Tag Archives: Love

Called to Heal the Harm

Within every path of faith there are principles and practices that support healing physical, emotional and mental wounds by faith.  As a follower of Jesus, I am compelled to acknowledge that his path of faith did not stop at the principle “first do no harm” but moved beyond merely “ceasing to do harm” to heal harm already done. This, I submit, is Jesus’ ultimate weapon of mass reconstruction to be applied at any time before we use our ultimate weapons of mass destruction any further.  We are fooling ourselves if we believe that we are not already using weapons of mass destruction and spreading them worldwide into hands of many angry people bent on revenge for past harm done to them and to the group of people with whom they identify.  What will be the most persuasive antidote to such revenge-motivated actions that spread harm further and more massively?  The antidote that will persuade the pain-angered weapon holders to lay down their weapons and join hands in peace will be healing of the harm they witnessed and release from the pain they have endured.

The sacred teachings by which Jesus’ life is surrounded and supported include miraculous concepts that point to miraculous actions that result in miraculous outcomes.  Do we not sense our need for miracles in this modern era?  It is time to activate miracles and set them free to achieve their goals.  We who follow Jesus are empowered to activate miracles, as, I believe, are others who follow other faith-based practices.  Since I am a follower of Jesus, let me address the path of faith along which Jesus walked while on earth to activate miracles and leave it to others more knowledgeable than I to address other miracle-activating paths of faith.  We are all in this together and need not compete with each other over who performs miracles.  There is enough harm already done for as many healers to address as may devote themselves to doing so.

We who follow Jesus are not challenged merely to be “good” people as if conforming to the best of current social norms is enough to satisfy our high calling.  We, like Jesus, are challenged to be “God’s” people, God’s children who activate miracles as Jesus did while walking the earth.  “These and greater things shall you do,” Jesus declared to his followers.  We must now believe him and activate “these and greater things.”  Will we do it by our own power as “good” people who take care of each other?  No, that’s not enough.  Is it enough to take care of strangers and be “good Samaritans?”  As helpful as that is, it does not yet carry us into the realm of “these and greater things.”  Being God’s people who do good towards others is helpful because those actions call into question the doubts others may have about God’s willingness to be helpful to them.  Our helpfulness may open the minds of those we help to the reality of God’s willingness to perform miracles for them, miracles beyond their minds’ understanding but within their hearts’ hopes and desires.

Yet, to be fully faithful followers of Jesus, we must now learn to activate those miracles, those “greater things” of which Jesus spoke.  We will not activate them by continuing to conduct the religious business of Christianity as usual.  We must move radically beyond business as usual to be fully followers of Jesus. The ultimate social justice is to undo the harm others have already suffered and demonstrate that such harm was never intended by God.  We reveal God’s true intentions by releasing God’s power to heal every form of harm completely.  To declare that we cannot do this “ultimate” form of justice is to declare that Jesus misinformed us about our capacity to follow him.  This capacity of which he spoke remains largely unexplored by his modern followers.  Some of his first followers explored and exemplified it. For example, the Bible describes this incident in which two of Jesus’ first followers participated: “But Peter said, ‘I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!’” Acts 3:6 ESV.

From this example, it’s important to note that it does not take money to activate miracles.  That fact is of interest to most of us followers of Jesus because we’re not wealthy. Silver and gold we may not have “none” but we have little.  It may even be true that being wealthy would interfere with the conditions under which “greater things” or “ultimate justice” is best activated.  We who are not wealthy need to concern ourselves less with issues related to income and wealth inequality and focus more upon the disparity between the capacity in which Peter walked and our capacity to activate miracles.  What’s in the way of our activating miracles as Peter did?

In the centuries since Peter activated miracles as a follower of Jesus, many influences have come along to dilute the power of his followers to do likewise.  It’s time to cut through all layers of dilution and boldly step out as Peter stepped out.  Peter’s a great example of the boldness we must acquire because he, like us, at first made a lot of excuses for not following Jesus boldly.  But in time he found the courage to do so and to quit explaining away his lack of capacity.

Since Peter stopped explaining away his lack of capacity, Christianity has been taken over by hosts of teachers and preachers who explain eloquently and otherwise why we’re powerless to activate miracles.  We are overwhelmed with explainers who want us to believe that they are the exemplars of the maximum possible faith in Jesus. Jesus has a term for such explainers. It’s not a favorable or flattering term.  About such teachers and preachers he spoke when he mentioned “blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” Matthew 23:24 (NAS)  In accompanying passages of the New Testament he had harsh things to say about them as he warned against following them.  Over the centuries, such teachers and preachers have carefully avoided using such passages except when it served their purpose to perpetuate their favorite prejudices and/or preserve their positions of power.  Rarely if ever have they cited those passages when confessing their own blindness and repenting as openly before their congregations as they had earlier misled them. Those who strain to focus on trivial matters so as to distract us from the camel in the room — that they don’t want to talk about and prefer that we’d all swallow together — occupy roles of leadership throughout the human institution that has replaced Jesus as God’s representative on Earth. We need to ditch such blind leaders before they ditch us more than they already have.

We common folk who follow Jesus do not lack the capacity to activate “greater things” by which harm already done may be healed, unless we resist surrendering our lives in service to God.  That resistance to surrender is inherently intertwined within our egos, which are devoted to “edging God out” as much as possible from our lives, as 12-step programs reveal.  The convenience-oriented, complacent, competitive ego active in all of us due to our social training within an ego-oriented society must be de-activated if we are to activate “greater things.”  The ego is interested in activating only petty things, not greater things.  In fact, based on ego, we become activated at the slightest irritation.  Will we follow Jesus beyond our ego’s arguments and explanations for why following him is “impossible?”  Will we cease to allow our ego’s petty irritations to distract us from answering the Spirit’s call to heal?

The ego is expert at formulating excuses and justifications for not following Jesus “that far” and at distracting us from such pursuits.  One of the ego’s main excuses is “No one else is doing that. Let’s not look foolish in trying it ourselves.”  Our fear of failing and appearing foolish in the eyes of others prevents us from taking the risk of serving God in this amazing capacity that Jesus exemplified and promised was ours as much as his.  Peter hid from others for fear of looking foolishly associated with Jesus before men, women and children.  Then he found the courage within him to dare to look foolish so that he might demonstrate why Jesus placed such faith in him as to call him to step from the safety of the boat to walk on water.

Jesus is calling us now to do the same. How do we do it?  2 Chronicles 7:14 states the “how” this way:

“. . . if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (NIV)

This is the way Peter did it too.  He humbled himself, prayed, sought God’s intimate presence within his heart and turned from all excuses he’d been making for not surrendering himself in service according to Jesus’ model of service.  In this manner he prepared his capacity to activate “greater things” without taking upon himself the arrogant notion that the power to do so would be his alone.  He set aside his ego to turn from all the ways, values and attitudes of the ego (for such is the meaning of “wicked ways”).  With his ego set aside, he was able to look past his fears and converse with God heart to heart.  God hears within our hearts, where we hear Him/Her as well.  Thus God heard Peter and fulfilled the Divine Promise to heal according to God’s will and way, not the ego’s will and way.  And thus also Peter heard God within his heart and dared to utter his powerfully healing statement of faith.

It’s important to note the context in which Peter’s ego-dissipating faithfulness allowed God to perform “greater things” on account of Peter’s presence.  Peter followed Jesus admonitions and practiced what he’d been taught while walking with Jesus.  For me, four points stand out in the following expanded description of healing that took place:

“Peter looked directly at him, as did John. ‘Look at us!’ said Peter. So the man gave them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, ‘Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, get up and walk!’” Acts 3:4-6 (Berean Study Bible)

Point 1:  Peter was not alone in his reaching out to others.  John was with him.  Peter acknowledged that fact when he told the man “Look at us” not “Look at me.”  Peter and John were acting in concert.  Thus Peter and John activated “greater things” by “gathering two or more in the name of Jesus.”  Both Peter and John were devoted followers of Jesus.  They were complying with Jesus’ model of sending out disciples two by two and taking few worldly goods with them.  Peter may have been the one who was more ready to speak up as the more socially aggressive member of the team, but John’s presence in wholehearted agreement was essential to the activation of “greater things.” John was not merely being passive.  As an active listener and keen observer, he was a full participant.

(Let’s stop over-admiring those who are socially aggressive in leadership positions and stop assuming that their outspoken nature makes them somehow more important than those of us who remain observantly quieter.  We too have value in activating “greater things.”  By our presence and ability to listen heart to heart and make eye contact, we set the stage for activation of miracles as much as any more verbose person does.  Activation of “greater things” is a collaborative process best set in motion by whole people who collaborate according to their diverse contributions.  When we walk together as followers of Jesus, we discover, reveal and engage in our capacity to activate “greater things” because Jesus keeps his promise to be there with us.  It’s by Jesus power and presence offered by and through us together that miracles take place.)

Point 2: Peter and John traveled in ways that allowed them to cross paths with those who needed “greater things” to happen for them. These were the common folks who were likely more receptive to miracles on account of having spent so much of their lives despairing of any truly effective help ever coming their way.  (In modern society, these would be the folks who lack access to universal healthcare, bank accounts, credit cards and smart phones.)  The man whom Peter and John met had already experienced the futility of expecting “silver and gold” to heal him.  When he looked at Jesus’ followers he looked with “expectation.” He was not as disappointed by Peter’s disavowal of financial wealth as we might believe.  When he heard Peter’s “but,” he knew something better than another trivial coin was about to come forth.  What he received exceeded his mental expectation of alms and addressed his heartfelt prayer for healing.  By reason of his own life experiences, he had been prepared to be receptive to the healing offered.

What a miracle!  God heard the man’s prayers in part because the healed man had also set aside his ego and become humble before God.  His life hardly provided him the means for “wicked ways.”  Thus in this context, three humble children of God failed to pursue socially “normal” definitions of success and instead encountered God’s healing.  Peter and John would have missed this opportunity had they traveled as members of the privileged class upon a camel, cart or other convenient conveyance.  So, too, modern followers of Jesus fail to encounter opportunities to activate “greater things” when we move about in cars and take advantage of our financial means to serve ourselves with conveniences that are not enjoyed by more humble members of society.  In our cars (or on public transportation with our ears and eyes filled with piped in sounds and images from our smart phones) we may travel alone or together, perhaps even singing songs of praise to Jesus, but always we must be on the lookout for opportunities to step away from the conveniences by which we insulate ourselves from the storms of life and instead walk on troubled waters as Jesus calls us to walk.

Point 3: Both Peter and John looked directly at the man on his mat, noticed him and made eye contact.  Only one of them spoke but both locked eyes with the man who requested help from them.  Neither Peter nor John turned away from witnessing the distressing circumstances of this man’s life. They both acknowledged the man’s presence – and his humanity as well as his divinity.  They both looked upon him with compassion, not disdain or judgment.  In short, they looked as they had witnessed Jesus look upon so many people whose life experiences had humbled them.  When Jesus looked, he was moved by compassion to work miracles.  Likewise, Peter and John exposed themselves to being moved and thus allowed the power of miracles to move through them in their open-heartedness.  They allowed themselves to serve as channels of healing  blessings rather than to maintain their egos’ resistance to that role.

Point 4: Peter and John took the risk of allowing others to notice their power to activate miracles.   They had witnessed how Jesus had been treated when the crowds noticed the miracles that poured forth from his life.  They had seen the fickle nature of the masses who crowded in close around him, then welcomed Jesus as a popular conquering hero and next turned upon him only a few days later to cry out, “Crucify him, crucify him.”  Peter and John had every reason to know that they were at risk if they revealed themselves as operatives of Jesus.  Yet, such mental awareness did not prevent them from setting “greater things” in motion by acting as their heart called them to act.  Compassion is an affair of the heart, not an attribute of reason.  We do not argue ourselves into feelings of compassion, empathy or other emotions that link us to others as members of one race.  We feel those links happening inside of us.  We feel them where Jesus said that the kingdom of God abides.  We feel them where our emerging wholeness beyond the ego allows us once again to feel.

As we “trust, feel and talk about things that matter,” we emerge together beyond ego by sharing and thereby overcome our sense of separation from each other that ego produces.  Sharing our internal kingdom’s energies heart to heart reminds us that we are not alone nor lacking in inherent self-worth no matter what our social status may be from time to time.  We set aside past lessons in distrust and dare to experience renewing lessons of trust.  We set aside our ego’s habits of denying our emotions (and our heart’s wisdom) and instead encounter new habits of realizing, acknowledging and expressing our emotions helpfully (and listening to our inner wisdom heedfully). And we not only talk about things that matter but also do what’s necessary to activate what matters.

Our capacity to activate “greater things than these” matters to the destiny of humanity.  May we each follow Jesus as our role model, friend and empowering presence by joining with other followers to serve the Living God — whom Jesus called Abba Father — who desires to comfort, heal and bless us all.  For such a God is Abba Father to us all as no man has ever been or ever could be alone. (And Holy Mother to us all as no woman has ever been or ever could be alone.)  Followers of Jesus, as was Jesus, are nothing but expressions of trivial futility unless we activate Divine Power to flow through us as we remain connected with our Source.

© Art Nicol 2016

Co-Conspirators in Deceiving Ourselves

Unless you are willing to be diligently honest with yourself about your emotions and learn how to express them in helpful instead of harmful ways, you participate in your family and all groups and communities including society at large as a co-conspirator in perpetuating lies.  Pretenses, deceptions, images, roleplaying, lies, propaganda, marketing, spin-doctoring, excuses, justifications, rationalizations  . . .   It does not matter what we call them. They are all classified as unhealthy for relationships at all levels or “dysfunctional.”  Don’t let the variety of terms fool you.  What matters is that they are all of the same nature at heart.  In their essence, they are all expressions of our failure to be honest with ourselves about our emotions and about our lack of skills in processing our emotions in healthy, caring ways.

Failure to be in touch with, aware of and capable of expressing our emotions in healthy, helpful ways causes our hearts to be deceitful because we need habits of deceit to keep our emotions from coming to our awareness or letting them be spontaneously expressed.  We each build our habits of deceit to mask our emotions.  We build these habits one step at a time through painful experiences as we practice denying how we feel and instead pretend that we either feel some other way or do not feel emotions at all.  For most of us, our habits become reactive and we operate on autopilot while no longer aware of how we hide our emotions from ourselves and others as if emotions are dangerous.  Might we want to practice another, deceit-free way of relating to ourselves and one another and stop pretending that we enjoy our deceptive lifestyles?  Might we want to unwire our autopilot and become consciously aware of and responsible for our emotions again?  The automated deceptive way is not our only option.  We are merely mistaken to believe it is.  We could choose to become diligently, courageously and compassionately honest in all humility and enjoy life a whole lot more simply because we’d be a whole lot more whole.

The root cause of the painful emotions we feel is the way we crucify ourselves and others on the cross of pride and shame as the horizontal bar and guilt and blame as the vertical shaft.  By pride and shame we bar the door to heartfelt intimacy.  By guilt and blame we continuously give ourselves and each other the shaft.  We draw and quarter ourselves on this quadrant of crucifixion when, truth be known, we do not need to crucify ourselves or anyone else if we’d let go of the habits of judging ourselves and others by how successful we are at being dishonest. We could instead appreciate each other for doing our best to be honest as we struggle together to change our habits and master the art of humble honesty.  And we’d no longer have reason to hate ourselves for lacking the courage to be honest about the sensitive nature of our hearts.

No one starts out with the intention of building a life based on lies.  Every one of us without exception begins life as a sensitive, innocent child who knows no better than to blurt out the truth about how we feel.  Yet, so long as we are raised around people who have been well-trained in the social rules and traditions of censoring and silencing their hearts, we will learn to censor and silence ours as well.  We learn as we are punished for being honest and rewarded for pretending.  To get along with others whose hearts are censored and silenced according to the “reward-and-punishment rules of the game,” we must learn to play the game of pretending.  If we learn the game well, we’ll learn to punish ourselves before anyone has to punish us or to shift the punishment to others by blaming or shaming them.  “He started it” is a good start in shifting disapproval to the other towards whom we point our finger of ill-fate.  The other fingers point back towards ourselves in silent self-hate.

To fail to learn to play the game well is to be exiled into loneliness or condemned to suffer at or near the bottom of every pecking order in town.  We learn to scratch in the earth in the barnyard for our tidbits of approval and be afraid of those with more powerful social status and pecking power than ours.  Only when we can peck as well the best of them do we dare to challenge those who previously pecked us and take our turn as a pecker.  Most of us live as chickens, too scared to challenge the roosters in the barnyard, but a few dare to challenge them and learn to crow as loudly and peck and kick as furiously.  But few challenge the whole idea of being a member of the farmer’s cooped-up flock.  To sustain such a challenge promises only more heartache of the most primal nature – total rejection from the group by whatever criteria we identify the group.

The roosters compete to rule the roost.  In the human flock, a rooster need not be a male cock.  She may be a hen who decided to copy a cock’s ways and out-do cocks at their own game.  Female roosters are increasingly more prevalent in modern times as feminism asserts the rights of women to be as nasty in their ways of competition as men have ever been.  The rules of the game don’t change.  Only the players change according to the current trends favoring dominance under the group’s rules for power-grabbing.  And when competing within the rules fails to gain the goals we seek, we subvert the rules and grab power some other way if we can get away with it.  Layers of deceit hide our corruption of the rules.  Politics continues as business as usual in all arenas of life in which power-dominance rather than power-sharing prevails as both the means and the end.  Only the rare bird who declares there is another way of honoring power as a shared community asset to bless the whole community dares to stand apart from the politics of the day and show himself or herself as an example of what could be “if only” we dared collectively to try this alternative long enough to give it a realistic opportunity to prove itself.

On the way to proving that an alternative does truly exist, those who dare to stand apart as examples fall and disappear because the roosters in the barnyard set no self-restraining limits on how they will exercise power to keep and advance their rooster status as they also protect the game that favors their dominance.  Assassination is an acceptable means for those who have in mind as their ultimate goal the maintenance and advancement of their deceitful claims to roosterhood.  Rather than be exposed for their ruthless means of maintaining their roosterhood, current roosters will go to any length to wipe out (or at least disembowel) the opposition’s leadership, oppress the opposition’s followership and write history to demonstrate the superiority of maintaining the status quo of the roosters’ dominance in the face of claims that an alternative exists.  It’s always better that one man or woman should perish than that a whole barnyard of peckers in their pecking order should perish.  By whatever means necessary, these truthseekers – and worse, truth-tellers — must be silenced.

And so it goes throughout human history.  Men and women who seek to stand up for justice for the whole flock and dare to challenge the way things have always been die if they are not willing to be silenced some other way.  The more they speak from positions that may be heard by the flock, the more likely it is that they must die.  Silencing them simply will not be permanent enough for the sake of roosters’ collective claim upon permanent dominance.  Roosters prefer to fight beak and spur against other roosters on rooster terms than to see the whole system by which rooster dominance is preserved be replaced by a system with other values, means and ends.  Roosters fight for preservation of the status quo even when they have to switch out their positions of dominance and take up other roles of power within the flock. Why? Because they have no idea how to participate in the alternative way of distributing power equitably among the members of the flock for the benefit of the flock instead of for the roosters’ own private benefit.  Private benefits, private property, exclusive control and dominance and similar values swing widely out of balance when the roosters become desperate to preserve their positions of power by any means available.  Heartlessly deceptive means are as good a means as any other when the chips are down. What is heartlessness to the man or woman who long ago gave up having a heart in favor of pretending to be satisfied with amassing power for powers sake?

How might we stop playing by the roosters’ game and participate in the alternative way of shared power?  We must stop being self-deceptive and start being honest with ourselves and others about our emotions.  Denial of emotions produces egos that are more than willing to continue to play games to manipulate other people to amass power, property and popularity by any means.  The more hardhearted the ego, the less the rules — as well as personal character, integrity and authenticity — matter. All that matters is gaining more power.  What the cocks and their competitors for power among the hens won’t tell you is what they do not know for sure but likely do suspect.  In their lust for power, greed for prosperity and vanity for insanity there’s something of great value missing from their lives.

What might that “missing element of life” be that can only be experienced by those who are honest about their emotions and free their hearts once again to be tender and compassionate?  What do the defenseless have an opportunity to experience that competitive egos miss?  Listen to your heart.  You may well sense the answer there.  It’s a truth that we all share. It’s the one true power that really matters.  It is love that has gone missing while we’ve scrambled in the dusty barnyard for our bits of grainy approval flung to us by very few who own the barnyard and pen us up so deceitfully.  It is love that can come our way as unexpectedly as insects and worms might pass our way to supplement our artificial diet of bits of putrefying grain.  Love has the power to liberate us to range cage-free.

Might we dare to value love more than another insect or worm that holds protein for our bodies but no energy for our spirits?  Might the owners of the barnyard and our pens be amazed if we were to fly the coop entirely and cease to be imprisoned by our egos?  Might we be willing to discover once again that we have wings meant to fly free and range beyond our cramped cages and fenced-in barnyards? Might we discover what’s been too long missing in our own lives and value it so highly as to stop pecking on each other long enough to discover that in each of us is a sister or brother who once was a good egg until she or he mistakenly learned the barnyard’s games of power-dominance and mistook it as the only way to survive?  Might by love’s power it be possible that we all may thrive – all without exception or exclusion, including the roosters who previously believed so cruelly and self-deceptively otherwise?  As we each forsake the way of self-deception let us always remember that we once, too, were deceived into forming ego’s habits of dishonesty.  May we allow every other person to rise free of ego too – without pride or shame, guilt or blame remaining to taint their risen presence.  We all need to be resurrected from the ego’s tomb and allowed to see and be the light again.

© Art Nicol 2016

We Brought the War Home to Us

While I was in college and exiting into the work place, the Vietnam War was still actively causing US citizens to take a stand for or against war in general or for or against that particular war.  It hit home for many of us because of the draft.  We could not avoid struggling to make up our minds whether or not we agreed with the use of weapons to impose our will on other people and, more intimately, whether or not we’d kill anyone to end a difference of viewpoints of any kind.  Could I see myself learning to use weapons in order to kill someone?  That issue remained a struggle for me.  I did not resolve it in my own personal life until many years after the Vietnam War was over.

Today I’m less concerned about death than I used to be because my experiences with God reassure me that there is definitely life beyond the death of our bodies and that no one is going to hell after his or her body ceases to function.  It’s amazing how knowing those simple facts to be true has clarified in my mind whether or not I’d use a weapon to settle a dispute or protect myself from harm.  Since I no longer believe in settling disputes by any means of violence, there’s no question in my mind that I’d not use a weapon to protect myself.  I’m simply willing to go to be with God free of my body’s limitations under whatever circumstances may come along to free me from my body.

Meanwhile, as I was gradually increasing my awareness of God’s reality and my opportunity to relate intimately with God’s reality while yet in the body as well as beyond, I watched us bring the Vietnam War’s issue about taking another person’s life home to us.  It’s no longer a question of whether or not we’ll kill or harm another person who is one of “them” beyond the US borders.  It’s become a question of whether or not we’ll kill or harm another person here at home to settle a dispute “once and for all” or do so to revenge a wrong we believe has happened that matters enough to us to use violence in anger to redress it.  The violence we used to export we have domesticated.  It’s ironic that at the same time we’ve out-sourced so many life-sustaining jobs to places beyond our borders we’ve managed to in-source use of weapons as a more and more acceptable life-terminating solution.  Is there some sort of correlation?  Has the growing hopelessness of finding the means to support ourselves and our families increased our willingness to kill someone we may be able to blame for our loss of self-sufficiency and accompanying sense of dignity and self-worth?  Has our gradually declining sense of self-worth caused us to view life in general as less valuable and assume that everyone’s life has little worth?

I’m not in a position to answer all aspects of the questions that were commonly on many people’s minds during the Vietnam War – nor those commonly on many of our minds today.  I still don’t know what I’d do if I were armed and had the choice to protect a loved one or even a stranger from harm by using my weapon.  I’d hope that I would be well-trained in the use of my weapon and in taking full responsibility for exercising wisdom and calm reason in deciding whether or not to use it under any circumstance that confronted me.  I could make conscious decisions to undergo such training to the fullest extent possible and remain current in my training.  But what I’d do after that remains unknown to me.  How would adrenaline and other by-products of fear affect my decision-making and performance?  Would I want to be trained so at least I had the additional option of appropriately using (or not using) a weapon?

Unresolved. By default I’m not trained or likely to ever be trained.  So, unarmed I continue to be.  After being so grateful for having not been in combat at any time in my life, I’m reluctant to participate in domestic combat now.  My saying that does not denigrate those who have made an alternative choice to become well trained in the use of weapons under the terms specified by the law and according to wisdom and reason.  Until we’ve resolved the issue of violence in our society at large, we need to carefully consider how widely available weapons are and in whose hands we allow them to come.  Continuing to escalate violence as an option while arming ourselves with increasingly more powerful weapons seems unwise to me when we seem to have so little control over the emotional and mental state of those who access those weapons and what their motives to use them may be.

For now I remain committed to investing all of my time and energy in promoting ways to reduce violence and reduce motives for using violence to settle disputes or seek revenge.  It seems to me that to the extent that we can reduce tendencies towards violence in our society and truly promote domestic tranquility intentionally by A) nurturing emotional and mental health for all of us and B) encouraging us all to be forgiving rather than vengeful, the issue of weapons and their use will fade in significance.  We simply would not need to bring any kind of warfare home to us anymore because we would have ended the emotional warfare that rages within so many of us in our private inner battles and spills out as domestic violence in our homes, onto our streets and into our schools, businesses and other gathering places. Our emotional battles within us extend outward into acts of violence.  It’s time to learn how to nurture lasting inner peace and allow our peace to extend outward instead.

© Art Nicol 2016

United in Opposition is Not United

Current dynamics at work in US politics highlight the false idea that our nation will ever be truly the “United States” while the call to unify is based on opposition to some identified opponent, here or abroad.  Check out the pattern prevalent in US history. You will see example after example of groups of various descriptions supposedly uniting in opposition to the identified opponent of their day only to have their “unity” disintegrate once the occasion for opposition ends.  Today we see this pattern at work in our presidential election as two main parties call for unity within themselves by clarifying and rally around their opposition to the “other” party.  Within our republican form of government where one vote more than 50% wins all the marbles, this practice works temporarily to put some people temporarily in power but is not a sustainable practice for the welfare of the nation or the world we so heavily impact.

We have become participants in this pattern as if it is the only option available. The media hypes this pattern in order to gain market share and profit from the controversies it helps stir up by sensationalizing them moment by moment as entertainment.  Are we truly entertained by watching our nation cycle through this pattern of futility decade after decade?  Do we truly want to elect and empower men and women to lead us around and around in this pattern without hope for any alternative of true, universal, national unity?  Where might we find the common ground for sustainable unity not based temporarily on identifying an enemy abroad or at home?

We will find that common ground buried beneath the rumble of painful emotions we harbor in our hearts.  We harbor them out of ignorance.  We neither know how to release these painful emotions and the memories seared into our brains by pain or to establish the noncyclical stability of peace we’d prefer “if only.”  But we can overcome our ignorance if we truly want to.  We can learn what we need to learn.  It is not beyond our capacity to learn.  It’s actually child’s play, more natural to children than to adults but still within the capacity of adults to relearn.  Adults do struggle with issues and responsibilities by which children are not typically burdened, although many children are bearing such burdens these days in earlier and earlier years.  In failing to release our emotional pain in caring, healthy ways so as to discover how to enjoy sustainable peace (domestic tranquility instead of domestic violence in all its forms), we are dumping our buried pain on children and expecting them not to be harmed by being dumped upon.

Buried pain, like harmful toxic waste, leeches from the dumps where we think we safely bury it to contaminate the waters of life within which we expect our children and ourselves to swim and find clean water to drink and bathe in.  Our buried pain poisons our lives and robs us of the most enriching qualities of life we’d otherwise enjoy.  We must cease to use our hearts as waste dumps for toxic emotions.  To cease to participate in this pattern, we must learn to grieve through our pain and find peace again beyond it.  In our present state, our society allows no one to avoid experiencing pain.  Thus, we all must learn to release pain as a necessary life skill. To fail to master this skill means to guarantee that the pain will pass along to the next generation for them to deal with.

We adults must stand up for protecting our children from the pain we’ve not yet processed, stand up as adults before us likely did not do for us.  In some period of our history, the cycle of pain must stop.  Our current generations of adults can be that time.  The cycle can wind down and be replaced with healthier conditions if we are willing to participate fully in those conditions.  It’s up to us to have the courage, compassion, commitment, creativity and curiosity to discover again how to cooperate with each other in unity about this process.  It is a process that requires no opponents and instead welcomes all to participate.  By definition, grief is universal to us all.  We can stand together not in opposition to pain but in unified commitment to learning how to release pain in all its forms and reasons for existing.

Pain need not be as prevalent as it is.  It need not be endured forever as we’ve been taught to believe.  We can learn to stop perpetuating it.  To release our personal pain one person at a time releases the nation from pain.  Let’s help each other enter into a process of grieving through the lifetime of pain we’ve endured as dumping grounds for other people’s pain and unite in peace beyond our pain.  Peace will not come immediately because the process of grief must allow time to identify, express and share our buried pain for healing and release to happen.  But our commitment to the process of grieving is enough to ensure peace will come in time.

Peace is actually our natural state of being.  It is the tender condition that exists within our hearts but is now buried beneath the rumble of the patterns of opposition we’ve endured.  We have the power within us to seek no longer to engage in artificial reasons to perpetuate our pain and instead to free ourselves of the rumble and return to our natural state of peace and goodwill among all peoples – of every age, gender, station in life and other demographic parameter by which we measure ourselves.  Let’s now measure ourselves as peacemakers and peace-sustainers instead of as participants in the internal warfare to which politics currently calls us under the mistaken notion that that’s the only way.  There is another way.  It leads to the end of suffering for us all.  Might not that outcome motivate us all to explore this possibility?

© Art Nicol 2016

The Highest Privileged Class

I was born with matching skin into a white, middle class family with adequate resources to provide its seven children with shelter, nutrition, clothing, healthcare and the rest of the necessities of life on modest terms.  The instability of my family’s home as we moved around to follow my father’s advancing career opportunities did not deprive us of the education that later opened doors to college options if we wanted them.  Our home routines emphasized education because both of my parents were college-educated, as were my grandparents before them.  Education was not our pathway out of any ghetto.  It offered continued upward mobility as measured by social status, finances and clout.

We never lived in a ghetto although we also never lived in prosperous conditions until my youngest siblings entered school full-time so that my mother could go to work as an elementary school art teacher and add a second income to the family’s resources.  Out of the house at that point, I still could come home to visit the increasingly comfortable, middle class household my younger siblings enjoyed.  As part of a childhood tradition of passing along hand-me-downs, I started each school year wearing shirts that my older brother outgrew plus two new shirts I was permitted to select for myself.  Also handed down to me each school year from generation to generation were the more fundamental traditions of parental stability and educational opportunities that opened doors not as readily opened to others even of my race who may have lacked such multi-generational support for their natural developmental progress.

Experiences I had as a volunteer while in college and later experiences I had as an adult opened my eyes to the more limited opportunities of children of other races, economic classes and little or no empowering traditions of parental stability and education. Especially limited were opportunities available to those born into poorer families or not supported by two educated parents who negotiated their way through life as a couple rather than allow their marriage to flounder in the seas of an angry divorce.  My experiences with dysfunctional family dynamics were mild compared with those of many who struggle to grow up in this “land of opportunity.”  I was not only living in the “land of doors that opened” more readily to people of my gender and race.  I was also living in that land while being prepared by my family to advance through those doors as a welcomed arrival within whom those on the inside of such fields of opportunity felt comfortable.  In short, I was well trained to conform, keep my alternative thoughts to myself and appear to bow to authority.

At first, I did not realize but gradually became aware that my social training as a child groomed me to be a member of the privileged class that measures its privileges by money, social approval and power to take dominion of whatever territory appeals to its members. I was an unwitting heir apparent within the gender, race and class who had arrived on this continent centuries earlier to claim it for themselves regardless of any pre-existing occupants and explore and exploit its resources as if they were entitled to use any and all of them to feather their own nests without regard to the impact of their greedy exploitation upon anyone else or the future of the continent.  Those were hand-me-down attitudes of entitlement that eventually I found did not fit me like a shirt I wanted to wear.  The fabric of those traditions chaffed my soul and burdened my heart.  The shirts others offered to me as hand-me-downs when I was an adult were too small for me and not my style.

The privileged class in which I found myself entitled to membership was this continent’s original entitlement class.  Its traditions were rooted in assumptions of entitlement.  The more socially aggressive among the first arrivals either served as agents of the aristocracies of Europe or claimed to seek their own fortune independent of the dominion of such aristocracies in order to establish an alternate aristocracy.  Wars were fought for independence from European aristocracies and for rights of ownership of people and things not previously subjected to ownership while continental-style aristocracies emerged upon this continent within the new culture. The culture turned out to be not new but instead a rehash of the old culture relabeled and sometimes disguised behind a thin veneer of democratic principles and necessarily therefore covert in its nature.  The Europeans on the continent of North America claimed it for themselves as minor bullies when they overthrew the dominion of foreign bullies posing as European monarchs and then proceeded to bully each other into accommodating each of them.

For reasons of my own, I had no natural inclination to be a crown prince rubbing shoulders with the aristocratic bullies I found within the privileged class of white, educated, upwardly mobile, financially promising males into which I was so readily welcome as if I were one of them.  Within that class I was a misfit.  Eventually I failed to adequately disguise my misfit orientation and found myself less and less welcome.  My skin color, education and other matching criteria could not save me.  I became an anathema to those who preferred to exploit their privileges and climb higher over the backs of others. For many years I was confused about where I belonged socially.  If not these, then who were my people?

As my mind gained clarity about who my people are, I became aware that there is class of “highest privilege” to which all of us have the power to belong and within which all are welcome.  This is the class beyond subclasses defined on ego’s terms as superior or inferior to one another depending upon the criteria selected in each cyclical assessment.  Beyond the ego’s constant campaign to separate humanity into variously appealing, variously socially approved and variously designated subcategories, there is a united, all-inclusive class with access to the most rewarding experience available to humankind.  Its access to this rewarding experience is only exclusive to the extent that the class is all-inclusive.

One has to join this uppermost class voluntarily to encounter the experience of this highest possible reward but anyone and everyone can join.  No one is excluded who volunteers to join and does the one thing necessary to be included with full membership privileges.  That one thing is to shed his or her ego and step beyond the ego’s divisive, inherently conflict-perpetuating perspective to see the world through an ego-free lens as a universally unified and symbiotic experience for all forms of life.

Humility is the process needed to shed the ego.  Any who will humble himself or herself, give up his or her illusory and meaningless privileges as an ego and seek his or her true identity beyond the ego is welcome to join in the experience of unconditional love that flows freely and abundantly within this class.  It is a highest class act and attitude to join.  Humility is not a step down into the basement of life, as some mistake it to be.  In fact it is the stairway to heaven on Earth.   Pride and prejudice do not cause a person to ascend but rather to descend in privileges as measured by a person’s decreasing or increasing quality of experiences of love.

At love’s heights it is authenticity, integrity and humility that matter most — for all of every age, gender, gender orientation, sexual orientation, social status, marital status, financial status, race, nationality and creed.  Love is truly all we need and ego has no capacity to deliver it.  Just as no electrical energy passes through plastic or rubber, no energy of love transmits through the artificial identity we call the ego.  Ego insulates us from love.  Let’s let go of ego to know that love abounds infinitely and eternally for all of us.

© Art Nicol 2016

The Patterns of Our Lives – Tarzan Lives in Us

How long ago was it that a generation of young adults listened to Simon and Garfunkel sing about life’s patterns?

The night sets softly
With the hush of falling leaves,
Casting shivering shadows
On the houses through the trees,
And the light from a street lamp
Paints a pattern on my wall,
Like the pieces of a puzzle
Or a child’s uneven scrawl.

Up a narrow flight of stairs
In a narrow little room,
As I lie upon my bed
In the early evening gloom.
Impaled on my wall
My eyes can dimly see
The pattern of my life
And the puzzle that is me.

From the moment of my birth
To the instant of my death,
There are patterns I must follow
Just as I must breathe each breath.
Like a rat in a maze
The path before me lies,
And the pattern never alters
Until the rat dies.

And the pattern still remains
On the wall where darkness fell,
And it’s fitting that it should,
For in darkness I must dwell.
Like the color of my skin,
Or the day that I grow old,
My life is made of patterns
That can scarcely be controlled.

Is it necessarily true that we are trapped in the established patterns of our lives?  Or is there an effective exit strategy we could adopt? Through that strategy may we come closer to solving “the puzzle that is me?”

The tale of Tarzan tells of the experiences of a man raised in the jungle by apes from boyhood and then later transported as an adult male to live among humans in a society supposedly more civilized than the apes enjoyed.   The man Tarzan struggles to adapt to his new society’s rules, roles and rituals after having learned the apes’ rules, roles and rituals by heart.  The apes’ 3 Rs had become engrained into his nature and controlled his thoughts and actions.  They did not necessarily mesh well with how humans expected Tarzan to think and act.  Tarzan’s story is about the choice to extend unchanged into adulthood patterns learned in childhood or to transform patterns and mature as necessary under changing circumstances.

As we are born into an ego’s jungle-like culture, we are raised by egos to conform to the ego’s rules, roles and rituals just as apes raised Tarzan to conform to the apes’.  Both egos and apes seek to survive amid competitive pressures by other life forms.  For any of us to become members of a culture other than the ego’s culture we must re-examine the rules, roles and rituals we adopted under ego’s training and change our patterns of thought and action to reflect the changed dominion under which we choose instead to live. In this case, to “change” is to intentionally nurture greater developmental maturity.

Without intending to disparage apes, I suggest that egos are a less desirable role model for human thought and action than apes are.  We can do better than mimic apes or egos.  To be more than the rat in a maze about which Simon and Garfunkel sang, we need to move beyond the choices that Tarzan faced to struggle with a more radical choice of altered life-orientation – a more radical process of intentionally nurtured maturation that excels beyond the ego’s orientation of arrested development.  There are patterns we must follow to remain loyally conformed to the ego’s orientation as mere immature survivalist who manage to hang onto life long enough to say we lived a long life.

If it matters that we attain a quality of life more enriching than the egos’ quality and express our capacity to share such a more satisfying life sustainably together with all of us “naked apes,” the ego’s patterns of arrested development will not work.  It’s time to admit that the ego requires that we dwell in darkness as if destined forever to scramble and claw blindly along confusing paths in a maze of futility — while seeking endlessly for that never-to-be-discovered, elusive cheese.  With all of the ego’s patterns, the outcome ultimately is a decreasing quality of life coupled with an increasing sense of life’s being helplessly out of our control.  Must we end up being the cheese that stands alone?

To emerge from darkness, we need to let go of all aspects of our egos and allow the alternative to ego’s orientation to express itself progressively into more complete maturity or wholeness in our lives.  So long as we cling defensively to our egos and the ego’s patterns, in the deepening darkness of fear’s increasingly rigid grasp we will dwell.  We each have within us the power to rise into the light instead.  Our individual and collective choice of radically upgraded meaning, purpose and direction for our lives makes all the difference!  Without intending to offend farming lifestyles or any other traditional lifestyles, we need to intentionally develop a culture for humanity that does not eventually relegate some its members to its margins as lonely chunks of cheese.

© Art Nicol 2016

Let’s Address the Root Cause of Racism, Sexism and Other Egoisms

Many and vocal are the voices speaking out today against institutional or systemic racism in the USA.  A growing awareness emerges that the racism once thought adequately addressed by the civil rights movement decades ago still prevails beneath the surface.  Racism may have gone underground and become harder to pin down because of the camouflage it has acquired, but it is still operative in the United States. Like a virulent virus it has formed new strains that resist detection and eradication.

I propose here to shed some light on why this is true.  Will this light be all the light needed to illuminate this topic?  Hardly likely.  But perhaps it will help some see more clearly the patterns that support racism and the treatment necessary to eradicate those patterns. To keep things simple I will draw upon Martin Luther King Jr.’s insights as starting points.  The overarching pattern I observe is that we’ve not taken MLK Jr.’s insights to heart and applied them rigorously as far as they would take us if we did so. Having abandoned any commitment we may have once felt to be inspired to action by MLK Jr’s words, we now reap the consequences of abandoning his principles instead of remaining faithful to them while traveling together along the full length to which they would otherwise have taken us.  To eradicate institutional racism we need to apply the antidote of principles espoused by MLK Jr. until they work their miracle of transformation fully.

First, I start with this observation made by Martin Luther King Jr.: “Morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. Judicial decrees may not change the heart, but they can restrain the heartless.” We have failed to admit to ourselves that laws may repress undesired actions but that they have never changed the underlying motives for socially destructive actions.  Repression by punishment, sanctions, consequences, etc. forces the motivating attitudes underground.  “Don’t ever let me catch you behaving that way again, young man!” berates a parent to a wayward son.  Some sons change their attitudes within and do not misbehave again.  Many sons simply become sneakier to make sure that their parents do not catch them misbehaving again but do not actually cease to misbehave.  They learn to misbehave in ways not as readily detected by their parents.  Thus it has been with making racism illegal.  A change of heart is needed, even among the heartless.  It is not enough to threaten to punish or impose consequences upon the heartless for misbehaving.  Their thrills come from defying authority and seeing how craftily they can get away with misbehaving.  It’s an ego-driven game with rewards of its own.  We fail to admit that anyone who has become heartless on account of themselves having been treated heartlessly is likely to have become immune to change forced upon him or her by additional painful consequences.  We need to stop the insane practice of trying to out-bully bullies (both within our nation and beyond).

If we are to truly learn anything from our decades of utterly failing to eradicate racism, it must include the insight that passage and enforcement of laws, no matter how artfully worded or rigorously enforced they may be, will not eradicate racism.  What might the alternative be?  How are the heartless transformed to consider being and then actually daring to become less heartless?  How do we release ourselves from the prisons of heartlessness within which  we seek to survive and instead make wholehearted empathy and compassion new prevailing norms in the USA?  Surely we will not try to legislate empathy and compassion.

Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream about the alternative I have in mind: “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.”  He took the risk of dying while doing his part to make his dream come true, not merely for his children but for all children.  And the risk he took materialized and he was silenced.  We have repeated his dream speech many times since then.  But as Eliza Doolittle sings in My Fair Lady, “Words, words, words, I’m so sick of words. Is that all you blighters can do?”  Words frequently repeated but rarely applied become slogans that lose their meaning.  MLK Jr. was not a “blighter” who failed to put his words into meaningful, sustained action.  Many of those who repeat his words contribute to the social blight of racism by being “blighters” who do fail to “walk the talk” as 12-steppers might say.  Instead we tend to relapse into our egostic pursuits of choice and fall off the wagon of transformation needed to actually accomplish social justice.  We are seduced in part by the appeal of social approval to which we remain addicted, an appeal to remain safely hunkered down in the crowd rather than to stick out our necks.

So it has been with MLK Jr.’s inspired dream.  It died amid droning repetition of the words not matched by their vigorous application in our lives.  His dream inspired and challenged us when he first revealed it.  It does so yet today.  But we have failed to respond.  That is our failure.  That is our own heartlessness revealed in stubborn apathy and resignation to the way things are as if that’s how things will inevitably always be.  Until we overcome our own failure to respond and transform our own hearts, we are part of the problem and have no standing to prosecute those whose hearts remain hardened along with ours but whose violent actions, both overt and covert, remain expressed without restraint.  To end the torrent of racism eroding our nation, each of us must cease to contribute our little stream of heartlessness and add instead our most wholehearted rivulet-grown-to-river participation in the alternative of which MLK Jr. dreamt and spoke and for which he lived fully until his life was cut short.  We must stop resisting forward motion and instead begin relentlessly persisting in it.

Are we willing to fully and persistently participate in the alternative society that offers the only solution to systemic racism? Do children’s lives matter?  To what degree?  Are we willing to risk it all for the possibility that the children who matter to us will grow up to live in a nation that does not judge them by the color of their skin nor by any other superficial and unworthy criteria?  MLK Jr. said “No one really knows why they are alive until they know what they’d die for.”  Are we willing to lay down our lives for the sake of the children on whatever terms we are called to lay them down?

I suggest to you that dying for a cause is not the more difficult way to lay down your life.  The more difficult ways of laying down one’s life involve continuing to live in the face of intense fears with the courage of one’s convictions no matter how unpopular those convictions may be in the minds of others.  We must be willing to put at risk the very social approval by which our thinking, speech and actions are too often unconsciously censured, shaped and stylized.  Once again, participating in public rallies, cheering (or even being) inspirational speakers and generally repeating the patterns of the civil rights and anti-war movements of the past are in vogue.  Missing are the rigorously probing self-examination and repentance that will help us all let go of our attitudes and beliefs that support racism, sexism, heterosexism, ethnocentrism and other forms of egoism so as to deprive institutional and systemic expressions of those dehumanizing “isms” of support.  Doubtlessly, MLK Jr. engaged in such self-examination and repentance.  His private process of rigorously examining his own character to root out pockets of hypocrisy must become our own process.

To examine our institutions for signs of any “ism” (including the scourge of intellectualism) while failing to examine ourselves — as citizens of a republic who staff, patronize, support and give legitimacy to our institutions — for attitudes and beliefs that perpetuate all forms of “isms” is to fail once again to learn the lessons of history and doom ourselves to repeat them.  Is our only goal to change the current flavor our egoism or to eradicate it entirely in all flavors?  Will it be unpopular to call for examination of our individual and collective character so as to be capable of judging ourselves by the content of our character instead of by the color of our skin, age, ethnicity, religion, gender/gender orientation, sexual orientation, economic class, educational level, marital status, family type, etc.?  Yes, but MLK Jr. had an insight for us here too: “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”  He, she, we . . . let’s not quibble about pronouns now.  We have more important issues to address.  As writer Walter Kelly once said long ago through Pogo, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

The overarching pattern that we must address radically, at its roots, is the pattern of the ego’s dominance in our personal lives and elsewhere throughout our nation.  The ego is based on fear.  Fear is the opposite of love, which the ego has zero capacity to honor and share.  Love is an anathema to the ego.  Yet, love is also the antidote to fear because it is the only true alternative to fear.  Fear corrupts our character, causes our hearts to harden and seduces us by alternative temptations to not be true to ourselves and to stray from our paths of transformation.  We must apply the antidote of love rigorously as compassionately necessary to ourselves and to our neighbors without judgment or condemnation until all fear is released and we rise up together as “one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”  Again repeating words makes us numb to their meaning unless we live them out radically through our own lives as if the welfare of the children depends on us.  It does.

If we truly desire with all our hearts to lean not upon our own understanding, it is time to trust in the Higher Power from whom divine love flows for guidance, humble ourselves to shed our egos, forsake all attitudes of pride and shame as well as guilt and blame, and listen within our hearts to the still small voice of wisdom we’ve so rigorously repressed that our consciences barely make themselves heard.  That’s our choice.  I invite us all to join in participating in the radical healing of our nation of all the pain that our various forms of “isms” have inflicted upon us all, more upon some than upon others, but not sparing any of us. May we find within us our innate capacity to forgive ourselves and each other and rise up together — not to seek vengeance one against another but instead to seek victory in which we are all included.

I end now with one last quote from Martin Luther King Jr.: “Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.”  That is the attitude that will save us from all of our less worthy attitudes and beliefs by which we’ve beset ourselves with violence by seeing each other as separate and unforgivably wrong, even as if some form of competitor if not an enemy combatant.  Can we love and forgive our competition and our enemies, both those whom we find within our hearts in residence because they caused us pain in the past and we’ve not yet forgiven them as well as those who remain external to us but also remain unforgiven?  Martin Luther King Jr. shared inspiring words about the power of persistently applied love as the ultimate solution but I’ll leave that quote for you to find.

© Art Nicol 2016

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

We Kill Those Who Come to Save Us

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Art Nicol 2016

The Infinitesimal Unnoticed God

Why do participants in technology-enraptured cultures so easily overlook and ignore God?  Where technology captures the imagination it enslaves hearts and minds and makes the idea of God seem unimaginably tiny, unappealing and, frankly, irrelevant.  Why bother searching to detect God’s messages among all the chatter when the search seems as likely to succeed as our search for messages from extraterrestrial beings?

By comparison to technologically enhanced messages, what is God doing to show off a Divine Presence? Could it be the nature of holiness to be readily unnoticed precisely because it conducts no mass media or marketing campaigns on its behalf and seeks not fame or fortune – of which it has neither need nor desire?  Might the Ultimate Divine be so focused on serving humanity behind the scenes and beneath the radar in uttermost humility that we discount this Presence as a candidate for Godhood?  Might our own individual yearning and striving for self-sufficiency, independence and an ever so modest bit of limelight hoodwink us into believing that we achieved all our goals on our own and received no aid from any significant source the recognition of which might rob us of our self-satisfaction and claim to accolades? Might we identify with sports teams, political parties, schools, religions and other groups to hitch a ride on their claims to fame and reap vicarious benefits from mere association with our chosen group’s success?  Might even our “good works” be tainted by our desire to feel better about ourselves personally and receive pats on the back if not Nobel Prizes and other variously valued awards for charity? Might pride’s declaration “This I did all by myself” (or only with the help of colleagues to whom I can point my finger with pride) be utter foolishness every time it’s uttered?

God has no need of self-promotion or self-aggrandizement – or of praise and admiration from the crowds who, for example, once welcomed Jesus as their Messiah and not long afterwards cried out “Crucify him, crucify him.”  God knows the fickleness of public opinion and does not hunger to impress!  The ways of modern versions of success through exploitation, expansionism and claims to “specialness” are not the ways of God.  Every person who claims a worldly achievement admired by his or her peers and wider audiences without acknowledging the absolute necessity of God’s role in it conspires to disclaim God’s nature as a devoted nurturer and devotee of humanity.  Many co-conspirators are ganging up to prove not that God is dead but instead irrelevant, impotent and uncaring. Who needs God when we have unlimited technology by which to achieve greatness, notoriety and popularity?  Who needs God when we can without Divine Aid capture and enslave minds, hearts and wills of most if not all members of mass-media-dominated societies awash with participants who prefer to follow the crowd and be told what to think, feel, wear, eat, do, etc. than to create a worthwhile life based on ideas received from the Divine Beyond?  Isn’t listening to God too much bother compared with the ease of listening to the media?

Propaganda’s capacity to use technology to endlessly repeat lies glorifying self-sufficiency is enough to convince most people that lies are truth as if repetition is proof itself and truth has no existence apart from what people can be convinced to believe.  The simplicity and perseverance of truth offers no novelty, complexity or glamour to enhance its marketability or entertainment value.  God is simply not fun enough!  Most people are not interested in puzzling through the mysteries and paradoxes of Eternal Truth.  Like God, such truth is infinitesimal and readily goes unnoticed.  It fills all the spaces between media-trumpeted events and entertainment like dark matter fills the “voids” between the stars and planets.  It is not visible to human minds that know not how to sense its Presence.  Yet it is there waiting to be sensed.

To switch metaphors, a murky slurry of lies covers the natural landscape of truth beneath multiple coats of lacquer – each glossier, smoother and more opaque than the last.  In the process of sealing life within this lacquer of lies, we have painted ourselves into a corner and framed God outside of the picture.  God has been framed as the cause of evil and therefore tainted with impurity and unworthy of our honor and worship.  Hence we witness the decline of modern society as we divorce ourselves from God by declaring our independence and self-sufficiency instead of intentionally nurturing our interdependence with God’s help in the context of Divine grace.   We foolishly and arrogantly declare that we have no need of dependence upon God. Our individual and collectives egos will not allow us to consider such a possibility.  Since this option threatens the very foundation of the ego’s dominion in our lives, it is understandable that our egos resist our considering it.

How well are radical independence from God and denial of Eternal Truth working for humanity?  Is the propaganda serving us?  Might God yet be serving us better despite our efforts to resist Divine Aid?  What might happen if we were to stop resisting and begin instead to cooperate with God?

Look around at what mass media (perhaps more aptly labeled “mess media”) deems worthy to report and promote and you will see all the evidence you need to demonstrate the utter failure of radical independence from God’s nature and nurture.  Utter failure calls for utter rejection of the nonsense of independence outside of the moderating context and influence of grace-infused interdependence.  Whatever level of independence we may find helpful must bow to our innate need for interdependence as a species or we will soon be rendered extinct by our own hand.  Having experimented with radical independence, taken self-sufficiency to its extreme and beheld the costs, we must now turn as radically to interdependence and persevere in our steadfast commitment to that alternative way by which life may be shared with all of us as brothers and sisters within the human family.

God need not remain unnoticed, unappreciated and dishonored.  We can choose to notice, appreciate and honor God by choosing to notice, appreciate and honor each other as children of God created in our Diving Parent’s image and likeness.  How I notice, appreciate and honor you equates to how I notice, appreciate and honor God just as surely as how you notice, appreciate and honor my earthly children equates to how you notice, appreciate and honor me.  We are all one.  To notice, appreciate and honor any is to notice, appreciate and honor all and the Source of All.  By such noticing, appreciating and honoring we will discover that God has been noticing, appreciating and honoring us all along, waiting always patiently for us to return the favor.

God waits to serve us as gratefully receptive Divine Dependents of a Divinely Dependable Parent.  Accepting such divine service does not offend the value of our well-reasoned, self-disciplined individuality but merely cautions against taking independence so far to fracture our relationships with one another.  Stretching and growing us together but not stressing and blowing us apart.  The reliability of God’s power and willingness to aid us in our pursuit of harmonious oneness is not infinitesimal.  It is instead unfathomable.  To notice, appreciate and honor it is not to claim to fully understand, manipulate or control.  We must trust God to be God even while God remains a mystery beyond our understanding, manipulation and control.  Let us join our hearts together to call upon such a Power to come to our aid in this hour of our greatest need.  That hour is upon us here and now.  Through our foolishness we have brought this hour upon us.  By divine grace and wisdom our Sacred Parent will lead us through and beyond it to a brighter hour that is truly ours to share for as long as we forsake foolishness and embrace the wisdom of God’s way.

© Art Nicol 2016