St. Augustine

             “Jesus Christ is not valued at all until He is valued above all.”  St. AugustineCANDLE

The world does not understand nor wish to understand these few simple words.  My personal choice to name Jesus as Lord of my life, my Higher Power, directs me to place everything else whether it is employment, friends, family, spouse, achievement, money, desires, lust, as sub-topics under the primary heading of Jesus, the Christ.  I am nowhere near a state of perfection, but, when I place the one who is Perfection at the top of my list in my lifestyle and my devotion then my life becomes g.o.d. – Good Orderly Direction.  That is the most I can expect in this lifetime and I am OK with it because g.o.d brings bliss, a state of peace and serenity.

We are freedom fighters!  I believe I have been forgiven by the same almighty power which freed me from the bondage of my former self and replaced ego-driven lust, greed, anger, pride, and desire with a devotion to a new way of living with living waters and daily bread to sustain me in this earthly journey.  I am no longer imprisoned.  Jesus fought and died for my freedom and he has won the battle.

But, it is not free.  I must daily pay the price of the world’s derision, hatred, and scourge for the Way of life which God has chosen for me.  You and I, as followers, understand this and accept the necessary payment.  Friends who are amused by devotion to a church fellowship, neighbors who ridicule tithing, family members who question a loved one’s sanity, a boss who mocks Jesus equating that belief to the Santa Claus myth are all part of the price to be paid for following the greatest freedom fighter of all time.

And I am OK with that.  I regret that a majority of people refuse such a simple answer to the world’s problems, but, each person must find his own personal path to freedom if indeed freedom is what they pursue.  For them, sometimes dedication to power and riches at the expense of liberty and contentment are the main pursuit in a life filled with like-minded pursuers.   Jesus and God do not make the top 10 on their lists of priorities.

I know this because that was me many years ago.  I prayed only in times of desperate need, in times of absolute loneliness, in times of crushing personal defeat.  I advocated a Jesus who gave people nice cars, fancy homes, and steaks for dinner every night.  When times were good God did not make the top ten.  In all other times, Jesus was  a convenient Santa Claus who bore gifts, a big sugar daddy in the sky.  There was no dedication nor devotion and, as a result, life was chaotic and tumultuous.  In my life there was no peace because I did not know the Lord of peace.

I do not claim perfection but I know He who is perfect.  That power has freed a sinner from the prison which sin will impose.  I will stumble often before my earthly time is over because I am still a part of a humanity which is inflicted with character defects.  But, I no longer need to be imprisoned by my character defects.  One by one they will be overcome and defeated by my personal freedom fighter.

“If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” John 8:36smiley 3

 

many mansions

In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. John 14:2CANDLE

I fill most of my writing with thoughts about my Higher Power.  It’s not always what I want to put forth to you, my readers.  The crazy world of politics, government, society’s ills, intolerance, hatred, crime, (and the list can go on indefinitely), are also topics that fill the space between my ears.  But, when deciding any type of action I take in these areas, it always comes back to Jesus, WWJD, What Would Jesus Do?

In my world Jesus is not always an entity, a historical person whom we celebrate in scriptures and especially during the Christmas season.  Jesus is more often a lifestyle.  He is a path of sober-living which brings peace and joy into my life.  I have learned to avoid theological discourse which claims inerrancy and infallibility because they are always right and I am always going to hell.  The Lord of my life is open to rational and reasonable conversation about eternity and God.  The Lord of my life tells me talking the talk is nice, but ultimately life is all about the walk.  Where am I walking today?  Whose path am I taking?

God is big.  God is so big that trying to pigeon-hole God categorically into a theology, another man-made philosophy, is akin to squeezing a camel through the eye of a needle.  Can’t be done!  The God I know is mysterious and incomprehensible to the human mind.  Therefore, when someone tells me all about God, where HE lives, how He looks, what HE thinks, I can only listen patiently and then respond, “Really, God is a HE?”  That disarms even the most strident of those who have all the answers.  Larry’s going to hell for sure!

God and I enjoy this life.  Jesus is the message inspired by ancient mystics who came before me to spread the good news of a loving and compassionate Spirit which gives  humanity a logical, reasonable way of living.  The ancients during and following the life of the physical Jesus called it “the Way.”  They were not theologians or scholars.  Rather they were just like you and me, people searching for a way to commune with the God of our understanding.

Jesus is not a person merely to be adored and worshipped, although that is a wonderful way to enter the quiet spaces within us.  Jesus is a manner of living which brings God’s Kingdom to me, right here and right now.  I don’t have to wait for a future moment to be with God eternally because I am already there.  And that is the difference which makes life a joyful adventure instead of a tolerably painful existence.

“5“Lord,” said Thomas, “we do not know where You are going, so how can we know the way?” 6Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. 7If you had known Me, you would know My Father as well.”  John 14: 5-7

This verse can be difficult for those who see Jesus exclusively as a God-human rather than a manner of sober-living to be experienced and followed.  It is the verse most often used by exclusionary religionists to proclaim that Christianity is the only path which leads to eternity with God.  My journey tells me that, as with most of the words attributed to Jesus, the meaning of this verse,”I am the way, the truth, and the life”, is better understood when taken in a spiritual sense.   Should we consider that Jesus was not presenting Jesus as an entity to be revered and worshipped, but rather, as an example for all people to follow if they want release from this world’s soul prison?

The authors of Christian scriptures tell me that in his lifetime, Jesus shared his teachings with all people, Jew and Gentile.  I must remember that Jesus and his contemporaries lived under extreme oppression and hardship enforced by the Jewish hierarchy and the Roman conquerors.  The Israelites were concerned with an earthly salvation immediately, in this life, not a distant occurrence in a future life.  However, Jesus was promising relief from the Jews and the Romans not as a physical deliverance, but as a spiritual and mental exercise, a way of living, which would supersede the harshness of their society.  It emphasized release of self-serving behavior and surrender to the indwelling spirit of holiness.  “The Way” in those oppressive times has not changed.  In our personal oppressive times it is a way today to a completeness and unity with the God of our understanding.

“Let go; let God” is a message which I encounter often in my sojourn.   It is often interpreted as “let go of the situation and let God take it over.”  It can also mean “let go of myself and let God come inside.” Works for me.christmas emoji 3

 

 

 

fruit of the Spirit

“Talk the talk; walk the walk.”CANDLE

How much simpler can it be?  When I open my mouth to share my incredible knowledge and wisdom, when I take it upon myself to dispense earth-shaking opinions, and when I assume that what I say is absolute truth, then I am headed down the highway of disappointment and pain.  I know today that my open mouth, more often than not, results in a foot entering therein, that opinions are akin to another body part of which everyone has one, and my truth is, at best, relative to my circumstances.

OK, so talk is cheap.  How about the walk?  The walk separates men from boys and women from girls.  An act of unselfish compassion, a cup of coffee for the homeless man, a ride given to the hitchhiker, an hour of time shared with someone who desperately needs a friend, a pocketful of change in the bell ringer’s bucket are indications that a person is walking the walk.  Buying that cold man standing on the corner a Micky D’s breakfast, sending a check to a favorite charity, helping a blind man navigate the busy street, talking for an hour with a needy AA friend, sharing an encouraging word with a caregiver, showing up for church when not feeling very worshipful, cooking supper for a spouse overwhelmed with personal issues…..these are ways to walk the walk.

Jesus, the reason for this season, walked the walk strenuously and perfectly.  Certainly, he had great opening lines on the Mount and taught a profound lesson, but, his ministry and that of his disciples was called “the Way”.  They healed the sick, ministered to the poor, and salvaged hurting souls. The Buddha called his teachings “the Path.”  Both infer the necessary action of walking to reach the desired goal of enlightenment.  The talk is the text-book that instills understanding and the walk is the lab work, a place to conduct research.  Studying the text book until the cows come home will not change me one iota until I apply the learning into my daily life’s walk.

So then, how do I know if the text-book which I follow is the real deal, the genuine Jesus of nativity fame?  Is my book like one of the many self-proclaimed Jesus experts who interpret and interpose at whim, who devise a Gospel according to their own self-serving needs, who harbor intolerance and hatred under the name of God?  What is my spiritual barometer?

“15Beware of false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them…..” Matthew 7:15-16

“22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23

There it is.  That is my personal spiritual barometer.  How do I measure up to the words from the author of Galatians citing love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control as fruits of my indwelling Spirit?  Sometimeschristmas emoji 3 favorably, other times in need of fixing, but always on the right path when I am willing to walk the walk which Jesus walks.  Wandering from that path is part of my human nature; bringing me back is part of His divine nature.  We’re a good team.

 

 

 

“emerging” Christianity

“We are on a quest for a new kind of Christianity—a faith liberated from the institutional and dogmatic straightjackets we inherited, a way of life that integrates the personal and the social dimensions of spirituality, a practice that integrates centered contemplation and dynamic action. In our quest, we must remember how easy it is to self-sabotage; we must remember that how we get there will determine where we will be.”  Brian McLaren quoted from cac.org

rainbow-solidarityI can’t help but love the phrasing, “a faith liberated from the institutional and dogmatic straightjackets we inherited.”  That is exactly where many of us have been led by our traditional faith endeavors.  Even within my liberal Lutheranism the dogma and theology can become binding chains of thou shalt and thou shalt not.  I have been given a very basic set of values in the Ten Commandments which facilitate a sane and peaceful social structure and then an unmistakable rule by which to live:

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” Luke 10:27

What more do I need?  Everything else within my faith tradition is gravy on the meat.  I don’t need to have gravy but it makes for a more fulfilling meal.  The weekly church service, the hymns, the scripture readings, the communion, the Advent services, the Christmas Eve candlelight celebration, the fellowship, they all are gravy atop the meat of Christianity which I can now define as devotion to a lifestyle emphasized by the story of Jesus.  He and his disciples called that manner of living the Way; I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. These are words written by the author of John 14:6.  Within those parameters of love, compassion and service to mankind I  have a path to successful and victorious living.

The concept of “emerging” Christianity is an exciting development.  Many of us must first learn how to rise above the pain, anger, and frustration which our old institutions of religion have caused in us.  The fire and brimstone from the pulpit serve no purpose in our new way of living.  When we join hearts with Jesus, we abandon the meanness and bitterness of our old beliefs and habits.

Idealism needs to be controlled.  There is no perfect religion, church, or congregation in this lifetime.  I will continue to stumble and bumble along my faith walk because I continue to harbor character defects, but, in the realm of emerging Christianity, I am accepted as I am and I am covered by the grace of a loving and compassionate God.  I no longer fear the wrath of a vengeful God or eternity in the pits of a lonely hell on earth.

Within this radical practice of the Way, I accept personal responsibility for my actions and behavior.  I control no other brother/sister nor religious institution and I give up the need to judge/condemn their actions and behavior.  I accept that they are also giving life the best shot they can within the  guidelines of their beliefs.  If my church affiliation does not emphasize a ministry to the homeless, then I should do so personally.  If my church does not openly accept ministry to the LGBT community, then I should.  If my church does not embrace a multi-racial ministry, then I should.  I have been freed from dogmatic and doctrinal restraints and it is my responsibility to extend that freedom to others suffering under religious oppression.

Again from the words of Brian McLaren:

“Finally, we need to start small and celebrate small gains. One of the curses of late modernity was the belief that unless something was big and well-publicized, it didn’t count. . . . [Jesus] spoke of tiny mustard seeds, of a little yeast in a lot of dough, of a little flock, of the greatness of smallness, of a secret good deed and a simple cup of cold water given to one in need.”

I want to be a little mustard seed, a cup of cold water to the thirsty.  How about you?

“This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.”CANDLE

 

Bill W.

Bill Wilson in his writings often discussed the periods of depression he suffered long after he claimed sobriety:

“When I was tired and couldn’t concentrate, I used to fall back on an affirmation toward life that took the form of simple walking and deep CANDLEbreathing.  I sometimes told myself that I couldn’t even do this – that I was too weak.  But I learned that this was the point at which I could not give in without becoming still more depressed.” Bill Wilson “AS BILL SEES IT” 

It sometimes seems that those of us who face our alcoholism have  battles with depression that defy the serenity and joy we ought to have as recovering addicts.  Those bouts support one of the tenets of Alcoholics Anonymous which says that “the drinking is just a symptom of deeper, underlying illness”.  Treating our character defects with the prescribed 12 step program is one pillar of our recovery, but, addressing the emotional baggage we carried with us into sobriety often requires professional counseling and guidance.

As a younger man, jogging was a huge part of my life.  On the trail in my Nikes the pitfalls of life became secondary to my breathing and the cadence of my footsteps.  I was able to center on the inner journey coinciding with my external activity.  The experience of runner’s euphoria was the carrot on the stick, a reason to get my head out of my butt and do something about the lurking depression just waiting to immobilize me.

Physical limitations have retired my running shoes, but I know today, many years into continued sobriety, that the walking/hiking routine is essential to a happy, contented Larry.  The pace has slowed considerably, but the focus on breathing and the “clop, clop” of stepping still carries me to another world.  It is a world of victory over depression.

Much of the AA program seems akin to the “Path” of Buddhism and also the “Way” of Jesus and his followers.  Meditation is advocated by both.  Meditative walking is a new endeavor for me.  It is also an activity focused on breathing and stepping.  The intent is to empty the head of worldly concerns and replace that circus with the beauty of the inner self, the soul.  Repetitive chanting enhances the exercise.  This is a  much slower, deliberate type of walking very suitable to a much slower, deliberate Larry.

With entry into the “golden years” (whoever coined that phrase was undoubtedly drunk or high) the clutches of depression can increase.  Our bodies fail us, our friends leave us through relocation or death, our family ties become weaker.  We feel lost in the loneliness of retirement and many younger folks see us as burdens which they would sooner ignore.  Financial security is a joke; one uncovered medical emergency will wipe us out and scammers are lurking on every website to relieve us of our monetary resources.

I need my walking to stay balanced emotionally and fit physically.  I need my faith to approach the “final stretch” of this QUEST with confidence and joy.  Scripture, the words attributed to Jesus and the Buddha, feed that faith.  In John 16:33 Jesus tells me:

“I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

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that divine spark

CANDLE

I love to read about things that inspire people to become a closer image of the spiritual person which God has intended for them.  When reading or listening to others who are sharing their journey, I try to look for the nugget of truth that is intended for me, that divine spark which they harbor inside of them and that inspiring thought which is meant for me.  There are no coincidences in this experience.  You, my fellow human, always have something to teach me.

“Namaste” roughly translated means, “I bow to the divine in you.”  Shared with another in a position of bowed head and folded hands, this one word says to you that I may not agree in philosophy and “isms”, but, I know that the same divine presence which motivates and inspires me is also within you.  It’s a wonderful way to overcome the inherent prejudice and bias which we all endure.  Possibly it is the only way we can avoid species annihilation at the hand of hatred and intolerance.

Buddhism, for me, is a rich sojourn through the thoughts of the character of the Buddha.  The image given to us is that of a weighty man, sitting in the lotus position, transfixed in meditation.  According to the tradition of Buddhism, love, self-less behavior, and compassion are the essentials for a peaceful coexistence with fellow-man and with the entirety of creation.  The practitioners of this philosophy don’t necessarily see it as a religion, but rather, as a way of living.  They name it “the Path”.

Jesus, who historically came to us about 500 years after the Buddha, also referred to this devotion to selflessness as “the Way”:

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

This idea of self-less, compassionate co-existence is not a Christian discovery formulated by Jesus and his followers, nor is it an invention of the Buddha.  It has existed forever in the heart of mankind since the beginning of time.  Religion and the “isms” will never capture it or copyright it.  That divine spark which dwells within, which leads me to try harder, do better, suffer with my brothers and sisters, hope for enlightenment, and realize I need a Lord and Savior in my life is inherent in all of us.

Choosing to acknowledge and follow, to recognize a higher power is a choice.  Whether I soar with eagles or mire in the muck is a decision I must make each and every day.  Come, fly with me today, the skies are spacious and refreshing.  Truth is awaiting.

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take stock & regroup

When I undertook this format for writing several years ago, it was with the intent to share my experience, strength, and hope in my personal quest for sanity and serenity as a recovering alcoholic.  I had no aspirations for a blog that would draw thousands of readers or ambitions for a post that would go viral.  And, I have not been disappointed.

The events of the past year have tilted my concerns and attentions to the political arena.  Certainly my personal opinions are valid, my voice needs to be counted, and my vote will continue to be registered, but, continual attention to a situation which is beyond my control exacts a toll on serenity and composure.

Today, I realized that common sense will ultimately prevail, that goodness and mercy will prevail, and that life will go on with or without my input.  But, I also came to understand that our culture ( Western, specifically American) is driven not by a sense of spirit, but rather by a sense of self.  We are a culture of egoism and self-absorption.  It is the only explanation for the politicians we have installed as leaders of the free world.

A wealthy friend, let’s call him Joe, is a minor millionaire who spends more money on a pair of shoes than I can spend on monthly groceries.   Joe has called our current President a pig.  He has questioned our President’s shady connections.  He is one of the voters who voted for the least worst of the worst candidates in decades.  Yet, Joe confided that the stock market is doing great, he is making money and therefore he is happy with the pig with shady connections who is currently posing as POTUS.  Another pair of designer shoes for Joe and maybe a Rolex are in his offing.

Yes, today has been a time of refection and redirect.  I know who I am in God’s world, I intend to strive on for a compassionate, caring, communing interaction with the world’s peoples, creatures, and environment.  This is the only wealth which is worth chasing, it is the eternity detailed in the chapters of the great scriptures, it is that which the greatest of God’s messengers have attested as truth; it is the way of Jesus, the path of Buddha and it is available to all who will subdue themselves to the greater power so simply presented in the recovery program of Alcoholics Anonymous.

The Oneness which we call God, or Allah, or Brahman will continue with or without us.  The universal, omnipotent power of the Oneness will do this…with or without us.  Our reason for being here on this earth in this life is to promote and assist the physical/spiritual welfare of our brothers and sisters, to cherish the creation and to protect the environment.  We are not here to promote our version of God, to defend our version of God, or in any way assist our version of God.  The one you name as God, the one I name as God is perfectly capable of handling those details.  Let’s appreciate the simplicity of our solidarity.

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