Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Divergent Spiritual Paths

Some time ago, I wrote that my spiritual beliefs were different from the church where I was employed, and I took a stand to encourage spiritual growth in others, even if their beliefs are different from mine. I valued their experience of spirituality and I am willing to accept that others can have different views without my own being threatened. I don't have it that one must be right and another wrong in this regard.

At the time, I was somewhat vague about what those spiritual differences were. On a certain level, the specifics didn't matter as much as finding a way to support growth in others without sharing their beliefs. As I focus more on writing music and accompanying other skilled musicians, I am recognizing how great an impact basic spiritual beliefs have on everything a person does. I see the divergent paths leading to very different places in the lives of individuals and organizations, even those organizations that do not have a direct spiritual focus.

Some spiritual belief systems hold as a basic premise that human beings are broken, inherently evil, and incapable of doing any good on their own. Often this premise is accompanied by a corollary that everything good is God's doing, and that when human beings surrender to the divine will, God can work through them in spite of their basic nature. I see the potential for this to contribute to a sense of humility and a willingness for self-examination, but I see other results play out as well. Even with the acknowledgment that human beings are precious, when something we don't like happens, the belief that people are broken often wins out.

Ultimately, I see the belief that people are basically broken developing into disconnection from self and others. If people are broken, then our suspicions, doubts, and judgments of others are well justified. We have no underlying reason for respect of others or ourselves. When we disagree with another person's point of view, it can be attributed to their brokenness; and when we agree, we can attribute that to a mutual connection to the divine.

And if we believe that people are basically broken, we can easily rob ourselves of opportunities to create and achieve. I believe much of our anger and hatred toward others is just a manifestation of fear, quite likely fear that we ourselves are broken individuals. In fact, we can give ourselves permission to behave like broken people. Broken people seek to destroy rather than build up, they embrace revenge rather than grace, and they find reasons for separation rather than connection.

My own strong belief is that people are inherently capable. I believe that an individual may have unique strengths and weaknesses, but there is an underlying capability in every person. This personal belief impacts how I see others, how I engage them, how meaningful my connection with them can be. And meaningful connection with other people creates possibilities beyond one person's capability. When I acknowledge my own inherent capability, it means that I can establish a meaningful purpose and work toward accomplishing things that are in line with that purpose. Simply being human imbues people with value.

Capable people can still get off course from time to time, and it is important for growth that we benefit from one another's eyes. When we see people as capable rather than broken, the support we give and receive can come from a position of compassion, grace, and connection. And believing in other people's capability encourages full participation in the world we are creating.

Recognizing that either of these perspectives is possible in a wide range of faith traditions and spiritual systems, I am reminded of the old proverb about the dog you feed being the one that wins. How we treat one another is the most convincing manifestation of any spiritual belief, and my goal is that my noblest beliefs about others and myself will be supported by overwhelming evidence in my life.

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