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.

 

A SPIRITUAL RESPONSE TO THE WOMEN’S MARCH

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Atheists, agnostics, secular humanists and others that follow no faith tradition many times think religion is archaic and barbaric compared to our modern, science driven understanding of the world. They believe that we have somehow moved past or out-grown religion. That it is something for the childish or feeble-minded. But from where I’m sitting, the standards of many faith traditions continue to be more advanced than the standard found in Western culture. Look at the political and social climate of the United States currently. We’ve just witnessed the inauguration of the most contested president elect in the country’s history. And the following day, a massive protest took place in the capital mall. Similar demonstrations went on across the country and across the world. All focus on the central idea of equality, and standing up to those who oppose it.

Despite our intellectual bounds, equality has not been achieved. The root problem is not implementation or the logistics in doing so. The reason we do not have equality is because many people do not want it. This applies to regular Joes, all the way up to decision makers on capitol hill. In order to be at the top, there has to be a bottom. Such a system obviously benefits the elite and privileged. But people at the bottom continue to support inequality as well. Why? Because America is the land of opportunity. If one works hard, they can work their way up, they can make their way to the top. Or so we’ve been told. With every passing day, the American dream seems to be becoming more of a dream than a reality. Which begs the question: Which is the barbaric system? The one that thrives on inequality for the benefit of few, or one that thrives on a divine sense of universal compassion, respect, and love?

God’s love doesn’t stop at rich, white men. Divine devotion is not dependent on gender, race, religion, or wealth. Sadly, at this stage of the argument, many Christians may be reaching for their bibles to look up versus on wifely obedience or smiting lowly non-believers. If so, I ask that you keep flipping to the gospels and look at Jesus’ example. Jesus extends God’s grace to sinners, Gentiles, women, the handicapped and the poor. In Him, God’s love knows no bounds. This universal aspect of equality is very much rooted in the divine, but it is more than appropriate and necessary in the secular world. I know church and state are separate with good intentions, but maybe man’s law could take note from God’s law in this case. God does not make trash, so why do we treat each other as so? God does not make second-class citizens, so why does our government treat us as so? We are all equal in the eyes of God, so why aren’t we equal in the eyes of our government?

CAPITALISM WITHOUT CONSUMERISM?

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In the wake of the presidential election, the issues of this nation are still being discussed. Those more liberal in mindset, often face off with capitalism when it comes to economic issues. However, consumerism often seems to be the true focus of their complaints. No doubt the two are related, but it seems that the principles of consumerism and capitalism are so deeply intertwined that many Americans can scarcely tell the difference anymore. It got me wondering how this strong link arose and ultimately: Can we have capitalism without consumerism as we know it?

Capitalism means free market, driven by the private sector rather than being government regulated. By virtue of its definition, business that are popular will flourish and those that are not will die. Businesses must have consumers if they are to continue trading. Consumption in this literal sense is necessary for capitalism to work. The act of consumption also allows people to weigh in on market players, with their dollars working as votes. But ‘consumerism’ is a whole different animal. Consumption allows people to gain items that they need, gifts to illustrate affection, and items that bring joy. Our ‘consumerism’ has come to mean little in the way of necessity. Instead it is means by which gifts replace true affection and gratitude, and material objects become increasingly necessary to simulate joy.

The move from consumption to ‘consumerism’ I think has a lot do with secularism. As religion is pushed to the fringes of society and minds, people began to look elsewhere for the same things regular spiritual participation once provided. Advertisers use this marketing opportunity to fill people’s lives with products. And with empty promises to heal brokenness that no ‘thing’ can heal, businesses secure and improve their own position in the marketplace.

What we need is an awakening about ‘things’, realize the gaps left by a lack of spirituality cannot be filled with the latest and greatest stuff. Such a notion scares economists: If people stop spending, the bottom will fall out of the economy. But we are starting to see companies that operate on a sustainable business model. They pay employees well, often better than minimum wage. They are eco-friendly and chose quality over quantity. They know there is more to be concerned about than their bottom line. This is the direction we are headed in, which hopefully yields a sustainable economy. There is life and hope as people put an end to consumerism Then our market and people will be truly free to function. And I think both will be better off.

LET LOVE GO FREE

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In many Christian traditions, followers are baptized as infants or small children. In the sacrament of baptism, the baptized are welcomed into the kingdom and community of God. As children, the baptized have done nothing to earn this, they have done nothing prove their worthiness. But it is given freely by virtue of wanting to know and get closer to God. In baptism one enters the Christian community and is unconditionally loved by God.

This is very different from the love we encounter and often act out in our everyday lives. Our love is often conditional on how people speak to us, and on what they do for us. In secularism’s religion of consumption, love is often dictated by how people spend their money on each other. Now such gifts are not completely shallow, as they are often expressions of deep and sincere love. But such items are not necessary to express love as those marketers and advertisers would like to have us believe.

However, there is some exception to the secular world dealing exclusively in conditional love, mainly in the wider acceptance of universal human rights and secular humanism. Rather than unconditional love, these concepts use logic to establish basic human rights of wellbeing and respect. While I do not wish to downplay the importance of such measures, they are very different from divinely inspired, unconditional love. However, I believe they hold enough weight for those who follow no faith tradition, are atheist or agnostic.

In the interest of order and appropriate behavior, conditional love does have some purpose. As our new reverend put it on Sunday, Christian tradition gives us the ‘father god’ and the ‘mother god’: the authority figure enforcing rules and serving discipline, and the warm unconditional love of a mother for her child. These attributions can largely be seen in the differences between the old and new testaments. A God that punishes his people when they stray, like the Israelites followed out of Egypt into the land of promise. And a God that loves unconditionally, like the God Jesus described through much of his teachings. There are roots for both the conditional and the unconditional in Christian scripture.

Meanwhile humanism is making headway establishing some universal care and respect in the secular realm. But the secular world still largely runs on conditional love which is endlessly encouraged through consumerism. Given the nature of secularism, unconditional love is often sequestered to faith centers, and we live mainly in this world of conditional love. Imagine how the world would change if this principle of unconditional love was the norm. Loving one another radically to stamp out radical hate. Loving not just to be loved in return, but exuding love because it is good for everything and everyone.