SOBER TODAY – becoming unshackled

unshackled-2

There are times when a person reflects upon things he or she has written or said and with a querying mind asks, “How can I ever justify what I aspire to achieve spiritually when my thoughts, words, and actions are so undeniably human?”

Actually, that ‘querying’ mind is often self-condemning, is it not?  In these times of internal conflict we must remember that the spiritual progress promised in recovery programs, the Way of Jesus, and the Path of the Buddha are exactly what they claim to be, a course of progressive growth.  They are the trek each person must take to become vessels of wisdom and compassion within the power of the Divine Essence.  Undertaking this trek is not done with any expectation of perfection.  Progress is the goal.  Often the trail we walk slides off into a ravine of selfishness and unkind behavior, but pulling back onto the way forward is always awaiting.

The fellowships of AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) and CR (Celebrate Recovery) both recognize humanness and brokenness as elements of addictions.  Their step programs offer, not a miracle cure, but rather a way of living which enables members to rise above this inherent human condition of self-absorption.  Joining hands with like-minded men and women intent on becoming more than empty vessels tossed mercilessly on the seas of alcoholism, drug abuse, behavior addictions and emotional stress, these adventurers want not a perfect life, but a better life, a life of freedom from the prisons of self and ego.

Similarly, Jesus and the Buddha, holding all of creation in reverence, offered a lifestyle of service and compassion as the way to a personal heaven and a path to enlightenment.  Their disciples were ordinary examples of humanity who became extraordinary trekkers.  None of them were perfect.  Insecurity, anger, ego plagued their journeys through earthly temptations.  Yet, they understood that even though heaven or enlightenment was the desired outcome, a perfect life was not the path.  Humans must endure growth through the vagaries of humanness in order to become the spiritual beings which a Creator has intended.

Those who follow the life of Jesus Christ as their example must remember that, along with his obvious love and compassion for his Father’s creation, he also endured the human life fraught with temptation, desire, insecurity and anger.  According to the writings of the ancients, his public ministry lasted a scant 3 or 4 years before the crucifixion.  Where was he before the ministry, what was he doing?  Believing that Jesus traversed the same road of searching that every earthly human walks gives a great insight into the purpose of his life.  Those who portray Jesus as perfect at birth from a virgin’s womb seem to be missing the entire reason for his story.  Anybody can be perfect when born perfect.  Only a totally human experience of failure and disappointment combined with joy and ecstasy provides the sojourner with the necessary tools to crawl from the depths of hell to a life of peace and contentment.CANDLEcopyright 3

salvation-noun or verb?

smiley-face-2Just another traveler on life’s highway, hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet, it’s peaceful; beyond the horizon is rest calling my name.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup overflows.

 

Sometimes we get caught up in Christianity’s preponderance with salvation.  This basic tenet says to us, in contemporary Christianity, that the goal of our faith walk should be salvation thus guaranteeing a place in God’s eternity.  Take the New Testament walk through the verses of salvation, become saved and born again, and miraculously a seat is reserved beside Jesus at the throne of Almighy God.  Unfortunately, for mankind, that viewpoint of salvation allows us to escape the primary command to live our lives humbly with graciousness, compassion, honor, respect, and love for the Creation.  We did the salvation thing and life can now continue as before because we’ve been “saved”.

Eternity happens later and there is no reason to become concerned with it in this life because we have achieved salvation.  There is no dire need to transform or evolve into the present Kingdom surrounding us and residing within us.

That transformation and evolution would require change of heart and change of mind, would it not?  It would require reworking the internal me.  Yes, I too followed that train wreck of modern evangelical Christianity until I realized, “Hey, if I’m born again, if I’m saved, why has nothing in my life changed?”  The answer came to me through the fellowship which led me into sobriety.  One of the primary observances of AA was a verse found in the book of James:

“For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”  James 2:26

Faith without works is a dead faith because the lack of works reveals an unchanged life or a spiritually dead heart.  That verse in James revealed to me that I could not rest on my laurels just because I claimed salvation.  The profession of being “born again” was just the start of a new way of living my life following the example of Jesus, the Christ.  I could not continue being the man I was before my proclamation.

I found it insightful to rethink the word salvation.  One of the definitions in the dictionary is 1) deliverance from sin and damnation, but another is simply 2) redemption.  Redeeming has less of a moral conviction, it denotes recovery and that is what I, a man who had followed the wrong trail in life, had to do after realizing my life needed to change.  My relationship with the ever-present Higher Power needed to be reclaimed.  An admission of the failure of my self-directed life was a starting point, I claimed rebirth, but that certainly could not be the end of the story.

My story is not appreciated by many Christians.  My story shakes their preconceived, theology-controlled concepts of the meaning of the Gospel and salvation.  Yet, upon study and research my story walks along the paths of Jesus and the Buddha.  Jesus and “the Way”, Buddha and “the Path” give me indisputable guidance in negotiating the Christian volumes of “thou shalt and thou shalt not” which have evolved from a very simple message which taught, not preached, how to become a part of Creation, not apart from Creation.”  Jack Wintz, Will I See My Dog in Heaven? (Paraclete Press: 2009), 29.

CANDLE

 

soul food

smiley-face-2Just another traveler on life’s highway, hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet, it’s peaceful; beyond the horizon is rest calling my name.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup overflows.

 

The term “soul” is thrown around quite often in today’s society.  Soul food, soul music, eternal soul are just a few.  It always brings to mind that internal essence which many people consider the truth residing within each of us.  Fr. Richard Rohr, cac.org , defines soul as “……anything’s ultimate meaning which is held within. Soul is the blueprint inside of every living thing that tells it what it is and what it can become. When we meet anything at that level, we will respect, protect, and love it.”

Notice that this advocate of the mystic nature of Christ does not describe my soul as an entity separate from anything else, as a part of my being which will move on to heaven after my physical death, nor a hard-to-understand tenet of any religion’s theology.  Soul simply is.  It tells me that I am what I am and it leads me to what I can become.  It is the blueprint, the divine spark of DNA, present in every living organism.  Every living creature has soul.

Francis of Assisi understood this and is well known for spending many hours walking the roads of Umbria learning from nature the meaning of soul.  He called all of creation his brothers and sisters.  Think about it.  Every creature of nature is born, matures and reaches its destiny, when unimpeded, without a thought as to what it should be or how it should develop. A lion becomes the king of the jungle, a daffodil becomes a springtime beauty, a butterfly flits about searching for nectar.  Only man disputes and denies his inherent divine spark of DNA.  Man was created in the image of God and man’s destiny is to become a son of God, a recreation of that eternal Force which gave him life.

My religious tradition confused and often denied the teaching of St. Francis.  It told me I had to conform to its theology and ritual in order to access the sacredness of soul.  It led me to a narcissistic approach to God which proclaimed me as very unique and special while simultaneously damning me to hell if I did not conform through its creeds and prayers.

According to scriptures, John the Baptist eschewed the trappings of the temple and its purity laws calling people to repentance in the waters of nature.  Jesus was baptized in those waters and subsequently spent 40 days and nights communing with nature in the wilderness.

Fr. Richard goes on to observe the mark missed by contemporary Christianity:  “We would have done much better to help other Christians discover their souls instead of “save” them. My sense, after being a priest for almost 50 years, is that most Christians are trying to save something they have not even found.” cac.org

Picture43

 

 

Golden Years

smiley-face-2Just another traveler on life’s highway, hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet, it’s peaceful; beyond the horizon is rest calling my name.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup overflows.

 

Living in the “golden years”  is not what the 30 year-old version of me envisioned in 1977.  I blame no one other than me for the money I blew on shiny new cars, the time I wasted sitting on a bar stool, and the relationships I trashed in pursuit of good times.  Forty years ago I had the rest of my life to create a retirement stash, to find that perfect profession, and to settle down with a compatible mate.  So much for dreaming the dream because that’s all it was.  Just a pipe dream with no foundation.

Through the grace of sustained sobriety I have reconciled all of that and no longer beat myself up over missed opportunities.  Hopefully, I have gained a wealth of wisdom and acceptance in building a foundation.  But, the fact remains that these “golden years” are a day-to-day struggle and a challenge to survive on minimal financial resources.

Thank God the spiritual resources have kicked in to give me unbounding faith in God’s goodness and provision.  In retrospect I know for a fact that every one of my needs has always been fulfilled and most of my wants have also.  But, this old man standing by the sea of life watching the trappings of affluence and properity pass by is a daily reminder that somehow I have missed the worldly boat.  That gives me a choice: 1) I can stand on the dock patiently waiting for my ship to come in or, 2) I can grab the oars and start rowing my own boat.  Very simple solution, don’t you think?

And I don’t have to do this by myself.  Spiritual blessings are built on a recovery fellowship, on the concept of giving and receiving, and on the readings of ancient scriptures.  In the wisdom of the Tao Te Ching:

“The Tao is like a well:  used but never used up……empty yet infinitely capable.  The more you use it, the more it produces.”

In Christian scripture Jesus said in Matthew 6:

“Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them……take no thought saying, What shall we eat?  or what shall we drink? or wherewithal shall we be clothed?…For your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things….

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”  

The earthly paths of Jesus and the Buddha exemplify the kingdom and teach me the righteousness to seek.  That righteousness is not a moral discipline; rather, it is a way of living which honors and upholds the rights of all  creation.  Both the “Path” of the Buddha and the “Way” of Jesus trust in the mercy and goodness of humanity to meet the physical needs of their temples.  They depended on the promises of a Sovereign Being to feed them spiritually and lead them to a resurrected life in the realm of the Spirit.  They taught me that when the demands of self-awareness are subjugated to the promises of a higher power, the needs of this world become faint in comparison to the provisions afforded by faith and trust in the surrounding and indwelling Light.  I am, after all, a spirit housed in a temporal body.  This flesh which I carry is but a fleeting moment in the universal consciousness of eternal spirit.  I no longer chase after the lies of the “golden years” but, instead seek the golden nuggets of ancient wisdom and truth.

just as I am

Are you an evangelist?  The dictionary definition says  (1) one who preaches the gospel (2) one who brings converts to Christianity.  Nope, I’m not an evangelist.  Before she retired, my aunt was a missionary and an evangelist.  I admired her.  Her family of nieces and nephews idolized her.  She was a great worker for Jesus.  Maybe I should be more like her.

My preacher at church urges us to go out into the community and spread the good news.  I think she means that we should take Jesus with us when we interact with our neighbors, our co-workers, the cashier at the grocery store, maybe the homeless guy on the corner.  I don’t carry a Bible with me when I go somewhere.  Do you think I should?

Years ago the fellowship I worshipped with assigned us in twos to go door-to-door to share the gospel.  Talk about rejection!  Slammed doors, cussing, ridicule and only a few welcomes.  No, I’m not a door-to-door kind of guy.  Hey, I’m not knocking it.  God needs workers of all walks.  The preacher, the teacher, the organizer, the evangelist, the handyman, the errand boy, the writer, the cleaning crew, the PR man, the musician…..and me.

So, what am I?  Where do I fit in God’s scheme?  I know what my gifts are and I share them.  No, I’m not a talker.  I’m that quiet guy who sits in the 3rd to last pew at church service.  I sing but the choir doesn’t need my crow-like caws annoying the folks in the front row and the preacher.  I don’t play the organ or piano.  I’m not especially talented at organizing group functions.  So, what can I do?

I can listen to you talk about your pain and grief.  I can hold your hand when you’re sad.  I can share my strength when yours is running low.  I can tell you what Jesus did for me when I was in pain, when I was grieving, when I was sad, when I was weak.  I can come beside you and walk with you through the dark times, through the trials, through the loneliness.

Don’t you see?  I know the greatest teacher ever.  His teachings are eternal wisdom.  His love is everlasting.  His patience is bottomless.  And Jesus wants me to be the best me I can be.  He doesn’t need another front man for the missionary work, a speaker who can move crowds to ecstasy, a motivator, a leader, or a teacher.  No, he wants me doing what I do best…….just as I am.  The invitation is open, you can come too, just as you are.

I come broken to be mended
I come wounded to be healed
I come desperate to be rescued
I come empty to be filled
I come guilty to be pardoned
By the blood of Christ the Lamb
And I’m welcomed with open arms
Praise God, just as I am

Songwriters: SUE C. SMITH, TRAVIS COTTRELL, DAVID E. MOFFITT
© Universal Music Publishing Group, CAPITOL CHRISTIAN MUSIC GROUP

CANDLE