Saturday, April 16, 2016

There is dispute, or better yet, a plethora of possibilities about the root and origin of the word "religion." For many, such a confusion really doesn't matter, but the significance of one's use and understanding makes a profound difference.
One possibility is that religion, purely and fundamentally, is about being bound to the holy, or literally to bind oneself to God. The meaning of religion, or understanding of it, has shifted from this wonderful concept to a practice of rules and regulations that are established and administered by an organization for the purpose of keeping order and clarity about an accepted and approved set of beliefs concerning life in general and how it relates to the spiritual. 
Hence, many people today, in a rejection of the pitfalls and failures of religious institutions and their many representatives or adherents, prefer to be identified as "spiritual, but not religious."  Using the above mentioned definition of religion, this means "spiritual, but unbound to the holy." The binding directly means a form of exercise or practice, a "doing" that supports and enhances or demonstrates the belief, whatever it may be. If one's belief is that there is a fundamental force of love in the universe, then one's "religion" would be the practice of exposing and expressing this love. 
Herein the idea of ritual becomes an important aspect of religion. A ritual is an act that represents a believed reality. Rituals can be very powerful, except when they entirely replace what they point to and represent. Many rituals become a thing unto themselves for those practicing them. Thus superstition becomes a powerful component of religion. 
This is also, however, the stage at which the original function of religion becomes lost among the subsequent beliefs arising from superstition.  And hence, people preferring the spiritual sans religion. 
The fallacy of "spiritual, but not religious" is, however, that to be spiritual without any manifestation of ethics or morality is to be a kite without a string or a sailboat without a rudder. The spiritual is without any substance or impact. 
Ethics becomes a significant expression of spirituality and requires some set of boundaries (i.e. rules) which guide one's life in a way that is complimentary and not contradictory to the spiritual to which one adheres. Essentially, this is what one would call one's religion and it may be very simple as in "do unto others as you would want others to do unto you" or very complex by establishing the undergirding basis of why it matters that we treat others as we want to be treated ourselves (as in God commands it or by God's very nature draws us into living as an expression of this identity). 
C. S. Lewis, who became a Christian as an adult and oddly through a process of logic rather than entirely an emotional experience, described in his radio talks that became the book "Mere Christianity" that religion is like a set of maps of a coastline that give sailors an idea of where they are and how to get from one place to another while avoiding dangers. 
That's as good a definition of religion as I have found.  
Frankly, I rather appreciate maps. I don't particular care to be lost. There are some places I enjoy exploring, but if others have been there before, I am likely to utilize what they've learned from their being there. Obviously there's an expectation of authenticity, that the information is accurate, which implies a level of trust. 
This can certainly be applied to the notion of religion as a map. Children rely heavily on the trustworthiness of adults who provide instructions about the map and understanding the map. There is a day, however, when a child either accepts the map as reliable or not--or somewhere in between absolute acceptance and absolute rejection. Each person very likely takes the map and makes personal modifications to it based on his/her experience. 
Let's bring this back to the aforementioned definition of religion: to bind oneself to the holy. The purpose of religion is not to stifle a person's spirit or to limit their spiritual journey to a very small part of the coast, but to equip and provide the necessary resources to explore the vast seas of life. This can be frightening for some. Some clearly prefer limitations and clear boundaries that keep one secure. Some may prefer a small rowboat and limit themselves to a tiny part of what the map describes, so much so that they feel threatened by those who sail far beyond and tell of their adventures and what they've learned. Others are put off by such limitations and often will abandon the entire set of maps simply because some of the maps that are used by some of the people are too restrictive. 
In my own adventures, I have found that some of the maps are erroneous primarily because they do not take into account the vastness of the sea. Likewise, I have found that casting aside all the maps is as foolish and narrow minded as those who vehemently defend "their" map as the only reliable way to navigate the coastline. Perhaps it's possible to be spiritual but not ritualistic, or spiritual but not superstitious, but I find it negates the spiritual to say one isn't religious in any way whatsoever. 
So I would describe myself as spiritual and religious, or spiritually religious, or religiously spiritual, since spiritual but not religious is like saying one is alive but not breathing, or on a journey but going nowhere. 

© 2016 Stephen Carl

Friday, April 15, 2016

How I've spent part of my morning…
The thought, idea, concept, belief in God can only be derived through who and what we are—though revelation may be "true", it still must be processed through the filter of our brains and consequent consciousness that is biologically based—as remarkable as our brains (or minds) may be, they are still biological. Our thoughts and our “souls” or “spirits” may be something we would set apart from our biology, but they are still known or conceived only through the biology of our brains. At least as far as we know, when someone dies and their biology ceases functioning as a living system, then we have no “proof” of anything beyond. Near death or after death experiences have been communicated, but they are all put through the filter of the living, biological system of those who have “experienced” them. Here we admit that our concept of “proof” is limited because it is bound to the scientific definition of what is observable through our senses and therefore measurable in scientific ways. It’s like saying that chocolate doesn't exist because it doesn't fit the category of cinnamon. Or better yet, blue isn't real because we can't hear it. These are rather amusing and simple examples, but even they miss the mark since they use aspects of what we know to illustrate something we do not know. We can take it a little further and say that ultra-violet or infrared light does not exist since we cannot see them, or radio waves since we cannot hear them. There are countless examples in nature and the cosmos of incredible things that are beyond the human capacity to do or experience or know without some embellishment of our own senses. Still there are other mysteries that do not fit conventional logic, yet we accept them because they show up through tests—e.g. light that is both wave and particle, all depending on how we’re observing it.
The point of these examples is that “proof” is only and always biologically perceived and verified. As this is the case, how can we ever prove anything that does not fit the categories we understand as concrete—made of atoms doing something? We cannot. It is beyond the limitations of proving. Does this mean that there is nothing that does not fit the limits of our ability to experience it, even through methodologies that explain that something is taking place without us experiencing it either directly or through some instrument. For example, through mathematics we have theories of how atoms interact and much more—without the math, we couldn’t begin to surmise some of the things we say we now know. But even math or the super collider or the most powerful microscope cannot look beyond the cosmic system in which they exist. Does this mean there is nothing across that threshold? Amusingly, even our language does not allow expression of anything outside of our system. I used the word “outside” of our system, but that relies on the system of which we are a part that has insides and outsides and upsides and downsides. We speak of whether God “exists” and yet existence is something that is defined only within the system of which we are a part—there I go again using “within” the system as if for something else to be (ha! exist) it must be “outside.” I cannot speak or even conceive of something that doesn’t have dimension and doesn’t swim within time.
The particularly fascinating aspect to this is having the capacity to think of and even believe in something that isn’t contained within the jar of what we know and from which we arise. I suppose we are only able to do so in very limited ways that are metaphorically expressed through the system of which we are a part. In other words, we can’t imagine the unimaginable even though we can imagine it and know that we can’t.
With the ability to imagine the unimaginable, is it possible to imagine that the unimaginable is capable of things we cannot begin to fathom, including understanding things that are beyond our ability to conceive? To say no or to put limitations on the unimaginable has to be either absolute arrogance or phenomenal idiocy. If we can speak of God as creator of the cosmos, of the observable, of ourselves and we are able to recognize that the instrument of perception and conception (human beings) that has been created is used to be conscious of itself and the rest of what has been created, but by something beyond the created, is it conceivable that we are not able to see or reach beyond some edge, some boundary of this cosmos? And if we come to an edge, a boundary are we wise to say that nothing lies beyond—speaking metaphorically using the created dimension of space.
Now that I have that out of my system, I'm going to clean the bathrooms.
© Stephen Carl, 2016

Thursday, April 14, 2016

I recently read an article about why some people experience an itch that cannot be scratched (or satisfied by scratching). It has to do with the signals in the cell that are affected by particular chemicals and how an imbalance of those chemicals causes the cells receptors to remain open, thus causing the sensation of an itch through the nervous system. Since the receptors remain open, however, no matter how much one scratches the itching sensation remains.
Our bodies are incredible. If we had to consciously think about all that is going on for life to be sustained, then we’d probably not live very long. And that brief period would be very uncomfortable since as we ignored some of the details in order to maintain the big functions, then things would begin to go wrong and our pain receptors would begin to scream at us.  Just the basic stuff of heart beating and lungs breathing would keep us busy, but add to that the necessity of how we think, that inside our brains there are neurons and synapses and chemical as well as electrical signals—imagine if we had to think of these things for them to happen and that we needed them to happen if we had to think about our heart beating and lungs breathing.  Let’s not forget, however, that the oxygenated blood begins an amazing journey through the body, delivering oxygen and nutrients to cells and returning with waste which must be delivered to the proper processing stations (for example, kidneys).  What if each of those transfers needed our thinking attention, just like the thousands and thousands of deliveries of goods and exchanges of mail that take place around the world need the attention of people who do that work?  Once the deliveries are made in your body there is a lot of thinking involved in cellular activity, like managing the chemicals that affect the signals in your skin, where you might feel an itch. And all of our organs are work zones with particular tasks—filtration, absorption, processing, waste disposal, security—yes, the immune system is the security system for the body. It acts to eradicate the foreign elements it identifies, whether from the outside or from some manufacturing defect. Yes, there are mistakes that the body makes (like the itch you cannot scratch away, as well as deadlier complications), but given the phenomenal number of things going on, it’s rather amazing more doesn’t go wrong.
It’s dizzying all that goes on.  And this just scratches the surface. Realize that while you’re reading this and imagining all the work taking place that you probably weren’t actually thinking about maintaining your own system. But that’s not unusual, since none of us do. We go about our activities and don’t stop to think about the herculean task our brain is conducting without any conscious attention to it.  We walk, talk, work, play, learn, fall in love, experience disappointment, worship, laugh, dream, argue, hurt, heal, sing, calculate, plan, organize, reorganize, exercise, dispute, relate, procreate, imagine, and everything else humans are capable of doing—mostly because we are not having to consciously maintain our physiological systems.
Take a moment and realize that you are a wonder, alive among wonders in a world of wonders.  Then go back to ignoring it all, since there's no possible way to really live if you're focused on how life is maintained. Just don't take any of it for granted.  Here's an idea: let wonder be an itch you can never fully scratch away.

© 2016 Stephen Carl

Wednesday, April 13, 2016


A low place in the heart
Where water once had been
Now a dry hole mocking me
Reminding me of sin

The soil now cracked and dry
Is a testament for fools
Who read there death and doom
And cast aside their tools

The dryness of the soul
Will drain you of your will
To keep the goal of life in mind
And trust in God to fill

Through thirst we learn to trust
Unless in hast we drink
Anything that satisfies
Before we stop and think

Too much will quench the sign
God’s voice in spiritual thirst
And cause us to be blind
To keep God blessed and first

The lesson’s hard to learn
When we only look for ease
The hardships teach humility
And bring us to our knees

For below the things we see
The things we touch and feel
A truth resides beneath
That wisdom shows more real

Patience grows from pain
When all we want is peace
Nothing frees us from this jail
Until by God’s release

Then the heart once like a dune
Becomes a living well
Like a fresh artesian spring
With grace to share and tell

Each day one then begins
Like a beggar on the street
With nothing, nor entitlement
Each need is God’s to meet

The cup was dry before
Last night when all was still
As rest restores the soul
And God the cup does fill

© Stephen Carl, 2016