Tag Archives: choice

The Fallacy of One-upmanship

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

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

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

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

© Art Nicol 2017

 

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Internalized Theophobia

In our discussions about what is causing our modern world to self-destruct, digging deeper for answers has become more commonplace.  We are even becoming more willing to look deep within our collective psychological condition in our quest for understanding borne of insights. To contribute to this line of inquiry, I suggest these concepts are worth exploring and considering on their merits:

  1. The mindset of the collective tends to reflect the mindset of its longer-term members, shape the mindset of its newer members and sustain the mindset of its middle-term members.
  2. As within, so without.
  3. Inquiries into our fears are revealing worthwhile insights.
  4. A pattern discovered to be true of how we handle one fear may manifest in how we handle other fears.

To apply these ideas at a depth perhaps not as well explored as might be beneficial to humanity’s welfare, let me back through these concepts as they apply to our relationship with a Divine Being, who for simplicity’s sake I’ll call here “Generous Origin of Daylight” or GOD for short.

Concept 4 applies only if we fear GOD.  I submit that there is abundant evidence to reasonably conclude that the majority of human beings fear GOD because we fashion a host of ways of relating to GOD that reflect our essential fear of the power we assume GOD wields.  Some of us fear GOD enough to banish It from our thought system entirely and call ourselves “atheists.”  Others declare ourselves to be believers in GOD and immediately construct various images of a GOD who wields power that limits our freedom in one or more ways, as if GOD does not trust us to exercise freedom responsibly without GOD’s restrictive guidance and control and we don’t trust GOD to have superior power without abusing it as most of us would do.

Believers thus set up a variety of rules, laws, dogma, doctrines, creeds, rites and rituals to codify our relationship with GOD with a degree of certainty that permits us to point out our errors and the errors of others, establish systems of punishment for each and tame GOD within the confines of these systems.  These regulations also govern who may approach GOD to what degree of proximity and who may expect benefits from GOD and on what terms.  We assume that GOD relates to humans on terms similar if not identical to the terms on which we relate to each other.  We are especially prone to assume that GOD is a Supreme Authority Figure who relates to us as inferior beings on the same ways in which we relate to humans we deem inferior to us, including children.  In essence, we assume that GOD relates to us “from on high” and wields power “top down” as we do in our social systems.

In this manner we tend to envision GOD as being external to or outside of us as other authority figures are.  As we externalize GOD in our thinking, we simultaneously internalize our fear of GOD as a permanent feature of our mental orientation or mindset (set of attitudes and beliefs).  We each establish our individualized fear of GOD as a core element of our personal mindset and join together in societies that fear GOD as one our basic shared perspectives (common ground) about which we may all agree.  Each of us may characterize GOD as having different features and qualities but the vast majority of us agree that GOD is to be feared above all else.

The term “theophobia” means “fear of GOD.”  Internalized theophobia, like internalized homophobia, runs rampant throughout the human race, especially in the modern world where we have so many reasons to believe we’ve massively offended GOD by our ignorance and arrogance in exploiting, misappropriating and abusing the Daylight that originates from GOD.  Daylight was GOD’s original gift to us as the condition in which our fear of the dark could be set aside and we might venture forth to explore the world. GOD so loved us that It sent forth Daylight to banish the dark. And yet we know in our hearts how poorly we have received and made use of this gift.  Instead of honoring GOD with our use of Daylight, we squander it on trivial pursuits unworthy of GOD.  In our minds, our cycles of Daylight-squandering are ever before us as proof we must fear GOD’s wrath for our transgressions.  In our hearts, beyond a shadow of doubt, we are convicted that we are guilty of misusing the greatest gift GOD has ever given us and deserve only retribution for our errors in its use.  That GOD might have any other attitude about the matter totally escapes our imagination. It’s unthinkable that GOD would not be angry because we know how angry we would be if we were GOD and had been insulted by misuse of our most precious gift.

Concept 3 suggests that since our inquiry into the nature and origin of other fears has revealed insightful understandings about the dynamics of fear in our lives, perhaps an inquiry into our fear of GOD might reveal similar patterns in our handling of fear.  For example, if we’ve discovered that our biases and prejudices about each other and about a variety of topics arise from past experiences that we had – or others who influenced our upbringing had, might it be possible that our fear of GOD as passed along generation after generation is based on past experiences that have been overgeneralized and mistakenly attributed to GOD? In this way may we have acquired individual prejudices unfavorable to GOD?  Due to our internalized theophobia may we be unwilling to give GOD a fair chance to reveal Its true nature to us personally and prefer to remain sequestered from GOD by conforming to the biases and prejudices of our group of choice?  Might our fear of social disapproval inhibit our open exploration of GOD’s nature and how GOD might not be the same as the image of GOD we’ve been taught as we grew up?  Might we be hiding from GOD in the dark shadows of such images instead of making full use of Its gift of Daylight to encounter, evaluate and welcome GOD fully?  Does our fear of strangers parallel our fear of GOD?

Concept 2 suggests that the Daylight GOD gave us may be as needed inside of us as outside of us.  It suggests that the dark image of GOD reigning over us may reflect a dark image of GOD enthroned within us.  It is likely as well as understandable that our internalized theophobia colors our feelings, thoughts and attitudes about GOD and deprives both GOD and us of the fair opportunity to explore possibilities of relating to each other with decreasing fear.  Is it fair to GOD or ourselves to allow fears we acquired along the way in life to limit our relationship and establish a lower quality of relationship (or no relationship) than GOD wants us to enjoy – and we might discover we also want to enjoy?  Might GOD intend the gift of Daylight to be an open invitation to become better acquainted with GOD and thereby find relief from so many problems that trouble us, individually and collectively?

Concept 1 suggests that we as individuals have responsibility for how we as a collective race are experiencing life, including experiencing GOD and our relationship with GOD.  As individuals re-examine our personal relationship with GOD and discover that it’s possible to live with less fear of GOD, might we as a race discover our collective fearlessness in regard to GOD?  Might we want to explore what it feels like to no longer fear GOD?  Might we there, in that fearless state, discover the true meaning of unconditional love?  Might we there also discover the true value of the gift of Daylight and revel in its revelations as co-creators with as much generosity as GOD in sharing Daylight with each other?

My exploration of these four concepts compels me to conclude that it’s time for all of us to come out of the dark tombs of our fears and gather in the Daylight together as we allow our fears to ebb and love becomes our worldwide web.

© Art Nicol 2017

 

Alternative Jesus Story – Grave Mistake or Grace Uptake?

I feel inspired today to explore an alternative version of how the story of Jesus came into being.  The version currently popular is pretty much standard fare throughout the world, from the account of his birth at Christmas to the account of his death and resurrection at Easter and beyond that to his ascension.  Today, I want to focus not on the possibility that he was not actually born on December 25th or on any day in December but on the possibility that those who wrote about his death and resurrection had ulterior motives for embellishing, even possibly distorting that part of his story.

Suppose God intended Jesus to be not the “only one” who experienced the process of transcendence but instead a universal “first prototype” of the process for everyone.  That is, suppose Jesus was the first human being to be clearly aware and confident of his nature as a child of God with full manifestation of divine power while upon the Earth in human form and that God intends everyone to eventually become so aware and confident with full manifestation of divine power while in human form.  Those who witnessed and reported Jesus’ experiences were not by their personal experiences clearly aware and confident of what a child of God might be or how divine power might be manifested through such a person. With their deficit in personal experiences on par with to Jesus’ experiences, they were observers, recallers and reporters, not personal experiencers of what Jesus experienced. So, suppose that their observations, recollections and reports were distorted by motives typical of men and women who had not yet become as fully aware of their divine nature as Jesus had.  What if those motives caused them to tell Jesus’ story with less than full completeness and accuracy?

I’ve been thinking about the possibility that those who reported the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection colored the story with features they would have preferred to believe were true had that death and resurrection happened to them – from their limited perspective of not yet having had the experience themselves.  For example, suppose a reporter personally witnessed (or heard secondhand) about the death and resurrection and tried to make sense of it from the reporter’s perspective while not having experienced it himself or herself.  Might he or she have misunderstood aspects of Jesus’ experience and/or reported them inaccurately according to how he or she would have wanted the story reported had it happened to him or her? I’m not talking about malicious intent to distort the report.  What I have in mind are well-meaning reporters who lack direct experience of death and resurrection wanting to tell a story favorable to Jesus – empathetic reporters who try to put themselves in Jesus’ shoes and ask “If this had happened to me, how would I want to go down in history?”

At this point, it seems possible, even likely, that each reporter’s bias may have been in favor of making Jesus look as good as possible.  For example, to avoid making Jesus look foolish or shameful, perhaps a reporter might be inclined to see and report things through the lens of pride as he or she might have projected his or her own pride upon Jesus and assumed that Jesus would have felt about the experience of crucifixion, entombment and resurrection as the reporter imagined he or she would have felt.  Perhaps the reporter subconsciously felt, “I’d be ashamed of having been treated so badly by those I cared about and who professed to care about me.”  And perhaps the reporter would have continued along the same lines to feel, “I’d be proud to show those folks a thing or two and step out from the tomb even more alive and free than when my body was laid there as if I were permanently dead.”  Shame and pride.  Did human perspectives of shame and pride color the accounts of Jesus’ death and resurrection that have passed down through the ages?  Did such perspectives color the original accounts to some degree and then continue to add color as the accounts were passed along from person to person?  Do layers of pride and shame now cloak the real story beneath their distorting influences to invoke pride and shame in every person who hears or reads the story? Can we consider what the story might have been from Jesus’ perspective had Jesus been free to tell it himself to every person who has ever heard or read about it?

Secondhand stories retold become third-hand, fourth-hand, etc.  Eventually they become what the law characterizes as “hearsay” and offer decreasing credibility as indications or evidence of the truth.  Even with the aid of the Holy Spirit’s efforts to preserve accuracy, is it possible that retelling the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection century after century through multiple layers of changing cultures has woven significant inaccuracy and incompleteness into the story we now hear or read?

I ask these questions because I wonder how Jesus would tell his own story.  Would he be more careful to tell a story that did not assert or even remotely imply that anyone was to blame for his death? Might he be careful to clarify that he chose to die the way he died and holds no one else to blame? Might the implications of blame woven into the story as told by others reflect the pride and shame of the reporters and not Jesus’ perspective at all?  Might Jesus tell a story of having voluntarily with full willingness not gone “down” to the grave at all but instead “up” to grace?  Might he have seen far beyond the cross and the tomb to see God’s glory waiting for him and knew (as Moses had reported) that God’s glory was His grace – a grace within which not one hint of pride or shame could be present?

Grave or grace?  Towards, into and through which did Jesus voluntarily walk when he chose to allow his body to expire on the cross?  In what orientation towards life did he arise when he exited from the tomb – in human disgrace or in God’s grace?  Would Jesus have objected mightily had anyone tried to restrain him from experiencing God’s grace so purely?  Might that not be why he scolded Peter when Peter tried to steer him away from Jerusalem? Perhaps Jesus foresaw what he was doing more clearly than Peter or others could at the time and simply moved towards the fuller experience of God’s grace so that we can now follow his example even before setting aside our bodies.  Perhaps he knew in his heart, “If I do this this way, you can follow after me along a path or ‘process that I’ve opened to you by grace when you place your faith in me and trust me to lead you forward, upward and onward.”  After Jesus rose from a human’s grave, God’s grace has flowed to all humanity with increasing freedom as more and more people believe, place faith in Jesus and trust him to lead.  By allowing himself to be wounded not only physically in his body but also emotionally in his heart, Jesus’ wounded heart became the gateway into grace for all who believe and place their wholehearted faith in him.

By the expiration of his body at the hands of others, Jesus was not in any manner disgraced.  He was graced more fully than he could have been otherwise.  No person need shoulder blame for Jesus’ death any more than any person can take credit for his resurrection.  We are all innocent of wrongdoing in regard to Jesus’ death and resurrection. And that’s how Jesus wants us to be – innocent and free to receive and flow with grace as he receives and flows with it.  Our calling now is to walk in our innocence upon the Earth as children of God with the capacity to manifest ever greater power of grace as Jesus promised we could.  Shall we believe him and live like believers by faith?  Given the downward spiral of human culture worldwide, is it not worth investing in this faith-based experiment to see what may come of it?  In all likelihood, within this process we’ll discover the manner in which we can co-create peace and goodwill among all peoples of the Earth.

The process of remaining in bondage within Ego’s paradigm of shame and pride is entirely devoid of grace because Grace is of God and the Ego repudiates and defies God.  The process of being liberated from the Ego’s paradigm so as to experience God’s paradise on Earth requires us to trust God to lead us to access and ascend into a divine realm where the Ego has no capacity or desire to go.  Our choice is to continue to entrust our lives to Ego as we’ve been rigorously and vigorously trained and socialized to do or to switch our allegiance and trust wholeheartedly in God no matter how mysterious a Being or process that alternative may be.  Those of us who have had our fill of Ego’s way will be most inclined to try it God’s way instead.  To do so, we need only empty ourselves of the Ego’s fill and allow God’s presence to enter into and occupy the vacated places within our hearts and minds.  The disciples needed to make this transition are simple and yet challenging until we get the hang of soaring on wings of eagles.

© Art Nicol 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Radical Christianity – Where Is It When We Need It?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Art Nicol 2017

 

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