Monthly Archives: January 2017

Honoring the Legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

At this time in January, there’s a focus on the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.  Much is said and written about honoring the man for the ideas for which he stood and put his life at risk.  Much is made of the “legacy” he left us.  However, little is said about his legacy not being self-activating.  If there’s a reason for the continuation of the issues to which MLK Jr. devoted his life it lies in his legacy not being self-activating.  If there’s a reason for the tenacity of these issues it lies in the fact that MLK Jr. focused not exclusively upon symptoms but also upon root causes.  If we are to enjoy the benefits of expanding success in the field of social justice, we must join him in his focus upon root cause.

If we are to be beneficiaries of MLK Jr.’s generosity, we cannot look upon his legacy with passivity nor ignore root causes while legislating against symptoms we seek to address by merely banishing them from view.  We cannot honor him merely with words, especially not words voiced only once a year, but not even words voiced throughout the year in the form of legislation and regulations, policies and principles.  More than words are needed to receive the legacy MLK Jr. left us.  More than legislation is required to carry it forward to give birth to its promise and nurture it to maturity.

To reap the generosity MLK Jr. had in mind when he devoted his life to leading us together into doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with God, we too must walk in whatever way God shows us to walk today to address at their root causes the issues that continue to need addressing.  Opportunities to do so abound.  That we might not be gifted as an orator does not excuse us from finding our own gifts and devoting them to service to address the issues MLK Jr. addressed.  If we truly want to fully honor him, we must ensure that he did not die in vain.  To do so, we must look deep into the heart of the messages he left us and find concrete ways to address at their root cause the issues he identified.  MLK Jr. espoused grand ideas that inspired his followers to act upon them.  We can likewise give life to those ideas through our own actions as we invest our gifts in the same field of social justice in which MLK Jr. invested his.

When MLK Jr. was assassinated, his field of ministry was expanding.  He saw the need to include the needs of all people in the implementation of justice and mercy throughout the nation and beyond it.  Our vision of the possibilities of service must likewise be expansive and yet can be as localized as MLK Jr.’s actions often were.  Although his thinking was expanding globally, his actions usually focused locally.  Where and when he was is where and when he took his stand.  Where and when we are is where and when we can likewise take our stands for justice, mercy and equality under God’s dominion. He endeavored to see issues from God’s heavenly and eternal perspective and yet take action from within humankind’s experiences in the here and now.  He sought to elevate service by people towards other people as sacred acts of justice, mercy and love.  He saw within the specific and concrete actions taken by people the redeeming brilliance of abstract ideals that God has espoused for millennia.

One example of this interplay between the concrete and the abstract, between the specific and the general, between the fully human and the fully divine, will illustrate my point about how we may yet more comprehensively honor MLK Jr.’s legacy by investing our lives fully and meaningfully in the here and now.  Of the many visionary ideas MLK Jr. left us to consider was one captured in his declaration, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”  (I Have a Dream Speech, August 28, 1963.)  If we examine this abstract idea with clear minds and hearts, we will see how to implement it in concrete, specific ways.

As a side note, it’s interesting that discussions about the meaning of this ideal tend to focus upon the nature, origin and dynamics of racial discrimination.  Yet, today in the US we face continued if not increased racial discrimination, often more covertly practiced than before but not diminished. All of the discussions about it have produced discouragingly little lasting fruit.  This failure to bear abundant fruit has even soured some people on the idea of civil rights, as if it’s not ever going to be possible to adequately dispel racial discrimination and disharmony in our nation.  I offer up here the idea that the goal of reducing racial discrimination and disharmony to the point of dispelling both entirely (or at least to socially negligible proportion) remains viable if and only if we address the root cause of discrimination and disharmony, not only such as are based on color of skin but also such as are based on any other superficial factor inherent in the human race.

I propose that to honor MLK Jr.’s legacy fully will result in reducing discrimination and disharmony across the board for all excuses any person gives for discriminating unjustly or promoting disharmony unproductively.  Root cause!  MLK Jr. identified the root cause of racial discrimination (and, I propose, all forms of invidious discrimination) in his declaration about his hoped-for future for his children. But we have studiously avoided focusing on what he said in this regard because we are uncomfortable with the idea of addressing the root cause.  To remain comfortable within our familiar territory, we have learned to tolerate the continuation of discrimination in an array of forms and turn a blind eye to it rather than address it.

Admittedly it is challenging to address the root cause of discrimination because doing so requires that every one of us take stock of an aspect of ourselves we have little skill at (or stomach) for evaluating and addressing.  However, if we are to fully honor the legacy MLK Jr. died to leave to us, we will take stock of “the content of [our] character” and engage in upgrading our character’s content and nature until we’ve purged ourselves of all character weaknesses and cease to perceive, think, feel, decide and act under the influence of our former weaknesses.  Building strong, resourceful and responsible characters requires effort, self-discipline and determination to succeed at any cost.  It’s much easier to intellectually debate the nature, origins and dynamics of racial discrimination for centuries than to devote the next decades to gut-wrenching, heart-rending character-building, with its requirements for humility, honesty and vulnerability and its ongoing need for self-monitoring and self-discipline.

We have the capacity for humility, honesty and vulnerability as well as self-monitoring and self-discipline.  But these are not traits of humanity that insist upon their existence in the modern era within which survival and advancement according to modern criteria are based on an opposite set of values, priorities, attitudes and skill set.  To build characters worthy of honoring, we must resolve not to conform to the ways of modern culture and instead sink the roots of our lives resolutely in the soil of deeper concerns, values and priorities than those to which our modern culture subscribes — and develop attitudes and skills not promoted by our culture as survival skills.  We must cease to be dedicated to the preservation of the status quo – because the status quo is betraying our character and revealing us to be weak in our resolves about doing better.

The opposite of sound character is hypocrisy.  Models of social success based on hypocrisy abound around us.  Models of sound character valued at any cost are not necessarily non-existent but they are largely buried in fiction and considered fanciful and impractical or are buried beneath the hype by which hypocrisy is sensationalized and promoted as the more reliable route to fame and fortune.  Messages about the value of sound character are lost amid the media’s glamorizing of hypocrites who sell their souls to gain the world’s acclaim, show off their wealth and regale in their social status. The media amplifies self-promoting blowhards and windbags while largely overlooking their alternatives of sounder character.  There is no silence of the hams nor inclination of the media to refuse to serve them up to the public as a constant diet.  And the eagerness of the public to feed their minds according to the media’s dietary plan reflects a lack of sound character among the fragile public whose hearts fix upon false idols that glitter and may even be gold but are never God.

When we have created public as well as private programs to promote sound character among ourselves and our children and immersed ourselves within them with utmost determination until we emerge transformed by a renewal of our hearts and minds, we will continue to suffer from racial discrimination and disharmony and all other forms of injustice.  Should we insist that others engage in character-transforming programs for as long as it takes to emerge transformed?  No, because going against a person’s free will is not likely to bring about deep and lasting change within that person.  Yet, we can develop such programs, ourselves voluntarily participate in them and simultaneously offer them to all who are willing to explore them.  If we do so, the fruits of such participation will be self-evident and the role models who emerge from these programs will cause skeptics to pay attention and bid them drift ever closer to participating themselves.

One day all hypocrisy (and its close cousins dishonesty and violence) will disappear from our national character because we have resolutely weeded it out from our individual characters one opportunity, one issue and one person at a time until the pattern of generalized character sustainability takes hold.  Just as a field of weeds springs from individual weed seeds so, too, does a field of honor, integrity, health, peace and goodwill among all peoples spring from individual seeds who decide to become one with and to express that crop throughout all relationships in their lives.  The miracle of such a social justice transformation beckons us to heed the vision Martin Luther King Jr. once held out to us.  He holds it out to us even now as we re-read his words and take them into our hearts at the depth from which they emerged from his.

© Art Nicol 2017

The Racket of Modern Culture’s Din of Thieves

In Chapter 21 of his account of Jesus’ ministry, Matthew preserves a story about Jesus’ confrontation of hypocrites who had converted his Father’s house (or temple) from a reminder of God’s abiding presence with us into a den of thieves as if God had abandoned us to their thieving ways.  Having received the benefit of Jesus’ insights into the nature of our Heavenly Parent and His/Her abiding presence internally within all of us universally rather than limited to one specific external building, we are today confronted with another form of culture-wide hypocrisy.  Now we are confronted by the reality that our Father’s house is occupied by a din of thieves, a racket caused by racketeering.  Our Father’s house or temple is the convergence of our hearts and minds as the holy venue within which God makes Himself/Herself known to us.  In this modern era, hypocrites have conspired to occupy this venue with a racket that drowns out the still, small voice of God speaking unceasingly within us but unheard above the din of thieves.

It is time to throw out the din of thieves and listen to God’s Spirit within the silence that ensues.  The racket is a racket, the means of racketeering by which those who have no respect for our Creator Father/Mother have taken over our minds and hearts with false worries and concerns that are totally within the power of our Divine Parent to address if only we’d allow Him/Her to do so.  The din of thieves calls to us to put our trust in whatever the hypocrites are hawking as their current goods and services.  Racketeering is a business enterprise based on creating a false sense of need and then meeting that need.  Today we are surrounded by them.  That they increasingly plague us at every turn is eloquently demonstrated by the Internet gurus’ infinite capacity to devise ways to catch our attention and relentlessly pursue us according to our personal vulnerabilities.

The pursuit of our hearts and minds began with the pitch, “Be the first on your block to own XYZ.”  Now it has escalated to the mad rush for doorbusters to beat the crowd to marketplace bargains. It continues to escalate with personal apps to allow us instant access to all the nonsense we can stomach. To possess what we do not need and satisfy falsely generated cravings, we rush away from our hearts and lose our minds within the clutches of addictive lifestyles promoted by the din of thieves.  We are robbed of our peace of mind and joy of heart by our investment in trinkets to sacrifice to our false gods.  The only sacrifice we are making is the sacrifice of truth upon the altar of the ego’s lies.  We even pride ourselves in our proficiency at accumulating such invaluables at the lowest possible cost to our bank accounts, disregarding the cost to the quality of our lives.

We can cease to believe in the racketeering enterprises and throw out the din of thieves from our lives – if we choose to do so.  Old-fashioned racketeers would threaten us with broken knee caps if we did not pay the premium for keeping the knee-cap bashers away from us.  First such racketeers created the “problem” of broken knee caps and then offered their solution, a solution profitable to them.  Today we are surrounded by many such rackets by which we are offered solutions to problems that the din of thieves creates.  For example, we are offered drugs, entertainment and possessions – legally distributed and illegally distributed – to soothe our anxieties and distract us from our fears of otherwise living lives devoid of meaning, purpose or direction.  Having followed the crowds who have become mesmerized by the din of thieves, we find ourselves robbed of lives worth living.  In our adolescence, just when we are designed by our developmentally blossoming divinity to plunge ever deeper into life’s amazing adventure, we find ourselves misdirected by pressures to conform to the shallow ways of modern society.  Amid the din of thieves we find it almost impossible to think for ourselves or to think at all.  So we succumb to the group-non-think of the masses and “go along to get along.”  We fear rocking the boat because we know what happened to Jesus when he confronted the moneyed powers in the marketplace our Father’s house had become.  So we remain in our arrested development seemingly unable to move beyond adolescent issues and fail to attain truly enriching and rewarding maturity.

We focus too much upon the crucifixion and ignore the resurrection.  Do the hypocrites have the last word when they crucify the Word made flesh?  Did they with Jesus?  Will they with you and me?  The hypocrites who generate the din and cause a great racket throughout our culture are amplified by technology, but technology is not divine nor is it eternal.  Being neutral, neither inherently “good” or “evil,” technology offers opportunities to channel energy to generate distractions that occupy and destroy our hearts and minds or to share ideas that nurture them.  To which use are you putting technology?

In which direction are you focusing the receptive qualities of your heart and mind? Are you devoted to participating in the din of thieves or to participating in the peace of God that both surpasses all understanding and passes divine understanding onto us for our health and benefit?  Into whose hands do you commend your spirit when you feel threatened by crucifixion on account of having dared to think for yourself?  Do you put your mind and heart upon the things of God or upon the things of humankind?  Do you render what is God’s unto God or unto the Caesars of this world?  Do you honor yourself, your gifts and your life’s opportunities as ultimately God’s and devote them to God’s service or do you declare them to be merely mortal attributes that live no longer than your body lives and waste them carelessly?

Amid the din of thieves, there comes a time for every man, woman and child to decide with whom and for what he or she stands.  If the present din of thieves has become so overwhelming as to confront you with its hypocrisy . . .   If you can no longer hide from the fact of the hypocrisy that has overtaken our society . . . Weep not.  Fear not.  For behold once again there is good news from heaven, news from within the core of your being.  If you feel it now as your read this message, rejoice . . . for it is God’s love for you that you sense within you.  It is the energy of love rising up to greet a new day as it dawns within your heart and mind.  God has not forgotten you. Nor has He/She forgotten promises made to you from the beginning of time.  Now is the time for Eternity to come to Earth as it calls us all to gather as God’s people – as one in Spirit and in Truth, as divine beings of love here to gather in celebration of the reality of God’s grace singing out amid the din of thieves and lifting our hearts and minds beyond it.

As Christ once threw out money-changers from his Father’s house, let us now allow the Christ of our beings to throw out the memory-changers from our hearts and minds and once again remember who we are.  Who we are to God is who we are – to ourselves and to each other.  Thanks be to our Father/Mother who art in heaven.

© Art Nicol 2017

 

Spirit’s Goal is to Accurately Name not Distractively Blame

Within the current political atmosphere in the US and beyond, there’s a blinding smog preventing us from effectively addressing social issues that have been neglected for generations.  This smog arises from deeply buried smoldering grievances, much as physical smog arises from smoldering fires in a peat bog.   It also arises collectively from many tiny sources too, much as the exhausts of millions of cars combine to create smog in our cities.  So long as we tend the fires of our grievances collectively and individually, we will continue to be plagued by this blinding smog and fail to see our way clear to address social issues we otherwise have the power – collectively and individually – to address.

Throughout history human beings have avoided our responsibility for the failings of our societies to care for all members of our societies.  When these fails come glaringly to light and we feel compelled to address them, we fail to address them with clarity at their root cause.  We lack clarity due to the smog generated by the root cause’s smoke-generating schemes.  The root cause of our social ills prefers to remain hidden beneath our awareness, protected from being seen for what it is.  Its means of hiding are myriad.  In addition to generous outpourings of propaganda, one of its primary tactics is creating diversions by which to divert the attention of our minds to focus on false causes for social ills.  Blaming a few (or small subclass of) individuals for our social ills is one of those diversions that has proven effective throughout history.

For example, before World War II, fascists convinced many to blame Jews (and others classified as social undesirables or “deviants”) for society’s ills.  After WW II, the winners went to great lengths to identify a few individuals as “war criminals” as a way to mollify the populace’s passion for revenge that arose from grievances experienced by members of all nations involved.  Both before and after WW II, the system of assigning blame remained unchanged. Only the targets of blame changed.  After the war, in our early stage of grief known as “anger” (a natural but not permanent reaction to pain), we cried out for named objects of hate to be tried and condemned at Nuremburg.  We sought to name and blame a few for the harm caused by many.  Seeking scapegoats to counterbalance heroes, as ego always does, we sought to isolate the few “bad apples” from the barrel.  In doing so, we studiously avoided looking for the root cause by which to explain why the many “good apples” had gone along with the few “bad” ones to carry out their orders.  We failed to seek to understand why people will join in becoming cruel instruments of injustice – why a few “bad” apples can spoil a barrel.  We preferred to blame all injustices and associated cruelties that arose on account of hard-heartedness on a few rather than to examine our own hearts for dormant seeds of the same hard-heartedness.

For the sake of society’s welfare, we need to individually remove the dormant as well as activated seeds of hard-heartedness from our hearts.  We all start out as tenderhearted infants who are vulnerable to pain.  Pain sows seeds of resentment that can support a later crop of bitterness and vengeance.  We need to master the art of grieving to prevent resentments from taking root and creating a crop we regret cultivating and harvesting.  Unexamined hearts can become breeding grounds for resentment and support a crop of bitter fruit.  For our own sake and the sake of our families and the greater communities within which we participate and exercise influence, we must relentlessly weed out the grievances buried in our hearts before they put down roots, grow to maturity, go to seed and spread to other hearts.  Societies in which bullying, cruelty and injustice produce painful experiences for all of us are greatly in need of weeding.  It is futile to weed out the individuals we blame for the social violence and injustice we abhor.  We must take responsibility for our own individual roles in promoting such violence and injustice rather than try to shift the responsibility to others as the ego seeks to do.

If ever we are to enjoy living in a society in which we judge each other not by the color of our skins (or any other external demographic), we must focus upon cultivating the content of our characters.  Examining our hearts for unreleased pain and grievances and ensuring that they are progressively released is essential to our creation and preservation of strong, resilient, honest and trustworthy characters and their resulting healthy, mutually caring society. This symbiotic ideal of individual character and collective society is within our reach even now.  We reach it not by protesting against or resisting those our egos would like to blame for the unaddressed social ills we abhor.  We reach it by climbing together along the upward-bound path of grieving with its steadfast belief in – and receipt and use of – the healing power of forgiveness and the gift of love that inspires and fuels it.  The upward path is strewn with fragrant flowers of empathy and compassion for those whose past experiences of pain have hardened their hearts against those they want to blame.  The blame game is a game only losers play because everyone who plays it loses.  Regardless of the loudest proclamations to the contrary, there are no winners in this game’s downward spiral of guilt and blame.  In this game, we all go down the drain together.

We can do better than blame others for not growing more mature and for instead holding onto and cherishing their pain as if it is essential to their identity.  We can model our own progressive growth towards greater maturity and wisdom through our openness of empathy, compassion and forgiveness until it shines a radiance that warms and softens their hearts as well as ours.  We are all one heart, one mind and one humanity.  There is no escaping that reality.  Wise folks cease to try to escape.  Instead they accept their parts within the human race and do their best to shine with authenticity, integrity, humility and wisdom while living among us.  They are the incarnate gospel no matter whether they claim a religious path of faith or disavow all religions in their path of faith.

Let us dare to name the ego as the root cause of our social ills and address it effectively rather than continue to distract ourselves by blaming a few individuals who represent the ego so relentlessly and openly. These “others” are our sisters and brothers in the human family. They merely represent in more exaggerated ways what our own resentments and grievances may one day cause us to become if we do not heal and nurture our hearts as we are today empowered by love to do.

The smog generated by fear’s fiercely burning conflagrations need not blind us.  We know better than to breathe it in.  From within us arises a refreshing breeze of Love that casts out all fear. In that breeze we may live and move and have our being as Love would have us be no matter how momentarily surrounded by the ego’s lies and half-truths we may be.  We can soar on the wings of eagles and run and not be weary . . . because we trust in the Source of Love from whence we all arise.  Even those of us who have forgotten the true nature of our Source and, for a time, may mistakenly blame our Source for our social ills can gain clarity of sight by participating in the healing of our hearts and land.  Just as we have participated in generating the smog together we can participate in clearing it away by dousing the grievances of our own hearts with the healing waters of forgiveness and love.

© Art Nicol 2017