Tag Archives: interfaith

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


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


Top 5 Reasons You Should Attend Interfaith Events

His Holiness the Dalai Lama with members of the Dunedin Interfaith Council on the steps of St. Pauls Cathedral in Dunedin, New Zealand on June 11, 2013. Photo/Jacqui Walker

His Holiness the Dalai Lama with members of the Dunedin Interfaith Council on the steps of St. Pauls Cathedral in Dunedin, New Zealand on June 11, 2013. Photo/Jacqui Walker

Interfaith gatherings — in the form of peace marches, prayer breakfasts, demonstrations, panel discussions, academic conferences and inter-religious ceremonies — have grown in popularity over the last 5 years.

If you have seen one of these events advertised in your community, you may have thought it was a nice thing for other people to attend, but that it wasn’t for you. Or despite all the advertised information, you may have only noticed the word “faith” and thought, “that is an event for religious people or people who belong to a certain religion.” I assure you that neither are true.

Interfaith events may feature representatives from the various spiritual traditions from around the world, but they are certainly intended for — and convened around — everyone. An interfaith event may include attendees from religious and non-religious groups, atheists, scientists, politicians/city officials and academics. They may even include atheists or religious “nones” (those that don’t identify with a specific religion). These voices are gathered to engage in ongoing conversation about how to communicate effectively regardless of our differences, or how to respect the opinions of others, or ways to achieve peace in the world through non-violent means, and it is your perspective — and your voice — that deserves to be included.

Interfaith conversations can include such topics as ethics and morality; love and compassion; service to the community; climate change and global warming; personal spiritual practice such as prayer or meditation; social justice; human rights issues for women, children and minorities; or liturgy and the history of ritual as it relates to cultural and religious traditions from around the world.

But don’t fool yourself into thinking that these conversations are dry, academic, monotonous and uninspired — like some sermons or speeches tend to be. Most of these events are lively and passionate (sometimes heated), are fun and inspiring and most times involve great food and a focus on community.

Here are the top 5 reasons that you should start attending interfaith events:

1. Conflict resolution

No matter what model you’re using — the “Four S’s of Interfaith” or the “Interfaith Triangle” — using conversation to defuse violence and tension through peaceful means is something that we need more of in the home, the workplace, and the world. Using words to solve our disagreements and learning to take the role of other is one of the best examples we can set for our peers, our communities and our children. Peace begins with you.

2. It expands your own awareness

Discussing topics like spirituality and religion with others allows you to see the world through their eyes. And learning about others’ feelings, cultures and opinions helps you become more aware of the various perspectives that comprise our world. Allowing others to feel safe and encouraging them to share deeply — including sometimes personal details — is also a way to foster interpersonal connections that can bring about an expanded sense of awareness within your family, neighborhood and your community. By expressing and sharing together in this safe space, we are contributing more wisdom to the world — more goodness, more truth and more beauty.

3. It’s for a good cause

There is no equivalent of a “mega church” in the interfaith community. Most of these organizations are grassroots, very small and run by a few volunteers who are dedicated to a mission of unity and world peace. Most of these events do not benefit the individual faith communities, but give directly back to the community they are hosted in, donating proceeds to local charities and encouraging others to do the same. The charities are usually connected to universal concerns like human rights, hunger, poverty, the homeless and the abused. Consider showing up early and helping set up chairs or staying late and striking tables. It’s for a good cause and will be greatly appreciated.

4. Good conversation, good people

Interfaith events are not strictly educational, they are highly social and in some cases may put you in a situation where you have to think before you speak. This is great practice for the real world (especially the workplace). These gatherings usually attract a wide array of people from different backgrounds, cultures and walks of life. Introduce yourself to everyone you can and listen to their stories. Yes, you might learn something from passively observing a talk or panel discussion, but without an audience (or someone to ask meaningful questions) these conversations can be a lot of head-nodding and back-patting. Raise your hand, let your voice be heard. Interfaith events also attract people who are open-minded and who are willing to work out their problems (internal and external) through peaceful means. Be careful, you may unexpectedly find a new friend. Continue reading


The Offering of the Stones: An Integral Church Tradition

 

 

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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.

Continue reading


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.


Our next Third Sunday service will be pretty special

interfaith week 2014

Next Sunday, we’ll be closing out Interfaith Week with a very special Third Sunday service in the park.

Three extraordinary guests will join us for our normal interfaith service.

This will be one of the best services we’ve had so far! Don’t miss it.

Sunday, July 20, 10 a.m. – 12 p.m.
Crisp Park, St. Petersburg
37th Ave. NE. and Poplar St. NE.
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704

WHAT IS IT?

Integral Church offers an interfaith service on the third Sunday of every month. It’s designed for those seeking something other than the typical “church” experience, but needing a sense of spiritual community. We gather outside (in a circle) to discuss various topics related to religion and spirituality, and are inclusive of the world’s wisdom and faith traditions – from nature/pagan religions to modern/mystical paths to science/atheism.  The service typically includes a guest speaker, a guided meditation and a musical performance.

WHAT TO BRING:

1. Yourself, friends and family
2. A blanket and/or lawn chair(s)
3. A small rock, pebble or stone for our collection

Children are welcome, the park features a fenced playground. In the event of rain, please check this post for a backup location.


Interfaith Couples: Anthony and Jennifer

To celebrate Interfaith Week, we’ll be publishing a series of interviews with couples from Tampa Bay (and beyond) in the coming month to raise awareness about the importance of interfaith and inter-religious dialogue – especially within the family.

First up, Anthony and Jennifer.

UPDATE: Since Anthony and Jennifer met in an anonymous recovery program, their names have been changed to protect their identities. In fact, this is not a photo of Anthony and Jennifer. However, we assure you, Anthony and Jennifer are a real couple, living in the Tampa Bay Area. 

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What is your full name?

Anthony M.

What is your occupation?

Freelance marketing geek.

How did you meet your partner?

We became friends in an anonymous recovery group.

Are you married?

A boy can dream.

With what religion or faith do you identify?

I’m atheist.

On a scale of 1-5 (1 being the least), how seriously do you take your personal faith or philosophy?

Four.

Has your relationship been tested by your partner having a different set of values or beliefs than your own? Can you give examples?

Only speaking for myself, the relationship really hasn’t been tested on that basis.

How has your relationship been made stronger by your partner having a different set of values or beliefs than your own?

Yes, I think it has. I have a deep respect for her beliefs and she is highly committed to honoring the God that she believes in. This commitment of hers and the multiple daily prayers that accompany it are a reminder to me of her strong foundation, her insanely rich capacity for empathy and her will to do what is right.  In fact, it’s one of the reasons I am so completely and stupidly in love with her. Continue reading


Interfaith Week is Coming to St. Petersburg!

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On July 13-20, the City of St. Petersburg will officially recognize “Interfaith Week,” and we would love to see you out and about, visiting new communities, making new friends and learning more about the way our city celebrates the sacred.

For more info, visit the Interfaith Week event page.

Interfaith Week is a chance to see how others practice religion and spirituality in an open, educational setting. During Interfaith Week, individuals and families are encouraged to visit the many churches, temples, mosques, synagogues, meditation centers and spiritual communities in St. Petersburg to gain a better understanding of the people, values, philosophies, practices and cultures that make up our beautiful, historic city.

The week will also include free panel and roundtable discussions at different campuses and venues including such topics as: religious literacy, dialogue and listening, social work and charity, good and evil, definitions and expressions of spirituality, and more.

St. Pete Interfaith Week was inspired by “Other Religions Week,” founded in 2003 by Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen, and like similar events (i.e. Louisville’s “Festival of Faiths“) seeks to become an annual happening that promotes a message of compassion and pluralism and holds up our city as an example of a community based on mutual respect, cooperation and collaboration.

If you would like to volunteer to help out at an Interfaith Week event, please contact us. If you would like your spiritual community to participate, there are a few different ways we can work together, and all of them are listed below.

1. Be listed on the calendar

We can list any events you already have happening that week, from your normal worship, prayer or meditation services to evening classes, music/dance performances or talks.

2. Participate in a discussion

We’re looking for people from all walks of life (academia, community service, faith-based organizations) to participate in this important and valuable conversation. If you (or a representative of your organization) would like to participate in a public discussion about interfaith relations on the topics listed above, let us know.

3. Host an event / Organize a panel 

If you would like to host or organize an event, performance or interfaith panel discussion, we would be happy to feature this event on the website and help you promote it.

We’re very much looking forward to the beginning of what will surely be an annual event that showcases the rich fabric and diversity of our community and that continues to grow year after year.

See you in July!

Sincerely,
Joran Oppelt


The Sermon on the Mount (of Intrareligious Dialogue)

“Religion is not an experiment, it is an experience of life through which one is part of the cosmic adventure” – Raimon Panikkar

Thanks to Jan Magray for sending this our way. Enjoy.

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The Sermon on the Mount of Intrareligious Dialogue
by Raimon Panikkar (from Bulletin 27, October 1986)

When you enter into an intrareligious dialogue, do not think beforehand what you have to believe.

When you witness to your faith, do not defend yourself or your vested interests, sacred as they may appear to you. Do like the birds in the skies: they sing and fly and do not defend their music or their beauty.

When you dialogue with somebody, look at your partner as a revelatory experience as you would — and should — look at the lilies in the fields.

When you engage in intrareligious dialogue, try first to remove the beam in your own eye before removing the speck in the eye of your neighbor.

Blessed are you when you do not feel self-sufficient while being in dialogue.

Blessed are you when you trust the other because you trust in Me.

Blessed are you when you face misunderstandings from your own community or others for the sake of your fidelity to Truth.

Blessed are you when you do not give up your convictions, and yet you do not set them up as absolute norms.

Woe unto you, you theologians and academicians, when you dismiss what others say because you find it embarrassing or not sufficiently learned.

Woe unto you, you practitioners of religions, when you do not listen to the cries of the little ones.

Woe unto you, you religious authorities, because you prevent change and (re) conversion.

Woe unto you, you religious people, because you monopolize religion and stifle the Spirit which blows where and how she wills.