Tag Archives: Jesus

A Declaration of Spiritual Independence

freedom-in-the-shape-of-a-cross

“When freed from that which binds,
when the lust for life has come to
an end, one is not born again. He
is released now and forever.”

– The Buddha, Dhammapada


Note: Some define “spiritual independents” as those who are unchurched or have left a mainline religious affiliation — like a third-way political party. For our purposes, “spiritual independence” means anyone who insists on critical thinking in religious matters.

On July 15, 1838, Ralph Waldo Emerson addressed the graduating students of Harvard Divinity School. As the ministers-to-be listened eagerly with freshly-opened minds, he told them, “Let me admonish you first of all to go alone, to refuse the good models, even those which are sacred in the imagination of men, and dare to love God without mediator or veil.”

He spoke of an “indwelling Supreme Spirit,” and of a vision, described by Philip Goldberg of the Huffington Post as “similar to that of the Eastern sages, where we are neither fallen nor depraved, and where divinity incarnates at every instant, not just once in the distant past.”

“God is, not was,” Emerson told the students, and each of us is “an infinite Soul” who is “drinking forever the soul of God.”

The graduates (and religion itself) were forever changed — their minds and hearts opened to a direct relationship with the Divine. The parents and faculty were angry and upset, and Emerson was banned from Harvard for over two decades.

If we are to claim spiritual independence for ourselves, then we need to cultivate a similar relationship with our Source. John Dominic Crossan writes about this kind of life in The Essential Jesus, saying it is the life that Jesus died for — a life “of human contact without discrimination and of divine contact without hierarchy.”

If we are to be truly free, we need to equip ourselves with the appropriate support on all levels and lines, and surround ourselves with the right types. We will need access to sound spiritual teachings, a free-standing system outside the mainline institutions, the right spiritual tools necessary to do the actual work, and the benefits of a rich community of practice.

Teachings

We’ll need teachings that help us to seek inspiration and guidance, and live with heart, for the road will be rough. They will need to be teachings that consider the health of the whole person (body, mind and spirit); that encourage not just temporary epiphanies and insights, but continual freedom (or moksha), spiritual liberation and unfolding, allowing us to “transcend and include” what has come before. They will need to be teachings that remind us to look within for the answer. Teachings that promote right behavior, right action and right speech; that allow for and encourage highly-developed lines of ethics and morality. We also need new stories, updated myths and well-drawn maps of the spiritual territory. 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


Leaning Forward: The Art of Living on the Spiritual Path [VIDEO]

FULL AUDIO: http://uustpete.org/service/2014-09-07/new-beginnings

TRANSCRIPT:

What is your spiritual path?

When we talk about being “spiritual but not religious” or living a “spiritual” life, what do we mean exactly?

There are different ways we can define spirituality (its own line of development, the highest level or stage of any line of development, an attitude toward life – like compassion or love, a peak experience regardless of lines or stages, or the Ground of all being and experience). Spirituality means all of these things (and more) to so many. And when discussing spirituality with others, it’s important to determine which definitions are in play.

But one thing is for certain – the spiritual path should not be confused with our spiritual practice. The path is not what we do. It’s who we are, who we choose to be in each moment. It is the journey to which we are called.

And whatever we are called to do – whichever cause or organization or group of people we’re called to serve, this is also part of our path. It’s a sacred relationship, a spiritual contract held in place by the agreements you have with yourself – that you will serve on your path with integrity.

I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t admit to having doubts about my own worthiness – and my own qualifications. Not only in my career, but in parenting, in my pastoral and chaplain work, in community leadership, in my writing. Who am I to be deserving of these teachings and experiences that I’ve received? Who am I to be worthy of happiness in my life? Am I deserving of the opportunity to teach others?

Self-doubt sometimes greets you on the sunniest parts of the path.

Continue reading


Becoming the Student, Choosing to Learn (Ctrl+Shift)

“The chief aim of education should be to help the growing soul to draw out that in itself which is best and make it perfect for a noble use.” – Sri Aurobindo

goodhealth-phrenology

Learning can sometimes mean putting down a long-held worldview in exchange for a new one. Learning is literally the act of changing your mind.

There are many models in modern psychology and education used to illustrate what we learn and how we learn — how fast or to what degree. According to integral theory, we (our selves and our consciousness) are comprised of various lines of development. Cognitive, moral, aesthetic, emotional, sexual, musical, athletic, spiritual, etc. These lines radiate out from the center of our being in all directions, and we unfold along these lines in stages — stages we can’t force, stages we can’t skip.

We push along into these newer and more inclusive stages when we are good and ready, when we have reached a tipping point between the old way of thinking or knowing and the new way of looking at the world. These new ways of understanding transcend and include the previous stages. They are inclusive of more perspectives, more methods. But we only lean forward into them when we are so tired and frustrated that it seems we have no choices left, and must somehow get “above it all.” We’ve done all there is to do, read all there is to read, met everyone there is to meet, and understood everything there is to know at the current stage.

If change is so necessary and so great, then why does it feel like death? We fear change, and we only surrender to change when we are finally ready to die to ourselves and be born anew from the flames.

Author and New Thought pioneer, H. Emilie Cady wrote in her classic Lessons in Truth, “Be assured, no matter what anyone else says to you or thinks, that the seeming failure does not mean loss of power. It means that you are to let go of the lesser in order that you may grasp the whole in which the lesser is included.”

Continue reading


Richard Rohr and the Two Halves of Life

Richard-Rohr-at-2010-Greenbelt-by-Alex-Baker

(presented in Straub Park on Sunday, July 21, in response to Max’s Father’s Day talk, which is forthcoming)

Richard Rohr is a Franciscan friar, author and scholar. He was ordained in 1970  in the Roman Catholic Church and is the founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, NM.

In Rohr’s recent book, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, he identifies two segments of life — the first half, in which we “build our container,” and the second, in which we “find the contents” to fill our container.

Rohr’s first half of life has much to do with learning to follow prescribed laws, be they ethical structures, physical laws like gravity, etc. and has everything to do with studying (or worse yet, mimicking) existing traditions.

The second half of our lives then, is when we perfect the art of winnowing, of extracting the grain from the chaff. It’s when we practice the art of spiritual discernment, or separating the essentials from the nonessentials. It is when we find our grace — when we surrender and awaken to spirit. When we realize that we’ve been Spirit all along.

We do a lot of studying, reading and learning in the first half of life, while we’re building that container. But we rarely go back and reinterpret those lessons from a second-half-of-life perspective to see which structures we really need and which we can let go of. It’s quite possible that the scaffolding has been on the building long enough, that the training wheels can be uncoupled from the tires. And when we step into ourselves — getting current in that way — we may find that letting go of those crutches or braces allows for a new range of motion or a new method of feeling or intuition.

We may even find that we no longer need or believe the things that were shown to us as children. Or that our own wisdom may actually contradict some of what we think we know.

It was the apostle Paul who wrote, “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” Continue reading


The Case for Christ Consciousness

“The most important Gospel you’ll ever read is the one that you write.” – Reverend Russell Heiland

sacred-heart-harry-clarke

Maybe it’s because Christmas is approaching or possibly because I’ve neglected this topic for too long — tip-toeing around the various masculine forms of spirituality — but today, I want to talk about Jesus.

What I don’t want to do is discuss his love life or his blood line. I don’t want to get into the metaphysics of the Trinity or the virgin birth, or his death and resurrection (we’ll save that for Easter), and I definitely don’t want to talk about original sin. That, we can leave checked at the door. Permanently.

I would, however, love to talk at length about what Jesus — this middle eastern man with a rebel spirit and pathological contempt for authority — was able to accomplish in his short life. But there’s one problem. And it’s a pretty big one. Jesus’ life may not have happened at all. At least, not the way we might think.

Did Jesus Exist?

There’s a curious 40-70 year span that occurs between Jesus’ death and the time that the apostles and their descendants were “inspired” to write the Gospels. That, combined with the fact that more than half of the Gospels weren’t even written by men alive during Jesus’ time, gives one cause for wonder. I, myself, wonder if I would trust the acquaintances of my friends (even if I considered them “disciples”) to correctly quote me two generations later about something as important as what I believed to be the “good news,” the living Word of God.

There’s also the ancient and familiar origins of the Jesus myth itself. The story of Jesus was not new to people at the time. In fact, Jesus’ life story has so many elements in common with other (and pre-existing) Mediterranean and Middle Eastern god-man hybrids — like the Persian story of Mithras (whose birth was attended by three shepherds), the Egyptian legend of Osiris (who was assassinated by conspirators, defeated death and returned to rule the afterlife), the Greek Dionysus (who celebrated a “last supper” with twelve trusted associates before his execution) and Zoroaster (also from Persia, who was “born of a virgin mother” and come to “crush the forces of evil”). Even the Hindu deity Krishna (thought to have lived anywhere from 3228 to 3rd Century BCE) is thought to be the inspiration for the Jesus myth (his father was a carpenter, his birth was marked by the appearance of a star, he healed the sick and the lame).

Any (or all) of these stories could prove to be the inspiration for the Jesus mythology, but not vice versa. In fact, St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430 CE) wrote, “This, in our day, is the Christian religion, not as having been unknown in former times, but as having recently received that name.”

So, if Jesus’ life was simply a more effective re-telling of re-hashed pagan and Occident stories and legends, then why does he matter? And, if we could separate the mythology of Jesus — of which so much has been added to after his “death” — from the message or teachings of Jesus, what might distinguish him, philosophically, from the hordes of other virgin-born messiahs of the day?

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


15 Great Principles Shared By All Religions

In researching and crafting our “statement of belief” as required by law, we came across 25 (or more) core principles or values that run uniformly through the world’s major religious teachings — as put forth by Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, Mohammed, Shankara, Confucius and more.

At Integral Church, we believe wholeheartedly in things like religious literacy, religious pluralism, and the inclusion of all appropriate (what is true for you) wisdom traditions and spiritual practices.

So, it seemed fitting to present this list here, in a format that can be easily read, understood, shared and bookmarked.

Enjoy.

15 Great Principles Shared by All Religions

  1. The Golden Rule / Law of Reciprocity – The cornerstone of religious understanding. “Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.” – Christianity
  2. Honor Thy Father and Mother – Knowing them is the key to knowing ourselves. The day will come when we shall wish we had known them better.
  3. Speak the Truth – “Sincerity is the way of heaven, and to think how to be sincere is the way of a man.” – Confucius
  4. It’s More Blessed to Give than to Receive – Generosity, charity and kindness will open an individual to an unbounded reservoir of riches.
  5. Heaven is Within – “Even as the scent dwells within the flower, so God within thine own heart forever abides.” – Sikhism
  6. Love Thy Neighbor / Conquer With Love / All You Need is Love – Acts of faith, prayer and deep meditation provide us with the strength that allows love for our fellow man to become an abiding part of our lives. Love is a unifying force.
  7. Blessed Are the Peacemakers – When people live in the awareness that there is a close kinship between all individuals and nations, peace is the natural result.
  8. You Reap What You Sow – This is the great mystery of human life. Aware or unaware, all are ruled by this inevitable law of nature.
  9. Man Does Not Live by Bread Alone – The blessings of life are deeper than what can be appreciated by the senses.
  10. Do No Harm – If someone tries to hurt another, it means that she is perceiving that person as something separate and foreign from herself.
  11. Forgiveness – The most beautiful thing a man can do is to forgive wrong. – Judaism
  12. Judge Not, Lest Ye Be Judged – This principle is an expression of the underlying truth that mankind is one great family, and that we all spring from a common source.
  13. Be Slow to Anger – Anger clouds the mind in the very moments that clarity and objectivity are needed most. “He who holds back rising anger like a rolling chariot, him I call a real driver; others only hold the reins.” – Buddha
  14. There is But One God / God is Love – Nature, Being, The Absolute. Whatever name man chooses, there is but one God. All people and all things are of one essence.
  15. Follow the Spirit of the Scriptures, Not the Words – “Study the words, no doubt, but look behind them to the thought they indicate; And having found it, throw the words away, as chaff when you have sifted out the grain.” – Hinduism

All credit to Jeffrey Moses. For a full list, please visit http://www.onenessonline.com/

BONUS VISUALS:

1. A great map of world religions.

http://visual.ly/world-religions

2. Click below to enlarge.