Tag Archives: truth

Honoring the Legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

At this time in January, there’s a focus on the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.  Much is said and written about honoring the man for the ideas for which he stood and put his life at risk.  Much is made of the “legacy” he left us.  However, little is said about his legacy not being self-activating.  If there’s a reason for the continuation of the issues to which MLK Jr. devoted his life it lies in his legacy not being self-activating.  If there’s a reason for the tenacity of these issues it lies in the fact that MLK Jr. focused not exclusively upon symptoms but also upon root causes.  If we are to enjoy the benefits of expanding success in the field of social justice, we must join him in his focus upon root cause.

If we are to be beneficiaries of MLK Jr.’s generosity, we cannot look upon his legacy with passivity nor ignore root causes while legislating against symptoms we seek to address by merely banishing them from view.  We cannot honor him merely with words, especially not words voiced only once a year, but not even words voiced throughout the year in the form of legislation and regulations, policies and principles.  More than words are needed to receive the legacy MLK Jr. left us.  More than legislation is required to carry it forward to give birth to its promise and nurture it to maturity.

To reap the generosity MLK Jr. had in mind when he devoted his life to leading us together into doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with God, we too must walk in whatever way God shows us to walk today to address at their root causes the issues that continue to need addressing.  Opportunities to do so abound.  That we might not be gifted as an orator does not excuse us from finding our own gifts and devoting them to service to address the issues MLK Jr. addressed.  If we truly want to fully honor him, we must ensure that he did not die in vain.  To do so, we must look deep into the heart of the messages he left us and find concrete ways to address at their root cause the issues he identified.  MLK Jr. espoused grand ideas that inspired his followers to act upon them.  We can likewise give life to those ideas through our own actions as we invest our gifts in the same field of social justice in which MLK Jr. invested his.

When MLK Jr. was assassinated, his field of ministry was expanding.  He saw the need to include the needs of all people in the implementation of justice and mercy throughout the nation and beyond it.  Our vision of the possibilities of service must likewise be expansive and yet can be as localized as MLK Jr.’s actions often were.  Although his thinking was expanding globally, his actions usually focused locally.  Where and when he was is where and when he took his stand.  Where and when we are is where and when we can likewise take our stands for justice, mercy and equality under God’s dominion. He endeavored to see issues from God’s heavenly and eternal perspective and yet take action from within humankind’s experiences in the here and now.  He sought to elevate service by people towards other people as sacred acts of justice, mercy and love.  He saw within the specific and concrete actions taken by people the redeeming brilliance of abstract ideals that God has espoused for millennia.

One example of this interplay between the concrete and the abstract, between the specific and the general, between the fully human and the fully divine, will illustrate my point about how we may yet more comprehensively honor MLK Jr.’s legacy by investing our lives fully and meaningfully in the here and now.  Of the many visionary ideas MLK Jr. left us to consider was one captured in his declaration, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”  (I Have a Dream Speech, August 28, 1963.)  If we examine this abstract idea with clear minds and hearts, we will see how to implement it in concrete, specific ways.

As a side note, it’s interesting that discussions about the meaning of this ideal tend to focus upon the nature, origin and dynamics of racial discrimination.  Yet, today in the US we face continued if not increased racial discrimination, often more covertly practiced than before but not diminished. All of the discussions about it have produced discouragingly little lasting fruit.  This failure to bear abundant fruit has even soured some people on the idea of civil rights, as if it’s not ever going to be possible to adequately dispel racial discrimination and disharmony in our nation.  I offer up here the idea that the goal of reducing racial discrimination and disharmony to the point of dispelling both entirely (or at least to socially negligible proportion) remains viable if and only if we address the root cause of discrimination and disharmony, not only such as are based on color of skin but also such as are based on any other superficial factor inherent in the human race.

I propose that to honor MLK Jr.’s legacy fully will result in reducing discrimination and disharmony across the board for all excuses any person gives for discriminating unjustly or promoting disharmony unproductively.  Root cause!  MLK Jr. identified the root cause of racial discrimination (and, I propose, all forms of invidious discrimination) in his declaration about his hoped-for future for his children. But we have studiously avoided focusing on what he said in this regard because we are uncomfortable with the idea of addressing the root cause.  To remain comfortable within our familiar territory, we have learned to tolerate the continuation of discrimination in an array of forms and turn a blind eye to it rather than address it.

Admittedly it is challenging to address the root cause of discrimination because doing so requires that every one of us take stock of an aspect of ourselves we have little skill at (or stomach) for evaluating and addressing.  However, if we are to fully honor the legacy MLK Jr. died to leave to us, we will take stock of “the content of [our] character” and engage in upgrading our character’s content and nature until we’ve purged ourselves of all character weaknesses and cease to perceive, think, feel, decide and act under the influence of our former weaknesses.  Building strong, resourceful and responsible characters requires effort, self-discipline and determination to succeed at any cost.  It’s much easier to intellectually debate the nature, origins and dynamics of racial discrimination for centuries than to devote the next decades to gut-wrenching, heart-rending character-building, with its requirements for humility, honesty and vulnerability and its ongoing need for self-monitoring and self-discipline.

We have the capacity for humility, honesty and vulnerability as well as self-monitoring and self-discipline.  But these are not traits of humanity that insist upon their existence in the modern era within which survival and advancement according to modern criteria are based on an opposite set of values, priorities, attitudes and skill set.  To build characters worthy of honoring, we must resolve not to conform to the ways of modern culture and instead sink the roots of our lives resolutely in the soil of deeper concerns, values and priorities than those to which our modern culture subscribes — and develop attitudes and skills not promoted by our culture as survival skills.  We must cease to be dedicated to the preservation of the status quo – because the status quo is betraying our character and revealing us to be weak in our resolves about doing better.

The opposite of sound character is hypocrisy.  Models of social success based on hypocrisy abound around us.  Models of sound character valued at any cost are not necessarily non-existent but they are largely buried in fiction and considered fanciful and impractical or are buried beneath the hype by which hypocrisy is sensationalized and promoted as the more reliable route to fame and fortune.  Messages about the value of sound character are lost amid the media’s glamorizing of hypocrites who sell their souls to gain the world’s acclaim, show off their wealth and regale in their social status. The media amplifies self-promoting blowhards and windbags while largely overlooking their alternatives of sounder character.  There is no silence of the hams nor inclination of the media to refuse to serve them up to the public as a constant diet.  And the eagerness of the public to feed their minds according to the media’s dietary plan reflects a lack of sound character among the fragile public whose hearts fix upon false idols that glitter and may even be gold but are never God.

When we have created public as well as private programs to promote sound character among ourselves and our children and immersed ourselves within them with utmost determination until we emerge transformed by a renewal of our hearts and minds, we will continue to suffer from racial discrimination and disharmony and all other forms of injustice.  Should we insist that others engage in character-transforming programs for as long as it takes to emerge transformed?  No, because going against a person’s free will is not likely to bring about deep and lasting change within that person.  Yet, we can develop such programs, ourselves voluntarily participate in them and simultaneously offer them to all who are willing to explore them.  If we do so, the fruits of such participation will be self-evident and the role models who emerge from these programs will cause skeptics to pay attention and bid them drift ever closer to participating themselves.

One day all hypocrisy (and its close cousins dishonesty and violence) will disappear from our national character because we have resolutely weeded it out from our individual characters one opportunity, one issue and one person at a time until the pattern of generalized character sustainability takes hold.  Just as a field of weeds springs from individual weed seeds so, too, does a field of honor, integrity, health, peace and goodwill among all peoples spring from individual seeds who decide to become one with and to express that crop throughout all relationships in their lives.  The miracle of such a social justice transformation beckons us to heed the vision Martin Luther King Jr. once held out to us.  He holds it out to us even now as we re-read his words and take them into our hearts at the depth from which they emerged from his.

© Art Nicol 2017

The Racket of Modern Culture’s Din of Thieves

In Chapter 21 of his account of Jesus’ ministry, Matthew preserves a story about Jesus’ confrontation of hypocrites who had converted his Father’s house (or temple) from a reminder of God’s abiding presence with us into a den of thieves as if God had abandoned us to their thieving ways.  Having received the benefit of Jesus’ insights into the nature of our Heavenly Parent and His/Her abiding presence internally within all of us universally rather than limited to one specific external building, we are today confronted with another form of culture-wide hypocrisy.  Now we are confronted by the reality that our Father’s house is occupied by a din of thieves, a racket caused by racketeering.  Our Father’s house or temple is the convergence of our hearts and minds as the holy venue within which God makes Himself/Herself known to us.  In this modern era, hypocrites have conspired to occupy this venue with a racket that drowns out the still, small voice of God speaking unceasingly within us but unheard above the din of thieves.

It is time to throw out the din of thieves and listen to God’s Spirit within the silence that ensues.  The racket is a racket, the means of racketeering by which those who have no respect for our Creator Father/Mother have taken over our minds and hearts with false worries and concerns that are totally within the power of our Divine Parent to address if only we’d allow Him/Her to do so.  The din of thieves calls to us to put our trust in whatever the hypocrites are hawking as their current goods and services.  Racketeering is a business enterprise based on creating a false sense of need and then meeting that need.  Today we are surrounded by them.  That they increasingly plague us at every turn is eloquently demonstrated by the Internet gurus’ infinite capacity to devise ways to catch our attention and relentlessly pursue us according to our personal vulnerabilities.

The pursuit of our hearts and minds began with the pitch, “Be the first on your block to own XYZ.”  Now it has escalated to the mad rush for doorbusters to beat the crowd to marketplace bargains. It continues to escalate with personal apps to allow us instant access to all the nonsense we can stomach. To possess what we do not need and satisfy falsely generated cravings, we rush away from our hearts and lose our minds within the clutches of addictive lifestyles promoted by the din of thieves.  We are robbed of our peace of mind and joy of heart by our investment in trinkets to sacrifice to our false gods.  The only sacrifice we are making is the sacrifice of truth upon the altar of the ego’s lies.  We even pride ourselves in our proficiency at accumulating such invaluables at the lowest possible cost to our bank accounts, disregarding the cost to the quality of our lives.

We can cease to believe in the racketeering enterprises and throw out the din of thieves from our lives – if we choose to do so.  Old-fashioned racketeers would threaten us with broken knee caps if we did not pay the premium for keeping the knee-cap bashers away from us.  First such racketeers created the “problem” of broken knee caps and then offered their solution, a solution profitable to them.  Today we are surrounded by many such rackets by which we are offered solutions to problems that the din of thieves creates.  For example, we are offered drugs, entertainment and possessions – legally distributed and illegally distributed – to soothe our anxieties and distract us from our fears of otherwise living lives devoid of meaning, purpose or direction.  Having followed the crowds who have become mesmerized by the din of thieves, we find ourselves robbed of lives worth living.  In our adolescence, just when we are designed by our developmentally blossoming divinity to plunge ever deeper into life’s amazing adventure, we find ourselves misdirected by pressures to conform to the shallow ways of modern society.  Amid the din of thieves we find it almost impossible to think for ourselves or to think at all.  So we succumb to the group-non-think of the masses and “go along to get along.”  We fear rocking the boat because we know what happened to Jesus when he confronted the moneyed powers in the marketplace our Father’s house had become.  So we remain in our arrested development seemingly unable to move beyond adolescent issues and fail to attain truly enriching and rewarding maturity.

We focus too much upon the crucifixion and ignore the resurrection.  Do the hypocrites have the last word when they crucify the Word made flesh?  Did they with Jesus?  Will they with you and me?  The hypocrites who generate the din and cause a great racket throughout our culture are amplified by technology, but technology is not divine nor is it eternal.  Being neutral, neither inherently “good” or “evil,” technology offers opportunities to channel energy to generate distractions that occupy and destroy our hearts and minds or to share ideas that nurture them.  To which use are you putting technology?

In which direction are you focusing the receptive qualities of your heart and mind? Are you devoted to participating in the din of thieves or to participating in the peace of God that both surpasses all understanding and passes divine understanding onto us for our health and benefit?  Into whose hands do you commend your spirit when you feel threatened by crucifixion on account of having dared to think for yourself?  Do you put your mind and heart upon the things of God or upon the things of humankind?  Do you render what is God’s unto God or unto the Caesars of this world?  Do you honor yourself, your gifts and your life’s opportunities as ultimately God’s and devote them to God’s service or do you declare them to be merely mortal attributes that live no longer than your body lives and waste them carelessly?

Amid the din of thieves, there comes a time for every man, woman and child to decide with whom and for what he or she stands.  If the present din of thieves has become so overwhelming as to confront you with its hypocrisy . . .   If you can no longer hide from the fact of the hypocrisy that has overtaken our society . . . Weep not.  Fear not.  For behold once again there is good news from heaven, news from within the core of your being.  If you feel it now as your read this message, rejoice . . . for it is God’s love for you that you sense within you.  It is the energy of love rising up to greet a new day as it dawns within your heart and mind.  God has not forgotten you. Nor has He/She forgotten promises made to you from the beginning of time.  Now is the time for Eternity to come to Earth as it calls us all to gather as God’s people – as one in Spirit and in Truth, as divine beings of love here to gather in celebration of the reality of God’s grace singing out amid the din of thieves and lifting our hearts and minds beyond it.

As Christ once threw out money-changers from his Father’s house, let us now allow the Christ of our beings to throw out the memory-changers from our hearts and minds and once again remember who we are.  Who we are to God is who we are – to ourselves and to each other.  Thanks be to our Father/Mother who art in heaven.

© Art Nicol 2017

 

Immunity of Church Leaders from Criticism Protects Incompetence

On account of the constitutional doctrine commonly called “separation of church and state,” governmental courts, except in instances of sexual abuse, generally refuse to entertain legal claims against church leaders on account of incompetence or unfitness to lead.  The only recourse available for malpractice by church leaders is to walk away from the church they lead and search for a church or community of believers led by leaders truly competent and fit of mind and heart to preach, teach and provide pastoral care on God’s terms.  As a follower of Jesus, I write here of the body of believers commonly grouped under the heading “Christians” and include the Catholic Church and all forms of religion that identify Jesus as Lord and Savior.  Of other paths of faith, I will not write, leaving it to followers of those paths to comment on their leadership’s competence and qualifications for office.

How is a leader in a Christian organization held accountable for being incompetent or unfit to serve as a leader?  Sure, ultimately he or she is accountable to God for failing to lead according to God’s terms.  But meanwhile much harm (for example, neglect of vigorous spiritual growth if nothing else) is inflicted and tolerated in the name of Jesus and in the end all is forgiven anyways.  Is there truly any harm in being a bungling preacher, teacher and pastor who makes a living at that role while failing his or her unwary flock?  Under the teachings of Jesus about forgiveness, is not all harm wiped away in the end?  Do we safely shrug off incompetence and unfitness among clergy as trivial?  Perhaps it is the complacency of church members towards the incompetence and unfitness of clergy that causes the Church as a whole to have fallen into disrepute in society’s eyes.  Neglect of Jesus’ call upon us all infects the whole Church.

These are issues I ask you to struggle with.  How do you know if your church leaders are competent and fit to speak for God as Jesus spoke for God?  I suggest it is the responsibility and power of every church member who follows Jesus as Lord and Savior to master the art of listening to the Holy Spirit as the Voice of God in his or her life.  And if the Holy Spirit disagrees with the church leader, that’s a sign of incompetence and unfitness to lead.  Within the Body of Christ, the Holy Spirit is the Voice of Truth that Jesus sent us to hear and heed.  He did not promise to send us preachers and teachers to lead us into all truth.  He promised to send us the Holy Spirit.  If we do not yet know how to hear the Spirit’s Voice, we need first and foremost to learn that art.  How can we heed a Voice do not know how to hear?  Has it become all too easy and convenient to settle for listening to well-or-poorly-crafted, artfully-or-less-artfully presented sermons on Sunday instead of learning to listen to God intently throughout every minute of every day?

I suggest that a church leader who does not know how to hear and heed the Spirit’s Voice is unqualified to lead. He or she should step down from positions of leadership, confess his or her failure to master the art of hearing and heeding and take up a position in a pew other than the front row to reflect in humility upon the error of claiming to lead when unqualified to lead.  That a man or woman knows how to read a printed text and study study-guides wherein human “experts” purport to tell him or her what the text means does not qualify that person to speak for Jesus or for God. It merely qualifies him or her to be a parrot, not a spokesperson for God.  Many a religious leader in Jesus’ days on Earth had the capacity to read, parrot back and therefore claim to lead.  Jesus used harsh words to describe those supposed leaders in their failure to hear and heed the Spirit’s Voice.  He called them hypocrites and other clearly unflattering terms.

When will followers of Jesus within institutions of religion claiming to be Christian stop allowing seminary training to be the qualifying mark of leadership within the Body of Christ?  When will an education provided by mankind stop being accepted as sufficient to qualify a man or woman to lead a community of God’s people?  Until we demand that our leaders not only be called by the Spirit to lead but also qualified by the Spirit to lead, we’ll suffer from a Church corrupted and compromised by the politics of social niceness.

Just when we most need men and women who put their minds upon the things of God and not upon the things of humankind, we, the Christian Church, have conformed to the world by accepting educational certifications issued by human religious organizations as proof of a person’s qualifications to speak for Jesus.  We have rendered unto Caesar what is God’s by surrendering the Body of Christ to the holders of diplomas who do not hear and heed the One whom Jesus sent to lead us into all truth.  We who sit in pews listening and sensing that something is missing within our church need to take responsibility for the ones we call “leaders” and either remove them from leadership or vigorously support their acquisition of greater mastery of the art of hearing and heeding the Spirit.  We can no longer sit complacently in our pews and allow those who speak before our congregations to commit malpractice unchallenged.  If the courts of law will not grant us redress, then we need to stand up for Jesus on our own and trust in the Lord to grant us redress.  If we do not stand up for Jesus when our leaders fail to stand with and for him, who will?

We have learned so well to feel powerless and follow like sheep to the slaughter that we hesitate to rock the boat and call out incompetence and unfitness among church leaders when we sense it is present.  Among the flock are ones who know better than to sit silently while church leaders pretend to know the full truth of God and fail to disclose its most challenging aspects.  The church is too often led by men and women who carefully censor and dilute their teachings to make sure that those sitting in the pews continue to put money in the offering plate and support the church financially – all so the Church’s budgets will be met, including the salaries of the very leaders who fail the Church.  The cyclical Catch-22 of social approval operates to confine the Body of Believers to the comfort zones defined by clergy who have succeeded in charming the religious leaders who have gone before them out of credentials that qualify the new generation of leaders to follow not in the footsteps of Jesus but in the footsteps of the church leaders who have betrayed Jesus before them.  If current leaders make sure to grant credentials only to those who will not later expose their earlier reigns of incompetence, no leader will speak up.  The conspiracy of clerical silence insures continuation of the cycle of incompetence unless the laity speaks up.

Will we, the People of the Body of Christ, sit idly by while church leaders defile the Church, distort Jesus’ teachings into self-serving doctrines and otherwise commit spiritual malpractice right before our eyes – just so we can huddle in our respective comfort zones in complacent silence?  If we see with our hearts, we will see what the Holy Spirit is showing us and we’ll not sit still while being asked to follow falsely. We cannot expect government regulators to rescue us from our own complacency. We must rebel from within the Church against smug clerical incompetence and break up the cozy clubs by which the clergy control the Church and convert the high calling of Christ into a den of thieves.  It is theft for incompetent clergy to accept salaries and other remuneration while failing to provide leadership commensurate with Jesus’ standards.  Will we allow ourselves to be victims of theft simply because we too crave social approval and don’t want to risk the vulnerability required of those who blow the whistle?

Are there any among those who read what I write here who dare to speak up, pro or con?

© Art Nicol 2016

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

Called to Heal the Harm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Art Nicol 2016

Co-Conspirators in Deceiving Ourselves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Art Nicol 2016

We Brought the War Home to Us

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Art Nicol 2016

United in Opposition is Not United

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Art Nicol 2016

What If We’re All to Blame?

The blame game is sheerest nonsense since most of us adults who are participants in the US economy and have the right to vote both with our money and our polling place opportunities share the blame for the deplorable state of the world.  If you’re as convinced as I am that the blame game takes us nowhere closer to understanding how the US has fallen to the low we’ve reached, perhaps you’ll consider with me this solution:  Let’s treat the situation as if we’re all to blame and take up responsibility for our part in generating this deplorable condition and for our part in co-creating the true alternative.  The false alternative, of course, remains to deny that the US society is in deplorable condition and keep right on going down the drain with our eyes closed.  If we try that approach, we won’t need to worry about being blamed for sticking our heads in the sand because we’ll have already stuck them somewhere darker to prepare for our future drainhood.

For myself, my children, my grandchildren and others about whom I care, I prefer not to go blindly down the drain without doing my best to head back up towards the rim of the basin and perhaps even climb out of the tub, sink or toilet bowl we’re in.  I believe we’re flushing our future down the drain no matter what downward spiral we say we’re stuck in.  I want to be honest enough to see that pattern at work as we whirl around in our confusion pointing fingers at each other while trying to transfer blame to someone else.  We’re acting like terrified children on a merry-go-round screaming at each other to make it stop so we can get off and blaming the person on the other side of the merry-go-round for making it go around faster and faster.  Just because we keep seeing the same people on the other side of the merry-go-round does not mean that they are more to blame than we are for the ride we’re all taking.  We’re all being taken for a ride.  (That last sentence uses a verb in the passive voice that does not disclose who’s doing the taking.)

Perhaps you find spinning in circles amusing.  I don’t.  After a while it makes me sick to my stomach.  So, I decided to listen to my gut and search for a way off the merry-go-round.  I found it.  I’ve found that the process of getting off made me feel confused and disoriented at first because while standing on solid ground beyond the merry-go-round my head was still spinning as if I were still on board.  It took a while to adjust to standing on stable ground rather than spinning around.  At first I was still dizzy, even more aware of my dizziness than before. In the process of regaining my balance, I learned that I had adjusted to the spinning as best I could and now needed to re-adjust to non-spinning stability again.  In time, I did.  Now my stomach has settled and my mind is at ease.  Now I can heed my gut intuition as well as reason with my mind as a unified field of feeling and thinking my way forward through life with wisdom as my guide.  I enjoy using this new orientation to guide me forward beyond the merry-go-round into more promising, stable territory.

To stay off the merry-go-round in all of its forms and formats in the world, I had to shed the part of me that is tempted to ride along and play the game of spinning tales and using circular justifications and excuses for my decisions and actions.  I had to stop pointing my finger “over there” and claiming that the “other guy or gal or they” made me do it.  I even had to stop claiming that God or the Devil made me do it.  I had to take full responsibility for “doing it,” whatever “it” was from time to time.  “Yes, I did it and I accept full responsibility for doing it.”  Tough sledding sometimes.

It was not easy to offend the popular opinions of powerful people and go against the flow of social conformity to act according to my heart’s intuition and my mind’s reason as best I could.  It has not been easy to make mistakes and take responsibility for them so as to learn all I could from them rather than close myself off from these ofttimes painful learning opportunities.  It has been no easier to make right decisions, be roundly condemned for them by others and still take responsibility for them as if they might, perchance, have been right or at least closer to the target than I’d been before.  Whether I decided or acted “right” or “wrong” in the eyes of others depended on the views of those who judged my decisions and actions according to their own preferences, prejudices and power to control what I did.  The characterization of my decisions and actions as “right” or “wrong” did not depend on their objective nature but on the subjective viewpoint of those who judged.  Some judges even relished the chance to punish others so much that they would leap at the opportunity to wield power over me, even arbitrarily, just to feel powerful.  I’ve offended a lot of viewpoints as I did my best to swim upstream as a nonconformist against the current of conformity that’s relentlessly sweeping us all down the drain.

What part of me is tempted to go along with the crowd and not offend the status quo of the drain-heading flow?  It’s the part of me that’s susceptible to being influenced by social approval, an experience I admit I crave.  I much prefer to be approved of than disapproved of.  The part of me addicted to social approval is the same part of me that is susceptible to other forms of addiction or dependency under the influence of any of my natural appetites.  It’s my ego.  Based on any appetite, my ego may turn me back drainward at the least little excuse if I let it.  The patterns of my life are aligned with drainward compliance because I was taught all my life to be a “good little boy.”  Translations for that phrase for me turned out to be “conformist,” “people-pleaser” and “conflict avoider.”  To fail to conform to the expectations of others, displease someone important or stir up controversy was “bad” and was punished by social disapproval.  I had to learn to stand up in the harshest streams of social disapproval and nevertheless face away from the drain and do my best to swim away.  Sometimes, the best I could do was root myself in place and resist the drainward flow, like the post of a pier resists the flow of the tide swirling by it.  The tide of social opinion blames me for resisting its flow.  Yet the truth is that all I am doing is standing my ground and refusing to go along with the riptide of popular social viewpoints or the egotistical preferences of authority figures supported by those who blindly follow them as frightened, compulsive people-pleasers, as once was I.

It’s not been easy to learn to stand up for myself after spending my first decades learning to go with the flow and not assert any viewpoint not pre-ordained to win me social approval or at least avoid social disapproval.  I had learned to be silent when the risk of disapproval presented itself.  In fact, I had learned to take no risks and hide myself from the mainstream of the drainward flow.  For some time, I clung to the rim of the basin and held on for dear life.  Eventually I let go of the rim and allowed myself to be swept totally down the drain while being characterized as totally disapproved of.  There turned out to be no greater freedom from fear of lost approval than to lose it all, drown in disapproval and resurface somewhere down the drain where the flow is freer of the ego’s judgmental attitudes and assumptions.

Freedom turned out for me to be downstream, drainward and then out the drain into natural channels into which artificial drains arbitrarily dump their social outcasts.  There are unflattering terms to use as labels for such outcasts.  I became identified with them and their social exile.  And I found myself in good company.  What do I mean “good” in this sense?  I mean spiritually free to rise up to become new lives without blaming anyone for our circumstances but ourselves.

Yes, I’m to blame for my going down the drain and being flushed out of the pools of social approval amid which I once swam.  I think it helped me to slip readily down the drain that I never swelled with pride when I swam in such pools because secretly I knew in my heart that I did not belong there.  Not swelled by pride, I did not clog the drain and readily slipped through.  I did not belong in the pools, especially in the sense that no one owned me as their belonging.  I was not bought and paid for and required to do my owner’s bidding no matter how degrading it might be, like some slave or prostitute or junior partner in a firm.  I always had the option of dropping out and not participating in the pool.  And I found that the option to drop out could also transform into the option to rise out.

Both dropping out and rising out diverge from conformity to social norms.  To the extent that modern society embraces the norm of citizenry enslavement within the economy, I became abnormal to find freedom from our social institutions of slavery. To the extent that modern society imposes the norm of poor physical, emotional and mental health and loveless relationships upon its citizenry, I became abnormal to discover how to be progressively healthier to the point of wholeness and how to experience divinely defined love.  I highly recommend exploring and engaging in such social abnormalities!

Yes, I’m to blame for what has happened in my life and for the decisions and actions that flowed from my life.  I still am.  By accepting the “blame,” I accepted and still accept full responsibility. And I discovered that with great responsibility comes great power.  The converse of the Spiderman Principle is true!  My life has proved it to my own satisfaction.  If you don’t like being blamed for other people’s decisions and actions, try taking full responsibility for putting yourself in the position to be blamed and then consider exiting that position for higher ground.  In the long run, drainward is not really as fun and rewarding at it looks.  No addiction or dependency is. Just when you fear most falling ignominiously into utter failure in the pursuit of your highest ideals and most heartfelt dreams, let go, sink to the bottom and swim out the drain to freedom beyond the pools of social approval within which you fear being judged and condemned.  Down there in the dark you may be surprised to find your way to the higher, more lighthearted ground you’re looking for.

© Art Nicol 2016

Arbitrary Power Expresses Maximum Powerlessness

News media reports the arbitrary use of power against innocent targets with increasing frequency. Why? Why do we hear of and see so many senseless expressions of power used to harm the least reasonable targets?  Because such expressions of power are symptomatic of an underlying social condition of perceived powerlessness.  Individuals who used to comfort themselves by associating in their minds with being part of a powerful group, team or nation no longer find comfort there because those opportunities for vicarious “power by association” are disappearing.  Traditions of parasitically drawing a sense of power by belonging to an unassailable, always winning group are crumbling.  In the absence of traditional temporary relief from secret (often unconscious) feelings of personal powerlessness and resulting frustrations about lack of control over one’s own destiny, individuals who are vulnerable to such feelings of powerlessness for whatever reason are popping to the surface with their frustrations in both planned and spontaneous acts of reactionary violence.

The USA population includes many frustrated people who no longer believe that they have power to influence the course of their lives and cause any improvement in their lives or the lives of others they care about.  The mythical American Dream of pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps and single-handedly achieving success on some terms valued by the achiever is a bubble that has burst.  Like the housing bubble, .com bubble and so many other illusions of permanent prosperity based on constant growth, the American Dream of continuously improving prosperity based on continuous expansion of the economy and of dominance by the USA empire around the world has burst.  We’d like to pretend to blame that bubble’s bursting in air on current leaders or even upon past leaders and comfort ourselves with renewed bombs bursting in air, but that’s another illusion.  The truth is that illusions are illusions and don’t last forever.

If an individual feels powerless, one way of compensating for his or her sense of powerlessness is to find convenient targets of sufficient weakness to inflict harm and pain upon in some way dramatically obvious that the “power to cause pain” flows from the individual according to his or her arbitrary willfulness.  “See how powerful I am?” is the message.  If the individual feels frustrated about not having his or her way in other areas of life, at least in this one area he or she is can assert unchallengeable dominance.  The more arbitrary the expression of power in relationship to any true justification for that expression of power, the more powerful the person feels temporarily.  It’s like a “fix” for that person.  Arbitrary use of power is addictive, a drug upon which the powerless person depends for relief.  Plus the more publicly the person gets away with his or her abuse of power, the more thrilling the expression of power becomes.  Targeting senseless victims for abuse becomes not only an addictive habit but a destructively meaningless hobby, sadistically amusing to the person who expresses power in this manner.  “Getting away with it” adds to the thrill of arbitrary power.  “Getting away with it in the open with no one being able to stop me” is the greatest thrill of all.  “Recruiting others to protect me while I am openly abusing power by harming innocent victims” also adds to the person’s false sense of power.

The emotional and mental inner workings of people who senselessly use power to harm or cause pain to others is not as much of a mystery to humans as we’d like to claim.  Most if not all of us have had occasion to be at least tempted to engage in such power dynamics as a way of compensating for the frustrations of our lives.  “Kicking the dog” in private is a minor expression of power for this purpose.  Punishing weak members of society for their acting out their own frustrations in public upon arbitrary victims is another expression of this power.

We much prefer to accuse others of doing what we’d likely do ourselves when the shoe is on the other foot and then inflict pain upon them as if to flagellate ourselves vicariously for participating in such a weakness.  The temptation is strong to point the finger at others and declare ourselves free of any related habits and hobbies.  It would be better for all of us if we’d spend at least as much time pointing the finger towards ourselves and confessing our own misunderstanding about power and how power to cause pain and harm to others is never a true expression of power.  It’s a game our egos play to express how undeserving of love we secretly believe we are and to convince us how much we are powerless to do anything about improving the condition of the society in which we live.  The ego lies.  True power is the power to help another person recover from having been the victim of arbitrary power or any other form of pain and find his or her path to freedom from otherwise, in turning the table, becoming an abuser of power too.  We must get up from that table and take no side of it. Instead we need to fashion campfires and other circles of reconciliation around which to gather as one village.  If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes this kind of transformed village to raise us all up to envision and share true power from another perspective.

If our nation is ever to stop abusing its power by subjecting weaker nations to pain and harm, we as individual citizens of our nation must undertake personally to adopt a different understanding of power and participate with wisdom in the alternative vision of power as a capacity to heal rather than to harm.

© Art Nicol 2016