Monday, February 28, 2011

To Trust In Man (Part 6)

Author's note: The following post is part of a series dealing with my experiences in the Jeffrey Lundgren cult and what I learned from those experiences. My hope is that my story will teach others the importance of listening to the voice of God within for their answers. Peace. cse

Overcoming My Intuition

From the very beginning of my relationship with Jeff Lundgren, my intuition spoke powerfully to me, warning me to be cautious with this man. It seems strange that such a red flag would have been cast aside to be replaced by tolerance and even admiration, but that is indeed what happened. I could blame my naive desire for answers coupled with manipulation on the part of Jeff and his wife Alice, but the reality is I decided to trust my reasoning over the insights of my heart. Overcoming my intuition proved to be my undoing.

The process was gradual enough. The first chink in the armor was when Jeff seemed to extend the hand of friendship by his statement about hoping we could have a good working relationship despite our differences. The guard my intuition put up was lowered by the thought that anyone expressing such a sentiment couldn't be all bad.

Soon, my reasoning began to take over as I noticed certain other facts. He was quite well respected by many people in the local congregation of my church because of his vast knowledge of all three books my church considered scripture. Local Mormon leaders also seemed to fawn over him, often asking specifically for Jeff when they brought visitors through for tours. It did appear that many people admired him.

Then there was the issue of the Lundgren's finances. Usually full-time guides at the Kirtland Temple were retired folks because the job does not come with a salary. The only financial benefit is a free place to stay, yet here was a couple in their late thirties with four relatively young kids and no outside job. When I got to know Jeff and Alice, I was told their living expenses were being provided by a man in Independence, Missouri who believed in their mission of learning more about Kirtland and the power the temple was supposed to wield. I believe they told something similar to the man who ran the guide services for the church because he allowed Jeff and Alice to stay on as year-round guides. It impressed me that someone would believe in Jeff enough to pay his living expenses so Jeff could do the research.

What I was too innocent to realize at the time was that my rationale was based on lies. As I eventually learned, there is often a price you pay for naivete.

This story continues:

*(For more information on this incident, one of the best books written is Prophet of Death. the Mormon Blood-Atonement Killings by Pete Earley. It's very detailed and uncomfortably graphic, but he did his research well. Earley gets to the heart of why Jeff and his followers acted as they did, without bias. Also, A&E did a segment of their show American Justice on this topic: American Justice: The Cult Murders.)

The Price of Pain

I just found out a good friend of mine is separated from her husband and is likely to divorce. She is in so much pain right now. I find myself wishing I could take away her pain and replace it with peace and joy. Still, I know taking away her pain is not possible, nor would it be good for her in the long run. Call me crazy, but I have come to understand that pain is a good thing.

Look back at your life. At what times did you find yourself growing as a person? Did you grow more when things were sailing along smoothly, or did you grow more when you were struggling in the depths of despair? As I look back at my life, I understand my greatest lessons--my greatest strengths--all came from those times when I felt the most pain: losing my newborn daughter, divorcing and raising three children as a single mom, even escaping my self-made prison of being in a cult. Those times of pain were a wake-up call, prompting me to further action. They have made me into the person I am today, and I am happy with who I have become in that process.

I do feel bad my friend is going through this big change in her life. Still, I can already see she has grown leaps and bounds through this process. She is much stronger, much wiser, much more independent. She is paying the price of pain. Soon she will be a different creature. The butterfly is shedding her cocoon, waiting to emerge more beautiful than ever, preparing to stretch out her wings and fly.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

To Trust In Man (Part 5)

Author's note: The following post is part of a series dealing with my experiences in the Jeffrey Lundgren cult and what I learned from those experiences. My hope is that my story will teach others the importance of listening to the voice of God within for their answers. Peace. cse

The Ties That Bind

My relationships with Jeff and Alice Lundgren were blossoming, as were my relationships with the three other historic interpreters who worked at the Kirtland Temple the summer of 1985. In fact, all four of us "summer guides" were regulars in the Lundgren household. They seemed as enamored with Jeff and his teachings as I was. We were all looking for purpose in life--all searching for the answers.

I had worked with both of my male coworkers the previous summer in Nauvoo, Illinois, so we knew each other well. My roommate was the only one we had to get to know, but as she had such a warm, pleasing personality she fit in well with the rest of us. The guys had another apartment in the same little building we were in, so they were nearby. There were many occasions where the four of us shared evening meals together after the visitors center had closed for the day. The cook was usually the one who had the day off. We would discuss spiritual topics and work incidents for hours on end. Most of my summer social life revolved around my friendships with the other three and the Lundgrens.

My roommate, who was a particularly sweet and caring person, seemed to have a special bond with the Lundgren's--especially Alice. I would often see her babysitting the younger Lundgren children so that Jeff and Alice could go out. There were even occasions I saw my roommate doing chores at the Lundgren house, which struck me as odd until I learned that Alice tired easily because she had "fallen down the stairs" years ago and had to have her spleen removed. After that, I occasionally helped out also.

As I got to know Alice better, I grew to love her and looked up to her as sort of a mother figure. She was the quintessential conservative wife, supporting her man. Alice's home was spotless. She cooked, cleaned, gardened, canned, sewed and everything else a good wife was expected to do. As I am the type who enjoys traditionally feminine activities, Alice's style suited me. She was also articulate and intelligent, and I appreciated how much she seemed to love her husband. The stories she told about what Jeff was doing were always positive and contained an air of excitement. According to Alice, people fawned all over Jeff and his teachings, even extending to those beyond our own church. Listening to Alice always felt like getting the inside scoop.

I did still have some ties to the outside world. I loved my parents and two sisters too much to cut those relationships. I was also close to my grandparents who lived in Kirtland, not to mention the other relatives I had in the area as well. More importantly, I had a very serious boyfriend, Brian, who was spending the summer working in Kansas City, Missouri. We had "date night" every Friday evening on the phone, besides writing each other constant letters. I was very interested in sharing what I was learning with Brian. I wanted him to be part of what was happening in Kirtland as well.

I was progressively becoming bound to the Lundgren family as well as to those who also wanted to be close to Jeff and Alice. It was my "outside" relationships--the ones that did not involve the Lundgrens--that would eventually become my saving grace.

The story continues:

*(For more information on this incident, one of the best books written is Prophet of Death. the Mormon Blood-Atonement Killings by Pete Earley. It's very detailed and uncomfortably graphic, but he did his research well. Earley gets to the heart of why Jeff and his followers acted as they did, without bias. Also, A&E did a segment of their show American Justice on this topic: American Justice: The Cult Murders.)

Saturday, February 26, 2011

To Trust In Man (Part 4)

Author's note: The following post is part of a series dealing with my experiences in the Jeffrey Lundgren cult and what I learned from those experiences. My hope is that my story will teach others the importance of listening to the voice of God within for their answers. Peace. cse

From Liberal To Literal

It's difficult for most people to understand how a 180 degree shift in thinking can take place. The irony here is that it happened so gradually, I didn't even feel it taking place. I knew I was changing, but the way it occurred seemed so natural at the time it was imperceptable to me. However, to those on the outside it was obvious. I went from a very liberal, loose interpretation of the scriptures to a very literal one in very short order.

Even though I had intuitive qualms about Jeff Lundgren, one thing was sure: there was something very charasmatic about him. He was articulate, intelligent and knowledgeable on the scriptures. He was also very well-versed in making himself pleasing. Jeff knew exactly the right thing to say to make people let down their guard, and I wasn't the only one who felt it. He had quite a following among the conservative members of the local congregation. I also began to notice leaders of the local Mormon church were also somehow drawn to him. I say this because I saw quite a number of occasions where certain LDS leaders would ask specifically for Jeff when they brought people through for tours.

My transformation from liberal to literal progressed easily enough. You begin with the truth (or your version of the truth)--in this case that the Kirtland Temple was meant to be the starting place for the transformation of the world. It made sense to me as I was a firm believer in the concept of Zion, God's kingdom on earth. Once you have accepted this new understanding as "truth", Jeff would add more pieces of information. This new information is similar to the information you have already accepted as fact with a slightly added twist. Once this slightly twisted information is accepted as fact, Jeff would present you with more information, twisted just a little more. This twisting process continued for quite some time until I eventually stopped listening to the voice of God within altogether in favor of the teachings of this man I now thought to be incredibly inspired. I even began to take on his literal interpretation of the Bible where it claimed that women should not rule in the churches.

My Aunt Sharon, who lived in Kirtland and was very active in the local congregation, was extremely concerned. Like me, she had gotten bad vibes from Jeff from the first time she met him, although unlike me she was not as naive and trusting. My parents were also concerned. When they visited later that summer and I began sharing all my new "understandings" with them--including my change of mind on the issue of women in the priesthood, they were shocked that my views could have changed so drastically in a relatively short amount of time.

My mom chose to do something about it. She began to contact church leaders in Independence and elsewhere to make it known exactly what Jeff was teaching (which was very different from what the church taught). From that point on, my mother was a definite thorn in Jeff's side.

The story is continued at:

*(For more information on this incident, one of the best books written is Prophet of Death. the Mormon Blood-Atonement Killings by Pete Earley. It's very detailed and uncomfortably graphic, but he did his research well. Earley gets to the heart of why Jeff and his followers acted as they did, without bias. Also, A&E did a segment of their show American Justice on this topic: American Justice: The Cult Murders.)

Friday, February 25, 2011

To Trust In Man (Part 3)

Author's note: The following post is part of a series dealing with my experiences in the Jeffrey Lundgren cult and what I learned from those experiences. My hope is that my story will teach others the importance of listening to the voice of God within for their answers. Peace. cse

Relying On the Word

I grew up in a family where God and religion were priorities. In fact, my parents' social life consisted mainly of activities at church or get togethers with church friends. My dad was even in the priesthood and served a stint as pastor. He preached often although he worked fulltime as a computer programmer, and he was extremely knowledgeable about all three of the books my church considers scripture: the Bible, the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants. To this day I can recite many scriptures verbatim because my dad quoted them so often (and I have a good auditory memory). Relying on the word--God's Holy Scriptures--was part of my everyday life.

Jeff Lundgren was also extremely knowledgeable about the scriptures. After working with him at the Kirtland Temple for several weeks, I heard his vast scriptural knowledge firsthand. Jeff even taught an adult Sunday school class in the local congregation of my church when I first arrived in Kirtland. It was shortly after Jeff approached me with the "Even though we don't agree on the issues" line that I decided to attend a Bible study he was starting for some of the tour guides at the visitors center.

We met after hours in the small library in the back of the visitors center. As I allowed myself to open up to Jeff and his teachings a little more, I learned a lot about him personally. He and his wife, Alice, and their four children had come to Kirtland from Independence, Missouri, the site of our church headquarters. His study of the scriptures (particularly the Doctrine and Covenants) had convinced him that the Kirtland Temple was a place brimming with spiritual power--a power just waiting to be tapped into by the faithful.

The idea of great spiritual power definitately intrigued me. I had been raised with an old church concept known as Zion, God's kingdom on earth. Early revelations given to Joseph Smith, Jr. and preserved in the Doctrine and Covenants indicated the heart of Zion was to be located in Independence, Missouri. Growing up, my father brought the topic up often, as did his mother before him. My grandmother was so enamored with the idea she had turned her big old Victorian house in a river town in Iowa into a weigh station of sorts--a place where people who were "fleeing to Zion" could stop and rest for a bite to eat or a place to sleep. I knew that, with all the problems in the world, great spiritual power would be required to establish God's kingdom on earth.

The scripture Jeff used to support his point was written by Joseph Smith, Jr. in 1832. "Verily this is the word of the Lord, that the city New Jerusalem shall be built by the gathering of the Saints, beginning at this place, even the place of the temple, which temple shall be reared in this generation; for verily, this generation shall not all pass away until an house shall be built unto the Lord, and a cloud shall rest upon it, which cloud shall be even the glory of the Lord, which shall fill the house." (RLDS D&C 83:2a-b) Jeff pointed out two things about these verses. This revelation had been given in Kirtland, not in Independence. His emphasis was on the words "this place". He also pointed out that no temple had been built in Independence during Joseph Smith, Jr.'s lifetime. However, the Kirtland Temple had been erected during Joseph's lifetime.

Jeff had my attention. I was also one step closer to incorporating a more literal interpretation of scripture.

This story is continued at:

*(For more information on this incident, one of the best books written is Prophet of Death. the Mormon Blood-Atonement Killings by Pete Earley. It's very detailed and uncomfortably graphic, but he did his research well. Earley gets to the heart of why Jeff and his followers acted as they did, without bias. Also, A&E did a segment of their show American Justice on this topic: American Justice: The Cult Murders.)

Thursday, February 24, 2011

To Trust In Man (Part 2)

Author's note: The following post is part of a series dealing with my experiences in the Jeffrey Lundgren cult and what I learned from those experiences. My hope is that my story will teach others the importance of listening to the voice of God within for their answers. Peace. cse

Questioning My Intuition

Working with someone you instictively don't like is hard. Working with someone who intimidates you is even harder. You have to be strong enough to hold your own, all the while maintaining a certain maturity and professionalism. This is what defined my relationship with Jeff Lundgren the first few weeks of my summer job as "historic interpreter" at the Kirtland Temple in beautiful northeastern Ohio. Jeff certainly had an imposing presence. My intuition was throwing out all sorts of warning signals at me about Jeff, and I could feel that Jeff didn't really like me much either.

The church we both attended, The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (now called the Community of Christ), was at a crossroads. It was 1985, and the church had just decided to allow women to be called to priesthood responsibilities during its world conference the previous year. This caused a huge rift in the church. The more conservative among us, who usually took a more literal interpretation of scripture, sided with the apostle Paul, who said women should not rule in the churches. The more liberal among us went with the belief that women are very spiritual creatures and not allowing them to serve in priesthood capacities limits us all. Many people were leaving the church over the issue. Jeff was squarely in the conservative camp. I was definitely with the liberals.

While working with Jeff was not exactly easy, I tried to be professional. I did my best to focus on learning what I needed to know about the history of the building and helping out in the visitor center gift shop. I made sure to stay well away from the topic of women in the priesthood when Jeff or his wife Alice were around. Mostly, I worked to keep conversation with Jeff to a minimum. I figured the issue of women in the priesthood was not the only one we disagreed on. Disliking arguments, I tend not to bring up controversial issues. Avoiding Jeff seemed like a good approach to this nineteen-year-old.

Then one day, after working at the Temple for a few weeks, I was alone in the entrance to the visitors center waiting for the next guests who wanted a tour. Jeff walked in from the back. Seeing we were alone, Jeff approached me and said, "I know there is a lot we don't agree on, but I hope this won't keep us from having a good working relationship."

I always considered myself to be open-minded, and his statement touched me--at least the reasoning part of me. While my intuitive vibes were still cautionary, my mind thought, "Maybe I've misjudged him." I decided at that very moment to be a little more open to Jeff and what he had to say. "After all," my mind reasoned. "Anyone who can make that sort of statement can't be all bad."

That was my first mistake.

This story is continued at:

*(For more information on this incident, one of the best books written is Prophet of Death. the Mormon Blood-Atonement Killings by Pete Earley. It's very detailed and uncomfortably graphic, but he did his research well. Earley gets to the heart of why Jeff and his followers acted as they did, without bias. Also, A&E did a segment of their show American Justice on this topic: American Justice: The Cult Murders.)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

To Trust In Man (Part 1)

Author's note: The following post is the beginning of a series dealing with my experiences in the Jeffrey Lundgren cult and what I learned from those experiences. My hope is that my story will teach others the importance of listening to the voice of God within for their answers. Peace. cse

I think my whole life has been about seeking relationship with God. The church I grew up in emphasized personal relationship with the Divine as well as continued revelation to man, both on a church-wide and individual basis. By the time I was a teenager, I had such a good relationship with God I could often feel Him nudging me in certain directions. This inner knowing made my journey extremely easy when I followed it. It was only when I began to follow the advice of other people that I ran into problems.

My mom grew up in a scenic Ohio town near the shores of Lake Erie--a place called Kirtland. My family would travel there several times a year to stay with my grandparents and visit relatives and friends. Four hours in the car is a long time when you're a kid, but I was always rewarded by the sight of a beautiful white church, high on a hill, known as the Kirtland Temple. When I saw that monument to God, I knew we had arrived.

The Kirtland Temple was not used as a church any longer. It was more of a tourist attraction, although they would hold services there on special occasions like Easter and Christmas. My Aunt Sharon would take me with her to these services and regale me with tales of the building's history. I would sit and look at the craftsmanship of the carved woodwork and wonder at the miracles reported to have taken place there. It was a very peaceful place to sit and think. It was easy to hear the voice of God. I knew even then I was meant to come back one day and work as a tour guide, sharing the beauty and peace of this place with others.

I was accepted as a "historic interpreter" at the Kirtland Temple in the summer of 1985. After years of dreaming about sharing this incredible building with others (and an academic internship on historic interpretation the previous summer), I was finally getting my opportunity! The job came with a salary, a fully furnished apartment, a sweet, spiritually-minded roommate and a key to the Temple. One of my first adult goals was coming to fruition.

The Temple was run by a wonderful retired couple from New York whom I liked right away. My new roommate was also on staff, as were two other male college students I had worked with the previous summer. I liked all three of them. I wasn't sure what to make of the other couple who volunteered their time--Jeff and Alice Lundgren. Alice seemed pleasant enough, although she definitely played a subserviant role to her husband. Jeff was a whole different story. He had a large masculine presence and a deep, penetrating stare that was uncomfortable when you were its target. Something about him made me shy away from the very beginning, a fact that made his very conservative views even more abhorent to me. My mistake where Jeff was concerned was ignoring my intuition (my heart thoughts) to rely on my intellect (my mind thoughts). It was this mistake that taught me one of the most valuable lessons of my life--the dangers of trusting in another person for my answers.

Story continued at:

*(For more information on this incident, one of the best books written is Prophet of Death: The Mormon Blood-Atonement Killings by Pete Earley. It's very detailed and uncomfortably graphic, but he did his research well. Earley gets to the heart of why Jeff and his followers acted as they did, without bias. Also, A&E did a segment of their show American Justice on this topic: American Justice - The Cult Murders.)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Tradition or Truth?

In the course of re-examining my beliefs, it has become glaringly clear how often I stand in judgment of others. I know I'm in judgment because I will immediately be repulsed by certain situations. At this point in time, I ask myself, "What are these judgments based on?"  When I search for the answer, the judgment always seems to go back to those understandings I have acquired through my fellow man. My conclusion is that judgments stem wholly from tradition and not truth.

When I was a teenager, I was pretty good at hearing the voice of God within. At times, I would hear Him tell me that a certain person needed to hear specific words of counsel and that I needed to say them. I remember one time I was at church camp. I was to share some very specific words with a fellow camper. I did so and didn't think anything more about it until the last campfire of the week. During the "testimony" part of the campfire, the girl I had talked to stood up and told everyone how upset she was at God. She was upset because she had asked for some very specific answers for her life which had not been addressed that week. She then proceeded to tell us what those questions were. Imagine my shock when I realized all the answers she had asked for had been addressed by me earlier in the week.

I didn't bother to point it out to her for several reasons. I knew the girl had been raised in a conservative household. I knew she thought answers were only from God if they had come through a member of "His priesthood"--probably proceeded by highfalutin language like "Thus saith the Spirit" in order to make it official. There was also the problem that, as a female, I was not even allowed to be in the priesthood at that time. God had given her the exact answers she wanted, but because of her traditions she failed to recognize them for the blessings they were.

How often are we guilty of missing God's blessings because of a faulty tradition we have allowed to get in the way? It's time for all of us to re-examine our beliefs. Where did they come from? Did you learn them at the feet of your parents? Did they come from your (or your pastor's) interpretation of the Bible? Jesus himself showed us the way when he counseled, "The kingdom of God lies within". It is direct connection with God that is important. It is connection that allows us to know the Truth. The more we can see our traditions for what they are, the closer we get to God.    

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Other Side of Evil

January 8th, 2011 was a day of inexplicable evil in Tuscon, Arizona. Six people were left dead and many more were injured when a lone gunman fired at a crowd gathered to speak with U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords. Giffords, the intended target, suffered a critical gunshot wound to the head. While the country screamed about the senselessness of the crime, my thoughts were in a different place. I truly believe we choose our life experiences--particularly the big ones, and I was wondering what the purpose of such a horrifying act could be.

My thoughts and prayers were with all the victims and their families, but when I heard that Representative Giffords was still alive after being shot in the head, many of my thoughts focused on her. Within the next day or two, I learned that the bullet had affected just the left side of her brain (which is also why it did not kill her). What intrigued me about this fact was what I knew about the left side's function.

Several months prior, I had watched an insightful video of a talk given by a brain researcher named Jill Bolte Taylor. (You can watch this amazing video here: ) In it, she talks about the experience she had when a stroke affected the left side of her brain. Being a scientist, Dr. Taylor had a rather concrete, rational view of the world. The left side of the brain is where most rational thought comes from. When the stroke began to shut this rational side down, Dr. Taylor experienced a world she had not experienced before--the limitless consciousness of the right brain. She finally understood there was more to life than our individual selves. There is a place where we truly are One with the Universe and everything in it.

I obviously don't know Representative Giffords personally, yet from reports I have gathered she is an incredibly hard-working, thoughtful, rational sort of person. When I learned the rational part of her brain had been affected, my first thought was, "Maybe this will give her the insight she needs to make decisions based on an expanded awareness of the Universe instead of the usual limited thoughts of the rational mind! This is exactly the way politicians need to think in order to get us out of the mess our rational minds have gotten us into!"

Granted, this is speculation on my part, but I can see the possibilites! It is no accident Giffords is still alive and making rapid progress. Just because the experience hasn't come full circle yet doesn't make it bad. If nothing else, she has already inspired countless individuals around the world by her courage, strength and determination as well as focused a spotlight on brain injury (in my view though, this is probably just icing on the cake). There is no doubt the experience is changing Giffords.

When we see something evil, we tend to focus on the misery such an experience brings. I'm here to say, there is another side to evil. It's the side that says, "We can endure, we will get stronger and we will learn in the process!" The other side of evil makes us better, and better is what we came here to be. 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Of Children and Old People

In American culture, neither children nor old people are very respected. We look down at children as being too young and inexperienced to know anything. The elderly are considered naive, behind the times, or too senile to make sense. In any case, they don't live in the real world. The irony is, children and old people are the only ones who truly get it.

Take children. They see every day as a day filled with possibilities. They appreciate the feel of grass under their toes, the magnificent beauty of a dandelion and the sound of a stream as it goes gurgling by. They have invisible playmates and they know how to use their imaginations. They often don't live in the "real world"--the world inhabited by working adults, and that's just the way they like it.

Now look at the elderly. They have been in the world of the working adult, and they usually value the experiences they have had. Many times they can see where they went wrong, but in their wisdom they understand it was all a learning process. Sometimes they even get to a point where they live in the imaginary world of the past (we often call it Alzheimer's). They don't live in the "real world" either, and that's just the way they like it.

The thing is, I'm not so sure the world of thought and imagination is as imaginary as we like to think. There are things that happen on the spiritual plane--the land of "imagination"--that often transform themselves into the physical plane. Imagination can be used to work through mental and emotional problems which have real world effects. Great inventions and masterpieces come from this place. There is so much more to the land of thought and imagination than meets the eye.

Maybe children and old people have it right after all.

Monday, February 14, 2011

You Are Loved!

It's Valentine's Day once again. Reading my friends' postings on Facebook and Twitter, I am reminded of the many different sorts of Valentine's Days I've had in the past. I can remember my mom's Valentine's tokens growing up. I can remember sending and receiving Valentines in grade school. I can remember Valentine's Day with my first love. I can remember the years I spent as a single mom--romantically lonely but still with my wonderful children to love. Today, I still have my children, but I've found romantic love once again. The thing is, we often place so much importance on romantic love and on the tokens of love on a day like today we forget what's truly important. The truth is, we are all loved in very profound ways!

As I sit back and listen to the silence, I feel and hear the energies of the Universe calling to me. "You are loved! You are loved! You are loved!" The thought is so pervasive for me, and yet I know there are many people out there so lonely and hurt it can be hard for them to hear such a message. Still it is there, and it calls out to each one of us!

Deep inside each person is a light. You might call it a spirit or a soul, but whatever term you use this light is perfect. We sometimes have a difficult time seeing this perfection because it is contained in an imperfect shell, but it is perfect all the same. This is the place in all of us that is truly worthy to be loved! The ability to love yourself stems from the knowledge of this inner light. Take the time to acknowledge it within yourself.

As you explore this inner light and recognize its profound beauty, listen to the silence. It is from this silence the voice of the Universe--the voice of God--speaks to you. "You are light! You are worthy! You are loved!" Allow yourself to experience this love. It is the Universe's ultimate you can experience every day!

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Problem With Religion

The world has so many problems, it's hard to know where to turn. Very often, people choose to turn to religion as religion seems to have the answers. On an individual basis, religion can have a positive effect. Many lives have been brought back from the brink of collapse by an alliance with one religion or another. Still, if religion had a handle on truth, the world would be a much better place than the problem-filled thing it is. There would be more agreement and less argument, right? In my view, the problem with religion goes back to what religion was created for in the first place. Religions were created as a way to control the masses. They were designed to take away our right to choose.

If you look at the basics of religion, you see some commonalities. Typically, you find a supreme being and a list of rules to be followed in order to be "saved". This is as true for the native who worships the active volcano he lives beside to the Christian who believes he is a sin-filled creature who can only be saved by the the sacrifice of the perfect man/god. The question is, where do all these "rules" come from?

Look at Christianity. It's definitely been an evolutionary process. Jesus preached his message for about three years and gained many followers. Those closest to him went to various places in the world to spread that message. What they taught varied somewhat, depending on which points had impacted them the most. The earliest Christian writings to date, written in Aramaic (which was the language Christ spoke), were copied and translated into other languages, often with errors. At times the original stories were embellished and added to. Other Christian writings are more recent and originally written in other languages altogether (mostly Greek). The apostle Paul, the most prolific Christian writer, did not even know Jesus personally and had been very active in persecuting Christians until his conversion. Paul's greatest accomplishment perhaps was the fact he was the person who took the message of Christianity to Rome, where we first see the effects of control on Christianity.

The year was A.D. 325, and the Roman Emperor Constantine was in power. Seeing that most of the people he ruled were Christian, he decided to make the state religion Christianity. At that time, the churches were largely disjointed and believed many different things. There were also still many pagan beliefs being practiced. Constantine invited religious leaders of the day to come together in order to unify the thoughts and beliefs of followers. The result was the Council of Nicaea, which was responsible for cannonizing the current New Testament and generally defining what Christianity believed. Dissent and self-thought were discouraged. What motivated Constantine? The need to give his constiuents a uniform, more easily followed set of rules to help keep them in line.

Look at religions today. Many impose a limiting authority over their followers. If you commit this sin or that sin you are condemned to eternal hell. This motivates many believers to follow the rules, and it maintains order. You can even see this influence in politics as people try to impose their personal religious beliefs on society at large. In countries where the state is controlled by religion, the religious rules must be obeyed or dire (and often deadly) consequences will result. Control and religion seem to go hand in hand.

A well-known Christian belief states that Jesus came to set the captive free. I do believe he taught the way to freedom, and it has nothing to do with the rules and regulations imposed on us through religion. Jesus also taught that the kingdom of God is within. To me, this point is key. We can indeed find our own answers as we learn to connect to the God that is contained within each one of us. Problems arise when we limit our beliefs to information gained outside ourselves. The problem with religion is that it does not set us free. It makes us slaves to those who desire to control us.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Got Problems?

I don't know anybody without some problems to deal with. Life is a series of highs and lows, and although we often strive for the highs the lows are inevitable. Society views problems as bad things. At times, we even look down on people with problems because we see them as not coping "correctly" with the situation. Within the past year, I have learned the truth about problems. The truth is, problems are good things!

One of my all time favorite quotes comes from Teilhard de Chardin:
     We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.
To understand this, it is important to define human and spiritual. I would define human as a being with inherent flaws, imperfections and weaknesses. I would define spiritual as those things relating to God and the divine. What de Chardin talks of is his view that we are not imperfect beings looking for perfection. We are perfect beings looking to understand imperfection.

That's precisely what our human experience is all about. We are here to learn. We are here to understand. We are here to grow. Our journey on earth is not about attaining perfection. Our journey is about understanding the differences and contrasts so we are better able to understand ourselves and the whole.

When I look back I my life I realize one important fact: my problems have served me much better than my achievements. My problems have forced me to think, analyze, and get creative. Sometimes I have made the same mistake over and over again before getting it right. Over time, this has made me smarter, stronger and better. I don't get upset over my problems anymore. I ask myself, "What am I supposed to learn from all this?" Life is all about the learning, and I appreciate that.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Problem of Control

Control has always been a big issue for me. When I was a small child, I was very bold, popular and friendly. This often led to taking control of the situation, sometimes at the expense of others. When I was around twelve, I learned that I was indeed quite controlling and that others often resented it. Since that time, my desire has been to control myself and let others come to their own conclustions. Still, even with years of practice, there are times when I falter in big ways. The thing is, control is a huge problem. Seeking to control others not only blocks some of their energy, but it also blocks your own.

I recently encountered a situation with a person I consider a really good friend. He pointed out to me there were times he felt I was subtly trying to teach him a lesson, and he resented it as he really didn't see me as a teacher or mentor. As I thought about it, I realized he was right. I value him so much I want him to have the benefit of alternative perspectives. The thing is, his life is not about me anymore than my life is about him. He is learning the things he needs to learn in this lifetime, and these lessons are in no way dependent on me or my help. I decided that I did need to give him his space to learn what he came here to learn, so I let go of that friendship for a while. There was too much tension between us (which should have been an obvious sign to me in the first place). I am not hurt or angry or upset in any way, and I wish him well on his journey.

The interesting part for me has been the result of this action. As I let go of my control, I feel the release of energy and emotions--one of those breathing a sigh of relief sort of moments. As I let go of the tension, better emotions fill me. I've also discovered I have been attracting some really amazing, uplifting friends who are refilling this void. Giving up trying to control this friend has been incredibly transforming for me.

It is said that everyone who comes into your life is a teacher. Lesson learned. Thank you, my friend.