Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Holidays Have Arrived!

It’s that time of year again!  The holidays have arrived!  We’re coming up on Thanksgiving and then Christmas is just around the corner!  I love the Spirit of the holidays!  People are usually kinder, they go out of their way to help others, and there are countless festive celebrations all across the globe.  The Spirit of Love seems stronger and can soften even some of the most hardened hearts. 

Sadly, also during the holidays, the drama about there being a war on Christmas rears its ugly head, people start getting nasty with each other, and the Spirit of Christmas goes right out the frosty window.  Friends, there is no war on Christmas.  The only war on Christmas is the one being perpetuated by those who are saying there is a war on Christmas.  If there was an actual war on Christmas, there would be a Federal law banning it and anyone caught celebrating in any way would be arrested and thrown into prison.  Calling it a war is an insult to anyone who has ever fought and/or died in an actual religious war where there were bombings, shootings, countless deaths, and people’s lives being torn apart. 

Starting even before we get through Halloween, Christmas decorations start going up and stores begin promoting their holiday products.  Lights go up outside of homes.  Nativity scenes and other Christmas characters are put in yards.  There are Christmas movies galore on TV.  About every other commercial is about Christmas.  Santa Clauses appear everywhere.  People wear Christmas clothes and jewelry.  Look anywhere and you will see the signs of Christmas.  (Anyone remember when none of this would start until the day after Thanksgiving?)

What we can’t do is to force a religion or holiday onto anyone else.  We can certainly have our beliefs and celebrations while at the same time showing respect for others to do the same with theirs.  It is more important to have Christmas in our hearts than all the outward trimmings.  Love, peace, kindness, and compassion are all a part of this Spirit and it comes from within.  You will know those who understand the true Spirit of Christmas by their words and actions.   Christmas should only be about the love; the love that Jesus taught.  And isn’t Christmas supposed to be about celebrating Jesus’ birth?  Isn’t Jesus called “The Prince of Peace?”  Don’t we say “Peace on earth, goodwill toward men?”  Shouldn’t love and peace be the priority during the holiday season?

If we can get rid of all the Christmas trees, decorations, movies, commercials, gift giving, Santa Clauses, etc., as well as stop fighting and arguing about whose holiday we should celebrate, what greeting we should say, and what decorations should be displayed, then we can truly understand the real Spirit of Christmas.   To be clear, there are many people who do understand the true Spirit of Christmas and can still have all that goes with it.  They know that the true Spirit means loving one another, honoring everyone’s holidays, and respecting their right to do so.  Many even joyfully share with each other their various celebrations!

There are also other holidays during this season.  Hanukkah, Bodhi Day, Kwanzaa, Ramadan, Eid al-Fitr, Omisoka, Yule, and numerous others.  Yet we rarely hear about any of these anywhere, if at all.  They know the true Spirit of their holidays and they know they don’t have to be commercialized to be enjoyed. 

Let us please stop this nonsense over the most ridiculous issues (including a red coffee cup; it’s just a cup!).  Let’s come together in the true Spirit of Christmas and all the other holidays and love one another.  Say whatever greeting you believe in saying, but if someone should say a different greeting to you, please respect their right to do so.  In the spirit of love, maybe you could even say theirs and yours together in return!  And please don’t correct them to say the greeting you think they should say.  How many of us have had someone get spiteful with us because we didn’t say their preferred greeting?  Not everyone is a Christian, nor does everyone celebrate Christmas, and that’s their right.

Ruth Carter Stapleton said, “Christmas is most truly Christmas when we celebrate it by giving the light of love to those who need it most.”  And Calvin Coolidge stated, “Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas.”

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper November 20, 2015.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

In the Beginning....

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”  Genesis 1:1

There are many theories and beliefs regarding how the Universe and our Earth came into existence.  Some believe in the Big Bang Theory where life exploded into being and it just took off from there.  Others believe that there is a Supreme Being (in the form of a man) who made the Earth and everything on it and that it has nothing to do with the Big Bang Theory.  Many will fight and argue over who is right and who is wrong, but when it comes down to it, there is absolutely no proof as to how life in the Universe began.  Does it really matter?  Couldn’t it be that it’s all in some ways true? 

There are also various beliefs/theories as to how human beings came into existence.  Some believe in the Theory of Human Evolution in that man came from apes.  Others believe in the Biblical account in that we came from Adam and Eve.  Again, there is no absolute proof of either other than our beliefs.  Again, couldn’t it be that it’s all in some ways true?

Most people are not aware that there are two stories of Adam and Eve in the Bible.  In the first account, the creatures were made first.  Then God said, “Let US make man-kind in OUR image…” and he made male and female (humans) at the exact same time.  The second story is the one most people believe in which Adam was made first, then animals, and then God took one of Adam’s ribs to make Eve.  So, which version is true?  Again, does it really matter? 

Many people believe that Adam and Eve were the very first two humans on the earth, and then they had two sons, Cain and Abel.  From there, everyone else was made.  Really think about this as to how they may have multiplied.  Later, Cain killed Abel.  Cain then left Eden and went to the land of Nod where he made love to his wife.  Where did Nod come from if Eden was the first and only beginning and where did he find a wife to marry?

The reason I mention this is that everyone has their beliefs about how life and human beings began, and people are very passionate about what they believe to be true.  Since there is no absolute proof, can’t we just respect each other’s beliefs and stop the fighting and arguing?  My answer to people who want to argue about something that happened in the past (where this is no proof) is “I don’t know; I wasn’t there.”

We’re here now!  We can no longer live in the past and expect it to define us.   We are not our stories whether it’s our own generations or generations past. 

Here’s what I personally believe…  It is beyond my comprehension how anything can come into existence from nothingness.  However it started, it started from the Source of the All-That-Is (God or whatever you choose to call it).  That one Spark of the Divine blew us into existence and is within each and every one of us, as well as within everything in the Universe, and it was all made from that one Divine Spark.  That means if that God Spark multiplied, then God is in us and we are in God; therefore, that makes each of us a part of God so we can’t be anything but the essence of God!  Do you even realize how magnificent and spectacular that makes each and every one of us!?!

Some religions believe we are born into sin and are always sinners.  Did you know the original Biblical definition of “sin” was an archery term meaning to “miss the mark?”  You missed the target!  Somehow, it was adapted to mean a bad human being.  We cannot be bad or sinners when we were made from the very substance of Source!  Some also say that we need to work for God’s grace.  Friends, we don’t need God’s grace; we ARE God’s grace!!!

In the beginning, Source made everything and then said it was all good!  The only thing keeping us from believing we are good is our beliefs that we are not!  We can learn from the past, but let’s move forward knowing that we ARE the pure, unconditional, perfect love of the Universe!  Stop the fighting and arguing!  We’re all on this planet together and we really are all a part of each other.  Literally!

As Billy Fingers said, “The same intelligence that grows trees from seeds, that lets birds fly, that waves the ocean, and gives birth to new stars…that same Intelligence also breathes your breath, beats your heart, and heals your wounds.”

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper November 13, 2015.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

An Adventure of Blissful Transformation

One day, God was walking through the world to see how his children were doing.  He came upon an old monk who had spent his entire adult life practicing mental and physical disciplines.  Because the monk had gained a certain level of clarity, he realized that the man casually walking by was fully aware of his inner Divine Self.  Rising from his meditation pose, he bowed before God and asked, “Great-Souled One!  I see you are an illumined master!  Please tell me how long it will be before I realize my inner Divine Nature!” 

God smiled and replied, “You are doing well, my son!  At this rate, you will achieve your inner Divine Self with just one more lifetime.”  The monk was appalled at the thought of having to go through another lifetime of boredom and pain, and lashed out at God calling him a fraud.  God smiled tenderly at him and walked on.

Soon, God came upon a simpleton who was splashing in the river, laughing, and singing.  He loved God and life so much and didn’t care about his personal needs.  The simpleton noticed the stranger smiling at him, came out of the water, bowed before him, and said, “How wonderful!  God has sent to me a Great-Souled One!  I have been enjoying myself so much that I nearly forgot that I have a purpose.  My quest is to realize enlightenment, but I have become distracted by the constant joy welling up inside of me.  Seeing you reminded me.  Could you please tell me how long it will be before I realize my inner Divine Nature?”

God laughed and replied, “You are doing well, my son!  At this rate, you will realize your inner Divine Self with just seventy more lifetimes!”  The simpleton cried out with glee, “Seventy lifetimes more?!?  How wonderful!”  He was filled with so much joy at the prospect of another seventy lifetimes of such bliss that the last doubt he ever had disappeared and he attained the highest state of enlightenment instantly! 

(This story was modified from the book “Ascension!” by MSI.)

How many of us work very hard to become so enlightened that we forget to just enjoy life as it comes?  I’m sometimes guilty of this myself.  I’m a sponge for wisdom and knowledge and there’s so much I want to learn, that I sometimes forget to just let the joy flow. 

Life can be hard for so many people and my heart goes out to them.  How can we feel joy and happiness in the midst of such turmoil?  I have a saying:  “You don’t have to be happy with your circumstances, but you can be happy in your circumstances.”  Is it easy?  For some…maybe.  It’s just we humans who make it so difficult.  We think that life has to be a certain way before we can be happy, but we have it backwards.  We should feel happy and joyful, and that in turn, will attract so much more good into our lives.  Count our blessings and be grateful for all the good we do currently have and experience.

The problem is that we want everyone around us to change first before we can feel joy and happiness.  We blame the outside world for our feelings.  If you’re always waiting on someone or something outside yourself to transform, then you never will find that joy within.  Gandhi says “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”  Don’t wait for others to change.  Ride the adventure of blissful transformation!  Yes, you’ll have your ups and downs, but the more you practice, the more up’s you will experience.

I’m basically a happy person, but even I have my days where I don’t even want to face the world.  Yet I’ve experienced those moments of total spiritual bliss where I feel at one with God (Universe) and everyone and everything in the world.  I’ve felt that connection with the pure, unconditional, perfect love of the All-That-Is, which flows through all in life.  I know what it feels like even though I can’t always stay in that state of mind.  Since I’ve felt it and know what it feels like, it gives me something to aspire to.  The more I try to aspire to it, then the more I feel it.  It’s possible for all of us to be in that state, just like the simpleton in the story above who had nothing. 

Lao Tzu said, “If you want to awaken all of humanity, then awaken all of yourself.  If you want to eliminate the suffering in the world, then eliminate all that is dark and negative in yourself.  Truly, the greatest gift you have to give is that of your own self-transformation.”

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper November 6, 2015.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

We All Lean Towards Love

Recently, the Parliament of the World’s Religions met in Salt Lake City.  According to their website, “The Parliament is the oldest, the largest, and the most inclusive gathering of people of all faith and traditions.  Too often, religion is misused as an instrument for division and injustice, betraying the very ideals and teachings that lie at the heart of each of the world's great traditions. At the same time, religious and spiritual traditions shape the lives of billions in wise and wonderful ways. They gather people in communities of shared beliefs and practices. When these diverse communities work in harmony for the common good, there is hope that the world can be transformed.” 

Religions for Peace’s motto is, “Different Faiths, Common Action.”  According to their website, their Vision of Peace states, “Peace is more than the absence of war.  Religions for Peace advances a positive vision of peace as shared security.  It is a vision based on moral principles that are deeply held, and widely shared, by the world’s faith traditions:  the fundamental unity of the human family and the equality and dignity of all human beings.  Religions for Peace engages religious minorities and majorities in the effort to promote religious freedom, pluralism, and shared understanding. Our multi-religious coalitions cultivate respect for diverse religious beliefs and practices, and stand together in solidarity against violence and hatred.”

The Peace Council on their website stated that the Dalai Lama said, “The Peace Council is a diverse group of religious and spiritual individuals who are internationally known and respected and who have decided to come together, to understand one another and work together so that those of us who profess belief in our respective faiths can work for the common cause of humanity.” Their mission “is to demonstrate that peace is possible, and that effective interreligious collaboration to make peace also is possible. In a world where religion too often is used to justify division, hatred, and violence, and very seldom used to relieve these problems, the Peace Councilors offer an alternative:  the example of religious leaders working effectively together to relieve suffering and make the world whole.”

The Universal Peace Federation states on their website, “This age of globalization needs enlightened leaders in each faith who can examine their sacred writings and traditions and identify the aspects that can benefit all humanity as well as those that preserve each religion's identity. UPF calls on people of faith to honor the Divine indwelling in a way that encourages understanding, respect, and cooperation among people of all faiths for the well-being of our communities and peace in the world.”

These are only a few of the wonderful organizations around the world consisting of representatives and others from all religions coming together in peace and harmony.  They hold meetings and conferences where ordinary people like you and me can attend in order to meet, get to know each other, and learn about each others’ religions and faiths.  They share, laugh, learn, and are united for the greater good.

Oprah Winfrey’s TV network OWN is presenting a wonderful and informative series titled “Belief.”  The show explores humankind’s desire to connect with something greater than themselves.  It’s a fascinating series that teaches us about the diversity of our religions and how we all have a lot more in common than we know.  Per her website, ““Belief” searches the origins of diverse faiths and the heart of what really matters.”   I would highly recommend watching.  (They’re being repeated on OWN).

It’s happening, my friends!  People are coming together in love and peace from all the world religions (including those who are not religious)!  Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, and so many others, are uniting in brother/sisterhood.  The problem is that we’re not hearing about it in the media or from many pulpits.  Hate, fear, and violence sell, which also keeps people in chains under the guise of religion, and that keeps us separate.

We can come together without giving up our beliefs or our religions!  We need only open our hearts and minds to embrace diversity and know that unconditional love is really all that matters.  We can be kind and compassionate to each other regardless of any perceived differences!

Hans K√ľng said, "There will be peace on earth when there is peace among the world religions.”  Our religions should be setting an example!  We should be living the teachings of our spiritual masters!  We can unite for the good off all!   It’s happening and it begins with each of us reaching out to each other in the spirit of peace and harmony!

“What we all have in common is an appreciation of kindness and compassion, all the religions have this.  We all lean towards love.”  Richard Gere

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper October 30, 2015.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Enemy Is Fear

“The enemy is fear.  We think it is hate, but it is fear.”  Gandhi

“Fear is the path to the dark side.  Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering.”  Yoda

In early American history, people feared the Natives so much that they committed genocide against thousands.  Those who were left were forced to move onto reservations.  When I lived on an Indian reservation in the late 70’s, I was appalled to hear missionaries still calling them savages!  The families I lived with and got to know became my family and I came to love all Native Americans, their spirituality, and their culture.

Through fear, Hitler brainwashed almost a whole country into committing genocide against Jews, the disabled, and so many others just because of a difference in beliefs.  What most don’t know is that Hitler claimed to be a Christian and was only doing the work of God.  I’ve known many Jewish people and my best friend in grade school was Jewish.

When I lived in California, I had a roommate who was Mexican.  She invited me to a very large family event.  I didn’t know who was legal or illegal, if any were illegal at all.  I just know that I fell in love with her family and their culture.

At one time, I was very homophobic and was taught to believe that all LGBT’s were evil…until I began meeting and getting to know those who were gay or transgendered.  Since then, I’ve met and known countless LGBT’s and today many are some of my closest friends.  Some say that gay marriages are a threat to traditional marriages, but I would think that divorce and infidelity would be a bigger threat than any gay marriage ever could be.  These are mentioned in the Bible, but you never hear anyone go after or try to enact laws against those who get divorced and/or remarried or who cheat on their spouses. 

Before 9/11, I was fortunate to have friends who were Muslim so I already knew that not “all Muslims are terrorists” as so many have been told to believe.  The Islamic Center in Murfreesboro used to have a monthly picnic where they invited anyone in the community to come meet and get to know them.  A friend and I went to one and we met some of the most loving and amazing people.  In 2012, I was personally invited to the grand opening of their Mosque where the Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez was one of the key speakers, and it was an honor to share that moment with them.  Everyone, including the Imam, was super nice.  In fact, I have yet to meet a Muslim I didn’t like.   Extremist Muslims do not represent all Muslims any more than extremist Christians represent all Christians.

What a lot of people don’t realize is that Muslims highly respect and revere Jesus.  In fact, Jesus is mentioned more times in the Qur’an than the prophet Muhammad.  Whenever Muhammad and Jesus’ names are said or written by Muslims, they always add “Peace Be Upon Him” after both names.  I don’t mean for this to be a lesson on Islam, but after doing my research, I found we have a lot more in common than not. 

It is sad that people have to demonize and dehumanize groups of people to justify their fear, which in turn leads to hate, and all we do is end up suffering.  It’s time to stop the fear and hate!

The point is, when we get past the fear of other people, cultures, and/or religions and actually get to know people as human beings, we find that there really isn’t anything to fear and that we can find a lot of commonality.  My suggestion would be to get rid of the negative labels we put on people, open your heart, see people through the eyes of love, and get to know our fellow brothers and sisters on this great planet called Mother Earth!  All the people that I’ve met from the groups above have blessed me greatly just because they are in my life, and so many have given me the wonderful gift of friendship.

Marianne Williamson said, “Love is what we are born with. Fear is what we learn. The spiritual journey is the unlearning of fear and prejudices and the acceptance of love back in our hearts. Love is the essential reality and our purpose on earth. To be consciously aware of it, to experience love in ourselves and others, is the meaning of life. Meaning does not lie in things. Meaning lies in us.”

“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear.”  1 John 4:18

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper October 23, 2015.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Wisdom to Grow

It’s hard to believe that I have been writing for the Herald Citizen for five years already!  In that time, I’ve grown right along with everyone else, learning to practice what I teach and to walk my talk.  It’s not always easy.  I have high expectations of myself and I aspire to be the greatest expression of who I was meant to be, as we all should.  Many times, I fall short and I am harder on myself than anyone else could ever be.  Yet I enjoy sharing what I have learned in my own life in the hopes that it might help someone else along the way.  

Some friends who know me well, and know what I believe and teach, encourage me to become even braver in what I write because I take religion and beliefs out of the box.  What I write will not be received by everyone.  There are those who follow my writings and have been very supportive.  Then there are those who don’t agree, which is perfectly fine.  I will never tell anyone what to do or what to believe.  I can only share what I believe and what I’ve learned for myself.  My advice is that if you don’t agree with what someone writes, then don’t read it. 

There is so much more I would like to write, but I always hesitate because of those who might disagree.  I don’t like conflict and avoid it if at all possible.  I’m a peacekeeper.  I love people and I love life.  My purpose is to lift people up, to encourage, and to share the love I have for all of humanity.  Not everyone agrees with my beliefs and they can be quite…um…passionate in expressing their opinions of how wrong they think I am.  Bless ‘em!  You will also never hear me say that I am right and everyone else is wrong.  I can only teach what I know and believe at this time in my life, and what I know and believe changes as I grow and learn.

I’m a seeker and a sponge for knowledge to learn the wisdom and teachings from many religions and faiths.  I am also a voracious reader and have read hundreds of books about various religions and spiritual beliefs, as well as writings from many inspirational authors up through today’s day and times.  We did not stop learning and growing after the Bible was put together.  The Bibles and holy texts from the many religions teach us many wonderful things, but we don’t have to limit our learning just from these sacred writings alone.  There were thousands of other writings written in Biblical times that we are aware of and we continue to find others.  These are just as valid and sacred as those that were gathered into what we know as our Bibles today.

We continue to evolve and grow as spiritual beings.  Information is continually given to us through prayer, meditation, intuition, and many other sources.  The Universal God is always speaking to us and continues to give us messages to help us learn and remember who we really are.  We all have the spark of the Divine within each and every one of us, and that wisdom is available to all who wish to discover it.  We only need to open our hearts and minds to receive whatever is given to us freely. 

I think it is beautiful how so many different religions are coming together to love and support each other in peace and harmony.  We can either use our religions to destroy each other and our world, or we can come together and re-create a world where we live in love and peace with each other, as well as respect any differences in beliefs.

While reading “The Laws of Spirit” by Dan Millman, I came across this great quote from one of the characters:  “I’ve sat in the shining temples of the Israelites and under the glorious spires of the mosques of Islam; I’ve knelt in the great cathedrals and bathed in the light of Christendom; I’ve sat in the sweat lodges and passed the pipe, lived as a shaman on the African plains, meditated in Buddhist temples, and inhaled the sweet aroma of incense on the banks of the Ganges. And everywhere, I’ve found the same Spirit in all religions…a Divine Will that transcends time, belief, and culture…revealing the universal laws that are the treasure of God.”

James Twyman said, “I believe that each and every human being on Earth has both the responsibility and the privilege of viewing themselves as Divine beings with the power to bring about peace.”  The Spiritual Shift is happening and when we all come together as one, love and peace will prevail. 

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper October 16, 2015.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Art of Conversation

Whether people realize it or not, there is an art to conversation.  It’s a skill that isn’t normally taught and is usually learned by trial and error only by those wishing to gain those skills.  One of the greatest ‘secrets’ to the art of conversation is listening…really listening to what the other person is saying.  But how many of us actually do listen?  Typically, people are already thinking of what they’re going to say next before the person they’re talking to is even finished with what they were saying.  

How many of us have talked with someone who completely hogs the conversation, not letting you get a word in edgewise, and when you think there’s a slight gap for you to finally say something, they suddenly start in again?  Or worse, they constantly interrupt you when you are speaking.  And then there are those who won’t let you get away because they can’t stop talking! Those types of conversations are very draining to the one whose ear is being bent. What the gabber doesn’t realize is that people start avoiding them because they don’t want to be corralled into their constant gabbing, especially if it’s negative and self-serving.  I know when I’m really tired or nervous, I either get very quiet or I become quite the gabber, so even I have to be aware of my conversations.

One of the problems today is that more and more people, particularly our younger generations, are not talking face-to-face anymore and are relying on cell phones, tablets, and social media to interact with others.  It’s challenging to have conversations with people who are constantly on their cell phones even while you’re talking to them.  Look at people out in public, students at colleges and high schools, people in businesses, and you will see just how addicted people are to modern technology.  It’s not a bad thing per se, but we’re losing that intimate contact with our basic humanity. 

How does all of this relate to churches?  People who go to church still need to be heard.  They need to know that their feelings are being validated and that someone cares.  Church leaders in particular need to learn the art of conversation when ministering to their congregation, especially if it is someone in dire need of some kind of emotional/spiritual help.  We need to really listen, not only to the words they are speaking, but the emotion that is behind those words.  Being empathetic and trusting our inner Spirit will help us to discern if there is a bigger picture, which there normally is.  We need to let the person talk it out and validate their feelings, but at the same time, be sensitive enough to know when to direct them to a more positive frame of mind or to guide them to get professional help.  Compassion is the key.

Validating means saying “I understand; please tell me more.”  Let their well of words run dry before offering advice.  We need to offer them different solutions or options and let them make the final decision. I prefer not to tell anyone what to do or how to think, so I ask a lot of questions to help them think for themselves and to find their own answers.  I may also offer examples of how I handled a similar situation in my own life.  We also need to be careful not to criticize, find fault, judge, or give curt answers for what they are telling us as it could end up shutting them down or make matters worse.  If they are in the wrong for whatever reasons, there are gentler and kinder ways to point it out without making them feel judged or damaging further their self-esteem or feelings of self-worth.  People need to know that they matter and your words can make the difference between lifting someone up or destroying them further. 

Another thing that lets someone know that you are really listening to them is to keep constant eye contact the whole time they are speaking.  Do not look around, look at your watch, or answer your phone or check texts as they come in, etc.  You can also repeat things they said to let them know that you are really hearing them. They need to know that you are with them 100% and that you really care.

If we can be the listener we hope others would be for us, then we have started to master the art of conversation.

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper October 9, 2015.
This article was edited from an earlier version published in the Unity Journal May 6, 2015.