Here Comes the Judge

In Romans 14:13, Paul says “So stop passing judgment on one another. Rather, we must resolve not to be stumbling blocks or obstructions to each other.”

Now, Paul was speaking to a specific situation in Rome. Gentile Christians and Jewish Christians were in conflict over whether one could eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols and which special festival days to honor. My guess is that they were getting so caught up in the “I’m right, you’re wrong” argument that they’d lost sight of the most important thing. Their relationship with the Divine. They had become stumbling blocks in each others spiritual journeys.

(For the full audio version, click here.)

In my opinion, it isn’t much of a stretch to expand Paul’s point to speaking about judging in general and the ways we may become stumbling blocks for others. Statistics tell us that in the first 7 seconds of meeting someone we have already made 11 judgments about that person. Can you imagine what we can do in a full minute? We are all guilty of judging the proverbial book by its cover. And we know we’ve judged wrongly, and been judged wrongly.

The problem is that we seem to be hardwired to do this. We consciously and unconsciously hold others to our sets of values, expectations and standards. And in the model of Egypt (constricted consciousness) to the Promised Land (expanded consciousness) this behavior puts us squarely in the limited, narrow-minded land of Egypt (see my blog for September 3 for the introduction to this metaphor). In order to think and live and love the way Jesus did, we need to remind ourselves that this thinking holds us captive and that the real freedom lies in opening our minds and hearts to remember our oneness with all people and all creation.

To stop judging we need to first be aware that we are judging. From there we need to step back and look at that person through the eyes of compassion, to see the Christ, or the God-spark, deep within them, to remember that we haven’t walked a mile in their shoes. This may not excuse their actions at times, but it may help us not to write them off as a worthless human being.

Awareness of our own tendencies and judgments can also lead us to answer the question, how am I, or have I been a stumbling block to someone else? This is a big question. Have my judgments held someone back from being the best person they can be, from becoming who God made them to be, from living with confidence and love?

Once upon a time a disciple asked a monk, “What do you do in the monastery?” And the old monastic said “Oh, we fall and we get up and we fall and we get up… and we fall. And we get up again.”

That is the essence of the spiritual journey. You see, I know the things we’ve talked about for the last month – compassion instead of competition, forgiveness instead of anger, resentment and grudges, abundance instead of scarcity and selfishness, and finally not judging other – are not easy things to accomplish. We’re not going to be perfect. We’re not going to be Jesus.

If spiritual enlightenment and living in a place of expanded consciousness were easy then more people would be there. But even if you’ve only spent a few minutes in that place of freedom, abundance, open-mindedness and peace, you know that it is worth striving for. We can’t beat ourselves up if we don’t accomplish these things, or slip up and have a bad day. We simply need to begin again and keep trying. My fervent hope is simply that we will all be more aware of our own thoughts and actions and be able to identify when we’re getting stuck in Egypt, so that hopefully we can begin to move – one grudging step at a time – to the Promised Land.



Selfishness & Scarcity

In our post-9/11, high-unemployment, global warming, natural disaster, recession shadowed world, our culture has become even more about “me” and “not enough” than ever before. Lynne Twist, in her book,“The Soul of Money”, says it well, “For me, and for many of us, our first waking thought of the day is “I didn’t get enough sleep.” The next one is “I don’t have enough time.” Whether true or not, that thought of not enough occurs to us automatically before we even think to question or examine it. We spend most of the hours and the days of our lives hearing, explaining, complaining, or worrying about what we don’t have enough of… This internal condition of scarcity, this mind-set of scarcity, lives at the very heart of our jealousies, our greed, our prejudice, and our arguments with life.”

(For the full audio version of this sermon, click here.)

We have leached from the very air itself the belief in scarcity, and when we live in this mindset, desert-1108-lgwe are miserable. The trick is that we have a choice. Each day we can focus on what we don’t have, how much weight we should lose, what we didn’t get done, what an imperfect relationship we have, and so on. Or, we can start working on a new attitude that focuses on abundance. Each day we are surrounded by beauty, by opportunities, by wisdom, by people and, yes, even by things. A belief in abundance leads us to enjoy, celebrate and be grateful for all that we do have.

Let me be clear – this is not about stuff, though occasionally it manifests itself that way. What I am talking about is a spiritual atunement to the abundance around us.  It is possible to have everything you could possibly want and still live in the myth of scarcity – it’s not enough, it might be taken from me, I’m not enough. How many rich people just keep acquiring more? How many beautiful people still worry that they don’t look good enough? When is enough, enough?

We can live with a belief in abundance or a belief in scarcity.  Is our glass half full or half empty? Will we focus on what we don’t have or on what we do have? Will we focus on what we have accomplished or what we haven’t?

Julie and I don’t have a huge house, and there are times when I wish I had followed my original career choice and become a marketing executive so I could’ve made lots of money and could have had a big, beautiful house. But most of the time I realize that I have what is most important and that I am surrounded by abundance – love, beauty, opportunities, adventures, learning.

Plus I firmly believe in the universal truth that we draw to us that which we put out. If we live in negativity, selfishness and scarcity and the world of “not enough,” we draw those things, attitudes, and people to us. If we live in a place of gratitude, abundance, and positivity then we will draw that to us.

Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it in abundance.”

Love & Light,



Quota on Forgiveness

Just like the disciple Peter, we want there to be a limit on how many times we need to forgive someone. Peter hopes it is only seven times, after all, seven was the number of completion or perfection in the ancient world. But Jesus sort of annoys all of us by saying, “Nope, the quota on forgiveness isn’t seven times, more like seventy times seven.” What? Really? Jesus, you’ve got to be kidding! There are some really awful people out there that, in our humble opinion, shouldn’t ever be forgiven.

(For the full audio version, click here.)

Our gut reaction is to stridently disagree with Jesus. Why should we forgive someone if they aren’t sorry? Aren’t there some people who don’t deserve to be forgiven? What if they aren’t going to change? In fact, we don’t even really believe that we deserve to be forgiven for some of the things we’ve done. We believe our guilt should gnaw on us until our dying day as penance for our mistakes.

How can Jesus be so forgiving? For heaven’s sake, he even forgave the folks who killed him.

We’ve talked these last few weeks about how Jesus operated from a place of expanded consciousness and in many of his parables asks us to do the same. Jesus acted and spoke from a place of open-mindedness, freedom, non-judgment, love, and an ability to see the larger picture. He knew that he was one with the Divine and so were we, if we could only open our eyes to see it. He knew that we are more than our actions or choices, but that we had lost our way. It is a human desire to want revenge, to want to hurt one who has hurt you, to hold onto our anger. It is a divine act to love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you and love your neighbor as yourself.

Here’s the deal as I see it today… forgiveness does not excuse the act, it does not absolve someone from responsibility for their actions, it does not ask that justice not be sought, it does not mean we continue to stay in harmful situations. Forgiveness simply sets us free from the anger, rage, and hatred that will eventually eat us up from the inside out. Forgiveness says “you no longer have power to hurt me or control my feelings.” I forgive you, I let you go. As long as we don’t forgive, there is an energetic tie between us and the person that binds us together as sure as handcuffs hold us bound. Setting that person free really sets us free to heal and be whole.

It can be a really hard thing to do. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote, “The traumas we have witnessed or experience live on in our memories. Even years later they can cause us fresh pain each time we recall them.” Often we forgive to the best of our ability, and then forgive a little bit more, and a little bit more as time goes by. Hopefully we are eventually able to let all of it go. But even if we can’t, there is no question in my mind that God does what we cannot do.



Competition vs. Compassion

Last week we kicked off a 5-week sermon series about understanding Jesus’ teachings from a place of expanded consciousness. (So, read last week’s blog: The Birth of Expanded Consciousness if you need to catch up.)

In Matthew 18:1 the disciples ask Jesus, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” In answer, Jesus calls a child forward and says, “Those who make themselves as humble as this child are the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” The irony in this statement is that anyone who is humble knows that there IS NO greatest. Humility means knowing that you really aren’t any better or any worse than anyone else. You may do certain things better, but you don’t put yourself above another. And you may screw up, but you do not make yourself the bottom of the heap either. Both are really false pride.

I doubt the disciples got it.

Actually, most of society doesn’t get it. Our society is TOTALLY into competition.

When our kids are little and in sports, most of us probably tell them that winning isn’t important. They should just have fun and play the best that they can. That works pretty well for the age when they are picking dandelions on the soccer field and turning cartwheels in the outfield. And even then, us parents are getting anxious because they aren’t paying attention!

Then they get a little older and they realize their parents only cheer when they make a good play and score. And, they have coaches who don’t subscribe to the “winning isn’t everything rule.” By the time they hit high school, they subscribe to the Vince Lombardi mindset: “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”

Now, let me be clear. Some competition is fun and healthy. But competition has turned this world into an “I’m better, we’re better; I’m right, we’re right and therefore we don’t need to care about you” sort of world. The number of problems this attitude has caused are too numerous to count.

Competition usually comes from a place of constricted consciousness. A place of narrow, limited thinking. A place of us against them. A place of ego. This is where the disciples are.

Jesus speaks from a place of expanded consciousness. A place of spirit. A place of oneness with all people. A place of freedom and connectedness to the Divine. You can see the challenge he faced in getting through to people, can’t you?

Most philosophers, historians and spiritual leaders agree that the world is going through an evolution of consciousness, that we can observe different stages of consciousness in the world and in people.  Richard Rohr points out that every age believes it is better than the last age. In his blog entitled “Evolving Consciousness” he states,

C. S. Lewis believed it was undemocratic to give too much power to the present generation or one’s own times. He called this “chronological snobbery,” as if your own age was the superior age and the final result of evolution. I would say the same about one’s present level of consciousness. Our narcissism always tends to think our own present stage of consciousness is the ultimate stage! People normally cannot understand anybody at higher stages (they look heretical or dangerous) and they look upon all in the earlier stages as superstitious, stupid, or naïve. We each think we are the proper reference point for all reality. And I would say that enlightenment is the ability to include, honor, and make use of every level of consciousness—both in yourself and in others. To be honest, such humility and patience is rather rare, yet it is at the heart of the mystery of forgiveness, inclusivity, and compassion.

Compassion seems to me to be the flip side of competition. Compassion comes from a place of expanded consciousness. People are only able to be compassionate when they recognize their common humanity with others who are different, when they see themselves in the other; when winning, being better, and being right don’t become everything.

Jesus challenges all of us to live in a place of expanded consciousness. Watch for ways you can extend kindness, help, and compassion.







Birth of Expanded Consciousness

Rabbi Chava Bahle has recently given me a whole new way to look at the story of the Israelites flight from Egypt. Metaphorically, this story becomes the Birth of Expanded Consciousness.

She said that in Hebrew, the word “Egypt” comes from the root word meaning “narrow places.” The Israelites have been trapped for hundreds of years in this place of narrowness, narrow thinking, lack of freedom, negativity, “not enough”, and even judgmentalism. For them to finally get free from this place they must pass through the water of the Sea of Reeds, metaphorically the birthing waters that will bring them out of their old place and into the new place, but it isn’t quite as easy as that because people don’t change easily. It will take years and years of searching, wandering, and learning, before they finally arrive in the Promised Land, a place where their minds and consciousness have expanded to be able to receive Torah or wisdom.

(For the full audio version, click here.)

Applying this to our lives today, Egypt represents a place of constricted consciousness. It is the place of ego, narrow-mindedness, status quo, fear, scarcity and exclusivism.  Many people never leave this place because they are afraid to change, they refuse to question and refuse to think. Sometimes it is very tempting to stay with what we know (even if it isn’t working for us anymore) instead of traveling to the unknown.  But for those of us truly on the spiritual journey we will constantly find ourselves questioning our beliefs, pushing the boundaries of our understanding and throwing out what doesn’t work any more. Staying in a place of constricted consciousness becomes too uncomfortable and we eventually know we need to set forth, to birth our new selves – just like the baby who gets too big to remain in the safety of the womb, it must enter the birth canal to arrive at a place of expansiveness. And so we enter the “birth waters of the Reed Sea”, trusting a higher awareness, letting go of the safety of our old ways, and facing our fears of the unknown for the promise of freedom, the hope of a place to grow into ourselves.

The caveat here is that leaving the place of narrow thinking and surviving the birthing process may not automatically mean that we have come to a place of expanded consciousness. Just as the Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years (aka “a really long time”) where their relationship with the Divine grew and developed, so, too, we may need time to wander and explore this new terrain. It will take time to gather information, have new experiences, talk to people with different ideas, read, meditate, learn. Through this process our vision of the Divine, life and ourselves expands exponentially until we realize that the Divine is within us, we are within the Divine, and all things exist within the Divine. There becomes no energetic distinction. We have arrived at our “Promised Land”, the place of Expanded Consciousness – what Buddhists call Big Sky Mind. It is here that we are aware of the Divine Flow continuously flowing into the world. It is here where the boundaries we thought were each of us dissolve.