Friday, February 26, 2016

It Could Happen Again

In 1942, over 120,000 people of a particular ancestry were incarcerated in concentration camps.    Men, women, children, and babies were yanked from their homes, jobs, schools, and families with only what they could carry and were assigned to barracks with tar-papered walls and straw-stuffed bedding.  Families were assigned numbers that they had to keep on their clothing at all times.  Barbed wire and guard towers with sentries, who were stationed with firearms, surrounded the encampments.  These families suffered significant economic losses and experienced extreme psychological traumas.  Some died because of inadequate medical care and from the emotional stress, and some were killed by military guards for allegedly resisting orders.

The Holocaust?  No. This happened in our very own country…America!  After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, President Roosevelt issued an Executive Order to round up all Japanese, most of who were American citizens or had permanent legal status, and put them all in guarded camps.  These Americans, half of whom were children, were kept in these camps without due process of law for up to four years.  It was later proven that not one Japanese American or non-American had engaged in any kind of espionage or act of sabotage, but instead, this act was “motivated largely by racial prejudice, wartime hysteria, and a failure of political leadership." 

Could this happen in our country again?  At one time, Justice Antonin Scalia told the University of Hawaii law students, “You are kidding yourself if you think the same thing will not happen again.  In times of war, the laws fall silent.”

Why am I writing about this?  People call our country a Christian nation, but to me, treating people like this is anything but Christian.  We’re already seeing some politicians, religious leaders, and others propagating fear and violence towards others they see as different and they’re already talking about getting rid of certain groups of people.  I definitely do not mean for this to be a political article; instead, I am speaking about our humanity, who we are as human/spiritual beings, and what definition we give to the term Christianity.  This is NOT the Christianity, nor the America, that I believe in!

As Christians, we need to decide if we are really following the teachings of Jesus or the egotistical powers of men.  Jesus made it very clear that we are to love one another and he made no exceptions.  He also said that we will know his followers by how much we love one another.  I am certainly not seeing this love in many of those who claim to be Christians.  Instead, in them I am only seeing the propagation of fear, violence, hate, and wanting to harm so many beautiful children of God just because of any perceived differences.

My heart goes out to all those who are facing so much hatred and violence, especially Muslims, people of color, immigrants, those in the LGBT communities, and many others.  I cannot imagine the fear and insecurity they are feeling not knowing what their future may hold.  At some point, this could be any one of us for any reason. 

I recently saw a post on Facebook with a picture of Jesus saying, “I was thinking about coming back, but when I saw how much my followers hate brown-skinned, non-English speaking, Middle Eastern immigrants, I thought they might crucify me again, so I changed my mind.”  I’m sure many found it offensive, but in reality, it makes a point.  (To be clear, not all Jesus’ followers feel this way.  There are many more who do not.)

1 Corinthians 13:4-8 states, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.”  THIS is the Christianity I believe in, this is the love that Jesus taught, and this is the love that should be lived by example and not be forced on anyone.

It is said that united we stand, divided we fall.  I believe that love will prevail, and it is my dream that we will come together to unite in the light of love and to embrace all of God’s children as our brothers and sisters.  Mother Teresa stated, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

In the meantime, I will continue to hold all people, as well as our beautiful, magnificent world, in loving consciousness, and seeing us united in love, peace, and harmony.  And so it is! 

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper February 26, 2016.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Life or Something Like It

“Life or Something Like It” is the title of a wonderful movie starring Angelina Jolie and Edward Burns that has become one of my favorite message movies. 

It tells the story of Lanie who comes to question the meaning of her life.  Lanie grew up in the shadow of her beautiful sister who was a cheerleader, grew up to get married, have children, and live in a big home.  Lanie also had big dreams for herself, grew up to become a gorgeous television news personality, and was engaged to a popular baseball player.  Everything seemed to be going really well for her until she met a homeless man who was a self-proclaimed prophet named Jack.  With her new cameraman, Pete, a boyfriend from her past, they interviewed Jack about his prophesies.  He gave her several predictions and then stunned Lanie by telling her that she only had seven days to live.  At first she didn’t take it seriously until she saw that his other predictions were coming true, which convinced her that she did, in fact, only have a few days left on earth.

This sends her into a frantic journey of self-discovery as she begins to question everything about her life.  She tries to reconnect with her sister who turns out not to have the perfect life that she thought she had.  She visits her dad, and to her surprise, she discovers that he really was proud of her and always had been when she didn’t think he was.  Later she finds out that her fiancĂ© really didn’t love her, but was with her for being more arm candy than anything else, which results in her breaking up with him. 

During all of this, she starts to reconnect with Pete, who really cares about her and accepts her just as she is.  Lanie also discovers that all the outward appearances of her life were superficial and she starts to go within to find her true self. 

Lanie had also been up for a big network TV position, which Jack told her she would not get, but she was shocked and excited when the job was actually offered to her.  Therefore, maybe she really was going to live!  Her first interview would be with her idol, a famous media personality, who wanted complete control over the questions.  Throwing caution to the wind, Lanie asked her questions that weren’t on the list and caused the woman to cry; consequently, after the interview was over, the woman fired Lanie.  But the ratings were high and the network still offered her the job. 

She suddenly had an epiphany in that she realized that this wasn’t the job or the life she really wanted and she decided to go back home to be with Pete and lead a much simpler life.  Except as she left the building, there was a struggle between a man and an officer, and the man’s gun went off accidentally shooting Lanie.  Fortunately, she survives and she and Pete tell each other how much they love each other, and the film has a happy ending.  So did Lanie die?  As she said at the end in the voice-over, “Jack was right.  A part of me did die that day; the part of me that didn't know how to live.

I loved this movie as there were so many great messages in the story.  How many of us believe that our happiness and well-being depends on outward appearances such as the way we look, the jobs we have, our houses and cars, etc., who we know, how much money we have, and so on?  We think our identity is outside ourselves.  But like Lanie learned, all this is nice and it’s okay to have these things, but they’re all superficial and have nothing to do with who we really are.  All those things can go away, and for many of us, they have.  Would we know who we were without them? 

Our identity is not who we are out there, but it is who we are within.  What kind of person are we?  Are we loving, kind, compassionate, not only towards others, but to ourselves? Do we even like ourselves?  Better yet, do we love ourselves just as we are?  Can we be our own best friend?  Are we being our own true authentic selves?  Do we really know how to live?  Who is in control of our destiny?

We can control our destiny!  Gandhi said, “Your beliefs become your thoughts.  Your thoughts become your words.  Your words become your actions.  Your actions become your habits.  Your habits become your values.  Your values become your destiny.”  Or as Henry David Thoreau stated, “We are constantly invited to be who we are.”

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper February 19, 2016.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

What You Think of Me is None of My Business

“What you think of me is none of my business.”  Rev. Terry Cole Whittaker said this in her book by the same title and that statement has always stuck with me.  But how many of us can ignore what other people think of us, especially if it is something negative?  Not many can, at least not all of the time, and that includes me.

Most of us have been the targets of gossip and have been badmouthed by others, and yes, it can hurt.  A lot.  I know I have been that target more times than I can count, and as much as I try not to let it get to me, sometimes it does.  In those times, I try to remember Rev. Whittaker’s statement, and when I do, it takes most if not all of the sting out of it. 

We have no control over what others say about us.  Some of it may be true, and many times, it can be completely false.  Someone gets the information wrong and yet passes it on to others anyway without even trying to find out if it’s true or not.  Then there are those who are vindictive for whatever reasons and they make up stuff in order to try and hurt other people. These reflect more on the person doing the gossiping and bad-mouthing rather than the person who they are speaking against.  Those who do this are basically insecure and the only way they can make themselves feel better is by putting others down. 

Before computers, cell phones, and social media, all this was pretty much spread from person to person.  Today, it’s a whole other monster.  Anyone can spread vicious gossip and lies via the Internet and the information can be seen by thousands within seconds.  You also see this a lot in schools and colleges.  It’s become a new way of bullying and many, especially our children, are the recipients.  We’re now hearing more and more children are committing suicide because of this cyber negativity and that’s beyond sad.

There is no easy answer to putting a stop to gossiping and badmouthing.  One of the things that did it for me was that I finally came to the conclusion that I didn’t like it being done to me so why should I do it to others?  It’s also a part of the Golden Rule of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”   

In “The Four Agreements” by don Miguel Ruiz, the first agreement states, “Be Impeccable with your Word: Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the Word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your Word in the direction of truth and love.”

We can also ask ourselves, “Is what I’m saying lifting someone up or tearing them down?”  Or, “How would I feel if someone were saying bad things about me?”  If we don’t like it, then we shouldn’t be doing it to others. Instead, use your words wisely and spread kindness along the way. We can also teach our children these things from an early age. 

I admit I’m not perfect at it.  Sometimes I can get so frustrated or angry about the way someone has treated either me or someone else that I’ll spout off to a friend just to get it off my chest.  There are those times when we need our closest friends whom we can talk to or to vent our frustrations, but those friends also know that we do not mean any ill will towards the other person and it stays between us.

We can also control the way we think when we’re the targets of such negativity, though it can sometimes be very hard to ignore and not let it hurt.  Louise L. Hay has a great affirmation I would highly recommend using: “I am far more than other people’s opinions.  My opinion of myself is the only one that counts.  I love and respect myself no matter what ‘they’ say.” 

Ephesians 4:29 states “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”  And of, course, there’s the great Rumi who said, “My dear heart, never think you are better than others. Listen to their sorrows with compassion. If you want peace, don’t harbor bad thoughts, do not gossip, and don’t teach what you do not know.”

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper February 12, 2016.

Friday, February 5, 2016

The Man in the Forest

Being in nature is a passion of mine.  When I’m in nature, I feel closest to Spirit.  One day while walking a path through a beautiful forest, I was coming up on a clearing when I noticed some movement in the distance.  I quietly moved closer to see what was going on and saw about a dozen deer standing around a man.  The man was petting them and it seemed like they were having a conversation. 

Moving forward to try to hear better, I stepped on a twig causing it to snap.  Suddenly, the herd looked in my direction and then fled into a grove of trees.  The man slowly turned to see what startled them and our eyes met.  It couldn’t be!  I started to walk towards him and sure enough it was!  Excitedly I squealed, “Jesus!  What are you doing out here!?!”  In his quiet voice he replied, “I like to come out into nature to commune with the wildlife and enjoy Mother Nature’s energy.  What are you doing out here?” 

I paused searching for the right words and then answered, “I love nature and it brings me so much peace.  When you’re in nature, it’s hard to imagine that there are any problems in the world.”

With concern on his face, he asked, “Are you experiencing problems?”  I knew that I couldn’t get anything past him, so I continued honestly.  “Mine are minor compared to so many, so I can’t complain.  I’m just worried about what’s happening in our world and in our country right now.  There seems to be so much turmoil and chaos, especially in some of the political and religious realms, as well as others.  We could be doing so much to help people and to alleviate people’s suffering all over the world.  But right now, there just seems to be so much hate and anger among some groups of people, and there are those who are promoting it and getting people all riled up.  It can really put me in a state of fear sometimes.”

Jesus contemplated what I said and then responded. “Yes, I know.  I see it, too, and it makes me really sad.  When I first walked the earth, I thought people would take my teachings to heart, and that the love I taught would continue to grow and spread to all people.  But that’s just part of being human.  Humans have free will and can choose what they believe and how they treat others, and many times, it has nothing to do with me even though they may say it does.  It breaks my heart.”

At that moment, I really felt what Jesus must be feeling and my heart ached for him.  With a tear running down his cheek, he continued.  “You know, Karen, even though I see so many of my brothers and sisters in so much pain that they cause pain to others, I still love them unconditionally.  I don’t play favorites.  That was the focus of my messages…to teach people to love one another unconditionally and to care for each other.  There is no reason for anyone to suffer, but because many choose greed over humanity, suffering happens.  I even said, ‘Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’  Compassion and kindness goes a long ways.  Too many people have covered up the light within themselves and are living in darkness.  I and many other religions’ spiritual masters have been trying to reach people’s hearts, and our teachings have lived on in many.  I also know that love is strong and the light always overcomes any darkness.  I see many of you spreading that love and light.  Soon, all the darkness you are seeing in so many and in the world will fade and you will see that love and peace will prevail.”

“Jesus, do you think the various religions will ever stop fighting over who is right and who is wrong, and who has the only one God?”  A smile came across Jesus’ face and he answered, “Karen, God is big enough to be in all religions and speak through all people.  Remember, he created all life on earth; all people are his children, and he loves every single one of them…including you.  As do I.”

Suddenly, a noise caught my attention and I turned to see what it was.  When I turned back to say something else, he was gone.  He did it to me again!

“Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you. I do not give it as the world does. Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid.”  John 14:27  

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