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.
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.
“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.
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
Let’s get the death talk out of the way, shall we?
In Buddhism, we are constantly taught to die to our attachments (things, desires, thoughts) and also to the ego.
In Islam, there is not much written about what happens after Yawm ad-Din (The Day of Judgement), but one is expected to die to oneself at least figuratively, to put aside pride and ego and fully submit to the loving and redeeming power and glory of Allah.
And in Christianity, we are taught that through Jesus’ death on the cross, all of our sins and transgressions and pain died with him, and that on that day we were forgiven for good.
I recently came across something in Kabbalah, or Jewish mysticism, called the Shevirah, or “the shattering.” It teaches that there were seven original energetic centers or “seeds of light” hewn into the universe, and just as the seed casing of a plant must die and decompose before the plant springs forth, the seeds of the Shevirah must also shatter. This gave way to new and more complex forms, an unfolding that continues to occur throughout the universe, an unfolding whose center is now everywhere. And this sustained state of shattering, when applied to our lives, is a form of dying to oneself.
Supernovae leave elements behind in great explosions that seed other solar systems, planets and even our own bodies. Every being leaves something behind as food for others. Einstein said “no energy is lost in the universe” and Hildegard of Bingen said “no warmth is lost in the universe.”
Ostara/Easter is not about celebrating death. Yes, death is an inseparable part of the cycle of life and needs to happen for new growth to occur. But, death is celebrated plenty in our culture. We celebrated death in December during the Winter Solstice when we entered the Void, the darkness, the silence. When we were witness to the death of the Sun God at the hands of the Earth Goddess.
And now we celebrate his return.
Easter is about what comes after death. This time we celebrate resurrection — what fills that darkness, silence and emptiness after our denial, elimination and renunciation has occurred. We celebrate our own resurrection from the forms that no longer serve life, and the resurrection of the Christ within us. That’s what we celebrate now. This time allows us to focus on what we choose to carry forward, and to meditate on the new abundantly healing light and energy, the new and invigorating ideas, the new faith in ourselves and the self-love that fills us up and make us whole and that will sustain us for another year.
Make no mistake, spring is a time for celebration. It’s a time when day and night are at equal length, a time when things are in balance. But they are also at a tipping point — tipping towards the light as days are becoming longer and the Earth (at least in our hemisphere) begins to warm up and bring forth new life.
The spring equinox (or Vernal equinox) is a sacred time, when we turn our attention to the dawning of a new year, to new birth and growth, the coming harvest, abundance and fruition, to the long-awaited rising Sun God in the east.
And we celebrate the goddess, Eostre, by decorating and dyeing bright and colorful eggs. By breaking our fast with sweets and chocolate. By surrounding ourselves with the 4-footed creatures of the Earth (the rabbit, the deer) and the winged creatures of the Air (the duck, the eagle).
And we recognize Spring as a time of new life — within and without.
So, today, we celebrate three things — the new year, the coming of spring and resurrection.
The New Year
In many traditions, this is the start of the new year. The Roman year began on the ides of March (15th). In England and Ireland, between the 12th and 18th century, March 25th was the day the calendar reset. And, the astrological year begins on the equinox when the moon moves into Aries — Aries is the first sign of the Zodiac, The Greek Ares is the equivalent to the Roman Mars, March is the month of Mars.
The Coming of Spring
This equinox also marks the beginning of the Spring season. In Greek mythology, it is the time when Zeus and Demeter are reunited with their daughter, Persephone (who had been abducted and trapped in the Underworld for six months) and a time when the earth is once again crawling with life. The month of March also contains holidays dedicated to the great mother goddesses: Astarte, Isis, Aprhrodite, Cybele as well as the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary on March 25th. The goddess and the divine feminine get to show off a little bit in spring — manifesting herself in the blossoms, the leaves on the trees, the sprouting of the crops, the mating songs of the birds, giving birth to new life in all its forms.
We also re-tell and celebrate the myths of the resurrected Gods — Attis, Adonis, Osiris and Dionysus — who like Christ die and are reborn each year. They are sons of a God and a mortal woman. They are saviors who are sacrificed. They are the fruit and vegetation, that die each year (at harvest) and are eventually reborn.
In metaphysics, we are taught that the crucifix represents the “crystallization of two currents of thought — the inner (vertical) current of Divine Life and the cross current of human limitation and the mind of the flesh.” The intersection of these two currents is the center of action that is our being. It is in that crux, or that cross, that we encounter the final overcoming. The birth of the I AM that occurs in “the place of the skull.” Golgotha (the site of Jesus’ crucifixion) was called the “cranial place” or the “place of the skull.”
One of the key concepts in many religious traditions is the idea that man has fallen or broken away from God. It’s considered by some to be the “ascending” form of religion — where we reach up or return to a state of Oneness with the Divine, as opposed to “descending” forms of religion where God is present or manifest in Nature and heaven is on the ground at men’s feet. This state of “falling away” or brokenness is commonly illustrated with the idea of Original Sin, or as it is called in Tibetan Buddhism alaya-vijnana (translated as Store Consciousness or consciousness that “contains all the traces or impressions of the past actions and all good and bad future potentialities“). This is the birth of the ego and the point at which our mind itself starts to distance itself from its true (or original) nature.
We are born clean, perfect and brand new, filled with light and unwrapped for all the world to see. We are born without language, without memories, without bias and without prejudice. We are born fearless. It is the world around us that attempts to work its way inside our mind, bringing along with it the concepts (and in some cases contagious ideas) like fear and bias.
George Leonard in his book Mastery, writes that a baby learning language for the very first time exists in a state of playfulness, a state of nonsense — throwing every manner of random sound against the void — until certain sounds are positively reinforced by the community around them. If there was no positive reinforcement, language would not develop as it does. He also states that the opposite is true, that by trying to control or negatively reinforcing sounds created from this state of blissful awareness, we instill self-doubt and fear in the child, and slowly begin to chip away at this state of blissful awareness. This sense of playful exploration, of pure creativity and imagination is eroded away by those around us simply through the act of (sometimes unconscious) positive and negative reinforcement.
It is only when we reach the post-conventional stage of psychological development (adolescence into adulthood) that we have the opportunity to unlearn this conditioning.
There are those who read scripture and sacred texts literally (33% according to Pew Research). Those that think Jonah literally lived in the belly of a whale for three days or that Noah was able to corral two of every living animal onto a boat. And, there are those who think that a piece of fruit may have contained all the knowledge of the world. Picture an apple packed tightly with not only the sugary flesh of the fruit itself and all its nutrients — its DNA — but also with the entire alphabet of your respective language, the entire number line in both directions all the way to infinity, entire systems of knowledge like law and medicine, potential systems of knowledge (that didn’t yet exist) like physics and astronomy. There are those who believe that when Eve took a bite of the apple, it was this knowledge that infected her. That she now possessed a download of ethics — a framework for interpersonal relationships, when according to myth itself, interpersonal relationships beyond that of our two protagonists weren’t yet known. This moment according to scripture was a transgression of spiritual law, attempting to take knowledge from the tree, the source of life, from higher spiritual planes, from God himself and use it for human ends. However, there are hundreds of ways to interpret this scripture.
There are those who may read it politically, and as an attempt for the patriarchal structure of the time to control the existing (and still very much emerging) storehouses of knowledge in the world. There are those who may read it as a fable to their children, encouraging them not to overreach their boundaries or expectations or not to elevate themselves above their spiritual station or social class.
There are also those that, in an attempt to frame this story biologically, view it as partial at best when considering our homosexual, bisexual, and transgender sisters and brothers. Is this a story that they can identify with? And, if this is a partial picture of the biological diversity and sexual/gender identity — if it’s not “true” biologically, then what else might it be about? Maybe it’s the polarity of the male/female or masculine/feminine drives in all of us. Maybe it’s about the battle being waged by God and the devil over the souls of our illustrious couple in that garden paradise. Maybe it’s all of the above.
Some interpret all scripture figuratively. There are those that perceive the whale as a construct of Jonah’s unconscious mind or a symbol of something larger than himself. There are those that perceive the initial bite of that apple as the first appearance of what we have come to call Ego. Eve was immediately self-aware, and immediately perceived herself as something other, something other than perfect, something that needed work. And this is one of the many effects of the ego, it convinces us that we are not our true or original nature. It convinces us that our mind can fix it, that our mind is in control, that there is a “self” to be preserved in an impermanent world.
We must find a way to inoculate ourselves against these effects. Fear and self-doubt and attachment are all viruses of the mind and highly contagious. And unless we have in place a rigorous practice that is constantly renewing and strengthening our spiritual and psychological immune system, we are at risk of being infected by the idea that we are broken or sinful, that we are anything less than connected directly to God, anything less than apertures of light and energy and Christ Consciousness, of formless Buddha Mind, energy that as it evolves, assists God himself in becoming self-aware. Continue reading
Each month, we dedicate a section of our circle to intentionally working together to create a “well” of love and healing for our members to tap into any time they need. The idea behind the “Offering of the Stones” ritual is a synthesis of an improvisational Neopagan “reclaiming” ritual, the candle-lighting ritual of “Joys and Concerns” from Unitarian Universalism and traditions as far-reaching as Catholic Taize prayer service and the Quaker “spirit of the meeting.” When we need prayer, meditation or spiritual support, these stones provide a “well” of intentions — a place to hold our stories and our suffering as well as our gratitude, love and healing; a place that may be returned to in our hearts and minds between circles anytime we need. The stones symbolize our connection with each other and the Earth. We offer stones to the collection so we may have a physical representation of the prayerful energy that we support one another with. We encourage everyone to share openly using “I” language, and in order to ensure the safety and comfort of everyone in the circle, we ask that what is shared come from the heart as we speak about our own experience, and we listen without comment to what others share.
We ask participants who have shared at previous services to go first, setting an example for the newcomers.
When a person is finished speaking, they end their share with the word dibarti — a Hebrew word meaning, “I am complete” or “I have spoken.”
The group then responds in unison with the word shamati, meaning “you have been heard” or “we welcome your story.”
The next person shares spontaneously, in no particular order. Those who brought stones have the opportunity to share first. Participants sit and hold their stone (talking stick method) while they are speaking and then step into the circle to offer it to the “well.” To protect the space created within our sacred circle, please keep in mind the following guidelines while you are sharing:
Use “I” language
Avoid using “You” or “We” statements that reference specific individuals in the group or the community in general. Speak about your own experience or how something makes you feel.
This is not a time to teach or preach. It is a time to connect with your own body and mind and speak openly about how you are feeling. If a participant gets too caught up in storytelling, they are moving away from their own bodily awareness, and may need a prompt from the facilitator to return.
Crosstalk refers to people speaking out of turn, interrupting someone while they are speaking or giving direct and unsolicited advice.
Offer a specific intention
Ask for direct prayers through a difficult time.
Celebrate an event or obstacle you’ve overcome.
Speak from the heart. This intention is a contract for you and Spirit-in-Action!
Be mindful of time
Try to limit the share to less than 2 minutes, especially for large groups, to give everyone an opportunity to share.
The “Offering of the Stones” is not a space for dialogue, response or debate.
When a person is offering their stone, it is their turn to speak
If a previous member’s share inspires you to speak, share how you feel personally, and avoid singling them out by name or referencing their story.
If a member wants to discuss what someone else has shared, he/she should approach that person after the service and ask their permission.
The beginnings of the stone collection at the very first service held at Straub Park in 2013.
The collection circa 2015. It now contains stones, shells, crystals, fossils and dinosaur bones from around the world, including Florida, California, New York City, Austin, Albuquerque, the Berlin Wall, France, Spain, Scotland, Belgium, Amsterdam, The Chapel at Chimayo, the cave of St. Francis of Assisi, and the Glastonbury Thorn Tree.
This photo was submitted to Integral Church as a long-distance offering via e-mail.
Last week, I received an e-mail from Dr. Ray Pritchard warning of a “coming evangelical divide” over gay rights.
He assures us the divide will not be over homosexuality or gay marriage. Pritchard claims that when this line is drawn in the sand, it will be over “biblical authority,” and will mean “splitting denominations, the leaving of churches, and in some cases, the division of families.”
Pritchard says this issue is a “deal-breaker,” that there is “no middle ground,” and that “the people who think it’s okay for two guys or two girls to get married and then come and lead Awana on Wednesday night will never be accepted by the rest of us.”
Can’t we all just get along?
“No, we can’t,” he says.
“No one can be happy about the very real pain involved” in this coming split, he continues, but it’s “better that we should separate than stay together and pretend at a unity that does not exist.”
I’ll return to that in a minute. He goes on:
Pastors, church leaders, Christians, and those with influence who admit to “struggling” over the issue from the “seductive voices calling us to ‘rethink’ our position,” you’d better pick a side in this battle, he says, because in the end, “we all get to decide where we stand.”
So be it.
Really, Dr. Pritchard? Do even our lesbian, gay and transgender brothers and sisters get to decide for themselves where they will stand?
You say the divide will be over Biblical “authority,” but I wonder if what you really mean is biblical “interpretation.”
I understand that you’re approaching this topic from a strictly Christian perspective (though I’m sure Jewish and Islamic fundamentalists would totally have your back on this). But, unfortunately it seems that the “authority” in you that drafted this letter is rooted in your own ego and self-preservation, as well as the preservation of the organization that trained you — the old tried-and-untrue concern of the Orthodox church that accepting homosexuality will somehow erode the perpetuation of our species. Your authority is not rooted in love, it is rooted in irrational and paralyzing fear. And that’s a form of man-made “authority” we need less of in this world, not more.
You claim in your letter (or shall we call it a tract?), “it may be that we will be the ones leaving some churches because we are the minority.” I pray that this is true. I also pray that those who count themselves in your number continue to dwindle, as their hearts and minds inversely expand in a blinding compassion for all of humanity. I pray for a world where minorities (actual minorities, not just minorities of the mind) can learn to love and respect one another, and do away with the borders and boundaries that continually seek to define them. In this regard, this line in the sand you propose may very well serve to benefit both parties. We (since we’re at least temporarily choosing “sides”) only want for you to hold more love and understanding in your heart. For in the stages we move through on our road to devotion, we begin in ignorance, before moving on to disquiet, insight, surrender, transformation, understanding, and ultimately, unification. Your letter is rather disquieting, so I can at least congratulate you on being slightly less ignorant than you were before you wrote it. Continue reading
Soon after I finished The Gnostic Gospels by Dr. Elaine Pagels (1979) — a richly detailed and historical page-turner — I stumbled across a colorful book called A New Christianity for a New World by Bishop John Shelby Spong (2002). I was familiar with Spong’s reputation for controversy, but I grabbed it up and started in on it right away, somehow thinking it would be lighter in tone and more inspirational in nature. Little did I know that this new book was a dramatic and emotionally significant call to action, asking Christians around the world to put down the outdated, theistic (Father) concept of God and embrace a new vision of the church.
Not what you’d consider light reading.
In fact, I spent hours re-reading certain sections in an attempt to truly unpack the implications and revelations contained inside the words.
This is a book I wish I had discovered much earlier, as it has illuminated for me the necessary steps I must take as an individual in honoring the death of the theistic God — thanking “Him” for his service, and putting him to rest once and for all. It also shows me that there is still much work to do in lovingly and respectfully engaging in open dialogue with Christians who are seemingly uninformed about the history of their own Orthodox Church and also in rehabilitating those Christians in exile — who have become disillusioned with their faith as they, as individuals, have changed and grown so much, only to see their creeds and institutions (once viewed as a reliable bedrock) become insufficient, small-minded and small-hearted.
What was exciting for me, and divinely-timed, was that the book also offers a framework of not only Spong’s call for reformation and a new “Ecclesia” (Greek for “assembly” or “those called out”), but references the writings on “Creation Spirituality” by Rev. Dr. Matthew Fox and the picture of the historical Jesus drawn by the work of John Dominic Crossan. This framework examines the life of Jesus, the teachings of The Christ and the gospel of the resurrected Christ Jesus in a truly integral way.
Spong’s call for reformation is heartfelt and well-researched, and is clearly written by someone who has lived and loved his own faith for many decades. It is a cry for change and reform from an insider of the Orthodox Church — someone the world would agree is an expert on the subject. I find it interesting that this book follows a previous work entitled Why Christianity Must Change or Die(1999). As if the publisher said, “Jack, we just need something a little more positive. A little more upbeat.” Indeed, we need the “antidote to toxic Christianity.”
For those that identify as practicing Christians and those that have been frustrated with the bloody and barbaric rhetoric hurled from the pulpit, reading this book may very well cause you to walk out of your home church once and for all. For church leaders, reading this book should be required. It could very well start significant changes within the organization — baby steps to be brought up at the next board meeting — and at the very least, it has the potential to create conversation.
Most likely, though, it will be met with scorn and indifference by the institution we now know as the Christian church. And therein lies both the problem and the thesis of this book.
It breaks down like this, the teachings of the historical Jesus (shared eating, charity, compassion, indiscriminate love for humanity, a direct communion with God as the source of Being), have been taken out of context or ignored outright by the orthodox Christian church we know today. The orthodox church opts instead to teach conditional ideas like salvation (most times only through the Christ figure, or the church itself), baptism (primarily to cleanse one from Original Sin), reinforces the concept of a wrathful Father God (the punitive parent demanding a blood sacrifice), as well as presents a distorted or inaccurate version of natural history as historical fact.
Being a religious studies major in college, I studied Buddhism, Taoism, paganism, and all sorts of other ‘isms’ that helped me to fully let go of the idea that “God” is some transcendent, dualistic-thinking, bearded dude up in the sky judging everybody.
I used to get into debates with Christians over terms and definitions and I moved away from using the term “God” for a long time in order to refer to the source of all that is.
I believe ‘it’ is within us and around us. We are part of it and it is us. ‘It’ is everything and we can influence how it shapes our lives through the power of our thoughts and feelings in regard to it.
That said, I recently reconnected with two traditionally Christian friends whose belief in that higher power — that source energy — is so unfailingly strong and beautiful that I was reminded again that our concepts of it are really no different, despite the fact that we describe it using different terminology.
They too see that my faith in energy and the magic of the universe is really the same as their faith in “giving it over to God.” They pray. I meditate. They go to church. I go to the ocean. It’s the same however and wherever we find it and whatever we choose to call it. Coming to that realization has allowed us to have some of the most incredible, heart-warming conversations and moments I’ve ever shared with anyone.
I say all this to justify my newfound use of the term “God.”
It’s time to call bullshit on those who say that we’re better off without religion.
It is, after all, the religious (not religion itself) that “contribute to the world” so much war, bloodshed, oppression, hatred and intolerance. However, the religious have also brought love, non-violence, art, ethics, freedom and social service to the world in large numbers.
Going forward, we must put an end to generalizations – statements like “religious people believe …” or “organized religion does …” and take into account all the religious institutions doing meaningful, compassionate, transformational and inclusive work in their communities.
While all religions solve for a different set of problems — sin (Christianity), pride (Islam), exile (Judaism), attachment (Buddhism) — we musn’t set out with a problem as our main concern and we musn’t assume that “problems” are the only thing we all have in common.
If interfaith relations are to succeed, we must identify and shine a light on the positive traits in religious life, because interfaith relations still have, it turns out, a long way to go.
We’re stalled on the interstate without a map. And the map has yet to be drawn.
We’re told that each institutionalized religion is the only path to salvation, righteousness, prosperity, truth, wisdom, peace, etc. ad nauseum.
But when we start to personally unfold into new stages of growth (within and without), when we start to become a more mature version of ourselves, we sometimes find that our religion doesn’t provide a mature form of spirituality. It’s like having an appliance crap out on you the day after your 5-year warranty expires.
ERROR: We apologize, we are no longer offering support (technical, emotional, or spiritual) for versions 5.X (and above) of the “Your Self” hardware. If you’d like to be notified when this support becomes available, join the club.
Religion itself suffers from a form of philosophical retardation, permanently stunted at a level of adolescence, unable to position itself in relationship to others – unable to take second- and third-person perspectives.
According to Bishop John Shelby Spong, “the church doesn’t like for people to grow up, because you can’t control grown-ups.”
Here’s what Integral theorist, Ken Wilber has to say on the subject:
Everybody is born at square one. There will always be people at [all stages of consciousness] and that is fine. An enlightened society would always make room for that by recognizing that stages in development are also stations in life. And somebody can stop at any of those stations (of Spirit’s own unfolding) and they deserve honor and respect at whatever station they are at.
click image to enlarge
But the earlier stations — archaic to magic to mythic — involve stages that, nonetheless, are ones that humanity’s leading edge passed through in its infancy, childhood, and adolescence. But because religion alone is the repository of the myths created during those times, religion alone is the institution in today’s world that gives legitimacy to those earlier stages and stations for men and women. And religion alone owns that 70% of the world’s population at those stages.
All of which is good and beautiful. But precisely because of its ownership of the pre-rational heritage of humanity (and the pre-rational corpus of the great myths), religion alone can help its followers move from the pre-rational, mythic-membership, ethnocentric version of its message to the rational, worldcentric versions of its own message. … This, surely, is the great role for religion in the modern and postmodern world.
If “religion” continues to be defined as the tactile and social side of spirituality — rooted in dogma, doctrine and myth — and as long as those myths continue to be told (and interpreted) from magic and pre-rational levels of development, there will be no forms of religion at the higher stages (rational, collaborative or pluralistic).
All interfaith dialogue will hit a dead end, religious fundamentalism will remain the status quo, holy wars will continue to be waged, and we will continue to seek (to sometimes extreme ends) that which we already are and have always been.
UPDATE: Some of the Abrahamic traditions (Christianity, Judaism and Islam) do have maps of the higher stages provided by Christian Mysticism, Kabbalah and Sufism, respectively. But, they are for the most part denied or attacked by the institutional and patriarchal forms of these religions.
Yes, new myths need to be written from these higher stages of unfolding. New stories need to be told from a level of consciousness that includes the highest number of perspectives. But more importantly, current mythology and doctrine needs to be interpreted, understood and possibly re-cast from these higher stages. That is what will shatter the glass ceiling.
It’s time to change this system from within. And here’s what you can do about it: