Tag Archives: spirituality

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

 

Rival or Revival?

The ego feels threatened by God because the ego has no function or purpose in God’s realm.  Thus, the ego sees God as its rival and the cause of all conflict rather than the Source of All Life lived in endless harmony.  Our true nature yearns for God because God’s presence within us empowers the revival of our true function and purpose as divine lovers embodying, as Jesus did while expressing himself through a body, our natural, created capacity to live in harmony with each other and with all forms of life.  Free will is our power to choose which relationship to have with God – rival or revival.  The first arises from a false identity with ego.  The second is a process to enjoy forever as the truth sets us free to live as God created us to be.

Created with free will, we have the power to choose whether to see ourselves as God’s rival as ego does or see ourselves as empowered by God to experience revival from the dominion of fear over which ego presides into the dominion of love within which ego fades as our habits of thinking fearfully fade.  With which do we choose to identify – ego or God?  We are either falsely fabricated by-products of the ego or truly created children of God.  No one can make this choice of identity for us.  To force us to choose to be God’s child would be to deny our free will’s fullest power.  To not be rivals of God we must have the power to reject God and choose ego instead and yet remain loved unconditionally by God and welcomed to return to our senses and choose again to honor our true nature and our created, natural relationship with God.  Only when we realize that we have the power to reject God can we accept that we have the power to stand freely alongside God as divine children — together within the holy family God envisioned when God created us.

God did not create us to be less free or less powerful than God.  God envisioned us to be co-creators of heaven with God, to participate fully within the family business of co-creation.  In time we will realize as Jesus did that we “must be about our Father’s business” and cease to compete with Him/Her as if to set up a rival business.  God does have a monopoly on love.  Yet God’s generous nature would withhold no feature of love from any of us.  Unlike human business monopolies based on profit-making, God seeks no profit from the distribution of love in abundance except the joy of sharing life with us openly and honestly.  Our main challenge now is to step free from ego’s false teachings and instead live with all our hearts with awareness of God within the core of our beings for the purpose of sharing love as generously and abundantly as God does.

Will you join me in this grand adventure in exploring a universe free from fear’s domination?  Will you join me in allowing all excuses for interpersonal violence and planetary exploitation fade away? It’s unreasonable, even maddening to strive to rival what is best when revival of what is best is as near to us as our hearts.

 

The “God” Factor – Fact, Fiction or No Cause for Friction?

In The ABCs of Love, I present an operating system for healthy relationships that includes a reference point beyond human control t hat I call a “God” Factor.  Because this element may trouble some readers, I want to clarify what I mean by a “God” Factor.  I expect many readers to find a way to identify their own “God” Factor and feel less troubled by my use of the term once I clarify what I mean by it.  I address this issue up front because its resolution is vital to a reader’s exploration of The ABCs of Love with an open mind.

I use “God” Factor as a label for a target or focus of faith.  We all put our faith in something, even when we don’t realize we are doing so.  Our choice is not whether to have faith but in what we place our faith.  The tiniest target of faith towards which we might aim is the self alone, separate and unrelated to anyone or anything else.  Although I encourage all of us to cultivate self-love as an essential part of experiencing love, I believe that love must be shared to be activated and not stillborn, shallow or stagnant.  To fully activate love, The ABCs of Love lays out a system for setting love free to be shared as a form of energy, the energy that sustains our health and empowers us to recover our health if we allow it to slip away.  So, I take the position that our individual self alone is not an adequate focus of faith to serve as a “God” Factor.  To be healthy and share love, we need to have faith in our individual selves but not only in ourselves.  To enjoy an ever-expanding encounter with love, we need to be true to love’s nature and place our faith in a “God” Factor larger than individual self.

The possibilities for a larger-than-self target for our faith are varied.  In my investigation of the wide array of possibilities, I have identified characteristics of a “God” Factor that hold the greatest promise for setting love free to be shared abundantly as The ABCs of Love envisions.  These characteristics include:

  • Motivation and guidance to nurture ourselves, others and our relationships with increasing competence to enrich our lives with deeper, equitably shared satisfaction;
  • Tendency to improve the quality of our lives as measured by heart-honoring factors such as peace, hope and joy;
  • Capacity to be tested within our experiences regardless of our inability to establish and control it or the effects is has on us. In other words, the capacity to be independent of our control and surprise us with outcomes different from those we initially may have expected – whether or not flattering to our pride.
  • Capacity to help us recover from our mistakes and misunderstandings about how to relate to life and one another and help us courageously take risks and sustain balance as we walk our talk;
  • A not-completely-known nature we can progressively understand better and better as we exercise our faith in it and grow more mature, wiser and more loving on account of wrestling with its mysteries.

Possible categories of “God” Factors with these characteristics include, but are not limited to:

  1. The Golden Rule and other principles for cultivating mutually uplifting relationships (see, for example, Source of variety of restatements of the Golden Rule);
  2. The Desiderata (see This text of the Desiderata) and other comprehensive statements of a positive, balanced orientation to life;
  3. The Serenity Prayer (see Text and history of Serenity Prayer) and other statements of commitment to seeking and sustaining balance between our intellect (mind) and our emotions (heart) as we explore life’s opportunities;
  4. An ethical, religious or scientific thought system that honors the value of ourselves and others and calls us to grow wiser, more empathetic and more understanding as we both age and mature;
  5. An entity we honor as a “Supreme Being” of benevolent orientation towards all of humanity, including ourselves and our loved ones and strangers whom we welcome as potential friends;
  6. Nature, including all forms of life and the ecosystem that sustains the life we call “Earth;”
  7. Love, Life and/or Truth as an expansive array of desirable qualities most significant to your heart.

This list is incomplete.  You may identify another “God” Factor that works for you as you practice The ABCs of Love.

Although I leave open the choice of label for this “God” Factor, I encourage every practitioner of the ABCs of love to be accountable to a standard for quality beyond himself or herself as a necessary condition for experiencing more love.  In setting our standards and evaluating how well we meet them, if we ask only whether we please ourselves, love has little chance to appear within our endless loop of self-indulgence and self-pleasing.  For us to get along cooperatively with each other, we each must have a beyond-and-greater-than-me standard for how we treat each other.  “We” is greater than “me.”  Relationships inherently involve interactions with others whom we accept as being other, independent people and not merely trained pets, puppets or pacifiers of our pride (ego).  Just as we expect others to do for us, we must respect as fact that the “others” in our relationships have wills, feelings and ideas of their own and voices by which to share them, even when we might not prefer to hear them.  If we are not willing to honor and listen to those voices, then we condemn ourselves to having no genuine relationships, choosing instead to fake them or go through life alone without sharing love. To totally indulge one’s ego is to rule out the possibility of encountering love and stifle the inflow of the “more” we hope might still be possible.  If I insist that I am the ruler (or even owner) of all others and none may dare defy me without suffering my displeasure or banishment, then I’m not interested in participating in relationships on love’s terms.  Love will not insist on its terms and yet will also not be bent to do the ego’s bidding.

The function of a “God” Factor is to provide a reference point for keeping our egos in check.  It need not be a “Supreme Being.”  It may be an ideal or principle such as the Golden Rule.  It may be “Truth,” “Love,” “Universal Energy,” “Chi” or some other target of belief that we admit that we imagine exists but do not totally understand nor control or bend to our will and yet offers us something “more” we desire.  Whatever “God” Factor we choose, if we can totally define and control it then it’s not going to serve as the reference point we need to allow our minds to open to possibilities beyond what our egos accept as “comfortable” (totally controlled).  The “God” Factor we adopt must motivate us to seek answers beyond what we believe we already know and make room for the “uncomfortable,” “undominated and “uncontrolled” to enter into our experiences.  Truth welcomes Love.  Love welcomes Truth.  We who seek both Truth and Love seek what we do not yet know by experience and yet imagine may be possible.  The ABCs of Love will serve us in our quest. Even if we do not name Truth or Love as “God,” so long as we admit that we do not yet know all the Truth or Love we want to know, we’ll find it as we journey together in our quest for it beyond the terms on which our egos previously dictated we must live.

The love-energized system presented in The ABCs of Love incorporates the idea of a “God” Factor as a fundamental assumption and prerequisite for success in sharing love.  Does that mean that someone who believes that there is no “Supreme Being” cannot make use of the ABCs of love?  Not necessarily.  But it does mean that a person who insists on defining love for himself or herself without reference to any standard of quality beyond his or her own preferences or current ideas about love is likely to not encounter the love towards which The ABCs of Love points its practitioners –  unless that person is open to the possibility of allowing his or her own experiences to reveal new insights and understandings.

In short, a close-minded person who shuts his or her heart and mind to the possibility of discovering new things about life and love through personal experiences may be disappointed because forcing the ABCs of love to fit rigid, pre-determined definitions cripples love’s nature.  To enjoy the experience of more love than one has encountered thus far means to open oneself to discovering more by experience.  The discovery of more love is not merely a theoretical journey but an applied one as well – one practiced within relationships with others whom we do not control by domination or manipulation.  Expanding definitions of love’s qualities are unlikely to remain confined within fixed boxes.  They are more likely to outgrow boxes like many potted plants outgrow their pots.  To grow we need more room for our ideas about love to extend their roots into deeper soil and expand their branches upward and outward to boldly welcome life as it shares its light.

Are you willing to unbox your ideas about love and allow them to take on new life and become enriched with deeper and more expansive meaning because of the experiences you are having?

Being open to growing on account of one’s experiences is a central theme of The ABCs of Love.    This is as true of those who first approach the ABCs of love declaring that they believe in a “God” Factor identified as a “Supreme Being” as of those who approach declaring that their starting position is that there is no “Supreme Being” of any kind.  For all of us, the quest for the truth inherent in practicing the ABCs of love holds a common question:  Based on our experiences, are we willing to re-examine our beliefs about life, including about a “God” Factor and our definitions of words we use such as “love,” “God,” “sacred,” “true,” “false,” “right,” “wrong,” “good,” “bad,” “devotion,” “growth,” “satisfaction,” “wisdom” and “life” as we encounter experiences and let them enrich our insights and understandings?  A discussion about whether the “God” Factor is a fact or a fiction need not be a source of friction any more than a discussion about what we believe to be “good and bad” or “right and wrong” needs to be.  We can expect each of us sometimes to hold our opinions and viewpoints with passionate emotions.  The exploration of issues introduced by The ABCs of Love invokes our emotions. Sometimes we may be surprised by the strength of our emotional attachment to an idea.  The question that love raises is “Are we willing to look at our emotions to see why we have strong attachments to certain ideas and consider revisiting those attachments and revising our ideas if and when each of us – without pressure from another person or any group – decides it is appropriate to do so?”

A discussion of any issue need not produce more friction than we can tolerate if we are willing to release our minds from assumptions and beliefs we’ve acquired earlier in life when our current experiences challenge those assumptions and beliefs with new information or perceptions.  By “release,” I do not mean that we automatically discard a belief simply because an experience seems to conflict with it or another person (or group, minority or majority) disagrees with it. I mean that we exercise our freedom to be “willing” to re-examine our beliefs and assumptions – together with the emotions associated with them – in light of our experiences. In this freedom, we then decide whether or not we continue to hold onto a belief or assumption or let it go in favor of a revised or alternative one.  I encourage us to participate in this process of shared thinking because I discovered in my life that reasoning includes revisiting and rethinking our ideas not alone but in the company of others who honor our emotions and ideas as well as value us as people.

For example, suppose we were using a new system to navigate the world’s oceans and were told that the new system was designed on the assumption that the Earth is more or less spherical while we had believed all our life that the Earth is flat and our own senses seemed to tell us it was flat.  As far as we could look, we saw flatness.  Would we therefore automatically cast aside the new system without testing it?  Some would; others wouldn’t.  At issue is not merely what and how we decide but also “Why do we decide as we do?”  To be aware of our thinking process includes being aware of emotions that influence us our willingness to take risks.

To believe that there is no “God” Factor that is potentially helpful in our quest for more love simply because we cannot see or detect “Truth,” “Love,” “the Golden Rule” or any kind of “Supreme Being” scientifically may be as valid as the belief that the Earth is flat – a belief that once seemed confirmed by our inability to detect the curvature of the Earth as we stand upon it.  “Looks flat to me!”  So, we declare it’s flat.  “Cannot detect a “God” Factor anywhere in my life!”  So, we declare there is no “God” Factor.  It may be logical but also may be mistaken because information flowing into an observer’s mind may be filtered through his or her belief in the sanctity of the idea, assumption or attitude with which she or he started.  To remain open to the possibility of acquiring richer insights and understandings based on experiences, one cannot worship an idea as if it’s set in stone and make it sacred.  To do so is to risk making that idea into a rigid idol.  One must be willing to let go of blinders that limit one’s awareness.  A belief that there is no “God” Factor may be sacred to those who hold it – as sacred as a belief in a “Supreme Being” is to those who hold that belief.  In addition, a person may hold sacred a definition of a “Supreme Being’s” nature although it may be incomplete or inaccurate.  The issue is “Do we recognize that we exercise faith when we declare something to be true without being able yet to prove it’s true?”   Are we willing to be like fish who once gave little or no thought to the invisible water in which they swim and unconsciously place their faith and now investigate the invisible with growing curiosity about its nature and function in our lives? Might the nature and quality of the waters of life be important?

Placing faith in the Scientific Method of hypothesis, experimentation and observation is as much an act of faith as placing faith in religious teachings or some abstract principle like the Golden Rule. Science, religion and ethics are sets of ideas making up systems of ideas handed down generation after generation complete with their own internal self-validating processes.  Every thought system risks being a closed system of thinking. The ABCs of Love is an open system of thinking.  That is why every practitioner of it will find aspects that challenge the beliefs he or she holds dear, even sacred. Are you willing to tolerate having your most cherished beliefs and assumptions uncovered,questioned and perhaps validated, or perhaps not validated in whole or part?

I write about The ABCs of Love based in part on my own challenging experiences that have demonstrated the value of the principles and practices outlined here.  I remain open to feedback from practitioners to continue to enrich the content and sharing of the ABCs of love.  I am on a journey as a practitioner just as I encourage everyone to be.  The “God” Factor has challenged me throughout my journey.  At the beginning of my journey, I had given little thought to what a concept of “God” might mean.  I had heard about there being a “Supreme Being” and assumed that to be “Supreme” meant having the power define life and be more in control of it than I would ever be.  To me it was the essence of any idea of “Supreme” that I could not define the nature of  a “God” but could only accept that, if there is a “God,” that entity (by whatever name called) would define itself and reveal itself to me if it chose to.  I believed I could not create a “God,” but there might be a “God” who created me.  Otherwise, I did as best I could to treat others “right,” whatever that may mean from time to time.  Looking back, I believe my initial “God” Factor was some version of the Golden Rule.

            Eventually, I began to think more consciously about a “God” Factor as I matured and had children of my own and also addressed issues in my community that concerned the welfare of children beyond my own.  Thinking about the welfare of children stretched my mind to consider an ever expanding range of ideas and options that came to my attention that seemed to influence the welfare of children.  Gradually, the “God” Factor that I’d pushed off to the edge of my life while a young adult, edged back into an increasingly more central role in my thinking.  I began to reference what I thought (my “opinions” and “viewpoints”) to sources beyond myself, most of which I found in material authored by experts in fields of study related to life in general and to children’s wellbeing in particular.  The authors’ ideas came alive to me as I wove them into my own practices and explored their benefits.  I began to adopt aspects of other people’s viewpoints into my own. I came to see that ideas that proved most helpful often came from authors who made reference to a “God” Factor (e.g., life’s spiritual features and principles) as if there is a “God” Factor of some sort.  I also noticed that the “God” Factor many authors believed in did not express the judgmental nature that I had assumed a “Supreme Being” would express.  I had to continually revise my ideas about the “God” Factor as authors’ ideas came together to build a picture of a wise, compassionate, understanding and forgiving “Gentle Essence” who might have a personal nature as I do and even include me within the scope of His/Her/Its benevolent care and love.

I discovered in the process that I was afraid of the “God” Factor of which I held a fuzzy, ill-defined concept.  And I was afraid of love.  Fear colored my ideas about both.  In the face of fears of the Unknown and of my failure and inadequacy to master the art of love, I wrestled with a “God” Factor that I assumed was judging and finding fault with me – and would therefore impose consequences upon me for my failure to perform well enough to earn a “good grade.”  I realized that I confused my concept of a“God” Factor with the performance-oriented habits I’d acquired trying to please my parents and other authority figures in my life.  It became as important to me to please a “Supreme Authority Figure” as a “God” Factor as it had been to please my parents and teachers.  Questions such as “What pleases ‘God’ most?” became important to me.  Was it blind obedience to rules?  Cooperation within relationships?  Grace, mercy and justice that might sometime supersede rules?  Forgiveness?  Faith?  As I stumbled along pursuing these questions to their limits, I discovered by experience that there is a “Supremely Gracious Authority Figure” quite unlike any most people speak about or seem to know exists.

Through my experiences, I discovered that Huston Smith made a valid point in his book The World’s Religions. Having studied a broad range of paths of faith in depth – both mainstream and minority branches, Smith summarized that all paths of faith in some sort of “Supreme Being” held in common these three ideas about the “God” Factor:  1) there is a Creator who is the source of all life; 2) one can seek and receive help from the Source of life who desires to sustain the life of every person (seeker and not-yet seeker) on the best terms possible; and 3) regardless of how certain some people claim to be about the “Supreme Being’s” nature and what that “Being” thinks, most of what is true about that “Being” remains a mystery to humans.  I formed the impression that A) all paths of faith converged in and shared a common mystical experience of a “God” Factor not yet experienced by those who had not yet become aware of the mystical dimension of their chosen path of faith and B) all who delved deep enough into their chosen path would arrive at this mystical encounter.

I now accept that I’m on a journey delving into the depths of a multifaceted mystery that I’ll never fully comprehend.  Many people fear the “Mysterious Unknown.”  No longer fearing it, I’ve discovered that the “Mysterious Unknown” has never stopped creating for the benefit of Creation and that we are an important facet of Creation but not the only facet.  We have our place and role and need to learn to respect all living beings throughout Creation in order to fulfill our role and feel deeply satisfied within our hearts.  I’ve learned that the “Mysterious Unknown” is pleased when we feel deepest wholehearted satisfaction because that’s how we detect the presence of the “Being” even now – within our empathy-connected hearts as if we and that “Being” share one heart as well as one life of continuous co-creation.  I’ve discovered that I prefer to be wise rather than foolish and that, in the long run, learning to listen to the “Supreme Yet Mysterious Authority Figure” in my heart allows me to be guided by wisdom and joy.

While the ultimate destination of my life remains a hinted-at mystery, I grow a little more confident every day in my capacity to walk forward into the Unknown while filled with unfathomable depths of love and allow the Unknown to be revealed to me bit by bit rather than be so afraid of the Unknown as to avoid it entirely.  Although the “God” Factor remains a mystery and largely unknown to me, on account of my experiences I can report that the journey has been wondrously enriching and rewarding and that my encounters with the “God” Factor have not included any condemnation or punishment by a “Supreme Authority Figure” such as I once was taught to fear. All condemnation and punishment has come from frightened, ego-based people who refuse to experience and express the fullness of their own compassionate hearts.  While I don’t know all there is to know about the “God” Factor, I am encouraged by what I’ve come to know so far.  I am also grateful for having come to accept the presence of a Divine Source of Love and Life so that my heart can be awash with the flow of Life and Love moment by moment – all as if to prove that heaven is here and now on Earth because it manifests itself to me within my heart and mind as our sharable Reality.

I hope you also will boldly investigate the “God” Factor and dare to explore the possibilities to discover your own insights and understandings while enjoying the journey of life as love’s gracious peace, hope, joy and wisdom flow into, through and beyond your heart and mind with increasing, yet ever gentle power.

© Art Nicol 2017

 

Pointedly Evolving or Pointlessly Revolving Spirituality?

Politicians refer to the “rubber chicken circuit” as shorthand for going around shaking hands and eating meals with an array of their constituents at various local gatherings.  That’s an ego’s way of cultivating popularity and votes while avoiding making tough commitments that might cause controversy and lose approval and votes for the politician.  Although not openly announced, politicians’ unspoken mantras are “Stick to topics the are safely trivial or trendy and popular.”  “Avoid dealing meaningfully with anything that is controversial.”  “Get elected or re-elected to office at whatever cost.”  Based on the rubber chicken circuit, as much as possible politicians remain amiably bland and elastic much like the chicken they learn to stomach and smile over during their meals with constituents.  Nothing really changes.  Constituents cease expecting anything to change. Ah, now there’s a sustainable comfort zone so long as the chickens don’t come home to roost too often and cause constituents to wonder how to hold their elected officials accountable for the mess in the barnyard.

As spiritually cloaked politicians seeking favor with audiences who will elect them “Pope” of their gathering and donate money to pay the bills, popular speakers and teachers of popular spiritual constituencies travel around similar circuits to maintain their amicably bland, noncontroversial positions as leaders whom their constituents are willing to follow and keep in office.  These “leaders” make sure not to expect “too much” of their constituents and carefully espouse ideas and address topics that allow their constituents and themselves to remain on the circuit as chicken-hearted practitioners of whatever path of faith they identify as theirs.  That’s the ego’s way of co-opting spiritual principles as tools for gathering people together in social groups for mutual admiration and self-congratulatory celebrations.  The ego is slick.  It does not have principles that require it to honor the actual substance of spiritual principles and practices.  Its solitary principle is self-preservation. All other supposedly sacred principles may be sacrificed on the altar of ego-preservation. Egos within the leader and constituents silently conspire to lead everyone on circuits of different configurations that have one thing in common, namely that they always wind up back at the same point at which they started.  And they manage to dress up that starting point as a new destination and celebrate arriving there.  It’s so safe – for the ego but not for the community supposedly served by the leader.

Here’s a web site illustrating how widely varied racetrack-like circular thinking can be while the vast majority loop back to the starting point:

https://www.pinterest.com/explore/race-tracks/

Spiritual evolution does not happen on any circuit that makes continuous revolutions around the same track.  If a supposed leader’s role is merely to appear to be ahead of the pack on every lap of the track and keep the pack entertained enough not to notice how repetitive their experiences actually are, then most leaders of most spiritual communities are excelling in their roles.  The ego would like us to believe that they are “doing their best” to lead.  The truth is that they are doing ego’s best to covertly mislead.  To avoid actually allowing us to experience spiritual evolution, the ego’s goal is to keep us spinning our wheels around the same track or switching to alternate tracks as we explore a variety of spiritual paths that distinguish themselves in their details but all race around some form of a closed circuit.  No matter how convoluted the loop, it’s still a closed loop.  True spiritual evolution progresses along an open path.  That’s scary to the ego.  Uncharted territory?  Rough patches?  Going off track may happen?  Unexpected developments that require us to use our spiritual principles under extremely taxing conditions so as to enhance and deepen our understanding of our principles through practice?  “Heaven forbid!” cries out the ego.  But actually such an open path of ascension through unexpected rough patches and off-track exploring is our way to heaven at heaven’s bidding.  Not “Heaven forbid” but “Heaven does bid!”

I write this blog simply to bring this matter to your attention.  Are you following a leader around a closed loop that leads back to the point you began?  It might take a few years to wind back around and there may be window dressing to cloak the old as if it’s new, but what’s really going on?  When spiritual leaders rotate from audience to audience are they conspiring to hide the fact that none of their audiences are actually making progress?  Dare to ask yourself.  Your heart will tell you.  Listen closely and watch what your wise heart brings to your attention.  Ask for clarity and your experiences will reveal it to you.

Is your organization’s supposed spiritual leadership actually a closed shop of politicians carefully screening their inner machinations from your view?  How willing are the leaders to hear your pointed, probing questions and respond with honest disclosures of both the facts and the process by which they lead?  Are the leaders typically talking to you about the latest books they’ve read?  Are they simply appearing to stay ahead of you by reading the latest teachings of other ego-encircled, ego-circling authors so that you are relieved of the responsibility for finding time to read those books and think about them for yourself?  Do you notice any patterns in the process?  Is it convenient for you to pay someone else to do your homework for you and keep you feeling smugly safe within the cocoon of your existence rather than to shake up your comfort and stir you to explore on your own?

Watch out for patterns of convenience and complacency.  Leaders who allow you to pay their salaries so that you don’t have to do the homework required to make your own spiritual progress are hoodwinking you.  Ask to have the blinders taken off and see what’s going on for real.  A rubber chicken life is not worth living.  In the end, you’ll feel cheated because you allowed it to happen to you.  You’re only cheating yourself by being unwilling to ask tough questions and find out how your leaders respond.  Don’t chicken out now or you’ll regret it later.  Neither a rubber nor a plastic life is anything but ultimately a disappointing exercise in futility.  Keep your heart open and see what’s there to be seen.  It’s not so much about having eyes in the back of your head as having the sense to listen to your intuition and see with your heart too.  Your heart holds a vision for the life you earnestly desire to live.  Are you letting that vision lead you or are you perishing without a vision simply because you won’t turn into your heart?  Remaining out of touch with your heart and blind to the grander vision is a choice. It’s your choice, a choice you have both the power and the responsibility to make moment by moment.

© Art Nicol 2016

Co-Conspirators in Deceiving Ourselves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Art Nicol 2016

The Patterns of Our Lives – Tarzan Lives in Us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Art Nicol 2016

Deliverance from Suffering Delivers Us from Sin – Jesus’ Vision of the Way – Part 2

Human authority figures often misrepresent the nature of God by demanding (as egos do) that those socially subordinate to them serve them rather than humbly offering to serve those who appear on social terms to be beneath them.  Pyramid-shaped structures of social power convey the idea that those at the bottom serve those at the top. We need only turn the pyramid upside down to see the truth of the power dynamics at work within God’s kingdom.  It is true that “He who would be greatest in the kingdom shall be servant of them all” because that is how humbly walking with God works miracles of mercy and justice by grace for those Jesus calls “the least of these.”

A chain mail of service extends from God to interconnect all who serve others on God’s terms of humility and grace. This chain does not restrain the freedom of God’s servants. Its links join every servant-child-of-God to the power that sets all of us free to serve ever more effectively on God’s behalf as agents and ambassadors of God’s realm of mercy, forgiveness, healing, justice and liberation from bondage to suffering and sin. This is the chain mail that offers all participants in God’s kingdom of mutual service constant relief from suffering because it heals pain on an on-going basis. To belong within such a network of servants requires that one participate in it as both giver and receiver, not just passively ride on its coattails as a parasite or wastefully dispense power through co-dependent activities as a host to parasites.  It works for all who serve with both heart and head made fully available to God: 1) hearts open to and connected with each other and with the Source of All Love with empathy, compassion and wisdom and 2) minds open to intuitions, insights and understandings conveyed by the Holy Spirit.  God is the Great Innernet Provider for this mutually supportive, interactive network within which every participant has his or her own mailbox through which to give and receive all the power needed to enjoy life as a rewarding experience to be celebrated with deepest appreciation and affection.  Not a pyramid of scared power seekers, God’s kingdom is a paradox of sacred power sharers that includes God Himself/Herself.

Once we realize that we only live in “sin” when we suffer and believe no relief is available, we will see the wisdom of God’s Plan to relieve all suffering through mutual appreciation and service in order to relieve all motivation to live the isolating, hypercritical and hypocritical lifestyles we label “sinful.”  In the final analysis, all actions declared by religious leaders and other judgmental folks to be sinful are actually symptoms of unrelieved suffering, unhealed pain and unrecognized loneliness.  The same suffering and pain that drive people to be hypocritical and also drive them to be hypercritical of others and themselves – and both conditions foster loneliness.

Let’s see how suffering and sin are linked by the Law of Cause and Effect.  Of the seven deadly sins, Anger (or Wrath) is merely an early stage of grieving, not a sin at all but rather a symptom of underlying pain and the fear that the pain will never go away.  Unresolved emotional issues give out false signals that healing is impossible and cause those in chronic pain to conclude that they will never find relief and must instead accept perpetual suffering.  Since the state of perpetual suffering feels like hell on earth, it can convince sufferers that they are destined to remain in hell forever and may as well stop struggling to live lives worth living.  Spiritual practices taught by Jesus relieve anger and its associated pain and suffering, both chronic and acute, because these practices connect practitioners to renewed awareness of their natural oneness with the Source of All Well-Being, a connection which feels much like heaven on earth. Renewed awareness of one’s natural place within God’s realm of inner peace and health is the antidote to anger because peace of mind and anger cannot co-exist. Anger along with all other symptoms of unhealed heartaches must disappear as heartaches heal in oneness with the Master’s heart.

Sloth, Gluttony and Vanity (or Pride) are likewise symptoms of unresolved grief, as depressed people lapse into inaction, eat to drown their emotions and busy their minds with distracting images and activities in order to escape from awareness of their pain.  Similarly Envy, Greed and Lust (for pleasure and for power over others) are symptoms of pain that manifest the sufferer’s desire to have what others pretend to have and amass material wealth, physical pleasures and power over others as false substitutes for true relief from pain they feel powerless to overcome on their own.  In sum, all “sins” are symptoms of the ego’s dominion of perpetuated pain, suffering and fear.  The ego presides over the illusion that earthly existence must eventually become a lonely hell on earth.

At the core of all “sins” is a “State of Sin” in which one who acts out due to pain believes and experiences himself or herself to be separated from God.  The perception of separation from God is the mental/emotional state called “Sin.”  Under the influence of such a state of mind and heart, acting “sinfully” becomes “normal” as the product of a mind driven to unhealthy means as well as unhealthy ends by pain. To believe that such a separation is permanent (a belief that the Church promotes for many people of whom Church leaders personally disapprove) causes agonizing fear of eternal condemnation to a state of perpetual separation from love and loved ones. When we suffer alone, we will not overcome the pain we’re holding onto because relief comes only through daring to share our hearts within the Innernet and letting others know about the emotions that are brooding and broiling around inside of us.  Jesus modeled a humble lifestyle of transparent connection with the Father as he allowed others to be aware of how he felt about life’s painful experiences, both in regard to his own pain and in regard to the pain he saw others suffering. He modeled how pain is released through grieving within a sacred community.  The ego’s pride, shame and denial of emotions arrest grief’s honest process that heals our hearts and actually matures them to be all the healthier, more resilient and stronger.

As an ego-free person, Jesus was and still is well acquainted with grief and the process of relief we call “grieving.”  He did not judge as “bad” and hold in contempt those who acted out their pain in ways that moralists and legalists judge to be “sinful.”  Instead, sensitively empathetic to the pain others carried within them and motivated by compassion, Jesus extended himself and the ego-free kingdom of God to those who suffered – offering to heal their wounds and illnesses and relieve them permanently of all their symptoms, including those symptoms that others labeled “sins.”  Jesus did not stop to see the symptoms. He saw beyond them to the pain and suffering, to the causes of the grievances that plagued those around him and to the reality of health and wholeness that remained restorable within each person to whom he ministered.  He gave his all as well as all he could download from God to aid those who believed in him, helping them to find relief in the form best suited to their needs and personal dispositions.

Rather than to cozy up to socially powerful elite, Jesus kept company with those the socially elite assumed to be out of favor with God and consigned to society’s lowest classifications. To each person of any social classification whom he encountered, Jesus offered permanent residency as a citizen within God’s unified realm on earth and heaven if only each would repent of ego’s perspective and seek first that kingdom and the “righteousness” or “native holiness (health)” of the One Who Created the Kingdom of Love.  To follow Jesus’ example, we must likewise seek that kingdom and its holiness as if it were as native to us as it is to Jesus and the One Who Created Us in the Nature of Divinity.  We cannot hold ourselves apart from God and God’s Plan as separate egos and still expect to participate in God’s Plan, manifest its power as God’s servants and reap its benefits.  We must make the choice to accept that God is reasonably and helpfully making the offer our hearts desire to accept and receive.  Grace is God’s gift to us but no gift is fully delivered until the recipient accepts it fully. Full acceptance of God’s gift of empowering grace is both our responsibility and our privilege.

In Part 1 of this essay, I described how the Church that followed historically after Jesus’ life on earth gradually turned his presentation of God’s generous gift of grace on its head and made a mockery of Jesus’ teachings.  The Church leaders converted God’s wisdom once again into human foolishness because they were afraid to suffer openly and honestly and instead indulged in what today psychologists call the “Stockholm Syndrome.” The Church leaders came to identify their safety with cultivating the favor of those who threatened their safety most. In this manner, they became unwittingly co-conspirators in perpetuating and exacerbating cycles of neglect (passive violence) and abuse (active violence). They cozied up to their abusers and made heroes out of bullies by offering the one aspect of life that the abusers believed they deserved the least.  Without first requiring repentance from their lifestyles of violence, the Church offered bullies a free pass into heaven that no violent person ever truly believes is open to him or her.  The bargain was that the Church would speak to God for favor for the bullies and abusers if the bullies and abusers would direct their violence towards others and stand guard over the Church’s accumulated wealth and social status too.

Unlike Jesus who conditioned entry into awareness of God’s kingdom within us upon repentance (choosing a new way of thinking based on forgiveness), the Church conditioned entry into a false heaven somewhere outside of us upon the bullies’ redirecting their violence towards those it considered mutual enemies (maintaining the old way of thinking based on revenge).  In doing so, the Church made those enemies into scapegoats to counterbalance the hero status it assigned to its violent allies. To preserve themselves in their state of perpetual fear of those they perceived to be threats to their hegemony, Church leaders made a pact with society’s leaders who believed that violence solved problems.  Once the pact was sealed between socially powerful bullies and the Church the system spun along on its inevitable course to become totally out of control – as do all dysfunctional social systems based on illusions of power behind which powerlessness and unmanageable lives (addictions and co-dependency) inevitably hide.  No one among monarchs, merchants, military and missionaries saw a need to repent so long as the system of deceit appeared to work for them because they did not examine it too closely and avoided noticing its inherent shortcomings and failure to provide long-term, sustainable benefits even for their own children and grandchildren.  Having chosen to rely upon the Emperor of Roman (and all subsequent empire builders) to protect them, the Church failed to point out that the Emperor had no spiritual clothes on.

In his time on earth, Jesus was aware that the socio-political system in place in his homeland was no different from all such systems that had been and ever would be in place around the globe. He saw the nakedness of raw power exercised for the benefit of the few rather than for the benefit of all.  The details might vary but the ultimate dynamics by which social power was and is distributed would remain the same.  Disregarding Jesus’ insights into the futility of politics as usual, Church leaders became stuck in the stage of grief called “bargaining” as they negotiated pacts with politicians. To maintain their bargains, Church leaders attributed to God the ego’s characteristics of violence and revenge that abusers and bullies exemplified and cast such politicians as doers of God’s will. To do so, the Church had to downplay Jesus’ teachings regarding forgiveness and love towards family, friends, neighbors and enemies alike.

It is a wonder that so many of Jesus teachings about forgiveness and love remained in the sacred texts that the Church authorized to be preserved.  To counterbalance the passages about the power of forgiveness to heal and bring peace that remained in the Bible and to temper their authority with contradictory positions, the Church found ways to put words into Jesus’ mouth that compromised the radical qualities of forgiveness and love he expressed throughout his life, death and resurrection.  Social elites have made good use of the confusion generated by these implanted contradictions and inconsistencies to maintain and justify their preservation of any status quo that favors their retention of power over others.  So far at least, people who are, in the main, unconsciously under the influence of pain-generated anger, sloth, envy, vanity, gluttony, lust and/or greed – and fearing themselves to be perpetually at risk of being powerless victims of suffering – have successfully conspired to suppress the gentle rebellion Jesus started. Instead of honoring his teachings, they turn distortions of them into propaganda in support of their campaign to dominate the world by violent means and maintain political institutions rooted in mistrust and awash with emotional dishonesty.

Jesus presented God’s kingdom as the one truly different social dynamic rooted in trust and awash with heartfelt emotional honesty and the divine power “victims” deny they can access while they remain trapped in unresolved grief.  So long as Jesus’ leadership of his gentle rebellion is ignored, ignorance-based violence and its consequential suffering will prevail throughout humanity. This is the will not of God but of the preservers of the status quo who fail to see the wisdom of resolving their grief, accepting emotional healing and submitting their wills to God’s will as Jesus did – and of those seekers of social approval who cozy up to the socially elite in hopes of currying their favor and avoiding their disfavor.  It is emphatically not the will of God that any man, woman or child should suffer.  But it is the will of God that the free will of every individual be honored with utmost patience while he or she is allowed the privilege of choosing freely for himself or herself to which realm on earth to pledge allegiance and dedicate his or her life without compromise. It is our responsibility to learn how to reconcile all of the implications of the gifts of grace, free will and the opportunity to complete our grieving and rise beyond suffering. Those who fail to forgive harm done to them harbor ill will, seek to turn the tables and march them themselves (and others) into a hell of unforgiveness of their own making.  Each of us has the power within us to march against this tide by forgiving those who trespass against us and not identifying with the ego which claims territory that is in truth neither its nor ours to claim.

So long as our grieving remains arrested at various stages, complacency and compromise will reign as social norms.  Whether compassion and commitment as Jesus modeled ever reign supreme will be decided by each of us one by one.  Perhaps in time compassion and commitment will become the new norm if Jesus’ followers all support each other in finding the courage to repent of our complacency and compromised positions and follow Jesus wherever he leads us in completing our grieving and in serving others in their grief and loneliness. Until this change occurs, we can only reasonably anticipate that suffering will continue to plague humanity and be excused by the Church as inevitably endless.  Suffering’s end awaits in the heart, head and hands of each of us. Even when social institutions discourage us from daring to believe and implement Jesus’ teachings about

  • forgiveness      as the pathway to peace,
  • faith      as the pathway to hope and health and
  • friendship      as the pathway to shared, ever-enriching freedom, power, joy and love,

we remain free to choose as individuals to implement them within mutually supportive, informal social networks that help us to finish grieving and to love ourselves and one another as God loves us all.  Perhaps that’s how Jesus intended for us to relate all along – informally as if it’s only natural to comfort, heal and bless each other that way. We can do so without the formalities and costs of religious institutions.  Religion without institutionalization may have its merits and be the baby we can wisely not throw out with the bathwater of unforgiveness.

Perhaps we need no social institutions with their rules, roles and rituals to impose upon us what is already natural to us and native within us. Only our egos resist such an outcome, urging us instead to obey fear’s dictates and maintain egos as our artificial concepts of who we are.  When we elect to come out of the closets of our egos and finish grieving, we will discover that God’s kingdom has been waiting patiently to welcome us all along. Only our egos justify the perpetuation of grief’s inner conflict and interpersonal violence in place of relief’s inner peace and interpersonal domestic tranquility with its resulting voluntary collaboration in nurturing the soil of unconditional love as our social norm. The ego resists God’s Plan because in the Presence of God’s love the ego fades like darkness fades in the presence of light.  We will cling to darkness only so long as we identify with our egos. Beyond our egos the Light of Love awaits.  To Divine Love’s call we hunger to respond as fully as our courage allows us to set aside our egos and be free – “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty we free at last” as the words of Martin Luther King Jr. cry out to us to join with each other in liberty and justice for all – no matter what our respective religious affiliations (or none) may be.

© Art Nicol 2013