Wise man says: Everything is Beautiful.

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How many things will annoy you today? Think about it. Go through your average day from waking to sleeping and add up all annoyances. Is it more than 20? 50? 100? How many things will anger you? Is it more than 10?

When we experience the emotion of anger (even annoyance) our bodies react to stress. Adrenaline is released, blood vessels constrict, the left hemisphere of our brains becomes excitable and certain functions of our limbic system are reduced. Anger reduces cognitive function in a palpable way and can takes many times longer to return to a state of calm than it took to leave the state of calm.

If this reaction is happening multiple times per hour, then we are essentially living in a permanent state of stress. We are using less of the most helpful aspects of our brains, and by comparison to someone who lives at peace, we live with a much lower consciousness, use less intelligence, and expose ourselves to greater heath risks.

This post will not be a “how to” on living in peace from a centered place. If you do not have a practice or a means to do this already, then such a tool will is not helpful to those who live unaware. Instead, I hope this post will help illuminate what is beyond our short fuse so we can become free from blaming everything around us that we think is wrong with the world.

Our life of stress is not caused from the outside in.

Solomon said; “money answers everything.” (Ecclesiastes 10:19). When I was in my twenties and early thirties I barely made a livable wage and I was more than $45,000 dollars in debt. I call this my angry phase of life. I earned the nickname: “Cold hearted bastard.” Now that I’m debt free and earn enough to be comfortable I can say that without a doubt, I am less anger at the world. Was this because life got easier? No. My responsibilities are far greater now than twenty years ago. It’s tempting to conclude that if you have enough money, the stress goes away, but the opposite is true, my anger produced a low consciousness that kept me just barely getting by.

Yes, earning money is inside out. I changed the framework and the opportunities to earn became visible. As you’ll see, we change our “lot” in life in via counter-intuitive ways.

Our bodies are always telling us something. Anger clamps down our soul just as it does our blood vessels and this elevates pressure and backfills the space where “shalom” (well-being in the whole of life) once dwelled.

It’s really hard to see, but aggravation is a form of deep seated pride or what Solomon calls vanity. Vanity, (the Hebrew word Hebel)is a mist or vapor or breath. It exists but there is no real substance to it. It’s an empty pursuit brought on by a mind that is convinced that we have much more power than we actually do.

The low-level barely-conscious mind, goes through life maximizing pleasure and minimize pain. When we function on this creaturely plane, we are myopic, self-focused people who interpret the world as “getting in our way.” Competition is born from this mist. Do you see the vanity now? Anger wreaks of pride. Can you see how this “vapor” is the low-level basis for so much of the worlds activity and output. We haven’t really evolved much. We go through life feeling distinct from everyone and everything and try and improve our lot at the expense of others. Solomon called this a striving after the wind.

Solomon climbed the competition (and consciousness) ladder all the way to the top. No human in history has ever achieved his wealth, nor his wisdom. At the highest level, there was nothing there. Only the stark reminder that his death would come as surely as everyone else’s. Why do you suppose the wealthy focus more on health than the poor? It’s NOT that health is a luxury item, its a by-product of consciousness. Nearly 70% of smokers come from poverty.

Solomon did find more gain in wisdom than folly. The answer wasn’t to quit and drop out of the race, but it wasn’t to stay in the race either. Wisdom frees us from binaries. Rather than living in reaction to all things (stress inducing lifestyle) we begin to truly live at the point of acceptance within all things. But how?

Solomon’s conclusions revealed that there is a time in life for everything under the sun. We are neither to avoid the displeasure of life any more than we are to try and permanently possess pleasure. There is a third thing that is higher up and further back.

Each thing comes not as distinctly good or bad, but complete and beautiful “as it is” within the context of all life. All things are by design and provide a rich experience of life. Solomon said: “God has made everything beautiful in its time, and it’s not something we will ever fully understand” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Dancing and mourning actually go together. Mourning is painful because we have experienced the joy of the dance. The dance is joyous because we have experienced the weight of mourning. The third thing is trusting that both are vital to our humanity. Both make us into more than a mere beast.

If we can attain this third thing, then our days will immediately change. The aggravator may just be the scourge of love that reminds us NOT to respond in a vain effort of wind grabbing. If we can accept the experience of our present moment, our anger exposes our proud assumption that we understand all the issues. In the moment of acceptance, suddenly everything belongs. Nothing is ever missing from each and every moment, but perfectly complete. This is to experience and trust the providence of God.

This perspective allows us to hold space for whatever may come and regardless of the circumstances, we now have the power to enjoy our life, because we can actually be in it.

 

Wise Man says: Nothing New Here

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When I was in college, I remember being so enthusiastic about graduating and getting on with my life. College was like a bi-polar nanny that was helping to accomplish my dreams while at the same time preventing me from starting on them. After graduation I thought the big world was going to easily open to the abundance of effort and output that I was giving it.

I quickly learned that no one took me seriously. I had no street credit. That’s ok, I would soon prove them all wrong as I doubled down as the general contractor over my big dreams.  Late nights, long hours, extra curricular efforts; these were all the fruit of out-working everyone else to see my radical NEW ideas soon come into play. It wasn’t long before I realized that those in power remain in power by squashing the new.

I don’t deter easy. Like many of us in this phase of life, I didn’t give up. If doubling down on my efforts didn’t produce my dreams, then tripling down would likely get things going. All this effort is powered by “one-day” syndrome. One-day syndrome allows us to endure suffering and genuine hardship so long as we truly believe these are only temporary. One-day syndrome is faith by another name. My feverish climbing and striving pulled me out of my smaller holes, but revealed that I was located at the bottom of the mountain.

Humility is sobering. It hurts to admit I didn’t know what I thought I did. It pained me to think that I wasn’t original. The idea that I was standing at the bottom of the ant pile beneath the immeasurable weight of countless others who shared my same original dream. It was the weight of despair setting in. Once we realize that our biggest dreams are very far away, the immediate and short term realities take priority.

This is our first taste of settling.

Our soul shows its true colors in this moment of sobriety. A choice emerges before us once we recognize that we’re part of a larger moving cycle that has pre-existed us and will outlast us. Do we by-pass this process as if our dreams were somehow disconnected from all others? If so, our soul is sick, detached and fragmented. Or do we humbly begin serving right from our present reality, trusting more will come as we learn? If so, our soul, while immature, has grasped wisdom.

Before long, the patterns of movement begin to emerge. People resign from what you thought would be your “dream job.” Each time we accomplish something, its reality is not as we imagined it would be. Our relationships take effort and a toll on our energy supply. That “new” thing we once were so proud of, seems small and short sighted given our present perspective.

Slowly, we gain power, confidence and respect. Along the way we also collect a lot of baggage. We carry things and hold on to that which we shouldn’t. They weigh us down and drain us. We gain attachments to things we shouldn’t. These are little pets that stroke our ego and reassure us we are somehow ok. We compare our progress to others.  These end up owning us in direct proportion to our value of them.

Further on we realize that this is how it has always been and how it will always be. The warp and woof of climbing the ant pile has given and taken away. We’ve been disappointed by success and now we question what is really at the top. If we give this the effort with which we started, we now know there will be nothing left of us by the time we are half way there. If we were to be among the few at the top, the cycle is not stopped. Our fate is ultimately that same as those at the bottom.

So what’s the point? Why work the system at all? Why not spend our energy on enjoying what we have? These types of questions are the domain of despair. Solomon was right, the increase in wisdom increases vexation. These point to a soul that has concluded that there is nothing new here to create. And without the vantage point of the higher levels, we will become stuck here until the day we die.

So what can we see just a bit higher up the pile? What is just beyond the horizon? What happens when the feedback loop returns on itself? Much of life boils down to time and money. When we are poor we have so much time and few resources to do anything with it. When we have money, so often the means of accumulation takes all of our time leaving us in the opposite ditch of despair.

Death is the only offramp from the repetitive cycle of effort and output, attainment and disappointment. Dream, strive, receive, start again or quit, until we all die. This sounds horribly stark and empty. So where do we derive meaning during our days doing laps around the sun?

Wisdom reveals that as long as there is today, then each of us is needed.  The “new thing” that we so naively thought we would or could give to the world is still there, but it’s not “a thing” at all. The new that we bring to the world is ourself. Each dream, each effort, each obtainment, was never to be possessed. Instead, they shaped us into increasing conformity to that which inspired us so deeply in our youth.

Meaning is the byproduct of the soul and effort behind each endeavor, not the endeavor itself. While we were trying to make and shape the world, God was using the world to make and shape us. Those who miss this nuance struggle with despair, those who grasp it find the key to a peaceful, productive life.

We thought we were making something new. It turns out the new has been making us all along.

Institutional Power is NOT what it seems.

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Every religion has its version of God. Atheism in like manner insists their version of no-God represents total truth. Tribal level people (low-consciousness) are attracted to religion because it provides a framework and identity even if it only infrequently connects them to God. Often, the framework (religion) itself becomes the surrogate which is worshiped and obeyed instead of the deity upon which it’s based.

As people have evolved into higher levels of consciousness, they have increasingly undertaken the soul work of self-criticism. This has allowed modern people to gradually transcend many tribal belief frameworks. Along the way, people have tried to find areas of common ground among shared beliefs which has given rise to ecumenicalism. On the surface, ecumenicalism looks like progress, but in reality, each religion gravitates toward its distinctions rather than the overlaps. This bias toward distinctions “protects” each religion from dissolving into something “other” than what it has historically been, which preserves it’s social and economic power.

The dawn of quantum science has greatly expanded the claims of spirituality by reframing religion (primarily Eastern) into the scientific language of the quantum world. The rise of new-age spirituality stems from the integration of science and spirituality and has provided a framework to bring a vast number of diverse seekers into the larger conversation.

However, these trends that seem like integration may not be the integrated rise of consciousness that many of the gurus and adherents believe it to be. It might only be another veiled tribal belief system which unfortunately separates the innies from the outies, and begs the question as to how far we have actually evolved.

Inclusivity is a wonderful and important goal. However, when someone upholds a “particular” framework of understanding, inclusivity becomes predicated upon adoption of that institution’s distinctives. Divergent beliefs create uncomfortable tension among those who are not willing or able to relax their framework. This prioritizes compliance to the tribal particularity above any divergent contribution of the individual, thus preserving institutional power, and violating the law of love (inclusion).

Exclusion is thus a hate crime empowered by institutional evil against the law of love. A Junior High click is powered by the same, but underdeveloped spiritual force as the Third Reich. It’s all institutional power. These are the “kingdoms of the world” that Satan offered Jesus during his temptation (Matthew 4:8). We must gain eyes to see institutional power for what it really is.

Our nobel desire for integration temps us to believe our differences are surface level semantics. So long as we conclude the discussion is about words, then we may very well miss the sub-terrainian darkness and the depth of our addiction to distinctions. Discerning differences is an aspect of the Imago Dei and the ability to know good and evil (Genesis 3:22). When discernment is corrupted, we use it to empower, validate, and enlarge our self image. The worst offenders are birthed from within the tribe. This means that institution’s greatest devotion may actually be toward its distinctives, which give it power, rather than the Devine, thus making them idolatrous.

Yes, I’m saying your religion, company, church, political party or team may be an idol.

Stay with me, I’m not going where you think I am.

Pay attention to how you are processing my claim. Are you searching for areas where exclusion is wise? Are you appealing to some institutional power? It is a very deep root and difficult weed.

Like most people, you’re probably thinking about families, well organized teams for sports, military, business, or ministry. You’re probably thinking of many institutions that work very well by protecting distinctives and remaining exclusive until people are vetted and assimilated. You may not even be able to imagine an alternative.

There is an alternative.

Would you agree that freedom from the tyranny of oppressive institutional power is a Good Thing? Would you also agree that recapturing ones personal power instead of abdicating or deriving ones power institutionally is the very definition of freedom or even salvation? If so, then you now have a new definition of the Gospel or Good News.

You see, the work of Christ was not to enlist us into another alternative religion, it was to liberate all people and all religions. Once people are freed from institutions of the family, social networks, vocation, religion, politics, and entertainments they were not intended to simply be free floating free agents in the world. The freedom from was purposed to make us free toward an alternative organization, one where the rules of engagement are entirely opposite of every other institution in the world.

This group is defined not by climbing up to power, but by stooping to serve. By building others up, we ourselves are built up by others. There is to be no competition. Differences are to be celebrated, not feared making all people more similar than dissimilar. Instead of endless rules, protocols, hierarchies, there is but one rule that all follow: The Law of Love. This group is not a static institution that looks out for its own interest, it is a dynamic flow, a living body, a people that incarnate the spirit and power of love and inclusion which looks out for the interests of all others. The goal is total diversity and total unity at the same time. That was the design, that was the goal, that is the biblical definition of The Church.

So let me ask you: “Is that a description of your Church?” I didn’t think so.

True unity combined with diversity can never take place without the inclusion of all others. I have shown how institutional powers have failed humanity by their exclusive, binary frameworks that violate the law of love. The flip side of this means that reframing the Christ story is absolutely central to human progress. Any attempt to bypass Jesus puts humanity right back into a competitive, exclusive tribal religion or institutional framework. The answer is not found in any world religion. Regressing into tribal Christianity or any other exclusive religious framework gets the world no further than the power plays and pain that it has brought so far. This was the point of Jesus’ contention with religious leaders.

So we can’t build institutions around Jesus when his teachings were subversive to institutional power and we can’t build institutions without a right understanding of his life and work. This makes Jesus either the stumbling block to moving forward until he is understood as the cornerstone for the new world. 

 

The Illusion of Spiritual Practice

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By now you know I’m a deconstructionist. I didn’t start out that way, but I’ve learned over thirty years of ministry that we can’t just add something good to our life and hope that it sticks. Lasting change is like a kitchen remodel. The old cabinets and counters must come out if we are to enjoy the kitchen of our dreams.

When it comes to the substructures that uphold our identity, faith, and understanding of the Truth, then deconstruction is often horrifying, threatening, and quite painful. Of course that which replaces the old wineskin is so much superior that it makes the discomfort worth it. Nonetheless, we must all enter the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23).

For decades I’ve been deconstructing spiritual practices with the sole purpose of getting beyond them. Like peeling an onion, one layer gives way to the next. In the arena of spirituality, I’ve wondered: Why do people go to such lengths in spiritual practices? Not only have I interviewed hundreds of people from nearly every religion and perspective, but I have tried nearly every practice that I have been exposed to. You might be interested in what I found, but spoiler alert, if you like your rituals, then don’t deconstruct them or anyone elses.

Atheists believe that there is nothing behind spiritual practice. With no God behind it all, spiritual practice is viewed as an ancestral or genetic bend that makes us want to appease powers greater than us. This is how science describes tribal level consciousness. Ironically, those who tenaciously hold to this view are often appeasing to powers greater than themselves: we wouldn’t want to disappoint Dawkins. My point is that everyone gets pulled into the tractor beam on some level.

I’ve discovered that everybody without exception engages in spiritual practice. Some practice a strict religion to appease a specific god. Others practice mindfulness to appease a nameless energy or the universe. Still other practice to appease themselves. Every tribe has a secret sauce. We all have some experience of proximity to deeper reality which touches our existential questions of being. Some engage this proximity rarely and live mostly unconscious to greater realities. Others rarely leave this proximity, while most bounce back and fourth between.

This reality led me to conclude that spirituality is ontological not orthopraxy. Once these questions emerged in me years ago, I wondered why I needed to go to church anymore. Once the Sunday big show with all it’s songs, prayers, sermons, and superficial greetings were seen as  scaffolding to prop up existential proximity to my Maker, I no longer found anything there that wasn’t accessible anywhere else at anytime.

Sermons are 24/7 on the radio. Prayer is any moment we are conscious. Giving opportunities abound in life and community is the byproduct of living. For those churches that go beyond perfunctory performance, I’m still interested in visiting, but not weekly.

Deconstruction opened me to other practices. I began asking; “What are you experiencing in that practice?” So I began exploring. I’ve tried chanting, meditating, yoga, Tai Chi Cha, walking, countless types of prayer, numerous kinds of worship experiences, speaking in tongues, healing services, guided meditations, TM, acts of service, praying wrote prayers, poetry, symbolism, liturgies, journaling, obedience, fasting, immersion, endless amounts of study of numerous sacred texts, and countless strict obedience to laws, creeds, paths, pillars and techniques. All of these, we are told are the path to God and self awareness.

Here is the big question: Did they all work? The answer is no and yes. Each practice is a mere container and as such it may or may not have any Contents in it at any given time. I certainly have preferences. I can read the bible all day, but if you ask me to chant I can’t do it without laughing at the chanter. I love being in my body, but Tai Chi, Yoga, and walking are too slow and boring. Of course I was told that I wasn’t there yet. That I hadn’t gone through the hard work of learning how to be still or quite, or get out of my head.  I found each tradition has a guru that made me feel like a flunky and their only message is to say; “Wind it tighter, work harder, keep doing it.” 

I’m a man who is biased toward the head, but my gut and heart are not undeveloped. I discovered that there is a spirituality to speed, production, and noise that is completely lost on the slow, still and quiet. Turning me into an introverted, unattached, meditator is not spiritual progress, its the loss of self. It’s the same flaw as trying to turn my previous congregation into extraverted, missional, theologians who debate the bible, it’s ultimately tupperware sales (containers).

My suggestion is this: practice YOUR practice.  Whatever truly feeds your soul, do it. Whatever gives you a profound sense of the transcendent, practice that. I’m convinced that spiritual practice has never brought anyone to God or self awareness. Ironically, that’s always it’s goal. Instead, I believe God graciously shows up within a practice and makes us self aware. God shows up in other experiences too. Omnipresence means there is no “off” switch. Separation from God is the ultimate illusion. Spiritual practices can seriously distort reality by convincing us that we are engaging our Maker on our terms, when in reality, proximity is never on our terms, but Gods. They give us an illusion (bad theology) that we go in and out, close or far from God.

James Finely says the goal of spiritual practice is to assume an inner posture that allows the greatest opportunity to be taken over by that which we cannot control. I know that if the inner posture is receptive and desiring, then any practice will do.  And this just begs the question:

“Why not just live your life with a posture of receptivity to God? By picking and choosing our practices, we show ourselves as atheistic toward some practices, with atheists going one further than you. What if anything and everything is a conduit of divine proximity? Then each and every moment the Creator is coming to us in and as our very life, incarnated as our life. We all stand on holy ground. Whether we eat or drink, we do all things to the Glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). This is not pantheism, but the cosmic Christ being named above, beyond and in all things.

What if spirituality is just this pure? What if the universal and the particular join everywhere? Then what is your Maker saying through your life? Have you overdone it on the pomp? Have you sacralized only some things or nothing at all?

Will your life become your practice?