Tag Archives: Islam

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


A Brilliant Matrix: The World of Religious States and Stages

faith of seven

The “Faith of the Seven” in the capital of Westeros (Game of Thrones).

Game of Thrones is a sprawling violent, bloody snapshot of a medieval fantasy world where different kingdoms and bloodlines struggle for control of the much-coveted “Iron Throne” — a seat in the capitol that rules all Seven Kingdoms of Westeros.

It’s also a detailed glimpse into a fictional world in spiritual transition — from ancestral nature religions to a mythical/numerological polytheism to an emerging (and much-contested) monotheism. If you watch Game of Thrones, you’ll notice that there is a lot of time spent explaining the religious motivations of the characters. It’s as if religion itself is a character in the story. The characters may offer “seven blessings” to their loved ones or curse their enemies to the “seven hells” — the number seven representing a set of archetypes based on social and spiritual virtues (Father, Mother, Warrior, Maiden, Smith, Crone, Stranger). At the same time, some characters are bent on appeasing the “one, true God” — the nascent and wrathful “Lord of Light” — through the blood and fire of human sacrifice.

Throughout the story, what the characters believe and how they interact with and interpret the actions of others begins to change based on what they begin to see with their own eyes. And to hear this kind of religion described, you might think that these forms of worship, these outdated modes of spiritual expression, so rooted in mythology and superstition, have long passed from our society. I can assure you, that in some corners of our planet, these types of nature-based and/or polytheistic religion (or variations of them) are still very much alive.

“Integral” Spirituality is part of a lineage that is woven through many teachers (Sri Aurobindo, Haridas Chaudhuri, Alan Watts, Ken Wilber, et. al.). And very recently, religion (or the interpretation of religious experience) that is rooted in post-modern and pluralistic structures has done much to synthesize some of our more sacred and socially held values that have long been viewed as opposites — ideas like east and west, science and spirituality, inner and outer, masculine and feminine, the individual and the collective, grasping and sitting — it is an emerging spirituality, not of either/or, but of both/and.

However, it’s not all rose-colored radical inclusivity. Implementing pluralism as its own practice, while avoiding the accusations and actual pitfalls of syncretism has proven to be difficult. Integral spirituality needs to honor the differences we find in the various religions and it does so not by comparing the human experience of gods and goddesses to the experience of blind men with an elephant, or minimizing the paths of tradition by winding them up the same mountain of “spiritual Oneness.” It succeeds by making a clear distinction between things like cultural history, creativity and mythology, human rights and freedoms, communities of practice, states of awareness, stages of consciousness, lines of development or intelligence, personality and gender types, and so on.

We will look at two of those here — stages and states — and hopefully gain a better understanding of how Integral spirituality allows us a deeper and more meaningful understanding of the relationship with our Self, with those around us and with the Divine, or Spirit-in-Action.

Stages of Consciousness

First we’ll look at stages of consciousness. These stages have been imagined as a vertical line (or nested hierarchy of circles).

This is how cultures have mapped the development or unfolding of our own worldview as we move from birth to death. These stages, according to Ken Wilber’s A Brief History of Everything, move us from egocentric (care and concern for the self) to ethnocentric (care and concern for the family or the community) to worldcentric (care and concern for all beings).

It’s best illustrated with something called Spiral Dynamics. Developed by Don Beck and Chris Cowan, this model proposes the idea that the consciousness of all beings (as well as all societies or groups) unfolds in a spiral that oscillates between self-interest and concern for the group, and is continually expanding while incrementally including more and more perspectives.

A Brilliant Matrix-Spiral Dynamics

VALUES SYSTEM COLOR DESCRIPTION
Archaic Beige Primal, instinctive, survivalistic. Food, warmth, sex and safety.

Origin: 100,000 years ago.

Tribal Purple Loyalty to the tribe, magical/animistic beliefs, family rituals and blood oaths. Observe customs and cycles. Sacrifice is made for the tribe.

Origin: 50,000 years ago.

Warrior Red Impulsive/egocentric beliefs, self-interest, self-expression, only the strong survive, domination and rebellion, kingdoms and heroes (negatives: gangs, the “terrible twos”). Creates change through the use of power.

Origin: 10,000 years ago.

Traditional Blue Authoritarian beliefs, law and order, good and evil polarized, mythic/literal interpretations, ethnocentric, “my country right or wrong.” (positives: ordered meaningful existence, absolute truth, rightful living). Sacrifice is made for truth.

Origin: 5,000 years ago.

Modern Orange Self-reliance, rational/scientific worldview, achieveist/strategic beliefs, “life is a game,” risk-taking. (positive: the Enlightenment, industrial revolution, negative: capitalist exploitation, environmental devastation, mechanistic view of life/the universe). Creates change through manipulation.

Origin: 300 years ago.

Post-modern Green Communitarian/egalitarian, worldcentric, social justice, world peace, deep ecology, human rights, religious pluralism, multiculturalism, communes. (positive: birth of the internet, negative: hatred of hierarchies, disdain for competition). Sacrifice is made for consensus.

Origin: 150 years ago.

Integral Yellow Integrative, enlightened self-interest; flexibility, functionality and responsibility; all value systems are valid, holarchies, value-based hierarchies (good, beautiful, true), systems thinking, “Third Way” politics. Creates change using knowledge.

Origin: 50 years ago.

Mystical Turquoise Holistic worldview, a balanced system of interlocking forces, body/mind/spirit approaches to experience, global networks/global solutions. Identifies with collective mind or unified, evolving whole. Sacrifice is made for the planet/all beings.

Origin: 30 years ago.

States of Awareness

States of awareness are simply the layers of what we call the “self” or the “body.” They have been taught by the world’s faith traditions to be viewed as concentric circles or sheaths (i.e. the koshas) that begin with the physical body and expand (or deepen) to include more energy (i.e. prana), more matter, more Spirit.

  1. Gross Body – Sensory awareness, waking state
  2. Subtle Body – Extra-sensory awareness, energetic body (Qi, shen, prana), dreaming or altered states
  3. Causal Body – Formless awareness, the Soul, the Overmind
  4. “State that is all states” – Non-dual awareness, Turiya, Divine Milieu, Spirit, Atman

A Brilliant Matrix-States-Alex Grey

The thing to be aware of here is that someone can be at the highest peak state experience — blissed-out, in a state of rapture — yet themselves be at a Traditional (ethnocentric) stage, a blue value system or lower. And the opposite is also true (higher value systems, and a lower or more narrow energetic body). An example might be the “enlightened” Zen master (inhabiting higher states of awareness) with a highly-developed line of morality and ethics, who is generous and humble, yet who holds strong cultural biases — racist or homophobic beliefs. Continue reading


Spring Equinox: A Time of Creation and Resurrection

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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.

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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.

Resurrection

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.”

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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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Namastasis: Recognizing the Good in All

Space Gazing

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.

Continue reading


The Real Problem With Religion

We’ve hit a glass ceiling.

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

stages-of-consciousness-integral

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.

(excerpted from Integral Spirituality)

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:

Continue reading


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