Category Archives: From Violence to Peace

Essays about the transition from the prevailing culture of violence imposed upon humanity by our egos to a culture of peace to which we are invited by the Spirit of Love.

The Fallacy of One-upmanship

“It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”
Jiddu Krishnamurt

As modern society became increasingly competitive, we adopted as one of ego’s justifications for competitive modes of living the “survival of the fittest” aspect of Darwin’s theory of evolution.  We thereby chose to glorify one-upmanship as the wave of our future.  Competition became a dominant theme in economic life as well as personal life, with professional sports offering a way to combine the two and fabricate vicarious opportunities to be a winner or loser by over-identifying with other people’s achievements.  In doing so we neglected to notice that Darwin’s theory also incorporated cooperation among members of a species for survival.

In our self-deprecating neglect, for centuries we’ve been one-upping each other as if that process carried to its extreme and unbalanced by concern for the human species as whole creates a better future.  By measuring our progress mainly in materialistic terms and accepting collateral damage (even among our own loved ones) as a norm, we’ve ignored other measures of the quality of life and failed to notice life’s decline.  In glorifying one-upmanship as the wave of the future upon which to surf to shore as champions of injustice, we failed to notice that we are riding that wave into shallower and shallower waters and waving good-bye to a deeper, more enriching future.  Now storm-generated waves of competition crash upon the shore to produce tremendously powerful undertows that drag many of us along the grinding bottom to drown in self-pity and self-contempt for our failure to thrive as upmanshippers.

If you are one of the disenchanted surfers who wants to find a way out of the shallows to avoid the grind and not be as likely to drown, consider what I share in the ABCs of love portion of this web site.  There you will find promising ideals to put into practice in cooperation with others as practitioners of love.  The principles of love are worthy of your heart’s desire for an upgraded lifestyle as you renew your capacity to sail the high seas.  The adventure of truth-seeking awaits you as you discover the treasure chest of love that your fear of pirates has caused you to bury in your heart.

© Art Nicol 2017

 

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God is an Authority Figure Unlike Any Other

The heart of Jesus’ mission has always been to reveal that God is an authority figure unlike any other we may have known – or even heard of or imagined – throughout our lifetimes.  Followers of Jesus have the same mission.  Most of us have resisted the opportunity to fully benefit from this mission because we remain hung up on our experiences with human authority figures.  We acquired hang-ups as earthly authority figures exercised power over us in clumsy, perhaps even cruel ways and now we tend to automatically hang up on Jesus when he calls us to walk with him through our past experiences to know and show God as an authority figure unlike the earthly ones of our past.  I write this post to encourage all of us to listen when Jesus calls and hear and heed the more completely heart-satisfying message about God’s authority and power as he offers it to us.  We miss out on the grace of God when we ignore Jesus’ call to share the true nature of God with a world that hungers to know an authority figure of His/Her qualities.

How does God differ from earthly authority figures in offering to relate to us?  Let’s explore several differences among the many that exist.

  1. As we grew up, we experienced parenting figures, older relatives, teachers, coaches and others who wielded authority that we were taught to obey (or at least appear to obey) as quickly as possible to reduce the risk of wearing out their patience and tolerance. When we did not obey quickly enough to satisfy our authority figures, we usually endured punishment in some form, what the authority figures commonly called “consequences” for behaving in ways unacceptable to them or for being too slow or inattentive.  Even when not caught misbehaving, we often still felt guilty about violating our authority figures’ rules and not complying with their expectations.  We took their values, rules and corresponding expectations to heart and learned to feel guilty for not following them instantly even long after they ceased to be actively in our lives as authority figures.  As we adopted their values, rules and expectations as our own, we learned to believe them to come from God “on high.”  In this manner, we learned to confuse God with earthly authority figures and failed to see the significant distinctions highlighted in this post.

In contrast, God is an authority figure who 1) holds us to high expectations of progressively greater excellence but not instantaneous perfection and 2) does not punish us nor want us to feel endless guilt when we fail to uphold divine standards in our human lives.  Our conscience’s feelings of guilt may be helpful guidance when we realize we’ve not met God’s expectations but God does not want us to hang onto any guilt we may feel.  She/He wants us to forgive ourselves and let guilt go because He/She knows that guilt interferes with our freedom to learn the lessons in wisdom and grace that we gain from our failures to fully satisfy God’s standards of excellence.  He/She also knows that fear of punishment does not improve our capacity to learn and grow on account of our experiences in life.  Fear only inhibits our growth towards the mature wholeness God wants us to enjoy.  In helping us to grow strong enough to clear every hurdle of God’s expectations, Jesus introduces us to God’s forgiving nature that we might be free of guilt, no matter what we may or may not have done to fall short of God’s healthiest expectations or how many times we may have stumbled on our journeys.  Lightened of all burdens of guilt, we are more likely to gain mature humility and soar higher to clear each hurdle the next time it appears in our lives.  God generously grants us limitless opportunities to do so.

  1. Throughout our lives, we likely encountered earthly authority figures who played favorites and recruited people to their side in order to demonstrate the influence and significance they held and impress us with the losses we risked in being uncooperative. These experiences set us up to assume that other authority figures, including God, would relate to us in similar ways.  We learned to believe that popularity and social status are desirable, especially popularity and favor with influential authority figures whose opinions of us might make a difference in how things turn out for us.  In the process of relating to such authority figures we may have developed habits (mostly unconscious ones) that came to control our words and actions – perhaps even our thoughts – as we did all we could to seem to be on the side of the authority figures who ruled our lives and remain in their favor.  On the other hand, we may have developed habits of rebelling (perhaps secretly) against authority figures and did not allow them to directly influence our lives much at all.  From either perspective, many of us failed to develop close, meaningful, mutually respectful and fear-free relationships of trust and transparency with our earthly authority figures.

In contrast, God is an authority figure who does not play favorites in any way and has absolutely no need to be popular or have others on His/Her side in order to be powerful.  It’s a mistake to believe that God needs approval from anyone to be the Supreme Authority Figure in the Universe.  He/She has no more need for social approval than He/She needs to inflict pain, guilt or punishment in any form on anyone.  If you think about it, you’ll realize that earthly authority figures react to our mistakes as if they’ve taken them as personal insults – as if their egos have been bruised by our failures to live according to their expectations.  Since God has no ego and does not need our approval, why would God react this way?  It is only in the interests of earthly authority figures to claim that God reacts this way so that they can claim that God backs up their earthly authority.  Such claims are the ultimate expression of the desire for earthly authority figures to recruit others – including even God – to their side to demonstrate their power.  God takes no sides in expressions of earthly authority and seeks only to guide earthly authority figures to exercise authority with wisdom born of humility and to avoid hubris.  Since God does not play favorites in any way, He/She does not favor one earthly authority figure over another but rather seeks to guide them all, regardless of the degree to which any may be inclined to listen to Him/Her.  As Jesus’ life reveals, as our Divine Parent, God invites us all – earthly authority figures and the rest of us – into close, meaningful, mutually respectful and fear-free wholehearted intimacy with Him/Her even as She/He serves as our Ultimate Authority Figure.

  1. It is commonly said of earthly authority figures that power tends to corrupt them and absolute power tends to corrupt them absolutely. In this manner, the higher up the ladder of power that an earthly authority figure rises, the more likely it is that he or she will wield power with decreasing empathy, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, humility and grace and with increasing hubris.  Studies have discovered scientific evidence of changes in our brains and how we think as we rise to wield earthly power. Although these changes do not occur uniformly in everyone, the risk is great that they will occur unless disciplines are in place to curtail their development.  (For more about this topic, visit http://www.daedalustrust.com/ and read “Power Causes Brain Damage” in the July/August 2017 issue of The Atlantic Monthly at theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/07/.)

In contrast, God is an authority figure who is not corrupted by any degree of power, even absolute power.  By nature, God is infinitely powerful and yet also incorruptible. He/She never stoops to bullying, bribing or being bribed.  If anything, His/Her grace and mercy expands the more we try to no longer conform to the patterns of the world and instead allow our hearts and minds to be transformed as the means of demonstrating God’s good and perfect will towards everyone.  That is, the more diligently we strive to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God regardless of social disapproval we may encounter and the failure of others around us to do likewise, the more He/She welcomes us to be close and comforted even in the midst of our most troubling testings and trials.  How few earthly authority figures compare well to God on that standard!

  1. By their nature as “earthly,” our human authority figures are physically outside of us and rule over us while we grow from childhood into adulthood.  As they train us to conform to their spoken and unspoken rules, expectations and way of life, they hope that we’ll internalize their dominating values, ideas and attitudes and allow them to rule unquestioned for all our lives as if our parents and other earthly authority figures are eternally with us and as absolute in knowledge and power as God is. It is common for this to happen. We are apt to struggle throughout our adulthood trying to take back our true power from such internalized authority figures in order to value ourselves and recover our freedom to outgrow their training and become our own persons with power to question what we’ve been told.

In contrast, God is present within us from the start – when we were first created – and reigns beneath, alongside and around us as the nurturer of our true nature and source of health and wise guidance.  Rather than be a source of rules for us to obey and expectations for us to satisfy, God is the source of all we need to fulfill our divine destinies as Her/His children.  God’s resources are offered freely and abundantly to us from within as well as outside of us.  Guidance, wisdom, love, motivation and the energizing opportunities of life are some of His/Her most precious gifts extended openly to each of us.  We are each God’s favorite child of the model and design we are because we are each uniquely who we are.  No one can compete to take our place in relationship with God.  If a person tries to compete with us for a relationship with God, that person is merely abandoning his or her natural relationship with God and trying mistakenly to substitute a lesser quality relationship.  That’s a foolish choice made by all who continue to fear God and seek to come into Her/His presence disguised as someone else rather than to approach the throne of grace “just as I am without one plea.”  Unlike many earthly authority figures, God is not poised to pounce upon us with a judgmental, fault-finding attitude as many people mistakenly believe but rather is peacefully and lovingly at rest within us, continuously inviting us to be at ease within Her/His inner embrace.  As we accept love’s invitation to be at ease, we release stress and have far less reason to take on any dis-ease.

  1. Unless a human authority figure masters the art of humility and disciplines himself or herself to rise beyond ego’s claim on his or her mind, to one degree or another, he or she will engage in hypocrisy. His or her actions will to some degree conflict with each other and with his or her words.  He/She is likely to hold differing standards for himself/herself as well as for others as part of playing people against each other or currying favor with some in preference to others.  She/He may make mountains out of molehills while overlooking some mountains as if they were molehills. Blowing hot and cold, using double standards and playing games with emotions will be part of his/her typical patterns.  Worse yet, he/she may be petty, vindictive, heartless and too little concerned about the welfare of others whom he/she tends to undervalue as a matter of routine.

In contrast, God is free of hypocrisy and remains steadfast in His/Her orientation towards each and every one of us as a divine child welcome to participate in the divine family business as Jesus did.  God holds out holiness as the universal standard for Himself/Herself and for us too.  Since holiness is the same as healthiness and wholeness shared in oneness with God and each other, it is a high standard worth attaining.  It is also natural to us because it is the nature in which we are all created as extensions of the Holy Parent.  God indulges in none of the traits of an ego and sustains positive regard for all of us regardless of how well or poorly we may satisfy His/Her standards of health and wholeness from time to time.  Jesus told the story of the prodigal son to illustrate God’s commitment to our well-being for all eternity.

I hope that these thoughts stir up hope that many of your assumptions about God’s nature and your relationship with God are based on fallacies acquired along the way in your life.  None of these fallacies needs to continue to interfere with your awareness of God’s presence within you because you have the power to change your mind and allow your heart to be cleansed of all fear moment by moment by God’s love flowing freely from the throne of grace to you as a tree of life planted astraddle the river of life.  The river of life flows with God’s love for all of us, without exception – no matter what we may have said or done or what we or anyone else may think of us.

I encourage you to set time aside to rest with God as Jesus frequently did as he spent time away from the crowds and even from his disciples.  Put down your roots into the soil of unconditional love and drink of the river of life as often and as deeply as your heart desires.  There is no more promising way to use your time than to put a smile in God’s heart by smiling there with Him/Her.  She/He delights to share your joys as well as your sorrows and other heartfelt emotions throughout your lifetime because in your open sharing She/He knows that you have come to trust that you are best off when you spend time regularly in God’s home within your heart.  None of us is banished to live as a prodigal child for any longer than we want to.  When we decide to come home to God by welcoming His/Her presence within us, we’ll know it has happened forever.

© Art Nicol 2017

 

Rival or Revival?

The ego feels threatened by God because the ego has no function or purpose in God’s realm.  Thus, the ego sees God as its rival and the cause of all conflict rather than the Source of All Life lived in endless harmony.  Our true nature yearns for God because God’s presence within us empowers the revival of our true function and purpose as divine lovers embodying, as Jesus did while expressing himself through a body, our natural, created capacity to live in harmony with each other and with all forms of life.  Free will is our power to choose which relationship to have with God – rival or revival.  The first arises from a false identity with ego.  The second is a process to enjoy forever as the truth sets us free to live as God created us to be.

Created with free will, we have the power to choose whether to see ourselves as God’s rival as ego does or see ourselves as empowered by God to experience revival from the dominion of fear over which ego presides into the dominion of love within which ego fades as our habits of thinking fearfully fade.  With which do we choose to identify – ego or God?  We are either falsely fabricated by-products of the ego or truly created children of God.  No one can make this choice of identity for us.  To force us to choose to be God’s child would be to deny our free will’s fullest power.  To not be rivals of God we must have the power to reject God and choose ego instead and yet remain loved unconditionally by God and welcomed to return to our senses and choose again to honor our true nature and our created, natural relationship with God.  Only when we realize that we have the power to reject God can we accept that we have the power to stand freely alongside God as divine children — together within the holy family God envisioned when God created us.

God did not create us to be less free or less powerful than God.  God envisioned us to be co-creators of heaven with God, to participate fully within the family business of co-creation.  In time we will realize as Jesus did that we “must be about our Father’s business” and cease to compete with Him/Her as if to set up a rival business.  God does have a monopoly on love.  Yet God’s generous nature would withhold no feature of love from any of us.  Unlike human business monopolies based on profit-making, God seeks no profit from the distribution of love in abundance except the joy of sharing life with us openly and honestly.  Our main challenge now is to step free from ego’s false teachings and instead live with all our hearts with awareness of God within the core of our beings for the purpose of sharing love as generously and abundantly as God does.

Will you join me in this grand adventure in exploring a universe free from fear’s domination?  Will you join me in allowing all excuses for interpersonal violence and planetary exploitation fade away? It’s unreasonable, even maddening to strive to rival what is best when revival of what is best is as near to us as our hearts.

 

The Blaming of the Screwed (Or Letting Sleeping Gods Lie)

It is the nature of the ego to twist the truth into pretzels well salted to cause more pain to those already wounded.  The ego produces both heroes upon whom to heap praise regardless of its unwarranted nature and scapegoats upon whom to heap blame regardless of its irrational nature.   To make sure that an ego-based culture appears to be balanced, the ego assigns some members roles of heroes and other members roles of scapegoats or anti-heroes.  In this way, the culture is divided between two opposing forces who play out their competing roles before audiences populated by the ego-culture’s majority of members who prefer to avoid being noticed as their best way to avoid taking the risk of being praised as a hero or critically judged and later blamed as a scapegoat.

The masses cower in fear of being singled out for the ego’s heartless judgment – to be praised or scorned – because they have noticed how routinely praise turns into scorn as heroes fall under the overwhelmingly unreasonable and unhealthy expectations placed on them by the masses.  Heroes desperate to please the masses overtax themselves to perpetually warrant praise and avoid scorn.  When heroes fail to live up to the expectations of the masses, the masses turn on them to convert them into scapegoats.  The feeding frenzy is brutal as hero-worshippers fall upon their wounded former heroes to tear from them every shred of human dignity.  From the perspective of the masses, it’s better to never ascend to the heights of public praise than to descend into the status of publicly scorned fallen hero.

Students of birth order identify the first born as predisposed to compete for the roles of heroes or standard bearers of an ego-culture’s most rewarded and idealized values – even when those values are myths honored more in the exception than in the rule.  Heroes are taught the value of keeping up their image to remain objects of praise as false idols regardless of the declining substance behind their image.  To cultivate and maintain their images as heroes, initially first born or otherwise born, the heroes must climb over others to ascend ladders of success they identify as theirs to top in order to tower over others by comparison.  Inflicting pain on their competitors is necessary to ascend most rapidly because pain causes competitors to be at least reluctant to challenge them if not crippled in capacity to challenge.  Thus heroes need wounded competitors to prevail as heroes.  What would be the significance of praise if it were not contrasted with scorn?  All the ego’s world is colored by such comparisons between winners and losers by whatever criteria winning and losing is measured.  In obedience to the ego’s rule, we heap praise upon winners, heap scorn upon losers and do all possible to distinguish one from the other!  Such is the fundamental order of the ego’s culture.

Those who are born into circumstances rich with opportunities to earn praise seek to preserve the culture into which they were born.  Those born into circumstances deficient in opportunities to earn praise naturally feel screwed by what seems like “fate” and suffer within the circumstances they did not cause.  The injustice of such suffering is apparent and yet prevails so long as the ego’s culture remains the status quo.  Changes that only change how circumstances favor one group over another group merely change how injustice is distributed and who is encouraged to become heroes most readily and who is encouraged to become scapegoats to keep the ego’s culture in balance.  The ego will always demand the existence of heroes/winners and scapegoats/losers.  Which members of society take up which roles is a matter of indifference to the ego so long as the clear distinction between the two is preserved.  Cycles of hero-worship and scapegoat-blaming will continue until the ego’s system is entirely replaced by an alternative that is based not on fear but on love – love as defined by Love’s Divine Source.

A sure-fire way to disrupt the ego’s system is available.  All we need do is to no longer allow sleeping gods to lie.  Every person who survives in society by masquerading as an ego is in truth a sleeping god.  While asleep every god who adopts the ego’s roles as his or her means of survival is lying.  He or she is participating in twisting the truth into well-salted pretzels by twisting the truth of his or her genuine, divine nature into a false image of a human being who values social approval over authenticity and personal integrity.  All of us hunger for the freedom to be and express authentically who we are as children of God.  That’s what being a “god” means.  So long as we remain too afraid to explore and express our authentic nature as God’s children amid the ego’s pressures to conform or be scorned, we will suffer (often in silence but suffer nevertheless). When we dare to be true to ourselves as God created us, we will cease to suffer.  We will still feel pain as inflicted by those who inflict pain on others as their means of climbing ladders of social success as rewarded by the ego.  But we will need no longer endure the chronic suffering of one who has betrayed himself or herself out of fear of the ego’s methods of enforcing conformity upon the masses.

Our choice is not to avoid pain.  It is to embrace the pain of standing out among the ego-conformists to be neither hero or scapegoat and no longer value “winning” or “losing” on ego’s terms.  The ego-enslaved will characterize us as “losers” but little do they know because they have yet to discover the relief of release from fear’s pretzeling  social pressures.  Being twisted by our own lies causes our own suffering.  We have the choice to awaken as God’s children and rise beyond ego’s enslaving twisted definitions of happiness and success to explore, embrace and enjoy freedom to be ourselves.  No longer hero, scapegoat or cowering member of the masses, we are free to envision the alternative to the ego’s fear-based culture and flock together as birds of a feather – as eagles who soar where the sky is no limit.

Let’s stop blaming the screwed for the ills of our society or holding heroes accountable for “fixing” those ills we are helping to produce and maintain.  Let’s instead no longer be sleeping gods and awaken to our true nature as God’s children.  Let’s move forward together as co-creators of a culture rooted in the soil of God’s unconditional love for all humanity, rising up relentlessly beyond ego’s hard-heartedness and branching out in all directions to welcome all who would take up our common cause – the call of our hearts to end the interpersonal violence and planetary exploitation that distresses us all.  No matter how much praise we offer to heap, no hero can do for us what we must do for ourselves.  No matter how much scorn we offer to heap, no scapegoat can be blamed for not substituting for the responsibilities only we have the power to carry as we contribute to our society’s freedom from fear.

Radical Christianity – Where Is It When We Need It?

Today we face an epidemic of wounded bullies who resort to tactics of warfare (violence, threat of violence, propaganda, censorship, espionage, diversionary actions, attacks and counterattacks, toxic weapons of individual as well as mass destruction of persons, social standing and property rights, etc.).  With the encouragement of a culture that mistakes violence as means of promoting safety, they impose their agendas of physical and emotional dominance within our homes, neighborhoods, communities, nations and world. In wrapping themselves in verbal cloaks of self-justifying excuses, they claim as their back-up authority extreme misrepresentations of religious texts, Constitutional provisions, laws and other verbiage that is readily subject to distortion by angry men and women.  And few in their audiences bother to study the true nature of the cited religion, Constitution, laws and other source of justification to discover how completely the bullies are distorting these revered sources.

As anger clouds their reason, bullies seek reverence by association, being unable to feel secure in it for themselves directly.  In truth, they use such revered sources to avoid being aware of guilt and shame they carry in hidden places in their hearts and minds.  While citing external authority for their actions, they know in their hearts that they lack legitimate authority.  Grievously wounded in childhood, bullies turn the tables and do unto others as was done unto them until they experience healing and restoration to sanity.

We call some of these bullies “radicals” or “extremists.”  In fact, all bullies are radically afraid and extremely wrong in their misguided approach to problem solving.  Their fear of failure drives them to stamp out all forms of accountability by which their failures might come to light.  Theirs is a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Fear is their deepest truth.  It drives them insane with shame to even consider that their inner pain and turmoil would ever become public knowledge because they view personal struggles and the honesty and humility needed to address them as signs of weakness.  They fear the stigma of being publicly pointed out to be mistaken and deprived of the social acclaim they so desperately crave.  They are the “heroes” who master the art of ridicule and scapegoating of anyone who dares to disagree with them.  Having mastered this art, they fear now that it will be used against them by others who seek to dethrone them and become society’s alternate heroes (“good ones”).

Radical or extremist Christianity offers the true alternative to this self-fulfilling prophecy by offering the model of Jesus’ life and his principles that everyone can put into practice.  Anyone can follow Jesus’ example and put his principles into practice to alleviate the pain others suffer in silence and open the door to reconciliation between bullies and those they have bullied.  There need be no guilt or stigma for being mistaken nor guilt or stigma for having inflicted, silently condoned or fearfully tolerated violence in any form upon anyone. Jesus calls his followers to release everyone from guilt and shame by mastering the art of unconditional love, with its reconciling tools of repentance, forgiveness and acceptance within relationships that set us free from any and all misguided ideas we ever adopted as alternatives to truth.

Radical Christianity can be practiced not merely to first do no harm but to secondly undo harm (heal).  To practice radical Christianity requires that all who have endured harm in any way become masters of the art of unconditional love and grow to apply it in every single circumstance in his or her life, without exception.  Jesus did that.  We can also do that.  We can become aware that all forms of harm done to us are birthed within pain in those who seemed to have harmed us. We can become aware that all seeming attacks upon us are cries for love – cries to be released from guilt and shame.  And we can reach within ourselves to find the wellspring of unconditional love that flows there and offer endless cups of refreshing restoration to innocence to all who seek it from us.

Do we have to wait until someone recognizes his or her own mistake or attack as regrettable before we release him or her from its karmic consequence? No.  We can release as immediately as we become aware of feeling the pain that signals we are in the presence of a carrier of pain.  As Jesus declared from the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,” we can similarly call upon Abba, Father, to shower blessings not curses upon those who spitefully use us — whether by intention or by ignorance.  We who have ever been social scapegoats at the hands of society’s heroes stand in the most favorable position to invoke the same authority and power that Jesus exercised throughout his life.  In Isaiah 53:3, the Bible tells us that Jesus “was despised and rejected–a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care.” Likely having even anticipated that feature of his ministry on Earth, Jesus nevertheless prayed in the garden of Gethsemane (as well as other times most likely) for the power to do God’s will and not shirk the opportunity to demonstrate God’s power to bring forth new life from the grave mistakes we are all capable of making.

Let us consider Jesus’ example and assess our own lives for the opportunities we have to follow in his footsteps in radical ways, not just to the cross but beyond it and the tomb.  We who have been scapegoats have already experienced the cross and the tomb.  What now presents itself to us for our exercise is the power of the resurrection and new life.  God offers it both to scapegoats and bullies alike.  We who have been scapegoats have every reason to feel empathy and compassion for the bullies because we know the experience they will pass through in order to be free of their self-inflicted guilt and shame.  We hold the keys to their hell on Earth.  As keepers of the peace, we must use those keys wisely and widely without regard to persons on account of any criteria by which those who do not yet know Jesus nor follow him radically may judge and condemn us or others.  We release ourselves from the remnants of our own hells on Earth when we release others from theirs.

Is it not time to set ourselves free by setting others free?  That’s how the Golden Rule works at this radical extreme in society’s need for an end to interpersonal violence and planetary exploitation.

© Art Nicol 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

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