Friday, June 26, 2009

Saved Through Blood

There is a thread of blood throughout the Biblical stories. One infant is saved, but all those innocent first-borns of Egypt must perish. If you love me, you will kill your only son. To save all of you, my only son will be killed. To keep you safe, you must send your sons and daughters to die. God's message seems to be "Let's kill someone first, then you'll be free to continue on your journey."

The stories are bloodthirsty, violent, full of hatred.

Perhaps when the Bible was written, the language of blood sacrifice was the most meaningful way to get a point across. Something may have to die for life to flourish and reach its full potential. Dreams, habits, opinions, people, governments, love, prejudice, beliefs.

Or maybe the Biblical point is that we must fight for freedom. We can't just sit back and let events wash over us. In the Biblical days, fighting meant literal battle. People understood that language, those images. I have grown up in relative peace. Those images don't speak to me. For others who know war and battle, there must be great empathy for the people of the Bible.

There are many ways to fight, however. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi used non-violent methods, but they fought. We can make a choice about how we will fight against oppressive government, injustice, hatred. Jesus made a choice about how he would fight. His choice was to try to change people's hearts, but his frustration levels led to wrecking the Temple market.

For us, as individuals, freedom from stagnant beliefs, harmful habits, negative thoughts, toxic relationships does mean a fight, a struggle, a jihad. A righteous inner journey.

If you acknowledge that you are a Co-Creator, that your thoughts can create as surely as actions can, and that you are a follower of Jesus, what choices do you make when you take a stand, when you struggle? What choices should you make?

Do you lead with blood or with your compassion? Do you think in terms of battle and victory, or negotiation and partnership?

Remember, you are creating the world in which you want to live.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Creative Thoughts

Yesterday, I spent the day at the Triangle Caregivers Conference in Raleigh, North Carolina. I was among the 60 exhibitors who brought services and products to display for the 400 attendees. By the way, my service is presentations on the eldercare process and my products are my latest book and healthy chocolate. (Unabashed self-promotion, here).

The keynote speaker was a dynamic bundle of energy, Cheri Britton, who hails from Asheville, NC in the western end of the state. In her presentation, she shared that human satisfaction in life is not determined by the external circumstances in which we find ourselves, but by what we think about those circumstances. Her premise was that "What you are." Negative thoughts, angry internal dialogues lead to negative energy that surrounds us and draws more negativity. She promotes BOOM thinking:
  • Put the Brakes on your thinking. Stop and acknowledge what you're thinking and feeling.
  • Observe what's happening when you are negative. Is there a trigger, is there a stressor, what are the feelings, what's leading to the negative thoughts?
  • Obliterate the negative thought. You find what you look for so reframe the thought to place it in positive-- or at least more neutral--ground.
  • Make a new mindset. What would you rather think? Switch your thinking to focus on what you want.

As I listened to Cheri, I realized that she was presenting in a humorous and practical way something that many spiritual teachers have been telling us--we are Co-Creators with God. As spiritual beings engaged in human endeavors, we have the power to co-create by "thinking" something into existence.

Dr. Wayne Dyer, in his book 10 Secrets for Success and Inner Peace, two of the ten secrets deal specifically with creative thinking. #6 is "You can't solve a problem with the same mind that created it." and #10 is "Wisdom is avoiding all thoughts that weaken you." All the other secrets discuss different ways in which your mindset and your thoughts can affect your entire inner landscape.

Psychological counseling knows from experience the value of affirmations that a client creates for himself and repeats over and over until those affirmations replace the negative mindspeak and the client moves about in the world with more confidence and a more positive attitude.

As you intend, so shall ye create. Yoda's famous "There is no try." points to the power of intention. It is somewhat difficult to imagine that by simply changing your thinking you may change your life, your opportunities, your connections. But there is nothing simple about changing your thinking, so ingrained it can be. Repetition, practice and that spark of the Divine we all have can do the job, if we allow them.

Do you think you're a Co-creator with God? Are your thoughts creative? Can you change your life by changing your thoughts?

Think about that...

Friday, June 19, 2009

Peace I Leave With You

In my last post, I offered a summary of the characteristics of inner peace.

Inner Peace comes from Jesus. Insight. A Sense of Meaning and Purpose. Wisdom. Inner Peace is a heart untroubled. Acceptance of true powerlessness. Commitment to wholeness. A desire to do good.
But the wicked are like the tossing sea
that cannot keep still;
its waters toss up mire and mud.
There is no peace, says my God, for the wicked.
Isaiah 57:20-21

I am the Lord your God,
who teaches you for your own good,
who leads you in the way you should go.
O that you had paid attention to my commandments!
Then your prosperity would have been like a river,
and your success like the waves of the sea;
"There is no peace," says the Lord, "for the wicked."
Isaiah 48: 18, 22

In Isaiah, the prophet repeats again and again that the wicked have no peace. And we know why. The wicked do not have insight and wisdom to discern what is and is not in their power. The wicked have no sense of purpose in life, or perhaps no sense of higher purpose. The wicked can not trust that the uncertainty, the suffering, the indecision of life will not last. The wicked do not accept the ebb and flow of life. The wicked do not accept their own powerlessness, do not commit themselves to wholeness, do not have a desire to do good. The wicked do not attend to the commandments. The wicked have little appreciation for the Serenity Prayer--Help me change what I can change, help me accept what I have no control over, and give me the wisdom to know the difference.

I think it's important to look at peace from the view of the wicked. We live in a universe of duality. We must see what peace looks like to those who have it and to those who do not. In this way, we gain a better yardstick to sense and recognize peace within ourselves. Once recognized, we can move toward peace again and again until we learn the habit and trust the certainty.

The Bible spends a lot of time on external peace and harmony in relations, but in their letter to the Philippians, Timonthy and Paul give us one of my favorite summaries of God's gift and what Jesus tried to teach us:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard you hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:4-7

If we rejoice, act with gentleness, know that we are steeped in the Divine, stop worrying needlessly, live in gratitude, and acknowledge the limits of our power, then we will have peace. This is true inner peace, which brings us unshakable roots, grounding in the Divine web, and trust in God.

Walk in peace this day.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

My Peace I Give To You

A Reminder. I've been adding new books to the LTS bookstore. Even though this is an store, I use it because it's an easy way to keep a list of books available to you. Don't forget to browse every once in a while and suggest titles to add. The link is on the left.

Every Advent, I choose a book with which to spend the weeks, reading and reflecting. For the past two years, I've read Sister Wendy's "Book of Meditations" with support from the Bible and an Advent pamphlet I picked up at church. One of Sister Wendy's topics is peace. I'd like to share some meditations on peace for the next few posts, some from Sister Wendy, but many from sermons, readings, the Bible and my thoughts.

Peace has always been a little tricky for me. Especially knowing that inner contentment and serenity that will not be shaken by external events. For I am an outer-directed person. Much of my motivation, sense of self, and view of life comes from outside of me. As opposed to those who are inner-directed. Inner-directed people don't reply on the opinions of others as much, can motivate themselves from a strong internal center and live more self-contained. I struggle to cultivate the inner-directed part of me so that I'll be more balanced. So my study of peace has been valuable in building my inner Self.

We know what external peace looks like: no war; a treaty in place; public security and order; freedom from quarrels; harmonious relations. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians talks about external peace between the Gentiles and Jews "...for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father." Ephesians 2:18

Internal peace is more difficult to grasp. Take a look at the following descriptions. Which helps you recognize peace?

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

Inner peace comes not from an unstressed life, but from insight into those stresses as a source of motivation, and as valuable signals of our internal state and of how significant the stresses are (a reality check).

Peace comes not from human goals, but from a sense of meaning in life, a sense of purpose. A determination or desire to share with others and to know that no one can take that desire away.

Peace is the skill to look around obstacles, plan for possibilities, ponder alternatives, then submit to what is possible or what is inevitable. Wisdom brings peace because wisdom is the ability to recognize what can be changed and what is inevitable, what must be faced, what must be endured.

Peace, then, is the courage to accept the powerlessness, to decide to wait for consequences that we can not influence, cannot escape. In peace, we do what we morally can. Peace does not rage at the inevitable, but settles into the outcomes.

Peace is a warm commitment to become a whole person. It means to sacrifice neat and tidy goals of any fantasy person we may be carrying within. Peace allows us to dive into life bolstered by a moral context.

Peace is a humble desire to do good which is impervious to events. From this grounding, we can take risks in the world for the Greater Good.

Inner Peace comes from Jesus. Insight. A Sense of Meaning and Purpose. Wisdom.

Inner Peace is a heart untroubled. Acceptance of true powerlessness. Commitment to wholeness. A desire to do good.

Ponder these things a while, my friends, and we'll continue on Friday.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Good, Better, Best: Choosing in a Grey World

In today's final post on right and wrong (final at least for this series), I want to go back to the original scenario I described. A prosecuting attorney in a courtroom tries to convince the court that the defendent knew right from wrong. Just a few hours with this subject over the past week brings up several thoughts.

In the majority of people's lives, daily choices are less about distinguishing right from wrong as they are about determining a good choice from a better choice. Or choosing what has less negative "ripples" at the time. To which charitable organization should you donate money or volunteer your time? In your schedule should you plan to visit your aging mother or attend your son's softball practice? Should you finish that report for your boss or help a colleague with a problem he's trying to solve for his boss? Should you give yourself an hour break to work on your hobby or get to fixing that squeeking door? I suppose my point is that, for most people, it's all good.

I've spoken of Sister José Hobday before. She explained that in judging how "good" we are in our lives, we should set the bar at FTMP--For the Most Part. Our goal is not perfect good (only God is perfect), but we can thrive, bring God's Kingdom closer and show Jesus' Way with FTMP. That's quite a relief to know that FTMP is good enough--for the world and for God.

However, in those daily decisions and shooting for FTMP, I believe we need to take a serious look back over the paths we've chosen and critically observe where we are on the Right/Wrong, Good/Evil continuum. I remember some wisdom from TV--either "Buffy, The Vampire Slayer" or "Joan of Arcadia"(both were excellent spiritual sources) --that most of the time evil isn't just switched on, like a light. You make a decision one day, a pretty good one; you make another decision the next day, another pretty good one; you choose again, a little less good. Finally after many small choices over time, all in themselves seemingly coming down on the "good" side, you find yourself in the middle of a corporate money scandal or cheating on your spouse or hooked on prescription drugs.

That brings me to my last thought for the post. That right and wrong don't seem to be absolutes. We talk as if they were. We humans can even communicate with those abstract concepts and if we checked, we'd mostly agree on the definition. But we live in a world of grey. In practice, right and wrong are judgment calls. Every choice. Every day. Some of the choices are made automatically, and they bring good into the world. For all the others, there is a need for mindfulness, discernment, reflection, prayer, finding trustworthy authorities and listening to their wisdom.

May you use every human and divine resource at your disposal to make choices with positive ripples that show us the Way of Jesus.


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A Wrong Turned Right

We've been discussing how we judge right from wrong, and I'll get back to that stream on Friday. But your comments about God's plans and the ultimate outcome have led me to share a brief Bible study.

Genesis 44:1-17. Joseph plants the silver cup.

In this section of Genesis, we're near the end of Joseph's story. At this point, he has not yet revealed himself to his brothers, but through the "stolen" cup, he plans to give them a bit of a hard time, detain Benjamin and reunite them as a family.

In all the story of Joseph as related in Genesis, he never rails against his brothers. They betrayed him, but he focuses on survival and making the most of his opportunities. He has several gifts--good looks, dream interpretation and administration. The dream interpretation is what gets him in trouble in the first place. In Egypt, his good looks do him no favors, but eventually his gifts get him out of trouble and let him bloom where he's planted.

The lesson seems to be that one negative event, a momentary happening, can be judged in two ways. First, Joseph could have seen his betrayal as an evil that must be punished. He would be justified. I have a feeling that he tosses his brothers in prison for a few days on their first visit to release some of his anger and hurt, but he doesn't have any intention of truly harming them. Because, over time, Joseph comes to see that his betrayal was part of God's larger plan, putting Joseph in a position in which he could save not only Egypt, but also his family. There's Exquisite Timing all over this. When Joseph plants the cup, he craves his family, they still don't recognize him and he wants to delay their leaving. But he can't really bear a grudge since things worked out so much better than he could have imagined. In the end the family is reunited.

It is the same in our lives. Adversity, suffering, bad events can be part of a larger plan which we will have the privilege to understand in the future--or not. When my mother was dying, I often wondered why she had to suffer so long. Eventually, I realized that her dying and the timing of that process, provided opportunities for others to serve or to work out their own issues. It certainly provided extra time for me to come to grips with some anger and hurt I was holding. I believe that evil actions deserve to be punished, but that God will direct the ultimate outcome to good. The Life Web wants balance and support for all life. In this is ultimate outcome is my faith, my hope.

The story of Joseph (Genesis v.37 - 50) is chock full of lessons, forgiveness, humor, salvation and pathos. If you haven't read it in a while, take some time with it. Let us know what you find.

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Bible as the Authority

We've been talking about how to decide right from wrong and what approaches, factors or authorities you might use. I read Wednesday's post a little amazed, because I didn't automatically list the Bible as my authority. Interesting that I didn't immediately go in that direction.

I was reading a recent inspirational romance by Lori Wick (she's a super spiritual writer), and the characters in this book are in various stages of learning to use the Bible as their authority in judging right from wrong. However, the minister in the story says that first, you must decide what you believe about the Bible. Do you believe it to be the literal Word of God? Do you believe it to be a literary tool to access the transcendent? Do you believe it to contain stories, written by men, that have relevance today? In this particular discussion, there is emphasis on the ability and the opportunity for each individual to make up his or her mind. Free Will. The implication is that your decision determines what role the Bible will play as your authority.

Overall, in my interpretation, the book offers a hoped-for outcome--that everyone will believe that the Bible contains the inerrant Word of God, that the Bible teaches that salvation comes only from Jesus and that we humans bring little of value to the table for salvation. The plea is that we turn to Jesus as our Savior.

I will acknowledge that my interpretation of the author's intent may be wrong. But given my interpretation, as imperfect as it may be, it poses more than one discussion point on which to base a blog post. Today, I just want to focus on the Bible's authority. I think this minister (even though a book character) has the right idea. We do need to make a decision about what we believe about the Bible. In fact, we must make that decision about any scripture that we may use as a moral authority.

And in that key decision, we humans bring some undeniably valuable skills to the salvation table: judgment, discernment, and choice. We must judge for ourselves the intent of the writer, the source of the wisdom, the spiritual direction of the writing. We must discern if the scripture holds facts or lies, Truth (not necessarily facts) or falsehood. We must choose the place of the Bible in our life to discover the Way and to follow it.

I don't believe that humans have nothing to bring to God. We bring our talents, our emotions, our relationships, our intellect. We bring a lot--but not everything. We are co-creators with Divinity, and together we affect transformation in Life's Web.

There is a rule in fiction writing to "Show, Don't Tell." Don't write, "He's angry," writing speakers often teach us, write "His fists clenched and red mist blurred his vision." For me, the Bible is a credible authority because it more often than not SHOWS me--through its stories, parables, fables and poetry--what following the Way looks like. What behavior appears when a person, Jesus specifically, walks the right path.

So add this layer to your thoughts. You have certain approaches and factors that help you choose right from wrong. Where does the Bible fit in your Christianity? How do you use it? Do you need to consult it more often or less to be a better follower of Jesus?

Announcements from the Fellowship:
Just Published. "Get Back Up & Rise Again! UUCF Revival" by LaVerne Z. Coan (that's me!). The Universalist Herald, May/June 2009, pg 20. If you're not familiar with this "oldest continuously published liberal religious magazine in North America," check it out at their web site.

Invitation to Dinner at UU General Assembly (GA).
UUCF-sponsored Gourmet Vegetarian Meal and Hymn Sing Program, Saturday, June 27, 6 to 8 pm, First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City, 569 S. 1300 E. Don't wait in long lines for Saturday night meals; we will help you share rides from the convention center to the church (3 miles away). Menu includes yummy salads, Angela's Manicotti or Linguini with veggies, Fresh fruit, cheeses and desserts to make your mouth water. You don't have to be registered for GA to participate in the dinner; guests welcome; if you have a program and need to come in later than 6 pm no problem. Cost is $25. RSVP asap for you and your guests to or call 918-691-3223.

For a full list of UUCF GA programs, worship, and shared programming at the UUCF, UU Buddhist Fellowship and UU Mystics in Community booth, go to

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Knowing Right From Wrong

In a courtroom, lawyers sometimes explore whether the defendant knows right from wrong. Is the defendant old enough, mature enough, mentally capable to judge right from wrong? Our Covenant Group has discussed this, too. If we are old enough, mature enough, mentally capable, how do we decide what is right? Let me start today with some foundation and I'll build from there.

I read or heard (and if I find out where, I'll share), that humans may make this important decision using one of three approaches. You may be:
  • Rule based. You have a set of rules (example, The Ten Commandments) and the rules are all important. You follow the rules to the letter.
  • Rule based with provisos. You have a set of rules, or standards clearly stated, but you apply those rules based on the circumstances. You weigh the standard against the situation, possible outcomes and internal judgments.
  • Value based. You hold a value as your standard (examples, Love Your Neighbor, or Justice). All decisions are based on what the value is and how you interpret right behavior considering that value.

You actually may use a mixture of these approaches. I use the second and third approaches, I think. I'm always considering the situation, the people involved, the possible outcomes before I determine what might be the right course of action. The values I hold give me a larger framework to make decisions that will come more from the gut or heart than from my thinking brain.

This author also said (and now I'm thinking this had to be a sermon, but maybe not. Now I'm so deep in, the reference librarian in me has kicked in and I'll have to find out. But we digress...)

This author also said that humans use five factors to decide what will be the right course of action.

  1. Harm. Who will be harmed? Will any harm come from my action--to people, to the environment, etc.?
  2. Fairness. Will my action have a sense of fair play to it? Will my action bring an outcome that equally apportions benefits (or harm) to the situation?
  3. In-Group. Does my decision support my membership in a group with which I identify (family, religion, club)? Do I decide based on the morals and traditions of that group?
  4. Hierarchy. Is there an authority or power figure to whom I turn when deciding the rightness of a decision?
  5. Purity. Is your decision based on a sense of divine involvement, a holiness of purpose, or divine inspiration?

The observation was made that Unitarian Universalists tend use factors 1 and 2 for judging right from wrong; members of more conservative religions will more likely weigh the last three more heavily in their decisions. But any of the five may be invoked to judge what is "right", and again, we may use a mixture of any of the five to help.

This "factor-scenario" makes a whole lot of sense in considering why we humans have such a tough time agreeing on the right course of action. If I believe God is on my side and you're trying to be fair, there may be light-years between us in motivation and in our abilities to compromise. And as Shelby Foote observed during Ken Burns' series The Civil War, the American War Between the States occurred because we Americans could not come to a compromise.

I know I don't have the answer to the thorny human problem of conflict. But the three approaches and the five factors (very Buddhist) at least shed light on the deep issues that might be working within and among people, countries and governments to throw the Life System off balance.

How do you decide right from wrong? That person in your life with whom you're always at odds. How do they decide, do you think? Does knowing where they're coming from help? Can you work with that knowledge to get some productive communication going? Or are some points of departure in deciding right from wrong too separated to ever find common ground?