07 June, 2014

Center for Spiritual White Elephant Sales

It’s no secret that during that last three years, I was undergoing a shift of personal spiritual practice and beliefs.  It’s not that I no longer believe in The Bible, it’s more that I’ve expanded my approach of how I study and apply the reading of it in my life.  Even when I was active in my past churches, I’ve always questioned the validity of what was taught.  I looked at the history and compared Scripture to other forms of Holy doctrines, looking for similarities rather than dwelling on the differences.  After all, if focusing on the differences created the world we currently live in now, how is that working for us?

What I’ve been studying has been called many different names: New Thought, New Thought Christianity, (hey, they needed to sub-categorize “New Thought”) Practical Christianity, Christian Metaphysics, Metaphysical Christianity, and simply “Truth” with a capital ‘T.’  The three main branches of New Thought are Unity, Divine Science, and Religious Science.  Divine Science dwindled out over the years since its inception back in 1888, and both Unity and Religious Science underwent a “branding makeover” within the last five years.  Hence my confusion upon taking research into their teachings.  Both changed their name to “Spiritual Center” or “Center of Spiritual Living.”  As a whole, they eliminated “Church” in their name.  So hypothetically, what was once a “Unity Church of Oakland” would become a “Unity Spiritual Center of Oakland.” (I use this example because there’s no such place in Oakland; what was once a Unity of Oakland is now Lakeside Temple of Practical Christianity)

I attend a Unity Church located in Castro Valley, California.  They have still kept the name “Unity Church” as the minister there was not “qualified” to participate in the (re)branding process.  Their bylaws, mostly unchanged since the inception of the church stated purpose was to create a “healing ministry to perpetuate and teach Practical Christianity as taught by The Unity School of Practical Christianity.”  I suppose that one of a possible loophole to change that is the fact that there’s no longer such an institution called “Unity School of Practical Christianity.”  This was part of the branding process to rename them from USPC to “Unity Institute.”  Prior to that, I visited several renamed “Unity Spiritual Centers” throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.  To say I left those locations confused was an understatement.

I was introduced to New Thought in 1995, or even earlier than that.  It really depends on whether or not you feel that the personal development industry is part of New Thought.  If so, then I was introduced to aspect of it back in 1993, otherwise it was when I bought a book called Transform Your Life by Barbara L. King in May of 1995.  At that time, I began to attend church and really did not know how to read my Bible.  That book helped me transition from attending marketing and personal growth seminars to church life.  Because the church I attended at the time was more mainstream and evangelical and because the book was a New Thought book, I was discouraged from studying the book further.

From 1995 onwards, church life was an important part of my life.  That was until 2005 when my mother passed away.  Then it felt as if the ground was taken from underneath me.  I still attended church, but I found myself bouncing around from one church to the other.

Eventually in 2007 I contacted another personal development group and went on one of their retreats.   Then I was introduced to another personal development teacher who recommended another and then another until one of those instructors shared a recommended reading list.  The reading list included a book by Eric Butterworth called Discover The Power Within You.  After reading that book, I looked for other books by Butterworth.  Then it was books by Catherine Ponder.  Then it was Emmet Fox.  After reading their author’s bio in their respective books, I kept seeing “Unity,” so that’s when I decided to visit a Unity “Church.”  So here I was visiting these “Unity CENTERS” and inquiring about books by those authors.  One specific bookstore located in the “center” never heard of those authors, and the person working there never knew who Charles Fillmore was which meant books written by them were obviously not available. I was then asked if I was interested in purchasing any books written by Abraham Hicks.

Throughout the years of attending New Thought centers beginning in 2011, I found myself attempting to participate as much as possible with the activities sponsored by the centers.  Little did I know, I was actually drifting away from what caught my attention when I read the works of the aforementioned authors.  First off, one of the Unity Centers held a weekly Oneness Blessing in lieu of a mid-week study group.  I initially attended that on a regular basis throughout 2011 and 2012.  It was just that the group was more clique-ish than other past mainstream churches who left a sour taste in my mouth when I visited them.  Another time was visiting a Unity center who hosted a self-proclaimed “shaman” as a guest speaker for their Sunday service.  If I were to visit a Unity location on a Sunday, they usually open up with a “we honor all the many paths to God,” so I waited patiently for that moment where someone, hopefully the minister and/or spiritual leader, to share a message consistent with the teachings of Fillmore, Butterworth, Ponder, or Emmet Fox even though he was a Divine Science minister.  The closest semblance to anything Unity was the reading of The Daily Word.  During those times, I was beginning to conclude that I was attending a Unitarian or there was another denomination named Unity.

After familiarizing myself with the writings of Ponder, Fillmore, Butterworth, and Fox, I began to inquire about taking courses from The Unity School of Practical Christianity.  I learned that the program I was interested in no longer existed and that they were no longer Unity School of Practical Christianity.  I corresponded with the admissions director briefly stating the reason why I was interested in taking the program that they just eliminated.  I expressed interest in teaching Practical Christianity in Oakland and in Singapore.  I inquired about the change and why they were no longer School of Practical Christianity.  The director not only eluded to answer the question, but he made a random comment that Seicho No Ie (I didn't know what Seicho No Ie was at that time) is based out of Japan.  At that point I lost all interest in taking any courses from Unity.

I didn’t think finding a location to teach what was taught by the older New Thought authors would be such a challenge.  It was.  My initial impression of the New Thought centers that I visited was that anything goes regarding the Sunday message and center teachings so long as the bookstore has an inventory of those authors with the exception of that one Unity bookstore who had never heard of any of the authors I mentioned.  I contacted several Unity Practical Christianity churches who were still listed as a church on their respective websites.  Their responses were somewhat curt and it seemed that they didn’t want to be bothered as I had no intention of visiting their location since they were normally located outside of California.

I started blogging about my confusion and frustration while continuing to purchase and study books.  Someone contacted me on my blog that if I was looking to study Practical Christianity, she suggested contacting the Universal Foundation for Better Living, which I later found out that they were once a Unity organization.  Shortly afterwards, I learned they were the link between Dr Barbara L King and Unity.  Actually that “link” was the founder, Johnnie Colemon.

Eventually towards the end of 2011, I came across the Unity Castro Valley website.  I wasn’t sure if I wanted to visit there since I lived all the way out in Daly City which was about a 45 minute drive away, and I didn’t want to go all the way there just to leave disappointed.  Luckily for me, the sermons (they still called their messages “sermons”) were transcribed and provided for on their website.  There was a reference to The Bible, quotes from one of the instructors I taken a course from (Debbie Ford), Charles Fillmore, and Eric Butterworth.  I visited them that next Sunday.  Upon arrival, I realized I was one of the youngest attendee, and everyone there knew each other because the attendance averaged 12-15 regulars.

What exactly appealed to me about New Thought as opposed to the former theological paradigm that I followed for years?  First off, “God out there” versus “God within.”  Secondly, the concept of practicing and learning the form of spirituality that Jesus taught and practiced himself versus the whole notion of a doctrine and dogma that instead worships Jesus.  (Quick note on that object of worship:  Notice that in the New Testament, only one entity other than God said to worship him and it wasn’t Jesus.)  Another appeal is that it focuses on the “here and now” as opposed to the “pie in the sky” afterlife.  Lastly, what appealed to me most was the notion that humanity was “created in the image and likeness of God,”  so we all possess an inner Divine Christ-self(which is the first description of man in Genesis) as opposed to the “miserable sinner, saved by grace” notion as espoused by the mainstream Christians.

So if one of the main premises of New Thought is this inner Divinity of humanity, then so long as we practice what Jesus taught, then we should be doing “even greater works” than Jesus.  People would often read and look for cryptic messages from The Bible.  If anything, the concept of “God within” has so many Biblical “hints,” many by Jesus himself, but go further back to Moses when Moses asked God what he should call God.  Remember God’s response?  “I AM.”  What was the first thing said in the 10 Commandments?  “I AM.”  What got the Pharisees motivated to put a contract on Jesus?  “I AM.”

I bring this up because after attending different Unity centers for several years, I’ve observed a few things that caused me to step back and pause for a moment.  I stated I once regularly participated in the Oneness Blessing at one of the Unity centers, and about a year ago, I took a one-day course on how to give a “Wholeness Blessing.”  Over the course of attending Unity and Centers for Spiritual Living, I’ve participated in sound bowl healing, angel therapy, the aforementioned blessings, reading material from people who channel, and lastly, preparing myself for the 2012 Mayan Calendar conclusion.  All were under the guise of the “many paths to God” proclamation, and therefore, the materials were accepted as “compatible” with the Unity and other New Thought teachings.


As I take a closer look at all the peripheral teachings, I have to ask one question:  if I’m Divinely created in the Image of God, and therefore have all attributes of God, at which point can I choose out of participating in those teachings and rely upon my own Divine nature?  Let’s go back to that incident where I visited that Unity bookstore where the person was promoting the sale of the Abraham Hicks books.  I know that many people benefitted from Abraham’s wisdom and insights and have transformed their lives as a result, including those who attend services at their respective New Thought centers on a regular basis.  But that’s the paradox.  We attend New Thought service to learn to connect with our inner Divine God self within. (In many cases for those like myself, we're really “UN-LEARNING” past dogma) So for those who keep leaning on Abraham, Sri Bhagavan, or Archangel _____, when will you learn to lean on you?  YOUR I AM?  YOUR Inner Divine Christ?  I do not question whether or not someone benefited from participating, but think about this: has it ever occurred to folks who attend New Thought centers and see declining attendance numbers that the reason for those declining numbers is perhaps there aren’t enough people going within to their own Divinity and relying more on these supposed “complimentary teachings?”  Has anyone ever made that connection, thought that such a connection is possible, or is that too much of a sacred “cash cow” for some of those centers?

I don’t know much about the branding process that both Unity and Religious Science underwent other than the confusion that I personally endured as I looked for locations committed to teaching what I became interested in learning.  Since I don't study very much Ernest Holmes material other than sections of the Science of Mind Textbook, I’m less familiar with the process Religious Science underwent as they transformed into The Center for Spiritual Living.  As for Unity, based on what was initially taught and the materials used, the change was more of an eyebrow raiser.  My take on this situation: Not only is Inner Divine Christ taught at Unity and in New Thought in general, (for some New Thought branches, even when they take the “Jesus” and “Christ” out, the core teaching is still there) another Universal law taught is The “Law of Attraction.”  The Law of Attraction wasn’t some theory made-up by the New Thought authors, it was simply explained more thoroughly.  After all, Universal Law is timeless.  Contrary to mainstream Christian dogma, LOA IS taught in the Bible.  It just wasn’t called “Law of Attraction.”  What does all this have to do with the branding process?  Well around 2005-07 with the success of independent films like The Secret, and What the Bleep Do We Know, the Law of Attraction became en vogue not only in the States, but worldwide.  The personal development industry received a spike in demand, and all of the sudden, Law of Attraction Wealth Building, New Age, urban shamans, and energy healing gurus came out of the woodwork.  Oh and speaking of “New Age,” please note: (Mainstream Christians I’m talking to you especially)


(Then again, I shouldn’t single out just mainstream Christians with that statement.  I take that back.  Not just mainstream Christians, but New Agers who feel entitled that the New Thought centers they attend OWE them a space and forum)

Anyhow, going back to what I was talking about.  So because of the popularity of The Secret and this sudden mini-renaissance of old New Thought authors who focused on applying spiritual principles to material wealth and business, guess who wanted to ride that wave of new-found popularity?  Yup, our beloved New Thought centers!  They just made one fatal mistake in all this: instead of appealing to the public that The Secret is a part of New Thought teachings, they attempted to squeeze all of New Thought into the package of The Secret.  I likened the situation of how New Thought criticized mainstream Christianity about appealing to a “God out there” versus to the “God within,” and getting things reversed.  This branding process seemed to reverse things.

I spent the last fifteen years working on my acting craft and twenty-five plus years in traditional Chinese martial arts and lion dancing.  What I learned from both performing arts is the importance of really cementing the basic fundamental foundation.  It get’s hammered over and over.  In acting, it’s about developing voice, awareness, and bodily movement.  In martial arts and lion dancing, it’s about stance work.  Fancy blocking and punching combos are ineffective if the stance isn’t developed.  Likewise, entering a New Thought facility with an expectation of learning the fundamentals of New Thought teaching should be a given and not something to catch the center's spiritual leader off guard.  Are you an initiate of a shaman located in Costa Rica? Congratulations.  Are you a Reiki healer?  That’s great; I practice a hard form of hay gung.(qi gong)  You graduated from Oneness University?  Welcome back to the United States.  Are you a certified A Course in Miracles instructor?  Great, I enjoyed the film Admissions.  The bottom line is that if a person were to read material from Fillmore, Fox,(yes, he's Divine Science) Butterworth, or Cady and decide to attend a Sunday service hosted by a New Thought center such as Unity, and the presentation was based on shamanism, energy healing, angel therapy, or even ACIM, wouldn't they leave questioning themselves whether or not they visited the correct location?

I met this lady who visits our Unity church.  She attends more than one New Thought center within her location and decides which service to attend based on the bulletin announcement of what is going to be presented at future services.  She explained that whenever a church or center announces a "guest speaker," she found herself weary of attending because in most cases the guest would discuss or present something other than New Thought.  She even shared that if she didn't feel confident enough that the locations nearby her would present something consistent with New Thought, she'd go to the local Christian Science service because she knows that she'll receive foundation block teachings.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying to not teach such materials.  I'm saying that to hold a Oneness Blessing in lieu of a mid-week service is a detriment to your congregants.  If you hold a Sunday school during church or after church service, the topics should be Biblically based, or at the very least, based on one of the New Thought authors and/or their teachings.  Sunday school should not be a forum to hold a crystal energy healing workshop, a moon and sun energetic shift consciousness course, an in-depth Abraham Hicks study, or Reiki sessions.  If you choose to provide a space or forum for such materials to be presented, then do so; hey, you could even include it in the church bulletin and announcements, but in no way should that be an official church or center sanctioned event.

Lastly, please don't throw any of the pioneering teachers and authors of New Thought under a metaphorical bus.  Even as a newcomer, whenever an announcement is made about learning the latest and greatest energetic spiritual zapping modality, and the presenter makes some sort of comment that "if Fillmore or Butterworth were still alive, they'd approve of this,"  I can smell the inconsistent-incongruent B.S.

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