Aug 212012

here I am lord

If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person, by Philip Gulley and James Mulholland. I first encountered the writing of Philip Gulley and James Mulholland when writing an article on universalism in an earlier blog post. The other day I re-read that post, and decided to go looking for the book. I’m tremendously grateful that I did.

In a way, this book picks up where Rob Bell’s Love Wins leaves off. Where Bell asks probing questions about the idea that God will eternally punish people in hell, Gulley and Mulholland passionately chronicle their journey to the conclusion that He will not.


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The book is written in an unusual dual first-person. The two Quaker pastors combine their experiences into one whole, while continuing to use “I” to communicate the experiences, leaving the reader to guess to which of the authors any particular experience may belong. The book begins with a faith-changing experience one of the pastors had in preparing the funeral sermon of a troubled woman who died while on the very threshold of returning to her faith. In a flash of insight derived from the parable of the prodigal son, the pastor realized that God wasn’t waiting for her to cross that threshold, but had run out to meet her.

Along the way, Gulley and Mulholland come to trust their own experience of God as a supremely loving being and subordinate their understanding of scripture to that experience. This leads them inevitably to the conclusion that not all of scripture portrays God properly. A view of scripture where all scripture is equally perfect and inerrant is discarded.

Other universalist authors (such as Rob Bell to a degree) believe they can stay within the boundaries of an inerrant view of scripture and still hold to universalism. It’s an intriguing project – and If Grace Is True has a nice appendix presenting the universalist view from scripture and church history.  But ultimately I think these two pastors take the more honest approach. The love of God and the love of our neighbor are the two principles by which any other principle is to be judged, and even scripture must bow to the principle of love.

I’ve quoted this before, but let me present a brief exert of this book to give you an idea of it’s heart:

I had rejected the image of a wrathful, powerful God anxious to punish the wicked in the fires of hell, but I was left with a benevolent but feeble God who had no choice but to destroy the ones he loved. Hell was another Holocaust, where once again millions would be thrown into the furnaces while God stood by powerless and defeated. When confronted with the inconsistency of an all-powerful God incapable of accomplishing his desire, I drew a careful distinction between what God wanted to do and what God was able to do. God was not free.

I defended our freedom to reject God–but denied God’s freedom to reject our rejection. Acknowledged that God can have mercy on whom he will have mercy, and compassion on whom he will have compassion, but I quickly defined the persons and situations in which God could be merciful and compassionate. My God was shackled, powerless to act.

This shackled God was not the God of Jesus.

Simply put, this is a wonderful book, for anyone who is ready for it. Universalism makes the gospel into the really good news, and alters our view of everything around us – for the better.

Feb 282011


The Secret: The Power by Rhonda Byrne. I had previously reviewed wildly popular book “The Secret” by this author. I gave a mixed review of that book, in which I noted that a book on how to get anything you want can send an entirely wrong message to someone in the grip of powerful ego drives.

The newer book hit me wrong right out of the gate. It was only as I continued to read (in this case, listen) that I started to appreciate what the author was actually saying.

I’ll give away the “secret” of the book by saying that the “power” mentioned is Love. A wonderful message. However, in proving that everything in the world is created and obtained through love, Rhonda equates a fervent desire for a pair of designer shoes with “love” for those shoes. Unfortunately, spiritual teachers such as the Buddha identify desire as the root of all suffering.

The Power

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As the book went along, however, I realized that Rhonda means something different by “desire” than the Buddha means. What she’s actually suggesting is not a desperate longing for material things, but an awe, appreciation and gratitude for material things. This puts her program on an entirely different (and spiritually helpful) footing. For example, she shares a remarkable point of view for dealing with envy. Rather than having negative feelings about good things coming to other people, we are to consider this as a sign that we are on the same “frequency” as these good things, and that the universe is presenting them to us to enjoy, love, and HAVE if we wish. By this rationale, we should be as happy and grateful for someone else having good things as we would if he had them ourselves.

I found this a unique approach. While perhaps not as pure as being grateful for other’s good fortune because we are spiritually one with them, it’s a good start. And there is much to praise in the book. It’s well written, easy to follow, full of helpful quotations and excellent summaries. It encourages us to practice love, gratitude and positivity in every situation – and that can’t be bad. I found that simply listening to the book on audio while commuting improved my entire day.

The audio version, by the way, has lots of interesting music, sound effects, and Rhonda’s own unique voice. I found these helpful and engaging, but it’s easy to see how some people might find them distracting. Such people might prefer the book instead of the audio.

The original point I made in my review of The Secret still applies here I think. You have to begin with a good perspective on who you are and what your purpose is to avoid being sucked into an ego trap. As Jesus put it:

So then, don’t worry saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For the unconverted pursue these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But above all pursue his kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  (Matt 6:31-33, NET)

In a sense, however, the Power is much better on this point. An approach of cultivating love and gratitude is already a long way along the road of seeking the Kingdom than simply trying to practice the “law of attraction”. I think this book rounds out and corrects some of the potential problems with the first, and I’d recommend it over the Secret.

Feb 172010

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.. (1 Jn 4:18 NKJV)

While fear is less and less a part of my life, there are still several situations that can cause me to panic. One is hypodermic needles. That’s improving. Another is sudden financial problems. The other day I opened my bank account online expecting to find a healthy balance only to find myself severely overdrawn. It turns out that when I had tried to make an online payment for $100.00 I had instead typed in 100,00 (a comma instead of a period). The company had processed a payment for $10,000.00 instead of $100.00 It took a week to straighten out, and my immediate reaction was panic to the point of having trouble breathing.

Fear is an instinctive reaction designed to make us alert and cautious in the presence of danger. This may be a very useful reaction when crossing a savanna teeming with lions. Unfortunately, our modern minds can create the mental experience of danger when there is no real physical threat. In the case of my mangled bank account, the actual situation was a matter of some pixels on a screen. There was no immediate threat or danger. My fear was the result of mental scenarios that my mind began to construct as it tried to process the implications of the error. Unfortunately, the mental reaction of fear was totally unhelpful in this situation. I needed a sense of perspective, clear objective judgment and cool reason. Instead I got tunnel vision and a body prepared to jump up a tree to escape a lion.

The spiritual roots of fear are even more destructive. Our ego, convinced of its separation from everything and everyone else, and conscious of its own mortality, constantly fears its own annihilation. The mind under the dominion of ego lives with a persistent background noise of existential fear. How do we escape it?

Since fear originates in the mind, practice in quieting the mind is a very helpful discipline to control fear. Meditation has many benefits, and this is one of them. A mind disciplined by meditation, like a well-trained horse, will not panic and throw its rider at the first sudden noise. Even if the horse jumps, like my mind did at the first sight of my negative bank balance, it can quickly be brought under control by the steady hand of consciousness. Meditation also shifts our consciousness away from the fearful ego and toward the greater Self, which is immortal, indestructible and beyond the reach of fear.

The passage from 1st John at the beginning of the article also suggests another spiritual practice that can help us. The way to escape the fear that torments us, says the author of John, is through perfect love. The Greek word for love here is “agape”, which is a rather difficult word to translate. It is not a simple human love. It is a divine, selfless openness and acceptance. It is a complete and total lack of resistance to the reality of the present moment, a surrender to the wisdom of God and the universe. It is a pure love for all that is, including the present situation.

In a post I did earlier, quoting from David Hawkins, I mentioned that this unconditional and universal love and acceptance is the first step to enlightenment. As a side benefit, as you perfect it, fear begins to disappear in your life.

There are other spiritual practices that can help transcend fear. People who have had near-death experiences report that the experience leaves them with a complete lack of fear. While we can’t deliberately have a near-death experience simply to cultivate this benefit, many of the same benefits can occur when we master astral travel, or out-of-body experiences. By having first-hand experience that we are more than just our physical bodies, and that our consciousness transcends our physical life, we lose some of our fear of physical dangers.

For particular phobias, hypnosis and self-hypnosis can also be helpful tools to rearrange our mental wiring.

Have you had good success with a particular method for overcoming fear? Share it with us in the comments.

Feb 072010

The Soulmate Secret by Arielle Ford. As I am coming up on my 28th wedding anniversary, I wasn’t particularly in the market for a book on attracting a soulmate. But I saw this book in the “New” section of the library and thought it would be worth reviewing for the benefit of the many people who ARE focused on finding a soulmate. I’m glad I did, because the ideas and techniques are an excellent roundup of ways to manifest anything at all. They are tailored for finding a partner, but they are also good basic manifestational practices.

The author has been closely involved with many people in the “manifestational” movement, including working on “The Secret”, so its hardly surprising that the book reads like a workbook for “Secret” readers. But the additional detail and examples make it well worth reading.

Arielle deals with techniques like a treasure-map (or vision board), The “List”,  Feng Shui, mandalas, and exercises, activities and visualizations for preparing yourself, releashing old attachments, “feathering your nest”, forgiving yourself, releasing your desires to the universe, and enjoying the waiting time. She illustrates all these points with wonderful stories and quotations along the way. Some of the stories are quite remarkable, such as the man who, in the course of trying to attract his soulmate, woke up from a dream with a phone number running through his head. He sent a text message to that number, and the back and forth conversations with the woman on the other end led to a meeting and falling in love. And lest we think she’s only an armchair expert, she shares the story of how she used her own methods to attract her soulmate and husband Brian.

If finding a soulmate is a big need in your life, I’d highly recommend this book. Anyone who wants to manifest anything at all would also find it a good summary of manifestational methods.

Below is an interview with Arielle about her book.

Jan 222010

I was listening to a Tony Robbins CD in the care and something he said struck me as being a little off. He was speaking of relationships, and how we begin by being intensely “in love”, full of enthusiasm for each other, and then eventually the enthusiasm wears off and things wind down to a lower key. The problem I have is that Robbins treats this as if it is the result of our being inattentive to our relationships. I think it’s actually quite natural and to a degree – healthy.

Gary Chapman, in The Five Love Languages, talks about the same phenomena. Research shows that the phenomena of being intensely “in love” lasts about two years. During that time, it is easy to overlook each other’s faults, and easy to find each other fascinating. This is actually nature’s way of keeping a couple together long enough for a child to be conceived, be born, and reach the age where he or she can walk independently.

This initial attraction fulfills biological needs. But human beings also have a higher emotional life. While two years may be enough to bring a child into the world, both the couple and the child have higher emotional needs that require a more developed kind of love. If properly used, the intense period of “love” is a chance for a couple to learn enough about each other to develop a deeper and more profound relationship, even if it isn’t as emotionally intense.

So, I don’t think we should be beating ourselves up if we don’t always feel the intensity of being newly in love. Intense chemical bonds give way to more intelligent psychological relationships based on more conscious choices. The only problem is if we fail to put in the additional work and time. If we expect the emotional rush to carry on, then we may fail to put in the time and effort necessary.

So I’m happy Tony Robbins wants us to put in the effort. But let’s not beat ourselves up too badly if longer term love turns out to be more gentle and calm sort of thing.

Dec 272009

Over the holidays I finished The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate by Gary Chapman. I had previously read his Love as a Way of Life. Like the previous book, The Five Love Languages started in a rather quiet, understated way and gradually grew on me.

As with many of the books I review, I was listening to this one in audio format, and Chapman’s Midwestern accent initially got on my nerves. But his gentle sincerity began to come through as he got down to business and the book turned out to be very readable (or listenable as the case may be).

The thesis of the book is simple: Each of us has a preferred “love language” – something that most clearly says “I love you” to us. Chapman identifies five of these primary languages: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch. Each of these can have various “sub-dialects”. The problem comes when partners don’t know the other’s primary love language.

For example, if you show your love to your wife by giving her thoughtful gifts, but her primary love language is actually quality time – she will come to feel unloved, in spite of your attempt to communicate love to her using a different language. If she gives you words of affirmation, but your primary language is physical touch, or acts of service, you will tend to feel emotionally empty.

Often we try to communicate our love to our partners in our OWN preferred love-language, or in the languages our parents used with each other. But these may not be our partner’s love languages at all. Chapman leads you through questions and exercises to figure out what your primary love language is, and what your partner’s primary love language is. Few people, once they KNOW their partner’s love language, fail to speak it.

Chapman also emphasizes that once the brief period of intense attraction (usually lasting about two years) is over – love is a conscious choice. You can choose to speak love in your partner’s language – even if you don’t particularly LIKE your partner at this stage of your relationship. And these conscious choices WILL fill up your emotional bank as a couple and make your life much happier.

This is a deservedly popular book, and I would highly recommend it for anyone who feels their relationship is less than it could be (which includes most of us).

Below is a short intro to the book by Dr. Chapman.

Dec 012009

love Gary Chapman is most well known for his first best seller, the Five Love Languages. I haven’t read the earlier book, but it apparently deals with different methods of expressing love – words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, acts of service, and physical touch. The thesis of that book was that it’s important to express love in the way that the person receiving our love best understands.

In this book, Chapman steps back and addresses a more fundamental issue. WHY bother with being a loving person in the first place? Throughout the course of the book, Chapman paints a wonderful and appealing picture of what a loving life is like. He illustrates such qualities of love as kindness, patience, forgiveness, generosity, courtesy, humility and honesty.

I originally didn’t expect much from the book. How much can one say about something like kindness or patience, for example, without sounding trite? But Chapman manages to fill each chapter with wonderful and engaging stories that open up new vistas about what it really means to live a life full of love. The loving actions he describes aren’t generally large or heroic. Simple acts of kindness and courtesy light up the pages.

Yet the whole book just radiates a profound and peaceful atmosphere. Although Chapman is a minister, the book avoids being overtly Christian or scriptural, and in taking this road the book becomes accessible to anyone with the spiritual sensitivity to recognize love as an important aspect of their lives.

If you are feeling apathetic or disenchanted with the place of love and relationships in your life, this book can renew your enthusiasm. Based on this book, I intend to look into more of Chapman’s writing.

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