Sunday, May 26, 2013

Is Our Suffering God’s Will?

A subscriber sent me an email with an article that had appeared on It was pertinent, according to the sender, since the news about the Oklahoma tornado. The article was about a young man, Joshua Prager, who had just written a book about a horrible accident he has suffered 23 years earlier. His book is titled: "Half-Life: Reflections from Jersusalem on a Broken Neck" published by Byliner.
(CNN) -- At noon on May 16, 1990, a runaway truck struck a minibus at the foot of Jerusalem and bound together the lives of 22 people: 18 Israeli Chasidim, two American Jews, an Israeli Arab and an Israeli Jew who had just found religion. The last died at the wheel of his bus. The rest of us returned to our homes to heal -- a medical jet flying me, my broken neck and a respirator back to New York. I was 19.
… I was a hemiplegic and would be always. And when last year I returned to Jerusalem at age 40, stepping from the plane with my cane and ankle brace, I hoped to write of the crash and its place in my life….
Was it owing to the crash that I was not married, that I was ever-mindful of time, that people seemed to tell me what they told no one else? I wondered if my crash-mates wondered similar things. I wondered how they had made sense of the crash. And so, 22 years after it, I set off to look for them.
I found the Chasidim first. They were a large extended family that, together with me and my American friend, had been riding the bus to Jerusalem where they planned to worship at the Western Wall, the Kotel. I found them in the ultra-Orthodox town of Bnei Brak. They welcomed me into their home.
Surrounded by seven shelves of holy books, Yaakov, the family patriarch, told me that God had caused the crash and spared our lives. He said we had to follow the example of Job and serve God though we did not understand him.
Next, I found the widow of the bus driver. She was a secular Jew of Yemeni descent and lived in the industrial town of Petach Tikvah. (She wished to keep her name private.) She told me that her husband had feared nothing but God. And, she said, it was God who had ordained the crash. "It is written," she told me. "If you don't believe that, you will go crazy."
Finally, in the Arab town of Kfar Qara, I found the driver whose truck had crashed into the left rear of the bus where I sat. Abed told me that he had become religious after the crash and that the crash was an act of God. He then paused from his coffee and his Hebrew to speak an Arabic word: Maktoob. "It is written."
I left Abed, mindful as I drove south toward Jerusalem that, in this land of competing narratives, Arab and Jew were for once in perfect agreement.
Now -- 23 years later -- it finally is. I have written my book. And it occurs to me that whenever any of us wish to assimilate why we suffer (or prosper), we must choose between these same two narratives. We can attribute our lots to God and his writings, his unknowable ways. Or we can root them in the natural world and chronicle them ourselves -- on paper or simply in our minds. We can take comfort in ultimate if inscrutable justice. Or we can take comfort in observable reason and responsibility.
We can take comfort in some form of God’s justice or in the observable natural world of reason and responsibility. These were the only two choices he believed he had after he had rationally distilled the situation.
But what if there is a third choice?
I, like Mr. Prager, cannot believe in a God that orchestrates auto crashes in Israel or tornados in Oklahoma in order to “teach some of us some kind of lesson.” That is not the unconditional love of humankind that Jesus portrayed. That is the “love” of a God of an extremely patriarchal late Bronze Age mentality. That is the creation of a Supreme Being – male, of course – that is merely a gigantic, overblown version of ourselves: Judgmental, aggressive, jealous, power hungry and insecure, vindictive and, apparently, very finicky.
Our egos try very hard to demand answers of situations that cause grief, physical pain, emotional anguish and destruction. Our egos need to make sense of things. What else is “being in control” all about, if it isn’t this?
But grief, physical pain, emotional anguish and destruction are all an illusionary set of meanings we apply to the events of our perceived world. It is the same with the more positive meanings, as well. These meanings are of our own creation. [This was the subject of last week’s post: Why Is It So Difficult To Change What I Perceive?]
There are physical laws and spiritual laws we live by and they work whether we believe or acknowledge them. The most innocent baby will fall from a 10-story window due to gravity. God will continue to love us unconditionally whether we think we “deserve” it or not. Our egos cannot comprehend these kinds of things – so we concoct a god that plays favorites and can be rather whimsical when it comes to who lives or dies in a natural catastrophe. Thinking that way allows my ego to continue to believe it’s in control – it can still choose whether or not to believe in God or to trust Him or to love Him or to believe He truly accepts me as I am.
There is a third choice.
As ACIM has taught me, I am not an ego. I am not a human being. The True Me does not live in a physical body that houses – somewhere – an eternal soul, which God will either bless or damn at my physical death. I am an already-loved eternal spirit that is permanently connected to and loved by God – always have been and always will be.  Amen.
Just because I perceive something as either good or bad, doesn’t make it so. As friends in AA used to tell me, “Don, you don’t have to believe in everything you think.”
Although these messages are mostly for me, thanks for listening. As always – feel free to forward this message to your friends, family, and those accompanying you on your spiritual journey.
PS:  I will be on holiday for 2 weeks. There will be no posts from me during that time.
#4 May, 2013
Copyright, 2013

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Why Is It So Difficult To Change What I Perceive?

A subscriber recently asked: “Why isn’t what I perceive accurate? After all, everyone else perceives or see just like I do.” Thank you for another excellent question.
A Course in Miracles (ACIM) distinguishes between seeing and perception. On this physical plane we see with our eyes and our egos equate that with perception, as if it’s reality. On the spiritual (or real) plane we still see with our eyes but perceive with true vision. We have interpreted what we’ve seen with our Christ mind or our True Self.
What we see is not how we apply meaning. Meaning (or perception) does not come from eyeballs, rods and cones in our retina, or optic nerves. Meaning is applied by our minds. Change your mind and you will change your meaning. Changed meaning leads to changed perception.
We’ve all been to family reunions or wedding gatherings where there are a lot of camera flashes, as picture after picture is taken. Inevitably there are infants who, after several flash-and-clicks, begin to reach for the “flash bulb bubbles” that are floating before them. The bubbles are real to them. All of us smile and think: “Isn’t that just darling!”
Although we’ve grown, we still try to grab perceived bubbles, as if they’re real. Our bubbles have changed, of course. For example, individuals, who have studied federal and state regulations and have learned how to “milk” the Medicaid or Food Stamp programs, are considered to be Welfare Queens. We lose respect for them. Corporations, whose legal offices have found unintended “holes” in state and federal tax codes and have learned how to “milk” that system, are considered to be sharp business tycoons.
It’s all meaning. It’s all perception.
While living in Saint Augustine, Florida, my wife and I were downtown one afternoon just enjoying walking, window-shopping, and people-watching. We stopped for a pastry and iced tea at a small French bakery/bistro off Charlotte Street. There were quite a few motorcycles outside. As we walked in there was a large table of bikers and biker-babes – all dressed in black leather, of course. I guess I was expecting Marlon Brando and his bunch of “Wild Ones.” Regardless of my predisposition, they were perfectly polite, social adept, and, as I listened, were speaking French!  My confidence in the “rightness” of my anticipated perception was shattered. All I could do was laugh.
If meaning doesn’t come from my retina, where does it come from? My ego. Your ego. Our taught social/cultural ego. Yes, many have applied the same meaning to similar situations because we’ve all been taught in similar ways. That doesn’t mean it’s correct. It just means we were taught similarly. The Course says: “It is surely the mind that judges what the eyes behold. It is the mind that interprets the eyes’ messages and gives them the “meaning.” And this meaning does not exist in the world outside at all.” [M-8.3:3-5]
We do not “see” meaning. We see things – colors, shapes, objects, and movement. The meaning we assign these things comes from our minds. We’ve all had the experience of noticing something and then seeing it all over the place. I had a friend tell me this past week that she had noticed a bumper sticker on my car that says; COEXIST. It uses symbols from all major religions as its letters. She laughed, then went on to tell me how many other cars she has seen with that same bumper sticker. I told her how we had that same experience after we bought a Toyota Prius – an electric/gas hybrid car. Driving around, suddenly, we noticed there were dozens of Priuses all over the place. We simply hadn’t noticed them.
The Course also recognizes this. “Perception selects, and makes the world you see.” [T-21.V.1:1] As Robert Perry wrote, “If I look for acts of kindness, I’ll live in a different world than the person who focuses on acts of callousness, and each of us will live in a different world than the guy who has a shoe fetish. What we focus on makes our world.” [Path of Light, Circle Publishing, 2004, p.98]
This all sounds very sweet and innocuous. The trouble arises when I say to myself: “I focus on acceptance and kindness, and so I’m more right than the person who focuses on selfishness and greed or the person who has a shoe fetish.”
And I love to be right!
Therein lies my problem. More of my life than I want to admit is a simply a replay of the French bakery/bistro. My perception is coming from my mind, which is replaying tapes and lessons from my past. But the past isn’t here anymore. [Last week I discussed how I make my past my present.]
I’m still working on all this, though. Simply bless me and ask for lots of patience – you’ll need it.
Although these messages are mostly for me, thanks for listening. As always – feel free to forward this message to your friends, family, and those accompanying you on your spiritual journey.
#3 May, 2013
Copyright, 2013

Saturday, May 11, 2013

My Past Always Becomes My Present

One of the earliest lessons I began to understand in A Course in Miracles (ACIM) was the concept of NOW.
I had come to believe that NOW is always; Now is eternal. I believed that is what Jesus meant when He said, according to the Gospel accounts:
“The constant theme of his message – sometimes in sayings, sometimes in parables, sometimes in works of healing and attending remarks – was to proclaim the ’good news’: The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent. Quit looking ‘out there’ as the source of your problems or the source of your solutions. Look inside you. The Kingdom is already there and has always been there. The Kingdom is now, and now is always eternal. Just as leaven is invisible, yet changes the nature of dough, the Kingdom of God in your heart will change your perception of reality….” [Donald O’Dell, How the Bible became the Bible, Infinity Publishing, 2007, p. 118.]
Because that was my understanding, the essential message of Eckhart Tolle, (The Power of Now) resonated immediately with me. What I learned in AA also reinforced the concept of NOW. Do not take a drink TODAY (not next week or all year long). Take life 24 hours at a time. It’s not an old behavior if I continue doing it.
But, what do I do about my past? I remember things from my past. Events of NOW remind me of the past. Sometimes I try to duplicate past events in order to repeat experiences that have led to very fond memories. But ACIM tells me there is no past. It says: “The one true thing I know about the past is that it is not here.” [WP1-8.2:1]There is only the present. NOW. In my ego-mind of sequential time, there is a past, the present, and the future. But in ACIM-reality there is only NOW.
This troubled me, but I am growing in my understanding.
I have begun to grasp the false illusion my ego continues to bombard me with. “Of course,” it says. “There is a past. Donnie, you can avoid bad results or repeat pleasant ones by looking at your past experiences.”  I am learning to understand that bringing tinted filters of the past, then placing them over my current perception, always colors the present I am focusing on. By remembering the past it has become my ego-mind’s present because I’m thinking about it NOW. Quite often I’m not merely remembering it, but I’m reliving it. All over again I feel the joy, satisfaction, pain, fear, dread, or disappointment. Within the 6-inch universe that exists between my ears my past has become my NOW.
It’s always NOW! I’m either living in the present or I’m reliving the past AS my present.
I remember interviewing a candidate for an analyst’s position in my organization at Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Texas. I asked him to describe the kind of work he did during the 9 years at his current company. He explained how the company operated on an annual cycle – monthly and quarterly financial audits and reports with an annual summary, trends and analysis. I then asked him to explain how each year was different from each other. He didn’t understand my question. I clarified by asking him to explain why he thought he had 9 years of experience rather then one year’s experience he had repeated 8 times. He got angry and terminated the interview.
I certainly didn’t understand – then – how profound my comment really was. I certainly didn’t understand how to apply that comment to myself. I didn’t understand how that concept applied to the reality of my financial difficulties, whether I was earning $13,000 per year, or $30,000, or $80,000. It took another 8 years for me to hit my financial and booze bottom and begin my recovery in AA.
This week I had a tiff with my spouse. I had brought up a tinted filter from my past and it colored the perception I had of the actual event. I reacted (not responded) to my tinted perception and it hurt her. So, I correct my error, try to learn from it, and try to move on – forgiving both myself and the perceptions I have projected on her.
AA taught me to use the Tenth Step – “When we were wrong, promptly admitted it….” ACIM tells me in every encounter with another the Holy Spirit will work to correct my perception of events – to help me see things through Christ eyes. [T-8.III.4:1-5] These can be gracious, open, loving encounters or they can be ugly, petty, hurtful encounters. The Holy Spirit will use all my good/bad/ugly encounters to help me grow spiritually by continuing to begin to perceive things differently.
As painful as it may be, what a blessing!
Although these messages are mostly for me, thanks for listening. As always – feel free to forward this message to your friends, family, and those accompanying you on your spiritual journey.
#2 May, 2013
Copyright, 2013

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Ask! Ask! Ask! Why Is That So Difficult For Me?

The other day I got an email message about friendship and love. I’ve gotten them before. So have you. The message concluded with instructions similar to this: Forward this on if you are not ashamed of Jesus. Remember what the Apostle said: if you are ashamed of Him, He will be ashamed of you. If you send it to 5 people you will receive a little…. If you send it to 10 people you will receive….. If you send it to more than 15 people, you will be rewarded beyond belief.
I know these kinds of emails have embedded “hooks” that get registered by the person who originated this message. The purpose is to get you to forward these messages on because the originators are picking off all the email addresses. They already “know” you are susceptible to this kind of message. This is critical information that can be sold to email marketers.
The actual scriptural reference is “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, in this wicked and godless age [circa 70AD], the Son of Man will be ashamed of him, when he comes in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” Mark, 8:38 – New English Bible.
Nevertheless, I always feel a twinge of guilt, fear and doubt as I empty this particular email (and other similar messages) into the trash.
Oddly (?) enough, the use of this very verse is discussed by Helen Schucman (pronounced Shoosh-Man) as she was beginning to channel or transcribe the text of A Course in Miracles.
It is the mid-1960s and Helen is just beginning to scribe (or take dictation, if you will) the words of the Course. According to Wapnick, who wrote of her life and her efforts in scribing the Course, her early notes contained all sorts of asides furnished her after questions and argumentative comments arose from her mind. Jesus would calmly answer them. She wrote down her objections and his comments, as well as his dictation. These personal asides were omitted from the final published text.  [Absence from Felicity – the story of Helen Schucman and her scribing of A Course in Miracles, Kenneth Wapnick, PhD, Foundation for A Course in Miracles, 1991].
In one of these asides Jesus clarified this biblical verse from the Gospel according to Mark. “The biblical quotation ‘If you are ashamed of Me I will be ashamed of you,’ [can be] interpreted as a threat only as long as you…do NOT recognize that there is nothing that one would want to hide, even if it were possible to do so…. What [the quotation] really means is that if you are ashamed of Me (or embarrassed by Love), you will [continue to] project [your ego’s illusions onto others] and make it impossible for Me to reach you.” [ibid., p. 234]
Jesus goes on to say that cluttering up your mind with all sorts of trivia, accomplishes much the same thing. I cannot focus on my true function in this physical world, if I am constantly at the mercy of my monkey-mind, which carries on multiple conversations in my head all the time and inundates me with all sorts of critical/urgent/important tasks/decisions/activities that I MUST attend to. Now!
In this kind of situation, Jesus reminds Helen (and all if us) to ask for His help. He will work with us – even in very trivial matters – in this illusionary dream state we call “reality,” so that our minds can remain reasonably focused on working with Him to fulfill our purpose – forgiving others and ourselves. This is forgiveness, not for biblical “sins,” but for our errors in believing this world is real, that our perceptions are based on actual reality, that our angers, resentments, and fears are truly justified, that we are all separate beings – I am me and you are not.
I am retired and work on these messages throughout the week. I couldn’t do this if I were sitting at my desk in my study worrying about how I was going to come up with the money to fix the car so I could take my spouse to the hospital. I couldn’t do this if I were constantly preoccupied with how I’m going to come up with my annual property taxes, or the rent, or the mortgage, or the grocery bill. I couldn’t do this if I were constantly glued to the TV watching political pundits rail about everything under the sun and keeping me angry and frustrated at the political opposition.
Jesus understands all this and will help, if I ask. He wants my help and will give me His to achieve our common purpose in this illusionary world – true perception and forgiveness.
But I must ask.
Why is this so hard for me to do? Why do I simply forget to ask?
My ego doesn’t want to relinquish its control over me. It wants me to continue to believe I am my ego. It doesn’t want me to know if I truly pursue the reality ACIM says is actually “real,” then my ego will begin to die. So, it fights me. It fights my attempts to meditate. It confuses me. It keeps my ego-mind distracted by petty little thoughts. It attempts to drown out the Voice of the Holy Spirit with meaningless drivel.
And it is very successful in keeping me so preoccupied I forget to ask for help.
All this sounds very silly as I write this. It sounds like the comedian Flip Wilson, whose famous line was: “The devil made me do it.” Regardless, it has been very, very difficult for me lately to deal with my busy-body mind. Nevertheless, my “higher” mind has to learn to exercise discipline over my egoic mind and ask for help. That is my challenge. That is the lesson hiding in everyone I meet – be they nice, friendly, arrogant, angry, or bigoted. However, that is tough for me today. I am a work in progress.
Although these messages are mostly for me, thanks for listening. As always – feel free to forward this message to your friends, family, and those accompanying you on your spiritual journey.
#1 May, 2013
Copyright, 2013