NEW AGE: WHERE A SPIRITUALLY DIVERSE WORLD MEETS

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At various ‘New Age’ groups, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the diverse beliefs of those in attendance and their ability to share meaningful discussion and experiences with the upmost respect. This impression was reinforced at a meditation workshop I taught last weekend. In speaking with the students, it was clear that they were attending the workshop for a variety of reasons and that there were as many different spiritual inclinations as attendees. Despite their diversity, everyone enjoyed themselves and found something to appreciate from the afternoon together. This happy outcome seems all to rare amongst openly diverse groups. So, what makes it work in the ‘New Age’ crowd?

Such success may be attributed to followers’ shared demeanors. In general, New Agers are curious, tolerant people.  But common personality traits between a large group of people seems unlikely. Looking for an underlying cause, we can examine the loose structure of the ‘New Age’ milieu. The overall loose structure would allow seekers to mingle and cohabitate with people of diverse faiths. There are few hard and fast rules to police and enforce. If anything, unwritten rules of etiquette are enforced more than any structural boundaries.

While other realms have more rules and structure, I would like to see them adopt standards of etiquette similar to that employed in the ‘New Age’ groups. This extension would involve not only other faith traditions, but public policy as well. We need to allow diverse beliefs and opinions to surface so they can be discussed and acted upon. The fact that this is already a reality in some groups is encouraging, but we have a long way to go.

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CHANGING STORIES

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What we believe and how those beliefs lead us to interact with the world as we know it is complex to say the least. Humans, in their complexity and creativity, create stories to illustrate these nuances. These stories include myths, sacred scripture, secular narratives, and fables. They simultaneously capture the climate of a specific time and place, and focus on timeless themes.

As many of these stories date back to antiquity and have oral origins, the reason for their popularity and longevity is often cited to be lack of available entertainment and low literacy rates. But time has proven a deeper attraction to story telling. One reason perhaps is the versatility. When a story no longer speaks to the day’s audiences, a new story can be crafted to explore the same concept. We can return to the same timeless themes again and again with a story that is current and relevant.

Consider how the stories we tell have changed along with human culture. Over the years, the importance of our stories’ divine origins has ebbed and stories with secular roots have taken root in our culture. I think that whether a story is thought to be passed down from God or man, the most important factor is the content of the story. Can we craft tales that inspire us to persevere, strive, show compassion, be brave, and clever?

What modern day stories do you think fit this mold? Do you think the same story will be told generations from now?

PAVING THE WAY TO SUCCESSFUL RESOLUTIONS

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‘Tis the season for resolutions. I’ve wrote previously about products that claim to work miracles and how alluring their ads can be when we have a daunting task ahead. But this year, looking to 2018, I’d like to go farther than warnings about products that are too good to be true. Instead we’ll discuss adding an extra step in your resolution making process to increase your chances of success.

Once you’ve listed your resolutions, read through them and start to brainstorm potential challenges you will face in order to achieve them. Start by writing down logistical issues (i.e. scheduling conflicts, not having necessary equipment, trigger points that will make you want to revert back to old ways, etc.). Some simple planning and preparation should take care of most of these issues. Next, go a step further and write down limiting beliefs that will thwart your plans. Rather than concrete items or situations, consider ingrained mind sets that will keep you cemented in old ways and block you off from new ones.

Limiting beliefs might include: I need cigarettes. I always have and always will be out of shape. I never have enough time. I don’t like healthy food. Learning new things is difficult.

The logistical / practical issues are easy to rectify. Limiting beliefs on the other hand will take repetitive attempts to overcome. You will need to be patient to reprogram the way you think. By bringing attention to these types of thoughts, you will not only get closer to your resolutions, you will create deep and lasting change so that those resolutions stick.

Good Luck & Happy New Year!

A REASON TO CELEBRATE THIS HOLIDAY SEASON

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As we get into the full swing of the Christmas season, it becomes inescapable. Which begs the question, in a secular society should one be able to go completely unaffected by religious observances and holidays? Freedom from religion rather than freedom of religion. Given the extreme limitations that would have to be imposed in order for this to become a reality, I think such a system would end more freedoms than it would create. Besides, I don’t think there is anything wrong with people being exposed to beliefs and practices outside their own faith system. It is a chance to learn, gain vital understanding for this global world, and perhaps have a new spiritual experience.

At Christmastime for example, you don’t have to be a Christian to find meaning in the holiday season. The emphasis on family and togetherness can inspire people from all faiths to return to and appreciate their roots. Christmas can inspire anyone to practice ‘goodwill toward men’, to give and be compassionate to those less fortunate. In all the twinkling lights we can be encouraged to seek out glimmers of hope in the darkest times.

Of course, this principle doesn’t apply to just Christmas. The themes of just about any religious holiday can transfer and be meaningful to those outside the related faith system. Rather than get offended by inevitably coming into contact with celebrations of a different culture or faith, find a point of meaning that impacts you. Find a way to make it ‘your’ holiday. With all the negativity and disappointment in our world, we should look for things to celebrate, not things to complain about. If you aren’t celebrating the birth of a savior, celebrate the lengthening of days, the warmth of family, or the innate good in humankind.

SECULARISM & FAITH IN THE HOME

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Secularism works to push religion out of the public sphere and into private. However, it allows for organized religions in the free, Western world to be contained in buildings dedicated to the faith community. While faith communities and their physical presence is permitted and still a large part of Western society, I feel secularism lends itself to a more intimate sense of faith with respect to the individual and the home.

As the boundary between public and private are constantly policed in secular societies, the easiest and most natural place to take advantage of religious freedom is within the individual and small groups that can be contained in private residences. Take note about the appearance of yourself (your person) and your home. Consider decor, adornment, and items you surround yourself with. What about your appearance do you pay the most attention to? Where do you spend the most time in your home? What have you made physical space for there? Think on all these things and reflect on what might be visible signs of your faith? Go beyond the obvious, not looking just for what is present, but consider what the absence of various things can say about you. Go further considering how you act and what you say. You and your home’s appearance my reflect these deeper levels, maybe not.

In what ‘secular safe’ ways do you practice your beliefs? I’d love to hear reflections of how your spirituality has made its way into your ordinary life. Comment below!

 

 

 

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.

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.