Category Archives: Growing Beyond the Church as Jesus’ Follower

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

 

The “God” Factor – Fact, Fiction or No Cause for Friction?

In The ABCs of Love, I present an operating system for healthy relationships that includes a reference point beyond human control t hat I call a “God” Factor.  Because this element may trouble some readers, I want to clarify what I mean by a “God” Factor.  I expect many readers to find a way to identify their own “God” Factor and feel less troubled by my use of the term once I clarify what I mean by it.  I address this issue up front because its resolution is vital to a reader’s exploration of The ABCs of Love with an open mind.

I use “God” Factor as a label for a target or focus of faith.  We all put our faith in something, even when we don’t realize we are doing so.  Our choice is not whether to have faith but in what we place our faith.  The tiniest target of faith towards which we might aim is the self alone, separate and unrelated to anyone or anything else.  Although I encourage all of us to cultivate self-love as an essential part of experiencing love, I believe that love must be shared to be activated and not stillborn, shallow or stagnant.  To fully activate love, The ABCs of Love lays out a system for setting love free to be shared as a form of energy, the energy that sustains our health and empowers us to recover our health if we allow it to slip away.  So, I take the position that our individual self alone is not an adequate focus of faith to serve as a “God” Factor.  To be healthy and share love, we need to have faith in our individual selves but not only in ourselves.  To enjoy an ever-expanding encounter with love, we need to be true to love’s nature and place our faith in a “God” Factor larger than individual self.

The possibilities for a larger-than-self target for our faith are varied.  In my investigation of the wide array of possibilities, I have identified characteristics of a “God” Factor that hold the greatest promise for setting love free to be shared abundantly as The ABCs of Love envisions.  These characteristics include:

  • Motivation and guidance to nurture ourselves, others and our relationships with increasing competence to enrich our lives with deeper, equitably shared satisfaction;
  • Tendency to improve the quality of our lives as measured by heart-honoring factors such as peace, hope and joy;
  • Capacity to be tested within our experiences regardless of our inability to establish and control it or the effects is has on us. In other words, the capacity to be independent of our control and surprise us with outcomes different from those we initially may have expected – whether or not flattering to our pride.
  • Capacity to help us recover from our mistakes and misunderstandings about how to relate to life and one another and help us courageously take risks and sustain balance as we walk our talk;
  • A not-completely-known nature we can progressively understand better and better as we exercise our faith in it and grow more mature, wiser and more loving on account of wrestling with its mysteries.

Possible categories of “God” Factors with these characteristics include, but are not limited to:

  1. The Golden Rule and other principles for cultivating mutually uplifting relationships (see, for example, Source of variety of restatements of the Golden Rule);
  2. The Desiderata (see This text of the Desiderata) and other comprehensive statements of a positive, balanced orientation to life;
  3. The Serenity Prayer (see Text and history of Serenity Prayer) and other statements of commitment to seeking and sustaining balance between our intellect (mind) and our emotions (heart) as we explore life’s opportunities;
  4. An ethical, religious or scientific thought system that honors the value of ourselves and others and calls us to grow wiser, more empathetic and more understanding as we both age and mature;
  5. An entity we honor as a “Supreme Being” of benevolent orientation towards all of humanity, including ourselves and our loved ones and strangers whom we welcome as potential friends;
  6. Nature, including all forms of life and the ecosystem that sustains the life we call “Earth;”
  7. Love, Life and/or Truth as an expansive array of desirable qualities most significant to your heart.

This list is incomplete.  You may identify another “God” Factor that works for you as you practice The ABCs of Love.

Although I leave open the choice of label for this “God” Factor, I encourage every practitioner of the ABCs of love to be accountable to a standard for quality beyond himself or herself as a necessary condition for experiencing more love.  In setting our standards and evaluating how well we meet them, if we ask only whether we please ourselves, love has little chance to appear within our endless loop of self-indulgence and self-pleasing.  For us to get along cooperatively with each other, we each must have a beyond-and-greater-than-me standard for how we treat each other.  “We” is greater than “me.”  Relationships inherently involve interactions with others whom we accept as being other, independent people and not merely trained pets, puppets or pacifiers of our pride (ego).  Just as we expect others to do for us, we must respect as fact that the “others” in our relationships have wills, feelings and ideas of their own and voices by which to share them, even when we might not prefer to hear them.  If we are not willing to honor and listen to those voices, then we condemn ourselves to having no genuine relationships, choosing instead to fake them or go through life alone without sharing love. To totally indulge one’s ego is to rule out the possibility of encountering love and stifle the inflow of the “more” we hope might still be possible.  If I insist that I am the ruler (or even owner) of all others and none may dare defy me without suffering my displeasure or banishment, then I’m not interested in participating in relationships on love’s terms.  Love will not insist on its terms and yet will also not be bent to do the ego’s bidding.

The function of a “God” Factor is to provide a reference point for keeping our egos in check.  It need not be a “Supreme Being.”  It may be an ideal or principle such as the Golden Rule.  It may be “Truth,” “Love,” “Universal Energy,” “Chi” or some other target of belief that we admit that we imagine exists but do not totally understand nor control or bend to our will and yet offers us something “more” we desire.  Whatever “God” Factor we choose, if we can totally define and control it then it’s not going to serve as the reference point we need to allow our minds to open to possibilities beyond what our egos accept as “comfortable” (totally controlled).  The “God” Factor we adopt must motivate us to seek answers beyond what we believe we already know and make room for the “uncomfortable,” “undominated and “uncontrolled” to enter into our experiences.  Truth welcomes Love.  Love welcomes Truth.  We who seek both Truth and Love seek what we do not yet know by experience and yet imagine may be possible.  The ABCs of Love will serve us in our quest. Even if we do not name Truth or Love as “God,” so long as we admit that we do not yet know all the Truth or Love we want to know, we’ll find it as we journey together in our quest for it beyond the terms on which our egos previously dictated we must live.

The love-energized system presented in The ABCs of Love incorporates the idea of a “God” Factor as a fundamental assumption and prerequisite for success in sharing love.  Does that mean that someone who believes that there is no “Supreme Being” cannot make use of the ABCs of love?  Not necessarily.  But it does mean that a person who insists on defining love for himself or herself without reference to any standard of quality beyond his or her own preferences or current ideas about love is likely to not encounter the love towards which The ABCs of Love points its practitioners –  unless that person is open to the possibility of allowing his or her own experiences to reveal new insights and understandings.

In short, a close-minded person who shuts his or her heart and mind to the possibility of discovering new things about life and love through personal experiences may be disappointed because forcing the ABCs of love to fit rigid, pre-determined definitions cripples love’s nature.  To enjoy the experience of more love than one has encountered thus far means to open oneself to discovering more by experience.  The discovery of more love is not merely a theoretical journey but an applied one as well – one practiced within relationships with others whom we do not control by domination or manipulation.  Expanding definitions of love’s qualities are unlikely to remain confined within fixed boxes.  They are more likely to outgrow boxes like many potted plants outgrow their pots.  To grow we need more room for our ideas about love to extend their roots into deeper soil and expand their branches upward and outward to boldly welcome life as it shares its light.

Are you willing to unbox your ideas about love and allow them to take on new life and become enriched with deeper and more expansive meaning because of the experiences you are having?

Being open to growing on account of one’s experiences is a central theme of The ABCs of Love.    This is as true of those who first approach the ABCs of love declaring that they believe in a “God” Factor identified as a “Supreme Being” as of those who approach declaring that their starting position is that there is no “Supreme Being” of any kind.  For all of us, the quest for the truth inherent in practicing the ABCs of love holds a common question:  Based on our experiences, are we willing to re-examine our beliefs about life, including about a “God” Factor and our definitions of words we use such as “love,” “God,” “sacred,” “true,” “false,” “right,” “wrong,” “good,” “bad,” “devotion,” “growth,” “satisfaction,” “wisdom” and “life” as we encounter experiences and let them enrich our insights and understandings?  A discussion about whether the “God” Factor is a fact or a fiction need not be a source of friction any more than a discussion about what we believe to be “good and bad” or “right and wrong” needs to be.  We can expect each of us sometimes to hold our opinions and viewpoints with passionate emotions.  The exploration of issues introduced by The ABCs of Love invokes our emotions. Sometimes we may be surprised by the strength of our emotional attachment to an idea.  The question that love raises is “Are we willing to look at our emotions to see why we have strong attachments to certain ideas and consider revisiting those attachments and revising our ideas if and when each of us – without pressure from another person or any group – decides it is appropriate to do so?”

A discussion of any issue need not produce more friction than we can tolerate if we are willing to release our minds from assumptions and beliefs we’ve acquired earlier in life when our current experiences challenge those assumptions and beliefs with new information or perceptions.  By “release,” I do not mean that we automatically discard a belief simply because an experience seems to conflict with it or another person (or group, minority or majority) disagrees with it. I mean that we exercise our freedom to be “willing” to re-examine our beliefs and assumptions – together with the emotions associated with them – in light of our experiences. In this freedom, we then decide whether or not we continue to hold onto a belief or assumption or let it go in favor of a revised or alternative one.  I encourage us to participate in this process of shared thinking because I discovered in my life that reasoning includes revisiting and rethinking our ideas not alone but in the company of others who honor our emotions and ideas as well as value us as people.

For example, suppose we were using a new system to navigate the world’s oceans and were told that the new system was designed on the assumption that the Earth is more or less spherical while we had believed all our life that the Earth is flat and our own senses seemed to tell us it was flat.  As far as we could look, we saw flatness.  Would we therefore automatically cast aside the new system without testing it?  Some would; others wouldn’t.  At issue is not merely what and how we decide but also “Why do we decide as we do?”  To be aware of our thinking process includes being aware of emotions that influence us our willingness to take risks.

To believe that there is no “God” Factor that is potentially helpful in our quest for more love simply because we cannot see or detect “Truth,” “Love,” “the Golden Rule” or any kind of “Supreme Being” scientifically may be as valid as the belief that the Earth is flat – a belief that once seemed confirmed by our inability to detect the curvature of the Earth as we stand upon it.  “Looks flat to me!”  So, we declare it’s flat.  “Cannot detect a “God” Factor anywhere in my life!”  So, we declare there is no “God” Factor.  It may be logical but also may be mistaken because information flowing into an observer’s mind may be filtered through his or her belief in the sanctity of the idea, assumption or attitude with which she or he started.  To remain open to the possibility of acquiring richer insights and understandings based on experiences, one cannot worship an idea as if it’s set in stone and make it sacred.  To do so is to risk making that idea into a rigid idol.  One must be willing to let go of blinders that limit one’s awareness.  A belief that there is no “God” Factor may be sacred to those who hold it – as sacred as a belief in a “Supreme Being” is to those who hold that belief.  In addition, a person may hold sacred a definition of a “Supreme Being’s” nature although it may be incomplete or inaccurate.  The issue is “Do we recognize that we exercise faith when we declare something to be true without being able yet to prove it’s true?”   Are we willing to be like fish who once gave little or no thought to the invisible water in which they swim and unconsciously place their faith and now investigate the invisible with growing curiosity about its nature and function in our lives? Might the nature and quality of the waters of life be important?

Placing faith in the Scientific Method of hypothesis, experimentation and observation is as much an act of faith as placing faith in religious teachings or some abstract principle like the Golden Rule. Science, religion and ethics are sets of ideas making up systems of ideas handed down generation after generation complete with their own internal self-validating processes.  Every thought system risks being a closed system of thinking. The ABCs of Love is an open system of thinking.  That is why every practitioner of it will find aspects that challenge the beliefs he or she holds dear, even sacred. Are you willing to tolerate having your most cherished beliefs and assumptions uncovered,questioned and perhaps validated, or perhaps not validated in whole or part?

I write about The ABCs of Love based in part on my own challenging experiences that have demonstrated the value of the principles and practices outlined here.  I remain open to feedback from practitioners to continue to enrich the content and sharing of the ABCs of love.  I am on a journey as a practitioner just as I encourage everyone to be.  The “God” Factor has challenged me throughout my journey.  At the beginning of my journey, I had given little thought to what a concept of “God” might mean.  I had heard about there being a “Supreme Being” and assumed that to be “Supreme” meant having the power define life and be more in control of it than I would ever be.  To me it was the essence of any idea of “Supreme” that I could not define the nature of  a “God” but could only accept that, if there is a “God,” that entity (by whatever name called) would define itself and reveal itself to me if it chose to.  I believed I could not create a “God,” but there might be a “God” who created me.  Otherwise, I did as best I could to treat others “right,” whatever that may mean from time to time.  Looking back, I believe my initial “God” Factor was some version of the Golden Rule.

            Eventually, I began to think more consciously about a “God” Factor as I matured and had children of my own and also addressed issues in my community that concerned the welfare of children beyond my own.  Thinking about the welfare of children stretched my mind to consider an ever expanding range of ideas and options that came to my attention that seemed to influence the welfare of children.  Gradually, the “God” Factor that I’d pushed off to the edge of my life while a young adult, edged back into an increasingly more central role in my thinking.  I began to reference what I thought (my “opinions” and “viewpoints”) to sources beyond myself, most of which I found in material authored by experts in fields of study related to life in general and to children’s wellbeing in particular.  The authors’ ideas came alive to me as I wove them into my own practices and explored their benefits.  I began to adopt aspects of other people’s viewpoints into my own. I came to see that ideas that proved most helpful often came from authors who made reference to a “God” Factor (e.g., life’s spiritual features and principles) as if there is a “God” Factor of some sort.  I also noticed that the “God” Factor many authors believed in did not express the judgmental nature that I had assumed a “Supreme Being” would express.  I had to continually revise my ideas about the “God” Factor as authors’ ideas came together to build a picture of a wise, compassionate, understanding and forgiving “Gentle Essence” who might have a personal nature as I do and even include me within the scope of His/Her/Its benevolent care and love.

I discovered in the process that I was afraid of the “God” Factor of which I held a fuzzy, ill-defined concept.  And I was afraid of love.  Fear colored my ideas about both.  In the face of fears of the Unknown and of my failure and inadequacy to master the art of love, I wrestled with a “God” Factor that I assumed was judging and finding fault with me – and would therefore impose consequences upon me for my failure to perform well enough to earn a “good grade.”  I realized that I confused my concept of a“God” Factor with the performance-oriented habits I’d acquired trying to please my parents and other authority figures in my life.  It became as important to me to please a “Supreme Authority Figure” as a “God” Factor as it had been to please my parents and teachers.  Questions such as “What pleases ‘God’ most?” became important to me.  Was it blind obedience to rules?  Cooperation within relationships?  Grace, mercy and justice that might sometime supersede rules?  Forgiveness?  Faith?  As I stumbled along pursuing these questions to their limits, I discovered by experience that there is a “Supremely Gracious Authority Figure” quite unlike any most people speak about or seem to know exists.

Through my experiences, I discovered that Huston Smith made a valid point in his book The World’s Religions. Having studied a broad range of paths of faith in depth – both mainstream and minority branches, Smith summarized that all paths of faith in some sort of “Supreme Being” held in common these three ideas about the “God” Factor:  1) there is a Creator who is the source of all life; 2) one can seek and receive help from the Source of life who desires to sustain the life of every person (seeker and not-yet seeker) on the best terms possible; and 3) regardless of how certain some people claim to be about the “Supreme Being’s” nature and what that “Being” thinks, most of what is true about that “Being” remains a mystery to humans.  I formed the impression that A) all paths of faith converged in and shared a common mystical experience of a “God” Factor not yet experienced by those who had not yet become aware of the mystical dimension of their chosen path of faith and B) all who delved deep enough into their chosen path would arrive at this mystical encounter.

I now accept that I’m on a journey delving into the depths of a multifaceted mystery that I’ll never fully comprehend.  Many people fear the “Mysterious Unknown.”  No longer fearing it, I’ve discovered that the “Mysterious Unknown” has never stopped creating for the benefit of Creation and that we are an important facet of Creation but not the only facet.  We have our place and role and need to learn to respect all living beings throughout Creation in order to fulfill our role and feel deeply satisfied within our hearts.  I’ve learned that the “Mysterious Unknown” is pleased when we feel deepest wholehearted satisfaction because that’s how we detect the presence of the “Being” even now – within our empathy-connected hearts as if we and that “Being” share one heart as well as one life of continuous co-creation.  I’ve discovered that I prefer to be wise rather than foolish and that, in the long run, learning to listen to the “Supreme Yet Mysterious Authority Figure” in my heart allows me to be guided by wisdom and joy.

While the ultimate destination of my life remains a hinted-at mystery, I grow a little more confident every day in my capacity to walk forward into the Unknown while filled with unfathomable depths of love and allow the Unknown to be revealed to me bit by bit rather than be so afraid of the Unknown as to avoid it entirely.  Although the “God” Factor remains a mystery and largely unknown to me, on account of my experiences I can report that the journey has been wondrously enriching and rewarding and that my encounters with the “God” Factor have not included any condemnation or punishment by a “Supreme Authority Figure” such as I once was taught to fear. All condemnation and punishment has come from frightened, ego-based people who refuse to experience and express the fullness of their own compassionate hearts.  While I don’t know all there is to know about the “God” Factor, I am encouraged by what I’ve come to know so far.  I am also grateful for having come to accept the presence of a Divine Source of Love and Life so that my heart can be awash with the flow of Life and Love moment by moment – all as if to prove that heaven is here and now on Earth because it manifests itself to me within my heart and mind as our sharable Reality.

I hope you also will boldly investigate the “God” Factor and dare to explore the possibilities to discover your own insights and understandings while enjoying the journey of life as love’s gracious peace, hope, joy and wisdom flow into, through and beyond your heart and mind with increasing, yet ever gentle power.

© Art Nicol 2017

 

Out-Sourcing Our Responsibilities, Privileges and Power

When Paul wrote his letter preserved in the Bible as the book of Romans, the pattern of the world was in an early stage of the pattern typical of all addictive lifestyles.  The Roman Empire dominated his social environment with its militarily imposed solutions.  Merchants thrived only if they catered to the politicians of their day who controlled the military.  The common folk survived only if they submitted to the authority of the those higher up in the hierarchy of a class-conscious society.  That pattern of so-called civilization reflected the addictive qualities of lust for power and pleasure, greed, gluttony, sloth, envy, vanity and anger.  The seven “deadly symptoms of addiction” were at work in their early stages of destruction of humanity’s destiny.

Paul wrote then “Be not conformed to the pattern of this world but be transformed by a renewal of your mind.”  (Romans 12:2)  And he urged this wisdom upon his audience because that was the way to “prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”  In short, the pattern of his cultural context failed to reflect the will of God as Jesus manifested it.  Paul saw the contrast between the Rome-dominated culture in which he lived and the way Jesus urges us to live.  Today the contrast has become many times starker because our current culture has advanced beyond an early stage of addictive living into a very advanced stage.  (All addictions are progressive diseases.  That is their primary pattern.  That is the kind of “progress” we’ve made over the centuries since Paul wrote his letter.)

Failing to heed Paul’s wisdom, we now stumble all over ourselves in relentless pursuit of universal irresponsibility as we head for the bottom like alcoholics, after spiraling downward over the centuries into a culture awash with addictions so blatant that we market many of them heedlessly as socially desirable qualities of life — while we bitterly complain about others as spouses of alcoholics complain about their spouses’ habits and try to control their addictions.  Even the institution that people set up to supposedly reveal the truth about God that Jesus’ life made known has succumbed to the temptations of the addictive lifestyle called “co-dependency” or “enabling” to become primarily a version of society’s social networking for fun, comfort, convenience and profit.  Maximizing social approval and amassing wealth and power through popularity has consumed our dignity as well as our integrity.  We’ve become more the bride of an addiction-addled Frankenstein than the Bride of Christ.

We who populate the Church that is based on the one foundation of Jesus Christ our Lord fail miserably to honor Jesus when social pressures to conform to the pattern of this world press hard upon us.  Like those in Paul’s day, we prefer to conform to get along rather than be transformed at the risk that we might no longer be welcomed to belong.  To belong within the profit-driven, convenience-supporting culture of our day tempts us too much.  We prefer to give lip-service to Jesus’ teachings rather than risk standing out as an expression of God’s unconditional love, mercy and grace wherever such love, mercy and grace is needed.  We avoid the social lepers of our day rather than walk among them to welcome them into the Kingdom of God’s grace.  And when we do invite them in, we mistakenly equate God’s righteousness with the prevailing norms of our society and help the outcast to conform as we have to the pattern of this world.  We have not allowed it to sink it that that conforming to the social norms is not a high ideal, clearly not an ideal worthy of calling it Jesus’ best to which he calls us.

Instead of following Jesus into the trenches to comfort, heal and bless those to whom he ministers, we out-source our responsibilities to others.  We set up and fund governmental and nonprofit agencies to care for the sick, the lame, the outcast and the socially undesirable rather than care for them ourselves directly within our lifestyles.  We insulate our lifestyles from such misery and prevent the flow of God’s healing power from reaching them as adequately as it reached the woman with an issue of blood who reached out to dare to touch the hem of Jesus’ cloak.  We fail to walk among the disabled members of our society as Peter and John did so that we might meet them in the city gates and offer them Christ’s amazing power that Jesus generously makes available through us when we gather two or more in the name and nature of the Christ.

By out-sourcing our responsibilities as Jesus’ followers, we attempt to out-source our privileges and power too.  The power to heal does not flow when government officials and employees of nonprofits gather together as paid servants and pursuers of personal income, power and glory.  That is not the opportunity for which Jesus waits patiently to empower his followers.  He waits for his faithful followers to actively engage in ministry to the least of these for no purpose other than to “prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”  God wants us to demonstrate His/Her divine nature as Jesus once did while walking on the Earth in the flesh.  All who place their faith in Jesus are welcome to model God’s divine power on Earth as it is in heaven.  Few bother to take up God’s offer to do so.  For that reason alone, many are those who fail to encounter God’s love and healing power today.  So long as we refuse to hold ourselves accountable to God for the use of our life, energy, time and resources, we are conforming to the pattern of this addiction-driven world.  And we are failing to live according to our privileges and power as we shirk our duties.

When Jesus lived on Earth, he walked in his power and privileges as an expression of the responsibilities God wants to take for His/Her creation.  Jesus honored all of humanity and all of Nature throughout his life because he knew his oneness with God, us and Nature.  We can do the same because he shows us how and expresses himself as the Christ through each of us who surrender our lives to that same purpose.  We cannot conform to this world’s patterns of hard-heartedness and still demonstrate the will of God to share Himself/Herself with all of us.  We must serve a risen savior who is in the world today.  As this hymn reminds us, we know he lives because he lives within our tender hearts: I Serve a Risen Savior.

To this mission of mercy and power we are all called.  Let’s band together to heed this call so radically that others will notice as we dare to be that nonconformist — even controversial among the members of the congregations who claim Jesus as Savior and Lord.  It is time to claim him as Lord, the one who rules our lives because we allow him to rule within our hearts and minds without holding anything of our lives back from his dominion.  Either a worldly realm or a heavenly realm holds sway in our lives.  As it has been said before, we cannot serve two masters.  Remaining divided in our allegiance will perpetuate our decline as addicts and co-dependents of addicts.   It matters not the details of the “type” of addictions to which we succumb.  The pattern of all is the same.  We must no longer conform to it if we are to serve according to our responsibilities, privileges and power.

© 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

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

 

Immunity of Church Leaders from Criticism Protects Incompetence

On account of the constitutional doctrine commonly called “separation of church and state,” governmental courts, except in instances of sexual abuse, generally refuse to entertain legal claims against church leaders on account of incompetence or unfitness to lead.  The only recourse available for malpractice by church leaders is to walk away from the church they lead and search for a church or community of believers led by leaders truly competent and fit of mind and heart to preach, teach and provide pastoral care on God’s terms.  As a follower of Jesus, I write here of the body of believers commonly grouped under the heading “Christians” and include the Catholic Church and all forms of religion that identify Jesus as Lord and Savior.  Of other paths of faith, I will not write, leaving it to followers of those paths to comment on their leadership’s competence and qualifications for office.

How is a leader in a Christian organization held accountable for being incompetent or unfit to serve as a leader?  Sure, ultimately he or she is accountable to God for failing to lead according to God’s terms.  But meanwhile much harm (for example, neglect of vigorous spiritual growth if nothing else) is inflicted and tolerated in the name of Jesus and in the end all is forgiven anyways.  Is there truly any harm in being a bungling preacher, teacher and pastor who makes a living at that role while failing his or her unwary flock?  Under the teachings of Jesus about forgiveness, is not all harm wiped away in the end?  Do we safely shrug off incompetence and unfitness among clergy as trivial?  Perhaps it is the complacency of church members towards the incompetence and unfitness of clergy that causes the Church as a whole to have fallen into disrepute in society’s eyes.  Neglect of Jesus’ call upon us all infects the whole Church.

These are issues I ask you to struggle with.  How do you know if your church leaders are competent and fit to speak for God as Jesus spoke for God?  I suggest it is the responsibility and power of every church member who follows Jesus as Lord and Savior to master the art of listening to the Holy Spirit as the Voice of God in his or her life.  And if the Holy Spirit disagrees with the church leader, that’s a sign of incompetence and unfitness to lead.  Within the Body of Christ, the Holy Spirit is the Voice of Truth that Jesus sent us to hear and heed.  He did not promise to send us preachers and teachers to lead us into all truth.  He promised to send us the Holy Spirit.  If we do not yet know how to hear the Spirit’s Voice, we need first and foremost to learn that art.  How can we heed a Voice do not know how to hear?  Has it become all too easy and convenient to settle for listening to well-or-poorly-crafted, artfully-or-less-artfully presented sermons on Sunday instead of learning to listen to God intently throughout every minute of every day?

I suggest that a church leader who does not know how to hear and heed the Spirit’s Voice is unqualified to lead. He or she should step down from positions of leadership, confess his or her failure to master the art of hearing and heeding and take up a position in a pew other than the front row to reflect in humility upon the error of claiming to lead when unqualified to lead.  That a man or woman knows how to read a printed text and study study-guides wherein human “experts” purport to tell him or her what the text means does not qualify that person to speak for Jesus or for God. It merely qualifies him or her to be a parrot, not a spokesperson for God.  Many a religious leader in Jesus’ days on Earth had the capacity to read, parrot back and therefore claim to lead.  Jesus used harsh words to describe those supposed leaders in their failure to hear and heed the Spirit’s Voice.  He called them hypocrites and other clearly unflattering terms.

When will followers of Jesus within institutions of religion claiming to be Christian stop allowing seminary training to be the qualifying mark of leadership within the Body of Christ?  When will an education provided by mankind stop being accepted as sufficient to qualify a man or woman to lead a community of God’s people?  Until we demand that our leaders not only be called by the Spirit to lead but also qualified by the Spirit to lead, we’ll suffer from a Church corrupted and compromised by the politics of social niceness.

Just when we most need men and women who put their minds upon the things of God and not upon the things of humankind, we, the Christian Church, have conformed to the world by accepting educational certifications issued by human religious organizations as proof of a person’s qualifications to speak for Jesus.  We have rendered unto Caesar what is God’s by surrendering the Body of Christ to the holders of diplomas who do not hear and heed the One whom Jesus sent to lead us into all truth.  We who sit in pews listening and sensing that something is missing within our church need to take responsibility for the ones we call “leaders” and either remove them from leadership or vigorously support their acquisition of greater mastery of the art of hearing and heeding the Spirit.  We can no longer sit complacently in our pews and allow those who speak before our congregations to commit malpractice unchallenged.  If the courts of law will not grant us redress, then we need to stand up for Jesus on our own and trust in the Lord to grant us redress.  If we do not stand up for Jesus when our leaders fail to stand with and for him, who will?

We have learned so well to feel powerless and follow like sheep to the slaughter that we hesitate to rock the boat and call out incompetence and unfitness among church leaders when we sense it is present.  Among the flock are ones who know better than to sit silently while church leaders pretend to know the full truth of God and fail to disclose its most challenging aspects.  The church is too often led by men and women who carefully censor and dilute their teachings to make sure that those sitting in the pews continue to put money in the offering plate and support the church financially – all so the Church’s budgets will be met, including the salaries of the very leaders who fail the Church.  The cyclical Catch-22 of social approval operates to confine the Body of Believers to the comfort zones defined by clergy who have succeeded in charming the religious leaders who have gone before them out of credentials that qualify the new generation of leaders to follow not in the footsteps of Jesus but in the footsteps of the church leaders who have betrayed Jesus before them.  If current leaders make sure to grant credentials only to those who will not later expose their earlier reigns of incompetence, no leader will speak up.  The conspiracy of clerical silence insures continuation of the cycle of incompetence unless the laity speaks up.

Will we, the People of the Body of Christ, sit idly by while church leaders defile the Church, distort Jesus’ teachings into self-serving doctrines and otherwise commit spiritual malpractice right before our eyes – just so we can huddle in our respective comfort zones in complacent silence?  If we see with our hearts, we will see what the Holy Spirit is showing us and we’ll not sit still while being asked to follow falsely. We cannot expect government regulators to rescue us from our own complacency. We must rebel from within the Church against smug clerical incompetence and break up the cozy clubs by which the clergy control the Church and convert the high calling of Christ into a den of thieves.  It is theft for incompetent clergy to accept salaries and other remuneration while failing to provide leadership commensurate with Jesus’ standards.  Will we allow ourselves to be victims of theft simply because we too crave social approval and don’t want to risk the vulnerability required of those who blow the whistle?

Are there any among those who read what I write here who dare to speak up, pro or con?

© Art Nicol 2016

Pointedly Evolving or Pointlessly Revolving Spirituality?

Politicians refer to the “rubber chicken circuit” as shorthand for going around shaking hands and eating meals with an array of their constituents at various local gatherings.  That’s an ego’s way of cultivating popularity and votes while avoiding making tough commitments that might cause controversy and lose approval and votes for the politician.  Although not openly announced, politicians’ unspoken mantras are “Stick to topics the are safely trivial or trendy and popular.”  “Avoid dealing meaningfully with anything that is controversial.”  “Get elected or re-elected to office at whatever cost.”  Based on the rubber chicken circuit, as much as possible politicians remain amiably bland and elastic much like the chicken they learn to stomach and smile over during their meals with constituents.  Nothing really changes.  Constituents cease expecting anything to change. Ah, now there’s a sustainable comfort zone so long as the chickens don’t come home to roost too often and cause constituents to wonder how to hold their elected officials accountable for the mess in the barnyard.

As spiritually cloaked politicians seeking favor with audiences who will elect them “Pope” of their gathering and donate money to pay the bills, popular speakers and teachers of popular spiritual constituencies travel around similar circuits to maintain their amicably bland, noncontroversial positions as leaders whom their constituents are willing to follow and keep in office.  These “leaders” make sure not to expect “too much” of their constituents and carefully espouse ideas and address topics that allow their constituents and themselves to remain on the circuit as chicken-hearted practitioners of whatever path of faith they identify as theirs.  That’s the ego’s way of co-opting spiritual principles as tools for gathering people together in social groups for mutual admiration and self-congratulatory celebrations.  The ego is slick.  It does not have principles that require it to honor the actual substance of spiritual principles and practices.  Its solitary principle is self-preservation. All other supposedly sacred principles may be sacrificed on the altar of ego-preservation. Egos within the leader and constituents silently conspire to lead everyone on circuits of different configurations that have one thing in common, namely that they always wind up back at the same point at which they started.  And they manage to dress up that starting point as a new destination and celebrate arriving there.  It’s so safe – for the ego but not for the community supposedly served by the leader.

Here’s a web site illustrating how widely varied racetrack-like circular thinking can be while the vast majority loop back to the starting point:

https://www.pinterest.com/explore/race-tracks/

Spiritual evolution does not happen on any circuit that makes continuous revolutions around the same track.  If a supposed leader’s role is merely to appear to be ahead of the pack on every lap of the track and keep the pack entertained enough not to notice how repetitive their experiences actually are, then most leaders of most spiritual communities are excelling in their roles.  The ego would like us to believe that they are “doing their best” to lead.  The truth is that they are doing ego’s best to covertly mislead.  To avoid actually allowing us to experience spiritual evolution, the ego’s goal is to keep us spinning our wheels around the same track or switching to alternate tracks as we explore a variety of spiritual paths that distinguish themselves in their details but all race around some form of a closed circuit.  No matter how convoluted the loop, it’s still a closed loop.  True spiritual evolution progresses along an open path.  That’s scary to the ego.  Uncharted territory?  Rough patches?  Going off track may happen?  Unexpected developments that require us to use our spiritual principles under extremely taxing conditions so as to enhance and deepen our understanding of our principles through practice?  “Heaven forbid!” cries out the ego.  But actually such an open path of ascension through unexpected rough patches and off-track exploring is our way to heaven at heaven’s bidding.  Not “Heaven forbid” but “Heaven does bid!”

I write this blog simply to bring this matter to your attention.  Are you following a leader around a closed loop that leads back to the point you began?  It might take a few years to wind back around and there may be window dressing to cloak the old as if it’s new, but what’s really going on?  When spiritual leaders rotate from audience to audience are they conspiring to hide the fact that none of their audiences are actually making progress?  Dare to ask yourself.  Your heart will tell you.  Listen closely and watch what your wise heart brings to your attention.  Ask for clarity and your experiences will reveal it to you.

Is your organization’s supposed spiritual leadership actually a closed shop of politicians carefully screening their inner machinations from your view?  How willing are the leaders to hear your pointed, probing questions and respond with honest disclosures of both the facts and the process by which they lead?  Are the leaders typically talking to you about the latest books they’ve read?  Are they simply appearing to stay ahead of you by reading the latest teachings of other ego-encircled, ego-circling authors so that you are relieved of the responsibility for finding time to read those books and think about them for yourself?  Do you notice any patterns in the process?  Is it convenient for you to pay someone else to do your homework for you and keep you feeling smugly safe within the cocoon of your existence rather than to shake up your comfort and stir you to explore on your own?

Watch out for patterns of convenience and complacency.  Leaders who allow you to pay their salaries so that you don’t have to do the homework required to make your own spiritual progress are hoodwinking you.  Ask to have the blinders taken off and see what’s going on for real.  A rubber chicken life is not worth living.  In the end, you’ll feel cheated because you allowed it to happen to you.  You’re only cheating yourself by being unwilling to ask tough questions and find out how your leaders respond.  Don’t chicken out now or you’ll regret it later.  Neither a rubber nor a plastic life is anything but ultimately a disappointing exercise in futility.  Keep your heart open and see what’s there to be seen.  It’s not so much about having eyes in the back of your head as having the sense to listen to your intuition and see with your heart too.  Your heart holds a vision for the life you earnestly desire to live.  Are you letting that vision lead you or are you perishing without a vision simply because you won’t turn into your heart?  Remaining out of touch with your heart and blind to the grander vision is a choice. It’s your choice, a choice you have both the power and the responsibility to make moment by moment.

© Art Nicol 2016