Stand for the Highest
NOTE FROM THE ASSOCIATION FOR GLOBAL NEW THOUGHT:
Rev. Dr. Edward Viljoen is spiritual leader of the Centers for Spiritual Living and a member of the AGNT Leadership Council. This edited version of his recent talk at the CSL Convention in January speaks to our entire New Thought community, and dares to set a higher bar for our individual and collective evolution.
THIS YEAR marks the 10th anniversary of the Centers for Spiritual Living becoming the organization we are today: one integrated family of spiritual seekers. The seeds for our current reality were planted back then. That is the way of things. Things are always created first in mind, in consciousness, before they arrive in form. Today, we are experiencing the results of a creative impulse that was set in motion back then.
I wonder if the delegates and the attendees at the conference back then in New Orleans knew how much we would benefit from being one united family for these times? And then I wonder what the beloved community of Science of Mind in 10 years will need to feed upon that we must confidently plant now on their behalf.
I've been reading about the complicated impact of social media on teens these days and how they are being exposed to an unrealistic view of other people's lives and feeling like they must live up to that. Is pretending that there is no mess in my life one of the downsides of being obsessed with positivity? And is that the Science of Mind message that the community of 10 years of the future will want?
I don't want that for myself, and I don't want it for our movement. I want to know that we can be present for each other in our moments of chaos, distress, and disappointment and be with the raw, complex emotions that go along with being human. I want to plant that seed so that ten years from now, or even right now, young and older alike, will not have to hide when we are feeling sad, disappointed, frightened, angry, confused, or mystified.
When I was younger, and I first found Science of Mind, I developed a fear of negative thinking. So I avoided or hid anything disturbing or conflictual because I thought it said something about my wholeness as a spiritual being. I'm so sorry that I went that way. I wish I had read these words of the activist and child advocate L.R. Knost, who wrote these words:
"Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world. All things break. And all things can be mended. Not with time, as they say, but with intention. So go. Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally. The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you."
Is that not a clarion call for our teaching? To Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally. Oh, let us plant those seeds now because I think the beloved community of 10 years will benefit from the fruits of those seeds. I do.
We've had so much loss in this past year. Over 5 million people dead from the pandemic. And Bishop John Shelby Spong died in September last year. Also, Archbishop Desmond Tutu died on the day after Christmas. Two giants of spiritual heroism. Each with their clarion call to spiritual people like us to stay relevant, engaged, and real, to stand in the glorious mess that is humanity and face it all and not hide from it or avoid it, and to love intentionally extravagantly, and unconditionally. They were not afraid to stand in the darkness and shine their light.
Bishop Spong spoke at our Asilomar Summer Conference one year; he said something about how Christianity, for it to remain viable and survive, had to examine, and rethink its teachings. I remember applauding his boldness, thinking, should the same not be true for our Centers for Spiritual Living? Should we not rigorously examine our teaching in light of what is known today so that we can stay relevant. I'm certain doctor Ernest Holmes would want that.
And it's happening anyway.
Whether we want it or not. The difficult questions are asking themselves without permission. Because as we learn about privilege and bias, and classism the world over, these questions cannot be held back. It doesn't matter if we want to hear them or not.
A colleague of ours, a Science of Mind colleague, talking about himself, asked me, "is it only my consciousness that brought me to this experience of success, or did my privilege have something to do with it?" In the same week, another colleague, a Science of Mind minister, called me and asked, "…am I in a position of power and influence solely because of my spiritual practice, or did the societal bias toward my gender and race have something to do with it?"
These questions cannot be stopped and to remain relevant and viable we have to keep step with the questions and answer them. We have to find a modern expression of our beloved Science of Mind that does not blame victims for their experience but instead teaches us to have minds that can hold the complexity, ambiguity, and contradictions of being human, with all of its nuances, and to remain open to the full range of feelings that go with being a messy human being, perched behind a filter of perfection.
In a way, we are being invited to the table to investigate what exactly does spiritual bypass mean? And are we complicit in it? And how may we avoid teaching the next generation to look away when terrible things happen to good people? The Science of Mind of the 1930s must and will evolve. That's just the way of things, and nobody can stop it.
In May of 1992, the Science of Mind magazine published an article by Doctor Ernest Holmes which stated that "The one who understands the Science of Mind will be tolerant, kind, and sympathetic." Now I wonder, if Doctor Holmes were alive today, would he want us to go further and do better than that?
I wonder if he would expand on the idea of tolerance.
I'm guessing yes, he would. I'm guessing he would invite us to the students of Science of Mind to ask "is tolerance deep enough? Does it go far enough for one who is a practicing religious scientist?" I believe he would invite us to lean deeply into it to go further than tolerate disappearances to rejoicing in them as the natural state of the universe and to boldly proclaimed to the world that our teaching the science of mind is a teaching of oneness; how from the one comes the many and that's holy; about the thread of Divinity that connects us; about the healing power of loving kindness and the sacredness of life and the equal-ness of that sacredness in all; and how it is about the power that we have to heal or to harm.
Tolerance may not be enough for that.
It's a good starting point. I can tolerate someone I hate. I can put up with them. Oh, but when I abandoned hate, tolerance is no longer useful.
So I reworded Dr Holmes’ statement with more contemporary words.
The one who understands the Science of Mind will be inclusive, compassionate, loving, and I can add curious, appreciative, radically welcoming, fearless, helpful, engaged, and even more.
Ah, to take a stand for that!
We have been very cautious about taking a stand as a movement and boldly proclaiming this is who we are. What the reason for that is? Why are we so cautious? When conflict happens, we must come to realize that it is our attempt to avoid that discomfort and seek only the harmonious that keeps us from standing up; that in being silent partners it is our silence that perpetuates conflict, itself.
Is the New Thought community conflict-avoidant?
We are very cautious about taking a stand. We like to maintain a positive perspective. We like to see the good and praise it. We love that.
The problem with that approach we are discovering, just like in the personal realm, when something truly unjust or disturbing does happen, no one will know what we stand for until we claim our position clearly, kindly, compassionately. When we don't claim what we stand for, we inadvertently become supporters of things that are not resonant with our own teaching.
In the United States, public shootings have been a problem for a long time and one of our Science of Mind colleagues wrote these words a couple of years back. You can just feel the pain in the words.
"My biggest fear right now is that we as a nation are getting used to the mass shootings and letting it become a new normal period there are no simplistic solutions, but we need to tackle the issue come the eyes and ears and hearts wide open. This isn't right and we need to demand our leaders address all the components of the situation and we can't let anyone off the hook because of finger pointing add budget constraints. If it's not safe to go to an outdoor festival a mall or Walmart, for God's sake, then we are not the land of the free. And if we can't speak up and demand our safety, we are not the home of the brave."
I celebrate when I know some where someone stands. And I am learning in this position as a Spiritual Leader that disagreement is not a terrible thing. People can disagree and still love each other.
Disagreement, it turns out, is survivable. Being shot at a festival or in a nightclub or a supermarket or while jogging in a white neighborhood, it turns out, is lethal.
Maybe, respectfully, we are conflict-averse because of something our founder, Doctor Ernest home said. He suggested that we were to stand for something and against nothing.
I think we can be better, much better at standing for something. And coming out, for something. Or at least getting clear on how this beloved Science of Mind instructs us to live in this world. We might want to also ask ourselves what the imperative is: what is the moral, spiritual imperative of the Science of Mind?
We don't have to have the same opinion, we don't have to agree, but surely, we must ask this question, and answer it. What does this teaching of oneness compassion and love compel me to take a stand for in this world right now? No matter which nation I am living in, how does my faith tradition compel me to stand for liberty, equity, inclusion, justice?
Many years ago, our movement had its annual convention. One of the topics on the table was whether to make a statement, as a movement, in support of same-gender marriage. The statement was defeated. Some objected to it, expressing concern about losing membership. Some said it was political and that we ought not to get involved with politics. In my opinion, at that moment when we defeated the statement, we didn't stand for anything. By not taking a stand and not making a statement we communicated something to those who were affected: we tolerate you. We tolerate what you are going through -- now go work on your consciousness.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu did not tolerate tolerance. Oh no, he took a stand for the LGBTQI plus clergy and community long before it was popular for spiritual leaders to do so. And he was one of the strongest formative voices in creating South Africa’s new post-apartheid expression as a rainbow nation. That's what it was called. It was the First Nation on the planet, I understand, to constitutionally outlaw discrimination based on sexual identity. And he stood for the right of every single person to vote.
Can we decide together now, that the seeds we are planting for the future Science of Mind community are that bold. Can they grow larger than tolerance and more nourishing than self-interest?
Maybe it begins by allowing those questions. What am I promoting, allowing, permitting when I don't take a stand? What am I promoting, allowing and permitting when I ignore those who are unnecessarily oppressed, marginalized maligned, killed, or starved?
Can we unambiguously join those who say it is the moral duty of the spiritual community to explore social issues in the light of their faith tradition?
I believe that we must ask ourselves:
If Oneness had an opinion about racism, what would it be?
If unconditional love acted beyond homophobia or any of the other phobias, what would that look like?
If the infinite all-inclusive, all-knowing mind had a voice about inequitable distribution of opportunities and access to services and resources, what would it say?
And then according to our practice, listen. Listen for the answer.
If the voice says turn away and let each of them tend to their own... if the voice says take care of yourself first... if the voice says that consciousness created it... if the voice says don't think about those who suffer because it'll take you down... if the voice says ignore those who are oppressed and marginalized... then I question if that can be the message of our Science of Mind.
One social media influencer said about this pandemic:
“It is as if mother earth has sent us to our room to think about what we have done so that we can do better.”
So... how CAN we do better?
This is a question that is being asked across societies and faith traditions. Social media is bursting with it as, every day, we see thousands of people unpacking white supremacy, deconstructing evangelicalism, challenging the effectiveness of prosperity teachings in an inequitable society, calling out the generational impact of global colonialism, identifying the damage done by victim blaming when we dare to say, “What's in your consciousness?”
You see, this is happening whether we like it or not.
An African American colleague of ours recently said to me:
"Edward, I work with Fortune 500 executives as the only African American woman in a strongly male-dominated conservative business setting, and yet, I have not experienced the kind of racial and gender microaggressions there as I do in my own science of mind communities."
Should I have asked her “what is in your consciousness?”
Or ought I to hear the uncomfortable and painful truth from one of our own that we can do better than tolerate and blame.
Lest I leave readers with the wrong impression I'd like to complete this message by saying:
I'm extremely optimistic about our future as a movement because of the vision that we have for our world. And I'm optimistic because that vision is doing what the vision ought to do, it is working as. It's bringing these big questions into view in such a focus that we cannot ignore them. We cannot avoid answering them. And digging deep into them. They are not going away.
I'm extremely optimistic about the future because I believe that you and I, we have the heart to do this. We can do this. We can grow, evolve, learn, change, and be relevant players proving every day that we can pivot, change,“rinse and repeat.”
I'm extremely optimistic about the future because a community of people like you and me love each other, and love the Science of Mind enough to let its moral and spiritual imperative come alive in us, and shape us.
I'm extremely optimistic about the future because there is a powerful good in the universe. It is flowing through us even now in the in a constructive creative powerful way in the direction of the vision that we have. It is creating a post-pandemic reality in which we are together again in a new way in a vital form drawn forward by relevance and engagement in a modern way.
Oh, In 10 years' time, we will be grateful that we said yes to a vision that is so beautiful:
We envision all people, all beings, and all life as expressions of God.
We see a world in which each person lives in alignment with their highest spiritual principle, emphasizing unity with God and connection with each other; a world in which individually and collectively we are called to a higher state of consciousness and action.
We envision humanity awakening to its spiritual magnificence and discovering the creative power of thought; a world where every person discovers their own personal power and ability to create an individual life that works within a world that works for everyone.
We envision a world in which we live and grow as One Global Family that respects and honors the interconnectedness of all life; a world where this kinship with all life prospers and connects through the guidance of spiritual wisdom and experience.
We envision a world where personal responsibility joins with social conscience in every area of the political, corporate, academic, and social sectors, providing sustainable structures to further the emerging global consciousness.
We envision a world where every person has enough food, a home and a sense of belonging; a world of peace and harmony, enfranchisement and justice.
We envision a world in which resources are valued, cared for, and grown, and where there is generous and continuous sharing of these resources.
We envision a worldwide culture in which forgiveness is the norm.
We envision a world which has renewed its emphasis on beauty, nature, and love through the resurgence of creativity, art, and aesthetics.
We envision a world that works for everyone and for all of creation.