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

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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

New paths

(C) 2019 Practitioner’s Path

Change is a part of life. Few will argue that point, but it’s hard not to be a little breathless at the magnitude and the pace of the changes in motion today.

The impacts are all around us – some of them helpful and positive; others confusing and even a little scary.

The paradigms we have relied on for decades are fading into obscurity even as technology makes things that were once unthinkable as close as our back pocket.

I’ve written a number of blogs on waning church and center attendance. I still meet people who tell me that “things are picking up!” and I smile. I’m happy that they are happy – but they are whistling past the graveyard. And not just because I say so. The trends are larger than any one denomination or faith group.

I still receive the local Jewish Chronicle. It’s a good read on local and world politics from the Jewish perspective and I enjoy every issue. A recent copy featured a front page, above the fold article on the relevance of the synagogue in the 21st century.

Before I share the details, let’s establish a few facts. The reason that Jews and Christians affiliate with and attend a local house of worship varies between the 2 faith traditions. While there are some shared motivations, there are also divergent ones. I know this because I have a foot in each camp. The closest comparison to Jewish practice (motivations to affiliate and attend) in the Christian tradition is Catholicism.

The reason I point this out is that this difference undercuts some of the generalized reasons naysayers give for the downward trends in church attendance (e.g. “it’s the music“, or “it’s the Sunday morning thing“). Catholics and Jews have had non-Sunday services for centuries and they’re still struggling along with the rest of the faith traditions to fill seats for their weekly services. They have vastly different holidays and still suffer similar challenges in membership and attendance. I feel confident in saying that it’s not the organist, cantor or communion wine keeping people away on Friday evening, Saturday morning, Saturday night or Sunday morning.

According to the article, while the local Jewish population grew by 17% since 2002; only 35% of households report a synagogue affiliation – compared to 53% in 2002.

One rabbi asked the question: “Can Jewish life be sustained without the synagogue?

A colleague answered him with an answer that we could use in the spiritual-not-religious sector: “Clearly people are living Jewish lives absent the synagogue.” (consider the 17% growth of Jewish households)

The same rabbi went on to say that the challenge will be “...to figure out what role the synagogue has going forward and how (leaders) can best meet that task.

The questions, and the answers, could be shared inserting “Center” for “Synagogue“. Clearly people are living SPIRITUAL LIVES absent the Center and the challenge for Practitioners, ministers and other leaders in New Thought is absolutely to figure out the ROLE that the Center can/could/should play in spiritual life, and how said leaders can best serve in that capacity.

Consider the brick road pictured in the photo above compared to the same section of road, freshly paved (below). The bricks are obsolete, and don’t serve the needs of travelers on the modern street – but the way is still viably traveled to reach the same homes, schools and other destinations.

Spiritual teachings are like these roads. They will remain avenues for enlightenment. The synagogues, churches and centers that once served a very important purpose are like the brick roads. In many ways they have outlived their relevance in the modern world – just as the beautiful but impractical, brick streets.

(C) 2019 Practitioner’s Path

We don’t stop traveling these streets; but we appreciate that our modern vehicles can drive on smooth, even asphalt instead of uneven bricks. Similarly, we won’t stop connecting with the Divine; praying and seeking spiritual meaning to our lives; but we connect in ways that are smoother and less disruptive to our modern lives.

The teachings of Ernest Holmes, Emma Curtis Hopkins, Thomas Troward, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Ralph Waldo Trine, Malinda Cramer, Nona Brooks, the Fillmores and many, many more will live on in books, blogs, YouTube video talks and other media outlets; but the paths to learning them are in flux.

I sometimes look wistfully at the more pristine sections of brick streets in my neighborhood and wish that they could all be the quaint, throw-back style. Then, it rains (or worse, gets icy); and I remember that progress is a good thing (ice on brick roads is no joke).

In the 1940s everyone in the small town my father was born in went to church on Sunday. Many of these same people also had an outhouse instead of indoor plumbing. The good old days weren’t all that good. And while progress does bring with it a balance of good and bad; we must not get so fixated on the old days that we lose sight of the evolution unfolding in front of us.

Yes, the future of the 20th century-style church/center is tenuous at best, but the answers don’t lie behind us – after all, we’re now in the 21st century! The answers we seek will only be discovered when we embrace the future (it’s here!) and look ahead with open minds and open hearts.

And so it is!

(C) 2019 Practitioner's Path

Related blogs:

Finding peace

Outer Banks, NC ~ (C) 2019 Practitioner’s Path

There are few places more awe-inspiring than the beach, early in the morning (or late at night), and when I am fortunate enough to spend time at one, I don’t ever think “Geeee, I need to find a church so I can get closer to God,…“. No place on earth is closer to the Creator than nature in her raw and powerful form, whether at the beach, on a mountain or even in our own neighborhoods.

This morning when I awoke, I considered getting a shower, dressing and then driving across town to attend a local Center for Spiritual Living Sunday Service. I have friends there, and I haven’t attended a service since I was in California, several months ago.

While I pondered the thought, I took in the morning. It was quiet in my house; the open windows allowing me to hear the morning song of the birds, and the chorus of the harbingers of Autumn, the locusts. I heard the tree branches rustle in the breeze and smelled the clean, fresh scent of the new day.

As I rested there in my chair, my mind returned to a time, many years ago, when my children were very small and we attended a traditional church. Every Sunday morning was a rush and often a hassle. I worked evenings at the local hospital and this meant that many Sundays when the church alarm went off, I hadn’t gotten much sleep. At the time, many years before I began to move away from traditional religion and onto a seeker’s path, I wondered how in the heck going to church was supposed to be so good for families when it resulted in a weekly headache for me, and an argument between my husband and me. There had to be a better way to connect with the spiritual side of life.

More than 20 years later I find myself on the other side of that question, realizing that my instincts at the time were prescient. In America today, 9 out of 10 churches are in decline and in my own organization of “spiritual not religious” seekers, times are also tough and for many of the same reasons. This morning I got a little more insight into the “why“, although there’s no shortage of research to answer that question.

I’ve written a number of blogs on the challenges for the traditional Sunday morning service, and the data coming out of places like the Pew Forum indicate that the trends aren’t likely to reverse themselves any time soon.

In the spiritual not religious sector especially, much of the teaching is around how to achieve more peace, balance and harmony in one’s life. Sitting in my home this morning, I realized that rushing into the shower, digging through my closet for something to wear, and then driving across town to sit in a room and have someone quote a 20th century mystic or the latest best-selling guru to tell me that I can indeed achieve the peace I am seeking,… was ridiculous.

In that moment I knew without a doubt that there was no music, no message, no workshop or seminar that could give me more than I had in that peaceful, no pressure moment.

I no longer have children at home, and still dread having to run “one more place” on weekends. I cannot imagine that dread if I was working full-time AND running kids to music lessons, sports practice and managing the laundry, household chores and other tasks of a busy family.

I doubt that this trend is going to change any time soon, but yet churches and centers remain in a holding pattern, doing the same thing they’ve always done and hoping that a new speaker, or a new workshop will be the tipping point.

Many people find peace and solace in a spiritual practice. The challenge for organizations that need people to show up weekly and throw some money in an offering plate is that learning a spiritual practice no longer requires weekly attendance in a church or center. And I don’t think that live-streaming church services is the answer either.

This morning, I no more wanted to turn my computer on and listen to the noise of a live-streamed church service than I wanted to drive across town. My soul was being fed by the peace and solitude of nature in the quiet of my home. In a way, we’ve been TOO successful in teaching people how to find their bliss – and like me, they’re finding it in places that are not the traditional Sunday morning service.

I’m not sure what the answer is for religious organizations, but I’m fairly certain that hanging on to old paradigms and waiting for the rush into the seats on Sunday morning isn’t it.

Our culture is in the midst of great change. We can see it all around us, in empty storefronts, church buildings for sale, in the new ways we access the necessities of life, and more. No one knows what it will look like when it finally settles, but one thing is certain: it’s going to be different than what we’ve known.

In times of upheaval and change, people need spiritual support. Will we, the people and organizations best positioned to provide that support, be able to evolve in time to be relevant and ready?

(C) 2019 Practitioner's Path

Organized religion in the gig economy

Gig economy
Want something? There’s an app for that.

We’re living in the midst of tremendous change and no one knows this more finitely than traditional churches and centers who are seeing old paradigms erode once-sure strategies for growing membership and revenue.

One of the first challenges of the 21st century came in the form of social media giants like YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. At one time, there were few options to hear good spiritual talks and connect with like-minded people. Therefore, churches and centers had somewhat captive audiences – that is until the internet and the tech giants mentioned above became household names.

Yes, there were other societal pressures, but don’t discount the impact that technology has had on the traditional Sunday morning activities. It also helped to more quickly expose bad actors and charlatans, which is a topic for another blog on a different day.

Some churches and centers have managed to survive and leverage these technologies to their advantage. Others are trying and somewhat hanging on, while still others are in a free fall decline. And there are as many opinions about the best approach to turn around a church or center in free fall as there are out-of-work ministers.

While technology and the challenge of over-scheduled families factor into the realities of Sunday morning, we cannot discount the overarching influence of the greater society. While this once meant the understanding and acceptance of technology in the sanctuary; it now means that the impact of the gig economy on society is in turn influencing attendance, participation and affiliation with churches and centers.

What is the gig economy?

According to a 2018 article in Forbes magazine, “the gig economy is a term that refers to the increased tendency for businesses to hire independent contractors and short-term workers, and the increased availability of workers for these short-term arrangements.”

If you think this has nothing to do with you, or your neighborhood, take a look at the local mall. Try to find a K-Mart or Sears store. You may find one but it’s harder than it used to be and much of that is due to the online shopping trend – supported in large part by the gig economy. Amazon doesn’t hire full time drivers to deliver your Prime shipments in 2 days or less. Many of these deliveries are made by people making extra money, driving their own cars. Similarly, Uber and Lyft are often sought out by the recently unemployed or those in need of a side hustle. Uber EATS, Grub Hub and Deal Dash bring takeaway from almost any restaurant right to your door for the small price of anywhere from FREE to $7.00 (I’ve not seen it higher, but it would not surprise me if it was higher at peak times and in larger cities).

The gig economy really represents a deepening gulf in our engagement with each other as human beings. Employers who utilize gig employees don’t pay payroll taxes, offer benefits like paid sick time or contribute to retirement accounts. Often the “independent contractors” never meet the owners or managers but have limited contacts with other contracted employees who simply process their on-boarding and upload the data.

All of this means that the essence of the business being conducted is becoming increasingly transactional and with this, a deepening anonymity between ourselves and those who deliver things to our doors.

What does this have to do with church?” you may wonder. In my opinion, a whole lot.

As we all live fully in society, we participate in things like free-shipping and 2-day delivery; hot Asian food delivered to our door after a few taps on our smart phone; a ride to the airport, and back home again with no exchange of cash. And each time we participate in one of these activities, we become more comfortable with life that works like this.

The traditional church and the New Thought centers that were modeled after their Protestant brethren were built on the concept that deep and abiding relationships form the foundation for a strong, solid community. That sounds great – but we live in a society that is less and less interested in the trappings of these early 20th century institutions and greatly influenced by the society in which they are immersed, 24/7.

A New World Order

Newly-robed ministers who are seeking their place in the world with an eye on a traditional ministry may find that the opportunities are shrinking as fast as their student loans are growing. Technology’s dominance and the shift that has led to the emergence of the gig economy means that there are fewer and fewer communities where people are willing to show up, throw significant money in a plate or basket to support someone who only works Sunday mornings, maybe one or two evenings a week and wants a contract that supports them taking multiple “working” vacations each year.

In a world where most people are working full-time (40-hours) PLUS a side hustle or two to pay the bills and get by – giving to an organization that supports the happy traveling minister is a non-starter; especially when much of what is offered is available on an as-needed basis with a few taps on a smart phone.

Let’s be honest: when we’re up early on Monday, have battled our way through rush hour traffic and had to sit through an abominable meeting – all before 9am – the last thing we want to see from the Minister who received a handful of our hard-earned cash the day before is a Facebook video showing them playing at the pool with their niece and nephew and a caption about being grateful for Mondays,…(when you’re asking for and taking other people’s money, …optics matter).

I believe that some churches will remain viable institutions. These will be the organizations that serve their communities – that give back more than they ask for or take.

The rest of the religious and/or spiritual world will find itself trying to navigate a brave, new world – one that their ministers were not prepared to travel in seminary or ministerial school. One outcome of the gig economy is that we live in a world where people may drop in here and there, but feel no compunction to “join” or commit to supporting a single organization. This will make it quite difficult to create sustainable budgets for things like salaries, benefits, and facilities.

Ministerial students and unemployed/underemployed ministers today would be wise to prepare for the “increased tendency for businesses to hire independent contractors and short-term workers,…”

With the gig economy making up 34% of the workforce today, and projected to rise to 43% by next year (2020), we can be sure that American society will experience more change and likely continue to see a decline in traditional religious participation. Still, the general interest in a meaningful connection with the Divine will remain. The only real question around all of this is who (which organizations) will step away from “the way it always has been” and into the future, because that future is here, now.

(C) 2019 Practitioner's Path

Navigating Change

Many people were dedicated students of [Ernest Holmes] philosophy, actively supporting his teaching. They began urging him to set up an organization and incorporate.

Ernest Holmes resisted initially, feeling that an organization would be restrictive. He insisted on the necessity of individual spiritual freedom, saying that Infinite Truth was not the exclusive property of any special group of people, and that his teaching was not a “final revelation”.

SOM Archives
Ernest Holmes

I taught for many years in a professional health care program that culminated in new graduates sitting for a credentialing exam – medical records administration – which in the late 1990s changed its name to Health Information Management.

In decades prior, these credentials were required if one wanted to work in the field of medical records management.

I still hold these credentials and work in a traditional medical records environment, but I am the anomaly. I returned to this environment recently after spending most of my career in non-traditional roles and find my experience to be useful as the profession faces significant change. As someone who is not rooted in “the way it’s always been” I am able to lead the (many) changes that are occurring in my department and profession.

There is unrest in the HIM profession right now because the credentials that were once REQUIRED are no longer given the deference they had in the past. The world has shifted from the days when paper pages filled cardboard folders, creating the record of medical care. Today the Electronic Health Record (EHR) has emerged with the rest of the technology revolution and changed healthcare and my profession.

These changes have had a significant impact on the credentialing organization. I taught at the baccalaureate and graduate level. When I left academia, the department chair had implemented a requirement that students sit for the credentialing exam to graduate, because so many students were finding jobs – GOOD jobs – without the credential and so few students wanted to pay the money and sit for the exam. For me, this was the first clue that the onward march of technology and time was exerting an impact on “the way it’s always been done” in my profession. More evidence on this would follow.

The Joint Commission (TJC) is the gold standard accreditation body that helps to hold health care organizations to high standards of care by providing oversight and evaluation of their policies, practices and more. In previous years, when TJC site visitors showed up, a call was made was to the Director of Medical Records/HIM. One reason was that the number of unsigned charts was historically a significant review activity.

In recent years, HIM Directors are not only missing from the first-call list, but sometimes never make contact with the visitors. One reason is the Electronic Health Record which makes it next to impossible to “hide” unsigned medical documentation. Instead of needing to go through the HIM Director to see if a random sample of charts are signed, anyone with login credentials can generate a report of all the unsigned records at the click of a button.

Change can come in an instant

I believe another reason is that accreditation agencies have ranked patient safety as a more important metric to monitor than unsigned notes (and I agree). With limited resources and a need to focus on the biggest bang for the buck, a decision was made to remove the accreditation requirement for “delinquent records” (those that are missing or unsigned) from their checklist.

And just like that – the role of the HIM/Medical Records Director changed.

Seemingly overnight (it wasn’t), the selling points for earning and maintaining a credential in the HIM field have evaporated along with the traditional medical records department in many facilities. Rooms with multiple moving shelves of paper records have been replaced by servers and the cloud.

In Pittsburgh, one large health system which is comprised of more than 20 hospitals in the greater Pittsburgh region, closed all the HIM departments in their facilities and now manages their HIM operations from a single, central location filled with computers in the heart of their flagship location.

Why am I writing about this on a spiritually-themed blog?

Because it is an example of the impact of technology and shifting norms that are inevitable as time moves on. And because I see the same “camps” in my spiritual community that I have seen in my professional sphere:

  • those that are clinging tightly to “the way it’s always been” and hoping against all hope that this storm is going to pass and everything will return to the way things used to be;
  • those that feel the shifting winds and want to use what they have learned and apply it in the new paradigms that are emerging.

In the HIM field, there are MANY ways to apply the foundational education that is provided in the best programs. The graduates that I and others have taught are proof positive that this is the case, as they are a who’s who of successful, professional individuals working in the healthcare industry. They do not manage medical records departments; but the skills they learned in college opened doors into careers that will sustain them as long as they choose.

I recently heard someone in my larger spiritual sphere talk about the need for loyalty to the main organization that credentials religious science Practitioners, and I had a deja vu experience.

Ten years ago I was hearing this same verbiage from a department chair (and others in the credentialing organization). Did their mandatory requirement that all graduating students take their credentialing exam and remain loyal to the organization result in more credentialed HIM professionals?

Short term, yes. Students did what they had to do to graduate. But at the end of that 1st year when the renewal notices came in the mail, very few renewed their credentials.

Was it because they were angry at being forced to do it in the first place?

No – it was because the credential was irrelevant for them, and had nothing to do with what they were contributing in the workforce and the world. And this trend is continuing downward as new college programs that teach the foundational concepts are emerging without an affiliation with the credentialing organization (which means more people than me are seeing this trend and acting on it).

There’s a lesson here that echoes the cautions of Ernest Holmes in the last century. He insisted that “Infinite Truth was not the exclusive property of any special group of people”. He was also stern in his push back against those eager at the time to create a formal organization:

As the organization took form, however, Ernest made it clear that the founding of the Institute was not intended to promote Religious Science as a cure-all religion. He would not allow anyone to regard the Science of Mind message as infallible. “Religious Science is shorn of dogmatism, freed from superstition, and open at the top for greater illumination, unbound and free,” Ernest said.

SOM archives

Unbound and free.

Open at the top for greater illumination.

Ernest Holmes would have encouraged students of the Truth principles that he taught to explore the world; to engage with other philosophies and test the veracity of the SOM postulates. He would have encouraged collaboration, exploration and the integration of other streams of spirituality in the consideration of the principles he put to pen and paper.

There’s nothing unbound and free in “you must remain loyal to this organization“.

There’s no greater illumination possible if it’s “this is the company line that you adhere to, …or else” (especially in the “or else” – implied or explicit).

The definition of the dogma Holmes specifically warned against is evident when the hierarchy begins to marginalize and speak negatively about those who wander off the prescribed path and speak the Truth through their own, perhaps slightly different, lens.

Truth principles hold that “there is enough for everyone“. Insisting on loyalty to an organization “or else” is a lack mentality, and had no place in Ernest Holmes’ emerging philosophy and has no place in the New Thought of the 21st century.

We are better than this. And I look forward to seeing that better side expand beyond the fear and lack that I have heard too much of over the past few years. And so it is.

(C) 2019 Practitioner's Path

Driving while spiritually blind

It is easy to become enraptured with the past, especially a version of the past which serves us well; but that can blind us to the need to accept the change necessary to move into a very different future.” (Jim Lockard on HarvBishop.com)

blindfoldIf you travel at all, it’s not hard to see why some New Thought organizations aren’t thriving. Many are clinging with all their might to what used to work, how things used to be and hoping against all hope that the magic will return.

I had the great good fortune to spend some time recently at a thriving CSL organization in California and the energy, the openness, the clear message that they “get it” was reflected in the diversity of the congregation, the busy nature of the Center’s activities and the sheer ENERGY of the services.

It was a professionally-done show from start to finish, and at the end, it was clear that everyone in attendance had gotten something of great value out of the entire service. These services ROCKED the spirit and lifted the soul and showed what CAN be in New Thought. It’s not an elusive, dark secret.

On my way back from the West Coast I was pondering how this can happen in Pittsburgh, and not long after I sent that energy into the ethers, I came across the verse from Luke 5:

36 Then He spoke a parable to them: “No one puts a piece from a new garment on an old one; otherwise the new makes a tear, and also the piece that was taken out of the new does not match the old. 37 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine will burst the wineskins and be spilled, and the wineskins will be ruined. 38 But new wine must be put into new wineskins, [h]and both are preserved. 39 And no one, having drunk old wine, [i]immediately desires new; for he says, ‘The old is better.’ ”

Too many struggling New Thought organizations are trying to put new wine into old wineskins, or patch old and outdated thinking with a new seminar or song here and there – all while doing the same tired thing with the same people clinging to “the way we’ve always done things” or “the way Rev Smith always did things“.

A piece of new fabric patched onto an old garment is obviously out of place and doesn’t magically make the old garment new. Likewise, a new song, or a seminar here and there  is not going to transform thinking that is old and practice that is stagnant. If the leadership and the group think is stagnant, no amount of patching is going to change the fact that things are stale and out of date.

New Thought is vibrant, supercharged and exciting if managed well. When NOT managed well, it’s a feel-good club for middle-aged, often predominantly White, women. While I fit nicely in the middle of that demographic, it’s boring as hell.

To acquire bright, relevant, vibrant “new clothes” we must stop desperately patching the holes in our old clothes; stop pouring fresh, new wine into old, tired wineskins. We must throw out the old, worn out garments; bury the old, used-up wineskins and build anew.

This isn’t just me – many, much smarter than I am on this topic, are sounding the same clarion call, including Harv Bishop and Jim Lockard. The question is not (and hasn’t been for quite some time) “when will people see how great this teaching is and come to our Center?” but rather, “how much longer are we willing to accept being blind to the CHANGE that is necessary for us to move into a different future?”  – a future that is thriving, abundant and exciting.

It’s not rocket science, or quantum physics; and when you see what I’ve seen, you’ll know what I know. The time is now.

(C) 2018 Practitioner's Path