Religion v spirituality

This seems to be a big question now.  I’ve heard a few clergy ask what is the difference?  Why do people nowadays express themselves as spiritual but not religious and why do they refuse to attend or engage with the church, in whatever denomination?   I suspect that religions other than Christianity also experience this but my experience is limited to Christianity so my views will also be limited to Christianity.

To the modern person, religion is identified with intolerance, hatred, condemnation, disrespect, condescension and spirituality with compassion, respect, equality, kindness, assisting others whoever they are….

Let’s put this in context with the Anglican Communion.  The Anglican Communion elected to remove the American Episcopal Church from the Anglican Communion because …… of it’s stance on equality for the LGBTQI community.  In English Law this action has a name.  It is called hate crime.

To be clear, this is institutional hate crime committed by the Anglican Communion towards every person who identifies as LGBTQ or I who may or may not be a communicant member of the Church of England.  For those of us who are, it is the Church telling us that we have no rights to be members of the church, that our faith is not real and that we do not belong in the church.  Thanks Bishops and Archbishops …. I will pray for you as Jesus instructed us to pray for those who hate you and persecute you.

Which brings me back to the original subject.  Religion is where people take the text of a book and make rules about what is or is not acceptable … people whom, for the record, Jesus condemned.  Spirituality, on the other hand, is where someone lives by the core code found in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew Ch 5 – Ch 7).

Can you do both?  I thought so until recently.  Now I am not so sure and I am likely to join the growing number seeking to live the spiritual life away from the hatred of the institutional religion of the church towards people like me.

The Anglican Communion focused on the LGBTI issue …. not on world poverty, not on mass migration and enforced refugees, not on wars and how to find peace, not on meeting the needs of their fellow human beings.  So tell me, Anglican Communion, just how are you fulfilling the commands of Jesus to love your neighbour?

I know many individuals within the Anglican Communion who practice spirituality, who accept all equally …. and I admire them for being able to do so within that environment.  I, however, have come to the conclusion that I am not able to be part of an institution that is inherently institutionally continuing to practice hate crime. So I am leaving the institution of the Anglican Church with a heavy heart, wishing it had lived up to its potential to lead the way to an inclusive faith.

Restoring Connection from The Great Disconnect

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I have been on my journey for some time now and for a long time I sensed certain things without being able to articulate them.  I am incredibly grateful to authors like Eckhart Tolle (especially The Power of Now) and Deepak Chopra (Synchrodestiny) for articulating truths that I had discerned but had not been able to articulate.

Once I had brought these truths to my consciousness, I began to realise the impact of personal decision making, not only in my life but in the life of everyone.  All choices essentially boil down to one choice – do I remain connected to the infinite Source of all or do I choose to be disconnected from it?  The thing is though, that modern (particularly Western) culture is built on the great disconnect, the idea that we are all individuals who “own” stuff.  The great disconnect results in behaviours that are controlling, selfish, taking, exploitative of people and things.  Personal wealth, power and influence are at the heart of this.  Zen Gardner is a prolific writer in the arena of raising awareness of the disconnect and it’s effects on us and the planet.

Wake up world, Collective Evolution and What Would Love Do International are just three of several organisations seeking to raise awareness of the disconnect and help people find a way back to connection, by raising awareness and articulating how things are in the disconnect and by providing opportunities to make a difference.

My own journey led me to the framework of Restorative Practice and Peacemaking Circles through a local Restorative Justice initiative to facilitate resolutions to neighbourhood disputes.  I have found that participating in Circles is a way to restore connection at a deep level and assist people to move from the disconnect towards connection.  Used by local communities owning the conflict in their area, Circles are proving to be a positive influence in restoring connection between people and bringing peace.  Neighbours are connecting with neighbours and building communities of care for each other where Circles are used around the world

My invitation to you today is to consider whether you are happy living in the great disconnect or whether you would rather be, start or continue in the way of connection?  This blog was inspired by the phrase Loneliness is about a sense of disconnection from a blog by Lou Kavar.

Baby Steps

Have you ever seen a baby learning to walk?  How they pull themselves up, let go and fall on their bum?  How they eventually learn to hold on and stand up?  The surprise on their face when they eventually fall on their bum again?  How they hold on to something, then let go then fall?  And they chuckle and they laugh and then they get determined and try again.   Ever seen one give up?  They might get tired and want a break but they head back to learning to walk as soon as they can.  Eventually they start to stand alone, then totter, then they gain confidence and begin to walk, occasionally slipping back to land on their bum.  As they progress it is one step forward, two backwards and sit on their bum laughing.  Then they haul themselves up again and start again.

Not many babies who are learning to walk cry at landing on their bum. They don’t give up.  They don’t sulk.  They don’t make excuses.  They are not afraid.  They do not hurt themselves.  They find joy in what they are doing.  They live in the moment, experiencing life as love.

The spiritual journey is rather similar to learning to walk.  We find a prop.  We hold onto it until we feel able to move on without it.  We make progress, then slip back.  We land on our bum a good few times.  but unlike the innocent babes, we don’t giggle.  We do not accept what is.  We complain, we struggle, we get angry, we want to know why everything is not coming to us easily.  We fight the process of learning to walk instead of delighting in it.  Why do we do this?  Because we have forgotten the joy of being, of creating, of learning that we knew as babes.  Can you remember learning to walk for the first time?  I can’t – but I can’t remember my first attempts to walk the human journey as a spiritual being either.  I can remember some of the things that I had to deal with to learn, I can remember feeling resentful, fighting the circumstances that were there to teach me.  I do remember resisting the learning, the teaching of life experience.  And being stubborn, it took a long time for me to learn to accept life experiences as my teachers and mentors.  For those who found their way to this truth as young people I have much admiration.

The point is that we need to become as (very) little children, toddlers, to learn the lessons of being in a state of loving security and creativity.  We need to be spiritually like the toddler learning to walk physically.  We need to learn to enjoy the experience, to live in the moment and not to fight the experience.

It is not easy.  There really are no short cuts.  Acceptance of what is and living in the moment each moment of each moment of each day is what is required.  It is painful.  It involves loss. It involves letting go of fear and the illusion of control.  But the results are worth whatever you go through on your journey to learn to live in unconditional love with yourself and others.

The invitation to you is therefore to be willing to embark on or continue on this journey; to allow life and all its experiences to be your teacher and mentor.  To learn to live moment by moment, trusting the creative universal cosmic force to provide for you as it does the trees, the lakes, the birds and the animals.

Co-operation or competition?

I look at what my life journey is.  I look at what I want to share with others to help them on their journey.  The insights I have gained, the road I have travelled.  I look on Facebook and see so many people doing the same.  Sharing the same truths, the same insights.  Each with a website, a book or more, workshops, retreats… and I wonder where do I fit in this?  This is true whether I am looking at spiritual awakening and practice or whether I am looking at restorative practice/restorative justice. And my business mind says how can you compete?

The answer of course, is that I cannot compete, nor should I try to.  As I started to think about this, it dawned on me that not everyone is the same.  Not only that, but there are literally thousands and thousands of people who need to understand what we have to share…and no matter how good any one individual is, they are not going to be able to reach everyone on their own.  Add to that that each person has a different experience, a different way of thinking and learning and it becomes clear that a myriad of teachers are needed to pass on the insights.  As one infogram put it on Facebook – as you learn you teach.  It is as inevitable as night follows day that as we learn the truth we are able to share it.  In one sense, we have no choice in this – it just happens.

In practice, what then happens is that the people who need our particular explanation of the truth and how to live it will be drawn to us.  Those of us who are teachers of truth learn from each other, encourage each other and develop ourselves by growing together.  We share ideas, experiences and insights freely, not holding on to anything as “personal property” but giving as we received – freely.

This leads to co-operation, co-creating, community building, changing the world.  Sharing insights, leading others, growing together, evolving together.  We not me mentality.

Do you have something to share?  Have you received an insight that will benefit everyone?  If you have, please share it with others that we may all grow together.

My invitation to you is to share your insight, your journey, your truth today.  You do not need academic qualifications, education or status.  Ordinary people going about their ordinary lives are the ones who receive true understanding, rooted and grounded in be-ing themselves in the midst of a busy life.  It is your truth we need to hear, your story that will touch our hearts, your insights that will help us grow.

Restorative Practice, Personal Contract and Dharma

My life has undergone considerable change in the past two months and in the run up to the New Year I have been reflecting on what changed and why.  There is a generally accepted spiritual law that goes something like – the inner journey creates the outer journey – and I have been on the inner journey for many years.  Yet, all of a sudden, something has changed dramatically.  And it made me wonder why?

It appears to have changed when I signed up to train as a volunteer facilitator for the Darlington Neighbourhood Resolution scheme.  As one of our members put it “it is about restoring people to what they were meant to be”.  I think in a profound way, this realisation was the catalyst to my change… yet it took someone else to articulate it so that I could recognise it.  The “magic moment” in restorative practice/restorative justice meetings is when unconditional love and acceptance manifest in the meeting, often through the expressed vulnerability of a participant.

So if restorative practice is restoring us to what we should be, what is that?  During training in Peace Circles with Evelyn Zellerer, our group came up with a very impressive list of very positive values that, like facets of  diamond, reflect what the restored person should be like and behave.  But the values or virtues listed are just facets of something else – each is a part of the whole and a necessary part to make up the whole, but a part nonetheless.  The diamond itself is unconditional love.  And if a person is to be the diamond to be restored, does this not argue that for each and every one of us our purpose in being here is to learn to embody unconditional love?

There is much written about the way our lives can be made easier if we will only find and live our purpose in life – our Dharma.  But I think there is a general misunderstanding around purpose in life.  Our purpose in life is to become the embodiment of unconditional love – the path we take, our journey, our actions to achieve this – this is our Dharma, our life journey to achieve our purpose.

Some will be aware that I recently posted on Facebook a personal contract as my New Year resolution.  It is a contract between me and me.  So why bother?  Depending on your previous reading and tradition, you may or may not know that there is a theory that there is more than one self.  There is the ego self, the three dimensional socially constructed self.  There is the True Self/ Higher Self/ Source Self that can be accessed via the inward journey.  There is the Cosmic Self of which we, you, I am a part.  So my contract is between the three parts of me, that I will consciously choose the path towards manifesting unconditional love in my being, to be true to my Real/True/Higher/Source Self and live in communion and harmony with my Cosmic Self.

It appears to me that my journey towards this lies in the field of restorative practice.  That in  being a practitioner, a teacher, an enabler, a facilitator I can raise awareness of what we should be, how we can be restored to what we were meant to be.  Working co-operatively, together, supporting each other and challenging behaviours and systems that dis-empower people, isolate people and enslave people.

At this time of new beginnings as we approach the New Year, my invitation to you is to find your Dharma, your life path, and live it to fulfil your purpose in life.