An Agreeable Spiritual Practice

I am watching an Oprah program and Bishop TD Jakes is talking about finding your life purpose and pursuing it. He seems to think that having an aim is the solution to all of life’s problems. While that’s a great pro-active attitude, I’m not certain anything is that simple. However, after watching for almost an hour, I realize I agree with Bishop Jakes almost completely.

         Bishop Jakes is a hugely popular black preacher from a traditional background. As he and Oprah talked, I heard not one word about sin, hell, the devil, or any of the other concepts that drove me away from my first church’s teaching. At least in that conversation, he seemed to be completely about hope and love.

I love that and I hope that his message of love and hope is as consistent as it seemed.  I don’t have enough information to make an absolute judgment but he sure looks like the real deal. Isn’t that wonderful?

Many of the things he said seemed to be right out of a Science of Mind lecture. He talked about releasing the past, being self-directed and following your inner promptings. I am happy to hope that these ideas are replacing the old stories of sin, punishment and so forth.

Despite their fundamentalism, black churches have always had an emphasis on forgiveness, community, redemption and living together despite human frailties. From slave days, they have been social, political, educational and spiritual institutions. While some of those needs have dissipated over the past fifty years, there is still loyalty at work. We continue to more segregated on Sunday at 11 AM than any time of the week.

New Thought thinkers, along with Quakers and Unitarians, have always been an exception to the color barriers. We have always welcomed people of all colors and all religious heritages and they do attend and participate. The Carlsbad church has always been proud to have people of color and several religious backgrounds since its beginning. That is typical.

New Thought has also had strong black leaders who founded churches that were open to anyone but were predominantly black. Dr. Barbara King of Atlanta, Dr. Johnnie Coleman of Chicago, Dr. Daniel L. Morgan of the Guidance Church in Los Angeles were three very prominent New Thought leaders who had large, mostly black churches, at least  since the Sixties.

Dr. Michael Beckwith of West Los Angeles was the first to blast out of that historical mold and attract a truly urban mix of people. His church was always different from his those of his predecessors.

I believe that Dr. Michael is the harbinger of things to come for our denomination. There is a wonderful openness in our churches that is in the teaching itself and it extends to our spiritual communities. Dr. Michael’s celebrity status, now that he has been on Oprah so many times has, no doubt, opened a lot of people up to the joys of positive living based on spiritual truth.

I have always believed that black churches had more in common with New Thought thinking than most of the other fundamentalist groups. We both are very big on living in the present and releasing the past as well as believing in redemption – or the ability to release the past and change for the better. Rev. Vivien Nexon, who is an activist in prison ministries, said in a recent interview… I do have a basic core belief in the process of redemption. I believe that any deity that anybody serves is a forgiving and graceful being.

 There is resonance here. I hope Bishop Jakes and Rev. Nixon are  the harbingers of things to come in the traditional churches. I hope they are all moving away from stories of sin and eternal punishment into inner-directed questions such as, What do I believe? Who am I? What do I want? What is my purpose?

As we celebrate our religious and social diversity in this nation, we need to remember that we are more alike than we are different. All you have to do is live somewhere outside the US or Canada for a while and you will see that you have more in common with your compatriots, despite their ethnic or religious background, than you do with people from other places.

Shared values of optimism, belief in possibility, an ingrained sense of self-reliance and self-trust are a strong part of our heritage. When we talk about the individual’s right and ability to change, there is nowhere in the world that people believe in that concept the way they do right here at home.

Ask any North American if he thinks people can change and the answer will be yes. Sometimes it will be a qualified yes but basically, we believe that an individual has the ability and right to move from one social class to another, the right to scale economic ladders and the right to determine his own destiny.

We find many truths – such a woman’s right to drive a car or a child’s right to food and shelter or an adult’s right to choose his own church (or not) to be self-evident. We were founded on the idea of individual freedom and self-reliance and we really do believe in it.

I am always hearing how much more religious we are than our European counterpoints. That’s true and it looks to me as though we are releasing a lot of dogma. I don’t hear much of the old nonsensical notions about good and evil. I get many fewer questions about how to talk with people’s born-again relatives.

I hope the literal interpretation of the Bible is less prevalent.  Despite the peculiar notions we see expressed on TV about same sex marriage and corporal punishment in the schools I believe the general population is saner than it was 20 years ago. Talk about evolution being a myth appears to be quieting down.  So does the idea that the devil might win the war of good and evil. Are things saner? What do you think?

I think they are, although we have a long way to go on a woman’s right to choose and same sex marriage equality. But even on these hot button issues, most people don’t seem so certain the other guy’s ideas will send him to hell. A lot of us do not even believe in hell (except the one we create for ourselves here on Planet Earth).

What we do seem to believe in is creating a good life for ourselves and helping others. Is that a religious belief? I think so. Is that a belief that you, I, Bishop Jakes, Dr. Beckwith and the President of the United States can agree to believe in? Certainly.

Perhaps we are on our way to a national religion and perhaps it has many names but will surely contain a healthy dose of positive, spiritual living.

Ask yourself

What do you believe?

Who are you?

What do you want?

What is your purpose?


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