What Would Jeremiah Do?

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Featured today on BeliefNet is “Jeremiah: The Fate of a Prophet”, an excerpt from a book by Rabbi Dr. Binyamin Lau. Writing about Jeremiah, Lau says:

The words of the prophets have been preserved for us, their distant descendants, so that we may learn what is right in the eyes of God and man. But in their own days, in real time, there is hardly a prophet who has redressed the social, religious, or political wrongs of Israel; the prophets barked, but the caravan kept moving. Moreover, when a prophet dared to deviate from his usual message of morality and challenged the existing order, he was declared an enemy of the people. Thus, the prophet Amos was banished by the priest of Bethel, Amaziah, in the name of King Jeroboam: “Get thee out, seer!” (Amos 7:12).

Rabbi Lau encourages public critics today to see themselves not merely as commentators but as prophetic voices, even if it means paying a personal price for the vision. Jeremiah was one prophet who did, one about whom it could not be said that he told the people what they wanted to hear.

I’m not comparing myself to Jeremiah, but it is no revelation to my readers that I have been guided by angels and have taken the name (at least in spiritual matters not yet as a day-to-day appellation) Kalen O’Tolán, One Who is Buddha, Boson, and Book. I am a self-declared and Self-declared Prophet of God. And I have suffered the indignity of a few strange eye rolls from onlookers who heard me say that in person! Because that is just the sort of thing people today don’t want to hear and don’t expect to hear, not even from an Integral world spirituality blogger. Trust me the strange eye rolls weren’t all that bad.

We live a strange world. It is scandalous for a religion blogger to proclaim He is a Prophet of God, for surely that is a sign of insanity or at least mental instability. But in the world which I inhabit (I just call it reality), it is scandalous for a religion blogger to NOT be a prophet of the Sacred speaking out loud. What sort of insanity would it be to set one’s self on a soap box called a blog, write about the word of God, and yet to believe that one is NOT one’s self the Self speaking through the divine instrument?


Photo Credit: whatdomormonsbelieve.com

The stunning rise of “I’m BOTH spiritual AND religious” in America

Church at Sunset
Photo Credit: cmiper

A fascinating analysis of data on American religiosity today shows the rise of a new ethos in the United States: a stunning 48 percent of Americans now describe themselves as BOTH spiritual AND religious, with another 30 percent preferring the “spiritual, BUT NOT religious” formula.

Now here’s the stunner: only 13 years ago, a majority of 54% of Americans described themselves as religious BUT NOT spiritual. If these surveys are correct, we are witnessing a hidden sea change whereby Americans have now largely accepted a divide between the religious and the spiritual, and the spiritual is winning in spades.

Author Diana Butler Bass sees the day coming when religion in the U.S. will virtually come to an end. In the Huffington Post today, she writes:

In a 2008 survey, Pew research found that one in 10 Americans now considers themselves an ex-Catholic. The situation is so dire that the church launched a PR campaign inviting Catholics to “come home,” to woo back disgruntled members. There was a slight uptick in Catholic membership last year, mostly due to immigrant Catholics. There is no data indicating that Catholics are returning en masse and much anecdotal evidence suggesting that leaving-taking continues. Catholic leaders worry that once the new immigrants become fully part of American society they might leave, too.

She does not talk about the developing world, however, where there are few signs of secularization. After describing the American decline of Protestant denominations as well as Catholic, she continues:

The religious market collapse has happened with astonishing speed. In 1999, when survey takers asked Americans “Do you consider yourself spiritual or religious,” a solid majority of 54 percent responded that they were “religious but not spiritual.” By 2009, only 9 percent of Americans responded that way. In 10 years, those willing to identify themselves primarily as “religious” plummeted by 45 percentage points.

In the last decade, the word “religion” has become equated with institutional or organized religion. Because of crises such as the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the Roman Catholic abuse scandal, Americans now define “religion” in almost exclusively negative terms. These larger events, especially when combined with increasing irrelevance of too much of organized religion, contributed to an overall decline in church membership, and an overall decline of the numbers of Christians, in the United States.

Continue reading “The stunning rise of “I’m BOTH spiritual AND religious” in America”

The four quadrants of your career

A career is a peculiar combination of something that you do and something that you are. And questions about what you are, how to live, the purpose of life, and how you derive meaning are inherently spiritual or religious.

The connection between career and spirituality is deep, and that’s why my own work as a career coach is influenced by Ken Wilber, one of today’s most widely read thinkers about spirituality (a man once called “the most important philosopher you’ve never heard of” by Salon.com). Wilber calls his approach to life “integral,” and so do I.

An integral perspective on careers includes four different perspectives: individual subjective, individual objective, intersubjective, and interobjective (corresponding basically to psychological, biological, cultural, and sociological perspectives). Consider this illustration (from IntegralLife.com):

So when you think about your own career growth, there are essentially four different sorts of questions that you can ask, which are all variations on these themes: How do I think and feel about my career? How do I act in my career? What does our culture believe about careers? And how does our society structure the framework within which careers exist?

No consideration of a career is complete without looking at all these three angles. Accordingly, SeattleJobCoach.com will incorporate perspectives from all these domains, and we hope the result will be a more comprehensive view than you will find on other career sites (which tend to limit themselves only to the individual side of things).

At the sweat lodge

I’m carpooling with a friend to a New Year’s Eve sweat lodge in Olympia, Washington. I’ll call my friend Mark (not his real name).

As we approach our destination, I turn to the driver and say, “So, Mark, how’s your relationship with Jesus Christ?”

It was a total non sequitur. Not only did my question not flow from anything previously spoken in our conversation, it was unlike anything we’d ever discussed before. Mark and I know each other very well and have often spoken about religious and spiritual matters. He’s read an early draft of my book. But I had no idea how he would respond to a question about his relationship with Jesus Christ. So I asked. There was nothing to lose.

After a brief moment of contemplation, he said, “It’s good. It’s a good relationship.” And then he told me a story I’d never heard about his dedicating himself to Christ over twenty five years ago. (The story ended with Mark’s evangelical friends holding a ceremony to exorcise the demons responsible for his homosexual feelings. One finally declared, “There is no evil here,” and angrily left the room. Mark came to the same conclusion. “My relationship with Christ is strong, but I can’t say the same for my relationship those who call themselves his followers…”)

Mark and I arrived at our destination. The forecasts called for a ninety percent chance of rain. The skies were gray and the tree branches were moist, but there was no rain. Our umbrellas and tarps were underused.

Mark and I never did pick up the conversation about our relationships with Jesus Christ. Had we, I would have explained that I don’t have an “imaginary little friend” who I call Jesus to guide me through life’s challenges. However, I do have a very real perception of the world as the dynamic force and being and mind of Spirit or Absolute Reality by any other name–alive, personable, generous, mysterious, powerful, sometimes terrible, and often humorous. As my awareness expands to see the world the way it truly is, I become aware of “eruptions” or “emergences” of Spirit in the world, a greater unfolding of harmony over strife, beauty over pain, joy over despair.

Those emergences of Spirit often present themselves to me as the doings of a living, changing God… the aliveness of Jesus Christ, resurrected, glorified, and still present among the poor, the despised, the downtrodden, the stigmatized… a reality that includes the present aliveness of Jesus and John the Beloved together as role models for men loving men, calling my fellow homosexuals and bisexuals and whateversexuals to lives of greater wholeness, dignity, and bliss. That’s the Christ that is alive in my life, more real than ever, even as my childhood days of speaking to an imaginary friend named Jesus have long since faded.

In the sweat lodge, there are nearly thirty men and women. At the center is a pit containing nearly one “grandfather” for each of us, piled in a mound. The water pourer, a Cree trained in the Lakota lodge traditions, adds water to the heated rocks. The doors are closed. The darkness is absolute. The hot steam begins to fill the lodge. Everything is hot except the cold mud beneath our flesh and the naked soles of our feet.

The water pourer guides us on a spiritual journey… a journey of letting go of our impurities, our baggage, our needs for control, our self-importance… just as often, he guides us in song, sometimes in English and others in Lakota or a mixture of the two.

The earth, the fire, the wind, the water
Return, return, return, return
The earth, the fire, the wind, the water
Return, return, return, return…

The lodge brings me to a powerful altered state of consciousness. In the utter blackness, there is no difference between what I see when my eyes are open and when they are closed. The heat is oppressive and before long the feelings of panic and terror arise. “I have to get out of here, or I will die…” My body is turning into water. I am losing my mind… I am dissolving. And then calmness. And then the reassuring voice of the water pourer: “Soon the door will open…” (It was a lie.) I calmed down, and listened to another spirit journey story, and marvelled that despite my fears I had not exploded or gone insane or stopped breathing. The air in my lungs did not turn to water.

And in the moments of serenity, there was a bliss I seldom touch in ordinary life. The bliss that arises by ceasing to identify with the self while at the same time never disassociating from the body. How else can you describe such as thing except as spiritual, or (to be more precise) a reunion of the gross, subtle, and causal bodies? As I warmed myself on the fire, toweled off the sweat and mud, and debated whether to re-enter the lodge for another round, I knew that I’d gotten what I came here for.

This is what integral awareness is all about. On New Year’s Eve, a ritual of purification. Out of steam, STEAM. Out of the cessation of all sight, insight. Rising up, touching what’s real, leaving behind that which can be left behind, a joyous reunion of body and soul, and bringing with us… muddy feet, breathless chest, sweat dropping from every pore… that without which we are not complete.