Author Archives: katelegere
Like almost all youngsters, I was fascinated by the wonderful story of “The Wizard of Oz.” The fascination still holds, but now more as a metaphor of our spiritual journey.
Let us consider one facet of this story: the three characters of the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Lion. Each of these characters is not to be taken literally, but as representing different parts of ourselves on our journey through life.
Scarecrow is weak and insecure. he has no backbone. His issues can be traced to the fact that he was made “only the day before yesterday.” The Scarecrow represents the human ego and the human intellect. Compared to the “spark of God” that is within us, the ego is like the new kid on the block. It is untested and insecure and nowhere as tough or important as it would like others to think.
Of course, the ego initially thinks that it is more important than it really is. That is what Scarecrow thought, too. He began by doing his seemingly crucial job of scaring crows away. Eventually the crows saw through his game and gave him the ultimate insult: they ignored him. In a similar way, as young people we often prance around like peacocks, so impressed with all of the seemingly wonderful things that we can do. We run a “dog and pony” show, taking great pride in all of our wonderful accomplishments.
Eventually, our act becomes rather old and tired and boring, both to ourselves and others. Are we nothing more than “human doings?”
Tin Man is another symbol of our lack of wholeness. Tin Man is different from Scarecrow in that he initially, at least, had feelings. But somehow he lost touch with what is really important in life. He becomes a symbol of what happens when we try to cut off our feelings. You see, Tin Man began as a human being made of flesh and blood, madly in love with a Munchkin Maiden. As a result of a spell cast upon him by the Wicked Witch of the East, he began to chop off different parts of himself. Each part was then replaced by a part made of tin. Eventually, even his heart became replaced by tin. This represents parts of ourselves that have been lost to us as a result of a spell being cast upon us by Wall Street or Madison Avenue or some other enchantress telling us not to have a heart. Piece by piece of our authentic self, our humanity, is replaced by a False God, until we have lost the ability to love, to wonder, to imagine and to feel.
The Cowardly Lion points out two constant truths about the human condition: that things are not always what they may seem to be and that a big dose of humility is needed on the spiritual path. The Lion scares everyone in sight. When he bellows, everyone runs for cover. We have all known people like this: a fierce exterior, but a bundle of fears and insecurities on the inside. Like the little boy whistling as he walks through the graveyard, our seemingly fearless image is just a cover up for the fears that we actually feel.
The Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Lion do not represent radical evil. They just represent the inauthentic, the superficial, the false. If we get on the Yellow Brick Road, hopefully we will, like our three mythical figures, achieve healing and find our True Selves.
Next posting: Evidence for Healing?
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The “saint” is a person who radiates the reality of God. Although acutely aware that they are just an “earthen vessel”, it is apparent to all who have eyes to see that this person is in touch with something greater than themselves. Like a stained glass window that only comes “alive” when the sunlight shines through, this person is not the message, but is the medium for the message.
Getting to this point does not happen overnight. Step by step, the person who is a filter for the divine has had to unmask many false idols along the way. This is why “saints” never takes themselves too seriously. Each “saint” has made many mistakes along the way, gradually realizing that their false steps were not evil, just incomplete.
There is a kind of order to our lessons. We first of all learn that food or material comforts are not the highest to which we humans can aspire. We then come to terms with the fact that “it is not about how much money we have.” Do we not all know individuals who are very wealthy but who are very much unhappy? As we continue to look at these various lessons, no doubt you will remember mistakes that you have made along the way. You may also recognize friends and loved ones who appear to be stuck at a given level. Remember, every step towards maturity is necessarily immature. Never judge anyone. Love each person as they struggle along, often having to learn the hard way.
A peculiar truth is that, when we are at a certain place in life, we are convinced that this is what we are looking for. In fact, we may rationalize and deny other realities as illusions, because we are afraid of the implications. What if the “saints” are right? Does this mean that we may have to “die” to the previous level? Yes, but we are not called to reject the inadequate levels, but to keep expanding to greater levels of whom we are.
Mother Nature helps us along the way, especially if we are fortunate enough to “fall in love.” This powerful experience, much stronger than the ego, gives us a sense of feeling connected to someone greater than ourselves. The boundaries of the skin encapsulated ego are collapsed. We now see our identity as part of a couple. This sense of belonging to something greater than oneself may then be further refined as identification with the goals of one’s society or church or political party. Such a person becomes the good citizen, the heroic soldier, or the pillar of one’s church community. This individual, while not a “saint”, is a far cry from the self-centered materialist.
If the person continues to grow, they may then become a “citizen philosopher.” Such an individual now feels the weight of belonging to a global community. No longer just the “good soldier”, this person identifies with the planet and the universe.
The next stage of growth takes on in on an apparently different journey, the journey of self exploration. No longer just a “cosmonaut”, one becomes a “psychonaut.” We gradually come to know ourselves and to accept ourselves. We may even think that we have come full circle and have found ourselves and have made peace with ourselves. There is, however, one more hurdle in becoming a “saint.” Having found ourselves, we now feel the invitation to “give ourselves away” to something greater than ourselves. We now realize that the supreme form of self-actualization is a kind of self-forgetfulness.
The enlightened person, the person who has finally awoken, the “saint”, now sees everything as holy. Material goods, sex, power, belongingness…the whole earthly endeavor is seen as being ultimately “sacramental” because we live in a holy universe, charged with the grandeur of “God”!
Next posting: The Wisdom of Oz
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In a healthy family, parents and children have a relatively healthy self image. Each member of the family is encouraged to accept themselves and their own unique gifts. Emotion is permitted, including anger. So is failure. All of this is ultimately possible because of the belief and acceptance of the fact that we are ultimately OK.
It is this last piece of the puzzle that is the cause of dysfunctionality in the family. In such families, there is an unspoken assumption that there is something fundamentally wrong with each member of the family. This, then, leads to all sorts of pathetic attempts to look for validation from some source outside of ourselves.
We turn, as a culture, to food, drugs, possessions, sex, power and worldly titles. Of course, there is nothing inherently unhealthy about any of these activities. It is just that none alone will compensate for an inner sense of inadequacy. In the end, we only find stability by seeing ourselves as a part of something bigger than ourselves and serving that greater whole.
In the meantime, the dysfunctional family struggles along, following a set of “rules” that only succeed in shaming one and all. Psychologist John Bradshaw lists several of these “rules” of all dysfunctional families.
1. CONTROL. Never trust yourself. Never be spontaneous. Closely monitor you “corrupt” impulses and feelings.
2. PERFECTIONISM. This is a “biggie.” Never make a mistake. You must, for your sake and the sake of the family image, appear to be perfect at all times.
3. BLAME. A great way to feel good about yourself is to “put down” other people. When we are pointing out the negative in others, including members of our own families, we feel “better” about ourselves.
4. DENIAL OF THE FIVE FREEDOMS. Even though human beings have the inalienable right to perceive, think, feel, desire and imagine for themselves, this is not tolerated in dysfunctional families.
5. THE NO TALK RULE. Since feelings are not to be trusted, there is an attempt to hide one’s thoughts and feelings at all costs. Everyone swallows their feelings and lives in their own private hell because family members are afraid to communicate with one another on a deep and honest level.
6. DO NOT MAKE MISTAKES. See blog #41.
7. UNRELIABILITY. If you never make yourself vulnerable in relationships, then you will never be hurt or disappointed. So you always hold back a little. You are unreliable, afraid to commit yourself to anyone or anything.
There is probably some level of dysfunctionality in almost every family, organization or church community. Fortunately, however, there is a way out of this, a way to break the cycle of shame. We do this by doing something very simple but hard to do: accepting the fact that “God” loves us unconditionally. This will not be easy, not at all. the old tapes of self-rejection keep spinning. But it is possible to get a new set of tapes and play them at a louder volume. Do this either by yourself or with the help of someone else. But do it, for “God’s” each time there is a new posting, sake, and for your families and for future families.
Next Posting: Progressive Spiritual Growth
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To err, to make mistakes, is to be human. So where did we ever get the idea that we should reject ourselves if we make mistakes?
It probably goes all the way back to our childhood. Somewhere we were sold a bill of goods and were led to believe that human beings are supposed to be without flaws.
In a sense, this is true. But our perfection is something that is innate, something that we are born with, something that flows from the fact that we are children of “God.” But this perfection is not earned. It is discovered, gradually. When it has been discovered, our behavior gradually becomes more loving, more peaceful, more joyful. Our mistakes are then seen as steppingstones in aligning our behavior with our essence. They are opportunities to learn what does not work. But our errors are never an excuse to reject our beautiful, essential selves.
If we base our self image on perfectionistic standards of behavior, we are doomed to a life of self rejection. We are always more than our unskilled behavior.
In his book, Healing the Shame that Binds You , psychologist John Bradshaw mentions some of the common mistakes that we humans make all of the time. Here are a few of them. None reflect on our character or our inner beauty.
Errors of Data. We write the wrong year on our checkbook or the wrong telephone number that someone gave us.
Errors of Judgment. We invest in the stock market and the next day the market plunges 400 points.
Overindulgence. We know that we should not eat a second dessert, but we do, and we feel bloated all evening long.
Forgetfulness. We go to the supermarket and there discover that we left the shopping list at home.
Missed chances. We have a chance to buy a discounted airplane ticket, but we wait too long to qualify for it. In addition, the price of oil goes up and the airlines have all raised the price of their tickets. We want to kick ourselves.
All of these mistakes usually cannot be avoided by us at the time. That is because a mistake is only perceived to be one with the 20/20 vision of hindsight.
All of the steps to maturity are necessarily immature. Most of us learn our lessons the old fashioned way: by trial and error. The only way we learn our lessons is usually by making them. A good thing to keep in mind is that no one goes through life undefeated. It helps to realize that everyone around us is in the same boat.
Once we learn to accept the fact that we humans make mistakes all of the time, and that each mistake offers us an opportunity for personal growth, we can learn to forgive ourselves and others when we make them. We can laugh at ourselves, and be grateful for a “God” who loves us not because of what we do or don’t do, but because of who we are: sons and daughters of the Divine!
Next posting:”Healing the Dysfunctional Family”
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Blog #40: Toxic Shame Part One: A Broken Self
People with toxic shame believe that there is something fundamentally wrong about themselves .Because of this crippling self-concept, almost inevitably going back to some childhood trauma, their approach to life is
distorted and self defeating. Some of the most common distortions, culled from psychologist John Bradshaw (who got them from Albert Ellis), are listed below:
1. Mind Reading: This is a little bit like paranoia. Because one feels inadequate as a person, one assumes that everyone else does as well. One might think, for example, that “Everyone thinks I look bad with this dress on.” Or, that person in my office thinks that I am inadequate. In these instances, one may be right or one may be wrong, but the assumptions are created by our imagination.
2. Personalization: Your wife mentions that prices are really getting high at the supermarket. The insecure person immediately assumes that the wife is taking a pot shot at one’s ability to be a bread winner. The most innocent remark is always taken personally.
3. Overgeneralization: The words to look out for here are “all”, “every”, and “everybody.” You castigate whole classes of people based upon particular instances that you have experienced or heard about. All blacks, Mexicans, Muslims, teenagers, or whatever, are all the same.
4. Nominalization: Here a process is made into a thing. “This world is going down the tubes.” Are there some unhealthy things going on today? Of course. But there are some great developments also, like the Internet and the elimination of many diseases.
5. Either/Or Thinking: Everything is perceived in extremes. If a man or woman is not President of the company by the age of 40, one concludes that one is a failure. If a person does not look at 60 like they did at 25, they conclude that they are ugly.
6. Being Right: Because we feel so insecure about ourselves, we always want to make ourselves right and the other person wrong. We find it hard to conclude with something like, “You may have a point there” or “I never thought of it that way.” No, in this mindset, we never concede a point to anyone. We need to make ourselves feel okay by putting down the other person.
7. Global Labeling: Here, with sweeping generalizations, we dismiss individuals and companies and even nations with a global putdown. “The Russians are all liars.” Everyone who works in Wall Street is a crook.”
8. Control Thinking Fallacies: Either we think that we have total control over our lives or no control whatsoever. Either we are a “Rescuer” or a “Victim.” Both mind sets stem from toxic shame.
9. “Should” Thinking: We find it difficult here to deal with what is. We are driven by what people “should” do or “ought” to do. Our happiness is based upon expectations that we have set up on others.
Is there any hope for being healed from toxic shame? Certainly. This is where good therapy can come in handy, especially something called Rational Emotive Therapy. Google it. There is a lot of good there. But the one “cure” that strikes at the core of our mental dysfunction is an experience of being loved unconditionally by the Power that moves this universe. If we can ever move from seeing ourselves as skin encapsulated egos to being made out of “God Stuff”, we will never be the same again.
Next posting: Toxic Shame Part Two: To Err is Human
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The contents of this blog were delivered at the Ordination ceremony of The School of Sacred Ministries in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, on May 21, 2016.
There is one photograph that everyone here has seen, and that everyone can certainly call to mind: the photograph taken by our astronauts of our beautiful blue green planet earth, viewed from the moon. After that photograph, we can never look on ourselves in quite the same way again. From the moon, we do not see the boundaries of individual countries and we do not see evidence of any religious denominations.
Certainly, the world still needs, at this time, caretakers of individual countries, although we question and shift boundaries of those countries all the time. And the world still needs those who pastor individual flocks of believers, although the face of religion has shifted dramatically even over the last couple of generations.
Travel has allowed us to see and experience how interconnected we are. And technology puts us in touch with different ideas and realities at a stunning rate. The genie is out of the bottle and the world is forever changed. People question everything and they are, increasingly, open to Truth wherever it is found.
Most of us, I suppose, were brought up in the religion of our parents, if we were brought up in any specific religion at all. Today’s young people do not consider themselves bound to the religion of their ancestors. They feel free to adopt any religion or no religion.
Let us make no mistake here. Higher Power has not changed; we human beings have changed, not by personal choice, but as a result of evolution. The Truth is still the same- yesterday, today and tomorrow- but how we pursue the Truth will never be the same again.
In one of the universities where I teach, La Salle University, a decision has just been made to essentially eliminate all of the books in the library. The first two floors of the library will be converted into a workout facility; the top floor will be completely reserved for computers and printers. That is where the latest research is taking place. Students still use books for courses, but the books are considered outdated virtually as soon as they are printed. The world wide web is the new library.
In such an environment of unprecedented change, we need a new breed of spiritual ministers who are nimble on their feet and their minds. Their church is without walls.
Those who will be ordained here today embody the spiritual leader of the future. Not ordained to represent any one traditional religion, they have been called to represent Universal Principles that underlie all religions of the world, but also go beyond each religion, to the spiritual core that unites all of us as God’s children.
There is a need for individuals with such a vision. They represent the cutting edge of our evolving world consciousness. As old forms of religion crumble before our very eyes, a new minister arises, open to good psychology and especially open to science. As Jesus of Nazareth put it over 2,000 years ago, “New wine needs new wineskins”, a new consciousness needs new forms. The old forms and formulas do not seem to hold the answers for many people today. Reading the signs of the times, these ministers are responding with their “Yes” to the call of spirit.
As they do so, they will need humility, faith and courage because they dare to tread where few before have dared to go: towards a form of spirituality which respects all religions, yet does not identify totally with any of them.
May you who have assembled here today to be with your loved ones about to be ordained give them your full support. You may not fully understand what motivates them to take this step; perhaps they themselves do not fully understand the meaning of this day. But they feel called to surrender with all of their hearts and souls to what the poet Dante called “the Love that moves the sun and the other stars.” We trust that this love that moves the universe will use our loved ones in a mighty way.
Next posting: Toxic Shame Part One: A Broken Self
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All religions of the world acknowledge that “mind” can be used to improve the physical condition of others. This is not just their belief, but their experience. But the hard sciences are not so sure about all of this. Where, they ask, is the proof? These scientists are so closed to the notion of the effectiveness of “prayer” that they have never even investigated the claims.
Not all scientists, however, are so closed to the experiences of these millions of believers. Recently, some open minded researchers have begun to conduct controlled, rigorous studies of the claims of those who believe in prayer. Cardiologist Randolf Byrd, formerly a professor at the University of California, is one of these “prayer researchers.” In a study of 393 coronary patients at San Francisco General Hospital, Dr. Byrd conducted a 10 month study designed to see, simply, if “prayer” works.
Protestant and Catholic prayer groups were recruited from around the country to pray for selected individuals. The study was acknowledged by peers to be fair and unbiased. The results of the study proved to be shocking, at least to the broader scientific community. According to Larry Dossey, M.D., who has studied the result of the experiment extensively, the prayed-for patients differed from the non-prayed-for patients in several areas. Quoting from Dr. Dossey:
“1. They were five times less likely than the unremembered group to require antibiotics (three patients compared to sixteen patients).
- They were three times less likely to develop pulmonary edema, a condition in which the lungs fill with fluid, as a consequence of the failure of the heart to pump properly (six compared to eighteen patients).
- None of the prayed-for group required endotracheal intubation, in which an artificial airway is inserted in the throat and attached to a mechanical ventilator; while 12 in the unremembered group required mechanical ventilatory support.
- Fewer patients in the prayed-for group died (although the difference in this area was not statistically significant).”
According to Dr. Dossey, if this experimentation had involved the use of drugs or surgery, the medical establishment would have been quick to label the results as a “breakthrough.” But, since it involved the “mumbo jumbo” of “prayer”, scientists were strangely silent on the whole topic. Still, Dr. William Nolan, known as one of the most prominent debunkers of “faith healing” in the country, has declared, “It sounds like this study will stand up to scrutiny… maybe we doctors ought to be writing on our order sheets, ‘Pray three times a day.’ If it works it works.”
All of the above is, of course, medical heresy. But, if scientists are to be consistent in always believing in their beloved “scientific method”, then the above testing must be accepted and dealt with seriously. “Believers”, all of us having been educated according to the scientific model ourselves, should welcome these studies. While our experience tells us that “prayer” (however we might define it) works, some of us still might have mixed feelings in this area, since our schooling has been largely inhospitable to a spiritual worldview. Today, perhaps more than any time in the past 600 years, looks like a time when the gap between science and spirituality is on a path to healing.