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.