Security is a Lie

Maaaan, we humans like to feel safe and secure. Alarm systems, pistols, baseball bats, confirmation bias, the 2nd Amendment, doctrine, prejudice, all of these things are means by which we try to ensure our sense of security. This sense can be emotional, intellectual, or physical.

The problem is that true security/safety is impossible if you actually want to live your life. There is a nothing wrong with taking some basic precautions or having a solid bit of confidence. However, there is a difference between that and living in fear of difference because it threatens to shake up our foundations. Too often, we tend toward the latter.

Life is not conducive to safety. It involves risk, taking chances, and being subject to influences and powers external to ourselves. To try to control or eliminate this often leads to an existence based on fear or suspicion. Ironically, such a lifestyle is fertile ground for more issues, not less.

It’s true that our sense of fear and security can be healthy and definitely helped our ancestors survive. We had to be careful about strange sights or sounds, as anything could potentially kill us.

Today, these instincts manifest in a variety of ways. When our core beliefs or opinions are challenged, we get defensive or even aggressive. Many carry weapons with them everywhere they go. Fear of strangers leads to prejudice, racism, or classism, resulting in isolationist or avoidant social behavior. When our financial prosperity is infringed upon, we hoard our resources and will often pay any price (moral or, ironically, financial) to keep our status.

None of these behaviors are healthy. They might make us feel better, but the tangible, positive results they produce are minimal at best. Furthermore, life isn’t made any less dangerous or unpredictable!

So what’s the alternative?

Acceptance.

I sometimes find myself terrified. I’m scared I’m going to lose my wife or son or friends or family. I worry about our finances, my training business, or my impact on this world.

At the end of it all, though, I have to choose between fear and acceptance. Fear feeds itself and leads to a limited existence. Acceptance, however, allows me to feel what I feel while also pushing me to live my life.

Sure, it all could end tomorrow. I could lose everything, be shot in a Wal-Mart, or I could die in my sleep… but none of this is in my control. All I can do is handle what is within my power to handle, leaving the rest to whatever powers may be.

This may sound like indifference, but it actually allows me to live a life of reckless love and delight in the people God has brought into my life. I kiss and hug my son every chance I get. I flirt with and embrace my wife daily. I check in on my family and friends, eat the delicious food, put down my weapons, give of my resources to those in need, and do my best to leave the world better than I found it.

Security is great in theory, but it just doesn’t exist. Life is wild, unpredictable, and extends beyond the grasp of our control. We can either respond out of fear or acceptance, and I hope we all can chooe the latter. Past that point, all that’s left is to jump in and LIVE!

Peace be with you!

Ending the Blame Game

As I’ve been reflecting recently on who I am and what I believe, I’ve noticed I have a real lack of patience for political arguments. Now I don’t mean debating an idea or considering carefully which vote to cast. I mean ceaselessly ranting about this or that politician and those who think like they do and how all them libtards/fascists are going to destroy this country and the next war we fight will be a civil war and…

Blech.

I just can’t. It’s not just politics either, but any genre of endless complaining about things that can’t be helped or changed. I get that life can be complicated and painful, and I understand that people don’t often act like we think they ought to behave.

It’s also always been this way. It always will be this why. Life is a constant cycle of issues, some good, some bad. Many take that to be a negative way of thinking, but for me, it’s freedom.

There is a freedom to realizing that so much is out of our control. We can’t determine who takes over this country or what they do when it happens. We can’t control policy or greed or that stranger who raises their kids contrary to my unquestionable principles.

The only things we are responsible for are the choices we make every day. Namely, we are responsible for living our kindest, most loving, most generous, most compassionate life every day. It’s not glorious. It’s not sexy (well, I think it is), but it’s the best chance we have of actually achieving a level of serenity and positive impact in this life.

Now to many people, this sounds lazy or idealistic… I have nothing for you. If you think living kindly is easy, come visit me in Dallas. You’ll change your mind the minute you enter traffic on 635.

As for the idealistic part, think about this. When you establish habits of kindness, compassion, love, justice, and acceptance in your life, those things are a part of you. They inform how you think, how you speak, and how you act.

This means we engage people differently. We vote differently. We perceive life differently. Many of the problems we encounter as a society today are due to our perceptions, specifically our willingness to swallow whatever the commander-in-tweet or the talking heads on capitol hill or in the media present to us as the truth.

We are more divided than ever before (for the 1,000th time).

We are approaching another civil war.

There is a war on religion in this country.

Our nation is full of hate and malice and it’s ALL THE FAULT OF THAT GUY WITH WHOM I DISAGREE.

Nonsense. Sure, let’s say “civil war” time comes. What if no one shows up because we are too busy living life with one another? What if we decide that no one is going to tell us what is worth killing over?

What if we decide we’d rather disagree and live alongside each other in love than waste our lives trying to make everyone like us?

That’d be a most welcome change of pace.

So I am starting with me. I’m not going to sit there and stew or argue with someone who thinks Democrats/Republicans are the devil. I’m not going to contribute to gossip or bitching behind the backs of people of whom I disapprove. I’m not going to grouse about how much better the world was back when I didn’t have to consider the feelings of others.

Rather, I am going to invite others to share what really concerns them. I’m going to listen and be respectful. I’m going to vote with my heart. I’m going to be a Quaker, feed the hungry, care for the afflicted, and love my family, my neighbor, and my enemy. I’m going to love myself and allow the Light Within to shine in my life.

The time has come (and has long been here) when we need to stop blaming and pointing fingers. It’s time to challenge ourselves to be the difference we want to see.

Peace be with you!

A Prayer Problem

‘Pause a while and know that I am God, exalted among the nations, exalted over the earth.’ — Psalm 46:10, JB

I grew severely frustrated last night as I tried to engage in some good ol’ fashioned prayer. Words came and were thought/said/expressed, but it just felt like total and utter nonsense. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t the object of my prayer (the Light). I felt God was there, as It always is.

What bothered me was the practice itself. The words came effortlessly, and they sounded just like the fancy kind of seminary-influenced words that get you compliments at Thanksgiving. It should have been a moment of great connection with the Divine.

But it wasn’t. Those words were hollow and empty. The more I said, the more full of crap I felt.

Even the trusty, “magical” prayers of tradition were ineffectual. Hail Mary, the Lord’s Prayer, the Jesus Prayer, all just ringing about in the air like annoying cymbals.

So I stopped. I just quit trying, and I unexpectedly felt more peace, release, and connection as I just stood there brooding in the shower. I reflected on this experience this morning and I think I’ve nailed down my issue.

Life is supppsed to be prayer.

In the Quaker faith, we worship in silence, waiting to experience… whatever happens. Ideally, there’s no agenda or attempt to “get anything.” Silence allows God and the heart to commune however they need to. We acknowledge that all people, things, places, and times are sacred… we just have to acknowledge it.

When one walks with the Divine in every moment of every day… there really isn’t much to be said. God is here. Our thoughts, our struggles, our triumphs, our questions, all things happen in the presence of the Source of it all. God doesn’t need directions, information, or pursuasion.

What is needed, most times, is for us to shut up, and “pause a while and know” that God is there. That’s what I was missing last night. I went for words and formulas when I should’ve just silently dropped all of the distractions and shared in God’s “being,” recognizing the sanctity of that moment and everyone in it, just like we do at our Quaker meeting.

It’s important to remember that, as promised, the Divine is with us “always; yes, to the end of time” (Matthew 28:20). We don’t have to hit our knees, say the right things, or even say anything at all. What God desires is for our hearts to draw near and bask in the sacred Presence, the holiness of everyday life.

So if you are seeking connection with the Light, if you are trying to pray, but the words don’t feel right, perhaps they’re not meant to. Our world is full of words and noise, but it lacks stillness and peace. It could be that these are what God is trying to offer you. So sit back and enjoy.

Peace be with you!

***AFTER-THOUGHT***

I am not saying prayer with words is bad or a sign of spiritual immaturity or somesuch nonsense. Pray in whatever way helps you connect! This post was simply geared toward those moments when words fall short. Do what draws you closest to the Sacred in all things!

Blessed in the Bad

I need only say, ‘I am slipping,’ and your love, YHWH, immediately supports me; and in the middle of all my troubles you console me and make me happy. — Psalm 94:18-19, JB

It’s been a trend for quite some time that the Christian world, particularly in the U.S., has associated blessedness with ease of life. When we have faith, our lives should become easier, right? After all, to consider one’s self “blessed” is to acknowledge the smooth ride life has been and/or all the material blessings one has accumulated.

Or not.

Take this quote from Psalm 94. For me, it hearkens back to the Beatitudes in Matthew 5. In both of those texts, a person is considered blessed right in the middle of their suffering.

Why?

“Blessedness” has to do with one’s connection to God’s love, not the abundant or enjoyable nature of one’s earthly life. Scripture regularly assumes that life is going to be hard, perhaps even more so for the faithful. This is precisely why being “blessed” can’t be related to our comfort. Rather, it refers to our state within our discomfort.

If, when sh*t hits the fan, we consider ourselves to have lost the blessing of God, the situation ends up being a self-fulfilling prophecy because we are blinded to the activities of Divine love in the midst of our struggles. When we get stuck thinking God is absent or angry with us, we fail to utilize what befalls us as an occasion to lean on and share the love of God. Our tragedies and failures become means of humiliation rather than transformation.

Does that mean God makes bad things happen to teach us lessons? I don’t believe so. But bad things do happen, and we can either be destroyed by them or educated/transformed through them. This is the choice before us, and whichever one we embrace determines whether or not we are truly blessed.

To connect with God is to choose hope in the face of tragedy, kindness in the face of evil, love in the face of hate. This is the example Jesus leaves us, and to imitate it is to embody the powerful love of God in our own lives.

That, dear reader, is what it means to be blessed.

Live Like We’ve Made It

The wolf lives with the lamb, the panther lies down with the kid, calf and lion cub feed together with a little boy to lead them. — Isaiah 11:4, JB

Looking to a perfect future is something religion typically “comes with.” In the Christian faith, prophecies are often read with eyes forward, waiting patiently for the day God sets everything straight. The trouble for me is that I am an “in the moment” kind of man. I don’t really know what to expect if/when the world comes to an end, Jesus returns, or I die, but I do know that I am alive right now in a world that could always use a little more light.

Fortunately, the prophets would have agreed with me! Prophecy in the Bible is less about predicting the future and more about the natural outworkings of our current problems. The prophet’s job is to call people to repentence immediately, forcing us to face the pain and suffering of the world and our part in it.

When reading Isaiah, it becomes clear early on that Israel is in very real trouble and God isn’t happy with them. They are criticized for their unjust practices and false piety, faced with invasion and destruction, but also encouraged by a vision of the possible future (should they decide to get it together).

Now some see such visions as pipe dreams used to provide “hope fuel” for the oppressed. I, on the other hand, view them as instructive, especially when I consider the teachings of Jesus, which emphasize living with the “Kingdom of God” in mind. The images of a final judgment and celestial utopia were not there to simply be believed in, but to give us a target for which to aim every day.

So when we see passages like the one above from Isaiah 11, or the “swords into ploughshares” verse that declares “there will be no more training for war” (chapter 2), it would be wise to see these as a goal rather than an eventual guarantee. Whereas the latter might only prompt us to “hold on tight,” the former is actually a call to action.

Such teachings should serve as ideals for which we strive by living as though they have already been realized. If we hope for a world of peace, we must in turn lead lives saturated with peace. If we dream of a future of equality, prosperity for all, and justice, our daily activities and interactions should reflect such things.

Am I dismissing the hope of some future manifestation of the Kingdom of God? Not necessarily. I just trust that God has such things in hand. What I am advocating for is turning our eyes from what could happen to what is happening, looking for opportunities to live out the future for which we hope.

Peace be with you!

More Is Less

Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”Hebrews 13:5, NRSV

There is a song I love by Foster The People called “Ask Yourself.” The chorus has a line that has always spoken to me.

“And you say that dreamers always get what they desire, but I’ve found the more I want, the less I’ve got.”

It’s always been a sobering reminder to me that “more” is not always more. When I stress about my training business or the trajectory of my life according to the “worldly” standards of success, it’s important that I ground myself in the knowledge that it’s okay to opt out of the rat race. It’s okay to be content.

This flies in the face of nearly all advice we are force-fed by those who have “made it,” as well as those who wish they could. The conventional wisdom of today is to push and push and push until we have achieved it all. To reach a place of contentment is to “settle” or “quit” if it occurs before the world can declare us successful.

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews caught onto this long ago. The quote from Hebrews 13 comes from a conversation about maintaining a faithful life, and the drive for “more” is seen (rightfully) as a distraction from living for God by being at peace with ourselves and seeking the welfare of others. As Jesus says. “You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matthew 6:24).

Does this mean we shouldn’t have goals or that we shouldn’t strive to do our best in this life? No!

BUT.

If we allow that pursuit and effort to dominate our lives to the detriment of our self-care and our compassion, we have fallen into the trap of insecurity and greed, and we need to recalibrate. If we cannot enjoy life right now in this moment, no amount of money or accomplishments will magically enable us to do differently. Life is not beautiful because of what we have or do. It’s beautiful because it “is” and because we “are.”

Only when we can be content in this sense of “being” can we live in peace, balance, and in right relationship with the Divine and each other.

So let’s make that happen.

Peace be with you!

A Christian/Muslim Project

…and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. — Luke 9:2, NRSV

I am excited to announce that my friend Ekram and I are working on a joint writing project that will (hopefully) provide an interesting dose of inspiration and learning for those who are interested. We don’t have a title worked out, but the work will be an interfaith devotional, comprised of alternating daily quotes and reflections from the Christian Bible and the Muslim Qur’an. For those of you who don’t know, I worked with Ekram on a text he published a while back, which you can read about here.

Now, I have been asked why I’d want to do this kind of project and why interfaith work is so important to me. I think these are fair questions, especially in a world like ours. We see a lot of division, a lot of fear, and a lot of lazy responses to both of those things. Fortunately, I don’t think that’s what is happening here.

I believe disciples of Jesus are obligated to contribute to the healing of the world. Jesus, in Luke 6:9, highlights the necessity of intentional healing activity when He asks, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to destroy it?” There is no option to “do nothing.” To not act in a manner that brings light and life into the world is to do the opposite.

Further, the quote at the start of this post is from Luke 9, when Jesus sends his disciples out into the surrounding area to participate in His work of sharing God’s Kingdom. They were sent to “proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal,” and that is what I feel I am doing by participating in interfaith work.

Much of the world’s tribalism, hatred, and distrust can be found in the religious realm. Many in my context fear the entire religion of Islam and anything associated with it, and that makes sense due to the violent actions of those who claim to be Muslim all around the world. These horrific activities receive a lot of coverage, and a large amount of people have no experience of Islam outside of the media.

I feel that interfaith work is a way to help heal some of that fear and distrust. When we reach across boundaries to actually experience each other, we often find that we have more in common than we might otherwise have thought. Most of us want to be okay, and we want our families to be okay. We want to work, raise our kids, worship God, and enjoy life. When you understand this, you tend to come away with more potential friends than enemies, and that is a good thing.

Another concern that I want to address is that I am promoting syncretism by blurring the lines between the two obviously distinctive religions. Many well-meaning individuals do this kind of thing, and it is disrespectful to both faiths. While we have much in common, our differences are very real, and you can’t truly love someone without acknowledging all that they are.

With that in mind, I am always clear that my participation in such work is that of a Christian believer, and Ekram always stands as a devout Muslim. I’ve defended the Incarnation in the middle of a mosque, and Ekram has conducted Islamic evening prayer in a church hall with those who accompanied him to our facility. As we were initiating this writing project, we adamantly agreed that we would clearly indicate that this is a written interaction between confessors of two separate religions, even while as we emphasize our faiths’ common themes of peace, justice, mercy, and hope. We openly disagree on some pretty fundamental things, but that doesn’t mean we can’t promote understanding and compassion by recognizing all we share.

A final consideration is brought to mind when Jesus says, “For whoever is not against you is for you” in Luke 9:50. In context, He is responding to the disciples’ rebuke of a stranger casting out demons in Jesus’ name. Jesus’ response is still a widely cast net, though, and just as Ekram and I have defended our own faith, we have also stood in defense of each other. When armed protesters came to his mosque and started stomping on copies of the Qur’an, I was there. When my faith was maligned, Ekram defended Jesus and reminded people that the Qur’an speaks highly of both Him and His followers. Throughout all of my meetings and interactions with large amounts of Muslim people, I have never encountered a person that stood in full opposition to me or the practice of my faith. In this way, Jesus’ words ring true for me, and I want to honor that.

I participate in interfaith work and relationships because they help remind me that it is my choice as to whether I am surrounded by friends or enemies. It’s my choice to interpret my faith socially or exclusively. Many of us feel like we have no choice but to act and believe the way we do, but when encounter the teachings of Jesus and put ourselves in position to frequently encounter difference, we can see that this is simply not true.

I hope this post adequately answers the questions that have been posed to me regarding this issue. Further, my prayer is that you will join me in the work of sharing the Gospel, promoting peace, compassion, and hope, even with those we might once have considered enemies. Remember, you’re not as alone as you might think.

Peace be with you!