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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!

 

The Story and The Legend of St. Patrick… and the Snakes!

March 16, 2013 - 5:02 pm 30 Comments

Recalling St. Patrick: Saints and Snakes

The Reverend Peter Edward Lanzillotta, Ph.D.

When we think of someone as a saint, a variety of images can come to mind. Commonly, these images are associated with a person’s “goodness” or as an example of shining morality: ” He is a real saint or She is a sainted woman.” These expressions declare someone’s virtues or strengths and usually suggests that this person is unusually loving, patient and kind. Somehow, their particular closeness to God could intervene to solve a human problem or affect a healing solution to some chronic or acute difficulty.

Often, a saint will be created or be known for some outstanding or wondrous deed that was accomplished against daunting odds such as St. Joan of Arc. Saints will also be associated with certain social causes or professions and then will act as their protective agent that watches over that career, trade, that city or place. Lastly, there has been established a connection between saints and particular plants and animals…A few brief examples:

St. Francis of Assisi and birds, Italy, and the city of San Francisco; St. Nicholas with gift giving, reindeer, and the country of Sweden; and the saint of the day, St. Patrick with shamrocks, Ireland, and snakes! SNAAKES! Why not dogs, like St. Bernard? I will answer that connection a little later…

Each official saint (how someone becomes a saint is a lengthy and detailed process of witness and attribution… detailed in another sermon!)  Is given his or her special, commemorative day… Considered to be their “birthday” it is celebrated by all those who identify with that saint, or who have a particular affiliation with his causes, countries, mission or purpose.

Actually, it is not their birthday that is celebrated as we have few birth records that could state when ancient saints were born, but it is their death day: Which according to historical Catholic teachings, is the day when they begin their eternal life, or life with God. It is the day when your spiritual goal is accomplished- when you win your heavenly release from ego, pain, suffering, that was so much a part of life on Earth. You might recall the now famous Irish toast:

“May your soul get to Heaven a half hour before the Devil knows you are dead!”

On this day, March 17th, I will offer a brief recounting of the storied life of St. Patrick and then focus on his legendary feat of driving all the snakes out of Ireland. This story, has been passed down to us in true Irish form: As Myth, legend, and yes, a story that has some “blarney” attached to it!

Remember, whenever you encounter the story of the life of one of these ancient saints, you need to keep your mythological and idealistic perspective. These stories are not necessarily factual, but they can be true… True to the heart that hears them; for they often arrive at our hearts without paying full homage to either science or common sense. It has been said that the fastest way to God is through a story, and that a story provides us with a doorway that opens us to holy mysteries.

Not much is actually known about St. Patrick.  Even though it might be the most widely celebrated saint around the globe… And maybe that is just as it should be. Possibly only trailing St. Francis or St. Nicholas in the hearts of the faithful, he has earned his own special niche in the Catholic Christian world. This claim, of course, is hard to dispute- even if you are not Irish ( although I do expect that everyone is, at least a even a wee bit on the 17th, and as for all those who protest such goings on, then just content yourself with some Guinness or a draught of green beer, and enjoy the party!

St. Patrick was born in approximately 387 AD or ACE in a small, southwestern English village that was still a part of the  Roman Empire. His real name, by the way, was Patrius Calpunrnius, which made him a Roman citizen, because his father was Italian! (I always knew that I liked him!) He spent his uneventful boyhood in this remote part of England and so the details are largely unknown. One event, when he was 16, was recorded for us. Something drastic happened to him!

One evening, as he was wandering outside the protective confines of his village walls, he was captured by a band of Celtic rogues who were also known as slave pirates. He was taken away from England , to Ireland, and there he was sold as a slave. He lived in bondage for six years and as could be expected, this ordeal changed his life.

Much like a cocoon is for a butterfly, this time of suffering and trial became his place for transformation or soulful metamorphosis. During his servitude, he develop a deep, sincere inward calling and fervent spiritual purpose. Through his adversity, he learned how to pray without ceasing( I Thess. 5) As his biographer notes it, even in the midst of a gale or a blizzard, he never forgot his daily prayers, or to give thanks to God for whatever might come his way!

Eventually, a way did open… And he escaped Ireland and returned home to England. Yet, he did not stay very long because his experiences set a new agenda and larger mission for his life. He left England for France, and entered a seminary to study to become a priest. After he completed his studies, his example was noticed by his bishops and it is said that he even came to be known by the Pope for his religious zeal, and all that fervor directed him back to Ireland as a missionary to the Celts!

After only a short time, he success spread and he was appointed bishop of Armagh. From that city, he traveled throughout the land, founding many churches and establishing monasteries all over the Emerald Isle. His greatest goal was to convert the native Celts from their Pagan and passionate ways and mold and make them over into Christians. It has been ascribed to his efforts, that Ireland, in time, became a bastion of monastic Roman Catholicism, and that the Irish are among the most devout Catholics in the world, even today.

Now there are many legends and stories associated with St. Patrick- none, however, any more famous that his miraculous feat of driving all the serpents or snakes out of Ireland. With all the Irish jokes aside, such as still being able to see the snakes floating in your fourth glass of Jameison’s whiskey, let’s see if we can make out the significance of this remarkable tale that goes far beyond biological facts. Q: is there a connection between Catholic saints and snakes???

Snakes show up frequently in world mythology, and they occupy an active role in many cross cultural teaching stories… From the most remote parts of the globe, even among the Eskimo lore and legends, there are snake stories! (Climatic shifts!) One example: Among the African tribes, as the famous mythologist and story teller Joseph Campbell teaches it, there is a story of how the great God Umbate created man, then antelope, and then snake, and then woman. Later, when the antelope and the man, and the woman disobey one of God’s commands, and then asked who told you that you could eat the forbidden fruit that grows in my garden? The woman answered saying, “The snake, the snake did!” Does that sound familiar? Snakes, over the centuries and across the cultures and continents, have been given very little respect in the Mythologies of our world. (Rodney Dangerfield of animals?)

This highly prejudicial and paradoxical attitude towards snakes contradicts what many other world faiths teach- that the snakes, even the dragons, are all bearers of wisdom, healing, and fertility. However, in Judeo-Christian theology, such related reptiles were considered to be evil creatures and villains- the Devil’s accomplices- painful sources of egotistical pride and slithering disobedience.

In the New Testament or The Christian Scriptures, we are also given another interpretation. Snake symbolism in the Gospels have both meanings; we recall Jesus in the Gospel of Luke accusing the Pharisees of being a “brood of vipers” but we are also given in the Gospel of John the passage where we hear Jesus’ heartfelt recommendation that his disciples are to walk among the people “as wise as serpents but as harmless as doves.” In the later editions/editorials added to the Gospel of Mark, we are given snake handlers, and then in the Acts, we are given the story of how Paul shook off a snake’s bite with no harmful effects.

So, back to Patrick… It seems as if Patrick feat refers to the malefic snake of Genesis, and to the virtuous elimination of the snake as a symbol of Celtic stories of rebirth and wisdom. His legendary act of casting all the snakes into the sea, was ridding the people of all the Celtics teachings about holy eroticism and female fertility- to be replaced by the images of the ever Virgin Mary! By doing so, as the legends tell it, he made the people ready for God’s truth that faith is more important than wisdom, and furthermore, the real God is male! He was the original snake buster! However, more closely to the point, Catholic teachings were the literary prototype for Irish writers and playwrights for centuries such as in G. B Shaw’s writings, and as the antagonist for writers such as Joyce. Saints, after all, were always considered to be God’s champions against all rival religions, against the forces of evil, against the wiles of women, and the ravages of sin.

But what can we make of saints and snakes today?

In my heretical way, I believe that the metaphors for chasing out the snakes can be an instructive one- but only as long as you are willing to keep or accept that snakes function to convey positive virtues and values, too. In that ancient Western context, I believe that everyone is capable of ridding their personal world of lurking snakes: known symbolically as those lies, deceptions, and deceits that will come back to bite us or that will poison us against ourselves and other people.

If we are in charge of our own beliefs, values and behaviors then our sense of truth and faith can prevail. If we are willing to chase evil thoughts out of our reactions and behaviors, then we can more fully pursue the answers and the inspiration that we might need to live more harmoniously and more compassionately. If the origin of evil and pain is an original lie, then we need to assert the understanding of our original blessings. Original Blessings is the title of the text book in Creation Spirituality written by Matthew Fox)

Just as Patrick had to handle his fears about losing his comfortable life, becoming an economic slave, and then be willing to go away from his comfort zone to seek out his deepest answers that led him to live by his deeply rooted new convictions, then we can also learn how to overcome… Or at least work though whatever lies and deceits or sources of false reasoning that bite and poison us. Whatever serpentine maze of false beliefs we might have nesting inside us, we can root them out! We can release them or chase them away so they occupy harmless distances. We do this best by following the saintly example of persistent truth seeking, and by opening our hearts to God.

The legend of St. Patrick teaches us about the spirituality that requires us to clear our conscience and to allow new thoughts and behaviors to grow within us. Spirituality is a deliberate clearing away process, and it is the process of living in a way that we are making ourselves ready for new growth in both faith and wisdom.

What the stories such as the one that revolve around St. Patrick can teach or remind us is that we can live beyond our childhood fears and any thoughts or feeling we have that poison us. Your experiences in life act as your repository of wisdom, and when uncoiled become pathways to understanding, healing, and peace. We can shed our old skins, and be renewed; we can leave our old skins for a new coat of blessings.

On this St. Patrick’s day, celebrate your trials, affirm your personal progress, and make a toast toward living your lives more openly, spiritually, and lovingly towards yourself and others… Who knows? Maybe sainthood awaits you, too!

The Lover’s Saint? St. Valentine

February 8, 2011 - 9:15 am 75 Comments

The Lover’s Saint? Looking at the Origins of St. Valentine’s Day

Poor old Valentine! He was a third century priest who was crushed and then beheaded on February 14th, 270 ACE. He would certainly be surprised to find that we moderns consider him to be the saint of lovers, and that his day would be known as the time when lovers would exchange their sentimental gifts and greetings…. Yet, there are two plausible reasons for the evolution of this sentimental holiday …

First, the saint himself- He was a very caring and empathetic person, and Christians from all over the Empire would write to him, asking for his guidance as they struggled with the issues of daily life and the role of faith in their lives. ( similar to a later saint, the other St. Francis, Francis de Sales) He would write back to them offering them encouragement, inspirations, along with his guidance in spiritual problem solving. Often, in the margins of his letters, he would make simple drawings of the symbols of faith, hope, and love as the most important virtues. Most commonly the shell stood for faith, the anchor for hope, and the heart for love…

After he had been put to death for his disobedience (He continued to marry young couples against the express orders of the Emperor who wanted to end the spread or the future growth of Christianity by forbidding marriage and therefore children…) His neighbors saw some of the unfinished notes he was writing and they noticed the simple, inspirational symbols. They mailed the remaining notes from him, and told others about how Valentine would adorn his stationary with these designs. A short while after, other Christians began adding little drawings to their notes, and the idea of some embellishments on stationary began…

The second plausible reason echoes from how the Catholic Church tried so vehemently and persistently to convert/subvert all the loca pagan customs and turn their celebrations into a more reserved or somber sacred day or Holy-day/holiday. In February, or the time of the ancient calendars that marked devotion to Juno Februata, the goddess of fever and desire which became merged with the festival of Lupercalia. The prudish church became intent on wiping out a rather bawdy and sensual festival.

Lupercalia or the festival of the Wolf Moon – or the full moon of the wandering wolves- was originally a mating/pairing off or time for condoning prostitution. ( there may be some historical connection to legends of the Wolf-Man during these moon cycles- seems quite possible!) For the Pagans of Indigenous European or the Continental witches who lived in Southern Europe ( In the Wiccan or among the Celtics because they lived in the colder north, it was May 1st or Beltane ) this was a time to honor one’s sensual and sexual desires, and the church would have none of it! The best compromise the church could muster and carry off was that this time of the year was appropriate for expressing fidelity and romance within marriage.

The pagan festival included a ceremony where the girls of the community would put their names in a decorated box, and then the boys would draw those names, and the two would become full partners for a whole year- or until the next Lupercalia when the boys would pick someone new!

To discourage this promiscuous practice, the church began to substitute the names of the saints for the young women, as their spiritual companion, and told them that they had to adopt the virtues of that saint during the coming year… And that switch had a rather limited appeal!

With the Middle Ages and with the invention of courtly love and romance, the chivalrous approach to women was instituted and the roles became somewhat reversed! The girls took possession of the box, and they would draw out the name of a boy and then write to him. In this note, she would invite his honorable and romantic intentions- encouraging him to pay attention to her, and ultimately marry her as the final goal!

There is one more legend to consider… The last Valentine legend states that there is a power in gift giving that could soothe or lessen a woman’s wounded affections… That somehow a gift could do wonders in resolving a “lover’s spat” or ending a domestic quarrel. It this is true, particularly in our materialistic age, its the easiest assignment ever given to a saint! However, in this account, there is a twist…

Somehow, this Valentine was also associated with being a healer or someone who possessed the cure for epilepsy, for lunacy, for fainting or swooning, and any falling disease! It makes me wonder… Could this be the reason why we call the process of finding a partner “falling in love?”

Happy Valentine’s Day!

George Washington’s Rules of Civility

October 19, 2010 - 11:34 am 58 Comments
Excerpts from Rules of Civility
 

1st Every Action done in Company, ought to be with Some Sign of Respect, to those that are Present.

2d When in Company, put not your Hands to any Part of the Body, not usually Discovered.
 
3d Shew Nothing to your Friend that may affright him.
12th Shake not the head, Feet, or Legs rowl not the Eys lift not one eyebrow higher than the other wry not the mouth, and bedew no mans face with your Spittle, by approaching too near him when you Speak.
43d Do not express Joy before one sick or in pain for that contrary Passion will aggravate his Misery.

50th Be not hasty to beleive flying Reports to the Disparagement of any.

89th Speak not Evil of the absent for it is unjust.

51st Wear not your Cloths, foul, unript or Dusty but See they be Brush’d once every day at least and take heed that you approach not to any Uncleaness.

54th Play not the Peacock, looking every where about you, to See if you be well Deck’t, if your Shoes fit well if your Stokings sit neatly, and Cloths handsomely.

56th Associate yourself with Men of good Quality if you Esteem your own Reputation; for ’tis better to be alone than in bad Company.

76th While you are talking, Point not with your Finger at him of Whom you Discourse nor Approach too near him to whom you talk especially to his face.

80th Be not Tedious in Discourse or in reading unless you find the Company pleased therewith.

90th Being Set at meat Scratch not neither Spit Cough or blow your Nose except there’s a Necessity for it.

100th Cleanse not your teeth with the Table Cloth Napkin Fork or Knife but if Others do it let it be done wt. a Pick Tooth.

105th Be not Angry at Table whatever happens & if you have reason to be so, Shew it not but on a Chearfull Countenance especially if there be Strangers for Good Humour makes one Dish of Meat a Feast.

110th Labour to keep alive in your Breast that Little Spark of Celestial fire Called Conscience.


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