Tag Archives: repent

God is an Authority Figure Unlike Any Other

The heart of Jesus’ mission has always been to reveal that God is an authority figure unlike any other we may have known – or even heard of or imagined – throughout our lifetimes.  Followers of Jesus have the same mission.  Most of us have resisted the opportunity to fully benefit from this mission because we remain hung up on our experiences with human authority figures.  We acquired hang-ups as earthly authority figures exercised power over us in clumsy, perhaps even cruel ways and now we tend to automatically hang up on Jesus when he calls us to walk with him through our past experiences to know and show God as an authority figure unlike the earthly ones of our past.  I write this post to encourage all of us to listen when Jesus calls and hear and heed the more completely heart-satisfying message about God’s authority and power as he offers it to us.  We miss out on the grace of God when we ignore Jesus’ call to share the true nature of God with a world that hungers to know an authority figure of His/Her qualities.

How does God differ from earthly authority figures in offering to relate to us?  Let’s explore several differences among the many that exist.

  1. As we grew up, we experienced parenting figures, older relatives, teachers, coaches and others who wielded authority that we were taught to obey (or at least appear to obey) as quickly as possible to reduce the risk of wearing out their patience and tolerance. When we did not obey quickly enough to satisfy our authority figures, we usually endured punishment in some form, what the authority figures commonly called “consequences” for behaving in ways unacceptable to them or for being too slow or inattentive.  Even when not caught misbehaving, we often still felt guilty about violating our authority figures’ rules and not complying with their expectations.  We took their values, rules and corresponding expectations to heart and learned to feel guilty for not following them instantly even long after they ceased to be actively in our lives as authority figures.  As we adopted their values, rules and expectations as our own, we learned to believe them to come from God “on high.”  In this manner, we learned to confuse God with earthly authority figures and failed to see the significant distinctions highlighted in this post.

In contrast, God is an authority figure who 1) holds us to high expectations of progressively greater excellence but not instantaneous perfection and 2) does not punish us nor want us to feel endless guilt when we fail to uphold divine standards in our human lives.  Our conscience’s feelings of guilt may be helpful guidance when we realize we’ve not met God’s expectations but God does not want us to hang onto any guilt we may feel.  She/He wants us to forgive ourselves and let guilt go because He/She knows that guilt interferes with our freedom to learn the lessons in wisdom and grace that we gain from our failures to fully satisfy God’s standards of excellence.  He/She also knows that fear of punishment does not improve our capacity to learn and grow on account of our experiences in life.  Fear only inhibits our growth towards the mature wholeness God wants us to enjoy.  In helping us to grow strong enough to clear every hurdle of God’s expectations, Jesus introduces us to God’s forgiving nature that we might be free of guilt, no matter what we may or may not have done to fall short of God’s healthiest expectations or how many times we may have stumbled on our journeys.  Lightened of all burdens of guilt, we are more likely to gain mature humility and soar higher to clear each hurdle the next time it appears in our lives.  God generously grants us limitless opportunities to do so.

  1. Throughout our lives, we likely encountered earthly authority figures who played favorites and recruited people to their side in order to demonstrate the influence and significance they held and impress us with the losses we risked in being uncooperative. These experiences set us up to assume that other authority figures, including God, would relate to us in similar ways.  We learned to believe that popularity and social status are desirable, especially popularity and favor with influential authority figures whose opinions of us might make a difference in how things turn out for us.  In the process of relating to such authority figures we may have developed habits (mostly unconscious ones) that came to control our words and actions – perhaps even our thoughts – as we did all we could to seem to be on the side of the authority figures who ruled our lives and remain in their favor.  On the other hand, we may have developed habits of rebelling (perhaps secretly) against authority figures and did not allow them to directly influence our lives much at all.  From either perspective, many of us failed to develop close, meaningful, mutually respectful and fear-free relationships of trust and transparency with our earthly authority figures.

In contrast, God is an authority figure who does not play favorites in any way and has absolutely no need to be popular or have others on His/Her side in order to be powerful.  It’s a mistake to believe that God needs approval from anyone to be the Supreme Authority Figure in the Universe.  He/She has no more need for social approval than He/She needs to inflict pain, guilt or punishment in any form on anyone.  If you think about it, you’ll realize that earthly authority figures react to our mistakes as if they’ve taken them as personal insults – as if their egos have been bruised by our failures to live according to their expectations.  Since God has no ego and does not need our approval, why would God react this way?  It is only in the interests of earthly authority figures to claim that God reacts this way so that they can claim that God backs up their earthly authority.  Such claims are the ultimate expression of the desire for earthly authority figures to recruit others – including even God – to their side to demonstrate their power.  God takes no sides in expressions of earthly authority and seeks only to guide earthly authority figures to exercise authority with wisdom born of humility and to avoid hubris.  Since God does not play favorites in any way, He/She does not favor one earthly authority figure over another but rather seeks to guide them all, regardless of the degree to which any may be inclined to listen to Him/Her.  As Jesus’ life reveals, as our Divine Parent, God invites us all – earthly authority figures and the rest of us – into close, meaningful, mutually respectful and fear-free wholehearted intimacy with Him/Her even as She/He serves as our Ultimate Authority Figure.

  1. It is commonly said of earthly authority figures that power tends to corrupt them and absolute power tends to corrupt them absolutely. In this manner, the higher up the ladder of power that an earthly authority figure rises, the more likely it is that he or she will wield power with decreasing empathy, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, humility and grace and with increasing hubris.  Studies have discovered scientific evidence of changes in our brains and how we think as we rise to wield earthly power. Although these changes do not occur uniformly in everyone, the risk is great that they will occur unless disciplines are in place to curtail their development.  (For more about this topic, visit http://www.daedalustrust.com/ and read “Power Causes Brain Damage” in the July/August 2017 issue of The Atlantic Monthly at theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/07/.)

In contrast, God is an authority figure who is not corrupted by any degree of power, even absolute power.  By nature, God is infinitely powerful and yet also incorruptible. He/She never stoops to bullying, bribing or being bribed.  If anything, His/Her grace and mercy expands the more we try to no longer conform to the patterns of the world and instead allow our hearts and minds to be transformed as the means of demonstrating God’s good and perfect will towards everyone.  That is, the more diligently we strive to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God regardless of social disapproval we may encounter and the failure of others around us to do likewise, the more He/She welcomes us to be close and comforted even in the midst of our most troubling testings and trials.  How few earthly authority figures compare well to God on that standard!

  1. By their nature as “earthly,” our human authority figures are physically outside of us and rule over us while we grow from childhood into adulthood.  As they train us to conform to their spoken and unspoken rules, expectations and way of life, they hope that we’ll internalize their dominating values, ideas and attitudes and allow them to rule unquestioned for all our lives as if our parents and other earthly authority figures are eternally with us and as absolute in knowledge and power as God is. It is common for this to happen. We are apt to struggle throughout our adulthood trying to take back our true power from such internalized authority figures in order to value ourselves and recover our freedom to outgrow their training and become our own persons with power to question what we’ve been told.

In contrast, God is present within us from the start – when we were first created – and reigns beneath, alongside and around us as the nurturer of our true nature and source of health and wise guidance.  Rather than be a source of rules for us to obey and expectations for us to satisfy, God is the source of all we need to fulfill our divine destinies as Her/His children.  God’s resources are offered freely and abundantly to us from within as well as outside of us.  Guidance, wisdom, love, motivation and the energizing opportunities of life are some of His/Her most precious gifts extended openly to each of us.  We are each God’s favorite child of the model and design we are because we are each uniquely who we are.  No one can compete to take our place in relationship with God.  If a person tries to compete with us for a relationship with God, that person is merely abandoning his or her natural relationship with God and trying mistakenly to substitute a lesser quality relationship.  That’s a foolish choice made by all who continue to fear God and seek to come into Her/His presence disguised as someone else rather than to approach the throne of grace “just as I am without one plea.”  Unlike many earthly authority figures, God is not poised to pounce upon us with a judgmental, fault-finding attitude as many people mistakenly believe but rather is peacefully and lovingly at rest within us, continuously inviting us to be at ease within Her/His inner embrace.  As we accept love’s invitation to be at ease, we release stress and have far less reason to take on any dis-ease.

  1. Unless a human authority figure masters the art of humility and disciplines himself or herself to rise beyond ego’s claim on his or her mind, to one degree or another, he or she will engage in hypocrisy. His or her actions will to some degree conflict with each other and with his or her words.  He/She is likely to hold differing standards for himself/herself as well as for others as part of playing people against each other or currying favor with some in preference to others.  She/He may make mountains out of molehills while overlooking some mountains as if they were molehills. Blowing hot and cold, using double standards and playing games with emotions will be part of his/her typical patterns.  Worse yet, he/she may be petty, vindictive, heartless and too little concerned about the welfare of others whom he/she tends to undervalue as a matter of routine.

In contrast, God is free of hypocrisy and remains steadfast in His/Her orientation towards each and every one of us as a divine child welcome to participate in the divine family business as Jesus did.  God holds out holiness as the universal standard for Himself/Herself and for us too.  Since holiness is the same as healthiness and wholeness shared in oneness with God and each other, it is a high standard worth attaining.  It is also natural to us because it is the nature in which we are all created as extensions of the Holy Parent.  God indulges in none of the traits of an ego and sustains positive regard for all of us regardless of how well or poorly we may satisfy His/Her standards of health and wholeness from time to time.  Jesus told the story of the prodigal son to illustrate God’s commitment to our well-being for all eternity.

I hope that these thoughts stir up hope that many of your assumptions about God’s nature and your relationship with God are based on fallacies acquired along the way in your life.  None of these fallacies needs to continue to interfere with your awareness of God’s presence within you because you have the power to change your mind and allow your heart to be cleansed of all fear moment by moment by God’s love flowing freely from the throne of grace to you as a tree of life planted astraddle the river of life.  The river of life flows with God’s love for all of us, without exception – no matter what we may have said or done or what we or anyone else may think of us.

I encourage you to set time aside to rest with God as Jesus frequently did as he spent time away from the crowds and even from his disciples.  Put down your roots into the soil of unconditional love and drink of the river of life as often and as deeply as your heart desires.  There is no more promising way to use your time than to put a smile in God’s heart by smiling there with Him/Her.  She/He delights to share your joys as well as your sorrows and other heartfelt emotions throughout your lifetime because in your open sharing She/He knows that you have come to trust that you are best off when you spend time regularly in God’s home within your heart.  None of us is banished to live as a prodigal child for any longer than we want to.  When we decide to come home to God by welcoming His/Her presence within us, we’ll know it has happened forever.

© Art Nicol 2017

 

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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

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

Sincerely Held Religious Beliefs

(Dialogue is a precious, fruitful process for wisdom-mining.  Please let others know what you sense in your heart about what I write here and elsewhere — and about what others write too.  Dialogue is wisdom-minding as much as wisdom-mining.  It is the way we mine our hearts for wisdom and remind our minds of wisdom’s value as an eternally available natural resource.  Unlike fossil fuels, wisdom is a living, replenishable and timeless resource to fuel our mental engines.)

Spokespersons for the LGBTQ community seem to be in an uproar about a piece of legislation recently signed into law in Tennessee protecting therapists who refuse to treat LGBTQ clients because providing such treatment conflicts with the therapist’s “sincerely held religious beliefs.”  I believe this law is worthy of note on account of its legal as well as community health and social justice implications but not for the reasons offered by those who oppose the law on the grounds of separation of “church and hate.”  (The eloquent article from which I extract that quote can be found at http://www.advocate.com/commentary/2016/4/21/tennessee-needs-lesson-separation-church-and-hate.)

I look at this piece of legislation as merely the first step towards protecting clients who are members of the LGBTQ community, allies of this community or members of any other frequently stigmatized community and its allies.  I propose that Tennessee and all other states pass laws that require psychotherapists of all stripes to file an annual disclosure form with the state’s professional licensing agency disclosing all forms of biases, prejudices and phobias by which the therapist is beset.  The comparable situation for a massage therapist who has an active case of tuberculosis would be to require that the massage therapist openly disclose his or her active disease so that clients who prefer not to become infected by TB might find someone else to provide massages during the masseur’s infectious period.

Closeted bigots (homophobics and others) who become licensed psychotherapists do great damage to those who open their hearts and minds to them because the therapist’s fears transmit to the client as surely as TB bacteria transmit through the air in closed spaces when the carrier of TB is in close proximity to the potential recipient of the bacteria.  Fear is an infectious emotional energy that radiates from each of us as surely as the air we breathe exits from our lungs when we breathe out.  Just as surely, the energy of fear transmitted by another person in close proximity to us contaminates our own energy field as if we’ve breathed it in.  Clients who trust a therapist of any kind to be a source of health and well-being rather than a transmitter of pollutants can be protected by mandatory disclosure of emotional infections of which a therapist is a carrier.

To go a step further, it may be even more protective of the public’s welfare to require that all therapists undergo annual emissions tests to determine the nature of the emotional pollutants they are transmitting into the energy field into which their clients enter during therapy sessions.  We require mandatory emissions tests for automobiles.  Why allow therapists to escape this responsibility when their noxious emotional fumes’ effects are comparably toxic and harmful?

If a therapist sincerely holds religious beliefs that prevent him or her from seeing a client accurately, let’s get those beliefs publicized as broadly as necessary to alert existing and potential clients to the therapist’s fear-distorted perspective.  Perhaps we should establish a public registry of offenders who sincerely hold both professional licenses as well as fear-based beliefs that they reinforce and justify by citation to religious texts.  If a therapist is afraid that God will condemn him or her to hell for treating a client of a particular protected class with respect, honor and dignity as a highly valued person, let’s have that fact known and do indeed protect that client and his or her whole class from that therapist.  Let’s no longer allow therapists to creep around in the dark lying and lurking in wait to spring themselves upon unsuspecting innocent clients.  Enough of this heretofore unacknowledged lying and lurking in secret!  Ambush-by-therapist should be outlawed!  Let’s have the lying out in the open and the lurking publicly disclosed.  Would that not reduce the incidence of private indecency to which unsuspecting clients would be otherwise exposed?

Of course, we should also allow provision of mercy for those therapists who later repent and remove them from the registry upon adequate proof of their sincerely held repentance.  We must allow no law establishing mandatory reporting or setting up an offenders’ registry to become itself an instrument of injustice. The unforgiving nature of the Internet’s memory and the implications of an unpurgeable public record are additional concerns we may also want to wrestle with.  Surely we do not believe, “Once a bigot, always a bigot!” With adequate help even the foulest of spiritual offenders may be redeemed and provide helpful public service.  Does not the life of the apostle known as Paul prove that point?

Dear Reader, what do you think about mandatory reporting of this nature and the utility of a public registry for spiritual offenders who prefer to retain their fear-based judgmental attitudes on the pretense that their attitudes are ordained of God?

© Art Nicol 2016

Ego, The River of Life and God

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” Revelation 22:1-2 (NIV)

And then the ego set about building levies to keep the floodwaters of God’s unconditional love from running beyond the river’s banks to bring fertility to lands not privileged to border the river, about which the ego saw too little potential for self-importance and pride to bother caring.  And the ego dammed the river to divert its joyful flow into generating energy for ego-sustaining manufacturing activities and entertainment.  And the ego dumped toxic wastes into the river because it could not be bothered with recycling the byproducts of its vanity, greed, sloth, anger, lust, envy and gluttony.  And the ego crossed the sun-baked mudflats where the silt had filled in the river to harvest the fruit for a season and market it for a handsome profit, manufacture and brand high-priced drugs from the leaves to swell the well-heeled’s bank accounts and cut down the tree of life and sawed it into lumber for more luxurious homes, country estates, country clubs and yachts for the privileged class.  Then, in place of the tree but to honor its memory, the ego erected a plastic-and-stainless-steel, weather-resistant monument to itself in the middle of the mudflats and lighted it 24 hours a day with energy-saving LED bulbs to justify its claim to being eco-friendly.

And God and the Lamb sat patiently upon their thrones no less empowered to be Divine than when the river flowed freely and waited for the people of God to notice the utter foolishness of the ego and its claims to privileged status as River Monitor and Elitist Corps of Engineers.  They waited patiently for the people of God to repudiate the ego in favor of humbly returning to worship God and acknowledge the authority of the Lamb.  And upon the return of the people of God to their one true God, the River began to flow again across all territories of the Earth without regard to barriers and regulatory structures set up by the ego because the people of God provided a new, more expansive and freer flowing network of channels through which the Water of Life might flow to nurture the nations to new life and demonstrate the grace and glory of God in faithfulness to all Creation.   And the people of God bore manifold expressions of fruitfulness, yielding a sustainable and bountiful crop in all seasons that expanded year after year; and the gifted hearts and minds of the people of God were for the healing of the nations.

And then it became true as foretold of old by the Exiled One, “No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him.” Revelation 22:3 (NIV)

© Art Nicol 2015

Humanity at the Center of God’s Will – Part 1

Although the Earth is not the center of the Universe, humanity is at the center of God’s will, but not in the way many people believe.  Scientists discovered long ago the error of believing that all other heavenly bodies orbited around the Earth.  They do not, no matter how it may appear to casual observers that they do.  So long as observers assumed that the Earth stood motionless amid a sun, moon, planets, stars and other objects in space that moved, they tried to explain how the motions they observed were caused by the motion of every heavenly body except Earth.  Once observers accepted that the Earth itself is not only in motion in its own orbit but also in motion revolving around its own axis, their explanations and theories had to change. Let’s give these observant thinkers credit for having reconsidered their earlier theory that the Earth was absolutely motionless and for having tossed it out in favor of other theories once persuasive evidence was gathered.  Their reconsideration is a form of repentance, a process of rethinking prior conclusions in light of new evidence. We can similarly reconsider the central role God has entrusted to humanity once we stop assuming that our role consists primarily of being pampered, punished or passed over by God, observe accurately what our role is and develop a theory of life consistent with our true role.  Just as it takes more than casual observation to understand the relationship of Earth to other heavenly bodies, it takes more than casual observation to discern our role and relationship to God and God’s design for life.  Factors to observe accurately include questions such as “Who orbits whom?” and “For what purpose?”

When the Earth lost its status as the center of the Universe, the Christian religion (then predominantly expressed through the Catholic Church) resisted the new evidence as contrary to long-established religious beliefs about humanity’s being the centerpiece of God’s creation.  Catholic traditions enthroned in interpretations of scriptural stories set humanity above all other life forms as the pinnacle expression of God’s divine process of creation.  Had polar bears developed a religion it’s possible that they would have thought of themselves as the pinnacle expression of God’s creativity and interpreted the illusion that the stars appear to orbit around the North Pole and the fact that the Earth rotates on its axis around the North Pole as proof of polar bear supremacy. But it seems that only humans have developed religions or felt the need to assert superiority over other species and within our own species.  So only humans once claimed that the commonly observed motion of heavenly bodies was linked to humanity’s supremacy in God’s plan of creation and found it hard to let go of outdated theories of an Earth-centered Universe once new and less commonly observed yet nevertheless accurate evidence was available. Although the absence of an Earth-centered Universe did not necessarily imply the absence of a God-centered Universe, modernizing human thinking gradually shifted towards that conclusion.  Since Western thinking favors either/or outcomes, in the competition between the scientific and the sacred the scientific gained vastly predominant authority and the authority of the sacred faded by comparison.  The possibility of reconciling this competition in an outcome that honored the authority of “both/and” instead for “either/or” was not a favored outcome in minds trained in Western thinking that tends to see issues in terms of opposites and resolves conflicts by designating winners and losers.

Once scientific observations prevailed over traditional religious beliefs, scriptural stories lost much of their authority.  Science discredited Scripture.  Science won.  Religion lost.  In fact, science became the new religion and the former institutions of religion in Western (industrializing, developing, modernizing) society took a back seat to science for many centuries, serving mostly to justify and cheer on sciences’ achievements in the “march of progress” of modernization – as measured by material standards.  In the current modern era, it’s perhaps time to question whether science works well as a religion.  Perhaps in some way undetectable by science humanity does have a centerpiece relationship with God and a central role in God’s plan.  The ascendance of science as the superior thought system has seduced us into believing that what is “detectable” by scientific instruments and human observation is all that exists.  Thus, with a God that is undetectable by science, God does not exist except in the minds of those who believe God exists, a belief that seems to conflict with physical observations.  To many scientific thinkers (atheists, agnostics, skeptics, religiously oriented, etc.), the existence of God is not provable and therefore is largely if not totally irrelevant in one’s “practical” life.  While young or prospering socially, many people postpone thinking about God in any depth.  More pressing issues related to immediate social success take priority and occupy their minds. While in foxholes there may be no atheists, in between fox holes many sidestep issues related to God to focus on attaining their next social goals.

We may be reaping the results of having scientifically convinced ourselves that God is irrelevant to human life when the truth is precisely opposite. What if God is the most relevant aspect of life and if humanity is the most significant aspect of life as Life happens on God’s terms?  Might we shift our priorities and re-arrange our investment of time and energy if that were so?  By believing unquestionably in science as our new religion may we have inadvertently encouraged the plague of violence now besetting the Earth at all levels of Life? I am not blaming science for causing the plague.  I am merely suggesting that predominant use of science’s way of thinking has distorted our concepts of cause and effect and trained us to assume that the Law of Cause and Effect must always start with the assumption that major (if not all) causes are physical in nature and that nothing non-physical can be a significant factor in causing any effect. It is not necessary to return to medieval superstitions to regain our balance and consider the possibility of significant non-physical Causes of Effects within a balanced blend of both types of Causes and Effects.

I submit that careful observation (akin to Galileo’s looking through his primitive telescope) will establish that the human race plays a central role in the Universe according to God’s plan. (Given that there may or may not be other forms of life elsewhere in the Universe, I am not necessarily suggesting that humanity is the supreme form of life found everywhere in the Universe.  But I am suggesting that humanity is the supreme form of life found on Earth and may be charged, among other things, with advocating on behalf of the sanctity of all Earthly Life’s forms instead of desecrating them.  And if there are other forms of life beyond Earth, human beings are likely to be responsible for representing and advocating on behalf of all Earthly life forms in future relationships with non-Earthly life forms. Will it not be difficult for humans to stand up for all Earthly life forms when communicating with non-Earthly life forms if we continue to treat other Earthly life forms as unworthy of respect and totally expendable for our convenience?  We can only hope that non-Earthly life forms who turn out to have powers superior to ours do not treat us as poorly as we treat Earthly life forms of lesser power.)

I also submit that we will find and return to our central role in God’s plan for Life when we stop limiting our search to material or physical matter. Mainstream science focuses primarily on the physical world.  It is inherently biased in favor of materialism.  If we limit our inquiry into humanity’s significance to God by limiting our investigation to things physical, we’ll miss what we are looking for.  It is not physical.  It is detectable but not by instruments limited to detecting physical phenomena.  The discernable but nonphysical significance we have to God corresponds to God’s non-detectability by scientific instruments. The existence of humanity’s greatest significance is no more likely to be detected by scientific instruments than God is likely to be detected by them.  Hints may be detected but only hints. The precise attribute itself may remain undetectable by scientists for a long time.

By hints, I mean the byproducts or signs of humanity’s significance to God can be detected as evidence of that significance, if the observers are willing to accept these byproducts or signs as evidence rather than explain them away through other explanations more acceptable to science-biased minds.  Let’s take an example from science itself of a byproduct of an invisible phenomenon that scientists accept as evidence of the existence of that invisible phenomenon. Today scientists accept the existence of magnetic fields created by many kinds of objects, ranging in size (on Earth) from electrically charged particles in motion to small magnets and the Earth’s core.  Although a human’s physical senses may not detect the presence of a magnetic field, the introduction of iron filings into a magnetic field will disclose to human observation the presence of a magnetic field around a magnet. This video demonstrates what happens:

The reaction of the iron filings is evidence of the presence of the energy of the magnetic field around a magnet even when the field’s energy itself remains invisible.

My proposition is that the human species (humanity) is at the heart of Life as God creates Life.  Admittedly this proposition contains assumptions that may not be accepted by all observant thinkers.  It assumes 1) the existence of God, 2) the role of God as on-going Creator of Life (past, present and future tense of “create”) and 3) the existence of Life itself as an overarching, never-fully-completed phenomenon within which all forms of life (as we have identified and may yet identify them) take place.  I propose that Life is an ever-evolving Supreme Field of Divine Energy akin to a magnetic field, that God is the ever-expanding flow of divine energy that magnetizes Life akin to the way a flow of electrical energy creates a magnetic field around a wire through which the electricity flows and that Life’s “network of wires” or energy routes called “relationships” continues to expand as well as vary in capacity to transmit divine energy, depending among other things upon the level of resistance to the flow of divine energy.  As my proposal demonstrates, phenomena in the physical world can provide metaphors for the nature of Life and help us to accept observable evidence in a new light based on a revised theory of Life.

We need not toss out all of our past observations, theories and conclusions in order to investigate the value of this revised theory in which both God and humanity play key roles.  We need only be willing to consider that our past and present theories are “good as far as they go” and that there’s more to the story than what our currently accepted theories consider possible or adequately allow for.  I propose that scientific theories are Scientific stories and that Sacred stories (from all of humanity’s spiritually oriented thought systems, both of oral and written traditions, not just Christian Scripture) have value as allegorical perspective and guidance in understanding the meaning, purpose and direction of Life. In short I am proposing a theory by which sciences and religions may be reconciled and integrated into a unified perspective on Life – within a Unified Story told by the Source of Life through human emotions, thoughts and activities. Under such a unified thesis, the sciences may have more to say about “how” life works than about “why” Life exists.

© Art Nicol 2015

To consider more about the possibility of a Unified Story of Life, please read Part 2 of this 3-part series.