19 May, 2015

Minister Hearted, NOT Necessarily Minister Material...

My weekends are accounted for.  I can easily be found at Unity Church of Castro Valley every Sundays.  Saturdays are my "catch-up" days since I work Monday through Friday.  It's a weekly clockwork routine regularly interrupted by the inconsistent service level of BART.  For those of you in the San Francisco Bay Area, you may wonder why I choose to trek from Daly City all the way to Castro Valley simply for church service.  For starters, I serve in several capacities for UCV: prayer chaplain, treasurer, sound person, coffee/hospitality, and that is every single Sunday.  That doesn't include the fact that the Rev has entrusted me enough to comfortably take more time off as I share the message on selected Sundays.  (Of course that was beginning in 2014 after my attendance began in November of 2011)  For those of you not familiar with the SF Bay, travelling from Daly City to Castro Valley is definitely a commute.  If I had a car, the commute would be 45 minutes.  With BART, the commute is 1 hour and 15 minutes.  

The closest Unity to where I live is in San Francisco, located 3.8 miles away from home according to Google Maps.  It’d be a 10 minute commute by car if I had one, however with public transit and walking, the commute is more like 30-45 minutes.  Not much of a difference than with commuting to Castro Valley.  Aside from all that, I live in San Mateo County.  There are a total of 0 Practical Christianity, New Thought, or Unity centers in San Mateo County.  The nearest Unity directly south of the aforementioned location in San Francisco is Unity of Palo Alto which is a part of Santa Clara County.  The distance between locations is about 40 miles. 

Long story short: I’m in the East Bay every Sunday.  Period.  Let’s just keep it at that. 

I’d given up on mainstream Christianity out of sheer disgust back in 2010.  What sustained me over that period was a support system created through the personal development program I'd undertaken back in 2008-09.  It was brought to my attention that there existed a “link” per se between those programs and what fragile religious practice I futilely struggled with back then.  That link was New Thought Christianity and/or Christian Metaphysics.  In 2011 I made it a point to find and locate a center to grow.  It was unfortunate that those were the years that most centers affiliated with New Thought and their leadership decided to distance themselves from any identification with Christianity altogether.  It was a disheartening discovery as I felt that books by Eric Butterworth and Barbara L King helped me restore my faith in God. 

I’m grateful to the internet because I was able to research and receive information needed at that time.  I don’t believe in coincidences, but the fact that Truth Unity was developing into an online resource when I needed resources convinced me that this was indeed “a God thang.” 

I contacted Unity Institute and inquired about advanced training around 2011-12 and received such a bizarre response I decided not to have anything to do with them and went through different avenues including Hillside, Johnnie Colemon Theological Seminary, and eventually Samaritans Institute.  As a prayer chaplain and as the substitute speaker at Castro Valley Unity, people often wonder if I’m being groomed in the event of the current minister’s retiring.  The answer is absolutely no.  1) She’s not going anywhere, and 2) I still do not view myself as a long term minister in any capacity, and 3) Castro Valley isn’t where I want the teachings of New Thought Christianity taught and spread.  I have a heart for Oakland California and for Southeast Asia.  Thankfully, Oakland has Lakeside Temple while we need some serious inroads into Southeast Asia. 

I am an actor at heart.  I’ve always have been.  People often think that acting and doing ministry are compatible because ministry requires public speaking.  Yes and no.  I’m undergoing the training that I chose to undergo simply because of the lack of teachers and centers out there, and because Christian Metaphysics/New Thought Christianity is a passion as up there with acting.  I’m undergoing the ministry training for the same reason I began writing screenplays and plays 15 years ago: out of sheer necessity and frustration.  As an actor in the beginning, roles that I was auditioning for simply weren’t compatible with my inner artistic voice, so I began to write in order to create such roles.  Likewise, it’s frustrating of the lack of centers and like-minded communities with a passion for the teachings and practice of New Thought/Christian Metaphysics while other centers place an emphasis on the "guru/energy healer of the month."  

Think about it.  As of this typing, the overall religious discussion has been about the Pew research and findings regarding American religious practices.  First of all, I find the report to be somewhat inconsistent because people who attend services and activities provided by Unity, Religious Science (Center for Spiritual Living), UFBL, Divine Science and other New Thought would most likely identify themselves in the survey/research under the “Noner/nothing in particular” category whose umbrella category includes atheists and agnostics, the “other Christian” category, the “other world religion” category, and most likely the “other faith” category.  And here’s the thing: while the overall Christian category dropped about7%, the “nothing in particular” had grown about 4%.  How many of that 4% include those attending New Thought locations? 

Needless to say, there is a need for more available resources to teach and spread the message of New Thought.  Although the internet has been a godsend, filling gaps worldwide, there’s no substitute for face-to-face interaction.  As I stated, I live in a county with an area of 450 square miles, and a population of 750,000.  There are no New Thought centers located within that county.  (At least to date of this writing) 

Another thing: I attend Unity Church of Castro Valley with a weekly average attendance of 15 people and an average age of 70.  While the teaching is more welcoming and can resonate with a younger generation, members of such a younger generation cannot attend if they don’t know that such teachings existed.  If you look at the mainline Christian churches, you’ll see an aggressive proactive outreach towards that age group.  Now we've made attempts in outreach to that group such as Facebook and Meetup, but unfortunately the responses have been from those who had their own personal spiritual agenda.

And that leads to the next reason why I decided to undertake the ministerial route.  From the time I first entered a Unity center back in 2011 and from all my experience and interactions with other people undergoing the New Thought approach, I observed first-hand how existing New Thought based churches and centers have been utilized more as a platform for these entitled eclectic spiritual energy figureheads pushing their own personal agenda at the expense of the core teachings of New Thought.  That isn’t fair to those who are sincere in their pursuit of studying New Thought.  Hiring a third party consultant on marketing your organization while abandoning your core teaching is only a band-aid, short-term, temporary approach if it had worked at all. 

I was hesitant and had reservations about whether or not to pursue advanced training in New Thought Christianity.  As I stated, I identify myself more as an actor and as a performer.  Secondly, I did do a short-term missionary assignment years ago through The Salvation Army in Asia and although the experience was enriching, it was also simultaneously constricting.  This was my very first trip outside of the United States, and my first trip to Asia.  I didn’t get laid at all.  It was like walking through numerous buffets and not eating.  I wouldn’t want to subject myself to that all over again.  Thirdly, I also served in various youth counseling capacity within the church and from what I observed regarding what the pastoral kids were subjected to, (aka, “Preachers’ Kids) I decided that I wouldn’t subject my own children to that kind of political BS.

But perhaps the most compelling reason of my reluctance to ministerial training could be summed up by this hypothetical example:

Not only have I pursued acting professionally for over 18 years, I’ve practiced Chinese traditional martial arts and its peripheral arts of lion and dragon dance for over 30 years.  Let’s say I decided to pursue a PhD in Martial Arts.  The study is 3 years of academics including 1 academic year of different post graduate courses and 2 years of a doctoral thesis.  Meanwhile my martial arts school accepts this new student at the same time.  During the course of my 3 years of academic study, this student has learned just one set (set of choreographed movements) during his first 6 months upon joining.  In addition, he consistently undergoes the physical conditioning and workout regimen from Day 1.  After he learns his first set and from month 6 to the time that I’m awarded my PhD, all he did was his physical conditioning/workouts, hand-to-hand drills to practice the techniques from the set, and the set itself.  If he were to enter a martial arts tournament, most tournaments would categorize a year 3 student as “intermediate,” so for the purpose of this example, he’s considered an “intermediate” student.  Also for the sake of this example, I did not practice or learn during the past 30 years; instead I “studied” the martial arts entirely through my Ph D. program. 

Having established the groundwork of this working example, in the aftermath of my reception of my PhD in Martial Arts studies, I accept a full-contact match with this intermediate student.  Oh in addition, let’s also say that as part of that post graduate courses taken in year 1 included an academic quarter learning ju-jitsu, an academic quarter learning Choi Li Fut Kung Fu, and an academic quarter learning penjek silat in the form of an upper division "physical education" classes.

So on paper, there’s an “intermediate” martial student having a match with a “doctor” of martial arts studies.  On paper, who looks like who is going to win the match?  In the actual fight, who’s most likely going to win the match, and why?  At the end, who is really the "expert" in martial arts?

So now you can see why I wasn’t in such an urgent state regarding my advanced/ministerial/teaching studies of the New Thought Christian curriculum.  Why spend up to 2-3 years studying something where at the end, my prayer life, happiness, overall life satisfaction may or may not be in the upper echelon?  Why pursue the studies if I’m not going to live it?

Here’s the thing: people will not express or pursue an interest in such a teaching until they witness first-hand what a positive impact it made on our lives first.  Whether or not I receive a Masters or Doctorate, or a certificate, or an ordination, if my prayer and faith isn’t impacting my own life for the better, then why am I there up front?

Then I’ll just be “acting.”  Hmmm...

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