Tag Archives: nonconformity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Art Nicol 2015


Social Justice Impact of Idealizing the Nuclear Family

Many conservatives among Christians, including those grouped as fundamentalists but also many members of mainline churches, idealize the family structure of a married man and woman together with their one or more biological children as the optimum goal for families. This idealized configuration is called the “nuclear family.”  Some flexibility is allowed for adding non-biological children and perhaps even an occasional step-parent into the mix.  Typically little or no flexibility is allowed for parenting by same-sex couples or for recognition of single-parent families as potentially healthy models for raising children. As is typical of moralistically oriented believers in God, the top-down thought-structure of this ideal renders anything less than its attainment a failure to comply with God’s only ordained family lifestyle.  Those who fail to engage in child-rearing as continuously married, opposite-sex parents are second class citizens who deserve to be burdened by guilt and shame for their failure to “do family” God’s way.  Conformity to the “model” nuclear family many conservatives claim as their narrow definition of family is frequently at the heart of what conservative advocates mean by “family values.”

In the days when wealth was deemed proof of one’s worthiness in the eyes of God, poverty was a sign of sinfulness and disfavor with God – or at least a sign of second class citizenship and loss of voice and influence in the Church.  In modern times, participation in a man-woman nuclear family is similarly argued to be necessary to prove one’s worthiness in the eyes of God and to qualify to be empowered within the Church while participation in any other style of family is deemed a sign of disfavor with God, mostly likely associated with sin.  In Jesus’ days on earth, legalistic religious folks asked him if a man were blind on account of his sins or the sins of his parents on the assumption that sin had to be somewhere in the family tree to cause his blindness.  Today, legalistic believers now seem to ask if a child’s participation in a family structure other than a man-woman nuclear family is due to the child’s sins or the sins of the child’s parents.  The assumptions inherent in this question overshadow the child with dark implications of unworthiness and disfavor before God – either directly or by parental association.  Although the child has no choice in structuring the family in which he or she is raised, legalistic folks place false burdens of guilt and shame on the child on account of the family’s structure.  Where poverty once condemned children regardless of the fact that they did not determine their economic status today both poverty and family structure often cause a child to suffer from self-doubt and loss of social status regardless of the child’s lack of power to control either social factor.

Children raised in poverty and/or within non-nuclear family structures have an empowering opportunity just as the blind man had.  They can turn to Jesus to gain freedom from any blinding pain and distress caused by their society’s misrepresentations of God’s standards.  They can regain clarity of sight by learning to allow God’s grace to be proven to be sufficient just as the blind man proved it in Jesus’ day by accepting sight at Jesus’ hand.  So long as believers in Jesus continue to adhere to their myopic prejudice that gives higher social approval and value to families structured as a married pair of opposite-sex adults plus child(ren) they will remain at odds with God’s position on this matter and continue to mislead many others to believe as they do.  God’s position is based on grace, not upon any moralistic rules or rigid definitions about family structure.  If believers want to reflect God’s position on this issue and “do justice” towards children raised in non-nuclear families, we must “love mercy” beyond the law and “walk humbly with God” as if God knows better what our position on this issue – and our response towards members of these families – should be.   We distort and impair social justice so long as we allow any position other than God’s gracious one to prevail within the body of believers upon whom Jesus calls to comfort, heal and bless the children who come unto him.  We are precisely the ones Jesus expects to set the children free rather than burden their innocence with false guilt and shame on account of matters beyond their control.

James 1:27 reports that the “[r]eligion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”  At the outset of the industrial age, as family units moved from rural settings, where extended families were normal, to take up residence in urban settings, many family units rapidly trimmed down to parents and children as older adults failed to survive the transition.  To make ends meet the parents in many families worked long and exhausting hours, sometimes even dying in their attempts to provide for their children. Children were also put to work.  This two-tiered, struggling family unit became the new ideal due to economic realities as interpreted by adults who proudly strove for independent self-reliance in cities where they often did not know who else to trust.  Success was defined as having struggled to achieve financial stability sufficient to support a nuclear family while not allowing anyone to play you for a fool.  The stresses of the identity crisis of the industrial age coupled with the assumption that independence was the touchstone of maturity as an adult drove a wedge between adult generations.  A similar wedge-mentality now justifies a belief among many youth and young adults that older adults are too “out of touch” with modern advancements to have much of practical value to offer to the young.  What some conservative Christians lament as the “breakdown of the nuclear family” began as a breakdown of the extended family and advanced into a breakdown throughout all strata of society.  Over the course of several generations, the cohesive village so needed by children vanished into a pile of disintegrated lives.

At the dawn of the industrial age it was deemed necessary to set aside the traditions of extended-family, village-like societies and adopt the nuclear family as a new-era practicality.  The tyranny of the old had to be thrown off just as the tyranny of King George had been thrown off.  Pioneers moving into the industrial age to settle it with a new population capable of surviving there had to leave old ways behind and fend for themselves in self-reliance as they fashioned a new set of values and priorities suited to the industrial age.  By institutionalizing the nuclear family as ideal, subsequent generations of settlers in the industrial age have kept pace with the demands of change that became even more accelerated under the influence of increasingly expanding technology.* Today the accelerating pace of this technological revolution is driving wedges between thinner and more fragile layers of society and splintering the whole into wafer-thin shards.

Along with the wafering of society came a decline in parental energy, focus and attention directed towards child-rearing.  When parents allowed conformist pressures of the marketplace economy to shape them into income-earners and product-consumers, the quality of life for all family members declined as media-driven standards of comfort and convenience became new social norms. The absence of extended family structures and “villages” to offer children alternative havens of physical safety, emotional comfort and exposure to elders’ wisdom has been an unrecognized source of harm one might call “passive neglect” of the best interests of the children.  Yet this neglect is hard to spot when it is the normal condition under which children grow up.  What is missing and forgotten for generations becomes invisible.  This invisibility is a form of blindness that Jesus would help us to overcome if we ask him to.  He will restore the sight of those who want to see what’s best for children.

On account of social wafering, emotional as well as social orphans and widows abound in modern society in various disguises.  Yet many who call themselves Christians fail to look after them in their distress and instead look down upon them to add to their distress.  Such so-called followers of Jesus fail to follow his example when to follow would conflict with their desire to ascend into and conform to the conveniences and cordiality of modern society’s more privileged ranks. Even the modestly privileged focus on advancing up the social ranks rather than follow Jesus into fields that are white with the harvest.  Of course, those who conform to the world rather than be transformed are reluctant to classify their conformity to convenient social norms as “being polluted by the world,” but that’s precisely what it is.  To focus on building, maintaining and providing for a nuclear family to be proud of on society’s terms too often leaves the orphans and widows unlooked after in their distress, feeling ashamed as second class citizens in both the world and within the body of believers.  Prideful glorification of the nuclear family and of so-called family values that idealize a narrowly defined family structure shortchanges Jesus’ ministry to all whom society (including many Christians) presumes to be unworthy of God’s grace and favor.

Social justice is the core of God’s outreach on Earth.  God would use believers in Jesus as restorers of justice – as ones who give sight to those who are blinded by the guilt and shame that society shifts to them to excuse its neglect.  There is no excuse for conforming to the values of the modern industrial-technological era in place of the values, priorities and perspective Jesus modeled while on Earth and calls us to honor even now.  Perhaps for a person who never heard of Jesus or, having heard, chose to ignore what he or she heard, there may be the excuse of ignorance.  But for those who claim to know and honor Jesus there is no excuse.  It is not enough to rely upon the grace of God and assume that Jesus will once again pray “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”  It is time to stop relying upon God’s future forgiveness.  It is time instead to repent of our mistaken preference for worshipping socially approved pride in place of spiritually disciplined humility, accept forgiveness now and rise up to serve as the Father would have us serve.  As Jonah demonstrated, the forgiven make powerful messengers of God’s grace and forgiveness.

As he promised, Jesus has sent us the Spirit who leads us into all truth. The Holy Spirit exists.  Its holy function is to comfort us in our afflictions and lead us beyond them in service to others to whom God assigns us.  The afflictions of pride are multiple.  The afflictions of pride associated with idealizing the nuclear family are not our only afflictions but we need to be set them aside and overcome them for the sake of the orphans and widows who remain in distress until the people who call themselves followers of Jesus come to their aid. In God’s eyes, the race, religion, creed, ethnicity, economic class, educational status, gender or sexual orientation and historical background of the orphan or widow do not matter. How they may have become orphaned or widowed does not matter.  Jesus calls us to care for them in their distress until their distress is fully relieved and their vision of God as their loving Divine Parent is restored.  Jesus calls us not only to pray for them but to be his means for answering those prayers as we welcome them into his Kingdom.

If we have any style of family we take delight in, Jesus does not object so long our delight remains laced with gratitude to God and does not turn into pride and cause us to fail to invite others to participate within those experiences that delight us.  If our families are valuable to us and to God, sharing them with others who lack such family delights will relieve them of their lack-based distress and loneliness as social outcasts who are all too well-acquainted with grief.  To invite orphans and widows to be included in our family delights and to welcome all who co-create delightful families by any structure pleases the Divine Parent of us all. It matters not to God whether our family structure is traditionally rural, industrial or post-industrial or innovatively adaptive to prevailing social conditions.  It’s time to focus on pleasing the Head of the Family instead of making elaborate plans to please ourselves while we forget the orphans and widows routinely left out of our self-indulgent plans.  It’s time to suspend our habits of judging those who live within non-nuclear, non-traditional family structures, especially if they are reaching out to orphans and widows in distress more effectively than we are.  Until we’ve learned to reach out at least as effectively we may need to admit how much we have to learn from those we’d previously looked down upon and failed to welcome with humbly open arms and hearts.

* The potentially toxic bloom of technological algae has been labeled “high technology” but it remains to be seen by what measure it is deemed “high.” Perhaps the high is false.  If “high” refers primarily to the capacity of such technologies to produce higher outputs per units of input by humans at faster and faster rates in order to generate greater financial profits with declining payrolls and other benefits to human resources, it may not, in the long run, be directing humanity towards anything higher.  It may promote the worship of mammon.  As a reflection of the worship of the false idol of maximized profits, “high tech” may be leading humanity towards adopting lower and lower standards of character and conduct as “normal” while humans fail to learn to make wise decisions in nano-seconds.  Wisdom may take longer to process and adopt – perhaps the length of time that councils of elders used to take before deciding the fate of their communities.  Data-crunching computers may not be capable of discerning wisdom at any speed.  Like the Corvair, computers may turn out to be unsafe at any speed unless their friendly users are intentionally setting adequate time aside to commune with God at the speed of Stillness.  Stillness may be the escape velocity humans need to attain in order to escape the downward pull of ego’s brazenly self-congratulatory gravity.  Otherwise we risk remaining trapped in orbit around the ego while spinning evermore chaotically and oblivious to the more expansive and enriching possibilities that await us if we were to travel serenely inward to know ourselves as one with God and not as a separated, self-reliant, lonely egos at all.

© Art Nicol 2015

Implications of Jesus’ Prayer for Oneness

Jesus’ prayer for all believers to know oneness with God is recorded in the 17th Chapter of John. Its implications ripple outward into his call that his followers treat the “least of these” as if they are one with him.  This core theme of oneness echoes throughout Jesus’ ministry as he constantly questions the standards used by others to separate “good” people who are supposedly worthy of social approval and warm welcome from “bad” people who supposedly deserve only disapproval and avoidance or exile if not outright attack.

We are all one within God and with each other because we are all (each and every one of us!) created in the image and likeness of God, expressing God’s divine nature.  Long ago, a fundamental flaw crept into Christian theology when elitists bent on accumulating power over the masses adopted the concept of “original sin” or “created flawedness.”  This transparent lie helped to keep the masses controlled by their constant fear of being condemned by God, for whom the elites conveniently claimed to speak to the terror of the masses who already feared the elites.  The elites equated their neglect and abuse of underlings with the way God saw and treated humanity. How convenient to claim to speak for God to justify one’s own cruelty!

The concept of “original sin” is such an insulting idea in its disparagement of God as Creator that Jesus has to constantly serve as Redeemer to correct it.  We need a Redeemer only because we believe false ideas trumpeted in the marketplace by those who hog the soapboxes and pulpits as socially aggressive personalities who crave social approval so much as to demand that they set the standards for social approval. As their craving for political power as a false substitute for spiritual power corrupts their minds and hearts, they do all they can to lead others astray with them. Those who question such absurdities are colored as heretics and blasphemers and made to serve as martyrs and scapegoats for religio-political heroes/bullies.

Who sets the standards?  Man or God?  Woman or Goddess?  Jesus says that his (and our) heavenly Father* sets the standards. He modeled that truth so radically that he submitted his own lesser will to the greater will of the Father even unto death on the cross so as to demonstrate the power that arises from Oneness lived to its extreme. We are called today to do likewise, but few are willing to endure the merest hint of social disapproval (let alone the public humiliation of a cross-hung criminal) to do so.  We mistakenly keep expecting religio-politicians to approve our “deviations” from their critically acclaimed social norms and flinch when they disapprove instead.  How timid we are compared to Jesus and his original disciples!

Why does Jesus direct us towards serving the “least [familiar or approved] of these?”  Because the more we embrace the stranger in the other person, the more we’ll have opportunities to get to know the stranger in ourselves and accept ourselves more completely too.  It’s all a developmental thing actually.  The human race’s diversity expresses more than mere diversity of surface appearances and actions summed up as “images,” “lifestyles” and “cultures.”  In addition to demographically measured diversity humanity expresses our developmental diversity, the steps of development each of us has achieved with respect to the multifaceted range of human wholeness God designed us to master.  We develop in response to our social environments.  So, we tend to develop different facets of our gemlike wholeness on different timetables depending upon the social environments to which we have been exposed so far.  (Do we not sometimes say, “He is a product of his environment?”)

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

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

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

Freedom to be authentic and whole beings of integrity and love as God created us to be is scary.  It implies loss of social structures we once depended upon to guide and protect us on our journeys.  In His quest for our highest good, our Father does not intend that those social structures with which we become so familiar during various phases of our development become our imprisoning status quo of traditions or “laws” (rules, roles and rituals).  Like the gantry of a rocket that once enabled the rocket to stand erect and not fall over while it was assembled, equipped and fueled, social structures must at some point release us to soar beyond them.  When that happens we are dependent on our internal guidance systems. The more our internal guidance systems are attuned to God’s will, spirit, heart and mind the more at peace with God we’ll be as we journey onward in our quest for more elegant mastery, deeper enrichment and more lasting satisfaction as our Father’s servant-sons and -daughters. Those who serve with grace achieve a high orbit from which to envision and embrace the whole of humanity as God’s family of beloved and much favored children.

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

ã Art Nicol 2013

The Hazardous Happiness of Daring to Be Different

In an age when unhappiness is so widespread, it’s hard to believe that happiness is our natural state of being. When we are unhappy, we’ve fallen into an unnatural state based on holding in our minds beliefs that are not true.  Remembering the truth sets us free of unhappiness into awareness of our natural state of joy.  We sometimes encounter brief glimpses of joy and even some stretches of happiness that seem like happiness is cruelly teasing us (again!) before it vanishes like smoke.  Few of us manage to experience sustained substantial happiness or joy for long because we fail to keep our minds steadfastly focused on what is true and instead allow our minds to drift off focus to entertain (often again) beliefs that are not true. Many of us have come to accept as if it’s fact that unhappiness or despair is our natural state of being. There is a reason for the lack of sustained substantial happiness in modern society.  Let me share some ideas about why our individual and collective happiness is neither sustained nor as substantial as we’d prefer it be.

What I said in the first sentence bears repeating.  Happiness is our natural state of being. A loving God created us to be happy by sharing divine happiness as our natural condition.  Some call that condition “joy” while others call it “bliss,” “joie de vivre “or a care-free state of uplifting emotional “ecstasy.”  This is the substantial happiness we crave beyond fluffy, frivolous and fleeting fun, funniness and flattery that the ego offers as poor substitutes for divine happiness.  It is substantial because it expresses the nature, scope and qualities of God, the Most Substantial Being in the universe.  And it endures throughout all stages and conditions of life because it expresses the timeless quality of God – Eternity.  God’s eternal divine happiness contains no artificial sweeteners and needs no unhealthy preservatives – and it knows no limits to its capacity to bring us infinite energy not measurable in calories. It’s the organic, sustained and nutritious feast that deeply satisfies our souls.  It is the uplifting energy that heartfelt, full-bodied laughter expresses from our hearts when laughter proves to be the best medicine.  We are all native citizens in this state of bliss but many of us have allowed ourselves to immigrate or be exiled from our native land into an alternative state in which we are not true to ourselves or to our divine origin and cultural heritage.

Why do we not encounter on a sustained basis this substantial, soul-satisfying experience that is natural to us?  The answer to this puzzling question is simple.  We don’t because we’ve been offered, accepted and adopted the unquestioning “thinking” of a society that is based on assumptions (beliefs) about human nature in general and ourselves in particular that simply are not true. For example, under the influence of the industrial/technological revolution, for several centuries these mistaken assumptions have included the idea that individual humans are undifferentiated, interchangeable components of a mechanical system whose minds can be trained to perform like machines or automatons within a materialistic economy (or a government bureaucracy, military unit, corporation, religious or educational institution or any of civilization’s other institutions and social systems) for the “good” of the group as “good” is defined by the trainers.

Social conformers train us to set aside our innate capacity to think creatively and instead to adopt the mental habits needed to survive in conformity to social standards by which we are rewarded like caged rats pressing levers for food.  Our minds reflexively press the levers of our habits in order to receive the reward of social acceptance, approval, admiration, affection and adoration for which society keeps us ever starving and insecure about receiving.  Having a natural, legitimate appetite for these A-list rewards, we are vulnerable to being manipulated by our trainers into seeking them through social conformity because society does its best to deprive us of them if we fail to conform. (Our habitualized nonthinking is supported by traditional systems of “scientific thinking” too. The logical progression of such thinking is to envision creating “artificial intelligence” that governs robots who replace humans entirely.  Ironically, by following this line of habit-subjugated false “thinking” we’ve subordinated the human mind to focus on continuously upgrading artificial intelligence in hopes of equaling and perhaps even exceeding human intelligence.  As a result, we’ve managed to replace our natural “native intelligence” in many humans with artificial intelligence of such conformist, mediocre and inadequate quality that we’d ridicule and reject if it turned up in robots. And we’ve failed to cultivate our natural genius for creative thinking in our collective development of more satisfying experiences for all of us.)

Most of our socially oriented mind-trainers are not concerned about what is natural for humans to experience.  They are themselves trained to believe in mistaken assumptions about the need to overcome human nature by replacing what is natural with what is “superior” to natural.  (Some trainers go so far as to believe that human nature is, at its inception, naturally defective, sinful, immoral, irresponsible and depraved. Because their thinking begins with these false ideas, they mistaken interpret the adverse “effects” of social conformity as the “cause” of what they believe is true.  Conformist thinking reverses the roles of cause and effect in order to rationalize the losses humanity suffers on account of our conformity to modern society’s artificial standards.)  As a result of their past training, social trainers now unwittingly past along their thinking’s internalized systemic fallacies.  By definition, what is “superior to natural” means what is “not natural” – or in other words, what is “artificial.”  Whatever standards trainers use (as those standards change from time to time and from culture, society or group to culture, society or group) all recipes for “superior” are artificial standards.  To keep their social privileges and gain promotions, recipe-developers often formulate and justify their recipes for “superior” based on comparing short-term performance outcomes between one person and another person or between one society, subculture, organization, team or group and another and seek to advance the status of the group with which they identify over any other group with which they don’t identify. In this competitive orientation of group against group, the welfare of the whole of humanity is overlooked.

When humans impose short-sighted performance standards to override human nature in order to make it a priority to achieve relatively short-term goals set by humans in competition with other humans, the quality of life declines as the reign of artificiality takes over all aspects of planning for the social lives of human.  In this seductive manner, short-sightedness that caters to the ego’s appetite for instantaneous gratification takes precedence over long-term sustainability.  Short-sightedness, taken to the ultimate extreme towards which all ego-addictive processes progress, imposes such lack of foresight as to become the equivalent of blindness to our own good.  Along this path of artificiality’s progressive dominance, modern society has wandered farther and farther afield from the reality of genuine humanness and genuine happiness. In place of genuine, natural humanness, we’ve adopted artificial substitutes for humanness to which we humans now expect ourselves to routinely and rigorously conform regardless of conformity’s harmful effects on humanity and all other forms of life. We adhere to conformity that is now self-imposed because we are afraid to even consider an alternative for fear of the social consequences of nonconformity.  As a logical outcome of this downwardly spiraling progression, we are now experiencing humanity’s dehumanization as people treat each other less and less humanely.  As a result, we now routinely inflict pain on each other rather than promote shared happiness and create deep emotional wounds that we bear for life because we are not encouraged nor give opportunities to grieve and recover from these wounds.  (That religions, while purporting to espouse God’s viewpoint, have, in the main, justified our acquired distrust of (and disgust for) what is natural to humans and failed to promote healing of our hearts’ wounds is a topic for other blogs.)

Happily experienced humanness is sustainable only if and when we dare to be true to our natural, native, created Self at every step along our life’s journey – throughout every phase of our natural development as whole human beings designed by God to express all that is heavenly while yet living bodily on earth. By God’s grace we can always return to our natural state of happiness any time we choose to set aside our conformist mind-training and resume listening to our hearts and thinking with our minds’ full capacities.  It’s impossible to sustain joy when we deny our hearts and pretend to be someone we are not.  Pretending in this manner distorts – and may even arrest – our natural development and definitely derails our natural happiness.  No matter how popular we may become in an artificial society by adopting more artificiality (for example, by materially reconfiguring or chemically augmenting our physical features, expressions, images and activities to be more charming, appealing, entertaining or profitable or to maintain a youthful appearance or performance), we’ll not experience divine happiness while adopting pretense and artificiality as our way of life.

In the social context of a tightening downward spiral of unhappiness, happiness is hazardous to one’s social approval rating because, by conflicting with the preservation of the social status quo, happiness invokes the penalties a conformist society automatically imposes on controversial nonconformity that questions the value of society’s downward spiral.  We all hunger to belong among other people because our true nature includes our friendliness and desire to generously share our happiness along with all the A-list qualities of life. We are by nature social beings who enjoy sharing with utter generosity a quality of life flowing with A-list experiences. We want to share ourselves and our lives with others as God lovingly shares with us.  Against the grain of our heart’s desire, the society we are currently enduring pressures us to abandon our authenticity and our native capacity for heart-to-heart connection and honest, open, generous sharing in order to fit into the artificiality, independence, reluctance to trust and share and resulting loneliness our society promotes as “normal” and wants to convince us is “best for us.”  As a result, the quality and sustainability of our relationships decline along with the decline in the quality and sustainability our happiness.  Relationships are the field of shared experiences.  As our faith in sharing generously within bonds of trust fades, relationships become pointless.

In this age of artificiality, in an attempt to satisfy our natural desire to be connected with others and to share, we come to believe that we have to abandon being true to ourselves in order to participate in this society as a “socially acceptable” person on society’s unnatural terms.  The only price society asks us to pay for our participation on its terms is our happiness. If we are willing to give up being happy and learn to be less humane, we can fit right into this depressing society’s way of surviving without thriving.  This dilemma is a natural consequence of living in fear of being authentic and instead adopting the mask of an ego as our false social identity in order to win social approval and belong as best we can by passing ourselves off as someone we’re not. That’s how most people learn to survive but not thrive throughout all of their lives.

As diverse as we may make our egos’ images appear to be so as to fabricate the illusion of diversity, there’s still one core conformity that’s operative at all levels within a materialistic society – conformity to the ego’s determination to rob us all of our happiness. Our claim of social diversity is one of ego’s most masterful illusions. The ego hoodwinks us into believing that our society honors diversity while the truth is that we demand conformity to universal unhappiness as the price of participation in society.  Ego permits diversity of superficial images but demands conformity to unhappiness at our core as our common ground.  Society exiles truly happy people just as surely as it exiles all other “undesirable uncooperatives.” Anger and envy directed towards happy people reflect society’s judgment that “too much” of a natural high is somehow wrong, perhaps even irresponsible. Society prefers to market myriad versions of artificial (often chemically induced or enhanced) fun, funniness, flattery and other “highs” that make money while condemning as childishly naïve the idea that happiness can be experienced naturally. The truth is that we are more likely to be deeply aware of happiness at our core when we lack financial resources to purchase temporarily escapist distractions from our unhappiness.  In the context of financial poverty we are more likely to encounter our spiritual prosperity.  So long as we remain aware of our spiritual prosperity, our increasing financial prosperity will no deprive us of happiness no matter how wealthy we may become.  An adverse risk of financial wealth is that making its maintenance a priority distracts us from the joy of sharing all we are as well as all we have.

To remain true to our ego and the egos of others we must remain false to our true nature and accordingly accept our need to give up being happy. Give up being happy and the ego wins.  Your ego will feel proud but your heart will feel grief. Grief is a natural response to all the losses we suffer under ego’s dominion.  Which do you choose to honor – your ego or your heart?

If you fail to honor your heart and fail to discover within you the courage it takes to be truly who you are, your happiness will fade away because happiness is only sustainable when you honor and like yourself.  If you don’t honor your True Self, you’ll not like yourself and you won’t like how others treat you either. In fact, you’ll come to hate yourself for not having the courage to be honest and stand up for what you believe in no matter how your beliefs may conflict with society’s beliefs.  Once you come to hate yourself enough, you may even invoke society’s capacity to punish you for secretly being you.

This cycle of dishonor, self-distain and self-punishment can spiral radically out of control to express itself in violence and self-destructive behaviors. Dishonoring yourself attracts others into your life who will agree with you, dishonor you and invite you to dishonor them too.  Within this cycle of shared unhappiness, mutual devaluing leads to habits of neglect and abuse directed both towards ourselves and towards others, perpetuates the ego’s dominance over our decisions and produces the illusion that there is no other option.  The alternative of being true to ourselves seems so farfetched, unrealistic and impossibly out of reach as to be too risky for most people to contemplate let alone implement.  As this downwardly spiraling cycle progresses, we feel increasingly powerless to live in any other manner because, as our minds become blinded by pain, we lose track of our vision of a brighter future and become trapped in recycling pain from humanity’s collective past.

Why risk the hazards of being unwanted and unwelcomed in ego’s society when hiding behind the masks that society teaches us to wear seems to be so easy? – or so the ego argues.  What’s the big deal about being happy anyways?  Happiness, the ego contends, is just a myth, a child’s fairy tale and a figment of children’s imagination.  When we grow up, the ego counsels, we’ve got to stop trying to be children and learn to be like the “real” grownups who have raised us to strive with utter futility to be happy and successful on society’s terms even when they are not happy trying to live that way. An artificial society teaches us the way of futility and then expects us to put up a believable, polite front while we smile and pretend to enjoy ourselves.  Ultimately our society then expects us to train the next generation to do the same thing all over again.

Is it not strange that adults who have failed to be both happy and successful on society’s terms continue to teach children to model their lives after unhappy and unsuccessful people such as their parents, teachers, celebrity figures and others who conform to the ego’s demands for surrender of joy as the cost of success?  We sacrifice our children’s hearts (and our own) on the ego’s altar of fear in order to win social approval and not feel alone.  And ironically even while complying with the ego’s terms of conformity in order to fit in, we feel alone.  Why is that? Such loneliness is caused by our egos’ refusal to allow us to make heart-to-heart connections, the only kind of connections that will ever relieve our loneliness.  The ego aggravates our grief layer by layer as it entombs our hearts beyond reach within the ego’s supposedly protective walls.  That’s our real choice: on the one hand, perpetual and ever-growing grief and on the other hand relief and rediscovered happiness.

The hazards of happiness include being rejected by those who choose in favor of preserving their egos and maintaining their pretense of happiness instead of joining in the restoration of their genuine, soul-satisfying happiness along with us.  For the time being at least, they think that they prefer to envy our happiness and try to tear us down again instead of lifting us up and joining in our rise beyond the ego’s pathetic playpen of immature rantings and ravings about the unfairness of life.  Letting go of the ego is the same as reaching for greater maturity so that we can live happily ever after.

Ever after what? Ever after the times when we allowed the ego to rule and ruin our happiness and progressively learned to substitute pride for happiness, ambition for hope and temporary political arrangements for lasting peace.  Pride, ambition and negotiated temporary truces offer us nothing of the divinely enriched happiness that plants its roots deep within our souls and lasts a lifetime.

I invite you to set your heart and mind upon the path of courage and compassion that allows you to be true to yourself and encourages others to do likewise. If you do, you’ll find joy and all life’s A-list qualities waiting all along your journey.  By so choosing, you are electing to value the quality of life you encounter over the quantity of material things you acquire and popular opinions that agree with your choice.  As unpopular as your choice in favor of happiness (and your own natural humanness) may appear to be, you are not alone. The ego merely wants you to believe you are alone to keep you hostage within its walls and convince you by its illusions to believe that there is no escape and that any other alternative is too risky to consider.  It’s true that the ego’s way lacks risks. It lacks risks because it is guaranteed to kill your happiness and make you wish for extinction.  Life’s only truly risky route awaits you beyond your ego along the adventure of humility that is the only true alternative to the ego’s futility.  That’s another way to frame our choice: on the one hand continued risk-free futility or, on the other hand, courageously hazardous humility within which we discover joy-filled freedom to fully participate in life’s grandest adventure as it continuously unfolds before us.

Note the word “us” at the end of the last sentence.  The false belief that is the root of all unhappiness in the depth of our hearts is the belief that we are included in no “us” we can trust to stand with us through thick and thin – in sweet times and in sour and all mixed times in between.  When we believe ourselves to be utterly alone, we are sad in a way that seems beyond overcoming.  We have the power to recover the happiness we seek that will last beyond this lifetime by adopting the alternative belief that we are all connected as one worldwide “us” and that smaller squads of “us” are swarming everywhere hoping to find and include each of us.  Learning to trust again is key.

In the middle of the word “trust” is “us.”  It is bracketed by “t’s” on either end that embrace “us” with an “r” that leads before “us.”  Each “t” stands for “truth.” The “r” that leads “us” stands for “raises.” The “r” points “us” in the right direction – upward in reversal of our previously downward spiral through steadfast reliance upon truth that was in the beginning and ever shall be in the future. Both T’s are not actually ends but rather T-intersections or links with eternity.  The truth always links us to eternity because that is where it comes from. Truth Raises US to Truth = TRUST. In God we trust is our most gracious privilege and most enduring and rewarding wisdom.

© Art Nicol 2013