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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Are We A Church?

In my post last week, I wrote about our use of the word ‘God’ and how our understanding of ‘God’ may continue to evolve. Each of us is at his or her own perfect unfolding in our relationship to the word and to the power that the word represents. Whether we choose to use the word ‘God’ or replace it with another, such as ‘Divine Life,’ ‘Universe,’ ‘Source’ or any other word, the essence of the One Presence and One Power expressed by the word does not change; only our experience of it does. 

This week, I am considering our use of the word ‘church.’ We have been in conversation recently about our participation in the Unity Identity Program, a “branding” initiative implemented several years ago by Unity Worldwide Ministries (UWM) for the purpose of establishing a common logo for all Unity ministries. The intent is to promote name and image recognition for the Unity movement, in much the same way that the cross with the red flame identifies a Methodist church.

The research conducted by UWM prior to launching the initiative focused on the segment of the population referred to as “cultural creatives,” a term coined by sociologist Paul H. Ray and psychologist Sherry Ruth Anderson to describe over 50 million Americans who are the “more educated, lead-edge thinkers.” Ray and Anderson, in their book, Cultural Creatives – How 50 Million People are Changing the World, characterize them as people who combine serious focus on their spirituality with a passion for social justice.

UWM’s research revealed that those in this segment of the population often have negative associations with the word ‘church,’ and as a result tend to avoid them. The connotations with ‘church’ most often result from less than favorable experiences with one or more traditional Christian churches. Because of the research findings, and a belief that “cultural creatives” should be a target audience for Unity, UWM has suggested that their member ministries omit the word ‘church’ from their names when choosing to participate in the Unity Identity Program.

I relate to the input from those surveyed, as I, too, had experiences in church that stimulated feelings of shame and guilt. The traditional Christian churches of my past did not engender feelings of love, peace and compassion within me. For many years, I did not attend church because I wanted nothing to do with that kind of church. My reluctance to make myself vulnerable and risk the pain of rejection that I previously experienced kept me away.

For the first thirty-four years of my life, I was unaware that a church existed that teaches love, acceptance and inclusion for all. I did not know that until I started looking for a new way to understand God. It was then that I became willing to give church another chance. Yet, even then, I was wary of going to a church because I did not want to hear the same old Christian dogma of hellfire and damnation.

Still, I knew I needed a spiritual awakening. Because a friend had told me that Unity was different, I gathered my courage and attended a service. I was a little concerned when I walked into the sanctuary and saw a large cross hanging above the platform. Part of me wanted to run, but I stayed to hear the message.

What I found at Unity was the God of Love I always wanted to believe in, but did know truly existed. I found exactly what I was seeking. I found hope and renewed faith. At Unity, I met the God of my being and I began my spiritual recovery and healing. I know that many others have had similar experiences in Unity.

While the Unity movement may want to attract the “cultural creatives” and may believe that they are the future of our movement, I am sure that they are not the only ones who are seeking a new way of relating to ‘God’ and ‘church.’ I believe that those who are hurting, those who are in need, those who are seeking relief from the pain of separation and the suffering caused by a belief in a God of judgement and retribution are also seeking something different. They are seeking the spiritual awakening and personal transformation that Unity teaches.

Those who are seeking Unity are not seeking the “church” of their past. They are seeking a new experience of spiritual community; a new relationship with God; a place of love, acceptance, compassion and healing. They are seeking a community that will embrace them right where they are. They are seeking people who will love them through their pain. They are seeking a place that will help them realize the power of God within them. They are seeking a place to belong.

Those of us who already enjoy these experiences know the power of learning and living the Unity principles. We have been transformed in many ways. I trust that each of us wants the same for all of our brothers and sisters. We all want to contribute to the global spiritual awakening and personal transformation, even if it is one person at a time.

Are we a church? We are a church in the sense that we are group of people with shared beliefs who come together to learn and grow in our understanding of God and our relationship to God. We have a Sunday service. We have adult and youth education programs. We hold weddings, funerals and other sacred ceremonies. We operate much the same as any other religious institution.

Yet, we are not a ‘church’ if one thinks of a church as a place where he will hear traditional Christian rhetoric. We do not espouse belief in a God who judges and condemns. We do not preach salvation through the blood sacrifice of Jesus. We do not teach a doctrine of heaven as a reward or hell as punishment in the afterlife. We do not embrace a belief in “original sin.”

We are different, and we want others to know it. We want to make ourselves open and accessible to anyone who is seeking a positive, practical approach to Christianity, one that is not generally associated with the word ‘church.’ That is why we have prayerfully and thoughtfully considered participating in the Unity Identity Program and adopting a new name omitting the word ‘church.’

If the word ‘church’ stops one person who is seeking a new relationship with God from exploring the God of Love in which we believe, is it really important to call ourselves a ‘church’? If calling ourselves a “church” impedes even one person from stepping foot inside our doors to experience the unconditional love to which we aspire, we must not say we are a ‘church.’

I realize that many of us have positive associations with the word ‘church.’ Any negative connotations we may have had with the word have already been healed. We have evolved in our understanding of what church is. We even embrace the word ‘church’ much the same as we freely use the word ‘God.’ We understand that Unity’s way of interpreting the Bible is not the same as many other traditions. We grasp the metaphysical meaning of the cross. We know that the master teacher Jesus was teaching Love, not judgment. Those of us who know these truths are here to welcome and embrace those who have yet to discover them. From our current perspective, we are here to serve them.

We are the ones who are here to hold in our hearts and minds those who are just now beginning their search for a place where they are encouraged to explore and share their personal beliefs, needs and concerns; where they can discover their Christ nature and realize the power of God within them; and where they are inspired to awaken to unity in God and oneness with all life. We are here to be that place. We are here to be a sanctuary in a world that is suffering.

Eliminating the word ‘church’ from our name does not require us to change anything we do, alter our teaching in any way, or do anything differently. We will continue to be Unity in every sense of the word.

From my current perspective it does not matter if we call ourselves a church. Just as the essence of the One Power and One Presence does not change according to the name we use for it, the essence of who and what we are as a community is not dependent upon a name. However, it may matter to those who have yet to find us. And, that does matter to me.

My prayer is that we are willing to move beyond our comfort zones, open ourselves up and lovingly welcome all who are ready to receive what we have to give as we move forward honoring the traditions of the past, embracing the present and co-creating an exciting future with a new name, a powerful vision for our world and an inspiring mission.

Join us on Sunday for our 10:00 service as explore further who we are as a spiritual community.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

God Is.

When we were discussing Unity beliefs in our New Members class this past Saturday, we read the following definition of ‘God’ which is included in our information packet.

God is the source of all.  There is no other enduring power.  God is benevolent and present everywhere.

One of our very astute potential new members pointed out that for us to say “God is benevolent” implies duality. She suggested that when we say that God is benevolent, we are assigning God qualities that we associate as “good” compared to those we might deem “bad.” Her point was that God is neither good nor bad, nor is God benevolent or malevolent: God is.

In a conversation earlier this week, I was asked how I define ‘God.’ I don’t recall the exact words I used, but I did my best to explain that I think of ‘God’ as the Divine Life that is the Source of all or the Life Energy that imbues all creation. In hindsight, I recognize that my effort to define ‘God’ was, at best, limited and futile. Anytime we attempt to define ‘God’ we limit our experience of ‘God.’ God is not this or that: God is.

Any attempt to define the ineffable is by definition impossible. However, while saying simply “God is” best captures the essence of my concept of ‘God,’ I think it is helpful, and perhaps necessary, for us to explore what we believe and teach about ‘God’ because it helps us as we communicate with others.

Each of us defines ‘God’ in our own way, and our concept of ‘God’ greatly impacts every area of our lives, at times enriching it, and at other times confounding it.  To some, ‘God’ as a concept can provide comfort and peace of mind in times of need.  To others, ‘God’ can also create much suffering.  ‘God’ can stimulate a great deal of pain and guilt for one who has learned that God judges and punishes. 

Over the past few years I have participated in discussions about ‘God’ and the use of the word ‘God’ in Unity. I have heard, “I do not believe in God: I am an atheist.”  Others have said, “I am agnostic: I do not believe that any person can know the cause of reality without firsthand experience; therefore, there is no way to know if ‘God’ exists.”  Still others question, “If we are not talking about the big guy up in heaven somewhere that is controlling everything, the God of most Christians’ understanding, and we have a more evolved understanding of what it is, why do we still use the word ‘God’: Why not use ‘Life’ or some other word?” 

While it is just a word and as with all words, is used to represent a concept, the word ‘God’ is imbued with centuries of meaning, not all of it in alignment with what we teach in Unity.  When one, such as I, has been indoctrinated in a religion that uses ‘God’ to judge, punish and abuse, he or she often has a mental and emotional imprinting of the word that is not conducive to feeling centered or inspired when hearing ‘God’ spoken in the spiritual community. 

There was a time in the not so distant past when I chose not to use the word ‘God’ and was often disturbed when I heard others use it, especially those in Unity or other New Thought communities.   And, while I now use the word freely, I completely understand that it can be disconcerting and even confounding for some.  I am sure it can be for them much like it is for me when I attend a traditional Christian church service; I find myself reinterpreting nearly everything that the minister says, as well as all the hymn lyrics.  It can be tiring and trying.
When I use the word ‘God’ today I am certainly not referring to the God of my childhood, a man with a white beard and white robes sitting up in heaven somewhere judging me and everyone else and most likely damning me to eternity in hell because I do not measure up to his criteria for admittance to heaven. 

When I say ‘God’ I am not referring to a being or beings.  I am, instead, to the best of my ability giving voice to that which is ineffable. I believe H. Emilie Cady said it best in her book, Lessons in Truth.

God is the name we give to that unchangeable, inexorable principle at the source of all existence. To the individual consciousness God takes on personality, but as the creative underlying cause of all things, [God] is principle, impersonal; as expressed in each individual, [God] becomes personal to that one--a personal, loving, all-forgiving Father-Mother. All that we can ever need or desire is the infinite Father-Principle, the great reservoir of unexpressed good.”

God is.  God is “no thing,” yet is All.  God is the Essence of all that is real.  As Unity co-founder, Charles Fillmore stated, “God is the eternal verity of the universe and humankind.”

I invite us, as Rev. Ellen Debenport encourages in The Five Principles, to “reexamine our view of God at least once per decade.” God does not change; God is and was and every more shall be the same. However, we change and so do our perspectives. Rather than dismissing the concept of ‘God’ altogether or putting 'God' in a box, perhaps we can allow our concept of ‘God’ to evolve and open us to an even greater experience.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Mission Possible

The Unity movement was founded by Charles and Myrtle Fillmore in the late nineteenth century. The actual year is dependent upon the marker one uses to signify the formal beginning of the movement. It is generally agreed that Unity was founded between 1889, when Charles committed himself full-time to publishing the periodical, Modern Thought, and 1892 when Charles and Myrtle penned their Dedication and Covenant pledging themselves to the work of what was then the Society of Silent Unity. They never intended to start a church and discouraged others from doing so. They even held their meetings on Sunday afternoon, so that those who wanted to participate could first attend their respective church services in the morning. However, as study groups formed and serious Truth students emerged, many of them wanted more organized gatherings and began to form centers of study in the early 1900’s.

The Fillmores eventually accepted this as a natural evolution of the movement, and began supporting the development of these study groups and “Truth Centers” that were springing up in many areas. It is reported however, that by 1910 Charles felt exasperated because many of the centers were not remaining true to the Unity teachings. In an effort to help provide some guidance for these centers, Charles wrote and published a booklet entitled Methods and Ideals for Conducting Centers and Study Groups.

The following is an excerpt from that publication,

The Center’s Mission

The commands of Jesus Christ, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel,” “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons,” should be the ideals governing every center and study class throughout the world. To carry on a ministry of this kind, every worker should have a thorough realization of Truth. The individual who conducts the work should ever strive for a greater realization of the knowledge and the power of God working in and through him. Unless he has clear realization of this fact it will not be easy for him to impart it to another. Furthermore, to operate a center successfully according to the Unity ideals, one should have a sincere desire to serve. The highest service is to help another to obtain a clearer realization that the working power of God is in every person.

I find it fascinating that our cofounder, Charles Fillmore, clearly stated in 1924 what he believed to be the mission of Unity centers and churches. Paraphrasing the last sentence above, he stated that our mission as Unity is to help people realize the power of God within them. This tracks beautifully with the current Unity Worldwide Ministries mission statement, which is,

Advancing the movement of spiritual awakening and transformation through Unity, a positive path for spiritual living.

I am pleased that we have not strayed from Mr. Fillmore’s original intent. Our mission is clear. We are still focused on helping people awaken to and transform their lives through spiritual awakening.

In his book, The Emerging Church, minister and author Rev. Bruce Sanguin, says,
“A mission statement describes the purpose of the congregation…it is a broad statement of purpose, a public declaration of why we exist as a congregation in the first place. If followed, it will inspire us to create a new life and co-create a new world – one that is aligned with God’s intentions for life on this planet…It will be succinct, memorable, positively stated and comprehensive.”
A mission statement is intended to help us clarify who we are and what we are about. It also assist us with defining the focus of our classes, programs and services. Our objective is for all that we do to help us fulfill our stated mission.

I have some hesitancy to share this, but I am not pleased with the mission statement that we created last fall. It is -

We inspire spiritual growth in a safe and loving environment, accepting all, serving others and awakening Oneness.

It is not succinct or memorable, in my estimation. Further, only the first phrase defines why we exist. The rest of it outlines how we intend to fulfill our mission. Because of my dissatisfaction with our mission statement, I have consulted with Rev. Toni Boehm, our South Central Region Ministry Consultant, and Ministry Skills Coordinator at Unity Worldwide Ministries for her feedback. I have also talked with Mendhi Audlin who is currently facilitating a ministry training to support churches in implementing mission-based ministry. Both Toni and Mendhi suggested that our mission statement have only one verb and only speak to what we intend to do, rather than how we will do it.

I have discussed this with our Council, and have recommended that we amend our mission statement. It is my recommendation to you, the members of Unity Church of Denver, and to our Council that we amend our mission statement so that it more closely aligns with Unity Worldwide Ministries’ mission. Also, that we make it more succinct so that it is easier for all of us to remember. I suggest that we adopt the following mission statement –

We inspire spiritual awakening and personal transformation.

I hope you will agree with me that this statement clearly defines why we are here and what we are about. Further, I certainly do not want to discount the work of those who came together to draft our current mission statement. It is important to me that we honor the intentions that were presented during that weekend. Therefore, I have created the follow purpose statement inclusive of those values. I realize that there are many perspectives on the differences between vision, mission and purpose statements, but for our purposes, a purpose statement is a way of stating how we propose to embody our mission statement.

We fulfill our mission by creating and sustaining an environment in which individuals are encouraged to explore and share their personal beliefs, needs and concerns; where we consciously choose to behold the Christ nature in all; and where we actively serve our members, guests, and the greater local and global communities through services, classes, workshops and programs that meet their physical, emotional and spiritual needs and that inspire awakening to unity in God and oneness with all life.

You will be hearing a great deal more about our mission-focused ministry in the coming months. We will also be concentrating on our Core Values - Integrity, Inspiring, Inclusive, Love and Oneness - and exploring together how embracing and living from our values helps us realize our mission. Earlier this year, a team of volunteers worked to further define and discern rationales for our values and outlined action steps that we, as an organization and as individuals may take to express them. These steps are suggested ways that we can more fully live in alignment with who we say we are as a spiritual community. This information has not previously been disseminated to our community. You may click here to view or download and print that document. I will be including more about them in my upcoming Sunday messages, as well. 

Your Council and I are currently working with the information gathered at our May 17 town hall meeting to establish clearly defined intentions and create an action plan that will help us to achieve them, all in support of fulfilling our mission. The input you provided and your support are essential to our success.

The staff and I have chosen Mission Possible as the theme for our 2015-2016 curriculum year. We believe, and we trust that you join us in knowing, that it is fully possible for us to live our mission as we strive to implement our action plan and commit to our purpose.

I am excited by the direction we are moving and by the energy that is building within our community. Embracing a mission-based ministry model will provide us with a guiding light we need to illumine our path as we grow. I look forward to seeing what unfolds as we come together to create a thriving spiritual community that works to co-create a world that works for all.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to join us on Sunday at 10:00 as we discover together our Mission Possible and how we can live it.

Please provide feedback in the “Comments” section below. I deeply care about what you have to share. You may also choose to send me a private message at   

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Self-Love In Action

In my post last week and in my lesson last Sunday, I spoke about the importance of loving ourselves. I am continuing to realize at a deeper level that it is impossible to truly extend love to another if we do not first love ourselves. Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). This commandment can be interpreted many ways. The most common understandings are that Jesus was instructing us to love each other in the same way that we love ourselves, or to love others as though they are us. Either requires us to look closely at how we are loving ourselves.

I am often frustrated when I hear admonitions such as “let it go,” “forgive” or “love yourself” taught as though we should be able to, as the Nike® slogan says, “Just Do It.” I have found that it is usually not that simple and that most of us require some guidance. While Jesus commands that we love ourselves, he offers little or no instruction on how we are to do that.

We can set the highest intention to love. We can fix our minds and hearts toward love. We can pray and meditate to align ourselves with God Mind from which all knowing, ultimate forgiveness and unconditional love emanate. All of those steps are valuable and necessary; however, we must not stop there.

In order to truly love ourselves, we must transform what for many of us have become habitual ways of thinking about, speaking to and treating ourselves. Yes, we must first align ourselves with Love through prayer, meditation and intention. Then, we must bring our newly awakened awareness of love into manifestation through our thoughts, words and actions.

As I looked for instruction on how to achieve self-love, I was reminded of the words of St. Paul from his letter to the church at Corinth. The passage from I Corinthians 13 is often used in wedding ceremonies as a lesson for the bride and groom on how to express love to each other. Paul intended it to be a teaching to the newly formed community of believers on how to practice love with each other. As I explored it further, however, I found that it also contains powerful lessons on self-love.

Paul says, –
Love is patient; love is kind;
love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.
It does not insist on its own way;
it is not irritable or resentful;
It does not insist on its own way;
it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things 
-       I Corinthians 13: 4-7 (NRSV)
What follows is my restatement of Paul’s teaching as it applies to a practice of self-love. 
I offer suggestions for practical application in order to assist us in adopting new ways of thinking about, speaking about and treating ourselves. My hope is that they will be helpful as we move forward together in a renewed commitment to loving ourselves.

Love is patient and kind.
Imagine that you are the most caring, kind and nurturing parent ever and that you are watching your child learn to walk. When he falls down, you comfort him and help him get up. You do not shame him for not knowing how to walk. You speak kindly and encouragingly to her. You don’t tell her that she is stupid and lazy and should be walking by now. How do you treat yourself in your ever-unfolding learning process?

We are all children of God who are growing and learning. We are exactly where we need to be in our own evolution. Are we willing to be as patient and kind with ourselves as we would be with a precious child who is learning to walk? When we fall down, how do we speak to ourselves? When we are hurt and crying what do we say to ourselves?

Make a list of things you would have loved for your parent to say to you. If you are a parent, make a list of the loving things you would say to your child who is growing and learning. Say them to yourself. Put them on post-it notes and put them on your mirror or in your car to remind you to be patient and kind to yourself.

Love honors and appreciates all aspects of self without comparing to others.
Each of us has unique gifts and talents. The Scripture from I Corinthians 13 above follows Paul’s discourse, found in chapter 12, on how each person has his own gifts to give and share with the community. He states that none is greater than another. Just as each member of the physical body is an integral part of the whole, so is each person in the “body of Christ.”

Make a list of your gifts and talents and honor them. If you find it challenging to make a list of your gifts, ask others in your life to help you. You do not do this in order to determine if your talents are better than someone else’s. It is not about comparing. Rather, it is about celebrating the gifts and talents you have to share with the world.

Love focuses on who I am and what I have, rather than judging what I think I am not, or what I don’t have.
Make a list of the qualities you appreciate about yourself. If you have a difficult time making the list, think of people you admire and delineate the qualities you admire in them. It is a good possibility that, as they say in 12-Steps, “If you spot it, you got it.” In other words, if you can see it in others, it is because you see it in yourself, even if you have not yet fully embraced and embodied it. Look at the list, take it in. Perhaps there are qualities that you want to focus on more. If so, circle them. Ask yourself, “How can I more fully express this quality?” Do what you are inspired to do as you listen for and hear the answer.

Love respects what is true for me, but does not have to prove itself right in the eyes of others.
What you value is important to you. How you live that value is your choice. Respect that for yourself. Stand strong in it, with centered confidence (some might call it “humility”). But, do not insist that others live the values in the same way. Everyone is at choice. Make a list of your core values, celebrate them, and write down some actions you can take to live those values in ways that are meaningful to you. Live them through your thoughts, words, and actions.

Love is generous with time, attention, care and nurture.
Give yourself the care you need. Take time for yourself. Do what makes you feel good. Give yourself a gift, take a bubble bath, or go to a movie. Make a list of the things you can do to nurture yourself. Commit to do at least one of them a week, preferably one a day. If you have a spouse, partner or significant other, make a list of the things he or she can do to nurture and support you. Ask for what you need and want. The act of asking for what you need is a big step toward self-love and acceptance.

Love concentrates on achievements, successes and contributions, not on perceived mistakes, regrets or failures.
Do not spend time and energy focusing on your perceived shortcomings or failures. Take some time to look back over your life and note how far you have come on your journey. Make a timeline and mark the major events of your life. Consider what each of them has taught you. What have you learned along your evolutionary path? Congratulate yourself for all you have accomplished. We all do and say things that we later wish we hadn’t. If you need to make amends, do it, and move on. Think of all the lives you have touched. You probably don’t even know how many people you have affected in positive ways. Make a list of all the ways you have contributed to others. If you find that a difficult task, ask your friends and family to help you. Ask them to share with you how you have made a difference in their lives. Celebrate it!

Love looks for the good, expects the best, believes in the possibilities, and perseveres in challenging times.
Look for the Good, with a capital ‘G’. Look for the God in yourself. Look, choose to see it, and you will find it. Ask, and it is given without reservation. Knock and the door to your awareness is opened. It is through the power of our intention that we align our hearts and minds with what we choose to know. Hold the intention for knowing yourself as the Divine - Perfect Life in expression and choose to see nothing less.

To expect the best means to exercise the power of faith, which is our capacity to see the Good through whatever is currently manifesting. Faith enables us to know a deeper truth and hold the vision for demonstrating our Truth. Exercise your power of faith to connect with a dream or vision, even if you can’t see it yet in the physical. Use the power of imagination to see it complete in the spiritual realm. Make a list of action steps you can take to bring it into manifestation. Take action.

Believe that in the consciousness of God, all Good, that all things are possible. Rely on the “Power Within” as Unity minister and author Eric Butterworth called it. With the awareness of God expressing as you, all things are possible. You have all you need within you. Go back to the lists you have made and see your true self.

Love puts into action the steps outlined above and perseveres during the challenging times. We all get off track from time to time. We all lose our footing and fall down. We all get confused and frustrated at times. Use your “Lifelines.” Call a friend or a prayer chaplain. Read something uplifting and inspirational. Do something to nurture yourself even when you think you don’t deserve it. Add to your gratitude list or just read it. Do something for others.

It is well and good to generate a feeling of love in your heart and immerse yourself in it, but it is not enough. Loving yourself requires action. I encourage each of us to do something each day that expresses self-love. As our capacity and willingness to love ourselves increases, so does our ability and readiness to love others.

Please join us at 10:00 on Sunday for our service. I will continue the focus on self-love and compassion with a lesson on self-forgiveness.