Tag Archives: Taoism

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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Does Our Name for “God” Really Matter?

cosmic mandala

Being a religious studies major in college, I studied Buddhism, Taoism, paganism, and all sorts of other ‘isms’ that helped me to fully let go of the idea that “God” is some transcendent, dualistic-thinking, bearded dude up in the sky judging everybody.

I used to get into debates with Christians over terms and definitions and I moved away from using the term “God” for a long time in order to refer to the source of all that is.

I believe ‘it’ is within us and around us. We are part of it and it is us. ‘It’ is everything and we can influence how it shapes our lives through the power of our thoughts and feelings in regard to it.

That said, I recently reconnected with two traditionally Christian friends whose belief in that higher power — that source energy — is so unfailingly strong and beautiful that I was reminded again that our concepts of it are really no different, despite the fact that we describe it using different terminology.

They too see that my faith in energy and the magic of the universe is really the same as their faith in “giving it over to God.” They pray. I meditate. They go to church. I go to the ocean. It’s the same however and wherever we find it and whatever we choose to call it. Coming to that realization has allowed us to have some of the most incredible, heart-warming conversations and moments I’ve ever shared with anyone.

I say all this to justify my newfound use of the term “God.”

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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.