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.


  1. Rev. Lynne raises some important and challenging, issues. This post is not meant as a criticism of Rev. Lynne. On the contrary, I am grateful to her for raising these issues. And I believe these are THE issues we must address as we try to articulate what we mean by Inclusivity, Integral, Interfaith, and the rest.

    First, what does it mean that she is a Jew who practices Buddhism, enters into Christ Consciousness, and yet cannot dialogue with an Orthodox homophobe?

    I too am a Jew who, having been initiated into other religious traditions, practices a number of spiritual disciplines drawn from those traditions. Unless we reduce the meaning of “Jew” to ethnicity only without any religious commitment (Chosen People, Israel as the Promised Land, Torah as the only revelation, rabbinic authority, observing the mitzvot, etc.), how can Lynne and I continue to identify as Jews?

    Second, if our understanding of Spiral Dynamics and the conveyor belt metaphor doesn’t allow us to engage constructively and compassionately with people (such as her homophobic rabbi) who think differently from us, what good is all this stuff?

    Third, does the assumption that there is an esoteric, mystic level of spiritual realization where all religions are either transcended or seen to be one cause us to devalue the exoteric side of religion? While I believe there is a level of realization where religion is transcended, I am also very taken by Stephen Prothero’s call to honor religious differences and not to affirm a faux sameness where Buddhist enlightenment and Christian salvation (to name but two very different religious goals) are the same. If there is a unity at the esoteric level, why bother with the exoteric at all?

    Perhaps it comes down to this: Is it time to for “Second Tier” folks to stop playing with “First Tier” religions, and allow a new spirituality to emerge from the experience of the Tao that can’t be named? Is it time for Interfaith, Integral, Interspiritual people to affirm something of their own rather than manipulate the religions of the past? Or to put it another way: should we be pioneers of a new Digital Age faith as different from Bronze Age religions as the Space Shuttle is from Noah’s Ark?

    This is something I struggle with daily. I would love to hear other people’s sense of this.

  2. ..a response to Rami's comment from Lynne Feldman:

    I would love to engage with you here, since I feel significant tension within me as I "struggle with God", good Jew that I really try to be. The homophobic story actually happened to my husband, and we are, at this very moment, working on ways that he might deal with this man with whom he has an occational professional relationship. My husband, an honorable and stalwart "Blue/Amber" soul, was so offended by this man's homophobia because my husband's parents had taught him that Jews tended to at least attempt to be more understanding, more moral and ethical in their treatment of others than other religious adherents. So here we have some essential realigning of the triumphalism that almost all religions dip into at times.

    Not all people live up to this, but within the Jewish "code" there is the ideal of ethical action and ethical thought. Within the LL there is the group belief that Jews are held to (pardon me, Hebrew National) a higher standard of conduct, and thought.

    My husband and I have lived this struggle, and have imbued our daughter with the same ethics, Jewish ethics. We share the Jewish rituals of lighting Shabbat candles, following holidays, giving extenseively to charity and anonymous gifts to individuals in need. I have two sets of dishes, pots, and silverware, and then a different set for Pesach. My daughter was married under a chupah with her cantor singing the blessings and she has designed her impending motherhood around raising a Jewish child. She studied Hebrew in college and is continuing with that interest even today. Yes, we are cultural Jews, the last stop on what often becomes a pluralistic and less than observant life.

    I wish, Rami, I wish for the entire collective shared experience, but our family just cannot do that. Yes, we have taken from the cupboard as suits us, and left behind what does not work for us. I tried, I really tried, but modern family life pushed me back into the "mainstream", even if it is an Integral mainstream of balancing our lives within the 4 quadrants. We look over our shoulders at what we recall from our family lives of yesteryear, and although the sweet memories remain beckoning, we just cannot commit to the full table of Jewish observation.


    My daughter has challenged me to bring the Integral perspective into Judaism, on BOTH the religious and spiritual level. I am working on that as we await the birth of her first child.

    I have given my word to her, Rami, that I will dedicate myself to what she, and you, have asked. It is a work in progress, and I dearly hope that I can apply my Jewish and Integral knowledge to bring this back to us as the treasure it is.