Your Best Life Now

Your Best Life Now

Want to Grow in Your Faith?

posted by smcswain

growing in faith

A Tribute to My Father…

posted by smcswain

Spirituality

Looking for God Outside Yourself is Like…

posted by smcswain

Gold-Bars-in-Fort-Knox“If God is everywhere,” writes Fr. Richard Rohr, “then God is not anywhere exclusively.”

Hold this thought in your mind this day…no, everyday…and see what happens.

I suspect, among other things,

1. You will begin to honor spiritual truth wherever you find it – not just the truth which may come through your tribe or denomination or group. There is but one spiritual  truth, although it may be known in a myriad of varying ways. Be suspect of anyone who insists, “I hold the truth.” Truth cannot be contained.

2. True, you may hold strong beliefs or convictions for yourself. But, you will cling to none of them. Does that sound a bit like double-talk? That’s because it is. Most truth floats like a leaf on river of contradiction or paradox. It you will maintain a mind that is open to everything and attached to nothing, you will grow continually. If, on the other hand, when you assume you are right and that your beliefs no longer need questioning, you can be certain you have ceased to grow. Worse still, you are most likely living outside the truth you think you know.

3. Most important, “If God is everywhere…,” as of course God is, why would you look outside yourself today for the God who is near to you now…even within you?

Look no further, my friend…

You have all of God there is. God does not come to you in bits and pieces. So, let nothing…you inadequate religious instruction, your background or conditioning…let nothing create in you, the thought, as well as the anxiety such faulty thinking produces, that God must be sought in order to be found. The preacher who said, “Seek God while He may be found…” (Isa. 55:6) meant well. He just did not have all the facts. About this much, however, he IS right. “Now” not tomorrow…not sometime soon…”Now” is the moment to wake up to the realization, God need not be found. Nor must you seek God to find God.

You cannot find Who is not lost.

To look for God outside yourself is like panning for nuggets of gold while holding the keys to Fort Knox.

Live in the joy of Being herself. It IS your natural state of human existence. “Thanks be to God,” said Saint Paul, “who causes us to triumph in Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15).

What more could you want in life? This IS…

Your Best Life Now!

6 Questions Christians Should Just Start Asking…

posted by smcswain

Since the article I wrote a few weeks ago was released, “6 Things Christians Should Just Stop Saying,” I have received a myriad of emails and comments. Most have appreciated my awkward attempts to share my feelings and concerns about the state of Christianity today. Others, however, were not so appreciative. In fact, some were quite offended.

I meant no offense with the former article.

I mean no offense with this one.

I do feel, however, it is way past time for the Church to let go of its own collective ego and get real with life and faith and the big issues of our time. The Church is largely dying. This is true in many places. And even if you disagree with my assertion, I think you would agree the Church is declining, as well as going through dramatic changes, good and bad, and whatever emerges on the other side will likely be dramatically different from the Church we know today.

When I assert, however, that the Church is dying, I do not mean to convey the notion that the Church will disappear.

It won’t.

Meanwhile, however, the madness in the Church is escalating, as seen in the most remarks, for example, by Rev. David Barton in a recently recorded Sunday morning service. Barton, the evangelical preacher, said something to the effect, “You can’t be Christian and drink Starbucks Coffee because Starbucks supports gay marriage.”

At first, I thought, “You’re kidding, right?”

He wasn’t.

Then, I thought, “You didn’t just say what I heard you say?”

He did.

Then, I thought, “You mean I can’t be a Christian and have a Bud Light occasionally or shop at Target (my wife’s favorite store) or J. C. Penny’s or … What’s this? … Not at Amazon either?”

“What, you mean I’ve gotta give up my Levi jeans? Is that what you really just said? Expedia, too? Because last I checked, they ALL support gay marriage.”

You can see perhaps why I have now six questions Christians should just start asking.

1. Why would it surprise any Christian that the Church has squandered its prophetic voice when buying a cup of coffee from a company that supports gay marriage is now the criteria by which we are to judge the genuineness of one’s faith?

I mean, really! Is this what it comes down to now?

I have more questions…

2. Why are there more atheists in cultures and countries where Christianity is the predominant religion? Has something gone terribly wrong with Christianity?

I would say, “No. There’s nothing ‘wrong’ with Christianity. But yes, something seems to have gone terribly wrong within the many denominational expressions of Christianity.”

3. Why are the numbers of those leaving organized religion in Christianity outpacing the number of those uniting with the Christian religion here in America by almost two to one?

And, why do most Christian leaders, when asked how to explain this anomaly, almost always suggest there is something wrong with those leaving instead of asking, “Is there something wrong with us who are staying?”

4. How can our new Pope Francis — the venerable pope himself — say that in the end everyone will be “saved” only to have the Vatican’s “Damage Control Department” quickly explain that the pope did not really mean what he said?

Really?

You think that correcting the pope’s theology increases the credibility of your own?

Oh, come on. You’re not that stupid, are you? And if you are, why would you be surprised — for that matter, why would any church be surprised — when the world takes what it says these days with about as much seriousness as it does the entertainer Rush Limbaugh?

He’s a comedy show. The Church is becoming so.

5. Why do Christians who say they they take the Bible literally insist that Jesus was saying in John 14:6 that he was literally the only way to God, but then overlook applying the same literalist logic to John 10:16 where Jesus says, “I have sheep that are not of this fold”?

Using the Bible as a proof text to support your theological biases is just that: “using” the Bible. It leads to all sorts of abuse and misuse of what should be regarded, but not worshipped, as a sacred guide pointing beyond itself to God herself. Yes, “her-self.” See what I mean? When you bring to the Bible your assumptions and biases, you interpret the Bible through your own lenses, instead of the other way around. This IS the history of Christianity and why there are something like 30,000 different Christian denominations in America alone. Has it ever occurred to you what distinguishes each of these denominations, one from the other?

Each one believes it is just a little more “right” than the 29,999 others.

And then, there is question No. 6. Admittedly, there are a dozen other equally good questions I could have noted here. You might have a few of your own you would add in the “Comment” section. Maybe some Christian leader somewhere is paying attention, instead of always looking for a fight or pretending to believe in a Church that has clearly gone mad.

Question No. 6 I’ve included for those of you who too quickly assume I’m some enemy of the Church. If that makes you feel better, then believe that lie. The fact is, I love the Church, with all its flaws. Hell, how could I not? I’ve got plenty of flaws myself. And like the Church or not, it is in-and-through the Church that I have experienced God…whoever or whatever God is.

Which leads me to say, hard-nosed atheists, and there are plenty of them around, share much in common, in terms of their narrowness and arrogance, with religious fundamentalists, Christians, Muslims, etc.  Anymore, when I meet mean people, or mean people leave mean-spirited comments in posts like this, I know I’m likely meeting an atheist whose arrogance has left him delusional or a fundamentalist whose angry and afraid about almost everything.

6. Why do many of those who have left the Church largely because of the narrow intolerance they experienced there, frequently turn around and show the same narrow intolerance toward the Church they left?

Is that fair? Or Christian? Leave the Church, if you feel you must. But let go of your resentment — your own critical spirit — because, if you don’t, what good has leaving done you?

Have any questions of your own? Or any answers? Share them.

This is Your Best Life Now!

Sinner’s in the Hands of an Angry God!

posted by smcswain

sinners“Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God!”

Yes, that WAS the title of a sermon given by Jonathan Edwards in the 18th century.

The title has changed over the years; the message has remained the same.

You are a sinner.
To be a sinner is bad.
Jesus suffered God’s anger so your sins could be covered.
If you repent, you’ll be saved.
You’ll live in heaven when you die and avoid hell.

In recent years, I have come to see, not so much the fallacy of this theological logic, just its inadequacy. Maybe this kind of believing…maybe this kind of red-faced, perspiration-producing, stroke-inducing preaching from behind Christian pulpits or, worse, on busy street corners…maybe it served some necessary function at one time in our history. Highly debatable, I concede, but maybe, in some twisted way, it was helpful…that’s all I’m saying.

What’s abundantly clear is this: If it ever was, it no longer is.

The word “sin” is rich in meaning. It is, as are many words, a “picture” word, meaning “to miss the mark.” It points to an archer who aims his arrow at a target but he misses or fails to reach it.

The tragedy of the human experience is not that, if you do not get your nasty, sinful, and hell-deserving condition cleaned up…that is, “under the blood,” as it was often described in the days of my youth, you’ll suffer eternal conscious torment in a literal hell one day. And, deservedly so. Because, if you end up in hell, as the preacher’s reminded us, “it isn’t because God sent you there…you sent yourself.” In other words, if you don’t get “saved,” you’ll be eternally lost, damned to hell itself, and both because you elected that destiny for yourself.

Silly, shallow logic but it made sense to the limited minds of my youth. Heck, I used to preach that same stuff myself. I’m embarrassed to admit it today, but I did nonetheless.

As Maya Angelou loves to say, “When you know better, you do better.”

The real human tragedy is actually worse than the way it was preached by Jonathan Edwards…worse than the way many preachers and priests still preach it today. That tragedy is this: that you and I could live our lives…stuck, as it were, in a limited understanding as to why we are here on earth and so never quite figure out the meaning of our lives…that is, never quite get the point of human existence…the point of our own existence. That we might actually “miss the target,” miss THE point of our lives.

I’ve been reading a new book by Fr. Richard Rohr. This guy gets it. And, he states it infinitely better than I ever could that there are two movements to life. In the first half, it’s all about us. The second half is about…or, should be about, getting outside of this “all about me” problem we call “sin” or, the better word today, “ego.” His book, and one I would highly recommend you add to your summer reading list – after, of course, you’ve read The Enoch Factor:) is entitled, Falling Upward: Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life.

“The most counterintuitive message,” writes Rohr, “in most of the world’s religions, including and most especially in Christianity…is this: that we grow spiritually much more by doing it wrong than by doing it right.”

In other words, to be a sinner is not a bad thing, but a good thing indeed.

How’s that for a radically different way of looking at your “fallen” condition…what Catholics and Evangelicals refer to as “original sin?”

Your condition is not something God hates. Or, that God is seething over and, as a consequence, had to send His innocent Son to be His “bully pulpit” and appease His wrath.

Instead, the recognition of your condition, the acknowledgment of my condition, is first simply the inner awareness that, during the first half of my life, it really was all about me. I was “into” the fulfillment of my own ego needs for recognition, for advancement, for rewards that came in the form of big pay checks, a pregnant retirement account, a name for myself and, not only this, but even my religious life was all about securing for myself an eternal destiny that would, in the end, preserve “ME” in heaven forever. Heck, I worked to even have a few trophies up there.

Second, it is the recognition that, in the second half of life, I am all about dying BEFORE I die…I’m all about living a resurrected…connected…compassionate…and conscious life now. I’m all about the death of the ego now, so that “the power of the resurrection,” about which Saint Paul spoke, becomes more and more a living reality today (Phil. 3:10).

Conversion, salvation, enlightenment…you can call this “SHIFT” in consciousness – which simply means “awareness” or “understanding” – every religions has its own cultural way of explaining what happens when, after missing the point of human existence for much of my life, the shift occurs and, from point onward, you think differently, live differently, view the world differently.  Everything changes. You could not go back if you wanted to. In fact, it would never even occur to you to go back, any more than it occurred to the woman at the well whose life shifted after meeting Jesus (John 4).

You remember the story. She came to Jacob’s Well with bucket in hand to carry water back to her home.  After meeting Jesus…after having experienced a “shift” in her own consciousness, she returned to the city but left her bucket beside the well.

Why?

It would no longer be necessary. She carried the “well” back with her…in her.

For me, the shift came one Sunday afternoon several years ago now, while I was reclining on the living room sofa, beer in one hand, remote in the other.

Suddenly, I just woke up.

If you have not yet awakened…or experienced this shift in consciousness, my story will make no sense to you whatsoever. If you have, few things make more sense.

Do not seek this shift.

Why?

It isn’t necessary. Life will bring it to you when you are ready. This is what the Bible means by “grace.” Grace and salvation or enlightenment is all about God. Religion is all about the ego…doing it on your own…earning your place in heaven.

The shift will come to you…when you’re ready. Being “Christian”…being “righteous”…or, being “enlightened,” is not something you do. It is something DONE unto you.

If it has not yet occurred, it will. I promise. If you’re concerned about when it’ll come, I’d be inclined to say, it has happened to you already. But you are again allowing the ego in you to do whatever it can to keep you from acknowledging the change…the shift…because, if it can divert you and so get you to continually look for God, it will have succeeded in edging God out – e g o – and, this need not happen to you, my friend.

God is not difficult to find. God is impossible to ignore.

If the shift has occurred in you, then you are nodding your head in agreement with what I’m writing about today. You are saying to yourself, “That’s it! What you describe is what’s happened to me.”

Then, give thanks this day, my friend.

But then, I know you will.

How could you do anything less?

Who Are You?…

posted by smcswain

Who are you?

I think I will have to respond like this:

“When I left America for Europe on my first trip around the world, I left as a Baptist Christian.

When, in Europe, however, I realized I was really more than just a Baptist Christian, I was a Catholic Christian, too.

But that was before visiting the Middle East where I became a cross between a Jew and a Muslim…

Until, of course, we visited India where I realized I had been a Hindu all along;

Until we visited Japan where it all became clear: I’m really a Buddhist.

When I finally returned to America, I realized, “I am all of these religions and still a Christian, too. In fact, I’m pretty sure I am more Christian today than I’ve ever been before.”

So today, I suppose I would have to identify myself as a Jew, a Muslim, a Hindu, a Buddhist, a Catholic and Baptist Christian who has never…ever…I repeat…never…ever…stopped loving Jesus or seeking to follow him…

I don’t think I ever will.”

So, who are you?

What is TRUE Spirituality?

posted by smcswain

SpiritualityFor much of my Christian life, I confessed Jesus and so pursued some kind of spiritual life. It was not because I was all that interested in overcoming the self-centeredness that WAS my life…my up and down emotional states…my negative thinking about others…my pursuits, interests, and ambitions, virtually all of which were all about my hopes and dreams. The fact is, my life was pretty much about ME.

I largely pursued spirituality for what I felt were its beneficial outcomes for me, especially the one about escaping hell and making heaven.

What I did not know in those days is that I, like most people, was thoroughly controlled by my own ego – the very illusory thing Jesus sought to show us how to overcome…that very inner entity that almost all spiritual teachers tried to bring to our awareness and so enable us to overcome.

It is the ego in you that is the false self – not a “bad” self just not your best “self” or even your most “real” self. It is the self we must move beyond or else our spirituality is cheapened into some kind of insurance policy for the world to come. Or, little more than some cheap attachment or sacred substitute here.

And, why is this? Because it is the ego in you that wants to survive. The real you is eternal – most of Christian history it has been called the “soul.” But think not of the “soul” as some of invisible image of the best ego you! Which is, of course, how most of us think of the soul. Just the best part of me. So I stand in the mirror and look at my body and mistakenly think that, in death, the soul…the best mirrored image of me…is what survives.

My friend you are going to die and with it, all attachments of the ego you. And, that includes the “body” image, too.

The ego in you dies, too. Which is, of course, why it tries hard, and believe me it has been quite successful with Christians, to attach itself to the future…to get you all wrapped up in things…even “religious” things…beliefs…doctrines, none of which are evil – they are all just beautiful expressions of what we believe. But, if the ego can divert our attention away from that toward which all doctrines point so that we invest our doctrines with our imaginary hopes and illusory selves, then of course it makes sense that, when people question or challenge our doctrines, we would feel reactionary and defensive.

Such things we take personal.

And, why do we?

Because we’re still under the illusion we ARE these beliefs…we ARE our attachments to all things spiritual, including our beliefs in heaven or hell.

But, Jesus said, “Deny yourself” (Matt. 16:24) – not “Deny yourSOUL” – the real you…the eternal you…the YOU in ONENESS with ONENESS herself. No, what he was saying is, “Detach” – that’s Buddha’s word. Jesus used “Deny.” The same pointer toward the same outcome. Just words.

Don’t get attached to words. Another ego thing. Buddha called all attachments – emptiness. He said to let go of all emptiness. Which is, of course, the illusion. All attachments are “emptiness.” How do you hold on to nothing? The ego tries.

Jesus described all attachments as “the laying up treasures on earth where moth doth corrupt and destroy” (Matt. 6:29). Same truth. Different pointer. If you think he was talking only about money and possessions, you’ve missed his point entirely. “You cannot serve two masters, God and mammon simultaneously” (Matt. 6:24). Mammon is any attachment. Even an attachment to some “sacred” belief or doctrine.

What is TRUE SPIRITUALITY?

Father Richard Rohr says, “True spirituality is not a search for perfection or control or the door to the next world; it is a search for divine union now” (The Naked Now, p. 16).

This then may be the test of genuine spirituality in your own life. I cannot say this for sure. But, I might be onto something here:

The test of true spirituality is whether you are more and more interested in NOW and living with fewer and fewer attachments while, at one-and-the-same-time, less and less interested in the future that Jesus said “Take no thought of anyway” (Matt. 6:33-34) with its illusions of golden streets and jasper walls and palaces for all who’ve believed correctly…

For those like US…for those like ME.

It’s all about ME…

And US, isn’t it?

Or, is it?

Or, is it just EGO?

Just sayin!

The Return of the Twinkie…

posted by smcswain

twinkiesI was asked this morning by one of my Facebook friends from Australia, “Steve, what’s a Twinkie?”

At first, I thought he was joking. Who does not know, and miss, the Hostess Twinkie?

He wasn’t joking. He really wanted to know, as he had only ever heard of them but had never eaten or enjoyed one. Nor had he ever even seen one.  I sent him the picture of a Twinkie.

What simple pleasures you and I may enjoy, as well as take for granted, and all the while there are others who have no idea…they can only imagine.

All of this reminded me of those many days, even years, when I looked for the return of Christ.

Many Christians still do.

As for me, I had the charts, the plans, even the graphs. I carried them with me. I could quote scripture and verse and link both to the world events unfolding right before our eyes and just as predicted long ago. I knew Hal Lindsay’s “Late Great Planet Earth” as well as he did. Had I been a fictional writer, I could have gotten rich on a Left Behind series of books and movies long before Tim LaHaye did. Think of the warehouses of Twinkies my riches could have helped stored away before the Hostess stock tumbled and the plants all shut down.

I could have been the modern day Joseph. They could have called me Twinkie Savior, for I would have been the only wise soul in the barren land we call America who had the foresight to store away Twinkies before the days of trouble arrived.

What is it that you look for? Long for?

Still looking for a bodily return of Jesus?

Good luck with that.

After a couple of “hits and misses” with “The Rapture of Jesus” charts I used to carry around – with all its predictions..speculations…anxieties and anticipations…and, of course, its antichrists. Yes, there were plenty of those…first it was the Russian President Khrushchev, then it was our own John F. Kennedy – if you recall, he was a “Catholic” and the Protestants and suspicious Evangelicals were certain there had to be some connection between him and the Antichrist.

Wrong.

So then, it was Henry Kissinger – the accent gave him away.

I finally decided the charts I was carrying around were not as reliable as I thought. Besides, Hal Lindsay had been saying that a generation was forty years, or approximately forty. Further, that Jesus would return at the conclusion of that generation after Israel was re-established as a recognized state. That happened, if you recall, in 1948.

When 1988 came and went and Jesus had not returned, I decided Hal Lindsay and the Tim LaHayes knew about as much as I did about the return of Jesus.

Nothing.

In time, I gave up all those silly, unreliable notions I was raised to believe. Besides, I no longer need the bodily return of Jesus.

Why would I?

If the Eternal Christ is alive to you already, what more could you possibly need? You only look for that which you do not have.

Which is why I still, from time to time, go in a convenient store and, as I’ve done hundreds of times before, looked for the Hostess Twinkies.

Today, I can do without the Twinkies.

Just as I can do without a bodily return of Jesus.

Why would you need a Twinkie when you could carry the Hostess plant in your heart? That’s essentially the same reason why the Samaritan Woman at the Well (John 4) left her bucket after meeting Jesus and returned to the city without it.

Why would she do that?

Because, when you carry the Eternal Well within you, you no longer need an empty bucket.

No, my friend, I no longer feel the need to look for what has found me already?

And, when what has found me, finds you – and that’s one certainty I think you can count on – you’ll know what I mean. It will all be clear then. Which is why, when it finally dawned on Rob Bell, he had no choice but to write and say, “In the end, my friends, LOVE WINS.”

Meanwhile, if you need to pray for the return of anything?…

Pray for the return of the Hostess Twinkie.

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