Posts

All is One

As an introvert, I “recharge” via solitude. During the week, I try to make at least one trip away from the apartment to collect myself and get energized. Normally, I go back to SMU and walk the prayer labyrinth at the theological school I attended, but this trip I wanted to be by moving water.

Part of this had to do with SMU being a lively campus, and the fountains help drown that out. Another part of me finds water sounds soothing and meditative, so I plopped down on a bench next to the memorial fountain by Dallas Hall and read a chapter of Proverbs. After reading, and moving because the sprinklers kicked on, I sat on the edge of the fountain, closed my eyes, and contemplatively meditated.

Several things came up, but the most profound teaching was that of the “oneness” of all things. This has been painted as a New Age idea, but it’s actually a teaching that has existed in one form or another since humans first started contemplating their existence. I saw that all the “barriers” that exist between people, between humans and God, and between us and the rest of the natural world are all false.

In my own Christian-centered language, I came back to the idea of the Breath of Life. It exists in all creatures, human and non-human alike (Genesis 7:22). It is a gift from the Divine (Genesis 2:7), and is therefore a universal connection between all living beings and God. All things are loved and sustained by whatever it is we call this Energy, this Presence, this Life.

With that in mind, all our hierarchy and power structures are nonsense. The idea that the earth is ours to exploit falls short of the truth, as does the notion that particular people are more worthy to receive respect, prosperity, and love than others. Racism, sexism, and other discriminatory “isms” make even less sense.

In Jesus, we see this truth of oneness brought to life in the Incarnation. Scripture teaches that Jesus is simultaneously human and divine in a way that is to be imitated. Such a connection unifies what were once thought to be two realities separated by a great chasm of uncleanness and sin.

Yet God lives as a human, according to the Bible. Taking it further, this Divine Human doesn’t spend his time playing into the power politics of his day. Instead, he dissolves even more barriers, namely those between the elites and the have-nots, the clean and the unclean, the saints and the sinners. The lines are blurred in every interaction, and then obliterated when Jesus innocently shares punishment with common criminals.

Regardless of your feelings on the church or Christian doctrine or the Bible, the overarching message is clear: the distinctions of this world are created by us humans, and they are often used to benefit only a small portion of this world. The reality is that the same Energy that animates me and brings me to consciousness also gives breath to my family, my beloved cats, and my most bitter enemy. It allows the trees to grow and the sun to shine. The same Divinity that rests in Jesus rests in me, you, the ones we choose to love, and the ones we’d rather not.

Now this teaching has been misused in the past. If we are all the same, there is no real problem with poverty or abuse, right? God sees us equally, after all.

This is lazy, however. The real result of this idea should be an effort to make our world reflect this reality, eliminating poverty and need, treating all others with respect and dignity, broadening access to resources, and taking care of the natural world in which we reside.

The idea of “oneness” is not some otherworldly, metaphysical claim, but a statement about the interconnectedness of all life. As goes one thing, so go the others. None are above or beyond what happens to this world and those who reside in it.

I feel blessed by this knowledge. It’s already changed my approach to my family, strangers, and the environment. It’s changed how I look at those with whom I disagree. It’s changed my approach to God and religion.

It’s my hope that you know just how loved and beautiful you are. Similarly, I hope you will go forward acknowledging these things in others. If enough of us do this, who knows what might happen?

Peace be with you!

Self-Acceptance

I’ve been fighting myself a lot over the last few weeks, maybe even longer. For a long time, I’ve thought that being a Christian would make me narrow-minded, and that it would mean accepting dogma and doctrine, else I would just be “faking it.” As such, I’ve tried to drop it all and carve out my own spiritual identity.

The problem is that I’ve already friggin’ done that.

There was never a time in my journey as a Christian/Quaker that I accepted all of what orthodoxy mandates. I’ve never believed adherents of other religions went to hell, just for being different. I stuck to 6-Day Creation theory until I was in 5th grade science, then I left that behind too.

In seminary, I realized I don’t believe God is some external being or person, and I rejected the idea that signing off on the metaphysical DNA of Jesus was necessary for discipleship and connection with God. I joined the Quaker tradition because I reject divinely ordained hierarchy/priesthood/pastoral ministry. I believe all righteous paths are valid, and I believe God communicates with others according to the language they will understand, even if it means meeting an atheist with the silence needed for them to fully live out their path and keep the rest of us honest.

I believe Jesus is a pattern for all of us to follow, not some item on the checklist of orthodoxy that gets me into “the good place.”

My language of spirituality has always been Christianity, but I never allowed that identity to negate my mystical experiences of the divine in myself amd in others. That is, I never did until recently. I have been so preoccupied with finding “the truth” that I completely forgot about my own experiences with that truth and all that those encounters have done for my life.

The truth is I use Christian symbols and tools to express my spirituality. What I’ve learned is that this doesn’t mean I have to swallow all the crap that has nothing to do with God and everything to do with power. This experience has taught me not to read the Bible, pray the Rosary, or attend services in a way that replaces genuine experience of and communion with God.

Am I going to do these things? Yes, but only insofar as they edify and inform my spirituality rather than becoming idols that dictate it. The same can be said for my Tarot cards or the silent worship of my Quaker Meeting.

All are tools, none are God.

The fact is that Christianity is the faith of my people. It’s what I know and understand. Is God bigger than this religion? Oh yes. Does that mean I need to reject all specificity so I can make some kind of statement? No. Does it mean I need to swallow all related doctrine and dogma to be authentic? Also no.

There comes a point when we must accept ourselves. We all come from a specific location in space and time, with our own culture and spiritual language. Instead of fighting to make something new, find something new in your own rich tradition. You have the authority to reject that which is harmful or confining as you embrace that which is healthy, life-giving, and liberating. Recognize that as long as you live with love at the center of your being, your own specific way of relating to the universe is perfectly acceptable and will yield beautiful results.

Peace be with you!

Looking Within

I was really angry today. I was angry because all the belief systems I have subscribed to and crafted over my 28 years have come crashing down, mostly because I kicked the pedestal out from under them. I was angry that I was raised within one system of thought (Christian), not realizing until adulthood that there is a whole world out there and that God is beyond all of what I had been taught.

I was reminded of a teaching by Meister Eckhart. Seeking peace and seeking God externally will keep such things elusive. Only when we seek them within can we find them and know wholeness.

Part of my upbringing was the need to be validated by a god, by a system, that existed outside of me. I needed to conform, to match up. This habit of looking for some system of thought, some religion, some practice to define me has continued into adulthood, and it’s produced nothing but heartbreak and misery.

Odds are that many of you get what I’m saying because you’ve experienced the effects of broken systems and beliefs. You know what it is to spin out of orbit because the center of your spiritual universe betrayed you or revealed its inadequacy.

Many Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and Neo-Pagans know what it’s like to see that their system can’t fully satisfy them. There will always be a human element of deception or manipulation involved at one point or another. Agendas run rampant, and the Divine often has little to do with it.

This is why we must view all external religious/spiritual realities as what they are: tools of expression. Expression of what? The Truth within.

Only when you can find peace, enlightenment, and wholeness within you, and only when we acknowledge that each of us carries the presence of what we might call the Divine, can we make good use of the tools before us. Otherwise, the tools become idols by which we divide and mistreat the human family.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be religious or spiritual. Hell, I’m a Quaker. Community is important for discernment, as our beliefs always have practical implications. What I am saying is that if you focus solely on the external for your hope, validation, salvation, and enlightenment, you’re only going to be disapointed.

Now, looking within is not a process by which you will find some cleverly hidden answer to all the questions of the universe. Rather, it’s a means of recognizing and honoring your own value and agency. It’s your ability to affect positive, life-giving change and achieve peace within the life you currently occupy.

With all that said, know that you are enough. You have all you need to know peace and transformation. Your mind, your soul, your consciousness is an incredible gift from the Source by which you may discern a way to live at a blessed oneness with the world and those who share it with you.

Peace be with you!

Ellen and Kindness

Heads up: This post has some strong laguage. I am venting, but with a point.

So this whole issue with Ellen and George W. Bush has sparked outrage, which is unsurprising since it is currently fashionable to get outraged over stupid shit. I haven’t normally weighed in on pop-culture nonsense, but this seems to bear an important lesson.

The lesson here is about the nature of kindness. Ellen has always encouraged people to be kind to one another, and she lives that out regularly. This time, she was having a good time with ol’ G.W. at a football game.

Naturally, the internet took exception.

Even after Ellen explained that you can be kind to those who disagree with you, idiots from across the internet felt the need to point out that she was white, rich, and privileged enough to behave in such a way.

What the f*ck?

May I inquire as to the required level of poverty for me not to be kind? To not “love your enemies,” as Christ teaches? To quit following the examples of other apparently “privileged” people like, I don’t know, Martin Luther King, Jr.?

This is what drives me nuts about my country right now. Whether democrat or republican, liberal or conservative. the message seems to be that to disagree is to do harm to others. If someone thinks differently than you, don’t bother trying to positively affect them. Cut them out! Separate yourself! Treat them “like the cancer they are,” as one post put it.

F*ck that. I’m sick of it. It’s tearing society apart, ruining the idea of debate, and will inevitably lead to more extremism.

People accuse Ellen of living in her own little world where you can love people who do shady shit.

Guess what?

We all do shady shit. “Shady Shit” is a part of being human. Most are born with damn near equal parts of light, goodness, and Shady Shit. Life is about learning to minimize the latter and embrace the former, but that Shady Shit is aaalways there.

G.W., for example, thrust us into an unnecessary and costly war that is still affecting us today. I get that. Shady Shit. He’s also a funny, relatively kind guy. Those two parts of him exist. Ellen behaving as if that’s the case by being kind to the guy is simply an acknowledgment of reality.

We keep attacking people because we find out they were a part of some Shady Shit, as if there is an alternative! Everyone, EVERYONE, has done, said, or thought some Shady Shit.

Remarkably, the people our virtue signaling culture hold up as examples of right doing and thinking espouse the same thoughts and opinions as the virtue signalers themselves, and THAT, dear reader, is some Shady Shit.

Now. I agree that we need boundaries. We need to fight racism, homophobia, anti-LGBTQ attitudes, sexism, all that Shady Shit that has become policy in the U.S.

BUT. Imagine this:

You know someone who has differing opinions on these matters. Let’s say they are racist. You decide to shun them and cut them from your life with all the appropriate name-calling; doing exactly as proposed by these keyboard warriors and activists.

Racist Feller goes away. Where do you think he’s going to go? He will probably go find other people who AGREE with him so he feels less alone, less judged.

Now he meets more like-minded folks. They gather regularly and share life together. Their racist beliefs feed off this interaction and fester and grow into a familiar level of group evil that will find its way into voting booths across the nation.

Simultaneously, you go find your own little tribe of people that think just like you. Same thing happens. Now two extreme communities exist, ready to plunge this country off a cliff.

Sounds stupid, yes?

But what if you chose to be kind? What if you and racist man got lunch or coffee? What if you, by demonstration of your own sincerely held beliefs, took the opportunity to positively affect someone who never considered that there was another way? What if you set boundaries firmly but kindly, not allowing racist expressions in your midst but also not exiling the guy?

All of a sudden, you become a tempering presence. This guy has you to think about now when he considers his beliefs, actions, and vote. That’s a much more hopeful scenario.

As you can see, I don’t equate kindness with passivity. You don’t have to take abuse or mistreatment. What I do avocate for is kindness, accepting that if I want to be loved in spite of my Shady Shit, I had better love someone and all of their Shady Shit, too. Only with this level of self and mutual acceptance can our nation start to heal.

I get it. Many attitudes and beliefs are harmful. But if you think you can bully or “fight” those beliefs into submission, you’re drunk. America isn’t undone by violence, we actually like to pretend we thrive on it. Kindness and love are what throw us for a loop, which is f*cking sad.

So maybe we should stop portraying kindness as a weakness or privilege as opposed to the powerful, transformative choice it can be. Maybe we should stop denying that every human being has a healthy dose of Shady Shit tucked away somewhere. Maybe we should accept our Shady Shit while acknowledging that of others, and move on from that Shady Shit together.

And leave Ellen alone.

Peace be with you!

Walking Contradiction

I’ve reached a point in my life where I have stopped caring about how I am perceived by others because of my interests, thoughts, or hobbies. I pray, read the Bible, and read Tarot. I am a Quaker, but practice martial arts. I live with hope and idealism yet my all-time favorite artist is Nine Inch Nails.

You get the idea.

Back in the day (up to a few years ago, actually), I never wanted to catch hell for being a hypocrite or “out there.” I wanted to be accepted, normal. It was always implied that variatious aspects my life was inconsistent with what others expected of me, and that such a disconnect was worrisome, a “bad witness,” or just plain strange.

So I buried things. Music I loved, opinions I held, beliefs that bothered me, all packaged and sorted according to whatever criteria would get me through the situation at hand with as little damage as possible. All the while, I was only suffocating myself. No one knew (all of) the real me.

The truth is, though, that contradiction is part of life. It comes with experience. I’ve experienced relentless love and hope, but also abuse, loss, and despair. These realities are all a part of me and my story, so I find ways to express them.

I’ve experienced the power of Christ, and over the past five or so years I’ve also experienced an expansion in my view of God’s activitites in various traditions all over the world. Ergo, my spirituality is hybridized, yet powerful and effective. Some criticize this by saying I’m crafting my religion according to my own rules, but what’s the alternative? Let someone else do it for me? Thanks, but no.

My point is that people are complex. YOU are complex. You have beliefs, hobbies, and insights that are unique to you and your life experience. Further, I bet you have also felt the need to stifle or cover up those unique aspects of yourself for the comfort of others.

But…

What if someone needs to hear you?

What if someone needs to know they’re not alone and you have just the words or interests to make that happen?

What if what you have to contribute could be just what’s needed to add depth and insight to a conversation?

We all have a story that’s supposed to be told. With every story that’s fully expressed and shared, the narrative of humanity gains more depth and meaning. This is indispensible work, as we are constantly being sold oversimplified narratives that serve the powers that be.

So how do we tell our stories? First, we must accept them ourselves. Stop denying the things that make you… You! Secondly, we have to let go of the idea of normality. For every place we “fit in,” we will be alienated from ten others, so outsider opinions should be taken with a grain of salt. Finally, we must live out loud. Share what gives you peace and passion. Embrace what makes you kind, what makes you feel. what makes you think. Take your place as a member of the human family and contribute to it in your own way.

Don’t be afraid of contradiction. Embrace tension and mystery. After all, it’s in the midst of these things that life is found.

Peace be with you!

Gaining Wisdom

“…acquire wisdom, acquire perception, never forget her, never deviate from my words.” — Proverbs 4:5, JB

I’ve been reading Proverbs recently and this little snippet caught my attention. Proverbs is all about gaining wisdom, acquiring it, and learning how to live life in full connection with God. What struck me is that wisdom is something to be gained, not something you either have or lack with no recourse.

The reason I found this idea so powerful is because, when I look around at the way our society treats people who make mistakes, it is clear that our standards for each other (and ourselves) are too damned high.

I’ve grown much wiser in the past few years, but that was after mistake after screw up after pitfall. It took a lot of lessons, often repeated with a healthy dose of karmic discipline, for me to grow into a better, wiser human being. In the midst of all those lessons, I lost respect, friends, and colleagues.

When I see other people make mistakes or having their skeletons thrust out of the proverbial closet, I see much of the same. Friends and family members curse, deride, or abandon. Society mocks, points fingers, all while securing the lock on their own closets even tighter. There is no compassion, no chance for redemption, no assumption that someone could do better.

Reading Proverbs, however, reminds me that when I look at my life and my failings, I am really seeing a long journey of lessons learned that enabled me to be the man I am today. I am proud of that man, and of the boy who never gave up so that yhis man could exist today. Further, I’m reminded that everyone has lessons to learn, and my job is to accept where each person is on their journey.

Does this mean sitting back and accepting or condoning abuse, hatred, or misconduct? Of course not. It does mean, however, that in all of our attempts to do and enforce what is right, we should also be compassionately present for those who are in the midst of the painful process of gaining wisdom.

Wisdom, knowledge, and righteousness are all things we pursue and gain as we live life. Unfortunately, learning in life often means making mistakes, sometimes a lot of them. Understanding this means not abandoning each other or writing people off. Rather, we should connect with those who, like us, are having to embrace some of life’s more painful teachings. After all, isn’t that what each of us would want?

Peace be with you!

On Being “Called”

When I was a minister in an institutional church, I was shocked at how often God seemed to only “call to ministry” those who were willing to sign off on what the institution proclaimed.

It was remarkably consistent.

God must REALLY like what the Methodists, Baptists, Catholics, Pentacostals, and Presbyterians have to say… even though they all disagree on rather important points.

Or…

Those groups use the idea of being “called” to keep the institution propped up.

Tough call.

Now, I have friends who are ministers and feel God led them to that place. I don’t have any problem with that. Everyone’s relationship with God is different.

But that’s the point.

It appears that we all have our own understanding of and relationship with God. Yet most institutions would have us believe there is some standard for what actually constitutes a legitimate relationship, and (SURPRISE) it’s their way.

I understand that a person’s theology and relationship with God should be expressed communally. In community, we can challenge and edify one another, preventing any more “Jonestown” situations. A blend of private and social religion is best for the common good.

A problem arises, however, when a person feels moved by God to act on their faith in a positive way only to be shut down by a group of self-proclaimed “gate keepers.” All of us are created of God, the Light abides in us all, and every single one of us is gifted with the authority to pursue whatever path will lead us to better loving God, ourselves, and our neighbors. This path can be discerned with help from our leaders, but they don’t have any right or “special connection” that allows them to dictate your experience of God. Behind every collar, robe, pulipt, or altar is a human that answered the right set of questions correctly. They may be wise and helpful… or not.

The truth is we are all equal, and we are all stumbling this path together.

You have power. You have agency. Your thoughts, voice, and experiences matter. Remember that, and relentlessly pursue whatever it is God has placed in your heart.

If a path leads you to love God, love yourself, and love others, it is worthwhile. So let’s get busy, as all of us are indeed “called.”

Peace be with you!