Tag Archives: community

Entertaining the Idea of Life

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I understand that some of us just get old and tired. Some of us simply wind down and no longer need to hunt for our food or find a mate – our attraction to colors and scents becomes dulled and our desires fade.

But while you sit there at your screen, I want you to know that new and life-enriching experiences are bursting around you like champagne corks and fireworks as most of us sit, medicated and complacent.

As artists, we are awakened in the middle of the night, scrambling for our journals or sketchbooks as the lyrics, dialogue, melodies and images bloom in our heads like lightning. There are times that we would sell or pawn everything we owned for access to a studio or the equipment necessary to help us give flesh to our vision. And, as entertainers, we are here at the club, theater or concert hall, having rehearsed the show a thousand times or more. Having set up the lights and microphones and amplifiers and promoted tonight’s performance out of our own pocket, hearts beating wildly, hoping you saw the handbills, waiting for you to arrive.

Yet, the rest of us remain on our couches, sleepily re-focusing our eyes between commercial breaks. You might even be at the bar right now, with a band, songwriter or poet performing directly behind you, and your eyes are still glued to the screen.

It’s not entirely our fault. We are continually shown, told and reminded every second of every day what a dangerous, filthy, contagious and most importantly — evil — world we live in. And for all the tools, medicine and miracles we have created, our progress has also increased our loneliness and isolation, and heightened the degree and intensity of our need for distraction.

It’s not new. Technology has always unfolded alongside the aspects of self, culture and nature. The advances of modern architecture once made it possible to house the public theatre and for the best playwrights to showcase their work, the harnessing of radio waves gave us weekly dramatic cliffhanger serials, the cathode ray gave us daily televangelism and MTV, and now the mobile internet makes it possible to stay plugged-in, turned on and marketed-to at all times.

I grew up before we had the world’s knowledge base and creative storehouses at our fingertips. If you wanted to read a book, you needed to check it out from the library, and then return it before it was due. If it was out of print, most times you were out of luck. If you wanted to see a film, you needed to buy a ticket while it was being shown at a theater. If you missed it, you rarely saw that film again, unless it was shown on TV, and even then there was no pause button. We had no VHS tapes. We had no Netflix.

I am in no way implying that things were better when I was young, nor am I saying that we need to deprive ourselves of technology in order to have a meaningful life. Technology is, after all, how I am able to speak to some of you now. But we are alive at a time when so much “art” and “innovation” has been allowed to flourish at an overwhelming rate — with no filter and no editors, with no institutions, patrons or benefactors required. For this, our development (at all stages and on all levels) is being stunted by distraction and the consumption of junk. If we expect to grow, develop, adapt and unfold according to our highest potential, we must find a balance between the alternating states of rest and activity, contemplation and action. The sweeping pendulum of prayerful devotion and real-life service or experience surely leads to real wisdom, even illumination. But we seem to be on our knees, stalled in constant prayer, in front of our television screens and computer monitors, drooling and frozen, too frightened to touch the screen or engage in the world around us. Too tightly wound by the stimuli and frequencies of everyday life.

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Real Words with Real Friends

We recently gathered in a downtown St. Petersburg park for our first-ever Sunday Service. We were just coming off of our recent week-long Media Cleanse, so among other things, we talked about digital mindfulness and staying authentically connected to real people. Here’s a re-cap of what was presented.

Photo by Erica Marshall

This week, during the media cleanse, I ran into a fellow parent at school who asked me how it was going.

I told her it was going well, that we were not spending so much time on Facebook, and that my family was sitting down for meals and discovering more creative (and productive) ways to spend our time.

She told me that she had never spent much time on Facebook or Twitter, and that she’s never much been tempted by her computer as she spends most of her day trapped behind one at work. However, there was one thing she was definitely “addicted” to, and that was the Scrabble-inspired gaming app, Words with Friends.

As I drove to work in the deafening silence of the cleanse (my phone was in the backseat as I had chosen to eliminate iTunes and any music-streaming apps), I thought about what our friend had told me.

She was “addicted.”

While the newest gadget in the latest color might very well be a status symbol, it’s not our devices and screens that we’re addicted to. Owning the hardware might make us feel self-important, but it’s our interaction with the software that makes us feel good. Games like “Words with Friends” or “Draw Something” (the recent Pictionary knock-off) reward players with jangly sounds and bright colors when a goal is attained.

The reward center in your brain releases euphoria- and trust-inducing chemicals every time you are showered with a fountain of 8-bit golden coins, or are told that “you’ve got mail,” or that someone wants be your friend. And we all get excited when we see that little red notification that indicates someone either likes you or something you’ve said.

But, where are these reward centers being stimulated in real life?

Do you feel rewarded by receiving or spending money? How about when a plate of food is placed in front of you, or when you finish your meal? Are you rewarded by serving others, by sexual climax or by recognizing beauty in your environment or the faces of those around you?

How much of your behavior is controlled by these rewards, and are you listening to your body (“my stomach is full”) or your reward center (“I’d better clean my plate”) when you make important decisions?

What about our relationships? How many have we entered into because we expect or are seeking a reward? And conversely, do we withhold openness and trust in some relationships because we fear betrayal or abandonment? Was there ever a time that love was showered on us, only for it to be taken away?

Where did we learn to protect ourselves in this way? When were those circuits wired into our brain? And how different would our lives be if we relied not on other people, but on ourselves, to provide those rewards?

What if we looked at ourselves in the mirror every morning and affirmed that we are whole, and that we are strong? That we are beautiful, perfect manifestations of Spirit? What if all our friends did the same? Our neighbors? Our social network?

Coming off the social media cleanse, it’s important to be aware of the distinction between your network and your community. And it’s important to be aware of toxicity levels in both. Your network may have originally been seeded by actual friends – people you know well and see often. But, it’s inevitably grown to include coworkers, acquaintances, and distant family members who may choke your news feed with negativity, emotional triggers, or inflammatory political and religious opinions.

You will need to decide what to keep (“I affirm this for myself”) and what to discard (“I deny that this person or idea has power over me.”). If it’s toxic, and there is no saving it, or it’s simply distracting, consider pulling it like a weed. It shouldn’t matter if this person is related by blood. Hide their posts or unfriend them. You can still see them at Thanksgiving, give them a big hug and tell them how much you love them and hold the best possible things for them. If the relationship has promise, manage it as you would a sickly branch. Prop a stick under it or truss it up with some rope by sending them a private message or better yet, picking up the phone.

Our purpose should be to tend to our (virtual) social networks and our (tangible) communities as we would a garden, cultivating real friends and relationships as we would grow real food – the kind we would put on our dinner table to feed our families.

Furthermore, let’s continue to be mindful and create meaning around our everyday activities. This practice is what deepens our relationship to Spirit-in-Action. We can choose to sit with our families and eat passively in front of the TV or we can choose to sit around a dining table, facing each other, sharing in conversation and laughter, and say a blessing before each meal. Showing gratitude for the food itself – and the hands that harvested and prepared it – is simple (“Thank you for this meal” is good enough).

We can choose to gather in the park, letting the kids play for a bit while we fiddle with our phones, and then say goodbye. Or we can choose to picnic in the park to share a meal and a story, to establish connections of trust and open communication with our friends, family and tribe.

The former is good enough. The latter is the best that we can do.


Alchemy Fest 2013 a Huge Success in St. Petersburg

Alchemy Fest 2013

This year, our 8th annual Alchemy Fest event was held at First Unity Spiritual Campus in St. Petersburg and as expected, this year’s event was the biggest and best so far, doubling past records at well over 4oo attendees.

This year’s event committee – Lorrie McMurrian, Jennifer Oppelt, Christa Leonard, Jessica Respondek, and Shanna Gillette – did an amazing job pulling together a much more ambitious event than we’ve done in years past – including live music, dance performances, workshops, a vendor marketplace, and 7 interactive “Transformation Stations” which included everything from guided meditation and chair massage to hula hooping and face painting.

We’re also very grateful to our huge crew of volunteers (Jake Respondek, Dan McMurrian, Tanya Sharkey, Lil Reisman, Sarah Davis, Charlie Forsyth, Ashley Butler, Chelsea Greene, Trina Hill, Dwayne Scheuneman, Joel Conrad, Catherine St. John and Gina Smith), as well as the amazing staff at First Unity (Denise, Neil, and Sharon).

Shanna captured some amazing photographs of the festivities as well as performances by RedFeather, Geri X, Sons of Hippies, The Gita and Rise of Saturn. Check out the gallery below.

This year’s presenting sponsors were Thank You Mama and Number 9 Salon.

If you were there and have stories and/or feedback from the event, please share it in the comments section. I can’t express how thankful I am to everyone that has helped grow this event into such an amazing and meaningful annual gathering for our community. Every one of you have my sincere thanks and profound gratitude.

Joran Oppelt
President, Integral Church

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Video of the Opening Ceremony, featuring Joe Terrana and Raihan Alam


Religion 2.0: The Formation of the Integral Church

You know that moment when the sand at the bottom of the hourglass starts to cave in toward the center? And it seems like suddenly the grains start to quicken, to pick up speed. But it’s an illusion, right? They don’t really move any faster, do they? Time doesn’t speed up if we have less of it. Or does it?

2012, The Year of the Dragon (my birth sign) is coming to a close and I was told to expect both profound “promise and demise.” Looking back on this year, I suppose both of those things are true. On one hand, I wasted most of the year — beating around the bush, hesitating out of fear, trying on old habits, instead of taking a deep breath and stepping onto the end of the diving board. And on the other hand, I also took my time and I meditated. I’ve finally come to a decision, deliberately and purposefully, about what my next steps should be. Something in me has been building steam for quite a while, and it’s high time that I tell everyone what I’ve been up to. Not just to share the news with you — my friends and family — but in hopes that by giving voice to my intentions, by articulating my plan, I will help to further realize it in my own heart and mind.

I am forming a non-profit, religious organization called the Integral Church. Something that is, in the eyes of the Internal Revenue Service, a brand new religious denomination. Something that until very recently, hasn’t existed.

Religion means so many things to different people, that for our purposes here, we should make an attempt to define it. “Religion,” in my opinion, is not just dogma, doctrine or creed — which all refer specifically to passages of scripture, koans, mythology, mantras, law, ethics, etc. These are parts of religion, yes. But they are not the whole story. Religion, to me, relates to the way an individual understands their own consciousness, it is the method in which they are self-aware, and it is the way that person struggles with or attempts to answer life’s big questions. The big questions like, “What is my purpose,” “What (or who) is God,” “Where did the universe come from,” “What is the nature of time,” etc. These questions can be tackled by personally investigating the nature of the self and the universe — by doing the experiment and seeing with your own eyes, they can be contemplated and interpreted through mythology and storytelling, or both. But the big question is usually centered in the “I.” How do I relate to the universe/God? What happens when I die? And it’s through the exploration of these questions that a spiritual practice and ways to honor the cosmos or God are consciously developed (or not).

You don’t have to tell me — religion has been a less than perfect solution for a lot of things. But that’s why now, more than ever, we need to build something new. Something that the world has never seen before.

Why?

The reason for starting a religious organization, and not simply another community non-profit, is the next logical step in a personal journey that began in the woods of Central Wisconsin as a teenager. That is where I experienced my first epiphany — a vision of the universe as a spinning record, and myself as the needle. I was nudged down this path when asked by a dear friend of mine to officiate my first wedding (I have grown to further appreciate and understand the deep importance of ritual in family life and have since performed my sixth wedding, a memorial service and countless fatherhood rituals). An intellectual seed was planted when I discovered the writings of Arthur Koestler and Ken Wilber, and began to sprout when I realized that their life’s work was a continuation of those who came before them — Sri Aurobindo, William James, Aldous Huxley. When I finally discovered the writings of the modern Catholic reformers — those who had been exiled from the institutionalized religion that they loved for demanding further reform and more inclusive liturgical structures (i.e. Rev. Dr. Matthew Fox, Bishop John Shelby Spong, and Fr. Richard Rohr) — I began to see the forest for the trees. I also saw the path that cut straight through the archaic wilderness to the heart of a post-modern center. I understood that we needed to build something new.

But none of this justifies the foolish act of starting a religion, does it? Starting a religion is a crazy thing to do, right? Especially in Florida. Nobody does that.

Let me be perfectly clear: the reason for this undertaking is not just because we need a new vision of the world, a world where religious tolerance is the rule; where religions are not seen as warring tribes, but as neighboring families that each contain their own spectrums of consciousness — from traditional conservatives to modern progressives. A world where believers and non-believers alike can find a common language and a sense of context. There are too few places where compassionate atheists and humanists can get involved with environmental causes or helping the less fortunate. Our vision of the world includes the creation of — and access to — these types of programs. But, it also includes children being taught mindfulness and modern (peer-to-peer) informational literacy, it includes cities being built (or re-built) around biodiversity, community farming and cooperation. It is a world where everything is a Holon¹ (a whole and a part) and where “spirituality” is understood (and practiced) in very real terms, knowing that there is indeed an energy in me that is identical to the energy in you. In an integral context, that means an individual approach that at once includes meditation/contemplation, exercise/nutrition, sustainability/environmentalism, and community service/civic engagement². In this new world, being open-minded is celebrated, “transcending and including” is the new norm and those who change their mind can more easily imagine a changing world³.

The reason is also not simply because many of us are finding that we have a shared set of beliefs — a belief that God is beyond gender (neither male or female), that human gender roles and sexual behavior do not exist discretely as male or female but as points along a continuum†. A belief that science and philosophy are tantamount in answering life’s big questions. A belief that new gender-balanced mythologies (that have yet to be written) are necessary for our modern age — stories that take into account how we interact with the technology and computer networks that we’ve built to encircle our planet and how we use these networks to communicate with other nations and nationalities around the globe, sometimes on a daily basis. And, finally, a belief that the First Cause that created the universe is simply unknowable and that love may very well be all you need‡.

The reason for starting a religious non-profit — for building a “ministry” — is to spread the message that we change the world by living in it ∞. That our personal unfolding, our continually-expanding consciousness, the ability to take more and more perspectives, the primordial drive toward increasing biological complexity, is directly related to the evolution of the entire cosmos. We — our interiors and exteriors — are all part of that whole. It is one action. In fact, it is Spirit-in-Action. Continue reading


Updated Friend-Sourcing Map

UPDATE: I’ve been carrying the Friend-Sourcing Project journal around with me everywhere I go. People have been very forthcoming with projects they’d like to see happen within their community, and I look forward to one of this church’s core missions being able to manifest these intentions in the real world.

Since the last update, we’ve found it necessary to add a fifth category (Children and Families) due to the growing cluster of projects around that theme. Above is the updated map with simplified descriptions. We swear that they fell into place (with the exception of “Children and Families”) around the integral quadrants (arts/interior, wellness/physiology, gardening/community, cities/systems) all on their own.

As always, if you have an idea for a project, please contribute in the comments below, and we will add it to the map.

Here, again, is the question:

“If you could harness the power of your friends, family and everyone you knew to make a positive change in the world around you, what would it be?”