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Thursday, June 30, 2016

Twelve Steps to Personal Transformation: Lesson 2

The master teacher Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to love God and that the second is like unto it - to love your neighbor as yourself¹. I like to think of the words of Jesus, as given to us in the Scripture, as messages from the voice of the Christ within. It helps me to feel more connected to them as an internal inspiration rather than as an external commandment or law imposed upon me. I enjoy knowing that my true self, my Christ self, is constantly reminding me to always return to love, to the one Source of Love, God, and to share that love with all people and with myself.

This Sunday, I will continue with my series, “Twelve Steps to Personal Transformation” based on The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. The “program,” as it is often referred to, is more than a sobriety program; it is a path to spiritual awakening which embodies the intention of Jesus’ commandments. It encourages conscious connection with a Higher Power, honest self-connection and compassionate connection with others.

Through spiritual awakening, which may also be called “spiritual recovery,” we reclaim the divine light of love within us. We must recover it in order to express that love in thought, word and action for others and for ourselves.

Last week, I talked about the first three steps. These steps require our willingness to admit that we, alone and of our own best thinking, are powerless to renew our minds and transform our lives. Even with our best intentions, when we rely solely on ourselves to affect change, we most often fail. We must come to the realization that there is a Higher Power that can restore us to love and transform us at depth. This transformation requires us to be willing and open. We must invite the conscious awareness of our Higher Power and let go of our attachment to predefined notions of how things, others, and even ourselves are “supposed” to be. Then, we must set a conscious intention to allow that Higher Power to do its work in and through us.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven².” The kingdom of heaven is the ever expanding conscious awareness of God and Good and Truth. When we are willing to be “poor in spirit,” which means to be humble of heart and malleable in mind, the love of God is able to do its work in us.

The awareness of God never forces itself upon us. It is only revealed to an open and receptive mind and heart. We must approach Spirit with humility and willingness in order to be transformed. Only then can we truly be the vessels through which the love of God is known and then expressed to our neighbors and ourselves.

This week we will explore the fourth and fifth steps of The Twelve Steps.

The fourth step asks us to make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. That may sound a bit overwhelming and possibly daunting.

The fourth step invites us into a powerful process of honest self-connection. It asks us to look at our lives and make a list, an inventory, of our moral shortcomings. I prefer to think of them as the ways we have acted out of integrity with our highest values. When I was first faced with the prospect of making this list, I resisted. I did not want to look at all the ways I had stimulated pain for others or for myself.  It can be a daunting proposition, especially if approached from the supposition that because of our actions we are innately bad or unworthy. It can, if not approached from a consciousness of loving the self as Jesus commanded, exacerbate feelings of guilt and shame, and stimulate overwhelming pain for us in the process.

How do we make a list of all the ways we have acted out of integrity with love and still love ourselves in the process?  How do we love ourselves right where we are, and avoid harshly judging ourselves as unlovable or unworthy of love?

Before taking action on the fourth step it is imperative that we are clearly aligned with the first three steps. We must not only make a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understand God, we must actually DO IT.

To love God as Jesus commanded, and as the voice of the Christ within inspires, means to devote time and energy to the conscious awareness of the divine love that is our nature. It is vital that we have a conscious connection with the love of God prior to undertaking the fourth step. We establish and solidify our connection through prayer and meditation. Only in conscious connection and surrender to the love of God can we possibly be centered in the consciousness required of us to make a searching and fearless inventory.

Our highest calling and the highest intention of our souls is to be the expression of divine love in the world. When we, in our humanity, fall short of that intention we may stimulate pain in another or in some way injure ourselves. Rather than damning ourselves and thinking ourselves unworthy, we can instead choose to center our awareness in the Love of God and hold ourselves, in all our humanness, in the light of that love. We are then able to see our thoughts, words and actions as expressions of our own pain. Our pain is primarily the effect of our belief in and focus on the image of the false self. The false self is an image that was created and is maintained through our attachment to the myths, false message and beliefs about who we are.

God’s love moving through us is the only power to renew our minds and transform our lives. It is the love of God, and only the love of God, that is the power to reveal and illumine the illusion of who we have believed ourselves to be and to transform us at depth.

The fourth step calls us to absolute honesty with ourselves as we come face to face with our thoughts, words and actions that have not been expressions of love. Loving our humanity does not mean that we don’t recognize and acknowledge when our thoughts, words, or actions are out of alignment with Love. We admit them, while holding others and ourselves in the light of love.

The fifth step asks that we admit to God, to ourselves and to another person the exact nature of the ways we have been out of integrity with the love that we are. This is a means of freeing ourselves from the energy of guilt, shame and blame which weighs us down and only serves to stimulate more pain.

We have all heard the adage, “Confession is good for the soul.” It is good for the soul because confession is way of clearing the energy of the past. The energy of the past resides within our energy field as painful memories and regret.  Confession is an active practice through which we free ourselves.

Going back to my previous point, confession is not about shaming ourselves. That would not be adhering to the commandment to love ourselves. It is about holding ourselves lovingly accountable, taking responsibility, and growing our spiritual awareness. It is about acknowledging where we have been out of alignment with divine love; where we have not been living from our highest values and intentions. Once freed from the bonds of our shame, we can then make conscious choices based in love.

God does not need our confession. We confess for ourselves so that we can bridge the gap of guilt and shame formed from our belief in separation. In truth, we are never separate from God. There can only be a sense of separation created in our minds. Admitting to God the nature of our thoughts, words and actions in this step is a conscious act of surrendering the illusion that we are separate. In doing so, we are able once again to experience being held in the embrace of divine love that never judges or condemns.

Admitting to ourselves the effects of our actions on others and ourselves is a necessary step toward ending our denial, as well as our blame of others. It restores us to the place of accountability and responsibility.

Sharing our pain, fear, and remorse with another person is an opportunity for us to have an experience of being held in love and respect by another person, even when they are aware of the pain and injury we have caused. For this reason, it is vitally important to choose a person who is capable of extending such love. This was the original intent of the practice of confessing to a priest. The priest is charged with being God’s servant of love and extending God’s forgiveness. However, all too often, confession has become more about penance and earning God’s love than about simply giving and receiving it.

The Twelve Steps offer us practical ways to embody Jesus’ greatest commandments. They are more than a program; they are a way of living. They can help us not only awaken spiritually and transform personally, they can also help us live the truth we know in keeping with Unity’s fifth basic principle.

Regardless of where you are in your personal spiritual journey, these long-standing program tools can be applied in your life for a greater conscious connection with your Higher Power, yourself and others. Join me for the remainder of this series as we continue to explore the power of The Twelve Steps of Personal Transformation.

¹ Matthew 22:37-39

² Matthew 5:3

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Twelve Steps to Personal Transformation: Lesson 1

This Sunday, June 26, I will begin a new series of lessons which I am calling “Twelve Steps to Personal Transformation.” Each week’s lesson will be based on one or more of The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.

I know what you’re thinking, “But, I’m not an alcoholic. What can the Twelve Steps do for me?”

In the Forward to what is known as the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous is says, “We are sure our way of living has its advantages for all.” I agree. The Twelves Steps are more than a sobriety program. It is a program of spiritual recovery. It is a program that can support us all in living lives of conscious connection with God, ourselves and each other. I am sure that practicing The Twelve Steps can help us at Unity Spiritual Center Denver to live our mission as we awaken spiritually and transform personally.

It has long been taught that alcoholism is a disease, some have said an incurable disease. Recent research by the Baldwin Research Institute indicates that, although a genetic predisposition has been proven, alcoholism is not a disease. Alcohol use is one of many mechanisms human beings use to escape pain.

Addiction, whether to alcohol, drugs, sex, spending, or any activity or behavior, is actually a symptom of a dis-ease. This dis-ease is spiritual, not physical. The cure is not treatment, but spiritual awakening. In fact, the twelfth step says, “Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.” Further, the twelfth promise of the AA tradition states, “We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves.” This is another acknowledgement of the power of the program to inspire spiritual awakening. 

This Sunday we will explore the first three steps.

The first step in this program of spiritual awakening is our willingness to admit we are powerless. What?!

This is a tough one, especially for those of us in New Thought who have been taught that we have the power to change our thinking and change our lives. I shared some thoughts about this adage in my post, STOP! Don’t Change Your Thinking on April 14, 2016. You may read it here. As Albert Einstein once said, “You cannot solve the problem with the same thinking that created it.” When all we have is our habitual way of thinking, which by the way we are addicted to (read my blog post from September 30, 2015), we are powerless to transform our lives on our own. When we are willing and ready to admit that we cannot truly affect lasting change on our own, from our ego/personality perspective, we are then ready and open to ask for and receive the help we need.

The help we need comes from a power greater than ourselves.

Lasting change can only come as a result of a conscious spiritual awakening. We must awaken to the awareness of something greater than ourselves. By that I mean something that is greater than who we have believed ourselves to be. This limited perspective of self is primarily shaped by the myths, messages and beliefs of others. In Unity we teach that the power and presence of God are within us. While that is an eternal truth, it remains a concept until we are willing to accept it and have a personal experience of it. We must awaken to the power and presence of God within us.

Not only must we awaken to it; we must also surrender to it. We must surrender our illusion of control and allow the power greater than ourselves to do the work.

Transformation requires us to stop giving lip service to the often repeated affirmation, “Let God, and let God,” and begin to actually live it. It necessitates that we make a conscious decision to be transformed by the renewing of our minds¹. It is not something we can do because we do not know how to do it. This kind of transformation can only be done through us by a power greater than we know ourselves to be. As Unity minister and author, Eric Butterworth said, “God can only do for you what [God] can do through you.”

The Twelve Steps offer us some practical tools with which to awaken to our spiritual nature and transform our lives. They are a way of life that can support us all in living in integrity with our divine nature and creating lives of connection, compassion and forgiveness for each other and ourselves.

I hope you will join me on this journey as together we explore and use these steps to transform our lives.

¹ Romans 12:2

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

God is the Answer

For the past few days I have struggled with what to say in the aftermath of the deadliest mass shooting in United States history which happened in Orlando over the weekend. 

How do I respond? How do we respond in the wake of events such as this? 

More importantly, what is the answer? What can we do to prevent such tragic events?

Many social media posts from my friends express pain and anger, especially because this particular attack was directed toward LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) people. As a gay man, I understand the outrage and despair that many have expressed. I also appreciate the love and support from family, friends and community who stand in solidarity with us.

More than a few of those posts blame the hate speech that comes from the leaders of traditional religions and sects within those religions. My friends who are angry and in pain are calling for these leaders to end their words of condemnation against LGBT people, words that can incite violent action such as this. Many of us have been the targets of this condemnation and have felt the pain of being denied a place within traditional religion. 

I applaud my brothers and sisters who stand for the inclusion of LGBT people within traditional religious institutions. When more of our faith communities begin to acknowledge and accept all people as equal children of God there will be less fear of those who are different; therefore, less violence, whether in thought, word or action. And, still I wonder, is that the answer?

Others are blaming the lack of gun control regulations that allowed the shooter to obtain an assault weapon with which he executed dozens and injured dozens more. They support stricter laws that would limit access to certain guns. I have also seen and heard others say, “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.” While there is some truth to that, people without guns are much less likely to kill fifty or more people at a time. 

I agree that the majority of guns owners are responsible, law-abiding, conscious, caring people. I have friends and family members who prove that to me. I stand for freedom, and I stand with my brothers and sisters who support a ban on assault weapons and additional regulations that limit one’s access to guns. And, still I wonder, is that the answer?

My Unity friends and colleagues, as well as others, have posted on social media photos and memes that say “Pray for Orlando” and other words encouraging prayer as our response to this horrific event. I have witnessed this as a common response to such events in the past.

I stand with my Unity brothers and sisters who say that prayer is our first response to all fear and violence. Prayer is always the first step because prayer opens our hearts and minds to be filled with the truth of God. Once we are filled we are more consciously connected and open to the inspiration of what is ours to do as a loving response, our call to action. I will continue to support and promote prayer as a powerful spiritual practice. And, still I wonder, is that the answer?

I stand with them and I will do what I can to support my LGBT brothers and sisters who are struggling to find acceptance and inclusion within traditional religion, and to end the hate speech.

I stand with my brothers and sisters who support more sane and responsible gun control regulations.

I stand with my brothers and sisters who are praying, and I will continue to pray for Orlando and for all people.

Still, I believe that the answer is much more personal and yet more universal.

In the wake of the event in Orlando and through my own prayers and contemplation, I am renewing and strengthening my commitment to encourage and support people in having a personal experience of God.  

Yes, God is the answer.

The leaders of religions and movements within religions who speak words of hate do not truly know God. They have not had a personal experience of God. Those who perpetrate acts of violence do not know God.  Those who fear and believe they must protect themselves with powerful assault weapons do not know God.

“Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” – I John 4:8

If there is hate in one’s heart, which is born of fear, he does not truly know God. “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out all fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (I John 4:18).

When we know God, truly know God in our hearts, we are free; free from fear, thus free from hate. Jesus said, “You shall know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free” (John 8:32). That we are all held eternally within the perfect love of God is the Truth that sets us free.

The answer is always Love. The answer is a global awakening to the Love of God and to our oneness with all humanity and all creation.

I am recommitting myself to doing everything within my power to live the personal mission statement that was recently revealed to me. My mission is to support humanity’s awakening to and expressing of the transforming power of love. I will do that through as many avenues as possible, including offering and facilitating more services, workshops, classes and meditations that foster deeper connection and realization of the God within us all.

I hope you will join me as we claim the only answer to all manifestations of fear, hate and violence – the  Love of God revealed and experienced within our hearts and minds. Together, we can and will live peace, compassion and love for ourselves and for all.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

To BE or Not to BE

Since beginning my lesson series, “Life as Art,” that I completed last Sunday (listen here), I have been focusing more consciously on connecting with my soul – my unique individuated expression of God. In fact, I have been engaging in conversations with my soul.

I feel a bit anxious sharing that. I fear that some may consider it strange, either because they do not believe it is possible to converse with one’s soul or because they don’t believe in the reality of the soul. There was a time I would have thought it odd as well.

In times past I have even questioned the validity of the notion that each of us is a unique soul. Needless to say, with all of this ambiguity I would not have fathomed the possibility of actually having a conversation with mine. Yet, I have come to know, through my own experience, that unequivocally there is an aspect of us that exists outside of time and space. Further, that we can consciously connect with it.

I am convinced that there is a consciousness, or an energy field, that holds within it a higher knowing of who we are and why we have incarnated at this particular time in the evolution of human consciousness.

As an emanation of God, the Creative Life Force, the soul holds profound wisdom and is our greatest teacher. Author and teacher, Byron Katie, founder of The Work, said “You are the only guru you will ever need.” She also quips that ‘guru’ should actually be an acronym for “Gee, You Are You.”

During a recent conversation with my soul I asked, “What is my greatest lesson in this incarnation?” How do I master that lesson?” “What is blocking me?”

The answer came very quickly:

“Your greatest lesson is to learn to ‘BE.’”

To which I asked, “What does it mean to ‘BE?’

My soul replied,

“To BE means to be present in every moment for what is alive in the moment. It means to grow and learn from what is showing up in your world.”

“You are at the center of your universe, and you are co-creating everything that you experience. If it is showing up for you, some aspect of you has drawn you to it. Allow it to be your teacher.”

“You will master the lesson by practicing being present in the moment. Your life is your teacher!”

“You are blocking your lesson because you hold a belief that it is not safe to have fun and experience so much joy. You have been injured physically and emotionally when being enthusiastic. As a result, you block it.”

“Try it. Be present with your joy and enthusiasm. See how it goes.”

While none of that was really new information or surprising, I heard it in a way that I had not previously been able to. I was reminded of the teaching of Jesus when he said, “Unless you become as a little child, you shall never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).

Children engage in life with curiosity and wonder. They are always eager to learn. They often ask, “Why?” and “What is that?” Unless they are restricted by adults, they dance when the music moves them, sing when they feel the urge, laugh when they are happy and cry when they’re hurt or sad. Children are present to what is alive in the moment. Jesus was teaching us that we must allow ourselves to be present for life and live it as a child does in order to know the presence of God. God shows up in everything and everyone. We must embrace life and ‘BE’ if we are to experience God in every moment.

To become as a child means to reclaim the purity and light of our souls. We all knew ourselves in this truth prior to taking on the myths, messages and beliefs of the world and forming a sense of self based upon them. Jesus was saying that our belief that we are something other than the pure and perfect Light of God – our belief in separation - blocks our conscious awareness of our divine nature.

To enter the kingdom of heaven means that we reclaim the conscious knowing of our unity in God and our unique expression of God.

My soul was also telling me to lighten up, that I take life too seriously. It was a great reminder for me to let go, and enjoy every moment.

This is my life. It may not be the only life my soul has lived or will live, but it is the life I am living now. To paraphrase Bil Keane, cartoonist of The Family Circus, “Every moment is a gift. That’s why they call it the present.” If I am not present for my life, then who will be? There is no one but me who is here to engage fully with my soul and bring it into expression. Likewise, you are the only one who can fully engage with your soul and give it expression.

In order for us to do that we must learn to ‘BE’ present for life in every moment. Through the practice of ‘BE-ing’ we will come into the full realization and manifestation of our soul.

I hope you will join us at 10:00 this Sunday as we welcome a very special guest speaker and guest musician. My friends Rev. David Ault and Ty Andrews will be here to share the message and music. I know you will be blessed as they share from their hearts and souls with us.

I will be back on Sunday, June 19, after what promises to be an inspiring Unity People’s Convention in Kanas City. I hope to see you then.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Life as Art

This past six weeks I have been exploring the concept of “Life as Art,” through my Sunday morning lessons, and in my daily life. I have found over the years of being a teacher that the saying “we teach what we need to learn” is true. The truth of that adage has never been more apparent to me than during this journey of discovery on creating life as a work of art. The exploration has given me direction on what it means to create, through thoughts, words and actions, a life that reflects the nature of my soul – the individuated expression of the life of God that is unique in each of us.

I have come to the somewhat painful realization that in many ways I have been fitting my life into a mold that I have allowed others to shape for me. As a result, rather than creating my life as a unique work of art, I have instead been living a replica of what I believe others have found worthy and acceptable of appreciation. I have discovered that, in some ways, I have lived to fit into a mold that was formed in response to the thoughts, beliefs, words, and actions of others. As it turns out, there are parts of my life that are at best in some ways an imitation, if not a complete forgery of my authentic soul. I suspect that may be true for others as well.

“Life as Art” is a life that is inspired from within. The following quote is attributed to the great Italian artist, Michelangelo.

“In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.”

An artist is one who brings the invisible into visibility. The work of a great artist is to look with eyes that are willing and able to see the beauty of what already exists in potential and to reveal it to others. In the case of the great sculptor, a great work of art is revealed by removing everything superfluous until the “soul” of the statue is revealed.

Similarly, our work, as the artist of our lives, is to be willing to look within to see the beauty of our soul and allow it to reveal itself to us.

The first step in doing this is intentionally inviting awareness of the light of the soul within to reveal itself.

I recommend doing this by making time to sit in a quiet place, possibly your regular meditation space. As you sit comfortably, focus on the breath and gently, either aloud or in your mind, ask your soul to be present with you. Then, using the power of imagination, one of the twelve powers of man discerned by Unity cofounder Charles Fillmore, imagine your soul revealing itself through words, visions, sounds or impressions. The mind may get busy, maybe busier than usual, but keep going back to the breath and focus on the light within. Even if you don’t immediately receive anything definitive, trust that you are connecting with your soul. Do this for at least 10 minutes every day. Write in your journal any impressions received. Also, pay attention to what begins to show up in your life. Do not discount anything or anyone who shows up in your conscious awareness. Trust that there are no accidents and that through your intention to connect more consciously with your soul, it is at work drawing you to people, places and situations that will teach you what you long to know.

As we become more consciously aware of our souls, we awaken to the beauty that is uniquely ours to share with the world through our innate gifts and talents. In connection with our souls, we can begin to “hew away the rough walls that imprison” us so that our true nature may be revealed.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that everything in our lives will have to change. The “rough walls that imprison us” are first hewn in our consciousness. As we encounter the walls of our limiting beliefs we must be willing to question them, and if we find them restricting, then transform them. As St. Paul said, “I am transformed by the renewing of my mind” (Romans 12:2).

When the walls of our limiting beliefs fall away, we are more open to the revelation of our true selves; our souls which are “shaped and perfect in attitude and action.”

Our work then, in creating our lives as a work of art that embodies the individuated nature of our soul, is to continue to stay focused on the true nature within and allow it to guide our thoughts, words and actions. In this way, we reveal to the world our Divinity. And, in doing so, we encourage others to do the same. As spiritual teacher and author, Marianne Williamson said,

“As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” 

We are all here to shine as the light of God in our own unique and wondrous way, and as we allow ourselves to do that, we co-create a world that reflects the Glory of God.

As I am wrapping up this series of lessons, I am keenly aware of how this journey has impacted my life. I am amazed and delighted by the people, books and processes that have come into my life to support me. I am taking it as evidence that I as I set a clear intention to be more consciously aware of my soul, that it is revealing to me in myriad ways who I truly am and what I am here to share. If I am to honor my soul and follow its guidance, I will be making some changes in my life.

I am being called to assess what “ministry” looks like and how my soul longs to express through ministry. I am being called to look at how I may be attempting to fit into a mold of ministry that when formed by others does not allow me to express fully as who I am. I do not yet have clarity on how that will unfold. I am doing my best to trust and allow this creation to express in Divine Order.

“Life as Art” is a life in which the innate beauty of the soul is revealed. As the artist of our life, we must be willing to see it clearly in all its wonder and majesty and release all that would imprison it. I am recommitting myself to creating my “Life as Art” on a daily basis. I hope you will join me in that commitment. Let’s celebrate our journeys together.

Join us on Sunday at 10:00 as we explore further how we might reveal to the world who we are as God’s great masterpiece.