Your Best Life Now

Your Best Life Now

Why Is Your Religion Powerless to Change You? To Change the World?

posted by smcswain

412dpiDpVfL._SL160_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-dp,TopRight,12,-18_SH30_OU01_AA160_Why is your religion and/or religious belief powerless to change you?

Powerless to change the world?

This might explain it…

In Voice of Reason, a book shared with me by my Facebook friend, Bill Butler, author Bryant McGill writes: “Take any concept you believe in deeply and say out loud, and with full conviction, that your dearest belief may be totally flawed. Say, “There is no doubt that I could be wrong.” If you cannot do this, then you do not possess the idea, the idea possesses you.”

I’ve reworked this a bit. I’d like you to weigh in, should you be brave enough to do so.

Take the religion you believe in deeply — mine is Christianity — as well as every belief taught by your denomination (Catholic, Evangelical, Protestant notwithstanding) about that religion, and say out loud, and with full conviction, that your dearest belief may be totally flawed. Say, “There is no doubt that I (we) could be wrong.”

If you cannot do this, then you yourself do not possess the beliefs about your religion, those beliefs possess you.

My own feeling is, if you want an authentic faith, you’d better know the difference between your beliefs and the ineffable Reality toward which those beliefs point.

There is an eternal space of difference between them.

The Buddha said, “My finger points to the moon, but my finger is not the moon.”

Stop Striving to Be Important…

posted by smcswain

competitive“Stop striving to be important.”

Good advice from Mark Nepo.  Hard as heck, however, to stop doing.

Striving…seeking…competing…clamoring for the spotlight. It’s easier to see this stuff in others than to see it in yourself.  Ambition gone amok. Competitiveness gone viral.

Who can stomach for very long the performer who’s always seeking the applause of others?

I meet people like this all the time and, frankly, I don’t like them.

And then, a wise soul like Nepo comes along and reminds me that the enemy I meet in others is the enemy who resides within me.  I see faults in others infinitely faster than I see them in myself.  Which is why, in the last few years, I’ve been making it my practice, whenever I catch myself judging someone else – a trick itself hard to perform – whenever I find myself faultfinding…complaining…to stop right then and there and look within for the presence of that behavior I despise in another.

Why?

It’s really pretty simple.  But it’ll take you a lifetime to overcome.  My friend, you only ever judge in others what you have denied is in yourself.

Period.

You can argue against this, if you wish but, the fact is, you dislike in others what you’ve denied in yourself.

This reality has been so helpful to me when it comes to those Christians who are most offended by my openness to truth wherever I find it. You should read some of the emails I get.  The most hateful come from frightened Christians at one end and equally frightened atheists at the other.

When a Christian writes me, for example, writhing over something I’ve written, deeply disturbed that I would have the audacity to suggest something outside what they call “Orthodox Christianity,” as if that were some kind of official and infallible measure of doctrine, I realize they are most demonstrative in their anger and resentment precisely because they’re the most afraid and uncertain about what they believe themselves. Outside, they appear and sound absolutely certain about what they believe and why. If you could see inside their soul, however, you would see uncertainty instead…doubt, too…and lots of questions…most of which they’ve denied, however, or buried as if they were some kind of enemy. These persons get very defensive and so feel they must defend their faith. They become argumentative and are often quite skillful in their ability to debate and win the debates, too.

This creates the illusion of security in them. But be assured, my friend, it is just an illusion. They are not secure at all and, at some point, life will give them an experience that will cause their straw man of defense to diminish entirely.

At the other end of the spectrum, some atheists are equally disturbed by some of the things I say, write, and believe. I know, too, when I meet an angry atheist, they are likely very close to believing. They’re in an internal battle, however, and what is called for is understanding, not more debate or argument.   That will lead nowhere. Besides, I would likely lose as angry atheists are quite skillful in their arguments.

My point in all of this is this: when you are defensive, look within.  When you are offended, look within.  When you find fault with others or feel frightened, again, look within.  Something in you needs exploring.

When you find what you are looking for within, do not then turn around and find fault with yourself. Do not judge what you see. Embrace it instead, no matter how ugly it may appear to you.  You have, my friend, just as I do, a “shadow” self.  Which is where the cliche’ comes from…”We have met the enemy and he is us.” The shadow, however, is not an enemy, unless you make him into one.  He is you.  So forgive him…or, more accurately, forgive yourself. Understand where this shadow comes from, too. Your own life experiences, many of which were completely outside your control. So, you will likely need to forgive yourself for assuming you were the guilty party. You were not, however.  What you are is responsible now for how you will go forward, given the circumstances that occurred to you.

Why not decide now to go through this day mindful of every judgment you make of another? Why not resolve to catch yourself complaining and criticizing and, as you do, just stop it right then and there?

Then, ask yourself: “What’s going on here?”  “What is it about this person I resent? Why? Could there be something in myself I’ve overlooked? Or, denied? Or, don’t like that gets triggered every time I meet in another what I don’t like about myself?”

Not only will this free you from judgment. This will free you to experience greater joy, acceptance, and it will enlarge your capacity to forgive those who are always advertising for the approval and admiration of others.

It’ll help some of you to forgive what you see in me but do wish to admit is also in you.

And, vice versa.

What Does It Mean to Believe?

posted by smcswain

parachutingTo believe, what does that mean?

To have faith, can you explain?

Faith, the capacity to believe, is an innate gift of Divine grace imparted to you at birth. In other words, you are a believer at birth.

How do I know this?

I was reminded of this as I awakened today. I went to sleep last night, as I have done 21,000-plus times before, knowing…believing…trusting…that I would awaken the next morning. I did.

You did, too.

I am often asked, “How can I trust God will take care of me?”  ”How might I be a stronger believer?”

Stop trying. Whenever I “try” to go to sleep at night, I lie awake. When I let go of everything, however, I fall into sleep as effortlessly as a skydiver falls through the atmosphere. The more you can let go of trying to control your life…your circumstances…your anxiety over how your going to make it…the more you practice just turning loose, closing your eyes, and then taking the leap, the more quickly you will discover, what I call, the parachute of Divine Presence.

Just when you feel you’re falling, you discover you’re flying This is what it means to be a person of faith…beyond all beliefs.

This is what Jesus meant when he asked, “Do you believe?” (Jn 11:25-28).

What Does It Mean to Believe?

posted by smcswain

parachutingTo believe, what does that mean?

To have faith, can you explain?

Faith, the capacity to believe, is an innate gift of Divine grace imparted to you at birth. In other words, you are a believer at birth.

How do I know this?

I was reminded of this as I awakened today. I went to sleep last night, as I have done 21,000-plus times before, knowing…believing…trusting…that I would awaken the next morning.

I did. You did, too.

I am often asked, “How can I trust God will take care of me?”  ”How might I be a stronger believer?”

Stop trying.

Whenever I “try” to go to sleep at night, I lie awake. When I let go of everything, however, I fall into sleep as effortlessly as a skydiver falls through the atmosphere.

The more you can let go of trying to control your life…your circumstances…your anxiety over how your going to make it…the more you practice just turning loose, closing your eyes, and then taking the leap, the more quickly you will discover, what I call, the parachute of Divine Presence.

Just when you feel you’re falling, you discover you’re flying

This is what it means to be a person of faith…beyond all beliefs.

This is what Jesus meant when he asked, “Do you believe?” (Jn 11:25-28).

Give Thanks in All Things! All Things? You’re Kidding, Right?

posted by smcswain

ThanksgivingSaint Paul said, “In everything, give thanks” (1 Thess. 5:17).

Yea right? Who does that? Give thanks for everything?  Really?  You’ve got to be kidding, Paul. Not one of your more inspiring moments, if you ask me.

For pleasures? Well, of course! For friends and family and good times! Yes. Yes. Of course, I give thanks for all those things and lots more.

That I have a job and my health? Yes. That the children seem to be doing well and the grandchildren are healthy and happy? Yes, yes. For all of this, I give thanks.

How could I not? But give thanks for everything? Come on!

Who does that? Who gives thanks for pain?  For disappointments? Like the one Rachel and Daniel must be feeling this morning? Two friends of mind whose two-year-old daughter is being buried today after losing her two-year fight with leukemia.

Talk about disappointing. Talk about a damn confusing and unfair turn of affairs. Then some wag like Saint Paul comes along and has the audacity to sing, “In everything, give thanks!” I hold my grandkids and smother their faces with my kisses and affection and think, “What if we were  having to bury one of them today?” Even the thought is repulsive.

And yet, even as I think this, my mind goes back almost two decades ago, on the eve of another Thanksgiving, I was giving the sermon at my father’s unexpected passing. I was trying to pretend I was able to handle this offense. I pretended to be strong and to have strong faith. I succeeded in holding it together for the weaker souls around me. But, all the while, I was raging inside.  Screaming out at the unfairness of life. Cursing fate, and close to cursing God, and doing almost anything inside but give thanks. I had nothing for which I felt thankful.

So, how does anybody make sense of the senselessness of Saint Paul’s words? How do you give thanks in all things? For all things?

Maybe there’s help here…

  1. Deny not what you feel right now.  If you’re in no mood to be thankful for all things, no need to pretend otherwise.  Know what it is you’re feeling right now about the situation you face. Give it a name. But, by all means, do not pretend to be thankful if you’re not.
  2. Accept that you are not now at the place where you can give thanks for much of anything. Do not shame yourself either. Accept instead who you are and what you’re feeling now.
  3. And, give yourself time. Time is a great healer of all wounds. I badly burned my hand as a child for example, when I disobeyed my mother’s warning to not put my hand on the electric stove. It was still scorching hot, she warned, even though the glow had turned gray. In defiance, however, I did anyway. I cannot tell you how excruciatingly painful it was and it lasted for days. But, in time, it subsided and my hand healed. So will you.
  4. This I know. You cannot imagine it now but, if you will permit yourself to feel whatever it is you feel today…if you will not judge yourself for feeling less thankful as Saint Paul, you will…in time…begin to see the hand of the Divine in and through everything that happens. And, something will begin to change in how you feel.

I know. I’ve been there.

There will come a day when you will find yourself giving thanks for the very thing that once caused you the greatest trouble…the deepest sorrow. There is a mystery here that I can neither explain nor explore.  I just know it to be true.

German theologian, Rudolf Otto called it the “Numinous” or the “Mysterium Tremendum.” A mystery that you will turn away from in fear and trembling, with questions and confusion; but, and this is the irony…the mystery, what you turn away from today, you turn toward tomorrow. What you repel today, you receive tomorrow. I cannot explain this. I just know it to be so.

On the eve of this Thanksgiving, I am giving thanks for everything. But you don’t have to. If you are not able to give thanks, then…

Know today…you don’t have to pretend.  You do not have to wear a smile you really don’t feel, just so everybody else will be comfortable. Know that it’s OK to not feel so grateful this Thanksgiving…to not feel like joining the chorus of praise.

My guess is, for some of you, just knowing THIS is enough to make you feel a little more grateful…

Isn’t it?  That’s enough, my friend. Think of it as the first note in what will someday be a song…

A Song of Thanksgiving.

Stepping into the Eternal…into Authentic Faith

posted by smcswain

stepAll structures…foundations…all pillars of faith….in other words, all beliefs are uncertain, temporary, and they are not…I repeat…they are not the source of authentic faith…

…if authentic faith is what you seek.

Faith is authentic…genuine…most real…when it has nothing upon which to stand. Which is why I’ve always liked the picture at the top of this page.  It is neither what you say nor what you claim that determines the genuineness of faith. It is instead your willingness to let go of everything…even every one of your closely held beliefs…and take one more step into the oblivion…

…the Oblivion that IS God.

When you can do this, my friend, you will no longer need anything to hold you up. No belief, no confession, no creed, as helpful and as “right” as any of them may be. For you will have made the grandest discovery of life – the Eternal in yourself.  It is that which takes hold of you.

The step you fear taking is, ironically, the step you need to take…you must take…into authentic faith.

So, let go of all attachments. Fall headlong into the authenticity of your own inner doubts. You will not go wrong. You will not lose your faith.  You will, paradoxically, find faith…find a foundation that you cannot see but will lift you up infinitely higher than any belief system ever could.

Which is, of course, why Jesus said, “He who would lose his life will find it” (Matt. 16:25).

I know. I’ve been there.

I took this step some years ago, and I continue doing so daily, not certain where it will ever lead, unsure of what will ever happen to me.

What I discover over and over again, however, is that the very thing I think I might lose, I actually find.

This, my friend, is the mystery of faith.

This, my friend, is the way to discover God.

When you take this step, you’ll have every reason imaginable to give thanks this Thanksgiving.

Hospital or Hotel? What IS the Church, Anymore?

posted by smcswain

hospital“If we devote ourselves to the effort to be real, the Universe in all its forms will find us, the way that wind finds leaves and waves find shore” – Mark Nepo.

“The effort to be real…”

That is my greatest ambition. Which is why I try very hard to write what’s in my heart, even if it is risky to express or painful to read. I want authenticity.

It’s so much easier to hide, isn’t it? You cannot imagine how many of my minister friends write me or say to me in a whisper, “So much of what you say I agree with but…”

And I know what’s coming next…

“If I said the things you say, I’d be without a job.”

And I want to say, “You think it has not been risky to me, or costly, to seek to be authentic…to be real?”

It would be much safer to be silent…to pretend to be and believe something else…

What should alarm all of us is that we have managed to create a Church where being authentic…being real…being yourself…is no longer an ambition to seek…a virtue to pursue…but an action that might just get you practically “excommunicated.”

So why would anyone be surprised that those who long to be whole…who wish to become complete must leave the Church to find health? Instead of the Church being a fitness gym where you can stretch and struggle and work out and get into spiritual shape, go into almost any church today and what you find is fast food, cappuccino Christianity.

Instead of hospital for sick souls, has the Church become a hotel for superficial saintliness?

Oh sure, there are exceptions to this. So drop the desire to defend your Church. I love the Church, too. But, I love authenticity a hell-of-a-lot more.

Shouldn’t we all?

How May I Know When I’m Truly Living By Faith?

posted by smcswain

You are thinking that what has happened to you is a “failure.” Right?

Think again.

Could it be, as someone has put it, that “what you perceive as a failure is simply life unfolding in a new direction?”

Can you wrap your mind around that question? Will you entertain this possibility?  That what you now feel is a huge setback is really just a step in a new direction?

In other words, what would happen if you viewed what was happening right now, not as some unwanted experience you must resist – which, of course, you are – but, instead, it is the very thing that must happen in order for Life itself to carry you toward your intended destiny?

Let me ask it another way:  Can you trust that your life is unfolding just as it is supposed to unfold? And, how do you know if you are now living from a place of trust? Peace and tranquility? Knowing inside, you cannot explain what’s happening, but you simply trust that life is as it should be?  How do you know when you are living by faith?

When you no longer have to ask the question.

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