Religion…for all the wrong reasons?

self-seeking

Just something to think about…

Have you ever really stopped to think why you believe what you believe? If you have any religious or spiritual beliefs, what prompted you to form them? If you are a Christian for example, why did you choose to be a Christian? Was it because that is what you were taught growing up? Is it because most of your friends/family share that belief system and you want to fit in? Is it because you want blessings in return or fear going to hell? Or it is because you truly love and want to live those beliefs?

Now, once you have an idea in mind of why you chose your beliefs, think about who those beliefs serve. Which of the reasons are self-serving and which are others-centered? If you chose your beliefs because that is what you were always taught or because all your friends and family share the beliefs, who benefits from that? Have you just taken the path of least resistance? Are you afraid to question those beliefs for fear of being ostracized, bullied or left out? If so, is that a good reason to believe something?

If you chose your beliefs because you fear the punishment of hell or desire rewards here or in heaven, who benefits from that? Is it selfish to choose a belief system based on what it can give you or to avoid the fears of hellish punishment that have been instilled in you? Is it materialistic to live a good life only because you want a nice mansion or big crown in heaven when you die? How many people keep some kind of tally in their head of good vs bad deeds, trying to do just enough good stuff to require whatever fulfillment they believe will get them into heaven? How selfish is the “gospel of prosperity” as some people have called it? Do you believe that if you do ‘right’ you deserve good things and that those who don’t have good things have obviously failed to live right (as I have heard some Christians say)?

Now, what about if you chose your beliefs because you truly loved them and wanted to live them? Do those beliefs make you want to serve others? If you are a Christian, do you truly like the things Jesus did and do you try to emulate those actions regardless of how unpopular they may be? Do you want to defend and help heal the weak and the hurting? Do you put the welfare of people before tradition? Do you want to actively participate in God’s spiritual kingdom here on earth and make things better for others while you are here, or are you just surviving until you can leave the earth? Do you find meaning in reaching out to others rather than in being entertained or catered to? Is your comfort more important to you than the basic needs of others?

Of course, no one can answer these questions for us. It is something that requires deep thought and honesty. It makes us see the parts of ourselves we may not like or may make us question what we have always thought. I ask myself these kinds of questions often and sometimes they are hard to face and reveal, but I have a deep desire to be authentically about helping others. So many of us take our selfishness into our religion…and that shows. People know and it turns them off. I hope that maybe we can all someday see that true love and spirituality can never be just about “us”, “our kind” or “our wants and needs”.

Picking on the poor in the name of Christ

Christ of the Breadlines

Over the years I have heard some of my fellow Christians say truly awful things about the poor, the disabled and the needy. In one conversation a fellow Christian declared that the poor “deserve to be poor” and almost always cause their own problems. I have heard similar sentiments from other Christians that almost always make me want to wince in discomfort.

I have also heard fellow Christians (and Fox News) say repeatedly that most people on disability are able to work and are just lazy people who want to rely on the government. I’m sure if they knew firsthand how hard it is to get disability, how long it takes and how worthless and depressed many disabled people feel when unable to work, they might change their minds. If they went through it themselves or someone else in their immediate family needed those services, you can almost guarantee their opinion might change. I would say the same for other services for the poor, such as food stamps and Medicaid.

When I hear negative comments about the poor and disabled from anyone in the Christian community, I can’t help but think of these verses:

“He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.” Proverbs 14:31.

“If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered.” Proverbs 21:13

“Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” Psalm 82:3-4

“Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. In your hearts do not think evil of each other.” Zechariah 7:10 (The word “alien” in this also makes me think about our treatment of immigrants – legal or otherwise).

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25:37-40

“Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Mark 10:21 (Jesus commanded this kind of extreme sacrifice and yet we balk at helping the poor in even small ways?)

“Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.” Luke 12:33 (I’m sensing that Jesus really wasn’t a materialistic guy and didn’t want his followers to be either. Could be wrong there, but I definitely get that feeling.)

5 things I love about being an artist

"Molten Ascension", watercolor 5.5" x 8.5"

“Molten Ascension”, watercolor 5.5″ x 8.5″

Since I recently wrote a blog post about “5 things that can suck about being an artist”, I thought it would be good to balance it out with 5 things I absolutely LOVE about being an artist!

1) Getting to work mostly at home, whenever and wherever I desire and in whatever clothing I desire (usually pajamas). It also rocks to be able to listen to whatever music or tv show I want to while working.

2) Making something out of nothing. There is just something so magical about taking a blank sheet of paper or canvas and creating something brand new that is one-of-a-kind. It is especially exciting when I have a great idea in my head and see it taking shape before me. To me it seems to be a tangible way to “make dreams come true”.

3) When people really connect with something I have created and tell me how much they like it. There is nothing that makes me happier than hearing someone say they have “fallen in love” with an artwork of mine or that something I made inspired them or made them happy. I even get all happy inside when people on Facebook like, share or comment on my artwork. (So if you are a FB friend of mine, keep that encouragement coming! It means more than you know!)

4) This might be weird, but I really love shopping for art supplies. It is one of my favorite things to do. Second only to shopping for books. When I get into an art supply store and see the aisles of paint, brushes, canvases, pencils, pens, etc., I just feel so happy, almost like I used to feel as a kid when I got to do “back to school” shopping and pick out all my cool supplies for the coming year. I guess that is the nerd in me coming out.

5) Lastly, when I am in the “zone”, painting or drawing, I feel it is almost like a meditative state, where all my worries, cares and physical problems recede and the “true” me gets to express itself for a while. Even though I have many chronic pain issues, when I create, even the aches and pains seem to take a back seat to my soul and its desire to connect to something on a deeper level. I’m not sure if that is the case for everyone (perhaps it is due to my Aspie ability to focus on special interests), but regardless, I am grateful for it.

The three types of human relationships as I see it

"Flight into the Dawn" watercolor painting.

“Flight into the Dawn” watercolor painting.

Maybe it is because of the logical thinking connected with Asperger’s Syndrome, but I tend to categorize most things in my life. Today I want to talk about the three categories I see in human relationships. This is somewhat from a spiritual point of view, since I myself am deeply interested in spirituality.

Category #1 – Neutral. This is by far the largest category of human relationships in my mind. These are people that enter our lives for various amounts of time but typically don’t make a big impression or change our lives very much. Some might call them acquaintances. There aren’t necessarily any negative feelings involved, but not a whole lot of positive feelings either. Neither party goes very far out of their way to deepen the relationship or get to know each other better. Hopefully each party wishes the other well and would not wish harm on them, but that is about the limit of intention. However, sometimes these people can show up in just the right place, at just the right moment and leave a lasting memory or impact.

For instance, once when I was visiting my grandfather in the nursing home, his roommate died with us sitting there only feet away. The death was unexpected and the man’s wife was there when he just suddenly died. Even though I did not know the woman or her husband, I instinctively went to her and gave her a hug and let her cry on my shoulder since no one else from her family was there to comfort her. So, even though we did not know each other and will likely never see each other again, for a moment, we connected deeply. It is moments like that which assure me that we really are all deeply connected, even if we don’t consciously realize it.

Category #2 – Gifts. In this category I would include any relationships that are positive and precious to us. Loved ones. Family. Friends. People who go out of their way to reach out to us, support us, encourage us when we are down and really connect with us on a soul to soul level. In many ways, these relationships are what make life worth living. Even when there are disagreements or differences of opinions, these relationships still radiate love and caring. Ideally, all families should be full of these kinds of edifying relationships, but that is not always the case. However, if we can’t find this kind of love and care in our family of origin, hopefully we can find it outside. I would include beloved pets in this category too, even though they aren’t human relationships. I think when most of us picture heaven, we picture sharing it with these souls that truly make our lives bright and meaningful. When people in this category pass away it is extremely painful, but in the sorrow we may find that a soul to soul relationship survives, even when we are on different sides of the veil.

Category #3 – Tests. This is the relationship category that is hardest to deal with. It ranges from people who just get under our skin and annoy the crap out of us, to betrayals by those we thought we could trust, to people who are truly malicious in nature and seek to hurt or even kill us. Although this group of relationships is the one least liked, it is often the one that teaches the most lessons. I truly believe that whether we want them there or not, these people come into our lives for a reason. Perhaps it is to learn forgiveness. Or patience. Or to learn when we need to stand up for ourselves and what we believe in. Sometimes these relationships can be severed and learning how to do so (how to remove negativity from your life) can be an important lesson in itself. Sometimes these relationships are unavoidable. If that is the case, be assured that these souls are in your life for a reason and learning to deal with them in the right way will help your soul to grow and may very well help theirs as well.

Of course there are some relationships that may move from one category to another over the course of our life. And there are some relationships that may fulfill different roles simultaneously or switch roles at different times depending upon the situation. However, I do think that all relationships have a purpose and are ultimately some of our greatest teachers.

5 things that can suck about being an artist

"Beam Me Up God", watercolor 8" x 8"

“Beam Me Up God”, watercolor 8″ x 8″

1) No matter how many artworks you create or sell, there is always this niggling voice in the back of your head asking, “Am I really talented or is all this a fluke? What if my artistic muse abandons me and I never make another meaningful work of art?”

2) There is a point in almost every artwork that I start that I feel it is total crap and just want to rip it to shreds. Sometimes resisting that impulse is extremely hard. Often, even the best, most successful pieces of artwork I have created barely escaped the shredder.

3) The whole Money vs. Love issue. Do you create what you love, even if it doesn’t sell, or do you create what you know will likely sell? I have tried to do both but find it doesn’t work for me to try to create anything just because it is “popular” or will sell. I inevitably lose interest in the project and get depressed because I am not being true to myself. Luckily, my art is selling more and more even though I am following my bliss instead of the dollar signs. However, I realize that my situation is not the same as anybody else’s and some people have to do what they have to do to pay the bills and put food on the table. I respect them for that and hope they can also find time to do whatever feeds their soul.

4) People just don’t realize how expensive professional art materials can be! How many artists get the look asking why they charge so much for their art? I used to wonder that too when I would see a hefty price tag on a piece of art…but now I understand. Most of us really don’t make much profit from handmade things…even if they seem expensive. I’ve also noticed that people are often confused by how much it costs to ship artwork, especially if the object is large, heavy, being sent to another country or the buyer wants special postal services.

5) The absolute worst thing about being an artist in my opinion? When you go through a dry spell and nothing (or at least not much) sells. It can make you want to give up entirely and wonder how people like Van Gogh kept going when they never sold much of anything (of course then I remember that he did cut off his ear and eventually committed suicide – which doesn’t cheer me up much). In the end, I guess it is the passion and the obsession that keeps us going…and hopefully the depression from feeling unpopular even lends itself to a deeper display of emotion that improves our work or adds a new depth to it. At least that is how I like to look at it.

Video diary/blog (video 4) depression, chronic illness & chronic pain

I have been wanting to talk about the connection between dealing with chronic pain/illness and dealing with depression. I figured making a video diary about the subject would be a good way to approach the subject. Just please keep in mind that my advice for dealing with this issue is not a substitute for medical care. If you are experiencing severe depression, please see a healthcare professional. If you like the video or have something to say about this subject, please feel free to comment or like the post either here or on YouTube :)

Video diary/blog (video 3) dream interpretation & insight

Before I share today’s video blog link, I wanted to explain that the reason I am doing so many video blogs right now is because I injured my right shoulder/arm/back and it is really hard to do much of anything with my right arm, including typing much. So I figured it would be a good time to try out a video blog and see how it works.

This new video is about dreams. I am a big believer in dreams having both psychological and possibly spiritual insight. So I explore that concept in this video by talking about a couple recent dreams and the insight I got from my interpretation of them. I have read books by professionals about dream interpretation, but I have always believed that we hold the keys to the meaning of our dreams and can interpret them better ourselves. If nothing else, you might find the trip into my dream-mind interesting :)

Video diary/blog (video 2) art as therapy

So here is the 2nd installment of my new video diary/blog series. This video talks about creativity, art and its therapeutic uses. I hope you enjoy the video and that it inspires you to indulge in some art therapy of your own! If you watch the video, please consider giving it a thumbs up on YouTube or even leaving a comment!

My Brand New Video Diary/Blog

Right now due to an injury with my right shoulder/arm/back/neck area I can’t type, write or even draw too much. So I figured this would be a good time to start the YouTube video diary/blog I’ve been thinking about making. I am attaching the link to the first video where I basically just introduced myself and the subjects I will likely feature on the video blog series:

Religion is getting harder to defend…but I still have hope.

"Blue Heart Sunrise"

“Blue Heart Sunrise”

I love God. I always have and likely always will. I’ve always had a deep interest in spirituality…even before I understood religion. As a small child I often had vivid dreams (that I can picture to this day) of both good and bad spirits visiting me. I was always glad that in these dreams the good seemed more powerful in the end, no matter how scary the bad might seem. I rarely have those dreams anymore, but once in awhile I still do and I’m always relieved to see that the good is still strongest.

However, aside from my own personal feelings and experiences, I am finding it harder and harder to defend manmade institutions of religion. I try. I know there is good in religion. There is truth to be found in the scriptures, metaphors, stories and myths. There is goodness in many of the people and religion in its healthier forms can help provide a deeper sense of community, family and belonging. It can make you feel closer to God and help you to grow spiritually. If done the right way, it can provide a chance to reach out to others in love and make the world better.

Unfortunately, more and more, I am seeing the dark side of religion and it breaks my heart. I grew up seeing this some in my own family where people were condemned to hell for simple things like cutting their hair, wearing the wrong clothes or watching tv. Luckily, I did not grow to follow that kind of fear-based faith but found a couple spiritual mentors who showed me true love and encouraged me to think for myself and research things rather than just believing what I am told. I thought growing up that the rest of the religious world wasn’t as fearful and judgemental as some of my family members, but I am seeing more and more that fear and misplaced devotion seem to be issues across the religious spectrum.

Where is this fear you may ask? It is in families fighting and disowning one another over varying religious opinions. It is found in people who want to discriminate against another group of people simply because those people are “bad” according to their religion. It is in women who are abused and made to feel like second-class citizens because of fundamentalism. It is in the belief that God loves some more than others and that this “God” approves when we bully or mistreat other nations or groups of people. It is in the torment that comes along with the belief that our loved ones are going to hell if they think differently than we do. It is in the blindness that results from believing we have the only truth and everyone else is wrong.

I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea. I wish I had a solution. I sometimes wonder if John Lennon wasn’t right in imagining a world without religion. I don’t want to believe that. I don’t want to think that this is how religion has to be. Through it all, I still hope. I hope for a time that we will all come together in love. That we will accept and celebrate differences instead of fearing them. That families will not fall apart over differences of opinion. That we will work together to solve problems, not to force our personal convictions on everyone else. That we will help to comfort those in pain, but never help to cause that pain. I still hope.