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

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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