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.

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.

 

 

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.

ORGANIZED RELIGION: JUST A BUNCH OF DRY BONES?

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The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”

I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”

So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.

Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’”

Organized religion in secular, Western countries has been on a decline that shows no signs of stopping. Most of those remaining are often struggling to survive. Spending most of their energy on survival, less energy is available for secondary matters such as those of spirit. But with logistics being attended to while spiritual activities go by the wayside, can these struggling organizations really be called ‘religious’? Is such a title shallow and arbitrary? Are our current religious establishments just dried up remnants of organizations with real spiritual value from days gone by? Are we just dry bones from bodies that were once alive and active with matters of the spirit?

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. In the reading from Ezekiel, it takes two attempts to bring the bones back to life. One attempt brings the bones together and recreate the bodies that once were. But they are not alive. In my opinion, that is were organized religion is now. The ground work is laid, the organization and structure are there, but that spark of life is still largely absent. We need living word, will, and action to move the spirit and create organizations that live in this world rather than function as relics of fossilized traditions.