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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Jesus, Hoodies and Holy Week

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the Trayvon Martin Case in Florida - for those that don’t know... 
On February 26, 2012 in Sannford, FL - George Zimmerman was keeping watch in his neighborhood.  There had been a recent rash of crime and because George cares for his family and neighbors he wanted to help keep a look out for “suspicious behaviors.”  When George saw Trayvon Martin, a young 17 yr old African American, walking through the neighborhood with his hoodie up, he called 911 to report his “suspicion,”  but George did not stop there - he followed Trayvon, despite being told not to by 911 dispatch, he caught up with him - and an altercation took place resulting in George shooting and killing Trayvon armed with only skittles and an Ice Tea from a local store.  George claimed self-defense when the police arrived and was released without further investigation.
It is a tragic story that as President Obama said, “calls for some deep soul searching in America.” 
“I am Trayvon Martin” has become a popular declaration of solidarity and support. I, like others have used that tag line - I’ve changed my profile picture on Facebook - to a picture of me wearing a hoodie.  It’s important to stand up in the face of injustice and to remember that we are all connected, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr said, in a “single garment of destiny.”
I too know what it is like to be mistaken for a trouble maker.  In my own neighborhood where I live and pastor - I was stopped on the street by a police officer because I resembled a young teen that they were looking for - I resembled him so much that the officer called for back up, in case he needed the vehicle to haul me away.  I guess in my town, all young white males in baseball caps look the same.  
But this case is about more than racial profiling - it’s about our collective call to wake up.  It’s about out inherent oneness with each other - and it’s about the opportunity to transcend into a new way of being.  If that is the case, then from a New Thought perspective... I am George Zimmerman.  You see,  I too have chased down the object of my suspicions to shake them and convince them that I am right and they are wrong.  In doing so, I’ve ignored the call to cease the chase.  I’ve ignored the fact that upon investigation my suspicions pose no threat to me, and have no weapon against me.  Nonetheless I, at times, have fired away with my righteous judgements.  
Trayvon and George live in all of us.  Which tells me that something needs to change. We have become a society so deeply trapped and locked in our cultural identities of “us and them” that violence has become the self perpetuating response.  
Of course as a nation we are outraged at the unjust assumptions to which George Zimmerman seems to have gone to in order to chase down this young man.  but bear in mind these are manifestations of the culture he has been indoctrinated in.  
Similarly many seem to believe that there is a form of social “sacred violence” that can now be justified upon George.  Wether it is the despicable $10,000 bounty on his head or the more covert illusion that our justice system could put him away for life - as if a life in prison sentence could resurrect young Trayvon.  Let’s be clear - two men died that night - Trayvon and George.  They were killed by the out picturing of our cultural expectations.  Victims of our collective consciousness as a nation.  
Where then shall we go from here?  Are we doomed as an inherently violent species?  Gratefully I believe the answer is no.  Violence is a byproduct of our culture.  Culture needs violence to maintain it’s identity.  However, as human being we are actually built for transcendence - we are biologically engineered to overcome such obstacles.  
Joseph Chilton Pearce points out that we have 4 major developments in the evolution of our brain structure.  Briefly they are:
  1. reptilian brain - in charge of flight or flight, sex, food, basic survival
  2. old mammalian - nurturing, love and caring 
  3. Neo Cortext - language and creativity
  4. frontal lobes - higher consciousness, complex thought
Each developed as the result of adapting and overcoming the obstacles in our environment.  Each is equipped and designed to rule over the “lower brains.”  Biologically speaking we are designed to transcend and overcome our violent reactions.  Violence is the nature of our reptilian brain - which is intended, biologically to be transcended.  Biologically there is a higher function available to us.  Such an option requires the surrender of our cultural consciousness and an acceptance of a higher realm of consciousness.  
Each senseless murder (they all are) and each act of war and violence is an opportunity to recognize that what we have been doing is no longer working.  Each act is a wake up call that shocks us (or at least it ought to) into seeing the insanity of our cruel humanity - but it is all too easy to be lulled back to sleep by the sirens of cultural norms, notions of “sacred violence” and righteous indignation fueled all too often by politics and/or religion.  
As Christians worldwide prepare for Holy week, Jesus’s final entry into Jerusalem, it occurs to me that the template for transcendence is set before us.  One need not be Christian to see and feel the power of the template that is available here.  Jesus lived in a time when the cultural norms of “us and them”, right and wrong, good and bad had reached a fever pitch.  It was tearing the world apart.  We see in the life of Jesus the journey of consciousness that makes him the great example.  
When Jesus was born, scripture gives us two names to call him.  (Matt 1: 21-23)  Jesus (aka Joshua a common name at the time) - his cultural name, and Emmanuel (One with God) his spiritual name.  Within the life of Jesus we see him make the journey from "Joshua the man" to "Emmanuel" the vehicle of a transcendent Principle.  
It begins at age 12 when his parents travel home and realize that he is not with them,  they find him in the Temple - he says "I was in my Father’s house" - thus he begins to shift his identification from his earthly culture to a higher power.  (Luke 2 : 41-50)
When jesus reappears in the gospels, he is an adult, responding to the call of his ministry.  Yet he still finds himself trapped by his culture.  in Matt. 15:21-28 - we see how he responds to a Canaanite women, seeking healing for her son.  Jesus tell her that he was not sent to serve her or her people - he was sent for the lost children of Israel.  Still she presses on.  Jesus is so trapped in his cultural identity that he cannot transcend it - he tells her "it is not good to take the children's bread and feed it to the dogs" But the faith of the canaanite women is not based on cultural identity - it's grounded on the transcendent healing principle within Jesus. She response to him.."Still, even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the masters table." 
He suddenly realizes that simply preaching to “his people” and his culture is not enough - it will only produce more of the same us and them fervor.  So his message takes on the characteristics of radical inclusion - from that point on he makes clear that there is room at his table for everyone.  The more radically inclusive his message gets - the more “dangerous” he is thought to be by the “authorities “  
Unitl finally we come to Passover, he retreats to the garden of Gethsemane (Matt 26 :36)  begging his disciples to “stay awake with me" - stay conscious - alert!  there He wrestles with God and the deeper insights of his destiny - to bring forth a message of transcendence - Principle over culture - even if it means his life.  So when the time comes, he mounts a donkey - a cultural symbol pointing to the prophesied scripture - as well as a symbol of the Higher Consciousness overriding and controlling the lower “animal mind.”  
At first he is hailed and celebrated, as long as he is fitting the cultural expectations (the Messiah riding in on a donkey) - but the authorities (Roman and Jewish) see him as a threat to the cultural norms - so he’s arrested, tried and crucified.  Of course we know that the story does not end there - it is just beginning. The Easter message is that Christ triumphs over the grave, Life conquers death, Love overcomes Hate...and Principle transcends culture.  
It is in the reappearance of Christ that we find the invitation to live from and in this resurrected consciousness - the consciousness of the New Being.  
Unfortunately we have made of Jesus and of Christianity a cultural symbol and class of people rather than a transcendent invitation.  
“Christianity is not about Christianity - it is about a New Being” - Paul Tillich
As long as we continue to default to our cultural identifications - of us and them - in all it’s forms - we will continue to be met with tragic and alarming wake up calls in every sector of life: the environment, politics, race, religion, class, and so on. 
Fortunately, because Principle is eternal - the invitation to transcend will remain ever present.  The invitation to become more fully our Divinely Human selves - expressing The Kingdom on Earth as it already is in Heaven.  An invitation to the New Jerusalem where “The light of God is one the streets and the gates are open wide - and all who might enter in, no one will be denied” 
For now we add to the chorus of voices, Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman along side Joshua saying... 
“Stay awake with me.” 

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Reflecting on a Dream...

This weekend across the United States - churches, civil organizations and non-profits will provide various opportunities to celebrate and honor the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  Dr. King is a spiritual hero of mine, and having been inducted into the (MLK) Board of Preachers at Morehouse College in 2009 remains a humbling honor and thrilling highlight of my life.  
One of the ways I've traditionally celebrated MLK Day has been to attend the local MLK Celebration at one of the larger African American churches in town.  They hold an annual festival, traditionally broadcasted on local public radio.  It is an all day gospel extravaganza featuring amazing music, speeches and special presentations.  I truly enjoy it.  
However, I am not sure that I'll attend this year.  Due to a flurry of recent events I've begun to reflect even more deeply on Dr. King's Dream and how we celebrate it today.  I recently learned that the minister of the church that puts on this event has been reported to have included anti-gay messages in his sermons.  The news came on the heels of my heavy involvement in posting comments on a series of blogs about the role of the Black Church regarding fight for Equal Rights in the LGBTQ community.  
It all started when my friend Monique Ruffin posted an article on Huffington Post entitled "It's Official, Gay is the New Black."  Needless to say the article caused quite a stir.  I chose to become involved in several comment threads both on the blog site and on Facebook, and what became clear is that the black church community is divided on the issue of Gay Rights/Marriage Equality.  This was not news to me - but rather a topic of sincere curiosity.  
You see, I serve on the board for The Community of Welcoming Congregations and we have experienced a struggle to have any meaningful involvement or support from leaders in the black church community on this very important civil rights issue.  I struggle to understand why.
Now, let me say up front that the generalization of "the black church community" is a difficult one to make.  Across the nation I know African American clergy and church leaders who are on the side of LGBTQ Equality.  I am fortunate enough to call Bishops Carlton D. Pearson and Yvette Flunder among those friends and allies.  But by and large the majority of the "black church community” (by which, I mean traditionally evangelical, Baptist, Pentecostal, Holiness, and Non-denominational African American congregations) do not take a favorable, and in some cases takes an actively adversarial, position on Gay Rights.  
Yet, the NAACP* and the late Coretta Scott King have taken a stand for LGBTQ Equality, deeming it the civil rights issue of our day.   So why then are so many black churches (not all) either silent or adversarial to the cause?
This seems to be the case for (at least) 2 reasons: 
1. Theology - "for the Bible tells me so"... many black churches, just like many white churches - believe that scripture is clear on the subject of homosexuality and that it is a sin.  
This issue is really a “red herring” - I'll address it in a post at the end of the month on Equality Sabbath, Jan. 29th.  For now, I'll refer you to the words of Bishop John S. Spong on this topic in one of my previous posts (Bishop Spong's Manifesto).

 The arguments used here are the same used in all-white churches - or any church that fights (actively or passively) against Marriage Equality.  Assuming we are able to agree to disagree on scriptural interpretation, the issue at hand is that of Civil Rights - not religious ones.
2. Cultural tradition "Don't usurp The Civil Rights Movement!" ... it seems that many are upset at the perceived effort by the gay community to usurp the original intent of the movement thereby diminishing the focus on equality issues that remain in the black community.  Certainly there are still issues of inequity and discrimination which affect the African American community as a whole.  But does the recognition of this fact warrant the apparent silence from the black church when it comes to the discrimination of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters?  (Are they mutually exclusive issues?)  It was Dr. King that taught us that silence in the face of oppression and discrimination is just as much a sin as the behavior of the opressor.  
An argument could be made that "occasion and context informs intent."  Under this lens the Civil Rights movement rose from the extreme inequities and moral injustices facing African Americans and thus the intent of the movement was to right the wrongs of civil injustice.  But Dr. King and those around him did more than seek to right the wrongs of the current conditions.  Dr. King had a Dream.  A dream that we would as a nation “rise up and live out the true meaning of our creed, that all men are created equal.” He called us to the high American moral standards of Equality and Justice for ALL.   And while his message began with boycotts of buses and sit-ins at lunch counters (righting wrong conditions) - his intent clearly expanded over the years to include speaking out on issues of justice for immigrant farm workers, economic injustices and the moral efficacy of the vietnam war.  Yes, Dr. King understood that context gives rise to message - but he also powerfully understood that what emerges from this is Principle.  If a Principle is to have any validity at all - it must transcend the context from which it was uncovered, and be applicable in others.  
There are those who would say, and have done so on the blog threads,  that the plight of the LGBTQ community cannot come under the banner of the Civil Rights Movement because they do not have the history of 300 years of oppression, slavery and discrimination.  There are those who would say, "it is not the same" because black folks can't "blend-in" the way gay folks can.  
But how much discrimination must a people endure to qualify?  How much suffering does it take?  Must the discrimination be visible for all to see?  Isn't hidden racism and discrimination just as insidious as the visible kind?   
Dr. King called on us to transcend labels and understand that at our core we are all human beings, and for that fact alone are deserving of basic rights and equal treatment under the law.   The black church community has traditionally been the champion of both the Civil Rights Movement and the "Keepers of the Dream" of Dr. King.  Now, the LGBTQ community is calling the champions of equality and justice for all to come to their aide.  But rather than pick up the phone and answer the call, many leaders of back church community seem to let the call go straight to voicemail - with an outgoing message that says "we're sorry, we can't take your call right now, our theology won't let us."  
Dr. King taught us that the church, white or black, has a role in the social sector.  That role is to stand up for the oppressed and discriminated and to call on our political leaders to remember the inherent dignity of all human beings when shaping public policy.  
"The church should be the headlights rather than the tail lights on loving first, best and most, all people inclusively.”  - Bishop Carlton D. Pearson
Dr. King’s Dream of Equality has always been a call to action, to rise to the occasion of our most honorable intentions toward one another, whether or not we are in agreement and whether or not we even like one another.  The Dream of equal treatment under the law is not reserved for just one people.  
Dr. King’s Dream is for everyone. 


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Monday, January 02, 2012

Time to Upgrade: YOU 2.0

Beautiful Happy New Year 2012 in Different StylesHappy New Year!  2012 is here and much has been made about the Mayan Prophecy "end of the world."   Of course what we really know is that it is the end of an era (as every year's passing is) and if we consciously choose it - it can indeed be "the end of the world as we know it!"  What we know is that we have the power within us to create a new world, right now.  


"This is exactly the position that modern philosophers take; it is called the theory of emergent evolution, which means that when nature needs something, it demands it of itself, and out of itself makes it. So, in the evolution of the human being, when it was necessary for him to grasp, fingers were produced. When, then, if it is necessary for you and me to know something we do not know, can we not—according to this theory of emergents—demand the information of ourselves and have it come to be known? The Bible says: “There is a spirit in man: and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding.” Science, philosophy, metaphysics, and religion, viewed from the universal viewpoint, are all of much the same opinion.
We believe that when the human mind, individually and collectively, needs a new truth, out of the necessity of the desire comes the truth it needs. Everything we know in philosophy and science proves it. Out of the desire for a greater good come ways and means for creating the greater good; and if every person made a demand upon Intelligence for the solution to the present world problems, through the minds of those people who are our national leaders would come an adequate and happy solution. That is in line with what we know about the way Life works."  - Ernest Holmes, excerpt from Science of Mind Magazine, July 2011

(the following came from my column, Philosophy In Action, printed in Science of Mind,  July 2011):
 In this writing (the full article) from Holmes he takes us on a full circle journey, from the Macro – largest vision of the universe and the way it works, to the micro – the individual manifestation and replication of that Universe.  Reminding us that we are part of some Universal Wholeness that operates and reveals Itself though us according to an exact Law, Holmes inspires the reader to deepen their practice of right thinking, affirmative prayer and Mental Equivalence.  Empowering? Yes.  Daunting? Perhaps.
Does this really mean that every area of my life that is “not working, less than perfect (whatever that is), or  not unfolding just the way I dreamed it would” – is because of or related to an idea of God or “the way Life works” that I am holding on to?  Well….yes…but stick with me, it gets better!   This does not mean you should beat yourself up for these thoughts, no it just means its time to upgrade!  

That’s right, its time to install God 2.0, Life 2.0, Love 2.0 etc…and these upgrades, easily installed through regular meditation and spiritual practice, include lots of minor bug fixes to irritating ideas like “you are not enough” as well as major new features like instant access to Infinite Mind, Guidance and Wisdom of the Universe, making God more accessible than ever before.  This upgrade comes with a new Finder feature that reminds you right where you are, is exactly where you are suppose to be.  The Finder is also bundled with latest “Emergent Evolution” feature, which automatically brings forth everything you need into your experience for your highest good.  This means that all the resources, everything you need to know to bring forth your greatest yet to be, is right there at your beck and call, literally (yes, God 2.0 is completely voice activated.)

This upgrade is ready for instant download,  and it is completely free.  There is a catch, you must provide the mold for it to flow into, and once it starts working it will seek to purge your system of thinking of everything not like itself, so be sure to empty your trash regularly.

So in celebration of the New Year, here are some spiritual tools that I think you'll find to be empowering and helpful on your journey of personal transformation!  

    TranscenDance Cover Art
  • Spirit is Calling Journal - (there are lots of great spiritually based journals out there - this is the one I am using this year).  Here's the great thing - there is the book format, AND a desktop version for your computer!  
  • 21 Day Consciousness Cleanse - a powerful and effective little book that will focus your morning meditations and clarify your intentions for 2012!
  • TrancenDance CD - by Michael Bernard Beckwith - this music will shift the energetic vibration of your being, keep you motivated and inspired all year long - I love to use it at the gym, or home working out, cleaning house, morning yoga and prayer time.  You'll LOVE IT!

Happy New Year, New YOU 2.0!

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