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

Seasons

For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven: 2 a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; 3 a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; 4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 5 a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 6 a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; 7 a time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; 8 a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.”  [Ecclesiastes 3:1-8]

CSC Mt LeboThis afternoon I posted some photos on Instagram of the local Christian Science Church, which will join a number of other churches in the area by closing its doors and selling their property. As the current interim Organist, I’ve had a front row seat to the decisions and the process of closing this congregation.

Methodist Church for saleSimilar stories abound in the South Hills neighborhoods of Pittsburgh and across the nation. The purchase of a Methodist Church by a Buddhist group; the lingering For Sale sign on a church property and the long list of available church buildings for sale tell the story of an era gone by.Dormont Temple

The histories are eerily similar, with tales of full congregations, a need for police assistance to direct traffic and then declining membership, decreasing funds and eventually a handful of members are left to make what are often gut-wrenching decisions.

As traditional religions struggle to find their way in the post-modern world, the disposal and transition of properties that were once symbols of a presence and stature in the community are happening with increasing regularity.

Many of the people in the remaining organizations wring their hands and ask why they’re not attracting more members, visitors or even transient, curious onlookers. While the reasons are likely as numerous as the closings, there are a few consistent themes that continue to emerge, regardless of denomination or creed.

Just this week, the Southern Baptists had a power struggle end with previously-unimaginable results: the old-timers, the traditionalists in the denomination ran against the new guard and lost, garnering less than 30% of the delegate votes.

When the Southern Baptists turn against the tide of tradition, it’s time to sit up and take notice.

I’ve written a number of blogs on the issues facing New Thought Centers and Churches that are struggling to move past a handful of regulars and grow back into the organizations that their core remembers from “the good old days”. In ‘A New Era of New Thought‘ I quote comments by a writer and New Thought member that echo what is being mumbled in churches everywhere, and in Millennials and the Spiritual Disconnect I address the issue of authenticity and how the offerings of the late 20th century are simply not interesting to the power-drivers in today’s world – the 20 and 30-somethings.

The New Thought centers that are thriving have a look, feel and ENERGY that is very different from the struggling ones, and I think that a very large piece of their success is that as soon as you walk in the door, their surroundings answer the question on the mind of most millennials:

“What can you do for me?”

I know more than a few people who would give me a deer-in-the-headlight look and then go into an explanation of how classes help teach people about Ernest Holmes, and that Practitioners are always available for Treatment,… and in that moment I know that they have no idea what I’m trying to explain.

We live in an instantaneous culture. No one wants to take an 8-week class to figure out which class to take next to provide them some insights into what can help them – they want some help, and they want it NOW – or they aren’t interested. And the Centers/Churches that I’ve visited that are overflowing on Sunday morning or Wednesday evening get this in a big way.

They have facilities that are open, bright, airy and welcoming. They bring their A-game and are PREPARED when people show up on Sunday morning. Their speakers are engaging and interesting, and their services are energetic and uplifting. You leave these Centers feeling a spiritual “high” that helps heal the burdens that have piled on from life in the past week.

In his blog, New Thought Evolutionary, Jim Lockard recently wrote:

“Newly emerging leadership must be systemically different than what came before. In other words, trying to imitate your teacher(s) who successfully built a spiritual community in the past is futile. If they were here today, and did the same things they did then, they would not be successful the way they were in their time. It is a different world now.” 

The world is indeed, a very different place today. The organizations and leaders who understand this will be around for some time to share the wisdom of Ernest Holmes and others. Those who cling with all their might to old paradigms, and “the way we’ve always done it” will walk the hard paths being trod by others in declining congregations.

Indeed there is a time for every purpose under heaven.

I can think of no better close than to quote Jim Lockard again – this time from his post on Harv Bishop’s site:

“The leadership needed now and going forward include more conscious, evolutionary leaders who are intuitively wise and deeply compassionate, and unattached to form. Why is leadership so important? Because some cherished forms are going to have to be released, and some newly emerging forms are going to have to be embraced – and we may not all be willing to go out onto the skinny branches of transformative change. We will need leaders to inspire and empower us as necessary.

No one knows what new models will emerge, but we must become effective conduits for their emergence. I advise my coaching and consulting clients to take on new things, but to label everything as a “pilot project.” If it works, continue it, if it does not, release it. I also suggest having innovation and transparency as core values of spiritual organization and community. To truly value the essential nature of the changing world in which we find ourselves – change must be welcomed and there can be no secrets. Our path forward is one of transformation, which is deep and abiding change, the kind of change which requires letting go of great swaths of the past and moving through discomfort.

The good news is that you cannot be better equipped to enter this emerging future. New Thought principles and practices are more than sufficient to the task. The question is, how many of us will use them effectively to allow us to thrive through the coming transformations and beyond?”

The season for some is Spring while others are deeply entrenched in the latter days of Autumn with nary a provision to survive the coming Winter (there’s a Game of Thrones metaphor in here somewhere).

How many of our struggling New Thought organizations will have the strength/grit (or good sense/wisdom) to make the hard decisions so they can navigate the new seasons ahead?

Only time will tell.

(C) 2018 Practitioner's Path

 

Watching the trends

First Creative ThoughtIn a previous blog I wrote about the role of the millennial generation in the continued growth or sustenance of organized New Thought, and I recently had another occasion to ponder this shift as I found out that CSL North Jersey’s Creative Thinking e-magazine was to be retired.

Founded in the Fall of 2015 after Creative Thought ceased publication, it was hailed in some circles as destined to flourish, because it was inconceivable to many that people wouldn’t want this to continue.

At the time I was in that “yeah!” chorus, assured that the world would be left gasping without something like Creative Thought, so I subscribed right away to Creative Thinking.

Both were terrific publications, and well-loved by many, so why the recent message from Creative Thinking staff?

Greetings loyal reader of Creative Thinking eMagazine. I’m writing you today with a different message than ever before. I’m announcing today that the Creative Thinking eMagazine will cease to exist as of this month. The magazine was taken on as an effort of love by a small army of dedicated individuals. These people worked tirelessly and all but one were volunteers. The magazine was enjoyed by a few when we needed it to be enjoyed by many in order for us to justify the time, energy, and expense invested on a monthly basis.

The phrase that reached out and tapped me on the nose was this one: “The magazine was enjoyed by a few when we needed it to be enjoyed by many...”

There’s no doubt that New Thought principles and practice are beloved by those of us affiliated in some manner with organized groups, but as we cluster in our echo chambers reaffirming how important these principles are, and how life-changing the teachings of Holmes, et al can be – are we missing the roar of reality all around us?

The world is always changing (thankfully!) and if we’re paying attention, we can see how those changes are taking place and adjust to meet the new paradigms.

If, on the other hand, we’re consumed with our comfort zones, and “the way it’s always been“, we’re likely to find ourselves scratching our heads and wondering who’s going to pick up the mantle and carry on where the last group left off.

I’m not a soothsayer, but I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that another monthly eMagazine with daily Spiritual Mind Treatments in it is not what the world is seeking. If it were, Creative Thinking would be thriving today and not posting a notice that it had been enjoyed by a few,…

In another blog post, I wrote:

The digital revolution is here.

Are you ready for a “true holistic change” or will you hold on to the way you’ve always done things? You get to choose, but the window on making that choice is closing fast and at a point in the not-too-distant future, it will be made for you – whether or not you’re ready for it.

In that blog I quoted an article on technology from CNBC that talked about the change that is here already, and how to navigate the aggressiveness of that change. I also quoted (& edited for New Thought – and other spiritual/religious organization relevance) from the article:

A true, holistic change to your business model is needed to survive and thrive in the digital era. The time for strategic action is now – because no one knows what the next two years will bring.”

I was tough on some perspectives in that blog post, and I stand by my position today more than ever. The evidence is coming in stronger every day, and the most recent is the statement from CSL North Jersey about the cessation of Creative Thinking magazine.

Many believed that the digitization of Creative Thought was all that was needed to save it (and I am speaking of people outside of CSL North Jersey) and that we would see an uptick of adoption with this new technology applied to it.

The reason Creative Thought, and subsequently Creative Thinking, have gone silent has very little (if anything) to do with technology,…and a LOT to do with the changing demographics, and world we live in.

The changes needed in New Thought organization and practice can (should) leverage digital technology, but the changes that will boost (save) them are not exclusively technological.

For New Thought to survive as a formal organizational structure, and perhaps even thrive – leadership at local and national levels must step back and assess the environment, stop building things that people age 40 and older want and take seriously the truth that if we’re not reaching millennials (and I’ve not yet begun to address the issue of Generation Z), the expiration date on the vitality of formal New Thought organizations is closing fast.

(C) Practitioner's Path