Unchurch

I have a confession to make. I don’t like “church”. Not “church” in the way most of us think of “church” anyway. We’ve all been at onetime or another whether as a child or adult, a guest to someone who invited us to attend their church, or maybe as a “holiday” church goer attending the Christmas, Easter or Mother’s Day service, maybe even as a member of a church or churches.

We know the drill: met at the door by the greeter who smiles, shakes your hand and thanks you for showing up. The music, traditional or contemporary, the prayer, a couple more songs, the sermon, the plate is passed, another prayer or offer to come forward for prayer and a couple of closing songs then the walk toward the exit to nod and shake hands with a few of the regulars and finally, for the newcomer, the invite from the pastor to come back again.

Don’t get me wrong, I certainly don’t have anything against the way we in America have chosen to “church”…..I just don’t fit in. Ever had that experience? That’s really why I don’t like church, I just have always felt like an outsider. Like I’m on the outside looking in. Even when I have been a member, lead a class,  or sang in the music ministry.

For the longest time I just thought that it was my perception and that I just needed to learn to fit in, to be like everyone else and so I did. I spoke “Christianese”, changed the way I dressed so that I blended into whatever the culture of the church “brand” happened to be, carried my Bible, memorized scripture enough so that I could sprinkle conversation with my obvious close relationship with God, attended dozens of women’s Bible groups, and volunteered to do my part so that I could BE a part. The problem was I wasn’t being “me”, I was faking it, pretending to be someone I was not and I didn’t like that.

Fast forward. After a series of events which will be left for a later discussion, I was done with God and church. I had no need for Him or prayer, or the Bible, or the myriad promises the church said God would make a reality; I threw the baby out with the bathwater.

Again after a series of events I decided in my infinite wisdom and grace that I would give God another chance. How very generous of me, right? But in all seriousness I missed God, I missed the relationship. I did not miss all the trimmings, being focused on fitting in. So now what? How was I going to “be” a Christian without feeling like an imposter?

Well first I decided I didn’t have to “label” myself as a “Christian”. Now before anyone takes offense let me make my case, and let’s remember this is my story, not yours. If you identify yourself as a “Christian” I am completely cool with that, no judgment from me whatsoever, so no worries. But for me the word “Christian” had negative connotations because of my experiences in the church and because I had tried so hard to “be” a Christian.

Before abandoning ship I had done study in Messianic Judaism and I liked what I learned, so the “label” I gave myself was “Messianic Gentile”. That is just a fancy shmancy way of saying that I had adopted the mindset of those who were not Jews by birth, rather honored the “Jewishness” of Jesus and the scriptures. Again that’s a discussion for another day.

I started by talking to God, not praying in the traditional sense, but just talking. Mostly I just thanked Him. I thanked Him for my kids, my job, the “things” I had. In short I adopted “an attitude of gratitude”. It was the least I could do, I mean I was still here and kicking so I figured there was hope for me however sorry a human being I was!! In truth I wasn’t even sure God loved me or accepted me anymore because I had been down some not-so-pretty roads in my life since I had abandoned ship. I was dirty, bedraggled, foul mouthed, negative, had been suicidal, and participating in vices I had no intention of giving up and one I still don’t intend to give up, and really that is a relative statement depending upon how you define “vice”. If you find any of that shocking hang onto your hat, but I refuse to apologize for who I am. And that is really where I am going with all of this: none of us should apologize for who we are. God, I reasoned, was either going to love me and accept me for who I was, warts, wounds, scars and all or He wasn’t. It was as simple as that.

Oh yeah, I challenged Him, tested Him, said whatever I thought to Him daring Him to toss me out with the trash, but He didn’t. Imagine that. There were days I shook my fist heavenward, screamed, yelled and stomped my feet better than any 3 year old out there! And STILL He refused to go away!

You see, God is love. The Bible says that and so He can’t do anything else but love us. He loves me and He loves you! Maybe you don’t believe that but He does!

How do I know that? How do we know anything really?? I can’t explain it but I KNOW He didn’t move one step away from me at my worst, He just moved a little closer.

Well what I just said isn’t quite true. I do know because the Bible is our reference manual for God. Now wait before you click me off or flip me off, whichever, it’s all good, I don’t intend to go all “churchy” on you but we can’t talk about God without talking about the Bible. The Bible says that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever and if He is also love then He loves us as we were, as we are, and as we will be. We are at best a messy bunch of misfits on any given day and He knows that better than we do.

So, what has any of that got to do with an “unchurch”? It has everything to do with it. The “unchurch” is for all of us who don’t fit in, never did, never will. For all of us who are messy, bedraggled, insecure, fearful, struggling, rejected and stumbling through life but STILL want a relationship with God. And when I say God I also mean Jesus. The good news is there is a place for us. The “unchurch” is a gathering of people who want to know God, not to have all the do’s and don’ts dumped on us as we walk thru the door. The “unchurch” is anywhere 2 or more are gathered.

It’s time for “church” to be all inclusive. It’s time for us to make our relationship with Him our primary focus. It’s time.

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Not All Love Is Good….. Part 3 of There But For the Grace….

“ I struggled then, so I do not know to comprehend that not all love is good, nor all obedience holy” (Call the Midwife)

I tend to binge-watch movie genres and TV series on a popular video-on-demand media stream, complements of one of my daughters. My children being of the technology age are unwilling to settle for regular TV, even movie channels like HBO and Cinemax, the latest and greatest back in the day. My husband works second shift in aerospace so I am alone most evenings. When I get home from a long day at work motivation to work more isn’t on the agenda, especially during the winter months, so I watch the electronic babysitter. The TV works as a babysitter for us older folk, too, not just the little ones!

One of my favorites is the PBS series Call the Midwife, set in 1950’s England. A group of Catholic nuns and young nurses trained as midwives work East End London providing maternity care to the poorest of the poor. After binge-watching the first season, I have concluded birth control was one of the greatest additions to the twentieth century. Today, many young moms-to-be opt for natural childbirth, birth without trauma, and the like, but during the time of the series, there were no choices to be made, and women popped out children by the houseful. I have nothing against children, mind you, I would just prefer not to have them by the dozen. More power to the people who do!

Call the Midwife has all the elements of good cinema; drama, moments of levity, tragedy, triumph, you name it. I am not too far in, as yet, only the second season, but I am hooked. One of the episodes I watched this weekend was about a young couple with a child and another on the way, except behind closed doors the husband was abusive. Jenny, the midwife, suspected as much and got involved, events escalated, thus the opening statement of the blog.

I can admire elements of the Catholic faith. Their practice and belief in Catholic doctrine runs deep, and has for centuries. At the same time the Catholic church continued to grow, many other church flavors floundered and stuttered. And, of all the various flavors, the Catholics have, in my opinion, a fairly balanced view of the scriptures as their Bible states much of it is allegory. Organized religion as a whole is a corrupt, fear-based system, in my opinion.

Since Call the Midwife is set in a convent, naturally the bent of the series is Catholic, and the archaic belief marriage is forever, and the man is the head of the household and therefore may treat his family the way he sees fit, is upheld. Except, in the one sentence Jenny utters after visiting her patient and witnessing the actions of the woman’s abusive husband. Unfortunately, the story doesn’t end well for the abused young wife and mother. Her husband drugs the little ones with milk and alcohol and leaves with their mother each night to pimp her out. The apartment catches fire one evening, the children are rescued, and the parents convicted of child abuse. Was the young wife truly deserving of prison? In my opinion, most likely not. The mind of an abusive partner is warped at best. The very ones who loudly proclaim love for their families to the world, behind closed doors torment and twist the loyalties and love of others in their care.  

No, not all love is good, nor obedience holy. As a society and as a people who profess Christianity, loyalty to a Higher Power, or God, we need to understand and embrace these words. Many times during the years I was married to an abuser I would pray, read the Bible, and ask God to search my heart and illuminate areas I needed to “fix” to become a better wife in His eyes in an effort to stop the abuse. Abusers make their victims believe the victims are to blame for the behavior of the abuser. Today, this all sounds absurd to me, far removed from the life I now lead, and yet, still close enough to understand the toll the whole of our abusive lives took on each of us.

Do I blame the Church and society for turning a blind eye, for believing women are to submit to their husbands, or the victims must have done something to prompt or deserve the abuse? No, I really don’t. I do believe Church teaching has warped the minds of adherents to supposedly God-breathed scriptures. Societal beliefs, in many ways, are Church-related holdovers, or perhaps a general lack of concern for fellow humans, or a little of both. I do, however, blame people. We are sentient beings, more than capable of intelligent thought apart from Church indoctrination, or the bandwagon effect. Humans are quick to take the easy road even when their innermost thoughts and beliefs may be to the contrary, and in this way the archaic beliefs man is the king of his castle, women are to obey their men, children are to be seen and not heard, or “what goes on behind closed doors is none of my business” continues to flourish. For many years I looked for every conceivable explanation for the actions and words used as weapons of punishment on my kids and me. I have since concluded there is no explanation, save to attribute actions and words to choice. Either we choose to own our behaviors and words, or we do not.

During the marriage I had been friendly with my sister-in-law who lived far from the family, by choice, and had spiritual beliefs, and a lifestyle radically different from the accepted “Christian norm” of the rest of us. I applauded her independent thinking, and over the years was one of the few in the family who expressed interest in her spiritual beliefs and lifestyle. It is to her, in small part, I credit with moving away from organized religion and seeking journey with the Divine, or God. And yet, she too offered explanations for her brother’s choices, giving further weight to blood is thicker than water.

On a visit to her childhood state a couple of years after the divorce, she stopped in to see us. We caught up and had a lovely time until she shared with me research she had done on abusive people. Her research concluded babies born five pounds or under were more likely to be abusers in life than babies born over five pounds. I listened politely and patiently to this otherwise intelligent, insightful woman, and then stated emphatically I would no longer tolerate explanations or excuses for his, or anyone else’s, abusive behavior. My twin girls were five pounds and under when they were born, and are two of the most gentle, compassionate, humanitarian women I have ever known. And, there are countless other low birth-weight babies who have grown to become loving, compassionate, productive members of society. Excuses and explanations for people who have chosen to abuse others are as plentiful as the fish in the sea. The bottom line is choice; we choose our behavior, and our words.

If you, or someone you know is a victim in an abusive relationship, there is hope. Keep in contact unless it is dangerous for the victim, let them know you are supportive and will help when they are ready to leave. If it is dangerous to stay in contact, don’t risk the victim being further abused however, if she/he works outside the home, send cards of encouragement to their work address, or call occasionally just to say, “I love you”. Victims need the support of their families, and those on the outside. Please know, the victim must take the lead and let you know when she/he is ready.

If you are the victim, there are agencies willing to help. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is a good place to start. Their number is 1-800-799-SAFE. Most cities have Women’s Shelters for women and children who will provide safety and help. You are not alone.

Not all love is good, nor all obedience holy…….  

I Can Only Imagine….. Part 2 of There But For the Grace…..

“Surrounded by Your glory, what will my heart feel? Will I dance for you Jesus, or in awe of You be still? Will I stand in your presence, or to my knees will I fall? Will I sing hallelujah, will I be able to speak at all? I can only imagine…..” (Bart Millard of MercyMe…..”I Can Only Imagine”)

There are songs that come along in our lifetimes, whether secular, or Christian, touching our hearts in ways difficult to express in mere words. “I Can Only Imagine” for me, is one of those rare songs. From the first time I heard it I connected, I don’t know why, and I have learned not to question those moments. In any case, I doubt there are many who have not heard this powerful song by the Christian band MercyMe. It is played on the radio, at church events, funerals, and I am sure during other events I am not aware. It was played at my former father-in-law’s funeral a few years after the song hit the charts. For that reason, my kids have a difficult time appreciating the song, but I do understand where they are coming from. And now the story behind the song has hit the silver screen.

Bart’s story is about triumph over childhood abuse at the hands of his dad, and his dad’s subsequent redemption later in life. My husband and I went to see it with our best friends a couple of weeks ago. I knew what the story was about, and I expected an emotional roller coaster ride. Several reports from others who had seen it was to bring tissue, and lots of it. I didn’t shed a tear, which was interesting. My friend started tearing almost immediately. She shares with me an abusive background with the father of her children. There are so many of us out there. And, she too, is a very intelligent, loving, capable, strong woman, who at one point in her life was held at gunpoint by her abuser.

For me, the story hit far too close to home. The actor who plays Bart looked and acted so much like my son it was uncanny. My husband leaned over a few minutes in and commented on how much the actor looked like my son; his mannerisms too. My son is a talented musician, as well, and Bart’s story mirrors much of my son’s abusive past with his father. One would think I would have had a strong emotional reaction, but I didn’t. I just sat there taking it all in, keeping it together. For a moment, a fleeting thought tripped across my brain cells that if a tear escaped my eye there would be no holding back the floodgates. For several days following, I thought about the movie, over and over, sorting through feelings, and sometimes the lack of them. It is strange watching the essence of your story unfolding before your eyes, and yet it’s not your story, it belongs to someone else. Other than my son not pursuing music to the extent Bart did, one other dissimilarity was the mom decided to leave, and Bart was left alone with his dad. Did I judge her decision? Certainly not. Perhaps in her mind leaving was the way she could best protect her son. (In reality, Bart had a brother, too. Some slight liberties were taken with the story)

Since “I Can Only Imagine”, the movie, is about Bart’s dad’s redemption, obviously his dad finds “Jesus” and does a one-eighty. Not so, in our case. For a few years I was angry with my ex-husband, more so because he refused to admit he had done anything wrong, or take responsibility for any of it. I have since released any residual bitterness and anger, mainly because neither serve any purpose other than impeding my spiritual growth. My kids have each said at one time or another they don’t want an apology, they just want to hear him take responsibility for his actions; in other words admit he had abused the kids he said he loved, yet told on a regular basis, “you are going to wish you had never been born.” Not long after divorce papers were served, he called and asked what he had done that was so bad, and why I seemed to hate him so much? Righteous anger and proximity empowered me and he got an earful. I say proximity because he was several hundred miles away, broke as far as I knew, and still considered himself “disabled”.

Following a heart attack a few years previous, he decided (not the cardiologist) he was unable to go back to work, filed, and was granted disability. I saw it as milking the system, as they say, but then reasoned perhaps the “disability” those granting him federal monies saw was more of a psychiatric nature, rather than physical. It also proved beneficial for him when it came time to sort out the tangled tapestry that had been our life during the divorce. No matter, I wanted nothing from him, and that is exactly what we got; nothing. We were on our own, and I can truthfully say God, or the Universe provided, whomever one is comfortable with crediting.

Issues I have with organized religion are numerous, and from my perspective the church is a large part of the problem with domestic abuse, especially for those who attend. My relationship with Yeshua (Jesus), or the Divine, has nothing to do with church. I firmly believe we are more than capable of intimate relationship with Spirit apart from any religious doctrines or rituals. Abusers within the church walls feel justified, and well within their rights and responsibilities as the “priest or head” of the family. Many pastors and church leaders support the position of abusers in their congregations because they themselves are frequently involved in abusive situations in their own homes. I have spoken to pastors wives in abusive marriages over the years who choose not to leave their husbands because of misplaced loyalty to scripture and to the negative impact they believe leaving would have on the congregation. I believe the opposite. If more women stood up for one another in the church setting we could affect change. As it stands, there is silence.  How often have sermons and messages been taught from the pulpit and in Sunday School classes about the responsibility of the wife to yield to the will of her husband? Is it not taught “spare the rod, spoil the child”? Perhaps one can argue these are the will of God, however, how many people take these very same scriptures and interpret them as free reign to abuse? Many more than one would assume. The church often turns a blind eye to abuse in their midst deferring to scriptures giving man authority over his family. Leaving organized religion is likely one of the better decisions I have made in my life.

In the movie Bart struggled with the transition his dad had made. I certainly understood his struggle. Redemption found at the foot of the cross, or in honestly facing our decisions and actions, is cleansing. So is owning our responsibility when we have hurt others, whether in an abusive relationship, or in any other way.  God is good and loves all equally and without judgment. It is not for God to judge, or even others of like mind, as the church teaches. Rather, it is for us alone to judge ourselves, facing the hurt others have suffered at our hand. God provides the mirror through which we see ourselves clearly, and unless we look into the mirror redemption will not be ours. My ex-husband has not found redemption to my knowledge. My son, and my stepson the ex brought into our marriage, keep in touch with their dad. I admire them for their decision, but don’t believe it necessary. They stay in contact because they don’t want their dad to live out the remainder of his years alone, nor do they want him to die alone. He has no true friends, according to them, a sad, aging drifter who believes he will “make it” in the music industry one day, despite lack of any real talent. Abusers lie most to themselves, as I have said. My girls choose not to have any contact with their dad. Understandable.

I admire Bart, respect his talent, and more importantly respect his tenacity in the music industry. The music industry is brutal and cutthroat, Christian or otherwise. It is difficult for anyone, but given his background, even more difficult. Like my children and me, Bart was told he was worthless in myriad ways. Rising up and embracing one’s worth through the eyes of God is no easy task. “I Can Only Imagine” is about heaven, yet we are surrounded by His Glory each and every moment. My vision is for all who have, or are experiencing abuse, to rise up, to dance, to sing, and to fully experience the unique creation each one of us is through the Divine love of the Creator…..

There But For the Grace…..

A few days ago a body of a woman was found in a dumpster. Her husband was arrested last night in a neighboring state for her murder. Family and friends said she didn’t leave because she was afraid of him. Today, she is dead….

This post is written in the honor and the memory of countless women, children, and yes, even some men, trapped in the cycle of abuse, invisible to a world who often blames the victims, There but for the grace of God go I…..

We are a spirit, with a soul, living in a body and having a life experience. The goal is to be integrated as one being living from the spirit during our life experience. We often think of each individually, and treat each individually. When our bodies are sick we go to a doctor, we see a therapist or psychiatrist for soul issues, and go to church, or seek some other spiritual path to care of our spirit selves. While each of these modalities may seemingly work to effect cures in body, mind, and spirit, at some point we realize what affects one affects the whole. When we are emotionally bankrupt we often experience illness or poor health, and we feel spiritually empty. Feeling spiritually empty leads to emotional and often physical upset and illness. See the interconnection?

The road to health and wellness has to involve ministering to the whole being; mind, body and spirit. The hardest step on that road is the first. Sometimes we are not sure where to start or even how to start, and sometimes we fear we will do it all wrong. Rest assured, you cannot screw this up! Healing is very much like peeling an onion, one layer at a time. Beneath each layer is a wound with the potential for incredible beauty. As we change and grow through the healing process the beauty unfolds and radiates in ways we could not have imagined before.

When I started my spiritual journey to understanding I heard on a radio teaching we are all in life situations we had chosen while still in spirit form. In my mind, people who believed this twisted line of thinking had lived idyllic lives, or at least close to it. Today, I have decided to put that theory on a shelf for the time being. Granted, I believe our lives here on earth are for growth, but I cannot go so far as to accept prior to donning an earth suit we decided all manner of suffering was a necessary pursuit to gain compassion, or whatever. What I do believe is we are capable of getting to the other side of a time of suffering with an appreciation for lessons learned, whether the lessons are about self, or others.

Looking back on the years since coming out of a 30 year abusive marriage, the “me” before the abuse is gone. Today’s “me” has been refined by the fires, risen from the ashes, and intentions to live in the moment to the extent I am capable every hour of every day. The process has not been easy nor comfortable, and yet today I can truthfully say I am grateful for having had the experience. That may sound entirely messed up, but hear me out. From any bad, painful, or negative experience or event there is an opportunity to learn about ourselves, our strengths and weaknesses, and to discover greater purpose. The person I am today is likely radically different from the person I may have been had I not experienced the abuse. I am far more tolerant, patient, open, non-judgmental and accepting than I thought possible, and yet there is an edge, or maybe it’s more of a resilience that is new.

The process of getting to the other side has been lengthy, intensely painful at times, challenging, and enlightening. I was not spared the good, the bad, and the ugly of myself. I have had to come to terms, or at least make peace with myself for allowing my kids to be abused. I say “allowing” because I cannot think of a better word. Certainly, I did not condone, participate, or encourage it. In my case, when I protested, the punishment for the kids went on longer and was far harsher than if I kept my protests to myself. In its own way, allowing it without protest was a way to protect my kids. I cannot truthfully say I am fully past it, and I may never be. I take responsibility for all of it. I was overwhelmed and paralyzed by fear of the unknown, what would happen to us should we leave, how would I care for my children? Obviously, the myriad unknowns pale in comparison to staying. I have had this pointed out to me on a number of occasions, and am certain those who were polite enough not to fault me out loud did so in their heads. Sadly, in our society victims are often blamed for the behavior of their abusers. “Never criticize a man until you have walked a mile in his moccasins”is more than a good proverb we attribute to the Native Americans, although it is actually a line from a poem written in the late 1800’s. No matter who said it, truth is truth, and there is a ton of wisdom to be gained from Native Americans and their culture, much of it born of hardship and suffering.

We cannot walk the road to healing alone. My mom listened countless hours and still does. I have never asked her, but in the early days after the divorce I probably sounded like a crazy person standing on the edge of a cliff during many a conversation, yet she listened patiently.  My ex-husband had forbid contact with my family for many years. Any contact he may accidentally find out about was dangerous, and so they were left wondering if we were alive or dead, and I wondered if they had moved on. Of course they hadn’t, but abusers are masters of mind games and have the ability to control the thinking of their victims through subtle suggestions, the twisting of facts, and being ever so convincing. And convincing they are; the biggest lie they tell is to themselves, convincing themselves they are justified in their actions.

Survivors of abuse need to learn how to set boundaries. Setting boundaries has never been a strong suit for me, yet the refining fires afforded me the resolve to set sturdy boundaries, firmly and plainly stating what I will or will not allow. My relationship with my mom has deepened, and changed from a parent/child relationship to an adult relationship. Despite my mom’s difficulty accepting I was not capable of leaving because of years spent having my spirit dismantled, piece by piece, I was still able to state I would not, nor would I ever tolerate anyone telling me what they would have done in the same situation. It is impossible for anyone, given the exact circumstance, to unequivocally say what their actions would have been. We still have our issues from time to time, and we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t, but we have learned more about one another than may have been possible had my life gone a more idyllic direction. There may never be full understanding of the abuse on her part, or my inability to leave, and quite truthfully, I understand. I really don’t expect anyone to understand. Those who do have lived their own story.

Talking is healing for the soul and the spirit. When we speak fears and regrets out loud some of their power over us is taken away. My kids and I have done our own therapy, of sorts. Like one of my twins says, “we are the only 4 who really knows what happened”, and for all intents and purposes she speaks the truth. As they have grown up the picture becomes more clear from an adult view of the circumstances. Each of them still has healing to be done, we all do on various levels. I am very proud of the people each has become, because of, and in spite of, their abusive pasts. Most abusers target one member of a family, ours was an equal-opportunity abuser. Being a resourceful and creative person, he was able to come up with individualized abuse plans so none felt left out. I say that sarcastically; I spoke the truth in sharing that I have an edge to my personality. I am humbled and honored my children trust me with their hurts, the suffering still felt, and their triumphs, however major or minor they may be. Again, as a result of our collective pasts, relationships touched by trial have deepened, and in their own way become one example of the beauty from ashes.

We hear time heals all wounds, or Jesus will take away our suffering. Neither time, nor Jesus heals all wounds. Healing is work, it is never passive and to say “time” or Jesus” heals all wounds takes us out of the equation. We don’t magically heal from anything. Our bodies are dependent upon rest, good nutrition, and sometimes medicines or treatments, the mind requires processing the hurts, events, or situations, and the spirit requires soul-searching, peeling back the layers, so to speak. Anyone sitting back and waiting for healing of any ailment will be waiting a long time for the healing to magically drop into their laps. Time only provides us perspective, and Jesus, or the Divine, walks the road with us, uncovering each protective layer, one after another, exposing a deeper level of raw pain to be surrendered. How we choose to cope with each new layer is an individual decision; there is no one-size-fits-all method.

So what is the takeaway? Healing is never a single event, nor method, and healing is necessary in mind, body, and spirit in order to be complete. The dismantled pieces of the people we once were, or were not given the chance to become, need to assemble into an integrated whole. Ignoring the need for healing in the spirit as we seek healing for the body or mind will not be successful, not in the long run anyway.  Just like my children and I are the only 4 who truly know our story and each of us has worked through healing in our own way and time, so it is with our integrated self. There is a time, a season, and a method unique to each of us for healing the mind, the body, and the spirit. If we listen to the whisper of the Divine, we will know how and when it is time to work, time to rest, time to pull inward, and time to rise up from the ashes…..

 

The Earth Is Not My Home, Or Is It…..?

Escapism theology. I didn’t know it had a name until a short time ago. Escapism has been around a very long time, however. Some credit Billy Graham for popularizing it by giving it a nod. So, what is Escapism theology? In a nutshell Escapism is waiting out our time on earth so we can go ‘home’, meaning heaven. The ‘this-is-not-my-home theology is quite popular in mainstream Christianity; we hear it from the pulpit, in Christian songs, from well-known evangelists so often we don’t give it much thought, we may even agree. Yet, Escapism isn’t simply believing in a heaven beyond death.

Buying into Escapism allows us to ignore the social ills of our world. Evangelism becomes the focus. Board as many people on the heaven-bound train as possible by leading them to repeat the “magic” words guaranteeing their salvation, their ticket through the pearly gates, while the world around us goes to hell in a hand-basket. Get the neighbor ‘saved’, and our responsibility ends there. Yeshua (Jesus) taught about heaven, true, but He spent more time teaching about living within the love of God from whom all creation springs thereby bringing real change to a hurting world. Unfortunately, those involved in Escapism are so heavenly minded they are no earthly good. Living with our heads in the clouds leaves little time for us to work toward the greater good.

Jesus was all about relationships; with one another and with God, not merely blindly following the letter of the law. We need to examine our motivations for everything. We are to be the positive energy here on earth. We are here for a purpose, each has a calling and a thread to contribute to the overall tapestry, and to fulfill our purpose we enter into relationship with others, we need to be engaged with others in the here and now. Meaningful relationships resulting in collectively working toward the greater good of all requires us to be healthy before we can help anyone else. We must journey inward with God to uncover the hurts in need of healing, to examine our motivations toward others and toward our purpose. Understanding and forgiving self first affords us the ability to understand others, and when we understand more fully we are able to forgive more fully. Escaping means we will bide our time in the present in favor of focusing on our future “home”, and ignoring the role each plays in bringing about the greater good today, in this moment. Seems like such a waste! I see no purpose in waiting around for the moment I pass from this life to the next. It serves no one, including God.

The popularity of Escapism is also how many choose to deal with the difficult questions of life. We fear death, which is really just another way of saying we fear the unknown. We want to know what, if anything, happens beyond our earthly lives. Is this all for naught, or is there a bigger picture, a bigger purpose? We all want reassurance our lives do not end with death. Those who choose New Age philosophy or Spiritualism over mainstream Christianity seek out psychics and mediums for the same reason, to be reassured. We want to know those who have passed on are pain-free, happy, and in a loving place. Believing loved ones are still with us in spirit gives us hope, we too, will live on beyond our lives on earth. I have lived too long and had enough interesting life experiences to doubt the tangible of our earthly existence is all there is. An active, vibrant realm surrounds us, and I believe this to be the realm of passed loved ones and angels. In teaching about a spirit life beyond our earthly lives, Jesus showed us the evidence of the spirit life; the Transfiguration, raising the dead back to life, and the piece de resistance, the Resurrection. Do we need more evidence?

Some in religious circles are blaming Escapism theology for mass exodus from the church. Personally, I believe any exodus from organized religion goes much deeper than running from Escapism – which, if you think about it, running away from Escapism is quite comical, all by itself! Anyway, one would think escaping the responsibilities of the world, social ills, and the like, in favor of a heaven-bound mindset would be appealing, but apparently it isn’t. Innately, humanity knows we are meant to pursue a greater purpose important to this life, and to one another. Standing in the train station waiting on the Heaven-bound Express isn’t fulfilling, meaningful, or empowering. The struggles of life, although uncomfortable, serves our growth spiritually, emotionally, and mentally. Overcoming obstacles is empowering when we realize it is possible to come out of the fiery furnace stronger, more confident, and better equipped to live to fight another day. Growth is our goal. When we cease to grow we stagnate, we march in place until the Heaven-bound Express stops by and lets us board.

Jesus instructed as many as would believe to go into the world and teach (the gospel). Again, I think man added to the ‘gospel’ for his own purposes, nevertheless enough meat exists within the scriptures we can still get a clear picture to work with. If we are to just hang around and wait until heaven rolls around there really isn’t a lot to teach. Get saved, then sit in the train station. People were drawn to Jesus because He offered substance over the superficial, relationship with the Divine, wisdom, knowledge, and purpose. I also believe He taught Eden theology, my name for describing the return to living from the spirit instead of ego dominance. The Creation story takes on new meaning when we view it from the standpoint of analogy, or explaining a concept in story form. The reason why people are leaving organized religion begins to make sense; we are seeking substance, wisdom, and purpose. Our spirit-selves are whispering there is meaning and purpose to this life beyond toiling by the sweat of our brow, scraping by, and waiting for St. Peter to call our names. Adam and Eve lived from the spirit in close relationship with God, for a time at least. They were our first example.

From the church-life perspective, there is relationship with God beyond memorizing more scripture, attending services every time the doors are open, and responding in rote to prompts from the pulpit. I believe God is calling us to think outside the box, to pursue wisdom and knowledge, to seek growth as we collectively work to bring about the greater good for all of creation. Our spirits were not designed to seek escape…..

“In This Corner Weighing In At…..”

Have you ever had a conversation with a member of any given brand of church when the subject of another church with a different doctrinal belief has been brought up? Have you ever been told, or believed your brand of church doctrine is the only way to heaven and all other brands are wrong, or at least teetering on the edge of blasphemy? In other words, if I am a member of Church A on the corner and our doctrinal beliefs do not include any other music besides hymns, women must clothe themselves in dresses only, and profession of Jesus as salvation for sinners is mandatory before membership is granted, Church L down the block believes worship comes in many forms, prophetic utterance and speaking in tongues is commonplace, and people fall out under the power on a regular basis, and Church P on the other side of town has a gay pastor, sings songs outside of accepted “Christian” music, and has lively church services, which of these will believe their doctrines are correct and the others wrong? Chances are hypothetical members of all the above churches may walk away believing theirs to be right and everyone else wrong. All will also likely walk away praying for the person challenging their doctrinal beliefs to see the light! Strong images and emotions will be associated with each of the hypothetical churches. We may think, “my church and beliefs are good, right, and we are doing God’s work. The others are not because they are wrong, misguided, perhaps even believe contrary to what our church believes to be God’s commands for His people.” So, if only one of them is right, which one is it? If Jesus is the only way to heaven, how can there be so many differing opinions and doctrinal beliefs? To further complicate the conversation, within the doctrines there are sub-doctrines: “once saved, always saved”, Predestination, or Calvinism, Replacement theology, Pre and Post Millennial-ism, and Escapism theology, to name a few. Now what? The argument, as long as we are all worshiping Jesus as Lord and Savior, is not valid. Many deeply entrenched in their chosen doctrinal beliefs firmly contend others not of their same belief are misguided; perhaps not worthy of hell, but definitely wrong. The prayer then becomes one of enlightenment for the misguided before passing on. I have been witness to many of these same conversations with strict adherents to a particular church doctrine.

Now, consider those who choose to walk the path of spirituality, what many know as “New Age” philosophy. Personally, I don’t think there is anything “new” about the philosophy, except it is likely “new” to many in this part of the world. Secondly, too many have wrongly associated New Age philosophy with mystical hoodoo-voodoo without advantage of actual knowledge; opinions are often based on assumptions, not facts. Within the path of spirituality, essentially there are two core beliefs; we are all part of the Divine Source, and to God we will return, and secondly, we are here to learn, to seek wisdom in order to grow. Beyond these two concepts a whole tapestry of varying beliefs arise. I liken it to a diamond with its many facets, yet all a part of the whole diamond. No one person, or subgroup of like believers has all the answers. And so far I haven’t run across anyone who believes they are right and everyone else is wrong. More often than not one may hear, “put it on a shelf for now and come back to it later.

We are all on a journey, a personal journey with God. We all have innate road maps, so to speak, we start at different places on the journey and our life experiences impact our beliefs. No two people are alike, so how can God speak to all in the exact same way? I have 3 children, all with the same biological parents. They share similar characteristics, and yet they are very different. Even my twins are different in their approach to life. I am close to each of them, and with each I have a unique relationship. One would assume God, being Creator of all mankind, would have unique relationships with each of us.

How can we all dialogue and learn from one another if we all believe the same thing? We are not clones or carbon copies of one another; we are unique creations sharing a created world. It would make sense unique creations would have unique understandings of God. Many I have spoken with over the years believe any belief system outside of fundamental Christianity is of “the devil”, perhaps overlooking the passage of scripture when Jesus is referred to as a heretic or blasphemer because He opposed the Pharisees. The Pharisees believed and taught the strict oral and written law of Moses, going so far as to refer to Jesus as a blasphemer and call for his execution. Why? Because Jesus challenged the accepted belief system. The Old Testament teaches the Jews are God’s chosen people, and yet Replacement Theology teaches Christians have replaced the Jews as God’s chosen people. This subset of fundamental Christianity has its adherents with just as many critics opposing their beliefs on the other side of the Christian fence.

New Age philosophy is opposed by Christianity for several reasons, many of which don’t even make sense. Reasons, like Yoga is evil, energy healing modalities are of the devil, and certainly the very vague assertion we don’t believe in God. I find the last one interesting because most I have talked with or listened to have active and intimate relationships with God that would put to shame many sitting in church pews every Sunday. Do many believe in reincarnation, medium-ship, and the Law of Attraction? Certainly, but not all believe or practice these, yet criticism is not heaped on those who do. The organized religious like to toss in their interpretation of the Spiritual philosophy likening it to belief systems and practices steeped in hatred, and the “anything goes” mindset, neither of which are true for believers in New Age philosophy. Any teaching or belief not based on love and radiating the purity of positive energy is no more accepted by New Age adherents than by the religious. We have not tossed out a moral code. No civilized society can exist without a definable moral code. Violations of the moral code experience the same outcome. The word choices are different, but the result the same; judgment from God in the religious corner, and Karma in the Spiritual corner.  

People will forever be flawed, motivations skewed, but by and large the overriding theme within New Age or Spiritual philosophy is loving all without judgment, tolerance for others and their level of spiritual maturity and knowledge, and belief in God as the purity of love.

I no longer believe the organized religious system of much of the “Christian” world, especially here in the West, is the only way to God. How can I? Within the world of organized religion so many different interpretations of the Bible and varying understandings of God exist, and none, so far, have come forth as the unequivocal, undeniable, final Word from God. Is Spiritual philosophy the final Word? Of course not. What I do believe is we are here to journey with the God of Love…..

The Soul Will Speak…..

“Quiet the mind and the soul will speak” Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati. A dear friend brought this to me one day to get my opinion for an art project she was planning. Ever since the quote has floated around in my brain. I love the profound simplicity of it, eight words strung together whispering the wisdom of the universe.

What is the soul? We like to think of ourselves as ‘having’ a soul, when in fact, we ‘are’ a soul currently living in a body. I believe C.S. Lewis said something to this effect. The reality is we are a soul; many use the term spirit interchangeably with soul. Our souls are eternal, they are the essence, or source of our being; soul is linked to the Divine Source, to God.  The physical body is very temporal, fragile, designed to house the soul for a time so that soul can learn from the experience of being human. From dust the body was created, and to dust it will return.

The mind is not the soul, so what is the mind? It’s difficult to separate the parts of our being because the parts are very interconnected; we are mind, body and spirit. For the sake of explanation, we can think of the mind as basically having 2 parts: the egoic mind and the functional mind. Some include the intellect as part of the mind separate from the egoic and functional minds basically categorizing the mind as both reactive and intellectual. From that perspective we are both reactive and intellectual, as well.

The egoic mind is our ego; the part of who we are that often takes center stage and prattles on endlessly, the prattling known as our “self-talk”, or thoughts, in other words. This side of ego is very self-centered; the negative, critical side of who we are. The ego chatter often acts as “Captain Obvious” stating what already is, or states opinion, and is oh, so judgmental toward most everything, including, and especially toward, self. Ego likes to control, is the voice of fear, usually unfounded fear, and the voice keeping us from stepping too far outside our comfort zone. Our ego can be God-centered, as well, and it all boils down to the emotion attached to each. Human emotion keeps us from rising to our fullest potential, but the other side of emotion we don’t often consider.

God-centered emotion transcends human emotion to seek the Divine and realize our connection, our oneness with God, or Divine Source. The God-centered side of ego is peaceful, quiet, full of wisdom, and patiently waits for us to decide self-centered ego needs to take a backseat and allow spirit to come forward. Since our purpose is to learn from the experience of being human, it would make sense listening is a huge part of the experience, and what are we to listen to? The world is built around catering to the self-centered ego. We would be a lot better off in the short and long run if we could duct tape the mouth of ego shut once in a while! Meditation and prayer is all about quieting the voice of the mind and listening to our soul, or spirit. It is through our spirit the voice of God will speak.

Divine Source, or God, is the purity of love, nothing more, nothing less. Love is all-inclusive. We need look no further for more to fill the cup of love than the purity of God. Within love there is mercy, compassion, forgiveness, acceptance, comfort, peace, guidance, security, wisdom, and patience; everything we need for every situation or circumstance in our lives. We are part of Divine Source, an extension of the One, interconnected with the Divine and one another. Because of these attributes I want to learn more, become more merciful, compassionate, and forgiving. I choose to seek higher wisdom and truth.

Organized religion lends positive and negative attributes to the Eternal God, two sides of the coin, as it were. God, the Father, embodies the fullness of love, but is also given to punishment, is harsh and moody at times, demanding, and seemingly inconsistent. Isn’t it interesting these are characteristics of man, as well? Approaching God with this mindset is to approach from the human side of emotion. We are concerned with pleasing God so as not to incur His wrath, accounting for each sin lest one be forgotten landing us in hot water with the Almighty. In other words, our approach is fear-based, focused on me and my behavior, and therefore steeped in human emotion. The more I study spiritual philosophy the more convinced I become man has created God in his image instead of the other way around. The Divine journey leads us to a higher level of understanding, a look at life from the bigger picture, but in order to do so our approach needs to be through divine emotion rather than human emotion. It is here, we find ourselves at a crossroads. Each of us decides how we will approach the Divine; through human or divine emotion. Our decision will decide and guide the journey.

Having spent the better part of my adult life approaching God with fear-based emotion, I decided to change course and approach from divine emotion, from the realization that God loves, understands the limits of my humanity, desires relationship with me more than I desire relationship with Him, and from there I was able to abandon all fear I will fail God and consequently be punished.  Looking back the mindset seems silly now, but oh how easy it is to fall into! We naturally operate from our human-centered emotion. It is only when we become aware there is another side to who we are, the spirit-self, when we have the opportunity to change our perspective, our beliefs, and seek to live from God-centered emotion. For me, in part, this means I no longer feel threatened by people or circumstances I have no control over. I have learned to be compassionate and loving toward self first which allows me to extend compassion and love toward others. Lofty words and ideas for sure; lest any get the wrong impression, I don’t wear flowing robes or flowers in my hair, nor do I prance and twirl through life! I am first and foremost real, don’t mince words with others, and some days I struggle to choose peace over emotional chaos. And, the truth is we are all a jumble of many faces, emotions, and reactions, are we not? No one, and I mean no one living on the earth lives entirely from the spirit because we are all on a journey of learning and becoming. Some are farther along than others, some just beginning their journey, and still others have yet to begin, and may never in this life. But the choice remains before us, nonetheless. If I want to hear the voice of wisdom, experience God, be enveloped and clothed in peace, and begin to see the potential residing within, I must quiet the mind, the ego chatter, for the voice of the soul intertwined with Divine Love whispers the wisdom of the universe…..

Everything I Need to Know…..

Back in the mid 1980’s, Robert Fulghum wrote a book entitled, All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten.  I remember reading it and thinking how profoundly simple and true it was. The book was a compilation of short essays and poems, the title of the book being the first poem. While developed nations like the United States, the Asian countries, and other world powers were jockeying for position in technological advances, education of its young people, and beating their collective chests, those playing in the sandbox were mining nuggets of wisdom without realizing their lifelong implications; kindergartners were fingerpainting, singing Eensy-Weensy Spider, learning about caterpillars and anticipating a butterfly emerging from its furry cocoon, or in the spring, a chick from an incubating egg. Our relationship with the world, it’s inhabitants, and the realization there is a greater power outside of ourselves begins as play and wonder.

Somewhere along the way to advancement, humankind took a detour and decided technology, science, and one-upmanship trumped civility. We could argue man has battled the need to be better than the next person, group, community, or country from the beginning of time, and I would agree, in part, except there always seemed to be a degree of civility to man’s overall behavior not present today. There were boundaries one did not cross, and did not need to be told not to cross. Most of us knew if we couldn’t speak a kind word to keep our mouths shut, not to steal, or destroy something belonging to another, or if we held differing opinions it needn’t lead to guns and bloodshed. The ills, flaws and frailties of man have always existed, we are seeing them in greater degree in the majority versus the minority now, it would seem.

Obviously, we cannot point to one thing, one moment in time when everything changed, or the worm turned, so to speak.  (Fun fact: “even the worm will turn” is a 16th century proverb meaning that the meekest and mildest of us will retaliate when pushed too far) People like to point the finger of blame at the Women’s Movement of the 70’s, wars, abortion, the gay population, Islam, or God taken out of the classroom as the moment the worm turned, but I assure you none of those things hardened man’s heart toward others. No, they are merely targets, focal points to distract from the reason our world seems to be circling the drain. For what it’s worth, I think communication, or more precisely, the lack thereof, is the root of most evil.

We as a society have forgotten how to communicate on a personal level, to listen with the heart, to feel empathy for others. Don’t get me wrong, I use electronic communication as much as the next person, preferring to text over talking on the phone, emailing instead of writing a letter, or walking down the hall to a co-worker’s office. I pay bills and shop online, keep in touch with my kids on the family Snapchat and with friends on Facebook, but the element of human interaction is absent. I grew up in a small town where the telephone service was still a party line, people talked over the back fence, left their doors unlocked at night, paid their bills in person, and met for coffee with friends at least weekly, if not daily. Families sat down together to share meals and discuss their daily trials and triumphs, and I certainly don’t consider those days idyllic by any means. Granted, everyone also knew everyone else’s business and talked about it freely, but even that had its upside. There wasn’t a feeling of isolation like many feel today in our world of instant communication. People’s schedules weren’t packed with activities and obligations, rushing from one thing to another in a frantic quest to accomplish or accumulate more than the next person.

When was the last time you had a deep conversation with another person, friend, or family member and left feeling understood, validated, or connected on an emotional and spiritual level? The majority of our conversations are superficial these days, we hit the high points, offer trite words and phrases hoping they are received as comfort or empathy, or exchange information much like one would after a fender bender when we share the requisite insurance information. We don’t connect on a heart level. And this is where kindergarten and the sandbox come into play.

Kindergarten used to be a time when learning was accomplished through play. We understood the work of learning came through role playing, taking turns, sharing, quietly listening to the teacher read a story, or playing games outdoors during recess. The reality is we learned the more important skills; cooperating with one another, working as a team, caring for others, taking responsibility, and exploring the magic of our world through the five senses. In other words, to communicate. We also took the time to nap everyday; a time to rest and recharge. We all eventually learned the 3 ‘r’s – readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmetic, some quicker than others, and most of us mastered some degree of technological proficiency.

I was fortunate, my kindergarten teacher was also my aunt. I’m certain in my childlike mind I thought I would have a distinct advantage over other kids, but I didn’t; I was treated no differently than anyone else in the class. I had to pay attention, wait my turn, share, and address her as “Miss (last name)”, same as the other kids. Her demeanor was always patient, kind, and accepting, and it is the same today. If any wronged another, she made sure we apologized, and she reinforced the manners most of us were learning at home. We practiced the basics of human kindness and behavior, products of communication. Today, preschools and schools are busy teaching computer science, math, and reading instead of basic human kindness and behavior, which doesn’t seem to be taught in homes either, so they end up getting lost on both ends. Metaphorically speaking, we have decided it’s more important to build the second story of the house before we put in the foundation and first floor.

It was during this time of playing and cooperating with one another we learned to communicate. The home environment taught us how to relate to our family, elders, the neighbors, and kindergarten broadened our environment to include peer groups, and adults we had never encountered before. Boundaries and expectations were also broadened. We learned them in the home, the majority of us did anyway, and we knew not to cross certain boundaries, and what was expected of us sometimes without having been told. Back in the day, many of us just got “the look” which communicated volumes.

Mankind was created to interact with others and communicate, to appreciate the wonder in the world, to understand there was a greater power outside of self, and to take time to rest. Whether we believe the Bible to be literal or allegorical, the point remains something occurred along the path between living from the spirit and living from the ego. We forget those things from time to time and so the Divine Source, or God, needs to remind us every now and again. Yeshua (Jesus) was and is one of our reminders. Yeshua interacted and communicated with others on a heart level, appreciated the creation, played, took the time to get away, rest and recharge. Kindergarten did that for us, too.

What does communication look like in your life? Is there time to connect with others on a heart level, to live in the moment and watch a butterfly emerge from its cocoon, to rest, or to play…..?