Apocalypse How?

3pm (weekend): an American mall

I recently went to a mall that has one of the last remaining Sears stores in the region. It is closing at the end of the year, and I thought I would see what kind of deals I could find. I have only been to this mall once or twice in the 20+ years I have lived in the area, but I was still shocked at what I found – or rather, DIDN’T find.

Other than the folks hauling the deep discounts from the closing Sears store, and there weren’t even that many people there, the mall was empty.

For a weekend, it was devastatingly empty. In another store, a quick tally of the number of employees I saw, and the average sale per customer (I stood in line behind a few folks before checking out) told me they were in trouble too.

You don’t have to be a math whiz to look around at the infrastructure supporting once-bustling businesses and know that there’s a problem.

In another neighborhood, just a few miles up the road from this mall, one Summer weekend I drove my grandchildren around a deserted mall parking lot, explaining the changes that we were seeing. I told them that when I was their age or even a little younger; these shopping malls were brand new and the stores on main streets in small and mid-sized towns everywhere started to close like the malls are closing today.

a (former) American mall

I’m certain that if there was a way to “save” these expensive behemoths (shopping malls), someone would have figured it out by now. The numbers have been telling the story for some time.

The truth of the matter is that like the downtown department stores of the 1960s and earlier, the large shopping malls of the late 20th and early 21st centuries are quickly fading into history.

There are many reasons for the changes – just as there are many reasons for the shifting landscape in church affiliation and attendance in the United States.

A 2019 Gallup survey reported that membership in a church and affiliation with a particular religion fell precipitously over the past 2 decades, noting that “The past 20 years have seen an acceleration in the drop-off, with a 20-percentage-point decline since 1999 and more than half of that change occurring since the start of the current decade.”

If the current trends persist (10% decline each decade, and accelerating), churches are in even more trouble than they realize. And if that’s not pause for thought on its own, the patterns and trends in giving show additional data for concern:

  • Tithers make up only 10-25 percent of a (typical) congregation.
  • The average giving by adults … is about $17 a week.
  • 37% of regular church attendees don’t give money to church.
  • 17% of American families have reduced the amount that they give…
  • 7% of church goers have dropped regular giving by 20% or more.

There’s no playbook for this scenario,… or is there?

What can we learn from the Retail Apocalypse?

As Amazon and other online retailers began to dominate the shopping scene, traditional retailers had to make some hard choices. Sixty-eight (68) retailers have declared bankruptcy in the last 4 – 5 years, making it hard to know what is coming next.

According to CB Insights, these retail bankruptcies fall into a few themes:

  • Decline of physical retail – With the shift to e-commerce, fewer and fewer customers are shopping at big-box physical retailers and malls. Additionally, many of these physical retailers have lost the cache they once had as new direct-to-consumer brands with a hyper-focus on specific products have taken off.
  • Digital laggards – Many big-box retailers either failed or were too late to establish an online presence. …retailers that don’t adapt quickly enough inevitably fail to compete.
  • Mounting debt – Crippling debt,…has forced many retailers to declare bankruptcy.

One comment by a successful disrupter struck me as important to ponder:

“…disruption [is] a way to innovate and so blatantly change things for the better that you become an industry standard.”

Harry’s co-founder

What can churches and spiritual centers take away from lessons-learned by the Retail Apocalypse?

I’ll start with the digital laggards issue. Churches and centers are mostly aware of this need, and working at various levels on getting up to speed. There must be digital giving enabled, online access to (just about) everything and the general business practices must come into alignment with the rest of the business world. I’ll give churches and centers, across the board, a letter grade of C+ on this.

Next is the issue of money. In the retail space it was crippling debt, while for most churches and centers I suspect the issue is likely that of poor cash flow. Either way, it’s a money problem. Here I think the model of how churches and centers manage their budgets needs to change.

Full-time ministers with benefits and housing payments may need to fall to the pages of history, and multiple part-time ministers may need to be considered. Part time ministers can work another job for benefits and other necessities (like a salary that supports them and their families).

Before anyone gets angry about this, consider that most of the congregants in your pews are working multiple jobs to keep their heads above water, so… yeah. I’ll give churches and centers a B- on this one. It’s higher than the digital issues because some denominations (Methodists for one) have been assigning ministers to multiple churches and the Catholic Church has been combining parishes continually over the past decade or so, seeming to understand this as an option.

The last point that we can consider from the retail apocalypse data is the issue of disruption – also know as innovation.

The problem with innovation in churches and centers is that most belong to organizations that write all the rules. This hierarchical structure type is slow to move and slower still to accept and adopt change. The cynic in me says this is because the people writing and enforcing the rules have the most to lose if things change. Overall I give churches and centers a failing grade here.

The success stories emerging from the Retail Apocalypse show that the businesses that narrowed their focus and stepped way outside of the norms are the ones making news, profits and strong leaps forward.

Churches and centers aren’t looking to make profits, but they are businesses – and need money and customers (congregants) or they won’t be around for very long.

The takeaways from the “winners” among the crash and burn of traditional retail have some common themes:

  • Simplicity (easy access to their products/services)
  • Narrow focus (not trying to be everything to everyone)
  • They connect directly to their target audience, using the tools that audience wants (e.g. eCommerce)
  • They didn’t listen to the “we can’t do that!” chorus (I’m sure Warby Parker founders heard a few of those statements when they wanted to sell prescription eye wear to people online)

It remains to be seen whether the demographic and societal changes outlined in the Gallup poll (earlier in the blog) ultimately impact church/center attendance and membership or there will be a pivot point that starts to change the trajectory. What is clear is that doing things “the way we’ve always done it” or making only the changes we are comfortable with, is a death sentence.

I look forward to seeing (perhaps to being a part of) the disruptive force that will lead the change that is needed in this still-important corner of American life.

(C) 2019 Practitioner's Path

Related blog posts:

Blessings in Passing

When I first began to study what I refer to as “larger spirituality” – spirituality not confined within a single dogma or worldview – I got a mental picture in my head when someone would use the phrase, “daily practice“.

I envisioned a room or at least a corner dedicated to their “practice” and often I immediately moved to the many barriers I had in my life that would prevent me from being able to sit in an incensed room in yoga pants for an hour every morning.

That’s not what they were saying – that was my filter. I learned down the road that while some people may have something like that going on, many others do not. A daily practice is as unique as each person, and requires no specific accessories.

In studying the works of Joseph Murphy and Neville Goddard, contemporaries in the early part of the 20th century (Goddard passed on in 1972 and Murphy in 1981); I am always struck with the sheer simplicity of their approach to prayer, or “knowing the Truth” about someone/something. It was from this perspective that I began, unintentionally, an extension of my own daily practice.

I live in a suburban neighborhood, and as I drive to work, I pass many people walking along the streest: school children, with and without parents; dog walkers; commuters walking to public transit and others. One morning I noticed a teenaged boy walking along the street. He was alone, and did not look happy. He was on the heavier side, and walked as if he dreaded arriving at his destination.

I immediately felt compassion for him – middle school and high school can be challenging places to exist – and so I held the thought for him that today was a much better day than usual. Driving past people, even on a neighborhood street, doesn’t leave much time for a long, complicated blessing. Plus, I have no way of knowing what each person would need: so my thought that day was a knowing that the blessings of the Infinite were upon him.

I am particularly moved when I see school kids walking alone and appearing to be sad; dreading the day ahead or trying to recover from whatever they experienced at home before walking out the door.

I think of the following from one of Joseph Murphy’s prayers:

I know that (individual’s name) is surrounded by the sacred circle of God’s eternal love, and the whole armor of God surrounds her/him and s/he is watched over by the overshadowing Presence of God.

Joseph Murphy
(Archangel Michael)

Since I don’t know the names of the people I drive past each morning, an easy technique is to simply accept that they are accompanied by the holy Presence and watched over in all they do.

If I am stopped in traffic I may add a visualization of a grandmotherly angel or two if the child/children are small, or a warrior-like archangel if they are teens.

Skeptics will roll their eyes (& aren’t likely to be reading this blog), but readers across the New Thought canon know that many of the teachers whose work form the foundation of the movement taught and lived this Truth: a thought held in the human mind is connected to the Infinite Mind and will demonstrate or manifest.

Over time this simple teaching has evolved into an organized religion (at least 3 versions at last count), each of which has added dogma, regulatory guidelines and complications that are unnecessary for the process to work, but that are understandable in the world of Caesar. And yet, the truth remains that the Good that is possible requires no prescribed order of words or official interventions.

In one of his most beloved talks, “Live in the End“, Neville shared the following:

“Do you know a friend who is unemployed? Well, then, see him as gainfully employed, and don’t tell him, that you may brag tomorrow. Don’t boast. Just see him gainfully employed.”

Nevill Goddard, “Live in the End”

Neville’s life work was a testament to this process. Many have studied and applied this process – some within, but I suspect most outside of formal religious or spiritual organizational structures.

There will be those who say, “How do you know it works? What if you’re just deluding yourself and wasting your time?

I know that this works when I use it for myself, and for the people around me who seek out my knowledge on such things. For the people I pass on the street, I may never know if my simple blessing thought was helpful or not.

But let’s consider this: at one point, a VERY long time ago, everything that we see (and much more that we don’t/can’t see) was part of an infinitessimally small, dense and hot singularity…and then BOOM!

An explosion and rapid expansion, heating and cooling of matter…13.7 billion years later, here we are. The fact remains that the preponderance scientific inquiry to date suggests that we all come from the same stuff. We are indeed, all connected.

I can’t single-handedly fix all the problems carried around by the people I meet or encounter each day. There are days when I’m not sure how I’ll manage my own issues, and those within my inner circle. But I can apply the principles I’ve studied and learned and used with success in my own experience.

If nothing else, my own knowing of peace and Good for the random people I pass on my commute helps to put me into a better space, which means I show up at work in a positive and beneficial (to me and to others) state of mind. I also believe that there is Good to be planted and blessings to be harvested when we know peace, joy, healing, love and more for those we meet along our way.

And so it is.

(C) 2019 Practitioner's Path 

A gift to start the week

The start of the traditional work week in the United States can be a blessing for some, while to others it seems like a curse.

It can be challenging to work at a job that you dislike; or to be at the mercy of people in the workplace who are mean and nasty; or to struggle with mental, emotional or physical challenges while still needing to navigate rush hour traffic and the stresses of a job.

It can also be challenging to face the work week without a job, or with a job that is not paying a living wage and falls short of providing what is needed to support yourself or your family.

In a previous blog, I shared an affirmative prayer for peace at work. This week I am sharing a New Thought artist whose songs are some of the best I’ve heard, musically as well as in verse/content.

I had the good fortune to hear Denise Rosier perform live at Seaside Center for Spiritual Living in Encinitas, California in 2018 and I’ve been a big fan ever since. You can check out her web page here.

This work week’s spiritual share is taken from Denise’s song, “Hallelujah Today” – the lead song on her album, Everyday.

The second verse begins with the following:

“With every mile, I’m reminded,
I never go, empty handed;
God is my strength, I’m never stranded,
I’m not alone.”

Denise Rosier, “Hallelujah Today”

I can think of no better coaching for anyone who dreads the work week – no matter what the reason. And while the words are beautiful as sung in this musical rendition, they are powerful as a spoken or written affirmation too.

AFFIRM: “I never go empty-handed; God/Spirit is my strength and I am never stranded. I am not alone.”

Regardless of the road we are traveling, taking time to remember this simple truth – whether the words are sung or we write them on a piece of paper and tuck into our purse/wallet – can make all the difference.

Most faith traditions remind us that we are never alone. We simply need to turn our attention back to this realization and know that all is well (no matter what it looks like on the outside of the situation or circumstance).

I leave you now in the very capable hands of Denise Rosier, and know that this week, the blessings that come to you outnumber the troubles – many times over.

And so it is.

(C) 2019 Practitioner's Path

Faith and Patience

In this age of instant information – much of it with questionable veracity – it can be difficult to ascertain what is TRUE and what is simply horse feathers (a term used in place of “bullsh!t” by my older relatives when I was growing up)

The pace with which information goes viral is such a problem that businesses have emerged to assist people in cleaning up their online reputations.

I forget which recent story had me pondering this, but the protestations of a recent public figure, caught in a mess (not sure yet if it’s of his own making or a smear campaign) reminded me of the story of Joseph and Potifar’s wife.

Joseph had been sold into slavery by his brothers. He had shown himself to be a valuable asset, and was working in the employ of Potifar – an official in the government/kingdom of Egypt. Potifar trusted him and relied on him for advice, and more; giving Joseph a lot of clout in Potifar’s household and among Potifar’s colleagues and friends.

Potifar had a wife who was feeling neglected and who tried repeatedly to get Joseph to sleep with her. He refused multiple times, but the last time, she grabbed his garment to pull him to her, and he bolted; but as he ran, she held his garment.

Embarrassed, angry (or both!) at being so boldly rejected, she cried out that he had tried to rape her, and held up his piece of clothing as “proof“. Poor Joseph stood accused of a terrible crime, and was thrown in jail.

Joseph was unfairly accused of doing something when in truth he was not only in the wrong place at the wrong time; but he had actively tried to avoid the circumstances on multiple occasions. Still, he ended up in jail.

Sometimes in life, we end up “in jail” for things we did not do. We may end up in financial distress, even though we’re working hard, doing all the right things, and striving to do better every day. Other times we may find that we are disliked and ostracized at work, even though we go in every day with a positive attitude, treat everyone around us with kindness, and contribute at a high level, helping others whenever we can.

Whatever the unfair circumstance that we find ourselves in, we can look to the story of Joseph and Potifar’s wife for some good news.

20 And Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined, and he was there in prison. 21 But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. 22 And the keeper of the prison put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners who were in the prison. Whatever was done there, he was the one who did it. 23 The keeper of the prison paid no attention to anything that was in Joseph’s charge, because the Lord was with him. And whatever he did, the Lord made it succeed.

Genesis 39

Although being in prison was a hardship, it was made better by the fact that Joseph had special treatment by the prison keeper, and had special privileges. Genesis accounts for this as the favor of God; metaphysically we would interpret that favor as being someone who understood the concept of Omnipresence.

Spiritually-aware people understand that no matter how things appear on the outside, Spirit is right there in the middle of things, and it’s going to work out. It may not work out the way we want it, or on our timetable; but ultimately things are going to be OK.

While in the prison, Joseph interpreted dreams for 2 new prisoners, both of which came true. One of the prisoners was freed and had access to Pharaoh, who, some 2 years later, had a troubling dream that none of his wise men could interpret. The former prisoner remembered that Joseph had interpreted his dream accurately, and shared this with Pharaoh.

Pharaoh summoned Joseph, who interpreted the dream, and – long story short: Joseph ended up not only being freed from prison, but being put in a position of power and status in the land.

41 And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.” 42 Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand, and clothed him in garments of fine linen and put a gold chain about his neck. 43 And he made him ride in his second chariot. And they called out before him, “Bow the knee!”[e] Thus he set him over all the land of Egypt. 44 Moreover, Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I am Pharaoh, and without your consent no one shall lift up hand or foot in all the land of Egypt.”

Genesis 41

The big picture story of Joseph is easy to recall, but we must not gloss over the part of the story that outlines the path he walked before he was given Pharaoh’s signet ring:

  • betrayed by family/sold into slavery
  • falsely accused of something he didn’t do
  • several years in prison

I have written about the life work of Neville Goddard in several previous posts (Pray Like Neville and Neville’s Gifts), including one where I outline his regular reference to the world of Caesar. While we can absolutely count on spiritual Law to work in our favor when we are walking in alignment with principle; it often works for us within the context of the world we live in – Caesar’s world, or the physical world we all know and inhabit.

The story of Joseph is the telling of this Truth. Joseph was indeed spared and sustained by Spirit; but he had to walk to his freedom through the world of Caesar, which in his case was slavery and prison.

Like Daniel who had to spend the night in a den of Lions, and Shadrach, Meshach and Abednago who had to go into the fiery furnace – Joseph had to accept his miracle within the context of this world.

Also like Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednago; Joseph was never alone. And neither are we.

I opened this post with a mention of the pace in society today (seemingly instant everything). To tap into the miracles experienced by Joseph, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednago and others we must channel their faith and their patience.

When we’re standing in a prison, unfairly accused and sentenced, are we singularly focused on finding the escape hatch (lottery ticket, new job) or can we relax and look patiently for the signs all around us that we are not alone?

It’s not easy to react patiently and peacefully when facing lions, fiery furnaces or an unfair prison sentence. The story of Joseph reminds us that the game of life is a long game. It invites us to live in faith, connected to Source and with patience, knowing that – regardless of how things appear – all is well, and working out for our Highest Good. And when we learn to walk this way, we will find more peace along the path of life.

And so it is.

(C) 2019 Practitioner's Path

A Child’s Evening Prayer

One of the earliest memories of my own religious education – some may say indoctrination – was the recitation of a prayer at bedtime. A common bedtime prayer for children in the 1960s when I was learning such things went something like this:

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.

As an adult I found the words a bit macabre for small children, and did not pass it on to the next generation.

In recent readings, I came across a different children’s prayer – one that is attributed to Nona Brooks, a founder of Divine Science (a metaphysical religious tradition from the 1800s). It reads in a much gentler manner and is much more appropriate for young children.

Now I lay me down to sleep; I know that God His child doth keep. I trust Him for my daily food, My life, my health, and all my good. May I grow stronger day by day, And learn to live the truest way. All this I ask because I know Thou art the Love that wills it so.

Nona Brooks

Described as a “prophet of modern mystical Christianity“, Brooks was a New Thought leader and a founder of the Church of Divine Science.

Since the language and pronouns used in the 1800s area a bit outdated, here’s how I might revise this for the 21st century:

Now I lay me down to sleep;
I know that I am in God’s keep.
Trusting God for daily food,
My life, my health; all my Good.
As I grow stronger day by day,
I learn to live the truest way.
All this I speak because I know,
God is the Love that wills it so.

And so it is.

(C) 2019 Practitioner's Path

30 Days of Healing Prayer

In Barnes & Noble last year, I found a book on the clearance table: 365 Prayers for Healing.

In it I found pages and pages of prayers And poems from all over the world, across time and cultures.

In my Facebook group, “Spiritual Learning Pittsburgh”, I posted 1 prayer every day for 30 days to guide members on a journey of healing contemplation.

This weekend, in celebration of the birthdays of my daughter and granddaughter; I’m kicking off that journey again in honor of the healing power that is the collective generations of women in a family – in my family.

Like the differences between the many women in my family tree, the beliefs and traditions shared on this journey will be diverse. They will also, like the women in my lineage, share a common core strength and connection to Spirit.

I know that each person will find a blessing in the words shared and the sentiment underneath each post.

Here’s the healing meditation/prayer for Day 1:

And so it is.

(C) 2019 Practitioner’s Path

“May God, the Giver of all wisdom, beauty, and well-being, bless all who love Her with these gifts, and grant that Her blessings may be generously shared.”

~ Marchiene Vroon Rienstra

Naturally occurring

(C) 2019 Rebecca Harmon

Years before our culture became intrigued with clearing clutter and minimalism, I questioned things like why we needed an entire store filled stem-to-stern with cheap, plastic jewelry and accessories.

I worked in retail while I was in college, and still remember the feeding frenzy that would occur when we had a promotion where shoppers got a “freebie” with a certain level of purchase (I worked in the prestige cosmetics section).

We’d come in early to unpack boxes of the freebies, and prop them up around the department using glitter, shiny paper and other merchandising tricks to make them look more expensive and exclusive than their actual value.

The advertising worked. The shoppers responded and I think the general zeitgeist was much more in tune with a “shop-til-you-drop” vibration than one that critically thought about whether it was really something worth the cost.

I admit, I was caught up in that vibration for a time and as I haul decades of things out of my house now, I shake my head – wondering how it all got off track.

There are many reasons why that energy was prominent then and a more reserved approach to the acquisition of things is popular now. Some of the “whys” include the inevitable cultural shifts, political changes and economic ups and downs that occur over time.

I’ll let the political and social scientists sort all that out. From my perspective I think we, and when I say “we” I mean western and specifically American culture, had evolved into thinking that anything that was intriguing, beautiful or inspired could be copied, manufactured out of synthetic materials, mass produced and sold for an extreme profit. And for many years, the public rewarded that thinking, lining up at stores to claw our way to the front of the line to get our “free” gifts.

Eventually some of us woke up and looked around to see that we were surrounded with piles of junk jewelry, uninspiring decorations, clothes that last less than 5 laundry cycles and a deep realization that none of those things had added any substance to our lives and now were more burden than bounty.

The trends in many corners of society to look inward are much-needed and serve as an antidote to the crass consumerism of the previous decades. But even this reset comes with a cost.

I’m sitting in front of an auto repair store while my Jeep is in for repairs and across the busy, 4-lane road is a mall that is empty except for the remaining anchor store – JC Penney’s. The Toys-R-Us on the same property is boarded up, as is the Rite Aid across the street, the mattress store to the left and a number of other former businesses up and down this strip.

The reset in our culture can be seen in many places but is painfully obvious here. The causes are multiple, and include the availability and ease of online shopping as well as the spreading realization that buying more “stuff” doesn’t heal anything and often causes more pain.

The inevitable shifts and jolts that will hit people’s lives as their own personal paradigms navigate this new terrain will be painful for many – just as the emergence of the fancy shopping mall was painful for the downtown stores of small town America in my childhood.

I think often of that time in the early 1970’s as sprawling new malls lured shoppers away from the neighborhood stores and downtown streets.

I remember the adults in my life discussing those changes with grim predictions for the businesses on Main Street, and they were right. The downtown areas of my childhood never recovered to their former health and strength, and today are haunting reminders of the price we pay for what we think of as progress.

The mall and big box properties today will morph more easily into different uses, becoming medical office buildings, surgical centers and professional buildings, but the human capital costs will echo the painful shifts of the earlier decades.

With all of these realities swirling around in my head, I stumbled upon an unusual arrangement that was beautiful to behold, and quickly took a photo of it: it’s the photo at the top of this blog post.

It’s the end-beam of an old porch that sits underneath newer, higher decking at the home of a family member – and it’s random placement with the fern growing out of the obvious wood grain, along with the border bricks makes it a stunning visual.

Its beauty lies in the randomness with which the different elements come together. It is a beauty that would not survive being plasticized and mass-produced, and it is a simple reminder that the best things in life – the things that bring us the most and the purest joy – cannot be found on a rack for $3.99, or sent to us in 2-days with free shipping.

Will we learn our lessons once we emerge from the changes in motion today? Only time will tell.

(C) 2019 Practitioner’s Path