the way I try and blend the various spiritual traditions, sprinkled with lots of humor, with insights about leadership from those in the world of commerce.  All of it with deep insights too into life, leadership, and one’s legacy, and what we can learn, even from the universe’s spiritual masters…without favoring any one religion or shoving religion down the proverbial throats of people.

I suspect some of the reluctance of the business world to invite speakers like myself to give such respectful talks is the fault of religious zealots in this country (and I was chief among them at one time). In our country, religious zealotry comes mostly adorned in Christian clothing. Still yet, far too many Christians for far too long have believed practitioners of any other religious traditions were practicing something subpar compared to Christianity. And, if you were not practicing any faith…or were…dare I say it?…an “atheist,” or an agnostic, you were to be shunned as if you might have some transmutable disease. It is no wonder, therefore, our Democracy has had to enforce the separation of church and state laws. Such would not be necessary if people in this country would be respectful toward people of all faiths as well as those who claim no faith.

That’s precisely what I try to do in all my talks. I believe that even people who do not practice any faith tradition still have the wisdom to know wisdom when they see it or hear it, no matter where it comes from…whether from Jesus or Lao-Tzu, Muhammed or Moses, or from the likes of Steve Forbes or Michael Hyatt.

There are important lessons for life, living, leading, and legacy-leaving that Jesus and Buddha can teach us that are  just as profound as the lessons we learn from the Warren Buffets, the late Steve Jobs, Gates or other “Masters of the Universe,” as I call them.

Now, for me, a “recovering Baptist minister, the only weird part of this speaking gig will be that I will address this aviation convention in the banquet hall of a popular casino.

Hm! It should be fun. And, I probably should not be enjoying the thought of it so much! I’ll let you know how it goes.

If you like the things you read that I write, may I invite you to visit my website blog at www.SteveMcSwain.com and follow me on Twitter @DrSteveMcSwain. Follow me on Facebook, too.  I’d love to be friends with you.

Transplant Now! Today’s Decisions Determine Tomorrow’s Destiny

posted by smcswain
Transplant Now

Transplant Now: The Decisions You Make Today Determine the Destiny You Face Tomorrow

The flowers we ordered from one of the local Boy Scout Troops arrived last Saturday. One of the scouts left them on our front porch. We had been out for most of the day but, when we returned home early that evening, the porch was bright with color.

They were truly beautiful. Each flower in full color flourishing inside its own carton of rich soil surrounded by other equally bright and colorful flowers.

Transplant Now? No, It Can Wait

We gathered up each tray of flowers and carried them to the back porch where we had planned to transplant them into larger and deeper pots the following Saturday. That seemed reasonable. Besides, Pam and I were facing a busy week ahead. Saturday was the only free day on our calendars. The flowers looked vibrant, too, as if a transplant could wait for an eternity. Nothing appeared capable of stopping their flowering right where they were.

“In this perfect environment,” we silently reasoned within ourselves, the flowers would surely thrive well until Saturday.”

On Wednesday, however, they looked a little like a runner after a Marathon.

Drooping over, thirsty, and weakly looking, the flowers had lost their color. Some had lost their blooms. The soil around all of them looked hardened, like a noose tightening around the neck of a prisoner. While they looked strong and vibrant just a few days before, ready to multiply and grow in every direction, it was obvious now they were on life support. In some cases, death was near.

They had outgrown their birth world and needed more room and fast. To leave them in this cramped and narrow space would prove fatal and soon. Consequently, without saying a word to each other, Pam and I instinctively knew what had to be done.

Transplant Now! Or, You Will Die

What had to be done could not wait until the following Saturday.

We proceeded to transplant the flowers. As we did, I began seeing what you’re seeing, even as I write. The transplant parallels to your experience and mine are all too obvious.

But here are a few of them.

Each of us just appears one day on the front porch of life.
We have no say in the place of our birth. We just arrive.
We have no choice as to our family of origin.
Yet, we arrive with everything provided.
Depending on the care of our caregivers, we thrive and grow.
Some environments are obviously healthier than others.
This, too, we do not control. In various ways, we are all survivors.
In spite of challenges and, for some, handicaps, we grow.
The day comes, however, when a transplant is necessary or we, too, die.

Right there, however, the parallels end.

What makes humans different from all other sentient beings is our capacity to think…to remember…to imagine…even to assume responsibility for ourselves. In other words, our survival, our growth is ultimately not dependent on anyone else but us.

The flowers would have died had Pam and I not acted quickly. This morning, they look like a group of prisoners who’ve just been granted parole. The blooms are all turned toward the sun, as if to say, “Good morning!”

Their transplant, and survival, was in our hands. Your transplant, however, as well as your survival, is in your own.

Some of you are reading this and you just stumbled upon this blog quite by accident. Is anything ever really random? You’ll have to decide that. What we both agree on, however, is that this is the very thing you needed to read today because you know, just as I know, you need a transplant or you will not survive.

Transplant Now! The Flowering of Your Soul Depends on It

No, I’m not talking about a heart transplant either. I’m talking about a transplant of your soul. The flowering of your life…the flourishing of your soul depends on it. You must set yourself free or you will not survive.

What God does is give us little reminders. This blog is that reminder. Call it a seed of God’s grace.
What you must do is see and hear the reminders and take action.

A transplant is necessary and you are the transplanter. Remain where you are and you will be stifled and suffer continually.

The applications of this are varied and as limitless as are the colors in our newly planted flower boxes. And, the challenges you might be facing are very real no matter where you are.

Today’s Decisions Determine Tomorrow’s Destiny.

Transplant yourself and be free of that enslaving habit.
Transplant now and get out of that abusive relationship. Stop defending what you know is evil.
Transplant yourself for your spiritual survival depends on it. You know what they are preaching and teaching isn’t so. You cannot bury your questions and doubts. There is no soil deep enough to snuff out the life in your soul’s questions. They will just keep spouting and appearing, dying and reappearing. It’s your nature to grow. That’s how God made you. She will continue trying to help you take responsibility. If it isn’t a blog you stumble upon, it’ll be something else. That’s how grace works.

Grace: A Divine Seed

Do not be afraid to leave the faith of your childhood…the beliefs that no longer work. It is in your nature to grow. You’ll never be happy just surviving. Transplant! Do so now.

“But I’m scared!” you say.

I know about scared. I was scared, too. And, it wasn’t easy. But, when I took the shovel in hand, and the first step toward freedom, the courage came. The faith to proceed flourished. And, the flowering of my soul began.

To transplant is to transform.

Think of it as your TRANSPLANT-FORMATION.

And, Remember this…

The God who caused this blog to appear like an unexpected flower on the porch of your consciousness, will go with you through the entire transplant itself. You will never be alone.

You’ll see. Happy Transplant-formation.

My name is Dr.Steve McSwain. I’m a speaker, author, spiritual teacher, and, while a Christian by choice, I’m a proponent and activist for interfaith cooperation and dialogue. If you like the things you read, please visit my website http://SteveMcSwain.com/ There you will find my books on spirituality and my interfaith pendants all of which I hope will help to create a more conscious, compassionate, and charitable world.

Crucifixion: A New Way to Think about Jesus’ Death

posted by smcswain

Crucifixion Of Jesus

Why did Jesus die? The most honest answer? Nobody really knows.

Not even the Apostle Paul and he was likely the first to write about these matters  (Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 12).

Death by crucifixion is a painful, slow death and virtually unimaginable to the modern mind.  History tells us that the Romans put thousands of people by death by crucifixion.

Death by Crucifixion is Unimaginable

Photo used by kind permission from www.williambuter.ca

When it comes to Jesus’ death, any theologian, priest, minister or pastor who explains the mystery of the crucifixion and resurrection as if they understand it, is simply good at play acting. They may insist, “I believe the Bible” Or, “The Bible says it; I believe it.” But these declarations hide their uncertainty.

You only argue for what you do not know. The more certain they seem, and argumentative they become, the more uncertain they really are. Of that much, you can be certain.

The crucifixion of Jesus is mysterious. I think it’s meant to be. What’s not so mysterious is how the church and church leaders have attempted to explain the mysterious throughout Christian history. As a consequence, virtually every explanation is inadequate.

Most of them are downright offensive.

The most common explanation for Jesus’ death is the one provided in the fourth century by Saint Augustine. It is known as the doctrine of “original sin.”

I grew up being told and taught, as most Christians have in almost every tradition, Jesus died on the cross because we are sinners. Sin caused his death. The Four Spiritual Laws were proclaimed by my father, and later by me, as if they explained Jesus’ death. The fact they were called “laws” made them appear not only definitive, but indisputable.

1. God loves you and has a plan for your life.
2. Humans are sinful and separated from God.
3. Jesus Christ is God’s only provision for sin.
4. If you confess your sins and receive Jesus, you will avoid hell.

This explanation of Jesus’ death is really just one of several explanations of Jesus’ crucifixion that have been part of church history for centuries. I mention them briefly here:

Theories of the Crucifixion

1. Satisfaction Theory Based on the Jewish practices associated with the Day of Atonement where animals were sacrificed to appease God’s thirst for blood, Jesus is described as the supreme sacrifice, shedding his blood and so appeasing a blood thirsty God.

If you were raised where this theory of atonement was tacitly accepted, you understand why the congregation frequently sang, “What can wash away my sins? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

This is theology of most televangelists you see and hear on television and radio. It’s the theology behind books and movies in the Left Behind series and Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth and in almost every sermon preached by the San Antonio pastor, John Hagee.

2. Substitition Theory: Here, Jesus is not so much a “sacrifice” as he is a substitute. Just as an animal sacrifice bore the sin of the people, so Jesus bore the sin of humanity. Holy and just — God can not look on sin.

Both unholy and unjust, sinners deserve to suffer and die. Jesus, however, is described as stepping in, acting as the substitute, suffering and then dying so that humans, undeserving though they may be, might be forgiven.

3. Ransom Theory: Here, God is not the one being appeased through Jesus’ sacrificial death. It is the Devil himself.

Ever since the fall of the original couple, humans have been under the curse of sin, the consequence of eternal death, and in the grip of Satan. Jesus’ death, however, delivers the ultimate sucker punch to Satan himself.

As a consequence, all who repent and turn to Jesus will be delivered from Satan’s control and ultimately from condemnation and consignment to hell where Satan and his angels will dwell for eternity.

4. Moral Theory: This view shifts the reason for Jesus’ death as the consequence of divine wrath to the human example of Jesus himself.

His selfless and sacrificial compassion are believed to be so extraordinary demonstrated in his crucifixion as to influence humanity to repent and turn to God.

Of all the theories, the fourth makes the most sense to me. However, none of these are adequate explanations of Jesus’ death. Instead they are wrought with innumerable problems.

The first two, for example, make God into some kind of Divine Jekyll and Hyde and the worst sort of parental abuser imaginable.

Animal sacrifice, even human sacrifice, may have been part of many cultures and religions of the past. They are not today. Nor have they been for centuries.

In fact, the whole idea is utterly repulsive. What kind of God would require the suffering, punishment, and death of his son before finding the capacity in his heart to forgive?

It is not only absurd it is offensive and plainly not even believable.

The third explanation is no better. It simply tries to shift the blame from God so he does not appear to be so evil that he would kill his own son.

Jesus, as a kind of Superhuman Savior delivers in his death the ultimate sucker-punch to Satan. While not finally punching him out, the blow was fatal enough to assure the world that ultimately Satan would be finally destroyed in eternity.

The fourth explanation, though less offensive and vastly more sensible than the others, does not adequately explain the problem of human evil. Humans can be evil, unimaginably so, as the holocaust, 9-11, the Crusades, and the clergy-abuse scandal demonstrate.

In our post-Darwinian age, however, human evil is better understood, not as the consequence of “original sin,” as Saint Augustine explained, but as the residue of misguided and misdirected primal instincts and impulses.

When Christians stop being afraid of evolution, for example, Darwin could teach us how the human instinct for survival, seen in all of creation, provides insight into the understanding of the so-called “fall” of humanity.

When one knows church history, and few of the remaining pew-dwellers do, one realizes how Saint Augustine would, given his inability to control his own sexual impulses and early sexual exploits, connect sex to sin as the means of sin’s transmission from person to person and generation to generation.

He tried to explain Romans 5 by saying that the sin of Adam deposited a defective gene, so to speak, into the human bloodline. The church not only believed this, but virtually every tradition has taught it for centuries.

If, however, the sin of Adam resulted in everyone being infected with sin, why did the Jews who gave Christians this story of Adam and Eve never read it themselves as the explanation for “original sin?” It’s their story. Not ours.

Furthermore, why did Jesus never know about “original sin” or teach this explanation of the origin of sin and evil to any of his followers?

Crucifixion: A New Way to Think about Jesus’ Death

It is time all Christian traditions let go of this inadequate, offensive, and downright evil explanation itself of the origin of sin and evil.

That brings us back to the question with which I opened this blog. When it comes to Jesus’ crucifixion, why did he die? Give consideration to this explanation. It isn’t complete. But then, what explanation is?

       “Jesus did not die for your sins, let that be said a thousand times. Jesus did not come from God to rescue fallen, sinful, inadequate, incompetent people like you and me…that is an idea from which we need to escape. Jesus has to become…the human face of what God looks like in human form…when you look at Jesus he lives fully…he never diminished anybody…people betrayed him and he responded by loving them. People denied him…forsook him…tormented him…killed him and he responded by loving them. How else could he communicate to people…that there is nothing we can ever do…that will place us outside the boundaries of the love of God.”

“It is not that we are some worthless inadequate person that God has to come in and rescue, it is that God’s love is so abundant and so overwhelming that this love calls us to live, and to love, and to be all that we can be so that God can live in us and through us. That is a very different way to think about God.” (the words of J. S. Spong, taken from Living the Questions, by David M. Felten and Jeff Procter-Murphy, HarperCollins Publishers, New York, NY, pp. 114-15).

Is love a more adequate explanation for Jesus’ crucifixion?

Isn’t love enough? Or, is this kind of radical self-giving love so radical, even so foreign to the church today, it is felt not to be adequate enough to probe the mystery of Jesus’ crucifixion?

You’ll have to answer that for yourself.

For me, it is enough. Furthermore, it’s the beginning, albeit just the beginning, of a new…old way to think about the crucifixion of Jesus.

Even so, the mystery of the crucifixion remains.

And, well it should.

Previous Posts

Because I'm Happy...Clap Along If You Feel Like...
"Because I'm happy...clap along..." Pharrel Williams sings it. "Because I'm happy...clap along..." Miss America sings it. "Because I'm happy...clap along..." We all sing it. Frankly, I've heard the popular song so much on the radio and television, I'm ready for a new song. Which IS the prob

posted 8:51:53am Sep. 20, 2014 | read full post »

Today's Religious Rant...from a Professional Ranter
TODAY's RELIGIOUS RANT Some very conservative Christian friends of mine (and they seem to be growing fewer and fewer in number these days, which saddens me) are so very offended by me and, very often, justifiably so. I can be very cutting and crass and, as a consequence, come across very insensitiv

posted 10:40:55am Sep. 03, 2014 | read full post »

Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality without Religion - What I've Learned about Spirituality
Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality without Religion. That's the title to Sam Harris' new book. Now, this should be interesting. For those curious, as I am, about spirituality but who have abandone

posted 8:06:12am Sep. 01, 2014 | read full post »

Decisions! Decisions! Decisions! What Should I Do?
Decisions! Decisions! Decisions! "What should I do?" I get this question often. I've asked this question of myself equally as often. "What should I do?" I so

posted 6:11:20pm Aug. 29, 2014 | read full post »

Prayer...Does God Answer Prayer? Ebola Survivor Thinks So...
Prayer...Does God answer prayer? Apparently so, according to the Ebola Doctor, Dr. Kent Brantly, who was himself an Ebola survivor. You can view his full remarks in a recent press conference he held soon after leaving the hospital. [caption id="attachment_1039" align="alignright" width="200"]

posted 3:44:33pm Aug. 25, 2014 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.