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.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

And Then They Came for Me....

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Trade Unionist.  Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Jew.  Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.”  Martin Niemöller   

How many of us have stood by while witnessing our fellow human beings being oppressed, discriminated against, bullied, or even slaughtered, and we didn’t do or say anything because we did not agree with that person or group of people’s beliefs?  Or maybe we even joined in because we believed the hype that ‘they’ were somehow considered not worthy or maybe even close to being non-human?  We’ve seen this throughout history and we’re still seeing it today.  We’ve seen it with the Native Americans, Japanese, Jews, blacks, and so many others.  Because some didn’t believe what they believed, they dehumanized them, put them in internment / concentration camps, moved them to other areas such as reservations, enslaved them, and even committed genocide on them.  You would think that in the year 2016 we would have learned from our history, but apparently not.

Today, we’ve added the LGBT communities, Muslims, blacks, immigrants, Mexicans / Hispanics / Latinos, people with disabilities, women, and so on.  Sadly, I’m sure more people will eventually be added to these groups.  At what point will it be our turn?   Some groups don’t think it could happen to them, but it could just as easily happen to any of us, just as it has happened to those in the groups I have mentioned.

So far, we’ve been fortunate in our country in that the oppressors can’t just go through towns or cities and slaughter thousands of people.  Unfortunately, they do so on a smaller scale compared to other countries, but because of our laws, the people who did the harm will be sought, caught, prosecuted, and face the consequences (hopefully).

In other countries, there are those who to this day continue to slaughter men, women, children, and babies just because of any perceived differences.  Whole villages and cultural groups are being killed because of politics, religious beliefs, in the name of ethnic cleansing, etc.

Why am I bringing all this up?  I’m extremely concerned because some in the political realm are spreading so much hate, fear, bigotry, ignorance, and violent propaganda against so many.  Fear is a great controller of people, and by using fear, they can easily brainwash people to do almost anything.  History has shown this.  People are already doing so much harm and giving a particular candidate the credit saying he inspired them to do so!  I really don’t mean for this to be about politics.  It’s about our being decent human beings!

But that’s not who we are!  If it’s true that we were made in the image of God, then all the above behavior is not of God (or the God of your understanding)!  If we say God is love, and Jesus commanded us to love one another, then where’s the love?  Where’s the compassion and kindness that our spiritual masters taught?  If we allow fear to rule and we give in to the hate and violence and start hurting others because of a difference of beliefs, then we can no longer call ourselves a Christian nation.  At least, that is not the Christianity that I personally believe in and those are not my values!  For myself, I believe in the teachings of Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and other spiritual leaders who taught love and peace and everything that goes with it. 

I really wanted to write a positive and uplifting article, but my heart has been so heavy for all those who are on the other end of all this hate, bigotry, and violence no matter who they are, what they believe, or what they look like.  I can’t imagine the fear they are living in today as they see politicians and others trying to take our country backwards.  My heart and soul goes out to them all.

There’s not much I can do to fix the world, but I can continue working on myself to try to be the best person I can be, and to teach unconditional love, not only for others, but for ourselves.  Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”  The Dalai Lama affirmed, “Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries.  With them, humanity cannot survive.”  And Sen. Cory Booker stated, "We are called to be a nation of love!" 

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper August 5, 2016.



Friday, July 29, 2016

There's Always Good News!

If you’ve watched the news or read the papers lately, it seems as if the world is falling apart.  So much negativity, hate, violence, fighting, and arguing that you’d think there was a huge dark cloud over our nation and our world.  That’s what the media and those who want to control you want you to think, and many are falling for it.  Political seasons especially are usually pretty nasty, but this season, it’s gone way beyond horrific in what’s being said and how much harm certain politicians want to do to people; therefore, the news today is focusing mostly on politics.

But what you’re not seeing or hearing is all the good that is occurring in our nation and the world, and friends, there is so much more good than bad!  There are countless numbers of people who are out there spreading the love, compassion, and acts of kindness all over the world, and so many are being of service to humanity no matter a person’s color, race, religion, culture, politics, gender, sexual preference, and so on.  They’re seeing each other as human beings with no separation. We rarely see these stories in main stream media, if at all, that’s for sure. 

I’d like to give you a few examples of the good I’ve been seeing, and I would highly recommend that you get out there and look for those wonderful stories.  Look for the good!  If you do, then maybe it will give you more hope and then you won’t give up on humanity.

One of my favorite stories is about Ken Nwadike, who started the Free Hugs Project.  After the Boston Marathon bombing, he decided to participate in the next race by offering free hugs and encouragement to runners along the route.  This simple act of kindness got national news attention, and now he attends many events, including protests, with his Free Hugs signs and he hugs everyone who will allow his loving embrace.  Mr. Nwadike has so much love for others regardless of their beliefs, who they are, or what they look like, and it shines forth from his heart.  He states, "Fear and hatred will cease to exist when love is in abundance." (freehugsproject.com)

There has also been good news coming out after all the recent conflicts with police officers.  People of all colors are hugging and praying with officers of all colors.  They’re building bridges instead of walls and are coming together to try to find peace and to heal, as well as to find solutions to these issues.

There are beautiful stories where Muslims are protecting Christians and their churches, and Christians are protecting Muslims and their Mosques.  There are even stories where Muslims, Christians, and Jews are coming together to worship in the same buildings and getting to know each other.  This isn’t just in other countries, but in America as well! 

There are stories of every day heroes who are out there making a positive difference, helping strangers as well as those in their communities.  Businesses going out of their way to help those who have experienced tragedies.  People saving the lives of both humans and animals.  Those coming from all over the world to help others who have been affected by natural disasters or wars. 

The stories are endless!!!  If you want to check out a great website that posts many of these beautiful, heart-warming stories, please go to www.goodnewsnetwork.org.  They created this website to counteract the onslaught of negativity we see in mainstream media, as well as to “report on outstanding citizen action, innovative solutions to the world’s problems, and to shatter negative stereotypes in the public regarding race, governments, politicians, religion, corporations, Hollywood, public schools, and inner cities.”

Even though we may not be able to avoid all negative news, we can make choices as to what we watch or read.  “But, Karen!  How will we know what’s going on in the world?!?”  Trust me, if something major happens, someone will let you know.  At least limit the negativity or try to balance it out with positive news.  It will really help us keep things in perspective and remind us that there really is so much more good out there than not, and so many more good people out there than not.

Never give up on humanity, my friends!  Love always prevails.  We just need to decide whether we’re feeding the light or the darkness, and to never give up hope.  Desmond Tutu stated, “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.”  And as Nelson Mandela said, “We can change the world and make it a better place.  It is in your hands to make a difference.”  

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper July 29, 2016.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

A Native Summer

In 1971, there was a sleeper hit movie called “Billy Jack” about a ‘half-bread Indian’ and it has been one of my favorite movies of all time along with its sequels.  It was this film that began my interest in Native Americans and started planting the seeds of a serious spiritual journey that didn’t take root until many years later.

At the time, I also wasn’t aware of the conditions on the reservations and what all Native Americans are dealing with.  To this day, they continue to be one of the most discriminated against groups of people either on or off the reservations.  They were our original Americans and they have been treated poorly and unfairly ever since the early Europeans committed genocide on millions, took their land, and forced thousands onto reservations. 

And yet, they are a beautiful people whom I have come to highly respect and admire.  I have learned so much from their spirituality and much of it has become the foundation of what I believe today. 

Because of “Billy Jack,” I thought I would like to become a missionary to the Natives on their reservations.  In 1978, I signed up to become a student missionary through my church, and soon I was on Vancouver Island for a week of training.  But I had a rude awakening when I found that the various religions attending were arguing over who was going to ‘save the Indians.’  It was then and there that I decided I was just going to live with them, love them, and accept them just as they are. 

At the end of the week, we were broken into teams and assigned to various reservations across the British Columbia area.  My teammate and I were assigned to the Okanagan Reservation.  We started out in an old summer house that had only one working light and the water was pumped from a nearby stream.  We also used an outhouse with no door and could only go during the day because of the bears. 

Soon, we went to live with the Ben and Rosie Louis family, which consisted of their 15 children, the youngest being 21.  My teammate Eileen and I then lived in a pick-up camper trailer that sat on stilts in a yard.  I remember one night we awoke to the trailer being bumped to and fro.  Frightened, we looked out the window to find a horse scratching his hind end on a corner of the trailer.  Later, we moved into the home of Ben and Rosie who lived back a really long lane.

Most of the family was involved in rodeos so we had a great time riding horses and attending the events with the family.  I even got to try barrel racing and pole bending on a horse that was pregnant and blind in one eye, and my new-found friends were surprised that I did so well.
While there, Eileen and I also conducted a vacation Bible school for the kids and I fell in love with each and every one of them. 

I had so many wonderful experiences that will last me a lifetime!  I learned to milk a cow.  I learned to Indian leg wrestle and was quite good at it beating most everyone until I wrestled one of the guys who rode bucking horses, and he about threw me through the wall!  I even swam in the lake that was the home of the legendary Ogopogo monster! 

While there, I fell so in love with the whole family and we ended up sort of adopting each other.  I came to consider them as much my family as any of my blood family, and some of us still keep in touch to this day.

Because I decided to love and accept them just as they are, the staff psychiatrist said I was the only missionary student who did not experience any culture shock.  This was a great lesson to me in the importance of loving people unconditionally.

This also taught me how important it is to get to know people from other cultures, as well as those whose beliefs may be different than ours.  When we do, we find that we have more in common than not, and we can actually make many lasting friendships. 

I would like to dedicate this article to my Native family whom I love and miss so very much!  They’ve all been such a blessing to me and I’m a better person because of knowing them and all they’ve given me.  They’ve touched me deep within my soul and a part of my heart will always remain with them.

“Respect others.  Help others.  Love others.  These are the keys that unlock our soul.”  Anthony Douglas Williams

(Pictured:  Ben and Rosie Louis, both of whom have since made their transitions.  I miss them dearly.)

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper July 22, 2016.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Healing Racism

Yes, racism exists.  It has existed since the beginning of mankind and it will more than likely exist for decades to come.  The violence that we’ve been seeing in the name of racism, particularly with the recent Dallas events, is heartbreaking.  You would think that we would be better than this by now.  People have been working really hard for generations, putting their heart and soul into overcoming racism.  And yet here we are still dealing with the rage and pain that have affected people of all races throughout history, some more so than others. 

We are not born racists.  Racism is taught.  It is also learned through our own experiences.  Then those teachings and/or experiences turn into our beliefs about others.  For whatever reasons, we become racist when we become against a whole group of people just because of the color of their skin.  What’s interesting is that if a white person hurts a white person, the latter doesn’t hold it against all whites.  If a black person hurts a black person, the latter doesn’t hold it against all blacks.  You can exchange the color with any color.  You can also exchange the color with any religion.  So if we’re not going to hold it against our own race or religion, then why do we hold it against others? 

The events in Dallas were tragic (as they are anywhere they occur)... the police who were shot, as well as all the innocent lives that got caught in the crossfire.  And then there are the black men who have been shot by the police.  We have a lot of healing to do, for sure.  But we’re not going to find solutions or heal if we keep pointing fingers and finding ways to keep us separate!  We have got to start moving away from fear (hate and racism are byproducts of fear), and move into a state of love and compassion.  And people are doing so!  We’re seeing it! 

People from all races and groups are coming together all over the country to show their love and support for all concerned.  I’ve been seeing some beautiful videos and articles on Facebook where people are uniting for a common cause!  The hugs I’m seeing between all races just make my heart sing!  One such video showed dozens of people of all colors hugging several officers after an interfaith prayer service in Dallas.   Officers and civilians are hugging each other all over the country in stores, parking lots, at peaceful protests, and so on.  They’re also sharing tears because people are realizing just how much a part of each other we really are and that we’re all in this together. 

We have also got to stop making blanket statements about whole groups of people!   For example…   Not all cops are bad.  Not all blacks are thugs.  Not all Muslims are terrorists.  Not all Christians are hateful and judgmental.  In fact, there are so many more who are good, decent, kind-hearted, and loving!  We just don’t hear about them.  So, please, never give up on humanity!  We’re getting there, but we still have a lot of work to do!

To be clear, this isn’t to say that people don’t have legitimate complaints and concerns.  They do, and they need to be taken care of.  But as the saying goes, are we going to be a part of the solution or part of the problem?  This goes for every politician and religious leader, as well as each of us individually.  Are we helping or hurting?  Are we speaking words of hate and fear, or love and compassion?  Are we bringing people together or keeping them apart?  It starts with each of us!

We have got to stop putting labels on people because labels come with judgments.  Take away all our labels and we see that we really are one race…the human race.  Desmond Tutu said, “My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.”

As for the recent events, Van Jones had it right when he said, “Everybody’s got to reach deep down and find some empathy.  If you cried for the brother who bled out next to his fiancée, but you didn’t cry for those police officers, it’s time to do a heart check.  If you cried for those police officers, but you have a hard time taking seriously all these videos that are coming out about African Americans dying, it’s time to do a heart check.  We are either going to come together or come apart.  There’s enough pain on both sides that there should be some empathy starting to kick in.”

And as Martin Luther King, Jr. stated, “I have decided to stick with love.  Hate is too great a burden to bear.”   

Published July 15, 2016 in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper.