Category Archives: Interfaith

Barbara Marx Hubbard on the Integral Church [Video]

Barbara Marx Hubbard

In July of 2015, Barbara Marx Hubbard (author, futurist, founder of the Foundation for Conscious Evolution, and 1984 Vice Presidential Nominee) hosted a conference call entitled, “Sacred Journey of the Conscious Evolutionary.” In the series (offered by the Shift Network) she recalled the Building the New World Conference which had just taken place at Radford University on May 28-31, 2015.

In this excerpt from the call, she describes meeting Joran Slane Oppelt (founder of Integral Church) after his presentation with Amy Edelstein, “A Brilliant Matrix: An Integral View of the World’s Religions” and discussing the future of integral spirituality and spiritual communities.

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Five Buddhist Contemplations for Before Your Thanksgiving Meal

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Image Source: publicdomainpictures.com

Some Thanksgiving blessings from the Buddhist tradition, courtesy of Thich Nhat Hanh.

  1. This food is the gift of the whole universe: the earth, the sky, numerous living beings and much hard, loving work.
  2. May we eat with mindfulness and gratitude so as to be worthy to receive it.
  3. May we recognize and transform our unwholesome mental formations, especially our greed, and learn to eat with moderation.
  4. May we keep our compassion alive by eating in such a way that we reduce the suffering of living beings, preserve our planet, and reverse the process of global warming.
  5. We accept this food so that we may nurture our sisterhood and brotherhood, strengthen our community, and nourish our ideal of serving all living beings.

Read the full post at Plum Village.


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


The Challenge for a Startup Religion

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Integral Church is an interspiritual and interfaith community for those who identify with a specific faith tradition as well as those identifying as “spiritually independent,” “spiritual but not religious” or “religiously unaffiliated.”

It is our mission to deepen personal transformative practice, engage in community service and increase religious literacy.

We embrace both wisdom and knowledge by including the beauty, goodness and truth found in the world’s myths, creation stories and faith traditions as well as scientific findings from the domains of psychology, biology and cosmology.

We are interested in carrying forward what works about religion and jettisoning what doesn’t. We bring religion into the 21st century by replacing hierarchy with holarchy and practicing religion in a post-modern, peer-to-peer setting.

We are reclaiming previously stigmatized words like “church” and “religion” for those raised on pluralistic beliefs, multiculturalism and universal values (i.e. compassion, charity, playfulness, mindfulness and The Golden Rule). We express the three faces (or dimensions) of Spirit-in-Action (“I,” “we” and “it”) as we embody these values in our selves, express them throughout our culture and honor them in nature.

We are building radically inclusive forms of spiritual expression including new inter-generational rituals and rites of passage for young people and families, interfaith services and study groups. We also believe in recognizing the new mythologies and sacred texts being written in our time (Star Wars, Harry Potter, etc.).

Integral Spirituality is not just a spirituality of “both/and” (masculine and feminine, transcendent and immanent, etc.), it is the belief that we all transcend and include. The belief that something can be both changing and complete — unfolding, yet ever-present — this is the unique idea that Integral Spirituality offers to the world.

This is the vision we hold for the future and the challenge that all religions should take up for themselves.


I Have Seen the Future of Religion, and His Name is Matthew Fox

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From his origins in the Wisconsin heartland to his European awakening and from his nature-based brand of mysticism to his eventual split with the patriarchal church of the day, I have consistently felt a deep connection with the life and work of author, theologian and priest Matthew Fox.

I have cited and referenced Fox’s work repeatedly — from my Spring Equinox service to my Thanksgiving Prayer — and consider him to be a primary influence in my practice of entering into a direct relationship with God (not a God that is anthropomorphic or made in man’s image, but God as the Cosmos itself). And as a fellow author and minister, I consider him to be a mentor and spiritual director — an inspiration as I struggle to find a voice of my own and to have that voice connect with a new audience.

The rites of passage that I lead for new fathers in our community are directly fueled by his call for ritual and reclamation in books like The Hidden Spirituality of Men: Ten Metaphors to Awaken the Sacred Masculine.

“If we liberate the Divine Feminine,” Fox says, “she is deserving of a worthy consort — a cleansed and detoxified and resurrected Sacred Masculine.”

I first met Fox at a workshop in Sarasota, FL where he preached about Creation Spirituality, Deep Ecumenism (interfaith dialogue and pluralism), spiritual activism and the importance of grieving in our culture. He described a grieving ritual of his own design and demonstrated the process which asked participants to get on all fours and moan until they were emptied of their suffering. I immediately put this process to the test with the chaplains group I belonged to at the time and experienced deep and profound effects.

JSO and Matt Fox

Just two guys from Wisconsin: The author and Matthew Fox at the Parliament of the World’s Religions, 2015.

Fox doesn’t simply want to reinvent worship. He will not be satisfied until the worlds of work and education have been re-booted as well.

In his book A New Reformation, he writes, “We must leave the museum-like Christianity as we would a burning building — seizing what is valuable and letting go of the rest. We take what is best from the old ways and leave behind what is unnecessarily burdensome.”

“Integral to a New Reformation are new forms of worship. The old forms inherited from the modern era are very often boring and deadly, inviting people to pray only from the neck up while ignoring the lower chakras, much as they are ignored in modern education. The new language of the postmodern era — including deejays, veejays, rap, the spoken word, and more — can bring new life and deep spirit to worship, by inspiring dance rather than by encouraging sitting.” Continue reading


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


Science and Religion: Can We Have Both, Please?

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Have you ever wondered: What is the current role of religion in our society? Does religion do more harm than good? What does the future of religion look like?

Are churches, temples, mosques and religiously-affiliated nonprofits serving the greatest good of the community (or even the greatest number of common values of community members) with their programs and outreach?

We depend on religious institutions to grapple with life’s big questions and to provide peace and counsel in times of pain and suffering. We rely on them to connect individuals, families, neighborhoods and communities not only physically through face-to-face experiences and in service to others, but also virtually online.

Can we not also depend on them to evolve — to address the needs, values and beliefs of the world — to transcend and include?

Religious communities convene people physically in rooms together, but let us foster connections between the interior dimensions of those same individuals, families, and neighborhoods. These connections are formed around common values and teachings and this shared, intersubjective space called “we” is where the seed of the greater good can be planted.

Sometimes we are told that the teachings of science and religion contradict each other. But there are plenty of ways that science and religion might exist together, as two dimensions of our very complex reality. These subjects should be taught early and often as our ability to understand and our perception of the world changes over time. Certain amounts of doubt and skepticism to balance out our faith and wisdom can be healthy. Believing something (until we don’t anymore) is good for us — it keeps us flexible, responsive, engaged and alive.

THE SPIRIT OF THE COSMOS

In Sanskrit, the word namaste means that there is a light (Spirit, consciousness) inside of me that is identical to the light inside of you. There have been empirical scientific discoveries that explain this connection (from mirror neurons to quantum entanglement). And we also know from watching episodes of Cosmos that the matter that comprises the universe is at the same time connected by — and cradled in — vast regions of invisible or “dark” matter. Dark matter is involved in both the attractive and gravitational force between celestial bodies (that which keeps our worlds in place) as well as the repulsive force between solar systems (that which keeps our universe expanding). It is that same ubiquitous, unifying, dynamic and regenerative force that some call “God.” (May that force be with us, always).

We are still in the transition from modern to post-modern (hierarchy to holarchy, “text to context”), and we may have a tendency to rely too heavily on the advances and authority of science. We may feel we have outgrown the tribal and magical traditions of our ancestors through thousands of years of transcending and including. New stages always include those that have come before. Matthew Fox, the iconoclastic founder of the Creation Spirituality movement, once said, “we are not born onto this earth, but from it.” If we give ourselves permission to access and honor (even exalt) our tribal/magical roots, it may be through this process that we extend the much-needed consideration (not just behavioral change) to the ground from which we have come — showing our planet the same love and respect that we would show an elder.

Our planet, our people and our future are badly in need of a spirituality that is not rooted in erecting boundaries and “either/or” thinking. Our spirituality should be one of “both/and” — a spirituality that radically includes the forms of masculine and feminine, inner and outer, individual and collective, faith and practice.

There are many forces at work in the Cosmos, many opportunities for us to be over-stimulated or distracted, many different ways to express love. Our spirituality shouldn’t force us to choose sides against men, women or even love itself.

Let us not assume “safe” ways of thinking. And let us never affirm that thought itself is dangerous. Exercising our intellect might even be part of our spiritual practice. We might even embody a spirituality that is both creative and self-critical — a spirituality that holds more than one belief at a time.

But what does this have to do with religion? Can’t a person be “spiritual” but not “religious?” 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.


Summer Solstice: The Sacred Union of Father Sun and Mother Earth

Rising or setting sun and clouds, over water

This talk was delivered on Friday, June 19, 2015 as part of the Summer Solstice Service at Unity Campus St. Petersburg. It was followed by a chant of the mantra: “The Kingdom of God is within me; The Queendom of God is among us.”

Astronomically speaking, Litha (Midsummer, Gathering Day, Summer Solstice) is the longest day of the year, representing the Sun God at his full power and utmost potential. In the sky overhead, ruling from on high — in his chariot, shining down upon us, giving light, heat and life to our Goddess, Mother Earth.

The term “solstice” is derived from the Latin words sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still), because the sun seems to be literally frozen at its zenith overhead.

Father Sun and Mother Earth seem locked in this warm, life-giving embrace. And time has seemed to slow down so that we may honor that embrace and that consummation — the intimate relationship between God and Goddess, masculine and feminine.

Although the hottest days of the summer still lie ahead, from this point onward we enter the waning parts of the year. Each solstice (and equinox) marks a “turning” of the comic clock. To many cultures, the solstice can mean a limitation or a culmination. A climax or demarcation on the calendar. And even in summer’s beginning, we find the seeds of summer’s end. Each day the Sun recedes from the skies a little earlier, until the Winter Solstice (Yule) arrives and the days begin to become longer again.

Tonight, we honor the arrival of the Summer season, and celebrate the sacred union of God and Goddess, in which both of their energies are poured into the service and the substance of life.

We’ve done a lot in recent times to revive and give footing to the idea of the Divine Feminine. and rightly so. Spiritually and socially we have shifted to a place where female-ness is allowed it’s own voice, it’s own place at the table with integrity and without having to compromise any of its qualities or values.

Matthew Fox said, “If we liberate the Divine Feminine, she is deserving of a worthy consort — a cleansed and detoxified and resurrected Sacred Masculine.”

This union is of course reflected and manifested in our relationships. How we treat one another. Our partners, our spouses, our children, our co-workers, even strangers. It is a constant dance, sometimes tug-of-war, with one party exerting power or will in one moment, and the other party bending and allowing. But a healthy relationship is not one-sided. A healthy relationship is dynamic, is constantly growing and flowing, and allows for rhythmic exchanges in this power struggle.

We’re not talking about gendered men and women, we’re talking about the masculine and feminine energies that show up in us all.

Keeping those energies in a constant flow, a constant balance. Allowing them to feed, sustain, nurture each other as well as to challenge and push against each other when the time is right. Continue reading