Friday, September 30, 2016

What Would Love Do?

Last week, I attended our UMMAS Unity retreat at the Kanuga Conference Center in Hendersonville, N.C. (Unity Ministers of the Mid-Atlantic States is a voluntary association of Unity ministers, spiritual leaders, and their spouses/partners from North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, and Alabama).  This was my thirteenth year, and it’s always an incredible experience!  I always come back refreshed, renewed, and filled with so much more love and appreciation for all of life.  The theme this year was "What Would Love Do?”

Our keynote speaker was Rev. Jack Bomar, whose history of being of service to humanity is phenomenal.  Eddie Watkins, Jr., who has played with many well-known artists including Quincy Jones and Barbara Streisand, provided us with extraordinary music.  We also had the opportunity to attend numerous classes and workshops on various topics.

One workshop I attended was “Pathways to Peace and Justice” about looking beyond assumptions, stereotypes, and appearances, and embracing the unity and worth of all people so that we can communicate authentically with others in deeper ways.  They also shared a beautiful prayer with us titled “Our Prayer for All People.”  It states, “There are many names for Spirit, many faces of Spirit, many paths to Spirit, but there is only One Spirit.  And this Spirit expresses through all people.  Knowing this, we bless people of every race, religion, culture, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, economic status, and mental or physical ability.  We celebrate the Divinity of all people, and give thanks that this is so.”  (

Another workshop I attended was “Loving Our Transgender Neighbors” that gave us information to better understand the transgender journey, Biblical teachings about gender, and our own gender enculturation.  One of the speakers was an amazing transgender woman named Gabrielle Claiborne.  She and Rev. Linda Herzer are co-founders of Transformation Journeys Worldwide.  They offer presentations and workshops in order to share their passion for educating all people about the transgender experience.   I had the opportunity to speak with Gabrielle for a little bit and her heart is so full of love and compassion.  (

The last night of the retreat, we have a talent show and I’ve had the opportunity to participate every year which is so much fun.  This year, I appeared as ‘the Little Old Lady’ in a fun skit with three friends from my Unity helping me.  Fortunately, because we each have a great sense of humor and the gift of spontaneity, it turned out to be hilarious and we had a blast performing it.

The music at Kanuga is provided by fabulous Unity musicians and singers and they are always so uplifting and exhilarating.  They play songs that are meditative and songs that get us dancing, and all of them touch our hearts and souls.

Even though I don’t claim a religion, one reason I love Unity so much is that we really do try to live and follow the practical teachings of Jesus in that he commanded us to love one another (no exceptions), as well as ourselves.  We’re open and accepting and love all people because unconditional love is what Jesus and all the other great spiritual masters taught.

Now that I’m back in ‘reality,’ I need to decide whether I want to stay in a state of love and peace, or if I want to again get involved in all the negative drama of the world.  I’m going to try to choose love and peace.  I know it won’t be easy, especially when we’re bombarded with so much negativity in the media, but it’s my intention that counts and where my heart is.  That doesn’t mean I’m going to ignore everything that’s going on as I still need to be aware of world events, but I don’t have to dwell on them or give my power over to them any longer.

Instead, I’m going to remember the words of Eddie Watkins, Jr.’s song, “What Would Love Do?”  To paraphrase the lyrics:  “Just before you say something you can’t take away, take a breath and let it out, try to think about, what would love do now?  Wondering if you should cross that line for good, whatever you decide, ask yourself from inside, what would love do now?  Everything is either an act of love, or a cry for love, that’s why for love, we try for love, in the end that’s all we know that’s real.  Whether right or wrong, does it matter just as long, as you let your heart decide, ask yourself inside, what would love do now?”

“Love is the only sane and satisfactory answer to the problem of human existence.”  Erich Fromm 

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper September 30, 2016.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Appreciation For Those Who Serve

There are many people in various professions who are under-paid and under-appreciated, and I would just like to express my sincere gratitude to all the wonderful men and women who work in these careers, not for fame and fortune, but because they love being of service and love their jobs.

I’d like to make it clear that there are good and bad people in all occupations, but there are so many more good than not.  The problem is that we just don’t hear about them, especially in the media.  The majority of the media loves to broadcast mostly the negative to the point that they almost glorify and make celebrities out of those who make really horrible choices in their lives.  We rarely, if ever, hear about those who are making a huge difference in the lives of humanity.  Yet each of us can acknowledge and reward those who are making a magnificent difference, not only in the lives of others, but in our own lives as well.

The profession I would first like to recognize is teachers.  When I first started working as a substitute teacher in the schools, I had an awakening to what exactly teachers face in today’s day and age.  It made me appreciate teachers that much more because of what they are trying to do for our children.  Most all teachers are very hard working, and they not only care about your children’s education, but they love and care about your children as well.  Contrary to the way they’re portrayed, they do not just work the hours of eight to three and have all this time off.  Most teachers come in early and stay late, they take work home with them in the evenings and on weekends, they work during their time off, and most even work on their vacations.  Your children spend at least seven or eight hours a day with these wonderful men and women and yet many take them for granted. 

Another profession is law enforcement officers.  These brave men and women literally put their lives on the line every time they go to work never knowing if they will make it home to their families that evening.  They face some of the most volatile situations and sometimes they have to see horrible and gruesome scenes that no one should have to see.  When responding to a call, they never know what they’re going to face.  When it comes to their safety or the safety of others, they literally have a split second to decide if someone is going to pull a gun on them knowing that they could be taking someone’s life whether there’s a gun involved or not.  The media focuses on the ‘bad’ cops with regard to shootings, but no one mentions how many times officers are shot at and how many are injured or killed. 

Next come firefighters, EMT’s, and other first responders.  These are also brave men and women who never know what they’re going to face or whether they’ll make it home at the end of the day.  They save homes, people, animals, and property at the risk of their own lives.  Many volunteer their services and are not paid with an income or benefits.  They also have to see some of the most horrific scenes that no one should ever have to see. 

Our military personnel also deserve a special mention (including the National Guard).  I don’t support war, and it should always be an absolute last resort, but I will totally stand up for our military personnel.  They go into situations, mostly in other countries, where they know they will be killing countless lives, even though society says it’s justified.  They also put their lives on the line to save others, never knowing if they themselves will be alive at the end of the day.  They, too, see things no one should ever see.  Many come back home and are treated horribly, especially when it comes to taking care of their physical and mental health because of the war.

There are many, many others, and you can add your own to this list.  To these brave men and women, I would like to say thank you, I love you, and I appreciate you.  Your service to humanity is not in vain.  You’ve touched and even saved countless lives, and you’ve made a tremendous difference in our world. 

So the next time you see any of these amazing people, please take the time to thank them.  Send them notes of gratitude and gifts from your heart, and let them know that their service and their lives do matter.

“Appreciation is a wonderful thing.  It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.”  Voltaire 

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper September 23, 2016.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Everyone Has a Story!

The other day I was in a store and the clerk mentioned to me and another woman that earlier a mother had come in with a child and he was causing a ruckus by crying and whatever else he was doing. In situations like this, I’ve heard many people say that all the parent(s) needs to do is spank or beat the kid(s). Before they could really say anything, I said that we never know what the whole story is.  The child could be autistic, the mother could be having a really bad day because she found out she has an illness, maybe someone died, or it could be any other number of reasons that we weren’t seeing.  And maybe in spite of whatever she’s experiencing, she still had to get some things from the store and didn’t have any other choice but to take her child with her.

Consequently, rather than us going into a state of judgment talking about how awful this child was or how terrible it was that the mother wasn’t keeping her child under control, we took the high road and chose instead to have compassion for her and the child. 

We’ve all been there either with our own children or witnessing other parents having a hard time keeping their children under control or trying to keep them from crying in public.   It’s interesting how many people immediately rush to judgment and think that using violence on the child is the only answer.  Sure, maybe the child(ren) just wants what s/he wants when s/he wants it and the parent said no causing a temper tantrum.  Some parents will immediately stop what they’re doing and leave the store.  Others can’t as they have to finish their shopping before they can leave. 

Instead of jumping to conclusions about what is actually occurring, how about if we show compassion and ask the mom (or dad) if there’s anything we can do to help.  Ask with love and kindness in our hearts.  “I see you’re having a moment.  Is there is anything I can do to help you?”  Maybe we can distract the child by talking to him/her.  There are any number of things we can try before realizing that the only solution is for the parent to get out of the store with any reasonable sanity left.  But we don’t need to judge.

Recently, I saw a great story on Facebook from a “Love What Matters” site about a man who took the high road to help a woman and child on a flight.  Someone witnessed this beautiful man’s compassion and wrote, “On a flight back to Georgia, this man, who was a stranger to this woman, offered to help her because she was pregnant and alone on the flight, and her son was upset and fussy.  He told her that he was a dad and wanted to help her so she could rest. He walked the aisle most of the flight from Minneapolis to Atlanta comforting this woman's son as if he was his own.  I was in tears...not because he was white and she was black...but because it showed me today that there are still good people out there in a world full of turmoil.”

Sure, sometimes your offer of kindness may be met with ‘no thank you,’ or you may even get a nasty response, but it’s what’s in your heart that counts.  If you do get a nasty response, please don’t respond with a nasty reply.  They may just be beyond frustrated and it has nothing to do with you.  You practiced the teachings of Jesus and all the other great Spiritual Masters when you put love and compassion first. 

It’s so easy to sit in judgment of others for whatever reasons, but we have got to realize that everyone has a story.  We don’t know what anyone is going through.  I would highly recommend Googling “Everyone Has a Story” and watch some of the videos.  After watching them, you may find yourself being less judgmental and having a little more compassion for others.

Since we don’t know what others are going through, we can help lighten whatever load they may be carrying with little acts of kindness.  A smile, a hug, or a sincere compliment can go a long way.  Treat people the way you would want to be treated, especially when you’re experiencing any kind of darkness.   It’s called the Golden Rule and it’s in most all religions.

The Bible says, “…clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.  And over all these virtues, put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”  (Colossians 3:12/14)

And Steve Maroboli stated, “A kind gesture can reach a wound that only compassion can heal.” 

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen September 16, 2016.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Rise of the Nones

Recently, I was researching why so many people are leaving the church, turning their backs on God, and not wanting to have anything to do with religion(s), particularly when it comes to Christianity. There are countless articles written on the subject, but what I found was that there are no easy answers.

It also appears there is a new ‘religion’ out there called the Nones and they are on the rise.   The Nones consist of Atheists, Agnostics, those who don’t go to church, those not affiliated with a religion, those who claim to be spiritual rather than religious, and many others.

According to a National Geographic article, the Nones are considered the second largest ‘religious’ group in North America and a good part of Europe.  In North America, they consist of almost a quarter of the population. 

An article in the American Catholic Review magazine stated that about 70% of Nones say they believe in God, a higher power, or a life force in some form.  It also stated that of these, Jesus was still a meaningful spiritual figure because of his healings, how he embraced the social outcasts, and he was critical of religious hypocrisy.  He was also a great moral and spiritual example. stated that 78% of the Nones were raised in highly religious families.  Statistics show that when parents work hard to indoctrinate their children with their religious beliefs, then the chances are good that the child(ren) will later leave the religion or totally hate it.  Some of the reasons were logic, common sense, or lack of evidence.  They also cited religious scandals, sexual abuse, religious politics, religious extremism, and so on.  Some claimed they were seeking a spiritual path of enlightenment and believed in being open-minded, and this segment is also on the rise. 

As an Interfaith Minister, I’ve spoken with many people who don’t go to church and/or don’t believe in God.  Some have said that they tried going to church, but were not made to feel welcome because of the way they looked, their lifestyle, they were judged and ostracized, and some were even kicked out the front door.  I’ve personally witnessed some of these examples in various churches.

I believe a huge reason many are turning away is because of the hypocrisy they see and hear from so many religious leaders and their churches.  They hear the messages of outright hatred towards those who do not believe the way they do.  They also see how so many are trying to force their religion onto others, how they’re trying to make laws based on their religion, how they want only their religion, and how much their words and actions are hurting people.  They see church leaders of various religions committing crimes, ripping their congregants off financially, saying they’re happy when certain segments of society are hurt or killed, and they hear them incite so much violence.  They know this is not the way Jesus and the other great spiritual masters would have wanted it, and they know in their hearts that this isn’t the way it’s supposed to be!  They know the spiritual masters taught messages of unconditional love, kindness, compassion, peace, harmony, and oneness. 

Of course, there are many religions (including denominations, etc.) who are exceptions and who do teach and practice what their spiritual masters taught, but they’re not always easy to find.  Fortunately, I’ve been to several, including several right here in Cookeville.  They consist of loving groups of people, they welcome anyone into their community, and the newcomers will be loved just the way they are. 

The best influence when it comes to religion is to lead by example rather than trying to force a religion on anyone.  Those who are secure in their beliefs have absolutely no desire to force those beliefs on anyone.  They know that unconditional love, kindness, and compassion they show towards others are their greatest testimonies. 

John Shelby Spong said, “God is not a Christian, God is not a Jew, or a Muslim, or a Hindu, or a Buddhist. All of those are human systems which human beings have created to try to help us walk into the mystery of God. I honor my tradition, I walk through my tradition, but I don't think my tradition defines God, I think it only points me to God.” 

If you want your religion and/or church to grow, lead by example and lead with unconditional love.  More people are influenced by the example you set and when they know they are loved and accepted just as they are.  It is said that God is love; therefore, love should be the greatest example.  As Deepak Chopra said, “If love is universal, no one can be left out.”

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper September 9, 2016.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

The Man at the Flea Market

It was a beautiful, crisp fall morning and I thought I’d take the opportunity to visit the country flea market so see what treasures I might be able to find.  When I got there, it seemed like hundreds of others had the same idea as there were people everywhere.  I wasn’t in a hurry so I started down one row and took my time looking at all the interesting items on display.

I wasn’t there long before I heard a voice behind me say, “Good morning, Karen!  It’s a magnificent day out today!”  I know I recognized that voice, and when I turned, sure enough, there he was.

“Jesus!  I sure wish you would give me some kind of warning when you come to visit me!” Jesus only grinned as if he found it amusing to see my reactions every time I saw him.  This time, he was dressed in blue jeans, black t-shirt, his beard was trimmed, and he had his hair back in a pony tail.  “Are you going for a new look, Jesus?  I haven’t seen you look so modern before!”

“Karen, we’re in the middle of hundreds of people.  How do you think they’d react if I appeared as I did in Biblical times or as I appeared to you the last couple of times we met?”   He made a good point. 

“Do you always change your appearance depending on who you appear to?” 

Jesus paused before answering.  “Most people believe I look like the artist’s depiction of me that is so popular…fair skinned and sandy brown hair.  My mother is depicted as having fair skin and always wearing a scarf over her head.  And yet Mother and I are both Middle Eastern Jews and neither of us spoke English.  Also, pictures of God always show him as a man with long white hair and beard up in the sky somewhere.  But to answer your question, I appear to people the way they believe me to be.”

“My beloved, people need to remember that no one really knows what we look like.  They only have their beliefs of what we look like.  Therefore, I tend to show myself to coincide with what people believe.  But I also appear in so many other forms.  I appear as homeless people looking for change or food, as the sick and dying who can’t get medical help, the lonely elders whom people tend to forget, the hungry people all over the world who never know where their next meal may come from.  I appear as Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists…as Caucasians, blacks, Mexicans, Asians, Native Americans…gays, transgenders…and everyone else you can think of.  I appear in all forms no matter who they are, what they look like, or what they believe.”

I understood what he was saying.  “Yeah, I seem to remember a Bible verse that says, ‘…whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

“Yes, Karen, but there are no ‘least of these.’  You are all equal in the eyes of the Creator and you are all loved equally as well.”

Frustrated, I replied, “If that’s so, then why can’t everyone believe that?  If they did, then maybe we could all get along and there would be peace in the world!” 

“That’s because you have too many people worshipping their religions or the leaders of their churches rather than following the teachings of their Spiritual Masters, which is always based in pure, unconditional, perfect love.  Some people believe man’s interpretations rather than going within and seeking their answers. Even your scriptures have quoted me as saying ‘the Kingdom of Heaven is within.’  When people let their hearts lead from love, then they will find the answers they seek.

Contemplating what Jesus just said, I continued, “Jesus, is it true that we will know your disciples by the love they have for one another?” 

“Yes, very much so.  And you can replace my name with any other Spiritual Master as well for all other religions.  Humans speak so much about love, but not many really practice it.  Love has been the foundation of our teachings since the beginning of time, and yet, for whatever reasons, some people still aren’t getting it.”

I knew he’d be disappearing on me soon since he always comes and go in the blink of an eye, so I had to ask one more question.  “Jesus, do you think we’ll ever know world peace?”

Jesus smiled and replied, “When everyone finds the love and peace within, then you will have absolute peace in the world.”  I turned for just a second and when I turned around, he was gone.  He did it to me again! 

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper September 2, 2016.