Category Archives: Events

On Facilitating Circles

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Joran Oppelt facilitating an Integral Church circle in Siofok, Hungary.

Recently, at Integral Church, we had what I felt was our worst Circle ever. But when I voiced my frustration about it, my wife surprisingly said she thought it was the best Circle she’d ever been to.

What happened during the Circle that could have been so polarizing?

In my mind, many things had gone “wrong“ over the course of the morning. It was our outdoor circle so I had to get there early and set up the blankets, chairs and altar. I had forgotten to bring the cash box to pay for our childcare. It started raining halfway through (the first time in 6 years) and we were forced to pack up and move to a nearby pavilion. The children came scampering back early from the playground (due to concerns about lightning) and joined us. We reconvened under the pavilion at one of the picnic tables but were now looking more like a rectangle than a circle. I had intended to sing one song but was moved at the last minute (due to the small group) to sing another. I felt like that morning’s selected reading (a work of science fiction) fell a bit flat with some of the participants and those who I’d hoped would be there to participate in the discussion couldn’t make it. We passed the offering bowl and got the least amount of money we’ve ever collected. Because I had asked for a volunteer, the closing meditation ended up being led by my six-year-old (as I whispered prompts in his year).

Now, none of these things on their own are particularly negative experiences, but in the aggregate I felt like I had lost control of the circle. And, therein lay my dilemma. The circles aren’t something that are controlled. They are facilitated. And the next day I had to do some deep inquiry into why I felt so exhausted after facilitating a circle that felt so bad to me and so good to my best friend. Continue reading

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Integral Church returns to Hungary for IEC3

We recently returned to Siofok, Hungary for the 3rd annual Integral European Conference. Our circle on Saturday was our largest yet. Just under 50 people from all over the world gathered for Integral Church on the lawn at Hotel Azur on beautiful Lake Balaton.

 

 


The Art of Prayer (with Video)

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Kiss of the Muse, Alex Grey

The following is an excerpt from the book, Integral Church: A Handbook for Spiritual Communities.

What, Me Pray?

For most people at a modern or rational stage of development, prayer is something for children and the superstitious. Its etymology is from the Old French preier (“ask, entreat”) which is derived from the Latin word precari, which means to “ask earnestly” or “beg.” And in the modern world, begging is something that poor people do.

Most of my young adult life, I considered prayers to be uttered before meals, before bed each night or to be reserved for when someone was injured or dying. My family didn’t model this behavior, but I assumed other (Christian) families did.

When I discovered the Unity Church and the New Thought movement, my eyes were opened to prayer as a form of dialogue with Source (or Christ Consciousness). I embraced my “allergy” to prayer and jumped in with both feet, studying and practicing the act of prayer and serving as a chaplain for a thriving church community from 2012-2014.

Just like yoga and meditation, I learned that there are different methods (or modes) of prayer, and hundreds of ways to actually pray.

Dialogue and the Other

The idea of God is so personal that the way each individual relates to God (with fear, awe, devotion or worship) is as unique as themselves (not to mention framed by their current geography and cultural worldview and colored by shadow material from the unconscious mind). The Ultimate Other looks, feels and sounds different to everyone.

There are three perspectives from which all of us might describe and experience God (or the idea of God) — 1st-person (the interior of the individual, meditative, internal arising of Spirit, witnessing), 2nd-person (the other, relational, one-on-one/face-to-face, devotion, prayer, God the Father, Mother Earth, various deities) and 3rd-person (the physical universe, nature, science, God-as-the-Kosmos, Spirit-in-Action, all that is observable and that we may witness, tat tvat asam). Put simply, we can talk “as God,” “to God,” or “about God.” These three value spheres (see Chapter 2) are useful when discussing or contemplating spirituality. All three are very real perspectives, and all three simultaneously arise together.

It is this 2nd-person language (talking “to God”) that we use when we pray.

Prayer is sometimes looked down on as being a subservient act. When most people think of prayer, they think of a plea or an appeal to God(s) in the sky for their desired outcome to be granted. Part of the reason we may not be comfortable with this form of dialogue is that the “other” is 1) outside ourselves, 2) invisible and 3) more powerful than we are. Most of us are told, when we move into the stage of development known as modernism – and are exposed to the branches of science and philosophy – that no self-respecting human being would prostrate themselves before this kind of creator God.

But this assumes that the power (to create meaning or change) resides somewhere outside of ourselves. And for the traditionally religious, this is true (or, at the very least God remains worthy of our reverence, awe and devotion).

Post-modern forms of prayer (centering, affirmative) simply assume and strive to express what already is. When you pray in the affirmative, you declare that you are not broken or fallen or diseased, but that you have the infinite power within you to heal yourself, and to live your highest potential. When you practice centering prayer, you invoke the perfection of the moment and all thoughts that may be arising (including the prayer itself).

When you pray, you are engaging with Spirit-in-Action in 2nd person language (addressing the “thou” or Ultimate Other). And unlike meditation, where the goal is to let thoughts go completely, prayer is the training of our actual thoughts to be more positive, kind, gentle, loving and forgiving.

Prayer is a way of aligning your mind with the Divine (or what Sri Aurobindo called Supermind). If meditation is the act of being unattached from your thoughts and simply letting them drift away, then prayer is the act of holding onto and turning your thoughts, one at a time, over and over in your hands until they are perfect. Until they have been smoothed like stones in a river. Continue reading


Integral Church Expands to Hungary

Erzsébet Vizinger – instructor at Integrál Akadémia – recently led a circle at the Everness Festival in Balaton, Hungary (pictured) and will be starting up a regular monthly circle (every second Sunday) at a beautiful outdoor location in Kecskemét, Hungary.

We are honored and excited to support her in this endeavor and I hope you join me in thanking and congratulating her in the comments below.

Our “we” space just got a lot bigger. Say “Hello!” to our sister Integral Church community in Europe.

* If YOU are interested in starting an Integral Church in your community, please drop us a line.


Tampa Bay Interfaith Week 2016 (with Video)

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L-R: St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman, Dr. Frank Tedesco (True Dharma International), Alchemy Oppelt, Imam Abdul Karim Ali, Joran Oppelt (Integral Church), Dennis Lemmermann and Catie Warren (Community Tampa Bay) and Soledad Loba (Unitarian Universalists of Clearwater).

Three years ago I had a vision for what Interfaith Week might be. It was a grand vision. And because my background is in marketing, media and events, that vision included lots of complicated moving parts. It included big corporate sponsors like Best Buy and ValPak and Dex Imaging and Bloomin’ Brands — local companies that could get behind the cause of tolerance and peace and pluralism. Community-based companies that could afford to cut checks so that we might get the message out to as many people as possible using billboards, print, radio, and TV.

The vision included bringing famed keynote speakers to town like Karen Armstrong, Krista Tippett, Richard Rohr, Eboo Patel and the Dalai Lama. I imagined that we would screen documentary films and enjoy music and dance performances from well-known artists and musicians. My vision was that we would put on a show — because that’s what I knew and that’s what I’m good at.

What actually happened is that we opened up the programming to the community itself. And I never could have predicted the outcome. Proposals began to come in from faith communities willing to collaborate with one another to create something really special and unprecedented — not from the top down, but from the ground up.

What Interfaith Week has actually become is greater than I could ever have hoped.

This year, our opening ceremony was hosted by St. Mary our Lady of Grace Catholic Church and featured calls to prayer from Jewish, Buddhist and Muslim communities from all around the bay. Hearing Imam Azhar Subedar singing the Arabic call of the Muezzin in that sanctuary was simply sublime. And hearing Frank Tedesco talk about the lack of theology in Buddhist traditions in the hallowed halls of Catholicism was unforgettable.

This year, over shared meals all across this area and over the past seven days I have seen faith leaders and communities come together to plant the seeds of relationship, and enter into dialogue, in order to find solutions together. These solutions look like cooperative service projects and community cleanups, increased collaboration with city government, inter-congregational visits and sister community programs, increased religious literacy among neighborhoods, more support and programming for our youth and our children, and a concerted effort to focus on nonviolent language and demonstration.

What I have seen this year is not merely a show put on for the public. What I have seen, and continue to see every year, is the actual work of interfaith dialogue and bridge-building being done in our city. This year’s event saw an increase in geographical participation as well, taking us across the bridge to Tampa and north to Clearwater. This means not that there’s more work to do, but that there are more people willing to do it.

If the purpose of this week is to get together in a safe collaborative and educational place in order to talk about our faith and beliefs, then here’s what I believe — I believe that as the future of Interfaith Week and the work you all are doing unfolds, so unfolds the future of religion itself. Continue reading


The Future of Religion in 5 Minutes

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I was recently asked to prepare a five-minute talk on “The Future of Religion.”

I thought five minutes would be easy, compared to the 30-minute talks or 90-minute workshops I’ve led. I was surprised to learn that the shorter the presentation, the more difficult it becomes.

Ignite Tampa Bay forced me to refine things I have been teaching and talking about for years. It encouraged me to make my language more accessible and less academic. It is probably the talk I’ve given that I’ve learned the most from.

Below is the video and full transcript. I owe a huge thank you to Matthew Fox, Stephen Prothero, and Ken Wilber who inspired portions of this talk.

We’re told not to talk about sex, politics, or religion. Continue reading


Affirmation for the Summer Solstice

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I rise today – on the Summer Solstice – as Father Sun (Father/Son) ready to reclaim my place on the cosmic throne. On this, the longest day of the year, I will burn away all that no longer serves me. I will give my light, love and life to the world. I will hold the most beauty, the most justice and the most truth for the most people. I will allow myself to shine brighter than ever. I will plant the seeds of biophilia* (the love of life) wherever I go. I will tend to them and watch them grow. I love. I live. I am.

*Thanks to Matthew Fox for the word “biophilia”


Parliament of the World’s Religions 2015: A Look Back [Photos and Video]

The Salt Palace Convention Center

The Parliament of the World’s Religions was held on October 15-19, 2015 in Salt Lake City, UT. Roughly 10,000 people attended this year’s event, representing hundreds of nations and over 50 faith traditions. Attendees included academics engaged in roundtable talks of peace, disarmament, conflict resolution and climate change; leaders of various faith communities (Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, pagan, indigenous, interspiritual and more) committed to spreading peace and compassion in the world; as well as spiritual seekers and activists dedicated to healing their own communities from within and using interfaith dialogue to bridge some of those divides.

Guest speakers and panelists included biologist Jane Goodall, author Karen Armstrong, activist Eboo Patel, New Thought minister Michael Bernard Beckwith, Sojourners founder Jim Wallis, and many more, including His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who fell ill at the last minute and had to return home.

Several impromptu groups and coalitions were formed during and after many of the lively discussions and plenaries in order to leverage the momentum created at this historic event. The halls of the Salt Palace Convention Center stayed active and alive all weekend long with talks of peace, interfaith harmony and global awakening.

HIGHLIGHTS

The theme of this year’s Parliament was “recovering the heart of humanity.” With the overwhelming (and refreshing) presence of the Inaugural Women’s Assembly, the focus on indigenous peoples, and the continued conversation around climate change, much of the event was spent turning social issues and recently-identified problems into concrete actions or takeaways.

The Assembly kicked off the Parliament on Thursday with a rousing closing speech from author and recent congressional candidate, Marianne Williamson. Williamson addressed the majority of female leaders in the crowd (a notable shift from the last Parliament, held in 2009) by saying, “We are the mothers of the world. Those who are inspired by the religions of the world should not ignore the problems of the world. We know how to hold the suffering in the world. We know how to give birth to the radical joy in the world.” And referring to increased violence and corruption across the globe, she got the crowd on their feet when she implored, “We who are the mothers of the world — it’s up to us to say, ‘this will not be happening in my house.'”

Marianne Williamson

Marianne Williamson

The Red Tent Movement (based on the popular book by Anita Diamant), was the sponsor of the Women’s Sacred Space. Men were welcome to enter the gauzy, red room (a meeting room modified to resemble the inside of a darkened, Persian tent and lovingly referred to as the “womb of the Parliament”), but when the doors would occasionally burst open releasing huge crowds back into the flow of the bustling hallways, most everyone I saw was female — and they were beaming. It was like a charging station for the female soul.

The Red Tent. Photo by Giuliana Serena.

The Red Tent. Photo by Giuliana Serena.

Stories circulated about The Indigenous Grandmothers — a group of female elders from the various tribes present at the Parliament. If you were lucky enough to fall in with this group, you were treated to prayers, songs and dances from various faith traditions; entrusted into a circle of maternal power forged by language and culture; and part of a historic, once-in-a-lifetime gathering. As these languages and cultural practices shrink from the earth (some are simply gone forever), the Grandmothers seemed to plant what remaining seeds they had.

A traditional Langar (community meal that is shared regardless of faith or caste) was served every day to conference attendees by the Sikh community who donated all the food and volunteered their time each day to prepare, serve and clean up. The menu was a rotating blur of rice, lentils, curry, naan, yogurt, fruit, vegetables, coffee and chai tea. People lined up each day at noon (hair covered and shoes removed) to be seated on the floor in long rows and share a meal with strangers and newfound friends. Each day the line was longer, as word spread of the fragrant Basmati rice and spicy lentils. Truly one of the best meals I’ve had. After the event, nearly 1,000 lbs. of leftover food was donated to a local Catholic charity that served the homeless.

Serving of the Langar. Photo by Carl Jylland-Halverson.

Serving of the Langar. Photo by Carl Jylland-Halverson.

Alas, not everything at the Parliament came up roses and rainbows. On Friday, the Council on Foreign Relations sponsored a luncheon at the Marriott which featured Farah Pandith and Graeme Wood (the journalist who wrote the recently-gone-viral article for The Atlantic, “What ISIS Really Wants”). The session was moderated by Lee Cullum. By the time the Q&A began, the attendees (who had already been fed) were restless. Some in the crowd weren’t satisfied with the positions taken by Pandith and Wood and became combative. Cullum pulled the plug on the session, ending it early.  

FRIDAY

Former Catholic priest and iconoclastic author, the Rev. Dr. Matthew Fox, was on hand Friday to lead 300 or so lucky people in a Cosmic Mass. And those who had managed to squeeze into Ballroom H were treated to a transformative experience.

The Cosmic Mass is typically held in Oakland, CA and resembles a Catholic mass but with a 21st century twist. It includes electronic music, video projection, and ecstatic dance as well as prayer, communion, and a grieving ritual which asks attendees to get on all fours and moan until they are emptied of their suffering.

I had run into Fox’s assistant and director of The Cosmic Mass, Skylar Wilson, on Friday morning. I had offered my services, and was promptly given the job of puppeteering the Green Man during the Cosmic Mass event. The Green Man was a huge disembodied papier-mâché head on a pole, draped in green gauze and flanked by two large hands, also on poles. The figure required three people to operate. The Green Man was accompanied by a second puppet — the female figure, Gaia (Mother Earth). These two gigantic puppets (created by Mary Plaster) in their full splendor on the dance floor, represented the union of the sacred masculine and the divine feminine.

Fox began the ceremony by providing a brief introduction to his Creation Spirituality movement. This teaching includes a belief in a spiritual connection to the earth, a replacement of the concept of “original sin” with “original blessing” and the four paths of the via positiva, via negativa, via creativa and via transformativa, which align with the cardinal directions of north, south, west and east.

There was an invocation, a calling-in of the directions, music and drumming (including a standout vocal performance by Michelle Jordan), the grieving ritual, a reading of Neil Douglas-Klotz’s Prayer of the Cosmos, and the “passing of the peace” (in which attendees wandered the room, touched hands, and greeted each other with “namaste”).

Then it was time for the dance. The Green Man and Gaia, powered by their six volunteers, took to the dance floor and swayed and pumped to the pulsating electronic rhythm until the event was over.

Matthew Fox leading The Cosmic Mass.

Matthew Fox leading The Cosmic Mass.

As a leader of spiritual community, The Cosmic Mass was a revelation. It was a religious experience like none other — connecting everyone in attendance directly to each other and to the Source of all. It held the elements of masculine and feminine power in exquisite balance and oriented us to the cycles of the season (not only in the world, but in our own hearts). It was joyous, heart-breaking, contemplative and awe-inspiring. It also is ceremony and ritual that proudly wears the clothing of 2015 (video, technology, social media). For those who are seeking a post-modern worship experience, one that as Fox likes to say is rooted not is “text” but in “context,” then the Cosmic Mass is that experience. It will keep me fed for the upcoming year (or until I can experience it again).

That evening, I had the honor of being invited to dinner with the association of Creation Spirituality Communities and learned more about how Fox’s teachings were being implemented in churches and religious communities in Pittsburgh, Asheville, Austin, Toronto and beyond. Continue reading


Interfaith Week 2015 Recap [Video + Photos]

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1 week
1 city
2 films, 2 keynote presentations
4 shared meals
7 panel discussions/workshops
Over 15 faith leaders engaged in dialogue
43 events listed on this year’s calendar
hundreds of attendees and participants

and thousands of people made aware of this important event happening right here in our city.

By all counts, the second annual Interfaith Week St. Petersburg was a huge success.

Interfaith Week Graphic Recording copy

On September 13-20, 2015, the community of St. Petersburg, FL celebrated many things — religious tolerance and respect, peaceful activism, deep listening, open communication, leading by example, the building of bridges between people and communities, the healing of deep-seated wounds and historical divides, the planting of new seeds for the future.

In short, the week was an inspiring whirlwind of collaboration and connection that usually happens at conferences and symposiums in towns other than our own. This time, it happened in our own backyard.

Thank you to everyone who participated in Interfaith Week on any and every level. It was truly an honor to be a part of such thought-provoking and mind- and heart-opening activity and dialogue. New friends were made, and we look forward to seeing what grows from the many seeds that were planted.

Here are just a few of the people involved with the planning and production of the various workshops, panel and book discussions, performances, films and keynote presentations that made up this year’s second annual Interfaith Week event.

Imam Abdul Karim Ali, Imam Abdul Q. Aziz, Aiyana Baida, Lisa Brekke, Beverly Banov Brown, Rev. Dr. Lori Cardona, Vandana Dillon, Rev. Jack Donovan, David Enfield, Sepideh Eskandari, Lauren Haddad Friedman, Mayor Rick Kriseman, Erica Leggatt, Bishop Preston Leonard, Cynthia Lukas, Jan Magray, Dr. Kerry McCord, Rev. Doug McMahon, Rev. Russell Meyer, Susan Meyers, Janell Miller-Evans, Eric Rainbeau, Denise Rispoli, Rabbi Ed Rosenthal, Rev. Libby Shannon, Katherine Taylor Robinson, Ruth Broyde Sharone, Ashley Sweet, Dr. Frank Tedesco, Rev. Dr. Grace Telesco, Sarah Trinler, Rev. Shinkyo Will Warner, Denise Whitfield, Robin Whitlock, Martha Williams

Thanks also to this years sponsors and promotional partners: St. Petersburg Interfaith Association, Suncoast Institute of Noetic Sciences, The Bridge and The Connection Partners.

If you’re interested in helping out next year, or getting more involved with interfaith activities in your area, please contact me. We’re always searching for warriors willing to wage peace and build a brighter future.

Looking forward,
Joran Slane Oppelt
Founder and Committee Chair, Interfaith Week St. Pete

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Watch the mayoral proclamation of St. Pete Interfaith Week.


A Declaration of Spiritual Independence

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“When freed from that which binds,
when the lust for life has come to
an end, one is not born again. He
is released now and forever.”

– The Buddha, Dhammapada


Note: Some define “spiritual independents” as those who are unchurched or have left a mainline religious affiliation — like a third-way political party. For our purposes, “spiritual independence” means anyone who insists on critical thinking in religious matters.

On July 15, 1838, Ralph Waldo Emerson addressed the graduating students of Harvard Divinity School. As the ministers-to-be listened eagerly with freshly-opened minds, he told them, “Let me admonish you first of all to go alone, to refuse the good models, even those which are sacred in the imagination of men, and dare to love God without mediator or veil.”

He spoke of an “indwelling Supreme Spirit,” and of a vision, described by Philip Goldberg of the Huffington Post as “similar to that of the Eastern sages, where we are neither fallen nor depraved, and where divinity incarnates at every instant, not just once in the distant past.”

“God is, not was,” Emerson told the students, and each of us is “an infinite Soul” who is “drinking forever the soul of God.”

The graduates (and religion itself) were forever changed — their minds and hearts opened to a direct relationship with the Divine. The parents and faculty were angry and upset, and Emerson was banned from Harvard for over two decades.

If we are to claim spiritual independence for ourselves, then we need to cultivate a similar relationship with our Source. John Dominic Crossan writes about this kind of life in The Essential Jesus, saying it is the life that Jesus died for — a life “of human contact without discrimination and of divine contact without hierarchy.”

If we are to be truly free, we need to equip ourselves with the appropriate support on all levels and lines, and surround ourselves with the right types. We will need access to sound spiritual teachings, a free-standing system outside the mainline institutions, the right spiritual tools necessary to do the actual work, and the benefits of a rich community of practice.

Teachings

We’ll need teachings that help us to seek inspiration and guidance, and live with heart, for the road will be rough. They will need to be teachings that consider the health of the whole person (body, mind and spirit); that encourage not just temporary epiphanies and insights, but continual freedom (or moksha), spiritual liberation and unfolding, allowing us to “transcend and include” what has come before. They will need to be teachings that remind us to look within for the answer. Teachings that promote right behavior, right action and right speech; that allow for and encourage highly-developed lines of ethics and morality. We also need new stories, updated myths and well-drawn maps of the spiritual territory. Continue reading