Tag Archives: Unitarian Universalism

Top 5 Tools for Cultivating Gratitude

“The man who simply became ready to have God remove his judgmental attitudes was surprised to find God’s answer was to make him more trusting of others and less judgemental of himself.” – Anonymous

Gratitude-Pot-Luck

I recently attended a covenant group at a local Unitarian Universalist church. It was a group for parents and as is the case with groups of this kind, was accepting new members for a limited time. Most covenant groups close the “tent flap” seasonally in order to nurture trust within the circle and deep conversation and relationship among its members.

As the sounds of our playing (read: screaming) children rose up through the floor, a group of us young couples opened up our hearts and shared about the difficulties of turning the other cheek, setting a good example, frustration with family members and in-laws, fear of failure in front of our kids, and more.

One recurring theme emerged. Across the board and within all three dimensions of self, culture and nature — cultivating gratitude is hard work.

SELF

When it was suggested that part of the solution was to simply be more patient, gentle and forgiving with yourself, one of the fathers said, “I don’t know how to do that.”

At that moment, one (or more) of the kids started banging on a downstairs piano. The sound was jarring and discordant and came up through the floor in angular vibrations that momentarily put all of the parents on edge.

It occurred to me that the children didn’t know how to play the piano, but they were doing the best they could to make music with it. They, too, were ignorant to the workings of the instrument and so they simply wailed away at it, hamfisted and dispassionate. They were being too rough and too forceful, not patient or gentle.

This piano is a metaphor for our self-care. How often do we expect others to be maestros of communication, trust and compassion? How often do we expect others to be delicate, patient and gentle — to take their time, choose their words carefully, think before they speak or act, and to hold themselves with the utmost self-respect? And yet, how often, when it is our turn to do the same, do we bang out a rhythm or a half-baked melody and tell ourselves that it’s good enough. How often do we settle for less when it comes to finding pleasure or acceptance in ourselves?

Self-love and self care is not just about mindfulness. It’s not just about carving the time out of your day to pray, meditate or be present with your friends, co-workers and kids. It’s about moving beyond mindfulness to the difficult work of being in the world and witness to all its suffering. It’s about having the courage to put yourself out there when someone needs emotional or spiritual support, but also having the courage and intelligence to receive that support yourself.

CULTURE

Gratitude is also present in our attitude toward others.

Stephen Prothero has consistently proposed that the world’s faith traditions are an attempt to solve a specific human problem with a specific spiritual solution (sin/salvation, attachment/awakening, pride/submission, exile/return, etc.). Since pride is usually near the top of any list of cardinal sins, it is usually one of the first items to attract the attention of rigorous spiritual practice.  

Gratitude can be seen as the opposite of pride. The process of becoming more grateful, more thankful and more humble is the process of letting go of our pridefulness, ego and will.

Continue reading

Advertisements

The Offering of the Stones: An Integral Church Tradition

 

 

SUN-4

Beginning in 2013, Integral Church has held services on the third Sunday of the month in St. Petersburg, FL. The gathering is held outdoors* at Crisp Park, a city park which features a gated area for children to play. Typically, childcare is provided for families who want to bring their young ones.

A wooden “altar” (fashioned out of an old corned beef shipping container) and a pail of stones is placed in the shady area formed by a triangle of trees. Guests are encouraged to bring lawn chairs, blankets or cushions to form a circle around it and ensure that everyone can see (and hear) one another.

And, then, “church” starts. But it’s probably not like any church you’ve seen.

Integral Church is a community of people who have abandoned the trappings of the traditional, one-to-many worship experience found in many Christian churches as well as the rigid and dogmatic teachings of many of the Buddhist and Taoist centers.

However, at any given gathering of Integral Church, you will hear those traditions cited (as well as those of Islam, Judaism, Gnosticism, Native American/nature religions and more). That’s because Integral Spirituality includes them all. It is an interfaith and interspiritual group expression — a post-modern approach to religion and a celebration of the sacred.

It honors and includes the goodness, truth and beauty found along the cultural spectrums of the world’s faith traditions while it explores the spiritual tools and practices of its individual members.

It is the path and practice of pluralism.

*An indoor First Thursday service was added in 2015.


What follows is the current Order of Service for an Integral Church gathering. The program usually runs 90 minutes.

  1. Opening music
  2. Introductions and Announcements (6:30 p.m. or 10:30 a.m. sharp; introduction by first/last name, recognition of new guests, community announcements, upcoming events and passing of the friend-sourcing journal)
  3. Toning (the singing bowl is struck three times)
  4. Moment of Silence
  5. Offering of the Stones (see guidelines below)
  6. Music (usually a musical guest, but can be an interactive chant, kirtan or activity)
  7. Spiritual Discussion (sometimes a guest speaker, usually followed by Q&A and open discussion)
  8. Selected Reading (usually a short poem or reading from scripture or sacred text)
  9. Meditation
  10. Offertory (donations are collected in a bowl in the center of the circle)
  11. Integral Dedication (spoken in unison, standing as group members are able, and holding hands)
The beginnings of the stone collection at the very first service held at Straub Park in 2013.

The beginnings of the stone collection at the very first service held at Straub Park in 2013.

Offering of the Stones: Community Guidelines

by Joran Oppelt and Catherine St. John

Each month, we dedicate a section of our service to intentionally working together to create a “well” of love and healing for our members to tap into any time they need. The idea behind the “Offering of the Stones” ritual is a synthesis of an improvisational Neopagan “reclaiming” ritual, the candle-lighting ritual of “Joys and Concerns” from Unitarian Universalism and traditions as far-reaching as Catholic Taize prayer service and the Quaker “spirit of the meeting” — four very diverse religious ideologies.

In lieu of having a physical building or location for us to visit when we need prayer, meditation or spiritual support, we work together to create a “well” of intentions — a place to store our gratitude, love and healing; a place that may be returned to in our hearts and minds between services anytime we need.

Continue reading


Patanjali and the Yoga Sutras

8-limbs-of-yoga-full

The Yoga Sutras are 196 short aphorisms written 2500-3000 years ago by someone named Patanjali as an instruction manual for living an enlightened life. This highly-influential work is divided into four chapters or padas and includes a detailed description of the the eight “limbs” of yoga (see illustration above).

In January of 2014, yogi Mark Zimmerer wondered what this ancient text might have to say to us in the 21st century and began the project of compiling various English translations of the Sutras into one document.

Zimmerer gave a talk at the Boise Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in July, presenting his insights on the various translations, while mixing in modern cultural touchpoints ranging from Star Wars to Kurt Vonnegut. He states, “In Patanjali’s time, [yoga] was not acrobatics, aerobics, cardio kickboxing or yoga booty boot camp.” According to Patanjali, “Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.” Continue reading


Is Christianity (as we know it) dying?

Bishop_John_Shelby_Spong_portrait_2006    a new christianity for a new world

Soon after I finished The Gnostic Gospels by Dr. Elaine Pagels (1979) — a richly detailed and historical page-turner — I stumbled across a colorful book called A New Christianity for a New World by Bishop John Shelby Spong (2002). I was familiar with Spong’s reputation for controversy, but I grabbed it up and started in on it right away, somehow thinking it would be lighter in tone and more inspirational in nature. Little did I know that this new book was a dramatic and emotionally significant call to action, asking Christians around the world to put down the outdated, theistic (Father) concept of God and embrace a new vision of the church.

Not what you’d consider light reading.

In fact, I spent hours re-reading certain sections in an attempt to truly unpack the implications and revelations contained inside the words.

This is a book I wish I had discovered much earlier, as it has illuminated for me the necessary steps I must take as an individual in honoring the death of the theistic God — thanking “Him” for his service, and putting him to rest once and for all. It also shows me that there is still much work to do in lovingly and respectfully engaging in open dialogue with Christians who are seemingly uninformed about the history of their own Orthodox Church and also in rehabilitating those Christians in exile — who have become disillusioned with their faith as they, as individuals, have changed and grown so much, only to see their creeds and institutions (once viewed as a reliable bedrock) become insufficient, small-minded and small-hearted.

What was exciting for me, and divinely-timed, was that the book also offers a framework of not only Spong’s call for reformation and a new “Ecclesia” (Greek for “assembly” or “those called out”), but references the writings on “Creation Spirituality” by Rev. Dr. Matthew Fox and the picture of the historical Jesus drawn by the work of John Dominic Crossan. This framework examines the life of Jesus, the teachings of The Christ and the gospel of the resurrected Christ Jesus in a truly integral way.

Spong’s call for reformation is heartfelt and well-researched, and is clearly written by someone who has lived and loved his own faith for many decades. It is a cry for change and reform from an insider of the Orthodox Church — someone the world would agree is an expert on the subject. I find it interesting that this book follows a previous work entitled Why Christianity Must Change or Die (1999). As if the publisher said, “Jack, we just need something a little more positive. A little more upbeat.” Indeed, we need the “antidote to toxic Christianity.”

For those that identify as practicing Christians and those that have been frustrated with the bloody and barbaric rhetoric hurled from the pulpit, reading this book may very well cause you to walk out of your home church once and for all. For church leaders, reading this book should be required. It could very well start significant changes within the organization — baby steps to be brought up at the next board meeting — and at the very least, it has the potential to create conversation.

Most likely, though, it will be met with scorn and indifference by the institution we now know as the Christian church. And therein lies both the problem and the thesis of this book.

It breaks down like this, the teachings of the historical Jesus (shared eating, charity, compassion, indiscriminate love for humanity, a direct communion with God as the source of Being), have been taken out of context or ignored outright by the orthodox Christian church we know today. The orthodox church opts instead to teach conditional ideas like salvation (most times only through the Christ figure, or the church itself), baptism (primarily to cleanse one from Original Sin), reinforces the concept of a wrathful Father God (the punitive parent demanding a blood sacrifice), as well as presents a distorted or inaccurate version of natural history as historical fact.

Continue reading