Freedom as a spiritual exercise; day 17 of Ramadan

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Today in the United States of America we our celebrating our independence day. Our freedom was won in becoming our own nation over England, we wanted to be free and so we did that by putting together our model of government and fighting a war against the British. In the end, we became a country!

Freedom isn’t free, it is a costly process but it is worth it through and through. Freedom is also a symbiotic relationship; by giving it to someone else the tension that was there, the hard times and heartache is lessened to a large extent to the receiver but also to the giver.
I am reminded of Desmond Tutu’s work in South Africa after Apartheid by way of the Truth And Reconciliation Commission:

Knowing that it can be done on such a large scale makes it all that more “easier” to do. I say easier loosely because rape occurs in the world, police brutality occurs, families fight over significant and mundane things, and forgiving is hard and perhaps healing is even harder.
As a follower of Christ I am reminded of two Bible verses pertaining to forgiveness:
Matthew 5:44 – “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
Matthew 18:21-22 -21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

It’s why I think the words and actions of Jesus are so revolutionary in today’s world as they were in his day and age because it shifts paradigms, it breaks down walls, it takes the way we do things and says ‘we can do better than what we once could do’. Instead of letting the anger and frustration and pain become an unending cycle of violence, choosing to forgive takes the anger and frustration and pain we have and removes it from the equation.
Now when it comes to forgetting offenses past and present I think that’s a delicate subject in and of itself. Because I think that it’s nearly impossible to do, however it is possible to learn from those experiences and say I never want to do that again / I never want to do that again to others. And we grow and hopefully we’re able to go on but I do realize that offenses aren’t the same and it takes different amounts of time and forgiveness to get to a place where the pain we feel is removed from the equation (and some occasions it never leaves)…but it’s worth trying regardless!

So with all that being said, forgiveness is my keyword on this 17th day of Ramadan. Thanks be to God who is quick to forgive us and is slow to anger. May we ourselves also learn to forgive others and learn to forget what others have done so that we don’t have to perpetuate a cycle that only causes pain and suffering in our lives as well as in the lives of others. May we also learn to forgive ourselves when the occasion calls for it as well.

Salaam alaikum be yours now and always,
Nathanael

Being present as a spiritual exercise; day 16 of Ramadan

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“The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.” – Thích Nhất Hạnh

All too often in my life I am constantly on the go without truly being aware of what I am doing in the now, and a good deal of the time I am able to dial back into myself and be present, this act is known as mindfulness.

I first learned about mindfulness as I helped assist in a Dialectical Behavior Therapy with some of my former residents. We discussed as a group the power of presence, and to a certain extent being aware of the here and now all while being present. So for instance, I am in my kitchen in my apartment typing up this post. I am slightly chilled because I went swimming earlier and my central air has done its job at keeping my house cool for the summer. I am smiling because I’ve had a good day spent mostly outdoors enjoying the Independence Day parade in my hometown…and so on. This act, which I do think of being a spiritual exercise, helps me keeps things in perspective, and so I practice mindfulness frequently and add it to my style[s] of praying as well.

Being present has helped me become more intuitive, that after a period of go go go, I am able to start filtering out what’s been said and what has really been said. Because, and not all the times mind you, this is actually about that; the reason someone became upset and stormed may have been this thing, but perhaps what led up to that one thing setting them off was finding out their mother wasn’t doing well, that they have a quarterly review coming up, etc. And so we get a part of the story but not all of it, and those individuals need grace just like we all do.

So with all that being said, mindfulness was my keyword on the 16th day of Ramadan. Thanks be to God who is ever present in all our lives! May we learn to take things at a slower pace so that we might become more in tune with ourselves and with each other and what the will of God looks like in our lives.

Salaam alaikum be yours now and always,
Nathanael

P.S. 5 Steps for Being Present

Morning meditation 7.4.15

Morning meditation 7.4.15

Morning meditation 7.4.15

It’s been awhile since I’ve been to a fourth of July parade, but it is my intention to go to the one in my hometown today. But I’m sure I will incur some wrath by those who don’t understand that I don’t say the Pledge of Allegiance nor do I stand when others do for it.

You see, I believe in ideals that are bigger than the United States of America; I pledge allegiance to the kingdom of God and all of its inhabitants therein, I pledge allegiance to doing my part ushering forth Perfect Shalom and Tikkun Olam, I pledge allegiance to not seeing the world as a bad place getting worse, I pledge allegiance to those who are deemed enemies, I pledge allegiance to those who are subjugated to torture and life in prison, I pledge allegiance to minorities social outcasts the marginalized the wounded the hurt the broken, I pledge allegiance to my LGBTQ brothers and sisters, I pledge allegiance to my brothers and sisters of all faith traditions, I pledge allegiance to my brothers and sisters for atheists and agnostics, I pledge allegiance to whoever I have wronged and whoever the church has wronged…

These are those that I pledge my allegiance and solidarity to, because the kingdom of God is bigger than flags and nations. May my pledge and my love be louder than the Pledge Of Allegiance!

Time management as a spiritual exercise; day 15 of Ramadan

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“Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana.” – Groucho Marx

If you think about it, time is essentially all we have. Because when we have shed our mortal coils, that’s it, game over, fin, adios, sayonara, goodbye… But if we’re wise we can make the most of our time rather than wonder at the end of the day “where the heck did this day go?”
Perhaps the best way to begin with time management is finding out what consumes the most amount of your time during the week and then building around that. In my case I have a Monday through Friday 7am to 3pm job, and while I don’t plan for much before hand apart from getting ready to go, after 3pm is up to me to make the most of it.

From there figure out what activities you’re involved with and/or activities you want to be involved with, add that to your time management but also add on time getting to and from said activities as well as prep time (if needed) in doing the activities. From there allow room for leisure; I bring this up because sometimes in the busyness of every day we don’t allow ourselves time to take things easy. In fact, some of us actually feel guilty to have time spent doing nothing productive but hey, if you’re this kind of person I give you permission to be lazy every now and then.

Incorporate time to spend with friends and family; their time is limited inasmuch as yours is and because of the temporal nature of time this time might be the last time. I don’t mean to be morbid, I am just conscientiously aware of how quickly time goes by.

If you’re the adventurous outdoorsy type, I recommend using some time to go outside into the great outdoors and just be. Not everyone can handle being in the outdoors, but if you can, do it! Allow room to go shopping for needs and wants, allow room to cook food and enjoy it at a gradual non-rushed pace, go biking, be mindful of time spent online / Facebook / watching television because these activities in moderation are good but they can certainly be time sappers and if you’re not careful the day can be that much closer to the end because you spent too much time doing these activities.

And lastly if you’re of a faith tradition, take time to engage God in your synagogue / church / mosque / temple / etc. or if you need a break from the community that can be found in places, take time to engage God on your own terms in your own way (I like spending time with God in the great outdoors or swimming in Lake Michigan).

So with all that being said, time management was my keyword on this 15th day of Ramadan. Thanks be to God for giving us the time we have on our earth. May we invest it wisely and not waste the precious minutes / hours / days / months / years we’ve been given.

Salaam alaikum be yours now and always,
Nathanael

Allowing room for doubt as a spiritual exercise; day 14 of Ramadan

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“The opposite of faith isn’t doubt, it’s certainty.” – Anne Lamont

There was a time in my life when I read my Bible and I took the entirety of it literally. From a 6 day creation found in Genesis to end times imagery found in Revelation, if it was in the Bible I thought…believed…it had to be completely true and literal.
But I didn’t account for several things; context, audience, hermeneutics, literary techniques, different writers, figures of speech, historicity, etc.
I admit, when I started reading the Bible through a lens that wasn’t completely literal, it shattered me and I was somewhat distraught, because I thought that’s how you had to read the Bible, that’s you had to deem it infallible and inerrant- the classic ALL or NONE fallacy…

But nowadays I examine and read the Bible through the lens of Jesus, in which I do think that is how it meant to be read. I also read it with the mindset of “it being written by real people in real places in real times.” (hat tip to Rob Bell for that terminology)
I think that because I do hold this stance of the Bible, and even my faith, I am at a place where I’m healthier for it. I’m not hung up on parts that I once deemed necessary to my faith; yes I do find myself doing what I can to emulate Jesus in my life in my doing as well as my being, but sometimes you gotta eat the meat and spit out the bones and fat, sometimes you have to take portions of it seriously but not literally.
My church covered this a few months ago as to what a healthy stance looks like when it comes to reading the Bible:
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I agree with all those statements, and so while I might align myself as a Red Letter Christ-centric Universalist with theistic evolution thoughts and ideas, I hold it with an open posture that says I might be wrong…and you know what, that’s okay if I am wrong, my faith is one that’s okay with the challenging that comes from the inside as well as the outside.
Lately I’ve been commuting and listening to the podcasts of Drunk Ex-Pastors. Their views, one of an atheist and the other of a Catholic, are refreshing and encouraging because they too have a nuance of being subjected to scrutiny and the possibility of being wrong and it sure trumps the views I grew up hearing about it’s all about right beliefs, right practices, and saying the right things. I’ve been alive for 30 years and I realize more than ever that God’s bigger than our beliefs, our dogmas, and our doctrines.

I think that’s why all of our religious and non-religious beliefs should be put under the microscope of healthy criticism and skepticism. It’s one thing to say well I believe X because of Y and it’s another that says well I have faith about X and Y, but…I might be wrong. On a human level this works immensely because while we can subjugate ourselves to tribalism, to one view, and to one thought, there’s a bigger world outside of our churches, our synagogues, our mosques, our temples, etc!
Somewhere down the line we’re going to run into people who think and believe differently (gasp!) than ourselves, and rather than retreating to our worship places and our sacred texts, perhaps the healthiest thing to do is get to know those individuals better and dialogue about it all. I wouldn’t be surprised in the midst of such dialogue we’ll find that the commonalities will outweigh the differences we have.
This is also applicable to our brothers and sisters who are atheists and agnostics, because they too experience life like we do, they’re just not bound to a set of religious beliefs and texts. Even in my own life I am thankful to God for the atheists and agnostics in my life, for while there are differences there are more commonalities to be shared.

So with all that being said, doubt was my keyword on this 14th day of Ramadan. Thanks be to God for allowing us space to have our beliefs but to accept our doubts as well. May we put our beliefs to the side and allow room for doubting and take things at faith value. May we learn to appreciate the value of our commonalities with everyone we meet and put our differences asunder for the greater good.

Salaam alaikum be yours now and always,
Nathanael

Renewing your vows as a spiritual exercise; day 13 of Ramadan

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In a few days from now I will be assisting with my friends renewal of their marital vows to one another. This will be a first for me and yet I think it is an important act for married couples to do at least once in their married lives to each other.

What crosses my mind when a couple gets married is that I hope they’ve put forth more effort in preparing for marriage than the day spent getting married to each other; yes the marriage ceremony, whether in a courthouse or other place is important, but as those two individuals exchange vows to one another, the getting-married-to-one-another part is all the more important.
So when it comes to renewing vows it has the potential to put everything into focus; by thinking about the reasons, the why-I-married-you’s may help jump start a marriage if it needs it. Ultimately renewing one’s vows should ultimately be for the couple saying them and not for the friends and family who might gather, while the latter have importance in serving as witnesses to the act, it is ultimately upon the two individuals to carry out the vows mutually exchanged.

And so with all that in mind I am more than happy to have a role in helping my friends renew their vows to one another. I cannot guarantee anything, but I do believe that if they turn to God for guidance, if they communicate to one another about what’s going on in their lives, if they seek help when they need it, if they mutually submit to the other person on a continual basis, they’ll have what it takes to continue on in their marriage to one another.

So with all that being said, renewing vows were my keywords on this 13th day of Ramadan. Thanks be to God who watches over us and protects us, he who never slumbers but is always awake and ready to help us in life. May we be faithful to our significant others and they to us, may we continually mutually submit to one another out of love for the other. And may the vows we say, whether for the first time or in a renewing vows ceremony, be something that comes from our hearts and backed up with our actions as well.

Salaam alaikum be yours now and always,
Nathanael

Paying bills as a spiritual exercise; day 12 of Ramadan

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They say that the only certainties in this life are death and taxes, yesterday was a case of the latter. June’s wrapping up and with that I need to be financially responsible to several companies as well as to my landlord by way of paying bills.

I can’t complain about my bills, for they help to put a roof over my head and allow me to keep in contact with other people and to also help keep me in shape. As I was paying my bills I remembered a bible verse found in James 1:17, and it says this; “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.” Now I don’t know why I found myself thinking about this verse except perhaps because I have a job that pays me money, not a lot but I am able to stay afloat and from a global perspective I am doing quite well.
The money I receive helps to keep my car running, puts food on my table, allows me to go to events, and it also allows me to pay my bills. I don’t mind paying my bills because it is a spiritual exercise, and if you don’t believe me I urge you to give some thought about what paying bills accomplishes in your own life, perhaps they’re the same or similar to my own.

It’s good to pay bills even if they appear to be daunting and I know full well what it’s like to barely make ends meet. It really can be a trying time in one’s life when money is hard to come by and when bills seem to keep coming in or they are in fact coming in.  And yet if you think about it, when bills are paid you can breathe a little easier and you can also thank God! You can also be mindful of where you’re at in life; that you’re alive, that you’re still breathing, that you’re still going, you’re still making it even if not by much.

So with all that being said, paying bills were my keywords on the 12th day of Ramadan. Thanks be to God, The Great Provider, who helps us and takes care of us and provides for us. May we in turn offer up what we have to those who are in need, so that we too can help others and take care of others and provide for others.

Salaam alaikum be yours now and always,
Nathanael