|"Our Answer is God. God's answer is us. Through partnership we make our world better."
- Dorian Scott Cole
What is this Web site here for?
Copyright © 2009 Dorian S. Cole
The time has come for me to reflect and evaluate the past and future course of where I take this Web site. I do so from the point of view of experience with religion and spirituality, as someone formally trained in religious studies at a major state university, as someone who has studied aspects of religious development from 5000 years ago to today, as a student of the dynamics of cultural change, and as an active participant and leader (licensed pastor of a major denomination, teacher, change leader) in many religious denominations, and also with experience in new age spirituality.
What I see both encourages and troubles me. I reflect on the following below: I see the quest for spiritual freedom, which is soon followed by the desire for institutions and "right thinking" (orthodoxy and doctrine). I see people who are fearful during an age of extreme change. I see people searching as never before as religious knowledge becomes widely available. I see people facing new challenges in their life of faith in multi-faith families. I see problems with image: The church is alien to society, or even an alien monster. I have to consider research from various institutions. I have to consider, "Can churches survive?" and I also have to consider who I am.
Change always comes. Changes always comes to a grinding halt. Over the ages, no matter what movement develops in religion and spirituality, it soon becomes an institution, and the primary purpose gravitated toward by institutions is to protect themselves from outside attack and from change from within, that is, to perpetuate the institution at all costs.
One example of change coming to a grinding halt is in the work of Christ. Christ set people free from the tyranny of demanding religious leaders. He gave us to understand that religion is a very individual thing - between them and God - and people don't need someone to represent them before God. There isn't any certainty that all people actually want that face to face role of encountering God, but anyway, everything that Christ said became filtered by "right thinking" and politics by the 3rd. Century. Christ became the person who represents people before God, and in institutionalization there came a large tribe of people who could intervene. In fact, one of my coming articles will be about the desire of people to have a more personable divine representative to talk to.
When people are in their late teens and twenties, they are searching for their own spiritual path. Traditional paths are shoved out of the way. This is a good thing - it means that people at this age want to find what is right. They haven't lost interest. In fact people at this age are more likely to be idealists who are burning with passion for what is right and just in this world. As people age, their experience makes them more certain about what is right, and they tend to build institutions to reflect what they find. We already know what happens to institutions. It is an endless cycle of birth, death, rebirth.
I see people who are fearful during an age of extreme change. I have studied and written about this numerous times. During times of change, people tend to hold onto their beliefs more firmly. They become more "conservative," and less open to change. They need stable things in their lives to hold onto while they endure other changes. There is nothing essentially wrong with this behavior. Continuous change and paradigm shifts in our beliefs can result in chaos and a lack of belief. All of us have to survive. But change will happen regardless, and change also comes to religion and spiritual thinking. We can find ways to moderate and help people accept change, or we can leave others behind.
Change is here. The Internet has made it not just possible, but convenient, for people to find information, communicate, use various media, and collaborate worldwide. Followed by a series of liberating technologies such as print, libraries, radio, and television, the Internet is a revolution in communications and it is turning the world upside down. What was will no longer be.
I was reminded of this fact by the disappearance of several old standard magazines and newspapers in 2009. Their growing weakness ended in death or transformation by the economic decline in 2008/9. Several have successfully migrated to the Internet. The world has changed forever. We can hide from it, we can learn to cope with it, or we can boldly embrace it and move forward much the richer for it.
I see people searching as never before as religious knowledge becomes widely available. Momentum for change has been achieved through the sheer pervasiveness of knowledge and instant communications. People look at religious history. They look at the legitimacy of historical writings and their interpretation. They look at where traditions came from. They look at the history of local religion, which often has a lot of negative baggage. They look at the phoniness of some TV leaders and their spectacles, and they look at the realism of some other ones. They are no longer willing to take the word as "gospel truth" of leaders whose only concern is to defend and maintain their way of doing things.
People look at other religions and see that they seem to be as valid as their own, and see "less than perfect" in all religions. There is room for acceptance. There is room for improvement. The fact is, the majority of people don't believe in the "absolute infallibility" of historical religious writings. They have seen too much evidence to the contrary. In reality, improvement in its emphasis and practice has been the course of religion for 5000 years.
I see people facing new challenges in their life of faith in multi-faith families. When people are shouting, "I'm right!" Countered by "No, I'm right!" Countered by "That doesn't work for me!" then no one is listening and nothing is worked out. Personal faith and religion can be divisive forces, yet they can be uniting and enriching forces.
I have to consider, "Can churches survive?" I have experienced directly and wholeheartedly the transformation process currently popular in many churches. I have to say at the outset that I wholeheartedly endorse it and highly recommend it. It may be the thing that helps many churches survive.
My experience with being a follower, a leader, and a researcher on the process of transformation is very illuminating. Our congregation came to an improved definition of the mission that uniquely fits it, without tearing the church apart. We were fortunate in that we have a devout congregation that is still spiritually alive. We made progress in the church in finding some new leaders and establishing new programs that are more oriented toward the younger generation. We brought the technology from the 19th. and 20th. Centuries into the 20th. and 21st. Centuries. The transformation program has enabled continued growth, but there are still obstacles, and continued growth of the younger generation is not assured. Only time will tell.
The effort was to evolve the church into the new era church, when it has remained anchored in 1950. It can't happen all at one time. Changing too much too fast would simply have damage the financial and attendance stability of the church and prevented its continued ministry to its current congregation. The church has an obligation to both its aging members and the youth.
Areas of the country that are traditionally more conservative are typically the last to change, but not all members of mainline denominations are closed to change. According to a, "Two-thirds (67%) are open to pursuing faith in environments or structures that are different from those of a typical church. Almost three-quarters (72%) say they are more likely to develop [their] own religious beliefs than to adopt those taught by their church. And nine out of ten (86%) sense that God is motivating people to stay connected to Him through different means and experiences than in the past."
People vote with their feet. People are finding the church not relevant in their lives and leave the church and then don't bring their children to church. This has led to the graying of the mainline denominations, and recent studies have shown that the same is happening to those newer independent churches and even the famously more conservative churches. Birth, death, rebirth.
The thing that I feared at the beginning of the three year transformation process was that anything I thought of to do, would fall on me to do. It did. I willingly took on a number of things that I was uniquely qualified to do, while being invited to do much more. Small churches with aging congregations have few people willing to do anything except what they have traditionally done, or the narrowly focused mission of their groups. I'm just one person, and my time limitations are no different than other's. As it was, I got sick with a serious protracted illness and had to withdraw from my activities. I'm thinking there was a larger hand involved in that.
The more vexing challenge is that to appeal to the younger generation, the church has to have "things" that appeal to the younger generation. Churches need leaders (young youth leaders) with the enthusiasm and appeal necessary to appeal to the youth, and the willingness to get out into the community and involve others. Churches need teaching that appeals to the youthful quest for relevance - that is to match their spiritual quest for personal answers with not only the wisdom of the ages, but today's current wisdom. It helps a lot to have technology, media, and music that are geared to the younger people. It's packaging.
As much as we would like to say it isn't so, packaging is important. The message of love, reconciliation, and personal transformation remain about the same. But some would prefer to have that message packaged in a return to Catholic Mass in Latin (which means you can't understand the words), while some prefer the more personable homily; the 17th. Century Reformed Presbyterian service in old English; the Blue Jeans church down to earth message; the 19th. Century fire and brimstone sermons; a new age love feast; the victim and hate and inspired messages of some churches; the modern music messages of the younger church; or the Lutheran reading from the Bible sermon (I have never heard the Bible read so well as in this sermon).
Even more vexing than having the right mix of leadership, relevant content, and media, is the need for improving the image of the church.
I see problems with image: The church is alien to society, or even an alien monster. An institution that dates back several thousand years has its own vocabulary, rituals, and ways of thinking that are simply as alien as the inside of a UFO to those not acquainted with it. Not that I have ever been in a UFO... I think. (Smile.) Despite all that is on TV, talk radio, and the movies, the religious environment is still scary to outsiders, even though it is innocuous once you get to know it. There is no bridge between society and religious institutions.
Part of the problem is that what people see on TV - exorcisms, and TV evangelists doing miracles and seeking money, and their scandals - is unnerving. Part of the problem is the history of religious intolerance in the US, which caused such things as the Salem Witch Trials, persecution of the Jews, hatred between protestants and Catholics, suppression of women, rejection of gays, endless child sex scandals, and caused a lot of personal pain in families when churches punished or condemned believers, such as those who got pregnant outside of marriage. Part of the problem is the long past history of things like inquisitions, crusades, suppression, persecution, and wars in the Middle Ages. Religious institutions have earned their infamy and the public cannot help but be wary of them.
Overcoming the earned infamy of religious institutions is no easy thing. To most insiders, and probably all outsiders, no one would really want to know the God who could support such things. These actions aren't consistent with love and acceptance, and align much better with hate and intolerance. A lot of this continues today, with major denominations regularly making the news over deep divisions, splits, punishment of clergy who even attend a differing religion's worship with friends, and enforcing disputed doctrines. It all looks like the kind of craziness one would like to stay away from. It is not an inviting atmosphere, or anything that represents God well.
Despite its past shortcomings caused by human failures, and its doubtful disputes, organized religion is often the only game in town and people still find spiritual guidance, comfort, and growth through it. People can look inside themselves at their own spirituality and not find direction as their internal compass becomes clouded by conflicting needs. People can look at TV ministries and not relate because of shallowness that doesn't affect them personally. Whether on a daily basis, or during a moment of crisis, organized religion is larger and more profound than the human failings, the scandals, and the divisions.
How do you get people to look beyond the historical problems? We tried a public image campaign to paint a more representative image of today's church. This was done through advertising on public radio and newspapers (to benefit all churches), and targeted toward specific audiences. An image campaign may represent the church, but obviously it won't get people to actually visit the church. An image campaign has to be followed by programs and leadership (specifically youth leaders) that support the image, and a mechanism for getting people into the church. This church lacked both. I stopped the image campaign.
Transformation programs are worthwhile even if there is a less than perfect situation. They can be the spark that keeps a church going, and who knows what the future may bring. The least we can try to do is to be there for people when God needs us.
I also have to consider who I am - who God made me, if I haven't ruined his plan. (Smile.) We typically need to categorize and quantify things in order to understand them, otherwise our thinking is too chaotic and complex. But I don't think much of the tags we put on people. If people identify with a tag, then they don't think much beyond the box they put themselves in. If others identify them by a tag, then others only see the tag and don't understand the thinking of the real person.
Within our individual belief system, we have to know who we are at any point in time to explore and understand our lives, regardless of whether we have a perfect belief paradigm or not. On the other hand, we have to be willing to change to progress. If we can make things better for ourselves and future generations, then I believe we should.
Who am I? I'm definitely not a conservative. I'm definitely not a liberal. I'm definitely not a middle of the road un-opinionated person. I'm very strongly opinionated. At some level, I'm a pragmatic progressive. At heart I'm a peace-maker, even if that means some level of conflict. Conflict is inevitable - it's the way we handle conflict that is important.
Religion and spirituality is for the living. Considering the birth, death, rebirth cycle of religion and the constant state of change, the needs of mixed-faith unions and society, and the need for stability during a time of maximum change, I think the most effective place to be is a bridge between the old and the continuously evolving new. To inform about the good aspects in all religions, to seriously consider new issues, and to help understanding between those people with a purely "spiritual" focus and those with an organized religion focus.
Yours in Christ,
- Dorian Scott Cole
The Prophetic Pattern: Discussion Guide for Ancient and Modern Prophecy
Are we all going to die on Friday, December 21, 2012? My new book critically examines that question. Available in print and ebook formats from various sources. Secure credit card purchasing. Description.
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On Friday, December 21, 2012, are we all going to die? Are there really signposts to the world's end? Does modern prophecy really merge with ancient prophecy? Will all of the Christians suddenly disappear? The answers may surprise you.
Millions of Americans are anxiously waiting for December 21, 2012 to see if the world will end. Despite the fact that signs seem to be everywhere in all ancient and modern prophecy and even science, the major sign pointed to by both Daniel and Christ is overlooked by prophecy interpreters. And interpretation of modern prophecy overlooks intent. Like a scary movie, prophecy is great fun until it starts affecting people's lives.
This book explores how to distinguish the intent of various types of prophecies and oracles, both ancient and modern. The five chapters in this discussion guide are rich in information, providing one legitimate point of view, and are intended to encourage discussion and additional research. A ten meeting discussion group is the minimum recommended.
Subjects to explore include:
About the author: Dorian Scott Cole is an independent, cross-disciplinary scholar with education and experience in psychology, philosophy, religion, language, visual semiotics, and technology. He is a licensed minister with a mainline denomination with full time pastoral and counseling experience. His education in religion and psychology was through a state university (IU) followed by independent study. Other books and publications: Ontology of God, How to Write a Screenplay, Writers Workshop Script Doctor, www.visualwriter.com, and www.onespiritresources.com.
Reading type: Mainstream, nonfiction.
Ontology of God: The voices of the ancients speak.
My recent book, Ontology of God, looks at what we can learn through the ages regarding the history of several aspects of religious development as affected by the ancient societies they were in, including law, mercy, and love. Available in print and ebook formats from various sources. Secure credit card purchasing. Description.
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Echoing through time are the voices of ancient people telling us about God. From Mesopotamia and Egypt 5000 years ago, often from even earlier oral traditions, every civilization has been inspired to tell us about God. Their voices vary widely and even conflict. Is there a common message that they thought was so important that they had to pass it on? In this book, the ancient voices speak.
This study follows the thread of the basic religious concepts of law, mercy, and love that are prominent in many religions. Major religions around the world are investigated up to the launch of the Common Era when most religions had been developed, including religions that later developed independently such as the Mayan.
These are messages refined by the fire of experience through the ages. The repeated messages collectively bear the tests of validity.
This study also looks at the many methods we use to try to understand God and religious literature. Is the nature of God reflected in what he asks of us? The premise is that it is.
By understanding the nature of God, perhaps we can filter out the many competing voices that tell us that God stands for such things as the murder of innocents and destruction.
The very nature of religion is illuminated in the light of the voices from the ages. But is ancient religion a path that we have lost, or does history hammer out newer voices to bear the truth of new experience as people try to understand their relationship with God?
About the author: Dorian Scott Cole is an independent, cross-disciplinary scholar with education and experience in psychology, philosophy, religion, language, visual semiotics, and technology. Other books and publications: How to Write a Screenplay, Writers Workshop Script Doctor, www.visualwriter.com, and www.onespiritresources.com.
Reading type: Mainstream Scholarly Specialist
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