* to encourage a reasoned awareness of how our beliefs impact the way we interact with the world around us
* to foster intelligent and open dialogue
* to inspire a sense of spirituality that has real meaning in day-to-day life

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Joshua 1: Courage Is a Vital Ingredient to Living with Integrity

About half of the book of Joshua is folklore about this Israelite leader's success in conquering the Promised Land.  The other half is about how the land was divided up among the Israelites, which reads about as interesting as any tax roll.  Joshua's life as depicted in the Bible would make a very exciting movie, and let's face it, telling stories with the community gathered together was the ancient civilization equivalent of a movie theater.  We can draw spiritual truth from these stories as easily as we can draw spiritual truth from the stories of any culture, but the book of Joshua begins with one of the most blatant and timeless admonishments found anywhere in scripture.  Be strong and courageous.

Moses was dead, and Joshua had been selected to fill his shoes.  The Israelite people hadn't been entirely respectful of Moses' leadership.  They were quite an unruly lot from time to time.  Now a new leader has to manage a rather belligerent young society, while they most likely did what any classroom of students do with a new teacher: test boundaries and see what they can get away with.  Now, the Bible doesn't include much about the Israelites' bad behavior in the relatively short book of Joshua, but if the previous books are anything to go by, Joshua had his hands full.  Fortunately, most of his reported leadership was a series of successful military battles, so his popularity was probably much higher than his cantankerous predecessor who was always telling people what they couldn't do and meting out punishments for their constant complaining.

The biggest problem when someone new takes charge, or when we enter some new phase of life -- a new job, a new city, parenthood, retirement -- is that we have gotten accustomed to things being a certain way, and now we have to deal with change.  Some people aren't wired to enjoy change.  They like the appearance of a predictable, secure existence, even if that includes a predictable level of stress.  Unpredictable pleasure is almost more threatening than predictable pain to some people.  While I respect the preferences of those people and understand the comfort to be found in predictable patterns, I would submit that very little in life is truly predictable and consistent.  We are faced with a certain amount of upheaval over the course of our lives, no matter how well we may have planned everything out.  Since there is no way to truly avoid change, what matters most is how we handle it.

Our beliefs determine a lot of our decisions.  What we believe about ourselves and other people (and life in general) informs how we respond to changes, however slight they may be.  Whether the change is someone moving our coffee cup or someone firing us from a job, whether it's a little rain on our picnic or a natural disaster destroying our home, our beliefs are the source of our responses.  And those beliefs are constantly being challenged.  If we believe that people are inherently good, there will be evidence to the contrary whenever we get around enough people who all want to get to the same place at the same time.  If we believe that people are inherently selfish, there will be generous acts that challenge that belief.  Whether you believe that you are attractive or unattractive, there will be people who disagree with you, some more vocally than others.  Our beliefs cannot remain intact by mere observation of things around us.  Strong beliefs originate from someplace deeper.

Not all of our beliefs are beneficial to us.  If we want our beliefs to be useful, we have to sort through them and stake our claim on the beliefs that truly make sense to us.  Our beliefs also change over time.  We may start off thinking one way about a particular group of people and wind up changing that belief when we gain new information.  When we are aware of how our beliefs are affecting our decisions, we can take a bit more conscious responsibility.  There aren't a lot of people who are going to confront us on what we believe, so we are best off taking some initiative to confront ourselves. 

Plenty of folks claim to believe one thing and then act completely contrary to that claim.  These people are being dishonest somewhere along the line.  Either they know what they believe and are unwilling to admit it because they fear what people will think of them, or they don't know what they believe and make a claim based on what they think they're supposed to believe in.  Some of these people even have strong convictions that are essentially empty of meaning because there is no real thought behind the convictions.  It is spiritual laziness to express unexamined beliefs with vehemence and passion.

When we are willing to engage in some self-examination, both of what we believe and how we behave, we can see clearly enough where the disconnections are, and we can address those disconnections.  We might revise what we believe so that our beliefs clearly line up with the decisions we want to make, or we might change our behavior so that it best reflects what we believe.  We might discover that we have some beliefs that are in conflict with one another, and we can make a clear decision about which we will strengthen and which we will jettison.  Without this level of integrity, we will always be struggling with conflict that comes from within our very being, and everything we do and experience will be to some extent impacted by this conflict.  Living a satisfying life depends upon knowing what we believe and having the integrity to make decisions based on those beliefs.

Being spiritually strong involves knowing who we are and committing to a life that reflects that identity clearly.  It doesn't mean bullying people who believe differently, and it doesn't mean being louder than anyone else.  Spiritual strength is about how well our behavior reflects what is at our core.  I am convinced that the beliefs that arise from that core will ultimately reflect the truth that human beings have value, that we are all imbued with creativity, and that we live in abundance.  A lot of the beliefs that seem contrary to those truths are actually fears that we have clung to for so long that they seem true.  Beliefs about needing to be wealthy, or needing to make people behave the way we want them to, or needing to eradicate a certain type of person in order to make our own lives better.  Fear is not great at disguises, but it's often enough for us to convince ourselves.  When we begin to examine our beliefs, though, we can start to recognize fear for what it is.  We can work to let go of irrational beliefs about ourselves and other people and the way life must be, and we can strengthen the beliefs that better allow us to create the kind of life we most want with integrity.

And this requires courage.  There will be challenges to what we believe.  Some of the challenges will arise from within us, as those irrational fears continue to crop up.  Some of the challenges will arise from outside of us, in the way that other people behave, or the circumstances in which we find ourselves.  It takes courage to stand in the face of violence and claim that all human beings have value and are worthy of respect.  It takes courage to look at a difficult situation and trust that you have the creativity and resources to find a way through to the other side with your integrity intact.  It takes courage to keep living by a certain set of principles when other people seem to be doing just fine -- even better than you perhaps -- by taking advantage of people or lying.  Fear is enticing, and it takes courage to live from the core of who we are rather than be distracted by whatever fears may seduce us away from that. 

Be strong and courageous.  Do not give fear a foothold.  Do not fall prey to discouragement.  You have within you the capability to live a satisfying and fulfilling life.  You will have an impact on the world around you, and you have the power to choose what kind of impact that will be.  Build integrity between your beliefs and your actions.  Verify that your beliefs serve you and the world around you, and be fearless in the knowledge that you embody an undeniable beauty and creativity.  Be strong and very courageous.  Fear has done enough damage in the world and in our lives.  Fear destroys our integrity.  And even though fear will always be present in our lives, we don't have to give it control of our behavior.  Be strong and courageous, and live like you mean it. 

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