Tag Archives: God

Does Our Name for “God” Really Matter?

cosmic mandala

Being a religious studies major in college, I studied Buddhism, Taoism, paganism, and all sorts of other ‘isms’ that helped me to fully let go of the idea that “God” is some transcendent, dualistic-thinking, bearded dude up in the sky judging everybody.

I used to get into debates with Christians over terms and definitions and I moved away from using the term “God” for a long time in order to refer to the source of all that is.

I believe ‘it’ is within us and around us. We are part of it and it is us. ‘It’ is everything and we can influence how it shapes our lives through the power of our thoughts and feelings in regard to it.

That said, I recently reconnected with two traditionally Christian friends whose belief in that higher power — that source energy — is so unfailingly strong and beautiful that I was reminded again that our concepts of it are really no different, despite the fact that we describe it using different terminology.

They too see that my faith in energy and the magic of the universe is really the same as their faith in “giving it over to God.” They pray. I meditate. They go to church. I go to the ocean. It’s the same however and wherever we find it and whatever we choose to call it. Coming to that realization has allowed us to have some of the most incredible, heart-warming conversations and moments I’ve ever shared with anyone.

I say all this to justify my newfound use of the term “God.”

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Creating a Cohesive Worldview (Part 2: The Map and The Territory)

Fox Xoft, "Map of the Before Life"

Too often, we confuse “spirituality” with “religion,” or the words are used interchangeably, without any thought given to their subjective meaning. Is spirituality the interior personal experience, and religion the sacred doctrine or holy law? Does spirituality become religion when we try to share it with another person or pass it on to another generation? Could they be two subtly different ways of describing the same experience?

Religion is not only our shared set of values, or the way we create meaning in the world, or our method of contemplating the universe (Oneness, Brahman or God). Religion is made of many perspectives in many locations, and is the key to co-creating a multi-dimensional worldview. Religion is a map that is continually being drawn from the inside. And while it was Alfred Korzybski who coined the term “the map is not the territory,” Korzybski himself knew that our “knowledge of the world is limited both by the human nervous system and by the structure of language.”

For the sake of analogy, let’s briefly consider a full, rich, complete and conscious life to be both – the exterior and the interior, the media and the message, the sheet music and the song itself. We must make this distinction, as some people have the map firmly in hand (some even know it by heart), but have never once planted their feet on the ground. And some people have lived in a place their entire life but never truly know where they are in orientation to others.

If religion, then, is our spiritual map of the world – a man-made rendering co-created by a collective consciousness, yet always falling short of the ineffable whole of the Cosmos – then which maps (or parts of them) should we keep, and which should we discard? Where are the unexplored places that we should continue to chart on our own?

Consider the ancient cartographer’s parchment with those dark and dangerous areas illustrated with inky shadows and fanged sea monsters (“Here there be dragons!”). Those areas remained ominous and unknown until some brave and courageous (and most times, well-funded) soul ventured into the darkness and provided detailed reports of the seas, deserts and caves. Are there any of these dragons left today?

Or what about the bright and colorful Rand McNally road atlases? As children, they kept many of us active in the backseat during cross-country road trips with their arterial red and blue highways stretching across each page. But, the states were sorted alphabetically, not spatially or intuitively, and occasionally you’d hit some road construction that wasn’t on the map. Then, you’d have to pull out a pencil and chart your own course. How do we sort, classify and organize the maps we use today?

From these subtle changes in roadways, borders and territories to huge shifts in actual landmass, the world has changed dramatically since these maps were drawn, and continues to change faster every day. Google Maps now provides a modern, interactive, up-to-the-minute rendering of the entire planet, delivered to the screens in our vehicles and the devices in our pockets. Every shadow and corner of the world is now available on a display at your fingertips.

Which spiritual maps (or religious worldviews) are we holding onto out of sentimentality or posterity? Which sections of these interior maps and mythologies can be left behind, and which are just as true and relevant today as the day they were written? Continue reading


A Universal Prayer by Yogananda

paramahansa-yogananda

 

I Worship God Everywhere

I bow to the one infinite Father, differently manifesting in the many churches and temples that have been erected in His honor. I worship the one God resting on the various altars of different teachings and religious faiths.

Today I will worship God in deep silence and wait to hear Her answer through my increasing peace of meditation.

I will mingle my inner devotional whispers with the prayers of all saints, and continuously offer them in the temples of silence and activity until I can hear His whispers loudly, everywhere.

This day shall be the best day of my life. Today I will start with a new determination to dedicate my devotion forever at the feet of Omnipresence.

– Paramahansa Yogananda
(from Metaphysical Meditations)


Religion 2.0: The Formation of the Integral Church

You know that moment when the sand at the bottom of the hourglass starts to cave in toward the center? And it seems like suddenly the grains start to quicken, to pick up speed. But it’s an illusion, right? They don’t really move any faster, do they? Time doesn’t speed up if we have less of it. Or does it?

2012, The Year of the Dragon (my birth sign) is coming to a close and I was told to expect both profound “promise and demise.” Looking back on this year, I suppose both of those things are true. On one hand, I wasted most of the year — beating around the bush, hesitating out of fear, trying on old habits, instead of taking a deep breath and stepping onto the end of the diving board. And on the other hand, I also took my time and I meditated. I’ve finally come to a decision, deliberately and purposefully, about what my next steps should be. Something in me has been building steam for quite a while, and it’s high time that I tell everyone what I’ve been up to. Not just to share the news with you — my friends and family — but in hopes that by giving voice to my intentions, by articulating my plan, I will help to further realize it in my own heart and mind.

I am forming a non-profit, religious organization called the Integral Church. Something that is, in the eyes of the Internal Revenue Service, a brand new religious denomination. Something that until very recently, hasn’t existed.

Religion means so many things to different people, that for our purposes here, we should make an attempt to define it. “Religion,” in my opinion, is not just dogma, doctrine or creed — which all refer specifically to passages of scripture, koans, mythology, mantras, law, ethics, etc. These are parts of religion, yes. But they are not the whole story. Religion, to me, relates to the way an individual understands their own consciousness, it is the method in which they are self-aware, and it is the way that person struggles with or attempts to answer life’s big questions. The big questions like, “What is my purpose,” “What (or who) is God,” “Where did the universe come from,” “What is the nature of time,” etc. These questions can be tackled by personally investigating the nature of the self and the universe — by doing the experiment and seeing with your own eyes, they can be contemplated and interpreted through mythology and storytelling, or both. But the big question is usually centered in the “I.” How do I relate to the universe/God? What happens when I die? And it’s through the exploration of these questions that a spiritual practice and ways to honor the cosmos or God are consciously developed (or not).

You don’t have to tell me — religion has been a less than perfect solution for a lot of things. But that’s why now, more than ever, we need to build something new. Something that the world has never seen before.

Why?

The reason for starting a religious organization, and not simply another community non-profit, is the next logical step in a personal journey that began in the woods of Central Wisconsin as a teenager. That is where I experienced my first epiphany — a vision of the universe as a spinning record, and myself as the needle. I was nudged down this path when asked by a dear friend of mine to officiate my first wedding (I have grown to further appreciate and understand the deep importance of ritual in family life and have since performed my sixth wedding, a memorial service and countless fatherhood rituals). An intellectual seed was planted when I discovered the writings of Arthur Koestler and Ken Wilber, and began to sprout when I realized that their life’s work was a continuation of those who came before them — Sri Aurobindo, William James, Aldous Huxley. When I finally discovered the writings of the modern Catholic reformers — those who had been exiled from the institutionalized religion that they loved for demanding further reform and more inclusive liturgical structures (i.e. Rev. Dr. Matthew Fox, Bishop John Shelby Spong, and Fr. Richard Rohr) — I began to see the forest for the trees. I also saw the path that cut straight through the archaic wilderness to the heart of a post-modern center. I understood that we needed to build something new.

But none of this justifies the foolish act of starting a religion, does it? Starting a religion is a crazy thing to do, right? Especially in Florida. Nobody does that.

Let me be perfectly clear: the reason for this undertaking is not just because we need a new vision of the world, a world where religious tolerance is the rule; where religions are not seen as warring tribes, but as neighboring families that each contain their own spectrums of consciousness — from traditional conservatives to modern progressives. A world where believers and non-believers alike can find a common language and a sense of context. There are too few places where compassionate atheists and humanists can get involved with environmental causes or helping the less fortunate. Our vision of the world includes the creation of — and access to — these types of programs. But, it also includes children being taught mindfulness and modern (peer-to-peer) informational literacy, it includes cities being built (or re-built) around biodiversity, community farming and cooperation. It is a world where everything is a Holon¹ (a whole and a part) and where “spirituality” is understood (and practiced) in very real terms, knowing that there is indeed an energy in me that is identical to the energy in you. In an integral context, that means an individual approach that at once includes meditation/contemplation, exercise/nutrition, sustainability/environmentalism, and community service/civic engagement². In this new world, being open-minded is celebrated, “transcending and including” is the new norm and those who change their mind can more easily imagine a changing world³.

The reason is also not simply because many of us are finding that we have a shared set of beliefs — a belief that God is beyond gender (neither male or female), that human gender roles and sexual behavior do not exist discretely as male or female but as points along a continuum†. A belief that science and philosophy are tantamount in answering life’s big questions. A belief that new gender-balanced mythologies (that have yet to be written) are necessary for our modern age — stories that take into account how we interact with the technology and computer networks that we’ve built to encircle our planet and how we use these networks to communicate with other nations and nationalities around the globe, sometimes on a daily basis. And, finally, a belief that the First Cause that created the universe is simply unknowable and that love may very well be all you need‡.

The reason for starting a religious non-profit — for building a “ministry” — is to spread the message that we change the world by living in it ∞. That our personal unfolding, our continually-expanding consciousness, the ability to take more and more perspectives, the primordial drive toward increasing biological complexity, is directly related to the evolution of the entire cosmos. We — our interiors and exteriors — are all part of that whole. It is one action. In fact, it is Spirit-in-Action. Continue reading


God is Not One: An Interview with Stephen Prothero

We sometimes hear people talk about, “one God,” or “one love,” or that the many world religions are simply “different paths up the side of one mountain.” But, what if that mountaintop actually was different for everyone? What if it looked and felt different to everyone who found the courage to climb?

God can be described or experienced (sometimes in the same turn) as loving, wrathful, or ambivalent – not to mention perceived by some to be male, female, or even beyond gender.  The ground of Spirit is viewed through a cultural lens by those who are seeking to commune with it, and it can be described as pure energy just as easily as it can be painted as an eight-armed deity or rendered a winged female with a halo. Conversely, a person’s culture can be tinted by their spiritual worldview, leading to a rigidly hierarchical class system or a life committed to giving to those less fortunate.

Author Stephen Prothero (Religious Literacy), was recently interviewed by C-Span’s Sally Quinn about his newest book, God Is Not One, in which he points out some similarities, but mostly the important differences between the world’s “most influential” religions. The book objectively puts eight of the world’s largest religious groups side by side and provides a brief history of what they believe and why. But, the biggest accomplishment here by Prothero is determining the “unique human problem” that each religion solves for its adherents. For instance, the problem in Christianity is “sin,” thus the solution is “salvation.” The problem in Islam is “pride,” thus the solution is “submission.” The problem in Buddhism is “suffering,” thus the solution is “awakening.”

This approach goes a long way in assisting current methods of interfaith dialogue. When everyone thinks they’re talking about the same “God,” and the same definition of “spirituality,” yet still ends up leaving the conversation angry, frustrated and confused, it could be that not addressing religion’s “job to be done” is part of the reason.

Prothero’s book is highly recommended, but in the meantime, the following video features Prothero discussing many (if not all) major points of the book. It is an hour-long episode, and embedding is disabled, but click through to the C-Span site and enjoy! And, as usual, please leave your thoughts and comments below.