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Six Tips on How to Rise from the Dead

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Today is the day that Christians celebrate what seems the silliest premise of their religion (the virgin birth being a close second). Resurrection from the dead.

Mystery

Mystery

Somewhere in the Bible, one of Jesus’ followers says something like, “Well, of course it sounds crazy – if it sounded sane, it wouldn’t take any faith to believe in it!” Good point.

I’m just crazy enough to believe in this stuff, and I thank God (oh – there I go again) that I do. At times I read the Bible and think, “What??” But at other times, the words go down like a draught of pure truth and transcendental joy.

Still, it is not just “crazy” Bible stories that make me believe; it is also my personal experience — the miracles I have experienced in my own “resurrection.” I know for a fact that I would not have had the strength to overcome drug addiction, or Marlboro Lights for that matter, without the power of prayer.

More miraculous are the “smaller” things I’ve experienced through the grace of God, which aren’t really smaller at all. They are all addictions in their own right. I am NOT here to tell you I’ve recovered from any of these. But I have definitely made progress in the twenty years I’ve been a committed Christian, and as they say, “progress, not perfection.” I have been raised from the dead zone of many a curse.

So here are six tips on how you can rise from the dead . . . whether or not you think Jesus did.

1. Get over yourself.

You are not the center of the universe. Other people are just as important as you are. The best way to do this is to have a kid – then they become the center of your universe.

The Center of the Universe

The Center of the Universe

But I didn’t have one of those, so I have had to work harder at this one. Humiliating and embarrassing myself works well, so I do this regularly.

2. Embrace it: nobody is any better than you are.

This is a careful balance with #1. I find that most people are a bizarre mix of grandiosity and massive low self-esteem. It’s weird. Anyway, you are a beautiful gift to the universe –please accept and love yourself, unconditionally and just the way you are. There has never been and never will be another you. I am glad you are alive.

3. You have unique contributions to make with your life. You should not waste the chance.

It’s important to get #1 and #2 above balanced, or you might miss your chance to help bend the arc of history towards love and justice. Because as Episcopal priest Cynthia Bourgeault writes, even if you are doing “good things,” if you  have unhealthy motivations (getting noticed, being loved, even getting to heaven) then you could actually be putting negative energy into the universe.

4. You can’t help much in the world – you probably won’t even want to – unless you stop feeling sorry for yourself.

Victimhood. Oh my God, don’t get me started. When I see this in myself, and I often do, I immediately do some serious spiritual intervention in the form of prayer and journaling and sometimes even fasting, if it’s a doozy. I think the fastest way to change your life — to rise up from under – is to drop your expectations of the world and other people. You will be so much happier, and so will your family and friends. Expectations are just pre-meditated resentments.

5. Forgive yourself and other people.

We are all broken, messed up people, and we will all hurt each other (and ourselves) horribly. Release yourself from the burdens of resentment, anger, guilt, and bitterness. Obsess instead about how lovely the spring flowers are.

Easter 2013 015 Easter 2013 010 Easter 2013 007 Easter 2013 008 Easter 2013 002

Which leads me to this most important resurrection tip:

6. Practice gratitude.

If you release the victimhood curse, gratitude will naturally follow. It is the best gift you can give yourself and the world. There’s no earthly reason you should have woken up breathing this morning, but you did. Be grateful for that. And for a roof over your head, people you love, pets to feed, coffee or tea to drink, gifts that you have that you can share with the world. Perhaps you might want to make a gratitude list in celebration of this new day, this new life that you can choose if you want. Rise up from the things that hold you down! Even if you don’t believe in Jesus and you’re not celebrating Easter, a gratitude list might be a nice present to yourself on this particular Sunday. Maybe a few chocolate eggs, too.

And if you are a Christian, I wish you a meaningful and joyful Easter day! May you be constantly mindful of swimming in an ocean of love and rising on a cloud of hope. Amen.

Lenten Rose

Lenten Rose

What are you grateful for this Easter??

Changing Your Mind?

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This week is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. And I think it’s downright sinful that non-Christians should be excluded from one of my favorite seasons. It’s like Christmas – I celebrate the birth of Jesus, but that doesn’t mean others can’t enjoy a season of giving and celebration.

OK, so forty days of self-denial, sacrifice, and penitence might not be as much fun as a season of presents and parties and spiked eggnog. But bear with me.

The Burden of Shame

Judging from the stats and comments on my blog, people are very interested in the issues of shame, guilt, and making amends. I got more comments from friends about my post Imagine Apologizing than anything else I’ve written, and you would be surprised how often people Google the phrase “What Color is Shame?” and end up at my post by that name. I get several every week.

Weird, right? What’s that about?

I’m glad you asked.

I think that even the non-God-inclined sense that the burdens of shame and guilt call for something beyond our brains. They seek relief in something deeper — maybe in something sensory, like color?

By their very nature, shame and guilt are things that people don’t talk about easily. That’s why they weigh so much. We try to carry them all by ourselves. We trip about on the internet, looking for answers in stranger’s blogs.

Sacks of Shame

Turning Around

It makes sense that with this kind of human longing for relief or redemption – whatever you want to call it – most major religions include a season of self-examination and repentance.

(By the way, the concept of repentance isn’t as burdensome as it sounds, all sackcloth and ashy. It basically means to turn around or to change your mind.)

We need to deal with our mistakes and regrets before we can be at peace and move on, but that’s not too easy if we intend to commit the same offense again. That’s where a change of mind comes in – repentance.

My point here is that whether you are religious or not, you could probably benefit from an intentional season of repentance. Set aside some time, perhaps getting away by yourself for a day or two, to reflect on the ways you fall short of who you would like to be. Take along a journal so you don’t conveniently forget any commitments you make to yourself.

You might consider doing without something for a period of time – fasting from food, television, social media, caffeine, gossip, or alcohol. Stripping away some of the things you think are oh-so-important can remind you of what actually *is* important.

What’s Lent, Anyway?

I won’t go into the details of Lent as a Christian practice. There is plenty written on that – here is one interesting history. The forty-day season of self-sacrifice and fasting leading up to Easter Sunday has been around longer than any denomination, since near the beginning of the faith. The concept of a season of repentance, teshuva, is deeply rooted in the Hebrew faith, from which Christianity sprang.

Personally, I never observed Lent until about ten years ago. I wasn’t raised in a religious tradition, and my only childhood experience of Lent was feeling left out when certain kids would come to school with smudges on their foreheads.

I became a Christian in my late thirties when I discovered that, unlike the nasty, judgmental TV preachers, the historical Jesus was a rabble rouser who confronted systems of economic injustice and religious oppression and liked to hang out and drink good wine with imperfect people like me.

I liked the idea of spiritual practices to help me focus on God during the forty days leading up to Easter. Over the years, I’ve given up eating after sundown, drinking alcohol (during which time I found my friends to be a lot less entertaining), saturated fat (I nearly starved — did you know a BANANA contains saturated fat?), and driving above the speed limit.

The speed limit endeavor was the worst. The word Lent comes from lang, meaning long, because the days grow longer in the spring. And believe me, when you’re toodling along at 55 mph on the frenzied Washington Beltway, the days seem very long indeed.

So – I’m not sure what I’m doing for Lent yet this year. No doubt some fasting and more dedicated meditation, but probably something else as well. There’s a good chance I’ll write about it, because I find there is a phase during which I obsess about my “sacrifice” before I settle in and focus on deeper pursuits. But perhaps you won’t be reading those posts, as you may have given up messing about online for Lent.

Lenten blessings to you, no matter your faith or beliefs.

English: Ashes imposed on the forehead of a Ch...

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Ash Wednesday. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hope or Hostility in a Multi-Faith World?

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I bought another book last night. I didn’t mean to, but seriously — “Why did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Mohammed Cross the Road?” — how can you not?

Anyone but a staffer from the Library of Congress would agree that I’ve already got more than enough books. They line every wall in my house and have crept up the staircase, each step providing space for another dozen tomes. The phases of my life are captured in the titles and authors — What Darwin Saw, Robert F. Kennedy and His Times, Saint Francis and His Times, Animal Liberation, Christian Faith and the Environment, Great English Mystics, John Lewis, Rachel Carson, Jane Goodall, Richard Rohr. Countless Grishams and Micheners.   I just recently gave away my collection of Elvis books, but other than that, I find it hard to rid myself of the friendly bindings that grace my home. They are so familiar by now; they hold my history . . .  and a lot of dust.

I’m adding my new book to a large McLaren collection, but it won’t be getting dusty for a good while. I can tell it contains words I need to commit to memory. The author, Brian D. McLaren, is an old friend of mine – used to be my pastor, in fact. He’s the guy who made it possible for me, and thousands of others, to even consider tagging along behind Jesus.

“Do you believe in evolution?” I asked him once, back in the early nineties when I was still in my fascination-with-everything-Darwin phase.

“Well,” he said, “If you tell me God created the world, I’m pretty impressed.  But if you tell me God created a plan so that the world would keep creating itself, I’m even more impressed.”

And just like that, I realized I didn’t have to get into the Unreality Box to explore Christianity. I would be allowed to think.

Brian certainly gave the crowd something to think about last night on the D.C. stop of his new book tour. The premise of his new book is that there’s too much hostility in our world, which is kind of a DUH premise. But his solution is lovely. What if, instead of all the different religions and sects dividing and conquering and judging and excluding, they all came together in common cause against hostility? The idea of seeing love and benevolence as the sacred center for all of us, regardless of the framework or name we put on our belief system – spiritual, religious, atheist, agnostic, whatever – certainly resonates with me. Sounds like something Jesus might have said.

It’s easier said than done, of course, especially since step one is a heavy dose of humility for all of us. Brian’s book is primarily directed towards Christians — its subtitle is Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World — and it delivers the heaviest blows to Christian hubris. He covers in painful detail the history of his religion’s oppression and genocide and takes a few whacks at TV evangelists (such easy targets). Christians need to learn and repent of their past, not deny or justify it, he says. Interesting that the same prescription that can cure a warped soul might also release a major religion from its painful past. Brian also examines Christian doctrine, liturgy, and mission and how they can contribute to “God’s commonwealth of peace“ instead of “earthly empires of hostility.”

I was going to say that this is a fortuitous time for Brian’s book to be released, with all the violence and hostility and religious misunderstanding that’s going on this week. But sadly, the odds of hitting such a week are fairly high. In America alone, the hostility purposefully generated by multi-million dollar ad campaigns this election year is predictably shameful.

One of things I love most about Brian is that he’s an optimist; it’s in his DNA. Imagine believing that we can rally the world’s major religions against hostility, thereby saving ourselves, future generations and even our planet.

“Perhaps this choice now,” writes Brian,  “to move forward or to hold back, to  open arms or to clench fists, to identify ourselves by opposition and hostility or to identify ourselves by hospitality and solidarity — perhaps this our defining moment .”

And if we choose well? “’This is very good,’ God will say. And we will say, ‘Amen.’”

Amen, right?

Check out Brian’s writing: http://www.brianmclaren.net/

Brian McLaren & Friend in their Natural Habitat

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