MARKETED MEDITATION

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My boss got talking about meditation, and how it could benefit us in the workplace. No doubt it would be good for us. He had just gone to a conference about how to boost productivity and meditation was the key method presented. Meditation is often presented as the means to overcome certain problems or improve in certain areas. To streamline matters even more, it is presented as a simple list of steps guaranteed to work. In just five steps you can find success, money, happiness, and (of course) less stress. Meditation is marketed as a fix for tangible issues rather than a lifestyle to improve the person overall. There is no shame in introspection or looking to become a better person, but we need to look past the gimmicks and remember that there are no quick fixes. Meditation isn’t a magic cure, or a pill you can take. It is a practice that must be grown and nurtured. The best thing you can give toward meditation practice is simply time and patience. No gimmicks or quick fixes to be had.

PAYING FOR SPIRITUALITY

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The spiritual marketplace and consumerism are considered by many academics to be main components of New Age spirituality. But even suppliers of New Age goods and services find that their consumers come and go, and business isn’t always booming. In fact, they have many of the same monetary complaints as leaders of World Religions. Spirituality in the West is subject to the same principle no matter what faith tradition that spirituality stems from.

As capitalism and consumerism have grown hand in hand, our concept of ‘value’ has changed. This is especially true I think for Americans. Compared to other Westernized nations our goods come relatively cheap due to low labor costs here in the USA, and the exploitation foreign workers through their extremely low wages. We are used to ‘getting a deal’, ‘getting bang for our buck’, and ‘getting more for our money’. Eventually, value gets equated with quantity. (For more on this, see my article: “Equating Value To Money: Effects On Religious And Spiritual Involvement”.)

It is hard to quantify matters of spirituality. In turn, this challenge makes people perceive matters of spirituality less valuable than other elements of life that prove to be more tangible. It’s on tangible items, people often choose to spend their money instead of spiritual experiences. Especially when money is limited, priorities do not often fall in favor of spiritual goals. Perhaps the low status of spiritual experiences is not due to a conscious decision to rank it lower, but rather the effect of an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ factor. To combat this way of thought, no new jazzy products or marketing techniques will convince people to spend money on spirituality. Instead our perception of value must change. When we find more value in safety, security, love, peace, and fulfillment than in tangible items that become out of date, worn, and break, then spirituality will move up in monetary priority.

 

 

NEW AGE: A GREEDY SPIRITUALITY?

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One of the biggest criticisms of New Age spirituality is its ‘commercial nature’. Taves and Kinsella identify shopping / the spiritual market place as one of four major characterizations attributed to New Age in scholarly literature (84-85). As far as looking to define the essence of New Age, I don’t think this judgement holds in regards at all to tangible goods. Every ‘World Religion’ has revenue raising products such as books, CDs, and decorative items that increase the wealth of companies or individuals. The main target of the criticism toward New Age greediness centers around services and education. Some may take donations for providing services (such as readings and healings), but you are more likely to find a determined price list. Similarly, knowledge is passed through paid classes and programs.

The criticism gets the most traction with the assumption that the motivation behind all this is money. In my experience, the prices simply allow New Age service providers to live (and not particularly lavishly). Whatever faith you follow, money is necessary in our world. People cannot teach or nurture others if they cannot support themselves in the most basic ways. When that support moves well above and beyond basic, that is another story. Determining what constitutes as ‘basic’ would be difficult considering people of different backgrounds, especially those from developing nations compared to those from the developed world.

From a consumerist point of view, there is nothing bad about spending money on such products if what they receive in return is ‘worth it’. Similarly, those in New Age that find energies significant, find monetary exchange as a way of creating balance. They believe that to receive something you must give something. In this lofty ideology, ‘mundane’ money can work as part of that exchange. It is simply give and take, action and reaction.

A benefit of this system, is that there is little question where funds are coming from. The ‘consumer pays’ method is relatively transparent. In other faiths, the wealthier members typically contribute more to compensate and carry members with lower incomes. There is nothing wrong with this method. I find it admirable. But it is important to remember there is no such thing as a free lunch. And with New Age’s monetary flow, it’s easier to know where money is coming from. Scholarships are sometimes made available for New Age events and workshops, but the contributors are usually identified. Not so much for the sake of ego as transparency.

In the discussion of New Age commercialism, it is important to remember that there is no overarching doctrine dictating that followers must spend money in prescribed ways. There are admittedly more subtle pressures from followers and leaders alike, but the choice is ultimately the seeker’s. It is possible to be an active member in the New Age community with little cost. People can study and move along on their journeys independently. The decision where to allocate funds is left to followers, they have total control, they have the choice.

Perhaps in this way New Age is consumeristic in the way members are given a plethora of choices. But the greed often attributed to New Age is ill-placed. As a whole, service providers in the sector of alternative spiritualities are not looking to swindle followers out of their money. They are looking to make a fair exchange. Sellers in the New Age market place are looking to provide something of spiritual value to those seekers that feel called to experience.

 

Taves, Ann & Michael Kinsella. 2013. “Hiding in Plain Sight: The organizational forms of ‘unorganized religion’”, in New Age Spirituality Rethinking Religion. Acumen Publishing Limited.

MUNDANE & DIVINE TURNS TWO

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Here is a look at Mundane & Divine’s second year. Can’t wait to see what year number three will hold!

INTERFAITH COMMUNITY CROSSING BOUNDARIES – A reflection on an interfaith event. My plan was simply to find some common ground among these people of faith. But rather than honing in on and sharing personal experiences of faith and worship with each other, the group was much more focused on global issues. Some of them dealing with elements of religion such as religious extremism, terrorism, and violent land disputes. But many discussed misuse of power, greed, and ignorance in wide sweeping contexts.

FINDING SANCTUARY & TAKING REFUGE – The words ‘sanctuary’ and ‘refuge’ bring to mind images of heavy doors and high walls. But it does not have to be so. Simpler and smaller notions can have the same effect.

WALKING TWO WORLDS: A BATTLE OF THE HOURS – Spending a large amount of time in the secular realm to make a living can make ‘voluntary’ spiritual involvement difficult. I fully believe it is possible and satisfying to live in both the secular and religious realms, but finding the time can be a challenge.

A SPECTACULAR SUMMER SOLSTICE – There is no better time than the summer solstice to reflect on how intermingled the mundane and divine are.

OPINIONS IN TIMES OF TROUBLE –  There is a lot happening in the world right now: terrorist attacks and mass shootings, major elections and economic moves. There is a lot in the public eye at the moment, much of it troubling. And right now, everyday citizens are not only clinging to their opinions, but flinging them about for all to see.

GOD BLESS AMERICA – Of the Western, secular nations, the USA seems the most inclined to mix the religious and secular.

BENEFITS OF A SPIRITUAL LIFE: THINKING BIG – Those active in their spirituality get a lot of experience thinking about big ideas like justice, honor, love and sacrifice. Trying to comprehend the expanse and depth of the divine, or just glimpsing the divine mingle with the mundane, takes thought to a new level. People start to think beyond themselves and beyond the life they know. Without participation in religious or spiritual activities, people are less likely to think ‘think big’.

SIMPLICITY – I am partial to the argument that the myriad of religions on our planet are varied, cultural expressions of divine belief and human’s interaction with that divine source. This quote by Sri Chinmoy connects these various cultures with a ‘base’ human characteristic. A building block that transgresses cultural variances: our love of complication.

WALKING THE TIGHT ROPE AT WORK – While secularism works implicitly to keep religion out of mainstream culture in the West, there are more specific measures in place to keep it out of the work place.

GOVERNMENT & GOD AT A WEDDING – This Saturday I am getting married at my tiny Episcopal church. With my fiancée being Australian, we have been comparing notes on differences in wedding tradition between our cultures. But as we’ve sat through our-premarital counseling with the priest that will officiate our ceremony, I’ve learned about the ceremony, its symbolism, and both is secular and sacred components. Even in a church wedding, both are present.

GOOD ALL AROUND – Through we come from different walks of life, we all have good to share. In a time where violence seems to be erupting in every corner of the world, there is no time like the present to start spreading that good around.

DISCOVERING CHANGE THROUGH ROUTINE RITUAL – While ritual has many functions and affects, I wish to focus on one: its ability to provide stability and help us hone in on the subtle and not so subtle changes in ourselves and our surrounding world.

WORSHIP FOR TODAY – What I find curious is how New Age is so often criticized for its currency and attractiveness in today’s culture. Yet these are attributes Christian churches are now looking to exhibit, though with some definite differences.

THE PROGRESSION OF ‘TRUTH’ THROUGH BALLS AND STRIKES – I hope to learn more about this progression of thought: pre-modern, modern, and post-modern. But more so to explore how elements manifest in the New Age milieu, and how these different theoretical structures are reconciled in this highly complex and loosely organized system.

MORALITY AND RELIGION – Given my time in Australia, I would agree that religion has a stronger old in America that in the land down under. But murder and drug use continues to claim proportionately more people in America. Such correlations beg the question, if so many Americans are religious then why does the country seem to be going through a moral crisis?

THE MUNDANE & DIVINE IN CHURCH TRANSITION –  There is a long history of service to the church, and a long history of church being in that place. Now as we look to move place, we begin to scrutinize what church is, and how we take it with us.

SERVING TWO MASTERS – “No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” – Luke 16:13.

 EARTHLY DIVISIONS HEAVENLY UNITY – Very rarely do we hear about unity, about people banding together. In this world, we are so focused on divisions that it is easy to forget that we are all people of God.

FAITH: TO DIVE OR WADE IN? – While there is nothing bad about increasing faith, maybe that’s not where the emphasis should be.

MODERN WITCH TRIALS – We think of ourselves as logical, thoughtful, and a world away from our dark age counterparts. But perhaps these archaic characteristics have simply taken on modern flavors.

PARTICIPANT OBSERVATION IN FAITH – How do we foster genuine respect through understanding if we keep other religious groups at arm’s length?

THE GREAT DIVIDE – Is this divide (or lack thereof) an absolute truth? Or is it dependent on the follower’s tradition and beliefs? Are we a world apart from the divine? Or closer than we think?

HOLIDAY HULLABALOO – Strictly speaking the material items are not necessary, but they are helpful in igniting the reason for the season in the hearts of believers.

SPIRITUAL NATURE & RELIGIOUS CIVILIZATION – Here the divide between nature and civilization is mirrored in religious attitudes in the West.

SPIRITUAL TO SELF-HELP: HOW FAR OF A LEAP IS IT? – I appreciate that Bolles has been able to show the Western world that a beloved ‘secular’ book is in fact one rooted in scripture. In his teachings, he goes further to discuss the connections between faith and ‘real life’. The duality of his work is a great reminder of the duality between the mundane and divine in life.

YOGA AS PRAYER – Ultimately, yoga isn’t all that different from prayer. At churches and temples everywhere, prayers are raised for church members and local people going through difficult times. If the unity of mind and body can help accomplish moving meditation, then adding hopeful wellbeing for others creates prayer.

ONE EXTREME TO THE NEXT – How could such opposing lifestyles co-exist in the same place? More likely than not, these people do their grocery shopping in the same places, and send their children to the same schools. How did such opposites take root in the same community?

THE RELIGIOUS / SPIRITUAL SPECTRUM ACROSS THE RADIO WAVES – It’s a great wide world of spiritual and religious experience, and we’re in a time where we get to discuss, share and experience the whole spectrum of it.

MANY SEASONS – Whether you’re a pagan following the cycles of the earth or a Christian following the narrative of Jesus, both cycles prepare believers for the whole of the human experience.

THE MYSTICAL & BOUNDARY BREAKING TRINITY – For those that think Christianity is dull or vanilla, one need look no further than the Trinity for a sharp example to the contrary.

LIVING THE BIBLE THROUGH MANY PATHS – It has been many years since the Bible was compiled. Many more years have gone by since any of its components were written. And many, many more years have passed since the events documented in the Bible transpired. You would think with all that time, we would have gotten a handle on interpretation by now. But it seems that as time has passed, things have only gotten messier in this regard.

RESOLUTION REVOLUTION – People are looking back over 2016 and deciding what they would like to change or how they would like their lives to be different by the time 2017 comes to an end. For some, this can be like an awakening, an uplifting and exciting time. For others, it is full of regret, disappointment, and negativity as they take stock of their current circumstances and perhaps the downslide since the last new year’s celebrations.

LET LOVE GO FREE – In many Christian traditions, followers are baptized as infants or small children. In the sacrament of baptism, the baptized are welcomed into the kingdom and community of God. As children, the baptized have done nothing to earn this, they have done nothing prove their worthiness. But it is given freely by virtue of wanting to know and get closer to God. In baptism one enters the Christian community and is unconditionally loved by God.

CAPITALISM WITHOUT CONSUMERISM? – No doubt the two are related, but it seems that the principles of consumerism and capitalism are so deeply intertwined that many Americans can scarcely tell the difference anymore. It got me wondering how this strong link arose and ultimately: Can we have capitalism without consumerism as we know it?

A SPIRITUAL RESPONSE TO THE WOMEN’S MARCH – We are all equal in the eyes of God, so why aren’t we equal in the eyes of our government?

PRESERVATION V. PRESENCE – Yes, we are called to preserve traditions that give us identity. But I feel we are called in an even bigger way to be a light of divine love in the world.

THE MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE ROAD TO LOYALTY – Many world religions claim to be mutually exclusive, meaning you can’t maintain beliefs and practices from more than one religion. Their paths are depicted to be utterly separate, with no opportunity to walk more than one at any given moment. But the anthropologist in me has been wondering lately about the practical, rather than spiritual, benefits of proclaiming to the ‘one true way’.

REFINED RELIGION V. RAW SPIRITUALITY – With God’s creation all around us, it may seem that there is no need for the refined religion of man. But I believed there is a time and place for both refined religion and raw spirituality.

BUSYNESS AS A SPIRITUAL HINDRANCE – We’ve been told that we can do it all. We’ve been told that with planning, organization, and commitment we can become efficient enough to keep our worldly commitments and pursue spiritual goals. But do we actually need more unstructured time instead of a schedule filled to the hilt?

THE RELEVANCE OF RELIGIOUS SCRIPTURE – But I am a firm believer that there is a timeless value to volumes like the Bible, the Torah, the Upanishads, the Koran, the Tao Te Ching, the Yoga Sutra, and pagan mythologies that were not always considered ‘mythologies’. The reason being that across time and the cultural landscape of the world, humanity does not change all that much.

THE DIVINE, ORGANIZED RELIGION & THE FAITHFUL –  I encourage the Church to start doing God’s work rather than working to be on the same plane as God. Let the divine lead people in spiritual endeavors and the Church lead them in godly action.

WORDS OF WISDOM – The faithful as well as the lost have always sought out spiritual people for their wisdom, and I believe will continue to do so for the perceivable future. The great and continuing need here warrants significant attention and work if we are to return the masses to a community based spiritual life rather than one largely lived out in solitude.

HELPING OTHERS & HELPING OURSELVES: CAN WE DO BOTH? – A LOOK AT MODERN CHRISTIANITY – So, is it good and wise for Christians to leave the safety of the flock to help the lowly in an act that might be trying to their faith? Or do they stay well within the boundaries of the Christian community to protect and grow their faith?

THE HELL OF MUTUAL EXCLUSIVITY – Religion is still being used as a weapon, often using mutual exclusivity as justification for the mistreatment of others. The notion of mutual exclusivity, the belief that only one religion is correct, is the fuel for people’s hate. Nothing good comes out of it.

ORGANIZED RELIGION: JUST A BUNCH OF DRY BONES? – In America, I feel organized religion is fighting death, fighting to be more than dry bones, even though it seems to become more of a threat every day.

LANGUAGE & MEANING – Meaning is so much more than definition. There is history to be taken into account, along with connotations and context. Dictionary definitions do little to help this.

GET OUT GO BIG – We hear about events from around the world, and yet sometimes we can’t see past the end of our own noses.

SPIRITUAL STORIES – From time to time people are asked to describe their faith. When this is presented as an open question, rather than a set of mutually exclusive categories, the answer often comes in the form of a story.  It is not a simple explanation, but a very telling tale of spirituality, identity, and growth.

PATRIARCHAL LANGUAGE OF RELIGIOUS TEXTS – The patriarchal language in religious texts has been a point of discussion in recent years.

NEW NOTIONS OF COMMUNITY AND THE THRIVING NEW AGE – But now boundaries are being drawn in new ways that allow for more diversity within communities.

CELEBRATION OR SILENCE UNDER SECULARISM? – Such freedom is supposed to be facilitated through the process of secularism, separation of church and state. But does secularism produce religious freedom?

MODERNIZING FAITH TRADITIONS – How do faith traditions be timely and timeless, and respect tradition without doing everything traditionally?

MODERNIZING FAITH TRADITIONS

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As church sizes shrink, many churches have made an effort to modernize their services in hopes of attracting the younger generation. Organs have been replaced with guitars, stained glass windows and dark pews replaced with all that is light and bright, prayer books and hymnals are being taken over by screens and projects. I think there is most certainly an argument for taking measures to ensure religious communities remain relevant; to show how the divine, ritual, and spiritual community still have a place in the world.

However, in doing so, it is imperative that the church does not simply take on characteristics of the outside world to better fit within it. Any changes should be motivated by divine inspiration, not pressure from the secular world. People come to church because they are looking for something the outside world doesn’t offer. Religious communities must be different from the culture that surrounds them, though not in a way that it ignores the outside world. Religious communities need to maintain some sense of separation (divine v. mundane) while emphasizing that the divine does move and act in the ‘mundane’ world.

The remaining question lies in the implementation, the rubber to the road, how religious communities achieve this without cheapening their respective faith or becoming stagnant. I don’t think there is one overarching method that will work. The ‘how’ will vary from place to place, but the intention should remain the same, “[To] be simultaneously timely and timeless, to engage tradition without being traditional (Trumble in Hendrickson, 152).

 

Hendrickson, Robert. 2013. Yearning: Authentic transformation, young adults, and the church. US: Morehouse Publishing.

 

 

CELEBRATION OR SILENCE UNDER SECULARISM?

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American school children are taught that Europeans came to the new world for greater religious freedom. Such freedom is supposed to be facilitated through the process of secularism, separation of church and state. But does secularism produce religious freedom? Religion is not only missing from the political sphere, it is largely missing from the public sphere altogether. (The exception seems to be in instances where there is money to be made.) And rather than freedom for people practice any faith of their choosing, faith traditions have become marginalized. Under secularism, freedom of religion is often silenced instead of celebrated.

How do we celebrate faith traditions rather than silence them? The answer starts with abandoning our ideas of mutual exclusivity. Listening to people talk about their faith, and even if their faith is not your own, does not reduce the amount of your own faithfulness. A Christian can show enthusiasm or support for a Jewish friend studying the Talmud, without being less of a Christian. A Jewish person can support a Buddhist friend to return to a neglected meditation practice, without being a sinner. An Atheist can even wish a Muslim, “Happy Eid”, without compromising their own philosophy.

It’s not about philosophy vs. philosophy, but people holding up people. When people start to support others’ spiritual beliefs without bias, then secularism will be able to provide true freedom. That is the only way to make it fair. Either every tradition and philosophy is silenced, or all are celebrated. As long as people insist on picking and choosing one faith over others, silence will be the only option for secularism.

NEW NOTIONS OF COMMUNITY AND THE THRIVING NEW AGE

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Scholars have attempted to explain why New Age spiritual phenomena has grown in popularity in recent decades. Many discussions focus on the differences between New Age and ‘conventional’ World Religions. And more specifically, why the properties of New Age might be more attractive to the modern person on an individual level. Some thinkers go broader, looking at secular societies where New Age has flourished, to see what societal factors might give reason to the rise in popularity of New Age. But I would like to focus this article on a principle discussed little in academic circles: ‘community’.

In the literature, the term community may be used to discuss organizational structure. But thus far, it has been utilized little to explain how our changing notions of ‘community’ have made this the new, spiritual age. What constitutes as community has changed. In the past, a community might be a group of people that live in the same geographical area, people you are related to by blood or sanctioned binds (i.e. marriage or adoption), or people that adhere to the same belief system you follow. All of these determinates for community are fairly straight forward and definite. They have tangible boundaries. But now boundaries are being drawn in new ways that allow for more diversity within communities. I attribute this shift to globalization.

We are exposed to more diversity now than ever before. Scholars writing on New Age often identify globalization as a factor, but only as a means for greater availability of diverse spiritual beliefs and practices. But globalization doesn’t just give us more choices, it makes diversity a constant and integral part of our lives. We are getting close to people and ideas from different backgrounds. We are embracing diversity, and in turn, we are building communities that allow for and thrive on it. This new-found value for diversity is making homogeneity an unnecessary, and perhaps even undesirable, characteristic for communities.

In many World Religions, members are defined by and required to adhere to the same doctrines or spiritual law. They profess their beliefs, worship, and ask for guidance through the same sanctioned means. With our global world allowing for more diversity within defined communities, spiritual diversity can flourish in groups of supportive, open-minded groups, giving way to the ‘New Age’. We no longer need for communities to be united in every thought and action. Members simply need to have a mutual respect for one another and a common interest. In the case of New Age, that interest is personal / spiritual growth. While group members have that one commonality, their means of exploring that interest is not prescribed.

Under traditional religions it seems the means of exploring matters of the spirit are predetermined and enforced. The resultant, shared experiences bring about stronger community bonds among members. But New Age communities seem to be just as tightly knit without those sanctioned experiences. In New Age phenomena, the freedom of individual exploration provides flexibility to accommodate many deep and powerful experiences, while the respectful and open-minded nature of the group keeps members intact, involved, and interested.