Religion VS. Relationship

July 21, 2009

(The following is an excerpt from my upcoming newsletter…:-)

Religion VS. Relationship

Religion is man’s distorted, manipulative attempt to harness the god story and use it to further his own selfish purposes.

Relationship is God’s idea of how we’re to co-exist – with him and with each other.

Religion is based in fear, guilt, shame, and bondage.

Relationship is based in love, freedom, peace, and self-expression.

It is vital that each one of us recognize that there is a difference, because I have seen so many people go through their entire lives with spirits that are in such severe atrophy and anguish that it’s a wonder to me that they are still alive. And I don’t use that wording lightly.

When you begin to understand that man’s religion is different from the Creator’s model of relationship, everything begins to change.

Seeing relationship instead of religion makes us look differently at ourselves and our relationship with God.  Instead of seeing ourselves how man sees us – and attempting to live up to some distorted, guilt-ridden code of conduct – we are allowed to see ourselves as free, as powerful, and as beautiful.

Whereas religion seeks to reduce the individual to some kind of robotic, indistinguishable clone that never does anything bold or dangerous, a thriving relationship with the Creator God brings us a colorful, purposeful life filled with greatness and brilliance.

When we are in relationship with the Truth, with God, it means we no longer have to live with the idea that we somehow don’t make the cut.  He’s already made the way for us to be called “worthy, family.”

It changes how we look at our earthly relationships.  It forces us to consider the idea that we are all connected in some powerful, eternal way – again, to each other and to God.  Which, if that’s the case, then we have got to learn to treat each other better, right?

If religion divides us and puts us into all these little categories and then tells us to hate everyone not in our little category, then relationship kicks down the walls and tells us that we are all connected, and that the fundamental elements holding all of this together are love, not hate.

Freedom, not fear.

Joy, not sorrow.

Life, not death.

So today, will you be religious, or will live like you’re in the best relationship in the universe?

Military Leadership from an Iraq Vet.

June 4, 2009

“I can’t think about anything other than being in the moment because that kind of thinking can get me or someone else killed.”

In this interview, I chat with Daryll Hill, an Iraq war vet, about the importance of understanding what being a leader – and submitting to authority – means to him.

In mine and your world, if we don’t understand leadership, we might get passed over for a promotion, get a ticket from a police officer, or cause some waves in our church or organization.

In Daryll’s world – and the world of the soldier – missing the boat on leadership and service can mean the difference between life and death.

Brain Drain

May 24, 2009

Turn off the TV.

Put down the newspaper.

There is a world spinning past you.

I was talking to someone the other day who went on vacation, a camping trip to the mountains.  Granted, she was a small home-based business owner, but she was telling me how much trouble it was to disconnect.  She was tempted to check her emails and voicemail and do some work.

This is a common problem for us today.  We’re at the height of technology and science and gadgetry.  Seemingly each day, a must-have toy or software program comes out on the market to keep us “connected,” something to help us stay organized and efficient.  We’ve no sooner figured out how to use it than something better comes along, and we start the cycle again.

I’m a gadget guy.  I love James Bond and the high-tech spy movies.  I’m a total sucker.  I can easily spend hours and days working on the computer.  Every two years I like to completely reformat my hard drive and give myself a fresh start, and I love to do it.  I’m totally on board with iPod® and iPhone® and the entire on-demand thing.  My dvr is always running, grabbing up all those episodes of The Family Guy and Lost.

But I can tell when I’ve been too absorbed, and I’ll tell you exactly when that is.  It’s at the end of a Sunday during football season.  I’m a huge fan, and I can easily lay around all Saturday and Sunday flipping from game to game and pre and post game talk shows.  Maybe I’ll have had some beers.  But I’m pretty much a drooling mess.

I’ve seen a couple hundred ads for beer and cars and fantasy football and oil and more cars.  My emotions are drained from all the excitement of watching the Steelers win again (yes, the Steelers.  Bring it.)  There’s been no real mental or spiritual stimulation, so my brain is just kind of numb.

And in moments like that, I think about all the people who do that every day.  People who never unplug.  People who don’t realize that each ad, each commercial, each bit of information, is all going inside somewhere.  It doesn’t just go in and out.     It gets lodged somewhere, and until it’s processed properly, it builds up.

It’s like plaque.  Either in our veins or our mouth, if we’re not taking active steps to remove the harmful deposits, there will be a buildup until something happens.  Either a cavity or a coronary.

Information is the same way.  There’s a passage in the Bible that says “take every thought captive.”  That means that we really need to be very aware of the stimuli and influences that are fighting for our headspace.  There’s a saying in the computer world “GIGO – garbage in garbage out.”  Kind of in line with the “reap what you sow” principle.  If you want a harvest of goodness, put goodness into you.  Or at least weed the garden every once in a while.

The problem we face today is this constant, incredible speed at which we’re moving.  We find it extremely hard to unplug, to shut down.  There are lots of people who I’ve talked to who have the theory that they can “sleep when they die.”  We were not created to be 24/7.  We need sleep.  We need silence and reflection.  Or we’ll eventually end up depressed, angry, and cold.

The truth is that we are organic physical and spiritual beings that can only handle so much artificial substance before we begin to break down.  Whether that means eating right, exercising, or unplugging from our technology, we MUST give our bodies, minds, and spirits a break, a time to reboot.

If you are reading this and feel a deep down tension, like you just don’t have enough time or energy, or you feel scattered in your mind and spirit, I challenge you to unplug, at least for a little bit.  Go for a walk on the beach or in the mountains, and instead of thinking about the bills or time you’re wasting or the paper you need to write or the kids, look at the sky and trees and the natural beauty.

Do a 30 day fast from all unnecessary media (whoa, crazy, huh?)  Shut off the TV, pick up some books from the library, and really make an effort to stay quiet.  At the end of those 30 days, you’ll be amazed at how clean and peaceful you feel.

One of your necessary elements, crucial to your success as a fully functioning, fully alive human being, is peace.  (To see some others, sign up for my newsletter.)  The absence of conflict.  How can you have peace when you’re bombarded by thousands and thousands of messages all pulling you in separate directions?  How can you be at peace when you never stop to take a breath?

The point of this life is life.

In every way possible.

You were put here to LIVE, not just exist.

And unplugging is a good start.

Does God Use Drugs?

May 24, 2009

Seems like a strange question, doesn’t it?  Possibly heretical?

I was having this discussion with a guy yesterday about how we get from place to place in our lives, and I began to tell him about how my life took a major turn when I began to use drugs, particularly LSD.

A lot of sacred cows in my life were slaughtered during this stretch of time, which was about five good solid years.  It’s not a time that I egret at all, and in fact am very thankful for.  But it does raise the question: did God use these drugs to guide me into the place that I’m at today?

I guess we have to start out with the idea that God is indeed leading our lives, that if we are willing to turn over control, that He will make the highest and best use of them.  Personally, I have too much evidence to say that I’m just wandering in the breeze.  I know that there’s a plan, and if I’m a created being, which I also believe, then it makes perfect sense for me to believe that there is someone who is extremely interested in how His creation turns out.

So I believe that God used drugs to help shape me and form me.  I believe that as much as I believe that reading books or watching movies has shaped me.  I don’t believe it was His first choice though.

So why would He allow me to be a part of such a seemingly anti-religious lifestyle?  After all, don’t most of us hear from the time we’re little that drugs are bad and that you are some kind of lowlife if you use them?

If He is my Father, as He calls Himself in the Bible, then why would a parent with so much love towards their child allow that child to endanger themselves?

Could it be because He’s also given us the right to choose our own paths and make our own decisions?  Could it be because decisions and choosing are how we learn about Him, how we grow closer and discover more of who we are and what He means to us?

As my son Ethan continues to grow and become aware of the world around him, I find myself giving him just a little more freedom than he previously had.  He’s now playing with markers and crayons, and I’m not nearly as cautious about it than I was when he first picked them up.

Do you know why?  Because he’s already tasted them.  He’s already hurt himself with them and made a mess.  This is expected when kids are growing up.  It takes time to get familiar with something new, and there are going to be mistakes.  But I don’t want to rob him of his creativity and awe of life by trying to keep him in this cocoon and insulate him from any kind of failure.

The same applies to us.  We’re going to make mistakes.  We’re going to taste things that make us vomit.  Some things we do are extremely dangerous and hazardous to our health.  Some things will get us killed.

But God allows stuff.  I don’t know why He allows all that He does.  To me, there is too much pain and too much suffering on this earth to believe that it is all good with God, that God is somehow just letting it all pass in front of Him for the sake of seeing us learn and discover.  In fact, I believe that He’s in pain watching most of the stuff we do.

But I also believe that even through all these mistakes and wanderings, He’s always telling us what the best way is, every day.  And for me, my wanderings led me into the world of drugs and experimentation.  And while I can’t believe that He was thrilled with my decisions, He wasn’t going to cast me into some outer darkness or abandon me because of them.

Instead, He spent that time placing His purpose and dreams inside of me.  He was patient and loving, even as I was ugly and dangerous.  When I was seeing little cartoon figures running around on a lake, He was seeing the potential and texture that was being grafted into my life.  He protected me when I was truly in danger.  And most of all, He never gave up on me.

So if you find yourself wandering or wondering or feeling guilty, please relax.  God doesn’t hate you.  He’s not even angry.  He loves you, and sincerely wants you to examine what you’re doing. He hopes that at some point you realize that His plans are better and more complete for you, and if you tap into them, they will awaken something that you’ve been aching to find.

All you have to do is pay attention.

Why You Get Taken Advantage Of (Part II)

May 24, 2009

Who are you trying to please?

That’s what it comes down to.  We live our lives seeking approval.  We do strange things and make critical choices based on what we want other people to think of us.

The problem with this is that those people we’re trying to please aren’t living our lives.  They ultimately have no bearing on who we are meant to be.  Yet we operate most of our lives out of this intense desire to be accepted by someone who matters to us.

Let’s be clear.  I’m not saying it doesn’t matter what other people think of us.  Our integrity and reputation often rely on a perception of what people think.  It is generally a good thing to want to make our parents, teachers, peers, and so on proud of us.

The problem arises when making people proud becomes more important than doing the right thing.  You get into trouble when you do things repeatedly solely because you think it will make someone else’s life easier.  This is a breeding ground for a life of heartbreak and frustration.

Self-sacrifice can be noble.  It is a huge part of living an epic life.  But there is a fine line between self-sacrifice and martyrdom.  More often that not, you must make decisions that might seem selfish but in effect are what’s ultimately right.  Again, you’re the only one who is actually living your life.

The sad truth is that when you make decisions out of these noble but falsely-based desires, you become pigeonholed.  People quickly pick up on the fact that they can push off the things they don’t want – be it emotions, physical labor, relationship problems, etc – effortlessly onto you.  They know that you’ll just accept it.

This results in a life of never enough.  There is never enough time, energy, money, emotion, etc., because everything is out of balance.  This person can never concentrate or assess what is truly important in their own life, because they are so busy trying to keep everyone else’s leftovers in order.

I used to sit in a cubicle next to someone who had this complex.  She was the most negative person I’ve ever met in my life.  Seriously, she had a black cloud hanging out over her cube.

Every day I’d ask her how she was, and she’d reply in this pitiful, nasally voice “Oh, you know.  Just hanging in there.”  I would try to offer encouragement, but for the most part my efforts were wasted.  She was the one that everyone else knew would do the dumbest, most inane work, the stuff no one else wanted to do.  And guess what?  She did it, whatever “it” might be.  Did she complain?  Yeah, a little.  But she knew and everyone else knew that at the end of the day, she’d be the one stuck with “it.”

I wanted to shake her.  It was so frustrating to observe.  I tried building her up and help her grow a backbone, but she was so stuck in her ways of self-mutilation and self-pity.

This comes down to a belief.  It is a deep, core belief that is formed somewhere along the way.  It is the issue of worthiness.

When we don’t think we’re worth it, we operate out of a position of lack and fear.  We defeat ourselves, sabotage our own plans and desires because we are craving that acceptance.  We tell ourselves that “if I just do this one thing, then this person will think I’m a good person.”  Or “I can’t say no to this person.  They’re too nice.”

We make all kinds of excuses about why we should do these things for all these people, believing that by doing whatever it is, they will somehow validate our worthiness.  But do you know what people generally respect more?

Someone who is strong.

Someone who has boundaries.

Someone who can say no and give reasons why they said no.

Someone who believes they are worth more and deserve better.

Someone who makes a decision and sticks with it.

Making the Change

Maybe this article hits really close to home.  Maybe you’ve been struggling with feelings of worthiness and are constantly taken advantage of.  Here are three action steps to take that can help you change the way other people view you, and more importantly, how you view yourself:

  1. Learn to make a decision and stick with it. The sooner the people around you see that you’re serious, the less likely they’ll be to even try shoving their garbage onto your plate.  People learn quickly, but you have to draw that line in the sand.  Today, tomorrow, seven years from now, you have to abide by the new boundaries that you are setting.  Otherwise, you’ll permit the whole process to start over again anew.
  2. Operate out of confidence and faith. You must believe that it is good and right for you to have these boundaries and principals.  You must respect and love yourself before anyone else will.  What you believe about yourself makes all the difference in the world.  If people reject you for standing firm, it’s not the end of the world.  Your true friends and family will always stay by you, even if it means a short period of adjustment.
  3. Build for the future. Decisions we make today shape our tomorrow.  If you make the best decision today, you will thank your tomorrow self.  Don’t you want to find yourself in tomorrow happy, peaceful, and sure?  (Nod your head yes.)  Take the hard steps today that will make you whole tomorrow.

Read Part I of this article…

Why You Get Taken Advantage Of (Part I)

May 24, 2009

Do you often find yourself doing things you don’t want to do because someone else has decided it’s what they want?

Maybe you’re forced to stay late – again – at the office, doing some mind-numbing task that is outside of your scope of duties.  You’re frustrated because you know that it’s a task that should have been assigned to someone else.  But you do it because you don’t want to rock the boat.

Or maybe you wake up in a strange bed – again – wondering why you’ve slept with that stranger.  You’re not particularly attracted to them.  You certainly don’t love them or want a relationship.  You sit up, pulling the sheets over you, and just feel so empty inside.  You didn’t really want to do it, but you couldn’t help yourself.

It’s like swimming against the current.

You talk a good game in your head, telling yourself just what’s going to happen, but when decision time comes, you melt.  You falter.  You give in.

Is it peer pressure?  Or nerves?

Or is it something deeper?  Do you really hate yourself and like suffering?  Are you fundamentally afraid of rejection, so afraid that you’ll do anything to be accepted?

I was kind of an awkward kid growing up.  I had a few friends, and I was extremely loyal to them.  But I wasn’t what you’d call a social butterfly.  I’d rather stay home and read my Hardy Boys books than go play basketball.  I had friends and when I wanted to play, I’d play with them.

But you know how it goes.  You go in different directions.  When I was in ninth grade, I found myself hanging around a small group of guys who loved hockey.  We would play knee hockey in this one kids basement all night.  We had lots of fun.

But then one day I woke up and discovered that they had all turned on me.  I had absolutely no idea why.  I was a nice guy.  I didn’t rock the boat or say anything mean.  I just couldn’t understand this rejection, and it devastated me.

They started prank calling me and ordering pizzas to my house.  I’d pass them in the hallways at school and just wanted to crawl into the nearest locker.  It wasn’t that they wanted to beat me up physically, but it didn’t matter because the mental agony was so much worse.

Out of this rejection and darkness came a new direction.  There was this kid, Bink, who was in my Spanish class, and for some reason he began to talk to me.  Bink was one of those kids who everyone seemed to like.  I wouldn’t say he was popular, but he was extremely easy to get along with.

Soon, I found myself surrounded by lots of really good people.  They made me laugh a lot and introduced me to conversations and possibilities that I never thought I would be faced with – particularly drugs.

As tenth grade progressed, Bink and I became really close.  I valued his friendship so much, because with him there was no rejection.  I knew he was loyal to his friends.  So when the drugs started to become more obvious, it became harder for me to say no.

I would be at his house after school, and he would break out a dime bag of weed.  It made me nervous and conflicted.  I wanted to “do the right thing,” but I also didn’t want to lose a good friend.  So I began to smoke weed.  Then it was alcohol.  Then acid.

Looking back, I realize that it wasn’t the drugs that I was afraid of.  Drugs and alcohol can be lots of fun, particularly mixed with really funny, talented people.  It wasn’t my parents.  Lord knows I put them through hell because I wasn’t afraid of them.

What I was afraid of, plain and simple, was rejection.

It was feeling alone and unworthy.

Peer pressure is nothing more than a deep desire to feel wanted and accepted.

As humans, we have a fundamental need to love and be loved.  We are designed to live in community.  We crave acceptance and validation.  If we don’t get it at home, we’ll find it in friends.  If we don’t find it in friends, we’ll find it in strangers.  Or work.  Or pleasure.

Right now, what is taking advantage of you?  What puzzle do you desperately want solved but can’t figure out?

Who are you trying to please?


Do you work so hard out of a necessity to please your mother?

Are you sleeping with anyone and everyone to get the attention of your father?

A teacher in grade school who told you you’ll never amount to anything?

A minister who whispered “God will never love you?

Who are you trying to please?

See “Why You Get Taken Advantage Of (Part II)

Respect Yourself

May 24, 2009

Respect Yourself

Do you know why you keep doing the things that you hate?

Do you hate the vicious circle that you can’t seem to be free from?

Do you find yourself knowing it’s wrong but doing it anyway?

What is that?

From smoking to sex, from overeating to mismanaging money, there are things in our lives that we can’t seem to leave behind, as much as we may want to.  They are our slave masters, and we are the helpless, incapable servants.

As one who has dealt with and overcome many addictions myself, I know what it’s like to struggle with the contradictions of wanting freedom but living in bondage.  The thought of one more cigarette makes you want to vomit, but you just have to have it.  You think porn is disgusting, but you find yourself at your computer, once again helpless to look away.

It’s painful.  It makes you feel small and impotent, a powerless pushover who might as well become resigned to the fact that you’ll never win.  You’ll never get out of this maze.

As hard as this might be to hear, the reason you can’t let go is because there is a part of you that you don’t respect.  There is a part of you that you are willing to let yourself walk all over.  If you treated others the way you treated yourself, they wouldn’t be your friend for very long.

So why do you treat yourself the way that you do?   Why do you let yourself get away with it?  For some people, it is because there is a level of comfort in self-abuse.  These people take subconscious satisfaction in the abuse they dish out to themselves.  They don’t feel alive unless they are dealing with pain.

For other people, there is a fundamental ability to say “no” that they just don’t have.  They can’t make a decision and stick with it.  This was me.  I couldn’t say “no” because I didn’t want to be rejected.  I thought that if I said “yes” to everything that came my way, my friends would respect me.  Sometimes they did, but this isn’t the best way to gain the respect of the people around you.

And then there are the people who just don’t care.  Somewhere deep down, it doesn’t matter how much pain their actions bring them.  It’s all about storytelling for these people.  They tell themselves and others that everything is fine, that it’s a little bump in the road.  Meanwhile, they sink deeper and deeper into the pit of denial and delusion.  They figure that this is just the way it has to be.

Respecting yourself is a choice that must be made every second, if necessary.  I smoked heavily for about five years.  On nights when I knew I was going to go out drinking, I’d buy three packs of Marlboro Reds, and without fail, I’d wake up the next morning and they’d be pretty close to being gone.  It got to the point where I resented them.  I resented the automation of crushing one out only to light another.  It was that vicious circle, and it was seriously affecting me to the core.

When I made the choice to quit smoking (and it is simply a choice,) I soon realized that it wasn’t just going to be one choice I made once and for all.  It was a series of choices, and again, sometimes it was second by second.  I would literally find myself telling myself “OK, you didn’t smoke just now.  OK, you didn’t smoke just now.”  Then, slowly but surely, I put some distance behind that first moment when I decided to quit.  A few days.  Then a few months.

Start respecting yourself.  In decisions like this, start treating yourself as if it were someone you had great admiration for, someone you would never want to let down.  If you don’t feel this way about yourself, then it’s time to start.