Friday, June 25, 2010

Spiritual but not Religious

I am comfortable describing myself as spiritual but not religious and to name Jesus among my spiritual inspirations. When I say I am spiritual but not religious, I mean this and more.

I am inspired by the life and example of Jesus who wasn’t a Christian, not even a religious person but a lover of life and a champion of the poor. The only time he is recorded as having gone to church was to protest religious corruption and hypocrisy.

I feel the presence of divine beauty all around me without being limited by the gods of one religion or another.

I find inspiration in the Bible as poetry without reading it literally or feeling limited by the lens of a particular tradition.

I experience every moment as a miracle without having to deny science or natural laws.

I live my life with optimism and love without needing to look over my shoulder in guilt or fear of judgment.

There is a verse (Isaiah 6:1) that illustrates some of these spiritual but not religious principles.

“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord high and lifted up, sitting upon a throne, and his train filled the whole temple.” A little later in the same chapter, “The whole earth is full of His glory.”

These verses CANNOT possible be understood literally. The dimensions of the temple are well known. It was HUGE. When Princess Diana got married, the train on her wedding gown was 25 feet long? That’s impressive, but wouldn’t fill a temple. The longest train ever worn was 4468 feet in Cyprus a few years back. That’s almost obscene, but still wouldn’t fill a temple.

Understood literally, the words lose all meaning. Understood as poetry, the train becomes a beautiful metaphor. The train of a gown or robe has no function, other than the hint of mystery. It hints at what lies just beneath the surface, where life comes alive with new awareness and wide eyed joy. Life is an outrageous miracle full of abundant mystery and extravagant wonder like a massive train.

It speaks of the mysterious connectedness of life, the bricolage of seamless entities that fills my life with synchronicity and meaning. It reminds me that I am connected to the world around me in so many ways. I am connected to the people around me – every one of them is an expression of divine beauty. I am connected to my passions and when my passions intersect with the world’s needs, healing takes place. The world becomes filled with possibility.

Spirituality without religion honors science and common sense without being limited by literalism or dogma. I can honor facts and scientific knowledge and yet spirituality is an awareness that certain facts give me goosebumps. They change me from the inside out and motivate me to be all that I hope for in the world.

Look around you! The whole earth is filled with the train of God, the hint of mystery and the miracle of love.

This is part of what it means for me to be spiritual but not religious. What does it mean for you?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

How Do You Like Your Eggs? The Power of Self Knowledge

How well do you know yourself? What’s your favorite color? What makes you giggle like a five year old? How do you like your eggs?

There is a scene from the movie Runaway Bride which offers a nice analogy for how well you know yourself. Maggie keeps finding fianc├ęs and then running away just before the ceremony. She also can’t seem to decide what eggs she likes. When she is with one man, she likes scrambled eggs. With another, she likes fried. With another, poached and so on. It seems that she likes whatever eggs the man likes.

At the end of the movie she comes to an amazing realization.

“When I was walking down the aisle, I was walking toward somebody... who had no idea who I really was. And it was only half the other person's fault... because I had done everything to convince him... that I was exactly what he wanted. So, it was good that I didn't go through with it because it would've been a lie.……I love eggs Benedict. I hate all the other kinds of eggs. I hate big weddings, everybody staring. I'd like to get married on a weekday while everybody's at work. And if I ride off into the sunset, I want my own horse.”

She got engaged to avoid truly getting to know herself, just in case she didn’t like what she saw. As Goethe said, “Know thyself? If I knew myself, I’d run away.” There are other ways to run away. Some people drink. I tend to eat. What do you do? Awareness is the beginning of knowledge. Awareness with acceptance is even better. Awareness with outrageous appreciation for your own unique style is best.

Get to know yourself. Learn your own preferences without judgment. Be boldly yourself. As for me, I like my eggs lots of different ways. I like eggs nuked in a McMuffin style sandwich. I like devilled eggs in a sandwich, but the sandwich has to be quartered of course. I like my eggs fried on toast but poached on spinach. Call me eggcentric, but eggs are diverse and so are my tastes.

Knowing how you like your eggs is part of the first layer of self knowledge. Take your self knowledge a step further. Ask yourself why certain knowledge moves you, and makes your skin tingle. Just as your body has tickle spots, your spirit is moved by different knowledge. What makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end? Last night nature put on the type of fireworks show that you couldn’t pay for. I had a physical reaction, as if the electricity was running through my body. Knowledge is my awareness that the distance between the thunder and lightning shows how close the storm is. Spiritual knowledge is my awareness that the storm evokes fear and wonder in me and moves me to ponder my place in the scheme of things and the fragility of existence.

Spiritual self knowledge is not so much about what I know but why certain experiences move and change me from the inside out. Knowledge is my awareness of what a CD is, and how the CD player works. Spiritual knowledge is my awareness that certain music can lift my spirit out of a limited perspective and fill me with optimism.

Knowledge is my awareness that I love my wife for rational reasons, such as she is creative, fun and getting ever more sexy with every passing day. Spiritual knowledge is my awareness that I can enjoy the miracle of love because I have come to a place of self love. As Ayn Rand said, “To say ‘I love you’, you must first be able to say the ‘I’”

In my best moments, I know that life is a spiritual shiver constantly looking for a spine to run up and down. Let it be me, easing wonder's zipper along the connection between my mind, body and spirit. Let it be me. I offer my spine to life’s shivers any time she wants to surprise me. I long for spiritual knowledge that moves and shakes my spirit. I long for self knowledge that knows what I like, why I like what I like, and what is emerging inside me.

Knowing facts is intelligence. Knowing myself is wisdom. Knowing skills leads to strength. Knowing myself is the power of self mastery that open doors of possibility beyond my wildest imagination. As Thoreau said,

"My desire for knowledge is intermittent; but my desire to commune with the spirit of the universe, to be intoxicated with the fumes, call it, of that divine nectar, to bear my head through atmospheres and over heights unknown to my feet, is perennial and constant."

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Celebrating and Nurturing the Miracle of Life

Happy Father’s Day. Here’s to all fathers and the fatherly heart in all – fathers, grandfathers, uncles, coaches, big brother mentors and all those in the village, men and women, who take seriously your role in guiding the next generation of young lives. Be the best person you can be, Families come in all shapes and sizes. There are one and two parents families, by design and by circumstance. There are no judgments on any family type. The true measure of your life and your family will be the love you leave behind when you’re done.

Start by giving thanks for the privilege of partaking in the miracle of life. Feel this joy deeply. Each moment is a miracle. Let the beauty wash over your mind, body and spirit. If you are a parent celebrate your special, co-creative role in the miracle of life.

Consider the single cell you contributed to the miracle of new life. The cell was so small that you couldn’t see it with the naked eye, and the nucleus in the center of the cell that contained the DNA was even smaller. And yet if you unraveled the DNA of this single cell, unwound and uncoiled it, it would stretch to over six feet long. Now if you are like me and you look eye to six foot high eye with your kid, you are looking eye to eye with the miracle of life. In my case, I’m looking at a six foot bundle of creative potential with the world at his feet. Then I lower my gaze to my second, and I see a five foot bundle of gentle compassion who holds the world in his heart. Then I lower my gaze still further to my four foot miracle of sweetness with my heart wrapped around her finger.

Now as you look at your four, five or six foot miracles, consider that if you took all the DNA from all the 50 trillion cells in their body, and unraveled and uncoiled it, it would stretch to the moon and back multiple times. It’s no accident that this is also the amount that you love them. To the moon and back…. multiple times.

Let the miracle wash over you. No matter what has gone down between you and your father or the father figures in your life, the miracle that you are connected at a cellular level puts everything in perspective. Let go of bitterness or bad feeling. Let go of hurt and ill will. You are related at the most intimate level. Make this a day of forgiveness, letting go and moving on.

In the words of Ecclesiastes, ‘A three-fold chord is not easily broken.” I love this verse. The author of Ecclesiastes suggests that life is basically meaningless. There is no ultimate meaning in life other than the meaning you make of it. He does however say that there are better and worse ways of living. One of the better ways of living, that creates great meaning in your life, is to make a priority of relationships. You can work hard your whole life but if you don’t share the fruits of your labor with someone, what’s the point? Create chords of love and connection in your life and make these relationships your priority. A single chord is easily broken. A double chord is strong. A threefold chord is hard to break. Here is what I love about this analogy. If you look closely at an image of DNA, it looks like twisted, looping cords. It’s a long intertwined cord that connects you to life, to your children, to your ancestors, at a cellular level. How incredible! Let the miracle wash over you. Father’s Day is a celebration of the miracle of life down to the smallest detail and out to the largest perspective.

Evolution and Fatherhood

Maybe you think that this description of fatherhood is a little lofty for your experience of dads or of being a dad. We dads are often just goofy and embarrassing. Cornball humor is part of the job description of being a dad. What do you call the two people who embarrass you in front of your friends? Mum and Dad! Give thanks for all that is goofy and cringeworthy. There may be evolutionary reasons for the embarrassment. A psychologist in a University in the UK conducted an interesting experiment. He compared the dancing styles of different aged men. Men between the ages of 35 and 60 think they are awesome dancers. They let loose on the dance floor and attempt the most complex moves. But their lack of coordination is obvious to all except them, and it is especially obvious to their kids at a family wedding. The conclusion of the study is that middle aged men are atrocious dancers for an evolutionary reason – to divert the attention of young women away from them and onto younger, more appropriate partners.

So Dads, next time your kids mock you for your dancing, or general goofiness, let them know that it’s out of your hands. It’s an evolutionary survival instinct.

Here’s the point. Life goes in stages and each stage has its purposes and benefits. You are engaged in a push/pull relationship with your family for good reason. Your goofiness is drawing you close to younger kids, making them feel safe, and helping them to bond. And it’s helping older kids learn independence and appropriate boundaries. There is a reason and a season for everything – from bonding to embarrassment to independence.

Does your family get you down, frustrate and annoy you at times? Consider that they are just reminding you of the possibility of human growth and change, preparing you for life in the so called real world. The push/pull of parent/ child relationships is nothing new. It’s been going on for centuries. Remember Isaac’s eleventh hour reprieve from Abraham’s threatened human sacrifice. That is some crazy family rivalry. Give thanks for your fathers, even the goofy and annoying parts. They are reminding you to hold loosely to life and expect change. Give thanks for fathers and father figures, even those you have unresolved tension with. They are making you stronger and more independent.

Do you sometimes get discouraged that you aren’t appreciated in your family? It happens to most of us at some point. Smile as you consider that everyone is growing and doing the best they can in the moment. See beyond the superficial frustrations to the deep connections that are a threefold chord. There aren’t many days that go by when I don’t say to my youngest and only girl, “You are the sweetiest sweety in the whole world.” Do you know what she does? She rolls her eyes at me. But I can see in her rolling eyes the glint of recognition that she is loved and accepted. It’s a simple thing, but it’s a miracle and a gift. If you feel unappreciated, give more love, encouragement and praise and watch it all come back to you in spades.

Fatherhood Across the Generations

Maybe you are sandwiched in the middle of three generations – with children who are pushing and pulling, and parents who are growing to depend on you more and more. It’s an interesting stage in life, with its own challenges. There’s a great scene in the Simpsons TV show where Homer is trying to bond with his son Bart. Homer’s Dad, Grandpa Simpson is standing by watching.

Homer says, “Hey boy! Wanna play catch?” Bart says: “No thanks dad.”
Homer mutters under his breath, “When a son doesn’t want to play catch with his father something is definitely wrong.” Grandpa Simpson over hears his son and chimes in, “I’ll play catch with you son!” 
Homer says, “Go home old man.”

Parent/ child relationships are changing all the time. So much family suffering comes from expecting otherwise. I remember the day soon after I was received as a minister in the Anglican Church, and my recently retired Dad began attending the church I was running. Now you have to understand how much I respect my father. I had sat at his feet, and learnt so much from him. It was a dream come true to have him at my church. He said to me after the first service, “My son is now my father.” That stopped me in my tracks. Our relationship was changing and growing. It took me a while to fully process the change. We all have these changing roles and relationships.

It’s a little like the man who married a widow. His father then married the widow’s daughter. So his father became his son-in-law and he became his father’s father-in-law. Legally his daughter became his mother and his wife his grandmother. Things became even more complicated when he had a son. His son became his father’s brother and his own uncle. It got completely out of hand when his father had a son. Now his father’s son was both his brother and his grandson. The poor confused man was his own grandfather and his own grandson.

Learn to flow with the natural changes in relationship that take place in families and you will enjoy incredible family bliss. Each stage is important and has important lessons to teach you if you stay alert to its wisdom. There is a season and a reason for everything.

Being the best Father you can be

Who are your role models for being the best father and father figure you can be? When Senator Ted Kennedy died recently, one of the things that truly inspired me was when his children talked about their Dad. Kennedy’s public credentials were legendary, and he was widely respected. It was inspiring to me to hear that his private life was also rich and full of integrity. When his son gave the eulogy at his funeral he told a story that really captivated me. Ted Kennedy junior lost a leg to bone cancer at age 12. He was still getting used to his artificial leg when they were out sledding on a steep driveway. Ted Kennedy junior slipped and fell. He started to cry and said, “I’ll never be able to climb up the hill.”
His Dad lifted him up and said to him, “I know you can do it. There is nothing you can’t do. We’re going to climb the hill together even if it takes us all day.”

That’s the fatherly heart, and you have it as well. You have the divine joy and responsibility of making young people in your life feel safe, protected, empowered and optimistic.
Did you know that the root Hebrew words for teacher and parent are the same? Use all your wisdom and experience to prepare children for the realities of life.

Teach your sons that size and speed may matter but depth matters even more.

Teach your daughters that diversity is beautiful and beauty is diverse and that they are beautiful and completely accepted just as they are.

Remind your sons and daughters that you have their back. They can set out in search of their dreams and you will be there through thick and thin.

Calling All Fathers

I don’t need to tell you the awful statistics as they relate to fathers. Fathers are absent from homes in epidemic proportions, and the consequences are devastating. The situation is even worse in the African American community. Both fatherlessness and our prison population are at all-time highs and these two facts are not unrelated. In 1960 less than 10 million children were growing up in father absent families. Today it’s over 24 million. One in three children in America will go to bed tonight without their fathers in the home. 40% of children who don’t live with their fathers haven’t seen their dads in the past year. One half have never even set foot in their father’s home.

Children who live apart from their fathers are 5 to 6 times more likely to be poor. They are twice as likely to manifest emotional disorders, to abuse alcohol and drugs, to drop out of school and twice as likely to end up in jail. According to a Princeton University study each year spent without a dad in the home increased the odds of future incarceration by 5 percent.

Calling all fathers! It’s time to take your place in the family and in society. What you do matters. If you have chosen a family without a father, then make sure there are healthy male figures in your child’s life.

Even fathers who are at home are often confused, not knowing how to be an effective father. What does it mean to be a dad in this season of life? If in doubt, just be present and alert and see how you can serve your family. It doesn’t have to be as complicated as we make things. Calling all fathers. Get together and inspire each other to get serious about your role.

Calling all fathers, and the father heart in all. Take a moment to honor the miracle of life that you helped bring into the world. But conception was just the beginning. Now you have the responsibility to nurture and lead these young ones to take their place as responsible citizens. It’s a responsibility. It’s a privilege and it’s a joy.

I honor the father heart in you, and greet you from my father heart. Namaste.

For Further Reflection

What do you appreciate about your father and father figures?

In what ways do you experience gratitude, even for the difficult family times?

Who are your models for living with an open fatherly heart?