Many of you reading this blog are interested in forms of faith other than the tradition of your family. Most people interested in Spiral Dynamics or Integral Theory themselves practice multiple religions. Below is the story of my personal faith journey. I will talk about the beliefs that I have spent time studying and my personal take on each. This blog will help people evaluate what faiths or combination of faiths suit them best.
My family began my spiritual journey by going to a Missionary Baptist Church in downtown Murfreesboro, TN. In this church, people did not “catch the ghost”. It was very modest service. The preacher had a very monotone style. I began to first understand Bible stories through the children’s bible study at this church. Because I showed a genuine interest, my parents bought me a children’s Bible. My first nightly Bible study began.
My family changed churches after a few years. My father initiated the family going to Mount Zion Primitive Baptist Church. Mount Zion was a very traditional black church and the church in which my father was baptized. People regularly “caught the holy ghost” or “got happy”. Dancing would ensue in the aisles. Mount Zion was the place I first felt the presence of G-d.The preacher would have passionate sermons. I asked my mother to be Baptized just after my 13th birthday.
The Primitive Baptist Church was the church of my father. My mother never really felt comfortable there. The services were too charismatic for her. Also, Primitive Baptists have a foot washing ceremony in which the feet of a person would wash the feet of the person next to them. Her tradition was Missionary Baptist in which there was no such ceremony.
My parents quit going to church for a few years. My mother found an integrated megachurch recently planted in Murfreesboro, TN. World Outreach Church was non-denominational and had no set theology. The church had modern sounding praise music. They had coffee and donuts. They had a huge church with a youth auxiliary. The sermons were non-controversial and middle of the road. The church covered self-help topics with a Christian bent and avoided serious political and social issues. It was an appropriate church for my high school years due to my lack of spiritual development.
My parents were in the process of splitting up at this point. My father began going to a new church also. At that time I was much closer to my mother than my father. I continued to go to church with my Mom to the chagrin of my Dad.
My upbringing showed me the importance of spirituality in a relationship. Religion and spirituality shape a large part of your worldview. I would recommend couples seriously discuss their views on G-d before getting into a committed relationship. Religion provides moral grounding and community. Both things are critical in building a family. If two people have drastically different worldviews and are not spiritually growing together, they are destined to break-up. Also, the communal support will provide encouragement and perspective on a relationship.
In college, I began to take a more proactive view of my spiritual journey. I had heard about Eastern philosophy, and I wanted to explore it more. My motivation was to gain perspective on my religion by studying another. The teachings of Confucius caught my attention. Experiences and hard evidence were the basis of the philosophy. The teachings were also fluid and practical. I began to meditate as part of this practice.
I attempted to follow the teachings. The two books I read on the subject said that all followers of Confucius did not eat meat. I became a vegetarian later that year. Due to having no fellow members to give me guidance, I attempted to stop meat cold turkey. In two weeks, the sensation of lightheadedness fell upon me. Finals were approaching, and I realized that I had to keep my strength up to pass. The vegetarian diet had to go along with the following of the path of Confucius.
In retrospect, I should not have given up due to the inability to follow a path exactly. If it was helping me, I should have continued to study and learn more. Another problem I had was a lack of fellow followers to encourage me. Any system of belief will take a lifetime to integrate fully. If I had a community of believers, I could have been encouraged to continue the path to the best of my ability. I wished I had continued with meditation. I was doing around 20 minutes a day for four months. If I had continued, I could have developed so much while in college.
After my experience with Confucianism, I began to study Christianity. One day at the library I stumbled upon a book called When Jesus Became G-d by Richard Rubenstein. I highly recommend this book to any Christian. It talks about alternative forms of early Christianity in which Jesus was not G-d. The main one was called Arianism. This line of thought created by an early church father Arius stated that Jesus was a conduit between man and G-d. This view was far more logical than the idea of the Trinity. I felt the concept of Jesus being one of three persons of G-d did not make sense. If it doesn’t make sense, then a person can not say they believe it.
During my later years of college and a few years after graduation I began to go to church sparingly. I went to church as primarily a vehicle to meet people that were attempting to become more spiritual. I considered myself more of a deist. I believed in G-d in a general sense, but I just tried not to think about the details. I was a polite church member that went to most of the functions.
After being in the workforce for six months, I began to battle bouts of depression. I realized spiritual grounding could help to reduce my stress. I discovered a black church in South Carolina that was very similar to World Outreach Church. The name was Valley Brook Outreach Baptist Church. The building was spacious and well kept. The building aesthetics were important to me at the time. I saw many people there from a similar or higher economic background. I felt far more at home here than at other churches.
Valley Brook was instrumental in making Dr. Martin Luther King Day a recognized holiday in Greenville, SC. This effort was something I was very proud to witness. The pastor of the church was one of the most influential black leaders in the area. Curtis Johnson had many appearances on television and radio. He became an inspiration and a role model.
Unfortunately, I could not keep my depression in check. At work, I had many angry outbursts and eventually got terminated from employment. I spoke to the church men’s pastor on the issue. The men’s pastor was not Curtis Johnson; it was an associate pastor. The setting may not have been right for my question. I told the associate pastor during our men’s group of maybe 20 people about my termination. Some of the men there were dealing with the pains of not having a father or getting over a drug addiction. Many people had larger problems than me. However, I thought this would be a good place to get feedback on what was going on in my life.
I can not remember the exact words said by my pastor, but I can remember one phrase, “Cut the crap.” He was one of those men’s pastors that felt men respond best to a no-nonsense approach. The reply from him was not very loving. In his worldview, problems are born from poverty, fatherlessness, and crime. If your “problem” did not involve those elements, it was not a real issue. I felt the entire time I was talking that he just wanted me to shut up so he can get back to the real problems of the group. After that, I never spoke up in men’s group again.
In retrospect, I should have brought the issue up in a more private setting. Other people in the group did have more pressing issues. Also, the associate pastor may not have had a similar life experience and may not have been equipped to help me. However, I felt hurt and alone.
Valley Brook as most other black churches is designed to bring people that are in an unhealthy Red Meme state to healthy Blue or Orange. They do not have the tools to move from unhealthy Orange to healthy Orange or Green. Very few black people are in the Orange Meme, and there is not much guidance for us when we get to that Meme. Many black people feel Orange is the ultimate in personal development. Getting the house, car, and the family is the mark of healthy emotional development for most black people.
I eventually found a new job in Maryland and made the move later that year. This time, I would totally focus on being the best engineer possible. I cut everything out of my life other than work. This total focus on work did not help me control my depression. Fortunately, the depression did not cause problems on my job. I just internalized the pain and hurt. I felt depressed this time because I did not see where I could find any help. I also felt guilty. As my last men’s pastor said many people have worse problems and are not experiencing the same angst.
My depression went on for about five years. Then I finally got sick of being depressed. I decided to go to therapy. My prior experience with treatment had not been very fulfilling, due to my lack of commitment. Now I seriously wanted to change. This time, I asked my therapist for a reading list. I read many books on Transactional Analysis (TA). TA is psychology specifically designed for conflict resolution. It helps me to understand why I had a difficult time dealing with some people and why they had trouble with me.
I began to indulge in psychology. I studied Sigmund Freud extensively because the teachings of Freud are the basis of TA. I started to understand the way people, including myself, think. Originally the motivation was to control myself and others. Eventually, I moved from the need to control to the desire to understand. This dichotomy is very prevalent in psychology. If a person begins to study this subject, I recommend fully understanding their motivation and evaluating the motivation behind the psychology they are learning.
I also began research on the internet for all the different causes of depression and discovered there are many physical causes of depression. One is an unbalanced endocrine system. I encourage people to do their research. However, these are the three things I found most crucial for a healthy endocrine system.
Vitamin D Supplement
Omega 3 Supplement
Regular Exercise (20 mins x 3 days a week)
I had not lost my understanding for the need for faith. I began going to Southpoint Church in Leonardtown, Maryland. This church offered a two-year theology course called The Theology Program by Michael Patton. The bible.org has all the information on his course, and most of the books are available on Amazon. I highly recommend this product. It gives the user a thorough understanding of theology without having to go through 4 years of seminary.
The Theology Program was very eye opening for me. It showed me how Christianity encompasses many views. Michael Patton is obviously from a southern conservative Christians tradition, and it shows in his teaching. However, he gives the user enough information to research on contrary views outside of the program. If the user can objectively take in the information, the program can be extremely informative. I will go through one of my personal struggles with understanding church doctrine, the idea of young earth creationism. Most of the information comes from The Theology Program and its support materials.
There are three main views of creationism in Christianity. Young earth creationism, Old earth creationism, and G-d centered evolution. Young earth creationism is the idea the earth was created in six 24 hour days 6,000 years ago and has been the same from inception. Old earth creationism is that the earth’s creation happened in six epochs, millions of years ago, yet there was no evolution. G-d centered evolution is the idea the world is millions of years old and that evolution is a real phenomenon and G-d is in control of it.
The argument presented by TTP roughly goes as follows. There are no bible verses that can be construed to support evolution. Most the verses these people present will need a very liberal interpretation to support evolution. The Bible doesn’t support old earth creationism because the Hebrew word used in Genesis translated into day means a 24 hour period. There is another Hebrew word that means epoch, and it is used later in Genesis. That leaves the most literal biblical interpretation as the world is 6,000 years old and has been the same since inception. The preceding is a very brief summary of the argument, and I encourage the reader to verify the statements by going through TPP themselves.
I realized after the lesson on creationism that this logic is used to justify everything in the Bible. There is no way to know or any logical reason to think that Moses parted a sea, or Jesus turned water into wine. Even if you prove that all the kings reigned in the years proved in the bible and that all the cities in the bible existed you can never prove a miracle. The Bible does use metaphor and hyperbole, and when this happens, the Bible also makes clear when this happens. However, the miraculous stories of the Bible are meant literally.
If a person does not believe in the miracles of the Bible, then an individual may not be considered a believer. No different than a person can’t be a Democrat and be pro-life, against affirmative action, and deny climate change. It is true that no one will believe every part of any philosophy, but there is a point in which you see too much discrepancy. A person must be brave enough to admit that he has finally crossed the line of disbelief and is no longer a follower.
I had other issues with the church as well. I do not believe that everyone needs to be celibate until marriage and stay in a monogamous relationship until death. I think that some relationships need to end, and other people need to explore before getting into a relationship. I believe the church does more damage by demanding everyone fit into one relationship style. I also do not think that everyone needs to follow the same religion. It does not make sense for G-d to send most of the world to hell for not agreeing with Jerry Falwell. Religion, ethnicity, and culture are highly integrated for most people, and they are difficult for people to separate. G-d would have to understand this a judge everyone accordingly.
The particular church I was going to was also not fulfilling all of my spiritual needs. I will make this section about most racially integrated Orange Meme churches. I noticed most do not indulge or take a stance on social and political issues that do not directly relate to the Bible or Christianity. The goal of these churches is to have the largest congregation possible. I will not go as far as saying that they are money making institutions, even though some are. I will say that the success of the church is measured by the size of the sanctuary and how often it is full. This “strive-drive” mentality leads to sermons that concentrate on middle-of-the-road self-help subjects. There was not much talk on political and social issues because that would cause people to take sides and reduce the size of the congregation.
Also, the modern church does not talk about spiritual experience of any type at all. I am not speaking about a personal testimony; I am talking about existential experiences with the divine. Everyone gets uncomfortable during discussions of existential experience is discussed. Many people have questions on these topics and want to experience the divine first hand. In modern society, psychedelic drugs are the tool for first-hand experience. Members of the church could avoid drug use if the church taught how to have these experiences through natural means.
As I began to reduce my depression, I wanted to work on building quality relationships, especially romantic. Through various relationship sites on the internet, I found tantric. Tantric is an eastern practice for sex and relationships. I found a wealth of information on the Podcast “ The Tantric Lounge by Jacqueline Hellyer. The first 12 episodes are an adult sex education class. It will change how a person views sex and a healthy sex life. The main take away from me were the progression of sex paradigms.
Paradigm 1: Sex is bad outside of strict religious.
Paradigm 2: Sex is bad but I am going to do it to rebel against the system of repression.
Paradigm 3: Sex is neither good or bad. It is a part of life, and I am going to fully understand sex to have the healthiest sex life possible.
One of the podcasts in this series was on mindfulness. It was the idea of taking time to engross yourself in an activity. Mindfulness will require a person to clear their minds of all things from the past and the future. By allowing an activity to be all consuming, you can begin to enjoy the activity. Mindfulness will also aid a person in stopping negative thoughts that are completely consuming.
I began to google mindfulness and find more information. My motivation was dual; I wanted to know more about mindfulness and find a new faith community. I found the Washington Mindfulness Community. WMC are all followers of Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist Zen master that came to the West from Vietnam. His goal was to heal the West to ensure others would not have to endure issues similar to the Vietnam War. The community was very welcoming and began to teach me the various aspects of Buddhism.
The Thich Nhat Hanh tradition is one of the best traditions of Buddhism to study. It has a self-help and social activism aspect. Meditation is a way to improve your inner mental state. This internal shift will affect a person’s perceptions of reality and ultimately his actions. The awareness acquired during meditation can truly be transformative. The change is not superficial, as it would be if a person takes a course in how to improve body language or how to handle a breakup. These changes go down to your core.
One of the central tenets of Buddhism is that you do not practice only for your enlightenment, you practice for the enlightenment of all living beings. The documentation of social activism of Thich Nhat Hanh’s social activism is extensive. One blog could never do it justice. His legacy of activism is also attracted many activists. It is very common for monasteries to hold retreats for activists. The religion was never meant to create isolationist. Followers were never intended to pray in a closet.
Every follower of Thich Nhat Hanh has to accept the Five Mindfulness Trainings. The third training is on how our actions create global warming. As a nation we consume too much therefore companies exploit the earth’s resources to fill our insatiable appetites. Passing clean air laws and protesting will only improve the conditions to a certain point. There needs to be a shift in consciousness.
The need for a change in consciousness can apply to any large-scale issue. Race relations, poverty initiatives, gender equality all of these problems will require a shift in consciousness. I do not see a way to truly change the way people think without a Buddhist personal growth path. That is the problem with political correctness. It forces people to use the second and fourth quadrant behavior through language without the first and third quadrant change in worldview. Thich Nhat Hanh has found the marriage between personal development and social action.
Another modern day guru I found in my online search in personal development was Clare Graves. Clare Graves is the father of Spiral Dynamics, a method to classify and analyze personal growth. The system of development could be used to describe individual people or entire nations. I had never seen a system of thought that was so all inclusive. Graves was able to describe how all of the great psychologists were describing mental disease in specific value memes.
At this moment, I study both Spiral Dynamics and Buddhism. I feel the two philosophies complement each other. In the future, I could find a method to incorporate Christianity. Many people in the Thich Nhat Hanh tradition rediscover their first religion with new eyes. I am uncertain how that will occur at the moment, but I have not ruled this possibility out.
I wrote this entry to give my readers some perspective on how I think and how I got to this point. The reader will now understand some of my biases and can evaluate my work accordingly. I never expected my analysis to be without bias; I do not think it is possible not to have biases. The reader will now have a good understanding of what inspired the blog and its potential issues.