Tag Archives: suffering

How Does Faith Provide Relief Beyond Life’s Pressure Cooker?

When you feel like your life has become an emotional pressure cooker, my services as a Faith Consultant and Coach may help you not only find relief but also make great progress in personal growth.  The pressure cooker generated by acute pain and confusion piled atop chronic stress can become an incredibly productive opportunity for personal growth.  All that is required is a large dose of devotion to your own best interests mixed well within a solution of helpful resources developed as your personal health tonic.  The healthy energy boost you both need and desire becomes available to you as you seek it intentionally, with renewed faith in your personal value and capacity to overcome pain, confusion and stress to rise again on even better terms than you’ve encountered in the past.  In short, as some would put it, miracles of personal benefit to you are waiting around the corner for you if you’ll move forward by faith in their presence even before you see, hear, smell, taste or feel them. It may sound too cliché, but here’s the silver lining in life’s storm clouds that threaten to overwhelm you with grief.

Miracles of relief and personal growth are not at first physical.  They begin to form by faith in energy realms beyond the physical dimension – realms invisible to our physical senses but accessible by faith.  Perhaps even as you read this article, an inner sense within the core of your being is resonating, tingling with that “knowing” bell that rings when you encounter Truth.  Because the Miracle Provider has faith in you, the miracles you need are already simmering on the Divine Stove even before you may decide to have faith in yourself and the Source of Miracles.  As your faith grows, it encounters the faithfulness of others and of the One from Whom all Faith flows and the reconnected world of faith opens doors for you through which miracles enter your life to comfort, heal and bless.

Stress and tension are normal features of healthy life.  For example, the tension between a relatively drier atmosphere and a relatively wetter inside of a plant draws moisture from the plant into the atmosphere in an attempt to arrive at an equal distribution of moisture inside and outside of the plant.  Because a plant is designed to release moisture from its leaves through transpiration, the attempt to equalize humidity levels occurs at leaves.  Moisture leaves at the leaves!  This departure of moisture increases the tension inside of the plant between moisture levels lower down the plant’s channels and at the leaves where moisture is escaping.  By a natural process, moisture is then moved gradually along the plant’s inner channels towards the leaves from the roots.  If moisture is available in the soil around the roots, it is draw into the plant’s inner channels through the roots and moves towards the leaves where it eventually exits. As moisture moves along the plant’s channels, it carries nutrients from the soil throughout the plant and carries the products of photosynthesis and other chemical reactions throughout the plant as well.  In this manner, the stress of differing tensions helps the plant maintain health and is not destructive to the plant’s health.

In similar ways, tension can play helpful roles in human life.  For example, if our mind encounters a problem that we don’t know how to solve, the problem’s existence creates a tension within us that we can feel as a desire to know the solution to the problem.  If the problem has little value to us, the tension is relatively slight, perhaps even nonexistent.  We encounter a lot of problems throughout our lives that have little or no value to us and cause little or no tension or hunger to solve them.  However, when we value a solution to a problem greatly, we invest a lot of emotions in “not knowing” the answer.  The tension resulting from “not knowing” rises as our emotional investment in solving the problem rises.  Being exposed for a long time to emotionally troubling unsolved problems generates chronic stress, an abiding sense of being stressed out under intense tension with little hope of relief.  Sometimes we adjust to chronic stress by ignoring it and doing our best to survive without knowing the solution we’d prefer to know.  Sometimes a newly arriving problem reminds us that we’d still like to solve the “big one” that has long caused us chronic stress and, although supposedly ignored, left us feeling vaguely tense in our bodies, minds and hearts.

Fear of the unknown is a fear common to all humans.  It is a fear that causes tension and stress until we learn to be comfortable in the presence of mysteries we’ve not yet learned to solve.  Fear of the unknown can be coupled with fear of change (and perhaps accompanying fears of loss of control and powerlessness), the combination of which causes us to feel paralyzed or mired in stagnation, discontent with the status quo but unable to move forward in any direction to find and implement the change we’d prefer.  Or that same combination can cause us to become overactive, chasing our tails in search of a solution not to be found in our nose-to-tail closed circle of futility.

Fear-inducing dilemmas appear like unsolvable puzzles to our minds.  We feel caught on the horns of a dilemma without relief from the painful confusion it causes.  It can even feel like a form of torture because we’d much prefer relief from the pain and confusion and don’t know how to find it.  Because we’ve learned to take pride in our competence-driven achievements, we feel ashamed at having too little competence to solve The Problem.  We may even feel like extreme failures or losers for becoming skewered on the horns of such dilemmas in the first place, as if no winner ever faced them without overcoming them on his or her own.

The truth is that dilemmas arise periodically in everyone’s life because they are a natural consequence of growing on account of one’s experiences.  Every person who has ever discovered increasingly rewarding and enriching ways to live life has faced challenging dilemmas and resolved them satisfactorily according to his or her own values and priorities.  One key factor in finding such resolutions seems like a paradox: that is, that the door through which one must pass to find life’s deepest satisfactions is opened by a mechanism called “interdependence” or “collaboration.”  The door remains closed so long as we continue to resort only to self-reliance or independence as individuals and refuse to trust anyone to assist us in opening the door.

As we stand before such a door in the middle of a tension-filled, dilemma-plagued phase of our life, we can knock and probe for access points on our own without success in opening the door – no matter how great our individual competences and achievements may be in other realms of life.  It may seem like magic but it’s really a matter of faith.  So long as we stand in front of such a door demanding “I want inside!  Open up for me!” we will be frustrated by the unresponsive silence.  Only when we revise our declaration to say “We want inside!  Open up for us!” will we hear a reply and find our way into the sanctuary beyond the door.  The door to relief from painful confusion opens to “us,” not merely to “me” or “you.”  It swings open on multiple hinges, not just on one.

Discovering this truth about multi-hinged doors and their use is one of the primary personal benefits of enduring life’s pressure cooker of faith.  The pressure cooker insists that we discover it.  The truth that brings relief is “None of us is alone.”  Through long training in the ways and myths of self-reliance and independence-at-all-costs, we’ve been misled into believing that we are alone in the world.  We may come logically to believe that we were born into the world alone, leave the world alone at the death of the body and have to endure life in between birth and death largely alone too.  That’s simply not true.  We can try to survive according to that belief for a long time.  We may even reach our death bed still believing it.  But it’s not true.

If we feel alone, it’s merely because we’ve bought into and not yet re-examined the common social training that assumes such a belief to be true.  That an untruth is assumed to be true by many people does not make it true.  Truth remains truth whether none, few or many believe it.  Believing that we are alone in the face of fearful dilemmas and belief-disrupting problems creates massive stress and tension.  The first step in relieving this harmfully stressful tension is to discover that you are not alone in facing anything in life.  In fact, you have people ready, willing and able to stand with you as assets and resources to help you, even if you’ve not yet met them.  And beyond people in whom you can place trust to help you, there’s a Higher Power waiting for you to invest your faith so that this Higher Power can be helpful too. You don’t have to start out believing in such a Higher Power to benefit from my coaching.  This Higher Power believes in you and that’s enough at the beginning if you allow it to be.

Once you recognize that you are under excess pressure and don’t know where to turn for relief, your next step is to seek help until you find competent people you trust, in whom you can place your faith so that your faith in yourself is renewed.  It is not an accident that many of the people in whom you discover you can place your faith most securely have already been through tension-filled, heart-rending problems and dilemmas of their own.  Such experiences prepared them well to be here for you with the greatest power to help you restore faith in yourself and in humankind.  They are also likely to have discovered a renewed or new faith in a divine power greater than ourselves who favors and aids us.  They will help you make the same discovery if and when you decide you want to make it.

Copyright Art Nicol 2014

Ask Not What Our God Can Do for Us, Ask . . .

If humans want to experience ourselves as fully divine beings of light, we must position ourselves in God’s position.  How do we position ourselves in God’s position when we cannot replace God?  We do so by loving and serving humanity as God wills that humanity be loved and served, thereby aligning our will with God’s will.  When our wills are aligned with God’s will, our spirits, hearts and minds will come into alignment too.  Our wills will become extensions of God’s Will, our spirits and hearts will become extensions of God’s Spirit and Heart and our minds will become extensions of God’s Mind.  Without replacing God, we will manifest God through our human forms, the very expression of the divine made incarnate that Jesus modeled while on earth.  This is oneness with God in the fullness of our capacity to know it while yet expressing life through our bodies.  This is what it means to be fully human and fully divine, to live the paradox of being gods and yet not God.  And that is the manner in which we become aware that Love is all we are just as Love is all God is.

To attain our highest evolutionary ideal as diving beings of light, humans may yet be inspired by lofty words accompanied by daringly compassionate deeds.  As he boldly accepted responsibility for leading his nation, John F. Kennedy once inspired listeners by declaring “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”  His call to reverse our aim from narrowly self-centered targets to broadly other-focused goals still resonates with many who heard his inaugural speech on a cold January day in 1961. Today the Spirit of Love calls to us, “Ask not what God can do for us, ask what we can do for God.”

If we ask we will hear the Spirit say, “As earthly channels of grace and blessing upon which I must rely, love and care for all of My creation.  Raise up all the children whom I entrust to you as if they are all Beings of Light and Love created by Me as their Divine Parent.  Let harm come to none and heal those who have already suffered harm of any kind.  Come into My arms of love with humility that I might love you as an example of My mercy and justice towards all of humankind and then go forth to tell others of what you have experienced of Me according to My will that heaven come to be on earth.”

If all adults throughout humanity were to re-order our priorities to make the welfare of children paramount among the issues we address with all of the resources, energies and time available to our hearts and minds, we’d revolutionize the world because we’d all become one global village united in our devotion to every child’s well-being.  We would make no weapon or tool of destruction until we’d first served all the children according to all of their needs in body, mind, emotions, relationships, will and spirit.   Before we counseled together about how to make war, we’d counsel together about how to ensure lasting peace so that the abiding safety and tranquility children need to develop into wholeness according to God’ design for their unfolding fruitfulness would be, like the soil in an orchard, undisturbed.  To nurture our children as trees within their global orchard, we would order our lives after the ideal of the infinitely patient and merciful Parent and discover the totality of our Divine Parent’s commitment to us as well.

In the process we’d experience the Answer to life’s most enriching riddles, “Who am I?” “Why am I here?”  “In both the short and the long run and in all ranges in between, what really matters most?”  We’d come face to face with our neglectful as well as abusive inhumanity towards other human beings and sort out our personal responsibilities for perpetuating that inhumanity, learning along the way that we are not as powerless to make a meaningful difference as we’ve managed to convince ourselves we are.

We’d learn to tune out our ego’s constant chatter about justifications for our being neglectful and even cruel and abusive towards others, and instead tune into the still, small voice of the Most Powerful Being in the Universe who whispers words of wisdom in our hearts but never insists that we obey them.  We’d come to understand the meaning of “free will” and how it offers us both the responsibility and the power to create the world we live in, be it healthy or unhealthy, kind or cruel, sane or insane, uplifting or oppressive, encouraging or disheartening, empowering or intimidating, creative or destructive.

In mastering the disciplines required to undo our allegiance to ego’s tyrannous reign on earth in modern times, we would come into increasing awareness of our ancient native realm beyond earth and learn to practice here those principles honored there.  We’d uproot our tree of life from the soil of dualistic social approval and disapproval and transplant it into the richer and more rewarding unified soil of unconditional love, appreciation and affection.  We’d forsake futile efforts at intimacy on ego’s terms and instead enjoy the abundant sweetness of intimacy on Divine terms.  We’d learn to set aside all learned obstacles to the flow of love as a natural life force and rest in peace within that flow’s refreshing stream long before our bodies decline to function and we rest in peace beyond the body’s realm. In this way, we’d learn to live in the Present as if the Past, Present and Future were one within Eternity.

To make our peace with God while our bodies remain here on earth is the wisest re-orientation we can choose to make.  We can emigrate from hell to heaven while yet remaining on the earth in bodily form.  Our free will empowers us to make that choice for ourselves and for loved ones who remain faithful to us.  If we choose hell-on-earth’s orientation, we can hardly expect wiser loved ones of any age to remain attached to our way of life.  Our hearts call for them to detach from hell and enter into heaven before us, waiting patiently for us to come to our senses and choose to join them in earthly heaven too.  No political considerations will separate us from God’s peace of mind, hope of heart and joy of spirit unless we remain allied with the mistaken belief that God/Goddess favors some of us over others of us.

That there is no hell except by reason of having chosen poorly to believe in the divisive illusions of the ego is a paradox worth discovering in person.  By choosing to invest ourselves in unforgiving orientations and insisting that vengeance be given its day on earth, we can adopt hell as our future just as others adopted it for us as our past.   Yet every day of our lives we have the power to choose to step away from the mistaken choices others made that so heavily influenced our thinking and chiseled our beliefs, as if epitaphs upon our gravestones, and with Divine help learn to think again more sanely.

Never has violence begat anything but greater harm within expanding spirals of violence.  Never has a whitewash over unresolved emotional issues begat anything but festering wounds and ugly outbreaks of heartrending violence.  Because forgiveness allows buried bodies to rise up to new life without burdens of guilt and shame, we need not remain chained to the buried pain of anyone’s past woundedness – including especially our own.  We are free to choose to rise beyond past pain and present suffering to soar together as mighty eagles above the storms – somewhere beyond the rainbow that symbolizes the Divine promise that grief need no more flood the earth to deprive us of our second birth.

Let each of us ask our Divine Parent how we each can more fully participate in awakening peace on earth among people of good will so that ultimately all people feel free in their hearts to become and live as people of good will.  No child of God of any age or station in life need be left behind in the School of Highest Education in which each member of the student body is devoted to the welfare of the whole.

Copyright Art Nicol 2013

Deliverance from Suffering Delivers Us from Sin – Jesus’ Vision of the Way – Part 1

Although the relationship between suffering and sin may seem obscure, it may be helpful to realize that the Church that has purported to represent Jesus has obscured rather than clarified this relationship. Charged with spreading Jesus’ teachings about the relationship between suffering and sin, the Church has, for over 2000 years, failed to preserve and present his message as he first delivered it.  Instead of preserving the heart of Jesus’ message, the Church became distracted in preserving itself against political forces that resisted Jesus’ message and persecuted those who believed it strongly enough to live according to it.  In its fight for self-preservation, the Church fell into the same fundamental error that Jesus’ message is intended to correct and from which Jesus still intends to deliver all of humanity, with uttermost commitment to the proposition that all people are cherished children of God and with undying determination that no child of God be left behind.

The human cure for suffering seemed just as self-evident to Jesus’ earliest followers as it seems today to his current ones.  Peter exemplified it when he denied Jesus three times while Jesus was standing up to persecution by political institutions and enduring suffering at their hands.  The cure for persecution and its consequential suffering, Peter’s example teaches, is to not follow Jesus “too” closely.  Instead find safety by wading along in the shallows and not venturing into deeper waters as a follower.  Compromise your devotion when threatening political forces challenge you. Instead of standing up to them cozy up to them as closely as you can so that you present no threat to their social privileges.  Stay along the shore in shallow waters where the social elite frolic. Don’t dare them to swim beyond their safe comfort zone of social approval to encounter God’s grace that dispels all fear only when fears are fairly faced.

To human beings accustomed to surviving amid competing social pressures, the end of suffering seems most readily achieved by associating favorably with the most powerful cause of suffering so as not to be the target of its persecution. According to that theory, the goal is to shift violence away from a favored person or group towards unfavored persons or groups. The “favored” person or group hopes to remain within the protective shield of the “friendly” source of violence – and not have violence directed his, her or their direction (e.g., avoid friendly fire or being an injured bystander or collateral damage) – and to be protected from any violence potentially directed towards him, her or them from any other source of violence.

To achieve this end, systems of attack and defense are established to keep ahead of competing systems of violence.  Arms races and armed conflicts are examples of this competition. Other examples include systems of law enforcement and prisons, gated communities and security systems in response to crime, well-guarded, rigorously restrictive national borders, rival gangs, family feuds and domestic violence orders of protection when they are applied to sustain victim-victimizer polarization rather than promote restoration of peace and health for all parties.  The slogan of all such systems is “Join ‘us’ and be safe from ‘them.’” The idea of rethinking these systems is itself controversial because any de-escalation or modification of such systems renews our fears of the “worst case scenario” imaginable.  There is no end to the degree to which we might be carried away by our fears into greater commitment to the perpetuation of pain and suffering.

In contrast, Jesus took and still takes the position that suffering’s end will come only when we change our structures of thought and our implementing institutions that cause and maintain suffering and embrace instead the divine alternative way of thinking and implementing that Jesus modeled. In Jesus’ vision of suffering’s end, tradition-bound human institutions that cause and maintain suffering and their ways of thinking must be replaced by freer, more spontaneously Spirit-guided dynamics that do not cause or maintain suffering and that, by necessity, are based on another way of thinking.  This position he espoused when he declared, “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.”  His declaration translates today into “Think differently about how to end suffering because present even now are spiritually oriented social dynamics and a personal way of life that cause healing instead of suffering and restore and sustain our health as well.”  Jesus anticipated Einstein’s observation that a problem cannot be solved at the same level of thinking at which it was created.  He offered to show us how to access God’s thoughts, which are at a higher level than human thinking. There Divine Wisdom’s solution awaits.

By following Peter’s example instead of Jesus’ model, the Church learned to deny Jesus as Peter did to whatever extent necessary to avoid the persecution and suffering it had previously endured at the hands of political forces arrayed in opposition to God’s social alternative on earth.  Eventually the Church compromised with a Roman Emperor who supposedly embraced Christianity and made it the official state religion.  So as to remain the “official” religion of the Roman Empire and thereby placate and be cozy with the powers that once persecuted them, the Church knuckled under to the Emperor’s demands for conformity in the Church’s doctrines.  In what would prove to be a progressively more complete manner, the Church rendered unto Caesar not only what was Caesar’s but also what was God’s. Such is the progression of all forms of addiction and co-dependency.  The modern Church still suffers from this cowardly lapse into ill-health as it became the bride of Caesar instead of the Bride of Christ.  For centuries since its marriage to Caesar, the Church has sought for security through being a social insider rather than through being aware of God inside where Jesus said the Holy Spirit will access awareness of Truth’s courageous kingdom in our hearts.  Looking outward for its social cues from other social insiders, the Church maintains its marriage to socio-political institutions by collaborating with them much as an abused spouse collaborates with his or her partner because independence seems to come at too great a cost.

As a shrewd politician who knew that openly discussed and disputed differences in beliefs would undermine the value to his empire of Christianity’s system of beliefs, Emperor Constantine the Great demanded that the Church fathers clean up their act and stop tolerating controversy and diversity among themselves.  So as to line up his collaborators, subjects and slaves in unflagging allegiance rooted in their fear of suffering, the Emperor demanded conformity to his will from everyone who claimed to be his ally.  So, the Church fathers gathered at Nicea to find a way to provide it.  Eventually they found a way, a way akin more to Constantine’s politically motivated machinations than to Jesus’ spiritually motivated mission.  The key to avoiding persecution turned out to be for the Church to become an arm of the Emperor’s persecution and play the political game of eliminating all diversity of viewpoints.  In the process of purging diversity of beliefs, the Church fathers introduced the practice of justifying their persecution of those who disagreed with them by citing texts deemed sacred (known today as The Bible) as their “infallible” authority (while they, by no small coincidence, also simultaneously took up the twin role of defining which texts would be declared sacred and being the texts’ sole authorized interpreters).  In this manner, the Holy Spirit’s role as revealer of All Truth was subordinated to texts that supposedly already contained all the “truth” we’d ever need to know.

Thus began the Church’s devotion to its self-preservation as a political institution, its misuse of sacred texts to justify its actions and its sliding away from its devotion to preserving the message Jesus lived, died and rose again to spread to all corners of the earth.  To compromise this message of God’s eternal and unqualified grace as the true end to suffering eroded and eventually erased the message all together.  To temporize it destroyed the eternal nature of Jesus’ message.  To introduce favoritism based on political considerations undermined the unqualifiedly inclusive nature of the message.  In a stunningly short time it became only logical to adopt Constantine’s ways to enforce conformity within the Church: extermination of diversity of viewpoints as if penetrating contemplation, passionate conversation and patient consideration of what Jesus meant as he lived his life on earth were totally intolerable.  The hierarchical power structure of the Church came to emulate the top-down power structure of the Empire and other monarchies precisely because its aim and function were the same as that of other human institutions.  When self-preservation is the primary purpose of an organization’s life, it is only logical to develop structures that effectuate this purpose primarily.  A pyramid of loyal subordinates who are dependent on the leader’s power for their own self-preservation suits well the purpose of the leader to preserve himself in power – regardless of declining commitment to the organization’s initially stated mission to establish an alternative way of life awash with healing and health in place of suffering.

Once the primary purpose of the Church came to be its own self-preservation, the amassing of power to itself became a logical next step.  This step brought the Church into direct competition with other social institutions such as monarchies, merchants’ guilds and military engines that likewise were appropriating power, material resources and loyal adherents to themselves for self-preservation.  Power-hungry, politically savvy men (and less frequently women) gravitated to opportunities to amass personal power under the guise of aiding institutions in their struggle for power.  Political struggles and their corresponding manipulations of minds within and among these organizations inevitably became the main game. To accomplish their goals, monarchs, merchants, the military and missionaries joined forces in mutually supportive ways.  The Church’s claim to speak for God was one of its most useful contributions to empire-building by others.  Through fear of God, the Church recruited loyal followers and increased wealth to the service of the monarchs, merchants and military who in turn aided the Church’s rise to power. In addition, the Church pronounced divine justifications for God’s favor falling upon the Church’s allies instead of upon those who opposed the Church’s allies.  The Church’s rhetoric became increasingly and then unceasingly self-serving, inflicting suffering on those who opposed the Church in any sphere of life.

In tugs-of-war among power grabbers and megalomaniacs throughout history, even helpful human institutions suffered from abuse of their ideologies and rationales for existing.  Distortions of their purposes twisted them into convoluted structures and dynamics unrecognizable in comparison to their origins – converting them from helpfulness to harmfulness.  As a result, institutions of civilization of all types have risen and fallen because the sustainability of human institutions is based on honesty and integrity in remaining true to each institution’s purpose.  Wandering off target from the true purpose is called “hypocrisy.” It is a toxic condition that will not sustain life. No form of life that pretends to be something it is not can sustain itself.

Any form of life that fails to remain faithful to its true purpose inevitably disintegrates for lack of internal integrity as its immune system attacks the artificial aspects of its pretense and parasitic organisms convert it into their host for their contrary purposes. A self-deceiving life form topples as its infrastructures weaken. Its decay is the opposite of health. In the absence of continuously maintained healthy integration organized around its true purpose, an organism disintegrates and falls.  Splintering into pieces is one natural outcome of becoming excessively rigid while trying to maintain uprightness artificially and then falling down. Over the centuries, the Church, in the course of its cyclical decline, has splintered into many denominations large and small.  With few exceptions, most of these fragments of the professing followers of Jesus, in attempting to assert their independence from the declining Church, have taken on some form of political structure designed to promote the superiority of each splinter of a community that ironically purports to be one whole and indivisible body of believers in Jesus.

Splinters cause pain.  Shattering of communities into subparts that war against each other in their respective quests for members, wealth and power causes pain.  Instead of remaining true to Jesus as a Bringer of the Light of healing and the end of suffering, the Church in its many shards has become itself a source of pain and suffering.  In this manner, the Church has wandered progressively farther from Jesus’ unifying cry to all humanity, “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.”  The Church no longer believes uncompromisingly in that cry or in the process Jesus introduced for implementing the Church’s divine charge to lead humanity into its unified destiny of oneness. Until the Church repents and believes again with a purity of faith in the mysteries of God and the Divine Wisdom of God’s Plan, both the Church and God’s Plan will continue to fail due to the Church’s noncooperation with the Plan.

God will not impose the realm of divinely inspired grace and love upon humankind against our will. We must choose freely to receive and enter into the experience of the realm of grace as an act of free will or we’ll not receive it at all.  By God’s choice to remain eternally faithful to humanity, divine grace continues to be available to individuals who single-mindedly determine to enter into the kingdom of God even in the face of the Church’s failure to carry forward with its divine charge to be God’s kingdom on earth.  The Church will repudiate these individuals as heretics until the Church learns to recognize them as the cutting edge appearance of the very mission that is its to carry out.  Such individuals are budding mystics (sometimes called Gnostics and heretics) whom the Church’s traditionalists scorn and reject because the traditionalists know not what they do. Today they crucify the mystics who dare to show up openly to fulfill the Spirit of the law and traditions just as the religious traditionalists of Jesus’ day on earth crucified him.

Meanwhile the dismembered Church will continue to teach and explain “about” Jesus through a variety of stories and doctrinal positions but it will not serve as his unified spokesperson on earth until its scattered elements, in concert, lean towards, listen to and loyally obey him as Lord.  The most the modern splintered Church is willing to do today is to acknowledge Jesus as the Church’s Savior when it inevitably fails to carry out its mission because it will not cooperate with Jesus as Lord (Chief Authority Figure of and within the Church).  To accept Jesus as Lord requires one to repudiate prevailing power Caesars (and their model of doing organizational business) and risk instead the persecutorial wrath of politicians near and far who serve and preserve the current empire as faithfully as one hopes to serve Jesus in the presentation of his divine message and mission.

A clash between the divisive faith agendas of political realms and the unifying faith agenda of God’s Plan to End the Suffering of All of Us is, by definition, unavoidable.  This clash of wills manifests in a variety of ways, chief among them being political persecution directed against any whose uncompromising commitment to God’s Plan remains unshakeable.  In the clash of commitments only a small minority of Jesus’ followers are willing to expose themselves to politicians’ lashings as Jesus did. The vast majority of his followers duck into the shadows as Peter ducked, compromising their personal allegiance to Jesus because it’s socially or politically rewarding to do so. So long as being popular or seeking votes matters, the likelihood is great that public displays of ugly ducking will continue to be more prevalent than courageous stands for justice on behalf of the least socially powerful, who are more popularly scapegoated as villains than cast as heroes and yet find an advocate in Jesus.

Another vital point to note is that serving Jesus does not require one to fight for his preservation.  He cannot die or otherwise be unpreserved.  By his very nature as an eternally alive child of God, he is already preserved by a Power greater than any power that might come against him to threaten his preservation.  That fact relieves his faithful followers of having to be concerned about protecting him. As he cowered in the courtyard during Jesus’ interrogation by the politicians of his day, perhaps Peter trembled in part because he felt powerless to protect one he loved as he loved Jesus. Perhaps he felt guilty and ashamed of his failure and was paralyzed with fear. Believing past stories of God’s wrathful relationship to humanity, Peter may have been confused about how he was to draw guidance from those stories to apply to Jesus’ strange manifestation of the promised Messiah.  Confusion is a form of pain that may have added to his paralysis and feelings of helplessness.

Perhaps it would have been helpful for Peter to know then what he learned later, namely that Jesus would overcome death and not be defeated by the worst that the politicians of his day could throw at him.  One can only imagine how it might have helped Peter to stand stronger had he known the outcome and realized how little Jesus needed Peter’s help to be preserved.  Perhaps then Peter might have been freer to consider how he might choose to relate to that mysterious new process of overcoming all fear that Jesus modeled. Had he known then what we know now, perhaps he too might have allowed Perfect Love to cast out all fear and stood alongside Jesus even in the hour of his appearing to be powerless.  Jesus tells us that when two or more gather in his name (and nature of the Christ), there is greater power than when one stands in his or her divine nature alone. Today we who believe in Jesus with all of our hearts, minds, wills and spirits are called to stand together to invoke the Divine Power of our gathering and allow God to manifest in all His/Her grace and glory as Love for all.

Today we know what Peter did not know.  Yet we who purport to follow Jesus while living comfortably as privileged members of society continue to cower in the face of suffering as if its power were greater than the power of the Father manifest through our Lord and Savior.  Like the rich young ruler who was dismayed by Jesus’ instructions to sell all he owned, give the sale proceeds to the poor and follow Jesus, we are dismayed by the prospect of no longer focusing our energies on self-preservation (or only on the preservation of our personal loved ones) and instead surrendering our wealth and welfare into the hands of God as Jesus modeled – for the benefit of all of God’s loved ones as God determines is best.  Understandably, we cower at the prospect of trusting God so utterly while yet continuing to witness the failure of any other approach to ending the world’s suffering.

Many are scared to follow Jesus as radically as he requires because they fear losing their current lifestyles and being ridiculed for being so overly idealistic.  They interpret ridicule and loss of social status and comfortable lifestyles as shame, a “sacrifice of pride” rather than seeing this “loss of pride” as a sign of humility gained to empower sacred lifestyles rooted in ancient wisdom.  God calls us not to be a sacrifice but instead to be a sacrament, not to martyrdom but to mastery of the art of thriving fully beyond the ego’s stifling criteria of shame and pride.  We need to lay down our former ego-based lifestyles for Jesus as our friend and Master in order to receive life back again with humility and God-defined purpose, far more empowered to enjoy life fully than we’d ever be in any other way.  We need to trust Jesus to be our Lord and Servant too.  We need to turn the world on its head as Jesus did to become aware that God’s call to service is supported by God’s promise to serve us as we serve others in God’s name and nature.  We don’t need “more faith” in God. Rather we need to know God more accurately as the egoless God who serves us as His/Her servant-children, not as a false, ego-bound God who expects our all from us without giving God’s all in return. The truth is that as we give our 100% to serve God’s purpose and Plan, God gives His/Her 100% back to us to the full extent that we expand our capacities to receive all He/She gives.  Surely this is an exchange that promises substantial benefits, many of which cannot be accurately foreseen and simply must be expected and accepted by faith.  It is not impractical to follow Jesus radically – from the very root and core of our beings where the Christ Light shines – but it does feel scary.

© Art Nicol 2013

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