TAKING A KNEE

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In recent news, there has been controversy around the NFL and the national anthem. Players across the country are choosing to kneel or link arms as symbols of protest and solidarity. This has left people in uproar, claiming that this display is a sign of disrespect and an insult to servicemen (and servicewomen) both current and past. However, the players place their actions on the divisive nature of our country from the bottom all the way up to the top.

Many people in this country do not like the state of things and disagree with the direction America is headed in. This distaste can be displayed in different ways and we are free to do so. We do not have to blindly follow or support a government or its members. This is one of the most quintessential American principles, to freely voice disagreement and dissatisfaction with our government. This is the right NFL players are exercising. And it is something that must be permitted.

My only criticism of their protest is that while it is highly visible, it is not very constructive. Just look at all the controversy debating what kind of statement they’re making. In the act itself there are no viewpoints to be shared, no conversation to be had. The real power is in the players’ words released through interviews or social media. This is where Americans can agree or disagree, find solidarity, or work toward understanding.

Though I have reservations, I stand and sing the national anthem with my hand over my heart as a sign of hope that this country can come to live by those words. I hope our leaders can live by those words, not only when it is convenient for them or their bank accounts, but every moment of every day for every American. I sing out this hope and then try and make it a reality in my little corner of the world. I hope you do too.

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RELIGIONIZATION BACKLASH

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It seems that governments and their policies come in waves. Actions and decisions come… and then the backlash follows. We see the religionization of war, politics, and nationalism through history when our understandings were less evolved. The resurgence of this religionization in modern times is backlash from secularism. It is a way to turn the tide and perhaps turn the clock back to another time. It is a round-about way to inject religious morals into public policy while keeping secularisms essentials intact. After all, secularism dictates the separation of church and state. It dictates the separation of organizations, not ideals.

Government officials bring their ideals into office with them. This is inevitable. People don’t live in a vacuum and they cannot be expected to check religious beliefs at the door when going to work. One’s beliefs, intentionally or unintentionally, will make their way into decisions. For government officials, these decisions effect all of us. There is no clean division as secularism often implies. To act more fairly and more mindfully, we must leave behind the unrealistic ideal of the ‘the vacuum’. We need to find a way to think and act that preserves our faith without requiring everyone to concede to it. Then both faith and the freedom of all can thrive.

THE ROLE OF HATE IN RELIGION

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In recent weeks, America has been hearing a lot about hate. In this run, hate has been centered around race. Both the supremacists spewing hate and the protesters toting tolerance often use religious themes to support their cause. Religion certainly plays a role in hate and anti-hate rhetoric, but what role does hate have in religion?

Most religions and great schools of thought have some type of long distance goal or reward. Whether it be salvation, nirvana, or enlightenment there is reason to do ‘good’. Somehow it seems like we are closer to the reward when we tell ourselves we’re making more progress than others. Is it just human nature to one-up each other? Since I would like to think it is human nature to help one another, I will offer a different answer: our fixation with opposites and dichotomies. Us humans tend to use duality in our sense of logic: If we are going to get to the ‘good’ place, that means someone must fail or go to the ‘bad’ place. This very human notion has made its way into the great faith traditions and given the false notion of hate in religion.

While I think such dichotomies in our world and our intellect can teach us much about balance and duality, it is important to remember this is a human trait. The divine as a whole is limitless. As is the potential for love in our world. As long as we continue to believe some must suffer for others to succeed, hate will have a place in religion, business, economics, and every facet of life. Rather than dichotomies we must become well versed in unity. Then hate will appear as the choice that it is instead of a fact of life.

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.

 

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.

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.