Category Archives: Emergent

To Love and Live Free

I went to an opera this past weekend for the first time at age sixty-two. The story was as old as time. The subject presented was one of love and freedom. As we were leaving the house, my wife explained the opera’s synopsis to my son, and he replied that it sounded like a hallmark TV show. When my wife told me of that conversation, it made me smile. My mind immediately thought of the many women on that same rainy Saturday demonstrating at the Lincoln Memorial not far from the Kennedy Center opera house for the right to live free and not be criminalized for terminating their pregnancy. The opera I saw is titled Carmen, who lost her life because she chose to love and live free.

On a spiritual level, I deeply relate to this story. Whether religious or secular, human cultures do a great job transmitting values from one generation to the next. However, I find them very judgmental when a violation of its boundaries happens. The maintenance of these boundaries is the lifeblood and identity of that culture. Every member and generation in that culture must translate those values and borders.

Sometimes we reinterpret the cultural values and visualize new possibilities. Today we possess a global consciousness, and our technology provides an awareness of cultures outside of our birth culture. Today the gatekeepers in our religious and secular societies are working overtime to keep us inside our borders. If you are not old-school, you probably have membership in multiple cultures, and if you are like me, each culture has gatekeepers trying to pull us back into the fold. And one of their favorite strategies is to have you guard the borders to prove your loyalty.

At the opera’s end, Carmen is killed by one of her lovers. Spiritual transcendence is always about dying at one level to get to a new level. Freedom never comes without death. My original religious culture retells the story of Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection, and my new culture teaches us to see reality through a new lens. As one of the teachers in this nondual movement loves to quote: “Matter is not what you see, it is a way of seeing”

My spirituality also reflects the insights found in the culture of science and scientist, who may not see themselves as a culture. However, science has its dogmas, based on science but still dogmas. Quantum entanglement is faster than light communication, also known as prayer, and has always been a function operating in my life. However, I now see that there are no walls between what some call God, other people, and myself. I am beginning to understand and live in a reality where the very substance of life is the same for God, all humans, and everything in the universe.

Spiritual transcendence makes possible freedoms at new levels. As we remove separations walled by our old cultural beliefs, new possibilities bubble forth. As we change the way we interpret life, a new reality emerges, kind of like being born again. The Washing National Opera (WNO) has a close relationship with the Ambassador community in the DC area. Most of these good women and men would be considered gatekeepers of their international community. The WNO was also hosting a gala to coincide with the two-year restart of opera performances after pandemic restrictions. The audience was full of embassy staffers, and I hope their takeaway from the story of Carmen was a little more nuanced than my son’s comparison to a Hallmark TV show.

Transcending one’s culture is an evolutionary process. Human spiritual development will continue, and new human cultures will rise and fall. New interpretations of truths will find their way to the light. New boundaries will replace the old ways of seeing, and those that were once criminals will live in new freedoms. To love and live free is a human story, played out every day in every human life.

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Where Is Your Spiritual Identity?


Specific to American politics, the last few years have been very tough on the identities of all Americans. As an African-American, I may perceive that it has been especially tough for people color. However, regardless of our cultural perspective, we all may be feeling like our culture alone is being singled out. It appears that the current political strategy has raised the stakes in a game known as identity politics. Pitting the feelings of one cultural group against another group of humans is a very popular and easy way to win support for anything.  In the same way, the threat level was used to control public sentiment and manipulate perceptions about personal peace and safety after 9/11, the reporting of ethnic slurs float as headlines across our media. And like a group of children in a schoolyard, we continue to fall prey to its tactics watching a bully pick on the innocent all the while fearing that, that kind of attention is never focused in our direction.

So when asking the big and relevant questions concerning identity the key to the answer has to do with where we go for that answer? Many of us turn to an outside source like a mirror, family,  culture, or religion to tells us who we are. Then there are those families, cultures, and religions that we do not belong that also make their opinion of who we are known to us and others. Please notice that these sources appear to come from outside of our being.

As humans, we all have individual traits that separate us from others in our various groupings. However, we all have one thing in common, and that is, we all use the title “I,”  to describe ourself. As technology brings awareness of happenings and opinions from around the world, we develop a global consciousness concerning the opinions of others, and we allow those to shape our identity.

When one’s identity is no longer subject to outside opinion, tactics of identity politics go away. Thus, understanding our essential nature as spiritual beings allows us to see reality in its purest form. If we can grasp the infinite qualities of our existence, then we would understand that we cannot be threatened or harmed. Human consciousness is fundamental, revealing oneness with God and all creation. However, these truths fly in the face of some religious and cultural traditions. But at the root of these same cosmologies, often the peace and unity longed for, is ignored to foster hierarchical systems known as our social order.

As technology brings on global awareness it increases the tensions between the trends that want more equality and those that benefit when human culture continues to organize around economic, gender, and ethnic divisions. So how do we humans rise above these simple tactics of namecalling and other schoolyard strategies? How do we begin to see the truth of our identity and enjoy the immunity from outside threats and opinion?

First, we must be willing to change our personal beliefs about ourselves and others. Ultimately we must be ready to change our world view. Amazingly, we are eager to replace the software in our phones and computers, but we are unwilling to change the software of our being. Who is willing to live without a technology upgrade for the next 10 years? And yet, many of us are holding onto beliefs about ourselves and others that have origins older than 100 years.

Second, is the acknowledgment that human evolution is not complete. Our current social structure rests on the advancements and shortfalls of previous generations. As we spring forth from the unevolved creatures that existed during the days of black and white television and pre-transistor technology, we need to maintain a perspective that we humans are still evolving. 1950 was 70 years ago and the relationships between every human sub-category and social role has advanced. Therefore judging people based on traditional societal roles, rebels against human advancement.

We are fast becoming technologist about to embark on a journey side-by-side with Artificial Intelligence, and many of us are not willing to ask the deep questions concerning human identity.  If the assumption is that traditional religious and cultural authority will continue to be the arbitrator of what is right, then we might as well bring on the apocalypse. Many of the minds in some of these religions and cultures groupings see no future existence on earth outside of the scriptural interpretation or imagination from many centuries gone bye. The sad truth is that many of us today feel lost and we have settled to become better versions of the human creatures of days gone bye. Even the social justice activist of today that fight for new visions of equality still rely on the tactics of 70+ years ago.

Only by understanding the truth of our being can we get off the merry-go-round of identity politics. So, how to do we find out what is fundamental and essential to our being? Using a piece of rope as an analogy, we must see the truth of its reality.  Just realizing that the rope is not the snake does not keep us from mistaking the rope for a stick at a later time. We must see beyond what the rope is not and truly see its nature.

Overcoming a racial slur, gender or ethnic putdown will only happen when the truth of our identity is revealed. As long as we continue to allow others in this material world to define who we are, our lives will remain on the merry-go-round in the schoolyard. The ultimate security of our being rest in the knowledge of what we fundamentally are, and thus making us immune to the opinions of what others might mistake us for.

By the process of self-inquiry the answer of who am I is revealed. If we find that our identity is continually assaulted by reports in the news, then its time we get a hold on who we really are. Investigating more deeply the “I” of our being is not difficult. Here is a hint. About 6000 years ago, it was stated: “I am that I am.” Simply asking ourself and pondering the answer to that statement any human can begin to unlock their true identity and find out what all humans have in common with that statement?

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The Other Team Sport?

2019-01-01_waterdrops-8-1184377-1599x1066The human concept of religious freedom is our acknowledgment that spiritual beliefs, practices, and understanding can be as individual as the number of humans. The recognition and respect for all individuals to freely express their personal beliefs are fundamental as breathing.

So, why do so many people participate in their spiritual development as a team sport? Also, why have many people allowed their personal spiritual identity to become entangled with a religious organization? Organizational religion has two main goals. One is to aid in the spiritual training of those that join its organization. The second is to transmit to future generations the teachings and practices that are part of the religious culture for which it represents.

Many Sunday morning worship services in America have morphed to resemble sports and political gatherings with people supporting their home teams. The Sunday morning gatherings in America used to be a time of spiritual devotion where any visitor could join the community practice. It was an opportunity for people to temporarily escape from of their personal lives to reflect on the actions they committed or omitted during the busy week. It was a time for quiet reflection while being washed in spiritual words of encouragement. It was an opportunity for personal transformation.

Do you gather in huge a stadium or do you gather in a smaller group, and is it with people and friends that have the same perspective or worldview? Is there time for quiet devotion and reflection or does the gathering put on a production and presentation to keep you excited so you will come back again? Is the overall point of view being shared one that says, there is only one way to God and all others perspectives in the marketplace need to be driven out, so the world can become transformed? If someone holding a different worldview happens to visit or is invited to attend your service are they accepted as they are if they never change, or are they made to feel especially uncomfortable if they fail to cheer on the home team and its perception of the world?

This may be fine for sport and political gatherings, but it violates the concept for spiritual freedom. Yet, religious institutions have adopted this format as a method to support and bolster its organizational goals. Religious institutions train their membership in groups to maximize efficiency, but they fail to reinforce the idea that a person’s spiritual identity is as personal as their fingerprint and that it belongs to them. More important and because of tradition, many members freely abdicate their responsibility for spiritual development and trade in their personal identity for a group identity. Many people do this in hopes that God’s heart is moved by numbers when standing in faith on an issue. Have you given over your identity in hopes that it will be used as a political force that can influence the material world issues in a spiritual way?

For many years religious organizations, worldwide, have been more than happy to let people give them their identities so they can be the ones representing their spiritual lives. Just prior to the Protestant Reformation in the Christian culture, the most popular religious institutions were accused of having to much power and abusing that power. Back then the power was in the form of a financial tax on individuals, and families. From birth to death these organizations formulated a strategy of dispensing and withholding blessings to influence and control various parts of a persons moral and spiritual life.

Today people volunteer to be members of their religious institutions and have the freedom to terminate the relationship whenever they want. However, for those that choose to evolve spiritually, most never do it outside of a religious organization. Therefore, today these organizations continue to yield tremendous power from birth to death. They do not directly tax individuals, but the relationship has financial obligations and when it comes to political power, they strongly influence the beliefs and thoughts of most of its members. There is a valid chicken and egg argument to be made, however, within the membership only a few members hold differing beliefs from the membership at large.

But be encouraged, many people are waking up to these trends as it concerns personal spiritual development. The Spiritual But Not Religious (SBNR) movement and specifically within Christianity the Emergent Church movement and the Red Letter Christian movement are examples of pushbacks towards this trend. However, just switching teams is not a solution to the trend of spiritual development being a team sport.

Only the act of taking personal responsibility for one’s spiritual training can truly reverse this trend. It does not require everyone to exit organize religion, but it does require everyone to set personal goals and partake of training materials that they have sought out. With the advent of human technological advancements, especially in the area of social networks, individuals in the western world are without excuse when it comes to seeking spiritual enlightenment. Do you avail yourself of the spiritual resources available on the social network at least once a week?

To remained pigeonholed into a way of thinking spiritually from birth to death reflects truly on one’s beliefs about all things spiritually. Fear is the primary tactic that keeps many people from exploring spiritually. In every other area of life, people exercise freedom except when it comes to their spirituality. It is kind of like when a stockbroker or a doctor discourage you from getting a second opinion, you should automatically know that something is wrong. However, many falsely believe they will be better off not knowing the truth.

Again, be encouraged that you will not be the first pioneer to strike out on your own and do something spiritually on one of the other six days of the week and still show up on Sunday for the religious pep rally. Odds are that there are more than a few members already doing it. Social media sites like Meetup.com provide links with information about meetings and groups that have planned alternative events for exploring and finding people with awakened spiritual points of view.

For every charlatan standing in the pulpits in America, there is probably one on social media with the fraudulent intents, and yet my experience over the last 5 years has been all good and left my desire to explore peaked and all the while feeling safe. As human understanding grows some religious tradition will not stand the test of truth. What is true is that our spiritual identity as a created child of God is secure as God’s very Presence. That is our spiritual heritage and it has nothing to do with human tradition or the team we choose for our spiritual training.

One reason that unconditional love is in short supply among the human population, is because love has been made conditional to the spiritual identity of the spiritual team a person trains with. Yet, the true source of unconditional love is God. This is the reason that Jesus made love the only condition for a true relationship. While the religion of Jesus day had 613 ways to break the relationship, Jesus made love the only condition for a relationship.

So, let each of us stay mindful that we have the right and the freedom to develop our personal spiritual training. If nothing else, explore the limits of your current training organization. Ask questions of God, your organization’s leadership and other members. Open your heart and spiritual ears to God and determine where you want to end up when this earthly life is finished.

Do you want a personal faith relationship in your spiritual team or personal faith relationship in God? There are 52 Sundays this year, will your personal spiritual development remain as the other team sport?

 

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