Tag Archives: Jesus

Let’s Not Yet Dismiss Jesus As Impotent and Irrelevant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Art Nicol 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Art Nicol 2015

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

 

A Topic of Interest to Men: When Will God Man-infest?

The possibilities of how God will resolve the tendency of male human beings to resist surrendering to Divine Authority while preferring to assert their own ego’s impotent but prideful authority are numerous, perhaps infinite.  So, if you don’t like the ideas I offer here, please don’t fret.  Make up your own alternative solution.  If you use your imagination to listen intently to the Spirit that is always sharing wisdom and truth about love within your heart, you’ll find your own story to tell of how God will with men indwell.

My idea is based on looking at things oddly.  For example, most people have interpreted the fact that Jesus came into the world as a male as indicating that God favors men over women. Many interpretations of sacred teachings from many paths of faith have indulged in this same kind of error to justify male dominance of human societies (and, not surprisingly, to justify reserving to men the role of interpreting sacred scriptures as extra protection against loss of male privileges). I interpret the fact of Jesus’ human maleness differently.  I see in that fact a God who tackles the most challenging, stubborn problems head on and does not avoid them.  I see a God who seeks to lift the whole of the human race out of our attachment not to sin but to suffering by converting traditionally aggressive members of the race into superlative healers of all forms of harm.  We’ve been suffering escalating pain for so many millennia that we are psychologically bonded to suffering as if it is part of our identity.  Unless we’re presented with a clear alternative we cannot even imagine living without suffering. The best we can imagine is avoiding as much suffering personally as we can avoid while shifting suffering onto other people’s plates and off of ours.  We cannot imagine an end to suffering for everyone.

Yet, God can imagine it.  In fact, God wills an end to suffering for everyone and has set a plan in motion to bring that end into reality here on Earth.  We might call it God’s totally (that is, free) Affordable Care Act or Universal Healthcare policy.  God’s plan involves sharing God’s immunity to harm and suffering with us, all of us.  To set the Divine Plan in motion, he introduced an example of a starkly clarifying alternative into the human experience that stands in complete contrast to the human race’s normal experience.  That contrast is Jesus, not a contrast because he’s God while we are not but a contrast because he’s totally one with the human race while refusing to be a clone or copy of stereotypical maleness as defined by any human culture.  Witness, for example, that unlike men in most cultures, Jesus did not try to prove his masculinity by fathering children or prove his superiority by running roughshod over others.  Instead he showed that we are all God’s children and demonstrated what that looks like.  He exercised his power not to show himself off as superior but to show us all upward to God as our unconditionally loving Superior Parent.

Normally, male humans are more likely to inflict physical pain and suffering on others than women are. Because men are, on average, larger bodied than women, they tend to cause more pain, sometimes out of awkwardness towards smaller bodied humans such as women, children and smaller bodied men and sometimes quite intentionally to try to demonstrate external superiority while internally (in their secret heart of hearts) feeling quite the opposite in their undisclosed feelings of inferiority. Jesus confronted male stereotypes of social superiority by showing what true superiority on divine terms looks and acts like and teaching that all men as well as women and children have equal opportunity to access the same Diving Power.  God is an equal opportunity deployer of Divine Power, so Jesus says.

In human cultures, women are more likely to be involved in comforting the “little ones” and those who suffer and trying to relieve pain and suffering if they can.  Most human cultures distinguish masculinity and femininity based on factors like softness, gentleness, compassion and cooperation.  In most cultures women are permitted to be softer, gentler and more compassionate and cooperative than men.  Social training reinforced by rewards of social approval for successfully conforming to stereotypes shapes men into inflictors of pain because socially aggressive males are rated as more manly than less socially aggressive ones.  Most societies reserve derogatory names like “wimp,” “sissy” and “coward” for those boys and men who are reluctant to engage in aggressive behaviors and shy away from inflicting or experiencing pain.  To be a “real man” means to inflict and endure pain without flinching – and without crying.

To counteract this social prejudice in favor of casting men as sources of pain and suffering, God decided that the expression God would use to exemplify Divine Love and Grace in human form had to be a male.  God chose the least likely candidate through whom to express Divine Grace and Mercy – a man.  Had God chosen a woman to reveal Divine Qualities and Power, the human race would not have been so shocked.  It had to be a man through whom God manifested the Divine as a Supremely Gentle Nurturer and Healer.  So, in the man Jesus, God man-infected the human body to start the ball rolling. God infected Jesus with the power to not only “do no harm” but also to heal all harm that had already occurred.  In doing so, God challenged the human race to think differently at the core of our assumptions and social constructs about issues like gender identity and stereotypes of masculinity and femininity.  He emphasized the absurdity of casting God as a stereotypical male figure as if God has a human body.  (Given God’s lack of a body with sexual traits, God’s qualities are more likely to be associated with androgyny than with either extreme of masculinity or femininity.)

Since being confronted by the Jesus model of manhood, men have variously faced and/or avoided the challenge of being like Jesus in all of his qualities and letting go of all socially reinforced but nevertheless incompatible ideas about what it means to be a man.  That challenge goes right to the heart of social assumptions that are rooted in the greater size and physical strength of the average man’s body in comparison to women’s bodies and in the fact of penetration by men to accomplish the act of sexual reproduction.  Women by physical nature and reproductive function are defined by their bodies as softer, smaller and more receptive of penetration than a source of penetration. When men identify with their bodies’ traits and functions, they are led away from identifying with the process of submitting or surrendering their lives to God in service according to God’s will.  Yet, the opportunity of men to serve God awaits in our allowing God to be in charge and allowing God to plant seeds of inspiration to gestate and come into fullness of time through male lives.  Images like being the Bride of Christ simply offend the socially reinforced standards for being a “real man.”

The ego, not exclusively a male tradition but prevalent throughout the human race, can be seen as a set of defenses against the truth of God’s plan to call us back home as Divine Children.  In 12-step programs, it is said that EGO stands for “edging God out.”  Jesus demonstrated how to allow God to edge back into our lives by opening our hearts and minds to the transforming power of the Spirit of Truth and Love that Jesus promised would be ever present with us to guide and comfort us.  Often this Spirit is cast as feminine in nature.  Imagine how contrary to a male’s upbringing it may be to allow a feminine power to be in charge and to enter into the depth of his being to create new life!  I believe that such a total reversal of male functions is a major obstacle for men in our quest for experiences of God.  We simply desire to be in charge and have a hard time admitting that God already is in charge.  Let us ponder in our hearts the reality of the Spirit’s abiding presence there and keep things simple by accepting as truth what is already true.

As I said at the beginning, if you don’t like my ideas, please feel free to contemplate at length to come up with ones of your own.  It’s worth our weight in gold to come forth as gold after suffering as Job suffered.

© 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