Tag Archives: Conformity

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

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Honoring the Legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Art Nicol 2017

The Racket of Modern Culture’s Din of Thieves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Art Nicol 2017

 

Immunity of Church Leaders from Criticism Protects Incompetence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Art Nicol 2016

What If We’re All to Blame?

The blame game is sheerest nonsense since most of us adults who are participants in the US economy and have the right to vote both with our money and our polling place opportunities share the blame for the deplorable state of the world.  If you’re as convinced as I am that the blame game takes us nowhere closer to understanding how the US has fallen to the low we’ve reached, perhaps you’ll consider with me this solution:  Let’s treat the situation as if we’re all to blame and take up responsibility for our part in generating this deplorable condition and for our part in co-creating the true alternative.  The false alternative, of course, remains to deny that the US society is in deplorable condition and keep right on going down the drain with our eyes closed.  If we try that approach, we won’t need to worry about being blamed for sticking our heads in the sand because we’ll have already stuck them somewhere darker to prepare for our future drainhood.

For myself, my children, my grandchildren and others about whom I care, I prefer not to go blindly down the drain without doing my best to head back up towards the rim of the basin and perhaps even climb out of the tub, sink or toilet bowl we’re in.  I believe we’re flushing our future down the drain no matter what downward spiral we say we’re stuck in.  I want to be honest enough to see that pattern at work as we whirl around in our confusion pointing fingers at each other while trying to transfer blame to someone else.  We’re acting like terrified children on a merry-go-round screaming at each other to make it stop so we can get off and blaming the person on the other side of the merry-go-round for making it go around faster and faster.  Just because we keep seeing the same people on the other side of the merry-go-round does not mean that they are more to blame than we are for the ride we’re all taking.  We’re all being taken for a ride.  (That last sentence uses a verb in the passive voice that does not disclose who’s doing the taking.)

Perhaps you find spinning in circles amusing.  I don’t.  After a while it makes me sick to my stomach.  So, I decided to listen to my gut and search for a way off the merry-go-round.  I found it.  I’ve found that the process of getting off made me feel confused and disoriented at first because while standing on solid ground beyond the merry-go-round my head was still spinning as if I were still on board.  It took a while to adjust to standing on stable ground rather than spinning around.  At first I was still dizzy, even more aware of my dizziness than before. In the process of regaining my balance, I learned that I had adjusted to the spinning as best I could and now needed to re-adjust to non-spinning stability again.  In time, I did.  Now my stomach has settled and my mind is at ease.  Now I can heed my gut intuition as well as reason with my mind as a unified field of feeling and thinking my way forward through life with wisdom as my guide.  I enjoy using this new orientation to guide me forward beyond the merry-go-round into more promising, stable territory.

To stay off the merry-go-round in all of its forms and formats in the world, I had to shed the part of me that is tempted to ride along and play the game of spinning tales and using circular justifications and excuses for my decisions and actions.  I had to stop pointing my finger “over there” and claiming that the “other guy or gal or they” made me do it.  I even had to stop claiming that God or the Devil made me do it.  I had to take full responsibility for “doing it,” whatever “it” was from time to time.  “Yes, I did it and I accept full responsibility for doing it.”  Tough sledding sometimes.

It was not easy to offend the popular opinions of powerful people and go against the flow of social conformity to act according to my heart’s intuition and my mind’s reason as best I could.  It has not been easy to make mistakes and take responsibility for them so as to learn all I could from them rather than close myself off from these ofttimes painful learning opportunities.  It has been no easier to make right decisions, be roundly condemned for them by others and still take responsibility for them as if they might, perchance, have been right or at least closer to the target than I’d been before.  Whether I decided or acted “right” or “wrong” in the eyes of others depended on the views of those who judged my decisions and actions according to their own preferences, prejudices and power to control what I did.  The characterization of my decisions and actions as “right” or “wrong” did not depend on their objective nature but on the subjective viewpoint of those who judged.  Some judges even relished the chance to punish others so much that they would leap at the opportunity to wield power over me, even arbitrarily, just to feel powerful.  I’ve offended a lot of viewpoints as I did my best to swim upstream as a nonconformist against the current of conformity that’s relentlessly sweeping us all down the drain.

What part of me is tempted to go along with the crowd and not offend the status quo of the drain-heading flow?  It’s the part of me that’s susceptible to being influenced by social approval, an experience I admit I crave.  I much prefer to be approved of than disapproved of.  The part of me addicted to social approval is the same part of me that is susceptible to other forms of addiction or dependency under the influence of any of my natural appetites.  It’s my ego.  Based on any appetite, my ego may turn me back drainward at the least little excuse if I let it.  The patterns of my life are aligned with drainward compliance because I was taught all my life to be a “good little boy.”  Translations for that phrase for me turned out to be “conformist,” “people-pleaser” and “conflict avoider.”  To fail to conform to the expectations of others, displease someone important or stir up controversy was “bad” and was punished by social disapproval.  I had to learn to stand up in the harshest streams of social disapproval and nevertheless face away from the drain and do my best to swim away.  Sometimes, the best I could do was root myself in place and resist the drainward flow, like the post of a pier resists the flow of the tide swirling by it.  The tide of social opinion blames me for resisting its flow.  Yet the truth is that all I am doing is standing my ground and refusing to go along with the riptide of popular social viewpoints or the egotistical preferences of authority figures supported by those who blindly follow them as frightened, compulsive people-pleasers, as once was I.

It’s not been easy to learn to stand up for myself after spending my first decades learning to go with the flow and not assert any viewpoint not pre-ordained to win me social approval or at least avoid social disapproval.  I had learned to be silent when the risk of disapproval presented itself.  In fact, I had learned to take no risks and hide myself from the mainstream of the drainward flow.  For some time, I clung to the rim of the basin and held on for dear life.  Eventually I let go of the rim and allowed myself to be swept totally down the drain while being characterized as totally disapproved of.  There turned out to be no greater freedom from fear of lost approval than to lose it all, drown in disapproval and resurface somewhere down the drain where the flow is freer of the ego’s judgmental attitudes and assumptions.

Freedom turned out for me to be downstream, drainward and then out the drain into natural channels into which artificial drains arbitrarily dump their social outcasts.  There are unflattering terms to use as labels for such outcasts.  I became identified with them and their social exile.  And I found myself in good company.  What do I mean “good” in this sense?  I mean spiritually free to rise up to become new lives without blaming anyone for our circumstances but ourselves.

Yes, I’m to blame for my going down the drain and being flushed out of the pools of social approval amid which I once swam.  I think it helped me to slip readily down the drain that I never swelled with pride when I swam in such pools because secretly I knew in my heart that I did not belong there.  Not swelled by pride, I did not clog the drain and readily slipped through.  I did not belong in the pools, especially in the sense that no one owned me as their belonging.  I was not bought and paid for and required to do my owner’s bidding no matter how degrading it might be, like some slave or prostitute or junior partner in a firm.  I always had the option of dropping out and not participating in the pool.  And I found that the option to drop out could also transform into the option to rise out.

Both dropping out and rising out diverge from conformity to social norms.  To the extent that modern society embraces the norm of citizenry enslavement within the economy, I became abnormal to find freedom from our social institutions of slavery. To the extent that modern society imposes the norm of poor physical, emotional and mental health and loveless relationships upon its citizenry, I became abnormal to discover how to be progressively healthier to the point of wholeness and how to experience divinely defined love.  I highly recommend exploring and engaging in such social abnormalities!

Yes, I’m to blame for what has happened in my life and for the decisions and actions that flowed from my life.  I still am.  By accepting the “blame,” I accepted and still accept full responsibility. And I discovered that with great responsibility comes great power.  The converse of the Spiderman Principle is true!  My life has proved it to my own satisfaction.  If you don’t like being blamed for other people’s decisions and actions, try taking full responsibility for putting yourself in the position to be blamed and then consider exiting that position for higher ground.  In the long run, drainward is not really as fun and rewarding at it looks.  No addiction or dependency is. Just when you fear most falling ignominiously into utter failure in the pursuit of your highest ideals and most heartfelt dreams, let go, sink to the bottom and swim out the drain to freedom beyond the pools of social approval within which you fear being judged and condemned.  Down there in the dark you may be surprised to find your way to the higher, more lighthearted ground you’re looking for.

© 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

We Kill Those Who Come to Save Us

On a Memorial Day weekend as we honor heroes, it seems apt to remember that not all who threaten the status quo are enemies that we need to eradicate as if the gardens of our minds have no room for new ideas.  Not every plant not previously encountered is a weed.  Some newly arriving people in our monolithic culture . . .  including incoming young members of our society who immigrate from heaven to our lands . . . bring gifts of healing and restoration to new life beyond the culture of violence to which we’ve become so well adjusted that we consider its norms sacred.  Truly sacred bearers of glad tidings of great joy arrive moment by moment to serve as reminders of what’s truly valuable.  In fact, the more violent our culture becomes, the more frequently and earnestly these message-bearers strive to capture our attention and tell us that violence is not the only alternative.  Might such nonconformist violators of the status quo not also be heroes we could welcome and value more?

Certainly we are grateful for the heroes who have protected and continue to protect us from harm.  We are also increasingly aware that a hero’s experiences in the face of violence include being harmed, emotionally if not also physically, as he or she stands up for us to stem the tide of violence that threatens to overrun us.  We ask our heroes to endure the pain we’re afraid to experience on our own behalf.  And to help us remain blind to our decision to use others as heroes to protect our comfortable lifestyles, we deny that the enemies our heroes fight are products of our own self-indulgent creature comforts and conveniences.  We deny that there are consequences to our choices and prefer to fashion scapegoats to excuse our self-indulgence lifestyles by blaming others for being envious of us — and eventually perhaps hateful towards us when we deny the legitimacy of their envy.

Although we perpetuate the expansion of our lifestyles through the operation of institutionalized envy, we refuse to see the woe we cause to others by not taking their wants and needs into account as we satisfy our own.  We are driven by our habit of comparing what “little” we have to what “more” others have.  This habit of comparison is selective.  It selects for justifications for our continued pursuit of more while keeping us blind to our own envy of those with more.  Other habits of valuing socially approved images and superficial, materialistic possessions keep us focused on “things” and luxuries as objects of desire, feeding our envy continuously to keep our economy in motion.  Earn, spend, earn, spend, earn, spend . . . the never-satisfying, ever-accelerating cycle of our lifestyles.

And yet when others seek to join us in our plentiful opportunities, we protest as if there’s not enough to share.  That we might no longer gain more and more threatens the foundation of our aspirations.  How could we go on comparing ourselves to what others enjoy if everyone has nearly the same?  What good is our socially popular image and our material possessions if they do not make us “special?”  How can we prove that God favors us if we live as if the concerns, needs and wants of others might be equal to our own and equally worthy of satisfaction?  Does not God play favorites just as we like to play favorites?  Is not that how one proves one’s power — by dispensing power and its accompanying perks on some basis one personally defines with little or no regard for any other standard?  Does not Facebook’s system of “Like” and “Dislike” prove the value of being liked even when we are not truly known or loved for ourselves because we hide behind the social images we project to score points as heroes and avoid becoming scapegoats?

Let us this weekend honor those who believed in the values of superiority claimed by the United States in comparison to other nations, or if not fully believing, nevertheless put themselves at risk to defend our claim and our opportunity to prove ourselves right rather than be destroyed by those who violently disagree with our claim of superiority.  But . . . and here’s a “but” worthy of due consideration . . . let us also carefully review the basis for our claim to superiority and remove from it the arrogance and ignorance we’ve religiously cultivated concerning the claims to value put forth by other nations and cultures.  In what way might we be right in claiming superiority that does not deny the value of other people’s claims to equally high value?  Might we be most right in the ideals to which we claim to subscribe such as “liberty and justice for all” and most need now to reveal our humility in admitting how far short of our own ideals we’ve often fallen?  Is a blend of humility and superiority possible or must one exclude the other?  Might our greatest claim to superiority be in the fitful but relentless progress we’ve endeavored to make in upholding and living true to our ideals?  Perhaps this weekend is one occasion among many to be grateful from the depths of our hearts for all who have stood up for us and sung our praises even when we’ve stumbled badly — or may yet be stumbling now.

Is this weekend an occasion to soberly consider the sacrifices we expect of heroes and ask ourselves, “Are we letting our heroes down when we fail to live according to our highest ideals?”  Are we mocking these heroic sacrifices when we fail to examine our own lifestyles for ways we’ve not ourselves been devoted to our stated highest ideals and instead neglected them as readily as we neglect our heroes when they come back home to our care?   Might we too often be a neglectful culture hypnotized by our pursuit of image-based, materialistic definitions of happiness while remaining blind to the consequences of our shallow pursuits as they spiral more and more out of control?  Our pursuit of shallowness and trivialities as a way of escaping from the deeper, heartfelt truths may be why our ship of state has run aground.  Deeper waters are calling to us from within our hearts.  Will we heed their call and learn to navigate their depths again?

© Art Nicol 2016