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CSL: Planting a Bold Future Today

by SOM Magazine

Celebrating CSL’s 10th Anniversary »

The following is the transcript from CSL Spiritual Leader Rev. Dr. Edward Viljoen’s opening comments at the organization’s 2022 Spiritual Living Convention in January 2022. An excerpt appears in print in the July 2022 issue of the magazine.

Is tolerance deep enough? Does it go far enough for one who is a practicing Religious Scientist?

Hello, beautiful people of Centers for Spiritual Living. How wonderful this is for us to be together here in our convention and wherever you’re watching from, welcome. This is an auspicious occasion for so many reasons. Yesterday was the 27th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day here in the United States, where we are gathering for our convention. It’s an important event for us here.

There’s another reason this is an auspicious occasion for us. This is the 10th anniversary of Centers for Spiritual Living becoming the organization we are today: one integrated family of spiritual seekers. That happened in New Orleans in 2012, where we voted to be what we are today. So congratulations to us. That is wonderful. The seeds for our current reality were planted back then.

That is the way of things. Things are always created first in mind, in consciousness, before  they arrive in form. Today, we are experiencing the results of a creative impulse that was set in motion back then.

I wonder if the delegates and the attendees at the conference back then in New Orleans knew how much we would benefit from being one united family for these times? My goodness. I wonder if they knew back then. I wonder if they knew we would have to brace ourselves and call on strengths we didn’t even know we had. We had no idea of the skills and talents we would need to develop.

How visionary it was and how fortunate it was for us to say a loud, bold, hearty yes to becoming one organization. Thank God we did.

I wonder what the beloved community of Science of Mind in 10 years will need to feed on that we must confidently plant now on their behalf.

I mentioned we had to call on strengths and resources we didn’t know we would need. We’ve had to learn to adapt, pivot, change and then rinse and repeat. Just when we thought we were getting out of the shelter in place directives, we had to adapt again. Do you remember when it first became apparent that the spiritual community we knew and understood and were good at would have to change and go online?

Oh, I remember. I do because it was one week after I was elected to be CSL’s spiritual leader. I had other plans for this position. I was not expecting to sit in front of a webcam for two years in my study at home. No point in complaining. We adapted, got smart, got clever and got technical and creative — fast. With some glitches. Did you experience some glitches? I did.

Early in the pandemic, I was speaking to an education conference on a zoom call with some 20 people. Someone in my household was in the backyard in the hot tub, wearing what people wear when they are in their hot tubs. My computer’s study opens to the back garden, which is the only way back into the house. So, there I am in mid-sentence talking about the power of Mind — you can’t make this up — when the door behind me opens and a wet person, naked, walks in.

What I appreciate so much about that CSL Education Committee members is that they didn’t say a word. Not a word. We just carried on.

And we’ve had to learn how to carry on. And to keep carrying on. And to help each other carry on. And to be with each other in our awkward breakdowns and challenges, with forgiveness, flexibility and heart, haven’t we?

I’ve come to appreciate some of the zoom features, like the “touch up my appearance” feature. I’m not going to lie; I’ve had some concern about appearing before real-life people without that filter on. I also love the “blur your background” feature; I don’t have to clean up.

On the other hand, I also have some concerns about these features. Am I touching things up for appearance’s sake? I am concerned about the glamorization of what is real. It plays into that spiritually  challenging habit of pretending that things are much better than they are.

I’ve been reading about the complicated impact of social media on teens these days and how they are being exposed to an unrealistic view of other people’s lives and feeling like they must live up to that. I’m guilty of that myself when I put up a shoji screen behind me because I want to hide what is going on. Or when I use that blur the background filter. Behind the filter or screen is a beautiful and realistic mess called being human.

I signed on to one of those zoom meetings, and right in the middle of it, the shoji screen came down to reveal what was happening in the study. Note to self: Is this a metaphor for my life? Am I overly concerned with appearances of how things ought to be? Do I really need to touch myself up to appear in the spiritual community of my choosing? Do I really need to hide my mess? Is pretending that there is no mess in my life one of the downsides of being obsessed with positivity?

And is that the Science of Mind message that the community of 10 years of the future will want?

I doubt it. I don’t want that for myself, and I don’t want it for our movement. I know I can do better than hide behind a screen or filter. I want to know that we can be present for each other in our moments of chaos, distress and disappointment — and be with the raw, complex emotions that go along with being human. I want to plant that seed so that 10 years from now, or even right now, young and older alike will not have to hide when we are feeling sad, disappointed, frightened, angry, confused, or mystified.

When I was younger and I first found Science of Mind, I developed a fear of negative thinking, so I avoided or hid anything disturbing or conflictual because I thought it said something about my wholeness as a spiritual being.

I’m so sorry that I went that way. I wish I had read these words of the activist and child advocate L.R. Knost, who wrote:

Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world. All things break. And all things can be mended. Not with time, as they say, but with intention. So go. Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally. The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you.

Is that not a clarion call for our teaching? To love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally? Oh, let us plant those seeds now because I think the beloved community of 10 years from now will benefit from the fruits of those seeds. I do.

We’ve had so much loss in this past year (2021). More than 5 million people worldwide dead from the pandemic. Bishop John Shelby Spong died in September last year (2021), and Archbishop Desmond Tutu died on the day after Christmas. Two giants of spiritual heroism, each with their clarion call to spiritual people like us to stay relevant, engaged and real, to stand in the glorious mess that is humanity and face it all and not hide from it or avoid it, and to love intentionally, extravagantly and unconditionally. They were not afraid to stand in the darkness and shine their light.

Bishop Spong was a friend of Centers for Spiritual Living. He spoke at our Asilomar Summer Conference one year; maybe some of you were there. Oh my goodness, I remember it. He said something about how Christianity, for it to remain viable and survive, had to examine and rethink its teachings. Oh, and we applauded. We applauded his boldness. And I remember clapping my hands, thinking, should the same not be true for our Centers for Spiritual Living? Should we not rigorously examine our teaching in light of what is known today so that we can stay relevant. I’m certain Dr. Ernest Holmes would want that.

And it’s happening anyway, whether we want it or not. The difficult questions are asking themselves without permission. Because as we learn about privilege and bias, and classism the world over, these questions cannot be held back. It doesn’t matter if we want to hear them or not.

A colleague of ours, a Science of Mind colleague, talking about himself, asked me, “Is it only my consciousness that brought me to this experience of success, or did my privilege have something to do with it?” In the same week, another colleague, a Science of Mind minister, called me and said “Edward,” he was talking about himself, “am I in a position of power and influence solely because of my spiritual practice, or did the societal bias toward my gender and race have something to do with it?”

These questions cannot be stopped — and to remain relevant and viable we have to keep step with the questions and answer them. We have to find a modern expression of our beloved Science of Mind that does not blame victims for their experiences but instead teaches us to have minds that can hold the complexity, ambiguity and contradictions of being human, with all of its nuances, and to remain open to the full range of feelings that go with being a messy human being, perched behind a filter of perfection.

In a way, we are being invited to the table to investigate what exactly spiritual bypass means. And are we complicit in it? And how may we avoid teaching the next generation to look away when terrible things happen to good people? The Science of Mind of the 1930s must and will evolve. That’s just the way of things, and nobody can stop it.

In May 1992, Science of Mind magazine published an article by Holmes that stated: “The one who understands the Science of Mind will be tolerant, kind and sympathetic.” Now I wonder, if Holmes were alive today, would he want us to go further and do better than that?

I wonder if he would expand on the idea of tolerance.

I’m guessing yes, he would. I’m guessing he would invite us as students of Science of Mind to ask: Is tolerance deep enough? Does it go far enough for one who is a practicing Religious Scientist?

I believe he would invite us to lean deeply into it, to go further than tolerating appearances to rejoicing in them as the natural  state of the universe and to boldly proclaim to the world that our teaching, the Science of Mind, is a teaching of oneness; how from the one come the many and that’s holy; about the thread of Divinity that connects us; about the healing power of loving kindness and the sacredness of life and the equalness of that sacredness in all; and how it is about the power that we have to heal or to harm.

Tolerance may not be enough for that.

It’s a good start it’s a good starting point. I can tolerate someone I hate. I can put up with them. Oh, but when I abandon hate, tolerance is no longer useful.

So I reworded Dr Holmes’ statement with more contemporary words: “The one who understands the Science of Mind will be inclusive, compassionate, loving,” and I can add curious, appreciative, radically welcoming, fearless, helpful and engaged. You probably have a whole bunch of words you can add to this.

Ah, to take a stand for that!

We have been cautious about taking a stand as a movement and boldly proclaiming this is who we are. And I wonder what the reason for that is? Why are we so cautious? My therapist says that I am conflict-avoidant. I like to maintain positive relations with people I like, to be considered nice, good, harmonious. I don’t want to rock the boat. The problem with that is that when things happen — and things always happen, something I don’t like is always happening — and even though I saw it coming, I didn’t say anything, because I want to avoid the conflict.

When that something happens, I realize my silence helped it happen. I was a silent partner when I didn’t speak up for what I stand for. I see that now.

I think our Centers for Spiritual Living may be conflict-avoidant.

We are very cautious about taking a stand. We like to maintain a positive perspective. We like to see the good and praise it. We love that.

The problem with that approach, we are discovering, just like in the personal realm, when something happens — and something is always happening — when something does happen, no one will know what we stand for until we say so clearly, kindly, compassionately. When we don’t say what we stand for, we might inadvertently become supporters of things that are not harmonious with our teaching.

In the United States, public shootings have been a problem for a long time and one of our Science of Mind colleagues wrote these words a couple of years back. You can just feel the pain in the words.

My biggest fear right now is that we as a nation are getting used to the mass shootings and letting it become a new normal. Period. There are no simplistic solutions, but we need to tackle the issue come with eyes and ears and hearts wide open. This isn’t right, and we need to demand our leaders address all the components of the situation, and we can’t let anyone off the  hook because of finger pointing and budget constraints. If it’s not safe to go to an outdoor festival a mall or Walmart, for God’s sake, then we are not the land of the free. And if we can’t speak up and demand our safety, we are not the home of the brave.

Oh, I may be conflict-avoidant, but I love it when I know some when somebody stands. And I am learning in this position as Spiritual Leader that disagreement is not that terrible of a thing. People can disagree and still love each other. Disagreement, it turns out is survivable. Being shot at a festival or in a nightclub or a supermarket or while jogging in a white neighborhood, it turns out, is lethal.

Maybe, respectfully, we are conflict-avoidant because of something our founder, Dr. Ernest Holmes, said. He suggested that we were to stand for something and against nothing.

I think we could be better, much better at standing for something. And coming out for something. Or at least getting clear on how this beloved Science of Mind instructs us to live in this world. We might want to also ask ourselves what the imperative is. What is the moral, spiritual imperative of the Science of Mind?

We don’t have to have the same opinion, we don’t have to agree, but surely, we must ask the question — and answer it. What does this teaching of oneness, compassion and love compel me to take a stand for in this world right now? No matter which nation I am living in, how does my faith tradition compel me to stand for liberty, equity, inclusion, justice?

Many years ago, our movement had its annual convention. I believe it was in Chicago. One of the topics on the table was whether to make a statement as a movement in support of same-gender marriage. The statement was defeated. Some objected to it, expressing concern about losing membership. Some said it was political and that we ought not to get involved with politics. At that moment when we defeated the statement, in my opinion, we didn’t stand for anything. And by not taking a stand and not making a statement we communicated something to those who were affected: We tolerate you. We tolerate what you are going through; now work on your consciousness.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu did not tolerate intolerance. Oh no, he took a stand for the LGBTQI+ clergy and community long before it was popular for spiritual leaders to do so. And he was one of the strongest formative voices in creating South Africa’s new post-apartheid expression as a rainbow nation. That’s what it was called. It was the first nation on the planet, I understand, to constitutionally outlaw discrimination based on sexual identity. And he stood for the right of every single person to vote.

I would like the seed we are planting now for the Science of Mind community of the future to be that bold. To be larger than tolerance and to be larger than self-interest.

Maybe it begins by allowing those questions. What am I promoting, allowing, permitting when I don’t take a stand for oneness? What am I promoting, allowing and permitting when I ignore those who are unnecessarily oppressed, marginalized, maligned, killed or starved?

I join those people who say it is the moral duty of the spiritual community to explore social issues in the light of their faith tradition.

I believe we must ask ourselves:

  • If Oneness had an opinion about racism, what would it be?
  • If unconditional love did something about homophobia or any of the other phobias, what would it be?
  • If the Infinite, all-inclusive, all-knowing mind had a voice about inequitable distribution of opportunities and access to services and resources, what would it say?

And then, according to our practice, listen. Listen for the answer.

And if the voice says turn away and let each of them tend to their own, if the voice says take care of yourself first, if the voice says that consciousness created it, if the voice says don’t think about those who suffer because it’ll take you down, if the voice says ignore those who are oppressed and marginalized, then I question if that can be the message of our Science of Mind.

One social media influencer said about this pandemic it is as if Mother Earth sent us to our room to think about what we have done — so that we can do better.

Oh, my goodness. How can we do better?

Look, this is a question being asked across societies and faith traditions. Just watch TikTok. You will see every day, thousands of people unpacking white supremacy, deconstructing evangelicalism, challenging the effectiveness of prosperity teachings in an inequitable society, calling out the generational impact of global colonialism, identifying the damage done by victim blaming when we say, “What’s in your consciousness?”

You see, this is happening whether we like it or not.

An African American colleague of ours recently said to me — and I want to get it absolutely correct —  “Edward, I work with Fortune 500 executives as the only African American woman in a strongly male-dominated conservative business setting, and yet,  I have not experienced the kind of racial and gender micro-aggressions there as I do in my own Science of Mind communities.”

Should I have asked her, “What is in your consciousness?” No.

Or ought I to hear the uncomfortable and painful truth from one of our own that we can do better than tolerate and blame.

Lest I give you the wrong impression I’d like to complete our message by saying: I’m extremely optimistic about our future as a movement because of the vision we have for our world. And I’m optimistic because that vision is doing what the vision ought to do — it is working as it brings these big questions into view in such a focus that we cannot ignore them. We cannot avoid answering them. And digging deep into them. They are not going away.

I’m extremely optimistic about the future because I believe that you and I — we — have the heart to do this. We can do this. And by this, I mean we can grow, evolve, learn, change and be relevant. We can pivot, change, rinse and repeat.

I’m extremely optimistic about the future because a community of people like you and me love each other and love the Science of Mind enough to let its moral and spiritual imperative come alive in us and shape us.

I’m extremely optimistic about the future because there is a powerful good in the universe. It is flowing through us even now in a constructive, creative, powerful way in the direction of the vision we have. It is creating a post-pandemic reality in which we are together again in a new way, in a vital form drawn forward by relevance and engagement in a modern way. Oh, in 10 years’ time, they will be grateful that we said yes.

And that vision, oh so beautiful:

  • We envision all people, all beings and all life as expressions of God.
  • We see a world in which each person lives in alignment with their highest spiritual principle, emphasizing unity with God and connection with each other; a world in which, individually and collectively, we are called to a higher state of consciousness and action.
  • We envision humanity awakening to its spiritual magnificence and discovering the creative power of thought; a world where every person discovers their own personal power and ability to create an individual life that works within a world that works for everyone.
  • We envision a world in which we live and grow as One Global Family that respects and honors the interconnectedness of all life; a world where this kinship with all life prospers and connects through the guidance of spiritual wisdom and experience.
  • We envision a world where personal responsibility joins with social conscience in every area of the political, corporate, academic and social sectors, providing sustainable structures to further the emerging global consciousness.
  • We envision a world where every person has enough food, a home and a sense of belonging; a world of peace and harmony, enfranchisement and justice.
  • We envision a world in which resources are valued, cared for and grown, and where there is generous and continuous sharing of these resources.
  • We envision a worldwide culture in which forgiveness is the norm.
  • We envision a world that has renewed its emphasis on beauty, nature and love through the resurgence of creativity, art and aesthetics.
  • We envision a world that works for everyone and for all of creation.

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