silhouette of 2 people forming heart with extended hands

The Key to Loving Your Enemies / Spiritual Meditations

No part of the Sermon on the Mount is more challenging than it’s teaching to not only love our neighbor as ourselves, but our enemies as well. How we react to that command depends upon our answers to these questions. Is there something or someone outside the range of God‘s power? How great a God do we have? What limitations do we placed upon God? To what degree do we believe that God operates on this side of the street but not on the other side?

We are All One in God

According to the Master Jesus, we are to “call no man our father upon the earth: for One is our Father which is in heaven.” Therefore, no one has an American, African or Asian father; or white or black father. There is but one Father – the Father in heaven who is the creative and governing principle of each one of us and all that is.

We do not live in a world made up of separate people and things. It can be likened to the Hawaiian Islands. From the air, they appear to be six or seven islands, each one separate and apart from the other, but if we were able to go deep into the water, we would find that the Hawaiian islands are really one piece of land – just one island with six for seven upward projections, all one and united.

If we could see beneath the surface and investigate the heart of all mankind, there is no doubt that we would find that we are all united in the one common ground of God. Each one of us is merely a projection, or individualization, of that One, and when we penetrate beneath the surface of outside appearances, we soon discover that we are not alone, but that we are connected with the Source of infinity. We are one with It, and It is flowing out as our individual experience to the extent that we allow.

Carl Jung, noted psychiatrist, was convinced that the similarity and universality of world religions pointed to religion as a manifestation of the “collective unconscious”, those traits that all people have in common and a concept very similar to our understanding of the connectedness of all souls.

If You Love God, You Love All

Only when the Spirit of God touches us, can we feel spiritual love, and that love is not limited merely for family, but extends to our neighbors and enemies far and near. Surprisingly, this universal love deepens and strengthens the love a person feels for the immediate family; it is a love so complete that each member of the family has a genuine feeling of belonging but is a separate individual known by God.

It is easy to acknowledge that we have an Inner Being or Soul, it is pleasant and satisfying to think this about our friends and family; but it is far more important for our own spiritual growth to be able to go beyond seeing the true identity of those we love and admire and begin to realize the true identity of those we like least. Regardless of an individual’s origin or station in life, God is the creative principle of every man, and all that the Father has and is, is his for the asking.

There may be those who because of their ignorance of this principle of oneness do not yet know this truth about themselves and therefore cannot demonstrate it, but that does not prevent us from knowing it about them. Jesus tells us that if we go to the altar to pray, knowing in our hearts that we have not accepted all men as sons of one Father and therefore brothers, we might as well stop praying, get up from the altar, sit down quietly, and decide within ourselves that we must become reconciled with our brother. Only then can we hope to reach God.

We all know that not only are there people whose offenses are as great as our own, but that there are some that are far worse than we are, who seem to be almost beyond human redemption, much less spiritual redemption. For us to be spiritually whole, harmonious, and genuine, and to enjoy the kingdom of God on earth, it is necessary that, in addition to knowing the truth about ourselves and our friends, we expand our faith and know the truth universally so that we do not judge some people as separate and apart from God or as unworthy to be the sons of God, and thereby set up a divided household.

We all have human traits – some good, some bad, some indifferent, some we admire in each other, and some we dislike. But that is not you or I or they. That is the mask that we have built up since birth; molded by prenatal experiences, the environment of early home life, childhood, and school days and then later by personal experiences in the world. All these influences have formed not the soul but the outer armor of a person.

In so far as we can keep from thinking of a person only as their outer appearance and keep our mind stayed on God, realizing that everything emanates from Him and everybody lives and moves and has their being in Him, to that degree we can love our neighbor even though he is an enemy.

The outer signs indicated that Jesus was a carpenter, and a rabbi in the Hebrew synagogue, but because of his spiritual discernment, Peter was inspired to see through that appearance and recognize that it was the Christ that was really functioning as this man Jesus. When Peter was able to say, “thou art the Christ, the son of the living God”, it was because he was able to look through the human appearance and see what it was that animated Jesus and made him a savior and a world leader.

Consider the person who is the most troublesome to you. How do we know exactly except through our mind that he is the kind of person we judge him to be? Is the person we are seeing an actual person, or does what we have in our mind represent our concept of that person, that is, our opinion or thought about him? We must realize that our concept of him is entirely wrong, because in his true identity his soul is a piece of God, individually expressed on earth, and against whom we are bearing false witness. Therefore, we are the sinner, not he. God’s grace is upon this person. He lives and moves and has his being in God‘s household as a member of God’s family.

If we are honestly seeking God as a way of life and not just as a means to some desired end, not only do we discover that we are one with the Father, but also that there is not a man, woman, or child in the world who does not also have a spiritual spark. There are people who we may not like and yet, at some moment of conversion or transformation of consciousness, their past will be wiped out and suddenly they become liberated and new.

Every human being comes from the hand of God, and we all know what the love of God for us. God has His own ways and means to work in the hearts of men, and we do not know how close they are to Him except by their actions. We will always know whether they are at His disposal or not. Whether you are a Hindu, a Muslim or a Christian, how you live your life is the proof that you are fully His or not. Mother Teresa

Everyone is called. Everyone is chosen. Not everyone says yes to the calling. Jesus. Buddha. Martin Luther King. Mother Theresa. They said yes. They reached for the stars not just for themselves, but to inspire you. They have opened the door and shown you what is possible. Jesus himself said, “the things I do, greater than these you can also do “. Kute Blackson You are the One

A Hymn

This well know hymn asks us to pursue unity and guard the dignity of all people as a defining characteristic of a Christian.

They’ll Know We are Christians by Our Love

  • We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
  • We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
  • And we pray that our unity will one day be restored
  • And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
  • Yeah they’ll know we are Christians by our love

 

  • We will work with each other, we will work side by side
  • We will work with each other, we will work side by side
  • And we’ll guard each man’s dignity and save each man’s pride
  • And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
  • Yeah, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

Conclusion

When we think of the word ‘love’, what comes to mind is the warm fuzzy love that we feel for our significant other, close friends and family.  If you can experience this kind of love to strangers and enemies, I thank God for you.  However, the kind of love that is possible for most of us is to strive to do what is best for strangers and enemies, humbling ourselves when needed.  Let us forget the good that we believe about some and the evil that we believe about others and see what the spiritual truth is. Then we will understand why we have been told not only to love our neighbor as ourselves, but our enemy as well. The Father within will reveal this to you.

Relevant Scripture

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48)

Reference

The Thunder of Silence by Joel S. Goldsmith

Sign on urban wall

Eye Opening Events Between the Testaments/Spiritual Meditations

One of the most beautiful biblical stories is not found in the Old Testament or the New Testament, but in the space between the two.

There are those who would call this approximately 400 years, the years of silence. There are no prophetic statements made in this period. Nothing is written as the oracles of God as revealed through the prophets. The “word of the Lord” does not appear again until the Gospels when the angel of the Lord appears unto the priest and informs him that his wife will have a child named John.

Then the angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid Zechariah, your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son and you are to give him the name John.  Luke 1:11

So what happened during these four hundred years? Was there silence? Were there activities? Life always goes on but was there anything significant in these years?

 I would like to tell you a story. If you went to high school or college, you may have already heard this story but it has been my experience in studying history that it is very easy to become so swallowed up by the dates, the names, and the places, that history can become as tedious as reading a phone book. For that reason, I promise not to list any dates. I will offer you few names and when I do, the information I will share with you regarding them will be skimpy by design. I do not want you to become so side-tracked with individual people, philosophies, places, and dates, that you lose the over- all picture.

Back to my goal: It is my intent and hope that this little read will allow you to hear the music. To hear the glorious music of the movement of history as it existed between the Old Testament’s ending with the promise of the anointed One to come at an appointed time [Habakkuk 2:1-4], and the New Testament’s claim that the One arrived “in the fullness of time” [Gal 4:4].

As you begin to hear the music, I hope you will bow afresh to the birth of Christ. Then I would encourage you to go back and check out the people, events, and dates. Catch the big picture and then fill in as much detail as you will. The detail can be found in numerous history books of your choosing for this period of time.

Little Israel at the Close of the Old Testament

At the close of the Old Testament, the Hebrew people were limited because the rest of the world did not understand their language. They were small in area. And they were small in numbers, made even smaller by the number of people that were taken into captivity by the Babylonians. When finally released, many of these people, who had never lived in the land surrounding Jerusalem, simply chose to live in any place where they had business contacts and could support their families. As a result, Jewish communities developed both on the north and south sides of the Mediterranean Sea, but mostly on its far East coast.

The land of Israel was located in a rather insignificant portion of the world. There was some traffic passing through on the North/South interchange but little on the East/West. Likewise, sailors of the Mediterranean had little need to go east to the dead end side of the Mediterranean. Thus, the land of the Israelis was relatively small and insignificant on the big picture scale.

One thing they did have was an unusual claim. Beginning with Abraham, and then later with Isaac and Jacob, and the prophets, they made the claim that the Holy One, the Creator of heaven and earth, the Invisible One in the visible universe, had spoken to them.

Now these people were not naive. After several generations of these ‘encounters’ they set up a way to ‘Test the Spirit’. Even though they had a trustworthy history of hearing “thus said the Lord” and it was so, they were more than aware of manipulations and other possible shenanigans. Thus, the three way test was this:

Whenever someone said “Thus said the Lord” they would pick up stones and be prepared to kill the one who would make such a statement. Then the would-be prophet would have to give a sign and the sign would have to come true. If it did not, the prophet was stoned to death. If the sign did come true, then the obligation was theirs to heed the advice or warning.

The prophets foretold that the Holy One would send someone. This someone would reveal the connection between the visible world and the invisible. His coming, they were told, would be at the appointed time. {Habakkak 2:1-4] The prophets then turn silent.

The Astonishing Spread of Greek Culture

If you were to look at a map of the Mediterranean Sea area at this time, you would see all of its coastal areas with the little area of Israel on the far east coast. But the lights of history shone on the area we know as Greece.

Perhaps, dear reader, you are Greek and would totally embrace the words of the bride’s father in the movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” who said, “When the rest of the world was still swinging on trees, we were writing philosophy.” There have been many great cultures of the world before and after the Greeks, but at this period in time, the father of the bride was fairly accurate.  Think of any Greek sir name you have ever heard of. With the exception of Aristotle Onassis, just about every one of them surfaced at this interlude between the testaments.

School of Athens painting

Raphael’s’ painting of the School of Athens,  portrays my thought. All of these ‘heavy thinkers’ come from this period. Raphael not only paints them, but he organizes them as well.  In the center of the painting we find the two ‘Big Boys’ in Plato and Aristotle. Their thinking can be roughly equated and separated into ‘right-wing’ and ‘left- wings’ or ‘right-brain’ and ‘left-brain’ activities.

Aristotle and Plato painting

Plato in red, with his hand up, was interested in the invisible things in life. His interest was in unity, or what the classical philosophers called “universals.” He wanted to know what holds everything together and his thinking was upward and outward. He was interested in transcendence. You beauty lovers, who may not be very interested in how it works, but are mesmerized by its beauty, would be considered followers of Plato.

Aristotle on the other hand, with his hand pointing down, was interested in what was visible, what he could see, and hold, and take apart. He was more interested in what is known as ‘immanence.’ Those of you who are interested in science and it’s many branches would be considered followers of Aristotle.

Not to belabor the point, but others sitting at the feet of Plato and Aristotle are: Zeno, Epicurus, Averocs, Pythagers, Aleibides, Xenophon, Aeschines, Parmenides, Socrates, Heraclitus, Diagenes, Euclid, Zoroaster, Plolemy.  You may not be familiar with all of them but you have probably heard of at least some of them.

These men changed the way people thought. By all of their questioning, they underscored the ‘individual’ rather than just one person in the ‘herd.’ As an individual, one had privileges, duties, and responsibilities. These people of Greece wanted to produce good citizens. A citizens ‘civita—civilized one’ was not to be ruled by a despot but would be able to rule themselves. Although it was many years later, Emmanuel Kant said there were four big philosophical questions:

  1.  What may I know? [epistemology]
  2.  What must I do? [ethics]
  3.  What may I hope? [eschatology]
  4.  What is man? [anthropology]

These Greek philosophers incorporated all of that.

You may be asking yourself at this time, “so what. What does this have to do with the significant events between the scriptures?” Please bear with me. The story goes on.

North of Greece, there was a ruler by the name of Phillip of Macedon. He was a warrior. He wanted to go to battle, to fight, to control. He also recognized that the people we call Greeks were not typical of humanity. They seemed more advanced than everyone else. They were more civilized, more cultured, more aware.

I have already acknowledged that there were other great cultures in the world so let me share two things that those other cultures did not possess. They did not have the number zero. You may be saying to yourself, “so what? What is the big deal with having a zero?” The Greek aquisition of the zero from the Egyptians became the basis of our economic system and our currency. Every time you handle money, move a decimal point, etc. you are indebted to the Egyptians for that magnificent zero.

Another thing other peoples did not have but borrowed from the Babylonians was counting by 12.  You are probably asking the same question:“So what?” Are you wearing a analog watch? There is a reason those numbers go from 1 to 12. You can thank the Babylonians for figuring out that system.

Anyhow, Phillip of Macedon was so impressed with the Greeks that he insisted that his son be taught by them in order to learn their ways and thinking processes.  He sent his son, Alexander, to the Academy to study with Aristotle. After absorbing a great deal from Aristotle and his new found Greek culture, and after Phillip dies, Alexander, decided it was time for him to do his own conquering.

His goal was not to destroy the world around him, but to conquer and expose these tribes or peoples of the world [nations is too strong a term] to the Greek culture.  In his path, he left the Greek language for people to learn. He left Greek food and culture. He built libraries where the people were exposed to the books of all of the philosophers previously mentioned. He constructed theaters where the questions of the philosophers were asked. Because he was opening up the minds of the people to cultures different than their own, it becomes a time when synagogues flourish and expanded westward as far as Spain and along the north African coast.

Having libraries, theaters, and synagogues may not seem like a big deal to you who have TV sets in your home or ipads, iphones, etc. but these were all channels of communication. It allowed people who were preoccupied, as we are, with providing food and shelter for their families, to learn about other people. It gave them a place  to listen and to know what others were thinking and doing. It encouraged them to think for themselves and to ask those haunting questions about what is real and what isn’t. What is important and what isn’t? Why am I here? What am I supposed to believe? In a world where everyone dies, what my I hope?

At the age of 33, Alexander the Great dies. The entire Mediterranean area is marked with his footprints and the Greek language, Greek books, Greek theaters, and synagogues are everywhere.

The Roman Takeover

With the death of Alexander, a different people began to expand. Unlike the expansion of Alexander with the desire to conquer and to spread the virtues of Greek culture, these people expanded with the idea of control, power, and money. Beginning in the area we call Rome, a series of smaller expansions turned into larger and larger expansions. They wanted to ‘annex’ all of their neighbors. Motivations often became mixed. They quickly discovered that if they could build A, and someone else could build B, together they could be A&B. Likewise, if this new ‘merger’ could build A&B, and another people  could build C, then the combined group could build A, B and C.

map of roman empire

It was the same for the opportunity to purchase from a larger area and to sell to a larger area. They would import grains that they needed and sell wines that they produced. Over the years they learned where to get what was needed. They did not have their Home Depots, Lowe’s and Wal-Marts, but they knew exactly where to get their tin and marble, silk worms and cloth, fruits and vegetables. With this knowledge and power, they became more knowledgeable and more powerful—and richer. The cast of their shadow expanded everywhere that Alexander had controlled and a great deal more.

The Romans were in it for the long term and their expansion needed to be managed. Although the Greek language continued around the Great Sea, these people spoke Latin and it was an essential ingredient in the management of the government, commerce, and military control.  Many construction projects, including a huge network of roads leading to Rome, were built with Latn as the working language.  Thus, three languages existed throughout the land: Native tongues, Greek, and Latin.

As part of the management, and building on the Greek’s concept of citizenship, with privileges, rights, and obligations, the Romans built a system of law. The Roman citizens were accountable to and protected by the law. This is where it becomes interesting. Not everyone in the Roman Empire was a Roman citizen. The people of the City of Rome were,  but the rest of empire was a different story.

It is not my intent to romanticize the Roman expansion with all of its warfare.  It was often a bloody war with deaths throughout the lands. But it was not always that way.  So valuable was the “Roman Citizen” title that much of the land was conquered, not by force but with a bribe. Sometimes soldiers would simply surround the town and make a deal with the movers and shakers (the influential) of the city. “Don’t fight with us, just join us. If you do, we will make you Roman citizens.” There was generally about a 10% limit on the number of people allowed to do this in any city.

Especially for the merchants, the Roman citizenship classification was a “Golden Ticket” in the world of commerce. It meant that one could travel throughout the empire and still be protected by Roman law. Thus the merchant was free to sell his wares anywhere. He could even sell someone else’s wares as a sales representative. This was a time when merchants from different lands could be found throughout the empire and their buying and selling made commerce work.

It was also the time when signage came into being. Before people traveled a great deal, the shops of the village did not need a sign that said “Butcher”, “Baker” or “Candle-Stick-Maker”. One simply knew where to buy their shoes, get a hair-cut, or purchase cloth. With all of the strangers in town, signage was needed.

In Alexandria, a city named for Alexander, it was decided to build the biggest and the best library in the world. They wanted a copy of every book written. This was especially interesting and important to the Jewish communities. The synagogues around the Mediterranean did not speak Hebrew. That was lost to them. They spoke Greek. They requested of the library in Alexandria that the Old Testament scrolls  be translated into Greek. The library then contacted the Jews in Jerusalem and made their request known. The Jewish authorities appointed six Hebrew scholars from each of the 12 tribes. They did all of the translation work and this highly significant Old Testament translation is known as the Septuagint and you may see it written simply as LXX for the 70 translators who did the work. This Old Testament was then shared with the synagogues around the great sea.

Are you getting a glimpse of how the world had changed? Looking at the same map, with its libraries, theaters, and synagogues spread around the sea, note again the land of the Hebrews. It is still in the same location, but now it is more than a dead end of the Mediteranean cul-de-sac. Rather, it is in the middle of the significant commercial trade routes between north and south. Given the nature of the mountain, one has to travel through a narrow pass known as Megiddo. The New Testament speaks of Armageddon and notes that whoever controls this pass controls the world. As sand travels through an hour glass at its narrowest point, so too the land travelers must go through here.

We have arrived at that point in time when the entire area is tied together with language, with roads, with commerce, with communication centers with the theaters, libraries, and synagogues. It order for it to function so that trade is not interrupted, where money and supplies continue to flow freely, where prosperity can continue to be a hope and dream, there has to be peace in the land. There is always war and rumors of war, but turf battles interrupt business. All of these diverse cultures, though united in language, and dependent on commerce and law, were free and encouraged to maintain their own culture as long as they kept the peace.

Encouraging peace, and successfully keeping the peace, was a Roman accomplishment that became known as the PAX ROMANA.

It is Time for the Extraordinary

Let us now turn our attention to the New Testament. It is not my intent to offer NT lessons, but merely to connect a few of the dots. Let us begin with the birth of Christ.

  • When the entire area of in this part of the world was with one tongue [Greek]
  • When the ground work had been laid where people knew they were individuals, with rights and obligations,
  • When the major questions of the world were being asked,
  • When theaters and libraries flourished,.
  • When synagogues were numerous and the old testament scrolls were being translated into Greek,
  • When merchants and scholars possessed Roman Citizenship that allowed them to travel anywhere in the empire and still be protected by law,
  • When peace was plentiful, and the rule of the land,
  • When this little land of Israel became the gateway connecting North and South,

Then and only then did God send an angel to a young girl named Mary and say to her:

The time has come. The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the Holy One to be born will be called the Son of God. Luke 1:35.

Pentecost Ignites the Good News

God the Giver

Let us now take a quick look at Pentecost. Christians look at Pentecost as the time when God gave his Holy Spirit and a time when those gathered were speaking in tongues. To the Jewish community, which represented the people who were attending this regular service of worship, Pentecost was a time to celebrate God’s “giving”. People receive, but it is the Lord who “gives”. How does the Lord give? The Lord gives in three specific ways

  1. The Lord gives through His harvest. Human kind may plant and water and work, but it is the Lord who gives of the harvest. It is all the Lord’s creation. I have come to the persuasion that if one properly understands the term “creation” one understands the rest. If one fails to properly understand “creation” then one does not understand the rest of the scriptures.
  2. The Lord gives through His law. It is the gift of the law that leads to prosperity. It is the law that forms the type of person we are. It is the law that points to the direction we need to go.
  3. The Lord gives “as in the book of Ruth”.

Without going into it, the book of Ruth is a great story. It never tells the reader what to do, what to say, nor what to believe. It shows you what the Lord does and how He does it. The workings of the Lord are such an “easy yoke”, such a mature and smooth wine, so kind and gracious, that His workings become revealed after events and generally not before or during. Whenever you smack your forehead and say in amazement, “look how that all came together!” you will understand.

The Old Testament used the term “HESED” throughout the Scriptures to indicate the “Loving Kindness of the Lord”

These are the three characteristics of the Lord that are being worshipped when the worshippers are gathered together in Acts 2. They are worshipping the Lord—the GIVER.

Tongues of Fire

Now, consider the people who are at this service.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment because each one heard them speaking in his own language. [Remember, they all knew Greek so there was no need for them to hear in their native tongue]. Utterly amazed they asked, “Are not all these men, who are speaking, Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; resident of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Tonus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the part of Libra near Cyrene, visitors from Rome [both Jews and Jewish converts], Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues! Acts 2:5

Jewish merchants from around the Sea are in the major trading center of Jerusalem when they hear the story of the resurrected Christ from Peter and when the Holy Spirit is another gift, given by the Giver, who they have come to celebrate and worship.

These merchants were all passing through on business but eventually they journey home. When they get to wherever their homes are, their wife and children meet him at the door and say, “Daddy, what did you bring me? How was your trip? What did you learn?” When the time is right, perhaps after dinner, he shares with them his story and his experiences at the Jewish Pentecost Service. The wife will eventually ask, “What will our Rabbi say to all of this?”

I image the Rabbi asking him to remain quiet awhile until the Rabbi himself can examine the scriptures. Rabbis seek counsel from other Rabbis and a Rabbi in Cappadocia can readily contact [via Roman snail mail] any Rabbi throughout the empire. So he does. And when he does, he soon learns that the story he heard from the merchant in his synagogue is the same story other Rabbi’s are hearing from the merchants in their own. Pretty soon, the Jewish community is spreading the gospel of Christ throughout the Roman Empire.

And the questions! Oh, the questions!!! All of the rabbi’s have them and they need to ask for help. The news quickly spreads that the rabbinic scholar in Jerusalem, originally from Tarsus, has gone from trying to kill the Christ followers to becoming one. He even changed his name from the Hebrew Saul to the Greek Paul. So, they write to him. When he writes back, his letters become circulated from synagogue to synagogue. He even travels to a number of these places, since as a Roman Citizen, he is free to travel the Roman Empire and to be protected by Roman law.

Conclusion

It is my hope that this little story has helped you connect some of the dots. During these 400 years of silence, it may not seem that anything significant happened, but as you can now tell, one of the ways the Lord works is “as in the book of Ruth” where the truth sneaks up on you.

Regarding your celebration of Christmas, my prayer continues to be that you will be able to bow afresh to the Christ child and all of the events that had to happen before he came. If He had arrived a few hundred years earlier, no one would have known about it. It would have been an isolated event amongst a far away people. If it had happened a few hundred years later, everyone was embroiled in war.

In happened, as foretold, in the fullness of time.

In your personal life, you too will discover periods of silence. You too have had and will have your years of silence. When you do, smile. He who gives the harvest, and gives the law, and “as in the book of Ruth” gives silently, graciously, easily, and smoothly. It is done with such purity that the movement of the spirit is generally seen in hind-sight. Remember, Robinson Caruso only had to see one footprint in the sand before he knew, he was not alone.

Written by my friend Dr. Frank Leeds III

Michelangelo Gods hand human hand heart

The Magic of Courageous Love / Spiritual Meditations

Extolled as the greatest virtue, love is fascinating and complex, and takes courage to reach its pinnacle.  Yet for a language containing over 500,000 words, English is short on the distinctions between the various kinds of love. It uses the same word to show as much preference for a cup of tea as for your soul mate.

Greek, on the other hand, does not need any clumsy clarification when talking about love. In fact, Greek has several words to choose from, for different kinds of love and for different people whom you love. By deciding where your relationships fit into these types, you may find you are loved or love more than you think.  Always a good thing.

Eros or Erotic Love

The first kind of love is Eros, which is named after the Greek god of love and fertility. Eros represents the idea of sexual passion and desire and the ancient Greeks considered it to be dangerous as it involves a “loss of control” due to the primal impulse to procreate. Because Eros is centered around the selfish aspects of personal infatuation and physical pleasure, Eros must grow into a deeper love to be sustained. When misguided, Eros can be misused, abused and indulged in, leading to impulsive acts and broken hearts.

Kane, a marriage and family therapist says “A person newly in love sees the world through the lens of love and most everything is tolerable and everything their partner does is delightful. Romantic love evolves when one feels a sense of interdependence, attachment, and that their psychological needs are being met”

Philia, or Deep Friendship

As Aristotle put it, philia is a “dispassionate virtuous love” that is free from the intensity of sexual attraction. It often involves the feelings of loyalty and sacrifice among friends, camaraderie among teammates, and sharing of emotions.

Another kind of philia, sometimes called storge, is a love without physical attraction. Storge is primarily to do with kinship and familiarity as between parents and their children.

Ludus, or Playful Love

Although ludus has a bit of the erotic eros in it, it is much more than that. This was the Greeks’ idea of playful love, which referred to the affection between children or young lovers. You may have experienced it in flirting and teasing, during the early stages of a relationship. But we also live out our ludus when we gather together, bantering and laughing with friends, or when we go dancing.

Mania or Obsessive Love

Mania love is a type of love that leads a partner into a type of madness and obsessiveness. The person exhibiting Mania love, needs love to feel a sense of self-value. Because of this, they can become possessive and jealous lovers. If the other partner fails to reciprocate with the same kind of mania love, many issues develop. This is why mania can often lead to problems such as codependency.

Pragma or Enduring Love

Pragma is a love that has aged, matured and developed over time. It is beyond the physical, it has transcended the casual, and it is a unique harmony that has formed.

You can find pragma in married couples who’ve been together for a long time, or in friendships that have endured for decades.

Pragma is about making compromises to help the relationship work over time, and showing patience and tolerance.

The psychoanalyst Erich Fromm said that we spend too much energy on “falling in love” and need to learn more how to “stand in love.” Pragma is precisely about standing in love—making an effort to give love rather than just receive it.

Psychologist, Rachel Needle says. “The truth is that you have to put in time and energy and make a conscious effort to sustain the relationship and the passion. Basic communication with your partner on a daily basis is important to continue connecting on an emotional level. Also, remind yourself why you fell in love with this person.”

Philautia or Self Love

The Greeks understood that in order to care for others, we must first learn to care for ourselves. This form of self-love is not the unhealthy vanity and self-obsession that is focused on personal fame, gain and fortune as in the case with Narcissism.

Instead, philautia is self-love in its healthiest form. It shares the Buddhist philosophy of “self-compassion” which is the deep understanding that once you feel comfortable in your own skin, you will be able to provide love to others. As Aristotle put it, “All friendly feelings for others are an extension of a man’s feelings for himself.

The only way to truly be happy is to find that unconditional love for yourself. Often learning to love yourself involves embracing all the qualities you perceive as “unlovable”.

Agape, or Love for Everyone

The highest and most radical love is agape or selfless love. Agape is what some call ‘spiritual love’. This is an unconditional love that you extended to all people, whether family members or distant strangers. It is the purest form of love that is free from desires and expectations, and loves regardless of the flaws and shortcomings of others. Agape was  translated into Latin as caritas, which is the origin of our English word “charity.”

C.S. Lewis refers to it as the highest form of Christian love. But it also appears in other religious traditions, such as the idea of mettā or “universal loving kindness” in Theravāda Buddhism.

Agape is the love which we intuitively know as  Divine grace: the love that accepts, forgives and believes for our greater good.

In his book “You are the One”, Kute Blackson shows us the courage needed to live our lives fully engaged in agape love within a world that discourages it.  He  makes a good case for transforming ourselves into a conduit for God’s love to reach everyone.

True love is always freely given, with nothing expected in return. It is a commitment to share what is in your heart with another person, no matter who they are, or what language they speak.

Yet most of us have been conditioned to hold back our love. We go from being young children who say “I love you“ to the dog on the street or the man behind the counter and we become adults who reserve our love for people we can trust, for people who earn our love, for people who love us back.

We are taught to believe that love is based on certain conditions. Get good grades, be a good girl, look a certain way. That love is dependent on a certain set of actions. If someone doesn’t measure up, love should be restricted. We learn that our love should be held in reserve. It is for our family, our girlfriend, our children, our spouse. We cling to these people. They are the ones who get our love. But we hold the power to love anyone in any moment.

So, when do you hold back? Do you hold back with your spouse? Do you expect him or her to meet a certain set of expectations and then you will offer your love? Do you hold back with your siblings? Still harboring resentment from some inequality or injustice in the past? Do you hold back with your coworkers? Your neighbors? Your kids? Everyone that you meet is desperate for love. When you realize that love is something that can be shared with everyone, there is no limit to the love you can give.

I am not saying that the path of love is going to be easy. It is a muscle you have to exercise. It is a daily choice that you must make. Don’t refuse it. Love is not a feeling you have no control over, but a fierce commitment. There are no good excuses to hold back the one thing everyone in this world is craving more than life itself. Begin to ask yourself the question daily: “Am I loving fully? Could I love right now?” This question becomes a kind of moment to moment meditation, and it can open your eyes to opportunities you may miss otherwise.

Love is not a passive word. Love is not something to store high up on the shelf in your closet and bring out only on special occasions. Love is a living thing to be used every second of your life. Love is not just for the great saints and heroes of history. It is our birthright. Our destiny. Our responsibility. The more you use it, the more it grows. At the end of your life, the only thing you get to keep is the love you give away. All of life is a gigantic temple. Everything in it is an expression of the divine. Everywhere you walk is holy ground.

What the Apostle John Says about Love

Looking to the Bible, the Apostle John clearly indicated that it was God who initiated love.

“We love because he first loved us. If anyone says “I love God “, yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, who he has not seen. And he has given us this command: whoever loves God must also love his brother. “

John  echoed the words of Jesus. When asked by the religious leaders of his day to point out the greatest commandment in the law, he answered,

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind “. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself “. All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments.

Then John summarized it best when he said,

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

As Jesus Christ lived out his enlightenment and realization of his fundamental unity with God, he had a unique urgency, a poignant wild passion, and a hunger for justice that made him the hero of love to the human race. Christ came not to found a new religion or to ingratiate a new set of dogma but to open up a fierce and shattering new path of love in action, a path that seems now, with the hindsight of history, the one that could have saved – and still could save – humanity from its course of suicidal self-destruction.

Love Your Enemies

In his book What’s so Amazing about Grace, Philip Yancey states “There is nothing we can do that will make God love us more. There is nothing we can do that will make God love us less”.  That being true, a theology of love is grounded in the realization that God loves our enemies as much as God loves us. And we are all created in the image of this God. We are all precious in God’s site. We are all children of God. This is going to be a stretch for many of us, but one of the highest and most powerful forms of love and compassion flows when we learn to pray for those who persecute us, when we dare to love even our antagonists and enemies.

Apartheid

In his book ‘Naked Spirituality, Brian D McLaren describes an example of agape love that touches a life with it’s magic.

A white South African once told me about a time when he was on the receiving end of such a blessing.

During the apartheid years, he believed what he was told by white authority figures, namely, that those working against apartheid were evil troublemakers, rabble-rousers, communist, and heretics. Chief among the troublemakers was an activist Anglican priest named Desmond Tutu.

Once, walking through an airport, this large white man saw Tutu coming towards him. Overcome with rage, he moved toward Tutu and roughly, intentionally bumped him as he walked by. Tutu, much smaller in stature, fell down, landing on his backside with a thud. When Tutu open his eyes, angry blue eyes glared down at him with a sneer of obvious distain, only to see Tutu’s shocked and dazed face gradually focus and form into a smile. “God bless you, my child”, Tutu said, his brown eyes gleamed with an impossible mix of passion and mischief.

The man strutted away, all the more infuriated because Tutu found a way to transcend his acts of hatred. During the hours and days that followed, the words of blessing echoed in his memory and gradually the big, proud white man was brought to repentance by a simple, spontaneous blessing. Tutus nonviolence wasn’t simply a political strategy; it was a spiritual practice. It was rooted in this practice of intercession. The only way we will learn to respond to violent actions with non-violent actions is by learning to respond first with nonviolent words – words of blessing, not cursing, words of prayer, not revenge, words of compassion, not retaliation.

Ghandi

Kute Blackson recounts yet another incident of agape love in action:

Gandhi was in prison many times throughout his life. But he never allowed feelings of anger, victimization, and hated to overpower his call to love now. On one such occasions, after being imprisoned, Gandhi requested a pair of scissors and some leather and cloth from the prison warden. He was given these items, and during his stay in prison, he made a pair of sandals. He made them with great love and attention to detail. Upon Gandhi’s release from prison, he asked to see the army officer who had imprisoned him. He handed the sandals to the officer and said, “Officer, while in prison, I made this for you. A gift from me to you. “ The officer was speechless and stood in silence. Gandhi simply turned around and walked out. No words were necessary.

Even when staring injustice and cruelty in the face, we can choose to love. It’s easy to love when you get what you want. When life is kind to you and people are nice to you. But this takes great courage to love when your life is difficult or you are treated unfairly, and even greater courage when the people around you are unkind and rude. But Jesus taught us that this is when loving really counts.

Mother Teresa

Love is not something that fossilizes, but something that lives. Works of love, and declaring love, is the way to peace. And where does this love begin? Right in our own hearts. We must know that we have been created for greater things, not just to be a number in the world, not just to go for the diplomas and degrees, this work and that work. We have been created in order to love and be loved.

If you find yourself saying, “Oh, well, only the great ones know how to love that unconditionally. They are special.” Kute Blackson tells us “This is an illusion. If it was possible for Gandhi, it is possible for you. The great ones weren’t special people with special powers. They were like you and me. They were simply examples of what was possible. They showed us our capacity to love and what we can all be. They simply dared to exercise their hearts capacity to love more and more.”

Divine love is inside us. Divine love constitutes forgiveness, charity, benevolence, kindness, cooperation, sharing. All of these and more.  We just need to release it and exercise it.

Conclusion:

The ancient Greeks found diverse kinds of love in relationships with a wide range of people—friends, family, spouses, strangers, and even themselves. By mapping out the extent to which all types of love are present in your life, you might discover you’ve got a lot more love than you had ever imagined. You are loved. You were born to love. Everyone is waiting for your love. What else is there to do but love?  Be courageous and share the agape love God has given you with everyone.

Relevant Scripture:

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! (1 John 3:1 NIV)

We love because God first loved us. (1 John 4:19)

References:

8 Different Types of Love by Mateo Sol https://lonerwolf.com/different-types-of-love/

The Ancient Greeks’ 6 Types of Love

You are the One by Kute Blackson

Naked Spirituality by Brian D McLaren

police crime area tape with car in back at night

You’re Not a Likely Victim – Trust / Spiritual Meditations

The world has evolved to a place where nobody can feel safe. Violence in the news and on social media permeate our lives. Are we a species doom to kill and be killed?

The New Testament tells us not to be anxious or fearful. It is our trust in God that protects us. Today, medical science warns us of the health implications and psychology tell us how fear and anxiety often escalate into anger, which can result in violence. Our constant exposure to bad news is overpowering our sense of trust in God. I see fear as the major cause behind many of society’s problems and many of our interpersonal issues. So I’ve presented posts about different aspects of fear in an effort to help you, my friends, sort some of it out: fear of death in Afraid of Death?, fear of people unlike yourself in Who are Your Neighbors?, fear of criticism and low self-esteem in Advertising Creates Fear, and politically created fear in The Hidden Poison of Politics. This post is about your fear of being a victim of violence. I expect you will find the statistics as surprising as I did.

Hostility and Kindness are in Our Genes

What is in our genetic makeup makes us aggressive or kind? Fundamentally, our brains struggle with control over our violent impulses. The hypothalamus contains a cluster of cells that play a key role in aggressive behavior. When neurons in this cluster are stimulated in mice, they immediately become aggressive and their aggression is proportional to the strength of the stimulation. This cluster is also in humans in the most evolutionary ancient part of our brains. Almost every sexually reproducing species shows aggression.

But we are also wired for kindness and morality as shown in a study of babies. When presented with a puppet show of stuffed dogs, infants repeatedly preferred the nice puppy who was helpful instead of the mean puppy who was obstructive. Even at three-month-old, the infants demonstrated a sense of justice, by choosing the dog who was the defender, banishing the mean dog. Basically, intimating that “you are mean and you don’t deserve kindness”.

So, both morality and violence are baked into our biology and we humans switch between them depending on which is most effective at the time.

An interesting change has been seen in our biology. “Genetic self-domestication”, which bred peaceful individuals to other peaceful individuals, produces more peaceful offspring over several hundred thousand years. (so long.) This was evidenced by scientific examination of human skulls over the centuries. The ancient longer faces indicated more aggression producing testosterone. The faces of today are shorter and wider….less testosterone and a larger reasoning pre-frontal cortex. Studies show that the impulse control provided by the pre-frontal cortex, functions poorly in murderers.

Surprising Evidence on the Trend of Violence

Based on a variety of data sets, the reality is that we live in one of the most peaceful times in history but it doesn’t count as news. Over the centuries, we have lowered our rates of death by 90%. Paleontologists’ records show that, on every continent, ancient history was a horror show of violence and cannibalism. Spanish scientists have scoured the records of over 600 societies in existence between 50,000 years ago and today. Violent death among prehistoric people was three times what it is now.

During the last decade, data was collected on historical murder rates for several European countries. Over the span of 800 years, rates decreased, being cut in half every hundred years. The homicide rate fell from one in a thousand to one in a million. Why? There is a strong case for the “civilizing process”. Society changed and more penalties were enforced for harming another person. But this was not all due to altruism…. violence also interfered with the economy. The value of a person became more equated with how much self-control they had instead of how good they were at fighting.

During the Middle Ages the slave trade and torture were lawful and often conducted in the presence of judges. Therefore, equality was the radical idea of the 18th century, probably starting with printed materials, such as the Bible, as well as an increase in literacy. This was followed by newspapers and other print which created a broader sense of community. Empathy was and is increased by identifying with characters in novels and the questions driven by scientific experiment and reasoning. These made people think about social issues and equality.

197,734 case records from the Old Bailey, a judicial system in London, were scanned into a computer. For the years 1674 through 1913, data was searched for matches to violent words such as “knife”, “beating” and “killed”. During those years there was a strong shift away from interpersonal violence indicating that by the early 20th century people were using more civilized methods to resolve conflict. (yeah)

Even deaths due to wars is declining. In spite of the astronomical number of deaths during WWII, the wars of the 20th century show a decrease in deaths per capita. During the 13th century in the Mongol conquest, Genghis Khan’s troops killed an estimated 10% of the world’s population!

So violence is down, yet there is still a danger of totalitarianism in the election of nationalistic leaders who can destroy the trends of peace. Experiments were formulated in Poland to test whether people would inflict pain on others when ordered to do so, as in the WWII Nazi regime. Psychologists found that 90% of people will commit violence if ordered to by an authority figure. Which says that you and I would probably have done the same with the additional economic and survival stresses experienced during that war. (Yikes)

Where Violence is Being Reduced

News and social media inundate us with violence and we judge risk and danger by how many examples come to our minds. Surprisingly, the risk to Europeans and North Americans is less than that of being hit by lightning. But violence is concentrated in time and space in certain communities.

Education, government and equality drive down murder rates but they are not distributed evenly. Income equality is one of the strongest indicators of violence and violent acts are contagious (e.g. revenge). A program in Baltimore called Cure Violence sends trained “violence interrupters” into the community to intervene in the interpersonal pyramids of aggression at early stages. The program also connects with services to address the source of the violence… typically economic. Cure Violence has been duplicated in 50 cities around the world resulting in a decrease in violence by 40% to70% with sustained outcomes.

A mass shooting killing 36 people in April 1996 prompted the Australian government to take action. They banned and then collected assault weapons totaling 650,000. Killings plummeted. In the following 23 years only 2 mass shootings occurred resulting in only 10 dead.

Connecticut passed stricter gun laws after the Sandy Hook school shooting. The five-year average of gun homicides has dropped by 1/3.  Comparing other states in the US, the greater the gun restrictions the lower the gun violence.

In the Middle East there are strong religious and ethnic tensions. Prejudice results in dehumanization of ethnic groups, which then can escalate to the justification to inflicting harm. But in North Iraq, researchers wanted to test the idea of “contact” as a way to reduce prejudice. Integrated soccer teams were set up as a league with a few non-integrated teams as control groups. Although some players were initially uncomfortable, the integrated teams became social groups off the field with a more understanding perspective on people who were different from themselves.

Conclusion

Recent incidents in the news have not escalated to world war. New monuments are named for martyrs and civil rights leaders instead of war heroes. Requests for human rights are crossing international borders. As exemplified by Gandhi, nonviolence resistance is more effective than violent resistance by a factor of two. Human rights parallel this statistic. Will we stay on this path? If we don’t let media frighten us away from our trust in God, we can do so much more with His help.

Reference:

The information above was derived from an episode of Nova in November of 2019. I strongly encourage you to watch the video. It will give you further perspective on the chances of becoming a victim of violence and more background on what you have just read. It will also provide some support for some of the statistics that you may find astonishing.

Relevant Scripture:

 For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of Sonship. (Romans 8:15)

Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. (Luke 12:32)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:6-7)

Then Simon Peter drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus. “Put your sword back in its sheath!” Jesus said to Peter. “Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given Me?” (John 18:10-11)

“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.” (John 16:33)

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. (Matt 5:9)

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27)

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”  The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” (Luke 10:36-37)

At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, (2 Cor 8:14)

 

 

 

 

 

the word fear crossed out with marker by hand

Fear-the Hidden Poison of Politics | Spiritual Meditations

There are many things that motivate us. But the most powerful motivator of all is fear.  Yet scripture tells us not to be afraid….God will be with us.

Fear is a primal instinct that served us as cave dwellers and still serves us today. It keeps us alive, because if we survive a bad experience, we never forget how to avoid it in the future. Our most vivid memories are born in fear. Adrenaline etches them into our brains.

Cultural norms also teach us whether something should be feared or not. Think, for example, about how certain social groups are feared and persecuted because of a societally-created impression that they are dangerous.

Nothing makes us more uncomfortable than fear. And we have so many fears: fear of pain, disease, injury, failure, not being accepted, missing an opportunity, and being scammed, to name a few. Fear invokes the flight or fight system, and our first reaction is often to flee back to our comfort zone. If we don’t know the way back, we are likely to follow whoever shows us a path.

Marketers use fear as a motivator as often as they can. They present a scenario they hope will invoke our sense of fear. Then they show us a solution – a path back to our comfort zone – that entails using their product or service. Fear is used to sell almost everything: cars, tires, and life insurance are classics. But clever marketers also use it to sell breakfast cereal and deodorant. As a result, we purchase all sorts of things that a generation ago were considered unnecessary: antibacterial soap, alarm systems. The list goes on and on. To use fear successfully as a motivator, a solution must be offered with it. A new path to follow.  (Robert Evans Wilson Jr. Psychology Today 9/23/09)

Politicians Manufacture Fear

And that is exactly what many political candidates do. If we buy into the ‘new path’ they are attempting to steer us into, through the fear-based scenario they present as likely, if not imminent, the only benefactor is the politician or political party that is doing the steering. Instead of being sucked into a belief in the politically proposed picture, let’s do our due diligence, use our logic and come to reasonable conclusions about the likelihood of the various threats and promises presented to frighten us into voting for them. Be confident in your spiritual beliefs of what is right and wrong, don’t let them manipulate you and then look for those who are honest in their speech and actions.

The Media Creates and Distributes Fear

Just as the government functions like any major conglomerate, as stated by Peter Vanderwicken, “Journalists and politicians have become ensnared in a symbiotic web of lies that misleads the public.” Some so-called news programs repeatedly sensationalize and create baseless hype for the purpose of entertaining, maintaining and controlling their audience. With self-interest and manipulation, their goals are not to inform the public but rather to make money from the public. Their stories often revolve around politics with a slant in the direction they have decided will excite the most attention and keep the viewer coming back for more.   If you have ever been aware of a news story first-hand and compare it to what was reported in the media, you know that there are usually discrepancies that can greatly change the readers conclusion.

Paul H. Weaver, a former political scientist (at Harvard University), journalist (at Fortune magazine), and corporate communications executive (at Ford Motor Company), states that we have become addicted to this culture of lying. Weaver states, “The culture of lying is the discourse and behavior of officials seeking to enlist the powers of journalism in support of their goals, and of journalists seeking to co-opt public and private officials into their efforts to find and cover stories of crisis and emergency response. It is the medium through which we Americans conduct most of our public business (and a lot of our private business) these days.”

Another tactic that we must beware of is the use of the sound-bite or snippet. Used by both politicians and the media to excite, entice or anger, it is a short poisonous phrase taken out of context. Look for the whole story by finding that news source that is complete and balanced in its reporting. If the announcers are pushing extreme opinions, this is probably not the one you want to listen too. Be assured that God is a better guide and don’t let them manipulate you.

How to Avoid the Hidden Harm of Politics

Yes, I know finding the truth takes some research which can be time consuming and requires tenacity. Unfortunately, it is easy to throw our support to whomever our friends or relatives have chosen, opinions often based on no more than the opinion of their friends or relatives….an endless chain, possibly based on misinformation and snappy slogans with no substance. Or, worse yet, a desire to be part of a ‘team’, possibly the same ‘team’ your authority figure is on, just to be a part of the contest without any real interest in the ‘players’ or their background and abilities. We all want to belong, but don’t let them manipulate you….do your own research and use the ‘golden rule’ as your gauge.

So how can we avoid being the politicians’ patsies? Remember: very little that a political candidate says can be considered the whole truth. Nothing fans anxieties like an absence of solid information, and nothing resolves anxiety like concrete data.  If the statements in a news story lead you to believe it could impact your life, don’t worry, but investigate the facts provided by a non-media source.  Preferably from someone directly involved or an expert on the subject.  If it is available, check the candidates’ voting record. If it isn’t available, ask yourself “how realistic is the picture he or she is painting”. Take an objective look around you; does your experience support their assertions? Self-monitor your fear-feelings (usually exhibited as anger) to determine if you are being taken in. We can also check the numbers candidates make up or exaggerate, thinking that we won’t check. But you are capable and can find the real statistics.

Fact Checking Resources

Here are a few sites that can help with ascertaining the truth. If you are aware of others, please share them in the blog post comments where readers can access them. Comments on Facebook will not always be available.

Politifact (fact-checking website that rates the accuracy of claims by elected officials and others on its Truth-O-Meter) https://www.politifact.com/

FactCheck.org (The special interest groups behind the TV ads and more) https://www.factcheck.org/search/

Washington Post‘s Fact Checker (Checking the truth behind the political rhetoric.) https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/

OpenSecrets (Data on Campaign Finance, Super PACs) https://www.opensecrets.org/

The Sunlight Foundation (Making government & politics more accountable & transparent) https://sunlightfoundation.com/

Snopes https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/

FactChecker (for India) https://www.factchecker.in/

FullFact (regarding European politicians and media) https://fullfact.org/europe/

AfricaCheck (sorting fact from fiction)   https://africacheck.org/

Your Good Stewardship

Why bother with all this research? Good stewardship. God has created a world full of the wonderful creatures, the people He loves, the most beautiful scenery, an exciting universe, and a very sophisticated ecology. We, humans,  do not always do our best to sustain it; sometimes out of ignorance….many times, because of a greedy use of resources and thoughtless dumping. And in war-torn areas, environmental issues are a low priority. We aren’t necessarily doing this damage ourselves, but we are putting people in positions that make a difference; good or bad.

This is why your educated vote and involvement is important in sustaining and restoring the world that God made for you and your children. Instead of letting the politicians and media manipulate you with their fear tactics, research whatever issues concerns you. You are capable to take the road less traveled instead of being part of the frightened herd.

If you are trying to guess what political party or candidate I support, let me be very clear that I try to listen to God and support those who act as though they are following the teaching of Jesus. Verbiage meant to solicit the religious vote does not qualify. Do their actions show that they love God and love their neighbor as themselves? If they are attempting to frighten us into a particular vote or support, this is contradictory to scripture which repeatedly tells us to “fear not”. As my friend, Pastor Nathan writes in the following excerpt, ‘shine a light on it’, whether it be fear created by politicians or the media or something more personal.

Dealing With Fear

One of the modern classics of horror is Stephen King’s “It.” Anyone who has seen it and analyzed it can tell you that, as much of King’s work is, the movie serves as an extended allegory for what fear can do to people, groups, and even whole towns. What ultimately can defeat IT (fear), is laughter, even love….Much like the movie IT, fear itself becomes the monster inside of us, paralyzing us, hurting us, eating away at us, until it nearly kills us.

God tells us over and over again in the scriptures (365 times or there about) “do not fear.” And we hear later that “perfect love casts out fear.” Yet, IT happens to all of us from time to time. Small fears, or big fears creep into our psyche and play against our minds, hearts, and wills. Much like the classic horror films I used to watch, the unseen monster only hinted at in our imagination is the enemy, but who or what is the vanquishing hero? Classic Sunday School answers work here, I think. Jesus, God, love, laughter, yes all of these are good at overcoming fear.

But I think something else is a great place to start. Light. Shining light on the enemy within is a great starting point. Naming it, illuminating it, and facing it head on helps us to get a handle on it. Most of what we are afraid of will never happen, and if it does happen, most of the time it’s not as bad as we imagine it, and even if it is, we often find that we have more strength to get through it than we thought we would.

It’s amazing then, isn’t it, that love and light are but two ways Jesus gets described in the Gospels? I don’t think it’s any accident. I don’t know what you’re facing this week, or month, or year. Perhaps you have big fears, maybe only small ones.… But trust in God, lean on Jesus, shine some light, be filled with God’s love, and let God lead you through.   –Pastor Nathan

Relevant Scripture:

Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, saying: “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” (Luke 12:1)

  I went past the field of a sluggard,
past the vineyard of someone who has no sense;
thorns had come up everywhere,
the ground was covered with weeds,
and the stone wall was in ruins.
 I applied my heart to what I observed
and learned a lesson from what I saw:
 A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest—
and poverty will come on you like a thief
and scarcity like an armed man. (Proverbs 24:30-34)

Again, I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun: I saw the tears of the oppressed—
and they have no comforter;
power was on the side of their oppressors—
and they have no comforter. (Ecclesiastes 4:1)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Phil 4:6-8)

Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. (John 3:20)

For “Whoever would love life
and see good days
must keep their tongue from evil
and their lips from deceitful speech.
They must turn from evil and do good;
they must seek peace and pursue it.
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous
and his ears are attentive to their prayer,
but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”   Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?  But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” (1 Peter 3:10-13)

References:

Theo Tsaousides, Ph.D. is a neuropsychologist, assistant professor, and author of the book Brainblocks: Overcoming the Seven Hidden Barriers to Success. Article in Psych Today   https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/smashing-the-brainblocks/201511/7-things-you-need-know-about-fear

Paige Gilmar, B.A. English Literature & Journalism, McGill University (2019)

 

 

stairs ascend into clouds

Demystifying Spiritual Growth | Spiritual Meditations

Where are you on your spiritual path? It’s hard to determine when the beginning and the end of that path can be vague and varied. Did it start when you first spoke to God in meditation or prayer, when you were baptized, during communion or confession? Maybe a revival meeting. While acknowledging the relevance of mountaintop experience, perhaps your focus is not on a specific moment, but on progress, which doesn’t happen linearly, but has it’s ups and downs.

And what is the spiritual goal of your journey? If we can’t define it, how can we gauge our progress or even know if we are going in the right direction?

Brian D McLaren, in his book Naked Spirituality, describes four phases of spiritual maturity based on his experience and study. He makes it clear that we will have transitional periods that look like a mixture of two phases. I find that, although I endeavor to reach his fourth phase, I find myself between phases, with some issues in one and some in the other. What does your experience suggests?

Phase One of Our Spiritual Journey

In our spiritual infancy we see in a dualistic way. Everything we see is immediately categorized in relation to our ego. It is evaluated in relation to self-interest: good and evil, us and them; advantages and disadvantages; superior and inferior; benefit and cost; right and wrong; in and out; pleasurable and painful; safe and dangerous; acceptable and unacceptable; winner and loser; ally and enemy; and so on. At this stage, our comparisons and contrasts are our absolute judgments, end of story, case closed.

Phase Two of Our Spiritual Journey

As we develop spiritually our dualism begins to break down. We move from black and white to shades of gray. We go from seeing the world in terms of twos to seeing the world in multiples. We go from fixed categories to arrays and ranges. We move from binary categorization to sophisticated classification, and sound judgment and analysis becomes more complex. In this stage we begin to be able to see some good in what we had previously thought w as evil, and some evil in what we had previously thought was good.

Phase Three of Our Spiritual Journey

As we further progress in our spirituality we see in a relativistic way. We take the scrutiny we have developed to dissect the opinions, perspectives, and beliefs of others, and we turn that scrutiny on our own opinions, perspectives, and beliefs. We self-distance enough to self-examine, and self-critique. The philosopher Socrates rightly said “the unexamined life is not worth living”. So we give everything a second thought; in other words, we repent. Like leaves falling off trees, our previous certainties and judgments fall to the ground, until the only absolute left is that there are no absolute.

Phase Four of Our Spiritual Journey

When we reach stage four, the chattering, hyper vigilant consciousness – that first judged in stage one, and then analyzed in stage two, and then self-examined in stage three – now goes silent. When we open our eyes in this space, we begin to see and know with the meditative mind. What you look for determines what you see. What you focus on determines what you miss. The way you see determines what you are blind to and what you render invisible. So, this meditative kind of seeing accepts the limitations of earlier ways of seeing, and it practices, in their place, a new vision.

The Spiritually Transformation

It’s not that everything is good. It’s that there is good in everything or there is potential to bring about good out of everything. It’s not that everything is the same. It’s that everything both differs and belongs, everything can be redeemed, everything can be forgiven. It’s not that everything is relative, with no firm or fixed identity, but that everything is related, so its identity is bound up somehow with the identity of everything else.

Brian McLaren writes:

We used to look for evil to judge, evil to name, shame, and blame. But that was an easy thing, so easy that we now find the whole exercise rather boring, childish, and small minded. It was also an ego flattering and prideful thing, placing us in a god-like position. We now wish to see without that arrogance, without that air of superiority or supremacy. Now, as we learn to behold the good, the world is bathed in a gentle luminosity of compassion instead of a harsh light of analysis, inspection, and judgment. Before we looked for flaws, which gave us an excuse to reject, but now we look for goodness, which gives us a reason to respect. Instead of looking for dangers to flee and fear, we look for possibilities to pursue and encourage. We turn from evaluating to valuing.

The New View of Other People

This new seeing, of course, includes the way we view other human beings. In our spiritual infancy and youth, we were scorekeepers or fault finders. We stood with the Pharisees, stone in hand, staring at a woman caught in adultery. Now we stand with Christ, in Christ, beholding a daughter needing love. This new way of seeing is so different from our old way of seeing that we now say, “though I was blind, now I see “.

Behold, a new creation! A new reality! And the old flawed, egotistical mindset is gone. We used to see some people as friends and others as enemies, some as superior and others as inferior, some as “us” and others as “them”. We judged their value in relation to our safety, our interests, our opinions, our pride, our profit, our lust, our affiliations, our fear. Now we are able to escape the black hole of old egotistical perspective, described by novelist Walker Percy as “the great suck of self. “ Instead, we rise to see with the living God, seeing others with loving, compassionate eyes. We see the connection and oneness of all souls.

The New View of Myself

Brian McLaren continue:

But my renewed vision doesn’t stop with the faces of others; it continues when I look in the mirror. Up until now I have seen myself as a mix of good and bad, good I am proud of and bad I am ashamed of – again, seeing myself in relation to my own interest in being popular, powerful, approved, successful. Now, if I’m tempted to self-worship, I live with one kind of blindness about myself: failing to acknowledge my character defects. If I’m tempted to self-loathing, it’s another kind of blindness: failing to see my worth and God‘s beloved creature made in God’s image.

The New View of Nature

But there is still more. an empty field was called “undeveloped”, oblivious to the beautiful ecosystem that had developed there over millennia….Now with Jesus, we see the flowers of the field and birds of the air as God‘s beloved creatures, each and every thing possessing an intrinsic value apart from any price put on it in the meat markets of human economy. Martin Luther said, “if you could understand a single grain of wheat, you would die of wonder“.

The New View of God

Most wonderful of all, if we dare venture into the new creation, you and I will behold God in a new way. We used to encounter God from our self-serving vantage point – for what God could do for us, advancing our agenda, coddling our insecurities, fulfilling our desires, reinforcing our prejudices. But now, even God shines in a new light. God has been transformed for us – not that God has changed in essence or character, but that our concept or image of God has changed, adjusted, expanded, and corrected, slightly at least, in the direction of the true undefinable God.

Something happens at this stage that is very difficult to describe: we learn as never before to separate God from our God-concepts. We learn that it is one thing to trust our beliefs, believe in our theology, or have confidence in our doctrines and creeds about God. But it is a very different thing to be one with and have a personal connection with God.

How do We Transform Ourselves?

To progress along our spiritual path requires prayer and meditation  on spiritual principles . Mountaintop experiences give us confidence in our beliefs and spiritual experiences transform belief into knowledge. To reach the personal connection with God that we desire, we must quietly listen for the still small voice at all times which is made possible through a practice of meditation and prayer.

Spiritual maturity is evident in the ability to tolerate the stress that is often part of the growth process. This includes the willingness to display uncertainty. Confusion and indecision can be interpreted as weakness. But in fact, they are the door to spiritual growth and are nothing to worry about.  Good change is a movement toward your best self.

Spiritual growth may come to you quickly or progress throughout your life and beyond. Christian A. Schwarz, in his book The 3 Colors of Your Spirituality, writes “Process spirituality necessarily demands more time. Nevertheless, I am extremely reluctant to see….“duration“ as a quality criterion. This could lead to the fatal argument that quick equals bad, and slow equals good. But not everything that proceeds slowly should be seen positively. Slowness can also be the result of laziness, procrastination, passivity, lethargy or fatalistic attitude. You can run away from God even by means of impressive sounding process vocabulary.”

The Pursuit Can be Challenging but Worth It

What man is striving to attain in his search for God is a state of complete peace and harmony, a state in which we are not at war with one another, but in love with one another, a state in which we do not deprive others, but share with them.

It must be clear to every thinking person that It is our work to establish a relationship of oneness with God.  Jesus said, “you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free. “ Time and time again he reiterates that it is our responsibility: “You shall love the Lord your God… Ye shall love thy neighbor as thy self… You shall pray for your enemy… You shall bring the tithes into the storehouse”.  Nowhere does he indicate that this is God’s responsibility.

In Practicing the Presence, Joel S Goldsmith writes that Jesus has given us the way, the where, the when and the how of this demonstration of unity: The way is prayer; The where is the kingdom of God within us; The when is now; the how is action. Jesus causes us to withdraw our gaze from upward and outward and turn it in the only direction in which we can find peace and harmony – within ourselves.

Through inner contemplation of the Father within, ultimately, “I and my Father“ mold and melt into one. God is love. No God can operate in our experience except through love, and we must become the instrument through which that love is permitted to escape as directed in the commandment “thou shall love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and thy neighbor as thy self “ will have no significance to us except in proportion as we are loving.

This commandment has been known for thousands of years. Today – now, this teaching should be put into action, there should be an end to the meaningless repetition of those words. Now that commandment must be brought down into the heart and lived, implemented by obedience to the Christ’s injunction: “do unto others as you would have others do unto you… Forgive seventy times seven… Do not condemn… Do not judge”.

Knowing the truth with the mind does not guarantee that it will be put into action: it is when truth seeps down from the mind and penetrates the heart that the Spirit reigns, and love is enthroned.

Conclusion

You know what the goal of life is – to be reunited with the Father, to be consciously one with God. You know the way – the prayer of inner contemplation and meditation, the recognition of the Christ, the love of God, and the love of man. Now carry this message in your mind where you will always remember the principles. And in your heart, dwell upon the gift which has been given to you, delivered to you from the Father – the gift of the realized Presence within you. Bless It always that It may increase.

Relevant Scripture:

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 2 Cor 5:14-17

The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.  Isaiah 58:11

Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. Act 17:11

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  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.  If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.  For we know in part and we prophesy in part,  but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.  When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.  For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:1-13

References:

The 3 Colors of Your Spirituality by Christian A. Schwarz

Naked Spirituality by Brian D McLaren

Practicing the Presence by Joel S. Goldsmith

angel blowing kiss

Real Love Never Ends | Spiritual Meditations

Have you heard from your loved ones who have died? They have “full access to happenings on earth”, Gareth Atkins states, unambiguously, in his book Making and Remaking Saints in Nineteenth-Century Britain.

Who is he referring to and what are they doing with their access? The following excerpt is from the book Creed, by Adam Hamilton, the pastor of a large Methodist church. He explains how this idea syncs up with basic Christian beliefs.

The Communion of Saints

The apostle’s creed (central to Christian belief) speaks of the communion of saints. It is important to realize that the “saints” in the New Testament were not those who had been canonized by the church after death; rather, this was (the apostle) Paul ‘s preferred way of referring to all Christians. He addressed many of his letters either to “the saints” or “to those who are called to be saints.”

There’s one last thing to note about the phrase “communion of saints”. It involves the word communion and is one of the most beautiful ideas in Christian theology. The idea is that those who are becoming saints here on earth, and those who are saints in heaven (link post on heaven), still commune together.

I think our loved ones who have died continue to love and care for us and await the day when we will be reunited. I think they do pray for us. While protestants don’t pray to saints, they can pray for them, and I believe we can ask God to share with them what is in our hearts.

I believe the communion of saints means that there are moments in our lives here on earth when God says to those dear to us in heaven, “I want you to see something,“ and allows them to join us from above. I can’t prove it by quoting a chapter and verse in the Bible, but when I think of the communion of saints, this is one example of what I think that looks like.

Rev. Hamilton goes on to describe what has become a common practice at weddings in which a candle is lit in honor of a deceased close friend or relative.

Sometimes a memorial table is set up with photos and mementoes representing the inclusion of the deceased in the happy occasion. But do our deceased loved ones visit us on earth in special circumstances, as Hamilton and Atkins suggest?

Love Permeates the Curtain Between Life and Afterlife

Messages from heaven are real for those who receive them. However, this is a personal gift which is not perceived by people around them.

The Love of Fathers and Daughters

During an outdoor wedding, my friend Sophia, noticed a robin alight on a wall adjacent to the ceremony. The bird remained there until completion of the wedding; its attention fixed on all that was happening. Because it was odd behavior for a bird, Sophia wondered if someone close to the wedding party had recently died and was able to find out later that the bride’s father had just passed on…. someone who would definitely want to be there to see his little girl wed.

(This brings up a question about how God uses animals, which I’ll address in a future post.)

My friend, Jan, is an organist. She played for a wedding in which the bride’s father was to walk his daughter down the aisle. Unfortunately, he inopportunely passed away and his brother performed the honors. But during the rehearsal, Jan witnessed a diaphanous white vapor following close behind the bride and her uncle as they processed up the aisle. It was the bride’s mother who made the identification when she mentioned that she felt a strong presence of her deceased husband during the practice. He didn’t want to entirely miss giving his daughter away.

Family Love Overcomes Death’s Division

God’s great love for “the communion of saints” allows the love of the earthly saints and the heavenly saints to continue to be exchanged. This is a common occurrence, which I also have experienced with both of my parents and my grandmother, soon after their earthly departure.  Although, I had never told them, upon reaching heaven, my family knew what my concerns were and gave me the verifications that would relieve my mind. Based on their messages there can be no doubt that they were the source.

When Other People are the Conveyors of Love Messages

Not everyone, however, receives these messages via the ‘still small voice’ of the Holy Spirit, or their family members. Because He is all-loving and all-knowing, sometimes God uses methods of communication that are more vocal; that are more appropriate and effective for the person and situation. Sometimes He uses other people. This was the case with Lucy.

In December of 2015, Lucy’s mother died at her home in Austria. Lucy lives in the US, and made regular trips to see her mother, but she wasn’t there at the time of her mother’s passing. Rationally, she knew that the chances of her being in Austria when her mother died were unlikely, but she still regretted her own absence. To help bridge the gap after her death, Lucy would sometimes smell a lock of her mother’s hair so that she would feel closer to her.

A couple of months after her mother’s passing, Lucy was invited by a friend to attend an annual fashion show at which representatives of various clothing lines and beauty products would be available for consultation. Now, Lucy is a very busy lady and had declined her friend’s invitation for several years. But this time her friend insisted that she take a little time to have some fun and accompany her to the event. Lucy did not immediately accept but told herself that, if she found purple shoes to match a particular outfit that she wanted to wear, she would consider going. “What are the chances of that?” she thought.

However, five days before the show she was passing a local shoe store and thought she should at least make an effort, so she walked in. As soon as she was inside the door, she spotted purple shoes on the clearance rack in the back of the store. They were her size and the required shade of purple. Astounded, she made the purchase and was out of the store within minutes, now committed to attend the event.

During the show, Lucy felt urged to meet a man who was representing cosmetics. Having enjoyed the show and finishing lunch, she approached him on the pretense of making a small purchase. After the initial greeting, his first question to her was not about cosmetics but was “Did your mother recently pass away?” When she replied that she had, he grabbed her arm and said “I want you to know that she is right here with you” at which point he described Lucy’s mother. The man then said “She wants you to know that it is OK and she understands that you couldn’t come to Austria when she was dying. Don’t fret anymore.” He then told her how she, Lucy, smelled her mother’s hair on a regular basis.

Afterward, Lucy told her friend that she now knew why she had to come to the fashion show.

Biblical Reference to the Saints Among Us

Adam Hamilton rounds out his thoughts on deceased saints with these words:

in chapter 11 of the new testament letter to the Hebrews, the author describes the heroes and heroines of faith that came before his time, mentioning, among them, the patriarchs and matriarchs of ancient Israel. He begins the new chapter by writing “therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Heb 12:1-2)”

Conclusion

As heaven is more wonderful than we can imagine, it is not surprising that our deceased loved ones are given the opportunity to occasionally observe the joyous events in the lives of their earthly family and give comfort, care, and messages.

Rev. Katie Shockley explains further our continuous close proximity with other saints.

When we gather in worship, we praise God with believers we cannot see. When we celebrate Holy Communion, we feast with past, present and future disciples of Christ. We experience the communion of saints, the community of believers –– living and dead. This faith community stretches beyond space and time. We commune with Christians around the world, believers who came before us, and believers who will come after us. We believe that the church is the communion of saints, and as a believer, you belong to the communion of saints.

References:

 Creed by Adam Hamilton

Atkins, Gareth (1 August 2016). Making and Remaking Saints in Nineteenth-Century Britain. Manchester University Press. p. 227. ISBN 9781526100238. In the other direction, he was willing to state unambiguously that the ‘saints in paradise’ had full access to happenings on earth.

 

the words "thank God"

The Priceless Advantages of Gratitude|Spiritual Meditation

“Rejoice always…. give thanks in all circumstances”. This Biblical wisdom tells us to celebrate God’s creation and blessings.  Science tells us why.

Before we get started let’s pause for a moment and establish a base line. Think of a few things you are grateful for, then continue.

Hurdling Consumerism

In his book Naked Spirituality, Brian D McLaren writes:

It’s not how much you have that brings happiness; it’s how much you appreciate however much or little you have. Spirituality in today’s world is constantly under assault by consumerism, which claims that the source of joy is not in God or within, but in a new pair of shoes, a trip to southern France, or a new flat screen TV…. In relation to consumerism, gratitude could be called downright subversive. A lot of people (advertisers) spend a lot of money every day trying to keep you from being grateful. They want you to think a lot more about what other people have then what you have, so you’ll want more of what they have to sell.

Consumerism thus robs the soul of happiness…. But this petty larceny on the individual level leads to far greater crimes on a global level. Just think of where this sick, never-enough system drives us: to mountains stripped of gold or coal, to oceans plundered of fish and seas toxified with oil, to hillsides denuded of trees and wildlife, to fields scraped by bulldozers and paved with blacktop, so we can have yet another shopping mall (or storage facility) where we can buy (or store) more things we don’t need and won’t take time to appreciate.

Habitats are thus stolen from other creatures which means those creatures die and are stolen from other creatures that depend on them. Ecosystems that have developed over millions of years are tipped into disequilibrium and collapse. The cascade of extinction and imbalance rolls on like an avalanche or gushes out like an oil spill, stealing not just from the humans of today, but from the humans of forever.

Economist tabulate the gross domestic product, but who’s spreadsheet measures the gross domestic destruct – the losses extracted in advance from our great-grandchildren – when wild elephants, giraffes, wood thrushes, gopher tortoises, sea turtles, chimpanzees, horseshoe crabs, and swordfish have gone the way of the dodo?

We could give another name to the insanity of ingratitude: addiction. Just as it takes more and more heroin or cocaine to deliver the same high, ingratitude continually turns yesterday’s luxuries into today’s necessities. More and more stuff is required to get the same feeling of satisfaction. And just as addiction ultimately leads through insanity to misery and even death as the addict “hits bottom “, an economy driven by ingratitude whether global, national, family, or personal races through over-extension toward collapse.

That’s why gratitude is important, not just as a personal practice, but also as a group practice. It is a kind of immunization against both personal and corporate addiction. Gratitude is the spiritual practice that raises its fist in the face of this insanity; but that raised fist is actually a raised hand reaching up in gratitude to God. The naked spirituality that fosters this kind of gratitude may, in the end, be the only thing that can save the planet.

What You Have is a Gift

But let’s bring it back to the individual level; the things we may take for granted, that others would consider a great blessing.

People in Cuba are currently experiencing a food shortage but food is filtering into the country for some. Imagine the heartfelt appreciation of those who receive the additional nourishment.  Food is a gift.

The category 5 hurricane that swept the Bahamas, left the people with nothing. Many NGOs have collected, transported and distributed a long list of items to meet the basic needs of the lucky ones. Batteries and baby food are precious gifts.

A friend of mine has moved to Kenya to help set up a dorm and school for 20 disabled kids who are often left to beg on the streets because their families don’t or can’t support them. Can you imagine having accessible housing, a consistent food source and an education for the first time? Their level of gratitude for these gifts will escalate to levels most of us have never experienced.

Even in my own life, I had an accident that resulted in my inability to walk. After major surgery and weeks of recuperation, I no longer take my mobility for granted and am thankful to the medical staff, friends, family and especially God who made it possible.

Now, what can you add to the list of things you are grateful for? In light of the next section of this post, make that a long list.

Science Condones Gratitude

When we feel overwrought with negativity and pandemic heartache, it can be easy to overlook the parts of our lives we should feel grateful for. Creating a more active awareness of the abundance and positivity in our lives is a good idea. This shift in focus from a mindset of lacking to a mindset of satisfaction has mental and physical health benefits backed by science.

Improved Relationships

Grateful People have More Relationships

Gratitude opens the door to more relationships. Not only does saying “thank you” constitute good manners, but showing appreciation can help you win new friends. According to a 2014 study published in Emotion, thanking a new acquaintance makes them more likely to seek an ongoing relationship. So, whether you thank a stranger for holding the door or send a thank-you note to a colleague, acknowledging other people’s contributions can lead to new opportunities.

Grateful People Have Stronger Relationships

Gratitude nourishes our close and intimate relationships. Quite a few recent studies found that gratitude can help deepen and maintain a relationship by promoting a cycle of generosity between partners. On days when you are feeling more actively valued by your partner, you are more likely to feel an increase in your own gratitude toward your partner. This dynamic promotes a desire to hold on to the relationship and a deepening of connection.

In a study by the National Institute of Mental Health, participants who reported feelings of appreciation for their partners not only found more joy and contentment in their relationships, but were also more likely to be together nine months after the study took place than were those who did not share these feelings of gratitude.

Grateful People have Improved Mental Health

Grateful People have Improved Self-Esteem

In our digitally-driven world, it has become easy to compare our own lives to the “highlight reels” we see on our peers’ social media. This contemporary version of “Keeping Up with the Joneses” can produce in us  self-doubt, negative thoughts, and the destructive, and usually inaccurate belief, that our current circumstances simply don’t measure up.

The distortion of social media can overpower appreciation of our own lives and disconnect us from the good that surrounds us in the here and now. When we begin to actively appreciate who we are and God’s many blessings, self-esteem will naturally increase, leading to a higher quality of life.

Gratitude Improves Psychological Health.

It reduces a multitude of toxic emotions, from envy and resentment to frustration and regret. Robert Emmons, a leading gratitude researcher at UC Davis, has conducted multiple studies on the link between gratitude and well-being. His research confirms that gratitude effectively increases happiness and reduces depression.

Gratitude Enhances Empathy and Reduces Aggression

Grateful people are more likely to behave in a prosocial manner, even when others behave less kindly, according to a 2012 study by the University of Kentucky. Study participants who ranked higher on gratitude scales were less likely to retaliate against others, even when criticized. They experienced more sensitivity and empathy toward other people and a decreased desire to seek revenge.

Gratitude Increases Mental Strength and Stress Resistance

For years research has shown that gratitude not only reduces stress, but may also play a major role in overcoming trauma. A 2006 study published in Behavior Research and Therapy found that Vietnam War veterans with higher levels of gratitude experienced lower rates of post-traumatic stress disorder. A 2003 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that gratitude was also a major contributor to resilience following the terrorist attacks on September 11. Recognizing all that you have to be thankful for —even during the worst times—fosters resilience.

Grateful People Sleep Better

Bedtime can be an anxiety provoking time for many. People often find themselves having negative thoughts about parts of their days while trying to fall asleep, resulting in delayed or fragmented sleep.

Several studies have recently been done on the practice of gratitude and its impact on sleep time and quality. A study psychology professor Nancy Digdon of MacEwan University, found that writing in a gratitude journal for just 15 minutes before bedtime helped students decrease their anxiety and sleep both longer and better.

Another study at the University of Manchester included more than 400 adults (40% had sleep disorders). Researchers asked subjects to fill out questionnaires about gratitude, sleep, and pre-sleep thoughts. Gratitude was directly correlated to more positive thoughts, and fewer nagging, negative, or anxious thoughts. The subjects with gratitude and positive thoughts  not only fell asleep faster, but experiencing higher quality rest.

Gratitude Boosts Physical Health

Expressing gratitude can improve your physical health in numerous ways including heart health, dietary behavior, kicking unhealthy habits, and exercise. According to Robert Emmons, giving thanks on a routine basis can help you meet your exercise goals. In his 2003 study, he found that those who regularly expressed feelings of gratitude (as opposed to hassles or neutral events) by means of a daily journal, also engaged in more cardiovascular physical activity each week.

Additionally, Emmons identified that expressing gratitude can improve eating habits and cut down on unhealthy habits like cigarette smoking and alcohol abuse. When we are at peace and grateful for what is abundant in our lives, we are less likely to self-medicate with potentially harmful substances.

To add to Emmons findings, Psychology Today cited several studies that discovered that people who report being more grateful also experience fewer aches and pains, and are more likely to visit a doctor on a routine basis.

Ways to cultivate gratitude

  • Write a thank-you note. You can make yourself happier and nurture your relationship with another person by writing a thank-you letter expressing your enjoyment and appreciation of that person’s impact on your life. Send it, or better yet, deliver and read it in person if possible. Make a habit of sending at least one gratitude letter a month. Once in a while, write one to yourself.
  • Thank someone mentally. No time to write? It may help just to think about someone who has done something nice for you, and mentally thank the individual.
  • Keep a gratitude journal. Make it a habit to write down, or share with a loved one, thoughts about the gifts you’ve received each day.
  • Count your blessings. Pick a time every week to sit down and write about your blessings — reflecting on what went right or what you are grateful for. Sometimes it helps to pick a number — such as three to five things — that you will identify each week. As you write, be specific and think about the sensations you felt when something good happened to you.
  • Pray. People who are spiritual can use prayer to express gratitude to God.
  • Meditate. Mindfulness meditation involves focusing on the present moment without judgment. Although people often focus on a word or phrase (such as “peace”), it is also possible to focus on what you’re grateful for (the warmth of the sun, being one with God, etc.).

Gratitude to God

Another word for gratitude, that we can borrow from the Hebrew, is dayenu. The word is from a Jewish song that has been a key part of the Passover celebration for over 1000 years. It means “it would have been enough“, and functions within the retelling of the story of God‘s goodness over the generations:

If God had brought us out of Egypt, dayenu….it would have been enough

If God had split the Sea for us, dayenu…. it would have been enough,

If God had led us through on dryland, dayenu…. it would have been enough.

If God had provided for our needs in the wilderness for 40 years, dayenu…. it would have been enough.

If God had fed us manna, dayenu…. it would have been enough.

If God had given us Shabbat, dayenu…. it would have been enough.

If God had led us to Mt Sinai, dayenu…. it would have been enough.

If God had given us the Torah, dayenu….it would have been enough.

Singing this song fills one with a sense of surplus, of being super abundantly blessed, and being saturated with good things, of one’s cup being full and running over. And it fills one with a corresponding appreciation of Gods unlimited generosity.

Conclusion

Gratitude is a way for people to appreciate what they have instead of always reaching for something new in the hopes it will make them happier, or thinking they can’t feel satisfied until every physical and material need is met. Gratitude helps people refocus on what they have instead of what they lack. And, although it may feel contrived at first, this mental state grows stronger with use and practice.

How long is your gratitude list, now?

Relevant Scripture:

A Psalm for giving thanks. Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations. (Psalm 100:1-5)

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. (2 Cor 2:14)

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thes 5:16-18)

Oh, give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples! (Psalm 105:1)

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James1:2-4)

We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. (2 Thes 1:3)

References:

Harvard Medical School   https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/in-praise-of-gratitude

Psychology Today by Amy MorinWhat Mentally Strong People Don’t Do  https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/what-mentally-strong-people-dont-do/201504/7-scientifically-proven-benefits-gratitude

Gretchen Bove, https://www.talkspace.com/blog/4-mental-health-benefits-of-gratitude-to-keep-in-mind-this-thanksgiving/

Naked Spirituality by Brian D McLaren

time chasing people down a hill

Simple Guide to Know God Better | Spiritual Meditations

Momma always said “Stop, Look & Listen”. Although excellent instruction for children crossing traffic, it is also good advice in polite conversation, especially polite conversation with God. My friend, Stephanie, explains how these simple words can guide your improved connection with God.

Is it the busy-ness of life that sometimes makes you feel that God is silent? Are the hours at work, family responsibilities, and self-care routines actually building a wall that keeps you from hearing His voice? Does the instant gratification created by the information age make you feel impatient and want to put a time limit on getting the answers to your prayers?

Now let’s be real. God is never really silent. we only have to open our Bibles and He speaks to us. However, there are times when you think you need a timely answer. When life, love, and liberty might hang in the balance and each moment waiting to hear from God is excruciatingly long and exhausting. Here are a few questions to ask yourself when you’ve repeatedly petitioning God, and you’re getting impatient to hear from Him:

Are you listening for God’s answer?

Sometimes the answer is ‘No’ when you really want ‘Yes.’ Or, vice versa. The question may already be answered, but you are hoping that God will change His mind. Other times, the noise around you won’t allow you to hear the whispered voice of God. Just imagine being on a roller-coaster at Disney. You’re strapped in and ready to enjoy the sights, sound, and physical aspects of the ride. The cast member gives the go sign and you’re off! At that same moment, the person in the seat next to you leans over and whispers something really important in your ear. Any chance you’re going to catch what was said? And even if you do hear the words, any chance that you’ll be able to give it the focus it deserves? Probably not. In fact, more than 3000 years ago, God gave you the answer to this perplexing challenge of a busy life in Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God…” So, find a place to be still and silent before the Lord. Pray as you always do, but before the ‘Amen’, take a moment to listen and see if God is whispering to your heart.

Are you watching for God’s activity?

God is at work all the time. All….The….Time. God does not take a vacation, which is confirmed by Jesus in John 5:7 “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” And if He’s working, then something is happening, just like a clock without a second hand moving from one minute to another. Somewhere inside that clock something is counting the seconds until the minute has passed. You don’t see the counting but you know it’s going on. The awesome and amazing thing about God, is that He can work on us all at the same time. He doesn’t have a schedule that says, “Okay, today I work on the people whose names start with L and tomorrow I move on to the M’s.” No, he works on us individually and collectively simultaneously! That movement from who you are, to who God longs for you to be is the journey of transformation, and if you are truly seeking God, you can look back on your life and see the growth and evolution that is your story for His glory. Take a moment to look for God, in your life and in the lives of those you love. It’s an amazing metamorphosis. (Accounts of real experiences of God working in people’s lives)

Are you open to God’s answer?

I think that this is a really challenging aspect of this whole thing. Somewhere along the line, we humans became really stubborn. Really stubborn. We’ve either become so sure that we have all the answers, or realize that we don’t, but we want to ‘fake it till we make it’ and we forget that the only one with all the answers doesn’t answer to us. Allowing the Holy Spirit to do His work in you can be difficult, yet Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to be your counselor, intercessor, and guide. This Spirit of God is your biggest fan when you’re reflecting God honestly. Yet the Revealer (Holy Spirit) will also admonish you and nudge you toward God when you’ve strayed or rebelled. It is hard to be open to an answer that will probably change you. Yet growth produces the seeds that will start the next exciting cycle in your life with God.

Finally, remember that you don’t need to be in church for the change to occur, yet having a family (your church family) who recognizes your gifts can be an awesome thing. And you don’t need another person to intercede for you, yet having others praying on your behalf can be extremely comforting.

Conclusion

If you combine these things with a quiet place to regularly listen for the Lord, you will hear Him. He’s waiting to speak with you. You just need to give Him your attention. Stop, look and listen.

Confession-Blogging Was Not My Idea | Spiritual Meditations

You would think that we all have something we consider worthy of being conveyed to others.  But not me.  I had no aspirations to write, but my husband suggested it, so I took it under advisement for several days.  My passion for spiritualty was the only realm in which I felt I could generate any worthwhile thoughts.  Yet I had no topic ideas whatsoever. Because my husband’s suggestion came out of what looked like thin air, I thought perhaps God was behind it.  So I prayed something like “God, if you want me to do this, I’m going to need your help and some topic ideas”.  As I got up from that prayer, eight topics poured into my mind, so rapidly that I had to run to write them down, so as not to forget any.  As this was not the first time that God had spoken to me, I recognized His voice and knew He was endorsing the blogging project.  So here I am, a year later.

If  you did not start following my blog from the beginning, you’ve missed the story of God’s big intervention in my life – the first post listed below.  This one I did feel had to be told as it is a good example of how God is active in our world.  I hope you will find these, my first articles, interesting and/ or inspiring.

Clouds that represent God's presence with my at the airport

God’s Faithfulness Changed My life and Restored My Income by introducing Me to a Lady on an Airplane.

https://yourspiritualinspiration.com/2018/08/18/god-makes-things-happen/

 

Sunset over mountains and trees

A Glimpse Through the Thin Curtain between Life and Afterlife as Witnessed by Myself and a Friend.

https://yourspiritualinspiration.com/2018/08/23/curtain-between-life-afterlife/

 

Methaphor for the many who have entered the afterlife

Afraid of Death? Get to Know Your Unknown.  This points to the conclusion that Near Death Experiences are real with profound significance and meaning, and also provide evidence of life after death.

https://yourspiritualinspiration.com/2018/09/15/afraid-of-death-know-your-unknown/

 

Our genetics select the needy. You are born to help.

Why do You Think Low-Income Families Deserve Your Help?  Do we have a moral obligation to share the fruits of our inherited personality traits with individuals who inherited traits that don’t make money?

https://yourspiritualinspiration.com/2018/09/02/low-income-families-deserve-help/