Friday, April 4, 2014

The Holy High Road

Recently, Fred Phelps, minister of the Westwood Baptist Church, passed away.  Feelings have been mixed.  Many are celebrating his death saying it’s good that he died.  Yet others are taking the high road and are sending love and condolences towards the family. 

For those of you who have not heard of the Westwood Baptist Church, they are a church consisting of about 40 members, mostly family, and are considered a hate group.  They are the ones who have been picketing the funerals of gays, military personnel, celebrities, children killed in the school shootings, and others.  Every time there is a tragedy, they thank God that the people died.  They also speak against other religions such as Catholicism, Judaism, Islam, Protestantism, and many more. 

There was a BBC documentary titled “The Most Hated Family in America.”  Canada and the UK banned them from entering their countries when they had planned to protest there.   These people really believe they are doing the work of God and are speaking for God.  It’s hard for me to imagine how a group of people could be so hateful to so many.  Who taught these people to hate?  And why? 

If you’ve seen the news about their picketing, it can leave a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach.  Unless of course, you agree that the person or group of people they are picketing should be condemned.  If you take away the picketing and just listen to the hateful and bigoted remarks they make, as well as the comments of how they celebrate the deaths, then you will realize just how much more common these comments are.  They’re being made by religious leaders, politicians, and others who also claim to be Christians.  How many times have you heard a Christian minister say that God caused a tragedy where countless lives were lost and they blamed a belief system or group of people for those deaths?

Hate is taught and people can be brainwashed to hate.  Just take a look at what Hitler did to an entire country.  He brainwashed his fellow countrymen (not all) to hate Jews and others so much that they slaughtered them in one of the worst genocides in our history.  What most people don’t know is that Hitler claimed to be a Christian and was doing the work of God.  There have been many other acts of genocide throughout history based mostly on the differences of skin color, cultures, and/or beliefs, and it’s still occurring to this day in other countries.

Even in our country we have news programs and talk shows (from all “sides”) that propagate hate and bigotry and are brainwashing the people who watch them into agreeing with them.  And many are using Christianity and the Bible to do so!  I don’t think this is what Jesus and other great Spiritual Masters had in mind when they were teaching people to love others unconditionally. 

Religion is a very strong force, regardless of the religion, and people can be convinced that they shouldn’t think for themselves because others know better.  They use fear and guilt to control people into believing what they believe.   And people blindly follow. 

But there’s good news!  There are people from all religions who are awakening to the fact that love is why we are here.  They use their Bibles for good instead of as weapons of mass destruction.  They know it’s okay to think for themselves and to ask questions.  They are bringing people together and focusing on what we have in common.  Instead of fighting hate with hate, they are taking the holy high road and are using unconditional love to melt the hardened hearts of so many. 

When the WBC recently picketed singer Lorde’s concert, something amazing happened.  There were signs directed towards the church that said “Sorry For Your Loss” and “Live Your Life and Be Awesome!”  I’ve often wondered what could happen if the WBC picketers were surrounded with love instead of countering with the same hatred they espouse.  We also have to realize that the WBC’s actions also resulted in good in that hundreds and thousands turned out to support the family and friends at the funerals of those who died.   Would they have otherwise if it weren’t for the WBC?  We need to remember that God works in mysterious ways.  The WBC’s actions actually brought more people together from all over the world in love, kindness, and compassion. 

As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”  Hate is a powerful force, but love is backed by the power of God and the Universe!  We’re getting there!

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper April 4, 2014.


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

It Pays to Be a Woman!

Recently, I needed some make-up so I went to our local department store to buy what I needed.  I was lot of money to look our best.  It got me to thinking just how much money we spend and how many products we use to look presentable. shocked at how high the prices were!  We women sure pay a lot of money to look our best.  It got me to thinking just how much money we spend and how many products we use to look presentable.

Let’s start with our faces…  First we need special face washes to make sure that our face is super clean.  We may also use a face mask (either mud or peel) to get deep into those pores and clean them out!  Follow that with a toner, though I’m not sure what the toner does because my face doesn’t look any more toned than before I used it.  After that, we use a facial lotion to smooth over our face and neck.  But that won’t do for the eyes, so we need a specialized eye cream.  Of course, these lotions and creams must be anti-wrinkle, anti-aging, lifts and tightens, and have an SPF to keep us safe from the sun. 

To add color to our faces, we use a foundation to smooth out the blotches and uneven areas, and we can use different shades so that we can contour and shape our face.  Add to this, we need cover-up to hide any dark circles, zits, or freckles.  A good blush can make our faces look slimmer and our cheekbones more pronounced.  We move on to the eyes.  There are hundreds of colors to choose from and we can use several different colors at the same time to get the desired effect.  We also apply mascara, but it can’t be any ordinary mascara; it’s the extend the lashes five to eight times the length, separate, and look fuller mascara.  If we need to make our eyes stand out a little more, we can add eyeliner or even fake eye lashes. 

After we have all this applied, we dab our face with powder to set everything in place that we have already put on.  We also carry a compact with us so we can keep the shine off our faces and do those little touch-ups when needed.

At the end of the day, we need to be able to take off the make-up so we use eye make-up remover and regular make-up removers.  After we take our day face off, and before we go to bed, we need the night creams and eye creams to work on our faces while we are sleeping, again to remove wrinkles and to keep us from aging! 

This is just the face.  Now on to the hair and we collect bottles of shampoos, conditioners, gels, mousses, spritzes, sprays, volume lifters, and the list goes on.  If our hair isn’t the color we want, there are hundreds of hair dye products to choose from and then we have to buy the products to keep our hair color from fading!

We also need body lotions that are anti-aging, anti-wrinkling, SPF, and in different fragrances to keep the rest of our skin smooth and youthful looking.  Don’t forget just the right deodorant, too!  These even come in countless fragrances!   

What woman doesn’t shave her legs?  There are all kinds of razors to choose from in a variety of colors, shapes, and sizes.  Add to that the shaving gels in an assortment of scents that we use to keep from nicking ourselves, as well as to keep our legs silky and smooth.

Of course, we also need to keep our nails looking good.  There are creams and lotions for the nails, the nail primer, nail color, topcoat, files, buffers, fake nails, and now little stickers to put on the nails.  Obviously, we can’t just do our hand nails; our toe nails need to look good, too.  And then we need to be able to take all this off, so there are nail polish removers.   Once that’s done, we need hand lotions to keep our hands looking youthful, and of course, there are countless lotions to choose from in a variety of fragrances.

Who can leave out the perfumes?  We love our perfumes!  We can smell like flowers, fruit, wood, and thousands of other heavenly or earthly scents because we women must smell good!

Now that we have our make-up, hair, and bodies done, we can now move on to our undergarments.    They come in every color and pattern imaginable, as well as every shape and size.   Add to this, we must keep our fat in place, so we have girdles, Spanx, and other torture items that we squeeze and stuff ourselves into.  Who cares that we can’t breathe!  We look an eighth of an inch thinner! 

We then have the outer clothes we wear, and what a variety of styles we have to choose from!  Our closets are stuffed with clothes!  We keep the clothes that are too big so we can wear them on those bloated days or if we gain our weight back.  We have the clothes that just fit.  And then we have the clothes that are too small because we just know that one day we’ll get back into them.  It doesn’t matter that we haven’t worn them since grade school; we will get back into them! 

Who can forget the shoes?  The pointier the toes and the taller the heels, the better we’re told our legs and feet look!  So we squeeze all ten toes into shoes that not even a bed bug can get into.  Women are out there walking on stilts just to make our legs look a little slimmer!  And you know that we have to have shoes of all shapes, sizes, and colors to match every outfit that is hanging in our closet

After we’re all dressed, we need to accessorize!  Earrings, rings, watches, bracelets, necklaces, toe rings, ankle bracelets, hair ornaments, hair bands…  Need I say more? 

Now on to the men…. 

If you go down any isle of any department store, the sections for men are few and far between.  There’s a small selection of razors usually in just a couple of manly colors, as well as some electric shavers and a selection of shaving creams and aftershaves.  Do you ever see the creams and lotions with the anti-aging, anti-wrinkling, and SPF directed toward men?  I think not! 

There are very few shampoos and conditioners marketed towards men.  Men will choose what they need and one bottle will usually do him until it runs out.  There is a selection of deodorants with some masculine fragrances, but not as many as there are for women.  Men might use a body lotion if they have dry skin, but give them a basic lotion and they’re happy!  Men will wear cologne, and who doesn’t love a nice smelling man, but you don’t see the large selections like you do women’s fragrances.  

Clothes?  Men just put something on to get out the door.  Most wear suits and a tie or jeans and a shirt.  How many men do you know who will change clothes a half dozen times trying to find that one outfit that will make them look just a little thinner?   And when was the last time you saw a man try something on and ask, “Does this make me look fat?”  Basic shoes, tennis shoes, and socks in a couple colors round out his attire.

 Other than that, men do not have nearly the upkeep we women have!

Women and young girls feel a lot of pressure to conform to the way others think they should look, and most of it is dictated by society and the media.  Look at any magazine that is directed towards females.  They’re full of articles and ads that make women feel that in order to be accepted they have to look like the women in the pictures, which means buying the products that are being advertized.  What they don’t realize is that the pictures of these women and girls have been extremely photo-shopped so if you saw the real person, you wouldn’t know they were one and the same.  No one can live up to the ideals that these medias propagate! 

We have to remember that the people who make these products are in it to make money…period.  And if they can play on women’s insecurities and feelings of low self-worth in order to increase their profits, they will do so.  Unfortunately, we females buy into it and end up spending thousands of dollars on their products hoping they will somehow magically transform us into the perfectly photo-shopped women we see in the magazines. 

Our health also takes a hit because most all the women in these pictures look like they haven’t eaten in months.  Inches are trimmed off their bodies in the photos.  Therefore, we also buy countless diet products thinking we’ll find that one magic formula that will do all the work for us.  Many women end up having eating disorders and we’re finding this in young girls as well. 

What’s sad is that we let society (through the media) dictate to us how we should look rather than being happy and content with who we are as we are.  Their commercials and print-ads imply that if we use their products, our lives will suddenly transform and we will be happy and healthy by use of their products alone.  That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use the products.  The question is why are we using them? 

There will always be people and industries telling us how to dress, how to wear our hair and make-up, and that we have to be super skinny to be acceptable.  The fashion industries tell us what’s ‘in’ and if we don’t do as they say, then we’re out of style. 

What can we do?  We need to teach women (and men) to love and accept ourselves as we are, and not be brainwashed into thinking we’re anything less than magnificent if we don’t conform to those ideals that don’t serve our highest good.  It really is true that beauty is an inside job.  No matter what we look like on the outside, if we feel beautiful and are happy within, it will show as beauty on the outside. 

We came to earth in the bodies that we were given to us and the Universe/God doesn’t make mistakes.  We are beautiful and magnificent just as we are!  If we want to use some of these products to “enhance” a particular feature, then it is our freedom to do so.  I use many of the products, but I also know that these products are not who I am.  I’ve learned that my identity isn’t out there, but it is who I am within, and that is true for each and every one of us.

Let’s stop allowing others to dictate how we should look!  Let’s stop buying into the hype that we have to spend money and buy and use certain products in order to look or feel a certain way!  We need to be comfortable in our own skin and to love and appreciate ourselves as we are.  As women (and men), let us take back our power from these industries and know that we are powerful, beautiful, and magnificent!  We were made to be unique, so let’s bless our uniqueness and embrace our inner awesomeness!  We are perfect just the way we are!

Published in the April 2014 issue of the Putnam County Visions Magazine.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Loving Diversity

Isn’t it wonderful that we live in a country where we are free to worship the religion of our choice?  We have so many we can choose from and we can attend any church at any time!  I love the diversity of our religions and different faith groups!  Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, various Eastern religions, and so many more!  I just wish we could all live together in peace, love and accept each other as we are, and show respect to each other regardless of any perceived differences.  The majority do.  It’s just sad that those who don’t are the ones who usually get the press.

There are many amazing religions and churches right here in Cookeville, and I’ve met and gotten to know so many beautiful people from the various beliefs.  When we look at a person’s heart instead of their labels, we realize just how much we really do have in common. 

There is goodness in most all religions and their foundations are based on love.  Their spiritual masters taught us to love one another and to harm no one.  They know it’s more important to walk the talk, than talk the talk.  They know to be an example and that they don’t have to force anything on anyone.  They know that their love and light will attract people to them.

I love the quote by Senator Cory Booker:  “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 reason I love Unity Church.  Like many other churches, we have a friendly and loving church family, we support and encourage each other, and we try to be an example...  without judgment, condemnation, or fear.  In fact, our mission statement says, “Unity Church of the Cumberlands is a beacon of spiritual love and joy that shines through us to all the region and the world.  As we awaken to and celebrate our oneness with God and each other, this growing awareness brings health, abundance, and happiness to all who claim it.” 

We also have a Vision Statement which says that we “Demonstrate the teachings of Jesus by living the following practices in words, actions, and deeds.  Our Unity Church is…  Welcoming:  From the time members and guests enter our parking lot until the time they leave, all people feel welcomed!  Here at Unity, we treat people as we want to be treated ourselves.  Diverse: People of all races, ages, economic, or marital status, no matter whom they love, live with, or where they work, are treated with love and respect.  We behold the Christ in every person in our community of love.  The Spirit of Love and Joy: Everyone who enters feels the love and respect we have for God, for each other, and for ourselves.  We radiate Divine Love.  Vibrant and Alive: We express our enthusiasm for life in kind and loving words to each other, in the music, in readings, in classes, in prayers, in talks, and in all our activities.  Faith-Full: We choose this vision for our church, and we let the fullness of God’s love and power supply our every need as it comes about.”

Are we perfect at it?  Not at all.  We still have that human side to us so we sometimes deal with our egos and personal wants and needs.  But the Mission and Vision statements give us something to aspire to; a roadmap to how we see ourselves becoming.  If your church doesn’t have Mission or Vision statements, then I would highly recommend creating them.

There is an Indian Sanskrit greeting that I love, and I use it often.  There are variations of the meaning, but this is the one I like best.  “I honor the place in you in which the entire universe dwells.  I honor the place in you which is of love, of truth, of light, and of peace.  When you are in that place in you, and I am in that place in me, we are one.”  This word is… Namaste'. 

No matter what religion you belong or what you believe, I leave you with the Prayer of Protection.  “The light of God surrounds us.  The love of God enfolds us.  The Power of God protects us.  The presence of God watches over us.  Wherever we are, God is, and all is well.”

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper, March 21, 2014.

Friday, March 14, 2014

A Life Worth Living

Last fall, I lost a dear friend to suicide.  This past week, I lost two friends to murder-suicide.  In talking with others, I have heard their own heart-breaking stories of losing loved ones to suicide, or stories of how they attempted to take their own life at some point in their past. 

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, in 2010 (the latest data), there were 38,364 reported suicides; this makes suicide the tenth leading cause of death in America, which is approximately one person every 13.7 minutes.  This does not include statistics for attempted suicides.  Statistics also state that 464,995 people visited the hospital for self-harm injuries suggesting that about twelve people harm themselves for every reported actual suicide.  Because attempted suicides sometimes go unreported, surveys suggest that at least one million people per year in America attempt to intentionally harm themselves.  What a lot of people are not aware of is that more veterans are taking their lives.  CNN reported that approximately twenty-two veterans take their lives each day.

At least 90% of those who died by suicide were suffering from a mental illness, most often depression.  Sources say that 80% of those who seek treatment are treated successfully.  One problem is that many people do not have the insurance or the financial means to get professional help.

What people don’t realize is that most people who think about suicide don’t want to end their lives; they just want the pain to end.  The pain could be emotional, physical, mental, and/or spiritual.  There are countless reasons as to why someone goes into what I call this deep dark abyss, and when one does take their life, we may never know why. 

What can we do to help others who may be experiencing this dark night of the soul?  First we need to become aware of what people are going through, changes in their behavior, things they say even in jest, and being sensitive to our own intuition towards our fellow beings.  When people are in this darkness, they feel alone and unloved, that no one cares, and they come to the conclusion that their loved ones and the world would be better off without them.  It may not be the truth, but depression can change one’s reality in an instant.  If they only knew and felt how many people actually do love them while they’re alive, they would think twice about ending their own life.

What I have learned through my friends’ suicides is that I need to step it up in my own outreach to those who may be hurting.  I wrote about this in my previous article, but would like to reiterate it here.  Unconditional love and acceptance are so very important, as well as kindness and compassion.  No judgment or condemnation.  Do not tell them they need to just snap out of it.  We need to help them to keep their hope alive and to find reasons for living!

As religious and/or spiritual leaders, we can reach out to those in pain and be there for them, but we have to do so with only unconditional love.  I see too much hate, bigotry, and condemnation coming from too many pulpits, so is it any wonder so many feel they can’t even turn to their churches for help?  They feel bad enough; they don’t need someone to make them feel worse.

We need to reach out to our children especially.  We can no longer take for granted that they’re only experiencing growing pains or a phase.  As parents, guardians, and teachers, we cannot just assume that they’re going to be okay.  If you’re not sure, it’s better to investigate than to be sorry. 

Most of all, we need to let people know that they are not alone.  One of the greatest gifts we can give others is the gift of unconditional love and acceptance, and by doing so, we may change the course of one’s life.  There are countless stories where a person decided to live because of someone’s simple kindness.

And if you’re one who is considering taking your life, please hang on.  Know that there is always someone you can turn to, so keep trying until you find the help you need.  It is not a weakness to seek help.  Keep your hope alive.  Don’t let this destroy you, but let it make you a stronger and better person!  Elbert Hubbard stated, A little more persistence, a little more effort, and what seemed hopeless failure may turn to glorious success.”  There are many stories where someone decided to live and they became happy, healthy, and successful in life!  Please be one of those stories!  You are more powerful and courageous than you think!  I love you and I believe in you!

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper March 14, 2014.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Reach Out and Touch

Periodically, I have friends and others who reach out to me for advice or counsel when they are experiencing life issues; some minor, some serious.  Some go through what I call the “dark night of the soul” and are so deep in despair that I have to encourage them to get professional help.  No matter how minor or serious the issue though, I can only trust Spirit to speak through me and give me the right words at the right time.  My only purpose is to be there for them in a state of unconditional love, compassion, and kindness; mostly to listen, to understand, without judgment or condemnation, and maybe help them to see things a little more clearly.  I can only ask questions and try to offer some suggestions to help them find their own answers.  Some may be open to exploring my suggestions; some may not.  I also tell them that I can only share what I have learned in my own life based upon my personal beliefs and my own experiences.   Then I have to release all attachments to their decisions one way or another. 

When people are experiencing so much darkness and can’t see any light, it’s like having blinders on; they’re only going to see what they want to see, and that’s usually more darkness.  Many become victims and their pain becomes their identity.  It’s important to give them words of hope and light.  Someone once said, “Never take away a person’s hope because that may be all they have left.”

Many times when someone is going through “heavy-duty-life-doo,” they feel very alone, that no one loves them and/or cares, and at the extreme, that their loved ones would be better off without them.  This is when people make that drastic decision of no return.  It’s not that they want to die; they just want the pain to end.  For whatever reasons, they weren’t able to reach out for help, or maybe they did but felt worse because of the kind of help they received.

We’re seeing this in many young people now in that many are committing suicide because their pain is so great and they don’t feel that things will ever change.  It could be because of their horrendous home lives, traumatic life experiences, or being bullied, but most of all, because they are not feeling loved and accepted for who they are.  It’s the same with many adults.

People need to know and feel that they are loved.  Three of the shortest words in the English language, but three of the most difficult to say for so many, are the words "I love you.” You may think your loved ones know you love them, but they also need to hear it.  Add to that, “I appreciate you. I'm proud of you. Because you're in my life, I'm so blessed."   We need to say it to our children, parents, relatives, friends, and to everyone we love and care about.  Hugs also go a long way and I love hugging people!

The world is changing and people are so busy in their own lives that they don't think about reaching out to others. We may think we have enough of our own problems so why bother with someone else's. But it is only when we do reach out to help others that we help ourselves. 

If you know someone who is having a rough time, reach out to them!  No need to say anything except “What can I do to help?” or “I’m here if you need me.”  Call them.  Send them a card.  Take them a meal.  Offer to babysit to give the parents a break. You would be surprised at how much the smallest acts of kindness can change someone’s life!  In fact, lives have been saved because someone reached out to someone during their time of suffering and let them know that someone cares.

One of my favorite songs is “Reach Out and Touch” and I think the words are very appropriate here (paraphrased).  “Reach out and touch, Somebody's hand, Make this world a better place, If you can. Take a little time out of your busy day, To give encouragement, To someone who's lost the way, Or would I be talking to a stone, If I asked you to share a problem that's not your own?  We can change things if we start giving.  If you see an old friend on the street, And he's down, Remember his shoes could fit your feet.  Try a little kindness you'll see.  It's something that comes very naturally.  We can change things if we start giving.”

Let us reach out and touch someone so that we can help make this world a better place…because we can.

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper March 7, 2014.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

We're Getting There!

People have demonized LGBT’s long enough and it’s time for it to stop.  These same people who are doing the demonizing forget that gays, lesbians, and transgendered people are human, too, with the same feelings, emotions, wants, and needs as anyone else.  They laugh, cry, hurt, and feel joy.  They’re kind, compassionate, and they love deeply.  They care about others and will help them when and where they can.  They’re humanitarians, philanthropists, and they care about what happens to our world.  They live in all corners of the earth, from all professions, races, cultures, and religions.  They love their family, friends, and pets, and they feel grief when they lose them.  Like every one of us, they bleed red.  In fact, they’re just like you and me with the exception of their sexual preferences, and that’s the only difference. 

So why are people demonizing this segment of the human race and making them out to be some evil entities who are out to destroy humanity?  I hate to say it, but most of it comes from religion and those who interpret words in the Bible to back up their fear and homophobia.  They interpret these words to back up their hate and bigotry rather than focusing on the very words of Jesus when he gave the greatest commandment over all others which is to love one another.  Oh sure, they believe they’re to love others….except for those who end up on their personal “do not love list” and they use religion and their Bible to justify it. 

I have a confession to make.  I used to believe the same thing.  I bought into the religious hyperbole about what the religious leaders told us we had to believe, and who we should love and not love.  And, of course, they had their Bible verses to back up their beliefs; ergo, what should also be my beliefs.  Like them, I believed that anyone who didn’t believe the way I did would go straight to hell.  I was just as homophobic as the next homophobic until the Universe gave me that big ol’ spiritual smack on the back of the head and told me to snap out of it.  Okay, it wasn’t that quick a lesson, but through various experiences, the lessons did come. 

The first lesson was when I went to a Hungarian dance in 1979 and I saw my first transgendered person and exclaimed to my friend that “it” wasn’t even human.  Or when I was in the Hollywood bookstore and met a transgendered person who had been a man, became “saved” according to his religion, and was becoming a woman again.  And while there, another transgendered person walked in with a guy I knew.  This person had been a man, became a woman, had been “saved,” and was going to become a man again.  Before we left, my friend suggested that we all hold hands and pray, and I found myself holding hands with a transgender on both sides of me.  Talk about freaking my freak!  But then something happened.  While they were praying, I heard the words just as clearly as if someone were speaking them to me, “Karen, these are my children, too, and I love them just as much as any of my children.”  I won’t lie.  It didn’t change me right then and there, but it planted the seeds.

It took about twelve years, but when I moved to Nashville in 1992, I started to meet some gays and became friends with them.  I learned they’re people just like anyone else.  In fact, they were and are some of the most loving, decent, kind-hearted people I’ve ever known.  My heart started to soften.  And I began to open my heart to the truth. Today, I have many, many wonderful gay friends!

Not long after that, I began a spiritual journey outside the confines of traditional religion, and I began to really gain wisdom and understanding to the real meaning of Jesus’ words to love one another.  He made no exceptions.  He meant to love all people unconditionally.  All the great spiritual masters in the various religions taught this.  What’s sad, though, is that too many still don’t get it.  It really is all about love, kindness, compassion, and how we can get along with each other as one race.  The human race. 

I am a heterosexual, but sometimes I hesitate saying it because I shouldn’t have to.  Gays shouldn’t have to say that they’re gay.  That’s like going around and telling people that we’re human.  If we take the labels off, then we aren’t so apt to judge and condemn.  It’s only when we attach labels that we start separating people and making some good and some bad according to our beliefs about those labels.  If you took a large crowd of people and asked someone to point out the heterosexuals, gays, Democrats, Republicans, Baptists, Catholics, Jews, etc., they couldn’t do it.  Therefore, it’s much easier to love someone if you don’t know their label. 

Times are changing.  The world is moving forward into the future and we need to move forward with it.  In times past, there were laws against the American Indians, Jews, Japanese, blacks, women, interracial marriages, and so on.  Some are still being oppressed, but today we can add Muslims, gays, Mexicans, and well, you can add your own.  As you can see, even though we have a long ways to go, we’ve also come a long ways.

As much as I respect the Bible for what it is, what it means for so many, and the good it has done in the world, I am also tired of it being used as a weapon of mass destruction…a weapon that is being used by so many (not all) church leaders and politicians in order to keep people oppressed and downtrodden.  These same people complain that those who stand up for the rights of the LBGT community are picking and choosing Bible verses to stand up for gay rights, and yet the complainers are the very ones who are doing the picking and choosing to back up their own hate and prejudices.  It’s hard to understand how they cannot see that they are guilty of the very things they are complaining about.

Some say that gays and gay marriages are a threat to heterosexual marriages.  Really?  I would think that divorce and infidelity would be more of a threat!  According to the Forest Institute of Professional Psychology, the average divorce rates are 50% for first marriages, 67% for second marriages, and 74% for third marriages.  But do we hear church leaders condemning those who have been divorced, sometimes numerous times, or have been unfaithful?  Rarely, if ever.  It’s easier to condone when so many are guilty of these issues themselves. 

Churches and church leaders in particular need to move forward in time rather than trying to live in Biblical times past.  People are leaving the churches in droves because they are seeing the hypocrisy of what church leaders are saying.  The Bible states that Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."  (John 13:35)   So many of church leaders and politicians claim to be speaking for God, but I sure don’t hear a whole lot of love coming out of their mouths or being witnessed by their actions.

Am I bashing religion, church leaders, the church, and politicians?  Not at all!  There are many, many who are very loving and positive and they teach the beautiful lessons of their spiritual masters.  They are becoming more accepting and inclusive.  Personally, I believe that as a minister, it is my purpose to spread a message of love, peace, compassion, harmony, kindness, and oneness.  I also won’t claim to speak for God, but I can speak of my beliefs of God, and I believe that God, Universe, Spirit, Life, Nature...whatever you choose to call him/her/it…is nothing but pure, unconditional, perfect love. 

Please do not be discouraged or cynical.  People are changing and for the better.  They’re starting to “get it” in that it really is about unconditional love.  Our young people especially are getting more involved in humanitarian causes because they know it’s important to love and take care of each other regardless of our differences.  There are more and more groups working for the greater good of all.  The problem is that we just don’t hear about them.  People need to be educated so that hate, bigotry, and ignorance can be eradicated.  We have to do this in love and peace because we don’t want to give anyone an excuse to justify their negative beliefs.  It’s being done!  We’re getting there! 

My theory is that we are in a grand spiritual/cosmic awakening and everything that isn’t working is coming to the surface.  Like an infected finger, the pus needs to come to the surface before we can see it, cleanse it, and heal it.  Just looking at what’s been happening in the world these past few years, we can see all the darkness that is coming to light.  And it is that light that is going to eliminate the darkness.  My favorite Martin Luther King, Jr. quote is “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” 

As we move through the New Year, we have a lot of work to do to bring equality to all areas of humanity.  As Gandhi said, we can be the change people wish to see to see in the world, and if we work together, we can see that change so much sooner.  It’s coming, my dear friends.  And we’ll all be a better people and a better world because of it.

Published in the Upper Cumberland Equality newsletter ~ January 2014 issue.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Times Are Changing

Has anyone else happened to notice how fast the world is changing?  In just these past few years, technology alone has gone into hyper-speed to the point where it’s hard for me to keep up.  I’m doing good just to figure out basic cell phone procedures, and yet toddlers are now able to use the most complicated technical devices.

Can you imagine what it would be like if society decided they were going to stay with technology and products from past generations and not move forward with anything new?  Technology has improved our lives tremendously and most times, we are better because of it.  Of course, it has some drawbacks such as people consistently using their cell phones, computers, etc., rather than communicating with others face-to-face.

Among many things that have been changing is the church and I think it coincides with the changing of our generations.  Because we didn’t have the social medias that we have today, most of us only knew what was in our own communities, social circles, or cultures, and much of that included our church life.  Today, the world is at our finger tips and we now know that there is so much more out there than we could have ever dreamed. 

Diversity is also expanding at a very fast pace and if the church is to survive, it needs to embrace our ever changing world the way so many are doing so today.  That doesn’t mean tossing out all our beliefs and starting over with new ones.  It just means that we can no longer sit in judgment and condemn others just because of our differences.  As a minister, I don’t know how many people I have talked to who said they no longer go to church because they did not feel accepted, and some were even turned away because of any perceived differences.  It’s even turned some off to God!

People are beginning to get it in that it really is all about the love and the way we treat our fellow beings.  More and more are taking Jesus’ words to heart (or whoever their religious Masters are) and know that we really do need to learn to love each other unconditionally.  That doesn’t mean condoning criminal acts, etc.  People still need to be held accountable for their actions when they harm others.

Cookeville and the surrounding areas have so many wonderful religions and churches, and there are many that are very welcoming and accepting of whoever walks in their front door.  There’s a church for just about every belief system, and if you’re looking for a church to attend, please keep looking because you will find one that resonates with your beliefs.

I guess the point I am trying to make is that we all need to find ways to come together in peace and harmony, celebrate our differences, and know that there can be peace upon us if we would just come together and get to know each other as human beings.  We don’t have to agree with someone’s beliefs that might be different from ours.  We can agree to disagree.  But please, the fighting and arguing has got to stop if we are going to live our Masters’ teachings of loving one another. 

At this time, I attend Unity Church of the Cumberlands and I love our church family.  There is so much love between all of us, and we love and welcome people just as they are.  No judgments.  No condemnation.  Just love.  And there are other churches in our area that do the same.  (Please don’t misunderstand; I am not criticizing ANY church or belief system.  I love the diversity of our different beliefs.)

In Unity, at the end of every service, we form a circle around the sanctuary, shoulder to shoulder, everyone holds hands, and we sing the Peace Song Unity style.  “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 by 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!”

Let us all move forward with love, peace, and harmony in our hearts towards all.  In the words of Mother Teresa, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”   And James Allen stated, “Harmony is one phase of the law whose spiritual expression is love.”  Namaste.

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper February 7, 2014.