MANY FACES OF LOVE

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I feel that if extraterrestrials were to discover earth and observe us, they would conclude that our lives are centered around love. Or perhaps they would determine that a lack of love, or the quest for love is central to earthling life. It seems that any way you square love, we are always looking for it, growing it, despising it, or running from it.

Think about all the time we spend looking for ‘the one’ or painstakingly working through issues with the loved ones already in our life. Romance is a genre all its own in literature and film. Some would argue that the best songs of all time are love songs. Love permeates our lives as individuals and in the wider culture. Due to this fixation, love has become lucrative. Think about the amount of money spent and made off internet dating platforms and products that promise to make one irresistible to potential partners. A good deal of Western economies capitalize on ideals of love.

Love is also the overwhelming common denominator in religions and spiritual traditions. All of them discuss in some capacity how humans should regard the world, each other, and the divine through love (or lack thereof). Across the great traditions we find examples of conditional, temporary, eternal, and boundless love. It is a main subject in religious texts and practices. Love’s wide sweeping prevalence across all realms of life shows how important it is. However, the light in which it is depicted varies considerably.

Love can be a weakness to be manipulated, something to distort and pervert. It can fade and extinguish. It can grow and last. It can empower and strengthen. These are all realities of love. There are schools of thought and tactics to support each one. But in these times, I implore you to foster love that heals rather than hurts, and is steady rather than fleeting. So when extraterrestrials find their way to us, we can show them the beauty of earthling life.

SOCIAL ISSUES & FAITH

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An article in Crain’s Detroit Business touched on an interesting theory concerning falling rates in church attendance in Detroit. The source of this line of thought is Khari Brown, a sociology professor of Wayne State University. Brown argues that in addition to reasons such as the overall population reduction in Detroit and wide sweeping changes in our culture’s religiosity, churches’ involvement in conservative social issues may be turning parishioners away.

I find this an interesting factor that should be considered in regards to falling religious participation and any attempts at resurgence. With technology allowing us to create and consume information almost constantly, we are bombarded by opinion. Are centers of faith there to weigh in on social debates, or something more. More than ever people need a place to get in touch with something bigger than themselves, bigger than the social ills of our time, even bigger than humanity. The goal is not to escape this world, but connect with God or the divine in order to bring some divinity back to this world.

We don’t need another source to insist that its way is the ‘right’ way. Instead we need a place of quiet that allows people to cut out chatter and find connection with something greater. If centers of faith focused on providing experiences with the divine rather than commentating on current issues, then perhaps people would find their way back to the pews. The desire to remain current drives faith organizations to such social issues, but their roots in relationship with the divine cannot be forgotten in such endeavors.

 

Crain’s Detroit Business. “Religious groups hope Detroit’s rise helps them”, by Kirk Pinho. May 15-21, 2017.

 

DETROIT CHURCHES

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Crain’s Detroit Business published an article about how churches in Detroit could find their circumstances improving. Not as one might expect through increasing membership, but rather rising property values. The hope is that congregations can sell their existing buildings, opting for newer properties with less maintenance costs. Falling membership, and subsequently fewer donations, require making cuts to the budget in order to remain viable.

Faith traditions with infrastructure will undoubtedly have many logistics to navigate. With less money coming in this becomes harder to do. The strategy to use the real estate market to churches’ advantage is logical and sound. Part of me wishes the article could have been about a wonderful resurgence in Detroit’s faith centers. But instead it was about methods of coping with the dwindling importance of religion.

Perhaps our centers of faith will have a comeback to mirror the city’s. That is something that time will tell.

 

Crain’s Detroit Business. “Religious groups hope Detroit’s rise helps them”, by Kirk Pinho. May 15-21, 2017.

 

 

LIGHT & DARK: A STUDY IN SHADOWS

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In the major monotheistic religions, a good deal of time is spent acknowledging the darkness in humanity. We admit our sinful nature, and work with such darkness by aiming to reconcile with each other and God through repentance. Through this process, individuals are encouraged to emulate the divine as it is considered the main source of light and goodness in the world. Eastern faith traditions acknowledge both the light and the dark, but more time is spent on cultivating the light compared to Western counterparts. Rather than an external divine source, followers are encouraged to find and grow the light and goodness already in themselves.

One school of thought focuses mainly on darkness, while light exists outside individuals. The other line of thought focuses on the light already present in the individual. Darkness is typically not dealt with. If anything, the Eastern traditions only address it with respect to expelling and dissipating darkness. It is dismissed but never really analyzed. I think a blending of these tendencies is called for. Dwelling on either the dark or the light denies another part of ourselves. Without fully acknowledging and working to understand both sides, we risk either fearing ourselves or failing to live up to our potential.

EMOTION CREATING THOUGHT OR THOUGHT CREATING EMOTION

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I was talking about meditation with a young woman that follows the teachings of Yogananda. I asked if she found it difficult to meditate. My companion answered yes, very much so. In fact, she wasn’t sure if she had ever managed to actually meditate. She had been developing her meditation practice for two years and could not say if she had every meditated ‘successfully’. My companion explained that according to Yogananda’s teachings, the goal of meditation was to cease all thought, which can be achieved by letting the heart be still, suspending emotion. I found this concept interesting. In this line of logic, emotions drive thoughts. It’s quite contrary to the way we usually think about emotions. Typically, we have a thought, either elicited by external circumstances or from within the conscious, and then that thought triggers an emotional response. The two differing notions create a scenario much like the chicken and the egg. What begets what? My companion an I contemplated this for a while, reaching no definitive conclusion.

Having thought on this further, I think this conundrum can only have a both / and answer. We’ve all had cases where emotion is reactive to an idea presented by ourselves or someone else. But I also think that we’ve all experienced emotions with no trigger, perhaps this can best be described as a physiological experience. With the emotion already present, it’s only a matter of time before the mind finds a thought to justify or perpetuate the emotion, giving way to the scenario Yogananda describes.

It makes sense that he would discuss this scenario because it would be an especially difficult part of meditation. The logical self is deciding to meditate, so it would be working to clear the mind. But the emotional self is more difficult to tame and creates havoc with the conscious. Emotion exists independently from logic. Logic can have great influence over the thoughts in the conscious, but it has little effect on emotions that manifest in the entire body. In order to affect emotion, it takes a multipronged approach that targets both the mind and the body. Yogandanda and other great thinkers provide such an approach through yogic practices such as asana, mantra, and pranayama.

ALIVENESS

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I’ve claimed again and again in my writing that it isn’t something alluring or exotic in the secular world that draws people away from organized religion, but rather something within organized religion that turns them away. Some of the most common reasons people give for leaving their faith organization are hypocrisy, bureaucracy, and plain old personality conflicts. But not everyone storms out angry following a string of offensive incidents. Some simply become disillusioned and disappointed by scarcity. Scarcity of man-power, scarcity of open-mindedness, scarcity of inspiration, scarcity of professionalism, and scarcity of a divine connection.

I read something recently that made me think about people’s motivation in all aspects of their lives, especially faith. According to Joseph Campbell, “People say we are seeking meaning for life. I don’t think that is really what we are seeking. What we are seeking is to feel the rapture of being alive”. This idea wraps up that scarcity idea in a nice little package. People want to feel alive. And in America’s world of junk food and television, we need to feel that aliveness desperately. When our place of worship does not provide it, or worse, works against it with stagnation and decay, the choice to move on is a natural one.

 

Campbell, Joseph. 1972. Myths to Live By. New York: Viking Press.

4TH OF JULY FREEDOM

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Today, on July 4th, I would just like to encourage everyone to take advantage of their freedoms. In the United States, we have a great deal of freedom in regards to spirituality. Depending on where you live in America, it may seem like there is only one spiritual path, or at least one that is better accepted than others. But in all reality, there is almost no option unavailable to us.

Whatever your spiritual inclination, celebrate your freedom to believe and act as you choose. Celebrate being able to belong to your faith tradition. Celebrate having the freedom to mix traditions into something more unique. Celebrate not having to do anything related to faith. While I believe that a spiritual life is healthy, worthwhile, and relevant, celebrate if you are an atheist. The freedom to not believe is not available to all. The ideal of independence that is so vital to the fabric of our nation, has given rise to an entire spectrum of spiritual traditions (including a lack there of in some cases). Freedoms as varied as ours gives way to diversity. And that is most certainly something to be celebrated.

Happy Independence Day!