Finding a New Jesus

(This sermon was prepared for the Unitarian/Universalist Churches of East Aurora and Hamburg)

What do Unitarian/Universalists think or believe about Jesus? Has he been abandoned as no longer relative to this era? Some may feel this way, sort of a bygone idea from an outdated past when people supposedly performed miracles of walking on water, healing sick people instantly, and being raised from the dead!

Several months ago, I heard a sermon on YouTube by Rev. Kathleen Rolenz, a UU minister speaking at the “All Souls UU Church” in Tulsa, OK. Her title was, “Stealing Jesus Back!” She claimed Jesus was a good idea, but he had been stolen by historical and religious thieves! The first thief was the apostle Paul, whom she described as too interested in keeping rules rather than teaching “It’s all within you.” The second thievery occurred in the 4th century church, when under Constantine’s orders, after he saw a cloud cross which helped him win a battle, ordered a new Orthodox Holy Roman Catholic Church! He gave it exclusive power to declare the Biblical stories literal and the attainment of heaven possible only by believing them. The third thief was Martin Luther who in the 16th century taught, “Just have faith! Forget about reason.” Rolenz then proceeded to describe how the Unitarian/Universalist Church helped make Jesus available again to all people! But how?

Many discoveries of the past century brought information which shook the faith in many church’s teachings. The Bible’s validity, especially what is called the “New Testament,” can seem quite doubtful to believe when one learns how it came to be. The oldest book about Jesus, Mark’s gospel, has no record of it until 150 years after Jesus supposedly lived, and that only includes half of the book. 300 years later various discovered writings were finally gathered into an officially sanctioned book called the New Testament, made and canonized as the holy word of God. We also know now the first stories about a resurrection did not appear until late in the first century, and that the whole idea of miracles was what John Spong calls, “A Gentile Heresy!”

Beginning my religious studies as a fundamentalist, I soon found the literalness hard to accept, so I later discovered more freedom among Presbyterians. But most of the larger Christian church bodies, including the Presbyterians, still officially teach the stories of Jesus as literal, including the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. I finally came to a place where I could no longer accept the literalness. But is there anyway the ideas and stories of Jesus can still be valid and helpful today? Can we actually, as Rolenz says, “steal him back?”

One of the important discoveries of the past century were the Nag Hammadi documents in 1945, found in a northern Egyptian cave by a farmer. Scholars theorize they were hidden shortly after the Roman Catholic Church, in the 4th Century, made Christianity the official religion of the empire. In so doing, teaching the miracles as literal were enforced. One teaching held the physical world was created by God, and heaven was a place we went to after death, if we were baptized and believed. The discovery of the Nag Hammadi documents help change that. Matter wasn’t real, only Spirit was! The earth and universe were created by an inferior god called the Demiurge, or “lower God.” As such, the earth as mortal and temporary in time, was not created by a loving, eternal God who is Spirit.

This teaching placed many of the early Christians into the status of Eastern religions; Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism. They were called “Gnostics,” or “those who understand and know.” The world to them was an illusion of reality, as is our bodies. They appear, and then in time, disappear. These early followers became banned by the Catholic Church. It still remains heresy in the minds of most Christians. The leader of the gnostic church at the time of Constantine was named Valentinus. He also was bishop of Rome and developed a very mysterious and sensual worship to help people reconnect with their Spiritual Self. He used candles, incense, and bells! After Constantine, he was banned but his worship order confiscated, with the elements and teachings literalized rather than seen as pointers and symbols of a deeper dimension. So how can we steal this earlier Jesus back?

We could begin with Jesus seen more as an idea or possible model for thinking and living. We all have these. We have parents, relatives, teachers and politicians. (Well, maybe not so many of the later!) As a child, I got many of my models from comic books and TV westerns. In the 1980’s one of my India teachers told me, “If you are going to have a ‘Jesus idea,’ at least make him as good as the best among us!” And this idea can be enhanced by stories in the Bible, not the least being the so-called “Sermon on the Mount.” Mahatma Gandhi called it the best summary of Jesus’ teachings. Whether Jesus even lived is not that important; it’s the ideals we have which can help guide us.

We all live by ideals, using people to remind us of choices and actions. Yes, we even use political figures! For many if not most, our parents have served as these models, often unconsciously. We also have favorite teachers or authors we have heard and read.

Jesus, to me, represents the universal Idea of Spirit which within us all. From where might these ideas originate? From the Bible, of course. It’s just the way we can choose to look at it.

Jesus taught the Kingdom, the presence of the Spirit of God, as within all of us! It is called by many names; the True or Higher Self, common sense, the “I” or the “I Am” beyond our gender, race and national identities. It is what eastern religions call the “Buddha within,” or the Atman, or the “Deh” in ancient Taoism. It is what the Masonic members call the “Universal Spirit,” a teaching which goes back at least to ancient Egypt.

In stealing Jesus, the church sent missionaries to convert “lost people” in India, Africa, and everywhere. If people in these non-Christians areas rejected their message, taught by the late Billy Graham, they were condemned to eternal hell fire, and often killed, as happened to millions of Native Americans. It became the reason countries were conquered and colonialized in the name of “god,” or Jesus. It became the basis of bloody crusades, crusades to wipe out hopeless unbelievers, including the “new worlds” discovered in the 16th century, populated by heathen natives. According to scholars like Roxanne Ortgiz, it still is being carried out, led by our country. We have the largest military in the world, many times over, with soldiers based in approximately 150 countries! What these “heathens” had, in many cases, was the idea of a universal spirit, “the Great Spirit.”

Gnosticism, or the true idea of “Universalism,” understands life similar to Eastern religions or even our Native American teachings. The Great Spirit is everywhere, always, and timeless. I’ve heard it described as connected to quantum physics, the teachings, E = MC squared. Briefly summarized, all mass or physical elements can quickly be changed from material mass into energy or light. And vice versa. It’s why mystics taught our bodies as just shadows of astral models, an aspect of what Einstein called “the spooky part of the universe.” Only this spirit or energy is eternal and unending. The forms and manifestations come and go. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my word, my essence, lasts forever” to paraphrase a line from the Bible.

Jesus taught this Presence or Kingdom is within each of us. We have access this eternal experience by understanding, and then practicing kindness and love in detachment from all things, all mortality. We seek to live a life with lightness and freedom. Exercises such as yoga and meditation, which are booming in our country, help return us to this expansive freedom, as do times in solitude and being in nature.

This was the teaching of Jesus, stolen by the church and given power to establish itself as an exclusive institution of truth and love. The 4th century church made the stories literal, including Jesus’ so-called miracles and resurrection from the dead. As writer and scholar John Crossan wrote, “My point, once again, is not that those ancient people told literal stories and we are now smart enough to take them symbolically, but that they told them symbolically and are now dumb enough to take the literally!”

Rev. Rolenz was right when she said the UU’s helped bring this ancient understanding back into light during the Reformation period. Free thinkers began to see this teaching anew in newly printed Bibles. Some, like Servetus, were burned at the stake as heretics by the literalists, the Calvinists. The Unitarians came to America and people like Dorothy Dix began handing out copies of the Bhagavad Gita. This ancient Eastern book helps us remember who we are, and how to live life in moderation, peace, and detachment to mortal things.

This view also helps us appreciate parts of the Bible in ways we may have never seen. We can learn to see it as metaphorical. Ancient Psalms like the 23rd become words of gold and peace, describing the good Spirit as a guiding, comforting shepherd. We can see the story of the Resurrection as a “waking up” story, waking up to an eternal spiritual presence which is your True Self.

In the 1980’s, I discovered and helped introduce the contemporary universalist/gnostic book, A Course in Miracles, to Wayside Presbyterian Church. The book came through a brilliant atheist research professor at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons. It remains one of my favorite books for spiritual reminders and comfort.

In a non-literal, inclusive approach, one can learn not to take this life and world so seriously. This world is unfixable, which is hard for social reformers to believe. In devoting the bulk of our religious work to “Social Justice,” we take one step forward and two backwards. An Indian teacher, Tony DeMello, once told me, “If you are detached from this world of form, you are social action!”

Yes, heaven is not a place out or up there; it is a spiritual essence within you. You are heaven, if you but understand and listen for it.

“Tell me not in mournful numbers, life is but a dream!

For soul is dead that slumbers and things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest! And the grave is not its goal;

Dust thou art to dust returnest, was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow is our destined end or way;

But to act, that each tomorrow finds us farther than today.

Trust no future, however pleasant; let the dead past bury its dead.

Act, act in the living present! Heart within and God o’erhead!

– “The Psalm of Life” by Henry Longfellow

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Notes from “What the Health?” 

Investigative movie created, produced and narrated by Kip Anderson on the benefits of a plant based diet.  Produced on Netflix.

Film examines the link between diet and disease, and the billions of dollars at stake for the healthcare, pharmaceutical and food industries.

Dr. Michelle McMacken, MD.  “When you look at chronic disease, dietary choices trump smoking.”

Dr. Michael Klaper, MD  “If I could give one answer to most of the present diseases people are suffering from, it would be 3 words: ‘It’s the food!’”

2/3 of Americans today are overweight, which is basically a food issue. The most common medical answer to overweight from doctors is too much sugar and lack of exercise.  However, Dr. Neal Barnard, MD, Clinical Researcher, author, replies sugar not the cause!  Cause is a diet with too much fat build up in the blood.  Sugar can’t get into body with fat deposits blocking it so it builds up into the blood as fat.

Dr. Garth Davis, MD, Weight loss surgeon, Davis clinic: “More carbs eaten, less diabetes.  More meat, more diabetes.    Every disease I see in the hospital is mostly related to diet.”

“The focus on sugar removes it from animal foods as culprit.”

Harvard Medical Study:  One serving of processed meat a day increases cancer risk by 51%.

Nothing about eating is on the web site of American Diabetes Association!  However, they do encourage eating processed meat!

The leading cause of death in USA is heart disease.  Number of deaths is comparable to 4 jumbo jets crashing each day, loaded!

Dr. Barnard on Heart Disease; Animal foods are by far the biggest risk.  Agreed with by Drs. Esselstyn and Mike McGregor.

Most people suffering dementia have blocked blood vessels in brain by small deposits of fat.

Turkey and chicken meat is as dangerous, especially when injected with salt water!  The worse meat is poultry!  Why?  In every restaurant where samples were taken showed presence of carcinogens. Yet ACS encourages people to switch from beef to chicken and white meat!

“Men with high prognostic risk for cancer with a high poultry intake have a 4-fold increased risk of recurrence or progression of heart disease.”

Chicken is today’s highest intake of cholesterol in America due to its high volume.

Eggs:  one egg = 5 cigarettes   Egg whites are nearly pure cholesterol. (Study purported to have been done by “Harvard Nurse’s Health”.

Dairy milk products are as dangerous yet leading research studies refute this.  The research used is sponsored by the dairy and poultry industries.  The stated purpose is to increase doubt.  Same method used earlier by smoking companies.  “Doubt is our product!”

Many people think heart disease is genetically inherited.  But the diet they have inherited could rate much higher as causation.

Yet if you look at the American Heart Disease web page, they display many meat recipes!  Under “Healthy Eating:” Meatloaf, pork loin, etc.

The movie director calls and directly asks them why!  They would not respond.

Director then spoke to Dr. Kim Williams, MD, president of American College of Cardiology (47,000-member org. and growing) who said: “…we have a dedicated mission to reduce heart disease and improve patient’s lives, and if you look at incidences of hyper tension and diabetes, and mortality in men, they actually get reduced as you go higher and higher in restricting animal products.  People have more worries with fish which contain PCB’s, Mercury, saturated fat and cholesterol.  Fish are essentially mercury sponges.  Salmon is the worst!

Dioxin:  Is a chemical compound which is highly toxic environmental organic pollutants.  Term refers to a family of more than 70 isomers (different arrangements of particular atoms) of highly toxic, man-made organic compounds that are byproducts of industrial processes and waste incineration.  They were used in agent orange.  Highest levels are found in dairy products, meat, fish, especially shellfish; not in industrial processes.

Most dioxin does not come not from smokestacks but from eating cattle meat and milk.

Dioxins pass into babies from breast milk of a mother who drinks milk and eats meat and fish.

Dioxins may result in skin lesions such as chloracne (pimples, cysts found on face, etc.).  GMO’s in feed, add dioxins.  Cows, cattle eat the most.

Cheese one of the best foods to compromise one’s health.  It is a highly processed food product.  Large amount of cow pus are also in products of dairy.  Dairy industry limit is 750,000 pus cells per CC of milk!

Most people in world are lactose intolerant.  Well over 60%, people of color over 70%.  It is an unnatural food for adults.  USDA encourages eating dairy products.

Dr. Neal Barnard refers to Harvard Study which proves milk does not build strong bones!  They studied hundreds of people, adults and children, and discovered that milk has zero effects in stopping calcium bone loss or fractures in people!

 

Dr. Michael Greger:  People who drink milk have higher rates of bone fracture, cancer, and live shorter lives than people who don’t drink it.

Countries with the highest consumption of dairy products have the highest rates of osteoporosis and cancer of the bones.  They also have found that dairy cattle serum and milk factors contribute significantly to the risk of colon, prostate and breast cancers.  (International Journal of Cancer)

A man drinking and eating dairy products increases his risk of prostate cancer by 34%.  For all cancers risks, it increases 50% plus.  Only 5% of cancers can be classified as genetic.   (Published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.)

Author Kip  visits the Susan G. Koman Institute of Cancer research (specializes in breast cancers).  Discovered they also sponsor adds on top of yogurt products!

Most of the research on cancer is spent on treatments, not prevention.

Dr. Barnard on the Casein Protein in Dairy products.  In the body, they break into Casein protein particles which go directly to the brain, attaching to the same part that is responsible for heroin addiction!  You will not only eat more but gain weight and become more unhealthy and liable for cancer.  Dr. Gregor states this little addiction may be related to SID and autism.   There is an important reason we don’t advise infants to drink milk from cows.

Human breast milks have only 2.7 grams of casein per liter verses 26 grams per liter of cow’s milk.

Cristina Stella, Staff Attorney for the Center for Food Safety, states: “we know at least 450 different drugs are administered to animals, alone or in combination, before we eat them.  …very few are beneficial to human health.”

Jaydee Hanson, Center for Food Safety, Senior Policy Analyst.  “We have pharmaceutical companies that work very hard to make sure they can sell lots of drugs to people raising cows, pigs and chickens.”  When the companies ask for data about the industry’s health and environment studies, they receive pages of data with large blacked out sections.  Over 3000 people in US die yearly from various forms of food poisoning.  More than 9/11terrorist attacks.

Paige Tomaselli, Center for Food Safety, senior Attorney: “80% of all antibiotics are sold to raisers of livestock in comparison to just 10 – 15 in human use.”

Robert Martin, Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production:  Health organizations warning we may be nearing the end of pharmaceutical protections for serious surgeries.  Even having teeth extracted, war injuries.

Living near swine field, 3X chance to contract a MERSER infection.

North Carolina is in a state of Emergency with bouts of swine flu.  (Larry Baldwin, Waterkeeper Alliance of South Carolina.)

Original swine flu (H1N1) came from NC.  Same number of swine in state as people but 8 -10 times the feces.  10 million pigs in NC produce the waste of around 100 million humans.  Equivalent to entire Eastern seaboard flushing their toilets into one state!  And there is no waste treatment for it.  Most of the drainage areas are located near communities of color.  (Dublin county) Most of the spraying to evaporate pig cesspools is done on Sundays.   Some residents call their state the “Feces Capital of the world.”

Pollution from animal agriculture creates more greenhouse gases than the entire transportation sector!  Leading cause of rain forest destruction, species extinction, ocean dead zones and fresh water consumption. 

The American Diabetes Association granted Kip an interview.  Their recommended food list contained lists of food known to cause diabetes!

Contrasting, Kip found on other nutritional sites information showing that a whole food plant based diet was twice as effective in controlling and reversing diabetes!

Speaking for ADA was Dr. Robert Ratner, M.D. ADA Chief Scientific and Medical Officer.  He said their chief goal was to create prevention and a cure for diabetes.  He answered that for type 2 Diabetes, the way is unclear.  “We can’t prevent type 2 diabetes for everybody.”  He doesn’t believe there is sufficient evidence to show that a WFPB diet can reverse it.  He said they don’t recommend a special diet but rather, “healthy eating.”  He denied that the whole sheet of recommended foods were mostly with meat.  When challenged, he grabbed his coffee cup and left the interview.

Kip concluded he just wanted to help people live longer with diabetes.

Dr. John McDougall, MD, believes giving cow milk to babies affects babies’ pancreas and can lead to Type 1 diabetes.

Kip then looked up sponsors of the American Diabetes Association.

Listed sponsors were:  Dannon yogurt, Kraft Foods, Velveeta Processed Cheese, Oscar Mayer, Lunchables box lunches for kids, Bumble Bee Foods, makers of processed candy.

Sponsors of the American Cancer Society included:  Tyson, one of the world’s largest meat producers,  Yum Brand of Pizza Hut, KFC and Taco Bell;

Susan G. Komen, Breast Cancer “Fighter” organization sponsored by: KFC, Dietz and Watson processed meat, and Yoplait Yogurt.

AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION SPONSORS    :Texas Beef Council, Colorado Beef Council, Idaho Beef Council, Cargill, Tyson Unilever, Dairy Mass, White-Wave Foods, Subway, Farmland Pork, ConAgra Foods, General Mills, Perdue Chicken, Nestle, Mars, Kraft, Kellogg’s

Compares to Lung Association taking money from the tobacco industry.

In response to his findings, Kip goes to the Headquarters of these organizations.  Not one would agree to be interviewed.

USA government prints 5 year guidelines for American eating.  The people making these contributions receive monies from National Dairy Council, McDonalds, American Meat Institute, and Dairy Management, Inc., Beef. USA, American Egg board, Dannon, Mars, The Sugar Association, The Hershey Company, Anheuser-Busch, General Mills, Kellogg’s, Kraft Cheese, M & M’s.

Dr. Mike Gregor said the USDA told him “Eggs cannot legally be labeled.”

US Dairy industry spends $50 million yearly to do education on eating in public schools.

Meat and Dairy together spend ever $557 million yearly to teach “good health” and advertise.  $138 million on lobbying congress.  Laws passed include charge of “Terrorism” to any person or group which harasses meat and dairy industry with photos and articles.

Their food creates obesity or diseases.  (“Cheeseburger” laws, or “Ag-gag laws!”)

Meat and dairy have all the money of the tobacco lobbies of past years but the personality of the National Rifle Association.   Robert Martin, Industrial Farm Act

“Common Sense Consumption Act”, 2009

American Egg board has threatened lives of leaders of lobbies.

“Billion-dollar heart and stent industry is threatened.”  Caldwell Esselstyne, Cleveland Clinic.

A 1.5 trillion industry.  Pharmaceutical industry spends more on lobbying than another other group.

Former chief USDA meat inspector fired for reporting Mad Cow Disease in cow’s meat in USA.   At least 4 cases diagnosed before shutting down inspector.  Causes of Alzheimer’s and Dementia diseases being misdiagnosed. Tests show that 88% pork chops contaminated.

SUMMARY:

All protein is initially made by plants.  All animal protein is recycled plant protein.

Question should not be “where do you get you protein but where do you get your fiber?”  – Dr. Michael Gregor

Our closest evolutionary relatives (apes and monkeys) are all plant eaters.

Doctors testify that plant based diets WILL cause current health plague to go away and reverse most heart disease as well as osteoporosis.

Examples then given of reversal of diseases in several people who adopted a plant-based diet including diabetes, enlarged thyroids, etc.  Information known since the 1940’s.

American Medical Board has fought against given medical students more than 7 hours of dietary information for healing.  Many do not get that much.

Film ends with interviews with people with serious illnesses and shows them finding healed by going on plant-based diets.

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U2 Concert by D74

IMG_3674Earlier this month I attended my first U2 concert at New Era stadium.  With three of my children and great seats, the stadium filled with fans of the 40-year-old popular Irish rock music group.

An opening “prelude” came from a newer group named “Beck,” after it’s writer/singer/guitarist named Beck Hanson.  After rocking and reverberating through the stadium for a couple hours, the 4 member U2 group appeared led by lead singer, writer, guitarist “Bono.”  Tons of powerful black speakers hovered around and over the stadium on large cranes.  Although never a fan of hard rock music, the experience was unforgettable.  My body often rumbled with loud pulsating music enhanced by booming base strings and pounding percussion.  Wearing earplugs to help save my aging hearing, it still thundered loud!  My son-in-law, a few miles away, felt the beating throbs floating over his home as if played next door!

As I sat through the 5-hour event, I felt reminded of Shamanic experiences I once experienced.  In 2006, I attended a 10-day experience at the Omega Center in Rhinebeck, NY.  There, Stanislav Grof, a well-known psychiatrist from the Czech Republic, and Buddhist spiritual teacher, Jack Kornfield, led us in daily drumming and chants they called “holotropic breathwork.”  Grof had sought healing techniques for years for people struggling with trauma.  He experienced recognized success working with Viet Nam veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress.  First using LSD as a healing agent, before it was banned, Grof then studied with Shamans in South America.  There he discovered similar healing results with Shamanic breath work, akin to healing experience I have read from Native Americans.

So, there I was, among mesmerized, swaying, clapping, and dancing fans of U2, and experiencing some of same lift with Grof and Kornfield.  As I became tired of standing and swaying, (most never sat in their $165 seats!) I dropped down into my seat.  I opened from my iPhone the stored lyrics from the songs of “Joshua Tree.”  One of the most famous U2 recordings, they were singing all the album’s songs!  Somehow, the beating drums, flashing lights, screaming vocals and twanging guitars didn’t quite seem to match the words, words I had been unable to follow surrounded by thunderous music.  Surprisingly, the words seemed sad and hopeless.

“I want to run, I want to hide, I want to tear down the walls that hold me inside…Where the streets have no name, …the cities a flood and our love turns to rust…

Or another, “I Still haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.”   I’ve climbed the highest mountains, I have run through the fields, …crawled, scaled these city walls …run through the fields, only to be with you….  But, I still haven’t found what I’m looking for….

I have kissed honey lips, Felt the healing in her fingertips, Burning like a fire, this burning desire….   I have spoke the tongue of angels, …held the hand of a devil,

But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for….

And from “Running to Stand Still.”   “She walks through the streets, With her eyes painted red Under black belly of cloud in the rain.  ….She is ragin’ She is ragin’  And the storm blows up in her eyes.  She will suffer the needle chill, She’s running to stand still.”    Not exactly uplifting lyrics.

In “Red Hill Mining Town:” “I am hanging on, You’re all that’s left to hold on to,”   “Love, slowly stripped away, Love, has seen its better day, Hangin’ on, Let’s go out on Red Hill, Let’s go down on Red Hill….”

Yet, I was impressed with the sincerity expressed by Bono and company giving recognition to the forgotten and oppressed.  His tribute to Martin Luther King, showing on a large screen his “I Have a Dream” speech, brought tears to my eyes.  The parade of 20 feet high pictured women who worked and sweat to bring liberating life to millions, was moving and appropriate.  Yet, there remained the belief, actually quite appropriate, that in this life, in this world and the whole visible universe, there is not a lot of hope!  And with that awareness, I agreed with the lyrics.

In the early teachings of the church there was a group, later banned, which taught the world as an ultimately hopeless place.  They were called “Gnostics,” heretics and God-deniers.  There were many other similar groups throughout history from Eastern religions and even Plato’s writings.  Their teachings were banned in the 4th Century by the Roman government as the official Church was recognized with its exclusive creeds.  Yet, the teachings survived over the centuries, despite attempts to frequently stamp them out.  These “heretics” taught the ephemeral world of time, form and matter is hopeless.  Even verses in the Bible state such as, “If in this life we only have hope in the physical Christ, we are most miserable….”  It means without a “spiritual Christ,” the meaning of a risen one, there is no hope.  This Christ, however, is within us all, it’s our Higher Self, what Jesus taught as the kingdom within all.  This vision can actually see everything in the world as pure because it sees beyond mortality.  Everything we see and touch physically is mortal, time bound, passing with its aging, sickness, rust, disease and death!  We are like sprouts of grass: born, shoot up, thrive awhile, and then no more.  For, “All flesh is like grass….  The grass withers and the flower falls off, but the Word of the Lord endures forever….”  1 Peter1:24.

Or as Shakespeare expressed it in Macbeth:
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

The message and music of U2 certainly rings true with many, even among those who live and die to make this world a more equal and perfect place.  But the answer many long for and can discover, is ultimately found within ourselves, our “Higher Selves.”  In the mystical view, the world was actually created as an attack on God.  Sometimes the losses, carnage, destruction and violent unfairness overwhelms us all.  The good die young, people live in deployable conditions their whole lives, and so little ever seems to change.  We take two steps forward and then fall back three!  Even the rich and famous experience the same end.  We can never find Home or permanence in this dimension. Yet, it’s within us, in our Higher, Spirit Self.  Yet, even after horrific experiences in war, swamped with senseless, loss of buddies, and unbearable pain, an induced trance can help.  It can take us to another dimension, help lift us out and above it, and bring some healing to the unending and unbearable pain of loneliness and disappointments of life.  Many have rediscovered this “new world” in Shamanic trances, and some may experience it in moments of U2 or “rock” concerts, moments which lift us above words and a world which at times feels so hopeless.  However, as another option, we can find it in simple silence and remembering that Love is within, and That is Who we truly are!

 

 

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What’s It Mean to Die?

IMG_9242My 4-year-old granddaughter asked me this yesterday morning.  I had mentioned to her that Gramma and I were getting a new dog in a few weeks, one that will be little, but a little bigger than Carmel, the Dachshund dog we had before.

“What happened to Carmel?” she asked.

“Carmel died,” I replied.

“What does ‘die’ mean?” She quickly responded.

I never expected her response or saw it coming.  For a few moments I sat stunned, not expecting such a quick reply.   What should I say to an innocent 4-year granddaughter whom I deeply adore and love?  She remained quiet, looking at me, waiting for an answer.

“To die,” I began as thoughtful as possible with seconds ticking by, “is when our bodies get old or something happens and they don’t work anymore.  So, we, like animals, die.  It means we leave our bodies and become part of the Spirit world.”

“What is Spirit?” Papa?

“Spirit,” I continued the best I could, feeling I was offering a funeral meditation for a grieving family who just lost a loved one, “is another existence where we are everywhere at once.  Yet we can still help people who are worried and afraid.  Spirit never grows old and dies.”  Then to add a bit of assurance I added, “Some also think our Spirit comes back in another body to live and learn more lessons on loving others.”

At that point, she seemed satisfied, or heard enough.  At least, there were no more “Why’s.”  So, we returned to saying our good-byes as she and her daddy departed for home.

“Out of the mouths of babes,” I thought to myself.  During the day, I reconsidered what I said or might have added.  I asked myself if I was satisfied with my quick answers, and how they could improve.

How would you answer?  Personally, I believe and feel life continues after the body dies but in a different or new form.  Although spurned by many modern “believers,” whom I always question, I believe from my own experience and readings, there is an existence beyond this life-in-flesh.  Working with a few psychic gifted people, I have found comfort in their words and intuitions.  I have talked with folks who having friends or parents die, sense their presence with them, who even found evidence of it with lamps lighted or things moved!  I have read studies by credible researchers on souls which have been reincarnated into other bodies, who found children who spoke other languages from a different family in a previous birth.  I think of living now as preparation for the next one, outside of time and space and or the returning to another life in body.  “….and their works will follow them.”  (Romans 14:13)

I think of religious institutions as ideally sharing these insights and experiences.  Little children aren’t the only ones who ask the question.  Yes, we can easily become overwhelmed with imperfections of this world, which in my thinking will never end.   I experienced this confirmation from the lyrics of U-2 the other evening at the stadium:

“I have spoken with the tongues of angels…. But I haven’t found what I’m looking for…I believe in the kingdom come Then all the colors will bleed into one…But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for…”

Life here is part of that journey or searching and realizing it’s not the end, it’s not enough, there is more.  Meanwhile, life still becomes as Bono sang, “you give yourself away, and you give yourself away…”

Thanks, Madeleine, for asking Papa your question!  It helped make my day.

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“Getting to Heaven!”

I was driving home this morning when this sign caught my eye!  I wondered how many people understand what the words mean, taken from the Bible gospel book of John, chapter 3 and verse 7.  A more literal meaning of the verse from the ancient Greek text might read, “…. you must be born from above.”

In my early years as a child, and even in my fundamentalist college studies, I thought the idea meant a warning of how I could go to a place called heaven when I died.  In a conversation between Jesus and a man named Nicodemus, a “leader of the Jews,” Jesus became the teacher from God.  In answer to Nicodemus’ question about where Jesus received his authority, Jesus replied, “no one can see the kingdom of God without being born again.”  Of course, Nicodemus wanted to know how a person could enter into his mother’s womb a second time and be born again.  Jesus replied one must be born of water and Spirit.  He related water to our physical birth and Spirit to our spiritual birth.  Jesus also said, “That which is born of flesh is flesh and what is born of Spirit is spirit.”  What does this mean?

It means one is mortal and the other is immortal.  It means awakening to a new understanding of who we are as a person.  We have physical and temporal bodies but when discovering a new understanding or belief, we can awaken to ourselves as Spirit.  Spirit is where “heaven” is!  Spirit is our nature’s essence.  Bodies reacts to stimuli of this physical world, to the ego selves to which we normally identify ourselves.  This identity has been shaped by the world around us.  We are told we are boy or girl, which race we belong to, what mixture we are, where we live, what our IQ might be, the country we call home, the vocation we learn, etc. etc.  Yet, all these are temporal and passing.  We know this just by reason.  Heaven, the word used on the church sign, is from a Greek work meaning sky or that above.  It’s expansive and unending.  Heaven is used for the Spirit or Unseen Creator’s existence.  It’s a place or realm of peace, beyond time and space, beyond all dualities of race, gender, economic status, and nationality.  It is the sense we feel of “no place,” of just being, without judgment, fear, or needing to do something.

Where then is this heaven?  It’s within minds, our thinking, and how we think.  Heaven is an idea.  It can be equated with breath, or life.  It is our Higher Self or the True Us.  It is what Jesus once said is “Within you.”  (Luke 17:21) It’s not up or down, behind or in front, it is the You or as some call, “the Thinker” or “the Observer.”  In the Gnostic gospel of Thomas, it reads, “Be passersby!” (saying #42)

So, if you want to experience heaven, a place of eternal peace and love, you simply, yet profoundly, awaken to it as being within you, the True You!  Such is like being born again, not in flesh or another incarnation, but in your mind, your thinking.  You can experience the idea in a church (sometimes, at least) or in any place or time.  In the Psalm it simply says, “Be still and you will know!” (46:10) Know God and know Heaven, peace, and eternal love.

To go to heaven, then, just understand it is you.  You don’t have to go to a church, synagogue, mosque, ashram or temple.  Sure, they could help, but they can also sometimes become obstacles.  Beliefs can easily become gates of intolerance, narrowness and judgment.

I’m glad I saw the sign in front of the church this morning.  It reminded me again of the simplest yet most dramatic, life-changing thought we can discover.  Heaven?  It’s You!

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KNOWING GOD

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Can we ever really know God?  Like a friend, or even a lover?  Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have and enjoy such a relationship?  I think it is possible and also one of the best things we can enjoy on earth!  Here are some suggestions.

First, learn to appreciate and love silence.  That’s hard in our culture.  Life can be noisy.  We’re surrounded with radios, TV’s, engines, airplanes, telephones, and, even “smart phones.”  Some of us find silence disconcerting, wanting endless noise, entertainment, distractions and stimulation.  However, noise can prohibit us from really knowing ourselves, and more importantly, who we are as God’s Children.

Even churches can be quite noisy.  Meetings with discussions, planning, and sharing tend to dominate.  Presbyterians are noted for their meetings, struggling to keep things “decent and in order!”  Worship services become filled with sounds; music, announcements, and talking leaders.  I once asked confirmands to time the amount of silence in our services.  There wasn’t much.

To experience and feel God’s presence, solitude and quiet are indispensable.  The Psalm, chapter 46, contains a verse which says, “Be still and know God.”  The Hebrew word for “be still” is rapha which means “to become weak,” or to “let go and release.”  Another Hebrew word used in some manuscripts is dumas, the root of our English word, “dumb.”  We not only become still and quiet in silence but give up our thinking.  In popular Eastern meditation, it is often called “mindful breathing.”  We watch our breath as a way to close our minds to feel stillness, or Spirit’s presence.

Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness before beginning his ministry.  There he was tested but also assured God would be with him.  In the book of 1 Kings 19, Elijah the prophet, after experiencing defeat and humiliation, went into the wilderness to find God and peace.  He came to a cave and waited.  When a terrible storm came by, he thought this might be it, but nothing happened.  Then things became very silent, as if time suddenly stopped, and he heard God’s still small voice. Elijah returned with hope and peace.

Before we can appreciate silence, however, we must remember one important truth; in our essence, we are not our bodies but spirit.  Such is the key to understanding the use of silence.  Silence without understanding ourselves as Spirit can be torture; it might even drive some crazy!

Jesus said to his disciples, “God is spirit; and they that worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”  (John 4:24, English Revised) We become stuck in our body identifications like bees in their honey.  We can’t imagine ourselves as Spirit.  We want to think our bodies will be raised.  We are attached to our ego/body identifications.  A priest once told me people ought never to be cremated because there would be no body raised “on the last day.”  We are not our bodies, however; we are Spirit.  So, whether our stillness times are long or short, remembering we are Spirit is critical.  The God’s Son, Daughter, or Child (temporal names) return to its Father, Mother or Maker in Oneness.

“Be still and know God.”  The Hebrew word for “know” is yada which is the same word used for sexual intercourse.  In the climax of intercourse, one experiences “yada,” or what we call it “orgasm.”  It is the same word used in Genesis when it says, “…. Adam knew his wife.”

Wouldn’t it be nice to experience more “yada” in worship and prayer?  As pastor, I hoped when people came to our services, they would leave feeling more “yada!”

Holy Communion can give “yada” to our souls.  Jesus once said, “Unless you eat my body and drink my blood, you can have no part of me!” And, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him.”  Wow!  Of course, this is not literal, but spiritual, figurative language.  That’s what Holy Communion, the “Lord’s Supper” or Catholic Mass, is all about.  They are symbolic ways to go beyond our body/material world senses.  Mass, Holy Communion and the “Lord’s Supper” are culminations of the service, time for high “yada.”

After a good spiritual “yada,” people take things less seriously.  They realize anew this world is not their home; they realize they are only strangers here for a little while until they “gme.” ohn writes in 1 John 2:15, “Do not love this world or the things of this world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”  Everything here is just passing, ephemeral; it’s not Spirit.  Don’t take it so seriously.

So, schedule time for silence.  Use it to meditate and be healed.  Meditation has the root of medi, or healing.  Through proper mind control and clearing, you’ll experience more healing and joy.  You will be entering the great “cloud of unknowing” which the anonymous monk wrote about in the 14th century.  He was writing about the lost art of mysticism, reclaiming that which Dante’s famous play was about, our “Paradise Lost.”

Spend time each day in practicing stillness and knowing.  Get out of your mind!  Prepare a place in your house to do it.  Go to nearby quiet places.  And amid all the losses you perceive with church buildings, in the national hopes for peace, and a world without war and hunger, you’ll likely experience more “yada” than ever expected.

“Let all mortal flesh keep silence, and with fear and trembling stand;

Ponder nothing earthly minded, for with blessing in his hand,

Christ our God to earth descended, our full homage to demand!”

(from liturgy of St. James, 4th Century)

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Seeing God

2012-03-10_18-13-49_552.jpg“The world will see me no more, but you will see me….”  John 14:19

Do you often feel lonely?  Perhaps that’s an understatement!  Most do, but we need not, at least for too long.  Studies show Americans are lonely, 300 out of 335 million feel lonely.  Not even marriage eliminates it.  Or sports, drinking, and politics.  About 50 million are classified as seriously lonely.

Why?  Maybe because we don’t see God enough!  Wouldn’t having vision or sight of God settle our loneliness?  If most of us could really see and meet God, the “Man Upstairs,” it would probably help!  Oh, just see Him or Her as accepting, forgiving, and loving us just as we are!

John’s gospel in the Bible promises this.  In chapter 14 verse19, Jesus tells his disciples, “In a little while the world will see me no more, but you will see me!”  Really?  Is it just craziness, or “fake hopes?”

How can we see Jesus?  Well, it’s not his body we see but his Spirit.  Have you ever seen Jesus’ spirit?  Probably.  I think I have, and I’m not on drugs either!

Jesus says it’s not possible, however, for the world to see Him, but we should.  How?  Because it’s all in our heads, in our thinking.  The Greek word for thinking is theori, from which we get our word “theory.”  Theory is how we think about something.   And how you think determines whether or not you see Jesus!

What then is the right thinking or theory?  God is Spirit, Spirit was also in Jesus, as God is in us.  Earlier in the gospel, Jesus says to the woman at the well, “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and truth.”  (John 4:24) Spirit is One, non-local, everywhere, like Light.  Without light the world and universe could not exist.  Without the Light of understanding, we would never see God, or Jesus, as Spirit.

We could see Jesus like our loved ones who have died or passed.  We often think of them as spirits or angels.  Some even claim they can hear from them. Spirit is our very essence even now.  We are all Spirits or Angels in our being, in our right thinking or theories.  So, look at people around you and say, “You are angels and I want to see it!

I know the old joke about the man who said, “My wife is wonderful, a perfect angel!”  His friend responded, “You’re lucky; mine is still living!”  But seeing Spirit, God or your deceased loved ones is a matter of how we think and see ourselves, or the one who taught about him named “Jesus.”

How can we experience this?  Most of the time we worry, fret and do not feel very happy about things around us.  The world seems like a big mess, which it is!  It’s a lonely place.  How can we get beyond or out of it?  In our thinking, or our prayers!  We can practice daily, hourly, even as part of our breathing.  Prayer can be like something on our shopping list.  But Prayer is not something we bring home and put it on the shelf; prayer can become like our breath.  We keep remembering, remembering and remembering!  We spend time in prayer and meditate upon words like these.  We meditate on them while sitting, walking, working, riding, and before meals in morning, noon and evening!  We can carry reminders on our “smart phones!”  Every hour I receive a little reminder.  Today it is, “Heaven is but a choice I must make!”

It’s so hard to remember because we get caught in our busyness, our mortality.  We get stuck in our bodies, country, city, politics, and churches.  We are like bees who get stuck in their own honey.  But remember, if you and I want to see and know God as with us, we must understand we are in spiritual territory; it’s beyond the body.  It is akin to music, poetry, ocean waves, blowing wind, quiet wooded areas, or closing our eyes and seeing.

And what happens if we keep remembering?  You’ll have one of those experiences when you feel right out of your mind!  It’s like being in bed with a lover!  (Let’s hope it’s your proper mate!)  The word for knowing is ginosko, which is the word also for sexual intimacy.  Jesus said, “You will know Him!”   “In the days to come you will know the father because you love each other.”    Wow!  We can have that every day!  One can “know his wife or husband” in an intimate way.  Prayer and meditation become the Viagra for encountering intimacy with Jesus, with God, the great Unknown, Inexpressible One!

What more would you want?  Why wait?  Why waste time feeling sorry for yourselves, your so-called littleness.  It is the same search and longing in each human being on earth.  Riches and fame won’t bring it.  At least if it’s in them you trust.

So be happy in your Self, your true identity.  For “The world will see me no more, but you will…!”

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