Monday, September 18, 2006

Closer to Free

This, pilgrims, is what your conservative parents warned you about. This is the other evil, worse maybe than those hidden legions scrawling pentagrams on floorboards. This is universalism at its apex. The religious melting pot. Welcome to the Center for Spritual Living.

Or, as it was once known, Seattle Center of Conscious Living. That was back in 1921, when our city was hankering for new places of worship. I can't tell you what that prior incarnation was about, since at some point the community became part of the United Church of Religious Science.

Boy, were they in for a treat! Little did they know that their future held Rev. Kathianne Lewis. Now, my coming roast of their service aside, I genuinely appreciated this woman. She was funny, in that way that televangilists never are but aspire to be. None of my favorie parts had to do with the message of her speech, because honestly when is prayer--or "spiritual treatment" as the late, great Dr. Ernest Holmes dubbed it--ever funny? Here are two choice quotes:

"Open your textbooks to page 149...did you leave them at home? This isn't unusual, for those of you who've never been here. Not that they leave them at home, but that I open mine at all."

"How many people have heard that story in the Bible?...Ah, one?! I could tell you anything!"

OK, now, let me take a deep breath before I plunge into the landfill of things I have to say about what I experienced at CSL. There we go...whose idea was it to change "Amen" to "And so it is . . ."? I guess the first indicator of general balderdash would be the notion that religion is a science. I can be persuaded that there may be scientific elements to spirituality, and that the metaphysical doesn't have to be at odds with the physical, but you rob all the mystery--which is the ice cream of religion--when you turn it into BioChem.

Ernest Holmes, the founder of Religious Science, called it "Science of the Mind". OK, so it's Psychology. No. It's a way to use the mind to control the laws that govern the spiritual world. According to Holmes and his followers we have access to universal consciousness, and this access is brought about through the equivalent of lab work.

Center for Spiritual Living is a member of the United Church of Religious Science. The denomination of Religious Science began as the the Institute of Religious Science and School of Philosophy in 1927 founded by Ernest Holmes, (1887-1960). Set up as an educational institution with the focus being on teaching people how to think in new ways about spirituality and their connection to life itself. The Institute eventually evolved into the Religious denomination, Religious Science. An eager and widely well-read student of world religions and metaphysics, Holmes created the Science of Mind philosophy as a synthesis of all he studied. He believed that religion should be practical and provable, hence the name Religious Science, and created a unique and effective style of affirmative prayer known as Spiritual Mind Treatment. --from the CSL website.

When it comes down to it, their belief system is not all that appaling. Essentially Religious Science defines an eternal God/Cause/Creative Force that is coexistent with everything. It is One. The buzzwords for my time at the CSL compound were "spirit" and "being". We are incarnations of this spirit and have consequent power over things like chicken pox and earthquakes. Sort of an amalgam of Christian themes and the major underpinnings of Eastern Philosophy. Read more here.

But what did grind my teeth, as college students with Lexuses do so very well, was the pristine whitening-strips coating masking all the unseen coffee stains. During the service we had songs featuring harmonica and accordian, I mean right out of an early 90s T.V. opening. Everybody's shirt was multicolored--Southwest themed, picked up at a Dead concert, sewn by friends in Walnut Creek, CA--and I swear I heard someone say, "you rock, man". Then I picked up something eye-catching in the seatpocket in front of me that turned out to be a DVD about the campaign to expand the CSL (which already contains a small bookstore and can seat around 1,000 people). When I perused the offering envelope I discovered that the tithes given by the congregation were funds for said campaign! Then I remembered that one of the first things the minister talked about was the plans for renovation and how surely some people could relate to that--"'We love remodels', it's a great affirmation, say it with me, 'We all love remodels'". All the emphasis on personal power and enlightenment seems to have made this community a little too comfortable.

Which may be why, in the end, I felt more like I was at a promotion for a Light Rock Radio Station than at a church on Sunday. The only person who said "Hi" to me--and I said "Hi" to a few but that didn't go over so well--was one of the welcoming committee and I sensed a note of desperation as if he knew these folks were blowing their chance to be hospitable. I had such a desire to dig this place. I'm all for the kind of broad study that their bookstore's selection encourages. I'm intrigued by the notion of drawing on all the world's major religious philosophies. I'm just disappointed that what The Center for Spiritual Living ended up with is suburban religious entertainment.