Birthing a New Model

(C) 2019 R Harmon

If you follow my blog at all, you may have picked up on the fact that I closely follow data on the shifts in our culture, and specifically the changes that are impacting organized religion.

Historically, churches and spiritual centers have had physical space (buildings, property) and hired a minister and other staff as dictated by the needs of the congregation.

I remember when the role of Church Organist was a full time position in every church, unless the minister’s wife was a musician and then the compensation was often added as part of the minister’s salary package.

By the time I began working as an Organist (1991), many churches had begun to move away from the full-time Organist/Director of Music model to one where the Organist was paid to show up on Wednesday night to lead choir practice, and Sunday morning for services. It was a part-time gig with no benefits package.

This change came about due to the financial realities stemming from a decline in members, tithes, and changes in church attendance. Today, as the decline in religious participation has accelerated, we see these same changes impacting the ministry.

As I continue to ponder the fate of traditional organized religion in the United States, I have come to question if any of this should have morphed into the big business that it became and struggles to maintain today.

The principles of spiritual living are universal Truths, and as such belong to everyone. Ernest Holmes – ordained Divine Science minister and founder of Religious Science – seemed to understand this, never wanting his teachings to be packaged into a religion.

“… Ernest Holmes never wanted a church, and wasn’t interested in religion. He only wanted a teaching ministry. … Holmes resisted it as he resisted too much organization. “To evolve a higher understanding of the spiritual universe, humanity and the church must be free, open at the top.”

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When the focus of a church or center shifts to finances, the mission becomes muddled. Instead of remaining “open at the top” and agile enough to evolve a higher understanding of the spiritual universe; churches and centers become obsessed with paying the rent/mortgage, funding repairs or updates, giving the minister(s) a raise (or paying them what was agreed to) and counting what gets put into the offering plate each week.

These organizations are not free and evolving higher understandings or open at the top – they are scrapping and scrimping to meet the payroll; worrying about their own survival and chained to very base financial realities of modern life.

Referencing Maslow’s Hierarchy of Need, we know that an individual cannot evolve to a state of self-actualization if they are struggling with basic needs (e.g. survival). I can’t imagine that an organization – comprised of multiple individuals who are interested in the health of the organization – can evolve when collectively they remain mired in the lower levels of Maslow’s hierarchy.

This reality of financial turmoil then leads to feeling justified in charging money for classes that teach techniques for applying universal Truths, prayer work and more. And here is where I believe churches and centers have gone astray and where the wisdom of Ernest Holmes (e.g. no establishment of a religion) is so obvious.

The focus, I believe, needs to be on teaching interested seekers how to use spiritual tools to improve their lives, period. It should never devolve into maintaining salaries, rents and more. Easy to say; not so easy to back out of when almost the entirety of organized religion is up to their eyeballs in this money model.

A transformation is already in motion. Fewer dollars going into offering plates on Sunday morning; more church buildings are being put up for sale each month and difficult salary decisions being made every week in religious organizations across the country.

As I ponder the fate of the spiritual-not-religious teachings, I see the need for teachers and guides, but I don’t see the need for the role to be a salaried position. In fact, the very BEST teachers are those individuals whose lives are 3D examples of how the spiritual principles actually work in the real world. Don’t preach to me about what I should do – show me what’s possible by living your best life!

As Mitch Horowitz writes in the forward to Harv Bishop’s new book, New Thought (R)evolution, (See,… I’m not the only one saying these things)

“New Thought as an identifiably intellectual and spiritual movement, born out of the transcendental yearnings of the mid-to-late nineteenth century, has a less certain future.”

(and)

“New Thought, in its churches, books, and internal dialogues, has failed to mature.”

Mitch Horowitz

My opinion on at least part of the reason New Thought has failed to mature in the latter 20th/early 21st century is that pursuit of fame and/or fortune has been the goal, and the sharing of spiritual principles has been the vehicle. The (anecdotal) evidence of this has presented in several ways.

If we look at the current crop of Hay House speakers, we can see that none of them are generating the same excitement, crowds or best-selling books – even though they are in essence, teaching the SAME THING that Wayne Dyer and Louise Hay taught and found extreme success in teaching.

In less lofty circles, we see multiple examples of ministers who go into the ministry do so with the hopes that it will give them a platform to speak to the world, not to necessarily “do the work” that is in front of them – serving their fellow humans – regardless of fortune or fame.

The problem here is not with the teachings, but with the goals of the teachers and organizations. As a global movement, we would be wise to recall the wisdom of Epiucurus:

The love of money, if unjustly gained, is impious, and, if justly, shameful; for it is inappropriate to be miserly even with justice on one’s side.

Epicurus ( 341–270 BCE)

History has shown that these principles will survive. Whether the modern-day organizations built up around them will survive is uncertain at best.

If there are to be heroes in this saga, they will be those who see the importance of the teachings as more critical than the maintenance of the hierarchy, and who work to usher in a new model – one that will support the evolution of a higher understanding of the spiritual universe and humanity; and that is free and wide open at the top.

I may not ever be classified as a hero – and that’s OK, but I plan to be (and am working now) on the leading edge of this transformation.

And so it is.

(C) 2019 Practitioner's Path

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