“All the world’s major religions, with their emphasis on love, compassion, patience, tolerance, and forgiveness can and do promote inner values. But the reality of the world today is that grounding ethics in religion is no longer adequate. This is why I am increasingly convinced that the time has come to find a way of thinking about spirituality and ethics beyond religion altogether.” -Dalai Lama
Along my ministerial path, I meet many people who are “unchurched.” While they may have grown up with a specific religious tradition, they no longer affiliate with any particular beliefs nor do they attend communal religious ceremonies with any frequency…if at all.
According to recent social research, 1 out of every 3 American adults (33%) is unchurched. This means approximately 125 million Americans are unchurched.
Why am I telling you this?
First, if you are unchurched, please know that you are not alone.
Secondly, experience tells me MANY people who describe themselves as unchurched also describe themselves as spiritual…in fact, deeply spiritual.
As a nondenominational interfaith minister, not only do I think that’s OK to be unchurched, I support your freedom to choose whatever spiritual path best meets your personal needs given your unique history and what you hope to gain from your spiritual exploration.
Follow your mind and heart and soul.
God does NOT have a religion. Please, think on that.
Unchurched? You are not alone. Blessings!
I’ve been thinking, feeling and praying “coexistence” these most recent days…my personal response to so much ignorance, fear and hate surrounding me. Faithful followers, please pray for peace… pray for peace that MUST begin with each and every one of us! Politicians do not make peace… we do.
I had the opportunity last evening to attend the opening of the Annual Las Vegas Jewish Film Festival. Eleven award-winning films over two weeks; a warm welcoming Jewish community of fellowship and acceptance even though I am not Jewish and complimentary tickets from new friends…it doesn’t take much to keep this interfaith minister happy. I am honored and thrilled to participate and listen to the kind of thoughtful discussion that most definitely makes film festivals excellent adventures.
The opening film viewed by more than 300 in attendance was Jerusalem, a National Geographic Entertainment move filmed in 3D IMAX.
I guess I knew this going into the theater… but like so much of learning… I didn’t fully realize its implications.
So here’s the deal: Jerusalem is one of the world’s oldest and most enigmatic cities. Literally, this tiny place is geographically situated at the crossroads of Europe, Africa and The East. It’s been been destroyed and rebuilt countless times over more than 5,000 years. It’s enduring will to live and its message of hope is extraordinary. Other than having its own pure source of underground water in a barren desert, what keeps this place alive?
Literally within the confines of just 0.9 square kilometers (0.35 sq mi), the Old City thrives within the bustling modern city of Jerusalem. Indeed, it’s an absolutely central city to all three Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Jerusalem surrounds hugely important religious sites: the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque for Muslims, the Temple Mount and Western Wall for Jews and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher for Christians.
Added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site List in 1981, traditionally, the Old City is roughly divided into four uneven quarters: the Muslim Quarter, the Christian Quarter, the Jewish Quarter and the Armenian Quarter. Largest populations are found in the Islamic and Christian quarters – all surrounded by Jews.
What’s so extraordinary is that within the City of Jerusalem three separate and distinct religious cultures with complicated and volatile histories coexist.
From the film’s commentary:
“It is easy to understand why Jerusalem has so often been the site of armed conflicts over the centuries. Temples have been torn down only to be rebuilt as pagan shrines or churches. Churches have been burnt down. Mosques have been converted into churches. There have been 118 conflicts in and for Jerusalem over the past 4,000 years. Jerusalem has been conquered 44 times. It has been besieged 23 times, completely destroyed twice and has seen 11 transfers from one religion to another. It has only changed hands peacefully twice.
Jews, Christians, and Muslims have plenty to be angry about. We could hold grudges across the centuries. Yet, our calling is toward love, to be neighbors. Muslim rulers like Saladin and Suleiman the Magnificent permitted worship of all religions in Jerusalem. They were good neighbors. The city has seen periods of reigns marked by intolerance and injustice followed by periods of peace and prosperity. Diversity has distinguished Jerusalem across the centuries and even today. The four major quarters of the Old City — Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Armenian — reflect the rich history and the deep love that each community feels for Jerusalem.”
The film strengthen my commitment to hope, (the fundamental mission of my ministry) and my resolve to live and study in Jerusalem soon. I have much to learn there.
Jerusalem is a stunningly beautiful film that delivers a profound message of religious tolerance and coexistence. Consider taking the opportunity to see it.
What is the meaning of life in the spirit of interfaith tolerance and acceptance?
The good news is that if you choose to follow a religious path along your personal spiritual journey, you have many choices. While there is a significant difference between religion and spirituality, religious ways are hugely varied and many:
Aboriginal/Native religions are more than 60,000 years old. Believers celebrate co-creator male and female gods/goddesses that are intimately the source of all of nature and indivisible from daily living. As a pantheistic religion, they believe landscape features may be the embodiment of deities themselves. There are 3 categories of gods/goddesses: creator, ancestral and totemic. Life’s purpose is to honor the gods and live honorably in communion with nature.
Baha’i faith emphasizes the unity of humanity. The purpose of life is focused on spiritual growth and service to humanity. We are intrinsically eternal spiritual beings. Life in this material world provides abundant opportunities to grow and develop our divine qualities and virtues. Baha’i grew from Islam with Baha’u’llah as its primary prophet with Manifestation of God demonstrated through a series of prophets.
Buddhism promotes training the mind to end conflict and suffering through meditation, non-attachment, the eight-fold path of right-living and the practice of compassion toward all beings. Life is a process that can ultimately result in enlightenment and the state of Nirvana. Nirvana is freedom from both suffering and re-becoming within the cycle of Karma.
Christians believe “God made me to show his goodness and to make me happy with him in Heaven.” Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was born, lived among us and died to redeem us. He rose from the dead and ascended back to heaven. Jesus fulfilled the Jewish Messiah prophecies and established a new law: Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. The reward is eternal life in Heaven. We are sinners and need grace to redeem us. God spoke to his people through Jesus.
Christian Science, founded by Mary Baker Eddy in 1879, teaches that salvation is “Life, Truth and Love understood and demonstrated as supreme over all; sin, sickness and death destroyed.” Heaven is not a place but a state of mind in which all manifestations are harmonious and immortal. All healing is a spiritual condition that originates in the mind.
Confucianism, dating back to 479 BC in China, teaches the purpose of life is to fulfill your role in society with propriety, honor and loyalty.
Hare Krishna has its roots in a 15th century Hindu movement. Krishna is considered the supreme Hindu God. Salvation is attained by a return to Godhead through Krishna Consciousness. Believers chant, dance, favor celibacy, live in monastic vegetarian communities and evangelize daily.
Hindus believe the meaning of life is to realize the fundamental truth about ourselves – we are all perfect children of God. We’re in bondage to ignorance and illusion. We can escape. Atman (spirit,soul) is the person’s eternal and true self. Spiritual growth happens across many lifetimes and goals should match the state of development of the individual. There are four goals to living: Kāma (wish, desire, love and sensual pleasure); Artha (wealth, prosperity, glory); Dharma (righteousness, duty, morality, virtue, ethics, ahimsa [non-violence] and satya [truth]); and Moksha (liberation from Saṃsāra, the cycle of reincarnation).
Islam teaches life’s objective is to worship the creator Allah by submitting to his will and abiding by all rules revealed in the Quran and the Tradition of the Prophet. Earthly life is merely a test, determining one’s afterlife, either in Paradise or Hell. God spoke to his people through the prophet Mohammad.
Jains believe in the importance of self-discipline following the ascetic teachings of Jina, a human achieves enlightenment (perfect knowledge). Jainism divides the universe into living and non-living beings. Only when the living become attached to the non-living does suffering result. Therefore, happiness is the result of self-conquest and freedom from external objects. The meaning of life is to learn to use the physical body to achieve self-realization and bliss.
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe in one God (no Trinity) with Christ being the first creation of God. The Holy Spirit is a divine force. Salvation comes from belief in Christ and obeying Jehovah’s rules. The end of the world is immanent. Their is the promise of heaven for 144,000 chosen believers… all other faithful believers will live out eternity on a new Earth. Blood transfusions, celebration of holidays and religious images are forbidden. Believers are expected to evangelize.
Judaism teaches the meaning of life is to live in harmony with God by embodying the ideals, values and rules of the Torah – the written instruction/law within the Jewish sacred texts. Yahweh has a covenant with his chosen people. He created humans to be stewards of his creation. God spoke to his people through his tribal/religious leaders and prophets.
Mormons (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) believe we existed before earthly life and are called to return to God by having faith, following his commandments, doing good works and evangelism. We are spirit children of God, the Father with unique potential to progress to become just like Him. We were given the choice to come to Earth (a crucial stage in our spiritual development). Our mortal body and freedom of choice is the ideal environment to learn, grow and follow the rules to return to Paradise. God spoke to his people through Joseph Smith and the LDS prophets.
New Thought is a religious movement originating in the USA with roots from Sweden during the 19th Century. Many follow the original teachings of Phineas Quimby. The movement comprises 3 major religious organizations: Religious Science, Unity Church and Church of Divine Science. Sometimes known as “Higher Thought”, teachings promote God as supreme, universal, everlasting Infinite Intelligence. Spirit is the totality of everything, humans have a divine identity and divine thought, by definition is a powerful force for good. Illness originates in the mind. “Right thinking” has a healing effect. All are called to love unconditionally by way of positive thinking, the laws of attraction, creative visualization and belief in personal power. Some New Age sects are based on New Thought beliefs.
Seventh Day Adventists believe in one creator God of Father, Son and Holy Ghost. The Second Coming of Jesus is imminent. Our purpose is to have faith in Jesus and follow his teachings fervently with strong emphasis on a healthy lifestyle.
Sikhs believe in devotion and remembrance of one God – Ik Onkar, Nam. Founded by Guru Nanak Dev, “Sikh” means student. Followers are expected to live forever learning. Followers are ordained to follow the teachings of the ten Sikh Gurus, enlightened leaders, as well as the holy scripture – the Gurū Granth Sāhib. Life’s purpose is to overcome the self, align with the will of God and become a “saint soldier” for the good of all.
Taoists believe in pantheism – the Tao pervades all through Ying/Yang opposites that strive for unity. All sentient beings are returning to the primordial to rejoin with the Oneness of the Universe. The path is self-cultivation and self-realization. The purpose of life is inner harmony, peace and longevity achieved by living in accordance with the Tao. All originates from Tao. We’re tasked to realize the temporal nature of existence. “Only introspection can then help us to find our innermost reasons for living … the simple answer is here within ourselves.”
Unification Church, founded by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon in South Korea teaches that our purpose in life is to find true love and create world peace. True love and the realization of the Kingdom of God on earth will be restored by “true families.”
Unitarian Universalism is a pluralistic religion. Believers are free to believe in one God, many gods or no God. The purpose of life is spiritual health or wholeness. Believers seek inner and outer peace, insight, health, compassion and strength. Some believe in afterlife…others do not.
Wiccans base their ancient “pagan” beliefs on polytheism centered on a creator Goddess and God in various forms. “If it harms none, do what you will.” Most believe in reincarnation toward perfection in Summerland. Contemporary sects include aligned Animists, Pantheists and Druids.
Zoroastrianism, one of the world’s oldest monotheistic religions from ancient Iran 3500 years ago, was founded by the prophet, Zoroaster (Zarathustra). Influencing Judaism and Vedic religions, there is one creator God, Ahura Mazda. Creation is asha, truth and order but it is in conflict with its antithesis, druj, falsehood and disorder. The purpose of life is for mankind to triumph over evil through prayer, ritual purifications and “good words, thoughts and deeds.” We are free to do good or evil… our choice.
Buddhism embraces a variety of rituals and practices intended to help believers along the path to enlightenment. As an organized religion, Buddhism does not have a lot of rules or requirements. A friend says the rule in Buddhism is that there is no rule.
Buddhist express themselves and their spiritual beliefs in a variety of ways.
For instance, some Buddhists worship, pray, meditate and request blessings in temples… others do not. Some Buddhists attend temple ceremonies regularly. Other Buddhists have never stepped foot into a temple. Some value pilgrimages to Buddhist holy sites in India. Others don’t. Some set aside a special place in their home where an altar might focus their attention and intention of meditation. Other Buddhists prefer to meditate on quiet beaches or in silent prayer chapels. Some meditate alone… others meditate in groups. There are lots of ways to practice Buddhism.
We know that the Dalai Llama has told us: “Don’t try to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist; use it to be a better whatever-you-already-are.”
It’s important to note that Buddha never suggested that he was above other people and did not want to become a deity to be worshiped. Buddha is NOT a god and never suggested he should be considered as such. History tells us that early art depicted Buddha only by representation, often by his footprints, or the symbolic dharma wheel to represent his teaching. In fact, it wasn’t until several hundred years after his death that statues of him even began to appear. The Mahayanist sect began to elevate Buddha to a higher level than ordinary man because he was enlightened.
The practice of meditation is fundamental to every sect of Buddhism. It comes to us directly from the Buddha’s life experiences and teachings. Meditation is a pathway to liberation, enlightenment, bliss and Nirvana. It’s a process of relaxation and mental concentration and mindfulness that is practiced to be mastered. Meditation trains the mind to become empty of all thoughts. It opens the self to enlightenment. Its effects are peaceful,calming and restful. Many report that their perspectives change as a direct result of meditation.
Meditation is not staring off into space, daydreaming or rehearsing/reviewing the day’s agenda. It’s an attempt to expand consciousness… to transform. On the one hand, meditation is stopping, calming, resting. On the other, its allowing for the possibility of new levels of awareness. Meditation does not have to be done sitting down. In fact, some meditate lying down or walking. A friend meditates while running. Not all people close their eyes while meditating.
It really doesn’t matter how long meditation is. Actually, at first meditation can be as short as five or ten minutes. The ideal length of the meditation is determined by you and the pace of life that you choose. Meditation should be a regular experience – daily is a great start.
Meditation rests the mind and body in a peaceful state. This allows us for a safe internal place to heal old wounds, forgive past hurts and release negative feelings around current challenges. Meditation helps release. It slows us down toward a receptive and reflective state while inviting to look deeper and deeper within ourselves. With consistent practice, many report that meditation can begin to occur naturally as people integrate the process and its benefits into everyday life.
Mantras are sacred sounds or words that help focus one’s attention. Many use mantras to help focus their meditations. Some pick their own mantras that work best for them… others are given a mantra by a spiritual teacher or monk.
Sutras are teachings. Buddha’s teachings were initially passed on by reciting word for word what he had spoken in his teaching. These oral traditions were called sutras and always begin with “thus have I heard”. They are a large collection of sermons and poems and often include stories to provide a parable or message.
These sutras were meant by him to lead us to understanding but at the same time, not for us to depend on any doctrine, even the words spoken by him. The Buddha teaches us to understand more how to live, than why we are here. The sutras are practical and provide methods to enable us to reach that understanding. After hundreds of years of oral traditions, these sutras were written down and began to form the basis of today’s understanding of Buddhism. Obviously, like other old and revered texts, there is continuous debate about the meaning, and the input from the many different transcribers of these verbal teachings.
One of the most popular sutra is the “Lotus Sutra,” which was one of the Buddhas teachings close to his death. The lotus is a recurring symbol in Buddhism and represents the enlightened person, starting like a lotus flower, with roots in the mud, growing through the water to finally see the daylight at the top of the water. The Lotus Sutra is particularly influential in Japan where some followers embrace this teaching often by chanting whole sections. The Lotus Sutra promises salvation for all beings, and gives the message that everyone is able to reach the Buddha mind.
Mudras are symbolic hand gestures.
Prayer Wheels are an aid in reciting mantras with the turn of a wheel.
Diet – The Buddhist teaching where minimal harm is made on the environment and compassion for all life is significant and usually is reflected in diet. Buddha was not strictly a vegetarian, and was, overall, a very pragmatic man. We know that he would accept, and would allow his monks to accept any food, with or without meat, which was offered as long as it had not been specifically prepared for them. Any meal which the monks prepared, or which was made for them, had to be vegetarian. That is, no animal was to be killed specifically for them. Many Buddhists today are primarily vegetarian. Increasingly, many Buddhists are also vegan (includes no dairy or eggs) due to ethical concerns regarding animal cruelty. Some Buddhists also avoid root vegetables (potatoes, onions, carrots, garlic) because pulling the roots from the earth kills the plant.
Buddhism is often as a “different” religious path that frequently resonates with persons who are convinced that the “answer” is to be found within. I believe it’s one way… but not the only way.
I’ve grown to believe that by following the Buddhist Eight-Fold Path of right view, intentions, speech, action, livelihood, effort, concentration and mindfulness… what is true for me emerges from within my thoughts, feelings, intuitions and encounters.
If I am sincerely following my own path of righteousness, my ego and judgement get smaller and smaller. Compassion and acceptance of myself and others – those that agree with me and those that disagree with me – gets larger and larger. This is my evolution of personal conscience and consciousness. This is my mindfulness awakening. This is why I meditate/pray. This is why I have chosen to be a minister.
Some family, friends and acquaintances seem to be a bit suspect of my new ministry. I honor their suspicions and accept them under advisement. Frankly, I pray about their concerns. I have not particularly been a fan of organized religion since my Roman Catholic days studying to be a priest in the 1970’s. Religion has been and continues to be a huge part of the cultural, social and political struggles of human history (think: The Crusades, Creationists and ISIS). I get it and I get their concerns. Most of their observations are quite valid. Religion has had a not so good track record and more often than not has been part of the problem… instead of the solution.
I aim to be different and to make a difference. Genuine self-confidence, personal and vocational convictions, inner strength in the face of hate and fear and death – everyday I am called to master who I am and what I strive to become. My ministry: HOPE = Compassion + Forgiveness keeps me centered and also keeps me real.
Daily, I recognize that I am in need of the gifts of diplomacy, patience and discernment. I frequently get into my own way. I am stubborn. I am opinionated.
Yet I am sure, without a doubt, that now is the time for me to have faith in myself in the presence of all that is Sacred to me. I am called.
Almost everyday, current events can easily contribute to my erosion, doubts and wanting to revert back to declaring war against all that is not right with my world view. I pray for the ability to tame my beasts within and respond with compassion and forgiveness. Sarcasm, cynicism and despair is toxic.
Can I deceive yourself? Absolutely. Deception of myself and others, working my own agenda and taking detours from my path – we can create… or we can destroy. The choice and the responsibility is ours.
My best friend died quite unexpectedly 6 weeks ago. Just 2 years older than me with many miles – we all thought – still left on her warranty with hopes that we’d retire together and host a bed and breakfast/retreat/sanctuary in a tranquil place. Trust me: I am reminded daily that every single moment counts. We find the strength when we have to… and it seems, we are always stronger than we think.
If I have the strength to find my bliss and follow it… you do too.
I received an email from a follower who asked me what I believed as a nondenominational interfaith minister. Great question…thanks for asking!
My answer is evolving. My clients and those I serve are my greatest teachers… more so than the sacred texts I study from religious traditions. Here are some initial thoughts:
WHAT I BELIEVE
-Spirituality is that dimension of reality beyond the mental, emotional and physical.
-Sitting quietly, closing my eyes, staring into nature, I’m aware of greater than me.
-That which is greater than me is God.
-There are many paths to one deity I call God, Sacred, Divine, Light, Universe.
-Each path is valid/true for the people that honor it.
-God has many names, faces and manifestations.
-My understanding of God is historically, geographically and culturally relative.
-I respect Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism equally.
-I’m most in sync with Buddhism and Christianity while a recovering Roman Catholic.
-Buddhism is my philosophy of life, guide, path to self-discovery/understanding.
-God does not have a religion… but She is fond of Pantheism.
-Interfaith has potential for solutions to many problems-social and religious.
-Religion is a large part of many of our problems.
-Love is better than fear. Forgiveness is an underestimated power.
-I believe in free will and ability to choose from among alterntives.
-Existence is multi-dimensional and beyond death.
-I believe in reincarnation and karma.
-Sacred texts are culturally-relative stories meant to teach how to be happy and coexist.
-Big differences between religion and politics. Often confused and/or co-mingled.
-Religious fundamentalism is self-centered, self-serving and narcissistic.
-Synchronicity, power of myth and our abilities to create our own experience.
-Many ways to pray, to meditate, to contemplate, to be mindful.
-Contemplation without action is never enough.
-I believe in the mission of my ministry: hope=compassion + forgiveness.
The problem of evil is an enormous problem that philosophy has wrestled with for millennia. I do not know why bad things happen.
WHAT I DO NOT BELIEVE
-I’m not Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist or Hindu but honor each tradition.
-People do not need religion to tell them what to do or how to act.
-No one religion has a monopoloy on God, truth or morality.
-I don’t believe in original sin, predestination or cults.
-I don’t believe in clericalism.
-I don’t need religion to be redeemed, saved or to get to heaven.
-Medieval structures of power, authority and governance are irrelevant today.
-Scientology is not a religion.
-Buddha is not God.
-Gods/goddesses don’t endorse revenge, excommunication or human/animal sacrifices.
-Homocide, suicide, torture, genocide, rape or slavery isn’t of any God or religion.