just as I am

 

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A beggar and wanderer in life’s trek reaching beyond the horizon’s mysteries.  Take me, consume me, I no longer fear your infinite wisdom.

As a young man I was indoctrinated into the belief that Christianity alone held the answers to the mysteries of life and the hereafter.  I did not see it as a nefarious attempt to control my thinking nor kidnap my soul.  It was merely the traditional theology handed down generation after generation from father to son, mother to daughter because they truly believed this was the only path to goodness and eternal life.  My first taste of religious intolerance occurred within my closely knit community, when an upstanding Catholic parent thought he was worthy of a seat on the school board, but was met with vehement opposition from the “true” Christian community fathers.  I became familiar with the words, “We love you as Christians, but you don’t qualify”.

That screaming “but you don’t qualify” became the signature arguing point in my withdrawal and subsequent denial of anything religious.  Unfortunately, it also enabled the demon of alcoholism to replace all that had been taught to me as a young lad.  I recognize today, as a sober man, that not everything of those early learning years was errant and repressive.  When reading familiar scriptures, I can now agree and reflect on the truth contained in many of those verses.  But I also recognize that the tradition of my Christ-centered faith is not exclusive.  It is not the only way.  AA’s concept of a “God of my understanding” led me to find sober salvation along with millions of others who could not swallow a narrow, wrathful and vengeful entity sitting upon his throne breathing fire and damnation.

Today I hold to the thought that a truly loving and compassionate God does not have the capacity to hate or deny God’s love based on man’s theological interpretation.  Period.  God is love, love is God.  It is impossible for God to not love. That is cemented by none other than Jesus, the Christ.

If therefore the Son shall set you free, you shall be free indeed.”  John 8:36

Believing in Jesus, not as the man nor as the divinity, but as the way to a lifestyle free of “thou shalt” and “thou shalt not”, as a path to unconditional acceptance and compassion for all of God’s humanity regardless of race, creed, sexuality or ethnicity – that is the freedom expressed by every one of the world’s major religions and especially in John 8:36.  I can realize a life which is  no longer bound by the shackles of judgement or hatred or intolerance.  Free indeed!

Bottom line for me is that this freedom is a choice I make every day.  Do I bow to the God of my understanding or do I submit unquestioningly to the God of my tradition?  Ironically, they are the same God, but do I follow the narrow interpretations of theologians or do I live my life according to a God understood by me?  Today I know that God is God is God, the One and the same universal entity referenced by Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, and Christianity, but never intending to be exclusive to any one faith walk.  Man has encouraged that exclusivity.  Man has kidnapped, pigeon-holed, and taught lies about God which are contrary to the core tenet of each of the 5 great traditions.

In Exodus 3:14, the writer reports that when Moses asked, “Whom shall I tell the people you are,” the vision he was seeing replied, “I am that I AM.”

I AM is the same supernatural power which mankind from the beginning of time has searched within himself for the answers to these questions: 1)who am I?  2)why am I here?  3)what am I supposed to do here?  The cave man in his natural questioning painted pictures on the cave walls to express his connection to nature, the world’s first mystics knew they were one with the universal power to which they chanted, the shepherd boys in the hills marveled at the star-lit night ushering  the arrival of a new messenger to show THE WAY to a lost tribe.   I AM has always been with us and in us throughout eternity.  I AM does not belong to any man’s theology or doctrine.  I AM cannot be humanly defined, cannot be humanly described.  I AM simply is.

“Just as the same lump of clay can take on infinite form and remain itself unchanged, so God takes on infinite form while never being other than God.” – Rami Shapiro, Perennial Wisdom for the Spiritually Independent: Sacred Teachings—Annotated & Explained (Skylight Paths Publishing: 2013), 66.

walk on the wild side

 

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Have you ever taken a walk on the wild side?  Maybe you told your mom and dad you were sleeping over at Susie’s house when in truth you were shacking up with Tony at a flea-bag motel.  Maybe you got caught with a few doobies by the local cop and you gave him the “fun” he wanted in exchange for forgetting about it.  Maybe you lied about the new boots you shoplifted and told your husband you did some babysitting for the money.

Was that walk on the wild side more like a trip through hell?  You got involved in sex for pay to cover your college expenses.  You stole your grandmother’s diamond ring to cover a drug debt.  You lied to your spouse about the perfumed shirt collar after the office party.  You kept your mistress on the other side of town while claiming to be working many hours of overtime at the office.  You spent your entire bank account on a weekend of gambling at the casino and your wife did not have money for the baby’s formula.

Or perhaps you devoted your youth and your money to an addiction?  Alcohol, heroin, cocaine, meth, sex?  You lied, cheated, stole, murdered.  You made your family wish that you were never born.  You had no friends other than drunks and druggies.  After awhile they got sick of you too.  Is that your story?

Years ago a rich landowner had two sons of whom he was very proud.   The elder son was industrious, loyal, beloved by family and friends alike.  The younger son was a playboy, not as diligent, and somewhat devious .  He heard of a country nearby where life was pleasant, where men lounged by the poolside sipping fine tasting margaritas  served by voluptuous maidens….naked maidens.

He schemed a plan to move to that country to live the good life.  One fine morning, the son approached his father saying, “Dad, half of your estate will be mine when you pass on.  Would you consider giving it to me now so that I can relocate to this great little country I’ve been reading about and build my own empire?”

Now, Dad was no country bumpkin.  He knew what his son was planning but loved him greatly and agreed to do as he was asked.  The son departed for his future amidst tears in the household and a father deeply grieved.  He soon arrived at his destination and began the life of leisure he desired.  The pool, the maidens, the drinking all led him to believe he had undoubtedly found utopia.

Within a few years the money was depleted.  He looked for a job, but his reputation as a sluggard and a liar preceded him and there were no good jobs befitting the son of a wealthy landowner.  His last desperate hope was at the slaughterhouse cleaning out pig pens.  The good-hearted owner hired him and the young man worked very hard for  minimum wages.  His desperation grew and he could not afford even a meal at the local MickeyD’s on the corner where he lived.  So he shared with the hogs  the slop which was fed to them daily.

After several months living this way, the young wayward son feared that he would die in this condition.  “I am the son of a wealthy landowner.  Why am I living this way?  I will go back home, throw myself at my father’s feet and beg forgiveness asking only that he keep me as one of the household servants.”

And so he did this.

Sitting on his long, wide front porch, the father spied his son approaching from many miles away.  “Behold, my long-lost son is coming home, he is returning from the far country.”

He instructed the head chef to prepare a luxurious meal of all the son’s favorite foods, he instructed the tailor to lay out the finest robes and slippers in the household, and he told his social assistant to invite all the townspeople for a week-long party with enough food and wine for a week of festivities

And then he ran down the lane winding to the house, beheld his unshaven, dirty, smelly son and embraced him with hugs and kisses saying, “My son, I have been with you always in the far country and I have never stopped loving you.”

The young prodigal was flabbergasted.  His father should be angry and ready to cast him in the local hoosegow in chains for what had happened.  The inheritance had been wasted on partying and loose women, the family reputation had been disgraced and yet, he was received as a prince, a man of honor.

The young son bathed in fine perfumed waters, put on the finest robes in the house and sat down to enjoy the homecoming with the best wine and food the household could provide.  It was a joyous celebration in Father’s house.

Okay, most of you know this story from the book of Luke.  We also know that the elder son who had stayed at home, tended to his father’s business, lived a life of moderation and responsibility threw quite a hissy fit over his fathers magnanimous reception for the philandering younger brother.  He felt that somehow he was owed a greater portion of the father’s love because he had crossed every t and dotted every i in his life of obedience.

We are all prodigal sons.  Not because of the trek to the far country, but rather, because we underestimate the vastness and depth of the Father’s love for us.  That love is not dependent on our return from the far country or our contrition.  It does not require bowed heads, vows of repentance, or promises of good works.  The love which exceeds all human understanding and comprehension is simply there….always.  Don’t have to perform tricks, jump through hoops, or repeat endless oaths to receive it.

That love goes wherever I go.  It went with me through my 17 years of addiction to alcohol and wrapped me in its protection when I was too numbed and senseless to protect myself.  It kept me from suicide when suicide appeared to be the most intelligent decision to make.  It does not abandon me when I behave like a fool or when I forget to pray.  It is simply there….always.

Certainly, the parable of the prodigal tells me of the futility in chasing worldly pleasure and of the futility in seeking perfection trying to gain the father’s approval.  But, at its core the story teaches unconditional, unending, ever-present, unquestioning love for me flowing from the One dwelling within as Lord of my life.

I agree with King David in Psalm  23:6,  “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

That pool of the Father’s love is bottomless and I can give it away freely forever.  I didn’t earn it; I don’t deserve it;  and I can’t lose it.  Never.

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A friend recently observed that we (those of us who do not fit the WASP heterosexual mindset) have suffered tremendous oppression and discrimination at the hands of “believers” who profess the creeds and tenets of Christianity.  Historical accounts of this abuse can easily be googled and verified.  The legislation passed following the “rights” movements culminating in the equal marriage rights amendment under President Obama’s administration gave all enlightened people a glimmer of hope that such discrimination had been swept away forever in America.  Unfortunately, with Trump’s election and the advance of fundamentalist, evangelical Christians in the political scene, this celebration of social advancement was short-lived.

I personally have extreme difficulty reconciling my belief system, which is based on Judeo-Christian ethics, to what the politically vocal minority of Christian believers led by a cadre of so-called American spiritual leaders is foisting upon America “in the name of Jesus” and within their concept of God.  Where are the men and women of faith who are tolerantly, inclusively driven by compassion and love for all of creation?  Why are they not speaking out in defense of the Christianity which speaks for me?

Whenever I reference scriptural verses to support a viewpoint invariably someone will dispute my interpretation of those verses as not “proper within the framework……blah, blah, blah.”  Screw your framework.  The Spirit dwelling within me is as valid and as real as your theologically correct, fundamentally sound, and hypocritically driven gibberish.  I trust that spirit which drives me while many of you are still searching for the right gear to engage.  Let’s begin a dialog which tells the truth and invites unbelievers to join in the conversation.  That is how our faith can become a beacon for the lost and hurting.  It’s time to give up the proselytizing and simply join all of mankind regardless of race, creed, sex, and orientation in creating a better world.

One of my favorite writers, Ethan Walker the 3rd, opens his book THE MYSTIC CHRIST with the following words:

“And what is wisdom?  Wisdom is knowing that we are all one.  Love is what it feels like, and Compassion is what it acts like.”

From 1 Corinthians 13:2 in the NIV we are advised:

“If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”

There are several thoughts I can share with my friend who is as challenged as I am by what is being passed off as Christianity.  First of all, no man has a free pass to heaven.  The doctrines he supports, the creeds he professes,  the name he chooses for his god will get that man nowhere if he doesn’t trust in the truth of wisdom, love, and compassion.  Furthermore, as a non-believer, my friend should never be intimidated with the threat of eternal damnation because the bottom line is that any theology whether it is Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or Hindu is nothing more than a philosophy born out of man’s need to express spirituality.

 

 

A MOST DIFFICULT MILE

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Perhaps one of our greatest challenges in life is walking that mile.  We have endured painful obstacles in promoting a healthy family atmosphere.  We have worked in jobs that were nothing more than a weekly paycheck.  We have served our country to the best of our abilities only to be spat upon and denigrated.  We have given beyond expectations and then been told “that’s not enough.”  We have sacrificed personal comfort and security in vain attempts to be the people we thought we ought to be.

Yes, we are good people; no, we are GREAT people.  None on earth can dispute America’s generosity and charity as shown through numerous relief agencies and private funding of world need.  Good will is synonymous with the United States of America.

Yet, individually, many of us are unwilling or spiritually unable to walk a most difficult mile.  We are quick to point out another’s deficiencies, to make judgements, to take inventories and absolve ourselves from personal responsibility for that person’s well-being.  We no longer value our role as the keepers of brothers.  Ego and self promotion are the founding principles in our lives.  Perhaps we have always been this way and only now in our condensed, sardine can society it is more obvious.

How much more effort and sacrifice would be required of us to take that most difficult mile, the one walked in another man’s shoes?  We have all heard this bit of wisdom; some say it’s American Native folklore.  But what would happen when, instead of condemning a man for his behavior, we could change places with him, envision our behavior in his situation, consider what we would do given his circumstances?

Even then, when we have walked that mile with him and our attitude remains harsh, our HP takes us to another principle of his Kingdom.  Forgiveness, for most of us, is just as difficult but, equally necessary.

“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive others” is a fundamental tenet of our fellowship and for anyone who seeks a ‘clean and serene’ life.  As recovering brothers and sisters we believe our HP has forgiven our lifetime mess and continues to forgive our human nature while we continue in His service.  To deny forgiveness to others is akin to denying that God has forgiven us, that our sins were too great to be forgiven even by the most awesome and omnipotent power in the universe, and that his example of forgiveness is not applicable in our lives.  When we don’t forgive, we are rejecting the power of HP to transform our lives.

We do not aspire to perfection.  Growth is our objective.  Let’s be willing to walk that difficult mile with our brothers and sisters and then extend the forgiveness which our HP has accorded to us.  For most of us this is the most difficult mile we will ever walk.  But, it can also be the most beautiful, enlightening experience of a lifetime.

“Father, we honor in holiness your name;  we seek your kingdom as we yearn for your will in our lives.  Let it be here within us that you dwell.  Give us spiritual food for this day.  Forgive our trespasses and guide us to forgive our brothers and sisters just as you have forgiven us.  May our fellowship with others in sober living and our love for You keep the temptations of alcohol at bay; protect us from our demons.  We recognize and revere your omnipotence and power which is everlasting.  Amen.”

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LET GO, LET GOD

The world which we see on broadcast media and in newsprint is a world based on fear.  From this fear the news stories evolve depicting terrorism, murder, abuse, desolation, and human depravity.  We read, we process, and usually we respond shaking a fist at and cursing the perpetrators.  Anger is our most readily available response and we allow it to overwhelm us, to defeat us, to negate our innate spiritual bearing.

Our anger only encourages the darkness.  Our anger allows that darkness to trespass upon our natural, God-ordained state of serenity and peace.  It colors every thought we harbor until we get on bended knee and return to the inner peace which is our true and natural state of being.

We believe that love is compassion in action.  We believe that the opposite of love is fear and indifference.  We believe that, although the arising emotion appears to be anger, when we question ourselves about what is driving that emotion the response could be:

“I am sad, very sad, and frightened.  Sad over what this world is and frightened about where this world is going, what it holds for the children and grandchildren.”

When we take ourselves from the fist-shaking, cussing realm of anger into the deeply honest and soul-searching realm of concern for others and the world they are inheriting, we transcend the ego of self to the eternity of love and compassion.  When we turn it over to God and ask blessing on those who make us angry, we are putting the world into the hands of the only Power who can transform and enlighten.  As people in recovery state so perfectly:

“Let go and let God.”

No, we should never give up or not be concerned about the world’s hatred and bigotry.  We should always uphold the worthiness of all people and endorse their right to pursue life, liberty, and happiness.  But, when we do it prayerfully in obedience to a Higher Power we are connecting to the powerful stream of light which no darkness can conquer.