Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Grape #24: Do you use your Facebook for good or evil?

You have at your disposal an incredible tool that can, in theory, reach a worldwide audience. Never before in the history of mankind has this been possible. Never before has one, non-office-holding human being had the ability to affect this much change all around the world, just by typing on their keyboard, or clicking away at their mouse.

Don't use Facebook? Forget the noun--insert Instagram or Twitter, or any number of others. All that matters is that the ability is yours to make a difference.

Not spiritual? Just decide before you post anything to Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram whether or not it's something that's nice or mean, whether or not your words can affect positive change. If your post has the potential to upset people, tread carefully, gently.

(Note: being critical of those who are hateful, judgmental, racist, homophobic, transphobic, Xenophobic, and so on is good, not evil. There are times when upsetting the status quo is your solemn duty as a good human being.)

The potential is in your hands. That public post has a globe next to it for a reason. Write the right words or post the right photo, and that baby could travel all the way around the world. So choose wisely. Choose to use social media for good.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Grape #23: WWGD

I often ask the question, "What Would Jesus Do?". It's not the kind of trite phrase I throw around or mention casually, nor do I say it at all to non-Christians, but it does help center me, and centers the conversation more specifically on my choices as a Christian. How am I following Jesus's example? How am I not?

But this past Sunday, perhaps for the first time in my life, I really got to thinking about a much larger question, which might soon be my go-to expression instead: "What Would God Do?".

All theology aside, Jesus was human. He showed his temper every now and then, and lived this life of temptations along with the rest of us. Yet when you look at morality from a much wider perspective, where only purest goodness and perfection are possible, asking yourself What Would God Do? becomes the more important question.

Jesus was an incredibly sweet, loving guy by all accounts (and I've read more than four of them), but he was still a human being. God, though, is the gold standard. God is the parent, the one who doesn't just show unconditional love, but is unconditional love. Adding conditions of any kind just isn't in God's DNA.

So ask yourself this question next time you're faced with a difficult situation or person. What Would God Do? It'll also lead you to more questions. How would God handle this person's mean or ignorant comments about other people? How would God handle that person's choice to physically or psychologically abuse my loved one? What would God do...differently than I would do?

If you say or even think, "smite", "judge", or any other word that means to punish in some way, you're not thinking about God correctly, and it's time to realign your spirit. God is love. To hurt one of God's children or to say nasty things about one of God's children is to go against God, but that doesn't mean God will take revenge the way humans get back at each other. God just teaches us truth and love when we are outside of truth and love. God just fixes us when we're broken (and loves us whether we're broken or not). To put it another way, God is the hospital, and not the jail. God is the nurse, and not the policeman or the judge.

WWJD? Good start! But try asking yourself WWGD next time. It's time we reach even higher.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Grape #22: Unfearing Death

A hundred years or so ago, I took a theology class at Manhattan College called Death & Dying. The title alone grabbed my attention, but the more I read through the class description, the more I knew I had to sign up. The subject matter covered a wide range of material, from hospice work and resurrection theology to near-death experiences and apparitions. And while my personal focus for the semester was near-death experiences, I've never forgotten the depth of knowledge I received just from that one class. In many ways, it was a massive introduction to a field of study I've happily immersed myself in ever since.

Death, I learned back then, is something of a secret no one dares speak about. People barely whisper about it, even at funeral homes, and they generally do everything they can to avoid the topic completely. It's almost as if the act of discussing it might make something happen, as absurd as that sounds. "God forbid my grandmother ever dies, I don't know how I'd go on." Huh? Your grandmother IS going to die. So is every other person in your family, all your friends, everyone in town, the country, and the world. Oh, and sorry, but so are you.

Perhaps my favorite quote on the matter--passed on to me through that college class I took--is this: "Death is like masturbation. Everyone does it, but no one ever wants to talk about it."

As kids, we hear about people dying, but it's often shared with us like some sort of a fairytale. "Aunt Bea went to live with Jesus," or "Uncle Joe went up into the clouds to sleep forever." We shield children from the truth, or at least our best understanding or belief of the truth, but the problem is, we never end up talking about it once we're old enough. We never have a sit-down conversation as a rite of passage into adulthood, where our older family members finally explain the truth of it all.

And what is the truth? Well, we don't know. We have stories to rely on, and nothing more.

People die due to many different causes, and when they do, we cease to find any sort of life in or around them. Believers, whether or not they were believers beforehand (an important distinction), say they've experienced something beyond all human comprehension when a loved one's body died, or even when their own body died and was brought back. Whatever their stories, believers believe and unbelievers do not.

Death, then, seems to mean two different things. It's either an absence of pain, stress, and fear due to the fact that you no longer exist, or it's an absence of pain, stress, and fear due to the fact that you transcend into a beautiful reality beyond all human comprehension. There are, it turns out, just these two possibilities, but both include the reality that you become free from all pain, stress, and fear.

So what reason is there to really fear death? Why do we flinch away from it, like it's some sort of nightmarish reality? If someone's body has died and they're now free from all pain and worry, whether or not they've transcended into an afterlife, then what about that do we find gruesome or horrific? What part of it makes us really hurt inside?

Well, that's easy. The part of the deceased person that we loved is now gone from us, and this new absence makes us cry. It makes us hurt. It makes us hate the reality of it all, that our loved one is no longer with us in the here and now.

So too does the mystery. We can't stand the mystery, because it speaks to how much we don't know as human beings, how much we can never know as human beings. We're built to want to know everything we can about everything we can, so when someone presents us with the scene of our loved one in a coffin, we can't help but be flustered by the impossible truth laying there in front of us. The mystery hits us hard. The absence hits us hard. The impossible reality of that which we do not understand is quite literally staring us in the face.

Unfearing death is an ability you can learn to cultivate. You can even learn to master it. How? By accepting reality. By facing the truth. Every human being who ever lived prior to our current crop of humans later died. Their bodies stopped working, their brains stopped functioning, and their hearts just plain stopped. Every human being, without exception, has to die. It's part of what being a life form on this planet entails. Heck, even Jesus died.

In other words, stop being surprised by it. Stop finding it shocking when someone slips away and all life seems to disappear immediately from their human frame. Cry, yes. Be sad. I always am, and I've been through the loss of both my parents, several friends, and a sibling already. This isn't about conquering sadness. This is about conquering fear.

What we need to do is face our fear of death whether or not we are people of faith. And talking about reality is a great way of facing reality. We need to talk about it more. We need to come to a place of understanding, and then prepare ourselves to teach that lesson well to our children and our grandchildren. Fairytales may help them understand when they're little, but once they're old enough, they deserve the truth. We all do.

Want to unfear death? Want to make yourself stronger before the next unexpected death appears in your life? Then stop lying to yourself. Stop telling yourself that person will always be there, will always be around. They won't. Things happen. Death happens. Death always happens, 100% of the time. Stop lying to yourself, and start talking to others about it. Reach out to a loved one willing to have that hard chat along with you. Talk about it. Face the facts, and do it sooner rather than later. It'll help you stay strong in the midst of the hardest times we'll all go through as human beings. No, it won't make you invincible to pain, nor should it, but accepting death as part of what life is will make things just a little bit easier to handle once the next death arrives.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Grape #21: Soul Silence

Imagine you had two hearts beating inside you, and each one took turns pumping your blood. Your doctor wouldn't know you had two hearts when she checked your heartbeat. She'd just assume your one and only heart was doing exactly what it was supposed to do. Not unless someone actually took a photograph of your insides would they realize your heart had a secret sibling.

Now, science has yet to find any evidence of a physical soul inside the brain or the heart, so if it is in there somewhere, it's very well disguised. Human experience, however, points to quite a bit more. People have seen things. They've heard things. They've received messages, proven to be true, from both living loved ones thousands of miles away, and from deceased friends and relatives, long since gone from the Earth. Impossibly true when looked at in terms of brain science, yes, but still part of a worldwide series of phenomena that cannot be explained.

So what does the soul require to do what it does best, to enlighten, teach, and inform? Well, it doesn't seem to require blood flow or synapses, nor any other bodily part or fluid, not even water. The soul, spiritual folks believe at least, requires something more esoteric, something more intangible, something that can't show up on a radar, EKG machine, or CAT scan. Much like microwaves and ultraviolet waves were for many years, the energy of soul is still completely untraceable.

One of the reasons soul is so hard to measure, track, and even locate at all is because it doesn't make any sounds or give off any discernible light. It can't be photographed, seemingly by its very nature. "How convenient," skeptics will say, and honestly, who can blame them? Soul is, by its very nature, a silent, invisible effect more than it is an actual thing. It is existential beyond that which can exist in the known universe, which makes it something no believer can ever hope to prove.

Stranger still, and worse news for the believers who hope to argue their cause, soul seems to thrive on silence. It comes alive when the mind and body are at their most silent, most calm, most still place (be still and know that I am God). Soul can easily be mistaken for unconscious brain activity in this place of greater consciousness, but it's not emanating from the brain at all. Instead, something new is born in the silence. When you quiet your brain and open yourself up to something greater, soul begins to glow with an invisible light within you.

Here's the problem soul believers face. If one of the world's most-respected scientists invited 25 of the world's other most-respected scientists to join him in a large conference room, shut off the lights and asked them to quiet their brains and wait for something to happen, they'd probably do exactly as he said, fully expecting something to appear in the room before them. But if a well-known preacher invited the same 25 scientists into the same room for the same task, many would balk at the idea.

Faith, it turns out, is something of a wormhole. You either step through it and embrace whatever might happen to you, or you dismiss it outright as just another silly theory.

And so there's this soul silence, this immeasurable place of trust that millions of people have leapt through. They've silenced their brains as much as possible, they've quieted their heartbeats as much as they safely can, and they've found another whole universe of experience. They've seen the light, quite literally, in a darkened room. They've heard from loved ones who died decades earlier. They've received startling truths and witnessed incredible scenes that are impossibly true within the known parameters of this universe. Some have even died and come back with stories of what they saw.

What have they done with this information, this amazing experience they can barely explain? They've shared it with whomever is willing to listen. They've shared it just as you would an amazing video on the internet. They've told all their loved ones what happened to them, and they keep on telling anyone else who will listen.

Some refuse to listen, though, and they learn that lesson very quickly. Tell a guy who's colorblind what color is, and they'll believe you, even though they don't understand, because most of the world's people see color. But tell an atheist about an inexplicably amazing spiritual experience you've had, and they won't believe you, because the same thing never happened to them. It's alright, though. Soul doesn't require anyone else's faith, just your own.

So how do you find this soul silence, this place where soul speaks to you? What do you have to do to make it happen?

Well, it's important to know that real soul silence cannot be worked. If you're working at it, you're allowing your brain to search for soul, which is the complete opposite of what you need to be doing. The brain needs to be turned off, not put to work. Soul work is staring at a cellphone waiting for it to ring, but soul silence is when you just appreciate the quiet of the non-ringing phone.

Finding the silent place where soul shines within you is easier and easier to do the more you practice this. It's like closing your eyes at night when staying in a new home, reminding yourself where the bathroom or the light switch is in case you have to get up in the dark. The more you close your eyes or still your senses and listen, really listen with 100% of your being, the more you will absolutely hear soul calling out for your attention. You can even do this at work, or in the kitchen while standing up preparing your dinner. The place and time don't matter, because soul doesn't live inside the boundaries of time and place anyway.

But you do have to first open yourself up to the possibility, otherwise you'll never understand what possibilities are waiting for you. A closed mind, like a closed door, cannot receive any visitors.