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.

 

 

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.

GET OUT GO BIG

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Even in this global world of ours, especially in this global world of ours, we can get caught up in the daily grind. We hear about events from around the world, and yet sometimes we can’t see past the end of our own noses. Between twitter, to-do lists, work demands, Facebook, family obligations, schedules and smart phones we often lose sight of the big picture.

When your feeling bogged down or tangled up in the web of contemporary living, its important to reconnect with the big picture. For some of the spiritually inclined, this might mean thinking on or studying the divine or otherworldly powers.  For others in might be getting in touch with raw reality and the earth in its purer forms by getting out in nature. Whatever it takes to get outside of yourself and get a taste of the big wide world out there, do it.

Meditate or pray. Take a leisurely walk and take a new route, go somewhere new, get lost. Get out in nature and find a view point where you can’t see one man-made thing. Spend time with animals, maybe some big animals to remind you of how small you are in the world. Look up at the stars. Research the cosmos. Try something new, try being vulnerable, try letting go of some control and roll with the punches.

Get out and get your mind out of the rat race you have created for yourself and experience the world as it is without your constructions. Such efforts will not only bring peace to you, but help you function with balance. With a bit of perspective, you can keep overreaction and irrationality at bay. With our eye on the big picture we will become even more effective at our daily tasks, all the while staying focused on what’s important.

LANGUAGE & MEANING

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If you wanted to know the meaning of a word, you would look it up in a dictionary. Now that often means looking it up online rather than in a physical book. But the dictionary remains to be a useful and simple tool. Look up a word alphabetically and find the definition(s) listed behind, along with other useful information such as its grammatical part of speech. It is a very simple and straight forward process.

But the simple, straight forward nature of dictionaries can be misleading in terms of 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. Events and people give words new meaning. You often certain groups ‘hijacking’ words for their own purposes, associating them with different meanings. Many times, these are controversial groups giving words new meanings that a perceived to be negative by the general populous. But not always. Often these new meanings come about quite innocently. For example, people of various spiritual traditions often use the same vocabulary to speak about very different ideas. A southern Baptist and a New Ager may both talk about Jesus Christ, but they use that term with very different meanings. It is not done intentionally to spite another group, but nonetheless it can cause confusion and upset.

Can we continue to use ‘hijacked’ words, or those imbued with new meaning, according to their standard dictionary definitions? Or will they be tainted with their new meanings forever? If there is one thing this conundrum ensures it is that language is alive and meaning is not static. Instead it is perpetually changing. Together we shape language, and determine what meanings remain relevant and which become obsolete. Meaning changes but it isn’t fickle, it’s a powerful force that changes how we view and speak about our world. Let’s remember that as we choose how to address each other, what to publish, and what to listen to.

THE DIVINE, ORGANIZED RELIGION & THE FAITHFUL

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This week the following question was posed to me, “How is the Church important to the world?” My first thought was, “It isn’t. The Church isn’t important to the world.” Immediately I started back-peddling to myself. I was shocked by initial, cold reaction. Surely the Church, or rather institutional religion as a whole, is important. If not, then it should be… shouldn’t it? Perhaps not.

In eras gone by, organized religion took on many functions now widely taken over by government. That type of importance is no longer a factor. Now the important functions of organized religion are spiritual growth and guidance on moral issues followers face in the world. That being said, religion in and of itself is not the driving force behind these functions. Religious institutions may help facilitate these functions by reminding us of the history of human – divine relationship, hopefully providing inspiration encouraging the continuation of the tradition. But organized religion is not essential for the faithful to experience spiritual growth or lead their lives in a morally upright fashion. The core is God, the divine. That is the ultimate factor at work in people’s hearts and minds. That is what’s important.

The divine will always take precedence over religion. I believe organized religion can find its importance leading initiatives on issues like socio-economic disparity, gender equality, peaceful international relations, access to affordable quality healthcare, environmental protection, and access to healthy and sustainably grown food. There are plenty of single interest non-profit groups that work on these initiatives, but I believe there is a place for a holistic stance by organized religion to take these issues head-on.

People can develop their own personal spirituality. But putting those beliefs to work and organizing enough man-power to make a difference takes organization, position, and means; all of which the Church has. In this scenario, organized religion finds its highly appropriate niche in service to the divine. 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. Inward looking eyes need to turn outward, ready to acknowledge their position in the wider world with due thought and effort as to what that position should be. The divine is already at work in people’s hearts, now organized religion need to make a place for people to do God’s work and benefit from it.