Saturday, September 24, 2016

Appreciation For Those Who Serve

There are many people in various professions who are under-paid and under-appreciated, and I would just like to express my sincere gratitude to all the wonderful men and women who work in these careers, not for fame and fortune, but because they love being of service and love their jobs.

I’d like to make it clear that there are good and bad people in all occupations, but there are so many more good than not.  The problem is that we just don’t hear about them, especially in the media.  The majority of the media loves to broadcast mostly the negative to the point that they almost glorify and make celebrities out of those who make really horrible choices in their lives.  We rarely, if ever, hear about those who are making a huge difference in the lives of humanity.  Yet each of us can acknowledge and reward those who are making a magnificent difference, not only in the lives of others, but in our own lives as well.

The profession I would first like to recognize is teachers.  When I first started working as a substitute teacher in the schools, I had an awakening to what exactly teachers face in today’s day and age.  It made me appreciate teachers that much more because of what they are trying to do for our children.  Most all teachers are very hard working, and they not only care about your children’s education, but they love and care about your children as well.  Contrary to the way they’re portrayed, they do not just work the hours of eight to three and have all this time off.  Most teachers come in early and stay late, they take work home with them in the evenings and on weekends, they work during their time off, and most even work on their vacations.  Your children spend at least seven or eight hours a day with these wonderful men and women and yet many take them for granted. 

Another profession is law enforcement officers.  These brave men and women literally put their lives on the line every time they go to work never knowing if they will make it home to their families that evening.  They face some of the most volatile situations and sometimes they have to see horrible and gruesome scenes that no one should have to see.  When responding to a call, they never know what they’re going to face.  When it comes to their safety or the safety of others, they literally have a split second to decide if someone is going to pull a gun on them knowing that they could be taking someone’s life whether there’s a gun involved or not.  The media focuses on the ‘bad’ cops with regard to shootings, but no one mentions how many times officers are shot at and how many are injured or killed. 

Next come firefighters, EMT’s, and other first responders.  These are also brave men and women who never know what they’re going to face or whether they’ll make it home at the end of the day.  They save homes, people, animals, and property at the risk of their own lives.  Many volunteer their services and are not paid with an income or benefits.  They also have to see some of the most horrific scenes that no one should ever have to see. 

Our military personnel also deserve a special mention (including the National Guard).  I don’t support war, and it should always be an absolute last resort, but I will totally stand up for our military personnel.  They go into situations, mostly in other countries, where they know they will be killing countless lives, even though society says it’s justified.  They also put their lives on the line to save others, never knowing if they themselves will be alive at the end of the day.  They, too, see things no one should ever see.  Many come back home and are treated horribly, especially when it comes to taking care of their physical and mental health because of the war.

There are many, many others, and you can add your own to this list.  To these brave men and women, I would like to say thank you, I love you, and I appreciate you.  Your service to humanity is not in vain.  You’ve touched and even saved countless lives, and you’ve made a tremendous difference in our world. 

So the next time you see any of these amazing people, please take the time to thank them.  Send them notes of gratitude and gifts from your heart, and let them know that their service and their lives do matter.

“Appreciation is a wonderful thing.  It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.”  Voltaire 

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper September 23, 2016.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Everyone Has a Story!

The other day I was in a store and the clerk mentioned to me and another woman that earlier a mother had come in with a child and he was causing a ruckus by crying and whatever else he was doing. In situations like this, I’ve heard many people say that all the parent(s) needs to do is spank or beat the kid(s). Before they could really say anything, I said that we never know what the whole story is.  The child could be autistic, the mother could be having a really bad day because she found out she has an illness, maybe someone died, or it could be any other number of reasons that we weren’t seeing.  And maybe in spite of whatever she’s experiencing, she still had to get some things from the store and didn’t have any other choice but to take her child with her.

Consequently, rather than us going into a state of judgment talking about how awful this child was or how terrible it was that the mother wasn’t keeping her child under control, we took the high road and chose instead to have compassion for her and the child. 

We’ve all been there either with our own children or witnessing other parents having a hard time keeping their children under control or trying to keep them from crying in public.   It’s interesting how many people immediately rush to judgment and think that using violence on the child is the only answer.  Sure, maybe the child(ren) just wants what s/he wants when s/he wants it and the parent said no causing a temper tantrum.  Some parents will immediately stop what they’re doing and leave the store.  Others can’t as they have to finish their shopping before they can leave. 

Instead of jumping to conclusions about what is actually occurring, how about if we show compassion and ask the mom (or dad) if there’s anything we can do to help.  Ask with love and kindness in our hearts.  “I see you’re having a moment.  Is there is anything I can do to help you?”  Maybe we can distract the child by talking to him/her.  There are any number of things we can try before realizing that the only solution is for the parent to get out of the store with any reasonable sanity left.  But we don’t need to judge.

Recently, I saw a great story on Facebook from a “Love What Matters” site about a man who took the high road to help a woman and child on a flight.  Someone witnessed this beautiful man’s compassion and wrote, “On a flight back to Georgia, this man, who was a stranger to this woman, offered to help her because she was pregnant and alone on the flight, and her son was upset and fussy.  He told her that he was a dad and wanted to help her so she could rest. He walked the aisle most of the flight from Minneapolis to Atlanta comforting this woman's son as if he was his own.  I was in tears...not because he was white and she was black...but because it showed me today that there are still good people out there in a world full of turmoil.”

Sure, sometimes your offer of kindness may be met with ‘no thank you,’ or you may even get a nasty response, but it’s what’s in your heart that counts.  If you do get a nasty response, please don’t respond with a nasty reply.  They may just be beyond frustrated and it has nothing to do with you.  You practiced the teachings of Jesus and all the other great Spiritual Masters when you put love and compassion first. 

It’s so easy to sit in judgment of others for whatever reasons, but we have got to realize that everyone has a story.  We don’t know what anyone is going through.  I would highly recommend Googling “Everyone Has a Story” and watch some of the videos.  After watching them, you may find yourself being less judgmental and having a little more compassion for others.

Since we don’t know what others are going through, we can help lighten whatever load they may be carrying with little acts of kindness.  A smile, a hug, or a sincere compliment can go a long way.  Treat people the way you would want to be treated, especially when you’re experiencing any kind of darkness.   It’s called the Golden Rule and it’s in most all religions.

The Bible says, “…clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.  And over all these virtues, put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”  (Colossians 3:12/14)

And Steve Maroboli stated, “A kind gesture can reach a wound that only compassion can heal.” 

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen September 16, 2016.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Rise of the Nones

Recently, I was researching why so many people are leaving the church, turning their backs on God, and not wanting to have anything to do with religion(s), particularly when it comes to Christianity. There are countless articles written on the subject, but what I found was that there are no easy answers.

It also appears there is a new ‘religion’ out there called the Nones and they are on the rise.   The Nones consist of Atheists, Agnostics, those who don’t go to church, those not affiliated with a religion, those who claim to be spiritual rather than religious, and many others.

According to a National Geographic article, the Nones are considered the second largest ‘religious’ group in North America and a good part of Europe.  In North America, they consist of almost a quarter of the population. 

An article in the American Catholic Review magazine stated that about 70% of Nones say they believe in God, a higher power, or a life force in some form.  It also stated that of these, Jesus was still a meaningful spiritual figure because of his healings, how he embraced the social outcasts, and he was critical of religious hypocrisy.  He was also a great moral and spiritual example. stated that 78% of the Nones were raised in highly religious families.  Statistics show that when parents work hard to indoctrinate their children with their religious beliefs, then the chances are good that the child(ren) will later leave the religion or totally hate it.  Some of the reasons were logic, common sense, or lack of evidence.  They also cited religious scandals, sexual abuse, religious politics, religious extremism, and so on.  Some claimed they were seeking a spiritual path of enlightenment and believed in being open-minded, and this segment is also on the rise. 

As an Interfaith Minister, I’ve spoken with many people who don’t go to church and/or don’t believe in God.  Some have said that they tried going to church, but were not made to feel welcome because of the way they looked, their lifestyle, they were judged and ostracized, and some were even kicked out the front door.  I’ve personally witnessed some of these examples in various churches.

I believe a huge reason many are turning away is because of the hypocrisy they see and hear from so many religious leaders and their churches.  They hear the messages of outright hatred towards those who do not believe the way they do.  They also see how so many are trying to force their religion onto others, how they’re trying to make laws based on their religion, how they want only their religion, and how much their words and actions are hurting people.  They see church leaders of various religions committing crimes, ripping their congregants off financially, saying they’re happy when certain segments of society are hurt or killed, and they hear them incite so much violence.  They know this is not the way Jesus and the other great spiritual masters would have wanted it, and they know in their hearts that this isn’t the way it’s supposed to be!  They know the spiritual masters taught messages of unconditional love, kindness, compassion, peace, harmony, and oneness. 

Of course, there are many religions (including denominations, etc.) who are exceptions and who do teach and practice what their spiritual masters taught, but they’re not always easy to find.  Fortunately, I’ve been to several, including several right here in Cookeville.  They consist of loving groups of people, they welcome anyone into their community, and the newcomers will be loved just the way they are. 

The best influence when it comes to religion is to lead by example rather than trying to force a religion on anyone.  Those who are secure in their beliefs have absolutely no desire to force those beliefs on anyone.  They know that unconditional love, kindness, and compassion they show towards others are their greatest testimonies. 

John Shelby Spong said, “God is not a Christian, God is not a Jew, or a Muslim, or a Hindu, or a Buddhist. All of those are human systems which human beings have created to try to help us walk into the mystery of God. I honor my tradition, I walk through my tradition, but I don't think my tradition defines God, I think it only points me to God.” 

If you want your religion and/or church to grow, lead by example and lead with unconditional love.  More people are influenced by the example you set and when they know they are loved and accepted just as they are.  It is said that God is love; therefore, love should be the greatest example.  As Deepak Chopra said, “If love is universal, no one can be left out.”

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper September 9, 2016.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

The Man at the Flea Market

It was a beautiful, crisp fall morning and I thought I’d take the opportunity to visit the country flea market so see what treasures I might be able to find.  When I got there, it seemed like hundreds of others had the same idea as there were people everywhere.  I wasn’t in a hurry so I started down one row and took my time looking at all the interesting items on display.

I wasn’t there long before I heard a voice behind me say, “Good morning, Karen!  It’s a magnificent day out today!”  I know I recognized that voice, and when I turned, sure enough, there he was.

“Jesus!  I sure wish you would give me some kind of warning when you come to visit me!” Jesus only grinned as if he found it amusing to see my reactions every time I saw him.  This time, he was dressed in blue jeans, black t-shirt, his beard was trimmed, and he had his hair back in a pony tail.  “Are you going for a new look, Jesus?  I haven’t seen you look so modern before!”

“Karen, we’re in the middle of hundreds of people.  How do you think they’d react if I appeared as I did in Biblical times or as I appeared to you the last couple of times we met?”   He made a good point. 

“Do you always change your appearance depending on who you appear to?” 

Jesus paused before answering.  “Most people believe I look like the artist’s depiction of me that is so popular…fair skinned and sandy brown hair.  My mother is depicted as having fair skin and always wearing a scarf over her head.  And yet Mother and I are both Middle Eastern Jews and neither of us spoke English.  Also, pictures of God always show him as a man with long white hair and beard up in the sky somewhere.  But to answer your question, I appear to people the way they believe me to be.”

“My beloved, people need to remember that no one really knows what we look like.  They only have their beliefs of what we look like.  Therefore, I tend to show myself to coincide with what people believe.  But I also appear in so many other forms.  I appear as homeless people looking for change or food, as the sick and dying who can’t get medical help, the lonely elders whom people tend to forget, the hungry people all over the world who never know where their next meal may come from.  I appear as Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists…as Caucasians, blacks, Mexicans, Asians, Native Americans…gays, transgenders…and everyone else you can think of.  I appear in all forms no matter who they are, what they look like, or what they believe.”

I understood what he was saying.  “Yeah, I seem to remember a Bible verse that says, ‘…whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

“Yes, Karen, but there are no ‘least of these.’  You are all equal in the eyes of the Creator and you are all loved equally as well.”

Frustrated, I replied, “If that’s so, then why can’t everyone believe that?  If they did, then maybe we could all get along and there would be peace in the world!” 

“That’s because you have too many people worshipping their religions or the leaders of their churches rather than following the teachings of their Spiritual Masters, which is always based in pure, unconditional, perfect love.  Some people believe man’s interpretations rather than going within and seeking their answers. Even your scriptures have quoted me as saying ‘the Kingdom of Heaven is within.’  When people let their hearts lead from love, then they will find the answers they seek.

Contemplating what Jesus just said, I continued, “Jesus, is it true that we will know your disciples by the love they have for one another?” 

“Yes, very much so.  And you can replace my name with any other Spiritual Master as well for all other religions.  Humans speak so much about love, but not many really practice it.  Love has been the foundation of our teachings since the beginning of time, and yet, for whatever reasons, some people still aren’t getting it.”

I knew he’d be disappearing on me soon since he always comes and go in the blink of an eye, so I had to ask one more question.  “Jesus, do you think we’ll ever know world peace?”

Jesus smiled and replied, “When everyone finds the love and peace within, then you will have absolute peace in the world.”  I turned for just a second and when I turned around, he was gone.  He did it to me again! 

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper September 2, 2016.

Friday, August 26, 2016

The Images of 'God'

Two of my favorite spiritual movies are “Bruce Almighty” and “Evan Almighty.”  I love message movies, especially when they are spiritual in nature.

In the first movie, Bruce Nolan (Jim Carrey) is a TV reporter who wants to become a news anchorman, except it seems like bad things keep happening to him and he can’t catch a break.   He then takes out his frustrations on God (Morgan Freeman), and blames him for everything that’s been happening to him.  To teach Bruce a lesson that God really does know what he’s doing, he offers Bruce his job, which Bruce joyfully accepts.  But Bruce finds out just how hard that job is and he causes chaos everywhere. He again goes to God to find out what to do and God told him that there’s always a way to make things right.  From there, Bruce started spreading random acts of kindness.  Eventually, Bruce asks God to take his powers back, he then finds pleasure in his job and the little things in life, and…oh, yeah…he gets the girl.

“Evan Almighty” is a sequel that continues with Evan Baxter (Steve Carell), who had gotten the news anchor job that Bruce wanted.  Evan is later elected to Congress and declares that he will change the world.  He prays to God (Morgan Freeman) to allow him this opportunity to make a difference.  His wife also prays that they, along with their three sons, would become closer as a family.   Almost immediately, strange things began to happen such as gopher wood being delivered to his house, his hair and beard keeps growing really long, and pairs of animals start following him for no reason.  He soon learns that he is to build an Ark as there was a huge flood coming.  If people ask, he was to tell them what he was doing, and of course, everyone thought he was nuts.  As soon as the Ark was built, a dam broke causing the valley to flood, but the people and animals were able to get on the Ark in time.  Evan saves the town’s community, exposes corruption, and becomes closer to his family.

If you haven’t seen these movies, I would highly recommend doing so.  Of course, there’s a lot more to these stories, but I think they will touch your hearts as they did mine.  They teach us much about our beliefs and our faith.  Since I saw these movies, Morgan Freeman has become my favorite ‘God.’  Whenever I picture God in human form, I see him as Mr. Freeman.  Freeman’s God was kind, compassionate, and loving, which is what I believe God to be.

We all have our own beliefs about whom or what God is.  Some believe he’s an old man sitting high in the sky, and most believe he’s out there somewhere.  Then there are those who believe God is genderless, is a spirit or energy that is in everyone and everything, and we find God within.  Personally, I believe the latter.  The Bible says that we were made in God’s image, but it does not say what that image is.  In order for we humans to relate to this deity, most have made God into a human being with man’s characteristics, emotions, and so on.  But do we really know?  Does it really matter?  When it comes down to it, we all only have our experiences of God (the God of our understanding).

Then there are those who believe that only a particular religion has the one and true God.  Can’t God be big enough to be in all religions?  I totally believe this to be so.

I love how Frank Sinatra describes God in his song, “That's What God Looks Like to Me.”  “One day as I walked with my son hand in hand, he said, there are things that I don't understand.  How high is the sky? What makes it so blue? And tell me, dad, what does God look like to you?  I said He looks like a rainbow, just after the rain.  He's as golden as wheat dancing over the plain. He looks like the star when the night's crystal clear.  He looks like a baby when mother is near. His face is the moonlight reflected on snow.  His hair like a garden where all flowers grow.  His heavenly eyes are as blue as the sea.  My son, that's what God really looks like. His heart's like a mountain so vast and so strong.  That's why all his children have room to belong.  His smile is the morning we waken to see.  But you, my son, you are what God really looks like to me.”

Or as I like to say, “If you want to see God’s face, look in the mirror.”  

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen August 26, 2016.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

World Peace

“I contribute to a world of peace through the power of my word.  As individuals, we can each foster peace in our world.  I can do something right now to contribute to greater peace:  I can, through the power of my spoken word, extend a blessing to everyone in my awareness, even those I may consider my ‘enemy.’  The act of blessing creates positive energy that dissolves negative thoughts and feelings.  The blessing ripples out as a vibration of healing love to my community and the world.  My words not only create my life, they can also create peace – both within me and within others.  Therefore, I imbue my words with loving intention and share blessings that inspire and encourage others.  In this way, I help bring harmony to each interaction and peace to the world.”  (Printed from “The Daily Word,” a Unity Publication.)

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.  O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.”  (The “Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi,” also known as the “Peace Prayer” or “Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace.”  The prayer is attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, but in reality, no one knows who actually authored this beautiful poem.)

“Let there be peace on Earth and let it begin with me.  Let there be peace on earth, the peace that was meant to be.  With God as Creator, family all are we.  Let us walk with each other, in perfect harmony.  Let peace begin with me; let this be the moment now.  With every step I take, let this be my solemn vow…to take each moment and live each moment in peace eternally.  Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me!”  (Original lyrics by Sy Miller and Jill Jackson; the above is the Unity version.)

And then, of course, there is the song by the legendary John Lennon that says, “All we are saying, is give peace a chance.”  (“Give Peace a Chance.”)

We’re pretty good about praying for peace and writing poems and songs about peace, but when it comes to actually striving for peace, we still have a lot of work to do.  And yet, there are billions of people all over the planet who are doing so many good things to try to bring peace to the world!  We just don’t hear about them!  I wish we did because it would continue to give people a lot more hope!

The idea of world peace seems so overwhelming, but I truly believe that one day, we will achieve it if we can just keep focusing on that goal!  How can we contribute to manifesting world peace?  We start by finding peace within ourselves.  The Dalai Lama said, “World peace must develop from inner peace. Peace is not just mere absence of violence. Peace is, I think, the manifestation of human compassion.”

Peace Pilgrim stated, “The way of peace is the way of love. Love is the greatest power on earth. It conquers all things.”  She also said, “This is the way of peace: Overcome evil with good, falsehood with truth, and hatred with love.” 

You would think that with all the religions in the world that there would be world peace by now, and yet most of our religions are what’s keeping us separated!  Religions should be coming together and leading the way to world peace!  We should be practicing what Jesus and all our other great Spiritual Masters taught us, which is to love one another as well as ourselves, to have compassion, and to care for our fellow beings on this beautiful planet we call Mother Earth!  Don’t know where to begin?  We can begin by taking to heart the words of the writings, poem, and lyrics above.  Start with yourself and then spread the love, one person at a time.  As Gandhi said, we need to be the change we wish to see in the world.  It begins with each of us individually and if enough of us join the collective consciousness of world peace, we might just actually achieve it!

“You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. I hope someday you'll join us. And the world will live as one.”   John Lennon 

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper August 19, 2016.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Symptoms of a Spiritual Awakening

We have been on the verge of a grand spiritual awakening for many years now, and as we move into the future, it seems like the awakening is happening at a faster and faster pace.  You can find countless articles on the Internet written by various authors who add their own beliefs and views on this particular topic.  Many of the symptoms may be considered ‘standard’ for everyone, but everyone experiences these standards in different ways. 

I found one posting on Facebook that listed twelve of the many symptoms people may experience on their path to spiritual awakening, and I discovered that I and many others have become personally familiar with them.  I can only share my own experiences as I go through each of these symptoms, and I’d like to express them with you here.

The first is an increased tendency to let things happen rather than make them happen.  One thing I’ve learned is that we cannot always control what happens to us and trying to do so only makes us suffer.  What I try to do is to release my attachments to the outcomes, and just go with the flow.

Frequent attacks of smiling.  I’ve always been a chronic smiler all my life.  When we learn the ‘secrets’ of the Universe and how things work, we learn not to take life so seriously; therefore, we have more to smile about.  Besides, smiling feels good, makes others feel good, and it does marvelous things to our bodies and brains.

Feelings of being connected with others and nature.  When we learn our connection to everyone and everything in the Universe, we feel a Divine connection with people, animals, nature, and all of life.  We know that we’re all one with each other and that we all have the Divine within us.

Frequent overwhelming episodes of appreciation.  Being grateful for everything we have and for life itself causes us to have even more feelings of appreciation.  We count our blessings and look for the good in everyone and everything. 

A tendency to think and act spontaneously rather than from fears based on past experience.  We learn that fear is an illusion and we learn to live more in the moment.  If we think about things that happened in the past that involved fear, then it’s so easy to let that same fear consume us in the present moment, and it may keep us from accomplishing our desires and dreams.

An unmistakable ability to enjoy each moment.  We find the little things to enjoy in life, and all those little things add up to bigger and bigger things.  Life is meant to be enjoyed.

A loss of ability to worry.  For the most part, I’m not a worrier, though I do have my moments.  What’s going to happen is going to happen and all the worrying in the world isn’t going to change a thing.  I try to think positive and to be optimistic.  If we can live in the moment without thoughts of the past or future, then there’s usually no need to worry.

A loss of interest in conflict.  Conflict is usually a disagreement in beliefs.  I don’t like conflict and have no interest in participating in it.

A loss of interest in interpreting the actions of others.  We never know what another is going through or why they’re making the decisions they are making.  Everyone has a story.

A loss of interest in judging others.  Whenever I start to judge someone, Spirit gives me a loving, spiritual smack on the back of the head and reminds me that it’s not my job to judge. 

A loss of interest in judging self.   It’s a little harder not to judge ourselves.  I can be pretty hard on myself as I tend to be a perfectionist.  We need to learn to love ourselves even when we make mistakes or don’t live up to our expectations of the way we think we should be.
Gaining the ability to love without expecting anything in return.  When we can go through all the above, we then realize it really is all about the love, not only for others, but for ourselves!  We give our love unconditionally without wanting anything in return.

We are all evolving and growing in this magnificent thing we call life!  Like a caterpillar in a cocoon, many of us are beginning to emerge into the magnificent butterflies we were meant to be, and everyone grows and transforms at their own pace.  When we open our hearts and minds to all that is possible, we will be amazed at what life has in store for us!

“Your own Self-Realization is the greatest service you can render the world.” Ramana Maharshi  

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper August 12, 2016.