Get Real, You’ll Feel Better

“We have already seen that the kingdom is within all of us. … Those who do enter the kingdom are those who have come to recognize the reality of the inner world and to respond to its demands upon them for consciousness. This must always be an individual act of recognition; it cannot be accomplished so long as we are identified with a group. Yet most of us find our sense of identity only in our membership in the Church, the nation, the political party, or the gang on the street corner.” (John A. Sanford, The Kingdom Within)

A friend recently gave me a copy of Sanford’s book, whom I quickly recognized as a kindred spirit. This was a pleasant surprise considering he was an Episcopal priest and I was ordained in Unity. I severed my ties with Unity, in part for my perception of the organization’s move away from focus on the individual awakening to its not so thinly disguised move toward social activism. I entered the movement when it could be summed up in Emerson’s statement: Every man is the inlet and may become the outlet of all there is in God. I left it summarizing itself something like this: As individuals we are strong, but as a group we are powerful. The first advocated finding one’s center of power in God. The second has shifted to finding one’s center of power in the group.

Though I was somewhat saddened and initially resistant to this change, I have let things take their course. The principle of individuality will never change with the times. The distractions of those re-created dreams of achieving that ever-elusive Utopian collective that promises equal power to all does nothing to alter our natural spiritual architecture, or our yearning to return to it.

The individual is forever the inlet and may become the outlet to all there is in God. There will always be that minority of people who understand that the soul rises from the Infinite. They will seek the group, but not for empowerment. They seek it for the thrill and satisfaction of knowing they are not alone, not aliens dropped here from another planet, but healthy human beings who refuse to lose touch with the cosmic heart that makes them tick. Encountering a kindred spirit deepens our resolve to go even deeper, does it not?

The spiritual journey is one each person must make alone. Though we are witnessing a major attempt worldwide to do so, we cannot ride in on the coattails of any group. The soul’s authenticity does not permit it. With the advent of social media, the pressure to conform may seem  stronger now than ever before. Under the pretense of progress, the scramble to acquire whatever it takes to join is causing the erosion of basic values on an unprecedented scale. How far we can wade into this shallow muck of conformity remains to be seen, but I sense many are getting weary of the slog.

The wide gate of conformity is always open, but so is the narrow gate of individuality. If I were given the choice between being the gatekeeper of one or the other, I would choose the narrow gate. True, there are no bustling crowds of chattering people to keep us entertained. But the ones who do come through are real. My favorite people have always been the real ones.

I think John Sanford was a real person. I was going to email him until I realized he passed in 2005. I have a genuine appreciation for people like him who devoted his energy to a book about the importance of being real. This was his take away from the teachings of Jesus. And, it’s certainly mine.

Finding Your Center of Power

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The Alternative Christian Series

Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mark 11:22-24).

Last week we focused on the parable of the prodigal son, which is all about coming home. Coming home is a return to your center of power, a key element of the mystical thread that we’re considering as the Gospel of Jesus.

How do we find our center of power? Jesus says to have faith in God. That is, draw your attention away from that mountainous problem that looms before you and recommit to turning your faith in God.

A story found in 2 Chronicles really drives this home with a practical how-to. Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, is informed that many of Judah’s enemies have formed an alliance and are coming to attack. Jehoshaphat responds in fear, but he vows to “seek the Lord” and calls for a national fast. Addressing the Lord, he says, “In thy hand are power and might. We are powerless. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon thee.” Then the Lord spoke through the prophet Jahaziel. “You will not need to fight in this battle. Fear not, and be not dismayed at this great multitude; for the battle is not yours but God’s. Go out against them, and the Lord will be with you.

The recognition that the battle was not theirs but God’s indicates they had found their center of power. Jehoshaphat then orders singers to go before them singing praises. In the end, the forces arrayed against Judah began to fight amongst themselves and they destroyed one another.

God within is our center of power, the source of our strength. If we are drawing our strength from what we have rather than from who we are, we may discover that we don’t have what it takes to win the battle.

When Jesus says, “…and does not doubt in his heart,” he is echoing Jehoshaphat’s, “In thy hand are power and might. We are powerless. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon thee.” In other words, both are describing a very definite shift in focus. How will the mountain be cast to the sea? How will the army be defeated? We don’t know. We only know that our eyes are upon thee. Our faith is in God.

This is the homecoming, the return to our center of power. Problems come in the form of mountains and great armies that seem poised to destroy our peace. Return to your home, your center of power by reaffirming your faith in God, the absolute good working through your life right now.

 

 

 

 

The Gospel of Jesus

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The Alternative Christian Series

We have four Gospels about Jesus, but do we have a Gospel of Jesus? I like to think we do, and it’s found in the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). The story not only provides a summary of the entire problem of sin and salvation, it also gives us the key to the mystical thread that I believe represents the heart of his message.

Luke positions this parable and the two that precede it—the lost coin and the lost sheep—in the early Christian context of the wayward sinner, which is how it is usually considered today. Though we’re led to believe that Jesus taught a repent or else message, his original intent was probably more in line with the less abrasive, forgiving words and actions of the father toward his wayward son. It’s been suggested that Luke was seeking to appease a remnant of John the Baptist’s following who would have been accustomed to John’s harsher tone.

An overview of this parable shows that it contains all three phases of the Hero’s Journey: 1) the departure 2), the initiation 3) the return. The son leaves his ordinary life to heed the call to adventure. Once out, he encounters severe trials that lead him to the brink of disaster. His transformative moment occurs when he comes to himself. The arrogance of youth is replaced with humble compliance. He returns home a changed character.

I think the perfect litmus test for Jesus’ gospel is found in how well his various sayings align with the tone of this parable. The sinner is punished by his sins, not for them. The father does not forgive the son because he never condemns him. He expresses nothing but unconditional love. The only condemnation in the story comes from the older brother, who represents the demand for punishment found in so many mainstream religions.

If we go back to the statement that Truth is the omnipotence of God expressing as the spiritual essence of every individual, we see this principle portrayed in the prodigal story. The father represents this perpetual state of self-expression in his love for both sons. Our wayward thinking does not change the expressive activity of God in us. We may wander into the far country of despair, but because this relationship of oneness is unchangeable, we can come to ourselves and begin our journey home, no bargaining required.

The younger son breaks the rules and the older son insists on punishment for his sins. Both suffer as the result of their transgressions. The father goes out to welcome his wayward son, but he also goes out to console his angry son.

The story clearly illustrates the unconditional love of God, a message worthy of being treated as the good news, the Gospel that Jesus likely intended to bring to the world.

The New Birth

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The Alternative Christian Series

Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again” (John 3:3).

We’ve all heard of the born-again Christian. We may think of this new birth, as one mainstream Christian writer puts it, as occurring in one who “turns from sin and with his or her whole heart trusts in Christ as personal Savior and Lord.” But the context of this well-known encounter between Nicodemus and Jesus gives no indication that this is what Jesus meant. He explains to Nicodemus that “flesh gives birth to flesh, but Spirit gives birth to spirit.” The new birth is a transition from that which is born of the flesh to that which is born of the Spirit. One cannot see the kingdom of God, he says, unless they experience this shift, this new birth. Interestingly, we see this same idea expressed in the Hindu Upanishads: “Thou canst not behold Me with thy two outer eyes, I have given thee an eye divine.

That in us which is born of the flesh is our body-based self-image, the core identity most of us use to navigate through life. We can refer to this surface self in many ways including the personality, the ego, or as Paul’s “mind of the flesh” (Romans 8:6). The physical body is the central component of the self-image. In contrast, that which is born of the Spirit is, of course, our spiritual essence, the image and likeness of God we know as the soul. We come to know the soul, not through “thy two outer eyes,” but through our intuitive faculty, the eye divine. “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:6). To go into your room and close the door is a way of saying, Turn away from the senses, listen and learn to feel the innermost promptings of the Spirit. This is not an intellectual pursuit but an intuitive activity in which we attune to the quiet radiance emanating from our spiritual center.

This new birth occurs in most as a gradual awakening. It may begin as unrest accompanied by questions about life’s purpose. This evolves into a new way of thinking. We eventually lay down the books and actively pursue a first-hand experience with God. “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8).

When the door is opened, God is immediately transformed from speculative theory to concrete reality. Our new birth opens our eye divine to see this otherwise invisible spiritual realm, this kingdom that, as the Gospel of Thomas states, “… is spread out upon the earth, and people do not see it” (Saying 113). This is not simply a shift in ideas. It’s a consciousness transforming renewal of the mind, a new birth. The soul is brought into our field of awareness, not as a conceptual abstraction, but as the living energy we know as the true basis of our identity.

 

The Alternative Christian

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A Series

The thread of Truth runs through all the world’s religions, often overshadowed by the low hanging fruit of dogmatic beliefs handed down through generations. These gain acceptance, not necessarily because they are true or spiritually logical, but because they are repeated so long and so often we assume they must be true.

I consider myself a Christian, but I obviously do not flow with the mainstream. In this sense, I would compare myself to Jesus. He was a Jew, but his greatest critics were the Jewish orthodoxy. They had their doctorates in religious law, but they had no understanding of the spiritual rebirth he spoke of with Nicodemus. Paul, who began his life as a Pharisee, had an experience that opened his mind to a deeper level. “The unspiritual man (strict intellect) does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually (intuitively) discerned” (1Corinthians 2:4).

Embodied in the teachings attributed to Jesus there are universal principles that largely go unacknowledged by our native Christianity. Critical scholars believe that the first Gospel writer, the author of Mark, began simply with a list of sayings attributed to Jesus. To these he added his own narrative and interpretation of who and what Jesus was. Matthew and Luke created their differing versions about a decade later. John, who presents a completely independent interpretation, appeared sixty to seventy years after the death of Jesus. These writers were evangelists, not historians. To find the gospel or “good news” of Jesus, we must look beyond the imposed and currently accepted interpretations of early church orthodoxy.

Truth, as I will define it through this series, is the omnipotence of God expressing as the spiritual essence of every individual. I’m confident Jesus taught that a return to the bedrock of our spiritual core is the key to salvation from the full range of life’s hardships. When he said, follow me, he was not suggesting that we follow him, the man, but the instruction he was giving. The kingdom he spoke of is not lo here or lo there. The kingdom of God is within you (Luke 17:21).

That Jesus appealed to the common person of his day tells me his message was both accessible and practical. But as someone has pointed out, what we’re now presented with is not the religion of Jesus, but a religion about Jesus. When we start from the basis that we are each an expression of that one presence and one power we call God, we more readily see the present and practical value of what Jesus was communicating.

Through this series we will explore the many gems of wisdom found throughout the sayings of Jesus. We’ll look at how these sayings were compiled and put into narrative form as the Gospels we know. Most importantly, we’ll explore the universal principles embodied in the sayings and actions of Jesus, principles that serve as a solid basis for those who feel comfortable identifying as the Alternative Christian.

Finding Strength in Adversity

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In returning and rest you shall be saved;

in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”     Isaiah 30:15

Everyone has moments of uncertainty, of trial, of self doubt, and even despair. In these moments we seek help from all kinds of sources: books, counselors, ministers, doctors, friends, or family members. Any one of these may pass on some level of assurance that things are going to work out, that harmony will be restored in our body or in our affairs. With this bit of assurance, we rest a little better, regain some of our optimism, and turn our attention to more creative endeavors.

It is a freeing thought to realize that the strength we seem to draw from others is really a process of opening our minds to our own deeper resource. In consciously returning to this inner resource we find the salvation we seek. In quietness and trust in this larger context of life, the flame of new strength is kindled.

When we are consumed with a problem, we have simply relegated our attention to one miniscule aspect of our being. Our entire universe revolves around our little problem. We weigh everything against it, including our ability to be happy and productive with our life.

There is nothing that can sever your connection with your unsounded essence, that limitless source of energy and inspiration that will lift you out of even the apparently tightest corners. Regardless of how far you feel you have strayed from your Source, it is still present and will still flood your being with the strength and assurance you need to move beyond this current stretch of uncertainty.

Begin now to take the healing advice found in Isaiah’s words. Feel the “rest” of letting go of your frantic search for answers. Be still and trust that the answers you need are now forthcoming. Turn from the apparent adversity and let new strength and courage arise from the core of your being.

All that you seek is always with you. Embrace it now, in the quiet.

 

Love Yourself Through Fear

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Question: “I know I need to make some changes in my life, but I’m afraid to make them. How can love help me to overcome fear?”

A familiar misunderstanding we have about love is that it is a power we call upon or we employ as we might employ an air freshener. Love is not a power we employ but an aspect of our being we express. What’s the difference? We don’t try to muster enough love to power our way through obstacles. Instead, we allow love to do its perfect work through us.

We start from the premise that love draws to us that which is for our highest good and dissolves that which is not. You may argue, “I’m in an unhealthy relationship that I know is not for my highest good, but I’m afraid to do anything about it. Why would love draw to me an unhealthy relationship?”

Love is not drawing the unhealthy relationship. Love imparts the wisdom to recognize you are in an unhealthy relationship. Love is stirring the discomfort you feel. Love is alerting you to the fact that you are trying to stuff yourself into a container (relationship, circumstance, etc.) that is far too small. Each time you make decisions that perpetuate this confining situation, love alerts you. If you ignore the signals, then love patiently sends them again.

Think of it this way: Love expresses a strength, fear protects a weakness. Am I responding to inner strength, or am I protecting a weakness? You already know the answer. If you make different choices, then know that love will support these choices. You were not given a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power and love. Your discomfort is your soul asserting itself, assuring you that life can be more than your fear allows. Accept the gift that love inspires in you and watch how it dissolves the chains of fear that have kept you in bondage.