Category Archives: Growing Beyond the Church as Jesus’ Follower

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

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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

Called to Heal the Harm

Within every path of faith there are principles and practices that support healing physical, emotional and mental wounds by faith.  As a follower of Jesus, I am compelled to acknowledge that his path of faith did not stop at the principle “first do no harm” but moved beyond merely “ceasing to do harm” to heal harm already done. This, I submit, is Jesus’ ultimate weapon of mass reconstruction to be applied at any time before we use our ultimate weapons of mass destruction any further.  We are fooling ourselves if we believe that we are not already using weapons of mass destruction and spreading them worldwide into hands of many angry people bent on revenge for past harm done to them and to the group of people with whom they identify.  What will be the most persuasive antidote to such revenge-motivated actions that spread harm further and more massively?  The antidote that will persuade the pain-angered weapon holders to lay down their weapons and join hands in peace will be healing of the harm they witnessed and release from the pain they have endured.

The sacred teachings by which Jesus’ life is surrounded and supported include miraculous concepts that point to miraculous actions that result in miraculous outcomes.  Do we not sense our need for miracles in this modern era?  It is time to activate miracles and set them free to achieve their goals.  We who follow Jesus are empowered to activate miracles, as, I believe, are others who follow other faith-based practices.  Since I am a follower of Jesus, let me address the path of faith along which Jesus walked while on earth to activate miracles and leave it to others more knowledgeable than I to address other miracle-activating paths of faith.  We are all in this together and need not compete with each other over who performs miracles.  There is enough harm already done for as many healers to address as may devote themselves to doing so.

We who follow Jesus are not challenged merely to be “good” people as if conforming to the best of current social norms is enough to satisfy our high calling.  We, like Jesus, are challenged to be “God’s” people, God’s children who activate miracles as Jesus did while walking the earth.  “These and greater things shall you do,” Jesus declared to his followers.  We must now believe him and activate “these and greater things.”  Will we do it by our own power as “good” people who take care of each other?  No, that’s not enough.  Is it enough to take care of strangers and be “good Samaritans?”  As helpful as that is, it does not yet carry us into the realm of “these and greater things.”  Being God’s people who do good towards others is helpful because those actions call into question the doubts others may have about God’s willingness to be helpful to them.  Our helpfulness may open the minds of those we help to the reality of God’s willingness to perform miracles for them, miracles beyond their minds’ understanding but within their hearts’ hopes and desires.

Yet, to be fully faithful followers of Jesus, we must now learn to activate those miracles, those “greater things” of which Jesus spoke.  We will not activate them by continuing to conduct the religious business of Christianity as usual.  We must move radically beyond business as usual to be fully followers of Jesus. The ultimate social justice is to undo the harm others have already suffered and demonstrate that such harm was never intended by God.  We reveal God’s true intentions by releasing God’s power to heal every form of harm completely.  To declare that we cannot do this “ultimate” form of justice is to declare that Jesus misinformed us about our capacity to follow him.  This capacity of which he spoke remains largely unexplored by his modern followers.  Some of his first followers explored and exemplified it. For example, the Bible describes this incident in which two of Jesus’ first followers participated: “But Peter said, ‘I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!’” Acts 3:6 ESV.

From this example, it’s important to note that it does not take money to activate miracles.  That fact is of interest to most of us followers of Jesus because we’re not wealthy. Silver and gold we may not have “none” but we have little.  It may even be true that being wealthy would interfere with the conditions under which “greater things” or “ultimate justice” is best activated.  We who are not wealthy need to concern ourselves less with issues related to income and wealth inequality and focus more upon the disparity between the capacity in which Peter walked and our capacity to activate miracles.  What’s in the way of our activating miracles as Peter did?

In the centuries since Peter activated miracles as a follower of Jesus, many influences have come along to dilute the power of his followers to do likewise.  It’s time to cut through all layers of dilution and boldly step out as Peter stepped out.  Peter’s a great example of the boldness we must acquire because he, like us, at first made a lot of excuses for not following Jesus boldly.  But in time he found the courage to do so and to quit explaining away his lack of capacity.

Since Peter stopped explaining away his lack of capacity, Christianity has been taken over by hosts of teachers and preachers who explain eloquently and otherwise why we’re powerless to activate miracles.  We are overwhelmed with explainers who want us to believe that they are the exemplars of the maximum possible faith in Jesus. Jesus has a term for such explainers. It’s not a favorable or flattering term.  About such teachers and preachers he spoke when he mentioned “blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” Matthew 23:24 (NAS)  In accompanying passages of the New Testament he had harsh things to say about them as he warned against following them.  Over the centuries, such teachers and preachers have carefully avoided using such passages except when it served their purpose to perpetuate their favorite prejudices and/or preserve their positions of power.  Rarely if ever have they cited those passages when confessing their own blindness and repenting as openly before their congregations as they had earlier misled them. Those who strain to focus on trivial matters so as to distract us from the camel in the room — that they don’t want to talk about and prefer that we’d all swallow together — occupy roles of leadership throughout the human institution that has replaced Jesus as God’s representative on Earth. We need to ditch such blind leaders before they ditch us more than they already have.

We common folk who follow Jesus do not lack the capacity to activate “greater things” by which harm already done may be healed, unless we resist surrendering our lives in service to God.  That resistance to surrender is inherently intertwined within our egos, which are devoted to “edging God out” as much as possible from our lives, as 12-step programs reveal.  The convenience-oriented, complacent, competitive ego active in all of us due to our social training within an ego-oriented society must be de-activated if we are to activate “greater things.”  The ego is interested in activating only petty things, not greater things.  In fact, based on ego, we become activated at the slightest irritation.  Will we follow Jesus beyond our ego’s arguments and explanations for why following him is “impossible?”  Will we cease to allow our ego’s petty irritations to distract us from answering the Spirit’s call to heal?

The ego is expert at formulating excuses and justifications for not following Jesus “that far” and at distracting us from such pursuits.  One of the ego’s main excuses is “No one else is doing that. Let’s not look foolish in trying it ourselves.”  Our fear of failing and appearing foolish in the eyes of others prevents us from taking the risk of serving God in this amazing capacity that Jesus exemplified and promised was ours as much as his.  Peter hid from others for fear of looking foolishly associated with Jesus before men, women and children.  Then he found the courage within him to dare to look foolish so that he might demonstrate why Jesus placed such faith in him as to call him to step from the safety of the boat to walk on water.

Jesus is calling us now to do the same. How do we do it?  2 Chronicles 7:14 states the “how” this way:

“. . . if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (NIV)

This is the way Peter did it too.  He humbled himself, prayed, sought God’s intimate presence within his heart and turned from all excuses he’d been making for not surrendering himself in service according to Jesus’ model of service.  In this manner he prepared his capacity to activate “greater things” without taking upon himself the arrogant notion that the power to do so would be his alone.  He set aside his ego to turn from all the ways, values and attitudes of the ego (for such is the meaning of “wicked ways”).  With his ego set aside, he was able to look past his fears and converse with God heart to heart.  God hears within our hearts, where we hear Him/Her as well.  Thus God heard Peter and fulfilled the Divine Promise to heal according to God’s will and way, not the ego’s will and way.  And thus also Peter heard God within his heart and dared to utter his powerfully healing statement of faith.

It’s important to note the context in which Peter’s ego-dissipating faithfulness allowed God to perform “greater things” on account of Peter’s presence.  Peter followed Jesus admonitions and practiced what he’d been taught while walking with Jesus.  For me, four points stand out in the following expanded description of healing that took place:

“Peter looked directly at him, as did John. ‘Look at us!’ said Peter. So the man gave them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, ‘Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, get up and walk!’” Acts 3:4-6 (Berean Study Bible)

Point 1:  Peter was not alone in his reaching out to others.  John was with him.  Peter acknowledged that fact when he told the man “Look at us” not “Look at me.”  Peter and John were acting in concert.  Thus Peter and John activated “greater things” by “gathering two or more in the name of Jesus.”  Both Peter and John were devoted followers of Jesus.  They were complying with Jesus’ model of sending out disciples two by two and taking few worldly goods with them.  Peter may have been the one who was more ready to speak up as the more socially aggressive member of the team, but John’s presence in wholehearted agreement was essential to the activation of “greater things.” John was not merely being passive.  As an active listener and keen observer, he was a full participant.

(Let’s stop over-admiring those who are socially aggressive in leadership positions and stop assuming that their outspoken nature makes them somehow more important than those of us who remain observantly quieter.  We too have value in activating “greater things.”  By our presence and ability to listen heart to heart and make eye contact, we set the stage for activation of miracles as much as any more verbose person does.  Activation of “greater things” is a collaborative process best set in motion by whole people who collaborate according to their diverse contributions.  When we walk together as followers of Jesus, we discover, reveal and engage in our capacity to activate “greater things” because Jesus keeps his promise to be there with us.  It’s by Jesus power and presence offered by and through us together that miracles take place.)

Point 2: Peter and John traveled in ways that allowed them to cross paths with those who needed “greater things” to happen for them. These were the common folks who were likely more receptive to miracles on account of having spent so much of their lives despairing of any truly effective help ever coming their way.  (In modern society, these would be the folks who lack access to universal healthcare, bank accounts, credit cards and smart phones.)  The man whom Peter and John met had already experienced the futility of expecting “silver and gold” to heal him.  When he looked at Jesus’ followers he looked with “expectation.” He was not as disappointed by Peter’s disavowal of financial wealth as we might believe.  When he heard Peter’s “but,” he knew something better than another trivial coin was about to come forth.  What he received exceeded his mental expectation of alms and addressed his heartfelt prayer for healing.  By reason of his own life experiences, he had been prepared to be receptive to the healing offered.

What a miracle!  God heard the man’s prayers in part because the healed man had also set aside his ego and become humble before God.  His life hardly provided him the means for “wicked ways.”  Thus in this context, three humble children of God failed to pursue socially “normal” definitions of success and instead encountered God’s healing.  Peter and John would have missed this opportunity had they traveled as members of the privileged class upon a camel, cart or other convenient conveyance.  So, too, modern followers of Jesus fail to encounter opportunities to activate “greater things” when we move about in cars and take advantage of our financial means to serve ourselves with conveniences that are not enjoyed by more humble members of society.  In our cars (or on public transportation with our ears and eyes filled with piped in sounds and images from our smart phones) we may travel alone or together, perhaps even singing songs of praise to Jesus, but always we must be on the lookout for opportunities to step away from the conveniences by which we insulate ourselves from the storms of life and instead walk on troubled waters as Jesus calls us to walk.

Point 3: Both Peter and John looked directly at the man on his mat, noticed him and made eye contact.  Only one of them spoke but both locked eyes with the man who requested help from them.  Neither Peter nor John turned away from witnessing the distressing circumstances of this man’s life. They both acknowledged the man’s presence – and his humanity as well as his divinity.  They both looked upon him with compassion, not disdain or judgment.  In short, they looked as they had witnessed Jesus look upon so many people whose life experiences had humbled them.  When Jesus looked, he was moved by compassion to work miracles.  Likewise, Peter and John exposed themselves to being moved and thus allowed the power of miracles to move through them in their open-heartedness.  They allowed themselves to serve as channels of healing  blessings rather than to maintain their egos’ resistance to that role.

Point 4: Peter and John took the risk of allowing others to notice their power to activate miracles.   They had witnessed how Jesus had been treated when the crowds noticed the miracles that poured forth from his life.  They had seen the fickle nature of the masses who crowded in close around him, then welcomed Jesus as a popular conquering hero and next turned upon him only a few days later to cry out, “Crucify him, crucify him.”  Peter and John had every reason to know that they were at risk if they revealed themselves as operatives of Jesus.  Yet, such mental awareness did not prevent them from setting “greater things” in motion by acting as their heart called them to act.  Compassion is an affair of the heart, not an attribute of reason.  We do not argue ourselves into feelings of compassion, empathy or other emotions that link us to others as members of one race.  We feel those links happening inside of us.  We feel them where Jesus said that the kingdom of God abides.  We feel them where our emerging wholeness beyond the ego allows us once again to feel.

As we “trust, feel and talk about things that matter,” we emerge together beyond ego by sharing and thereby overcome our sense of separation from each other that ego produces.  Sharing our internal kingdom’s energies heart to heart reminds us that we are not alone nor lacking in inherent self-worth no matter what our social status may be from time to time.  We set aside past lessons in distrust and dare to experience renewing lessons of trust.  We set aside our ego’s habits of denying our emotions (and our heart’s wisdom) and instead encounter new habits of realizing, acknowledging and expressing our emotions helpfully (and listening to our inner wisdom heedfully). And we not only talk about things that matter but also do what’s necessary to activate what matters.

Our capacity to activate “greater things than these” matters to the destiny of humanity.  May we each follow Jesus as our role model, friend and empowering presence by joining with other followers to serve the Living God — whom Jesus called Abba Father — who desires to comfort, heal and bless us all.  For such a God is Abba Father to us all as no man has ever been or ever could be alone. (And Holy Mother to us all as no woman has ever been or ever could be alone.)  Followers of Jesus, as was Jesus, are nothing but expressions of trivial futility unless we activate Divine Power to flow through us as we remain connected with our Source.

© Art Nicol 2016

Let’s Not Yet Dismiss Jesus As Impotent and Irrelevant

In the United States, we are surrounded by massive evidence proving beyond all reasonable doubt that Jesus is condemned to impotence and irrelevance within a nation that claims to adhere to consumerism-gutted Christian celebrations such as Easter and Christmas and accounts for large, if dwindling, attendance at churches who give lip service to Jesus as the divine entity they honor.  The overwhelming majority of jurors gathering at such places of worship have declared Jesus to be irrelevant as well as impotent within their lifestyles.  They prefer to substitute a watered down, plastic, artificially distanced version of Jesus in place of his living vitality at work within their hearts and minds.  They prefer to hold Jesus in a social chokehold, silence his voice and condemn him to a life sentence of imprisonment within their egos as they bar the door against wholehearted surrender to his call upon their lives.

Every foreperson of every jury handpicked by the prosecution in favor of violent reactions to other people’s violence has declared the verdict:  Jesus is “Guilty as charged” and condemned to oblivion!  Jesus has been on trial across our nation for generations and is now presumed to be guilty of irrelevance and impotence until proven innocent, of which proof there scarce is hope. The only evidence he ever sought to leave on Earth was the evidence provided through the lives of wholehearted followers in his footsteps.  Today few followers are willing to seek the faded signs of his divergent path among the crowded ways along which as lemmings we scramble towards the cliffs over which others have flung themselves. Thus the evidence he seeks to reveal is faint because we are faint-hearted.

The prevailing presumption in favor of Jesus’ impotence and irrelevance is the predictable outcome of our devoting the resources of our legal systems throughout our lands to exacting retribution for every perceived wrong committed by one person against another through all forms of legal process, both criminal and civil.  In the face of Jesus’ model of forgiveness, despite claiming to be a Christian nation, not one state within our Federal system offers its citizens the opportunity to experiment with non-retributive responses to wrongdoing across the board as a systematic norm.  Occasional programs of restorative justice and mediation notwithstanding, the social norm of a retribution-purposed legal system offers little room for Jesus’ voice.  His has once again become a voice crying in the wilderness.  This time that wilderness is our nation of violence and knee-jerk tendencies to use the law to augment personal anger into a national tragedy and twist all legal proceedings into venues for personal revenge.

In Romans 12:2, followers of Jesus are (note: “are” not “were”) admonished, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”  In willful disregard of this admonition, the vast majority of those who claim to honor Jesus prefer to react to wrongs with the same patterns of thoughts, words and actions as the mainstream society around them.  Patterns socially engrained in our thinking since infancy are not readily uprooted.  Like dandelions casually yanked up by their tops, they spring back from deeply buried roots. They are tenacious weeds eradicated only by persistent application of the Holy Spirit as the universal herbicide for the mistake of putting our minds “upon the things of man instead of upon the things of God.”

Based on worldly patterns, we allow the early stage of grief commonly recognized to be “anger” to motivate our actions in response to wrongs we perceive to have been done to us and to others towards whom we feel protective.  Anger is the mainstream, deeply rooted pattern of motivation behind both criminal and civil “remedies.”  Although called “remedies” as if they offer some form of healing, they are not remedies but reminders of the vicious outcomes of cycles of violence perpetuated by anger.  They are institutionalized, socially conformist forms of revenge not anything close to what Jesus presented as the model response to wrongs of criminal or civil nature.

As an innocent human being, Jesus was subjected to harsh treatment as if he were a criminal.  Amidst that cruelty, as he hung at the behest of religious leaders of his era on a form of torturous death popular among the politically powerful, he hung there between two others condemned to the same cruelly prolonged death for their petty crimes.  There Jesus continued to minister mercy, acknowledging the humility of one of his cross-hung compatriots by welcoming him as a guest of Jesus in paradise.  Throughout his ministry on Earth, Jesus encountered, healed and welcomed many whom the mainstream, religiously self-justifying, status-quo-reserving law-abiders called “sinners” and would have stoned to death or banished from their “good company.”  He dared then to say (and would say again today howsoever unpopular it might make him), “And neither do I condemn you” to the woman caught in adultery (having no opportunity to say the same to her male collaborator in adultery since no one sought to stone him at the moment of the story preserved in the Bible).

On another occasion, Jesus taught that the person who visited an inmate in prison was counted among those who had ministered unto him.  It is doubtful that he had in mind that such a visitor would go to the prison to chastise and condemn the inmate as if he or she were chastising and condemning Jesus.  More likely, Jesus expected the visitor to show mercy upon the inmate and share kindness and other acts of mercy with the inmate as Jesus would have done.  He would have visited the inmate as an expression of God’s unconditional love.  How do we view and treat those we incarcerate or others whom we relegate to the margins of society as undesirables? How rigid is our caste system?  To what extent do we dare violate it?

In modern society (one that ironically we claim to be a civil one), we function like a gang of mobsters. We who claim privilege status within the “gang” we call society do not directly sully our hands in the dirty work of harming others.  We hire agents to do the dirty work, just as any seasoned gang leader does.  We hire prosecutors with orientations as bullies who lust for power and hunger to exercise dominion over others to accuse and condemn members of our society as scapegoats to contrast to the heroes we hold up as paragons of virtue.  Sometimes we are so disappointed with our heroes that we topple them off the media-elevated pedestals upon which we had previously installed them and cast them down as scapegoats of the most useful kind.  The media profits from both these false elevations to and the subsequent sensationalized falls from social grace.  In contrast, regardless of the judgment of people in dispensing social grace for temporary, shallow, self-serving reasons, God’s divine grace remains relentlessly extended to us all — howsoever others may judge and condemn us.  Such is an example of the pattern of the world as we put our minds not upon the way of Jesus as an exemplar of God’s way but upon some alternative our egos in our fear prefer.

Followers of the ways of the world who conform mindlessly to its patterns are not following the one who walked the Earth as Jesus, suffered upon the cross of social condemnation to demonstrate his divinity and would even today lead us all to co-create heaven here and now upon this Earth if only we would follow him in all our thoughts, words and deeds.  To do so, as Paul wisely and insightfully observed, we could not allow our minds to remain imprisoned within the patterns of worldly thought of our current, ego-confined, adolescent society but would instead intentionally and relentlessly allow our minds to be renewed by the power of the Holy Spirit until our every thought, word and deed revealed the perfect will of God as mature children of God according to our true identity.

As one who had throughout his life on Earth grown in “wisdom and stature in the eyes of man [and woman] and God,” Jesus’ life revealed the will of God in his thinking, speaking and acting.  We are called to do likewise to overcome our identity crisis and refuse to linger any longer in it.  To fulfill our high calling as inheritors of the Kingdom of Love, we must divest our energies from the false calling of condemning others and re-invest these God-given energies with steadfast, uncompromising devotion of our hearts, minds, bodies and souls to ministering to the “least of these” as if each and every one of them is Jesus – without even one exception our egos would prefer to make because we are afraid to appear foolish in the eyes of those who conform to the patterns of the world.  Whom would Jesus reject from his ministry?  Which social leper do we condemn as if he would?

One pattern most fondly adhered to by the world who condemns Jesus to impotence and irrelevancy is the pattern of carving out exceptions to the lifestyle principles he both espoused and modeled.  If you claim to believe in Jesus, follow him as he has called you to do, not compromisingly or lukewarmly – at risk of being spit out of his mouth – but instead radically, wholeheartedly and passionately as if Jesus is not only your savior but your Lord as well.  Allow fear to carve out no exceptions to his mercy and grace lest you discover that the exception you carve out also encompasses you.  Seek full release from the pain you struggle to deny you feel as you fail to live according to your true identity as a child of God. It is that pain that causes you to believe you are being punished and sustains the guilt you feel.  That pain is not punishment.  It is merely the natural result of not allowing yourself to expand beyond your ego’s concerns and undertake your own growth in stature and wisdom.  It is the pain an eagle’s developing chick feels while confined within its egg.  Struggle to peck your way free of the ego’s imprisoning shell.  In the pattern of your creation, you are like Jesus, destined to grow relentlessly in your unique expression of God’s grace.  It is painful to allow your socially reinforced fears to stunt your growth and confine yourself within your ego as if it were your identity.  The ego is a false identity.  You are a good egg but more than an ego.  Accept your true identity as a sibling of Jesus within God’s family and let go of the pain of denying that identity.  Through letting go of your ego, you will discover the freedom from painful guilt and shame your heart desires.

No longer be careless about your heart’s desire to do the right thing even when it is socially unpopular to do so.  Instead care less about the opinions of those still entrapped in the judgmental attitudes of their egos and care more about the judgment of Jesus upon your life.  Seek his mercy as you extend yours.  Let divine love be perfected within you as it was perfect in Jesus so that love casts out all fears that might otherwise falsely convince you that some exceptions to the universal extension of unconditional love to all have merit.  Argue with if you must (as most of us do!) but eventually do not defy your Friend and Master.  Surrender to his loving, merciful wisdom so as to come to know your true, forgiven, grace-empowered nature as God’s child ever as much as Jesus knew and knows his own.  That is what it means to belong to him.  It is the path to service by which you come to know the fullest joy life offers.  It is the pathway to relief from grief that otherwise lingers when it need no longer linger.

To whose pattern do we conform?  Whose view of us matters most to us?  To whose image and likeness do we seek to conform so as to beam the radiance of God’s grace across the heartscape of our nation’s ills and bring forth relational healing instead of condemnation?  We have a choice between the pattern of the fear-filled, fear-controlled ego or the pattern of the love-embodying, love-surrendered follower of Jesus. Let go of ego’s reign and embrace the reign of love offered to you unconditionally by God through Jesus.

In that manner, let your heart not be troubled, nor let it be afraid that upon your death bed you’ll find yourself alone, while drowning in regrets and awash with grief you could have faced and overcome so many years earlier.  Why let the anger of grief rob you of years of peace, hope and joy that await you here on earth as a gift?  Accept the gift.  Linger no longer in the darkness of your prolonged grievances. Instead allow the light of love to shine forth from within you as you know in your heart you can and desire.

The impotence and irrelevancy you choose to assign to Jesus is actually a false belief in your own impotence and irrelevancy.  Neither you nor Jesus is impotent or irrelevant when you team up to respond with grace, mercy and love by faith in the Divine Parent whom Jesus called “Abba.”  The time of the grace of our Father/Mother God/Goddess is upon us.  Accept and embrace who you are and cease to hide isolated in the shadows as if you are impotent and irrelevant to making a difference in how others experience their lives.  Join love’s revolution as a welcome member of the team who wholeheartedly, without reservation embrace Jesus as our wayshower.  And find yourself welcomed home as you welcome others as your sisters and your brothers.

© Art Nicol 2016

Affinity for Divinity

Within each of us is an affinity for divinity. Why?  Because we are each “originally” created as an expression of the divine and yearn deep within us to return to our roots.  (By “originally” I mean both “from the beginning” and “as a uniquely distinctive expression of the Creator – a one-of-a-kind original.” That’s a paradox of our existence:  we are each uniquely, distinctively different and yet we are all also united as one within the human race according to universal qualities we all share.  We, as the entire, eternally interconnected human species, express diversity within unity to express all of the Divine Source with Whom we are eternally united as one.  As Divine Love flows through us we reveal the Divine Source’s nature and favor towards us.)

Our yearning to be free to be and express who we truly are is surging up from within us from our roots.  Within us the S.A.P. we are (Spiritually Anointed People) rises relentlessly to the surface, as surely as in northern climates the sap in trees rises to renew life each spring.  By acknowledging our yearning and cultivating, watering and nurturing the soul-soil within which our roots thrive, we encourage our depth of yearning to rise closer and closer to the surface until it emerges into expression within our daily lives and blossoms here as us – who we each are and who we collectively as the human species or “humanity” are. (Within the sequence of time here on Earth, some of us will rise up before others but eventually we will all rise up so that time and space will matter less and less because our eternal and infinitely powerful divine nature will have come online collectively.)

We are inherently and resolutely as determined to know our own divinity (divine identity), be true to it and express it as dandelions are to rise again from the slightest bit of root or tiniest of wind-borne seed.  When our divinity emerges collectively, as a human race we will cease to engage in oppression, exploitation and conflict towards each other and be unstoppably resilient and brilliant as caregivers for all forms of life within and around us.  Until then we’ll simply fail time after time to achieve our heartfelt dreams and desires to end violence because being untrue to ourselves is the ultimate violence and guaranties our failure to achieve lasting peace.  To paraphrase Shakespeare, we must know our true identity – our authenticity – and be true to it at least simultaneously with, if not before, being false to no one else.  As we learn to be honest with and accept others non-judgmentally, we learn to be honest with and accept ourselves non-judgmentally.  This is the feedback loop process for recovering awareness of our true identity.  Acceptance of others leads to greater acceptance of self, which in turn leads to greater acceptance of others, etc. – all with growing inner peace as well as outer peace.  Thus we implement the principle “As within, so without.”

Before we rise up to blossom as we truly are in fulfillment of our own hearts’ desire and of The Divine’s will for us as beloved children of The Divine Source of Life, we are buried beneath the illusions and false images the world of fear teaches us to worship as survivors but not thrivers.  To thrive we must come alive as who we truly are and dare to share our true identity with at least one other and then more and more with all others as sisters and brothers in the same divine family.  It is irresistible, this urge to emerge and share!

Recently I’ve been thinking again about how this emergency took place in my life.  Emergence felt like an emergency because it felt urgent to my heart that I emerge and it felt threatening to my ego that I might emerge as me from behind the cloaking device my ego had become as my social image.  Pride and shame held me back, inhibited my emergence and tried to thwart my fulfillment in living true to who I am.  After living many years as an ego and hiding within the social roles egos train us to play, it upset many people who had known me in my ego roles to behold the real me emerging.  “What’s wrong with you, Art?” they’d ask, if not overtly to my face then privately to themselves and perhaps as well to others.   What was “wrong” with Art was that I was no longer willing to play charades and hide myself from others.  The process of emerging was awkward, more awkward than it need be for others if only we’d all welcome such emergences more openly and not do our best to control or even repress them as unwelcome challenges to the status quo within which we profess ourselves to be so comfortable.  Repressive social reactions on the part of frightened conformists delay and even disfigure emergences.  Being scalded by shame and blame wounds our hearts and can leave long-lasting scars.

I was no longer comfortable with hiding within the status quo as a conformist. I was troubled by my affinity to divinity.  I did not know my troubled waters initially by such a concept.  I did not know how to identify my troubled state.  Indeed, I was more inclined to ask of myself “What’s wrong with you, Art?” than to claim the truth that something miraculous and beautiful was happening – something possibly more “right” than yet understood let alone socially acceptable.  Today I hope to be here to encourage others to emerge beyond merely surviving within ego’s fearful darkness to enjoy thriving within the love-bathed lightness of wholeness, authenticity and integrity.  We need to give each other emotional support as we emerge as authentic but diverse expressions of the divine instead of bashing each other for being different. Let us learn to bathe wounds rather than bash the wounded, wash away grief rather than wander astray and wallow in its initial stages of denial, anger, bargaining and depression.

For each of us, the process of emerging is motivated in some way by our affinity for divinity.  Yet, our identifying links with divinity may differ.  Mine is merely an example of what may be possible for all of us.  If your links to divinity are of a nature similar to mine, I welcome you to share your experiences with me and others.  If, however, your links to divinity are of a different nature, please honor them as well and feel equally welcome to share them.  Perhaps in our sharing we will find the common threads and themes that link us all.

As briefly as I can manage let me describe linking themes I have traced throughout my life that opened doors to phases of my emergence:

First Theme: I will call this linking theme my desire to enjoy relationships with authors and other storytellers, both of fiction and nonfiction.  Throughout my life, I have enjoyed reading, listening to and watching stories that are well presented and have depth and breadth of symbolic meaning.  Allegories and metaphors need not dominate but a story that reveals patterns of human thinking, emotions and character development intrigues me.  Call them archetypes, themes or common patterns, their presence revealed within a story captures my imagination and draws me inward to participate in the experiences of characters in the story.  My imagination allows me to “there” with the characters even while remaining “here” in my own life.  Truth be known, sometimes I tend to become more “lost” in the story than remain aware of my surroundings. Ironically it is my tendency to become so lost in my imagination that allowed me to encounter my true identity and recover from having mislaid and forgotten it as ego’s social training taught me to do.

I became lost in stories told by others to become found in my own living story.  I now realize that my whole life has been symbolic and in some way identified with the common allegories and archetypes of humanity.  (It is likely that you will find your life story is as well.) In some ways, my awakening to this realization while surrounded by many people who do not yet realize that it is also true for them caused me to feel lonely.  I yearn for the companionship of others with whom to share my story and listen to theirs too.  Knowing that every one of us has a story worth sharing has held up to me a path from loneliness to more expansive connections with others past, present and future.  The Eternity of Divinity embraces all time frames and is part of the divinity for which I now feel such affinity.  I began as an expression of an eternal story and now know myself as continuing to be such an expression.

Among the many story tellers who have encouraged me to grow increasingly aware of my nature as a child of God none has been more influential than Jesus.  The stories he told that remain in our records are likely not the only ones he told.  His whole life remains largely an untold story buried beneath myths and legends that have been layered on by various story tellers’ for a variety of purposes.  What marvels my imagination most is that the most outlandishly generous and merciful of the stories of Jesus’ life are the most likely to be true.  Within stories of helpful Samaritans, prodigal sons, women at wells, women at risk of being stoned, reviled tax collectors and others honored to share meals and the like, I found myself invited to imagine what it might be like to have known Jesus as a disciple walking with him as he revealed and shared the nature of his Father as the Divine Parent of us all.  Through my imagination my heart tapped into inspirations that gave birth to actions that taught me much by experience that formal, ego-censored education could not show me.

Second Theme:  I will call this linking theme my desire to be helpful.  Perhaps mostly as a result of my middlish position among seven siblings and my desire to earn my parents’ attention, appreciation and approval, I acquired the disposition and habit of being helpful early in life and could not shirk it afterwards.  I believe that this habit was hard to break because it is rooted in the nature of the Divine Source of Life.  The Source is disposed to helpfulness and habitually helps us whether or not we ask.  As this second theme shaped my development from childhood throughout adulthood, I stumbled along, many times failing, as how to be most helpful was revealed to me.  Throughout my life, I had to change many of my ways of offering helpfulness to more closely correspond to how divine aid is offered, but I could not shake off the desire to be helpful even when I became discouraged about ever learning how to be helpful in truly helpful, lasting ways.  Just as Edison experimented with many materials as he searched for ones to serve as filaments in his early light bulbs, I experimented with ways of helpfulness that shed little light or burned out all too readily.  There are ways to help as the Divine Benevolent One helps, to be an extension of Divine Benevolence as Jesus was while walking upon the earth, and to shed a warm and gentle light to radiate within the darkness of a violence-tossed and troubled world.   Mastering how to do so remains one of my primary goals.  Stories of those who have done so gracefully and effectively throughout the ages continue to inspire and guide me.

Third Theme:  I will call this linking theme my desire to share.  Again this theme began when I was growing up amid seven siblings and observed that if we did not share, there’d not be much left for the smaller and less aggressive ones of us.  Thus, sharing began as a survival principle.  Later it morphed into a principle by which to thrive as me as I discovered that the Divine Source of Life had created and still creates all that is by sharing Divinity with all.  Organic, natural sustainability models itself on the Divine.  In time, I learned how to engage in feedback loops with the Divine and my fellow human beings and to enjoy the empowering unity that such feedback loops generate.  My life has been enriched by sharing all that I receive. I know now with certainty what I had previously only believed was possibly true – that giving and receiving are the same thing, a unified and unifying process we call “sharing.”  The Golden Rule rules our whole lives as surely as the Law of Gravity rules our physical existence.  Whether or not our affinity for divinity will ever defy gravity I do not know except to say that the gravest and weightiest of earthly problems seem to grow lighter as we approach their solutions from the perspective of Eternity.  In my experiences, the Creator has turned out to be more lighthearted than I was initially led to believe.

These three themes have grown over my lifetime as branches of a stout and sometimes fruitful tree. Within those branches I have found myself nourished, nurtured and lifted beyond the ego’s mind-clouding fogs of pain and confusion into awareness of my own identity as a child of God.  My discovery of my divine identity led me to discover FIRELIGHT as an acronym to partially summarize my story.  Faith Initiates Rising to Excellence by Learning to Implement God’s Highest Truth. What is that Truth?  That we are each and every one of us without exception a child of God, by whatever name we may refer to such a Supreme Parent or Source of Life.  (And by whatever names – deriding or uplifting – that we have from time to time called ourselves and have been called by others.)

When I call this ultimate Truth “highest” I also mean it is the deepest, reaching to the taproot of our creation within which all our roots are joined.  Designed to explore the truth of divine love within the depths of our beings, we are also designed to express this truth within our relationships from the most intimate ones outward in ever-expanding circles of new life.  Ours is a love story, a story of mutually helpful beings designed by Divine Love to grow in evermore powerful capacities to express and share love in ever-ascending, upward spiraling feedback loops – giving and receiving as a unified Divine Companion and Loved One for our Creator. “As the Creator Is so We Are.”  We are here on earth to discover what that observation means and how to live according to it in all the fullness of our beings.

(For more about FIRELIGHT, please visit the Firelight SJL tab above.)

© Art Nicol 2016

Open Letter to Those Reaching Out to Outcast LGBTQ Youth and Young Adults

If you are reaching out to LGBTQ youth and young adults who feel unwelcome in their families, communities of faith, schools and other traditional social institutions, first let me say “Thank you” for your earnest effort to awaken dignity and self-respect in those harmed by the lies by which mainstream society surrounds them and inevitably fills them as these lies seep in to poison their hearts and minds. The harm is oftentimes mental and emotional before its toxicity builds up to the point of causing physical harm.   Self-destructive actions come along after self-destructive ideas about how life works take root and toxic emotions that naturally result from believing lies about being unworthy of dignity, respect and love color self-perceptions. Since self-rejection, self-hatred and self-punishment follows on the heels of social rejection, it is helpful to have society cease to reject and begin instead to wholeheartedly accept LGBTQ youth and young adults as welcome members of society. If given enough opportunity, self-acceptance, self-love and self-actualization will also follow from the healing power of social acceptance. But it is not enough to convert the shame of social rejection into the pride of social acceptance. Why? Because shame and pride are flipsides of the same coin by which an ego-based society enslaves us all. We need to do more than help LGBTQ youth and young adults to adopt the ego’s ways of being enslaved to social approval by pride and taken for the ego’s ride to a destiny unworthy of all human beings.  The ego’s way is not the solution. There is another resolution to the dilemma of being nonconforming or “different.”

Because a spiritually rooted and enriched life is the only true alternative to the ego’s seductive illusions, I especially want to thank those who are doing all they can to alert men and women who claim to speak for God to the harm caused by religious teachings that utterly denigrate the personhood and dignity of people with nonmainstream sexual and gender orientations.  As a follower of Jesus, I encourage you to challenge those who claim to honor Jesus to do much, much more than to stop spreading the lies that purport to condemn people of all ages who live with nonmainstream sexual and gender orientations to lives of guilt and shame and doom them forever to hell as unqualified to ever enter heaven.  To end systemic and individual bigotry is a worthy goal because once it’s achieved, we’ll stop harming our youth and young adults who dare to feel “different” and as part of their feeling different struggle secretly or openly with “different” sexual and gender orientations than the mainstream may admit to sharing.  But ceasing to do harm is not enough.  We must invest ourselves without reservation in undoing harm already done and in healing broken hearts much in the need of mending.  Only then will we face within ourselves the adverse effects of ego on and within all of us and evolve beyond ego’s limitations to embrace lives flowing freely with love’s most desired and treasured experiences.

Until their hearts are healed, those who have been wounded by lies and social rejection carry emotional pain and will continue to act out their pain in ways that socially conformist folks will condemn as “proof” of the wounded’s inherent unholiness.  Inner pain is often acted out in socially nonconformist (even rebellious) ways in the face of the conformity that has caused the pain.  (Such acting out is a way of saying, “No, you cannot do that to me anymore.”)  We must educate conformists (adherents to traditions) to be aware of how their unreasonable, fear-based demands for conformity are themselves a root cause of psychic pain and of the resulting harm that flows from believing oneself to be utterly unworthy of and unavailable to God’s love.  Lies confuse our minds.  Confusion = a form of psychic pain that couples with feelings of guilt, shame, inadequacy, powerlessness and resentment to imprison a person’s mind in a dilemma from which there appears to be no escape but death.  Death looks like the only relief after forms of temporary relief like drugs, alcohol, sex and other thrills and pleasure-triggering pursuits prove futile.

We must learn to say to inflexible traditionalists “If, in order to please God and experience Divine Love in abundance, I have to be 100% like you and not deviate in any way from the model of human life that you have adopted, then you are saying that God did not create diversity within the human race even though God created diversity among all other realms of Nature.”  Minerals, animals and vegetables embrace diversity without judging any aspect of diversity unworthy of belonging.  We must be willing to ask “What other expression of Nature polices its members to demand conformity and penalizes by rejection the minority who may not conform? Are not other species wise enough to accept nonconformity as a source of new-and-improved versions of the species that may prove to be more adaptive to changing conditions and capable of causing the species to survive those changes? Might demanding conformity and rejecting nonconformity doom the human race to extinction? Might a holy race include nonconformist expressions of holiness in all innocence as a way of ensuring that the race thrives beyond its currently limited vision for itself? Might God’s vision for the future of the human race encompass more than past traditions have embraced? Might future traditions embrace more of life, love, liberty and laughter because ancestral traditions learned to be more open to God’s creativity as a (re)new(ed) tradition?”

I’m not qualified to address how people of other religious flavors may view the socially marginalized (social “outcasts” or “rejects”), but I am qualified to speak to my brothers and sisters who claim Jesus as their Lord and Savior, as their primary Teacher and Friend.  We who follow Jesus are called to go far beyond stopping the transmission of harmful lies.  Yes, we do need to stop spreading messages of condemnation in the name of the one who said to the adulteress “And neither do I condemn you.”  Her sanctimonious, self-righteous neighbors accused her of “sin” and then dropped their stones when Jesus reminded them to look into their own hearts at their hidden, unconfessed and unrepented shortcomings.  All “sin” means at its origin is “separation.”  Jesus came not to separate from but to reconcile us to the Creator of Us All who loves and favors each of us as the individual and collective apple of His/Her eye.

The shortcomings of followers of Jesus include not only 1) accusing others of different sexual and gender orientations of being lifelong, irredeemable sinners (forever “separatists” from God doomed to suffer throughout all Eternity) but also 2) failing to heal and comfort those who are condemned.  It is not enough to stop condemning.  Jesus is a healer.  His followers must take up healing as their primary avocation until the harm done by the Church (and others) is undone.  We must heed the call to be allied not against but alongside those whom less understanding members of society have rejected as unacceptable family members, friends, classmates, fellow worshippers , co-workers, etc.

As an example of the misguided conclusions researchers are coming to about how to respond to the harm such condemnation causes, I cite this article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/02/26/lgbt-homeless-youth-survival-sex_n_6754248.html?utm_hp_ref=gay-voices.

As this article evidences, researchers tend to intellectualize their way through data to spot the harm (as if it needs to be proven, which it does only to those who otherwise restrict their lives to associating with other members of the privileged class and remain blind to the plight of the less privileged). But they know nothing of the response followers of Jesus are called to provide in response to such harm.  We are not called to study “the problem” in order to gain “insight into a little-understood world and demonstrate the need for more government-funded shelter beds and other resources focused on LGBTQ youth.”  Government is not the answer here anymore than government-run orphanages and foster care meet the needs of unwanted children and youth to be welcomed in homes where they are wanted.  Plenty of followers of Jesus have homes that have room to welcome unwanted youth to be included there as members of the family, as spiritually adopted children and siblings simply because they are already divine children of the Divinely Loving God Jesus called Abba.  We need not out-source the care of the unwanted youth and young adults to governments or any other resource beyond the Christian community itself.  We who claim to occupy the privileged status of having Jesus’ care and guidance must take into our hearts and homes those Jesus says he identifies with, whom the Bible says he called “the least of these.”

I urge you who advocate on behalf of LGBTQ youth and young adults not to settle for speaking to believers in Jesus as if the government is the resource Jesus calls upon to serve God in his name and nature.  Jesus calls upon his followers to serve according to his way, truth and life.  He says we will do what he did and greater things will we do.  He does not teach that his followers should badger politicians into spending taxpayers’ money to provide for the socially marginalized.  He calls for his followers to serve directly in accordance with the blessings that they have received, to dig into their own pockets as the Good Samaritan did to provide for the stranger found beaten and abandoned along the road.  Emotionally beaten and abandoned LGBTQ street kids (as well as LGBTQ youth elsewhere in society) need more followers of Jesus to heed their Lord’s commandment to love God and one another and to leave no one out of their circle of love.

Others may be free to insulate themselves from direct involvement in the lives of those whom the distorters of Jesus’ teachings have harmed.  We who live by the truth of Jesus’ teachings must step forward to demonstrate by the congruency of our words and deeds that the age of  hypocrisy is over and a new age of integrity has begun.

To those who advocate on behalf of LGBTQ youth and young adults and seek to serve their best interests, I say, “What you are doing is a much needed beginning to the age of integrity.  I encourage you to take it all the way and call upon followers of Jesus to confess their own shortcomings as followers, turn from their adherence to habits of falling short, take up their responsibilities and follow the One who sends the Holy Spirit to leads us into all truth.” And I repeat, the gratitude of all whom you serve and of the God of Love who watches over them goes with you always. May you be open to reaping as you sow from the One who sows generously within the hearts and lives of all who serve in the nature of truth and love!

© Art Nicol 2015

Has Christianity Functioned as an Invasive Species?

The habitat of the lionfish used to be limited to warm parts of the Pacific Ocean but now lionfish have begun to occupy reef marine communities in warm Atlantic waters too. It is likely that humans introduced the lionfish to these waters by releasing them as no longer-wanted pets. In the absence of natural predators for lionfish in Atlantic waters, the lionfish population in Caribbean waters has grown unchecked. Since lionfish prey upon the young fish of other species, populations of native species in these reef communities have inevitably declined as lionfish consume their young and wipe out future breeders. In this manner, lionfish have functioned as a typical invasive species to reduce populations of native species by their predatory actions. Lionfish have no interest in preserving native populations when those populations feed their appetites.

Christians used to live in certain parts of the European continent where they identified themselves with the empire-building practices of the Roman Empire and used their religious beliefs to justify conquest of other people and their lands when the resources and peoples of conquered populations fed Europeans’ appetites for pleasure and for power. Many Europeans who traveled to the continent of North America to occupy what they claimed to be vacant lands brought their version of Christianity’s attitudes, beliefs and conquest-justify orientation with them to justify taking the lands occupied by indigenous members of the human race away from these native populations.

In the process of insuring that native populations (called tribes) would not resist the empire-building of European Christians, the European Christians removed the young of native tribes to teach them in schools away from their families and native traditions. They taught them a Western language, Westernized modern values and Westernized thinking to replace and wipe out the native language and rich heritage these young would otherwise have acquired from their tribal elders. As a result, the population of native tribes declined as their young became consumed by Western values and identified with Western lifestyles. The reefs that previously covered the continent where native tribes once thrived shrank into tiny remnants of the lowest quality lands least desired by the European conquerors. Today those shrunken reefs are more commonly known as “reservations.” They function as a patchwork of impoverished sanctuaries for the endangered indigenous members of the human race who occupied the North American continent before the arrival of Europeans.

There are parallels at work here. Do these parallels demonstrate the invasive and parasitic nature of the form of Christianity that Europeans exported to the North American continent? In the process of this exploitative exporting of toxic distortions of Jesus’ teachings, what happened to his teachings about how those with greater power should treat those with less power? With their superior weaponry and access to continent-spanning communications and transportation systems, were not the Europeans the more powerful? But which espoused true wisdom – the version of Christianity exported to the North American continent or the spirituality of the native populations? Centuries have passed. The evidence is now in. European values and methods have exploited the lands and waters and air as no native population has had the means, heart or will to exploit. We have become a nation rich on material terms and impoverished on wisdom’s terms.

Perhaps it is time for those who have subscribed to the justifications of modern Christianity to repent and turn away from their traditions as their ancestors once demanded that Native Americans turn away from their native traditions. Perhaps it is time for all who have subscribed voluntarily or involuntarily to the language and mindset of domination, conquest and exploitation to repent and learn the language and the practices of Jesus, the language and practices of divine love shared among the peoples of the Earth about which Jesus spoke and according to which he lived while in an earthly form. Beyond his earthly form, Jesus continues to call us to turn aside from the ways of the world, take off our shoes when we are on holy ground and listen to the voice that spoke to Moses from the burning bush. It is the same voice Jesus heard while in the wilderness and invites us today to hear by the power of the Holy Spirit blazing in our hearts.

Could it be that Jesus is so invested in the welfare of the whole human race (and every member of us) that he calls for each and all of us to stop doing unto others what has been done unto us and turn away to do unto others what we prefer from the depths of our hearts be done to us instead? Might we reverse the tides of toxic relationships that are washing across our lands if we were each to become totally committed to allowing the Holy Spirit to detoxify our own hearts and minds and to supporting each other in doing likewise? Could that be Jesus’ plan for ending the suffering we otherwise inflict upon ourselves and others in self-condemnation on account of our buried guilt and shame? Let us hear and honor by word and deed the message “Neither do I condemn you” as we turn away from our stony hearts and instead listen to the stories our hearts yearn to share about the love we want to dare and the miraculous ways we want to care.

© Art Nicol 2015