Saturday, April 30, 2016

Who is God?

Who is God?  What is God?  Is there a God?  What form does God take?  Does God cause all the tragedies we experience on earth?  How can God make children suffer?  Is God a man who sits up in the sky on a throne with long white hair, beard, and long robe, and punishes us when we’re bad?  Is He a man, woman, or genderless?  Is He a God of love, or a vengeful God who is full of anger and judgment?   These are some of the greatest mystery questions of the ages.

What does God even look like?  I don’t know, and neither does anyone else.  In fact, I have never read or heard where anyone said they have seen the actual face of God.  In the story of Moses and the burning bush, Moses heard the voice of God, but didn’t actually see him.  In books about the afterlife, many will say that God was a bright light and they felt the most empowering and magnificent love from this Source. 

If you look up all the different names for God, you will find thousands of variations depending upon the religion, culture, and belief system.  For instance, most people in America, particularly Christians, use the name ‘God.’  In the Middle East, ‘Allah’ is used by both Christians and Muslims.  And remember, Moses was told by the voice in the bush that the name we should use is “I Am That I Am” and that “This is my name forever, the name you shall call me from generation to generation.” states, “The word ‘God’ does not appear in the original Hebrew or Greek manuscripts of the Bible. ‘God’ is an old English word which developed from an Indo-European word meaning ‘that which is invoked,’ which is also the ancestor of the German word Gott and the Danish Gud, both meaning God.”

So, does it matter who or what God is or what name we use?  I don’t think so, and I really believe it doesn’t even matter to God. 

Personally, here’s what I know about God.  I don’t ‘know’ anything.  But here’s what I ‘believe.’  It doesn’t matter the name you give to God.  It doesn’t matter the form or the gender that you give to God.  I no longer believe that God is a man sitting up in the clouds pouncing on us every time we do something someone else thinks we did wrong.  God is Love.  God is compassion.  God is all good.  God is in everyone and everything.  I also sometimes use the names Spirit, Universe, Life, or Love.  I believe that God is an all embracing source of pure, unconditional, perfect love.  God is all inclusive and loves every single one of us regardless of color, race, religion, gender, or walk of life.  God doesn’t judge or punish us and loves us regardless of who we are or what we’ve done.   Again, these are my personal beliefs and I’m certainly not going to tell anyone else what to believe.

Many people are being turned off to God, religions, and churches because they can no longer accept that God is an angry and vengeful deity who will send us to a place called hell if we don’t believe a certain way.  Instead, in their hearts and souls, they are awakening to a loving, embracing, and powerful force of love, though they may not quite know what it is or where it’s coming from.  

Jesus repeatedly declared that the kingdom of God is within.  Many religions teach this.  Sufi Proverb:  “I searched for God and found only myself.  I searched for myself and found only God.”  Swami Kriyananda:  “To find God within, is to find Him everywhere.”  Ernest Holmes: “The great spiritual geniuses, whether it was Moses, Buddha, Plato, Socrates, Jesus, or Emerson, have taught man to look within himself to find God.”  Black Elk: “At the center of the Universe dwells the Great Spirit, and that center is really everywhere.  It is within each of us.”  Rumi: “I looked in temples, churches, and mosques, but I found the Divine within my heart.”  Osho: “The first glimpse of God has to be in the innermost shrine of your heart.”  And, Ramakrishna:  “One should not think, ‘My religion alone is the right path and other religions are false.’  God can be realized by means of all paths.  It is enough to have sincere yearning for God.  Infinite are the paths and infinite the opinions.”

Therefore, let us show love and respect to everyone’s beliefs about God because when it comes right down to it, God is in all and we are all God’s children. 

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

Saturday, April 23, 2016

An Authentic Life

The other day, I was talking to two women who found out that I was an inspirational speaker.  As we were conversing, they asked me what I spoke about, and where do I speak and do my workshops.  My main theme is to try to inspire people to love one another, to show kindness and compassion to our fellow beings, to know our magnificence, to laugh and to find ways to enjoy our lives, and to learn to count our blessings.  It’s also okay to love ourselves and to be happy!  As Marianne Williamson said, “We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone.  And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”

It’s been a long journey over the years of getting to the point where I could teach others what I learned for myself.  I really believe that everything I’ve been through in my life, the perceived good and bad, brought me to where I am today.  When I was young, I dreamed I would grow up to be a well-known, successful actress, as I’ve always loved the entertainment business.  (I did have a taste of it when I was acting in L.A. and Nashville.)  I also always thought I would get married and have a dozen children.  But life had other plans for me. 

In 1997, I had a breakdown and all my dreams went right out the window.  At the time, it was devastating for me.  I had started my spiritual journey several years earlier when I opened my heart and mind to all things God (by whatever name you use) had for me to learn.  I had already been reading countless books on spirituality and self-improvement, so I had a head start in learning what I needed in order to get through it.  It was a rough couple of years, but I persevered and the breakdown ended up being one of the best things to have ever happened to me.

Then Toastmasters came into my life.  There’s a great group here in Cookeville and it really helped me come out of my shell again.  During my very first speech, my hands were shaking so badly that I had to hold my fingers together so no one would notice.  I then started competing in speech contests and made it to third place at the district level.  It was during this time that I decided to pursue public speaking.  I’ve always said that I may not be acting, but I’m still entertaining only now I’m entertaining with a message (though I still miss the entertainment business).

Because I was so passionate about my spirituality and helping people, I decided to become an ordained interfaith minister.  I went on to achieve my Bachelors, Masters, and then a Doctorate of Holistic Ministry.  Since then, I’ve spoken at numerous churches in several states (Unity, Unitarian, and United Church of Cookeville), as well as at other venues, secular and religious.  Speaking has become a passion of mine and I’m very enthusiastic about teaching people to love, not only to love others, but ourselves as well.

As the ladies and I spoke further, I mentioned to them that one of the main things that keeps us from being ourselves, pursing our dreams, or saying what we really want to say is because we’re so afraid of what others may think of us.  They say that public speaking is the number one fear people have, but I say it’s not the fear of speaking, but the fear of what the audience will think of our speaking. 

How many times do we not do something or refrain from saying something because we’re so afraid of what others may think?  We end up hiding behinds these masks because we can’t be who we really want to be or who we were really meant to be.  If we could get past worrying about what others think and just be our authentic selves, think of what all we could accomplish!  And to be clear, I’m still working on not worrying about what others think and learning to be who I’m really meant to be.

Eckhart Tolle said, “Only the truth of who you are, if realized, will set you free.”  And Parker J. Palmer declared, “Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic self-hood, whether or not it conforms to some image of who we ought to be.  As we do so, we will not only find the joy that every human being seeks, we will also find our path of authentic service in the world.”  

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

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Touch, Change, Save a Life

Recently, I saw a great story on Facebook about a woman who worked in a meat distribution factory.    At the end of one day she went into the meat freezer and the door closed behind her locking her in.  She screamed and knocked, but no one heard her as most of the workers had left for the day.  Several hours later, while she was close to death, the security guard opened the door and saved her life.  Why did he check the freezer even though this wasn’t his usual routine?  He said that he had worked at the factory for 35 years, and hundreds of workers came and went each day, but she was one of the few who would greet him in the morning and say goodbye to him every night before she left work.  Many people treated him like he was invisible.  That evening, he had not heard her say good-bye.  Therefore, worried that something may have happened to her, he decided to check around the factory and thought to look in the freezer.  Every day, he would look forward to her friendly greetings because they reminded him that he was someone.  Because of her kindness to this gentleman, it literally saved her life.

Not long ago I was at work, and as I usually do, I always greet the janitorial staff and will talk to them.  One morning, one of the ladies stopped me and thanked me for always greeting her so friendly.  She had been having a bad morning and said my smile and greeting really made her feel better.

In college, I made friends with a girl and she later told me that before she met me, she was going to take her life.  All I did was become her friend.  I never knew until she told me years later.

Another time at work, an elder woman was having a really bad day so I gave her warm hug.  As I walked away, she exclaimed, “I don’t even remember the last time someone hugged me!”

At one of the elementary schools I sometimes sub at, I stand at the door where several buses drop off the kids, and I greet them all with enthusiastic greetings.  I also tell them they’re beautiful, smart, wonderful, and other positive affirmations.  When I first started doing this, I hardly got any greetings in return.  As time went on, I would get a few more.  Then I would tell the kids, “This is where you say hello back to me!”  More said hello.   Then I just started rolling my arms and they knew that I was expecting a greeting in return and almost all of them would say good morning.  I even get a few hugs!  And for those who can’t say anything, that’s fine.  How many of these children may have had a bad morning, have a rough home life, are ignored at school or elsewhere, or never have anything kind said to them at all?  If I can touch just a few, and maybe even make a difference in their lives, then I’ve done my job.

I’ll even say random hello’s to people when I’m out shopping.  Some people look shocked that anyone would say anything to them for no reason.

There are numerous stories on Facebook where people will walk around with signs that say ‘Free Hugs’ on them, and it is so heartwarming to see all the people give them hugs.  People of all colors, races, religions, politics, genders, sexual preferences, and walks of life.  It didn’t matter.  Makes me bawl a river of tears every time I see these videos.

I think back on things people have said to me about my acts of kindness touching them, and I can only wonder what I did because all I was doing was being kind.  I say this in all humility, too.  There are many stories where simple acts of kindness have touched, changed, or even saved lives.  We don’t always know when our acts of kindness may touch someone, but they do. 

We shouldn’t be kind to expect anything in return.  Smiles, kindness, and hugs, should be given freely.  Of course, we need to be aware that some people don’t want to be hugged and that needs to be respected.  We also cannot judge anyone if they don’t respond to us as we don’t know what’s happening in their lives.

Mother Teresa said, “In this life we cannot always do great things, but we can do small things with great love.”  Asop stated, “No act of kindness is ever wasted.”  And Booker T. Washington declared, “If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else.”  Be kind and touch a life.  

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

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Fashions, Cultures, & Religions

Fashions over the years sure have changed. When I was in high school, I remember that I would get made fun of if my mini-skirts weren’t short enough.  Bell bottoms and hip-huggers were the rage.  Fashions and fads were changing faster than I could keep up with.  Those were the days when the kids would pretty much wore the same styles of clothing, and if you didn’t, then you just weren’t cool.

The generations before me also had their own styles for their times.  You can Google them to see just how much they have changed over the years.  One thing I love about today’s times is that people can wear whatever they want and it’s rare you will find anyone wearing the exact same thing. 

Modesty in clothing has changed over the years as well.  We go through times where women have to keep everything covered up, and then there are other times where showing a lot of skin in various places is perfectly acceptable. 

Men have had it a little easier in that wearing suits and ties has been the style for decades, though the material of the suits have changed, as well as the length and width of ties.  Like women’s clothing, men’s casual wear has also changed throughout the years.

Where does clothing and styles come in with regard to religions and cultures?  Again, depending on the religion, culture, and era, they all have their own traditional clothing that they wear, either required or because it’s what they feel comfortable wearing.

To give you an idea of what some people from various religions wear, I did some research on the Internet.  (I’m hoping all the information I present is accurate.  Remember, these are only some examples and that what is worn is based on many factors, even within a particular religion or sect.)  For instance:

Buddhist monks wear robes of various colors based on the region and tradition. 

Traditional nuns wear habits covering the whole body except for the face. 

Orthodox Jewish women cover their hair and wear skirts below their knees. Orthodox men typically wear long black garments, and some grow long beards and wear wide-brim black hats. They may also wear curls on the sides of their heads. 

Sikh’s spiritual clothing includes a turban and modest attire and they wear their hair uncut.
Mormon Missionaries (full-time) wear modest clothing and plain hairstyles.  Women wear either blouses with skirts or dresses that cover the knee.  Men must wear business suits.  Mormons in general also wear modest clothing.

Amish wear plain clothing they made themselves.  Males wear broad-brimmed black hats, dark-colored suits, suspenders, solid-colored shirts, and black socks and shoes. After they marry, the men must grow beards, but they are prohibited from having mustaches.  Females wear bonnets, long dresses, shawls, and black shoes and stockings.  They also never cut their hair, which is worn in a bun, and they are not allowed to wear jewelry of any kind. 

In Christianity, the clothing styles vary depending on the denomination and culture, and can range anywhere from the very modest to wearing anything. 

Muslims generally observe modest dress, but the variety of styles and colors vary depending on the country and culture, and whether they are wearing the clothing in public or private.  As in many other religions, women may wear some form of head covering, as well as some men for different reasons. 

In many religions, women in particular cover their head with either a bonnet, scarf, or other covering.  If you search for pictures of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, you will find that in every picture, she had some form of scarf covering her head; therefore, women have covered their heads throughout history in numerous religions. 

As you can see, this is just a snippet of all the various religions and what they wear or how they look, and they should all be respected and not be judged.  Many from these religions are also following passages from their holy books in regard to what they wear. 

I love the diversity of our religions and whatever the people from a particular religion may wear.  For me, it doesn’t matter one iota what a person wears because of their religion.  It’s what makes us all wonderful and unique.  Anthon St. Maarten said, “We are not supposed to all be the same, feel the same, think the same, and believe the same.  The key to continued expansion of our Universe lies in diversity, not in conformity and coercion.”  And Maya Angelou stated, “We all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads of the tapestry are equal in value no matter what their color.”

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper April 8, 2016.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Passionate for Love

What on earth is going on in our country and in the world right now?!?  It seems like there is chaos everywhere and so many people are living in a state of fear.  The media is full of stories of wars, murders, and people just being really nasty to one another.  In the United States alone, we have people propagating so much hate, bigotry, and violence.  It’s seems that instead of going forward in time, many are trying to take us backwards into history, where people were oppressed, segregated, and dehumanized. 

On the other hand, there is a great movement in the world where people from all religions are standing together to promote love, peace, compassion, kindness, and oneness.  The difference is that we’re just not hearing about them in mainstream media.  You will find countless sites on the Internet where individuals and groups are showing their love by being of service to humanity.  People are caring for their fellow beings (human and animal), as well as caring for Mother Earth.  They are living their religions and faiths by being the example and don’t feel a need to force their beliefs on anyone else. 

Our Spiritual Masters taught us to love one another.  The sad thing is that we are seeing many in various religions doing and saying everything to the contrary.  Some religious leaders and those in the political realm (not all) are saying the most awful, vile, and hateful things about others, and they want to get rid of whole groups of people.  I can only imagine how sad it makes our Spiritual Masters to see how our brothers and sisters are treating each other.  We are all children of God (by whatever name you use) and we are loved equally.  When people take the teachings of their Spiritual Masters out of their religions, then it just becomes a man-made religion that is used to back up their own personal beliefs.  For Christians in particular, Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

1 John 2:9 states, "Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness.  Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble.  But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness.  They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.” 

Jesus instructed us to care for one another, especially those who are less fortunate, because when we care for others, we are caring for him:  “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

Buddha said, “Have compassion for all beings, rich and poor alike, each has their sufferings.”
He also stated, “Radiate boundless love towards the entire world - above, below, and across - unhindered, without ill will, without enmity.”

The Al Quran states, “And worship Allah and associate naught with Him, and show kindness to parents, and to kindred, and orphans, and the needy, and to the neighbor that is a kinsman and the neighbor that is a stranger, and the companion by your side, and the wayfarer, and those whom your right hands possess. Surely, Allah loves not the proud and the boastful” (4:36).  It also says, “Those who believe and do good deeds - the Gracious God will create love in their hearts” (19:96).

Most, if not all religions teach love and kindness and their scriptures are filled with verses, stories, and parables teaching us just how important it is to love one other.  There are so many other religions I would have liked to have included here, but you can do your own research.  I know I write a lot about love, but I’m going to keep writing about it because there are still many who are living in fear and who are afraid to love others, especially if there are any perceived differences for whatever reasons. 

Senator Cory Booker made the greatest statement when he said, “Before you speak to me about your religion, first show it to me in how you treat other people; before you tell me how much you love your God, show me in how much you love all His children; before you preach to me of your passion for your faith, teach me about it through your compassion for your neighbors.” 

Loving others isn’t always easy, but our Masters have been the greatest examples of how loving others is possible and gives us something to strive for.  Besides, love really is the only answer.

Published in the religion section of the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper April 1, 2016.