Creation Spirituality: An Introduction to the 4 Paths

April 27, 2015 - 8:47 pm Comments Off on Creation Spirituality: An Introduction to the 4 Paths

Celebrating Our Original Blessings:

An Introduction to the Four Paths of Creation Spirituality

The Reverend Peter Edward Lanzillotta, Ph.D.

 

There is a great search going on in our society today. It is a common yearning, a deeply held one and now; Often this inquiry is an expressed need for connection to the Earth and to one another.

From the dawn of civilization, humankind has sought out ways to define relationships to the greater world around them. To be fully human, is to search for meaning; we are not just social animals, political or economic beings, we are a seeking, curious, creative and wondering animals- homo sacralis- We are humans that seek what is holy, meaningful, what is divine within us and what is divine all around us.

Religion can be defined by any activity, which by its practice and understanding, that helps us to feel more connected; unified; together, (from Latin, religiare) and by any activity that assists us in transcending the intellect and the ego- spirituality facilitates our ability to going beyond our superfical social selves, and to look both beyond and within for our deepest, most true answers.

Today, the old, traditional ways of religion and being together, no longer fit the demands of new approaches to planetary science, or the complexities of our social existence. Religious outlooks and teachings have not kept up to the demands of modern living…

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A compelling concern has now presented itself to all of us: that humans everywhere have to come together to create a new cosmology- in new, inclusive and inspiring ways that include the holistic or interdependent linking of science, art, service, and mysticism. These outlooks synergistically combine in a simple and yet profound universal acceptance that spirituality and ecology, art and justice, all belong together and all are deeply connected to each other.

This yearning, this search has had some leading edges…. Nowhere is this yearning felt more deeply than in the various liberation movements, 12 step recovery groups, and the worldwide desire for church revitalization or the increasing dissatisfaction with the status quo in society, economy, relationships, etc. As a consequence of a search that is becoming critical and apparent, there is also a need for a common religious and metaphoric language that unites religious ideals to the frontiers of science, the depths of art, and the expanse of culture. One approach that boldly and enthusiastically presents itself as being able to facilitate these desires, and fulfill these wide ranging and inclusive needs. It is called Creation Spirituality.

Right away, let me declare that this approach has nothing to do with Creationism! In fact, its openness to science and mystery function as the direct opposite!

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One of the main purposes of Creation Spirituality is to remedy and rectify the old harmful theologies and those toxic and demeaning religious beliefs that have crippled people since their childhood…

As an interfaith movement, it offers a new interpretation of the Creation and the entire Biblical story based on its positive themes. As a uniting philosophy or framework, Creation Spirituality helps us to reclaim the beauty and inspiration of The Western religious traditions without having to accept any of the old control centered, static, severe, dour, necrophilic, irrational and pious theology!

Those interpretations of Scripture and human nature that are so often used to promote grief, guilt, shame or fear. Creation Spirituality teaches that our salvation is not based on believing some speculative man-made creed. If we are to be saved; that is, if we are to be whole, loving, and free, we cannot divorce our personal concerns from those of our planet Earth, or from our sisters and brothers around the world.

CS is an outlook and a conviction that says that if we, as humankind, and we, as a civilization and as a planet are going to survive, then we will have to actively acknowledge our common origins, our shared human experience, and actively affirm the worth, the sanctity, the mystery and the divinity of Earth itself.

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Creation is a wonder… Yet, it is ironic that so few of the Western churches teach such respect and reverence as a part of their religious education programs or life span teachings.

Instead, the models that have been passed down to us are either excessively moralistic, or do not give equal time to the dignity and worth of the person and the environment. Many of us have been sternly taught and often admonished about Original Sin, but very little is ever said or affirmed about our Original Blessings. It starts with the affirmation of the mystery and miracle of God as Spirit, presence, as compassionate energy that is inherent, interwoven, alive and timelessly participating in Creation. It teaches about God as an alive Spirit that maintains a gracious benevolence and that God has a sustaining intimate relationship with all life!

Creation Spirituality states that Heaven and Hell are not places, but states of mind and heart that confirm that we need a more positive view of ourselves, and our world, if we are ever expect to repair, restore, or revitalize the Earth or be a healing presence for one another. As for the greatest sin…

It is not found in eating an apple- it is the wholesale desecration of Mother Earth herself! It has been our ignorant, wasteful ravaging that now holds all of humanity liable, and holds the world’s people at risk.

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So while Creation Spirituality does not avoid dealing with personal sin, it does not wallow in guilt or shame either. Instead, it encourages us to look at ourselves compassionately; it encourages us to educate ourselves out of any lingering beliefs, willful ignorance, or any passive acceptance of religiously imposed inadequacies.

Students of Creation Spirituality see one another as caregivers, who have to reclaim the natural wonders and blessings of our world. C.S. teaches us to see and experience the beauty and love, understanding and consolation we can find in walking the beach, watching a leaf hold a butterfly or when we hold hands across our cultural ways to give another person hope; when we find a quiet joy looking into one another’s eyes, or the sanctuary felt when we are in another’s arms.

Creation Spirituality does not start with Adam and Eve- It begins by affirming our positive identity as the children of God, made in the image and likeness of the Divine… From that sacred basis, we find our working and royal identity when we live as companions to all the creatures of Earth, when we stand up for justice, and to act in ways that heal our world.

At its core, in its essence, Creation Spirituality is a movement toward Oneness and Wholeness; towards Unity and Divinity.

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It teaches principles that dignify and equalizes the sexes, and provides research into how best to affirm an inclusive trans-denominational approach to world spirituality and to the needs to have a world ecology.

While the ideas and ideals of Creation Spirituality reach back into the origins of our human sacred stories go far back, even before the Bible, the rediscovery of its truth is only 40 years old. Its new expression comes to us from the mind and heart of a progressive, once labeled a heretical Catholic radical, (now finding a tentative safe haven as an Episcopal priest), named Matthew Fox. He rediscovered these truths while doing research on the great Christian or Creation mystics. They were those dissenting men and inspiring women that kept this alternative way of looking at God, Nature, and life alive throughout the centuries; not bowing down to the coercion or control, or the patriarchal and dehumanizing teachings that have so effectively “de-souled” us…

Those de-humanizing ways of institutional power and moral control have condemned churchgoers to rehearsing only those reinforced feelings of failure, robbing us of health, happiness, creativity, justice and joy.

From those controversial Catholic beginnings, Fox and his followers quickly understood that using ecology to inform one’s faith drew all kinds of people, many world faiths and different spiritual expressions into

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into a larger and broader unity community- ways to share and affirm together!

This inclusive practices and interactive theology, can be divided into four interdependent, complementary ways that can be known, understood and embodied as part of every person’s search for truth and meaning.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with these four ways or paths, I will give you a quick synopsis of each path, and archetype. Then I will ask how each way or path can be personally understood in practical terms.

First, from Path One or the Via Positiva, the task is to emphasize our Original Blessings, the wonder and promise of life and majesty of the Creation. Fox suggests that we have to learn to find beauty- all around us. It focus is on how we see and experience, How we feel and understand the meaning and the magic found in everyday life.

Fox states that: “we have become afraid of our own divinity,” that we are the sons and daughters of God.

With this divinity comes the identity of each of us as a royal and wonder-filled human being; a marvelous new way of perceiving who and what we are… yet, with this grand truth, there is also ongoing responsibility.

One of the principal reasons the old, fearful forms of religion endure is that it is easier for us to accept being passive, being afraid, being childish…

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In fact, some people find it easier to stay fearful or even guilty, than it is to accept our adult and ongoing responsibility as co-creaters of our world.

Here, in the first of the four paths, the one that is most ignored by church teachings is called The Via Positiva. Here we are taught that we need “to taste and see that life is good.” Because of this, each of us has to uphold beauty, truth, and those virtues of a sustaining strength and a firm resolve that brings to all men and all women into their innate abilities to celebrate all the ideals they truly believe in or that they sincerely trust. This is the path of the mystic.

The Mystic’s main task in life is affirmation, and closely connected to it, is to maintain the outlook of gratitude. (approx. Thanksgiving to Epiphany)

So, now I will ask each of you: What can you affirm in your life? What makes you thankful? How does your community connections promote affirmation and your sense of gratitude?

Path Two is called The Via Negativa, or the emptying way. Here is where the spiritual warrior battles for their mental, emotional, and spiritual clarity; He or she accepts their own need to let go- to empty oneself of false beliefs, negative feelings, social roles.

 

 

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In the Via Negativa, we have to face up to our inner pain, our hurts, and whatever we feel that we lack in ourselves, or what we have failed to accomplish in our lives. Here, the path urges the spiritual warrior in each of us to develop fortitude, bravery, persistence, and the courage to go beyond the familiar, and to welcome the unknown; THEN, to expect the good, and to be open to grace, despite life’s wounds.

Fox says this: “[we have to learn to let go- Letting go of comforts, security, of past images of oneself, or all that we have reinforced or rehearsed about past ways of relationships- all those ways that keep us stuck or dissatisfied with our lives… Here the task is to learn what serves our growth and goodness, and practice only what will not harm or will not rob anyone else of dignity and respect.]”

This is the path of the prophet.(January to Lent)

The main task of the prophet is to interfere with the status quo in ways that promote equality and justice, and build a strong, resilient courageous self.

I ask: In what ways are you willing to interfere with the status quo? When is it that you stand up for others? What does your congregation interfere with regularly?

 

 

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The Third Path or way is called The Via Creativa or the way of creativity and resourcefulness. Here is where we learn about giving birth to newness and hope, and how to experience a rebirth of who and what we are or can become. You know, it takes a lot of faith, and a sincere degree of flexibility to be creative; to bring compassion into being that fosters a new way of looking at the world, of defining and refining yourself.

As Fox puts it, “in Path Three, we stand up and offer our gifts to the community. Creativity arises from a depth of awareness that states that…

IF we do not give back our unique gifts, talents, and skills, and IF we do not give expression to life’s mysteries or give witness to life’s truth, THEN no one will stand up, or no one will care or give or do it for us.” If we do not give back, whatever gifts or talents, we have will atrophy or go stale… This is the path of the artist. (Approx. Easter to August)

I ask: How do you express your creativity? How do you share your gifts? How does this church or community give of itself to the larger community?

The last way or Fourth Path is called The Via Transformativa, the transformative way. But as Fox emphasizes, “transformation does not come easily.

 

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We are acutely aware of politcs and economics in our world. That powerful people and entrenched institutions do not relinquish control and privilege cheerfully or willingly. Paradigm shifts in religion, politics or economics are often resisted vigorously. Through empathy, we learn to celebrate the common human struggle, and we can find the strength, the willingness to stand up for justice, equality, freedom, and truth as belonging to everyone…

Path Four shows us the right way of being together in community, as how best to live on and for the Earth. This is the path of the Healer. (Approx. August to Thanksgiving)

I ask: How do you find healing for yourselves? How do you offer it to others? How do you work together as a group to offer or provide healing?

The best teachings given on creation and mysticism today ironically, are being given by scientists. … Scientists, not monks, and certainly not most typical theologians! Today, mystics are coming out of their religious closets all over the world, and are trying to find a home in every community, church, or meeting house. They are not finding room or an easy welcome!

They are artists and engineers, parents, householders, lawyers, health care workers, and yes, you might even find a priest or a minister or two who really wants our society to change!

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Carl Jung said that the mystic brings out what is creative to religion… But you will never get a full definition of mysticism or spirituality. Why? Because definitions are all left brain, and living creatively and celebrating the mysteries of life is right brain- we are never going to define or control it!

(Emerson- We dare not fence the Spirit!)

Today, we need as much heart knowledge as we have head knowledge. We need experience awe, wonder, fascination, and inspiration, and teach these mysteries to our children so they will really know what life is about…

For me, and for the others who have embraced CS as their theological guide, It is simply about how we humans can grow our souls to realize more of the beauty of the earth, and how best to cooperate with our humanity, our creativity, our divinity, and experience the holiness of universe itself.

I recommend Creation Spirituality to you… as an inspiring way to understanding, and as an excellent complement to the ideals and principles of Unity… Truly a marriage made in heaven… or if you prefer, two inspiring ways that will lead you to your freedom, dignity, and self worth… So that you can confidently and courageously claim your own wholeness and holiness every day of your lives!

AMEN. SO BE IT!

 

Don’t Sleep Through The Revolution! Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

January 9, 2015 - 9:44 am Comments Off on Don’t Sleep Through The Revolution! Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Note: This is a reprint of the invitation to give The Ware Lecture to the UUA General Assembly in 1966… the excerpts and emphasis are mine, as the text is much longer and the emphasis points are, for me, particularly cogent and inspiring…

In many ways, this address can act as a synopsis of his most foundational ideas, quotes, and teaching for us… Given that the superb film, Selma, is being released today nationwide, it acts as a strong and clear reminder of the man, his words, and his cherished ideals…

Don’t Sleep Through The Revolution!

Excerpts from The Ware Lecture by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1966…

There is nothing more tragic than to sleep through a revolution. And there can be no gainsaying of the fact that a social revolution is taking place in our world today. We see it in other nations in the demise of colonialism. We see it in our own nation, in the struggle against racial segregation and discrimination, and as we notice this struggle we are aware of the fact that a social revolution is taking place in our midst. Victor Hugo once said that there is nothing more powerful in all the world than an idea whose time has come. The idea whose time has come today is the idea of freedom and human dignity, and so allover the world we see something of freedom explosion, and this reveals to us that we are in the midst of revolutionary times. An older order is passing away and a new order is coming into being.

The great question is, what do we do when we find ourselves in such a period? Certainly the church has a great responsibility because when the church is true to its nature, it stands as a moral guardian of the community and of society. It has always been the role of the church to broaden horizons, to challenge the status quo, and to question and break mores if necessary. I’m sure that we all agree that the church has a major role to play in this period of social change. I would like to suggest some of the things that the church must continually do in order to remain awake through this revolution.

First, we are challenged to instill within the people of our congregations a world perspective. The world in which we live is geographically one.

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All I’m saying is this: that all life is inter-related, and somehow we are all tied together. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the inter-related structure of all reality. John Donne caught it years ago and placed it in graphic terms, “No man is an island entire of itself, every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” He goes on to say, “any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, therefore send not to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.” This realization is absolutely necessary if we are to remain awake in this revolution.

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Secondly, it is necessary for the church to reaffirm over and over again the essential immorality of racial segregation. Any church which affirms the morality of segregation is sleeping through the revolution. We must make it clear that segregation, whether it’s in the public schools, in housing, or in recreational facilities, or in the church itself, is morally wrong and sinful. It is not only sociologically untenable, or politically unsound, or merely economically unwise, it is morally wrong and sinful.

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There is another thing that the church must do to remain awake. I thing it is necessary to refute the idea that there are superior and inferior races. We must get rid of the notion once and for all that there are superior and inferior races. It is out of this notion that the whole doctrine of white supremacy came into being, and the church must take a stand through religious education and other channels to direct the popular mind at this point, for there are some people who still believe this strange doctrine.

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It’s a strange notion that has made for a great deal of strife and suffering. Both the academic world and the disciplines of science have refuted this idea. Anthropologists like Ruth Benedict, Margaret Meade, and Herskovits, after long years of study, have made it clear that they find no evidence for the idea of superior and inferior races. There may be superior and inferior individuals in every race, but no superior or inferior races.

In spite of this, the notion still lingers around. Now, there was a time that people tried to justify it on the basis of the Bible. Strange indeed how individuals will often use, or should I say misuse, the Bible to crystallize the patterns of the status quo and justify their prejudices.

So from some pulpits it was argued that the Negro was inferior by nature because of Noah’s curse upon the children of Ham. The apostle’s dictum often became a watchword: servants, be obedient to your master. One brother had probably read the logic of the great philosopher Aristotle. You know Aristotle did a great deal to bring into being what we know now in philosophy as formal logic; and formal logic has a big word known as a syllogism, which has a major premise, a minor premise, and a conclusion. So this brother decided to put his argument of the inferiority of the Negro in the framework of an Aristotlian syllogism. He came out with his major premise, “All men are made in the image of God”; then came his minor premise, “God, as everybody knows, is not a Negro; therefore, the Negro is not a man.” This was the kind of reasoning that prevailed. Now, on the whole, I guess we have gotten away from this; most people don’t use the Bible and religion to justify segregation, although there are a few left. I was reading the other day where one of our white brothers in Mississippi said that God was a charter member of the White Citizens’ Council.

Today’s arguments are generally placed on more subtle cultural grounds, for instance: “the Negro is not culturally ready for integration. If you integrate the schools and other areas of life, this will pull the race back a generation.” And another: “The Negro is a criminal; you see he has the highest crime rate in any city.” So the arguments go on ad infinitum.

Those who use these arguments never say that if there are lagging standards in the Negro community – and there certainly are – they lag because of segregation and discrimination. They never go on to say that criminal responses are environmental, and not racial. Poverty, ignorance, economic deprivation, social isolation breed crime in any racial group. It is a tortuous logic to use the tragic results of segregation as an argument for the continuation of it. It is necessary to go to the causal root to deal with the problem.

So it is necessary for the church, through all of its channels of education and through all of its work, to guide the popular mind, and rid the community of the notion of superior and inferior races. We’ve all seen enough to refute this idea.

We’ve seen Negroes who have given inspiring examples of ability to rise above the shackles of a difficult environment. They have justified the conviction of the poet that “fleecy locks and black complexion cannot forfeit nature’s claim.” Skin may differ, but affection dwells in black and white the same. If I were so tall as to reach the pole or to grasp the ocean at a span, I must still be measured by my soul; the mind is the standard of the man.

The next thing that the church must do to remain awake through this revolution is to move out into the arena of social action. It is not enough for the church to work in the ideological realm, and to clear up misguided ideas. To remain awake through this social revolution, the church must engage in strong action programs to get rid of the last vestiges of segregation and discrimination. It is necessary to get rid of one or two myths if we’re really going to engage in this kind of action program.

One is the notion that legislation is not effective in bringing about the changes that we need in human relations. This argument says that you’ve got to change the heart in order to solve the problem; that you can’t change the heart through legislation. They would say you’ve got to do that through religion and education. Well, there’s some truth in this. Before we can solve these problems men and women must rise to the majestic heights of being obedient to the unenforceable. I would be the first to say this. If we are to have a truly integrated society, white persons and Negro persons and members of all groups must live together, not merely because the law says it but because it’s natural and because it’s right.

But that does not make legislation less important. It may be true that you can’t legislate integration but you can legislate desegregation. It may be true that morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. It may be true that the law cannot change the heart, but it can restrain the heartless. The law cannot make a man love me, but it can restrain him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important also. And so while the law may not change the hearts of men, it does change the habits of men. So it is necessary for the church to support strong, meaningful civil rights legislation.

Fortunately we have seen some real advances at this point. It is very consoling to me, and I know to all of us, the role which all of the major denominations within the Protestant, the Catholic and the Jewish faiths played in the achievement of the civil rights bill of 1964, the voting rights bill of 1965. We struggled in Selma, Alabama, and in a real sense we developed right there in that little town something that the councils of the world have not been able to develop – a real ecumenical movement. Protestants, Catholics and Jews stood in Selma, and in a beautiful and meaningful way that was the ecumenical movement which created the voting rights bill.

That bill is a tribute to persons like James Reeb, Mrs. Viola Liuzzo and Jimmy Lee Jackson, those who died and suffered to make it possible. Now the President is calling for new civil rights legislation to deal with two old problems.

One is the mal-administration of justice in many sections of the South. It is necessary for all people of goodwill and for all church bodies to strongly support this bill, which will make murder or threatened assaults of civil rights workers or persons engaged in the promotion of constitutional rights a federal crime.

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But there is a more difficult title in that bill, one that must ultimately be passed if America is to rise to its full maturity. That is the section of the bill which calls for an end to discrimination in housing. It means that discrimination in all housing will be federally non-sanctioned. It involves the sale, the rental, and the financing of all housing. This is the difficult one because there still are many fears around. There are stereotypes about Negroes, Puerto Ricans, Mexican Americans and others.

Studies reveal that there are numerous forces both private and public which make for the problem, because they are profiting by the existence of segregation in housing. I am convinced that if we are to have a truly integrated society we must deal with the housing problem.

The school problem is difficult and it will never be totally solved until we solve the housing problem, and so it is my hope that we will go all out over America to bring this new legislation into being and to insist that it will be vigorously enforced, once it is passed, for there is still a gulf between legislation on the one hand and the enforcement of that legislation on the other. We see this in the South every day.

In 1954 the Supreme Court of Our nation rendered a decision declaring segregation unconstitutional in the public schools. Yet, twelve years later, only 5.2 per of the Negro students of the South are attending integrated Schools. We haven’t even made one per cent progress a year. If we continue this pace it will take about 96 more years to integrate the schools in the South. There is still a gulf between legislative and judicial decrees and the actual enforcement of them. It seems to me that an alive, relevent church should go all out to see that legislation becomes a reality and that it is vigorously enforced once it exists.

A second myth that we must deal with is that of exaggerated progress. Certainly we have made progress in race relations. And I think we can all glory that things are better today than they were ten years ago or even three years ago. We should be proud of the steps we’ve made to rid our nation of this great evil of racial segregation and discrimination.

On the other hand, we must realize the plant of freedom is only a bud and not yet a flower. The Negro is freer in 1966, but he is not yet free. The Negro knows more dignity today than he has known in any period of his history in this country, but he is not yet equal. There still are stubborn, difficult problems to deal with all over the country. I’m appalled that some people feel that the civil rights struggle is over because we have a 1964 civil rights bill with ten titles and a voting rights bill. Over and over again people ask, what else do you want? They feel that everything is all right.

Well, let them look around our big cities. I can mention one where we’re working now, not to say that it’s the worst city in the United States, but just to reveal the problem that we face.

( a descriptive summary of the current crisis in Chicago in 1966…)

Again, this is true in cities all over the country. These are stubborn, difficult problems, and yet they are problems that must be tackled, for I need not remind you of the dangers inherent therein. There is nothing more dangerous than to build a society with a large segment of individuals within that society who feel that they have no stake in it, who feel that they have nothing to lose. These are the people who will riot, these are the people who will turn their ears from pleas for non-violence. For the health of our nation, these problems must be solved. In the areas of housing, schooling, and employment there is still a great deal that must be done.

We’ve come a long, long way; we still have a long, long way to go and action programs are necessary. I’ve heard it said that the day of demonstrations is over; this is something that we hear a great deal. Well, I’m sorry that I can’t agree with that. I wish that I could say the day of demonstrations is over, but as long as these problems are with us, it will be necessary to demonstrate in order to call attention to them. I’m not saying that a demonstration is going to solve the problem of poverty, the problem of housing, the problems that we face in the schools.

It’s going to take something much more than a demonstration, but at least the demonstration calls attention to it; at least the demonstration creates a kind of constructive crisis that causes a community to see the problem and causes a community to begin moving toward the point of acting on it. The church must support this kind of demonstration. As the days unfold, I’m sure that we will need this more.

People talk about the long hot summer that’s ahead. I always say that I don’t think we have to have a long, hot violent summer. I certainly don’t want to see it because I hate violence and I don’t think it solves any problems. I think we can offset the long, hot, violent summer with the long, hot, non-violent summer. People are huddled in ghettos, living in the most crowded and depressing conditions. They need some outlet; some way to express their legitimate discontent. What is a better way than to provide non-violent channels through which they can do it? If this isn’t provided they are going to find it through more irrational, misguided means.

So the non-violent movement has a job to do, in providing the non-violent channels through which those who are caught in these conditions can express their discontent and frustration.

Now let me say that I’m still convinced that non-violence is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom and human dignity. And I’d like to say just a word about this philosophy since it has been the underlying philosophy of our movement. It has power because it has a way of disarming the opponent. It exposes his moral defenses, it weakens his morale.

And at the same time it works on his heart and on his conscience, and he just doesn’t know what to do. If he doesn’t hit you, wonderful. If he hits you you develop the quiet courage of accepting blows without retaliating. If he doesn’t put you in jail, that’s very nice, nobody with any sense loves to go to jail. But if he puts you in jail you go in that jail and transform it from a dungeon of shame into a haven of freedom and human dignity.

Even if he tries to kill you, you develop the inner conviction that there are some things so precious, some things so eternally true that they are worth dying for. If a man has not discovered some thing that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live. There’s another good thing about non-violence: through it a person can use moral means to procure moral ends. There are still those who sincerely believe that the end justifies the means, no matter what the means happen to be. No matter how violent or how deceptive or anything else they are. Non-violence at its best would break with the system that argues that. Non-violence would say that the morality of the ends is implicit in the means, and that in the long-run of history destructive means cannot bring about constructive ends. So since we are working toward a just society in this movement, we should use just methods to get there. Since we are working for the end of a non-violent society in this movement, we must use non-violent means and methods to get there. Since we are working for an integrated society as an end we must work on an integrated basis on our staffs and civil rights organizations so that we don’t get to racial justice and integration through the means of black nationalism.

Another thing about this philosophy which is often misunderstood and that it says that at its best the love ethic can be a reality in a social revolution. Most revolutions in the past have been based on hope and hate, with the rising expectations of the revolutionaries implemented by hate for the perpetrators of the unjust system in the old order. I think the different thing about the revolution that has taken place in our country is that it has maintained the hope element and at the same time it has added the dimension of love. Many people would disagree with me and say that love hasn’t been there. I think we have to stop and talk about what we mean in this context because I would be the first to say that it is nonsense to urge oppressed people to love their violent oppressors in an affectionate sense. And I’m certainly not talking about that when I talk above love standing at the center of our struggle. I think it is necessary to see the meaning of love in higher terms.

The Greek language has three words for love – one is the eros, another is the word filio, and another is the word agape. I’m thinking not of eros, or of friendship as expressed in filio, but of agape, which is understanding, creative, redemptive good will for all men, an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return. When one rises to love on this level, he loves a person who does the evil deed while hating the deed. I believe that in our best moments in this struggle we have tried to adhere to this. In some strange way we have been able to stand up in the face of our most violent opponents and say, in substance, we will match your capacity to inflict suffering with our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with our soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you.

We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws because non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. Throw us in jail and we will still love you. Threaten our children, bomb our homes, send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hours and drag us out on some wayside road and beat us and leave us half dead; and, as difficult as it is, we will still love you.

Send your propaganda agents around the nation and make it appear we are not fit morally, culturally or otherwise for integration and we will still love you. But be assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. And one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves, we will so appeal to your heart and your conscience that we will win you in the process and our victory will be a double victory. This is our message in the non-violent movement when we are true to it.

I think it is a powerful method and I still believe in it. I know that it will lead us into that new day. Not a day when we will seek to rise from a position of disadvantage to one of advantage, thereby subverting justice. Not a day when we will substitute one tyranny for another. We know that a doctrine of black supremacy is as evil as a doctrine of white supremacy. We know that God is not interested merely in the freedom of black men and brown men and yellow men; but God is interested in the freedom of the whole human race. He is interested in the creation of a society where all men will live together as brothers and every man will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. With the non-violent method guiding us on, we can go on into that brighter day when justice will come.

I talk a great deal about the need for a kind of divine discontent. And I always mention that there are certain technical words within every science which become stereotypes and cliches. Modern psychology has a word that has become common – it is the word maladjusted. We read a great deal about it. It is a ringing cry of modern child psychology; and certainly we all want to live the well adjusted and avoid neurotic and schizophrenic personalities.

But I must say to you this evening, my friends, there are some things in our nation and in our world to which I’m proud to be maladjusted. And I call upon you to be maladjusted and all people of good will to be maladjusted to these things until the good society is realized. I never intend to adjust myself to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to become adjusted to religious bigotry . I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few, and leave millions of people perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of prosperity. I must honestly say, however much criticism it brings, that I never intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism, and to the self-defeating effects of physical violence.It is no longer a choice between non-violence and violence: it is now a choice between non-violence and non-existence.

….

Yes, I must confess that I believe firmly that our world is in dire need of a new organization – the International Association for the Advancement of Creative Maladjustment. Men and women as maladjusted as the prophet Amos, who in the midst of the injustices of his day, cried out in

words that echo across the centuries – “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” As maladjusted as Abraham Lincoln, who had the vision to see that this nation could not survive half slave and half free. As maladjusted as Thomas Jefferson, who in the midst of an age amazingly adjusted to slavery, cried in words lifted to cosmic proportions – “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal. That They are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” As maladjusted as Jesus of Nazareth, who could say to the men and women of his day “he who lives by the sword will perish by the sword.” Through such maladjustment we will be able to emerge from the bleak and desolate midnight of man’s inhumanity to man, into the bright and glittering daybreak of freedom and justice.

Let me say in conclusion that I have not despaired of the future. I believe firmly that we can solve this problem. I know that there are still difficult days ahead. And they are days of glorious opportunity. Our goal for America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with America’s. Before the Pilgrim fathers landed at Plymouth, we were here. Before Jefferson etched across the pages of history the words that I just quoted from the Declaration of Independence, we were here. Before the beautiful words of the Star Spangled Banner were written, we were here. For more than two centuries our forbearers labored here without wages. They made cotton king. They built the homes of their masters in the midst of the most oppressive and humiliating conditions. And yet out of a bottomless vitality they continued to grow and develop.

If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery couldn’t stop us, the opposition that we now face will surely fail. We’re going to win our freedom because both the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of the almighty God are embodied in our echoing demands.

And we can sing We Shall Overcome, because somehow we know the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice. We shall overcome because Carlyle is right – “no lie can live forever.” We shall overcome because William Cullen Bryant is right – “truth crushed, will rise again.” We shall overcome because James Russell Lowell is right:

“Truth forever on the scaffold/Wrong forever on the throne/Yet that scaffold sways the future/ And behind the dim unknown/Standeth God within the shadow/Keeping watch above his own.”

With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. We will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood, and speed up that day when all of God’s children all over our nation and the world will be able to walk the earth as brothers and sisters, and then we can sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual – “Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty we are free at last.”

Thank you.

 

Reprint: Spiritual Narcissism/Spiritual Ecology Matthew Fox & Llewelyn Vaughn Lee

October 11, 2013 - 7:33 pm Comments Off on Reprint: Spiritual Narcissism/Spiritual Ecology Matthew Fox & Llewelyn Vaughn Lee

Matthew Fox & Llewelyn Vaughan-Lee:

Spiritual Narcissism / Spiritual Ecology

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Matthew Fox:Today we are discussing ecology and spirituality. Now who can deny that it doesn’t matter what your particular tradition is, or if you’re an atheist, if your backyard is burning up and you can’t plant food anymore, and the waters are rising? We’re all in trouble. And it can finally bring religions together and get over their narcissism.

Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee: I hope so. Mysticism, as you know, has always held this common thread underneath religion – the union of inner experience. Part of the reason I edited the book Spiritual Ecology was to try to bring that into the ecological debate because I felt that, although it was present, it wasn’t voiced enough.
MF: Absolutely. That’s what I’ve been trying to do with the archetype of the cosmic Christ — to awaken at least Christians that crucifixion is not something that happened 2,000 years ago, it’s happening with the killing of the rainforests and the whales and the polar bears and everything else today.

LV-L: It’s happening to the Earth.

MF: To me, that not only can energize spiritual warriors to get work done today, but it also can reinvent our faith traditions themselves, which I think fall into narcissism as distinct from mysticism.

LV-L: I have a concern that somehow people who have a spiritual awakening or awareness are somehow too focused on their own individual inner spiritual journey, and to me this is a travesty of real spiritual awakening or spiritual awareness, which has to do with the whole, and this whole includes the Earth.

MF: I couldn’t agree more. If your breakthrough does not lead to transpersonal service, to compassion, to justice, including eco-justice, then I doubt its authenticity. And Jesus said it very simply, that by their fruits you’ll know them. And we can be so taken by our spiritual experiences that we don’t realize this about energizing you to serve.

LV-L: In Sufism they actually say after the station of oneness comes the state of servant-hood, that one is then in service. Sufis are known as servants.
MF: Or as Jack Kornfield put it, after ecstasy comes the laundry.

LV-L: Somehow we have become so focused on our own human journey that we’ve forgotten that this human journey is part of the Earth’s journey. There used to be, I’m sure you’re aware of this, a deeper understanding that our soul is part of the world’s soul, the anima mundi, and we’ve lost that connection. We’ve lost that understanding that our spiritual light is part of the light of the world. And we have to regain that.

MF: Right. And how the Earth story itself is part of the cosmic story.

LV-L: It’s all one. It’s all one living, breathing, inter-related, interdependent spiritual organism as much as a physical organism, and I think we have, for some extraordinary reason, forgotten that.
MF: I think there are a lot of reasons, and one of them is the anthropocentrism and the narcissism of the modern consciousness. But I also think part of it too is the beating up of matter over the centuries by theologically influential thinkers. That kind of separation, that kind of dualism is so destructive because then you think the body is secondary, and then Mother Earth is secondary, and everything else. To put things in context, we wouldn’t have our imaginations and our breath and our food and our existence without matter. Matter is not an obstacle to spirit.

LV-L: I think the early rejection of all of the Earth-based spirituality by the Christian church has left a very sad vacuum that we’re now, in a way, seeing the result of.
MF: Paying the price for. And I think it goes back, actually, to the 4th century. If you’re going to run an empire – as the church more or less inherited the empire in the 4th century, it behooves you to split matter from spirit, and also to talk about original sin, and get people confused about their own inner nobility and empowerment, and divinity, really. I think that it has served political interests and cultural power trips to split people that way.

LV-L: Well, the male domination of nature kind of took the high ground, and now we have to, in a very few years, try to redress this balance and reclaim the sacred nature of creation. And what is central to me is to try to bring that into the ecological debate because I don’t see how we can address this physical devastation of creation, this ecocide, unless we look at its spiritual roots and reconnect ourselves to the sacred nature that is the world around us.
MF: And within us. And that’s what makes deep ecology different from ecology.

Lewellyn Vaughan-Lee: The mystics teach simple things, but those  simple things change people’s worlds. How can we re-energize that  mystical perspective so we can bring it into this global arena that is  calling out to us? I mean, the Earth is calling. That’s why I called  this book Spiritual Ecology: The Cry of the Earth because the Earth is crying, the soul of the Earth is crying. We need to respond from our own soul as well as with our hands.
Matthew Fox: And, of course, Einstein said it’s from intuition and feeling that we  get values, not from the intellect. He says the intellect gives us  methods; it does not give us values. And I think when you look back at  it, this is how various traditions of monastic learning also included  the heart in some way or other.

LV-L: When you say including the heart, I would suggest something even more  radical. How can we bring our love for the Earth into the center of this  concern with the well-being of the Earth? In fact, Thich Nhat Hanh  recently said real change will only happen when we fall in love with our  planet. As a mystic, I believe in the primacy of love, and we have  this love for the Earth. It is so generous. It has given us life. It has  given us breath. It has given us water. And we have treated it so badly  in response. I feel that this mystical center of divine love is really  the power behind the planet, because it is really what gives life to us  all. I mean, it’s a really radical thought to bring that essential  quality into the ecological debate. And although we have this  physical responsibility, how can we bring this love that belongs also to  our sense of the sacred? How can we learn once again to live in love  with the Earth in the way we live, in our daily activities so that  everything becomes imbued with this sense of the sacred? One can  educate the mind, but also we somehow have been stripped of the power of  love, which is, as a mystic, the greatest power in creation.
MF: In our traditions, certainly the Jewish tradition but also Aquinas, it  is said too that the mind resides in the heart. We don’t have to, how  should I say, pit one against the other. That real heart knowledge –  when you’re really in love with something, you want to learn more about  it.

LV-L: Also the heart and the mind in the heart see the oneness in things.  Sufis say when the eye of the heart is open—the Sufis talk about the eye  of the heart—then in each atom there are a million secrets. And we see  the unity in life, in everything that we are part of. We need to reclaim  that unity, that oneness, because life is dying and it’s dying because  we split spirit and matter, we separated ourselves from creation. The  analytic mind tries to split everything up into smaller and smaller  pieces. We need to return to this oneness, this awareness of the  interdependence of all of life, this web of life, which our ancestors  knew and revered so deeply. Somehow we have lost connection with  this spiritual dimension of creation, and to me that is the root of our  present ecological imbalance because we don’t respect or revere  creation as our ancestors and indigenous peoples have always done. And  somehow, as you say, the mystics have held this thread in the West, but  a thread is no longer enough. It needs to be a revolution, a revolution  of the heart, a revolution of consciousness that sees the oneness that  is within and all around us. I suppose the challenge is, how do we give  this back to humanity, this forgotten treasure, this secret, this deep  awareness of the real nature of creation, that it is not dead matter? I  always say the world is not a problem to be solved, it’s a living being  to be related to, and it is calling to us. It needs our attention, not  just of our minds, but also of our hearts. It is our own awakened  consciousness that can heal the Earth.

Matthew Fox: Another   dimension, I think, including when it comes to the love, is grief. We   don’t deal well with grief in our culture, and that’s one reason I  think  anger gets battered all over the walls. We don’t deal with anger  in a  constructive way very often. I do a lot of grief  ceremonies – we  need practices and rituals. When grief builds up, when  you can’t deal  with grief, not only does anger build up, but also the  joy and love get  clouded over, and people feel disempowered. So I think  grief work is a  part. What can I say? Who cannot be grieving  today about what’s  happening to the Earth? You’d have to be extremely  busy covering up your  grief and putting a lot of energy there.

Lewellyn Vaughan-Lee: I think we do. We’re a culture of mass distractions. We try to avoid at all costs seeing the real fruits of our actions. I   would say the most important practice is to listen. Thich Nhat Hanh   said to heal the Earth, listen to its cry because the Earth is crying,   but we don’t know how to listen. We’ve forgotten this feminine wisdom of  deep listening. If there is deep ecology, there is deep listening. We   have to relearn this feminine wisdom of listening to the Earth. It is  so  old, it is so wise, it has been through many crises before, and we  need  to cooperate. Thomas Berry said we are only talking to   ourselves; we are not talking to the rivers; we are not listening to the   winds and stars; we have broken the great conversation. By breaking  that conversation we have shattered the universe. And we have to learn  again how to listen to the Earth, and how to open that ear of the heart.   We have been told this great lie that we are separate from the Earth,   that it is something out there. It is not out there, we are part of the   Earth. We are made of stardust. We need to feel the grief  within  our own self for the Earth and learn to listen to the Earth,  learn to  hear it, learn to re-attune ourselves, just like the shamans  did of old,  just like the wise people who listened to the wind, who  listened to the  rivers, who felt the heartbeat of creation. And it  might not sound very  practical but it has a deep, deep wisdom within  it, and I think we need  all the help we can get at the moment.
MF: Absolutely. And that’s where the world’s spiritual traditions, if they   get out of their anthropocentric, reptilian brain dimension of wanting   to conquer each other and be number one or something gets shaken down,   and as you say, bring this feminine dimension back, the receptivity and   contemplation and silence.

LV-L: And not to rush for a quick fix, because I don’t think we can quickly   fix this environmental crisis. It has been building up for centuries.
MF: I do think that the patriarchal mindset feeds the reptilian brain excessively, whereas, I think the real way to treat the reptilian brain  is to learn to meditate and be still, because reptiles like to lie low  and in the sun… We have to make room for that mammal brain, which is  half as old as the reptilian brain in us, which is the brain of  compassion and the brain of kinship and family, and also of getting   along with the rest of nature.

LV-L: This is what Chief Oren Lyons said (in the book), when he spoke about  our original  instructions in the Native American tradition. He said one  of the  original instructions is we have to get along together. And  it’s very  simple, but once you realize we are one living community and  we can only  survive as one living community, it’s very fundamental.  It’s not  sophisticated, but we seem to have forgotten it, that we are  part of  this living, interdependent, interwoven organism that is all  around us  and that we are part of. I think we have a duty, any  of us who  have an awareness of this, to bring this into the forefront,  to claim  it; not to allow this dark side of our civilization to devour  all the  light. That’s why when you spoke about religious narcissism,  and I spoke  about my concern that spiritually awakened people are just  using their  own light for their own inner spiritual journey or their  own image of  spiritual progress, we have to make a relationship between  our light and  the world which is hungry for this light.

And there used  to be always  this relationship between the light of the individual  soul and the light  of the world’s soul, and somehow we need to  reconnect with this Earth  on a very deep, foundational, spiritual  basis. We are part of one  spiritual journey, one life journey, one  evolution, and our soul and the  soul of the world are not separate, and  we have to reclaim this  connection. And somehow, as you say,  human spirituality and  religion became narcissistic, and that was never  the intention because  Christ’s love was for the world; the Buddha’s  peace was for the world.  The message is always for the whole.
MF: I think today a lot of young people are being caught up in the vocation   of re-sacralizing the Earth, but doing it through everything from the way we eat and farm to the way we do business and politics.

LV-L: It’s   the attitude that we bring to it. It’s always the attitude. If we come   in the deepest sense, with an attitude of prayer or even just respect   and reverence for each other, for the Earth, for what is around us,  then  the healing can begin, and the forces of darkness will recede. But  we  will wait and see.
Matthew Fox was described by Thomas Berry as possibly the “most creative, comprehensive & challenging religious-spiritual teacher in America”.  Llewelyn Vaughan-Lee is a Sufi mystic & successor of Irina Tweedie who brought the Naqshbandiyya-Mujaddidiyya Indian Sufi Order to the West. This exchange of views was sponsored by Bioneers.  Publ. here 10.9.2013.

What Would Jesus Protest Today? Matthew Fox

July 27, 2013 - 12:35 pm 7 Comments

Being ignorant and in denial is a choice.” – Matthew Fox challenges his listeners to wake up in the second Christ Path Seminar.

In my last post, we looked at the men and women who are risking their lives to speak out for justice against the powers of our times. Their stories show us that it’s no less daring to walk the Christ Path today than it was 1,700 years ago.

So what are the issues that Jesus would speak out against today?

I can think of a number of them – and any one of them is worth our complete attention and commitment. And just to name them, I think, is important: to know that there are people and groups working in all of these areas today to be the prophetic activists and voices and strategists; to know there are so many dimensions at which the work of justice and compassion gets done.

You see, Jesus wasn’t just shouting his whole life; he was also an artist. He was a parable maker, creating memorable stories. And he and his followers were creating meals, bringing people together who wouldn’t ordinarily get together.

That was a deep part of his strategy: it’s not all about shouting. Art has a deep role to play always, in speaking the truth and unmasking violence, especially when it tries to cover itself up.

But let’s consider some areas where the prophetic voice is being called out today….

Of course, our broken economic system is one. Who can deny that Wall Street has raped Main Street in our lifetimes? And now Wall Street is doing very well and Main Street for the most part is still limping along terribly.

So are we capable, as a species, of creating an economy that works for everyone in the world? Not for Wall Street, not for the 1% or a few, but for everyone?

I believe the answer is Yes! Insightful, eloquent people are devoting their lives to this kind of work – for example, David Korten – and they are being ignored. I don’t know if the current administration in Washington has ever invited David Korten to advise them on creating a new economic vision, rather than putting Band-Aids on Wall Street’s system of exploitation that’s ruining the middle class.

Now, when I talk about an economy that works for everyone, I don’t mean just the two-legged ones. I’m talking about an economy that recognizes the value of healthy, living ecosystems…an economy that will work for the forests and the oceans and the soil and the plants and the animals that are going extinct at rates that we have not seen since the dinosaurs and so many other species vanished 65 million years ago.

So I think Jesus would also be revolutionary about the whole issue of ecology. He’d be interfering in it, in whatever way he could.

And of course there are the issues of poverty and joblessness. Who’s defining work for us? Look at the work of the artist, for example – we don’t count artists when we count workers. You can see that whenever there’s a budget crunch in our high schools – as there is everywhere today – and out goes the theater department, out goes the music department, out goes the art department. You’re on your own. I know all kinds of artists who would be more than happy to be contributing, but they are not part of the conversation.

And this leads to the issue of education. When our politicians talk about education, they always talk about more technology and more science. Well, what about art? Art is where values get passed on. Einstein said values do not come from the intellect – they come from intuition and feeling. And if that’s not the work of the artist, I don’t know what is.

To the extent that we are cutting back on art as an integral part of our way of living on the earth, we are in fact cutting back on values. And I see it everywhere today, especially in education. E.F. Schumacher wrote, “The bottom line in education is values.” Education is about passing on values. And well, folks, I know our educational system pretty well. I’ve been working within it for 40 years as an adult, and values are never raised at the accrediting conferences I’ve attended. Education today is not about values. It’s about anal-retentive bean counting. You don’t dare bring values up. The whole thing is rotten, I think, rotten to the core.

The best answer is to reinvent the whole damn thing…which is what I’ve been trying to do for 30 years! Of course we need science and technology, but we also need beauty and values and meaning and feeling, and what counts, and what doesn’t count. You need intuition and critical thinking skills, both! And so we bring in art as an integral part of the work of the intellect.

Jesus, as an artist, would interfere here, I’m sure.

And then look at our political systems, which are collapsing all around us. We’ve had this democracy thing going on for a couple hundred years, and it had a lot going for it, but it’s clearly not enough today. As Thomas Berry says, “The non-two-legged ones don’t have a vote at the United Nations.” The forests aren’t represented, the whales aren’t represented… the future of the earth as a whole and living planet isn’t represented in our anthropocentric versions of democracy and politics.

And of course there’s what happened just this month with the gutting of the Voting Rights Bill – when you add that to the so-called Citizens United nemesis of a few years ago, it seems to me that our one-time democracy is just rushing down a path to oligarchy, the rule of a small, rich and powerful clique that will be very well paid by supporting an even smaller clique. It seems our politics is racing to that end, and I can’t imagine how we should not be up and doing something about this.

Look at what’s happened in Houston, one of the biggest cities in America – Rachel Maddow broke the story that one white area had 6700 voters and one voting booth, and a black area has 67,000 voters and one voting booth – that’s 10 times more voters, and this was before this latest decision by the Supreme Court! You don’t have to be black to be upset about this. You have to be a human being, someone who wants to believe in democracy, to be not only upset but outraged.

That’s where the prophet begins – with that kicked-in-the-gut feeling of outrage. And I repeat, outrage! – That is so unjust!

Being ignorant and in denial is a choice. Thomas Aquinas says that to be ignorant about what we ought to know is a deadly sin – a mortal sin. In the Hindu tradition, this is what sin is – it’s about ignorance, ignoring, choosing to ignore.

Of course there’s the issue of how women and girls are still being treated around the world. They’re second-class citizens in so many places – obviously this is not sustainable, it is outrageous. Of course in our country women have been waking up and organizing for decades, but still we’re not there, even in our country. And of course it’s getting worse in other countries where there is so much sexual slavery and repression of women and girls.

But the problem isn’t limited to the abuse of individual women. It’s about consciousness too, about the whole patriarchal idea that a certain gender or a certain group of any type has the right to lord it over others and to define God in its image exclusively, for example, God as a male. It’s not only a pernicious and subtle way of telling women they’re inferior, but also of preventing a larger balance.

For example, patriarchy has been defining education for 400 years in the West. And while our educational system offers knowledge, it’s missing Wisdom – the feminine. It simply doesn’t register. That’s why politicians and educators don’t see that wisdom and art are just as important as technology and mathematics.

So there’s no shortage of issues to light the fire in all of us, the kind of fire that lit Jesus’ teaching.

So now you may ask – how did he use this fire for justice and change in his time – and how can we, in ours? Stay tuned; I’ll be exploring these questions in my next posts.

Advice and Admonitions on Church in America: Radical Reflections on the Words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr

January 15, 2011 - 4:13 pm 120 Comments

“… we must not forget that there were three men crucified on Calvery’s hill… two for immorality and theft, living below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, for truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. So, after all, maybe the South, the nation, and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.”

… Things are different now. The contemporary church is often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch-supporter of the status quo. far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent and often vocal sanction of things just as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If the church of today does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authentic ring, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century

. I am meeting young people everyday whose disappointment with the church has risen to outright disgust.

Maybe again, I have been too optimistic, Is organized religion too in extricable bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Maybe I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ecclesia, and the hope for our world.”

from Letters From The Birmingham Jail

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

As I see it, without a willingness to consider becoming creative extremists, the mission and vision of any spiritual and/or religious group is at risk of never developing beyond being an irritant to the status quo, a socially troublesome but treatable rash, that will easily be placated and then ignored.

With being willing to become more “creatively maladjusted” is there enough of a sense of dignity and justice that makes any person or group capable of presenting the dis-ease and lament of the people of God effectively and powerfully enough to those who oppose them and who, by patriarchal religious and often penitential tradition and their theological assertions have effectively have controlled them.

Throughout the centuries of Western civilization, churches have come to occupy places of religious prominence and cultural importance. There is an undeniable historical reality that informs us… But that fact of culture and history cannot limit our understanding of what a church is, or what it stands for in our respective communities. Just as it is certain that there is a need for our churches to stand against any intrusions by government concerning one’s right to worship as one sees fit, and to remain separate from mutual entanglements, so, too, is it important for churches to assert their ethical presence in a community. As I see it, our progressively minded churches stand as stately sentinels; they can act as the guardians of individual freedom, and stand watch over the issues of justice and compassion in all civic affairs and interpersonal relationships.. In a world that seems to have lost its moral compass, our inclusive churches can act decisively to promote a concern for corporate responsibility, governmental accountability, and personal ethics. Furthermore, their presence in any conservative community acts as a vibrant religious alternative; a place that promotes freedom and safety, dialogue and self discovery, along the many diverse paths of human and spiritual inquiry towards greater comprehension and understanding. Our progressive and inclusive communities offer a welcoming and affirming environment that promotes a variety of opportunities for rational exploration, self discovery, and personal affirmation, which was traditionally aligned with the idea of the ripening and maturity of one’s soul or awareness.

If King is right in his prophetic sense of where the church of our contemporary culture is today, then the world of culture, consciousness and church life is now, more than ever before, in need of creative extremists. The time for timidity is over; it is Gospel based temerity that longs to assert itself- to present itself as being fully believable- fully and without reservation on the side of compassion, justice, equality and radical change.

If the mission and vision of a spiritual and/or religious group is sincere, it will have to be honest about the degree of obstinacy and frustration it faces in our larger religious world. The power of clerical inertia and the hierarchical arrogance that lies at the base of that power it held on to fiercely. Its desire for keeping up the dysfunctional status quo will remain stolid, intransigent, cold, and callous to the need for change, unless it go unheeded, and people vote to secede with their wallets and their feet! In that regard, it is not too strong to suggest that much of what functions in our culture as mainstream church, and what passes for a purposeful or meaningful spiritual life has already separated from the people of God it claims to serve!

Ask yourself this: If King waited until all the churches aligned with him on civil rights, then the battle would not yet have begun… If Ghandi waited until the English Raj and the Crown police demurred, or until they saw the errors of their inhospitable, dehumanizing ways, then India would still be a colony. So, too, if the faithful today have to ask ourselves this preeminent question: Are we willing to wait?

The history of the Western Church has evolved violently- It was through disagreement with the powers that were ensconced or enshrined, be they be creed, book, prince, or tradition, and that only through reformation, revolution and reform, did visionaries and dissenters have sufficient energy and impetus to create all the many varieties of church that can fill many almanacs and reference books.

As one radical example among many- Who is to say that the time is not right for an American Catholic Church? Or a People’s Catholic Church?

If there is an earnest desire to defeat the systemic evils that we clamor to remove, its arrogant crassness and the icy unresponsiveness that creates so much of the heartache in the women and men of conscience within the institutional church, then to simply protest by declining to agree is insufficient– a rash that is treated with indifference.

Only substantive action will create meaningful reform. Only with an acceptance that one has to be maladjusted to the status quo can there be enough energy generated that will definitively support deep reform and foster genuine change. Only with the affirming and encouraging creation of a new paradigm for spiritual community and ethical service, can the real or true ecclesia that King recommends come into being; Only then will energy of an inclusive and compassionate mission manifest, and only then can a vision that is clear and strong to be seen that exposes the long held, tolerated abuses of the Senex and patriarchal mentality. It is only then that we will arise as the hope for the world, and affirm ” Let the revolution of God’s people ” begin!

Guidelines for A Spiritual Community From Creation Spirituality: 12 Principles

November 15, 2010 - 2:00 pm 32 Comments

The Twelve Principles of Creation Spirituality

1. The universe is fundamentally a blessing.

Our relationship with the Universe fills us with awe.2. In Creation, God is both immanent and transcendent. This is panentheism which is not theism (God out there) and not atheism (no God anywhere).

We experience that the Divine is in all things and all things are in the Divine.

3. God is as much Mother as Father, as much Child as Parent, as much God in mystery as the God in history, as much beyond all words and images as in all forms and beings.

We are liberated from the need to cling to God in one form or one literal name.

4. In our lives, it is through the work of spiritual practice that we find our deep and true selves.

Through the arts of meditation and silence we cultivate a clarity of mind and move beyond fear into compassion and community.

5. Our inner work can be understood as a four-fold journey involving:

– awe, delight, amazement (known as the Via Positiva)
– uncertainty, darkness, suffering, letting go (Via Negativa)
– birthing, creativity, passion (Via Creativa)
– justice, healing, celebration (Via Transformativa)

We weave through these paths like a spiral danced, not a ladder climbed.

6. Every one of us is a mystic.

We can enter the mystical as much through beauty (Via Positiva) as through contemplation and suffering (Via Negativa). We are born full of wonder and can recover it at any age.

7. Every one of us is an artist.

Whatever the expression of our creativity, it is our prayer and praise (Via Creativa).

8. Every one of us is a prophet.

Our prophetic work is to interfere with all forms of injustice and that which interrupts authentic life (Via Transformativa).

9. Diversity is the nature of the Universe.

We rejoice in and courageously honor the rich diversity within the Cosmos and expressed among individuals and across multiple cultures, religions and ancestral traditions.

10. The basic work of God is compassion and we, who are all original blessings and sons and daughters of the Divine, are called to compassion.

We acknowledge our shared interdependence; we rejoice at one another’s joys and grieve at one another’s sorrows and labor to heal the causes of those sorrows.

11. There are many wells of faith and knowledge drawing from one underground river of Divine wisdom. The practice of honoring, learning and celebrating the wisdom collected from these wells is Deep Ecumenism.

We respect and embrace the wisdom and oneness that arises from the diverse wells of all the sacred traditions of the world.

12. Ecological justice is essential for the sustainability of life on Earth.
Ecology is the local expression of cosmology and so we commit to live in light of this value: to pass on the beauty and health of Creation to future generations.

 

Lent: Giving up…What? To Get…What?

February 10, 2010 - 1:21 pm 105 Comments

Because so many present day seekers have come from other, more conservative and conventional churches when they were young, many of us have been exposed to the season of Lent as having a historical and theological significance. In our Western religious culture, one cannot escape at least a superficial acquaintance with its meaning and purpose.
Lent is a time often described as a time for increased piety, extra prayer and worship services, and self sacrifice. Historically, Christians and particularly those Catholics, Episcopalians and Lutherans who were required to abstain from certain practices, habits, or activities and most often were instructed to fast or abstain from eating certain foods.
Now, the ideal or best practices associated with the Lenten season can be summarized as attitudes that encouraged retreat from the world’s fast pace and demands. Then to take that freed up time, and focus it on becoming more contemplative, looking at those areas of your life that might need improvement or reform, and to focus of new insights that can help to release you from habits and fears. The noble ideal behind the food restrictions was to help us to break our attachments, addictions, and pleasures- any tie we had to external material rewards and egotistical routines. The goal of these Lenten disciplines was to make the Christian more properly ascetic: that is, more able to give up their problems, in order to receive or claim more freedom, becoming more willing to release ego preoccupations and spend time in discerning their next steps and what sources of inspiration and guidance were available to them in their lives.
Classically, it is from our souls being more disciplined or aligned with God that we are freed to practice more loving self acceptance and more intelligent self control. …
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Now, among those of you who were made to observe Lent when you were growing up, did anyone ever satisfactorily explain it to you in that way? Is there any lasting value in Lenten observance for you now, as U-U’s? I will venture my own interpretation, and I will offer to try to provide you with a viable alternative.
First, a little religious background for all of you who were ever curious about what your Catholic and other high school friends were going through… Originally, Lent was a brief and intense time that prepared a person for Baptism. It was that soul-searching time before someone declared themselves a Christian in the early, and often persecuted Church. Considered to be a time for deep reflection and profound decision-making, it was a momentous step in a person’s life. This time of Lent was originally only 40 hours long, to reflect the time period between Good Friday and Easter morning. However, then it was a time of complete fasting, and a rigorous mental discipline.
This practice went through many historical changes. The principal one happening during the Middle Ages, when the time period for Lent was increased or prolonged to reflect a correspondence to Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness. This extended time period was accompanied by a selected fast from meat and dairy products for all healthy people between the ages of 12 to 60; the only exceptions being nursing mothers. Unfortunately, or shall I say, predictably, this eclesial rule of a selected fast was dolefully interpreted as being a time for self-sacrifice and deprivation, rather than as a time associated with grateful remembrance and devotion.
The attitude of self deprivation, especially when enforced by a particularly dogmatic clergy and inflexible church structure has yielded some interesting and contradictory results. The most appealing begin the creation of of many preLenten revels, all-out parties, and celebrations… The most famous of these are French “Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras” or the Portuguese Rio Carnivale. … For you see, the words carnivore and carnival relate to the same kind of fleshly cravings and indulgences! Therefore, Mardi Gras and Carnavales were the reluctantly condoned revels or church-related orgies just before the days and weeks of required self-sacrifice. (Remember, the restriction of one’s diet is a common religious occurrence; for example, there are Kosher food laws, Islamic fasts during the month of Ramaden. Tragically, part of our misunderstanding of food practices has contributed sociological and psychologically in the development of dietary imbalances and psychological illnesses- from our society’s chronic pre-occupation over weight to the tragedies of bulimia and anorexia that are now affecting 20% of all young women (1 in 5) and is currently growing in older women (and in some men) being seen in increasing amounts in women of mid life Or ages 35-55…

I can remember meatless Wednesdays and Fridays all through my Catholic youth. At that time, I considered it quite a hardship, and its rationale was a perplexing, obtuse mystery. ( It was much later, when reading anecdotes in church history that I discovered that the Pope, in the 1800’s, instituted the eat fish laws in order to help out the Italian fishing industry!
These eating restrictions were was told to me as something we all have to do! I really did not like the idea at all, and I wasn’t a member of the Big Mac/Whopper generation of today! After all, my traditional fare of lentil beans, cornmeal, and some fish, no matter how nutritious, got a little boring, and even I could get tired of pasta! (When I was 10, My Father & Mother went off to an FBI school, so my Aunt Frances had to care for me feed me. Every Wednesday and Friday night she said that I could have my choice: I can have pasta and beans or beans and pasta! Story about the Statues around her home; St. Anthony; ; dialogues; turning him around! Also I have included a more serious and somber reflection on Ash Wednesday and Lent on my webpage)
So you see, the idea of Lent was related to me as a time to be endured, not understood. An almost morose pallor engulfed my family during the week. We all looked forward to the big Sunday meal, our weekly indulgence.
That was a big feast with all the chicken, sausage, and meatballs you could stuff in! Some quality religious observance that was!
One time, my family held a ravioli eating contest… I came in second, or first in the junior division, having eaten 48 raviolis (big squares!) Of course, there was a lot of Pepto Bismal in my future, as I could not eat another thing for the next two days!
When I look back on the prevalent family attitude, it was far from holy or reverent. Now, I find that it is all too ironic,that as an adult, I have sharply reduced my eating of any meat without any overtones of religious persuasion … but that would involve another sermon on world hunger, ecology, and proper nutrition…
Needless to say, much of the original intent, the symbolic and spiritually based reasoning behind Lent was never adequately explained, and that has resulted in generations of people playing out empty, self-defeating rituals. So I have had to ask myself, if there is any lasting value in Lenten remembrance for us today, if so, what might it be?

As I see it, the lasting principle found in a sincere Lenten observance is the time when each of us can reflect on having more personal motives and consequences, and the human need to learn greater objectivity and self control. Stripped of its pious baggage, Lent can become a time, for setting new priorities for one’s life, and for cultivating purposeful actions that free us from any negativity, and that assist us in accomplishing our higher goals.
Many of us who shared a similar dutiful childhood, and as a consequence, later, as adults, we have become religious liberals because we balk at the imposition of sanctions and limits, especially when enforced by some restrictive irrational and unexplainable moral code. However, when these disciplines are of your own devising, we can use them to focus our willpower and to develop greater inner peace and self-control. Rather than just going the way of all of our inner cravings, Lent can be a time to remedy or reduce these faulty inclinations all of us have, and we can apply ourselves to the task of greater self understanding.

I believe that every one of us has some demon or habit or character trait that is unflattering, that has to be faced and overcome. Therefore, because it is human and universal, there can be no judgment nor room for arrogance; no need for any lasting remorse or endless regret. Instead, Lent can be that personally bestowed gift of time and focus we give to ourselves to help us clarify and release the emotional or personal struggles any of us, and all of us might have.
In truth, we must, in some measure, agree or be willing to accept the consequences of some behavior in order to continue it. Even if that conduct is self-defeating, risky or unhealthy, we have to agree to it or else it would soon disappear. In that way, Lent is a time to reacquaint yourself with your own limits and to energize your own potentials and to begin positive steps towards growth, freedom, and greater awareness.
And yes, sometimes what we are faced with are issues and problems in our lives that are unsettling, awkward, and often damn difficult! Yet, that self admission is no grounds for being severe, hateful, or unkind toward yourself or any one else. These steps toward greater responsibility and freedom for one’s mind, body and spirit, for one’s health, relationships, and ideals, bringing us to of humility and to the advocacy of compassion. As Jesus put it, “Only those who are without sin can cast stones.”

As I see it, to live, is to be involved in a continual, evolutionary and ethical process, for each person has to deal honestly with their personal banes and come to know and be grateful for their individual blessings. Each of us has to understand how, or in what ways they might need to explore, change, or transform their lives.
I would propose two healthful measures that have been useful to me. They come from two diverse sources: from training in Gestalt therapy, and from training in Buddhist philosophy. The Gestalt or psychological format asks us to appraise our behavior patterns without censure. It simply states that we are to evaluate our feelings and actions by whether they are nourishing or toxic to us.
When behavior is nourishing, it give us dignity, awareness, understanding and self-respect. When because is toxic, then it is harmful to our self-esteem, our health, our families, to our well-being. I find that to be a simple and effective measure or standard to apply for greater self-awareness that is free of punitive conclusions and self righteous moral judgments.
The second guideline I would recommend is from Buddhist teachings. It emphasizes justice and sobriety, balance and the avoidance of excess; be it dietary, financial, relational, mental or physical. It states that we are to act without any feelings of self-denial nor act in ways that are self-indulgent. We are simply, to think ethically, act soberly, and speak broadmindedly. It emphasizes justice over judgment, equity over imbalance, moderation in thought, feeling and behavior. In this way, our tendencies and habits, problems and pressures, do not or will not control or victimize us. It can be summarized as this: That it our shared human need to establish inner personal guidelines so that we can overcome our actions that can lead to addiction- which is simply defined as the human tendency to try to get too much of what we don’t truly do not need.
This Lenten season, try to take some time each day to reflect on various virtues and principles you would like to see manifest in your lives. Then look at your lifestyle, your choices, your patterns for living and then try to notice if there is anything that could use some improvement, some further balance, some greater empathy and understanding.
Be willing to examine your goals- decide for a more positive, creative, and inspired approach to living. Maybe you can begin to keep a dream log, start a journal, or an exercise program, attend a class, or be aware of how your sacred intentions or prayers can bring new insights and empowerment to you with persistent progress.
And remember to begin soon, because according to the consensus of opinion in psychological circles, it takes at least three weeks to break a negative habit, establish new learning, or develop a lasting initiative that can span this Lenten season.

Lent can become a holy time- a gift your give to yourself as a time when you can discover who and what you are, and with inner guidance and grace, all that you can truly be.
Amen, So Be it!

Tribalism And Religious Intolerance- An Interfaith Presentation

January 19, 2016 - 12:51 pm Comments Off on Tribalism And Religious Intolerance- An Interfaith Presentation

Q: For Rev. Peter Lanzillotta, Ph.D.

In light of current incidences ignited by religious fanaticism:

What actually makes the extremist and the terrorist, who in name of God, do horrible things to people who do not belong to their ideology? If it is ignorance, what kind of personal growth may help the social tolerance? Is social tolerance is a necessity for survival of human race in general?

Peter’s Remarks:

Good Evening! I will use two reference points for my brief discussion with you tonight… The first comes from the socially conscious entrepreneur Paul Hawkins speaking about the power of community, and the second, from Martin Luther King Jr’s writings on social evils…

“[There is a growing and hopefully sustaining sense of a “blessed unrest” in our society today… That phrase coined by Paul Hawkins speaks to the subrosa or under the cultural radar movements, that are coming together to work constructively, spiritually and compassionately on our current social ills…

His outlook emphasizes the intention of group energy to provide solutions to our challenges in ways that an individual or any isolated actions cannot achieve or accomplish. He speaks passionately when he declares,” how 200,000 people in these diverse groups worldwide are working together to overcome political disease, economic infection, and ecological corruption.]”

Second, we have this statement from MLK Jr… Towards the end of his life, King spoke and wrote more and more about what he described as the “dangerous giant triplets: Racism, Extreme Materialism, and Militarism.”

He goes on to say:

“If I may borrow again from Christian Scriptures, this fight is not against individual people, but rather “powers and principalities.” ( Ephesians 6) It is best to see our fight against racism rather than against unique racists. The dismissal or conviction of a racist police officer, careless prosecuting attorney, or corrupt judge is certainly important, but it does not solve the root and source of the problem”…

“Racism draws power from materialism (financial interests) Those financial interests or powers secure themselves by way of militarism (at times military and police forces) and that force is too often employed in a way that it benefits small certain groups and serves to suppress others…”

Given the complexity of these intersecting powers that threaten human dignity, freedom and cooperation what outlooks, ideas, and values, if they were allowed greater and broader social expression, would work effectively together to lesson or resolve our stubborn cultural inequalities and injustices?

We have to ask: What is a spiritual minded person or small group to do? How does the variety of religious expression and the wide diversity we find in our American society work to encounter and face down these issues?

When we begin to look at the religious dimension of our lives and look toward the possible solutions of our social problems, it is first critical to our understanding that we admit that here is wide variance in the levels of religious understanding and ethical comprehension that exists within every religious community. In the same pew, you can find someone with a grade school knowledge of religious teachings and ethical applications sitting next to someone with a graduate school level of comprehension and application.

As an acknowledgment of this wide range of understanding, as I see it, there are at least three factors each person can learn about that will increase their greater appreciation for the scope of the problems we face, and these three factors when better or more deeply understood, can be seen as “the principalities and powers” we have to contend with IF we wish to resolve any of the social and spiritual evils that are present in our society today.

These three factors are:

1) Tribalism- resistant, narrowly focused and reinforced approach to safety, security and identity

2) Patriarchy- oppressive insistence on exclusive male authority and the established/historical patterns of preferential power structures

3) Sectarian Violence- entrenched prejudices and rivalry that inhibits cooperation and fans the flames of division, chaos, etc.

These three factors – widely dependent on the cultural or interpersonal realities such as the level of education available in that society, the degree of political oppression, media manipulation or lack of a public voice, and the reinforcement of these teachings found in each of the great religious traditions that emphasize freedom, dignity, self worth, etc. .

To this mostly socio-cultural underpinnings, I would add this theological and spiritual corollary: Maybe most important of all, is the teaching that surround the premise that we can find a transformative grace that exists within our human participation in the allness and the wholeness of God as our common source for justice and compassion. That this sustaining identity and participation are among the most dynamic spiritual principles that would encourage and enable change in any opposing or repressive attitudes, opinions, and values.

Given the time limits this presentation… the rest of my remarks will now focus on the issue of tribalism…

Tribalism presents itself as the obstacle that supports the other factors, and can be seen as the most obstinate and stubborn. Tribalism is the primitive way of understanding one’s religious identity and identify one’s place in the larger world that is then repeatedly reinforced by commonly held irrational fears. Chief among them is xenophobia or the fear of the stranger, and deep suspicions about any person who is different from the members of one’s own tribe or clan. The emphasis in this outlook is for the sake of safety and security in what can be easily perceived as a dangerous outside world. The need, therefore, is to stay with people who are just like us- people or members of our own tribe who repeatedly share the same ideas and ideals that reinforce one’s sense of identity and security through a well defined, rule bound, small circle of association and lifestyle.

While some version of this tendency towards tribalism might have been a developmental necessity for cultural cohesion and economic survival in ancient days, such as among the children of Israel, or at the founding of Islam, or for that matter, at the beginnings of any nation or ethnic identity, such an emphasis on conformity for identity or for survival no longer works well in current society.

Modernity can be defined by its multicultural realities which consist of an amalgam of traditions, religious expressions, and cultural patchworks which exists in our current culture. Most cogently, we can readily see this dynamic diversity in our daily lives, in the everyday workings of our immigrant society in the USA…

(Yes… We ARE an immigrant nation… get over it! Just ask a Native American!)

Tribalism acts as a divisive agent; whether its around the world or around the corner… and threatens to hold us back from the greater appreciation of enriching tapestry of ideas and practices that affirm value of our national diversity.

Tribalism insists on its own narrow interpretations of behavior and beliefs, and it can act, in both its arrogance and ignorance, to suppress any dissent or the altering of any of its iron clad rules that would welcome any contrasting ideas or any competitive opinion and practices…

Living in Charleston, the evidence of continuing sense of tribalism is hard to escape or ignore. We who live here cannot afford to be unaware or resistant and blind to the fact that embedded within any shiny claims of its illustrious history, there is also an insistent glare of institutional racism and the curse of slavery that tarnishes any attempt to whitewash its historical acclaim. These tendencies, and worse, these harsh realities are still active in the civic descision-making, and that the deep impact of those exclusionary attitudes still affect the city on a daily basis, and can be seen as remaining a powerful divisive factor in our city today.

The South as a whole, with its tendency towards recalling a more sentimental history could be considered to be tribal. Similarly, The WASP socioeconomic preferences around our country (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) has had a nationwide and long standing, profound negative impact on the Native Americans and as a deterrent imposition to Asians, all the way down to today’s battles over inclusion where the well established white Protestant culture would willing erect a wall- a literal physical barrier to full acceptance and assimilation for Latinos who wish to live among us…

So one of the most powerful answers that will defeat the obstacles and oppressions of tribalism, maybe its most effective remedy, would be to create and implement a nationwide, multicultural educational reform. This empathetic and honest curricula would seek to dispel attitudes of ignorance, lessen any fears of the stranger, and expose and diminish any sense of exclusionary cultural practices or economic preferences. As it has been said during our current political debates, the symbol of our country and its people cannot be a defiant wall of separation and exclusion, but rightly understood and in accord with our nation’s highest ideals, the symbol of our country would be the Statue of Liberty that would light our way, and the inclusive noble promises of the Declaration of Independence that would guide us…

Lastly, moving from a more sociological outlook into a more theological one, when looking at the need to move towards diversity, people of faith are encouraged to widen their heartfelt concern, and to move beyond tolerance for differences in faith, belief, customs and practices. While being tolerant and being nonjudgmental might well be all we can ask of secular society, and it remains a worthwhile goal, there is a further step people of faith need to be willing to take. Regardless of which pew or practice defines your spiritual life, the need for compassion is universal, and the next step- of full acceptance becomes our cherished goal…

While secular society will often operate on a “Quid pro Quo” basis- this for that as a basis for cultural trade off and compromises, the spiritual life requires us to go a step further… in the words of St. Thomas Aquinas, towards a “Quid pro Bono” or doing this… because it is good… Because it is good, right, and just- not only for us, but for all humankind!

Every human being is a gift, a blessing, and needs to be recognized for the miracle that she/he is… That each person has inherent worth, dignity, and value. Every one of the great religious traditions, has within its mystical and ethical writings, teachings that speak to us of the intimacy and honesty of this ideal, and that we can express a sustaining belief in a compassionate and loving Source many of us call God.

As Meister Eckhart, the medieval mystic and as Matthew Fox the best modern advocate for the uplifting approach called Creation Spirituality reminds us: “God is always giving birth to compassion” always providing us with creative and redemptive ways of being in our world, always offering us gracious potentials for service and understanding that would create a more sacred society. In short, nothing, in truth, prevents us from offering one another empathy and affirmation and that can be shown to all of our brothers and sisters, to the animals, to all life on earth!

I will end my thoughts and remarks with this quote from Dr. James Doty, MD, from his book, The Science of Compassion. He writes:

“As human beings, we will inevitably encounter suffering at some point in our lives. However, we have evolved very specific social mechanisms to relieve that pain: altruism and compassion. …

“While survival of the fittest may lead to some short term gain, research clearly shows it is survival of the kindest that leads to long term survival of a species. It is our ability to stand together as a group, to support each other, to help each other, to communicate for mutual understanding, and to cooperate that has taken our species this far.”

May a lasting sense of our personal dignity and worth recognize the value of our human diversity, and promote a wholehearted acceptance of that truth as our spiritual and ethical goal- our working outlook, and our exalting ideal…

Thank you…

 

 

Reflection: Practicing and Growth Towards God

August 26, 2015 - 12:13 pm Comments Off on Reflection: Practicing and Growth Towards God

Practicing The Presence of God
Invocation:
Practicing the presence of God is the application of our spirit to God; It is the vivid recollection that God is present with us. It first can be experienced through imagination, then it becomes a felt experience, and finally the presence is embodied, or fully realized or understood.

Selected Reading: From the writings and correspondence of Brother Lawrence to a nearby Abbey, where a dear friend, the Abbess, lived:

Dear Reverend Mother;
We should remind ourselves, dear Mother, that our only business in this life is to please God. What can be said of all the rest, except folly and vanity? You and I have spend nearly forty years in a religious order, trying as we might, to please God, and serve our brothers and sisters in this world. I am full of shame and embarrassment when I reflect on the bountiful grace God has given me, and continues to give me, and how I have made such poor use of it as my progress down the path of perfection leads only a short way.
Since by God’s mercy, we have been given a little more time to live, let us make amends for any time lost. Let us return with complete confidence to the contemplation of God’s goodness and dwell on how God is pleased to receive e us into his mercy and love.. Let us renounce anything that keeps us from the love of God, or from the acts that do not honor him, or honor what is holy in us. Let us think on Him without ceasing, putting our whole trust in God.
Soon, we will experience the blessings of that trust, the abundance of that grace, and we will be capable of greater service and limitless love through him. We cannot avoid the dangers and the reefs that life holds without first having God as our very present help. Let us ask for it continually.
Through holy practice, we can practice our conversations with him, and learn of him in and through our lives. I know of no more proper prayer or no more easier method than this one. And as I practice, so do I advise. One must be acquainted with a person before loving them. To be acquainted with God, we must think often about him, and when we do love, we will often feel God’s presence with us.
For our hearts are where our treasure is! So let us think constantly about Him.
I remain, in our Lord, you most humble servant,
Brother Lawrence 1689
Reflection: Staying With God

In the ongoing discipline of “practicing the Presence” of God we can go through three developmental stages in our understanding and practice.

The first stage is called RECOLLECTION:

Here our principal task is one of remembering God, which is a practice shared by many spiritual traditions and made most vivid in the practice of Sufi Zhikr; the dance like movements that accompany chanting the names and qualities of the Divine…
To remember God is also to re-member ourselves… that s to assemble or put together or even restore our sense of wholeness and then affirm our sense of connected holiness with God as our divine eternal and constant companion.

The second stage is called CONVERSATION:

Here we engage in a devotional attitude while praying, singing, or if you prefer, when you talk to your inner or Higher self. The central theme her is the dialogue, the conversation between you and your understanding of God and what is holy or what occupies the holy dimension of our thoughts and of our lives. While God would not be defined as some cosmic auditory nerve or eternal ear, God would be that part of us that listens intently to our intuitions; the part of us that can hear new sources of inspiration.
It does, however, require us to stop in order to listen; to end our distractions, if only for a few precious moments, so we can set aside our random and mundane thoughts and empty our minds so that God can speak to our hearts.

The third stage is Sustained Awareness:

This third or culminating stage occurs when we can hold on to an awareness or a consciousness of the divine despite whatever external, special, or personal events and experiences are happening to us… Despite what befalls us, we can pick ourselves up because we are sustained by our faith, our hope, and our love that serves to encourage or enlarge our hearts and strengthen our spirits, and continue to be a positive influence on the rest of humankind.
Risking stating the obvious, each of us will go through challenging cycles and phases in our lives when this awareness seems elusive and sustaining our consciousness of God becomes difficult. It is important that we do not let ourselves spiral down or become overly discouraged, overly disappointed with the conditions and situations of our lives.

This is the time when we can confidently rely on our spiritual tools and practices to bring us back into a harmonious alignment or a reverent attunement with God, with love and with hope… And frankly, it really does not matter what tools or techniques you employ…. there is a wide array of possibilities and activities that will work for you IF your intention is sincere and open, and honest… Whatever actions assist us in restoring our connection and reestablishing our conversation, and that will eventually deepen our intimacy are all good!

From Brother Lawrence:
“[It is said that the interior life is precisely an elevation of our inner conversation. It is the transformation of the dialogue we already have with ourselves into the conversation we desire to have with God.]”

“[For all things are possible for those who believe; and all things are less difficult for those who have hope; and all things are made easier for those who love.]”

Practicing The Presence of God: Daily Spiritual Living Defined

August 26, 2015 - 12:09 pm Comments Off on Practicing The Presence of God: Daily Spiritual Living Defined

Sermon/Reflection:
Practicing The Presence of God: Daily Life Spiritually Defined

Nicholas Herman, alias Brother Lawrence was a member of the Carmelite Order in the 1600’s in France. While that might make you think, that was a long time ago, and what could he teach me about contemporary spirituality, the answer is plenty! Particularly when it comes to having a genuine commitment to God and to the need to reduce our egos or get them out of the way, so the light of service can flow through us….
The Carmelites, then and now are known for their intense sense of devotion, and for the willingness to endure in their faith through what has been timelessly names the “dark night of the soul” which comes down to us from St. John of The Cross and St. Theresa of Avila. However, Brother Lawrence was different in that his experience of the Holy was lead by his humility and sincerity, and revealed in a candid and practical way. He did not take on those onerous practices of self denial, instead, his struggle was to see and follow God in his daily life; through his routines, chores, and daily and to develop his spiritual awareness and encourage it to grow into an intimacy with God’s reality in our daily lives.
Lawrence was neither handsome, or even generally attractive. We are given a description of him as short, thin, and lame, and as a man who was generally uneasy or uncomfortable
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just being himself. Yet, with all those exterior and social obstacles, what he accomplished, what he taught and modeled for us could not be claimed by very many people in religious life: You see, his life was simple… and splendid. He was able to see God in that simplicity and he was able to find a sustaining sense of God’s presence and reality while attending to every day’s duties and responsibilities.
In the few correspondences he left behind, we are given a definition of what it means to practice the presence of God. Brother Lawrence recommends that we try to consecrate or sanctify everything we do; No matter how inconsequential it might appear to be or how mundane and routine it appears to us. His perspective is one of the Western spiritual counterparts to the Buddhist practice(s) of Mindfulness that also carries with it, a more devotional aspect… It is the more personal, heart-centered awareness of the Divine with you and working through you as you approach every facet of your lives; that it is present in every chore, each meeting, each encounter, each situation, in this time and in every place… Very simple… Very difficult!
This is clearly the opposite of needing to “get away” so you can become ‘spiritual” so it is the opposite of going on retreat… But it is also the opposite of elaborate rituals and lengthy prayers, attending formal services during Holy Days, or treating the presence of God as only being available when you are doing
something special or that it is somehow reserved or apart from the human experience, reserved for times of crisis or times of sentimental religion, like Christmas.
Brother Lawrence came to see that even within the most strict or rigid set of rules and structures within a monastic life, there really is no need for the Daily Offices, or set times for prayers, liturgies, and elaborate ceremonies. Instead, he found himself able to apply a prayerful consciousness to his everyday realities, and all the many chores and deeds that comprise the average human daily experience. In the middle of making a salad, preparing potatoes, sweeping the floor, feeding the animals or any other household routine, he could express his thoughts and communicate with God as an intimate familiar friend and trustworthy guide.
As a model for contemporary spirituality, this approach fits well within the possibilities for our spiritual awareness and growth. It is not bound by any specific rules or creeds, it does not require elaborate rituals or confessions of faith, but it does depend on one’s personal sense of commitment and consistency.
In the midst of trying to keep our lives straight and when we are caught up in the rush of daily life where we have to catch our breath, (much less hold on to any lasting sense of inspiration!) comes the sincere and simple advice of Brother Lawrence that declares that God can be found right in the middle of it all!
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The irony is that our breath is and our source of inspiration are exactly what we need to catch and hold onto during each moment of each day. It does not matter if this sounds impossible because its practice is always good, always beneficial and cannot fail us. Whatever modest success we have with remembering God’s presence will be to our benefit, once a day, every moment… whenever we can, its blessings come with every attempt we make and will promote more happiness, health, and harmony for us.
There is nothing wrong or negative in being busy; boredom is far worse. The emphasis has to rest on one’s attitude towards whatever task or occupation is before us. There is nothing wrong with having initiative, having a sense of industry creativity or enjoying a sense of accomplishment. The problem is when there is an absence of God, good, grace in the process and a lack of awareness that can degenerate into materialistic striving or blind and soulless ambition. Brother Lawrence’s teachings recommend that we look toward God and cling fast to the insights that come from our spiritual guidance. We do this by keeping watch over our motives and acts, and keeping watch through prayerful reflection during our waking and working moments.
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Brother Lawrence was accepted into the monastery when he was just eighteen years old; He stayed within those walls and confines and lived out his routines for some fifty years. After his early, initial awakening to the realities of God that could be found everywhere… in nature, in others, in oneself, he found that he was not sure how he could apply this awareness to his life. He felt that its one thing to have an isolated flash of recognition or insight but it was quite another thing to change- to learn to live by what he once felt was so real. Like so many people, then and today, these insights can lead one to the church ( or away from it!) and in pursuit of a spiritual vocation, widely defined. The goal of such a chase or pursuit would be to replicate those initial feelings and insights in a way that allowed him to share them with others.
Then came the rude shock. Because he was of noble birth, and had a keen intellect, he expected that the Abbot would place him in the library, or give him a scholar’s position. Instead, he was given the assignment to be a cook, a task he detested! Seeing no alternative to his dissatisfactions, and having no recourse with the Abbot, he sought to learn this tedious and unglamorous new “vocation” as a way to express his service to God and to his brother monks. He reluctantly accepted the challenges of kitchen duty, and through his own struggles and trials, he was able to turn the monotony and the everyday drudgery into a continual daily prayer- trying to see God, and talk with God throughout everything he had to do.
Have you ever tried looking or approaching your days like that? Too often, our good intentions end at spilling the coffee, or exit before we leave home! I ask: can we learn to just take a moment to consider how our lives could become a little more tranquil… How we could make each task of our day a little more loving, receptive, creative?
Clearly, I am not recommending trying to walk around with a pious angelic look on your face… or wandering around like some lost saint! I know, I’ve tried it, and it doesn’t work! People think you are searching for the rest room! Such a nonchalance or adopting an overly mystical mindset is, at best, a romantic illusion. It is neither helpful to your spiritual progress nor is it anything but precarious when dealing with the outer world and all of its traffic! The practice the presence is not merely an idea that works for monks or only in monasteries. It is within the reach of us all.
The presence of God manifests through the refocusing of our hearts and minds to include an abiding sense of companionship and dialogue that will change our perceptions. This inclusion of the Divine gives us a wider view of compassion and a deeper sense of inspiration that gives shape and direction to our days.

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Q: What if you have trouble praying or feel that you cannot come up with all the right words, exalted thoughts, rich, poetic, and wonderful feelings? It doesn’t really matter… To be at a loss for words or groping around for a greater sense of understanding is not so bad… simple words, even fleeting thoughts can suffice.
As Brother Lawrence recommends in his writings:
“[We must seek to serve God in holy freedom. We must do our work faithfully, without trouble, or any disquieting thoughts. We need to recall our minds to God, with an ease and a tranquility that welcomes us back to remembering, when ever our minds have wandered.” ( Universal teachings in many forms of meditation, using mantras, or in the process of watching ones internal processes…)
He completes his instruction by recommending that “whatever is before us, we can do with a renewed appreciation that we are doing it for God.”
(Wheels of Wood story…)
It is important to remember that practicing the presence of God is not some superficial form of magical thinking or positive affirmations. It is neither creating positive slogans nor some convoluted mind science. It is what it is! Developing a remembrance of God and feeling free to talk with God which has, as its result, an ability to make our communications more clear and compassionate. as we remember, these qualities transfer to our consciousness… they become our own…
We embody God through our thoughts, through our feelings and our conversations that increase our composure and grants us a greater sense of peace no matter the task ahead: changing a tire or changing a diaper! Our sense of peace and confidence, our composure and our sense of calm comes to us because whatever we are doing, we are doing for others and with God. The quality of our lives depends less on one’s own thinking as it does on the connection, communication and cooperation with God that becomes a holy relationship.
As you can easily see, the practice of the presence of God is not for the faint hearted or the weak willed; It is not for those who think of themselves first, or who are easily discouraged. It is accomplished through a diligent joy. Yes, it is easy to forget, but it is just as easy to resume and regain where you left off in your divine dialogue. The only real difference between the hallowed saint and the ordinary person is their diligence, focus, and the constancy of their efforts to achieve a divine intimacy and understanding.
Surely, there will be times when negativity and ego tendencies strive with this desire … when we will experience tension, depression, and all the rest… What happiness there is to obtain or receive in our lives is not dependent on an external
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event or circumstance– It is to be found in being able to carry on a divine conversation. The practice of this relationship is like any other you cherish; It is a lifelong pursuit. in point of fact, our lives can change with a simple song, a loving thought or an easy prayer. Our highest employment, our best career move is found in remembering God.

Jesus urged us never to be afraid to ask, to knock, to pray, and to trust that God hears us. He also said that if we seek God first, all things will be added unto us. Paul said that the task of a spiritual person is to “pray without ceasing”…

So may the practice of the presence of God fill your lives with companionship and beauty, even throughout your daily routines, and may your communication with God enliven you with a greater sense of companionship and may your communication strengthen and open your hearts. ” May God fill you with faith and hope and the joy that comes from believing.”

Amen; So Be It….

 

Are You Spiritual but not Religious? What does that mean? Can you be Spiritual AND Religious?

May 26, 2015 - 3:48 pm Comments Off on Are You Spiritual but not Religious? What does that mean? Can you be Spiritual AND Religious?

Homily/Theme: What Does It Mean To Be Spiritual and Religious?

Chances are that you have heard these words from your friends who have been seeking their own answers, and chances are that you have said these words yourself: “I am spiritual, but I am not religious!”

Generally, we all know what that means, right? That we identify ourselves as a person who explores, who bravely seeks answers, and who often can not find what they are seeking in the traditional ways of church, worship, with all of the limiting behavioral expectations and the exclusionary beliefs.

IF we have recently returned to our childhood faith, or when as an adult, we have reexamined the beliefs and values that are still being espoused, we can encounter limited understanding, traditional patriarchal meanings, or a series of disheartening attitudes that are, at their worst, harsh and depersonalizing, and even at their best, they can be stale and limiting.

In today’s culture, yes, even here in the “Holy City” area – One of the most resistant, most traditional, and most conservative of places, there are a growing number of people who find themselves dissatisfied with what passes for religious beliefs, and who can no longer feel comfortable, much less inspired, by traditional worship.

In particular, they can object to the repressive uses of theology and Scripture as agents of control that try to limit the scope of your questions, or cramp your desire to seek out your own answers.

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Just as many people say that they have out grown the image of God as the old man in heaven, sitting on a golden throne, as judge and jury over our souls, so too have many people outgrown the belief that we are sinners and need judgmental or parental authority figures to tell us what to do, and what to believe about God, life, love…

I expect that most of you sitting here have encountered this and resisted it, and it is possible that you have found yourselves a little lost, or at least disheartened over the lack of choice, or the lack of open, and progressive alternatives to church in our area. It can appear as if many churches here are living in a isolated time warp or a cocoon that shuts out the need for greater acceptance or tolerance.

For example, by my quick count, there are over 100 churches in Charleston county, yet there are only five communities of faith that welcome gay and lesbians, only three of these five church groups would be consider themselves to centrally Christian, only one to be inclusive and metaphysical, and only one maybe two to be welcoming of all faiths or accepting of having no faith at all! No wonder there are so many spiritual Meetup Groups! There are a lot of people who are looking around, and most cannot find what they seek!

During my personal lifelong study and my ministry experiences, there has been a lot of resistance to the word spiritual, just as there has been in more recent years, there is the reluctance to call oneself a religious person. …

 

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I feel that the time is “ready and ripe” to define both terms in new inclusive and welcoming ways. (which by the way, are the words Jesus used in Aramaic to describe what he called being Blessed…

As in the Beatitudes… Ready are you…)

Let’s chose the easier word first… being religious…

I bet you thought I would choose spiritual, didn’t you?

Without belaboring it, most conventional churches are only superficially or sentimentally religious. They prefer to operate as pious social groups, for business networking, for parenting support, for reinforcing the status quo with a little sentimental story, or a passive ritual… That’s is what conventionally passes for being religious. However, there is a deeper, more troubling dimension to be religious in our culture today…

That is when being religious means that you are blindly arrogant. When Scripture is used as a political weapon for exclusion or inclusion- Either you believe what we say or we will threaten you in two things: You will be threatened with being ostracized from family, friends, jobs, or you will be threatened with damnation and Hell because, according to the way they have chosen to read the words, they can pronounce that you are not accepted, that you are a sinner!

The pressure to conform to ideas and concepts you no longer trust or believe in is a heavy one; This coercion we can feel, especially from family and friends, can be very disheartening.

 

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I have heard this experience often from my clients in spiritual direction. They would often agree around these experiences:

That they had to leave home religiously in order to find themselves- They had to be a bold, rebellious, and then become an adult seeker…

However, it is also true that this path can be very difficult… being responsible for your own answers, being a mystic seeking wholeness or becoming a prophet after truth is not an easy road! That is why so few people choose it!

As I see it, arrogant or judgmental theology has created more atheists, and more disillusioned people that any question based on science or social doubt could have ever done! However, it has also created many sincere seekers who wish to find spiritual ideals and a community that now fit their expanded understanding…

In the 12 Principles of Creation Spirituality, you will see that this community will consciously aim to rectify and restore your sense of dignity, value, talent, and purpose. It will not ask you to sacrifice your ability to reason, nor will it expect you to believe in anything or act in any way that is not compassionate and wise.

You see, religion, as it pertains to its original word meaning, religiare, is an expression of human belonging or spiritual bonding that keeps, respects, and holds people together in service to a larger ideal or a greater truth than one can have or hold just by themselves.

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Being religious is having or holding on a sustaining belief in the grace that can be found in being together- in sharing, in working together to support and to encourage one another through our commonly held ways of worship, study, and service.

(group energy/synergy and dynamism)

Now I fully acknowledge that stating or even declaring that you are “spiritual but not religious” is an important necessary step in many people’s spiritual journey- There is truth in saying that you first have to know what you do not believe in before they can find what ideas and ideals that can become your new sources for truth. When one goes through rejection, what you are expressing is what you no longer accept, or that you no longer wish to practice a level of belief or consciousness that you feel that you have either outgrown, or that is dysfunctional or even disrespectful for you.

Instead, many sincere seekers have chosen to remain outside of any church community until you can find a place that would support and inspire your new more mature and more inclusive awareness.

So I celebrate the virtue of necessary rejection! Without the courage to walk away, to explore, and to discover new truths, you cannot realize or be responsible for having an adult or mature understanding of faith, God, spirit, truth… As Walt Whitman put it, we are to “dismiss anything that insults our souls, and then our very flesh will become a poem!”

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We need a religious dimension to our lives so that we can experience a sense of belonging, and feel as if there are sisters and brothers around that we can trust, and that we can be honest with, and who will genuinely care about us: Mind/Body/Heart/and Soul.

When religion and spirituality intersect, and when they become clearly practiced, we can arrive at a complementary synthesis, or a complete belief system. As Matthew Fox, founder of Creation Spirituality puts it, “There can be no mysticism without ethics, and no spirituality without justice.” I would add that there can be no complete sense of religious understanding without an active spirituality to accompany it. Without having sufficient regard for Myth, mystery, and meaning, there cannot be a complete sense of the Holy that can be found in that community.

Most of the new nationwide research on what people are looking for in a spiritual community centers around becoming more pneumocentric- more Spirit centered and bravely open to many ideas. which is contrary to the historical and conventional ways of church… This more Spirit centered approach will be more inclusive of various paths towards truth, it will be more participatory, and will seek to provide various ways of learning as a part of each service. It has become clear from all the feedback they have received that long time seekers, and those of the new wave of searchers will not be content with being “sacred observers.” This is the term I have found to best describe that conventional congregation:

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just passively sitting in their pews, and feeling parented by some authority figure or satisfied by simply be given pious pabulum that has little value or no direct application once they leave the service!

In short, the new generation of spiritual pioneers and visionaries will not settle for religion being done “for them or done to them”… They wish to learn how to live their ideas more fully, not just talk about them! They want to wholeheartedly participate in developing an adult, responsible, and a knowledgeable faith that informs the whole person, and that tributes positively to the critical, necessary social changes we see around us…

Now for the word, spiritual… what a minefield that is! It is so inexact, so obtuse, with so many amorphous definitions that while we can easily come to a general consensus, those facile words still lack depth or any sense of a complete understanding! It took me ten pages to define it in my book on Spirit, Time and The Future!

Generally speaking, the word spiritual is most commonly equated with a kind of universal energy, or with some force that it both within us and beyond us. Other times, the word spiritual takes on the more pious or sentimental ideas of grace, but still not knowing how or in what ways that blessing can arrive or occur. …

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I do not believe that spirituality is neither reducible to secular physics, nor is it a abstract, sentimental notion of God’s reality…

While Spirit’s basic effect is vitality, She can also be known as our source for wisdom, evolutionary relationships, soul centered healing, and justice making… It flows from the center of the Cosmos, and is evident in every breathe we take… The qualities most associated with Spirit are alchemical: They are the abilities of Transformation; Transcendence, and Transmutation… Change!

As I see it, the source for all this is the inclusive and expansive understanding of The Holy Spirit in Christianity is the same gracious and powerful Spirit or divine feminine that is found in all the timeless mystical aspects of the world faiths. She manifests and releases creativity and compassion, and She guides any community that is founded on interdependent, evolutionary impulses that direct us beyond ego and culture, and towards a sustaining sense of being whole and free…

I welcome you today to this opportunity to worship, and to work together, to share in creating a community of soulful exploration and compassionate understanding- a community that teaches how to live a pneumatic or a Spirit centered life- a life that is filled with discovery, affirmation, and blessings! Amen; So be It! Blessed Be!