Sunday, February 27, 2011

Religious Recipe for Inclusivity is All in the Labels?

The format for this blog is changing to a point-counterpoint presentation to allow for a wide variety of opinions.  Today’s blog also contains a commentary on Integral Spirituality which is specifically mentioned in the post. We hope you will enjoy this and comment freely.  Please contribute to future posts by submitting your ideas.

by Rev. Tim Miner OUnI

So what are Inclusive Theology and Inclusive Consciousness?  Well, I think the recipe for this comes down to how we treat the labels. We all have “labels” that we use.  As humans we seem very interested in our religious labels.  Whether Christian or Jew or Buddhist or Muslim or Interfaith or InterSpiritual or Integral, we seem to like our labels.  As history has shown we are even ready to die for our labels.  Last year I walked into a classroom on the last day of an online class called “Me to We” where we were trying to foster a spirit of looking beyond ourselves.  After standing up to introduce the work of trying to build organizations that foster a unified expression of Interfaith, I was verbally challenged at the break by a fellow student for not including “African American-Women-Muslim-Jews” like her in the effort.  My response was to reassure her that the effort included people "just like her" since it included people who graduated from her interfaith seminary.   She was using one set of labels (individual) and I was using another set (organizational).   Labels can create problems.  Perhaps this quote says it best:

“Identity is a concept of our age that should be used very carefully. All types of identities, ethnic, national, religious, sexual or whatever else, can become your prison after a while. The identity that you stand up for can enslave you and close you to the rest of the world.”  (Murathan Mungan, contemporary Turkish poet)

Identities and labels can be prisons.  Identities and labels can be walls.

So what is “Inclusive Theology and Consciousness?"  I don’t think it is a “blended religion” like the folks at one interfaith organization called us.  Rami Shapiro, in his opening address at the first Tennessee Interfaith Harmony Breakfast earlier this month said, “We are not looking to create a new religion, but to help foster a new religious sensitivity. We are not interested in blending religions or laying claim to a false and facile religious unity, but to helping one another find in our differences insights of spiritual genius that can transform our lives.* So we are not going to puree the world’s religions and serve them together without any labeling of the ingredients.

I would like to think that what we are trying to do is create our own version of a religious “stew.”  Everyone comes and stays with their labels and identities intact.  Community therefore must extend beyond the individual’s cultural spiritual identity to find something that is more than what we were before. That is, we take a hearty helping of the “carrots of Christianity” and add equal amounts of the “beef of Buddhism” and the “peas of the Pentecostal” all mixed in the “juices of Judaism and Jainism” and the “spices of the Sikhs.”  All the labels of the ingredients are still there but our identity is with the “stew of Spirituality” now. 

With the emergence of Integral Spirituality on the world scene, we now have a whole new palette of labels to use.  We can now identify with our state or stage or our place on all the different lines of development.  How will we use this information?  Will it be used to judge others?  Will it become like spiritual DNA or will it allow us to come closer together?  I pray that it is something that will ultimately bring good to the world.  It all comes back to how we use the labels.

*Please read the whole address at the Facebook discussion page:!/topic.php?uid=168156629876439&topic=412

by Rabbi Rami Shapiro OUnI

Labels and labeling are natural to human beings. The human ego, misreading life as a zero-sum game of winners and losers, seeks security in numbers, and thus divides the world into competing camps.  Religion is part of this process. Rather than admit that “the Tao that can be labeled is not the eternal Tao,” and thus develop a spirituality that cultivates humility, curiosity, and compassion, we try to prove the truth of our label by eliminating those who believe differently than us, either in this world or the next.

Can Inclusive Theology and Inclusive Consciousness change this? Or have we just created another set of labels?

Honestly, I don’t know. Part of me says we should just drop labels altogether. Another part of me says that’s impossible. At the moment I use the first part to free the second part from taking labels all that seriously.

That said, let me take up Rev. Tim’s stew metaphor. Without leaving the food paradigm altogether, let me offer this alternative: Rather than a stew, perhaps Inclusivity is a bag of Tootsie Roll Pops®.

Open a bag of Tootsie-Roll Pops and you will find a host of flavors.  Each flavor is unique from all the others, and you may prefer one and truly dislike others. I, for example, love Cherry and dislike Orange.  And yet my willingness to taste all the flavors shows me that if I go to the heart of any of them I discover the same Tootsie Roll center they all share. Knowing this allows me to respect all flavors without having to eat them all.

So with all due respect to Tim, I opt for my bag over his pot, and individually wrapped pops over a simmering stew.

(Note:  Rami received no compensation from Tootsie Roll Industries for his product placement.)
Rami teaches world religions for Middle Tennessee State University, writes for Spirituality and Health Magazine and has his own blog at

Commentary on Integral Spirituality
By Lynne D. Feldman, OUnI
Integral Minister

One of the numerous intellectual gifts emanating from the prodigious mind of Ken Wilber is the distinction between religion and spirituality.  It explains why I, as Jew by birth and training and a recent Buddhist practitioner, can sit, spellbound and in an altered state, while Michael Pergola induces Christ-consciousness in me.  It also explains why I quickly left a conversation with an Orthodox Jew as he proclaimed that his community does not contain or stand for homosexuals.  With whom do I have the most in common, and why?

Wilber’s Integral approach is often misunderstood as a heady and hyper-intellectual exercise devoid of applicational potential to matters so intimate and ultimate as faith, religion, and life’s meaning.  The trouble has been that one must learn the framework of the theory before one can apply it, and many find it too daunting to bother.  Yet once inside it, so many have discovered that Integral is just….so, just life lived with more awareness of self and others in all their frailties and potentialities.  “Oh, I knew that already,” most comment once inside. So instead of my teaching Integral theory, let me jump into the thesis and explain how the Integral approach clarifies, corrects, and opens us up to a vastness only glimpsed at by the sages.

Looking at our photo album we can trace our individual physical evolution from helpless babe to strutting 20-something, to wherever you happen to be on life’s conveyor belt, or ladder, or whatever metaphor you might use to explain where you were, where you are now, and where your potential appears to lie for the future.  What was I thinking back then speeding around drunk in that red Corvette, you might wonder, as you hide the incriminating photo from your own teens?

We can do the same with our nation; we can trace back to the indigenous peoples who originally settled here, to the Spanish and French, Dutch and English and their often abhorrent treatment of the Native Americans, and then flinch as we recall our not-too-distant treatment of African-Americans as not-quite humans.  What were they thinking back then?

We can look at our planetary photo album and see the respect for human life in some areas as distinguished from the marginalization of life in others.  What are they thinking as they stone to death a young woman who became a rape victim?

All humans begin life at the base of the ladder, and then culture (and DNA) mediates to affix some of us or entire nations at various rungs on the ladder.

Regardless of their religion or belief system, if they are demeaning of women and “others”, oriented toward magical beliefs, pre-conventional and egocentric, regardless of their self-determined religious label, they are at a low, beginner’s rung of our potential developmental ladder, or conveyor belt.  They might indeed have sharp spiritual experiences, and these will be translated by them to fit into their pre-existing cultural belief systems.

If another group holds that every word in their holy text is absolute, divinely offered, which must never be seen as metaphorical or allegorical, and that only those born into the ethnocentric group or who join in the belief of the triumphalism of this and only this religion, well then, they are more accepting, but still affixed to a level that cannot see any breadth or depth beyond the confines of their culture.  Once again, spiritual experiences are open to all humans at every level, and those experienced by folks at this rung of the ladder will be interpreted as confirming their triumphalism.

Moving beyond these self-imposed limits we come to the mental-rational attitude toward religion.  Our holy beings are seen more as half-divine, half- mortal in a way that is not difficult to accept.  This is a broader, deeper, more tolerant of diversity and more accepting of other rational beliefs.  Adherents to this level of religious adaptation are approving of world-centric concerns of individual choice such as pollution, infant mortality, or child slavery wherever it occurs, and their thinking tolerates post-conventional ideas.  The same rule of spiritual translation applies here.

It gets interesting at the next stage of human/individual development when profound spiritual experiences enter the pluralistic level of development.  Their ability to stay within the confines of the established churches becomes harder to stomach, and rewritten texts, siddurs, and bibles along with new names and visions become the norm at this pluralistic stage.  Note too, that as we go up this ladder, we find fewer and fewer companions along the way.  Humans are reaching the top rungs not of our potential, but of current human developmental levels.

At the Integral, or post-post-modern, or post-metaphysical level of individual development, I sit with Michael Pergola and understand that his Christ-consciousness is my Keter, and at the top rungs now, we have no need to differentiate our felt-senses of our constantly evolving spiritual experiences with different names or terms.  Christ-consciousness, the Sefirot, and the 8 vijnanas point like the Big Dipper to the same North Star of spiritual knowledge.  Religious labels drop in the Face of the Divine.

“All is One” at this level.  We can dance together in the spiritual commonality where the conveyor belt of each wisdom tradition aims us, if we have the maturity, compassion, understanding and fortitude to make the journey.

Monday, February 21, 2011

First Thoughts on Inclusive Theology, Symbols, and Interspirituality

I read Tim's blog with great interest. I believe symbols ought to speak clearly and powerfully to us. You don’t need a website to explain the Christian Cross or the Unitarian Universalist Wisdom Chalice. Sure, those unfamiliar with these traditions might want to know more about the symbol, but the symbol should speak on its own without the need for lengthy explanations. With all do respect I don’t think the OUnI symbol does that.

If Interspirituality is to catch on, if an Inclusive Theology is to capture the hearts and minds of spiritual seekers, it must speak plainly, and its symbol, whatever it is to be, must be self-explanatory.

If I had to offer something, I would suggest the enso, the open circle drawn by Zen calligraphers. A circle represents inclusivity, and an open one speaks to our openness as a community.

Similarly we need a concise way to articulate our path. I would offer this as my “elevator speech” for Interspirituality: Interspirituality cultivates respect, compassion, humility, justice, creativity, and courage by sharing those texts, teachings, and techniques of the world’s wisdom traditions—spiritual, artistic, and scientific—that promote these values within and among all humanity, and between humanity and all other life forms.

My “elevator speech” for Inclusive Theology is similar: Inclusive Theology understands God as the source and substance of all reality who is met in with and as everything we encounter. Inclusive Theology hones the mind for this God–realization by promoting those scientific, artistic, and spiritual techniques that move us beyond exclusivity of ego and tribe toward the inclusivity of nondual awareness. 

Neither of my speeches is polished nor perfect. I offer them as catalysts for your own thinking.

Rabbi Rami Shapiro OUnI
Middle Tennessee State University

Friday, February 18, 2011

A Symbol for All Religious Symbols...

I suppose that the first thing that every "brand" needs is an eye-catching logo.  That includes religious expressions as well.  When "interfaith" came onto the landscape decades ago, the logo usually had several, if not a dozen or more different logos to represent ALL the faiths.  Collections of symbols like that are now used everywhere in the world of "interfaith."  The problem is, no matter how much you try, you always leave somebody out.  Everyone has their own idea about an icon that best represents their faith and belief system--a symbol to rally around.  Organizations sometimes use the "circle" to represent "...and everything else" to  show that they are trying to be inclusive. However, my first exposure to an organization like that gave me grief when I included them in an "...and everyone else" phrase during a religious ceremony.  Everyone wants to feel included as much as everyone else is included which  pretty much invalidates the whole idea of using a "catch-all." 

So what symbol should you use to show ALL the world's religions and spiritual expressions?

The Order of Universal Interfaith (OUnI) created its own symbol to show all expressions as equal.  The design is called the "Touch of the Divine" and it is based on the ripples on a pond....

The gold dot at the center represents the "touch of the divine" in the universe.

The first circle is drawn around the dot and it is silver in color.  It represents the "wave of human spirituality" which went in every direction.

The second circle is drawn around all that and it is bronze in color.  It represents the wave of all the world's organized religions and forms of spiritual expression.  Each a point on a circle.  Each equal in stature.

A horizon-line divides the circles into a top representing "reality" and a bottom "reflection" to represent the mystical.

There is a website devoted to explaining this symbol at

Rev. Tim Miner OUnI
a co-founder of The Order