Friday, October 22, 2010

Reflection Theology.

When I was a minister in the Christian church, we used to always teach about how our lives should be a reflection of Jesus. Any true Christian should be a walking display of loving kindness and charity. Well when it's boiled down to that, I can count the number of truly loving churches on one hand. I don't mean bodies of believers who follow the Bible to a certain degree, being loving is about a whole lot more than religious text. I mean bodies of Christ who are absolutely loving and a genuine reflection of what Jesus was said to be like and what we are told we should be like in turn. In fact, in many instances, I know more Christlike people who have never attended a day of church in their entire lives than I do within ministry circles.

The problem I have found is that a great many people in the world want a spiritual life and they want a group of spiritual people to learn and fellowship with. The problem is that these same people aren't stupid. They can see what a person or group of people is selling and compare that to whether or not those people are using their own products so to speak. When the two don't add up, most rational people decide very quick that a vast majority of religious/spiritual groups are hypocrites. So, people end up shying away and never exploring their capacity for spirituality but yet still posses a deep yearning for it.

Now I know a lot of people out there will say that spirituality is over rated and doesn't have a place for everyone. Personally, I don't believe this is true. I believe that a healthy spiritual life is part of the human experience. Through spirituality, we learn about relating to ourselves as well as each other and ideally we begin to foster a more collective and universal understanding of ourselves as a race. Spirituality helps us to explore the questions of just who we are and where we may be going and while it isn't a requirement for a good life, I believe that the idea of being more than just dirt in the ground at the end of the day is of greater benefit to our growth.

What then does a spiritually seeking person do to fulfill this yearning? I have found that for most people, determining one's own unique spiritual views is often the most rewarding answer rather than conforming to a group or doctrine. Just as we are a diverse and rich race of beings, our individual beliefs are just as rich in value *because* of the diversity among our individual minds. I have also found that for my part, the role I play in people's lives has changed from being a teacher of Christianity to helping people decide what they believe. With all of the rhetoric and dogma floating around in the world, it is very easy to lose sight of our spiritual identity and individuality.

I don't care if you claim to be the most happy person in the world when you are alone and meaningless to the rest of the world, somewhere inside of you, you crave to be in a community mattering to someone. It isn't human nature to be alone, we thrive in groups and social structures. This longing for community can also affect what we believe to the point that we end up compromising uniqueness so that we can be a part of social structures. We compromise so we can belong. Sometimes, we compromise before we even have a clear idea of just what it is we believe as individuals in the first place. This is where I find a lot of people who have finally woken up to the realization that their spiritual groups just aren't living up to the standards or expectations they have for them.

At this point, they become tired and confused. In many cases people spend so much of their lives dedicated to a doctrine or theology that when they do realize that they've been going in a bad direction for so long, it shatters their self esteem. What most people fear is that if they allowed themselves to be taken in so deeply by a spiritual group only to be let down in the long run, it means most other areas of their lives are equally as flawed. Their direction becomes a sharp downward spiral and it simply becomes easier just to say screw spirituality all together.

What I love about my inner most circle of friends is that our spiritual beliefs are very diverse and yet often times, our moral codes of conduct line up perfectly in general. This has always fascinated me because it proves that while we can have diverse beliefs, we can also share a great deal of common ground from those beliefs. In our sharing we learn about each other and grow as group of people because we all contribute in some way to the personal growth of those around us. We learn to take our leads from one another and plant our own inner seeds of foundation. This is group spirituality at it's finest and healthiest. We compliment each other and in doing so we gain such a deep understanding of one another that we begin to see bits of ourselves in the eyes of those around us. We become reflections of each others spiritual aspirations, hopes, and dreams.

So, where does that start? How do you get to that point? Well, I stated it in an earlier blog posting and I'm doing so again because it is SO important! This is the "salvation message" of my personal take on spirituality. Reflection theology starts with you! When you look in the mirror, what do you see? Do you see the person you were born to be or do you see the person society has molded you into being? Do you see the person you KNOW you are or do you see the face of the person people TELL you you are? You see, it all begins with personal perception. If you wish to practice a healthy spiritual life full of love and amazing things, how can you put that into practice if you don't see those qualities in yourself already? Spiritual paths begin with loving and accepting yourself, seeing just how incredible you are which in turn will eventually allow you to see that in others.

Listen, I've known some people over the years with questionable morals, terrible ethics, and general personality traits that leave a disgusting after taste in my mouth. You know what though, I'm finally at a place in my life where I can see the amazing in people, yes even people like that. The fact that a person simply IS, is incredible in and of itself. You have to see THAT in the mirror before you can say that yourself though. I cannot stress enough how important it is for you as an individual to be able to look in the mirror and see just how awesome you are. I don't care what the world has told you, I don't care what is physically wrong with you, it doesn't matter. You are an amazing being created with complex emotions and amazing depths of personality.

This is such a difficult thing for some people to do because the voices of friends and family, teachers and leaders, superstars and athletes, are all ringing in their heads. They hear in their minds the harsh things people have said to them, they see in their minds vivid images of bad things people have done to them. All I can say to that, is that it is a process. Nothing meaningful in life happens over night, you must start somewhere and do your best from that point. To that end, I offer a first step for people. Make it a daily practice to spend at least five minutes in front of your mirror and noticing the amazing things about you. I know it sounds corny but just like a christian praying, if you make this a daily practice it will become routine and you'll find that the more you try, the more incredible things you'll start seeing in yourself.

Do I do this? You better believe it! I always examine myself closely in the mirror to see what I'm becoming and it can be an involved ritual, staring at ones own reflection, reflecting upon people and things that have impacted you recently. I'm not saying to become so vane in our efforts that you start to believe yourself better than others but really focus on the good things people have said about you or done for you and go from there. If you need a starting point, hey let it be me! If the only thing you can look at yourself in the mirror and say with absolute certainty is "Rob thinks I'm awesome." then go for it, because you know something? I do think you're pretty awesome. And when you ask yourself "Why does Rob think I'm awesome?" think back on what I've written here. I think your awesome because you exist, because you add a unique flavor to the world, and not one person can take that uniqueness away from you. No one can copy it, imitate it, and so long as you believe that it's true, no one can take it away from you.

Finally, why should you believe any of those incredible things about you? Because at the end of the day, we all want someone to approve of us and validate our existence. Validation from others helps us to be strong enough to validate ourselves and I approve of you and validate each and every one of you. Heck, I'll do it personally, shoot me an email and I'll tell you all kinds of amazing things about you! Do you see now how spirituality is so intertwined with everything? In order to build healthy spirituality you must love yourself for who you are, and in order to get strength to do that, you must find it through the love and companionship of others. It's amazing how one depends on the other to some degree. If you think that parts cool, wait until you start being the validation and acceptance for someone else. That is the most amazing reflection you will ever see!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Hate Must End!!

For the past week or so, I have been greatly troubled by the reports of four teen suicides within the last month. These amazing young people were brought to the brink by no less than the people around them making their lives miserable through teasing, taunting, and flat out rejection of the kinds of people they were or were not. Perhaps what troubles me most is the fact that I very well could have been one of them fifteen years ago and probably would have been had I not discovered the internet.

The problem we are facing stems from a lack of social progress in this country and quite frankly, it's disgusting. You hear about how harshly GLBT people in socially oppressed countries are treated by their own governments and hear people in the "free" world talk about how terrible it is that people in those places are put to death or have limbs chopped off. In my opinion though, we are no better and in fact may even be worse in that our teenagers, our future, don't have to go any farther than their own homes or classrooms to be shamed into taking themselves out of life's equation. They do not need the government to step in and do it for them, because in our system, hatred and rejection is allowed to do the job on it's own.

The loving churches of the world are of no help either. Sure, they'll love you and treat you like extended family, until you tell them you're not changing who you are to be around them. I cannot make this any plainer, GOD DOES NOT REJECT GAY PEOPLE! God doesn't reject ANYONE! To say that he does negates everything the Bible tells us that God is. Sure, it can be left up to interpretation and the leaders in our churches would have you believe theirs is right. MINE isn't even right probably! The point is, God is not something to be boxed in by a leather bound book. I could burn a bible today, die and go to "heaven" tomorrow, it IS that simple.

The Bible is meant to be a tool of love not a tool of conversion, not a sword to enforce moral values that are more often than not simply the values of the person standing behind a pulpit more than they are God's, and certainly the Bible is not a means of justification to practice hate. We are all equal in the eyes of our creator, understand what I'm saying! We are not all sinners in the eyes of our creator, we are all EQUAL! Things like the Bible are meant to open our minds to possibilities not limit our lives to stigmas and dogma. It is meant to make us self aware of our spirituality, not put limits on how to properly obtain our spirituality.

Fear and lack of understanding, those are the two most pressing issues our society has to conquer. It isn't just one country either, or one issue, but many. For as long as we are content to put borders and boundaries between our cultures and nations, we will be doomed to repeat a cycle that in it's very nature promotes rejection and hostility towards one another based on each side of the wall fighting for dominance. One world government, one world spiritual view, I say bring them both on so that we can start promoting UNITY across the entire planet and get out of this centuries old rut of fighting over issues that divide and never unite people.

We must come together and become ONE PEOPLE with diverse individuality if we are ever to overcome the adversity of the times in which we now live. For my part, I reject hate. I do not believe in unconditional love, I believe in universal love. if someone pains me to a large degree I can forgive but I do not believe we are supposed to ignore that pain to the point of forgetting it as if it never happened.

Intolerance and rejection are the two biggest sins we have to deal with as a society. If you reject the idea that gay people are equally entitled to love and happiness just as they are, then you reject me. Agreeing to disagree is no longer an option in this world when our young people are backed into corners that end in darkness and death. The right wing will teach that in order to prevent this horror from happening, we must practice prevention. Teach people harder that being who they naturally are is wrong and make them see that light and we will prevent the violence. This is wrong.

Teach that the light is already inside of each and everyone us JUST AS WE ARE or don't bother teaching anything, because any other approach makes your words useless jabber. Until we learn this urgent message of universal love and acceptance, we shall never evolve beyond the point where we are now. For thousands of years we have killed and violated one another as a race. Thus, that is what we continue to reap in the 21st century. How many times have you heard people gay or otherwise put down or harassed and done nothing? How many times have you shouted "amen!" to the condemning messages from behind the pulpit?

If you have done those things, then you may as well count yourself responsible in some small way for the deaths of these and those we do not hear about. It is time to end the hate and it is time to fight strong messages of negativity with even stronger messages of brother and sisterhood. Let those who practice intolerance be warned by our collective voice that we shall not stand idly by in the shadows and allow these things to continue.

My most heartfelt condolences go out to the families who have lost loved ones to hate, rejection, and intolerance. May you find some measure of healing in you attempts to bring understanding to your tragic loss.

I encourage EVERYONE to take part in whatever programs you can to put an end to the hate. May you all be blessed.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Person In The Mirror!

On my website, I claim to be not only progressive in my approach to spirituality, but I also state that I still root a lot of my ideals in Christian values and teaching. I've been asked a few times how it's possible to merge words like "progressive" and "Christian" without contradicting the church. Well, the simple answer to that is, I don't. I can't believe the things that I do *without* contradicting the church but that doesn't mean I have lost all respect for the Bible and the things that Jesus teaches us in it. In fact, whatever religion you may be rooted in, it is possible to take from it the things you need in order to live a completely independent spiritual life.

Our history is FULL of great spiritual teaching. Many people came before us and left their mark by leaving us with guide lines and lessons for life. The people who wrote these things down and lived by them aren't meant to be the focal point of the lessons themselves. From Christian to Pagan, and everything in between, the values are always the important things to take to heart. Does this mean that all religions have the same message in essence? That depends. For me, any religion that is going to be worth while for spiritual growth has to by it's own nature possess concepts of peace and love as their main focus.

Without the firm foundations of peace and love, a religion is doomed to fall into the trap of becoming mere dogma. Not only that, but religions that become too dependent on their many man made limitations, become easy tools for manipulation by powers of social and political influence. When the concepts of peace and love run a religion, these influences cannot gain a foot hold because their power lies in the ability to mold the personalities of the people who follow it through ritual and dogma designed to ensure both loyalty and a sense of longing or need that can only be satisfied by the religion itself.

Take my Christian roots for instance. If you look at the Bible's New Testament, it was never meant to teach us to worship Jesus. Rather, it was meant to teach us to be *like* Jesus by following his example. I have said for a long time now, that the salvation practice that the Christian church teaches is backwards. Jesus isn't someone to invite into your heart, he is a physical representation of something to be let out of our hearts and run our lives. The idea isn't to invoke something in, it's to reach an realization that we already have something within us that simply needs to be acknowledged and then released, that being our own divinity.

Jesus tells us in scripture to be like him, to be his brothers and sisters, not his sheep. The simplicity and reality of this goes all the way back to Genesis when God created man in his own image. What do you think that really means? I can go out right now and find someone to create a doll or figurine that looks nearly exactly like me, created in my own image. Is that what "god" had in mind when we were created? To be a bunch of look alike dolls? I hardly think so. No, we were given LIFE and had the breath of divinity pushed into our lungs made in the exact image of "god" both inside and out, meaning that we are equally as divine because we *are* our own gods.

When you look in the mirror, do you see Jesus? When you look at the cross, do you see yourself? make the idea something physical that you can relate too. Go out and buy or have made (because shockingly I haven't ever seen one) a mirror cut in the shape of a cross and hang that in your place of worship. Worship the divinity that is already within you, granted to you by the universe itself because you're a part of it's creative power, made in it's image. You are the one reflected in the cross. In a sense you're being given a type of permission to worship yourself for being the amazing creation that you are. You are also being challenged to see that same divinity in the people around you.

In the end, this makes perfect sense to me, because throughout all of our lives as people, we are seeking acceptance, forgiveness, and justification for the people we are now and have been in the past. Ultimately, whether we are willing to admit it or not, we don't "come to christ" as it were because we're seeking God's forgiveness and love. We use that reasoning because we are all too often unable to forgive ourselves or be "egocentric" enough to really love ourselves. We feel that we have to have a divine third party to do all of this for us. This is a good baby step but the real freedom does come in realizing that YOU are the divine forgiver and distributor of unconditional love.

We, the faithful, seek our entire lives to look upon the face of God and be approved. I submit to you that the true way of doing this is being able to look at your face in the mirror and find what you see looking back at you, approving.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The End Of The World!?!?!

I've been having a lot of conversations with people for the last couple of months involving the end of the world. I really isn't any wonder either, what with all of the natural disasters we've been seeing in this year a lone and the scale of those disasters. Now, I've heard many takes on this and while I respect everyone's right to an opinion, I don't agree with the most popular once. That being the argument that there hasn't been an increase in naturally occurring phenomenon, it's simply the fact that with our current technology we can stay more aware of natural events than we could before.

I have my own naysayers where subjects like this are concerned. I mean, after all, I am one of the biggest skeptics of man made global warming that there is and have been for years privately....oh wait, as it turns out, I was right about that! Huh, who would have guessed. With 70% more arctic ice floating around in the ocean than there was fifty years ago, I can definitely see man's impact on the environment! Yeah I know Al, who cares if e-mails leaked out corroborating the fact that we aren't fatally wounding our planet, the message still sounds good right?

Let's also not forget that I am as outspoken against fundamental religion as they come! Believing that a personally designed approach to spiritual growth keeps a person on a constantly forward moving path and out of moral trouble *is* a bit out there! Huh? What are the catholics caught up in now? Wow it turns out, I'm right about that too!? You say the middle east is still fighting over that silly land dispute which was started by religious claims? Don't tell me extremist muslims are still trying to kill the infidels....oh and those poor right wing conservative christians are still trying to find the cure for that dreaded "H" word?

Yes, it's true, I question everything! As fundamentally awe inspiring as I am though, I also have to criticize mainstream science and media as well. If you believe everything CNN tells you then you're probably a lost cause...same goes for Fox news, heck your local newspaper may even be selling scripted words to explain the passive nature of worldly events in order to maintain the peace of the masses. I know that sounds like a statement you may find on some kind of conspiracy theorists blog, but in so many ways it's true. I don't think the powers that be *want* us to question anything about our world.

The fact of the matter is though, small world or not, this little globe of ours is heating up in the action department and I know a lot of you out there sense this, in spite of what the news is calling normal geological events. Look at the first ten years of the 21st century now and tell me we have not endured more radical earth changes than we've seen before and I call them changes bracingly, in want of a better word. The one thing I can definitely say for sure though, is that this is not leading up to the wrathful destruction of our world by God himself, although those poor people in the midwest may certainly have thought so when sonic booms and fireballs filled the night sky last week.

So, what (if anything) *is* going on? I mean, between the earthquakes and volcanos, tsunami and meteor showers, a poor economy and wars across the globe, it does seem like we're building up to some huge climactic and very abrupt (not to mention violent) end....doesn't it? Well, that depends on who you are and what you choose to believe. The opinions on our direction as a populous are as varied as my favorite mixed box of Godiva chocolates. For my part, yes, I do believe we're seeing things that are building toward changes in our not so distant future, profound changes.

As a person of deep spiritual conviction, I have made it my business to seek out my own answers to life's big questions, through nothing more than my meditation and good old fashioned research. I haven't spent years studying varying approaches to theology and I am by no means a physicist or expert of geology and global planetary history. I am an expert in my own inclination and intuition though. This, perhaps more than anything else, is what drives me to my belief that at some point in our near future, we're going to experience vast changes in the world and our society.

This goes back to everything I have been telling people for the past couple of years about being brave enough to trust your gut and give yourself permission to feel at ease in your own personal divinity. Abandoning doubt and allowing yourself to believe that perhaps you *are* good enough to come up with sound answers to "mystery of life" questions is probably the most profound thing you can ever do for yourself. This freedom gives way to open mindedness, the ability to discern small truths from the vast offerings of news and "facts" based entirely on your own soul's ability to spot accuracy and distinguish it from misdirection.

So, what do I intuit for the future? I have absolutely no firm idea on details beyond the fact that I believe it is going to turn out for the better. At least no ideas that I am willing to come forward with outside of my inner circle of closest friends, who can see past my....insanity! Suffice it to say though, I don't believe the worst is behind us. I think we're going to have to endure a few more seemingly devastating events in our world's history before we come out on top. A lot of people scoff at me for this, because of the nature of our societies. How can we come out on top with so much conflict and division in the world? Well, that question is it's own answer isn't it, we can't.

All of the gunk that is clogging up the world has to work itself out before things can move more swiftly and smoothly. I believe that future struggles in the world are going to help to facilitate a change in mood to the point where we start acting like one human race instead of many different races. We can't move forward in a constant state of conflict and so each of these must work themselves out and it goes without saying that it could be a little messy and feel like the end of civilization as we know it. Something must pull us together as a race in order to trigger that change into unification. Again, I don't know what that trigger will be, but I believe strongly that it is coming, and quickly, relatively speaking.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Religion VS Spirituality.

A friend of mine recently wrote to me bringing up an interesting question, one that I believe a lot of people struggle with today. What is the difference between Religion and Spirituality? One of the biggest differences I noticed right away in really giving this some thought, is that one is a LOT easier to explain than the other! There are probably an infinite amount of ways to describe the differences between the two but I think one of my favorites is of my own creation. Leave it to me to come up with something involving food.

First of all, before we get into that though, I'd like to explain my concept of spiritual structure. Over the years, I've come to view the varying stages of spiritual development as a kind of process of phases. like life stages. To me, there is an ideal progression of growth that should happen among people in order to eventually reach our full potential spiritually. Mind you this is based on my own life experience, so take it as you will.

The Seeking Stage:

I hesitate to call it this because all of our life is a constant state of seeking, trying to understand the things around us. For some of us though, it wasn't always that way, there had to be a beginning to that journey. Something usually happens in a person's life to make them begin to question the world around them, and how they fit into it. From there, they begin to ponder what their purpose is and in the process of figuring out that purpose, begin to focus on the concepts of good and evil.

This may not make much sense at first glance but when people start thinking about purpose, they usually reach the conclusion that embracing concepts of good and avoiding things that are evil will lead to some kind of enlightenment, an awakening of purpose. The question from here then becomes, what is good? What is evil? This leads to stage two of the spiritual growing process.

The Religious Stage:

At this point, a person is on a quest, a personal mission, to find their purpose in existence. They've conceptualized that the best way to realize this purpose is to find the right diet so to speak. We eat and exercise in specific ways in order to mold our bodies into the shape we desire. On the quest for purpose, people end up doing the same thing. Through years of social programming, people identify with the concepts of good and evil. A diet of good will lead to a better understanding of life while a diet of evil will produce the opposite result.

So, people begin to research diet plans, in this case, different religions, trying to find a good fit for them. They look for texts and doctrines that line up with their own personal ideas of good and evil, rituals they can live with following, and they latch on. In most cases, the truly seeking person will drink everything a religion has to offer like life giving water, desperate to learn everything they can for the purpose of doing the right thing, so that they can understand their purpose.

At a certain point at this stage of development, the road forks though, and one of two things happens. The first thing that can happen is that the religion is as far as a person needs to go in order to feel as if they are fulfilling their purpose in life or are on the only road they need to be on in order to get to that fulfillment. Some people will tell you that this is stagnation and not something that is good for spiritual development, I disagree. A person's path is their own to walk and there can be many reasons why a person latches on to one religion and chooses only to grow within the confines of that religion. They are too many to go into at the moment though.

The second thing that can happen at this stage is that at some point, a person feels that they have gained all that they can from their religion. I myself often say that the reason I am where I'm at now is because I simply outgrew Christianity. Not only that, but sometimes a person figures out that they can no longer hold to some of the guidelines of a religion because they find that along the way, their own spiritual ideas have begun to conflict with the doctrines they have chosen to follow. This, leads a person into stage three of the spiritual growth process.

The Universalist Stage:

Still believing that religion is the key to understanding purpose, people will start to embrace the idea of simply accepting all religions. They'll treat religions like a buffet, going to each table and getting some of this and some of that. The reason religion is still so important at this stage is that it provides a person with needed structure. They still believe that they need to be led and taught by theology but have reached a level of understanding where they are open to embracing many different theologies.

This too can either be the stopping point of the cycle or the next step. A person may find that they are satisfied exploring the different religions of the world, taking from them what they will and throwing the different concepts and ideas into an organized structure. At this stage, a person generally reaches the conclusion that good and evil are not entirely black and white. They often will come to this conclusion by observing others who are good people but may not fall into the preconceived notion of "good" they they've come to believe over time.

At some point in this stage, a person may begin to question the relevancy of religion all together because they find that they themselves and the people around them fall in to way too many categories to fit any religious mold of good, holy, or righteous. So, instead of focusing on what makes people so different, they begin to explore what makes human beings the same. Instead of focusing entirely on their own individual purpose, they begin to question the purpose of mankind as a whole. This is when the doors begin to open for the next stage of development.

The Spiritualist Stage:

This is where it gets complicated and also where there will be hundreds of thousands of different ideas regarding the meaning of a Spiritualist. For me to get through this, it will be best and easiest just to share my own concept of the word. At this stage, a person throws away association with religion all together. Instead of treating themselves to the buffet, they start to focus on the gardens where all the different varieties of foods came from. They realize that the fields from which religion sprang are far more vast than simply exploring the religions themselves.

At this stage, the concepts of good and evil do not exist, at least not in the conventional meaning of the words. A person generally simply accepts that everything that happens in existence, does so for a reason that ultimately is for the betterment of society and individuals. The spiritualist learns from everything, embracing science and refusing to reject things such as common sense.

The focus on purpose also tends to fluctuate a little. For me, my purpose has become simply to experience life. The journey is what is important and I have realized that understanding my purpose isn't as important as understanding *with* purpose. Researching everything, finding the connections between everything. Deity also loses some meaning at this stage and as a personal belief, I think that most people who call themselves spiritualists have come to understand that we are all possessive of deity like qualities. We either are like gods ourselves or are all part of some kind of living universe/deity.

So, basically, the main difference between spirituality and religion in my opinion is that religion is man made while spirituality is a naturally occurring concept built into the consciousness of humanity. One could say that the various types of religions in the world are all mankind's way of expressing this natural spirituality. I've often been criticized for saying this, but I also believe that none of these religions are wrong or right, good or evil, they are all just a means to a personal end. As human beings, it is up to use to decide how we wish to express our spirituality and up to us to find what chimes with our own personal morals and ideas.