* 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, August 28, 2012

A Tangent to Judges: Israelite Religious Leaders Were Spiritual Pioneers

Imagine for a moment that the Yahweh of the Israelites was not an external entity of any kind.   Imagine instead that the Yahweh of the Israelites was a representation for an inner shared truth – something inherent to everyone, yet so deeply buried in the human psyche that it could not easily be addressed or discussed.  Imagine that the religious leaders of the Israelites were pioneers in articulating how the “divine” intersected with mundane life.  They may not have gotten everything accurate in every sense of the word, but their insights created a spiritual foothold for a community.  Yes, their framework was exclusive to the Israelite people.  Yes, their perspective placed Israel’s culture and well-being higher than the rest of humanity.  But we are capable of looking past misconceptions and ethnocentrism.

Considering the Ten Commandments, we see a statement that ultimately professes that if you bear false witness against another person, or take another life, or act in a way that discounts the value of another human being, your actions are not in alignment with the divine character within you.  The truth, beauty, and creativity within you is in opposition to the anger and fear that leads to what the Israelites called “wickedness.”  When you behave in a way that is in opposition to the actual divine character within you, you do harm to yourself—you kill yourself in some sense, you ostracize yourself from your true nature and capability.  The punishment of death or exile is not truly something that a community must do to mete out justice; they are merely the internal consequences of fear-driven behavior.

The sacrifices and rituals that are prescribed then become clearly positioned as actions to benefit the people performing the sacrifices rather than obligations to a deity.  When we have done something wrong and there seems to be no way of undoing our mistakes or taking back the angry, fearful actions, our response can only be despair.  But if we know that we can do something about it, we have hope.  The sacrifices and rituals may have gotten a bit out of hand, and their value may have been diluted over time, but they were clearly a way for people to manage the guilt that accompanies behavior that is out of alignment with our deepest selves.  A way to move forward spiritually and psychologically.

How could people thousands of years ago have articulated the internal truth of who we are as human beings with precise clarity?  We don’t expect that they clearly expressed the real nature of disease, or electricity, or atomic energy.  They didn’t understand those concepts as well as we do today.  Even a few hundred years ago, civilized people with quality educations still had no clue how to vaccinate against a disease or how to create a dry cell battery.  Why would we expect them to have a profoundly sophisticated understanding of spirituality when they didn’t have a profoundly sophisticated understanding of so much of their world?

So, in the book of Judges, we have the Israelite community falling into depravity and suffering for it, then being plucked up and set straight by a competent leader, experiencing a time of peace and prosperity before falling into depravity once again.  The text suggests that their god punishes them and saves them, but what if the suffering and the prosperity are merely the natural consequences of behavior and not an intelligently conceived plan of punishment and redemption? 

The Israelites resolve to act in alignment with the truth, beauty, and creativity within them.  They respect one another.  They handle their fear and anger responsibly.  Life is good.  Over time, fear and anger build, perhaps in response to events in the world around them, and they lose sight of what is true.  They lose interest in living according to their deepest selves.  Life is not so good.  Misery and suffering prevail.  Then, along comes someone who disrupts the status quo, who restores the community’s awareness that there is a way to live in greater accord with the truth, beauty, and creativity within them.  This reminder gives the Israelites enough hope to start managing their fear and anger differently.  They start behaving differently.  Life is good again.

Of course, the Israelites are externalizing all of the good and the bad things that happen.  When good things happen, it’s because Yahweh is happy with them.  When bad things happen, it’s because Yahweh is angry with them.  They don’t recognize Yahweh as an internal manifestation of their deepest, most noble selves.  They think of Yahweh as an external, all-powerful deity.  Thus, they get the causes and effects backward.  In reality, our divine selves rejoice when we are living in alignment with our true natures.  Likewise, we are frustrated at our deepest core when we act contrary to the truth, beauty, and creativity within us. 

In the Israelites’ eyes, they were powerless.  They believed that the external deity Yahweh was all-powerful.  They believed that Yahweh was in control of whether their experience of life was positive or negative.  If they realized how much control they actually had over whether their experience of life was positive or negative, would the Israelites have behaved any differently?  I don’t know.  Do we?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Judges 9: Healthy Ambition and the Senseless Fear that Is Selfishness

So far, the book of Judges has been mostly about people who accomplished military victories for the Israelites.  After Joshua led a fairly straightforward invasion of the land to which the Israelites felt themselves entitled, it's no small wonder that they had a few enemies.  According to the writers of Judges, the oppression the Israelites experienced in the ongoing contest for power in the region is attributed to their disobedience to their god.  When the Israelites behave themselves, their god protects them.  When the Israelites are bad, their god lets them get overrun by other people who worship other gods.  Then, someone comes along and drives back the infidels -- often through some kind of subterfuge -- leading the Israelites into a period of prosperity which inevitably cycles back to their faithlessness, abandonment, and misery.

Abimilek is a bit of a detour from that formula.  Here we have a ruthless murderer who worms his way into leadership from within a tribe of Israel's own ranks -- a wicked ruler chosen by a wicked people.  He's killed by a nameless woman who drops a millstone on his head and a nameless armor-bearer who mercifully grants him an honorable death.  The writer of this tale is clear that God is the one who created the strife that led to Abimilek's downfall, but it seems like unnecessary effort on God's part.  A person who is willing to kill dozens of his own relatives just to solidify a tenuous position of political power is likely to rub a few people the wrong way.

The people under Abimilek's rule worshiped a god named or titled "Baal-Berith" (or "lord of the covenant").  It's difficult to say what sort of deity Baal-Berith was.  There simply isn't enough factual information about this particular god to know how he was different from the Israelites' other gods.  What's clear from the narrative is that the people who put Abimilek in power were motivated by selfish goals.  Not all that different from twenty-first century politics.  Their own motivations ultimately worked against them.  They focused their attention on things that ultimately had no value, and they suffered as a result.

It isn't difficult to look back through history and find people who acted out of selfish ambition, caring nothing for how much harm they did to others in order to get money or power.  Some of them passed on a legacy to their progeny that we can still see at work in the world today.  Many of them ultimately brought about their own destruction.  There are also wealthy, powerful people who act out of a deep desire to have a positive impact on the world.  The difference isn't in the value of their bank accounts or the reach of their power.  The difference is in how they attained what they have and how they make use of it.

Most of us will not be Abimileks.  Most people don't have the capacity to kill seventy siblings and lay claim to a throne.  We also aren't likely to be Ghandis or Mandelas.  Still, all of us face choices about whether we will act out of selfish ambition or act out of a deeper sense of truth.  Let's be clear: Selfishness is just another word for fear.  We become selfish when we are afraid that we won't get what we want, that we will be overlooked, that someone will take advantage of us somehow.  We believe in the scarcity of whatever it is that we want, and we set our minds so fervently toward a goal that we lost sight of what is important and true about ourselves and other people.  We get selfish about things we don't need -- about things that actually may do more harm than good to us and to the people around us.  Fear convinces us otherwise.

Here it is, as redundant as it may seem by this point: There is enough.  Whatever it is, there is enough.  We don't always see clearly how to distribute it wisely and healthily, but there is enough.  Enough land, enough water, enough fuel, enough food, enough love, enough power, enough respect, enough time.  We live in abundance when we are willing to recognize it.

This isn't to say that ambition is bad, just that the target of our ambition is often misguided.  Let us be ambitious and creative in how we can provide clean drinking water to the world, or in how we can ensure justice for all people, or any number of noble goals.  There is a place for ambition, and it can power our creativity to have a profound impact on the world.  It's the potential selfishness of our goals that warrants examination.   When our ambition justifies hurting other people for the sake of our own personal gain, we have stepped out of alignment with our deepest selves.  That's the part that is based on some kind of self-deception.

In reality, it's safe for us to acknowledge the value of other people, for us to listen to ideas that came from other people's minds, for us to respect beliefs that are different from our own.  It's safe for us to peel back the armor of fear and recognize our worth as human beings is exactly equal to everyone else's.  Our value is not based on political title or bank account or education or square footage or how much blood we have shed or what kind of car we drive.  We all possess a deep awareness of this truth that surpasses petty fears.  We all possess divine beauty and creativity.  We all have the capacity to inspire and be inspired.  We are all capable of listening and we are all capable of accepting other people's beliefs without feeling somehow threatened.

It may seem that we have a long way to go before we create a world that embraces the value of every person, but the process of creating that world has already begun.  It is up to each of us to choose how we will be in our own lives.  We don't have to be heroic.  We just have to determine how we will dismantle our own fears and create our own meaningful lives.  When we act in accord with the truth, beauty, and creativity within us, we cannot act out of selfish ambition.  When we choose to acknowledge the value of every person, we will find ways within our means to express that truth.  As Ghandi said, "If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change.  As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him.  ... We need not wait to see what others do."

Monday, August 20, 2012

Judges 6-8: Heroes Rarely Change the World

We love stories about heroes.  Super heroes.  War heroes.  Mythical heroes.  Small town heroes.  They are more than merely average human beings.  They exemplify, even if only for a moment, the kind of people we would like to be.  They do the things we would like to think we would do.  If we were able.  If we could rise above the distractions of every day life.  If we had a little more power.  Or a lot more power.  At the very least, stories about heroes warm our hearts and give us hope. 

And yet, how much of an impact do heroes really have?  No matter how many wars are fought, conflict persists between countries and peoples.  No matter how many evil plots are foiled in our favorite comics, there are still more villains.  Heroes may inspire us for a time, but we slip back into life as usual pretty easily.  Certainly, the real people we consider to be heroic make a significant impact on a few people.  The firefighter who saves a local family is rightly titled a hero, and that family's existence is forever impacted by that act of heroism.  But life goes on.  There will be more fires.  The family will move on in their lives, and ultimately, the world will keep doing what it does.

In fact, world-changing events often have very little to do with individual actions.  The things that change reality on a global scale are often things like diseases, stock market crashes, catastrophes.  The moments in history when a single person's efforts are seen as world-changing are often quite the opposite of what we would consider heroic: the assassins or charismatic revolutionaries whose actions spark chain reactions.  Of course there are those people who discover or invent the next step in medical, scientific, or technological progress: the Flemings, Einsteins, and Berners-Lees of the world.  And there are those individuals who accomplish extraordinary feats: the Lindberghs, Amundsens, and Hillarys that change the way we see human capability.  Still, at the end of the day, most world-changing events are more accurately portrayed as group efforts rather than the personal accomplishments of one person.

The book of Judges demonstrates clearly that even an incredibly heroic figure is still likely to have a minimal impact on a culture or society.  Gideon, who doesn't at first trust his calling as a hero, accomplishes great things for the Israelites, and yet at the end of his life, they are right back to living the way they were before.  Gideon is chosen, for unknown reasons, to serve as God's tool.  He actually goes back and forth a bit with God's messenger to make sure the angel has the right guy.  Once he's convinced, Gideon destroys the altar his community had raised to a local non-Israelite deity, and he summons his tribe's warriors to join him in fighting against Israel's numerous oppressors. 

He still had his doubts, and he took a couple of days to verify that God was on his side.  Then, God took a turn testing Gideon by telling him to dismiss the majority of his soldiers.  At the ultimate conflict, the Israelites surprised their enemy because of their small numbers and created chaos with trumpet blasts and fires.  Cleverness is once again shown as an admirable trait.  Gideon had some trouble with other Israelite tribes.  To those that chastised him for taking all the glory for himself, he offered soothing diplomacy.  Those that ridiculed his efforts and refused to help received Gideon's vengeance once the enemy was dispatched. 

Although the Israelites wanted to place Gideon in a role of power, he instead set up a golden shrine for the Israelites to worship.  His words deferred power to God, but his actions led his tribe right back to a different sort of idolatry.  Maybe he knew that the leadership they offered would be more trouble than it was worth.  In any case, when Gideon died, the Israelites went back to their old ways.  He was one man in the midst of a culture that was set in its habits, and his efforts ultimately had little impact on that culture.

It seems like a disheartening tale on the one hand, but it is an incredibly insightful tale about the limits of personal control over other people.  Gideon served in a way that was meaningful to him, in the way in which he was divinely inspired and empowered.  When the offer of leadership was made, he declined.  That was a step beyond his willingness or capability.  A few of us may be Einsteins or Berners-Lees or Lindberghs -- we may be the ones who discover, invent, or accomplish something that changes the world for large numbers of people.  Most of us will have opportunities to be a hero to someone through much less earth-shattering acts.  The secret is to follow a deep passion rather than external obligation.

None of the great thinkers or doers whose names we all know spent their energy trying to be heroic any way they could until they found something that would have a big impact.  Rather, they focused their time and energy on things that were personally satisfying passions, and the results were profound.  Gideon didn't set out trying to get the Israelites to acknowledge him as a leader, and everything he did wasn't perfect.  Still, he made a difference in a small way and when it ceased to be inspiring or satisfying, he stopped.  The firefighter who saves the family chooses to run into the building (hopefully with specialized training to support that decision).  She or he probably expects a little acknowledgement at the end of the day, but it's also to be expected that life will go on eventually.  Running into the building is just a part of who a firefighter is.  It's honest.  It means something personal to the firefighter. 

Why spend time trying to be heroic or successful if the things you're doing to be heroic or successful don't really have any personal value to you?  It's true that if you spend your time focused on things that have personal value that you may not be heroic or successful in anyone else's eyes, but does that really matter if you are personally satisfied with the results of how you spend your time and energy?  You don't owe the world anything.  And the world doesn't owe you anything either. 

Like Gideon or a firefighter or any number of heroes in newspaper stories all over the world, you will have opportunities to do significant things that will most likely be forgotten by most people.  You may even have a chance to do something that will be remembered by a lot of folks.  Either way, if you are focused on the things that have deep personal meaning to you -- if you are authentic to your most noble self -- you will have a greater impact that you will ever have the privilege of seeing.  You cannot determine whether your actions will change people's lives or the course of society.  You don't get to decide whether your actions will be meaningful to anyone else.  What you can determine is whether your actions are meaningful to you.  The ripples those actions create are out of your control.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Judges 4-5: Wisdom and Strength Are Gender-Neutral

The surprising plot twist in the story of Ehud was that a southpaw can be heroic.  In the story of Israel's next judge, Deborah, the unexpected lesson is that women can be heroic, too.  At least on the surface.  The story is just as bloody as other tales of Israelite warfare, but this time it's a woman directing the Jewish army and a woman who kills the enemy general when he flees.  The efforts of two women, Deborah and Jael, effectively end the oppression from the Canaanites and grant Israel forty years of peace.  Even in the modern world, this story may seem impressive for all the wrong reasons.

Obviously, the writers of the book of Judges had a bit of an ulterior motive in recording tales about unlikely heroes.  It shouldn't be surprising when a left-handed person accomplishes something great or when a woman displays wisdom or strength.  Human beings are capable.  Even though different people are skilled in different specific areas, this has nothing to do with gender.  When the Israelites told the story of Deborah, they were addressing this truth in a way, but the fact that there are so few women prophets and heroes in the biblical narrative demonstrates how limited a foothold that truth found in Israelite culture.  Even today, thousands of years later, we are still debating whether women have opportunities and rewards equal to men in our society.

Sometimes when a woman CEO or a woman scientist or a woman artist does something noteworthy, the fact that it was a woman accomplishing something impressive is often given more weight than the accomplishment itself.  Thousands of years after Deborah is said to have sat beneath a palm tree settling Israel's disputes, there is some doubt in Western culture as to whether women are as capable as men.  It's understandable on a certain level.  The primary religion of our culture has an image of God as an old white man whose physical incarnation was a male who was surrounded by other males.  Women were there in the story, too, but there were no female disciples of Jesus.  The church structure of the Christian church has historically placed power in the hands of men and treated woman as inferior, and it has used an ancient fable about a woman giving in to a talking snake's temptation as justification for viewing women as weaker than men.  Never mind that the same book which holds that old folktale also demonstrates the strength and wisdom of women.  After centuries upon centuries of social, political, and religious systems built around the concept that men are leaders and women are supporters, it's no wonder that we still have not settled for once and all in the minds of everyone that women and men have equal value.

As with so many things, the reason comes down to fear and habit.  We don't always dig down into our automatic assumptions, especially when our thoughts seem to match the views of a larger population, but any assumption that one group of people is inherently inferior to another group of people is usually based on irrational fear.  That fear becomes habitual over generations, so that we accept things as normal without ever assessing whether those habits are based in truth.  Perhaps our minds also create some early beliefs when we're figuring out the differences between boys and girls, hearing stories and watching movies in which princesses are consistently helpless and in need of rescuing by dashing, capable princes -- the kind of stories that reinforce stereotypes of previous generations so that a new generation doesn't need to be told that women are inferior.  Somehow their brains just put the connections together without any adult having to say out loud the real moral of so many stories.  Because saying out loud that men are more capable than women -- than men deserve more respect, money, permission, or power just because they were born with the right genitalia -- seems a bit far-fetched.

I'm not sure what all of the fears are that are wrapped up in this cultural perception of inequality.  I could say, as others have, that the men in charge of the early church were afraid of the local wise women who handled the problems of a community without the need for recognizing the authority of organized religion.  That fear seems reasonable and powerful.  It doesn't make sense for the large numbers of people today who have bought into the idea that women (or people from other cultures, or people with less money, or people with more money) are somehow inferior human beings.  Only you can look at your beliefs honestly and evaluate them against the truth of human value.  Your beliefs about other people, and your beliefs about yourself, can be based on fear or they can be based in truth.  You may have to dig down a bit to track a belief to its source.  Some of these ideas have been with us for a very long time.

The book of Judges prompts us to evaluate our beliefs -- our assumptions about other people and about human value.  The truth is that different people do have different strengths and skill sets, but these strengths and skill sets are not based on gender, skin color, finances, or culture.  Even though personal strengths and skills may differ, every person has equal value as a human being.  This doesn't mean every person is equally capable of doing any given task.  It means that our value is not a function of what tasks we can perform.  Every person has value.  That is the starting point.  When we embrace the belief that every person we meet holds within them deep and undeniable truth, beauty, and creativity -- and when we are able to look in the mirror and acknowledge those qualities in ourselves -- maybe the differences we notice will matter less and our irrational fears will give way to a practice of seeing more clearly what connects us all.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Judges 1-3: Divine Codependency, Personal Responsibility, and Why You Don't Have to Be Afraid of Yourself

The book of Judges is a colorful collection of Israelite hero stories, proclaiming the champions who rose up and saved the day at various points in time when the Israelites were oppressed.  It's a kind of Hall of Fame in one respect, but for the rank and file Israelites it winds up being a Hall of Shame as well.  These champions are only necessary, according to the narrative of this collection, because the Israelite people fall away from their faith and God punishes them by allowing foreign powers to conquer them.  Over and over again.  Beyond its narrative cohesion, there is something to be learned from this cycle of falling away from the cultural religion, being subjected to the rule of a foreign king, and being rescued by a hero anointed by God into a time of peace before falling away from the cultural religion once again.  Each hero's story also has a spiritual lesson or two for us.

Judges 1 seems like a bit of housekeeping.  "Here is how the Israelites finished up with the work that Joshua started."  The Israelites are still committing some brutal acts, burning down cities and killing everyone there except for their spies.  As before, those peoples the Israelites don't wipe out are made into slaves.  Some of the atrocities are justified because the "victim" is literally getting equal justice for what he has done to others, as is the case with Adoni-Bezek.  On the one hand, it means the the Israelites are really no better than any of the people they're conquering, since they're willing to commit the same acts of torture and maiming.  On the other hand, the Israelites are morally above the cultures around them, since they are the agents of justice.

Chapter 2 really seems to be the beginning of the story, a sort of proper prologue with an angelic proclamation and an outline of what the book is all about.  We'll talk more about the cycle of disobedience, punishment, rescue, and peace in a moment.  Chapter 3 gives us a sense of what these hero stories are going to be like.  The Israelites start worshiping the local gods and forget about their strict cultural religion, God gets angry and "sells them" into the hands of a conquering king, the Israelites cry out for God to rescue them, and God raises up Othniel, who goes to war (presumably with an army behind him), and the land has peace until Othniel dies.  This is the template from which all the stories are based -- a sort of generic hero tale from which the other judges' tales improvise.

Take the story of Ehud, who was left-handed.  Being left-handed was not seen as culturally appropriate, much less as a blessing.  People who couldn't use the proper hand for things were seen as cursed or stupid.  And then along comes Ehud.  The Israelites fall away from God, God gets mad, foreign king conquers them, and the Israelites cry out to God.  So God chooses as their deliverer this left-handed nobody with a little dagger.  But because no one expects a weapon to be drawn with an attacker's left hand, he catches fat King Eglon by surprise and kills him.  Then, there is the humorous and embarrassing bit about the servants not wanting to check on the king because they thought he was just on the toilet for an extraordinarily long time while Ehud made his escape.

Ehud displays some qualities that the Israelites admire.  He uses what seems to be a disability to his advantage, he is sneaky and "underhanded" in order to win a victory for the greater good of his society, and he is clever enough to get away with it.  Ehud may not be a historical figure, or his tale at least may be elaborated considerably for effect, but there is still spiritual value to the story.  We have a tendency to look at our own failings (and to notice the disabilities of others, too).  We notice more what we are challenged by than we give credence to our capability.  This perspective hinders us from seeing possibility.  We get so caught up in thinking about our scarcity that we fail to notice our abundance.  If we choose to see every quality as a potential advantage, we stand a much greater chance of seeing our capability and creating meaningful and satisfying lives.

We also stand a better chance of seeing the capability of other people.  When we focus on other people's disabilities or failings, we create an image of them that is less than a fully able human being.  By adopting an attitude that left-handedness is just a different way of achieving the same goal, and in some circumstances perhaps an even better way of achieving the same goal, our perspective can shift just enough to see the divinity in other people.  When we acknowledge the value of every person and start from that angle, we are better able to see abundance.

That doesn't mean that we should be finding clever ways to kill people we don't like, as Ehud did.  It's a story, like Paul Bunyan or Hercules or Jason and the Argonauts.  It's from a culture that focused on genocidal behavior as an acceptable way of gaining property without having to build it all from scratch.  We have to look beyond the actual behavior of the judges to get the spiritually meaningful bits that apply to our own lives.  This is sometimes difficult.  Poor Shamgar is something of an afterthought.  "Oh, yes.  This other fellow was also quite good."

But what about the whole structure of the book?  Sure, we can look at Ehud and say, "Wow, I shouldn't focus on what I can't do as well as everyone else.  I have my own set of strengths."  We can feel really good about ourselves for the moment, and maybe about other people too.  And then what?  How do we relate to the larger-scale cycle of behavior that forms the basis of all these hero stories?

I'll start by saying that we should not start looking for the equivalent of judges in our own culture or sub-culture.  Competent leaders should be acknowledged, sure.  As Tina Turner sang in that Mad Max movie, though, we don't need another hero.  There is no god watching the earth or any portion of it and deciding whether or not to give people over to foreign powers based on their level of worship.  And there is no reason to think that if we just obey the dictates of a particular church and follow the rules that our lives will be peaceful and happy.  There are two big lessons in this cycle, however, that can make a big difference in how we look at our opportunities to create satisfying lives that have a meaningful impact in the world.  The first lesson is about God's behavior in the story, and the second lesson is about the Israelites themselves.

God doesn't learn very quickly.  He really loves this girl and even though she keeps sleeping around and ignoring him, he keeps coming back like a lost puppy.  Sure, he'll get mad and let her get herself into serious trouble, but he always shows up to rescue her before things get really out of hand.  It is the very picture of codependency and insanity.  He keeps doing the same thing for the Israelites, expecting them to behave differently, and then getting really angry when they don't change.  He doesn't change his expectations or redefine his relationship with them (not yet at least) even though it's apparent that they cannot live up to what he wants in a relationship.  Perhaps the only reason he keeps going back to them is because he knows that his standards are so unreasonable that no one would be able to live up to them, so he settles for being angry at the same folks instead of branching out and being disappointed in different people.

In the Christian version of the story, God eventually learns.  The New Testament is the Christian impression of what a different sort of relationship might look like.  God isn't as interested in being angry about his girl not living up to his unreasonably high standards.  It's still a relationship of co-dependency, but God accepts the limitations of the people he loves a little bit better.  Neither version is an ideal template for human relationships, even though we engage in codependency more often than we would like to admit.  Examine whether this looks like a pattern in your own life and be willing to address it, even if it means seeking some outside assistance in breaking habits that have been ingrained over a long period of time.

Learn from God's frustration.  Saving people over and over again doesn't acknowledge their freedom or capability, and it assumes an unrealistic responsibility for someone else's well-being.  Start from the understanding that every adult is personally responsible for their own actions and beliefs.  Yes, parents have some responsibility for their own children's safety.  We're talking about adults here (although personal responsibility is a phenomenal thing parents could teach their children).  Yes, we sometimes place our safety in the hands of an experienced guide when we hike off into unfamiliar territory.  We aren't talking about choices we make in special circumstances.  If you're looking for excuses not to be personally responsible for your decisions, just stop.  And if you're making allowances for someone else to abdicate personal responsibility, you aren't doing anyone any favors.  Our ability to create, our ability to fully acknowledge the truth and beauty within every person, our ability to be inspired -- these are compromised when we are unwilling to take personal responsibility for our beliefs and our actions.

Which is just another way of saying that our relationship to the divine within us is hampered.  Even when we are ready to admit that there is no higher intelligence watching over our lives from the outside, arranging things that we don't control on our behalf, blessing the good people and punishing the wicked people -- that doesn't guarantee that we are able to fully tap into the wisdom we hold within.  We may look to our truest, most noble selves in times of great catastrophe, whatever that looks like in each person's life, but it's much easier to go on autopilot most of the time.  Until we find ourselves once more in an out-of-control situation and we look for something to save us from our own decisions.  It isn't a healthy or satisfying way to live -- being unconscious until there is something traumatic to worry about.

Our divine selves do not want sacrifice or selflessness from us.  Our divine selves are simply the truest manifestation of who we are as human beings.  There is nothing judgmental at that deep level.  The judgment comes from the lies and fears that hide our deepest selves.  You know what you want your life to look like.  You know what matters most to you.  Beneath the fear and the fear and the older fear and the fear you forgot about, and beneath the lies about yourself and the lies about other people and the lies about how life is supposed to be, you know.  It seems vulnerable to unwrap all of those snug fears and lies and look beneath them, but it is at that core that your true strength lies.  It seems dangerous to look that deeply into yourself, but it is the safest thing in the world.  That clarity is the key to creating and inspiring.

The Israelites may not have really known what their god wanted from them.  They may have gotten the impression that he wanted them to be miserable.  He did have a lot of rules and he did threaten some extreme punishments.  Maybe their god didn't really know how to express what he wanted.  Whatever the case, they were afraid of the authentic divine and they chose something more appealing.  Simpler.  More fun.  Less frightening.  Who knows.  The divine is not something to be feared.  The whole thing about divine reward or divine punishment is a bit of a misstatement.  When we are in tune with our innermost selves, the results are absolutely satisfying and fulfilling.  That's the reward.  When we rely on the lies and the fear to dictate our actions, our lives are frustrating, shallow, and painful.  That's the punishment.  To be completely honest, sometimes life is legitimately frustrating and painful.  It's just that when we are in tune with our innermost selves, we know what to do with that frustration and pain.

So, recognize your strengths, and recognize that what you think of as weaknesses may actually be strengths in the right circumstances.  Be aware of codependency, and make the necessary changes regarding personal responsibility to honor your self and the people around you.  You are responsible for your beliefs and actions.  Other people are responsible for their beliefs and actions.  Stop being afraid of what your divine nature wants for you.  It's you.  You are you.  Let yourself be yourself.  The cycle of fear and distrust and miraculous rescues does not have to be a theme in your life.  Know yourself at the deepest level possible, and you will find strength and peace and beauty and inspiration and truth.  It may take a little work.  It is so worth it.