Tag Archives: Church

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.


The Offering of the Stones: An Integral Church Tradition

 

 

SUN-4

Beginning in 2013, Integral Church has held services on the third Sunday of the month in St. Petersburg, FL. The gathering is held outdoors* at Crisp Park, a city park which features a gated area for children to play. Typically, childcare is provided for families who want to bring their young ones.

A wooden “altar” (fashioned out of an old corned beef shipping container) and a pail of stones is placed in the shady area formed by a triangle of trees. Guests are encouraged to bring lawn chairs, blankets or cushions to form a circle around it and ensure that everyone can see (and hear) one another.

And, then, “church” starts. But it’s probably not like any church you’ve seen.

Integral Church is a community of people who have abandoned the trappings of the traditional, one-to-many worship experience found in many Christian churches as well as the rigid and dogmatic teachings of many of the Buddhist and Taoist centers.

However, at any given gathering of Integral Church, you will hear those traditions cited (as well as those of Islam, Judaism, Gnosticism, Native American/nature religions and more). That’s because Integral Spirituality includes them all. It is an interfaith and interspiritual group expression — a post-modern approach to religion and a celebration of the sacred.

It honors and includes the goodness, truth and beauty found along the cultural spectrums of the world’s faith traditions while it explores the spiritual tools and practices of its individual members.

It is the path and practice of pluralism.

*An indoor First Thursday service was added in 2015.


What follows is the current Order of Service for an Integral Church gathering. The program usually runs 90 minutes.

  1. Opening music
  2. Introductions and Announcements (6:30 p.m. or 10:30 a.m. sharp; introduction by first/last name, recognition of new guests, community announcements, upcoming events and passing of the friend-sourcing journal)
  3. Toning (the singing bowl is struck three times)
  4. Moment of Silence
  5. Offering of the Stones (see guidelines below)
  6. Music (usually a musical guest, but can be an interactive chant, kirtan or activity)
  7. Spiritual Discussion (sometimes a guest speaker, usually followed by Q&A and open discussion)
  8. Selected Reading (usually a short poem or reading from scripture or sacred text)
  9. Meditation
  10. Offertory (donations are collected in a bowl in the center of the circle)
  11. Integral Dedication (spoken in unison, standing as group members are able, and holding hands)
The beginnings of the stone collection at the very first service held at Straub Park in 2013.

The beginnings of the stone collection at the very first service held at Straub Park in 2013.

Offering of the Stones: Community Guidelines

by Joran Oppelt and Catherine St. John

Each month, we dedicate a section of our service 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” — four very diverse religious ideologies.

In lieu of having a physical building or location for us to visit when we need prayer, meditation or spiritual support, we work together to create a “well” of intentions — a place to store our gratitude, love and healing; a place that may be returned to in our hearts and minds between services anytime we need.

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First Thursday Services Beginning February 5

For two years, the small but growing Integral Church community has met outdoors, in the beautiful and spacious parks of St. Petersburg, FL and for two years, the weather on the third Sunday of the month has been gorgeous. We have had the honor and pleasure of gathering to discuss religion, philosophy, science and spirituality accompanied by music and meditation. We have deeply listened to one another and formed lasting and meaningful relationships.

Starting in February, we are starting up a new monthly service. On the first Thursday of the month, beginning February 5, we will be meeting in the chapel at Trinity Multicultural Center from 6:30-8 p.m. This indoor service will differ from the Third Sunday services (currently held at Crisp Park) in that there will be chairs, a roof and four walls. For now, the order of service will remain the same at both services but the guests (speaker, musician, meditation) will change at each, so we encourage you to attend both if possible. First Thursdays will allow for our community to include those who just can’t be present on a Sunday morning, and we know there are more than a few of you!

I also want to extend my deepest gratitude to all those who have made the time to gather with us (however briefly) this year and have shared in this experience. I realize that in a circle there is no “back pew” allowing someone to discreetly hang behind and observe while other people read things aloud and participate in group activities. To those of you who continue to show up, there are no words to convey my appreciation. As our services continue to evolve, I rely on you for input on what is working and what is not.

If you believe that ALL of the world’s religions have meaning and that no perspective is completely irrelevant, I encourage you to come and check out what we’re doing. If you are interested in meeting with other people in the spirit of interfaith (religious and non-religious) conversation and integral (radically inclusive) spirituality, I encourage you to come and check out what we’re doing. If you are seeking people committed to personal transformative practice, community service and religious literacy, I encourage you to come and check out what we’re doing.

We look forward to meeting you, learning from you and experiencing Spirit-in-Action together.

For a list of all our gatherings and groups, click here.


Is Christianity (as we know it) dying?

Bishop_John_Shelby_Spong_portrait_2006    a new christianity for a new world

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.

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A Spiritual Internship: My Journey as a Chaplain

Joran Slane Oppelt - Chaplain

Last weekend, I committed to a year-long chaplaincy at a local church.

For those that are unfamiliar, the purpose of a chaplain is to hold sacred space alongside the pastor, minister or spiritual leader – by assisting with prayer and/or meditation requests, making calls on the members of the congregation, and attending regular group meetings.

It’s basically a spiritual internship, with rounds to make and hours to satisfy, but primarily it’s an opportunity to develop my skills as a compassionate listener, and continue to hone my chops as a reverend and as a shaman. It’s truly a responsibility that I was honored to take on, and the inner rewards are many.

In the weeks leading up to the retreat, we had been advised to re-focus our efforts toward self-care, as it’s difficult to lead and open yourself to others when you haven’t done the work yourself. I had been dealing with some personal shadow work and some issues around “letting go.” Meditating on what it meant to lead and be led, and on how my roles as musician, father, marketer, husband, reverend, son, etc. all fit together.

The weekend-long retreat took place on the church property, located in St. Petersburg, and I was joined by 23 others who were drawn to the chaplaincy for various reasons, or were renewing their annual commitment (one woman was going on her 7th year). We were told the theme for this year’s retreat was “angels,” and I tried not to visibly roll my eyes. After all, I told myself, “angel” is just another word for a guiding energy from the bardo (or causal) realm, and I would surely be safe from any metaphysical mumbo jumbo as long as I interpreted my experience from a pragmatic (read: integral) perspective and listened from the compassionate centers of the heart.

It started off simple enough, with a lot of sharing and getting to know one another over communal meals and team-building activities. But on the second day, it started to become clear that I was truly in the right place at the right time.

As we were fully immersed in three hours of silence, taking turns in the labyrinth and in a sanctuary filled with musical instruments, we all drew Archangel Cards and were sent to the rose garden to write in our journals. I’m not sure what anyone else drew, but I drew a card labeled “Victory,” marked by the Archangel Sandalphon. Sandalphon is one of two angels (the other being Metatron) that, according to legend, started life as a mortal man and was allowed access to archangeldom for his numerous good deeds on Earth. Sandalphon’s chief purpose was to gather up the prayers of humans and send them as a glowing orb of white light to God.

“Victory,” I thought. Victory, indeed.

Not only am I blessed with a loving wife and family, but the serendipity of things continues to reveal itself to me in unexpected ways. Cards like the one I drew seemed less random when I realized that my path wasn’t so much a road, but a new mode of being. A state of perpetual insight and intuition, and also a stage of development that is tuned to the highest ethical ideals, the highest and most inclusive forms of consciousness. In other words, this new way of looking at the world is recognizing that you are an expression of Divine energy. That when you reflect on the Cosmos, you are staring at the best and most beautiful parts of yourself.

Not only was I tapping into the unfolding of cosmic consciousness – of which our own unfolding is but a small part – but I was learning to articulate these states and stages in the language of the heart. Continue reading


Improving Your Sunday Soundtrack

One of the most anti-climactic and disappointing elements of the traditional church service, to me, is not the message clouded in hyperbole. It’s not the sermon — delivered by motivational speakers with drawn-out, dramatic pauses. It’s not the church politics or the passing of the plate.

It’s the music.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t envy the job of the church musical director — keeping an eye out for new talent among the congregation, readying material with little time for rehearsal, limited budget for session players or name acts, politics from the board of directors who have family members who “love to perform.”

I understand it. But I don’t have to like it.

I’m a musician after all, and I have a hard time finding a musical service that both pleases the ear in composition and tonality and also moves the soul to the kind of heights necessary to attain spiritual reflection and illumination.

There is no sheet music for this, there is no cheat sheet or chart. It has to arise in the moment. And when it does, the whole room can feel it. Is this kind of performance too much to ask?

Please take a second to answer this one-question survey in the comments section below.

“I would go to church every Sunday (or more) if the band performing at the service was ______________.”

(Can be anyone, living or dead)


Top 25 Reasons Why Integral Shouldn’t Be a Religion

Image courtesy of androidsinlove.com

Joe Perez, author of Rising Up: Reflections on Gay Culture, Politics, and Spirit has posted a list of 25 reasons why Integral Theory should not become (or inform) religious organizations. We find the post pretty interesting, as you can imagine.

Here’s are the top 10:

  1. I already have a religion and I would have to change my core beliefs.
  2. I already have a religion and it is inconceivable to me that anyone can be a member of two religions at once.
  3. I’ve been hurt too badly by religions in my past.
  4. I don’t want anyone telling me what to do or think, and that’s what religion is.
  5. I don’t need a religion, my spirituality is entirely personal and individual and I like it that way.
  6. If people knew I was in a religion outside of the mainstream, I might be discriminated against.
  7. I want to keep my spiritual life “in the closet” because my spouse, parents, relatives, or friends won’t approve.
  8. If “integral” became a religion, it would lose something that makes it distinctive.
  9. If “integral” became a religion, it would change and then I’d lose something I cherish.
  10. If “integral” became a religion, it would become cultish.

Read the complete list here.


Lessons Learned from LaVey

IC does not align itself with black magic or devil worship, but IC does believe that there is at least partial truth to every spiritual path. It is that truth, however small, that we wish to illuminate here.

Anton Szandor LaVey was a church and sideshow/burlesque organist (“seeing some of the same faces on Saturday night as he did on Sunday morning”) before founding the Church of Satan in 1966. He brought a definitive and canonical approach to his brand of religion, but also an underground, cultish aesthetic. Certain celebrities (politicians, comedians, musicians) would attend LaVey’s “Black Masses” at their height – a kind of Andy Warhol meets H.P. Lovecraft mash-up.

While Satanism, at its core, is really nothing more than a highly-cynical form of secular humanism, LaVey understood the importance of ritual in religious life. There was no awe or entertainment value to things like Plato and Kant. Satanism, as a comment on ritual, reminds us that people like to offer their blessings to the flame of the white candle, and occasionally offer a curse or two to the flame of the black candle. It’s cathartic, it just feels good, and in tandem with things like prayer and/or meditation can effect real change in an individual, eventually leading to either real or perceived change in their surroundings.

But LaVey did more than write the book on how to perform a ceremony with a broadsword and a nude female standing (or kneeling) in as an altar. He sincerely questioned the motives of those who called themselves Christians, but that practiced decidedly non-Christian behavior (greed, theft, lust) and those that that held such benign ambitions as earning more money, wanting to improve their quality of life or being proud of one’s own accomplishments without giving credit to God. He (among so many others) denied the concept of “sin,” saying it was based on behaviors that the human animal was wired for from birth – violence, sex, adultery. He held up a mirror to contemporary congregations, asking them if they wanted to pursue Earthly pleasures, why weren’t they just honest with themselves, do so guilt-free and stop calling themselves Christians?

What LaVey either didn’t understand or wouldn’t allow for was an in-between. Like many before and after, he skipped the gray areas of semantics, logic and mythology entirely and chose to pursue the purely dark side. LaVey seemed unfazed by the fact that his Anti-Christ, known by so many other names (Lucifer, Belial, Leviathan) was simply and ultimately the representation of evil – a character cast opposite Jesus to give meaning to our internal moral struggle. LaVey never fully expressed the concept of God, because a complete concept of God would contain both.

But LaVey was correct about a few things. The Christian Church has only recently begun to transcend and include its former iterations, ceding to select truths in the fields of psychology, archaeology, ethics and biology. The Christian Church continues to change, every day moving away from a fundamental and literalist approach to centuries-old dogma and growing more diverse in its understanding and interpretation of holy scripture.  But, when does it cease to be “Christianity?”

The magic spells and demonic imagery aside, LaVey’s question is as valid as ever today. With the rise of televangelism and the Mega Church, money and contributions are not only spent on treasure-building within the corporate church structure but flaunted on huge screens in front of the congregation itself.  And while no religious doctrine should be invalidated if it serves the needs of a community or greater good, the tenets of Lavey’s Church of Satan are unfortunately written (and spoken) by someone who has seemingly never raised a child or helped another in need of charity.

Ultimately, it is the work and the word that is left behind. And any spiritual code or written moral law is like a steel rod which we (as saplings) are tied to – or voluntarily wrap ourselves around. Our path is constantly righted by this written word and we may wither and die away, but the word – in many cases – lives on.

LaVey’s work, while convenient for the anti-establishment sect to debate and argue, falls short of providing a full spiritual life for those seeking immediate fulfillment on Earth or even those Christians who find themselves on the fence.