Tag Archives: discipleship

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

Radical Christianity – Where Is It When We Need It?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Art Nicol 2017

 

Honoring the Legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Art Nicol 2017

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

Trump or Triumph?

Let us be grateful to Donald Trump for his exaggerated display of the political option. Maestro Trump magnifies what is true of all politicians – that each seeks to cater to a slice of voters by matching the voters’ prejudices and playing on their fears. Lincoln said it this way, “You can fool all of the people some of the time, some of the people all of the time but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.” Recognizing this wisdom, political candidates generally seek to cater to a collection of slices of the voters who remain fooled long enough to vote the candidates into office. After the election, the need to keep the slices fooled diminishes.

Relying upon the shortness of voters’ memories and their lack of attention to issues that really matter, when the next election cycle comes around, politicians can engage in the same process all over again. Being caught in their irrational incongruities (sometimes referred to as “hypocrisy”) rarely deprives a candidate of office. (A scandal that the media finds juicy and marketable may deprive a candidate of office, but not hypocrisy, which is so commonplace as to merit little media attention.) In fact, being an accomplished juggler of inconsistencies often merits ascension to a higher office. We can be grateful to Mr. Trump for not making much of an effort to conceal his contempt for voters who actually try to think about deeper issues that matter and remain determined to build upon their understanding from election to election rather than remain focused on superficial issues and reboot their thinking each election cycle. Such thoughtful voters may be too tiny a minority to sway any election.

Is there an alternative to candidates’ trying to out Trump each other? Yes, but it’s not a political alternative. It won’t get a candidate elected to office. It’s more likely to get him or her scorned, ostracized and crucified as it did Jesus. The true alternative to Trump is Triumph. The small difference of two letters and the hugely significant qualities they stand for make all the difference in the world towards which each candidate leads. The spiral of Trumping and overtrumping leads followers into a ditch down one side or the other of the slippery slope of self-deception. These ditches are mirror images of each other, more similar than dissimilar. They represent the lower reaches of humanity’s decline, the lowest common denominator upon which fractions can be added to achieve temporary political alliances and win elections. “On which side do you stand?” is the politician’s primary question in wooing voters. “Into which ditch do you want to head with me in opposition to the ‘others?’” would be a more candid way to put the question, but candidates rarely are that candid.

The alternative Jesus presents heads in triumph along the high ridge formed by a chain of mountaintops beyond the downward sliding world of politics where “others” oppose each other to gain the power in an “us” vs. “them” worldview. In the mountaintop perspective of mystics (among who Jesus is a prime example), all humanity is one, not composed of oppositional factions but unified by truth and love as one divine family. Jesus lived the mystic’s alternative in which he believed and demonstrated the nature of its power to comfort, heal and bless everyone inclusively as each person chooses to repent of the politically oriented power-grabbing of his or her ego and surrenders instead to the power of God’s grace, mercy and love. As individuals lay their issues at the feet of Jesus, he accepts them as sisters and brothers regardless of what lifestyle they may have led before deciding to put their faith in him. In response to their repentance and surrender, he gives them new life beyond the ego’s false idols and substitutions for life as God created Life. What Jesus gives he gives from the Father from whom all good gifts come. Jesus shares generously all that he has received from the Father of us all. What politician offers that resolution to the issues that plague humanity with divisive violence and grief?

The “i” missing from Trump stands for “integrity,” a quality of life that embraces wholeness of person and shalom of heart and mind. This quality Jesus embodied and offers even now to help each of us embody. The “h” missing from Trump stands for “humility” and “honesty,” two qualities absent from the ego’s orientation and an anathema to political success. Humility coupled with honesty would require that most candidates simply withdraw from attempts to win voter approval to be a leader. It would require admitting that neither humility or honesty is popular among the masses and will not win votes. Voters tend to prefer leaders who are committed to arrogance and ignorance instead so that voters might be confirmed in their similar commitments. It is so much more convenient to formulate off-the-cuff opinions and vote according to them based on ignorance than to do the homework necessary to generate a deeper understanding and vote according to it. It is also more convenient to copy the answers off of another’s answer sheet, especially from one who seems to have the approval of the crowds, than to formulate an answer after much inner scrutiny and self-examination to identify and release internalized prejudices and fears that otherwise sway our choices.

Let us be grateful to Mr. Trump for clarifying just how lacking in integrity, humility and honesty we prefer our political candidates and the political process to be. We no more want a leader who holds us up to high expectations and ideals than we want Jesus to be Lord of our lives. Let us admit that we prefer to be rescued time after time from our individual and collective social follies as we hope Jesus will save us time after time from our spiritual ones. Who among us wants the burden of integrity, humility and honesty thrust upon us all the time? If one takes such ideals seriously, one becomes exceedingly unpopular in a world driven mad by ego’s internal conflicts and insatiable cravings. Who wants to take seriously the notion that to be great one must serve in humble positions and care about the powerless and weak at least as much if not more than about the socially elitist powerful? Who really wants to be assassinated like Martin Luther King Jr. or Gandhi because we held ourselves to higher ideals of excellence in service to the masses than the masses can tolerate considering for ourselves?

Let us be kind to Mr. Trump. He is serving God’s grand purpose to remind us that there is a clear choice to be made between ego and God. The ego darkens our lives with insane ideas that eventually reveal themselves to be absurd. God enlightens our lives with the only true alternative of sanity so that the truth might set us free.  Mr. Trump is doing us all a favor by publically displaying the extreme limits of absurdity and insanity so that we not mistake the political race for the race of which a devoted disciple of Jesus wrote long ago as recorded in 2 Timothy 7-8: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”

Let us long not for Mr. Trump’s or any political candidate’s appearing but rather for Jesus to return as Lord to rule the Earth with love and cause mercy and justice to roll down from the heights of Divine Glory to satisfy all who hunger and thirst after righteousness as God defines the term. In doing so, let us also be open minded about the meaning of that term and not claim to tell others what God means by it. We may all be surprised to witness what it means when God thanks Mr. Trump for his bumbling service as a contrast to Jesus’ Triumph. If God did not work through imperfect instruments and have a sense of humor coupled with all-prevailing grace, which of us could claim to serve Him/Her or have any hope of heaven?

© Art Nicol 2015

 

Going Beyond Out of Our Way

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”  T. S. Eliot

When you go out of your way to care for another person, is it possible to go too far?  How might you know that “too far” is?  If it’s inconvenient to go out of your way for another person, is convenience the limit and inconvenience where you draw the line?  What is it OK to risk when you go out of your way for another person and what is too much to risk?  Let’s agree that love calls us to take risks in caring for others. Let’s agree that it’s not always convenient to care for another person as love calls us to care and that there will be times when it’s right in love’s eyes to go beyond convenience and extend ourselves into come degree of inconvenience.

Let’s examine the limit to which love calls us to go and acknowledge love’s power to call us to go farther than we might at first imagine.  I suggest that Eliot was correct to note that taking the “risk of going too far” is the only way you or I will discover how far love goes and is ready, willing and able to take us along with it.  In my investigation of love’s limitless nature, I’ve become a radical explorer of the nature of love.  I confess it.  Don’t expect me to argue in favor of setting limits on love’s expression in your life or mine.  I genuinely believe that our tendency to set such limits is precisely why the modern world has become as bogged down in fear, violence and suffering as we have.  Think about it.  If it’s true, as John wrote, that God is love (God = Love, for math fans), then any practice of setting limits on love is the same as setting limits on God.  How is that possible?

How could you or I set a limit on God?  It’s actually quite simple.  We can set a limit on God because God gave us the power to do so.  God gave us free will.  Free will gives us the power to choose between setting God (love) free to be fully expressed in our lives and in the lives of others or setting limits on that expression.  God has already chosen to express the Divine Power of Life and Love in and through your life and mine as fully as we’ll allow.  His/Her choice is made in Eternity and stands forever.  Our choices are made in the realm of Time and Space and can be made, changed and changed again until we discover a choice we never want to change.  The tendency in the modern world, where material values are given greater influence than spiritual ones, is to allow our fears to set limits on the influx and outpouring of love throughout our life experiences.  Our fears set very restricted limits to keep us feeling “safe” within our familiar territories.  In fact, to make sure we’re feeling safe, our fears tend to gradually shrink the territories within which we are willing to take risks and prevent us from even thinking about “going too far.” Thus it is by fear’s logic we never come close to discovering how far we can go if we were to exercise more courage.

In our ego-trained, fear-based orientation to the modern world, we’ve been taught to take a risk that I believe is now haunting us.  We’ve been taught to take the risk of setting severe limits on God and the expression of Divine Love.  We’ve been taking that risk for so many generations that it is now the social norm and heavily reinforced by social approval.  It’s unlikely that anyone told you or me that we were being taught to place limits on God (Love). The ego is not that honest in its dealings with us.  It’s actually quite deceptive and likely to claim that we are being as loving as we need to be or even can be when we do only what is socially approved of.  It’s likely to teach us to believe that social approval sets the proper limit on love that keeps us safe from going too far.  Too far where?  In the ego’s frame of reference, too far out of bounds to risk being thought of as foolish and naïve and subjected to ridicule.  Too far out of bounds that we risk losing the approval of those whose opinions of us we value most.  Too far out of bounds that we risk being hurt and feeling deeply in our hearts in ways we’ve been taught to avoid.  Yet, suppose you or I were to reverse the risk ratio and take the risk of defying social approval and exploring beyond conventional definitions and expressions of love.  Might we encounter more of God and Love “out beyond social norms?”  Might we enter into the realm of mystic experiences to which Rumi referred when he said:

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field.  I will meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about. Ideas, language, even the phrase ‘each other’ doesn’t make any sense.”

Damn these unconventional poets!  Why don’t just they leave us alone?  I suggest that they are heaven sent. I suggest that they don’t leave us alone precisely because God knows that “It is not good for man to be alone.” (Genesis 2:18 NIV)  Poets, lyricists, writers of fiction, composers, dancers, choreographers, painters, sculptors and other artists stir our hearts to take second looks at what the ego has taught us and encourage us to consider changing decisions we might have thought were unchangeable.  Artists express the divine grace that may soften our hearts and allow us to rethink a “conclusion I concluded long ago.” (A Puzzlement from The King and I)

As a believer in Jesus, I tend to take a look at what his teachings by word, deed and lifestyle say about issues that haunt me.  As I realized that decisions I had made under the influence of ego-based teachings were haunting me, I gradually awoke to the reality that Jesus did not usually agree with the ego’s teachings – if ever he did!  He was definitely an unconventional person.  He did not seem to worry much about social approval, winning popularity contests or catering to the social elites of his day.  He was not running for office or trying to win a job or a life-partner’s attention and affections.  He was focused on identifying God’s will in all things and then taking the risk of going too far – at least in the eyes of others.  Gradually Jesus’ ideas, actions and model of lifestyle came to influence me more and more.  To emulate him I began to shed the common excuses given for not going too far.  Some said he was God and, since the rest of us are not God, then of course we cannot go as far as Jesus went in caring about others.  He intentionally hung out with folks others did not approve of and avoided at all costs. He seemed to not realize that they were of a different class and (supposedly) looked down upon by God. Jesus went so far as to wind up hanging on a cross as a vilified criminal and endured shame, pain and other unsavory features of human life on his way to death.  He could have avoided all that.  But would he have honored God and Divine Love if he had?  How could he demonstrate how far we can go if he had not gone beyond death to return as an expression of the Eternal?

Is it true that Jesus was so different from you or me that we can excuse ourselves from taking the risk of going too far in following in his footsteps?  What if he were actually the same as you and I? Suppose whatever identity with God Jesus had and has we have too? Suppose the fact that we’ve avoided going too far is actually the only reason we don’t know how identified with God we are!  Suppose that when Jesus prayed that his followers would know oneness with God as he knew oneness (John 17: 20-23) that he meant precisely that and that his prayers are answered once we quit setting limits on God (Love). Might God be ready, willing and able to show us our oneness with the Divine once we say “Yes, here I am, send me?”  Are we afraid to be sent “too far” and never come back to where we’ve been?  Are we afraid that an encounter with God will change our outlook on life and our choices forever?  The ego is afraid of that outcome.  We need not be.  In our heart of hearts we are hungering for such an outcome.

Radical nonconformity to the ways of the world includes taking the risk of going too far in the ego’s eyes.  Yet it also opens the door to risking that Love will flood in and never stop sweeping us away into greater and greater adventures as well as ever increasing capacity to share Divine Love with others.  Might our hunger for adventure and love never be truly satisfied until we take this risk?

How radical is love as Jesus’ followers believe it to be?  Let’s check out the oft-quoted follower whose writings appear in the Bible as letters written by Paul.  Let’s quote him not for ideas he clung to about how to set limits on God’s Divine will but for ideas about “going too far” in embracing God’s will.

Here is how this eloquent writer spoke about love:

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. I f I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-10 NIV)

Regardless of how eloquently Paul spoke or wrote, he admitted that words lacking in love’s true essence were hollow, pointless and powerless.  He acknowledged that all of the partial understandings he might gain about the truth about love would dissolve in the presence of “completeness” or wholeness perfected by God.  Paul took the risk of going too far in following Jesus beyond Paul’s (Saul’s) previous life of social conformity and of meeting the expectations of those higher up the ladder in his religious institution.  His daring risk-taking brought him into conflict with the very authority figures he’d once tried so hard to please.  He became an outsider to the social club within which, earlier in his adult career life, he’d worked so hard to qualify for membership.  Traditionalists scorned him as a maverick who’d lost his way instead of honoring him as a master student of their long-awaited Messiah’s Most Excellent Way.

Today many traditionalists selectively quote Paul’s writings when he espoused the preservation of beliefs and practices prevalent in his day, beliefs and practices he’d not yet realized were interfering with the evolution-revolution Jesus had set in motion.  Yet, it remains worthwhile to glean wisdom and guidance from Paul’s experiences in his transformation from Saul who had once persecuted followers of Jesus into Paul who himself followed Jesus.  The man who had persecuted became one of those he’d previously persecuted.  Pretty radical change of heart and mind!

How did Paul address this issue of radical nonconformity in going too far?  He addressed it directly by writing:  “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2 NIV)  It’s instructive that Paul tied “going too far” with demonstrating God’s will.  Might that be the point of your life as well as mine?  Each of us in our own way may have the divine opportunity to prove that God’s “good, pleasing and perfect will” is to share Divine Love for all of us with all of us, without exception or exclusion no matter how much pressure socially conformist thinkers place upon the question of the limits of God’s love.  If God loves the previously-hidden but now more-boldly-emerging nonconformist maverick in each of us, then going too far to be true to ourselves as children of God is not possible.  Even the sky sets no limit on how far we can discover we can go – if only we let go and let God be God as we let ourselves go far afield beyond the limits of social approval to belong exclusively to God.

The sky does not set limits.  It invites eagles to soar and not have to seek safety near the ground.  Love likewise invites us to soar to the heights above life’s storm clouds and risk having gone too far.  Our wings will not melt off, for they are not attached with wax.  They sprout from within the energy field of the divine love that radiates through us as it lifts us ever nearer to the heights of heaven.  Some call this falling upward.

© Art Nicol 2015

Cancer in the Body of Believers in Jesus

Cancer begins as a few cells rapidly multiply without the purpose-driven orderly structure that controls the growth of healthy cells elsewhere in the body.  These rapidly multiplying, disorderly cancer cells form masses of tissue we call “tumors” and may eventually spread throughout the body to generate out-of-control cell-production that proves contrary to the purpose of the host organism.  Once the cancerous cells populate too much of the host organism, death looms as the original life-purpose of the organism is lost amid the disorderly purposelessness of the cancer cells.   Cancer is characterized by a disconnect between the main organism’s life-oriented purpose and the process of cell production and tissue regeneration.  Some people say that cancerous tumors “grow.”  But if the term “growth” applies only to orderly cell production that aligns with the life-orientation and purpose of the main, overarching organism then cancerous tissues do not grow.  They merely expand in a disorderly fashion that mimics growth but does not contribute to life.  Once the main organism’s health declines enough to bring about death, even the cancer cells die. They have sabotaged their host to their own detriment.

If Jesus’ institutionalized Church is Christ’s body of believers on Earth then what might be the cancer that is causing the Church’s decline and bringing the body of believers nearer and nearer to disintegration and ultimately death?  I suggest that the cancer can be spotted in every idea and resulting practice that disconnects the Church from the life-oriented purpose God gave it through Jesus.  Ideas and practices not in alignment with the God-given purpose of the Church are generating cancerous cell-production throughout the Church that mimics growth but does not contribute to the life of the Church as God defines that life.  These forms of illusory “growth” are sabotaging the Church and contributing not to its life but rather to its decline.

I believe that God is working through paths of faith other than the one associated with Jesus. Be that as it may, I’m devoted to the path of faith along which Jesus has sent the Holy Spirit to lead all who believe in him.  As a believer in Jesus, I seek to hear the leading of the Spirit within my heart and to heed its guidance and honor the wisdom it transmits to faith-oriented believers in Jesus.  I accept without qualification Jesus’ promise to send the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth.  John 16:13.  That is why this article is devoted to spotting the cancerous ideas and practices at work within Christ’s Church rather than focused upon the possible shortcomings of other paths of faith.  Until the Church of Jesus Christ has submitted itself to healing of all cancerous ideas and practices at work within it, it is in no position to point out the possible ills of other paths of faith. The Church must allow the Holy Spirit to point out and remove logs from its own eyes before it tries to point out splinters in the vision of other paths of faith.

To whatever extent any other path of faith may be failing to adhere to God’s purpose and plan for that path of faith, it is the responsibility of faithful adherents to that path to assess those shortcomings and take steps to rectify them from within the borders of that faith as a follower of that faith. Within the body of believers in Jesus we have our hands full addressing the ills of Christ’s institutionalized Church and cannot afford to cast our eyes upon other religions or paths of faith until we’ve resolved all of our own issues between us and God.  That is to say that the fact that I take up the task of identifying some of the Church’s blind spots does not imply that there are none present in other paths of faith.  It means only that I adhere to the principle of the Fourth Step of the 12-steps and suggest that believers in Jesus must focus on taking our own inventories and repent of our own ill-conceived ideas and sabotaging practices that have led to the decline of the Church at large. Once we’ve humbly submitted to the Holy Spirit’s removal of the logs from our own eyes, we can seek God’s guidance about what to do next with our clarified vision.  In the meantime, to honor Jesus as the head of our body of believers, we need to refrain from violating his principle of not judging others.

In this article I do not pretend to present an exhaustive list of the ideas and practices rampant within Christ’s Church that are proving to be cancerous.  I intend here only to highlight a few so as to contribute to a dialogue within the Church that may lead the Church, its leaders and its members of all stripes and flavors to humility, repentance and healing.  I believe that the process God calls us to engage in is akin to the repentance that Jonah’s message to Nineveh invoked.  Ideas and practices not aligned with God’s holy purpose for the body of believers in Jesus are “wickedness” (failure to adhere to holiness) in the eyes of God whether or not they qualify as “wicked” under popular definitions of the populace at large. If God’s people who are called by His name desire with all their hearts to see the world healed of all forms of violence and oppression and the resulting harm, we must heed God’s definition of “wickedness” in order to humble ourselves before God and participate fully in the conditions that permit healing to flow from God unlimitedly.

In saying that I have identified a few of the Church’s misalignments with Jesus’ directions to his followers is not to say that I mention them in order of significance or priority or have cited the most important ones.  To contribute to the dialogue about Church-wide humility, repentance and healing, I cite only these for now:

  1. The error of judging people of other faiths, as mentioned above. We are not qualified to assess from beyond the borders of any other path of faith how that path of faith is best lived. That is an internal affair as to which responsibility rests with those who claim that path of faith
  2.  The error of citing quantifiable statistics as signs of growth while measures of quality are neglected. When quantity is valued over quality, the Church has dropped the ball that Jesus handed off to the Church. Throughout the Scriptures referenced by Jesus and the Church are many passages indicating that God is more concerned about the quality of life people are experiencing than about the quantity of people who are claiming to believe in Him. God has often preferred to rely upon a few people to accomplish His goals than to rely upon great numbers to prove His significance. In short, God is not concerned with social approval ratings as if God is a politician or Earthly monarch. God does not put His mind upon the things of man. God puts His mind upon the things of God whether or not humankind approves of God’s values, ideas or priorities. For the Church to express God’s orientation, the Church will have to stop catering to social approval, no longer seek to amass quantities of members or money and focus on God’s values, ideas and priorities. To measure the success of the Church by numbers is to measure by the same measurements attributed to newly released movies or TV shows. Audience ratings are not symptoms of the health of the Church except to the extent that high popularity may be a symptom of poor health. Ratings measure the cancerous illusory “growth” and call it admirable. Not so in God’s eyes.
  3. The error of measuring the quality of a believer’s faithfulness to Jesus by the financial prosperity or social popularity of his or her lifestyle. By his example, Jesus revealed the true measures of a believer’s life while he was on Earth. He was neither financially prosperous nor popular. In fact, he allowed himself to walk through life with few possessions and admonished his followers to do likewise. He traveled light but he did not travel far. He remained focused on a relatively small territory of personal concern rather than roam throughout the wider territory using means of transportation then available to him. Today the industrial/technological world has developed means of transportation that enable humans to travel the globe. The Internet empowers our minds to travel everywhere at any time. The practice of traveling widely is promoted by commercialism and mass media as “good.” Good for what? Good for profit-making by purveyors of travel-related services, including the marketing industry. Good for allowing those with wealth to congregate as mutual admirers around the globe and fancy themselves to be participants in a diversely multicultural world when in fact all they are doing is sharing their escapist activities and self-indulgences with other members of their economic class while remaining indifferent to the plight of other classes. I suggest that God disagrees with the standards of the world on this point and prefers that believers focus on local concerns in-depth, moving among all economic classes and other indices of human diversity as Jesus did, rather than spread themselves so thin as to have little significant, long-term impact on anything anywhere. Jesus impacted the lives he touched in significant, life-transforming ways (called “miracles”) and predicted that those who were his true disciples would do likewise, even having greater significance and impact than he had. Jesus was able to perform miracles because he developed relationships locally and allowed the least of these in his locality to have access to him personally. Although he participated in discussions with elites and allowed himself to be interviewed from time to time by representatives of the media of his day, he did not make a priority of doing so. Instead he remained directly accessible to the masses and most importantly to individuals who separated themselves from the masses to approach him one on one. In interacting with Jesus’ energy personally people were brought to faith and offered opportunities to act upon their faith to receive miracles of healing. The Church’s mass-media-influenced values and priorities today turn Jesus’ values and priorities upside down.
  4. The error of catering to worldly powers rather than serving those that worldly powers look down upon, exploit and oppress. The Church has become an apologist for those who wield social power instead of being an advocate for those the powerful disdain. Nowhere in Jesus’ model of life to which he called his disciples did he serve in the role of sycophant to the elites or aristocrats of his time. Moses set captives free. Jesus set captives free. For the Church now to cater to those who hold powerless people in captivity is an anathema to the Father who loves all of us. The modern world is awash with captives of all kinds. Many workers around the world are held captive in one way or another by their employment’s meager returns and harsh conditions. The worldwide trade in sex-for-money in all its forms imprisons participants on all sides of these transactions within walls of secrecy and shame. To help build prisons and justify their existence rather than to visit prisoners and help them never to return to prison ignores one of Jesus’ most strident quality control standards for his followers. To fail to invest its all in helping the least of these to take up lifestyles of freedom and no longer risk going to prison, being homeless or exploited or going without the necessities of life, including personal dignity and the capacity to provide for one’s children, indicts the modern Church.

Christians believe that God’s nature and priorities were expressed in a physical body through Jesus and that Jesus intends the Church as an institution to continue to express God’s nature and priorities.  After starting out so well in Jesus’ life, it may be hard to understand how Christianity drifted so far afield from the truth he promised would set us free.  But it’s vital that we admit the drift and correct the errors if ever we want to allow the truth to set us free from mistakes humans made in the past.  Self-examination, repentance, correction of errors and granting and receiving of forgiveness are not the ego’s talents because these disciplines to which Jesus calls us are expedited by humility and resisted by pride.  So long as spokespersons for Jesus filter their information through the ego and water down their ideas and their experiences – their principles and their practices – to suit their egos no significant correction will occur and the power of forgiveness, once so radically illustrated by Jesus, will remain stillborn.

It is essential to rise free of and beyond the ego to correct the errors that the ego has so diligently preserved.  Overcoming the ego is what the passages in Chapter 3 of Revelations beginning with “He who overcomes shall” refer to.  By the power of diligent self-examination, change of mind and forgiveness of errors, we can join together to resurrect the Church from the tomb into which popular opinion has shoved it by crying out for the crucifixion, censorship and silence of minority members of the Church who have called the Church to account for its harm.  It is a mistake to focus on errors as guilt-and-shame-ladened “sins.”  To encrust our errors with barnacles of guilt and shame only makes them all the more difficult to acknowledge and shed.  Let’s stop adding to the difficulties of the task of resurrecting the Church and simply let Jesus call us forth from the grave as he once summonsed Lazarus, as a friend he missed and wanted to see alive again.  We are each Jesus’ friend, no matter how far we may have gone astray.  He has not forsaken us.  We need no longer forsake him.  By God’s grace, we have the power to redeem our error-prone lives and live lives renewed by forgiveness and mercy and overflowing with liberty and justice for all.

The Church’s healing from spiritual cancer awaits us as individuals who accept healing on behalf of the whole.  The healing begins one by one and gains momentum as the healed ones gather as a healed body of believers.  Healed twos become healed threes, fours and so forth until the heart-count becomes too numerous to quantify.  There is no need to count because once we are healed we are all one.  When Jesus calls you to join the healing movement by submitting yourself to its heart-cleansing flow, remember that you as an individual do not need the permission of anyone else to participate in the healing. All you need to do to respond to Jesus’ call to be healed is to declare with all your heart, mind, body and soul, “I can, sir,” in the face of the Church’s cancer.  As we each do our part as Jesus did, God will do the rest.

© Art Nicol 2015

 

While the Unrepentant Church Defies Jesus’ Authority Believers Can Still Be Faithful Followers

Despite the best efforts of teachers of divisive doctrine who have risen to falsely represent Jesus throughout the centuries since Jesus walked the earth, Jesus continues to this day to espouse the same all-inclusive, non-divisive plan for building the Kingdom of God on earth that he announced originally.  He foresaw what was necessary and put it into motion. He has not changed his mind.  To carry out his plan it is his followers (“us”) who need to change our minds from being faithful to the Church in some Church-institutionalized format to being faithful to Jesus in his non-institutionalized format. Anyone who seeks to modify Jesus’ plan simply is defying his authority and failing to acknowledge him as Lord as well as Savior.

Many have been the modifiers and defiers in the time since Emperor Constantine first declared himself to be a believer in Jesus and insisted that leaders of the Church defy Jesus’ authority and instead knuckle under to the Roman Emperor’s authority.  The first council of Church fathers who gathered by Emperor Constantine’s command in 325 CE at Nicaea formulated a conformist creed that sought to impose on all believers a uniform set of beliefs akin to the uniformity of thinking Caesar demanded of his subjects.  In publishing this creed, the Church fathers adopted the political pattern of the Roman Empire and rendered unto Caesar what was God’s.  From this centuries-old error the Church has not yet repented nor recovered. The Church remains a monument to institutionalized cowardice-induced error, a whitewashed sepulcher filled with dead men’s boneheaded ideas instead of the light of Christ.  Until Church leaders humble themselves before Jesus as the only head of the Church, believers have the option of acknowledging Jesus as Lord independent of the failure of Church leadership to do so.

Since 325 CE, Church leaders have continued to adopt Caesar’s pattern of political oppression and repress all other voices of diversity and disagreement within the body of believers. Each fragment of the Church designated different voices to repress but all repress some voices to make repression and censorship their universally accepted norm.  In ancient times, those who did not adopt the Nicaean Creed or disagreed with the conformist Church fathers suffered and were silenced by the Church.  Caesar lacked the capacity to tolerate open dialogue about the distribution of power among men and about the purposes of power when wielded by men (let alone by women!).  Although Jesus cautioned against seeking power over others and advised that the greatest in the Kingdom would humble themselves to serve others as he had done, Caesar demanded absolute authority over others and claimed to be a god.  Caesar was in no way servant of anyone.  The Church fathers who conspired together to appease Caesar bowed to his claims and substituted him for Jesus and God within the Church.  By doing so, Church leaders subservient not to Jesus but to Caesar abandoned their responsibility for teaching believers how to share and wield God’s power of love in the best interests of the human race as stewards of God’s power and servants of God’s people.  To hide this blasphemy from common people who believed in Jesus, the Church fathers assumed the role of the Holy Spirit and like blind men led their congregations downward and stray into ditches rather than allow the Holy Spirit to lead them upward in God’s way into all truth.  In this manner, truth became the enemy of the Church fathers.  Truth became unknown to any but the most daring members of the congregations and to those who fled into regions beyond the reach of Church authority.

Those who dared to listen to the Holy Spirit and not limit their thinking to ideas authorized by the Church fathers, disagreed with the Church fathers’ politically expedient and cowardly positions. The Church branded them as “heretics” for sharing ideas of leadership in the direction the Holy Spirit led.  That label was accurate, because “heretic” means “one who thinks for himself” instead of knuckling under to false leaders.  However, the Church fathers added another element to that definition by declaring that one who thinks for himself or herself apart from the Church fathers – especially anyone who heard the Spirit accurately as revealing the errors of the Church Fathers – was guilty of offending God, as if offending them and Caesar automatically equated to offending God.  And they took another step in declaring that anyone whom they declared offended God could not be forgiven even by a gracious, forgiving God and had to be punished severely, ultimately put to death if he or she were unwilling to be silenced in any other way.

In taking these regressive steps in abusing their roles as leaders, Church fathers took upon themselves the role of declaring who offended God and what consequences the offenders they identified should suffer.  Their pattern was not Jesus’ pattern of forgiveness and reconciliation but was instead the pattern of Judaism, the Old Testament Jehovah and the New Testament Caesar – a pattern of unforgiveness and retribution.  This was the very pattern that had led Jewish leaders to conspire with Roman leaders to crucify Jesus.  When Jesus’ pattern of forgiveness and peace among men did not suit their political ends and threatened to be inconvenient for those who preferred to appease Caesar to preserve their comfortable lifestyles as Caesar’s cronies, the Church fathers dispensed with Jesus as an authority figure in the Church and substituted themselves in his place.  In this manner, the Church fathers insured that believers would be conformed to the world Caesar wanted to rule over and not be transformed by a renewal of their minds.  And they insured that believers who conformed to the world about prove the popularity of the polluted and polluting will of Caesar and relegate to obscurity the perfect and perfecting will of God.  That is why Caesar’s will that we be as unholy, selfish, arrogant and ignorant of love as ego is has long prevailed in the world despite Jesus’ will that we all become holy as God is holy.  If the Church as spokesperson for Jesus will not speak up honestly in his behalf, how will the truth of Jesus’ living presence on Earth be shared?  It will be shared only as the Holy Spirit whispers in the hearts of those who doubt the validity of the Church’s stands and confirms their doubts about the Church.  Ironically doubters of Church authority now have the best chance of learning the truth that sets us free.

Thus it came to be that the Church was indeed founded upon the example of Peter who denied Jesus when his personal safety was threatened.  When Roman persecution threatened the safety of Church leaders, they ran for protection under the cover of conformity to Caesar’s demands.  Cowardice rather than courage became the Church’s norm in the face of opportunities to stand up to injustices generated by abuse of power.  With rare exceptions such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s standing up to Hitler, modern Church leaders adhere to the ancient norm of supposedly benign cowardice today. Modern politics models itself after Roman intolerance for courageous freedom of thought and expression and the Church knuckles under as if God were powerless in comparison to popular opinion.  Church leaders justify their cowardice as necessary to keep the collection baskets full, their salaries fully funded and attendance numbers high.  They are willing to betray Jesus and those who look to them for trustworthy spiritual guidance in order to maintain their opportunities to rub shoulders with the rich and famous and collect retirement checks at the end of their illustrious careers as cowardly frauds.

Almost 1700 years have passed since the Nicaean Creed was first published and imposed as the conformist thought system of the Church.  Subsequent councils have revised the Church’s creeds but have not repudiated the Church’s choice to knuckle under to Caesar and substitute political and social conformity for God’s supreme authority.  For centuries this unrepentant attitude towards God has been passed down from one generation to the next leaving Church-trusting followers of Jesus with a diluted, inaccurate vision of God. Only those who dare to defy the Church’s politically expedient stands and listen to the Holy Spirit directly become aware of God’s true nature and position on issues central to life.

By and large, as predicted in Revelation 3:16, Jesus has spit the Church out of his mouth as lukewarm, rendered neither hot nor cold by its compromising ways.  The Church has failed to align itself radically and unequivocally with Jesus and will continue to fail to do so until it repudiates and thoroughly roots out the doctrine of political appeasement that the Church fathers adopted at Nicaea.  The Church must muster the courage instead to stand for all-inclusive peace, justice, mercy, forgiveness and grace at any cost to the Church’s relationship with politicians and no longer stand for appeasement at any cost to the Church’s relationship with Jesus.  If ever Jesus is to build his Church upon the Rock that the disciple Peter represented, the Peters within the Church will have to repent of their habits of political expediency and learn to but their minds upon the things of God and not upon the things of man, as Jesus admonished the first Peter to do.  They will have to step out of the comfort zones of their political boats, walk on the stormy waters of life and learn the self-disciplines needed to “serve a risen Savior who is in the world today” and no longer serve their ravenous egos over whom the world holds too much sway. It is time for Church leaders, individually if not yet collectively, to decide whom they serve, for they cannot serve two masters.  Each must decide for himself or herself who is the Master he or she serves.  Each must learn what it truly means to sing and live “What a friend we have in Jesus” as well as “O, Jesus, I have promised” with Jesus being truly honored as Master not merely trusted as Friend.

The issue yet to be decided righteously is the identity of the Chief Authority in Christ’s Church.  Who reigns supreme as head of the body of believers – Caesar and his political successors in humanity’s various forms of government or Jesus who has and needs no successor because he lives beyond death?  Who among us desires to honor God and Jesus no matter how the egos of Caesar and his minions inside and outside of the Church may take offense?  We need not wait until the Church leaders repent of their errors.  We can repent, seek God’s face, pray, humble ourselves to experience God’s dominion beyond ego’s dominion and forsake the ways of the world in favor of the most excellent way of Jesus. (See 2 Chronicles 7:14, Micah 6:8 and Matthew 6:33 for interlocking Biblical guidance on this point.) In doing so, we will make ourselves available to enter into oneness with the Father as Jesus did and set a flood of healing power free to sweep across all nations of the world.  By that flooding power of God’s presence, we will do the works Jesus did and greater things shall we do, just as Jesus foresaw.  It is up to each of us to stop inhibiting the flow of God’s healing grace by our adherence to socially conformist ways.  We must dare to be radically alive as Jesus sets before us his model of life! Jesus did not wait for the permission of religious leaders of his day to step forth as God’s child and we need no wait for permission either.  To defy the Church’s mediocre, lukewarm leadership is either to reject Jesus entirely or to embrace Jesus as the Holy-Spirit-fired leader he is and become Holy-Spirit-fired ourselves.  To stand with Church leadership in this day of suffering and loss is to stand not on compassionate holy ground but on cold-hearted, stony ground. Jesus was moved by compassion to work miracles.  What moves you to what work?  Does money move you to work for a paycheck and that’s it?

Perhaps if we show the way, the truth and the life, Church leaders of modern, technologically overdeveloped and spiritually underdeveloped societies will join us by following our example. Or they may continue to follow the example of the religious leaders of Jesus’ time on earth and declare that the long-awaited Messiah has not yet come.  That may be their choice but it need not be yours or mine because we are free to be heretics who faithfully invite the Holy Spirit to liberate us from chains forged of our appetites for social approval.  It is by this appetite that Church leaders have enslaved us to conformity rather than trained us to be transformed by the power of Divine Love.  To be liberated from the mind-and-heart-enslaving chains of social approval, we need not flee along the Underground Railroad.  We escape to freedom within God’s kingdom by seeking first His/Her Presence within our hearts and allowing the Holy Spirit to add there all the love, grace, wisdom, courage and power that we ever need.

As God comes to reign within our hearts, perfect Love will cast out all fears.  As clouds of fear and doubt fade from our minds at the Sonrise of our renewed lives, we will see God’s nature with increasing clarity and never again wander into ditches under the Church’s fear-befuddled blindness.  Those who Jesus sets free are free indeed – free to live and move and have our being in the Holy One for Whom Jesus is Ambassador Supreme on Earth.  For believers in Jesus nothing else really matters.

Imagine the chagrin of Church leaders if they were to open the doors of their bogus churches and no one showed up because all their former sheep-like congregants heard and heeded the Holy Spirit’s voice within their hearts and no longer went astray.  Sheep who learn to hear and heed their Master Shepherd’s voice do not need compromising Church leaders to show them the Most Excellent Way Jesus reveals. They already know it by heart and remain faithfully within its gracefully disciplined and elegantly anointed pathway by using the GPS guidance of the Holy Spirit — the God-Positioning Spirit.

© Art Nicol 2015

 

Social Justice Implications of Jesus’ Prayer for Oneness

Jesus’ prayer for all believers to know oneness with God is recorded in the 17th Chapter of John.  As is always the case with Jesus’ ideas, they interrelate and cannot stand apart from one another.  His thoughts form a complete system of thinking that is rooted in the integrity and holiness of God.  Although we may reasonably challenge the authenticity of some quotes attributed to Jesus, the main point of everything Jesus in fact said and did while present in a body on the Earth was to demonstrate “that you may believe that my Father is in me and I in my Father.” John 10:38.  This core theme of oneness with God, repeated in Chapter 17 of John, echoes throughout Jesus’ ministry as he constantly questions the standards used by others to separate “good” people – who are supposedly worthy of social approval and warm welcome by God and the people of God – from “bad” people who supposedly deserve only disapproval and avoidance or exile if not outright attack – by God and the people of God.  Its implications ripple outward into his call that his followers treat the “least of these” as if they are one with him – so totally identified with him that what a person does to any of them a person does to him.

Jesus’ life, by word and deed, reminds us that we are all one within God and with each other because we are all (each and every one of us!) created in the image and likeness of God, expressing God’s divine nature.  Long ago, a fundamental flaw crept into Christian theology when elitists bent on accumulating power over the masses adopted the concept of “original sin” or “inherent flawedness.”  This transparent lie helped to keep the masses controlled by their constant fear of being condemned by God, for whom the elites conveniently claimed to speak to the terror of the masses who already feared the elites.  The elites equated their neglect and abuse of underlings with the way God saw and treated humanity. How convenient to claim to speak for God to justify one’s own cruelty!  What a complete undoing of Jesus’ ministry to call believers back to the religious self-righteousness of Judaic elitism with which Jesus so fervently contended.

The concept of “original sin” is such an insulting idea in its disparagement of God as Creator that Jesus has to constantly serve as Redeemer to correct it.  We who faithfully struggle with how to relate to God need a Redeemer only because we believe false ideas trumpeted in the marketplace by those who hog the soapboxes and pulpits as socially aggressive personalities who crave social approval so much as to demand that they set the standards for social approval. They are like bullies who take over the clubhouse and declare that they now can ban whomever does not please them.  As their craving for political power as a false substitute for spiritual power corrupts their minds and hearts, these religiously garbed bullies do all they can to lead others astray with them. How else would they have followers if not to lead them to embrace the same errors that bullies embrace to justify their dominance? Those who question such absurdities are colored as heretics and blasphemers and made to serve as martyrs and scapegoats for religio-political heroes/bullies.

Who sets the standards?  Man or God?  Woman or Goddess?  Jesus says that his (and our) heavenly Father* sets the standards. He modeled that truth so radically that he submitted his own lesser will to the greater will of the Father even unto death on the cross so as to demonstrate the power that arises from Oneness lived to its most radical extreme. We are called today to do likewise, but few are willing to endure the merest hint of social disapproval (let alone the public humiliation of a cross-hung criminal) to do so.  We mistakenly keep expecting religio-politicians to approve our “deviations” from their critically acclaimed social norms and flinch when they disapprove instead.  How timid we are compared to Jesus and his original disciples!  As a result we cling to our pathetic powerlessness and declare that the age of miracles has closed when in fact it is our own timidity as disciples that has caused miracles to cease to flow.  We are the cause of the lack of divine healing in the modern world.  We thwart God’s will by failing to surrender our lesser wills entirely to the Father’s will as Jesus modeled.  God’s grace permits us to defy Him but to do so costs our children dearly.  Violence, harm and chronic suffering flood our modern world in place of the outpouring of divine miracles God stands ready, willing and able to set free if only we’d listen and heed His call.  Long ago He said it, “[I]f my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14.  God is entitled to set conditions for our receiving His blessings.  He has clearly stated those conditions in many ways.  Jesus’ example is an entirely integrated and sufficient restatement of all God wants us to know about how to relate to Him.

Why does Jesus direct us towards serving the “least [familiar or approved] of these?”  Why relate to the “stranger” or the “disapproved social outcast?’  Because the more we embrace the stranger in the other person, the more we’ll have opportunities to get to know the stranger in ourselves and accept ourselves more completely too.  And the more we relate to ones who society has labeled as rejects the more we’ll come to accept in ourselves aspects that society would also reject if we were brave enough to reveal them.  We have maintained social approval at the cost of utter honesty about ourselves and our own hidden issues, whatever each of ours may be.  As a result, we’ve also cut ourselves off from the divine love that the Father would have us experience uninhibitedly, without fear or limitation.  We crimp the flow of God’s love by making false idols of social approval in all of its various forms and formats.

It’s all a developmental thing actually.  The human race’s diversity expresses more than mere diversity of surface appearances and actions summed up as “images,” “lifestyles” and “cultures.”  In addition to expressing our demographically measured diversity of gender, age, race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, educational level, economic class, veteran status, etc., humanity also expresses our developmental diversity.  We are all arrayed along steps or stages of development as each of us has achieved some steps or stages ahead of others.  With respect to the multifaceted range of human wholeness God designed us to master, most if not all of us are as yet incompletely developed or evolved.  Since we develop in response to our social environments, we tend to develop different facets of our gemlike wholeness on different timetables depending upon the social environments to which we have been exposed so far.  (Do we not sometimes say, “He is a product of his environment?”)

For this reason, when we encounter a “stranger,” he or she is “strange” to a significant degree precisely because he or she has been exposed to different social environments or conditions (families, cultures, etc.) than we have.  We encounter the effects of those different social environments as embodied in and expressed through the “other” or “stranger.” Yet if we were totally honest with ourselves we would say, “There but by the grace of God go I.”  We’d admit that we would be much like the stranger had we endured the social environments and its conditioning through which he or she has evolved.

Each person we meet offers us another opportunity to learn more about ourselves as we might be had we lived a life different from the one we’ve lived so far.  Those opportunities offer insights into our wholeness because they reveal aspects of ourselves that our current or previous social environments may not have mirrored back to us before so powerfully or at all.  And we tend to mirror for the other person in each relationship similarly helpful feedback about himself or herself.  When we mirror feedback consciously without judgment or fault-finding, we are lovingly nurturing each other.  We are learning to walk in each other’s moccasins with empathy and compassion.  The social environment of lovingly nurturing each other with gracious feedback is the kingdom of God Jesus represents and encourages us to enter into – seeking first God’s righteousness and no longer asserting our own (inadequate!) self-righteousness.  That God’s righteousness is infused with grace and mercy is a lesson we need to learn by heart until we master it.  Meeting and serving strangers so as to be their gracious hosts affords us opportunities for such mastery.  Through practice, our mastery of hosting strangers empowers us to rise beyond xenophobia and learn to welcome each supposed “other” as a sister or brother – no longer a stranger at all.  The same benefit to ourselves arises from our treating any of those least approved of by our society as if he or she were Jesus.

Jesus calls us to be servants of those we know and approve of and those we don’t know or approve of because he knows how developmentally immature we are and always will be if we remain trapped within our social-approval bubbles or cocoons.  Unless we explore beyond our bubbles (comfort zones or familiar territory) to find opportunities to serve as Jesus served, we will remain uninvolved and unevolved as well.  Within heavily defended comfort zones based on conformity, discipleship as well as personal maturity stagnates.  The world calls it “arrested development.” Constant rebirth amidst the challenges of diversity is a part of maturation as Jesus’ disciple.  Jesus’ own journey illustrates that one must never pitch a tent or set up a booth in an attempt to preserve the status quo, even one as magnificent at the Mount of Transfiguration.  For us to develop or mature progressively as spiritual beings, humility requires that we admit that we are often ignorant – not stupid but lacking in information and ill-informed.  The brightest genius can still be uninformed or ill-informed.  In humility we listen and learn – and perhaps even laugh at ourselves more readily rather than fume over every little error or non-erroneous nonconformity we or others may adopt. Jesus asks us to listen within our hearts and minds to the Holy Spirit.  That’s why he sent the Holy Spirit to be our constant Teacher as we develop greater maturity as his followers.  Even today there are things that many of Jesus’ disciples cannot yet bear to hear, as he long ago foresaw. (See John 16:12.)  Yet we can all become delightfully competent, ever-growing-wiser students of the Truth that sets us free to develop our wholeness more and more completely.

Freedom to be authentic and whole beings of integrity and love as God created us to be is scary – yet it is also the essence of social justice.  It implies letting go of social structures we once depended upon to guide and protect us on our journeys as if social approval were the only purpose of our lives.  In His quest for our highest good, our Father does not intend that those social structures with which we become so familiar during various phases of our development become our imprisoning status quo of traditions or “laws” (rules, roles and rituals).  Like the gantry of a rocket that once enabled the rocket to stand erect and not fall over while it was assembled, equipped and fueled, social structures must at some point release us to soar beyond them.  When that happens we are dependent on our internal guidance systems.

The more our internal guidance systems are attuned to God’s will, spirit, heart and mind the more at peace with God we’ll be as we journey onward in our quest for more elegant mastery, deeper enrichment and more lasting satisfaction as our Father’s servant-sons and -daughters. Those who serve with grace achieve a high orbit from which to envision and embrace the whole of humanity as God’s family of beloved and much favored children.  From that orbit it is increasingly possible to understand and live within the terms of Micah 6:8: “O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Walking humbly with our Father as Jesus did in full surrender of our otherwise socially distorted will is essential to our acting justly as servants of social justice.  As preserved in the King James version of the Bible, we must live by faith to be just: “For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.”  Romans 1:17  Let us dare to live as it is written and as it is revealed over and over again in our hearts as we listen to the Holy Spirit and “[d]o not conform to the pattern of this world, but [are] transformed by the renewing of [our] mind. Then [we] will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2

*Today Jesus would have no problem calling the Supreme Parent “Mother” too.  He could not do so earlier due to the social constraints of his historically first human audience with whom such a concept would have sidetracked communications too much. See, John 16:12-15 for Jesus’ explanation of his plan of sequential communication with successive audiences.

Copyright by Art Nicol 2015