Friday, July 3, 2015

Divine Love

“If we were to take all the love in every heart of everyone on earth, and add it to all the love of all those who ever existed throughout history, then add the love of all saints in heaven, and all the angels, seraphim and cherubim, and pour all that love into one heart, and direct that love on ourselves, it would still fall infinitely short of the love God is pouring out on each of us right now.  Because God is infinite, his love is not divided, with each of us receiving but a portion.  We each receive the totality, the fullness of divine love, twenty-four hours a day, every day of our lives.”  Father Joseph Langford (no relation) said this and it’s a beautiful quote!

The word “love” has become such a cliché nowadays, but do we really know what the word means when it comes to all things spiritual?  There are many things I understand on a divine level, but I do not have the words to put them into human terminology, and the pure, unconditional, perfect love of God, the Universe, of life itself, is one of those words that is hard to explain.  That love is so much greater and grander than we could ever imagine! 

We knew that love before coming to earth, but when we came here to experience being human, we forgot.  We have a very slight remembrance of that all encompassing love, and we spend the rest of our lives searching for it trying to find it again.  But as humans, we never do quite grasp the magnitude of that love.  It’s like trying to remember a name; it’s on the tip of our tongue and we know we know it, but we can’t quite remember it.

Most people believe that love is outside ourselves and that we will find it in other people and in other things.  What we do not realize is that we ARE that love!  Once we come to this awareness when we know we have all that love within us, then we realize we no longer have to go searching for it outside ourselves and we can instead share that love with ALL people.  We do so by being kind, compassionate, and…well…loving.

Of course, there are still too many who have not come to this realization.  Too many people are in so much pain that they can’t see beyond the way they feel about themselves.  When we dislike, or even hate ourselves, we project that outwards to those around us.  People who are in that kind of pain will either take it out on others, themselves, or both in either words or actions.  Buddha said, “If you truly loved yourselves, you would never harm another.”

The media, with very rare exceptions, only propagates the negative and people hurting each other, so much so that we think this is the norm.  It is not!  There are so many good, kind, loving people all over the world who are out there spreading the love and take care of each other!  They come from all colors, races, religions, politics, cultures, genders, and on it goes!  The problem is that unless we look for those stories, we’re not going to hear about them in mainstream media and that’s sad.

Is it easy to love ourselves unconditionally?  Personally, as much as I try, I still can’t say that I do, at least not all the time.  I tend to be my own worst critic and I can tear myself down quicker than anyone else.  But I’ve felt glimpses of that all embracing love so I know what that love is like to aspire to, and when I let Spirit lead, it’s a bit easier.  It’s a process that we have to keep working towards, but it can be done!  We can’t listen to those who are trying to tear us down and keep us feeling less than because they do so with an ulterior motive to control us.

Oscar Wilde stated, “To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.”  The one person we spend our whole lifetime with is ourselves, so wouldn’t it make sense to become our own best friend, to love ourselves unconditionally, and to nurture and grow that most important relationship? 

Lucille Ball said, “Love yourself first and everything else falls into line.  You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world.”  She’s right.  We need to fill ourselves up with so much love that we can’t help but let it spill over to others!  With unconditional love for all living beings, we can move forward into a more magnificent and amazing world! 

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper July 3, 2015.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Show Me Your Love

“Don’t speak to me about your religion; first show it to me in how you treat other people.  Don’t tell me how much you love your God; show me in how much you love all his children.  Don’t preach to me your passion for your faith; teach me through your compassion for your neighbors.  In the end, I’m not as interested in what you have to tell or sell as I am in how you choose to live and give.”  This is one of my all-time favorite quotes spoken by Senator Cory Booker from New Jersey, whom I absolutely adore! 

I totally agree with his statement.  Living by example is such a greater influence and testimony than any words we could ever speak.  Have you ever heard someone say they stood for one thing, but then heard them speak words that completely contradict what they say they believe? We see this in a lot of churches in particular (not all).  We say God is Love, that Jesus taught kindness and compassion, and yet we hear too many words of hatred coming from the pulpits, books, and articles, and that’s sad.  I can just see Jesus looking at our world with a tear streaming down his cheek and saying, “What part of loving one another do you not understand?”

We’ve all heard about the recent horrific tragedy with the church shootings at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.  People from all over the world are sending their condolences to the family, friends, and church members.  Why is it that we have to have this kind of heartbreaking catastrophe to unite us and bring us together on a greater scale? 

This is one church that “gets it.”  Instead of reacting with violence, they held a service of healing, and it was reported that every Charleston church and over 100 more across the country rang their church bells at 10:00 a.m. on Sunday, June 21, to show solidarity. Not only that, over 20,000 people gathered Sunday night to join hands across the Ravenel Bridge for the Peace Unity event in support of those affected by the church shootings.  People from the community and all across the country came in the spirit of love and unity.

Rev. Dr. Norvel Goff, Sr., who led Sunday’s service, said that people were astonished that some of the relatives of the people killed had spoken “of forgiveness and didn’t have malice in their hearts” when speaking of the man who committed this atrocity.  People were expecting them instead to riot.  But Goff stated, "They just don't know us because we are a people of faith, and we believe that when we put our forces and our heads together working for a common good, there is nothing we cannot accomplish together in the name of Jesus."  This is a church whose foundation is unconditional love, the very things Jesus taught.  This is a church that is a great example as to how churches should be.

We’ve already been hearing church leaders, politicians, and media hosts ranting and making all kinds of speculations.  Some are saying this was a war on Christianity.  No, it is not, and it has been proven otherwise.  This crime was committed by a young man who was in so much pain that he was either going to take it out on others, himself, or both. 

Hate is taught.  It is taught in so many of our homes, and believe it or not, it is taught in so many of our churches.  Get on the Internet and you can find YouTube videos of ministers propagating the vitriol in their sermons.  We’re also hearing it from the media (hate-talk TV and hate-talk radio), as well as from many politicians.  When are we going to say ENOUGH!?!?!? 

Hate is taught, but so is love, and unconditional love is a much stronger force than any hate could ever be.  We have to plant the seeds of love in everyone around us, particularly our children, and it doesn’t have to be just our own children.  Hate and racism will never go away, but with enough love, we can lessen it with time.  We’re already doing it!  People who commit these ghastly crimes are actually teaching us to love and they are bringing people from all over the world together in peace and harmony!

Martin Luther King, Jr., stated, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”  Darkness is only the absence of light, and if enough of us join together in the collective consciousness of love, peace, compassion, and kindness, then we can embrace that darkness with our light and bring healing to our world.

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper June 26, 2015.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Paying It Forward

“Pay It Forward” was a movie released in 2000 about a twelve year old boy named Trevor who unknowingly started a huge movement by coming up with an idea for a school project that he called Pay It Forward.  The assignment the teacher gave his students was to come up with a plan that would change the world.  Trevor’s idea was that one person would do an act of kindness for three people and then each of those three people would do an act of kindness for three people and the acts of kindness would spread around the world.  Because Trevor didn’t see the immediate results of those kindnesses, he thinks that the plan was a failure.  What he didn’t know was that the movement was working and was having far reaching effects all across the country and people were making a difference just with their small acts of kindness.  Many of those acts ended up being bigger than people could ever know because lives were even saved.

It’s a beautiful movie and one I would highly recommend.  Before the movie was released, Catherine Ryan Hyde, the author of the 1999 novel, established the Pay It Forward Foundation.  According to their website, the Foundation was established “as a catalyst to inspire growth for the Pay It Forward philosophy, acts of kindness among strangers, generating a ripple effect from one person to the next, one community to the next.”  (payitforwardfoundation.org)

There was also a Pay It Forward Day established and the website claims that there were over three million people in seventy countries around the world participating in these celebrations in 2015.  The next Pay It Forward Day will be on April 28, 2016 and you can go to their website at payitforwardday.com to find out how you and your community can participate. 

It always warms my heart when I see people committing random acts of kindness, or even when people go out of their way to help others.  I see a lot of these stories on Facebook and many of them have caused me to bawl a river of tears because the stories were so heartwarming.  There are many stories where people have nothing and yet they are willing to give everything if it helps anyone in any way.  The problem is that so many of us get so busy in our own lives that we don’t think to reach out to others even in the smallest ways.

There are so many things we can do to commit random acts of kindness that won’t take more than a moment or two from our day.  Personally, I’ve made it a habit to look for ways to help people when I’m out and about.  It doesn’t cost me a thing, but the rewards are great.  It not only makes the other person feel good, but it makes me feel good and it lifts all of us up.

There are so many things we can do to make a difference in our own neighborhoods.  The other day, my dad’s mower stopped working and our neighbor lent us his one push mower and then came over with his riding mower and helped mow the lawn.  It may not have seemed like much to the neighbor, but it was a wonderful gesture to us. That’s being a good neighbor and we so appreciated his kindness!  And once in awhile, we see letters to the editor in the Herald Citizen newspaper where someone thanked Cookevillians who went out of their way to help complete strangers.

It really doesn’t take much to be kind.  Leo Buscaglia said, “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”  Barbara De Angelis stated, “Love and kindness are never wasted.  They always make a difference.  They bless the one who receives them, and the bless you, the giver.”  And Mother Teresa said, “Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier.  Be the living expression of God’s kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, and kindness in your smile.”

I love it when the Dalai Lama said, “My religion is very simple.  My religion is kindness.”  Can you imagine if all religions had kindness as their core philosophy?  Jesus and all the other great spiritual masters taught us to be of service to our fellow beings and to harm no one, but do we follow their teachings? 

Committing random acts of kindness is a great way to start.  Find ways to pay it forward.  Kindness is contagious, and personally, that’s one thing I don’t mind catching and spreading around. 

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper June 19, 2015.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Honoring Your Parents

“Honor Thy Father and Mother.” (Exodus 20:12)
 
This past week, we have been on a roller coaster ride with my mom’s health.  She spent four nights and five days in the hospital and is now in rehab to get her strength back.  When the ambulance took her in, we weren’t sure what was going on and it was a very frightening moment, as well as a few very stressful following days.  Fortunately, she’s on her way to recovery and is doing quite well.

My mom and dad celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary in March and are still going strong in their love and devotion to each other.  I love my parents so much that it sometimes hurts.  They’ve done so much for me and I will always be grateful.

My parents are good people.  They’re members of the First Baptist Church in Cookeville and they love their family and friends.  Dad has a beautiful voice and will sometimes sing in the choir. 

It’s hard seeing our parents get older and start to have their health issues.  I have friends who are going through similar experiences with their parents.  I’m very fortunate in that I am able to be here for mine, just as they were for me. 

Personally, I believe that we choose our parents before coming to earth, and we do so because we have lessons to be learned from them, as they have lessons to be learned from us.  Those lessons could be anything from the simple to the extreme.  There are good parents and bad parents, just as there are good children and bad children.  Our souls are here playing a role, and these are the actors we chose to perform with in this great stage play we call life.

No matter what my experiences were with my parents, one thing I’ve always done is to honor and respect them.  Okay, the teen years and a few other times may have been a bit rough on all of us, but we made it through.  My parents were ‘blessed’ with a free spirit for a daughter and I know it hasn’t always been easy on them, but we always loved each other regardless of the adventures we experienced. 

My parents set a great example for me in the way they honored their own parents.  I loved all my grandparents and great-grandparents dearly and we would visit them as often as we could.  As I grew older, I kept in constant touch with all of them.  Now that they’re all gone from this earth, I miss them terribly.  I keep thinking I should have loved them more, written and called them more, and visited more, but my inner Spirit reminds me that I loved them so much, did all I could to stay in touch, and that I was a good, loving granddaughter. 

Many cultures stress the importance of honoring their parents or even older people in general.  I read once where a Native American said they don’t call their seniors ‘old people,’ but instead call them ‘Elders’ and since then I’ve also always called them Elders.  The term ‘Elder’ is a title of respect. 

I totally understand that respect either way is difficult if not impossible when it comes to abuse or other life experiences that tear families apart.  I would never tell someone who was being abused by their parents that they have to honor and respect those very people who are harming them.  Respect, in part, is also earned.  Family relationships can be very complicated.  But when we do have good relationships with our parents, there is more we can do to respect and honor them. 

For many, children’s lives become so busy that keeping contact with parents takes a back seat to everything else.  Then one day our parent(s) is gone and we can’t go back to say and/or do the things we wish we would have said/done while they were alive.   Ask anyone who knows me…  I’m really big on telling my family and friends that I love them and appreciate them because I know that one day either they or I may no longer be here.  I want them to know my love for them while they’re alive and well. 

Life is short and we may not have the time we think we have to tell our parents and children that we love them.  Personally, I don’t want to live with those kinds of regrets.  Do you?

Mom and Dad….   I love you dearly and appreciate you both so much!  Thank you for all you’ve done for me and for being my parents!


Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper June 12, 2015.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Empowering Your Inner Magnificence

As an inspirational speaker, I would have to say that my favorite talk is “Empowering Our Inner Magnificence.”  One of my biggest passions is teaching people to love and embrace themselves unconditionally.  Too many of us don’t feel love towards ourselves; in fact, many people outright dislike or even hate themselves.

Many years ago a dear friend of mine, J.D. Hart, did a car commercial.  At the end he exclaimed “Harness Your Inner Awesomeness!”  I loved it and soon after developed a talk and workshop around it.  Later as I got to thinking about it, I decided to strengthen those words to something even greater, so I changed the title to “Empowering Our Inner Magnificence.”

Personally, I believe that when we are born, we are born as pure, unconditional, perfect love. We come into this world knowing our magnificence.  In fact, most of us come in screaming, “I’M HERRRRE!”  Or if you believe in reincarnation, we come in screaming, “I’M BAAAAACK!”

Then as we start to grow, the adults begin teaching us how to be human, and being human may include having low-esteem, low-self-worth, and feeling less than. We grow up knowing that something isn’t quite right because there is a slight remembrance of who we were before we came to the earth plane, but we can’t quite put our finger on it, so we spend a lifetime searching for it once again.

So much of what we learn in life is taught to us by others, and most of that is based upon what was taught to them.  When it comes to our parents or caretakers, what most people don’t realize is that they come into their relationships with each other and their children with their own ‘baggage’ from their pasts, and then that ‘baggage’ may get passed down to their children and so on.  That is until someone becomes aware that they can break the chain.  We learn that we can think for ourselves and that we can change.  We also learn that we can no longer blame our parents / caretakers for they were only doing the best they could with what they knew at the time, and if they could have done better, they would have.  That does not mean they weren’t responsible or that they shouldn’t be held accountable when doing great harm.  We can also add what we learn from society, our education, peers, and so on.

What I learned is that it really is about changing our thinking to positive and loving thoughts, learning who we really are, and that it really is all about loving one another as well as loving ourselves.  Jesus came here to teach us to be the greatest expressions of who we were meant to be!  He didn’t tell us that we were less than!  He even told us we could do the same things he did and do even more!

We say God is Love, but then many make him into a mean old man who is angry and out to get us.  Personally, I believe God is only pure, unconditional, perfect love, and only knows unconditional love for us!  God / Life / the Universe celebrates us!  There is no judgment or condemnation!  What kind of God of Love would judge or condemn?

During my talk, one of the interactive exercises I do is to have several people leave the congregation for a minute.  While they’re out, I tell the congregation that as soon as they come back in to wildly applaud them and tell them they’re loved, hug them, etc., and we do this for a minute or two.  THIS is how God celebrates you!  This is how Life celebrates you!  This is how Love celebrates you!  It only loves and celebrates you!!!

The next thing I do is to tell everyone that I had found a beautiful picture of God that I wanted to show them.  I uncover the frame and turn the picture around so that everyone can see this beautiful picture of God and what they see is their reflection in a mirror.  I then say, “If you want to see God’s face, look in the mirror.”  The Bible says that we were made in God’s image so when we look in a mirror, we are seeing that very image, and it is beautiful!

As Dr. Michael Bernard Beckwith said, “When you see that you are the beloved of the universe, then all of the energy that you have been using to convince the external world of who you are will now be yours to use for the beauty of simply being yourself just as you are.”  And you are wonderful and magnificent!

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper June 5, 2015.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Keeping Your Members Safe

Imagine you’re sitting at church and all of a sudden you have an emergency situation requiring some form of emergency action. Would your church know what to do to save lives? Does your church even have some type of emergency plan in place? Do you have designated members appointed who would know what to do and could take charge in any emergency that may arise?

You’d be surprised how many churches do not.  Many think that the chances of something happening at their church, particularly when services are in session, are extremely rare. But it only takes one time for people to be seriously injured and/or killed. I don’t think any church wants to have that on their conscience.

It is critical to have an Emergency Operations Plan (EOP) in place regardless of what you think the chances are of having an emergency situation actually occur. The time you take to put one in force will be well worth the effort if an emergency should happen.

The first thing you can do is to get a copy of the state or local risk assessment from your local emergency management agency. This assessment would contain information of potential threats and hazards in your community that could also affect churches. Depending on the part of the country you live in, you could be susceptible to fires, tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, violence, and so on.

There isn’t room in this article to go over every single detail, but I would like to give some basics, and will also note a very good resource at the end to help you put together an effective EOP.

1. OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) requires the posting of building evacuation plans, fire evacuation maps, and emergency exit signs above all doors in order to meet the building code requirements.

2.  Make sure that you have sufficient fire extinguishers and have numerous people trained to use them. They should be hung in easy access areas.

3.   Have a detailed evacuation plan in case you need to evacuate everyone from the building. All exits should be clear at all times; all doors should open outwards.

4.   Appoint a safety team of members who attend regularly and train them how to get people out as quickly and as safely as possible. Appoint “Buddies” who are those that will help the disabled and elderly.

5.    You should have a safe area in the event of a tornado. Check with your town’s fire department to verify what the siren means. Some set them off for severe thunderstorm warnings and/or because an actual tornado has been sighted in the area. In the event of a tornado, do not stay in the open sanctuary or any open room. Get people into the smallest areas, away from doors, windows, and as close to structured walls as possible.

6.  In the event of a fire or even a hint of a fire, evacuate everyone to a safe area away from the church. Immediately call 911. Keep everyone together. Do not move cars unless you need to make room for emergency vehicles.

7.  Churches should be equipped with emergency lights that come on in the event the electricity should go out.

8.   In the event of any evacuation, your EOP team should quickly “sweep” all rooms to make sure everyone has gone to the designated areas. Call out so people can hear you. Make sure that everyone is accounted for.

9.   A team should be trained for first aid. You might want to look into getting an automated external defibrillator. Some organizations will donate to churches if they have a certain number of members. Have a good-sized first aid kit easily accessible.

10. The toughest one is if someone comes into your church with a gun. This is when you apply the Run/Hide/Fight rules. (See link below.)

11. Supply your local fire and police departments with a reliable contact name and phone number with a backup. You can also give them your building schematics which they will keep on file.

Obviously, there are many more details one should consider in developing your EOP. I found a very good source of information on the Whitehouse.gov site that will give you an excellent starting point:  www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/developing_eops_for_houses_of_worship_final.pdf

When it comes to church safety, the saying “it’s better to be safe than sorry” is a very good motto to keep in mind. Don’t wait. Lives could depend on it.

Published in the Unity Leaders Magazine, Winter 2014 issue, pgs 29 & 30. https://www.unityworldwideministries.org/unity-leaders-magazine-winter-2014


Addendum:  The picture of the tornado was taken in Cookeville, TN during the March 2, 2012 severe storm that hit areas in surrounding Cookeville pretty hard.  This picture is taken from Algood looking towards Cookeville on 10th Street.  Near/under this tornado were two churches and a college.


Friday, May 29, 2015

The Spiritual Path

Many of us who are on a serious spiritual path are students of life.  We love to learn and search for that perfect enlightened wisdom that will put us on the path of being even more spiritual.  But that’s where we are misled.  We somehow feel that if we read more, take more classes, meditate for longer periods, etc., that these will put us on a faster course to enlightenment.  In reality, we are already on our spiritual path.  Whatever it is we are experiencing in the here and now is the spiritual path we are meant to be on.  It is in this very present moment.

We sometimes tend to make the mistake that many if not most of our answers are ‘out there’ and that we need to learn through someone or something else.  Because we are taught from birth that we have to get our knowledge and wisdom from others, we don’t know that we can go within and listen to that still small voice that speaks with only unconditional love.  Jesus stated repeatedly that the Kingdom of Heaven is within us.

Jim Palmer in his book “Notes from (Over) the Edge” stated, “The truth is that there is no act more sacred than being present in the moment and simply responding to the situation as it requires.  If this is all you did all day, this would be a profound spiritual life.  Your life is your spiritual path.  Your life, the way it is right now with everything that is in it, is your reason and purpose for being here.  There is nothing to insert into your life to make it more spiritual.  God is inseparable from every moment of life and living.”

We know that living a spiritual life means living with love, peace, compassion, kindness, and caring for our fellow beings.  We don’t have to pursue these things; we can be these things!  If we want to be a testimony to our faith and what we believe, we can be the love, peace, compassion, and so on.  There is no greater demonstration than by living by example!  Because we are secure in what we believe, we also know that we don’t have to force our beliefs on anyone else.

The other issue we run into is that we are constantly judging everything in our lives as good or bad.  We have this idea of how we think things should be so we miss the very message the situation or experience is bringing us.  What is good for one person may be bad for another and vice versa.  Therefore, it is only our perception or the way we see things that colors our experiences as good or bad.  Life just is.  The secret is in finding the good in everyone and everything.  I’m not saying it’s easy.  I know when I look for the good in everything, I can usually find it no matter how big or small.
  
The other thing is that there are other people who will try to tell you that they have all the answers and that you have to accept their answers for yourself or believe the way they do.  When we are constantly relying on others to tell us what to believe based on what they believe, we miss out on so much more that the Universe would have for us to learn.  That’s not to say that what others tell you or what they believe is wrong.  There is so much we can learn from others.  A good teacher will allow you to find your own beliefs and not condemn you because you may come to a different conclusion. 

We can still walk a personal spiritual path and continue to belong to various religions or churches.  Your personal spiritual journey does not mean you have to give these up or abandon any beliefs you may already have.  It’s more of an awakening of consciousness and discovering your inner divine magnificence that has nothing to do with anyone else.  The Bible says that we were ALL made in the image of God (or the God of your understanding), which means we ALL have that divine essence that is in everyone and everything.

We can all go directly to the Source of the All-That-Is without relying on others to do it for us. It’s also okay to ask questions and search for our own answers.  As Ram Dass said, “The spiritual journey is individual, highly personal.  It can’t be organized or regulated.  It isn’t true that everyone should follow one path.  Listen to your own truth.” 


Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper May 29, 2015.