Saturday, May 30, 2015

Keeping Your Members Safe

Imagine you’re sitting at church and all of a sudden you have an emergency situation requiring some form of emergency action. Would your church know what to do to save lives? Does your church even have some type of emergency plan in place? Do you have designated members appointed who would know what to do and could take charge in any emergency that may arise?

You’d be surprised how many churches do not.  Many think that the chances of something happening at their church, particularly when services are in session, are extremely rare. But it only takes one time for people to be seriously injured and/or killed. I don’t think any church wants to have that on their conscience.

It is critical to have an Emergency Operations Plan (EOP) in place regardless of what you think the chances are of having an emergency situation actually occur. The time you take to put one in force will be well worth the effort if an emergency should happen.

The first thing you can do is to get a copy of the state or local risk assessment from your local emergency management agency. This assessment would contain information of potential threats and hazards in your community that could also affect churches. Depending on the part of the country you live in, you could be susceptible to fires, tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, violence, and so on.

There isn’t room in this article to go over every single detail, but I would like to give some basics, and will also note a very good resource at the end to help you put together an effective EOP.

1. OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) requires the posting of building evacuation plans, fire evacuation maps, and emergency exit signs above all doors in order to meet the building code requirements.

2.  Make sure that you have sufficient fire extinguishers and have numerous people trained to use them. They should be hung in easy access areas.

3.   Have a detailed evacuation plan in case you need to evacuate everyone from the building. All exits should be clear at all times; all doors should open outwards.

4.   Appoint a safety team of members who attend regularly and train them how to get people out as quickly and as safely as possible. Appoint “Buddies” who are those that will help the disabled and elderly.

5.    You should have a safe area in the event of a tornado. Check with your town’s fire department to verify what the siren means. Some set them off for severe thunderstorm warnings and/or because an actual tornado has been sighted in the area. In the event of a tornado, do not stay in the open sanctuary or any open room. Get people into the smallest areas, away from doors, windows, and as close to structured walls as possible.

6.  In the event of a fire or even a hint of a fire, evacuate everyone to a safe area away from the church. Immediately call 911. Keep everyone together. Do not move cars unless you need to make room for emergency vehicles.

7.  Churches should be equipped with emergency lights that come on in the event the electricity should go out.

8.   In the event of any evacuation, your EOP team should quickly “sweep” all rooms to make sure everyone has gone to the designated areas. Call out so people can hear you. Make sure that everyone is accounted for.

9.   A team should be trained for first aid. You might want to look into getting an automated external defibrillator. Some organizations will donate to churches if they have a certain number of members. Have a good-sized first aid kit easily accessible.

10. The toughest one is if someone comes into your church with a gun. This is when you apply the Run/Hide/Fight rules. (See link below.)

11. Supply your local fire and police departments with a reliable contact name and phone number with a backup. You can also give them your building schematics which they will keep on file.

Obviously, there are many more details one should consider in developing your EOP. I found a very good source of information on the Whitehouse.gov site that will give you an excellent starting point:  www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/developing_eops_for_houses_of_worship_final.pdf

When it comes to church safety, the saying “it’s better to be safe than sorry” is a very good motto to keep in mind. Don’t wait. Lives could depend on it.

Published in the Unity Leaders Magazine, Winter 2014 issue, pgs 29 & 30. https://www.unityworldwideministries.org/unity-leaders-magazine-winter-2014


Addendum:  The picture of the tornado was taken in Cookeville, TN during the March 2, 2012 severe storm that hit areas in surrounding Cookeville pretty hard.  This picture is taken from Algood looking towards Cookeville on 10th Street.  Near/under this tornado were two churches and a college.


Friday, May 29, 2015

The Spiritual Path

Many of us who are on a serious spiritual path are students of life.  We love to learn and search for that perfect enlightened wisdom that will put us on the path of being even more spiritual.  But that’s where we are misled.  We somehow feel that if we read more, take more classes, meditate for longer periods, etc., that these will put us on a faster course to enlightenment.  In reality, we are already on our spiritual path.  Whatever it is we are experiencing in the here and now is the spiritual path we are meant to be on.  It is in this very present moment.

We sometimes tend to make the mistake that many if not most of our answers are ‘out there’ and that we need to learn through someone or something else.  Because we are taught from birth that we have to get our knowledge and wisdom from others, we don’t know that we can go within and listen to that still small voice that speaks with only unconditional love.  Jesus stated repeatedly that the Kingdom of Heaven is within us.

Jim Palmer in his book “Notes from (Over) the Edge” stated, “The truth is that there is no act more sacred than being present in the moment and simply responding to the situation as it requires.  If this is all you did all day, this would be a profound spiritual life.  Your life is your spiritual path.  Your life, the way it is right now with everything that is in it, is your reason and purpose for being here.  There is nothing to insert into your life to make it more spiritual.  God is inseparable from every moment of life and living.”

We know that living a spiritual life means living with love, peace, compassion, kindness, and caring for our fellow beings.  We don’t have to pursue these things; we can be these things!  If we want to be a testimony to our faith and what we believe, we can be the love, peace, compassion, and so on.  There is no greater demonstration than by living by example!  Because we are secure in what we believe, we also know that we don’t have to force our beliefs on anyone else.

The other issue we run into is that we are constantly judging everything in our lives as good or bad.  We have this idea of how we think things should be so we miss the very message the situation or experience is bringing us.  What is good for one person may be bad for another and vice versa.  Therefore, it is only our perception or the way we see things that colors our experiences as good or bad.  Life just is.  The secret is in finding the good in everyone and everything.  I’m not saying it’s easy.  I know when I look for the good in everything, I can usually find it no matter how big or small.
  
The other thing is that there are other people who will try to tell you that they have all the answers and that you have to accept their answers for yourself or believe the way they do.  When we are constantly relying on others to tell us what to believe based on what they believe, we miss out on so much more that the Universe would have for us to learn.  That’s not to say that what others tell you or what they believe is wrong.  There is so much we can learn from others.  A good teacher will allow you to find your own beliefs and not condemn you because you may come to a different conclusion. 

We can still walk a personal spiritual path and continue to belong to various religions or churches.  Your personal spiritual journey does not mean you have to give these up or abandon any beliefs you may already have.  It’s more of an awakening of consciousness and discovering your inner divine magnificence that has nothing to do with anyone else.  The Bible says that we were ALL made in the image of God (or the God of your understanding), which means we ALL have that divine essence that is in everyone and everything.

We can all go directly to the Source of the All-That-Is without relying on others to do it for us. It’s also okay to ask questions and search for our own answers.  As Ram Dass said, “The spiritual journey is individual, highly personal.  It can’t be organized or regulated.  It isn’t true that everyone should follow one path.  Listen to your own truth.” 


Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper May 29, 2015.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Loving Through Addictions

Several years ago, I went on two exciting cruises with Richard Simmons, the health/exercise expert, and had a fabulous time!  Richard used to facilitate what he called a ‘Cruise to Lose’ every year, and I had the privilege of being on his last cruise before he stopped doing them.  I’ve always loved Richard, but meeting him and getting to know him endeared me to him that much more.  His love and compassion for people with health issues runs deep and he takes it very seriously in that he does whatever he can to help others. 

I was only a few pounds overweight, but like many people nowadays, I was addicted to sugar and chocolate.  They’re my comfort foods and when I’m stressed, upset, or angry, they’re the first things I turn to. 

In hindsight, being addicted to sugar and chocolate has been a blessing because it really helped me understand what it’s like for others whether it’s with food, alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, soda, gambling, and so on.  Because I was also on a serious spiritual journey, I learned not to judge anyone with addictions and I learned to have so much more love, compassion, kindness, and understanding towards others who are also struggling. 

It’s so easy for us to sit back and judge those with addictions and say “All they have to do is stop.”  Most people use various addictive substances to numb the pain of whatever it is they are feeling.  For those with addictions we know that it’s not that easy no matter how negatively it is affecting our health or those around us.  Some addictions, particularly if they are severe, not only destroy the lives of those with the addictions, but can destroy the lives of their loved ones and everyone around them.

I’ve seen many of my friends succumb to some horrible addictions.  Many would say and do things they would not normally do if sober or in their right mind.  No matter what the addiction, it affects our mind, body, and Spirit and puts people through literal hell on earth.  And when people lose hope, they get lost in those addictions and may go into that deep, dark abyss of no return.

Some people believe that those who have serious addictions should be cast aside or we tend to demonize them, and many may end up in jail/prison when all they really need is to have access to rehabilitation.  Many succeed and yet there are also many who go right back to their addiction because whatever substance they use has a very strong hold on them.  Chris Prentiss stated, “At the bottom of every person’s dependency, there is always pain.  Discovering the pain and healing is an essential step in ending dependency.”  The key is to not treat just the addiction, but in finding the root cause that is causing the addiction in the first place.

Then there’s peer pressure where people, particularly our young, feel they have to participate in the substance abuses in order to feel accepted.  Look at many of the college parties (or even high school age parties) and you’ll see the students out of control and abusing these substances to a great extent! 

Part of the reason for addictions is that we do not love ourselves totally and unconditionally and we try to fill that void with something outside ourselves.  When we do have that unconditional love for ourselves, we know we don’t need the substance.  We know that everything we need is within.  But not many of us have come to that point. 

How do we in churches take care of our addicts?  Do we judge them and throw them out of the church?  Do we demonize them and make them feel worse than they already feel?  Jesus and all the other great Spiritual Masters would never have treated anyone in these ways!  Churches should be a refuge to receive love, acceptance, and maybe even some kind of assistance.  We should love them just as they are and try to help them overcome their addictions!

If you have an addiction, please get help.  Keep trying to succeed in overcoming.  It’s not going to be easy, but when we take it one step and one day at a time, we can make progress.  As T.S. Eliot said, “It is never too late to be what you might have been.”  You are the most important person in your recovery and you are so loved!  As Deepak Chopra stated, “You must find the place inside yourself where nothing is impossible.”  I love you and I believe in you!

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper May 22, 2015.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Life Is Like a Roller Coaster


"Life is like a roller coaster.  You can either hang on for dear life and scream in terror, or you can put your hands up in the air, enjoy the ride, and scream ‘Wheeeeeee!’"  (Karen Langford)

The very first time I rode on a roller coaster, I thought it would be an exciting adventure, but instead, it turned out to be one of the most terrifying experiences of my young life!  After the ride was over, I was never so happy to see land, and I never wanted to go through that again! But I did and now I love roller-coasters!  

Life is like that.  We have our up's and down's, our joys and sorrows, sometimes we're beyond happy and ecstatic with the way our life is going, and other times we're living in fear and wishing we could get off this ride we call life.  

It is said that we are spiritual beings living a human experience.  True…yet we also need to embrace our humanness, which includes all the perceived good and bad.  Since it is part of our experience, we need to be careful not to trivialize being human.  Spiritually, we came here as humans to learn and to remember who we really are and to be the greatest expressions of who we were meant to be.  That’s what Jesus came to teach us.  He was one of the greatest examples of living the life of a spiritual being inhabiting a human body, though there were many other spiritual masters who also came to teach us this.

Jim Palmer wrote in “Notes From (Over) the Edge,” “Jesus spoke of being ‘in’ the world but not ‘of’ it.  It’s not so difficult to do one or the other, but the way of Jesus is both…to embrace and feel all of life for what it is AND to find one’s ultimate peace and well-being in the truth of the way things really are.  By all means, embrace and feel all of life for what it is; just don’t attach yourself to it as the source of your peace and well-being.  Your source of peace and well-being is not contingent upon what happens in your circumstances.  People, places, or things cannot make you or break you.  Non-attachment is taking life as it happens and responding to situations as they require, but not attaching your state of being to the rollercoaster of life’s ups and downs.  If something brings pleasure, enjoy it.  If something brings pain, feel the hurt.  But in both cases, let it go.  Don’t cling to the pleasure or pain as if it is the determining factor of your well-being.  Start living this way right now.”

Spiritually, we know that no matter what happens in our lives, all is well.  I totally believe that everything happens for a reason and everything is for our highest good.  We are also human and make human choices, and it’s almost impossible to avoid it while living on this earth plane.  Along with being human, we have everything that goes with it in the way of feelings and emotions.  And that is where the roller coaster comes in; sometimes we’re feeling on top of the world and other times we’re feeling so low we don’t even know how we’re going to face the day.  But we also don’t have to let those experiences define us.

It really does come down to our attitudes and beliefs about life, whether we’re optimistic or pessimistic, and do we look for and expect the good or the bad?   These greatly influence our experiences in life.  And like being on a roller coaster, we know that we are on it from the beginning to the end, so it’s up to us as to what those experiences will be like.  Many believe that life is full of challenges, but I prefer to call them adventures.  It’s my way of putting a more positive spin on whatever I may be going through. 

David Cunliffe said, “Our reality is a complex blend of true and false beliefs acquired over the course of our lifetime.  Thoughts that can become the foundation of our personality and thinking.  Yet the key to a fruitful spiritual journey is to have the courage to surrender all thoughts and beliefs that limit our spiritual progression and happiness.”

Our spiritual and/or human experience is what we make of it.  Like the roller coaster, as long as I know that the up times will come once again, I know I can hang on and not take the down times so seriously.  Life really is like a roller coaster and I’m really trying my best to put my hands up in the air, enjoy the ride, and scream, “Wheeeeeeeee!”

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper May 15, 2015.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Let Your Heart Sing

Charles Fillmore, the founder of Unity, stated “When you feel good you sing, either audibly or silently….  Nearly anyone can sing a little song. It is a marvelous health restorer. Singing restores harmony to tense nerves. Its vibrations stir them into action thus making it possible for the ever-waiting healing Spirit to get in.”

I love to sing!  I may not have perfect pitch and there are times I sing totally off key, but I sing from my heart and soul and it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.  Singing in our church choir has been a joy for me.  There are times I can sing really well, and if I listen to myself, I wonder where that voice is coming from because surely it can’t be from me.  And then there are other times I sound like Kermit the Frog and I end up lip syncing my way through the music so no one will wonder where that squeaking and groaning is coming from (though some would say Kermit is a great singer!). 

Music is big industry!  Everywhere you look, you can see people wearing their ear buds while listening to their favorite artists.  Granted, I can’t tolerate loud music where you can’t understand the words, there’s no beat, and where musical instruments are doing more screaming than playing.  It seems that so much of our music anymore is just loud noise.  In fact, some of the lyrics of many of our songs can be extremely negative and even frightening because they propagate so much hate and violence.  Give me a positive, loving song any time!

I always say that you can tell you’re getting older when you appreciate your parents’ generation of music.  I love the 40’s and 50’s genres!  Music was cleaner and it was easy to sing along with the artists.  When Elvis and The Beatles came on the scene, it caused an uproar as parents thought it was the end of civilization as we knew it.  Today, their music is quite mild compared to what we hear today.  The Beetles wrote many songs that had positive messages that we still appreciate and sing to this day, and many continue to listen to both Elvis and The Beetles.

I used to love the old-time Gospel music and still do to a certain degree.  I grew up singing many of the old spirituals and Tennessee Ernie Ford was always my favorite gospel singer.  My all-time favorite gospel song and one of my favorite songs to sing, especially in public, is “Amazing Grace” and I sing it to the melody of “The House of the Rising Sun” made popular by the Blind Boys of Alabama among others.  In the song, I do change the word ‘wretch’ to ‘soul,’ though, as I don’t believe any of us are wretches. 

Today, I love the more upbeat, inspiring spiritual music that is filled with positive and affirmative lyrics.  Singing is good for the heart, mind, and soul!  Music and singing can be very healing!   Whenever I’m feeling down or discouraged, I’ll sing many of these songs over and over to make myself feel better.  If I’m hearing a lot of hatred and negativity, I like to sing the chorus from Kenny Rogers’ version of “Love Lifted Me.” “Love lifted me, love lifted me, when nothing else would do, love lifted me.”  Or if I’m feeling discouraged and/or low on hope, I’ll sing, “Don’t worry about a thing, ‘cause every little thing gonna be all right” from the song “Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley.

There are many wonderful spiritual artists who write/sing spiritual music with positive lyrics.  Some of my favorites are Richard Mekdeci, Karen Drucker, Dale Worley, Lauren Lane Powell, and many more.  I would highly recommend looking their music up on the Internet.  There are also many secular songs with positive lyrics as well. 

Music is universal and good music brings people together.  There’s a wonderful organization called “Playing for Change” that was established in 2002.  They take mobile recording studios and cameras all over the world and record people singing on the same track so you get a beautiful blend of cultures and voices all singing and playing the same song.  Their music is phenomenal and always lifts me up!  You can find them at playingforchange.org.

So…. “Sing, sing a song! Sing out loud!  Sing out strong! Sing of good things not bad. Sing of happy not sad.  Sing, sing a song!  Make it simple to last your whole life long! Don't worry that it's not good enough for anyone else to hear!  Just sing, sing a song.”  (“Sing,” made popular by The Carpenters; lyrics and music by Joe Raposo.)


Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper May 8, 2014.

Saturday, May 9, 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’ in 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 where they completely hog 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 not only draining to the one whose ear is being bent, it’s selfish and harmful.  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.

One of the problems today is that more and more people, particularly with our younger generations, are not talking face-to-face anymore and are relying on cell phones, tablets, and social media to interact with others.  Look at people out in public, students at colleges and high schools, or even 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 and Chaplains 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.

One thing we in Unity/New Thought need to be careful of is being insensitive to someone’s feelings by immediately telling them to think positive thoughts.  For instance, if someone starts telling us about their health issue(s), many will come back instantly with “You’re NOT sick!  You are healthy and well!”  I was guilty of that myself some time ago until I learned I didn’t like it done to me, and it’s not a way to be Spirit led.

Validating means saying “I understand; please tell me more.”  And, “Is there anything else that you would like to tell me about this?”  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 to ask a lot of questions to help them think for themselves and to find their own answers.  We also need to be careful not to criticize, find fault, or judge them 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.

Another thing that really lets someone know that you are really listening to 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.  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 Unity Leaders Journal May 6, 2015.